I’m writing, with all due respect, in response to “I’m a cop and I’ve met the next mass shooter” (Opinion Exchange, Aug. 9).
I’m a therapist and I’ve also met the next (potential) mass shooter: He’s been bullied, but someone does care about him. They care enough to get him some help.
Let me explain. I am the clinical director of a community mental health agency called David Hoy & Associates. We provide Children’s Therapeutic Services and Supports (CTSS), counseling and life skills training services to children with serious emotional disturbances, and to their families.
These kids have much in common with the mass shooters described by researchers in another Aug. 9 commentary (“Our data unveiled four commonalities of shooters”). They have experienced some type of trauma — either a parent’s suicide or drug overdose, physical or sexual abuse, serious neglect or abandonment, domestic violence and/or severe bullying. Many of these children are in crisis when they come to us. Many have been taken away from their families via child protective services, parental incarceration, or death, and placed with relatives or in foster homes.
Many of these children have been moved multiple times to multiple placements and separated from their siblings and/or their home/school communities. Many have mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, autism and attention deficit disorders.
This current behavior of the particular child mentioned in the commentary may be scary, but that’s because he is scared and lonely, and in need of limits and structure. Most children and adolescents are not able to articulate their needs. Instead, they act out in a way that causes others to respond. If a child senses that we are afraid of him, he will become more insecure and afraid. And his behaviors will get worse until someone with authority steps in and provides some kind of containment. The more extreme the behaviors, the more extreme the containment. Examples include parental consequences for behaviors, such as grounding or other kinds of limits, mental health interventions such as therapy, day programs, or residential treatment programs, or legal sentences such as probation, detention placements like Red Wing and the County Home School, or actual prison.
So this angry child, who sets fires and hurts others, instead of being “thrown away” is referred for services and assigned a “skills worker.” Someone who teaches him social skills, ethics, assertiveness skills, coping, anger management and self-care. Someone who works with him at home, with his family, in his school and his community — helping him to practice and integrate these skills in real time and real life. Helping him to change his developmental trajectory.
It’s not an easy fix. It takes a very long time. And sometimes it doesn’t work. But research has proven that investments in children that continue through adolescence are wise and cost-effective, and result in higher rates of high school graduation, lower rates of crime, and a number of other really good outcomes.
It is true that you build your life, your beliefs and find your path through what you are taught and shown. But children are resilient, and often all it takes is one caring adult to help them find a new and healthier path.
There are dozens of mental health agencies, throughout the Twin Cities and greater Minnesota, that provide these services. For more information, you can go to Google and type in Current CTSS Community Providers.
MarDee Rosen Hall, of Maple Grove, is a psychologist.