Please Note: Only COVID-19 vaccinated adults and children over 5 can attend the Clinic.

Making Ourselves Heard

Commuters were understandably irritated when their normal 30-minute journey to work became ninety because of protestors disrupting traffic in response to the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association (APPEA) conference. The organisers explained that their civil disobedience action was prompted by a failure by leadership to act on scientific advice in relation to climate change as evidenced by fires, floods and drought experienced across the country in recent years. While apologising for the disruption they noted that while being delayed was inconvenient so was the consequences of climate change.

The government was quick to act and the following day a bill was adopted by the Lower House of Parliament to change the Summary Offences Act penalising people for taking part in peaceful protest. Previously, a maximum fine of $750.00 applied, but the bill increased this to $50,000.00 and a possible three-month jail term. Just over a week later 500 people rallied to protest  the new bill and around 80 community groups, including Amnesty International signed a letter asking the government to withdraw it. The speed and severity of the response troubled many with Amnesty International saying ‘Protests aren’t always convenient. But freedom of assembly is a fundamental right. The right to peaceful protest is how we hold governments and big business to account when all other avenues fail, but powerful people in Australia and around the world are cracking down on our right to protest. It must be protected.’

Our work with families engages us as active participants in the same dilemma. A central tenet of theory is that systems mirror each other from society level to inside a family  and looking through this lens we can see that a child or adolescent’s symptoms may well be a protest against those in authority. The fact of protest doesn’t make a person right about the issue but speaks to their inability to be ‘heard’ in any other way. A vicious cycle develops whereby those with authority become more controlling and punitive resulting in an escalation of the problematic behaviour with ever increasing extremes on either side. In such cases the person who shows the symptom is labelled as the problem and increasing effort devoted to changing them.

Two very different examples may illustrate this. The first; a young child at the stage of differentiating from the parent as an infant and attempting to establish themselves as an independent ‘I’. If the family are unable to adapt the rules and roles protective of a baby, the child will escalate their demands for freedom in the form of un-cooperation and tantrums. If the parent unwisely responds with increased efforts to exercise control, the child’s difficult behaviour will escalate.

A similar dynamic is apparent in an eating disorder where the young person finds themselves trapped in an enmeshed system where their weight loss becomes a focus for parental conflict detouring. The more the parents demand, cajole and attempt to force eating, the more entrenched the difficulty becomes. While forced feeding is necessary if weight has dropped to a dangerous level this too becomes part of the vicious cycle if the family dynamics which underpin the problem are not addressed. Without this an increasingly controlling and punitive cycle develops which includes the helper system.

Freedom is a multi-faceted concept. We should be free to move around our community without disruption, but we must also be free to make our voices heard when bigger issues are at stake. This applies from a community to family level and requires practitioners to ask the question “Whose rights am I supporting and is this the best direction for all members of this system?”

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