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The boy who could see demons and the psychiatrist who thought he was nuts

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  • Steve Hayes
    The boy who could see demons, and the psychiatrist who thought he was nuts http://t.co/b17lolYK The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke My rating: 4
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 16, 2012
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      The boy who could see demons, and the psychiatrist who thought he was nuts


      The Boy Who Could See Demons by Carolyn Jess-Cooke

      My rating: 4 of 5 stars

      This is not really a review, but more a response to the Good Reads review
      prompt “What did you think?” So I’m writing more about thoughts inspired by
      the book than thoughts about the book itself.

      Carolyn Jess-Cooke tells us that this book was inspired by The Screwtape
      letters by C.S. Lewis. The Screwtape letters is Lewis’s contribution to
      Christian ascentical theology, and takes the form of letters from a senior
      demon to his junior apprentice, giving him advice on how best to tempt his

      In The boy who could see demons 10-year-old Alex Broccoli is being treated by
      psychiatrist Anya Molokova. He tells her about the demons he can see, and
      especialy a demon Ruen, who says he is studying Alex as a research project.
      The story viewpoint switches back and forth between Alex and Anya. Anya is
      concerned that Alex needs in-patient care, partly because his father is
      absent, and his mother is suicidal.

      The switch in viewpoints is interesting because in a way it shows something
      of the postmodern condition. As Walter Truett Anderson puts it in his book
      Reality isn’t what it used to be:

      An experience that a premodern person might have understood as possession
      by an
      evil spirit might be understood by a modern psychoanalytic patient as
      mischief from the Id, and might be understood by a postmodern individual as a
      subpersonality making itself heard – might even, if you want to get really
      postmodern about it, be recognized as all three.

      When Alex is an in-patient in the institution, which has its own school, he
      regards some of the other children in his class as “psycho”, and is aware, at
      one level, that Anya regards him as a bit “psycho” too. Anya, from her
      professional point of view, regards Alex’s condition as a possible case of
      early onset schizophrenia, but at times finds herself forced to see it from
      his point of view, and that when he tells her things about herself that he
      could not possibly have known, he is speaking the truth when he says that he
      did not know them, but Ruen told him to say them.

      This takes me back to another book I read nearly 50 years ago, The primal
      vision by John V. Taylor. It was on Christian presence amid African religion,
      and is still, I believe, tremendously valuable. It shows how Western
      Christianity, which has been strongly influenced and shaped by modernity,
      sometimes fails to cope with premodernity in Africa. One of the things that
      stood out for me about it is that Western culture tends to relate the causes
      of evil to internal things, whereas African culture tends to see them as
      external. So for Western culture one’s demons are all in one’s head, whereas
      in African culture they are in one’s environment. And it seemed to me that it
      is like different maps of the same territory. We all have our own
      constructions of reality, which differ according to our culture and
      experience, just as a geological and a political map of the same territory
      might be quite different. Nowadays, with Google maps and the like it is
      easier to see the different layers of maps that can be used to view the same

      I think I’ve mentioned before in this blog that when I was in Windhoek, more
      than 40 years ago, we received a letter from a group of psychotherapists in
      Chicago, saying that they were concerned about the mental health needs of the
      Third World (there was a Third World back then, though Namibia wasn’t going
      to be any part of it if the Nationalist government had its way). I thought
      about this letter for a long time. And I thought that sending a team of
      American urban psychotherapists to rural Namibia would be like sending a team
      of witchdoctors from Ovamboland to treat middle-class suburban housewives in
      greater Chicago. Their psychological ailments are so culturally bound that
      the therapists from both places would need to spend the next twenty years
      learning to understand the culture of their patients in order to get inside
      their skins.

      Of course psychiatry is not just any psychotherapy, but is specifically
      medical. But even there, Western “scientific” medicine is bound by culture,
      perhaps even more bound in some ways, because of its claim to be “scientific”
      and therefore above subjective cultural considerations, and therefore fails
      to see how culturally bound it is.

      Scientific medicine has made great advances in Africa, and great inroads into
      African thinking, but there can still be the dual viewpoint. In premodern
      Africa most diseases, other than minor coughs and colds, were thought to be
      caused by human malice expressed in witchcraft (see Tabona Shoko in African
      initiatives in healing ministry).

      In Western medicine the germ theory of disease carries more weight. An
      African trained in Western scientific medicine would be aware that malaria is
      caused by the bite of a female anopheles mosquito that is infected by the
      malarial parasite, but might still ask, “who was responsible for sending that
      particular infected mosquito to bite me.”

      To Westerners this might sound superstitious, but I recall that 25 years ago
      the drug Ritalin was routinely prescribed as a panacea for all kinds of
      ailments, including children being bored and daydreaming in class.
      Psychiatrists and schoolteachers alike seemed to be convinced of its
      miraculous properties. That seemed entirely superstitious to me.

      The Africa of The primal vision lies 50 years in the past; Africa is
      modernising rapidly, and is a different place. People sometimes don’t realise
      how different it is. People talk about ubuntu as an African value, but very
      often seem to have forgotten what it means. There is an example of this here
      other things amanzi: chicken feet, hat-tip to my blogging friend Jenny
      Hillebrand, who also gives another example here Carpenter’s Shoes: The value
      of the individual.

      But there are still cultural difference in the ways that illness is
      perceived, and perhaps, like the wave and particle theories of the
      transmission of light, there is a place for both.

      And then there is a third way, that of Orthodox Psychotherapy by Metropolitan
      Hierotheos Vlachos, but I’d better save discussion of that for when I review
      that book.

      For the whole thing, with links, see:

      Steve Hayes
      E-mail: shayes@...
      Web: http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/litmain.htm
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