David van der Want
MA Clinical Psychology (RAU)
We must be continually jumping off cliffs and growing wings on the way down - Kurt Vonnegut
ADHD and the myth of the warrior daimon
ADHD as a warrior daimon.
In this extract from my PhD thesis which is interminably under construction and also about construction,, I briefly review James Hillman’s (1997)notion of the "daimon" and illustrates its use as a guiding metaphor in the therapy of Attention Deficit Disorder. I hope that it is clear although I suspect that it needs the supporting bits and pieces to make any real sense.
It should by now be clear that the constructionist consciousness suggests that the frameworks which guide the therapist’s interrogation of the therapeutic situation before her can have no real truth value. They are merely fictions that inform different heuristics to guide the therapist in her description of what is happening for the client and for herself in the here-and-now. Further, constructionism illustrates that there is no objective basis for the evaluation of these fictions. The result is a conceptual vacuum in which any efforts to describe knowing of a client become objects of reflexive deconstruction. This vacuum is made all the more palpable by the assertion that the therapist, in common with all other subjectivities, cannot not know.
As Keeney (1983) states, it is impossible not to have an epistemology. At this point, constructionism appears to have led the therapist into a theoretical cul de sac. It has left her suspended in the therapeutic relationship, in which she is concurrently constructed as an expert, a "knower" possessed of knowledge which is useful in the alleviation of distress and as just another subjectivity, whose knowledge is no more or less powerful than any other.
Thus far, in seeking to describe a way of negotiating this impasse, I have used constructionist thinking to generate a set of alternative criteria through which the therapist can reflexively examine her descriptions of therapeutic processes. In section 4.2. I have described these as aesthetic, utility and comprehensibility and used these as a platform from which to describe the therapist’s participation in therapeutic relationships. I will now expand this description with an account of another useful, aesthetically pleasing and hopefully comprehensible fiction which I employ to guide my "knowing" of clients.
In formulating this description I draw in Hillman’s (1997) image of the daimon. The daimon is an essence born into each individual. It is not genetically programmed, or the product of the environment or the interaction between the two, but, in Hillman’s (1997) myth, it is the expression of the person’s soul. For this author, the soul chooses the particular configuration of genes and environment before birth and then steps into the physical being so created in order to manifest, what in soul form, is only a potentiality.
He uses the metaphor of an acorn to express his thinking. For Hillman (1997), each life is formed by an image that is the essence of that life. This image or icon calls each life into it’s manifestation. Each event in a person’s life can be seen as one in a sequence, all of which reflect and are a part of the unfolding destiny of the daimon’s essence. They are the fruits of the seed, which contains every expression of the image that is coded into it. For Hillman (1997) the mighty oak is present in the acorn and the tree is the perfect expression of the potentialities of its seed.
The constructionist, once again is sceptical. Descriptions of essences are anathema to constructionism. In response to this scepticism, I reiterate that constructionism cannot afford to dismiss descriptions of essences or even postulations of the existence of psychological structures. To do so, would be to recreate a dualism, with relational understandings at one pole and descriptions of individuals at the other. To my mind, constructionism’s most valuable insight is that descriptions are generative and that it is a useful project of science to set criteria that our descriptions seek to satisfy. If the creative fiction of a theory makes use of essentialist assumptions, the constructionist consciousness suggests consideration of the repertoire of social actions these knowledges make available rather than outright dismissal of these theories.
Further, Hillman’s (1997) view does not claim to be the truth. He overtly states that his description of the daimon is a myth, one that he finds preferable to the stultifying, restrictive and aesthetically barren myths employed by mainstream psychology. For my purposes then, the myth of the daimon and of lives as the true reflections of soul’s purpose, becomes available to a constructionist account of psychotherapy through scrutiny of the relational, social and cultural implications of this metaphor as a discourse.
In this regard then, this myth has both beneficial and undesirable consequences in terms of the repertoire of intelligibilities it makes available.
First, what to my mind, may be regarded as the undesirables.
The description of daimon invokes the concept of destiny. The implication of destiny is that the experiences of life are fore ordained and no amenable to change. The possible implication here is that the pain and distress that some people experience at points in their lives is immutable and must be accepted as the outworking of destiny, an irrevocable choice made before individual consciousness dawned.
Related to this, is the possible function this discourse may play in further reifying the individual as the "object" of psychological study. This too may not be desirable because it suggests that experiences of poverty or of abuse are similarly fore-ordained and therefore somehow divorced from relational processes which the constructionist views as constitutive of these experiences. The discourse of the daimon may then, unwittingly serve as a justificatory explanation for power imbalances and other culturally embedded practices which induce pain and distress.
These undesirable consequences notwithstanding, the myth of the daimon also evokes potentially useful ideas to inform the therapist’s understanding of the lives of those who consult her. First, it dissolves any issues of blame by others or self-blame in the life of the client. By telling a story which views life as the unfolding of a personal calling, the here-and-now experience and behaviour of persons is constructed as a natural and necessary reflection of the soul’s essence that is seeking expression. Each circumstance in which persons find themselves are seen as events in a biography that details a progression towards the full and complete expression of the daimon’s purpose. The fiction is useful and aesthetically pleasing in that avoids descriptions framed in terms of disease, disorder and deficit and privileges accounts that emphasise the adequacy, health and presence of the person’s essence.
Another desirable implication of the myth of the daimon is that persons are relieved of the onerous responsibility of changing their behaviour and their experiences. By generating a description of the person that dissolves this socially constructed belief that individuals are responsible for their feelings and actions, and by implication have the capacity to choose to change them, this myth invites the client to "stop trying so hard to change". It serves to relieve the pressure created by losing control in experiences of pain and distress while feeling that one should maintain control, or at least, be able to bear the pain of our distress.
At this point, I would like to point out that this fiction shares much in common with the humanist description of the actualising tendency. In both views, persons are seen as being possessed of an innate characteristic which is seeking expression. For the humanist, this expression is most accurately manifest when the person becomes a fully functioning person, an ideal of personhood suggested by the theory itself. This is where the difference between these two discourses lies. For Hillman (1997) whatever a person does is viewed as an expression of the daimon but for the humanist life is seen as a struggle to allow the essence to emerge. For the former, the environment is not able to impinge on the expression of essence, for the latter, the environment plays a central role in socialising the person to avoid being fully congruent. In the former, the person needs to change nothing, for the latter, the person is viewed as possessing conditions of worth in her self-concept. These conditions of worth are constructed as needing to change or be eliminated. As a consequence of this, we can say that humanism constructs persons as being born perfect and through life are moved away from this perfection whereas the daimon myth suggests that the perfection of the neonate is manifestly present in each moment of a person’s life. My preference as a therapist is for frameworks that suggest such perfection. I base this preference on a belief that such frameworks lead therapeutic conversations towards appreciation of life as it is rather than towards how life may be made more perfect through remedy and redress of personal failures or environmental shortcomings.
Having weighed up the desirability of the fiction of the daimon, I will now turn my attention to a demonstration of its ability to provide potentially useful reframes in psychotherapy.
In Chapter Two I have drawn attention to the potentially deleterious impact of the discourse of deficit on the lives who find themselves the object of its pathologising gaze. In my view, the damaging sequelae of this discourse are nowhere more apparent than in their application to children.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) is arguably the diagnosis most often given to male children. Children who behave in ways that are constructed as inattentive, overly active, clumsy and rebellious are routinely assessed as having a genetically inherited physiological deficit. Their behaviour is explained as evidence of this deficit. The diagnosis is born in a framework that suggests difficulty, distress and a long process of struggle with unruly behaviours. Hillman’s (1997) daimon metaphor would describe these behaviours in terms of essential and perfect reflections of the image which is calling the child into a full expression of his soul’s purpose.
Consider the following example. Mrs P brought her son Roger, aged 6, to psychotherapy and reported that he had been diagnosed with ADD 6 months before at the beginning of his first year at school. She stated that she had been informed by the school that Roger was not only disruptive and inattentive in class, but that he was actively aggressive.
There were two incidents which had led Roger’s teacher to contact his parents. The first occurred when he punched another boy. When asked why he had done this Roger said that the other boy had stolen his Pokeman. In the second incident, Roger had run away from his teacher. She had wanted him to tidy up a mess that Roger regarded as having been made by a group of girls in the class. In addition there were numerous other smaller incidents which had generated descriptions of Roger as being "unruly", "disobedient", "naughty", "a real problem" and as possibly "having a learning disability". Mrs P employed all of these words in her description of her child. In one of these incidents Roger suddenly and without warning started shouting incomprehensibly at a group of boys who had been having a dispute over the division of a packet of chips.
Mrs P. also complained that the Ritalin that the family’s physician had prescribed was not having any effect. She wondered if the dosage might be too low. She also said that Roger was "sometimes impossible" at home, especially when he doesn’t get his own way. I asked her for an example and she said that just the day before, Roger had flow into a fit of rage when she had asked him to keep his hamster in its cage and not allow it free reign in his bedroom.
Roger was the youngest of three children. He has two sisters, aged nine and eleven, both of whom Mrs P. described as being excellent academic achievers. She reported that Mr P. was an academic at a local university and that he liked things to be organised, neat and tidy. According to her, this was a source of much conflict in the home. She jokingly said that she often felt that she had to keep Roger "out of trouble" in order to keep her husband "happy".
In appearance Roger might be described as a tough looking kid. He was thin and wiry and gave the impression of sinewy strength in his young body. His eyes were quick and gave the impression of being observant as they darted around the room. They also showed little emotion and when he looked directly at me and held eye contact (initially this was not often) I experienced them as cold.
This clinical picture is typical of cases involving the ADD diagnosis. How can the daimon fiction usefully inform reframing of these behaviours. I wondered what Roger’s daimon might be calling attention to about its purpose. I wondered what essence of him as a person was manifesting itself in his behaviour. I wondered about how this essence might be a perfect reflection of Roger in years to come, in later chapters of his life story. What would this essence look like in his 30’s or even later? I wondered about what other reflections of his essence had the bursting growth of his acorn pushed him through in the story of his life so far. I also wondered about other ways in which the daimon might be calling attention to itself.
While wondering about this I also discerned a pattern in Roger’s display of "poor" behaviour. It seemed that Roger would become "impossible" at times when either his freedom was restricted or at times when he perceived there to be some unfairness, either towards himself or another. In these situations he would physically attack those whom he perceived as the perpetrators of the injustice. Similarly, the "war" about the hamster and Roger’s running away from the teacher suggested to me that Roger’s disobedience might usefully be regarded as "free-spiritedness" and an angry response to anything that he perceived to be restrictive of this freedom.
I had five meetings with Mrs and Roger and in the first of these I asked Roger what his favourite thing in the world was. He said that he had three favourite things, an illustrated "King Arthur’s Tales", a sword and, what his mother, in obvious embarrassment and perhaps suspecting that I would view her as encouraging her son’s aggression, described as "an enormous machine-gun-laser thingy that makes the most terrible noise." I told Roger that if he wanted to he could bring one or all of these things to our next meeting. I did this in order to elicit more information that would support an alternative description of Roger’s behaviour. I wanted to know about the daimon that was asking to be seen.
Roger brought the toys of his daimon with him to the next session. I asked Mrs P. to sit in the corner of the room while Roger and I played with his toys. He showed me pictures of King Arthur riding into battle, of Guinevere and the lady of the lake holding the glowing sword aloft. I had also brought something for Roger, a photo-copy of a picture from the instruction manual of a role-playing game I used to play as an adolescent, Dungeons and Dragons. It depicted a well-muscled warrior in battle with a masked horseman. Roger loved the picture and was delighted when I gave it to him. He showed me his machine gun and told me that his mother had taken the batteries out because of the noise. I admired his equipment and commented to him, more for Mrs P.’s ears than for him, that he looked like he was learning be a strong knight. He sprang to his feet and showed me his muscles saying, "I’m already strong, strong enough to bash this (my bookcase) down." He paused looking at me as if to see what I would do. I heard Mrs P. draw breath to speak and I looked at her and signalled that she should not intervene, I responded to Roger saying "You can do that if you want to or you can come and play warriors with this bow and arrow". (I had a small replica of a Koi-san bow and arrow on my wall. I bought this from a street vendor who walked up to the open window of my car and said "you look like a warrior. For you 20 bucks.").
With a rueful look at the bookshelf which revealed to me an imagining of the relish he would have taken in the crashing noise it would have made, he took the bow and arrow from my hand.
From this interaction and from the nature of the things that interested Roger, I described to myself an account of Roger’s behaviour that saw it as the expression of a warrior’s spirit. I saw him as a knight (albeit in slightly dirty armour) expressly concerned with injustice and compelled by his daimon to punish its perpetrators and defend its victims. It occurred to me that this knight, in his quest to address injustice, lived by his own code, an ethic that was not recognisable within the discourse of obedience and conformity present in most schools.
In this view, Roger is not an afflicted person. To the contrary he is a young warrior exercising his being as he grows towards the full realisation of his soul’s purpose. His behaviour is not naughtiness and disobedience but the maintenance of his freedom from restriction so that he may protect the aggrieved and defeat the aggressors he encounters. It allowed me as a therapist to look at him with affection rather than irritation.
The therapy progressed, always with mother and son both present. In the course of these conversations I employed numerous reframes of Mrs P’s account of Roger’s behaviour. Often I would converse with Roger and allow my positive connotation of his "warrior-like" responses to demonstrate and bring the alternative possibilities for meaning to life.
Consider the following extract from the third conversation.
Mrs P (1) : I thought a lot and I think you are right ... um ... about that this is just the way Roger is and he won’t change.
(15 seconds of silence)
Mrs P 6 : But how do I do that? I mean he just won’t listen.
Throughout this extract, I maintained the frame suggested by the myth of the daimon. My demeanour was designed to simultaneously acknowledge Mrs P’s experience and to suggest alternative descriptions. I did this, not in an effort to change Roger’s behaviour, but to co-create an alternative account of them, one that would allow Roger more room to "misbehave".
At various points, Mrs P I sensed that Mrs P. was reluctant to consider these alternative accounts. In (3), she indicates that soldiers are meant to behave, in (7) she insists that he will not listen to her and most strongly in (13) she actively rejects my suggestion that housework is not really "warrior’s stuff". I responded, with a fictional story about a friend of mine to illustrate what I meant. In (14) Mrs P. says that she doesn’t understand and so, in an attempt to breathe life into the alternative description of Roger as a fierce protector, I turned to Roger and, in effect, asked him to show him mother what I meant. He obliged.
Once again Mrs P indicates her discomfort with this in (18) suggesting that his violence might actually get out of control one day. I reframe this slightly by saying that Roger is fierce (18) and that being a soldier is dangerous.
In (20) Mrs P introduced the difference between her son and her husband and I responded by suggesting the term "Captain of industry" which implied that there may be some useful purpose to Roger’s behaviour. The description emphasised his bravery and this elicited a story about his impulsive foolhardiness. A quality different to her mother’s experience of herself (21). I affirmed Mrs P. and again reframed this as Roger’s warrior spirit (22). I strengthened the reframe once again by asking is there were times when this might be useful (23).
Mrs P. responded indicating acceptance of the reframe and comparing this new description of Roger as brave with one of herself as being hesitant. The meaning framework with which she had been giving meaning to her son’s behaviour had now changed significantly. She now had access to a description of Roger’s behaviour that regarded it as being potentially useful in some contexts.
In 25 Mrs P. once again drew attention to a difference between Mr P and his son. I saw the implication of this to be that Roger’s behaviour was no longer the result of a disorder which required remedy, but could be understood in terms of his difference to other members of the family. This implicitly gave a legitimacy to his behaviour that previously was dismissed as being problematic.
I responded to this with a humorous comment about this difference (26) and strengthened the alternative behaviours suggested by the new account by indicating that the scholar perhaps needed to turn part of the library into a boot camp (27).
On reflection I can describe this humour, as well as the humour in (12) where I joked about household stuff not being a warrior’s preference, as the deliberate and strategic use of humour to "lighten" the conversation and imply that the concerns about Roger’s behaviour need not be as serious as the ADD diagnosis suggests they should be. However, this was not the case in the conversation as it developed. Rather, the humour seemed already present in the room. Mrs P’s account of her experiences of her son. In (7) she had half joked "Orderliness. No not Roger" and earlier too when she joked about being "General Mom" (5). Perhaps this humour created a context where humour could be a part of my introducing a reframe into the relationship.
In (27) Mrs P. joked right back at the me, and suggests that Roger might stand guard against car hijackers. I responded by taking her seriously and suggesting that we play a game when they leave.
The next sequence, from (28) to the end of the excerpt is, in my view, critically important. Mrs P. and Roger, now demonstrate what happens at home. Roger displayed a behaviour that fitted both the warrior and the ADD account of him as a person. He played with something dangerous. Mrs P responded from within the latter framework and instructed Roger to cease and desist from doing what it is what his warrior/disorder essence was compelling him to do. I "saw" this as it happened and suggested that it was OK. I described him as a warrior investigating his weapons. (A client who had participated in many combat situations in the Angolan war, told me very seriously that his gun became his best friend. He described how he would polish it and grease it and "love" it with his hands late at night in the pitch black of the bush.)
In 29 Mrs P protested that it was concern for Roger that motivated her actions. I reassured her that it would not be too terrible if he did (29), confirmed to her that she was right to be concerned but that this was her warrior son. In that moment it was as if I invited her to look at her son not in terms of a naughty and disordered child, but as a soldier in the process of growing up. (I admit that I felt a little shaky as I said this. I too did not like to think of this boy one day kneeling in a trench, fighting for his life and to rub salt into the wound, perhaps even enjoying it. My own preference would be that he choose the tools of a trade as his weapons, or even words. Perhaps his willingness to adopt the cause of the unjustly treated might one day make him into a fine politician?)
It may have been the romantic description of her son as a knight of the table that allowed Mrs P. to respond from a different framework. As she said "We’ll see about that" (30) she looked intently and fondly at him. In my imagination she saw for a brief moment, an image of her son as the warrior, not with his unkempt hair and soft boys skin, but as a man with the tool of his trade across his lap. I wonder if I can say that at that moment, she had a brief glimpse of the acorn, the image that was calling to her son, beckoning his soul to express this noble essence.
Even if this description is more romantic than aesthetic, and more a product of my own belief in the alternative account of Roger’s personhood, I am reluctant to give it up. At the end of the session, we actually played the "standing guard" game. Roger took it very seriously indeed, scanning with his eyes, up and down the street. As he got into the back seat he waved at me from behind his mother’s smiling face.
Mrs P’s "We’ll see about that" (30) did however suggest a double meaning. It implied that she accepted the account of her son as a warrior but that she will discourage him from becoming a soldier. However, it also suggests that she reserves the right to change her mind.
In addition, it also alerted me to a possible pitfall that awaited me in the remainder of the sessions. Through this remark, directed towards her son, she communicated a message intended for me as the person suggesting the alternative account. In doing this, she was following my lead. I had established this precedent on numerous occasions. In (14) through (16) I used my relationship with Roger to send her a message. The possibility therefore existed that Roger might become the unwitting pawn in a relational game of gainsaying between his mother and myself. This insight was afforded me by my training in the Interactional approach.
From this interactional vantage point, Roger’s behaviour could have assumed a function in the relationship between his mother and myself. That is to say, in order to side with his mother in this game, something that I predicted he would want to do, he would have to escalate the "undesirable" behaviour. I formulated an hypothesis that if I were to encourage Mrs P. too strongly to subscribe to the alternative account, or if I disqualified her concerns about Roger’s behaviour and safety, then she would be compelled to reject my account of him as a warrior. In order to make this easier for her, Roger could behave in a fashion consistent with the ADD account of him as a person. This would have been a very "warrior like" thing to do.
The therapy continued in much the same vein as this excerpt suggests and terminated when Mrs P. felt that things were slightly better at home and that they were "at least tolerable". Roger’s school performance improved slightly. He still got into a lot of trouble at school but there were fewer fights and when the teachers complained about him it was less vociferously. Also, Mr and Mrs P. seemed less likely to become concerned about this.
In the last session, Mrs P. described an incident where Roger had shouted angrily across the playground at some other boys. Mr P. (who had been picking him up from school) ran his fingers through the boys hair and called him a "troublemaker". Mrs P. described herself as "gob smacked" when this had occurred. Apparently, Mr P. often used to shout at Roger in circumstances such as this.
In summary then, the fiction offered by Hillman (1997) constitutes one of my preferred accounts of persons. I employ this framework in order to seek out a description of an individual’s essence that is present in her behaviour. Often this behaviour is constructed as undesirable and problematic by the context and on occasion by the person herself. My intent is not to convince the client of the accuracy of the daimon myth, but to skilfully invite and encourage the client to entertain the descriptions that it affords as potentially viable accounts of the current circumstances. In doing this I do not insist that these behaviours are not problematic, often they are. However, I do place emphasis on the ways in which these behaviours support the alternative account.