GuelphToday has received the following letter to the editor from Guelph family therapist, Vera Dyke, who weighs in on the city's approach and candidates' stance on the issue of drug addiction and teens
Dear Editor of Guelph Today,
As a family therapist who thinks systemically (i.e. beyond surface “causes” to the more complex interaction of intersecting needs and behaviours), I am grateful to community leaders at CHC, Guelph FHT, and ARCH for taking appropriate, clear and strong action regarding the addiction and overdose medical crisis in our midst. I call on mayoral and councilor candidates in the upcoming municipal election to recognize the wisdom in this leadership and to join in thinking systemically about addiction, overdose, and crime in Guelph.
In family therapy, many parents bring in a “problem” teenager with the request that the therapist would “fix” the problem – that is, get the teenager to “shape up”. Often, however, the teenager has for various reasons gotten caught in an acting-out role she does not want to be in -because there are problems in the family system that the family/parents haven’t yet been able or willing to address effectively. (This is often because families themselves are caught in unjust systems that don’t support resilience.) The teenager is actually serving the family by calling for help in a way that gets the family into treatment. Then all parts of the family system can be supported with increased resource, gain understanding, and make appropriate changes that serve the whole. It’s amazing how many “problem” teenagers start to function better when the parents gets help thinking and behaving differently. Alternatively, if the therapist simply joins forces with the parents to “crack down” on the teenager, the teenager (and the family environment) rarely improve.
When a city attempts to address a crime or drug problem with a simplistic and expensive “crack down on crime/more police” approach, is this is like a therapist agreeing that the teenager really is “the problem” and focusing on cajoling the teen to “shape up”? To me it looks like city government joining forces with the authoritative/punitive aspects of society rather than recognizing the complex issues driving the problems in the whole community, and assisting the whole system to reassess. Police protection of citizens from harm is a vital role, but when this role is over-extended with root causes ignored, it is unable to do its job well. As our out-going Chief of Police, Jeff DeRuyter said last year, “Safety doesn’t come from police. Safety comes from community.” A campaign promising to significantly expand the police force will fail if the actual reasons for the crime and drug problems are not effectively addressed.
Growing economic disparity and the disconnection and disinterest of so many of those who “have” from those who “have not”; an unfair voting system that render more than half of voters impotent, disillusioning a generation of young adults and discouraging their participation in democracy; almost no hope or opportunity for a young adult to own one’s own home and a frightening lack of affordable housing of any kind; a climate heading for disaster like we’ve never seen yet with federal and provincial leadership still promoting the special interests of carbon extraction; a medical system that in the recent past over-prescribed highly addictive opioids that then became unavailable and drove addicts to street drugs; a consumerist culture addicted to burning fossil fuels to buy and produce more stuff– these are all a part of the systemic problem. More police will not help us with these complex and important issues.
I encourage us as a city, as I do the parents brought into therapy by the crisis of a “problem” youth, to change our lens and actively cultivate gratitude for the acting-out segments of society. Why? Because they loudly and unmistakably call out (at some cost to their own mental and physical health) that business as usual will not do. “Help, help, help,” they are calling - to each and every one of us. “Help us, help our people, help our communities, help our planet, help, help, help.” Teenagers are much more willing to be held accountable for their actions when their parents take full responsibility for their own contribution to the problem. Leaders holding themselves accountable to developing a city that supports basic human needs for all its members will be on much more solid ground for holding law-breakers to account.
Please consider voting for the candidates who think systemically and promote solutions that do more than “crack down” on those who are caught up in the unfortunate (and seldom freely chosen) problem of addiction and crime. Simplistic approaches, although preferred by parents who don’t want to look at their own part in creating a family crisis, make things worse for the whole family. In this case, for the whole city.