Saturday, May 22, 2010


“Wisdom from the Streets” by Kedric H. Cecil, Ph.D., is a local self-published book with universal value. It is the sort of thing we think publishers look for in order to develop a wide readership, though they don’t do that anymore. It’s hard to know whether being local is more valuable or less valuable. Is this book open to accusations of self-promotion, meant to help Cedric’s private practice, or is it a valuable contribution to counseling literature? Who is in a position to judge anyway?

Certainly this is another vivid tale. (Cecil reads from it aloud on You Tube.) Absolutely there are kids and parents out there who need to hear it. So what’s the prob? There might not be any.

Cecil is certified by the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. His practice includes “Treatment of Depression; Anxiety and Panic disorders; Physical and Sexual abuse; Adults,children,and Adolescents’ Issues related to Dysfunctional Family Systems; Attachment Disorder in children and adolescents. . . . This therapist is a clinical member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy and works with individuals, couples, and families.” Academic: Ph.D., U.S. International University, Psychology, 1986; M.Ed., University of Portland, Counseling. Do you feel better now?

Choosing a counselor is not easy. You can look at all the credentials you like and still not really know anything, because it’s not about theory and professional peer-approval. In the end it’s about whether you are a good fit with this person. I don’t know a better way of finding out than reading a little book like this, which is about Cecil’s life and motivation. If you don’t like it, you’re not going to like Cecil as a counselor. But if the book makes you laugh and sigh, you might get along pretty well. My guess is that there are a LOT of people in Montana who could use a good sit-down with this guy.

The nub of the story is so common that we think of it as normal. Ill-advised or star-crossed marriage produces family chaos which causes the boys who are old enough to run away. Once on the streets, knowing nothing, they become prey for the dark parts of our society. Cecil was lucky in being big and a pretty good bluffer, but the same factors put him in deeper waters than his swimming ability. Once in a while the waves would wash him back home, now split between two parents.

Trying to force things to go back to happier times meant that he developed what is formulaically called “oppositional defiance disorder,” which is when a kid no longer trusts adults to know what is best and tries to control the situation himself. This can lead to intervention from the juvenile authorities, criminalization, and confinement. Somehow Cecil bounced back repeatedly enough for it to finally “take.” He also claims religious conversion but doesn’t describe it here. The University of Portland is a Catholic school, highly respected.

It’s no longer a secret that my co-writer Tim works with boys-at-risk, mostly in Paris, but his boys were in far more serious trouble than Cecil was. In order to survive they have been hustlers -- not the kind of scammers or beggars that Cecil describes on Seattle streets but frank whoring and hard drugs from a very young age. Against that background, I read Cecil’s description of his introduction to sex in quite a different way than some might. An older woman pulled him into her bed. She imprinted him for the rest of his life. Sex is intensely responsive to experience.

Maybe you think I’d brush that off as Cecil discovered many people did. “Hey, man! Great going! Wish that would happen to me!” Somehow we have the idea that if a boy is treated that way, it’s okay. If a man treated a girl that way, it would be a felony. For a long time Cecil didn’t realize he had been abused or that the abuse had twisted his emotions. Add to that the damage from family turmoil, and he had the kind of internal trouble that prevents growth or success, to say nothing of trustworthy relationships.

Somehow he was able to find friends, helpers and people who could explain what was going on, but it was one long haul and as dependent on his own energy and willingness to change as anything in the “system.” How do you find a professional credential endorsement for that?

The Paris boys might see in Cecil’s life on the streets nothing so dramatic as theirs, which might include war, trafficking (slavery), and grave physical and mental damage. But they might be more willing than others to see how underestimating the impact of family violence, lack of sexual education, warehousing pretending to be a deterrent, failure to address illness, and a concept of male behavior based on old cowboy movies watched on television in the middle of the night while in a drunken stupor, can destroy a life. Not only that but warp a whole society into destructive behavior, because even those suffering all of the above can get into positions of authority where they perpetuate both the problem and ineffective means of addressing it.

They would also recognize Cecil’s willingness to engage in inner dialogue between his street-kid self, which lives on in his head as a useful source of information, and his therapist self, which pays attention. Here’s one of the most useful quotes in the book:

“But, are self-awareness and openness to others ENOUGH to break the patterns of behavior a victim has engaged in as a result of the trauma that was inflicted upon him or her? ABSOLUTELY NOT!

“We have to deal with the addictive nature of the repetitive actions that we utilize to bring the trauma back upon ourselves. The truth is that we grow to love our self-debasement. Our self-destructive thoughts, plans and actions become our new identity because they promise to relieve our pain.”

Pain is a natural phenomenon meant to signal “don’t do that.” But trauma can reverse it, so that it says, “Do it again. This time the results might be different.” Besides, it’s too hard to imagine a different way. That’s why you need someone like Cecil to say, “Hey, try this!” and to offer assurance that if you can get through the pain, you will have long-term relief, not just buy a few more hours of coping.

Cecil doesn’t line up other people’s case histories: he tells us what he lived through in a wry, funny way that is deeply forgiving. Reading this book is a good idea, even if it’s not yourself who is in trouble.

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