Dialogue with Larry Shaw

Los Angeles psychotherapist working with adults traumatized as children, Phd in the use of imagery for the self-management of pain associated with ulcerative colitis and former Antioch university teacher, Larry Shaw was mentioned in Dan Reed’s 2019 HBO’s documentary, ”Leaving Neverland”.

Are you specialized in Post Traumatic Syndrome Disorder (PTSD) ?
Not exactly… my focus on childhood sexual abuse was with my first internship when I was in school and working in a domestic violence center where woman and children were physically or sexually abused.

What do you think of psychoanalysis ?
You’re asking the wrong person here. Psychoanalysis was a great foundation many decades ago for introspection. But psychoanalysis, for the most part, requires multiple sessions a week for extended periods with your analyst, and that went out with dial-up phones. It hasn’t been at the forefront of psychotherapy in the United States especially since the late 1990’s, when we started to get research from FMRI’s (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging). we were able to see the effects of the brain lighting up when certain stimuli were presented to an individual, we could see that trauma was held in certain regions of the brain. From there, therapy started
to be developed that enable people to process trauma without going through the long journey of psychoanalysis or other talk-based therapies, which could also trigger patient’s further in trauma without necessarily processing any of it. So the types of therapies I do are called EMDR (Eye Movement Desensibiliation Reprocessing) and SE (Somatic Experiencing).They are the two most well-known and established forms of somatic or body psychotherapies in the United States. I believe that the Israeli army was using EMDR for soldiers that had come out of active combat. From what I understand, the VA (Veterans Administration) Hospitals in the United States is lookimg at using body based psychotherapies for vets who have PTSD. EMDR has had considerable research which validates its’ effectiveness in treating PTSD and other traumas. But it doesn’t matter when trauma is held in your body, whether you’re in a war, you’re experiencing abuse as a child, or you’re in a car accident or a natural disaster. In all these situations, the body registers the trauma of it being too intense and overwhelming in a similar way. So going back to psychoanalysis, it’s not as important to look at what the narrative history is of a person but rather how they’re holding their experiences and trauma within their body physically. So, I’m sure if you called the Jung Institute where they do a form of psychoanalysis, you could find out the impact of psychoanalysis in America today. But I’m not much help to you in that area.

What about french psychoanalysts, as Jacques Lacan or François Dolto ?
No. Well, again, if you’re studying in a school that specifically focus on psychoanalysis you will study those pioneers or present day psychoanalysts. I don’t think the general American public knows about these figures. Honestly, there is much more press about neuroscience, EMDR, and trauma in American publications than about psychoanalysis. But, of course, all psychotherapy stands on the shoulders of these giants, Freud and Jung. We wouldn’t be where we are today without them.

How did you treat the victims from the Katrina catastrophe ?
I watched their movements. This is what told me the most information. I also worked for a short time in Rwanda after the genocide, in the prison and orphanages. There are universal facial muscular expressions that you can read on a persons face. It’s way beyond what people call body language. Certain muscles in the face express certain emotions. It’s so important to look at very slights movements in the eyes or in the breath. Also, for example when a person talks about an incident that happened thirty years before, with their grandfather, and they start rubbing their fingers, and then later when they are talking about a car accident and you start seeing this same movements with their fingers again, then you know that the fingers are soothing feelings activated by trauma and the incidents
may be linked inside their body. So during therapy I’m watching and tracking all these different body signs, and at the same time listening to their story and pitch or resonance of their voice. It’s quite organic and there is a lot of information to track. A lot of it is observation. My description here is kind of really simplified, but in the course I taught in graduate schools, it would be at least a six-week course as it can be complex. As I’m watching their movements and seeing them holding their breath, I may ask, “What are you noticing in your body?” And they might have trouble describing it in words. So then I may ask, “What’s the texture of it? What’s the sensation? Is it warm or cold? Does it have a movement? Like is it jittery, or is it smooth ? There are a hundred different adjectives that could be used to describe what’s going on in the body, and I even sometimes hand them a sheet of paper that has a hundred adjectives on it so they pick one that can best describes what’s taken place in their body. So they might say, “It feels jittery.” Then I say pay attention to that, pay attention to the jitteriness.” Then I will raise my hand and say, “ Watch my fingers going back and forth, let’s drift back or float back to an earlier time in your life… five year, ten years, twenty years back, twenty five, feel the jittery, sometimes it will land on some specific incident in their lives, sometime it will land on something abstract like another sensation or image. And we’ll do following finger movement again with the eyes. This activates both the right brain and left brain through the back and forth eye movement. It integrates the experience within the brain and body. And a lot of times, the things that come up is a healing experience that relates to what’s going on with them. It might touch on trauma that’s held in the body, that isn’t blocked by the cognitive process that could be telling them that it’s not ok to cry, that it’s not ok to talk about childhood sexual abuse or some other earlier trauma that is linked to a present fear. They may say, “ I feel it in my chest.” I say “leave your hand there and notice what’s going on”. Sometimes if they leave their hand there, after a moment, they will feel better and start to breath again. And they go yeahhh, it feels good to feel better. I say: savor that. Appreciate that.. Save this moment. You can feel good. They get to notice a different experience of the trauma. So, sometime I just have them sitting there with their hand on their chest. But it could be anywhere, in my stomach, in my legs, doesn’t matter, I say just settle into that and feel that. Both EMDR and Somatic Expereincing have specfic protocols and techniques, but for me having practicing this form of pyschotherapy for over twenty years there is a lot of instutition that comes into play. After working with 100s of patients you see patterns and rhythms in trauma And then you are working in concert with the patient. It is a collaborative journey towards healing.

Being often interviewed by the Hollywood reporter. are you the « shrink of Beverly Hills » specialized in Hollywood actors facing traumatic situations with Celebrity worship syndrome ?
Beverly Hills has got probably 2000 shrinks. Mostly, cognitive- behavioral therapists, psychodynamic, Rogerian and yes even analytical. there is no «‘the Holkywood shrink’ ». I worked a lot with people into the film and music industry. Everywhere from the writers, producers, directors, to the actors… and everybody has got, we’re all human beings, and we all have similar neurosis, anxieties. Hollywood is a unique place different work environment. if you graduate from a medical school, then you will go to work in a hospital or start a private practice or do research. You have a clear direction to focus on. But in Hollywood, you can get a part in a movie, get all sorts of good reviews one month, and the next month the whole thing dries up. So everybody is in a high state of panic, worry or concern, and anxiety,nalways checking their cell phones checking to see what’s happening, they’re calling their agent, their manager, their multiple agents, their multiple managers, all day long kind of pacing and waiting. In between all of that they’re trying to do yoga, relax or take different kinds of various designer drugs to get calm or have insight into their existence. Hollywood is a very interesting place, they don’t call it Lala
land for nothing.

Do you identify topical anxiety patterns ?
A lot of times what you have is people because of their childhood, when they come across something similar like a male in power or a chaotic situation, and they face this same kind of situation again, it’s going to trigger something inside of them. And they will relive an old anxiety coming from childhood, it will be a catalyst that will intensify the experience they’re having at the moment.

Did the Metoo movement change your practice ?
Yes it has increased. Sometime it’s part of the therapy because the males are very scared also about a possible act they did twenty years ago or possible things they might do in the future. It’s a lot about past behavior
and future behavior. and there are women who feel that justice is begnning to be handed out , but still see how the absolute power in so many of the creative industries are held by males. It is sort of a David and Golith , but the sling has to be reloaded again and again because the power giant keeps rearing its ugly head. There’s people that are very confused and you throw Donald trump in the middle of it all, there’s a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness that affects Hollywood. But. It’s been a little bit better. The democrats have now taking over the house of representatives. There’s a sense of hope. A possibility. But there’s everyday some kind of news that shakes everybody’s foundations.

Did you see the movie Spotlight, directed by Tom McCarthy with Rachel Mc Adams, Michael Keaton and Mark Ruffalo ?
I didn’t see that one but I saw the documentary, Deliver us from evil (2006), that got a nomination but didn’t win.

Did you see the movie By the grace of God (2019) directed by François Ozon with Melvil Poupaud and Denis Menochet ?
I’ve heard of By the Grace of God.

Did you know the archbishop of Lyon in France lost his trial and had to resign ?
What we have had happening at this point of time in history, is what a book called Tipping point, by Michael Gladwell, spoke of. Its where there’s a certain point in time when things change , when the right elements are
present, I think this is the beginning of one of those times. Given the Catholic Church, the entertainment industry, , gymnastics coaches in the olympics,etc. there is so much for the most part on sexual abuse but also physical abuse where there’s a real lack of safety. Hollywood stars, archbishops , news anchors, pop stars… all are human and therefore able to manifest the darkest part of the human soul.The public puts them on this pedestals where they could not do wrong, and it’s just coming from every level of the society and I think it’s a time for people to recognize how important the soul of children are and how fragile all children are.

Are child molesters, “psychotics, perverts or neurotics” ?
I would call them none of those. There was a survey in the United States twenty years ago, that it showed all the males, in death row, in California, everyone of them had been sexually abused. They had all committed murder. In this thread of history that goes back 1000s of years, we havent valued children and the abused had become abusers themselves and it continues again and again and again, generation after generation. And it has finally come to a time where have to stop the cycle of sexual and physical abuse towards children. Michael Jackson was in the news. Was he sexually abused ? Maybe or maybe not ? But he talked of his emotional and physical abuse. It seems like for sure, that from his own reports that he was physically abused. So abused begets abuse. And it produces the next generation and again and again and again. It seems that we’re reaching that tip of the iceberg where it’s not just enough to designate one day in Americas schools about “good touch and bad” touch, but it’s about really respecting the dignity of human life and especially todays children who will be the next leaders and potentially create a safe planet. If, Across the board we’re doing this to children in their homes, churches, dance studios or on the sports fields and if we’re not honoring each child right to feel safe, then we don’t have much hope for the planet unless this changes

What did you think of the HBO documentary Leaving Neverland ?
I thought it was very powerful. In my office, people walk in and tell me “I’ve seen it. I can’t believe it. Or I have a story too, I was abused also. After the documentary was aired I would say 90% of my patients stated some kind of comment of how life changing it was for them, and saying how they won’t be able to listen to his music again. Last night, I was out to dinner and there was a band that started playing Thriller. There were about 70 people in the restaurant and everybody stopped talking and eating and started looking around and someone called over the maitre‘d and asked him to tell the band to stop playing the song or any Jackson song. It was a very interesting thing ,in a public setting with a random group of people. So there is the impact. It’s being talked about everywhere.

Wade Robson said you basically saved his life. Is it more difficult to deal with considering the fame of Michael Jackson ?
No, absolutely not, Wade is a human being and and he was a young boy who was severly abused. That has nothing to do with Michael Jackson, celebrity, fame or anybody else. It’s a human situation not a celebrity situation.

But the pressure is unbelievable ?
No, the pressure I feel is the same for everyone. Whether that person is a school teacher, a banker, a director or a waitress that has trauma or is, or has been being sexually harassed or abused by his or her boss or family member. I have the same intent and focus to help heal the person.

Is it more difficult for the patient ?
Well that’s a later and second step. Once a situation like Harvey Weinstein comes out into the news it’s kind of a secondary trauma that comes in with the notoriety. There can also be a triggering of old fears and anxiety. Therapy needs to be paced so that the victim of the abuse feels safe in the
process. It’s another issue that has to be dealt with. In Wade Robson’s case, what my understanding, seeing the documentary and news reports is that there was a lot of death threats on the internet that are really discounting everything that he James Safechuck recounted. It’s generally like that when a celebrity such as Donald Trump or an archbishop of the Catholic Church or a admired Olympic gymnastic couch is involved. There is a lot of social media battles that get waged on both sides. There are people no matter what happens will stand on the side of the perpertrator. To do otherwise shakes the foundation of their belief system.The accusations intensify that belief, their admiration whether its the president of the United States or a famous pop star. So, there will be the people who will defend their idols to their death and sometimes some will come unhinged and not only will make death threats but will try to do harm to the survivors and their families. And then there is the fear and sense of powerlessness because of that and that’for the victims there is a secondary trauma, a new trauma.

Wade Robson said during the documentary that before having a child he didn’t really understand that what they did was bad. How do you explain this moment of consciousness in therapy, where this line between good and evil breaks ?
I never tell them something is good or bad. Instead I would say, “As you’re starting to talk to me about the feeling inside. What’s coming up for you ?” And that’s when they will say, I feel something here in my gut or throat. I ask Is there a vision, a scene, a taste, a smell, what else is there ? And then it starts to connect the sensory memories, all the pieces start to fall together and then people will start to speak, stutter, inaudible. Their vocal chords are shut up and stare straight ahead or kind of gag. I’ll tell them to
sit there, to take your time with this. it might take multiple sessions, sitting with them as this anxiety and these memories start to move through and become something that can feel and recall pieces to a puzzle. I don’t tell them it seems that you had child abuse. Actually they’re tracking the thread of abuse through their body and cognitive process and I am behind them, following.

How do you explain the violent defence of Michael Jackson’s fans ?
Well take away MJ creativity and chrisma or the title of archbishop of Lyon who has saved and inspired so many people in his lifetime, who has given his heart to families that have lost that loved ones, or a child, or sat through the whole night with somebody dying. Both have proclaimed their love and respect for children, one has given his life to god, and you have therefore given your life to god because of his inspiration. And the
other has inspired millions of children and teens and has created the happy childlike place in neverland, and has inspired us to look in the mirror of our lives. And then you find out that either or both have been molesting children down the street from you. You cannot integrate the two side of a human life. You have found in micheal or the archbishop, inspiration, hope and the strenght to go on. You want to be pure like him, so compassionate like him, and the accusations ripped away a part of your life. And you have to deny the charges of child molestation and sexual abuse, otherwise your life is shattered and instead you stand out and no it’s not true, no, the archbishop would never do that, it’s impossible. He is a man of God. Micheal Jacksons music gave people hope and purpose. Some people feel he was heaven sent….. Then there are fallen angels.

Do you want to add something ?
Something I say to my patients. There is a word in Chinese “weiji” which translates into incipient moment , critical point. When something begins or changes. It is a genuine crisis. A dangerous moment, when things start to go awry. But, if we are aware this can be the tipping point that gladwell speaks about. For the sake of all the children who have not been born yet this could be a tremendous opportunity where the lives of the innocent
could be appreciated and honored.

About the Author
Alexandre Gilbert is the director of the Chappe gallery since 2005. He lives and works in Paris.
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