Psychologist prescribes disease -management treatment to violence

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Reasoning that anger is just as contagious as a virus, a prominent local psychologist is prescribing a treatment response that involves decontamination, contact tracing and prevention in a bid to curb criminality in The Bahamas. 

“In the same way that COVID demanded that we adjust our thinking and behavior to respond to those already infected and institute precautionary measures to prevent infecting others, violence prevention demands a similar strategy,”  said Dr Valerie Knowles, a 20-year practitioner of child and adolescent psychology. 

“Not everyone exposed to COVID becomes sick, just as not everyone who has experienced violence, observed violence, or learned violent behavior will behave violently. Just as a person with a weakened immune system picks up COVID more easily, a person with a weak anger-immune system will respond with rage at the smallest provocation.”

The Bahamas’ crime statistics indicate perpetrators of violence are predominantly young adult males.  

Dr Knowles noted, community leaders and policies must focus more efforts on prevention, catching this segment of society early and attempt to change certain risk factors that contribute to their dangerous behavior such as their home life, neighborhood and any early exposure to neglect and mistreatment.  

“We cannot leave the solutions and the interventions to the government alone,” said the former section head of a Psychological Services Unit of the Ministry of Education.  

“It has been said a million times that prevention solutions begin in the mindset of the family, in the neighborhood,  but far too many families do not believe in positive conflict resolution, especially for males. In fact, there is open chastisement in some instances for not responding with violence when provoked.”  

The psychologist lamented that in too many instances, self-management training is left to schools where sometimes the curriculum, though scheduled, is not taught by educators who must cover other subject areas deemed more pressing.  

“For today’s young men, the home and school deficits do not allow for anti-violence immunization, where there is a deliberate effort to learn to identify their triggers, challenge their thinking about violence, analyze the way violence is messaged and rewarded in their world so that there is a knowing that real men can discuss their emotions, resolve conflict through successful communication or even channel the negative energy into more constructive behavior and still feel and be viewed as a ‘real’ man,” the psychologist explained. 

Shifting focus from individuals to communities, Dr Knowles believes there should be a violence disruption team and violence disruption plans for each community that should not only be activated in the aftermath of an incident but be strongly engaged in social immunization strategies to prevent and counteract the pro-violent attitudes on full blast via the entertainment industry and in local communities. 

Such intervention teams, tasked with entering neighborhoods in the aftermath of a conflict, are essential to de-escalating violence-soaked situations and carrying out the necessary contact tracing for those exposed and affected by the incident, the psychologist noted.  More de-escalation teams are needed, she said.  

“They need the resources and collaboration with other community agencies to assist persons on a long-term basis to help divert them away from crime and violence,”  Dr Knowles added. “The importance of applying these strategies in a systematic unified way cannot be overstated.” 

Writer:Tosheena Robinson BSc, MSc