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Carol Teitelbaum, MFT Interviewed

Interview by Andrew Martin, MBA, CADC II, CA-CCS


Andrew: I have the distinct pleasure of speaking with Carol Teitelbaum, MFT and psychotherapist for individuals, couples, and families, and a psychodrama expert as well, with a private practice in Rancho Mirage, California. Thank you so much, Carol for joining us at Serene Scene Magazine today.

Carol: Thank you for having me.

Andrew: Well, I know you are a very busy woman. You have the Creative Change Conferences with its flagship the, It Happens To Boys Conference, which I had the pleasure of just attending. And you’ve got another one coming up pretty soon as well, don’t you?

Carol: In the spring, we’re going to have our 9th annual in Austin, Texas.

Andrew: Fantastic, they’re wonderful conferences. Well, why don’t you tell us about the focus?

Carol: The focus is sexual abuse happening to boys, because most people don’t realize that boys are sexually abused too. And they talk about the effects of the sexual abuse, and also the healing for men who have been sexually abused. So we have some expert speakers like John Bradshaw, John Lee, Robert Ackerman, among others.

We’ve had some of the top speakers, and we also have survivors who tell their stories and help other men speak up. So, we always ask survivors to come up to the stage if they’re willing to, and just recognize that they have been abused and that there is hope for them.

Andrew: Fantastic. Now, I want to focus on men who have been abused in this interview, if that’s all right with you. You’ve been working with this population for how long now?

Carol: I started my practice in 1985, and that was when one of my focuses was sexual abuse. Pretty much for males and females and then in 2003 or 4 I was on the District Attorney’s IT committee, which is the multiple interviewing treatment team. And I was representing the child abuse council, the child abuse council, and one of the emergency room physician said I know that there’s an under-reporting of boys coming through the emergency room, and I know that this is a big problem that nobody’s addressing.

So I took that back to our child abuse counseling and asked if we can take that on as a project, which they voted to do. And then one of my clients, Scott Smith, designed a poster for us, and it shows a little boy standing in a garage with his hands in front of his private area and just looking very sad with a tear flowing. And they decided to use that as a billboard, and that’s been up for the last nine years in the Coachella Valley, and it says it shouldn’t hurt to be a child, it happens to boys too. And from there I took it to a conference, and we’ve been having a yearly conference ever since.

Andrew: Well, let’s talk about working with these men who have been abused as children. It’s a difficult population to work with, right? What are the challenges that you face?

Carol: Well, when I was on the MDIT committee and I said I would take that on as a project, the MDIT committee was physicians, law enforcement, DA’s, some therapists, people from the Barbara Sinatra Center. So the law enforcement said to me well, how are we going to help these young boys speak up? And I said I don’t know, how am I going to help you speak up? And they pushed their chairs almost through the back wall because they got really nervous of having to disclose anything themselves.

So yes, it’s an uphill battle, but when we go on and speak, a lot of men come up to us afterward and say, that’s my story. And when new men come to our group, every time, they say I thought I was the only one this happened to.

So, what I’m finding is that the group process is, really, the most healing, because men hear other men who have gone through recovery for quite a long time, and they see that they have their life together, that they have relationships, that they’re happier. And they realize I can have this too.

But we tell them it’s very much like recovering from drug and alcohol abuse. You have to do it one day at a time.

Andrew: What is it, do you think, prevents men from seeking assistance? Is it the stigma around it? Is it machismo?

Carol: Actually, boy babies are more expressive of their feelings than girl babies are when they are first born. And it isn’t too long when boys start understanding language that they’re told to buck up, be a man, don’t cry, don’t be vulnerable, don’t ask for help, protect yourself, protect everyone around you. And then when they get older, they get the lovely privilege of going to die for their country.

So men haven’t had a very good legacy over our history, and when a boy is abused and he feels like he’s not a real man because he didn’t measure up to those requirements of what a real man is. And so, he can’t tell anyone because now they’re going to look at him like what’s wrong with him?

And men have told me that I feel like it’s my fault over and over again, I hear that all the time, and I go, how could it be your fault? Well, I should have been able to protect myself. And then I ask them how old they were, and they say they were five or six or four. And we have a project that we do with men in recovery. We have these little size eight shirts, and we ask them to paint themselves at eight, and so some of the images are really incredible. If you’re at the conference, you probably saw that. We had them up on the stage. We had people holding t-shirts. And some of them are very heartbreaking.

And actually, one of them has this idyllic setting and I said that, “this is so beautiful.” He said, “Yeah, but look close and the swing is broken.” He said sometimes what looks the best from the outside is often sickest on the inside. So, when we go out and speak, we hold one of these t-shirts up to the man who just said it was his fault and go, look how little you really were.

And they start cheering up because they never thought of it that way. When you think back as you were as a child, you see yourself as more capable and bigger than you really were and they kind of protecting themselves. And then for men, they feel like if I tell anyone, people are going to think I’m gay if they were abused by a man.

And if they are gay, then they’re going to say, people are going to think I wanted it. So they have such a double-edged sword, and it’s really difficult to talk about it and tell someone, and especially if the perpetrator is a member of their family. They’re afraid to break up their family.

If it’s the color of the community, they’re afraid nobody’s going to believe them. If they’re abused by a woman, then people give them a high five. They don’t have much empathy for boys who are abused by women. And women are abusers too. The percentage is much smaller, but it does happen.

We have many men who were abused by their babysitter, by mom’s friend, different situations. And that’s really painful when somebody says good for you, instead of saying my gosh, that’s horrible that happened to you. Men have had such a hard time dealing with this, but the problem for our society and for the men In general, and their partners and children is that suppressed in men turn into rage and then we have all those things that happen. The road rage, domestic violence, child abuse, suicide attempts, drug and alcohol use, arrest, probation, recovery. Think of the billions of dollars a year it costs our society for men who have not gotten treatment.

Andrew: There are some that are reading or listening to this interview and are wondering what is abuse? I mean it’s hard to get a handle on it sometimes. Many therapists do not understand the full depth of what abuse is and the forms and the shapes that it can take. So let’s talk about that.

Carol: Okay sexual abuse includes fondling and penetration, but not only that, it also includes showing a young child pornography. Having a child witness their mother or their father having sex with somebody they don’t know. It’s telling the child sexual stories. It’s having the child touch you, you touching the child, having the child touch someone else in an inappropriate way. Having them get undressed and staring at them, taking pictures of them. So it’s a big array of things that happen and the child is so confused because they don’t understand what’s happening to them. They don’t understand if it’s right, if it’s wrong. In fact, one of my clients, a female client, her father watched pornography. Ever since she was eighteen months old, it was on TV all the time. And what she didn’t realize is he was grooming her. So by the time she was five years old and he started abusing her, she thought it was normal because that’s what she always saw on TV. That’s what people did. So she didn’t realize until she was a teenager and she told someone and they got so upset about it, and that it was wrong. She didn’t even realize that.

Andrew: What is abuse for one person may not be abuse for another. Is that true?

Carol: That’s true because some people didn’t even realize that having someone touch them was abuse. They thought, well it’s not that big a deal.

And I’ve even heard, unfortunately, therapists say well men just get over it. And men don’t get over it. It really affects them. Especially for men, that’s different than women, because of that shame of not being a real man. Women feel like damaged goods when they’re abused, but they don’t ever feel like not real women. But men actually feel like they’re not real men anymore because they failed the test.

Andrew: Okay, so we have somebody sitting in our office and they have a history of abuse, and they don’t quite know how to approach it, how to work through it, how to deal with it. How do you approach this whole issue of abuse? And how do you start to guide them and lead them through the healing process?

Carol: The first thing I tell therapists and physicians all the time, is to ask the questions. So many male survivors had told us that they would have told someone, but nobody asked.

In fact, we were doing a workshop in LAP Conference, and that’s Labor Assistance Professionals, and when we were done one of the speakers and I were at lunch and the man came over to thank us for speaking. And he said he had been an EAP counselor for 20 years and he prayed everyday this wouldn’t walk into my office. And it didn’t. And I told him I’m really sorry to tell you this but it did. The statistics are one in three girls, and one in four boys are sexually abused by the time they’re 18. So there’s no possible way that didn’t walk in your office, it’s that you didn’t ask. And he felt horrible. I didn’t want to shame him but I wanted him to know that this is one of the problems. So many therapists don’t feel comfortable talking, number one, about sexuality and, number two, about asking about abuse. They’re hoping it won’t come up because they’re not comfortable with it.

So, somebody is in my office and on my intake form it says, your history, your personal history starting from childhood. Is there any trauma, is there any abuse, is there anything that I need to know that will help us do our work? And I just ask them that way, very matter of factly, it’s not a big deal, and most of them tell me, yeah, I was abused.

And there is also something that’s really important, too. It’s that early surgeries for children can mask the symptoms of abuse? We were speaking in a recovery center and a young man said it had been six therapists and every one of them told me I’m a sexual abuse survivor, but I can’t remember anything. And I happened to be talking that day, about early surgeries and when he was three years old, he had surgery for an un-extended testicle, and so it now hit him. He had a lot of body memories, a lot of fear, a lot of shame, and he was so relieved because he couldn’t remember it and he didn’t understand why he couldn’t remember it, and that’s what it was.

So it’s really important to get a really thorough history of early surgeries, of anything that happened. And I always ask if there were divorces, was there any domestic violence in your family. And then, once we’ve determined that there was abuse, then I have people do a timeline. So I draw them a timeline of their zero to five, five to ten, ten to 15, and I have them do it on a piece of butcher paper and just put it on the wall. So they don’t have to go in order because it’s kind of hard to remember going back from the beginning. So I just put it up there and for the next few weeks you’re just going to fill in whatever pops in your head. And once they start doing that more memories start to come up.

And, so we start off with that and find out what the trauma was and then start teaching them about dealing with the inner child part of them, the part that actually suffered that trauma. And, starting to create a good relationship between their external adult and their internal child. So that they can start re-parenting that child and help that child grow up. Because we don’t want a wounded child, running our life. And that what happens for so many of these men, that wounded child is just out in front and they get offended very easily, they get hurt very easily. And then they get hurt because it’s too hard, so expression turns to rage.

Andrew: You talked about body memory. That shows up in many traumas. How do you observe that in a patient that has abuse in their background, how does that come up?

Carol: A really skilled body worker can tell because people who have been abused have a posture where their pelvic area is tucked in and their buttocks area is out. So they stand that way because they’re protecting that area. And the muscles in their buttocks are really tight because they’re always holding themselves tight. And it’s a protective, they don’t even realize they’re doing it, but it’s a protective method of not letting anybody get close to them. So there’s things that show up in the body, there’s pain in the abdominal area, because that’s where we hold all the feelings.

So people who don’t deal well with their feelings usually get illnesses around that area of their body. Spastic colon colitis, irritable bowel, chronic constipation. All those things start happening because you’re holding on that in so tightly. And for men, they get a lot of pressure in their jaw, their jaw muscles are always twitching. So they’re holding their jaw, they’re clenching it.

Men have told me after a while that as things are starting to come up they get pain in their anal area.

Nothing’s happening, but they get a shooting pain through there. Or they get tightness in their buttocks. And so now they’re starting to realize this had to start somewhere. Where did that start from? And they start going backwards and understand that once they got abused, they started to hold themselves different.

Andrew: I can imagine that this type of abuse can really create some difficult symptoms within a relationship, in a couple’s relationship.

Carol: That’s one of the hardest issues because once you’re abused, it’s really hard. Then you have that secret you haven’t told anyone. It’s very difficult to have an intimate relationship because in an intimate relationship, someone wants to look in your eyes. And if you’re carrying a secret, you don’t want them to look in your eyes because you don’t want them to see what’s in there. So it’s a lot of push, pull, come here, go away. Somebody gets too close, they get really scared and nervous and push them away.

And even for a lot of men, they have sex in a legitimate way, and they feel guilty. And they feel dirty. And they roll over, and they feel like they don’t know what do. Or they get up and take a shower. They just can’t handle it. And it’s very sad because it really hurts a lot of relationships.

We tell people that you’ve had these defense mechanisms for so long, and it probably helped you as child, but it’s certainly not helping you now. It’s not helping you have a relationship.

And there’s a lot of pornography that’s happening, a lot masturbation and pornography as a way to relieve the sexual tension but not have to be close to someone. So that’s keeping several men, several thousand men away from an intimate relationship. Because they’re getting their needs met, but they’re not allowing someone to get close to them.

Andrew: You mentioned before that group therapy is a very effective modality to treat, particularly, men with abuse. Is it the same for women?

Carol: It’s the same for women, but women are used to being in a group. They’re used to playing together, talking to each other. And men are more used to going to a game and sitting side by side. But women grew up sitting face to face, playing with dolls, playing with things together. That’s how they are. But boys are side by side, and so it’s harder for them to be in a group. And a lot of groups formed years ago, and then men stopped coming because when it got too personal, it was too much for them.

And that’s why the nature of our particular group because some men have been there for the whole nine years. And they could see how they’ve changed. It was all new men every time, I don’t know that it would work. So in this particular, it’s like A.A., or any of the anonymous meetings. The old timers are the ones that help the newcomers because they can offer them hope and know that they can get better. And I think that’s the beauty of our group is that we have these men who’ve been there since the beginning of our group. And so when new men come in, they can tell them, this is what I’ve been through. This is how I did it, this is what helped me. And they understand that there is hope for them. One of the men in our group is 83, and he didn’t tell anybody until he was 65. That was when he started his journey. And so they could see it’s never too late to do this work and that you can become a happy person.

He was an alcoholic, he wasn’t close to his children. He was very successful in business which happens a lot with women in our group too. But a lot of times they sabotage it when they get too successful, because they don’t think that they deserve it. And that’s an issue too in a relationship. They don’t think that person could love them really. And they don’t deserve to have a good life. And then they sabotage it somehow.

Andrew: In conjunction with the group therapy then, is couples therapy also recommended when there’s a couple involved?

Carol: Very much so, after they’ve had enough of their own individual work. If you add that too quickly, it would be too scary for them and they would shut down because a partner doesn’t really understand sometimes what the dynamics are. And then they start asking questions. And when you’re starting to feel, if somebody asks you a question, you jump into your head trying to figure out the answer, you stop feeling.

So partners need to have some time to understand how to approach it, what it means to really work on themselves and not take this personally when they get triggered. Because when somebody gets triggered, they act out. And they’re not meaning to hurt you, but it happens. And also, men feel very safe in a group, and so many of them have said it’s the only time they’ve ever felt safe in their whole life.

And a lot of speakers at our conference have said that too, that it’s the only time they really felt safe enough to tell their own personal story.

Andrew: Do you utilize the psychodrama in these groups as well?

Carol: Yes I do. We just did an exercise last time when we had a group. What we did is had two men stand together, and one was mirroring the other person’s movement. So we asked them to show how they were feeling just in movement in their bodies, and the other man mirrored what they were doing back. So they did the exact same movements that that original man was doing. And then we asked them to switch, and the other person got to do that. And the feedback we got was, I never felt so intimate with another man, and I really saw him. And to be seen that way, and really it was really a beautiful experience. All of them had that experience that was new. Some of them, for their first time, really felt seen because they were mirrored back.

And that’s the kind of things we do. We use scarves to represent feelings. We use drums to represent feelings so that people can start expressing themselves before they can talk about it. And we also teach men how to label their sensations in their body as feelings because so many men don’t know what they’re feeling. They don’t know what that means. But we start teaching them, if you get a knot in your stomach or you get hot or your face gets red, which might mean you’re angry. Asking him, what sensations are you having? What feeling might we label that as? So they start understanding, I’m sad, I’m angry, because they don’t really know. They didn’t ever get to go there and learn what feelings are. Because so many men grew up with dads or no dads that said, don’t feel that way or you don’t feel that way. Or they said, I’m hurt, and I said, no you’re not. I’m sad, no you’re not. Or they cry, and go, I’ll give you something to cry about. And they really don’t understand how to label what they’re feeling. So that’s a big part of it is helping them understand what they are feeling and expressing it.

Andrew: You mentioned a statistic earlier which shocked me. One third of girls, one fourth of boys by the age of 18 are abused. Why is it so commonplace? In this world that we live in today, and where does this come from?

Carol: It’s been going on for many years and we keep hoping it’s going to get better and it doesn’t seem to get better.

We’re still hoping that it’ll get better because Spotlight won the Academy Award, which nobody ever thought that would ever be possible that a movie about sexual abuse happening with boys would win best picture. And Lady Gaga’s song, You’ll Never Know How It Feels Till It Happens to You. She sang that at the Academy Awards and now more people are talking about that. And not only did she bring women up who were raped, but she brought boys up. And that was a first to have that seen on that national, international show that people all over the world were watching that.

And so the awareness is happening now. And we’re hoping that it will get better. But we talk at a high school, in Palm Desert, it’s a very affluent school and we talked to the freshman class. And the first class, there was 46 students. Of the 46 students, we let them fill out 3 x 5 cards and put it in a box in the middle of the room, so it’s anonymous. And then we read the cards and try to respond to their experience. In the first class, 14 out of 46 were being abused right now. The teacher is always shocked when we tell them that, because he said but that means in this class there would be this many. In my six classes it would be this many. And that was only one teacher, and then in the whole school it would be this many. And we go yeah, it is.

Andrew: Is this something that is passed on from generation to generation?

Carol: Well, we always tell people that hurt people hurt people, and that’s what happens.

When I first started studying sexual abuse with Alice Miller, who was one of the leading sexual abuse experts in the 80s and 90s, she explained that hurt people hurt people, and when somebody’s hurting so bad, they want a partner in their pain.

And it’s not about sex, that’s another misconception, there’s two. That sexual abuse is about sex. It’s not about sex, it’s about having power over someone. So, we’ve been in public arenas where people have come up to me and go, well, this would never happen if there weren’t gay men. And it’s not a gay issue. Gay men don’t go around abusing kids. And that’s a misconception that we try to clear up too.

And it’s not about the sex. And people teach their kids about stranger danger, that it’s the strangers that we have to watch out for, but it’s not the strangers. Over 90% of the perpetrators are someone the child knows, and over 80% are family members. And it’s somebody who’s hurting, and they don’t know how to deal with it. And here’s this vulnerable child, and they take advantage of them and manipulate them, and that’s what happens. And it’s going on, yes, generation after generation. Few people that I know, sociologists, said that they think it’s getting worse right now because of the economic system and people are really hurting and they’re not having jobs, and they’re frustrated, and here’s this child and they end up taking it out on the child. Because then they can feel powerful, because they don’t feel powerful out in the world. But they can feel powerful against that child.

Andrew: So really in the long term view, the way to address this is to intervene on those people that are hurting, and give them better coping mechanisms.

Carol: Absolutely, that’s my philosophy exactly. And people said to me you’re a woman, why are you dealing with men who have been abused, as a woman? I say because if we don’t help the men, they’re going to keep hurting the women and children.

Andrew: I know that you’re involved in many community functions, and I wanted to talk about those things that you offer to the community down in Rancho Mirage, and the area down there. The free groups for men that you do, what is that all about and how do people get involved in that?

Carol: They can just call me. My phone number is 760-346-4606, or they can call 1-760-862-KIDS, and we’ll give them information. We have a free group on the first Tuesday and the third Tuesday in my office. We’ve been doing that for nine years now, because we know that this is such an important issue that affects all of us, and we want to help as many men as we can. All the men come to our conference, but we go out speaking as many places as we can. And we offer the group so that men can actually speak up and talk about what happened to them. Because that’s the first step in healing, is saying it, having your voice heard. Knowing you have a voice and somebody wants to listen to it.

Andrew: I love the outreach that you are doing with, particularly the college students, the psychology students. What is that effort doing?

Carol: That’s helping them be aware and helping them get prepared for being a therapist and being comfortable asking the questions and talking about the subject. There’s so many men who have very little education about sexuality. Nobody’s ever told them what healthy sexuality looks like.

What do you experience, what you do? They don’t have any idea. The only information they got was from porno movies, from magazines, from friends. But they never really understood about sexuality in a relationship, in a loving relationship. They just know about sex. And when we talk about that, they’re really stunned that they have so little information.

A lot of the men that I see say to me, I don’t understand how to get the woman that I’m involved with wanting to give me oral sex. And I’ll say, well what do you do to help her want to do that for you? And they look at me and go, what do you mean?

They have no idea how women work, how they are, what they need. Nobody ever taught them that. And that’s a big piece that’s missing. We use sex to sell everything in our country but nobody really talks about that and understands about it, or teaches about it. So college students realize you need to take classes in human sexuality, and you need to know how to talk about it and not be embarrassed, and how to ask questions or answer questions and not be embarrassed.

And then you can move on to the sexual abuse part because they’re going to tell you things that happened to them, but if you go, my God, or you turn red, they’re not going to tell you anything else. So you’ve got to get comfortable with this subject so that you can help someone, because if you’re not comfortable with it, they’re not going to trust you.

Andrew: Of course, it’ll just make them immerse themselves in more shame, wouldn’t it?

Carol: Exactly, so they’re very grateful, the students that we’ve talked to, the medical students, they’re very grateful to have the information. We’ve gotten such great feedback from them because they really do understand that they didn’t know. You don’t know what you don’t know. And it’s important to find out that you have to get educated.

Andrew: Is the prevalence of abuse higher in the people that are in treatment for addiction, do you think?

Carol: In 68% of men who are in treatment facilities admitted are abuse survivors and very few tell anybody. Another thing that I want to bring up is the ACE study. That’s very important, and we’re telling anybody that we can about that. It’s a ten year study done by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control. And it has a list of questions, and somebody answers the questions. It shows that correlation between, and ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences. And so it shows the correlation between those experiences. And it includes things like going through a divorce, having a parent in jail, witnessing domestic violence, child abuse, sexual abuse. And it goes through all those things that are possible adverse childhood experiences and shows a correlation between that and physical ailments that you’re going to have as an older person, mental health issues, learning disabilities, all those things. And they’re able to see now what happens to someone who’s been abused and how it changes them.

And that’s been so eye opening and so helpful. That’s one of the attorneys that we talked to, we talked to a group of attorneys, and she said that she’s been using that ACE study with all of her clients to be able to tell the judge this person would benefit from treatment rather than going to jail, because of these adverse childhood experiences. So that’s a huge breakthrough, and we’re telling everybody we can to get that information about ACE the study.

Andrew: It occurs to me with such a prevalence of individuals with abuse in their background, in treatment it would be very important for treatment centers to be educated about this subject matter and to know how to approach it.

Carol: That’s true

Andrew: I know that you do a series of workshops in that regard.

Carol: Yes we do. At some of the recovery centers in the desert we’re going once a month to educate the male survivors and to help them understand what happened to them. And every time we do that, three, four men will come up and say that’s my story, and I never told anyone.

And we were speaking at Amity Foundation in L.A. And one of the men said, I lied on my intake, but now I’m going to go tell them the truth. And we talked about how it affects our children, how the rage affects our family. And when we talked about that, some men don’t want to hear it when sexual abuse is a very unpopular subject.

Nobody really wants to hear about it or talk about it. But when we start talking about how the results of the sexual abuse are affecting your family, your children, your friendship, then they start paying attention. Because they don’t want to be hurting other people. They don’t want to have their children suffer from that, and then they go, there is something I can do about that. It makes it more real for them.

And whenever I go out and speak, I bring survivors with me that tell their story. So after they hear an actual person’s story and get to see their face and see who they are and feel their energy, they realize okay, it’s okay for me to talk about it because that person did it. And it gives them the courage to do it too. Because I could just go up by myself and tell everybody the statistics and such, but it wouldn’t mean the same as it is when they actually hear from somebody that went through it.

Andrew Martin: Carol Teitelbaum in private practice in Rancho Mirage California, I want to thank you so much for spending the time with us today at Serene Scene Magazine to share with us your insights, experience, and wisdom.

Carol: Thank you for having me, and I’m hoping that somebody will hear this and go get help. Or that a therapist or a student will read about it or hear it and get further education so that they’ll be prepared to help men who are willing to step forward.

Carol Teitelbaum, MFT
Carol Teitelbaum, MFT

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