Friday, October 06, 2006

356: don't miss the rat

I wrote this post this morning on my blackberry before I knew about the criminal attacks on Gallaudet students this morning. All day I have been working fighting for Deaf rights around New York City in individual cases, wishing I could be in DC to help and protect those in Tent City. Protestors - you are more worthy of respect than those who patronize you. I think the following post still has meaning, and I hope people read this and understand... We must continue the dialogue at all costs. If we do not continue the dialogue nobody will do it for us...

And now for something NOT about the protest...

I read this beautiful, moving paragraph by Neil Glickman in his book "Mental Health Care of Deaf People: A Culturally Affirmative Approach" (which I encourage everyone with an interest in the subject to get, and devour:)
Clients can also communicate in metaphors, and a therapist attentive to clients' use of language can draw on their own metaphors to engage them in treatment. For instance, a client talking about his drug use signs, "I have a rat inside me." He is not psychotic and doesn't mean this literally. What he's just done is hand the clinician a way to engage him. "Tell me about the rat," is one possible reply. "How do we get the rat out of you? What's feeding the rat? Can we starve the rat?" When a client presented me with this metaphor, we had a great conversation about "the rat"-his drug usage. It engaged him because he provided a meaningful metaphoric expression of his experience. (161-162)

Hearing people have placed a lot of emphasis on metaphor in my life. When I was a baby they used to use those idiom books with me-"let the cat out of the bag." "A fish out of water." For a while when young I had a confused idea these were the animals from Aesop's Fables, teaching me another kind of lesson.

Later I was an English major, and metaphors were the key to meaning. Today I think it's the journey to understand the metaphor itself, and not the metaphor, which gives meaning.

But few people spend much time learning about Deaf people's metaphors, and the problem with that is twofold: Deaf people are a very visual and metaphorical people, and ASL is the language of metaphor, especially physically descriptive metaphor. There are some permanent ones: "swallow fish." "Hot dog finish!" But we also create many metaphors on the spot, beautiful and inventive descriptions and comparisons.

Or, as this example shows, useful. If the therapist had no concept of ASL or the more visual tendencies of deaf people, the rat would have been nothing more than babble. Instead it became a bridge.

Deafhood demands of us that we be able to and willing to communicate with each other. Why do people promote ASL? Because a real, full language is the only way we can each all understand each other in, besides writing, and God knows my fellow Deaf bloggers have become excellent writers over the last several months, so that's happening too. If we don't make the active effort to understand each other, we will miss the meaning of the rat. There will be nothing but babble.

At Gallaudet University, young students have been handing a supposedly-capable and adult administration a rat. There is something wrong. They need help fixing it. Do the administrators see the rat? Or do they only see babble? Ignoring cries for help and change won't make the problem go away.


Jon said...


I completely understand what you are implying about the use of metaphors in therapy. From a social constructionist standpoint, metaphors are part of narratives. Your example of the "Rat inside of me" fits a certain narrative which is valid in our particular culture. Those who understand the symbolism of the rat may associate the following words and images: filthy, sewer, bubonic plague, trash, disease, or even images of being eaten from the inside out by vermin. Note that the use of these narratives is highly dependant on cultural awareness.

You go on to say that ..."If the therapist had no concept of ASL or the more visual tendencies of deaf people, the rat would have been nothing more than babble."

YES! Exactly! That's why it's important to have therapists who know Deaf culture and who understand Deaf epistemology.

breenie said...

Harlan Lane's "The Mask of Benevolence" cites some good examples of common misconception/analysis pyschologists make of deaf/Deaf people some years back. not sure how far it's improved since then.