With 22 years in practice, Peter Turco has worked with a variety of issues, with emphasis on an analytic and insight-oriented work designed to instil better understanding, an expansive self-belief and effective means of dealing with symptoms, conflicts, work and relationship stress. His treatment is interactive and highly individualized. His speciality approaches include psychodynamic psychotherapy, interpersonal and relational therapy, couples therapy, group therapy, trauma treatment, co-occurring disorders, anger management, occupational counselling and hypnotherapy. He Talks to Ciaran Connolly, Co-Founder of NoBullying.com about The Cyberbullying Video.
Peter Turco: My name is Peter Turco. I’m a psychotherapist in New York City. I have been in private practice for 25 years. Most of that time I also served as the Clinical Director of a mental health clinic called The Saint Mark’s Place Institute but now I’m in full-time practice mainly working with adults, couples and families as well as being an anger management specialist. Interesting that bullying is coming up.
Ciaran Connolly: Very interesting and do you think that bullying is as big an issue today as it was say 10 or 20 years ago?
PT: I think so and I think it’s hard to talk about bullying without talking about social media or cyber bullying, use of texts…etc. Bullying can be done on a very subtle level or can be done to the severe level that we see more recently that have resulted in suicide and other tragedies.
CC: Very good and we are having sadly some bad news this side of the world as well in the last week or two with social media. So, it doesn’t seem to be out of the news for too long. Do you see a difference in how bullying happens today and you did mention social media and SMS? I guess before for people it was very maybe physical and face to face but today people are maybe hiding behind computer screens?
PT: Very much so, hiding behind computer screens or their phones. I always found the dynamic of texting and emailing as new and interesting ones. I have patients [who] come here and…sit across from me and read back a text that someone sent to them, a wife, a husband, a boss or someone they can’t stand and the dynamic there is that in the text message, you can essentially be very harsh, be very cruel, drop a bomb and not be accountable for it. It reminds me of someone dropping a bomb from 3000 feet up and not even being able to be seen afterwards because you are not there to confront that person. You are not there, you are not available immediately. You can text them back but there a step removed there wherein the person doing the bullying via text or other forms feels the sense of distance and safety. So, to me it allows for bullying to be more widespread and for those to use it although they might not have done it before. The other interesting thing is if you want to humiliate someone. For example, if you are standing in the schoolyard you call someone names or point out something that they did or whatever, OK. The schoolyard is easy but if you can humiliate someone via text or email or Facebook, literally the whole world can see it and it doesn’t necessarily have to be true but it can be very very damaging. So, in my mind technology has opened up bullying to other audiences. People that may not have done it before even are finding ways to intimidate other people and also sad to say the tragedies that we are talking about that brought loss of lives on some level may serve to inspire people who may say “Well, I have never get someone to commit suicide but I’d love to get my old boss by putting up some lies in the internet” or something like that.
CC: Wow and you have inserted quite a lot of very good points. So, when we go back to the text messages, of course there is no emotion, people can’t see the other person’s face, it’s just words on a page or words on a screen that they are reading. So, you are right. It’s very hard. I could say for example “I don’t like you” but… deliver that message in a nice way, as nice as possible way, face to face but actually if I was to send it by text and someone has that in writing in their own mobile phone and they can read it and re-read it and re-read it, I can really see how that could start to get into someone’s mind and really upset them. So, that’s a very valid point so and you are talking about the long-lasting effect there as well when you are describing the schoolyard. If someone shout said something, it’s gone in 2 or 3 seconds but in posting something online and social media, it’s there forever. Do people who suffer and come to your practice, did they actually seem to be suffering over a long period of time from being bullied?
PT: Yes, especially more recently in cyber bullying. I had someone in this week whose husband just, ex-husband rather, just sent terrible things about her to her daughters, to her parents, absolute lies about affairs, things like that and all he did was just stir a tremendous amount of consternation in the family which was his intent. His intent was basically to spread toxicity as best he could and the nerve wreck of this woman made it very difficult for her to return to work, certainly to consider going out with others, made her parents look at her differently. She had to dig herself out of a hole that she never created in the first place.
CC: That’s another amazing point. The people that were friends and close to you today were all linked together. So, my friends and I am connected to all their friends and family. So, actually posting something negative it can really really damage someone’s reputation.
PT: Yes, it can. I’m amazed at the level of emotional distresses. Some of these things can happen and what it can bring about online when people post adverse things or lies. You even hear people feeling very hurt when someone has ‘unfriended’ them on Facebook you know. That’s like a new term of “It’s a slap on your face. I’m just going to turn my back on you forever. I’m unfriending you quick. You are out of my life”. It’s another way of bullying in a sense of certainly of being hurtful. So, the mechanisms that are available are incredible. I mean, I have people just coming in telling me about the emails that their girlfriend read and are using against them and threatening to copy them and send them off to other friends and things like that. It has become a very powerful tool and again the unfortunate tragedies we have seen lately almost speak to the level of severity that these mechanisms can really reach.
CC: It’s quite amazing. I never thought unfriending or unfollowing someone as well and of course if someone is aware of that and I can understand again especially younger people maybe. I’m not too worried about who likes a post I make or not but I can really understand for younger people where it’s important to have friends and be liked and be seen to have a lot of friends and social status that could actually mean a lot to them and going back to another point you made, people who may not have done bullying before actually if someone posts something on Facebook or on Twitter or Google+ or any of these social networks and 5 or 6 people engage and like or share or re-tweet that post and if it’s negative about someone else, are they engaging in bullying as well? Is it sort of becoming a gang mentality? I’m just thinking in my news feed for example I can see a picture or a comment and maybe I have clicked LIKE without even thinking of it and before I know what I have liked or shared something and it happens in a few seconds. So, of course I need to think twice now before I actually do that because maybe I’m actually damaging other people’s reputation. Is that something that you come across before?
PT: Yes, I think when people have the ability to jump in and support something and spread it further, this is what they mean I believe by making it viral that people can grab it and spread it. It’s like I throw a rock at somebody and the five people behind me now are just going to reach down the pile of rocks and throw them as well. They can do that easily enough. They can also do whatever they want with it and keep on spreading it. Take that Facebook thing and put it on Twitter for example then post it on someone’s blog and on and on and on and the lies or the hurtfulness can spread very very quickly. So, they in a sense are becoming bullies themselves if not at least enabling the original person who has the malice in mind when they did their adverse post.
CC: And do you think there is a lot of media coverage on bullying and cyber bullying at the moment? Do you think this is helping things or is it also I guess causing some problems?
PT: I have to believe it is helping because from much of what I have seen, a lot of advice is aimed at parents when children suffer bullying either directly or in the forms of media that we have been talking about. I’m glad it’s been articulated. It seems though that much more has to be done. I think some real fortifications have to be given because one of the things a victim feels is a sense of powerlessness and helplessness when they are bullied. People are ganging up on them or someone is just humiliating them into the ground, they can do nothing about it. I had a situation where a parent came in and described what his daughter was going through in her senior year of high school and how one friend turned against her and said all those terrible things about her and her eating habits and of course posted them on Facebook and whatever else she could and the girl was devastated. Her friends turned away from her, she was alone for the longest time, she became physically ill, missed some school time, had to leave the track team but the father would come to me feeling as…first he couldn’t fathom how this could have such an impact on her life. Second, he didn’t know what to do about it. He felt as helpless as she did and it brought him great pain you know to be unavailable to his daughter in a certain way except when she stayed home or to help through her illness or whatever but as if someone is hurting his child and he can do nothing about it and I think that parallels with what the victim of bullying often feels. It hurts badly and they can do nothing about it and very often this is what fuels a bully’s drive to be able to “I know I can hurt you and there is no way you can retaliate or if you retaliate, you only make things worse for yourself”. So, the whole parallel process seems to be going on there in a case like that.
PT: Yes. Again, feeling helpless and feeling incapable of acting as a parent which is a terrible for a parent especially to watch their child especially in a crucial time when she is graduating and going to college be beaten down like this and you could see others could lead to the great suffering and the horrible suicides that we heard of as a result of bullying.
CC: Of course and as a parent knowing that the child is going through this and actually knowing the severe consequences that can happen, I can only just imagine what they are going through. Do the schools…are the schools helpful? Because of course, here we have some schools that are amazing and very proactive and some schools that have a better work to do to say at least but in the US, are schools and education systems really starting to become more proactive in this?
PT: I think there are efforts. It may vary from school to school but I think in New York there have been efforts to try cut down on mechanisms for bullying, limiting use of your phone at school for example or certainly not texting in the classroom or doing some educational pieces about that or intervening when situations occur and I think encouraging victims of bullying to step forward but very often they are frightened and don’t want to do that. So, I think efforts are being made, mechanisms are hopefully being fermented further to make bullying less available. I don’t know what could ever possibly stop it quite honestly but if some preventative measures can be made or some avenues for the needs can be provided but I think that this is positive. At least it helps the victim and victim’s family feel like there is a possibility of empowerment out there or of allies because the worst feeling for a victim and a parent is the sense of being alone with it and being beaten down “I can’t do anything about it and no one can help me”. It’s a terrible place to be.
CC: Of course and when you are talking about the victim, what is the best advice to give someone that is being bullied?
PT: Well…when you had that question in writing, I wish like I could provide a solid answer for everyone that would just make it possible to stop it but the best answer I can give and have given by any means possible disengage. That may take different forms. Simply don’t go where the bully is or disengage from an activity, hopefully not have to change the school, find another crowd and stay off that media site, just take yourself off of Facebook or whatever other sites there on, don’t give the individual, who’s the perpetrator, don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that you are there to be further bullied because it only just fuels them. So, the real point is to do the best one can to minimize the effect that the bully have on them. They may not stop but let the individual feel like there are other alternatives, there are other groups of children, there are other sites to go on or disengage from the site as I said and not have to be subject to it for a prolonged period.
CC: And something we brushed on earlier when we were talking, do you think there are long-term effects on people who are bullied? Would it follow them through their life? I’m thinking children into adulthood and working?
PT: I have seen it and I have one particular case and I’m going to rephrase a bit for confidentiality sake but the individual was…the individual was moved from school to school when she was a child and had to assimilate into a new school environment from time to time, this occurred between the ages of 5 and 12, and she’d be mostly in rural areas and she would travel from different parents of the country with her family but she would be the outsider wherever she went subject to bullying and ridicule. She dressed differently, she acted differently so she was essentially traumatized from time to time and could never quite figure out how to fit in. Later in life and she developed a very good career but would move from job to job and came to the realization that she did so before she was found out or made fun of or discouraged in certain ways from participating. In other words, some form of bullying only in a sophisticated adult manner. Maybe the interpretation that what she was doing was running away before she got hurt and leaving jobs after relatively short time but also losing an opportunity as a result. Maybe 18 months and 2 years, that kind of time frame, but noticed she would do it consistently and it paralleled how she felt as a child and the need to get out of there but also the difficulty when she started a new job as when she started a new school of the fear of assimilation that came with that and what comes with that. So, we got the parallel between the two and helped her work through it and understand that her current circumstances were not of the same ilk as her childhood ones and she was in fact empowered to make friends, make allies, become known at her company and thrive there as possible. So, that took a good deal of time but she was able to see the parallel process that was occurring and allowed herself to enjoy her career that much further and not feel like she has to run away.
CC: Excellent point in story and scary when we think that something from so young in someone’s life can continue and impact and influence their adult life and career many years later. A last question if you don’t mind, the bullies themselves, can bullies be saved? Can they stop bullying? Can they be helped and educated that what they are doing is wrong?
PT: Only when the gratification for bullying is somehow taken away. That’s when the potential for reaching them happens. If they continue to get away with it, there’s no reason to stop. If the gratification continues, if they are able to hurt someone or better position themselves because they can bully someone either face to face or through social media but if it can be realized, if they can understand that the reality is they are hurting themselves such as in a case of an ex-husband who sent nothing but horrible lies to his wife’s family and their own children about his ex-wife. What he ended up doing was alienating himself so and now he was treated for this and basically had to understand that his rage was being directed in such a way that it discredited him greatly and while he was trying to make his wife into the victimizer, he himself became a victimizer. So, it got him back essentially when the realization came that his motives for doing these things is only to have his wife shown in a very bleak light and gain support through that way but when found out, he understood that he was causing harm mostly to himself and certainly to the relationship with his children by doing this. That was not an easy process. Again, the person had to understand there was nothing to be gained about bullying any longer and that’s a tough place to get to.
CC: Certainly. It’s very clear that you have had a lot of experience in dealing with bullying and cyber bullying through all stages of people’s lives which is obviously a great tutorial to help people like this but obviously a sad reflection of the problems we are facing in society today. If someone does want to reach out to you and to talk to you and actually get some help and advice, what is the best way they can do that?
PT: Well, they could call me in the US in New York at 212 410 5553 or email at [email protected] or send a message through my website and also learn more about me and my practices if they like at www.turcopsychotherapy.com
CC: Brilliant and we will have live links for your website and your contact details underneath the audio and of course in the text so anyone can click through and reach you very quickly.
PT: Well, I very much appreciate that.