A Healthy Response to the Shooting Spree Crisis
Somatic-Emotional Education in Schools
School is back in session, and this fall the trauma of our shooting spree crisis is causing fear and confusion for everyone. It's time to understand shooting sprees in a broader social context. I'm going to share with you my point of view as The Healist—a somatic-emotional educator and therapist, and a former university professor for 20 years. I'm going to talk primarily to educators, but parents and students listen up.
I suggest we start by putting shooting sprees in the context of illness. And not just mental illness. Because you cannot separate the mind from the body and from the emotions or from the spirit. That core principle applies in education, not just in health care and psychotherapy.
What I am proposing as an adaptive response from educators to the illness of shooters, and the threat and trauma of them, is both out of left field, or out of the box, and at the same time familiar, obvious and common sense.
So why don’t most educators know what I’m about to say? (Some do, but not enough.) The reason is because we’ve had the wrong paradigm about the minds we’re teaching. Our paradigm is outdated.
The Paradigm We Have Now
Assign the mind to educators, the body to medicine, the emotions to psychotherapists, and the spirit to the church. That tradition was established by Descartes and is known as the mind/body split and also as Descartes’ error. Politically it was about separating Church and State, and, as a consequence, religion and public education. Pragmatically it worked for that purpose, but to do it, we had to all imagine that the mind, body, emotions and spirit were all separate, and therefore separable. They’re not. And nothing makes that more clear than a student shooter.
Descartes lived in the 17th century. It’s the 21st century now, and we’re so ill, so broken by this dysfunctional way of thinking that we repeatedly experience shooting sprees on school campuses and seemingly have no way to stop them. And that’s because we can’t stop them with the old ways of thinking that caused them in the first place. So yes, of course, the billion dollar gun industry selling semi-automatic weapons to mentally unbalanced teens and young men with a history of prior run-ins with security guards and police without adequate safety checks is dysfunctional. But it doesn’t stop there. What medicine is doing to the neurobiology of children and teens is dysfunctional. Traditional 1-on-1 talk therapy is dysfunctional. The gaming industry’s reckless disregard of the consequences of somatic patterning on the developmental psychology of children and teens is dysfunctional. And our way of thinking about the whole person in education is dysfunctional.
I think all of us know in our hearts and guts that the problem won’t be solved by arming teachers or hiring another school counselor or hiring more security guards. The whole system is ill, and only systemic change can heal it.
It’s time for enormous changes at the last minute. It’s time for educators to step forward, because it’s the only way to heal this crisis.
What Can Educators Do?
I’m going to say to educators the same thing I would say to a client in my private practice. The most important factor in whether you heal or not is your belief that you can heal. There are many studies that show this to be true. The striking difference between people who are ill and told to change—and do—and those who don’t, is the belief that they can impact their own health and wellbeing. So, to quote Wonder Woman in the film with Gal Gadot: It’s not about whether you deserve it. We all deserve it. It’s about whether you believe it.
So we have a shooting spree problem. And the truth is, the mind cannot be separated from the emotions or from the body or from moral feeling and reason. So we were never just teaching minds. Ever. We just pretended to. And to change the whole paradigm, all we have to do is stop pretending.
A huge opportunity presents itself as soon as we admit, as educators, that we’re dealing with the whole person. That we’re dealing with the whole shooter. Shooters are almost always socially estranged, bullied or shunned as children, feel rejected and socially alienated, have trouble connecting with peers and adults, on psychotropic meds that have side-effects of suicide, obsessively play violent computer video games including first-person shooter games, and have repeated unresolved conflicts within the school system and family before shooting erupts. And obviously, school shooters lack anything resembling a normative morality or ethics, or even sense of reality. Shooters are ill in every way we usually think about a normal, functioning human being. And they need help.
What can we do?