Bradshaw leads hundreds seeking the 'inner child'

April 06, 1992|By Sandra Crockett | Sandra Crockett,Staff Writer

They came by the hundreds to downtown Baltimore over the weekend -- but not in search of baseball memorabilia. They were in search of inner peace or their "inner child" or the words of wisdom they hoped would make their lives a little easier.

The man who led them on that search was John Bradshaw, the popular self-help author and lecturer. His work is intended to help people cope with their dysfunctional upbringings and to help adults raise emotionally healthy children.

"I want to share with you what's going on in the recovery movement," he told a crowd at the Convention Center, whose members seemed to hang on his every word. The recovery movement, he said, is growing and is not "a fly-by-night thing."

Mr. Bradshaw, 58, is the author of "Homecoming: Reclaiming and Championing Your Inner Child," and other books. He has acted as a host for two 10-part public television series since 1990 and crisscrosses the country holding workshops and giving lectures.

He spent the weekend in Baltimore inviting people to join him in several workshops. More than 500 people took him up on the invitation Thursday and paid $21 each for a 2 1/2 -hour talk, titled "An Evening with John Bradshaw: Living in the Growth Process." (More than 400 registered for his Friday workshop and about another 400 attended the weekend workshop.)

Dapperly dressed in a black suit on Thursday, Mr. Bradshaw comfortably moved back and forth across the stage with microphone in hand. He laced his talk with details from his now-familiar story of being raised in a dysfunctional family which included an alcoholic father, his own bout with alcoholism, his joining, then leaving, a seminary and his failed marriage.

He has studied the works of famous philosophers and authors, which helped him on the road to recovery, he says. Among those he quoted were Dostoevski, Nietzsche, Kafka and Kierkegaard.

For instance, Dostoevski argued that life was more than just about being reasonable: "Dostoevski argued that life is about emotion," Mr. Bradshaw said.

And it is people from dysfunctional families -- according to Mr. Bradshaw that is about 96 percent of us -- who are in danger of becoming addicted. There are many forms of addictions, he said, including alcoholism, shopping to extreme, overeating and overexercising.

"All addicts are trying to get to parts of themselves they cannot get to," he said. "Our addictions are about spiritual bankruptcy."

Despite his success, Mr. Bradshaw, who is a native of Houston, has come under some attack. Some critics have called his form of counseling "pop psychology" or "junk food."

John Rhead, a psychologist with a private practice in Columbia, said some of his patients resent Mr. Bradshaw. "Some of my patients say, 'I'm serious about this and here is this pop guy,' " he said.

However, Dr. Rhead feels that Mr. Bradshaw has "done a service for the public by destigmatizing emotional and psychological difficulties."

He has done this by openly discussing his own dysfunctional background, said Dr. Rhead who is affiliated with the Maryland Psychologi- cal Association. "Overall he does the business of psychotherapy more good than harm," Dr. Rhead said.

However, Trish Gaffney, a licensed social worker and clinical director of recovery programs at Sheppard Pratt hospital, has mixed feelings about Mr. Bradshaw. "He helps a lot of people give a voice to how they feel," Ms. Gaffney said. But she worries that people who attend his workshop may need additional help but might not follow through.

"The kind of emotions that people are dealing with can be very powerful, very intense," she said. "It opens up a lot of feelings."

Claudia Howard, a psychiatrist at Springfield Hospital in Sykesville, attended the Thursday night lecture. Mr. Bradshaw's books and televised appearances, Dr. Howard said, have helped her both professionally and personally.

"It was very important for me to come here tonight," she said.

Elsie Pfarr said she could not stay away. "He fascinates me," said Ms. Pfarr who came from Bel Air to see Mr. Bradshaw. "He has a way of bringing things out."

For her friend Elizabeth Johnson, the four-day event was an absolute must. "I first saw him on PBS and it seemed like he was speaking just to me," said the Bel Air resident. "I was prepared to travel to California this year to see him. When I found out he was coming to Baltimore, I was absolutely ecstatic."

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