Hospital forum addresses the causes and psychological effects of violence

March 30, 1994|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,Sun Staff Writer

Social workers are accustomed to dealing with the effects of violence.

Yesterday, the social work staff at Carroll County General Hospital gathered to gain a better understanding of the roots of violence.

"We see in our casework that violence is an increasing theme, whether it takes the form of rape, muggings, substance abuse or suicide attempts," said Lorna Rice, director of social work at Carroll County General.

In recognition of National Social Work Month in March, Ms. Rice organized yesterday's program for the social work staff, "Violence: Recognition, Assistance and Prevention."

"We want to look at ways to better address the hidden physical and mental causes of the medical problems of some of our patients," Ms. Rice said.

Program speakers included Dr. Drew Leder, a medical doctor and Loyola College philosophy professor who teaches a philosophy course to inmates at the Maryland State Penitentiary in Baltimore, and Sharlette Kern, a psychiatric social worker at the hospital.

Based on his experience teaching inmates, Dr. Leder said that many people who commit violence use it to express rage and powerlessness in a chaotic world. That world is usually defined by poverty and lack of a family structure, he said.

He also said most of his students are victims of child abuse or other types of violence. "A lot of people I deal with have felt as powerless at times in their lives as a little kid does," he said. "They grew up in environments which were very chaotic and threatening, and being violent gives them that sense of power."

Many of his students come from environments where people look up to and accept the person who carries a gun.

Dr. Leder said he was struck by the fact that many of his inmate students turned to violence for the same basic reasons that he pursued degrees in medicine and philosophy.

"I wanted respect, acceptance and power; I wanted to survive," he said. "But I had all kinds of avenues not available to them."

Dr. Leder said one possible way to curb violent behavior is to steer youths toward other ways of expressing their anger and helplessness.

In his classes at the Maryland Penitentiary, Dr. Leder is employing this approach. He has edited some of the class' discussions into philosophical dialogues that have been published in academic journals. The students are also writing a book, to be called "Getting Out of Prison."

"Violence is a voice. A gun makes a big noise and it's saying something, albeit in a very destructive form," Dr. Leder said.

"If they can find creative rather than destructive voices, they're much more apt to put down the gun."

Ms. Kern, a psychiatric social worker at Carroll County General, said that social workers in hospital settings must look beyond a patient's obvious medical problem to determine if violence is an underlying cause. "Much of what we do here in the hospital is a reaction to disaster after it's already happened," she said.

"We have to look at the person in the context of family and community, and let people know they can take control of certain situations without violence."

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