IPT Book Reviews

Title: Bad Moon Rising: A True StoryPositive Review  Positive Review
Author: Dana Ferguson
Publisher: Winston-Derek Publishers, Inc. 1988

Winston-Derek Publishers, Inc.
Pennywell Drive
P0. Box 90883
Nashville, TN 37209
(800) 826-1888
$6.95
  

Description:

In Bad Moon Rising: A True Story, a scenario unfolds akin to the worst nightmare one can imagine having about one's child.  It is written from a parent's point of view.  The child, Craig, is an adolescent turning sixteen.  He had lived with his mother until he was four and one half.  His mother then asked his father to take him.  His father and stepmother, both psychologists, had their hands full when Craig first arrived at their house.  He was diagnosed as clinically hyperactive.  During first grade, he was assessed as having learning disabilities.  He played tricks on his parents and others, such as feigning illness by shaking the thermometer up, in order to get extra attention.  But through devotion, hard work and family therapy, Craig's difficulties began to smooth out by the the time he was ten.  Even his learning disabilities were on their way to being mastered by the time he was twelve.  Feeling satisfied about a job well done, his father and stepmother were fairly sure that giving Craig the opportunity to live briefly with his mother would not be harmful, especially since it was suggested by their trusted family therapist.

But when it comes to the deeply buried feelings involving loyalties between divorced parents, the most powerful and painful reversals can occur.  In this true story, Craig succumbed within two months to the emotional demands of his disturbed mother that he change his identity and totally reject his father and stepmother and their family.  The betrayal was enacted first through withdrawal of communication and later through his making allegations of sexual abuse, accusing his stepmother of having molested him several times when he was eleven and twelve.  Although the allegations were not substantiated, they wreaked havoc in the lives of the family.

The true story in this book becomes intense and interesting because it poses a relevant issue: sexual abuse vs. emotional abuse.  The psychologist-parents, along with other family members, decide to defend themselves and make a case for getting their child back by alleging emotional abuse on the part of Craig's mother. We are told that she believes she has spiritual powers, which she tries to impart to her children.  She admits using family group sessions, two hours per day, to have the children memorize the details of the alleged molestations, using tape recordings as well as written exercises.  In the book, a consultant to the psychologist-parents describes these sessions as a form of brainwashing, but this doesn't come until later.

A bureaucratic and legal nightmare ensues.  Child Protective Services will only investigate the emotional abuse charges alongside of the sexual abuse allegations, so that both sides of the family are on trial.  While this is taking place, Craig, along with his younger sister, who was also making allegations, are placed in a foster home.  A host of professionals, lawyers, social workers, psychologists, and foster parents, all of whom have their own personal biases and limitations, wrestle with the issues of this situation.  Most are thrown by it, and cannot begin to sort out the complexity of the issues.  Some of the professionals are unable to maintain clear role boundaries or to do thorough and careful work, and they act out themselves.  Other professionals overly circumscribe their roles and do very limited, short-sighted work.

From the point of view of Craig's father and stepmother, their whole experience leads to increasing loss of control.  They despair at the lack of justice to themselves and to their child's well being.  They must endure not only the total emotional wrenching of their child from them, but also the destruction of their child's sense of reality about them and about other people.
  

Comments:

This is a powerful book, in which the personal story of one family is told in all of its horrifying detail.  Written like a novel, it is fast-paced, suspenseful and easy to read.  It is commendable that having lived through it once, Dana Ferguson was willing to relive it by writing this book, thereby allowing others to know of her experience from the inside.

Her child is lost.  How is it possible to lose a child in this way?  As portrayed here, it is the estranged mother's severe emotional disturbance which affects the course of life for this entire family.  The whole scenario happens because as yet there are no means through which to effectively counter sexual abuse allegations (even flimsy ones) with a convincing conceptualization about where these allegations could truly be coming from.

Dana Ferguson does not advocate a point of view.  She simply presents the narrative story as she experienced it and saw it occur.  She does not tell us what conclusions to draw.  Yet the facts of what happened are startling.

Only recently have mental health professionals been able to recognize in more depth the nature of extremely unhealthy alliances that some "protective" parents (mothers and sometimes fathers) have with their children.  It is reasonable for parents to vigorously protect their children against all kinds of "bad" influences in the world, including suspected sexual abuse.  But it is not reasonable for a mother or father to suspect abuse because of their own paranoia or other difficulties, with views that are not based on reality.  The parent's belief system may be based on unconscious needs arising out of very problematic experiences as a youngster, possibly extreme neglect or some kind of abuse.  Or the parent's mental illness may originate the allegations in some way.  Some parents need to use their children as the external focus of their internal conflicts, insisting that there is something wrong with them that needs treating.  This is similar to Munchausen syndrome by proxy where an illness of the child is posed by the parent, who fabricates a medical history and allows the child to undergo repeated invasive or otherwise injurious, unnecessary medical treatments.

The drama of this story contains some important and meaningful ideas.  There is extreme psychopathology at the heart of some allegations of sexual abuse.  Oftentimes this psychopathology is not perceived by the professionals involved, particularly those who are not trained in depth in mental health.  This book helps us see that when such severe psychopathology is involved, the mental health and legal system can become disorganized and split, and ignore strong signs (such as daily, two hour family group sessions) and symptoms of severe stress that are occurring for the children, as well as the parents.

The book reinforces the need for comprehensive and thorough evaluations of sexual abuse allegations that occur within the context of hostile divorce situations.  Most evaluators (hopefully) already ask the question, "Are there possible unconscious (or conscious) motivations on the part of the parent supporting the sexual abuse allegation?"  Craig's mother had the need to get Craig completely within her control and influence; undivided in his loyalty to her.

In a divorce situation, one parent's wish for extreme, total abnegation of the relationship with the other parent and that parent's family can also be a form of child abuse.  Mental health professionals need to define more clearly the long-term effects on children of having no contact (even supervised) with the allegedly dangerous parent before issues are settled in court (which can take years) as well as during treatment.  Clearly, Craig could have benefited by having a dialogue with his father and step-mother while these crucial events in his life were occurring.

By sharing her story, Dana Ferguson has let us in on her personal pain, the loss of her child.  This could be a healing book for her and for those who read it if the tragic, human mistakes made in her story are not repeated, or even not repeated as frequently.

Reviewed by Marjorie Gans Walters, Psychologist in Private Practice, San Rafael, California

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