Moving Beyond Labels and Understanding Neurodiversity, with Dr. Lori Butts | EDB 47


In this episode, Harold Reitman, M.D. speaks with Lori Butts, J.D., Ph.D., the president and director of the Clinical & Forensic Institute, and previous president of the Florida Psychological Association. She is one of the few psychologists with her doctorate degree in psychology and also a law degree, and has extensive experience treating patients that have Autism, Bipolar Disorder, depression, and many other conditions that fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity. Dr. Butts discusses the importance of focusing on symptoms instead of labels, the stigma attributed to mental health care, and the myth that mental illness increases the likelihood of violent crime.

 

For more on the work Dr. Butts does, visit: cfiexperts.com

 

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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR):

Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman. Welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains, here at DifferentBrains.com. We have the pleasure today of talking to my friend, Dr. Lori Butts, who, in addition to being the founder of the Clinical and Forensic Institute, Inc., is one of the few psychologists with her doctorate degree in psychology and also a law degree. Lori, welcome!

LORI BUTTS (LB):

Thank you! It’s a pleasure to be here, Hackie.

HR:

Now lets talk about different brains in general, and see if my thesis coincides with how you see it. It seems clear to me that–especially that I just got back from speaking at the Aspen Brain Lab at the Aspen Institute, and it really seems like there’s so many commonalities, between, just picking, at random, Alzheimer’s, autism and Asperger’s, bipolar, depression– How do you see it? Do you see mental health issues the same as intellectual disability issues, regards to neurodiversity and maybe neuroplasticity, do you see neurological disorders like Parkinsonism and the overlap into Alzheimer’s, because I don’t see anything occurring in isolation. Everything’s got co-morbidities.

LB:

Right, right.

HR:

How would you sort out the jumble that I just said?

LB:

Well, you know, there’s a lot of pressure in my field, in particular, to label things–and to give an accurate diagnosis. You know, in graduate school, you learn diagnoses, and these are the criteria for the diagnoses. And I understand that so that we can speak at short-hand, so that people could speak about what different people are suffering in a short-hand version, but, you know, I like to–if I had a choice, I would prefer to talk about symptoms, not labels. So somebody is having executive function problems–someone is feeling sad and depressed and hopeless, rather than just a label. You know, somebody with–two people with autism can have a completely different set of experiences than each other, but yet they still have the same label. So the labels is not really–it doesn’t give us any information. The information we want is what is a person struggling with so that we can intervene in that area, so we can give them skills in this area, so we can give them skills in that area. And, yeah, when you boil down the skills that were giving people, they’re all pretty similar. We tailor them to somebody’s individual needs, but when you take a broad brush, there are a lot of things that, as human beings, we know, make you feel better, think better and are happier and all of those positive things.

HR:

What is the one thing that you think a lay person like myself, who is not into psychology the way you are, doesn’t get about mental disorders and intellectual disabilities and different things that you are involved with. What would be a big surprise to them, if you could thing of something, that they just don’t–that the average person just has no clue but you know it because you’re in there every day.

LB:

I think that we are more comfortable saying–distancing ourselves from people who have mental illness, because it keeps us safe. So when you make a distance that its somebody else, its never going to happen to me, I don’t have those problems, it keeps you psychically safe, its like, its a defense mechanism. So I think that our communities need to recognize that you don’t–well, a couple of things. One is, you don’t need to have a label of a mental illness in order for techniques that we use in psychology to help make your life better. And its not only for “sick” people that we can give you resources and skills to enhance anybody’s life, and that it doesn’t have–because somebody has been diagnosed with a mental illness. It doesn’t mean that’s a life sentence that they can’t accomplish anything. I mean, you know, people rise above, they get treatment, they move forward, and clearly with the statistics with the different people that are taking anti-depressants anti-anxiety medication–there’s lots of people functioning well in our community that don’t talk about their mental health issues but they are clearly getting treatment for their mental health issues and they are functioning appropriately. I think, right now, one of the biggest myths is that mental illness is associated with violence. Its not. There are these very famous statistical points, but people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent then people without mental illness. The real issue–well, one of the real issues, the strongest variable associated with violence, is drug abuse. So substance abuse is more likely to be related to violence than to mental illness.

HR:

I didn’t know that. There’s something I know. Now we’ve learned that, that’s great.

HR:

So when we interviewed William Packard who wrote the book on intellectual disabilities and the justice and prison system, what was startling to me–kind of goes with what you’re saying a bit, in a way–is in the prison system, I forget the exact numbers, but I think it was saying between 50 and 70% of the prisoners have some kind of intellectual disability or mental disorder or something of that nature.

LB:

Right.

HR:

But then he said, the staff there and the guards are probably up in the 50% range themselves, and that there’s kind of a fine line there. Do you have any thoughts on that? And I might be quoting the statistics wrong and I don’t mean to heap any aspersions on any officers of people who staff prisons. But–and there’s a lot that goes under the roof of intellectual disabilities. I call them, and our website is called, DifferentBrains.com. And I think if you add up just the people in this room, I dont think any of us are neurotypical. You know, if you start adding up the 1 in 5 Americans on anti-anxiety medications, and PTSD–1 in 13 Americans–and OCD and ADHD and autism, Asperger’s, depression, bipolar, and I mean the list goes on and on and on. So putting this in the context of prisons, and you’re in prisons a fair amount, what’s your experience been. Have you had much exposure to the staff and guards?

LB:

Sure, and I’m actually going to be doing a presentation to probation officers coming up soon to talk about vicarious traumatization. So what happens is people in law enforcement get vicariously traumatized through reading, experiencing, learning, about heinous crimes, investigating heinous crimes, see photographs of crime scenes, or being involved in community monitoring–experiencing things in the community. So there’s–which is wonderful–there’s research and data to talk about what people haven’t talked about in many years. Its just–you know, prosecutors, judges, defense attorneys, I mean all of these professionals who have committed their lives to working in the criminal justice system are also getting vicariously traumatized through experiencing and hearing about heinous things that happen to others. And so we need to make sure that there are resources for people, people aren’t embarrassed to talk about what’s going on with them. We want to reduce burnouts–so that contributes to burnout. It contributes to people making poor judgments. It contributes to people being angry, being irritable, quick to pull a trigger or quick to yell at an inmate–you know, all kinds of those things that are very subtle, because it doesn’t happen in just one day. Its just kind of this progressive experience that people have where, you know, they just become a little irritable, little angry, a little short-tempered. And when were like that, were not at our best; were not using our brains the best. So we need to let people that are on the professional side in the criminal justice system give them skills and opportunities so they can take care of themselves and not react poorly in very difficult, stressful situations.

HR:

Understood. Understood. Where do you see the future of psychology going?

LB:

Obviously, I’m a big proponent of pyschology. I feel like psychology is involved in every aspect, right? Involved in business, involved in organizations, involved in healthcare–so–and its a science. So its a science–we’ve got science that can help all different aspects of human domains and functioning in our community. Psychologists need to be doing a better job at letting people know what we can–what we have to offer. Various stakeholders in our communities and how much we can really add to and especially in healthcare. I mean we have so much to add as an adjunct to physicians from orthopedics to cardiac to–I mean you name it. Sports, you know, sports psychology is really–you know, you talk–I’d listen to when they interview elite athletes after games, and I would say 100% of the time they talk about, my mental focus. Or my head in the game.And so when you’re at that level, that is the difference. The mental game is the difference. Everybody is strong enough, everybody is fast enough, but

And so when you’re at that level, that is the difference. The mental game is the difference. Everybody is strong enough, everybody is fast enough, but its the mental part in athletes that really separates the winners from second place. So I find that very fascinating, and I find–and people don’t talk. Its not so publicized that that’s psychology, that’s what we do, and we’ve got research to help out elite athletes. So I think that the future for psychology is more integration, more access. We certainly need–and less stigma–so that people are not afraid to go to the shrink. It doesn’t mean that they’re broken or that they’ll have mental illness for the rest of their life–that’s its an addition. Its an addition to your life; its a way to help you problem solving. You don’t have to be in therapy 10 times a week to solve a problem. It can be quick, and just somebody to assist you in making–working through a problem.

HR:

Well we have to get rid of the stigma for anything that’s wrong with the brain, you know?

LB:

Right, right.

HR:

And plus these are invisible problems as opposed to you’re in a wheelchair or something like that. And for the person who’s seeing a shrink, its almost like being gay 50 years ago. Its like you gotta stay in the closet, don’t let anybody know, don’t let your boss know, don’t let your colleagues know. We have to get rid of that stigma. I want the president of the United States to wear a T-shirt that says my brain is different.

LB:

We’ll get there. Well get there.

HR:

We’ve had the pleasure today of speaking with Dr. Lori Butts, who is the founder of the Clinical and Forensic Institute, Inc., and the past president of the Florida Psychological Association, Lori, thank you so much for being here.

LB:

Thank you so much, Hackie, it was a pleasure.

 

 

 

Author Image
Dr. Harold “Hackie” Reitman is the founder of DifferentBrains.com. He is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, children’s activist, retired orthopaedic surgeon, and a former professional heavyweight boxer. He who currently serves as the CEO of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based PCE Media, LLC, the multi-platform production company he founded in 2004. Dr. Reitman wrote, executive produced and co-directed the full-length independent film, “The Square Root of 2” (starring Darby Stanchfield of ABC’s “Scandal”), and is the author of the book “Aspertools: A Practical Guide for Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders and Neurodiversity” from HCI Publishing. He also hosts the DifferentBrains.com interview show “Exploring Different Brains.”

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