Mankind Project says report inaccurate, offers no corrections

Last week, I reported that the Mankind Project Houston has not kept the terms which were a part of settling a wrongful death lawsuit brought by the parents of Michael Scinto. Scinto killed himself after a New Warriors Training Adventure. In an online article Friday, the Houston Press confirmed with Mrs. Scinto that she was unaware of any effort to comply with the court settlement.
Prior to that post, I wrote the Mankind Project of Houston to ask if I missed something on their website or if they plan to comply in the future. Friday afternoon, an unnamed person from MKP-H wrote back to refer me to their legal counsel “regarding your inaccurate assumptions against MKP on your blog.”
However, the emailer offered no examples of anything inaccurate. In fact, I didn’t assume anything. I reported what the court order said (a copy of which was retrieved from the Harris County court website) and what their website says.
If MKP-H has evidence that either of those sources are incorrect, then it should be a simple matter to produce it.

Some great lines from Ben Taylor

The son of James Taylor and Carly Simon is a singer-songwriter who once penned these lines. I couldn’t find the mp3 anywhere on line, but he sounds just like his dad.

Just in Time to Fall Down (Tower for Fools)
-Ben Taylor (2002)
I made bricks of my lies,
Stones of my rules.
I used dreams as my plans,
and obsessions as my tools.
You know I built me a great big old tower for fools,
to look down upon the earth and sing the blues.
Just in time to fall down.

So many interpretations…

Mankind Project Houston has not implemented Scinto court settlement

Mankind Project came into public view via a Houston Press article on the suicide of Michael Scinto. Due to statements made after the New Warriors Training Adventure weekend by Mr. Scinto, his parents came to believe that the weekend conducted by MKP-Houston was responsible for the tragic death. The Scintos sued and settled with MKPH in June, 2008. The settlement called for MKPH to provide a new level of disclosure about the activities of the NWTA. MKPH agreed to several changes in disclosure on their website:

-MKP of Houston agreed to have its pre-New Warrior Training Adventure Adventure questionnaire reviewed by a licensed mental health professional for recommendations about how it can be improved. However, the MKPH board must approve changes before they can be implemented.
-Each application for the NWTA must be screened by a mental health professional who has personal knowledge of the weekend. The screener shall determine whether the applicant shall be accepted or not with the decision written on the application.
-The following changes will be made within 30 days of a required MKP of Houston Board review of the website:
1. Change the website to provide adequate information from which potential applicants can make an informed decision about whether to attend the NWTA.
2. The website shall disclose that a mental health professional will screen applications to determine suitability for participation.
3. The website will need to disclose that people who wish to leave the NWTA are free to do so.
4. Applicants will be told that the NWTA may involve optional nudity and certain elements of Native American traditions.
-MKPH agrees to develop a written protocol which will allow any participant to leave NWTA safely with MKPH assistance. Participants requesting to leave shall be allowed to do so immediately unless the action would result in further risk of harm. Once a request is made, the participant is not required to do any other activities unless the participant changes his mind.

These changes were to be made within 6 months of approval of the MKPH board. It is now January, 2009 and no changes have been made. In fact, the secrecy surrounding the weekend is still offered as a selling point on the group’s website:

Why aren’t the details of the Weekend divulged in advance?
There’s all the difference in the world between a concept and an experience. Our commitment is to give you a transformational experience along with information you can use.
Traditional initiations utilized fasting, isolation, sleep deprivation, mind altering substances and painful physical ordeals to break down the psyche’s natural resistance to change.
While we don’t use those extreme conditions, we do rely on the element of confidentiality to intensify and deepen the process. We ask you to trust us in this regard. All activities during the weekend are optional but you will get the most benefit if you participate fully. Remember, the training is mostly staffed by volunteers who have gone through the same experience and found it very worthwhile.

What is ironic about this description is that MKPH says NWTA does not use “fasting, isolation, sleep deprivation” techniques to “break down the psyche’s natural resistance to change.” However, as described by prior members, NWTA clearly involves at lease some level of food and sleep deprivation and isolation. Some people who view themselves as survivors of MKP would alter MKPH’s description of NWTA to say that the weekend simply breaks down the psyche.
I wrote the MKPH director for a comment or clarification of their position which I will post if I hear back. For more information regarding NWTA and MKP, see this page.

PANDAS, Part 2 – A paradigm shift in the treatment of mental disorders

Consider this case:

Jonny, (not his real name), is a third grader with a new problem – he cannot stay in class. After starting the year well the first week, he missed the almost the whole second week of school with a sore throat and a cold. When he came back to school, he was a different kid. He told his teacher he had to go home because he missed his mom. In fact, he wouldn’t stay in class. His parents would bring him to school, he went in the school but refused to go in the class room. He was sure something awful would happen to his parents if he did. When his dad came to school and convinced him to go in the classroom, Jonny bolted from the room in tears as soon as his dad left his view. This went on for a week with no progress. In desperation, Jonny’s parents called me for a consultation.

In reflecting upon the implications of PANDAS, I am remembering cases where autoimmune reactions associated with Strep may have been relevant. The case above is one of the more striking school refusal cases I encountered since there were no prior incidents of anxiety or phobia. The remission was equally striking. I saw them for three sessions and the boy’s phobia decreased dramatically.
My strategy was to ask the school if the boy and his mom could do his school work together in a room at school. I reasoned that there was some sudden onset of attachment anxiety. At the time, I wondered if for some reason the mother experienced attachment distress and communicated this in some way to the son. I wondered if the school refusal behavior was a communication to the father that perhaps Jonny wanted more time with dad. There were some corroborating findings. In this particular Autumn, dad was somewhat more busy in his work and gone a bit more. From a systems perspective, I had a working hypothesis that mom wanted the son to help bring dad home more and get more involved in the family. Dad was indeed too busy to attend sessions, so I worked with what I had and prescribed this change at the school. The school personnel cooperated and found a suitable room for mom and son to conduct school work.
Under these conditions, the youngster stayed at school and did his lessons. As predicted, mom and son soon got their fill of attachment and began to bicker some about various things. By the beginning of the second week, Jonny thought he could try the classroom again. After a couple of false starts, he was back in the classroom for good by week three.
Within a systems/solution focused framework, I had “prescribed the symptom” with the assumption that dramatically increased closeness would require a change in the mother-son relationship. Mom reported that she began to complain more to her husband about the school visitations and he was home a bit more. Somehow a more workable balance was restored to the family system. Mom and son found that when it came to closeness to each other, some was good, but more was not better.
Or did Jonny have untreated strep throat which eventually led to obsessions regarding attachment to his parents?
I will probably never know. I am very willing now to entertain the idea that the intervention I prescribed was not the source of the quick benefit. Rather, PANDAS or something like it may have gone into remission with the passing of time.
If the boy never again had related symptoms in the presence of streptococcal infection, he would not meet the NIMH criteria for PANDAS. The criteria are:

-Presence of a tic disorder and/or OCD;
-Pediatric onset of symptoms (age 3 years to puberty);
-Episodic course of symptom severity with sudden onset or acute exacerbations that are in:
-Temporal association with group A Beta-hemolytic streptococcal
infection (indicated by a positive throat culture for strep and/or elevated anti-streptococcal antibody titer); and
-Association with neurological abnormalities (hyperactivity/fidgetiness/restlessness, or adventitious movements such as the choreiform movements of Sydenham).

Even though Jonny might not have had PANDAS, it seems plausible that his reactions could have been triggered by his prior illness. The research program regarding PANDAS provides a new paradigm to consider with regard to the etiology of at least some psychiatric disorders. What other sudden onset autoimmune disorders could be related to bacteria or a virus? Mental health professionals are socialized and trained to attribute disorder to faulty family dynamics and/or trauma. I believe we should expand our thinking to include assessments of total health and environmental status. Careful observation was behind the discovery of PANDAS and may uncover additional syndromes. Susan Swedo et al describes this process:

…a subgroup of the patients experienced an explosive “overnight” onset of obsessions and compulsions followed by a relapsing-remitting symptom course. Closer observation revealed that the neuropsychiatric symptom relapses frequently occurred after episodes of streptococcal pharyngitis or scarlet fever…Longitudinal observations of the OCD subgroup and the patients with Sydenham’s chorea clearly demonstrated a temporal association between streptococcal infections and obsessive-compulsive symptoms.

In light of the PANDAS research, Swedo and colleagues recommend the following medical response in light of the research regarding PANDAS:

1. Laboratory testing: Children with an abrupt onset or exacerbation of OCD or tic disorder should have a throat culture obtained. If the symptoms have been present for >1 week, serial antistreptococcal titers may be indicated to document a preceding streptococcal infection. (Titers should be timed to catch the rise at 4–6 weeks.)
2. Use of antibiotics: Antibiotics are indicated only for the treatment of acute streptococcal infections as diagnosed by a positive throat culture or rapid streptococcal test. Clinical trials are underway to determine whether prophylactic antibiotics will be useful in the management of children in the PANDAS subgroup, but at present, they are not indicated. In the only placebo-controlled trial reported to date, penicillin administration failed to prevent streptococcal infections (14 of 35 infections occurred during the penicillin phase of the crossover trial), and thus there were no between-group differences in neuropsychiatric symptom severity.
3. Management of neuropsychiatric symptoms: Children in the PANDAS subgroup respond to treatment with standard pharmacologic and behavioral therapies. Obsessive-compulsive symptoms are treated best with a combination of medication (typically, a serotonin reuptake-blocking drug) and cognitive-behavior therapy, and motor and vocal tics respond to a variety of pharmacologic agents.

In the next article, I want to develop these recommendations a bit with application to counselors in mental health and school settings.
Read part one in this series here

PANDAS – Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococci

I recently became aware of this condition where a variety of emotional and psychiatric symptoms arise due to an adverse reaction to the strep virus. I hope to raise awareness and note the import of understanding this condition for mental health professionals and consumers.
Years ago, I specialized in child mental health and saw cases of anxiety with no apparent precursor. Despite my psychodynamic training, it became clear to me that family dynamics played little to no role in the etiology of these conditions. However, in some of the cases, I could find no clear explanation. I suspect I was dealing with PANDAS. Some background:

PANDAS, is an abbreviation for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal Infections. The term is used to describe a subset of children who have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and/or tic disorders such as Tourette’s Syndrome, and in whom symptoms worsen following streptococcus infections such as “Strep throat” and Scarlet Fever.
The children usually have dramatic, “overnight” onset of symptoms, including motor or vocal tics, obsessions, and/or compulsions. In addition to these symptoms, children may also become moody, irritable or show concerns about separating from parents or loved ones. This abrupt onset is generally preceeded by a Strep throat infection.

How does Strep throat lead to PANDAS?

What is the mechanism behind this phenomenon? At present, it is unknown but researchers at the NIMH are pursuing a theory that the mechanism is similar to that of Rheumatic Fever, an autoimmune disorder triggered by strep. throat infections. In every bacterial infection, the body produces antibodies against the invading bacteria, and the antibodies help eliminate the bacteria from the body. However in Rheumatic Fever, the antibodies mistakenly recognize and “attack” the heart valves, joints, and/or certain parts of the brain. This phenomenon is called “molecular mimicry”, which means that proteins on the cell wall of the strep. bacteria are similar in some way to the proteins of the heart valve, joints, or brain. Because the antibodies set off an immune reaction which damages those tissues, the child with Rheumatic Fever can get heart disease (especially mitral valve regurgitation), arthritis, and/or abnormal movements known as Sydenham’s Chorea or St. Vitus Dance.
In PANDAS, it is believed that something very similar to Sydenham’s Chorea occurs. One part of the brain that is affected in PANDAS is the Basal Ganglia, which is believed to be responsible for movement and behavior. Thus, the antibodies interact with the brain to cause tics and/or OCD, instead of Sydenham Chorea.

In other cases, the child with PANDAS can become fearful, especially surrounding separations from parents. Mood swings have an abrupt onset and are more extreme than prior to the strep infection. There is a clear and dramatic change.
The best treatment seems to be antibiotics to address the strep infectiom. However, even after the infection is ended, the antibodies can remain in the child with negative impact.
I suspect many counselors have seen children with PANDAS without knowing it. The following description seems quite plausible:

Typically, a child with undiagnosed PANDAS may be taken to the Psychologist and/or Paediatrician for treatment of an onset or exacerbation of ADHD symptoms, oppositional behaviours or OCD. Stimulant or anti-depressant medication may be prescribed and/or a behavioural intervention or counselling initiated. As the infection passes and the strep antibodies reduce, the symptoms gradually subside and parents and clinicians believe that the intervention was successful. However then there is another strep infection, the symptoms return and the process is repeated. The problem is that the brain is being continuously damaged by the repeated attacks by streptococcus antibodies; and after each attack the recovery of damaged brain tissues may not be as complete as we would hope. Eventually the child may develop a chronic psychiatric disorder

This condition should cause health professionals to reconsider models of personality and psychopathology development. Counselors advising parents who have a child with PANDAS might be tempted to propose environmental theories for sudden anxiety states. However, such hypotheses would be far off. Counselors should take detailed health histories even with adult clients given how this biological causal factor gradually coould compromise mental health and lead to a psychiatric condition. Rather than hunt for psychic trauma, a bacterial trauma may be implicated.
This disorder came up on another thread regarding causes of same-sex attraction. There is no evidence as yet that a virus/bacteria could create a similar autoimmune reaction which would effect brain development or perhaps glutamate levels in the developing brain. However, it appears that behavior and emotional experience are effected in PANDAS. Is it a stretch to think other experiences (e.g., sexual attraction) might be altered in some similar manner?
Part 2 discusses a paradigm shift in treatment stimulated by PANDAS.

Accountability sought at MKP annual meeting

New Warrior brothers Fred “grow some” Saldutti and Reid “new warrior man” Baer are men on a mission. MKP’s annual meeting is coming up in Glen Ivy, CA and our boys want to find the truth. Fred wants to know what MKP is doing about sexual harrassment on the New Warriors Training Adventure weekends (so there is sexual harrassment, Fred?) and Reid wants to be the free press. Let’s listen in…

Spirit of transparency? Reid, you said you reported on the MKP annual meeting for six years but it was for the secret MKP journal. To my knowledge, there has not been an independent reporting of MKP dealings or annual meeting to date. Good luck with the transparency thing.