About the Book:
Through their grief, some of our most troublesome boys cross the line into destructive and antisocial behaviors. Many will mature to be the most wounded men, and, through their wounds, they will inflict wounds upon families, neighbors, and communities.
Ashes to Gold is a book about two clinicians, Brad Fern and Tom Lutz, working to turn wounded boys. It is the story of men mentoring boys, and it is the story of one professional mentoring a younger professional. Using the Jungian approach to archetypes, Fern and Lutz use stories, fairytales, and mythological images to “cook” delinquent boys into community men. This is the story two men searching for a template to help them understand the “dark man” energy that works through them.
“The perfect healing story for one of the most troubling and intransigent social dilemmas of our time, that of juvenile delinquents, or ‘lost boys.’ From Ashes to Gold reminds us that there’s nothing so powerful and transformative as a good story well told.” –Eric Utne, founder, Utne Reader
Filled with true life anecdotes, mythic images, and hard won experience, From Ashes to Gold is essential reading for anyone in the business of working with youth.” –Martin Shaw, author, A Branch from the Lightning Tree: Ecstatic Myth and the Grace in Wildness
Brad Fern and Tom Lutz uncover the real human beings who lie hidden behind intimidating disguises of toughness and contempt. Here is the story of why and how ‘agents of the Dark Man’ mentor troubled adolescents. There are young people all over the world crying out for you to read this book and understand its message.” –Bob Roberts, author, My Soul Said to Me: An Unlikely Journey Behind the Walls of Justice
About the Authors
Brad Fern is a psychotherapist in private practice in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He has been involved in mythopoetic men s work since 1986. He is the co-author of Ashes to Gold: The Alchemy of Mentoring the Delinquent Boy and Songs of My Families.
Tom Lutz has worked with adolescents and families for thirty-three years. He has been the clinical director of several Minnesota sex-offender programs and correctional institutions. He is in private practice in Hastings, Minnesota.
Attention: Our most troubled kids might also be our most gifted
The clinic where I work in Hastings, MN, requires its therapists to research and present contemporary mental health theory. I have to speak about every six weeks, and it’s great fun because I’m allowed to choose any subject that interests me.
Just recently I stumbled on some material regarding the latest, cutting-edge work regarding genetics and the mind, and it’s very good news for the people I see in my practice. The material was gathered by a writer named David Dobbs, and it was presented on an Australian radio program called “All in the Mind,” with Lynn Malcolm.
I had cut my teeth in the psychology field working as a psychotherapist in a prison for delinquent boys (boys and men still make up the lion’s share of my clientele), and the question had always nagged me, Why do some kids come from difficult circumstances and click right along while others crash? For decades psychologists believed that an individual’s psychic and emotional makeup resulted from a combination of environment factors acting upon genetic potential. Raise a sensitive kid in a dysfunctional family, and you’re likely to get depression, aggression, ADHD, and a plethora of other pathologies.
The answer, suspected by many, was eventually proved. Thanks to the Human Genome Project and the successful mapping of the human genome in April of 2003, researchers were finally able to test identical (monozygotic) and fraternal (dizygotic ) twins for the answer. They developed a disease model that identified certain genes having to do with the production of neurotransmitters in the brain. Different combinations of these genes made certain children vulnerable to psychological illnesses.
One gene that was specifically studied had the painfully boring designation “DRD 4”. What they discovered by researching it, however, was anything but boring. DRD 4 was heritable in two forms; a long version of the gene and a short version. Kids who inherited two long versions of the gene (the long version from the father along with the long version from the mother) tended to do well no matter what kind of family they came from or what kind of trauma they endured. Conversely, kids who had two short contributions of the gene and were exposed to chronic stress or trauma were very likely to get depressed, anxious, suffer from ADHD, and so on.
So the researchers concluded that the short version of the DRD 4 made you vulnerable because it affected dopamine production in the brain. If you were unlucky enough to have the short version of the DRD 4 gene, the thinking went, then you were cursed and would be more susceptible to mental illness. It was a simple as that.
There’s an old allegory about the scientist who was researching amphibians. He began his experiment by setting a frog on a table and clapping his hands behind the frog’s back. The frog, not surprisingly, jumped. Then he removed the frogs legs, put the frog on the table again, and he clapped his hands again. The frog, of course, did not jump. He did this with several frogs, and the experiment turned out the same way each time. None of the legless frogs jumped when the researcher clapped his hands. So he came to the conclusion that all frogs’ ears are in their legs.
The researchers who had observed human subjects with the short version of DRD 4 had gathered accurate data, but they and the psychological establishment had taken the data and come to the wrong conclusion.
Then some very brilliant geneticists and behavioral researchers developed ways to measure emotional intelligence. They quantified social mindedness, empathy, and compassion, and – this is the most important part – they studied the kids at the top of the charts, the kids who came from “good-enough” families, families with warm parenting and the absence of chronic stressors, neglect, and trauma. These “top-of-the-charts kids”, in addition to being able to consider the feelings of others, were also the ones who proved to be the most resilient once they grew into adulthood.
Here’s the rub; the emotionally intelligent kids –the kids at the top – disproportionally had the short version of the DRD 4 gene. In other words, the kids who scored highest on emotional intelligence and matured into the most resilient adults had the same genetic makeup as the kids who disproportionally fell into psychic disarray. This, of course, threw the genetics crowd into a tizzy. What did it mean? The kids at the top and the bottom of the charts had the same short version of the DRD 4 gene!
The world of neuropsychology, subsequently, was introduced to a new way of thinking about kids, genetics, and psychopathology. The vulnerability model had to be thrown out. Instead of vulnerability, now the genetics establishment was contemplating a plasticity or sensitivity model. And the operative metaphors for the new sensitivity model were christened; “dandelions” and “orchids”.
Dandelions can grow almost anywhere (the long version of the DRD 4). Orchids become the most magnificent of flowers in the proper environment, but they wilt when the conditions are not just right (the short version of the DRD 4). In one of his blog articles Dobbs says, “… if the orchid hypothesis is right, the genes and genetic dynamics that help create some of our most grievous frailties and foibles — anxiety and aggression, melancholy and murder — may also underlie our greatest strengths and successes.”
Someone once said that the only thing science consistently proves is that what it thought before was wrong. So we can assume that the new sensitivity model isn’t the final word regarding brain genetics and mental illness. As a therapist, however, the work that Dobbs is organizing into his highly anticipated book gives me and other mental health professionals a totally new perspective from which to approach clients. When I am sitting across from a child who is depressed, aggressive, or is acting out in some way — and if I discover that that child is enduring neglect or abuse — I can assume that he or she is potentially the most beautiful flower.