post-traumatic stress and the expansive anatomy of empathy
March 22, 2016 11:28 AM   Subscribe

"...parrots, among the oldest victims of human acquisitiveness and vainglory, have become some of the most empathic readers of our troubled minds. Their deep need to connect is drawing the most severely wounded and isolated PTSD sufferers out of themselves. In an extraordinary example of symbiosis, two entirely different outcasts of human aggression — war and entrapment — are somehow helping each other to find their way again." What Does A Parrot Know About PTSD? [NYT] posted by amnesia and magnets (25 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
I've had the inverse experience - I'm still get flashbacks of my African Grey chasing me around the house, trying to bite my ankles.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:51 AM on March 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


She was holding an elderly Goffin’s cockatoo named Bobbi, a bird kept most of her life by her owner in a kitchen drawer.

People are awful. But also wonderful, like the people working to rehabilitate these parrots.
posted by tavella at 12:07 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


The linked magazine piece is really a wonderful read, in case you may be thinking "I don't care about parrots" (or "Feh, the NYT again").
posted by languagehat at 12:10 PM on March 22, 2016 [11 favorites]




With apologies to Veronica, the only animal I have ever met that I knew hated me on first sight was an African Grey parrot.

I sincerely hope no AG's are part of the program.
posted by rdone at 12:28 PM on March 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


her owner in a kitchen drawer.

I have no idea how this woman got herself wedged in a kitchen drawer, or why.
posted by mattdidthat at 12:34 PM on March 22, 2016


I'm still get flashbacks of my African Grey chasing me around the house, trying to bite my ankles.

CAGs can feel lots of different emotions, it's just that hate is the one they prefer to express most of the time.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:35 PM on March 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


I would never own a parrot (because I'm a cat and dog person) but do think they're fun animals and can totally see how they could be helpful to people.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 12:38 PM on March 22, 2016


The thing is... they aren't actually fun animals once they become adults. They are terrible pets, because they are social birds, and because you have abused them by taking them from their parents and not allowing them a flock, they glom onto the only social stimulation they have available: you. And for parrots, social stimulation is an all-day thing, and it is tremendously painful for them to be left alone or be ignored.
posted by tavella at 12:48 PM on March 22, 2016 [40 favorites]


That doesn't even go into the fact that they can easily outlive you, and then be deprived of the only social bond they know, and ended up dumped on already overloaded rescues.
posted by tavella at 12:50 PM on March 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


I had a parrotlet for 10 years, and I loved her. She loved me, I think, but did not love being held. And she absolutely hated my husband, with a fiery passion.

When she passed away a couple of years ago, we made the decision not to get another bird, mainly because I don't have enough time to spend with one. I miss her, but have compensated by putting a bird feeder on the back porch, which mostly gives me my bird fix.

Also, it means I can once again use bleach, non-stick pans, and scented candles. Every time I think of getting another bird, I contemplate not being able to comfortably use bleach..
posted by needlegrrl at 12:54 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


(I'd love to hear from Nattie on this, but she hasn't been around for a few years)
posted by filthy light thief at 1:05 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Are there any animals, excepting perhaps, dogs and cats, that would not be better off left to their own way of life rather than being kept "caged" by humans as pets? That said, the net seems weekly to have another article about some useful way of dealing with PTSD, and yet thus far nothing seems to work to the point that it can in most cases be used with expected good results. We have pets, LSD, Ecstasy, Weed, hypnosis, electronic games, psychiatric sessions, recreation of traumatic situations, forms of athletic immersion such as long distance running, rifle range shooting, hobbies, etc.
posted by Postroad at 1:13 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm glad that I came to the comments first. The kitchen drawer comment has already depressed the shit out of me. I don't think I could handle any more like that. The article will go unread until I might be able to stomach it. Or until I'm drunk.
posted by Splunge at 1:24 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


@postroad

PTSD can have a symptom of causing disconnect between self and other people. It creates an otherness, a sence no one can understand.

Animals are useful because it goes around that feeling, and allows for healing attachment that gets undermined during trauma.
posted by AlexiaSky at 1:25 PM on March 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


I'm pretty confident that my cat is indeed better off with me, because she chose to move in with me (despite doing a pretty good job hunting to support herself after being abandoned), and still thinks my lap or bed is the bestest spot despite having the freedom to come and go. And there's plenty of insect/fish/reptile pets, and even probably some small birds and mammals, that don't have terribly complicated social or stimulation needs. But most higher animals that haven't self-domesticated themselves, or been domesticated? Not really. And definitely not complex social animals like primates or most psittacines.
posted by tavella at 1:40 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Also, it means I can once again use bleach, non-stick pans, and scented candles.

Nowadays, there are at least alternatives to Teflon non-stick. The danger to birds was specifically fumes let off by burning PTFE/PFOA, as used in traditional non-stick cookware. I don't think there's 100% solid independent documentation on potential risks from the alternatives (mostly Thermolon at the moment, I think) yet, although early indications is that they indeed don't let off any fumes whatsoever, and the base ingredients seem to be fairly inert (it's pretty much just sand). But sticking to stainless or cast-iron is probably a good idea if you want to be extra cautious.

As for the ethics of "caging" pets: You'll get no argument from me that continuing to intentionally breed and sell domestic companion animals is deeply unethical, to say nothing of wild capture.

But there are also a huge number of already-domesticated birds that simply cannot be re-wilded, and they all need to go somewhere to be taken care of. There are very few aviaries that do the work of caring for abandoned companion birds, and most of them are full.

So I can't come out against the entire idea of birds living with humans as companion animals, it's just something that can be done either ethically (by taking in abused/abandoned animals) or unethically (buying from breeders or importers). The birds themselves bond with humans just as easily as with one another, they're not picky about which species they include in their "flock", so it's not necessarily depriving them of necessary social contact. Though social interaction between birds and their humans is a much, much bigger demand on the relationship than it is with even very needy dogs.

Birds also don't have an emotional investment in the idea of flying wild -- that's something humans project onto them. Locking a bird in a cage overnight is no more traumatic than closing your bedroom door. But locking a bird in a cage for years and years would be just as bad as doing the same thing to a human, for the same reasons. It's not that cages or bedrooms are inherently evil, it's entirely about the context of the practice.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:17 PM on March 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I will say that, despite getting bitten on the face and hands, I did love the Grey I lived with. His name was Mr. President. He had a great sense of humor and could be a sweetheart. I would occasionally take him outside for a bath in a Pyrex baking dish or just to sit in a tree together, or sometimes all the way to the cliffs of Fort Funston to watch the hang gliders. When I'd take him to get his wings clipped I would treat him afterwards to breakfast at a diner nearby.

One time we were eating (I'd put a mini version of the meal on a plate in his cage) and a woman sitting behind me asked if he was eating sausage. I replied that he was.

"Isn't that kind of cannibalistic?" she asked.

"Well," I replied, "he's not a pig."

"Oh, I thought it was chicken sausage," she retorted.

One of her tablemates whispered: "He's not a chicken either."
posted by grumpybear69 at 2:41 PM on March 22, 2016 [15 favorites]



"PTSD can have a symptom of causing disconnect between self and other people. It creates an otherness, a sence no one can understand.

Animals are useful because it goes around that feeling, and allows for healing attachment that gets undermined during trauma."
alas, my PTSD came from a fila Brasilero, a dog that was 175 pounds and is used as guard dog in Brazil to hunt jaguars...but he was not in Amazon but in Connecticut, off a chain, and ran across the road to nail me.
posted by Postroad at 2:50 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


That said, the net seems weekly to have another article about some useful way of dealing with PTSD, and yet thus far nothing seems to work to the point that it can in most cases be used with expected good results.

Some of what you listed are coping mechanisms, not all of them healthy or appropriate for everyone.

PTSD is a symptom of or maladaption to an injury. It has numerous causes, and there is no such thing as one-size-fits-all treatment or magic bullet. It's beneficial that more options are available for people trying to cope and heal, the latter of which may take many years or a lifetime.
posted by krinklyfig at 3:03 PM on March 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


One reason the parrot therapy probably works for the veterans is it gives them a chance to feel useful again. By working in the aviaries they spend time helping truly innocent creatures that repay them with affection, and they can forget for a while that they're supposed to be sick or damaged. Everybody there is the same, bird or human.
posted by Kevin Street at 3:15 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Speaking of parrots, there's this NYT article. Haven't had a chance to dig in yet, but it seems germane.
posted by tobascodagama at 4:06 PM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Tobascodagama, oh ye of the most splendorous punderful moniker, that article was worth reading, if only for the last line:

Yes, a cockatoo can doodle, too.
posted by BlueHorse at 9:50 PM on March 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Just an anecdote for whatever it's worth. When I was a closeted gay kid growing up in a conservative religious culture, the bond I developed with my pet cockatiel was pretty profound. I remember these wonderful late afternoons, after school, where I succumbed to the need to sleep for sheer psychological respite and, as I was drifting off, I would fold my hands over my chest and the cockatiel would fly over to my hands, perch on my knuckles, and also fall asleep, and those moments were the purest bliss. I also remember the urgency with which he chirped when I was nearing the door after coming home from school and the joy and relief of both us being reunited with one another. It's one of my most painful regrets in life that I didn't ever make it back to my hometown to reconnect with him after I left for college, as I'd promised him I would. I just couldn't go back, it was too toxic. After I left, he did develop a similarly close relationship to my dad, apparently, so that makes it feel a little bit better. But I still have dreams where I'm reunited with him, where he's still alive, and the sense of loss that accompanies waking up and realizing it was a dream is heartbreaking every time. I've been having those dreams for, what, about two decades now? In my most regretful moments, I speak to him directly, as if his spirit can hear me, just like I do with close relatives who've passed on. A part of me really believes his spirit is listening.

As an adult, I have very mixed (mostly negative) feelings about the ethics of keeping a bird as a pet, but I'm convinced that the bond that can develop between humans and some birds is emotionally nuanced and somehow profoundly intelligent in a way that's very poorly understood. That birds can be helpful for people with PTSD doesn't surprise me at all.
posted by treepour at 11:36 PM on March 22, 2016 [16 favorites]


Apparently MDMA assisted psychotherapy is effective at treating PTSD :

A quote form the interview Miss Molly Goes to War :

Q: How has the therapy you’ve been doing with the Mithoefers affected all this?

A: Working with them and with the MDMA has vastly reduced all the symptoms. Some are gone totally. I go out and hike and drive now; I don’t jump as much at all at sudden things; I’m much better with crowds now. Essentially, I realize on a gut level that I’m not at war any more, and I’m safe.

Q: All that, with just two sessions?

A: Two sessions with the MDMA, and some therapy sessions in between, yes. I’m about to do the third MDMA session.

posted by jeffburdges at 3:13 AM on March 23, 2016


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