Mental health officials in South Florida blasted Rush Limbaugh on Monday, saying the conservative talk show host’s offer of “free therapy” for traumatized John Kerry voters has made a mockery of a valid psychological problem.
“Rush Limbaugh has a way of back-handedly slamming people,” said Sheila Cooperman, a licensed clinician with the American Health Association (AHA) who listened Friday as Limbaugh offered to personally treat her patients. “He’s trying to ridicule the emotional state this presidential election produced in many of us here in Palm Beach County. Who is he to offer therapy?”
The Boca Raton News reported last week that more than 30 distraught Kerry supporters in South Florida contacted the non-profit AHA following their candidate’s Nov. 3 concession to President Bush. AHA officials have diagnosed the disorder as Post Election Selection Trauma (PEST) and have scheduled the first of several free group therapy sessions for just after Thanksgiving.
Cooperman, whose professional practice is based in Delray Beach, said the election-related symptoms she sees in the Kerry supporters more than quality PEST as “a legitimate syndrome or disorder within the trauma spectrum,” according to the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
“Rush Limbaugh has no clinical qualifications to counsel anyone,” Cooperman said. “He’s not only minimizing PEST, but he’s bastardizing the entire psychological field and our clinical expertise.”
Rob Gordon, AHA executive director, said Limbaugh’s radio musings caused the charity to receive hundreds of calls and letters from gloating Republicans. But he said he also received a small batch of letters and e-mails from people who said they understood why some Kerry voters would need therapy.
A man named Paul wrote to AHA, “I too was very depressed, and I knew a lot people who felt the same way. You have to understand that to many of us, this was the key election about the future of our country, and with a Bush win that future is pretty much destroyed. Naturally, there’s going to be some significant grief.”
“The people here in Palm Beach County now in therapy or support groups are the canaries in the mine shaft,” Gordon said. “There could be thousands of others, even Republicans, who need to be in therapy over this election.”
Gordon said the AHA on Monday also received its first out-of-state call – from a fixed-income woman in Texas who is “absolutely terrified of what Bush will do” – and scheduled a free telephone therapy session with her for today.
Douglas Schooler, the Boca Raton trauma specialist who treated 20 people with hypnotherapy following Kerry’s loss, said he believes many people suffering from election-related symptoms are still afraid to step forward.“The Republicans want Kerry voters to shut up and pretend they’re not feeling anything,” Schooler said. “But many people have serious emotional pain over this election and it’s unhealthy to stuff it down inside of you. Therapy is the best way.”
Although Schooler said he never listens to Limbaugh, he said he has been deluged by similar phone calls and attacked on South Florida’s radio talk shows.
“Most of the calls I’m getting are from Republicans making fun of the whole thing,” Schooler said. “One guy wrote me a letter saying I should tell people to vote Republican and save themselves the stress. Republicans want to minimize the whole story of election fraud and voter anger.”
Schooler said he did not expect the Republican gloating to stop anytime soon.
Limbaugh, a Palm Beach County resident who owns $26 million worth of property in the area, read the two Boca News exclusives on his nationally syndicated radio program last week.
“So if anybody on the left wants some serious therapy here and counseling, I’m more than willing to offer my assistance as well,” Limbaugh said on Nov. 9.
On Nov. 12, accused by Gordon of picking up the story to rub it in the faces of Democrats, Limbaugh said, “Now, my friends, I didn’t do that. I reached out. I offered a hand of friendship. I offered my own counseling services.”
AHA officials, listening to the taped broadcasts, described Limbaugh’s tone of voice as sarcastic.
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