Florida Kerry supporters meet for group therapy Voters shout epithets at President Bush during first PEST counseling session

Published Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 6:00 pm
by Sean Salai

Twenty John Kerry supporters met for their first group therapy session in
South Florida Thursday, screaming epithets at President Bush as they shared
their emotions with licensed mental health counselors.

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The first of several free noontime therapy sessions at the American Health
Association in Boca Raton was designed to treat what mental health
counselors have dubbed Post Election Selection Trauma (PEST).
“If I had a cardboard cutout of President Bush, and these people wanted to
throw darts at it, I would let them do it,” Robert J. Gordon, AHA executive
director, told the Boca News after the session. “It’s no joke. People with
PEST were traumatized by the election. If you even mention religion, their
faces turn blister-red as they shout at Bush.”
Although the meeting was closed to the press, AHA therapists obtained
permission from participants to provide an anonymous transcript to the Boca
Raton News.
“I’m scared,” said one man. “Democracy is at stake and nobody is rising to
protest this president.”
“I want to be a patriot, but it’s impossible to be a patriot in an immoral
war,” said another participant, a woman. “Bush is breaking up marriages and
dividing families by keeping our troops in Iraq.”
Gordon said the participants also granted reluctant permission to open up
next Thursday’s meeting to the general press. Reporters will be forbidden
from taking photographs or using the real names of patients.
“The media outlets, especially Rush Limbaugh and his ilk on talk radio,
scare our patients to death,” said Gordon, facilitator for the meetings.
“More than anything else, people with PEST tremble physically.”
Gordon said the Kerry supporters in therapy are predominantly Jewish and
older than 50. Most are registered independents and all live in Palm Beach
County.
“We mostly let them vent during the first session,” Gordon said. “By the
third session, we’ll be doing some meditation exercises to aid some of their
symptoms. We may use visualization and some techniques designed for bipolar
disease and other mental disorders. That might help them adjust to reality.”
According to AHA officials, symptoms of PEST are similar to post-traumatic
stress disorder. They include nightmares, sleeplessness, hostility,
listlessness, and emotional outbursts including threats to leave the
country.
“There’s an overall sense of emotional helplessness and abandonment,” said
Sheila Cooperman, a licensed AHA psychotherapist from Delray Beach. “In
psychology, we call it ‘learned helplessness.’ After you zap a caged dog
twice, he stops moving because he knows there is no place to go. That’s what
happened with these Kerry voters. They’ve been zapped so many times that
they’re on the verge of giving up on politics.”
Cooperman, also a practicing psychic, added, “One person today said he
thinks the country is now run by fascists. Another felt personally
threatened by the president’s love for big business. Many believe Bush is
going to draft their grandchildren. The anxiety may not affect them every
day, but it affects their energy level.”
An additional 30 people are signed up for two other AHA election support
groups, which will meet for the remainder of the year and possibly beyond.
Gordon said his patients’ emotional problems typically started with the
“hanging chad” debacle of 2000.
“First, they need to realize they’re not going to overturn the 2004
election,” Gordon said. “They have to live with it. The problem is they have
no faith because they think the religious right has hijacked the political
system. We try to tell them there is still an election in 2008. You can’t
just give up and be apathetic.”
The AHA, using a holistic approach to health that has been mocked as new age
voodoo by some national talk show hosts, has stressed to patients that their
post-election emotions are normal and deserve to be taken seriously.
“These people talk about the 2000 election being stolen,” Gordon said. “They
talk about Theresa LePore and the Ohio recount. They feel it’s the ‘Right
House,’ not the White House. They feel the world is not safe with George W.
Bush as president. They spewed out a lot of anger. They are angry at the
Democratic Party for being aimless and leaderless. They have a right to
these feelings.”
The Boca Raton News first reported on Nov. 9 that depressed Florida Kerry
supporters were seeking trauma therapy in the wake of the Nov. 2
presidential election. One Boca psychologist alone, Douglas Schooler,
eventually treated 20 Kerry voters with intense hypnotherapy — for a sliding
fee.
The trauma specialist, whose bills were covered by clients’ insurance
companies, was later accused by some colleagues of unethically “cashing in”
on the misery of Kerry voters. In interviews with the Boca News, Schooler
said many of the Kerry supporters had visited him for severe mental problems
prior to the election.
Unlike Schooler, the AHA is a registered Florida non-profit and its
therapists do not charge for sessions. Conservative talk show hosts Sean
Hannity and Rush Limbaugh recently offered their own “free therapy,” irking
the AHA counselors.

Sean Salai can be reached at ssalai@bocanews.com or 561-893-6427.