California Association Of Marriage And Family Therapists Examines How Therapy Can Miss Patients Who Pose A Threat

Carolyn Gerard, CAMFT Member, Whose Son Sheltered Isla Vista Shooting Victim, Explains How Some Mentally Ill Patients Can Slip Through Undetected

Jun 10, 2014, 13:10 ET from California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

SAN DIEGO, June 10, 2014 /PRNewswire/ -- With last week's graphic news of another gunman killing one and wounding at least two others at Seattle Pacific University, and this Sunday's news of the Las Vegas rampage that left five dead, San Diego Marriage and Family Therapist Carolyn Gerard was immediately brought back to the UC Santa Barbara shooting that directly involved her son who sheltered one of the shooting victims The driving question of why aren't these mentally ill individuals identified and helped so that tragedies can be avoided is often asked of therapists like her, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

When Gerard learned that the Isla Vista Shooter's therapist was being blamed for not alerting authorities to the fact that he was a danger to society, she explained how some mentally ill patients can slip through the system undetected.

"When a person is mentally ill, there's a lot of misinterpretation that can lead to denial," explained Gerard. "They know they need help, but to what extent and how, they have no idea, so they blame their issues on other people. It's just too hard for them to accept accountability. They're just not there emotionally."

When asked how a therapist can see a patient who might later go on a shooting spree and not see how severe his mental illness was after the fact, Gerard explained that a therapist's job from the beginning is to build rapport with the client. Establishing a trusting, accepting and non-judgmental atmosphere is essential in order for the client to feel that they can open up to discuss their insecurities and fears with their therapist.

"It may be difficult for them to accept that they have a mental illness because they are not aware of the severity of their thoughts and emotions in spite of the fact that they have these emotions going on, and they need to feel safe expressing themselves to the therapist," added Gerard. "Therapists have to be able to point out their issues in a safe environment in a way the patient will hear and accept them. Our job is to help them feel safe enough to share what's affecting them.  Some people feel comfortable with the therapy process quickly, while others take longer to open up."

She explained that a patient might only reveal one or two sides of the picture, in which case the therapist would only focus on the issue that's presented.

"Patients are aware that therapists have a duty to warn appropriate authorities and people directly involved when a threat presents itself. We explain this to our patients at the beginning of therapy," she added. "Many patients are aware of what's expected from therapists and are familiar with the system. They feel enough connection but emotionally there is so much pain that they feel they can never work through their issues," Gerard added. "There has to be enough sense of comfort and trust. With Rodger's story, anger at his parents' divorce and financial issues and the fact that he wasn't in the social circle he wanted to be in, this informs a therapist that he's struggling with a sense of belonging, trusting others, self esteem and socially fitting in. We still don't know what Aaron Ybarra, the Seattle Pacific University shooter's, story is. One friend who was interviewed about him said he was happy but sometimes got low, and had a minor reading disability.  If he had other issues, he kept them hidden from others."

She cautions that a therapist can give the patient a message and the patient might interpret it in a completely different way. 

"Clients sometimes aren't able to hear what they don't want to hear, and therapists don't necessarily always know when our message to them isn't received in the intended way. We can ask them to repeat it back to us, and they might, but it doesn't always register with them," she explained. "When they don't want to hear something, it's indicative that more work needs to be done. Unless the patient presents as a danger to society or to himself, we have no way of knowing something critical will happen and that it should be reported."

She goes on to say that for those who are honest with themselves and their therapists, therapy is effective and continues to help many.

Carolyn Gerard is available for interview. Please contact Marisa Vallbona at 619-708-7990 or

About the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists

The California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT) is an independent professional organization of approximately 30,000 members that has represented the interests of licensed marriage and family therapists for 50 years. It is dedicated to advancing the profession as an art and a science, to maintaining high standards of professional ethics, to upholding the qualifications for the profession and to expanding the recognition and awareness of the profession.

About, a free online resource provided by the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, is California's lifeline to nearly 8,000 licensed marriage and family therapists and other mental health professionals. At its heart, contains a comprehensive searchable directory of licensed marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and other psychotherapists licensed to practice in the state of California. From surviving divorce to coping with depression, provides valuable resources for managing difficult life challenges.

Media Contact:
Marisa Vallbona | 619.708.7990

SOURCE California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists