I am not a therapist, but I have talked to a few since I have started my research about Elliott Smith’s death. Jennifer Chiba is a therapist, a marriage and family therapist, and according to this website she got her license in 1995. According to the Spin article, she has also worked as an art therapist, or at least this is what she likes to add to her credential on her Linkedin page, and she has worked as an art therapist at Five Acres, a school for abused and damaged children. Let’s add to this that ‘a marriage and family therapist treats mental and emotional disorders within the context of marriage and family systems. A marriage and family therapist provides mental health and counseling services to individuals, couples, families, and groups’… Knowing all this, are we entitled to expect Jennifer Chiba to be aware of some basic rules in psychology and therapy? I guess so, nevertheless, if we believe her narrative, she made four major errors while being a licensed therapist.
1. First, the obvious one, she removed the knife from Elliott’s chest and let’s remember that she pulled the knife out when Elliott was still standing: ‘The decedent was standing up, conscious, and gasping for breath. Jennifer pulled the knife out of the decedent’s chest and saw “two cuts” on his chest. At this time the decedent walked away and Jennifer followed him to where he collapsed’, says the police report. What happened is even more gruesome than removing the knife from the chest of someone lying down, especially when we know that one of the wounds (wound #2) was between 5 to 7 inch deep. A person, who is also a therapist from Loyola Marymount University (where Jennifer Chiba got her license) wrote the following to me: ‘Anyone who takes a Basic First Aid class, even the people who sleep through it, are scared straight from any idea of removing an impaled object of any kind. It creates a second trauma and increases the bleed. You leave it in and wrap it to staunch the bleeding. This particularly stressed in training for clinicians who work with children!!!’ Of course the removal of the knife has greatly worried the police: ‘Additionally, the girlfriend’s reported removal of the knife and subsequent refusal to speak with detectives are all of concern’…. So this question remains, was Chiba exposed to first aid during her training? A simple email addressed to Robin Smith Jurado, Assistant Director of Human Resources, Volunteers and Recruitment at Five Acres, gave me the answer: ‘Thank you for your email, All of our direct care staff, including our therapists, is trained in CPR and First Aid.’
2. According to several articles like this one, Elliott had threatened to kill himself the morning of the day he died: ‘His girlfriend Jennifer Chiba, who discovered the body, reportedly told friends that less than an hour before his death Smith had threatened to kill himself. Used to melodramatic threats from her boyfriend Chiba ignored his remarks and took a shower – only to discover later he had stabbed himself.’ If it’s true, ignoring suicidal threats is a professional fault, a therapist should never ignore suicidal threats… ‘Never ignore, diminish, or judge a suicide threat, and remember that professional help is the best course of action for a suicidal loved one,’ says this page about suicide prevention. As a therapist she chose to lock herself in the bathroom when Elliott was allegedly suicidal? It doesn’t make sense.
3. Shortly before his death, Jennifer Chiba was pushing Elliott to see her own psychiatrist, Abigail Stanton. It is not clear whether Elliott was already seeing Stanton or not, since the Spin article says ‘After Smith parted ways with his longtime psychiatrist, Dr. Bert Schloss, Chiba introduced him to her own psychiatrist, Dr. Abigail Stanton, who agreed to take over Smith’s medication management.’ In ‘Torment Saint’, Schultz writes ‘Elliott was planning to see Stanton too. He’d ended things with Schloss, the plan being to make a fresh start. Stanton, then would be taking over his care, managing his meds in the event he decided to start them back up again,…’
However, according to various articles about psychology, it is not necessarily a good idea when partners see the same doctor: ‘If your partner sees a therapist, don’t see the same one, and beware of any therapist who suggests that you do so. Also, watch out for feeling that you should see a certain therapist because you feel obligated to the person who made the recommendation’, or ‘Unless the therapist is specifically doing family, child or couples counseling, most therapists try to avoid seeing people who know one another in a close or intimate manner. Doing so can cause all sorts of troublesome problems for both the therapist and the patient, as the therapist will hold secrets about the two parties that they may have a hard time not inadvertently divulging’. Dr. Stanton is a psychiatrist, not a family or couple therapist, according to the reviews I have read, she sees patients mostly to prescribe medicine and that’s why we can presume that it was another error for Chiba to make her boyfriend see the same psychiatrist.
4. I was watching ‘28 Days’ over the weekend, the movie where Sandra Bullock plays an alcoholic who ruins her sister’s wedding and is sentenced to 28 days of rehab. At one point the drug counselor/therapist tells his patients when it is the right time to go back to dating after rehab: ‘When you get out, go buy yourself a plant, then after a year with the plant, go and buy yourself a pet, at the end of the two years, if the plant and the pet are still alive, you can think of dating again!’
‘While Chiba eventually became Smith’s girlfriend in the weeks after his Neurotransmitter Restoration Center treatment, Smith was in need of care more than romance’ wrote Ben Nugent in his book ‘Elliott Smith and the Big Nothing. By all means, Chiba attempted to start a relationship with Elliott immediately after his treatment, when he was still very vulnerable. On the website Alcohol rehab, you can read the following on this same subject: ‘One of the worst things that an individual can do in early recovery is jump headfirst into romance. It is strongly advised that they remain focused on themselves until their sobriety is strong. Once they are settled in their new life, they can then begin to consider sharing it with somebody else.’… ‘It is recommended that people who are still within the first year of their recovery should avoid beginning romantic relationships. This is because their priority needs to be staying sober. The first few months of recovery are often described as an emotional rollercoaster because there is so much going on. The last thing that an individual will want to do will be to add the stress of a new relationship to the mix. It is going to take all their attention to make it through this early part of recovery.’ How come Jennifer Chiba, an art therapist with 15 years of experience, could not even apply this elementary rule that even a Hollywood flick could get right?
She made four major errors that are not excusable coming for a trained therapist, if some could be partly explained by a state of panic (removal of the knife), the others appear much more calculated and unforgivable.
Originally published on Rock NYC (October 20 2015)