Episode 12 – Research in Sibling Abuse and Healthy Living After Retirement – with  Dr. Vernon Wiehe

Episode 12 – Research in Sibling Abuse and Healthy Living After Retirement – with Dr. Vernon Wiehe

Dr. Jones talks with his mentor Dr. Vernon Wiehe about his research with sibling abuse, moving through difficulties in life and staying healthy after retirement.


Vernon Wiehe, Ph.D. received a master’s degree in social work in 1961 from the University of Chicago. Following three years of practice in a private family service agency in Wichita, Kansas, he entered the Program of Advanced Study in Social work at Smith College, Northampton, Massachusetts and completed this program of study in 1965. He then accepted the position of Director of Casework at a private family service agency in St. Louis, Missouri. While working in St. Louis he completed a Ph.D. in social work from Washington University, St. Louis. Dr. Wiehe joined the faculty of the College of Social Work at the University of Kentucky in 1974. During his tenure at the University of Kentucky, he achieved the rank of professor and held an endowed professorship. He retired in 2005.

Dr. Wiehe is the author of ten books in the field of family violence, specifically violence between siblings. He has appeared on numerous TV and radio programs discussing sibling abuse including the Donahue Show and Sonya Live. He has lectured throughout the United States and abroad.

Dr. Wiehe’s books: https://www.amazon.com/Vernon-R.-Wiehe/e/B001IXMVHS

Middle music:  Bach, Violin Sonata 2, BWV 1003, Andante, Siloti transcription by Felipe Sarro  licensed under a Attribution-Noncommercial-NoDerivatives 2.0 Generic License.


Transcripts are created using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcription and may contain errors. Please check the full audio podcast in context before quoting in print.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:02] Hello and welcome to the social work conversations podcast produced by the University of Kentucky College of Social Work. My name is Blake Jones. Here we explore the intersection of social work research practice and education. Our goal is to showcase the amazing people associated with our college and to give our listeners practical tools that they can use to change the world.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:25] I’m joined today by my friend Dr. Vern Wiehe. Vernon and I have known each other for a very long time. We’ll kind of get into that. But Vernon thank you so much for coming on the show today.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:00:36] Thank you for inviting me. It’s really an honor.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:38] Oh thanks. You know you and I go way back when I was a graduate student here you were my professor and I remember you coming up to me in class one day and saying Will you come and mow my grass for me.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:00:53] No strings attached.

Dr. Jones: [00:00:54] That’s right. That’s right. And you would come in. I didn’t have a car then and you would come and get me in your car and and take me over to your house and I’d mow your grass and then we would have coffee and talk. And I think our our friendship just really developed and I’m so thankful for that.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:01:12] Thank you. Thanks to you and you did a good job of mowing the grass.

Dr. Jones: [00:01:17] Oh thanks (ha ha). You know I want to say this as well that you know you were the best man in my wedding and I remember standing in your yard one day with you and David Royse another one of our faculty members here and you talking with me about getting my doctorate. And you know I came from this family of eight where no one went to college and you know I was the first one and never in my life thought that I could or would do that. And you really convinced me to do that and I want to thank you for that.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:01:49] You’re welcome. You were a very good student otherwise wouldn’t have encouraged you! You were a very serious student and obviously as a success you have in your career now reflects that. Yeah.

Dr. Jones: [00:02:03] So you let’s talk a little bit about your background. You were born in Fort Wayne Indiana. And then how did you land in your collegiate studies?

Dr. Wiehe: [00:02:13] Well, in Fort Wayne preparatory school for studying for the ministry was located one of 13 in the country. So I took six years in the preparatory school to prepare for entering the seminary in St. Louis and I was in the seminary for five years and I took my vows when I finished at the seminary. I was given a Weetra scholarship which was a full scholarship to the University of Chicago to work for a Masters of Social Work. And that’s kind of how my career and social work began. I was at University of Chicago for 72 to know from 59 to 61 and met my wife in Chicago. She was studying for a masters and violin at the American Conservatory. And then I was on a study program in Europe in Germany for three months and my first job was with a Lutheran Social agency in Wichita, Kansas. And following that I entered the program of Advanced Study at Smith College. It was a summer program and then during the academic year I was an internship at a Family Services in Cleveland.

Dr. Jones: [00:03:33] What drew you to social work?

Dr. Wiehe: [00:03:36] When I was at the seminary you spent one year out serving under a bishop and I served in Tulsa Oklahoma. And the man who is my bishop was very involved in social agency. I didn’t know anything about social agencies or social work. And as a budding clergyman we were allowed to study free of charge at University of Tulsa and I took an Introduction to social work class and I went with the bishop to numerous board meetings and so forth and that’s what got me interested in social work and then I found out there were scholarships available because Lutheran Church had many social agencies and they like to have clergy head them up. So that’s how I got a full scholarship to university.

Dr. Jones: [00:04:29] And so you found your way here to UK in around 1974 is that right?

Dr. Wiehe: [00:04:34] Yes I came in 74. After finishing the program of study I was offered the position of director of counseling for a Lutheran agency in St. Louis and then I started working on my Ph.D. during that time at Washington U taught a couple of courses at St. Louis U and the School of Social Work. And the woman who was chair of my dissertation Dr. Rhonda Conway asked me to come with her to Lexington as she was going to be dean of the college and I would be the associate dean. And I stayed in that position I think three or four years and I really didn’t like administration academic administration and I was more interested in research and teaching. And so I resigned as associate dean and took an assistant professorship.

Dr. Jones: [00:05:33] So I want to get into your area of research. I was telling you before we started I clearly remember a piece of advice that you gave to me when I was your student. All those years ago we were talking about the big field of social work and you use that kind of metaphor for the social work field and you said you know find a find a place that you in that field that you can dig and and your niche. And I’ve been able to do that some and that was just great advice for you. One of your main areas of research was sibling violence sibling abuse. Wondering if you could talk a little bit about how you got interested in researching that?

Dr. Wiehe: [00:06:17] My dissertation was in the field of adoption that the whole field of option was changing dramatically at that time adoption of infants was from unwed mothers. And then I started doing studying in the field of child abuse. One of my first books was the subject of child abuse and I read a study by Strauss in Steinmetz. These were researchers at the Family Violence Institute University in New Hampshire. And they did a study on violence in American families and they found that siblings were the most violent members. More so than parents toward each other which we would call spouse abuse or parents toward children which is called child abuse.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:07:07] And this fascinated me. And no one had picked up on these findings. And so I began to turn around in my mind oh I could study this further. There was really no literature in the field. This was in the 70s and it is very hard to get a sample because of institutional review board federal requirements you could not use children in the research without really clearing the deck as far as questions and so forth. So I wrote mental health clinics around the country and counseling agencies. And said if you have a client that talks or has referred at all to what they suffered from a sibling physical emotional or sexual abuse let me know and I’ll send you a questionnaire and I have a 14 page questionnaire and I received several hundred of these responses – I stopped at that point. And I put the data together in a book in a new book it’s called sibling abuse and physical sexual and physical, emotional & sexual problems I included many vignettes that people wrote they suffered horribly from a sibling when they were growing up from the abuse experience. And this was the first of 10 books altogether that I’ve written. And the first book got me on the Donahue show in 92 I think it was, “Sonya Live” and other program that I did about 50 radio programs talking about the subject. And it’s interesting at that time there was nothing written about 70 abuse nowadays. And I would encourage listeners to do this to go online and you’ll find a lot of references and discussions of sibling abuse.

Dr. Jones: [00:09:09] It seems like you were kind of a trailblazer in this – a pioneer.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:09:13] And I’m happy that I was able to make that contribution in my career.

Dr. Jones: [00:09:17] Yeah. That’s great. So I mentioned that I grew up in this family of eight. I have my brothers and sisters and you know I remember us fighting a lot when we were growing up and you know verbally and sometimes physically too. And so I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how does someone distinguish between sibling rivalry and kind of normal sibling back and forth to abuse?

Dr. Wiehe: [00:09:45] There are several criteria identified in the book. One is the behavior they’re engaging in age appropriate and sibling rivalry is very normal. The other is how long and how frequently has this occurred. I’ve had parents say I don’t like to be in the same room as my kids because they’re fighting all the time. Well something’s out of control here. That’s not a good statement. And the third criteria is there an aspect of victimization? Is one child constantly the victim of the other? That child who is a victim needs help. And finally what is the purpose of that behavior? What is the older or the perpetrator getting they do by treating the other sibling that way? Of course it’s very different with the physical and emotional abuse hitting slapping emotional abuse name calling and so forth. And with sexual abuse. It frequently occurred when Brother was babysitting sister and he would threaten sister and say “if you tell our parents what I did…” (and it was gently touching inappropriate touching not intercourse) “…I will kill you” and a smaller child will believe this.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:11:13] And they often live with this for many years and it affects their adult life and the sample of adults that I had particularly who who had been sexually abused but also with name calling and physical abuse they try to handle handle the trauma with alcoholism drugs poor self-esteem don’t want don’t want to relate to other people. And I had many parents say I would not have two children because I don’t want my children to go through what I went through.

Dr. Jones: [00:11:51] It sounds like there are a lot of things that happen later on in life when kids have been involved in this kind of abuse. And so it sounds like it’s really important if someone’s listening to this and this has happened to them that they get in some therapy to start working on something like trauma issues?

Dr. Wiehe: [00:12:12] And it’s like the #metoo movement that we’re seeing now it may have happened many years ago but the procedural is still affecting the psyche the ego and yes getting into a group to talk about this because many of them blame themselves and frequently I’ve found in the interviewing people who had been abused. If the child said something to the parent a parent would say “What did you do to provoke your brother?” for example to call you names or to hit and slap you. So the child does not say anything. Doesn’t report it to parents and with the sexual abuse a small child will believe brother will kill me if I tell on him.

Dr. Jones: [00:13:06] What about adult siblings if this has happened in their childhood and one of the siblings denies it or they want to have a relationship with their sibling. What should they do.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:13:19] Frequently the siblings have no relationship with the person that was the perpetrator. And if they say something to other family members about it like if the parents are still living in that office say Oh get over it. This was years ago. Well that’s not a mental health treatment for him to say get over it. It lingers it persists and this needs to be talked about and the individual needs to with the help of a therapist to recognize that it was not her responsibility for what occurred.

Dr. Jones: [00:13:56] Yeah that’s great. So you’ve written a number of books you’ve taught in your academic career you’ve been retired for several years now right.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:14:07] I think about 12 13 years. I’ve been retired I’ll be celebrating my 84 birthday in a couple days.

Dr. Jones: [00:14:14] Yes we’re going to get to that. We know you have a cake in the green room that we’re going bring out (not really ha ha).

Dr. Jones: [00:14:23] You know you had a long academic career and I guess I’m curious about you know which parts of that were were really meaningful to you. Did you like the teaching part better or are the research part or the…

Dr. Wiehe: [00:14:36] You know what I think equally I enjoyed the students I taught only the master’s level students and I really enjoyed them and particularly I taught every year for a number of years at our off campus site in northern Kentucky and I had a lot of respect for those students. They were working full time and also working and getting a graduate degree and they were very serious students. Most of them were paying their own way. They were married and had children but even the students here I found very interesting but equally liked the research – working in my office working with data and then publishing. I’ve published I think over 50 articles of social science journals and spoken a lot of conferences national conferences and I found that part of my career very interesting.

Dr. Jones: [00:15:37] You were telling me at lunch that you remember when we got our first computers here at our college.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:15:42] Yes. And our first my data analysis and people listening to understand what we’re saying but we used IBM cards and you put a wire through the cards based on how it had been punched out and a lot of the tabulation was on hand by hand and on adding machines. Makes me sound antique as I said to you, I don’t remember when we had horse and buggy… (ha ha)

Dr. Jones: [00:16:08] That’s good. Yeah. Well things have changed so much and you know a lot of our teaching is online now.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:16:14] Yes.

Dr. Jones: [00:16:14] And you know I think things have changed but for me what what is the same and this is again a lesson that I learned from you is that our influence on students is so powerful and important just to befriend them and to mentor them. You know I really appreciate that lesson that you taught me all those years ago. You know I was didn’t really know what where I wanted to go I certainly didn’t think I would get my doctorate. And you encourage that and have just encouraged me in my career to publish and to do things that I really never thought I would do. And so I want to I want to switch gears just a little bit here and talk about something that happened over 20 years ago when I first came to college. You talked a little bit about your wife Donna and she was world class violin player in our symphony here in Lexington and when I first came to the program she had just had a stroke. And I wonder if you could talk a little bit about how that maybe changed your perspective or changed changed things for you.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:17:27] Yeah, it magically changed our life. It was March 22nd 1992. I came home from the office and found her lying in the house and she had suffered a massive stroke. And unfortunately when she got to the medical center they asked if she could participate in a research project and I agreed. And the drugs she was given just had a number at the time. Now it’s the drug that stroke victims get automatically to prevent paralysis. And I think she was in the control group and not the experimental group and she was paralyzed or she is paralyzed on her left side. Mentally she’s very fine speaking and so far is fine. That just dramatically changed our life for the first few years we were able to travel and we took cruises different places in the world China, Vietnam, Russia… But in more recent years she’s lost her ability to walk. So she’s in a power chair and we had to sell our home where you mowed the grass and move into a cottage or a garden home in a senior community. And so life has changed dramatically. She can no longer play at the time she had at the time of her stroke she had 65 violin students and studied with Dr. Suzuki in Japan. But she still has five students and she looks forward to them coming every day. It has completely changed our life completely changed how we look toward retirement. We’re not able to do many of the things we had thought about but when I feel sorry for myself that we can’t do those things I have to think about her and how she lost her career. She cannot play the violin anymore. (classical piano interlude)

Dr. Jones: [00:19:44] Yeah and I’ve watched you care for her over all these years and that’s a very difficult thing to happen in a marriage. And you know I think when you stand in front of the preacher whoever is marrying you you don’t really think about the hard times in a marriage.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:20:04] I said never, I had no idea what the phrase “in sickness or in health” meant when you said it, when you’re married. But I do know now what it is.

Dr. Jones: [00:20:15] Yeah absolutely. And this kind of brings me to another thing that I wanted to to talk with you about. You mentioned that you will be 84 I think this coming Saturday. And I often talk with my students about retirement and health and in my private practice I worked with a number of elderly people who were just really depressed and they just sort of sit around they have no purpose of their life. They may have worked their entire life but they don’t work anymore they’re not employed and so there they don’t have a life and they become horribly depressed and just really are basically sitting around waiting to die. And I’ve watched you over the years you know you you go to the Y every day you still travel on your own some – you go to Chicago you go to symphonies you read you, you know, you do all kinds of things to keep your mind and your body active and I wonder if you could kind of talk about just health in your retirement how you’ve maintained health.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:21:24] Well, fortunately, I have been very healthy. I take no prescribed medications. I do take a bunch of supplements on my own but I have been very healthy. I had prostate cancer about 17 years ago and fortunately that was knocked out with radiation. But life is very enjoyable for me. I took some bridge courses to Lexington bridge club and I belong to a bridge club where we play twice a week. One time we played a Doubletree motel and have lunch and this is a closely knit group and I enjoy reading. I still take piano lessons at this age I don’t sometimes think I’m going backwards instead of forwards… in our other house we had two baby grand pianos back to back and so I played two piano music with friends of ours who are musicians that we have a smaller piano now or in our home. And I was a weaver was judged by a Kentucky artist center and I wove baby blankets in particular. But I had to sell them all my weaving stuff because our new home did not have space for it. But there’s a lot of things to do for me and my wife and I have season tickets to the symphony to Lexington Bach group chamber music group and even though she’s in a wheelchair we can get into those venues. The only thing we can get into are private homes because most of them have steps and so there’s restaurants any public buildings. We can go to. So we still live a very active life. And for me life is exciting I enjoy it.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:23:24] And again I think a major factor is that I have good health. And although my wife’s health is not quite as good because of the stroke and the medications she’s on, yet I think she very much enjoys life. And I’ve been able to hire a housekeeper attendant five days a week which helps me out a lot and enables me I can leave her alone and enables me to go to the Y to swim and do the grocery shopping and stuff like that. Another thing I enjoy cooking. I find it a very creative activity.

Dr. Jones: [00:24:05] Yeah I’ve eaten some of your cooking over the years and you are quite fine my waistline will attest that you don’t cook light.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:24:12] I have to say that no I guess not. I found that when I was teaching you didn’t always have something to show for what you did. And that’s why I took up. Weaving and it gives you a final product and you can see what you’ve done and feel good about what you have done. And that element was kind of missing in teaching except students like you that have stayed in touch with me and have been very successful. This gives me a good feeling

Dr. Jones: [00:24:45] Yeah. We talk a lot on this podcast about self care and you know I think that you all the things that you just gave as an example are the ways that you have taken care of yourself through having to care for Donna and just the transitions and things that you’ve gone through in your life. You have the weaving and the cooking and just other things that really sustain you and you’re always learning.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:25:11] Yeah that’s true. And I have to say we’re probably different in some families in that we have no family here. My wife was from Wisconsin. Her family is all gone. My family was from Fort Wayne. They’ve all passed on our son lives in Raleigh North Carolina and our daughter lives in Hollywood in Los Angeles she’s a sound editor there for Warner Brothers. So we’re very much alone in that respect and of course we have a circle of friends. But, no, life is very good to look forward every day (to) get up.

Dr. Jones: [00:25:47] That’s great. And I want to thank you for coming on the podcast. And I you know I just want to thank you for being my friend my mentor my teacher my best man and I’m so thankful that we still have connection together. I really love you and appreciate you so much.

Dr. Wiehe: [00:26:07] Thank you, Blake you’re making me choke up (ha ha) thank you…

Dr. Jones: [00:26:13] Thanks for coming on

Dr. Jones: [00:26:16] You’ve been listening to the social work conversations podcast. Thanks for joining us. And now let’s move this conversation into action.

Announcer: [00:26:26] This production is made possible by the support of the University of Kentucky College of Social Work, Interim Dean Ann Vail and all the faculty and staff who support researching contemporary social problems and prepare students for the social work profession. Hosted by Dr. Blake Jones produced by Jason Johnston. Thanks to our Web master Jordan Johnson. Music by Billy McLaughlin to find out more about the UK college of social work and this podcast visit http://socialwork.uky.edu/podcast