Madness 101

Congratulations, you just found my blog, Madness 101.

Book cover 2I just published a book that can help you deal with conflict, Constructive Conflict. It’s available in paperback, Kindle, and Audible from Amazon.

I also have two novels: Fate’s Janitors: Mopping Up Madness at a Mental Health Clinic and Intersections.

Madness 101 is below. I’m currently posting two series: The Shrink’s Links once a week, alternating with a series in which I relate current politics to a bad marriage. My series on forgiveness, The Road to Reconciliation is on a brief hiatus. Click here if you would like to read this series from the beginning.


Wizard of Oz

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Before you shoot up that drug, take that drink, put up with that bad relationship, or think about what you need, click here and watch the Wizard of Oz.

You’ve probably seen the Wizard of Oz a hundred times, but you didn’t know it was about you. The movie’s about believing in yourself when there’s nothing else you can believe in.

Dorothy and her friends don’t believe in themselves. They’re traipsing all over Oz, trying to find the Wizard who can give them what they need. Dorothy wants to go back home. The Tin Man wants a heart, the Scarecrow a brain, the Lion, some courage. They’ve all been told the Wonderful Wizard of Oz has all the answers.

Dorothy and her friends go through quite a lot of trouble to get answers from the Wizard. Together, they confront the Wicked Witch of the West and her posse of terrifying flying monkeys. Dorothy gets captured, the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion demonstrate considerable ingenuity, loyalty, and bravery to sneak into the castle, and Dorothy unexpectedly murders the witch with a bucket of water.

I hope I’m not spoiling it for you.

They return to the Wizard and find that the man behind the curtain is a fraud.
Things couldn’t get worse for Dorothy and her friends at this point, it seems. Here they are, Dorothy, stuck in Oz, the Scarecrow, brainless, the Tin Man, heartless, the Lion, without his courage, and the Wizard, with no power to help. They went through all that for nothing. It couldn’t get much worse than that.

It’s worth asking yourself, what is your “wizard of oz”? What is the thing or who is the person you turn to for all the answers? Is it that drug you’re about to shoot or that drink you’re about to take? Is it that relationship, that leader, that consumer good, that cause that’s supposed to solve all your problems? Is your wizard of oz your therapist? If it’s any of these, have you seen the man behind the curtain, yet?

If your wizard of oz is your therapist and your therapist is me, I’ll try to do what the Wizard did. The Wizard certified the intelligence of the Scarecrow by presenting him with a diploma. He confirmed the Tin Man’s humanity by giving him a ticking heart-shaped watch. He awarded a medal to the Lion for his courage. These characters had these qualities all along. They just needed someone to say so.

The thing that saves the day for Dorothy is that, unbeknownst to her, she had possessed the Ruby Slippers: the very means by which she could return to Kansas. A few clicks of the heels and she’s back in the loving care of Auntie Em.

So, before you shoot that drug, take that drink, put up with that bad relationship, or think about what you need, take stock of what you have. You already possess the power to change.

Click here for the curtain scene of the Wizard of Oz

If You Want People to Listen to You, Stop Talking

Perfect Union Image

You know the type: the type of person I call a fire hose. This is the person who, as soon as he thinks he has your ear, lets loose a flood of words without regard to the give and take that is found in normal conversation.

If you’re a political activist, you might have a lot to say. You might be uncommonly well-informed; but, if you’re a fire hose, you will not change the mind of anyone. Instead, if people do not flee at the sight of you, they will shut down and tune out; they’ll miss the finer points of what you’re trying to say and replace your sound, reasoned argument with, “Blah.. blah…blah…blah…blah….”

If you’re a political activist and let people know you’re interested in public affairs, you’ll attract a lot of fire hoses, if you’re not one, yourself. They’ll point their nozzles at you and gush. You know what it’s like to drink from a fire hose. You can’t do it.

Why do people become fire hoses? Why do they talk well beyond anyone’s capacity to listen? I think there are three reasons: a belief in venting; a desire to hold the floor; and a need to overcome oppression.

I get a lot of fire hoses in my counseling practice because people often mistake venting for healing. They think it’s what they’re supposed to do when they see a shrink. Psychotherapy may be the only profession where the professional is hired for his or her expertise in human affairs and is then often expected to not share it. Sometimes when I see a couple for marriage counseling, one or both of the partners is a fire hose because they heard it was important to get things off their chest. They’re afraid they’re going to blow up if they hold a thought too long.

Freud gets quoted a lot by people who believe in venting. They say that he said people repress a lot of anger, which causes all kinds of bad things to happen. It’s better to release that pressure by venting, they say, than to let it back up and cause anxiety, resentments, paralysis, and depression.

With all the upsetting things we hear in the news these days, there’s a whole lot of venting going on as people get all worked up by the latest thing Trump, or the Democrats, or the Russians, or the Republicans are doing or failed to do. Even if venting actually worked and the internal pressure was released, what you get is something like this: A Trump resister blows off steam, but a Trump supporter hears her. He blows off steam and she hears him; so, now she needs to vent again. The net result is no one gets anywhere. There’s no end to all this venting; and plenty of work for us shrinks.

It should be remembered that Freud saw a lot of corseted and muted Victorian women. They really needed a chance to vent and benefited a lot by doing so. This is seldom the case today. When I see someone in my office who has a hard time speaking up, I want them to vent, too. But there aren’t many like that. Basically, I have a rule of thumb: If you can’t vent, then I want you to; if you like venting, then I’m shutting it down.

You see, once you pass a certain point, venting does not promote change. Once you’ve get the basic information across, it may actually inhibit adjustment if the thing that is keeping you locked up in a dysfunctional pattern is the way you look at things. Venting doesn’t permit anyone else to show you another way out.

Holding the floor
If you’re around a lot of fire hoses, you might have found that the only way to protect yourself from the verbal onslaught is to be a fire hose, yourself. You mount a filibuster and drench them so they can’t turn the hose on you.

First, you tell them what you’re going to tell them, then you tell them, then you tell them what you just told them. You pile on subordinate clauses that no one can disentangle; extend a sentence ad infinitum. You’ve learned to take a breath in mid-sentence so no one can break in when you finally do reach a period. You’ve learned not to look at people when you talk, so they can’t signal you that they’re ready to reply.

By employing these means, you, too, can become a fire hose; but there’s only one problem. Whatever you were trying to say, you may say it, but you might just as well stayed silent for all the impact it has on others.

Overcoming oppression
Many fire hoses belong to an oppressed minority of one kind or another, misrepresented and misunderstood. The fire hose attempts to tell his story his way for once, as soon as they find someone who said they would listen. That’s fine until the listener stops listening, like when she has a question or is unable to clarify a missed point because the speaker is not paying attention when the listener has that lost look on her face. Eventually, it all catches up and the fact that the listener has not been following gets revealed. Then the chronically-oppressed-minority fire hose goes on feeling misrepresented and misunderstood.

If you are willing to admit that you are a fire hose, then I have a brief word of advice to you. Less is more.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of a fire hose, then you can try my patented method for shutting it off. Start talking. Don’t talk about what you want to say; no one is listening. Instead, summarize whatever you’re hearing the fire hose say, as best you can, as fast as you can keep up. Don’t wait for the fire hose to stop talking, just add your paraphrase on top of his words. Eventually, the fire hose will notice that someone else is saying something, too. He’ll listen and may find that you understand what he is trying to say. Maybe then he can stop.

You see, the fire hose wants something we all want. He wants to be understood. Even if you cannot agree, you can offer understanding, despite this imperfect method he has of expressing himself.

Read part I, A Marriage Counselor Takes on Politics
Part II, The Perverse Power of the Non-Engaged
Part III, Building Walls
Part IV, Tolerant of the Intolerant, Outraged by the Outrageous

Announcement: Intersections

Audeo Intersections Cover_edited-1

The audio version of my second novel, Intersections, came out last week, thanks to the vocal work of Pete Ferand. I’ve been given some free copies to distribute. Fill out this form and I will send you a free copy of Intersections for as long as they hold out.

What is Intersections about? Well, go on the road with Larry, a suicidal psychotherapist, and find out. Middle-aged and obese, divorced and estranged from his children, Larry lives in a garden apartment with no garden, in a city with a rotten core. He hears that his daughter is getting married and sets off across the country, ambivalently seeking restoration amid scraps of long-distance fatherhood. He encounters an amorous nursing home death cat, a serendipitous Rastafarian, a drunken Katrina refugee who just might be an incarnation of a Voodoo god, and a murderous mountaineer who teaches him how to let go. He reconnects with his daughter who is terrified of being herself except when she steps onto a tennis court. He’s transformed by a series of spiritual discoveries that proffer insight about life’s fundamental questions. Intersections takes unexpected turns on a journey from despair to re-enchantment, from loneliness to reconciliation, from the carnal to the transcendent and back again.

Click here to listen to a sample of the audio version.

How Do You Make Amends When You Can’t Make Amends?

rr-imageMaking direct amends can be difficult, but necessary, when the harmed party is looking for it, and rewarding when you do it well. The payoff is reconciliation. But not everyone you have harmed is all set to forgive you. Some are gone, many don’t know they were harmed, and a lot don’t want anything to do with you. Maybe they’ve been waiting for you, but gave up. You might be the first on the scene. No one is ready for reconciliation at the precise moment you’re ready for it. Continue reading


shrinbks-links-photo1Bringing you the best of mental health every week.

What can you do if your therapist turns out to be abusive? Who can you tell? You can tell TELL, the Therapy Exploitation Link Line. Here’s the link to the link line, so you can tell TELL.

TELL is a resource, referral, and networking organization that seeks to help victims and survivors of exploitation by psychotherapists and other healthcare providers find the support and resources they will need to understand what has happened to them, take action, and heal.

I wouldn’t have known to tell you about TELL had I not been asked to review a book by one woman who turned to that organization for help in recovering from a psychotherapist gone bad. The book is Mending the Shattered Mirror: A Journey of Recovery from Abuse in Therapy by Analie Shepherd. Continue reading

ROCovery Fitness

Bringing you the best of mental health every week.

One of the hardest things about being in recovery is knowing what to do with yourself. Being addicted takes lots of time. There’s scoring the drugs, using the drugs, and recovering from the drugs. All that fills up your day. Then, stay in addiction long enough and the only ones left in your life will be other addicted people. These may not be best the folks to spend time with when you are in recovery. Therefore, recovering people have two great needs. They need healthy thing to do and healthy people to do them with. Continue reading