The Perils of Understanding

And how your prejudices can help you understand better

I once worked as a therapist with a deaf female client in my office by having her type what she wanted to say to me, as I typed to her. I didn’t know much sign language but was eager to show off what little I had. As she wrote about herself, I kept making the sign that I thought meant I understand. She looked uncomfortable until we were able to figure out my mistake. The sign I kept making was for I’m horny.

I could have been in big trouble, but we sorted it out. We both made mistakes leading to the confusion. Continue reading →

Don’t Be Mindless About Mindfulness

It doesn’t have to involve meditation

If you have any connection to psychotherapy or psychotherapists and have been paying attention to trends, you’ve noticed that everyone in shrinkland is talking about something called mindfulness. I don’t know if mindfulness has infiltrated everywhere else as much as it has the land of shrinkishness; but if it has, it’s either got you completely converted, or, if you’re like me, you’re ready to scream.

As much as I hate to admit this about a trendy thing, the purveyors of mindfulness are selling something that’s real, and really good; the trouble is, they’re doing such a great job of selling it that they may be outselling their supply. The customers buying mindfulness may be placing their order, awaiting the delivery, opening the box, only to find it empty, containing as much mindlessness as they have in the rest of their life. Continue reading →

Shame

We have no emotion that’s not useful in some way. Everything is there for a purpose, even an emotion that undermines its purpose.

I’m talking about shame. Its purpose seems to be to help us fit in with others. Shame, and its milder version, embarrassment, comes up when you violate a social norm which might get you expelled from the group or, at least lower your status. Continue reading →

Some Strange Ideas about the Strange Situation

And stranger ideas about attachment

A mother enters a room with her eighteen-month-old child. Neither have been there before. There’s a few toys on the floor. The mother leaves the child with a stranger for a few minutes. The mother returns. White-coated researchers are standing behind a one-way mirror with clipboards, recording everything that happens.

The experiment has been called the Strange Situation, but it’s not a strange situation at all. It happens all the time in the natural world. Nonetheless, it’s been a very important experiment in the history of psychology. Out of it has arisen theories of attachment. Continue reading →

How Your Body Can Help You Find Peace

If you’ve been feeling depressed, anxious, grieving, guilty, or preoccupied with cravings, then you probably tried to reason yourself out of it. You’ve wanted to get your head screwed on right and the clouds cleared from your mind. You believed if you talked to somebody, they could tell you things that might help you feel better. Don’t let me stop you. I would be the last person to prevent you from thinking better, but it isn’t just a matter for the mind. Your body can help, too. Let your body help you with your depression, anxiety, grief, guilt, or craving. Continue reading →

What Is the Meaning of Life?

I have an answer

It’s taken humankind thousands of years, but I think I finally have the answer. I know the meaning of life.

For many people, questions about the meaning of life get set aside; but, for us therapists, we encounter them every day. Questioning the meaning of life is part of the human condition, as ubiquitous and basic as walking upright and having opposable thumbs. It preoccupies many of us some of the time but is generally dismissed as an enigmatic and fruitless endeavor. It’s hard to talk about it and even harder to find someone to talk about it with, which is why people talk about it with their shrinks.

Having had so many of these conversations, I’ve stuck with it longer than most. I’m ready to tell you what it is.

The meaning of life is like this: Continue reading →

Reflections on “In Treatment”: Season 1, Episode 1

Can You Fall in Love with Your Therapist?

And what should happen if you do?

I heard the critically acclaimed series, In Treatment is coming back this year for a new season, so I thought I’d catch up and see what the excitement is about. It’s an unusual show that’s set entirely in a therapist’s office. I’ve avoided the series so far because, why I would want to watch therapy in my time off when I’m seeing clients as a therapist all day long? It seemed to be a drama best left for a wanna-be therapist, in the same way as, when I watch football, I imagine myself as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

However, Josh Allen may like to watch football from time to time. He can appreciate how Tom Brady picks apart defenses. I should be able to enjoy seeing the therapeutic expertise of Dr Paul Weston. Weston is no slouch when it comes to overcoming defenses, in his own way.

The scene of episode one, season one, opens with Weston’s patient, Laura Hill, in agony on the couch. She arrived hours early and waited in the parking lot, but now does almost everything possible to avoid talking about what she needs to talk about.

[Spoiler alert] Continue reading →