Responsibility and Blame

What’s the difference?

Not everything is your fault. In fact, most things are not your fault; you had nothing to do with them. You didn’t ask to be born to these people or at this time or this place, at least so far as we know. You didn’t invent the language you speak. You didn’t have a choice about your genetics, nor your early childhood experiences, nor ninety-nine percent of the experiences you have now. You might have chosen the person you married, but you chose him from a very limited field of possibilities. Unless you adopted and are remarkably prescient, you didn’t choose your children. Continue reading →

What Pigeons Can Teach You About Expectations

A lot of psychological studies are just plain silly. Do we really need experimental data to tell us that power corrupts, or that pain and sickness are depressing, or that people like to hear things that confirm their biases? However, there is one bit of experimental psychology that, when I tell people about it, causes their faces to light up. It informs them of something that ought to be obvious, but isn’t. It can explain how you get caught up in the madness of doing what you have always done despite mostly getting the crappy outcome you’ve always got. What is this result of experimental psychology that has so much explanatory power? We call it the intermittent reinforcement schedule. Continue reading →

Disgust Management

I have an idea for a new business opportunity for us shrinks. You know how they have anger management classes that judges, employers, and spouses send people to when they keep losing their cool? The kind like in the movie with Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson? Yeah, that. Well, anger’s not the only emotion that needs to go to class. There ought to be disgust management classes, too. Continue reading →

Can Therapy and Spirituality Co-Exist?

Even though shrinks are quite spiritual, they tend to be skittish about religion.

There are three ways we shrinks handle spirituality. We either A) ignore it and pretend it doesn’t matter, B) help the client work through what they’ve been taught till they arrive at beliefs and practices that work for them, or C) indoctrinate the client in something new. Continue reading →


If you need to be convinced that the feeling of disgust is a peculiarly powerful and primitive emotion, try this experiment. Get a clean glass. Spit in it. Now drink it.

Even if you can drink the spit, you know what I’m talking about. You know there’s nothing wrong with the spit. You swallow your own spit all the time; but, by expelling it from your body, you make it an object of disgust, and disgust is not only powerful and primitive, it’s also unreasonable. Continue reading →

Fifty Minutes Set Apart: Psychotherapy’s fraught relationship with time

When you meet with me, you and I are not alone. We share the psychotherapy session with an ordinary, unobtrusive, but tyrannical object. A clock.

My relationship with the clock is a troubled one. Sometimes it’s my savior, my teammate, my partner, other times it’s my rival. It’s a valuable tool and a necessary evil. It’s the symbol of all I hate, but it, of course, doesn’t have any feelings about me. It just ticks steadily, no matter how I feel. Continue reading →

The Gumbo of Grief

Forget the stages, forget the “correct” order. Grief is more like a gumbo than a Powerpoint presentation

These days, no one can shed a tear without someone mentioning the five stages of grief. I’m convinced that when people sit with the bereft, they bring up the stages just so that they can have something to say. Anything is better than the delusional denial, the bitter anger, the useless bargains, the hopeless dejection, and the maudlin acceptance that grievers come up with. Anything is better than the silence of the dead. Continue reading →