My purpose is to present original, creative and helpful psychotherapeutic ideas. While “pessimistic” may seem a provocative or self-sabotaging quality, it is actually a facet of optimism. Just as a physician would harm a patient by ignoring injury, and helps the best by facing the worst, so must a therapist know that we grow from roots bent by psychic injuries in our past. Optimism must be based in this reality, not on a cloud of wishful thinking.
problem with abortion is not whether a human being in the womb is a human
being. People who believe abortion is moral and proper have a time and place
the womb a human being is a certain age. That is a time function. There are no
differences between a young human being and a newborn other than growth and
development, a function of time.
the womb or out of the womb is a place. There is no difference between a human
being in the womb or out.
is the only moral answer to an unwanted pregnancy.
Pessimistic Shrink –
Sam, it’s not that simple. Let me entertain you with some psychology (borrowed
from a Canadian psychotherapist).** Child, home from school, tells his mother: “Mommy, mommy, the teacher was unfair to me today!” Mother responds: “Now dear, the teacher was only trying to do his best.” She likely believes she is trying to soothe her child’s feelings. In fact,
she is not. She is soothing her own feelings and ignoring her son's. The boy is on fire with
humiliation: The teacher, let’s assume, laughed at him and the class followed
suit. He needs his mother to take his pain away. Instead, she doesn’t hear
his message, his feeling, and replies with a parental platitude. The child now
has nowhere to go with his pain. He must shut it down (repression and
suppression). This burial of his true feelings is the beginning of the
depressogenic process – the loss of the “real self” in childhood. The
lesson here is that parent's lack of empathy is one of the most injurious kinds
of parenting: A child will disappear in the face of this blindness. And yet no one would be foolish enough to call Child Protective
Services on this mother. “CPS, you must investigate. There’s a mother out
there who lacks empathy!”
is – There is an eternal conflict between a person’s legitimately living her
own life, with her own errors, and another person's legitimate judgment of
that person. Knowing what a mother’s or father’s lack of empathy can do to a child, I’d
hypothetically like that parent to be strung up by the toes for an indefinite
term, or be required to be monitored by some overseer – from the same moral
urge that would cause you to threaten or prevent a woman from having an
abortion. Here psychology fuses with philosophy: Each of us is a solipsistic
universe who can only live, for the most part, by his own lights and flaws –
the imperatives of his or her unique energy – yet each of us judges the other
person’s flaws and resultant behaviors.
Knowing the harm you are doing, should I be allowed to send you to prison for slapping your son on the face or for shaming your daughter with crushing words?
you had to write all of this but of course it is that simple. Everything else
is just your justification for supporting an immoral action.
Pessimistic Shrink –
Sam. What is simple is you.
* * *
believe morality can never be an objective fact. We can only have individuals
trying to make their life work: That is all that human motivation can be,
whether the result is altruism or selfishness, self-sacrifice or violence, adopting a child or child neglect, narcissism
or obsequiousness, drinking or suicide, making money or giving money. If there
will ever be a consensus “good,” sometime in the far distant future, it will
only be when love is ubiquitous and all acts are linked to it. There is,
though, a “catch” to this love: Its definition comes from psychological knowledge
more than from any other domain. It requires one to have been loved for being
his or her own unique child. It requires foundational respect for one’s child’s mental
processes – thinking and feeling. In that place where life is valued for itself,
where pain is not injected deep within children to come out later at
the world, each person’s “natural solipsism” will be trustable when the most
difficult decisions are made. I will understand that you simply cannot afford
to give to that helpless person, but I may be able to. You will accept that
this woman is too emotionally fragile to give birth,
though she loves life, and new life. We won’t have reason to judge anyone, in
this future time, because people will be fully human.
- - - - - - - -
- - -
* My sections edited
for improved clarity and civilized talk.
There have been
occurrences in my adult life where I have been “triggered” to a lightning flash
of nihilistic, helpless, abandon-all-hope rage. It has (not surprisingly)
always been my loved one who, without realizing it, had pushed some inner
death-trap in me. One late evening, I forcefully threw a plate of food on the floor,
stormed out of the house and ran to my office. Once I destroyed a good laptop.*
Gone it was in a moment of ultimate powerful powerlessness.
are not equal to the words we use to describe them. We say “anger,” though it’s
not too difficult to feel the flowing identity of anger and frustration,
frustration and hurt. But these are still just words. Our feelings are our
life. Our feelings are our history. What if our history – our earliest infancy
and childhood days – is so precarious, frightening, painful and wrong that
there’s no capacity to absorb experience – the fusion of good and bad – or the nourishment
to a sense of self? What if we remain the thinnest two-dimensional thread, or
actually a two-dimensional plane that can blink out of existence when turned at
a certain angle?
I believe these
facts and images apply to many individuals (and not just men) when they are
inwardly swept to rage. What is really
happening is something that sparks that deepest fragility, which is where our
birthright of need and promise was thwarted. Add many years upon this ground,
through many probable struggles. We have become substitutes for self and
self-esteem, upon this cosmic unfairness, this failure to be given love. We seem
sturdy, but psychology says we are standing on miles deep of transparent ice. A
trigger – “you must have taken the
extension cord,” when I didn’t – denies my value, like at the beginning of my life, denies my sane grasp of reality, which is the entirety of my two-dimensional
plane’s stability. There is no choice but to not die, and that takes an
extreme, that takes an explosion.
There is really
no choice in that moment. This is the other primal scream** – not the one of
grief, loss and need, but the one that insists on living.
It is time to “psychoanalyze”
a fellow therapist based on only five biographical facts. Though my means seem catty and
low, my ends are high: to open the eyes of clients.
The five are: He’s
going for a PhD at age AARP. He drives a Mercedes. He was in the military,
assumedly his first and main career. With a one-in-a-thousand exception, every time
he opens his mouth to initiate or respond to me or to someone within my hearing,
shooting the breeze, talking clinical or with a client or administrative staff, he mentions that
he was “in the military” or references “the military.” Really – steadfast as
the loon’s throaty song, reliable as the hands on an atomic clock. And, he
loves President Trump and clearly has no ability to see (diagnose) the man’s Narcissism or to grasp his stunning lack of
adult-level acumen and president-level breadth of knowledge. The placidity with
which he goads our psychiatrist about Trump’s sterling qualities is an emetic
waiting to happen.
So beware. If
this is true, then it could happen over and over again: Your therapist may be blind to himself and to grave disorder. She may be neurotically self-enclosed, which is what you are seeing in someone
who chronically talks about herself. And you may be sitting before someone who
remains, in his hidden engine, a child, despite his medals (if any) and years
in the rugged death-kill, deferential and duty-bound terrain of the military.
Why a child? It
is impossible to like this president with his global self-loving immaturity
unless your own caregiver (when you were a child) was an immature authoritarian
at some level and you were stripped of your own power and submerged under his.
Look at Trump’s adult children. They “chose” to become capitalist Midases, have
the emotions of a predator-lizard, and do not notice the poison or the razor’s
edge of their father’s character disease. Shadow souls.
This is similar
to the millions of Germans who saw a right-thinking, heart-warming father
figure in Adolf Hitler. There is something very wrong with people who cannot
feel the pain that a toxic person puts forth.
It is not hard
to be a counselor. This is because there are many kinds of touches that can
help a client feel better short of – far short of – getting better. Pleasant, humorous
conversation. Advice and a knowing air. A genial manner that seems caring but
isn’t too empathically intimate (which would threaten one’s defense, one’s
child’s heart). Asking questions. Providing personal experience or book-based
insights. Intent eye contact (which, as I believe Jeffrey Kottler points out,
can be maintained even when the therapist is falling asleep). Many therapists
don’t change a person. They just throw a little pink cloud under her ass for
This could be
the case of my peer, here. I cannot see how someone who lives on the
psychological defense of dull-axe dogma can be adult and “empty” enough to
contain a client’s burden, transparent enough to know what she says. That his
work, and many others’, endures shows that people do not ultimately know what
is wrong with them, and may therefore accept any candy or band-aid that’s offered.
- - - - - - - -
- - -
* This article
will pop in and out of existence, like McDonald’s Angus Burger and Cheddar Melt.
I believe I
haven’t had a new insight coming out of a client interaction in a long while. Most
of my two-hundred-plus blog posts have reflected, each, a new idea or mystery
for me. But the brain has faded, the posts have dwindled. I’m in a more conversational, mundane, clueless,
even potboiler phase with most clients. There’ve been slight ruffles of
interest. A young woman couldn’t understand why she’d have, when drinking, ugly
thoughts about her father, when sober she knew her life was tv-perfect and he
was as white knight as possible. I revealed, with my old flashlight, a series
of clues that pointed inexorably to a troubled childhood (tattoos, sudden
transition away from church to a druggie crowd in high school, the family’s moral straitjacket of a gung-ho religion, a criminal
goof-up, alcohol, briefly heroin-addicted brother, “good-natured” wrestling with
siblings, absence of post-high school goal, enduring a few years of an abusive
relationship), though they may exonerate her father for the crime on her mind.
She hadn’t seen any of these clues, but now it was she herself who excellently suggested the deep cause: lack of being a child,
being “little mommy” taking care of the younger kids. Loss. I had never seen a
client, in over twenty years of individual sessions, uncover this invisible and
global loss of identity on her own.
Then there was
the man in his sixties who presented with three problems: a bipolar diagnosis,
and extreme psychotic episodes but which occurred only during traumas
such as seeing a corpse or having a life-threatening illness. It was like a dormant
schizophrenia, showing up once maybe every decade. After forty years of
lithium, we pretty much ruled out bipolar, but then just faced the phenomenon
of crazy-when-overwhelmed. My diagnosis was basically “it’s just one of those
things”: A series of childhood traumas (coincidental, or gravitationally pulled
by a toxically parented life) featuring horrific sensation and dissociative refuges
made him susceptible, later, to weird collapses.
I have never
wanted to be formulaic about my work. I’ve always wanted to reinvent the wheel
of revelation and abyss-descending for each client. But I’m closer to seventy than
sixty now, and maybe there’s a kind of burnout that just happened. Fortunately,
there’s a part of me, a stubborn sliver, that is entirely unrealistic hope. I
know it’s from my childhood when real and baseline despair was sabotaged by some unknown
sense of positivity. It wasn’t a good birth: I was premature, incubated, never
bonded with mother. Where did this stupid positivity come from? Whatever its
nature, it insidiously finds its way into hope for those deep, rich moments
with a new or old client. Fine! I’ll be working ’til I’m 92!
another dollar. And more. Please please please, see beyond family to your own
self, adventures, new coffee shops, the bat bridge in Austin, Texas, the
"whitest sand beach in the world" (past winner) of Siesta Key,
Florida, Baltimore crab cakes, mountain retreats (my old friend Al), Kripalu (https://kripalu.org/),
Royal Gorge (http://royalgorgebridge.com/)
in little Canon City, Colorado. And the ever exotic Etc. Must take steps.
Writing that, I
realized that I rarely attend to, feel the good things in the world anymore.
That would be a matter of “dropping” the self and being jazzed by big juicy
things out there, with utter relax in one’s gut and chest. For me, it’s very
hard to do. I have tremendous debt and little power, and chaining-down
obligations. But the essential error is falling into the musty cell of
self-consciousness, which is where I think most people are in their
middle-and-beyond years, be they “intellectual” or not. Can we get back into
the world for a few minutes? Can we do it thematically – a sea-change in our
approach – where now we’re back to where we are supposed to be: connected to
life by our eyes, not by our folded-back-in-on-itself mind?
This is just a
question to myself, to which I don’t have the answer now. I do know it’s the
best way to live. And that as long as you stay out of a real prison cell, it
shouldn’t be impossible. Most all of us embody injuries that – as psychic ones
do – warp our spirit and paint it “condemned” in ineradicable ways. But we’re
not just that. Somehow, we can be both trapped in our self and live beyond it. That’s
the birthright which is always there, an irreducible kernel from our beginning.
It wasn’t until
I was forty-two years old that I came to ask myself, What’s wrong with me? The
ride had stopped. I had left my eleven-year first marriage in cowardly fashion –
leaving work early before my wife got home from her job, packing some clothes, six
hundred dollars, my electric razor and my mini-Schnauzer, and scramming. ‘Where
do I know no one?’ was the impetus that sent me from gulf coast Florida to
Ohio. After a couple months situated, taking temp jobs, living in “Uzi Alley” (a
bad part of town), dealing with loneliness by hanging out nightly at a quaint
bookstore-café, I found myself face-to-face with the extreme cavity of my life.
I sat down, with coffee, and proceeded to write my self. When you do that the
very helpful way, you are casting the clouded light of intellect into
your depth, your past. I found truths that were always there yet covered over
by decades of repression. A main insight was knowledge the way a still-healthy
child experiences it: a full-body epiphany that makes everything different. If
not for that descent into my core, I would assuredly, now, be a
sixty-five-year-old typist, only a terrible nighttime walk-taking emptiness too
wan to even coalesce into a question, a thing that had never grasped his lifelong
death, and too ignorant to make it final.
So I appreciate
the work of psychology.
There were at
least three earlier occasions when my feeling might have brought me to therapy.
A brief breakdown, just a moment or two, at age thirteen, when my mother asked
me if something was wrong. I remember being around twenty and telling my new brother-in-law
that I would never care to learn to play chess, because it wasn’t “the real
world.” And freshman year of college, the most uncharacteristic thought and
entirely out of the blue, that I would “need a tragedy” to dislodge me from
whatever unnameable momentum I was captive within. But as is true for most
people, the pull of now always had hegemony. What psychology shows us is that “now”
is the wrong way created by our then. “Now” is looking at something and feeling
the past, and not realizing it. “Now” is running away from our problems.
You will never
get better by clasping the now. You may feel better for a short while. But age,
in our human nature, seems to inexorably pull us to find our self, which has a
Question of the
moment: If a client is nearly dying (chronically suicidal) because she has never
detached in any way – emotionally, developmentally, behaviorally, geographically
– from her unloving, torturous and incessantly denigrating parents, is it
sensible therapy to ask her to consider that she might have to give up on them? The client believes, in
her lifelong bunker of misery, that the only surcease will be if they let her
go, not if she lets them go: She has
no power to do that. We have worked deep, maybe too deep, into this. I
suggested that even if her parents did come clean and state their real feeling –
or actually, the feelings she believes they must have – “We don’t
love you, we let you go” – this would be a false epiphany: Her parents are so
dumb and blind and repressed that they cannot know the truth of their real
feelings. Their reality would be in their “inner” child – hurt, bitter, needing
love. That corrupt state doesn’t grow into lack of love for their daughter. It
grows into lack of all love, any kind
at all. So the young woman would hear an abandonment that was the final knife
in her soul but that wasn’t even real.
question! I was so certain about this that I had to allow a “logical” contradiction
to it – “Other therapists may tell you that somewhere deep inside them, your
parents do love you. They just may
never know how to show it.” Would this be right? To be encouraged to believe
something that was belied by every feeling and sensation in her, every behavior
– past to now – in her abortive, solipsistic and passively homicidal parents?
Recently, her mother smirked as she said, “I had an abortion before I had you.” The clear message my client heard: I would rather kill babies than be your mother.
I know one
therapy – Levenkron’s “nurturant-authoritative” approach – which claims to “re-parent”
many young adolescents who have detached – anorectically,
obsessive-compulsively or self-injuriously – from their parents. How blasé and
fabulous! In a moment of deep care, impulsively, I had offered to be my client’s
“father.” This struck her in a terrible way, as craved but impossible. When I
said it, she must have had the feeling of all that loss telescoped into a
moment, and an impossible moving on. The offer continues to float in the air
above us. But it would take a breakdown to accept it. Would it be sensible
therapy to work toward that?
I could ask
hundreds of parents of clients I’ve seen: Are you lost in yourself? Are you
self-absorbed? And they would be puzzled, would say “no.” But they would be
wrong, and absolutely clueless. These parents are the solipsists for whom the
ultimate meaning of every thought, every feeling, every perception and every
consideration is Self. They are trapped in a world of Self and do not know it.
It is a trap that pushes reality over the horizon, never to be reached. It
doesn’t matter that they have relationships, pet the dog, “love” people, go on
vacation and see new sights. They can never throw themselves beyond themselves
and land in the arms of the strange world, of deep experience. Their need,
their soothing and their value are their only path and destination.
You are their
child. They have never seen you, but possibly in their last minute on their
death bed. They have never known that you exist as a separate person apart from
their demeaned property, apart from their idea. If you were your own person in
your own world, who looked down at them like the sad, lost, bunched-up souls
they are, they would be all alone, with no one to be better than, no one to
consume. They would feel like children. You have never been touched by them,
you have never been loved by them.
You have no
parent, but this is the parent you crave, the one you cave into. Mother is the
center of your life. You pay regular visits to father’s house to look after him,
bring him his grandchild. “I forgive, but I don’t forget,” you declare solemnly,
but you actually have killed the feeling in the memory, because it killed you.
desperation, you are competing with a child to be the child.
It may seem
impossible to finally blink these parents out of existence, but I have seen a
nineteen-year-old young woman do it. Her parents produced not one, but two
suicidal teens, because all the critical years they only had mocking contempt
and dislike for the strangers in the room, their own children. She doesn’t need
them, really. I don’t know how she doesn’t, but I can only smile sadly with
get hives when clients tell me they “forgive” their parents or others who were
mentally, physically, sexually abusive to them. I know I’m looking at someone
who has not only exited the world to a place of dissociation, but someone who
has landed on a fantasy planet and is riding the imaginary rides. And not only
that: someone who has bought an empty idea she did not create or critique but learned
at mother’s knee.
This is a place
where people believe in magic, actual magic. What do they think happens when
they say “forgive”? Do they grow a warm, gracious, benevolent feeling from
nothing? What feeling do they imagine they experience? Or do they convince
themselves that such a gift (to self or other) can exist solely as a thought or
a decision, a “commitment” without emotional value? Uncanny to me is that people
act for all the world as though the word is the deed: Just say it and it
manifests. “My adoptive father forced sex from when I was twelve to fourteen,
and my mother actually believed his lie that it was an ‘affair.’ They have never apologized to this day. But I
forgive them.” That is the most stupefying feature. Is there any other
incantation in modern history that somehow creates the reality it invokes? Does
someone despise a person then say “I love you” and it is so? Does someone state
“I am cleansed of disease” and it is believed? “I forgive” is unique, I think,
because it is the great placebo of healing whenever therapy is not done. These – forgiveness
and therapy – are the two continents in the world of the hurting, with
forgiveness by far the preferred home. It is a way to imagine we have moved on
when the body remains troubled by its poison.
Forgive me, but
forgiveness is simply the repression of true feeling, with various thoughts mixed
in the anesthesia, and a determination to feel a noble or healthy or moral
sense. Some individuals will enrich the thoughts with biblical citations or New
Age wisdom or scientific evidence. There will be Cirque du Soleil-level
gyrations of delusion and argument that swoop in at light speed, because
forgiveness must happen: It is the
dream rock that an adult house is built on. But it is a belief in magic and a
denial of human pain and injury. Magical deniers have a very sticky time in a therapy that
deals with the truth.
I recently met
an 18-year-old boy who was righteously certain that he knew everything about truth,
love and the failure of people and the ugliness of the world. His logic of disgust was profound. He claimed scientific proof that human existence is garbage, and was so confident as to be magnanimous: “I accept everything you say, but . . .” A decent
therapist should know that there is, on the one hand, angry-hurt attitude, and on the other, fixed, ego-syntonic, pervasive mind corruption.
That is, a personality disorder. With such folks – I have seen it in other
teenagers – I had never before gone “father superior,” but this situation felt
different. Maybe I wanted to jar his mother, too, who had joined the session
despite her son’s majority.
“You are 18. I
am 65. I have spent forty-two years accumulating neuroses and now for the past twenty-three years, every day, eight to ten to twelve
or more hours a day I have studied my and other people’s and your problems
and the thoughts and attitudes that are hatched in them. I advise you to park
your omniscience. Your belief system is your alcohol, your self-medication, not what is true about
I am too old
for this and just right for this, burned out but with the right simmering burn.
I had just established with my therapy group that corporal punishment of
children is shit, while they argued with me like good neurotics. With the young
man, I had more hidden pleasures: I knew, because the theory is correct, that
his personality warp started with his mother’s disturbance. And she, intrigued by my discussion with her son,
asked for some leads on studying “personality disorders.” I did not give her
any information on a depth approach. But maybe she’ll read further, and find
where the mother has “issues” in the first three years of her child’s life, and continues to be a disturbing presence.
One and I got along. I acknowledged being aggravating, and offered my services.
I’d like to help someone who wonders about suicide, so deadened to his real
self, to the child who could still feel life, not end up painting the world rotting.
We take a walk through
the paths and woods of Park of Roses, Clintonville area of Columbus. The client
is troubled. Walking stirs up positive (survivor) energy, contemplative energy,
and feelings that have been buried. These energies make us feel viable, maybe
more than if we sit on a chair or couch in the therapy room.
Client: I’m talking with you, but I don’t feel
that I’m here. Of course I am; it’s
nice to be outside, in the trees. But at the same time, it’s a bad reality. I
want to grasp something – this branch – but I know I wouldn’t feel it. I want
to feel great, adventurous, when I walk solid on the ground. But I’m walking in
Therapist: (a few more paces.) Let’s stop. Put
that leaf in the palm of your hand. Quiet your mind. Feel, don’t think.
C: (a quiet moment.) I did have some feelings. A potpourri.
But then a sad one. Why in the name of Crap would a leaf make me sad?
T: What would you feel if it was just you and that leaf?
C: (longer pause.) Oh my. I would fall into it, become green,
drown in it. (A bit wistful.) Can’t I do that?
T: I would welcome it. Try it a little longer.
C: (client stares at the leaf.) It brings me back to
childhood. (There are silences everywhere.) In all the soup of garbage, a few
good moments. . . . It’s not a feeling – it’s being. Kicking a football ten times higher than the houses.
Collecting a dozen honey bees in a glass jar then dropping it and running! Everything was crucial: looking at my
friend’s face, burning in the summer day, walking to the far foreign end of our
street where the strange kids lived. . . . But there was already something in
the way, something that pulled me into myself. Anxiety. A kind of depressed
fear. It made me pull back and leave things, leave everything, eventually.
This leaf is
sad. Or it’s the past.
T: Allow the tears.
- - - - - - - -
- - -
There are times
when I think walking therapy is the best way to do it. The client can never be
fully with you anyway, because she’s going to be lost in herself. If she’s going
to be lost in herself, she might as well be there within the world she has to
-- Several weeks
ago a client, 25 years old, asked me if I could be her “dad.” This wasn’t
frivolous, regressive, Borderline or romantic. There was a real meaning to it.
This week, after a few months of stasis in sessions, I asked a client – also
mid-20’s – if she wanted me to be her “dad.” There was nothing erroneous or
unsound about this, either. You won’t learn anything in a clinical counseling
program about being a client’s father or mother. You will mostly learn
antiseptic stuff that, like loaded dice, is weighted with professional propriety:
a big bland umbrella, over the client’s head, that has many holes in it. This
umbrella is both respectful and a cop-out. It’s
respectful to the client’s adult persona, and to her true self’s requirement to
breathe alone, to be a separate person. But it’s a cop-out because people need
someone. If we’re the helper of last resort, and maybe the only one in a long,
long time, then we can’t refuse, or not offer, to be that person.
-- I have
reached a next level of distrust in the power of Primal Therapy, though this
distrust will rest at the theory level. It comes from a certainty I have about
a horrific and blind epiphany that occurred when I was around twelve or
thirteen years old. For the first time, and the one and only time in my life, my mother
had come into my room, sat on my bed, and asked me if there was anything wrong.
Why this had occurred to her now, in a family where nothing was ever right and
nothing was ever wrong and where nothing was ever said and all feelings were
fake and everything was ruining slowly but inexorably – who could say? But that
question, the only intimate words I had ever heard from her, exploded and
suffocated me simultaneously. I cried, tears of the deepest unconsciousness, of
everything lost in me from the beginning to then. She did not help, had no
capacity to hear beyond the din of her life. I almost immediately returned to
the prison of “life goes on.” What I know now is that had my mother understood
what those tears meant and held me close with that knowledge, I would not
have been helped. I would have fallen into a regressive black hole that reached
insanity – the traumatized baby in a precarious teenager’s body.
If a boy, with
his mother’s history-erasing compassion and love, could not survive regressing,
how, Dr. Janov, could that person survive it later, as an adult?
-- Are you
schizophrenic if you hear voices? Hardly. Very anxious people, drug-addicted
people, childhood-traumatized people sometimes hear voices. They may hear
several, and often. But they are fundamentally down-to-earth and are not insane.
Psychiatrists, though, will typically diagnose them with schizophrenia or
another psychotic disorder. Stupid. There has to be a certain character that is
predominantly and helplessly off-reality. The same, possibly, with visual
hallucinations: seeing people, fleeting dark images, shadows. And with
delusions. There are a lot of fragile folks who believe absurd things – about
conspiracies, demons, energies, self-reference (e.g., strangers’ attention is
focused on them), but they are not psychotic. And yet there is a gray area on
the continuum where we’d have to say the person is more unreal than real. But
who can always say who is there? Not the medically minded psychiatrist! A client
with sculpted-wild hair said: “Life sure drags me down. I’m having a problem
with radios, tv’s. People’s conversations are altered toward me. The demons are
screwing with my eyes. Three years ago I began to believe that people could
read my thoughts.” I was mostly certain that he was as sane as you or me. But
he had come to be invested in psychotic incompetence.
-- With twenty-three
years of almost daily psychological work, I have found some of myself and
answered some of my questions. Two questions, though, I have never been able to
answer, as simple as they seem: When a person asks: How are you? or How are you
doing? And: Am I a good person?
bromidic truths. They are emblematic of the blindness that made my childhood
invisible and that makes people’s – including my clients’ – lives largely
irrelevant to their truth. We live with answers with little depth, often those that
live only in our head or on the surface of our tongue. With access to a fairly
open history and to Dr. Gendlin’s “felt sense” – the body’s molecular treasure
chest of emotional history – I am still dumb to any sense if I am “wonderful,” “fine,”
“ok,” tragically bad, or even unhappy. I am not deeper than you (I think we are
all made of the same earth). But I can get no answer to this question.
It’s the same
with: Am I good? A handful-and-a-half of hours in a day I enjoy helping people.
But I’ve had only two friends in the last forty years, and distance more acquaintances
than I preserve. I don’t give to charity. Right now I’m growing a contemptuous
disgust for a coworker who is an entirely decent chap. I don’t have a moral
code, and my spiritual core is limited to Einstein’s sense of mystery during a
look upward. Only in moments of their need do I feel caring toward people, with
the complicated exception of my wife. I would give no one the shirt off my
back, but would give them money or my best and most loved books. I have no
family – something that probably angers and may hurt them. I believe my
articles can be helpful to an honest person’s mind, yet they are disquieting. I
know I never received, from a parent, what a person needs to feel wholly
benevolent, complete: I remain a paragraph that ends with an ellipsis.
In Ohio, you’d
scour the Help Wanted section of the newspaper and see jobs for hospital mental
health workers. I’d eye these little plums offered at Riverside Methodist
Hospital and OSU in Columbus. But at your second glance, you’d notice the
hospital is only targeting licensed social workers (LISW), not licensed
counselors (LPCC). And you’d learn that they really mean it. Another one bites
the dust. Once, momentarily infuriated (panties in a bunch) not to be given a
high load of clients (as a per-unit independent contractor), I made a
solicitation to a different group practice in the neighborhood. This was for a psychotherapist position. But I was
informed that only social workers would be considered. Who informed me of this?
A licensed counselor.
Here in Nevada,
while working at a good clinic, a nice job, I nevertheless put my name in at a
hoity-toity-sounding group practice (the website features principals’ head
shots that look like airbrushed stock photo beauties). But there was a
glitch. While in Ohio, every Master’s-level clinician and her brother was
either a Social Worker or a Counselor – the marriage and family therapist
license (LMFT) was brand new there – in Nevada, every brother and his
half-step-niece is a Marriage & Family Therapist, often courtesy of
University of Phoenix® Online. The coin of the realm, whatever its value. So at
Pretty Place, no counselors admitted! I’ve seen the same with hospital ads here.
Imagine – an ER or med-surg or psychiatric unit needs a clinician to do crisis
intervention, brief intensive counseling and resource referral, and it desires a
Marriage & Family Therapist! How sweet! The Borderline is screaming like a
harpy with a turbine up her ass, vomiting charcoal and waving her oceanic
ridges of red arm slices, and she needs Systems Therapy!
Folks: All of
you who hire. Please know the right positive and the right negative. Each one
of us (positive) is his own person, with qualities and experience inimitable.
No social work, psychology or counseling program (negative) makes a fine
psychotherapist. Please know that most, probably all of us in this field come
to it because of our garbage scow of neuroses. The question will then be: Who
of us knows it, who of us has done ultra-serious acid Ex-Lax work on our
problems, and has lived to tell it. This is what matters, not your judgment of
A new hire
here, a Marriage & Family Therapist, does not want to see schizophrenics or
other psychotics. And she will not have to. Treat the fragile Phoenix gently.