Tuesday, June 26, 2007

My next book

If I had a bit more talent and discipline, and I took a year off and worked hard, I could write the stories of how two of my client families intertwine. It would be a good story, and no one would believe it of course.

On family is rich, one is poor, and they live on opposite ends of the same street. One in a big house with lots of land that their family has owned for three generations. They ride their horses on the trails in the back. The other lives on less than a half an acre in a ranch house with crumbling steps, holes punched in the walls and a shaggy lawn.

I have been seeing the poorer family for years, as they have always been struggling with mental, financial, educational and legal troubles.

The more prosperous family came to be recently because they have passed the point of exploding. They could no longer keep matters internal to the tight-lipped inner circle.

Each family has three children of roughly the same ages. One has two boys and a girl, the other two girls and a boy. The oldest son on the poorer family drank too much, but managed to get away. He joined the army and is in Iraq. Now his mother sits outside and drinks.

The middle children of each family are sixteen, and they are having sex with each other.

Both fathers have been gone for eight years. The poorer father ran off with a man. The richer father ran off after his daughter accused him of coming into her bed at night. Two years later he "drowned" while fishing in Florida.

Alcoholism, sex, violence, incest, shoplifting, robbery, embezzlement, lies, deceit, betrayal; along with love, devotion, parental advocacy, determination and guile.

Put it all together and write your own story. It's all there.

Sure beats staying home and watching Dr. Phil.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Sometimes I think all this psychotherapy mumbo-jumbo is damn useless and sometimes it seems like the only way to change the world.

What's become increasingly clear and frustrating to this aging Sixties idealist is that despite superficial changes, the human population of this plant is going to continue to roll along, with it's own ebbs and flows of violence and exploitation, mixed with some personal acts of grace and kindness, until, at some unknown point, in some totally unexpected way, and completely by accident, it destroys much of itself.

That may happen in six months, or in 4000 years.

Until then, the only way to have some positive impact is one relationship at a time. Even that is pretty chancy business.

That's what I get from taking the weekend off and reading the newspaper.

I's not that I'm turning into a bitter old man. Really, I love to watch the parade as it passes. I have a ringside seat for the jugglers and the clowns and the constant drama. It's great stuff. And now, more than ever, everyone wants to be a star.

So, until tomorrow, be nice to the person sitting next to you, and enjoy the show.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Yes and Maybe

Some things sometimes go better than I expect, and that can be very encouraging.

Chrissy, who I wrote about last time, called in response to my call. She said she was at work on Tuesday and that she felt hung-over and terrible, but she really pushed herself to pull it together and not let her life tumble completely our of control.

Today she left a message that things were still OK. She felt anxious but could handle it. She would not drink, and wanted to stay away from alcohol.

She also was much more committed to recognizing the triggers and learning how to keep herself under control.

This was very gratifying.

Also, yesterday I had what was really a very good discussion with L. She was able to see, but not admit, that her ideas are crazy. She tried to grasp and hold on to how she would never believe that there is conspiracy of four hundred people involved in damaging her sneakers. She even laughed at it.

Today, as usual, she called about five times with more proof that someone is breaking into her house and damaging her stuff. When I went over everything we discussed yesterday she screamed and cried.

"Don't tell me that's not real. Don't take that away."

Unfortunately, that's progress.

Monday, June 18, 2007

PTSD anyone?


It these PTSD people! They are so good and they try so hard and then ping, not even BAM, just ping, they hit a bump and all the wheels come off.

Chrissy, after the divorce, slowly came together, then she saw her Mom and fell apart. Two months of drinking and self-destruction, ended up in the hospital.

Got out, started over. Piece by piece, brick by brick, put her back together again. She got a job. She worried about the job. It was a good, hard job. Could she do it? (Of course she could, but when did she ever feel really capable.) So she had to pass a test. She got nervous and wobbled. She had a bad weekend, but she called. She talked, we held her together and she went on.

But Friday, three things, aspects of life that happen to everyone. The good boyfriend had problems of his own, people at work were yelling - not even at her-- a phone call from her mother and a letter from her biological mother.

Too much to handle.

Drunk again. Self-destructive, crazy talk.

Will probably lose the job.

Start over.

She knows what she has to do. There is certainly hope. Good things will happen sooner or later. But, it's already getting to be later.

Here, I said, just sit in the waiting room for the next three months and don't do anything. Tell me when you run out of magazines.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

L, again

It's been a while since I've written about L. She has not gotten better. The kind of thoughts that rush through her head have only revved themselves up and increased, one on top of the other. She went from people noticing her, to people talking about her, to people following her, to people coming into her house. Then she thought people were tampering with her clothes, with her food or her jewelery.

Then she got into this shoe thing where no shoes fit right. She thought that after she bought shoes, people came into her house and switched them with shoes of the same size and style, but just slightly larger or smaller on one foot. She began ordering from various shoe factories, but she thought they were all involved in screwing up her feet. She called the police. She began calling several times a day. She does this now several times a day. They tell her to call her psychologist.

Then she began talking about the cameras in her house and the microphones. They didn't bother her. She thought that all her movements are being put on YouTube and that she is a star.

But now she is crying that she is never left alone. She is threatening her neighbors because they won't tell her who is coming into her house. She tells me that she can't take it and she is thinking of suicide.

It is finally enough to get her into a hospital, fill her full of Zyprexa and take all of her star power away.

Where is the line between being an eccentric pest and being a danger?

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

more examples

It must be a brain thing. I have said it before: brains almost always choose short-term pleasure, or lack of pain and anxiety, over benefits that will only be evident over the long-term. To make a huge and unsupported pseudo-scientific jump, I think there must be something in our evolutionary make-up that leads to these decisions. I think that the primitive parts of our brain figure that we may not be around in six months or longer so a bird, or a bottle in the hand, is better than two in the bank later.

Joe sat before me today, covered with tattoos, and looking green. His liver isn't working too well after thirty years of drinking. Now, because he is in pain and convinced that another drink could kill him, he has stopped.

The real shame is that he can explain his decisions so clearly and articulately, from how he began to drink at 13, because his parents really weren't around and he thought no one cared. How it lead to all kinds trouble he got into, the drugs he also used, the fights, the divorces, the debt, and now the illnesses.

But, he said he always felt he was making the choice to drink because he hated how he felt sober. When sober he was anxious, guilty and unsure of himself. When he drank he felt calm, relaxed, clever and happy, even if was just for two hours. Now, it really hurts when he drinks, so he stopped. If he is lucky, he will be pain free by December.

Joel has been married for seventeen years. Ten years ago his wife started taking money from their account without telling him. Then she took the tax returns. Then she stopped sleeping with him. Then she began telling their son that he, Joel was stupid and the son shouldn't listen to him. Then she refused to go anywhere with him, and now she won't cook for him. She walks around the house muttering that he's an asshole.

Joel is beginning to believe that the marriage is over. But getting divorced scares him. He is convinced that the process with be difficult, torturous, deceitful and expensive -- and he's right. So he has avoided making things worse.

Now he is aware that she may go to a lawyer first and accuse him of things that are not true and take all the money. So now, that scares him more and he thinks he will get to a lawyer first.

We shall see.

Monday, June 11, 2007

came back with a vengeance

A little over a week ago I wrote about two people who didn't show up. Usually, when people don't show up they disappear for a while. Both of these people came back.

One of them, the man whose wife had left him had worked hard that day, fell asleep and missed the appointment. Today he came back. Surprisingly, he had a lot to say.

I say I was surprised because few people with his background come to therapy, and much fewer still, talk about some of the things that happened to them. He is Cambodian.

He was born in a refugee camp. He has a younger sister. Once he had two older brothers and one older sister, but they were killed as they ran across a field trying to escape the government soldiers. Both of his parents survived, kind of.

His parents made it to this country to be re-settled. But unfortunately his father brought his mind and his memories with him. That meant he had violent flash-backs that led to heavy drinking and then more flashbacks. Eventually, he couldn't hold it together at all and he wandered out into the streets to get away from everyone. No one knows where he is.

That meant that my client, his mother and sister spent time in several shelters before coming up here and finding a way to establish a home.

All of these things haunt my client, as they do many of his relatives. It takes generations to begin to heal from such wounds.

Now, of course, we are part of the process of destroying another country, creating refugees and traumatized children.

But hey, this is not new. It's been like that at least since men gathered together in groups, and probably before. The skulls of decapitated villagers piled ten feet high in the center of town, just to show who is in charge. Would this be Spartans and Persians in 470 BC? the Mongols as they invaded Georgia in 1223? the European settlers slaughtering tribes of Native Americans in 1750? the Serbs in Bosnia in 1993? Hutus killing Tutsi in 1994?

Turks and Armenians? Japanese and Chinese? Jews and Palestinians? India and Pakistan? Irish and English? French and Germans? Germans and French? Vikings and Celtics? Spurs and Cavaliers?

All, of course, and many, many more.

Almost all of them glorified by major motion pictures.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Finding a Therapist

Yes, finding a therapist can be very gratifying or very frustrating. Psychotherapy, despite all of the attempts at standardization and all the claims that it is a science, remains a craft that is practiced differently by everyone who attempts to do it.

One of the goals of psychotherapy is to help whoever submits themselves to the process to live a better, happier, more productive life. Now, what that means exactly, is up for grabs. That's why the profession attracts to many kooks, gurus, shamans, and yes, weirdos.

Everyone is seeking a better life. Some people are sure they have found it. When they feel that way they want to light the path for others, for both fun and profit.

Unfortunately, one person's path to self-actualizatin may be another person's mine shaft.

That's why training, contact with colleagues, and professionalism is important. No one, besides the therapist and his client, really knows what goes on inside that meeting room. Sometimes I tape sessions, and in the past I have been watched by other's, but 98% of the time I sit and talk to someone, the words, the gestures, the sighs, the raised eyebrow, the unfinsihed sentence, and the long silence, all vanish quickly into the past.

If you are looking for a therapist, make sure you feel comfortable, so that you will be able to say anything and everything that is really happening. In my sessions I appreciate complete honesty more than anything. If you drank again, tell me. We have to work on that. If you seduced your brother-in-law, let me know. It probably affects how you feel.

Make sure you feel understood. There were reasons you seduced your brother-in-law. It didn't just happen. It doesn't make you a bad person (don't ask your sister). We have to be able to talk about it.

Also, try to find out how much your therapist thinks about what he or she is doing and why. They shouldn't be just be winging the hour, or leaving the entire direction up to you. They should have a good idea of what they are trying to accomplish, and how they hope to get it done.

If they don't meet the criteria, you can find someone new, or tell them to contact me through this site. I charge for supervision, but it is well worth it.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


A while ago, March 5 to be exact, I talked about I.Q. This question came up again with my last posting. Some people are smarter than others. The people I talked about last time were on the low end.

I am a psychologist but I am not a fan of I.Q. tests. Part of me strongly believes that a large part of what I.Q. measures is how much someone has learned how to "get with the program." by that I mean how much have they learned to know and say what is expected of them by the powers than run our society -- our government, school, churches, courts. If you are smart you learn to follow the rules.

But, we know, often the rules suck. The rules are there to help those with power to keep it. If you follow the rules there is a better chance that you will get to join them. Not a really good chance, if you are an outsider, but a better chance.

If you oppose the rules you will not get a good job, get thrown in jail, have your hands cut off, or be labeled as nuts. This is not new to our society, societies have always run this way.

If you are really, really good at opposing the rules, and you are charismatic and good at marketing yourself, and if you focus on a widely agreed upon injustice, you can really change the world and be an historic figure: Ghandi,Jesus, Martin Luther, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, the Franklin, Washington Jefferson group,and Curt Flood are all good examples.

I don't believe in the bell-curve of intelligence. I believe in a flat line with a tiny blip down and a tiny blip up. One percent of the population may have a remarkable talent in something. One percent are congenitally mentally handicapped. (These are not exact). But most people have plastic brains that can be shaped at an early ago to relax, solve problems and have fun; or to be tense, full of doubt and feel miserable.

I would rather work with someone who over-intellectualizes and needs to be taught how to feel than someone who stares at me and answers with one syllable and expects me to tell them how to run their lives. I know therapists who are great at that. I'm not.

Monday, June 04, 2007

off kilter

Feeling strangely out of sorts. Trouble focusing. Trouble sitting still. A haze seemed to settle over my brain, then it settled into my stomach.

Why/ Too much weekend?

No, I am ashamed to say. I had eight clients today but two were of the kind who, although they have depression or anxiety, also are struggling intellectually, and always have.

It's sad, but it's boring.

Everyone deserves a chance. Every human is just as human as another. But it helps to be able to carry on a conversation if you want to be in therapy.

He has panic attacks. He really does. He gets nervous because he is afraid of failure. He should be; he fails often.

He also smells.

It was difficult to keep my eyes open. When he left I staggered down the hall and stuck my head into the sink.

I feel the state got their money's worth when they paid for that hour.