Archive for September, 2010

“A” wrote in with the following question:

I wanted to know your thoughts on the imbalance in power relationships at law firms.

My boyfriend, J,works for a partner in a firm. They’ve worked together on and off for 5 years. The partner was an associate when J joined as a trainee. They’ve been ‘friends’ but the friendship is not balanced. There’s an increasing tendency for the personal and professional relationship to blend, and not in a good way.
The partner will abuse his ability to prevent certain social situations from happening by increasing J’s work load. If we don’t agree to socialize on the weekend with him and his wife then the partner can make life difficult as well. He has a very controlling and dominating nature, and will often send emails which are childish and aggressive to J if he doesn’t get his way.

My question is … Is it ever appropriate to have a personal relationship with anyone who is in a position of power over you?

I find that it is not, and as a by stander in this merry-go round of their relationship with one another find that I am a helpless player who gets dragged in from time to time, but is unable to stand up and defend herself because, according to J, ‘he’s a partner and it’ll make work more complicated for me if we upset him.’

Also how to extract ourselves from this? J is in the process of applying for a new position elsewhere, but he still intimates that in the future he’ll want to continue being friends with this partner. Is this some kind of negative symbiotic relationship, whose negative side he cannot recognize because he’s been in it for so long?

And here’s my answer:

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So many cases like this appear at my office that I’ll construct him/her as a composite. That way perhaps I can spare myself the chore of receiving those “how dare you write about one of your clients” comments that I receive every week when I get specific in detailing my fictions and some of you decide I simply must be writing about your roommate.

So here goes.

He/she is very young – 22 or 23 or 24 or 25.

He/she moved across the country to go to a law school that I’ve heard of vaguely. It turns out to be number 79 or 83 or 66 out of the top 100, according to some hack newspaper that profits from disseminating this sort of nonsense.

He/she is the son/daughter of immigrants from Bangladesh, Peru, Kenya, Romania or Ireland.

His/her immigrant parents operate a doughnut bakery, dry cleaner, small hobbyist shop, motel or air-conditioner repair service.

His/her parents are adamant that he/she marry someone from Bangladesh, Peru, Kenya, Romania or Ireland in a traditional ceremony – soon – and produce male children.

Before then – quickly – he/she has to become a doctor.

He/she is no good at math or science or dating, so that’s not going to happen to him/her any time soon. Being a lawyer is the official second choice – not as good as a doctor, but acceptable.

He/she has just started law school at number 79 or 83 or 66 out of 100 and is presenting with anxiety around test-taking and deep feelings of insecurity about his/her abilities compared to those of his/her classmates.

We talk about CBT – cognitive behavioral therapy – to identify the thoughts that are triggering the anxiety – fears of being unable to live up to dad/mom’s demanding agenda, especially when, despite getting accepted into number 79 or 83 or 66 out of 100, he/she suspects he/she has never been all that great at school. College was a struggle, too. It is possible that he/she is simply doing his/her best, but isn’t cut out for academics and would be happier doing something else, such as operating a doughnut bakery, dry cleaner, small hobbyist shop, motel or air-conditioner repair service. But he/she runs from that idea – it doesn’t compute with the dreams and expectations of his/her immigrant parents from Bangladesh, Peru, Kenya, Romania or Ireland.

We learn his/her parents remind him/her that they sacrificed everything for their son/daughter, so he/she could have a future. His/her parents gave up their own happiness so he/she could succeed. This notion is recited to him/her in some form or other about five times each week, most recently in the form of phone calls from home.

We learn he/she has an older brother/sister, who is a doctor, is married to someone from Bangladesh, Peru, Kenya, Romania or Ireland, and has two male children.

We also talk about the ever-widening pharmacopeia available to him/her, should he/she decide to go that route. There are the anti-depressants, which take two weeks or so to work, and have side-effects he/she might not like. There are the anti-anxietals, the benzos, like Xanax and Klonopin, which might be habit-forming. There are the stimulants, like Adderall or Concerta or Ritalin, which will help you focus on studying, at least unless you abuse them, like many law students, and stay up night after night without sleep and start hearing voices – which happened to a client of mine (no – for you helpful comment-writers out there – not while under my care, and no, I’m not a medical doctor, so I didn’t prescribe the stuff.)

But there is another issue that I can’t help discussing with him/her: magical thinking.

Because even as he/she talks to me about his/her anxiety around being back in school, a few more facts are glossed over.

First, he/she is in the process of borrowing $170,000 which he/she cannot discharge through bankruptcy.

He/she has never seen that much money in his/her life and has no concept of how much money it is. Remember, he/she is only 22 or 23 or 24 or 25.

He/she has never worked in law. He/she only graduated from college 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 years ago, and spent most of that time working in his/her parents’ doughnut bakery, dry cleaner, small hobbyist shop, motel or air-conditioner repair service.

When I ask him/her why he/she is pursuing law, I get a canned speech of the law school essay variety.

He/she wants to become an environmental lawyer/ international human rights attorney/ entertainment lawyer/ executive director of a group to help the oppressed/ federal judge.

Pressed on the details, he/she admits that he/she might have to spend a few years at a top law firm first, earning $160,000 per year, minimum. But he/she isn’t doing this for the money.

Pressed to describe what precisely an environmental lawyer/ international human rights attorney/ entertainment lawyer/ executive director of a group to help the oppressed/ federal judge actually does, or how one attains these titles, things grow vague.

Pressed as to how he/she will pay back the $170,000 in loans that he/she will have accumulated at graduation, he/she looks at me like it’s obvious. If you make $160,000 per year, then you need one year to pay off $160,000 and maybe another month or two for another $10,000 and it’s paid off. Duh.

Oh yeah, and maybe taxes or interest or whatever – say a year and a half.

I stare at him/her. He/she stares back at me. There is a steely determination in his/her eyes. He/she isn’t going to back down. This has all been arranged. It is decided.

We are at a stand-off.


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There are foods no rational human would knowingly ingest:  the stuff listed on this website.

Why would you eat a double bacon peanut butter egg and cheese burger with chipotle mayo?

Because you think it will taste good.

To be precise, a little child inside you thinks it will taste good.  That little child is unconscious, and he seeks pleasure.  Freud called him the “Id.”  He doesn’t think.  He reaches for something shiny because it’s shiny.

Welcome to the appeal of Sarah Palin.

Sarah is the political equivalent of marshmallow fluff, chocolate fudge, mac & cheese and cookie dough in a deep fryer.

Why does she look like she’ll taste good – and why is she so bad for you?:

FIRST REASON:  Sarah has an easy answer for EVERYTHING.

Millions of Americans without healthcare?  Sarah would shrink government while lowering costs, cutting taxes and creating jobs.  It’s THAT SIMPLE!!

Foreign Affairs?  Sarah would stand tall against our enemies and stop terrorism in its tracks while keeping us the strongest nation in the world.

Immigration? Sarah would stand up for real Americans and protect our jobs.

The environment?  There’s plenty of oil – we just have to drill for it!  Sarah doesn’t believe in global warming.  We can do whatever we want.  That’s what the planet’s there for – having fun!

What else is there?

Who cares!

Sarah would cut taxes, build the economy, create jobs, shrink government, make America strong and bring the family back – like things used to be in the olden days!  Everything would be super!!

You betcha.

Does any of this make sense?

Does washing down a bag of Doritos with a two liter bottle of Mountain Dew and a super-size bag of peanut butter M&M’s make sense?  Does it have to make sense?

It feels good.  Until a few hours later.  When you throw up.

SECOND REASON:  Sarah’s just like you!

Palin’s Tea Party supporters are always stressing how “real” Sarah is.  That word – “real” – is code for “just like me!”  Your Id, like a small child, is by definition a narcissist – he cannot see where he stops and another person begins, so doesn’t see anyone or anything beyond his own reflection.

Neither does Sarah!

She brings you…you.  Not like that weirdo Obama, who’s…well…umm…he looks “different” –  you know what I mean?

Your Id wants to have fun.  He seeks pleasure.  That’s the “Pleasure Principle.”   Your unconscious – this child – is utterly regressed.  He likes sugar, and shiny things.  He likes Sarah.

In case you need a male Sarah Palin?  Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

That would be Scott Brown.

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One of my clients told me last week he went to law school because he “didn’t want to do an MBA.” Apparently he’d only considered those two options.

Another client told me he’d decided between a PhD in History and a JD, and went with the JD because he “didn’t think there would be jobs for academics.” Fair enough. Unfortunately, there weren’t many jobs for lawyers, either, and at least with a PhD, as opposed to law school, he might have received some sort of “stipend” ( i.e., a meagre handout), or adjunct faculty position (i.e. cafeteria work.) That way, he might not have ended up both unemployed and in hock up to his eyebrows.

Going to graduate school has become a popular substitute for finding a job, especially in this recession. Grad school sounds easy – basically a few extra years of college – but it only puts off a lot of tough decisions that have to be made sooner or later.

The problem here is proverbial and involves carts and horses. In a perfect world, you would explore a career and make sure it is right for you first, then head off to get a degree.

Instead, we have the situation I see every day in my office: young people in their mid-twenties, who grind through law school, then face not only a moribund job market, but the deeper horror of realizing they don’t enjoy the work. They end up fighting to find a job in a profession they don’t like simply because they have to pay off debts.

It would be great if the law schools seemed to care – if they insisted that prospective students work as paralegals for a while and make sure they know what they’re getting into. But law schools are money-making concerns and they’re raking in cash the way things are. They’re not about to start telling the truth about their massive profits on law student tuition or the feeble job market. As they see it, that’s not their problem.

What sent you off to law school, more than any other factor? Probably fear – specifically fear of being a disappointment to mom and dad. When you decided to go to law school, you saw only two options – graduate school or loser-dom. In law school, you would be doing what you’d done your entire life – going to school, which always kept your parents happy in the past. It seemed like a no-brainer. And in your early 20’s, things that happen a few years from now (like paying off student loans) seem far away – they take place in another universe with another person cleaning up. Hey, plenty of people go to law school and they do whatever, and it works out, right?

Now, in many senses of the word, your loans are being called in.

One of my patients says he wishes he’d gone the burn-out route, stayed home and smoked weed. He has buddies from college who drifted after graduation. Some are working retail jobs, or in restaurants. Some have office or sales jobs. Mostly, they’re blowing off work and playing in bands and part-timing as ski instructors during the winter or hanging out and talking about that back-packing trip to Bhutan they really want to do some day.

From where he’s at – an unemployed quasi-lawyer waiting to hear whether he passed the bar exam while he processes the reality that he doesn’t like law – being a burn-out sounds pretty good. As a burn-out, he wouldn’t have loans, so he could afford to spend the whole day studying the lyrics to “Paranoid Android.”

I’d like to suggest a “third path” – an alternative both to the mindless lemming-march towards graduate school and complete burn-out. (more…)

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I was back on “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand this week, after a short summer break.  This time we talked about the unique – and not so unique – challenges facing mixed HIV-status couples.  Here’s a link to hear the show.  I come on about 7 minutes in – check out the new taped intro Terry and his engineers put together for The People’s Therapist!

To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.

If you love his show, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.

Thanks, Terry!  See you next month.

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