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Archive for the ‘Thoughts and Musings’ Category

little-boy-reading-school-bookBlue’s Clues was a children’s television program developed in the 1990’s with the cooperation of child psychologists. The show was unique because it sought to incorporate the findings of cognitive psychology research on children into its content and presentation – a goal that produced surprising results.

What the researchers discovered in the course of their work was that children crave repetition, to a surprising degree – it comforts them. How much repetition do they crave? The results were unexpected, to say the least. It turns out most pre-schoolers are happiest watching exactly the same television show five times in a row. And so that’s what the producers of Blue’s Clues did – broadcast the same exact half-hour episode every weekday for five days in a row, every week. The kids loved it.

You might not be surprised by this outcome if you’ve ever sat a pre-schooler on your lap and read him a children’s book. You know what it’s like to finish “Thomas the Tank Engine,” then point to a stack of other books and suggest, “hey, how about we read ‘Mike Mulligan and his Steam Shovel’?” only to get shouted down: “No, read Thomas again!”

“But I just read it to you…”

“Read. It. Again!”

And so you do. Again and again and again until you’re getting kind of sick of it, until at last, little pre-schooler nephew lies comatose in your lap amid a spreading puddle of drool. Awwwww…how cute.

But why do kids like watching (or hearing) the same damned thing over and over again?

For the same reason junior (and sometimes senior) lawyers often do.

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looney_tunes_mad_as_a_mars_hare_-_screenshot“I don’t think…I mean…I’m not someone it would be fair to call a gunner…do you think?” My client asked, a quiver of trepidation in her voice.

“Of course not,” her therapist reassured her. Because that’s what I’m paid for.

No, that’s not why I reassured her. I did so because my client is a nice person and gunners are loathsome pariahs, denizens of the fens and low places, nothing like her at all. There might not be much that everyone in this country agrees on at the moment but we all (especially lawyers) know one truth to be self-evident, which is that everyone hates gunners and no one wants to be one.

So it’s worth posing another salient query: What is a gunner?

Part of the answer, at a law firm, is obvious – a gunner is someone who wants to make partner. That’s the whole point of “gunning” at a law firm. If you are already a partner, you’re busy doing your partner thing. But if you’re an associate, the goal is to make partner. That’s what a gunner is gunning for.

The term “gunning” further suggests, however, that you’re pointing your gun at someone else (or several someone elses) and (as is normally the case when one points a gun at someone) therefore mean them no good.

And that’s another part of the answer – and what we all hate about “gunners” – not merely that they’re gunning for (i.e., want to make) partner (we all want to make partner (mmmm…money good!)) It’s that, on the way to that goal of making partner, they’re gunning (i.e., want to eradicate) you (or anyone else standing in their way.)

That definition sounds straightforward – and loathsome – enough. But how does one actually know for a fact that someone’s a gunner, that he would nonchalantly pop some caps into a colleague’s back, then prance jauntily over said individual’s bleeding corpse in pursuit of partner-hood…as opposed to simply a hard-working, ambitious, talented lawyer on his way to success in his chosen field? Sometimes the distinction is not as obvious as it sounds.

In my client’s case, for instance, she stood accused of gunner-hood, but felt the charge was unjust. Even if I weren’t on her payroll, I’d be inclined to argue she has a point. Judge for yourself:

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screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-12-01-56-pmI was delighted to be included as a contributor to a piece on Law360 last week – entitled “How to De-Stress and Find Balance as a Busy Lawyer.” My sense is that my views positioned me as somewhat of an outlier among the other contributors…

Here’s a link to the article.  It might be behind a paywall.  So, just to tantalize you…here’s a brief excerpt (though, by all means, please read the whole piece):

screen-shot-2017-01-23-at-12-05-53-pm

Thanks to the author of the piece, Aebra Coe.  She was a good sport when I sent her my response to an inquiry soliciting advice on how lawyers should handle stress.  She wrote:

“Will, I love your response! Not at all what I expected, but definitely a great point.”

David Lat can probably relate.  I tend not to hold back when asked a question.

==========

Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

Read Full Post »

9987116d453904225ab5b80d3b4da749Isolation is a popular topic with my lawyer clients. There are so many varieties of biglaw loneliness I hardly know where to start explicating the phenomenon. One client summed up his particular variant:

“They stuck me on a matter that had gotten lost in the shuffle – some rainmaker too busy bringing in business neglected it, so we lost a critical preliminary motion. After that, everyone knew the case was hopeless, and since I was low man on the totem pole, it became mine. Now everything that’s already gone wrong is officially my fault, and no one’s around to help – as in, if you ask for ideas, you hear crickets. I sit in my office, staring at documents, unable to motivate. A calendar on my wall at home has hundreds of tiny boxes I check off each day until November 12th, 2018. That’s when I pay off my last loan – my final day in law.”

To add to the festive ambience, this guy’s firm is in the midst of endless renovations, which they’re taking in stages, floor by floor. Some floors are left mostly-renovated, others barely-renovated, and the stragglers still untouched. My client was assigned to a half-renovated half-floor, nearly empty except for some staff attorneys who toil down the hall in an un-renovated former conference room.

It’s creepy. And according to firm gossip, theirs is one of those “sick buildings” where the ductwork is clogged with black mold or toxic dust or something insalubrious, especially on the as-yet-not-renovated floors. Those could be unfounded rumors. Or not. He hunches beneath fluorescent lights and stained acoustic ceiling panels, trying to breath through his nose.

Law firms are lonely places by design, or at least biglaw firms are, since they’re typically located on multiple floors of sterile glass towers. One partner client was assigned to her office renovation committee. The new philosophy, she says, encourages walls of glass, to bring light in and cheer the place up. So now, as a biglaw attorney, you work in a fish bowl, with everyone looking in as you pretend to review something while surreptitiously playing Candy Crush, or merely ride out an anxiety attack. In a “modern” glass-walled law office, lawyers retreat to the bathroom if they need to cry.

A relatively recent factor contributing to biglaw alienation derives from the fact that biglaw firms aren’t really “firms” anymore – they’re closer to conglomerates or loose federations.

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trump12This blog entry is presented less as a political opinion than a medical opinion, but the political implications are staggering. I believe America has elected a sociopath as its next President, and, as a “mental health professional” that concerns me – in fact, it terrifies me.

What is a sociopath?

The current diagnostic term (per the new DSM-5) for the condition I’m referring to is “anti-social personality disorder” and, if you care to, you can go to the manual and read a long description of the symptoms. It all sounds like Donald Trump, almost comically so, from “inflated and arrogant self-appraisal” to “glib, superficial charm.”

I’m the first to admit there’s a worrisome aspect to mental health diagnoses, which is that they appear subjective. There’s no blood test, no pathogen you can stick under a microscope or obvious physiological indicator of disease. There’s just a description of human behavior and emotions. That hardly seems medical.

Nonetheless, the irregular human behaviors and troubling emotions that define mental illness – including sociopathy – are real and, they exist on a spectrum, so when they are severe, they can be very serious indeed. We all feel down once in a while, but if you witnessed the effects of catatonia in someone suffering from major depression, its severity might startle you. Likewise, knowing someone slightly “kooky” is different from encountering someone suffering from the hallucinations and delusions produced by severe schizophrenia.

Sociopathy is unique and troubling in part because of a peculiar paradox: the more severe the condition, the more difficult it can be to detect. It’s hard to see what isn’t there, and sociopathy, unlike schizophrenia or depression, is about the absence of normal controls on a person’s behavior. It’s easier to notice something new, that doesn’t belong in someone’s psyche, than something we take for granted that’s missing. And what’s missing in a sociopath is the very humanity that might make it hard for him to hide his condition.

So what is sociopathy, really? In brief, it amounts to the absence of a conscience. Whatever it is within us that we call empathy or caring or concern or connection to others, doesn’t exist in a sociopath.

My father, a psychiatrist who ran a secure ward at a state mental hospital, used to quip: “You know the true sociopath because he’s the one you lend money.”

What Dad meant was that the most severe sociopath is the one who can even fool a psychiatrist. And it really happened sometimes – my father used to recount in amazement stories about sociopaths talking their way right out of secure mental wards.

How do they do it? A sociopath has the amazing ability to tell you exactly what you want to hear. It’s as though they possessed empathy – astonishing powers of empathy – in the sense that they can intuit your desires, and sense what it is that you need to hear them say in order to produce a predictable emotional response. This creates a frightening ability to control others simply through insincere words and the inauthentic play-acting of emotions.

A moment after they tell you something – and this is the truly chilling aspect of sociopathy – a sociopath might be with someone else and say precisely the opposite of what they just said to you, with appropriate emotions displayed, simply because they sense that other person needs to hear something else and the sociopath wishes to control them, as well.

A sociopath will tell anyone whatever it takes, complete with apparently sincere emotions, to create the desired response in them, and thus influence their actions.

This phenomenon is sometimes called being a “pathological liar” and I’ve run into examples where the lying itself becomes the end goal – sociopaths who concoct stories to see how long they can fool people, then revel in being found out, as if that heightened the pleasure of the entire enterprise of deceit.

It’s been said that all criminals – at least, criminals with the intent to commit their crimes, perhaps not criminals who had to steal from necessity, due to poverty or desperation – are sociopaths. That’s because it is our consciences that keep us from doing things we know to be wrong. As members of a community, we sign on to a social compact, an understanding with other people, to care for one another, at least to the minimal extent that we agree not to commit acts we define as crimes because they hurt others.

The most dangerous sociopaths are the ones who are less concerned with fooling people or even stealing from people than they are with controlling people. They don’t want to be found out. They want the lies to go on forever so they can continue controlling those around them….

Which brings us to Donald Trump, our next President, and why I believe he’s a sociopath, and thus very dangerous, especially in his new role leading our nation.

First observation: Donald Trump tells lies without the least hesitation.

The lies are near-constant, and on their face, many are absurd. The lie about President Obama not being born in the United States could be disproven in a moment by posing the simple thought problem: Where would Obama’s mother, the teenage daughter of middle-class Midwesterners scraping by on modest salaries in Honolulu, fly to in order to give birth outside her own home country? Fiji? Japan? The Philippines? Chile? Any alternative, non-US locale she could have chosen (ignoring the question of why would she would go to all the trouble of choosing one in the first place and then somehow faking a US birth certificate) would involve an expensive, lengthy flight across thousands of miles of ocean just to place her near-penniless, American, teenage self for no particular purpose, outside the US. Likewise, the endlessly repeated lie that Obama is Muslim (particularly offensive, because it implies there is something wrong with being Muslim) is also flatly absurd, since Obama was raised by his Christian mother and grandparents and barely met, let alone knew, his Muslim father, a visiting graduate student from Kenya. It is absurd to imagine Trump actually believes such nonsense.

However, Trump knew those lies would produce the desired response in an audience of racist, anti-Muslim extremists who hated Obama, and so Trump told those lies. And these are only two of dozens and dozens of outrageous, hateful mistruths he initiated or perpetuated before, during and even after the campaign. Trump knew he could control people, excite them, fire them up, by telling them exactly what he sensed they wanted to hear. He continues to lie, and lie and lie and lie, in order to give whoever is listening to him a chance to hear whatever it was they want to hear and thus fall under his control.

Second observation: Donald Trump has no fixed values, morals or ethical precepts.

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The wait is finally over. STILL Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (the Sequel) is finally here! The ebook came out today – paperback should be available within another week or two.

Screen Shot 2016-05-27 at 4.20.28 PM

==========

Please check out The People’s Therapist’s legendary best-seller about the sad state of the legal profession: Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: The Lawyer’s Quest for Meaning

 

 

And now there’s a new Sequel: Still Way Worse Than Being a Dentist: (The Sequel)

 

My first book is an unusual (and useful) introduction to the concepts underlying psychotherapy:Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

 

 

 

 

I’ve also written a comic novel about a psychotherapist who falls

in love with a blue alien from outer space. I guarantee pure reading pleasure: Bad Therapist: A Romance

Read Full Post »

washington-cherry-treeA patient was complaining about dating.

“It’s annoying.  You have to be cheerful and upbeat.  What if you’re not feeling it?”

I asked him how he really felt.

“Don’t even go there.  I hate people.  All they ever do is take.”

He wanted to meet a girl with whom he could actually bond, and get close.  But it seemed impossible.  He was looking online – it was easier, and that way he didn’t have to actually go out into the world and deal with humanity.

“What’s your online profile like?”

“The usual – just a regular guy who likes to go out for dinner and take walks in the park, blah blah blah.”

“Is that really you?”

He shrugged.  “Is that really anybody?”

“So there’s your mistake.  You’re not introducing yourself as you really are.”

“Who would want me as I really am?”

“You’d be surprised.”

Your first instinct, when you post a dating profile online, might be to do what everyone else does – lie.  But that doesn’t help you achieve your goal of meeting an appropriate partner, it hinders it.

Many years ago, when I was single, I fell into the same trap myself – I typed up a bland, predictable online dating profile that made me out to be pretty much like everyone else.  Then, at some point out of boredom or sheer frustration, I decided as an experiment to post a profile that told the truth.  The result sounded something like this:

I’m Probably Not For You

I am not a “regular guy” and I won’t be right for most people reading this.  I’m a bit intellectual and if you aren’t a bit intellectual too and don’t read all the time and love classical music and jazz it isn’t going to work.  My perfect night out is vegetarian food followed by a classical piano recital at Carnegie Hall followed by listening to some guy play saxophone in a jazz club.  I eschew discotheques and bars and don’t really “get” Madonna or Broadway.  Oh, and I’m a raging atheist, a partisan Democrat, hate smoking and cars and suburban sprawl and have strong opinions across the board on most things.  I kiss my dog on the lips.  If this sounds right and you like my picture, go for it.

Instead of the occasional bland note I’d been receiving with my old profile, I was suddenly deluged by interested parties writing me long, detailed letters.  And all I did was tell the truth.

It works with simple stuff, like sex, too.  I worked with an African-American gay guy a while back who told me he had no luck with online ads on dating sites.  I asked him what he was advertising for, and he said – oh, the usual – “versatile guy looking for fun.”

Then I asked him what he really wanted.to_tell_the_truth

“Oh, a big daddy to top me all night.”

“Then why don’t you ask for what you want?”

“Oh, no one wants a big bottom…”

“No harm in trying.”

He posted a profile advertising (more or less) “Hungry super-bottom for fierce daddy top.”

That did the trick, so to speak.  He had more offers than he could handle.

Gay or straight, or in-between, if you tell the truth – at very least, about sex – someone might be looking for what you’ve got to offer.  I’ve had clients with interests in kink, or who liked to be submissive in bed – or to dominate – and nothing works better than just coming out and saying it.  You can bet someone else shares your interests, or has an interest in accommodating it, but you’ll never find out unless you take the first step and tell the truth.  If you want to smear her body with whipped cream, then lick it all off (or have someone do that to you) then say so!  (And yes, that might entail first finding a dating site that specializing people into whipped cream, but if you look, it’s probably out there.)

In broad terms, truth-telling –  direct, honest communication – is always a good first step towards establishing a healthy relationship.  I’m frequently asked the question:  “How can I tell someone else something difficult about myself?”  My answer is always the same:  directly and honestly.  When you stop and think about it, isn’t the definition of a best friend “the person you can say anything to”?  And that goes especially for talking about the most personal stuff of all – the stuff about yourself.  A romantic partner is supposed to be your best friend, the person who can know you – and accept you – as you really are.

Forthright communication regarding who you are means you stop apologizing for yourself, and own that you are in charge of your identity, and decide who you want to be, living as best you can the life you’ve been given.  That’s the very definition of charisma – feeling comfortable in your own skin.

truthinessSometimes you might feel the urge to hide stuff you’re afraid no one can accept, as if you’ve forgotten you’re not alone in being human.  I had another gay client who was 69 years old and HIV+.  He wanted to date online, but was terrified to reveal the truth about his age or his HIV status.  Instead, he ran a profile with no photo or details, and lied about how old he was.  Predictably, no one answered, and he was crushed.

I suggested he bite the bullet and tell the truth.  It took weeks to bring him around, but finally he put up a pic (he was actually a good-looking guy) and revealed both his age and status.  Lo and behold!  Dozens of gay men in their 60’s and 70’s started coming out of the woodwork, many of them also HIV+.  It only took one person with the courage to stand up and stop apologizing for the reality of his life, and everyone else followed.

Back to that first client.  We talked about possible approaches to his “truthful” profile, and came up with something along these lines: (more…)

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