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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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This month “The Alternative” with Terry LeGrand celebrated its one year anniversary. Congratulations, Terry! (And congrats to his technician and sidekick, Andrew Holinsky, too!)

For the anniversary show, we talked about a good New Year’s resolution for every LGBT person – coming out of the closet – but with a twist. For many in our community, there’s a second coming out that’s less fun, but equally important – coming out as HIV+.

You can listen to the show here.  My segment starts about 31 minutes in, but as always, it’s worth sticking around for the whole hour.  To find out more about Terry and “The Alternative” on LA Talk Radio, check out Terry’s website and the show’s website.   And be sure to catch Terry’s new show “Journey to Recovery” which deals specifically with substance abuse and recovery issues.

If you enjoy his shows, you can become a Terry LeGrand “fan” on Facebook here.
Thanks, Terry! See you next month.
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Check out The People’s Therapist’s new book: “Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy

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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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I was working this morning with a patient I’ve been seeing for a few months.  At the end of our session I suggested he join one of my psychotherapy groups that meet once a week in the evenings.

“What?  You can do psychotherapy in a group?  How does that work?”

I was a bit surprised – most people have at least heard of group therapy, but it seemed the perfect time for The People’s Therapist to explain the basics of this mysterious and powerful psychotherapy modality.  At very least, in my limited space here, I can dispel a few of the myths:

Myth #1:  Group psychotherapy will be like a 12-step group. I think this idea comes about because the most familiar group therapy-like experience for most people is AA, or another 12-step group.  Some of my patients who have done AA or another 12-step group in the past act like they know what they’re getting into, and march in to my groups with extra confidence, only to find that this new experience is very different from what they’re used to.

There are a lot of ways to run psychotherapy groups, and most groups are far less structured than an AA group.  The dreaded “cross-talk” which is forbidden in AA is not only permitted in most groups – it’s encouraged.  There’s no opening ritual or closing prayer – it’s open and free-form.  You sit down and talk about whatever’s on your mind.  The only rule is that you keep it real, so you don’t waste time.

Most psychotherapy groups also meet weekly, and are closed – not drop-ins, like most AA groups.  If you are a member of a psychotherapy group, you are committed to the other members, possibly for years, and it is your duty to show up every week and participate, even when you don’t want to.

Myth #2.  Group is just cheap therapy for a bunch of people at once. One of the advantages of group therapy is that it is cheaper than individual sessions – with so many people, the fee is lower for each person.  But it is not cut-rate cheapo therapy.  In fact, I strongly encourage my patients to participate in “conjoint therapy” – which means going to group every week and dropping in for an individual therapy session every two or three weeks, too.  Group is very different from individual treatment, but they complement one another and the combination is more effective than either on its own.

How is group different?  It is not so much vertical, like individual, but horizontal.  You don’t dig deep into your past so much – you already did that in individual.  The focus in group is on watching how you interact with others.  I think of group as taking the work of the individual sessions out into a laboratory, where you can test what you’ve learned in a controlled setting.  There is nowhere in the world like a group room – a place where you can sit with perfect strangers and the assignment is to put your authentic thoughts and feelings into words and interact.  It is a powerful, often life-changing experience.

Myth #3. For a group to work, everyone has to share a common life experience. I think this myth arises from people’s familiarity with support groups, rather than broader psychotherapy groups.  A group focused on one issue – such as survivors of sexual abuse – is a support group.

I led a support group specifically for HIV+ gay men for many years, and it was a rewarding and useful experience, but my favorite groups have no specific focus and include the most diverse possible population.  The HIV+ group created a safe place where guys dealing with that disease, and the stigma it still carried, could loosen up and share their experiences.  But even in that group, there was plenty getting talked about besides HIV, including friendships, dating, career issues and lots of other topics.

I’ve had all sorts of people in my groups over the years.  All ethnicities have been represented, people as young as 18 and as old as 78, rich and no-so-rich, men, women and trans people, gay, lesbian, straight and bi.  Diversity only enriches the experience.

Myths #4 and 5:  If I go to group, (a) I won’t want to share my therapist’s attention, so I’ll dominate too much or (b) I’ll be too scared to open up in front of all those strangers.

If you’re having these common worries about group, then it’s already working.  These are transferences – you are transferring your expectations from prior life experiences onto a prediction about how group will play out when you get there.

The first lesson of group is that you will unconsciously relate to the group the way you related within your family.  It’s useful to understand how that mechanism plays out, because it is also the way you relate to the world as a whole.

If you grew up having to fight to get the attention you needed in your family, you might play that role out in the group room when you arrive.  If you grew up distrustful of others, expecting a negative response, you might shut down in the presence of the group.

Becoming conscious of these unconscious patterns, and practicing different ways of being, is the work of group therapy.

I could write about group forever – and I’ll probably be writing about it a lot more on this website.  Group is some of my most challenging and rewarding work, and I’ve seen people take enormous strides in a group room that might have been impossible with individual therapy alone. Humans are social animals, and co-exist with one another.  Group incorporates all those other people into the therapy experience – with powerful results.

If you’re like most people, now that you’ve learned a bit about group…you’re probably thinking about giving it a try.  It’s a commitment.  Most therapists require that you commit for at least 10 or 15 sessions, and this new way of doing psychotherapy will become a regular part of your life.

I promise, whatever happens, you’ll be changed by the experience – and you won’t forget it.

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Here’s an old radio interview, I believe from early 2006.  I was featured on John Riley’s OutFM radio show on WBAI, FM 99.5. My segment begins at 39:30 about two thirds of the way through the show.  I discuss the TalkSafe/PLUSES program that I was administrating at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Manhattan.

There’s some interesting stuff here about HIV and how it affects people’s lives.  John was a pleasure to work with, and with his help, I even put together a short PSA to publicize the program.

Here’s the Facebook Fan page for John’s show.

TalkSafe/PLUSES ran into funding issues a year later, after I’d left.  I believe it remains in existence, though in a different form, and still offers counseling to people with HIV through the HIV Medicaid clinic at St. Vincent’s Hospital.

I saw a great many individual patients, and couples, and also ran a number of short-term groups for HIV+ gay men at Talksafe/PLUSES.  I developed a waiting list eventually, for guys who wanted to continue doing group therapy on a longer-term basis.  Eventually that waiting list turned into a longer-term group I ran as part of my private practice.  We met in my office every Tuesday night, for nearly four years, creating a tight-knit community of guys, now scattered all over the country, who still stay in in touch with me, and with one another.

A big shout-out from the People’s Therapist to the guys from the old Tuesday night HIV+ gay men’s group.

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