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Posts Tagged ‘People’s Therapist’

The People’s Therapist displayed his legendary tact and discretion during a recent interview with the lovely and talented Kashmir Hill, Associate Editor of the esteemed yet tasty legal blog, AboveTheLaw.com.

Despite my best efforts, tongues appear to be wagging regarding certain shocking revelations about The People’s Therapist’s previous incarnation as a high-powered Wall Street lawyer at Sullivan & Cromwell, a top white-shoe firm.  To put it bluntly – though I am loathe to – I told the truth about the toxic environments at big law firms, and the psychological toll they take on the people who work there.

Twitter is a-buzz and Buzz is a-twitter with these shocking revelations.  Facebook is…uh…blue in the face.

Curious?

Here’s the link for the interview.

For more juicy brilliance from the lovely and talented Kashmir Hill, you can also check this out this site (highly recommended by The People’s Therapist.)

Those of you with heart conditions or delicate sensibilities – please exercise caution.

This material may be inappropriate for young children or those recently graduated from law school.

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Two famous pilgrimages:

The Journey to the West – the legendary voyage of the Buddhist monk, Xuanzang, to India to bring the Sutras back to China and establish Buddhism there.

Another, less celebrated Journey from the East – Freud’s parents, Ostjuden (Eastern Jews), emigrating in a horse cart from the ghettoes of East Galicia to Vienna.

The Silk Road channeled a rich current of human activity across Asia from China to Europe.  Along with the merchants and their caravans of camels laden with spices and luxuries, ideas flowed back and forth across the continent.  In the center, there was India.

It was in India that the powerful concepts of Buddhism originated, then spread East, to China, and West – ultimately, perhaps, to Freud’s office in Vienna, where so many of his ideas about living more consciously seem to echo Buddhist philosophy.

I’ll touch on two issues:  first, why Buddhism doesn’t have to be intimidating, and second, some interesting stuff it has to say about our daily lives:

You don’t have to think of Buddhism as just a religion.  The ancient India of around 500 B.C.E.,where the Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, lived, was a lot like the historically contemporary Ancient Greece – the existence of a pantheon of gods and goddesses was taken for granted.  Buddha wasn’t interested in being a god – there were already plenty of gods.  His goal was achieving human enlightenment – a condition of peace and serenity.  Over thousands of years, Buddhism spread all over Asia and splintered into a thousand different schools and practices.  Some of them espouse devotional practices, complete with temples and incense and kowtowing before fat, smiling statues.  You can disregard much of that, and concentrate on the ideas.

To give you a taste of what I’m talking about, here’s the most famous single story in Buddhism.  There are a dozen variations, but this covers the basics.  See if it doesn’t leave you thinking:

The Buddha was born a wealthy prince.  Upon his birth, a fortune-teller issued a prediction that the young prince would eventually renounce all his wealth, and become a monk.  To prevent this, his father, the king, ordered that Siddartha be prevented from leaving the walls of the palace.  For 29 years, the prince was permitted to see only wealth and beauty.

Finally, perhaps on an impulse – some say a mischievous god was involved – Prince Siddhartha escaped for the first time outside the palace walls. Almost at once, he saw four famous sights, which changed his life forever:

He encountered an old man, and learned that he would not remain forever young.

He saw a leper, and learned of the existence of suffering and disease.  

He saw a corpse, and knew that one day he, too, would die.

He met a monk, and realized there were other paths to joy than the pleasure garden within the palace walls.

From that day forward, the Buddha became a monk, devoting himself solely to the search for enlightenment.

I told you this was a powerful story.

Opening your eyes to the world around you, and the emotions you carry within, stirs something in the human soul, which could change your life forever.

That’s what we do in psychotherapy.

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By all accounts, anyone who knew John Lennon learned to expect the unexpected – and sometimes the unpleasant.  That’s just how John was.

One minute soft and tender.  In a blink, harsh and cruel – with a legendary acid wit that didn’t seem quite as witty when it was turned on you.

The man who wrote “Imagine” could also write a song called “How Do You Sleep” and address it to his oldest friend.

Lennon was an example of the borderline pattern – a very common pattern of behavior that shows up, to some degree, in most people.  A therapist I used to work with defined borderline as “he loves you…he hates you…he loves you…he hates you,”  and that might still be the best definition I’ve heard so far.

The borderline pattern is simply an emotional gyration between vulnerability and rage.  One minute you’re opening up and seeking love – the next you’ve clamped down the defenses and launched deadly missiles.

In Lennon’s case, it isn’t difficult to see the basis for the pattern.  All Lennon fans know the familiar facts:

The father, Freddie, deserted the family when John was an infant.  The mother, Julia, warm and loving, if emotionally immature and a bit unstable, raised the boy for a few short years.  When John was barely kindergarten age, Julia, unable to balance her own life with the responsibilities of parenting, left John with her stuffy, emotionally distant sister, Aunt Mimi.  Julia re-emerged as a larger presence in John’s life when he started his early teens, playing the role of an adored, playful older sister more than a mother…only to be killed suddenly when John was 18, struck down by a drunk driver.

The pattern is hard to miss:  abandonment to nurturing to abandonment – back and forth and back and forth.  Lennon lost his father, but had his mother.  Then lost his mother.  Then had his mother again.  Then lost her again.  She adored him, but couldn’t keep him – so back he went to Aunt Mimi.  Then she adored him again, but died suddenly, leaving him utterly bereft and as afraid to trust love in any form as he longed for the love he’d once cherished.

All this set up a gyration from seeking love, and opening up emotionally – to closing down, spitting sharp put-downs, and even violent, often drunken, outbursts.

The borderline pattern is usually handed from parent to child.  The parent exhibits this switch from one extreme to the other, and the child, attempting to adapt in response, begins to gyrate, too.  In Lennon’s case, the events of his childhood were extreme, involving actual abandonment and the sudden death of a parent – so his pattern was particularly severe.  By all accounts, John could be a very difficult person to deal with.  His son Julian makes that clear in describing his few memories of his father, and even Sean, who barely knew his father, described him as having a strong temper and behaving unpredictably – affectionate sometimes, cruel and angry at others.  The man who wrote “All You Need is Love” was indeed warm and loving and sincere and idealistic.  He could also be vicious.  That was the fearful child in John, fighting, unconsciously, to survive in a world fraught with the peril of abandonment and betrayal.

The best approach to the borderline pattern in psychotherapy is to model stability.  The therapist becomes a stable object.  Every week, the same thing – safe and predictable, and utterly unlike the patient’s childhood world.

If I worked with John Lennon, I would seek meticulously to be the same stable object each and every time he saw me.  I would let him know I welcomed his anger just as I welcomed all his emotions, so long as he put everything into words instead of going into action on unexplored feeling.  I would make certain he never received a response from me other than acceptance and support.  The goal at all times would be to flatten out the gyrations – to offer a Middle Path, the path of the Buddha, the path of moderation.

Just like Pavlov’s dogs, you tend to make predictions based upon your past experiences with the people in your life.  That’s all John Lennon was doing.  He knew the world was not to be trusted because it had betrayed him, cruelly, when he was a child.

But, as they say on Wall Street, past performance is no guarantee of future return.

I would make sure Lennon knew I wasn’t like the people in his childhood.  I would be there, the same old People’s Therapist, each and every time – offering support and understanding.

Perhaps that’s what Yoko, his second wife, was able to bring.  She did appear to offer a measure of serenity in his final years.

Of course we’ll never know the man John Lennon might have become.  Or how learning to moderate the gyrations that unconsciously governed his behavior for so long might have affected his genius as a songwriter.

We are all poorer for that loss.

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It seems like Tiger Woods could use a visit, doesn’t it?

Everyone agrees he’s had a rough month.

So let’s go there.  What if Tiger showed up in my office?  What could the People’s Therapist do to help?

Patients often show up at my door when they’re in crisis.  Many people feel – wrongly – that they have to hit bottom before they call a therapist.  I’m guessing Tiger is feeling pretty shattered at the moment.  It would have been better if he’d shown up a few months or years ago, when he was in better shape, before all this bad publicity came down on his head. But you take ’em how you get ’em, and right now Tiger needs help.

My goal would be to create a safe space, and employ specific techniques designed to get Tiger talking, honestly and openly, as much to himself as to me.  We’re there to explain, not to blame.  He’s had enough of that to last a lifetime.

What I notice first about Tiger is that so many people hate him.  Mud is being slung from all sides, including the front covers of the supermarket tabloids, and even stuffy, anonymous Accenture, the management consulting firm, has dropped him as their representative. He can’t seem to do anything right lately.  It all blows up in his face.

This situation seems especially odd since Tiger is someone who’s spent his entire life trying to please.

That’s the root of the problem.

Tiger Woods grew up learning that good things would come to him if he pleased everyone.  As the greatest golfer in history, he had that lesson amplified by an apparently endless positive feedback loop.  He was able to consistently wow us, and we, in return, showered good things on him – money, celebrity, houses, boats, cars.

The problem was that Tiger never made the separation into adulthood.  That’s when you stop functioning as a child and start functioning like an adult.

If we’re operating unconsciously, we will all relate to the world around us as a child does:  the way we operated within our families – mostly the way we related to our parents.  For Tiger, that meant seeking to please, at all costs.

When you function as a child, you function as a parent-pleasing machine.  A child has to please the parent.  Like a baby bird in a nest, a child must scrupulously attend to pleasing its parents because it depends upon their care for survival.

An adult is different because he is self-sufficient.  He can feed and clothe himself.  He can decide for himself who his best self will be.  He can, like Nietzsche’s uber-mensch, decide on his own morality and ethics.

Let’s get back to Tiger.

Following the standard, societally-acceptable pattern, he married a beautiful woman and stayed faithful and utterly content in that relationship.  To all outside appearances, he was a paragon of virtue, a model citizen – exactly what we like to see.

Behind the scenes (at least, according to widespread allegations) we now know that wasn’t the case.  In reality, Tiger was cheating on his wife and acting out sexually – with multiple other women, including prostitutes.

Why would he do such a thing?

Because he wanted to.

The real problem is that Tiger was ignoring his own needs in order to please symbolic parents who had blown up into the entire world.

It is perfectly legal and acceptable for a man to sleep with just about any willing partner he chooses.  It’s called being single.  The only problem, for Tiger, was that he was doing all that and pretending to be happily married at the same time.  That meant he was lying to people, living inauthentically and damaging his relationship.  That was cruel and inconsiderate to all concerned and that’s why everyone seems to hate Tiger right now.

All Tiger needed to do was stop pleasing everyone else – acting like a child – and ask himself what he really wanted.

If he wanted to be married, which means being faithful to his wife, he could choose that.

If he wanted to be single, which means free to experiment sexually to his heart’s content, he could choose that.

But he had to make up his mind.

Monogamy is always a trade-off, but it’s not something that should be imposed on anyone.  Successful monogamy is really a form of mutual fascination.  Two people grow so fascinated with one another that they lose interest in sex with other people.  They come to see that an investment in one another will pay a richer dividend.

Tiger, on the other hand, created a seemingly “perfect” marriage to please the outside world.  Inside, he wasn’t ready.  I’m guessing he was angry, at some level, that he had to be what everyone else wanted him to be, all the while forced to sneak around behind everyone’s backs to get what he felt he truly needed and desired.  In the end, that situation ended up hurting everyone and making no one happy.

My work with Tiger would concentrate on making him conscious of his right to be an adult, and take care of his own needs first.  If he wants to be single and date many women and experiment with freedom, that’s okay.  The key is that he live openly as his authentic, best self.

My guess is that Tiger will take some time to explore his sexuality with a number of women, but that it will be open and honest this time round.  Eventually, he’s likely to find someone special, and monogamy will be a natural expression of that fascination with a special partner.

Tiger doesn’t have to change who he is.  He has to be more who he is – to trust his best, most authentic self, and simply be, as an adult, with no more pleasing others, and no more lies.

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This blog responds to two BAD things and one GOOD thing about psychotherapy.

First, the BAD things.

It’s expensive:  I slide my rate down to whatever you tell me you can afford.  And I mean it.  (If you don’t believe me, it’s on my website:  www.aquietroom.com.)   I’ve seen people for $200 per hour and I’ve seen people for $1 per hour, because that’s what they each could honestly afford.  They all get the same therapy.  But I can only see so many people at once, even with the groups.  This blog addresses that problem.  Here’s a space where I can share the ideas of psychotherapy with everyone.  Until I can get a book in print (which might be soon), this is what I’ve got – a public space, free to all comers, to spread the ideas I believe in – and to try to help.

It’s pretentious:  I keep a Sigmund Freud bobble-head doll in my office to remind me of two things – that Freud was a genius – and I shouldn’t take myself (or Freud) too seriously.  The ideas that change lives make you say “ah-ha!” and see something differently. Freud concocted some crazy notions (remember “penis envy”?) and some brilliant ones (the unconscious.)  The “Ah-ha” ones stuck around.  If you’re not getting an “ah-ha” from this blog, let me know.  As my old therapist, Lena Furgeri, used to say – “STAY ON MY ASS!”  Feedback is welcome.  I’m the People’s Therapist.  You’re the People.

And the GOOD THING:

Psychotherapy changes lives:  Louis Ormont, one of the inventors of group therapy, told me his dream was to make psychotherapy available for everyone – to put it in schools and all over the globe.  He started therapy groups in high schools in New York City.  “Imagine,” he said, “if children took an hour a week for emotional education, to learn to put their thoughts and feelings into words.  It could change the world!”

I agree with Lou.  There are a lot of ah-ha ideas here.  I want to get them out to you – and hear your thoughts.

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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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