Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A New Concept of Therapy

Freud was a miserable guy.  He was deeply insecure, heavily addicted, and ultimately died from medically assisted suicide.  He had developed mouth cancer from all the cigars, had part of his jaw removed in an attempt to excise the growing tumor, and just basically gave up.    I can't help but think, "We gotta do better."

Freud's contribution to the excavation of our unconscious mind is massive.  But he was WRONG! (about the important stuff like Happiness, Well Being, etc, mostly because he never even thought to shine his light on that area.)  Hindsight is famous for being 20/20, which is to say, perfectly clear.  The clear-seeing on Freud, for as much Insight as he offered, is that Insight sometimes cures nothing but Ignorance.  Was Freud any Happier doing it his way? The Historical hindsight says no.  He was a miserable guy, who studied and theorized about misery, and died a miserable death.  That's why we need to adopt a new concept of therapy, one that focuses more on what's working for people, and less on what's WRONG with us.

In 2012 we have this amazing opportunity to see the big picture.  Technology allows us to learn and come to know things that were once totally out of reach or hidden.   It's a big shift, one that requires us to grow and shift with it, or be left behind.  Many of the myths we've been running on have been disproven.  And it's only now that we can really integrate all that data and make that determination.

One example: The pervasive Myth in psychology, from a Freudian perspective, is that there is something wrong with us, it can be understood or interpreted, and through this interpretation it can be removed.  Like Freud's jaw, our unconscious past can be removed, and this is the proper treatment for every individual.  It sounds silly today because we have so much more data than we used to.  But in Freud's time, this was a revolution.  Today, we have a collection of not only theories, but actual scientifically rigorous findings that point us in a different direction about treatment.

My favorite part of this evolution of our thinking is the Positive Psychology movement.  Let me tell ya about that.  And you be the judge.

Martin Seligman is this really stodgy researcher at Penn.  When I was coming up in the field, especially at UCLA, we revered this man for his excellence in scientific discovery.  He was part of the lineage that busted the Freudian mythology, and drove the field away from theoretical ideas, and toward actual bits of scientific knowledge.  We loved him for his contribution to the work, for loving it enough to be bothered to spend his life studying it, and ultimately validating the field as a whole.  UCLA, like most academic environments, loves experimental design, double-blind studies, high validity scores, and anything that can be measured or involves Statistics.   So, like millions of other undergrads we studied Math, Science, and narrowed our focus ever more on what was wrong, and how we could fix it.  Our intention was noble.

One problem: all the attention on scientific rigor, and all the focus on pathology did not make Martin Seligman, or anyone else, any more fundamentally Happy.   From the time that the German pioneers (Wundt, Freud, et al) began their study of psychology in the early 20th century to the dawning of the new millennium when Seligman reigned over the American Psychological Association, our rates of Happiness had not improved.  In other words, Seligman, and the rest of us had to concede that we were WRONG.  The experiment hadn't proven what we set out to prove.    In fact, we seemed to have disproven our thesis in many ways.  It was humbling.  And if we had been "belief-based" in our approach, we would have stayed the course, insisting that we were RIGHT, even though the science, the numbers, the facts and findings did not support that conclusion.  Instead, good old stodgy Seligman is a man of Reason.  And he said, it's time for a new course.  Thus he began studying Happiness, not Pathology.  What was born of that revelation is the now celebrated field of study known as Positive Psychology.  No longer do we think it's as useful to study what's WRONG, as it is to study what's RIGHT.  

What do Happy people, Happy couples, Happy companies, Happy countries have to teach us about Happiness?  And wouldn't it be nice to be able to integrate all this information from all over the globe and all over the socio-political spectrum into our modern understanding and concept of our Selves and our Healing?   Now that we have 20+ years of data, maybe we can effectively derive a better therapy.

Here's the kicker: Stodgy Seligman, now that he's been focusing on Happiness for this long, is Happier.  He is decidedly less stodgy!  He can be seen on YouTube giving TedTalks and making humorous remarks.  It's amazing!!  The guy is Happier.  And, it turns out, as a finding of all this research, the vast majority of people who study Happiness increase their Happiness too.  As radical as it may have seemed once upon a time, Focusing on Happiness, seeking out  Gratitude, talking about the Meaningful aspects of our lives, makes people Happier.

So, let's play my favorite game, "Would You Rather...?"  Would you rather buy into a therapy system derived from a miserable guy who suicided?  Or, would you rather explore a therapy derived from all the previously acquired knowledge, vetted by rigorous study, that was born of a guy who got Happier?

For me, the choice is clear.

Saturday, September 15, 2012


In honor of Baby Caleb, who finally, after a very long, tortuous week spent in the NICU, came home with his new parents and is now, thankfully, where he belongs.

So... I'm working on a book these days, a book about Happiness and Coupling.  It's been an amazing opportunity to dive into the deep well of new research and ancient wisdom that we've acquired over the ages.  Never in my life have I experienced such an awakening.  It's made me rethink how I operate, and given me a chance to make some good, healthy adjustments.  The results of which have been a spectacular sense of overwhelming gratitude.

That word used to irk me.  Actually, that word used to never exist for me.  Then, I began hearing it about 10 years ago, and I didn't know what to make of it.  People would say things like, "I'm just so grateful for my friends, my family, my dog, my ability to breathe independent of a machine," etc etc.  I suppose I, too, was grateful for those things, but I never woulda said it in that way, certainly not out loud.

Little by little, almost without my consent, I began to practice this attitude of gratitude.  I did what I was told: I made lists of 10 things I was grateful for before bed each night for a week.  This was in sharp contrast to the lists I normally made (about what I ate, how I should exercise, the ever-crowded "to-do" list, my worry about others, and my ability to enumerate all the people I really needed to call or else I was a really bad friend, etc etc).  It was a sickness, I'd say.  High functioning people often have this disease of compulsive list making.  It goes nowhere.  It sucks you dry.  I don't recommend it.  But then, some very clever person figured out that if you substitute out the "shit lists" and replace it with a "gratitude list" you still get the full thrill of list making, but you feel full (of gratitude) in the end, instead of empty (with dread or disappointment).

The feeling of actually experiencing my own gratitude was and still is deeply soulful to me.  Turns out, when we let ourselves break out from the shackles of worry and move into a higher consciousness, rising above our base fears into the elevated perspective of enlightened beings that gratitude offers, we feel A LOT better.  Hmmmmmm....

All the Greats sight gratitude as key in any life well led:  The Dalai Lama has trained his mind to seek it out even in seemingly thankless situations, thanking the Chinese government for occupying his country for 50 years, and thanking every jerk we encounter for offering the opportunity to practice patience and compassion.  Natalie Merchant's Kind & Generous??? An entire song about her gratitude!  Martin Seligman found a way to teach gratitude training to soldiers as a preemptive defense against and treatment for PTSD.  In his book, "Flourish" he says that he was brought in by General George Casey in 2008 to "create an army that is just as psychologically fit as it is physically fit."  (Read that quote again, it will blow your mind that a military man said this at a Pentagon meeting during our lifetime!!!)  Today, studies of over 800,000 soldiers have  demonstrated that as psychological fitness goes up, PTSD symptoms decline.  Psychological fitness is defined as resilience, and what fuels our resiliance? Gratitude! (and a few other things).

The ancients have known this, our modern science has proven it, so why do we resist the call of our ever-present gratitude?  In my opinion? Because it hurts.  When my annoying, overbearing intellectualism finally allows gratitude out of its rigid grasp, and into the Realm of Sensing and Feeling, it's kinda painful.  There is definitely an aspect of pain in feeling our full load of gratitude.  You can tell, because it often induces tears to form for "no good reason."  Pain, that is the reason we avoid this overwhelmingly powerful emotion.

I tell you what, I am grateful Baby Caleb came to this earth.  I'm grateful for his first of many teachings to us: Find your gratitude in every scary awful no good rotten situation, and we humans thrive.  Our love in our marriages will also flourish!  Resilience lies in our ability to seek out both the scant morsels and the lush fields of gratitude in our lives.

I am grateful to you for reading my gratitude rant.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

A Parable...

This is the story of someone who felt driven to do something, but kept failing at it.  He felt discouraged and down.  His self esteem dropped, he felt lost on his path.  He was forlorn, battled with depression and anxiety, but never seemed to be able to get ahead in his life (in particular, his career).  Although he felt driven toward this thing of a goal,  it just never seemed to go his way.  He kept falling into a victim state like, "Why me? Why isn't this happening for me?"  

Now, it wasn't that he wasn't supposed to do this thing, but there was certainly a repetitive pattern of doing it a certain way over and over again, and expecting different results.  (No surprise this exact pattern is often cited as the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over but expecting different results.)  He hadn't realized that maybe he needed to do it differently for it to come out differently. 

All it took was one small adjustment-- One tiny little shift in Ego, one light switch of expectations maybe.  Just one small thing was needed in order to make a re-approach possible.   Once there was re-approach, there was a new perspective and a new outcome.  

Bottom line: It wasn't that he was "unlucky" or a "victim" or "not meant to do it".  He was meant to do it, differently.  

*if you or someone you know is afflicted with this parable, call me.  I'm here to help 

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blog on Hold

I am currently working on a book about Happy Coupling.  Can't say too much about it, except that it's gonna be awesome.

If you are interested to talk more about the emerging Happiness research and/or Coupling, call me.  It's one of my favorite topics, and I'd be thrilled to regale you with tales from my research marinade.

So, in the meantime, the Blog will be sparse, even more sparse than usual, because, it turns out, writing is hard.  I'm a shrink, not a writer.  There, I said it.

Have a look around though.  Hope something speaks to you.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

No guts, no glory

Though I am not a strict Jungian, by any means, I am a huge fan.  Indeed, I am as quick to see where Carl Jung was right as I am to see where Sigmund Freud was wrong-- which is to say, really really quick.  One of the things Jung was really really right about was the multi-functionality of the Mind.  He said there were 4 ways of Knowing:  Intuition, Sensate, Thinking, and Feeling. 

In fact, from this perspective, therapy can be described as a process of heightening and balancing each of these functions.  Learning to strengthen the Intuition is one of my favorite past times.  

A simple exercise goes like this: go with your first thought, see what happens....
Our over functioning brains are often highly neurotic.  Tapping into your intuition via your first thought lessens the neurotic brain.

People come in to therapy to find answers.  The answers come from within themselves, of course, not from what I tell them. I just provide a little extra information, so they can make an informed decision based on their experience and a light education about themselves.  From the research we know that experience and education are key in making good decisions.  Someone once asked me how I felt about the fact that people didn't do what I told them.  I said that I was more concerned that people don't do what they tell themselves!

An example goes like this: A man was learning to date again after a bad breakup.  In his pain, he was picking partners who treated him the way he was feeling inside-- which is to say, like total shit.   A new contender appeared on the horizon, so we discussed the signs, see what he could see.  This new option looked very different from the old pattern, on the outside.  However, in their brief interactions, some red flags were thrown.  Not knowing what to do about the red flags, he continued to invest with this new love interest.  Then some more red flags came out. Then some more.  Each session we'd go over the facts, the feelings, the fears, and get a read on the overall picture.  There was red everywhere.  But! Intellect and Feeling can lead you awry, so we also cross checked it with his gut, because the gut only knows truth.  And the gut said "no."  So now his Intellect, his Intuition, and his Feeling functions all said "no." But he still needed to know for sure.  So, he played it out.  It went badly. We laughed about it in the end.  No shame, just little by little we're hoping to increase his trust in his Self.  

Here's another example:  A woman was thinking of applying for a job. The salary was not sufficient to meet her needs, the position was not at her level, and the work life/real life ratio was waaaaay off-- traveling 3 hours to and from work each day, etc.  Not only did the job not pay enough, she'd be actually losing money on the cost of gas.  All signs read "no".  Still, she fantasized about how good it could be if only x, y, and z could be tolerated or changed.  In short, she was willing to tolerate the intolerable and try to change the unchangable, but not willing to listen to her own guts.  How did we get so off track and come to distrust our own Intuition?

It's a question for another blog.  Intuition has long been considered inferior to Logic and Reason.  Don't know why it got a bad rap, but it's not true.  Go with your gut!   Learn to trust your guts again.  Think how much needless suffering you (wouldn't) miss out on!

Stay tuned for next blog on Proper Usage of all things therapy-ee.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

The Pain Portal

There's this phenomenon I see each day, working with people through all the ebbs and flows of life.  The phenomenon is so brilliant, that my Human Brain absolutely forgets it, and then has to be shown it again and again, constantly.

What I see in others, and from what I have experienced in my own life, is that pain is a portal into a (magical) world of Healing.   Don't believe in a (magical) word of Healing?  Ya, me either. Even though I see it everyday.  We in the West prefer to see our pain as the problem to be solved.  We have a harder time understanding that the pain we're experiencing in our lives is but a symptom, a rumbling up from deep within us, and an invitation to Heal.  What we need is a new perspective about our pain.  But how?

Let's first agree that our brains are Lamborghinis.  We have at our disposal one of the most amazingly engineered and powerful machines on earth.  And we have no idea how to use it.  There's an enduring myth out there that we only use 10% of our brains.  This does not seem to be backed up by evidence.  However, what may be closer to the "truth," is that we only understand a small percentage of what our brains are actually capable of.

What is the Human Brain actually capable of?  Well, the Sistine Chapel comes to mind, as does the Guggenheim Museum in Spain, the Brooklyn Bridge, Mozza on Melrose, WWOZ New Orleans Public Radio, the entire City of Portland, Oregon, those Lavender Shortbread cookies at Trails Cafe in Griffith Park, and about a billion other shimmers of magnificence.   But how does this evidence of our Lamborghini Brain help us Heal?  Well, the same mental power that fueled the Race for the Double Helix and led to a great discovery about our DNA, is the same source of ingenuity that forms thoughts, images, and ideas everyday in all of us.  Turns out, our thoughts, about Healing, and about everything else, are very powerful.  And "with great power, comes great responsibility."  We just gotta learn to drive our Lamborghinis right.

Now think about the last time you experienced pain.  It can be physical pain or emotional pain.  Whatever the cause of the injury, regardless of it's origins or expressions, wasn't the result some amount of Healing?  Whether it was a paper-cut or a broken heart, though the immediate sense was that of pain, ultimately, we tend to Heal.   Without our pain, we don't Heal.  That simple.

Our Brains sometimes confuse and complicate this.  The Brain is a chatty little thing, probably the chattiest 3 pound entity in existence.  It's in constant conversation with the Body, as well as other parts of the Brain, and other Brains it senses as well.  We just gotta clear the way so our 3 pound chatty Lamborghinis can really stretch out, and the rest seems to solve itself.

I see people everyday whose lives are transforming.  Their pain, their reason for coming into therapy, opens the door into all kinds of healing potential that would not have been possible by employing a narrow view of pain management or simple symptom reduction (though I'm obviously a fan of pain reduction whenever appropriate).  Many of us have developed a huge tolerance for our emotional pain, and not even know it.  If you don't want to Heal, that's ok.  It may either subside in time, or it may worsen. But if you're interested in Healing, know it's all there for you, through your most painful parts.  Our pain is not a sign of weakness, nor a fly to be swatted away, despite the cultural current to the contrary.  It is a portal into a (magical) world of Healing.

I'll see ya there!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Great Article, HuffPost

Ya know, I just couldn't have said it any better myself.

Hope you enjoy!

And yes, I am totally listening to the full album right now.  And yes, it is totally blowing my mind.

Click here for Philip Goldberg's original article on the Huffington Post.