Archive for the ‘human interaction’ Category

Sexual Assault: How it Happens, What to Do

August 26, 2015
(Courtesey of The Campus Sexual Assault Study from The National Institute of Justice)

(Courtesy of The Campus Sexual Assault Study from The National Institute of Justice)

My letter to the editor in the New York Times discusses the issue of sexual abuse in relationship to the alleged assault that took place at St Paul’s.  Below I offer a more thorough discussion of the role of cognitive confusion in sexual abuse and what to do to help prevent it.

Update: Also see this post from the Harvard Crimson about a young woman’s sexual assault at a campus function.


An Open Letter to Young Adults about Sex, Drugs and Alcohol

February 27, 2015


Dear Young Person: Alcohol, drugs and sexuality can enhance and create life. They work. They can alter your moods, change your perceptions and disinhibit you. It’s fun to be able to behave differently. Blotting out discomfort relieves anxiety. Going wild can release tension. Alcohol, drugs and sexuality have always been part of the human experience. Think of them as elegant enhancements to already very wondrous life experiences. The young adults I know move me with their energy, brilliance and dedication to causes and creativity. Even those making traditional choices bring unique voices to their work and professions. When I think that you are the future, I want nothing more than to nurture and support you, paving the way for your dreams. Yet, some of you have taken a dangerous detour. The current style of drug, alcohol and sexuality misuse both deprives and potentially harms you.

Our society, and that includes the people who raised you, haven’t figured out how to talk about limits without going back to a more repressive past. Rock and rap stars make tons of money pushing an image of sexy macho hooking-up druggy behavior but it isn’t real. When real people try and live that way, it usually feels really, really bad. People get hurt and violated. Further, attending high school, college or graduate school for the purposes of wild partying disrespects yourself, the concept of education, and all those people in the world who would give anything to have the privilege of education.

I know you have been given mixed messages about all of this stuff and it isn’t your fault if you think the only way to have a good time is to obliterate your mind. So, if you will allow me, I have put together a few modern guidelines for how to navigate the difficult terrain of drugs, alcohol and sexuality. Here goes: (more…)

Teach Your Children Well

February 26, 2015


I’m not going to link to every reported instance of college or high school partying getting out of hand. Nor am I going to link to the number of emergency room visits that occur every weekend due to alcohol poisoning or drug overdoses; nor every instance of campus sexual abuse. In almost every adolescent community a brilliant and talented student has to be rushed to the hospital each weekend. Or a young woman comes to my office feeling confused and violated by an unwanted sexual experience that arose out of too much alcohol, or having been “roofied.” Pre-gaming and tailgate parties occur openly in our culture. Americans abroad are known for their wild partying.

Recently a private university sent twelve kids to the hospital, two critically ill due to the effects of bad “molly.” The four student dealers were among the school’s brightest students. I’m not going to link to this particular incident or any other because it is too easy to blame individual students or the institutions or the families.

Let’s be clear: I am not advocating prohibition or demonizing the responsible use of drugs and alcohol.

Rather, I’m suggesting that along with a national conversation about campus sexual abuse, it’s also time for a national conversation about how getting wasted has become commonplace for kids as young as thirteen and fourteen. Sexual and alcohol abuse are, after all, related events.  Is it time to start setting some limits on the youthful narcissism and entitlement that makes excessive alcohol use and hook-up sexuality more rewarding than the development of good character?  In ways no one intends, do we not reinforce adolescent substance misuse? Do we cultivate the culture of getting wasted over the development of sober social skills? Consider what I have observed in my work as a psychologist:


How to Date in Five (not so easy) Lessons

February 23, 2015


I’m not sure why exactly it is easier to arm the student population than to simply reinforce the idea that sexuality is an extension of a relationship. I’m not advocating a return to a repressive sexuality. Rather, I’m thinking that the brilliant talented kids who constitute our country’s future might benefit from learning how to date.

I once suggested to a client that she have dinner with a man before having sex with him. She looked at me in horror.

What?” she exclaimed, “Have a meal with someone I’ve never met before? Are you crazy?”

No, I’m not crazy.

No matter how it may be publically depicted, the alcohol and drug fueled hook-up sexuality simply feels awful – especially the next morning when your breath stinks and you can’t find your underwear. Let’s get real. Sexuality without intimacy isn’t quite as fun as the hype would have you believe. Further, you get hurt or hurt someone else when you neither know nor understand your partner.

Finally, by popular demand, I am posting my five tips toward successful dating. In other words, here are some ideas for how to behave before you even think about having sex with someone. Here goes:


Shades of Intimacy

February 19, 2015


Everyone is talking about Shades of Grey.  Having neither read the book nor seen the movie and with no plans to do so, I can’t comment on whether this creation is liberating for women or an exemplar of abuse.  I can, however, say this: sexuality without the constraints of judgment harms men and women.  No one wishes a return to a repressive sexuality. Yet, a modicum of restraint would add tremendous value to the healthy exploration of everyone’s sexuality.  I’m comfortable with sexual relationships between sober consenting adults. Disinhibited sexuality fueled by drugs and alcohol and quick hook-ups may have a merit under certain very specific conditions. Mostly such encounters inflict pain and shame.  Hook-ups offer short-term solutions to a longing for love. Drunken and drug-enabled sex often leads to or downright empowers abuse and rape. What people really need right now is less titillation with fantasy and more support for how to make real relationships and genuine intimacy fanciful. Start with long walks through the park.  Or playful conversation about a shared topic of interest.  Build a snow man.  See theater. Listen to music.  Talk about the complicated landscape of life.  The sexuality that arises from really knowing someone might very well enlighten you with fifty shades of living color.

Status Anxiety

October 31, 2013

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A mom stepping down the steps of her third-floor walk-up dreads attending the class parent meeting in another family’s Fifth Avenue doorman building.  An adolescent male doesn’t invite friends to his home because he doesn’t to be judged poorly because of his family’s wealth. Another young man won’t invite friends to his house because he doesn’t want to be judged poorly by his family’s lack of wealth.  A woman wonders what to wear to meet old friends so she won’t appear too rich. A man sits alone and silent at a cocktail party because he feels too poor.

These people experience status anxiety. Mostly everyone recognizes the tight squeeze of stress. Sometimes internal conflicts cause it. Or, dire circumstances can bring about the sweating and the palpitations. Status anxiety, however, specifically occurs when a person feels discomfort around others because of his or her socioeconomic position. (more…)

The Harmful Consequences of Diagnostic Categories

April 12, 2013


Youthful Tendency Disorder, a term coined by The Onion, pokes fun at diagnostic categories.  It satirizes the modern psychiatric and psychological observation of pathology in normal behavior.

Given the numbers of people suffering from serious and sometimes life threatening mental illness, is this humor fair?


Lets Honor the Angels We Lost by Coming Together

December 18, 2012


Everyone is trying to do all they can to respond to the Newtown tragedy. Far away in a busy city, this piece at is what I could do. May this time of year bring warmth, love and comfort to all. And change.

What to say to kids after the Sandy Hook school massacre in Newton

December 16, 2012


I don’t have answers. I don’t have wisdom.  I can only open my mind and my heart.  Many parents and other adults wonder how to respond to this tragedy. They want to know how to talk to their kids.  Here a list of sites offerring advice.  Personally, I still can’t comprehend the reality of having to discuss mass murders – especially of young people – with our children (and each other.)  When I once again talked to my kids about the unusual and rare event of a crazed gunman shooting everyone up, my daughter said, “Mommy, it isn’t rare.” She’s right. It really isn’t rare anymore.

So where does that leave us?  Love kids. Hold them. Be real. Show your vulnerability. Most importantly don’t make it their job to fix this. Don’t ask them to get used to this and adjust to it.  Most kids, especially teenagers, want to know that the adults in their life will take care of this problem and do everything they can to make it go away, or at least make it better.  They want to be free to continue their childhoods. They want to study, play and confront evil one small step at a time.  While some may want to process, most, I think, just want the grown-ups to handle it. They want neither the responsibility nor the legacy of this violence.

I’m ready to start, to be part of a dialogue that leads to change. Try the million child march. Or the Brady Center.   We need a three-faced approach: better mental health, less cultural acceptance of extreme violence as entertainment, and less access to semiautomatic weapons. Yes we can – even if it seems impossible.

We can’t stop murder, evil, or reckless violence toward our children or anyone else’s children, nor toward each other. We can make it harder. We can set limits.  We can be in charge.  We can be the adults in the culture who will do everything possible to make the authority of goodness stronger than the forces of destruction.

Numbers Don’t Tell The Whole Story

September 13, 2012

Does being self-reliant mean a person can’t also have needs? Is the success of the wealthy also built upon the working and middle classes? Are those stricken by poverty affected by the more resourced classes? Some thoughts about this at the InAmerica blog at

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