Archive for the ‘human interaction’ Category

Why Therapy?

September 9, 2012

People who consult with me rarely ask this question directly, but it often lingers in the background.  The assumed but often unstated answer emphasizes how talking to a trained clinician will help diminish problems like depression/anxiety/obsessions.

That answer, however,  rarely satisfies.  What people really want to know is “Why do I NEED therapy? The best response examines and challenges some complicated assumptions about dependence and self reliance.


Social class in white America

February 5, 2012


A post on class in white America from InAmerica/ and a creative response to Charles Murray’s Coming Apart: The State Of White America 1960-2010

The I’m not Frank Rich Syndrome: A Clinical Analysis

March 8, 2011


Frank Rich

A funny thing happened in my practice last week.  A number of people, no fewer than seven, lamented, “I’m not Frank Rich.” People are often unhappy and upset when they talk to me.  Sometimes they discuss the impact of upbringing and sometimes their problematic temperaments.  Never, however, had I heard so many people attributing their malaise to not being Frank Rich. What was the meaning of his entering my office as some kind of iconic blank screen? (more…)

Who owns a country? The question of space, place and territory.

March 1, 2011


by Robert Daniels at

Far away, people in countries across the Mideast have been rebelliously signaling to their leadership that they want better governance and more freedoms.  Barack Obama’s speech in Cairo spoke about a world where differences in religion become opportunities to better know each other and to create a shared world where all children grow up with the same dreams. He described his own life as the remarkable production of different religions and countries all within the embrace of a democratic nation.

Like Bruce Mason in Wallace Stegner’s Recapitulation, every sweep of one’s personal life history is also a geographic tour. Place is meaningful. We remember where we first walked atop a high structure, like a tree or stone wall, heard John Lennon’s voice, or realized that we really liked someone (wasn’t it on the campus lawn underneath a canopy of trees?), or where we met our spouses.  Here in New York it is easy to take for granted how important developmental places also span a variety of divergent cultural spaces. Gay, straight or somewhere in between; dark, light or medium colored; scarved, hooded, capped or pony-tailed; there is no New York without its differences and there is no person here who isn’t larger for having made sense of that diversity while still finding a place to stand as one’s self.

In thinking about the question of political leadership and the Mideast uprisings, I only know that the attachment to space, place and geography is largely personal. Territory is as psychological as it is a bordered landscape.   Sometimes nation states and the authorities that run them tend to mistake what is personal and geographic for that which is symbolic and societal. There has been a loud cry from the Mideast upholding the integrity of a people’s right to their own meanings of land and country.

Everyday when I wander about the streets on New York, I am aware of the many problems we face in our country. I am, however, very appreciative of the fact that no one group or leader owns this place.  It really does belong to a kind of cultural multiplicity.  Through a variety of small economic exchanges, personal relationships, or simply sharing a sidewalk or a subway ride together, we create the beginnings of a world where differences present an opportunity to know each other better and to therefore augment humanity’s growth. Nonetheless, it is a much harder life.

Valentine’s Day: Something Real

February 14, 2011


There can be more to Valentine’s Day than marching out to the nearest store to buy something.  There can be more to Valentine’s Day than longing for your partner to behave like someone else. There can be more to Valentine’s Day than wishing you were in a relationship.  Valentine’s Day also offers the opportunity to cherish and honor the fact that any of us feel anything at all. In my work, I often marvel at how much people hurt because they care so deeply.  The intensity of disappointment obscures the underlying gift of a capacity for connection, empathy, and appreciation.

This Valentine’s Day, before heading for the florist or the chocolatier, take a walk outside.  Note the extended daylight, the spindly tree branches curling in on themselves as they prepare for a spring resurgence, and the more frequent and higher pitched birdsong that heralds the last weeks of winter. Amble about your wilderness of stone and steel, or tree and star, and notice life bustling around you. You are witnessing a great wonder, the ability to experience life even in its most bitter vicissitudes.

Reality is the greatest of all Valentine’s presents and you don’t need Hallmark to share it.  Go help someone in need.  Volunteer to tend a city park.  Sip cappuccino  with an old friend.  Take flowers to an elderly or otherwise lonely person.  Photograph the sunset. Play with your dog. Listen to Rachmaninoff, recite Shakespeare, dance wildly in your room to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, bake bread, hug someone, have a long deep conversation over dinner, look through your save box, and most importantly – wake up and notice everything.  For it is there in the fine excitement of the senses that one finds the path toward most authentic love.

Going Back To Work, Differently

February 8, 2011


As unemployment decreases ever so slightly, those people lucky enough to return to work after a period of professional stagnation are raising new questions.  How can it be different this time?  As bad as the recession was, and it really, really was very bad, it also enabled workers, especially professionals, to reflect upon how they were working and the impact of their work on their families, community and even the environment.  As a 29 year-old lawyer said to me, “I’m so glad to have a job again.  Yet the recession has been good for me in a way. It was humbling.  I’d like not to go back to what it was like before. I’d like it to be different somehow.”   For those lucky enough to return to work, find tips for how to make it different after the jump. (more…)

The Fallacy of Isolation

January 21, 2011


by Matthew Saville

Is Jared Loughner a lone isolated individual suffering from schizophrenia, or another severe psychiatric disorder? Is there a correct and superior way to be a mother, whether it be Chinese or otherwise? While the Jared Loughner’s presumed killings and Amy Chua’s publicity piece in the WSJ have nothing in common, many of the discussions about Loughner’s mental illness and Chua’s mothering derive from a belief that how one becomes a person, any kind of person, is separate from both the physical and relational environment.

Anthropological and psychological data support the opposite notion. Humans are embedded in the spaces and places known as home.  The forces involved in mental illness involve an interaction between neurobiology, relationships and environments.  Mothering involves teaching children how to navigate that interaction.  Loughner’s  neurobiological stress organized itself through the symbols of the culture to which he was exposed. And there is no one way to be a good mother because the variables differ across landscapes.  Here are some examples: (more…)

Why Civility Matters

January 9, 2011



Palin aide Rebecca Mansour comments that drawing a line between the shootings in Arizona and Palin, or presumably any other, political rhetoric is “obscene”. She adds “where I come from the person that is actually shooting is the one that’s culpable.” Well, it is actually far more complicated. I would like to add a psychological perspective to Matt Bai’s sound analysis of the role of political discourse in the Arizona shootings. I’m not an expert in the psychology of assassins. I am however a mental health expert who has worked in a previous hospital position with mentally ill people, some of whom were also convicted killers, and in one case, a mob assassin. My reasons for seeing a connection between Loughner’s behavior and vitriolic political rhetoric stems from an understanding of how people function. The breaking of even minor civil boundaries supports the expression of raw and unexamined impulses in anyone, let alone someone who is mentally ill.

For example, when many people are trapped in an elevator and one person has an intense emotional outburst, other people will also lose the ability to discipline their fear. This would be especially true of children or anyone else whose defenses are more fragile.

Civility serves as a psychological boundary. Internalized social rules act to regulate behavior and transform raw emotions into thoughtful considerations of self and other. Political leaders symbolize social norms. Individuals recognize in their leaders the emulation of boundaries that delineate what is acceptable from what is not.  For some well-organized people this type of modeling is unnecessary, and they can tolerate some flexibility. They know the rules. Those who are very young, less balanced and who struggle with mental illness they need all the help they can get to contain themselves. When a mentally ill person feels the urge to kill, social mores help contain those impulses. Hopefully the containment will provide a killer time to moderate his feelings.  When social leaders flippantly use metaphors of violence, or suggest the need for armed resistance – even if done as political tongue-in-cheek – the mentally ill person who has legal access to a semi-automatic pistol will understand this as permission to act on their impulses.

The rules that govern a parliament or a congress enable intense debate to take place while preserving the social contract. The reason that it is unacceptable to accuse the President of lying in a state of the Union address, or to use shotgun crosshairs to target political opponents, or to discuss political differences in terms of armed revolt is because those boundary violations permit anyone, and I mean anyone, to disregard their internal regulatory system and instead to act upon the pull of their internal demons.   Metaphors of violence become a kind of societal permission for the relinquishing of self control.

It isn’t a cause and effect type thing. People will behave violently and assassins will kill.  Civility toward one another, no matter what the differences are between us, serves only the purpose of not providing the context that will support any person’s insanity. It won’t prevent violence.  It will however limit the power of any individual to enact their breakdown.  Gun control would also help.

Don’t you just love the holidays?

December 14, 2010

I have always thought of Christmas time as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely.
Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

Don’t you just love the holidays? They evoke mixed feelings about family, self and society. What holiday meal doesn’t contain one spat between generations, an overwrought relative or an old political feud? Holidays also  inevitably remind us of who is missing this year, those who have died as well as those simply not with us. (more…)

Family Life and Sustainability

June 29, 2010

Social change takes place through individual and familial transformations. See this article in The Jewish Week for a personal reflection on what sustainability can look like at home.

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