Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

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…)

Obese Primates

February 22, 2011


from The New York Times

Update: The following post is very rant-like, my apologies.  The research on monkeys upsets me.  Do we have to do this to these creatures who can’t make choices to prove that not getting outside and moving one’s body and eating poorly can be deleterious to health? I’m glad we have medical interventions that can help.  I also wish that we all could observe a better social ethic around living healthily. Seeing monkeys and humans lose the graciousness of their being in this way makes me ache. There is no other way to say it.

* * *

This article in the NYTimes described obesity research being conducted on primates.  Why does reading about primates confined to cages, eating bad foods as they gain pound after pound, tear me apart more than my knowledge of all the people who live this way? So many people get out of bed, trudge to work, eat donuts/muffins/bagel with coffee on the go, sit or stand all day enclosed in a small space, snack to forestall boredom and fatigue, eat unhealthy take-out lunch, then sit, stand and snack some more until its time to go home and watch TV (and snack). Are we any different than those poor research primates, save the fact that no one is studying us? (more…)

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.

What’s Happening in Your Environment?

January 29, 2011


photo by Rolf Hicker at

Last June I ran an international webseminar on psychology and the environment. During the first week, people sent in their observations of what was taking place in their localities. While many individual observations seemed small, their number and intensity impacted me. It seemed like people everywhere were noticing something. I am trying to broaden what transpired in that seminar by asking a wider audience of people to share what they know.

What is your environmental story? Is your physical environment important to you?  Have you noticed transformations in the physical landscapes where you grew up or now live? Have you observed any signs of climate change or environmental pollution?  I’m interested in people’s stories about their relationship to nature, to their ecosystem (even urban ones), and to the earth: what you see, think and feel, as well as what you remember. And if you don’t have a story but know people who do, please share this link. Feel free to back channel susanbodnarphd at

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…)

Psychology and Environment: Summary

June 29, 2010

photo from http//

For the past month I have been participating in an on-line seminar about psychology and the environment. The seminar ended (see previous posts here, here, and here) with many questions.  Do psychologists have any special contributions that can help with our environmental crisis?  How can psychology contribute to the discussions on climate change? See my final thoughts after the jump.


Gulf Coast Oil Spill #3

May 20, 2010

The news coming out of the Gulf coast suggests that there is a great deal of denial, at best, or according to some scientists quoted in the NYTimes, an actual  suppression of information.  Brit Hume actually asked, “Where is the oil?” (See it at  I suppose he hasn’t had the opportunity to check in with sick fishermen. Just today BP is finally announcing that they may be underestimating the amount of oil washing up onshore.  Excuse me, but wasn’t that obvious?

The general population (outside the Gulf) is paying little attention to this event. There is not as much outrage or concern as may have been expected given public reaction to other crises.  What is going on?  Consider that this event may simply be too big and too frightening.  The human mind shuts down when there is too much stimulation, or, when threatened it shifts into ultra-focus.  This can cause people to diminish and ignore what is happening.  People will blame the government for not acting strongly enough.  Yet we should also not forget that few individuals have demanded that their government take this seriously. For the most part, people here in NYC are enjoying their lattes. While this makes sense given what we know about the mind’s penchant for closing itself off from uncomfortable information, it is the human trait that will most directly lead to our peril.

Yet, there is enough education to counteract the cognitive hyper-focus that keeps threatening events out of an individual’s attentional radius. Look here for a local take on what is taking place in Louisiana right now.  Perhaps what is really making this hard for the average person is that this is the world upon  which we all depend and no one wants to contemplate what it might really mean if this is as bad as it seems.  Plus, acknowledging the magnitude of this disaster confronts us all with the reality that those who we have empowered have taken advantage of our trust.

While it may be hard to accept the magnitude of the oil industry’s betrayal, it does seem as though continued blindness will hurt more. More graphic photos will help break through people’s defenses.  The worse it gets, the more painful, harmful, dangerous and ugly this becomes, the more the citizenry may wake up and demand honesty as well as policy change.  Yet one wonders if it might be too late.


I have been told that a few NYC kids will be holding a bake sale to raise money for Defenders of Wildlife and the NRDC, both of which are raising money for animal support, petition drives for climate change legislation, and to cease offshore drilling as well as legal action.   Let’s see what happens. I’m curious as to how passers-by will respond.


As predicted there is more graphic imagery, and  people are starting to get upset, Chris Matthews calling is the “scariest thing he has ever seen“.  Let’s see what happens to the person in the street.

Gulf Oil Spill #2

May 4, 2010

Read this.  Krugman echoes comments by Glenn Albrecht.  The surprising issue is that given the severity of this disaster, so few people seem as upset as I might expect, at least here in NYC. I venture to say, however, that unless you live along the Gulf coast or work in it waters, the implications of this oil spill event are being conveniently tucked away in the dark corners of people’s minds. At a dinner over the weekend, friends commented, “This is terrible,” looking anguished and frightened in a manner that tightened their eyes.  No one that I spoke to was motivated to do anything. There are, however, psychological concepts that can explain such apathy. They can also suggest strategies to enable a more authentic national dialogue about our energy choices.  The Gulf Coast doesn’t only need Obama. It needs the citizenry.


A Yearning for the Past

April 29, 2010

The dark hair of a twenty-year-old female college student gleamed against her long-sleeved white shirt. Her rounded collar denied even the possibility of cleavage. Her denim skirt fell well below the knees and she wore stockings with her sneakers.  She complained that her matchmaker thought she was too picky. If I had met this woman in a Jewish orthodox neighborhood this encounter might have made sense. Instead, I met Tzipora (formerly Jennifer) in my private practice in a Manhattan neighborhood where even the dogs wear tank tops. As I heard her lament about her preference for Chassidish men, I had to acknowledge that this previously secular woman now devoting herself to Orthodox Judaism was not the first such character to wander into my office of late.  Deepening religious observance is but one manifestation of people’s attempts to tune their behavior to a different historical note. The evocation of the past seems to be a critique of American materialism, an analysis useful in understanding individuals as well as our nation’s current political turbulence.


Hooking Up Isn’t Green

April 18, 2010

A few years ago, a young woman winced as she described yet another evening of binge drinking, and the guy she thought she remembered having sex with in the bar parking lot.  Her long wavy hair framed bright eyes that seemed to catch every change in light. Her arms, long and graceful, sat folded upon her chest.  She had graduated at the top of her class at an Ivy-League college, and was now a young professional in Manhattan.  Still, she spent most evenings out at bars, and her social life consisted of brief sexual encounters with people she either just met or barely knew. I once suggested to her that she try going to dinner with a romantic interest.

“Are you crazy?” she admonished. “Have dinner with someone I don’t know? I would never do that “.

That was my introduction to what is know commonly known as hooking up.  Since then I have discovered that it is the common form of socializing in high schools and on college campuses.  Denise Ann Evans made a movie about it. Tom Wolfe has written about it. The behavior is an implicit aspect of most reality TV.  Yet, while limited media attention views the phenomena with some degree of fascinated voyeurism, very few remark on the fact that these young people are simply enacting everything they have been taught. What else might be expected from young people raised on commercials, treated as consumers from the  time they were toddlers and flooded with imagery of the earth being violated for the sake of materialistic consumption?


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