This Blog Is About

This blog is about---You! Each and every post is about you. Use it to challenge your usual patterns, as a tool for self-discovery, to stimulate your thinking, to learn about yourself and to answer your questions about others.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"...advice for a life well-lived."

                  From the Greater Good Science Center

If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it.  This is the most basic kind of peace work.

Christine Carter, UC Berkeley Commencement Speech

Friday, May 27, 2011

Are You New?

For Newcomers to this Blog:

At this moment, there are 211 posts on this blog.  That's a lot of information on psychology, about human nature, about relationships, philosophy, and personal growth and development.  Of those 211, %97.5 are are as current today as the day I wrote them.  And they will be pertinent and useful for a long time.  These posts are not time dependent. 
So, please, don't miss out on discovering a discussion of something you are particularly interested in.  There are posts on:

 Out of over 200, these are just a few.  There's a lot to make use of here.  I want you to enjoy the blog.
                                                                                                                                Please peruse!

Which ones did you like?  Tell me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011


"We are all merged with the great flow of energy and wisdom."  Amar Khalsa, Kundalini Yogi

Friday, May 20, 2011

So, You Want To Be Free

                                  The Wish For Personal Freedom vs. Reality 

 "Brother.  Sister.  So you want to be free.  To live your life the way you want to be."
These are the opening lyrics to a song recorded by the artist, Seal.

I seem to be hearing a lot about the subject of freedom in my therapy office lately.  Of course, this is coming from patients who enjoy living in a country which has the Bill of Rights; the Bill of Rights guarantees us many freedoms, such as freedom of speech, the freedom to practice the religion of our choice, the right to a trial in the case of being criminally prosecuted, and many more.  Abraham Maslow, who studied and wrote about the human being's potential for positive development, would say that it is for this very reason-the fact that we already have all these freedoms-that we might be able to imagine even more.
What the people I am thinking about now are hankering for is freedom from societal constraints.
Here are some examples:  A 25 year old male patient (who is with me due to drug abuse, now 'clean and sober'), completed junior college, had planned to go on to a four year university to earn his degree but now has decided he doesn't really like school and that is it very freeing to him to consider giving up college.  He has been in a steady relationship with a young woman and now has begun seeing others and recently broke up with her.  He has declared that it feels so much better
to him to 'play the field'.  He was athletic and has freed himself from the constraints of being a part of a team.  He enjoys playing the guitar and it comes to him rather naturally.  So, he is planning to become a musician and imagines making lots of money very easily.  His first role model, his Dad, actually earned his advanced academic degree during the early years of Jason's youth.  His Dad is now in his profession and still working very hard.  Thus, Jason had an example of someone spending a lot of energy on achieving a goal and realizing that goal. However,  rather than looking at it this way, he sees his Dad as being too serious.  He avoids his Dad because he doesn't want to be around anyone who might rain on his parade. So although he began following in his father's footsteps, he, for now anyway, has chosen to veer off into a different path.

The second patient I am struck with as I think about this wish for freedom is a 46 year old woman, a breast cancer survivor who, just as she was about to make the 5 year mark, cancer-free, has been diagnosed with a metastasis.  She is now in a situation where the cancer will not be cured.  It can be managed for awhile.  She will, (over a long period of time) gradually feel worse and worse.  She now calls it a "condition"; it is a chronic, progressive, terminal condition.  Right now though, she is functioning almost normally---working, attending to her teen-age child's needs, and generally maintaining her life.  But, she had an affair, an affair with an old work acquaintance.  This man, whom she hadn't seen in years, had previously been a flirtation, someone she was quite attracted to.  But that was long before the cancer diagnosis and she is a married woman so she resisted the temptation.  Her rationalization for betraying her husband now is that she has this horrible condition and she should, therefore, be able to do what she wants.  She feels somewhat self-righteous about  how she is suffering, what she is facing, and her right to do as she pleases and have fun now, while she can.

What do you think about these two situations?  Are these people making the right choices?

I've been noticing this wish for personal freedom as, at least, a sub-theme, in a number of my cases lately.  Probably it has always been present but being so prominent in these two cases has high-lighted it for me.  Other ways that people may more commonly and less dramatically try for this sensation is through consuming alcohol to disinhibit themselves or by going to places where they are a stranger; some people think, especially when they are in a foreign country, that common sense and common courtesy no longer apply.

What are some other methods that people may use to feel free?  I'm interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

It seems to me that, as social animals, we are bound to live in the midst of others.  It doesn't seem possible, under that condition, to escape all rules of conduct.  There are some who isolate themselves from other people; we usually call them hermits or a recluse or, an eccentric.  It isn't considered normal to completely cut oneself off from interaction with others.
So, how possible is it to have it both ways---not too possible I think.  It's sometimes called "having your cake and eating it too."

As children, we clearly don't have much freedom (school, parents), as adolescents we long for the apparent freedom of adulthood because, as teens we still have school, parents, rules, curfews, etc.  But it seems that the glittering world of adulthood actually has even more rules, regulations, codes, obligations, and responsibilities, which we find out when we get there!  Not so glamorous, huh!
But to live in harmony with others, we can't steal, run our car as fast as we want no matter where we are, ignore whatever role we might be playing in any institution and think only of what we want for ourselves, arrive at work whenever we feel like it, etc.  Other people will get mad!  Other people will protest!
The achievement of a college degree or a high school diploma or a certification in a trade or craft requires more than just obeying the law.  It also demands self-discipline.  However, this kind of training means it will be easier to be hired in a desired job.  It usually means a higher income.
To enjoy the benefit of a companion who commits to sharing your life with you requires tremendous self-restraint---in what you do (and don't do!), in how and where you spend your time, your energy, and in on-going attention.
A radiologist, in this country makes an incredibly high salary-about $350,000. per year.  But doctors have to complete  24-25 years of school and residency programs.  It is a prolonged period of self-discipline and there is a pay-off.
"Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose."  Janis Joplin, song title:  Me and Bobby McGee.
I think that we can function very well and be healthy mentally if we simply take the constraints of the business, legal, and social world as a given and don't try too hard to escape.  After all, we always get to think, privately, whatever we want!!!  A true and permanent freedom.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Walking Our Own Life Path

"We often know when we have found our right place because it feels like 'coming home'."
S. Coleman and M. Porter

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"Thorns and Roses"

~Jen.  Play.  Give.  Trust.  Touch.  Take care of others.  Moderation.  Laughter.  Virtue.  Justice.  

  For a period, I did write on the subject of happiness.  Time to re-visit that subject.  We've put considerable attention here on the troubles of life, how to identify them, and, what can be done about them.  Yet, positive emotions are just as important and carry just as much gravitas and impact on our life experience.
Today I heard Dacher Keltner, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry, U.C. Berkeley speak on this topic.  He talked about the science of compassion and the physiology of altruism amongst other things related to the subject of happiness as humans.  Happiness at age 70 adds almost 2 years to our lifespan he explained.  "Happiness is associated with good health."And, happiness at work leads to more successful performance, boosts creative thought, and enhances negotiating skills.  Research has shown that of 15 countries studied, the U. S.-with all of our freedom and physical comforts, and educational opportunities, is the 2nd least happy country in the world, at least at the age of 18. 

What are some of the things that we know lead to enhanced health and happiness?  Humans are social beings.  We need personal support and social connection ourselves and we need to be empathetic and helpful to others.  When we see suffering we naturally respond-don't ignore that response.  Help, if you can; it will be good for you.  While the amygdala in the brain picks up threat and modern day stressors are often perceived that way, cortisol is released and too much cortisol leads to shortened teleomeres   On the other hand, when we see suffering, it activates a very old, long-standing part of our brain that wants to respond (because we are social animals-just like the Bonobo monkey).  The response releases oxytocin which cascades through the organs of our body and stimulates care taking impulses.

How to be happier and healthier:
  • Be trustworthy and try to trust others:  It signals safety.
  • Give:  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
  • Touch.  Emotions can be accurately communicated by touch.
  • Play:  Laugh often, use your imagination, create nicknames.
  • Practice gratitude:  Develop reverence for what has been given to you.

(Credit:  Much of the above was gleaned from a talk entitled Born to Be Good:  Lessons From the Science of a Meaningful Life.  For more information go to the Greater Good Science Center website and to the book Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers)
Related posts:    From the Outside In.  Harvey.  Happiness.  The Easy Way.  Happiness and Preferences.  Success.  Happiness Note.  More On Happiness.  Spring.  Children Full of Life.  Nourishment to the Soul.  Your Aliveness.  Just for Fun.  A Little Lottery Win Each Day, and more.  Peruse the blog, there are a number of posts on this topic.

Monday, May 9, 2011

You Can Catch More Flies with Honey Than with Vinegar

                                      How To Be Happier In Your Relationship

 Improving your relationship with your partner is something you can do, yourself, by practicing some new, good, relationship-building habits.  And, as a bonus, these also work on your other relationships. 
Paying attention is really important---not taking that other person for granted.  We all do it, but!---it isn't good!!!  After all, you don't want to be taken for granted, do you?  So, the best thing you can do about avoiding that unhappy experience is to not do it to others, yourself.
So, what do I mean by paying attention?  I mean greeting that person at day's end if you live in the same building, noticing what state of mind they seem to be in, really listening if they tell you about a difficulty they encountered that day and being the world's best cheerleader if they have something good to share.  Be sure to celebrate when you have a good thing that happens in your life together or even just make a big deal about holidays together. ~ Have happy rituals.~
Try to move away from the blaming tendency.  This I see quite often in my office in couples who come in for marriage counseling/couple's counseling.  I call it the Blame Frame.  It is not productive.  What is far better is to take responsibility for yourself.  "Accept responsibility for your choices."  Fred Luskin.  If you have been wounded in your childhood and in other past relationships, it is up to you to not let that infringe on your current relationship(s).  It is really a lot to ask of your partner that they avoid doing or saying some things because they may trigger a bad memory of yours.
~Taking responsibility means doing something to heal your own wounds.  I know it sounds like a lot to ask---all this responsibility-taking.  But, if we are honest, we must recognize that all relationships require effort and many are difficult.  So, allowing unfinished business to get  in the mix is an unnecessary added burden.  Problems are normal and will be there to deal with even without the interference of your personal history.  Pertinent post:

Also, make it a habit to appreciate your partner rather than to focus on their character flaws (which we all have).  Feel whatever affection you truly have for this person and find things to admire.  Try not to criticize the other person and especially not to demean nor devalue them.  These things are so damaging to the relationship whereas the first actions develop and strengthen the relationship.
It just makes sense to emphasize the positive and try to have it overbalance the negative.  Of course, it may seem obvious to you, as you are reading this.  And yet, how many of us really try consistently to do this? 
Happy couples do these things:
`Pay attention to their partner when it is asked for
`Try to stay calm during a disagreement
`In a fight, talk about their own needs /wishes and not their perceived deficiencies of their partner
`Assess themselves instead and try to change themselves for the better
`Make the relationship and emotional intimacy with their loved one a priority
`Maintain their positive view of their partner

"At any point in time, a relationship is either improving or declining.  Relationships are not static."    Tom Clark, LCSW

(Some of the above concepts were a part of a presentation by C. Carter and F. Luskin at the workshop, The Science of a Great Relationship)

Did you try any of these suggestions?  Would love to hear your comments.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Sit with a straight spine.  Tuck in your chin slightly.  Put your hands together.   Close your eyes.  Focus on your third eye point.  Notice your breathing.  Observe.  Notice what is happening in your body.  Notice where the energy is.   Notice what your mind is doing.  Observe.  Focus.

Meditation instructions by Amar Khalsa, Kundalini Yoga teacher

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Russian Readers: Special Notice for You

                                       A wonderful, unusual exhibit.
There is an interesting art exhibit coming to Russia in the next 2 weeks.
Check it out here:
This link is fun; it has a slide show, a video, sound track, and even shows the artists (3 collaborators on this project), working on the piece.  It is a huge fabric sculpture which was designed especially for Russia.
It's beautiful, dramatic and thought-provoking.

Let me know what you think!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Imperfect Therapist

                                      What can you expect of a therapist?
Good therapists, bad therapists, outright quacks, inspired brilliant therapists, terrible therapists, therapists who have a seemingly endless reservoir of compassion, and, the truly gifted therapist---they're all out there.  I get some of the fall-out in my office from the not-so-good counselors and it is sometimes astonishing to me, the things I hear clients tell me that happened to them with another therapist.  Some of the outrageous things I have heard include, the therapist falling asleep in the session, the therapist reprimanding a patient for nervously wringing her hands in a first session, the therapist asking a question and then getting angry at the patient for their (honest) answer.  And the list goes on and on.  The resilience and determination of these people who got unlucky on their first try but still persisted until they found someone who could actually help, is laudable.
Therapy is a valuable and wonderful resource for us all.  In the post titled, Cute Client Comment, I have a link to a concise article about the benefits of psychotherapy.  But to be effective, it has to be the right match.  No therapist is going to be the best choice for everyone.  But, there are some, who are almost in a calling to the profession,  and those, will be best for most people.

You would think, with all the training* that we are required to get, that we would all be excellent helpers, but, just like doctors---some are better than others.  Part of the effectiveness of the therapist is in the match or, that elusive thing we sometimes call, "chemistry":   How do you feel in that person's presence?  How's the interaction between the two of you?  Do you feel accepted?  Does the therapist seem comfortable in their job, comfortable with you, and in considering the problems you present?  Does the therapist seem to have less anxiety than you do?!
As time goes on, you should begin to feel that you are in a real relationship.  A professional helping relationship is, of course, different from your friendships---you want it to be; that's why you're there.  It is mostly one-sided, you will not learn much about the therapist's personal life.  They may share a little, here and there-especially the more relaxed, experienced ones or they may share for a purpose:  There may be something you are struggling with and the therapist herself has a good example from her personal life to illuminate the topic.  Or, sometimes a therapist may share with you that something difficult is going on with them in their own life so that the patient doesn't sense something is wrong and misinterpret it to be about them.  I have done both of these.  But, generally, a therapist is trained to be not too revealing and there is solid scientific reason for that.

If you are currently in therapy, there are a few things you should not hold against your therapist.  The therapist may not always remember every detail of your life.  This is especially true if you don't attend regular weekly sessions.  There's something about that consistent contact that seems to keep the file on you in the forward position in the therapist's mind.  But, think for a minute how much a therapist has to remember...They have to keep the names, relationships, events, and facts of a person's entire life---whatever has been shared in the therapy office---in their immediate memory.  And the therapist has to do this for a number of people.  It isn't easy to remember all about a person you've never met but we must do that as, often, patients want counseling about their relationships with other people in their lives.  Thus the therapist has to remember and retain an impression of, and even facts about, that other person-so important to the patient but, only heard about-by the therapist.  Sometimes my patients will bring me a picture, a snapshot of their family or, a particular person they have issues with.  That helps me to fill out the image in my mind.
A reason that I may miss a detail (and so I imagine other therapists may do this too-I hope they do!), is that facts are not where my focus is.  I am looking for the deeper meaning for the patient or I am working on delineating a pattern in the person's functioning or I may be noticing an incongruency that seems important.  This kind of listening is what is different from what one can expect from a friend.  It is what you come to a therapist for.  So, try not to be impatient if a therapist forgets one little fact.  Try not to say to your therapist:  "I told you that!!"

Also, while it appears that therapists make big money, we don't.  The public sees us getting anywhere from $40. to $200 or more, per session, and multiplies that by 40 hours per week.  Well, with all the paperwork, phone calls, treatment planning, and, yes, sometimes worrying about people, we do clock in 40 hours, and then some.  However, a full-time practice is but 20 sessions per week.  Some practitioners can't tolerate even that much and only see a few patients---6 or 12.   (The last survey by my professional association reported an average fee of $70. per session and this does not subtract rent, phone, insurance, licensing fees, association dues etc., in other words, overhead). This  is why private practice therapists usually don't have secretaries or receptionists.  Sometimes in a building that rents to  therapists only, a receptionist salary can be shared.  But, by and large, therapists do all of your letter writing, filing, insurance claims, report writing, copying , etc. for you, themselves.  The nice part for you is that it all is, really private.  No one else sees anything to do with you but the therapist himself.  If you pay for your own treatment (don't use insurance), it is really exclusive because, in that case, even  insurance company personnel will not see your paperwork.
  So, just don't be annoyed if the therapist asks you to do some part of this yourself or maybe complains a bit about your insurance company (most are difficult and time-consuming to deal with), or isn't as quick as you would like with whatever---writing a letter for you, having your account at the ready, etc.  Each patient has a different payment method, and this the therapist also has to keep track of.  It can be complicated.  Most of us don't like this part as we are clinicians and were not trained to do clerical work (and aren't good at it!).  We want to do the interpersonal work.  So, if you have a therapist you respect and are fond of, help him or her out by keeping it (the business aspect) simple.
Most of us are used to the doctor's office where all paperwork is handled by support staff.  When you have a therapist who agrees to do this for you, they are actually doing you a favor.

Therapists  may sometimes behave in ways that seem really odd.  If you don't fully understand the powerful constraints of confidentiality, you may be taken aback when you accidentally bump into your therapist in a public place and the therapist doesn't run over to you to say "Hi!"  We must wait to see what you do---you may be with someone, you may have any number of circumstances at that time, you may for some reason  not want to reveal that you are acquainted with the therapist; so the therapist will follow your lead.  They try to gracefully await a sign from you as to whether or not you want to be acknowledged.  But, it is awkward sometimes.

The other part of that problem is, what if the therapist is out with someone?  If you were to speak to each other, the polite thing to do is to introduce people.  But, if the therapist introduces you to her companion, she cannot say, "I'd like you to meet Mary Smith, one of my patients."  This would betray confidentiality.  Probably, a friendly nod is really the best bet most of the time.

Therapists are not allowed to have what is referred to as "dual relationships".  It may seem so natural to you to invite your long-standing, beloved therapist to your daughter's wedding.  But, the therapist cannot attend.  The definition and protection of the therapy relationship requires it to be kept separate from the other parts of your life.  We can't go into business with you,we aren't even allowed to do bartering; we cannot exchange our services for yours, we can't ask you for hot stock tips, etc!!!  (You can, however, give us a raise...!)

You can and should expect to be treated with regard and respect by your therapist.  Your therapist should be genuine and straightforward but professional in conduct.  Your therapist should not be expected to be and should not pose as, a 'guru'.  Your therapist should be human and compassionate.
In this unique, not like any other, sort of odd relationship, can you expect your therapist to care for you personally?  Maybe, but, not necessarily:  I have heard some therapists say that they can treat anyone, whether they like the person, or not.  Not me.  I have rarely refused to treat anyone, but if I can't find something in them to feel for, I would.    I look for that loving part or that growth motivated part or some part that I can connect with in a positive way, personally.  But, usually I find it easy to like the people who come my way.  Many therapists will become quite fond of a patient if they see them regularly for a long time.  The close attention that a therapist pays to a patient, the effort to understand what is beneath the surface, the careful listening, the thinking about that person and their issues, all of this leads to feeling affection.  It's normal; therapists are human.  At the same time , the therapist must maintain a professional position in relation to the client so that the client can feel that they can depend on the therapist.  And the therapist always has to remain ready to hear that client decide to say good-bye.

 There's so much to say on the subject of what you can expect from a therapist but this is already a long post.  If it gets a lot of traffic, I'll write more on this topic.  Be sure to let me know if you have any questions about this.  In any case, I hope that, in your therapy experience,  you are happily surprised.  I hope what I've offered here  helps.
If you'd like to read another therapist's offering on this subject, here's a link to one I think is down-to-earth and thorough.  It's also a chance to see the difference in style between she and I.  As I've mentioned, each therapist is so different and thus, you have to find the one who is a match for you.
Here is another one with yet a different tone:  http://www.
*The training is slightly different for each license but for my license, this is required: 19 years of school (not counting nursery school!), 3000 hours of supervised (unpaid) internship hours, an oral and written exam from the state and 36 hours of continuing education every 2 years.

Please join the discussion and leave a comment.

Addendum:  I said I would write more on this topic if it got a lot of traffic.  Turns out this has become one of the All Time Most Popular Posts and continues to be.  So, I did write more on the topic, as promised.  Here is Part 2:  And, you can look forward to more; there is a Part 3, in draft.