Tuesday, November 27, 2012

my feelings exactly

in the age of soundbites and market-driven-but-glossy-looking short-term memory amnesia, i abhor redundancy. so i refrain from commenting on this article, because my comments would replicate the author's opinion.


what brand is your therapist?

an old-fashioned, un-sexy shrink

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

heart and soul, part 1

why this title for a psychotherapist's blog? it's so ...

 ... un-clinical

it's so ...

literary. remember philip roth's human stain? that kind of literary.

explanation: because it represents me as a human being and a therapist as much as words can represent a person. 

this moniker for my practice came about in chilly alaska, when i was stretching my brain muscle looking for a soundbite descriptor of me and my approach to health, healing, the human journey, the all of it, the enterprise of being human and counting life's minutes passing by via idiosyncratic laughs, eyelash flutter, gaze, sigh, stretch, lunges toward health, away from isolation, and such ... like. 

these many years since, the moniker has stuck. and it suits me still. even though it's ... un-clinical. exactly and almost for that reason alone: because it is un-clinical.

clinical. let's play with words: sterile. blinding white. cold. smells like rubbing alcohol. cold, again. metal. scratch. cold, once more. forms to be completed. charts to write in. insurance billing. diagnostic codes. formulas. treatment. prescriptions. mottled blue skin. white pills, different sizes.clinical research; statistics. lab. white noise. cold smell. cold walls. cold. cold.

i've never been able to conceptualize the client - therapist relationship as a clinical relationship, even though technically and professionally that's what it is: it's a contractual relationship where information is exchanged for remuneration: my time and information = your payment.

maybe because my "becoming a therapist" was an organic process which, more or less, evolved out of my polyglot wanderings. or maybe because i am personally and politically opposed to the modern constructs of "marketplace" and "critical mass." or simply because this is an all-too human thing, this face-to-face, week-to-week, in-depth check-in, a compassionate and evocative dialogue that i engage in with whomever happens to sit opposite me. it has never escaped me, the nuance and complexity of The Other who sits across from me and discloses. and trusts. lives and breathes.

how can it not be qualified as heart and soul work, i asked myself? i attend to, i comfort, i am entrusted with, i cry with, speak to another's heart with my heart - knowledge base aside; this is a given - am privileged to be with, intimately - if by intimacy, emotional disclosure is understood. it is profound, empathetic, at-times wordless connection.

as opposed to a purely clinical relationship.

it is a relationship that requires presence.

it is an endeavor that requires heart and soul. 

Monday, November 19, 2012


i'm thinking of a lovely woman, a mother four-times over, an artist, a seeker. she has a twinkle in her eye. almost always ready with a deep, flirtatious laugh, sobs and heartache are not unknowns to her. she sat in a puddle of tears on my couch a few weeks back, reeling after a panic attack that a pinging phone set off.

a week later, she's locked in traffic in seattle and a maniac cuts her off, swerves amidst the gridlocked traffic to insinuate his car in front of hers, presumably to reach a destination seconds sooner. rather than later.

being one of her pet peeves, lovely lady client responds with requisite huffing and puffing, clenches fists on steering wheel, grits teeth, probably yells an expletive heard only to herself, and then relaxes all facial and upper-body muscles when she reads the vanity plate:


minutes prior to this, lovely lady client (let's call her magdalene) and i had concluded our first emdr session. the pinging phone's panic attack was processed in session by creating a cognitive schema to be used in high-anxiety moments such as these, these unpredictable moments when, "out of the blue," we get triggered, lose our hard-earned savoir-faire, can't see our way out from under the pile of decades-old detritus, and regress to inchoate emotions and body tremors. this response will not do! this response is simply the response of the helpless, powerless, incapable, inarticulate, unprotected, unwanted child who learned survival lessons in the jungle of the family of origin. how can this response in any way represent us, today? how can it represent an accomplished artist, mother of four, friend, spouse, comrade-in-arms, adult?

the emdr protocol for this schema is known as the calm place, or the safe place, or that time in your life when you felt (fill-in-the-blank). fill-in-the-blank is thera-speak for client-centered, which is thera-speak for "empower client by letting them choose." i prefer the fill-in-the-blank option for a couple of reasons: 1. many people do not have a calm, safe place which they can call to mind, or; 2. many people come from such backgrounds as to make imagining a calm, safe place either impossible or actually unsafe, or; 3. some people would rather draw comfort and strength from imagining themselves in a scenario where they felt what it is that they want to feel about themselves today. examples for number 3: courageous; intelligent; loved; smart; accepted; acknowledged; protected; capable.

i should clarify here that the place chosen can be real or imagined. the brain does not distinguish between real and imagined. hence, memory distortion and subjective perception versus objective reality.

magdalene, clever girl artist that she is, picked a visually rich place, a real place that she visits once in a while, to stand for her calm place. during the emdr processing, she articulated feelings and desires and ephemeral thought fragments that she links with this place, that make this place (this cognitive schema) hers alone. she savored this creative process, at times inaccessible to me because her eyes were closed, relishing what was hers alone. and she named this place. she gave it a one-word handle so that it could be quickly accessed in times of duress, like pinging phones indicating a call from an unwanted caller, or an uncouth punk driver swerving in front of her on the road. she called her special place:


and the therapist, who was not in the car with magdalene, says to her, "i'd like you to say that word to yourself, heaven, and notice how you feel."

and the client reports, "i just let 'er rip! in the car! hootin' and hollerin' and laughing until tears came to my eyes!"

in thera-speak, we say that intermittent positive reinforcement enforces already-existing cognitive schema. real people would call this serendipity. or the universe at play.

there are no accidents. we are, each of us, a part of our own play which unfolds minute by minute, seemingly inconsequential and discrepant, until the fabric of our life is viewed from above and afar. and from the right vantage point, we can see that we create the breadcrumb trail stringing the moments together.
Turn to the right, there's a little white light
Will lead you to my (Blue) Heaven ...

smashing pumpkins, my blue heaven

Thursday, November 15, 2012

too much. is it really multi-dimensional? it's kinda boring

logos and icons and tweets and blurbs and one-liners and sound bites and data mining & visualization and acronyms and abbreviations and elipses and permalinks and catchy phrases / catchy words and data tags and digg and speed and nanobytes and ...

i'm blanking.

i think my brain has shut down. no, better still, it's rebelling (against the lemmings. why are they all jumping to their death?).

this post was inspired by james altucher's recent post on becoming an idea machine. brainy guy, this james. but something's off. so in this post, he rambles coherently about his past failure to bring seemingly-brilliant ideas to fruition due to lack of self-confidence, compares his experiences with people who proceeded to chase their "big idea" through to completion until the achievement of success, and gives a pedantic recipe for success: a list of 10 actions one should undertake to generate ideas,  more or less on a daily basis.

sidenote: talking with an old friend, the characteristic "one-dimensional" was proposed. i admit i hadn't thought about this descriptor in a long time. probably because i have been fortunate to not attract one-dimensional people. until recently. and so, in describing a recent encounter with such a person, a highly successful person who has achieved success because of his hyper-focus directed toward his field of study, this approach or personal evolution - incontestable brilliance in a scientific discipline - is bleeding into his personal life so that a dinner conversation precludes any other subjects for consideration. old friend immediately says, "one-dimensional!" "yes," i say. struck a chord. nice to remember this concept, one-dimensional.

i reflected on james altucher's post. actually, let me back up. i was intrigued and the more i read, i felt my facial geography change to adopt an expression of ... distaste. yes. that's it. it's not disgust. it's not pity. it's ... distaste. the more i continued reading, the more unsettled and uneasy i became. he gives nods - without naming names, probably because he doesn't know their names - to csikszentmihalyi's concept of flow psychology and the ericksonian postulation of self-confidence, but the rest is a melange of altucher's personal formula for what, exactly? how to generate ideas? how to show you're smart? how to increase chances of success? 

and so the lists. pretty rigid lists. kind of statistical. every day, he says, read from at least 4 books with different subject matter; write down 10 ideas, anything, it doesn't matter; surf the internet, says he "I just saw an “infographic”(Infographics are quickly becoming the new blog posts) on how to be creative. It said 'turn off the computer'. Sometimes this is true. Sometimes not. With the entire world of knowledge at our fingertips it sometimes is fun to get sucked down the rabbit hole like Alice and drift around in Wonderland."

he claims to have a strict daily routine, yet he programs in spontaneity just to jumpstart creativity.

and so what i'm thinking is that the chasing of new information, in massive amounts, and creating things (projects, enterprise, etc.) just for financial payoff or manipulating our reality and our organic matter to employ them toward achieving success and popularity (jimmy has thousands of followers) is kind of ... one-dimensional. kind of ... superficial.

agreed, he employs form various disciplines to create something of his own. agreed, he seems to have achieved financial success (multiple times). 

but what's the staying power of all of this bounteous information that he encourages us to ingest? it skims the surface of the thing being considered. if i skim a book or a website, and then move on to another book, website, after 2 hours of this activity, what do i really have? what will i have retained? for good? for real? for significance?

what's the difference between knowledge and information?

how do you measure success?

why learn (about) new things at all?

can we just stop with the obligatory lists, please? this approach is kind of ... one-dimensional. it's kind of ... formulaic.  it posits a life as though it's a tagline. or a logo. or a top-10, best-of ...

a life well-lived is not formulaic. it is haphazardous and spontaneous, fertile and savory and deeply meaning-full. it is natural and organic and raw and fresh and bleeds and laughs deeply. and sighs and pauses for air.

and remembers, 20 years later, those names of writers, thinkers, professors, who have influenced and can quote those introjects because ... they had depth and value. the opposite of ... lists. or tag lines. or sound bites.

my opinion.

but the ancients would back me, i suspect.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

self? or others?



we are often in a bind as to primacy between the two. no? i suspect this conflict is gender- and culture-biased. meaning, seemingly more women find themselves in almost-daily conflict regarding this choice: me or other? also, communitarian societies seem to - while not exhibiting conflict - posit the individual against the social or community good.

and so, the cavalcade of diatribes and epithets directed toward one who chooses self over others goes something like this (i've heard enough, i ought to know): selfish, individualistic, egotistical, egocentric, immature, opportunistic, unevolved. any others?

on the other hand, always - or preponderantly - operating from a place of others-first means what with respect to you? in a utopic society, others care for each other. in such a society, it follows that if i care for the others, the others will (take) care (of) for me.

i have rarely seen this work beautifully. or effortlessly. or altruistically.

i suggest we revisit the altruistic social psych experiments of the 60s to see how things turned out; in sum, they turned out not so favorable for community. also, we might do well to revisit jung's gender polarities, which he placed on a spectrum of care and self-efficacy; male and female, the fulcrum of which is superlative evolution, i.e., androgyny.

"horrid word or concept," you might say to yourself. bah! androgyny. really? do women not like to bang nails into walls? or lift weights at the gym? have i only imagined seeing a man stand in front of an overwhelming array of flowers looking for the perfect bloom for his beloved?

since when does poetry or wine or strength or finesse have a gender?

if i am strong and compassionate and look after myself, am i not in a better capacity to care for others?

i think yes.

i choose myself. first and foremost. and then come the others.

Monday, November 5, 2012

being human

to live; to laugh; to feel; to smile; to think; to receive information through senses, analyze, synthesize, make sense of; to plan; to change plans based on new information;

to connect

to love

to "fall in" love

to connect

80% of the human brain is wired for connection

what does this mean?

let's load the proposition a bit more; a spiritual, existential twist: i recall a beautiful image of dusty rose curtains billowing over the ledge of an open window. the caption assigned to the image by the visual editor: "love can be made in the absence of bodies but not in the absence of souls."

to be or ...

a new acquaintance has built a lifetime's work partially on the well-known cartesian precept: je pens, donc je suis, aka, cogito ergo sum.

alors, je sens, donc je suis, aka, i feel, therefore i am.

what is the capacity that renders one human? what is the missing ingredient that renders a thing not-human? i am, really, less interested in the latter than in the former.

what makes us human? is is the percentage of the brain employed relationally? is it the neocortex? is it the overall wiring of this organism? so then, it is the things that we can do and think and, concomitantly, feel, because of these structures, that make one human? must it have a sprinkle of soul and divinity? pixie dust?

should we become diogenes and relight the lamp in daytime? what truth would we be looking for?