This page of my website will focus on psychology. At least it will focus on the aspects of psychology I believe are important in our uber-busy modern lives. Click below for a more detailed look at a few topics:
I have been a practicing psychologist for many years. I still remember back in about 1968 or 1969 sitting with the University of Washington catalog open on my lap. It was the eve of my junior year of college and I had to declare a major. Despite the rich offerings in many other areas at the University, I kept coming back to psychology. It has always been my first love. I remember my parents telling me it wasn’t a practical area to study. They kept pushing me to major in one of the hard sciences so that I could go to medical school. Even at nineteen, I somehow knew that I didn’t want to be a medical doctor. And so, with some level of fear and trepidation about my future, I received my undergraduate degree in psychology in August of 1970. From there I continued my studies; receiving graduate degrees in the same field, with a brief sojourn into physiology and physiological psychology.
In all the years I’ve worked in the human services field, just about every client who has come through my private practice, or through the doors of a clinic I’ve operated, has been in search of the same thing. Oh, they may have called it by different names, but the gist of their search has been inner peace and contentment--and a level of self acceptance. Many of us have devastating inner critics.
Let me digress slightly. Over the past twenty-five years there has been a great upheaval in the field of psychology. What was once an intensely personal relationship between two human beings (the doctor and the patient) has shifted to include representatives of managed care companies and the rampantly greedy pharmaceutical industry. In fact, when I had a very active private practice (and was on every insurance panel known to Western man), the first question I was often asked by a prospective patient was, "Do you take Blue Cross, or Blue Shield, or Health Net, or Aetna?" The name of the insurance company is an irrelevancy. The fact that it was frequently the first question out of a prospective patient’s mouth is concerning, however.
When I seek assistance for myself, my initial questions revolve around whether a particular practitioner knows about problems like mine and has had experience dealing with them. And yes it would be a nice plus if my insurance would pay them, but I’d rather pay out-of-pocket for an expert in whatever is troubling me than have my insurance pay for someone who may have treated one or two cases like mine a couple of years ago.
The other problem with the insurance companies is they’re nosy. They want to know how my patients are doing in an up-close-and-personal way. And the second that a patient seems to be improving, the insurance company is quick to say that they can’t have any more sessions. Managed care companies denigrate the relationship between the practitioner and the patient, relegating it to a minor role when, in fact, it is that relationship--or therapeutic alliance--that is the primary key to growth and change.
And, while I’m at it, there is yet a third problem with the insurance companies. They seem to be in bed with the pharmaceutical industry. Do antidepressants make people feel better? The answer to that is a qualified yes. However the vast majority of people taking antidepressants would feel better eventually anyway if they had access to a competent psychotherapist for sufficient time to work through their problems and issues. Psychotherapy doesn’t have side effects. Every psychological medication on the market has side effects that range from annoying (loss of libido) to devastating (metabolic syndrome with its increases in Type II Diabetes). It’s a rather closely guarded fact in psychiatric circles that the atypical antipsychotics and their cousins, the older genre of antipsychotics, shave from ten to twenty-five years off the average life span.
Unfortunately, it is cheaper to take a pill (muted applause from Eli Lilly, Pfizer, Wyeth and all those other Big Pharma companies) than it is to pay someone like me to sit with a client for twenty or thirty or fifty hours. Because of this (relatively new) development, the insurance companies frequently insist that the psychotherapist enter into an active dialog with their patient’s treating physician to ensure the patient is taking psychiatric medications to hurry their treatment along.
Yes, there are a few individuals with truly debilitating psychological symptoms who actually need psychiatric medications. For this small subset of the population, the side effects are worth it because the medication actually makes enough difference that an individual can function more-or-less effectively and can continue to earn a living, be a partner in a marriage, parent their children, etc.
However, the vast majority of people taking the hundreds of thousands (if not millions) of tablets of antidepressants, mood stabilizers, sleeping pills, anti-anxiety medications and psychostimulants could get by without them. I’ve seen them in my office by the hundreds over the years, mostly feeling like failures because the latest wonder-drug hasn’t solved their personal and interpersonal dilemmas. The drugs are an empty promise, but you’d never know that from watching television or reading magazines where advertisements hype these chemical cocktails as the answer to nearly everything from depression to poor grades in school. Sometimes, the psychiatric meds do give the person who is suffering a bit of relief, but they do not add meaning to an isolated life, vitality to a dead marriage, interest to a job that a person genuinely detests, or depth to energy-draining relationships.
Pills promise a quick fix, but in reality, there are no quick fixes to what is wrong. We try to fill the emptiness in our souls with "stuff", new cars, bigger houses, new clothes, plastic surgery, and the list goes on. I just had a young female client who was incredibly bright, a good athlete, a talented writer, and who had just been accepted at one of the top universities in this country successfully suicide after a string of attempts dating back to when she was only sixteen. As a sad sidenote, she'd been tried on just about every psychiatric medication, starting when she was just thirteen. She told me at one point that none of the medications made any difference, but that they did make convenient suicide tools.
So, when clients come in saying if only I:
Had a boyfriend/girlfriend
Had a different boyfriend/girlfriend
Had a different job
Had more money
Could manage my drinking better
Could get my parents off my back (or you pick the problem)
I know that the stated problem is only a smokescreen for an inner landscape that is empty and desolate. People bring their joy and self acceptance with them no matter what the circumstances. If these things are lacking, externals won’t fix anything.
I’m sure you get the picture. Usually, when someone comes to see a psychotherapist, their focus is on fixing something. In my experience, though, finding that different job only fixes the problem for a short time. Ditto for finding a new relationship, or a new anything.
The basic problem is that we are empty inside, both individually and culturally. Our family structure has been disintegrating since the 1950s. Our divorce rate is in excess of 50%. We have an entire generation of children who shuttle back and forth between mommy’s and daddy’s houses. That same generation of children has forgotten how to play, substituting an electronic box for needed sunshine and exercise. My children are grown up, but I had the dickens of at time getting them to go outside during the nineteen-eighties when the only electronic boxes in the house were the television and a computer with a monochrome screen!
That was a bit wordier than I had planned. So, you say, get off your damned soapbox. How do I change what I need to so I can be happier and more fulfilled? There are no short answers to that one. However, I plan to update this part of my website regularly with articles that some of you may find useful in that regard.
I will cover one area here, though, so that you can have something to think about. And that is that all symptoms have a purpose. Do you feel depressed? How about anxious? Do you dread going in to work in the morning? Do you detest your spouse so much you can scarcely bear to look at them?
Whatever is going on in your life, psyche (soul) is trying to tell you that you need to pay attention. Psyche is not telling you to take Prozac or Xanax. Psyche is telling you that you need to spend some quiet time looking within yourself. Perhaps, if you truly hate going to work, you are in the wrong field, or the office situation is not well suited to you.
If you are suffering through your umpteenth challenging relationship, perhaps you are attracted to people who simply do not complement your needs. Or, perhaps you have family of origin issues you need to address before you can be an active partner in any relationship.
I think what I’m trying to say here is it’s not the relationship or the job, it’s you. Who you are and how you feel about yourself dictates your level of contentment with your world regardless of whether the sky is falling in around you.
Harville Hendrix, Ph.D. did a lot of work with couples. His Imago theory postulates (and I’m taking some liberties here) that we pick who we pick to partner with for unconscious reasons. Basically, we pick others who have some (or all) of the negative traits of our opposite sexed parent. Since this "picking" mechanism is unconscious, Dr. Hendrix used to tell couples they needed to figure out how to get along with one another because if they divorced, they’d simply find someone else with the same basic personality structure.
If there's some aspect of psychology you'd like me to address, feel free to email me.