Aug 31

Fifth Anniversary of “Minding Therapy”: Part Two

Part Two of the fifth anniversary commemoration of “Minding Therapy” offers excerpts from the most-viewed posts of the last three years. See Part One here.

I. Andrew Solomon: Recent TED Talk “Forge Meaning, Build Identity” (2014)

“I’m lucky to have forged meaning and built identity, but that’s still a rare privilege, and gay people deserve more collectively than the crumbs of justice. And yet, every step forward is so sweet.”

II. Frozen: What Are the Meanings and Messages in the Film? (2014)

Catherine Bray, Time Out: “The standout song, ‘Let It Go’, feels like Disney’s most inspired coming-out anthem yet (‘Conceal, don’t feel, don’t let them know. Well, now they know’).”

III. Psychiatry and Big Pharma: James Davies, Author of Cracked (2013)

A relevant excerpt from the Publishers Weekly review of Cracked:

On the pharmaceutical front, Davies takes aim at Big Pharma’s tendency to ‘cherry pick’ positive clinical trial data to suit its needs. The results are drugs whose curative efficacy is questionable and which sometimes come with serious side effects (such as the ’emotional blunting’ that occurs in about half of all Prozac users). Further undermining the integrity of the psychiatric profession is the fact that many doctors, having received grants and/or speaking and consulting fees from Big Pharma companies, are essentially prescribing from within the deep pockets of their benefactors. The consequences for patients and the profession are obvious.

IV. The Procrastination Equation By Piers Steel: Don’t Put Off Reading It (2014)

So, Steel says right there in the title of the book that he has an equation, which, according to Kirkus Reviews, is Expectancy x Value / Impulsiveness x Delay = Motivation. “Simply put, the equation means that the motivation to perform a particular task declines when the expectancy or value of a task’s reward declines or when there is an increase in impulsivity or in the delay of the task’s reward.”

Or not so simply put. More simply is something like, we’re not as committed as we’d like to be, it feels hard, we want what we want now, and besides, other stuff gets in the way. (If my paraphrasing is lacking, my apologies to Steel.)

V. Childhood Disrupted: ACES and Your Physical Health (2015)

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger?
Not quite. Far more often, the opposite is true. Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of Childhood Disrupted

Two-thirds of American adults are carrying wounds from childhood quietly into adulthood, with little or no idea of the extent to which these wounds affect their daily health and wellbeing. Something that happened to you when you were five or 15 can land you in the hospital 30 years later, whether that something was headline news, or happened quietly, without anyone else knowing it, in the living room of your childhood home. Donna Jackson Nakazawa

VI. Birdman: Does He Fly? (Reviews of the Film and A Non-Answer) (2014)

Tom Long, Detroit News: “Can Riggan really fly? Can any of us? ‘Birdman’ doesn’t offer the answer, but revels in the question. Soar with it.”

VII. Single People Have a Strong Voice in Bella DePaulo (2016)

I defend single people because we are relentlessly demeaned by myths and pseudoscientific claims that say our lives are second-rate. But I’m not advocating singlehood for all. Some people live their best lives married, and others find more meaning and fulfillment in single life. This is the 21st century. We don’t all have to choose the same life path. Bella DePaulo, PhD, “Everything You Think You Know About Single People Is Wrong” (Washington Post)

VIII. Patrick Kennedy Portrays A Common Struggle in His New Book (2015)

So far, notably, it seems that news about A Common Struggle has focused more on the family’s negative reactions to it and less on reporting or reviewing its actual contents. The Boston Globe, however, calls the book “strikingly raw and emotional,” while other readers have applauded this Kennedy’s courage and openness.

IX. Lucy van Pelt of “Peanuts”: Her Best Psychiatric Advice (2015)

From 1984: By the time I’ve grown up, we’ll probably have a woman president. You know what that means, don’t you? It means I won’t get to be the first one. BOY, THAT MAKES ME MAD!! 

Aug 29

Fifth Anniversary of “Minding Therapy”: Part One

It’s the fifth anniversary of “Minding Therapy,” my blog that started out with the subtitle of “Therapists Have Issues Too,” the main theme of my novel.

To review the past five years, I’m posting the most sought-after topics (to the best of my ability to know this) of each annual period (late August of each year to the following). Issues examined include the therapist’s role, humor and mental health, pop culture, and finding identity. At least five books and their authors are represented and six films.

Today’s commemoration covers the first two years. (The next post will do the rest.) From each of the selected posts I’ve chosen brief snippets that either capture its essence or seem thought-provoking.

I. Therapy Office Design: Why and How to Provide the Right Setting (2012)

…(D)oes anyone really care how you decorate your therapy office?

Your clients do. And, according to a study from last year, they take even more notice when it’s an office they don’t like. And it affects how they perceive You, the therapist that comes with that office.

For more info about the research on therapy office design, click on this Psych Central link. But I’ll go ahead and tell you that the basic conclusion of at least one of the co-authors of the study, Jack Nasar, Ph.D., is:

I would tell therapists to keep their offices soft and friendly looking. Put up your diplomas and personalize the office. Arrange everything in a neat and orderly way and keep it that way.

II. 50/50: Problems With the Therapist/Patient Boundaries (2011)

…I decide to go closer to the source—the actress who actually portrays the therapist. I find an article by John P. Meyer, in which he notes that Anna Kendrick:

…is fine as the strangely serene, somewhat enigmatic psych doc who seems to surprise herself by incrementally, inevitably slipping into a non-professional relationship with her third-ever patient.

There goes the code of ethics.

III. What About Bob? The Need to Take Baby Steps (2012)

The movie begins with another psychiatrist sending the challenging patient Bob (Bill Murray), a highly dependent man with lots of fears, to egotistical Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfuss). In the initial session, Dr. Marvin gives Bob a copy of his brand new book called Baby Steps (a book, incidentally, that many wish actually existed).

Marvin: It means setting small, reasonable goals for yourself. One day at a time, one tiny step at a time—do-able, accomplishable goals.

Bob: Baby steps.

Marvin: When you leave this office, don’t think about everything you have to do to get out of the building, just deal with getting out of the room. When you reach the hall, just deal with the hall. And so forth. Baby steps.

In spite of its presence in what’s otherwise an unrealistic and zany dark comedy, this simple concept of “baby steps” has proven meaningful to many who see it. “Baby steps” cuts right to the heart of the process of achieving desired changes in one’s life.

IV. Shawshank Redemption: Hope and Other Themes (2013)

Andrew Howe, efilmcritic.comabout Andy: “He may have lost everything he held dear, but he knows that life does not end until the day you draw your terminal breath, so he narrows his focus and takes refuge in his dreams of a better tomorrow. His existence reminds us of how much there is to lose, but also how much there is to gain, and is a source of solace for anyone who has ever felt their life begin to slip through their hands.”

V. Psychiatrist Jokes (2012)

Patient: Doctor, I get the feeling that people don’t give a hoot about anything I say.

Psychiatrist: So?

VI. Blue Jasmine Updates “A Streetcar Named Desire” (2013)

Andrew O’Hehir, Salon:

If the specter of Blanche hangs over this whole movie like a combination of San Francisco fog with New Orleans humidity, it’s also the ultimate invidious comparison. On one side, we have one of the greatest works of American drama, whose tormented and self-deluded central character stands for so many inexpressible things about women and sexuality and the painful cost of pretend normalcy and the divided soul of the South. On the other, we have this pallid imitation, a freak show whose alternately compelling and repulsive heroine can’t disguise the fact that it’s a movie by a sour old guy who no longer likes anything or anyone and who also, more damningly, just isn’t interested.

Aug 26

“Tallulah”: Three Wayward Women and a Baby

At its heart,Tallulah is about three women who think themselves unfit for parenthood for wildly different reasons, and while writer-director Sian Heder is unafraid to explore their many flaws, she fortunately refrains from passing judgment or drawing simplistic, moralizing conclusions. David Sims, The Atlantic

Sian Heder, a writer for Orange Is the New Black, is also the creative force behind a Netflix original film, available for streaming, called Tallulah. And for its “(t)hemes of motherhood, abandonment, loss, family and female identity…plumbed to their depths” (Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times), it’s well worth the watch.

More from Walsh about the plot in brief:

Heder…reached into her own life experiences to write and direct the film, starring Ellen Page in the titular role as a nomadic young woman who has no attachments to any place or thing. She does, however, have a knack for attaching herself to people — her boyfriend Nico (Evan Jonigkeit), Nico’s mother, Margo (Allison Janney), and a baby she accidentally babysits, then accidentally kidnaps, in a good faith effort to keep her safe.

David Sims, The Atlantic, with more details:

…As the film begins, [her] relationship falls apart, and Tallulah finds herself in New York, stealing from fancy hotel rooms while posing as a housekeeper. There, she meets Carolyn (Tammy Blanchard), a permanently wasted socialite who seems obviously neglectful of her one-year-old daughter; in a moment of vigilante justice, Tallulah snatches the baby and begins pretending it’s her daughter…

Margo and Tallulah eventually form a bond, and life lessons are learned—that Margo should take more risks, that Tallulah can see the value of family and more traditional domesticity. But every time it seems that Tallulah is swerving into conventional Hallmark-movie territory, Heder does something unexpected. Rather than dropping Carolyn’s story once her baby is taken, the film zooms in on her grief, letting the audience feel the consequences of Tallulah’s actions. In a film of strong performances, Blanchard is probably the biggest surprise…

The trailer’s below:

Most critics agree that the acting rises above all else. Geoff Berkshire, Variety:

Page is simply superb in a complex role that perfectly plays to her gift for balancing deadpan comedy with surprisingly deep emotional reserves. And while she was a sterling support opposite Page in ‘Juno,’ Janney rises here nearly to the level of co-lead as an uptight control freak whose desire to cling to her family only serves to push them away.

Reliable character actress Blanchard is perhaps the biggest revelation, playing Carolyn at first as a spot-on parody of a certain kind of real housewife of self-absorption, but gradually peeling back her layers — in collaboration with Heder — to reveal the wounded woman underneath.

Neil Genzlinger, New York Times: “…(I)f there were an Oscar for best performance by children too young to know they’re in a movie, the twins playing this baby (Liliana and Evangeline Ellis) would be a shoo-in.”

Ty Burr, Boston Globe: “And when Uzo Aduba of ‘Orange’ turns up as a drily capable (and pregnant) child-services officer, Heder’s portrait gallery of motherhood — good, flawed, accidental, just trying to make it through the day — is complete.”

Autostraddle: “Lunch with Margo’s gay ex-husband [John Benjamin Hickey] and his new partner [Zachary Quinto] is one of the best scenes in the film, sketching a whole universe and providing a window into Margo and her husband’s marriage without trying to give more information than the audience can handle.”

Selected Tallulah Reviews

Katie Walsh, Los Angeles Times: “Even if the tale is a bit much to be believed at times, it’s unlikely you’ll see a film more refreshingly honest and incisive about motherhood than ‘Tallulah’.”

Geoff Berkshire, Variety: “Heder’s approach is reminiscent of her terrific work on ‘Orange’ in numerous ways — from a boundless compassion for women’s hidden stories to the graceful mix of smart comedy and human drama.”

Scott Tobias, NPR: “That Heder’s warts-and-all vision of maternal ambivalence lacks focus and concision seems partly by design, a refusal to oversimplify these women for the sake of narrative expedience. They’re screwed up. They’re good-hearted. They’re human.”

Aug 24

“If You Meet the Buddha on the Road” Still Relevant

The Zen Master warns: “If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!” This admonition points up that no meaning that comes from outside of ourselves is real. The Buddhahood of each of us has already been obtained. We need only recognize it. Philosophy, religion, patriotism, all are empty idols. The only meaning in our lives is what we each bring to them. Killing the Buddha on the road means destroying the hope that anything outside of ourselves can be our master. No one is any bigger than anyone else. There are no mothers or fathers for grown-ups, only sisters and brothers. Sheldon B. Kopp, If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!

Sheldon B. Kopp died in 1999 at the age of 70, but many of his 17 books live on. The most popular has been If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him! The Pilgrimage of Psychotherapy Patients, published decades ago.

As one Amazon reader states, “Psychotherapist Kopp wrote this book in 1972, but it still works today.
Whether giving or receiving therapy, this book reminds us that we are all humans — nobody has all the answers.”

Kopp’s “A Partial Register of the 927 (or was it 928?) Eternal Truths” is listed in the back of If You Meet the Buddha on the Road. These 43 statements can be found on the internet in various places; one of them is here. And the following is a sampling:

  • There is no particular reason why you lost out on some things.
  • The world is not necessarily just. Being good often does not pay off and there is no compensation for misfortune.
  • You don’t really control anything.
  • You can’t make anyone love you.
  • All of you is worth something if you will only own it.
  • Childhood is a nightmare.
  • But it is so very hard to be an on-your-own, take-care-of-yourself-cause-there-is-no-one-else-to-do-it-for-you grown-up.
  • We must live within the ambiguity of partial freedom, partial power, and partial knowledge.
  • All significant battles are fought within oneself.
  • You are free to do whatever you like. You need only face the consequences.

Some Quotes About THERAPY from Kopp’s Perspective

And so, it is not astonishing that, though the patient enters therapy insisting that he wants to change, more often than not, what he really wants is to remain the same and to get the therapist to make him feel better.

The therapist can interpret, advise, provide the emotional acceptance and support that nurtures personal growth, and above all, he can listen. I do not mean that he can simply hear the other, but that he will listen actively and purposefully, responding with the instrument of his trade, that is, with the personal vulnerability of his own trembling self. This listening is that which will facilitate the patient’s telling of his tale, the telling that can set him free.

The continuing struggle was once described in the following metaphor by a patient who had successfully completed a long course of psychotherapy: “I came to therapy hoping to receive butter for the bread of life. Instead, at the end, I emerged with a pail of sour milk, a churn, and instructions on how to use them.”

Aug 22

“Book of Human Emotions” By Tiffany Watt Smith

Particularly fascinating is the connection between feeling and language; the urge to pin down amorphous emotions with the precision of words. What we need, argues the author, isn’t fewer words for our feelings, but more. Anita Sethi, Guardian, on Tiffany Watt Smith’s Book of Human Emotions

Question: If you’re someone who’s working on being both emotionally intelligent and accepting of diversity, what about your “emodiversity“?

Tiffany Watt Smith, PhD, author of last year’s Book of Human Emotions: An Encyclopaedia of Feeling from Anger to Wanderlust, thinks it’s important.

The definition of emodiversity is having a “variety and relative abundance of the emotions,” she’s reported. This trait, moreover, may actually correlate with better health, physically and mentally.

To be able to know you’re having certain distinct emotions, the specific associated words are needed in your vocabulary. Drake Baier, Science of Us, quotes psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, who says this “emotional granularity” is the “adaptive value of putting feelings into words with a high degree of complexity.”

An interesting interplay exists between the brain and identification of feelings, it turns out, in that “the brain, outside of your conscious awareness, ‘constructs’ your emotional states, drawing, in a very real way, on your vocabulary of emotional concepts…” In other words, if your brain knows the feeling, it helps make it happen; if not, it may be a tree falling in the forest when no one’s there.

In Book of Human Emotions Watt Smith covers 154 of them in depth. I’ve taken a look at book excerpts offered on The Guardian and now have several of interest to pass on to you:

  • Ambiguphobia, coined by writer David Foster Wallace, means “feeling uncomfortable about leaving things open to interpretation.”
  • Ilinx is a word that’s derived from French sociologist Roger Caillois. It’s about “the ‘strange excitement’ of wanton destruction”; also described as a “voluptuous panic.” Says Watt Smith, “Today, even the urge to create a minor chaos by kicking over the office recycling bin should give you a mild hit.”
  • Mono no aware is an ancient Japanese concept. “Literally translated as the pathos (aware) of things (mono), it is often described as a kind of a sigh for the impermanence of life.”
  • Pronoia: “A strange, creeping feeling that everyone is out to help you.”
  • Ringxiety: Coined by psychologist David Laramie, “ringxiety is a feeling of low-level anxiety causing us to think we’ve heard our phones ring, even when they haven’t.”

And here are a few more taken from a list Melissa Dahl, Science of Us, culled from Book of Human Emotions:

  • Greng jai: A Thai term…for “the feeling of being reluctant to accept another’s offer of help because of the bother it would cause them.”
  • L’appel du vide: Also called the “high place phenomenon” by American psychologists (2012), this French term means “the call of the void.” It’s that impulse to do something terribly risky all of a sudden, e.g., open the back door of the airplane you’re currently flying in. Most don’t follow through, it’s important to note, and it’s not usually a sign of suicidality.
  • Kaukokaipuu: A Finnish term for “a feeling of homesickness for a place you’ve never visited” or “a kind of highly specified version of wanderlust, a ‘craving for a distant land’.”