Mar 29

Project Fearless Award: My Acceptance Speech

This past weekend I received an award from an important new non-profit organization called Project Fearless that, as its Facebook page states, “will destigmatize and provide mental health resources to the LGBTQIA community in Rhode Island and Southern Massachusetts by partnering with local agencies. We aim to direct prospective individuals to affordable treatment options. Project Fearless will also provide financial assistance to low-income individuals seeking mental health treatment.”

It’s so awesome to now hold the distinction of being “the inaugural winner of the Project Fearless Award for Excellence in Therapeutic Service to the LGBTQ Community.”

Below is a reprint of the remarks I presented at the event, minus the appreciation and thank you’s to Project Fearless and those who’ve supported me over the years.

MY SPEECH

First, I have a confession to make to Project Fearless–which is that I’m anything but fearless, especially when it comes to this kind of thing, talking in front of a big group of people—which I know some people call public speaking, but I call public freaking.

But despite this fear I did take on some public speaking/freaking earlier in my career, in the 80’s and 90’s mostly. Since the 1970’s I’d always been the token out person everywhere I worked. Most coworkers didn’t really get LGBT issues–the QIA+ was silent back then. Many didn’t even know they were actually seeing LGBT clients. Their clients were invisible.

So, I couldn’t NOT do it. I felt it was my duty to start offering workshops to other mental health professionals. And to the community.

Around the same time I was at a career crossroads: I knew I had to get out of my mainstream agency and expand my own small practice–but could I do it? For lots of reasons, it so happened, I couldn’t think straight about it. (Think straight about it.) (Too old a joke?)

So…What do people do to sort out issues…? I looked for a therapist. My first choice was to find a gay or lesbian one; unfortunately I couldn’t…

Which was too bad because what many people didn’t get back then was my need to be an out therapist to clients.

I couldn’t be deterred, though. I’d seen the positive results. When clients at the mental health center were brave enough to broach the subject with me, I came out to them–and always to much appreciation and relief. There was no question it helped.

I did ultimately decide, of course, to do things my way and build my full-time practice–which is not limited, by the way, to our community. Even brave non-LGBT folks also come see me.

IN SUMMARY, 3 BRIEF BOTTOM LINES:

1) It matters a lot that Everyone be comfortable and safe in therapy.

2) Being authentic in both our life and our work benefits everyone.

3) Fears: We all have them. And life has never been about not having them; it’s about dealing with them so we can move on and do the things that are important.

Speaking of which, Congratulations to Project Fearless–a venture that is SO going to matter! And one that’s been needed for a very long time!

Mar 27

Paranoia at the Top: Never Their Fault

As philosopher Robert M. Hutchins puts it, “This is a do-it-yourself test for paranoia: You know you’ve got it when you can’t think of anything that’s your fault.” Molly S. Castelloe, Psychology Today

Recent headlines such as “Trump Sets a New Bar for Presidential Paranoia” (Columbia Journalism Review), “Paranoia and Cronyism: What Makes the White House Dysfunctional? (Salon), and “Donald Trump Is Normalizing Paranoia and Conspiracy Thinking in U.S. Politics” (Washington Post) raise very pertinent questions and concerns about a particularly troubling state of mind.

Paranoia can be an ongoing trait or it can be a process brought out by such things as fear and stress. Mental Health America defines it as follows:

Paranoia involves intense anxious or fearful feelings and thoughts often related to persecution, threat, or conspiracy. Paranoia occurs in many mental disorders, but is most often present in psychotic disorders. Paranoia can become delusions, when irrational thoughts and beliefs become so fixed that nothing (including contrary evidence) can convince a person that what they think or feel is not true. When a person has paranoia or delusions, but no other symptoms (like hearing or seeing things that aren’t there), they might have what is called a delusional disorder. Because only thoughts are impacted, a person with delusional disorder can usually work and function in everyday life, however, their lives may be limited and isolated.

Shahram Heshmat, PhD, Psychology Today, identifies eight types of biases that prevent rationality in those afflicted with paranoia. Click on the link for more details.

  1. Confirmation bias. Perceptions are bolstered by anything that can be found to confirm them.
  2. Attention bias. “…intense and exceedingly narrow in focus.”
  3. Disorders of reasoning. The mind doesn’t allow for revisions of already rigidified thoughts.
  4. Distorted reality. “Their thought processes go from belief to evidence.”
  5. Persecutory delusion. “They…explain life events by blaming others.”
  6. Paranoid projection. “Projection is the substitution of an external threat or tension for an internal one that one’s self denies. For example, ‘I hate him’ becomes ‘He hates me’.”
  7. Overvalued ideas. “An overvalued idea is a simple idea that resembles a delusion, and often guides specific behavior. An example is knocking on wood to protect yourself against misfortune…”
  8. Erroneous sense-making. “The suspicious person can be absolutely right in his perception and at the same time absolutely wrong in his judgment…As Mark Twain remarked, ‘What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know, it’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so’.”

In her recent Psychology Today post Molly S. Castelloe, PhD, further explains one of these, paranoid projection, something we’ve consistently witnessed coming from the current presidential administration:

Projection becomes problematic and veers into pathology when one’s identity can only be defined by what one is not. Identity for such an individual relies on contrast, and a person becomes fixated with a prolonged and intense need for ‘othering,’ for finding other people onto which to hang the unwanted and painful parts of his or herself (e.g., anger, inadequacy, shame). There is ongoing confusion regarding boundaries between self and other, between what is inside and belongs to self and what is outside belonging to another. This becomes the only way of maintaining psychic equilibrium…

Directly from the top: Obama is a bad (sick) guy? Hillary Clinton doesn’t have the temperament to be president? Meryl Streep is overrated? The list goes on and on.

Mar 24

“Shrinking Violets” Identified By Shy Author Joe Moran

Whether discussing embarrassment, stammering, stage fright, or reticence, Moran considers the impact of shyness on creativity and its myriad contributions to fiction, art, and music. Beautifully written, appealingly candid, and thoroughly engaging…Christopher Lane, author of Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness, about Joe Moran’s Shrinking Violets

Christopher Lane, PhD, who’s quoted above, is a critic of the acts of pathologizing and medicalizing shyness. It’s no surprise, then, that he appreciates cultural historian Joe Moran supporting this same type of position in his new “field guide” subtitled The Secret Life of Shyness.

Moran, who comes out as a so-called “shrinking violet” himself, also names other shy individuals—including famous ones such as Charles Schulz, Agatha Christie, Morrissey, and Oliver Sacks—and tells their stories. He notes that shyness is actually relatively common and that even those who aren’t regularly shy often admit to having shyness in certain situations.

“If I had to describe being shy,” wrote Moran in his blog, “I’d say it was like coming late to a party when everyone else is about three glasses in. All human interaction, if it is to develop from small talk into meaningful conversation, draws on shared knowledge and tacit understandings. But if you’re shy, it feels like you just nipped out of the room when they handed out this information.”

Although introversion is commonly associated with shyness, they are not one and the same. On the other hand, Moran makes clear, there is often overlap. Unlike Susan Cain‘s approach to introversion in Quiet, though, Moran doesn’t do much to emphasize the benefits of shyness. Sure, it “…might have certain accidental compensations — being less susceptible to groupthink and more able to examine the habits and rituals of social life with a certain wry detachment, perhaps. Mostly it is just a pain and a burden.”

Megan Garber, The Atlantic, on additional pros and cons identified by Moran in Shrinking Violets:

The shy are frequently thoughtful and occasionally brilliant. They are often sensitive to the needs, and the gaze, of others. The problem is that they live in a world that, despite the commonality of shyness, has extremely little patience for it…The far more fashionable thing—particularly in Britain, where Shrinking Violets was initially published, and even more so in the United States—has been to treat shyness as a problem to be treated and then, if at all possible, never mentioned again. Shyness, so emotionally adjacent to shame, is often also regarded as a cause for it. Within a culture that so deeply values self-confidence—and that takes for granted that social skills are external evidence of one’s internal self-regard—shyness is seen with suspicion.

From the conclusion of book reviewer Paul Laity, The Guardian:

Shyness isn’t a pathology, even in the age of the selfie and Facebook’s ‘radical transparency’, nor can it be dismissed as an excuse for the socially lazy. On the other hand, being quiet or tongue-tied shouldn’t be confused with great depth of thought, or a flair for ‘avoiding the platitudinous’. Having set out his array of enjoyable examples from stuttering King George VI to Charlie Brown, Moran [states that]…shyness is…simply ‘part of the ineluctable oddness of being human’.

Mar 22

Missing Adults: Runaways, Pseudocides

Whether adults go missing intentionally or unintentionally, there is almost always vulnerability involved. Sophie Lapham, The Guardian

When things in life get too rough many people throw up their hands and declare, “I just want to run away.” While some do in effect make themselves missing, most reconsider, realizing the dire consequences should they actually ignore those responsibilities they’re currently loathing.

Research conducted by the Universities of Glasgow and Dundee several years ago regarding the phenomenon of missing persons revealed that 36% were adults, 75% with diagnosed mental health problems (Independent). The latter statistic may indicate that many cases involved less than fully intentional or rational motives.

Unlike many runaway teens, adults who flee often try to devise a find-me-proof plan. Interestingly, most interviewed for the UK research didn’t go far from home but hid relatively nearby: “For the majority of adults, their journeys involved staying local and visiting familiar places. The risks for some adults was balanced by the recognition that ‘if I had gone somewhere I didn’t know, it would have been a lot harder to get through the next few days because I wouldn’t know where anything was’.”

From the University of Glasgow site: “The journeys are very stressful and although people may not know they are officially reported as missing, they realise someone may be trying to trace them. Many are unsure what will happen to them if they are located by the police, with some fearing arrest, and often they are surprised to be treated with sympathy and understanding.”

In this country intentional runners are called by the police the maliciously missing, according to Discovery.com. More details:

It’s not uncommon for people to choose to vanish if they are facing a criminal trial or jail time; in fact many have constructed elaborate staged deaths to throw the police off their trails (a person who skips out on bail or a criminal running from the law is considered ‘wanted,’ not ‘missing’).

Others who vanish voluntarily are fleeing intolerable conditions such as domestic abuse. Some have mental problems, while others just want to start fresh somewhere else; others fake their own abductions, often in a bid for sympathy and attention…

Then there’s the issue of  pseudocide, about which Elizabeth Greenwood has a relatively new book. From the publisher’s blurb about Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud (2016): “…[The author] learns that love is a much less common motive than money, and that making your death look like a drowning virtually guarantees you’ll be caught. (Disappearing while hiking, however, is a great way to go.)”

RandomHistory.com notes some other interesting points about missing adults in the U.S. Among them:

  • Minorities, those who suffer from mental disorders, and substance abusers who go missing often receive little attention from authorities and little sympathy from the press or public.
  • In most jurisdictions, missing persons cases receive low priority. Authorities are already working homicides, robberies, rapes, assaults, traffic issues, and crime prevention.
  • According to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), 355,243 women were reported missing in 2010 compared to 337,660 men.
  • Scholars note that the media focuses more on women, especially white women, who go missing because of society’s apparent obsession with “damsels in distress.” In other words, people are interested in cases in which young, beautiful, often blond, girls have been abducted and are in need of rescue. This is called “the missing white woman syndrome.”
  • Frank Ahearn, a skiptracer (a term for people who find others), says that people intentionally go missing for usually two reasons: money or danger. Men usually leave because of money, and women because of danger. While the bulk of intentional disappearances were once men, more and more women now choose to bail out.
Mar 20

Three Memoirs About Surviving Gay Conversion Therapy

As if the practice of conversion therapy isn’t bad enough for any age client, just imagine being one of its most likely victims: a teenager who’s trying to come to terms for the first time with all sorts of identity issues, not just sexual orientation. Imagine being torn from your family, probably a religious one, and sent far away to places where strangers try to make you something you’re absolutely not.

Three adults who’ve survived such teenage experiences have penned recent and highly praised gay conversion therapy memoirs.

I. Steven Gaines, One of These Things First: A Memoir (2016)

Meghan Daum, New York Times, summarizes:

For Steven Gaines, growing up as a ‘homo’ in Brooklyn in the 1950s and ’60s meant being ‘a freak, nature’s mistake,’ so at 15 he tries to kill himself by punching through the windowpane of his grandparents’ bra and girdle store. Threatened with hospitalization in a dumpy state mental facility in Queens, he talks his way into a six-month stay at the famed Payne Whitney clinic, in the ‘Ivy League of psychiatric hospitals,’ where former patients have included Marilyn Monroe, Carson McCullers, Jean Stafford and William Burroughs.

Kirkus Reviews adds further details:

Gaines was put under the care of a psychiatrist to whom he finally confided the cause of his distress: ‘I THINK I AM A HOMOSEXUAL,’ he wrote in a sealed note. ‘Homosexuality can be cured, like many other disorders,’ his doctor told him, news that buoyed Gaines’ spirits. ‘I would jump through hoops of fire,’ he thought, ‘if I could be normal.’

Primitive techniques designed to make him straight did not work, of course. Unfortunately for him, Gaines proceeded into “another decade spent trying to ‘cure’ his homosexuality with the same analyst,” Daum reports, “a process that involved sleeping ‘with women regularly, as prescribed’ and becoming ‘a connoisseur of the female body the way a Jew appreciates the Vatican’.”

Kate Tuttle, Boston Globe: “A longtime journalist and artful chronicler of New York lives, Gaines’s look back at his own is shocking, funny, and sometimes shockingly funny. A real treasure.”

II. Alex Cooper, Saving Alex: When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began (2016)

Another 15-year-old, this time female, another misguided “therapy” attempt. When Cooper came out to her Mormon parents, she was taken to church authorities who placed her, says the author, in “an unlicensed ‘conversion therapy’ center in the Utah desert” that was mentally and physically abusive.

For eight whole months Cooper was stuck there. School Library Journal: “With the assistance of caring teachers and friends, Cooper legally escaped the respected Mormon family who were trying to ‘cure’ her, and a Salt Lake City pro bono lawyer helped her win the right to live with her parents as an openly gay teenager.”

Kate Kendell, National Center for Lesbian Rights: “Alex’s engrossing and shocking story is the triumph of courage, authenticity and hope over shame, bigotry and ignorance. The nightmare of Alex’s story is a key reason we will soon succeed in ending the cruel and dangerous practice of conversion therapy.”

III. Garrard Conley, Boy Erased: A Memoir (2016)

Conley was a 19-year-old Arkansan in college when forced to undergo conversion therapy away from home. The program in Memphis was “an institutionalized Twelve-Step Program heavy on Bible study” (publisher’s blurb), in which he endured “a hellish tutelage under John Smid,” the leader of this so-called Love in Action group (Meghan Daum, New York Times).

Eventually Conley did manage to escape this cult-like environment, and since then has accepted his gayness. Who else got away from Love in Action? Smid himself. He’s actually no longer affiliated with the ex-gay movement at all, having become an “ex-ex-gay counselor”—who’s now in fact openly gay, according to Daum.