Nov 13

“Alias Grace”: Highly Relevant Series Set in 1800’s

As with “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Alias Grace” manages to be a drama set in another time, written in another era by Margaret Atwood, that speaks specifically and almost uncannily to today’s audience. “Alias Grace” manages in its six episodes to address such issues as the reception of immigrants, the dangers of illegal abortion and, most of all, the predatory nature of powerful men and how others can conspire to keep their crimes hidden. David Bianculli, NPR

To call this series “of the moment” feels right. But it’s also incredibly depressing to do so. Acknowledging that Alias Grace taps into the Zeitgeist is essentially admitting that North American society in 2017 still has a lot in common with the North America of the mid-to-late 1800s.  Jen Chaney, Vulture

The creators of this remarkable series are also, notably, all women. Gwen Ihnat, AV Club

Six-part series Alias Grace, starring Sarah Gadon, has made its debut on Netflix and is winning high praise. As summarized on Rotten Tomatoes:

…Alias Grace tells the story of Grace Marks (Sarah Gadon), a young, poor Irish immigrant and domestic servant in Upper Canada who – along with stable hand James McDermott (Kerr Logan) – finds herself accused and convicted of the infamous 1843 double murder of her employer Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross), and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin).

How we the audience hear Grace’s story is accomplished via both her own narration and her daily talks with a particular gentleman. Patrick Schmidt, Netflix Life: “Grace is speaking with Dr. Simon Jordan, played by Edward Holcroft, who is more or less a therapist for Grace to speak about her involvement in the murder and the contradictory testimony she gave…”

Here’s how Dr. Jordan, who’s been hired by a group interested in gaining a prison pardon for Grace, explains his role: “I am a doctor that works not with bodies, but with the mind. Diseases of the mind and the brain, and the nerves.”

Jen Chaney (Vulture) reports that Grace’s sessions with Dr. Jordan “immerse us in the seemingly credible moments surrounding her mother’s death, her friendship with a vibrant fellow servant named Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard), and her life at Kinnear’s farm, where Nancy’s dark moods foster enough strong resentment in both Grace and surly fellow worker James McDermott (Kerr Logan) to put killing on their minds.”

Hank Stuever, Washington Post: “The story comes to the viewer in complex chunks and unsettling layers…Innocent or guilty? There’s much more to it than that.”

Viewers won’t know for sure what really happened and to what extent Grace is truthful, it seems. Allison Shoemaker, rogerebert.com: “The ambiguities of Alias Grace are among its greatest strengths, and they’re handled with remarkable finesse by director Mary Harron and her top-flight cast.”

Get a glimpse of Alias Grace in the following trailer:

Selected Reviews

Sonia Saraiya, Variety: “In most of the ways that matter, Netflix’s Alias Grace presents an adaptation that delivers the gothic horror, social commentary, and domestic investigation of the novel.”

Lorraine Ali, Los Angeles Times: “It’s so heavy throughout the first installment, you might wish for at least one of the characters to open a parlor window and let in some air, but as the story progresses it becomes too engrossing to turn away.”

Johanna Schneller, Toronto Star: “It feels right that The Handmaid’s Tale and Alias Grace both aired in this, the year of Trump. The former shows what could happen to women. The latter shows what did.”
Oct 17

New Nonfiction Books: October 2017

New nonfiction books of interest address infidelity, a well-known psychiatrist’s life story, Trumpism, online shaming, and creativity.

I. The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity by Esther Perel

In at least a couple recent articles, “Why Is Modern Love So Damn Hard?” and “Why Happy People Cheat” (The Atlantic), therapist Esther Perel presents info from her new book on infidelity.

A key introductory concept from The State of Affairs: “…(C)ontained within the small circle of the wedding band are vastly contradictory ideals. We want our chosen one to offer stability, safety, predictability, and dependability…and we want that very same person to supply awe, mystery, adventure, and risk.”

As Perel states in the second article cited above, “Once, we strayed because marriage was not supposed to deliver love and passion. Today, we stray because marriage fails to deliver the love and passion it promised. It’s not our desires that are different today, but the fact that we feel entitled—even obligated—to pursue them.”

II. Becoming Myself: A Psychiatrists’s Memoir by Irvin B. Yalom

At 86, prolific author and psychiatrist Irvin Yalom still sees patients. And now he’s finished what he believes is his last book, his memoir. What he wrote on Facebook at the end of June:

It was hard to finish. I hated to let this book go because I know it will be my last book. My friends roll their eyes as I say this: they’ve heard it often before. But this time I really mean it. I’ve always had a large stack of unwritten books in my mind but the last one was always to be a memoir. I finish it with a sense of pride – it is the book I wanted to write – but I finish it also with a sense of sadness, even grief, because I now face the new task, so difficult for committed writers, of living well without a book project.

III. Trump is F*cking Crazy: (This Is Not a Joke) by Keith Olbermann 

From the publisher: “With more than 50 individual essays adapted from his GQ commentaries, including new up-to-the-minute material, TRUMP IS F*CKING CRAZY is essential reading for concerned citizens who—like Olbermann—refuse to normalize or accept our new political reality.”

Kirkus Reviews reports that Olbermann’s main “focus is on the man he despises and on the minions who support him. The pieces are generally short and sharply focused on something quite recent at the time of composition—Trump’s post-election talk to the CIA, the testimony of Sally Yates—and the prose is consistently aggressive and often abrasive. Unrelenting invective for Trump haters, who will love it; Trump lovers won’t read it.”

IV. Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate by Sue Scheff (with Melissa Schorr)

Sue Scheff has a Psychology Today blog also called “Shame Nation” and is the founder of Parents’ Universal Resources Experts.

A review by Katie Hurley, LCSW: “Relatable, intelligent, and engaging from the first sentence, Shame Nation sheds much-needed light on our current culture of online shaming and cyberbullying. Thoroughly researched and packed with eye opening anecdotes, Shame Nation will help you learn why people choose to shame one another online, and what to do if it happens to you or a loved one. Sue Scheff is an invaluable resource in the digital world and this book should be required reading in high school, college, and the workplace.”

V. Things Are What You Make of Them: Life Advice for Creatives by Adam J. Kurtz

From the publisher: “As wry and cheeky as it is empathic and empowering, this deceptively simple, vibrantly full-color book will be a touchstone for writers, artists, entrepreneurs, and anyone else who wants to be more creative–even when it would be easier to give up and act normal.”

Oct 04

“The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump”: Psych Experts

The only people who aren’t allowed to comment on Donald Trump’s mental health are the people who are most expert and qualified to do it. John D. Gartner, PhD, a contributor to The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, regarding the Goldwater Rule (Baltimore Sun)

For those who’ve been looking for extra validation that Trump isn’t fit for office, the time has come via The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump: 27 Psychiatrists and Mental Health Experts Assess a President by Bandy X. Lee, MD, M.Div., and many other contributors from the mental health field.

Concerned about America’s well-being, these experts believe it’s not only fair to analyze this particular public figure, it’s their obligation.

Bill Moyers (Mother Jones) interviewed the foreword’s author, Robert Jay Lifton, who establishes a belief that the ethically mandated “duty to warn” supercedes the Goldwater Rule. “We have a duty to warn on an individual basis if we are treating someone who may be dangerous to herself or to others—a duty to warn people who are in danger from that person. We feel it’s our duty to warn the country about the danger of this president. ”

It’s not all about the question of mental illness. “It’s really a question of what psychological and other traits render one unfit or dangerous.” More from Lifton:

…I’ve focused on what professionally I call solipsistic reality. Solipsistic reality means that the only reality he’s capable of embracing has to do with his own self and the perception by and protection of his own self. And for a president to be so bound in this isolated solipsistic reality could not be more dangerous for the country and for the world. In that sense, he does what psychotics do. Psychotics engage in, or frequently engage in a view of reality based only on the self. He’s not psychotic, but I think ultimately this solipsistic reality will be the source of his removal from the presidency.

For excerpts from essays authored by Gail Sheehy, Philip Zimbardo, Rosemary Sword, Dr. Lance Dodes, and Dr. James Gilligan for The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump, you can check this Newsweek link.

Some book quotes courtesy of Carlos Lozada‘s review in The Washington Post:

  • Lance Dodes, MD: “Mr. Trump’s sociopathic characteristics are undeniable. They create a profound danger for America’s democracy and safety. Over time these characteristics will only become worse, either because Mr. Trump will succeed in gaining more power and more grandiosity with less grasp on reality, or because he will engender more criticism producing more paranoia, more lies, and more enraged destruction.”
  • John D. Gartner: “History will not be kind to a profession that aided the rise of an American Hitler through its silence.”
  • Michael Tansey, PhD: “…(T)here is considerable evidence to suggest that absolute tyranny is DT’s wet dream.”

Tansey writes in The HuffPost of an upcoming action on October 14th: “a coordinated multi-city town hall event across the country under the banner of Duty to Warn (http://adutytowarn.org/), a rapidly expanding group of over 4,000 mental health professionals alarmed about the extreme psychological instability of the most powerful man on the planet.”

Gartner is the psychologist responsible for a Change.org petition aiming for the removal of Trump as president that’s now been signed by over 63,000. He “describes Trump as a ‘malignant narcissist,’ a condition that includes paranoia, anti-social behavior, sadism and other traits along with narcissism” (John Fritze, Baltimore Sun). 

Whereas the issue of whether Trump is mentally unfit or simply not of good character may not be adequately addressed in this book, reviewer Sharon Begley (STAT) gives Gartner some kudos: “…Gartner’s ‘Mad? Bad? Or All of the Above?’ takes a stab at this, but for almost all other contributors it’s a blind spot, made all the more glaring because political reporters have done terrific work explaining how Trump’s seemingly crazy behaviors serve his political ends.”

According to Andrew Spitznas, Patheos, the ending of The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump may help mitigate readers’ “fatalistic despair”:

…Part Three concludes with a pragmatic, action-oriented essay by psychiatrists Nanette Gantrell and Dee Mosbacher.  With lawyerly exactitude, they make their argument for Trump’s grave danger to national security, requesting Congress to act immediately upon Section 4 of the 25th Amendment, to formally convene an impartial panel to assess the president’s mental fitness for duty.  I can only hope that some of our representatives will read this.

Aug 28

Blogging Minding Therapy: 6 Years Later (Part I)

As my sixth year blogging “Minding Therapy” comes to a close, I offer additional thoughts and/or updates to 10 of the most frequently visited posts. 

I. “Shawshank Redemption: Hope and Other Themes (2013)

Did you know that the movie was based not on a book by Stephen King but his short story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption”?

An excerpt from the story‘s coverage by SparkNotes.com:

Hope, more than anything else, drives the inmates at Shawshank and gives them the will to live. Andy’s sheer determination to maintain his own sense of self-worth and escape keeps him from dying of frustration and anger in solitary confinement. Hope is an abstract, passive emotion, akin to the passive, immobile, and inert lives of the prisoners. Andy sets about making hope a reality in the form of the agonizing progress he makes each year tunneling his way through his concrete cell wall.

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

Since writing this post, there are additional resources online. Here are some I recently found:

III. “50/50”: Problems with the Therapist/Patient Boundaries (2011) and Therapist/Patient Boundaries in “50/50” (2011)

Psychologist Rachel Mallory, writing on the website of the British Columbia Psychological Association, hated the movie because the therapist violates ethics when she becomes romantically involved with her client—a dynamic that scarcely had worried film reviewers, she adds.

Some of her perceptions regarding the therapist’s actions:

…Abuse of power, exploitation of a vulnerable person, violation of basic ethical principles, grounds for being terminated from a graduate program, career-ending for the therapist and potentially devastating for the patient. All the trained therapists I talked to about this movie agreed, wholesale…
However, when I complained about this plot twist to non-therapists, they thought I was overreacting…
This disconnect between the dictates of the professional codes of conduct, and at least some of the public perception of sexual relationships between therapists and patients, is concerning to say the least…

IV. “What About Bob?”: The Need to Take Baby Steps (2012)

For $19.50 you can have a Baby Steps t-shirt. For less than a dollar more, there’s Dr. Leo Marvin’s BABY STEPS Counseling Center tee:

V. Forgiveness: Not Always Necessary, Often Helpful (2015)

In 2016 therapist Annie Wright addressed the problem of forgiveness shaming and blaming. An excerpt about forgiveness not always being necessary:

The reality is that forgiveness often requires a deep process of grieving and healing that looks and feels different for everyone. There is no prescribed timeframe, no generalized benchmark for the forgiveness process. It takes as long as it takes. And what’s more, some people may never get to the point where they feel like they can or want to forgive someone who has hurt them. And that’s okay, too.

Jul 17

Impaired Therapists: How to Intervene

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Gypsy are a couple of the latest TV series, both streaming on Netflix, to feature impaired therapists. Kimmy Schmidt‘s Tina Fey has a minor role as Andrea, an alcoholic therapist who somehow still manages to offer the lead character (Ellie Kemper) tidbits of useful advice. Her impairment, however, has ultimately led to losing her license, one possible outcome in the real world as well.

Gypsy‘s Naomi Watts portrays a therapist who’s been described as unethical and a sociopath.

In real life a relatively small percentage of clinicians in any of the mental health disciplines—which include such areas as social work, psychology, and psychiatry—are likely to be impaired therapists. However, in order to protect the clients who may potentially be affected, rules have to be in place.

Therefore, the various professional organizations whose members are providers of mental health services have pertinent codes of ethics. According to a leading ethical expert in my own field, Fredric Reamer, impairment can not only involve failure to comply with those ethical standards but also incompetence (Social Work Today).

The social work code of ethics specifically states the following regarding steps to take when a colleague is deemed impaired:

(a) Social workers who have direct knowledge of a social work colleague’s impairment that is due to personal problems, psychosocial distress, substance abuse, or mental health difficulties and that interferes with practice effectiveness should consult with that colleague when feasible and assist the colleague in taking remedial action.

(b) Social workers who believe that a social work colleague’s impairment interferes with practice effectiveness and that the colleague has not taken adequate steps to address the impairment should take action through appropriate channels established by employers, agencies, NASW, licensing and regulatory bodies, and other professional organizations.

All of the above takes into account the unfortunate fact that sometimes the nature of certain personal issues—such as addictions, burnout, health issues, and mental illness—can mean they will go undetected by the practitioners themselves.

Pertinent to this is a quote from the NASW Impaired Social Worker Program Resource Book that Reamer cites:

The problem of impairment is compounded by the fact that the professionals who suffer from the effect of mental illness, stress, or substance abuse are like anyone else; they are often the worst judges of their behavior, the last to recognize their problems and the least motivated to seek help. Not only are they able to hide or avoid confronting their behavior, they are often abetted by colleagues who find it difficult to accept that a professional could let his or her problem get out of hand (p. 6).

It’s not only colleagues who have recourse; clients do as well and need to trust their own instincts in this regard. If you notice something is wrong and talking it out with the therapist either doesn’t seem like an option or fails, you can report the impaired therapist to his/her employer and/or professional association and/or licensing board, and/or, if involved in payment for services you’re receiving, your health insurance company.