Jan 16

“Citizen Therapists for Democracy” Newly Forming

Several months ago I posted about Citizen Therapists Against Trumpism, an organization founded by psychologist Bill Doherty during the presidential campaign. Now Doherty has announced the formation of its replacement, Citizen Therapists for Democracy, an international dues-paying association dedicated to newly evolving goals.

As Doherty stated in his launch-related email, goals of Citizen Therapists for Democracy include the following:

  • Learning and spreading transformative ways to practice therapy with a public dimension
  • Rebuilding democratic capacity in communities
  • Resisting anti-democratic ideologies and practice

Some excerpted points from the Citizen Therapists FAQ section:

If it’s partisan politics (vote for my candidate or party), then it doesn’t have a place in therapy. But if politics broadly means how people with different views figure out how to live together and govern themselves—and then the policies that emerge from this process—then it’s game for conversation in therapy.

To be quite concrete, if you treat anxious or depressed Latino or Muslim clients who are frightened about Trumpism (and anti-Semitism is on the rise), is your job only to treat their symptoms or to also oppose the public xenophobia? We believe the nature of our work inherently combines public and private.

Keep in mind that Citizen Therapists for Democracy is not an “anti” movement. We are promoting democracy and public mental health, and in those contexts will oppose threats from any quarter. Further, there is collective power when members of a healing profession engage the public domain in their role as professionals.

On the matter of the blank slate, it’s really a myth in therapy. If a client learns that his/her therapist is in an organization that opposes aspects of Trumpism, well, that’s probably not going to be such a big surprise based on lots of assumptions the client has already made (you drive a Prius and have the New Yorker magazine in the waiting room). In the same way, if a client worries out loud about family members being rounded up and deported, and the therapist agrees that this is a scary public policy, is this not a validation rather than a misuse of therapist power?

The social forces that allowed Donald Trump the man to become President, and that are rising around the world, are so much bigger than his personality that focusing on a diagnosis risks marginalizing the contributions of therapists. Once mental health professionals took a diagnostic position during the campaign, that’s all the media wanted to know from them—before the media moved on to more interesting topics.

“You’re probably NOT a good fit if any of the following is a big ‘yes’ for you” (from the website):

  • Your main focus for action now is making sure Trump is a one-term President with a Democratic Congress after two years.
  • You think that therapists must continue to beat the drum that Trump has a personality disorder that makes him unfit to be President.
  • Your main approach to Trump supporters in the White working class is help them see how they’ve been duped.
  • You believe that Progressive politics has most of the answers to our nation’s problems, with Conservatives having little or nothing to offer.
  • It would feel weird to have Conservative therapists share a social change organization with you.
Feb 24

“Stay Weird”: Some Stirring Advice from Screenwriter Graham Moore

“Stay weird,” concluded Graham Moore during his Oscar acceptance speech Sunday night for best adapted screenplay for The Imitation Game. 

It started this way: “…When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself because I felt weird and I felt different, and I felt like I did not belong.”

This line alone brought tears to my eyes when I first saw a clip of his speech yesterday. He continued:

And now I’m standing here, and so I would like this moment to be for this kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do. Stay weird, stay different and then, when it’s your turn, and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along. Thank you so much!

Some in the media wrongly assumed from this that Moore is gay, as was Alan Turing, the subject of the movie script that won the award. Even the GLBT-oriented TheAdvocate.com described Moore yesterday as an “out screenwriter” before correcting it.

Sasha BronnerHuffington Post, in fact, quotes Moore as saying after the show, “I’m not gay, but I’ve never talked publicly about depression before or any of that and that was so much of what the movie was about and it was one of the things that drew me to Alan Turing so much,” Moore said. “I think we all feel like weirdos for different reasons. Alan had his share of them and I had my own and that’s what always moved me so much about his story.”

It’s common to feel weird and different, especially in one’s teens, and the possible reasons for this are too numerous to mention. One phrase I clung to earlier in my own life came from psychologist Sol Gordon (1923-2008), who’d written a book for youth called You! (with a superlong subtitle) in which he advised those struggling with a weirdness identity to adopt a stance of being “positively weird.” Take away the negative stigma, in other words—it’s okay to be weird.

Another great and moving moment from the Oscar telecast, by the way, was the performance of the John Legend/Common song “Glory” from the film Selma. And I’m pretty sure Moore would appreciate that Martin Luther King, Jr., himself once said, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” The positively weird.

Stay weird.

Jan 13

Sad-Film Paradox: One Example Is the New “Selma”

In a previous post I mentioned a phenomenon known as the sad-film paradox, “when we value but don’t exactly ‘enjoy’ certain films.”

Research by Silvia Knobloch-Westerwick concluded that movie-induced sadness “instigates life reflection.” Life reflection leads to greater appreciation of your own relationships. Greater appreciation of your close relationships leads to increased happiness. And voilà.

Mary Beth Oliver, Penn State, conducted a different but related study about the sad-film paradox. She “argues that a key part of meaningful entertainment is that it elicits a sense of elevation, or the warm sentiment we feel when we witness acts of moral beauty or characters who embody moral virtues. People flock to sad stories not for the sadness, Oliver says, but to experience these feel-good moments that sadness brings out” (Sam McNerney, Big Think).

“Elevation” involves not only happiness but also such feelings as being “moved” and having a desire to help others.

A couple movies reviewed on this blog in the past year that have fit this criteria for many viewers are The Fault in Our Stars and the award-winning Boyhood.

Another, which I recently had the “pleasure” of tear-soaked seeing, is Golden Globe nominee Selma, about “Martin Luther King’s campaign to secure equal voting rights via an epic march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965” (IMDB).

Or, as Tina Fey quipped during the opening of the Golden Globe Awards ceremony two days ago, “The movie Selma is about the American Civil Rights movement that totally worked and now everything’s fine.”

You can see the trailer below:

Selma has been highly regarded by both critics and general audiences. In its representation of sad-film paradox elements, I couldn’t have found a better movie review than A.O. Scott‘s in the New York Times: “’Selma’ is not a manifesto, a battle cry or a history lesson. It’s a movie: warm, smart, generous and moving in two senses of the word. It will call forth tears of grief, anger, gratitude and hope. And like those pilgrims on the road to Montgomery, it does not rest.”

Singer John Legend and hip-hop artist Common won the Golden Globe for Best Original Song (Movie) for Selma‘s “Glory, which makes a poignant appearance at the film’s end. This is it set to video:

But let’s not stop there, as Common’s powerful acceptance speech—in which he acknowledged important benefits from his involvement in Selma (he also had an acting role)—was also mightily “elevating”. An excerpt:

I realize I am the hopeful black woman who was denied her right to vote. I am the caring white supporter killed on the front lines of freedom. I am the unarmed black kid who maybe needed a hand but instead was given a bullet. I am the two fallen police officers murdered in the line of duty. ‘Selma’ has awakened my humanity.

And as I heard him speak these words, again the tears.

Jan 09

One Step at a Time Toward Your Future: Live in the Present

In addition to focusing on what you do want versus what you don’t when planning to make changes, living in the present and taking one step at a time are also principles compatible with success.

We all get the planning part of the equation. The other two notions can be more difficult to grasp and/or do, however.

LIVING IN THE PRESENT

Many people, you may have noticed, tout the benefits of living in the now. This is largely because projecting your feelings into the past or future often contributes to such uncomfortable states as anxiety and depression.

Actually, states Jennice Vilhauer, PhD, in Psychology Today (“How to Be Present and Still Create Your Future”):

The reality is we can only experience thoughts and emotions in the present moment; it is the only place we exist. [emphasis mine] However, in the present you can, with conscious awareness, think about any time frame, past, present, or future. If your goal is to lead a fulfilling life, then how you allocate your thoughts in these time frames matters. The past is gone. We can never bring it back, except by bringing our attention to it. The present, no matter how awful or sweet it may be, is constantly leaving. It is what just passed. Holding on to it is impossible. The future, however, is constantly arriving. The arrival of the future and the now we live in are one and the same.

By the way, Vilhauer is the author of a new book, Think Forward to Thrive: How to Use the Mind’s Power of Anticipation to Transcend Your Past and Transform Your Life (Future Directed Therapy).

ONE STEP AT A TIME

If you have a plan of action, what you’re living/doing right now is what’s going into making it work out—one rewarding step at a time. Once you take that first step, in other words, the positive effects of taking that step help move you toward the next one. As Pam, a character in my screenplay Minding Therapy, remarks: “Move your feet today; tomorrow your feet will move you.”

Some other quotes:

John Pierpont Morgan: “The first step towards getting somewhere is to decide that you are not going to stay where you are.”

A.J. Darkholme: “Anything you dream [can] be yours simply because you’ve focused on the steps you could take instead of the distance to get there.”

R. J. Gonzales: “One must simply take the days of their lives as they happen. If you spend time worrying over what is to come, which may or may not happen, then you will only be wasting precious days you will wish in the future you could have cherished a bit longer.”

John Wanamaker: “One may walk over the highest mountain one step at a time.”

Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.: “You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”