Stress Management

When I lived in New York City back in the ‘70’s, from time to time, I would attend events led by a group called Operation on a Shoestring that involved learning about the unique characteristics of the City. Without a doubt, the best turnout of all the events I ever went to featured a talk on Stress Management. In my private practice, stress has been a key issue with many of my clients.

The prevalence of stress with so many of my clients led me to the question: Why more stress now than in the past? Woolfolk and Lehrer (1984) provided some answers to this question that remain relevant today. In their article, they identified four points of modern living that have increased the amount of stress, we human beings, encounter on a regular basis.

The first point is that modernization is the ordering of life by the clock, a fact that increases time-pressured work. The second point is that inasmuch as modern society is undergoing continuous change, the rate of that change is ever increasing (see Alvin Toffler, 1970) and, even more so, today. An example of this rapidity of change is how the women’s liberation movement changed the way men and women perceived their respective roles in society. A third point made by these authors was that industrialization and modernization in enhancing freedom and material well-being of the individual, certainly a positive outcome, created a situation where numerous choices were available. However, too much choice also can be the root of immobilization. With the expansion of our personal freedoms, the extended family disappeared resulting in individual social isolation. Thus, whereas the premodern world was communal and spiritual, contemporary times have brought a greater individualistic and materialistic consciousness.

To deal with the stress of modern life, the following are some of the techniques I have used in my private practice: 1) Cognitive restructuring 2) Assertive training 3) Conflict resolution and 4) Progressive relaxation. I will briefly discuss how I employ these techniques in assisting clients in overcoming their stressors.

Cognitive restructuring is often the treatment of choice when a client is not handling his/her life situation in the best of all ways. The principal intervention with these clients is to help them better cope with the negative aspects of life, such as job or marital difficulties. For example, acknowledging and increasing their tolerance and forgiveness toward others such as spouses, coworkers and/or bosses or supervisors can very much relieve stress.

In an earlier article I wrote, labeled The Four Point Rule of Assertive Behavior, I defined the characteristics of assertive behavior. I have found in my private practice that clients with a variety of presenting problems improve when they become more assertive in their daily lives. Furthermore, this increase in assertiveness assists them in combating the stress they may face at home or in the workplace. Assertiveness means being the primary and ultimate judge of your own behavior, feelings and actions such as being able to say “No” even under pressure. This ability allows one to reduce the stress of the ever increasing burdens brought on by modernization.

The third technique I may employ is conflict resolution in which I find the most important ingredient to be active listening. Active listening can be extremely helpful in alleviating the stress between partners in a relationship by having each member defer his/her own needs and desires by paying better attention to those of one’s partner. The shift from what I want from you, to how can I give you what you want, reduces the antagonistic behavior of each member by allowing the partners to feel more empathy toward one other.

Finally, techniques such as relaxation training and meditation help to induce a relaxed state. Many are unaware of how the ways we breathe can impact our ability to move from a stress response to a more relaxed one. The importance of facilitating relaxation is that this state is incompatible with other emotional states such as anxiety, one of the principal underlying emotions of stress.

After explaining the process, I often tape the session in my office; this allows the client to return home and play the tape at his/her convenience in both a quiet and comfortable setting at home. I encourage clients to play the tape at least daily, and if they have time, to play it two times per day as a means of reducing the impact of the stressful events of their lives. Finally, I encourage an exercise program that I will assist clients in monitoring when they decide to commit to such a program. The value of exercise has been consistently reported, in both medical and psychological journals, to have a beneficial effect on both the physical and psychological health of individuals.


Woolfolk, Robert and Lehrer, Paul. Clinical Applications. In Robert Woolfolk & Paul Lehrer (Eds.), Principles and practice of stress management. New York: Guilford Press, 1984

Toffler, A. Future shock. New York: Random House, 1970


The Four Point Rule of Assertive Behavior

Although the act of behaving in an assertive manner always carried with it a positive connotation, its exact meaning varied from one speaker to another. However, as a graduate student, studying under Arnold Lazarus at Rutgers University, I learned how to view assertive behavior in a very specific and operational context. The definition comprised four explicit behaviors that could be communicated to other people quite clearly. I refer to this definition as the Four Point Rule; I have helped a great number of my clients in private practice in increasing their assertive behavior resulting in their very much improved self-image.

(1) The first of these behaviors is simply the ability to say No. There have been several books that one can find related to self-improvement that emphasize the importance of an individual being able to say No. People that can’t say No often find that they are promising people things or actions that they really have no intention of delivering. Some reasons why a person will not say “no” are: 1) She/He does not want to hurt the other person’s feelings; 2) He/She is afraid of losing the other person’s friendship and/or 3) She/He may feel indebted to the other person for one reason or another. Of course, the person who responds positively to a request by another but makes a habit of not following through, more than likely, will lose the respect or trust of the other. On the other hand, the person who says “yes” but; deep down really does not want to do what she/he commits to, probably will feel some resentment toward the one requesting the favor.

(2) The flip side of being able to say “no” to someone is the ability to ask a favor from a friend or acquaintance. The implicit risk one takes in asking another for a favor is that the other person may say “no.” A person may not ask for a favor from someone he/she knows well because she/he may not feel worthy of a positive response from that friend. One type of client I have worked with is the shy male who is so afraid of rejection that he will not take the risk of asking a woman with whom he may be attracted out on a date.

(3) This neatly ties in with the third feature of assertive behavior: The ability to initiate and/or terminate a conversation with a stranger. I have helped several single shy males by role playing and, subsequently, giving them the assignment to talk to any two women they may meet during the week. Their goal for the week is to be rejected by these women. This may sound counterproductive, at first, but the paradoxical nature of the assignment makes it impossible for them to fail. Simply stated the client cannot perceive himself being a loser whether he is rejected or not and, this realization in and of itself, has therapeutic value.

(4) The fourth characteristic of assertive behavior is the ability to make positive or negative comments to a stranger or someone you know well. An example of the latter would be a non-assertive spouse who will be always apologetic to his/her partner never being able to express anything negative to that person for fear perhaps that the partner may leave him/her. That person’s mate will probably have little respect for such a partner. Examples of asserting oneself in less familiar situations would be the ability to return a steak not cooked the way it was ordered, at a restaurant, or the ability to tell people talking in a movie theater to quiet down.

Part of this last feature of assertive behavior is the ability to accept positive comments made to you.  I have had several clients that refuse to accept a compliment from friends or family members by claiming that they didn’t deserve it.  Often such behavior stems from the fact that they may have a poor sense of self, thus questioning the truth or validity of anything positive directed toward them.  Being assertive is simply not congruent with a poor self-image or self-concept.

To conclude, when an individual asserts oneself in any of the above situations defining assertive behavior, that person takes the risk of being rejected. An assertive person recognizes this risk and is willing to accept the consequences if, he/she, truly believes in oneself.


The Most Amazing Game of Stickball

As a child growing up in Elizabeth, New Jersey, I very much enjoyed playing baseball.  Stickball was a great pastime for many of us in the 50’s and 60’s when I did my playing.  To play baseball you needed organized teams; stickball, on the other hand, could be played spontaneously with just two to four people.  It became widely popular in urban areas in the Northeast where, in fact, baseball had its origins.

I had the good fortune of attending elementary school at Victor Mravlag School 21.  Good fortune because the school provided a natural place to play with all the boundaries needed for an artificial playing field.  Two brick walls were sandwiched by the school itself allowing for two playing fields.  The pitcher would pitch to a box outlined with chalk on the red brick surface of the back of the school.  The front half of the stickball court was concrete cement surface behind which was a black tar surface, the back half of the stickball court. At the back of the playing area was a fence dividing the school playground from privately owned home owners (poor souls).   When I started playing stickball, seriously, probably around the age of 9 or 10, all the rules were in place.

The rules of the game that very much followed from baseball were both simple and clear, points that very much facilitated the play.  A single was a ground ball that the pitcher could not field or a pop fly that landed on the concrete part of the field (usually caught).  A double was a fly ball, not caught, that landed on the black school yard surface a distance behind the pitcher.  A triple was a fly ball that hit the fence and, most naturally, a home run was a fly ball over the fence (a pretty good distance for any of us to hit).  An out occurred when the pitcher caught a fly ball, fielded a ground ball, clean, without bobbling it, struck out a batter or if a batter hit the ball over the side part of the fence (the school was fenced in on all sides) in what was considered foul territory.

Equipment was simple:  I had the handle of an old broomstick and, at that time, a pink spalding ball that cost all of 29 cents, a fair amount when you were not yet working.  A tennis ball was not a good substitute because it simply did not have the bounce and movement that the spalding rubber ball had.  Like a contemporary player’s baseball bat, the stick was fashioned around the build and taste of whoever employed it.  Certainly, a precious item for a boy aged 9 or 10.

I remember it well: I had finished elementary school and was entering into a new school, Hamilton Junior High School so it was the summer of 1957.  It was midsummer perhaps a month before we would have to return to the school boy grind.  In those days, stickball was the thing to do: Skateboards did not exist and neither did i Pod, i Pads or i Phones.  I suppose life was much simpler in those days.

I had just finished playing stickball with a friend that I had beaten badly, and without a doubt, I was feeling pretty cocky.  I wanted to play more but my friend had had enough.  Low and behold, Billy Richmond was alone and, apparently, had no one to trounce.  I say this because Billy was known as the stickball player to beat or to put it differently, like the fastest draw in the West, he was one of the best, if not the best, at stickball.  A natural athlete, he excelled, in most sports.

As he was there alone and given my elevated mood, I challenged him to a game.  He let out a laugh and said: “Buzzy do you really want to play me: How many runs can I let you have when we start?”   I boldly replied: “I don’t need any runs.”  With a big smile of confidence, and, I suppose, having no one better to play at that moment, he agreed to play.  Sometimes, when you are the underdog, in a competition, you feel less tension, less pressure to perform with the consequence being more grace and more skill as you throw all caution to the wind.

Perhaps it was one of those days when Billy was off, and I was on enough, to make that very significant difference in the outcome of an event.  After all, I was a Red Sox fan, and spent many a painfully long Sunday at Yankee Stadium, seeing the Red Sox lose.  But then again, every once in a while, the Red Sox did win at Yankee Stadium.  I wondered if this might happen on this day.

I took an early lead in the first inning.  There was no pitch that he threw that I could not hit.  Soon it was 3 to 0.  Billy, may have felt, perhaps it was just luck.  But if it was luck, it didn’t stop.  I continued to hit on the offense but on the defense, he being a lefty like me, was having trouble hitting my pitching.  In addition, I made some very good fielding plays on balls he did hit.

By the bottom of the 7th inning (we played 9 innings in Jersey), Billy was up and I was leading by the impressive score of 8 to 3.  Suddenly, it started drizzling, some thunder came and it appeared like it would turn into a downpour in a matter of moments.  We agreed to stop the game but would continue it at some later date.  In a strange way, I was happy that the rain was coming because in the back of mind, I wondered whether my luck or, his “bad day” might change.

Well, when Billy and I resumed play a few weeks later in the heat of summer, things went differently.  It was almost like we were two different players than when we had met last.  Needless to say, things changed very quickly:  Everything I threw, he managed to hit:  Some of those hits were home runs.  Through all of this, I managed to get one run, and suddenly in the 9th inning, the score had become 9 to 9.

At that point, I remember telling myself, “this had to stop: I refuse to give up any more runs to him.”  It was grit determination that kept me in there.  The score remained tied through twelve innings when pretty much everyone had left the playground and the twilight began to fade.  Although we agreed to finish the game at some later time, we never did.  Summer suddenly ended and my daily stickball routine was coming to an abrupt end.

Really the game had three acts:  The first act I was in charge of right up to the rain delay; the second act through the 9th inning Billy had taken the reins; the third act was the extra innings where the two of us went scoreless.  Because I knew that it had not been a fluke, I felt most proud of that last act in which I had managed to tie one of the best stickball players ever to come out of School #21.


How Derek Jeter Helped the Red Sox Win in 2004


As we all know, because he is retiring this year, it is the year of Derek Jeter.  It has been hard for me to be won over by him inasmuch as I have been a diehard Red Sox fan forever.  But his decency as a human being has a much greater value in my eyes than the fact that he is a despised Yankee.

In 2004, however, I think that Derek Jeter inadvertently did the Red Sox a great favor.  It was on July 1st of that year that the Red Sox were trailing in the American League East pennant race by 9.5 games and, as a further insult, were in danger of being swept by the Yankees in New York.

The game proceeded to be a typical cliffhanger, full of exciting plays, with the score seesawing back and forth between the two teams.  It was the top of the 12th inning with the score 3 to 3, two out, and two men in scoring position when Trot Nixon came up to bat.  He hit a ball to short left field that, at first, looked like it might drop in as a base hit.  Then the ball began to tail off into foul territory and, suddenly, almost from nowhere, Jeter was seen madly dashing for the ball.   He was rapidly running sideways toward the stands, and as he appeared to make the catch, the impact of his run threw him head first into the stands in foul territory.  Some fans, awestruck, saw Jeter’s face, all bloodied, as he was escorted off the field at the end of the inning.  Jeter went to the hospital, received some stitches due to his injury, and the Yankees went on to win the game in the bottom of the 13th inning.

Meanwhile, throughout the game, the camera zoomed in on Nomar Garciaparra, who was sitting in the Red Sox dugout, with an injury some people were questioning.  Even if he was not 100% to play, we all wondered why Terry Francona did not use him, at least, as a pinch hitter in such a tight game.  Garciaparra had already missed 57 games that year due to an injury to his right achilles.  As a Red Sox fan, I remember it being painful to continuously see Jeter playing and making a brilliant catch, in contrast to Garciaparra, sitting in the dugout, resting, with an almost helpless look on his face.

Later on, just before the trade deadline on July 31st,  Theo Epstein, then the General Manager of the Red Sox, did the unspeakable: He traded Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs for what appeared to be two much less known and much less regarded players: Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz.  Epstein explained the trade because he hoped to strengthen the team’s defense that had been faltering.  He also stated that he made these trades with the hope of helping the Red Sox stay in contention for the pennant race and the World Series.  Epstein, in a separate deal, was able to acquire Davey Roberts from the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Insofar as Garciaparra had been always a favorite of Red Sox fans, they were horrified by what Epstein had done.  Many of them thought Epstein completely had lost his mind giving up such a great player as Garciaparra.

In the end, we all know what happened:  The Red Sox defense was bolstered throughout the rest of the year, and they went on to win the American League pennant after trailing the Yankees 0 to 3.  In the 4th game of that series, Davey Roberts stole second base, a steal that resulted in the Red Sox winning that game.  If he had not been successful at stealing second base, it is likely the Red Sox may have lost that game and the series with the Yankees.

Finally, when the Red Sox won the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, 4 to 0, Theo Epstein had been totally vindicated.  For the first time in 86 years, the Red Sox had won a World Series.  Thanks need to go to Derek Jeter for making that spectacular play in the 12th inning.  I am pretty sure, if any event sealed the fate of the Red Sox and Garciaparra in 2004, it was, indeed, that catch.


Life Lessons Science Fiction

Listening: A Lost Art

In a recent video on leadership, Marshall Goldsmith, the renowned executive coach, pointed out that 80% of our success in learning from other people is based on our ability to listen.  What he called the art of listening, I believe can be more properly referred to as a lost art.

Years ago I was sitting in Heathrow Airport, in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for a connecting flight out of London.   Not having much to do, I asked a fellow traveler if I could borrow one of his books.  He tossed me a very used paperback anthology of science fiction stories and, he told me I could keep it as he already had read the entire book.  I thanked him and began reading some of the stories.

One story in that anthology I still remember to this day insofar as it made a lasting impression on me.   Because he was having difficulty adapting to his society, the protagonist of the story was considered a freak by those around him.  He seemed out of place when he tried to communicate with others as they all possessed an extrasensory mode of interacting.  The story ended by showing how this individual, regarded by everyone as an alien, was different:  He possessed the ability to hear, a sense that had been lost years earlier to modern man.

The above story came to mind when I heard John Lithgow, the actor, recite by heart, two stories, one from P.G. Woodhouse, and the other from Ring Lardner.  In reciting these stories, he role played the personal mannerisms and expressions displayed by each character within the context of each of these stories. This allowed the contents of the story to be more immediate to the audience.

I have to say it was quite an experience listening to Mr. Lithgow perform on stage the two stories he chose, one of which, Haircut by Ring Lardner, I had read long ago.  I wondered whether those people who attended this wonderful event were there to listen to the stories or simply to see a famous actor perform.

For many years, I have noticed that the art of listening has been on the decline.  Sound bytes, from digital information in computing and telecommunications, have begun to change the way in which we had communicated, to one another, centuries earlier.  These changes have reduced our auditory abilities, and so, I often find myself repeating to people what I just had said a moment earlier.

When I was in my teens 50 years ago, many of us would say you can’t trust anyone over 35.   Given how younger people have been raised on this new technology, an integral part of the information age, I would choose now to say:  You can’t trust anyone under 35.  Young people, who are involved with customers, are constantly making mistakes.  Instead of improving customer relations, the information age, I would maintain, has brought with it people, working for companies, that are more prone to mistakes than those who held similar jobs in the past.

As I am writing this article, my wife and I are presently experiencing, at this very moment, another error made: In this case, listening, in fact, was not a part of the equation.   About 6 months ago, I booked a trip online with Jet Blue as the carrier.  Upon printing our boarding passes the day before our departure, to both of our surprise, my wife did not have a seat assigned.  This, in contradistinction, to the fact that when I originally made the reservations, we both had seats assigned. This mistake made it necessary for my wife to wait 30 to 40 minutes to speak to someone that would only begin to rectify the problem.

The above mistake was not due to the inability of an airline representative to listen.  Rather, there simply was no listening involved.  Here is a case where a tool of technology is replacing the need for the representatives of companies to have to listen.  As computers have begun to replace the human ear, I would assert that people are gradually losing the ability to pay attention to the needs of others.  Are we then approaching a world where only a freak of nature will still have the capacity to both hear and listen?  O Brave New World!

The Hub Bids Youk Farewell

It was with a certain amount of sadness that I saw Kevin Youkilis play his last game at Fenway Park this past Sunday, June 26.   Although I only met him one time on a Red Sox Cruise in January of 2004, I have felt an emotional bond with him.  In particular, he is Jewish, and there simply are not a great number of Jewish players that have made it to the big leagues.  He also was a modest guy who was just beginning to make his presence on the Red Sox team.  I found it quite easy to talk to him as he was not at all distant.  We talked about his desire to play third base for the Sox though, at that time, Bill Mueller was starting.  I wondered, but more to myself, than to Kevin, whether he could play any other position in the infield.  Little did either of us know that he would shift to accommodate Mike Lowe, who was obtained with Josh Beckett from the Florida Marlins, from third base to first base.

 I remember the sports’ announcers saying that Youk had not committed an error in so many games it was nearing a record when he played first base.  Furthermore, it was evident that he had proven his versatility and value to the Red Sox in his ability to play two positions, first and third base, with equal poise.  And yes, I remember that first at bat by Kevin when he hit the home run in Toronto and his parents beamed with pride at him back in May of 2004.  I also remember his teammates, led by Pedro Martinez, giving him, a rookie with his first hit, a home run, the customary initial silent treatment in the dugout and then, with a sudden burst of humor and enthusiasm congratulating him. 

 Kevin, himself, would admit that he did not have the natural talent of some of the greats such as Alex Rodriguez or Derek Jeter, but his determination to work extra hard at his craft would make him comparable to the best of ball players.  His determination was inspiring and it showed in his efforts to make some great fielding plays, typically having him wind up with a outfit covered brown with the dirt of the infield.

Kevin was the lone Sox with David Ortiz left that had been on the two World Series winning teams of 2004 (the greatest of years) and 2007 when he played first base with Mike Lowe at third base.   In 2011, he and Dustin Pedroia and other players were stymied with injuries.  We all hoped that both the bodily and mental health of the team would improve with a new manager, Bobby Valentine.  Rumors had it that under Terry Francona the attitude of the players had slacked off inasmuch as they were said to be drinking beer and joking around in the clubhouse on the day of baseball games played in the evening.  There had appeared to be a disunity of the players and, of course, we all know what happened:  They blew a huge lead in the wild card and lost to Baltimore in the final game eliminating them completely from competing in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, things did not go well for Kevin or the team as the 2012 season began.  Bobby Valentine criticized Kevin publicly saying he didn’t appear to being motivated to play his best or give it his all.  For a guy that gives it 150% this was hurtful and, although, Valentine did apologize, things just never appeared to be quite the same for Kevin.   Kevin was striking out a lot, a sign that he was simply not seeing the ball the way he had in the past.  There was a glimmer of hope when, in an away game, Kevin hit a grand slam but the next day he struck out a few times.  Soon enough he was out with another injury.  Initially, Nick Punto had taken his position but Valentine knew he needed  more firepower than Punto could offer so he brought up Will Middlebrooks from Pawtucket, a player thought to be a potential starter in a few years to come.

I have been a diehard Red Sox fan all my life, with the misfortune of coming from New Jersey and seeing them so often lose at Yankee Stadium in the ‘50’s.  Despite this fact, I found myself hoping that Middlebrooks would make outs and not look all that good.  I really wanted Youkilis to keep his job and shine.  But Youk had had a very slow start and was having difficulty at the plate.  He also looked just a shade slower in the field whether he played third or first base and he was making errors that he had rarely made in past years.

Meanwhile, while Youk was having difficulty at the plate, Middlebrooks’ starf was shining.  When the Red Sox played the Marlins at home, and they were losing 5 to 3, appearing that they would lose, once more, to a very mediocre team, Middlebrooks hit a two run homer to tie the score.  The Red Sox wound up winning the game by a score of 6 to 5 with Middlebrooks driving in 4 of the 6 runs scored.  It was at this point that I realized perhaps it is best that the Sox keep him insofar as it was quite obvious that he could hit major league pitching quite well.  Moreover, he appeared to be quite comfortable in the field and in the presence of his teammates.

It was pretty evident that there was now no place for Youk; the rumors began to circulate that he would be traded at some point.  And so, we all saw that last at bat by him, a shot to right centerfield against the Atlanta Braves.  It looked to everyone present including Youk that it would be caught but as it would happen the two Braves’ fielders got their signals crossed and the ball bounced in between them, at which point Youk took off and made a triple out of it.

We will all remember what came next: Bobby Valentine then pulled Youk for Nick Punto (the game was 9 to 4 Red Sox) and the two of them embraced, as Youk left third base.  On his way to the dugout, he received a huge standing ovation and, upon entering the dugout, Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, with his other teammates, hugged him.  The crowed continued to cheer until he finally came out and took his hat off and waved, in acknowledgement to the fans, who continued to cheer.  At the end of the game, it was announced that Youk had been traded to the Chicago White Sox.





The Psychopathology of Every Day Life by Sigmund Freud

I recently led a discussion with the Beverly Hills Great Books Group on the above work by Sigmund Freud. The leader of the group had invited a college class from Los Angeles to attend the group.   After reading what Freud had to say, in conjunction with my own training as a clinical psychologist, I realized that most of what I had prepared to offer to the group was not going to be positive.  My hope, however, was that I would stimulate some interesting discussion, especially with the students attending, by the Socratic method of questioning.  Unfortunately, only one student made it to the discussion.  Indeed, this probably changed the dynamic of the meeting because those who attended were for the most part, devotees of Freud, a factor I had not considered:  That is, people that attend a lecture about a past famous figure will probably be followers of that person.

Prior to formally discussing the work, I told the group that this particular monograph was difficult to discuss from a psychological or philosophical framework because in essence Freud was writing it to state his case for how the unconscious and repression operate within a normal population.

I began the talk by stating that Freud was really the first one to establish what we may consider a school of psychotherapy.   I then proceeded to ask the group what they believed to be the most important factor that influences the treatment process during psychotherapy.   Some people responded but no one quite had the answer I was in search of: The quality of the patient/therapist alliance and not the school or theory of psychotherapy.  In this sense, the psychoanalytic school that Freud founded was the first practicing school of what we now would call psychotherapy.  I had hoped that by establishing this fact it would make it easier to point out the many shortcomings in Freud’s view of looking at the human mind. However, I was badly mistaken.

I then proceeded to talk about repression and the unconscious pointing out that the main issues Freud was addressing in his monograph were really these two points, and how they affected forgetting and verbal errors that subsequently came to be knows as Freudian slips.  I made the observation that Freud’s idea of the unconscious was not novel and gave the example of Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novella: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde that was written in 1886 before the Psychopathology of Everyday Life and Freud’s major work on dreams and the importance of the unconscious had been published.   A participant responded that Freud was the first to treat the unconscious as a means of treating people, a comment of which I agreed.  

Other Freudian believers argued that he was a great scientist.  But was he?  Although most of his works may be considered literary masterpieces, I countered that I did not believe his theories would meet the standards imposed by scientific criteria.  After all, the steps of the scientific method are the following:


Ask a Question

Do Background Research

Construct a Hypothesis

Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment

Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion

Communicate Your Results






Although Freud may have made observations of human behavior, he really did not go through the procedure of testing his observations, that he wove into theories, by doing experiments.  This criticism is not a new one and has been often made vis-à-vis the social sciences, among which psychology is included.

I then proceeded to discuss the fact that modern linguists see verbal mishaps much like a banana peel in the path of a sentence or accidental shifts of linguistic units.  I pointed out to the group that linguists have shown that language is connected by three networks of the brain: semantic, lexical and phonological.  When Ted Kennedy said the “breast and the brightest” this could simply be a slip known as an anticipation or forward error and not a Freudian slip.  According to Daniel Wegner, a psychologist at Harvard, two conditions that increase the risk of making a Freudian slip are: 1) The thought you’d rather suppress and 2) A stressor, a distraction, time pressure or a competing mental agenda.  I further pointed out to the group that people who are sleep deprived, under the influence of alcohol or some other drug and/or are aging are more likely to make verbal slips than others.

When challenged by some of the audience members to define unconscious, I defined it the way Fischer and Pipp did: “The unconscious is a type of process or way of constructing perception, memories and other kinds of cognition that changes systematically with development.  It is not a portion of the mind.”  This is a much less static view of the mind that Freud had postulated.  One participant contested what I had said because she asserted that Freud had changed his views later on.  But did he alter his view of the id, ego and superego the determinants of human behavior with the ego being the only part of our mind that is within our consciousness?  I don’t think he abandoned these concepts that he believed shared portions of the mind.  These ideas are very much heuristic but by no means can be taken to be empirical.

I concluded my comments by citing the work of Daniel Siegel, who has written two important works:  1) The Developing Mind and 2) Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology.  Siegel states that the “mind is both embodied and embedded in our relational worlds.  It is created in both the body and interactions with others and our environment.  This emergent process arises from energy and information flow across time.  Mental life is an emergent, self-organizing process of this embodied and relational flow of energy and information.”  One of the Freudian devotees in the audience then asked me what you call a psychologist that studies the brain.  I replied a neuropsychologist.  He did not challenge me on my response.  However, I met with much resistance (and not the type that Freud spoke of) to the examples I provided in how present day thinking has disputed many of Freud’s theories.

At the end of the talk, the student that attended the discussion group (who had never come before) walked up to me and thanked me for the information that I had presented.  She was perhaps not so stuck in her thinking like some of the regular participants who have been out of school for some time.  Great damage to our clients can be done if you fit each and every one of them into a Procrustean bed.  When therapists  apply psychoanalytic methods to every client they see, they may lose both a flexible and personalistic appproach, two ingredients that contribute to the quality of the therapeutic relationship.





Michael Kinsley’s Failed Sense of Success

Michael Kinsley’s Failed Sense of Success


I recently read Michael Kinsley’s recent article in the Bloomberg View titled:  Mitt Romney’s Failed Definition of Success.  In this article, Mr. Kinsley attributes Romney’s success due to his being “born to a rich family.”  Mr. Kinsley, in his effort to give a thorough dousing of Mr. Romney and his Republican mates, goes on to attribute success to external factors such as one’s birthright, something you may have gotten from the government or, and finally, simply to pure luck.  As psychologists, we have labeled the internal locus of control as the inner ability of an individual to be motivated to strive for a better life by virtue of self-determination.  However, according to Mr. Kinsley, success is driven by what psychologists have labeled the external locus of control, where the individual has little or no control of the events in his life.  Rather, these events are controlled by outside forces such as luck or, as you may have, fate.


Of course, to some degree Mr. Kinsley’s argument makes sense.  Thus, I can say that I was lucky that I was born in America and not in some other country like Tibet or Bangladesh.  And, it is true, that I had no way of influencing where I was born or to whom my parents were.  But from there to say, as Mr. Kinsley appears to do, that the subsequent successes of an individual have little or nothing to do with that person’s self-drive or self-motivation, I  would maintain is oversimplifying the reality that each one of us confronts in our daily lives.  Certainly, at best such an attitude, that implies an individual’s lack of control over any of the events he/she may face, does not say much for human nature.  With this perspective, free will and the self-determination of an individual contribute little, if anything, to the development of his or her character.


Now let us look at some concrete examples.  Was Michael Kinsley, a democrat, lucky when W.F. Buckley asked him to MC his wonderful show:  Firing Line?  Certainly, Mr. Buckley did not pick Mr. Kinsley because he was a democrat.  He picked him for a number of reasons, some of which, probably were that he had an intelligent and insightful mind and was highly articulate (as, of course, Buckley was).  Mr. Kinsley would probably argue that he was lucky to be born with such “native intelligence.”  But I would argue back by saying that native intelligence, if not cultivated, will have little use in today’s society.   By cultivating what intelligence he had, Mr. Kinsley made a decision, and it is this decision that is rooted in an internal rather than an external locus of control.  President Obama presents us with another very good illustration of where the individual seeks control over his environment rather than chance factors.  Accordingly, I ask was Mr. Obama lucky that his father was from Kenya, and was it mere luck that brought him, a black man, to the highest office in the most powerful and perhaps greatest country in existence today?  Somehow I doubt it.







On Gaddafi’s End

Muammar Gaddafi’s demise brings back a memory etched most deeply in my mind related to the late dictator’s influence on the nation of Libya. It was 1974 and, I was concluding a trip through Europe, staying in Copenhagen. A native of Copenhagen suggested I visit Bornholm, an island off of the coast of Southern Sweden owned by Denmark. It was a trip that was hardly direct but I was up for the adventure: hitchhiking from Copenhagen to Ystad and, from there, taking a ferry to the island of Bornholm.

At my arrival, I met three American males about my age who were about to leave Bornholm. They suggested that I rent a motor scooter and take a trip around the perimeter of the island. They also told me that the youth hostel was a good place to stay inasmuch as it was clean and not too noisy. I followed up on both of their suggestions.

When they left, I realized that, at that time, I was the only American on the island. The youth that were staying there for the summer, some of whom were working, invited me to participate in the community meetings they would have each morning. When I told them I didn’t speak Danish, they told me not to worry as the meetings were conducted in English. However, they did not explain the reason this was so, leaving me quite puzzled. I wondered why young Danes would speak in English, a language that was not their native tongue. I had recalled, some weeks earlier, on this same trip, at the University of Amsterdam in Holland, I had heard some Dutch students at lunch speaking in English with one another. They told me that they enjoyed practicing speaking in English. So, naturally, I immediately thought that the Danes wished to speak in English to improve in their ability to express themselves in English.

However, when I attended the meeting the next morning, I discovered that there were both Danish and German youth all speaking in English. Bornholm was a favorite vacationing spot for Germans often thought of as a Northern Riviera. Inasmuch as I was the only one present that spoke English as a first language, although, I was a guest, I had no difficulty understanding what was going on.

After the meeting I noticed a German youth speaking to a Danish youth in German, but the Danish youth replied in an angry tone telling the German to speak in English. This interaction caused me to ask the Dane if he could speak German. He said “yes.” So I asked him why he didn’t speak to the other fellow in German. He said that “we Danes all speak German but that the German do not speak Danish;” he continued by saying that “we Danes still feel anger toward the Germans due to WWII when Germany occupied Denmark.” Suddenly, the irony dawned on me: A Jewish American male visiting from far off being accommodated in his own language, in part because of what had happened in WWII, and namely, what had happened to Jews. A further irony was my awareness of the King of Denmark, who, rather than giving into the Nazis, unlike other European nations, refused to hand Danish Jews over to them.

During the three days I spent at Bornholm, there was a black male who worked at the hostel I was staying at that appeared to be staring at me in a most unfriendly way. Since he appeared to be doing his job and was polite to everyone he came in contact with, at first, I simply thought I was imagining what I was seeing. But whenever I came back to the hostel, those eyes would beam down on me like lasers with anger and what felt like hate. Inasmuch as I have tendencies to be overly sensitive, I began to dwell on what I might have done to this man, who appeared to be well-liked by the rest of the staff, that was causing the apparent hostility between us. And so, the final day of my stay, as he stared at me relentlessly, I approached him and asked him why he appeared so angry at me. He looked at me and with blood in his eye asked me: “Where do you come from?” Without giving me a chance to respond, he said: “You have no home or place that is yours. You are a stranger.”

When he asked me again where I come from, I decided to give him as concrete an answer as I could, perhaps to add levity to the situation with the hope of decreasing his anger and replied: “My mother.”
He looked surprised for a moment as I repeated, more clearly, “I come from my mother.” He looked at me and said: “No you don’t, you’re a Jew.” When he said that, my first impulse was one of relief inasmuch as I understood that I had not committed any action causing his ire. Somewhat shaken, I asked him where he came from. His response was Libya and that Colonel Gaddafi was his leader. The little I knew about Gaddafi was that, as a leader, he was not particularly friendly toward Israel or Jews, in general.

What happened afterwards is memorable. He offered me a beer and suggested we go for a walk and talk. I have no idea what I did to cause this with the exception of offering my mother up as my birthright and, who knows, perhaps a peace offering. And so we walked and talked and, at the end, shook hands just prior to my departure from Bornholm. Perhaps in seeing me in the flesh, I no longer represented the ENEMY but was now, like him, just another human being and, to my amazement, a human connection appeared to dispel a lifelong ingrained stereotype.


The Rational Man in a Sea of Irrationality

The recent fight over the deficit problem between the democrats, as represented by President Barack Obama, and the Republicans, as represented by Speaker of the House, John Boehner gives us both a look at our leaders today and the problems we face as a country.   As a mediator, I always try and assist the opposing  parties in seeing how an agreement will better their lives even with compromise.  In reality, no one gets exactly what they want in a mediation unlike the result of a trial where the defendant either wins or loses his/her case.   However, both the Republicans and the Democrats appear to believe that they each  hold the solution to the complex problems we as a nation face making the game they are in:  Win-Lose.

David Brooks’ recent article, The Magic Lever, published in the New York Times on July 12, makes a very cogent and timely point: “Bankers, Democaratic Keynesians and staunch Republicans have one thing in common:  They all believe they have identified the magic lever.  They believe they can control their economic fate.”   Mr. Brooks then goes on to point out the fallacies of such oversimplified thinking.  

Not long ago one of the biggest ideologues, Alan Greenspan, confessed to Congress, that his belief in minimal government intervention with no regulations imposed in the private sector, is the best way to run an economy had been proven wrong.   Being a fan of Ayn Rand myself, this was difficult news for me to bear.   Unfortunately, an economy where there is no interference from the government, does not take into consideration the human motivation of greed and deception.  And so the bubble of greed and deception, as seen in past subprime mortagages, exploded, causing the present crisis that so many homeowners today are facing. 

On the other hand, John Maynard Keynes, who supported strong government interventions, was once asked what do we do in the long run?  Mr. Keynes was said to have replied;  “In the long run we’ll all be dead.”  Of course, the long run, in his mind, did not include our children and their children. 

Perhaps our leaders should ask that famous question  posed by Fisher and Ury in their classic work, Getting to Yes: “What is the Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.”  One of these alternatives is not raising the debt ceiling.  Is it worth clinging to one’s views and not compromising with the outcome being America very possibly defaulting on its debt.  I don’t think so and neither does David Brooks.  What I like about Mr. Brooks is that when there is an impending crisis, he refuses to take the easy way out:  That is to blame the other side.  Rather, he sees the muddiness of, if you will,  Reality, and through this muddiness, understands the importance of compromise.   The truth of the matter is that the current complexities of the world will not get simpler in the future.  Given this fact, perhaps we all should step back for a moment and recognize that the economic assumptions made by our political biases may not always be correct.  Mr. Greenspan learned this.  It would be a step forward in the progress of the present conversation on the debt ceiling, if more of our leaders, that include both the President and Mr. Boehner, would allow their crystal clear vision of the future take on a few grains of realistic mud.