Category Archives: Personal Reflections

When Babies Fly

Nora Flies Crop

The plane vibrated, shook, rattled, and lost altitude. Passengers gasped. The seatbelt light illuminated.

Our pilot had said, “We’ll be having a few bumps.” But when I look out the window, I don’t see bumps. But the name doesn’t matter. A rose or bump by any other name still smells like nausea.

Those so-called bumpy plane rides usually trigger, for me, a mental image of turbulence ripping the wings off the plane. Then we all crash and die. This isn’t a helpful mental image. I know that.

Having repeated images of falling out of the sky to certain death has been unpleasant, but motivating. I’ve been motivated to work on countering turbulence with meditation, deep breathing, and calmness. I’m happy to report that I can keep my heart rate at under 60 beats per minute through the bumps. Is it dissociation or coping? I don’t care. Nausea is minimal and instead of dread and anxiety, I feel accomplishment. I decided that if I’m going to crash and die, I might as well be relaxed.

Until a couple months ago, I was sure I’d worked out the best method ever for flight turbulence. But then, during a particularly series of bumps from Portland to Missoula, I learned how babies fly.

The bumps started. Gasps followed. Then, about three rows ahead, I heard a mom comforting her toddler. I was expecting the typical, “It’s okay . . . we’ll be fine . . . hold my hand.” But this particular mom cranked the ball out of the park with Just. One. Word.

“Weeeeeeee!”

The plane transformed from gasps to chuckles.

“Wooooooo!”

It didn’t take a minute. Not even 10 seconds. The effect was immediate. No longer were we enduring a bumpy flight. We were transported to a fantastic amusement park ride.

I turned to the burly man next to me (I always get seated by another burly man; they like to put us in pairs) and said. “Wow. That’s cool.”

He was smiling. The toddler was laughing. The mom was oohing and ahhing. Several other passengers joined in.

We landed.

Later, I realized that in the midst of my admiration, I had forgotten all about breathing and meditating and tracking my pulse. Instead, I learned an even BETTER METHOD. Not only did this mom transform the flight for herself and her baby, she transformed it for everyone.

It was SO GOOD, I just had to share it with you.

“Weeeeeeeee!”

Pass it on.

Brain Science May be Shiny, but Exposure Therapy is Pure Gold

Spidey Cropped

In honor of Joseph Wolpe, let’s start with mental imagery.

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Imagine you’ve travelled back in time. You’re in your first week of high school. You look around and notice that one of your classmates is named Mary Jones.

Mary is an ordinary girl with an ordinary name. Over the years, you don’t notice her much. She seems like a nice person, a fairly good student, and someone who doesn’t get in trouble or draw attention to herself.

Four years pass. A new student joined your class during senior year. His name is Daniel Fancy Pants. Toward the end of your senior year, Daniel does a fantastic Prezi presentation about a remarkable new method for measuring reading outcomes. He includes cool video clips and boomerang Snapchat. When he bows at the end, he gets a standing ovation. Don’t get me wrong. Daniel is a good student and a hard worker; he partnered up with a college professor and made a big splash. Daniel deserves recognition.

But, as it turns out, over the WHOLE four years of high school, Mary Jones was quietly working at a homeless shelter; week after week, month after month, year after year, she was teaching homeless children how to read. In fact, based on Daniel’s measure of reading outcomes, Mary had taught over 70 children to read.

Funny thing. Mary doesn’t get much attention. All everybody wants to talk about is Daniel. At graduation, he wins the outstanding graduate award. Everyone cheers.

Let’s stop the mental imagery and reflect on what we imagined.

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Like birds and raccoons, humans tend to like shiny things. Mary did incredible work, but hardly anyone noticed. Daniel did good work, and got a standing ovation and top graduate award.

The “shiny-thing theory” is my best explanation for why we tend to get overly excited about brain science. It’s important, no doubt. But brain imaging isn’t the therapy; it’s just a cool way to measure or validate therapy’s effects.

Beginning in at least 1924, when Mary Cover Jones was deconditioning fear out of little children, behavior therapy has shown not only great promise, but great outcomes. However, when Schwartz (and others) showed that exposure therapy “changes the brain,” most of the excitement and accolades were about the brain images; exposure therapy was like background noise. Obviously, the fact that exposure therapy (and other therapies) change the brain is great news. It’s great news for people who have anxiety and fear, and it’s great news for practitioners who use exposure therapy for treating anxious and fearful clients.

This is all traceable to neuroscience and human evolution. We get distracted by shiny objects and miss the point because our neural networks and perceptual processes are oriented to alerting us to novel (new) environmental stimuli. This is probably because change in the form of shiny objects might signal a threat or something new and valuable. But we need to stay focused in order to not overlook that behavior therapy in general, and exposure therapy in particular, has been, is, and probably will continue to be, the most effective approach on the planet for helping people overcome anxiety and fear. And, you know what, it doesn’t really matter that it changes the brain (although that’s damn cool and affirming news). What matters is that it changes clients’ lives.

Exposure therapy, no matter how you package it, is highly effective for treating anxiety. This statement is true whether we’re talking about Mary Cover Jones and her evidence-based counterconditioning cookies or Francine Shapiro and eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR). It’s also true whether we’re talking about virtual reality exposure, imaginal exposure, massed exposure, spaced exposure, in-vivo exposure, interoceptive exposure, response prevention (in obsessive-compulsive disorder) or the type of exposure that acceptance and commitment therapists use (n.b., they like to say it’s “different” from traditional classical conditioning exposure, but it works, and that’s what counts).

In the end, let’s embrace and love and cheer brain imaging and neuroscience, but not forget the bottom line. The bottom line is that exposure therapy works! Exposure therapy is the genuine article. Exposure therapy is pure gold.

Mary Cover Jones is the graduate of the century; she’s the bomb. Because of her, exposure therapy has been pure gold for 93 years. And now, we’ve got cool pictures of the brain to prove it.

Note: Mary Cover Jones passed away in 1987. Just minutes before her death, she said to her sister: “I am still learning about what is important in life” (as cited in Reiss, 1990). We should all be more like Mary.

When the Yellow Grows into Gold and Happy Breaks Out

Lower Grove Creek 7 14 17This morning the clock said 3:51am. My lungs felt refreshed. Then a memory from last night bubbled up. You know how they do.

Rita and I discovered mold in our garden. It was yellow and green and it shared its spores with my lungs before we recognized or best option: retreat inside to formulate our battle plan in response  to the attack of the multicolored mold.

Google was waiting. All the postings were about White mold or Black mold, or even yellow dog-vomit mold. Nothing fit our mold. I read with great and trepidiacal interest of a U.K. man who died from inhaling compost mold; my lungs were burning. Not good.

But sleep came.

Then 3:51am came.

And then the thoughts came.

At 3:52am it seemed odd that I could hear my pulse in my ear on the pillow. It seemed fast. That U.K. man had a rapid pulse. I could either choose to lift my head and take my pulse and while waiting for the digital clock to move to the next minute, or I could look at my fit bit. But my fit bit is charging. But I decide, anyway, to roll over and grab it and attach it to my wrist and look at the pulse rate. It flashes, 113. Not good. I check again, 112. Not good. Not normal. I compulsively check again, 111. The fit bit is probably still adjusting, now it’s 109. Stop checking, the voice in my head says. Let it be. Let it settle. Thirty seconds later, it’s 55. I am normal again.

At 3:54am, I find another troubling thought. Today is July 14, 2017. My Theories text revision is due in 31 days. I have five more chapters to revise. That’s six days per chapter. Plus references. Plus table of contents and preface and . . . . Not good. I’m a bad author.

At 4:12am, I’m up, turning on the computer. I’m a bad author and a bad husband and a bad father and a bad friend. All I do is write meaningless drivel that maybe 12 people a year will read and then immediately forget. Forgettable, I am. Even my own students can’t answer my pop theories quiz questions when they drop by my office. I wonder why they don’t stop in so much anymore.

Good thing I’m revising CBT today. God and Albert Ellis know, I sure as Hell need it.

One of today’s content areas is called, Thinking in Shades of Gray. It’s a description of a cognitive technique to help people get out of destructive, irrational, and maladaptive black-white (aka polarized) thinking. It’s boring. Of course it’s boring. Shades of gray? It’s a technique to help with depressive thoughts. I can hear the Albert Ellis voice in my head. WTF? You work with depressed people and you teach them how to think in shades of gray. What the Holy Hell are YOU thinking?

Later this morning, as I ride through Lower Grove Creek with yellow flowers and the Beartooth Mountains looming, I stop for a photo. There are no cars, no deer, and not even a trace of fungal spores. Just me and my breath and my bike and the yellow flowers and shades of gray, black, and white rising above. Why are there no colors in the shades of gray activity? There’s more to our thinking (and our client’s) thinking than black, white, and gray. Today, with the wind in my face and Tippet Rise to my starboard, I want to be an art therapist. “Let’s put a little yellow there,” I say. And the yellow grows into gold and happy breaks out.

But sooner or later, you and I know. We. Know. The yellow will catch dust and lose its sparkle and turn to mold, until a future morning at 3:51am, when a red seed of awareness gets planted among the anxiety bushes and purple flowers bloom, replacing the moldy browned-up yellow, and then we will remember. We have been here before. And it was wondrous and terrible and everything in between.

At that point, it’s not a bad idea to find your fit bit, take your pulse, and embrace the ever disintegrating now that is morning. You have your next 31 days and I have mine. Let’s meet somewhere in the middle and celebrate the next disintegrating now with all the passion and monotony we can muster. You know we can. We’ve done it before.

Three Pounds of Theoretical Elegance in 888 Words

Rita and Driftwood 2017

As you may or may not recall, we have several new features in our forthcoming Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice (3rd ed.) text. Here’s a draft of what we’ve tentatively titled a “Brain Box” from Chapter One.

Brain Box 1.1

Three Pounds of Theoretical Elegance

John Sommers-Flanagan

This Brain Box is a brief, oversimplified, description of the brain. I apologize, in advance, to you and to brains everywhere for this oversimplification and likely misrepresentation. The problem is that even if I took a whole chapter or a whole book to describe these three pounds of elegance, it would still be an oversimplification. Such is the nature of the human brain.

You may already be familiar with the concepts described here. If so, it’s a review. You may be less familiar; then, it’s an introduction. For more information on neuroscience and therapy, we recommend Neuroscience for counselors and therapists: Integrating the sciences of mind and brain by Chad Luke.

Brain Structure: The human brain has indentations, folds, and fissures. It’s slick and slimy. Put simply, it’s not a pretty sight. But the brain’s form maximizes its function. One example: If you could lay out and spread its surface area onto a table, it would be about the size of two pages of a newspaper. The folds and fissures allow more surface area to fit within the human skull.

Scientists describe the brain as having four lobes: The frontal, parietal, occipital, and temporal (see Figure 1.2). The fissures or sulci of the brain demarcate the four lobes. At the bottom of the brain is the brainstem and cerebellum.

Each lobe is generally associated with different brain functions. I say generally because brains are specific and systemic. Although individuals have similar brain structures, individual brains are more unique than a fingerprint on a snowflake.

The frontal lobe is primarily associated with complex thought processes such as planning, reasoning, and decision-making (much, but not all, of what psychoanalysts refer to as ego functions). The frontal lobe also appears involved in expressive language and contains the motor cortex.

The parietal lobe includes the somatosensory cortex. This surface area involves sensory processing (including pain and touch). It also includes spatial or visual orientation.

The temporal lobes are located symmetrically on each side of the brain (just above the ears). They’re involved in auditory perception and processing. They contain the hippocampus and are involved in memory formation and storage.

The occipital lobe is located in the back of the brain and is the primary visual processing center.

I’m using all four lobes right now to type, read, edit, re-think, re-type, re-read, shift my position, and recall various relevant and irrelevant experiences. The idea that we only use 10% of our brains is a silly myth. They even busted it on the Mythbusters television show.

The brain includes two hemispheres. They’re separated by the longitudinal fissure and communicate with each other primarily via the corpus callosum. The hemispheres are nearly mirror images of each other in size and shape. However, their neurotransmitter quantities and receptor subtypes are quite different. The right hemisphere controls the left side of the body and is primarily involved in spatial, musical, and artistic/creative functions. In contrast, the left hemisphere controls the right side of the body, and is involved in language, logical thinking, and linear analysis. There are exceptions to these general descriptions and these exceptions are larger in brains of individuals who are left-handed. Woo-hoo for lefties.

The limbic system is located deep within the brain. It has several structures involved in memory and emotional experiencing. These include, but are not limited to the: amygdala, basal ganglia, cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, hypothalamus, and thalamus. The limbic system and its structural components are currently very popular; they’re like the Beyoncé of brain science.

Neurons and Neurotransmitters: Communication within the brain is electrical and chemical (aka electrochemical = supercool).

Neurons are nerve cells (aka brain cells) that communicate with one another. There are many neuron types. Of particular relevance to counseling and psychotherapy are mirror neurons. Mirror neurons fire when you engage in specific actions (e.g., when waving hello) and the same neurons fire as you observe others engaging in the same actions. These neurons are central to empathy and vicarious learning, but many other brain structures and systems are also involved in these complex behaviors (see Chapter 5).

Neurotransmitters are chemicals packed into synaptic vesicles. They’re released from an axon (a part of a neuron that sends neural transmissions), travel through the synaptic cleft (the space between neurons), and into a connecting dendrite (a part of a neuron that receives neural transmissions), with some “leftover” vesicles re-absorbed into the original axon (referred to as “reuptake,” as in serotonin-specific reuptake inhibitors).

There are somewhere between 30 and 100 (or more) neurotransmitters (NTs) in the brain, divided into three categories: (a) Small molecule NTs (e.g., acetylcholine, dopamine, GABA, Glutamate, histamine, noradrenaline, norepinephrine, serotonin, etc.); (b) neuropeptides (e.g., endorphins, oxytocin, etc.); and (c) “other” (e.g., adenosine, endocannadinoids, nitric oxide, etc.). Neurotransmitters are classified as excitatory or inhibitory or both. For example, norepinephrine is an excitatory neurotransmitter, dopamine is both excitatory and inhibitory, and serotonin is inhibitory. Although several chemical imbalance hypotheses regarding the etiology of mental disorders have been promoted (e.g., “low” serotonin at the synaptic cleft causes depression), when it comes to the brain, I caution you against enthusiastic acceptance of any simplistic explanations. A significant portion of the scientific community consider the dopamine and serotonin hypotheses to be mostly mythical (see Breggin, 2016; Edwards, Bacanu, Bigdeli, Moscati, & Kendler, 2016; Moncrieff, 2008, 2015).

Figure 1.2: A Look at the Brain — If the image was here, you would see it. In its absence, use your brain to imagine it. Yes. It’s beautiful. In the real textbook, we’ll have a real image of a brain and not my snarky suggestion that you use more than 10% of your brain to imagine a brain.

A Tasty Sample of Reality Therapy

With WubboldingAs far as I know, reality therapists don’t typically use food or eating metaphors. My use of it here might be a leftover from my Gestalt therapy chapter revision, because Gestalt theory happily incorporates swallowing, biting, and other oral dimensions. Then again, maybe it’s just time for lunch.

Choice theory is the foundation for reality therapy. Or, as William Glasser and Robert Wubbolding (featured with me in this photo) put it, reality therapy is the train and choice theory is the track. No gustatory metaphors here either. But I’ll keep looking.

The following is a smattering of tasty revisions for the forthcoming 3rd edition of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice.

What is Choice Theory and Reality Therapy?

Glasser developed reality therapy in the 1960s. Later, recognizing that he needed a theoretical foundation for his therapeutic approach, he began exploring cybernetics and control system theory (Powers, 1973; Wiener, 1948). Initially, following Powers, Glasser used control theory to explain reality therapy. Later, he adapted the theoretical model and shifted to using choice theory (Glasser, 1998).

Choice theory is based on the idea that conscious behaviors are chosen in an effort to satisfy one of five internal basic human needs (Wubbolding & Brickel, 2017). The human mind or brain acts as a “negative input control system,” providing feedback to individuals so that we can correct out behaviors and continue getting what we need and want (Wubbolding, 2012, p. 13).

Reality therapy is a present-focused, directive therapeutic approach designed to help individuals identify and satisfy their needs and wants more consistently and adaptively. As Wubbolding (2012) has written, “If choice theory is the track, reality therapy is the train that delivers the product” (p. 5).

Reality Therapy in Action: Brief Vignettes

Similar to Adlerian therapy, reality therapy involves encouragement and intentional planning. The counselor establishes a positive working relationship and then persistently keeps the therapeutic focus on what’s within the client’s solving circle or circle of control. Maintaining a clear focus on positive actions and thoughts is what makes reality therapy an efficient and brief counseling approach.

Vignette I: Using Encouragement—Not Critical Confrontation

The following is an example of the type of confrontation often inaccurately associated with reality therapy. The counselor is confronting a teenage client on his efforts to find a job.

Counselor: Where else did you go?

Client: I tried a couple other [gas] stations, too. Nobody wants to look at me. They don’t pay too good anyway. [Screw] them!

Counselor: So you haven’t really done too much looking. Sounds like you want it served on a silver plate, Joe. Do you think looking at a couple of gas stations is really going to get you a job? (XXXX et al., 2002, p. 219)

Based on this brief exchange it appears the counselor is trying to help the client be successful in obtaining employment. Consequently, we can assume that having gainful employment (or at least making money) is a “want” (the W in WDEP) and in the client’s quality world. Although this counselor is supposedly doing reality therapy, his critical statements (“you haven’t done too much looking” and “you want it served on a silver platter”) are inconsistent with reality therapy principles. A reality therapist would use a more supportive and encouraging approach. For example:

Counselor: Where else did you go?

Client: I tried a couple other [gas] stations, too. Nobody wants to look at me. They don’t pay too good anyway. [Screw] them!

Counselor (Reality therapy response): It sounds like you really want a job and you feel very frustrated. What else could you do to help get what you want?

Notice that the reality therapist keeps the focus on what the client wants, empathizes with the frustration, and ignores the client’s desire to quit trying. This approach is encouraging because the counselor is expresses confidence in the client’s ability to act and think in ways that will move him toward his quality world.

Generally, when counselors use confrontation, the goal is to help clients engage in self-examination. The process for nearly all therapy approaches is similar—counselors help clients increase their awareness or have insights, which then leads to motivation and eventual change. Consistent with this process, Wubbolding referred to client self-evaluation as a “prelude to change” (1999, p. 196).

In working with this young man on employment issues, the following exchange uses concepts and questions adapted from Wubbolding (1999).

Counselor: Hey Joe, do you think the overall direction of your life is more of a plus or more of a minus?

Client: I don’t know. I suppose it’s kind of a neutral. I don’t have a job and I’m not really going any direction.

Counselor: That’s interesting. No direction. I guess my question about that is whether going no direction is really the direction you want . . . or whether maybe you want something else?

Client: Yeah. I’d love to have some money. Right now the economy sucks, so I don’t really see the point of looking for work.

Counselor: The odds of getting a job right now aren’t great, that’s for sure. Do you suppose the odds are better if you stay home or better if you get out and drop off a few applications?

Client: I see what you’re saying. My odds are a little better if I get out there. But I think my odds of making money are probably better if I just got out there and sold drugs, like some other guys I know are doing.

Counselor: I’m just trying to follow along and track what you want. It does sound like you want money. And you might be right about the drug selling scene, I don’t know much about that. But let’s be serious, do you think selling drugs would genuinely be good for you? I guess another way of asking that is, “Will selling drugs help or hurt you in getting what you want in the long run?” [This confrontation does what a reality therapy confrontation is supposed to do: It directly questions the usefulness of excuses.]

Client: I’m not saying I think selling drugs is a good thing to do. I’m just frustrated and sick of being broke and poor.

Counselor: Yeah. It’s very hard. But I’m your counselor and it’s my job to keep pushing you in positive directions. I’m asking you this because I think you can do better than how you’re doing. Is the way you’re thinking about this—that it’s too hard, the economy sucks, and you’re likely to fail—is that line of thinking helping you get a job or hurting your prospects?

Client: Yeah. I guess having a pity-party isn’t helping much.

Counselor: I’m sure having a pity party can feel good sometimes. But I’m with you on the fact that it’s not helping much. So we’ve got to try out something different.

Because the preceding questions ask the client to look at himself and self-evaluate, they’re inherently confrontational, but also supportive and encouraging. Many additional reality therapy questions that help clients self-reflect and plan are in Wubbolding’s (2000, 2017) publications.

Vignette II: Collaborative Planning

This vignette extends the previous case into the reality therapy collaborative planning process.

Client: Well. What sort of different approach do you suggest?

Counselor: If it were up to me, I’d suggest we make a very clear plan for you to try out this week. The plan would focus on how you can get what you want: a job so you can start earning money. And we’d develop this plan together and we’d be honest with each other about whether our ideas would give you the best chances to get a job.

Client: How about I go down to the Job Service and sign up there?

Counselor: That’s one good idea. It doesn’t guarantee you a job, but nothing will because you don’t have control over whether someone hires you, you only have control over your strategy or plan. Do you know what I mean?

Client: Not really.

Counselor: Thanks for being honest about that. When you make a plan or set a goal, it’s important for it to be completely within your control and not dependent on anyone else. That’s because the only behavior you can control is your own. For example, if your plan is to “get hired,” you can be doomed to frustration and anger because you don’t make the hiring decision. Instead, a good plan involves developing a detailed, step-by-step process. Your plan could be to revise your resume and then submit it along with a well-crafted cover letter to 10 places where you think your skills are a good fit. You have complete control over all that.

Client: Okay. I get it. I could do that, but I’m not very good with writing and resumes and all that.

Counselor: How can you make sure those things are in good shape then?

Client: I could get my sister to look it over.

Counselor: When could you do that?

Client: Next week, I suppose.

Counselor: What would make it possible to do that sooner, like this week?

Client: You know, you’re really kind of pushy.

Counselor: Do you think you’d do better with someone who lets you put things off until next week? Would that be more helpful in getting you a job sooner?

Client: Right. Right. Okay. I call my sister tonight and ask if she can help me as soon as she’s available.

Counselor: That’s sounds like a great start. What time will you call her tonight?

Client: Seven o’clock. I know. Why not six? Well I figure she’ll be done with dinner by seven, that’s why.

Counselor: Good planning. Maybe I don’t have to be so pushy after all.

The preceding dialogue illustrates how counselors can use gentle and persistent questioning to lead clients toward planning that’s consistent with Wubbolding’s principles (i.e., SAMI2C3). It also illustrates how reality therapists function as collaborators to help clients or students plan for success.

Concluding Comments

The mission of the William Glasser Institute is to teach all people Choice Theory® and to use it as the basis for training in reality therapy, lead management, and Glasser Quality School education (http://www.wglasser.com/). The institute has existed for more than 44 years and there are now approximately 8,000 certified reality therapists worldwide and over 86,000 who have obtained substantial advanced reality therapy training.

William Glasser passed away in 2013. Although his advocacy for conscious, noncoercive human choice is missed, there are many other contributors to the national and international dissemination of choice theory and reality therapy. As examples, Robert Wubbolding is the director of the Center for Reality Therapy. Thomas Parish is the editor of the International Journal of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy. Patricia Robey, Nancy Buck, Jim Roy, and John Brickell are prolific contributors to the CT/RT literature (Buck, 2013; Parrish, 2017; Robey, 2017; Roy, 2014, 2017; Wubbolding & Brickell, 2017).

In Dr. Glasser’s eulogy, Wubbolding shared the following anecdote:

Quite recently, a woman approached him at his home and begged him for advice for how to deal with her 3 year-old son. He paused for a long time and then reached deep down inside his soul and gave her 2 suggestions: “Always treat him as if he is good.” And “Set up circumstances where he can only succeed.” These wise words could serve as his suggestions for all counselors. They represent for us a worldview, an attitude toward clients and his perception of all human beings. These two sentiments transcend a particular counseling system in that they summarize his legacy (September 10, 2013; http://www.realitytherapywub.com/index.php/easyblog/entry/dr-william-glasser).  

In support of Glasser’s legacy, we end this chapter with a quotation that reflects his idealism and ambition:

It is my vision to teach choice theory to the world.

I invite you to join me in this effort.

—William Glasser, Unhappy Teenagers (2002, p. 190)

Congressional Baseball: The Psychology of Doing Good, Part II

20150314_125955

**My apologies for the re-post. I’m either having some user incompetence or technical gremlins on this end.

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The evening after the shooting at the republican congressional baseball team’s practice, Mike Doyle, D-PA was standing beside Joe Barton, R-TX. In a PBS News Hour interview, Barton was describing the support he and his fellow republicans had received from Doyle and the democrats.

Barton said, “We have an R or a D by our name, but our title—our title is United States representative.”

Silence.

Barton had choked up with emotion.

Doyle’s response was, in a word, Gemeinschaftsgefühl. Another word to describe Doyle’s response might be, “Fantastic.”

Doyle noticed the silence. He looked over and up to Barton. He saw Barton’s tears. Then he reached out in compassion, squeezing and patting his friend’s arm.

I know there are cynics who’ll frame this as a corny or staged bipartisan exhibition. I don’t blame you. We’ve been fed so much polarizing rhetoric from the media and the internet that it’s hard to believe genuine human connection is possible.

So I’ll speak for myself. I’ve been hating the news media. But not this. The Doyle-Barton interaction is my favorite media moment of the year. It was a demonstration of how politicians can put aside differences and engage each other as compassionate humans.

We need to see more of this Gemeinschaftsgefühl.

You may not recognize (or be able to pronounce) the word Gemeinschaftsgefühl. But in your gut, you know what it means. You’ve experienced it many times.

Gemeinschaftsgefühl is a multidimensional German word. It includes social interest, community feeling, caring for others as equals, empathy, and the pull toward kindness, compassion, and companionship.

You also may not know about Alfred Adler. Adler was a popular psychiatrist in the early 1900s. He was Freud’s contemporary. He wrote about Gemeinschaftsgefühl. But like lots of Adlerian things, Gemeinschaftsgefühl has been overlooked. Adler believed humans were naturally predisposed to work together, cooperatively, in community, with empathy, and positive social feelings. Lydia Sicher, an Adlerian follower, captured his ideas with one of the best professional journal article titles of all time: A Declaration of Interdependence.

Interdependence and Gemeinschaftsgefühl are so natural that, unless we’re broken in some way, we cannot stop ourselves from experiencing empathy; we cannot stop ourselves from helping others in need.

We see this every day in our personal lives, but not so much in politics. If your neighbor (or a stranger) has fallen on the sidewalk, do you refuse to stop and help, based on political affiliation? Not likely. You help . . . because you’re wired to help.

You may have noticed that, now more than ever in the history of the planet, it’s easy to rise to the bait and insult other people. Aggression is natural too, but the media inflates it; the internet contributes to it; we’re fed a visual and auditory diet of political extremism. To be blunt: We need to turn that shit off.

What are other solutions? Gemeinschaftsgefühl is like a muscle. Without regular exercise, it can weaken. Without getting connected to real people in real time, we can become judgmental, insensitive, and mean.

About 10 years ago I had the good luck to watch a congressional baseball game on the West Point campus. The democrats were playing the West Point faculty. I longed to join in. This is another Adlerian principle. I longed to belong.

Almost always, the Adlerian solution is to increase belongingness and usefulness. The more you feel “in” the group and the more you feel useful to that group, the more you naturally experience Gemeinschaftsgefühl.

The opposite is also true. The less you feel part of a group and the less useful you feel, the more likely you are to seek power, control, attention, revenge, and despair. Who hasn’t felt that? No doubt, most shooters feel desperate, disconnected, and useless. That’s no excuse. It’s just one way to understand senseless, violent, and tragic actions.

Adler would say that we have a national problem of disconnection and uselessness. To address this, we need policies to promote inclusion and connection. A good place to start: integrated congressional baseball teams. We need Rs and Ds playing baseball with each other, not against each other. Cooperation, like most things, is contagious.

To further address national disconnection, members of both political parties should become Adlerians and help their constituents to feel included and useful. How to do that? Instead of meeting (or avoiding) town halls where disenfranchised constituents yell at their political representatives, we need new and improved town halls that focus less on venting and more on problem-solving. Problem-solving can help constituents feel useful and connected. But here’s an even more radical idea. The town halls shouldn’t be segregated. They should be held jointly, republicans and democrats, together.

Alfred Adler lived through World War I. The Nazis forced him to leave Austria and then quickly closed down his child guidance clinics. Despite all that, Adler still believed in Gemeinschaftsgefühl. If he could, we can too.

Various writers, and Adler himself, have noted that Gemeinschaftsgefühl essentially boils down to the edict “love thy neighbor.” Jon Carlson and Matt Englar-Carlson described Gemeinschaftsgefühl as being the “same as the goal of all true religions.” It’s not a bad goal for atheists and agnostics either.

Eighty years after his death, we still have much to learn from Alfred Adler. We need to do what he did every day. Get up. Put on our Gemeinschaftsgefühl pants, our love thy neighbor t-shirts, engage in community problem-solving, and, in honor of Joe Barton and Mike Doyle, reach across the aisle and start caring for each other.

***************************

If you need a dose of Gemeinschaftsgefühl, check out Judy Woodruff’s interview of Barton and Doyle on the PBS News Hour (June 14, 2017): http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/rivals-baseball-field-congressmen-share-solidarity-shooting/

 

 

Congressional Baseball . . . and the Psychology of Doing Good, Part II

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The evening after the shooting at the republican congressional baseball team’s practice, Mike Doyle, D-PA was standing beside Joe Barton, R-TX. In a PBS News Hour interview, Barton was describing the support he and his fellow republicans had received from Doyle and the democrats.

Barton said, “We have an R or a D by our name, but our title—our title is United States representative.”

Silence.

Barton had choked up with emotion.

Doyle’s response was, in a word, Gemeinschaftsgefühl. Another word to describe Doyle’s response might be, “Fantastic.”

Doyle noticed the silence. He looked over and up to Barton. He saw Barton’s tears. Then he reached out in compassion, squeezing and patting his friend’s arm.

I know there are cynics who’ll frame this as a corny or staged bipartisan exhibition. I don’t blame you. We’ve been fed so much polarizing rhetoric from the media and the internet that it’s hard to believe genuine human connection is possible.

So I’ll speak for myself. I’ve been hating the news media. But not this. The Doyle-Barton interaction is my favorite media moment of the year. It was a demonstration of how politicians can put aside differences and engage each other as compassionate humans.

We need to see more of this Gemeinschaftsgefühl.

You may not recognize (or be able to pronounce) the word Gemeinschaftsgefühl. But in your gut, you know what it means. You’ve experienced it many times.

Gemeinschaftsgefühl is a multidimensional German word. It includes social interest, community feeling, caring for others as equals, empathy, and the pull toward kindness, compassion, and companionship.

You also may not know about Alfred Adler. Adler was a popular psychiatrist in the early 1900s. He was Freud’s contemporary. He wrote about Gemeinschaftsgefühl. But like lots of Adlerian things, Gemeinschaftsgefühl has been overlooked. Adler believed humans were naturally predisposed to work together, cooperatively, in community, with empathy, and positive social feelings. Lydia Sicher, an Adlerian follower, captured his ideas with one of the best professional journal article titles of all time: A Declaration of Interdependence.

Interdependence and Gemeinschaftsgefühl are so natural that, unless we’re broken in some way, we cannot stop ourselves from experiencing empathy; we cannot stop ourselves from helping others in need.

We see this every day in our personal lives, but not so much in politics. If your neighbor (or a stranger) has fallen on the sidewalk, do you refuse to stop and help, based on political affiliation? Not likely. You help . . . because you’re wired to help.

You may have noticed that, now more than ever in the history of the planet, it’s easy to rise to the bait and insult other people. Aggression is natural too, but the media inflates it; the internet contributes to it; we’re fed a visual and auditory diet of political extremism. To be blunt: We need to turn that shit off.

What are other solutions? Gemeinschaftsgefühl is like a muscle. Without regular exercise, it can weaken. Without getting connected to real people in real time, we can become judgmental, insensitive, and mean.

About 10 years ago I had the good luck to watch a congressional baseball game on the West Point campus. The democrats were playing the West Point faculty. I longed to join in. This is another Adlerian principle. I longed to belong.

Almost always, the Adlerian solution is to increase belongingness and usefulness. The more you feel “in” the group and the more you feel useful to that group, the more you naturally experience Gemeinschaftsgefühl.

The opposite is also true. The less you feel part of a group and the less useful you feel, the more likely you are to seek power, control, attention, revenge, and despair. Who hasn’t felt that? No doubt, most shooters feel desperate, disconnected, and useless. That’s no excuse. It’s just one way to understand senseless, violent, and tragic actions.

Adler would say that we have a national problem of disconnection and uselessness. To address this, we need policies to promote inclusion and connection. A good place to start: integrated congressional baseball teams. We need Rs and Ds playing baseball with each other, not against each other. Cooperation, like most things, is contagious.

To further address national disconnection, members of both political parties should become Adlerians and help their constituents to feel included and useful. How to do that? Instead of meeting (or avoiding) town halls where disenfranchised constituents yell at their political representatives, we need new and improved town halls that focus less on venting and more on problem-solving. Problem-solving can help constituents feel useful and connected. But here’s an even more radical idea. The town halls shouldn’t be segregated. They should be held jointly, republicans and democrats, together.

Alfred Adler lived through World War I. The Nazis forced him to leave Austria and then quickly closed down his child guidance clinics. Despite all that, Adler still believed in Gemeinschaftsgefühl. If he could, we can too.

Various writers, and Adler himself, have noted that Gemeinschaftsgefühl essentially boils down to the edict “love thy neighbor.” Jon Carlson and Matt Englar-Carlson described Gemeinschaftsgefühl as being the “same as the goal of all true religions.” It’s not a bad goal for atheists and agnostics either.

Eighty years after his death, we still have much to learn from Alfred Adler. We need to do what he did every day. Get up. Put on our Gemeinschaftsgefühl pants, our love thy neighbor t-shirts, engage in community problem-solving, and, in honor of Joe Barton and Mike Doyle, reach across the aisle and start caring for each other.

***************************

If you need a dose of Gemeinschaftsgefühl, check out Judy Woodruff’s interview of Barton and Doyle on the PBS News Hour (June 14, 2017): http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/rivals-baseball-field-congressmen-share-solidarity-shooting/