Category Archives: Writing

Memories of Memorial Day: How to Use Memory Re-consolidation to Cope with Pain from the Past

Green Shadow II

Back in the 1970s, I remember singing the lyrics to, The Way We Were, along with Barbra Streisand. Using my best falsetto, Barbra and I crooned, “Memories, light the corners of my mind.”

These lyrics aren’t technically correct. But then Barbra and the song’s lyricists, Alan and Marilyn Bergman, didn’t have access to modern brain scans. Based on neuroscience research, it would have been more accurate for Barbra and I to sing, “Memories, light the center of my mind.”

Memories live deep within the brain. If you could magically poke your index finger down through the top center of your skull, you still couldn’t quite reach your brain’s memory structures, the hippocampus and amygdala.

Memories are a fascinating electrical, molecular, cellular, and inter-structural phenomenon. I won’t be providing scientific details about memory, because then I’d have to write something about how the interaction of glucocorticoids and noradrenaline in the basolateral region of the amygdala can modulate the strength of memories in the hippocampus and other brain areas . . . and by then our fascination with memory would doubtless give way to boredom and sleepiness.

Speaking of sleepiness, it’s metaphorically accurate to say that most of our memories typically just lay around dozing in their hippocampal bed until awakened. Not surprisingly, some memories are lighter sleepers than others; they can be easily awakened. Sometimes, when sleeping memories are rudely awakened (triggered) they tend to be rather grumpy and unpleasant.

Here are three examples:

Say you’re creeping around on Facebook. You see an old high school photo from 25 years ago. The visual stimulus of the photo is a memory trigger; several related images and narratives pop into your mind. These images and narratives aren’t grumpy or unpleasant. Instead, you feel warmly nostalgic. This is an example of a visual trigger that activates a mildly pleasant set of associated memories.

In contrast, if you’re a veteran who has experienced war trauma and you hear firecrackers on the 4th of July, your consciousness may flood with vivid, multisensory memories. These memories could link to deep emotional pain. This is an example of an auditory trigger that awakens or activates disturbing memories—memories that you might prefer to put back to sleep.

Now, think of the smell of coffee in the morning. For me, the scent of coffee is neutral. No clear memories are activated. But, when coffee smells are combined with the aroma of bacon on the griddle, I have instant flashbacks to my Grandma Lucy making breakfast. This is an olfactory stimulus triggering a pleasant memory. I see my grandma’s grey hair, pulled back with bobby pins. I can see my own small hands touching and feeling the textured floral pattern on her white milk glass china as I wait for breakfast, watching her. I hear the pop of bacon sizzling. I can imagine the pain I might feel if I get too close to grandma’s griddle. I instantly know the past and future of this memory. First, Grandma Lucy peeled the bacon apart, dangling each piece before laying them on the griddle. Later, she’ll save the bacon grease, for another purpose. She was like that. Another emotion emerges. I feel sad. I miss her.

In honor of memory science, it’s important to note that each of the preceding memories may be more or less historically accurate. Even more important is the likelihood that these memories, like all memories, have changed, shifted, and evolved over time.

How can memories change? Isn’t it true that humans have an experience and then store a record of it in their brain, ready for later retrieval? Not exactly.

As it turns out, new memories are more fluid than solid. Following a memorable experience, memories stay unstable for somewhere between a few minutes and a few hours. New memories are in flux and shaped or degraded by additional new experiences that immediately follow. More remarkable is the fact that, even after storage, every time memories are pulled out (or retrieved) they return to an unstable or vulnerable state, until they re-stabilize or reconsolidate. And when they reconsolidate (a process that involves cellular protein synthesis), they can include new, different, or less information. This is how and why memories change over time.

For many Americans, Memorial Day is an intentional memory day. For example, yesterday there were flowers, speeches, and flag waving. Yesterday, you were probably in the company of family, possibly kneeling at a gravesite, perhaps celebrating the life of someone whom you loved and lost.

Memorial Day is a memory trigger. It’s a time set aside to honor the lives of men and women who died in service of our country. It’s natural and good to engage in this honoring ritual. People also honor non-military family members with flowers and graveside visits. But, amidst the celebrations, as is often the case, the emotional side of life gets short shrift. Typically, we celebrate and move on, despite the fact that it’s equally natural and good to honor the grief that we feel in response to Memorial Day celebratory rituals.

It might have been the 21 gun salute or the color of the flowers or the taste of the potato salad or the smell of your uncle’s cologne. Whatever the case, yesterday you probably had old memories awaken and stroll past you in an internal memory parade. Some of these memories may have been neutral. Others may have been pleasant. Still others, felt angry, sad, guilty, or lonely.

But memories are open to change, and that fact begs for intentionality. What I mean is that we should all have a plan for Memorial Day (and then a plan for Memorial Night). Not only do we need plans for how to celebrate, we need plans for dealing with the raw emotions that Memorial Day can trigger.

I wish I could offer up a simple method for helping you to deal effectively with Memorial Day memory activation and reconsolidation. But you (and everyone) are a unique entity with layers of fantastic idiosyncrasy. Nevertheless, here’s a quick glimpse into the emerging science of memory reconsolidation.

In one research study, participants were exposed to negative emotional memories from watching a trauma film. The next day, these memories were re-activated using a trauma-photo from the film. Then, after a 10 minute-break some participants played a game of Tetris, while others didn’t. The results: Over the next seven days, the participants who played Tetris after having traumatic memories re-activated, experienced significantly fewer intrusive trauma-related memories. The implications? Maybe the Memorial Night solution is to establish a Tetris-playing ritual.

But painful memories are complex and unique. What works for one person, might not work for another. As Drexler and Wolf (authors of a 2018 scholarly review) were inspired to write, “Indeed, when the activation of selective L-type voltage-gated calcium channels or GluN2B-containing NMDA receptors in the hippocampus was prevented before retrieval, thus blocking memory destabilization . . . the interfering air puff had no effect” (p. 15). Reading this led me to conclude that reading more of Drexler and Wolf’s article might serve as another possible memory disrupting intervention to employ during the reconsolidation period. I’m guessing, if you’ve made it to this point in this blog, that you’re inclined to agree.

From a practical perspective, it’s good to know that, generally, memory reconsolidation can take up to six hours. And so, in addition to Tetris and reading intellectual research papers, there are other reasonable strategies you can use to facilitate healthy memory reconsolidation, not just on Memorial Day (or Night), but any time of the year—as long as you’re within the six hour memory consolidation window.

  • Talk with a trusted friend or counselor about the emotions you’re experiencing. Even better, don’t just talk about your emotional pain, but also talk about and focus on the strengths you have for coping with your challenging emotions.
  • Engage in a physically strenuous activity. This could involve some sort of strenuous physical activity like cycling, running, yoga, or weight-lifting.
  • Ritual is good. This could involve a culturally appropriate spiritual activity like going to a sweat lodge or attending a religious service.
  • Writing is a common and effective method for expressing emotions. In particular, writing about your loss in ways that are meaningful to you can be therapeutic.
  • There may be no better way to deal with problematic emotions than engaging in positive helping behavior. Alfred Adler called this social interest. When you’re triggered, consider ways in which you can shift the spotlight away from yourself and toward fostering wellness in others.

Memorial Day is an intentional memory day. We created it and we celebrate it. But you can have other, self-created memory days. And what we know about memory and the disturbing emotions that can accompany memories, is that they present us with an opportunity. Some researchers call this an opportunity for “updating.” Recognizing this opportunity and intentionally engaging in healthy and soothing behaviors when difficult memories are activated is good guidance. This might be Tetris. It might even involve singing along with Barbra Streisand in your best falsetto. The point is that we have power, albeit limited, to update our activated memories . . . and so I wish you the best in finding intentional and healthy ways to soften your painful memories. It’s the honorable thing to do.

Feminist Theory and Spirituality

Woman Statue

Continuing on our stroll through counseling and psychotherapy theories and spirituality, we come now to complicated crossroad; this is where feminism and spirituality intersect. Our focus is on how feminist theorists and feminist therapists deal with spirituality.

This intersection is complex primarily because the manner in which many religions characterize women’s roles and women’s potential is, shall we say, limiting. In contrast, feminist theory views the limiting of women as inappropriate, inaccurate, unacceptable, oppressive, and pathology-creating. All this is to say that when religion and women’s rights converge, there’s ample room for conflict.

The following excerpt from Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice is a lazy stroll. It’s lazy because we don’t go very deep. Instead, because adherents of both perspectives may have strong beliefs (and emotions), we leave the going deep to you. As you contemplate going deeper, it’s nice to keep in mind the theological, philosophical, and practical idea of “Both-And.” There may be paths for becoming both profoundly spiritual and profoundly feminist. And, at least from the surface, the spiritual-feminist path has the look of something quite different from a lazy stroll.

Here’s the short excerpt:

Feminist Theory and Spirituality

Most dominant world religions have rules or practices that restrict women’s freedoms. In some cases, feminists view religion as abusive, coercive, and dangerous toward women. In most cases, feminists view dominant religions as laden with conservative, patriarchal values (Hagen, Arczynski, Morrow, & Hawxhurst, 2011; Jiménez, Almansa, & Alcón, 2017).

The naturally activist orientation of feminism can create tension between feminist therapists and specific religious practices. For example, female genital mutilation is considered a male-perpetuated human rights violation that sanctions systemic violence toward girls and women. Despite the feminist general philosophy of openness to diverse ways of being, feminists view systematic oppression of females in the name of religion to be intolerable (Jiménez et al., 2017).

Feminists see potential for affirmation and liberation in spiritual alternatives. Specifically, feminist writers have discussed ways in which sexually diverse women can use spirituality to enhance their resilience within oppressive sociocultural contexts (Hagen et al., 2011). Integrating affirming spirituality into feminist therapy is an acceptable and, for many clients and therapists, preferred practice (Funderburk & Fukuyama, 2001; Hagen et al., 2011)

Adherents to male-oriented religious or cultural norms are unlikely to welcome feminist critique of their values. This is where the potential for conflict is highest and where feminists could be viewed as imposing their values on other cultural or religious groups. Feminists view the systematic oppression of women as unacceptable, regardless of political, religious, or cultural justifications that might be used to support oppression.

 

 

Existential Spirituality

Bikes Snow 2

An impromtu word search of the existential theory chapter for the 3rd edition of Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice revealed 17 appearances of the word “spirituality.” That’s nice. Seventeen is a prime number. Seventeen is also one of my favorite spiritual numbers. Back in 2nd grade in Sunday school in a synagogue in Portland, my teacher asked us to guess a number from 1 to 20. The winner had the honor of taking a special Bible story book home for the week. My guess was a perfect 17. I got the book for the week. Obviously, the number 17 is a spiritual force in my life.

More important is the sublime integration of spirituality into existential theory. Or not. It seems to go one way or another. Either existential theorists are deeply spiritual/religious or they’re atheist/agnostic. There is no middle ground. Or maybe there is? [More on this conundrum below]

What follows are several short excerpts from the Existential Theory chapter. These excerpts culminate with the short section on Existential Spirituality.

Soren Kierkegaard

The Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813–1855) lived nearly his entire life in Copenhagen. Kierkegaard was devoutly religious. He was shaken when he discovered, at age 22, that his father had not only cursed God, but also seduced his mother prior to marriage. Subsequently, Kierkegaard’s writings focused primarily on religious faith and the meaning of Christianity. Eventually he concluded that religious faith was irrational and attainable only via a subjective experiential “leap of faith.” For Kierkegaard, virtuous traits such as responsibility, honesty, and commitment are subjective choices—often in response to a subjective religious conversion. Kierkegaard did not describe himself as an existentialist, but his work is a precursor to the existential philosophical movement, which formally began some 70 years following his death.

Friedrich Nietzsche

In contrast to Kierkegaard who began from a position of religious faith, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) had negative feelings about Christianity. It was he who, in his book Thus Spake Zarathustra, wrote, “God is dead.” Although he may have been referring to societal emptiness, he also claimed that religion used fear and resentment to pressure individuals into moral behavior. Instead of following a religion, he believed, individuals should channel their passions into creative, joyful activities. Irvin Yalom offers a fascinating view of Nietzsche’s psychological suffering in a historical fiction piece titled When Nietzsche Wept. In this novel, Yalom (1992) weaves existential principles into a fictional therapeutic encounter between Breuer, Freud, and Nietzsche.

Kierkegaard and Nietzsche represent an interesting paradox or dialectic in existential thinking. A dialectic is a process where learning is stimulated from the integration of opposites. On the one hand, some existentialists embrace deep religious faith, whereas others are staunchly atheistic. Still others claim an agnostic middle ground. These differences in fundamental beliefs represent a wide sweep of human intellectual diversity and provide for fascinating philosophical exploration. You will glimpse existential dialectics intermittently in this chapter.

Four Existential Ways of Being

There are four primary existential ways of being-in-the-world. They include:

  1. Umwelt: Being-with-nature or the physical world.
  2. Mitwelt: Being-with-others or the social world.
  3. Eigenwelt: Being-with-oneself or the world of the self.
  4. Uberwelt: Being-with-the-spiritual or over world.

Boss (1963), Binswanger (1963), and May et al. (1958) described the first three of these existential ways of being. van Deurzen (1988) added the fourth.

These dimensions of existence are ubiquitous and simultaneous. Some people focus more on one dimension than others or shift from one to another depending on particular intentions or situations. For example, while on a hike up the Stillwater gorge in Montana, it’s easy to experience being-with-nature as water powerfully cascades around you. However, depending on other factors, this experience can take people inward toward eigenwelt, toward an uberwelt spiritual experience, or stimulate a deep mitwelt (albeit a nonverbal one). In most cases, the direction your being-ness moves within a given situation is likely a combination of several factors, such as: awareness, anxiety, previous experiences, intention, and/or your spiritual predisposition.

The Daimonic

According to Rollo May, “The daimonic is any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person” (1969, p. 123). Historically, Daimon possession was used to explain psychotic episodes and is popularly referred to as demonic possession. However, May repeatedly emphasized that daimonic and demonic are not the same concept: “I never use the word demonic, except to say that this is not what I mean” (May, 1982, p. 11).

The daimonic is an elemental force, energy, or urge residing within all persons that functions as the source of constructive and destructive impulses. May wrote, “The daimonic is the urge in every being to affirm itself, assert itself, perpetuate and increase itself .… [The reverse side] of the same affirmation is what empowers our creativity” (May, 1969, p. 123).

Similar to C. G. Jung, May considered harnessing and integrating the daimonic as a central psychotherapy task. He viewed psychotherapy as an activity that plumbs the depths of an individual’s most basic impulses … the purpose of which is to acknowledge, embrace, and integrate every bit of being and energy into the whole person. May commented specifically about the danger of leaving the daimonic unintegrated:

If the daimonic urge is integrated into the personality (which is, to my mind, the purpose of psychotherapy) it results in creativity, that is, it is constructive. If the daimonic is not integrated, it can take over the total personality, as it does in violent rage or collective paranoia in time of war or compulsive sex or oppressive behavior. Destructive activity is then the result. (May, 1982, p. 11)

The goal is to integrate natural daimonic urges and energies in ways that maximize constructive and creative behavior.

Existential Spirituality

A spiritual-oriented client was engaging in guided imagery with an existential therapist. The client “discovered” a locked door in the basement of his “self.”

“What’s behind the door?” the therapist asked.

“It’s darkness,” he said. With shivers of fear, he added, “There’s dread. It’s the dread of being unacceptable. . . of being unacceptable to God. Even worse, it’s my dread of being unforgiveable.”

“Shall we go in?” asked the therapist.

Silence followed.

The therapist noticed his client’s reluctance and said, “Let’s wait a moment and breathe. I’m wondering if you can even get in the door. I’m wondering if you want to get in. There’s no rush. We know where the door is. We can wait. Or we can create a key and try to get in. Or we can leave the door shut. But first let’s wait here and breathe before deciding anything.”

For two minutes, client and therapist sat breathing together. The paralyzing fear diminished and the client said, “I have a key. Let’s look inside.”

“Yes. Let’s look inside.”

The key opened the lock. The door creaked open. In the dreaded darkness, there was light. A dialogue with the dread and unforgiveable ensued and the client found a broad sense of love and acceptance. There were tears of relief. His spiritual load was lightened. His basement demons were exorcised.

In this chapter we’ve discussed the deep and profound quality of existential psychotherapy. Schneider (2010) called it the “Rediscovery of Awe.” Frankl and Wong referred to it as the pursuit of meaning. In existential therapy, meaning and awe are individualized, as is spirituality. There’s great potential in combining the existential and the spiritual in psychotherapy, but clients should be forewarned and informed: combining the spiritual and existential isn’t about formulaic or surface explanations; it requires a commitment to go deep and explore doubts, uncertainties, and core vulnerabilities.

Here’s a link to the new Theories 3rd edition cover: https://www.amazon.com/Counseling-Psychotherapy-Theories-Context-Practice/dp/1119279127/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

 

 

Parenting in the Age of Trump . . . and other Parenting Challenges

John and Paul with Fish

This past week, Donald Trump posted another name-calling Tweet about Kim Jong Un being short and fat. Before that, he was famously recorded by Access Hollywood saying it was okay to grab women by the pussy. Somewhere in between, he tweeted about shooting Muslims with bullets dipped in pig’s blood and referred to “firing those SOBs.”

This blog isn’t designed to be political. I don’t mean to be picking on Donald Trump. However, the extraordinary number of provocative statements he generates every day makes him a ready example of a poor media role model. His statements are often of the ilk that republicans, democrats, and independents would all rather not have their 12-year-old children hear, much less repeat. The point is that sometimes politicians, news reporters, comedians, musicians, athletes, and other celebrities make statements that are incompatible with mainstream American family values. This isn’t new. For those of us who were parents back then, about 20 years ago President Bill Clinton made a statement about oral sex that—at the very least—constituted horrid advice for teenagers. The other point is that somehow parents have to figure out how to best deal with provocative statements that leak out of the media and into our children’s brains.

In this week’s episode of the practically perfect parenting podcast, Dr. Sara Polanchek and I take on the contemporary Trump phenomenon, as well as the equally challenging phenomenon of comedians who try to make a joke out of holding a picture of a severed Trump head. How should parents deal with this stream of objectionable content?

Not surprisingly, Sarah and I have a thing or two to say about Parenting in the Age of Trump. We encourage you to contemplate, in advance, how you want to address revolting media-based material to which your children will be inevitably exposed. Our hope is for you to identify your personal and family values and then learn how to stimulate your children’s moral development. Bottom line: we can’t completely control the objectionable media discourse, and so we might as well use it for educational purposes.

You can listen to the Practically Perfect Parenting Podcast on iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/practically-perfect-parenting-podcast/id1170841304?mt=2

Or you can listen to it on Libsyn: http://practicallyperfectparenting.libsyn.com/

You can follow and like us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/PracticallyPerfectParenting/

And just as soon as I gain better control of my Twitter finger, then you’ll be able to find us on Twitter too.

 

Building Better Counselors

JSF Dance Party

This is a link to a hot off the presses article in Counseling Today. The focus is all about how professional counselors (and all psychotherapists) can be BOTH evidence-based AND relationally oriented. My co-author, Kindle Lewis, is one of our fantastic doctoral students in the Department of Counselor Education at the University of Montana. And . . . by the way. . . the University of Montana is NOW the NEW best college destination on the planet. Ask me why:).

Here’s the link: http://ct.counseling.org/2017/11/building-better-counselors/

The Psychology of Doing Good

R and J in Field

At this point in history, it seems especially important to contemplate the psychology of doing good things in the world. I could have said this last month; and next month will doubtless be the same. The point is that even in these ostensibly difficult times, people aren’t built to exclusively do harm and be destructive . . . we’re also built to do good and be constructive. If I was into using bad metaphors, I might even say we’re hard-wired to do good.

You might wonder if I’m serious. Absolutely yes.

You might wonder why and how I would decide to write about doing good, when it seems so common right now for everyone to be doing the Dale Carnegie opposite: losing friends and insulting people.

The short answer to this is: Alfred Adler.

Alfred Adler is the short answer to many questions. He was a contemporary of Freud who perpetually saw the glass as half full. When Freud was writing about women having penis envy, Adler was writing about how women just wanted social equality and equal power. When Freud was writing about the death instinct, Adler was writing about the best and most important psychological concept of all time. What was it? Here it is. Get ready.

Gemeinschaftsgefühl

Gemeinschaftsgefühl roughly means social interest or community feeling. Carlson and Englar-Carlson (2017) provided the meaning of this uniquely Adlerian concept.

Gemein is “a community of equals,” shafts means “to create or maintain,” and Gefühl is “social feeling.” Taken together, Gemeinschaftsgefühl means a community of equals creating and maintaining social feelings and interests; that is, people working together as equals to better themselves as individuals and as a community.” (p. 43)

The coolest thing about Gemeinschaftsgefühl is that it’s all natural. We are pulled toward social interest and community feeling. In fact, there’s no other good explanation for why so many people around the world reach out to help their neighbors, friends, family, and strangers—without expecting anything in return.

As my friend and colleague Richard Watts has emphasized, Gemeinschaftsgefühl also makes for a fabulous therapy goal.

Tomorrow (or Thursday), I’ll be posting about Gemeinschaftsgefühl. For today, I just want you all to get to know Alfred Adler a bit better. So here’s a short excerpt about him from our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories text.

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Alfred Adler (1870-1937) was the second of six children born to a Jewish family outside Vienna. His older brother was brilliant, outgoing, handsome, and also happened to be named Sigmund. In contrast, Alfred was a sickly child. He suffered from rickets, was twice run over in the street, and experienced a spasm of the glottis. When he was 3 years old, his younger brother died in bed next to him (Mosak, 1972). At age 4, he came down with pneumonia. Later Adler recalled the physician telling his father, “Your boy is lost” (Orgler, 1963, p. 16). Another of Adler’s earliest memories has a sickly, dependent theme:

One of my earliest recollections is of sitting on a bench bandaged up on account of rickets, with my healthy, elder brother sitting opposite me. He could run, jump, and move about quite effortlessly, while for me movement of any sort was a strain and an effort. Everyone went to great pains to help me, and my mother and father did all that was in their power to do. At the time of this recollection, I must have been about two years old. (Bottome, 1939, p. 30)

In contrast to Freud’s childhood experience of being his mother’s favorite, Adler was more encouraged by his father. Despite his son’s clumsy, uncoordinated, and sickly condition, Adler’s father Leopold, a Hungarian Jew, firmly believed in his son’s innate worth. When young Alfred was required to repeat a grade at the same middle school Freud had attended 14 years earlier, Leopold was his strongest supporter. Mosak and Maniacci (1999) wrote about Adler’s response to his father’s encouragement:

His mathematics teacher recommended to his father that Adler leave school and apprentice himself as a shoe-maker. Adler’s father objected, and Adler embarked upon bettering his academic skills. Within a relatively short time, he became the best math student in the class. (p. 2)

Adler’s love and aptitude for learning continued to grow; he studied medicine at the University of Vienna. After obtaining his medical degree in ophthalmology in 1895, he met and fell in love with Raissa Timofeyewna Epstein, and married her in 1897. She had the unusual distinction of being an early socialist and feminist.

Historical Context

Freud and Adler met in 1902. According to Mosak and Maniacci (1999), Adler published a strong defense of Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams, and consequently Freud invited Adler over “on a Wednesday evening” for a discussion of psychological issues. “The Wednesday Night Meetings, as they became known, led to the development of the Psychoanalytic Society” (p. 3).

Adler was his own man with his own ideas before he met Freud. Prior to their meeting he’d published his first book, Healthbook for the Tailor’s Trade (Adler, 1898). In contrast to Freud, much of Adler’s medical practice was with the working poor. Early in his career, he worked extensively with tailors and circus performers.

In February 1911, Adler did the unthinkable (Bankart, 1997). As president of Vienna’s Psychoanalytic Society, he read a highly controversial paper, “The Masculine Protest,” at the group’s monthly meeting. It was at odds with Freudian theory. Adler claimed that women occupied a less privileged social and political position because of social coercion, not physical inferiority.

The Vienna Psychoanalytic Society members’ response to Adler was dramatic. Bankart (1997) described the scene:

After Adler’s address, the members of the society were in an uproar. There were pointed heckling and shouted abuse. Some were even threatening to come to blows. And then, almost majestically, Freud rose from his seat. He surveyed the room with his penetrating eyes. He told them there was no reason to brawl in the streets like uncivilized hooligans. The choice was simple. Either he or Dr. Adler would remain to guide the future of psychoanalysis. The choice was the members’ to make. He trusted them to do the right thing. (p. 130)

The group voted for Freud to lead them. Adler left the building quietly, joined by the Society’s vice president, William Stekel, and five other members. They moved their meeting to a local café and established the Society for Free Psychoanalytic Research. The Society soon changed its name to the Society for Individual Psychology. This group believed that social, familial, and cultural forces are dominant in shaping human behavior. Bankart (1997) summarized their perspective: “Their response to human problems was characteristically ethical and practical—an orientation that stood in dramatic contrast to the biological and theoretical focus of psychoanalysis” (p. 130).

Adler’s break from Freud gives an initial glimpse into his theoretical approach. Adler identified with common people. He was a feminist. These leanings reflect the influences of his upbringing and marriage. They reveal his compassion for the sick, oppressed, and downtrodden. Adler embraced egalitarianism long before it became anything close to popular.

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

Stay tuned. Tomorrow I’ll be posting some content on Gemeinschaftsgefühl. I can hardly wait.

Today, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite Adlerian quotations.

“An incalculable amount of tension and useless effort would be spared in this world if we realized that cooperation and love can never be won by force.” (Adler, 1931, p. 132).

When a doctor once said to Adler: “I do not believe you can make this backward child normal,” Dr. Adler replied: “Why do you say that? One could make any normal child backward; one should only have to discourage it enough!” (Bottome, 1936, p. 37)

“All our institutions, our traditional attitudes, our laws, our morals, our customs, give evidence of the fact that they are determined and maintained by privileged males for the glory of male domination.” (Adler, 1927, p. 123)

“[E]ach partner must be more interested in the other than in himself. This is the only basis on which love and marriage can be successful.” (Ansbacher & Ansbacher, 1956, p. 432)

This is a photo of Jon Carlson. He was a devoted Adlerian and a great man. He passed away earlier this year. I, and many others, am indebted to him for the amazing work he did to not let Adler’s ideas fade into the past. Thank you Jon.

John and Jon on M

 

 

Psychoanalytic and Spiritual Compatibility: A Friday Evening Spiritual Reading

Rainbow 2017As we roll through the revisions in our Theories text, we’re adding a short section in each chapter on spirituality. This seems important partly because spirituality is so meaningful to so many people and partly because counseling and psychotherapy is often viewed as at odds with or contrary to religious beliefs. Of course, this new integration might also be related to Rita’s ongoing blog titled, Short Visits with an Honest God. Check it out at: https://godcomesby.com/

In this sneak peek of the 3rd edition, we briefly (very briefly) discuss Freud, psychoanalytic approaches, and religion/spirituality. Our purpose isn’t to go into greata detail, but to offer students a taste of spiritual integration in counseling and psychotherapy.

As always, if you have any reactions, please feel free to share them using your preferred communication modality.

Spirituality and the Psychoanalytic Approach

Freud was no fan of religion. He often referred to himself as a “Godless Jew.” Gay (1978) wrote that Freud “advertised his unbelief every time he could find, or make, an opportunity” (p. 3). Freud (1918) viewed religious beliefs as irrational, projective, and regressive. In return, most religious people are no fans of Freud. Casey (1938) captured some of the disdain early psychoanalysts held toward religion, “Even in the higher religions with their impressive theological facades there is always . . . a myth, a rule of piety, a cult, which is rationalized but which neither begins nor ends with reason” (p. 445).

Despite this rather poor start, contemporary psychoanalytic theorists and practitioners have made strides in accepting religion and integrating spirituality into psychotherapy. A common psychoanalytic position is that religious and spiritual experiences are meaningful and therefore deserve the same level of analysis and respect as sexuality, family relationships, work, and other life domains (Rizzuto & Shafranske, 2013). This respectful stance toward religious experiences is relatively new and exciting territory for practitioners who want to integrate religion and spirituality into psychoanalytic approaches.

As one example, Rizzuto and Shafranske (2013) wrote that, “God representations always involve a representation of the self in relationship with the sacred” (p. 135). They view client disclosures about religion as opportunities to attain a deeper and more useful understanding of clients. God representations are not only respected, but also explored as multidimensional components of human experience that can exert both positive and negative influence on individual’s lives. They believe, “Religion and spirituality can serve as a foundation for the healthy appreciation of the self and for the resolution of psychic pain and trauma” (p. 142). Clearly, this perspective plays better with religious clients than beginning with an assumption, like Freud, that all religious views and experiences are immature and irrational.

That time when I conducted a scientific research study designed to test the effectiveness of using hypnosis to break down the space-time continuum and transport 18 people to the future so they could fill-out perfect March Madness brackets.

Flower in Bricks

You can probably tell by the title of this post that I’m pretty stoked about scientific research right now.

I typically don’t do much empirical research. That’s why it was a surprise to me and my colleagues that, about six weeks ago, I spontaneously developed a research idea, dropped nearly everything else I was doing, and had amazing fun conducting my first ever March Madness bracket research project.

My research experience included a roller coaster of surprises.

I somehow convinced a professor from the Health and Human Performance department at the University of Montana to collaborate with me on a ridiculous study on a ridiculously short timeline.

My university IRB approved our proposal. Seriously. I submitted a proposal that involved me hypnotizing volunteer participants to transport them into the future to make their March Madness bracket selections. Then they approved it in six days. How cool is that?

I managed to network my way onto ESPN radio (where we called the study ESP on ESPN; thanks Lauren and Arianna) and onto the Billings, MT CBS affiliate (thanks Dan).

And, this is the teaser: with only 36 participants, the results were significant at the p < .001 level.

Damn. Now you know. Scientific research is so cool.

Of course, there’s a back-story. While you’re waiting in anticipation to learn about those p < .001 results, you really need to hear this back-story.

Several years ago, while on a 90-minute car ride back from Trapper Creek Job Corps to Missoula, my counseling interns asked me if I could hypnotize someone and take them back in time so they could recall something that happened to them in a previous life. I thought the question was silly and the answer was simple.

“Absolutely yes.” I said, “Of course I could do that.”

Questions followed.

My answers included a ramble about not really believing in past lives and not really thinking that past life hypnotic regression was ethical. But still, I said, “If someone is hypnotizable, then, I’m sure I could get them into a trance and at least make them think they went back to a previous life and retrieved a few memories. No problem.”

Have you ever noticed that once you start to brag, it’s hard to stop. That’s what happened next, for several years.

Somewhat later in another conversation, I started exaggerating bigly. I decided to extend my imaginary prowess into a fool-proof strategy for generating a perfect March Madness bracket. I said something about, “Brains being amazing and that you can suddenly pay attention to the big toe on your right foot and, at nearly the same time, project yourself not only back into your 7-year-old self, but forward in time into the future. That being the case,” I waxed, “it’s pretty obvious that I could hypnotize people, break down the space-time continuum, and take them to a future where all the March Madness basketball games had been played and therefore, they could just copy down the winners and create a perfect March Madness bracket.”

Through this process, I would turn a one-in-a-trillion possibility into absolute certainty.

I enjoyed bragging about my imaginary scenario for several years. That is, until this year, when, I decided that if I was set on bragging bigly, I should also be willing to put my science where my mouth is (or something like that). It was time to test my hypnosis-space-time-continuum hypothesis using the scientific method.

We designed a pre-test, post-test experimental design with random assignment to three conditions.

Condition 1: Education. Participants would receive about 20 minutes of education on statistics relevant to making March Madness bracket picks. My colleague, Dr. Charles Palmer, showed powerpoint slides and provided insights about the statistical probabilities of 12s beating 5s and 9s beating 8s, and “Blue Blood” conferences.

Condition 2: Progressive Muscle Relaxation. The plan was for Daniel Salois, one of my graduate students and an immensely good sport, to do 20 minutes of progressive muscle relaxation with this group.

Condition 3: Hypnosis. I would use a hypnotic induction, a deepening procedure, and then project participants into the future. Instead of having everyone fill out their brackets while in trance, I decided to use a post-hypnotic suggestion. As soon as they heard me clap twice, they would immediately recall the tournament game outcomes and then fill out their brackets perfectly.

Unfortunately, on short notice we only recruited 36 participants. To give ourselves a chance to obtain statistical significance, we dumped the progressive muscle relaxation condition, and just had the EDUCATION and HYPNOSIS conditions go head to head in a winner-take-all battle.

Both groups followed the same basic protocol. Upon arrival at the College of Education, they were randomly assigned to one of two rooms (Charlie or me). When the got to their room, they signed the informed consent, and immediately filled out a bracket along with a confidence rating. Then they received either the EDUCATION or HYPNOSIS training. After their respective trainings, they filled out a second bracket, along with another confidence rating.

We hypothesized that both groups would report an increase in confidence, but that only the EDUCATION group (but not the HYPNOSIS group) would show a statistically significant improvement in bracket-picking accuracy. We based our hypotheses on the fact that although real education should help, there’s no evidence that anyone can use hypnosis to transport themselves to the future. We viewed the HYPNOSIS condition as essentially equivalent to raising false hopes without providing help that had any substance.

IMHO, the results were stunning.

We were dead on about the EDUCATION group. Those participants significantly increased their confidence; they also improved their bracket scores (we used the online ESPN scoring system where participants can obtain up to a maximum of 320 points for each round; this means participants got 10 points for every correct pick in the first round, with their potential points doubling in every round, and concluding with 320 points if they correctly picked the University of North Carolina to win the tournament).

Then there was the HYPNOSIS group.

HYPNOSIS participants experienced a small but nonsignificant increase in their confidence. . . but they totally tanked their predictions. We had a participant who picked Creighton to win it all. We had one bracket that had Virginia Tech vs. Oklahoma State in the final. We had another person who listed a final score in the championship game of 34-23. When I shared these results to our research class, I said, “The HYPNOSIS participants totally sucked. They did so bad that I think they couldn’t have done any worse if we had hit them all on the head with a 2 x 4 and given them concussions and then had them fill out their brackets.”

So what happened? Why did the HYPNOSIS group perform so badly?

When told of the outcome, one student who had participated offered her explanation, “I believe it. I don’t know what happened, but after the hypnosis, I totally forgot about anything I knew, and just wrote down whatever team names popped into my head.”

My interpretation: Most of the people in the HYPNOSIS group completely abandoned rational and logical thought. They decided that whatever thoughts that happened to come into their minds were true and right.

It’s probably too much of a stretch to link this to politics, but it’s hard not to speculate. It’s possible that candidates from both parties are able, from time to time, to use charisma and bold claims to get their supporters to let go of logic and rational thought, and instead, embrace a fantastical future.

Another faculty member in our department offered an alternative explanation. She recalled the old Yerkes-Dodson law. This “law” in psychology predicts that optimal arousal (or stress) is linked to optimal performance. In contrast, too much arousal or too little arousal impairs performance. She theorized that perhaps the hypnosis participants had become too relaxed; they were so under-aroused that they couldn’t perform.

It seems clear that the hypnosis did something. But what? It wasn’t a helpful trip to the future. Some friends suggested that maybe they went to the wrong year. Others have mocked me for being a bragger who couldn’t really use hypnosis to break down the space-time continuum.

What do you think? Do you have any potential explanations you’d like to offer? I’d love to hear them. And, if you have any ideas of which scientific journal to submit our manuscript to, we’d love to hear that as well.

The Morning of November 9, 2016

**This is only a semi-coherent first reaction to the Presidential election. Read if you want. Be aware that I channel a little Albert Ellis at the end.**

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In four hours I’m supposed to teach a three-hour course on advanced theories of counseling and psychotherapy. The topic today is emotion-focused therapy for couples. It’s a good day to focus on emotions. I have more than a couple of them bouncing around inside me.

Maybe that’s why I made my way to a coffee shop at 5am this morning. That’s abnormal. But today is abnormal; the new abnormal.

Back in college a fellow student who was from Nepal explained to me the meaning of the greeting, “Namaste.”

“It means,” he said, “I salute the light within you.”

It’s a sad and painful morning. I’m not sure about the light in me. Instead, mostly I’m certain that yesterday and last night was a cosmic mistake. It feels like sexism, racism, and hate have triumphed over “. . . all men (and women) being created equal.” I feel this, even though I’m a White, heterosexual, Jewish-Christian-Agnostic male. Given my privileged status, it’s hard to comprehend the pain this vote has caused women and minorities.

But I can imagine it.

When I woke up to sounds on the street at 3am, my mind created evil agents of Donald Trump gathering outside my home to take me away. It was the sort of paranoid thought that can come in the night—even to those of us who are well endowed with safety and privilege. It makes me wonder if that what’s it like for my Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Mexican, and Muslim friends and students?

Late last night I got a text from a wealthy White Christian man who described himself as in tears. “What’s happening to our country?” he asked. And then he wondered what he could tell his children in the morning. He had put them to bed with kisses and the anticipation that they would awaken to the first woman President in the history of the United States.

There’s too much pain and sadness and suffering in the world. But there was too much pain and sadness and suffering in the world last week. And there will be too much next week.

I hold vivid memories of suffering through Reagan’s election, and George H. W. Bush’s election, and George W. Bush’s election. Those were difficult times. In each case I was certain that an evil force on the planet had somehow made it possible for the less honest, less compassionate, and less competent candidate to win.

But this is worse.

Even so, I refuse to believe that the majority of Americans are sexist and racist. I see too much kindness. I hope that Donald Trump is only a temporary phenomenon. I hope his existence will motivate us to swing the pendulum back toward justice, kindness, and empathy.

I’m reminded of the alleged words of Jesus, “Forgive them father, they know not what they do.”

Somewhat irrationally, I still have faith.

I have faith in the possibility that, as Jesus said, many people do not know what they’ve done. I have faith that although Donald Trump won the vote, that most people are not inherently sexist and racist at their core. I have faith that we can reach out to, reason with, and love our enemies, even when they’re our neighbors.

I will also follow the advice that I give people for coping with crisis.

  • Take care of yourself.
  • Look around and do what you can do to take care of others, your family, your friends, and your community.
  • And, don’t do anything stupid.

After I woke up at 3 a.m. and shook off my paranoid thoughts of evil Trump agents outside my door, other words emerged.

“Don’t mourn.”

An old memory was knocking at my door.

“But I want to mourn,” was my response. “I want to mourn. I need to mourn. I want to feel the pain for myself, and for my community of friends and family who have had their hopes crushed.”

“Okay. The voice conceded. “Mourn briefly. Do not linger.”

I recognized that this message wasn’t necessarily mine or God’s. It sounded like Joe Hill, the old union activist. He was saying,

“Don’t mourn. Organize.”

Then I was up. I had my hour of mourning. It was 4am. The sun will rise. I will teach my class.

But more important, I will focus. I will organize. I will, in Freud’s words, “Sublimate my emotions.”

I will whisper “Namaste” to everyone I see. I will salute the light within them.

Even though, right now, it’s so fucking hard to see the light.

 

Professional Writing 101: Dealing with Rejection

This is how it goes.

You read, gather background information, do research, and carefully write a manuscript. You put in so many hours or days or weeks that you lose track of how much time you’ve put in—which is a good thing. You re-read, edit, get feedback, revise, and do your best to produce an excellent manuscript. You upload it a portal where it magically finds its way to a professional journal editor. Then, because you can only submit a manuscript to one journal at a time, you wait.

A month passes.

You keep waiting.

If you’re lucky, you hear back from the journal editor via email within two months. You click on the email with a mix of anticipation and dread. Then, ta-da, you learn your manuscript was REJECTED.

The editor is polite, but pointedly informs you that this particular journal doesn’t recognize the magnificence of your work. To add insult to injury, your rejection is accompanied by critiques from three different reviewers. These reviewers were apparently named by Dr. Seuss: Reviewer 1, Reviewer 2, and Reviewer 3.

Some rejections are worse than others. Maybe it’s because your hopes were too high; or maybe it’s because the journal’s impact factor rating was so low. Getting rejected when the journal has an impact rating of “0” can bring down your self-esteem to a similar level.

And then there are the reviewers.

It’s important to remember that reviewers are busy, fallible, human, and unpaid volunteers. They’re also purportedly experts, although I’ve had experiences that led me to question their expertise. Many appear to have a proverbial axe to grind. Perhaps because they experienced scathing critiques in their professional childhood, they feel the need to pass on the pain. Sometimes they just seem obtuse. I’ve wondered a time or two if maybe a reviewer forgot to actually read the manuscript before offering an off-point “review.”

If you sense bitterness, it might be because over the past several years I’ve experienced an extra-large load of rejections. When the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) rejected my manuscript in less than a week, I was disappointed. But because the NEJM is the most prestigious journal on the planet, I didn’t linger much on the rejection, because rejection was expected. But when a decidedly less-prestigious professional group rejected all my proposals to present at an annual conference, I was deeply hurt, saddened, and angry. Reading the reviewers’ comments didn’t help.

At one point last summer, in a fit of self-pity, I decided to count up my two-year rejection total. I got to 20, had a flash of insight, and stopped. It was like counting cloudy days. My advice: Unless you’re especially serious about depressing yourself, don’t count up your rejections. If you’re into counting, put that energy into counting the sunny days.

One time, back when I was immature and impulsive, I received an insensitive and insulting rejection from a low tier journal. My response: A hasty, nasty, and indignant email lambasting the editor and his single reviewer for their poor decision-making process and outcome. Sending the email was immediately gratifying, but, like many immediately gratifying things, not reflective of good judgment. I never heard back. And now, when I see that editor at conferences, it’s awkward.

More recently, I responded to a rejection from a high-status conference with humility along with a gentle inquiry about re-consideration. Less than 24 hours later they discovered “one more slot” and I was in! It was a paid gig, for an excellent conference, and at a convenient venue. Bingo. Let that be a lesson to me.

Last month I received a different sort of journal rejection. It was an invitation to “Revise and Resubmit.”

Put in romantic terms, revise and resubmit is lukewarm and confusing. The message is, “I kind of like you, and you have potential, but I’m not ready for a commitment.” But if you’ve been casting out and reeling in a raft of rejections, revise and resubmit is a welcome flirtation.

I had submitted a manuscript focusing on suicide risk assessment to a reasonably good journal. It was a good manuscript. In fact, Reviewer 3 recommended publication. But Reviewer 1 spoiled my day by offering 23 substantial and picky suggestions. The editor, who wrote me a long and rather nice email, decided to go with Reviewer 1’s opinion: revise and resubmit.

Given that I’ve been reviewing the suicide risk assessment literature for a couple decades, I assumed I was well-versed in the area. But when I read through Reviewer 1’s suggestions I was surprised, humbled, and eventually pleased. Reviewer 1 had many excellent points.

Looking back and forward, I think this is what I like best about submitting manuscripts to professional journals. Basically, you get a free critique and although some reviewers are duds, others are experts in the field who provide you with a fabulous educational opportunity. There’s always so much more to learn.

The moral of this story and blog post is that the attitude we have toward rejection is far more important than our fragile egos (at least it’s more important than my fragile ego). In response to the revise and resubmit verdict, I’ve graciously accepted the feedback, engaged a co-author to help me, and we have now systematically plowed through the 23 recommendations. The result: Last week we re-submitted a vastly improved manuscript.

Now we wait.

Although I have hope for success, I also realize that Reviewer 1 may have a bit more educational feedback to offer. But this time around, I’m looking forward to it.

 

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