March 4th, 2010

Thanks for reading this at psych central, but please keep reading a Week in the Life at

I guess it could come to this

December 31st, 2009

With insurance plans charging more and giving less, psychologists might have to do this:



December 30th, 2009

Psychotherapy is  challenging and interesting. One of the most important ingrediants to therapy is trust .  Over time, as the trust increases,  people get more comfortable and more intimate in their disclosures.  As more and more of these dislosures happen, people share their secrets.  What is a secret? What’s the impact of holding onto secrets?  What happens after you share the secret?  All great questions. Hopefully they’ll be some great answers to these questions.

A secret according to the is “Something kept hidden from others or known only to oneself or to a few”.  This hidden piece is usually loaded with shame and guilt making it difficult to share with others.  People fear  being judged, criticized,  looking stupid etc.  The person projects their own feelings  for the thing that they are keeping  secret.(I can’t believe I did that, what a lowlife I must be, if anyone ever knew….)  Over time secrets are “forgotten”–that is I don’t think about it or if I do, I need to use “numbing agents”– either  addictive behaviors or great defense mechanisms to not think about it.  The amount of energy required to keep a secret is similar to trying to stand on a kickboard on the bottom of a swimming pool and keep it there for ever!!!  Secrets are weighty and require energy to keep it out of my conscious mind.  Over time people with secrets pay a price for keeping them.  They develop a mood disorder or anxiety disorder. Sometimes their addictive numbing agents develop into  addiction.  In some cases all 3 of these occur.  What a price to pay for keeping a secret.

As a result of the anxiety, depression or addictive disorder, the person comes to my office.  In time, something miraculous happens–the person develops trust, and decides that they can now share the secret.  How does that happen?    Here’s a person who doesn’t trust many people and now is going to trust me–  What an amazing, courageous act.  The person may say something like: “………I’m going to tell you something that I’ve never told anyone……..”  Wow–chills go up my spine, I usually stop breathing somewhere in this process(or so it appears to me) and the person  painfully shares the event that no one knows.  What a priviledge it is to sit in that spot–that this person trusts  enough to tell me the most private of things, the most painful of things, the most unforgivable of things.

Once someone knows this painful event, it is no longer, by definition, a secret.  It is the  painful shameful event that occurred that now needs to be healed.  How does that happen?  Talking about the secret is the first step, then comes the meaning and the impact of the secret on the person’s life–what’s happened as a result of this secret?  Now there’s a need for understanding, empathy, diaglogue, conversation and processing of all of these rich and raw feelings.  This is not a quick nor easy process.  The trust that was built earlier becomes the foundation of all of the conversations that are to come.  The person gets to hear themselves discuss things they thought they’d never say out loud let alone to another person.  They also get the opportunity to go beyond what they knew since some of the secret material was buried.  This discussion allows for the person to go deep and uncover this pain.

The best thing that happens over time is  that the person feels better.  They are no longer stuck with their secret.  The secret no longer determines who they are, how they feel about themselves or the world.  They are lighter, healthier, and healing.  With a new year and new decade about to commence, give some thoughts to your secrets.  Make a decision to not make them secrets anymore.

Just Validate baby!!!!!

October 27th, 2009

After the Jets win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, I was reminded of the phrase that Al Davis  the maverick owner of the Raiders is famous for:   just win baby.

Couples need a version of his great slogan–“Just Validate Baby!!!”

In a previous post, I addressed the need for communication using the 15 words of less model of communication.  If we take this a step further,  communication can now have specific 15 words of less.  It can have validation, a confirmation of the communication  which tells the listener “I understand/ what you are saying makes sense to me/ you are not a martian. 

Why is this so important?  Let’s find out:

person A ” I’m really afraid that our kids are going to grow up to be bad people, I mean they do all these weird things”

person B ” Don’t be so dramatic, you always blow things out of proportion”

person A “I can’t talk to you, you never listen to me; you always put me down”

person B “Who could listen to you, you’re a crazy person!”

So how’s this conversation going?!!!!

Let’s try it with a little validation:

person A ” I’m really afraid that our kids are going to grow up to be bad people, I mean they do all these weird things”

person B “I understand that you’re worried about our kids”  They’ll be ok, just  a little growing pains”

person A “Do you really think so, they’re just not like us at all”

person B “yes I do”.

Ok so what’s the difference?  Oh a conversation and an argument.

Validation is one of the simplest communication tools, because you just have to, er, um, validate!!!!!  Don’t defend, explain, criticize, blame, attack–Just Validate Baby!!!!!

If you’re validating, you’re listening and paying attention.  It probably means, you need to at least mute the tv, put down the laptop or blackberry.  Most of us can’t listen and do these things at the same time.  In our fast paced technological world, listening has become old school– its easier to text, facebook, twitter or email.  These one way communication methods require no listening skills.  How would a person practice listening if  the new school version requires none of it?

Validation enhances relationships and can lead to greater depth of communication and more intimate sharing.  In a future post we’ll discuss how to do that, but for now —Just Validate Baby!!!


Intimacy is a lonely problem

October 19th, 2009


Just another example of coming attractions…………………………………….

Envy is a 4 Letter Word

September 25th, 2009

A few weeks ago I was eating cheesecake from Mike’s Pastries, and I had this thought.  Boy if people knew about this chocolate chip cheesecake, they would be really envious.  After eating  this delicious cheesecake it occurred to me how envy is really an interesting feeling.  It’s filled with other feelings, but often confused with jealousy, its cousin.

What is envy? defines envy  as  “a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another’s advantages, success, possessions, etc.”  So my cheesecake would give someone discontent?  No way!!!!  They’d be salivating, they’d be upset, they’d be “jealous”.   We need a better definition.  Parrott, W. G., & Smith, R. H. (1993) in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology define envy as: “  an emotion that occurs when a person lacks another’s (perceived) superior quality, achievement, or possession and either desires it or wishes that the other lacked it.”  Now we’re cookin’!!  So my cheesecake is probably not a superior quality or achievement, but it would be a possession that someone else would desire. Absolutely!

People always confuse envy and jealousy.  Here is a great and simple distinction from Bryan A. Garner in the Dictionary of American Usage.  He writes: “jealousy is properly restricted to contexts involving affairs of the heart, envy is used more broadly of  resentful contemplation of a more fortunate person” (emphasis added).  A resentful contemplation of a more fortunate person?  Ooh that’s so ugly and so prevalent!  Think about how many times we see someone’s new car, new job, new whatever and have that thought.  Think about how we might gossip to others about it–Did you see John’s new car?  That must have cost at least $100,000.  Where did he get that kind of money?  Must have been those drug deals?!!!!   And we go on and on and on about this character assassinations, the whole time we are dripping with envy!!!  Envy gets uglier when we go back to the other definition–the one about perceived superior achievement.   We get that less than feeling, and then probably project the negativity and cut down that person’s “perceived superiority”.  Yuck  —we probably do this more than we want to admit!!!!  The other thing that envy brings out is victimization and self pity.  John is so lucky to get that new car, while I ride around in my old clunker that breaks down every mile or so.  These things always happen to me….other people get all the breaks etc.

So now that we understand the true meaning of the phrase “green with envy”, what can we do about it?  Clearly since envy is about others, the first place to focus in on is self.  What can I do to make myself a better person?  What are some traits, attributes, behaviors in me that I do like?  I can work my self-affirmations of those.  The other solution is to examine what I’m grateful for.  This is the typical  glass half full vs. half empty thinking.  If I’m envious, my glass is half empty.  If I’m grateful, it’s half full.  I’m going to embrace, enjoy, appreciate, the things that I have that I’m grateful for.  I might even make my circle of noticing bigger and pay attention to the things around me–nature, the sky, others who are less fortunate etc. as mechanisms to enlarge my gratitude.

When I change my lens, I can see the beauty and importance of life.  If I’m envious, my ugliness is showing.  Envy truly is a 4 letter word, but gratitude and appreciation of life, are much bigger, and ultimately make us much bigger.  Let me know how you’ve begun to be a bigger person.  Thanks for reading.

The 2 Questions

September 9th, 2009

On a day filled with numerology, I must get into the act.  Certain groups have the 12 steps. There are the 4 agreements.   Jews at their Passover seder have the 4 Questions.  I give you the 2 questions.

  Now you might ask what 2 questions could a person ask?  It’s not questions 67 & 68 or any other rock and roll jeopardy song that might come up.  It’s not a question that you would find on the “Millionaire” show.    These 2 questions are simple guides to daily  decision making.

The 2 questions are:

Is this good for me?

Is this the right thing?

How does this work?  Ok here’s an example.  I’m short on money and decide I’m going to rob a store.  Question 1–is this good for me?—ABSOLUTELY!!!!!!! more money is never a bad thing.  Question 2 Is this the right thing? No–problem solved.

Let’s try another one.  You have an elderly relative who is in  a nursing home and you are deciding whether to visit.  Question 1 –is this good for me, No–I hate nursing homes.  Question 2–Is it the right thing, Yes… I’m going. 

The 2 questions gives us a check and balance on automatic dysfunctional behavior–you want to me do something, I don’t want to upset you, I’m doing it.  There are many people that I see who are “programmed” to act in this fashion.  They’ve never considered there own needs, let alone even asked themselves about them.  The “Is this good for me“  question, prior to beginning a process of change, might as well have been asked in Swahili, let alone English.  Once a person has started to change, they can ask “Is this good for me?” and recognize that they have some choices about their behavior.  They can even conclude “I don’t know” .

The second question “Is this the  right thing?” is a subjective, moral compass.  It guides and prevents the “self will run riot” as the AA people would describe it.  It is a check and balance for just doing what ever I want  to because it is good for me.  The same people who in the past did nothing for themselves  sometimes get  so empowered  that they  sometimes go over the line.  They rationalize, this is good for me so I’m gonna do it”, but they can’t see how that can and will effect others.  The “Is this the right thing” gives them an opportunity to pause…………   and consider if this action is indeed the right thing.

The self is a very fragile, and for most people I see a slowly developing entity.  The words self-esteem or self concept are descriptors of our selves and how we feel about us.  The 2 questions are designed to develop the self further by empowering us and paying attention to self and  at the same time preventing self absortion and self centeredness.  People get healthier as their selves grow and develop.  Its somewhat ironic that my website is change is possible, but the reality is  that change is simple; it starts with 2 questions.


August 11th, 2009

A little tease for the next blog entitled “The 2 questions”  Coming Soon!!!!!!! 


July 15th, 2009

Webster defines vacation as “a respite or a time of respite from something ” or “a period spent away from home or business in travel or recreation. “  These are all nice and correct definitions.  To me a vacation is a recharging of our internal batteries.  If a good night’s sleep is compared to the recharging  of a cell phone, a vacation is the jump start for a dead car battery.  Attach those jumper cables and that dead battery will recharge and run well for a long time.

In our current economy people don’t take as many or for that matter  any vacation.  There’s too much fear about job loss etc.  This is an understandable fear.  However without that good jumpstart, work productivity will drag, enthusiasm for the job will not be there, burnout will occur. In that light, vacation is almost a no brainer.

A person has to define what a vacation means.  Let’s go back to the definition– the first one is a respite.  It doesn’t say a long tropical cruise to an exotic island, 2 weeks in Hawaii or month long European jaunt.  It says respite as in let’s take a break.  The second definition ” a period spent away from….” doesn’t specify how long or where or what that might entail.  To me a vacation is a change in what I do.  It means turning off the cell phone & computer.  It means not reading any type of technical material(For me vacation  reading= USA Today!).  It means shutting down work of all kinds and not allowing work to enter my mind.  When I am on vacation, I do not have a daily calendar, do not have a plan, and most of the time couldn’t tell you what day of the week it is.  It’s the ultimate recharge!

I have worked with people over the years who will take their cell phone and/or laptop on vacation.  It seems somewhat half assed to me.  I’m going down the shore to enjoy the sand and sea, but I’m going to be in contact with work.  Are they that indespensible?  Is their name on  the marquee?  It’s almost like they couldn’t allow themselves to take that break, or timeout for fear of     ????????????

In my way of thinking, work is this thing that  you do between vacations.  When you return from a vacation, you work on planning the next one.  This way you always have vacation on your mind.  It’s on your calendar, it’s a goal to achieve.  “I’m working for the next 3 months and then I’m away.”  I once  worked with a man who was going to Ireland.  For the month prior to the trip, he brought in Irish music, pictures from previous trips to Ireland which he used as his screensaver, his itinerary for the trip.  He was vacationing before he got there!!! 

The ultimate recharger of our internal systems, vacation, is a healthy, useful and a necessary part of our lives.  Please plan one.  I just came back, and yes I have another one planned.

These crimes between us grow deeper

June 17th, 2009

The beauty of Sirius radio.  You can drive around and listen to anything.  You have choices.  Last week Sirius radio gave us Dave Matthews radio for one week.   I listened to this station a lot.  There were live songs, cover versions of popular songs, and older songs.  While driving to work I heard the song “Ants Marching” which I have heard hundreds of times.  The lyrics in the second verse:

 She thinks, we look at each other
Wondering what the other is thinking,
But we never say a thing.
And these crimes between us grow deeper.

hit me in the head.  I said “Wow that is a day and a week in my life”  This is almost every couple that I see.  I have thoughts, I don’t communicate it them, and the “crimes” the pain, the resentment, the hurt, grow deeper.  Thank you Dave Matthews for additional inspiration!

How do these crimes develop–Is it a function of a lack of communication?  Is it an awareness of who my partner is?  Is it an awareness of what others couples do that we don’t?–Do I look around and see how others act and we don’t?  And just like the song that I’ve heard 100 times, why am I noticing this now?  These are all great questions asked by many many people that I’ve seen over the years.  For each person the answer is different, significant, and ideosyncratic.

One of the major crimes comitted by many couples is felony mindreading.  This crime is punishable by lots of hurt/anger and resentment because my partner does not know what I’m thinking.  S/he is “not in tune with me; if s/he was than my partner would know exactly how I feel!”  Think about this–I expect my partner  to know my thoughts and feelings without communication!!!!  This sounds a little crazy to me, but I hear it all the time.  The lyrics could just be amended to be “we look at each other, I expect him/her to know what I’m thinking therefore we don’t have to say anything, as a result the crimes between us grow deeper”, but that wouldn’t sell.  Dave your song is safe!!

As the crimes and feelings grow deeper, what happens to the relationship?  It seems obvious– it starts to erode day by day.  Communication becomes functional at best “I’m working late, I have to travel etc.”  Any meaningful conversation leads to conflict based on the you don’t know how I’m feeling hypothesis.

How do we stop the crimes, get out of jail, and begin probation?  COMMUNICATE!!! what does that mean?  It means communicate how you feel,  and what you think without hurting your partner.  I have a book  which is entitled 15 words of less  –that is all good and meaningful conversation can occur in 15 words or less.  The first 2 words are simple I feel(I’m angry, I’m sad, I’m hurt etc) when…keep it short, keep it direct, say what you mean.  In addition, work on eliminating the word YOU  from your vocabulary–In all 50 states YOU is a fighting word!  Also eliminate the absolute language–always, never–everyone is a lawyer when arguments occur.

 Let’s try it out:

conflict statement  “you’re always  mean to me/ you call me names /you are just like your father and your entire family when you do this /I hate this you rotten sob!

communication statement   “I feel angry when you said I was a loser”

 Gee you figure out which one might be easier to respond to!!!!

 If we want to end probation and live in the free world, well that’s another subject for another day– for now let’s work on stopping those crimes between us.