I thought it might be interesting to take a look at my ten all time most popular posts since starting to write for Psychology Today six years ago, and what, if anything, the topics might tell us--at least about my particular readership if not most readers of PT blogs. This survey is not necessarily about profiling readers of PT blogs as individuals or personalities so much as getting some sense of what seemingly matters most to them, what appear to be their "ultimate concerns," to use philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich's term. So, without further ado, let's begin with my most widely read two-part posting over the years, and then list the remaining nine (noting some additional closely related topical postings) in descending order of total "hits" over time to see what type of PT reader profile emerges, if any.
#1) The two-part piece of mine that cumulatively received the most readings so far is titled "Anger Disorder: What It is and What We Can Do About It" (Part 1) and (Part 2) "Anger Disorder: Can Bitterness Become a Mental Disorder?". What this, and the strong response to my other many postings about the contemporary problem of anger suggests to me is that at least my readers are cognizant of and concerned about our escalating "rage epidemic" today, its dangerousness, and the extremely challenging difficulties of dealing constructively with feelings of anger or rage in general, both as psychotherapy consumers and providers. Anger may be the most misunderstood and maligned of all human emotions. And the most potentially destructive. As I have elsewhere written, anger is to contemporary culture today what repressed sexuality was to Victorian culture in Freud's day. Even more so than the pervasive phenomenon of anxiety later identified during the 1950s by existential therapists like Rollo May as central to psychopathology, repressed rage or anger is, in my view, at the core of most common mental disorders and at the very root of the so-called senseless violence tearing society apart. It is gratifying to see that so many readers of "Evil Deeds" evidently take this escalating and perilous epidemic of violence seriously. Just this past week, we have witnessed several anger-fueled acts of violence both here in the U.S. and Canada, perpetrated by militant Islamists. Such violent offenders, like the one who attacked police officers with a hatchet in NYC, are motivated by more than a political or religious agenda. They are motivated by rage. In some cases, they seize upon the idea of jihad as an opportunistic excuse to vent their long-festering rage via such violent evil deeds. Given the rash of non-politically motivated mass shootings occurring with such shocking regularity in recent decades in this country (see my numerous posts of this topic), including today's shooting of students at a Seattle high school, and the chilling developments in the Middle East, with the rabid metastasis of ISIS, so reminiscent of the Nazi movement during the late 1930s (see my prior posts), a potentially catastrophic explosion of collective anger, rage, resentment and hatred in the form of a Third World War looms large today as a terrible and terrifying threat to humanity. If the human race and civilization as we know it is to survive beyond the twenty-first century, we will have to learn to more consciously and constructively deal with our anger or rage, and with what Rollo May called the "daimonic" in general. (See my book Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic.)
#2) Next is a very popular single posting titled "When Partners Cheat:Who Deserves Second Chances?" Clearly, the powerful response to this piece indicates a deep concern in PT readers regarding romantic relationships, intimacy, and how to constructively deal with and heal the destructive breach of trust that results from infidelity. Romantic relationships are incredibly complex, confusing and challenging. Corroborating this concern and fascination with the psychology of romantic relationships is the popularity of several related posts titled "What Motivates Sexual Promiscuity," "The Psychology of Sexuality," "Sex, Celibacy and Spirituality: Why the Dalai Lama Doesn't Date," another regarding "Repetitive Relationship Patterns" and one on "The Psychology of Neurotic Romantic Attraction." Human sexuality, love and intimacy is clearly one of our ultimate concerns, as demonstrated by the enormously positive response to posts about sexuality here at PT in general. Our readers--i.e., you--seem to have an unquenchable thirst to learn about sexual relationship in all its myriad variations. Below the obvious superficial level of titillation lies the profound fascination (sometimes obsession) with the power, meaning and mystery of sexuality, and the strong desire to satisfy our sexual fantasies and instinctual needs. So, in this regard, Sigmund Freud was absolutely right to focus so intently on the centrality of sexuality in human psychology at a time when sex was a taboo subject. But he became overly fixated on the role of sexual instinct to the exclusion of others, albeit eventually acknowledging the aggressive instinct later in his career. From an existential perspective, we could say that part of what underlies, drives and amplifies this preoccupation with romantic relationships today is our growing existential isolation, aloneness, alienation and loneliness. (See my prior post.) Creating interpersonal relationships and sexual liaisons can, of course, be a healthy way of assuaging our loneliness. Or, more problematically in many cases, compulsively escaping our existential aloneness, and, in some instances, our underlying death anxiety. This is one way of thinking about so-called sex addiction. Whatever the motivation, when it comes to discussing sex--how to do it, where to find it, its psychological and spiritual significance, its risks and rewards--PT readers can't seem to get enough. We are, after all, fundamentally sexual creatures.
#3) The third most popular piece on my list asks the controversial question "Is Depression a Disease?" Depression--along with anxiety, its "kissin' cousin," a topic addressed in another post titled "Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: Why We Worry (and what we can do about it)"--is one of the most common complaints of clients or patients seeking psychotherapy today. Given the ubiquitous use of psychopharmacological treatments for both unipolar and bipolar depression (see also "Bipolar Disorder Debate: Myths of Mental Illness"), and a growing public recognition of the limitations and dangers of the purely biological approach to mental disorders so predominant today, many PT readers seem to be seeking a better understanding of the significance and psychology of depression and its efficacious treatment. There is, indeed, more than one way of conceptualizing depression and its causes. Existential analyst Viktor Frankl, for example, defined depression as D=S-M: depression equals suffering minus meaning. His point, made first by Nietzsche, was that almost any suffering in life can be tolerated so long as one can find or impute some meaning in that suffering. The chronic lack of meaning in the sufferer leads to a kind of "clinical despair" or nihilism. Nihilism results when deep-seated clinical despair is marked by a sense of life’s absurdity and unfairness, loss of faith and courage, and a bitter rejection of meaning, moral values or any sense of existential purpose. If we look closely, we can see such an underlying nihilism in many of those that are attracted to violent terrorism in the name of ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Nihilism commonly underlies the chronic depressive symptoms, malaise and ennui of individuals seeking psychotherapy today, though it may not be recognized as such by most clinicians. Moreover, as I have tried to make clear here and elsewhere, depression can also be conceived of as stemming from the chronic repression, denial or dissociation of the "daimonic," especially of anger or rage. (See my book.)
#4 and 5) Perhaps surprisingly, my fourth and fifth most widely read posts are titled "What is Existential Psychotherapy?," and "What is the Shadow?" This (and the many astute comments regularly posted by you) tells me that there are a significant number of mental health professionals, graduate students, and undergraduates who peruse Psychology Today blogs, along with potential consumers of counseling and psychotherapy wanting to learn more about different contemporary treatment approaches. We might further infer that there is a gradual resurgence of interest in existential therapy and depth psychology today, based in part on escalating frustration with what CBT and psychopharmacology alone (or combined) can provide. The strong response of readers to the post about C.G. Jung's concept of the "shadow," for example, along with my series of posts on "Messiahs of Evil," and to several pieces on exorcism and psychotherapy, like "The Devil Inside: Psychotherapy, Exorcism and Demonic Possession," points in particular to what may be yet another ultimate concern of PT readers: the perennial problem of evil. Evil has traditionally been excluded or ignored by mainstream psychiatry and psychology, with the notable exception of courageous clinicians like Jung, Menninger, May, Lifton and Peck. In our era of rage, mass shootings, terrorism, serial killers, the horrific public beheading of American citizens by ISIS, and now the proliferation explosions of ISIS inspired "lone wolf" acts of violence in the U.S. and Canada, we need to better understand the underlying psychology of these evil deeds and of human evil in general.
# 6 and 7) Spirituality seems to be another ultimate concern of PT readers. For instance, "What is Courage?: Existential Lessons from the Cowardly Lion" and "Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: Change or Acceptance?" along with a number of other posts regarding the integration of psychology and spirituality, such as "The Psychology of Spirituality," and "Do You Believe in Magic: Eckhart Tolle, the Dalai Lama, and the Future of Psychotherapy." Spirituality and religion are closely correlated with psychology, and need to be assimilated somehow into psychotherapeutic practice. PT readers seem quite curious about this intersection of psychology and spirituality and what it might look like. Even CBT has undergone a "spiritualization" in the form of Linehan's Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), including the integration of mindfulness methods and the practice of "radical acceptance." (See my prior post.) Indeed, is there really some distinct intrinsic division between spiritual development and what Jung called "individuation" in psychotherapy? Certainly, subjects such as courage, acceptance, good and evil are traditional religious concerns. Religion or spirituality can be understood as one way we humans try to make life meaningful, and, as Frankl states, we are all motivated by a "will to meaning," which when frustrated or denied over time, results in neurosis or even psychosis. This is why spirituality and religiosity must be integrated into the psychotherapy process, which is always on one level, a meaning-making quest.I believe that many of my PT readers are engaged in and committed to that quest.
# 8) This intense interest in spirituality also explains the enthusiastic response to various other posts on Jungian psychology, such as "Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: What's Your Psychological Type?" and "Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: Jung's Typology, Eudaemonology and the Elusive Art of Happiness," which reflects a more general fascination on the part of PT readers with the Jungian notions of "extraversion" and, especially, "introversion." One possible inference is that many of you may be introverted types, struggling to be true to yourselves in an exceedingly extraverted society, or perhaps still uncertain as to your fundamental type.There was also "Reading the Red Book: How C.G. Jung Salvaged His Soul", as well as # 8 on this list titled "Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: The Inner Child." Much has already been written on this subject of the "divine" or archetypal inner child, which stems from Jung's writings, especially in so-called pop psychology. Yet, this post appears to have struck a chord in some readers. It indicates a growing recognition that we are not always the master in our own psychological house, that true adulthood is more psychological than chronological, and that many so-called adults are emotionally little five-or-ten-or fifteen-year-olds living in a grown-up body and behaving accordingly. This is one reason why the world is in the sorry state it is. More generally, considered along with the above-mentioned popularity of my post on the "shadow", there appears to be increasing concern with and acknowledgment of the phenomenological fact and influential power of the "unconscious" by PT readers, despite or perhaps due to the contemporary denial and dismissal of depth psychology and the notion of the "unconscious" by mainstream psychiatry and psychology. The popularity of posts like "Essential Secrets of Psychotherapy: Truth, Lies and Self-Deception" attest as well to the recognition that we can conceal the existential facts of life and truth of who we are even from ourselves and the innate capacity for unconsciousness. It is as if readers recognize that the pendulum of psychiatric theory has swung too far to one side in recent decades, requiring counterbalance to find some meaningful and practical middle-ground.
# 9) The simultaneous terror of and fascination with the phenomenon of human evil on the part of PT readers can be further inferred by a few of my most popular forensic posts on psychopathy such as "Masks of Sanity", various high-profile criminal cases, and the seemingly endless string of horrifying mass killings at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Aurora, Colorado, Sandy Hook, and Santa Barbara to name but a few. See, for example, "A Wicked Rage for Recognition," "Nightmare in Aurora: Batman, the Joker, and James Holmes." "Did Casey Kill Cayley: A Forensic Commentary" combined with a second commentary called "Did Casey Kill Cayley" comes in at # 9, accompanied by several other posts written from the specialized perspective of forensic psychology, including "Why Did Lee Harvey Oswald Kill John F. Kennedy?." Forensic psychology is one of the hottest specialties in the field today, and the popularity of my forensically-oriented offerings on high profile cases like those of convicted killers Phil Spector, Drew Peterson and Joran van der Sloot, as well as James Holmes, Anders Breivik, Elliot Rodger, Adam Lanza and other mass shooters reflect PT readers' fascination with such sordid cases, the psychology of evil, and with the burgeoning field of forensic psychology in general. These postings draw on my fifteen years of working as a forensic psychologist for the criminal courts in California, and hopefully provide readers a glimpse into how forensic criminal psychologists think, what they do, and how forensic psychology in the courtroom can contribute to improving the criminal justice system.
#10) Last but not least, there was my relatively widely-read review of the blockbuster film "Inception: Art, Dream and Reality." Yes, obviously PT readers love movies. Especially smart movies. Particularly psychological thrillers. (See also my review of A Dangerous Method.) But apart from the huge popularity and ingenuity of Inception, this robust response, along to that of other posts suggests yet another ultimate concern of my readers: the enigmatic phenomenon of dreams, and, with it, the richness and complexity of what depth psychologists Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung called the "unconscious," out of which our dreams originate. Today's most popular mainstream therapeutic approaches to mental disorders such as CBT, REBT, and DBT tend to denigrate and exclude dream analysis and the unconscious in general. But this sadly results in an impoverishment and disempowerment of psychotherapy today, and places patients or clients at a distinct disadvantage in effectively coping with their psychological problems. Patients (and therapists) need to hear what their dreams have to say. Taken together with the strong response to several of my other posts on depth psychology, and C.G. Jung's analytical psychology in particular, perhaps readers are ready to embrace once more these rudiments of psychodynamic treatment. Indeed, the field of psychotherapy, now little more than a century old, is in the midst of an existential identity crisis, its future survival uncertain. We live in a time when the very idea of traditional "talk therapy," particularly existential and psychodynamic psychotherapy, threatens to be overshadowed and eradicated by the dominating forces of psychopharmacology, managed mental health care, and attenuated methods of brief treatment like cognitive-behavioral therapy. In the face of such portentous trends, it is important to stress and reaffirm the emphasis of contemporary existential psychotherapy and depth psychology on core concerns often lacking consideration in current mainstream treatment trends.
Conclusions: PT readers demonstrate an impressive diversity of interests when it comes to psychology, which is fitting given the vast diversity of the field today. Of course, there are myriad reasons for readers responding to some posts more than others aside from the particular topic. Timing, for instance, an especially provocative title, or the post being featured as an "Essential Read" or quoted from at the top of the PT page are all significant factors determining the popularity of any given posting. In addition, it can rightly be argued that my top ten list is more reflective of my own intersts and ultimate concerns than those of my readers. Moreover, it must be noted that my list is based on cumulative hits over the previous six years, which means that older posts hold the distinct advantage of having been around longer than newer posts, and, therefore, receiving more readership over time.
Admittedly, my blog, "Evil Deeds" is specialized, and does not represent the much wider field of professional psychology. Far from it. I write from the perspective of a clinical and forensic psychologist and psychotherapist. Nonetheless, certain "ultimate concerns" stand out to me in this simple survey. My own subjective (non-scientific) interpretation of the data suggests that many of our readers are still interested in the fundamental or primal aspects of human existence: sex, love, anger, rage, relationships, meaning, creativity, and the problem of evil. Perhaps more obviously, PT readers are immensely curious and passionate about psychology, and want to learn more about it.They also appear rightfully concerned about the struggling state of psychotherapy today, and how it fails on some fundamental level to adequately understand and treat human suffering in the form of depression, anxiety, psychosis, etc., as well as the trauma experienced in the face of natural evils such as tornadoes, earthquakes, typhoons, tsunamis, and now, the deadly Ebola epidemic, etc. (See "The Trauma of Evil," for example.) PT readers seem to be aware of and sensitive to the lopsided trend in today's psychology toward materialism, reductionism, biologism, and the need to counterbalance the predominance of pharmacotherapy and CBT with a more existential, spiritually-sensitive, depth-psychological approach which I refer to as "existential depth psychology."
In this sense, many of our readers--undergraduate and graduate students, professionals and lay persons--comprise the collective vanguard or cutting edge of contemporary culture, indicating what psychology needs to do to get back on track and to survive and thrive into the next century. Psychology suffers from poor public relations. Its image and identity has been tarnished, diminished, diluted and distorted. You, the reader, represent and reflect the living pulse and conscience of psychology today, and, as both consumers, students and practitioners, will determine its destiny and future trajectory. You are an indicator of how the public regards psychology today, and which direction we must move in order to make psychology, especially clinical psychology, more responsive and attuned to your needs. Psychology needs to hear from you, now more than ever. This is truly a great responsibility, and a fateful one for the coming generation. For all your insightful comments, critiques, curiosity, caring, and passion for psychology, where it's been and where it's heading, I personally thank you.