Putting Trump and the GOP on the Couch

The GOP presidential candidates appeal to needs for safety and security through grandiosity and paranoia. Psychologists can help us understand how American Exceptionalism and xenophobia function to counteract feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, isolation, and self-blame, all of which are on the rise. Paranoia and grandiosity are pathological solutions.

It's NOT the Economy, Stupid!

Liberals mistakenly believe that people are motivated primarily by narrow economic self-interest. Research and clinical experience shows this belief to be mistaken. Needs for meaning, purpose, community, recognition, and agency are every bit as important as so-called "survival needs" (a la Maslow), and the progressive movement needs to speak to these needs if it is to win.

Beyond Bread and Butter

Progressive political activists are too fixated on economic inequality and justice, reflecting a narrow and incorrect view of what people really need.

Why We Cry at the Movies

Paradoxically, people don't cry or get sad during the tragic or tense parts of a movie, TV show, or book. They cry when there is a resolution to the psychically distressing situation. During the tense/tragic scenes, they feel too vulnerable to cry or get emotional. They experience these feelings only when it is safe to do so. Safety makes it possible to lift repressions

Why People Are So Mean to Immigrant Children

The current wave of hostility toward the influx of Central American children has its psychic roots in, first, a need to project unacceptable needs and shameful vulnerabilities onto others who then become the "enemy," and, second, by scapegoating these children, some people feel a momentary sense of community based on an "us-vs-them" or "insider-outsider" experience.

We are a Nation on Hold

Everyone has had the experience of endless waiting on the phone for help of some kind. Although affecting people in slightly different ways, the universal reaction is helplessness which leads to depression or rage. This reaction mirrors and reinforces other areas of our lives where we are powerless. For extreme conservatives, such feelings get displaced onto government.

Your Therapist Probably Has One of These Nine Blind Spots

Psychotherapists often apply theories that aren't specific to the client. They are guided by "principles of technique" learned in training and, unfortunately, gloss over the unique needs of clients. There are exceptions to every rule, thereby rendering the rule weak or invalid. The only useful clinical generalization involves creating a safe space unique to each person.

Psychotherapy Is Much Simpler Than You Might Think

The process by which psychotherapy works is made too complicated. 2 researchers, Joseph Weiss and Harold Sampson, have published research over 50 years, arguing persuasively that people suffer from "pathogenic beliefs" that interfere with normal developmental aims and that the role of the therapist is to provide insight and corrective experiences to cure their suffering.

Coaching Myths

The coaching profession is now wedded to the false and self-serving notion that it is significantly different from psychotherapy. In order to promote such a belief it has to caricature psychotherapy and hide its own (normal) pecuniary and status-driven self-interest

Who Is Speaking Up for the Insured?

Most people have health insurance, but progressives focus on those who don't or on the limitations in the plans of those that do. But the people who have insurance suffer in many other ways--e.g. short appointments with busy distracted doctors, indifferent front offices, bureaucracies--all of which diminish health outcomes. We need to put the care back in health care.

How Do You Know Your Shrink Is Helping You?

The psychotherapy field is a Tower of Babel of multiple professions and schools of thought. Therefore, it's difficult for patients to judge whether they are getting the help they need. Tragically, failures of a therapist are often internalized by patients who feel more hopeless. Five guidelines are presented to help patients evaluate their therapists and their treatment

Why Psychologists Will Miss James Gandolfini

The narrative arc of Season 1 of the Sopranos amounts to Tony's dawning awareness of the intolerable truth of his mother's hatred. In this, Tony is Everyman. Like all of us, Tony would rather be "a sinner in heaven than a saint in hell;" that is, he'd rather see himself as "bad" rather than face the badness of a parent. When confronted by this in therapy, he explodes.

A New Paradigm of Golf Instruction

Mindfulness and other lessons from contemplative traditions have become increasingly important in sports coaching. In golf instruction, the pendulum has begun to swing from a focus on “fixing” what's “broken” with “tips” to deepening a golfer's experience of different aspects of the swing and an increased emphasis on becoming mindful of the present moment.

Are People Getting More Primitive, or Is Psychoanalysis?

There is a trend in psychoanalysis that privileges primitive mental states. This trend reflects a turn in theory but doesn't necessarily reflect importantl new insights that increase our therapeutic efficacy. I speculate that the motivations behind this "turn" include the excitement connected to notions of "depth" and a compensatory retreat from seeking greater efficacy.

The Gun Lobby's Hypocrisy About Mental Health

The gun lobby's attempts to divert attention from guns to mental health after Newtown was predictable, but hypocritical. If one looked seriously at what it would take to deal with the psychological causes of gun rampages, the cost and necessary expansion of government would be intolerable to those on the Right pretending to address the problem of mental illness today.

Bruce Springsteen and the Politics of Meaning in America

Bruce Springsteen speaks to needs people have for meaning, connection, recognition, and agency. Progressives need to address these needs in order to defeat the advantage the Right has in money. Thus, we have to speak, like Springsteen, to their broader needs for things in addition to economic justice.

When Progressive Leaders Burn Out, We All Lose

Progressive leaders are too often martyrs who burnout and recreate grim environments unattractive to others. It stems from both external pressures and internal conflicts involving guilt. A combination of organizational and personal changes can alleviate this problem and is essential to the success of our movement.

Obama, Cynicism, and the Need for Meaning

The need for meaning is fundamental in the human psyche. It animates people in politics, work, family, and in both their spiritual and creative lives. When it's frustrated, as it has been by Obama, people become cynical. When it's activated, people will join movements and become their better selves.

Getting to the Bottom of Online Sex

It's fine to judge Anthony Weiner. But if you want to understand the psychology of men drawn to online sex, you have to understand that such outlets provide very particular disconfirming conditions for the anxieties that plague men.

Everything Said About Anthony Weiner Is Wrong

It's fine to be upset with Anthony Weiner for hurting the Democratic Party with his sexual shenanigans. But since we will never know a single thing about his personal psychology, everything we infer about it represents our own projections.

No, Virginia: AT&T Just Seems Like the Great Satan

The helplessness of waiting for being jerked around by customer service and technical support is both toxic and widespread. AT&T is a special culprit in this regard. Too much of our lives are spent subject to this type of powerlessness and indifference. Research shows that it's not necessary.

Only One Side Needs To Be More Civil

The myth is that we need to tone down our rhetoric and restore civility to political life.  The reality is that the real and potential violence in political life today comes from the Right.  The recent tragedy is Arizona is a wake up call for all of us to confront this paranoia of the Right in all of its forms.

In Treatment Is Great T.V. But Terrible Psychotherapy

In Treatment, while great television, reinforces the view that therapists must remain ever-vigilant about "boundary violations," a subtle reminder that they should try to be more neutral and abstinent.  In fact, this axiom is destructive to the profession which needs to focus more on therapeutic outcome and on shaping the relationship entirely to this aim.

Why New Years Resolutions Don't Work

New Year's resolutions invariably fail because they don't take account of the powerful unconscious resistance to change. Unfortnately, the unconscious mind is increasingly getting a bad rap.

Why We Love Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura's popularity derives from the ways she blames and hates victims.  We all have trouble feeling entitled to care, protection, and love.  When people or groups "appear" to Laura to need help, she attacks them in the same way that we all attack ourselves for these apparent crimes. They're not crimes, of course, but are actually normal human needs and vulnerabilities.  

Misunderstanding and Misunderstood By Social Theory

Whenever one analyzes broad social or historical trends, individuals participating in those trends inevitably feel misunderstood.  Still, such analyses and critiques remain important

We Need a Practical Psychoanalysis

Daphne Merkin's essay in a recent NY Times Magazine illustrates the perils of a psychoanalytic culture that privileges understanding over helping.  Current trends involving post-modernism and paradigms focusing on countertransference further muddle the professions commitment to therapeutic aims.  We need a "practical psychoanalysis."

We Need to Have Empathy for Tea Partiers

The parnoid conspiracy theories found in the Tea-Party movement can be understood as an attempt to find meaning and agency in a world in which they feel helpless and devalued.  This sense of meaning and agency currently is provided by the right-wing media machine that blames government and Obama.  In order to defeat the Right, progressives need to better understand the psychological sources of right wing paranoia and try to speak to their legitimate components with a different, more humane narrative.

Sex Addiction Is An Excuse For Not Thinking

Increasing numbers of men are being labeled sex addicts and are seeking help through 12-step programs.  While helpful to some, these programs tend to not be as effective as those aimed at substance addiction.  The reason is that these guys need psychotherapy in order to more deeply understand the meaning of their compulsions and the label "addiction" too often means that such an inquiry is not a priority.  The problem is that sexual desire, including compulsive forms of it, always involve complicated psychological meanings.  Thus, the rise of yet another aspect of life labeled an "addiction" is part of a broader trend in our culture to approach life's difficulties and problems in a superficial way.

You Don't Know Anything About Tiger Woods, So Shut Up!

Weighing in with judgments about Tiger Woods' character and marriage is absurd on its face.  Unfortunately, it reflects a cultural pathology in which we feel we "own" celebrities.  The bottom line is:  since no one knows really anything about Woods, they should keep their mouths shut.