psychology notes.

This site was originally created in 2009 as a virtual repository for all of the various psychology and therapy-related things (quotes, articles, videos, music, pictures) I came across both online and in my work as a psychotherapist. It has morphed into something slightly different in the past four years, and is now perhaps slightly more outward facing, but is still at heart a place for me to collect and share things related to the life of the mind.


Disclaimer: Posting something to this site does not mean that I necessarily agree with or endorse the opinions being expressed therein. All text on this site is informational and for educational purposes only. This site is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental health or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified mental health provider with any questions regarding a medical condition or mental health issue. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site.


And please, be kind to one another.


brightwalldarkroom:

"Carpe diem. Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary."

(illustration by Brianna Ashby, from Bright Wall/Dark Room magazine)

Psychotherapist and author Adam Phillips on Pleasure & Frustration:

One of the obstacles is the demand that we be happy and enjoy your lives. I think it’s a huge distraction and it’s very undermining, I think. In the old days, whenever that was, there was an internal injunction to be good. Now the injunction is to be happy or to be enjoying yourself. And the reason this is a distraction is because life is also painful…in other words—and it’s a very simple thing and it’s very obvious and this starts in childhood—which is that if somebody can satisfy you, they can also frustrate you. This is ineluctable. It’s structural. It’s never going to change. This means that everybody has to deal with ambivalence—they’re going to have to deal with the fact that they love and hate the person they love and hate.

What we’re continuously being sold are possibilities for pleasure, in one way or another, as though all we want to do is get rid of the pain and increase the pleasure. I think this is a very impoverished view of what a life is, even though every life must involve trying to do something with the pain and having the pleasure. But there’s a difference between evacuating pain and frustration, and modifying it. And what we’re starved of now is frustration.

It’s as though we’re phobic of frustration, so the moment there is a feeling of frustration, it’s got to be filled with something. It’s a bit like the mother who overfeeds her child. She does that to stop the child from having appetite, because the appetite is so frightening. Now it seems to me there’s an attempt to foreclose appetite, to foreclose people’s capacity to think about what is really missing in their lives, what they might want and what they might do about getting it. Fantasies of satisfaction are saboteurs of pleasure.” 

The Loneliest Job in the World
—Tony Hoagland

As soon as you begin to ask the question, Who loves me?
you are completely screwed, because
the next question is How Much?

and then it is hundreds of hours later,
and you are still hunched over
your flowcharts and abacus,

trying to decide if you have gotten enough.
This is the loneliest job in the world:
to be an accountant of the heart.

It is late at night. You are by yourself,
and all around you, you can hear
the sounds of people moving

in and out of love,
pushing the turnstiles, putting
their coins in the slots,

paying the price which is asked,
which constantly changes.
No one knows why.

"We sort of accept that the price for that free-flowing, fast-paced, inexplicable comic genius is a counterweight of solitary misery. That there is an invisible inner economy that demands a high price for breathtaking talent. For me genius is defined by that irrationality; how can he talk like that? Play like that? Kick a ball like that? A talent that was not sculpted and schooled, educated and polished but bursts through the portal, raw and vulgar. Always mischievous, always on the brink of going wrong, dangerous and fun, like drugs.

Robin Williams could have tapped anyone in the western world on the shoulder and told them he felt down and they would have told him not to worry, that he was great, that they loved him. He must have known that. He must have known his wife and kids loved him, that his mates all thought he was great, that millions of strangers the world over held him in their hearts, a hilarious stranger that we could rely on to anarchically interrupt, the all-encompassing sadness of the world. Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.

What platitudes then can we fling along with the listless, insufficient wreaths at the stillness that was once so animated and wired, the silence where the laughter was? That fame and accolades are no defence against mental illness and addiction? That we live in a world that has become so negligent of human values that our brightest lights are extinguishing themselves? That we must be more vigilant, more aware, more grateful, more mindful? That we can’t tarnish this tiny slice of awareness that we share on this sphere amidst the infinite blackness with conflict and hate?

That we must reach inward and outward to the light that is inside all of us? That all around us people are suffering behind masks less interesting than the one Robin Williams wore? Do you have time to tune in to Fox News, to cement your angry views to calcify the certain misery?

What I might do is watch Mrs Doubtfire. Or Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting and I might be nice to people, mindful today how fragile we all are, how delicate we are, even when fizzing with divine madness that seems like it will never expire.”

The disappearance of mourning rituals affects everyone, not just the mourner. One of the reasons many people are unsure about how to act around a loss is that they lack rules or meaningful conventions, and they fear making a mistake. Rituals used to help the community by giving everyone a sense of what to do or say. Now, we’re at sea.
Meghan O’Rourke, The Long Goodbye
There is more to life than increasing its speed.
Gandhi

“For me, language is a freedom. As soon as you have found the words with which to express something, you are no longer incoherent, you are no longer trapped by your own emotions, by your own experiences; you can describe them, you can tell them, you can bring them out of yourself and give them to somebody else. That is an enormously liberating experience, and it worries me that more and more people are learning not to use language; they’re giving in to the banalities of the television media and shrinking their vocabulary, shrinking their own way of using this fabulous tool that human beings have refined over so many centuries into this extremely sensitive instrument. I don’t want to make it crude, I don’t want to make it into shopping-list language, I don’t want to make it into simply an exchange of information: I want to make it into the subtle, emotional, intellectual, freeing thing that it is and that it can be.”

Jeanette Winterson

by Ryan Howes

Most people enter therapy wanting something. They seek relief from debilitating symptoms. They want help making a life-changing decision. They long to heal past hurts. Couples need tools for communication. Some want better self-control. Others search for the ability to reach their potential. The list goes on.

If their therapy has the right formula of therapeutic competence, perseverance, compatibility, and good fortune, those individuals will likely reach those goals. They’ll learn what they need to learn, internalize the therapist’s message or voice, and charge into the next challenges of their life.

But many people find that therapy also provides some unexpected benefits. When they leave, they realize they’ve gotten more than they bargained for—sort of a bonus for engaging in the experience. Here are four unexpected benefits of therapy I’ve seen in my own practice:

Depth: In polite society, we’re accustomed to having mundane conversations revolving around the weather, bullet points from work, some celebrity/sports highlights, and the story we just heard on NPR or Fox News. We skip along the surface because doing so is safe and universally accepted. Therapy pushes beyond the superficial to deeper introspective questions of personal experience, historical precedents, deep feelings, and drives—a variety of topics that would never end up on a Facebook status update. When people realize talking on this level is not just interesting, but also productive and healing, they want to recreate this depth in other relationships.

Empathy: It’s kind of ironic: The majority of people come to therapy wanting to understand their own problems and why other people impact them the way they do. But once they delve into their own issues, they discover insights that help them understand their lovers, their friends, their co-workers, and their bosses on a whole new level. A light bulb goes off and they may think, “Oh, that person’s worst experience was when he was abandoned by his dad. I understand why he reacted so strongly when I bailed on our plans.” People often learn to understand the people who inhabit their lives nearly as much as they understand themselves. Or maybe they become curious and ask a few more questions, which leads to this deeper understanding.

Contagion: I can’t count the number of individuals who came to therapy to learn more about themselves and before long, their friends were interested in finding their own therapist. It happens all the time. People feel empowered and excited about growing. Their mood, attitude, and/or behavior changes, and their friends are intrigued. Occasionally, individuals in an entire friend circle will seek their own help and everyone relates on a deeper, more functional level. Fixing your friends is not a reason to seek therapy, but it sure can be rewarding when this is the outcome.

Listening: When a person spends significant time with a professional listener, that person often develops the ability to listen. They sit for many hours with someone who keeps eye contact, pays attention, and indicates reflecting or recalling past information. People in therapy know how good it feels to be on the receiving end of that kind of attention and are more likely to replicate that for their loved ones. They’ve reaped the benefits of close focused attention, had it modeled for them, and can now show it to others.

At the risk of sounding too pro-therapist, the common thread here is that therapy helps people learn to adopt some basic therapeutic characteristics. They learn to talk on a deep level, to empathize with others, to discover the thrill of self-knowledge, and to listen well. This is to be expected, as we humans often take on the characteristics of the people we spend time with, from attitudes to behaviors to communication styles.

Like I said, these are the bonuses of therapy. The main objective is helping people relieve their symptoms and underlying issues. But if they can resolve their problem while becoming better listeners and empathizers with an ability to discuss deep issues in a way that positively impacts their inner circle, what’s the problem?

Sounds like a bonus to me.

Ryan Howes, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California, the founder of National Psychotherapy Day sponsored by GoodTherapy.org, and a writer for the Psychotherapy Networker Magazine.

by Julie Beck

Laughter is the best medicine, or so the cliché goes. Actually, given the choice between laughter and, say, penicillin or chemotherapy, you’re probably better off choosing one of the latter. Still, a great deal of research shows that humor is extraordinarily therapeutic, mentally and physically.

Laughing in the face of tragedy seems to shield a person from its effects. A 2013 review of studies found that among elderly patients, laughter significantly alleviated the symptoms of depression [1]. Another study, published early this year, found that firefighters who used humor as a coping strategy were somewhat protected from PTSD [2]. Laughing also seems to ease more-quotidian anxieties. One group of researchers found that watching an episode of Friends (specifically, Season Five’s “The One Where Everybody Finds Out”) was as effective at improving a person’s mood as listening to music or exercising, and more effective than resting [3].

Laughter even seems to have a buffering effect against physical pain. A 2012 study found that subjects who were shown a funny video displayed higher pain thresholds than those who saw a serious documentary [4]. In another study, postsurgical patients requested less pain medication after watching a funny movie of their choosing [5].

Other literature identifies even more specific health benefits: laughing reduced arterial-wall stiffness (which is associated with cardiovascular disease) [6]. Women undergoing in vitro fertilization were 16 percent more likely to get pregnant when entertained by a clown dressed as a chef [7]. And a regular old clown improved lung function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [8]. More generally, a mirthful life is likely to be a long one. A study of Norwegians found that having a sense of humor correlated with a high probability of surviving into retirement [9].

Unfortunately, there’s a not-so-funny footnote to all this: the people who are best at telling jokes tend to have more health problems than the people laughing at them. A study of Finnish police officers found that those who were seen as funniest smoked more, weighed more, and were at greater risk of cardiovascular disease than their peers [10]. Entertainers typically die earlier than other famous people [11], and comedians exhibit more “psychotic traits” than others [12]. So just as there’s research to back up the conventional wisdom on laughter’s curative powers, there also seems to be truth to the stereotype that funny people aren’t always having much fun. It might feel good to crack others up now and then, but apparently the audience gets the last laugh.

What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way. The trouble is that we use knowing in bits of our lives where it doesn’t work, or where it’s actually not the point.
Adam Phillips