COVID-19 neurosis

Back when traumatic experiments on animals weren’t ethically prohibited, human anxiety was modeled by subjecting lab animals to an irresolvable approach/avoidance dilemma. The oldest and best known example came from researchers in Ivan Pavlov’s laboratory. They classically conditioned dogs to associate food rewards with the sight of a circle, and also trained the same […]

We are one

E pluribus unum strikes the pluribus lately as a threat, not a promise — more like assimilation by the Borg than a patriotic ideal. Instead of striving for the common good, we’ve split into factions, each defined largely by its enemy. Feminism fights patriarchy, Black Lives Matter fights police brutality, the 99% fight the 1%. […]

Road rage is all in your head

Two cars arrive at a stop sign at the same time. Both start into the intersection. One driver speeds through, while the other jams on the brakes, avoiding a collision. This driver feels insulted, offended, diminished. Who the hell does that other driver think he is? He nearly killed me!

This scenario, and countless others […]

Does severe remorse require a specialist?

In her recent New Yorker article, “The Sorrow and the Shame of the Accidental Killer,” author Alice Gregory claims there are no self-help books for anyone who has accidentally killed another person. Nor published research, therapeutic protocols, publicly listed support groups, nor therapists who specialize in their treatment. She profiles several such tormented souls who […]

Lumping and splitting

As a young psychotherapy researcher I learned that some of my colleagues were “lumpers” and others were “splitters.” The former look at research data and see commonalities. Instead of different kinds of psychotherapy, say, they see a spectrum of styles with a shared core. Lumpers search for universal truths, missing links, ways of combining categories. […]

Christmas 2016, a fable

No one recalled when Rudy joined the teamsters, it may have been several seasons back. Awkward and quiet, he mostly kept to himself. The other guys avoided Rudy. No one ever asked him to join their casual poker games, no one ever invited him to hang out after work. He wasn’t harassed exactly, but their […]

Choose your actions, not your feelings

Again and again in therapy I find myself emphasizing the distinction between feeling an emotion and acting on it. Many patients, and non-patients too, take undue responsibility for their emotions, as though feelings were volitional behaviors, the result of a choice. Often there is a stated or implied should: “I should feel this, not that.” […]