Thursday, April 30, 2009

How Some Women View Sports

My latest insight is probably not new to sports families.
Women watch sports differently than men.
At least some of us do.

For good reasons, probably. For one thing, many of us don't watch sports at all* or hardly ever, and that's different; we're not as engaged in the competition thing.

But the kids came over for dinner, and since the Chicago Bulls-- Boston Celtics playoff game happened to be on, we watched and ate. Or I should say, they watched and ate. I pretty much just ate, then slipped away to do a few other things.

Finally tired of doing whatever it was that needed doing, I joined them to find the game in over-time, double or triple overtime, and my son is screaming into his cell-phone, calling the plays to a friend of his in New York who for some reason is looking for an apartment, not glued to his set.

And my daughter-in-law is enjoying it too, along with the very long kid who lives with me, and everyone is cheering on the Bulls, for the Bulls are the Chicago home team and we're all Chicagoans. This rousing sense of unity makes me feel happy, and also makes me think that people should seriously consider marrying a hometown honey, or someone near enough to home, if only to cheer for the same team. This one thing we've got effectively eliminates a dangerous source of contention.

As long as I'm watching already, I notice that the men who play for the Bulls and the Celtics are absolutely gorgeous human specimens, tall, muscular, graceful athletes. This does add to the enjoyment of the game, this observation.

Anyway, one of the differences between the ways women and men watch basketball is that women are more likely to worry about the team members than the outcome of the game. We probably care way too much, is the truth. But watching these athletes over-exert themselves on the court (as well as elbow, shove, trip, and otherwise foul one another) is hard work, frankly. We don't want to see anyone get hurt. We want them to stop running and have a bite to eat. We want them to rest for awhile. We get angry at the coaches for working them so hard. These young men seem beyond tired at the end of nearly two hours of running. Over-time adds up.

The Bulls take the lead, they lose the lead.
They take the lead, they lose the lead.

I see one of our guys get the ball and race down the court, only to find the Celtics defense superior. There's no getting around the Bostoners, so the guys on the Bulls throw wildly, why not, anywhere within a mile of the basket will do. They miss points shamelessly, clearly ready to plotz. (Plotz, rhymes with pots, Yiddish for faint or fall down laughing hysterically, depending upon the context).

"Why are they doing this?" I ask the television set. "Why are they shooting from so far away? They're obviously too tired to make the basket, not strong enough at this point in the game." But what do I know?

My married son, the one on the phone, is irate and agrees. "Of course they are! They should be bringing it in, bringing that ball under the basket! They're exhausted!"

One of the Bulls, Kirk Hinrich, finds himself holding the ball at a crucial moment. They're all crucial. Kirk is free. No Celtics in sight. He's wide open, he rushes the basket. Everyone is sure he will make it. He blows the shot.

"Oh, no!" my d-i-l cries, not because he doesn't make the shot, but because she feels terrible for him. Everyone will spleen him now, be mad at him for missing the shot.

This is how women see sports. "They're not going to let him live it down," she moans. "Poor guy."

And the men in the room agree, although they're not sympathetic, particularly. Kirk messed up. It was a crucial play and he blew it.

Then. Out of nowhere. Joakim Noah, another one of our guys, a really big one with big fuzzy hair pulled back in a fabulous ponytail, you can't imagine him not having this ponytail, charges down the court with confidence, determination, and incredible speed, ball under his arm. He makes the game winning shot, slams it mercilessly through the hoop, brute strength. So fabulous. The cameras are on Noah, the crowd's going wild. I've never seen him before in my life but I'm watching his face and it is humble and warm. He's sweet. And he seems quiet, tired.

"I'll bet he's nice to his mother," I suggest.

No one says anything, but they probably agree.


*Sure, it's a stereotype.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


November 2007 I wrote about the casual relationship, otherwise known as friends with benefits. Thanks to a recent comment, we're getting back to it. To do this I am recommending you also watch a new video, PG for those of you who worry, the first and perhaps last video featuring a therapydoc who poses as me, of all people, on the Everyone Needs Therapy YouTube Channel.

The video requires a post in and of itself, so you'll have to wait a bit for more about the casual relationship and the inherent problems of these dyads. First, a foundation.

Rubberband theory is a way of thinking about relationships that has been around for as old as time. If your mother recommended that you play hard to get, she has an intuitive understanding of the psychological process inherent in the theory, a part of it.

Relationships aren't games, however, and there is no need to play games with people. Intimacy can be fun, but frankly, it is psychological work. Just try to make it a game of it. Go for it..

Rubberband theory is discussed in books (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus for one) and on blogs, but is much older than we are, for I learned it at the Center for Family Studies/Family Institute of Chicago a decade before John Gray's publication made all the noise, and we're grateful that he did, by the way. Do read his book about planets.

The theory here, the one that I learned, is that

(a) people need people, most of us do
(b) we also need individual space, uninterrupted psychological space in which to think, to live our lives; time to be creative, to work and to relax, all by ourselves
(c) most relationships start somehow and succeed when the needs of two people for psychological space match.

This often explains why parents tend to suffocate teenagers when they breathe within close proximity. A physics major might explain it better, but the needs just don't match.

But let's talk about love and being in a "relationship" that is intimate, although the theory underlies all relationships, parent-child, employer-employee, teacher-student, brother-sister, etc.

We start out as people attracted to one another and subtly negotiate how often we'll talk, get together in vivo, in person. Maybe it's a first date and one of us can't wait for the other to call, to initiate time together. When I met FD (a random meeting at a student union) he asked me for my phone number, but I wouldn't give it to him until he confirmed that he would call, not crumble it up and throw it away. My need for space at the time wasn't sufficiently broad enough to allow, say, a week to go by without hearing from him. He called within forty seconds, not a dumb guy.

You have to know yourself and your needs and be true to them.

So here you are, knowing you need someone in your life and somehow someone pops up, seems to be interested in playing this role. I've Finally Found Someone is in your head, and Bryan Adams, for whatever reason, is singing with Barbara Streisand.

And it's going well until one of you needs more space. The one who needs more space will just take it, usually, for there are no real chains, no leashes in relationships. No one can force anyone else to be with them, to communicate, make love, or even play. And when the person who needs space is gone too long, other songs, angry or sad songs become the songs of the day.

But not necessarily. Emotionally mature people realize that the center of life, the focus of a partner, a significant other, even a friend, cannot be, should not be, themselves. Life is about living, doing, giving, creating, learning, working, that sort of thing. This is not to say that a person shouldn't have a primary relationship, a Number One "go to" person. Having one a relationship like that is very nice if you can get it. Not everyone can get it, however, and we don't roll over and die because we are alone.

Or lonely. We shouldn't, at least.

So surely distance can be frustrating if you're in a relationship that you see as primary, loving, and committed, even if that commitment is sealed with only a handshake and a kiss. It is frustrating for both because

one distances, the other chases, then the first has to distance even farther, which is more work for him/her, and the needier partner has to chase again, and this goes on and on and on, and it's exhausting, frankly, psychologically.

A younger, less seasoned therapydoc will suggest what the therapydoc in the video below suggests, that the person who is chasing, who is begging for more time, more attention, should back off already. Give the space.

Be generous with time and space. This is the gift worth giving and is so appreciated that it truly buys love and gratitude from a psychological-space- craving partner.

The seasoned therapydoc, however, will get a couple like this into therapy and the subtext is different. Sure, we all need space, but the ideal, the most satisfying dynamic in relationships, really is intimacy. Although our hobbies, our jobs, our friends and our other needs for self-actualization are elemental to feeling good about life, it is intimacy with another that becomes a foundation, ultimately, for psychological security and serenity.

Humans are a lot like ducks.

We all need our support system at the end of the day, or maybe the end of life. Thus the therapeutic mission is about getting happy inside the smaller rubberband, not the other way around, and adapting to different sizes. Over time both of us are going to change. And both of us will need to accommodate to it.

This is the best reason, by the way, this theory, for tying the knot, being committed body and soul to one person, one person who will be around when you need someone to bring you tea. Your will need tea.

With sincere, non-accusatory, empathetic communication, all of this adapting business becomes less hard. It is what relationship therapy is all about.

Now, the video. The video is insufficient, of course, because it panders to the intuition and advice of less-than-seasoned therapists who recommend that if you give enough space to your partner that you will live happily ever after. Surely you know that not everyone lives happily ever after.

Not every relationship problem is even about psychological space.

You might say that one of the on-going jobs of relationships is finding the right amount of space, preferably the kind we experience when we first fall in love, the boing-y kind with the right amount of intimacy, the right amount of tension. But when in doubt, shoot for cozying up in a smaller, not a bigger rubberband.

Okay, here you go.


Friday, April 24, 2009


Winifred Gallgher tells us in Rapt, a new book out at Amazon, that we can only focus on one task at a time, no matter what we think.

Multi-taskers aren't multi-tasking very well. Try to do two things at once and one of the two will get the short shrift. Psychologists have known this forever, that our brains can't parallel process. If we think we can read something, say a newspaper, and also listen to someone else talk, we're fooling ourselves.

So if your partner tells you that (s)he is listening, but the teev is on, don't buy it. The more enticing action is going to be on the screen.

Therapists, however, are always doing two things at once, diagnosing and treating. These two processes are so integrally woven within the art that we're barely conscious of either of them. On The Second Road (another place I write sometimes) I mentioned that within 70 seconds a person like me can generally tell if a patient is from an alcoholic family.

But we're not looking for it, not focusing on diagnosis, necessarily. It's just something that happens. It's unconscious yet ongoing, even if there's certainly a time, maybe during the first few visits, in which collecting data, getting a very well-rounded, multi-systems grasp of what is happening to the patient, is a very conscious process. And from there, a treatment plan is born.

Yet those of us who are client centered aren't clinging to a treatment plan going, We have to talk about THIS today. We go where you go. You're driving.

So there's always multi-tasking going on in my work, and I'm guessing it is characteristic of most jobs, indeed, most of our waking hours. We're always engaged, processing data in our brains in one way or another, and several processes are occurring at the same time.

This is another way to say, let's not over-interpret research findings.

You're strolling with a baby carriage, getting some fresh air. But you're also getting exercise, socializing, and stimulating your baby's brain development. Some of it's conscious, some of it isn't. But it's multi-tasking, and you, The Mom, are doing a good job at it, too.

Or you're parking your car at a hospital late in the evening, working the late shift, but at the same time making sure that when you lock it up, you won't be mugged by someone lurking nearby. Multi-tasking. Doing it well.

I'm guessing that if we tore apart most of our behavior we would find many more examples like these. RAPT is really about conscious processes, tasks that require thought and attention. And you have to admit, faking attention, like faking anything else, is surely second rate. There's something wrong here if we have to constantly be doing two things, both of them needing our undivided, at one time.

Thanks Dr. Gallagher. Anything to slow us down.



That's Blue. He's my main fish. For him I bought a 55 gallon tank. A boy's gotta' swim.

And this is Minor Blue, not the kind of fish people talk about, you know, a quiet player, but he does bristle when angry.

And there's Lashes. You can't see him because he's hiding in the sand, although he is showing a tiny piece of tail. I knew he would do that, live in the sand, because he's a wrasse, and that's what they do. When we met he wasn't hiding, he was cruising above the sand at Petco. But he's hiding now.


And I had hoped he wouldn't be so emotionally unavailable.
If he ever comes out, I'll take a picture and it will look something like this:

Here's the story.

I texted my in town aquarist son:

I GOT A NEW FISH!!!!!!!!

You just want to scream it out loud, tell the world.

Not the biggest purchase, not on the order of say, a new car, or a new phone, even. Thirty-two dollars, ninety-nine cents, plus tax, and the animal is yours. Could have bought shoes, maybe should have.

Yesterday I dropped by my brother's office to say hi. He happens to work near Petco. It's one of those things aquarists do when they pass pet stores, pop in, take a quick peak, just say hello, see if there's a new fish, one with our name on it.

I personally don't like to have a lot of fish in my tanks but I do like to see new fish. It slows me down. But they're a lot of responsibility, basically because they're lives are in your hands. And the more the fish, the more the mess.

So I popped into Petco and lo and behold, a four inch wrasse glared at me and said, "Would you just look at me? Aren't I awesome?"

Isn't he?

But I'm not stupid and didn't just bring him home, figured if it was meant to be, it would be. But Blue had to have a say in the matter. An ecosystem has to be friendly. You have to know that what you are introducing will be well-received.

Just yesterday the dog puffer (Dog) and Blue were shnuggling. Fish shnuggle, cuddle, and it didn't seem right to me to disturb their intimacy with one fell swoop of a credit card.

That's the dog puffer. He's ugly, but kind, and he does look a little like a dog. He was a present from my son-in-law who likes dogs.

So before purchasing the wrasse I went home and made dinner, listened to my son tell me how I should be adding even more garlic to things, whole cloves, if possible. I thought I'd retire early to ward off whatever viruses have been messing with my happiness, but before cozying down, had to Google dragon wrasse.

"Hey FD, just LOOK at him!"

Nice fish.

"It looks like somebody had a good time painting on those lashes."

(Some people buy art, others buy fish).

"This is a metrosexual fish, dear," I continue, hoping to convince FD that this is a special fish.

A pitiful look.

On the LiveAquaria website, I find that Lashes is no juvenile, that he buries himself in sand, and that he moves furniture. Blue does this, too, moves rocks, kicks up the sand. Semi-aggressive, the dragon wrasse can probably hold his own against Blue, a Niger trigger, no small feat, considering Blue's sharp teeth.

But then again Blue shnuggles sometimes with the dog, and I can pet him sometimes. It's a tank of aggressive fish, and aggression here is about food, territory, and frustration, just like it is with people, and you really can't go hungry in my house.

Although there are those who say you can.

Anyway, I call Petco in the morning and ask if the dragon wrasse is still in the tank, then zip over there. A lovely, caring aquarist, I'm guessing she's South American or Mexican, helps me with the purchase, but not without first asking the twenty questions.

What kind of fish inhabit the hood?
Where do they hang out?
Do they gang bang?
What are they eating?
Do they have homes (meaning places to hide).
Do I give them vitamins?
How large a tank are we talking?
How many fish?
How this, how that.

A virtual census taker

Satisfied that Lashes is going to a good home, she raises an eyebrow. "So who cleans the tank?"

I do.

"Not too many women do, you know. Not too many have this hobby, seems to me. It's a guy thing. I don't know why." Then she tells me about her tank.

Hers is twice the size of mine, 125 gallons.

She goes on and on about her yellow tang, and the many fish who haven't made it, who seem perfectly fine until they're in her apartment, then die the next day. She also tries to keep the number of fish she buys to a minimum and she's the tank-keeper in her house, too, likes to keep that glass clean.

I ask her where she lives, immediately want to be best friends. But it's clear she lives miles and miles away from my house and I don't do much by way of traveling for friendship.

Yet there's a kinship there.
You know what I mean.


*chaval rhymes with dah-doll, soft "ch" Yiddish for, what a shame.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler

What a terrific role, wonderful actress.

Heroic. One of the more sung heroes now, thanks to CBS and Hallmark.

And these are the Desperate Housewives, who really don't belong on the same page as Irena Sendler, but well, you'll see. Nicolette Sheridan, far right, plays Edie Britt.

I know I promised you something on exposure therapies, but something came up and I had to tell you about it. And it’s ironic, of course, because it’s about the Holocaust, and if ever a population suffered from post traumatic stress, one of the disorders we use exposure therapies to ameliorate, survivors of the Holocaust qualify.

And yet, exposure therapies, I believe, might be over the top for Holocaust survivors, cruel and maladaptive. But I'll explain all that another day. I could be wrong though, I really could. I'm not the expert here, not on Holocaust survivors.

Tomorrow, April 21, 2009 is Holocaust Remembrance Day.

So let’s use this time to remember, just a little.


This one has nothing to do with the Holocaust. If you’ve been watching my sidebar then you see me Twitter every once in a while. I don’t do it much, like I don’t blog all that much lately, but every now and again I get the urge to tweet.

My tweets have been about preparing for a Jewish holiday, mainly about how labor intensive it is, Passover. We change over all of the kitchen utensils and appliances in the house, use different dishes, different silverware, different everything, old sets of things that feel new because they are set aside year after year, not used at all, save this one holiday.

We clean the whole house from top to bottom and
the work part, if you're not familiar with it, the preparation, is spring cleaning with an attitude, reminds us of slavery in Egypt, for sure, and is all about leavening, and getting it out of the system, mental, mainly, although most of us bread lovers complain about the matzah substitute. But complaining is in our nature, and for eight days, we can and should live without something, something like leavening.

The more observant among us take off as much time as we can from our jobs to celebrate when the holiday finally arrives, definitely the first and last two days and the Sabbath in the middle. But it is laudable to take off all eight of those days, because, you know, let's talk, it's a waste not to celebrate a perfectly good festival.

So in my house, this year, like every year usually, Passover passed uneventfully. Passover comes, it goes, and life goes on. But as we’re getting our lives back to normal, changing back from the Passover dishes to the every day dishes, putting things away, FD can’t help but notice that one of our sets of silverware is looking a little yellow.

The silver plate's looking a little yellow, he tells me.

It’s not pretty, yellowing silver plate. I can assure you.

Silver plate flatware isn’t all that expensive, not much more than stainless steel, if at all, but when you shine it up, it looks like real silver. And I happen to be a real sucker for shiny things, shine things up as a general rule. Like I don't mind doing dishes, or washing glassware, or silverware. And you know my world view tends to get a little glossy at times.

If you read this blog regularly then you also know that a lot of us find it therapeutic to shine things up. You don’t have to be OCD to like things clean, we're talking literally now. On the other hand, you might be.

Anyway, I told FD that indeed I had noticed that the silverware needed polishing, but didn’t want to do it just then. There would be a good time, there always is. Story End.

Then tonight, wouldn't you know, ready to polish up the post on exposure therapies, CBS features a Hallmark presentation, a present, really, The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. Irena Sendler, who just passed away at 98 in May, 2008, was a Christian social worker in Germany during the second world war.

There haven’t been all that many TV shows or made for TV movies about social workers. When I was a kid George C. Scott played one on East Side West Side, and more recently, Tyne Daly played a tough cookie, a social worker with chutzpah and heart on Judging Amy. I loved the show, but most people probably didn’t.

There’s a nice treatment of social workers in the media by Robert DeLauro, MSW in Social Work Today. Not terribly flattering, to tell you the truth, pre Judging Amy, for sure.

But never in a million years would I have known about social worker Irena Sendler were it not for this teledrama. Sure, it’s Hollywood--gorgeous movie stars play regular, probably not so gorgeous people, but the sets seemed real to me, and that scene where the kid punches a hole through the floor of a moving rail car and drops to the tracks to face life alone (or so he thinks) in the wintry woods of Poland, now THAT’S good television.

But basically it's a made for TV production that serves its purpose, sucks the tears right out of you, unless you have no heart.

But we should cry for such things.

I’ll admit it was a tough choice. A really key new episode of Desperate Housewives, serious competition, especially since I wasn’t sure I had the stomach for a Holocaust movie this evening. Who ever does?

And yet how could I not watch it? I feel the survivor guilt of any decent liberal. If I’m not suffering, then why not?

I like to think that having been born in the fifties, those years following the destruction of six to ten million or more innocents by monsters, for there is no other word, I’m sorry, to describe the Nazis, that after the war the soul of an innocent Jew, one who suffered and didn’t make it out of Europe in the early 40's, who didn’t survive, somehow got recycled into my zygote, ultimately this ol' bod. That may sound crazy, but the timing is just right.

And timing, as you know, is everything.

And this being two days prior to Holocaust Remembrance Day, having to choose between Irena’s courageous heart and Edie Britt’s electrocution in an automobile accident on Desperate, well, really, it wasn't a contest. The electrocution might have upset me too, come to think of it.

Ms. Sendler, it turns out, is more than your basic do-gooder social worker. In 1939 she's the director of Polish Social Services in Warsaw but considers the children in the Warsaw ghetto, rationed down to 300 calories a day by the Germans, her cause.

Her own mother worries about her safety, begs Irena to pick another cause.

Irena: I have to save these children.

Mom: You are a social worker a good social worker. Why go risking everything for something you know nothing about?

Irena: If you see a man drowning, you have to try to rescue him even if you don’t know how to swim.

Convincing her mother isn’t all that tough, but convincing Jewish parents to let their children go, well, that's quite another matter.

Irena: The new camp the Germans are building for deportation. . . Treblinka. . .they. . .

Jewish mother in the Warsaw ghetto: It is a concentration camp, a work camp.

Irena: They’re not building any barracks for this camp.

Jewish father in the ghetto: Why wouldn’t they build barracks? I don't understand.

Irena: Treblinka is a place for killing. It is a death camp. There won’t be a need for beds.

Ultimately these protective parents get the idea that it is better to take your chance on the kindness of strangers than to trust the Nazis.

So Tuesday is Holocaust Remembrance Day. We’ll observe a moment of silence, remember things like when we hear words like genocide, that we should wake up, pay attention. DO something. Give money to our local Simon Wiesanthal Center my Uncle Max would like that, or the Holocaust Museum in D.C., something that gives memory its due.

We should be a little more like Ms. Sendler, irrepressible, righteous, brave. Contemplate, at least, what it must be like to be someone like her. Wonder about that.

FD and my son talk a little, after the show, about what they have just seen, the dramatization, their thoughts about that nomination Irena Sendler received for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, having lost the prize to Al Gore. How must he feel?

I saunter out of the family room to the kitchen, get up on a chair and find the silver polish. Not that I'm anything like Golda Meir, the first female Prime Minister of Israel, but it's what she would do, I'm pretty sure, under the circumstances. They say she polished silverware when she got depressed.*

Makes sense to me.


*I'm not depressed, I'm really not. But one day, long ago, having heard that story about Ms. Meir, it changed my whole way of thinking about silver and polishing. Not that I don't farm out the job to an available man now and again. Technically, it is a guy job. For the record.

More facts about Ms. Sendler from the Internet. I understand Snopes argues a few of them.

These are from Life in A Jar, the Irena Sendler Project. ,

As early as 1939, when the Germans invaded Warsaw, Irena began helping Jews by offering them food and shelter.

The Warsaw Ghetto, built in 1940, was the size of New York’s Central Park. Four hundred fifty thousand Jews were forced to live there.

When the Warsaw Ghetto was erected in 1940, Irena could no longer help isolated Jews. The Ghetto was an area the size of New York's Central Park and 450,000 Jewish people were forced into this area.

Irena and the ten who went with her into the ghetto, used many, many methods to smuggle children out. There were five main means of escape: 1- using an ambulance a child could be taken out hidden under the stretcher. 2 - escape through the courthouse. 3 - a child could be taken out using the sewer pipes or other secret underground passages. 4- A trolley could carry out children hiding in a sack, in a trunk, a suitcase or something similar. 5 - if a child could pretend to be sick or was actually very ill, it could be legally removed using the ambulance. The number of babies saved was small in relation to the total number of children rescued.

There was a church next to the ghetto, but the entrance leading to it was "sealed" by the Germans. If a child could speak good Polish and rattle off some Christian prayers it could be smuggled in through the "sealed" entrance and later taken to the Aryan side. This was very dangerous since Germans often used a rouse to trick the Poles and then arrest Jolanta/Irena documented on the strips of paper she had buried, as well as where the child was taken in the first phase of its escape.

Irena (code name Jolanta) was arrested on October 20, 1943. She was placed in the notorious Piawiak prison, where she was constantly questioned and tortured. During the questioning she had her legs and feet fractured.

The German who interrogated her was young, very stylish and spoke perfect Polish. He wanted the names of the Zegota leaders, their addresses and the names of others involved. Irena fed him the version that she and her collaborators had prepared in the event they were captured. The German held up a folder with information of places, times and persons who had informed on her. She received a death sentence. She was to be shot. Unbeknown to her, Zegota had bribed the German executioner who helped her escape. On the following day the Germans loudly proclaimed her execution. Posters were put up all over the city with the news that she was shot. Irena read the posters herself.

During the remaining years of the war, she lived hidden, just like the children she rescued. Irena was the only one who knew where the children were to be found. When the war was finally over, she dug up the bottles and began the job of finding the children and trying to find a living parent.

Almost all the parents of the children Irena saved, died at the Treblinka death camp.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Upshot on EMDR

Let's slow it down, my friends. Before you go out and spend a lot of money on a therapist to treat your PTSD with EMDR, or embark on learning to how to use EMDR in your practices, wait until we talk about exposure therapies in depth (next week or the week following, please G-d).

It's the exposure that resolves the trauma, the visual focus on that snapshot memory, not the hocus pocus of eye movement. That's just my opinion, but you'll soon understand.

Sorry about the confusion.


Monday, April 06, 2009


Last one 'til after Passover.

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing

I used to think a more apt description would have been, Rapid Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing, but R-E-M-D-R just doesn't cut it, and the procedure isn't necessarily rapid, to tell the truth.

Years ago I heard of this woman, Francine Shapiro. This is the late eighties, I think 1987.

Legend has it that Francine got tired of whatever it was that was dragging her down; maybe the est* movement disappointed. So she plopped herself down on a concrete bench to watch the Pacific waves crash into the sand. Some of the crazier sounding innovations start in California, and then come to find, they're not so crazy.

She's chilling, trancing out as anyone of us might. The waves get boring, and she's thinking about some terrible thing that has happened to her.

Keep in mind there are probably better legends about Francine, this is just the one I heard.

Anyway, my version has her sitting back on a concrete bench (not far from the concession stand), relaxing. She randomly stretches out her right arm, points her index finger up and to the right, and slowly follows her finger with her eyes as she waves first to the right, then to the left. She does this several times, watches her finger as it waves left and right, all the while focusing on something in her mind's eye, something annoying, an annoying snapshot picture, one of her traumas associated with all sorts of negative emotion.

And voila! All of the negative emotion associated with the snapshot dissipates. Gone.

Francine's theory is that eye movement somehow has a desensitizing effect on the affect associated with trauma. She has determined, with her single case design, that we don't need to delete our memories, zap them with lasers. We need to delete the affect, the negative emotion associated with it.

We already know that flooding, revisiting traumatic memories over and over again, desensitizes. It worked for Viet Nam veterans. Why wouldn't EMDR work then, in much the same way, for everyone else? EMDR makes clinical sense.

I had to learn it.

So FD found his conference and I found mine with the official EMDR training gurus, and together we took a trip west, years and years ago. It never rains in San Diego, you know, but for us, it rained. They told us, This is the first rain we've had for as long as anyone can remember. All weekend long, it rained.

Anyway, there's much to learn about EMDR. It's not as simple as it looks (I may demonstrate one day) and I recommend that you don't just go waving your finger in front of your face, like Francine Shapiro allegedly did, if she even did. You could get dizzy or sick, or unstable. Just don't do this yourself. Go to a trained professional. The therapist I refer to on my side-bar has certification, but we do hope she doesn't do this particular procedure virtually.

If you're going into the biz, maybe get some officious training yourself.

The training is initially didactic. First you learn the theory and the many, many reasons not to use EMDR with certain people. You learn the particulars of how to do it effectively. You learn what to do before you do it, and what to do afterward to debrief the patient.

Then you get to practice on another trainee. To get a feel for the work, you find a partner and perform, or execute the procedure on one another. You give it and you receive it, EMDR. As the subject you have to think of something or another, some memory that is disturbing, one you can pinpoint. A snapshot.

This is supervised, of course, and at the very end of the conference you get a cool certificate.

So during the training, a trainee receives the treatment, or what we might call a very brief, condensed treatment for a traumatic event, one's own personal PTSD. That's how it worked way back when at least, in San Diego.

Most of us have experienced some sort of trauma, and if you read earlier posts, you might know that the worst thing that ever happened to my family of origin might have been an episode out of Without a Trace. I've never watched Without a Trace (a person has to protect oneself) but I imagine the show is about people disappearing.

In my junior year in high school, that's what happened to my older brother, just twenty. He disappeared. A medical student on campus downtown, he had a medical condition. So when he didn't return one night his concerned roommate called my mother and told her. She panicked, like any mother would, but remained outwardly calm. We're stoics in my family, some of us better at it than others, and it is amazing the degree to which parents can control their emotions to protect their children when they feel they must.

Except I wasn't exactly a child.

When the body washed up at Oak Street beach in late February, nearly two months later, we were devastated, of course. It took me years to even drive by that beach. What you picture, if you're me, is a person drowning, fully dressed as you saw him last, and that person is your brother.

Fix THAT, Francine.

Anyway, when it was my turn to describe a trauma, it didn't take long to think one up, although it wasn't something I especially wanted to do, repeat my construction of a reality that had happened so many years ago. I could see the supervisor worry about complications, melt-downs, that sort of thing.

But tick tock, we did the procedure. And hickory dock, it worked. I was totally shocked, but the affect, the emotion, the shock, the fear, the sadness associated with that construction, all dissipated. The event lost its power. Remember, I had had previous therapy, group therapy, and there's nothing more powerful than a good group therapy. Except maybe, decent exposure therapy, like EMDR.

So that was powerful, what happened to me in San Diego, and as a result, I still use the procedure today in my practice. I find it useful to the degree that the research predicts its usefulness, fifty percent of the time.

I think at some point, as we age, distress over trauma comes back with the usual suspects, the triggers. Like for me, all I have to do is see a drowning on television (and for some reason these are very popular) and I'm out of the room, although I'll see how far I can go with it. So these therapies might need reinforcement over the years. There's no magic bullet for trauma, not yet.

But not everybody needs therapy. (Did I say that?) As we age, the snapshot can lose its power naturally, with or without EMDR. What once triggered negative emotion isn't necessarily going to do that, because over the years we've naturally desensitized. What EMDR does in hours, age accomplishes over the years.

Depending upon different variables. Everyone is different. Our histories, I feel, round us out in perspective, determine who we are, the stuff we're made of, how we will cope with our package and how we will approach others with theirs. For some, history demands an intellectual philosophical quest, a search for meaning, the gestalt of it all. But ask a Holocaust survivor and you might not get much of an answer about anything trauma related. Even thinking of revisiting is out of the question. It's that painful.

And they would tell you they had plenty of exposure therapy.

For those who remember even better than before as they age, who "telescope", who remember things they had forgotten altogether in later years, it is likely that the membrane of their hippocampus is thinning out with age; memories are more accessible to the cerebral cortex, that place we think. That surely makes us vulnerable to emotion and philosophizing about it.

For some of us, talking about memories dismisses their impact nicely, quickly. The envelope full of sensory data is sent back to the proper file in the brain, back to storage. For others, talking is unthinkable.

As for me, hand me that remote, if you don't mind. Gimme a little control, here. Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate.**


I know, I know, it's a lot of intimacy. So in your comments, if you don't mind, try to talk about you or your thoughts on the subject, not me. Much obliged.

*Erhard Seminar Training, est is Latin for "it is"

**If you live in Chicago you'll celebrate a little decent weather.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Scariest Monster of All

In today's WSJ Steve Stecklow's front page story is about a couple who unwittingly, or maybe wittingly, named their mini-golf franchise Monster Mini Golf. I don't know about you, but as soon as I heard the name I wanted to go there and putter around.

But Christina and Patrick Vitagliano are in big trouble for using the word "monster" to attract folks of all ages to their obviously delightful 18 hole glow-in-the-dark (wow) amusement parks of goblins and ghouls.

Monster Cable Products Inc. has the trademark on the word "monster". The California producer of audio cables, has sued every company over the radar for labeling products with this word, companies like, Junk Food Monster T-shirts, and Disney's Monsters, Inc.

Now I, personally, am a little worried.

I used to tell my kids, after losing lost my temper and yelling a few decibels too high for their sensitive ears, that it wasn't really me yelling. I told them that I tend to be a pretty nice person, but that they bring out the Mommy Monster in me.

I never swore or called them names, but knowing how sensitive little kids are to sound (if they're not desensitized to it, I never wanted to scare the little tykes, set them up for anxiety disorders. It was more like, Take the shoes upstairs! NOW!

When they completely tuned me out, when their toys decorated the entire landscape such that if I stepped out of the shower and cried in pain because I stepped barefoot on a Leggo before finding my slippers, in these emotionally vulnerable moments, the Mommy Monster felt comfortable inside of me.

Not that it happened often. After my tantrum I would tell them that this wasn't me, rather it was this Mommy Monster in me that I didn't like to let out, but under extreme stress, things happen.

She came out a few times, I explained it to them rationally, and after awhile, all I had to do was warn them, maybe say, "Uh, oh,the Mommy Monster is gasping for air," and it would be, "Let's clean up!" Never laid a hand on them, never had to, never had to break a wall or a toy, although I did bag and hide many.

So now I feel the Mommy Monster really, really has to hide, not that I can even remember what she looks like.

Trademark infringement, you know.


Thursday, April 02, 2009

Love's Gonna' Get You Down

That's Chicago. I'm home.

FD and I joke that we don't get vacations. For people who seem to be hopping on planes fairly regularly, we still don't take real vacations. There's none of this hanging around with nothing to do.

No Vegas, no Jamaica, Italy, or Costa Rica. But sometimes, if we leave for long enough, if the sun cooperates, we really do feel as if we've been away. We're refreshed. Exhausted, but refreshed. I left ahead of him this time. We were apart for a week.

I forget sometimes that little kids wipe you out. How you people in early childhood education do it, I'll never know.

The Story:

She's at the wheel, I'm supposed to be paying attention. When she has the baby, this will be my job, driving the boys to school.

Turn right on Third, then at the light make a left on . . .,

I don't write it down. In the back seat someone is telling me why he likes Mika.

When it's my turn, I take Vine. She takes Vine, too, she tells me later. She doesn't warn me that it can be confusing. If you exit too soon you end up on Cajuenga and may never get out of Hollywood. That's just the way it is. You don't panic, you don't tell the kids that you did this, got lost, not while they're in the back seat, anyway..
Lollipop by Mika

Hey,what's the big idea?

Yo, Mika!

I went walking with my mama one day
When she warned me what people say
Live your life until love is found
'Cause love's gonna get you down.

Sing it!
Say love, say love
Oh, love's gonna get you down.
Say love, say love
Oh, love's gonna get you down.

Mama told me what I should know
Too much candy's gonna rot your soul
If she loves you let her go
'Cause love only gets you down.
Take a look at a boy like me
Never stood on my own two feet
Now I'm blue as I can be
Oh, love only got me down.
Once the kids are in school I can sit in the backyard and smell the orange blossoms and lilac trees. I can even talk to patients on the phone in the recliner. It's not a bad life. It almost sounds like a vacation. I will be working here soon enough, and I have that sexual assault prevention program to set up. May as well relax while I can.

Usually we visit in January, when it's cold, or in July, when it's a hundred degrees in the shade. Nobody tells us that late March in the San Fernando Valley is as close to perfect as it gets. If Californians have a reputation for being a littly high, this is probably why-- lots of sun and orange blossoms.

I'm always telling you to change your sensorium, to stimultate the brain with new sensory data to lift your depression. You don't have to travel to California. You can buy a bottle of scents, something powdery, maybe, whatever scent you like. But I'm thinking aroma therapy started in California in the springtime. You could jolt an airplane in empath daught's backyard.

Too bad you can't bottle sunshine. It's one of those chaval things.*

We wait for a baby to be born. She has absolutely had it with pregnancy, which, as you might know from personal experience, gets a little old in the last week or so.

The ugly truth is that it has been six months since I've seen my kid. Sure, we Google Video-chat (better than Skype), but it's not as if we can take a walk in a museum or a park and just chill, not if she's in one town, and I'm in another, half-way across the country.

And the video chat thing has to be at the end of the day. My attention span is that of an ant by then. They're due to arrive in Chicago any day now, ants. To their credit, they have a fairly decent work ethic, and do focus day and night. So maybe that's not the best example.

Anyway. It's healing, being there, just working a little, hanging out with my daughter and my son-in-law, and his parents and their kids, and my grandsons who look at me as if I'm from Mars, but isn't it great that Martians arrive and bring baseballs?

We throw the rubber baseball and nerf football around for hours. They find these things, which I would bring any girl-child, too, in my carry-on within moments of arrival. We make up good games, like roll around in the grass to hold onto the ball, and kick your brother, but gently.

It's a two-week trip and my carry-on still has a little breathing room because of empath daught's closet. So many short trips, for years luggage has been shunned in my world, it's hard to break old habits. And who knows if you'll ever see it again? Picture this:

FD is waiting outside the office to take me to the airport. My short week is over. Thirteen people are scheduled for phone or g-chat appointments while away. I want to say goodbye to my friend, a colleague. She works in the office right next door. Her door is cracked, so I know she's alone. Knock knock.
"I'm out a' here. Watch the shop, okay? I didn't tell anyone to borrow my computer."

"Huh? You'll be in tomorrow, right?"

"No, I'm leaving now for California tout de suite."

"Get out!"

"No, seriously. Come look at my luggage."

She sees the one bag. "You are nuts."
Maybe, but I'm gone.

Long trips aren't good for the back, even if you sit all day for a living. So mid-flight I get up and find the galley to stretch. The flight-attendant tells me it's her galley, would I mind taking a seat? Okay, I say, but I'm only following doctor's orders, doing this. She lights up. Well, in that case, she says, come back in half an hour and you can have it all to yourself.
Who said flying has to be so bad?

Let's not talk about how they see you as something just peeled off a shoe if you fly stand-by (the return trip).

My first day in L.A. is all about reconnecting with everyone. It's two hours later for me, so by ten I'm am asleep, right after the Office and 30 Rock; they've waited for me to watch the shows.

As you may recall, my morning alarm clock is someone pulling at the covers.

"Bubbie, Let's play!"

Life is grand.

"Coffee, " I mumble. They have heard the same mumbling from their mother, so they don't object. I pop the waffles in the toaster, pour the syrup on the plates, make the coffee.

The machine is tricky, but I paid attention to the tutorial the night before.

My daughter shapes the guys into little people who want to go to school. How she does this inspires me. I yelled and threatened my own kids, eventually picked them up and forced them into seat belts. But maybe they were younger even, than these guys. Must have been.

She's still working, has been working from home for three or four months. Once she wrote a book for someone about the virtual worker. In the book she suggests that if you're working from home, you should dress like you would to go to the office.


At lunch she says, "Maybe we should do something. Go somewhere. Like a museum, maybe the Getty. Get out and walk."

Anything to put her into labor.


We're very pleased with this field trip. We're walking around the Getty, enjoying the art, and she reminds me that it has probably been fifteen years since we did this, walked around a museum together.

She's enjoying the entire gestalt. It's something I tell people to do. Take your mom to a museum. Take a walk. And here we are, doing that.

The Getty is free. We don't know this, and both of us, without saying it, have been hoping not to have to spend a lot of money. By the time we get out of the house, time is slipping away, closing in on the end of the school day. We at least want to get our money's worth out of the museum. She calls my son-in-law, her guy, my fifth son, who will pick up the boys. We're free to have the day together.

The exhibit is what you would expect, basically your typical Renaissance religious painting tour de not force. But it is certainly marketed to me, specifically. This one has my name on it. It's called, Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575–1725.

Captured Emotions: Baroque Painting in Bologna, 1575–1725

In the one below, Joseph is fighting off Potifar's beautiful, seductive wife. She wants him in the worst way, this woman, according to the bible story. Who said the Torah was dry? Certainly not the first and second books. But he will not be seduced, not Joseph (you saw the braoadway show). After all, he's Jacob's son, and it's bad enough already that as the patriarch's son he has been living as a prince in Egypt for years and still hasn't called home.

That's it for anything Jewish in the exhibit. But it was interesting getting top billing like that.

Anyway, end of this story, she has the baby. Walking does the job. We have hit the mall the next day, not spending a dime, except for coffee, decaf mocha latte, heavy on the whipped cream, for me, at least. And after her short stay in the hospital, her littlest guy finds out, although he's been warned, exactly what it is that Mika means when he says, Love's gonna' get you down.

The kid is a good sport, but at four, it takes some getting used to, your mother holding someone else in her arms. All The Time.

He puts it in words and she reassures him that he's still way at the top of the pecking order. They have history together. She's only known this new little guy a few days. How could she possibly love him more? And it's annoying, isn't it, that he always has to be held? Come on. You think mama's made of iron? The dude looks small, but he's heavy.

Wrapping his head around this, he accepts it that she loves him, and she may even love him more.

After all, what choice has he got?


*Chaval is Hebrew, I think. Hard "ch", cha rhymes with duh, and val rhymes with doll. It means, What a shame, too bad. Works for almost everything.