Saturday, December 24, 2005

Merry Christmas, or Whatever!

Thanks so much for visiting my blog. Blogging this year is the best present I've gotten in a while, thanks to all my readers of all persuasions.

Hope you're having a great weekend -- I'll see you later.

Friday, December 23, 2005

How to Tell if Your Therapist Sucks Like a Bilge Pump

I frequently get calls and emails from people who wonder how to find a good therapist or who tell me that they wonder if the therapist they have is any good. If the person is in therapy, I generally tell them to talk with their current therapist about their concerns. However, there are some general guidelines I can give you to tell if your therapist's behavior or technique should raise a red flag.

Let me start with some personal experiences. I had a good friend in New York who married fairly young and had two children within two years. She divorced and was left to raise the two kids by herself, one of whom had ADHD and was a handful. Because of her stress, she would get tense with the kids and one time, grabbed her son which scared her. She immediately called and went to a therapist. During the intake with this social worker, she told her about grabbing her son and that she was seeking treatment to help her deal with the stress of the kids without resorting to anger.

Instead of help, she got a visit from the Department of Human Services who showed up at the door to investigate this young mother's possible child abuse. My friend was devastated. The DHS investigation turned up nothing but my friend worked in social services and feared that she would be labeled as a child abuser. I told her to find another therapist--one who didn't jump the gun without getting all the facts. (I understand that the law is such that mental health professionals must report suspected child abuse but my friend's act of grabbing her son was questionable as an abusive act and one that should have been explored in more detail than the therapist just getting hysterical immediately). My friend refused to go back for treatment after this negative epsiode--and who could blame her?

I have had my own bad experiences with an unethical therapist. In my last years of doing my PHD, I became stressed about grad school and sought out a PHD psychologist to help--she seemed nice enough but I got the feeling she was not crazy about men. If I talked about fear of relationships, she would say something cheerful like, "Well, most men abandon you after a while." I found out she had been recently divorced and obviously was not handling it well. I left after figuring I could make it on my own.

One day, however, I was talking with my post doc supervisor who told me that she had heard I had seen this therapist for treatment. I nearly fainted, I really did not want my supervisor to know I had been in therapy--it was private. I was steaming. I wrote this unethical therapist to tell her she was lucky that I did not report her to the ethics board and told her that she better not dare do this to another patient in the future. Her response--nothing. Note to other doctors and therapists out there--one of the biggest reasons for law suits is dismissing a patient's concerns. Don't do it.

Anyway, enough of my story. Here are some additional tips on how to find a good therapist or determine if you need a new one:

1) The best way to find a good therapist is word of mouth. You might ask others for recommendations or ask your insurance company to match you with someone who specializes in your specific problem.

2) Once you call for an appointment, pay attention to how you are treated on the phone. Does the therapist call you back promptly if you leave a message on the answering machine? Or does his/her staff act courteous over the phone? Arrange a first meeting to see how you get along with the therapist. You are after all, trying to interview and find out if this professional is right for you. If the therapist is good, they will feel the same way. I let clients know that the first few sessions are a trial period to see if we can work together. If not, I give them three names of other psychologists who might be better for them.

3) Remember that the most important ingredient in patient change is a feeling that the therapist likes you. If you sense that there is no real connection with the therapist or the therapist seems to deal in generalities such as "men are this way, women that way etc.," you should bring your concerns up in the first few sessions and discuss them to determine whether or not you should continue which brings me to our fourth point.

4) Do not be intimidated by the therapist's PHD or MD--it does not give them license to hold their degree out as a reason you should listen to them. Listen to the words of your therapist and see if they are beneficial to you or just downright silly or ineffective. Once a therapist says something like, "Listen to me because I have such and such degree," you might want to be heading to the door. This is not to say that degrees and training aren't helpful--they are as hopefully your doctor has a good range of experience with those of similar problems. But it is the knowlege they have to deal with your problem that is important, of course, not just the fact that they made it through school. Sharing with you their degrees and experience in a form or verbally at the beginning of therapy is normal.

5) Finally, if you are in therapy and you feel that no progress is being made, address it with the therapist and listen to the feedback. None of us is past interpreting our problems incorrectly and it may just be a misunderstanding or miscommunication between you and the therapist. Give him or her a chance to help you change these misperceptions but if that nagging feeling continues that you are not getting the help you need or the therapist does not like you/respect you, it may be time to consider a change.

The Dr. Helen Playpen

There are some commenters on this blog who wish to discuss extraneous topics. I understand that some need an outlet for this type of "chat room" so am designating this post as an area where commenters can speak with each other without interrupting the topic at hand. Please note that in the future, should you wish to belittle, harass or just plain annoy other commenters, you will be sent to timeout in the Dr. Helen Playpen where you will be free to pontificate your views with all other interested parties. Thank you for your cooperation.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Can Psychology Become more Diverse?

The number of PHD's in psychology is declining :

For the fourth year in a row, the number of students earning PhDs in psychology has decreased, according to the federal "Doctorate Recipients from United States Universities" report, which offers data on most 2002 PhD recipients. In fact, since 1998 the number of psychology PhDs awarded has dropped about 13 percent, from 3,676 to 3,199, the survey found.

The trend towards more females in the field continues:

About 67 percent of 2002 psychology PhDs were women, continuing the trend of a majority of women in the field over the past 20 to 25 years. For 2002 doctorate recipients in all fields, 45 percent were women.

Although the APA may believe otherwise, I believe the trend towards fewer PHDs in psychology and fewer men will continue unless action is taken to reverse some of the problem areas in the field. I have to give the APA credit though--they appear to be trying to do just that. They recently requested APA members to email their concerns about the future of psychology to the Policy and Planning Board in Washington DC. So I did my part to help the APA understand how lack of diversity is driving potential members and students away. Here is my email:

My main concern at this time is similar to others who have voiced feeling disturbed with the lack of political diversity of the APA. Although I am a member of APA and have been a Full member since 1994, I do not feel welcome within the organization. I am sure I speak for other Libertarian and Republican colleagues when I say that I feel deep concern when I hear that "disparaging remarks were made about red state officials and the left-leaning documentary, Outfoxed, was shown during the APA convention (page 61, November 2005 Monitor). At least you could have shown another documentary looking at the other side of the coin, such as Michael Moore Hates America.

This discrimination against right leaning thinkers is not only reflective in the APA, but is ingrained in many of the graduate programs in psychology throughout the country. I witnessed a male student who made a politically incorrect remark about African Americans in my graduate program in the 1990's and he was put out of the program. If you want to "make sure that all perspectives are respected and not silenced" then the APA has to be willing to hear views that they do not agree with--I certainly have had to be tolerant of the potically correct views of the majority of APA members for years. I talk with colleagues across the country who do not belong to APA because they do not agree with the left wing politics. One psychologist told me that he quit APA 15 years ago as he feared if he spoke his real views, he would get "thrown out anyway." Although this view may be extreme, it is one that should be taken with concern.

I am writing because I would like to stay a part of the APA--but when I see articles advocating diversity--but only if one is politically correct--I feel discouraged about the future of psychology. Left leaning politics may fly within APA and the academic world but in the real world--there is a mixture of people who share all kinds of world views. How does it help our profession, its students, and our clients when we tout diversity but only if it is the left leaning kind?

In order to remedy this situation, I would recommend more right leaning articles as well as left, more research looking into the traits of liberals like the one on Political Conservatism as Socially Motivated Cognition (of course, it should be written by researchers who are not primarily liberals), more welcoming views of masculinity (no, it is not a pathology to be male--e.g. not all sons are engaged in sex scandals--believe it or not, most boys are pretty decent people), less women as victim articles and books, and more inclusion of those with right leaning political views on the board of APA.

Thanks for listening.

Helen Smith, PHD
APA Member

And here is the APA's reply:

December 21, 2005

Dear Dr. Smith:

I am writing as the chair of the Policy and Planning Board (P&P) to thank you for your letter of November 11, 2005. P&P has a strong interest in APA's future and believes that it will be to APA's benefit to maintain an environment that will encourage an open exchange among psychologists with different views. P&P heard other APA members voice similar positions to yours at the Town Hall Meeting held at the 2005 APA Convention in Washington, DC.

I am copying Andy Benjamin, who will chair P&P in 2006 and asking him to raise this issue for discussion when the P&P meets in March 2006. This will fit nicely into the board’s discussions tracking the activities associated with recommendations included in the 2004 P&P 5-year report (American Psychologist, July/Aug 2005 pp. 512-522). I believe that this is an important APA membership retention issue as well as an issue that psychology may wish to use to demonstrate the positive contributions that it can make to American society.

I appreciate the time you took to raise this issue and promise that Andy Benjamin will bring this to the attention of P&P at its March 2006 meeting.


Sandra E. Tars, PhD

Chair, Policy and Planning Board

Okay, this response could just be a way to placate members but hopefully, the need to retain old members and reach out to new ones will keep them on their toes, and may be the start of change within the organization and psychology. I sure hope so.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Excuse Me While I go Throw Up

Winston Churchill once said, "85% of the world's work is done by people who don't feel very well." Perhaps this saying applies to bloggers. Is it my imagination or do a lot of bloggers seem to be people who don't feel very well? Every time I read a blog now, it seems like an illness has taken over the writer to the point where they're at a hospital or doctor's office. Heck, even sex-blogger justonebite is having medical problems. I hope she gets well soon--I really like her blog--although maybe illness will keep her blogging even more than usual. I know that feeling sick keeps me at the computer for extended periods--mainly as a way to distract myself from my body.

My husband had set up a site for me to blog four years ago but I never used it and was content to just have a couple of websites. I was busy working and thinking that I could make a difference in the world--my mistake. My profession never gave me the outlet that I needed to do that. However, as my health got worse and my tolerance for people and my job lower, I started blogging a few months ago to feel that I could still get my opinion out in the world in a way that made me feel productive (it may just be annoying to others, but it makes me feel better).

I used to do a lot of mental evaluations for people getting Social Security Disability. When I was healthy (prior to my heart attack), I could not relate very well to the clients who came in with their various illnesses, it seemed foreign to me--from the allergies, chemical sensitivites and fibromyalgia to the heart problems, cancer and strokes. However, once I had a heart attack, I understood the vulnerabilities that people suffered. What I could not understand was giving up the essence of who one was in terms of their working life to receive a social security check.

Which brings me back to blogging. There is something refreshing about the ability to post one's thoughts and tout one's wares (such as documentary films, books etc.) over the internet while barely being able to hold a fork to one's mouth before rushing to the bathroom to throw up from some stomach bug you picked up from your kid's school a few days before. I wonder how many other bloggers are out there posting on a regular basis and keeping the world amused because it is one of the few outlets that requires little physical exertion? I could be wrong but it seems to me that if one is vibrant with good health and stamina, they would be out snowboading, skiing or just enjoying the outdoors. I know I would. Anyone else out there blog to distract yourself from feeling bad--whether physical or mental? It would be nice to know I had some company.

Update: Go read more thoughts on depression at Classical Values and don't miss the Blog-life Crisis at

Understanding Radicalism

I just ordered this book, Roots of Radicalism: Jews, Christians, and the Left,mainly for professional reasons as it contains a study I mentioned on liberals in a previous post. I thought about the study again when reading Taranto's Best of the Web which included my post on the Thematic Apperception Test, a projective test used by psychologists. Here is the study used to look at the traits of liberals:

A 2003 paper by Rutgers sociologist Ted Goertzel offers some interesting insight into the left-wing psyche:

In the 1970s, Stanley Rothman and Robert Lichter administered Thematic Apperception Tests to a large sample of "new left" radicals (Roots of Radicalism, 1982). They found that activists were characterized by weakened self-esteem, injured narcissism and paranoid tendencies. They were preoccupied with power and attracted to radical ideologies that offered clear and unambiguous answers to their questions.

And here is what the TAT measures:

The 31 picture cards included in the TAT are used to stimulate stories or descriptions about relationships or social situations and can help identify dominant drives, emotions, sentiments, conflicts and complexes.

I loved the TAT when I was in New York doing more psychoanalytic work but I have not used it much in recent years. It is an interesting test--I will post a review of the Roots of Radicalism after I have read it. Maybe there will be more about this study that I can share.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Can This Be True?

Shockingly, this UCLA study finds that 90% of the major news outlets lean to the left. Did we really need a study to tell us that? via Pajamas Media

"New" Sign for Heart Disease

A new study from the New England Journal of Medicine shows that shortness of breath is a new sign for heart disease--especially for women. I already knew that--seems obvious--but read more about it at WebMD Blog.

Dangerous Class Assignments

If you think that boys don't suffer from abuse at the hands of women, than you have to read this. It is the story of a 13-year-old boy who was first abused by his mother and then by the school system who treated him as a criminal rather than a victim of abuse. Why is it that liberals will go to great lengths to fight for the rights of people who are not really victims and then deny the real victims any solace? It is hard to believe that such an abusive counselor is allowed access to a school system--if I were this kid's parent--I would be down at this school in a flash. Here is a portion of the story:

My cousin rarely cries. I figure he picked that up from one of us, his brother, me, or one of my brothers. But now, he’s practically in tears. Why? Because the class assignment was for them to write about their experiences with the causes of rape. The girls had to write about times they felt “pressured” by boys. And the boys… well, they had to write about times they tried to “force” themselves on girls. Not pressure them, force them.

This is the sort of fmnst trite that keeps boys silent. I wonder how many of the boys in that class have been abused. I wonder how many of them have been raped. I wonder how many of them go home to a house full of violence and say to themselves, “I won’t be like this when I grow up” only to have some moronic narcissist say, “You have a penis. Yes you will.”

Since when do counselors in schools have a right to abuse children in this way? And any 13-year-old boy who dares stand up to one of these "feminists" is made to feel powerless, both by the school who allows this indecency and by the lack of support from other parents and school administrators. Everytime something like this happens in a school--there should be a backlash--against the person who advocated such a stupid assignment and against the school that allowed such a person to victimize innocent young people. Raising hell against this state-run form of mental abuse is the only way to get this outrageous behavior to stop.

Update: Now this rape indoctrination is extending to college campuses--read Lionel Tiger's article in the Wall Street Journal--thanks Instapundit.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Carnival of the Insanities

Dr. Sanity has her Carnival of the Insanities up. I always find some interesting links here. Check out #20--a blog on-- get this--public restroom ratings. I wish I had known about this site when I was making my documentary around rural towns in Tennessee, Virginia and Kentucky. I have never been in such rough public bathrooms.

Sunday Brunch

Me and my dad.
Thanks to everyone who commented on my previous post, Family Ties. It seems that post struck a nerve with many people, as family relationships often do. I certainly do not mean to seem pollyannish about hoping that relatives can get along. It's just that I have seen the damage that can happen to people over time if they do not. Many of my young patients have grown up without fathers, have had mothers who are abusive or neglectful and extended family who see them as trouble. They often are, of course, but there is a loss you can see in a youth's eyes when his family has fallen apart. It is not an excuse to do damage or harm others, but family discord can set the stage for a life time of pain and depression.

I learned a lot about forgiveness from my father. I was very lucky to have a great dad, although he had his share of problems in life. Besides being saddled with five kids, he fought schizophrenia since the age of eighteen. That year, he lost his memory and ended up riding a subway car from one end of the Bronx to Brooklyn. The story I heard from family is that my grandfather was called and found him on the subway; my dad spent the next year of his life in a mental hospital receiving electroshock therapy. Despite his problems, my father went on to graduate from NYU and then the University of California at Berkeley with a PHD in mathematics. He was, and still is, my inspiration.

Sometimes, during the years I was in my teens and twenties, we lost touch and I felt very far away from him. He had remarried after my parents divorced and had another five kids to support with his new wife. Needless to say, he was very preoccupied, as was I while in graduate school. He visited me once in New York and I still have a lovely picture of us together. But at that point in my life, I felt isolated and alone. I felt at that time that I had no support from family at all when I needed it the most. But loneliness and sorrow have a way of changing over time. I realized that I had made the decision to move to New York and when I got the chance to finish my PhD. in Tennessee where my family lived, I took it. It was the best decision I ever made.

In addition to hooking back up with my later-to-be husband, I had the luxury of time with my father after I moved back. For the last six years of his life, he watched my daughter and talked with me endlessly every Sunday about the goings on of his life. By this time, he and his second wife had been divorced. In our Sunday Brunch conversations, he taught me about relationships, mathematics and forgiveness. We would sometimes chat about other family members and I would comment to him why I felt upset with one or another of them. My father never became ruffled about his family and had what seemed to me an endless supply of love for us. If someone in the family had hurt him in some way, he would often shrug and say, that is how he or she is, that's just her/him. I could tell he loved each of his kids unconditionally, while overlooking all of our flaws--and I know we had some!

In the end, this is all I remember about my father--his love for us despite the differences and the pain we might have caused him. A bit over four years ago he was diagnosed with a rare form of duodenal cancer. He had never been physically sick a day of his life so it was quite a shock to me. He died three weeks to the day of being diagnosed at 68. I remember the day before he died--my family and I sat with him in his apartment and he was sitting up reading the very last book he would ever read--it dropped from his fingers onto the floor and after he went to lay back down, I picked it up. My father died the next night and I carefully picked up some pictures and the book he had been holding before he died: A First Course in Stochastic Processes. It sits on my shelf as I write this as a reminder that despite our differences, that the only thing I remember most clearly about my father is how he loved me despite my flaws. I am very lucky.

This beautiful poem by Charles Black, who was my husband's law professor at Yale, captures for me the essence of my father's life and the love that, despite imperfection, is there in abundance:

It is called "Letting Go," from his book The Waking Passenger.

In the process of letting go the breath
Moment for relieving your eyes' ache,
You see bark patterns, a child's hand
Catching and throwing, next to the tree.

You have to relive all your days
To receive the gift of surprise
At words you didn't quite hear, once riding.
Do what you can; everything will come

In memory if never in experience.
Revisit, retell. Love sounds deeper
Out of time than in time. Act love imperfectly;
You will remember love itself.