Saturday, December 28, 2013

Vintage Ad: Complicated Message on Race

From what I can gather, this image appeared in a 1967 edition of Ebony magazine. Imagine what was being communicated, during the height of our national battle for desegregation, in this vintage Greyhound advertisement.

What do you see?

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Patient Suicide: Part Eight--On Scarves and Lessons Learned

This is part of an ongoing story about a patient suicide. Click here for Patient Suicide Part One: The Phone Call, here for Patient Suicide Part Two: 30 Minutes to Think, here for Patient Suicide Part Three: Fully Present, here for Patient Suicide Part Four: What's a Life Worth, here for Patient Suicide Part Five: Treat People Like They Matter, here for Patient Suicide Part Six--Leftovers, here for Patient Suicide: Part Seven--Training Monkeys/Herding Cats, and here for Patient Suicide: Part Eight--On Scarves and Lessons Learned

''And I've become more humbled by how little one can do, ultimately, to keep someone alive.'' -- Joan Wheelis, MD

I've been wearing the scarf my dead patient knitted for me the last few weeks. The scarf is made from yarn of yellow and green and blue. Soft to the touch and just a bit too short, it isn't really a scarf that I'd pick for myself. Nevertheless, I've liked having it near me, on me, and around me. I am, in fact, wearing it now while I write this entry. I'm aware of no specific reason why. I suppose the most true thing I can say is that I've been feeling particularly close to my memories of her these last few weeks.

I'm sure an analyst somewhere would have all sorts of interpretations.

Some of them might even be right.

I haven't always wanted to wear the scarf. There are times when I haven't even wanted to see it.

She gave it to me for Christmas--four months before she died. She was knitting scarves and hats as a form of distress tolerance. Some went to cancer patients being treated at a local hospital. Some went to babies who were born prematurely. One of them went to me. I kept the scarf in the closet for months. I considered giving it away. I considered throwing it away. I didn't want to see it.

I hated it.

I hated her.

The scarf made me feel guilty. I felt guilty for hating her. I felt guilty for my anger toward her. I felt like a failure because she was dead. I hated that she was dead and I hated that I felt like a failure. I hated that I hated.

I wanted all my feelings about my dead patient to go away.

I couldn't make them go away. The best I could muster was to stuff those feelings into my closet and repress them. Store them away. Bring them out later for inspection.

I didn't save her.

I couldn't save her.

She didn't want to be saved.

She couldn't be saved.

I didn't want to learn these lessons. I didn't want to learn that I cannot rescue those who cannot be rescued. I didn't want to learn that some people don't want to be saved. I didn't want to learn that no matter how hard I try, Humpty can't always be put back together.

These are some of the lessons I learned. 

I'd rather have not learned them. I'd rather my patient still be alive.

We don't always get what we want.

I'm not angry anymore. I don't feel guilty. I don't blame myself. I miss my dead patient. Sometimes a little, sometimes more intensely.

Another lesson has been bubbling up. Perhaps this is the reason why I've worn the scarf nearly every day since it's gotten cold this year.

In the wake of my patient's suicide I've become strong. I've become strong in ways that I never anticipated. I feel calmer--not just around issues of suicide, but around everything else that happens in my office. I'm learning the difference between the things I have power to influence and things that are outside my power as a psychologist.

Suicide no longer frightens me as a clinician. 

I hope it doesn't happen, and yet I don't fear it. 

There are days when I feel a little hysterical at the thought of going through this all over again. Those feelings don't last too long. I hope I'm always just a little hysterical at the thought of someone dying. 

Mostly, I welcome suicide into my office. Every day it becomes a little easier to talk about. 

I wish she didn't have to die, and yet in her death, she made suicide something that is mentionable for me--something really mentionable. Rather than frightening and silencing my patients with threats of hospitalizations and retribution, I've become more skillful and inviting suicide into the room. It's become a thing that can be spoken. A thing that can be known. A thing that is mentionable and therefore more manageable.

“Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.” -- Fred Rogers

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dear Young Therapist: Consider Your De Rigueur Requirements | The Post-Doctoral Tie Incident

image credit: Nicholas Ruiz. Bow Tie #10. Assembled November 2011.
 Acetaminophen pills, multiple adhesives, plastic knife. Forest Hills, Queens, New York.
The man interviewing me for a postdoctoral fellowship unwrapped the aluminum foil encasing his dry turkey sandwich and proceeded to stuff it into his mouth.
"Do you mind if I eat? Not that you really have a choice. I'm doing the interview and have the power in this situation."
He continued to masticate and fill his office up with the seasonally incongruent smell of Thanksgiving. This was going to be a fun filled interview.

"I'd like to ask you why you aren't wearing a tie today for your interview. Before you answer, I want you to know that as a psychologist I think everything has a meaning. I hope you have thought about the meaning of why you didn't wear a tie. If you haven't, then you aren't what we are looking for in a post-doctoral fellow. We'll end the interview here and I'll wish you good day."

I had a variety of inside-thoughts that I considered sharing. They included:

  • Asshole. 
  • Drop dead. 
  • Who the hell do you think you are? I just had fucking brain surgery, a post-operative infection, and joint damage from an adverse reaction to the antibiotics that treated my infection. 
  • Your turkey sandwich is making me want to throw up. 
  • I'm scared because I can't find a job. 
  • Do you know who the fuck I am? 
  • Am I going to fail as a psychologist?

I took a middle course and smiled politely. I noticed the air flowing in and out of my nose. I watched as my agitated thoughts floated like clouds in the wind from the center of my awareness, to the edges of my mind, and then off into places where I can no longer notice them.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The ShrinkThinks Validation Machine

....we here at the Irreverent Laboratories have cooked up a little validation machine. To learn more about Martha Crawford visit her blog, What a Shrink Thinks.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Autumn Light

Edgewater: Fishing for Light

This past autumn I took a quick trip back to Cleveland. Before driving the rest of the way to my parent's house, I made a stop at Edgewater Beach. If you are planning your visit, remember that the Cleveland Metroparks have some helpful rules to make your visit pleasant including no:

  • Spitting, spouting of water, urination, nose blowing or defecation in the water
  • Access to the water for any person with open sores or wounds

Friday, December 6, 2013

Time-Lapse Map of Nuclear Tests

Isao Hashimoto created a 14 minute film depicting each of the 2,053 nuclear bomb tests that have occurred around the world.

Such sad folly, thinking these weapons of mass destruction might somehow keep us safe. What a world we live in, poisoned by our own weapons.

Can you make yourself vulnerable enough to find yourself in the other rather than using violence (or the threat of violence) to wipe the other off the map?

I'm a Wellesley Woman

The other day I made an early morning trip to the gym. Crawling up to the top of the cardio deck for my Sunday morning date with the dreadmill, I  observed the crowd below. It occurred to me that I was the only white-appearing person in the room. This isn't an entirely unexpected occurrence as the area near my gym has the second largest Cambodian population in America. The region as a whole is in the top 1% of diverse areas in the state of Massachusetts.

Still, it's not a very common experience for me to find myself the only white man in a room. For a variety of complicated reasons--demographic, social, economic, preference, structural and institutionalized racism--white people most commonly have the experience of looking around and seeing only similar looking people. The implications of this are enormous. When we only see people like ourselves reflected back at us, we tend to think the world is like us. We lose touch the the diversity of knowledges, experiences, and viewpoints that are present in our world. 

We are stronger when we find ways to come together. Finding unity in our diversity isn't an easy enterprise. Pushed to far, the notion of unity can erase individual and group level differences that brings the world the riches of ethic and cultural diversity. Done poorly, the move toward seeing unity in diversity can fragment a population that fails to find a common goal. Done incompletely, the notion of unity can lead toward mere tolerance of differences. Done correctly, finding a unity in our diversity can build a common connection that enriches us through our differences.

Perhaps the founders of the United States were thinking of this when on July 4, 1776, it was suggested to the Continental Congress that on the seal for the United States of America appear the phrase E pluribus unum -- out of many, one. 

What on Earth does any of this have to do with me being a Wellesley woman? I'm glad you were wondering. In the winter of 2000 I was searching for a practicum for the following academic year. My nose was still out of joint from the practicum search for the 2000-2001 academic year. Having never been turned down for a job that I applied for, I had been turned down for every practicum that I applied for.

Not wanting to go through that horrific experience again, I interviewed for placements in New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts. All said, I had about 15 interviews. One of them was at Wellesley College. I was discouraged from interviewing there. "We've not had a student there in a long time," one faculty member said. "Why would you want to be at an all girls school?" asked a classmate. I was even unsure myself--I was living in Manchester New Hampshire and would have to drive sixty miles in each direction.

I did the interview.

I got the job.

I was the first male psychology trainee ever brought on for practicum training. Figuring they didn't want me to be alone, they also brought on Stephen Bradley, who was the first every male social work trainee. Of course, if Stephen was writing this he very well might write:
I was the first male social work trainee ever brought on for practicum training. Figuring they didn't want me to be alone, they also brought on Jason Mihalko, who was was the first ever male psychology trainee. Of course, if Jason was writing this he very well might write: 
Interesting how much perspective matters. Anyway.

Stephen and I spent a lot of time together navigating what it was like to be two men an a women's college. All of our clients were women. All of our coworkers were women. While there are other male faculty and staff members at Wellesley, during my year as a practicum student I didn't encounter any of them.

We were alone in a sea of women. Our every move as men was amplified and noticed. We were, for the first time in our lives, minorities. This is of course not to say our experience was comparable to that which people of color experience. My maleness and whiteness carry an enormous amount of unearned privilege no matter where I go (see here and here for more thoughts on white privilege). The uniqueness of this experience is that the environment around me highlighted and magnified that privilege. The things that I never had to notice--or never could notice--became evident in an environment where we were the only white dudes.

What stands out the most? The bathrooms. There aren't a lot of men's rooms at Wellesley and none at all at the Stone Center. We had a bathroom with a sign on it that said men/women. The women always forgot to slide the sign (why would they remember, they never had to think about it before) so I was always walking in on someone. They were always walking in on me. Given a few more years experience, I think we'd have gotten to the point were we peacefully coexisted in the restroom at the same time doing our business.

I remember the day Ann and I finally gave up on navigating the uncomfortableness of the shared bathroom experience, smiled at each other, and talked about our weekends while we washed our hands.

To make my experience even more rich, my supervisors were an African American woman and an Indian woman. I got to examine everything. It was a gift that I never anticipated and one that I still benefit from. The moments where we collectively discovered how my whiteness or maleness bumped up against the system, intruded upon the viewpoint or another, or was shown deference, were held and explored and thought about carefully.

Years later I'm still thinking about it.

Several years later, after I was licensed as a psychology, the Stone Center Counseling Service at Wellesley College came calling again and hired me as an interim staff psychologist. I got to explore the experience again as the only male and the first ever male psychologist.

So I thought about this while I was on the treadmill at the gym this morning surrounded by a sea of people who had skin tones that were different than mine. I was surrounded by a sea of humanity that each had a different set of experiences, values, morals, and outlooks that are dictated in part by cultural and racial experience.

I wish more white people could have this experience.

I wish more white people would be open to experiencing this when it happens.

I wish more white people could be open to knowing there are different ways to know the world, and our way isn't the only valid way.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

World AIDS Day 2013

I've been thinking a lot today about my first job as a psychotherapist at the Free Medical Clinic of Greater Cleveland. Nearly all of my clients were gay and nearly all of those clients were HIV positive. Some were recently diagnosed while others were ill before AIDS even had a name. A whole generation of gay men were blighted by this disease. Many still are.

I remember the dead today. So many lives lost. So many stories that can never be told. So many dreams that will never be realized. So many gifts that will never be brought into this world.

Remember the generation of gay men who had to leave because of this disease.

The original image I used was captured by the photographer William Gedney at the June 26, 1983 gay pride parade in New York City. You can see the original here at the Duke University Libraries

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Dog Meat With a Side of White Savior Complex

Could you imagine eating a dog or cat for dinner? I couldn't. I couldn't imagine eating any living creature. For personal reasons, I've been a vegetarian for the past 20 years.

Even among people who do eat meat, I'm hard pressed to think of someone who would eat a dog or a cat. I suspect in a country where we have many different sorts of people, there is likely one or two in modern America who would enjoy dining on a grilled dog fillet. Those people, however, are way outside the norm. As a society, we've largely decided on some animals as a source of food (cows, chickens, hogs) and other animals as pets (dogs, cats).

I know this hasn't always been the case. In her book Being with Animals, Barbara J. King wrote extensively about how early humans would eat dogs. It was likely our making meals of dogs that helped domesticate them into the furry companions many of us now enjoy. The most aggressive dogs, King wrote, would be the first to be bashed in the head and cooked for dinner. Those who were cutest, sweetest, and most affectionate were allowed to live, follow us around, reproduce, and become part of our communities.

Dogs are no longer regularly consumed as food in the Western world (though they are consumed as subjects of animal research). In other parts of the world, eating dogs has been part of traditional cuisines and indigenous medical practices throughout history. There are many regions in which dogs are still consumed for food or health.

While most Americans would look askance at people eating dogs, there are those people who do eat odd food in our society. Maybe a rural southerner who eats squirrel, an African American family that eats hog jowls or chitterlings, or perhaps a recent Chinese immigrant who eats chicken feet. We all know that those people is code for people who aren't White or otherwise fail to fit in with the middle class upwardly mobile depiction of what America is.

Maybe we don't all know that.

There is some minor tolerance in our culture for White middle class Americans to eat food that falls outside the norm--food those people eat. White folks can safely venture into an ethnic restaurant and have a culinary adventure. An exotic evening eating that strange food that those people eat.

Our judgements about what people eat for food are an interesting phenomena to explore. Whether it be moussaka or dog, what we consider acceptable and unacceptable foods reveal a complex set of social, cultural, and societal values and preferences.

A few days ago I came across a tweet that caught my eye about dog meat. It was a call to send a post card to President Park Geun-hye of South Korea. There is a long history of eating dog meat for nourishment and health in some segments of Korean society (see here for an excellent article about dog meat trade in another Asian country).

Puppies and kittens are adorable creatures. Why wouldn't I want to immediately send off a postcard to President Park Geun-hye? She should ban this practice immediately because--well, why? Because I am a white man that thinks dogs are pets and not food? Does she--or anyone in South Korea for that matter care what I think? Why would my viewpoints on what appropriate foods are matter?

We freely sign petitions, fire off emails and tweets, post angry Facebook statuses, and otherwise express our White Western displeasure with how the rest of the world conducts their business. We swoop in to save people (and animals) without really spending much time pondering whether anyone asked to be saved, whether anyone actually needs to be saved, and what our motives are for wanting to play the role of savior. We don't think about the larger constellation that exists in another country--traditions, cultures, values, economics, religions, and every other factor that goes into any given situation.
  • Who decides what needs to be changed? 
  • Who decides what is right or wrong in this world? 
  • What set of values, morals, and assumptions are these decisions based on?
I've wrestled with these questions ever since I was challenged during my dissertation defense by my  chair, Susan Hawes. In the course of questioning me about my research, she commented that what I suggested spoke to moral relativism. We were discussing homonegativity when Susan asked me how I determined what was right or wrong. I felt uncomfortable making a global statement that something was wrong when my judgement was based on my own personal values. I didn't have an answer for Susan then. I still don't.

Eating dogs isn't right for me. It breaks my heart to think of the trusting lovable dogs that are used for food. However, who am I to say that this is any more wrong that eating cows, ducks, or hogs? Are my values and mores superior to those of someone else? How would I begin to decide what was better?
  • Are there absolute rights and wrongs in this world? 
  • Who determines what those things are? 
  • Who gets to decide?
  • How do they decide?
On a practical level, I grapple with this issue daily in my work as a psychologist. I'm not sure it's my role to make determinations about what is right or wrong for a person in my role as a psychologist--except where I am required by law.
  • Should I stay with my girlfriend?
  • Do you think I should look for a new job?
  • Why can't I cut my arms and legs if it makes me feel better?
  • Is it worth being alive when I'm in so much pain?
  • My boyfriend beats me and I kind of like it. Is that wrong?
  • Why is god punishing me?
  • How can I feel better?
  • Why am I gay?
So many questions for which I have no answers. I often drive my patients crazy because of my refusal to answer with anything but more questions. On the other hand, I often also drive my patients crazy when I'm directive and hold too firmly to an idea about how I think they should be in this world.
I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains
I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain
There's more than one answer to these questions
pointing me in crooked line
The less I seek my source for some definitive
The closer I am to fine
--Indigo Girls
On a legal level, I am charged with protecting my patients from suicide, intervening if my clients are planning a homicide, and notifying authorities about children, elders, and people with disabilities who are being physically or sexually abused. The field has developed taxonomies of behaviors that are considered abnormal or aberrant. Protocol based therapies exist to ameliorate a variety of unwanted symptoms ranging for negative self worth, to erectile dysfunction, to vaginismus, to test taking anxiety.

Without thought, I can impose my viewpoint on how a person ought to function or behave through the theories and interventions of my profession. Is that moral? Is that right? 

Do any of us have the moral authority to sit in judgement of another culture or an individual? We inflict so much damage upon other people when we use our own values to judge another from culture that has a different set of values.

Do we have the right to demand a culture act in a way that suits our wishes and desires? Is it useful for us to send postcards and sign petitions asking Korean people who eat dog meat, and have done so for centuries, to stop? Did they ask for our opinion or help?

What makes us think we are any more right than they are?

Are we helping them or our we helping ourselves?

In sending a postcard have we built capacity for the people of South Korea to build their own animal rights movement? Does sending a postcard to the president of South Korea give us the sense we've done something so we can feel a release of energy and pat ourselves on the back? Do we save the animals even if it means we destroy a culture and tradition?

  • Are we that important that we can make those sorts of decisions?
  • Do we best help people by making them change?
  • Do we help by sharing the tools, resources, and experiences of our world so cultures and societies can build their own change movements?
  • Are there some moral outrages that are so outrageous that intervention is required? 
  • How do we decide what outrages merit this level of intervention? 
  • Have these interventions ever worked? 
  • Are their other options? 
Questions, and more questions, and questions as yet unformulated.
No answers please.
--Martha Crawford
After the page break are highlights from Twitter.

Slip of the Tongue | Girl, What is your Makeup?

Occidental College professor Mary Christianakis asked her students to make mash ups to inspire the viewer to take a critical perspective on a topic. One of her students, Samantha Figueroa, created the following clip. 

The complete text of the words of Adriel Luis that were spoken in the clip are after the page break.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Thanksgiving | The 45 Top Influencers of my Irreverent Ways as a Psychologist

So many people have come in and out of my office since I started figuring out this business of the therapeutic enterprise. In 1990 the very first person I ever worked with walked through my office door. He was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was terrified--I was still a teenager and had absolutely no idea what I was doing. Two decades later he wrote to me and thanked me for being such a kind listener. 

Since then there have been 1,000s of people who have walked through my door. Each have left with me some piece of learning--some knowledge of the human experience. I'm thankful for what you have taught me. Time has sadly obscured some of your faces. Still, when I look back, so many of your stories remain vivid in my memory even if I've lost a connection to your physical presence. I often see glimpses of you in my office in the present day, standing around my patients and I, reflecting back lifetimes of experiences.

My work and skill--fairly or not--is built upon these memories over my past 25 years of work. 

I've been thinking a lot over the past few weeks of the other people who are in my office with me. I've had so many teachers who have helped me find the pieces that I needed in order to become a psychologist. 

It being Thanksgiving weekend, I thought it might be an interesting process to make a list of those people who stand with me when I work. I will add more as they come to mind. 

Lorene Mihalko - Yeah. My mother. The first psychologist I knew.
Michael Dwyer, Ph.D. - My mother's teacher and then years later mine.
Robert Mayerovitch, Ph.D. - My piano professor who taught me to slow down and be patient.
Denise Youngblood - The high school psychology teacher who knew before I did.
Sherri Bair, Ed.D. - Piqued my interest in how television reflects our psychologies. 
S. Lee Whiteman, Ph.D. - His big smile, warm heart, wisdom, and curiosity still follow me around. 
Nancy Gussett, Ph.D. - Her self discipline finally got me look for my own.
David Prock - The first person ever to make it okay to talk about the dark side of life.
Daniel Kirk, Ph.D. - The English professor who made the room quiet so I could tell my stories and truth.
Claire Cygan Young - Gave me the first client I ever worked with.
Edwin Hollander,  Ph.D. - Drove me nuts demanding that the whole world conform to the bell curve.
Manolo Guzm├ín, Ph.D. -  Gave me the courage to explore the New York that I needed to find.
Helen Marshall - Taught me to love, respect, and believe in those who no one else did.
Stephen Friedman Ph, D. - Taught me to talk out of turn and discard the rules.
Zora Meisner - Who showed me powerful lessons can be learned from those I dislike.
Mary Chipman - We discovered it together. Didn't we? And truffles. And catalogues. 
Jody Tellfair, Ph.D. - My therapist who noticed everything--every time--without demand.
Amy Barto - Who showed me a social conscious with boundaries.
Rev. Richard Sering - The holy man who made me make a promise.
Barbara Fields - My other therapist who made it okay to play. 
Steven James, Ph.D. - The professor who gave the space to be iconoclastic.
Judy Harden, Ph.D. - The first professor to convince me I have a gift to develop.
Shoshana Simons, Ph.D. - The woman who took years to bring me out of my shell.
Harriet Lubin - The professor who silenced me for critiquing orthodoxy. 
Maggie Jackson, Ph.D. - The professor who told me I had every right to critique orthodoxy.
Lisa Drogosz, Ph.D. - The young psychologist that convinced me to return for more
Maryann McGlenn, Ph.D.  - My first supervisor who gave me (a little) room to be myself.
Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D. - The peacemaker and student of Carl Rogers.
Diana Shultz, Ph.D. - Still working on forgiving you for ripping up page 6 of a 5 page paper.
Glenda Russell, Ph.D. - Launched me on my journey learning about social constructionism.
Janis Bohan, Ph.D. - Her clear observations helped me see bigger pictures
Robin Cook-Nobles, Ed.D. - Everything, Robin. Your gifts are endless.
Lisa Desai, Psy.D. - Who made me feel safe enough to think multi-culturally.
Judy Jordan, Ph.D. - The most human, real, and honest person I've met. 
Barbara Lewis, M.D. - The first physician who thought I had important thoughts.
Peter Baldwin, Ph.D. - Who showed me anything is possible and I can be free.
Daniel Brown, Ph.D. - Introduced me to hypnosis and changed everything. 
Susan Hawes, Ph.D. - My dissertation chair who rescued me when I needed it.
Ken Garni, Ed.D. - I still laugh like a crazy Frenchman. I just close my door now.
LaTonya Sobzack, Ph.D. - I hope you still laugh like a crazy Frenchman
Kim Davenport, Psy.D. - You too. Keep laughing.
Paul Korn, Ph.D. - Courage. 
Wilma Busse, Ph.D. - You just rock in all ways. 
Kathryn Jackson, Ph.D. -  Her quiet nature showed me to look deeply.
Linda Field, Ph.D. - Who knew a psychologist could be playful and disciplined?
Joe Shay, Ph.D. - Next time you interview me I'm brining a sandwich, and I'll be just one man talking.
Joan Wheelis, M.D. - You reminded me to decide what kind of therapist I wanted to be. 
Debora Carmichael, Ph.D. -  You called me into the water and let me know it was okay.
Louise Ryder, Ph.D. - Who let it be okay to be human and imperfect.
Amy Briggs Bledsoe, Ph.D. - My hardcore friend.
Jennifer Strong, Psy.D. - Rainbow bright. You know what I mean?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

God is calling you to understand this as an issue of justice

"Today is the 40th anniversary of the riots around the Stonewall in an area not too very far from here. This afternoon out on those sidewalks there will be all kinds of people who are celebrating and rejoicing. Rejoice with us because something huge has happened in the last 40 years. And part of the way that you're celebrating today, all of you, is to be giving a cup of water to people who pass by. I want to tell you it is a very dangerous thing to be doing. It is a very holy thing that you do when you offer that cup of water. You are representing the community of Christians, and Jews, and Muslims who are 95% the source of all the oppression we LGBT people have experienced in our lives. So when you offer a cup of water bearing the name of Christ as it says in our doctrinal today you are the oppressor offering a cup of water to the oppressed. They get it. They get the act of compassion. My question is do you get it? Do you get it? Do you realize the important thing that you do by giving a cup of water to those people out there who have been hurt by us and be continue to be hurt by us? This is not about tolerating gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. This is not about being nice. It's not even about being compassionate. This cup of water is about justice and we are not yet in a place in this country where we believe  the full and equal rights of gay and lesbian people are a matter of justice. We're not there yet. It's not enough to pull the people out of raging stream that are drowning. We have to walk back upstream and find out who is throwing them in in the first place. It is not right what our churches and synagogues and mosques have done to us as has been done to others before us and it will take an act of commitment on your part to undo it. And be willing to pay a price. We have never made progress neither in our religious institutions or our culture unless someone has been willing to pay the price. It's that tough systemic work both within our religious communities and the culture that we must be committed to changing. And those of you who are heterosexual, we need you desperately. I think God is calling you to understand this as an issue of justice. To a lot of people across this great nation what is happening here this afternoon is a total nightmare. I'm here to tell you it is no nightmare. It is God's dream coming true before your very eyes. Amen."

Bishop Gene Robinson quoted in the documentary Love Free or Die

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dear Young Therapist: Are You Ready to Jump?

Hieronymus Bosch / The Stone Cutting / Prado
The anti-psychiatry movement has garnered increasing popularity within the last few years. Criticisms have been lodged against the medicalization of the human experience. In particular, many observers have noted the increasing movement toward pathologizing human suffering and categorizing that pain as a psychiatric disorder requiring medical intervention.

This phenomena isn't particularly new. As long as we've had emotions, we've sought ways to control experiences that are viewed as unpleasant, unwanted, or otherwise out of the norm. Starting in at least neolithic times, we attempted to drive out unwanted behavior through trepanning--drilling burr holes into the heads of those suffering. In fact, it is still occurring, assuming this website isn't some sort of strange parody. In our quest to help alleviate suffering we've also tried hydrotherapy, cold wet sheet packs, continuous baths, hot boxes, metrazol therapy, insulin induced shock, electroconvulsive shock, magnets, and lobotomies


I've worked with clients who have undergone all of these treatments with the exception of trepanning. I'm not that old. The video below offers glimpses of many of the various treatments. 

And then there is psychotherapy. So many kinds of psychotherapy.

The director of training of my postdoctoral fellowship, Joseph Shay, once handed us a list of every type of therapeutic intervention for mental illness that he could find. It ranged from some of the ones mentioned in this YouTube clip, to primal scream therapy, to dialectal behavioral therapy. We laughed at some and mostly we felt superior because we were being trained in the modern best practices.

As I've written before, Joe reminded us that in 10, 20, or 30 years we'd look back on our careers as psychologists and be horrified at what we thought constituted good therapy. Times change. We move forward. Joe taught us to remember that we have always tried our best to help, we can only help in the ways we know, and we can only know what we know when we know it.

We get better.

The Beasts of West Point

Pierre Boulat/Cadets of West Point 'Beast Barracks'
So this image by Pierre Boulat took a little bit of digging to find. I originally found a cropped version that was fairly resistant to giving up it's secrets.

Life Magazine ran an article on October 14, 1957 about the Beasts of West Point. Pictured to the left are Beasts James Schall (right) and Don Couvillion (left) who are "learning to dance so they will be gentleman as well as officers."

For more images of vintage men and their relationships (some gay, some straight) visit: Two Men and Their Dog;Adam and Steve in the Garden of Eden: On Intimacy Between MenA Man and His DogThe Beasts of West PointVintage Men: Innocence Lost | The Photography of William GedneyIt's Only a Paper Moon;Vintage Gay America: Crawford BartonThese Men Are Not Gay | This Is Not A Farmer | DisfarmerDesire and Difference: Hidden in Plain SightCome Make Eyes With Me Under the Anheuser BushHugh Mangum: Itinerant PhotographerTwo men, Two PosesPhotos are Not Always What They Seem,Vintage Sailors: An Awkward RealizationThree Men on a HorseWelkom Bar: Vintage Same Sex MarriagePretty in Pink: Two Vintage Chinese MenMemorial Day Surprise: Vintage Sailor LoveMemorial Day: Vintage Dancing SailorsThe Curious Case of Two Men EmbracingThey'll Never Know How Close We WereVintage Love: Roger Miller Pegram,Manly Affections: Robert GantHomo Bride and Groom Restored to DignityThe Men in the TreesThe Girl in the OuthouseTommy and Buzz: All My Love,Men in Photo Booths, and Invisible: Philadelphia Gay Wedding c. 1957. You can also follow me on Tumblr.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Vintage Men: Innocence Lost | The Photography of William Gedney

Self Portrait / William Gedney / Duke University Libraries
"William Gedney, a photographer and teacher of photography at Pratt Institute and Cooper Union, died of AIDS yesterday at his home on Staten Island. He was 56 years old. Mr. Gedney, a teacher since 1969, was the recipient of Guggenheim and Fulbright fellowships. An exhibition of his work, ''Eastern Kentucky and San Francisco,'' was staged in 1968 at the Museum of Modern Art. Mr. Gedney's pictures are in the collections of that museum and the George Eastman House in Rochester.

He is survived by his parents, William and Violet Gedney, of Bradenton, Fla., and a brother, Richard, of Westlake, Ohio." (New York Times Obituary, June 24, 1989)

So many lives have been silenced by AIDS. The numbers of people erased by a virus that can't be seen by our eyes is overwhelming. I don't think our society has come to realize the enormity of what has been torn away from our collective wealth. AIDS has killed at least 619,000 Americans and 25,000,000 people worldwide. (

Self Portrait / William Gedney / Duke University Library
I can't even begin to comprehend what a loss like that means. An entire generation of gay men removed from the planet. A generation of gay men left behind with no elders, no mentors, and no one to hold the memory of where we came from and where we hope to go. 

I might not be able to capture the enormity of what was lost. I can, however, introduce you to one life lost. The Duke University Libraries have carefully and thoughtfully made enormous amounts of their collections available to the public for research, wonder, and casual exploration. I previously discovered Hugh Mangum in their archives. Last night I discovered the photographer William Gedney

Gedney is mostly widely known for his images taken from his window on Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn (also here & here),  as a Fulbright scholar in India (here, here, and here),  and his unbelievable stunning pictures of the Corbett Family.  

In the book What was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney, Sartor and Dyer write that the artist's photographs
are remarkable in their sympathetic and quietly sensual view of the world. Gedney's unobtrusive view reveals the beauty and mystery of individual lives. They illuminate the rare, lyrical vision of a photographer who, while living a reclusive personal life, recorded the lives of others with remarkable sensitivity and poignancy.

Gedney was on scene in New York City documenting the gay and lesbian liberation movement in the late 70s. Capturing a moment of freedom and hope sandwiched between the turbulent 60s and the impending deaths in the 80s and 90s from AIDS, Gedney recorded moments of lost innocence.

William Gedney / Duke University Library / June 25, 1978

Friday, November 8, 2013

Slave Memorabilia: On Sale at eBay

New York Historical Society
Some years ago I spent time in Louisville Kentucky. The memory that stands out most is driving through Bourbon country in a red convertible listening to music just a little too loud. I think both myself and the people I encountered shared a mutual appreciation of the exotic animal we found each other to be.

I was recently reminded of this trip while reading a post on the blog "We are Respectable Negros" entitled "eBay Removes Holocaust 'Memorabilia' From Its Website. Why do they Continue to Sell Artifacts Related to Enslavement of Black Americans?"

While driving around in my rented red convertible, I happened upon a store specializing in selling Africana items. Toward the back of the store I wandered myself right into another world. The shopkeeper had a display case of tools used by white slave owners to maintain the system of brutal oppression over human beings with darker complexions.

I was overwhelmed.

Pictured on the above: "According to a letter that accompanied these shackles upon their donation to the Historical Society in 1921, they were cut off teenage slave Mary Horn of Americus, Georgia, by Colonel William W. Badger of the 176th Regiment New York Volunteers, more than a year after Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Mary is said to have belonged to a Judge Horn, who riveted the irons to her legs with his own hands to prevent her from walking to the next plantation to see her beloved, George. George begged Colonel Badger to free Mary from her shackles and supposedly held her over an anvil while Badger cut them off."

I read about slavery. I studied the Civil War. I thought I knew a lot about the era. As a young doctoral student at a progressive institution, I was developing an awareness of the ways in which what I know is a representation of the view of the world that people with power and privilege have.

Myriad are the things that weren't included in the lesson plans that my teachers provided me.

So there I was in the back of an Africana store face-to-face with manacles that bound the feet of human beings, whips that were used to enforce a system of terror upon their backs, tags that identified  and categorized what kind of property a particular human being was, and numerous price lists.

It was an overwhelming and powerful experience to be so close to something that for me, a white man, seems as remote as anything else I might read about in a history text book. I must have just stood there for 20 minutes looking silently. I don't even know if I moved. The owner of the store ended up standing next to me silently as well. The distant was no longer distant for me. Slavery was a tangible experience through those manacles that someone once was forced to wear--and strangely (or not) the oppression our country engaged in became even more incomprehensible for me.

I thought about buying the manacles. I thought about touching them and holding them. I ended up doing neither. It didn't feel like they were mine to touch or own. It felt like it would have been a violation to have done either.

The shopkeeper gave me hug. I thanked her and walked out of the store without saying another word. They seemed unneeded.

15 years later I'm still thinking about that store and experience.

I can see the complicated ways in which items from the Holocaust or slavery might be powerful items/tools for people to make deep and transformative connections to a distant past. I also worry, and believe, that very few people would actually respect these objects for what they are: a piece of a humanity that was discarded that should be honored, revered, and remembered.

I hope eBay shoppers think long and hard about what it means to own these items--and what it means to have owned people--prior to their purchase. 

There aren't any refunds. 

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dear Young Therapist: Perspective is Everything

When I was in fourth grade I became somewhat obsessed with learning about the native people of the Americas. I poured through all the age-appropriate books in my school and public libraries, wrote age appropriate papers, and made a few age appropriate art projects. 

Somewhere tucked away in a box is a coffee stained crayon drawing that I made depicting the life of Seminole Indians. Mr. Sturgeon, my fourth grade teacher pictured on the left, wrote me an apology for the coffee stain. 

I was particularly fascinated with the people who lived in Central and South America: The Aztecs, Incas, and Mayans. The age appropriate books I read showed images of the savagery of the Aztecs. My young mind was particularly aghast over their sacrifice of humans to their sun god. I was horrified at the descriptions of beating human hearts being removed from people with flint knives. I worried about how that must have felt for both the sacrificed as well as the priest wielding the knife. 

It was such a strange juxtaposition--being attracted and repulsed at the same time. 

What I didn't know in fourth grade was that the history I was learning was from the perspective of the conquerors. We tell stories of native peoples as savages, in part, to reinforce a white Western European superiority. 

Myriad are the things that weren't included in suburban grade school lesson plans.

Searching for Love

It's always interesting what brings readers to my blog.  Through the blogger platform, Google offers some analytics that show me what doors people pass through into my blog. I'm left to my own devices to decipher what the motivations are for seeking out those doors to pass through.

Here are some of the most popular searches that brought readers to my blog in the past week. 

  • Therapist fall in love with client
  • I love my client
  • Do therapists fall in love with clients
  • Does my therapist really care about me
  • In love with my therapist
  • I love my therapist
I think a lot of you out there are trying to understand love. It's a shame that therapists have an aversion to talking about it.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Dreaming of Stars

Post by Portraits of Boston.
I’m studying astrophysics.”

“Tell me something about astrophysics that maybe most people don’t think of when they hear the term.”

“Simply, the awareness that the stars are also alive, depending on how you define life. They are breathing, and there is energy inside them that is constantly flowing. For me, it doesn’t matter where I look, at the ground or in the sky, there is life constantly breathing all around me. This life here is great, but I also want to know about that life. Something more exists outside the human realm or condition.”

“Do you have any 
other interests outside astrophysics?”


“Interesting. The way you spoke of the stars was quite poetic, too.”

“I feel that poetic expression is the way my brain naturally thinks. The other day I wrote a poem that goes like this: “The baby came too soon / The blood flows through the moon.”

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Rob the Rainbow

This advertisement for Jester Wools, suggesting that their product can make gayer garments, is just far to amusing to not share immediately. 

Friday, October 18, 2013

Sunday, October 13, 2013

It's Only a Paper Moon

"It's Only A Paper Moon"

It is only a paper moon
Sailing over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me

Yes, it's only a canvas sky
Hangin' over a muslin tree
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me

Without your love
It's a honky tonk parade
Without your love
It's a melody played in a penny arcade

It's a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me

Without your love
It's a honky tonk parade
Without your love
It's a melody played in a penny arcade

It's a Barnum and Bailey world
Just as phony as it can be
But it wouldn't be make believe
If you believed in me

Images of men on a paper moon keep coming up in my search through vintage images. None of them can be traced back to a specific story, yet all depict a moment of intimacy between men that was witnessed by a camera nearly a century ago. I love them and the hints they give us about the moments people shared together in another era. 

No one seems to know where the paper moon came from. 

The first reference to a paper moon in a failed Broadway play called The Great Magoo. The song, with music written by Harold Arlen with lyrics by E. Y. Harburg and Billy Rose, was eventually used in the 1933 movie Take A Chance. In World War II the song was reprised by Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole. Since that time scores of artists have remade this jazz standard.

It seems however that by the time Ella and Nat were singing It's Only a Paper Moon, the pictures were already started to disappear. Few pictures of World War II era soldiers can be found with this backdrop. The vast majority of the images seem to come from the 1900s into the 1930s. 

Photography became available to the mass market in 1901 when Kodak released the Brownie. Freed from the need to cary around bulky equipment and toxic chemicals, the average person was able to document their experiences in the world for about a dollar (the cost of the first Brownie). In a book called the Artistic Secrets of the Kodak, Austrian architectural critic Joseph August Lux wrote that the inexpensive cameras allowed people to "photograph and document their surroundings and thus produce a type of stability in the ebb and flow of the modern world."

Perhaps the paper moon pictures were an effort to preserve the fleeting moments of joy and pleasure between friends at carnivals, festivals, and parties in turn of the century America?

Friday, October 11, 2013

The Queer Nation Manifesto

This morning I read an article in the New York Times an article that made mention of Queer Nation protesting in New York. Good to see them back. Modern social movements have seemed to lose the power needed to disrupt the status quo and bring about meaningful social change.

The website History as a Weapon has printed the text of a manifesto originally passed out by people marching with the ACT UP contingent in the 1990 New York Gay Pride Day parade. I'm reprinting the manifesto here. 

It reminds me of a time when social change was about liberation and freedom -- not conformity and becoming part of the status quo.

Queer Nation Manifesto

How can I tell you. How can I convince you, brother; sister that your life is in danger. That everyday you wake up alive, relatively happy, and a functioning human being, you are committing a rebellious act. You as an alive and functioning queer are a revolutionary. There is nothing on this planet that validates, protects or encourages your existence. It is a miracle you are standing here reading these words. You should by all rights be dead.

Don't be fooled, straight people own the world and the only reason you have been spared is you're smart, lucky, or a fighter. Straight people have a privilege that allows them to do whatever they please and f--- without fear. But not only do they live a life free of fear; they flaunt their freedom in my face. Their images are on my TV, in the magazine I bought, in the restaurant I want to eat in, and on the street where I live. I want there to be a moratorium on straight marriage, on babies, on public displays of affection among the opposite sex and media images that promote heterosexuality. Until I can enjoy the same freedom of movement and sexuality, as straights, their privilege must stop and it must be given over to me and my queer sisters and brothers.

Our Days Go By So Quickly

Sonia Nevis sends out occasional letters to the Gestalt community. I received this yesterday and reprint it with her permission. She wrote, "certainly use this letter on your blog. What would be better than to have hope spread around for more and more people."

Our Days Go By So Quickly – What Can We Do About That?

Recently I have realized that I am 86 years old, and there is nothing I can do about it, since each day that passes us is lost forever.

I take short walks, love my work, cherish my clients and have wonderful friends. I have loving children - I hope you can see how lucky I am.

Yet I wake up each day - sad that yet another day has gone.

Up to now I thought there was not much more I could do - but now I feel as though my life has a long carpet to walk on: it lives on.

I have begun to see that all lost days are alive.

The experiences and memories of the life that we have lived and are living, as well as the fiction we have read and the images we have seen in the theater and the films, all contribute to the richness of our being.

Once we understand how much we hold within our hearts, we easily turn them into stories – stories which will live long beyond us.

Realizing this has shifted the way I feel, and how I am looking at my life. I’m amazed at how it comforts me.

But what matters the most is how much I can still do in this difficult world:

• I want to turn my interest to even more people I have never met and talk to them. That might be one of the roads to peace.

• I will keep paying attention to my generosity. There is so much needed that I can be giving.

I hope my long carpet stays very long. I will keep enjoying my life and doing all the things that I love.

I hope you all join me.



Sonia March Nevis, PhD, is co-founder of the Gestalt International Study Center and has practiced and taught Gestalt and family therapy concepts worldwide for over thirty-five years. She was a founder of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland where she created the Center for Intimate Systems, devoted to the training of couples and family therapists. You can read all of Sonia's letters here