Sunday, July 31, 2011

An Open Letter to Senator Scott Brown

July 31, 2011

The Honorable Senator Scott Brown
United States Senate
359 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, DC, 20510

Dear Senator Brown:

The It Gets Better Project, launched in September 2010, is a response to a number of young people who committed suicide in the wake of bullying in school. Since that time, there have been over 10,000 user created videos that have been viewed over 35 million times. Who has made these videos? President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Adam Lambert, Anne Hathaway, Mathew Morrison of “Glee”, Joe Jonas, Joel Madden, Ke$ha, Sara Silverman, Tim Gunn, Ellen DeGeneres, Suze Orman, the staffs of The Gap, Google, Facebook, Pixar, the Broadway community; people of faith such as Bishop Mark Hanson, Bishop Gene Robinson, the United Church of Christ, Jewish Seminary Schools, and small congregations like St James Episcopal Church in Groveland Massachusetts; and thousands of everyday people around the world.

A few days ago all but one of our elected officials who represent the Commonwealth of Massachusetts added a clip of their own to this project. I offer my sincere and deep thanks to Senator John Kerry and Representatives Ed Markey, John Tierney, Jim McGovern, Bill Keating, Stephen Lynch, Richard Neal, Niki Tsongas, John Olver, Mike Capuano, and Barney Frank.

As a psychologist who works with teens and a voter in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, I stand with these courageous, outstanding, and dedicated legislators. I support our teens. I support the deep desire to make the world a little better place to be. As Barney Frank said in the closing of the sixty second clip, “It will get better. It will get better because you are helping it to become better—and this is in the end going to be the kind of world you want to live in.”

            Senator Scott Brown chose not to participate in making a sixty second clip. Through his spokesperson, Senator Brown’s office said: “Scott Brown has a strong record at the state and federal level against bullying and believes that all people regardless of sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect.” The spokesman went on to say “his main focus right now is on creating jobs and getting our economy back on track.”

The Senator doesn’t have the time to be the eleventh voice in a sixty second video clip?

            As for Senator Scott Brown believing that “all people regardless of sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect”—the facts add up to neither dignity nor respect. A simple search reveals the following about our senator (all facts found on the website Think Progress and then verified elsewhere):
-          OPPOSES SAME-SEX COUPLES RAISING CHILDREN: In 2001, Senator Brown attacked state Sen. Cheryl Jacques and her domestic partner, Jennifer Chrisler, for deciding to have children, calling it “not normal,” though later said he chose the wrong words.
-          CALLED OUT YOUNG PEOPLE WHO SUPPORT EQUALITY: In 2007, Brown “crossed the line” when he quoted profanity from a Facebook group and identified the students who used it when he was invited to King Philip Regional School District to discuss his opposition to marriage equality.
-          TRIED TO BAN SAME-SEX MARRIAGE MULTIPLE TIMES: As a Massachusetts state senator, Brown voted twice in 2007 to ban same-sex marriage after voting for two similar amendments in 2004.
-          TRIED TO CENSOR HOMOSEXUALITY IN SCHOOLS: Brown cosponsored the “Parents Rights Bill,” which would have allowed Massachusetts parents to prevent their students from learning anything about same-sex families in school.
-          TRIED TO OVERTURN DC MARRIAGE EQUALITY: Brown took a “state’s rights” position on same-sex marriage in his campaign for U.S. Senate, but in March of 2010, Brown voted for a referendum to overturn marriage equality in the District of Columbia. This was in contradiction to previous statements leaving marriage to the states. 
-          OPPOSES NONDISCRIMINATION PROTECTIONS: Brown has made it quite clear that he would oppose passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would protect LGBT employees from unfair hiring practices.
-          ACCEPTED MONEY FROM ANTI-GAY GROUPS: Many of Brown’s electoral victories have been thanks to the support of anti-gay PACs and organizations like hate-group MassResistance and the National Organization for Marriage.
-          NO SUPPORT FOR ANTI-BULLYING BILLS: Though Brown’s spokesman said he has a “strong record…against bullying,” Brown has not signed on to support any of the anti-bullying bills currently before Congress.

The senator has a strong record of supporting the dignity and respect of all American’s regardless of sexual orientation?

I’ve grown very angry and tired listening to politicians tell me what they think I want to hear. I’ve grown very tired of hearing politicians lie and get a free pass.

I’m sending this letter to Senator Scott Brown—and sharing it publically—to request that he respond to me and the citizens of Massachusetts with truthful, thought out, and reasoned opinions. If Senator Brown indeed supports dignity and respect for all Americans, I’d like to know how he specifically supports the dignity and respect of the citizens of the Commonwealth that are gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender. I would like to see specific legislation he has authored, supported, or voted for that documents his support.

Most importantly, I want to know the specific ways in which Senator Brown supports LGBT youth in the Commonwealth. How does he envision a better world for teens? How does he envision a better world for teens who are bullied, victimized, and lost in our schools?

What do you say Senator Brown? Will you be a stand up sort of guy and support our youth? Will you rise above party politics and strategy and respond with your specific thoughts and beliefs about how we can make our world just a little bit better for those youth who need a stand up sort of guy?

The world needs to be a little better. The world needs you to be a stand up sort of guy Senator Brown. I need you to be a stand up sort of guy Senator Brown. Stand up and support our LGBT teens. Stand up against bullying. Do it because it's the right thing to do.


Jason Evan Mihalko, Psy.D.,
Licensed Psychologist

The View From Here: Mine Falls Park

During the last few years of my doctoral program I moved to Nashua New Hampshire. I lived in a great old converted mill building that stretched along the Nashua river. In my back yard was Mine Falls Park, a 325 acre park. Supposedly in the 18th century prospectors minded low-quality lead from an area in the park near a waterfall. A hundred years later men equipped with mules and shovels dug a three mile long canal. In the end, the canal provided power to drive the textile looms that were housed in my former home.

I discovered today that the trail is part of the growing New Hampshire Heritage trail--a network of trails that stretches along the Merrimack river from Massachusetts to the Canadian border. Perhaps I'll feel industrious in the fall and plan a longer hike. For now, here are a few of the sights along the trail in Nashua.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Psychological Platitudes: It's not your fault.

One of my first experiences in the counseling profession happened in 1992. One of my final courses in college was a practicum--I arranged to volunteer at a local rape crisis center. Things didn't start off well for me. A social work intern from a local graduate program said "men do the raping, women do the healing. You don't belong here." Suffice it to say, we agreed to disagree.

I had all sorts of experiences there. I did an extensive volunteer training. I went out on hospital calls. I sat in my office and did my best to support people. I helped a group of college aged men set up a support group for male survivors of sexual abuse. I got to carry a pager--that was exciting--I felt like I was someone important.

Only important people had pagers. Well, important people, drug dealers, and people pretending to be important.  I know for sure I wasn't a drug dealer--it's unclear if I was important to just trying to look important. I'm getting distracted from my point.

I learned language of a rape crisis center well. I learned that a supportive person was supposed to say "it wasn't your fault." I learned it so well I stopped thinking about it. I said it over and over to countless people. "It wasn't your fault." I told a lot of people that it wasn't their fault. I was following a script I learned well--a script that is taught in psychotherapy programs across the country. It wasn't your fault.

Then I had to go pay attention to what I was saying and everything changed.

A couple of years ago I started listening to myself. I started listening very closely to what my clients were saying to me. I started listening very closely to their experience.

Nearly every single client that I have worked with that has experienced sexual or physical abuse has blamed themselves  Maybe it has been every single one of them. I told every single one of them it wasn't their fault. While I was so busy telling them it wasn't their fault I was ignoring all the ways in which they felt like it was. Worse yet, I was invalidating their experience.

I was wrong to do that. I'm deeply sorry that I've made this error with each of my clients.

My error was a very basic one. It is one that I find almost unforgivable. I got away away from the experience of my client and said something political. I said something that I wanted to believe. I said something that I wanted to help. Saying "it wasn't your fault" isn't something we say for clients--it is something we say for ourselves. It made me feel better--I doubt it really made anyone else feel any better.

Each time I said "it wasn't your fault" I made an inhospitable environment for a person to talk about how they felt it was their fault. Each time I uttered that particular therapeutic platitude I invalidated the experience of another and closed the door on an important part of their experience.

I learned something else while I was at the rape crisis center. The director had said that people need to do what the need to do in order to get through an experience--they need to do whatever is required to survive. Some fight. Some check out and dissociate. Some cry. Some might even pretend that they like what is happening.

What an awful situation. The only choice someone having in these particular situations in one in which someone can willingly do something shitty and feel shitty or unwillingly do something shitty and feel shitty. That's no choice at all. At least it doesn't seem like a choice. It seems like an impossible situation.

My clients have shown me this shitty situation over and over. Sometimes I've been so busy ignoring them saying "it wasn't your fault" that they've had to find creative ways to help me experience this shitty situation so I'd listen to them and understand their experience.

Once I stopped with the quasi-therapeutic political platitudes my clients started taking about all the different ways they felt the trauma was their fault. They started to talk about the most absolutely horrific and harrowing situations in which they had to choose to willingly do something shitty and feel shitty or unwillingly do something shitty and feel shitty.

I went off the reservation and started being a maverick (at least in most rape crisis and therapy circles). I started listening to clients and their experiences of blame, shame, and impossible choices. I started helping create a place where people can experience more of their experience rather than less of it.

I think it is in that very place--confronting the impossible choice of willingly doing something shitty and feeling shitty or unwillingly doing something shitty and feeling shitty--that everything begins to change. An experience is given its full voice. An individual can confront, mourn, and move forward. An individual can make a new choice.

What do you think? Am I off the reservation? Are you going to chase me down with flaming torches and pitchforks? Some have said that the this choice--willingly doing something shitty and feeling shitty or unwillingly doing something shitty and feeling shitty--"perpetuates victimhood... it perpetuates shame."

What do you think?

I think rather than perpetuating shame, it can birth a sense of radical acceptance and liberation. I think that confronting that shitty dilemma allows us all to confront a reality--and give us the space to become fully alive.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Our love lives, all of them, forge links in a healthy chain of normal development: maternal love, infant love, paternal love, friendship, partnership--one connecting to the next and then the next. The early attachment is the first link of that chain, the start of our ability to connect with others.

Deborah Blum in the book Love at Goon Park

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Lasting Gifts from our Patients

Our patients often give us lasting gifts. Sometimes we know what those gifts are right away. Sometimes it takes years to discover them.

I moved to New England around this time of the year twelve years ago. I said goodbye to a lot of things--family, friends, familiar places from my childhood and young adult years. I also said goodbye to the first patients I worked with as a psychotherapist.

Between earning my first masters degree and starting work on my doctorate I spent two years working at The Free Medical Clinic of Cleveland. It was a crazy time to be working at the clinic. Started by a group of committed activists in the 1970s (click here for a YouTube clip about this history of the clinic), the clinic had outgrown itself and was transforming itself from a grassroots movement into a vibrant agency. It was a painful time to be there. 

It was also a transformative time to be at the clinic--it's where I learned how to be a therapist. I had already learned some important lessons about the craft. I hadn't yet learned how to be a therapist. I had yet learned to sit with all sorts of people with all sorts of needs. I hadn't learned to just sit and experience the experience of another.

I remember my very first patient. He said he wanted to me two questions before we began. "Are you gay? Are you HIV positive? If you are neither of these things how dare you think you can speak to  me."

I remember one of my last experiences at the clinic. A man who had been HIV positive since we knew what HIV was had told me "You have been more than a therapist to me. You've taught me how to die, and now I know how to live."

I learned many things during my two years working at The Free Medical Clinic of Cleveland. It's not the foundation my work as a therapist is built on but it certainly has provided me with a copious amount of raw materials to built what it is that I do.

What comes to mind today is the very last client I met with. He had a hard time with me leaving. He had a hard time saying goodbye to me. He left me with a gift--a Patsy Cline CD. In the card, he wrote that he believed that a good gift should represent something of the gift giver--some part of him. He hoped that I would take the CD with me on my journey forward and remember part of him.

I do remember that gift. I remember that gift most of all. It taught me about the gifts I give as a therapist. It taught me about the gifts I receive. It taught me about the part of me that carries on forever in the experience of my patients and the part of them that carries on forever within my own experience.

What gifts have you received as a therapist? What gifts have you received from your therapist? 

Here is a group called Women's World Voices singing a little Patsy Cline. It is a good reminder of a gift that I once received.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Friday, July 15, 2011

Spiritual India: River of Compassion

"To explore is to dream, to grow, to learn, to experience." This video introduces us to some people who are working to save the Ganges river in India from pollution -- and in the process have something to teach us all about compassion.

"Sharing is life. Share with them whatever you have. Bring others also together to share that, whatever they have... When compassion is in the heart it is not that you are giving something to somebody. You are about to give. You melt. It is not that somebody is telling you to give. You melt." --- Swamiji Muni Baba.

Interested? Check out the video for more.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

On Orientations, Preferences, and Mother Monster

Born this way? Chose this way? Why does it matter and do we really  know?

I woke up singing Lady Gaga this morning. Never a good sign.
And of course, don't be a drag. Just be a queen. Right? Baby you were born this way. Right? But now that implies a choice now doesn't it? What a minute. Your Lebanese or Orient? Did you have a choice where you were born. Wait a minute. What's going on here.
...and have I lost my mind quoting Lady Gaga?

Nature versus nurture. Essentialist vs. social constructionist. Much ink has been spilt about this very topic. Are we a product of our genes? Do we have choice and free will? How do our genes and choice intersect.

Why does it matter? Why are pop icons like Lady Gaga and political figures like Michelle Bachmann entering into the fray and discussing this. More importantly, why are we having a dialogue about any of this in the absence of reasoned scholarship--or at least without some reference to reasoned scholarship?

It matters because it's political. Born this way arguments are used as a political tool to justify the need for human rights. "I'm okay because I was born this way" can make a powerful political argument. Likewise, the political forces represented by Michelle Bachmann and others use the choice argument as an equally as powerful political argument. "You are marking a choice to do something we consider bad, something that we don't approve of."

Both sides, left and right, progressive and conservative, present powerful arguments that have virtually no connection to reasoned, thoughtful scholarship and scientific evidence. The simple answer here is that there is no strong, clear, and convincing evidence that supports the conclusion that identity is something that is a thing that is "born this way." There isn't any evidence that suggests identity is only a choice. Identity is infinitely more complex than that.

We are a product of genetics, environment, experiences, and choices. It's demeaning to suggest complex human behaviors are only be genetics. It's also ridiculous to think that the range of our behaviors are not somewhat rooted in our genetics. It's both: born this way and choice.

If we rewind the clock of history a bit it gets even more interested. Gay and Lesbian rights were birthed within the context of the liberation movement of the 60s and 70s. At that time many brave people stood up and declared their choice: they chose to be gay. It was political. It was disruptive. It was enlivening and liberating.

Fast forward a few decades and the political polarities of left and right have twisted that message of liberation. Rather than a strong statement of liberation, choice has become and argument that the right attacks the left with. Choice is an argument that the left attacks its own with. Have you ever tried talking about choice within the context of some queer communities? You'd be run out of town with pitch forks and burning torches.

To borrow a line from Lady Gaga, the pendulum of choice began its dance. It began its dance a long time ago. It's important to know that it's a dance, and to know why there is a dance.

It's important to question why we even ask these questions. Why does it matter if someone is gay, lesbian, bisexual, heterosexual, or something else? Is there something wrong with any category of sexual experience?


Lady Gaga got something right though, and it is what has made her video so hot that it caught on fire and has been redone hundreds of times by fans on YouTube. It's why Google Chrome picked it up and made a white hot commercial out of it.

The song validates. You are beautiful. You are on the right track. Rejoice and love yourself today. You are all superstars. There is nothing wrong with who you are.

I will always fall on the side of validation. Remember, validation does not imply agreement or "rightness." Validation is the simple act of recognizing the experiences of another. Said another way, to validate is to acknowledge and accept the unique identity and individuality of another.

It costs me nothing to recognize your experience. In the end, that's what will move our culture and society forward. Try it. Try to recognize the experience of another without disagreement, without modification, without opinion. Take in and recognize the experience of someone you don't agree with. You will be transformed. They will have the potential to transform.

It'll be just like magic. I promise. You can immediately transform a situation into one of possibility rather than one that forecloses potential.

...and as for me having lost my mind. That happened a long time ago.

I'm on the right track baby. Wanna join me?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

A Trip Down Market Street 1906 San Francisco

Ever wonder what it was like to be in San Francisco in 1906? Did you know that the average life expectancy for a man was 47 and a woman could expect to live to 50? This historic film captured the activity of Market street just four days before the city was destroyed by the great earthquake of April 18, 1906. Most of the buildings you see were destroyed in the quake and many of the people probably died.

Patient Suicide: Part Two -- 30 Minutes to Think

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

Those of you who are therapists are likely well acquainted with just how much one can get done in ten minutes. Phone calls, a bite to eat, a quick trip to the restroom, and maybe a quick game of solitaire. I've done all of these in ten minutes--and sometimes more.

The day my phone rang and I learned that a patient of mine had killed herself I was "lucky". I happened to have a full 30 minutes free. Part of that time was spent listing to the voice mail a friend of my patient left. I just simply couldn't believe what I heard. It didn't compute. It didn't make any sense. I thought perhaps I heard it wrong. My patient had tried to kill herself and was in the hospital. That must be what I heard. I entertained the notion that maybe this was an elaborate practical joke. My patient had a wicked sense of humor. This wasn't funny.

In the end, I heard the message clearly. My patient used an extremely effective method to take her own life. She was dead and wasn't coming back.I had a very short window of time to get my act together--to figure out what to do.

I had of course no idea what to do. You would have thought I would. After high school I logged twelve more years of education. I had over 20 years of work experience in a variety of mental health settings. I logged well over 10,000 hours of supervised clinical experience.

I know exactly how to conduct a suicide risk assessment. I know myriad steps at reducing the risk of suicide. Not a single class, reading, or moment of supervision about what to do if a client took their own life. Whoops.

Maggie the therapy dog needed her afternoon walk. The friend of my patient, the person who made the call to me, needed a call back. My patient's psychiatrist needed a call. I figured calling the family of the patient was the right thing to do, too.

I made the phone calls. I don't really remember what I said. I remember saying how deeply sorry I was for the loss of this human being. I remember offering up my time. "Come in to my office, if you'd like." I figured the only thing I could do is that which I do best: listen to the experience of of those who were left behind. No one available, of course. I left a lot of voice mail messages.

The call to the psychiatrist was surreal. I've never had to be the first person to tell another person that someone they know was dead. How does one do that? After I hung up the phone after leaving and deleting the message for the psychiatrist. My fifth and final version came right from the role modeling I received after years of viewing ER and Grey's Anatomy.

Are you kidding me? Twenty years of experience and I'm using what I learned from prime time TV? Crazy.

Maggie the therapy dog knew something was up. I remember her pressed against my leg while I was making the phone calls. Still not sure of what to do, I figured I'd mobilize some resources. I called my partner, who was at work and of course not available. I called to friends who were psychologists. They of course were with patients. I called my supervisor I worked with when I was a post-doc. She'd know just what do do. She of course wasn't free, as she was with patients, too.

Maggie and I went for a walk to the river. I think it was raining, though I really don't remember. My half hour came to a close. I dried Maggie off from the rain and got myself a fresh cup of water. I sent Maggie out into the waiting room and she brought in my next patient. We saw five more patients before the day ended. I didn't think of my patient and her death again until I was walking out the door.

How did I manage that one? I don't know. Maybe it's a defense mechanism. Maybe it's mindfulness. Maybe it was shock.

As I walked to my car that evening I started thinking more about what I should do. Does confidentiality survive a patients death? Yes, it does. I could talk to her family, I figured. I could talk about my experience. I couldn't talk about the patient's experience. I didn't have a release. It seems like a human failure thought to not talk with the family about the patient. What was I going to do about that? At least I clearly knew I could talk freely with her psychiatrist: we had a release.

What about me? Who do I talk to? I thought about the law, the reason why we have laws about confidentiality, and what that confidentiality means. I also thought about the very human nature of this experience. What's the human thing to do? How do I balance the law with the humanness of this situation?

I thought about what the right thing to do was. My patient had a long term relationship with another psychiatrist and psychologist. We had many conversations together when my patient started working with me. I decided that the human thing to do -- and within the legal framework of confidentiality -- was to call them and let them know what happened. I called them, and left a message for both of them. I also knew I'd need an ethical consult. I made a note to call my malpractice insurance the next morning to schedule time with the JD/Ph.D. they have available to talk to in such situations.

30 minutes to think. That wasn't a lot of time. I was in shock. I was confused. I had more patients scheduled who needed my attention, time, and energy. The generous interpretation was that I was mindful. I set aside my thoughts and focused on what was in front of me. Part of what happened was mindfulness. That's for sure.

Part of how I made it through the rest of the day was the process of grief. It's what we do. We set things aside, we deny what has happened. We store it way for when the time is right to take it out again and look at what happened.

Walking out  my office I knew there was no denial strong enough to make this untrue. My patient was dead. I wouldn't see her again. I wouldn't be able to ask her about what happened. The place she sat in would forever be empty.

Months later I'm still reminded of her absence. Twice each week during her regular appointment times I notice the place where she sat. I notice it is empty. I notice the questions that will never be answered. I notice the life that no longer is.

Validation: Don't Forget to Smile Smile Smile

This one has had me laughing all morning.

One of my best friends and I meet up every five weeks for dinner and a haircut. We create quite the scene at the beauty parlor. We ought to charge admission. Anyway, each time we go I present my parking ticket and ask to be validated. My friend, who is also a psychologist, always chimes in with some sort of witty validation. "You are worthy Jason, you are a good person." Or the obvious "Your hair looks marvelous." The people at the reception desk just roll their eyes at us.

Well imagine my surprise when a friend of mine from grad school sent me this film short with the actors TJ Thyne and Vicki Davis. My friend and I had the idea first!


So someone on Twitter sent out the following tweet:

Indeed, the Greek word for butterfly is 'psyche' from where we get our word 'psychology' --the study of the mind.

This got me thinking about art museums of all things. I grew up in Cleveland. As a young adult I spent a significant amount of time wandering around the Cleveland Museum of Art. One of my favorite paintings is Jacques-Louis David's 1817 painting Cupid and Psyche.

Venus (aka Aphrodite), you see, was very jealous of Psyche's beauty. So jealous that she dispatched her son Cupid (aka Eros) to Earth to make Psyche fall in love with the ugliest man. Cupid agreed to his mother's bidding. As always seems to be the case in Roman (and Greek) mythology, things went differently. Cupid fell in love with Psyche and would visit her in a remote hiding place each night. Fearing of her discovering his identity, Cupid would slip away before sunrise each morning.

Psyche eventually figured out who came calling every evening. Her jealous sisters tricked her into looking at Cupid. When she did, he abandoned her. Psyche proceeded to travel the world looking for her lost love. She found his mother Aphrodite (talk about in-law problems!). Still being cranky at Psyche, Aphrodite had Psyche perform a series of difficult tasks which ended in a trip to the Underworld.

After these trials and tribulations, Psyche was eventually reunited with Eros. They were married in a ceremony that was attended by the various Roman gods.

Not exactly the image of psychology, is it? Is the tweet true? Is the myth of Psyche the root of psychology?  Are the trials and tribulations she faced (some call it a journey of self-discovery) the mythological essence of modern psychology? The irreverent psychologist wants to know.

Our first stop this evening is the Online Etymology Dictionary.

1640s, "animating spirit," from L. psyche, from Gk. psykhe "the soul, mind, spirit, breath, life, the invisible animating principle or entity which occupies and directs the physical body" (personified as Psykhe, the lover or Eros), akin to psykhein "to blow, cool," from PIE base *bhes- "to blow" (cf. Skt. bhas-). The word had extensive sense development in Platonic philosophy and Jewish-influenced theological writing of St. Paul. in English, psychological sense is from 1910.

All right then. The original meaning of psyche was soul, mind, spirit, breath, life... Yes I know. I'm repeating myself. In this sense we might understand psychology as the study of what animates humans -- what puts us into motion and what makes us act?

One more trip into history. Aristotle wrote a lot about the soul. In fact, he wrote a book called On the Soul. While in modern times the word soul has a religious or spiritual meaning, in ancient Greek times the meaning was very different. To Aristotle, the soul was something more akin to a form or essence--something that any living thing possessed. Further, the soul wasn't something that was distinct and different from the body--one didn't have a soul. Rather, the soul was an integral part of the creature

So is Psyche (the woman, not the concept) what animates humans? Not exactly. I don't think the ancient Greeks were thinking we were animated by love (or lust). The problem is that the myth wasn't of Aphrodite, Eros, and Psyche. The myth was a Roman one -- of Venus, Cupid, and Psyche. From what I can best gather (and mind you, I'm not a scholar of ancient Greek and Roman mythology!) the Greeks gave us the notion that Psyche was a force that animated or moved beings--an integral force that isn't separate from the being itself. I can't find any reference to Psyche being a woman, a goddess, or a lover of Eros. 

The Romans created the myth of Venus, her son Cupid, and his lover Psyche. Psyche became a beautiful woman -- an entity on her own -- and something much different than the story the Greeks told.

We might understand psychology as the study of what animates humans -- the study of what puts us into motion and what makes us act. I can buy that meaning of psychology. It's interesting to ponder how the Greek understanding of psyche and a Roman understanding of Psyche lead us to a slightly different understanding of what psychology is.

Are we animated and put into motion by love as the Roman story of the love affair between Cupid and Psyche suggests? Is love our soul--the breath of life? Certainty a significant portion of the psychoanalytic tradition have built their understanding of psychology on the Roman story. 

But what about the Greeks? Is their understanding of soul more at the root of psychology? Is the soul not an independently existing substance or drive--is it as Aristotle suggested the form of the body? Is what makes us human (beings with soul) a capacity to be human -- not being a thing that has that capacity?

...and does any of this matter, anyway? What do you think?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The View From Here: Yellow Flower Edition

The music the ice cream truck plays always brings back such fond summer memories. Heading it's call far off in the distance, I remember those lucky times my parents gave me a dollar and I scampered off and got some kind of frozen concoction (my favorite was the frozen yogurt shaped like a foot with a gum ball in the big toe).

Is the a random thought for the day? Sort of. I heard the siren call of the ice cream truck today. I looked out my window and couldn't resist capturing an image of the truck.

What were they thinking?