Thursday, October 15, 2009


I've been running a low-grade fever for a week now.

I have no other symptoms except for the general achy crankiness that fever brings, along with exhaustion. A low-grade fever for someone who generally has a low body temperature means that doctors and nurses tend to sneer at claims of feeling bad, because even with a low-grade fever, my temperature is about 98.6 degrees. So, no doctor's note. No time off work (as if I could afford it). Just waking up exhausted, coming home from work schwacked, nap, wake up, maybe eat, feed and walk my dog, and then listlessly hang around my house.

In the absence of other physical symptoms, I have determined that there must be something else my body is doing or saying through this. It could just be my body telling me to sit down and simply relax, something which, a friend pointed out to me recently, is something I'm really bad at. I'm not good at seeking the still point. I do tend to run around and try to fix the things I think are causing this, rather than being patient with the situation - and myself - and letting it all fall into place.

My life went in the blender two or three months ago, throwing me into an existential crisis about where my path in life really is, and what I'm supposed to be doing in this world. People I thought I could depend on are gone, just like that. Emotional ties (mainly to clients) that did feed my soul have been cut, often without closure. I have asked God this whole time what He wants from me, why He has ripped so much from me right now. I can't take much more. It's these pieces I'm trying to put back together, but I might have lost the glue.

I have been trying, through whatever means possible, to just shut it off. If there was a piece of my heart that I could cut out to help me lock down this vortex, it would have been gone by now. But there is no such thing. (Believe me, I have prayed for this for two months now. It's still there.) I used to have such disdain for people who had shut down like this. I couldn't imagine wanting to stop feeling. That's the whole problem with our culture, isn't it? We feel lightly, if we choose to feel at all. We deaden our emotions until they are comfortable for ourselves and others, until our joy and laughter no longer threatens another's quiet, until our pain just gets channeled into angry music, until our love no longer generates fear, until our grief fades away into numbness.

Sometimes, I really want that numbness. I want that dumbed down version of me. Tanya 2.0 - less scary, less intense, less angry, less grief-stricken, less loving, less joyful, just...even.

Instead I have this inexplicable fever. The intensity and heat will come out one way or another. So I asked myself last night, what burns in me? What burns in me that hasn't come out through my writing thus far? What burns in me that has no other expression than to slowly simmer my body until I collapse each night?

I am alive and intense and real and dancing and feeling so deeply that I wonder if I really have a place in this world. And something in me cries for expression but I don't know what.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Soulful Game: Watching Giants Baseball

In my last post, I talked about Freud and the roots of psychology. I talked about how the soul was ripped from psychology to placate the greed of an industry that should be devoted to healing.

I will return to why I'm a depth psychologist in a later post, but for now, I want to talk about baseball.

I grew up with baseball, so I suppose at some level, I like it by default. My dad is a former minor league pitcher, who then pitched his way through the Vietnam War for the Marines. He coached Pony League when I was a kid, and baseball season was pretty big for my entire extended family. I have several awesome childhood memories that center around my dad, but one of them is playing a game of softball at some work-related picnic, and both of us coming home to nurse our injuries. I recall looking up at him as he poured hydrogen peroxide over my skinned knee, acquired during a slide into home plate that I'm reasonably sure was unnecessarily dramatic, although at the age of ten or twelve, it was pretty important. It hurt like hell but I smiled through the pain, trying to be brave for my dad. When I was all grown up, I traveled to Toronto with him, and we took in a Blue Jays game while we were up there. I don't recall the score or even who won, but what I do remember is hanging out with him, sharing something that had been his passion in his own youth over a couple of hot dogs and Coke. There are several memories like that, all contributing to my love of this game.

I am a fairly recent transplant to the San Francisco Bay Area, and so for about a year I simply spent my time getting to know my way around. This year, I have had the pleasure of further entrenchment into the culture of the Bay Area, and I've done so in part by watching (as much as possible) the Giants play this game that is so dear to me.

They have not disappointed me. I watched on television as Jonathan Sanchez pitched a near-perfect game while his own father watched from the stands. I've watched our Gigantes sabotaged by some of the most ridiculous calls ever made by a refereeing authority (using THAT term loosely). And I've had the pleasure of seeing The Freak and The Big Unit throw some glorious pitches past batters, and felt the thrill of a watching a home run soar across the field launched by Aaron Rowand or our Kung Fu Panda, Pablo Sandoval. In a certain sense, all of it - the thrills and the frustrations - have led to my feeling that finally, since moving to the West Coast in 2001, I have come home.

From the perspective of soul, home is not about owning property or even having a stable address for a year or more. It has nothing to do with DMV listings, utility payments, or mortgage rates. Home, in a soulful sense, is about having a sense of belonging. The closest I had come on the West Coast was working at a runaway shelter in Santa Barbara. But even then, that was someplace I left every day to go to my domicile, which was only sometimes where I felt I truly belonged. This is not to say I did not make lifelong friends in SoCal, but simply that I always felt just a little...unsettled.

Here in the Bay Area, my sense of belonging is linked to the very landscape of this place. It includes natural sources of wonder that I've always found compelling, like redwood trees, mountains, and the huge and awesome Pacific Ocean. But it includes other sources of wonder that are embedded in the landscape - museums, places I've gone swing dancing, the fascinating city of San Francisco - in which I've found myself hopelessly lost and then gloriously at ease. But really, at the core of it, what makes me feel so wonderfully at home here is people.

Having a sense of "home" is deeply important to the psyche. We all need a place to which we can retreat - a place that is comfortable and secure, a place that feeds us and replenishes us. Our wellness, in a holistic sense, depends on this, and yet so many people live without this sense of home, this sense of belonging and acceptance and simple relaxation.

I have made friends easily here. The Bay Area is full of subcultures into which I can assimilate with surprisingly little effort - music, dance, gaming, academics, to name a few. Many of the friends I've made here are multi-dimensional, abundantly creative, wildly intelligent and passionate folk who seem like they're as enamored of this place as I am, whether they were born here or not.

And, I've met a lot of Giants fans. This season, I've discovered that rooting for the home team is a thread that weaves in and out of several of the Bay Area's subcultures. It is not the main source of connectedness between people and groups, but it is a reminder that there IS a connection. Even the name - The Giants - is a clue to the archetypal resonance of this team, the sport it plays, and its effect on the inhabitants of this region: titanic, larger-than-life, resounding, awe-inspiring.... In the regional psyche of the Bay Area, the team looms as large as its name, and perhaps as they slowly relax into that resonance, they will continue to play really incredible (and occasionally deeply disappointing) baseball, giving those of us who are watching stunning highs and heartbreaking lows, but always keeping us enthralled.

It's as if I've come full circle. From the home in which I was raised, to my new home by the Bay, this sport carries with it reminders, flavors, resonances of loving and wonderful people in my life - the kind of people that turn a place to live into a place I belong, into Home.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Why I Am A Depth Psychologist, Part 1: A Tougher But More Satisfying Lens

The conversation usually goes like this:

Random Human: "What brought you to California?"

Me: "A juicy Ph.D. program."

RH: "Oh really? What were you studying?"

Me: "Depth psychology."

RH: "Huh?..."

Since it's the lens through which I view many, if not most, things, I thought I might offer up an explanation of what depth psychology is (and isn't), how I hope to integrate it into my current and future endeavors, and why I think it can change the world in a positive way.

Depth psychology is, simply put, a return to the original translation of the word
psychology. Psychology is the study of psyche, the soul (NOT, as is often presumed, noie, the mind). When Freud wrote about psychology, he wrote about Seele (the German word for soul). A wonderful little book by Bruno Bettelheim called "Freud and Man's Soul" describes in great detail how the translation of Freud's opus was coopted by the medical industry, and subsequently translated to fit a more objective, business-like, detached model. By the time you make it through the preface, you have a taste of how brutally the English translations of Freud's works butcher Freud's actual ideas, and what he hoped to accomplish with them. In fact, it is an odd irony that in one of Freud's essays, "The Question of Lay Analysis" (1926), he actually states that medical doctors are not adequately trained in psychology and, by virtue (I use that term very loosely) of their medical education, have been indoctrinated with a bias towards objective science, a bias that also dismisses somatic symptoms of psychological distress as "unreal." According to Freud, this bias makes medical professionals some of the worst candidates for performing psychoanalysis because if the client's symptomatology is dismissed as not real, then most of the work of dismissing the cause of the distress has already occurred. The irony is that, until recently, one could only receive training in psychoanalysis in the U.S. if one held an M.D.

Unfortunately, by the time Freud's essay was published in English (1948), the medical profession had already translated a good portion of his
Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud. Bettelheim tells us that, "Psychoanalysis becomes in
English translation something that refers and applies to others as a system of intellectual constructs. Therefore, students of psychoanalysis ... are not moved to gain access to their own unconscious and everything else within them that is most human but is nevertheless most acceptable to them" (Bettelheim, p. 6). That is to say, students educated with this distanced, detached English translation are not moved to view psychological conditions as the cries of the soul, but as the misfiring of a defective or malfunctioning brain. To read Freud in German, say those who have read his original work, is to understand that Freud was poetic, soulful, and deeply moved by his fellow humans and how we struggle to live meaningful lives.

Psychology as a discipline is beginning the work of reintroducing Soul into the study of soul. And that is where depth psychology comes in. Depth psychology not only returns to Freud's original work and a less medicalized view of the terms he used, but also in fact refers to one of Freud's analogies of the human psyche - the iceberg. Imagine traveling by ship and coming across an iceberg. Above the water you can see a certain amount of ice. That's the conscious mind. Just below the surface of the water you can see that the ice is not floating on top of the water, but that it extends downward into the water. It is not above the surface, but still accessible. Freud called that the preconscious material.

But beyond that few feet of ice that you can see just below the surface of the water lies the
other 90% of the iceberg. That portion is what Freud called the subconscious. That portion is deep and vast and, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, contains multitudes. Consider depth psychologists deep sea divers who excavate (Freud was also extremely interested in archaeology - go figure) the cracks and crevasses of these great cities of ice, of which we can actually see so little.

It is awesome and intimidating in its power, which is most likely why this perspective was captured and squished so completely by the medical establishment. If it ain't broke, as the saying goes, don't fix it. And an industry built on the premise of fixing people cannot abide that kind of competition.

And so, I find myself in a service profession with autistic children (ironically, a population with which Bettelheim worked, and for which he received a great deal of criticism). The autism industry is dominated by the very field and perspective that sucked the soul out of psychology with the (mis)translation of Freud's work in the 1930s. I hear professionals in my field dismiss, time and again, the emotional undulations of our clients as "not real." I see them disrespect a client's emotional needs with the reasoning that it is inappropriate or does not fit the behavior plan. And have rarely, if ever, seen a professional in this field, try to plumb the depths of an autistic child's soul, nor even acknowledge a well-developed soul in the first place.

I want to bring a depth perspective to this industry. There are little souls here, struggling to be heard and seen and engaged! Do I have it in me to shake the foundations of this industry the way Bettelheim's teeny little book rocked my understanding of psychology?

I am amused by the fact that the song running through my head at the moment is The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"

Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble.
If I stay there will be double....


Bettelheim, Bruno (1982)
Freud and man's soul. New York: Random House/Vintage Books.

Freud, Sigmund (1990)
The question of lay analysis (Standard edition) (originally published in 1926). New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.

Whitman, Walt (1965) "Song of myself" in
Leaves of grass (originally published in 1855). New York: Airmont Publishing Company, Inc.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Grief and Bananas

It is a time of good-byes and transitions.

I have felt transition coming for some time now. I could feel it in my bones, in my restless breathing, and in the way my muscles tensed up when I seemed to be going in the wrong direction, even if that direction was the one I'd been moving in before.

Today I said good-bye to a client of mine, a 9 year old autistic boy whose family is moving to southern California. I have known this young man for 19 months; he and his family are very dear to me.

Carl Jung said that the therapeutic relationship is, by its very nature, a relationship of love. Our medicalized mental health paradigm denies this relationship, denies its loving nature. The paradigm comes from an outdated objectivist wave that overtook the sciences with the beginning of the industrial revolution. Everything became mechanized and we seemed to believe as a culture that the best way to get anything done was to break it down into its component parts and subject it to detached analysis. Emotion was completely ignored, and emotional involvement discouraged.

And yet, I work with children, special needs children who require tenderness and play and loving but firm boundaries. They do not fit into the mold of our regimented culture, although in their symptomatology, they seem to try. Yet, the autism field is so steeped in business and research models that I have simply resorted to calling it the "autism industry." It is exactly that, a needs-based industry driven by an ever-expanding market as more and more children are diagnosed with this condition.

As a behavior therapist, I am confronted daily with the paradox of loving the children I work with and trying to work that love into the corners and cracks of an industry built on a business model. While my superiors speak of play and encourage our sacrifice, they often don't honor the sense of play that a child needs, nor do they honor the sacrifices therapists often make in order to serve these amazing kids. Instead, they demand more - more data, more hours, more sacrifice.

I have been taken off several cases so far this year for various reasons. Sometimes, teams are just shifted around with little or no explanation as to why. With all of them, legal and business models prevailed and unless I or the parents demanded it, no effort was made to give these clients closure. Please bear in mind that one of the significant challenges of people with autism is social functioning. People with autism have varying degrees of difficulty in reading and responding to social situations, which limits their abililty to form relationships with others. Trust is difficult to build and even more difficult to maintain, as often these kids have trouble recognizing the signs and subtle signals that most of us take for granted in our relationships. So, once a therapist builds rapport and creates a therapeutic relationship with a client, that relationship should be treated with care.

I hear a lot of talk in this industry about consistency for the sake of the child. Specifically, I have heard this word a lot in the context of my being taken off a case. But I really doubt that this consistency is really for the sake of the child's development. I think it's really for the convenience of scheduling sessions and meeting quotas and deadlines. While that is certainly a part of the industry, what happens is that the therapeutic relationship gets sacrificed. A therapist will get cut from a team with no opportunity for the therapist or the child (not to mention his/her family) to have closure. And that hurts the child. With all of this industry's emphasis on developing social skills in clients, what we teach them in this sort of experience is that their service providers are really only that: service providers, not trusted mentors, not friends, not even therapists, in the Jungian sense of the word. And they learn to not put a lot of trust in us. The lesson we teach them in this experience is that therapists just go away, and that they should NOT actually form close relationships with the people who help them. In the language of this industry, we are asking for one response, while reinforcing the opposite response.

As the result of a work-related injury, I was taken off the last of my cases a few days ago. I had been with this child for over a year, and we'd formed a very close relationship. Our sessions were fun, integrating programs into activities he loved doing, and they were characterized by laughter as well as hard work. One minute I was on my way to his house for a session, and then, after a phone call to the office, I discovered all my sessions were being covered by other therapists.

My grief was devastating, so much so that I became dehydrated, losing so much salt and water that my legs cramped up. I was grateful that I'd had the remarkable foresight to buy bananas to replenish some of the essential minerals I'd lost in wave after wave of grief. The destruction of trust can happen in many ways and not just from the perspective of the child.

I would like to work toward a redefined autism field, one that is characterized by love and playfulness and healthy boundaries. We can still collect data, but I'd rather meet the child where he or she is and then take things from there. I want to find out their fears and then, instead of denying those fear, work with them, transform them, and help these kids learn to love and trust the people in their lives, and behave in a way that is worthy of that trust.

Either that, or we all invest in expensive therapy and lots of bananas.