At the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

The Parliament of the Religions of the World—often shortened to the Parliament of World’s Religions—was first held in Chicago in 1893.  A century later it was reconvened in Chicago (1993), and has been held four times since; in 1999 (Cape Town), 2004 (Barcelona), 2009 (Melbourne), and in Salt Lake City in October of 2015.  My presentation on “Psychotherapy, Religion and Spirituality” was among the many programs.

The Parliament is an event that is certainly like no other I’ve heard of; thousands of people from all over the world convening to participate in what looks like hundreds of presentations, emphasizing the sacred in our relationships with the natural environment, the economy, people around the world, one another, and ourselves.  The sheer diversity of people, and the wonderful diversity of attire, was a visual feast!

Women’s identity, equality, empowerment, and sacredness, was a theme of this Parliament.  For example, I am writing these notes in a long hallway whose walls are filled with dozens of vivid silk hangings of representations of sacred women and goddess figures from several traditions.

I attended a program called “Changing Tides,” presented by a panel including Barbara Morgan (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, chaplain at MIT and Harvard and assistant professor at Brigham Young University), Lucy Forster-Smith (Presbyterian, Head Chaplain at Harvard University), Maytal Satiel (Jewish chaplain at Yale), in which these chaplains at major universities discussed their experiences with changing attitudes and needs in the students with whom they work.  More students are identifying as “spiritual but not religious,” or, if identifying as religious, still want to learn about other faith traditions.  Even among chaplains, I was surprised to learn, there are some who do not identify with a specific faith tradition.

The Plenary 1 session was entitled “Focus on Women,” and featured addresses by women of several faiths who have achieved prominence in education, administration, human service, care of the earth, and nurturing in faith and in the spirit, including Dr. Serene Jones, president of the Union Theological Seminary in New York, Grandmother Mary Lyons, an Ojibwe Elder, and several others.  I was blown away by Marianne Williamson’s address—what a smart powerhouse!—in which she challenged the faiths represented at the Parliament, as often being responsible for the subjugation of women.  This was a particularly gutsy observation in a gathering of people advocating that the principles of their faiths support the equality, empowerment, and sacredness of women.  Williamson spoke her piece forcefully, and received enthusiastic applause.

In the programs that I attended, the emphasis on women’s natural sacredness and oppression was powerful, but seemed one-sided in a way.  The implication often seemed to be that, if only society would stop being so wretched in abusing and suppressing women, women would assume their natural role as sacred healers, nurturers, and goddess-types.  The learning, the effort, the self-confrontation, the sorting-out of the essential from the superficial, identifying what really matters most from what one has been conditioned to believe, getting past errors in perception and action acquired along the way, finding and living one’s way into a fuller life—which every human being has to do, and which each of the speakers undoubtedly had to do, in order to achieve her accomplishments and role in life—seemed somehow to be taken for granted, not included in the narrative.

My presentation was part of a two-part shared presentation, which began with “Diversity and Interfaith Dialog in Counseling and Psychotherapy.”  The panel of presenters included three who are active in the Pagan tradition—little did I know that there was such a tradition, so developed!—including Shel Skau, the moderator, Drake Spaeth from the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, and the very impressive Vivianne Crowley.  My presentation, “Psychotherapy, Religion and Spirituality,” followed, and seemed to go quite well; the audience seemed to be attentive, most stayed throughout the presentation, there were more people than seats (some sat on the floor, in a room seating about 50) and people laughed at the right places, always a good sign!

As I left the huge Salt Palace convention center for the last time, I passed a scruffy, disheveled looking young man, long-haired and bearded, sitting on the ground by a tree, surrounded by a bunch of signs that ran up the tree, with various aphorisms. One was about turning knowledge into action, which is certainly a key theme in spiritual life, and in psychotherapy too:  we rarely learn things about ourselves in therapy that we didn’t know, in some way, before, but weren’t acknowledging and living.  It seemed to me that this man was himself exemplifying what his sign said we shouldn’t do; as if he believed that, sitting on the sidewalk with his signs, he was turning knowledge into action.  He was a living sign, albeit unconsciously.

A Special Kind of Reading Experience: “The Sufis,” by Idries Shah

Until 1964, when “The Sufis” was published, Sufism was mostly the preserve of scholars, at least in the West.  “The Sufis” began a new era, opening a window on Sufi activity, history and influence.   Shah presents new information in an accessible way, and many readers feel that it’s a book they’ve been looking for.  Stories, history, unusually lucid perspectives on human nature and spirituality, and challenges to assumptions and established ways of thinking, are intertwined throughout, eventually combining to produce a special kind of reading experience.

“The Sufis” begins with the story of “The Islanders.”  This is a “teaching story;” Shah’s name for a form of literature whose internal structure and dynamics can support and provoke experience in the reader (a Sufi speciality).  Sometimes the learning happens at the time of reading, when the story helps us make sense of perceptions and experiences.  Often, as Desmond Morris, author of “The Naked Ape” and The Human Zoo” observed, it’s a delayed effect that happens when we encounter situations in life that evoke a story.  Morris is one of the leading observers of human nature who has commented on Shah’s work; others include author Doris Lessing, psychiatrist and author Arthur Deikman, and psychologist and author Robert Ornstein.

After “The Islanders” sets the stage, “The Travelers and the Grapes”—another teaching story—opens a discussion of the contextual background.  Here we start to look at the history of interaction of cultures; often concealed because spiritual practices not sanctioned by the authorities could have brought severe penalties over the last thousand years or so.  Here we also begin to see the Sufi approach to spiritual development; which I’ve found to be unparalleled in lucidity about human nature.

The chapter on “The Elephant in the Dark,” based on Rumi’s story, continues the intertwining of narrative, perspectives on human nature, and intercultural history.  Then we meet the joke-figure Mulla Nasrudin, “one of the strangest achievements in the history of metaphysics,” whose antics illustrate “situations in which certain states of mind are made clear;” usually when he’s acting the idiot.  Subsequent chapters introduce classical Sufis, including Rumi, Attar, Omar Khayyam, ibn el-Arabi, and el-Ghazzali, and trace the influence of Sufi thought and action on Western figures (such as Chaucer and St. Francis) and groups.  We also meet the work of Western Sufis, such as Richard Burton (whose “Kasidah,” a remarkable poem of great depth, is reviewed), and are introduced to The Dervish Orders, The Creed of Love, Magic and Miracles, and more.

Of course, over the five decades since its publication, some things have changed.  In his discussion of Sufi orders, which do not need traditional buildings and grounds except as required by local economic and political conditions, Shah mentions that “one Arabic publishing company is a Sufi organization.  In some areas all the industrial and agricultural workers are Sufis.”  This might have changed in the political, economic and military upheavals of the past fifty years, but the principle remains the same; the “order” is in the hearts and networks of people.  The “beautiful tomb,” of the great teacher Data Ganj Bakhsh (Ali el-Hujwiri), in Lahore, “venerated by people of all creeds,” was bombed by terrorists in 2010.  The Idries Shah Foundation print and Kindle editions of “The Sufis” omit the original Introduction by Robert Graves (I like Grave’s commentary but “The Sufis” is complete without it).

Still, five decades after its publication, “The Sufis” continues to be relevant.  At first reading, and later re-readings after intervals, “The Sufis” continues to pack advanced spiritual psychology, eye-opening history, and impacts that both confirm and extend perceptions, and highlight and disconfirm prejudices and assumptions, into a special reading experience.

reviewed by Jay Einhorn, PhD, LCPC,

President of CAPP

In September, I became President of the Chicago Association for Psychoanalytic Psychology.  It’s been a very busy time, creating programs for therapists and helping CAPP take care of its business.  Here’s the President’s Message, from the CAPP website,

President’s Message, Winter 2015

President’s Message, January, 2015: Jay Einhorn, Ph.D., LCPC

Welcome to CAPP, and thanks for being here!


Historically, CAPP was in the vanguard of the movement to open the doors of psychoanalytic training to non-physicians. Today, we seek to bring together therapists for mutual learning through the study of therapeutic experience in the light of psychoanalytic/psychodynamic concepts and methods. Since we see all forms of therapy as having psychodynamic activity, we think that therapists of various training and back-ground help refine one another’s understanding and perceptions and learn together.
Our programs include:

•CAPP Conversations: monthly (more or less) informal meetings on topics of therapeutic meaning, providing opportunities for therapists to consider and discuss important issues. CAPP Conversations do not grant CEs. At the time of writing, we’ve done programs on: “Fundamentals of Psychodynamic Psychotherapy: What Are They?!”, “Psychodynamic and Cognitive Psychotherapy: Overlapping Dimensions or Separate Universes?”, and “Adoption: Development and Psychodynamic Issues,” and we are planning programs on “Gossip: We Love It, We Suffer From It, Do We Need It?” and “Relational Cultural Therapy in Psychodynamic Perspective.” And we plan to do more!

•Building Bridges: Psychodynamics Across Psychotherapies: more formal programs that grant CEs; often upward extensions of topics first presented as CAPP Conversations.

•Peer Study Groups: Ongoing and time-limited groups in which therapists re-fine their perceptions by considering analytic-dynamic therapy together. Current groups include a Chicago analytic readings/cases group, a Hinsdale cases group, an Evanston cases group, and an Evanston psychodynamic-neuroscientific readings/cases group. Time-limited peer study groups have included “Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Health,” and “Multicultural Therapy.” We plan to do more.

•Partnering with Co-Sponsors: We are interested in exploring partnerships with co-presenting groups and organizations.

•Presentations for Consumers: We are interested in talking about the value of therapy to groups of potential consumers. We can say that “Therapy Works” because ALL therapy contains psychodynamic processes, whether it is called psychoanalytic/dynamic or not.

CAPP creates opportunities for working therapists throughout their careers to share and learn about analytic-dynamic therapy through discussing the actual experience of it. It is neither an academic nor a training program, but a complement to both.

I have been CAPP’s Chair of Peer Study Groups for a decade, and in the peer study groups we see the value of therapists of various backgrounds meeting to discuss cases, with an open mind to analytic-dynamic formulations that increase our under-standing of the experience of the patient or client, the therapist, and the patient-therapist pair. Therapists with various kinds and levels of training can help one another in this process.

A word about psychoanalysis and psychodynamics. The term “psychodynamic” is used in different ways; sometimes as an equivalent to “psychoanalytic” (when the speaker or writer means “psychoanalytic” but fears that the reader or listener might have an attitude about it); sometimes to include all schools of analysis (Freudian, Jungian, Adlerian, Self, Relational, etc.) in contexts where “psychoanalysis” might be seen as referring exclusively to Freudian-classical psychoanalysis; and sometimes to refer inclusively to all the microcultural schools within the macroculture of psychoanalysis, plus other dynamic formulations of mental life and therapeutic activity. It is in this latter sense that I am using the term. One of the great discoveries of psychoanalysis is that there can be splits within the self, in which different parts of the self interact dynamically. Emerging neuroscience both supports long-term reflective empathic therapy, and gives us the model of a modular and dynamically networking brain.

It might even be that the splits within the self reflect the splits within the cultures within which we grow up and live. In a time of accelerating social and economic change, analytic/dynamic therapy provides one of the few resources with which we can reflect on, recollect, and reorganize ourselves, the better to reclaim ourselves and live a more meaningful life. I happen to believe that it is not accidental or coincidental that analytic/dynamic therapy developed in Europe just prior to World War I, when the empires that defined the geopolitical world were about to collide and disintegrate. Sabina Spielrein, an overlooked mother of psychoanalysis, presented on “Destruction As a Cause of Coming-Into-Being.” I’d say there’s still a lot to think about in that.

CAPP is a therapeutic home for some members, and a good place to visit for others. You don’t have to be a member to attend our programs, so come and taste, listen, experience. I invite you to consider joining if you like what you see, hear and feel! There is a lot to learn. Let us learn together!

The Googlers: Religion of the Future

This story was originally published in the online webzine “Covalence,” Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013, and is available on the Covalence Archive at  It is modeled on the story of “The Islanders,” chapter 1 in “The Sufis,” by Idries Shah..

Once upon a time there was a civilization where everyone used computers and the internet to manage everything that made society function and life efficient, comfortable, and secure.  With computers and the internet, they controlled the generation of electricity and the management of traffic, delved within the body and reached into outer space, created entertainment in music and cinema and transmitted it around the world instantly.  With computers and the internet, they managed unprecedentedly huge and complex international commercial and financial networks, and even the military defense of nations.  Virtually all their communications, all the management and coordination of all their systems, their entire industrial, educational, economic, military, health care and governmental infrastructures, were computerized.  The citizens of that civilization lived in a world in which everyone was connected to everyone else, by computers through the internet.  And it all worked very well indeed.

The internet was invisible but it was everywhere.  Connected with the internet, people could find out the answer to almost any question they wanted to ask.  Whole libraries, encyclopedias, dictionaries, storehouses of magazines and journals, all manner of information and research, information which people had dedicated their entire lifetimes to discovering just an infinitesimal portion of, were just a few clicks away from almost anyone, almost anywhere, who was at a computer.  The method of searching the internet through a computer was called “Googling,” and everyone in those ancient days did it.

Today we look back upon it as a golden age.

The end of the golden age evolved, gradually and invisibly, so that no one noticed until it burst upon them.  Nations practiced invisible “cyberwar,” placing powerful but dormant “logic bombs” within one another’s master computer control grids, which, if activated, were capable of disrupting virtually every aspect of every country.  Unlike conventional war, however, cyberwar attack could not be seen coming.  Indeed, cyberwar attacks could not even be identified as coming from a particular place.  They would happen instantly, without any advance notice, wrecking computer networks and wreaking devastation and havoc within minutes.  Every advanced nation had its cyberwarriors and cyberwar strategy, and each one placed logic bombs within the grids of the others, in order to counterattack if the day came when it might be the target of a cyberattack.  One day a cyberattack started–no one knows from where, it could have been a cyberwarrior in North Korea or a kid in Kalamazoo or Novosibirsk–targeting the military, government and industrial systems in the all the mightiest nations simultaneously.  That instantly triggered their own cyberwar counterattacks, and within minutes every nation on the grid was attacking the computers of every other one.  Within a very short time, virtually all the systems responsible for managing and maintaining communications, transportation, power generation and distribution, all the technological structures of civilization, were burned to a crisp.  Electricity stopped flowing, and computers, the internet, all of civilization as it had been known, ended, in what has come to be known as the Great Disintegration.

And there was no more Googling.

Society had indeed disintegrated, but the computers were still there.  Many of the older generation, unable to stand the disruption, not knowing how to even manage their lives without electricity and computers, became hopelessly depressed, or else completely delusional.  Many just lay down and died.  Paranoia ruled for a time, naturally. Often, those who knew how to make and operating computers were blamed for the Disintegration, and driven out or killed.  Many computers were destroyed.  A period of lawlessness followed, because the social framework for enforcing laws had been destroyed along with everything else, and because, without advanced methods of production and distribution, available stocks of foods and other necessities fell below what was required by the vast populations of people who could not produce or find them.  Eventually the Paranoia receded to the usual fringes of society, the fundamentals of law and order were reestablished, and the diminished numbers of human beings who were still left alive regrouped in their various nations.

When the Disintegration was over and the Paranoia done, there were still many computers left, some of which had been rescued and hidden during the upheavals.
When it was safe to bring them out once more, people looked at them with curiosity and wonder, and wondered what they were and how they could be operated.  Some people could dimly remember seeing, as children, adults connecting to the larger universe of information and knowledge through Googling.  They naturally wanted to achieve the same abilities, the same access to knowledge.  So they sat at computers, worked the keys, and tried to cast themselves into the appropriate state, which they called Googling.  Some of the new Googlers found that it helped them to get into the proper state to recite the Google mantra:  “Don’t be evil.”

Many Googlers discovered that they could, in fact, cast themselves into a Google trance, while sitting at computers.  Once in trance, they would allow questions to arise within their minds, and become the focus of the trance.  Many found that, after they regained normal awareness, that they had returned from their sojourn in the Google Dimension with answers to questions that had been troubling them.  The news spread from those who had experienced it, or knew someone who had, to their friends and neighbors, and gradually more and more people became Googlers.  Googling was seen as both a modern way of life and as a way to connect with of the ancient pre-Disintegration heritage which had been lost.

Googling began to take different social forms, as Googlers practiced Googling both individually and in congregational worship.  Some Googlers found that they became more resilient to life’s stresses and strains through regular Googling, while some became odder (sometimes they were the same ones).  Some Googlers became insane, but their colleagues thought that they would have anyway, so it wasn’t due to Googling.  Through regular worship and other congregational activities, Googlers met one another and formed social, business and romantic relationships, which helped stabilize and strengthen communities. Some Googlers came to see themselves as a special elite, while others felt, not that they themselves were special, but that they were on a special path of life, which brought them into connection with higher knowledge.

Eventually, Googling became the religion of the future.

Inevitably, the Googlers divided into sects.  One sect practiced by silently thinking the sacred mantra–”Don’t Be Evil”–while sitting in front of their computers and casting themselves into the Google-spell.  Another practiced chanting it aloud while seated at their computers, while another group chanted “don’t be evil” while walking in circles around their computers, and yet another practiced silent keyboarding of the sacred phrase.  Often their differences led to misunderstanding and mutual suspicion and distrust, even contempt.  Trying to remedy this situation, another sect, the so-called “United Googlers,” arose.  They held that any form of Googling was equally acceptable, and were even willing for the faithful to think, chant and keyboard simultaneously!

Dedicated Googler leaders arose, and formed Institutes of Googling to teach the history of the movement and the finer points of practice and belief, which was called “Googleology.”  Congregations formed around charismatic Googler teachers whose expositions on Googleology climaxed with a cathartic demonstration as the teacher, or an especially favored member of the congregation, “Googled” into trance by a computer (some of which were decorated with valuable jewels and precious metals), while the congregation urged them on, chanting, “Don’t be evil!  Don’t be evil!  Don’t be evil!”  Sometimes people were even known to begin spontaneously “writing in Code,” the mysterious language of the ancient computer programmers.

A googlelogical schism developed between the conservatives, who interpreted “Don’t be evil” as a strict moral injunction, and the liberals, who interpreted it as meaning that evil didn’t really exist, only mistakes in judgment.   Sometimes scholars from one Googleogical seminary were welcomed at another, in a spirit of ecumenicism; sometimes not.

Here and there, the tradition of what computers and the internet had really been still survived.  Some of the older people who had really known and used electricity, computers, and the internet, remonstrated with the Googlers and tried to tell them about what the life with computers, electricity and the internet had really been, but to no avail.  Unable to demonstrate, they couldn’t make themselves understood; they sounded as if they were talking nonsense.  Most were ignored, some driven away, many became insane.  Most decided to stop wasting their energy and alienating their neighbors and just acted like everyone else; which some called “drinking the Kool-Aid,” apparently after an ancient beverage whose recipe is now lost. Eventually, the old-timers all died off, leaving the Googlers to practice their religion without disturbance.

Now, the “ancient knowledge” hadn’t entirely been lost. Here and there pockets of people existed who generated electricity with solar panels that still survived and worked, and some engineering knowledge had been preserved.  Secret enclaves of people existed who actually used computers, and an internet had actually been reestablished, although of course on a much smaller scale.  But these survivors and their descendants had learned, often through painful experience, to operate with great caution and secrecy.

All the real computer users knew the story of the young man from their community who had walked by a bunch of Googlers while traveling between his community and another.  They were gathered around a computer where a Googler prayer-leader was leading the “Sacred Google Worship Ceremony.”  When the newcomer told the worshippers that they were merely imitating a behavior that had an actual use, they accused him of being a troublemaker, or insane.  When he offered to prove it by demonstration, they grabbed him, sat him down in front of their dead computer, and insisted that he prove it then and there.  When, of course, he couldn’t, they stoned him to death, shouting, “Don’t be evil.”

Of course, many people became disillusioned with Googling, which they criticized, accurately enough, as being illogical. Naturally, they became known as “the Rejectors.”  One of their greatest leaders said, “The answers to the questions of life come through the application of observation and reason, and we can’t observe anything in Googling that makes any reasonable sense at all!”  At first, the Googlers oppressed the Rejectors.  Many were ostracized from society, broken in spirit by bullying, even killed; and many had to learn to keep their Rejectionist attitude to themselves, or share it only with a close friend or two.  However, as more and more people became Rejectors–there was practically one in every family–most Googler communities eventually became more tolerant.  The Googlers, after all, were supported by their belief, and even had evidence from social scientists who had found that Googlers tended to be less depressed and more resilient in the face of reversals of fortune; especially when they practiced private Googling daily, and attended congregational Googling weekly.  Sometimes Googlers and Rejectors even became friends, which seemed more enlightened to almost everyone.

Here and there, people who grew up among the Googlers came to doubt the validity of their community’s beliefs, but instead of becoming Rejectors, they wondered whether the ancient Googlers had been doing something different from their modern namesakes.  Once in awhile, they were able to find a real internet user, because the real internet people had set up various front organizations to help balance society, keeping it from getting even more delusional than it already was.  Through such organizations, which could be business, educational or artistic groups, or any superficially plausible kind of entity, they could live among the Googlers and identify potential candidates for admission into the ranks of those who really knew what Googling was.  They helped maintain the fabric of society, by nudging things in the right direction and preventing the more insane Googlers and their ideas from acquiring too much influence.  They were always looking for people who might have the right combination of curiosity and common sense to learn what Googling was really about.

Once the real computer users contacted an aspiring one, a period of training followed.  The real internet users had learned that Googlers had to be brought to the truth through a series of steps, in order not to destabilize them.  First they had to learn about electricity.  Even that had to be done in a series of steps; first showing them how it was generated, then feeling a small shock, then watching it work, for example, by powering lights.  Next they were shown actual working computers, though not yet online, and taught how to use them.  Finally, the trainees were ready to learn to go online and connect with the internet.  This training often lasted several years, because, in addition to learning the facts of electricity, computing, and the internet, the students had to adjust their attitude and reform their character.  In order not to misuse their knowledge, through greed, at the expense of others, they had to become patient, humble, and dedicated to the genuine long-term good of all.  They had to learn to protect their new knowledge, as well as acquiring the knowledge itself.  They had to be carefully watched during their training period lest they misuse the new information and skills, for example, by using their knowledge to put others down or take economic, emotional or sexual advantage of them.  Such students were often heard to say, “why do I have to learn about electricity and computers, when all I want to do is Google?”

Aspirants were sometimes found to be unsuitable for future instruction.  One student, who had learned about electricity but not computers before he was dismissed, stole some solar panels and set himself up as a Googler teacher.  He connected wires from the panels to his own students when they were seated at computers, and the weak electric current that they felt when Googling was interpreted as proof of the success of their efforts.

But many students did stay the course, and they became the new real internet users.  They received all the benefits of the world wide web, which informed them about the condition of humanity, and provided a platform on which they could support the evolution of human society.  They carry on, even today, knowing that they are contributing to a future in which, someday, when humanity is ready, the benefits of electricity, computers and the internet will be available to everyone, everywhere, once again.



At the Illinois Counseling Association 2012 Conference

I’ve just completed the Illinois Counseling Association 2012 conference, in Springfield, Illinois, where I presented as well as attending.  Here are some highlights:

On Friday, 11/9, in Reclaiming the Future:  Preparing Disengaged Adolescents for Productive Lives After High School, Ginny Fenski-Mathers presented the alternative high school program where she counsels in Rich Township District 227 (Matteson).  Her program is for students who have “detached themselves from the traditional educational process,” by becoming “credit-deficient” (e.g., falling too far behind to graduate in traditional high school) or being “students who are in danger of leaving the educational setting before earning a high school diploma as a result of dropping out, being pushed out, or being ‘aged out’ of school.”  The primarily problem is that these students have become “disengaged.”  “Most of the students we work with lack a sense of belonging; they feel that they don’t belong anywhere.”

Disengaged students may be dealing with traumatic losses, such as critical illnesses in the family, homelessness, etc.  “Just about every student coming into our setting are dealing with grieving issues.”  Fenski-Mathers quoted grim statistics:  “80% of jobs require post-high school education, 82% of criminals are high school dropouts, including 59% of federal inmates.”

Family support can be key to helping disengaged students graduate, and parents must come in with their child “on day one” of the alternative program.  Student risk factors include academic (unidentified learning, behavior and/or emotional disorders, learning gaps for one reason or another), social-emotional (undeveloped social skills, unresolved grief, negative perception of the environment), home (poverty/homelessness, high family mobility, illness or abuse in family) and life (gang association, drug and alcohol use, pregnant/teen parent, or incarcerated) factors.

Fenski-Mathers’ program is an evening (4:00-8:00 PM) program housed in a high school, which provides self-paced computer instruction with teacher support in each classroom.  “Most teachers teach to the average, so classes don’t work as well for these kids.  Self-pacing with support is more user-friendly.  The computer provides visual and kinesthetic contact, and the teachers provide 1:1 support and auditory input.”  Each staff member “adopts” 5-6 seniors each year, to see them through, nudging them along and running social and program interference for them.

Fenski-Mathers’ colleague Josh Collier then spoke movingly about the need “to make them feel that they belong.”  Much of what we teach, he said, is “social skills and anger management.”  The perspective on anger is, “Anger is just unresolved hurt.”  “Many kids don’t even know what a healthy relationship looks like, “he said, so thye have to teach even that.

Fenski-Mathers has been with the program since its inception, 12 years ago, and her dedication (along with Collier’s) was apparent.  When twelve of her students voted after a voter preparation program at the alternative school, she felt, “…their ‘I voted’ stickers really said, ‘I belong’ to the community.”

In Reconceptualizing Adventure-Based Counseling:  Activities for Everyday School and Clinical Settings, Kimberly Hart and Charles Myers presented activities “beyond simply talking with clients and listening to others talk to you” for teaching and counseling.  The group did a number of “warm-up” type activities, designed to help members experience and discuss feelings rather than just talking about them.  Such exercises, which go back to the days of Encounter Groups (which I participated in as an undergraduate), can be helpful for “breaking the ice” and helping strangers (or people who know each other within very restricted roles) to feel a sense of human connection, and that happened very easily in this group of counselors and counseling students.  Beyond that, such exercises can be useful for opening doors into deeper feelings, attitudes and experiences of members, but those results are often difficult to harvest and integrate meaningfully into the group.  In some ways, the two sets of goals–establishing connection and digging deeper–can’t very effectively be done at the same time, it seems to me; although the warm-up goal can precede the dig-deeper one.

There were poster sessions on Friday and Saturday; I only got to Friday’s.  The poster I was most enthusiastic about featured the “Living Room” program, a mental health crisis respite program that is an alternative to the emergency room, presented by Courtney Emery of the Turning Point agency.  E.R. services are hugely expensive and, except for patients who really need inpatient admission then and there, not usually the most appropriate service for persons with mental health crises.  A program staffed with trained mental health counselors can both offer better care and reduce treatment costs.

I was invited to join a small party for dinner–in fact, participants in the Activities session earlier–and then chatted with several counselors after we returned for a “desert bar.”  There was a warm open-heartedness from so many people in this group of counselors, which was quite distinctive among conferences I’ve attended.

On Saturday, 11/10, in Why Can’t My Client Change his/her Financial Behavior, financial adviser Wallace Larson focused on an issue that I think is far too underrecognized as a source of distress, conflict and trauma:  personal economics.  “Through both nature and nurture we absorb messages about money,” he said, which “frequently…cause a dysfunctional relationship with money.  In couples work, “Money conflicts in relationship can evoke unfinished business, unconciously,” from a client’s past.  Experiences like growing up in a home where the refrigerator is empty at the end of the month because the money’s gone, or a home that becomes foreclosed, can exert a powerful influence on the developing child.  And, “T.V. shows images of homes which send messages about wht to spend on.”  Larson’s references to “financial infidelity” and “financial enabling” identified important categories of dysfunctional financial behavior.

Larson has a website and newsletter, at

In When a Soldier Comes Home:  Reviving the Relationship with Family and Society, Renee Saltzman and Lynette Sanchez introduced the way soldiers are taught to think about themselves as they enter military life; which includes the fact that only Army soldiers are “soldiers;” Marines and “Marines,” Navy are “Seamen,” and Airforce are “Airmen.”

Among the challenges facing soldiers (used generically) upon return are “New Self versus Old Self;” the soldier has become, in some ways, a different person as a result of his or her deployment.  And so, of course, have the spouses, children, friends, and family members whom the soldier left behind and now returns to.  There are “existential issues” having to do with the significance of ordinary life compared with the urgent intensity of life-and-death during deployment.  “Unemployment and homelessness” may plague returning soldiers, and “predatory higher education recruitment,” focusing on their G.I. benefits, is a specific problem.  (One Marine, who had suffered a brain injury and was signed up by a higher education recruiter after returning home, couldn’t remember the courses he’d signed up for.)  Excerpts from a poignant video of a Marine discussing the experience of coming home after 4 years in Iraq were played.  “We were told what to do in the Marine Corp, and have to be a self-starter outside,” he observed  But, the Marine continued, most soldiers don’t want any training when they are done with their service, they just want to come home.  “A lot of guys think they’re OK (but) they’re really not OK.”

Kashunda McGriff presented A Relational Cultural Approach to Working with Undocumented Students.  She emphasized the “Fear of getting caught, deported, sent to a country where they don’t know anyone,” that can plague undocumented students who came here as young children, or perhaps were born here to undocumented immigrant parents.  Such children may feel that they belong neither to the U.S.A. nor to the country of origin of their parents.  Their inability to visit family members back home, including for significant events, contributes to their sense of isolation and lack of belongingness.  Their parents may have suffered from pre-migration trauma, and may feel guilt about leaving relatives behind.  “Immigration enforcement has changed a lot since 9/11,” McGriff emphasized.  Students “may be responsible for speaking for the family, for parents who may be unable to speak English.”

In Relational Cultural Therapy, healing and change are seen as coming from the relationship between therapist and client, in which the therapist helps clients feel connected by respecting and accepting their experience.  The approach is egalitarian and sees chronic disconnection from society as often due to oppressive power relationships.  The theory originated at Wellesley College, where it was founded in feminist theory, though it has evolved to be more inclusive, McGriff said.  She offered a quote from one of the founders, Jean Baker Miller, “All forms of oppression encourage people to enlist in their own enslavement.”  McGriff’s demeanor was warm, respectful, inviting, welcoming; she’s a counselor anyone would want to be accepted by and would open up to.  But I could see how another practitioner might be more strident and overtly ideological.

I spent most of the period before my presentation reviewing it, but was able to arrive in Eric Dutt’s session on Living a Purpose-Driven Life:  A Critical Overview of Cultural Motifs and their Impact in time to hear Dutt, who is from India, give an example of how people from different cultures may experience the same thing.  Dutt considered drone strikes from an Eastern and Western point of view.  From the Western point of view, such strikes are carefully managed, as warfare goes, and the deaths of innocents, or “collateral damage,” are regarded as minimal and worth the military and security goals of the operation.  From the Eastern point of view, however, the scales of value are reversed, such that the killing of innocents is seen as so terrible that it outweighs the value of killing and discouraging militant terrorists.  This was quite an eye-opener for me, and I asked Dutt, after the formal session ended, how he would explain such terrorist acts as suicide bombings, which of course kill many innocent people.  “Those are done by ideological groups,” he explained, not people grounded in the basic values of their culture.

Then I presented my program, A Model for Incorporating Spirituality in Clinical Practice.  My goals were to:  1. present a model of spirituality that makes psychological sense and is neurocognitively and traditionally informed; 2. to consider the model’s contribution to our understanding of how psychotherapy works (since the method of therapy is more powerful than the ability of any extant theory to explain it, imho); 3. to discuss how the model can be incorporated in clinical practice; and 4. to provide some time for participants to try putting it into practice.  My presentation introduced spirituality as a necessary topic in clinical practice; differentiated spirituality from religion, and considered emerging trends in an expanded view of cognition.  These included neuroscientist Roger Sperry’s view of how consciousness can self-organize the “top-down reorganization” of mind, psychologist Robert Ornstein’s “Multimind” concept of the inner life, and the “Observing Self” concept of psychiatrist Arthur Deikman.

In this model, spirituality is understood as a natural potential for self-transcendence in which the individual connects with some source of higher values and/or experience in the process of self-observation in a way that can have a top-down reorganizing potential in personality and behavior.  Therapy provides many micro-experiences of self-transcendence, usually not noticed for what they are, while the client reflects on her or his internal life, and these micro-experiences cumulatively support increases in consciousness leading to top-down reorganization.

The model doesn’t advocate any particular form of therapy, but sees this kind of micro-self-transcendence (which, far from being an emotional or ecstatic experience, is so small and seemingly mundate that it is easy to overlook) as existing in most or all forms of therapy that are effective.  Therapists who are aware of it can induce it more mindfully.

I had planned to sing a few songs as part of today’s presentation, but had a bad cold and could barely talk, let alone sing; but I played parts of a couple of songs from my laptop.  As always, I left the program thinking about how I could have improved it; less lecture and more time for experiential practice would have been a better mix, I felt.  But participants had good comments, were interested enough to ask me to post the current version of my slideshow (rather than the one I’d sent in earlier and subsequently modified), and the break-out practice sessions, in which participants alternated serving as therapists, clients, and observers, hummed with energy and seemed, in some cases, to get quite deep quite quickly.  A participant said she’d be including some of my slides in her teaching, which I approved of as long as my work was given with attribution to me, and the same participant delighted me with the comment that she’d entered this session, the last of the conference, feeling so tired that she was worried about driving safely home, but after our session she was so full of energy and ideas that she’d was certain she’d be fine.

Anxiety and Trust: A Key Emotional Relationship. Part I

During the 1970’s I began to hear about “the age of anxiety.”  Anxiety disorders have emerged as leading causes of mental and emotional distress today, and are one of the leading motivators for people to seek therapy and medication, as well as being one of the main causes of abuse of alcohol and drugs.  Anxiety plays a substantial role in eating disorders, cutting and other forms of self-harm, compulsive disorders, and contributes to overeating and the complications of obesity, such as diabetes.  Anxiety contributes to disorders that have a psychosomatic aspect, including cardiac and gastrointestinal disorders.  And anxiety underlies a widespread behavior pattern that doesn’t really have a clinical name but has to do with either underperforming, as a way of avoiding the risk of failure or the challenges of success, or overperforming, as a way of trying to extend one’s control over life.

But where does all this anxiety come from?  I think that there is a key relationship between anxiety and trust.  We have an excess of anxiety, in my opinion, because have a deficiency of trust.  This is the first of two columns in which I’ll explore that relationship.

As I often say, it’s no accident that psychotherapy evolved just as Europe was running up to the huge transformations of the first Great War, which led to the redrawing of the global political and socioeconomic map.  Psychotherapy, an attempt at a rational approach to understanding unconscious process and healing unconscious rifts, was born more or less at the ending of the great Austro-Hungarian, Ottoman, and Russian empires, with repercussions that are still being felt today, in Europe, the Middle East, Central Asia, and Africa.  World War II, a continuation of the first, facilitated the end of the French and English empires, and, reaching to the Far East, led to revolutionary upheavals in the Japanese and Chinese empires, and elsewhere.

Social, political and economic upheaval has affected virtually every family, in ways that are bred into the “DNA,” the behavioral and emotional memes, of family cultures down the generations.  To this instability and insecurity are added the vast changes brought about by technological innovations in industry, agriculture, economics, medicine, and communications, which we can see expressed in the culture and even the language of the “new generation” that emerges among adolescents every 5 years or so.

A key result of all this change and transformation has been the loss of trust in the stability of how things are and how things are done; how we communicate, relate, make a living, what we can expect and take for granted.  During most of human history, people lived in times when conditions were quite stable, and even the dangers of life were familiar.  Things didn’t change much over the generations, let alone during the course of a single lifetime.  Indeed, I’m told that, during most of human history, most people lived their entire lives in groups of 30-50 people, to most or all of whom they were related.  Those days are gone, for nearly everyone on the planet; although the search for new “tribes” is one of the motivators, and sources of anxiety, in modern life.

It is not only empires that were swept away in the abrupt, tumultuous, often bloody transformations of recent history, but the role and authority of institutions upon which populations depended for stability, including the religious, academic, legal, political, and cultural institutions which where the adhesives that glued the old order together.  The resulting psychological challenge of modern life is that we have to learn to trust change rather than stability, which is very hard to do.  In order to trust change, we need to understand it better, and to have the roots of our stability anchored in values, relationships and experiences that are deeper than those which are changing.

A key psychoanalytic insight is that the self can dissociate or split into different parts, which may not recognize, or be “unconscious” of one another.  It’s also possible to think about a model of mind that is inherently multiple, as in the “Multimind” model described by psychologist Robert Ornstein (, and Human Givens therapist Pat Williams (  In this model, different “selves” come into prominence at different times, rather like actors on a stage; except the director may be absent, and the troupe may be working from an old and fragmentary script.  (By the way, it seems to me that the difference between “psychoanalytic” and “psychodynamic” concepts is that  psychoanalytic ones postulate a single self that has split, in various ways and for various reasons depending on which analytic theory you buy, while “psychodynamic” concepts can include that as well as multiple self and multiple levels-of-consciousness models of mind.)

Now, here’s where all this comes together.  Anxiety is one reason for the evolution of psychotherapy during these revolutionary planetary changes, and anxiety is related to the untrustworthiness of the key institutions upon which we depend for stability and meaning in our lives.  It may be that there is a natural process of fragmentation of self, and need for subsequent reunification of self, that is just part of the human condition; the ancient stories certainly indicate that.  However, the conditions of modern life encourage fragmentation, without giving much guidance about how to achieve the subsequent unification.  It seems to me that that’s where finding the roots of value deep within ourselves, in our relationships with one another and with humanity as a whole, at a deeper level than such transient institutions as government, temple, school, court, etc. can provide, becomes a key part of healing our inner fragmentation and resolving our anxiety.

The old institutions are not entirely irrelevant, of course.  They continue to provide a kind of social stichting-together function.  In addition, each institution contains, within itself, traditions of access to deeper and higher values.  Religions, beyond their role of  organizing populations and telling people what to do and believe, included access to spirituality through esoteric and mystical affiliates.  Academic institutions, beyond requiring rote learning and preparing students for roles in society, included access to the deeper questions of the meaning of life, especially through philosophy and the humanities (science, a late-comer, is still getting oriented there).  Legal institutions, beyond maintaining laws, enshrined devotion to justice, and sometimes exemplified it.  Government, in addition to administration, aspires to uplift the well-being of all.  Even today, people who feel they can trust their social institutions seem to have less anxiety than others.  But sooner or later something happens to undermine their trust, so they do have to deal with being unanchored in life, one way or another.  The commitment to the fundamental values of spirituality, meaning, and justice, along with their discernment, seems to have diminished in the practice of religion, education, and law–everywhere, as far as I can tell from what I see around me and glean from newspapers and other media.  The result has been that, at a time of great change, when people are in greatest need of connection with perennial human values, the institutions upon which societies have relied to maintain and transmit those values have been less and less up to the job.  There are individual justices, reporters, ministers, teachers, administrators, who exemplify highest values, and some organizations do a better job than others of instilling them into the culture.  But the institutions, on the whole, are a pretty sorry lot, measured against higher values.  They neither embody nor represent such core values, and as a result people are unable to trust them; and, often, one another.

So we can’t trust our social institutions to be what they are supposed to be, and when we ourselves are part of those institutions, we often have to conform, to go along and get along, or else stand against the tide and perhaps get swept away.  The resurgence of fundamentalism in religion, and the fundamentalist variant of strict constructionism in legal and judicial practice, seem to me to reflect the misguided attempt to return to the times when the institutions of religion and law were more closely connected to spirituality and justice, respectively.  However, that’s like focusing on the utensils we ate with years ago, because we are hungry now.  As to education for meaning in life, our academic institutions seem to have pretty much given up on it, except for those which go in for brainwashing, and the odd teachers and schools here and there who persist in trying to help students connect with themes of meaning in life, albeit against the tide of rote learning for high stakes testing, indoctrination in social beliefs, and education for vocational preparation.  The attempt by departments of education across the country to develop a common core curriculum (see my post of April 16th, 2012), is an attempt to establish fundamentals in education, but it focuses on behavioral objectives that can be measured, so it must, of necessity, omit the crucial dimension of meaning of life and connection with the real core values of experience.  And so, in the midst of our busy lives, we are adrift.

As a psychotherapist, I find that issues of spirituality, meaning and justice in life (expressed through family and other personal relationships, as well as relationships with teachers, employers and other institutions) often underlie anxiety, although that is not something you will find in the professional literature, such as the DSM-IV (  As the great psychologist Abraham Maslow pointed out, when these issues are identified and clients are able to make progress by establishing or reestablishing their connections with their own spirituality, sense of meaning, and love of justice (what Maslow called the “being-values”), anxiety tends to diminish.  But that is not taught in our therapist training programs today either, since it can’t be reduced to a measurable behavioral objective.