Getting oriented

Once upon a time, psychologists were supposed to keep their mouths shut.  It was an era of mysteries, confusion, a time of just emerging from the dark, murky world of ghosts and mysterious maladies, and for a time the only torch lighting the day out of the dark cavern was the work of Sigmund Freud.  Which was actually a huge improvement over the options which came before him, when depressed persons had the options of suffering or becoming novelists or drinking themselves to death.

But over time, Freud’s idea that people often need basically a good listener who doesn’t jump in with all sorts of unwanted advice, became distorted.  Shrinks started to believe that doing things like actually giving someone advice was a bad thing.  This went to absurd links — perhaps peaking when prominent psychologists move to revoke the membership from the American Psychological Association of one of the pioneering psychologists of the self-help field, Dr. Joyce Brothers, just because she answered people’s questions and tried to help in a more active way than mumbling “uh huh” every twenty minutes.

Eventually, common sense prevailed.  Building not just on the discoveries (which strictly speaking, weren’t all bad) of the European masters like Freud, we began to apply the findings of a more modern science to our understanding of the human mind, human relationships, and even to how our minds and bodies affect each other.

It’s been nearly a century and a half since the first psychology laboratories were established (by Wilhelm Wundt in Leipzig, and William James at Harvard), and in that time whole libraries have grown up to contain our findings.  In the spirit of a true “Renaissance” (a rebirth or rediscovery of knowledge), we can now benefit from the best thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome, the philosophers and novelists and spiritual pioneers of the past 3000+ years, but most especially, from the discoveries and innovations of modern behavioral, cognitive behavioral, and neuropsychological researchers and practitioners.

Whether it’s how to keep your brain functioning through the lifespan, to protect and ehnahce your physical functioning or athletic performance, how to understand and connect effectively with others, how to reduce a depression or a phobia, or how to manage your career, there is a huge amount of information out there to help you.

In my work, I meet daily with people teetering on the edge of permanent disability (my clinical practice is mostly doing psychological evaluations and consulting with agencies and with businesses and organizations.)  Often, people have been relying on rather passive, antique methods of coping, such as hoping the latest medication from their primary physician will somehow “kick in,” or maybe just relying on alcohol or drugs to ease the pain of living.  But seldom do people have even the vaguest familiarity with highly effective psychological/behavioral ways to reduce chronic pain, to cope with a depressed mood, to cope with a severe phobia that keeps them housebound, or to be more effective in their career, business, marriage, or parenting skills.

I’ve wanted to set up a blog about phobias, which I’m supposed to do to let folks know about my phobia book. (I have one on the topic of social intelligence.)  But I’ve been writing some stuff on depression and other topics, and have ideas for a variety of other books and writing projects with similar themes of “you can take control of your own psychological functioning, at least some of the time.” (I’m actually a kind of “how to manage your life” nerd.)  So instead of doing scattered blogs, I’m doing a single one now, merging some other material here.

Because to a large extent, you can approach a depression, weight loss, interpersonal skills at work, anxiety control, flirting, or “getting things done” in very much the same way.  If you become an expert in managing one part of your behavior and life, you can use most of the same tools for the other areas as well.

That’s what I want to share with you in this blog.