Psychologists in Need of Help

For decades, until about two years ago, I was a practicing Psychologist/Psychotherapist. I was active in several professional organizations. I gave several papers and presentations, usually attempting to warn the profession that changes were coming, from scientific research, from the healthcare system in America, and from many other ways in which the world was morphing. I felt that these changes would greatly disrupt our way of practicing. I was getting mixed reviews.

Really, even I was not prepared to the magnitude of the changes that have disrupted almost every aspect of our lives. Last week, one of the most well known names of our profession was abruptly fired from his position as director of a research and treatment center. He had been there for decades and was internationally known for the work he did. He was fired for being a jerk as a director. The reports were that he created a difficult atmosphere, was demeaning and degrading to the staff, and enough people had reported enough bad behavior that something had to be done. I don’t think there were complaints of sexual misconduct, but it seems his firing was part of the general “Time’s Up” movement that is going on in this country.

This firing created a very lively discussion on what is usually an active, but very amiable psychology on-line discussion group. There were people who felt that this person should still be allowed to find a way to continue working, due to his long list of contributions, while many others felt that it was about time something was done about him and the way he has acted. Someone noticed that more males were his defenders, while there were more females supporting his termination. It wasn’t a total divide, but it was a noticeable trend. Once that was pointed out the discussion became a lot more intense.

Here, below, was my response, somewhat modified, so I could put it up here.

A Wider Lens????

I am still a member of [this psych association], although I closed my practice about two years ago. I have stepped to the sidelines and tried to watch what is going on. I have been reading all of the reactions to the firing of one of the most notable names in our profession, and seeing all of the reactions to those reactions. It’s been fascinating to see, and I think what is happening on this list is another example of what is creating conflicts in so many places all over the world.

This is a perfect time for the system theorists among us to step back and put this discussion into a larger context; a much larger context. Look around, the whole world is changing, rapidly, in so many basic ways. These changes are everywhere, affecting everything, and adjusting is difficult for all of us, your patients, your students and you. (Not me, I’m too brittle).

What has changed since the beginning of the new millennium? Almost everything.

Major climate changes, producing storms, fires, higher tides, and greater fears of the future.

Major changes in communications: social networks, portable communications constantly on, a firehose of new information every minute, much of it doubtful. What is true? Whom do you trust? How much do you feel the need to know? All the time?

Major changes in gender roles and expectations: Same sex marriage is not that old. The rise and visibility of the LBGTQ community. New questions about how people define who they are, sensually, sexually, gender-wise.

Major changes in Families: Same sex parents, parents and surrogates, parents from petri-dishes, intergenerational families, single parent families from frozen eggs with donor sperm.

Major demographic shifts, some due to the global economy, some due to climate change and others due to crazy wars halfway around the world. All kinds of different people seem to show-up in what were once homogeneous neighborhoods. They cook different foods, they smell differently and they talk with an accent. Every person who was somehow made to feel like a “minority” is now voicing their displeasure about how they have been treated, and demanding that this change. Black Lives Matter! I want to wear a head-scarf! I need to carry a gun!

Major advances in many sciences, including those that relate to our field, such as in genetics, neurology, brain chemistry, epidemiology and even paleontology. These advances have raised questions about everything we know, and how we know it.

Major changes in how people work, what jobs there will be in the future, who will do them, and what skills will be needed. AI and robots are changing how everything gets done, including how decisions are being made. We are all being subjected to this every day, usually without our being aware that it is happening.

One major difference, that is relevant here, is that the newer generations of women who have gone to work have also gone to college, and they have changed the atmosphere of what work is like. Many of these women expect to be treated as equals, to be promoted or to run their own businesses. In general, women work more openly, honestly and are less likely to engage in corrupt and underhanded dealings. This makes many men uncomfortable.

There are many more major changes going on all around us, but I think it’s clear that rapid transformations and disruptions have make almost everything and everyone feel unstable. Change is everywhere, and where there is change there is anxiety. We know that. Everyone is troubled by not knowing where they will fit in, what will happen to their work, to their families, to their kids’ education, to the air they breathe and even if there will be peace in the world.

It is this uncertainty that has led to many conflicts, including what is going on on this list. Part of that is that long accepted power structures are being challenged. As MLK, and others have said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” That, hopefully, is true, but it doesn’t bend easily, and there are many forces trying stop it from bending. Many of those who seem to be most resistant to change are old, White men, such as myself.

As far as the matter being discussed here, IMHO, most of our so-called “heroes” and “leaders” were assholes. It was part of what drove them to success. Look at most statues, a bunch of generals, usually not the most sensitive or caring of people. In our profession, Freud and Jung, among many others, would certainly have been regarded very differently if judged by today’s standards, and I think they, and their theories, reflect many of their own personal limitations. In Psychology, as in most other fields, the ones who get the most recognition are the ones who are better at marketing themselves than the ones who are truly brilliant, with a few exceptions for the ones I agree with most.

So now, this List is becoming “woke.” Everyone has to sort out how they feel about all the changes that are going on all around us. Which ones make us most uncomfortable? Which ones are the most threatening? Where do we each stand; do we want to make the transitions easier or try to slow them down? How difficult is it for us to do what we think is right when it actually challenges who we are and what we do?

I think this is all very complex, with all of these things constantly interacting with each other. We each see some changes as positive, others seem out of line, but in truth, most of them are happening anyway. So yes. Let’s have a bigger discussion. Let’s try to find a way for each of us to at least figure out how we feel and what we want. We are living in a very divisive time, as people and politics are battling over these issues.

But we are therapists. We should be able to set an example of how to find our way, heal some of these wounds, and help everyone adjust to the new world.

I’ll come.

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D J B

D J B

I have been mumbling almost incoherently in response to life's problems for a long, long time. Contact me at djbermont@gmail.com