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A Psychologist's Thoughts on Clinical Practice, Behavior, and Life

The Exhibitionist Surgeon and the Popular Concept of Normality

A talented psychoanalyst once wrote of his treatment of a San Francisco surgeon who persistently exhibited his genitals in public. During his treatment the doctor realized that his powerfully motivated behavior reflected the persistence of an early childhood desire to show his mother how powerful he was. An act which is not unusual for very young children and properly discouraged by their mother,
This doctor's behavior evidenced a generally ignored truth: that the unconscious is powerful and cannot be ignored. Though most people prefer to believe that consciousness governs our behavior--until they are forced to believe otherwise.
All humans are a product of their upbringing from which infantile misconceptions and fears may erupt at any time, which must be understood and controlled. Being "normal" means functioning in line with developmental expectations whether as youth or adult. Not that one is totally free of the apparently inexplicable thoughts and feelings that can lead to unwise behavior.

When one responds to a situation with greater emotion than warranted the behavior is motivated by an unconscious element, often deriving from an early-life event. Consider the unfortunately common "road rage" if you will.

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Why Your Child is Sometimes Impossible

While all children are sometimes irritating, occasionally they're completely impossible. I've joked with parents that the business office next to mine has a Saturday swap meet where children are exchanged.

But troublesome behavior has meaning since when a child is unhappy they don't spontaneously speak of their distress but instead act difficult. This is why Oppositional Defiant Behavior is the most common mental health diagnosis of children.

When asked to do something by their parent a child will usually comply since they want to grow up, to be an adult. Resistance thus indicates their inability to do what is asked because of illness, exhaustion, emotional upset, or an unspoken reason making sense to them but isn't logical. Then, speaking with the child is more productive than yelling, which should only be done when confronting a potentially dangerous or harmful situation. Otherwise, frequent yelling by a parent will cause warnings that a child should respect to be ignored.

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Why the Treatment of Autistic Children Often Fails

Psychologists have long known that children in every nation become capable of speaking their nation's language not by learning that one word follows another but because the mind innately inducts the grammatical structure of their nation's language. Understandably so since the purpose of all cognition is to make sense of the personal world as quickly as possible.


It is not true that autistic children avoid communication but rather that they try to communicate in their own way. Thus, treating them with the same behavior modification method that one would use with a dog is doomed to failure. Instead, one must enter their world and wean them into the larger world, one that is unproblematic unlike the unsatisfying, psychologically non-nourishing developmental experiences that drove them from it originally.


One caution: misdiagnosis of autism in children is widespread and traditional play therapy can often reduce or eliminate a few autistic symptoms in mere months.

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Psychological Development, Schools, and Poverty

Schools are often blamed for their students' downward economic mobility based on the conclusion that had the children learned more they would, in adulthood, be employed at skilled, higher paid jobs. But even in the least effective school, some children do excel. As I once described a school system  Read More 
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