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

The Danger of Ignorance About Psychological Development

Many of today's public problems can be traced to ignorance of well-accepted knowledge about psychological development, and acceptance of the power of unconscious functioning over behavior with early life experiences being the bedrock of adult personality and affecting it throughout life. Seeemingly inexplicable and sometimes horrendous adult behaviors can be explained by these. For example, most youth killings are intended to effect what has been termed "suicide-by-cop" because of depression; road-rage incidents being caused by deeply unconscious feelings of worthlessness; and terrorist acts carried out by people lacking a healthy sense of identity, of who they are or "sense of self," which their identifying with a terrorist group can seem to provide.
That an elementary biological fact has become a political issue is bizarre and reflects the same ignorance. While there are indisputably only two sexes, male and female, what is socially considered the psychological characteristics of one is often present in the other. Thus a man may be the emotional parent in a family, more maternal or "motherly," a role which is usually that of the woman; and a woman may be highly assertive at work, exhibiting a trait that is conventionally attributed to men, with both individuals being completely normal.

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Early Child-Parenting Experiences In The Development of Psychopathology

A child's mind grows by sharing and borrowing aspects of themselves as they develop their unique life experiences which become woven into their view of the world. While many aspects of their "story," their philosophy of life, are accurate, the child's immaturity inevitably creates errors of belief that lead to difficulties in relating to themselves and others. If deprecated by their parents they may feel worthless and unlovable, which is an apparently valid conclusion since their parents, who seem as Gods, think little of them. But with different experiences, feelings of confidence and optimism are inculcated.
The development of an organized sense of who one, what psychologists term the "sense of self," begins at birth through the interactions and play between infant and caretaker, who need not be their biological parent. Often, when only one of the many children in an abusive family becomes a successful independent adult, it is because of an outsider's (often a grandparent's) different, powerful, early-life influence, with the child's mind having "fed" on this mind-saving infusion as does an ill person's body their healing medication.

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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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