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

A Prescient Sci-Fi Story About Modern Life

I recently read a science fiction story by Robert Silverberg, "Alaree," which was originally published in 1958. A crippled spaceship from Earth has landed for repairs on a small, previously unexplored planet. There they encounter a small humanoid creature with whom they speak using a speech converter. The creature has great difficulty understanding the concept of "I" since on his planet all the creatures are "we."

He becomes close to the space travelers, watching as they work. Soon other aliens appear, all identical to him. He implores the captain to take him with him back to Earth and, after initially refusing, the captain agrees, Alaree having said that if he remains he'll die. On the return journey, Alaree behaves in a puzzling manner, staring into the face of each of the crew members as if trying to merge with them. Then he suddenly dies and the captain understands why: because on his world he had been part of "we" and, when losing this identify and becoming an "I," he could not survive.
This reminded me of the fear of some people to reject popularly held concepts, perhaps from the subconscious fear that, like Alaree, they couldn't survive.

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Student Violence Against Teachers Is Increasing

An article in the June 3, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("'There Were Fists Everywhere.' Violence Against Teachers Is on the Rise") detailed the increased student violence against teachers. In one Nevada school district there were three dozen criminal battery assaults against teachers thus far this year. Yet the needed remedy is known and should be applauded by teachers, parents, and students. While youthful acting-out behavior varies in significance by age with a very young child's hitting often reflecting simple immaturity while a teenager's indicates serious developmental issue, the remedy is the same: having a comprehensive psychological assessment to determine the degree of psychopathology present and providing effective intervention.

But these cannot substitute for having school principals who won't tolerate such behavior and make this clear; and mandating legal consequences for assault. Having sufficient security staff is critical too. Several years ago there was public outrage after an assaulting teenager was pepper sprayed by police as they restrained him in school. Yet, as I then wrote, the benefit of this police action was that no one was hurt.
Learning and teaching cannot succeed where the safety of all is not assured. Nor should teachers be expected to be hostage to student rage.

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My Breakfast Suggestion

A recent article in The Wall Street Journal provided several fancy oatmeal recipes. Try my simple one using the less expensive Quaker or store brand. After cooking, it can be refrigerated and served for several days: two cups of quick-cooking oatmeal, two cups of frozen blueberries, three tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa, perhaps 1/2 teaspoon each (I don't measure these) of cinnamon and ginger, and four tablespoons of Kretschmer wheat germ. After dropping this mixture into four cups of boiling water, it's cooked on a low flame in about seven minutes. I sometimes add frozen raspberries or strawberries. In my view you can't get a quicker, healthier, or better tasting breakfast. One to satisfy your sweet-tooth and can be prepared in advance to be later eaten cold, a particular advantage on summer mornings. Or anytime since there is no mandate that a typically breakfast dish can only be eaten in the morning.

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Prisons Housing the Mentally Ill

A recent news article detailed the massive number of psychiatrically ill inmates in state prisons with some dying from suicide or inadequate medical care though still awaiting trial. But this sorry state of affairs should have been expected since, over past decades, state psychiatric hospitals were largely closed and the promised outpatient clinics and community care/supportive housing facilities for the mentally ill went left unfunded with savings going into government coffers. Other critical factors were "civil-rights" lawyers and courts deciding that it was better to die "in freedom," psychotic or drug addled on the street, rather than be forcibly hospitalized; and most psychiatrists becoming mere pill pushers rather than the psychotherapists they had been in previous decades

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The Shame of America's Schools

Recent news stories have detailed the shocking inadequacies of public school students in many American cities with single-digit percentages of graduating high school seniors achieving only grade-level scores on arithmetic and reading evaluation tests. Having treated many teachers I can't help thinking that the major problem in student achievement reflects less teacher inadequecy than that of the school's administration: inadequate, undemanding principals and rules forbidding proper action against bullying and emotionally disturbed students. But the behavior of parents too: were parents to first read to and then with their toddlers and, apart from emergency situations, to explain parental demands rather than say, "Do it because I say so," which depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking, most children would be reading simple books by kindergarten. Math is different since if earlier steps are missed, a child will continually fall behind. I've known very smart children to have problems with math so something may be wrong with how it's taught. Nuff said.

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Angela Merkel's Policies

A May 26, 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal ("Did Merkel Pave the Way for the War in Ukraine"), which itemized what were described as former German Chancellor Angela Merkel's disastrous policies, aroused my thinking of an alternate history novel: one in which Germany remained a nation of royal principalities instead of being united in 1871. In it there would be no World War One or World War Two, no Holocaust with many other millions dead, no rise of Communism or Soviet Union or Cold War with many of today's political tensions gone. But what to do about those pesky 1930s Japanese militarists? Hmm...
Read the Comments Section of this article too.

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Anxiety and Impulsive Behavior

While anxiety is typically considered a problem, it enables healthy functioning since it indicates when danger threatens. But a problem arises when what is felt to be dangerous is not, this reflecting the lingering effect of childhood experiences. Having an immature psychological apparatus, many childhood conclusions are inaccurate particularly if one grows up in a troubled family. Thus if a child is caused to conclude that expressing feelings or behaving independently or that the world outside the family is dangerous, the child, when an adult, wiill hold these views which conflict with his healthier instinct, a conflict that creates anxiety when it arises.

Thus anxiety can indicate both truly dangerous and what is safe but is felt-to be-dangerous situations, and the sufferer should decide which it is rather than behaving impulsively and unwisely.

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On Suicide

The recent suicide of forty-seven -year-old Heather Armstrong, who was also known as Mommy Blogger and Dooce, aroused much publicity. While almost everyone has a suicidal thought sometime, the critical factors for its acting-out are whether it is serious, if the person has a realistic plan and means of carrying it out (as a gun or pills), and their degree of self-control.

Because of the biological imperative to live, suicide usually requires that the person's thinking is addled by drugs or alcohol or both as with Armstrong. Conceptually, suicide reflects early life experience during which the person was made to feel worthless, this belief returning later when, as adult and burdened by exceptional stress, the person considers themselves to be unworthy of life.

Suicide is alway a tragedy and, as has long been said, a permanent solution to a temporary condition. I've long thought that, to increase its understanding, psychological autopsies of prominent figues should be publicized regardless of family embarrassment. After all, it no longer matters to the principal character.

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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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The Posibble Lingering Effects Of Childhood Medical Treatments

A moving story by Leigh Kamping-Carder in the April 29, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("My Heart Defect Was Repaired by Age 4. But Was I Cured?") described her life after three childhood cardiac surgeries, aroused several thoughts.


A child's mind is immature and, when provided treatment, often blames their parents and the doctor for their discomfort, being unable to grasp its need. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) symptoms can develop which indicate that the mind's capacity to cope with stress has been exceeded. Which can happen to anyone with any stress whether a soldier, child, or adult. They may have nightmares or become overly sensitive to noises or change of temperature.


Autism and Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), which the reporter indicates are potential sequelae of early life medical treatment, have other origins entirely. Autism is vastly mis-diagnosed and has nothing to do with medical procedures, vaccination, air-pollution or whatever other fantasy is popularly believed. Rather, it derives from severely deficient early parenting which the infant senses and tries to avoid by becoming independent but inevitably fails, then turning from the world as self-protection. This was well understood by psychologists since the 1980s but is resisted by widespread public and doctor ignorance of child psychological development abetted by undeserved parental feelings of guilt.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is perhaps the most unsophisticated mental health diagnosis of the past two-hundred-years, its symptoms being identical to anxiety and depression which can be present in any medical or psychological disorder. Its predecessors are the "mental restlessness" of seventeenth-century England medicine and the Minimal Brain Dysfunction (MBD) of early twentieth-century USA practice when it was depicted by a Harvard psychiatrist as being such nonsense that only a doctor with a minimal brain dysfunction would use it



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