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

Today's Alleged Lazy Youth

An April 11, 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal ("Your Gen Z Co-Worker Is Hustling More Than You Think. Ambitious 20-somethings are trying to knock down the stereotype that they aren't into hard work") considered whether youth in their twenties are as hardworking as their ancestors through descriptions of several lives. A twenty-five-year-old engineer who completed high school in three-years and college in three-and-one-half-years founded her software firm at eighteen and works well into the night; a twenty-two-year-old works sixty-hour-weeks for a corporation. What it comes down to, in the opinion of this psychologist, is that motivation is individual, deriving from in-born talent shaped by the parenting that one experienced, though success depends on luck too of course.

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Introductions

An April 10, 2023 article in The Wall Street Journal ("Stop Telling Everyone What You Do for a Living") aroused a memory. Years ago, I registered myself at a military studies conference as "Psychologist/Author" and was given a badge identifying me as an "Independent Researcher." At the hotel, people would read my badge and quickly look away, avoiding me and I wondered why. During one of the dinners an Army officer stared at my badge and asked what I did. I said I was a psychologist, treating kids and adults and writing books. She burst out laughing and I asked what was so funny. She said that people who were described as "Independent Researcher" held jobs that were so secret they couldn't say where they worked. This incident inspired me to write a blog item entitled, "My Life As A Spy."

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Becoming An Adult

The difference between the adult's and the child's view of life is that an adult is able to question it. When a child, you don't question if your world is good or bad because if you decide it is bad, that for whatever reason your parents are not nice people, you are questioning your existence which depends on their benevolence. Only when an adult and have your own life, can you can question their nature. But this conclusion is not always true since I have known youngsters who decided their parents were crazy before entering high school. Then deciding to trust only their own judgment and to make independent decisions. But these youth also had an outsider, a loving relative or a trusted teacher, to guide and encourage them. Lacking this, atrocious criminal acts may occur, committed by long smoldering and enraged, suicidal adults who lacked the critically important "good-enough" parenting experience as a child from which the basic ego capacities and personality develop. 

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Creative Works and Artificial Intelligence (#AI)

An article in The Wall Street Journal on April 4, 2023 ("Who Owns SpongeBob? AI Shakes Hollywood's Creative Foundation") raised an important copyright question. Perhaps a more important question, considering the poor state of education today, is whether the average person will be able to distinguish between the product of human creativity and that of AI. I remarked once, after reading my website posted first chapter of a novel I wrote decades ago (Lies In Progress), that I admired the writing but remembered virtually nothing of the plot and would be unable to re-write the book today. A fellow writer on the Authors Guild Community Bulletin Board explained this, stating that creative writing derives from the unconscious which closes when the production is completed. With which I agree. I can't conceive of AI producing the twists in even one of my short blog pieces which incorporate psychological fact with personal and professional experiences. Still, as I said, will today's average-schooled person be able to tell the difference, or value it?

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School Achievement and Choice

An article in The Wall Street Journal on April 3, 2023 ("Milton Friedman's School Choice Revolution - Biden may write him off, but his idea is more popular than ever."} aroused this blog. The greatest factor in school achievement is for a child to have experienced a "good-enough" parenting. If all parents read first to and then with their toddlers, almost all children would be reading simple books by first grade. And, apart from emergency situations, to never say, "Do it because I say so," to children since this depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking, as psychologists have long known.

The teachers that I've treated are just as frustrated, having to teach classes of students speaking multiple languages, which can include unsocialized or (literally) crazed students creating classroom chaos and being ignored by administration, having parents who are clueless about parenting or too overwhelmed to provide it. Back to basics, as has long been said, and not the recent craze to avoid standards and achievement tests. The greatest benefit of the admission-test high school I attended was not its academics but that there were no fights or bullying (though being big, I was never bullied), and also no athletics and only rare parties (it was a different time). My dentist, another of its graduates, told me that once he almost got into a fight after making a deprecating remark but though the other student balled his fist he desisted.

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On Suicide

An essay in The Wall Street Journal on April 1, 2023 ("We Need to Talk About Suicide"), by a person who attempted suicide three times, aroused comment. Though the biological imperative to live is powerful, all think of suicide at some point in their life, the critical factors predicting its lethality being the presence of suicide intent, the availability of lethal means (a gun or a drug), and the degree of self-control possessed. While the actual incidence of suicide compared to its thought is like the proverbial needle in a haystack, it should always be professionally evaluated. But sadly, Emergency Room evaluations can be unsophisticated, leading to unneeded hospitalization (the professionally "safest" decision) which has emotional risk, the person now viewing themselves as "a crazy person," unlike earlier when they considered themselves merely part of the human race. And as has long been said, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

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Sleepovers Are Now a Battleground

An article about sleepovers in the March 30, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("Sleepovers Are Now a Battleground - Parents split on slumber parties, once a rite of passage — 'I've had parents ask me if we have a water filter'") aroused reader comment. Having long treated children, I've gained insight into this parent dilemma. What it comes down to is knowing your child's and your comfort with sleepovers, and how well the other parents are known. Which can be tricky when parents feel the need to interrogate them about the presence of animals, the storage of guns, and potential allergic substances. For a parent to be concerned about real potential dangers is not "helicopter parenting." I've heard of life-threatening allergic reactions which would terrify even the least risk-averse parent and remember as a child visiting a friend's home and his pointing a gun at me (a real not toy gun). Contrary to popular belief, sleepovers are not needed for a child's healthy personality development. Not until they're adult and it's with a potential mate, of course. Nuff said.



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The Unspoken "Elephant in the Room" Afflicting American Society

If all parents read first to and then with their toddlers, almost all children would be reading simple books by kindergarten. And, apart from emergency situations, their parents never said to them, "Do it because I say so," but rather gave explanation,  their adult functioning would be better too since the former depresses the development of the capacity for abstract thinking as psychologists have long known. The lack of a "good-enough" parenting is the unspoken, politically incorrect, "Elephant in the Room," that explains most inadequate academic and work performance.

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The Benefits of Delusion

Once, during a routine medical examination, I remarked to the physician that I never had a chronic illness and doubted that I would. "That's a good delusion. Keep it," she advised. Which is true since even the healthiest person can't predict the vagaries of their genetics or fate.
This remembrance entered my mind after speaking with a patient whose delusional belief seemed ego-syntonic, enabling them to work productively though with difficulty in relationships.
A delusion,which is a fixed false balief, can range widely in both the personal and political spheres. Feeling unjustified guilt about their child's autism (which is a vastly misdiagnosed condition), a mother might falsely ascribe it to vaccination or air polution. Similarly, masochistic behavior or anorexia nervosa (which has the highest death rate of all the mental health conditions) may be considered "normal" by its sufferer rather than accurately, as deriving from damaged childhood experiences which can be healed through psychotherapy. And one who attributes their or their nation's problems to a minority population may feel better even if their life situation remains unimproved, as happened in Nazi Germany and today's inhabitants of some nations.
What determines a delusion's benefit or harm depends on its effect: whether or not it enables adequate functioning as a productive member of society without interfering with the rights of others and the maintenance of sound physical health.

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On Dreaming

An article in the March 22, 2023 issue of The Wall Street Journal ("Choose What to Dream Tonight") suggests that a person can guide their dreams but I'm not so sure. The unconscious is powerful and, despite all the electronic gadgets used in brain research, one must respect its power. Elements in dreams arise from recent events like a movie viewed or long ago memories. If, before falling asleep, you tell yourself you will have a dream and remember it (as I advise patients to do) you'll be more likely to but this isn't certain since mental operations are complex. If you don't write the dream down upon awakening you likely won't remember it later since the conscious logical part of the mind largely takes over mental functioning then from the unconscious illogical part that creates dreams. Nightmares, which are very emotionally charged dreams, are remembered longer and common. Those unreceptive to dealing with their unconscious conflicts will tend not to remember their dreams, and dream remembrance seems also affected by some medications.

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