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

When Children Are Given An Atypical Birthname

This past weekend, an article in The Wall Street Journal ("Harry Potter and the Children Whose Parents Named Them After Wizards" - The Wall Street Journal Article) jogged a personal memory.
In my grade school class were two children with my first name. Being the one with a middle name, I was long addressed as that, later hating it when a laughable TV teenage character was given this name. There were also a famed actor and a government official with this name but I didn't know it and children don't always think logically.

Years later, while walking a beach, I met a grade school friend cavorting with a bikini clad woman. He immediately jumped up, ran toward me, and warmly exclaimed my hated middle name to which I impulsively responded, "Shut up!" Don't ask me the name since I still hate it though I once told it to a young child who vowed to keep it secret.

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My Love Affair With The AlphaSmart Neo

The Neo is a word processing keyboard which was created by former Apple Computer engineers in 1993. After several earlier models (which were named AlphaSmart after their new company) the Neo was introduced in 2004. I've created hundreds of book chapters and blogs using it and, though costlier such gadgets were created, consider the NEO best.


The NEO is powered by three AA batteries (which often last for a year) and is virtually indestructible. When turned off, the data is automatically saved, to be later transferred to a computer's word processing program for editing via a printer cable.

You can't beat their current (used) price of $15 to $25 on Ebay, I paying $200 for my new one years ago. Their current low cost derives from millions having been sold to schools that used them as a cheaper, more durable substitute for the laptop which slowly became reduced in price and provided internet connection which the NEO lacks.


A later AlphaSmart model, the DANA, had a larger screen and (now obsolete) internet connection though many regard the NEO as the better writing instrument because of its exceptional battery life, auto-save feature, and less glary screen. Neither has been manufactured for years and can buy a DANA for a few dollars more than the NEO. I own two of each.


The cult surrounding the NEO is well deserved. If a writer or a student, consider joining it.

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Two Enjoyable Non-Fiction Books About Women Becoming Independent

I recently enjoyed two non-fiction books about women becoming independent: The Barbizon by Paulina Bren, and The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson. The first is a history of the famed single woman's NYC residence; the second describes England's first marriage introduction service, opened during the 1930s by two, single twenty-four-year-old women.


More than merely the history of a building, The Barbizon movingly describes the era before a woman was permitted an independent life, fearing to be "left on the shelf" and unmarried even while teenagers. Stories of its famed residents which included Grace Kelly whose romantic, dreamy, movie look reflected myopia) and Sylvia Plath (who endured numerous electric shock treatments without anesthesia) are included.


The Marriage Bureau describes the early lives of its founders and how, seeking financially comfortable lives when the only path seemed marriage, they blindly forged ahead and became successful, helping many find joy in an increasingly frightening world. Good reading for our troubled time.

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Why Beginning Psychotherapy is Feared By Many

Beginning psychotherapy is harder than consulting a physician or dentist. With these professionals, people had a lifetime of experience, knowing the routine and what will happen from the time they enter the office. But a psychotherapy office lacks the medical gadgets and aura, it appearing more like the rooms in a home and sometimes are having household furnishings. Nor do many therapists in solo practice have the receptionist present in the usual medical office.
The procedure is also different. After being greeted, questions are personally asked with the lengthy medical office questionnaire being absent, and the treatment length is longer and consistent.
Yet despite these differences the goals of psychotherapists and medical doctors are the same: to heal their patient and make their life more enjoyable.

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The Murderers Among Us

The Killer Across The Table, by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker describes the interviews of noted serial killers during which childhood and psychological similarities were found.
All had a troubled childhood, having experienced a far from "good-enough" parenting with much cruelty and/or sexual abuse and, often, a particularly damaging relatioinship with their mother. Which is not surprising since the mother-infant interaction is paramount when the basic ego capacities governing impulse control and thinking are formed.
These killers had a remarkable ability for psychological "splitting," separating and walling-off one aspect of their thinking and emotional life from another. Thus they could murder and bury a young child but later volunteer to join a search party while being concerned that their child get to school.
Rage and power were the domineering factors even in killings with a sexual element. The killer of a young girl from a neighboring home, who came to the killer's house to deliver Girl Scout cookies, knew from the moment he opened the door that he would kill her. This man, a high school teacher who lived with his mother, was told that she would refuse to see him and cut him from her will if he married. This caused him to break his engagement and added to his two types of rage. One that he could control, as when a driver cut him off. But the second he could not, as when the unlucky girl came to his house.
Another killer repeated his crime after being paroled following his rape and murder of a young woman. That these killers are not insane (which is a legal term) is evidenced by the care they took during the murders and in disposing of the bodies to avoid being caught.
This book evidences: the crucial need for more accurate assessment of those who are arrested; to consider even such unlikely suspects as family friends and loving relatives as the potential culprit; and to take reported suspicions seriously since many killing sprees would have been ended earlier had this been done, particularly those in hospitals by medical staff.
According to the authors: all serial killers have psychological conflicts between grandiosity and inadequacy; a sense of personal entitlement causing them to feel that they need not follow society's laws; and the ability to choose, making them deserving of capital punishment.

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Rittenhouse and the Common Teenage Fantasy

Despite the wide public clamor about Rittenhouse's actions when seventeen, there has been no exploration of how these relate to the common adolescent yearning to improve the world.

A not unusual element of teenage dreams is an explosion. Not that the dreamer hopes to blow up something but rather to transform the world. Which seems possible based on their limited knowledge though adults can believe this too. Once, during a workshop in Washington, I was floored by the expertise of the government speakers, naively believing that if our group worked together we could accomplish anything.
Perhaps seventeen-year-old Rittenhouse, when taking up his rifle and medic kit to protect a community, was driven by a similar fantasy, a not inexplicable desire since he had worked as a lifeguard. But, as many more adults than teenagers realize, events don't always proceed according to plan.

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How Abuse Victims Fall Apart (Psychologically Decompensate)

Abuse victims fall apart psychologically (decompensate) in stages. The victim first denies the reality of imminent danger with a stubbornness bordering on psychotic. When this defense against the reality of the situation fails, the victim tends to lose control of themselves and give up.

As other people fail to help them, the victim feels given up on and enters a state of resignation. Finally, as all sense of a different future disappears, flashbacks of past trauma occur and the victim enters a state of complete surrender. This is not easily breached without outside help or getting a lucky break. Victims who are coerced into behavior that violate their moral code may be at greatest peril.


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Emotional Desensitization After Trauma

A common characteristic of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is emotional desensitization, becoming unable to feel those feelings which make us human such as warmth, closeness, and joy in relationships. What feeling is experienced is rage which may be expressed through unwise, self-defeating, or even violent behavior, the mind having created this blockage as a survival mechanism after the frightening, paralyzing trauma.

The extreme behavior that can follow reflects the anger of frustration and attempt to smash this blockage of feelings, to feel something.
This emotional blockage can derive from combat or civilian experience as an adult or a child, from a terrorist bombing or the continuing child abuse of grossly inadequate parenting. Insight into its nature increases the probability of healing.

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How To Explain Scary Dreams To A Child

Though scary dreams frighten and can greatly upset, "they are our friends" I tell my young patients. Stories that our mind creates to tell what is bothering us and, like the mystery movies we love, that we must try to figure out.

A scary dream could mean that we are nervous about school the next day or learning a new task like swimming. Or even of growing up and leaving home, which is a common worry as one grows older.
Explaining nightmares in this manner reassures a child and reduces their fear. And, if scary dreams don't frighten their parents, perhaps they are not to be feared at all. Once, having spoken this way to a five-year-old girl and repeating myself a month later, she dismissively said, "Oh I know that!"

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The Havana Syndrome and the Power of the Unconscious Mind

There has been much publicity about what has been termed the Havana Syndrome: debilitating physical and cognitive symptoms allegedly caused by an unknown foreign government. So certain is this origin that doctors relating these symptoms to psychological causation are ridiculed though experts insist that no evidence of such weapon has been found nor are they conceptually possible.

I have no special knowledge of the Havana Syndrome nor do I wish to minimize the symptoms or pain of its sufferers though the power of the unconscious generally tends to be ignored or minimized. All would prefer to believe they have ultimate power over their behavior. Which is true except when stress or emotions overpower it. Then physical symptoms can occur. Forty-to-sixty percent of those rushing to an Emergency Room, fearful that they are suffering a heart attack, are really suffering the extreme anxiety of Panic Attack during which the normal symptoms of anxiety are misinterpreted as a deadly medical event.

Anxiety symptoms can mimic virtually every physical disorder, even causing visual symptoms when stress causes an optical migraine. Nature behaves economically, having adapted systems to multiple uses with a large gland like the liver performing hundreds of tasks from processing glucose to generating hemoglobin.

A hospital coworker suffered recurring nightmares from which she awoke screaming with marks on her wrists, these being identical to those occurring when she had been repeatedly held down and sexually abused as a child.

The unconscious is very powerful and one must respect its power.

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