Tag Archives: Therapy

Are Americans Polite Because They Feel Superior?

Over the weekend, the English writer Geoffrey Dyer wrote a wonderful essay in The New York Times magazine entitled “My American Friends” in which he argues that Americans are actually remarkably…polite. To which one’s natural instinct is to reply: “What?????” (Or rather…”Pardon???”)

Today I’m over on PoliticsDaily.com talking about his thesis and adding my own two…pence.

Have a look

Image: Smiley American Girl by cproppe via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons You Should Go To The Dentist

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

One of the dirty secrets of adulthood is that you get cavities. When you’re a kid, you think cavities are just for children because you eat too many sweets. But then you you grow up and realize that – nope – you can still get new cavities or have to refill the ones from childhood.

Bummer.

Dentistry is a subject near and dear to my heart. I’m over on politicsdaily.com today talking about why government-sponsored dentistry in the U.K. is – IMHO – such a nightmare. (Subtitle: “Why The British Have Bad Teeth.”) Have a look.

But in the meantime, here are five reasons why it’s important to see your dentist regularly:

1. It’s Cheaper Than Therapy. Let’s face it. Most of us spend some portion of our time “in the chair” really “on the couch.” And why not? Dentists are such gentle, convivial people. I had one dentist in Chicago who was so comfortable with his patients that he told me he gave one guy advice on getting a vasectomy. I recently saw my own dentist the day my boiler broke and he allowed me to just sit there and swear – literally – for like five minutes. Later, when he was drilling my teeth he said, “Well, as bad as this feels, remember that you’re more upset with your boiler man than me. I’m probably only like 10th on your list of people you hate right now.” (Shame about all that alleged depression/suicide stuff among dentists, but it would appear that those stories are exaggerated.)

2. Tooth Decay is On the Rise. Despite all that fluoridated water, tooth decay is actually on the rise, particularly among the middle-aged and older. The reason? An increased reliance on medications for heart disease, high cholesterol, depression, etc., many of which cause drymouth, which in turn rots your teeth.

3. You’re Likely to Earn More. According to a study called The Economic Value of Teeth, there exists a mild “beauty premium” for having straight, white teeth. (At least if you’re female and not very wealthy). (Hat Tip: Freakonomics.)

4. You get free stuff. (At least in the U.S.) And everybody likes that. Just ask Chris Anderson.

5. You Don’t Want To Have British Teeth. It’s a cliché for Americans to mock Brits for their poor oral hygiene, just as they in turn make fun of us for obsessing about our pearly whites. But – as with most stereotypes – there’s some truth on both sides. And much as I tend to side with my British friends on many things, on this one I’ll proudly call myself American. See my article.

Bizarre, fascinating fact: A disproportionate number of dentists are named Dennis. Really. (Again, Hat Tip: Freakonomics.)

*****

While you’re over at politicsdaily.com, have a look at my post on Hillary Clinton threatening to cut off intelligence-sharing with Britain over a high-profile torture case.

Image: Recommended by Dentists by Guendal via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Growing Up: Safety in Movement

Well, I’m back from Scotland, a place where they really do say “wee” for “little” and “aye” for “yes” and eat (gulp) haggis (end gulp).

One of the things I like most about living in London is how easy (and cheap) it is to leave. All of Europe – plus Northern Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia – is just a few hours away by plane. When we first moved here, I wasn’t sure how much of these we’d actually manage to squeeze in. (Answer: more than I expected, largely due to my new found stint as a travel writer.) But even if we hadn’t ended up traveling all that much, what really appealed to me was the idea that I could leave if I wanted to. In other words, it wasn’t the actual movement that attracted me; it was the possibility of movement.

“You strike me as someone for whom freedom of movement is a defining part of who you are,” a therapist once told me. This happened, by the way, during the interview phase of finding a new therapist here in London. I didn’t end up choosing this particular person (a Jungian, as it turned out), but boy was that an hour well spent. (The kicker: because it was just an interview, she didn’t even charge me for this mind-altering insight. Can you imagine that happening in the U.S.?)

I realized, as I thought about it, that she was absolutely right. It explains why I jumped at the possibility of moving overseas. It explains why I like to change careers. And it also explains why I used to have a lot of trouble committing to long-term relationships.

This isn’t, actually, how most people approach their lives. I know lots of people whose sense of security is derived from living in the same neighborhood over time…hanging out with the same group of people into adulthood…staying with the same job or company over their career. There is something about familiarity and routine that they find reassuring and predictable and it makes them happy.

But in my case, paradoxically – and for all sorts of complicated psychological reasons that I won’t bore you with but which have, rest assured, have been amply explored elsewhere –  I actually feel safer when I know that change is on the horizon (or at least potentially so). And so I’ve come, belatedly, to embrace this part of my character rather than just assuming, as I did for so long, that I’d eventually “grow up and settle down.” Because for better or for worse, this is who I am.

Which is a long way of saying that growing up is a really complicated thing to figure out. And you just hope that every so often, you bump into someone – it might be that random Jungian you interviewed and never saw again – who helps you make sense of it. In the meantime, thank goodness I can begin planning that next trip to Munich….

*****

Speaking of expat living, I was delighted to discover, courtesy of Freakonomics, that living abroad gives expats greater creativity in problem solving.

Image: First Air 727-100 by caribb via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Tips for Adulthood: Five Things Not To Do In Therapy

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Last week, I posted about five reasons to see a life coach. But I’ve seen all kinds of therapists over the years, and gleaned a lot of lessons along the way. Most of those have been positive lessons about what I ought to do with my life. But I’ve also learned a trick or two about what not to do with a therapist. So, in my (life long?) tribute to therapy, this week’s post is about five things you don’t want to do in therapy:

1. Don’t go on word of mouth. This goes to the choice of therapist. My very first therapist came highly recommended by another shrink. She was a lovely woman. But she was absolutely wrong for me. Where I craved insight, she favored behavioral therapy. Where she wanted a hug; I wanted a hand shake. It’s like dating, folks, and you need to take a few test drives before you commit. Ever since then, whenever I move – because, hey, what’s a move without a new therapist? – I make a point of  interviewing several people before closing the deal. (Buyer beware: in the U.S., at least, they’ll charge for this initial meeting.)

2. Don’t be late. Being late is a clear-cut sign that you’re ambivalent about therapy and your therapist will go to town with it (while billing you all the while…).

3. Don’t leave something behind. Similarly, it’s therapy-death to leave a coat or handbag behind. Clearly, you wanted/needed an excuse to come back. You’ll spend weeks on this. Trust me.

4. Don’t comment on appearances.  I once complimented a therapist on her new glasses. She actually blushed, at which point I felt ridiculous and it took the rest of the session to get over this awkward hump. But this cuts both ways. I have a friend who was describing her body image issues to a (male) therapist, to which he replied, “Speaking as a man, I can tell you you’re attractive.” Easy, tiger. Speaking as a female, I can tell you to keep that to yourself.

5. Don’t share a therapist. I’ve never done this myself, but I have friends who’ve shared therapists with their mothers, mothers-in-law, even husbands. If you’re trying to keep some semblance of boundaries (not to mention boundaries for the therapist), it’ s probably best to see your own guy/gal and keep it personal. Just be sure you shop around…


Image: Doctor Writing by Suat Eman via freedigitalphotos.net.

Tips for Adulthood: Five Reasons To See a Life Coach

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood. Today’s post concerns one of my favorite topics, therapy:

Today, I woke up really tense. I had way too much to do and a shortened work day, in part because I had an appointment to see my life coach.

And then I realized: Wait a minute! Isn’t one of the reasons I see a life coach precisely to avoid feeling so tense all of the time?

Indeed, it is. And, miraculously, it works. Like yoga, talking to my life coach is like immersing myself in a giant bottle of jojoba bath oil.

So today, in honor of my lovely life coach, I’ll post on five reasons why you, too, can benefit from a life coach:

1. It’s all about moving forward. If, like me, you’re a die-hard Freudian at heart, you probably spend a lot of time digging around your past. Do that in good health. Lord knows I have. But there comes a point where you’ll invariably max out on “insight” and need to figure out what you’re going to do with all that history. And that, my friend, is where a life coach kicks in.

2. It’s Positive. My life coach is relentlessly upbeat. The first time I saw her, she noted that I tended to talk only about what I did wrong as a parent, rather than identifying what I did right. Now, at her behest, I make a point of writing down three things that I do right with my kids each day. A bit less Andrea Yates and a bit more Mary Poppins, if you will. Turns out “just a spoon full of sugar” really does help the medicine go down…

3. You get homework. Whenever we meet, my coach assigns me homework – little strategies for changing various behaviors I dislike in myself. I then write these down in a book and take notes on my progress throughout the week. As someone with a super-ego that could rival even Freud’s, having a task I must complete suits my personality perfectly.

4. It’s Practical. Whenever I come to my life coach with any sort of grievance, she immediately re-focuses the conversation around the question “What Works?” As in: “So your husband tried to teach you how to operate the VCR and you snapped his head off  because you were in a rush even though you were the one who asked him to teach you how to do it…Hmmmm. Let’s see how we could have reacted to that differently.” “Really?” I thought, the first time this happened. “But don’t you want to talk about my father?”

5. It’s great material for your blog.

*****

No time or money for a therapist? Check out Colleen Wainwright’s fabulous blog, Communicatrix. Plenty o’ doses of life coaching right there. Plus it’s really funny…

Image: Freud by Ross Burton via Flickr under a Creative Commons License.

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Finding a Therapist (in London)

Yesterday I published a short essay in The Guardian Weekly about how hard it was to find a therapist in London. I write a lot of essays, but this was one of my favorites because: (a).  it’s 100% true and (b). because of (a), I happen to find it funny.

The basic thrust of this essay is that as an American, I thought having a therapist was the norm for any warm-blooded, reasonably introspective middle class person living ANYWHERE. Turns out, it ain’t so. At least not in ye olde, stiff-upper-lipped England. When I told my GP (internist) in London that I wanted a referral for a therapist, she looked at me as if I were mad. Therapy? Here? in Great Britain? You’ve got to be nuts!  (No, really, she thought I was nuts…) You can read the rest of the essay yourself…here.

As a friend of mine put it in an email today: “I am fascinated by the faux similarity and wild actual differences between us (USA) and them (Brits).”

Exactly. But I got a lot of feedback on this essay from assorted family and friends. And I don’t think it’s just the cross-cultural piece that they are responding to:

One friend confessed that she’d just sacked not one, but two, of her own therapists in rapid succession, but had signed her husband up for therapy.

Another friend (European) suggested that I extend this analysis to examine the relative receptivity to mental health provision across Europe, comparing France, Italy, the UK, even Finland.

And in a curious case of life…imitating art…imitating life, I got an email from my own (current) therapist, who confessed that she, at times, was guilty of kicking her washing machine rather than trying to figure herself out properly.

Which is a long way of saying that I think people responded to this piece because it resonates. And the reason it resonates is that  adulthood is, at the end of the day, one giant, protracted effort to figure yourself out. Now don’t get me wrong. Loads of people do this without benefit of a therapist (I don’t happen to know them, but that’s another story). But doing therapy – whether it’s traditional psycho-analysis, talk therapy, or some form of groovy self help’y sorta thing – (I’ve done all three) – is a HUGE part of “finding yourself in adulthood” (to coin a phrase).

I’ll have loads more to say in this blog on the topic of therapy – one of my not so closeted obsessions. But for now I will sign off with this, one of my all time favorite cartoons. I think it pretty much says it all, no?

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