Preserving the Fantastic Love We Found

…We stood
holding each other by the hand, yet I also
stood as if alone, for a moment, 
just before the vow, though taken
years before, took. It was a vow
of the present and the future, and yet I felt it
to have some touch on the distant past
or the distant past on it, I felt
the silent, dry, crying ghost of my
parents' marriage there, somewhere
in the bright space—…

  ~ Sharon Olds, excerpt from The Wedding Vow


So many wishes came to me as I sat among the rows of people at the mercy of an unforgiving, July sun. Many were about chilly bodies of water, but my mind was also directed to other wishes, by the wedding officiant, who just asked the group of us who were gathered for the vows of a beautiful, young couple. “What is your wish or words of advice for this couple, who is about enter into the institution of marriage?” He paused, look toward the majestic view of a snow smothered Mt. Hood towering above us, “You see, I have thought about marriage a lot and what it means to be married, because until very recently, it wasn’t legal for a gay man, like myself, to be able to marry his partner. Now I stand here, married, about to marry these two dynamic people. What are your words advice about marriage for them?”

People began to shout out their responses, some generic, “Don’t go to bed mad at one another.” Others were archaic and humorous, “Compromise with one another. My wife wanted a cat and I didn’t,” the bride’s red-faced uncle bellowed, “So we compromised and got a cat”. The crowd gave a hearty chuckle of approval. The tattooed woman in front of me leaned back toward our row and said, “A good sex life.” We all agreed that was a good wish for everyone. Then, from either side of me, my sister and husband leaned in and whispered the same thing that I was thinking, “a good marriage therapist”. We smiled at one another, knowing that it wasn’t appropriate for us to mention the probability that there will be a time when this so-completely-in-love man and woman would need or want help with their relationship.

Disappointingly, we are still living with a reality that over 50% of marriages in America end in divorce. In fact, both the bride and groom at this wedding had parents who were divorced. Dr. John Gottman, a leading researcher of couples, projects that most couples spend an average of six years being unhappy in their relationship before they decide to enter therapy. Why do they wait so long? What is the underlying force that keeps them from asking for help? Often the driving force for people who do not ask for help when they need it is fear. Fear of altering others views of our personality traits: not as smart as you want others to see you, not as strong as you want appear, not as stable in your partnership, not as mentally healthy, or not as capable.  It takes honesty to recognize you need help and courage to ask for it. It is commonly believed among therapists that the sooner a couple gets help when they need it the better the outcome. The longer a couple repeats destructive behaviors with one another the harder it is to alter these patterns

Couples counseling has been known to have a bad reputation. Many couples fear that therapy will end their marriage. Some reasons why therapy might not be effective are: the severity and duration of the problems before entering treatment, one of the members of the couple already has decided to end the relationship and uses treatment to tell their partner, addictions and mental illness can also impact treatment success, people who are unwilling to tell the truth in treatment, couples who aren’t fully invested in the therapy process, and finally therapists who are not properly trained or educated in couples effective couples treatment.

Therapy offers the opportunity for a couple recognize their unhealthy or destructive dynamic and to make the necessary shifts to alter behaviors. John Gottman’s research suggests that 80% of couples have a stable dynamic that keeps them interacting in conflictive discussions the same way over and over. He also found that 69% of these perpetual problems do not get resolved, because they are rooted in personality differences between the two people. Counseling can help these couples though. Happy marriages have a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions with one another. Healthy ways of communicating and behaving during conflicts can be learned. Empathy can be learned. Couples can develop insight into themselves, their partner, their own couple- dynamics, and they learn to take the minor or major steps to shift it. Couples can also rebuild trust in one another through the therapy process. Overall, seeking support for a suffering relationship can only help.

When we say our wedding vows, whether they be on mountain tops, sandy shores, churches,  in our backyards, in front of hundreds or just between us, we are making a commitment to do the very best we can to preserve the fantastic love that we found. We do this with our community surrounding us, supporting us as we take this leap of faith with our partner. We do this with courage and hope and faith. Using that same part of us to get help in the times when the beautiful sun isn’t shining brilliantly on our alter flowers, and for the times when the rains, floods, and tornados visit. That faith, courage, and hope will serve you well when you pick up the phone to reach out for help before it is too late. No one should live unhappily married.

Copyright Brooke Sears, M.A., Psy.D., Psychology Assistant (2017)

On Depression

Depression arises to tell you when things have gone awry, and it stops you from moving forward.

Depression derails you, certainly, but what I learned from conversing with depression is that it derails you for a reason.

Something somewhere has gone wrong, and depression’s job is to slow you down or even stop you completely so that you can attend to it.

—Karla McLaren


A great deal has been written about depression in an attempt to describe, define, analyze, explain, or categorize it. It is a difficult thing to pin down because it takes myriad forms and is experienced in varying degrees—from mild to life-threatening— and in particular ways that are unique to the individuals involved. No two people, as Andrew Solomon says, have the same depression.[1] At the same time, paradoxically, there are universal qualities to the experience of depression that can be understood as archetypal, in psychiatrist Carl Jung’s language—the journey through depression also reflects and embodies timeless truths of human experience.

There is such a bias in our culture to be happy and successful, to hold it all together, to be up and in control. Feeling depressed, then, by its very nature is considered a character flaw or a moral failure. But the truth is that sometimes it feels like everything is falling apart. “Sometimes,” in the words of Jeff Foster, “very natural energies —like sadness, anger, frustration, shame and guilt, even feelings of hopelessness and despair, even profound longings for home—just want to move in us, express in us, have their being in us.”[2] But we avoid letting it happen. Avoidance then assumes all kinds of familiar forms, like alcohol, drug, sex, or work addictions, and can take on a life of its own. Trying to make uncomfortable feelings, sensations, or thoughts go away is something we all try to do, but it usually backfires, for when we bury feelings, we bury them alive,[3] or as Jung would put it, what we resist persists. In a desperate effort to avoid the messenger that is depression, we end up feeling incredibly isolated and more desperate than ever.

As human beings, we are wired for connection. But too many people feel disconnected, within their own families, from themselves, and from a larger sense of community. “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or tuberculosis,” Mother Teresa once said, “but rather the feeling of not belonging.” According to a national research study in 2005, “connection” was the word people used more than any other to describe their experience of well-being.[4] The impulse to deny or hide the depressed condition—out of fear, shame, or even the belief that you have no real reason to be depressed and are therefore an ungrateful person—intensifies painful feelings of alienation. The more alone one feels, the more depressed; the more depressed, the more the pain of exile.

The roots of depression are many. Depression is a natural response to loss, both literal and figurative; it can be induced by physical illness or symptoms can develop in response to it; it can involve chemical imbalances in the brain; it results from traumatic injuries or events and in response to them; it can express thwarted desire or outrage, depending on circumstances. Personality can influence one’s disposition to depression, and depression can affect the development of one’s personality. The four temperaments is a proto-psychological theory suggesting that there are four fundamental personality types, sanguine (enthusiastic, active and social), choleric (short-tempered, fast or irritable), melancholic (analytical, wise and quiet), and phlegmatic (relaxed and peaceful). The Greek physician Hippocrates incorporated these temperaments into his medical theories as part of the ancient medical concept of humorism, that four bodily fluids affect human personality traits and behaviors. From the perspective of mythology, metaphor, and the life of the soul, depression can be viewed as a visit from the planet Saturn, the heavy-leaded one, sometimes depicted as an old man who bestows gravitas or seriousness. Cultural, sociological, and political forces also play a role. Generally speaking, then, depression can result from various combinations of genetic inheritance, temperament, stressful life occurrences, mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual (or lack thereof) habits, and the universal existential quandary of being human.

Because the causes are many, treatment approaches vary. In some instances, those who suffer from deficient brain levels of serotonin or dopamine may “see” more clearly with the temporary or lifelong support of antidepressant medications, like a person with vision impairment who benefits from prescription eyeglasses. The efficacy of pharmaceutical treatment as the sole approach is debatable and highly individualistic. What we know with more certainty is that because depression thrives on secrecy and denial, the cure for depression requires facing the truth of one’s circumstances. In Jung’s view, melancholy and sadness often lead to greater understanding and are a necessary catalyst for insight and awareness. Sometimes it is possible to mine the depths of one’s psyche alone, through journaling, creative artistry, or dream analysis—but this is not often the case.

We are all artists of our own lives. We shape them, as best we can, using our experience and intuition as guides. But we’re also natural liars and we get things wrong. It’s so easy for the internal commentary that forms how we live to become a forgery. Approached in a certain way, depression is a lie detector of last resort…it says: the way you’ve been living is unbearable, it’s not for you…it kicks in when I’m not listening to what I really know…If you don’t listen…it comes back and knocks you out even harder the next time, until you get the point.5

Most people with significant depression benefit from the assistance of a professional therapist and guide who can bear witness and mirror a less subjective, clearer, and more accurate view of their psychic reality. A compassionate therapist listens carefully and, more importantly, teaches you how to listen with compassion to your authentic self—this is what healing requires.

References: [1] Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon - An Atlas of Depression (New York: Scribner, 2001), 173. [2] Jeff Foster, “Depression as a Wake-Up Call,” in Darkness Before Dawn, ed. Tami Simon (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, Inc., 2015), 199. [3] Ronald D. Siegel, Psy.D., “Attention Toward What Arises,” in A Year of Living Mindfully/52 Quotes & Weekly Mindfulness Practices, ed. Richard Fields, PhD. (Tucson, AZ: Faces Conferences, 2012),  27. [4] Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D., “Making Connection & Belonging,” in A Year of Living Mindfully/52 Quotes & Weekly Mindfulness Practices, ed. Richard Fields, PhD. (Tucson, AZ: Faces Conferences, 2012), 116. [5] Gwyneth Lewis, Sunbathing in the Rain (London: Hrper Perennial, 2006), xv.

Copyright Nina Mahaffey, MA, RN, LMFT, (2017)


Politics: The Unfolding of Psychologism

As the current political contest unfolds, I find myself increasingly perplexed by how today’s great intellectual minds of psychology, and various psychological intuitions, appear to have lost perspective on the purpose of the field. Some have taken the use of psychology, (specifically depth-psychology), and applied it to the current political debate from a medieval-philosophical stance; seeing their position as if they are an arbitrator of defending good over evil, but I contend that this is an abstraction of psychology’s purpose as it is seen today.

Freud and Jung in the late 19th century and first half of the 20th century, believed that psychological theory gave the practitioner a realistic, everyday picture of our mental conflicts, anxieties, contradictions, neuroses, and the like, of the individual but that the workings of the group or even a nation was far too complex for psychology to understand. Jung (1936) says in a lecture titled Psychology and National Problems:

Many people wondered what psychology would say about the world situation. Such questions, as a matter of fact, have often been put to me, and I must confess I always felt not only definitely uncomfortable but singularly incompetent to give a satisfactory answer. The subject is really far too complicated. (CW vol. 18, p. 567)

Jung on a psychological lecture tour says in a communique on visiting the United States in September of 1936:

As a psychologist I am deeply interested in mental disturbances, particularly when they infect whole nations...I am a neutral Swiss and even in my own country I am uninterested in politics, because I am convinced that 99 per cent of politics are mere symptoms and anything but a cure for social evils. About 50 per cent of politics is definitely obnoxious inasmuch as it poisons the utterly incompetent mind of the masses…I make this statement in order to disillusion any attempt to claim me for any political party. I have some reason for it, since my name has been repeatedly been drawn into the political discussion, which is, as you best know, in a feverish condition actually. (CW vol. 18, p. 564)

So why do we think we are more sophisticated today as we profess to call a party candidate a witch on trial or the embodiment of the dark shadow? James Hillman writes in his 1992 book We’ve had a Hundred Years of Psychotherapy, “We’ve had a hundred years of analysis, and people are getting more and more sensitive, and the world is getting worse and worse” (p. 3). Is it true that we are getting worse and more sensitive? If you have a computer or even watch the television, it appears that by the continued denigration of the candidates and their followers; that of psychologists, religious scholars, academics, and almost every other institution, even the very intellectual are not immune from the poisons of politics.

If psychology is truly a field of study and its teaching intuitions are the neutral field for study and research, I propose that we abstain from pathologizing while being imbedded in the fray.

Jung also writes (September 1936),

In a politically poisoned and overheated atmosphere, the sane and the dispassionate scientific discussion of such delicate, yet most important problems has become well-nigh impossible. To discuss such matters in public (Facebook) would be about as successful as if the director of a lunatic asylum were to set out to discuss the particular delusions of his patients in the midst of them. (CW vol. 18, p. 565).

If we as psychologists are entrenched in a particular political belief we will exclude not only the information we lack to make a good diagnosis, but we will alienate nearly half of those with a differing viewpoint and how can we even begin to treat something we refuse to even see? If we as psychologists are busy uttering the poison we have collected from our patients and the masses, we cannot stand, view, or cure the psychological diseases we profess to be able to heal.

Copyright-Michael A Vogel, MA, PhD(c) 2016