Archive for July, 2009

Capturing The Mind/True Believers

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

He is a renown professional in his field. I tell him that he will someday win the Nobel prize. His problem that haunts him is a particular type of woman/relationship. He has had a series of affairs. Always the same. It starts with a crushing attraction, like being pulled into a gravitational field and thrown out of orbit, followed by ecstasy and bliss. His own thoughts are replaced by incessant thoughts and fantasies of her. He is distracted and can only think of her. He becomes imprisoned by these thoughts of her as if his own thoughts have been replaced/vanished and these other thoughts have taken over his mind. The affair eventually dies out and when he has taken his mind back it all makes no sense to him. Until the next affair.

She calls for an appointment. I have not seen her in years. Her last course of therapy dealt with her marital relationship. Now she is divorced and wants to discuss a new relationship. She says that all relationships fail. And that this new man has too many “red flags”, but there is something about the way he makes her feel–something that she has never felt before.  She continues the relationship and becomes enthralled/entranced by him. She experiences great joy and cannot stop thinking and fantasizing about him.  She can’t sleep or eat waiting for the next contact.  Her mind has been captured.  When the relationship ends, she becomes depressed.  She says that it was not the loss of the man that depressed her, but the loss of the fantasy.

Can the mind be captured?  Can your mind be captured?  Can the mind be treated like an object, a piece of furniture to be manipulated, owned, sold, controlled, possessed, discarded and placed in storage?  I imagine this may be the experience these two patients were dealing with.

It has also struck me that I have been probably dealing professionally with this phenomenon, if it exists, for a long time. Of course this has not been the bulk of my practice, but more like a sub-specialty. In the 1980’s I treated cases of domestic violence.  In those days therapists had an anecdotal story that an abused woman finally leaves her battering male partner and goes to a domestic violence shelter.  A good samaritan appears and whisks the woman off to a room filled with 100 men-99 good guys and one batterer.  The woman is only attracted to the batterer.  The same applies to abused men.  They apparently have a built-in radar for women who will capture their mind.

I dealt with ex-cult members.  These were patients that had been members of cults and had usually been “extracted” from the cult by family.  The cult member would never have left voluntarily.  I had one rule in working with these patients–no further contact with the cult.  I knew at some level that if they had any contact with the cult, their mind would be recaptured.

More recently, I have dealt with children who have been described as “brainwashed” in the midst of their parents’ child custody battle.  One teenager told me that his father was so mean, abusive and cruel to him that if he had to sit in my waiting room with his father he would kill himself.  Of course he sat in my waiting room with his father and didn’t kill himself.  The case was interesting because mom had abandoned the teenager years ago.  She just vanished.  Then one day, several years later, mom appears and takes the child to another state where the teenager promptly tells the authorities a litany of atrocities that dad has done to him.  The authorities immediately give custody of the teenager to mom.  When I interviewed the teenager, I asked him to tell me about dad.  Without hesitation, he related a series of horrible things dad had done to him over the years–breaking objects over the teenager’s head, insulting the teenager, spanking the teenager.  Finally the teenager told me that dad would hold the teenagers two hands over a flame and burn his flesh.  In several recent burnings, dad had caused the teenager to receive “third-degree” burns over both his hands.  I asked the teenager to show me his hands–they were unscarred and clean.

I am attempting to write about a false experience. This is not to be confused with “falling in love” or “love”, whatever that may be.  That is a benign experience in comparison to what I am describing.  What I am describing is perhaps a perverse form of falling in love.  It is not benign, but malignant because the intention is not to love, but to capture someone else’s mind.  While the description of the experience may sound similar, it is not.  What I am describing is a facsimile of the “true” experience.  Perhaps it can be described as a wolf in sheep’s clothing, the predator disguised as love.

Which makes me wonder if we all are not pre-disposed/impelled to having our minds captured.  To being whisked away in feelings of ecstasy and joy.

If such a phenomenon exists, what would be the root of such an experience? I can’t know, but my imagination wanders to babies and mothers.  Perhaps in the womb babies experience a once-in-a-lifetime  at-onement.  The ultimate pleasure of being totally inside someone else.  There are not two, only one.  Of course this “spell” is broken by coming into this world–born.  But perhaps babies have had such an ecstatic experience and spend their lives looking for it again.  Freud apparently thought so because he considered birth the primal anxiety and the root of all anxiety.  And Otto Rank, who wrote “The Trauma of Birth”, created his theory of personality on this event.

Patients who apparently have had these types of experiences, after they have regained their minds.  After they have recaptured their thoughts.  After they have been able to dis-connect from the intense tractor beam of the other that they have been subject to.  After they have come “back to their senses”., usually tell me things like “Why didn’t I see it?”  or “Why didn’t I see the red flags?”  or “How could I have been so stupid?”  or “Why didn’t I listen to my gut?”

As I listen to these statements, I sometimes find myself wondering what will happen the next time?  The next time their mind gets captured?  Will they succumb or resist?  Will they be able to discern the real from the facsimile?  Will they have learned anything from the experience?

A patient recently said to me when discussing their relationships, “I don’t often get what I want, but I always find what I expect”.



Dr. Brody


Monday, July 27th, 2009

Some babies can’t wait. They have to get out now and are born pre-mature. Other babies wait too long and don’t want to come out. They have to be pulled out. And then some babies never get the opportunity to wait. They are born still-born.

Whether these are actual experiences and if they effect the personality, I am unsure. But there is something about waiting.

He is a stockbroker. His problem is that he waits too long. He can’t “pull the trigger” and sell the stock.

He is an abuser. His problem is that he can’t wait at all. He can’t allow experiences to build and impact him. He needs to control life and attempts to do so via action. He is continually in motion.

I imagine that there is a tension between waiting and doing. Either can be a defense against the other. One waits too long to avoid acting or one acts to avoid waiting. But in my experience it is waiting that is more problematic.

Patients, most patients, eventually look at me and ask “What do I do?” When I respond with “Why do you have to do anything, why not just wait?”, they are usually unsatisfied with this solution.

Of course then they ask, “Wait for what?” This is the question. And the answer may hold the key to why waiting is such torture.

On my good days in the consulting room I can wait. Wait for something to emerge without the need to control the experience. I guess on those days I have faith. Faith that if I can tolerate waiting and not knowing an experience will emerge from some unknown place. Unknown to both myself and the patient. I imagine that this unknown “truth”  has been waiting for the patient to arrive. If only I can stay out of the way and wait.

Beginning patients often ask “Where do I start?”, or immediately sit down and recite their list of what they think they came to talk about. Other, more seasoned patients make lists to bring in what they want to discuss. And others rehearse mentally on their way to the session. There are many ways to avoid waiting for the truth to emerge.

Recently a patient who had been to many other therapists discussed stopping treatment. They said that they had told me all they had to say-their story. They said that “there would be nothing to talk about”. We continued therapy and we stumbled across a long-buried truth that had been waiting for them to arrive. The patient said “Now I understand what therapy is about”.

The problem for both myself and the patient is waiting.

If one or both of us can wait, then who knows what we can discover?  A baby born too soon, too late, not at all, or perhaps the truth that has been waiting for us all along.

Dr. Brody

Truth and Lies

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

I am sitting in the witness box and the judge asks the clerk to swear me in. The clerk asks me to raise my right hand and swear that I will speak “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. Of course I know this is a lie on many levels. Once words are spoken the truth becomes a lie.

Besides, the court system is not capable of determining “the truth”, whatever that maybe. In some ways the court system mimics the human mind, I think. Neither are designed or possibly capable of experiencing the truth. Instead, the court system and the human mind produce substitutes, facsimilies for the truth–lies. We appear to be more comfortable with the substitute than the genuine.

As my father, an attorney, advised me from an early age, “If you are looking for truth or justice do not step foot inside a court of law”.

Of course in the consulting room truth and lies abound. Here are a few examples.

He has been referred by the court system because of domestic violence. He sits down and asks if I mind that he is carrying his 9 millimeter with him. I tell him my rule, no handguns in the office–his or mine. After the first visit, I learn that his wife has moved to the batterred woman’s shelter, and he is arrested outside the shelter. The police find a trunkful of dynamite that he was going to use to blow up the shelter. Months later I see the couple in the supermarket. They are holding hands, exchanging kisses, like people in love often do. I wonder about the glue that holds them together. Is it made up of lies or the truth?

Another couple comes to therapy because they complain of a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the marital relationship. Both are professional, educated and polite. They describe a feeling of drifiting apart after the excitement of building careers and raising kids. They also tell me that they never fight or argue. I begin to wonder how that can be without doing violence to the partners and killing the relationship? Where is their anger and hate? What lies/substitutes have they had to create to avoid a fight? At least the domestic violence couple could relate through their anger and hate.

I begin to wonder how much truth and how much lies can a relationship stand/need? It is probably a mixture of the two, some can tolerate more truth, some need more lies. But there does seem to be a point at which the relationship either explodes and or implodes and becomes deadly or dead. Is it too much truth or too many lies?

I often think we all use our relationships to hide from the truth. This is probably one of the most reliable means of killing ourselves, our partners and our relationships. We all commit such varied acts of violence against ourselves and others to avoid the truth. It is amazing sometimes that we can come back.


Dr. Brody

The Calling

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

When I was younger and people or patients would ask me why I became a therapist I used to say flippantly that my first A in a college course was in Psychology.

Today I don’t believe that that was the truth, but it was a convenient way to hide from what was seeking me out. I just was mistaken in thinking I was seeking it out.

To be a therapist for as long as I have been one one must have been called to it, or one is just going through the motions. That’s not to say that there are not times I am going through the motions–playing doctor so to speak, but this is usually when I am tired or disturbed by something that is occuring. When I have reached the limit of my ability to be open to what the experience in the consulting room is.

A patient recently asked me for my definition of therapy. I replied something like, “Two people sitting in a room”. It is what the two people make out of that time and space that I believe is the core of therapy.

As for the calling, I don’t beleive it can be known. Oh I can look at my resume and life and see paths and directions I took, apparently seeking something. But it wasn’t until I stopped searching and looking that something found me.

I can’t really describe it in words, but here are some recent examples from the consulting room that perhaps catches a glimpse of what I am attempting to put into words.

It is her first appointment and she starts with commenting on how “serious” I am. I attempt to investigate what she means, but it goes nowhere. Towards the end of the session she describes that her marriage, which is in trouble, was based “on fun” only. I comment that “there was no room for seriouness”. She agrees and regrets it.

He has suffered a terrible loss some years ago, and is still haunted by it. He can’t shake it. It possesses him and torments him. He keeps repeating the phrase “One more day. What I would have given for one more day with him”. I feel the enormity of his sadness and grief. The session ends and I am cleaning up the office to go home. I am in the bathroom cleaning my coffeemaker, but I am still feeling the phrase “One more day”. Tears begin to form, and I feel like crying.

Dr. Brody

ICU (Part One)

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

I never learned to ride a bike.

The story/myth/reason/excuse I remember was that my grandfather was teaching my older sister to ride. She started to fall and when he went to catch her he hurt his back.

A patient tells me of a recurrent dream/nightmare/image/vision he has: He is in an endless canyon–just clear clean walls on all sides. No floor. No top. He is falling wildly. Frantically. madly. But there is nothing to hold on to. He jut keeps falling. Endlessly. Forever.

When my wife was in ICU for the fourth time, I was spend time with her. As the days moved on she appeared to be falling away. Going to a place I did not know. Sleeping. Unresponsive. No talking. I remember standing over her and thinking this is what a baby must feel like. Asleep. Can’t talk or communicate. Just there open to all sensations and experiences and powerless to stop any of them or even scream. It was a timeless place. Time is hard to tell in ICU. People come in and out at seemingly randomness. People do things to her. Stick things in her. Turn her. Move her. Feel her. Turn lights on and off. Empty catheter bags. Puts drugs into her. Was she there? Could she tell?

Her sister comes in and falls to pieces. “We’re losing her. We have to get her out of here.” We convince the doctors to let us take her home.

She comes back. Returns. We talk about it and she makes me promise that I will never take her back to ICU. Ever. She explains that she has come up to a line every time she has been in ICU and it has taken too much out of her. She fears that the next time she will cross that line.

A few months later she crosses that line. She is home. Falling. Falling again. Prepared to cross that line. But she has to allow herself to fall and let go of this life. She struggles briefly and is ready. She allows herself to fall and crosses the line.

I now wonder if there isn’t some primal fear in all of us of falling.  Perhaps this is why we hold on so tightly–to relationships, feelings, ideas, hopes and dreams.

What would happen if we let ourselves fall.  Would someone catch us?  Would we fall to pieces?  Would we fall in love?

Perhaps it is time for me to learn to ride a bike.


Dr. Brody

Ghost Stories

Wednesday, July 8th, 2009

Do you believe in ghosts?

It was her second appointment, having been referred by her primary care physician for depression in the aftermath of the break-up of a chotic romance.

She entered the consulting room and somehow I found her seated in a chair. But I didn’t see her walk or move. It was as if she just magically transported herself from the waiting room to the chair. She began to talk about her childhhood, her recent failed relationship, other failed relatioships, her work…. What was remarkable as I listened to her was how unremarkable her story was. No feelings, no history of abuse, trauma or neglect. No meaning to any of it. Just nothing. As the minutes continued to move, I became aware of a fantasy that if I were to reach out and touch her, my hand would go right through her and she would disappear–vanish.

And vanish she did. She never returned for another appointment, and sometimes I wonder if she was ever there or did I hallucinate her?

Since then I have become more aware of other “ghosts” in people I meet with. Things, presences, somethings that haunt, possess and torment. The people who I am attempting to describe talk about being haunted or possessed by something they cannot put into words. Something they desperately want to escape from and get rid of. Something that may recede at times, but never really dies or goes away. Something ghostly that remains alive or still-born inside them waiting for ….

I imagine now that we all may have “ghosts” like these. Some more than others. Dead spots that remain with us awaiting to be re-born so that they may have some rest. Of course this is what most of fear. To give life back to what haunts us.

But how else do you kill a ghost?

Dr. Brody


Sunday, July 5th, 2009

I have had the idea for a blog for some time now, but I have resisted the temptation to use it.

My original title was Rest In Peace, but I thought if someone saw that they would think I had died. It was really the idea that I needed a place to put my thoughts. Somewhere I could lay them to rest so that I could make more room for new ones to arrive.

My basic reluctance to do this was perhaps I wasn’t ready to let them go. Or I told myself that if a patient read any of this they might learn how I think. But this is only an illusion. The kind of illuion created by on-line dating services. You read “about” someone, but until you actually “experience” them you really don’t “know” them. So if you read this and think you “know” me ….

A patient once asked me for my definition of therapy. I responded something like, “Two people sitting in a room”. In retrospect, this was probably accurate. Oh I could have spouted theories “about” therapy and quoted major thinkers in the field, but the experience of therapy is an experience which I do not think can be described or communicated. It can only be experienced.

The other obvious thing about my definition is that there are TWO persons in the room, me and you. And it is the relationship that is there that is the experience of therapy. It is all too easy for therapists to deny this experience and turn therapy into a dead sterile exercise. As if there were only one person in the room–the patient. That’s a good protective device for the therapist, and I wouldn’t blame them for it. We all need our shields.

But, in the end there is no substitute for experience, only ways we have created to avoid it.

Then there is the whole issue of “lost in translation”. In my mind, my thoughts are sometimes brilliant sometime stupid, sometimes scary etc… But that’s merely in my mind. When I move these thougts outside, into the other world there will always be something lost. Words cannot perfectly describe or capture or catch what is in our minds. It is as if there are two different worlds. What is in our minds and what we try to communicate via words. Of course this is what happens in therapy. But how do you communicate or put into words an experience? How do you tell someone else about a “feeling”? Feelings can be felt/experienced but can’t be seen, touched, etc.

On my good days, I believe that I can sense the feelings, the experience that the patient is attempting to tell me about. I “feel” it. So I try to not listen to the words, but to something else.

What? Well I imagine that babies and mothers communicate without words, and the mother “senses” what it is a grunt, a moan, a cry means.

Pehaps you will “sense” what my words cannot communicate.

Or is this just another illusion?

Dr. Brody