Erik Erikson

I just re-read Erikson’s “Reflections on the Dissent of Contemporary Youth” and, while some of the issues he raises are understandably dated (pub. 1970), I was shocked at his prescience on most points.  For example, he refers to the “indispensable treasure of experience which our technocratic world is vaguely aware of having sacrificed to the gods of gadgetry, merchandise, and mechanical adjustment.”  Being a professor as well as a psychoanalyst, I work with a lot of late teens/young adults who are trying to figure out whether and how to become part of the world and also play creatively with its offerings (as Bollas would put it).  I don’t think I’ve seen a worse time for the kind of hopefulness one wishes for the young.  One way I’ve found that helps to address the current bewilderment of people in this age group is to help them feel their links to other creatures and the environment.  These links ground them and reduce their feelings of isolation while they do the difficult work of containing their anxiety while in the “protracted moratorium” (Erikson) of higher education.  Susan Bodnar has a great article on this topic.

Got An Interior Life?

This is one good reason for psychoanalysis/psychotherapy.  There seem to be many different reasons for this, but our culture, at the moment, seems to undervalue interior experience.  We do seem to be understanding better that exercising the brain is good for it (and for your body) just like exercising your body is good for your body (and your brain).  The two, in fact, are quite interconnected, as has been shown by research:  practicing a musical piece in your head, or running a race in your head, will give you most of the benefits that you’d get from “actual” practicing.  However important, though, this kind of knowledge doesn’t quite bring out the fact that thriving as well as surviving both depend to a significant degree on having a rich inner life.  Here’s a question:  why not enhance this part of our being (especially since evolution has worked so hard for eons to develop it)?  I’m not talking about spirituality per se here, though that’s a big part of inner life for lots and lots of people.  I’m talking about “reflection”–the activity of the “complex self,” as Bollas puts it, that reflects upon and can thus revise the self and its relationships with other selves and the environment.  Seems like “thinking” is not regarded as one of our most valuable activities.  But never mind the question of value, even.  Thinking can be thrilling, and/or pleasurable, and/or soothing (cf. Bion).  I wish we could think of more ways to introduce people to the joy of thinking.


This is going to make for a pretty long post, but here’s something on the UC Office of the President’s website about “Optum,” a “wellness” company UC has contracted with:

Asked Questions
Background Information
What is UC Living Well?
UC Living Well is a system-wide wellness initiative coordinated by the UC Office of the
President. The goal of UC Living Well is to encourage all members of the UC community
to lead and maintain a healthy lifestyle and to access the wellness activities and programs
offered by UC campuses and medical centers.
Who is Optum?
Optum is a health and well-being company that designs and operates programs to help
individuals get — and stay — healthy. Serving nearly 60 million people, Optum is one of the
nation’s largest health and well-being companies. Our team of health coaches, nutritionists,
physical trainers, wellness consultants, online health experts and other professionals are
here to provide you with guidance and support, tailored to your individual situation, to help
you reach your health goals.
Why should I participate?
Making healthy choices is a personal decision that can have many positive impacts on your
life. Whether you want to fit into your favorite pair of jeans again, or just be more active and
eat healthier, manage your stress or finally give up a bad habit, we have a program that can
help. We provide you with options so you can tailor your experience. Plus, participation
can not only benefit your total health and wellness, but it can earn you a $75 prepaid Visa
Rewards Card.
Who is eligible to participate in the UC Living Well programs from Optum?
Everyone is welcome to participate! Employees and retirees are welcome and encouraged
to participate in UC Living Well programs. Spouses or domestic partners are welcome to
participate in coaching programs online or on the phone but aren’t eligible to receive the
$75 gift card. If you are a member of certain unions, you also may not be eligible for the
incentive. For a list of unions eligible for the incentive go to

A million questions to ask about this, of course, but I’m particularly interested for now in “manage your stress or finally give up a bad habit.” This strikes me as an attempt to take the sting out of stress and the horror out of addiction–in other words, to treat mental and emotional health issues as if they were on a par with “getting into your favorite jeans again.” (Not that weight loss isn’t a serious matter for too many Americans–which is also a bit trivialized by the phrasing “getting into your favorite jeans again”!) The sources of our vulnerability to stress and addiction are multiple, complex, deep-rooted, and while (again) CBT can be helpful here, other therapies too, psychoanalysis and psychotherapy are very important partners in the team efforts usually necessary to cope with chronic illnesses like CFS, substance abuse, and the like. Moreover I wonder who is going to be “coaching us”–what are their qualifications, and what kind of money are they making? Would love to know what other people’s first reactions/impressions are.

Mindfulness for All?

I recently got an email from UCSB’s Wellness Program and Psychology Department inviting the UCSB community to comment on a proposal that everyone (students, staff and faculty) receive mindfulness training so as to reduce burnout and other contemporary ailments.  Mindfulness training is indeed something everyone should consider–its benefits are considerable–but something about this email made me feel chilly, like the spirit of Big Brother was “in the room.” My questions are:  should we be cautious about the idea of using benign things like mindfulness training in order to help people work harder? That is to say, as a means of becoming better adjusted to things (like speedup, under/overemployment, budget cuts and the weakening of morale) that aren’t good for us in the first place?  Or should we proceed on the assumption that mindfulness is simply a good in itself, and so good for us that we shouldn’t be concerned about its uses by large institutions, governmental or corporate?


Welcome to my new webpage/blog.  You can also find me at and on Google.

Why is psychoanalysis (and psychoanalytic psychotherapy) good for you?  There are lots of reasons, and I will be discussing them as I go.  But first, these days, many people want scientific answers to questions about treatments for mental distress.  Fortunately, some very good answers are to be found at  In this program, a physician who trains residents in psychoanalysis gives us the news that neither medication alone nor cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) do better than psychoanalysis in outcome studies.  Psychoanalysis has been shown to be the best approach for people who want or need to make long-lasting changes in their behavior and feelings about themselves and the worlds they inhabit.  (I am not against medication, by the way; it can be very helpful.  But it doesn’t work for everyone–far from it.  Same with CBT.  I employ elements of it in my practice and my patients find that it helps them think more clearly about their feelings, in the moment, so that they can make better decisions about whether and how they want to express them.)

The most basic reason psychoanalysis is so effective is because it does the most thorough job, over time, of transforming neuronal maps in the brain and integrating our newer cognitive structures with the old “limbic system” (emotions) we share with all mammals.  A great introductory book on the subject of neuroplasticity and psychoanalysis is Norman Doidge, M.D.’s The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science (Penguin Books, 2009).  I especially recommend Chapter 9, “Turning Ghosts into Ancestors,” for a discussion of how the psychoanalytic process works.

Here’s the link: