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The Pleasure of Scandal

There used to be consequences to scandal. These days, nothing much happens. Woody Allen, Bill Clinton, Eliot Spitzer, Britney Spears, Newt Gingrich — they just go on, even flourish. I should be happy about this. I’m a fan of second chances. Besides, their transgressions weren’t so transgressive. But it feels like there’s something missing. There’s no denouement. No schadenfreude. I think we could use a nice juicy scandal where the perps get punished, where we vicariously gratify our vengeful feelings, where we have the pleasure of seeing others get punished for deeds we’d like to commit. When there are no consequences to scandalous behavior,  it does not titillate. Scandal becomes “meh.”




My new twenty-something patient, told me that she had a shocking secret, but she couldn’t talk about it. Even after I assured her of confidentiality she remained tongue-tied. I asked her how the secret made her feel. “Ashamed,” she said. “I feel like an imposter” We talked around it, about her life. I tried to make her feel safe.

On her second visit, she seemed even more hesitant, but was resolved, she said,  to spill the beans. She took a deep breath, stared past me and began to talk. As she spoke I observed that she began to glance at me. I recall that I didn’t react. I recall, moreover, that I didn’t feel the need to react. I had heard this kind of thing a million times. I remember looking at her pink dangling earrings. Afterwards, she was visibly relieved. She thanked me profusely. She felt so much better.

I never saw her again.

I’ve forgotten her secret.

(Note that the patient’s identity is disguised)


Smart Ass

“I’m always the smartest guy in the room,” my young highly successful entrepreneur patient said to me in his first session. “Not in this one,” I replied. In retrospect, I’m not sure it was true, but i think it was therapeutic. He needed a therapist whom he could butt up against and not destroy.

(Note that the patient’s identity is disguised)

The Wish to Get Mugged

One of the more ironic fantasies I’ve encountered among my patients is the wish to get mugged.  Ironic, because , who in their right mind wants to get beaten up and robbed? (Not that all my patients are in their right mind:  I’m a psychologist, after all). But the wish to get mugged is not really about the wish to get hurt. Rather, it is a wish for an EXCUSE to hurt someone else, anyone, (in this case, the mugger) with impunity. It is a free pass for acting out your aggressive feelings. You’re entitled to defend yourself

Beating up a mugger is not really about the mugger, who is a stand-in for a hated person, or maybe even for the patient himself. Perhaps this explains the recent spate of murders of homeless persons in California. The murderer may be killing a debased image of himself.

Maybe Nietzsche was onto something.

(Note that patient identities are disguised)

Dog Love

The woman on the phone sounded hesitant. “My girlfriend makes love to our dog,” she said. After thirty years of practice I thought I had heard everything, but making love to a dog was a new one to me.  Dutifully  channeling my inner Sigmund, doing what therapists do, I invited her in to talk about it.

Not that I know anything about bestiality. I practice in a city. Lots of amorous people cruising around but no cows or sheep. Be open-minded I counseled myself.  After all, bestiality is harmless. No one is hurt. No human. But…what about the dog? Was it an adult? Was it consenting? The truth is, I find the idea of making love to a dog repulsive. No, no, this is not about me, nor bestiality…. it’s about the quality of the women’s relationship, their ability to communicate and respect each other.

I didn’t know what to expect, but the attractive, thirty-something professional woman from Colombia who came to my office did not match any of my mental pictures of her. I immediately asked her the obvious question:  What do you mean, exactly, by your girlfriend making love to their dog. She answered with disgust — that her girlfriend actually kisses the dog on its face, allows it to  sit on her lap and lick her,  and, believe it or not, takes it into their bed.

I burst out laughing. “Welcome to the United States,” I said. A few years later, when she became a citizen, she sent me a photo her girlfriend and herself hugging the dog.

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Welcome to my blog about doing psychotherapy. Don’t worry. No one’s confidentiality will be violated.