Courage in Relationships

October 7, 2016

Please take some time to listen to this couple struggling with depression in their relationship.  All relationships take work.  It can be even more complicated when one is struggling with mental health issues.  I love this couple’s honesty and courage.  The ultimate strength is in knowing yourself.



So, as descendants of terror (slavery) many of us still engage in behaviors that are understandable in terms of having been traumatized.  We continue to reconstruct the terror in many of our communities.  Psychoanalysts would call this reenacting, which is a common, understandable response to being traumatized.  It is a way for the traumatized individual to gain mastery or control of a situation where there was a feeling of powerlessness.  Unfortunately, the methods used to reenact the trauma are usually unhealthy and cyclical, resulting in nothing but further trauma for the individual and the community.  An unfortunate example of this for us is the violence plaguing too many of our communities.  However, the core issues go ignored generation after generation.  Trenton, NJ has hit a new record for deaths by violence.  Are we going to let this continue?

There is a failure I think for most people to acknowledge that the he behavior comes form somewhere.  It’s not just that the perpetuators are just bad people. They are often behaving like victims of trauma.  What’s the answer?  Empower them in other ways. Let them find their strengths  through the family and through the community.  No matter your feelings on the church, it offers a place for just that in many of our communities. There are often programs in and outside of churches that amazing people start that are empowering and strengthening for our children and we need to seek them out.  If we give up on them or blame them or continue to lock them up like animals or “stop and frisk” them like second class citizens, we will have the same problems.  These tactics haven’t worked.  They will not ever work.  They further destroy any real sense of strength or power, that people who are productive in communities need.

I attended a meeting with a group of mental health practitioners last month.  The meeting was spearheaded by a group of Black Psychiatrists.  It wasn’t just a boring presentation as too many of these meetings tend to be.  It was a group of mental health professionals trying to move toward healing in our communities.  I must say that up until that point I was very disappointed in the Black Mental Health practitioners.  I’m sure the desire for community action was there for so many but there was no movement toward organizing.  I will do my part to try to make sure it doesn’t stop with a meeting.

Here is some info on what to do if you are stopped and frisked:

ONE example a program supportive of youngsters:


April 29, 2013

You don’t get very far in helping people who have addictions when they are not ready to receive the help. In a recent FIX MY LIFE IYANLA episode which aired on the OWN network, Iyanla was quite determined to produce some kind of breakthrough with DMX. He seemed, for the majority of the time, to be rejecting her help. Even when she agreed to back off, she did not. Even when it was all said and done, she came up with some sort of twitter site to ” SAVE DMX”. I thought this was so patronizing. In fact, I thought the airing of the show was exploitative of him. He is obviously in pain. Offer your support, then back off. When and if he is ready he will get help.

It is understandably hard for the people around a person with addictions to watch them deteriorate. This is painful business. But there is no magic answer. Often the addicted person has to have very unpleasant consequences like severe illness, or incarceration to stop them. Addiction is mind bogglingly powerful and illogical. Sometimes “hitting bottom” doesn’t even work.

So, I say to OWN and Iyanla, you cannot FIX everybody. I actually think you cannot FIX anybody. You can only offer support and guidance when they are ready to help themselves.

For people who are ready there are many ways to get started in recovery. Not everything works for everyone, but motivation to stay clean must be at the bottom of any approach you choose or you will waste time and or money.

There are self-help meetings like Alcoholics Anonymous, and Narcotics Anonymous. There are detoxes if you have physical addictions and have withdrawal signs like shakes, tremors or flu like symptoms when you stop using.

There are rehabilitations and multitudes of treatment programs. If you are ready it can be done.


February 24, 2013

Dear Mr. Spielberg:

There is a lot about your movie that I found entertaining. However, there is something about the movie that I just cannot get beyond. This is the fact that the Black people in your movie, with the exception of S. Epatha Merkerson, seem cognitively limited; well, retarded. Unfortunately we only see Merkerson for a few minutes on the screen.

It was startling as well that you did not feature any of the Black intellectuals of the day, such as Frederick Douglass, who had actually developed a close relationship with Lincoln at that time. Seriously? Are you trying to convince us that all the Black people of the time were docile and their freedom was about the rebelliousness of one guy. It’s unfortunately the same story that was told for decades in history books and perpetuates the same ideas, no matter how unlikely and absurd. The ideas are that African Americans for the most part are limited and unable to advocate for themselves or do anything for themselves. These ideas derived from some history books hypnotized generations into thinking this was/is the case. Were you hypnotized?

For me, Lincoln was this season’s opposite of Beasts of the Southern Wild, where if you add a few Caucasians to the movie maybe nobody will complain about African Americans living like savages in a modern world. With Lincoln. maybe if you add a few African Americans then maybe nobody will complain about the fact that they most seem to be quite slow, and had very little to do with accomplishing their own freedom. They were simply not capable. Unfortunately, in terms of their portrayals of African Americans, we come out losing in both these movies.

For my money, Lincoln, The Vampire Slayer, was a better movie (and I don’t even like Vampire movies for the most part). But the screenplay was was smart and creative and the Black characters seemed to have more depth and intelligence.



Look to Aspire

September 24, 2012

I hadn’t heard a doggone thing about it.  I’m talking about Magic Johnson’s new ASPIRE network.  However, I am so glad I found it.  I was scrolling through the television guide and noticed “Flip Wilson” was on.  Okay.  Had to see that.

Three hours later my television was still tuned to this channel, and I don’t even watch that much television.

I have always been a fan of TV One because it seemed that it mattered to them what kind of material they were feeding to us.  It seemed that they were careful about it.  I thought this was so critical in a world where images of us in the media have historically been a massive onslaught of stereotypes.

I think ASPIRE is doing the same thing but they have what seems to have a bit more of a focus on the Arts.  I spent three hours watching Black independent films on ASPIRE that day.  Just prior to the discovery of the channel I had been wondering how to get more access to these films.  Then, there they were.

Check it out.  You will not be disappointed.

In this last installment of the “How to Find a Therapist” Series, I will be addressing the issue of the types of psychotherapy available.


There are many kinds but I will stick with the main types.  In the biz we refer to these types as “Orientations”  An orientation is really just a group techniques a therapist will use that have their foundation in a certain philosophy of treatment.   Therapists are usually trained thoroughly in one orientation.  Some have training in more than one technique and my label themselves as “Eclectic”, but usually there is a primary area of orientation.


This orientation descends directly from Freud, who believed personalities are established during our childhoods (for him it was by age 5, for some others it is even earlier) and that everything we are now harkens back to everything that happened back then.  From the standpoint of this orientation, there are many things that may have happened to us in our childhoods that we try to block out or repress.  These repressed memories stand in the way of us knowing ourselves and setting ourselves free from any negative symptoms we experience that bring us to treatment.  We can illuminate these blocks by focusing on repressed material that breaks through in dreams or patterns of behavior in our current lives and with the therapist.  Once the repressed material reveals itself, we may have a catharsis and a “working through” of the issues, and hopefully feel unblocked so we can move on with our lives.

When Freud started out and for many decades thereafter, psychoanalysts practiced this type of treatment and sessions were four to five sessions per week.  The typical therapy now is once per week, and is done by psychiatrists, psychologists or social workers.  Psychoanalysts who may come from different backgrounds, still believe that treatment should be at least two times per week.

Some patients are in treatment on an every other week basis, but  I believe for this type of therapy to work,  at least weekly is the goal.  The relationship with the therapist is central to this approach and the more contact the better.


The goals for treatment in this broad area include changing the client’s ideas/cognitions (or in some cases irrational beliefs) that effect emotions and in turn affect behavior.  Big names associated with this approach are Ellis, Michenbaum and Beck.

Some examples of irrational beliefs are:

If I don’t get what I want, it’s terrible, and I can’t stand it.

I must perform all tasks perfectly well.

I must have love and approval from all the significant people in my life.

It’s easier to avoid facing life’s difficulties than to face them and perhaps get even greater rewards.

The treatment usually involves the therapist teaching the client to observe his own behavior so the client can begin to reduce the irrational beliefs that foster destructive ways of feeling and behaving.  Any piece of this triad of functioning (thinking, feeling, behaving) may be addressed since they are all considered to work together from this perspective.

Some techniques in this area involve giving homework to the client where the client’s track their thoughts feelings and behaviors in stressful or potentially stressful situations and then develop alternative scripts or thoughts for these situations.

Sometimes the intervention will be more focused on the behavior where the client is instructed to act “as if” they are not depressed, for example.  The assignment may be to become lessw isolated,  as in going out with friends even if the client doesn’t really feel like it.  The result may be having a good time and the client’s thoughts about the depression and the depression itself may change.

Insurance companies usually love cog-B, as we call it in the biz, because it usually means shorter term treatment.  In my experience, it is fine if you have specific symptoms such as anxiety, and I feel that it works well with couples and families.  If you are looking to go deeper into your relationships with people and discover patterns that you may have not recognized in yourself before, psychodynamic group or individual therapy is to me a better choice.  There is a greater investment of time and money in the second case.

I did not cover the multitude of other therapies out there but there are many:  Marital therapy, Family systems therapy, Existential therapy, Gestalt therapy, just to name a few. However, when it comes to down to individual therapy, insight oriented approaches and cognitive behavioral approaches have the most widespread use at this point.

Most research says that the orientation of the therapist is less important than the  is relationship with the therapist.  I think this is probably true, but an informed client is always a better consumer.

The Snowy Day

February 20, 2012

African American History, in my opinion, should be celebrated.  No doubt.  There should be a time where this rich history is highlighted.  February?  Fine with me, as long as it is done.  Too many unsung heroes.  Let’s focus on them. Lets clarify the contributions so there are no mistakes about them.

However, the reality is that African American history cannot be divorced from American history.  Just the idea sounds a little insane.  In America there has been a sharing of ideas and experiences among and between groups whether some groups liked it or not.

This brings me to The Snowy Day.   Since my childhood, I assumed Ezra Jack Keats was African American.  After all, he wrote children’s books with Black children as the prinicpal protagonists. Who else  but a Black person would write Whistle for Willie?

Okay, we do suffer in the shadow of the ugly reinterpretations of Little Black Sambo (it wasn’t originally as offensive as it became over time). However, Keats’ books, by contrast were so inoffensive.  In fact, they were beautiful, simple stories about a child’s experience.

I recently took in an exhibit of Keats’ work at The Jewish Museum in New York City.  I went because my son now has an appreciation for Keats’ books, but also for myself because I thought the books were so beautifully drawn and I wanted to see more of this man’s art.

Up until a few days before the visit to the museum I was still thinking that Keats was Black.  However. a visit to the museum’s website to get a little more background history clarified all of this.  Keats was in fact a Jewish man who was born in 1916 and lived in East New York, Brooklyn.

Many of his books were autobiographical in the sense that they were reminiscent of experiences he had as a child, even if the character himself was not Jewish.

I thought this was quite profound;  that Keats was able to focus enough on the universal experiences of children such that race was not an issue.  The Snowy Day was written in 1962, at the height of the civil rights movement in this country.  It was brave and forward thinking.  The book was a hit among all groups, but Keats did get slack through the few decades following for his main character not confronting his Blackness in the story.

Keats was so much smarter than this.  Children are children.  They don’t go around confronting their ethnicity all the time.  They just want to be children. The experience of children in their curiostiy and exploration of their world is universal.  I later discovered that his book was endorsed by people like Langston Hughes.  Wow.

So, The Snowy Day is well-known for being the first full-color children’s book to feature an African American protagonist. So, the book was not written by an African American, and it wasn’t even necessarily written for African Americans. Nonetheless, it’s publishing was an powerful moment in American history.

Now when I read the book to my son, I think of the power behind it, and I have more hope for humankind.

Some people can live outside their societal boxes and celebrate the fact that at the end of the day we are all just people.

One of A Kind

February 18, 2012

In my opinion there are just a few singers in modern history that are great.  They are great because they seem to transcend time, space and genre.  You can be taken to another place just listening to them.  These voices are very rare.  My list goes like this:

Louis Armstrong

Ella Fitzgerald

Billie Holiday

Frank Sinatra

Stevie Wonder

Whitney Houston

So it does seem here lately that people want to know what Black women think. I mean there is so much hype today over “The Help”. Look, I appreciated the movie. And Viola Davis was extraordinary as usual. But there were no surprIses there AT ALL. Did you think the Black maids would say they were kicking up their heels to be degraded everyday? I don’t think so.

On the contrary, “The Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl” offers something very different. Developed by Issa Rae, it gives a voice to a Black woman who tends to be invisible altogether in the media, an awkward Black woman, just trying to make it through her awkward life. Now that is a big surprise.

It is a comedy and I actually found myself laughing out loud. That almost never happens with me watching any sort of sitcom. The writing is crisp and smart and you feel this woman’s pain. We are laughing at her and ourselves for those times that we have all felt at least a little awkward.

It is an internet program that almost halted production because they ran out of money. They were able to raise money through an online donation service to keep it going. They exceeded their goals in terms of the money they raised, because so many folks did not want to lose this great show.

In a way it is powerful because it represents the freedom to be awkward or to be anything other than a stereotype.

Run to your computer. Check it out and tell me what you think:

Black Marriage Success

July 25, 2011

In Together We Are Strong: A Qualitative Study of Happy Enduring African American Marriages, research was conducted with 30 married Black couples to assess challenges and resilient features in this group with an average of 26 married years.  The authors of the current study note that many African Americans experience well-functioning marriages, yet little research exists on positive mental adjustment, happiness and satisfaction.  They are addressing that void.  This is strength-based research, as opposed to most of the deficit-based reasearch pumped through the media that focuses on problems and pathology.

The findings of this study revealed Three Areas of strengths or resources for this group.


The researchers found that often two happy people made for a happy marriage.

There was a willingness to work on individual-level strengths; so you may develop strengths along the way (such as better listening skills) that you did not have at the outset of the relationship.


Knowing that you can rely on your partner.



Having witnessed “strong” marriages in the immediate or extended family.

In most of these enduring relationships, both spouses were gainfully employed.

Sharing similar attitudes about religion or being “equally yoked”.

The article notes many of the challenges faced by these couples, but the above-stated strengths were often essential in persevering through the challenges.

The entire article is found here:

Together We Are Strong