Existential Psychology on the Hoof and Moving Quickly
Let’s start out by saying that I never thought that psychology was a better fit than any discipline I might pursue. It was about 10 years between my uncle’s lecture and my deciding to work on a master’s in counseling. The gang bang interview that I describe in my bio actually brought up issues that were on point. The segue between being a professional cook and being a professional psychologist made no sense at all, not even to me. I avoided psychology in my undergrad at Cal Berkeley due to a prejudice that I couldn’t explain even to this day. Even now, you can catch me saying that my field is bogus (occasionally in therapy sessions)…except for a couple of things which are worth discussing and that will be discussed during the lifetime of this blog.
I got an undergraduate at Cal in Linguistics, not Psychology. I majored in Linguistics because I lacked a better idea what to study. An older friend whom I respect graduated in Linguistics and it seemed reasonable to follow in his footsteps. He didn’t do anything with that degree and, continuing in his path, I didn’t do anything with mine. He became a gardener and horticulturalist and I went into restaurant cooking. I still have an appreciation of languages and some small understanding of how they work. That’s how I am still able to write a complete sentence in English and use fancy words, for the most part, correctly. The situation I am describing became the basis for my book, previously mentioned, THE MEANING OF LIFE: A Child’s Book of Existential Psychology. I think many of those things we choose to write can be a way for us to communicate with ourselves just as much as they are to communicate with others.
If one were to ask how I got in a field the validity of which I question myself, I would say what I have said many times in the past. I was in the throes of an identity crisis that was taking years, wondering what I should be when I grew up. I tried many things, none of which made any sense and some of which didn’t even qualify as a profession (like the time I worked at a race track mutual betting window). I was sitting alone in the kitchen over my morning coffee still thinking about this problem that gave me no rest, when the little voice in my head (probably the same one that years later would speak to many of my psychotic patients when I worked in State hospitals) told me to be a psychologist. That part of my brain that I accept as my own responded immediately by saying the idea was ridiculous. (Now, that was MY BRAIN talking!!!) But, the little elfin voice repeated its comment and then departed. I listen to elves sometimes. I acquiesced, if only to find out where this instruction would lead me. If it didn’t work, I already figured out that I would not be any worse off than I was in the first place. I became a psychologist by inspiration, if not by calling…or was that elfin voice really calling me? My answer, I don’t know and I don’t care. You figure it out.
Fast forward to more recent times and I have a very different answer, this after having much more time alone in my apartment in Dallas, Texas, where I work, while my home is in New Mexico. This arrangement gives me lots of time to think. It is here, where I am writing this, that it suddenly became clear why being a psychologist was a good fit. I had the unusual opportunity from a very young age to have an older brother who took great delight in messing with my head, not benignly with giggles at the end, but savagely and with the clear intention of breaking me down. In later years, he continued in this path with almost anyone who tried to love him or even like him. He continued until someone savagely put a stop to it and him. But, I digress. It was through his destructive influence that I found my way, despite opposition, opposition such as my uncle, the gang bang admission committee, and my dissertation committee which was even more brutal. And somewhere in the midst of it all I realized that there is much that can be learned from human interaction that is not actually said, but that is uniquely psychological, stuff that most of us use every day, instinctively, in our efforts to survive. By observing and listening one can recognize things that even those being observed don’t know about themselves, but that they would like to know so they can make better choices for themselves. This is the beginning of an existential psychology that is oriented to promote survival and environmental adaptation and how I do therapy.