Monthly Archives: May 2009

If Lightning Strikes…Publish?

lightningstrikesFeeling inspired at 3 am when you can’t sleep – and writing until dawn? Coming up with a solution for our times that the world needs to read about? Turning the detritus of recessionary times into a literary work of art?

Want to publish?

Our friends Gregory F.Tague, Ph.D. and Fredericka A. Jacks at Editions Bibliotekos, a new Brooklyn-based publisher, are soliciting original creative contemporary prose for publication in upcoming theme-based collections. In the works: Medical Humanities, War and Peace, Adoption, Faith and Doubt, Immigration, 9/11-2011.

If you inundate them with terrific writing, maybe even something on the psychology of the 2009 Recession.

Full CALL and guidelines:
Periodic updates:

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part II: Is Optimism Really Better than Pessimism?

glasshalfemptyOn the way to the “How to” portion of the psychology of Learned Optimism, a small but important detour.

Query: Is optimism always the better way to go?

It would seem so. After all, a positive attitude is certainly the great American way: Westward ho! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps (bootstraps?)! If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere. Land of opportunity, culture of self-improvement. Work hard, fly right. No contest.

Consider this: Recession 2009

Rising unemployment. Declining real income, industrial production, wholesale-retail sales, consumer confidence. In the U.S., in the world.

The Optimist – sees bad events as temporary setbacks and presumes personal power to alter them.
We are on our way! The dollar’s the global reserve currency. Let the stimulus package, health care system overhaul , new lending programs and industry rescues do their work. Declining consumer prices mean we’ll keep inflation in check.
We are solving this! Roll up your sleeves and buy, invest!The worst is over!

The Pessimist – sees bad events as likely to last a long time and presumes no personal power to alter them.
Are we on our way to hyperinflation? stagflation? All this new money meets lack of demand. Higher prices in a weak economy with rising unemployment is a dangerous combination. Countering stagflation can worsen inflation, and vice versa.
We are sunk! Roll up in a ball or sell, short! The worst is coming!

Query: Did irrational optimism play a part in getting us (You and me. We’ll get into the financial institutions and the government another time.) into this overspending, overleveraging, living on credit cards, investing in things we didn’t understand, taking out mortgages we couldn’t afford, not saving enough for the future (along with a whole lot more) mess?

Did we see what we wanted to see (think Bernie Madoff), believe what we wanted to believe (housing prices always go up), spend what we wanted to spend (doesn’t it seem that everything’s “designer” now?), get lazy and not do our due diligence and trust the experts instead – all because we want to believe things always get better? If only…

Maybe, just maybe, we need to see the glass as both half-empty and half-full. Couldn’t hurt, might help.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

How to Mess with Your Shrink

Huh? Couldn’t resist. Someone found my blog plugging that into a search engine. Actually, messing with your therapist, fooling your therapist, has come up more than once these last few months. What’s that about? You ask, I answer. Well, perhaps not answer, but I’ll certainly take a stab at it.

First of all, the obvious question: Why in the world would anyone want to? You’re ostensibly seeing your therapist to learn about yourself, paying with your hard-earned money and your precious time. Why mess with the person you’re hoping will help you? What would a patient or client get out of that?

1. You mess with your therapist because you’re in court-ordered or spouse-requested or boss-demanded therapy, and you are scared, angry and have no intention of learning or changing at all.
2. You mess with your therapist’s head as a way to prove to her, to yourself, that you’re smart, in control, the powerful person in the room.
3. You mess with your therapist because it’s intellectually stimulating, exciting even, to have a real, in-depth badminton game between two sharp minds about those sharp minds.
4. You mess with your therapist to keep the relationship at a distance, because you’re afraid of becoming too dependent on her, or caring too much about her opinion of you.
5. You mess with your therapist so you don’t have to face whatever you’ve come to therapy to face. Understandable, since it can be difficult to face yourself.

How honest to be with your therapist? That’s the real question, isn’t it? No, actually. The real question is how honest to be with yourself in the presence of your therapist. And the answer depends on just how much you want to get out of the experience. Because even if you can fool some of the therapists some of the time, it doesn’t mean you have fooled yourself. It doesn’t mean that the ‘truths’ you may have convinced her of are your real deal. And it certainly doesn’t mean that winning at the messing-with-your-shrink’s-head game resolves the real issues you’ve come to therapy to deal with.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

An Upside to Not Being Able to Retire?

key&money401K tanked? Spouse lost a job just when you were hoping to cut back on work? Come to think of yourself as already having had your retirement – it was called “going to college?”

Feeling locked in to working forever?

Well, according to a UK study published in the current issue of the International Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, there is potential good news about having to remain in the workforce longer. Postponing your retirement may delay dementia. Experts from King’s College London analyzed data from more than 1,300 people with dementia. They found that for people who delayed retirement, each extra year of work was associated with approximately a six-week delay in the onset of dementia.

Simon Lovestone, one of the paper’s co-authors, suggested that “the intellectual stimulation that older people gain from the workplace may prevent a decline in mental abilities, thus keeping people above the threshold for dementia for longer.”

Cause and effect have not been definitively determined, and we don’t yet know how to prevent or adequately treat Alzheimer’s disease. But Alzheimer’s disease is the most common cause, accounting for almost 60 percent, of the dementia that affects 1 in 20 over the age of 65. It’s heartening to think responding to the current economic climate by working longer may have an upside. It may be associated with delaying a disease that scares – and afflicts – so many. It’s a stretch, but we’ll take our optimism wherever we can get it…

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved

On Therapy, Learning from the Past, Taking Risks and Living in the Moment


Be not the slave of your own past. Plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep and swim far, so you shall come back with self-respect, with new power, with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson*

To overcome the fear of exploring the depths of the unknown. To come to know and accept oneself, and in the process to live one’s life to the fullest. To understand the past in order to move beyond it – this is a purpose of therapy.

To take that self, fragile as it may be, out into the world. To experience oneself in relation. To give oneself fully and freely to others – to another – to be and share oneself in connection – this is a purpose of living.

*with thanks to AEB
Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved

On Glasses Half-Empty or Half-Full. Part I: The Research

glasshalfemptyTough times, right? It’s easy to feel pessimistic. Well, read on. More evidence that an optimistic outlook correlates with better health, both physical and psychological.* After this week’s post on depression, that’s a pretty positive thing!

Results of a longitudinal study, published in the May issue of Health Psychology, provide yet more support for the value of learned optimism. Laura D. Kubzansky, PhD and colleagues of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked 569 individuals from age 7 to their mid-30s to see if certain personality traits influenced health later in life. Their findings: Children who were able to react less negatively to situations at age 7 – who viewed the world through the lens of optimism rather than pessimism – reported better general health and fewer illnesses 30 years later.

According to Dr. Kubzansky, “Certain characteristics already evident early in life are likely to spark positive or negative emotions, and also influence biological and behavioral responses to stress. Some traits may contribute to developing healthier behaviors and better social relationships, and ultimately more resilience in mid-life.”

Trained observers rated the 7 year olds’ behaviors, which were then assigned to three personality attributes, one of which was distress-proneness (the tendency to react negatively to situations). To determine adult health, participants rated their health and reported whether they had any of the following illnesses: heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, arthritis, stroke, bleeding ulcer, tuberculosis or hepatitis.

For all the participants, having a more positive outlook (along with the ability to pay focused attention) in youth affected health the most. These effects were greater for women, suggesting that women may be more sensitive to interactions among emotion, behavior and biology, perhaps predisposing them more to certain health risks, such as heart disease. No differences in effects were found across race or ethnicity, childhood health or socicoeconomic status.

“Behavior and emotions generally linked to certain temperaments play a crucial role in long-term health,” Says Dr. Kubzansky. “Fortunately, early childhood characteristics can be shaped and guided by social, family and peer interactions. Interventions can focus on altering certain ways of responding and behaviors that frequently accompany particular traits to prevent certain diseases.”

Next up: Part II: How to change that half-empty glass into a half-full one. A slightly tougher task, so give me a few days, please?

*With special thanks to the American Psychological Association Public Affairs Office and DS who inspired this series.

Copyright © 2009 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

Because It’s Terrific, About Depression, and You Should Read It if You are Depressed or Have a Depressed Friend or Loved One

Couldn’t say it any better than this. This, from my friend Robert Stein’s Connecting.the.Dots blog today (see Blog Roll):

Being Depressed

The cover of yesterday’s New York Times Magazine in jangled hand-printing reads “I have sat in shrinks’ offices going on four decades now and talked about my wish to die the way other people might talk about their wish to find a lover.” These words surround a small dark snapshot of a woman’s face looking at the camera in utter despair.

I know that face, just as I know something about the feeling those words describe. A quarter of a century ago, the writer, Daphne Merkin, fresh out of college, worked for me at McCalls, a gifted young woman, more serious than most but glowing with ambition for the literary career that stretched ahead of her.

Now, in painful detail, she tells of a life since then in a black cloud of chronic depression punctuated by constant psychiatry and mounds of medication, ending in a hospital stay anguishing over whether or not to submit to ECT, electro-shock therapy.

Her thousands of words evoke the extreme of a condition I have lived with since childhood, suffered with in loved ones and anguished over with friends and colleagues. Her account will resonate with the afflicted and baffle those lucky enough to find it exotic, perhaps even self-indulgent.

Yet it is at the heart of modern life, as painful, debilitating and destructive as cancer. Psychiatry and pharmacology almost randomly seem to help some victims but fail those who are most directly connected to life and most vulnerable, as I once wrote about Marilyn Monroe and my best friend, the photographer Ed Feingersh, both of whom died in their thirties, unable to keep living with it.

Like them, Daphne Merkin seems to have suffered from that gift and used it to connect with other human beings as a writer, perhaps never more so than in this account of her struggles.

Even those who can’t understand what she is going through may find something of themselves in her and wish her well for the future.