Tag Archives: Thoughts

The Nice and Not-So-Nice Therapist: Who is Really Nicer?


How nice should a therapist be?

Nice. Someone pleasant, agreeable.  “He’s such a nice guy,” we say, imagining someone good natured, kind-hearted.  Or  exacting, evidencing great skill:  “Nicely done!”  Or scrupulous, exacting, hard to please:  “Give me a nice piece of corned beef” – which really means “give me your best cut, extra lean!  Nice can mean trivial, easily dismissed: “that’s nice, but”  or treading carefully, behaving delicately: “be nice to your cousin!”  And then there’s making nice, acting as if one were feeling all those good things, somewhat hypocritally.  Oh, and the ironic nice, a nice that means not nice at all:that’s a nice way to say thank you!”

How can one word mean such different – even antithetical – things?  Its origin provides hints.  Originally Middle English, it meant stupid or foolish, deriving from the Latin nescius ignorant, by way of French.  It meant coy, reserved, and by the 16th century fastidious, later still  fine, subtle (considered by some the ‘correct’ sense, and on to the current pleasant, agreeable.

What happens when conflict and confrontation-avoidance masquerade as being nice?  When does acting nice not only not equal being or feeling nice, but actually serve as a cover for feelings that are anything but nice?  When is being nice a cop-out for not dealing with the difficult and messy – but important – stuff?

Which brings us to the question of the day:  Exactly how nice should your therapist be? How nice is therapeutic?

Therapy’s not about appearance, but substance.  And when it comes to the therapy experience,  there’s often a difference between nice and helpful.

If the therapist’s prime motivation is to be liked, well, then, she’s got to act nice to be seen as, thought of, as nice.  When being nice is crucial, gratifying the patient is crucial,  first and foremost, pretty much always.  Even if it means avoiding the tough stuff; especially if it means avoiding the tough stuff that doesn’t feel so, well, nice

But if the therapist’s prime motivation is to promote learning – to provide tools for a better life, to help her patient become all s/he can be, to heal – real trumps nice every day of the week.  It may not always feel nice.   But if your therapist  goes beyond skin-deep nice, if together you do more than scratch the surface – explore and understand and accept what’s real – you’ve got a shot at goodReal good.  Which has a whole lot more healing power than some ironic nice.

Copyright © 2012 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.


Can’t Be Said Much Better Than This…

Life’s never easy.  We can decide what we want.  (Well,  some of us can;  for others, even knowing what we want is not so easy). 

There’s much we can choose, if we are fortunate.   And we are all, all of us, quite fortunate (even when, on those bad days, we don’t feel that way).  And though there’s no sure-fire path to getting it all, good psychotherapy can help find – and clear – the path to happiness.  Search, question, focus, discipline, know what matters, meditate, learn about and face oneself honestly in the company of a therapist who listens and “gets it”: safe landing, real contentment and true happiness are indeed possible.

Even if there’s no guarantee of getting/having even what we (think we) need.  Even if it’s finding and traveling the path to, not being and staying at some desired destination.

Sometimes therapy’s about listening – both the therapist, and the patient – to the felt need.   Permitting the feelings, the desires, the sense of urgency:  wanting what we want, when we want it.

And then accepting that it is however it is.  And if we share our most private wishes with someone who hears, gets it – and accepts us as we are – well, sometimes, maybe, that’s really as good as it gets.  And it’s quite good enough.

Is it any wonder people fall in love with their therapists?

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.

Doing Well and Doing Good: The Soul Hits the Big Time

Who’d have thought?  This morning, Maria Bartiroma of the Wall Street Journal interviewing Deepak Chopra, “a spiritual leader” on the practical application of the spiritual to leadership in politics and business.   How?

He says leaders can learn spiritual leadership skills.  “You learn to ask the right questions.  Where are we now?  Where would we like to be?  How do we get there?” Chopra says.

So what is Chopra’s definition of what a good leader does?

His acronym for effective lead-from-the-soul leaders:

  • Look and listen
  • Emotional bonding
  • Awareness
  • Doing
  • Empowerment
  • Responsibility
  • Synchronicity

Bartiroma questioned – on her mainstream Sunday morning business talk show – how he keeps the focus on his “core values, the integrity of the brand that has (his) name on it.”   Seems like any lingering stigma connected to the application of growth psychology, psychotherapy, emotional intelligence and questions of meaning and values to Wall Street companies has all but disappeared.  The words “spiritual” “soul” “psychological” “emotional” can now be found in the same sentences as “business growth” “practical” “successful company” “the economy” “the stock market” – and those sentences can be spoken out loud!

Copyright © 2011 Marlin S. Potash.  All rights reserved.

On Respect

a lot more than the girl in the pink Cadillac on the Freeway of Love who also sings about Respect” ~ Aretha Franklin, December 18, 2010.

All of us who hear her voice and remember where we were when.  All of us who sing along – out loud, radio turned up, windows rolled down.  All of us who ever called on the Queen of Soul to give voice to the big feelings, the ones that matter, to our soul.  All of us, sending all she made us feel right back to her now, wishing her a speedy recovery, now that’s respect.

Bob Herbert paid homage to Aretha Franklin in today’s NYTimes: “if you listened closely, if you paid attention, it would just thrill you, take you to a place of exquisite human feeling. A region of laughter and tears. Of love and joyous possibilities.”


We all need it.  We all deserve it.

And we all might consider how little it really takes:

  • To treat one another with courtesy.
  • To approach with deference.
  • To hold one another in high regard.
  • To choose to esteem.  To admire.
  • To honor, even.

We can all afford that, can’t we?  We can’t afford not to…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

“I Don’t Do Emotion”*

stone_wall Well, at least he was consistent. Like a stone wall. It was the first sentence he uttered after she accepted his proposal: “Just one more thing. I don’t do emotion.” She laughed. “You don’t do emotion! I’m all emotion!”

She really didn’t get it. And, more than five years in, shared life experiences, kids’ triumphs and tribulations, illnesses and deaths, work ups and downs, disagreements and joys, counseling and avoidance, he’s still saying “I don’t do emotion.” And she still doesn’t know what he means.

She knows how it manifests: In puffing himself up, convinced he impresses a polite, more learned, audience. In defensive justifications rather than admitting when he gets it wrong. In feeling disrespected when someone else passionately debates a difference of opinion. In leaving the room when deep feelings emerge: loneliness, anxiety, sorrow, passion. In running out of counseling when he is touched and sheds a tear, apologizing for displaying weakness, shocking their therapist. In having access to a remarkably limited range of feelings: Upset. Fine. Happy with no smile.

He never gets angry, or so he says (between gritted teeth). “I have to defend myself!” from attacks real, or more often imaginary. He shoves feelings away in a lock-box, safer that way, more robotic. Sneaking and hiding: passwords on the passwords. Technically not lying while not being honest at all. Or just lying through those teeth…

He is like a little boy who covers his eyes and thinks because he can’t see you, you can’t see him . He expects you to collude in his fantasy that all is as he so desperately wants it to appear; he is infuriated when you don’t.

His emotional intelligence quotient is low; all emotions scare him. He pretends he’s rational while really playing a shell game with feelings. The space between who he appears and who he feels himself to be widens, and he is threatened. And when he’s threatened or hurts, he attacks. You. He accuses you of behaviors that are in fact his own.

He could learn, if he had the courage to face himself. But not only doesn’t he know what he feels, he can’t face who he is. He certainly can’t begin to get what you feel. And try as you might, you can’t do feeling and intimacy for two. Emotional intelligence, anyone?

*While the couple in this post is unfortunately all too real, please be assured (as per our blog privacy policy) they are neither patients nor clients.

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

Multi-tasking taking its Toll? Psychological Survival Skills for the Recession – and Beyond

Juggle too much, you drop the ball. These are stressful times.

Oh, forget that! It’s always stressful times for some of us: not enough time, too much to do, not enough energy, too much pressure… Things have sped up so much, for so many of us. Michael Winerip quotes Nina Lentini in today’s New York Times , “Everybody works like this now. This is just the new reality.” http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/fashion/21genb.html

Which is why you laughed when your father told you to complain to your boss about your hours. 9 to 5? Ancient history. 8 to 8? Starting to look like pretty good hours, if you are really done at 8. Because this is closer to the truth: online, on the cell, on duty, 24/7.

The truth about multi-tasking: More does not equal more; more equals less. We do too many things at the same time, and do each less well than we think we do. We juggle too much, and sleep too little. And it’s affecting our health as well as our disposition (tired person = cranky person). http://videos.apnicommunity.com/Video,Item,1091439491.html. We need to sleep more, multi-task less.

How to get the incentive?
Try an experiment. Two weeks. Get to bed – and sleep – an hour earlier than usual. And try doing one thing at a time. You know, what Mr. Graessle told you in 10th grade Science class. Two weeks. See if it makes a difference; you know it will.

How to get the sleep you need?

Take it. Decide to get up earlier rather than stay up later. You’ll accomplish more when you’re not exhausted.
Imagine it. As you close your eyes, repeat to yourself, “I am falling asleep now, and will sleep restfully through the night.”

How to get the rest you need?

Take it. Take a 24-hour break from technology: no cell, no computer, no ipod, no alarm clock. This is what used to be called the Sabbath…
Take it. Just say no. No more. Not now. Not until I’ve finished this. No, it’s enough.
Take it. Breathe. Meditate. Focus on one thing at a time. Like watching the sky…
Imagine it. As you start to tell yourself you can squeeze in just one more thing, imagine how you’d feel if you just didn’t. Just this once. Or maybe not…

Copyright © 2010 Marlin S. Potash. All rights reserved.

The Road Ahead, 2010:

Sometimes, it seems full of promise.
Sometimes, it is hard to see ahead, past the dark clouds.
Sometimes, the road’s too rough, and you don’t have enough gas in the tank.
Sometimes, the signs don’t really seem likely to get you where you want at all.
Sometimes, it seems futile.

And sometimes, all you need is a wrinkled and spotted hand, reaching out over the seat for your wrinkled and spotted hand, wordlessly letting you know you are not alone…

Hard times. Recession, 2009. Hard times.
And the road ahead in 2010? Hard times or good times, or some combination of both…
There’s an outstretched hand; you are not alone.
Remember the outstretched hand. And remember to look ahead.

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