Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Demanding Credulity in the Workplace

I recently recieved this letter in my professional mailbox (keep in mind, it is now the middle of November).  The names have been hidden for the purpose of confidentiality:

Hi Christopher,

Wow, I am embarrassed that this is dated August 11 and I just now read it.  Thank you so much for your interest in ________ [therapy clinic] and your email, it is really appreciated, and I am truly sorry it did not get read until now.  I don't know if you are still looking for a place to land part time but if you are let me tell you a little bit about us so that you can determine if you'd see yourself working with us.  We specialize in working with people who have eating disorders and food issues many of them are dual diagnosis with D/A issues as well as trauma and a variety of other issues.  We also work with anxiety, depression, sexual addiction, OCD, couples (including co-habitating, married and premarital) and trauma.  I particularly specialize in working with severe trauma and DID although I do not expect anyone else to do the intensity of work I do, it can sometimes lead to the unexpected so I do disclose it to potential therapists.  We are a Christian organization, while we work with people from all kinds of faith traditions and never expect them to believe like we do, we do expect our team to be followers of Jesus.  This is a small bit of what we do.  If you still think you would be a good fit with all of us please let me know, I'd love to meet you and hear about what you would like to do.

Thanks again for your email and your patience!!!

My honest response:


Thank you so much for taking the time to get back to me.  Sounds like your clinic does a lot of really important work!  As a practitioner I strive to utilize best practices by providing evidence-based treatment to my clients while teaching cognitive-behavioral methods aimed at improving critical thinking skills and challenging maladaptive thoughts and emotions.  The practice of non-judgmental awareness (mindfulness) is extremely important aspect of my work, especially the trauma work I do with individuals, as a great deal of research has shown that trauma is often held within our bodies, which you are likely well aware.  As an ethical clinician, I also strive to remain respectful of the various cultural and faith-based belief systems my clients ascribe to; no matter how alien they may appear to me (especially if such beliefs do not interfere with my clients functioning and they find strength within them).  I have always felt that my own belief (or lack thereof) on the subject has no place in the therapy room. 

While it’s exciting to hear all that ________ [therapy clinic] seems to offer, I have to admit however, that I am somewhat perplexed as to why an agency would explicitly demand credulity from their practitioners, especially when they don’t seem to require their clients to be of any particular culturally sanctioned belief system themselves. I’m wondering whether this requirement is thought to benefit the clients in some meaningful way, but I’m honestly at a loss as to how. I could understand how being fluent in Spanish would be of use if one were working with a Spanish speaking population, or being a follower of a certain religious and/or mythical figure would be essential if that is the exclusive belief of the population one is working with, but as you previously stated, this doesn’t appear to be the case. 

I am genuinely confused as to what this requirement aims to serve and am unclear as to why a clinic would require its “evidence-based practitioners” to hold strong supernatural beliefs without evidence.  Such a requirement seems to go against the basic tenets of a scientifically informed method of understanding which is essential for the success of any empirically validated treatment approach.  The practice of mindfulness, for example, is considered a best practice in many hospitals and treatment centers throughout this country and others.  It has been shown effective by multiple, peer-reviewed studies, and the basic underlying neurological functions have been studied extensively and are beginning to be understood more clearly.  It is also a core tenet of a 2,500 year old Buddhist psychology, which cautions practitioners to “be a lamp unto yourself”:

“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” - Buddha

To me, this is the mindset of an effective therapeutic approach, where the questioning rigidly held assumptions are be encouraged as part of the path in working towards freeing oneself from suffering.  To confine ones spiritual path to one particular tradition is like limiting ones happiness merely to the center of a dartboard – only the bull’s eye counts.  To me, this just leaves a great deal of the mystery of life unexamined and/or explored and goes against the basic tenets of a self-actualizing treatment approach (in my humble opinion).  To require practitioners to follow Jesus (or Ganesh, or Yahweh, or Buddha, or Zeus, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or whatever) ironically speaks to the limiting rigidity and/or cognitive fusion therapy aims to alleviate.  While I feel spirituality is an essential aspect of any therapeutic relationship, I don’t see how requiring clinicians to hold a strong belief in a particular Bronze Age mythology of 2,000 years ago would be of any meaningful benefit to the clients, as there is absolutely no empirical evidence to support such an assumption. 

With that said; while I wish you and your agency the best, I must humbly decline the opportunity of becoming a clinician at ________ [therapy clinic].

-Christopher Tucker, LPC, CADC I

Friday, October 25, 2013

The Myth of Faith and Monogamy

There is a disturbing thought in western culture, which suggests a child must have two parents (typically of both genders) to thrive.  Low reliability of anecdotal evidence aside, I grew up without a father, and look at me!!!  (Oh wait, bad example).  I did grow up with religion however, which I have found to be far more damaging than any lack of a father figure could ever be.  I am quite familiar with the contents of the Judeo-Christian bible and the harmful societal meme, which suggests that monogamy to be the “natural state” of humanity (it is not) and part of "gods plan."  If there actually WAS a god (and there's no credible evidence to suggest that there is), "his" plan appears very similar to someone who absolutely does NOT have a plan (how strange). 

For me, religion has required many years of recovery in order to correct the baseless assumptions many of us in Western society have been indoctrinated into and blindly accepted without question.  I haven't looked back since I gave up credulity for Lent as a teenager and discovered the awe-inspiring beauty of compassion and critical thought.  I often wonder if those who claim the importance of the bible in terms of morality and/or spiritual guidance have actually ever read the book?  I have to admit that those are some very strange ideas about morality and/or spiritual guidance.  If the story of Job's near sacrifice of his only son (based solely on his blind devotion to god) is any indication, such ideas have no place within the context of the rules of civilized conduct within a modern society.  Such an extreme example of cognitive dissonance is merely one out of thousands of examples contained within the pages of what has been ironically considered a "holy book."  Those who claim that humanity needs god or the guidance of the bible to be good and moral might have a great deal of difficulty explaining why Christians make up 78% of the prison population in this country, but I digress.

Truth of the matter is, humanity doesn't need religion or the bible to be moral or show caring for fellow human beings.  Countless studies on human attachment strongly suggest that children really only need ONE strong attachment figure committed to meeting their basic emotional needs in order for them to thrive and grow as individuals.  True morality merely takes the ability to remain open to understanding the source of another persons suffering and to validate their struggle.  Despite popular belief, no primitive, Bronze Age mythology is required to deeply love your children (or anyone else for that matter).  It merely takes witnessing an innocent beings suffering, such as witnessing a puppy being mercilessly kicked, or a child being abused, for one to realize that true morality comes from within.  Compassion typically arises as a natural response to anothers' suffering.  The only barrier typically is ones own ignorance or lack of understanding.  Human compassion requires an openness to look past one’s own needs (and/or rigidly held ideas) in order to deeply understand the suffering of another person.  Without a non-judgmental openness to the basic understanding of the  suffering of others, we cannot have compassion - again, no Bronze Age mythology is required for this. 

A human infant is basically helpless for the first few years of it's life, and explicitly depends upon the compassion of its parents for it's survival (which is inevitably reinforced and supported by the release of the neurotransmitter, oxytocin, the so called “cuddle hormone”).  Human compassion has been shown to be a basic, evolved attribute of humanity, without which our species obviously could not have survived.  No divine intervention was required for this trait to evolve.  The erroneous "sin hypothesis" (a deeply dualistic philosophy which implicitly states that humanity is inherently wicked and in need of god's salvation) can be seen as probably the greatest single obstacle to human compassion.  Most people fail to realize the concept of original sin was never mentioned by the mythical Jesus figure of the bible, as it was an idea that came along well AFTER the bible was written (by mankind).  There is nothing positive to be gained from feeling as though one were born inherently evil.  It is an idea that serves merely to emotionally control and seems much more in tune with the possessive rantings of abusive partner (or parent) than from an all-loving, omnipotent deity.  

Buddhist psychology suggests that human beings are born inherently good, and evil acts are generally performed out of ignorance.  If a person cannot discriminate between right vs. wrong, or good vs. evil they lack empathy and understanding, not faith or religion.  To terrify children with the eternal damnation of hell or to suggest women are inferior to men due to the harmful myth of "original sin" does nothing inherently positive for the world.  Such ideas at their core are nothing less than emotionally abusive and impeding to ones spiritual growth and compassion for others.  Blind faith (otherwise known as credulity) is certainly not a virtue.  It is simply nothing less than the glorification of voluntary ignorance. 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Ask Teal: The #1 Problem in the Human Race and How to Solve It

In response to the above "Ask Teal" Youtube video, Ms. Teal makes the assertions that it is our slavery to the notion of suffering that causes us our unhappiness.  She makes some good points here, but challenging her notion of an exclusive focus of “going in the direction of our joy” misses half the mark because it does not address the fact that such a focus often causes a great deal of needless suffering in others (just ask any spouse of a narcissist). While I agree with the general gist of what Ms. Teal is “trying” to say, and I appreciate her challenging of the standard narrative of the Judeo-Christian notion of suffering, I think she makes a lot of unsupported declarative statements here (one can only assume, based upon her own, personal experiences and/or sense of reality?).  I disagree that it is pain and suffering that causes us to become the opposite of good or loving.  That is a very black and white statement to make.  It has the “potential” but it is not the root cause (that would actually be ignorance). As we ALL grow old, get sick and inevitably die, suffering is an inevitable fact of life, which has nothing to do with accepting any mantra or a dogma that “embraces” suffering as a “lifestyle choice.”  While I understand many see suffering as necessary, the reality of the matter is the fact that pleasure and/or pain is neither good nor bad, only thinking makes it so (i.e.: we all create our own realities). 

It is often said that there is a razors edge between enlightenment and despair.  The first Noble Truth in Buddhist psychology states that life is suffering.  This is not a dogma, as the Buddha often encourages people to come to this truth on their own accord.  Many turn away from this idea because of their own misunderstanding (i.e.: ignorance).  We will become enlightened only to the extent that we fully understand the nature of suffering.  This is not to say we “invite” suffering into our lives.  This is just to say we radically accept it as a natural aspect of life.  Suffering is only "good" (or useful) in terms of it's nature to cause (one might say “encourage”) humanity to "evolve" and inevitably discover the ability to disconnect the "reality creating" internal dialogue that serves to primarily to protect our fragile egos.  Suffering can be seen as a positive force in the manner in which it motivates us to touch the inherent wisdom/strength/compassion that has always been there (hence the motivation behind the saying, "enlightenment comes from suffering").  The only reason many (most) of us fail to see this is because of ignorance (e.g.: not knowing). 

Technological advances often come from an attempt to solve a problem initially caused by suffering.  In that sense, suffering serves as a motivation that likely wouldn't have been there with out it.  This is obviously neither good nor bad, it just is what it is.  It is unrealistic to believe that life never entails suffering (although to Ms. Teal’s credit, she never said this and I’d be interested to hear what she thinks about it).  The reality of life entails an acceptance of suffering - not to "seek it out" as Teal suggests most people do, but to have a much more reality-based relationship with it.  Notions of good or bad are merely the judgments of a discriminating, compartmentalizing mind and are often based on our own lack of understanding.  Ignorance is only bliss to a person who lives in a inoculated bubble and has absolutely no basis in reality.  Not many individuals in this world can afford that luxury.    

Only through suffering and feeling pain do we inevitably discover our true strength and gain the insight (if we are open to the awareness) that others suffer very similarly to us.  This is where true compassion comes from - an awareness of anothers suffering.  Despite harmful meme’s such as the sin hypothesis inherent in Judeo-Christian mythology, compassion (and cooperation) is our true nature as a species.  We could not have evolved to be where we are today as a “collective species” without these traits.  A mothers selflessness often has much more to do with an innate, evolutionary by-product than an animal trying to make itself feel better (a quick look behavior of animals will quickly tell you that).  The ability to understand another’s pain was necessary for the survival of our species.  The mother essentially "understands" the suffering of her child and therefore is instinctively driven to protect it.  There is likely a self-serving by-product to this, but one cannot simply ignore the fundamental mechanics of evolution here (an either/or hypothesis is often evidence of a dualistic thought process, inherently attached to a self-serving ego which conforms to individual biases, not to mention a thinking error, but I digress).

Teal asks the question, whether you "self-abuse by saving for a rainy day"?  That perspective appears to maintain a very myopic point of view.  Some people save in preparation of future suffering (as in, preparing for unforeseen, future hardships, such as being unemployed or having to pay for unexpected hospital bills, etc.).  I have personally found myself unemployed several times over the last several years after not adequately having saved anything. It was a truly horrible time that entailed much more suffering than I would have been exposed to if I had merely been more aware of my impulsive behavior and drive for immediate gratification.  A little "self-abuse" (I prefer to call it restraint) in this case would have been far more helpful in terms of being happy (i.e.: able to eat, pay my bills, and/or get my medications, etc.).  And of course, my happiness inevitably affect the happiness of others.  The Buddha often spoke of a middle path for this reason.  

While Teal asks many helpful questions, life entails suppressing primitive impulses on some level, and therefore, suffering.  Not that Teal suggested this (and it’s very hard to tell how she feels about this subject from the video clip), the concept of eternal happiness is truly a delusion.  Obtaining what you want, when you want to is the definition of addiction, plain and simple (which inevitably causes much more suffering in the long run).  Without suffering, we have a much more limited experience with reality and therefore, inevitably live our lives in an imaginary world constructed of our own self-serving delusions (much like in Buddhist mythology, before Siddhartha left his life of privilege in the palace where his father attempted to shield him from the pain of the world).  No one willing asks for suffering on their own accord, but without an deeper awareness of it, we will become blissfully ignorant of racism, discrimination, prejudice, abuse, etc. because we won’t have an intimate understand the suffering of others.  Only with understanding (and an awareness of the reality of suffering) can we have compassion for another's plight in life.  It may not be a completely "selfless" form of compassion, but feeling another's pain is the gateway to deeper insight into our own nature and the concept of interfusion (the notion that we are all intimately connected and dependent upon one another, and the notion of a separate, intrinsic self is a main delusion in and of itself, not to mention a major obstacle to happiness).  I would be tempted to call that a "good" thing for lack of a better word. 

With that said, Teal asks some great questions at the 14:30 mark that everybody would do well to meditate upon.  Everybody should observe their life and identify the “needless” suffering they bring upon themselves (and others).  Namaste.