Friday, November 6, 2009

Murder in the Military

What on earth happened at Fort Hood, TX, yesterday?

As inscrutable as the actions of the shooter Major Nadal Malik Hasan seem, there are some possible explanations. Although there may have been other contributing factors, two stand out in my mind.

When I practiced marriage and family therapy in a northern suburb of Chicago, my office was near Great Lakes Naval Training Station and Fort Sheridan, an Army post that has since been closed. This was within 7 years after the U.S. left Viet Nam. Some soldiers were still haunted. Some veterans became my patients because I saw them with their spouses. They had been referred by a psychiatrist who said they needed “talk therapy.”

It is not commonly understood that relatively few psychiatrists do psychotherapy with patients. Instead, they are taught to diagnose patients’ conditions and administer medications to treat the symptoms in somewhat of an assembly line fashion. Which explains why most outpatient psychiatric appointments are 15 minutes or less.

I can only imagine psychiatrists’ frustration. Most of us in the helping professions go into the field because of a wish to help. However, if, in their training, they are not given a range of tools beyond their prescription pad, it is easy to imagine they could become overwhelmed by the daunting task of treating vets with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

All of us who work with traumatized patients from whatever source, whether it’s childhood sexual abuse, an early and lengthy hospitalization, a sudden death in the family, victims of torture, a death from a disease that seemed to drag on and on, rape and the like know that witnessing their agony can take a toll on us.

For example, one patient I treated had been a medic in the Viet Nam War during the Tet Offensive, one of the bloodiest conflicts of the war. Imagine the horror he had seen. And the helplessness he must have felt when he could not save his fellow soldiers who died before his eyes. To intensify his impotence, he had spent his first year stuck in a crib in an orphanage where only his basic needs of food and clean diapers were attended to. I shudder to imagine the helplessness and isolation that baby experienced. As research on infants in Israeli kibbutzim found, a large number of the children died if they were only fed and diapered by multiple caregivers and not cared for by their parents. This, of course, caused them to change their child care arrangements.

For me to still remember that patient almost decades later means he clearly made an impression on me. And no doubt, the cumulative effect of his story and countless others subjected me to Compassion Fatigue or Secondary Stress Disorder. Fortunately, I have not been undone by what I have seen and heard.

But Major Hasan apparently was not so fortunate. As a psychiatrist, he worked with vets going to Iraq and Afghanistan and those returning and was about to deploy himself. No doubt, he had been bombarded with soldiers’ stories, worries, fears, nightmares, flashbacks and suicidal thoughts and actions. So much so, that I surmise he chose “death by cop,” attempting suicide by putting himself in harm’s way stateside where he had control, rather than have to experience what he inevitably would work with there. And he almost succeeded.

In fact, he did not die. He lies in the hospital on a ventilator today.

The other factor that must have contributed to his “losing it” was loneliness. Paradoxically, the life of a mental health practitioner can be a lonely one if you are single. “How could that be? You’re with people all day every work day.” We are. But if we are good at what we do and responsible enough not to meet our own needs through our patients, it can be lonely indeed taking care of everyone else.
To intensify the loneliness, Dr. Hasan was single and had no children. No one was at home to help him debrief, or hug him, or distract him, or just be with him. Having been in the military since high school, I suspect that the Army had become the family he didn’t have.

Let me be clear. I do not condone or excuse Dr. Hasan’s actions. Forty-three people are paying the price for his cracking under pressure. However, being able to understand and explain something is not the same as excusing it.

As President Obama said yesterday in a briefing after the Fort Hood massacre, it is indeed “ … horrifying that these soldiers were hurt by their own people.” Then on CNN this morning, there was news of 8 people being killed in a high rise in Orlando, Florida.

What kind of country are we becoming that murder-suicide seems to be the way for lonely, lost people to grab their 15 minutes of fame at the expense of other people? And that violence seems to becoming the norm for “solving” issues?

Please comment after reading this post. Let’s talk.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Launching Kids

“Schoolmasters and parents exist to be grown out of.”
John Wolfenden, Sunday Times, London (7/13/1958)

My husband and I went on a date to see Phantom of the Opera again. And 10 days later, I still have Andrew Lloyd Webber’s powerful music and Charles Hart’s haunting words stuck in my head.

At intermission, I mentioned to my husband the father-daughter theme that was coming up. He scoffed at the idea, saying the musical was only about lovers. He shook his head in mock horror saying, “I’m married to a shrink!”

However, in Act Two, he began to see the theme he hadn’t previously caught in his four prior viewings of Phantom. Initially, when Christine sang, “Wishing you were somehow here again,” the reference is sufficiently vague that we are not sure whether the “you” is Raoul, the lover of her dreams, or the Phantom, the father figure in whose underground lair she has shared a life.

That’s usually the way it is when children leave home to go out into the world. They feel torn.

By the next song, the father-child theme clearly emerges when the Phantom sings to Christine “…wandering child, longing for my guidance.” And then, “Our games of make believe before are at an end . . . . “ And, “Past the point of no return . . . .

Singing forlornly of his life without her, “. . . no kindness, no compassion anywhere.” Then of “the infection that poisoned our love!” presumably referring to Raoul’s love for Christine that will take her away from the Phantom and his dismal existence without her.

Do you see where I’m going with this?

It is just as hard for parents as it is for their children when kids leave home.

As my wise and unselfish mother told me one of the times I left home, “Parents can’t hang onto kids.”

Those “helicopter parents” who do are selfish and haven’t done their job of getting their children and themselves ready for them to leave home and start their own life.

So when the season of graduations from kindergarten, middle school, high school, and college, and of summer weddings, blushing brides and earnest grooms, parents need to remember my mother’s sage words.

It is parents’ job to prepare their children to fly on their own while holding their place in the family. Then kids can come back for the emotional pit stops they need to eventually fly completely on their own.

For parents, it is a loss. And grief is inevitable. But if you have done your job well, your children will come back to visit. They will want to stay connected.

If you fight them, they will stay away at their own peril.

So learn to let go, as painful as that can be. That is the kind of parenting your kids need from you now.

Don’t make seeking their own destiny “the infection that poisons our love.”

We never outgrow our need for our parents. We just need them differently as we mature.

If you are having trouble letting go as a parent, or figuring out how to find your own way in the world, remember my offer of a **Free** half-hour of coaching by phone.

Feel free to write and take me up on my offer to I will need your name and email adddress to I can provide you with the time to call and a toll free number to reach me

Dedicated to your health and happiness,

Dr. Beth

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

What Kind of Universe Do You Inhabit?

There are two basic ways to live life. One is with a mindset of Abundance. The other is with a Scarcity mentality.

One or the other of these is the prism through which you view the world.

What makes this significant? The lens through which you view the world shapes your entire perception and version of reality.

Do you believe the world is basically a trustworthy place?

Oh yes, you know there are bad guys out there. And bad things do happen to good people. But you have faith in people’s ultimate goodness. And even the worst of times will turn around. That peace in its various facets will come again. So you don’t skulk around, certain of danger lurking around every corner living your mental and emotional life in a bunker.

It is no surprise that people who look for negativity in life find it. They attract negativity into their lives and then bemoan their bad luck, or other people’s evil nature, or how it’s not their fault.

Or are you open-hearted and open-handed because you believe in the transformative power of love and in people’s innate goodness? If your basic belief is one of abundance,
you don’t hesitate to give of yourself and your resources. As a result, good stuff happens to you because you attract it into your life. Your know your life is Abundant, even in stressful or lean times. And you amplify life’s gifts by being grateful for the blessings in your life.

So begin today to develop an Attitude of Gratitude.

Sure, you may be counting your pennies at the grocery store. Be unable to take your usual summer vacation because of the effects of an economy in turmoil, or the kids will get fewer holiday presents. But if you are a citizen of the United States, Canada, or anywhere in the Western world, you are blessed with freedom simply by the accident of birth.

Celebrate that.

Dedicated to your health and happiness,

Dr. Beth

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Let Your Brain Make You Better!!

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven.”
John Milton, Paradise Lost, 1667

Is your mind your greatest resource? Or does it mutiny like a motley crew on a pirate ship?

What is the difference between your mind and your brain?

Is it possible to actually change misfiring circuits in your brain that keeps you running in place like a caged gerbil, coming back again and again to the same place, never seeming to get anywhere?

Can you create new neuron connections in your brain that build brand new pathways of thought?

Does your mind have to change your life by sheer dint of will or can you enlist the help of your brain?

Is it possible for you to be in charge of your mind plus many brain functions?

These fascinating questions and more were discussed when I spoke with my guest, Dr. Rick Hanson, on “Relationships 101”on Dr. Hanson is a neuropsychologist and the author of Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. But it could as easily be called Neuroscience for Dummies. It’s that readable. And Dr. Hanson is that understandable.

Link in to the podcast at to hear me tell a sweet story from a neurological perspective about the game my grandson and I play. And how I worked with a couple to resolve trauma in the wife’s childhood, thereby rewiring her brain and putting her restructured mind in charge of her life.

If you are the type who loves “Ask Dr. Science,” I think you will find this show both fascinating and touching.

Please do post a comment. I sincerely would love to know what you thought of this conversation.

Is there a specific topic you would like to have discussed by an expert on "Relationships 101" or on this blog. Write me at and leave me your suggestion. I would love to have my discussions relevant to my audience.

If you have a question you’d like to ask me, go to and leave me your question. You will get an answer your questions from me personally. I promise.

Dedicated to your health and happiness,

Dr. Beth

Monday, November 2, 2009

Like Cats Chasing Their Tails

“In human affairs, the best stimulus for running ahead is to have something we must run from.”
Eric Hoffer, The Ordeal of Change, 1964

Who needs t.v. when you have a kitten in your house?

Our kitten, Ben, has an elaborate game of the old standby for cats: the Chase the Tail game.

Running faster and faster around in circles, sometimes he gives up on ever catching that darn tail.

Other times, he sneaks up on it and pounces while his tail plays hard to get.

But he grabs that darn tail between his legs, sometimes nipping at it, other times combing and stroking it after he catches it.

Then his tail surrenders.

Yes, Ben has many strategies for catching the mischievous, elusive tail.

And so do humans.

Sometimes our “strategies” are designed, however unconsciously, to keep us running around in circles after tacking one foot to the floor, bemoaning our misfortune that nothing ever changes, that our spouse, or child, or boss, or co-worker, or sibling only wants to fight, or won’t listen, or doesn’t care, etc, etc.

Other times, we won’t allow ourselves the sweet pleasure of success because no one else in our family has accomplished much. We simply haven’t had a role model for success, and we don’t want to risk being shunned by family members who struggle or are jealous.

Or because then we might be expected to reach even higher.

Or because of our fear of failing. You can ask most elementary school kids, and they can tell you that you can’t fail at something if you never try.

Yes, we, too, can develop elaborate games of keeping ourselves stuck.

And, of course, these games get us to the same place where Ben ends up: No where.

Are tired of being a cat chasing your tail but you don’t know where to start or how to stop?

Feel free to contact me by e-mail or at my toll free number, 888-546-1580, for a free consultation.

I would be happy to have you take me up on my offer of a free consultation.

Dedicated to your health and happiness,

Dr. Beth