Podcast #1: The Talking Cure


If you prefer to read rather than listen, here is a transcript of the podcast.
(Also available in PDF format.)
Note: portions of the text may be slightly edited for clarity in written form.

Welcome. Welcome to The Psychotherapist’s Corner. I’m Doctor Jerry Gargiulo.  First of all let me tell you why I’m calling the show The Psychotherapist’s Corner.  I really mean it as a kind of metaphor for your mind; possibly a secluded place in your daily life where you can find an alone place to think about things.  To think about what it means to live life, to live life happy, to live life sometimes sad, okay?  We all need a psychotherapist’s corner.  We all need a quiet corner literally or symbolically.  That is if we’re not going to be tossed around by the turmoil of today’s events, of every day’s events. So I’m asking you to join me so that we both can create together, so to speak, in your daily work, where you can be alone and think about things that really ground us and help us live life in a fuller way.

I’m going to be talking for the most part about psychology, about issues that affect us every day; about relationships, with our spouse, with our fellow workers, with our bosses and with our children. I invite you to e-mail me as the show goes on if you have questions or if you have any issues you’d like me to discuss I’d be happy to discuss them. I will occasionally have guests on. I also do marriage counseling with my wife, Julia, who is an MSW, and she will be on the show occasionally when we talk about marriage issues.

So, join me now. What I would like to do in our first meeting together is to really talk about what is the kind of psychology that I do. And the kind of psychology that I do, and many others also, is called dynamic psychotherapy. And dynamic psychotherapy is also referred to as the talking cure. Now, why the talking cure? The talking cure because one of the things that we have found over a hundred years of talking psychotherapy is that only if a person can hear us, with attentiveness, with respect and,, of course, also responding, only if another trained person can hear us can we know, on a deep level, what we are saying. Now that sounds paradoxical but it’s true.

We live on a lot of different levels. Sometimes it takes tragedy or difficulty or pain or conflict or little self-destructive things we do for us to learn that we do live on a lot of levels. So one of the goals of therapy is for another person to hear us, so, as I have said, we have a better chance of hearing ourselves. We’re talked to, in our society, through the television, through our phones, through the internet; we’re constantly talked to.  And a lot of times, we don’t realize that we have to talk to ourselves in a quiet, respectful place. That’s really what therapy is about. It’s not about answers necessarily. It’s not about psychotherapists telling you what to do. Psychotherapists know hopefully where to look for resolution of an issue. They don’t know the answers.

And again the kind of therapy that I think can help human beings is one where if you need medication, because of the severity of your symptoms, that’s fine, that’s perfect okay. But we human beings we are historical creatures. When we were little we were  affected by how mommy and daddy and the environment treated us. And we collect all of that history inside of us. We seemingly forget it, but we really don’t forget it.

I’m reminded of the movie many years ago with Barbra Streisand. I’m sure many of you saw it, called The Way We Were. And that wonderful song came out of it that Barbra Streisand sings, what’s too painful to remember, we simply choose to forget. That’s really quite profound and quite helpful for us to understand.. We actually forget nothing, believe it or not. We forget nothing. We can repress a great deal. And that’s okay if we repress it unless it starts interfering with our life and our relationships. And so we have to know a certain amount of our history in order to gain control over that history.

The great philosophers in the West, in particular, have said that many times that history is doomed to repeat itself unless we know it. That’s really very important. History is doomed to repeat itself unless we know it. The task of understanding our self is a slow task. It’s possible, and we have to be patient with ourselves as we come to know ourselves.

Another two little quotes that I particularly like that really explain how we should approach our self, and really what I think any kind of therapy should offer us. One, is an old Roman saying which states that in order to get anything done  “one has to make haste slowly.” Now that’s something I think that we contemporary Americans could think about. We make a lot of haste and we make it very quickly. And I think possibly one of the contributing factors in our present economic turmoil is perhaps we made a little too much haste a little too quickly. And we didn’t think of the ramifications of everything we were doing. That’s part of the human condition but it does get us in trouble. So we have to learn how to make haste slowly.

The second quote also comes from a great Roman playwright called Terrance; it a saying I like in particular because it tells us something about our self. And the great playwright Terrance said “I count nothing human as alien to me.” That’s really terrific. I count nothing human as alien to me. That doesn’t mean we approve of everything that people do. But it means that we don’t set ourselves up and over. We don’t think that we’re better than. It reminds me that we are all capable, we’re human beings, of great acts of love, generosity and kindness. Simultaneously we’re capable of cruelty, greed, selfishness and sadism. That’s the human condition. And what we’re going to be talking about in the show is, what it means, what does the human condition mean? And how do we integrate all these various sides of our self so that we can feel more real?

It was one of Freud’s earlier patients who referred to what was going on as “the talking cure.”  Another one of his patients spoke about chimney sweeping. That’s really what psychotherapy was, it was chimney sweeping. Getting all the debris out and cleaning it all up so that the fire of life, so to speak, could burn a little easier, without setting the house on fire. And when we have a lot of leftover issues from growing up and from our present day experience, the house can go on fire too easily. So it’s better to chimney sweep and get the debris out.

People, as everybody knows, can come to therapy or marriage counseling because they’re experiencing pain. When we experience physical pain, it’s really a signal that something is wrong and we go to a physician, hopefully. When we’re experiencing psychological pain sometimes we feel that we’re supposed to be able to just master it on our own. You know if I have a serious pain in my foot I don’t think I’m supposed to master it on my own. I go to a podiatrist to find out why. It’s the same thing here. When we have emotional pain, when we’re causing our selves emotion pain, when apparently the world we experience is causing us emotional pain, it’s good to go and talk in order to understand ourselves better.

Sometimes a great friend can be a help to us. I’m also convinced that great literature can be a help to us to reflect on oneself. As I have mentioned its very helpful to find a quiet place, a few times a week, if possible where we can think about, where we can meditate, if you wish, and get a better understanding of what is going on in our. Such reflection, be in in therapy or by other means, can help us understand what it means to be alive.

And alive, as I said, I mentioned before, really means the capacity to feel real, that is that I’m able to emotionally touch those close to me; that I’m able to feel their pain. And, I know they feel mine. I’m able to feel their concern, affection, love. I know they feel mine. That I just don’t go through life making a living. Obviously nothing is wrong with making a living, we all have to do it. But if we get caught up in that, we are very easily, proverbially, can miss the forest for the trees.

So we’re going to be talking every Tuesday morning about having a little space where we can think about things to make it less possible that we miss the forest for the trees. What does really being alive mean? It means that occasionally we’re sad, sometimes we’re lonely, sometimes we’re frustrated, sometimes we feel joyful and giving, sometimes we are truly generous and sometimes we are silly and self preoccupied. It’s really all in the mix of being alive on this wonderful complex planet, beautiful planet that we call home. And it’s because we’re such complex creatures that we have to say that we’re aware and unaware at the same time.

Now that’s something that we as human beings have a hard time really grasping.  I would say particularly, we Americans. We Americans are a can-do-people. We focus on the future and that’s terrific. But sometimes we don’t really understand, we don’t really appreciate what we mean by the unconscious.  Some people call it the subconscious. And what the unconscious means, and sometimes we take it as an affront to our self, what it really means is we’re not always in control. There truly are forces inside of us, unrecognized pressures inside of us. And I don’t just mean drives. Memories and experiences that we have that are shaping what we’re doing and we simply can’t recognize them.

For example, the worker who gets in trouble with every supervisor he or she has. Who’s always fighting with them, who always feels misunderstood. Well, not infrequently, when that person has a chance to sit down and think about it, after they get the anger out and after they put on the table maybe a certain legitimate experience they have, they will find that what they’re reliving is a forgotten anger or a forgotten hurt with one of the primary people in their early childhood.  I don’t mean it quite as simply as that. But we are had by our histories, histories we are not always aware of.. And we forget, as Barbra Streisand’s song reminds us, we choose to forget what is too painful to remember and we choose to forget almost automatically.

Of course we don’t remember forgetting, we don’t remember suppressing anything. Of course not, none of us do. But when we have a chance to think about it quietly, in an environment where we don’t feel judged, and where we’re not going to just judge ourselves.. We can frequently and slowly start to remember things that did hurt us and may be causing our behavior now. And so we suddenly find out, well why we keep having trouble with female bosses or male bosses, whatever the case is; that it’s a little more complicated then that they don’t like us, etc. etc.

So it’s some of those kinds of issues that I’m going to try to talk about, to try to just give some information to my listening audience, so that they can do a lot of kind of the work of understanding themselves. They can start on that work of understand themselves when they’re alone. I gave you two quotes before about making haste slowly and about understanding the full, what it means to be a human being.

Another quote from a wonderful English pediatrician psychoanalyst, he died in 1975 is “Oh, God, when I die, may I be alive”. Dr Winnicott was a pediatrician his whole life, along with that he was also a psychoanalyst. He’s written many, many books.  And out of many, many books one of the most favorite quotes that I happen to like in particular is his prayer about being alive. Oh God, may I be alive, when I die…think about that. Isn’t that a terrific sentence? Not, may I just keep on living and living, probably we all would like that. We might get tired but we all would like that. But, oh God, may I be alive when I die. That’s really, I think, the goal of life if you could allow me the paradox. The goal of life is to become alive, not just to exist. To be alive. And if we can feel alive, my gosh, we can almost tolerate anything. And if we don’t feel alive, you know the smallest wave from the ocean is going to knock us right over.

So that’s really what we’re about. And to me that’s really one of the issues of life. Of course we have to support our self and our children and our spouses and help our children and our society, clearly as much as we can. There’s no question about that. But we have to do it feeling alive. And if we’re not alive everything else is just straw.

So again I’m going to be talking about that. I’m going to be trying to walk around that issue so to speak in different ways so that we all can understand it a little better. Because no one has the answers, as I said before, psychotherapists don’t have the answers. Hopefully, they know where the questions are. And if someone knows where the questions are that’s a big help. The answers in life we have to work out and we have to work them out over and over again. We don’t just work them out once. That’s actually what makes life enjoyable. It makes it a little hard work sometimes, but it’s okay, it makes it enjoyable.

As I mentioned before I will be calling occasionally different people to speak with me. The show is not necessarily going to be a call in but I welcome people to e-mail me. I have, let me give you my e-mail address….  it’s just JerryGargiulo@Gmail.Com.  Please write your reactions to the show, your questions, anything at all. I really welcome your comments. If you feel you don’t particularly want to use the internet and you’d rather call, my number in Greenwich is 203-406-7070.  Maybe we’ll take a break for just a minute now and I’ll come back in just a few seconds.

Dr. Jerry: I’m back again. Dr. Jerry with a few final thoughts for you until next week. Next week I’m going to talk about the difference between self worth and that perennial nuisance that we all experience, that is, excessive self preoccupation, the technical term is narcissism. So make sure you join me next week so I can at least try to talk about that and perhaps elucidate a little bit more.

Let me just summarize some of the points that will be a theme throughout the show. I’m absolutely convinced that a psychology that focuses on what it means to be human, on the joy and the pain we experience with each other, that focuses on the ongoing job of understanding who we are, is really worth talking about. We’re not isolated creatures, although individualism is a value particularly with us Americans, we Americans. It is not an absolute. We will be talking about working out a sensible amount of happiness in life. That’s a little ridiculous it seems to me. And if it’s not ridiculous it’s not possible, anyway.

Working out a certain amount of happiness means understanding not only the community we’re living in, but where we came from, that’s what I’ve spoken about. And we have to work that out in order to not  live it out. That’s really the goal. We work out who we are because we have no choice. If we don’t work it out we’re going to live it out and it’s going to intrude into our lives, into our relationships; particularly with our relationships with our children. And since we love our children, we want the best for them and it’s really we owe it to ourselves and to them to try to get a better grounding.

Just because we may have blocked something from our consciousness does not mean it’s not present and alive within us and we have different ways of handling that. We call such way of handling our conflicts defenses. Everybody has defenses, they’re not bad, just sometimes they get in the way. And so when we’re trying to understand our defenses we’re not talking about some kind of moral failing. It’s not a moral failing to be sad, to be unhappy. It’s not even a moral failing to be self-destructive. It’s just unfortunate. And if we could learn to step back a little bit and help ourselves a little more so that we don’t perpetuate the things that make us unhappy, or our spouse unhappy, or our children unhappy, the world would be just a little bit better. And if any of us can make the world just a little better, without sounding like a Pollyanna, wouldn’t that be great?  So it’s better to be aware of our defense then not to be aware of them. That’s one of the things we’re going to be talking about, along with, what does it mean to be real, to be, as I have mentioned, alive.

Realistic is part of being real; idealistic is also part of being real. They’re both are. A sense of where we are and who we are, without self-condemnation is the also part of being real; psychologically we have to step back and understand our actions. If we understand our actions we have a little more leeway as to what we’re going to do.

So I welcome you again to join me next Tuesday morning at 9:00 a.m. at WGCH, and if you have anything that you feel that would be helpful to hear, to have me talk about, please do not hesitate. Do not feel any concern. You can also write me, if you wish. I welcome any response that you have because I would like to make the show something that is meaningful to you, that is helpful to you.

Let me see what else I want to talk about this morning, since I seem to have a bit more time available. I think one of the most important tasks in life and part of what it means to be real, is to have a sensible and solid sense of self-worth. On the other hand, we can get nowhere in life if, instead of self worth, we fall into what we call narcissism.  Excessive self-preoccupation.  Excessive self-concern.  That can do more damage on us personally or a society since narcissism ultimately alienates us from each other.

Because narcissism sucks up all the emotional energy in a room and people react to it; they can’t touch a narcissist.  And human beings are meant to touch each other on the deepest level. Next week I will discuss, in more detail, what I mean by narcissism, its dangers and its consequences; where it has its roots in our past and how we can get a handle on it so we can be, as I have mentioned, more real to ourselves and to others. The talking cure, which Freud promoted, is a big step in self-understanding and resolving such issues as narcissism. At bottom what we are going to be talking about is what does it mean to be human and how to we deepen that experience. We will not be talking about medication; I have no problem with medication, when needed; as long as it does not substitute for self-reflection.

We cannot change our history; we have to understand our history.  That’s what I hope The Psychotherapist’s Corner brings to you, a new level of understanding your history.

Thank you for listening.  I hope you have a wonderful day, and we’ll talk to you next week.

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