“What’s in a Chair?” From the New York Times

If you would like to see the pictures with this article, click here to see the original link: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/06/garden/06shrink.html?_r=1&pagewanted=all

What’s in a Chair?

Saul Robbins

Saul Robbins, a New York photographer, has photographed therapists’ chairs in a series called “Initial Intake,”


Published: March 6, 2008

ANN LOFTIN could write a textbook on the nuances of modern psychotherapeutic methods — and the personality types of their practitioners — based on the home office décor of the therapists who have treated her. There was the strict Freudian whose couch was covered in plastic and who barely spoke, though every once in a while a phrase like “mother’s milk” might have slipped out. Another’s office featured phallic African statuary and pictures of a young wife, who was herself always audible somewhere in the background. A licensed clinical social worker had lots of comfy, overstuffed furniture and encouraged patients to sit anywhere (sessions ended in long hugs that suggested much countertransference). Her last analyst, with whom she spent a fruitful decade, did not see patients in his home, but in an office building, and his room there held nothing more than two nondescript leather chairs, a bookcase lined with medical texts and a table holding a box of tissues.

“I’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly,” said Ms. Loftin, a 53-year-old freelance writer from Lakeville, Conn., with 20 years of therapy behind her. Like many patients, Ms. Loftin learned long ago that a therapist’s office — particularly a home office — and the stuff that’s in it can be freighted with more revelations than Sunday morning in a Baptist church.

Therapists have been working out of their homes ever since psychoanalysis was invented, but recently the meaning and message of that setting have come under particular scrutiny. As viewers of the HBO series “In Treatment” will attest, a home office can be a very problematic space. In an early episode of the series, starring Gabriel Byrne as a therapist named Paul Weston, Laura, a repellently narcissistic patient with a bad case of erotic transference (that’s shrink talk for having a crush on your doctor), nearly claws down the door that separates Weston’s office from his house in an attempt to get to a bathroom (the bathroom in his office is broken). Agitation on both sides ensues. For the writers of “In Treatment,” Weston’s office becomes a metaphor for how the boundaries are breaking down between his work and his personal life. But even in the real world, therapists are increasingly aware that their office space can have a profound impact on their patients.

Last year, an article in Psychoanalytic Psychology, a journal of the American Psychological Association, created a ruckus by questioning the ethical considerations surrounding therapists’ home offices. Its author, Karen J. Maroda, an analyst and the former ethics chair of the division of psychoanalysis of the American Psychological Association, wrote that the sights and smells of the doctor’s home were “keyholes” into his or her life that could be overly stimulating or overwhelming. “Oedipal material, for instance, should arise when a patient is ready to face it,” she wrote, “not when he or she bumps into the analyst’s spouse in the driveway.”

Dr. Maroda remembered her own experience as a young analyst and patient being seen in her therapist’s tony home, replete with family members and an ample household staff. “I didn’t realize the negative effect on me as a patient until years later when I had more objectivity,” she said last week.

“The session was on Saturday mornings and so I’d see her son, the glaring teenager, who was obviously resenting her time away from him. I felt guilty. I felt angry. They were wealthy; I was just starting out. The first session, the door was opened by a maid. For someone who didn’t come from money it was very intimidating.” At the same time, it was a deeply nurturing experience, she said, adding this caution: “Just because it feels good in the moment doesn’t mean that it’s ultimately therapeutic.”

What she hadn’t bargained on, continued Dr. Maroda, was how angry the response would be to her article, expressed in follow-up pieces published in the journal, as well as affronted comments to its editor and to her. “I had someone say that I was conducting a witch hunt,” she said. Clearly, Dr. Maroda had touched the analytic community right where it lived. At home.

TWO Sundays ago, Lewis Aron, director of New York University’s postdoctoral program in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis, organized a salon for his peers. The topic? “In Treatment.” Two hundred analysts showed up. “It went like this,” said Dr. Aron. “Someone would stand up and say, ‘Hi, my name is Judy X and I’m addicted to ‘In Treatment,’ and then everybody would say, ‘Hi, Judy!’ ” For two hours, the analysts discussed the various mistakes Weston makes regarding boundary issues, and one analyst broached the idea that the placement of his office in his home was the cause of his many transgressions.

“Someone brought up Maroda’s article,” said Dr. Aron. “He didn’t agree with her. I don’t either. I think there is always a dialectic tension between the personal and the professional and we lose a lot by making the setting too clinical. There is something engaging in seeing the therapist has a real life, and is a real person.”

Few therapists today would contend that it’s possible or even desirable to present oneself as a true blank slate, with an office and treatment style utterly free from personal influence. And so the conversation now centers on degrees of influence and revelation: is a family photograph too much? What about the family dog?

Consider the experience of Betsy Israel, a Manhattan author, as a case of rather too much revelation. When she was in her 20’s, Ms. Israel, now 49, was treated by an elderly female analyst who was “so strict, so doctrinaire it was like being analyzed by Anna Freud,” she said. “I had a brilliant transference: she was my mother, and for two years we were trying to get through talking about sex and denial.”

One day, Ms. Israel was waiting for her session in the long hall that led to the office, which was in a cavernous apartment on the Upper West Side. She began to focus on the faded, 50s-era nude watercolors that lined the hall and realized with horror that the subject of those nudes was her doctor.

“She was a very proper lady in tweeds, not a naked person at all, if you know what I mean,” said Ms. Israel with an audible shudder. “I never brought it up. I felt like that was a failure on my part, but it also began the process of turning away” from treatment, she said, which perhaps was not such a bad thing. Ms. Israel speculated that the nudes’ placement was intentional, possibly to “raise the stakes” for certain patients. But what the child psychologist who treated Ms. Israel’s young daughter after 9/11 intended by laying out a book of Robert Mapplethorpe nudes in the waiting room was beyond her reasoning. “I couldn’t make sense of it,” she said.

The presence of a pet in a therapist’s office can be similarly confounding. Tom Cashin, a vice president at Jed Johnson Associates, was too embarrassed and shy, he said, to address the “four eyes” of his therapist and the therapist’s German shepherd. And Shannon Birk remembers choosing a therapist from a list provided by her H.M.O. seven years ago, when she was “smack dab in a major depression.” The doctor’s office contained a dog bed, housebreaking training pads and a small dog. One day, Ms. Birk found herself in the waiting room well past the appointed session time. When the door finally swung open, there was the dog, outfitted in a Halloween devil costume. “The doctor had the little red-horned headband and scissors in her hand,” Ms. Birk remembered, “while she explained the headpiece was too big. Apparently she had been attempting to alter it while she kept me waiting.” During another session, recalled Ms. Birk, the doctor paused to give the dog a biscuit for performing a trick.

SO what do therapists think about when they decorate an office? Ann Maloney, an interior designer turned psychiatrist, works on the ground floor of the Manhattan brownstone where she also lives (the entrances are separate). She knows a thing or two about the semiotics of objects and the meanings that lurk behind décor. Working as a designer in her 20’s, “I realized that when my clients were arguing about the drapes,” she said, “it was never really about the drapes.”

Dr. Maloney continued, “My bent is, the most important thing about your space is that you’re comfortable enough to do your work well, and that it reflect you,” she said. “I don’t mean your inner dark secrets, but something about you as a person. It’s a market, and patients are savvy. Your home and your office are reflections of you. Why would you want to see someone who doesn’t appear to have their act together?”

Though as Christian McLaughlin, a movie producer explained, grotty décor can be therapeutic. “I always had this vision of therapists’ offices as fairly posh and leathery, with degrees on the walls from Ivy League institutions,” said Mr. McLaughlin, 38. In other words, aspirational. But then Mr. McLaughlin, who moved to Los Angeles from New York eight years ago to produce “Legally Blonde,” found himself in therapy for the first time, in a dump of an office in the Valley next to a casting agency.

“The large couch on which I’d sit every week was covered with cheap stuffed animals caked in dried tears and snot,” he recalled. “I never started a therapy session in which I wasn’t physically repulsed by the surroundings, like an animal fearing for its life. Therapy was already so wildly uncomfortable to me, and since the setting was, too, it just all went hand in hand and I had to embrace it.”

Florence Fellman, a movie set decorator, said that when she creates a set for a psychiatrist character, she uses “clichéd objects” so the audience can read the scene immediately, like American Indian baskets and African art and “all kinds of familiar ethnic art that says, ‘I’m accepting of all cultures and customs so anything you say here won’t shock me.’ ” When her son was a teenager, “and needed help coping,” she said, he was referred to a psychiatrist whose office looked like one of Ms. Fellman’s sets come to life. “I tried to suppress my instinct that his advice would be as clichéd as his office.” Four $400 sessions later, her instinct turned out to be right.

The set of “In Treatment” displays none of these clichés. In fact, Weston’s overstuffed office, with its huge boat models, parchment-shaded lamps and books, reads most like the living room of a Harvard academic with a trust fund, or maybe a Kennedy relative. Suzuki Ingerslev, the show’s production designer, dressed it thus not in service to any ideal she carried about a therapist’s office but “to create interest behind the character’s heads. If we had blank walls in there, people would die watching it,” she said.

“It’s like an antique shop,” said Robert Langs, a Manhattan psychoanalyst. “And the bathroom inside it! I think the whole show is chaos, and he’s trying to drive his patients crazy.”

Tchotchkes and plumbing aside, for Dr. Langs, who described himself as a revisionist Freudian with a sparsely furnished office in an office building, “there is only one archetypal unconscious view of a home office. And that is that the home office is totally inappropriate and destructive to the patient. And what about the impact on the therapist’s own family?”

David Tolchinsky, a 45-year-old screenwriter and chair of the Radio, Television and Film department at Northwestern University, has thought a lot about that question. He grew up with an analyst father who saw patients in the family living room. This was closed off by two double doors, and no family member could walk around during sessions or enter or leave the house when patients were doing so. Mr. Tolchinsky admitted it was an oppressive environment, but it was also a boon, he said. One of his screenplays in development, “Reflections on a Teenage Antichrist,” is about a heavy metal loving teenager who slowly begins to believe his psychiatrist father may in fact be the devil. “A lot of the scenes take place in his house, with the teen hero listening at the double doors of his father’s office. O.K., so I don’t think my father was the devil, but he did give me a great gift as a writer, which is the image of those closed double doors.”

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Polyamory in the Media: Can You Help?

As many Poly folks, or even Poly-aware folks know, Polyamory is subject to some pretty harsh criticism and judgements by people who don’t understand it, and by the media at large. As a therapist working with Poly folks, I’ve heard many stories of unkind and ignorant assumptions and judgements coming from non-Poly-aware people, and I find myself continually frustrated by the misunderstandings non-Poly folks have about the lifestyle. I’ve done what I can, through training and educational opportunites, to teach people about what Polyamory really means, and what it looks like, but the audience I can reach on my own is still somewhat limited.

In the past year, I was contacted by a staff writer for a large national publication who is interested in writing an article about what Polyamory is, specifically profiling a Poly family. At first, I wasn’t sure what I thought about this possibility, how would this writer depict Poly? And how did I know he would sensationalize the lifestyle? Eventually, I decided that the opportunity to help raise awareness and shed light on a topic that lots of people either have never heard about or have very strong negative reactions toward was important enough to move forward.

The reason I am posting this is that this author needs a Poly family to write about specifically in the context of this article. I’m putting this out there because I’m hoping to find Poly folks who would be willing to–very publicly–put themselves in the limelight for an article. Could this be you?

I can’t guarantee that you will be featured in this article just because you volunteer, the writer has a pretty specific idea of the type of family in mind that he would like to profile. Please email or call me with any questions about this article, I look forward to hearing from you!

As Victims, Men Struggle for Rape Awareness from NYTimes.com

This is a heartbreaking article about the prevalence of rape and sexual assault against men.

Men Struggle for Rape Awareness

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

ASSAULTED Keith Smith of East Windsor, N.J., was raped when he was a 14-year-old hitchhiker.

Keith Smith was 14 when he was raped by a driver who picked him up after a hockey team meeting. He had hitchhiked home, which is why, for decades, he continued to blame himself for the assault.
Michael Nagle for The New York Times

NIGHTMARES Keith Smith “was waking up screaming” for years after his rape, he said.

When the driver barreled past Hartley’s Pork Pies on the outskirts of Providence, R.I., where Mr. Smith had asked to be dropped off, and then past a firehouse, he knew something was wrong.

“I tried to open the car door, but he had rigged the lock,” said Mr. Smith, of East Windsor, N.J., now 52. Still, he said, “I had no idea it was going to be a sexual assault.”

Even today, years after the disclosure of the still-unfolding child abuse scandal in the Catholic Church and the arrest of a former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach accused of sexually abusing boys, rape is widely thought of as a crime against women.

Until just a few weeks ago, when the federal government expanded its definition of rape to include a wider range of sexual assaults, national crime statistics on rape included only assaults against women and girls committed by men under a narrow set of circumstances. Now they will also include male victims.

While most experts agree women are raped far more often than men, 1.4 percent of men in a recent national survey said they had been raped at some point. The study, by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that when rape was defined as oral or anal penetration, one in 71 men said they had been raped or had been the target of attempted rape, usually by a man they knew. (The study did not include men in prison.)

And one in 21 said they had been forced to penetrate an acquaintance or a partner, usually a woman; had been the victim of an attempt to force penetration; or had been made to receive oral sex.

Other estimates have run even higher. A Department of Justice report found that 3 percent of men, or one in 33, had been raped. Some experts believe that one in six men have experienced unwanted sexual contact of some kind as minors.

But for many men, the subject is so discomfiting that it is rarely discussed — virtually taboo, experts say, because of societal notions about masculinity and the idea that men are invulnerable and can take care of themselves.

“We have a cultural blind spot about this,” said David Lisak, a clinical psychologist who has done research on interpersonal violence and sexual abuse and is a founding board member of 1in6, an organization that offers information and services to men who had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences as children.

“We recognize that male children are being abused,” Dr. Lisak said, “but then when boys cross some kind of threshold somewhere in adolescence and become what we perceive to be men, we no longer want to think about it in this way.”

Even when high-profile cases dominate the news, said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime advocacy organization in Washington, “attention goes to the things we feel more comfortable talking about — such as whether Penn State had done enough, and what will happen to their football program — and not to the question, ‘What do we do to prevent boys from being sexually assaulted?’ ”

In an interview with The Washington Post this month, Joe Paterno, the Penn State football coach who was fired after the abuse scandal erupted and who died of lung cancer on Sunday, said that when an assistant had told him about witnessing an inappropriate encounter between a young boy and Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach who is facing charges of sexual abuse, he had been confused and unsure how to proceed. Mr. Paterno said the assistant “didn’t want to get specific. And to be frank with you, I don’t know that it would have done any good, because I never heard of, of rape and a man.”

Much of the research on the sexual assault of men has focused on prisons. But men are also raped outside of prison, usually by people they know, including acquaintances and intimate partners, but occasionally by complete strangers. They are raped as part of violent, drunken or drug-induced assaults; war crimes; interrogations; antigay bias crimes; and hazing rites for male clubs and organizations, like fraternities, and in the military.

In one study of 3,337 military veterans applying for disability benefits for post-traumatic stress disorder, 6.5 percent of male combat veterans and 16.5 percent of noncombat veterans reported either in-service or post-service sexual assault. (The rates were far higher for female veterans, 69.0 percent and 86.6 percent respectively.)

A Pentagon report released on Thursday found a 64 percent increase in sexual crimes in the Army since 2006, with rape, sexual assault and forcible sodomy the most frequent violent sex crimes committed last year; 95 percent of all victims were women.

Some studies have reported that the risk of rape is greatest for men who are young, are living in poverty or homeless, or are disabled or mentally ill. The C.D.C. study found that one-quarter of men who had been raped were assaulted before they were 10 , usually by someone they knew.

And young men raised by poor single mothers are especially vulnerable to male predators, said Dr. Zane Gates, an internist who cares for low-income patients on Medicaid at a community health center in Altoona, Pa.

“You’re looking for a male figure in your life desperately, and you’ll give anything for that,” he said.

Eugene Porter, a therapist in Oakland, Calif., and the author of the book “Treating the Young Male Victim of Sexual Assault,” said that while some assailants seek power and dominance, others “find that aggression enhances their sexual experience.”

“There is no arena in which rape takes place between men and women that it does not take place between men and men,” he said.

Like women, men who are raped feel violated and ashamed and may become severely depressed or suicidal. They are at increased risk for substance abuse, problems with interpersonal relationships, physical impairments, chronic pain, insomnia and other health problems.

But men also face a challenge to their sense of masculinity. Many feel they should have done more to fight off their attackers. Since they may believe that men are never raped, they may feel isolated and reluctant to confide in anyone. Male rape victims may become confused about their sexual orientation or, if gay and raped by a man, blame their sexual orientation for the rape.

“If you’re sexually assaulted, there’s this idea that you’re no longer a man,” said Neil Irvin, executive director of the organization Men Can Stop Rape. “The violence is ignored, and your sexual orientation and gender are confronted.”

Many rape crisis centers — which often also provide services for victims of domestic violence — do not have the resources to counsel male victims. Remarkably few male victims seek professional help for injuries, screening for sexually transmitted diseases or counseling after an attack, often waiting years or decades.

One study of 705 men in Virginia found that 91, or 13 percent, had been sexually assaulted, a vast majority of them before they turned 18. Fewer than one-fifth of victims had ever received professional services related to the assault.

“Men are affected — they have high rates of P.T.S.D. and depression — but the majority don’t get help,” said Dr. Saba W. Masho, the lead author of the Virginia study and an associate professor of epidemiology and community health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “It’s easy for you and I to talk about it, but when you put yourself in that victim’s shoes, they’re asking, ‘Do I want people to know? How do I seek help? Do I want my doctor to know? Where do I go?’ ”

Mr. Smith told his older brother and father about what had happened as soon as he got home, and the three went to the police to file a report. Mr. Smith had memorized the license plate number of the car, and the owner, who was known to the police because of a conviction for distributing pornography, was arrested. He was killed on the streets of Providence before he could stand trial.

Today, Mr. Smith is a member of the speakers bureau for Rainn, the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, which provides online counseling for victims. For years, he said, he suffered from nightmares in which he was fleeing his assailant’s car, scared that the man, who had handed him $10 and dropped him off almost three hours after picking him up, was coming back.

“I was waking up screaming,” he said.

Why is the ‘Seattle Freeze’ so hard to melt? From kpluwonders.com

 Many of you know that I teach classes on flirting, and we talk about the ‘Seattle Freeze’ often in class. Try taking the advice at the bottom: going to a coffee shop without your laptop or cellphone. Strike up a conversation with a stranger and see how it makes you feel!

Why is the ‘Seattle Freeze’ so hard to melt?

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By Jennifer Wing

Is Seattle a great but lonely place to live?

The city often ranks pretty high on those lists of the best places to move to – There’s the food, the water, the mountains, the music. But once people get here, they find it’s pretty tough to make friends. There’s even a name for it: The Seattle Freeze.

We wondered: When did the freeze set in? And, how can a newcomer ever break through it?


The freeze defined

The Seattle Freeze can play out in many different ways.

You say hello to someone walking past on the sidewalk, and they look straight ahead as if you’re invisible. Or, you’re at the grocery store in the checkout line, and the person waiting behind you keeps a distance of at least 10 feet and never makes eye contact.

The Urban Dictionary defines The Urban Dictionary defines ‘Seattle Freeze’ this way:

“A phrase that describes a local public consensus that states the city of Seattle and/ or its outlying suburbs are generally not friendly, asexual, introverted, socially aloof, clickish or strictly divided through its social classes, thus making the city/ area difficult to make social connections on all levels.”


Would you lean out and say hello?

At a speed dating event in downtown Seattle, Laura and Kelly said they were having a hard time cracking the ‘reserve’ of the city.

“I think Seattle people are polite, but they don’t make an effort to get to know you. You won’t get invited over for dinner,” Kelly said.

Sandra Wolf, who hosts these speed dating events as a side job, knows there is something off about this place when she compares it to where she went to college in Louisiana.

“In the South, people want to talk to you in the grocery store,” she said. “People will lean out their car windows to talk to you. In Seattle that will never happen. ‘I’ve got my space you’ve got yours.’ I’m not sure why that is, but I definitely notice a difference.”


Is it the weather or heritage?

Courtesy of MOHAICourtesy of MOHAI

Well, the weather might have something to do with it. Rain and gray skies make people want to hunker down.

Then, there is the Scandinavian factor.

At one time, around the year 1910, most of Seattle’s immigrants were from places like Finland, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. Not only did they bring yummy pancakes, they also helped shape the city’s reserved personality.

Stina Cowan works at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard and says where she comes from, friendships don’t happen overnight.

“It takes longer to open up and friendship has to grow slowly. That can be interpreted as invasion of privacy almost. Too much too soon,” she said.

Cowan suspects this is because in Nordic countries, people live in the same place for a long time and often go to school with the same group from Kindergarten through high school. And when you do see a very outgoing person, they are to be avoided.

“It’s usually alcohol involved.”

Here’s Mr. Rodgers singing his famous song, as a hint for those needing encouragement
and direction for thawing the freeze:



Is it technology?

Aside from the weather and the Scandinavian aloofness, there is the tech factor.

People who are attracted to jobs at places like Microsoft, Amazon and Google already have a reputation for keeping to themselves, which makes the freeze that much colder.

Corey, 37, works in the tech industry and said he and his few friends are too focused on work to make enough time for socializing.

Kevin_H. / FlickrKevin_H. / Flickr

“A lot of tech people who are focused in accumulating possessions, cars and things – I’m in IT and I know – they are good looking guys. They just don’t dress so well. I don’t get out that much. I work from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., six days a week.”

A 2008 Wall Street Journal article clearly shows that while people here are “open” to new ideas, we’re just near the bottom of the states for being extroverted. Sociologist Jodi O’Brien at Seattle University added that this group relies heavily on digital devices to communicate which means they are losing the ability to simply hang out and talk.

“If you email something I don’t like, I can scream at the computer, but I don’t have to interact with you.  The more we can do that, the less inclined we are to engage in the messy social world.”

Meanwhile, back at the speed dating event Nick, who grew up here and admits to propagating the Seattle Freeze, was working on loosening up a bit. He said he is trying to be more outgoing.

“I have the perfect pick up line. ‘Hi, how are you? Hi, how are you doing?’”

While Nick was working to thaw out a bit, Kelly, who has been in Seattle for five years, was a little worried she’s becoming like one of the locals.

“I’m changing a bit. I’m becoming exclusive,” she said. “I don’t want people to look at me or talk to me. I’m part of the problem now!”


So is it inevitable?

Try this: Next time you go to a coffee shop, leave your computer at home. Put your phone away. Test out one of Nick’s pick up lines. Who knows? The Seattle freeze may just start to melt away.