75. Sick Versus Slick: 9. Why Did the Psychologist Cross the Road?

For the better part of my early adult life I attended university. In my case, I studied clinical psychology. From start to finish, that path required 10 post-secondary years of school, one year residency, and roughly two years of post-residency registration including professional examinations and licensing. During that time, you spend the majority of your days reading about, writing about, and practicing your profession.

Typically, the audience for your work consists of two people — yourself and your professor, or your supervisor, or your client.  That is a lot of effort for a very small audience. Not don’t get me wrong, the ultimate outcome is wonderful and you are allowed to do what you love and your efforts benefit others and yourself.

Most clinical psychologists (and health care providers) stop learning with the same intensity once they are past all of these academic and professional hurdles. This is natural. One cannot keep that pace indefinitely and the demands of clinical practice soon become all-consuming. As well, for many of us, life goals such as marriage, children, and mortgages had been deferred during our education and we now choose to place our energies and time focused there.

Training in clinical psychology is somewhat odd. It is requires a high level of knowledge of research design and statistics and, in PhD programs, demands that you complete original research to graduate. At the same time, you must also learn the practical art and craft of therapy.  This is why training to become a clinical psychologist is often said to follow a scientist-practitioner model.

Yet, upon completion of our degree and training, very few clinical psychologists will continue to pursue any further original research.  It is not that we are incapable of doing this research.  We simply choose to not do this work.  Excluding dissertation publications, the modal number of publications for clinical psychologists following graduation is exactly zero.

There are number of reasons for this, such as an absence of a post-graduate university affiliation, lack of research funding, and inability to gain ethics clearance. More fundamentally, actively pursuing research is somewhat boring and lacks the level of emotional fulfillment that one achieves through helping clients realize their potential to overcome life obstacles.

Which, ironically, brings me full circle. In my clinical practice, I began to notice that quite a few of my otherwise physically healthy male clients were being prescribed testosterone replacement treatment. Which I found odd and inconsistent with my knowledge of the endocrine system, the mechanics of human sexuality, and the nature of intimate relationships. Very few men I saw were being helped by this medication. Quite the contrary.  Most suffered uncomfortable and negative side effects and did not realize any change in their sexual potency or improvement in their intimate relationships.

So, I thought it would be a good idea to use my research skills and dig through the literature. In part, I wanted to bring that information to my clients and I needed a place to park that information.  However, I also realized that I missed writing as I once did back in my formative years.

And that is why I began to blog.

And the audience is greater than two.

Your Friendly Druggist


74. Saint Valentine is Not the Patron Saint of Men

So Valentine’s Day soon approaches.  The day most feared and hated by all men.

And you know you are screwed.

If you forget, you are screwed.

If you get the wrong thing (because you haven’t been listening – when do you ever listen?), you are screwed.

If you choose to get nothing, you are screwed.

If you get too cheesy of a card, you are screwed

If you buy too much, you are screwed.

If you buy too little, you are screwed.

If you wait until the last minute to make a dinner reservation, you are screwed (and laughed at by the restaurant).

You, my friend, are screwed.

But I am here to help.  Sure, you can get your loved one the most wonderful gift, whisk her away to a fabulous holiday destination, respond to her every whim, and wait on her hand and foot.  But none of that provides you with a get-out-of-jail-free card, if you are a dick the day after Valentine’s day.

So I am going to offer you the best gift of all to give your female partner – how to listen effectively.  That is a gift that keeps giving.

Imagine this. Your wife, girlfriend, female-person-of-interest, or whatever approaches you and says:

“I was thinking about what you said yesterday when I was complaining about my coworker.  You where a bit dismissive about my issue and you seemed bored and it appeared as if you didn’t care.  At first I was a little annoyed with that and then, the more I thought about it, I became very sad.  I thought if you can’t even listen to what I am saying then I am not sure that this relationship can work or at least provide me with the emotional support I need.”

Yikes!  How do you respond to that?

1.    [Anger].  That’s not fair.  I listen to you all the time even when it is the same issue over and over again.  I have tried to give you advice but you never listen.  If you would just take my advice, your problem with her would be over.

2.    [Apology with Misdirection].  I’m sorry.  I thought I was listening really hard.  But if you were feeling that way, you should have told me then not a day later.  You always do that.  It drives me crazy!

3.    [Apology with Defense].   I’m sorry but that’s not fair.  I work hard all day and try to do the best I can but you are never happy.  Well, I’m not happy either.

4.    [Apology with Fear].  I’m sorry.  Please don’t leave me!

5.    [Silence].

Now, most of these are pretty common reactions and none of these really work. That is they do not work if you wish to increase your intimacy with your partner and demonstrate that you are, in fact, trying to listen.

Here is the trick.  Don’t focus on the content.  Focus on the emotion.  That is, her emotion and not your emotion.

Let me break it down for you.  This is what was said to you:

1.    I was complaining about my coworker.
2.    You were dismissive and bored and it looked like you did not care.
3.    First I was annoyed but then I became sad.
4.    I need emotional support from you and I am wondering whether or not you can do that.

Now, you could focus on your emotional state at the time and say that you were not bored or dismissive and that you do care.  That may be true but it misses her emotion.  Her emotion is that she was initially annoyed and then became sad.

That is where you want to focus.

You say:

“That must been difficult to feel that sad and to start worrying about our relationship.”

By saying this, you avoid coming across as defensive, angry, or wimpy, you are not focusing solely on your emotion, and you go directly to how she was (and is) feeling.

Now, if you have time available, you say: “Let me get you a coffee/tea/glass of wine and we can talk.”

If you don’t have time available, you say: “This is important to me and I want to talk further about it tonight (or tomorrow or on the weekend or whenever).”

Now you are not out of the woods just yet, you still have to do the talk.  Or, more specifically, you have to do the listen.

But by focusing on her emotion and not yours and by acknowledging the presence of her negative and sad emotions within the relationship, you help her feel less alone and more connected to you.

And that was the whole reason why she brought up this issue in the first place.

(You don’t need to understand what less or more connected actually means because no guy understands that.  Just do what I say.)

The important thing here is by listening and focusing on how she is feeling, you cancel the original issue that was brought up – that you are not listening to her and not being supportive.

Everybody wins.

74. Cupid Arrow

73. Male Responsibility Syndrome. It’s Time for a Cure

[For immediate release]

The problem of MRS

Male responsibility syndrome (MRS) is a much under-diagnosed and serious disorder that, if left untreated, can cause significant harm to men, women, and their relationships. MRS — the inability to take responsibility for one’s behavior — normally emerges in childhood but will typically resolve with age and the maturation process.  Yet, for some men, this disorder may continue throughout adulthood and it is currently estimated to affect 10 to 100 percent of the adult male population.

How is MRS detected?

Hallmark symptoms of MRS are the three D’s — defensiveness, deflection, and denial.  Any one of these symptoms, alone or in combination, may suggest that you or someone you love may be suffering from MRS.

Simple screening tests are available for MRS and early detection is critical to arrest the risk for long-term and potentially irreversible MRS.  Current clinical guidelines recommend the MRS challenge test.

For example, if the question: “Did you remember to pick the children up from school?” is answered with “How dare you call me irresponsible! ” you may be seeing incipient signs of defensiveness.  If the response is: “What’s for dinner?”, then it is highly likely that there may be the presence of deflection. Finally, if the answer is: “We have children?” then denial may be indicated.

Is a cure imminent?  Sadly, no.  It will be a long hard journey before we can cure MRS.  But with your help, anything is possible. We can’t do it without you.  Really we can’t. We don’t know how.

Please help us to help ourselves to get help to help ourselves.

73. MRS Foundation

69. How to Listen Like A Man

Your female partner does not want to talk about you to her friends, her sister, her mother, her hairdresser, or her therapist.  She wants to talk to you about you.  But if you will not listen, she will talk to others.  The words must come out.

If you choose to only listen to those emotions that do not cause you discomfort, you slowly create distance between yourself and your female partner.  While it is true that you can be wonderful and amazing, you also can be less than perfect at times.  If you wish to hear words of adoration and love, you must also be prepared to hear words of irritation and anger.

Most men have difficulty with this basic fact and they often confuse hearing negative emotions as a sign of pending conflict and potential loss of their intimate relationship.  But, in fact, the opposite may be true.  If you are not willing or able to hear the bad, you slowly create a gap between yourself and your female partner and she begins to feel that she cannot confide or share her emotions with you.  If she cannot share with you, she feels apart from you, and that very well may be the beginning of the end of the relationship.

Do you truly believe that by becoming defensive and arguing that her emotions are untrue or misguided, that you can convince her to eliminate those emotions?  They do not disappear, they merely go underground.  Out of your sight, however, is not out of her mind (or her heart).

I do appreciate that hearing not-so-nice things about yourself from someone you love is hard.  It is a struggle.  However, as unbelievable as this may sound, if you able to hear all your female partner’s emotions, you create intimacy and closeness.

Your challenge is not how to control what you will or will not hear.

Your challenge is to encourage your partner to be comfortable with expressing all of her emotions.  And when that occurs, be grateful that she chose you to share them with.

69. Angry Man

66. Men Shopping Together

Male grouping, in the absence of alcohol, sports weaponry, or court order, is a rare event.  But the rarest of all male events is men shopping together.  The rules here are clear.  Men can shop together if they are related by blood or marriage.  Beyond that, you will not see men shopping together very often.

Now when I say together, I mean actually being beside each other and commenting on what each other is thinking of buying.  You know, sharing.  Whatever that is.

There are, however, some exceptions to this rule.

Men can shop together only upon invitation and only when one man is serving as the role of expert guide.  For example, if you do not know anything about riding lawnmowers and said lawnmower is a must-have, then you are allowed to ask your friend – the riding lawnmower expert – to accompany you to ponder such a purchase.  Now, your friend is not allowed to comment on the  wisdom of you purchasing a riding lawnmower to cut your postage stamp of a lawn.  That is reserved for your female person-of-interest.  Instead, he can only offer general advice regarding the pros and cons of riding lawnmower A as compared to riding lawnmower B.

Men who shop together under the expert-novice rule can evoke this rule for only one item per shopping trip.  To push this exception beyond one item creates a level of tension in a male relationship and skirts dangerously close to intimacy.  Put another way, you can ask your friend for his expertise on a lawnmower but you cannot then ask for further advice on some other item unless you had carefully and delicately negotiated that at the beginning of the shopping trip.

Now, it is perfectly allowed (and encouraged) for men who shop together to reverse the expert-novice role on the same shopping trip.  You help me with riding lawnmowers and I offer my expertise on the cost-utility trade-off between telescoping and non-telescoping toilet snakes.  This role reversal maintains harmony within the fragile male relationship universe.

If you are of the female persuasion, you may find all of this vaguely ridiculous and silly.  I hear you.  You may also be doubtful of the existence of male shopping rules.  If so, conduct a field study then next time you are in the mall and count all the men you see shopping together.

See, I told you.
66. Men Shopping Together

65. You Never Get Points. You Only Have a Record

All men like points.  We inevitably screw up.  We can’t help ourselves.  Upon said behavior, we try to redeem ourselves by cashing in our points.  For example:  “Look, I’m sorry I forgot to buy you flowers on Valentine’s Day this year (and last year, but let’s not rehash the past).  But, in my defense, I did re-grout the bathroom tiles last week.”

In mannish logic, the failure to purchase flowers equals a loss of 100 points.  Tile grouting, however, is worth a gain of 100 points.  Therefore, harmony is established.

It is always puzzling to men that the point system is not effective in ending an argument.  So, we then bring out the big guns — “Well, I did say ‘sorry’!”  That is our gentle reminder that re-grouting bathroom tiles plus a sorry (that we didn’t even charge for) is really worth more points than the whole forgetting-of-the-flowers episode.  Our female-person-of-interest is, in fact, ahead in points.  That’s a win-win for everyone.

Sadly, this logic escapes most women.

The reality is that no account has ever been created.  It only exists in our minds.   Therefore, no point exchange is possible and, unfortunately, we must take responsibility for our behavior.  This truly is a shame.  It would have been such a perfect system.

Instead, what we are stuck with is a record.  On this record there is no pardon or time off for good behavior.  Your record is permanent.

The question that most men need to ask is not how many points do I win or lose for this behavior but “Do I want this on my record?”

You know the answer.

Bill Gates Mugshot

63. The Three Magic Words

Most men think that the three magic words to say to women are “I love you.”  Those are certainly very nice words and always pleasant to hear, but they are not magic.  The magic words are, in fact, “tell me more.”

As in, “tell me more about your day”, “tell me more about how you get angry when I leave my clothes on the floor”, or “tell me more about how much you don’t understand my mother”.

These words are magic in that they signify that we (men) are willing to listen and learn more about our female person-of-interest’s day, needs, wishes, hurts, sadness, and confusion.  By asking for more information we are expressing interest and wishing to learn more about that person who, ideally, is the most important person in our life.  Why wouldn’t most men want to know more?

I will tell you why.

Most men do not want to hear more because they assume at the end of the discussion they will be required to do extra chores or activities.  Most men assume that they must respond to any expression of distress, frustration, or anger from their significant female other through action.  Put another way: “tell me more” equals “do more” for most men.

There may be some truth in this.  We probably should be a little less sloppy with our clothes.  And it would not kill us to clean the bathroom sink every now and then.  But, if you are a man and you are reading this, do not leap out of your chair and run to pick up your clothes during a “tell me more” session.  That would be a colossal mistake.  Instead, you should just mentally note your transgression and keep repeating the following phrase: “that must be frustrating for you and I want to learn more about how you feel.  Please tell me more.”  Focus on the emotion and do not worry too much about the immediate content.

And guess what?  Now your female person-of-interest feels closer to you.  More close to you than if you had picked up all your clothes off the floor for one year straight.


63. Tell Me More