Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Jazz pianist and radio host Marian McPartland died last night

This week Marian McPartland died at the age of 95. Until two years ago she had hosted Piano Jazz, the longest running cultural show –more than thirty years—on National Public Radio, and had interviewed and performed with all the major jazz musicians of the time. Moving from her native Great Britain with her American soldier (and musician) husband to the United States, she eventually moved to NYC where she sought out her idol, bebop pianist Mary Lou Williams. Her biographer Paul de Barros wrote that McPartland, instead of competitiveness, had a ‘we’re in this together’ attitude, and she brought this camaraderie to her radio program. The improvised conversations with guests, she said, were like jazz itself, “spontaneous and free-flowing.”  She spoke of how concerts communicated this freedom (in part, I suppose, by modeling it, being with it) to audiences.

In addition to improvisation, McPartland’s Piano Jazz and contemporary psychoanalysis shared many things. For example, McPartland made her show about her guests, not just about herself. She was open hearted and inclusive, admiring and accepting.  Quoting from NPR, “[S]he reminded listeners every week that we’re all in this together.” I have to smile to myself when I remember McPartland’s throaty voice, but today I smile thinking of how jazz and improve itself (think Phil Ringstrom) can so inform an analytic attitude. I smile to myself when I imagine sharing with McPartland the camaraderie of how we both feel about our respective career paths.  She said, “You have to love what you do.” 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Implicit Communication and Musical Performances

National Public Radio’s Morning Edition this morning reported that Chia-Jung Tsay, a classical pianist and a psychologist at University College, London recently published a study in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showing that amateur and professional musicians could best predict the winner of classical piano competitions when they could only see, but not hear, the competitors performances, better able to predict than even both those who either only heard the performance, or, surprisingly, both saw and heard it. NPR said, “Incredibly, the volunteers were better able to identify the winners when they couldn't hear the music at all,” suggesting that the original judges “heavily over-weighted visual information…” 

Since good looks did not seem to be a factor, Tsay concluded, ‘There is something about visual information that is better able to convey cues such as passion or involvement or creativity. These elements are very much a part of high-quality performance.’  This ability to predict winners has also been shown to apply to voters predicting winners of elections when they watched videos of the political candidates with the sound off. Both Tsay and the reporter seemed to intimate that people actually do judge a book by its cover, but I saw Tsay’s finding to be commensurate with what neurobiology has shown about the power of implicit communication.

Because there is joy in the communion of shared emotional experience, and as we are hardwired to read the intentions of others through implicit cues (gestures, facial expressions, prosody, etc), and, furthermore, as these cues are more important in understanding another than even the spoken word (or, musical note, as it turns out), then it makes sense that visual cues about the musician during a musical performance heavily contribute to the enjoyment of the experience beyond just what is pleasurable to the ear.  As it turns out, Tsay’s experiment adds to the growing body of knowledge that the contribution of implicit cues is more heavily weighted by the human brain.  She says so herself when she states that visual information better conveys passion, involvement and creativity. I can’t think of a greater joy than being caught up in a shared experience of passion and creativity, be it in dance, debate, music, making love, or delighting in a toddler’s joy at discovering an acorn can roll down the sidewalk.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sympathy for the Devil

Wounded Monster: Hitler's Path from Trauma to Malevolence by Theo L. Dorpat

Next month on September 18 TBIPS resumes classes, including the first year course “Introduction to Psychoanalytic Concepts.” While the privileging of left brain narrative (e.g. free association) and insight (understanding via verbal interpretation) have long been emphasized by traditional training programs, TBIPS starts its instruction on the being with patients. What is an open attitude that invites possibility into the treatment room? An exercise to foster an open and accepting attitude includes having the clinician student imagine all the ways s/he might empathize with the most unacceptable of human creatures, such as the murderer, the homophobe, the pedophile.

Such is the call to stretch the limits of empathy in Theo L. Dorpat’s book Wounded Monster, which pointedly, and poignantly, describes consequences of chronic childhood trauma— occurring without comfort and secure attachment to mitigate it—specifically regarding its most egregious of outcomes, that which helped produce the likes of Adolf Hitler. Adolf’s father Alois dominated and abused Adolf and his mother Klara, both physically and emotionally. Like many children who must submit to abuse at the hands of those who are meant to protect and nurture them, Adolf developed impairment in emotional regulation, antisocial behavior, and did poorly in school. His depressed mother Klara, having lost three infants before Adolf was born, alternated between withdrawal and overindulging and overprotecting him. Stop the presses! Dorpat surmises that Klara was unable to provide a secure base for, or consistently nurture and attune to Adolf. Playfulness was absent in his childhood and he failed to develop interpersonal skills, withdrawing from or bullying others. It is speculated (perhaps reductionistic) that Hitler’s hatred of his father (whom he sometimes suspected was part Jewish)and wish to protect his mother was enacted in his hatred of Jews and his mega-maniacal wish to bolster supreme his motherland.

Dorpat’s book on Hitler is a smorgasbord on child development and on attachment and trauma research, as well as outlines what is essential to a healthy psyche capable of personal and interpersonal success. Dorpat applies “contemporary trauma theory …to explain …Hitler’s psychiatric disorders and personality malformations, especially his malevolence.” That Dorpat frames this knowledge in the context of Hitler’s childhood is an expression of Dorpat’s capacity to empathize with even the most heinous of human creatures. Perhaps we might utilize this study to open ourselves to the trauma of even our most “hateful borderline” (Slochower) patients, patients who often see themselves as worth hating.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Candidate praises training

I found TBIPS as I looked on-line for a psychoanalytic community to call home after moving to Jacksonville, FL following my Psy.D. program at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Despite numerous psychoanalytic supervisors, psychoanalytic courses, and personal psychoanalytic psychotherapy while in graduate school, I still felt not quite ripe with my own education and training. I honestly appreciated in myself that nagging feeling of wanting more, intellectually and professionally. The clinicians I’ve admired most have been the ones with endless amounts of training and they paradoxically combined their experience and expertise with humble disclosures of feeling they didn’t know enough and needed to know more.

 My clients have also indirectly nudged me toward getting more training, as their efforts to get better and their “faith” and “belief” in my ability to help them were all taken as hints as “Go get more training, girl!” I was drawn to TBIPS, in part, by its offerings of long distance training via Skype and telephone. I am deeply grateful to TBIPS for being my intellectual home, and an answer to this need for professional sustenance and support. I’m a Filipino American woman, and there’s a saying in Filipino called “utang na loob.” It is translated as “debt of gratitude” and signifies the Filipino cultural trait of “reciprocity” in relationships or the “debt of one’s inner self.” I feel indebted so, and deeply grateful for TBIPS’ psychoanalytic training and for supervision.

Training and supervision at TBIPS have helped me feel more connected to my clients, helped me to express that connection, to be more human with my clients, and to listen in a particular way that makes sense of our clients’ most troubling symptoms. Psychoanalytic supervision has sensitized me to the ways that I may unintentionally shame clients in well-meaning attempts to be helpful, and how to normalize intense feelings and emotions reported by clients and mutually felt by myself as therapist. It has brought the world of psychoanalytic literature to my home, suggesting relevant articles by contemporary relational psychoanalysts, which I feel have connected me with a wider psychoanalytic community that has such a rich history of thinking deeply about common, difficult, tricky clinical scenarios. Ultimately I feel stimulated and nurtured, and much less isolated as I do the day-to-day work of inching towards emotional intimacy and understanding of clients. Clients report feeling understood, accepted, seen, recognized, as we attempt to bear witness to their emotional suffering. The results have been longer patient lengths of treatment due to decreased premature terminations, more spontaneous expressions of gratitude by clients, greater retention and return rates of clients, and lower no-show rates.

Rose Zayco, PsyD