Grey Divorce: Blue Monday

Since 2005 , the third Monday of January is called Blue Monday. A travel company thought this up and there is no scientific evidence to substantiate it. Accordingly, here we are on the eve of the worst day of the year. 

It is an auspicious day for the release of these thoughts. In this week Donald Trump takes office as the most powerful man in the world. To manage this, out going President Obama has instructed us to be “jealous anxious guardians of democracy.”  This makes sense to me. I am indeed anxious and often shudder when I read Trump’s tweets or hear him speak.  Are we on the edge of a “Blue” year? Will I be a guardian of democracy? 

This is also the month that sees the most break ups of relationships. It is said that 6 out of 10 couples break up this month. More and more of these are post 55 years old and in long term relationships. The phenomenon is now called “grey divorce”. Post age 65 the number of these silver divorces is increasing even more. 

Not every relationship can be repaired. Yet, as a therapist I am in the business of helping a couple find connection, to find their “we” from the self and other. I say every couple deserves a chance with help to make their decision to remain or not remain a "we" as wisely and non violently as possible. Each of you deserves no less.

Psychotherapy is gradually evolving from a consumer self in the direction of the connected committed self. Back in the 1960’s I remember sitting with my therapist and trying to explain the quandary I was in.  I kept saying that I knew what I wanted but I wanted to know what God wanted of me. I was positive that they might not be the same thing. I wanted to know how to discern this. This was a radical and yet ancient thought for that time period. My therapist at the time had no tools for this question. What I wanted was what God wanted, in the opinion of therapy at that time. But I was raising the idea that perhaps there was a dimension of commitment outside my self. To take God out of my question, what if what I wanted was outside my ethical commitments to spouse and family and community? Should my wider world inform my decisions? It is only now that psychotherapy is opening itself to such thinking and taking a critical look at the expressive individualism that has held sway for so long.

I sat with a couple this past week. They had come to see me in the autumn. The wife was ready to call it quits. She had had enough of the very evident dysfunction. We had begun to try to address this dysfunction and were making some headway. At the holidays the couple joined their families of origin in a holiday destination. Her father with whom she had shared her distress, took her aside and spoke to her of her commitment to her wider family, her children and her sacred wedding vows. He reminded her of how loved she was and how the family really believed that the choice she made was fundamentally a good one with a good man. He reminded her that marriage required hanging in when the deal was not what she had signed up for. His intervention carried a huge weight with her. What he said mattered more than anything I had said. The wider community showed up as they had promised they would at the wedding ceremony.  Remember when the crowd is asked who supports this man and this woman in their commitment and the crowd says, “we do”? As therapists we need to take more seriously the power in the connected circle of love. I don’t know what final decision this couple will make but being reminded of their beauty as a couple by someone they loved made a difference and created space for further investigation. 

Here are my thoughts on this development of grey divorce in long term relationships and in this video I express my hope for you if this is indeed a “blue Monday”.




Confluences of Grief: November 11 2016

This is grief's week. Many countries come together to remember the sacrifice of all those who have lost their lives or been wounded in the past and ongoing wars of our world. Half of the population of our neighbours to the south is in grief over one of the most distressing elections ever. And Canada is grieving the loss of one of our most iconic poets and songsters, Leonard Cohen. 

In Canada we remember and honour our war dead and our veterans and their families. We do so by wearing  a red poppy on our chests over our hearts. We all do this and it is easy to identify us on the world news and everywhere on our streets. This year thanks to modern technology even our parliament buildings got to wear the red poppy.

On the eleventh day of the eleventh month at the eleventh hour a ceremony takes place on Patlaiment Hill at our Nation's war memorial. As the daughter of a military family this day has always been important. In the last ten years it has become more important to Canadians and they attend the celebration or participate via television in greater numbers than ever before. Celebrations happen locally in every city and town of our country. 

Our national broadcasting system (CBC) opened the ceremony this year by playing a recitation by Leonard Cohen of In Flander's Fields. This is the  poem written by Canadian Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, a physician practising on the front lines in WWI. It is a poem every Canadian learns by heart in primary school. In this act the CBC joined two rivers of our grief.

I was particularly proud and moved to watch as our young prime minister Justin Trudeau and his wife Sophie Gregoire  stepped forward to lay the wreath on the steps of the war memorial for all of us. They stood in the cold and windy air silently praying. Before stepping back into their proper place in the line, our PM crossed himself. I was moved by this simple act of his faith. I noticed how later, bare handed, he shook many many outreached hands of the veterans stopping to speak with each of them.  I thought I have much cause to pray for him and his family in the days ahead.

I have recently been travelling with a group of very devout Roman Catholics. I attended mass daily and also visited many cathedrals in Europe. I noticed the ease with which they made the sign of the cross as they came and went. I thought as Protestants we have no simple way to identify ourselves and our faith. We lost something in this I think. 

Prayers were offered at the ceremony by a Roman Catholic priest and a Rabbi. Both were courageous emissaries of a compassionate God. They both prayed not only for those who had made the ultimate sacrifice, and for their families but also for those who are daily returning wracked with PTSD. The priest also prayed for those for whom the pain was so great that they took their own lives. The suicides were included. Our shame is great that this is not yet official policy. As our poet singer sang "it is a broken hallelujah" but it is a hallelujah!

Inclusion matters. The vitriol of the current President elect of the USA excludes Moslems, Mexicans, women who seek abortions, the LTGBQ community and their hard fought rights, the availability of health care to the poor and this same vitriol raged against the reality of climate change.  We know our friends in the USA are shocked and frightened. We share the anxiety as their friends to the north. 

Leonard Cohen is no stranger to darkness. Once asked if he was a pessimist he responded,

" I don't consider myself a pessimist. I think of a pessimist as someone who is waiting for it to rain. And I feel soaked to the skin."

In times of dread and confusion, Cohen is a voice of comfort. He does not shirk from life's difficult moments. He rises to them and thus we know we are understood at the deepest levels. In a song called The Future one of the verses reads thus,

You don’t know me from the wind
you never will, you never did
I’m the little jew
who wrote the Bible
I’ve seen the nations rise and fall
I’ve heard their stories, heard them all
but love’s the only engine of survival
Your servant here, he has been told
to say it clear, to say it cold:
It’s over, it ain’t going
any further
And now the wheels of heaven stop
you feel the devil’s riding crop
Get ready for the future:
it is murder

Recently I was part of a study group led by Canadian Father Ron Rolheiser on his yet unfinished book on the last part of life. He names the task of this stage, "giving your death away". I think Leonard Cohen has done exactly this with this last album of his life, You want it Darker. We are so blessed by this offering. Here is its first verse.

If you are the dealer, I’m out of the game
If you are the healer, it means I’m broken and lame
If thine is the glory then mine must be the shame
You want it darker
We kill the flame
This same poet songster gave us from Anthem
”Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.”
and so we love him all the more

To-day on the news thousands of primarily millennials are marching all over the USA. They want to be heard that they are standing with those who their President Elect cast off. One young man said it this way to the reporter. I want to say "hang in there, man. Yes, we did not vote but we are marching so that will never happen again. We will keep marching for 4 years if that is what it takes."  You have to love the enthusiasm for making amends of the young. 

From the man who plumbed the depths of the tower of song also came the hymn Democracy

I’m sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can’t stand the scene
And I’m neither left or right
I’m just staying home tonight
Getting lost in that hopeless little screen
But I’m stubborn as those garbage bags
As time cannot decay
I’m junk but I’m still holding up this little wild bouquet
Democracy is coming to the USA
To the USA

So be it.

The Dream that Shaped My Vocation.

Finally, as promised, my blog on the dream that confirmed for me the direction of my working life. Freud's work and my life intersect. This blog is a video. The photos which are interspersed I took on a marvellously sunny day in St Andrew's this past June. 

As a student of theology I was privileged to spend my second year of studies in St Andrew's as an exchange student from Emmanuel College, Victoria University in Toronto. Going back this year was indeed a pilgrimage. Mediaeval colleges do not change much and the town was as I remembered it. I even found my dorm room and the wide stair case that I floated down in my red ball gown for the St Andrew's College Ball. While exploring there, I met a student who let me know that the food had changed very little...boiled cabbage, turnip and one lamb chop on Friday evening! I ran on the west sands, walked on the golf course and made the trek out the pier, a famous tradition among college students. 

The dream I share in the video happened many years after I had been a student at St Andrew's. I really wanted to see the ruined cathedral where the dream took place. In the dream, the aisle was so very, very long. I thought I would never get to the altar. I was very sure that when I revisited the site, the aisle would be short and insignificant. Dreams so frequently exaggerate to get their point across. Then I stepped into the ruins and was gobsmacked. The aisle was so long I could barely see where the altar was. The length of a football field stretched before me. It was even longer than in my dream and it has been a long walk. It has taken a lot of effort to keep my hat on metaphorically speaking. Once again an old dream spoke to me in a fresh way.  Please listen to your dreams. 


Visiting the Giants in the Field of Psychotherapy

In late May and early June of this year I made a trip with destinations that seem peculiar at first hearing.I knew that part of my desire to make this trip to Vienna and St Andrews had a lot to do with my life work. My trip was a pilgrimage of sorts. 

Freud published The Interpretation of Dreams in 1900. He wanted it to begin the new century and held off publishing it until the new century dawned. It sold very few copies in the first year. In a time dominated by reason, dreams were a big stretch and they still seem to be. My most important dream for my life work was set in the ruined cathedral of St Andrews. This is a separate story demanding its own treatment.  I am making a video about this to be released later this summer. You will have to wait for it. :)’s. 

Vienna is where Freud lived and had his clinic from 1886 to 1939 when he escaped the Nazis. He died shortly after his escape in London just as WW II was declared. I went to visit his home in Vienna which has been restored. Freud, when he fled, took nearly everything in his home with him. It has since been donated back. His Viennese home is now a museum in his honour.  The home is dark and Freud liked to escape the darkness of it for summer places about Vienna where he was offered the sanctuary of sunlight. He loved his dog. In the museum there are home movies  such as you might imagine a home movie would be.  Black and white and grainy and jerky. Here you see quite a regular sort of guy playing with his dog a lot, always with his cigar which of course ultimately killed him (throat cancer), greeting his grandchildren and and entertaining a few guests who like himself became famous. I was taken by the ordinariness of it all; his wife and his his daughter Anna serving tea and chatting about ordinary things. 

No matter what we currently think, Freud began what each of us practice in our own ways when we do “talk" therapy. He invented a clinical method for treating psychopathology through dialogue between a patient and a psychoanalyst. Freud believed that this was a cure brought about by “love”; the very special love that developed in the relationship of the therapist with  the client. He called this “ love" transference and counter transference and he understood them as sacrosanct.  To honour and never tamper with these concepts  form the heart of the ethical codes of all current forms of psychotherapy. So much of his work particularly helping us explore the existence of the unconscious accessed by our dreams remains formative to-day. Much has been critiqued and is no longer espoused by most modern therapies but he remains the man who started what has evolved into multiple schools of psychotherapy. 

I am always interested in therapist’s offices and what they put there. I have never been a fan of the totally neutral office that many therapists can share even if it is most cost effective. I have also thought that practising in one’s home made a lot of sense.  Freud’s office was as I imagined it only darker. Here it is.

This is the famous couch and the chair would have been placed at the head of the couch so that the client and Freud did not make eye contact. On the wall are his various certificates demonstrating that he was well qualified for the task. There are also photos of his colleagues again establishing that Freud was a man of stature. This was important because Freud was often seen as a man of soft science (psychiatry) and he wanted the respect of the neurologists.  Also there are 4 black and white photos depicting certain myths that were meaningful for Freud. It makes me think about what are on the walls of my office. The office does have a large window and a waiting room with his walking stick and cap and dog leash and toilet before you enter. Some things don’t change.

So I took this selfie of myself in the office and imagined arriving as a prospective patient.  Here I am

I rather love this picture. I look totally terrified and completely blank. …all the lines erased from my face by the light from the window.  I think I am about to be diagnosed as suffering with hysteria. Don’t you agree?

And here is the man himself…When I see the cigar and realize the size of the room I am pretty sure that anyone he treated was a sure candidate for cancer from second hand smoke even if the hysteria was relieved. 


And so the profession we practice began.  I left his office thinking I had been where it all began and grateful for the work he did. Those old home movies gave him such an approachable feel. 

And then I sought out the home of Viktor Frankl..There is Freud sorting us out by identifying our drive for pleasure and Adler seeing us as having a drive for power and Frankl who desired to create a therapy that helped us see that what we needed most was to make meaning of out lives.   Frankl was my inspiration. In my undergraduate years in the early 60’s I discovered his book The Doctor of the Soul. It changed my life. I bought copies and gave them to my dearest friends. Later I read Man’s Search for Meaning when it came out and then his final book Man’s Search for Ultimate Meaning which is an expansion of his PHD thesis called The Unconscious God . This book explored the relationship of psychology and religion. 

It interests me that Frankl’s second marriage, after losing his wife in a concentration camp, was to a devout Roman Catholic. They together observed each other’s faiths in a very respectful manner. 

I have always been seeking the meaning of my life. As I aged and explored retirement and decided to reestablish my practice I was exploring meaning with renewed urgency. The CBC’s Michael Enright drew to my attention back to the work of Viktor Frankl. “Logotherapy” the name given by him to his therapy method is enjoying a resurgence of interest. It provides an alternative to the drive for happiness so prevalent to-day.  I was ready in my journey with suffering to reread his work. I am so glad that I have. 

Frankl was practicing and developing his form of therapy in Vienna in the home shown below, Like Freud, it was his home with an attached office. His parents lived nearby and in 1941 when he was offered safe passage out of Germany he chose to stay to be with his aging parents. This was a very difficult decision for him to make. How he made it is a special story with a Jungian feel. 

In the words of one of his biographer’s Anna Redsand

"he was at a loss for what to do, so he set out for St. Stephan's Cathedral in Vienna to clear his head. Listening to the organ music, he repeatedly asked himself, "Should I leave my parents behind?... Should I say goodbye and leave them to their fate?" Where did his responsibility lie? He was looking for a "hint from heaven."

When he returned home, he found it. A piece of marble was lying on the table. His father explained that it was from the rubble of one of the nearby synagogues that the Nazis had destroyed. The marble contained the fragment of one of the Ten Commandments -- the one about honoring your father and your mother. With that, Frankl decided to stay in Vienna and forgo whatever opportunities for safety and career advancement awaited him in the United States. He decided to put aside his individual pursuits to serve his family and, later, other inmates in the camps."

He refused to euthanize mentally ill patients for the Nazi regime and as  a result he and his pregnant wife and his parents were sent to Theresienstadt  and from there to Auschwitz. His sister escaped to Australia. Of the family deported only Viktor survived. The Nazis forced an abortion. His wife and mother did not last long although Viktor did not learn this until his release.  He managed to smuggle in some morphine to help his father die. In the end Viktor barely survived typhoid. Most of his time in camp he was allowed to practice as a very controlled physician with the exception of the 5 months he did of hard labour.

This small museum is very hard to find in Vienna. I got lost many times. I walked ten miles that day. You must ring the bell, hope it is answered  and inside wander many corridors to find his apartment.  When found it is small and breath taking. Six people have created it as it now is and it is a participatory museum where you could spend a long time and even longer if you were fluent in German. There are many films of his work with clients that are preserved for the watching. 

I entered one small empty room, painted entirely in lilac with the floor a grey and white collage of sayings of Frankl.

As I stood there alone  in a very lilac light, these words of Frankl appeared up high

I hope I have conveyed the importance of this moment for me and all others who seek to enter this room some driven as I was by my quest for understanding.  Suddenly I realized I was standing and that I had chosen to be in this place at this time. In that there is freedom.. The words on the wall “I am not free regarding my living conditions, but I am free to take a stand on them.”resonated in my soul. I felt the earth beneath my feet and I stood taller.

In Man’s search for meaning  Frankl tells of his life in the concentration camps. Prior to his deportation, he worked with a lot of patients who wanted to kill themselves. Depression and suicidal ideation were his main areas of speciality in his training as a psychiatrist. At one time he was in charge of the Suicidal Pavilion that housed 30,000 women with such tendencies. In fact he was so far ahead of his time in this area that in 1928-31 he arranged for free counselling for Vienna’s young people especially as they received their report cards. In this way brought thesuicide rate among young people to zero in Vienna. This work prepared him for what he would face in a concentration camp where the desire to commit suicide was omnipresent. It was a Nazi rule that anyone trying to kill themselves must not be stopped.  As a inmate of a camp he felt the urge personally and  each time he wanted to give up he found a way to live. In one very dark period, he wrote bits of Man’s Search for Meaning, the manuscript he tried to smuggle into the camp but which had been found and shredded on small pieces of paper so that he would not forget. When he was released he rewrote it in 9 days.  The second part of the book describes logotherapy and how it is to be done.

Here is his photo, the one The Atlantic chose to share in a major article about him in a 2013 edition.

If you would like to hear him, here is a rare clip of him speaking in English. He is clearly a dynamic person

Logotherapy holds that what we most desire is to make meaning in and with our lives. When we are not making meaning we are being less than is possible. The therapy relationship exists to help the client find meaning. Concentration Camp experience taught Frankl that in all forms of existence, even the most brutal ones, meaning is possible.   

These words enclosed in cupboards that one most open in the museum speak to me personally.  I am convinced that my task is in my latter years to keep doing the task of being a therapist. 

I end with this often quoted bit of Frankl.

"Freedom, however, is not the last word. Freedom is only part of the story and half of the truth. Freedom is but the negative aspect of the whole phenomenon whose positive aspect is responsibleness. In fact, freedom is in danger of degenerating into mere arbitrariness unless it is lived in terms of responsibleness. That is why I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.”

Making meaning is an inspiring and a never-ending process. It offers one freedom and responsibility. 

I am profoundly grateful to these two giants in my field.