A Conversation with Dr. Michael Alcee about Emotional Improvisation & Living Life Creatively
Michael Alcée, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Tarrytown, NY, and a Mental Health Educator at Manhattan School of Music. He specializes in the psychology of artists, everyday creativity, and the professional development of therapists.
Michael is passionate about teaching therapists about the (science and) art form that is therapy, about teaching the general public how we can all live life more creatively, and how essential it is to embrace the arts in order to make meaning out of this condition of being human. He’s always been interested in psychology and its connection to the arts and humanities as it was fostered by his mother who was both a social worker and student of literature
His book - Therapeutic Improvisation: How to Stop Winging It and Own It as a Therapist is currently the #1 new release in Psychology, Education, and Training.
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Welcome to permission to heal. I am Marcy Brockman and I am really honestly, truly glad that you are here for this episode, truthfully, for all of the episodes. Today I have a conversation with Dr. Michael Alcee. He is a psychotherapist and has a very unique creativity. Lovely enthusiastic way of looking at psychotherapy, looking at therapy, looking at counselors, looking at the whole process of counseling from the client's point of view, from the counselor's point of view, from the supervising counselor's point of view. He has written a book called therapeutic improvisation, how to stop winging it and own it as a therapist. And as the number one new release on Amazon in psychology, education and training Michael Elsie is a clinical psychologist in private practice in Terrytown New York, and mental health educator at the Manhattan school of music.
[00:00:59] He specializes in the psychology of artists and everyday creativity and the professional development of therapists, his contributions have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the New York times, NPR, salon.com and on the TEDx stage, his book entitled therapeutic improvisation, how to stop wing it and own it as a therapist is currently the number one new release in psychology education and training.
[00:01:25] And, we have a really lovely conversation about. The interconnection of the metaphor between art and life, between our mind and our body, between our emotions and our intelligence between what happens in reality and what happens in our minds and what happens on the pages of a symphony and the. Beauty and the soul transformation of a painting and, and how it all melds together.
[00:01:59] And how art imitates life and life imitates art. And I swear it was a conversation that felt like five minutes and was almost an hour. So I really hope that you enjoy this as much as I do. The links to all things, website social media. Podcast, et cetera. And his new book are all in the show notes.
[00:02:20] So just scroll down and it will all be there. Remember, you are your most beautiful creation and you should appreciate every single facet of your beautiful, phenomenal self. Thank you so much for being here.
[00:00:00] Welcome. Michael Alcee, . Lovely. You're such a great smile. I'm so excited to meet you. , I was just saying before we started recording that I'd seen you multiple times on LinkedIn and more than once invited you to be on the podcast and had forgotten. So just, just craziness.
[00:00:15] This life is just insane. the confluence of too many things all at once. Screws the brain up. So I'm so excited to have you here because I'm really intrigued by your new book that I, I literally, I literally just read the first few pages of, but what I think is your concept of developing artistry and using creativity as a way of getting at psychotherapy and an English teacher and an artist and, and a new counseling graduate student counselor in training.
[00:00:58] I feel like, yeah, so much of what I think you talk about is, is just like, I'm your audience. I am your demographic. Yeah. So, tell us about yourself, your, your career, your, your, you, all, all the things that are you. Yeah. I mean, what's, that's so cool about what you said too, is that ironically, I think that therapy, good therapy comes from literature and the arts actually.
[00:01:23] First in fact, if you wa if you watch Freud and his development of his work to really starts a narrative, it starts in, in really piecing together narrative and also looking at the gaps in narrative and the symbols and narrative and the thematic material. And I think art is the highest human form we have of connecting to each other and with ourselves and, and therapy attempts to be as artistic as that on its best days.
[00:01:51] And so you're right I think there is a real artistry, not only about therapy, but about really being in touch more fully with ourselves. And I see psychotherapy as the art of teaching art. You know, the art of teaching, how we are artful creatures and also how we're scientifically engineered to be artful creatures.
[00:02:10] Interesting. And, and in that combination, like we find out, oh my gosh, there's so much that makes sense about how I work and how we work. And, and if I can tap into that most fully and express and contain my multitudes to kind of quote Walt Litman, right. Um, then, then we can not only do something of, of, of wonderfulness for ourselves, but for the world.
[00:02:37] So I, I think there's something really powerful about that. And I think, you know, of course, because psychotherapy had to start on the foot of science, it often needed to prove itself sure. Needed to be something measurable and measurable and replicable and all of that. Yeah. And yet all the best things are both measurable and immeasurable and great art is measurable and immeasurable as well.
[00:03:01] right. If you listen to a great symphony or a great, uh, a, great jazz piece, it's measurable, we can see what the notes are. We can kind of measure what's going on in time. But the thing that makes it transcended is that it's immeasurable, right? You can't quantify what it does to your soul. Yeah. And, you know, psychology comes from the study of the soul psychology.
[00:03:22] Right? So, so I think there's something that I was like, you, you are tapping into this correctly. What I was hoping to do with this book was speak to therapists of every Stripe and variety and say, wait, let's, let's like reimagine what we're doing. Let's get excited about the artistry and the craft that we do, but let's also look how the science informs that, but it is a creative art and living is a creative art.
[00:03:45] And our mission is to help people live life creatively and see that this is a great gift that we have that we share. Yeah. And, and to envelope, um, more of the listeners in. To this. I think all of this applies to people who would be sitting on the other side of the couch from the therapists, the people who are actually taking, taking apart and rebuilding their own psyches with the help of a counselor as well.
[00:04:11] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, the funny thing is I, I wrote it in such a way deliberately to be very accessible because I also want people who are curious about how therapy works and why it works the way it does. Sure. To be able to read it just as any therapist would mm-hmm, , it's written with, I wrote it with, I love film.
[00:04:31] I love literature. I love poetry, love music. So there's lots of references. I use lots of case examples where you could see how therapy works. And I, I, I really intended it as well as a book that could help people see what's what am I looking for in a good therapist? They should have these qualities.
[00:04:50] Absolutely. Right. and, and I think, you know, therapy, we, we've done a great job at destigmatizing therapy and destigmatizing mental health, but I don't think that people see it as creative and fun and playful and wonderful as it really is. Mm-hmm and I think it's about more than problems. I think it's about resolving problems, but I think it's about tuning your own instrument and learning how to play it.
[00:05:14] Well, absolutely. Absolutely. I know. Um, when I was writing my memoir, I keyed into books, literature, movies that were. Transcendental in my, in changing my perception of life or changing my perception of myself. And, and I kept, you know, writing about that. And, and as a teacher, I do that all the time with literature and movies and cross referencing all sorts of media to try to get at any modality, I can to wake a kid up, you know, to illuminate some sort of point.
[00:05:52] And there was a movie that was so pivotal for me, um, called the holiday. Oh, it's a great movie with, uh, Kate Winslet and, and, and Cameron Diaz. Right? Yeah. And so there's a moment where Kate Winslet's character is sitting down to dinner with the Hollywood writer, the old man. Yep. And he looks at her and he's like, why aren't you, the leading lady in your own life?
[00:06:15] Why do you keep casting yourself as the best friend? Yeah. And not only was that an epiphany for her, but that was a huge epiphany for me. Why did I keep doing that? Yeah. Ugh. I know he teaches her gumption. Right. He teaches her mock, so great. It's great. And that's what I mean. And that's the other thing is like, talk about Marcy, the beautiful, like that beautiful epiphany.
[00:06:40] When we're like, wait a minute, I deserve to own myself. Right? I've been here all along, waiting for me to own myself, but not to be selfish, but to be more of what I can share with the world and, and give to the. That's being, being creative is not about being selfish. Being creative is about giving to the world.
[00:07:03] It's fashion. It's empathy. It's yeah. Yeah. It's everything. And so I think that's a beautiful point that it's sometimes not easy for us to stay in touch with that. And whether it's with therapy or even just knowing how we work, we constantly have to come back to figuring out how to own ourselves. And it's funny because the book is called how to own it as a therapist, but it might as well be called how to own it as a person.
[00:07:27] Right. Right. And it comes back to my whole concept of permission to heal, you know? Yeah. I, I figured. Out at some point in my early to mid forties, that in order to live the life that I wanted to live, the life that I secretly in my head in my heart knew that I had within me to create for myself. I had to stop looking externally for me, from me, for the permission to do that.
[00:07:57] I had to actually dig deep inside myself because the, the impetus, the permission, the whole, the whole push to do it was already here inside me. Yeah. I just needed to give her voice and let her shine and do her thing. And, well, that's beautiful. And you know, it reminds me a lot of, uh, RKA right in his letters to a young poet, he really tells the aspiring young poet.
[00:08:25] it's really an inside job. It's really kind of going off and really listening and really asking the questions and really kind of trusting and having faith in what your art is gonna come through you mm-hmm , and that's, it's sort of like a meditative practice that we need to be in touch with, but I love your idea of permission to heal.
[00:08:46] Sometimes I think we, instead of getting permission, we get criticism for our experience, right? Sometimes it's even self-criticism for our experience, but permission is such a beautiful thing because permission allows us to play and we need to play even with our grief, even with our hurt. Yeah. In fact, the best therapy, by the way, it's obviously the best therapy helps us bring out our strengths and it helps us kind of connect to who we are.
[00:09:15] But the best therapy allows us permission to be our most vulnerable and our most wounded. In, in ultimate safety and also ultimate support and encouragement. Absolutely. And that is what I, what I have gotten from the therapist I've been seeing for over a decade and what I hope to give to my eventual clients and what I know that I provide for my students, which is sort of got me to this new path.
[00:09:45] And it makes me think of something else too more. See, I was thinking about you as a teacher and you as a, a therapist in training. Sure. The funny thing is I think actually the best English teachers are. The best therapist in a way, because they're dealing with the range and scope of the human condition.
[00:10:02] Right. Right. And I also think the best therapists are the greatest teachers. So it's important to be a teacher because a teacher is constantly learning from their students and constantly trying to figure out how to transmit something that they've done a hundred times in a new way. Right. Most for the delight of the student, but also the delight of themselves.
[00:10:23] Yeah. And therapy. I start the school year, each year with an article that talks about how good literature is actually a lesson in emotional intelligence. It's completely, it's completely. And it's, it's also, uh, you know, it's something that like, you know, as you know, it's like, you see so many different facets of it throughout your life.
[00:10:43] Like I read it to kill Mockingbird again last year over the pandemic. Right. And I read the great Gatsby again, and it was just so fascinating to see these different elements that. I didn't tap into when I was in high school reading it. Of course not. You don't have the life experience behind you to, to figure out why does Jay Gatsby want to reclaim the past?
[00:11:02] Why does he think he can? Yeah. And, and why does Jay Gatsby, right. Like need to make himself into this other thing. And I isn't that glamorous and isn't it also poignantly sad too, so sad. And isn't it like this interesting ambivalent commentary on the American dream and the American nightmare, right. At the same time, it's, it's so fascinating.
[00:11:24] Um, and then I was thinking something else as you were talking like, this is the way we connect literature to life. I have a four year old son and the other day he did something that was so cute. He, we were putting on the hose with the sprayer mm-hmm and it started to leak. And I said, it's okay, bud, because, ah, here's the washer.
[00:11:41] I just gotta put the washer in. And he's like, just like the man with the yellow hat. He did that for the sink. Only. It wasn't the hose. It was the sink. And I just, the reason I love it is because I think we're built to make connections between life and art and that art informs life and life informs art.
[00:12:05] Yes. It's cyclical and never ending. There's no end. There's no beginning. Yeah. And I thought that it was beautiful that he's internalized the men with the yellow hat as a teacher. Gotta love curious, George Love curious, George, by the way, curious, George, you know, it was started by two German IMI Jewish immigrants who were fleeing.
[00:12:25] They were the ones who wrote it. They changed their names so that it didn't sound as German at the time cuz they were anti-German Senti. Huh, they ones who came up with curious George. Interesting. There's this totally interesting backstory. And it just makes you it's. I, I love that when you find out all these different layers of things and that's the other thing that I think is wonderful about therapy is that it's, it's it delights in the layers, it delights in the complexity and the nuance.
[00:12:51] just like poetry delights in multiple meaning, right? Like the thing that makes poetry move, the thing that makes poetry so rich is that Robert Frost said, you know, metaphor allows you to say one thing and mean another, right? And so it allows you to do these acrobatic things that you can't do with ordinary language.
[00:13:12] And yet is exactly what experience is about it is, it is so many times we think that we're going through. Our our forward moving timeline with, with a specific goal in mind, or a specific thought in mind, and really what's going on is other layers above and below that or adjacent to it. You know, I, I,
[00:13:38] after my mom died in 2013, um, from opiate addiction of all things, um, I, I had like a sort of long protracted grieving period. And, uh, I don't even know how to articulate what I'm trying to say, but, um, in order to eulogize her just two days after she died, um, I went through 70, 80 years of photographs that, that I happen to be the keeper of the photographs.
[00:14:12] And I had to figure out how do I, how do I separate myself from the disappointed daughter who feels abandoned, who's grieving over the. Mother daughter relationship. She was, she's never going to have, um, and figure out how to separate that and the anger and be able to eulogize her lovingly and respectfully and appropriately.
[00:14:35] And, and I instinctively went back to the photographs so that I could see her as the multi-layered onion that she was, you know? Yeah. And see her as the loving doted on little baby girl. And, and as a little kid and as a teenager and see her as a young adult and see her with me when I was a baby. And, and I started to see all these photographs and realize, and remember the good and the loving and the generous and the empathetic and, and all those other aspects of her that the, the drug addicted version of her at the end, sort of crowded out.
[00:15:10] Yeah. I mean, I think you bring up a beautiful point that it's, it's sometimes hard to stay with that. Universe that is the other person mm-hmm, the many different kind of facets of all them. Right. But it, I, I think Louise Urich said something interesting. It's, it's very, very difficult to sort of love or know somebody, but our job is to keep on trying essentially.
[00:15:36] Yeah. And, and I think that was a beautiful act of, of love and, and grace in, in sharing that at the same time, you know, the other thing that's really fascinating about being human, that your story brings up is that I think grief is the highest form of love in its own way, too. Because grief shares how important the person was, both in who they were and who we wish they could be.
[00:16:01] Which true. If you don't care about them, you're not gonna grieve much. You're not gonna grieve. So, so I think there's something really sophisticated about this human capacity to grieve and how challenging it is, but also how important and necessary it is. And I think grief teaches us about how wonderfully complex and nuance we are.
[00:16:22] Yes. Uh, I think grief is something that is, is actually, I think poetry runs on grief because poetry is about showing how much we love, but how much we know we're going to lose. Is that why I can only write poetry when I'm sad? yeah. Completely and poetry is built so that the line breaks in to show us that we are all contending with the finality of life.
[00:16:43] And yet we're trying to use that tension to create something in the en enjoyment. That's beautiful. Wow. Right, right. Everything that you say is so profound, Michael well, you know, I'm talking to a literary person it's not hard, right? So that's, that's the cool thing about, I, I think exactly what you're tapping into that, and this is actually something, obviously this is relevant to our time today is it's very easy for us to become polarized and become one dimensional or two dimensional, but it behooves all of us to always seek out this third dimension and always seek out, looking at things, even in the people we think we hate or disagree with.
[00:17:24] Mm-hmm . And that's what I think also therapy is trying to teach us too, that we're trying to love others, even for the size that we think we hate and love ourselves for the sides that we think are hate. If you, if we extend your permission to heal, permission to heal is not just about us. It's about permission to heal others and start to imagine the lovable hurt.
[00:17:50] Beautiful sides of them that sometimes get eclipsed by all this other stuff. Yeah. Yeah. When I, when I come across and it happens every year, a particularly annoying pain in the ass student who I just wanna throttle on a daily basis, I force myself to imagine him or her as an infant, right. In his or her mother's arms, you know, being swaddled and suckled and, and cozy and adored.
[00:18:19] And it always helps me find the empathy and the humanity. I need to come up with the compassion necessary to reach that child. It's amazing. And I think being a teacher and being a therapist helps us to cultivate more deeply that, that empathy, because when you're kind of trying to figure out, wait, why is this student having a difficult time?
[00:18:44] or why is there behavior like this there's something else going on. Right. I can't just look at what's going on in the classroom. I have to look at the whole kid's life. What? Yeah, there's gotta be stuff that's going on there. You've gotta play detective, but you've gotta play emotional detective. Right.
[00:18:58] And right. And, and, and I think that's the beauty of it, but the more that we do that, and you'll see this as you do therapy more and more like, that's the, that's the beauty of it. That's what our payoff is. We get, obviously we part yeah. Yeah. The psychic income we get from it is also like really appreciating how much more there is to people than we realize sort of like, you know, how, like, they just discovered like what this new telescope, they see all these interesting galaxies.
[00:19:24] Oh my God. Gorgeous photographs that make huble look like, you know? Yeah. Preschool drawings, preschools. Yeah. So the beauty of, of, I never thought of this connection until now. This is what I love about riffing together. Sure. Is that. Therapy allows us to as therapists and as clients to see what that kind of richness these other galaxies that we didn't even know were attainable and insight.
[00:19:48] Right. And the more that we do it, the more we get these beautifully sharp pictures of what's out there, obviously it's, what's in there paradoxically, but it's as beautiful as what's out there and it's as magnificent and it's as enormous. The psyche is enormous, even though we can't see it, it's its own universe.
[00:20:15] Yeah. And, and the way we're built is so rich, so complex, but so beautiful. And, and to me, it is like those galaxies, those beautiful galaxies that we. So, so what do you think of the, the, uh, the AISM that's going around social media now that we are not what our thoughts are, that you are not your thoughts.
[00:20:38] what I, I am having a really hard time reconciling this to me. It seems to be sort of asking for dissociative pathology, you know, like, yeah, I am not, how can I separate myself from that? Yeah, I think so. I think in part it has some wisdom and in part it's it's wrong so the part that is wrong, I'll start with that.
[00:20:58] Is that okay? We are actually not just our thoughts Decart was wrong. It's not that we think, therefore we are, we feel therefore we are as well. Right. And I heard someone say that we are not thinking beings who feel sometimes we're actually feeling beings who think sometimes. Exactly. And it turns out that if you look at it, even their neuroscience of it in the book, I talk about this as well.
[00:21:19] Like. The neuroscience of it is that our, our feeling sides, our right brain freewheeling, associative sides, our non-linear sides, our more body centered sides are online. First it's only later that these more left brain logical kind of sides were that's true. And that says something to me that is actually more important for us to be developed with this other side first.
[00:21:43] So Antonio we've thought of it that way. Yeah. That's true. As babies before we're, you know, pre linguistic, we're experiencing everything with our bodies. Right, right. If it was so important to have the, then we'd have that first, but the problem with that is that limits us too, because notice logic also makes sometimes us say, no, I shouldn't do that because that's not okay.
[00:22:06] but feeling is much more rich in that way. And Antonio Demasio is a great neuroscientist. Who's written lots about it. And, and he says that we've neglected and relegated feeling as secondary where it's actually just as important. It's an equal partner of thought. So. Right. So that's to, to answer your question, it's it's yes.
[00:22:25] Sometimes our thoughts just like with meditation, sometimes it's important to be able to observe them and not get completely over-identified with. right. That's helpful. But we also wanna look for what kind of information they're giving us. And also just, we can't necessarily just say, oh, those are just thoughts.
[00:22:46] And I can tune that out. That's that is dissociative mm-hmm . Um, we also wanted to like Susan, David writes a lot about this, this idea of emotional agility, which is we want to kind of also understand what we're thinking or what we're feeling so that we can use that to, to deepen an understanding of what's going on inside for, for the people who are more logical it's data for the people who are more feeling oriented, like myself, it's music that we need to listen to.
[00:23:15] Mm-hmm so it's, it's helpful to be able to say, I'm not just my thoughts, but that doesn't mean that, you know, if I'm having a thought about something, it means that it's just noise. Right? Sometimes we're having a thought for a very good reason and sometimes, ah, there's just that critic again. now, why is that critic coming up?
[00:23:34] Oh, wait, because this is the internalized critic that I got from my mother or my father or my teacher or my friends, or why is this coming up? Because I'm actually making creative progress and there's a part of my psyche. That's scared of that progress. And so now it's trying to hold me back. Right.
[00:23:51] There's always more to the story. Myriad of reasons. Yeah. So there's myriad reasons. And of course we know like what PA pastoral said, right? Like the, the heart has reasons for which the mind knows not. So it's important to kind of remember that yes. This idea of the cognitive behavioral theorists, which is useful, right.
[00:24:09] That we're not only our thoughts is fine, but we're not it's official. I think it doesn't, it's very superficial support of really. The foundation of what's UN the underpinnings of that. Well, it's interesting too. There's a new theory, a newish theory called polyvagal theory. You might have heard of it. Yes.
[00:24:25] So it's really interesting because they talk about how we've evolved. And, um, the thing is more of the nerves go from our body to our brain than from our brain back to our body. So when we discount our feelings and say only our thoughts are important, we're like neglecting 80% of ourselves. That's silly, right?
[00:24:49] Yeah. That's quite profound. Yeah. So, so in other words, if we were built this way, we were built in this really intricate and, and important way to have a very discriminating mind. Mm-hmm and it is important for us to determine what's noise and what's real, that's important. And again, that's what a good musician does.
[00:25:10] They don't just say, oh, there's dissonance. That's not interesting. They say, oh, there's dissonance. This could be interesting. Right. And it doesn't mean that it's only gonna be dissonance. So it does, it's not, I would say instead of saying, um, what was the, what was the phrase like, you're not your thoughts or something like that.
[00:25:27] Yeah. You might not be your thoughts, but it's not bad to entertain the, your thoughts and give them room to be, and to investigate. They may not be, they may be, they may have partial truths, right? They may be indicative of something else that you're trying to deal with and they, or they, and there might be feelings under the hood of your thoughts that will help you get a fuller picture of why you're thinking those things.
[00:25:56] That's. In other words, we tend to split off thoughts and feelings. We're very kind of black and white culture. We tend to split off these things in terms of red state, blue state, things like that. and we do it very easily because it's simple and it's helpful. But I think I wrote something in the book, like instead of, I think for four, I am, it should be, I, I, I can't even remember what I wrote, but it was something like the effect of, I think I, I, I feel that, I think I am, even though I feel things that I know not of.
[00:26:27] Right. It's right. It's so much more nuanced and interconnected than that. And we actually do ourselves a disservice to oversimplify ourselves. Right? Yeah. I, I think even, I think we all have very complicated inner lives. That that would be very, uh, lengthy, uh, for lack of a better word to unravel. Um, yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:26:54] No, and you're right. And you're right. It's it's we wanna take the wisdom out of it without losing the goodness. Right. And the goodness is the Dalai Lama is totally on it, right? Like it's true. Being able to stand aside from your thoughts is helpful, but then you also want to kind of notice them and get, get to figure out what they're trying to tell us.
[00:27:12] Mm-hmm and if we can do that, we're not, that's what the Buddhist, I think are saying, it's not getting overly attached to thoughts and thinking, this is just me. Right. It's also like, instead of saying, um, uh, you could say, I feel angry rather than I am angry. Right because cuz it gives you, that's more accurate.
[00:27:34] That gives you a little bit more distance that you're feeling is all of you. And it doesn't all of, all of a sudden make you think that you were just this thing, that's again, more nuanced. And that allows us not to take on our thoughts as just it I'm feeling angry or I'm thinking about this in this negative way.
[00:27:52] That's not all I am. So I think it really comes back to, that's not all I am and I think it's hard for us to stay with that. Ambiguity, you know, as English people, we know we love that ambiguity. Sure. But sometimes it's not so easy to stay with that ambiguity, but you know, the public, it gives you room to then dive into it.
[00:28:09] You know, if I say I'm really freaking angry right now, there's no room to dissect that. But if I'm aware of the fact that I'm angry and I say, okay, I'm feeling very angry now. I think I'm automatically allowing space to, to analyze where that's coming from and what that means. You're right. And to kind of riff on your idea of permission to heal.
[00:28:30] The more that we've had permission from caretakers, parents, teachers, friends, to explore that and be curious about that and to be intrigued by that rather than put off by that, or worried that this is gonna be a problem, or this is gonna make things worse. The more that we have permission from our supports, the more we cultivate this.
[00:28:52] And the funny thing like I've talked about in the book, but in general, is that the paradox of being human is that we can't do it alone. It's the rub of it too. We wish we could, we need each other to kind of help bring these qualities online. Yeah. Yeah. And, and so this permission to heal that you're talking about is permission to help others to heal as well by affording them the space of being able to say, I welcome this side of you.
[00:29:20] Even though it might be difficult for you, even though it might even be difficult for me. Yeah. But there's more here. Four, three phenomenal therapists. I wouldn't have been able to get out of my own way. I, I grew up as an only child in a family where it, where I did not feel safe to express myself. I did not feel safe to actually acknowledge that I had needs and wants that were not being met.
[00:29:48] You know? Yeah. My mom was just too dangerous to express that stuff to, you know, and I, I hid literally in my closet too many times, then I go to care to account. And I remember at one point she was aware enough to realize that at like 15 or 16, that I really did need a counselor mm-hmm but she was narcissistic or.
[00:30:15] Stupid enough to not realize that she needed to not be in the room. Yeah. And the, and the counselor who was seeing me. Should have had her license revoked or been bitch slapped by her supervisor because she didn't insist that my mother leave. Yeah. She asked me in front of my mother. Well, do you want space to yourself with me alone?
[00:30:36] Or do you want you, you know, is it okay if your mother stays and it wasn't even safe for me to say, I want my mother to go so that I can talk to you without her. Yeah. And, and so ultimately what the therapist then resolved was that I wasn't ready to. I was more than ready to talk. Yeah. I just needed someone else to be smart enough or, or compassionate enough to know that they needed to create the space for me because I couldn't get it myself.
[00:31:05] Yeah. I mean, we need that space and we need to have it protected. I mean, win ACO talks about it as being the holding environment. Yeah. The holding environment is beautiful. And the other thing I wanted to share with you too, Marcy, which I, I love about, you know, your story here too, is that sometimes many of us, many of us I'd say almost, you know, so many people including myself, is that we didn't always have the ideal family circumstances, right?
[00:31:30] No. Or, or we did have these emotionally neglectful or even abusive people or, or really disconnected or emotionally under intelligent people in our lives. Um, I think sometimes art can save us too, because art also reminds us that we're not alone in wrestling with the slings and arrows. Of what it is to be alive and, and the characters in literature and the characters in movie, remind us that there's more to this thing.
[00:31:57] Yeah. And that we have all of human history to support us. There's a, there's a beautiful moment in Goodwill hunting. I think when, you know, it's such a fabulous movie, such a great movie. And I think Rob Williams, like asked like Matt Damon's character, like, you know, who his friends are and he's like, yeah, William Shakespeare.
[00:32:16] Right. And you know, all these different people because, and I think that's important for us to see how art can also help to bolster us and support us no matter what our circumstances are, you know, like today is Nelson Mandela's birthday. Right? Happy birthday Mandela. Okay. Yeah. And I think of somebody also who was in prison for so many years, but the reason that I think he did so beautifully, not only because he was such a man, a man of such integrity and such character, but he also had very, very deep correspondences with his wife and other people.
[00:32:46] And they sustained him. They helped him to stay human and to stay compassionate. And when he came out, he was a changed man, but for the better. in terms of, he was even gracious with those who were his captors. Yeah. And, and, and to, to kind of come to that kind of inner journey takes a sort of inner fortitude.
[00:33:08] That's recognizing that there's something bigger that we can tap into mm-hmm . And I think that kind of not only re resilience, but also that resourcefulness and that courage, that inner courage and that capacity to keep hope alive in knowing that there's more. And I think there's something about art that is beautiful, that art teaches us that there's always something more.
[00:33:30] right. William Jane, William Jane. And that we should have the patience to find it and look for it. Yes, yes. And I think that's the patience to find it and look for it. And that's where the safety comes. Right. Helps us to do that. But the more artists, what I think artists are. So the reason that they're such emotional risk takers is cuz they've learned how to trust the process.
[00:33:51] Mm-hmm of going for not in some cavalier conventional way, but I mean of really allowing themselves to open up more deeply into the psyche, you know, like, you know, like how Leonard Cohen would allow himself to go deeper into the psyche to say, wait. Right. What's more in this, in this song. Hallelujah. This isn't just about David being a king.
[00:34:14] This is about David like lamenting how difficult it is to praise the God who you disappoint, that disappoints you, where you also realize that this whole thing of living and loving is not as easy as you think it is. No, and yet it's beautiful, but it's also broken and beautiful in the brokenness and beautiful in the broken.
[00:34:38] And that's what, and I think that kind of texture, that kind of richness is what art allows us. But I think also really being in touch with the psyche allows us if we really kind of listen to all that the psyche has to offer. Right. And I don't think it's, it's also, I mean, at least for me, it isn't just the enjoyment of, or.
[00:35:00] The inhalation of other people's art, but it's the creation of the art itself that I find. Oh yeah. Yeah. Even if I'm not planning on sharing it with anybody, just sitting here, you know, taking my computer, this is a drafting table that I have my computer on, you know? Yeah. I, I retrofitted my art studio to be the recording studio for the podcast and, and I'm surrounded by discarded paintings to be told everywhere I look.
[00:35:29] Yeah. Um, but it's, it's the act of painting for my own benefit that really taught me to have empathy and compassion for myself that taught me resilience and patience and, and where I came up with this notion of giving myself permission to live the life that I wanted to live, to create this for myself and for my kids.
[00:35:55] And, um, Yeah, I want to quote, I wanna quote you on something here. This is, this is a great, this is a great gray, gray Bradberry quote. Okay. On, on the importance of art on, on the importance of why it is that we do it, and it comes from an interesting, different angle than you'd expect. It's not the, it doesn't seem like it's an inspiring one, but it really is because all of this is so essential to who we are.
[00:36:21] So he writes, if you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die or act crazy or both. You must stay drunk on writing. So reality cannot destroy you. So art, exactly art helps us to stay connected to how imagination can keep the magic in life and help us to illuminate the real mm-hmm
[00:36:47] But it does. So in a way that allows us possibilities again, even in the most difficult stuff. Right. Absolutely. And so I think of art as something as extraordinary. And I think that's what therapy can be too, is an art in itself because on its best days, it allows us to do that. Right. It allows us to both express and contain and explore all that's within us, all that's outside of us and all that's between us.
[00:37:23] Wow. That's very profound. right. Yeah. But in the 18 months, prior to my mother's death, um, we weren't speaking my choice cuz she was too toxic. I had to protect myself and my kids from the monster that the addiction had created her into. Yeah. And during that time I kept writing short stories about my mother's.
[00:37:50] I kept creating characters out of her and characters out of me. Yeah. And different scenarios for how this particular daughter was going to lose that particular mother. Yeah. And I didn't realize until afterwards cuz who the hell knows what you're doing at the time. Um, that what I was doing was trying to figure out our relationship and how I felt obviously, and, and, and prepare myself for the, my mother's eventual death.
[00:38:22] And I remember this one particular version of the story that I was, I was quite pleased with and I showed my therapist and she read it and she's like, well, you're done, you've graduated. you know? Yeah, exactly. You, you figured it out. So, you know, amen to you. It's amazing. I mean, I think that's the other thing I think, you know, like you said too, making art also helps us to.
[00:38:46] is, is, is, is really therapeutic in, in, in these important ways. I think the best art is therapeutic. I think the best therapy is artistic, you know? I mean, right. I, I, I think that's why we're moved by art is because it, heat hits us deep in the psyche. Right? Yeah. Know, we see what other character for me, it's always a novel or a play.
[00:39:10] I, I find the most connect, the most connective tissue. Yeah. But, but you, you know, you see what motivates a character and why a character becomes the person that he or she has become. Yeah. And, and it illuminates the human condition. It illuminates, I mean, that sounds totally cliche. I sorry about that. No, but it does, but it does.
[00:39:33] I mean, that's what it does. I mean, it really, it really does. And it allows us to explore, you know, so much more territory. Right. Like, I think that's the other thing to kind of, you know, use another metaphor. It, it like allows us to traverse so much more territory than we realize is there. And in fact, we even discover new territory that we thought we already knew.
[00:39:56] Right. And, and it gives, I think the therapist and the client, a safe metaphoric, um, soccer pitch. Yeah. To, to, to play on, you know? Yeah. It's, it's totally good. I mean, you know, I wrote in this, in the book, uh, Robert Frost said those who aren't well educated in the metaphor, aren't safe to be let loose in the world.
[00:40:18] yeah. Right. And I think that, you know, therapy as in life is, is the art of learning how to use metaphors to help us to imagine what's both similar and different in every experience we have. Cuz what does metaphor do? Right. Metaphor literally comes from Latin to carry over. Right? It's the bridge between.
[00:40:37] Different disparate things, disparate things, but disparate things that also find commonality, which is by the way, isn't it funny? I never thought about this either Marcy relationships, like any relationship is a metaphor because we're trying to connect two, two people, two disparate things in a way that has common ground, right.
[00:40:55] A relationship is the ultimate metaphor. If you will. Mm-hmm and so we need to understand how metaphors work, right? So there was a great scene in, um, the book, the fault in our stars, um, that it was in that book cost me like six boxes of tissues. It's so, so I think I was dehydrated from tears. Yeah, it was, it was, it was, it was so good.
[00:41:16] And in the movie, it was great too. Like she's, she's meeting Augustus this character at the cancer support group. For those who don't know it, she's a young girl in high school who has cancer. She's met. Attractive charismatic guy and they're shooting the breeze together outside, and everything's going really well.
[00:41:34] He's flirting with her, she's flirting with him. And all of a sudden he pulls out this cigarette and he puts it in his lips between his lips and she is totally disgusted. Mm-hmm and he says, why are you disgusted? I don't smoke. This is just a metaphor. Put the thing that tries to kill you in between your own lips.
[00:41:52] Right. I'd forgotten about that. Yeah. And it's the power of metaphor is so important. I think also, because as a culture, we literalize way too much. Yeah. You know, and, and so I think metaphor allows us to keep the dimension, to keep the bridges, the bridges open. What more do we need more? And the inclusivity and the diversity of.
[00:42:19] Yeah. You know, and what it does is allows us to have ambivalence and complexity and dissonance, but without losing connection, mm-hmm, like if we could have more metaphor in our politics, that would be helpful. Right. In terms of building bridges between people and saying, okay, we don't think exactly, but what's our common ground, even though we're disparate.
[00:42:38] Right. Right. And there'd be a lot more than that than I think we are aware that is there. But I think what we, sometimes we sometimes can also, I think also some of our technology helps us get better at this. Some of our technology helps us flatten this stuff. Right. Like we can use these technologies, like all the stuff that we have to try to flatten and obliterate people and other them, or, you know, cut off the connections on those bridges.
[00:43:09] Right. It's really to all of our detriment in that way. And I think that's what literature helps us to do. Atticus Finch helps us to see in a strange way that even the people who he is fighting against, he has empathy for yeah. That is extraordinary. What absolutely he does. Right. Absolutely. And for many years he was my guidepost.
[00:43:32] Me too. I would, I would ask myself, okay, what would Atticus Vince do in this situation? Exactly. And I always made the right choice that way. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think, I think that's, that's it. And Atticus also is someone who really works from the inside out mm-hmm um, you know, I think he's the, uh, unsung introvert of the 20th century.
[00:43:51] Hell yeah. But I mean, I think, I think you're right. I think that's something that is so, so important. And I think that's what I was trying to show in the book too, of how beautiful that process is and how therapy helps to tap into that more fully. So, so where did, how, how are you. how, how are you getting that across to the therapists that you're writing to in the book?
[00:44:15] You mean, how am I getting it across that, that, yeah, that all this stuff. So, you know, I really, I'm trying, I'm really on a mission to help therapists see what many of us feel, which is that this is an art and that we are, there's an artfulness to aid, but there's an artfulness that we're teaching the people we work with and we should own it more.
[00:44:36] You know, like own it in a way of like, I mean, I find therapy so much more fun as a therapist because I feel like, oh my God, I'm creating such great literature here. Or this is an interesting movement in the symphony today. Right. Right. And when you come out of that, you don't just feel like you're an all day listener or receptacle.
[00:44:53] Right. You're a creator too. You're a creator. And I always think of how does this inspire me in my personal life? How does it inspire me in terms of my writing or inspire me in terms of falling in love more with the world. And that kind of mindset, I think, is something that we don't talk about enough as therapists.
[00:45:13] And, and I think it's actually better than the, oh, look at us therapists. We're destigmatizing mental health. That's great. But to me, that's not poetic at all and it may be necessary to get people in the seats, but it's totally necessary, but you know what. when you want someone to have a piece of art, you also want them to get excited about being enchanted.
[00:45:35] And I think, oh, of course. And I think as therapists, I think we also should be enchanted with the beauty of our craft, but the beauty of this art this life. Right? So now the trick for me is going to be, when I finish all my coursework to find a supervising supervising situation for my field work, that that is like this it's.
[00:46:01] I mean, that's the other thing I wrote it for. I wrote it for trainees who didn't have that supervisor mm-hmm so that they could feel companion and to feel like these aspects of themselves as people and as therapists are supported. And also I wrote it for supervisors to say, bring this into your supervision.
[00:46:19] This is what it's all about. This is, this is so for me, this has been not only an RSA, right? A way of saying why I do what I do. Mm-hmm but also a way of saying this is why we do what we do. Beautiful. And, and I hope that in some small way, it could help add to that. You know? Um, I, I, once in the book I talk about meeting, uh, I was at a psychotherapy networker conference and they were giving master clinician Ivin Y a lifetime achievement award.
[00:46:52] And I raised my hand and, and thanked him, but basically said, you know, I think you've taught us all this therapist how to be artists. And I went into why, and he, he didn't believe me that he was an artist and Sue Johnson who was moderating this talk, tried to convince him. And I emailed him and I explained to him what I meant more.
[00:47:12] And he's like, I get it now. And I was like, wow, you taught him something. I taught him something, but I was hoping that. Maybe we can teach each other something. Sure. Because I think this can expand what we do as therapists and, and, and also help the world. Wow. Right. yeah. With everything. So, you know, I mean it, if it does something like that would be great, but that, that was, that was the intentions.
[00:47:43] Okay. Well, I, I think, I think you're successful, plus there's also, there's also great films in there. I, I do quote good, well hunting and little miss sunshine and joy and all sorts of, and that's what films are. There's, there's such good films in there, there lessons on how to live and how not to live your life on how to build.
[00:48:05] Destroy relationships. They're they're clearly. And, and also, and also just to see, you know, I, I also quote Shakespeare, like Lord, like what fools these mortals be. We are all foolish in all of this stuff. And it's, it's, it's important to also recognize how foolish we are despite ourselves and how we're built to be foolish.
[00:48:22] And that's not a, that's not a deficit. It's part of how we're made. Yeah. Right. Yeah. So, I mean, I think that is something really, really important. Cause I think we sometimes feel like, oh, I should be all figured out or I should be all this. And no, I mean, and that's what you said about the process. And the other thing about being an artist is you start to relish the process, not just the product.
[00:48:48] Well, the process is everything. The process is everything. I, I lose interest in, in a, in a, a drawing or a painting the minute I'm I think I'm finished with it the minute it stops speaking to me. And I, I think it's done. Oh yeah. I'm not interested in it anymore. I'm focused and really interested while it's in process.
[00:49:07] And then I don't know what the hell to do with it. Well, then we move to the process of something else. Right. So, right. So I just keep moving on and on and on, which is why in a room filled with art. I don't know what to do with, right. But again, I think that's the beauty of it. I think because, because life is like that an artist like life, right.
[00:49:24] And life is always seeking to move to what next in a, in a healthy way. Right. William James, the great psychologist said the capacity of a soul is wanting more. Yeah. You know, I'll take that. Absolutely. I want more. I always want more. Yeah. That's what keeps me, that's what keeps me sustained is what keeps me going.
[00:49:48] Exactly. There's always another project. There's always another thing to do. There's always something else to create. There's always someone else to have an activity with. There's always something else to learn. I, I don't understand people and if I offend anyone who's listening, I apologize, but I don't understand people who say they're.
[00:50:04] Well, I think it's because when you have this capacity to enjoy the process and, and see what's new and what's familiar, right. All of a sudden infinity is always at your feet. Yeah. There's always something to do or think about or create or something. There's no way to be bored if infinity is at your feed.
[00:50:24] Kafka said something to that effect too. And remember Kafka like hardly left, you know, Prague. Right. But , he didn't need to leave Prague because he had it all coming inside of him. And I think you're right. And that's why cultivating this sense allows us to stay in touch with the perpetual magic of living and the world mm-hmm and it's, it's a completely renewable resource.
[00:50:48] Yeah. There's always more of it. Just have to look outside of yourself and be open to seeing what's actually there. Yeah. And get, and to figure out where the blockages are that sometimes keep you from tapping into it. The great artists also know how to work with writers block and know how to work with when you know, the muse dries up.
[00:51:09] They, they learn how to fill the well, again, that is the perpetual job of all of us. For me, it's changing modalities. If I'm, yeah. If I'm blocked up on a painting, I'll go watch a movie or exactly walk or I'll have some coffee or I'll have sex or I'll take a nap or yeah. You know, I'll do something else.
[00:51:29] And then, and then when it calls to me again, I go back to it. But, um, that's right. That's right. And that's, and that's exactly it too. And I think you bring up a good point too. That variety is really important for us psychologically and sometimes riffing off of somebody else. You know, like if I'm fantastic, stuck with something, you know, it, it.
[00:51:50] I mean, it could be, it could be something academic too. I was writing a paper last night and I was stuck and I couldn't figure out the, the conclusion. And I happened to be doing a virtual, like this zoom class with the professor. No one else showed up. It was supposed to be for the whole class. No one else showed up.
[00:52:05] So I had like a 60 minute one on one with her and I talked through the whole thing and realized what the conclusion was there it is. And all she did was listen, she didn't gimme an answer. Right. She just said, okay. And what else do you know? Yeah, that was, that was her only question. And, and I figured it out, but I, I do the same thing with characters.
[00:52:24] I do the same thing, you know, I think that all artists figure out a way to do that for themselves. Exactly. I think so too. And I think you get better at learning, which way works for you at what time. Yeah. And that's what I think therapy helps you do too, is to learn which, which part of myself is operating right now.
[00:52:45] And what does it need. and why mm-hmm and how do I, how do I give that to them? Yeah. And how do I keep on figuring out which, which me I'm dealing with right now and clear out the extra minutia that gets away. Yeah. Completely. Completely. Yeah, totally. All of that stuff. Yeah. Oh, so exciting. Yeah. This has been great.
[00:53:10] Thank you for having me. My pleasure. My pleasure. So we'll do the seven quick questions on our way out. Yeah, let's do it. Okay. So what six words would you use to describe yourself? Ah, that's cool. Um, passionate, um, creative mm-hmm um, reflective mm-hmm um, warm. Yeah. Uh, mischievous . I can see that in the smile for sure.
[00:53:41] Um, curious. insatiable. Wow. Perfect words, Michael. Perfect words. Yeah. Um, what is your favorite way to spend a day? Uh, favorite way is mixing it up between being on my own and being with people I'm a total ambivert. So my perfect day is having a walking session with somebody then going home and playing piano or writing, playing with my four year old, going back and forth between high octane and low octane, you know, but of course, and, and if I had my ideal day, that would include going to the beach.
[00:54:22] I'm one of those weird people who like the beach off season. I don't like to go when it's warm. It's beautiful. It's beautiful off season. I don't wanna go when it's hot. I don't wanna go when there are a lot of people there I go in the winter when there's no one else there. Beautiful off season. I I'm all for it off season.
[00:54:39] Any season. I'm all for it. It's just too. If I'm gonna be sweating on the sand, I don't want anything to do with it. Um, okay. What is your favorite childhood memory? Oh my gosh. Wow. That's a good one. Uh, you know, my mom and I, my mom was a social worker, but she was also a student of literature. And on Friday nights on Shabbat in Jewish religion, we would have what we'd call our fireside chats.
[00:55:07] Okay. And so we eat dinner together and then we'd just talk and have these talks about what we were reading and stuff going on that's and it was just like, we'd call it our fireside chats. And, and just that, like throughout my, throughout my childhood and my young adulthood, it was, it wasn't every week, but it was certainly, it was something that we carried through.
[00:55:33] That's beautiful. I used to have dinner. I was a single mom. It was just me and my kids. And I, we used to sit at the table and we'd, you know, say the blessing and, and have our dinner. And mm-hmm , there was always conversations like that. And then they became teenagers and had different schedules and teams and jobs, and that sort of connected family dinner sort of disappeared.
[00:55:58] And, yeah, it's wild. Right. But, but I mean, that was the one that instantly came up to me, even though I know I'm a little older than a child, but it, to me, it's so beautiful. I love the warmth of we, we call it our fireside chats. That's great. That's great. Um, what is your favorite meal? Oh, okay. This is a good one.
[00:56:17] Believe it or not. I like blackened Cajun chicken. There's something about the spiciness that I like. Mm. So when I went to William, I went to Williams college and there was this great little restaurant called Hobson's choice. And they had this blackened Cajun chicken, which was just the right level of spice.
[00:56:34] Lovely. And, and then they had this mud pie for dessert. Oh. So it was like, and it had a little maple syrup on it. So you had the spicy and then for dessert, you had the sweet, nice, perfect, nice. I used to love hot and spicy Cajun, anything but things change. do it anymore. Stomach says no. Yeah. Um, okay. What's one piece of advice you would like to give your younger self.
[00:57:04] Oh yeah. Um, trust your instincts more. Your intuition is, is much better than you think it is. Really, really, it took me, uh, until my, my forties to really trust my instinct more you know, but you know, young said, you know, you're, you know, you're only doing research until 40, right. You know, that's when life starts.
[00:57:26] Right. That's where it starts anyway. That's fine. That's great. Um, what is one thing you would most like to change about the world? Uh, I, I, I wish there was more, um, I wish there was more people would notice things more and stop and notice some more of the magic of the world. I think people pass the world by one of my favorite places is Thornton.
[00:57:54] Wilder's our town mm-hmm . And at the end of that, you know, she says, why, why are people noticing? I, I think we do that way too much. It's the color. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Why does God make purple flowers in a meadow? So you notice them? Yeah. God wants to be loved just as we all do. Yeah. Beautiful. Um, okay. Last question.
[00:58:19] It's very frivolous. Um, what TV shows do you watch and binge and love. Oh, wow. Oh, well I have a kid, so I'm, you know, I'm I'm binging go dog, go. And, uh, EY, do you like bluey? I've never seen Louey, but we've we've, we've done Daniel tiger and all sorts of stuff. Um, You know, that's a really good question. I haven't been following anything recently.
[00:58:43] I was watching with my wife, we'd watched, this is us. Um, mm-hmm at some point, which was really, really good. It was just emotional for me. It's really emotional. Yeah. It was not enough Lexapro for me to get through that. Yeah. I just had to stopped watching it. Yeah. It, it, it was for me as well. It's, it's tough.
[00:58:58] Um, so I haven't really been like religiously watching, but for me, honestly, I am a big Stephen Colbert fan. And, and so for me, it's my ritual to watch Colbert because I find his satire and his mischievous intelligence to be just fantastic. And it it's sort of the bromide I need given everything that's going on in the world.
[00:59:22] So that makes so much sense. That makes so much sense. Well, thank you so much, Michael. This was really enlightening and I, I, I feel like I wanna go write a short story right now. Oh, good. Yeah, me too. This was delightful, Marcy. I couldn't, I couldn't have enjoyed myself more. We, we have I'm so. Excellent. Well, I will be when I finish your book, I will be in contact.
[00:59:43] Cause, uh, yeah, I'm sure I'm gonna have more questions and follow ups. So yeah, no, this was great. This was so much fun. I was the time just flew and I love it. Well, let's be in touch. Keep in touch. Yeah, keep me posted on how things are going and uh, I'll, I'll do the same. Awesome. Thanks so much. Bye.