The Necessary Precariousness of Hope

The Necessary Precariousness of Hope

It’s hard not to listen when the universe sends us its messages. When I hear on several occasions, “Where’s the hope in what you are saying?”, I can’t help but pay attention.

Here are a few recent examples: Last week on social media, several friends and I were exploring the intertwined history of constitutional rights and racism, when one person said, “I agree with what you are saying, but where is the hope?” The other day, a case conference facilitator suggested the same thing as my group gathered to hear notes from my colleague’s work: “Listen for the hope in this session.” And last week a patient said to me, “Your plants look so healthy; I kill all of mine.” When I responded to him about the way life and death seem so close together, something inside me felt like I missed something important. Later, I realized that I missed a chance to name his hope that I could help him become healthy, just like my plants. So, I am asking myself, where is the hope in my words, work, and actions; and what is hope, really?

In my work as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist helping to unpack the deeper issues beyond behavior change, and as a person in society working toward uprooting and exposing white supremacy, I get down in the dirt quite often. To me, coming face to face with truths is a liberating and hopeful practice, even though this practice often feels painful and disorienting. Exposing something we wish to hide from ourselves that perpetuates destructive (and deadly) patterns is a powerful endeavor, which often feels terrible. After all, there are often several reasons we keep these truths inaccessible, including that we may discover we’re implicated in our own trauma and painful experiences, as well as the trauma and pain of others. Most of us are hardly ever sure we can bear knowing this kind of truth.

Even when we come into direct contact with the pain of being human, there is still room for hope. But it feels important to me to distinguish hope from something more like an idealistic optimism. Author Rebecca Solnit describes this well: She says that optimism and despair are two sides of the same, predictive coin. They both imply an expectation that we know how things will turn out: They will either be all good or all bad, without any room for uncertainty.

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"Sunday Neurosis," or, What happens to us during the holidays?

"Sunday Neurosis," or, What happens to us during the holidays?

"Sunday neurosis" was a term coined by psychoanalyst Sandor Ferenczi to describe the anxiety and stress we feel on Sundays right before we have to go back to work on Monday. I hear a lot of people in my practice talk about this, and I'm not immune to it either – that feeling on Sunday nights of all the anticipated problems in the week ahead seeming to spiral towards you, as though Sisyphus has let go of that damn boulder once and for all and, whoops, looks like you're going to be the one carrying it now if it doesn't smash you first!

This feeling of anxiety and stress is true for so many of us who work the traditional Monday through Friday schedule. This is also something that happens to many of us during the holidays. Some people experience a "vacation brain" that can be blissful while it's happening, but excruciating to come back from. While Ferenczi didn't acknowledge that this same type of anxiety can happen the day before you start your working life after a long holiday, it is incredibly common.

So what can you do about it? 

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Facing your inner oppressor

Facing your inner oppressor

Charlottesville. Ferguson. Orlando. Neo-Nazis. Police brutality. Racism. Classism. Fear. Fear, hate, and Othering have a figurehead now, and people who were once hidden in their hate are now empowered to come forward. As a white person who gives a shit, it is painful knowing the reality that this kind of hate is on the shoulders of marginalized people day in and day out, when it truly should be the burden of white folks such as myself who are complicit in systems of stolen* status and privilege.

So if you’re one of the many white folks asking, “What can I do?”, I suggest you consider the words of my friend and colleague Lily Sloane: “You have to fight your inner Nazis before fighting the outer Nazis.” 

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Power, Contact, and Transformation Through Radical Psychotherapy

Power, Contact, and Transformation Through Radical Psychotherapy

One of the most important and meaningful things in my work is making contact with each of my clients. Without relational contact, whatever work my clients and I do together becomes irrelevant, indigestible, insoluble, and fragmented, which can be traumatizing, re-activating, and particularly harmful on micro and macro levels. That’s not to say rifts and miscommunications don’t happen, even when we are aiming for contact. In fact, that’s often the life blood of our work together, as these inevitable rifts let us know that something is feeling missed inside of you, and therefore there is something that needs to be found and contacted.

So how can you and I make contact, even when you may be feeling an intuitive skepticism and mistrust of what I represent, or even what the vulnerability of emotional contact represents?

I think it has a lot to do with how both of us understand, and can speak to, power, privilege, and hegemony. If I don’t recognize and own my power in the therapeutic dyad, then it is more likely to be misused or enacted without resolution.

In service of a truly transformative experience for my clients and society at large, I aim to stay alive and awake in my radicalism even while maintaining a kind of therapeutic neutrality that is important to my work.

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The Language of "Good-Enough Therapy"

The Language of "Good-Enough Therapy"

I was talking with a therapist friend today about our personal relationships with authority. We were sharing that, as therapists, we have a particular authority that we as non-therapists might also rail against. As therapists, we have authority in the room. Whether we like it or not, there is often a power differential in the clinical hour. But that authority does not have to be a toxic one, and in fact, can become the very container in which to support profound transformation and growth. Here’s how I think that can happen.

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