BITE Model: Information Control

October 3rd, 2023

BITE Model: Information Control

Back with part two of our look at Steven Hassan’s BITE model of authoritarian control. We covered behavior control in part one, so if you missed that, check it out here. Now we’re going to look at the “I” in the BITE model, information control. We’ll look at how it works and some of the more subtle or insidious ways this can show up.

Organized religion, as authoritarian groups, exist by creating in-groups and out-groups. You’re saved, you’re the elect, the chosen few, of all the religions your group alone has the correct interpretation of scripture, and then there are unbelievers, heathens, the ubiquitous “other” in the out-group. Information control is key in this, and personally I think one of the reasons church attendance is cratering. For a long time, the church had an outsized level of control on the flow of information. From book burnings to scribal edits to persecution of “heretics,” the church employed many destructive tactics of control. Some of these tactics persist to this day, like cringey politicians with flamethrowers for some reason, but the damage done before the rise of the printing press is significantly different. Information control in the age of the printing press became much harder, and with the rise of the internet information has become impossible to fully repress. While the church could once destroy texts and burn, hang, and otherwise torture nonbelievers, the internet has made connection and sharing of information so easy that the church can’t even cover up its own scandals anymore, let alone stop people from learning or hearing about other forms of meaning making outside of religion. But religion hasn’t stayed around for no reason, so they’ve learned to adapt, albeit while hemorrhaging membership and attendance.  

The modern age of information control looks much more like misinformation and creating false hierarchies of “good” and “bad” information. Every church I was ever a member of had their own terrible little libraries, so you can avoid any books that might contain information the church doesn’t want you to see. Many religions also have their own publishing houses, so they can pump out propaganda without the need to bother with proper peer review. My AP Bio teacher literally wrote and said “Evil-ution” when he taught us about evolution, a topic that was about 25% of a standardized test for college credit. That’s the definition of indoctrination. 

And while I can give silly examples all day, this can be really insidious in other ways. Limiting contact with the secular world creates major gaps of knowledge for people, and this can lead to delayed or stunted social, emotional, and mental development. A good example is purity culture (I’ve blogged and done a panel on this topic). The pervasiveness of sexual abuse in organized religion is based partly upon kids having no idea of what consent is. When all they learn about their bodies is shame, they are far more likely to feel guilt about being abused, allowing abusers to take advantage of the situation. Comprehensive sex ed is key in reducing abuse, and the reason the church fights against sex ed so strongly is that it loses the ability to control people’s bodies (and then abuse them, way to be on the right side of this issue religion!). The lack of information creates the environment where abuse can happen, and is allowed to happen over and over again. Purity culture is how this information control works on the topic of sex, but information control happens for healthy boundaries in general. Some version of god, church, family is common (may be a leader, elders, or another figure) and the concept of not trusting yourself (sinful flesh!) or making yourself subservient to everyone else means that healthy boundaries can’t exist, a key piece of information the church hides and/or misrepresents. 

Another big issue around misinformation is the bible itself. It is published out of order, which, I was raised fundamentalist, so taught it was the literal word of god, surely no human publisher could overpower that! But, real talk, this is like a big inside secret. No pastor or preacher likes to talk about it, but no serious scholar refutes or debates it as fact. The gospels were written after Paul’s letters. The new testament is written in a way which provides sort of a narrative structure, here is the biography of Jesus in the first four books, and here is a leading apostle adding depth and context in the subsequent chapters. Except, that’s not accurate at all. And if you’re a believer, you may excuse that and say, well, it is a touch misleading but what’s the harm? But, it’s a devastating piece of information that suggests the gospels are just fan fic. Paul over and over goes out of this way to say his writing is not based on eye witness testimony, but rather only through visions and revelation. And the gospels are based on Paul’s book, likely creating narrative details where none actually existed (for more on this, check out Dr Richard Carrier’s work). So, lots of harm, because we have a “holy scripture” that is presented as a biography when it is clearly not a reliable source in any definition of what we would consider reliable. It would not be fit to print by today’s standards. Pretty big deal.

So, lots of other examples, but these show the range of silly nonsense to serious paradigm shifting to creating an environment of abuse, and we can apply these concepts to mainstream religions as well as the more extreme cults. Check back next week for part three, Thought Control!

BITE Model: Behavior Control

September 27th, 2023

BITE Model: Behavior Control

Steven Hassan is a cult and undue influence expert. His BITE model (find out more) looks at the ways in which cults and other groups exert control over members, and this model is a great resource to help people look at the power imbalances in groups, particularly organized religions. Today we’re going to look at the “B” in the BITE model, behavior control.

When most people think of cults, they think of the Manson Family or Branch Davidians. If you’re a little older, maybe you remember Hare Krishnas in the airports handing out flowers to people. We think of people who dress the same, often look the same, and are doing the same ritual behaviors as being in a cult. That trope of cults is accurate, but on the extreme end of the continuum of influence a cult may have. There are many, many ways in which cults can exert control over someone’s behavior, and not all of these ways are as apparent as wearing matching robes or having shaved heads. 

One of the most common ways to exert behavior, and I would comfortably say I believe the most common way, is to create a strong sense of an in-group and out-group dynamic. The saved and the unsaved, the believer and unbeliever, the faithful and the fallen. From this core tennent, behavior control is exerted by promoting spending time with others in the good graces of the in-group, and shunning (either overtly or covertly) or otherwise discouraging time with the out-group. I was raised fundamentalist evangelical, so this was pretty overt messaging. Unbelievers were part of “the world,” which was under the influence of the devil, so limited interaction was definitely preferable. Your “worldly” friends might tempt you or lead you astray, what with their sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll. Often I heard about “the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh” and how all of that was bad. So, no trusting outsiders, definitely can’t trust yourself, literally the only thing you could trust was the bible. Now, I was raised in the midwest, in the capital of my little sect of evangelicalism, so I also was in an area where I rarely, if ever, interacted with people who weren’t of the same religious background. I went to religious schools k-12, so most of my sports and all of my extracurriculars were with other fundie kids. Baseball is the only thing I can think of that I did in my childhood that wasn’t with church kids. So, in mainstream christianity, this is very much a thing. And it scales, like if you grew up in a not-so-religious state, maybe public school was the only option. Or, on the more extreme side, homeschooled kids only saw a few other kids ever, and all very religious. 

A thing authoritarian groups and cults love, love, love to control is sex. Why? Because short of doing heroin (don’t do heroin, it’s super bad for you) having an orgasm is one of the strongest releases of feel good drugs your brain can experience. If you experience that feel good hit with a heathen, well, you might never come back to church. So, sex needs to be highly controlled. Only once you’re married! Only in the missionary position or you’re a pervert! Only between hetero people or the opposite gender! Never with birth control! And like, those are only the mainstream christian cult rules, extreme cults get really weird with it, like every female member needs to sleep with the male leader. Again, our pop culture awareness of cults is limited to the extreme cases, because if you think about it, non-consensual impregnation of a minor by a god sounds weird, even if that’s a mainstream christian belief (a requirement for salvation, even!). 

What else? Clothes, obviously, but not just everyone wears colorful robes, it can be no shorts, no skirts, nothing above the knee, no cleavage, hmm, lots of rules for women here, almost like the patriarchy is the problem. Hair or head coverings are common ways to exert behavior control, especially in ancient times and many of the middle eastern religions currently. Financial exploitation is common, from needing to give more to megachurch pastors who have private planes, to just a required tithe (10% for those not in the know). Sleep deprivation is common among cults, but in mainstream control groups that may be “all-night” worship festivals, or late night gatherings with early morning worship for retreats or camps. 

So, behavior control! It can be pretty blatant, or it can be much more insidious by being subtle. Knowledge is power, so knowing what to look for can save a lot of pain and misery. Speaking of knowledge, we’ll do the “I” in the BITE model next, information control!

Gatekeeping Mental Health Spaces

July 25th, 2023

Gatekeeping Mental Health Spaces

Sometimes I can keep on a topic for more than a minute, so this blog is kind of a continuation of last week’s blog about terminology. It was a rambly (shock) post about language, and the nuance needed to create understanding, as well as the parameters needed to keep language helpful without being misused. This is going to be another nuanced topic, because it turns out that life isn’t super black and white, so we have to be able to explore the gray spaces. So, let’s take a look at gatekeeping in the mental health space. 

So, gatekeeping in our modern, online culture is usually referencing the idea that one person or a group is saying some other person or group isn’t welcome in a space. Something to the effect of vegetarians are just failed vegans. Like, all squares are rectangles, but not all rectangles are squares, and if squares and rectangles got all upset at each other and tried to create some sort of social hierarchy around it. A common example I use is that in order to lead an AA meeting you need to have gone through AA (AA isn’t a fair example, they’re a little culty and gatekeeping is baked in). It would be like someone with anxiety saying that anyone who works with anxiety should also have anxiety. And like, nah, that isn’t how it works. I would almost argue it’s the opposite. For example, if you’re divorced you absolutely can work with couples, but while you’re actively divorcing, you gotta be super aware and be careful you’re not carrying your own shit into session. I’ll use myself as an example, being raised fundamentalist is super helpful for my clients who come from a similar background, as I often know what words or phrases they use without needing to explain it. But this can also create problems, as the reliance on assuming there is mutual understanding could lead to things to get skipped. And while I was working through the hardest parts of deconstruction and my own religious trauma, I was not seeing clients about that. And I still maintain my own work in therapy to make sure I’m not bringing my own shit into session. So, shared life experience is helpful, but certainly not necessary. And we as therapists need to be careful to say, “how dare Kevin say he sees clients with abc when Kevin never experienced that himself,” because in some cases, that therapist who doesn’t have the lived experience may have done a lot of work to gain an understanding and appreciation of the topic at hand, and be super helpful. Or, conversely, that therapist without the lived experience might just be a great fit, and still be able to provide great therapy. Or, again, that therapist could be the only person in the area, and having some knowledge and appropriate humility and openness to learn will still be a good experience for a client. We certainly don’t want clients to not get treatment because some professional doesn’t have a certain lived experience.

All that being said. We absolutely have to be careful and speak out about therapists who are seeing clients outside of their scope of practice. Bad therapy is harmful. So, while sharing a lived experience or a particular identity or diagnosis is not necessary, we still need to make sure that professionals are being professional and referring clients who are outside their scope. As much as I don’t want a client to seek help because there are limited resources in their area, just going to see any old therapist, and sticking with that therapist when it isn’t helpful, is actively harmful. I don’t think all my neurodiverse folks need to see a neurodiverse therapist, but I do think my neurodiverse folks need to see a therapist who is well-trained in how to work with neurodiversity, and knows what to look for in the first place. I don’t think clients with trauma need to see a therapist who lived through the same trauma, but a traumatized client does need to see a therapist who is trauma-informed. And that is an important distinction. I don’t even think lived experience is enough to inherently mean scope of practice, although it certainly could be in some contexts. Ultimately, I think therapists need to be savvy with their own limitations, and need to be aware of what their actual scope of practice is, because our graduate training is pretty bare bones in just covering the basics. Continuing education and additional certification is going to help most professionals have a good idea of what they are qualified for, but there are plenty of therapists I know, or clients who have told me horror stories, or therapists out there thinking that because they have a license it means they are fit to see any and everyone. 

I also think clients need to be supported in finding a good therapist. We need to support people as they advocate for themselves in a complicated field, and to normalize the experience of shopping around and potentially having multiple professionals for different issues (wouldn’t universal healthcare be grand!?!?). If therapy consistently isn’t helpful, and you’ve raised that concern to your therapist, find a new therapist. If you have a very specific thing to work on, find a specialist. For years I’ve called out therapists with no couples training doing couples work, but that doesn’t inherently mean every couples therapist is going to be a good fit for every couple. Hence, the nuance. I hope in all this mess of words I made my point. 

Find a therapist who has the expertise needed. Therapists, make sure clients you are taking on are within your scope of practice. Everyone, stop going online and offering brief platitudes about complex topics and thinking you’ve helped somehow.

Spicy Psychology

July 20th, 2023

Spicy Psychology

I recently had a birthday. Not a major accomplishment, just surviving one rotation around the sun, but I bring it up to highlight that I’m aware of my age. I’m aware that as many people age, they struggle to accept the changing of the times, and as their neuroplasticity turns brittle they get angry at things they don’t understand. I’ve sat with this for a bit, and I feel confident that I’m not just being an old man yelling at clouds here, not yelling at kids to get off my lawn (I’m actually in the millennial bird-watching phase of my life, thank you very much). So, hopefully with some nuance, let’s look at the rise of the phrase “spicy psychology” and assorted off-shoots like “neurospicy” and talk about why they are unhelpful and hopefully are a cringe fad before too long.

So, look, full transparency here, psychology jargon changes often. Aspergers not being a thing anymore is the easiest example, but there’s a ton. As someone who refers back to research and books in the subject, even language from the early 2000s sounds soooooo painfully outdated. It’s a very fast moving field, as the technology available to study and understand the brain and body continues to get better at a very fast pace, the language that people use to describe themselves and their experience continues to change. I don’t really take issue with the updating of language, I think language is relative, my style of therapy is based on the idea that dialogue between two people allows for new understanding, because creating meaning is an ongoing process. So, I’m on board for language being changeable. It’s cool, it can be frustrating, whatever. The main issue with a phrase like “spicy psychology” is it creates a pocket of amateurism in a scientific field that isn’t beholden to any accountability. And look, even for that I have some allowances. Sometimes amateur sleuths solve a cold case, sometimes amateur engineers make an engine upgrade, sometimes amateurs do great things! Having a license or not shouldn’t limit progress. All for that. The issue is really that amateurs are carving out space to be amateurish about diagnosis. I’ve ranted on this topic in various places, too, but the DSM-V, our diagnostic manual, is deeply flawed! Hands down it has problems. That being said, we still need research and data to be backing up changes in the field. Our field has done a lot of work to be a better science. It’s not perfect (looking at you, licensed therapists doing shadow work), but it has improved a lot. And we’re at this weird point in history where having scientific integrity is wildly important, since famed high school graduate Joe Rogan is peddling conspiracy theory grifts and getting people killed, it actually is quite imperative that we maintain scientific integrity. We’re not just making shit up, and no, we can’t necessarily distill 6-8 years of schooling to explain why we know good research from bad research. 

Now, on the “neurospicy” side of terminology, I’m all for a big umbrella. I’m all for clients not being pathologized. But there is a lag between where our understanding (and, thus, a gap in the research) is at with how executive function diagnoses are qualified. It wasn’t that long ago that Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and ADHD could not be comorbid based on the way the diagnostic criteria was written (again, we’ve come a ways). But it can be really hard to head over into safe spaces online and not be bombarded with people self-diagnosing themselves with ASD, and worse, laying out “tests” or ways for other people to self-diagnose. And many (but not all) of these videos and content creators slip a line in their 30+ min videos that they are not doctors, but way too few of them are circling back to say things like “find a good, qualified professional to do an actual diagnosis.” “You probs have the ‘tism” is the take-home message from most of these videos. And that’s because a lot of symptoms look ubiquitous to humanity, that’s why being trained in how to do a differential diagnosis is important. A bad diagnosis holds people back, and a good diagnosis can be freeing and empowering. 

It’s great that we continue to normalize neurodiversity, and it’s also great to keep widening the language we use to continue to be more inclusive. It’s also great that people on the internet can create a safe, supportive community, and can help to inform research and the scientific community of where there are gaps of knowledge that need to be addressed. But filling those gaps with pop-psych jargon and nonsense makes things worse, and allows bad faith actors space to come in and spew harmful nonsense and rely on false equivalency. 

So, let’s clean it up. I don’t think we need to necessarily scrap the terms, but we need to curb the bad science and bad diagnosing. We need to make sure that the safe spaces we’re cultivating really hit the message about finding appropriate help and support from professionals. 

Celebrities Don’t Understand Boundaries

July 11th, 2023

Celebrities Don’t Understand Boundaries

I certainly don’t want to turn into a celeb gossip blog, but this whole celeb drama is bringing up a lot of bad takes about boundaries, gaslighting (my least favorite pop psych term), and just general relationship nonsense that I see all the time, so no surprise that celebrities are dealing with the same drama (they’re just as flawed as the rest of us!). Oh, and another thing I struggle to ignore, bad therapy! So, let’s look at Jonah Hill and his texts to Sarah Brady.

First of all, I don’t care for celebrities, or for keeping up with celeb news. I know Jonah Hill from Superbad? I don’t follow surfing so I didn’t know who Sarah Brady was, and I can’t even care enough to look up their relationship history. They broke up (awhile ago) and Sarah Brady recently posted some screengrabs of text messages they sent each other. It’s not a great look. I don’t often let clients pull out their phones to show me videos or text messages, because it usually does not capture the whole context of what is going on, it is just a snapshot. So, I can’t weigh in on who is good or bad here, or what the relationship was like most of the time. I can comment on the content shared, because Jonah Hill here has a fundamental misunderstanding of boundaries. One text reads, “If you need surfing with men, boundaryless inappropriate relationships with men, to model, to post pictures of yourself in a bathing suit, to post sexual pictures, friendships with women who are in unstable places and from your wild recent past beyond getting a lunch of coffee or something respectful I am not the right partner for you. If these things bring you to a place of happiness I support it and there will be no hard feelings. These are my boundaries for romantic partnership.” Yikes. There’s a lot there. First, boundaries are not something you put in place for other people, your boundaries are for you and you alone. You don’t do boundaries to people, boundaries are for you, and if people break your boundaries, then you have an opportunity to act accordingly, not expect the other person to change. So, like, if this text is a breakup text, cool, these are my boundaries and they are not being respected so I’m out is totally fine (I don’t love some of the language here, but still, in theory, fine). But he’s trying to use boundaries here as something for his partner to react to, and that’s backwards. It’s not “here are my boundaries, please adjust” it should be “I’m adjusting because these are my boundaries.” And this is where people start calling it out as gaslighting, which, yeah, if this is a pattern of behavior, for sure. But that is a distinction I feel is important, just little snapshots of texts isn’t necessarily indicative of a larger pattern, it can just be a difference of perspective or genuine missed communication, but if this is a normal occurrence in a relationship, then yes, gaslighting. But one instance isn’t gaslighting, it is about a pattern of behavior. Some later texts seem to suggest that much of what attracted Jonah to Sarah was what he’s complaining about later, literally seems like he sent her DMs based on finding her pics attractive while she’s surfing, so there’s also some shifting expectations (positive spin) or outright hypocrisy (less positive spin), which I do think makes this lean towards some gaslighting. 

Additionally, at the end there, the whole “if it makes you happy cool I support it” is clearly false, and I hear language like this often. If this, then I’m cool, when in fact the evidence is showing it isn’t cool. Just own your own shit. Dating a professional surfer then being insecure that they post social media pics in a bathing suit seems to either be the least realistic expectations ever, or more likely, just about insecurity. And hey, it happens often, new relationships are on rocky ground, exes or friends who could be romantic partners or have romantic intentions can bring up a lot of anxiety, but that conversation looks a lot different when it is about mutual respect and getting needs met. Boundaries aren’t designed to work as ultimatums because they aren’t for other people’s behavior, they are for the person who sets the boundary. Core concept here. 

The other thing that definitely comes up is the idea of respect. Jonah says “I respect your skill and your surfing. I respect how you want to present yourself. I respect that you’re hot and beautiful. And I respect however you want to live. But I also respect myself…” It goes on from there. This isn’t respect, this is trying to not look bad saying that you want the other person to change on your behalf. “I’m working on being cool with this” is different than “because I care about myself you need to change.” Don’t be in relationships where you’re trying to change the other person, your happiness is up to you, and you can’t control other people’s actions or emotions, so, control your controllables (which is just yourself, not others). 

Now, the therapist(s ?) in this story seem like doofuses. And to be clear, part of therapist ethical standards is to not throw shade at other professionals (which is weird, but that’s a separate topic). That being said, seems like the therapist was not working to promote growth and healthy change, they may also not understand boundaries. I’m instantly skeptical of “therapist to the stars” type conman jobs (but if you’re a celeb who is wealthy beyond imagination and need a therapist, hit me up, lol). I will say, sometimes in couples therapy, there is one clear person who is not sold on therapy, and if you don’t get their investment, they won’t stick with the therapy. So, therapy can be this delicate balance of keeping the investment high from both partners so that you can do the actual work. No way to know if this is what was happening, but it’s at least possible. I try to not be on anyone’s side in therapy, honestly I think I do my best work when both clients are mad at me, or when they both love me. It’s a tricky balance to not let the relationships in the therapy room create weird alignments, and therapists who aren’t trained well to do couples work struggle with this. So, find a good couples therapist if you’re doing couples work. You might love your individual therapist, but they might be a garbage couples therapist if they aren’t trained to do couples work. 

So, don’t spend too much time focusing on the lives of the rich and famous, and remember that your boundaries are about your behavior, not about changing other people’s behavior. And just assume if you put it in writing, someone has a screenshot of it. 

Climate Change

July 3rd, 2023

Climate Change

So, this might be a week late when it gets posted (look at me, barely working ahead) but this is day 2 of staying indoors due to unhealthy air conditions from the Canadian wildfires. So, like, that’s a thing. And the reactions online have been less than stellar. “Wtf is this bs, we never had wildfire season when I was a kid” or something to that extent. Gang, that’s the point. Climate conditions have changed, drastically, due to human activity. This isn’t normal, and at the old age of 35, this isn’t the weather I grew up with, because we have not made enough changes to stop climate change. So, let’s talk real talk about climate change deniers, what we can actually do about it, and how to manage mental health while living during crazy-making times. 

Ok, last point first, because mental health is actually my bread and butter. Climate change is a systemic problem, meaning, large systems like industrialism, capitalism, and the various political bodies are all large systems that affect this issue in a major way that one individual like you or I cannot. And that can lead to apathy: the reality is that you or I can’t stop climate change. The major corporations that are the biggest polluters were behind the PR push for making recycling an individual issue, as if you recycling a water bottle was enough to counteract Menards dropping toxic waste into lakes and rivers and selling toxic waste in their mulch (capitalism!). And like, you can join me in throwing shade at Wisconsin’s richest family being the largest polluter in the state, but John Menard isn’t losing any sleep over me. So, one of my many mantras here, you need to focus on what you can control. You’re not William Wallace, and aren’t going to single-handedly overthrow capitalism. Your controllables pretty much start and end with you. You can recycle (it is still a good thing to do) and shrink your carbon footprint in other ways, you can advocate online and in real life, and you can work to keep yourself educated. Ultimately, you can only give so much as you invest in yourself, so you need to take care of yourself when engaging with systemic issues. These are big issues that took a long time to build up, and are seeming to take a long time to dismantle, but maybe soon some real change will happen. So, connect with nature in a healthy way, go out for walks, get out in the water, visit a special location that you resonate with, or watch a documentary about mushrooms, whatever, keep that connection! Pet a dog, walk a shelter pet, give your pets some extra love. These are all things that keep you sane and grounded, not things that solve the climate crisis. But, we can’t all burn out and give up hope, so you need to do these smaller personal investment activities in order to commit to larger social change. The other big thing is to find like-minded people and build community. These connections allow for community change, and new connections that can create new or unique opportunities to create change on a larger scale. But community helps to keep you grounded and not feeling crazy, sometimes just hearing someone say something that you are also thinking is enough make you feel a little more sane while living through strange circumstances (which capitalism is).

Aight, let’s talk about climate change deniers. Look, it’s just money. And there’s a level of complexity and nuance here, but all of that noise just circles back to the same spot, which is climate change deniers’ only argument is there is money to be made by not saving the planet. And that’s super messed up. Your weird uncle on Facebook who isn’t a climate scientist is making arguments is either making a bad-faith argument to make himself feel smart or is just repeating talking points that come from capitalism defenders. Corporations keep polluting because the penalties are cheaper than making the changes that would actually help the planet. It isn’t comprehensive, but John Oliver did a story on how “carbon neutral” business practices are just a circle-jerk of corporations continuing to pollute while having an easy PR response to insulate them from any major public outrage. Planting a tree doesn’t cancel out toxic waste in waterways, and doesn’t work to lower the global temperature without actually cutting back on the amount of pollution going on. So, just ask the climate change deniers how much profit is worth one year less of having a habitable earth, because that’s the only talking point that matters. The answer is sadly money. And that’s dumb and either is coming from a garbage person or a garbage epistemology (i.e simply repeating political talking points). 

So, like, the cynic in me thinks we all just need to hunker down and get used to shitty weather and worse living conditions because we’re burning the planet from the inside out. The optimist in me is very moved by young people and their resilience, and wants you all to protest, advocate, give of your time and energy to make this crisis better in whatever way you are capable of. The future’s children and all the animals who don’t burn fossil fuels deserve our best attempt. 

Medical Malpractice As Performance Politics

June 29th, 2023

Medical Malpractice As Performance Politics

Some of you may have heard of this thing called malpractice insurance. It comes up in medical shows like House or Grey’s Anatomy, and it’s like an actual real thing that those fictional characters would absolutely need since they are almost routinely breaking the law or at least ethical standards. It’s a thing for therapists, too. We mental health professionals make waaaaaaaaaaay less than doctors, so it’s less malpractice insurance, but still very much a thing. We have ethical standards we abide by and practice under, and these standards along with state guidelines mandate how we can legally operate under our license. If we don’t do that stuff, we can lose our license and be sued, hence, malpractice insurance.

Now none of this is very exciting information, nor is it news for most people. However, I bring it up to highlight that it’s a topic I’m intimately familiar with as a licensed professional. So when politicians pass laws that go directly against ethical standards, large amounts of peer-reviewed research, and would cause harm to clients, I get a little fired up as these non-professionals muck about making it nearly impossible to practice ethically in some states. And these bad faith actors should be sued and held accountable for the harm they are willfully, knowingly doing. How can I say that they are knowingly and willfully doing harm? Because they need to find “experts” or “research” that is so against the established practice norms that they are sifting through mountains of evidence to cherry pick debunked or outright false information. Or, and this is actually worse, they’re just making shit up. And like, at first blush maybe making it up doesn’t seem as bad, because then they’re not willfully and knowingly ignoring literal libraries of information, but it squarely lands them in medical malpractice to just make shit up while trying to regulate a field in which they have no training. 

And let’s not make this overly complicated here, they are trying to practice medicine with these laws. Some of the laws banning gender-affirming care are specifically about medical practice, and some wade into mental health practice as well. Again, just to highlight the overall point here, mental health or medical care being legislated by non-experts is a terrible idea. First of all, non-experts have no context. Gender affirming care bans cannot ever be specific enough to limit the scope, there will always be collateral damage. Obviously, if you’re a bigoted politician, harming trans people is the point, so that’s a success, but hormone replacement therapy is used to treat some symptoms of perimenopause, menopause, and osteoporosis. Your average, run-of-the-mill steroid treats a ton of things, and that’s just a ton of testosterone that also will amplify certain gender markers. So, “gender affirming care” as anti-woke bigots talk about it doesn’t really exist, it’s more complicated and a wider scope of things, and the bans that were started to “protect children” (they absolutely did not do that) are starting to get tested to limit adult medical care as well, with consequences that untrained people could not have expected, but the experts are like, “duh, we told you this would happen.” And this stuff happens all the time, right, politicians are idiots, and only some of them are competent enough to seek out the appropriate experts. So that brings us to the second fun alliterative element in the title, performative politics. 

These bans are not meant to stick, they are meant to stir up a political base. The bans are blatantly unconstitutional (we just saw a legal smackdown of an early ban in Florida from a federal judge), but the idea is to create a chilling effect, move goalposts, and to create an enemy to get worked up to fight. The red scare, the satanic panic, the war on drugs, all these weird moral panics that have no basis in reality and certainly have no data to back it up. Anti-wokism is the same thing, since woke can get defined to include anything you want to demonize. From a high level legal theory for law school students (CRT) to Bud Light, anything you want to attack can fit under this amorphous label that is so far removed from a usable definition. But performative politics “boycotting” a major beer company is so much less damaging than the real-life effect of performative politics trampling ethical codes and moving into the space of medical malpractice. This nonsense needs to be called out and there need to be real world consequences in court with heavy financial penalties to curb this harmful political theater. It’s gross.


June 22nd, 2023


Intros are easily the worst part of writing these blogs for me. I’ve always been bad at intros, like in real life meeting new people and hitting all the social norms is tough for me, but definitely in my writing it is the hardest thing to get started. Most of my high school assignments I wrote my intros using Pink Floyd songs, then in college I used either System of a Down songs or made a Lord of the Rings tie-in. So, watch out for new random intros as I’m all out of clever ideas to start things off. No suave segue here today, let’s talk about privilege.

Privilege low-key comes up in therapy a lot, but rarely do I use that phrase, and it usually isn’t just a topic people want to jump in with. But therapy is kind of this weird safe space where people can just think their thoughts, and then like look at them, kind of tinker and pull them apart. So, privilege comes up often in a deconstructing sort of way, like, why do we think the way that we do? Or where did a certain thought or feeling come from? And for a lot of people, this is really fascinating and can be kind of empowering, but for some folks it is really scary and disorienting. And like, that’s true of any kind of self-analysis, but I would say when we hit on a topic related to privilege it often skews more towards scary and disorienting. Privilege as a general concept just means any sort of societal advantage people have, and we often look at in terms of socioeconomic status. Straight, white, and male tend to be the obvious privileges most people are aware of, and I would definitely throw economic status in there as well for pretty significant privilege. Nothing inherently bad or wrong about any of this, just acknowledging that these traits create a specific advantage in society that not everyone has. Some people freak out and want to get super defensive, and act like because they didn’t experience every privilege that they didn’t get any privilege. And hey, I was there once upon a time, I get that initial reaction. I grew up pretty poor, so I bristled at some of the privilege talk when I was first presented with it. Being white or male never seemed to get me as far ahead as being rich, but it’s a false dichotomy, these traits are not mutually exclusive. And like, these “woke” concepts are now fodder for societal talking points, but again, no one is out here saying you need to feel bad for having privilege. But not acknowledging privilege is harmful to people who don’t have the same privilege.

And that’s really the point, like the whole woke thing isn’t that complicated, we can’t have a more equitable society if there isn’t active work to make things actually equitable. We can’t work toward equity if people who have advantages don’t talk about the advantages, and don’t work on ways to share those advantages. Some privileges are external, so like, wage inequality is a problem that is external. We need policies and procedures in place as a society to make sure people are compensated equitably, not that one group (historically, males) is paid more than another group for no reason (having a penis doesn’t mean you should get paid extra). Some privileges aren’t external though, like gender or race, and so the conversation is not how to make it more equitable, but calling out the inequality as being bad and not based on anything. And that is scary for people, having an advantage evened out can feel like you are losing out on something, even if in actuality it is just creating a balance. So, it might be scary, but research shows that equitable societies function much better for much longer, and having a society that works well for a lot of people is better than one that only works well for a few people. It’s just kind of the golden rule, it’s weird that religious types are so opposed to it. But yeah, I listed the obvious privileges, but there are a whole bunch of other privileged spaces in our society. Being able bodied, neurotypical, monogamous, and religious are all privileges. Whatever society considers to be attractive also makes a pretty big difference, like literally in the first 10 seconds of meeting someone we make a bunch of assumptions about them based solely on appearance (a form of the halo effect cognitive bias). 

So, I don’t know, challenge your privilege? Be aware of it? I’m not sure what I wanted to super say on the topic, other than it isn’t scary to work towards a more equitable society. I promise working through biases and privileges isn’t scary at the end of the process, it’s super rewarding and great. If it’s scary right now, talk to a mental health professional! And like, if they’re not helpful, find one who has less privilege or has worked on their own privilege more!

I Hate Self-Promotion

June 5th, 2023

I Hate Self-Promotion

Hey, look! I did a thing! If you like my blogs, the vibe of my work around mental health, you might really like the new podcast I started. It’s called ‘Your Therapist Needs Therapy.’ It’s me talking to other mental health professionals about their mental health. It’s kind of meta, but I think it’s fun and it’s very me in the sense that it’s wide-ranging and seemingly disconnected talking points that come full-circle. It’s a fun little romp for different therapists talking about their lives, their backgrounds, their work, and then random stuff like books and movies. I really do try to not be car salesman-y while also trying to help people who might be interested/benefit from some of the work I do. So yeah, check it out:

Your Therapist Needs Therapy

ChatGPT Offers Some Advice

May 30th, 2023

ChatGPT Offers Some Advice

The ChatGPT craze isn’t dying down, is it? Gang, it just gets clicks. AI sounds all sci-fi and cool, and the average person isn’t tech savvy enough to understand it, so the unknown generates clicks. We now have writer strikes, audiobook narrators panicking, and a whole bunch of things that history will likely show to be overreactions (I could be wrong, but I for sure think the timeframe of the panic is way too short of a turn around). So, as a fun thought experiment, I asked ChatGPT for some tips on a topic that I could then comment on. I asked ChatGPT “what are some helpful tips for telling your family you are no longer religious.” My responses will be italicized for ease of reading and extra fanciness.

Telling your family that you are no longer religious can be a challenging and sensitive conversation (ChatGPT spitting facts so far). Here are some helpful tips to navigate this process:

    1. Choose the Right Timing: Find an appropriate time and place to have the conversation. Avoid sharing this news during emotionally charged situations or family gatherings where tensions may already be high. Opt for a calm and private setting where everyone can feel comfortable expressing their thoughts.

Good start, a little basic (a theme we will return to with ChatGPT). I talk a lot about space being important for having effective communication, and I generally like to highlight both physical space as well as planning to have enough time for a conversation. In a “coming out” type talk, I think it is good to have plans for a short, sweet conversation that you exit early if it goes poorly, as well as a longer timeframe if the conversation unfolds in a beneficial way. Depending on the context of your family, choosing a public place like a restaurant may be better than a private place if safety is at all a concern. What you definitely want to avoid is being stuck in a space or conversation that you have no exit from. Plan for the worst, hope for the best, somewhere in the middle is typically what happens. 

    1. Be Honest and Respectful: Approach the conversation with honesty and respect for your family’s beliefs. Clearly communicate your own journey and reasons for no longer identifying as religious. Emphasize that your decision is personal and does not diminish your love and respect for them.

I mean, yes and no. Respect them as you would any human being, but religion typically has held a privileged space, but it doesn’t actually require any sort of special respect. The church of the flying spaghetti monster is a totally made up church that is federally recognized as a church, so the idea that you need to be respectful of something ludicrous I think is just pro-religion bias. I think there is open and honest communication that does not veer into disrespect, but if you find a religious teaching or dogma to have been harmful to you, you can call it out and not have to worry about proper respect. I don’t respect religions or religious leaders who defend child abuse, and there is no need to respect harmful ideas.

    1. Show Empathy and Understanding: Understand that your family members may have strong emotional reactions to your revelation. Be prepared for a range of responses, from confusion to disappointment or even anger. Offer empathy and reassurance that you are still the same person they know and love, and that your decision is not a reflection of their own beliefs or values.

Sure, but again, other people’s emotions are up to them and them alone, not yours to be concerned with or try to control. It can be good to be aware that this could be heated or go poorly, but there is no excuse for poor or abusive responses. Their belief system is not more important than yours, and if this conversation devolves into your family putting their own beliefs over yours, or over you as a person, then it’s time to step away from the conversation and set new boundaries. You are not required to offer empathy or reassurance, you are not required to do anything at all. This is a courtesy that you are offering in order to move forward to build a healthy, genuine relationship. They are not on some moral high ground, and your job is not to offer them comfort. The goal is setting clear expectations and having healthy boundaries. 

    1. Provide Information and Resources: If your family is open to learning more about your perspective, offer resources such as books, articles, or videos that can help them understand your journey. Encourage open-mindedness and the willingness to engage in respectful discussions and dialogues.

Good info here, be prepared and share any resources that you found particularly helpful in your own journey. This can be really helpful and create new connections.

    1. Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries regarding religious discussions. Let your family know that you respect their beliefs, but you also expect the same respect for your choices. Encourage a mutual understanding that religious conversations should be approached with sensitivity and openness.

See, this should have been point 3. Boundaries come before respect. Respect is a mutual process, not a given. Telling your family you’re no longer religious is not a requirement, but usually comes up due to needing to set new boundaries (not going to church for holidays, no indoctrinating kids/grandkids, etc).

    1. Seek Support Outside the Family: If the conversation becomes challenging or overwhelming, seek support from trusted friends, support groups, or therapists who can provide guidance and understanding. They can offer a safe space for you to express your emotions and navigate the complexities of family dynamics.

Yes, I’m going to highlight therapists here, and suggest that support groups or trusted friends be neutral and not religiously affiliated. Again, religion holds a privileged space in our society, and so there is often an imbalanced power dynamic already at play here, so bringing in outside support can tip the scales. If a priest or religious leader is trying to offer “counseling” then that is just code for proselytization, not about actual support. Even be wary of therapists who may be religiously affiliated, or may allow one set of beliefs to take precedence over another.

    1. Give It Time: Remember that acceptance and understanding may not happen overnight. It may take time for your family to process and come to terms with your decision. Be patient and give them space to adjust to the new information. Continuing to foster open communication and demonstrating your love and respect for them can help facilitate acceptance over time.

Sure, but it’s kind of shitty if they only want to treat you well, or even as a human being, if you ascribe to their preferred beliefs. That isn’t loving or supportive, that’s selfish. If they need to grieve or whatever, that needs to be their active process, I think it’s unhealthy for them to try to foist their own emotional process onto you. This is a tricky thing, I get it, but also where something like ChatGPT is woefully inadequate at offering nuance. 

    1. Focus on Shared Values: Emphasize the values you still share with your family, such as love, kindness, and compassion. Highlight the aspects of your character and life that have remained consistent, despite your change in religious beliefs. This can help bridge the gap and maintain a sense of connection.

Yeah, this is important. Not being religious doesn’t usually change people’s values. Society has kind of confused religious beliefs as morals or values, but actually that is just dogmatic thinking. If you were a religious person who preached love for everyone, that’s still there, it’s likely the religion that doesn’t align. Religion is based on in-group/out-group biases, so leaving a religion is less about your morals or values changing and more about being aware of the bias and how limiting and short-sighted it is. Most people have good, clear values and that is solely why they leave religion, not the other way around.

Remember that every family dynamic is unique, and these tips may need to be adapted to suit your specific situation. The key is to approach the conversation with honesty, empathy, and a willingness to maintain healthy relationships with your loved ones, even if you hold different beliefs.

Ditto for your family. You don’t owe them anything here, and you are not required to bend over backwards or create extra time or space for their emotions. If they don’t want to have empathy or a willingness to work on a healthy relationship with you, that’s on them. It isn’t incumbent on you to meet their needs if they are unwilling or unable to meet yours. 

Well this was fun. Longer post by nature of needing to comment on everything. But kind of two posts at once, how to talk to your family about leaving a religion, and the shortcomings of AI. It’s just a fancy web-crawler, it isn’t “thinking” or problem-solving, it is just gathering and processing information that already exists very quickly, sometimes erroneously. It can be a good jumping off point though, a fancy web-crawler certainly has some utility, just not enough to start replacing huge swaths of the workforce. Maybe in the future, but for sure not yet.