The Phenomenology of Flirting

The first three Saturday’s in January, Dr. Kevin Boileau from The Existential Psychoanalytic Institute & Society (EPIS) will interview me about my dissertation research on flirting.

As part of my doctoral degree in psychology, I conducted a phenomenological study of people’s experiences of flirting. The goal was to discover more about the things people experience, think, and do when they flirt and to find out exactly what makes an interpersonal encounter a flirtatious one. What I discovered might surprise you…

We will also get to talk more about the phenomenological perspective on psychotherapy in general as well as other existential and psychodynamic themes. So listen in: January 4/ 11/ 18, 3:30 PM, Mountain Standard Time. Click Here to Listen: EPIS-Radio: Radio for the Thinking Person

The McDonald’s Approach to Therapy: Why Empirically Supported Treatments are Not the Way to Go…

Let’s take a rich experience of a real world therapy interaction, considered by both therapist and client to have meaning, intensity, and benefit.

The client is free to go where he or she may, to enter into new territory of emotion and thought, and to follow new leads and surprises uncovered through the therapeutic interaction…

The therapist is free to learn from a multitude of signs emitted by the client – consciously and unconsciously, verbally and nonverbally – indicating where the client might need to venture next, where the pain might be, and where truth has yet to emerge…

The course of therapy is free to be determined by the mutual input from both client and therapist and to take situational factors into account such as timing and the presence and absence of a variety of factors in the present moment, informing an organic intuition of where to go next…

Now compare this to a therapy where the client is given instructions of what to talk about and how to talk about it in a way that that has been determined in advance, and where the same instructions are being applied uniformly to each and every client regardless of specific circumstances and needs.

…to a therapy where the therapist is not free to follow his or her moment-to-moment intuitions or to adjust interventions on the basis of attunements to the importance of the timing and context of the situation.

…to a therapy where the course of therapy is determined not by client and therapist, but by a schedule that specifies what conversations or activities need to take place, when and for how long they need to be done, and in what order they must be accomplished.

The latter form of therapy, which I would call “therapy as technology” or “therapy as mass production”, has one benefit which the richer, more organic, and more tailored therapy does not: It is simplistic and rigid enough to lend itself well to the requirements of a scientific study that demands that an inflexible set of interventions be “administered” uniformly to a large number of clients that have been grouped in advance into uniform “categories”.

It is this set of restrictions, imposed on an otherwise rich, complex, and organic process, that is needed in order to prove what specific interventions can be said to be effective for which specific “type of problem” or which specific “category of client”.  If an effect is found that is greater than the effect of a chance encounter, as evaluated by some yard stick that is uniformly assumed to represent a good outcome, then the therapy in question is deemed to be “empirically supported” (EST) and to have earned the stamp of scientific proof.

Some therapists treat people as if they were “categories of problems” rather than unique individuals

The problem, as you can see, is that to get the stamp of approval, a series of operations had to be performed intended to simplify the richness of an actual flexible, organic, and complex therapy interaction. The intensity and meaningfulness of an experience evolving gradually between therapist and client had to be straight-jacketed and turned into a “technology” (a predefined set of procedures). Therapy had to become a machine-like process, the therapists had to become machine-operators, and clients, well… they had to be treated with the uniformity of “stock”, losing their individuality and autonomy completely in the process.

So let’s dispel the myth that empirically supported treatments are in fact superior forms of treatment. Let’s not fall into the trap of assuming that scientific proof is always the hallmark of the gold standard of treatment.

A uniformly produced McDonald’s hamburger, mass produced and mass-consumed, may have been found to be effective at reducing hunger, but it is not a superior hamburger of that accord. It cannot compete with a hand-crafted premium burger tailored exactly to the needs of each client.

I am not against scientific proof, but when we have to distort reality to make it conform to the needs of our scientific methods, we are committing tomfoolery in the guise of science and are contributing to a lowering of our standards rather than a bettering of our collective destiny.

Therapy is a complex relationship, not a science-based technology, and no scientific study will ever be able to question that fact…

What is a Psychologist? Or… The Meaning of Life

When we meet new people, we often wonder about their professions and might ask question such as “What is a psychologist?… Environmental engineer?… Key account manager?… etc… etc…”. The temptation when this kind of question is posed is to simply list what we do. A psychologist, for example, is someone who diagnoses and treats mental health problems. However, this really doesn’t answer the question, for we did not ask: “What does a psychologist do?” But: “What is a psychologist?”

So let me try again: A psychologist is someone who through a commitment to a particular professional path, has chosen to be addressed by certain questions about life, such as the the question of the meaning and role of suffering, the question of what makes life worth living, and the question of how or why people should change. These questions are not easy to grapple with, but to “be” a psychologist is to adopt a stance towards them, whether one wants to or not. They get answered in every little task a psychologist does, from how a psychologist talks to a client to how a psychologist works with people’s experiences and defines their problems.

There is always a set of questions that animate a given profession and demand that we as the professionals inhabit the place of the answer.  To be a lawyer is to be addressed by questions of justice and to take a stance toward those questions in and through one’s work, and to be a medical doctor is to be addressed by questions of the preservation of life and the forces that impinge on it. Every profession addresses us in this way, and compels us to embody a response in the way we carry out that particular profession.

Good professionals are people who are conscious of the questions being addressed through the work they do. They are not the mechanics of the profession, who live away from these questions in the comfort of the rote application of techniques they were taught in school. They are the one’s who wake up each morning acutely aware of the impact their approach to these questions can have, and who understand that to “be” a profession and to “do” a profession are quite different things. One question asks for “me”; the other asks for my productivity…

The European existentialist philosopher, Martin Heidegger, was very aware of the importance of that little word “is”. To “be” rather than to “do” is a uniquely human task. We can’t avoid it, whatever we do. We have to embody a response to the questions posed by our life, our activities, and our chosen professions.  We have to “be”. And yet, in modern life, we are very good at evading the question of our being. We tend to get lost in the mere busy-work of our day to day activities, and to confuse the activity for the end goal itself. Even after a day’s hard work, we will not feel accomplished if we do not understand how it is that that activity itself helps us “be”.  Being is the ultimate goal, and we cannot escape it nor avoid it without forfeiting our existence and living away from ourselves.

So ask yourself: how are you “being” a lawyer, a father, a daughter? How do you embody an answer to the questions evoked by your job, your commitments, your roles is life? How are you “being” you?

If you would like to learn more about how I approach “being” a psychologist, visit my website. Here I address some of the ways in which I have been called into a particular  approach to my work in and through a dialogue with the questions my work has raised for me.



I have finally decided to join the blogosphere. In the coming  years I would like this blog to become a forum for people interested in delving deeper into topics related to life as an existential journey of love and pain, beauty and tragedy, laughter and struggle…

I plan to post on topics that people will find relevant to living life more fully or that will inspire greater insight about themselves. I will be writing from the perspective of a psychologist who spends his working life on journeys with people who show me what life really looks like underneath the surface of pretense and show. I will also be writing as a “thinker” who has published many journal articles in my field and who has made it part of his career to challenge the common sense of his profession and unsettle  the quick and easy understandings we are offered at the cultural surface. In sum, my audience is not the person looking for a quick psychological fix, but the person who is a critical consumer of therapy, and knows not to mistake the menu of cultural ideals for the meal that is life. So welcome, and please check back soon…


A Blog for the Critical Consumer of Psychotherapy

%d bloggers like this: