NOTES OF A PSYCHOLOGY WATCHER
An Early Career Psychologist: Myth or Malady?
Steven J. Ceresnie, Ph.D.
Approaching three score and ten years, I have had the privilege of being invited into the private lives of many people in deep distress - that's what clinical psychologists do. But lately, I feel my mind and body are changing - my muscles are becoming more supple, my waistline is shrinking, my pectoral muscles are taking the shape of a younger man, and I stop at clothing stores to sample clothing worn by college students and young men. I have started listening to music that matches the tastes of younger, more macho males - I find pleasure in rap, heavy metal and alternative music genres.
On some nights, late in the evenings, I go up in our finished attic and try on these fashionable attire of young men and adjust my Spotify to play the latest rap tunes. There are other symptoms I experience but I'm embarrassed to make these public. I dare not tell my wife, I fear she would suggest I seek psychiatric help.
Yet psychiatric help, of which I'm most familiar, is not what I believe I need. Of course, I'm aware that at my chronological age any number of biological or psychological maladies may explain my unusual behaviors, not to mention denial of mental and physical deterioration, dementia or death.
Over the years, I have not been prone to denial, the most logical explanation for my behavior, and my physical health is good - although I do take blood pressure and cholesterol medications, not uncommon for gentleman my age.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I started reading many psychology articles and textbooks - I keep up with the literature and don't miss an opportunity to cruise the shelves of psychology texts in college book stores I visit across the country seeking out the current requirements for a Ph.D. in psychology. Not only do I read as much as I can, but I tell my wife that my about the cravings to collect these journals and textbooks - to my wife it appears I'm studying for exams. All of this reading can be traced to the many seminars I'm asked to present around the country; okay, that's not exactly the truth.
After much consideration, I fear I have a yet undiscovered serious psychiatric disorder that in some way mimics those few men I see in my practice who tell me they feel they have a female genotype - a concept I use metaphorically - trapped inside their male phenotype. These men are convinced they are females and that the world has played a cruel trick on them. In fact, their fear of not living as females is stronger than their fear of death; some grand existential dilemma.
Bear with me as I briefly outline what I have come to think is my existential crises: I am an early career psychologist trapped inside an almost 70-year-old body. After all my years of immersing myself in the lives of others, I'm aware how easily our minds adopt beliefs, opinions, and facts used to justify our actions. As that astute philosopher David Hume reminds us, the intellect is a slave to our passions.
So as a scientist, skeptic and a life-long worshipper of reason, I set out to test my passion-driven beliefs examined under the light of intensive psychotherapy, peering into my unconscious, preconscious, conscious, defenses and neurotransmitters. To do this, I took a sabbatical from my work and committed myself to challenging my beliefs, or at least attempting to understand them, by subjecting myself to the psychotherapy by the best clinicians I could find who practiced psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, pharmacotherapy, and various other approaches. I took carefully monitored trials of antidepressant and antipsychotic medications.
I am embarrassed but not surprised to report the early career psychologist continues to live and grow inside of me despite excellent psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy. Of course, I have not revealed my preoccupation to my wife or any of my friends or colleagues. In the old days - during my training as a psychologist- my behaviors were called a perversion.
So, I confine my early career psychologist behaviors in my attic in my home - three late evenings a week for two hours after my wife goes to sleep. I've given on being cured. Over my own years of practice, I have learned that the word "cure" is not often applied to psychiatric maladies. Consequently, I have come to accept the advice of Sigmund Freud:
A man should not strive to eliminate his complexes, but to get into accord with them; they are legitimately what directs his conduct in the world.