Incompetent CBT

The other day I had a session with a CBT therapist. I talked about my family. It’s my belief that my family was dysfunctional and that I struggle with the psychological consequences of disturbed interactions in my family. The therapist replied: “Maybe you were born that way. Maybe we need you to look at things through a different lens . . .” It’s true, there’s a real possibility that my family was not dysfunctional and that I only believe that it was dysfunctional because of a cognitive distortion.

I see an important issue. I had told the therapist that I had taken psychological testing in 2014 and the assessing psychologist concluded that childhood beatings were an important factor in the development of my personality problems.

Now the point of CBT is to identify the cognitive distortions that the client uses and get him to see things “through a new lens.” There are about 15 main cognitive distortions that people frequently use.

But here’s the problem. My belief that I am struggling with abuse is supported by the results of psychological testing. Believing the conclusions of an assessing psychologist is not a cognitive distortion. My belief that I was abused is not what is pathological. It is my feelings resulting from abusive childhood experiences that is pathological.

I have the feeling that incompetent CBT practitioners — and there are a lot of them — will simply try to invalidate any “unhappy” idea, whether or not the “unhappy” idea is the product of a cognitive distortion. That approach can involve massive invalidation that is indistinguishable from gaslighting, an abusive behavior that aims at randomly delegitimatizing the victim’s thinking.

If a woman enters CBT because of trauma associated with a rape, for example, the CBT practitioner needs to acknowledge the rape and work with the cognitive distortions that promote anxiety in the wake of the experience.

The therapist shouldn’t deny the trauma of the rape or even deny that a rape occurred. “Well, maybe what you did reasonably led your boyfriend to think you were consenting.” The following article is a good discussion of the use of CBT to treat complex trauma. The therapist in the following study acknowledged the trauma and its disturbing quality but worked on the cognitive distortions that promoted anxiety in the wake of the experiences.

Here’s a portion of the paper:

“The therapist responded [to Daniel], ‘Do you mean you’re sick of people not caring about you?’ Daniel said, ‘I’m sick of thinking people will be here for me and then they aren’t.’ The therapist said, ‘It’s hard for you to believe that anyone will be here for you when people haven’t been here for you before.’ Daniel said, ‘Why should they? They have their own kid now.” The therapist said, ‘It’s really scary to put your trust in them since you’ve been let down so many times before.‘”

The therapist did not say to the client, “Maybe you were born with these problems.”


The Dermatologist and the CBT Therapist

The other day I had a session with a CBT therapist. I talked about my family. It’s my belief that my family was dysfunctional and that I struggle with the psychological consequences of disturbed interactions in my family. The therapist replied: “Maybe you were born that way. Maybe we need you to look at things through a different lens . . .” It’s true, there’s a real possibility that my family was not dysfunctional and that I only believe that it was dysfunctional because of a cognitive distortion.

I have an image of a person going to a dermatologist and telling the doctor: “I have a suspicious spot on my arm. I’m afraid it could be cancer.” A doctor might say, “Maybe it’s not cancer. Maybe you’re catastrophizing. Maybe it’s just a skin discoloration.” These are all reasonable statements by the doctor. But the dermatologist would not leave the matter in the air. He would say, “Let me take a look.” Or “I’ll need a biopsy.” The bottom line is if it’s cancer, the doctor needs to know. It makes a difference whether it’s skin cancer or a case of the patient catastrophizing unnecessarily. Objective reality matters.

Whether I was born with my problems or developed them in reaction to a dysfunctional family makes a difference, presumably. The therapist needs to “biopsy” the patient’s report. Am I struggling with the known consequences of abuse and scapegoating?

If you say “Well, you say the glass is half empty, but maybe it’s half full” you’re kind of saying the nature of objective reality doesn’t matter. The only important thing is simply the way you see things. Are you not saying good and the bad are equal, in some sense? The only difference is how you see the external object? And what is that style of thinking? Is it not an example of anal sadism?

The psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel noted how the Marquis de Sade represented the anal sadistic urge to destroy differences and undo organization. His shelter-skleter coupling of sister and brother, parent and child, etc. — is done not merely to satisfy forbidden incestual wishes. Rather, “incest is linked to the abolition of ‘children’ as a category and ‘parents’ as a category.” Sade wished to destroy the actual world of differences, of categories, of stations, and create an “anal universe where all differences are abolished.” Volney Patrick Gay, Freud on Sublimation: Reconsiderations (emphasis added).

In some sense don’t CBT therapists try to destroy the difference between the category of good and the category of bad in the external world, along the lines, “The empty 4 empty ounces of water in the cup is equal to the full 4 ounces of water in the cup?”

Chasseguet-Smirgel saw anal sadism as driving the need to see individuals (or any objects that have a specific identity) as indistinguishable from each other. In her essay “Perversion and Universal Law” Chasseguet-Smirgel refers to “an anal universe where all differences are abolished . . . All that is taboo, forbidden, or sacred is devoured by the digestive tract, an enormous grinding machine disintegrating the molecules of the mass thus obtained in order to reduce it to excrement.” In the anal universe Good and Evil are synonymous.

The psychoanalyst Bela Grunberger saw an expression of anal sadism in the treatment by the Nazis of concentration camp inmates. Inmates were identified by numbers rather than by names. “The anti-Semite’s specific [anal] regression is most clearly seen in his representation of the Jew. This follows the line of destroying his individuality. The Jew is denuded of all personal characteristics[:] . . . in the concentration camps they were designated by numbers.” Four ounces of water is four ounces of water.

Dr. Shengold seems in accord: “‘Anal defensiveness’ involves a panoply of defenses evolved during the anal phase of psychic development that culminates with the individual’s power to reduce anything meaningful to ‘shit’–to the nominal, the degraded, the undifferentiated.” A world where the categories of good and bad don’t matter. It’s all the same. It’s only how you see it. If you have cancer and ignore it, it doesn’t exist; it won’t kill you. Isn’t that what ostriches do?

David Gregory — is this what your Jewish ethics teaches you! Maybe you need to talk to your rabbi!

Other thoughts. A woman was sexually abused by her father as a girl. It seemed that she had always had personality problems. In her twenties the woman was raped and struggles with the traumatic consequences of the rape. Is it appropriate for the therapist to say, “The rape may be irrelevant. Seems like you always had personality problems. Maybe you were born this way. Let’s not even look at your feelings about the rape. Let’s look at how you always seem to look at things in a negative way.”

That is pure anal sadism: The aggression doesn’t matter. The rape doesn’t matter. The rapist is indistinguishable from the husband with whom one has sex consentually. All sex acts are identical. Four ounces of water is four ounces of water. All Jews are alike: They have no identity. They are simply numbers.

Last session with therapist — March 12, 2018

I had my last session with my therapist on Monday March 12, 2018.  I thought it was very revealing psychoanalytically, but I had no idea what I revealed about myself.  The last session sparked a train of associations about loss, death, mourning and immortality — resurrection?  It wasn’t just intellectualization.  It was genuine analytic work.

The session:

So this is our last session.  I was sitting outside experiencing a kind of emotional high.  I felt like I was floating.  You know I was feeling — and maybe you had this feeling as a kid — on the last day of class in elementary school.  You feel nostalgia about the past year and a sense of loss.  But there’s also this excitement.  This anticipation.  You’re anticipating the next school year in September and your new teacher.  You have a feeling as if you’re floating; everything takes on an unreal quality. [The ego defense of derealization?]

I feel we did important work.  Some of the most important work I’ve done.  I thought my letters were very important for me.  They helped me work out things in my mind.  I revealed things through the letters.  And now I’ve turned the letters into a book.  And you inspired me to do that.  I feel so strongly that we are what we create.  That’s what lives on after us.  I think about the cavemen.  They lived 40,000 years ago.  And we would know nothing, absolutely nothing, about them today if they hadn’t left us their cave paintings.  And their tools, their flint tools.  That’s what’s left and they have gained a kind of immortality — these people who lived 40,000 years ago.  But they are immortal only because of what they created.  Otherwise we wouldn’t know anything about them.

I feel so strongly that we have to make our inner world public.  Put it outside ourselves.  Otherwise, when we die, nothing is left.  I mean, you place so much emphasis on relationships.  But relationships are not the road to immortality.  I mean the cave men had relationships.  They were social just like us.  But we know nothing — absolutely nothing — about them based on their relationships.  Their relationships mean nothing after they’re gone.  We remember them only because they took their inner world and put it outside themselves.  It reminds me of what Freud told Joan Riviere.  I think Freud trained her.  She was English.  She did English translations of Freud’s writings.  He said to her:  “Put your inner world outside yourself.  Put it down on paper.  Give it a separate existence — outside yourself.”  I think about that quote a lot.  It means so much to me.  It just resonates with me.  I mean, take Shakespeare.  If Shakespeare had been sent to prison before he had written anything, say he committed a crime — so he was in prison and the jailors refused him any writing implements. He spends his life in prison and he never writes anything. We would never know who Shakespeare was. When he died, that would be it. The end of Shakespeare. He would have been just another prisoner who spent his life in jail.  It’s through what he wrote that people remember him and who he was. I think about that.  And yet, in his inner world he was still the very same Shakespeare, whether he wrote or didn’t write.

[What I seem to be saying is that by giving the “I” an independent existence outside the self , the “I” not only preserves itself but something else.  By the act of giving the “I” an independent existence, the self clarifies the “I”, defines the “I”, and establishes the uniqueness of the “I”.   Without our creations we remain simply indistinguishable human animals — members of a herd.  Our creations, that is, our memorialized symbolization, actually create the “I” in an important way; through these creations we stand outside the herd and establish our humanity.   These are the introjective concerns of identity and self-definition.  A person’s creative products, therefore, both  immortalize and actually modify and even create the “I.”  The “I” is actually redefined and changed by those parts of itself that are given an independent existence.

Stray thoughts:


The following is an excerpt from Alexandra Zapruder’s book, Salvaged Pages: Young Writers’ Diaries of the Holocaust. The book is a compilation of 60 diaries of children who had survived the Holocaust.

This is a diary entry from June the 11th, 1944 by an anonymous Jewish boy writing in Lodz ghetto:

“I go on dreaming, dreaming, about survival and about getting fame, in order to be able to tell ‘the world’. . . to tell and ‘rebuke,’ ‘to tell and to protest,’ both seem at [the] present moment remote and unbelievable—but who knows maybe, perhaps. I dream about telling to humanity but should I be able? Should Shakespeare be able? And what yet I who am only a little proud of understanding Shakespeare?!”]

THERAPIST: It sounds like you want me to remember you.

[Note how the therapist keeps coming back to the notion that I want something from her.]

Well, I want to be remembered.

THERAPIST: Did you really value our relationship?

Yes. You know it reminds me of when I was a kid. We used to go to Atlantic City every summer in early July. My father had friends in Atlantic City and we stayed with them for two weeks each year. I loved that so much. That was the high point of the year for me — two weeks in Atlantic City. And to get from Philadelphia to Atlantic City you have to cross the Delaware river. So you have to go over the bridge. You were a bridge for me. You helped me get across the river.

[Shengold believed that the symbol of the bridge represents incest with the mother. The penis is the bridge that connects the man with the woman in the sex act.]

And something even more powerful for me. When I was very young we used to take a different route. We didn’t cross the bridge. There was a ferry boat that crossed the river and we crossed over on the ferry. I loved that in the late afternoon, in the late afternoon sun. The excitement was so powerful that I would start to feel sick. I remember when I was little I said to my parents, “I’m so excited that I feel sick.” And they said, “Well, if you’re feeling sick, maybe we should turn back.” I shut my mouth! And the ferry was so powerful an experience for me. You were like the ferry boat. You helped me get across the river.

[In Greek mythology, Charon is the ferryman of Hades who carries souls of the newly deceased across the river Styx that divided the world of the living from the world of the dead. A coin to pay Charon for passage was sometimes placed in or on the mouth of a dead person. Some authors say that those who could not pay the fee, or those whose bodies were left unburied, had to wander the shores for one hundred years.]

THERAPIST: That’s a powerful symbol. . . . Usually at the last session, I talk about my feelings about the client.

Oh, I would prefer that you not do that. It would make me uncomfortable. I don’t want to know what you think. I want to preserve the mystery. [An Oedipal boy who contains his sexual desire for his mother retains the mystery of his mother.] I don’t want to be burdened by your feelings. I don’t want to remember that and maybe be haunted by what you say. I want you to remain a blank screen. The blank screen is a safe place. I have powerful feelings of curiosity. Intense curiosity that’s almost painful for me at times. And I think I get off on having these feelings. I want to remain curious about you and your thoughts. It’s emotionally gratifying for me to be curious about people. I think the state of being curious is more important to me than actually knowing what I want to know. You know, we were talking about Shakespeare. It reminds me of curtain calls at the theater. At the end of the performance, the actors return to their actual identity and stand in front of the curtain for the applause. And I hate that. I don’t want to lose the illusion that the characters were real. I want to just remember the characters — not the real actors. You know, talking about Shakespeare, it reminds me of The Tempest. That was Shakespeare’s last play. He died after that. That famous speech that Prospero gives at the end of the play. “Our revels now are ended.” That was Shakespeare’s curtain call. But he put it in the voice of the actor, in the voice of the illusion. Talking about death it reminds me of President Kennedy’s kids, Caroline and John. Do you remember John Kennedy? Well, he died in a plane crash in 1999. And his sister, Caroline read Prospero’s speech at his funeral. I guess analytically, I guess I’m saying I’m really playing a role here. This is not my real self.


What role do you think you’re playing?

I don’t know. It’s just intuition based on my associations here. Well, I don’t think I present my complete self here. For example, I’m a funny person.


You’ve never said anything funny here.

Yeah, I’m a funny guy. Remember the TV show Seinfeld?



Well, at the end of each season of the show I would send Jerry a letter. It was a funny letter. I don’t know if he ever read them. I read that he doesn’t read fan mail. The letters were funny. As a matter of fact, my very last letter talked about Shakespeare and Hamlet. I talked about the characters on the show as if they were characters in Hamlet. I talked about Elaine as if she were Ophelia [Ophelia committed suicide, drowning herself in a lake, because of her unrequited love for Hamlet]. So I guess I didn’t reveal that aspect of myself.

But, you know, I think maybe you’ll be reading about me in the newspaper in the future.

[I picked up the vague feeling that this comment irked the therapist. Her mood seemed to change after this comment. She seemed mildly angry from here on.]

I want to get my book published and I want it to be a best seller. Maybe made into a movie. [Like Shakespeare in Love?] Someday you’ll be in a movie theater watching the movie and you’ll say to your friend, “The guy who wrote the book was once a client of mine.”

THERAPIST: I could never do that because of client confidentiality. I need you to sign a release of information form so that I can talk to your next therapist.

[The therapist gave me the form and a pen and had me fill out the form in her presence, seated in front of her.  I sensed that the therapist’s action was an enactment on her part; or maybe that was my subjective sense only because of my associations to writing and Shakespeare at the session — perhaps, I needed to believe that she was placing me in the role of a writer.]

THERAPIST: Good luck.

Thank you. Good bye.

[I had the feeling that the therapist was angry that I never talked about wanting anything from her. It’s as if she wanted confirmation for that idea (or projection) that I wanted something from her in a powerful way. She had to face the fact that I didn’t seem to want anything from her and that angered her.]

Schizoid Individuals: “Who are you?”

Mental health professionals assessing the developmental environment of schizoid individuals point to a parenting style in which the mother communicates the idea to the child: “Who are you? What do you want?”

I find that intriguing in light of my own preoccupation or obsession with self-definition and identity. It’s as if I am obsessed with the question: “Who am I?”

email Message to Eli Rosenberg — Washington Post Reporter

Mr. Rosenberg,

May I interest you to take a look at an unusual book I wrote — a kind of novel in verse — about an immigrant Iranian-Jewish family living in Manhattan? The book takes an ironic look at Iran’s nuclear program.

I understand you graduated with honors from UCLA with a degree in American literature. By the way, send my regards to your former colleague at the New York Times, Maggie Haberman. She’s terrific!!

The text of the book is at the link below:

Gary Freedman
Washington, DC

Esther as Performance Artist

Esther Shirazi, like all analytic patients, drew inspiration from her

analyst, Dr. Shengold.  Esther imagined the analytic hour as a

“living” art where she got to perform before an actual

audience.  Dr. Shengold, his abstemious analytic posture notwithstanding, was an

active participant in Esther’s live performance. As a participant, Dr.

Shengold experienced Esther’s performance and responded through interpretation. Via that

response Dr. Shengold directly affected Esther’s train of associations, and,

in fact, became a creative partner in the living art

of psychoanalysis. Dr. Shengold was both audience and stimulus for

the image of the world reflected by Esther’s silent interior.


Paraphrases from Form and the Art of Theatre by Paul Newell Campbell and the biography Richard Wagner: His Life, His Work, His Century by Martin Gregor-Dellin.

Therapy Session — 2/26

She was all peaches and cream today.

She gave me a lecture on one-person versus two-person psychology! She told me all about the blank screen and countertransference. Who the hell cares! She shows no insight into my problems but gives me lectures on technical issues. And therapists say I intellectualize!!

Reminds me of a 5-year-old girl showing off to mommy and daddy what a clever little girl she is!! I suspect her parents were her first “worshipful admirers!”

Blatt & Shichman explain that what is common among anaclitic personalities is the preoccupation with libidinal themes of closeness, intimacy, giving and receiving care, love, and sexuality (the therapist’s master’s thesis had a sexual theme). In the pathologically anaclitic, the development of a sense of self is neglected (the therapist is unable to process inner directed behavior — “You write letters because you think I don’t like you”) as these individuals are inordinately preoccupied with establishing and maintaining satisfying interpersonal relationships. Indeed, as the authors note, the pathologically anaclitic individual’s symptoms “…are expressions of exaggerated attempts to compensate for disruptions in interpersonal relations. These disturbances
are manifested in conflicts around establishing satisfactory intimate relationships and around feeling loved and being able to love. The basic wish is wanting to be loved (the therapist stated at this session “Do you feel I don’t like you?”). Blatt and Schichman go on to suggest that this preoccupation stems, in part, from a past in which important others have been depriving, rejecting, overindulging (the therapist gives the impression that she was not criticized in childhood), inconsistent, or unpredictable—thus creating an environment in which closeness was precarious. Regarding defensive maneuvers, the anaclitic tends to use avoidant ones, such as denial, repression, and displacement. The cognitive processes of the anaclitic tend to be more figurative, focusing on images and affects (the therapist sees my behavior of letter writing as driven by feelings–and not unconscious feelings).

Language Usage in Cults



I had earlier written about my belief that my former workplace, the law firm of Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, operated like a cult.

I recently came across some interesting observations about cults, specifically the idiosyncratic use of language in cults.  When I complained to firm managers about coworkers’ use of words and phrases as if those words and phrases had special meaning to the users I was labeled by those managers as paranoid.

This is what Robert Jay Lifton, M.D. says about idiosyncratic language usage in cults:

The group interprets or uses words and phrases in new ways so that often the outside world does not understand.  This jargon consists of thought-terminating  clichés, which serve to alter members’ thought processes to conform to the group’s way of thinking.

Anti-Paranoia — The Fantasy that Everybody Likes You

From the Woody Allen Movie: Deconstructing Harry

[Brother-in-law]: He thinks I’m all Jewish paranoia.

[Harry Block]: No. l think you’re the opposite of a paranoid. I think you have the delusion that people like you.

For some crazy reason I have the idea that everybody likes me. Even where there is powerful evidence that somebody doesn’t like me — I can’t believe that I am not liked.

What does that mean?

I recently wrote the following about my former doctor.

By the way, I note the following point.  Typical for me is the fantasy that another person likes me despite all the evidence to the contrary.  Here, I believed that my primary care doctor liked me despite the fact that in reality he had taken out a protection order against me alleging that he felt threatened by me.  This fantasy recurs in my life history.  Whereas the therapist filters evidence about me in such a way that satisfies her apparent fantasy that I am attacking her.]

In August 2004 I wrote the following:

[FREEDMAN]: I know. I made it up. But I think it’s funny. Brian used to call me “Mr. Freedman” at the library. When I was leaving the building at night, I would say, “Good night, Brian,” and he would say “Good night, Mr. Freedman.”

[DR. BASH]: Why do you think he calls you “Mr. Freedman?”

[FREEDMAN]: He wants to pretend he doesn’t know my first name. But he knows it.

[DR. BASH]: Of course he does.

[FREEDMAN]: Brian likes me.

[DR. BASH]: Brian doesn’t like you. He calls you “Mr. Freedman” as an act of formality. He wants to keep things at a professional level. He’s trying to show you that he doesn’t want a social relationship with you. He doesn’t want to be your friend. If he wanted to be your friend, he wouldn’t call you “Mr. Freedman.”


But my doctor called me Gary!! Hahahaha!!

This was the creme de la creme !! The U.S. Supreme Court !!


supreme[I won’t belabor the point of what the therapist actually said on December 18.  I will note a curious fact, however.  At my first consult with her in April 2017 I told the therapist that I had two law degrees and that I was licensed to practice in Pennsylvania.  The therapist proceeded to ask me a number of questions about why I didn’t practice law.  The exchange lasted several minutes.  I remember saying that I was a perfectionist and that I couldn’t do the quality of work I (irrationally) required of myself given the time constraints of law practice.  At one point in that first session the therapist gave me her views on the workings of the U.S. Supreme Court; my recollection at this time is that the therapist said that Supreme Court opinions were more political now than in the past.   In my twenty five years of psychotherapy with about 16 therapists, this was the only occasion on which a therapist inquired about why I was not practicing law; it was the only occasion on which a therapist volunteered her views about the U.S. Supreme Court! No previous therapist cared about these issues.  Did the therapist in fact say to me on December 18, 2017: “You’re a big strong lawyer?”  I can’t prove that she did.]

I would love to see David Callet cross examine her on the witness stand!!

THERAPIST:  I never said that, Mr. Callet.

CALLET  [chuckles for effect]: Oh, well, that’s a very interesting denial . . . .

JUDGE:  Mr. Callet, I’m warning you.  No more chuckling.