Doc, Can You Help?  


Doc, Can You Help?

is a unique service to the secular humanist community. A secular advice column, authored by Dr. Vincent Parr, it deals with all aspects of human problems ranging from disappointment to stress and suffering.

Dr. Vincent Parr, PH.D., a clinical psychologist, post doctorate at the Albert Ellis Institute, has over 40 years experience in Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and 23 years experience in Zen and Vipassana meditation.

There are, however, basically two types of wisdom; wisdom that comes from words and concepts that are essentially left brain processes; and wisdom that comes from right brain processes, i.e., without words and concepts. Dr. Parr will use both of these areas to answer your questions and guide you to the dual goal of minimizing your problems and finding true contentment.

Doc will answer as many questions as time permits that are submitted to:


Dear Doc,

I received a status update from a friend the other day. I believe that she is clinically depressed and lists very classic indicators of such. Her mother passed away recently and my friend was her sole caretaker. I know depression is a normal stage of grief and I have told her so but I am concerned that it is prolonged. The following are her words, any advice?

I haven't been able to get my mind to focus for a very long time now. Since about April, I'd say, I haven't been able to read an article longer than a few paragraphs. Books are out of the question. New movies are as well. Anything that requires more than five minutes of my time and attention is an endeavor for me. everything seems like a chore. The one thing I can do is sit and stare into space for hours. Even facebook doesn't hold my attention longer than it takes me to write a status, or look at funny pics. There's something bothering me, something I cannot figure out but I have no idea what it is. It's been eating at me and all I care to do is sit on the back porch and watch the wind rustle the trees. I no longer have ambition or drive. Jokes aren't funny. I don't care for food except to make the hunger go away. I never want to go anywhere. I'm tired all the time. I don't care to meet new people or half the time hang out with my friends. I do things because I feel like it's what I'm suppose to, but I have no interest in common everyday things like eating, bathing, housework, but I do them as a requirement. What's wrong with me? I just don't care to do anything except drink tea, smoke cigarettes and watch time go by.


First, I want to mention that depression is not a normal stage we go through when we loose a loved one, however, intense grief and sadness often are. These are what we call appropriate emotions to the situation. They are still caused by us but given the situation, they are appropriate reactions to our life's realities. Depression, along with anger, anxiety, and guilt are inappropriate reactions to life events. Everyone has them, but the longer they persist, the greater harm they do to our future happiness and well being.

From the paragraph you sent me about your friend, you have indeed diagnosed her condition correctly. She is clinically depressed. The best thing you can do is to encourage her to seek professional help right away and even go with her to her first appointment as support. This is extremely important. The longer she persists in these conditions, the harder it will be for her to recover. She may need medication, especially in the beginning to help her cope with her condition. However, and I cannot state this strongly enough, I also recommend that she see a Rational Emotive or Cognitive Behavioral Therapist with a strong foundation in Mindfulness. If all she gets is medication management, i.e., she goes to her doctor once a month for adjustments in her meds, she will rarely "get" better! She may feel better temporally due to a chemical reaction but she will keep the same cognitive habits (thought processes) that created her depression in the first place. We create our World by the way we think. Until you replace your irrational beliefs with rational beliefs you will never really get better. This requires perseverance and a strong commitment to change. Periodic changes in meds and a lackadaisical attitude toward disputing and letting go of destructive cognitive processes will not bring about the desired results we are looking for -- at best it will only lead to coping with life.

Please do not take the above paragraph as meaning that your friend is in a hopeless situation. Far from it! I have seen many depressed individuals get treatment for their depression and then lead rewarding, fulfilling, and enjoyable lives. I applaud you for your compassion toward your friend.

Thank you for your letter and let me know if I can help you further,

Dr. Parr

Dear Doc,

I've been thinking about getting therapy again. It's worked for me before; indeed, I think it's done me more good than medication. I think I had CBT with a touch of Zen. My therapist stressed mindfulness and she was willing to work with me where I was at. She was Jewish (a convert to Judaism) who seemed to have a little bit of Zen going in her practice and I was a Secular Humanist. She got me which was something I really liked. When I get therapy again, I really hope I get her again and maybe we could go through Zen this time, a little more actively.

I've also thought about getting into DBT and wondered if you knew anything about that particular form of therapy. I mostly want to use it for weight loss; my boss is all about this therapy. She's read up on it and I believe she's had some training in it. She said it's helped her; I'm just looking for a variety of opinions on this subject from therapists and counselors.

Thank you,

Mindful and Wondering

Hi Mindful,

I support your decision to seek a therapist who practices both Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (or CBT) and Zen (or Mindfulness). In my opinion this cannot be surpassed IF of course this is taught by a therapist who is competent in both approaches. I say, "taught" because I do not consider people that come for a combination of these approaches patients or clients -- I consider them "students." No approach that results in an overall fulfillment and joy in life can be brief -- which is what a lot of Western Psychology emphasizes. Patients want "fast" results -- Students know that happiness is a process and that you never stop learning.

I often point out that there are two kinds of wisdom: left brain and right brain. Left brain wisdom is through words and concepts and right brain wisdom is without words and concepts. For example, when you go to a restaurant you don't eat the menu for satisfaction. Words and concepts can point to the experience but they will never "be" the experience. To be truly happy in life, you have to get your knowledge into understanding. This requires an equanimity (or balance) of both left and right brain processes. DBT is one of the approaches that utilize a combination of Eastern and Western thought. Marsha technique which combines CBT and the mindful awareness techniques of Thich Nhat Hanh. So, it is on the right track!

My best to you,


Dear Doc,

My wife is telling me that she is leaving me after 26 years of marriage! What a witch! I have worked hard all my life and now she is leaving. What are the marriage vows about? Where is the promise she made -- “until death do us part?” I feel she owes me more than this.

Rejected John

Dear John (literally),

I know that this is one of the saddest times in your life. This often comes as a shock to the partner that is being left. My advise to you is first see if she is willing to go to therapy with you to work on any issues that may be resolved. If not, it is extremely important for you to find a Rational (or Cognitive Behavioral) Therapist for yourself. These are the only therapist I recommend. If you can find a Rational Therapist that also does Zen or Vipassana meditation all the better.

Anger only deepens the wounds and the relationship will continue to deteriorate. Anger comes from demanding that the world and other people be the way you say they “should” be -- not the way that it is or the way they are. As long as you hold this position your anger will only continue to grow in intensity. In the final analysis, anger eats away at the vessel that holds it.

Marriage vows are based on wishes and fantasy that rarely, if ever, are fulfilled. “Until death do us part” is a joke when some 51% of couples end in divorce. The other 49% that stay married can be subdivided into a large segment that live in comfortable misery, i.e, they are really miserable in the situation but they are familiar with it, thus the comfort. Another large percentage live like roommates -- all the passion has left. This is what I call mediocrity. About 10 to 15 % are better than average -- worth staying in the marriage, and only about 2 to 4% are truly happy. The next time you see a couple take their vows remember that only about 19%, at best, (the top 15% + 4% of these last two groups) will weather the storm and be glad they did. Marriage, by and large, has been an abysmal failure as an institution. If your car only started 19% of the time, you would shoot it (not recommended for your mate).

Your happiness, contentment, and well being are at stake. Learning to master your anger and not to take life’s realities personally will help you through this difficult time. Please read my article on Anger at the ISHV web site and let me know how you are doing.

My best to you,


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