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
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.
answer as many questions as time permits that are
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
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,
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
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.
Mindful and Wondering
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,
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.
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
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,