In the Media
Dr. Smaller has had numerous letters to the editor published in the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times and Saugatuck-Douglas Local Observer. Click here to read Dr. Smaller’s letters.
He has also appeared on local and national television and radio including Chicago Tonight with John Calloway, Fox News, ABC News, NBC News and National PBS and NPR radio.
In the current issue of Psychology Today, Dr. Smaller is quoted numerous times regarding the impact of hard economic times on families and children. “Kids are very sensitive and reactive to a
sudden change in their parents emotional states,” says Mark Smaller, a psychoanalyst who runs a therapeutic program at a high school in Cicero, Illinois. “If financial troubles or a job loss are not
addressed in an open way, the kids imagine that the change of mood has to do with them.” See: Carlin Flora’s article, “Moving on Down: How kids are affected by a family’s change in fortune” (Psychology Today, March / April 2010, p.60)
More Than Academics at Morton Alternative (New York Times, 1/24/10)
APsaA: Are Physicians Too Quick to Medicate ADHD? (Medpage, 1/26/10)
Duck! It’s the Holidays (NYT, Nov 19th, 2009)
Cash, Clunkers, and Broken Hearts: Claudia Kalb On Clunker Grief ( Newsweek, Aug 7th, 09)Four-Letter Words May Be Effective Painkillers: Swearing May Help People Better Tolerate Pain, New Research Suggests (ABC News, July 12th, 2009)
Therapists say stop diagnosing Britney (Associated Press, Jan08)
Layoffs Cause Self Esteem Problems, Author Finds PBS, Setp04 2006)
Color and Trauma (Apsaa Public Forum, Dec 1997)
Cash, Clunkers, and Broken Hearts:
Claudia Kalb On Clunker Grief
by Claudia Kalb
Full Post – Posted Friday, August 07, 2009 8:00 AM
Newsweek (Rebecca Cook/Reuters)
Last week, Demaris Miller and her husband, James, drove their red 1995
truck to a dealership 70 miles from their cattle farm in Washington,
Virginia. It was Cash for Clunkers time. The truck, nicknamed “Mondo,”
had quite the adventurous life. Early on, it shuttled James and
Demaris around as they ran for political office (James for the U.S.
Senate in 1994 and 1996; Demaris for the U.S. Congress in 1998 and
2000). It transported the family to ice cream pit stops. “It probably
stopped at every Dairy Queen that exists in Virginia,” says Demaris.
It even did double duty hauling animals: one year, the Millers
attached a trailer to Mondo so they could transport a couple of horses
from Indiana to Virginia. “It was just a great vehicle and you
couldn’t help but have a certain fondness for it,” Demaris says.
Up until last week, Mondo still looked pretty good on the outside, but
the truck had 158,000 miles on it and it had become old, tired and
unreliable. The government’s clunker program was too good to ignore.
So the Millers dropped off their truck, got their $4,500 and drove
home in a new sedan. There’s only one problem: they’re kind of upset
about dumping Mondo. “It was just a little sad to have to leave it
there knowing it was going to be destroyed,” says Demaris.
Call it clunker grief. While most people are thrilled to see their old
cars go—bye-bye repairs, hello fuel efficiency!—some find themselves
mourning the loss of an old friend. Anybody who’s ever named a car
(guilty: ours was “Pearl”) knows that a beloved vehicle doesn’t simply
take you from point A to point B. It carries your babies home from the
hospital, it keeps you dry in the rain, it provides a sanctuary for a
first kiss. It has an identity, a personality, a history.
The truth is, an old automobile can be more dependable and reliable
than your closest family members, and letting go can hurt. “People
have clunker cars that have lasted longer than their marriages,” says
Dr. Susan Vaughan, a Columbia University psychiatrist. When you lose a
car, she says, it’s like “the loss of a piece of yourself.”
Nothing says that more succinctly than a Twitter post written by Mike
Dang, a business editor in New York City. “Mom: You know the car you
left at home? We cashed that clunker in. Bye bye, Mustang. Me: Dying
just a little inside.” Dang used to put the top down on the 1991 red
convertible, pick up his friends and drive it to the beach in
California, where he grew up. In high school, the homecoming court
rode around the football track in that car. “They’d say, ‘Wow, you
know, they don’t make cars like that anymore,’” says Dang. After he
posted his tweet, Dang’s old friends got in touch. “They’d ask, ‘is it
that car?’” And I said, “yes, it’s that car.’”
That car is now one of tens of thousands that mechanics nationwide
have put to rest over the last two weeks as part of a government
program to reduce the number of fuel-inefficient cars on the road. To
do so, they must drain out the oil and replace it with sodium
silicate. Within a few minutes, the engine stops dead. If you’re a car
sentimentalist, it can feel like a brutal betrayal. “One of my guys
said, ‘It’s like putting your dog to sleep,” says Rick Desilva, owner
of Liberty Hyundai in MaWah, New Jersey, which has tallied about
$240,000 worth of rebates.
“When I see these cars coming in and I say, ‘this car’s nicer than
what I’m driving,’ and I have to take out the motor and disable it, it
really hurts my feelings,” says Liberty service manager Wayne
Schneider. Mechanics are trained to fix cars, not trash them. “It’s
like being the doctor who takes the Hippocratic Oath to keep people
healthy and alive,” says Desilva, only to be asked to perform a lethal
injection. After the website CrunchGear posted a YouTube video they
dubbed “The Murder of a Volvo S80 by Cash for Clunkers”, one viewer
commented that it was “like the car was screaming.” (And with Congress
voting late last night to extend funding for the program, the murder
of innocent, if inefficient, vehicles will continue unabated for now.)
The finality of it all can hit some customers hard. “I actually had a
lady cry and hug her car before she left,” says Jay Picardo, a
Volkswagon salesman in Greenbrier, West Virginia.
“I think one does experience a form of grieving,” says Mark Smaller, a
psychoanalyst in Chicago. Mourning for objects like cars or family
houses may not last as long or be as intense as grieving for humans,
but it’s still a legitimate experience. The current economic climate
can exacerbate the way people feel, too. “We want to hold onto things
that are predictable and reliable because so much happening out there
is out of our control,” says Smaller.
Smaller knows what it’s like. A few weeks ago, he had to say goodbye
to a treasured car that was severely damaged in a flood. Now, he’s
holding on to his clunker, a nine-year-old Isuzu Trooper. He can’t
bear to give it up. Smaller bought the car when he got remarried—it
started his new life with him–and it carried his three young children
home after they were born. “On the one hand, it’s just a car,” says
Smaller. “On the other, there’s a lot of meaning in that car.”
3:45 AM EST, December 12, 2008
CHICAGO (AP) — He’s accused of talking about an ambassadorship, a Cabinet post in the Obama administration, even someday running for president — all while clearly aware of a federal corruption investigation hovering over his administration.
“Wacko” is among the unscientific diagnoses suggested by many after prosecutors this week accusedIllinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich of essentially trying to sell the president-elect’s open U.S. Senate seat to the highest bidder.
Delusional, grandiose and narcissistic are some of the official terms offered up by mental health specialists, who have their own theories.
“When hubris creeps through the door, judgment just flies out the window,” said David Levy, a psychology professor at Pepperdine University’s graduate school.
Assessing the embattled governor’s state of mind has become a sort of parlor game as the enormity of the stunning allegations against him sinks in. Everyone seems to be wondering, was it lunacy, or just an extreme form of politics-as-usual?
“Blagojevich’s defense lawyers might want to consider an insanity defense,” wrote Mark Brown, aChicago Sun-Times columnist. “He’s utterly mad. Completely and totally off his rocker.”
Not so fast, Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass said (any surprise the two papers differ?): “The pundits who make such diagnoses have never talked to a Chicago machine politician in their lives. How do they think Chicago politicians talk in private when they’re muscling some other guy for cash? Like Helen Mirren playing the queen?”
Yet, even in a state where corruption seems to flow like water, the governor’s alleged actions and words caught on tape stand out.
“These charges are absolutely stunning and it’s because it’s kind of transcended simple greed,” said Cindi Canary, executive director of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform. “This is not like giving somebody a sewer inspector job. This is an abuse of public trust 100-fold.”
Like rubberneckers drawn to a highway crash, Levy said he’s been riveted by the developments.
“I’m really intrigued by this guy’s brazenness,” he said. “The recklessness is remarkable.”
New York City therapist Jonathan Alpert said he was struck by “the grandiosity, the grand sense of self and entitlement,” the arrogance.
Those traits are consistent with a mental condition called narcissistic personality disorder, he said. Its other symptoms can include taking advantage of others for personal gain and lack of empathy.
That could be a cynical job description for politicians. They are, after all, often lured to the job at least partly by the heady sense of power it promises. And Alpert said just having some of those behaviors doesn’t guarantee mental illness.
But Chicago psychoanalyst Mark Smaller said Blagojevich’s alleged behavior seems to have gone beyond bad judgment.
“This is somebody who knew he was being investigated, so you would think that would be the type of person” who wouldn’t want to increase the probability of being caught, Smaller said.
Instead, according to the complaint against Blagojevich, he conspired to sell or trade Barack Obama‘s vacant Senate seat in recent weeks, knowing he was the target of a longtime federal probe of alleged pay-to-play politics.
Just a day before FBI agents arrested Blagojevich at his home Tuesday, he defiantly told reporters he didn’t care about reports he was being secretly taped because his words were “always lawful.”
Smaller said the self-destructiveness is stunning: “There’s something going on here that doesn’t look like normal political corruption.”
Still, some experts suggest that being in a position of power can make people feel they are impervious to danger. Levy said there’s no easy answer when it comes to Blagojevich.
“There really is no clear line between what’s normal and pathological,” he said.
Therapists say stop ‘diagnosing’ Britney
Posted on Wed, Jan. 23, 2008
By JOCELYN NOVECK
AP National Writer
NEW YORK — You wouldn’t think a pop culture diva like Britney Spears would exactly fit into the usual fare on discussion at the annual winter conference of the American Psychoanalytic Association.But last week, on the sidelines of the gathering of hundreds of analysts from around the country, the topic did indeed arise – specifically those armchair diagnoses of the troubled starlet’s mental health, popping up in celebrity magazines and tabloids everywhere.
“Britney’s Mental Illness.” “Bipolar Britney?” And so on. Under such headlines, articles have gone on to quote psychiatrists or psychologists who’ve never met Spears, saying she exhibits “classic” signs of one disorder or another.
“I’ve been very upset about this,” says Mark Smaller, a psychoanalyst from Chicago who attended last week’s meetings at Manhattan’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. “This idea of making a diagnosis of someone they’ve never met is completely inappropriate, and it gives mental health professionals a bad name.”
Not to mention that it’s medically wrong. Smaller says that to make any real diagnosis, it can take several thorough consultations with a patient at the very least. “Trying to make such a diagnosis based purely on someone’s behavior” – and worse, their behavior as portrayed selectively by the media – “is scientifically impossible,” says Smaller, also director of the Neuropsychoanalysis Foundation.
But even more, say Smaller and other therapists interviewed, it could actually harm Spears by preventing her from getting the real help she needs. And on a broader scale, such therapy-by-media could discourage other troubled people from seeking care as well.
“It’s not right to this one person,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, a New York psychoanalyst and psychiatrist. “But on a grander scheme, it also makes people afraid. They’re afraid their confidence might be broken. Or they’re afraid they’ll become labeled. And labels are very frightening to people.”
It’s hardly a cause for wonder how coverage of Spears has reached the point of quibbling over which mental illness might afflict her. Each development in the Spears story, including Wednesday’s sudden departure from court before a custody hearing, has upped the scandal ante. From her “mommy foibles,” which now seem positively quaint, to her head-shaving incident to her attacking a car with an umbrella to her painful custody dispute, her story gets so much more dire with each passing month that you wonder what could possibly be next.
But the moment that set headline writers into overdrive came on Jan. 3, when police were called to Spears’ home after she refused to turn over her two boys to a representative for ex-husband Kevin Federline, locking herself in a room with one boy. Police, who said she was intoxicated, had to restrain her; paramedics were called and she was whisked away to a hospital, paparazzi in pursuit.
That’s when TV’s “Dr. Phil” McGraw paid a visit, then made public statements later that she was in dire need of medical and psychological help. Relatives said he’d crossed the line in talking about her publicly, and he later said he regretted making the statements.
But numerous other psychiatrists and mental health professionals have been quoted as well, speculating on what might afflict Spears. And that, says People magazine’s deputy managing editor, Peter Castro, was a necessary element of the story.
“What people need to realize is that we had sources very close to Britney – more than one – telling us that they believed she did indeed suffer from mental illness, and some even used the term bipolar disorder,” says Castro. “So it was only responsible on our part to ask a specialist in this kind of behavior. You had a woman here who was hospitalized. This is the first time we were hearing that hey, all this nutty behavior may really have something to do with mental illness, maybe bipolar disorder.”
The National Institute of Mental Health defines bipolar disorder (also known as manic-depressive illness) as a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. About 5.7 million American adults or about 2.6 percent of the population age 18 and older are said to have the disorder. It is often treated with medications known as mood stabilizers.
Saltz, who comments regularly in the media, says she’s frequently been asked to comment on Spears. It’s one thing, she notes, to discuss what concerns a doctor might have when a young woman has two toddlers, is going through a divorce and is suspected of substance abuse. It’s another thing, she says, to speculate she has something specific like bipolar disorder.
After all, Saltz says, a diagnosis of bipolar disorder is a very complicated one – one that takes knowledge and context, a lot of questions and a lot of patient history.
“It’s not like a blood test,” she says. “Brains don’t have a check box.”
Others point out that it’s exceedingly hard to diagnose any mental illness, let alone bipolar disorder, when substance abuse plays a possible role. “How do you know what’s going on?” asks Dr. Susan Jaffe, a psychiatrist and analyst in New York. “It confounds the diagnosis because you don’t have a clean slate.”
Jaffe says another contributing factor has to be considered: the strain of the constant media coverage itself. “What’s all this media stress doing to her?” she asks.
All the speculation over Spears’ mental health strikes Jaffe, for one, as unseemly, and for a reason entirely unrelated to the medical issues.
“Everyone’s standing around and watching her fall apart, and that’s just very sad,” says Jaffe. “This is someone’s life.”
PBS NewsHour: Originally Aired: September 4, 2006
Layoffs Cause Self Esteem Problems, Author Finds
Click the streaming video tab to view Dr. Smaller talking about the effects of Layoffs at the American Psychoanalysic Meeting.
With the increase in outsourcing jobs to maintain a competitive edge in the global economy, Americans are facing more frequent layoffs at the workplace. This phenomenon is causing low self esteem and other psychological problems among people losing their jobs.
Trauma caused by unemployment
AL DUNLAP, Former CEO, Scott Paper Co.: I had a corporation where every person stood the chance of losing their job, so, I got rid of 35 percent of the people. But 65 percent of the people have a more secure future than they’ve ever had. And we did this without a single labor interruption or a single grievance. We must have been doing something right.
PAUL SOLMAN: Or something wrong. Dunlap, already know as “Chain Saw Al,” was later pursued by the SEC for fraud, and settled by paying out millions and being banned from corporate America for life. Yet, his book back then, “Mean Business,” became a best-seller — layoffs, a more and more acceptable way to boost a firm’s stock price by making it leaner and meaner.
Now, in his new book, “The Disposable American,” Lou Uchitelle argues that this legitimizing of layoffs has come at a devastating cost to workers and American society as a whole.
LOUIS UCHITELLE: My book is not about unemployment. It’s about the blow, the trauma that people suffer when they’re told they don’t have value.
PAUL SOLMAN: The evidence of that trauma comes not only from laid-off workers, it turns out, but those in whom they have confided, like their psychotherapists.
How many of you have had a patient or patients who have been laid off, lost their jobs? And that’s just virtually everybody here. How many of you have had patients who have been traumatized by that event?
“The Disposable American” was the trigger for this session at the annual meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association, chaired by psychiatrist Ted Jacobs, on the psychic costs to those laid off.
TED JACOBS, American Psychoanalytic Association: Depression, severe anxiety, panicky feelings, crises of self-esteem, and regressive behavior are not at all uncommon.
PAUL SOLMAN: Now, a cynic might argue that these shrinks are themselves in a shrinking profession, so, they’re projecting their own anxieties onto their patients. But their case histories suggested otherwise: people scarred by an economy that now treats layoffs as a get-over-it fact of life.
DR. MARK SMALLER, Psychoanalyst: I cannot underscore the kind of reverberation this had in his life, in his family.
PAUL SOLMAN: Mark Smaller’s talking about a friend, also a therapist, who was counseling laid-off workers when he himself was laid off. He got a better job, right away, but:
MARK SMALLER: A year ago, he called me and said, this weird thing had happened, that his super, his boss of the company, had called him on a Friday and said, there’s something I need to speak with you about, but it can wait, and I will talk with you on Monday. And the entire weekend, he was anxious and couldn’t sleep, because it had stirred up the whole trauma all over again.
PAUL SOLMAN: The news is that research now quantifies such traumas for white- and blue-collar workers alike. The average layoff, it turns out, takes years off your life.
MICHAEL MARMOT, Professor of Epidemiology and Public Health, Royal Free and University College Medical School: The facts are that people who become unemployed have a 20 point higher mortality rate than others from the same socioeconomic strata who remain employed.
WELCOME to the Public Forum of the American Psychoanalytic Association: Creation of a Self: Color and Trauma in the Life of a Child
Despite all the progress of the last 30 years, racism remains an endemic feature of American life. An often tragic example is an unfortunate tendency among professionals to ignore the powerful influence violence and trauma can have on the development of children of color — traumatic conditions not tolerated in the suburbs tend to be ignored in the inner city.
The Public Forum presented in this web-site attempts to redress that tendency. It provides professionals and concerned lay-people with information necessary to combat the tendency to ignore.
The forum was held December, 1997 at the meeting of the American Psychoanalytic Association
Listen to Dr. Smaller’s Introduction
TRUTH and EMPATHY
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To discuss any of these presentations, please contact Mark D. Smaller