The professor raps on the lectern with a pencil, very sharply, impatient to engage us.
“What is psychology?”
He says it two times, the rhetorical couplet. Everyone knows he wants a definition but everyone knows that the person who answers a rhetorical question is something of a putz. We all know what psychology is, especially me. I’ve been studying for the National Counselor’s exam for three months. I ponder the word: psychology. I ‘break it down’ into ‘psycho’, and ‘logy’. The first part of the word has me wondering about that skinny guy across the room who sits blinking his eyes and sneering contemptuously about him with his eyes fixed on the ceiling and his head cocked to the hard left. I wonder if he’s daydreaming about slitting someone’s throat one of these days, or suicide by cop, or running his car head-on into another as he drives at max speed on the Long Island Expressway in the wrong direction. The second part of the word: ‘logy’. That’s a much more agreeable thought. Sounds like ‘lounging’. I’m thinking of getting ‘logy’. Getting ‘logy’ might apply to lounging around with that hot chick who sits near the other hot chick just two rows behind where I can’t enjoy the vision of either.
“What is psychology?”
I feel like telling him straight out what it is. Now that I’m a psychology major, I’ve figured it out that my entire family is completely nuts, and that yours is, too. I’ve had a gestalt, so to speak. The term is used in psychology to mean a flash of sudden insight. I’ve also got it figured that all future generations will also be completely whacked since we’re shot from the same gene pool. Another gestalt. A gene pool is like a humongous shotgun shell with an unlimited spread pattern and just about guarantees there will always be jobs for people like us and for Mr. What-Is-Psychology up there with his face stamped by generations of benign though questionable claims of knowledge.
I think I shall enjoy being a counselor. I have a great deal of experience already, having passed through numerous crises of identity. It will be a simple matter of being paid for something that comes to me naturally. As I look about myself, in class and outside of it, I can see I’m not alone. In neighborhood, community, country, class, subway, factory, school, gym, boardroom, restaurants and newspaper pages, I can see that identity is the most elusive and yet most desired commodity to obtain. Everyone’s struggling for identity yet noone seems to find it except for lucky souls like Brittany Spears and Paris Hilton who make the pages of the National Star.
To no avail, I checked the big board at the NYSE to see if there were anyone engaged in the trade of identity futures. No doubt that was a prohibited practice of the National Association of Securities Dealers. But that is another area—security—and the role of a counselor specialist is to create the elusion of that while maintaining the best kept secret of The Counseling Life, which is that there is none. Why spend so much time upon self-improvement when one’s life could be lost in a nanosecond?
‘Is being a mother an identity?’ someone asked recently in class. Well…yes and no, I thought to myself, faithful to the creed of medico-psychological science in hedging one’s bets with regard to human pathology. Being a mother was indeed an identity! The professor enlightened us with addenda. But at the same time, he exclaimed, a mother is a person with special and individual needs.
A gestalt popped immediately into my head. A mother can be something other than a person who gives birth and nurtures. A mother is also the sum total of all those activities which are so common as to be memorialized in television commercials selling everything from libido stimulants to cutlery. Is there something Freudian in that last line? I can’t say for sure because the one essential thing I’ve learned from my class is how to block horrific or embarrassing thoughts from entering my head. No, I’ve set my compass toward the following objectives, according to Adler’s theories of paradox:
Communication Skills: I am a wordsmith, accustomed to expressing my every nuance in synonyms accompanied by frantic hand gestures, but I wonder if there’s any significance in the fact that I work three hours a day and four days a week at a boxing gym. Is a booming left-hook to the rib cage a kind of gestalt?
Self-Actualization: That’s Maslow’s highest point of existence in his order of hierarchies. Men, guess where physical needs are, according to Mazlow. On the bottom of Maslow’s pyramid of hierarchies! Consider that Mazlow’s own path to self-actualization included marrying his first cousin, Bertha Goodman.
Good Behavior: Notice I say ‘good’ behavior without defining what that is in order to obtain your agreement. We all know what good behavior is, don’t we? Yes. Yes, we do! What we know as good behavior will continue to be good behavior so long as we never discuss exactly what it is. Adler’s paradoxical theories emphasize exaggeration of a behavior in order to provide insight into it and possible change. Did Adler have the right ‘gestalt’ there?
That’s it in a nutshell, the heart of my counseling theories. But I have to tell you that I admire the Behaviorists a great deal, too. Admiration does not necessarily mean emulation, mind you. But Pavlov and Skinner predated Madison Avenue by fifty years. That dogs could be conditioned to salivate at the tinkling of a bell even without physical reward or punishment is remarkably prescient since it took modern social scientists fifty more years to discover that men can be conditioned to salivate at the sound of high heels on the catwalk floor at a Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, even before the models take the stage.
But hey...there’s the bell. Class is over. I’m back to reality therapy. That’s a concept pioneered by a psychologist named William Glasser. Glasser rejected Freudian techniques and preferred his patients to focus on the ‘here and now’. He developed the 3 Rs of reality behavior: Right, Responsibility, and Reality. For those of you who think that William Glasser’s dictums are not sufficiently profound, I would point you to one of Glasser’s many book volumes: WARNING: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health, 2004 ISBN 0-06-053866-X