Sumner Z. Silverman PhD.
I am in my late 70’s. I now realize that being voted ‘most individual’ in Jr. High was not necessarily an insult and being kept back in second grade was more a failure of the school system than a failure of mine, and just how empowering it is to be different. Not bad for an odd child!
What a long and painful trip to get whole and centered. It has been my privilege to help so many people along the way.
Some of the high points:
• over four decades as a private practice psychotherapist
• an active, professional, artist
• a gardener, growing and cooking portions of our own food
• a loving wife and good friends
• eight years at Burning Man teaching jewelry making
Am I grateful? Oh, yes.
I love my creative clientele, our sessions are warm and close. I am very direct. I often use humor as a scalpel. If I can’t get you to laugh within the first two sessions, I’ve lost you.
I have had the luxury of a small practice; I can pick my clients. The arrival of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has verified the value of talk therapy over the telephone. I have used this modality for about 35 years. Now, with greater governmental flexibility, I can reach beyond local out to the rest of the nation.
I do not accept insurance. My time is better used in practice than addressing the concerns of insurance companies. I charge $200 per session.
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I found my interest in psychology early. By high school, I knew my future would be engaged in working with the mind.
The undergrad college courses that became favorites included a course in Eastern religions and a course in the history and systems of psychology.
The psychology department at the University of Tennessee, had an unusual lab focused on ‘psychophysiology’.
This lab presented a venue to combine my interest in a scientific approach to yoga and psychology.
At graduate school, (University of Tennessee), I earned a Master of Arts Degree.
There was at that time a fine group of investigators at Harvard Medical School looking into voluntary control of heart rate and blood pressure through biofeedback and meditation. I worked with this group as a research assistant.
When I finished my master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, I moved to Denver and was working on my Ph.D. in the area of developmental psychophysiology (University of Denver). The concepts were fascinating but the subjects were infants, not my interest. While working at Harvard Medical School, I met and became friendly with Michael Sherwood, a wonderful young psychiatrist.
He was the first gay man that I had the opportunity to know. He was summa cum laude, Harvard Medical School, had written and published a well-received book on psychoanalysis, and had been a subject in the Alpert and Leary on use of LSD several years before. And, most important, he liked and was willing to hire and supervise me! Alas, I had only four short years with him. He had a heart defect and died at the age of thirty-seven. During our time together, he assigned me clients that I would never have met on my own. Michael was a founder and on the board of the ‘Homophile Health’ service of Boston, and part of the working group of the ‘Gender Identity Association’. Thus, I was one of the very earliest clinicians working with issues of gender identity and sexual orientation.
After establishing my practice in Cambridge, MA, my wife and I decided to live out our dream and move to the island of Martha’s Vineyard. Here we have found community of smart, soulful, and caring people. Add in the beauty at every turn and it feels like a small heaven.
WHAT TO EXPECT
First of all, all along, we will engage in a conversation of common sense. When in a psychological shit storm the first thing to go is often common sense.
I think a comprehensive family history often points to patterns that structure adult responses to these hidden nonsensical cues from childhood. Just seeing this at work often releases a person from their power.
So much of our daily operation in our world is dictated by habit. We manage this in our work together by trying to diminish the power of the bad habits and encourage inculcation of good habits. This endeavor is more successful when there is another set of eyes on the prize.
This brings us to the more subtle issues that I suspect is the major reason that you… My Creative Friend… Have stuck with me thus far. Woven throughout our conversations are issues of success vs failure, integrity vs sell out, tapping into the torrent of wild ideas vs keeping an audience. Here, I point to the fact that I have been working as a creative artist (jeweler) all my life.
”You know it’s a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it’s because most of them are psychiatrists.”
- Richard Nixon | May 13, 1971
oval office meeting with Haldeman & Ehrlichman
Evidence of the use of cannabis by humans stretches back 15,000 or more years. Co-evolving with mankind, this plant has always been used partly as medicine and partly for its pleasant effects. In our lifetime it has been widely considered a drug of ‘misuse’. However, it has had an esteemed history in the pharmacopoeia of mankind. Recently its role as a medicine has once again taken center stage.
From the early 1970s through to present days, a sizable segment of my clients has been using marijuana. I see a clientele that works in fields that require creative thinking and creative production. I often hear that cannabis is a friendly adjunct to the creative endeavor. It has also been used to mitigate pain and anxiety. On occasion, I have also seen its misuse as an escape and a mindless habit. Overall, I judge that it is more beneficial than hurtful.
Unwilling to trust my judgment, I enrolled in an eight-week course presented by the University of Vermont, Larner College of Medicine. In a highly documented and unbiased manner, I received a history of cannabis use and currant best practice use of cannabis that earned me a ‘Professional Certificates in Cannabis Science and Medicine’ in July 2016. To get another point of view, I also obtained a certification from Green Flower in the ‘Fundamentals of Cannabis.’
Attached is my presentation: Anxiety: use it or lose it with cannabis, created for the University of Vermont, Larner College of Medicine course.
I was on the advisory board for the formation of the only medical marijuana dispensary on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. I will be providing counseling at the dispensary once it is up and running.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
EXPRESSION OF ANGER
Q) When I get annoyed, I stomp around the house and generally let everyone know I'm angry. My wife hates it, but I feel it's good to let off steam.
A) Not so good, I'm sorry to say. Venting anger plugs right into the anger. It doesn't get you out of it. Aggression begets aggression. Watching violence on TV encourages violence in the real world, ditto for violent video games. In addition, your anger upsets the mood all around you, making you as well loved as Attila the Hun.
If you can, the best thing you can do is to put anger aside for the moment, get into music, a project, a book. The issues will keep. Come back to them. That does not mean drop it forever. Pick it up again in a more considered way, at an appropriate time.
What about exercise? Well, if you continue to focus on the annoyances while you exercise, the additional physical arousal could actually make the anger greater. If you can drop the issues from your mind, exercise helps. Of course, yoga, tai chi, and even karate are tied into a meditation practice and will quickly get you out of your bad headspace.
One other thing to note, anger just isn't good for the cardiovascular system. Learning to modulate annoyances not only will endear you to your wife, it will let you stick around longer to bug her.
I WON'T BE PERFECT
You see, the problem is that I can't be prefect. It's not in my control. I can work toward it, but I will never hit the mark.
One of my favorite people in therapy once said, "I am a recovering perfectionist". I was so very proud of her.
We can imagine being brilliant. We can remain paralyzed by fear of doing something wrong. Best is often the enemy of better (or even, good enough). The secret is that making mistakes is making progress.
You would not expect to hit the bulls-eye the first time you tried archery. You shoot too far to the right several times, so you aim left. However, if you really need to hit the center on the very first shot, or fear the judgement of your fellow archers, you won't pick up the bow. We need to be beginners sometimes. We need to cultivate the "beginner's mind".
Please remember that the only person that truly knows the limits of their abilities is the person that exceeds those limits and falls flat on their face. I say, "not so bad, I will pick myself up again".
Q) Recently, my boss has insisted that I enroll at a local college for training in a specialty related to my work. I resent the intrusion into my private time and I am quite nervous about being back in school. How do I get him to back off?
A) Setting yourself on fire might be a start. Refusing to upgrade your skills is certainly just that damaging to you.
Consider this: in electronics, half of what a freshman student learns is obsolete by senior year. Eighty-five percent of all the information in the National Institutes of Health computers is upgraded every five years. For professionals in all fields, it is no longer possible to conquer a body of knowledge, so specialization is increasing.
Is this scary? All change is. Certainly, going back to school is a challenge. However, your boss is giving you a hand and not the heave-ho. The price is continued learning. Lifelong learning is going to be the norm, not the exception. That, with the right attitude, could be a pleasure not a chore.
MEDITATION AND PRAYER
We mammals are blessed with a double chain of nerve ganglions descending on either side of our spine; the sympathetic nervous system. Ever since we were small hairy things, it has been easy to activate the sympathetic response. Good thing too, since this provides the get up and go for the body to get up and be gone. Adrenaline floods our system. We pump more blood to our large muscles, our palms get sweaty (for gripping trees), heart rate/ blood pressure climb, the blood vessels in our limbs close down (to minimize blood loss), etc.
You have probably noticed the lack of Saber Tooth Tigers in your neighborhood of late. However, traffic jams are just as capable of triggering the same response. A Bad Thing. You don't get to run away, and your body starts to eat itself up.
Although the triggering of the sympathetic response is fairly automatic, taming it is not. It is a learned skill like ballet or swimming. You can learn it through meditation, prayer, active listening to music, or even exercise. The key is focus. You learn to follow your breath and let your thoughts pass on by.