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My career

July 10, 2019

My career in psychology has spanned four decades.  My interest in the field began after reading the book Primal Scream by Arthur Janov in 1971.  Until then it never occurred to me that an unconscious existed, that we were driven by forces from our past that are hidden from us.  I immediately felt a passion to learn as much as I could about what motivates people and understand why they behaved the way they did.  I had graduated high school in 1966 and the social and political upheaval of the late 60’s made it difficult for me to concentrate on academics or a career.  I returned to college with a clear intent and completed my BA with Great Distinction (3.96 gpa) with a major in psychology from California State University, Dominguez Hills in 1974.  My double minors were in anthropology and behavioral science.   I enrolled in every psychology course offered by the university. 

After receiving my Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology from UCSB, I began my career as an intern in Long Beach, CA in 1976, earning $6 per hour.   I was accepted into a formal APA approved internship at the Orange County Mental Health where I did rotations through their inpatient and outpatient units.  In 1980 I completed my post-doctoral training in a psychiatric private practice.  I completed my PhD in psychology from the United States International University in San Diego (now called Alliant University).  My doctoral thesis was on biofeedback, and after passing my oral and written exams, was licensed as a psychologist in CA in January 1982.   My post-doctoral internship led to a full time clinical practice.  My boss was the chief psychiatrist at the Alhambra Psychiatric Hospital.  Half of my caseload was treating severely mentally ill at the hospital and the other half was outpatient practice, mostly follow-up aftercare.  Starting my career this way was invaluable as it gave me the foundation to work with virtually any type of disorder.

In 1983 a former supervisor told me he knew of a woman who could treat ADHD and head injury using a technology called neurofeedback.  I was skeptical at first, but had some serious cases that I needed help with.  My first referral to her was a 23 year old who had suffered a head injury 6 years prior.  During those 6 years, he had been hospitalized 6 times and was making no progress.  Ironically, despite his having been diagnosed with several psychiatric conditions, no physician had regarded the head injury as noteworthy.  None suggested it was relevant to his disturbance.  At the time, little was known about how head injury often mimics psychiatric disorders.    It was the opinion of his family and I that he would eventually die from reckless behavior or kill someone else by accident, yet the judge refused to place a conservatorship on him.  We had run out of options.  Psychiatry and medications had been clearly ineffective.  Out of desperation, I referred him to Margaret Ayers for neurofeedback.  What happened as a result made me realize that there are viable options for treatment other than medications and talk therapy.  Margaret Ayers met with him 3 times a week for only a few months.  The 23 year old was never re-hospitalized.  He was able to return to work in the family business.  He got off all medications.  He got a girlfriend.  He basically returned to almost normal.   I know this because I did a follow-up every year for 6 years. The family thanked me over and over again for saving their son’s life. 

That first case led to many referrals to Margaret over the next 17 years.  She would call me to discuss her EEG findings on each case and teach me how brain injuries affect mood and behavior.  I conducted an informal survey of my clients and discovered half of them remembered receiving an injury to the head.  That led me to speculate that head injury was the least understood and most underdiagnosed condition in mental health.   I began to suspect that a major reason for failure in psychotherapy was a disorder in the electrical wiring in the brain.   This was certainly the opinion of Margaret.

From 1982-2000 my psychology practice varied in focus.  At its core was helping clients resolve their emotional and behavioral conflicts.  I took over 200 hours of advanced training in a variety of methods to refine my craft as a psychotherapist.  In addition, I read over 100 books on psychotherapy and brain science.  Cognitive behavior was always part of my strategy and I would add other components to sessions, being careful to customize my approach to each individual.  There have been three major theorists who have influenced me the most.

By far the strongest influence has been the work of Robert Firestone’s voice therapy and separation theory.  After being in practice for 13 years, I was beginning to wonder why clients, despite catharsis and insight, continued to act in self-destructive ways.  I picked up the book, The Fantasy Bond, by Dr. Firestone, and found it answered those questions.  Normally, I am a fast reader with excellent comprehension.  Yet, this book was different.  I noticed I would have to re- read certain paragraphs over and over.  I would forget to read the book for days at a time.  Finally, I realized what was happening.  The book was challenging my own personal defenses.  To really understand what the book was saying, I would be forced to look directly at myself.  This had never happened before and I felt Dr. Firestone had discovered a basic truth about human behavior.   I knew that he knew what he was talking about.  He was able to find the true origins of self-destructive behavior and had the ability to articulate it.