David Bedrick, Talking Back to Dr. Phil, Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology
In his new book Talking Back to Dr. Phil, Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology, counselor, educator and attorney David Bedrick believes there is profound meaning in our struggles, which can be healed when compassionately reframed. Using examples from the Dr. Phil TV show, the author illustrates mainstream psychology’s tendency to shame people into thinking something is wrong with them and debunks many standard protocols and “fixes.”
Caryn Hartglass: Hey everybody, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. It’s the second part of the program here on May 7, 2013 and I want to remind you to send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can continue today’s conversation or any other conversation you’d like to start, especially if it’s about food. I love to hear from you, and I’d like to know what you’re thinking.
Now let’s move on to the next part of the program. My next guest is David Bedrick. He is a counselor, attorney, teacher and author. He spent eight years teaching psychology and philosophy on the faculty of the University of Phoenix and taught it in the navy at 3M, the American Society of Training and Development, the Process Work Institute, Psychological Associations and small groups focusing on personal growth. He received notable awards for teaching employee development, legal services to the community and he’s the author of a new book, Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology. Welcome to It’s All About Food, David!
David Bedrick: Thank you, Caryn. It’s a pleasure being here. It’s a beautiful day here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I’m seven thousand feet up in the mountains, enjoying the beauty today.
Caryn Hartglass: Ok, I was wondering where you were because I thought if I had a problem, I would want to see you.
David Bedrick: Oh thank you! Then I’d tell you that you have no problems and you’d say “why am I with you then?”
Caryn Hartglass: I like to think I have no problems but we all have issues, small and large…and that’s life. Sometimes I think that if we didn’t have issues we wouldn’t be here.
David Bedrick: Amen.
Caryn Hartglass: But I like your approach, this is a love-based process that you have, and that’s very important because I think when it all comes down to it, that’s why we’re here and that’s all that matters. But a lot of people don’t get that.
David Bedrick: I wrote the book and Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternative to Mainstream Psychology, and I focused on Dr. Phil not because he’s the person to go after, but he’s a strong man, he represents a way of thinking that many of us think inside. He says to his guests on his show, “Well, how’s that working for you? Well, what are you thinking?” as if people are doing the strange or the disturbing things they’re doing cause they’re screwed up somehow. We can agree or disagree with that, but that attitude very rarely helps. It leaves people feeling more ashamed of themselves, and then when it doesn’t work, when I say “Is eating that ice cream working for you?” and you say “No, it’s making me gain weight.” Then I say, “Well, stop it.” You don’t need a psychologist to tell you that, right? We tell ourselves those kinds of things all day long, feel worse and worse about ourselves, but the improvement doesn’t happen.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, let’s look at history for a moment. I want to think that we’re evolving, that we’re getting better, although there are plenty of things that are going on in the world today and I really wonder, but when it comes to psychiatry and psychology, these things have moved – I mean decades, or hundreds of years ago, people were analyzed one way or another and I think we’ve come a long way. But there’s a long way that we need to go and I think your approach is definitely in the right direction. Now, I don’t watch television very much, but I have caught Dr. Phil from time to time and I’ve never liked the show. It always makes me feel kind of creepy. I feel the same way when I watch many Dr. Oz segments or the doctors and you made some analogies about how we treat emotional and mental issues and the way we treat physiological issues, health issues, we tend to focus on one thing. We’re a terribly reductionist society – we don’t think of the whole. Your idea of the whole incorporates a number of different things, and definitely important, like the family or other people, your community, and we’re all participants in everyone’s issues.
David Bedrick: That’s so important, thanks for bringing it up. Not many people raise that issue with me because I wrote quite a bit about family and community and part of psychology. For instance, psychology took a good leap when family systems ideas came out, and family systems therapy said that if you and I were partners, Caryn, and we have little Johnny as our son, and little Johnny is doing things that don’t look so good – when he’s breaking something or he’s spitting at a bus driver, something like that – we think, let’s send little Johnny to therapy. Well, that might be helpful. But family systems said “Johnny is part of our system.” That means he might be expressing something that you and I aren’t. Maybe you’re not spitting it out and saying something to me, or maybe I’m not saying, “That’s it, let’s break this idea, let’s break this notion between us, so to speak.” And if you and I aren’t doing that, then little Johnny might, so family systems called the client (the child) the identified patient, but actually the family is.
In that case, what most people don’t realize is we’re all part of a biological family: parents and siblings… but we’re also part of a community so many people look at themselves and say, “What’s wrong with me?” But many of the things people struggle with are not only theirs. It’s such a radical idea for people to internalize, but it’s so true – it’s internalized issues. Internalized sexism, for instance, is a very big part of women’s struggles with body weight and dieting. We can talk more about that, but many women look in the mirror and they look at themselves not looking the way they want to look. They don’t think that their diet dilemma and struggle is part of a cultural problem and it truly is.
Caryn Hartglass: It is, and I love the way, as I mentioned before, the use of analogies are really the same, where we need to treat the body as a whole, and if we want to repair a community we need to treat it as a whole, and when we need to deal with these issues you’re saying that it’s not the individual, it’s their surroundings and the people involved. I’m jumping around, but denial – of course parents don’t want to think that they’re to blame and they want to send their child to an expert, but of course they’re participants in the problem. I don’t know why it’s not obvious, but I guess it’s hurtful to acknowledge that they contribute to a problem.
David Bedrick: Yes, it takes a certain level of maturity and eldership to take a hit, to take the responsibility without beating oneself up. If I don’t have enough love inside of me or in the people around me, and you say, “David, sometimes you talk too much.” That’s true about me, by the way. I do. I talk a lot, I got that feedback many times. So, it’s true. But if I don’t feel good about myself enough, even when I hear that truth, I won’t be able to say “You’re right, Caryn. Let me back off and give more space,” because I’ll end up being so self-hurtful afterwards that I can’t afford that. It’s not because you’re not telling me the truth, it’s because psychologically I can’t afford the hit. It’s too big of an attack for my psychie, I’m going to have to go to sleep and feel ashamed of myself. That’s not such a good result. It takes a certain level of development to say, “What is my role here?” without walking away thinking, “I’m a terrible person,” or “I’m a terrible parent.” That costs us too much. Then the person or parent can’t handle it.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, for the next twenty minutes I want you to talk a lot.
David Bedrick: Ok, thank you. I’m laughing! My students are kind of going “No, don’t say that!”
Caryn Hartglass: This show is obviously all about food and I really believe that most peoples’ food issues have to deal with emotional problems. Some of them are obvious; some of them are so not obvious. You spend a chapter on it, but some of the other chapters – addictions and denial – I connect with peoples’ food issues as well.
David Bedrick: Food is there for all of us, so we can all project onto it. It’s a relationship we have, like many other relationships, and then we can do our dance with it. In that way it’s not only an easy mirror, but it’s a good mirror in the sense that it shows things. And like you’re saying, things that are going on for people are very, very rarely known. Most people think they’re eating for certain reasons that are almost never the reason.
Let me give you an example: I could talk to a person who says, “I want to stop eating ice cream,” and I said, “Ok. Why do you think you eat ice cream?” “Well, it comforts me,” they’ll say. Most people would stop there and many people would say, “Aw, that’s true. You mention that you need more comfort.” But if you examine it with that person, that’s rarely the case, and how do you do that? Then I would say to the person, “What kind of ice cream do you like?” I’m thinking of somebody who said to me “I like salted caramel ice cream.” I don’t think that’s a great flavor – the salt, the caramel and the sweet – so I said “Great,” and then I said to her a very basic, what I call a love-based question. “What is it like for you to put that salted caramel ice cream in your mouth? Not your guilt. What happens to you when you taste it?” It’s a very simple question, but never asked. She said, “What do you mean? I shouldn’t be eating it, it’s bad.” I said, “I know, what happens to you? Imagine putting it in your mouth,” and she goes “Mmm…” I said, “That’s it! What’s it like?” She said, “It’s like a singing in my heart.” I told her, “Can you hear the singing?” And why I’m asking that question is I want to know what her experience is. I think her experience is going to be meaningful and telltale. She says, “Yeah, I can hear it. It’s like these nuns who I hear, singing in the church, but you can’t see them. They’re in the background. It’s like the angels singing.”
Now this woman had a very important and deep spiritual life. She had identified as being a Christian woman, a good parent, sibling and spouse. But somehow, she was still looking for something. She was looking for the angels singing, and in that taste, she got a little taste of that also – a little taste of the angels singing. Her remedy, as it were, for eating less ice cream was to listen to the angels more. That means to take more time to pray, to listen to certain kinds of music that connected her with her Christian faith, which was Jesus for her, and things like that.
People’s hungers are never meaningless. I’ve never seen them be, “Well, I’m just stupid.”
Caryn Hartglass: I love that. You started in the beginning of your book talking about how these symptoms that people have are really like a map, to guide us to what it is we want and we need if we only would look at them in the right way.
David Bedrick: Beautifully said. I want to write that down, by the way.
Caryn Hartglass: I realize what I said and said, “He didn’t say it this way, but that’s how I did.”
David Bedrick: Sometimes people say things and I think, “Why didn’t I think of saying it that way?” I’m thinking of a woman in a story I’ve told before who was a pot smoker and she wanted to stop smoking pot. We could say she was addicted to pot, some people would say that. But she was doing it and it wasn’t good for her and she wanted to stop. I said, “Why do you do it?” and she said, “It makes me feel good.” Well, most of us would say that makes sense, right? She’s doing it, she’s smoking it, it makes her feel good – that’s what she’s looking for, she’s looking to feel good. And then I said to her again, the basic, what I call loving, question. “Can you tell me what it’s like when you put that marijuana to your mouth and inhale it? What happens to you?” And she says to me, “I don’t feel anything.” I said, “That’s interesting. You don’t feel anything?” She says, “No, but my husband, he gets really stoned.” So I say, “Well that’s interesting. How can you tell he’s really stoned?” And get this one, she says “He looks smaller to me.” So I had to make a joke, “That’s a lot of drugs to make a person shrink.” She didn’t get my joke.
She was a woman who felt very small in her relationship. She was older, socialized to be a listener, to be a good quote-on-quote “wife.” She had shrunken her powers, her intelligence, her personality to fit in. The reason she feels so good when she smokes marijuana is not because it makes her feel good by herself – it makes her feel bigger. It makes her feel like her own size. Feeling her own size makes her much more confident around her husband, they have a much better time together than when she’s shrinking trying to listen to him being a good spouse, right? She would never have known that. No one ever asked that question, so her program, her addiction program, is to start practicing being more whole, more full, her bigness as it were. Then the marijuana wouldn’t have such a grip because it’s doing that job for her.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m not a psychologist and I’m going to use this question, “What is it like when you do such and such?” with some of my activism work. As you may know, I’m a vegan and I promote a plant-based diet and my motive has been for a long time, since I was a teenager, not to create pain and suffering, exploitation, killing sentient beings. Then it expanded into other things when I realized that plant foods are healthier than animal foods and they’re gentler on the environment. I like to share this information that I’ve discovered with anybody who wants to hear it. I don’t understand why people want to eat animals or feel comfortable eating animals, or why when they know factory farming is going on, why they would want to continue to support it. Some people don’t care, some people do, but there’s this denial factor which I liken a lot to your later chapters when you talk about abuse, domestic violence and not wanting to recognize the pain. Can you talk a little bit about that?
David Bedrick: I didn’t expect you to go through that. My heart has got some tears in it, my wife is also very sensitive to the hurt of animals. Your theme and topic touched me and I first want to say thank you. Thanks for standing there against opposition at times and taking those hits and…anyways, thank you for that.
Caryn Hartglass: Your welcome, and you know when you were mentioning going through your own discovery with domestic violence and wanting to look away at the pictures of a woman’s abuse and then causing yourself to look at the picture. I think that was an interesting discovery and maybe you could talk a little bit more about that because I need to work with that information with my own work.
David Bedrick: If you googled “domestic violence,” of course you would get thousands and thousands of search results. But many of them, many articles, books, videos would have the word “violence” in it. They’re using the word “violence” in that we are, as a culture, still relatively silent about what’s happening. Not just the perpetrator and the victim as it were, but the culture itself is relatively silent, relatively blind – we’re not noticing it. I could hear somebody screaming in the other house, but I say that’s not my business, right? Or I could look at somebody that I may know, or a friend, even a client, and they may say, “I’m fine,” and I can see by their gritted teeth, or something in them – it’s not quite true. People do that with their children.
I had a client who was anorexic. She was a size zero. Her boyfriend criticized her for having a butt too big. She would go to the gym – and this is awful – she would go to the gym and exercise, but she had no food in her. She would have broth and nonfat frozen yogurt. She would go to the gym and pass out and end up having ET people coming to take her to an emergency room cause there were no calories in her to burn. She’d come home, even after all that, and her parents would think, “I don’t understand what’s wrong, you look so beautiful.” And it’s like hello, right? This is the mismatch. And in that way, we’re not seeing the violence. This woman is in a violent cycle, what to do about it is a complicated question. But there’s a violence going on internally, probably in the family as we were talking about, but it’s not seeing.
The Dr. Phil show you’re referring to, he had a man and a woman on, and she had bruises on her chest, and you could see what were handprints and colored bruises on her arms. I remember after the show, not really wanting to look at the pictures. I remember her saying, “It’s not that bad really, we’re doing better.” And I think he said, “On the outside people would just think we’re doing well.” And I remember thinking, “How come people don’t look?” So I made myself look at those images, and then I noticed all those feelings come up, the way most of us do when we look at somebody who has been wounded or has blood. We get queasy, we want to look away. It’s not easy unless you’re used to it, looking at hurt.
That chapter is about my own inner work, looking at what it takes for me to be available to another person’s hurt, to not need to “make it better.” Heal it, fine, but better so that I feel more comfortable, have them smile so that I feel more comfortable. It’s a very deep dynamic within violent scenes also. Those people who are in violent relationships, emotionally or physically, it’s hard to even look at oneself and say, “That’s a bruise. I’m going to sleep at night criticizing myself, I got injured.” We think, “You have low self-esteem.” Maybe, but maybe that person got injured, probably somewhere along the line.
Caryn Hartglass: I think it’s true, for myself, because I know that people don’t want to look at what’s going on in factory farming, it’s very painful. We need to see it. We often take in the pain when we consume these foods.
David Bedrick: There’s a culture, and this is not the whole culture, but there’s a part of our culture that says, “Don’t worry, be happy,” which is good at times, a good message. But at times says, as you’re implying, “Please put a smile on your face, please say ‘I’m feeling bright today’, please say ‘I’m prosperous’, please say ‘I’m in the light’, please say ‘blessings to you’, please say something positive.” All of which has a good intention, most of the time, but, there’s a shadow that’s quite dark. I think Jung said, “the brighter the light, the darker the shadow.” With the shadow that’s quite dark, where there’s a lot of very powerful things happening – to the planet, to the earth, to animals, to ourselves inside – that takes a little bit of heart and depth and openness to your own pain to not try to fix somebody, enough to be open to theirs and they might want to share with you.
Caryn Hartglass: I really enjoyed reading your book and reading your examples. I was uncomfortable with reading about Dr. Phil and the way he managed these cases that you talked about and I also wonder about the people who want to be on his show, but that’s a whole other phenomenon. But I think we can all really benefit from what you’ve put out here in terms of how we evaluate things. You started in the beginning talking about us all being so judgmental. I didn’t even realize it, but I was smiling saying, “Oh yeah, we do this all the time,” where we’ve taken little pieces of modern mainstream psychology and incorporated them into our own selves where we think that we can judge things around us. Most of our judgment doesn’t understand the deeper significance of what’s going on.
David Bedrick: In a sense, we all practice psychology whenever we self-reflect. “Why am I doing this? I’m a procrastinator. I’m not disciplined enough,” “I’m too quiet,” “I’m not quiet enough, I talk too much.” These kinds of self-criticisms, or other criticisms cast by psychology – we kind of start to diagnose ourselves and try to change. “I know why I’m not losing weight, I’m sitting on the couch too much,” somebody once said to me. This is a woman, right? To lose weight and gain weight and lose weight and gain weight which is the most common result of weight loss strategies. For thirty years, she said “Now, I got it. I figured myself out, I analyzed myself.” And then I asked her the basic questions. “Tell me what it’s like to be your size, to have a big round belly, or to eat the foods that you do, or to sit on the couch. You think it’s a terrible thing, to sit on the couch.” She said, “Well, don’t you?” I said, “Not yet, I don’t. I don’t know what you’re doing there. Tell me what it’s like sitting on the couch.” And then she said, “I like to sit there and watch National Geographic shows.” “Oh, interesting, tell me about that.” “I love looking into other countries and imagining being somewhere else.” “Tell me more about being somewhere else.” “I was in the Peace Corps for six months and then I traveled once for three months to Asia. Oh my gosh, I lost so much weight when I did that!” Without a diet program, without making herself run each morning – not that running in the morning is a bad idea. As soon as we took her out of mainstream culture for her, she instantly lost weight by herself. She’s living in a culture inside of her and in her job and in her relationships that doesn’t fit for her, so she goes off somewhere else. She sits on the couch. If I didn’t know that, I would say, “get off the couch,” but now that I know that, I know that she needs to “sit on that couch more,” meaning live more of a National Geographic life, live less of an American culture life. That’s the kind of help that she needs. Running for a few minutes each day might help, but it might be too good of an American woman, doing her jogging. Nothing wrong with jogging, amen, but her psyche says that’s not what she’s looking for. She’s looking for something else.
Caryn Hartglass: So the next question is, people can ask themselves, if they can’t go and see you in New Mexico, and they want to find a way to lose weight or eat a better diet, or improve some sort of emotional problem, do they normally find the solution? How does that work?
David Bedrick: Well, I have to do one self-promotion statement because I’ve been shy to tell people, but I do do phone and Skype work all over the country and can usually figure out making time for people. But anyways, that’s my shine, forgive me. Let me say that the first thing I think that’s useful to do is people can voice, even out loud, in front of somebody or themselves, the criticisms they have, either for their eating or their bodies. Say them out loud because inside, they’re insulated from critical thinking, from diagnosing. Many people, if they hear the voices out loud, are aghast at how brutal they are to themselves. I think 97% of women are considered cruel to themselves around their bodies. Men also, although talked about less, and there’s less social pressure, so it’s easier for men. So the first thing I think is to notice, just to become aware of how rough that environment is. If you heard a friend, or somebody you love, talk to themselves that way or somebody talking that way, you probably wouldn’t just stand there and just say, “Oh, yeah, sure, you are a piece of…whatever,” you know? You would say, “Oh my gosh!”
But in the second question, “what is it like?” That takes some care to answer that question in two minutes. Make yourself a therapy session, at least fifteen minutes (it’s not an hour) to answer that question. It’s really worth reflecting on. If it’s a food thing, imagine tasting that food, and then if I were talking to a large group of people, I’d say, imagine a song that goes through your head that’s similar to that feeling. “I imagine blue sky,” or something, and then I’d say to them “If you could if you’re free enough, make a little dance to that music.”
Caryn Hartglass: David, that is great, but we’re out of time. It went quickly, and you talked a lot! Thank you so much, I really enjoyed Talking Back to Dr. Phil. Where can people find you?
David Bedrick: Thanks a lot, they can find me on talkingbacktodrphil.com. The book is eighteen chapters, it’s got all kinds of stories and approaches to a large range of topics. They can see there a Psych Today articles and articles in many different magazines and some videos if they want to get some good, free advice.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, thank you so much!
David Bedrick: Thanks, Caryn, I really appreciated it!
Transcribed by Lynette Huang, 2/12/2014