Occasional Thoughts on Psychotherapy

Blog | Dr. Jamey Hecht | Beverly Hills, CA
To An Actor

What was the most thrilling role you ever played?

Well, how often does that experience come to mind as you ask yourself what you’re doing with your life? It’s easy to get obsessed with the business side of the art, since that’s what allows you to keep on acting. Chasing after fame and fortune can be quite pragmatic, but it can also be vainglorious. Generally it’s the people who cherish their experiences on stage and/or in front of the camera who have good outcomes, whether those look “successful” or not. Those who are hypnotized by the grandiose rewards of success (perhaps especially in acting) tend to berate themselves for not having it yet; when and if they do achieve it, they tend to be the people who go nuts (they “decompensate”), doing cocaine in hotel rooms, alone, or with hangers-on. Those who remember the art and their experience of it—both the acting and the camaraderie of being in a troupe or a cast—tend to cope better with lack of outward success (since the aspect that really matters to them is the one they already do have), and, if things go well, they can tolerate success without losing hold of themselves.

Another way to put this--directed more at the spiritual right hemisphere of the brain than the logical left--is that an art form is safe to practice when the artist stays close to the spirit that sponsors it. In the case of the actor, that would be Dionysus; for the historian, Clio; for the dancer, Terpsichore; the doctor, Asclepius; the poet, Apollo and Athena and Calliope and Urania. These are of course Greek Gods, whose names became powerful for me through years of reading Greek literature. But it doesn't matter what culture produced your guiding spirit, nor whether it's immortal or human. All I'm suggesting is that good results come from dedication to a point outside the circle of the artist and the audience. Play the violin for the composer. Do Shakespeare for Old Bill. Or as the late great Lou Reed once said, "play football for the coach."

Adolescence, Lenience, Nurturance

Yes, you need nonviolently to discipline your kids, provide sufficient structure, and equip them for the ways of a harsh world. But don’t forget that you’re also the secure base for them, from which they must venture out to make their trial runs at leaving the nest, returning for safety and comfort. They have to rebel; it’s a developmentally appropriate step toward leaving home. While this rebellion happens, a part of each kid still yearns for connection to the parent and closeness. Add to this the sober reflection that, from an adult’s perspective, this period (roughly 11 to 17) will fly by despite its considerable difficulties. This is your last chance to determine how their emotional template for future relationships gets laid down, how they feel about you, and how they remember your life together. When they transgress, unless there is a safety issue it may be best “not to punish, but to instruct” (Plato, Apology, 26a), and decide that although justice, scorekeeping, and “there have to be consequences” may be important, the later it gets the less important those become, till at some point the cord snaps, they’re off to college or Iraq. It matters much less from then on what your notions of fairness are. Nobody’s perfect; from time to time, every parent needs a reminder that  the emotional tone of the relationship and the kid’s experience of it is at least as important as raising a good citizen or a tough guy. The nurturance is not the only important thing, but it’s the most important thing.

Child RearingJamey Hecht