The years passed and I grew to be a young man. I had a very close group of friends in the youth movement (Hashomer Hatzair) and was close to my older sister. I loved sports, hiking, backpacking, swimming, and basketball, but was also a keen reader of many subjects. In the course of absorbing so much new information and so many new ideas, I soon found I had a passion for critical thinking and its natural consequence: a desire to improve the society I lived in and to question existing ‘truths’ and unquestioned/given assumptions. Alongside my family and friends, I was politically active in promoting peaceful co-existence between Israelis and Palestinians and in opposing religious oppression and manipulation by the extremist religious Jews….and it all began at our dinner table where Martin Buber, Rollo May, and other existentialists were part of the menu.
Thinking back to my growing-up years, and including my military service, I can clearly trace the emergence of my fascination with all kinds of boundaries. A striking early example was when, as a young officer, I served on the remote, barren, but intriguing, Tiran Island, a strategic ‘bare giant rock’ in the Red Sea. My soldiers often referred to me as the “Sheriff of Tiran,” a title they painted on my small wooden ‘home.’ Besides taking care of the basic military duties, I spent much of my time wandering alone around this lifeless speck in the sea with my bare feet, a diving knife strips to my calf and a bathing suit and diving with friendly sharks and huge sea turtles. I found the island to have a profound and complex, spiritual nature. At that time, I was musing about the boundaries between day and night and wondered whether the distinct extreme separation of day and night is an artificial construct created by humans and their ancient cultures, or is it an inherent part of human nature. To satisfy my curiosity – and to the profound dismay of my soldiers – I experimented with inverting day and night by reversing our daily routines and the customary way of life of most humans and many animals living currently on the planet by ordering my soldiers (I was the only officer and highest ranking soldier on the island) to sleep during the day, eat breakfast at sunset, lunch at midnight and dinner at sunrise. While I was quite engrossed by my unorthodox research and the exploration of the nature of Man, I also noticed the resistance and outrage of my soldiers who perceived the experiment as seriously deviant. While not always popular, my questioning ‘common knowledge’ and our immemorial ways of living has been large part of my life story.
As we were waiting to be deployed in the 1973 (Yom Kippur) war, I noticed that almost all my fellow officers were impatient to engage in battle even though it was clear that doing so was likely to result in high casualties to our unit – and, of course, to ourselves. In fact, some men even tried to exert influence on the high command to get us deployed. Believing that the war could have been prevented, I was more ambivalent. I felt spacious with time in our ‘wait and see’ position by the gorgeous Sea of Galilee, and wondered what the soldiers were actually thinking in anticipation of being at war and at risk for their lives. So I started questioning soldiers about their attitude, and almost of all of them said they unequivocally wanted to engage in battle, regardless of the high probability of injury or death. As soon as I realized this, I went out again, this time with my notebook, asking the bored and anxious ‘to-be-deployed’ soldiers why they were so eager to go to war and risk their lives. Aside from the cliché response of wanting to defend the country, when I invited them to go deeper most of them said they did not want to come back home without a war story. Now my curiosity skyrocketed and the researcher in me could not wait to go back and ask the soldiers, “Who is this story for?” The response took me completely by surprise. They did not want to come back home without a war story to tell their wives, sweethearts and girlfriends. It was a truly (personal and academic) ‘aha-moment’ realizing the invisible powerful presence of women among the battle-ready paratroopers, such that they were willing to risk their lives rather than come home without a story of heroism of some sort.
The fascinating and surprising revelation of the invisible yet powerful presence of women among us heroic paratroopers has stayed with me for a long time. Years later, when I ‘converted’ to psychology, I chose to explore the intriguing psychological complexities of relationships between men, women and war. Studying the commonly held beliefs, such as “men are more violent than women,” “women are the peaceful gender,” or “if women were running the world there would be no war,” and being aware of my contradictory experience with my paratrooper unit gave birth to my doctoral dissertation, as well as to more extensive post doctorate research, publications and lectures on the topic of The Complex and Intriguing Relationships Between the Warrior and the Beautiful Soul. My research pointed to the obvious facts that some of the most war-mongering heads of states have been women, such as Indira Gandhi of India, Margaret Thatcher of England and Golda Meir of Israel. It also led me to explore the complex, rarely discussed, and certainly politically incorrect topic of the interactive nature of domestic violence in heterosexual relationships and in lesbian and gay relationships. While hard to acknowledge, admit or digest, increased number of studies have determined that the rate of Same-Sex Intimate Partner Violence (SSIPV) among lesbian couples is, surprisingly—or, some may argue, not surprisingly—higher than the rate of intimate partner violence (IPV) [i.e., men violent against women] among heterosexual couples. More broadly I walked into the equally politically incorrect minefield exploring the role of some victims in their own victimization.
After a few days of cautiously moving towards enemy lines in the 1973 war, our military unit became the target of artillery shells. Some fell to the left of us, some to the right, some in front of us where we were headed, and some behind us, where we had been an hour ago. In a curious, fascinating, and yet terrifying pattern, the shells began to gradually close in on us in a perfect lethal circle, closer and closer on all sides. As our unit paused under a grove of high palm trees, the shells began falling so close to our group that it became obvious that the artillery weapons were being systematically directed by someone or something that was aware of our location. Was there an unseen aircraft tracking us, a satellite, or an eye in the sky?
As we frantically tried to figure out who/what was doing this we peered at the sky through the fronds of the palm trees above and suddenly spotted what in some military jargon is called a “monkey” — a perfectly camouflaged Egyptian soldier sitting atop one of the trees, trying to blend in with the thick canopy. We instantly realized that he was the one providing his fellow artillery soldiers miles away with the exact location of our unit. Within a milli-second, about 20 to 30 solders aimed and rapidly shot their M-16’s automatic guns at him. By the time he hit the ground he had several hundred bullet holes in him. Needless to say, he did not suffer much. A couple of distressed, frightened and enraged soldiers even shot a few more rounds into the lifeless bleeding body.
I looked at this bullet-ridden corpse and experienced an upwelling of admiration, respect, and even awe, for this man who had directed his artillery on our unit… and in the end, on himself. I considered how he had been deliberately and consciously ready to face death in defense of his country, just as I had been a couple of days prior while crossing the bridge of fire. My feelings of identification and admiration were not shared by my fellow soldiers. In fact, a fellow officer rushed toward the body and took the bayonet off his gun, both as memorabilia and as an attempt to humiliate the enemy. I was unexpectedly overcome with rage and hatred towards this man’s lack of acknowledgement of the bravery of the monkey. I instinctively wanted to protect his body, and at the bare minimum, have our unit spend a few seconds around it to honor the complex relationship that we had with our enemy. I did feel hatred towards the threat he had posed to myself and my soldiers, yet I also was touched by his sacrifice and courage. I was very aware that I could have been the one to be riddled with bullets just a couple of days earlier on the bridge.
In effect, this is what we soldiers are about: walking the tightrope of potential sacrifice while defending our country as heroes. Yet, I suspected that the monkey, like me, had not viewed his defiance of death and willingness to sacrifice as particularly brave or heroic. Rather, his act was a way to embrace life in its fullest. Ironically, saying ‘Yes to life’ meant also saying ‘Yes to death.’
Right after this bizarre scene with my doctor, I started training myself to walk again. I rejected any physical therapy and spent long nights, all alone, walking on the hospital room porch, holding on to the rail, and ‘silently’ crying in pain. When I eventually went back to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem to continue my studies, I also went back to riding my motorcycle and playing basketball on the university team. The subsequent surgeon, unusually but effectively, used my performance on the basketball court as a yardstick to measure when I was ready for the next surgery. Obviously, this injury was followed by a few years of intense pain, determination, surgeries, rehab, deep contemplation, and finally, full recovery in spite of a very poor prognosis. It took me many years to attend to the traumatic aspect of the war injury & war experience and numerous other traumas I’d experienced in my lifetime and embrace the illuminating concept of Post Traumatic Growth (PTG) rather than Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Working as an oceanographer in Dahab, I was extremely lucky to be mentored and kind of ‘adopted’ by my boss, a kind and brilliant scientist. He taught me the basics of marine biology, we went on exciting diving and sailing excursions in the Red Sea, and were close friends. About two years into the relationship, standing on my research raft in the middle of the bay, I was excited to tell him that I was heading to East Africa to apply what he had taught me, to do research on fish ponds. I expected him to be proud of me and was utterly shocked when he exploded in rage and actually came at me jabbing his fists. I learned a few years later that it was similar to what happened when Freud turned on Jung, as Jung announced that he was going to pursue his very own new track of Jungian psychology. Almost exactly the same way Freud exploded on Jung, my friend and mentor called me the “betraying son”, erupting with accusations of how ungrateful I was and how I would not amount to anything without him. To punctuate this archetypal scene, we got into an actual (rather spectacular) fist-fight on the research raft on the beautiful clear water of the Red Sea. Learning from this experience, I have taught numerous supervisors and mentors over my long career about the difficult challenge for mentors-supervisors to ultimately graciously accept their supervisee as equals who have their own path and who, at times, may even surpass them.
In the mid 1990’s, I took on debunking the myth that all victims are always innocent and invited people to re-think the then prevalent belief in the dictum, “Don’t Blame the Victim.” While some victims are truly innocent (e.g., abused children) others thrive on being victims. The victim’s stance is a powerful one and was erroneously framed as: The victim is always morally right, neither responsible nor accountable, and forever entitled to sympathy. That perception has since changed to some degree, I am pleased to say.
In the mid 1990s, I stepped into the ring to dispute the whole notion of the so-called depravity and danger of dual relationships in psychotherapy and counseling and, through my writing and teaching, emphasized the importance of healthy connections and community. In 2002, I co-authored, with Dr. Arnold A. Lazurus, a break-through book, Dual Relationships and Psychotherapy, on the eponymous subject.
In 2007, the American Psychological Association published my book on Boundaries in Psychotherapy which invites therapists to be more flexible in regard to issues, such as touch, multiple relationships, gifts, home visit, bartering, and self disclosure. This also signified that psychology, as a result of the relentless work of a few colleagues and myself, now embraces a more flexible and context-based view of therapeutic boundaries.
So-called risk management ‘experts’ have in effect hijacked parts of the fields of general medicine, including mental health, by inducing exaggerated fears of lawsuit. Some of risk management’s standard, yet unfounded, instructions in psychotherapy have been: Never touch a client, don’t self-disclose, don’t leave the office with a client, and don’t engage in any form of dual relationship. These overly cautious ‘defensive medicine’ practices, often perpetuated by purported risk management experts and attorneys, can actually hurt clients, as they in effect deny them adequate focus on effective patient care. In my article on the Risk of Risk Management I document how, even though the healing benefits of touch, therapist self-disclosure, or meeting clients where they feel most comfortable or safe have been scientifically documented in the last 50+ years, many poorly trained and frightened psychotherapists regularly avoid doing what is therapeutically right and helpful out of regulatory fear.
One of my clients was a gentle, pleasant older man in his 50’s, suffering from paranoid schizophrenia, with whom I worked in the East Coast. As part of therapy, I was continually in touch with his parents, his three children and sisters, as well as his landlord, employer, psychiatrist, and everyone else involved in his life. He happened to be a Starsky and Hutch TV show ‘junky’ who closely identify with the show and even drove a car that mimicked the signature car of the show. My curly dark hair reminded him of Starsky—in fact, at times, he confused me with the character. So it came to be that his car was the ‘office space’ where we met for most of our weekly therapy sessions. He never liked my office—being there made him nervous, frightened, paranoid and withdrawn—but he felt relaxed, engaged, and receptive while tooling around town with me in his signature car. As we cruised, like in the TV series we checked out the hotspots, all the while talking about the client’s relationships, dreams, fears, and work. He felt safe going into the stores to do basic shopping, knowing that Starsky was ‘backing him up’ from the car. As I described in my Ethical Eye article, several ethicists and attorneys warned me of the dangers of leaving the office or being involved in what they labeled as a dual relationship. After consulting with several ‘true’ experts, I decided to continue my approach to therapy with this client, for the simple reason that it was effective. At all times I reminded myself that I was being paid to help him, not to practice defensive medicine.
As previously discussed, the adoption of rigid risk management practices has taken a serious toll on client care in the medical field in general as well as on mental health services. In the following I want to hone further in on the ill-advised rule ‘never leave the office with a client.’ This rather irrational ‘one size fits all’ dictum bears the consequence that mental health services are denied to the agoraphobic, the paranoid, and the millions of home-bound patients. It equally interferes with treatment for ‘side-by-side’ (rather than face-to-face) oriented clients who could benefit from a walk on a local trail rather than the standard face-to-face mode in the office. Equally, it denies services to disorganized, homeless, or poor clients who are not capable of finding their way to a therapist’s office.
I have incorporated Out-of-Office Experiences (aka OOE) into my therapeutic practice by making perfectly legitimate, clinically sound visits to home-bound or hospitalized patients, as well as conducting sessions with the mentally ill homeless at street corners. I met with one highly distrustful and resistant adolescent client on the basketball court after he refused to show up at the office. My approach—meeting him, a dedicated athlete, on his turf—provided a good context for connection, particularly since this was also my game! With this tactic I succeeded in gaining my client’s trust and, most importantly, engaging him in psychotherapy (albeit somewhat unorthodox!). An older, rather depressed and isolated old lady with three beloved dogs, from whom she would not separate, refused to come to my office due to her dogs, but agreed to a walk-and-talk session on a nearby trail. She was also a ‘side by side’ kind of a woman.
Other legitimate contexts for disregarding risk management’s arbitrary injunctions against interaction outside the office include: engaging in adventure/outdoor therapy; going on a therapeutically initiated tour with an architect client to her newly designed house pursuant to the therapist’s helping her find her ‘voice’ via architecture; attending the funeral of a client at the request of the spouse whom the therapist has seen in couples therapy intermittently for 20 years; or attending a theatrical performance of a young client whom the therapist has successfully helped to overcome shyness and stage fright.
My clinical work has been enhanced by my education, as well as my various life experiences, whether living with the Masai in Kenya, mixing with the English in London or living among Israelis and Americans. Consistent with my beliefs as expressed in my writing, when clinically appropriate I have made home visits, attended the weddings of couple/clients, conducted therapy in nearby parks, appropriately self-disclosed, given supportive hugs when needed, and bartered with cash-poor, talented artist clients. I have learned from my patients, not only how to live with dignity, but also how to die with dignity. Living in a small town, I was inevitably, exposed to a wide range of unavoidable dual or multiple relationships.
Evacuation orders were inching in. The cellphone text alerts gradually progressed from “Evacuation Advisory” to “Evacuation Mandatory.” In between, there was enough time to consciously or unconsciously, wittingly or unwittingly contemplate the evacuation ‘wonders,’ considerations and choices:
Q: What do I take? — What is dear to my heart?
A: Our dog & cats, cell phone, laptop, passport, etc.
Q: What is OK to leave?
A: The remainder of my physical possessions
Q: What do I wish I could take but forego for lack of space in my car?
A: Photo albums, some nostalgic old clothing, and a unique collection war propaganda.
Q: What did I wish the fire would burn away?
A: I wished to toss into the fire my petty desires for comfort, my impatience, my attachment to being someone who changes the world, and my ego identification in my accomplishments. Then, also my huge collection of hard copy academic articles and books (so that my study could transform to a sacred meditation space).
Q: What was the most ridiculously absurd thing I took with me?
A: Alas, my attachments to my ego’s accomplishments. I recognize that without an ego at all, one can’t do much in life. So I suppose I needed my ego to navigate the evacuation journey!
Q: What would I like for the fires to give energy to or fuel growth in?
A: Many things! I would like to add energy to the fires of my desire to continue to learn and grow, to ‘do good,’ and to serve social justice. I’d like to fuel my passion to serve the greater good in psychological health through fighting the unnecessary dogmas of the therapy profession; and for my mission to challenge unexamined beliefs and myths. I’d like to energize my empathetic caring for family members, friends, colleagues and strangers in need; my capacity to focus on what gives me meaning and joy; and my ability to contemplate and meditate.