Falling in Love With Dr. Phil

Emotions can be more powerful than anything. They need to be heard, respected, acknowledged, so those of us feeling them shouldn't be made to feel dismissed, disrespected and become more depressed about being depressed.
03/13/2013 03:35 pm ET Updated May 09, 2013

We all have our crushes, we all tend to put some people on a pedestal now and then. For me, Dr. Phil was distinctly off that list; he was anathema. I found him pompous and still feel angered by the arrogance of his telling parents on a CNN (with Anderson Cooper) special on bullying that they are obligated to know their adolescent's whereabouts at all times. Ridiculous, I thought and still think, and way too much unrealistic pressure for parents, who are only human.

However, I do believe in changing our my mind and becoming less "either or" when things get clearer or we become more flexible. So on the opposite sides of Dr. Phil's coins, I've been noting increasingly that within the plethora of mind/body, yoga, mindfulness and positively thinking therapists, I hardly see anyone in the spotlight talking about healing emotional baggage by dealing with emotions. This may sound counterintuitive, which it is, but it is also the case for wide and far today in America's version of what constitutes mental health.

With the popularity of The Unhappiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living by Russ Harris and Get out of Your Mind and into Your Life by Steven Hayes, some common sense is appearing on the horizon, along with the notion that happiness is not the one ingredient to strive for. It may be part of life, but it doesn't hold a candle to embracing all emotions and events in life along with fulfillment, awareness and honesty. In all of this, emotions count more as things to be observed: They are taken out of the emotional experience and in their place we find instructions that speak to us of affirmations, choice, attention and rewiring our brain.

Therapists are people too, so it seems at the end of the day. As such I share that some of these particular "findings" have to do with my own current journey to change my life/location/professional and personal direction on the road to writing, teaching, counseling, inventing ways of service and playing. All these constitute part and parcel of what now seems like a dubious possibility of either retirement or let's call it semi- to soften the blow a bit. In sticking with the "I'm human too" idea, that comes out with painful clarity, as I too have had cloudy judgment the more vulnerable I've been and the more in need of professional advice for me. Yes, the most inconvenient truths are often the most personal, and these have to do with my own fog when faced with professionals who seemed united in their ease -- and, I might add, rush to judgment. As one example, even though I know from clinical and personal experience that feelings about one separation, loss, relocation -- trigger separation reactions from our past -- I sort of got swept up as I let others sweep me up in the positivity of moving toward newer horizons.

The grief and anxieties from my past didn't take long to remind me of their existence as they began to haunt my physical being: some sinusitis, some vertigo, some "stress." Why didn't I just try to give up an anti-anxiety aid I had used for sleep -- what could be wrong with that? Don't ask, though you may already be guessing: everything. I have been in a life crisis with emotional reactions aching to be heard, with my judgment compromised and with my yearning to find a health care professional who gets it. The getting of it, however, all too often tends to be "achieved" through the one lens of the one guru or set of them in charge of a current fad or way of seeing. Happy faces about getting off a medicine my doctor at home (Long Island, that is) sees as misguided and shortsighted given the fact that the move was so fraught with anxiety in the first place. Then what could be wrong with yoga (the newer thing to fix all in promises far and wide), and with affirmations about how I'm great even if I have thoughts of death? What could be wrong except that it not only feels stupid but impossible!

I don't want to bash anyone (also because I feel so humbled about my own capacity to be bullied), though I would like to scream out for the fact that emotions gone awry or begging to be heard aren't just pushed aside if we only "choose to put our minds in another direction." When I or anyone else is overwhelmed by anxiety or terror or emotional pain, we cannot choose: That is the point, that emotions can be more powerful than anything. They need to be heard, respected, acknowledged, so those of us feeling them shouldn't be made to feel dismissed, disrespected and become more depressed about being depressed (an affliction all too common).

Okay, so how does this have anything to do with Dr. Phil, or love for that matter? Well it's like this. For a change, I stayed on his program while exercising. A couple seeped in emotional abuse, they were poignant and he was deep and to the point. He tapped into the pain they each had endured with dignity, and offered them three months of therapy in their hometown. He said that eight minutes wasn't a cure but a start, a beginning. He didn't shove them into yoga or getting out of their feelings, rather, he advised them to dig in with someone who might help them dig out. He told them they could give it a chance. He saw the positive but didn't bury them with it, and he saw a possibility rather than an absolute.

Am I really in love with Dr. Phil? Maybe not. I may be determined, however, to get back to the royal road -- not necessarily only of the unconscious, but of emotional congestion -- the stuff that needs to be acknowledged, mourned, known, and not skipped over ever again.

For more by Carol Smaldino, click here.

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