Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

Archive for November, 2011

Psychoanalysis Lives: Diane Keaton Says So

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 30, 2011

Then Again

  The Hammer Museum offered up Diane Keaton last night, live. She was there! I saw her. Now, I did not see her speak, but I heard her speak in the overflow room and then I saw her at the book signing, which by the way, I have not read the  book yet, or maybe I never will. Still, it was exciting to see her, watch her movie clips and listen to her enthusiasm, about of all things, psychoanalysis. “I love to hear myself talk,” she said, in a sweet self-deprecating way. She went on to say that she appreciates all of her psychoanalysts. For a minute, I thought she merged with Woody Allen. In her remarkably open way, she talked about never being married, adopting two children after fifty, and wrestling with her relationship with her now deceased mom. My favorite part was her describing her own aging process, not in terms of the physical aging, but the mental aging of looking at your life and realizing that you came to places that you used to be so critical about. She seemed surprised she never married and equally surprised that she started a family late in life. In the Q and A she was asked about putting her career first, and she responded so sweetly by saying “not smart, huh.” I can only guess the role her analysts played in her mental existence but my strong hunch is that through her multiple analyses she developed a narrative which made her life make sense to her and this allowed her to share it with others in the form of her movies and in this current book. Thanks, Hammer. Good job!

Posted in Psychoanalysis | 2 Comments »

Speaking The Unspeakable: Divorcing Your Child

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 29, 2011

  “I want my child to go away,” reports a mom to me about her fourteen-year old daughter. “You mean you need a break from her,” I say, trying to clarify. “No, I mean I want her to go to another family,” Zoey, forty, tells me with little anger, but with a great deal of tension. “You know, I wish I never adopted Eli,” Yumi tells me about her three-year old son, explaining that she honestly feels she made a big mistake. Both Zoey and Yumi have difficult marriages, with little perceived support from their husbands. They both have other children which they are content with. They are not begging to resign from parenthood, only to resign from parenting this particular child. These words can never leave my office, as the admission of such feelings seems unbearable, and yet bringing them to the light of day is somehow helpful. The obvious trap that both Zoey and Yumi feel is palpable. Neither one can act on their impulse to expel their children, but the worry that this feeling could harm their respective children rises as the words flow out of their mouths. As a child psychiatrist, I think about their children, but my job in the moment is to help Zoey and Yumi come to grips with what they are feeling so that we can process together these complicated emotional experiences. I have a strong hunch that Zoey and Yumi are both displacing their disappointment with their husbands on to their children. This hunch will be explored, but our first step is to struggle with the shame associated with these feelings. Mothers are supposed to always want to be mothers, or so our society seems to tell us. Women are born to reproduce, many women feel.

   The unacceptable wish to return your child to its maker needs to be understood as a feeling that needs to be examined and metabolized, not denied and displaced. “You can want your child to go away,” I say, “but let’s see what is underneath those feelings,” trying to explain that wanting to get rid of your child does not mean that you want to get rid of your child, but rather it means that in this moment, you are having a hard time and that is the thought that occurs to you. I try to grant permission to Zoey to have her feelings, however dark they may be. This will open the door to new ways of seeing her world. It is hard to acknowledge that a mother may have feelings of regret about mothering. It is hard to see that in oneself and in one own’s mother, yet the reality is stark. Of course, a long-term commitment such as parenting, is bound to create the deepest kind of ambivalence. That is obvious on the one hand and deeply shameful on the other. Zoey, Yumi and I have a lot of work to do.

Posted in Parenting, Psychotherapy | 4 Comments »

Personal Growth

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 28, 2011

    Tina, twenty-four, has come twice a week since she was thirteen. We have been through a lot together. Her parents divorced. She had no friends in high school.  She failed out of college. She went back to college and failed again. The third return trip did the job and now she is in law school. She also has friends, male and female, but no romantic relationship. There were many black times between us. She was arrested for tagging. Sigh! She was making really poor decisions about boyfriends; she was beaten a few times by a few of them. She thought about acting in pornography to make extra money. She changed her mind. Looking at her today, one could not guess as to where she came from. Now, she is a parent’s dream child. She is self-supporting (with student loans), and she is responsible and reliable in all areas of her life. She is forward thinking and excited about her future.

    Such change seemed nearly impossible a few years ago. If  you asked me my role in her transformation, I have to confess that I do not know. Sure, I was, and I continue to be a stable, caring, maternal figure in her life. Sure, we talked through her issues such that she began to reflect and not act out. Sure, she developed an observing ego and thereby began to see consequences of her behavior, such that she no longer lived from moment to moment. Sure, I helped her see that people treated her poorly, in part, because she treated herself poorly. Yet, with all that, I am amazed at her personal growth. A year ago, two years ago, I would not have envisioned this rate of change. Maybe her hormones are slowing down. Maybe her brain is finally developing a forebrain that allows her to plan and examine consequences. Maybe I was instrumental in giving her stability when she did not have any other place to turn. I suppose when things go right there is no point in analyzing the secret ingredient. Good news is good news. Still, I want to know. I want to bottle the elixir that helped Tina so I can use it on my other folks. If only my work were that simple.

Posted in Psychotherapy | 7 Comments »

Marvelous Hours Spending ‘My Week With Marilyn’

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 28, 2011

My Week with Marilyn - 11 x 17 Movie Poster - Style A

  This is a lovely story about a twenty-four year old man spending an intense week with Marilyn Monroe. It is not a great movie, but it makes for an enjoyable two hours, at least for me. I was curious about Marilyn’s personality: her drug addiction, her poor early attachments, her lack of satisfying relationships. The movie did not help me understand those issues, so I left unsatisfied in that way. Yet, I realized that the movie did not sell a character study of Marilyn Monroe, but rather it sold a young man smitten by her sex appeal. It was his coming of age movie, just as the title suggests. Marilyn’s sexy body, along with her charisma, seemed to be all that Colin needed to have his heart pulled at, and his passion stimulated. It is a tale as old as time, yet the movie makes it sweet, since it forces you to tune into Colin’s vulnerability. It surprised me since I was intensely searching for Marilyn’s vulnerability, which was also displayed, but despite her star appeal, that was the background, not the foreground of this story. So often we see young men as the user of women to meet their needs. Women are then left bereft and confused.  ‘My Week With Marilyn’ is a refreshing reversal of that stereotype. Maybe that makes this movie the ultimate chick-flick. The power dynamic is clear; men have a lot to learn about relationships. Movies like this are a touching reminder of this, but as with all tales, those who need to be told are not likely to want to hear it.

Posted in Movie Review | Leave a Comment »

‘J. Edgar:’ Flat

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 26, 2011

So, ‘J. Edgar’ is interesting, but not emotionally moving.  That sums it up. The movie is not boring, but the person is. He is narcissistic. He wants to be famous. He lies to do that. He creates no emotional tension. I learned a lot: a lot of history, that is. I did not learn about his relationships. I mean, I did, but not in an emotional way. So, should you see the movie? Well, yes, to be included in popular culture, I suppose you should.  Should you see the movie to be moved? No! This is a dry historical movie that tells you a lot about history, that many of you probably know, but people like me, need to be re-educated. Otherwise, the movie disappoints. The characters don’t really pull at you. That’s too bad. If you are going to spend a couple of hours living with these personalities, it is better to care about them. I think. In ‘J. Edgar’ it is hard to care. Still, it is interesting, the history of the FBI, that is.

Posted in Movie Review | 2 Comments »

‘I Can’t Take This Relationship Any More’

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 23, 2011

  Cindy, fifty-six, comes in with her twenty-three year old daughter Tracy, exasperated. “I can’t take this relationship any more,” Cindy says to me in front of Tracy. Over the course of our session, it becomes clear that Cindy is feeling very guilty that she has not been more available to Tracy during her tender developmental years. Cindy worked hard honing her legal skills, leading her to become partner at a major law firm, but in so doing, she delegated the majority of the parenting to her husband, Tracy’s father. Tracy has consistently confronted her mother on what Tracy calls “my abandonment.” Although Cindy acknowledges this to be true, it makes Cindy very angry to hear those words. Her defensive reaction is to pull further away from Tracy, thereby worsening their relationship, but at the same time, Cindy’s behavior protects Cindy from feeling bad about her parenting job.

   Tracy wants to get closer to Cindy, but she desperately wants Cindy to apologize and understand how lonely she felt as a child. Cindy distances herself from understanding that, making Tracy rage at her. In the end, they both say that they do not want to spend Thanksgiving with each other. I explain to Tracy that Cindy is too raw now to understand what it was like for her to grow up while she worked long hours. Maybe there will be another time for Cindy to hear this, but now that cannot happen. I also explain to Cindy that although her gut reaction is to pull away from Tracy because she is saying very hurtful things, my suggestion is to keep repeating the idea that you want a good relationship and you want to be there for her.

   The tension in the room markedly diminishes, although Tracy chimes in to say, “I am not completely happy about this.” I respond, “sometimes when I see parents and adult children, I feel it is like couples therapy. The best outcome is for both parties to be a bit unhappy. That represents a compromise.” Tracy looks at me fondly, with the recognition that the room feels so much better than when we started. “Happy Thanksgiving,” I say, knowing that airing those harsh words in the beginning allowed them to enjoy the holiday together. Tracy and Cindy hug before they leave my office. “That was for you, Dr. Vollmer,” Tracy says sarcastically, as if to suggest that they wanted to make me feel good about the session, and that the hug was not genuine. “It is nice to see you hug, no matter what the reason.” I say, feeling good about contributing to their holiday joy.

Posted in Cartoons, Holidays, Parenting, Psychotherapy | 6 Comments »

“I Would Rather See A Man”

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 22, 2011

Ryan, twenty-two, leaves me a voice-mail saying “hey, thanks for everything, but I want to see a man.” Is he sparing my feelings, or does he really have issues with my gender, or is it a bit of both, I wonder. Ryan and I met about five times. He was in crisis, in the way that so many people his age seem to be. He lost interest in college. He was scared about his future. He did not think he could live up to his expectations of himself, nor did he believe that he could live up to the expectations of his parents. Trauma was also part of his life. His brother, one year younger, was killed two years ago in a car accident. His brother was intoxicated and no one else was injured, he told me, but now “he tries not to think about it much.” Ryan described himself as shy, but I saw him as cautious. He was reluctant to engage with me, as I saw it, because I was a stranger. Although maybe,  it was not that we were getting to know each other, it was that he felt that as a woman I reminded him of authority figures, like his mom, who he felt was condemning of him. Of course this is wild speculation on my part, but given my limited information, I am left to my imagination. I will never know definitively why Ryan decided to stop seeing me. In some ways, this is the most challenging aspect of my work. There are so many unknowns, that I am forced to live with a multitude of uncertainties. Like life itself, the questions far exceed the answers. I will miss Ryan.

Posted in Psychotherapy | 2 Comments »

‘The Descendants’ Descended Quickly

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 21, 2011

    Loving someone who hurt you, a stale tale, told poorly in this movie ‘The Descendants’. Sure, I was excited to see George Clooney play a family man. Sure, I like movies with obnoxious teenage children. I thought, going in, there was no way that I could not enjoy this experience. I was wrong. I found the movie to be shallow and uninteresting. Perhaps it was meant to be a vehicle for George Clooney to show his softer side. If so, it failed. His acting was poor and predictable. The writing was uninspired. On the only positive side, the scenery was beautiful. We should all be so lucky as to be betrayed in such a beautiful setting. It is hard to feel for people as they go through their work day in flip-flops and Hawaiian shirts, but I understand that is the island way. Still, the show of affluence, along with the leisure that often goes along with that was a bit hard to take. By that I mean,  that although the story is set within tragedy, the screen shows a large home, the ease of dropping everything to go and explore another island, and expensive private schools. This show of affluence seems to create a feeling of freedom, making one lose sight of the impending loss. The movie seems to miss its own point; relationships are complicated and they dominate mental existence. Yet, I walked away not feeling sad or thoughtful, but annoyed that I spent two hours on eye candy and nothing else.

Posted in Betrayal, Movie Review | Leave a Comment »

Personal Statement Day

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 20, 2011

   So, after my training,, Miguel (not his real name, of course) sat down together for four hours carving out two personal statements, such that, if he wanted to, he could use these essays  for his University of California application which is due November 30, 2011. I say this because Miguel, who likes to be called Mike, since he does not want people to think of him as hispanic, was unaware of the due date. This interchange, when I told him when the application  was due and his subsequent shock, spoke volumes about the disparity between teenagers. Some adolescents write their statements over the summer, just to be sure they can spend the needed time to create the 500 word essays, whereas other teenagers, like Mike, are not coached to know how the process works. This coaching, no doubt, helps these kids prepare for four-year universities, for the good or bad of that.

   There were two hundred “kids,” seniors from four inner-city high schools, paired with two hundred tutors, mostly women, some in their twenties, some in their fifties, with few others representing other age groups and gender. There was random assignment. A “kid” walked in, and one of the 826LA staff, said “sit here,” meaning they would sit next to a volunteer for the next four hours. Miguel sat down next to me, averting his gaze, sheepishly explaining to me that he does not know why he is here and he has “nothing to say for himself to get into college.” “That’s OK” I explain. “Let’s start by talking about your life and what’s meaningful to you,” I say, almost as if I am starting a psychotherapy visit, but trying to stay conscious that our purpose is to draft a personal statement, not to uncover the dynamics of his childhood. Yet, those two ideas are woven together. The more mature understanding of his past, the more compelling his personal statement will be.

   Mike tells me he loves baseball and starts talking to me about a baseball player I did not recognize (that is not hard, by the way). Mike played baseball in high school, but with his poor grades, he could not continue on the team. “That’s OK,” I say, “you can talk about how you felt about that and what you learned from that experience.” Mike’s eyes finally brightened. “I can. I can talk about baseball. That is what I love. See, my hat, I have a hat with the team’s name on it,” Mike says with a new-found enthusiasm for the experience. After two hours of taking notes on Mike’s love of baseball, we pull out the loaned laptop and he begins to compose his essay. I am immediately impressed with how much more nimble he is using Word than I am. The generational divide, when it comes to technology, was so striking. If nothing else, he taught me things that Word could do that were surprising to me.

   An hour later, we have an essay which surprises both of us. Mike turns out to be a deep thinker, despite his initial reluctance and shyness. He explained that because his family went through hard times, he turned to both playing and watching baseball as a way for him to cope with loss and trauma. He picked a baseball player to admire so that he could have goals to work towards. He sees college as a means to a better life; a better life than he has now and a better life than his parents have had. Together, we were proud of his product.

  Mike thanks me, returns the laptop, and punches his friend in the arm, in an affable way. “How did you do, man?” he asks Eduardo. “Better than I thought,” Eduardo says. “Me too!” Mike says enthusiastically. Mike looks at me, then he looks at Eduardo, and says “let’s go home. I want to tell my mom about my essay.” I was teary, but mysteriously so. Mike and I had done good work. There was nothing sad about that. I guess I was worried for Mike. I was worried that despite our good work, he still needs a lot of support to go to college. Sure, personal statement day was a small step towards bringing communities together. Mike saw there were two hundred people taking a part of their weekend to help kids like him. My fellow volunteers and I saw hard-working teenagers wanting to make a better life for themselves. It was their weekend also. Maybe that is the fun of a day like that, but I still felt sad.

Posted in Volunteer Opportunities | 2 Comments »

Long-Term Friends: The Dilemma

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on November 17, 2011

Mary,,  the fifty-five year old woman who seems to be preoccupied that her long-term friends have disappointed her. Her current concern is about her thirty-year friend, Haley. Haley and Mary also raised their children together, complained about their husbands together, and helped each other through the deaths of their respective parents. Mary, with utter dismay, says “Haley now wants us to hang out with Chloe, almost like she is avoiding the intimacy of the two of us getting spending time together.

” “Have you told Haley that you prefer if your time together is just the two of you?” I ask, wondering if Haley understands Mary’s dilemma. “At first, I was too scared to tell Haley, since I did not want to rock the boat, but then I mustered up my courage and I told her. To my shock, Mary still insisted that the three of us have dinner together-totally disregarding my feelings,” Mary says with teariness and pain. “I have known Haley for so long, I just hate to see our friendship deteriorate, but at the same time, I don’t know how to deal with the fact that she is marginalizing me.” “I see your dilemma,” I respond, feeling Mary’s pain and helplessness.

“Long-term relationships go through many chapters, and I can see that this current chapter is causing you to feel bad about yourself.” I say, highlighting the difficulty that results from Haley ignoring Mary’s feelings. “I can see that the message you take from Haley’s behavior is that you are not that important to her. You are important, but at the same time, she is keeping you at arm’s distance.” I say, explaining how I see the dynamics and their resulting ego bruising. “Maybe Haley will want to be closer to you over time, and maybe she won’t. It is hard to say, but at this point it seems like you want to be closer to Haley, than she wants to be to you.” I say, highlighting the pain of asymmetrical relationships.

“Yea, I am once again looking for love in the wrong place,” Mary says, with a heaviness that hurts. “Yea, I can see that. It is good that you can be honest with yourself and recognize when your needs are not getting met.” I say, saluting her for trying to cope with the pain of this semi-rejection from Haley. Mary leaves, seemingly a little calmer than when she came. “I just want reciprocity and that is very hard to find,” Mary says in an exasperated tone. “Yep, it is hard to find, but lovely when it finally happens.” I say, implying that searching for mutuality, although difficult, is well worth the journey. “Maybe,” Mary says with her characteristic skepticism. “Maybe” I repeat, joining her in her reluctance to completely agree with my notion of a happy ending. Mary still appears to need to settle herself. “I hope you can find some inner peace,” I say acknowledging that Mary was really hit hard by Haley wanting to include Chloe in their time together. “Thanks,” she says, appreciating my wanting to connect with her, but still in distress.

Posted in Friendship | 2 Comments »

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