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Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three)

March 8, 2018

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 16.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Twelve)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain:

Individual Publication Date: March 8, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,246

ISSN 2369-6885


An extensive interview with Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. He discusses: personal philosophy in terms of epistemology and engagement with people, non-shyness, Carl Jung, Freud and Rogers; cognitive complexity in animals, Jordan Peterson, Magnanimousology and Martyrology; and an ending note with Alice in Wonderland.

Keywords: clinical psychology, media consultant, Oren Amitay, registered psychologist.

Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three)[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Jacobsen: What you are getting at is what we both know, the countries with the highest single parenthood rates in the developed world are the United States, Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and the United Kingdom, I believe.

In this country, we do have that lack of parental guidance, support, encouragement, mentorship, and so on. I think that is very apt in terms of describing patient lives, I guess. In terms of personal philosophy, I am thinking of themes consistent across domains of life.

What do you take as your personal philosophy in terms of epistemology and engagement with people?

Amitay: There are a few. Because of the way I was raised, I tell people that I am kind of antisocial, but in a different way. There are two types of “colloquial antisocial.” The one that most people think of are those who are shy or don’t like being with people.

Jacobsen: Zimbardo’s research on shyness and misanthropes come to mind for those categories for me.

Amitay: Sure, that is not me. But that is what people think of when they think of antisocial. Then there is the clinical diagnosis of antisocial personality disorder. And that is definitely not me because it describes someone who is reckless, impulsive, irresponsible, deceitful, aggressive and/or lacking in empathy; people with antisocial personality disorder have a history of harming or violating the rights of others with no remorse.

I am sure there is a better term for it, but I call myself “antisocial” in the sense that I do not allow society to dictate how I function. I stay within certain parameters and rules, but I do not do so blindly; I question them all of the time. If I choose to do something, fine.

But the point is that I am choosing to act in a certain way because I know that it is in my best interests to do so or because I want to do it, even though I know I could do something that contravenes a particular norm, rule or expectation—and there’s a chance that I may still do those things at some other time. The opposite of my perspective is what Karen Horney called, “The tyranny of the should,” whereby people are driven by a “neurotic” need to be a certain way or to do things that they believe society or others expect of them, without questioning why.

But when you ask about personal philosophy and how I interact with others, I balance a few things: One, I believe humans are, by nature, self-interested or self-serving. I am more on the Freudian side than the Rogerian side in that regard. If you put a bunch of kids on a deserted island, Rogers thinks you would get utopia. I say, “No, you are going to end up with Lord of the Flies.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: That is why communism or socialism will never work. That is, within any given group of more than a few people, whether 10, 20, or whatever, there will be at least one person or a few people thinking, “Everyone is working together and cooperating with each other. I can take advantage of that.”

That is part of our human nature. Why wouldn’t it be? Every other animal is self-serving or self-interested. Richard Dawkins showed in The Selfish Gene that even apparently altruistic behaviours are, in fact, self-serving. There is also a kind of reciprocal altruism, whereby you scratch my back and I will scratch yours.

Humans are self-serving, I have no doubt. Selfish would be the harshest description; self-serving is not as bad. Then there is self-interested, which is a relatively benign term

There are anomalies, of course. But are such people genuinely altruistic because of some gene sequence? Is it due to the way they were raised? There is even a disorder where someone gives, gives, gives beyond what they can give. They give money, time, whatever to the point that it comes at some great cost to him/herself.

Jacobsen: Magnanimousology [Laughing]?

Amitay: [Laughing] Martyrology? That is a good name for that.

In any event, notwithstanding my belief that humans are self-interested and my inclination not to be constrained by societal conventions or expectations, I am guided by a “humanistic” personal philosophy, which is “do no harm to others.”

Do I want to hurt certain people? Of course. But I typically do not act on such feelings, or the “harm” I cause is minor, for instance knocking someone down a peg or two on Twitter.

This brings us to another important part of the human condition, which is the dark side we all have. Carl Jung called this “the Shadow.” Dr. Peterson talks about that a lot.

When I was reading Carl Jung, the idea of the Shadow really appealed to me. I always knew I had a dark side and I was never afraid to access it. So many people are afraid to acknowledge or to tap into their Shadow because of shame, guilt, fear of losing control, or some other reason. I try to encourage people to understand that they too have this dark side and there is nothing wrong with admitting that, as long as you do not let it overwhelm you—otherwise you are potentially entering the realm of psychopathy or evil.

The Shadow is part of what makes us human. That is part of my philosophy. We are incredibly flawed creatures. As long as you recognize that and can accept it, you can become better; not better than someone else, not better because someone tells you to do so, but better because you want to grow as a human being.

I do believe that we as animals are motivated to grow to the best of our capabilities. It is survival: be the best that you can be. Other animals do not have neuroses like us because they are not being told, “You are not good enough.” Yet, they do develop in the direction of becoming the best animal they can be, otherwise they will not survive long.

2. Jacobsen: They do not live long enough to know what can pop up. Their cognitive complexity isn’t as far as ours.

On a side note, Dr. Peterson has recently been saying that he finally discovered what “The meek shall inherit the earth” means, since it does not seem to make much sense. In short, this phrase is a translation of the notion that the man who knows he could unsheathe his sword and wreak real havoc/destruction if he wished, but chooses not to do so, is the most noble and powerful man, and he shall “inherit” the earth. In other words, if you know you are capable of doing terrible things, yet you choose to access and harness your Shadow in ways that end up benefiting others, you are a truly righteous person.

Conversely, those who have antisocial personality disorder go in the other direction: They don’t care about other people. They break rules wantonly. They “rationalize” or make cheap excuses for whatever bad things they do.

Before my aforementioned crisis when I was 27-years-old, I used to do that to some degree: I would make up self-serving lies like we all do. I would justify things, rationalize. But when I was struck by that moment of profound insight, I thought, “No, I am going to own everything completely.” Since then, I am always completely aware of what I do. When I screw up, I know I have screwed up. If I have done something bad or wrong, I know it and I feel an appropriate amount of guilt about it.”

I have a conscience, thank God, because fear does not usually stop me from doing things. Rather, I do not want to harm other people; it is that simple. That is the way I function.

Another thing to consider is that we have an immensely powerful prefrontal cortex and an incredible capacity for language. I put a premium on language because there has to be a reason we have such a complex system and that we are born with the ability to learn something like this.

If you think about it, there is no way that we should be able to process and to understand language as well as we can at such a young age. It is not possible that we learn it purely through exposure or conditioning because our abilities develop at a rate totally disproportionately to our experiences. Noam Chomsky argues that we must therefore have a language processing centre in the brain.

It is interesting and disappointing: I tell my students, “There are so many books I have planned to write but I have never got around to finishing any of them. Instead, other people go ahead and end up writing about things I have thought of as well. Kudos to them.”

As an example, Dr. Peterson created his Self Authoring program. When I first decided to become a psychologist about 25 years ago, I wanted to create a therapy based on something I had read about “self-narrative” theory, which really appealed to me.

Humans are the products of the stories that we tell ourselves. I tell my students and patients, “It all boils down to perspective.” Whatever situation or experience you find yourself in, you can interpret it in many different ways. As long as you are not “deluding” yourself, you should try your best to look at things in the most adaptive way.

For example, if I go up to a beautiful woman and say, “Hi,” and she says, “Get away from me toad,” I can look at that in several different ways: I can say, “I am a horrible toad. I should go kill myself.” Or, “I guess I was punching above my weight class; I should aim for someone I have a chance of attracting.” Or, “Jeez, she is not a nice person,” etc. As long as I am reasonable or realistic and don’t think, for instance, “She is just saying that because she really loves me but does not want to risk getting hurt,” I should try my best to interpret and process the scenario in ways that will benefit me in some way.

We have to keep in mind that what we choose to focus on or the way we choose to interpret our experiences or the people, events and situations we observe will affect how we feel about ourselves and other people, how we function and feel the next day, what we learn from it, etc. It is based on language to a large degree. Language is how we make sense of our experiences and the world around us.

Here is one example I teach my students and patients (it does not work for certain cultures or languages such as Iranian/Farsi): I say, “When people talk, we have a tendency to say the word ‘you’ when describing a personal experience—It is a simple language convention that is intended to make the story seem more “applicable” to everyone, especially the person with whom we are speaking. For instance, if someone is talking about something that happened to them while riding the bus the other day, they might say, “When you’re riding a bus and people brush by you…”

In therapy, however, saying “you” when talking about your own personal experience is, in fact, often a way of emotionally distancing yourself from what happened. You are making it seem abstract or a generalization rather than your own personal experience. I tell my students and especially my patients, “Own your experience. Embrace it completely.

Some people are incessant and cannot help themselves. No matter how hard they try or how many times I point out what they are doing, they seem to be compulsively disavowing themselves of the experience.

As another example, people who frequently use “stupid” or “silly” or “ridiculous” or other such negative words when referring to themselves or something they are saying tend to be self-critical. They are often perfectionistic. And they are miserable a lot of the time. They usually have no idea how often they use this kind of language to denigrate themselves.

One more example: Most people who talk quickly are very nervous. I talk a mile a minute but it is not because I am nervous; that is the way my brain operates.

In any event, when I was training to be a psychologist, my colleagues and I were listening to a recording of my very first therapy session. Whereas most of my classmates were scared, nervous or embarrassed to play their own recordings, I did not care at all. In my mind, if I sound bad, so be it. I will not be embarrassed. I will learn from it.

In this case, it was a young, attractive, intelligent, articulate and witty woman. We had a great back-and-forth. There was very little silence.

It was a great session and everyone was saying things like, “Wow! This guy is good.” They all seemed impressed with or envious of how smoothly the session went, especially since their first session recordings did not sound so good.

However, the professor gave me a disapproving look. I thought, “You asshole, don’t rain on my parade.” But he was 100% right. When I tell my students this story, I say that what we had been listening to was a great date…”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: However, this was not a date but a therapy session. And what was lacking was any reflection on the patient’s part. The professor told me to slow it down and to not fill in the silences. When I took his advice the following week, the difference was incredible.

It made the first session seem like a waste. This next session, I saw the effects it had on her. I saw her really reflect on her words. She was focusing on her words and what they meant. She was not jumping from topic to topic and feeling to feeling. She had to sit in the moment. There was real depth to her experience and she gained some important insights.

Okay, last example: When I have students talk in small groups and then present their ideas to the class, if the student speaking says something like, “We believe that…” or “We thought that the problem you gave us…” I tell the class with a smile, “If (s)he had said, ‘I’ instead of ‘we’ right now, that would have been a pretty good indicator that (s)he may be a ‘narcissist.’ At the very least, it would have meant that they are likely the kind of person who is not a team player, who tries to make him/herself stand out or look better than everyone else, who takes credit for other people’s work, who is apt to throw you under the bus if necessary, etc.”

I would never say such things if the person had, in fact, said “I” when referring to what the group had discussed because that would make them feel so uncomfortable, given the implication of what I am explaining. But whenever I do say it, many students do seem to be reflecting on past experiences (or maybe the group work they had just done) and some of them display a look of recognition, acknowledgment, or appreciation for the accuracy of my claim.

3. Jacobsen: “We’re painting the roses red…” from Alice in Wonderland. The scene with the Queen of Hearts. These two cards are jumping around painting roses that were black/white into red because the Queen of Hearts says so.

It is just to calm everyone down. We are going to make the world her vision. Why? To appease.

Amitay: [Laughing] Right.

Jacobsen: I think that should suffice to cover much of your own life and views. Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Dr. Amitay.


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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 8, 2018 at; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at

[3] B.Sc. (Honours), Psychology, Toronto; Ph.D., Clinical Psychology, York University.

[4] Image Credit: Dr. Oren Amitay.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three) [Online].March 2018; 16(A). Available from:

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, March 8). Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three)Retrieved from

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A, March. 2018. <>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (March 2018).

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A. Available from: <>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A.,

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):March. 2018. Web. <>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Three) [Internet]. (2018, March; 16(A). Available from:

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