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A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two)

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: April 1, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 3,464

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An interview with Professor Rick Mehta. He discusses: terms used to defame people; being kept upright contrasted to being upright; means used to silence some speakers; protections of some viewpoints and not others; and some students lacking protections and fearing speaking out.

Keywords: FIRE, Heterodox Academy, psychology, Rick Mehta, Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship.

A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: I liked the term, the broader phenomena, not only within the Left/Liberal spectrum, as far as I have seen so personal view, which is that they are terms to defame to dismiss.

You label someone a “fascist,” “Marxist,” “Men’s Rights Activist,” “feminist”; once you label someone that. In your own mind, it amounts to a low fidelity cognitive replacement in place of reasoning, of reason.

Rick Mehta: Oh, definitely.

Jacobsen: That way, you can dismiss them. My fear is that this might become such a large phenomenon that it even becomes accepted in high-level intellectual circles. People writing some of the most influential columns in the country, which seems like a risk to really lower the level of intellectual discourse.

Where, at times, many of the most intellectually astute people are reading them and people that are influenced by those people then follow their brand of that in a way, but it gets diluted in quality.

That could be a risk in terms of how people talk with one another in the public. So, if you want to know the general content of the way a leader composes themselves, what are their followers doing?

Of course, the leader is not responsible for what the followers are doing, but, in many cases, the followers are taking on a style and tone from that leader.

Mehta: Yes, I think we are approaching a tipping point. What I showed in my introductory psychology class, the way I did it was “here is the context of intelligence in the past, so let us look at intelligence in the present.”

I was able to show the graph of the Heterodox Academy, where the universities have shifted quite dramatically to the Left. I found a Business Week article. Interestingly, we see the Left bias in two other places: mainstream media and Hollywood entertainment.

All of them are imploding right now. It is an absolute disaster. Those are the three areas where we have Left-leaning et cetera. The distribution for the political leanings for all these other lines of work are completely different.

So, I think there is this fragmentation going on and I think people are clueing on that there is this major disconnect with what I see on my television or CNN website, or whatever, even with video games now.

They are a heavy emphasis on social justice. But people are not wanting to buy them. So, their sales are going down. Even the comic books, and Star Wars too. Fans usually love those ones. But on Rotten Tomatoes, only, I think, 50% of people liked it [the latest Star Wars movie], but it got a high ranking by the critics.

So, there is a fragmentation, where it is not going with the public. I think the Pew Center (in the US) found that public support for the higher education is starting to become politicized where the Democrats are loving it, but the Republicans are not – which is unprecedented.

It has never happened before, if I understand it correctly. I think I saw a tweet earlier this week that companies are reluctant to hire women because of the overreach of the Me Too movement. There are problems starting to happen now.

I think the 2018/19 years are going to be pivotal years.

2. Jacobsen: When I look at some of the bastions of this, I think about the one you mentioned: Hollywood. Let us take the big bargaining chip that Hollywood takes with the public in some of its most self-aggrandizing moments…

Mehta: [Laughing].

Jacobsen: …such as award ceremonies, they, for years, have mentioned themselves, not across the board but in general as a general phenomenon, as moral exemplars, as the height of virtue in the public sphere.

Maybe for some, that is the case. Perhaps, they are donating copious quantities of money investing in public good for which they deserve praise, but, as a general phenomenon, if I look at the recent and ongoing cases of sexual misconduct allegations coming out, then the same people coming out later saying, “That we shouldn’t allow this to happen. Look at us calling out this terrible behaviour,” and so on.

I think about it. If they want to be considered legitimate persons or institutions, you should be upright rather than be kept upright. Somehow, cleverly, the public relations of that environment made it such that it is a win-win for them.

So, if you take the case of giving these signifiers of ethical purity in awards ceremonies, you look good. You are fighting the moral fight. You are fighting the good fight.

But then you get called out as an institution with the highest-ranking people and most famous people in the industry for sexual misconduct by the outside of the institution, then the institution has the gall to then come out and say, “Look at us now calling out all of this behaviour.”

They were not right, to begin with. They were kept upright. I do not think that that then makes it morally legitimate as a position or a set of actions that are ongoing.

Mehta: Yes, it is like the metronome. We went from one side and then went to the exact opposite side, so we went one kind of dysfunction to another. No one can be morally virtuous 100% of the time.

The way I see it. People give money to people who are poor. I like to think that is something that we would do out of the kindness of our hearts rather than “I have done this and now I must get the world to praise me for it.”

They likely get tax write-offs for it as well. I do not think the public really buys that. It is politically correct to state that in a public setting, but I think that is partly what has happened. It is the double-standard to it.

So, you went from not having that much credibility to having even worse credibility. It will be interesting to what happens with the movies and what will sell and so on. It is hard to know for sure.

I anticipate, though, that people are getting turned off by a lot of what is being generated from the fields that are dominated by people with one perspective because it was as bad if you think many years back where things were primarily on the Right.

That had its own problems as well. Hopefully, it will get some form of tipping point, where we can swing towards the center and get to the center point and maybe work our way from there rather than have the pendulum swinging back and forth.

That is always going to be counterproductive in one group’s favour over another.

3. Jacobsen: I want to focus on some of the other academic issues now. This is happening more in the United States than in Canada, but it has happened in Canada. Where speakers will be invited and then that platform will be taken away from them, I believe this is called de-platforming.

Other times, the student activists will have a technique of simply bringing in a crowd into an auditorium or a conference center, or something like this, and then yelling the speaker down so the speaker cannot be heard.

Now, I know FIRE (Foundation Individual Rights in Education) is an organization in the United States, which has tracked some of these from 2000-2014, in the United States at least – where there are about 2,600 universities.

There are about 100, public-private combined, in Canada. In raw numbers, it will not happen as much in Canada. Per capita, it may happen at some parity. With that as a background, I wanted to get your thoughts on the phenomena of de-platforming in some campus censorship.

In other words, what do you think is its prevalence? How bad do you think it is? And so on.

Mehta: It is hard for me to answer that question because, unlike the States, we do not have the equivalent of FIRE. We have the Society for Academic Freedom and Scholarship. I will admit that I am a member. So, that will bias me in terms of saying that that they do good work.

I do have to be honest and open about that. I am also a member of the Heterodox Academy in terms of viewpoint diversity. So, full disclosure is important. However, we have instances of what happened at Wilfred Laurier when they wanted to invite Daniel Robitaille.

In my talk, I did document some events that had happened within the last year in Canada. But there is another technique that used as well. It is not called no-platforming. It is “let us just make sure we can control the messaging.”

What happened at Acadia, I think it was last year? It was Marie Henein who was giving a talk about Bishop’s. It was broadcast through a livestream to the other Maple League universities: Acadia, Saint Francis Xavier University, Bishop’s, and Mount Allison.

Anyway, we had the live stream on Acadia on a Friday night. In terms of the publicity, it was sent as an attachment on the emails. You look at the emails. It would be a big piece of paper, like this, then the name would be this big.

That is what the posters look like when they are on campus. The most discrete kind of publicity for that talk. Then, on top of that, the talk was followed by a panel chaired by a women and gender’s study professor and the panel were people pretty much from our union, and people involved in the gender study program.

It was all people who were going to think the same way and have it in a hush tone because “oh, we cannot talk about this Marie Henein because she had defended Jian Ghomeshi and there might be people who are sensitive.”

It was the strangest type of publicity for a talk. It was “let us make sure there was a debrief.” If I did a panel, I would invite someone like Christie Blatchford [Laughing], right? Someone who covered that from a different angle.

It was very like “these are children and we have to protect them.” I found that rather interesting.

4. Jacobsen: I find that unfair. I see that as one viewpoint set protections. That seems unfair and against the spirit of an academic environment. Can you recall another case? For instance, based on your speech on free speech in universities.

Mehta: I found that interesting in terms of the publicity because the student newspaper was the one hosting me for that, but they just kept calling it a panel or a discussion. They did not put my name to it or say what it was about.

Even when I said, “You have rather misleading and imprecise posters.” That was summarily discounted. It did not stop the interest. I had somewhere between 45 and 50 people in the room and another 250 people who listened to the live stream.

I think a lot of people there were surprised. I think they did not know what to expect. I guess knowing that my audience was going to be towards the Left-leaning side. I think that helped.

I used that information to frame how I would get the message because I wanted to win them over. Then the question and answer period, only two or three faculty members showed up – and solely for the purpose of attacking me.

The students were open for the most part. It is the small groups on the campus that are the most vocal. For instance, when I brought up the wage gap, only a few got upset and irate. The others were wondering what was going on.

Jacobsen: These are the 1-in-50s. These are the Mensa level of obnoxiousness [Laughing].

Mehta: Yes.

Jacobsen: I want to focus on students now. So, if a student is coming into an environment where they make an argument, then they receive some epithet or are given an ad hominem attack to shut them up. They may have fewer means through which to protect themselves.

For example, if a European-Canadian student in the university environment takes something like the Hopi notion of not truly owning the land but caring for the land in conversation with someone of First Nations or Cree descent, the young First Nations student in conversation may have different views but given the campus culture simply calls the European-Canadian “racist.”

It stops conversations.

Mehta: If you are doing a study in which you’re comparing Canadians to South Africans, then it is a cross-cultural study. But if we do that within the Canadian or American context, then it suddenly becomes a study of race differences. I said, “Why don’t we talk about these as cross-cultural differences?”

If we talk about across countries, it is a cultural difference; but if we talk about in a country, then it becomes about race. What I think is that we are talking about cultural differences within Canada or the United States, we are talking about cultures clashing.

Then we can then have these honest and difficult discussions. Such as, why are poverty rates higher or lower among some groups and not others? If we talk about that as a cultural difference, then we can make some headway.

5. Jacobsen: Do some students, though, not have protections against the early parts of this question? Where the discussion isn’t mainstream in that way, in other words, the headway has not been made and the students may be afraid to speak out.

Mehta: Yes, what I was talking about there was not individuals but groups, it is the average. This is what we’re seeing. That is the way I introduced heritability of race. It is a population index. It means nothing.

What we need to do is test the individual and see where they lie, that is what we do with IQ. It is returning to that frame of reference. It is not the individuals, but the group differences. So, we see how we can shift that group difference, so that rates of being arrested or whatnot.

Why is it in this group that happens to have a label in it? It is trying to undo years of how we have been framing that debate. I think this is the proactive interference at work. It is very basic first-year psychology principle.

We can talk about that and compared to swimming correctly. I learned to swim with unilateral breathing. It is hard to do bilateral breathing. Everyone gets that. If we put that in the context of race, suddenly, it is culture now.

The defenses go up. It is trying to unlearn a bad habit that we have had ingrained in us for God knows how long, right?

6. Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, professor Mehta.

Mehta: Yes, my pleasure, I hope that was helpful.

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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Psychology, Acadia University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: April 1, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] B.Sc. (Honours), University of Toronto; M.Sc., McGill University; Ph.D., McGill University.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two) [Online].April 2018; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, April 1). A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A, April. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (April 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):April. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Defamation, Censorship, and Honest Discussions (Part Two) [Internet]. (2018, April; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta-2.

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A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One)

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: March 22, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 4,951

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An interview with Professor Rick Mehta. He discusses: geographic, cultural, and family background; discovering himself; main research findings from the doctoral thesis; major trends in the way we look at the way human beings process information; reflections on Mehta’s transition from militant atheism to new views; problems with slant in social and political views and the influences on findings and interpretations; Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences, the work of Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji with the IAT, general intelligence, and conscientiousness linked to discussion on biology; values to convey in a first-year class; fragmentation of epistemology in academic disciplines; inavertently stepping into controversy; amelioration of the fragmentation in psychology; and his hoped-for message for the next generations conveyed in classes.

Keywords: controversy, epistemology, free speech, militant atheism, psychology, research, Rick Mehta.

A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was geography, culture, and family life – heritage – and so on?

Professor Rick Mehta: My parents came to Canada in 1967. They started from India and went to Coventry, England, then from Coventry, England came to Canada in 1967. I was born in 1970

It was one month before the October Crisis. I was living in Lasalle at the time. It was a turbulent time because this was, as I said, around the time of the October Crisis and the times leading up to the Referendum of 1980.

There was tension between the English and French. With our family being East Indian, we were viewed as enemies by both sides. We were not that liked at that time. There was racism that I experienced during that time.

After the referendum, I found things got better in Canada. I never had any regrets about living in Canada. I have adopted the Western values as part of who I am. That is the cultural part.

Religion, my parents are Hindu. I have never been religious. I may be a bit spiritual, maybe, but not outright religious. I was a militant atheist for a bit. But then I noticed when I went online that many of the militant atheists were probably more intolerant of the people they were criticizing.

I gave that up. I am open to other people’s views. If we are connected to each other somehow, that’s good enough. For language, I had trouble learning multiple languages when I was in elementary school.

For better or worse, my parents decided to speak only English at home. The downside is we didn’t know the research on language. It shows that children might struggle at first if they are learning multiple languages.

But they will excel at all three later in life. If my parents had later known that, my parents would have taken a different tactic. They did the best with what they knew at the time.

I guess having grown up around that time with the animosity between the English and French. I developed a closed-minded attitude, “Why do I have to learn French when they can just learn English?”

In retrospect, I wish I had gotten rid of that attitude and had been more open-minded. Unfortunately, I am a unilingual Anglophone with some very basic working knowledge of French, so I can get by in Montreal.

2. Jacobsen: I want to get into some of your earlier educational experiences. When it came to university, did you know what you wanted to do, or did you need a little bit of time to, as they say, discover yourself?

Mehta: A little bit of time, in terms of how I evolved over time, it changed. In my first year at the undergraduate level, I discovered that I liked the psychology courses. But I was not particularly keen on some areas like the personality of the person who taught some courses. They did not seem to have one.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Mehta: [Laughing] There were certain courses like that that I did not want to take. Biology, there was a plants course. I did not like it. It was a required course [Laughing]. At the time, there was a new program opening in neuroscience that was being offered at the satellite campuses at the University of Toronto.

It was a way of getting people to go to the Scarborough and Erindale campuses. So, I was living in Scarborough at the time. It seemed like the best degree at the time. It was a way to get the best of psychology and the best of biology and avoid certain courses that I did not want to take [Laughing].

3. Jacobsen: [Laughing] Eventually, you did earn up to the highest level that we do have, which is Ph.D. What was the main research question in the doctoral thesis? What was the finding? Or what were the findings?

Mehta: Basically, the Master’s degree was in psychopharmacology and involved research with rats. I found it very limiting and narrow because I could not see the connection between the rat models and addiction. I probably could have done a better job in my own research.

Some were my own shortcoming at the time, too. But also working with the animals and the way everyone is treating the animals as if they are commodities, it never felt right to me on that front.

I was also developing allergies to the rats. I think at least 60% if not more of people who work with rodents develop allergies that are severe. I switched to human cognition for my Ph.D.

I was trying to look at how people learn correlations or associations between events, so that one event magically predicts another. That is the information we use to detect relationships with our world and predict what will happen next.

That was what I was interested in. It was more of the basic level. I was working with different associative or mathematical models versus other more top-down models. I found those a mix that could explain how people do their reasoning.

It was the easiest way to explain those reasonings. I did that line of work. For a postdoc at the University of Winnipeg, I was doing that as my early research at Acadia University. I found that the models were getting so convoluted.

The research was so inaccessible. If I was having difficulty, how could I get my students to do that? So, I switched to decision-making to have something more broadly defined and more accessible for students to be involved in.

4. Jacobsen: When you’re dealing with human cognition and you’re looking at the research now, what have been the major trends in the research or the big changes? In other words, what new findings have changed the way we look at the way human beings process information?

Mehta: I find that the main problem of a lot of the literature is that it has become so fragmented with these small questions. Not so much in dealing with the big issues, I think probably the main frustration of being an academic is that it is very small and territorial. We are all working in these small realms.

That is my dissatisfaction with that. So, there are these small little sub-fields. In academia in general, though, the part that has me worried is all these fields with identity because all they do is look at themselves and see how oppressed they are.

I do not see where there is the human condition. Let’s take a degree like Fat Studies, how much can you really learn from a degree where you learn that “I’m fat and if there are exercise programs that they are somehow victimizing me by telling me to change my diet”?

It seems like the fields are getting much more fragmented. Some more than others. Since I am interested in decision-making, with one honors student, we are interested in looking at the perception of singles vs. couples and so on.

One big name in the field, Bella DePaulo. Her earlier books were on how single people are stigmatized and that maybe they should get some respect, but her latest book for the public is about how singles are badass

That does not sit with me because that is not a message that I want to convey to people. That we are superior in any way. We are different and should deserve the same level of dignity as others. Some of the messages in these research areas to do with identity worry me.

5. Jacobsen: I reflect on the minor comment stated about early life for you in relation to the term in the TED Talk by Richard Dawkins in that period where you were a militant atheist.

You noted the unpleasant convictions and bigotry at times coming from that sector of some of the atheist, of the New Atheist, population as well as this thing that you just said.

It is not arguing for equality of singlehood. It is arguing for the superiority of it. It is not arguing for, in the former case, an equality of atheism with general society. It is arguing for superiority in a sense.

I notice that one consistent thread.

Mehta: Yes, I notice that with even with some of the cognition. They will design these studies and the result of it shows that conservatives are somehow morally inferior or something like that compared to liberals.

Of course, if it is all run by liberals, it sounds like what we did in the past to use science to justify our own bigotry. For a little while, I was a like that, except I caught myself. I have tried to realign my thinking to how we can have different ways of respecting each other with different ways of things in terms of how we view the world.

I think not having tied an emotion to my way of thinking has made a world of difference in terms of being open to new ideas and new perspectives.

6. Jacobsen: As you know the research better than I do, with the massive slant in social and political views, especially in psychology, more towards liberal than conservative, though I don’t know how they defined liberal and conservative in the research, the research will slant within that framework of demographics.

Also, not only the questions are asked, but the findings that are found and the interpretations that are given to them, how big of a problem does this present in psychology?

Mehta: I would say it is quite major. I am teaching the first-year psychology. I haven’t taught the second half in over 10 years. You would think after all this time that some of the stuff in the textbook would change, but it hasn’t.

We still have the Sternberg Multiple Intelligences. The whole idea that we all think differently.

Jacobsen: Oh, he is Triarchic.

Mehta: Yes! All of that is still there, even though it doesn’t work. The idea that we all learn in different ways is false. The things like stereotype threat explain racial differences is still there. The Implicit Association Test (IAT) is still there.

People are saying this is an area of controversy. This is being claimed as if it is established as fact. I am looking at the second half of the textbook trying to figure out how to teach it, even though I know a bunch of it is outright false.

Even looking at family structures, it is still under the assumption that we will get married, have children, and have the nuclear family. That is not the way we are living these days. There was an article recently in Maclean’s reporting the number of mothers regretting having their children.

That is not a topic at all discussed in psychology. If you think under developmental, that would be one of the big questions, it clearly isn’t. There is clearly much missing in our field in terms of big ways that we can’t even address the society we are claiming to serve.

7. Jacobsen: Also, to clarify, you mentioned Sternberg’s Triarchic Theory of Intelligence and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences as well as the work of Anthony Greenwald and Mahzarin Banaji with the IAT.

At least in terms of general intelligence, tied to conscientiousness, especially in a knowledge economy, it is probably more predictive of life success. Let’s take intelligence, why are these two theories alongside general intelligence pushed in the first year, in that half of the textbook you mentioned?

Mehta: I think the reason they didn’t acknowledge that side is the role of biology is far stronger than we had even thought; I was shocked having taken a break from it for ten years and then looking at the latest research.

I remember going through and my jaw dropping at what I had seen. It was so different than what I had thought before. With heritability, the fact of its role seems to increase over the course of development from childhood to adolescence.

Whereas, I would think it would decrease or be a small role. It increased from .5 to .7. It goes beyond what I expected. But because I did not have a vested interest in that research area. I was able to present the information as fact and let the students think for themselves.

But if I was a social psychologist or in that line, that would be a threat to me if I was liberal and seeing the world as being a social construct. That explains the racial disparities.

Because I was able to do it neutrally, I thought, “This is what the evidence is, and this is what I am going to present to my class.” When I went into the social psychology textbook and went through the explanation, none of them seemed valid.

What I ended up showing in the class was a clip from Thomas Sowell, I mean, the question that bugged me over all these years when covering the section on intelligence. Lots of groups got the short end of the stick.

They were treated quite poorly by our European settlers. But some groups have thrived where some groups haven’t. The question was “Why?” None of the explanations in the textbook seemed at all convincing.

So, looking at the economics and who we vote for, it was a shock to my students. My own initial reaction, being a left-liberal, but listening to Thomas Sowell. It is hard to attack him, which is what we do.

We discount the person. Here we are, a black person who has lived 80 years and seen the world changed through the different eras and is knowledgeable and well-spoken and has a soft, gentle demeanor, so there is nothing you can attack on a personal level.

But it was amazing to hear him. Now, I bought some of his books to put for my summer reading and try to look at that whole angle; it was a learning experience for me that I have been a voter all these years voting on economic issues, but I don’t have an idea how economics works.

That is not a good feeling [Laughing]. But, of course, it is true. You can’t know everything. What do I do now? I learn about it. How do we correct these mistakes and tell the students that “you are the next generation, and these are some of the issues that you will have to deal with”?

8. Jacobsen: What do you see as some of the values to take onboard from a class, even though it is nothing that you are forcing on them? It is a learning environment. What do they tend to take away from that first-year psychology?

Mehta: It has been interesting. In the first half, it was straightforward because it did not that go against their thinking, e.g. talking about inattentional blindness and tie it to driving. Most people are willing to accept that.

But the second half, and as I am seeing, it has a political lens to it. Given that, I think they come from a background where their teachers and elementary school teachers were liberal-left leaning.

For some, I know they became defensive, when I brought up the fact that the wage gap is false. Many got angry and upset with me when I showed the Thomas Sowell video. I saw some students walking out.

It is strange, the defensive reaction. I did talk about that the following class as a debrief. My observation was the reaction was not in line with what I was saying. From a mental health perspective, it is in line with an immune system that hasn’t been exposed to germs and then has a strong reaction.

I said that if that was happening with something I thought was innocuous, then I would be worried about their resiliency.

It is like giving the patient the bad news. I try to frame it as “here is something to think about,” especially race. It is one no one wants to touch and if it is touched then the only explanation must be environmental as opposed to biological.

9. Jacobsen: When it comes to the two forms of fragmentation of knowledge that you noted in the earlier part of the interview, the one with identity politics-oriented disciplines and the other within psychology.

This fragmentation of the epistemology that the disciplines are bringing to the fore. It breeds some issues because at least in the identity politics areas or disciplines. They will be focusing on themselves in terms of their research and citations.

So, if their focus is on themselves in terms of their research and citations, it can breed problems of new ideas coming in from the outside and the reactions to it. What are some?

Mehta: Oh, I can give you an example. It was at Acadia, last summer. It was a major announcement release that a thesis got an award. The title of the thesis was about how that person came to be in touch with the sexual identity through interpretive dance.

It was released on the Research and Graduate Studies website saying that what made this thesis so special is that dance was the focus of the thesis and not just an add-on. I read the thesis.

There could be, as a research question, some merit to it. So, I don’t want to minimize that or someone’s coming out experience, but the problem with that is that it used autoethnography.

That was the key part I forgot to mention. You read the thesis. It reads like a diary entry, where “this is my diary and I will use references to reinforce my view of the world.” This is an exercise in confirmation bias.

There is no attempt to challenge your worldview from different angles. It was “all about me.” There was no attempt to use his experience to see if this can generalize to other people. That would be an interesting question.

It is not the question, but it is the approach. It is all very insular. You come through that thesis more ingrained in your views than you were to begin with because that process is reinforced.

This was a thesis in education, a counseling degree.

Jacobsen: This doesn’t seem as rigorous as one would hope in a graduate program, frankly.

Mehta: Yes, in a discussion on Facebook, I posted about that; it was one of my public posts. It was a different context about our union about to go on strike. That discussion led to this.

I said to that student that if you don’t think a university education is a Left-wing indoctrination, then go to New Real Peer Review on Twitter and see what’s there. If you don’t think that would happen at Acadia, then look here.

Then I gave a link to the Research in Graduate Studies website. So, then afterward, the dean came to see me. He said that if someone could, in theory, say that what I was saying was minimizing the person’s coming out experience, and if that was the case, then I would be violating the university’s policy on homophobia.

He said that he recommended that I take it down. I outright refused. That became a bit of a kerfuffle.

10. Jacobsen: What would you say has been the main controversy that you inadvertently stepped into in Canada?

Mehta: [Laughing] I thought that it would be my big claim to fame because after that I tried to tweet to media outlets and whatnot. I thought I was going to have an interview. That didn’t materialize. That fizzled.

I tried attempts at saying to Acadia, “If you really want to deal with racism, then abandon the decolonization and your commitment to social justice.” I hoped that would be the big stir. That didn’t happen, even though I ended it with the hashtag: “#itsokaytobewhite.”

Still nothing, but it happened inadvertently when I least expected it, which was when Andrew Scheer, our conservative opposition leader had removed his senator Lynn Beyak from the conservative caucus.

I tweeted out to him: You claim to be for free speech on the one hand, but then you remove her from your caucus. So then, are you saying First Nations are a group that cannot be criticized anyway? Then that is a bad move for race relations.

All I had done was tweet that. I hadn’t thought much of it. That is what led to the Twitter mobbing and all of these being in the media spotlight.

11. Jacobsen: When it comes to the underlying point, if I get the tacit message, in an ethic, you do not want to be a hypocrite. You want to apply standards to yourself as you would to others.

Mehta: As humanly possible.

Jacobsen: Within the constraints of energy, time, and so on, if someone was tired and drunk [Laughing], they would act like rats on narcotics. It would be roughly the same model. It would not be running at 100% so to speak.

I want to touch on more academic issues with regards to the fragmentation of knowledge. It is a formal interview setting, but I think it is a valuable conversation – especially in the context of North American academia, Canadian academia for shorthand.

What I notice with regards to the various disciplines in psychology, e.g. evolutionary psychology, cognitive psychology, etc., these fields obviously have some moments of distinct overlap in findings but coming from different frameworks of reference.

So, I would take a metaphor of the entire hopes and dreams of all knowledge in psychology in some Platonic world, some abstract, would be a big black sphere. Each discipline is a light shone on that sphere.

At times, they form something like a Venn diagram with each other with this mutually distinct but partially overlapping findings but coming from those different frameworks of reference or lenses.

What might ameliorate the issues with regards to the fragmentation of that knowledge based on differences in perspective in epistemology in psychology?

Mehta: I guess if there was some way of getting groups of people who do not think the same way to work with each other. I think right now the trend is “let’s encourage collaboration,” but what happens naturally is people who think alike work together because that is what you need for a collaboration [Laughing] to work.

Jacobsen: Political affiliation links to personality, right?

Mehta: There is partly that. I think those political links would affect how you think in terms of how you would approach problems, especially if there is going to be an ideological part.

Let us say within social neuroscience, “Let’s look for a biological basis for these constructs that we are viewing through a very limited lens,” you have all this work using event-related potentials trying to look at the biological basis of the implicit associations, but it always involves targets of white vs. black with white people using it.

But we are not using some crucial comparisons such as black look at white vs. black because that is what you would need to say it is that in-group and out-group difference. If I have read the social psychology literature, nobody wants to touch it.

What I have noticed in reading the beginning of articles, they say blacks show the same prejudices that whites do against blacks. I remember one study they showed faces on a screen.

The black faces were seen as larger and more threatening, but it was not only by whites but by blacks as well. There is something about having a darker skin color that our brains, for whatever reason is not clear to me, is registered as more threatening and that is putting them at more risk for all these horrible things that are happening to them.

If that got out and people knew that, then we could address the core problems but because no one wants to look at that side then the problems here will be solved because nobody wants to talk about that angle whatsoever.

Jacobsen: So, that part of the sphere remains dark or even if not dark only partially lit.

Mehta: Yes, it is like inattentional blindness or willful hemi-neglect.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Mehta: “We must not look at that.” We must be blind to that, even though it is staring you in the face.

12. Jacobsen: I remember some of the research on spousal abuse, where the focus is rightfully on women in the home, but looking at the rates it was something like a 1% difference between men and women.

It was a difference in style. Men were more prone to physical violence. Women were more prone to social and emotional violence, or abuse. That second part of that statement is that part not brought into the discussion. I do not see it.

Mehta: Yes, it is very hard. If you bring it up, you are called a Men’s Rights Activist, as if that is somehow a bad thing. But by extension of being one, you must somehow be a misogynist. Unfortunately, the political climate has gotten very heated.

But I think people are clueing in that all that is happening is that the Left/Liberal side of that doesn’t have arguments and are resorting to name calling. We are starting to see people say, “We have had enough and your game is up.”

Hopefully, that is what I try to do in my class. “Let’s be the voice of reason, you guys are going to the be the next generation, show the public that you can tackle these discussions. That you can lead and can do that in a positive manner.”

That whole idea of balancing the positive psychology with being realistic and open to people who think very differently from ourselves, so we can reach common ground. Maybe, not everyone will be 100% happy.

But at least, they can feel like part of the conversation and can get part of what they were looking for. I think that is a more realistic way of trying to approach things than what the social movements of the past did, which was “let’s grab life by the horns and our way is the right way.”

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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Professor, Psychology, Acadia University.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 22, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] B.Sc. (Honours), University of Toronto; M.Sc., McGill University; Ph.D., McGill University.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One) [Online].March 2018; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, March 22). A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One). Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A, March. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (March 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One)’In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):March. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. A Conversation with Professor Rick Mehta on Self-Discovery, View Changes, and Conveyed Messages (Part One) [Internet]. (2018, March; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mehta.

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Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: March 15, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,603

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Two short, separate conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh. Both interviews were conducted in late 2017 with recommendations from Pardes Seleh. McDonald discusses personal background, personal studies, the general state of America, the media and journalism, cross-political conversations, blanket demonization, and assessment of Trump. Slugh discusses personal background, Orthodox Judaism, cultural and media representations of Judaism, the state of America for 2017, virtue in the individual and in the society, ethics, the Trump Administration, and a personal hero. 

Keywords: Ben McDonald, conversations, Howie Slugh, media, political science, Trump, Utah, Washington

Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start with some family background regarding religion, geography, culture, and language.

Ben McDonald: I grew up in Salt Lake City, Utah. I am not personally religious. My grandpa is an Episcopal priest. I grew up around Mormons too, living in Salt Lake City. I have a bunch of family members who aren’t religious as well.

2. Jacobsen: What are you studying in school?

McDonald: I am a political science major and a journalism minor.

3. Jacobsen: When you’re looking at the general state of America, what is your perspective on it?

McDonald: I think it is becoming a little more divided, but as more time goes by things become more divided because everyone is so polarized with everything. You see this with politics being involved in every aspect of everything. I think it is starting to turn back to where you see people who are more set in their ways.

It is hard to have a discussion with people. But you have people who still don’t care as much. There are people who want to go about their own business. I think there are people who aren’t interested in politics are being made to be involved in it.

4. Jacobsen: If you look at the landscape of the media, in our own field of journalism, tied to politics to a degree, do you think that the media are doing their job sufficiently or do you think that they are failing in their journalistic duties?

McDonald: I think there are the journalists who do a good job. But I think people are starting to distrust the media, even fake media or the smaller newspapers, but even national things and YouTube. The reportage on things that aren’t necessarily a story or a worthy cause.

A lot of not truthful things that the media reports on makes people not trust them. I think the gap of people not trusting them is growing more and more, the more and more it goes on.

5. Jacobsen: Do you think this contributes to a mild decline in cross-political conversations? In other words, Republicans speaking to Democrats and vice versa, or other political orientations.

McDonald: I think so because I think people want to watch their side and see the other side as the bad guys. They don’t want to have a conversation with them. I think people can be portrayed as – whatever side you’re on – the bad guy, which makes you not want to converse with them, in my opinion.

6. Jacobsen: In a way, it is a form of blanket demonization so you don’t have to think about the other side.

McDonald: Yes, it is othering the other side, so you’re right no matter what you do.

Jacobsen: In a way, does this amount to a form of moral self-exaltation? “I am right. they are wrong. Therefore, I am better.”

McDonald: Yes.

7. Jacobsen: With regards to the two areas of your expertise, we talked about one, which is journalism. We also talked about politics a bit. For the Trump administration and the surrounding rhetoric, do you think President Trump is doing a good job, an okay job, or a poor job, in his position as the President of the United States?

McDonald: I think he’s doing an okay job. I think he’s done what he can do personally. But a lot of the agenda had gotten stopped in Congress for multiple reasons, whatever they may be. Though I think his rhetoric could be better, which has set him behind of what he wants to accomplish. But I he’s done a relatively okay to a good job, overall.

8. Jacobsen: Do you have any final feelings or thoughts in conclusion based on the conversation today?

McDonald: I think politics has become so polarized, so I think people need to re-evaluate and take a look at what is happening.

9. Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Ben.


1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Let’s start with some family background regarding religion, geography, culture, and language?

Howie Slugh: I was born in Queens, New York. I lived in Fairlawn, New Jersey. Then we moved to Hollywood, Florida. I am an Orthodox Jew. My parents are Orthodox Jews. Now, I live in Washington, DC.

2. Jacobsen: With regards to the Orthodox or I assume Hasidic Jewish background with parents, do you still practice?

Slugh: Yes, I continue to be an Orthodox Jew.

3. Jacobsen: With regards to that faith, what do you consider to be some of the more common misconceptions about the faith – beliefs and practices? What truths dispel them?

Slugh: I am not particularly keen on cultural or media representations of Judaism, so I wouldn’t really know. I know the most famous representations of Judaism are not religious or only religious in shallow ways, or in “spiritual but not religious” ways.

None of those would accurately represent Judaism, obviously. I have not seen a super amount of representation of Judaism in the culture.

4. Jacobsen: Taking that and pivoting into perspective, I want to get your perspective on the state of America 2017. If you look at America, broadly speaking, to set the groundwork of this part of the conversation, what is your general take on what are the more things? Do you think things are positive, relatively stable, or negative?

Slugh: So, I am Burkean in addition to being an Orthodox Jew. I think they go well together. I look at 2017 and see a concerning lack of faith in our institutions, and lack of faith and dedication to the permanent things. That is certainly concerning.

I do think things do tend to go slowly. I think things are more resistant than people think they are. I don’t think things are that bad. Things tend to be sticky. They take a long time. I forgot who said it at the moment, but there’s a lot of rot in a country. This is not a bad thing, it means that countries can withstand a lot of negative things.

The country has a negative that we can make better. But America has been around 200+ years and has a lot of social capital. I don’t think it is going away anytime soon.

Things, incrementally, might be headed in a not great direction in some ways, but also, thank God, we’re healthy and living long and generally a still very prosperous country. Even in some social trends, things are improving.

The fact that sexual abusers are getting called out and punished is definitely a good trend, especially if there is an underlying cultural trend. People saying, “Hey, things aren’t arising ex nihilo. People aren’t harassing out of nowhere. There is a general culture of not taking virtue seriously enough. We should foster virtue rather than only going after the bad guys.”

That would be a tremendous change. Things can change quickly. But the permanent things are very permanent, respect and love for family, respect for country, religion in general, even if they wax and wane are very permanent.

Even if something is pulling those permanent things, we can quickly go to strengthening them. All the while they remain fixed and steady. It is easy in the heat of the moment to say 2017 is a super, monumental moment

But if you take a step back, it’s probably not that important.

5. Jacobsen: You mentioned the permanent things and virtue. Two things, a person, and tradition, that come to mind for me are Aristotle and the Abrahamic faiths. So, when you’re referencing permanent things such as family and faith as well as things such as an ethic grounded in virtue, I want to dive a little deeper into that, if I may. What are you defining as virtue, in an individual and in a society?

Slugh: The general thing that comes to my mind is Burke, not necessarily on virtue, but Robbie George on virtue. Working to create an environment Where the pursuit of the good and human flourishing is available, I guess teleology in there too. The purpose of people is to live a good life, to have families, to love their children, to work to the flourishing of their fellow humans.

That is a virtuous life. A way that does not cause suffering of your fellow people. That treats your fellow people as ends and not means. That follows the Golden Rule treating others as you would like to be treated, not subjectively but objectively.

If you want to be treated poorly, you shouldn’t treat others poorly. It is not that. It is how would a human being with the characteristics of a human being want to be treated, not how you as an individual want to be treated.

It is creating those kinds of circumstances where those things that are good for humans are able to be pursued. That you are not interfering with other people’s pursuits. It is a positive and negative. You are fostering an environment where people can pursue the things that are good for people and not hindering those things that are good for people.

You can see this is in history, religion, tradition. There are sources for finding things. It is not the simplest question, but it is also less complex than people think. We have the American ideal of fairly independent people living with their families and loved ones and not harming one another, adding valuable things to the world.

People may scoff at it as simplistic, but it has endured for all of American history and long before that. Sometimes, “simple” is good

6. Jacobsen: In a way, its simplicity may underly the carving out of a lot of excesses that may have been attached to it in earlier times as that kind of ethic developed. 

Slugh: It is certainly possible.

7. Jacobsen: I want to talk about the Trump Administration or President Trump himself. If you were taking the perspective of a teacher, and this is a bit of a lighter question, what would be the grade and comments section?

Slugh: Basically, very incomplete, because of no significant legislation, a lot of stuff he has done that hasn’t required Congress has been quite good because he has released regulations repeating the HHS abortiofacient/contraceptive Mandate.

Which is now in the interim final rule, the contraception mandate now carves out an actual exemption for religious people and religious institutions and even conscientious objectors, as opposed to the prior accommodation that wasn’t a real accommodation.

It still forced people to be complicit with evil, or at least what they considered evil. He nominated terrific judges, Gorsich and a number of appellate and district court judges. He signed the Mexico City Policy very early on in the administration: day 3. It wasn’t day 1, but day 3. It prohibits the funding of foreign abortionists, which saves lives, obviously, and is a terrific thing

So, in those courts, he has done very well. Obviously, his rhetoric has left a lot to be desired, and his personal ethic [Laughing] has left a lot to be desired, but one role of a president is to sign legislation

Somewhat, it is also Congress’s fault, but he certainly hasn’t helped matters on this pointing, getting matters through. He has three more years at least to get some more legislation through. Then we can more fully judge his legacy at that point.

Obviously, if we get wiped out in the midterms, then there will be a major difficulty and stumbling block in the way of his getting any legislation through. That will make it much more likely that he gets a bad grade. That’s where we stand now.

8. Jacobsen: Last question, who is a personal hero for you?

Slugh: I had the privilege to know. I had conversations with him. I met him in Italy in a law school class. I was very impressed by his determination to keep on pushing forward, even when things seemed bleak. He certainly recognized a lot of times when things seemed bleak, and when he was on a bit of a quixotic quest. He realized that. Sometimes, it seemed like he didn’t make a difference, but kept pursuing what he thought was right in a brilliant, funny, and energetic way.

He was not pollyannish about it, saying, “Tomorrow, I will wake up and Americans will realize how the Constitution should be interpreted and what the rule of law means, and what it means to be a country of laws and not men.” But he kept his eyes focused on history and on what the right thing to do was. He kept pursuing that goal. I find that very admirable. He was a terrific person, who was easy to get along with and overall a person that I admire greatly.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Slugh is an Attorney who works in Washington, D.C. McDonald is a Journalist.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 15, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh [Online].March 2018; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, March 15). Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie SlughRetrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A, March. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (March 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie SlughIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie SlughIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):March. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Two Short, Separate Conversations with Ben McDonald and Howie Slugh [Internet]. (2018, March; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/mcdonald-slugh.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

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

Abstract

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 http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3.

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 http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3.

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. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3>.

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. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3.

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). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3.

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: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3>.

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., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3.

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. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3>.

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-3.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: March 1, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 5,542

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An extensive interview with Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. He discusses: current tasks and responsibilities and his process; clinical and teaching work, and the different therapies such as  Rational Emotive Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Dialectical Behavioural Therapy, etc., having overlap; and additional services within his professional work and much of the work as re-parenting the patient.

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 Two)[1],[2],[3],[4]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Now, what are your current tasks and responsibilities when you are dealing with up to 30 patients and teaching? Can you walk us through that process? Your style in which to engage patients as well as style in which to engage students.

Dr. Oren Amitay: Right, so, for my clinical practice, thank God for my wife. She found me another office nearly two years ago that is more convenient for me and is available 24/7. Before that, I was at my mentor’s office. Because I wanted to keep as many days free as possible to teach, do assessments and write up reports, I would schedule all of my patients on two (or sometimes three) days, meaning that I would see them straight from 8 or 9am until as late as 10 or 11pm.

With this new office my wife found, I can see a few patients here or there at any time throughout the week. Plus, I still have one long day at my mentor’s office, but it is not as bad as it used to be.

As for my clinical work, I see individuals, families, and couples. I do sex therapy. I do relationship counselling. I do family therapy. I used to do group therapy. I incorporate eight different types of therapies or orientations, some of which overlap with others, so they are not entirely different.

As my mentor taught me, part of the therapy is technique but another aspect is adopting the right mindset, understanding a person from a certain perspective and seeing how they came to be rather than using specific tools and techniques. But I definitely need to use the various techniques and tools I have learned as well. It depends on the person, their situation and their needs.

And, as research clearly shows, the most important part of treatment is the therapeutic/working alliance or relationship. It is critical that the patient feel safe and not judged at all. This latter part is easy for me because my upbringing was so “different” that I don’t know what “normal” looks like. And my patients can sense this with me. So there is no judgment, although I make sure my patients know that I will not blindly accept anything they say or do. That is not genuine compassion and it is usually not helpful.

I should add that my parents told my brother and me when we were kids, “We don’t know what the hell we are doing.” My mother had given birth to me shortly before she became 22 and my father was a “crazy hippy artist.” They explicitly encouraged us to always question or challenge them.

I have a memory of them saying that so I was probably about four or five years old. The most important point about them saying such a thing is that, growing up, I never internalized their craziness, their many problems or their bad parenting. I knew that those things were on them. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t develop my own neuroses and crazy traits. But it was never because I blamed myself for my parents’ many faults and failings.

The one problem was that, notwithstanding my parent’s encouragement to question or challenge them, my mother didn’t like being challenged. But I was too stubborn and kept challenging her; I never stopped. Her responses to my challenging her were never appropriate, nor were here responses to the very many bad things I did; the punishment was always extremely disproportionate to the crime. But again, I knew she was not acting like a good parent. I always knew I was doing something wrong and I chose to do it, hoping that I would get away with it or that I could talk/lie my way out of it if I got caught. But I never thought I was so horrible that I deserved the kinds of things my mom said or did to me when I pissed her off.

The reason I am saying all of this is that it had a huge impact on how I saw the world, how I saw myself. It did something to me and for me. Interestingly, even though I thought I was always able to recognize and to admit whatever I had done—to myself, that is; I would often lie to others in order to avoid some negative consequence—the crisis I had mentioned earlier caused me to realize for the first time in my life that I was not being 100% honest with myself.

Immediately following the third horrible session with the aforementioned psychologist I was seeing after those major failures that had occurred within weeks of each other, I spontaneously had a moment of profound insight. It inspired me to come up with a thought exercise that, for the first time in my life, showed me that I had not been seeing things as honestly and clearly when I had conflicts with people as I had believed.

Sadly, I did have very many interpersonal conflicts and I never adequately appreciated the nature and degree of my role in all of these unpleasant interactions. On that day, however, I realized, “Holy shit! I am so far off the mark.” Once that happened, I finally fully accepted how messed up I was, how much of an asshole I was, and so on.

It was enlightening. It was amazing. I couldn’t believe it. It was a weight off of my shoulders because I was no longer carrying any self-serving “delusions.” From that point on, I dedicated myself to making sure I never employ any (unconscious) defence mechanisms. I see myself, my actions and the world around me as “objectively” as possible, no matter how ugly, shameful, embarrassing, scary, distressing, discouraging, etc. any of these things might be.

I am able to look at these things—including my patients—without negative judgment. Rather, I accept everything for what it is and focus on making sure that I or my patients are making the most adaptive decisions in light of the reality of my/their actual thoughts, feelings, motives, actions or circumstances.

My patients know they can tell me anything. Not everyone feels comfortable doing so at first, of course, but most feel that they can open up and say things. I relate to them in a human-to-human way. I tell everybody, “Look, I wish I was as good of a father or husband as I am with my patients. I wish I could be that open, non-judgmental, and so on, because I am a judgmental asshole in my normal life. I try not to be, but that is part of who I am.”

I have to work on that. With my patients, it is suspended for that 50-60 minutes with them. I am there for them. I am very Rogerian in that sense. It is empathy. I always tell my students and the people I train, “As long as you can make the other person feel you get them or are doing your damndest to try to get them, everything else is gravy.”

If your only value is being empathetic, you will not be the greatest therapist, but it is the first step. I know many psychologists and psychiatrists who are horrible when it comes to being genuinely empathetic. However, some of them have mastered their technique, which gives them a sense of confidence, and that can have a positive impact on the patient. It can help the patient develop a sense of “I can do it.”

But I have literally lost count of the very many people who have told me horror stories about their experiences in treatment. Look, this is the last place that you would ever want to be judged. Sadly, far too many therapists do make their patients feel judged or demeaned—usually inadvertently.

As alluded to above, I am very empathetic but I do not let my patients live in fantasy; I call them out in a compassionate manner. They know I will do this and they know that everything I say or do is without any bad intentions.

As an example, I tell my students, “When certain patients with a history of bad relationships tell me excitedly that they have met a new person, the first thing I ask them is, ‘What are you going to do to mess this one up?’” They sometimes get shocked or upset. But they realize why I am saying it. If they don’t get it, I explain the reason for such a question.

That is, when you have a typical conversation, you are processing things on one level. If I say something that is a little bit “off,” unusual or otherwise unexpected, you will hear and process things a little bit differently. In the example I just gave, my blunt question puts them in a different emotional state and makes it easier for me to penetrate or to circumvent their defences. It also forces them to reflect on and to recognize what they bring to each and every relationship that they have ended up sabotaging.

For instance, they might end up saying, “Oh, I didn’t know I put up huge walls,” or “I had no idea my supposedly witty comments were actually insulting to someone on a first date.” It is a cliché, but you truly cannot change something if you are not aware of or cannot admit what is wrong.

Helping people acknowledge their flaws in such a way that they do not feel you are merely mocking, criticizing or devaluing them is what will help them make the kinds of improvements they need to make so that they can function better. This is true compassion.

It is funny because many people who love Dr. Jordan Peterson believe he is saying that compassion is bad or not a desirable trait. However, that is a misinterpretation of his message. That is, compassion is very important if employed properly, and Dr. Peterson himself is compassionate with his patients and all of his fans.

What he describes as “bad compassion” is when you are not telling people the truth, even if it may be painful to hear. Or, as their parent or teacher or anyone else in a position of authority, you are “spoiling” or disempowering them by being too lenient or indulgent, or you are being too intrusive and solving all of their problems instead of letting them figure things out (with some guidance) so that they can learn to deal with failure or other adversities. This enables them to become more resilient and resourceful, and we hope to become the best person they can be.

Part of this process involves helping people learn to tolerate discomfort. That goes along with finding the will and the courage to confront whatever it is they might need to confront, whether it is an illness or how shitty their parents are or their bad behaviours in relationships or the realization that their meaningless job is slowly robbing them of the will to live, or whatever.

Whatever it is, they have to learn to confront and to tolerate it. It grounds them. That is one thing that I do. Another thing that I do, and some of my colleagues think I am crazy for doing this, is something that is similar to the system for Dialectical Behavioural Therapy for borderline patients.

I don’t know how it is in other programs, but in Toronto where one of the earlier DBT programs were established, they originally had a pager system. Patients were able to call their therapist at all hours of the day or night and they could expect a call back within a relatively short period of time.

I do something similar, in that I am available 24/7. A few patients take advantage of this but most respect my rules and boundaries. That is, they can reach out to me by phone, text or email at literally any time of the day, whether it is a crisis, they want to vent instead of saying or doing something that they will later regret, they want to share an insight, they remembered something they forgot to say in therapy, they want to suggest something for next session, etc. They know I am not necessarily going to answer or get back to them right away, although I do try to be very responsive.

My mentor was against this because he didn’t want them to develop a sense of overdependence on the therapist, which I fully understand. I tell my patients, “I am not expecting that you will have to call me, but if you ever feel the need to reach out, please know that I am here for you.” And that feeling that someone is out there who “has your back” can be very empowering; it can make you feel that you are a valuable or worthy person who deserves not to mess up your life or to undermine yourself.

Especially with technology, many people have a tendency to act on impulse and send texts or make calls that they really should not do. I tell such patients to text me instead because by doing that they’re taking themselves out of that moment where they are likely to sabotage themselves in some way. If they can step back and not act on emotion right at the moment, that gives them a chance not to be a slave to their limbic system and instead to access their frontal lobes or prefrontal cortex: the part of the brain that controls impulse and enables one to exercise more rational thinking and better judgment.

In short, it can help defuse the momentary urge or compulsion, which is when people often get in trouble. It is similar to the DBT model, which in turn seems a lot like AA. One of my former students, who is in AA, got really turned onto the DBT model when I taught about it, and now he is an expert in it. But when he first looked into DBT further, he came back to me and said, “This is fucking AA” [Laughing].

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: He was actually right. A lot of DBT is like AA in some key ways, including the aforementioned “pager” system, which is like “sponsors” in AA. As mentioned, when you are in that rough spot and know somebody is out there to help if you reach out, it can be extremely helpful.

Believe it or not—and this makes me sick to my stomach—I know some therapists who will say, “That was a 10-minute call. We will pro-rate it at $40.” Come on, really?! Jeez. They do the same thing with emails.

If I charged for all of my emails, phone calls, texts, and other things I do for my patients outside of session, it would increase my salary substantially. But I do not need that extra money. I make more than enough as it is. I think it is important that my patients know I do this for them, even though I do not have to do it, and many therapists do not.

Plus, my patients can’t say, “Oh, you are only doing this because I am paying you.” Some do say that about our work in therapy, but with this system, I can say, “I do not have to do this for you; I could spend my free time not thinking about you at all but I do it because I do actually care.” Sadly, many people do not have that feeling that even one person cares about them and/or has their back.

2. Jacobsen: Between the clinical and the teaching work, some things come to mind on reflection. One, the relationship between Dialectical Behavioural Therapy and AA, and the comment, of the person that you knew, that they were basically the same.

Do you think between things like Rational Emotive Therapy, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, DBT, etc, that there is a lot more overlap than there needs to be in the sense that they do not necessarily need to be disjunct?

Amitay: Yes, I have said this many times. When someone comes up with a “new” therapy or “new” approach, they are often pretty much reinventing the wheel. I prefer to take “the common factors” approach: You look at “What are the shared or common elements in the various therapies that make them effective or beneficial?” Is it the therapist? Is it the approach?

I spend a lot of time criticizing Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in my classes. However, I also tell my students that it is one of my eight orientations and, if someone were to say to me, “From all of the orientations you use, if you had to choose one for yourself, which one would it be?” I would say, “CBT.” Currently, I would also say ACT/Acceptance Therapy, which is similar to CBT in many ways but deals with emotions and other important elements better, I believe.

I tell my students that my criticisms are not about CBT itself but rather about therapists who focus too much on the technique or structure of CBT, to the exclusion of being able to really connect with and to understand their patients. For example, with “CBT for depression,” it may be 16 sessions. Session 1, you do this. Then session 2, 3, and so on, you do A, B and C.

A therapist who does that too rigidly is not a good therapist because mental health issues, therapy and life are not that neat. Yes, treatment should be evidence-based, but we need to also recognize that the work we do is often messy because humans are “messy.” You can’t always do things according to set schedules and expect them to progress as you would like.

That is what worries me: when people are such strong adherents to one approach or the other. If the patient does not act as the therapist expects, they often make the patient feel incompetent, devalued and demotivated.

And, as mentioned earlier, all of the evidence shows that the therapeutic relationship is the most important element of successful treatment. So, to me, it is recognizing the underlying factors that are common to most or all major therapies, having an adaptive personal philosophy, understanding how humans work, having a very strong knowledge base with respect to psychotherapy, and trying to find an approach, technique, and so on that might be most appropriate in a given situation.

Now, my mentor used to say, “Anyone that calls themselves eclectic doesn’t know what they are doing.” He believed that you should not take different approaches to working with a patient because it can make them feel confused or even overwhelmed if the therapist is trying a bunch of different things each week. Patients want a sense of stability and this can undermine such an atmosphere.

I can understand my mentor’s point because I do know some therapists who do that. One thing didn’t work this week, so they try something entirely different the next week, and they do this in a way that makes the patient question the therapist’s competence, confidence and/or effectiveness.

I tell my patients at the beginning that I have eight different orientations from which I operate and, as we work together, I will be able to determine which approach or technique is most appropriate for the person and their circumstances.

I also tell them that, sometimes, we operate on a more behavioural level, whereas at other times we will go to a deeper level. I add, “We do not always have to go to a deeper level or go back to your past in order to deal with your current issues adaptively.”

3. Jacobsen: If you had a knife to cut vegetables or an ax to cut a tree down with, and you’re stuck in the forest and all you have is a can of soup, at some point, you use the ax or the knife to cut the can open.

The techniques are tools. You use them as you deem fit or as the patient needs. There was something that I thought was particularly noteworthy, which you mentioned. You’re permitting or allowing patients to text or email you.

In other words, to stay in contact with you over some period of time, which they may deem important, they may be in an emotional moment. They talk to you instead or text you. Is there a sense that people who have particular problems, even disorders, are somehow having a loyalty lack in their lives, where you are providing that additional service within your services is seen as extra beneficial?

Amitay: For a lot of people who don’t have that at all, yes, it is just the idea that someone is willing to do that for them. Research shows, by the way, when it comes to social support—and I tell people all of the time, “All you need is one person in your life who you believe has your back. They don’t even have to have actually helped you. Simply this positive belief is often sufficient.”

And that is why I allow patients to reach out to me in various ways outside of session. Again, it is not about making them feel they need to do so or that they cannot do things on their own. It is simply making them feel that they are worthy enough to deserve or to receive such support if they need it. Most people get that and I think it is very important for them to feel that someone is willing to give of themselves for their sake.

Another thing I say to students, and I am going to try to articulate it in a way that it does not come off the wrong way. One thing told to me by my mentor and I have also read this elsewhere: “What a therapist does, in many cases, is re-parent the patient.”

Jacobsen: Wow, that’s powerful.

Amitay: Some may take that as “What? Are you being condescending?” No, many people come to therapy because they didn’t get proper parenting, whether they were lacking in love, attention, validation, support, guidance, discipline, etc. in childhood.

When I help train people and they tell me about their patient, I ask them, “Who in their family do you represent to them? Which role do you play in their life?” I then see it in their eyes: “Holy shit, I became their mother!” or brother or whomever.

And that is one way to look at things. It is part of my philosophy. Interestingly, back in the day, I was younger than most of my patients. Now, I am older and many of my patients are in their late teens, 20s or early 30s. Many of them are in my oldest daughter’s age group.

It is funny. I don’t think I come across as a parental figure. My mentor, on the other hand, is a grandfather and is very calming. Some people who want to see me really need someone more like my mentor, who will be low key and slow, and will bring a sense of calm and stability to the person’s life for one hour per week; it can really help reorient them. I will refer them to him, although I will also let them know they can work with me if they would prefer that.

Also, I do in fact act somewhat similarly with certain patients: I am very calm and low key. However, I have to really work on presenting in that way because it is not my nature.

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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant.

[2] Individual Publication Date: March 1, 2018 at http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[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 Two) [Online].March 2018; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, March 1). Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Two)Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Two). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A, March. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2>.

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 Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2.

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 Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (March 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Two)In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2.

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 Two).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):March. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part Two) [Internet]. (2018, March; 16(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay-2.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: February 22, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 11,749

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An extensive interview with Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. He discusses: Growing up; having a monkey, first Canadian sex store own mom, and artistic bipolar father; university selection; clinical practice work and methodological specialization.

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 One)[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What was life like growing up – geography, culture, and language? 

Dr. Oren Amitay: I was raised speaking Hebrew, which I do not speak at all. At one-year-old, my brother, who was three at the time, came into the family by way of adoption. He did not speak Hebrew so my parents began speaking English with him and me.

At one-year-old, I suddenly had my language changed. I was spoken to only in English, like my brother. That messed things up with my language. I had to go to speech therapy after that. Obviously, I don’t remember this period of my life, but that has been told to me.

I grew up in Montreal for the first three years of my life, in an English-speaking part as opposed to French, and then my parents came here to Toronto, where I am currently, when I was 3. My mother started a business here: Canada’s first sex store, Lovecraft.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: I do remember part of the drive to Toronto. We were run into by a doctor in his car. He paid my mother some cash to help us get to Toronto and to tow our car. This is our day of moving there. I sort of remember that.

As mentioned, my mother opened Canada’s first sex store. She is a pioneer and some call her the grandmother of Canada’s sex industry. My father was an artist—a well-respected, but crazy artist, crazy, literally, because he had bipolar disorder. It was undiagnosed until he was in his 50s, likely because, when you are an artist, people expect you to “act crazy” as he did.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: That was part of his artistic temperament. We lived in a middle-class(ish) neighbourhood but were one of the poorer families there. Sex may sell, but when you’re the first sex store in Canada, it takes a while for people to adapt to that.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: I never had much money growing up. I started working at ten-years-old. I was delivering papers and have literally been working ever since. My parents paid for the roof over our heads and food, but, since ten, I have been paying my own way.

But it also depends on what you call poor. We did have a tiny home, my parents had an old beat-up car, we went on one international vacation in childhood, but my parents made the most out of it, I never felt “poor.” I knew what poor was and our financial situation didn’t hinder us that much.

Back then, the social pressure was not as bad as it is today to have all of the cool things. We never did have any of those cool things, but we did have things other kids didn’t have; my dad would make some really cool presents for Christmas or our birthdays.

Also, we were one of the coolest families in the neighbourhood, with my mother having opened Canada’s first sex store; that gives you cache as a kid, even with adults. Also, we had a monkey for a while.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: So, that is my early upbringing.

2. Jacobsen: A little bit further ahead of that. How was having a monkey, having a mother with the first Canadian sex store as well as having a bipolar artistic father in high school? Some of that I would see as bringing good social cache and other parts of it I could see not bringing so much of that.

Amitay: The monkey and stuff were in our earlier years. I think we were a pretty popular family. I will tell a side story. I always thought that our norm was “the norm”. If that is what your family is like, you don’t know any differently at the time.

I really thought our was pretty normal in most ways and I thought everyone else felt the same way. I was a little jock, I played sports all of the time and I was friends with a lot of people in the neighbourhood. Everything seemed normal.

Then, I was back in my old neighbourhood a number of years ago and I decided to check out my old house. I saw a car in the parking lot and I saw a woman was home. I was going through my wallet, pulling out my Ryerson University ID saying, “Look, I am not going to kill you. I want to come in and check out my childhood home until I was 12-years-old.”

She let me in. She wouldn’t let me come upstairs–I can understand. She said, “Come back another time, maybe.” Anyway, we were talking and I said, “When we sold our house, we sold it to this famous Canadian boxer named Shawn O’Sullivan. He won the silver medal in the 1984 Olympics and was on all these Red Lobster commercials.”

She said, “Cool, cool, I have something even cooler. I heard that some people before me,” (she wasn’t sure how many families before), “I heard the family before me was a cult…”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: “…run by a lesbian witch.”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: I said, “Did you hear that from a guy called ____?” It blew her mind. She was like, “How did you know, of all the people that could have said that?” I won’t get into detail about how I knew who had told her about the lesbian part and why they would have said that (it was not true), but I couldn’t understand the witch or cult leader part. So, right after I left the house, I called my mom and asked her. She was thinking and thinking and then she put the pieces together: My father, the artist, used to make candles for my mother’s store when she first opened up. The candles happened to be in the shape of penises.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: In order to air out the candles and get them to dry, he would put them on the front porch on the banister. So, apparently, we had all these penises lined up like heads on a stake. I do not remember that, but that is one of the things that was normal for us.

The woman also told me that she was Italian and the old Italian women in the neighbourhood– she said she was not exaggerating—the few Italian women there (the neighbourhood was almost all white and a few Greek families; there were only two black kids in the whole neighbourhood—one being my brother) would follow her up and down the street, telling her in Italian that the house was cursed and saying, “you have to let us exorcise the house.” She said they were literally throwing holy water at her but she wouldn’t let them do this ritual with the house they apparently believed was possessed. That was all until 12-years-old.

We moved to another neighbourhood at that time. It was very different. It was more an inner-city type neighbourhood. My brother and I were not prepared for that. We adjusted pretty quickly though. You see, when you were raised the way we were, we weren’t raised to follow trends.

As social animals, especially around 12-15 years old all you want to do is connect with other people, be a part of the group. A part of me wanted that and I was a part of a bunch of very different groups, but I never felt like I had to be in any of them. I spent a lot of time alone.

I went from group to group to group to group. No real allegiances to any group but I did have a very small number of close friends in my first two years of high school. My father by that time had been divorced from my mother for a number of years, but I still saw him pretty regularly.

Back to trends: I rarely followed any trends, aside from the heavy metal music we listened to. I did my own thing and set a number of trends—or I was the first kid (or one of the first kids) to be doing certain things. I was always the bad kid and had to go to three different schools. I pissed off the principals and teachers and many of the students. I usually had the top grades in my classes but I also had the most absences; my absences for each class were usually as high as my grades. I also got caught for doing a lot of really stupid things I cannot disclose, but fortunately, I did not get caught for most of the terrible things I did.

So, I had to go from school to school, to school; that is how I passed my high school years. I do not remember much; it was all a haze of doing stupid, self-destructive things and wasting a lot of time and definitely most of my potential. But then, after four years of screwing around, in grade 13 (we had five years of high school back then; now it’s technically four, although many kids choose to do one more year before heading off to university), I knew that if I wanted to go to university then I had to smarten up. So, I put in three months of hard work, got really good grades and got accepted into all of the universities to which I applied. Then, after that one term, I went back to old habits [Laughing], having fun basically. So, three months of hard work out of five years of high school got me into university. I’m not sure what it’s like now, but there you go.

3. Jacobsen: [Laughing] When released, so to speak, from family dynamics, especially your father, entering into university, no more monkey. No more penis candles. No more holy water to exorcise the family.

What university did you choose? Why did you choose it? What did you end up taking in it?

Amitay: First, my father was still in the picture. They were divorced, but my mom was very generous. She always had more money than he did. Her store became successful around the time of the divorce, when I was about 10 or 11, maybe a bit later.

So, my sister, who is eight years younger than I am and was adopted at three months of age, benefitted; she got all she wanted. When we moved to the new neighbourhood, I did not get a new paper route at first. Instead, I asked my mom, “Can I have an allowance?” She said, “What? Are you lazy? Get a job.” So, I got a paper route the next day and then asked her for an allowance. Her response? “You have a job and are making your own money; why do you want more from me?” That was always her mentality: Work hard and pay your own way.

I had started to say that, notwithstanding her philosophy on an allowance for me, she was very generous. On the weekends, she would leave the house and my father would stay in her house for the weekend with the kids. It was mostly for my younger sister – not my brother and me. We did our own thing. He was almost always in the picture, in a peripheral way, but he was involved with my younger sister. It is not like I didn’t have a father.

My mother also got a new husband, whom my father had known first. He introduced my father to his career at the CBC and my father introduced him to my mother.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: They have the same name and couldn’t be any different than two people or men: totally opposite ends of the spectrum. That happened when I was 10 or 11 years old, shortly after my parents broke up. It was a huge shift in my perception of people, dynamics, and so on.

Getting back to university, I had earned a scholarship to go to Western University, which is in a small town known for business. But I said, “I am not going to go to Western. I would rather stay at home in the city I know.” So, I decided to go to the University of Toronto, which is still considered one of the best universities in Canada for whatever reason.

Then, maybe a month before university started, a very, very old family friend—I have known her and her siblings since I was 3; they are the children of my mom’s former business partner—she came back from Japan and told me all these great stories about her time there. This was 1987; there was this first wave of people going to Japan then. Canada had this special arrangement with Japan that Australia, New Zealand, and the UK had, which was the “Working Holiday Visa – you can travel, study, do whatever for a year without needing to be sponsored: total freedom.

She went to Japan on this visa and lived in the countryside. I thought, “That’s cool.” So, one month before university began, I suddenly decided to go to Japan and, within maybe two months, I was there on a Working Holiday Visa days after my 19th birthday. Ironically, at first, I chose not to go to Western because I thought it was too far from all of my family, friends, and comforts in Toronto. A few months later, I was in Japan and spent the year there – a year and a few months. I was making really good money, having such a great time, and I met a young woman my age over there.

As a side note, I had to return to Canada after one year because that was how long this special visa was for; it was for six months but you could renew it for another six months while in Japan. Japanese visiting Canada apparently could return to Japan after one year and get another Working Holiday Visa for one more year (they may have been able to do it a few more times), so I was told by Japanese consulate staff that I would be able to do the same thing.

I, therefore, left all of my things in Japan—including the nice house in which I was living, my many private students, a private school at which I was working (the owners had essentially taken me in like a son) and my girlfriend—fully expecting to return in a few weeks. In Canada, however, I was told that we were, in fact, able to get only one Working Holiday Visa for Japan (and the UK, Australia and New Zealand, I believe) in our lifetime. When I told them about how I had left everything in Japan, they told me I could return on a three-month Tourist Visa to settle up my affairs over there.

I refused and explained that I had to go back for another year, if not longer. Over the next week or so, I kept speaking to different embassy representatives over the phone on a nearly daily basis, working my way up to the very top: either the Lieutenant Governor of Canada or the Governor General of Canada (I really should know the difference but I was still 19 and did not care who it was, as long as they would give me what I wanted). Each time I spoke with someone, I kept explaining how much I had fallen in love with Japan and told them that one year was not enough time to truly get to know the country and its culture, which was the whole point of the Visa program.

The Lieutenant Governor of Canada or the Governor General of Canada was apparently compelled by my reasoning and granted me the second Working Holiday Visa for Japan—the first time this had ever happened. They apparently realized that it made sense to let those who really loved Japan to stay longer under the same conditions so they eventually made it a policy for everyone.

When I arrived in Japan, however, no one in Customs would stamp my passport because they had never seen anyone receive two such visas. My Japanese was pretty good at the time so I could understand that each person they called over tried to get someone else to make the decision because no one wanted to risk getting in trouble for letting me in, just in case my second Visa was a fraud. They finally did get a senior official to let me through.

A funny side note was that I had brought a bunch of souvenirs from Canada, most of them being from my mom’s store. The airport agents were amused but suspicious of this 19-year-old foreigner who was explaining in pretty good Japanese what all of these very strange items were in a tactful manner.

Once I resumed my life in Japan, with the way everything was going I thought, “Screw university. I’ll start an English school in Japan.” My life in Japan, especially after I had met my girlfriend, was nothing like I had ever experienced. I was leading a hedonistic and pretty easy life and I lost any motivation to do the hard work I would need to do in order to live successfully in Canada.

Thank goodness, my mother was smart enough to say, “Come back to Canada and try at least one year in university; you’re too smart to waste your brain doing what you’re doing.” I resented her greatly at the time and returned to Canada prematurely in order to shut her up. Interestingly, I had similarly resented her a few years before that because I had always assumed I would take over Lovecraft since I was a kid. It was the family business. It was a cool store and I was lazy.

Most kids whose parents run their own business say at some point, “Why do I have to go to school? Why don’t I just train with you and take over the business?” That was my mindset as well. When I asked her the same question at around 17 or 18 years old—we were likely talking about my going to university—my mother looked at me and said, “No, you’re not taking over Lovecraft. I am simply a store owner; I’m in retail. You are better than that.”

So, at 20, I left Japan early to apply to the University of Toronto, which I commenced weeks before my 21st birthday. But I was really doing it only to shut my mother up. I was planning on going right back to Japan after the first year so that I could return to the easy and fun life I had been enjoying.

Now, I cannot get into the next part of the story, other than to say that my first year in university was not good for a variety of reasons. I was, in fact, doing very well, but a number of factors caused my final grades to drop from As/A+s to mostly the B range—aside from my Intro to Psychology course, in which I was able to maintain my A+.

I had no intention of continuing school and I ended up going back and forth between Canada and Japan for the next few years. In the meantime, I worked at a few restaurants in Toronto and then worked at a few language schools here. Just before I turned 22, I believe, I was hired to help set up, open and operate an English/Japanese language school and cultural centre in Toronto, across from the University of Toronto campus, as the director of the English section.

It was a big thing. It was thrilling and great, using my brain and doing all of these things I had never done before as we opened up this new business. I was speaking with lawyers, people from the embassy, lots of business people, politicians and respected members in the Japanese community. Truth be told, the business would never have got anywhere if it were not for my partner in the English section, a hard-nosed, intelligent and ambitious woman who was probably 20 or 25 years my senior. She was really the one who made everything happen but, as a 21- to 22-year-old, I relished all of the challenges with which I was tasked.

After a while, however, everything was in place and running pretty well. I essentially went from being a director and taking on so many new challenges to being an English teacher, doing the same thing I had done in Japan right after turning 19 years old and then in Toronto. Also, my status and salary dropped considerably and I could tell that the respect was no longer there. The bosses were…let’s just say that I could see the writing on the wall.

At some point during this process, I also broke up with my girlfriend, who had returned to Japan after living in Canada for a while. I subsequently met the woman who would end up becoming my wife, here in Toronto. She was also Japanese and ended up returning to Japan once her visa had expired.

I am fast forwarding through a lot but, about one week before my bride to be was about to arrive in Canada with her mother for our impending wedding in June, I started becoming very anxious. I had come to realize that I would need to set up a life here for us, as I did not want to return to Japan to teach English. Also, unlike how things had been planned previously at the language school/cultural centre, I knew I would not be able to fly back and forth between countries to live in both places. I additionally knew I could not survive on the salary I was making at the time, the job was too easy so I was getting bored, and I did not like the work environment that had developed—although I did always love the actual teaching.

I remember standing in my mom’s kitchen by myself, starting to freak out because, if I were to return to school in order to do what I knew in my heart I loved to do—become a psychologist—I would have to return to university for three years to complete the rest of my BSc, followed by one year for a Masters and three years for a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Not only did I think I would be so old by that point—well into my 30s—but I also knew I could not afford not to work for those seven years because I needed to support my wife and myself. And if I tried to go to school part-time while working part-time or even fulltime, it would take many more years to complete everything. On a side note, I was unaware that, for a Masters in Clinical Psychology, it was actually two years, while a Ph.D. was at least four or five years (more typically 7 to 10 years!).

This was about a week before my marriage! My wife to be and her mother were coming over soon and I had to admit to them that I did not know what the hell I was going to do because the great company I had been working at when I first met my wife’s parents was not the same as it had been, nor was my salary. Feeling like I had no viable options and that there was no way things could go the way I would want them to go for the rest of my life, I literally worked myself up into a panic attack in the middle of my mom’s kitchen.

I had never had a panic attack in my life. It was brief and my head was swirling. I felt like I was about to pass out and I kind of collapsed on my mom’s counter. A few seconds later, I got up from the counter and thought, “What am I talking about? I can go to work full-time and school full-time. Why not?” I suddenly snapped back into the person I usually was.

The next day, I arranged to return to the U of T and, about three months later, started my second year. At this point, I was five years older than most students because of all of the time I had taken off over the past number of years.

I continued to work at the same language school/cultural centre, which was right across from the U of T campus. It was near perfect: I would work fulltime during the day and take classes at night and over the summer. I was able to finish my undergraduate degree in the three years it was supposed to take.

And unlike most students in the second year, I knew for sure that I was going to be a psychologist. As mentioned earlier, even though things had happened that messed up the grades in my other courses, I still got the A+ in Intro Psychology and loved the course.

Even some students in their fourth year are unaware that, in order to enter most Graduate Schools for Clinical Psychology, you need to take a very difficult exam called the GRE or the Graduate Record Examination. Conversely, before even beginning the second year, I had already purchased materials to prepare for the GRE a few years later because, again, I knew that I was going all the way to get my Ph.D. and become a registered psychologist.

Fast forward to a few weeks before I graduated from the U of T, the language school/cultural centre fired me without any notice. They did it in such a cold manner, even though I had helped the various owners and their families essentially settle in Canada. In fact, I should have not been surprised because they had done something similar to the senior partner I had mentioned before, and she was really the one who helped everyone be able to come to and reside in Canada.

Besides, to be honest, I had been screwing around at work. I was so focused on school that I was doing the minimum at work.

Unfortunately, they fired me within maybe a few weeks of not only my getting into a serious bike accident, which messed up the end of my school year, but also my experiencing two of the biggest setbacks one can experience in academia—one of which was due to the accident. I got depressed for about a week or two and then snapped out of it. I elaborate on this a bit later.

I ended up getting into graduate school and, by the second year of my Masters, I began teaching at the university and was also doing some clinical work. Before and after that, I also was paid to be a Teaching Assistant and Research Assistant, so all throughout my undergraduate, Masters, and Ph.D., I was working fulltime in addition to my actual academic work.

The good thing about this was that, unlike so many of my colleagues who felt they had put their “real lives” on hold for 4 to 15 years while they went to school, I never felt that way. Although some of my schoolmates would work over the summer or do a bit of part-time work in addition to their work as a Teaching Assistant or Research Assistant, they still always felt like a stagnating student or they did not feel as if they had really entered “the real world” yet. This was particularly true for students who went straight from high school to university and then to grad school.

On the contrary, I treated school as a second career, while my teaching and clinical work were my other careers. Unlike most graduate students,  I was never anxiously wondering, “When is school going to end?” Most of my schoolmates felt their careers would not begin until they graduated. For me, getting my Ph.D. would simply enable me to do more in my chosen fields and to make more money in the careers I had already begun to forge several years before.

In addition to learning that sleep really is over-rated, leading dual career/academic lives all throughout my undergrad and graduate degrees taught me about resilience, hardiness, responsibility and so much more. But that was the kind of work ethic and determination I had learned from each of my parents. That was how I became a psychologist.

4. Jacobsen: Also, you are also referencing the upbringing with the [Laughing] penis candles and the mother being a store owner, where the parents have a strong influence on you. That is for Masters and Ph.D. What about clinical practice work? What particular methodologies did you specialize in?

Amitay: I did my Masters and Ph.D. at York University, which has the biggest Clinical Psychology program in Canada with many professors who are well-respected and renowned internationally. It focused mostly on human-centered or client-centered therapy. There was one outright CBT Professor and one Psychodynamic Professor (and a few other orientations) when I was there, but mostly they were more Humanistic or Rogerian, as well as emotion-focused and process experiential.

The thing is, the program was mostly about academics and research, and some of the courses were garbage or entirely irrelevant to becoming a registered psychologist. Such courses, as well as other aspects of the program, basically lengthened our time in it. I said, “This is ridiculous. What are we doing here?”

As an undergraduate, being five years older than most students, I was quite arrogant. I was also not that much younger than some of my professors and was even older than some of my TAs. I was thinking that I had made more money than them when I was still a teenager and in my early 20s, and had lived a far more interesting life than most of them had. I thought that I knew more than they do and that made me, very, very arrogant. I had a big mouth, had a bad attitude and caused a lot of trouble.

I became well-known around the department, but not for the right reasons—although when I started getting 100% on exams, including short-answer and essay-based tests, some TAs I knew told me that others had been mentioning that. I ended up becoming pretty close with some TAs and professors. Whenever there was some luncheon or similar informal get-together for the professors and/or graduate students, I would walk in as if I belonged there, hang out and avail myself of the free food and drinks—usually to excess. I would then head off to class in the right frame of mind; it made the lectures far more tolerable.

One time, during the first or second class of the term, I stayed too long at one of these functions so I brought a glass of wine to the professor as a peace offering; she was relatively young and considered one of the “hottest” profs in the department. I walked in, handed it to her casually and proceeded to sit down as if it was no big deal. She asked my name and we ended up getting to know each other a bit better after that.

By hanging out with the TAs and professors, I could hear what was going on in the department and get a better sense of how things operate. However, I was still a troublemaker and I had a couple of professors say to me every once in a while, “What the hell did you do this time?” One of them told me that, when he was in the faculty lounge and my name would come up, he could see some of his colleagues literally twitch. He would apparently mention my name occasionally just to get a rise out of them!

I say all of this because, when I went to York, I was determined to not repeat the same crap I had been doing for so long. This was because, as alluded to earlier, I experienced several “crises” all around the same time: I was fired from the job that was supporting me and my wife (who was also working at a low-paying job at the time) and, shortly before that, I had been hit by a car a few weeks prior to completing my final undergrad term. The accident prevented me from being able to complete some work on time and I was too proud to ask for an extension.

Also, because I was so determined to get all my work done in time, while still working full-time (I took only one day off after the accident and had checked myself out of hospital against doctor’s orders that day so I could get to class, mangled bike and all), I was popping painkillers like candy. I went into shock and/or had a full-blown panic attack in the middle of one of my classes when I realized I had finished my month’s supply of narcotics within a few days. I ended up back in the hospital that night, experiencing wave after wave of involuntary “shock” or panic.

On a side note, I had done something similar a few years prior: I rolled my ankle playing basketball at the university and, after being taken to hospital, hobbled to class in the middle of a snowstorm with my crutches because it was the last class before the exam and I did not want to risk missing important information. Being very frugal, I took the subway home after class instead of a taxi and, a little after arriving home, I went into shock due to the intense strain stemming from my stupid determination and poor judgment.

Returning to the other story, my failure to ask for any extensions following the accident, together with my subsequent “shock” or panic-induced setback, ended up causing me to screw up my thesis. I was consequently one of the few students who did not get an A on it—I think it ended up being a B+. I had also got a B on a full-year lab/research course due to some conflicts with the professor and my fellow students, and these were the two most important courses prospective Grad School professors/supervisors would look at.

Getting relatively poor grades in these two full-year courses (as opposed to most courses in which I was getting As and A+s that were half-year and thus contributed less to my GPA) was critical because of the next crisis to befall me at that time: I had failed to get accepted into Grad School for a variety of reasons—most of which were my fault, although I did get into a Top-10 program in the US, but the professor/supervisor ended up leaving after she accepted me and thus my offer was nullified.

Now, I had no grad school, no job and, if I were to try once again to get into grad school, my application would be hindered by a GPA that was lower than it had been when I failed to get accepted the first time; because of the timing, applications to grad school are usually based on grades up until the penultimate term, but now I would have to include results from my final term, which included my inadequate thesis performance as well as other grades that fell somewhat after the accident. Plus, my plans had been delayed by at least a year and, in the state of despair into which I was falling, I was distorting reality severely and felt as though that one-year delay would cause me to be an old man by the time I finally became a psychologist—assuming I could even get into grad school in the first place!

In short, I really did not see any hope for my future at that point. As alluded to earlier, this is when I went into a depression for about a week or so. I was not used to failing and now I was facing a number of the biggest failures someone in my position could confront, all at the same time.

I ended up going to therapy, but for dubious reasons (I won’t get into that). In the end, however, I experienced a moment of significant self-reflection and insight in spite of my psychologist—or, more accurately, to spite that psychologist. In short, the entire experience really humbled me and greatly changed my perspective on myself and my life.

I picked myself up, took complete responsibility for a number of problems I had experienced—including those for which I had mistakenly believed I had already taken full ownership—and set about planning to get into grad school for the next year. I worked on improving myself in other areas of my life and, one year later, began graduate school on the same day my first daughter was born.

I should point out that my reputation at the U of T almost ruined my career aspirations, as I learned that, when prospective graduate supervisors/professors would contact my former professors, they would warn them about me. I found out that at least one professor who had never even taught me had similarly advised against taking me on as a grad student!

Fortunately, one of my former professors, with whom I had become quite close, really stuck up for me and convinced my supervisor at York to take me on. She took a chance with me and, I believe, I did not make her life too much more difficult than any other grad student.

Interestingly, after my Free Speech talk with Drs. Jordan Peterson and Gad Saad on November 11, 2017, I met my former supervisor for the first time in about 10 years. She was there as Dr. Peterson’s personal guest because they have been friends for many years; she also brought him onto my dissertation committee as an “external reviewer” as part of my graduation requirements.

In any event, when I began graduate school, my recent life-altering experience with profound self-reflection and self-improvement caused me to make a determined effort not to keep doing things as I had always done before. I was committed to being a “good boy” and not causing any shit. I joined a number of committees and got very involved with the department.

I really immersed myself in such things and contributed to some major changes in the department. And, as part of my devotion to becoming a better person, I focused many of my efforts on doing things that would help others and not myself. In addition to learning how things work in the department, I learned what most “do-gooders” learn: The vast majority of people are happy to sit back and let a tiny number of people do all of the hard work that ends up benefiting those who do nothing to help out.

I should add that one reason I first got involved in all of these things was that, by chance, I had been set up with a student who was as ambitious as I was. She was one or two years ahead of me and, as part of our orientation, she and others in her grade would each be paired up with one incoming student. At this point, she had been doing so much for the program as a student committee member that she had finally had enough. She asked if I wanted to take over one or two of her responsibilities and I took them all over, as well as several other positions.

If I had kept my mouth shut, my life would have been much easier and simpler. But it would have also been far more boring and I don’t do boring. Knowing me, I would have ended up filling my spare time with my typical trouble-making antics.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: In any event, I soon realized that York’s program was not very efficient: We were taking too many courses—some of which were literally irrelevant or useless—in lieu of clinical training and experience. The department asked how I knew that my complaints were valid. They challenged me to prove my assertions so I contacted the dozen or so Canadian Clinical Psychology programs at the time that were accredited by both the American Psychological Association and Canadian Psychological Association, as York was.

I had been on the committee that had recently got the APA accreditation for York so I knew about various requirements and expectations. After compiling all of the data on each of the aforementioned comparable graduate programs—which had so many variations in their course load, training, internships, research requirements, average duration, etc—I showed conclusively that we had too many courses and not enough training.

While I was at it, I also showed that one research paper requirement literally had no meaning or value for most students. Also, it had been designed in such a way that there was no consistency among students’ experiences: Some had supervisors who did not care about it and gave them an A for doing virtually nothing, while others had to work their asses off doing something that did not benefit them at all.

I pushed and got the department to change that paper so that, in fact, most students would derive some benefit and would have to do approximately the same amount of work. In short, I got the department to implement parameters that would help the student turn this requirement into a brief paper that could get published and would thus help them get funding, get into future internships or post-doc positions and/or advance their eventual careers.

In the process, however, I really pissed off a number of professors who did not like that a student was pushing for all of these changes. I believe a few of the professors got their revenge by giving me lower grades than I deserved. They also decided to implement one of their new policies that they knew was my personal favourite—eliminating one of the courses we needed to take—literally the day my own useless course was finished; I know this was deliberate because of the interaction I had with the professor who told me about this change. Oh well, that’s what you get.

By the way, when I finally resigned all of my committee positions, I recruited a colleague to take over, just as my “buddy” had done with me a few years prior. However, I fully warned her about the problems she would face and she was still determined to do it. She knew how much I had been doing so she got two more students to split all of the duties I had been handling.

Sure enough, each of these three students found themselves having to deal with “passive-aggressive” and/or retaliatory B.S. from some of the professors and administrators with whom they were working on the various committees. Unfortunately, they did not have the kind of thick skin I have and I believe two of them ended up dropping out of the program (I know one did for sure and she told me that the BS I just mentioned was a huge factor). I think the third student gave up on her committees after a pretty short time.

One of the points of this digression was that, although York did end up adopting most of the changes I pushed—especially with respect to clinical training—they did so after it was too late for me to benefit from these changes. In other words, I received very little actual training from York with respect to psychotherapy and psychological assessments.

Jacobsen: Right.

Amitay: So, I had to get it from the outside. Some of it was through practical experience, such as the Employee Assistance Program, which is a program paid for by certain employers. It is like limited private insurance for mental health. (It was originally established to help employees dealing with addictions and then they broadened it.) That was my first “clinical” job. For a graduate student making $65/hr, not bad!

We are talking 20 years ago. I had a niche market as I was apparently the only one in Canada at the time who was doing therapy in Japanese, according to the EAP provider.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: These Japanese clients who came to Canada had a hard time adjusting. I was doing therapy with them through this EAP. I told this to my department at York when we were discussing what I was doing.

They said, “You can’t do that. You are only a first-year Master’s student. You are not a psychologist. You do not have malpractice insurance. If someone kills themselves, the company will throw you under the bus because you are a private contractor for them.” And the fact is that one of the people I had dealt with through this EAP had attempted suicide.

I could have lost everything. I had no idea. So, that was my first “clinical” experience. York stopped me after I had done this for about a year. They did it for my own benefit and said that they would never allow another student to do that by tightening the rules.

In fact, there have been a number of times in undergraduate and graduate school where they have changed some policies because of something I had done and the outcome was not necessarily great. But how do you know if you don’t do it?

But the point is that I ended up getting most of my training outside of the university through practica, internships and other opportunities I sought out for myself. One exception to this was Emotion Focused Therapy (EFT) with Dr. Les Greenberg, who came up with this very powerful therapy with Drs. Rice and Elliott, and he taught it in one of the courses at York. He also ran workshops where he was training therapists on how to do EFT; I volunteered to facilitate several such workshops with him and learned more about EFT this way.

I was constantly looking for any opportunity for more training and more experience. Then, the most important experience for me, which ended up changing my whole life, occurred when I did one of my internships at a hospital. A friend of mine, one of my lab mates at York, had done this internship previously and suggested that I apply to do it as well.

I was accepted and began working and training with my supervisor, Dr. Szabo, at the hospital. However, Dr. Amin, the head of the psychology department (and also Dr. Szabo’s former mentor), liked what he saw of me and ended up “poaching” me. I ended up doing a lot of side work for Dr. Amin,  who got me into doing Parenting Capacity Assessments (PCAs) for the Courts and many different Child Protection Services across Ontario. I had never planned to do this kind of work, as my goal was simply to do psychotherapy.

At the time, Dr. Amin was probably doing the most PCAs in Canada and had been doing them for many, many years. I assisted him in doing many of these types of assessments and got so much extensive training in assessments. Dr. Amin ended up becoming my supervisor and mentor for subsequent internships for York and then for my registration with our College of Psychologists of Ontario not only for assessments but also for psychotherapy. Dr. Szabo was also my secondary supervisor during this training.

When I got my full registration, I ended up doing PCAs on my own. I basically called all of these Children’s Aid organizations—with Dr. Amin’s blessings—and said, “Just so you know, you can contact me directly now if you would like me to complete any PCAs for you.” From what I have heard from those in the know, I ended up doing the most PCAs in Canada per year and may still be doing more than any individual psychologist.

I am so grateful because virtually anyone can be a therapist. Although I have many patients, with the way things are going in Canada with respect to psychologists and psychotherapists, I believe many psychologists who do only psychotherapy are going to see a significant decrease in their business in the near future. That is, even though psychotherapists have far less education, training, knowledge and expertise than psychologists, they have recently been gaining far more rights, abilities and standing by our government.

If I did only therapy, I would be just one therapist in a giant pool. But conducting Parenting Capacity Assessments—and now Custody and Access Assessments—I am part of a tiny select/specialized group of psychologists doing such niche work.

One reason very few people do these types of assessments is that it is kind of like forensic work and often requires us to give expert testimony in Court; this intimidates many psychologists. What intimidates and deters psychologists even more is that PCAs and especially Custody and Access Assessments draw the most false complaints to our College. I won’t get into that nightmare other than to say that defending oneself against such false allegations can be a very anxiety-provoking and/or extremely time-consuming process. I have been through a number of such false complaints and they really can take their toll; I will leave it at that.

Another reason people do not like doing PCAs can be elucidated in the following story that I tell my students. When Dr. Amin first hired me to help him conduct PCAs, he wanted to ease me into the process because he knew how terrible some of the cases could be; we have both had some truly horrific cases and have seen the worst that humans are capable of doing. We also each have children, so these things can potentially strike home.

Knowing all this, Dr. Amin decided to make my very first case relatively easy—which rarely happens, since the Courts or child protection agencies don’t need to bring us in for “easy” cases. In any event, he happened to have received such a case and told me, “This is an easy one: It involves a grandmother who has agreed to take care of her granddaughter and Children’s Aid completely supports this plan.”

I thought, “Great!” I opened the case file and thought to myself, “Either Dr. Amin is one sick bastard if he thinks this is an “easy” case, or he has a really sick sense of humour.” I am saying this to you with a smile, but I have to follow it up with the most unfunny thing ever.

You see, the reason the grandmother was involved was that her daughter had allowed a boyfriend to beat the living shit out of her child. My mentor did not know the specifics of the case. He is definitely not an asshole; he is a very good, compassionate and generous man.

However, as soon as I opened the file, the first thing I saw was a color photograph of the child in the hospital – bruises up and down, near death. This was my very first case; what an introduction into the world of PCAs.

Since that first case, I have conducted over 450 PCAs. Sadly, there is a great demand for such assessments and, like I said, it is a niche market. It is a terrible field in which to work but I try to do some good.

In addition to PCAs and Custody and Access Assessments, I see about 15-25, sometimes 30, patients a week. I never have to advertise because my patients come through word of mouth and from seeing or hearing me in the media, as I give about 4 or 5 interviews per week. It started off as a few here or there about 14 years ago, then eventually increased to about one per week and I kept getting more and more interview requests on literally any topic you can imagine.

Although some might consider me lucky for the way things have turned out for me, nothing has ever just fallen into my lap. Rather, whenever I see an opportunity, I go for it and do my very best to prove that I am the right person for the job, whatever it is. Nobody has ever simply given me anything or done me any favours just for the sake of being nice to me.

As another example, when I first decided to try teaching at Ryerson 16 years ago, the day I called to inquire into how I should go about applying for any positions that might be available, I was told that there were no positions available in the Psychology department at the time and there would not likely be any in the foreseeable future. However, I was told to try the Continuing Education department. I called them up and found out that that very day was the last day to apply for teaching positions that term. I can’t remember what I was doing that day but I pushed everything aside, found out what courses were being advertised, got my crap together and put together a CV and application package over the next few hours. I rushed down to the university, delivered my last-minute application package right before they closed and, weeks later, was told that I would be teaching Introduction to Psychology.

Over the next eight years, I would always teach at Ryerson and one other university in Toronto or just outside the city. This caused me to teach four to six courses four terms/times each year—once I taught seven courses and twice I taught eight! I am pretty sure that was a record. Plus, I was still seeing many patients each week and conducting numerous assessments.

I thought, “I am going to have a story to talk about one day. If I can make it through this term…”

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Amitay: “…I will have a story to tell.” It is not comparing myself to other people. It is comparing myself to what I had done before. It is having a healthy mindset. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, I always ask myself, “Okay, how am I going to make this happen?”

One of the times I taught eight classes was when I was working 100 hours per week. I was teaching 9am-12pm at Ryerson; 12-6pm at U of T Scarborough, which was about a 20-30 minute drive; and finally 6-9pm back at Ryerson. Those numbers obviously don’t add up [Laughing]. However, I worked things out with my schedule to make all of that happen without my students losing any class time or quality of teaching.

Those are the kinds of challenges I live for. I love knowing that I am able to do such things and do them well. This is the way I see life: challenges. Otherwise, you stagnate and get bored. You atrophy.

However, in 2011 I decided it was too hectic to try to balance working at two different universities. I stopped teaching elsewhere and have continued to teach two courses every term at Ryerson, four times each year: I teach Psychology of Human Sexuality every term and Psychological Disorders (which is often called Abnormal Psychology) and Clinical Psychology in alternating terms.

And, because I am a workaholic, I end up filling up a lot of my “free time” with social media stuff. Making my podcasts and engaging with viewers on Youtube and Twitter could, in fact, be a fulltime career if I had any business or marketing acumen. But I do all of that simply because it is the right thing to do; I make absolutely no money off of it.

Returning to Ryerson, I do love teaching. I also appreciate that much of what I learn in order to teach can also inform my clinical practice, and vice versa.

I have had opportunities at different universities to work full-time and aim for a tenure-track position. However, doing that requires a lot of research, which means that you are not really teaching much. I have always enjoyed the teaching part and not so much the research part. And I really do not like having to “beg” for money via research grant proposals all of the time and having to prove my worth to a department by showing them that I know how to play the game properly. That is not my thing at all.

Teaching, however, is definitely my passion. And because I love it so much, my students see me at my absolute best. I am on fire in class. To be sure, there have been some days that I am sick or sleep deprived. I will stagger into class, coughing and barely able to speak at first. But once I get rolling, I get energy from the students and I can get right into the lesson with full vigour.

And it does not matter if I have taught something before. I always try to keep it fresh for both myself and for the students. They can see that. The funny thing is, I will sometimes stand there in the middle of class and literally pat myself on the back and say something like, “I have taught the same thing 60 times, and this is the first time I made that joke spontaneously about this material.” I do not plan those kinds of things. I want such comments or jokes to manifest at the moment. And I will always try to bring recent events to the lesson plan so that, even if I have taught it many times before, it will be different in important ways because new examples are always available.

Also, my students know that, no matter what I am teaching, from the very beginning I have always taught critical thinking. I have a number of ways I do this organically in the lecture that really drives home the need to be able to think sceptically and critically, and to keep an open mind to everything.

I also show students that they are able to hear and discuss extremely controversial and uncomfortable materials from a logical, rational, or fact/evidence-based perspective without letting their emotions overwhelm them. In my Human Sexuality class, within the first 20-30 minutes of the very first lecture of the term, I have discussed rape, pedophilia, domestic violence, feminism, gender wage myths, real and false allegations of sexual assault or incest, masturbation, sexual orientation and more. And you know what I never include? “Trigger Warnings.”

I do have to be careful because I have no tenure and no job security. I am merely a sessional lecturer on contract. So, I still have to apply to teach three times per year, although I always get the courses I want because I have so much seniority. But I still have to apply.

I have forgotten to apply three times over the past 17 years because sometimes I am so busy with deadlines for Court reports or some other work-related duties, and the application period occurs near the end of the term, when I am trying to wrap everything up and get all of my grades in. Fortunately, my immediate superior is a good person and, each time I forgot to apply he gave me two other courses to teach. Although these are usually courses I have taught previously, once I was offered the chance to teach Positive Psychology and once it was an Addictions course.

Teaching a new course can be very demanding because you have to create the syllabus, lecture materials, powerpoints and exams from scratch. And, as a sessional instructor, I do not get paid for this prep time, only the actual class time. So, for each of these two new courses, I knew I was going to invest so much time and effort into something that I would most likely never teach again, since I always teach the three courses I mentioned (each instructor usually gets to teach only two courses per term).

Fortunately, I ended up teaching Positive Psychology two more times, so I was able to use the materials again, with some tweaking/modifications. Moreover, when I was preparing for the course, I learned about another psychological orientation/therapy—Acceptance and Commitment to Change Therapy (ACT)—which I pursued and incorporated it into my clinical practice as my eighth one.

As for the Addictions course, although I never taught it again, it did provide me with a lot of information that I have been able to use in my practice. It gives me another area of knowledge that is very relevant to my work with many patients.

In other words, instead of complaining about all of the work I had to do for each course, I looked at the positive aspects of my decisions. This is the kind of healthy mindset that enables me to take on new challenges: I look for ways in which doing these things will benefit me instead of worrying about the potential negatives. However, I do engage in a mental calculation to make sure that the potential benefits will outweigh the costs, otherwise I am prone to making bad decisions for the wrong reasons.

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Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant.

[2] Individual Publication Date: February 22, 2018 at www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[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 One) [Online].February 2018; 16(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, February 22). Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One)Retrieved from www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay.

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

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 One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A. www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay.

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 One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (February 2018). www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay.

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

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

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 One).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):February. 2018. Web. <www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Dr. Oren Amitay, Ph.D., C.Psych. on His Life and Views: Registered Psychologist and Media Consultant (Part One) [Internet]. (2018, February; 16(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/amitay.

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Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

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© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 2012-2017. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion

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: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: February 15, 2018

Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 8,233

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

An Interview with Dr. Darrel Ray. He discusses: Christian fundamentalist upbringing; Recovering from Religion; individual factors in recovery; Richard Dawkins’ terminology of religion as a virus; unexpected allies; secular therapists; sex addiction; most bizarre sexual taboo; criteria for asexual; universal attractive characteristics; guilt around sex; unsupported and non-scientific ideas around sex; and admirable aspects of religion.

Keywords: Christian fundamentalism, Darrel Ray, religion, sex.

Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion[1],[2],[3]

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: You grew up in a Christian fundamentalist family in Wichita, Kansas. From a youth perspective, what’s running through a child’s mind as they’re growing up in a fundamentalist household that is Christian?

Dr. Darrel Ray: If you think about it, as you’re growing up, you’re being taught a whole lot of things. One is which language you’re speaking or you’re going to speak. There aren’t any children that sit around thinking, I wonder why mom isn’t teaching me Chinese, or why am I not learning Zulu.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] That’s right.

Ray: It is. At the same time, you’re learning the language. You’re also learning a lot of other things. You’re learning how to have polite manners at the table. You’re learning how to treat other people, your brothers, and sisters, and you’re learning what the religion is.

To the child, language acquisition and religious acquisition are happening at the same time and you’re not going to question why am I not being taught Catholicism or Buddhism. You accept whatever it was.

That’s what’s going on in a child’s mind. Here’s the deal, in a hunter-gatherer society, and we’re only separated by only a few thousand years from being hunter-gatherers. In a hunter-gatherer society, the child is genetically and biologically built to listen to their parents.

Because if there’s a lion out there that could eat you, you better listen to your parents. So, the parents say, “Don’t go into that bush over there, because there are tigers and lions that might eat you.” “Mom, dad, that sounds like a good idea.”

Then the mom and dad turn around the next day and say, “Don’t go into that over bush over there because there are demons that will send you to hell.” How does a child know the difference?

Jacobsen: They don’t.

Ray: They can’t; they can’t know the difference, right. So, by age 10, you’ve programmed all those kinds of ideas and you have no ability to critically analyze those ideas. Once they’re embedded in your brain, they’re embedded deeply and probably permanently.

So, notions like hell, the notion of hell, once it gets embedded, can scare the hell, literally, out of a 10-year-old. Think of a 10-year-old that goes to a Pentecostal meeting, somewhere where they’re shown the fear of God and talking about how terrible hell is.

That gets deeply embedded into your brain and can easily trigger responses that are as if the lion is about ready to eat you. Your brain is going to respond to that threat, whether it’s the threat of hell or the threat of a lion eating you, and buried somewhere always.

So, I see as a child grows up. One of the most interesting things is tragic. I work, we work, with a lot of people who are dealing with the fear of hell. They are atheists, they’re secularists, they’re atheists or agnostics, but they were raised in families like the Westboro Baptist Church that are fearful of hell.

The poor people, now, they’re an adult, they’re 30, 40, 50-years-old They’re still scared of hell, waking up with cold sweats at night, they have nightmares. We know now that’s probably related to post-traumatic stress disorder.

In fact, Dr. Marley Rinella, pioneer psychologist over in the Bay Area renamed it religious trauma syndrome because she could see from her work as a psychologist that post-traumatic stress of somebody coming back from Afghanistan in a war zone looks a lot like the stress people had being raised in religious environments from early on and then terrorized with things like fear of hell. That’s a long answer to a short question.

Jacobsen: That’s an important answer to a deep question.

Ray: That’s what you’re looking for, I’m happy to help you to give it to you.

2. Jacobsen: I appreciate that. You have the relevant qualifications – anthropology, sociology, education, clinical psychology. These provide a framework from which to speak authoritatively on these issues. So, I appreciate that.

So, with Recovering from Religion, for those that don’t know, what is the elevator pitch of what it is?

Ray: We help people deal with the consequences and trauma of leaving religion. That’s much of our mission. So, somebody 40-years-old with 2 children, now recognizes that everything they were taught is a bunch of phooey, what do they do now?

They raise their kids religious; their wife or husband is still religious. Who do they turn to? They certainly can’t go talk to their minister. I started this in 2009, Recovering from Religion; we’ve now grown phenomenally.

We now have a hotline somebody can call and say exactly what they feel. We get those kinds of calls all the time. Their kids are religious, but they’re an atheist and they raised their kids religious with their religious husband or wife. Or their wife has become an agnostic, but they’re still a Catholic.

We get calls from religious people. We get parents. Parents, for example, will call us and say we love our child, they say they’re an atheist now and we found you on the internet. We want to respect our child, but we don’t know how to deal with it because we’re Catholic or we’re Jewish or we’re Buddhist.

It could be anything. So, that’s our goal. We have small group meetings all over the world. People meet about once a month, talk to each other about recovering issues. We have many other programs.

But the short answer is we’re helping people deal with the trauma and consequences of leaving religion.

3. Jacobsen: What personality factors or personality variables, and individual factors, play into the rate at which someone can recover? So, for example, the level of general intelligence, or the degree to which someone can adhere strongly to engaging in executive function behavior? Or having “grit,” what are some variables there?

Ray: I write extensively about that in my book, The God Virus. It has little to do with intelligence. That’s not to say intelligence doesn’t have something to do with it. I’m not going to focus on it right now. There are five major personality components in human beings. Four of those components do not correlate at all with religiosity.

The fifth one, however, does; the fifth one is the only one I’m interested in with respect to this research to answer your question. It’s called openness, curiosity, and openness to new experience. Here’s what the research seems to show.

The less curious you are, the less open you are to new experience, the more likely you are to be in check with religious notions of any kind. It’s much easier for parents. Let’s be serious here, most religion you get from your parents.

That’s where most everybody gets it. You’re most likely to be infected, more easily infected, if you have a low level of curiosity and a low level of openness to new experience. On the other hand, children being raised by parents who are religious, but the child is high and open to experiencing curiosity is going to be that darn child that asks why mommy, why daddy, all the time.

It irritates the hell out of the parents. It’s hard to infect that kid or keep them infected because they keep asking the wrong questions. The other child, the one that’s not open to new experience and not particularly curious; they don’t ask those questions in the first place.

And I’ll tell you, I have three examples of that in my own family. I can see it. Sometimes, it’s amazing how those two things happen. So, what you get is a person that gets older and then realizes, starts asking tougher questions, or getting answers to some of those questions.

Then they start moving away from religion; they were still infected at that pre-critical age, prior to 10-years-old. That’s before the questions could even be asked. So, while their logic says one thing, their emotions say another thing.

So, generally, people go through a phase, generally, two to three years, of having to deal with that dissonance, that conflict between my emotions say, “There is a hell,” or my emotions say, “That God is watching me all the time.”

My logic says, “That’s crazy.” So, it takes quite a while, like I said, maybe two or three years, maybe longer – and sometimes a lifetime. Like I said, I got people dealing with it; they’ve been nonreligious for decades.

So, I don’t think there’s a formula. At least Recovering from Religion, we take people where they are. Obviously, we don’t give them personality tests or IQ tests or anything. Where IQ comes into effect is obviously, a lower IQ, the less curious and openness, open to new experiences, that has some correlation to it.

It’s not perfect, but intelligent people are more open to new experience, more curious. That’s why you get the phenomena that the more educated you are, the less religious you’re likely to be.

And that 94 percent of all the top scientists in the United States are atheists, pretty much. That thing is what you see and that’s where the correlation with intelligence comes in.

4. Jacobsen: Also, if I recall correctly, but I might be misremembering, the data on non-belief in any deity by professional academics goes up especially if you go to natural sciences or fields that require higher cognitive demands in general. So, that’s also a factor as well.

Ray: Absolutely.

Jacobsen: You use the term “infected” when talking about children. Does that come from Richard Dawkins’ terminology of religion as a virus?

Ray: In my book The God Virus, it was largely inspired by an essay he wrote back in 1989 called “Viruses of the Mind” or something like that. It’s this notion has been around since he wrote his book The Selfish Gene back in 1976.

What I noticed was that Dawkins is a biologist and Daniel Dennett is a philosopher and Sam Harris is a neuroscientist, nobody is a psychologist. Nobody is looking at it from an anthropological, sociological, and psychological point of view.

So, I basically stole Dawkins’s notion of a mind virus and applied it specifically to religion. He quite approved of it. I met Richard several times and he likes the book, The God Virus, likes its specific application, from a psychological perspective.

I give Dawkins full credit there; although, he didn’t come anywhere near what I did on the psychological side, anthropological and sociological sides too.

5. Jacobsen: With Recovering from Religion, and something we haven’t mentioned, the Secular Therapy Project, which seems self-descriptive. Who have been unexpected allies that are religious—organizations, individuals, researchers, and so on?

Ray: There are two questions there. Let me address Recovering from Religion. We have seen that there are allies out there. We are appreciative of Unitarians, for example. While they may be somewhat religious, they can be secular too.

Secular Jewish organizations have been allies of ours. Other groups like the Satanic Temple, Flying Spaghetti Monster. People like that love us. Those are all groups that we have some alliances with, that we cooperate with.

Also, the LGBTQ community is one big ally of ours. It might be the other way around. We’re more an ally of theirs than they are of ours, often times. So, many people in the LGBTQ community have been disfellowshipped or thrown out or in some way ostracized by their families, by their community, by the place they were raised in.

And as a result, they ask questions. They start asking questions—you don’t know; this is funny. How many music directors and choir directors that who are now in some way, shape, or form affiliated with? Why? Because they’re gay!

They were gay. They loved music. So, they were the choir director in their church for 15 years until they got caught or they outed themselves. They confessed and got thrown out of a church. Now, they’re looking for a community, looking for a place to land. We’re one of the places that’s easy to find on the internet.

So, I would say probably top of the list is LGBTQ. They love us; we love them. There’s still a lot of religious gays. There’s a lot of religious LGBTQ people out there. It makes no sense to me why you would want to go to a church that hates you, but there are still gay Catholics.

It’s amazing to me that they still do that. But, when they find us, they’re on their way out, or somebody outed them and now they’re searching for answers to questions.

Scott, the beautiful thing is that in 2009 there was no organization to call.

The only person you’d probably talk to maybe were psychologists if you could find one. And you certainly wouldn’t talk to your minister. Now, there are people to talk to around, and here. There is an enormous resource page on our website. Enormous.

You go to our resource page. We have hundreds and hundreds of links and resources for people in every walk of life and from every religion. We’re expanding rapidly as we speak. That’s the first answer.

The second part of the question is the Secular Therapy Project. That’s a different piece there and a different question. I don’t see the alliance with everything being too much a part of that, except that those groups, once they become aware of us, then they realize there’s a need.

There are real people out there, real psychologists, real social workers who still believe you can pray the gay away. There are psychologists who went to seminary and learned that homosexuality is a sin, being a lesbian is a sin, being trans in a sin, and so on.

They do believe this. They practice it. In their practice, they still use Jesus to heal people. It is crazy. It is dangerous. Because if a person comes into your practice as a psychologist and says, “I’m depressed.” I say, “You’re depressed because you’re an atheist. You’re depressed because you turned your back on Jesus.”

Wow, that certainly doesn’t help the depression. That’s what we faced, and I faced that in 2010 and 2011. After my book The God Virus came out, people who never heard of me realized I’m a psychologist, from reading my book.

They said, ‘I’m going to contact you, find out, and find a good psychologist.” So, I got countless calls and emails and texts from people saying, “Help me find a good psychologist, the last psychologist I went to send me back to church, or the last psychologist I went to said I need to get Jesus or I need to – part of my problem is that I’m an atheist now.”

So, I said, “I’ll help you.” So, I start looking, and Scott, it’s impossible to find a secular therapist by searching on the internet. It’s impossible. The reason I say that is no therapist admits they’re an atheist.

No therapist says, “I’m secular.” Because in Oklahoma City, if you said, “I’m a secular therapist.” That’s like saying, “I’m a second cousin to the devil.” No, the religious judges will not refer people to you, the hospitals won’t refer to you, ministers certainly won’t refer you.

And so, the notion of a Christian counselor has ballooned in popularity over the last 20 years. Entire programs have been developed around Christian counseling. Some of them are Biblical Christian counseling.

So, I mean this is crazy. There’s no science behind this stuff and yet these people are getting insurance money. They’re licensed. They’re certified in various states. So, I realized that I’m going to have to do something about this.

So, I started the Secular Therapy Project in 201 and got a website developed and everything. Now, people around the country, and soon around the world, are coming to us. We’re opening soon to the international community in full and will be able to register with us as a secular therapist.

We have four highly qualified therapists on our vetting team. If you were a social worker and you wanted to become a part of our database, you would apply. You’d have to prove two things to us. One, that you’re secular. We need evidence of that.

We don’t take what groups you belong to or something on your webpage. Second, you need to prove to us that you use evidence-based methods. Not a new age woos or something like that; none of which have scientific validity to them as a therapy.

So, once we’ve established you’re bona fide, we let you into the database. Then if I’m searching for a therapist who is secular, I can go into our database. I can register for free. All of this for free: free to the therapist; free to the client.

I can find out if there’s anybody in my zip code or anywhere close to my zip code, like a Match.com between therapists and clients. But it maintains confidentiality and anonymity for the client and for the therapist.

Because we don’t want to out the atheist therapist in Dallas, Texas, or Point, Texas, or, whatever, Timbuktu, Texas. Because the moment it is learned in your community that you are not a Christian, you’ll lose your practice.

Imagine: Tennessee, a psychologist saying, “I’m not a Christian.” 99, 98 percent of the people in that town are out as Christians. They’re not about to go to a therapist that is not a Christian, especially an atheist.

6. Jacobsen: I suspect that would be reflected in the treatment of atheists, if not attitudes reflected in surveys, but also in the treatment of young people who go against the norm of belief – as in the given examples.

People, they might still go through as secular therapists, possibly, because they have been battle-hardened in life for their atheism or agnosticism or some form of nonbelief in the standard, dominant religion.

Ray: Right. There’s a lot of problems with being a religious minority. I mean atheists are the most hated religious minority in the United States, even more so than Muslims. It’s funny, but that’s what the few trusted religious surveys have shown for quite a few years now.

So, it’s highly intelligent trained therapists who should be using evidence, and because of being highly trained and educated, are probably also secular. What has happened in the United States is, like Liberty University or Regents University, Paul and Pat Robertson’s institutions respectively, and other institutions, like George Fox University, they’re all fundamentalist colleges and universities.

But they have created these new programs for family therapy. It’s insidious around family therapy. But it’s a religious institution teaching family therapy or psychotherapy methods and requiring people to adhere to their theological perspectives throughout their training.

For example, Birmingham University, if you are a Ph.D. candidate, master, or lower Ph.D. candidate at Birmingham University, you’d have to sign a statement, or nobody will admit you that on: you will not masturbate and two you won’t have sex acts outside of marriage.

Jacobsen: [Laughing]!

Ray: So, right. [Laughing]! So, the funny thing there is: now, first, there’s finish graduating from that college, goes out in the world of practice. What are they going to teach people?! How are they going to get over their own stupidity around masturbation and help somebody who’s having a lot of guilt?

They’re a Catholic. They’re guilty as hell about masturbating. How is that therapist going to work with them? They can’t. Their own indoctrination is going to get in the way. It does. We get this repeatedly.

My therapist sent me back to church. In fact, reading a good article, interviews, another interview, it’s right on her website. The Psychotherapy Project website, ‘has your therapist tried to save you?’

David Niose did the interview with me for Psychology Today a couple years ago.

7. Jacobsen: You have written on “sex addiction.” Is it not a real thing? So, one of the major, or main restrictions, boundaries, borders that are put up, traditionally speaking, by religious texts and subsequently communities, and even societies, are strongly around sex.

So, why isn’t sex addiction a real thing? And what do you see as the main reason for religion in general, especially the Abrahamic ones, to restrict and direct sexual activity of the young especially, and even more especially the women?

Ray: First, sex addiction is a religious construct. It is not a psychological or scientific construct. The reason I say that is in 25 or 30 years of research; nobody has been able to figure out how you would scientifically define and diagnose this notion of sex addiction.

Most addictions are questionable and difficult to define, but we found ways to define some of them. But let me ask you a counter question, “Do you believe in Facebook addiction?”

Jacobsen: [Laughing] Not really.

Ray: Okay, people who spend hours after hours online on Facebook. They waste a ton of time. It interferes with their work; it interferes with their life; it interferes with their relationships. Doesn’t that sound like an addiction to you?

Jacobsen: It does fit some criteria that I would tacitly have.

Ray: And yet, those researchers aren’t concerned about Facebook addiction because sex has a special component to it. So, that’s my answer to the first piece. The second part of the sex addiction piece is, since there’s no science, we can’t diagnose it.

If you can’t diagnose it, you can’t treat it. So, anybody who claims to treat sex addiction is a charlatan; they’re selling snake oil; they should be disbarred. And yet there are people who advertise themselves as sex addict counselors.

They should be disbarred; they should have their license taken away. But it’s a powerful religious lobby. The religionists make a lot of money off the notion of sex addiction. DSM-5 does not have a category of sex addiction in it.

In fact, hypersexuality has even been severely changed and modified because: how do you define hypersexuality? Is somebody masturbating 10 times a day hypersexual? If it doesn’t interfere with his life or her life, then it’s not hypersexual.

But, in the Catholic worldview, masturbating even once makes you a sex addict. Masturbating to pornography makes you a porn addict, even once. I have quotes. I have a video of a Catholic spokesman for the Catholic Church of the United States saying, ‘If you’ve masturbated to porn once, you are a sex addict.’

That’s ludicrous. But not to a Catholic. I have a nice 50-minute talk on the myth of sex addiction. You can see it on YouTube. Google it, it’s right there. There’s a hell of a lot to talk about on that. But the main thing to know is that sex addiction is a religious notion, not a scientific one.

So, women and sex, all patriarchal religions have discovered over centuries that the best way to control people is through their sex and sexuality. I use the term in my book The God Virus, I call it the “guilt cycle.”

But religions, they teach that when you’re 5 or 10-years-old; that sex is bad; that masturbation is bad, touching your own genitals is bad. If you do it, then you’re going to hell: Jesus is watching you.

There’s a voyeuristic God out there that wants to see everything you do and is going to condemn you. I often tell Christians that if you’re a Christian, and you have sex, then you have a threesome with Jesus. He’s watching you the whole time.

Jacobsen: [Laughing].

Ray: So, patriarchal religions, once they realize that, they’ve taught you that your own body is your enemy: I mean look at the story of Adam and Eve. That is a signal that your body is the enemy and particularly women are the enemy.

Women were the temptress; women succumb to temptation. Women tempted men. All those are sins and crimes and all women are guilty of that crime in the Catholic worldview. Also, in the Islamic worldview, and to a somewhat lesser degree, even in Buddhism, Buddhists clearly are misogynistic, and male-dominated, patriarchal.

Hinduism, the same thing. So, you can name the patriarchal religion and control of women’s sexuality as number one in their list of priorities from their worldview. It starts early on with girls being taught about the religious concept of virginity.

Virginity is not a biological concept. At all. It’s a religious concept. So, what we do is we teach girls that virginity is precious, God owns your virginity; in other words, you do not own your own body, and losing your virginity is a dangerous thing.

You must guard it carefully. Of course, on the opposite side, it assumes that boys are out to get your virginity; that you must protect yourself; that you keep your legs together with an aspirin between them. All these messages.

In the purity culture, especially among fundamentalists, but it pervades our whole culture. And when we have people going into our schools right now teaching abstinence only, bull shit, the girls, most of the messages are guilt messages.

Now, why is that important in a patriarchal religion? Because when a child is taught their body is ba, they commit a sin, where they feel terrible about it. “I masturbated this morning, now I feel terrible, what do I do?”

A Baptist reads the Bible and prays. A Catholic goes to confession. A Mormon confesses to his bishop. Do you realize that bishop Mitt Romney of the Mormon church had to listen to 12-year-old boys tell him if they masturbated or not? Did you know that’s a part of the Mormon church?

12-year-old boys come in to get their talking to by the bishop and one of the questions they ask is, “Have you masturbated?” And if you have, “What are you going to do about not doing it anymore?”

This is a 12-year-old boy. They hand them an 8-page piece of literature. I even quote it extensively in my book, Sex and God. They even give them an 8-page a story or metaphor that does not mention the word sex or penis or masturbation, doesn’t mention it once, but the title is, “Don’t tamper with the factory.”

The metaphor is that your genitals are a factory for creating sperm. It’s going to do its thing and you shouldn’t mess with it. Don’t touch your genitals, [Laughing]! And Mitt Romney was giving this thing to people.

To 12-year-old boys, because the bishop in the Mormon church must do that, it’s one of their duties. Nobody said that during the election cycle, that’s for sure, [Laughing].

8. Jacobsen: What’s the most bizarre sexual taboo that you’ve come across in your research on sex and religion?

Ray: Oh, that’s an easy question to answer. Most Christians say to secularists, “You want to be secular because you want to act like an animal. You want to have all the sex you can.”

Let me tell you something. There are almost no animals in this planet that only have sex for procreation.

There are almost no animals on this planet that can have sex whenever they want to. Humans can have sex whenever they want to, bonobo apes can have sex whenever they want to, chimps can have sex whenever they want to, dolphins can have sex whenever they want to.

But, my dog, she’s walking around me right now wondering why I’m not petting her. She only mates when she’s ready to procreate. That insect that’s getting ready to hatch out of its larva this spring in a few weeks is only going to have sex to procreate.

Most animals on this planet only have sex to procreate. In other words, when the Pope tells you to have sex only to procreate, he’s telling you to have sex like an animal. Now, think about that. He’s telling you to have sex like an animal.

As a human, I have sex whenever I want to, and masturbation is a big part of being human. So, that’s perverted if you think about it. When the Pope says nuns cannot have to sex their entire lives, that to me is one of the most perverted sexual things you can ask a person to do.

So, flip it on its head, your question. What’s the most perverted thing? Telling people, they can’t have sex for a lifetime.

Jacobsen: I can see from their perspective a self-selection of people entering them, but then also telling them: it’s probably both. It’s people self-selecting to go into that, plus then being reinforced and encouraged to not.

Ray: They’re somewhat self-selected at an early age before their own hormones. Many, many priests tell me that they committed their lives to God when they were 12- or 13-years-old before the hormones got rolling.

Now, there is a self-selection. About one percent of the population probably meets the criteria of being asexual.

9. Jacobsen: What are the criteria for asexual?

Ray: Have no interest in sex at all. Don’t masturbate, don’t want to have sex with another person, it doesn’t interest them.

Jacobsen: That’s a lot of people.

Ray: In some ways, they are lucky. The rest of us are so horny. We don’t know what do with it sometimes. If one percent out of the population is asexual, now, there’s probably a large percentage of that that is situationally asexual.

Medically, you have a medical illness or disease or condition. You might lose your sex drive; your libido might disappear. People have told me after they got divorced, they had no interest in sex for three years.

Then suddenly their sex life comes back, their libido comes back. But what I’m talking about is of those one percent in the world, of course, half of those are male. If those people are self-selecting to become priests, then they have a huge advantage.

They’re not interested in sex and never will be interested in sex. So, they’re going to make great priests. But the problem with that is they’re also going to be great priests standing up in front of everybody else and saying, “You can’t masturbate. You can’t have sex.” It’s easy for them to say!

I have no interest in Game of Thrones. I don’t want to ever watch that; it doesn’t make any sense to me; I don’t want to watch it. So, if I said, “You can’t because I don’t like Game of Thrones, you can’t watch it either.”

That’s basically what people are saying, what an asexual would be saying to the rest of the congregation. Now, the fact is that most of those priests are not asexual because they went to an all-boys seminary.

I’ve interviewed so many priests. I’ve done this so many times. They commit themselves to the church at 12 or 13, often at the behest of their parents because Catholics love to have a boy in the family that’s a priest.

That gives them lots of status in the Catholic community. My uncle is a priest, or my son is going to be a priest. They love that. And so, the kid at 12 or 13 under parental pressure and family pressure goes to an all-boys seminary and in the all-boys seminary; there’s a lot of fucking going on.

A lot of homosexual activity going on. And most every person I’ve ever talked to that went to the all-boys Catholic seminary, even if they didn’t eventually become a priest, said there was lots of homosexual stuff going on.

So, these boys are discovering their sexuality, even as they’re going through their celibate and abstinence-only indoctrination. It’s not working then when they get out. They become an actual priest. They have been programmed to sexually respond in that environment.

And as a result, in my own research and several other people have verified this in their own research, that’s a big part of where the pedophile priest issue comes from. It is the way they’re being trained as boys because your brain is designed to labor: what are the appropriate sexual behaviors and sexual object in my culture?

And that’s why what is attractive and beautiful in one culture is not attractive and beautiful in another culture because the brain has been programmed for that cultural expectation. We’re not programmed, our brains are not preprogrammed like an insect.

An insect or a bird knows exactly who to mate with. We don’t. We must learn that. If your brained is turned on to learning who to mate with when you’re 13, 14, 15, and you’re in an all-boys seminary, you look around or your all girl’s nunnery; you look around, all you see is boys, or all you see is girls, your brain is going to imprinted.

I mean by that “imprinted,” the biological printing, to think that should be the focus in your mating behavior. It’s done at a biological level and neurological level. I can go on and on about that, but I don’t think that’s what you wanted to hear.

Jacobsen: It’s all fascinating.

Ray: This is an aside, you may or may not be interested in. You may have noticed this, but every culture seems to have a body type that is more prevalent. I’ll give an example. The most extreme is something called “Steel Page” in Africa. Women with gigantic butts.

Now, why are women in certain tribes of Africa having gigantic butts? Whereas you go to Wales and you look at women there, women there have on average much larger breasts than women in other places.

Then you go to Asia, you see Asian women with almost no breasts at all, tiny, if at all. So, you must ask the question, “Why is there such a massive difference in body types across cultures?” And part of that has to do with what we’re talking about. We literally are breeding ourselves.

There is sexual selection going on right within our own species and different cultures highlight what is sexually attractive in their culture. Then those people tend to breed more successfully. Their offspring tend to have their butts bigger, or bigger breasts or fuller breasts.

It’s fascinating to know we’re doing to ourselves what we do with cattle and what we do with dogs. We’re self-breeding. And it’s because the brain is programmed to look around and say, “What is attractive? What should be? What is attractive in my culture?”

So, you get lots of people at age 12 or 13 – all people, men, and women are – looking around; their brain is programmed to say, “What is the right thing in this culture?” Once they’ve locked in on that, then that becomes their sexual fetish, probably for the rest of their life.

It is especially true of men. The research shows that men fetishize much more quickly and completely and for lifelong than women do. So, if a man has a breast fetish, he locks in on that. H’s probably going to have a breast fetish for the rest of his life.

Lots of other fetishes, we think that’s probably where it comes from, the brain. It is so desperate to figure out what’s the appropriate mating strategy currently in this place and this culture. That it locks onto whatever seems to be right to that 12 or 13-year-old, who is totally inexperienced.

He doesn’t have a clue. He’s responding to the visual and emotional cues of that time and place.

So, that’s my extra bit of knowledge there for you.

10. Jacobsen: What are sometimes termed universal attractive characteristics? Those that would be invariant. So, things across-culture-attractive and that we are self-selecting for no matter the culture?

Ray: I’m not sure I can answer that. The reason I say is that humans, we are the most sexually flexible on the planet. There are almost no other species as nearly as sexually flexible as ours. The interesting thing is there’s a good book called Sexual Fluidity. It came out about 5 years ago.

It’s a long-term – I mean long term, 10- to 20-year – a study of women and shows how women’s sexual behavior changes rather dramatically over a lifetime. And that a woman who may describe herself as straight in her teens may describe herself as bisexual in her 20s and lesbian in her 30s then back to straight in her 40s.

It’s amazing how fluid women’s sexuality is. Men do not seem to be nearly as fluid but still fluid within that window of time that I’ve spoken about that that the brain is programmed. The remarkable thing: obviously, there’s probably some universals.

But even that’s iffy. I’m not sure. Every universal I can think about there’s major exceptions. If you think about it, my dog doesn’t have a wide variety of sexual behaviors that she wants to engage in.

Whereas a female, the equivalent of that, age and all, would have a wide variety of sexual behaviors she can engage in. Some of which would develop by age; I’ve studied people in their 40s and 50s and 60s. They’re still developing new things.

People who are 50 and 60 years old can be kinky as hell. Tell me in my 20s, I’d have never thought about doing that. I’d be scared to death to do that. So, we are amazing. The unique thing about humans is we have a high-level need for variety.

Humans want variety, constant variety. That’s partially what drives our consumerist society. We’re always looking for the new thing; we always want the latest technology, want the newest car, want a different color or shade of lipstick or whatever.

If the same thing that drives our sexuality always labor what’s going to turn us on, one of the problems with religious sexuality is religion has a one size fits all approach, and that’s monogamy forever.

The fact is, there’s no human society on this planet that’s monogamous. There’s never been a time in human history that was monogamous. So, I give talks about this all the time. I ask my audience. Let’s say there are 400 people in the room.

I’d say, “How many of someone who is monogamous?” And I bet half the hands will raise up. The other half have heard my talk before or they’ve read my books, so they know better.

Jacobsen: [Laughing] That’s funny.

Ray: Now, I say, “Keep your hands up if it’s not you.” And almost all the hands go down. Because, for example, my parents, who are now both deceased, told me that they had never had sex before they were married.

That was not true or at least one of my two parents. I have evidence for it. So, people lie about their sexual experience, especially women. Because sexual experiences are shamed in our culture. Women are shamed for being sexual.

So, anyway, the one size fits all religious straitjacket works for people who have a low sex drive, low level of curiosity, who is asexual, who buy into the religious stuff about staying married to your spouse for the rest of your life.

The rest of us, we don’t want to have a deal with that. That’s why the divorce rate is so high. The divorce rate is higher among the most religious. The more religious you are, then the more likely you are to be divorced.

11. Jacobsen: Are they not only the more guilt-ridden around sex as well?

Ray: Oh, there’s a lot of shame and guilt that they don’t know how to deal with. So, they act it out and that leads to divorce. And this notion of sex addiction. You don’t know how many people are going to therapists now saying my husband is a sex addict because I caught him looking at porn and masturbating.

So, who diagnosed that? Was it a psychologist? Or was it the wife? [Laughing]! Or the mother in law, or the minister? I call it the Oprah Effect. Oprah Winfrey is diagnosing sex addiction.

She has no fucking qualifications for doing that. She’s having people on her show like Dr. Drew, who’s an idiot, or Dr. Phil, who has no qualifications and shouldn’t be diagnosing anybody; they’re calling people sex addicts.

Dr. Phil, I mean these people are spreading incredibly harmful notions about sexuality on Oprah and she is not challenging them. Believe me, I’ve tried to get her to challenge them, she won’t answer my emails, that’s for sure.

12. Jacobsen: But that’s in the United States. The United States, maybe outside of the Islamic world, is one among a few extraordinarily religious nations. So, the framework from people, families, groups, and subpopulations that will view the world in one way, which is completely internally self-affirming to unsupported and non-scientific ideas around sex, right?

Ray: There’s a lot of good research out there. You might look at David Barash’s book, it’s a great book called The Myth of Monogamy or read Dr. Marty Klein’s book. Both guys are major sexologists.

Dr. Marty Klein’s essay called “You’re Addicted to What?” It’s an essay. Or you might also be interested in Dr. Marty Klein’s book called America’s War on Sex. It’s an interesting look at politics and statistics and practices of America and sexuality.

And of course, if you’re interested in the sex part of it, go look at my book, Sex and God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. There’s a lot of people starting to write about it. The reason I wrote both of my books, my most recent books, was because I wasn’t seeing anybody talking about this stuff, especially sex.

Nobody wants to challenge the religious notions about sexuality in our culture. And nobody wants to challenge therapists that are using nonscientific approaches to therapy that cause more problems.

The first rule of medicine is “do no harm” and yet psychotherapists out there are exacerbating the psychological problems that people are having that was initially caused by religion.

As a therapist, my colleagues verify this, about 80 percent of the people that come into my office or have come into my office over the years, dealing with sex problems, 80 percent, probably more, really, is dealing with sex problems directly related to religious training.

So, if they’re going through a divorce because the wife says you’re a sex addict, that’s a religious notion. It’s not a scientific notion. And we got all that stuff going on in our culture. And psychologists that don’t stand up and say, “That’s wrong. You can’t do good psychotherapy.”

They can’t say that without challenging underlying religious assumptions. That’s scary. That’s scary, especially when you’re a religious person as a psychotherapist, scary.

13. Jacobsen: Are there any aspects of religion that you find admirable?

Ray: Religion can bring people together in community. That’s one of its big strengths. But, it is not unique to religion. They have created a corner on that market. Humans are social creatures. We want community.

We want a place to bring our children, we want a place to teach our children, they’re safe. And churches claim to do that for people. Unfortunately, once you get in the church, then your children are going to be taught things you probably don’t want to be taught.

And where’s the secular person going to go? If I said, and too many secular people say, “I went back to church because I wanted a community. I don’t believe a word that minister is saying.” But the problem is you’re putting your children through Sunday school where they’re being taught some nasty stuff.

Like God created genocide, killed everybody on the planet through this cute little story about Noah’s Ark or another cute little story like murdering all the children for making fun of a prophet.

So, the community teaches us what people are after. And what I’m loving right now, Sunday Assembly is a movement out of England. It’s sputtered a bit, but it’s working in some places. Oasis started about 3 years ago. It’s bringing the community together.

I’m watching it. It started in Houston and is thriving in Houston. And it’s now in Kansas City. I say we because I’ve been a part of this movie. They have 3 organizations in Salt Lake City area, one in Okun area, one in Toronto area, and one in Austin opened two weeks ago.

One in Wichita, Kansas that opened a few months ago. Here’s what Oasis is: it’s a weekly meeting on Sunday morning at 11 o’clock where mostly atheists, secularists, and humanists, all come together and have a blast listening to a science culture, hearing some good rock music or good secular music.

There is childcare, which is really important. All churches have childcare. We’ve got childcare. The minute you add childcare to the formula, your population doubles or triples. It’s amazing to see how many people come to these things.

We’re getting 200 people showing up every Sunday. Houston is getting 150 people showing up every Sunday. Now, it sounds crazy and people say it sounds like an atheist church. Oh, no, it’s community, like the Rotary Club is a community.

Nobody calls them a church. Our focus is on education and science, philosophy. We have great speakers; people who challenge your thinking process about stuff like death and dying. What do death and dying mean to an atheist? That’s interesting.

We have polyamory presentations on “What’s polyamory?” and “How does it work?” We show some people that can talk about it. Or swinger, somebody talking about a swinger lifestyle. Now, what church is going to let you talk about swinging or polyamory?

Jacobsen: Not many.

Ray: No, you would be shocked at the number of polyamorous in the atheist community, lots of poly people. About 30 percent of our group in Oasis is poly or poly-friendly. The fact is, there’s probably poly people in churches too.

They couldn’t say it. Or they’d get thrown it. Does that answer your question?

14. Jacobsen: That does, and I’m out of them. So, thank you much for your time, Darrel.

Ray: My pleasure.

References

  1. ABC News. (n.d.). Atheists Have Best Sex Lives, Claims Psychologist. Retrieved from https://www.webcitation.org/5ywc4WxKy?url=http://abcnews.go.com/Health/atheists-best-sex-lives-claims-kansas-psychologists-survey/story?id=13679076&singlePage=true.
  2. An Atheist. (2010, May 20). Darrel W. Ray Speaks Out!. Retrieved from https://www.webcitation.org/5z9zjyAsh?url=http://www.anatheist.net/2010/05/darrel-w-ray-speaks-out/.
  3. Filipino Freethinkers. (2014, August 3). A Conversation with Darrel Ray. Retrieved from http://filipinofreethinkers.org/2014/08/03/a-conversation-with-darrel-ray/.
  4. Eberhard, J.T. (2014, November 12).  Darrel Ray enters the world of podcasting with Secular Sexuality!. Retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/wwjtd/2014/11/darrel-ray-enters-the-world-of-podcasting-with-secular-sexuality/#so34SDUMC5VAcpSY.99.
  5. Gray, H.T. (2009, June 12). New support group Recovering Religionists helps people who leave the church. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20090617033259/http://www.kansascity.com/238/story/1249250.html.
  6. Myers, P.Z. (2011, January 24). Prying into your dirty, dirty secrets. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20110303204654/http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/01/prying_into_your_dirty_dirty_s.php.
  7. Teaming Up. (2016).  About Darrel W. Ray, Ed.D.. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20120324135226/http://www.teaming-up.com/drdray_bio.html.

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Founder, Recovering from Religion.

[2] Individual Publication Date: February 15, 2018 at www.in-sightjournal.com/ray; Full Issue Publication Date: May 1, 2018 at https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

[3] BA, Sociology/Anthropology; MA, Religion; Doctorate, Psychology.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion [Online].February 2018; 16(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/langseth-five.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, February 15). Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from ReligionRetrieved from www.in-sightjournal.com/ray.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion. In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A, February. 2018. <www.in-sightjournal.com/ray>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A. www.in-sightjournal.com/ray.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 16.A (February 2018). www.in-sightjournal.com/ray.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from ReligionIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A. Available from: <www.in-sightjournal.com/ray>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from ReligionIn-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 16.A., www.in-sightjournal.com/ray.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion.” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 16.A (2018):February. 2018. Web. <www.in-sightjournal.com/ray>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Conversation with Dr. Darrel Ray on Christian Fundamentalism and Sex: Founder, Recovering from Religion [Internet]. (2018, February; 16(A). Available from: www.in-sightjournal.com/ray.

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