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by Jim Dolan
by Jim Dolan
I am a psychotherapist by trade, and have been for almost a quarter century. It took me years to understand that the young literature, drama, and 'liberal arts undecided' major I once was, who turned to psych major after three years in college, was searching for a major that would satisfy the craving to 'understand' at least something of what our lives were supposed to be about. Like everyone else, I am still working on that.
I initially wished to be a fiction writer, but alas, no fiction other than the one I was living would occur to me. My teachers at Bishop Dunne High School had all agreed with deep sighs of resignation that I was a gifted underachiever who would probably accomplish something if I could hitch all my horses to the same wagon. Took me a few years to get them hitched up, but once I did, I stuck with the vengeance of one who had nothing else to fall back on.
After throwing away my first year at Stephen F. Austin, then being a drama major at Mountainview, I graduated from the University of Dallas in 1975, during the golden years at UD. Marshall Mcluhan did a stretch there in 1975, and so did James Hillman. Both of these men have been instrumental in paradigm shifts of vast scope over the last thirty years. It was my good fortune to have been at UD during this period.
I worked my way through college as a surgical assistant at Methodist Hospital in Oak Cliff, working the 3-11 emergency surgery shift and going to school in the morning. I was one of the very few, if not the only, students of my era at UD to have accomplished this feat. It was simply not done, as the curriculum was so tough. Yes, I am proud of that.
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My teacher in psych was the incredibly original thinker and writer Robert Sardello, who taught me to accept and respect new, old, and challenging ideas, but to always think critically, and in depth. I could not have imagined a better teacher for the person I was at that time. Robert has gone on to some publishing success with books entitled Love and the Soul, and Freeing the Soul from Fear. Although the titles seem self-helpish and mawkish, they are in fact profound, original documents of a deep meditation on our being - in - the - world. He was/is (?) a colleague of the far more famous, though not necessarily more penetrating, Thomas Moore, also a product of the Dallas Institute for Humanities and Culture, and author of the huge best seller Care of the Soul, back in the earliest 90s.
After UD, I went and worked at Terrell State Hospital Adolescent Unit for two years. This was a good 'get your feet wet' experience in mental health work, and a wonderful introduction to 'what I didn't want to do with my life.. From there, I went to Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, PA. for a master's in psych. Came time to apply to the Ph.D. program, and I came to the heartbreaking and difficult conclusion that I had no more stomach for school. Or, let me put it this way, I had no more stomach for the through - the - looking - glass, walking on egg shells, china shop world of academia.
I came back to Dallas, and reconnected with my wife, from whom I had been separated for nearly two years, and we got our marriage off the ground. I went to work in a variety of mental health centers, all of which provided the much needed apprenticeship, and all of which I loathed. They were grotesquely underpaying, over-supervised, demeaning and soul crushing experiences, with the exception of the very first, at the Galaxy Center of Garland, which was only grotesquely underpaying. I loved everything else about it. Without elaborating, and without bragging, I will report here that I am one lousy fucking employee. Which caused considerable difficulty in my early career. (See a VERY fictionalized tale on my website, entitled How to Get A Career Off the Ground.)
My father's murder in 1984 (again on Lotuseaters, see My Father's Connections to the JFK Assassination) left me with enough dough to leave employment and begin a private practice. I suspect this may be one of the more unusual openings of a private practice in my field, but hey, everybody starts with what they have, right?
After grad school, I amassed training and certification in marriage and family therapy, supervised by a gentleman named Alan Hovestadt, Ed.D. He was very supportive and encouraging me to develop my career. Most of the people you run into in the mental health bidness are really kind of negative (Don't get me started on therapists) I hung the 'marriage and family' shingle out when I began private practice in 1984. Since then, I have modified that approach to the more inclusive AND ambiguous practice definition of psychotherapy.
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As in, you talk, I listen. After I have listened enough, I start to talk, maybe ask some questions. Sometimes I walk behind you, letting you take me where you want. Then, maybe, I will walk alongside, saying, Oh, I see, you want me to notice this, but have you noticed that? And then, perhaps I'll go ahead, and say, I see where you are headed here, have you thought about this, or that, and do you notice what will happen if you keep going this way or that?
My influences are Carl Jung, James Hillman, Robert Sardello, the existentialists (Irvin Yalom, Rollo May, Sartre, Camus) and the phenomenologists (Husserl, Heidegger). Also a guy named Sheldon Kopp, who published one of the most enduring titles in the canon of self help, entitled If You Meet the Buddha on the Road, Kill Him!
Shelly also wrote a raft of other titles, but he will be remembered for the Buddha. Alas, Sheldon died in April, 1999. I loved one of his books so much that I looked his address in Washington DC up and sent him the book, with a request that he sign and send back. He did just that, within ten days, signed, To Jim, in appreciation of your appreciation, Shelly Kopp. That meant a great deal to me.
I hate it that there are people out there like Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura, and all those other media shrinks whose claim is that they have life all worked out. That the living of life can be boiled down to a set of slogans and easy equations and simple, unambiguous answers.
The fact is, life can be such, if you are a kindegartner. Otherwise, life for adults is complex, difficult, anxiety provoking, and full of problems. The pop shrinks are an embarrassment and they make my profession look cheap, transparent, and comical. As if some fat bald guy from Wichita Falls with a driving ambition to be famous and 'successful' is someone who understands life. Like Shelly Kopp said, If you see the buddha . . . . anyway.
I take my job and my relationships with my clients seriously. I do not have everything all worked out. I believe life is a mystery. I try to let people know there is no such thing as getting everything worked out. I know bad judgment when I see it, and will say so, as I will whenI think that people are doing things to hurt themselves or to remain stuck in their lives. I don't think that the purpose of life is happiness, nor is it 'success.'
My best thinking on happiness, at this point, 24 years in, is that we are each possessed by a calling, or a destiny, and that it is our job to answer that as best we can. Answering the call of one's destiny causes problems. I think that much of what is referred to as pathology is an attempt to let ourselves off that hook. I see my job as being one of helping others get closer to following that path.
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I Am an Artist, Sort Of....
My own path led me to rediscover writing. I say 'rediscover' because that is what I wanted to do when I was a kid. I am not writing a novel, or a self help book. I have no grand plans to change careers. I write essays for my website, short stories, and poetry. I have written prize winning poems and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize, a big deal in the poetry world. I have written about a hundred pages of a memoir about my father, an old fashioned heavy who wore suits and fedoras in the late 50s and managed to get bungled up with Jack Ruby, the JFK assassination, and the House Subcommittee on Assassinations. I have no idea where I will go with that.
I have also been involved with film acting the last 5 years, and have played, Whoa! hold on now, A Heavy principle role in an independant film project. And, have also shot another part in a supporting role, again, as a heavy. Also, I have done industrial films, commercials, and live improv.
You could say these last two areas, writing and acting, are where I make my claims to 'artist.' I can easily assert that I feel most at home with, and understanding of, the difficulties that belong to the artist. I have worked with many over the years, and feel I do my best work with them.
I would like to offer to the community of DallasArtsRevue members and readers special rates for psychotherapy hours. In order to find out more, please call me at 972 934-1283.
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