Dr David Malkin

Clinical Psychologist Perth | Counsellor Perth

Tel: 0409 227 548

Making Policy: 'law therapy'

'Act as if the maxim [guiding principle] of your action were to become, through your will, a universal law of nature.'

Immanuel Kant (The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals 1785)                                                                                                                                          

 

This is from the first formulation of Kant's Categorical Imperative. To paraphrase Kant, you can decide how to act as a matter of policy (through an act of reason) that is as compelling as a natural law. This would lead to an absolute, unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances and was self legislated. The German philosopher Kant (1724-1804) was in disagreement with the Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776) who said that good people did what gave them a good feeling. Hence, feelings were the main impetus to do good actions.

The problem with following Hume's ideas is that very often feelings are not inclined to be motivating to a positive act and often a behaviour change is required before a bad feeling will shift. The value of following Kant's premise is that reason can lead to a decision to set down a policy which can be regarded as a law to be followed in all circumstances. We can regard this as a compelling personal law rather than a universal law of nature. We don't often think about whether to obey or not a law laid down by Parliament. We generally automatically obey them on autopilot without having to examine every action from first principles. So, we don't think about whether we feel like speeding or not, we just focus on the speed limit. We may feel angry about something but generally we don't break legal restrictions in how we express that feeling. Laws are guidelines for action without having to overanalyse or consult our feelings. Similarly, in our private lives policies can be set to construct our own personal set of laws. These should be written down,dated and signed to concretise them. This is the way to convert policy into personal law with the strength of ritual. There may be value in signing off on a personal law daily if a recency effect is necessary. The status of law helps to set a frame of reference to defend against impulsive behaviour. For example setting a law against eating chocolate today will act as a brake in the supermarket. The same applies to any addictive behaviour. You can reward yourself for maintaining the desired behaviour in ways you choose. The consequence of not upholding your chosen law is to lose that reward and make efforts to re-assess and regroup.

Many of our policies are implicit. That is, we don't need to think about whether  we feel like cleaning our teeth at night; washing our clothes; putting the rubbish out; cleaning the house; ironing our clothes; picking children up from school, etc. If it is needed we just do it without a philosophical enquiry and decision about policy. The value of making some EXPLICIT decision that DOES result from enquiry, and then concretely set down as policy, is that desired and positive outcome is not left to chance and circumstance.This is our own private law to instruct action to achieve certain goals. This can be regarded as law therapy. Your law needs to be plausible, realistic, and achievable. This allows you to be responsible and accountable. Your accountability militates against learned helplessness and is empowering. This is because you can take action to realistically fine tune your policy and be informed by what you decide to do progressively in your particular situation.

 So, if you have decided not to smoke, the circumstances or how you feel can be disregarded. Your policy can be followed automatically without reconsideration. This is the nature of personal law. If you have decided to limit your drinking to a certain number, it doesn't depend on the occasion or the company. There is automatic cut off. No thinking to be done. Sometimes what is unwanted may be wanted at a deeper, perhaps unconscious level. Then there is value in setting law to limit duration of episodes of conflicted behaviour to gain a sense of control. Psychotherapy may be valuable also to resolve such matters. If you have decided to value yourself in the face of criticism from others or some internalised critic, you automatically remember your decision and policy to give yourself value. This is valuable in fighting low self esteem and depressive feelings. There are two types of self esteem. One is conditional and earned through good performance.The other type is unconditional, it comes with being a living form in the universe and is spiritual. Gaining this only depends on you DECIDING to take it and give it to yourself and others. No earning or performance is necessary. This is the biggest element of self esteem in your bedrock. Performances are always ephemeral. One day a rooster, next day a feather duster. Your POLICY can be DECIDED to allow unconditional self esteem in perpetuity regardless of internal or external critics. At the same time, you can strive for excellence at various skills. However, the level of skill achieved does not have to affect acceptance of self and others at a fundamental level.

Treating depression has many facets including medication if required..There are also many other psycho-social and physical  treatments. Very important amongst them, you can have a policy of exercising whether you feel like it or not. If you want to feel better you need to behave differently first. No thought is required if you have no physical illness that requires limiting exercise. Just do it according to your policy. Similarly, if you have a law not to suicide, you will not act on such thoughts or feelings but, instead, take yourself to a place of safety.  One good support option, not often recognised, to combat depression and low self esteem may be to join a public speaking club. Public speaking clubs also aid personal development. They are  one of the hidden gold mines for self improvement in our community. Benefit is best achieved by active participation. Even if you are scared you can have a policy for volunteering quickly and automatically when opportunities to speak arise. You can have a policy to raise your hand quickly instead of debating 'will I, won't I ? ' and losing the opportunity.

There are numerous opportunities for policy making in your life. They may be as simple as smiling more often, giving compliments to yourself and others, rising from bed by a certain time, and taking more moments to reflect on your process during the day. Replace wishful thinking  and a prayer for action with firm policy for action to facilitate wanted change. Make it law.

For those finding the above too wordy, the take home message is :

1. Ritualise your policy into law by writing it down, signing and dating it.

2. Just do it.

If you require the services of a Perth Psychologist or Perth Counsellor, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Being Perfect

' Ring the bells that can still ring

Forget your perfect offering

There is a crack in everything

That's where the light gets in'.

Leonard Cohen (from the song Anthem on the album The Future 1992 )

 

According to Transactional Analysis theory there are around seven main 'drivers' that underpin efforts to feel OK with oneself. These are: 'Be Perfect', 'Be Strong', 'Try Hard', 'Please Others/Me', 'Hurry Up', and 'Work Hard'.These are useful behaviours for a successful lifestyle up to a point. However, unless there is some recognition of balance, these drivers can become the agents of self-persecution as they relentlessly push efforts beyond reasonable limits.

In this way, the road to a personal kind of hell is paved with an initial good intention. In other words, what starts out as a potential help strategy becomes self sabotaging. This can be seen in most neurotic defensive behaviour. All the drivers if overdeveloped can have unwanted consequences.  For example, if a default position of 'Pleasing Others' behavior becomes a continuing substitute for self approval, then self esteem, and personal authority can become eroded. This, in turn, can create anxiety which may lead to other dyfunctional behaviours including addictions of various types. An overdeveloped 'Hurry Up' driver can lead to impulsive behaviour and ongoing stress. Trying too hard can lead to a kind of mental paralysis, working too hard to burnout, and  being too 'strong' can lead to difficulties expressing emotion.The 'Being Perfect' driver, if overused can lead to an exhausting perfectionism. Associated with this may be an attitude of rigid expectations of oneself and others about a utopia that cannot be realised.

Cohen's words from his song 'Anthem' (above) express another perspective. That is that wisdom; humility; empathy with others; and self/other acceptance and respect can be derived from our flaws.That is what happens when 'the light gets in'. Mistakes or difficulties can be a vehicle for relearning and recalibration. Forgiving oneself is a first step to doing things differently. Limitations or inabilities can lead to revisioning other pathways in life. For example, if one is in a field of study or career that is not working, one of the possibilities is to look at the mix of natural ability, values, and goals in life that may lead to a different choice. This allows flexibilty rather than blindly serving the demands of an overblown driver to work harder or try harder etc.

The archetype of the wounded healer underlies the Shamanic tradition. This implies that healing can come from being wounded. Further, that those who have experienced mental wounding of all types and are scarred, but have let 'the light' in, can be agents of healing for others.

It is a sober task to distinguish between 'getting it right'  and 'getting it right enough'. 'Being Perfect' or 'Being Perfect enough'. This can inform ones judgement of self/others. Setting boundaries and limits is an excellent skill as is administering those parameters with empathic flexibilty and perspective. For example, if an agreement is not kept by somebody,it does not automatically mean they are not to be trusted because they are not perfect. There may be a context that needs to be understood.This can apply to oneself as well. Talking with trusted friends is an excellent way of checking and calibrating reasonable judgement.

 

If you require the services of a Perth Psychologist or Perth Counsellor, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

 

 

Desiderata (latin-Desired Things)

Max Ehrmann published Desiderata in 1927. Originally it was said to have been anonymously published in 1692 and found in a Baltimore churchyard. This is because the work was found in a compilation of devotional materials put together by the Rector of Saint Paul's Church in Baltimore which listed the church's foundation date.

It is a particularly useful work for inspiration and recalibration and as such it is reproduced below.

 

Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.

As far as possible without surrender

be on good terms with all persons.

Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others,

even the dull and the ignorant;

they too have their story.

 

Avoid loud and aggressive persons,

they are vexations to the spirit.

if you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain and bitter;

for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

 

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.

Exercise caution in your business affairs;

for the world is full of trickery.

But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals;

and everywhere life is full of heroism.

 

Be yourself.

Especially, do not feign affection.

Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment

it is as perennial as the grass.

 

Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.

Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.

Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline'

be gentle with yourself.

 

You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;

you have a right to be here.

And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

 

Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive HIm to be'

and whatever your labours and aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul.

 

With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,

it is a a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

 

If you require the services of a Perth Counsellor or Perth Psychologist, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Why Worry So Much ?

'Tis all a Chequer-board of Nights and Days

Where Destiny with Men for Pieces plays:

Hither and thither moves, and mates, and slays,

and one by one back in the Closet lays.'

Omar Khayyam  (RUBAIYAT)

 

Life has a beginning and an ending and obviously what happens between those two points is important. Khayyam attributes destiny as the architect of the moves in the game of life.

However, free will is also important and cultivating mindfulness allows choices and outcomes to be different. Squandering time, energy and opportunity with needless worry is to be avoided as much as possible.

The ' work of worry' does allow planning for various contingencies and is useful and practical. Completion of these processes can lead to a good feeling of accomplishment. By contrast, futile worry is circular, unproductive and does not resolve problems or  provide options for management. This leads nowhere except to uncomfortable feelings, perhaps anxiety and depressed mood.

If we are not absolutely sure that the outcome of a situation is a particularly unwanted and perhaps feared one, it can be useful to repeat the mantra to oneself :  'How do I know this will happen FOR SURE? '. If the outcome does become certain and is unwanted, then it is useful to problem solve the most helpful course of action for management of the problem.

Sometimes this is the least- worst course of action of all the remedies available, if none of them seem desireable. This, though, is positive action and not circular, unproductive worry.

The most usual scenario for worry is when the outcome is not yet certain and an unwanted outcome or 'story' is repeated endlessly in the mind.

This 'story' is like a memory stick plugged into a computer which plays a certain program.The memory stick- like pattern can be changed by an act of conscious willpower -- to a different, also uncertain, story but with a different, happier outcome. These stories or narratives to oneself can be deliberately chosen to produce a more empowered feeling. With practice, stories can be readily and easily interchanged. All may have uncertainty in the world at large until more information comes to light. The facts of a particular outcome can be faced when the outcome IS certain. Until then, free will can be used to facilitate a calmer state of mind with a positive, reassuring narrative. In this way, worry is like a bad habit that can be replaced with a good habit.

Other possibly useful ways of dealing with unwanted worry include distraction towards other tasks or activities including hobbies,socialising or exercise.

Relaxation techniques can be employed and meditation of various types may be useful. Targeted self-reparenting, as described in an earlier blog, can be fundamental in soothing locked in historical worries at the child ego state level.

Anything that relieves stress and anxiety will reduce obsessional thinking and vice-versa. Quick fixes like overuse of alcohol or other drugs do not solve the underlying problem and generally create other problems.

 

If you require the services of a Perth Psychologist or Perth Counsellor, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Self Expression

'Express Yourself

Come and do it

From the heart cause if you wanna start to move up the chart

Then expression is a big part of it.'

 

Dr Dre   (N.W.A.  ' Express  Yourself '   March 27 1989 )

 

The inner Self demands expression. Be it in work or play or creative expression. Art; fashion; wordplay; sports; gardening; cooking; writing; or any hobby or enthusiasm qualifies.

Denying an outlet to the yearnings of the inner Self for expression can lead to a disturbing mental itch which can become a strange sort of mental pain like depression with a sense of futility, hopelessness, meaninglessness, despair, and feeling lost.

Sometimes the craving to take mind numbing drugs or excessive alcohol can be understood as a way to anaesthetise this mental pain. Many recovered drug addicts have found themselves by means of some form of creative Self expression.

Taking anti-depressant medication only may help restore functionality but not necessarily solve any underlying  need to individuate. This type of existential depression can be seen as a sign for action as well as a symptom of some underlying malaise.

The need is to give birth  in the external world to underlying creative potential.

Of course,it could be argued that many artists of various descriptions resort to using alcohol and/or drugs.Sometimes this is an attempt to stimulate the imagination but often is a way of dealing with the frustration of blocked creative flow.

 This blockage can be a result of perfectionism or harsh time deadlines. Self expression needs to be relaxed and playful as far as possible and nurtured within healthy routines.

 

If you require the services of a Perth Psychologist or Perth Counsellor, please contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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