Welcome to Modern Anarchy, the podcast featuring real conversations with conscious objectors to the status quo. I'm your host, Nicole. On today's episode, we have Dr. Danielle Gastambide join us for a conversation all about liberation psychology. Together we talk about the neoliberal tilt of psychology today, the mobius strip of how social conditioning affects our ability to love, and how speech is always relational and political. Y'all, the title of today's episode, what's wrong with the field of psychology? This is such a fun question, and I continue to reflect and think about this one. And as I was editing back the podcast this week, I think what I heard was that the problem with psychology is that we are trying to change individual minds and not the larger system.
We have to work upstream. You know, I'm always talking about relational cultural theory on this podcast, and it talks about the power of relationships to shape our sense of self. And these relationships can be physically embodied relationships, but it is also the relationship that we have to society at large. And both are at play informing our sense of self and how we move about the world and how we connect with other people. And I think maybe we could even throw in our sense of relationship to spirituality and a higher being. Y'all know I come from that spiritual trauma background, so I'm always working on that one and pushing my boundaries with that edge. But I do think that our sense of connection to a higher power also plays into our sense of self. All of these relationships are really crucial, and it's time that we start to work upstream rather than on the individual mind.
And I know many of you are probably not psychologists or therapists working in the field, but the reality is that the skills we're talking about on today's conversation are crucial for helping to liberate our communities outside of a therapeutic setting. You know, today I talked about having a difficult case of a client who comes in claiming that their sexual assault experience is their fault because they were enabrowated at a party. We have all had that friend who has come to us and said this. And how do we respond when we know it's not their fault? But how do we respond in a way that allows someone to feel seen and heard and to be able to heal through that? Y'all, that is tough, and it is part of what we talk about in today's conversation. And I also just want to say that remember if you do have a psychologist or therapist, that they are also humans with their own existential lens to this world.
And that lens is subject to their own bias as much as I have my own bias as well. And I say all that hopefully to dethrone this idealization that we have of therapists and psychologists as the source of all truth and knowledge. It is true that we have studied a lot. But as we talk about in today's conversation, that education, that program is fed down a system that we all need to be liberated from.
The reality is the clinical work is political and there is no escaping that. So today's conversation is all about liberation. And I am so excited to share this conversation with all of you dear listeners.
I hope you enjoy it and tune in. Well, then the first question I would want to ask is how would you introduce yourself? So I am Daniel Jose Tambien-Unyes. I am assistant director of clinical training at the New School for Social Research. I'm also a candidate in analytic training at NYU Postdoc.
And I run the Frans Van Noon Lab for intersectional psychology, where I work on all things decolonial, specifically around race and class, both from a theoretical point of view as well as a research point of view. So that's a sweet end of that show. Absolutely, absolutely. And how did you get there?
Right? I'm sure there's a journey to even getting to that stage of what you're doing with your life. How did I get to where I am today? I mean, for that, we must go back to my childhood. Let's do it. Let's do it. I'm afraid. Let's go.
Go into the deepest layers of the onions. I mean, I'm like, you know, I'm just one of those weird kids where, you know, other kids knew they wanted to be like, how do you say, like firemen and police officers and astronauts. And I just wanted to be a psychologist. I grew up in San Juan Puerto Rico, and my mom was very involved in our church growing up. And a lot of the pastors were very psychologically minded, like they were either exposed to psychoanalytic thinking in their seminary training, or in the case of my youth pastor was going to school to study psychology. And so that was just kind of in the air, this dynamic between psychology, service, community work, and all happening under these very unspoken about circumstances, which is the colonial situation. So how to think about how these different structures and experiences get kind of taken in within people's psychology, within their bodies and so forth really became just a North star for the kind of things that I wanted to do to understand how all these things we sometimes don't talk about, which in the context of Puerto Rico, were things like, you know, the fact that we're a colony, that we've been under the auspices of two empires, Spain and later the United States, about the fact that even amongst our families, we have all these subtle things we do and say to each other around skin color, texture, hair, who fits and who doesn't fit into what it means to be Puerto Rican, about class, about gender, sexuality and so forth.
What do we do with all these things we don't talk about, but nevertheless are influencing and informing us often outside of our awareness. So that's been a very straight through line, even if the specific journey was more circular. I'd like to think things were, you know, that direct, but they weren't.
They were a little topsy turvy, right? So when I came stateside to go to school, I initially got sidetracked a little bit and did a double major in psychology and religion. And by the end of that journey, I was trying to figure out what the next steps were, right? If I go to doctoral school, what do I do? And my mentors at the time said, well, you know, we think that you would be really good fit for union theological seminary.
And I just kind of looked at them and was like, well, I am a heathen, but you're sending me to seminary. Like, why, why are you, why are you saying this to me? Yeah. And they're like, no, the thing is you're really into these were the two things. They knew that I was really into segmentality theory. And they knew that I was very into these topics of social justice and decoloniality.
And they said, well, union will be a good fit for that. Because at the time, and I think still to this day, they basically have a master's program in psycholitic theory, right? But it's embedded in the seminary. That's one of the hotbeds of liberation theology in North America.
So there was a really exciting space to explore. Well, what would it mean to give a lot of very deep and concerted attention, right, to the psychic, to the interpersonal, right? How we negotiate our relationships and attachment and unconscious desires, right? To pay attention to that as it's embedded within a broader context of the social political. So I did this detour through seminary, not not for the cloth or anything like that, for the academics. I did the academic track. And then I went to actually went back to Rutgers University, where I did my doctorate at the Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology. And that's where I got most of my training as a therapist, as a psychologist.
That's where I got my degree. Then I did internships, postdocs and started working as a psychologist. Now, what was interesting, and that's also kind of a circuitous story, because my first job was in a hospital setting, and I was very much just eating, living and breathing, psychotherapy, doing administrative work. And I kind of set to the side for a time what I wanted my academic aspirations to be. And it just so happened that a mentor of mine, Jeremy Safran, who was, you know, since disease, came to my hospital. He wanted to do some research and we're talking and he's like, Oh, so what are you doing here? And I'm like, Oh, well, I'm, you know, I'm doing therapy.
I'm running programs, the Senate third. And he literally, he was like, it's bullshit. Like you should be writing, you should be writing your book and you should be in academia and doing all these things. So he really encouraged me to actually pick up on a lot of those ideas that I wanted to write about and actually get to writing them. And so it's out of that, that I wrote my first book, A People's History of Psychoanalysis from Freud's Deliberation Psychology. And that's also what led me on the journey to end up at the new school, or I have this wonderful opportunity to do the kind of research and work that I want to do. So that's, that's how I got here.
Something like today. Yes. And thank you for that mentor for bringing you to this space and all the work that you've done to get here, to have this message and to be able to talk about these things, because I think it's an area of psychology that is not yet, at least from my training, we haven't talked about liberation psychology at all at the Chicago school. I know in the podcast you had mentioned Dr. Barbary, right? Yeah, I haven't taken a class with them.
And so I haven't heard anything about the word liberation psychology and I'm a third year student in a five year program, right? Oh, gosh. So you're at Chicago right now, the Chicago school. Yeah. Oh, that's fascinating.
Isn't it? That's so wild, because it literally was from him that I first got introduced to liberation psychology. So I don't know what's going on at Chicago school since then, but. Well, it's probably one of those things where it's like, if I took a class with him, then I would hear it, right? And so like when I just get all these different teachers and so I didn't get him for psychodynamic, I had an adjunct, right?
So then all these other pieces that come into that play. So I learned more about Jungian psychology because of my adjunct and maybe a liberation psychologist would. But yeah, that's fascinating.
And I think that part of this is the social justice piece of all of this, right? I think some people would hear us talking about psychology and not even know the colonialization of that, right? Like, what do you mean by that? If I could ask you to explain a little bit more about, you know, what's wrong with the field of psychology?
Oh, let me count the ways. I know. I'm like, I'm ready for it. Let's go. I mean, I don't even know where to begin with that question. Yeah, let me go, let me go through it. I mean, I'll go through it from, you know, my, you know, particular angle, the kind of things that I do. So I'll try to touch on kind of the training aspect and dimension, and then the organizational dimension with respect to the American Psychological Association, which is our national professional organization, and then embed both of those things within the wider, what I would call the wider neoliberal tilt of psychology today.
Right. With training just to kind of start at the ground level for most of us, and that includes me going through, you know, undergrad bachelors, masters and a doctorate is that there's a certain bifurcation in the training. And there are many issues with training, but I'm just going to focus on this one for now, which is that you're expected most of the time to learn something called psychotherapy.
Right. Maybe it's like when litic therapy humanistic psychotherapy family systems cognitive behavioral, you learn this thing called psychotherapy. And then you go over here to some other class maybe in your second or third year. And you learn this other thing called cultural competence. And cultural competence is a catch all term for all that stuff you don't get to talk about when you take the psychotherapy class right. So it's everything from, you know, certainly culture, but also gender and sexuality. It's also race. It's also broadly the issue of social determinants of health the social context. And because of that bifurcation the training, it sometimes leads to this logic that says well, good meat and potato psychotherapy is good for white people and men and middle class people, etc. And cultural competence is for others. It's for people of color. It's for women is for LGBTQ people is for working class people as if if you are a person of color, who is poor and queer and gendered or identifying as female, then there's a social context.
If you are if you're white if you're middle class, etc. No social context for you all your issues go back to mommy and daddy and nothing to do with the social context. And that bifurcation, you know, it creates problems because you then sometimes start thinking about different communities as a model is and not as, you know, dynamic beings.
Right. So the example I would give you is when I took the equivalent class when I was in doctoral school, and we had to read Monica McGoldrick's ethnicity and family therapy, which is in general a great book, but not if you use it in a cookie cutter way. And by that I mean, you know, you go through the different chapters and there's like a chapter on Jewish Americans, a chapter on Afro Caribbean's African Americans, Asian Americans, etc. Then I get to the chapter on Puerto Ricans and there was a specific chapter on Puerto Ricans.
And I'm just, I'm reading this thing. And I'm like, this, this is nothing to do with me or anybody that I grew up with or anybody in my community on the island. Because it was a very, again, two dimensional cardboard caught out of who Puerto Ricans were.
Right. So it's almost like white people's issues go back to mommy and daddy for Puerto Ricans and other people of color goes back to something called culture and context, but somehow we're devoid of our own subjectivity, right, the fact that we are thinking and feeling beings that we're not like the Borg from Star Trek that we all just share a hive mind, because we're so collectivistic right. And of course there's, there's, there's collectivism and there's collectivism right there's the sense of being having a sense of self that is relationally and communally related. But then there's taking it to the extreme where you would almost think all of a sudden people of color don't have psychology. So there's, there's all these problems in the training that make it hard to think about suffering in a social context, not just for the marginalized, but also for the privileged. That world existing in the system that absolutely to put to put a bluntly, absolutely does racial capitalism, meaning this interesting fusion of racism and economic forces are neoliberal in nature.
Do they affect people of color differently than they do white people, no question. Right. But does the system nonetheless link our suffering. Right. Let me get very concrete about that. When we think about, for example, racism. Right, not just as an individual sentiment, but as a political force, what does it do.
Well, we can look at the work of Derek Bell, we could look at the work of Ian and Lopez we could go all the way to Du Bois. Racism anyways functions as a tool of divide and conquer to get all of us against each other, not just white people against people of color, but even people of color against ourselves. What does that do, lo and behold, it empowers right wing politicians into office. It puts him into office and only enact laws that erode or civil liberties, particularly for people of color.
It also allows them to put into place, neoliberal economic policies that devastate all of our communities. Right. So our suffering is not the same, but it is connected.
Absolutely. Similarly, if we think about, say, gender and sexuality, right. It's without question that something like patriarchy rights going to privilege men and marginalized and underprivileged women as well as non cisgender people right non cis heterosexual people. But at the same time, in order for patriarchy to function.
It needs to create kind of a wounding in men and then weaponize that would I'm speaking here of cisgender heterosexual men, it needs to weaponize that wound against cisgender women trans women LGBT people broadly in order to maintain its power. Right. That's a much more complicated and integrated way of thinking about suffering than psychotherapies for white people and cultural competencies with people of color.
Right. So that bifurcation creates problems. And then you have to ask yourself, well, why do we bifurcate human suffering in this way. Why is psychology so divided.
Why is clinical training. Why does it give us an effect such a hard time and thinking about the social, even when it claims to value diversity to value social determinants to want to change the world. And yet the tools that it gives us to do that are so they're so lacking. In some ways it almost makes it harder to think about questions of social policy of social occasion, and ultimately politics.
Why does it do that. As I alluded to earlier, there's a kind of politics in our field that privileges the compartmentalizing of suffering. Right. So instead of thinking, well, what policies, evidence based policies could reliably address hunger, poverty, racism, inequality. We get stuck with doing things like well, you know, try our new resilience app.
15 minutes a day you build up your resilience. That's what we're teaching in different kinds of initiatives that try to change lo and behold individual minds, but not systems. Reflecting on one's privilege is of course important, right, but no amount of me reflecting on my identities is going to change, right, the fact that we don't have a meaningful healthcare system is going to change the fact that many of our immigrant communities are still being persecuted in this country.
Right. So issues that could be addressed to policy, instead get transformed into an individualized quick fix, if that makes sense. And that very much comes from the kind of philosophies we have in much of our training that bifurcate issues that are profoundly social political and turns them into bite size individual problems. So racism is no longer seen as a structure, even though we use the language of structural racism, it's turned into an individual sentiment changed at an individual level, and so forth also for sexism, queer phobia, and so on.
This gets us to the professional dimension, right, which is the American Psychological Association, which sets a lot of guidelines and policies, right, with regards to training. There, I'll simply say, you know, there's things that can't talk about things that I can, but I'll simply say that within APA, you can similarly find this neoliberal ethos, when it comes to what kind of policies APA supports, and which ones it does not support, in terms of what the angle of vision is, when it comes to structural change. And sometimes there's an awareness that that kind of politics is at play, sometimes it's just seen as the air that we breathe, right, right, even amongst us who will see ourselves as progressive and pro diversity and pro social justice may nevertheless think about it in a very neoliberal way and I've been, you know, I'm aware I've been throwing that word around a lot. The way that I use the word simply put is a preference for economic and social policies that supports and favors market solutions, in other words, letting business and private equity solve our problems, instead of engaging in public goods to solve our problems, right, so leaving it up to, well, we're going to partner with the start up to create the real resilience app, as opposed to, hmm, maybe there should be more mental health treatment equity in our healthcare system, right, so a policy solution, versus a market solution.
And unfortunately, much of psychology is captured by market logic, right, and more of these kind of private business partnerships, than a real consideration of top level policy that could address these different psychosocial problems. So I know that was a lot, but I hope that that makes sense. It does, it does.
And I think what's interesting then is on the individual level, right, you have a client that comes into this room, they sit with a psychologist, they say, you know, I'm struggling to have enough money to provide for my family, I'm really stressed out, I don't know what to do, all this sort of pressure, and then the psychologist me you sits there and says, Well, you have depression, you have depression, this is a problem within you, right, and then that person identifies with that sort of thing and these labels can be helpful but then the problem is, it's not taking into context all the things you just talked about, and then that person feels like it's all their fault. Yeah. Yeah. It's the lack of what I would call, you know, with respects to Lacan, a mobius strip.
I don't know if you're familiar with that little thing. So it's literally, it's a strip that shape almost like an infinity sign. And if you put your finger on the outside of the strip, and you trace it, the outside becomes the inside.
And if you keep tracing it, the inside becomes the outside again. And what I mean by that is that we're able to think about, yes, people can develop depression, people can develop distorted beliefs about themselves and other people. Sure. Yes, people can have early childhood experiences that frame how they see the world. Absolutely true. But to also consider that those same dynamics, don't just have an internal origin, and not simply a relational origin again in terms of mommy daddy stuff, but that they also have a broader, to put it simply social origin, right, that it's not an accident that more and more, you know, people come to therapy saying, I'm having trouble connecting in my relationship.
chips? Can we trace that to early attachment challenges, right, with feeling vulnerable with other people, etc. Sure, but it's not a coincidence that we're living in a country that has egregious levels of income inequality. And within which the research shows the greater the level of income inequality, the more we get hyper fixated on our position within different hierarchies. We trust other people less, right, things that at first seem to be about the intimacies of our lives like relationships are indelibly textured by questions of status and position, right, like you get, you get to talk into people for five minutes, not even in the consulting room, just out at a bar with your friends. And they'll tell you very quickly the kind of people that they will and won't consider in an intimate context, right, you'll hear about income, you'll hear about, well, what are they doing with their life, what's their education level, right, and we don't necessarily open up to all people, right, because we're thinking about these different categories, which can in turn make us really worried about how we are seen by other people, are we seen as having value, are we seen as deserving of love, right.
So all of a sudden, again, something that seems very intimate and individual and personal like love, if you trace it, the inside becomes once again, the outside, because it brings up questions about our fundamental value in a given society, right. So it's not about working with patients in a way where, oh, you don't have depression, you have oppression, right. So it's not about becoming sociologically reductionistic, any more than becoming psychologically reductionistic.
But it's seeing how these things are intimately related and co-constitutive, meaning that the outside forms the inside, just as much as the inside can come into texture, the way that we see the outside world, right. So it's a dynamism that sometimes again gets occluded by the way that we talk about psychotherapy, right, it's either totally individual, or people are kind of the victims of history and context, and there's no room for desire, right. What is it that this person wants to engage with in the world?
And how do we work with them, not to accept a broken reality, not to adjust themselves to it, but to acknowledge well, given that everything's fucked, what is it that you would want to do, right, to reconnect people with a sense of agency, ownership, and desire, so they can engage this broken world in maybe a different way than they've been shaped to by society, by culture, and by their family circumstance. Yes, and I appreciate that nuance, right. It's not only the individual experience or the collective society experience, it's the mix of both and how that interplays. And I think that's where the discussion needs to come through, right, is that it's both of these things, yes, and always in a complex way.
And if you only look at one, you're missing, you know, the other half of the equation that is so key to all of this. And I appreciate the conversation about relationships, because as someone who is focusing more on sex and relationships, I mean, it is so prevalent, you know, the power and the socialization of all that stuff that comes into some of the most deeply intimate aspects of the human condition, you know, connecting in intimacy with our bodies, with other people, and that is so deeply ingrained in all of this, right. It's when someone comes into the room saying, I'm uncomfortable talking about sex, it's like a yes, maybe that is from experiences within your own relationships and other things that formulated that, but it's also the societal context that doesn't talk about these things and portrays one way to do these things.
So it's always that yes, and and where is psychology talking about this enough. And also, I think my question is like, how do you do this in the room with someone? How do you like gauge this in an actual practice level when you're sitting down with a client, you know, like, what does that look like?
That's a concrete technical question. I mean, like, shit, if I was a clinician, you're right in training, I'm like, yeah, what do you actually do with that? That's so hard. I mean, it's interesting. So like, definitely when I was in training, and probably the first five years or so post school, it always felt like, you know, trying to mix apples and oranges, like, how do I take all this training and early development and people's beliefs and relationships of self and other and this genuine desire to really make room for talking about the social. Well, how do you actually do that?
Right? I think, I think oftentimes, people talk in a very aspirational way, like, of course, we should bring up culture, talk about the social, political, etc. But it's, it's very rare to get concrete how to use as to how to do it. So I've pretty much kind of cobbled together from clinical practice, from theory and from research, a way of doing it.
That's been very helpful for me. And then I've started to write about in the last couple years, I'll give you kind of a bare bones version of the theory and research. And then I'll get into, well, this is what it looks like in the room. And then we can see if that makes sense. So part of it comes from psychoanalytic theory and psychoanalytic theory sort of between the work of Sigmund Freud and the work of French analyst Jacques Lacan. The way the theory works is very simple. When we speak, it's not just us speaking.
It is also certainly on one level, the scripts, the language, the words that we heard within our family of origin, right? So when you're, when you're working on something, and all of a sudden you're like, oh, I want to take a break. And then the thought flashes through very quickly. It says, oh, don't be lazy. Right. And unconsciously, maybe you heard from one of your parents or from a grumpy uncle, right?
Oh, stop being lazy, right? So your part of it comes from certainly childhood relationships. But another place where our speech comes from is the social cultural context that we are, we are speaking lines as Lacan puts it within a broader script that we're not aware of. And that script includes the script of our life history, but it also includes this social political script that comes from our society, right?
So in that sense, our words are not necessarily our own, but they come from this bigger and broader place. Now that's the theoretical piece. In terms of, in terms of the research, something that we know about how the brain works is that its primary function is to move a body in physical space, right? So literally, you, you, you feel, you know, you feel snackish. So you, you literally, without thinking, without needing to consciously calculate it, your brain knows how to pick up your body, move towards your fridge, and then get a sweet concoction of your own predilection, right? And you can do all of that without thinking, right?
You don't have to think left foot in front of right foot, et cetera, right? So the brain's primary role is to mobilize the body in physical space. Through evolution, right, as we develop the capacity for a language, many of our centers that are implicated in language actually came out of brain regions intimately concerned with where the body is in physical space. For that reason, many of our metaphors for relatedness, for the social are very spatial. So when we say to our beloved, right, they share something very intimate with us, and that makes us feel closer to them, we might say, you know, that really touched me.
I feel closer to you, right? That's a particular language of horizontality, right? The language of relationships, of how we can feel trust with another person, whether we feel close or distant, warm or cold, right? We know that when we think about somebody that we love, the body warms up. But when we feel rejected by someone, the body actually becomes very cold. Think of when someone gives you the cold shoulder, right?
Right. Similarly, when we think about status and hierarchy, if there are two social cognitive systems that are very central to our function here as human beings, is a kind of horizontal system organized around relationships, any vertical system organized around status, where we are in the pecking order, right? For example, when you say like, oh, you know, when I met with that supervisor, you know, I felt really bad about my clinical work, they had some critical things to say, I felt really put down, right? Or my supervisor said, I did a really great job, I feel on the moon, right? I'm on cloud nine, these are all vertical metaphors.
Right. It capture a sense of where the body is in a three dimensional space, whether that's feeling closer to an intimate conspecific, or where the body is metaphorically and literally on a social hierarchy, who is above and who's below, who has value, who has less value. Okay, let me pause there and see what that makes sense so far, that our speech is textured indelibly by the speech of others and by the language of our social surround, theoretical piece. Empirically, the way our brains work is that we map out interpersonal relationships and social positions using spatial metaphors, right? When you feel, for example, like you applied for that job, you really, really want it and you don't get it, you suddenly feel like, oh, I got dropped, I got rejected, I'm no longer in the running, right?
You feel it in your gut almost like you're falling. Right. Now, let me pause there before I get to the concrete clinical stuff and see if that theory and that research makes sense. Yeah, it's interesting.
I had never heard of this. I guess my question is weird, does it come from and why, I guess, is that a shaping of our social conditioning and how we have power structures and have as a human species? Because I mean, I wonder, you know, like, what about the spiritual context of all of us being, you know, potentially spiritual beings, if you say, I feel like a God, you know, or other sorts of things too, like that. So I'm curious, like, where this power, space dimension comes in and why, but that might also be pertinent to the point. So, I mean, I think it's an important question.
It may touch on the clinical in a bit, but just to kind of get into it. Part of it is simply put, we did develop these systems through evolution, right? So we developed, for example, you know, as John Volby teaches us, a system for negotiating relationships, right, the attachment system, which very much maps into this horizontal mode that I was discussing earlier. Similarly, we did develop the capacity to think about and reflect on where we are in the community in relation to others, what is our place, right? And that's also important. But the issue here is that we also evolved to develop those hierarchies rather flexibly.
Let me give you a very dumb example, and then I'll get into a more anthropological example, the first point. Do you ever play when you were a kid, like some form of, you know, cops and robbers or Ninja Turtles, superheroes, right? So with your friends, you might be like, oh, you know, I'm Batman, and you're the Joker, or I'm Superman, you're Lex Wuther, right? And then you go, pew, pew, pew, oh, I killed you, you're dead, right? And then you and your friend might switch.
right? So now your friend is Batman and you're the Joker and you do the same thing. You fight, you pu pu pu, oh I killed you, no you go to jail, right? All those different things. So clearly there's a hierarchy embedded in the game. One of you is the good guy, right? And the other is the bad guy. One of you wins, the other loses. That's how the story goes. But then you have the capacity to say, okay I had my turn being the good guy. Now you're gonna be the good guy, I'm gonna be the bad guy, right?
So there's this flexibility, this capacity to shift who's in what position went. Unless you get into that one kid in the playground who's an asshole. And they're like, no no no no, I am Batman.
I am Batman today, I abandon tomorrow, I abandon forever, right? And all of a sudden that creates problems because now you no longer have this kind of flexible hierarchy. Now you have a rigid hierarchy. Now what does that mean anthropologically? If we look at particularly contemporary research in an archaeology and anthropology, we find that are very distant ancestors. It's not that for example they were hunter-gatherers who lived in a harmonious, you know, sort of garden of Eden type of world. And then they discovered agriculture and somehow they became patriarchal and everything went to shit.
That's a very linear story that's not, it's not quite being born up by the evidence. What the research suggests is that our distant ancestors had this capacity to kind of shift between different modes of social organization that could be shifting from a very horizontal way of relating where maybe relationships are more kind of polyamorous and there's a lot of sexual fluidity. Maybe there are rights of, you know, fertility rituals, etc. And then shift into what we might recognize today as very patriarchal modes, which might be more monogamous, that might be in control. But that shift again may go back and forth. In some cultures that back and forth happen in the span of seasons, right? So in the fall, men might be in charge, it's very patriarchally organized, etc.
Then winter comes. All of a sudden, all of the idols to male gods get torn down. All of a sudden relationships become much more egalitarian.
Women have a stronger role in ritual, there's greater, it's not that things necessarily become reversed, but it sort of switches between kind of a gender, sort of a gender equity model to a more patriarchal model and back and forth. Sometimes it happened over the course of generations. One generation would say, you know what, the way we're going to live and survive is to be super patriarchal, men run the show, it's all good.
And then a generation later, people go, you know what, that was kind of a shit show, let's never do that again. So it's kind of dynamism, right? Other examples that I would cite to illustrate the point would be the ways in which people negotiated power in their communities. So if you see different, you know, movies about indigenous people or movies about prehistoric ancestors, it'll usually show like the big, strong man who gets the meat, and he's in charge and he's the chief and he runs the show.
But that's not exactly how it works. So yes, you may get a strong guy who goes out, kills a deer, brings him home. And you might think because he killed the deer, he's in charge, he has the control. But what would actually happen is he brings home the deer, and people would say, well, did you really kill the deer? Or was it the arrow that you shot the deer with, which was actually made by my grandma? So actually, my grandma killed the deer, she has the right to distribute the meat, right? So they had these systems for recognizing, yes, there's a hierarchy.
The big, strong guy is going to be a better warrior, hunter, whatever, than my grandma. Yes, there is that hierarchy, but we're not going to allow that hierarchy to be rigid. So we're going to create these systems to actually invert the hierarchy and say, well, it's not whoever has the most strength, it's whoever has the best technical prowess, say, in crafting an arrow.
You fire the arrow, but my grandma made it in the back of the hut, right? So it's not, guess what I'm trying to say here is that while we evolve to develop the capacity to think about systems of hierarchy, that also gives us different tools, right? It gives us the capacity to say, oh, this is the hierarchy, how can I get up there and get power? But it also gives us the capacity to say, hmm, here's this hierarchy, let's make sure whoever gets in there doesn't run amok with power, right? So it gives us the ability to actually put a check on systems of power so that they don't run amok and destroy the community. In the example I gave earlier of, you know, the strong man who, you know, hunts the deer and whatever, if that strong man were to say, well, no, I killed the deer, so it's my right, he would run the danger of being killed, right? Because if you have a communal structure that says we're all going to share this meat, and we're going to share it in such a way so that it's not just strong guys who run the show, but everybody has a chance to make decisions. Well, if you start to part from that, you're endangering the community.
So you're either going to be shamed until you give up this nonsense or killed, and ultimately there's more of us than there are of you. So that's really important to keep in mind to say that it's not that hierarchy is immediately bad, right? Between parent and child, there's a hierarchy, but again, it's a fluid one. When you're little, you poop your pants and you can't eat, so your parents feed you and take care of you ideally in the best possible possible worlds. Then when you get older, well, the hierarchy starts to shift a little bit.
Now you wipe your own ass, you take your own meat, and you might make your own choices, right? So it's not hierarchy bad, right? It's a question of fluid versus more rigid systems of hierarchy. That's essentially what we're looking at when we look at things like racial capitalism, patriarchy, and so forth.
It's ways in which social positions become reified and almost turn into a biological truth that certain people deserve to be at the top and that certain people deserve to be at the bottom, right? It would be like saying, you know, we all go play basketball together. Clearly, some of us are going to be better and worse than playing basketball, but that probably shouldn't decide who gets to eat, you know what I'm saying?
That should decide who gets to eat and who grows hungry. It just means some of you are better at basketball than others. Right, right. So unfortunately, currently with our system, it does control who eats, right? And that's the scary piece of all of that. And I think even thinking about, you know, myself, other people who have power as clinicians who are trained, right? Like thinking of myself as the strong warrior in that example, right? It's interesting to remember that the only reason that I'm here with this is because of the privilege that I've had and all the other people that have shaped me, right?
Like, I am not an island in this. I am, you know, the product of the grandma who made the arrow, who taught me how to do this, all the different professors that have trained me in this. And that way, I think it's like we need to understand that more of our collective experience is a yes and that there is an individual experience of what I've done in between it, but it is not my ownership over this.
This is a collective thing. We're always being shaped by all the other people that are around us that are helping us to come into this. And I think, you know, for me, my orientation that I've been training under is relational cultural theory and how that tries to not have this like top over dynamic with clients to claim like where they should go or what they should do. But it does get very interesting, I think in the nuance of like, when do you tell someone something and kind of claim that power over, you know, versus honoring it. I think a great example I've had in like a lot of my training is, you know, the survivor of sexual violence that comes in and says, you know, this is my fault. And when do you come in as a clinician to say, no, I'm going to tell you that your truth is wrong in that way, because it wasn't your fault for this experience versus honoring in a top, not having a top over power over dynamic to honor where they're at. And you know, my existential professor would be like, that's their grounding in that moment in this, in this world of how they're understanding their experience.
And like, it's just, it's so nuanced this art of this field of how to do this of respecting people, but also using the training, the arrow that I did have from all the beautiful community, the beautiful community that raised you and to help people in this, it's just, ooh, it is so nuanced. Yeah. No, that brings us from the theory to the practice.
Yeah. And I think a lot of what we've established so far, even the anthropological stuff gets us to the clinical. So remember earlier how I talked about the sort of two social cognitive systems, one organized around trust, warmth and cold, distance and closeness, the other organized around power, right, hierarchy, position.
Yeah. So something else that we know about the establishment of trust, particularly epistemic trust, is how do you get someone to believe that you are a worthy, deserving and valuable source of information, right? It turns out that people who feel heard are better able to hear, right? So in other words, and this is where it gets complicated and a little difficult, when somebody tells you, this happened to me and it's my fault.
Let's, let's call that position A. And then you come in and say, no, no, no, no, no, it's not your fault. It's patriarchy. It's the system.
It's all these things. Let's call that position B, right? Now you basically have a discursive debate between A and B. And what happens when two people feel that they're both right?
They dig in deeper, right? So you're not establishing yourself as a valuable source of information. What it does is to help that person feel heard, not that you agree with what they're saying, but that you're able to reflect back their own experience, right? To put it very concretely, you're repeating back some dimension of their own speech. So if their discourse, right, is that I'm a victim of sexual assault and it's my fault, well, in that speech, we might be hearing the language perhaps of a parent who was not supportive when they were assaulted. We might hear the language of the medical doctors, the police officers, the criminal justice system that didn't support the broader culture that didn't support this person and blame them, right?
So we're already beginning to hear echoes of broader relational and cultural discourses. To contradict the discourse will not establish that anchor, that epistemic anchor that you need. So the act of reflecting back those words, wow, it really does feel to you like it's entirely your fault. Now on one level, it sounds like, oh, well, are you agreeing with them?
Well, they're not agreeing with them. You're reflecting it back with a little bit of a twist. It really does feel to you that it is your fault. Those first few words, it really does feel to you implies that it could feel different. Right? You could come to a different conclusion, but you're not insisting on it.
You're just putting it out there, right? The more the person feels heard, this very interesting thing happens. They begin to thaw cognitively, right? They start to open up their mind because they feel that you're really hearing and understanding what they're saying, right? It's almost like you have to join them a little bit.
That's what my mentor in grad school, Nancy Burr-Frank, would often say. You have to do something she called the stroke and push. Right? So first you have stroke them a little bit like, it really does feel to you that it's this way. But then you start to push like, but could it be another way though?
Right? So the first step is attending to the specifics of the patient's speech and communicating an understanding of that speech. That's the beginning and end of all psychotherapy. Now, it's not the only thing you do, but it's the important first step to make sure people feel heard, even if what you're hearing is not something that you agree with. the other nuances that I would pluck out from the theory that I just established in the research is attending to the spatiality of people's speech. What I mean is that even when people are not explicitly talking about race, gender, sexuality, and class, when they say something like, I feel like I'm not where I should be in my life. Sounds very existential, sounds very global, but you can think about it very concretely. I don't feel that I am where I should be in my life. That presumes that you are somewhere here in a lower place and you want to get to this higher place.
So very suddenly there's the implication of a kind of hierarchy, which may be about class, could also be about gender, could also be about sexuality and race. When you start to reflect back that speech, something as simple as not where you should be, that invites the person to expand more. Well, I don't have the job that I thought that I would. I spent all these years in school and for what?
I did everything I was supposed to and yet here I am. Nowhere in there does the person say, I'm feeling depressed and anxious because of capitalism, but embedded in that speech, well, the person was told, if you work hard, if you study, if you do all the things you're supposed to do, you'll win a capitalist and yet here you are anxious and depressed and wondering where you belong. So the more that you pave the road by attending to the nuances in the person's speech, who do they feel close to? Who do they feel that they're able to be vulnerable with or not?
Who do they feel above or below to? When you start to attend to that kind of language, you start to very organically evoke themes related to culture, power and identity without needing to be necessarily super heavy handed. So the patient that comes in, I have a student, Mercedes Ocosi, who did a wonderful dissertation on cultural ruptures in psychotherapy and something that she found is something that other studies have found as well, which is that many patients who call in psychotherapy have two related concerns. On the one hand, they want to be able to have this space to talk about race, culture and identity. On the other hand, they don't want the therapist to jump to conclusions that the reason why they came to therapy is because of race and racism. To the exclusion of any other issues they may have in mind, like relationships or what have you.
So you have to be able to hold a balance between again these two dimensions of experience, the relational and the political, and to be able to join the client in attending to how this emerges organically from their speech rather than trying to impose it on them in a very heavy handed way. Now that doesn't mean you don't throw it out there. That doesn't mean you don't broach it and then see if it lands, but you want to be careful that you don't impose that on the patient, because again, that might lead them to not feeling hurt. I can't tell you how many patients I've worked with who've been in other therapies, so they're like, yeah, you know, all my therapist wanted to do was talk about my immigration experience, but that's not why I came to therapy. Or the therapist wanted to talk about, you know, my trans identity and my transition process, but that's not why I came to therapy. And it started to make me feel that this, you know, I heard this from not only from clients, but even from friends were like, the therapist, they try to perform being an ally, but it wants up making the person feel kind of uncomfortable, like, wait a minute, the problem here isn't my being trans.
The problem is, you know, I lost a relationship or I lost a job or a parent died, you know, things that everybody deals with. And sometimes people kind of miss the plot, because instead of again, attending to what the patient is saying, and this isn't, you know, there's a lot of science to it, but it's not rocket science, attending to what the person is saying will get you there, rather than imposing it from without in a way that feels like an imposition, and sometimes even a display of power. Because how how bizarre would it be, right, for a patient of color to feel that their white therapist is trying to dictate what their identity is or should be, right, or for a cisgender person trying to dictate what a trans person's experience is, right, and so on and so forth. So all that to say, I think speech and language is cardinal. Speech and language is always already relational and political. And if we can, you know, attune our ears a little bit, right, it's sometimes this thing where if the patient doesn't explicitly name racism, sexism, etc, then it's not an issue. And yet if you attend to their speech in this way, it starts to bubble up just in a more organic way. So that would be kind of my, you know, my broad brush into how to engage these issues in the clinical setting.
It's a way that kind of speaks to many of our different therapeutic traditions, but that adds a little bit extra. What I mean by that is, if you've been taught to listen to distorted cognitions, that's what you're going to listen for. If you're taught to listen for early attachment ruptures, then that's what you're going to hear.
But but if you don't learn how to hear for the nuances of the social political, then you're going to have a hard time figuring out how to engage it in a clinically effective way. Right, right. Absolutely. And I think that that discussion too about the hearing, listening to where the clients at their experience is so powerful, because like you said, if you come in with this overhand, this is what's going on, this is what's happening.
One that's just going to activate someone's defenses, and they're going to shut down, like you had mentioned, right, and not want to hear you and just defend stronger in it. And I think, yeah, some of this is also a reflection of like the dynamics of what therapy is in some ways of this kind of conceptualization of like, I am the therapist, I'm going to see what your problem is, right? It is your trans identity, because you went through all this sort of stuff. So I'm going to claim it is that because that's the power dynamic I was taught in where I am supposed to look at you and know what's wrong with your experience or needs to be worked on, right. And so like, all of that sort of understanding, and I mean, that comes through a lot in psychodynamic theories sometimes when people come in and say, well, it's really your unconscious dad complex that you haven't looked at. And it's like, oh, yes, that may be true.
Also, there might be more to the story, right. And so it's very interesting, I think in this field of how we're taught to conceptualize and to see where we should go, right? Is it the maladaptive thoughts? Is it this or that? And how at times, because of that training that lens, it can cause exactly what you're saying where someone comes in and says, this is what we need to focus on in the therapy room and acting a power over model of what from my view is the situation compared to like you're saying, listening. And I think what I'm hearing so much so is truly how this is such an art and a science, right, is such a dance to be in with people and to sit with them and to honor them and to also come with your own perspective and hear their perspective. And I think what my biggest hope is in having conversations like this on a public platform like the podcast is that not to discredit the training that we do as clinicians and the importance of our work, but I think collectively being able to do this on a larger scale with all of our relationships, right? When you hear people in your community, whether you're a therapist or not that are having, you know, the sexual assault survivors, someone in your community that happens to, we don't come in and say to them, no, that's not it, that's not it. You know, like we need to work on a collective level in all of our relationships, even outside of the therapy room of listening, of being with that person, of honoring their experience and where they're at and sitting with them. That's my dream because I think in the sense that all of these systemic things are going on, the answer is not going to be all of us getting into a therapy room. All of us are going to need to learn how to sit with people better and how to be there and honor them in our own individual relationships. So I think it's important to bring these sort of conversations of how to sit with someone, how to be with them, how to help another person into a public discourse.
Because yeah, one therapy room alone is not going to change this larger dilemma that we're in in terms of the systems and in terms of just generally how we relate to one another on an individual community level as well. I mean, I'm curious about that. How do you see that link between finding new and different ways of being in relationship with each other?
How do you think that springs board into this more political dimension? I mean, I think that the reality is that we haven't been, I mean, taught how to emotionally sit with another person and to be close, right, and to hear stories. And a lot of that might be from, right, the societal relationship that we have to society at large, especially for people that have been socially conditioned as men to not have emotions, right?
And then also our individual experiences and our family systems and other sort of relationships. I think that if we can all learn how to better sit with one another, better listen, better be in connection, I think that collectively, it almost maybe eliminates the role of a therapist in some ways, right? Like, that's big, big dream, right? We're like, we could all be available to one another to hear, to listen, to have that experience. Because ultimately, I, you know, personally, all this training I have is teaching me on how to do that better.
And I want to share these skills with other people. So that way we have more of a community level of healing together instead of having to have it in a therapy box, right? Right. I mean, it's interesting, you know, a lot of people who are, you know, very politically involved might hear this and feel that it's all like, you know, woo woo, touchy feely kind of stuff. But there's something, there is something really there.
You know, part of what you were making me think of is two things. One is a body of research on what's called deep canvassing. And the other is on, well, you know, different, different things related to like, how do you talk about movement building in a way that gets people on board, right? Like there's, you know, you have people talk about like, oh, you know, Medicare for all has so much public support and, you know, different kind of social economic policies, you know, have all this support, right?
Like reducing the cost of insulin, free insulin, etc. And yet when you get to voting, sometimes all that support seems to plummet. And the question is why? Part of the answer is to why is because we get really divided against each other. Like on paper, we might say, oh, universal healthcare is a wonderful thing. But wait a minute, that means if I get it, the other guy gets it too. The other guy could be, you know, oh, immigrants, oh, people of color, oh, those mad angry feminists, blah, blah, blah, whoever the other is, all of a sudden, we don't want that universal policy anymore. Because it means if I get it, it means the other gets it too.
And so that that one's a being part of the divide and conquer politics of this country. The reason I mentioned deep canvassing, it's a very fascinating body of research, basically showing that if you compare knocking on people's doors and just vomiting information versus knocking on people's doors and engaging them in a conversation about what it is of concern to them and how that helps facilitate a process of change. Well, you know, surprise for any of us who practice relationally or a therapist writ large that that method's more effective. And the way it goes is as follows, like it may start with knocking on someone's door. But instead of leading with, you know, vote for my guy, not the other guy, or, you know, here's my pamphlet and why these policies good for you. It starts with, you know, we really want to know what some people's minds, like what is it that's a big concern for you. And there's there's a lovely clip you can find on YouTube of deep canvassing in action where they do essentially this and it was around LGBT civil rights and this young activist knocks on a door and it's answered by an older Latino man. And so they start, you know, with this pop like, oh, we're wondering, you know, we're wondering what people's concerns are about recent laws that are coming up around LGBT rights.
What are your concerns. And, you know, this older Latino gentleman, you know, says a whole bunch of very homophobic and group phobic stuff right. But instead of, you know, getting defensive or just going, no, you're wrong. The activist says, hmm, you know, I wonder why that is, or what makes you concerned. And they start digging a little deeper and the person goes, well, you know, where I come from, we believe in the family and we have to protect the family. And it's like, oh, and is that your wife sitting there on the couch. Yeah, that's my wife, you know, God gave me the love to love someone with a disability.
And so I take care of her. It's like, oh, and then the activist says, oh, well, that's what I'm trying to do for my partner. That's why we want to make sure that, you know, there's there's these equitable laws for people who are LGBTQ, because we're trying to take care of our families to. And then there's this moment of recognition where the gentleman says like, oh, like you're like your LGBT, like, oh, you seem so nice, right, like that kind of typical trope. But again, remaining non defensive, the activist starts to build a common bridge with this man, based on some shared values, which is that all of our families should be taken care of.
And isn't that what we all want to make sure that our families are okay. This, you know, it's a little bit of kind of the joining we talked about earlier right the kind of stroke and push. This leads to a shift in the conversation. And the gentleman starts to acknowledge, you know what, maybe I was wrong in thinking about things the way that I was like maybe LGBT people should have certain rights and protections, etc. The reason I bring that up is because it's a very lovely and evidence based example of how we can have a different kind of conversation with people that can try to help us get through the division in order to show that we have more common cause with each other than with those who are in power, right, that those were in power benefit by getting us, you know, against kids, getting us against trans kids, getting us against major corporations, getting us against people of color and immigrants who are just trying to live their lives, getting us against the poor. We can do a better job of figuring out ways of having robust, but also empathic and inviting conversations that does more of a calling in instead of a calling out. That we're trying to bring each other back into community and relatedness so that we can build something together that works for all of us, black, white and brown, cis and trans, queer and straight. Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. That is my little dream for this podcast, right, is to have that sort of space and to, I think when we think about, you know, the nature of dividedness with politics and all of this, this is exactly how it's going to change is connecting on this relational level to understand the other thing that has been so created to understand that we all have the same things of wanting love, of wanting connection, of wanting to keep our family safe and connecting on those values and having a conversation about that sort of dynamic where it's not this, well, this is what it is, because that's not going to solve the current political nature of where we're at.
And like you said, it keeps us all fighting down here when maybe we should be looking upwards at the systems that are doing this. And I think, yeah, for me, it was such an experience as someone who's, you know, whose mom, for example, is Mormon to have a queer polyamorous daughter over here and to have those dynamics. And I think for me, that was like the sort of precipice for starting this podcast is to have conversations about it to connect with other people and to just talk about these things and to understand the humanity and all of us. I mean, and it was such a thing for me, even my sister, you know, like reaching out to her and asking like, Have you ever had a conversation with a gay person, you know, she's Mormon and has beliefs about what is okay and what is not okay.
And she said, No, I've never had a conversation with a gay person before. And that's, I think part of this situation is like, how can we get people communicating across these barriers where it feels like the this deep othering of the other person versus being able to be connected and have relationships because that's what brings us into change. Even, you know, people talk about relational ethics in terms of ecology, right, like how do we become passionate about climate change and all the other realities as you get people connected on a relational level.
You start to fall in love with a specific butterfly that you start to notice over time is no longer appearing in your area. And that produces something for you because it has a relational connection, rather than listening to a lecture. Right. And there's, there's all sorts of like, you know, not to be like kumbaya about it, right? Of course, there's like, you know, what to be clear, like there's, there's, there's a rule for boundaries as well, right? Like it's not like you're just open to, you know, somebody behaving in a shitty way with you.
Absolutely. Like there are clearly extremes where there needs to be pushback, understandably, but thinking about, for example, and this is an interesting area where the clinical and the political start to slide in one from the other. Because if you, if you take some of the tools that we often cultivate as therapists, right, like it's, it's empathy and understanding in the interest of establishing a kind of beachhead with a client in order to start creating some room for change.
Right. Like in dbt to talk about is that dialectic of acceptance and change, it can't just be acceptance. It can't just be change.
It has to be the synthesis of the two. And I think similarly in the political realm, we need some kind of adaptation of those ethics. Like it's not like I, you know, a Puerto Rican man is suddenly going to go talk to a white supremacist and think that they're going to change their mind and not want to, you know, throw me in a bonfire. Yeah.
So like obviously not that. But there are also so many people who I think can be talked with, talked through and talked out of some more extreme beliefs. If we were able to cultivate just a little bit of space and empathy.
Right. Like, I can't tell you how many conversations I've had in my own community with other Puerto Rican men, Latino cisgender men, cisgender intersection of color around issues related to cisgender women or queer people where it starts out in a bad place, right, like it starts in a place where they're saying some pretty bad and fucked up stuff. And we're able to kind of struggle our way through to a different understanding where there can be more space. So like a very concrete example would be in my other life separate from psychology, I'm in the kind of arts world. So poetry, spoken word performance. And I remember so vividly this, this slam, you know, it's essentially a competition, right spoken word if an artist showing their stuff.
I remember this one slam, there was a trans Puerto Rican poet who did this absolutely beautiful and very painful poem about being the other woman to the same gender guy who was in down low. Some of the judges during the break they're outside having a smoke. Some of them are friends of mine and we're talking. And a lot of them are shook by the fact that even though they're cisgender heterosexual men, they were so moved by this poem that was getting them in the position of identifying A with what it's like to be a woman who's turned into, you know, basically a side piece by a man.
But in addition to that a trans woman who's being turned into a side piece by a man on the down low. And that they were they were so shook by how hard they identified with the poet. And they're like, wait a minute, but but I'm a man and why am I having these feelings. And I was just like, well, you know, have you ever had that experience of somebody just putting you on the hook, and telling you sweet nothings but not really having like a relationship. Yeah. And they're like, well, yeah, I totally felt that but just not like that.
And so the cognitive dissonance was there. And we talked about it, and it landed in this place of like, Oh, this person's a human being. This person's a human being who deserves love.
Right. You can have those kind of conversations. If you just stay in like, Oh, it's bad that you have these obviously sexist trans poeple beliefs, like, it's not that you obviously condone them, right, like they're bad. But you're communicating both like, I wouldn't see it that way. But also, have you considered this right so it's again that both and of, okay, so I can tell you're really uncomfortable by the fact that you're connecting with this trans poet, you're really uncomfortable why what's that about what does it mean. And I think those kind of conversations, especially in the community, when it's had and that kind of more calling in space, feel it just feels more effective at getting people to actually change their minds and hearts, then just being like, Well, you're bad and now I'm not going to talk to you which is distinct and I want to be clear again, this is distinct from people engaging in like, obviously abusive, destructive and toxic behavior that should be totally called out right so it's not like, now you're going to treat, you know, homophobes with like tender gloves that's not what we're saying, right, it's that, you know, figuring out how to find those spaces to use a certain kind of relationality to help people pivot, because more often than not, I do think people have a desire to pivot, if that makes sense, either because they don't understand like, wait a minute, this is my cousin, who was you know, I'm right or die for them, but but all of a sudden they came out and now I'm having some conflict, because this is somebody that I love. But now they're coming out and revealing something about themselves that challenges these beliefs that I have over here, right, and without a space to process that in community, people are more likely than double damn. even though a part of them wants to stay connected with that family member, with that friend, right? So all of that to say that there is a way of thinking relationally about how to talk to people and have these difficult conversations in a way that both challenges them, but also communicates to them.
You know what? I think these beliefs that you have are really toxic and destructive, but you are still a person with value and I want to see you do better, right? That's such a beautiful example and I think it touches on the power of art, right? The power to have these, you know, it's not just conversations like that, it's also creating art like that, that people can connect to and feel the humanness. And again, another example like that, yeah, it's the cousin, it's the connection to all of this that makes us kind of sit back and wonder if, maybe we were wrong, maybe there's more to expand with and in that not having this cancel culture to a degree, right? I think this is such a nuanced thing of keeping people accountable for the injustice and the harm that they're doing and also remembering that no human is throw, you can't throw away a human being, right?
How do you still meet them? My professor is always trying to get me to think like and watch the Jeffrey Dahlemer tapes and ask myself like, when could I stop being his therapist, right? Because that's a human being right there, right? And what does restorative justice look like in these spaces? And I mean, all of this is so nuanced too, because if you're wide open with no boundaries to like helping everyone, you yourself will drown. You need community that isn't completely all the sort of like social work and holding people in this and trying to help. So for me, it has been such an interesting thing to build community in this and to find, you know, kind of like you said, that flexibility between, you know, holding people accountable for the problems and the injustice and the harm that they're causing and calling them in to do better and to sit with them in their experience. It's, you know, the collective work that I think all of us can do as a society to get closer to that space.
I think that's exactly right. It's very, you know, fraught when you think about working with people who offended in some capacity. Like it's sort of obvious, right? Like a criminal justice system is broken. It does not have a restorative stance at all, right? Like it's very obviously bad.
At the same time, it is important to hold that tension, right? Or like this person in front of you is a human being. They too, perhaps may have even suffered and they also did something pretty bad and it has consequences, right? Like I remember there have been so many times when I've worked particularly with men who've offended where we do this very important and very deep piece of work and there is a genuine shift in how they see themselves, how they see their responsibility for what they did, right? But then at the end of the treatment, they might be like, oh, I know that this isn't reasonable, but I need to ask it, like do you think it's possible that either I may not get jail time or I may get less jail time, right? Like it's a fantasy that somehow, even though they've done a bad thing, they could somehow not go to jail.
And I'll tell them, like, you know, I really appreciate the work that we've done together and that you've really been thinking about what you've done. But no. Like the simplest thing is like, no, like the likelihood, let's walk through it together. Let's walk through it. What happened? What did you do? What was the outcome? And what was the outcome to that person that you harmed? And as we walk through that, you tell me.
Like you tell me, is it possible that you will not go to jail or that you'll have a way, way, way, reduced sentence time? And through thinking about it and exploring it, right, it becomes very clear. I mean, a number of things. One is continued guilt over what they did, right, which is still being processed and digested. The other is a very real wish that, that they wouldn't have to go through the consequence, right, of being in prison, which again, is horrible. And we have a terrible, non restorative justice system that is beyond true. But it's also true that in working with someone who's committed a very heinous crime and harmed a person, maybe even multiple people, that we do need to have that consequence that says, you did this, you're a human being.
And whether it's working in a mandated setting, whether it's working with you in the prison system, like we're still going to value you and try to build you up to a place of restoration. But the facts of what happened are also the facts, right. And especially when they see it, when they see like, Oh, yeah, I did do these things, this is pretty bad. Connecting that with the consequences, along with saying, you know what, it's just another example, like, you know what, a lot of these things that happen to you did set the stage for what you then did to others. But there was in there a space for a choice, right, especially in cases where people who've been offended on and then offend against others, how to restore that space of choice that was taken away. So that you don't necessarily, not just you don't necessarily do this in the future, but you understand why, right. And in a very concrete way, it's because the humanity of the person that you might feel the temptation to offend against, is tied up with your own humanity, right. Like there's a pain that you did that may have come from your own pain, which doesn't excuse your behavior, nor is it save you from the consequences of that behavior. But it creates a path towards rehumanizing oneself, right. Because that's what a lot of, you know, obviously not not not everyone who's in a marginalized situation, you know, offends, obviously, right.
But it may be a factor for some people. And so to be able to say, like, yes, all these things happen. But at the same time, there's a pathway to have your humanity being recognized, because you were able to find your way to recognizing, you know what, there are people that I harmed. And I have to make a repair, both to them, and also to the community.
And that's what's going to bring us back, right. So the restorative work may not be found in the criminal justice system, and may not be found in the penal system. But we have to think creatively about how to engage in a restorative practice, even within non restorative conditions, if that makes sense.
Absolutely. I think that's always my question is, what do we dream of for the future of a different model? And I don't, I don't know, you know what I mean? It's an interesting world, because you have to be held accountable for these things. There's a real harms that were enacted.
But yeah, what does that look like on a on a restorative justice scale for future, if we were to dream about a different world that isn't our system? It's hard to say, but I appreciate the nuance of the yes and to all of this, right? You had power in that. And also, there were things that maybe put you into this context, right?
It is yes. And so it's not one or the other where you can just say, well, this is the product of my child, and it's not my fault. You know, like we have to hold the nuance, the duality of both of yes, these things put us here. And also you have the power at times to respond differently. Because like you said, everyone doesn't end up enacting harm that has maybe experienced the same things that you have experienced. I think for me, what I try to hold on to too, is that in terms of like connecting with the empathy and the the humanness is that if I was the same person under the same sort of context and the same sort of realities, I could have done the same things. I try to always remember that that I am no different than these other people that have gone through things that have brought them to the space to where they're at now. And I think kind of leaving, you know, tying it back to what we were talking about earlier, that othering, to look at someone who has done that and being like, well, gross, they're an evil person, they're this, right? And to forget that if I was in the same circumstances with the same pressures with the same things, I could have been that person easily.
I am no different in my humanness than this person. That's my opinion. Some people might get into different opinions on like, you know, genetics that might be linked to this sort of thing. I don't, I don't really know the research on that sort of stuff. Absolutely.
Yeah. How are you feeling about our conversation? You feel like you're coming to the end feeling kind of a sense of completion? Yeah, feeling, no, feeling pretty good, feeling pretty good. There's so much more that could be talked about with respect to anything, but happy with whatever route you'd like to take.
For sure. I mean, I always like to hold a little of the space towards the end of it to make sure that there wasn't something that you wanted to say that maybe we didn't get to. I think a question that I have for me that I'd like to ask is, is there anything that you'd like to say to people knowing the systems, knowing, you know, what we're in in terms of activism on an individual level that we should be thinking about? I know that's a really broad question, but it was the one thing that was coming up for me. I do think that a lot of it comes back to connection and to the sense of most likely whatever I think I'm struggling through and struggling through with alone is actually shared by a lot of people, a lot, a lot of people.
At this point, you know, it's wild. Once you study, you know, a little bit more about social determinants and what's affected by what, suddenly it's like, oh, everything has a social determinant, which is another way of saying that whatever you think you're dealing with, that's like very personal and very intimate and just you, most likely it's not. Most likely there are others who are experiencing the same thing and that it's through building that community and that consciousness that, wait, I'm not alone here trying to figure this out.
Other people are trying to figure it out too. And then finding your way to those communities, those communities into those people, because that's where you start to build a sense of political power, right? That it's not just an I, but a we, and that we can figure out how to address this problem together in a way that gets all of our needs met. So that's one at a more abstract, broader point.
The other is to just kind of think about what are the systems, but also the policies, you know, policy can sometimes sound like such an abstract thing, but what is it that's directly impacting my life right now, right? And what is that? What is that about? Where does it come from?
Right? So it could be as simple as like, oh, well, you know, I'm working this job feels really shitty. My boss is an asshole. Like I'm struggling how to get healthcare.
I have to get, I have to get, you know, sworn in or something after three to six months where I can get healthcare. Like rather than just thinking like it's a you problem, or it's even a your boss is an asshole problem, wondering, well, what, what's the situation here that puts us in this kind of antagonism with each other? Right? Like, what are the pressures that in a sense, we're all under that makes us behave in this way. And you can go all up and down on that, whether it's at work or even dating and relationships. Oh, wow, feels, you know, when people say like, oh, it feels like a real battleground out there, like feels like, you know, feels like a war zone and the dating apps and the whatever, we'll just think from a well, gee, well, what are the forces that benefit from getting, you know, in the CIS head context? Well, what are the forces that benefit from getting men with it at each other's throats?
What are the forces that benefit from getting us looking at dating from like an adversarial us versus them kind of thing, instead of just, hey, let's get to know each other, figure out if we're good fit and if not move on to the next one, right? What are the, what are the things that kind of of trickle down into our lives, but that come from somewhere far more upstream that we need to get more conscious about. If you don't have that more structural perspective, it all becomes about interpersonal dynamics intentions. It becomes about, why is this person an asshole? As opposed to, well, what are the conditions to create assholes?
Or maybe not that, but just what are the conditions that lead us to be less kind to each other than not? Right? Right, right. I really appreciate that of not looking at the person, but more of the systems that have caused these dynamics. And I think what I was thinking about was generational trauma to, right? In terms of even when you look at some of the people in your own family, my own experience with that, where I'm like, why is it like this? And you hear a step back from the parent dynamic before, and you're like, okay, well, they were abusing each other. They were hitting each other. This makes sense, you know, a little bit more to understand, again, like our whole conversation, not to be without boundaries, and be like, yeah, whatever you can do, whatever you want, but to have a more nuanced understanding of where all these things are coming from and to understand then the anger and the frustration, maybe not placing it on the individual, but maybe on the collective experience of that generational trauma or the collective systems that are enacting that, because, yeah, our fight and this energy towards all of that shouldn't be on or against the othering of an individual.
It should be against the systems that are causing all of that. And I really appreciated your conversation about the shared experiences that we all feel like we have that no one else has, because part of that problem is shame, right? And when you start to feel shame, you start to feel like you can't connect with other people because there's this thing that I have that is so bad that no one would love me and I would have no connection of this thing, you know, and that alone can cause so much psychological distress, you know, in terms of feeling outcasted away from the herd, you know, evolutionary, that is, you know, one of the scariest things is to be without love, to be without connection, when in reality, a lot of what we experience are, you know, we experience so many shared things. And I think that's why on the podcast, always as my closing question, I ask people, what is one thing that you wish other people knew was more normal? And I know normal has a very colonial context to it, but I think the thought of it is literally that, like what is that thing for you, Daniel, that you've struggled with, that you felt like no one else had, but really you wish other people knew was pretty normal?
Hmm, that's interesting. I think at that more personal level, and again, I guess, connecting the personal to the broader social, I think it's the fact that there is a much greater fragility, vulnerability and fear among cisgender men at large, but cisgender heterosexual men in particular, than is often given credit for, that there is a profound vulnerability. And if we can figure out how to, you know, engage with that vulnerability, not in the coddling way, not in a, we're gonna excuse all your behavior kind of way, but in a way that helps redirect particularly men away from some of the more toxic discourses that can kind of colonize masculinity to put it in those terms, it might really prevent a lot of heartache, right? So again, it's not about, you know, giving men a blank check on their behavior, but just having a more of an understanding that there's genuine pain there.
And if you don't speak to that pain, you're leaving it open for somebody else to come along and speak to that pain, and ultimately leading to a lot more pain and hurt for everybody. So that would be it. I mean, I say it both in general, I also say it within my specific context as a Puerto Rican man, like there's so much violence that I witness and that I grew up with. That kind of went back to a lot of these themes that we were talking about, right? Like stuff around relationality and vulnerability and being able to feel safe. And what is it that happens for cisgender heterosexual men, particularly those who are from the global South or from communities of color, when that safety can't be assumed, when in fact the apri-ori assumption societally is that the single greatest danger is you. Because you're always seen as dangerous, rapacious, sexually aggressive, right? All of these different things that get wrapped into the image of subordinate and minoritized men, right? So how to see that vulnerability and that precarity within that broader context in a way that allows more restoration and integration rather than just condemnation.
Like it's sort of obvious, right? Like we should condemn sexualized violence. We should condemn patriarch and misogyny.
Like that should go without saying. But I think sometimes we so kind of paid everything with a broad brush that we don't see the pain and pain that requires not coddling but genuine care and care always being again, this is all about a balance, a balance between boundaries. Like no, I'm not gonna let you do that alongside with that care that allows for the opening to happen, right? Like people always joke about how, you know, men will only open up after six beers and watching the sports game and say, I love you, man, and then forget about it the next day, right? Yeah.
But that's a stereotype. There's a lot more there. There's a lot more there, there, essentially is what I'm trying to say.
Or that in general, but especially those of us who come from communities that have been painted with this broad brush of aggression and animality. Yes, absolutely. And I think for anyone who is not, you know, a cisgendered heterosexual male, to understand that you're not free of the situation either, right? We are all fish, women in the sea of patriarchal influence, right?
And that's the water we breathe and live. And I think for me personally, experiencing the reality that when I've seen cisgendered heterosexual men that show emotion, how it actually has turned me off from my attraction to them. And I take that to be the context of what I've been taught a man is, you know, the cowboy man that comes in and has no emotions and shoots it all up and just, you know, so I think all of us too need to take a deep breath and think about that too. And notice when you see a man start to show those emotions, do you laugh and say, oh, get over it, come on. You know, that automatic response, or does it turn you off from your attraction in that way?
And can you become aware of that enough to sit with that, that bias that we all have because we live in the system that has taught all of us that? And to create more space so that men can come out and have this emotionality. It's not just on men, it's also on all of us to create more of that space when we've all been conditioned that way, at least in my own personal experience that I've noticed in this world. And so, yeah, all the people that aren't men listening to this, you don't just get to get like, yeah, men figure it out, you know, it's both of us.
Right, like, yeah, exactly. Like it's all of us figuring it out together in relationship. Right, because I think this is where, you know, one of my, a couple of my students did a very interesting paper on petulant masculinity and petulant vulnerability, which is the way in which certain men co-op the language of, oh, we want men to be more vulnerable, but then wind up kind of weaponizing tears to try to get things from their partners, from people in life, right? So it's certainly not permission for men to just shed a few tears and then manipulate people into whatever they want, right? But it is for sure trying to open up a space to have a two-fold question, not just men be more vulnerable, but do we actually know what to do with men when they are? Right, I had a colleague who shared, I think this was a case of couples therapy where, you know, the women identified partner was like, oh, I want you to share your feelings and be open and be vulnerable. And then the one session where the male identified partner fried, they didn't know what to do with it. Yeah.
They were just kind of stunned, right? So let's, of course, call men in to greater vulnerability, into right relation. Let's call them in to being more open. Let's do all of that.
Also, let's make sure we know what to do once they actually do that, because if the moment they do it, they're told you're weak. You're not being a man. Oh, I don't find that attractive. Well, all of a sudden, we're gonna catch 22 all of a sudden, right? Which is the very thing that patriarch yourselves men, you can't be vulnerable because if you are, then you're gonna get punched in the face.
So punch them first. That's the patriarchal script. So if we really wanted this man to have patriarchy, we can't just say to men, be vulnerable. We have to create spaces and create tools so that we essentially know and are ready to be able to listen to what it is that their concerns are. Same thing with children. Like we can say, oh, we want our, I want my kids to tell me everything. Fantastic.
Are you ready to listen when your kids speak? Yes. Right? Yes. Yes. Oh, I want my partner to share everything with me.
Cool. Are you ready to listen when your partner shares things with you? Things you may not like. It's the difference between what we ideally say would wanna happen versus do we have the tools and are we ready to actually actualize what we wanna happen?
Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. Sitting with that discomfort with yourself when that starts to happen and being able to create more space for people to show up in that way, I think that's how we're gonna get to this collective society that has less pain, in my opinion, is if all these things happen on these individual levels, we'll have a completely different society. And so trusting in the ripples, you start with one relationship you have with a man and that can cause so much change in that.
So a lot of the times I feel powerless in these systems, but remembering that even on the individual level, it's all tied up here and you're able to do the sort of work that can ripple out. And I really appreciate all of the nuance that you brought to today's conversation and all of your wisdom. It has been so lovely to talk about all these things with you today. Absolutely, thank you so much, Nicole.
Happy to join you. Yeah. Is there anywhere you would like to plug for people who wanna stay connected to your work and what you're up to? You know, I'm not a big plugger in that respect.
I trust that's fine. If anything at best, I lurk on social media to see what other people are doing. I don't really engage in that way. But if people wanna follow my work, there is my first book, People's History of Psychoanalysis, Freud, Two Liberation Psychology. I'm always writing articles and publishing paper.
So if you go on Psychinfo or Google Scholar and just type in Daniel Gastamire, all the articles will come up pretty quickly. They'll be different podcasts and things. So if you type in on Spotify or iTunes or whatever, you'll find me there. There's DrGpsychotherapy.com, which is my website. There I usually post the latest research and projects and books that I'm working on so people can check that out for the latest. But that's pretty much it for me. I prefer not to be found on most social media. Yeah.
I'm so impressed with this. So you can dig up the scholarship. You can dig that up. Absolutely, absolutely.
Spotify, iTunes, sometimes on YouTube. Yeah, yes, absolutely. And I'll make sure there are links to all of that in the show notes so people can just click away and find more of your work. So thank you for coming today and thank you for being a guest on the podcast. Happy to be here. Thanks so much. If you enjoyed today's episode, then leave us a five star review wherever you listen to your podcast. And if you're a part of the Anarchist community, then follow us on Instagram or nominate a guest for the show by sending in a letter to modernanarchypodcast.com. Otherwise, I'll see you next week.