1. While teaching as a professor of psychiatry, what preconceived notions (about the subject) do you witness in students the most?
Over time they have been moved towards biological solutions and away from psychotherapy. As a result, they appear to be focused more on biological and evidence based solutions. Evidence is important and is probably more accurate than intuition unless you have many years of experience of developing that intuition. The problem is that there is a difference between pain and suffering. Pain is just pain, suffering is often caused by feeling alone in pain. When you can take away the loneliness, suffering that you can’t tolerate, becomes pain that you can.
2. What according to you is the biggest hurdle for anyone to be a better listener?
My favourite quote about listening comes from the late British psychoanalyst, Wilfred Bion, who said the purest form of listening is to listen without memory or desire. By that he meant that when you listen with memory you have a past personal agenda that you’re trying to plug the other person into and when you listen with desire you have a present or future personal agenda that you’re trying to plug someone into. In neither case are you listening to their agenda and where they’re coming from. In other words, the biggest hurdle is recognising that we’re always listening with a filter and to do our best to put it aside so that we can better connect with people and have them feel that we’re connecting with them.
3. What is one daily practice that can help make anyone a better listener?
Ask yourself the question, “What’s it like for the other person right now?” Just being curious about what they’re most frustrated, upset, disappointed, hopeful, excited about will cause you to listen better.
4. (Working with suicide cases) What do you think holds people back from living, even though we all know death is inevitable?
When they are convinced that there is no hope or help for them to eliminate the psychological pain they are feeling.
5. What have you learnt about death, while working with the subject and suicide patients?
I think one thing that nearly all deeply suicidal people feel is despair. I break that word down into “des – pair” which means feel “unpaired” with hope = hopeless, help = helpless, worth = worthless; meaning = meaningless; use = useless; a point = pointless. When a person feels unpaired with all of these, they pair with death as a way get out of the pain. That is why I believe one of the most important goals in therapy is to pair with the suicidal person using empathy and to have a conversation that results in their feeling paired vs. unpaired with the above.
6. As an FBI and police hostage negotiation trainer, how much heart and how much logic do you prescribe must be used?
There is no replacement for intensive training regarding whatever behaviours or statements they make. That said, the more you can help people to keep talking and talk deeply about what they’re feeling, thinking and their impulses the better able you are to get them to talk their way through and out of their violent impulses. I need to emphasise that my focus is more on emotionally distraught hostage takers than on those with a clear and cunning agenda.
7. What have your personal hiccups taught you about mental wellness, that books did not?
They taught me not be overly confident when I think I know what is going on, and to not be overly discouraged when I feel confused by a situation with another person.
8. What according to you is the greatest resource?
Something that has always guided my listening is checking how I am feeling before I see someone and then checking how I am feeling as I am seeing and speaking with them. In other words, if I feel anxious with them, it’s possible that I am picking up their anxiety. If I feel heavy and exhausted when I see them, I’m often picking up and feeling their depression. If I feel weird and and disconnected, there’s a good possibility that I am picking up an underlying psychosis or disconnect from reality.
9. What do you believe is the purpose of life?
I believe life is a gift to all of us and that the purpose of life is to leave the world better than we found it as away of expressing our gratitude.
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