Children are often willful, out of control and want what they want when they want it. Trying to reason with a two-year-old is pointless. Firm, reasonable limits need to be set. Naturally, the child is enraged, but soon he understands that he can’t run into the street because he might get hit by a car, and he can’t punch his baby brother just because he wants to.

Our position in Iraq is somewhat similar to dealing with a two-year-old who refuses to listen. The US stance is that there must be a coalition government formed with both Sunnis and Shiites. Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki has refused and appears committed to a Shiite Iraqi leadership. What should we do?

The more all of us learn about this ancient Islamic conflict, the more we get how logic won’t prevail. And now Iran and Syria are supporting their new best friend, the Iraqi Shiites, to eliminate the Sunni insurgents. Oh, and aren’t we doing the same!

If reason won’t prevail, we should do what we’d do with a two-year-old. Set limits. Pull our advisors out of Iraq and let the prime minister, or whoever replaces him, do whatever he wants — but without us.

If we only knew how complicated the issue between the Muslim rival factions was, chances are we would have found another solution to the “weapons of mass destruction” other than invading Iraq. But, NOW WE KNOW! Let’s use this knowledge and not get any more soldiers killed or maimed for a cause that just won’t respond to reason.

If people are determined to die for their religious beliefs, the least we can do is stay out of the line of fire. Let’s get our own House (of Representatives and Senate) in order. We have our own out-of-control two-year-olds who won’t listen to reason.

Art Smukler is the award-winning psychiatrist and author of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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Iran has offered to help the Iraqi government fight the Sunni insurgents. The US is considering helping the Iraqi government fight the Sunni insurgents.

What? Am I going crazy? Do I need to lie down on my own analytic couch? Am I hallucinating and in need of medication?

Is this the same Iran that has promised the destruction of Israel and refuses to stop developing the capacity to make nuclear weapons?

Maybe I’m spelling it wrong? I R A N.

Nope. I just Googled Iran and it’s exactly the same country.

Well, it’s a relief that I haven’t regressed into a psychotic state. It’s not a relief that my country, that I love, has lost its moral and logical way.

As a psychiatrist, values and consistency are very important. If I were treating the leaders of our country (group therapy with the president, VP, Secretary of State, secretary of defense and the leader of the house and senate) I’d focus on one glaring fact, they are all political prostitutes. Oil rules, guns rule and votes rule. Money, like the amounts that the Koch Brothers have, can buy a lot of political commerce.

The refusal for the Republicans and Democrats to reason with each other is not unlike the inability of the Sunnis and Shiites to reason. Of course the Republicans and Democrats don’t go around killing each other, but they do force our government to shut down and create chaos in the world markets.

The answer? Clarify the values our country should support and live by them. Wait… Aren’t we the same country that supported slavery for 300 years?

Maybe I do need my couch…to take a nap. Maybe this whole thing is just a dream, well actually a nightmare.

Art Smukler is the award-winning writer of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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I can’t help but give my two psychiatric cents regarding the drama between Donald Sterling and the NBA.

Donald Sterling made private racist comments to his friend V. Stiviano that became public. The NBA commissioner, Adam Silver, heard the racist comments and started the process to fine Sterling 2 1/2 million dollars, ban him from the NBA for life and force the sale of the Clippers. Sterling’s wife Shelly, played point guard, in conducting the sale. The suitors, all very, very rich gave their pitches and the winner was Steve Ballmer, former Microsoft CEO who offered 2 Billion dollars. Just to put that 2000 million dollars in perspective — the total amount wagered when California Chrome ran in the Belmont Stakes was a mere 97 million.

So it’s all set, right? Steve Ballmer rewards the Sterlings with 2 Billion dollars (1500 million more than the highest price ever paid for an NBA team).

Wrong! Donald Sterling changes his mind. He feels his constitutional rights have been violated and he is now suing the NBA for a billion dollars and refusing to sell the team.

So why should a psychiatrist care one way or the other about all this drama?

I agree with Mark Cuban, a billionaire NBA owner and entrepreneur. He didn’t much like or agree with Donald Sterling’s racist comments, but felt that invading private thoughts and feelings and punishing them is wrong. If given the right to vote, he would have voted against taking the team away from Donald Sterling.

In psychotherapy, the basis of treatment is the ability to say and experience all sorts of feelings. No editing allowed! Anger. Hate. Love. Venom. Lust. All feelings are allowed. Acting on the feelings is not allowed! Without a safe harbor the process of psychotherapy can’t work.

Donald Sterling wasn’t in therapy, at least not with me, but he did make his racist comments in private.

Here’s my fantasy of the ultimate payoff.

Steve Ballmer immediately withdraws his offer. Players refuse to play for the Clippers. Fans refuse to pay one cent to fill the Sterlings pockets and the seats at Staples go empty on game day, and the Sterlings lose hundreds of millions of dollars in a protracted lawsuit with the NBA.

Donald Sterling can have all the private thoughts he wants. We just shouldn’t give him our money or our respect.

If he wants to make amends, let him donate a billion dollars to the LA school district.

Art Smukler is the award-winning writer of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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“LOOKIN’ COOL, BUT A FOOL…” THE MYSTERY OF MENTAL ILLNESS, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

I looked in the mirror and nodded. Yeah, I really liked my jacket and wool cap. It was chilly this morning, but with the new additions to my wardrobe, I’d be warm and look good.

Minutes later, I was browsing the window of Barnes & Noble when a homeless man, pushing his cart filled with all his possessions shoved into plastic bags, announced loudly, “Lookin’ cool, but a fool”.

Shocked, I stepped away from the window and watched as the man shuffled past. “Jesus”, he was talking about me! I glanced at my reflection in the store window and shuddered. How did he know? I was feeling so full of myself this morning, and the old guy picked right up on it. It was brilliant.

It’s uncanny how some untreated schizophrenics have the intuitive skill to read our minds. Like a psychiatrist uses his “third ear” to pick up hidden nuances in psychotherapy, the schizophrenic can be even more acutely in tune to another’s inner workings.

To me it is absolutely amazing and mysterious. Sadly or happily or whatever one’s perspective, when treatment is successful, the magic fades — as do the voices and paranoid ideas.

Before they’re treated, how do psychotic people do it?

Probably being paranoid, with all senses on alert, allows the primitive, reptilian part of the brain to pick up and decipher the hidden thoughts of all potential attackers. The biochemicals in the brain align just so and magic happens.

I loved my first year of psychiatric residency when I was surrounded by untreated schizophrenics. I loved the mystery and the magic. I loved all aspects of how the mind works.

I still do…

Like mysteries and magic? Check out Chasing Backwards, a psychological mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear.

Dr. Smukler has won the prestigious Golden Ear Award for excellence in teaching at Harbor-UCLA Medical center and excellence in writing fiction at The Santa Barbara Writers Conference.

All books are available as ebooks and paperbacks. You can find them at or

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Did you know that according to Fox Business, the US has given Pakistan over 18 billion dollars in aid since 9/11?

Are you aware that Pakistan not only protected Bin Laden for years, but is currently executing people for blasphemy. Eighteen people are on death row. The “logic” behind all this is that every religious group in Pakistan supports the laws because Allah should never be disrespected. Obviously, the government is supporting the religious groups. Examples of blasphemy can include architectural design, throwing away a calling card, spelling errors and yes, disagreeing with someone in power regarding religion.


What does this have to do with psychiatry?

A basic rule in psychotherapy is that a patient must learn that thoughts are not equal to actions. Because you have violent thoughts about your parents, siblings, friends or even Allah doesn’t mean you are going to DO anything violent.

We have the right to our own thoughts. We don’t have the right, within reasonable law, to act on our violent thoughts. That’s why the prisons in California are overflowing. People broke the law by their actions — NOT THEIR THOUGHTS!

The actions of our elected officials is beyond logic. 18 billion dollars to support religious oppression and an anti-democratic way of life?

Yes, I know, it might be worse if we didn’t give them the money. How do we fight terrorism effectively? It’s a complicated issue…

Maybe it’s not as complicated as we are led to believe. Give money to a country who allowed Bin Laden to live in hiding? Give money to a government that doesn’t respect women’s rights, religious rights, or children’s rights?

If we used all that money to start rebuilding our own infrastructure, put everyone to work, and created as much of a petrol free environment as possible, we’d be a lot better off than pandering to countries who do not respect our values. Countries can have any values they want, but if they continue to keep their people oppressed, they can get their money from other oppressors, like the Saudis or Iranians. And good luck with that!

Art Smukler is the award-winning writer of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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WHAT’S ONE KEY THING YOU CAN DO IF YOU’RE DEPRESSED? By Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Feel melancholy, out of sorts, tired, cranky, a lack of energy, no enthusiasm, a sense of doom, a negative attitude, wake up early in the morning and can’t fall back to sleep, don’t feel like reading, writing, playing golf or any of the hobbies that you usually love?

Any of the above can be a sign of depression.

Should you immediately call your family practice doc for an Rx of Prozac or for a psychiatric referral?

I wouldn’t. Not yet…

I’d take some time to think about what’s going on in your life. Carefully go over the last few days before the symptoms started or got worse. What did you do? Who did you talk to? Did a friend or family member say something that hurt your feelings? Were you rejected? Left out? Disrespected?

The key underlying feeling that often triggers depression is ANGER.

Not expressing anger is usually the problem.

In therapy, a common dynamic in chronic depression is years of repressed anger. Parents who don ‘t have the time or inclination to help their children express themselves foster the development of kids who are continually sad. These sad kids grow up to be sad adults who wind up on therapists’ couches.

Together the therapist and patient work to discover what happened to cause the problem. Eventually they learn all about the repressed, hidden anger that has been a constant unwanted companion.

Self-analysis can be extremely helpful. If you discover who made you angry and deal with it appropriately there’s a good chance your mood will lighten and your energy will return.

Talking to the person who hurt you can often make you feel better. Sadly, you sometimes learn that the person you thought was your friend is insensitive and incapable of accepting responsibility for their hurtful actions. If they can’t change, you might need to find a new friend.

Resolving issues with a parent is more complicated. You can’t get a new one, but you can accept your mother or father’s limitations. You’re not obligated to take their words or actions to heart. Just because they think they’re right, doesn’t mean they are right. There’s a good chance your perspective is more accurate and helpful to the way you want to live your life than their perspective.

Whatever happens, dealing with your anger, can be very, very helpful.

Agree? Disagree? What do you think?

Art Smukler is the award-winning writer of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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A POLE DANCE CONTEST IS HAPPENING IN RIO! by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Like pole dancing? Now there’s a world contest for, hold on to your wallets, both women and men.
Over 130 dancers from 36 countries are competing in a 3 day contest where judges evaluate the artistic ability and difficult moves to choose the winner. He or she gets a prize of $35,000. The contestants are amazing athletes!

No sleeze? No slimey guys drooling over girls 1/3 their age? What’s this world coming to?

When I published Skin Dance, a mystery, I did my research in “old school” bars and actually took a class in “How to run your own strip bar”.
If I’d only known about Rio!

But, if you’re interested in a psychological mystery that starts in the kind of strip bar that has nothing to do with a healthy sports environment, you’ll love, Skin Dance, a mystery.

If you figure out what’s going on before the end, the next beer is on me.

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WHAT HAPPENED TO JOE PATERNO AND WHAT CAN WE LEARN? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

November 2011 — Penn State University fired Joe Paterno for his part in the Sandusky child abuse scandal coverup.
January 2, 2012 — Joe Paterno died at the age of 85 of lung cancer, stripped of all wins from 1998 to 2011.

Back then, just wearing a PSU sweatshirt was a conflict. How can you support a school that let Sandusky continue to use the football facilities where he seduced and sexually abused young boys?

Now it’s two and a half years later. Bill O’Brien did a remarkable job as head football coach and his successor James Franklin looks like he’ll do even better. Penn State has done everything that the NCAA has demanded and more. They want to change forever the culture that would allow a monster to live amongst them.

What have we learned?

Life goes on. The earth continues to rotate and the sun rises every morning. No one is irreplaceable. We grieve. We rage. We fear. We cry. One day we again feel joy.

As a psychiatrist I’ve learned that we are remarkably resilient. Tragedy strikes, but it doesn’t need to continue to bring us to our knees. We can battle adversity, bullying, emotional illness, poor parenting, physical illness, loss, and catastrophe by learning from the experience.

Maybe the NCAA will rescind a portion of PSU’s punishment? Maybe they won’t. Their decision doesn’t need to affect how we act.

We can be stronger because the real hero is inside each of us. An idealized hero, whose flaws are overlooked or minimized, is not as necessary as you think. We don’t have to stand on the sidelines and watch evil happen. Individually, we have the power to personally do what’s right.

“WE ARE” is really just a combination of “I AM”.

Dr. Art Smukler is the award-winning writer of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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THE MAGIC OF PARANOIA, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Paranoia, a feeling that someone is trying to harm you, get you, follow you, or send messages to you via TV, radio, cell phone, or some other unearthly means is a common psychiatric symptom. It is an example of delusional thinking and occurs in patients who have lost touch with reality.

One characteristic of being paranoid is that you suspect everyone of potential mayhem — the paranoid’s “danger antennae” is always on full alert. No one is immune to being a suspect.

Since the psychiatrist is always a major suspect, it makes treating patients with paranoid disorders extremely difficult — not impossible, but as you can imagine, very time intensive, sometimes dangerous, and often frustrating. Here’s an example from Skin Dance, a mystery. Jake Robb, a psychiatrist, is called to the Emergency Room to treat Sean Murphy, a paranoid sixteen-year-old boy.

Lying face-up on a gurney, wrists and ankles in leather restraints, was a huge man-beast — untrimmed beard, greasy-hair down to his shoulders, a look in his eyes somewhere between murder and Mars. Paranoia crossed all boundaries — age, religion, sex, social position. It was truly an egalitarian disorder.

“Sean?” Jake said softly, closing the door. “I’m Doctor Robb, a psychiatrist. Your dad is very worried about you. He wants–”

“Get me the fuck out of here!” Sean yelled, pulling on the restraints and arching his back. “You’re one of them!” He glared at Jake, nostrils dilated, eyes wide, teeth clenched.

“How am I one of them?” Jake asked, voice calm and gentle.

Sean pulled harder on the leather straps, the whole gurney shaking.

“Sean, your blood studies show you’ve been drinking and using speed and pot.”

“Get away from me or I’ll rip you a new asshole!” Sean jerked hard on the straps, fixing Jake with another hate-filled look.

“Who’s trying to hurt you?”

Sean glared, continuing to pull hard, straining, sweat glistening on his forehead.

“Sean, do you know where you are?”

Sean strained even harder, the desperation building.

“I’m not going to hurt you, I’m a doctor, a psychiatrist. I just want to help you feel better.” Jake reached down and put his hand on Sean’s shoulder.

“You fucker!” Sean wrenched his face around, his teeth bared and his jaw snapping together hard. Jake jerked his hand back.

“Sean, no one’s going to hurt you.” Jake’s voice sounded calm even though his heart was pounding. The crazy kid was less than an inch away from chomping off his finger.

After fifteen fruitless minutes, Jake left the examining room and walked quickly to the nursing station. “Mary, please give Sean twenty milligrams of Geodon IM. Let’s get him upstairs to the eighth floor, back on the closed unit. Be very careful. The Grizzly bites.”

Paranoia can also be viewed positively. It is a powerful tool for our fictional heroes and heroines to possess. Jack Reacher, Lee Child’s hero, always seems to know when the bad guys are ready to pounce. Without “healthy paranoia” Jack wouldn’t have survived his first novel.

Even “normal” people who are placed in difficult and life threatening situations can use this magical trait. If psychotic people can be paranoid, why can’t a healthy person develop the trait and use it to his own advantage? When our characters are battling vicious sociopaths they need all the psychological help they can get.

Dr. Art Smukler is the award-winning writer of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

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General Mills recently had 2 Cheerios ads, one on the Super Bowl, that featured a mixed-race little girl, a white mom and a black dad. When bigots and the religious right attacked General Mills because the ad polluted family values, General Mills stated that they believed in all kinds of families and held firm.

When CVS decided to stop selling cigarettes, no one, except maybe two-pack-a-day addicts, complained. They didn’t have the lung power to walk an extra block to a competitor.

We should all cheer when Captain Corporate America battles bigotry and hypocrisy (What’s more hypocritic than a drug store selling cigarettes?).

The public was bilked out of billions of dollars and thousands of lives when Toyota, GM, RJ Reynolds, Phillip Morris, and various banks and drug companies covered-up lies so we’d keep buying cars, tobacco, mortgages and flawed drugs.

In psychiatry, cover-ups are common. Facing early wounds, abandonment and early trauma are painful. In therapy, repression and denial are common and patients enter long battles to unravel their feelings, actions and dreams; so they can feel better and eliminate their symptoms.

On the other hand, corporations have no excuse. They don’t behave like bandits and killers because they are repressing unconscious ideas. They repress and deny because for years they’ve been able to get away with it. Sociopaths hide behind the corporate mantel and manipulate to get more power and money. Their symptoms occur when they’re caught and have to suffer for their sins — fines and/or jail.

What do General Mills and CVS risk losing? Well, bigots can certainly choose to not eat Cheerios and smokers can choose to get lung cancer and obstructive lung disease from any number of other drug stores.

Personally, I’m going to CVS to buy my next box of cereal.

Dr. Art Smukler is the award-winning writer of Chasing Backwards, a psychological murder mystery, Skin Dance, a mystery, and The Man with a Microphone in his Ear. All are available as paperbacks and eBooks.

Posted in Childhood Trauma, Psychiatry, Raising Children, Self Examination, World events, a psychological view | Tagged , , | 2 Comments