Hi, I’m Art Smukler MD, a psychiatrist in private practice and on the teaching faculty at UCLA. For many years I have treated adults and adolescents with depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, addictions, attention deficit disorders and many others. I love what I do, because helping people understand the mystery of what is happening to them both fascinates and enriches me. Unlike other areas of medicine, where doctors use their intellect and medical instruments (stethoscopes, x-rays, MRI’s etc.) to make a diagnosis, a psychiatrist uses his intellect and a part of his own being. Theodor Reik, a Freudian-era psychoanalyst, called it listening with the third ear. It means actually listening to someone and feeling what they feel, or more commonly what they don’t feel.  You have a sixth sense, so to speak, the ability to feel what’s in their heart which may contradict what they are saying.

I feel differently than many currently practicing psychiatrists who only use the computerized part of their brain. Sadness plus lack of energy plus early morning awakening plus lack of interest in life equals DEPRESSION. The common treatment is take a Prozac and see the doctor in three weeks. What happened to the human being trapped inside all those symptoms, who still has no clue as to what’s happening except that now he has a diagnosis and a pill? The drug companies, insurance companies, and doctors think it’s all fine. Even the patient feels better — for a while. Then what? Then the same sequence of events that triggered the initial problem can set it all up again…

The logic of the unconscious, the part of us that is not available to conscious thought, has different rules than the logic of everyday life. My professional life has been spent trying to understand those rules. I want to share my experiences and what it’s like to do what I do. I want to do my best to let you inside my mind… Show you what and how the third ear works and to de-mystify the incredible process of psychotherapy.

Sometimes listening with the third ear falls on deaf ears, and medication is not only helpful, but essential. Sometimes psychotherapy is a combination of encouragement, education and caring, and other times it is a deep uncovering process that exposes years of repressed feelings and memories. Sometimes, but not often, a patient may even need ECT (electroconvulsive therapy).

Psychiatry is the study and understanding of the mind-body connection. It combines science, intuition, experience and caring. It is a unique, wonderful field and it will be exciting to share it with you.

6 thoughts on “LISTENING WITH THE THIRD EAR by Art Smukler MD

  1. This is such an important observation. Not everything in life can be fixed with a pill! Sometimes it’s the situations people are in, or the dysfunctional ways of handling those situations, that lead to depression. Once people become aware of the fact that they have some control over this, and can choose to respond differently to the world, it can make a huge difference. Sometimes the answer to that question you desperately need an answer to is right under the surface, if you don’t shut it out. We become very easily detached from our emotions in this modern society, and look for solutions outside ourselves, when the first place we should look is always within. Sometimes someone just needs a sympathetic ear! That’s the third one, I guess!


  2. Great article! Listening is the most important and yet most underused of all our communication skills. Thanks for alerting me to the third ear concept as it adds another dimension to this vital skill.


  3. You describe incredibly well how a good psychiatrist goes about trying to help his patients. I look forward to reading your book and wish you and Joe Paterno the best of luck in your endeavors.


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