I LOVE THE LADY IN THE RED DRESS, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

A patient told me a haunting story.

Forty years ago, a young man from New York had occasion to order a piece of machinery for his boss from a company in Virginia. The young woman he spoke to was engaging and very helpful. One thing led to another and they started chatting on the phone as the piece of machinery was being built.

When the job was done and ready for shipment, the young man prevailed on his boss to allow him to go in person to make sure that the machinery was up to the expected standards. When he told the young woman the plan, she was delighted and offered to meet him at the train station. She would then personally escort him to the plant.

“How will I know you?” The young man asked.

“I’ll be wearing a red dress.”

When the train arrived, just as promised, a pretty, dark-haired woman wearing a red dress was waiting for the young man. As he descended from the train, she smiled and waved from her wheelchair. The young man, who had no idea that she had suffered from polio and had been wheelchair-bound from the time she was a child, fell instantly and irrevocably in love.

They married, raised a family, and had a wonderful relationship.

My patient, who just recently met the now 62-year-old lady with the red dress and her husband for the first time, said with a sigh, “They were in love.” He sighed again. “Most of us married people love our spouses, but this was different. They were obviously still as madly in love as when they first met on that railroad station forty years ago.”

So why do I, a person who has never seen or met this lady-in-red, also love her?

I love her positive attitude and her ability to accept what she couldn’t change and still make the most of her opportunity to have a good life. It is what I want for myself, my wife and children, my friends and my patients. The woman-in-the-red-dress never defined herself as a woman in a wheelchair with polio, but only as an attractive, intelligent, exciting person who never bothered mentioning the fact that she was impaired because in so many ways she wasn’t.

The story is for me what love stories are all about. Love, mystery, spirituality and the magic of the human condition. It is what I believe in, what I write about, and what I dream about.

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DO YOU CHASE YOUR PAST? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Last night, we attended a high school drama cafe night — students singing, playing guitars, folk music, rock and roll, jazz etc. What blew me away was the combination of energy, sincerity, off the charts costumes (their normal outfits), and the absolute desire to do their best in front of hundreds of people.

I loved it. Being in touch with the teenage present, catapulted me back to my past and the dreams I had back then.

It takes courage to change and grow. We did it once when we were kids and there’s no reason we can’t just pick up where we left off decades ago and continue the process.

Chasing Backwards into our past doesn’t have to be a trip to the psychoanalyst. It can simply be taking the risk of opening our senses. Hearing the music of our youth, smelling and tasting the foods that we grew up with, seeing pictures of ourselves, our families, and friends back in high school, and having the courage to feel it.

Because we’re part of “the establishment” doesn’t mean that we have to be rigid and unable to learn and grow. We did it once back-in-the-day, and it’s exciting to do it again.

What’s it like for you to chase your past?

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CHILDHOOD TRAUMA – THE INVISIBLE TYPE, by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Often, childhood isn’t all that dramatic. No beatings, no sexual abuse, and no drunken binges with screaming and knife throwing. It’s quietly and confusingly more like a Chinese water torture — an intermittant trickle of devaluing words, missed chances to validate and unrecognized pleas for help. To others your life may look great, but not to you. Your pain is palpable, even though the cause is subtle and invisible.

You suspect that something’s wrong, but just can’t figure it out. You don’t know why you don’t love your parents like you’re supposed to. You don’t know why you’re miserable.

“What’s wrong with me?” you think. “Everyone else likes them. I’m a terrible person to feel this way.”

Then in 7th grade or 8th grade or college, you get depressed. You think, maybe I just need some Prozac. A pill should fix me. So arrangements are made and you see a psychiatrist or therapist. Hopefully, the doctor understands that in this case, pills aren’t the answer. He sees it as a chance to examine your life and really help you to get better. So with trepidation and more than a few misgivings you begin psychotherapy.

To use poetic license and a time travelers magic, I’ll quickly move therapy right along. You shed your guilt, become aware of your rage, and your depression begins to lift. It’s like bursting out of a quicksand pool and finally being able to spread the wings you never knew you had.

You can leave your troubled family on the ground below as you discover a world filled with adventure and new ideas. They may remain locked in their rigid, unchangeable world, but that doesn’t mean that you’re duty bound to continue to share that world. You can try to help them, but they have to be willing. As you’ve learned, it’s not easy to examine life from a foreign vantage point. Your family may be too damaged to change. But you’re not. You’ll never be the same again!

Do you believe that childhood trauma can be overcome? What started your healing process? What happened to your family when you changed?

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All through college and part of med-school, I sold battery cables, ignition wire-sets and jumper cables. I loaded up the trunk of my car with hundreds of feet of cables and hawked them to gas stations and small auto accessory stores.

“Buy a dozen battery cables and I’ll throw in two packages of wire-sets. Plus I’ll give you 20% off,” I’d say, standing under a leaking auto chassis with a sweating mechanic.

“Are dees any good?” one brawny station owner asked.

“They’re great,” I answered. My father had a small factory and made them. They were actually quite good.

“Oh yeah?” He took a jumper cable, held one end in his huge fist and the large clip in the other fist. He  grunted, and ripped the large clip off the end of the cable wire.

“What?” I yelled.

“I want 25% off and I’ll buy three dozen cables in all sizes.”

I nodded, ran to the trunk, and made my biggest sale of the week.

Somehow, my life as an author/psychiatrist has gone backwards. Now, instead of selling battery cables, I’m selling Art Smukler and his books. It’s a little weird. Maybe if I were Smuckers Jelly it would be less weird. Maybe not.

On the other hand, Art Smukler is a good product. If you pull hard enough the ends might come off, but they can be re-attached.

Will you lose 15 lbs? Maybe, if you deal with your mother and improve your relationship with your kids. Will you fall in love? Absolutely. Just read Chasing Backwards. If you don’t fall in love with Joe Belmont, you’ll fall in love with Karen Levine.

Plus, I’ll throw in 2 dozen blog posts!


A few months ago, I was watching the Adventures of Ironman, with Dylan, the 3-year-old son of a friend. As we sat together in the dark family room, Dylan said, “Uncle Art, I like Ironman.”

“He is cool,” I answered.

A short time later, Dylan said, “I really like him.”

“Me too.”

After another series showing Ironman whipping the bad guys into submission, Dylan said, “I think I want to be him.” He sat riveted on the sofa, his eyes never leaving the TV screen.

“That would definitely be interesting.”

A minute later, Dylan got off the sofa and stood in front of me. “I am Ironman,” he said.

I nodded and smiled at him.

“You don’t understand, Uncle Art, “I AM IRONMAN. I really am.” His little chest was all puffed out and he was flexing both his arms, showing me how huge his biceps were.

“Sometimes I wish I could him too,” I answered.

A few weeks later when I saw Dylan again, he was all decked out wearing a Spiderman costume. “What happened to Ironman?” I asked.

“I’m Spiderman now. Watch!” He bent his legs, spread his arms, and assumed a perfect Spiderman pose. He WAS Spiderman, and I was stuck still being me.

Why do most kids develop a passion for superheroes? To me, the answer is pretty obvious. The world is a scary place. Really scary and really violent. The “mature” adults don’t believe in superheroes, they believe that their religion or religious sect or religious patron is more powerful than their competitors’ religion. They are willing to die for it, and see the rest of us non-believers or different-believers as the enemy.

If only we could choose to be Ironman or Spiderman or Everyman and give everyone the free choice to be whoever they want to be. Maybe, if I were Joe Belmont…


“I can’t change,” the 40-year-old man said during a therapy session. “So what that I know and accept that my mother is selfish and ungiving? What good does that do me? Knowing is fine, but so what?”

“You mentioned that you were proud of yourself this last weekend. You were able to force yourself to be a good father, kind and supportive to your children. Plus, you actually had a good time.”

“Yeah. It was hard, but I did it.”

“You described your mother as self-centered, a woman who only cares about herself. Always putting her needs first and ignoring your needs.”

“She is. So?”

“You said she was never warm and giving.”

“She wasn’t.”

“As a child and now as an adult, you became like her and often you act like her — cold and distant. You want to do only what you want to do. Sound familiar?

He just stared.

But last weekend, you overcame that selfish feeling. You acted like the man you want to be, giving and loving. You weren’t acting like her anymore.”

“That’s disgusting that I act like her. It’s terrible.”



I nod in agreement.

“Doctor. I WANT HER OUT OF ME! Get my mother out of me!” he said forcefully.

“That’s what this therapy is all about. We’re making progress towards doing just that.”

What happened to this man, happened to all of us. When we were little we incorporated parts of our parents into ourselves, the good parts and the bad parts. The way they related — loved, hated, disconnected, abused etc. all became so deeply embedded that being able to distinguish between what is us and what is them becomes almost impossible.

Often, the job of therapy and our personal challenge is to clarify who we are and understand that we don’t have to spend the rest of our lives acting like the dysfunctional parents who raised us.   Thanks!


A psychiatrist uses his intellect and intuition to diagnosis and treat a patient. Theodore Reik, a Freudian era psychoanalyst called the intuitive part, Listening with the Third Ear. It means getting beneath the surface of what someone is saying, feeling what he feels, what he doesn’t feel,  and being able to decipher that his words may contradict what he’s actually feeling.

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. A patient may insist that his father is a wonderful man, but then why does he forget his birthday, have an angry father-related dream, or a negative slip of the tongue?

Our intellect and the logical part of our brain (the left brain) is often at war with the intuitive and creative part (the right brain). Observing the war, both sides of it, is important. It gives us the chance to examine the invisible part of the iceberg that supports what is visible to the world.

We can all benefit from using our Third Ear. Knowing what we really feel and think is essential to being at peace and having good relationships. If our Third Ear is undeveloped, get to work! Take time to let your mind wander about issues that you suspect are troublesome, jot down your dreams, and don’t push away a feeling that gnaws at you. What you learn may be a clue as to what’s really going on in your unconscious.

It is work making the unconscious accessible to the logic of the conscious mind. It is work worth doing. Having a strong, functional Third Ear can change our lives.  Thanks!


To hate your parents, really feel it, is against the judeao-christian ethic, society, and our own inbred belief system.

In my psychiatric practice, countless patients have spent many hours “discovering” how they really feel about their mother and father. Even the most obviously abusive, alcoholic, and violent parent often remains immune to justly deserved hateful feelings. The parent who puts up a good front to the world, but in the privacy of the home is critical, distant, unempathic and devaluing is often more complicated to unravel.

How can you hate the person who gave you life and who you were dependent on? It feels immoral. It’s also crazy-making to know on one level that you can’t stand to be in the presence of a parent and at the same time doubt your right to have those feelings. Without our parents we wouldn’t exist. Often a patient or friend says, “I don’t hate my father. I just can’t talk to him, don’t want to be around him, and wish he’d just disappear. If I never saw him again, it would be okay. But…I don’t hate him.”

Well, how about EXTREME DISLIKE, which to me sounds a lot like HATE. If our parents have earned it, we have the right to our feelings.

In Chasing Backwards, Joe Belmont, a 24 y/o medical student who just learned his mother was killed, struggles with these feelings as he’s being interviewed by Detective Barneggi.

I glance back out the window. The light patterns are hypnotic, cars barreling down Vine Street, streaks of yellow and red swirling about in the darkness. Where will I bury her? What the hell do I do for money? I close my eyes and involuntarily shiver. What kind of asshole thinks about money at a time like this? I grip the coffee mug and picture heaving it through the plate-glass window.

A major bonus about getting in touch with hateful feelings is the possibility that when the hate is dealt with, there is the possibility that love still exists.



Sgt. Dakota Meyer, Medal of Honor winner, saved 3 dozen fellow marines and the remains of 4 fallen comrades. At the time he defied orders, he was a 21-year-old corporal. He was told to Not take action! He defied orders and did what HE knew was right.

How old are our congressmen and how many advanced degrees do they have? How much more rhetoric can we take from the god-is-on-my-side gang versus the god-is-a-falacy gang? Then there’s the voice-of-reason gang who haven’t done much but add more blame and negativity to the mix.

Can’t any of these “bastions of power” do what a 21-year-old corporal did? Why are they so afraid of their leaders? Fear of rejection? Fear they won’t be re-elected? Fear they’ll make a mistake and look bad? I think they are incapable of thinking for themselves.

For a politician to actually question his party’s stand on religion, race relations, gun control, abortion rights or OMG even the need to have taxes, takes a person who’s willing to risk crossing at least partway over to the enemy camp. One year Mitt Romney is for abortion; now he’s against it. Wouldn’t it be courageous for him to say, “Let people make up their own minds. I’m a Republican and I’m neutral.”?

Dakota Meyer deserved the Medal of Honor because he did something unique. He disobeyed a superior officer and risked his life.

Believe nothing, no matter where you read it or who has said it, not even if I have said it, unless it agrees with your own reason and your own common sense.          Buddha

If  just a few republicans and democrats have the courage to risk their political futures and cease being so rigid, they could make a dramatic change. Cross the line! Do what we’re paying you to do. TAKE CARE OF US. I’ll vote for you.  Thanks,  Art Smukler MD


“Doctor, I’m thinking of giving up writing.”


“How many John Grishams, Lee Childs and Lawrence Blocks can there be? The chances of making it are harder than getting into med school. Much harder!”

The psychiatrist nods.

“It’s hopeless. These guys sell millions of books. I’m in the few dozen range.”


“The whole field is bullshit. First you have to find an agent, then a publisher. Then with or without them you need a platform — a blog, Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, and kiss-up to everyone so they’ll spend a few bucks on a book I spent years writing. Chances are they’ll hate it. Think I’m a fool for writing it, throwing away all my time and money on such a stupid dream. I am stupid for doing it.”


“But, it’s my dream right? I have a right to write. No one can take that away!”


“Hell with them if they don’t like my work! I have a right to write! You like that catchy, pithy phrase? Who cares? I like it.” A big sigh… “Wow. It looks like our time’s up. See ya next week. Thanks, Doc. Good session. A really good session… That’s why you make the big bucks.”