#27 – Part 1: Family and Couples Therapist, Author & Teacher Moshe Lang

Full Transcript

Podcast: #27 – Part 1: Family and Couples Therapist, Author & Teacher Moshe Lang

Edited and Modified by: Lauren Beatty (Psychologist) and Lucianne Grixti (Psychologist)

Amy Felman:
Hi, and welcome to episode 27 of “We All Wear It Differently”, a podcast for early career psychologists. This is part one of a three-part episode.  I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with my guest, Moshe Lang, for over two hours in his private rooms where he's practiced psychotherapy for over 36 years.

We discussed his 52 years of experience as a therapist, author and teacher. So, I've split this into three episodes, so you too can pour yourself a cup of tea and enjoy the journey with one of Australia's best known psychologists. Moshe is currently the Director of the Williams Road Psychotherapy Centre, formally the Williams Road Family Therapy Centre which he founded in 1979, and was the first independent family therapy centre in Australia.

Moshe was born in Israel and migrated to Australia as a young man in 1961 to study psychology at the University of Melbourne.  Between 1965 and 1979 he was senior psychologist at the Bouverie Clinic and Director of Training there. Moshe was the Foundation President of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy from 1979 to 1988, and he is a past President of the Victorian Association of Family Therapists.

He has published extensively in the professional literature and he's the co-author of “The Answer Within”, “A Family in Therapy Re-examined”, “Corrupting the Young and Other Stories of a Family Therapist”, “Resilience: Stories of a Family Therapist” and the “Children’s Depression Scale”.

Moshe is a naturally gifted storyteller, and chatting with him in his office over green tea was truly enlightening. For more information on Moshe's extraordinary career and to see the links he spoke about, please see the show notes on the website. Now, let's see how we all wear it differently with Moshe Lang.

Amy Felman:
Moshe Lang, welcome to “We All Wear It Differently.” It's such an honour to be speaking to you this afternoon and to be sitting in your office as well. This is exciting for me. So thanks for being willing to speak with me today.

Moshe Lang:
Pleasure.  I think.  Maybe I might change my mind once we finish, but I think it will be a pleasure.

Amy Felman:
I'd love to start by asking, how did you first discover psychology?

Moshe Lang:
When did the fish discover water? I think it has always been around me one way or another. I grew up in Israel and everybody was a migrant so parents could not help their children with their school work. When I was in Grade three, one of the neighbours asked me to teach and help their twin daughters with their homework.  So at age eight or nine, I became a teacher and a bit of a psychologist. Then at age 14, I left Tel Aviv where I was born and went to a kibbutz. A year later they made me a youth leader which involved lots of training in psychology.

And from the age of 15, I was a youth leader in the nearby town. Then in the last year of my schooling, they sent me to one of the big cities to be the chief and run the youth movement in that city, and there was quite a bit of psychology in the whole thing. On top of it, I realized that, from the age of 14 to 18 while I was on kibbutz and was kibbutz educated, that I was part of a grand experiment. I think it was, the most courageous, brave, creative, crazy experiment of the 20th century, in my view, in psychology to create a new type of human being.

And I was a subject in that experiment. To give just one example, at the height of my sexual desire at age 14 I had to shower with the girls, which was a huge ordeal, and I could talk more about it, but I won't. It sensitized me to the dimensions of psychology, because there was a lot of psychology. To give an example, the theory behind us being in the showers together came from a psychoanalytic term to “sublimate.” The idea was that instead of sexual energy being directed to the object of your desire, it will be redirected to make a better world. For me, that was spent being a youth leader.

So, at any rate I was aware of psychology in a big way, but then what happened. You want to interrupt me?

Amy Felman:
Would you mind? Could you just tell us what a kibbutz actually is, because some listeners might not know?

Moshe Lang:
I recommend they read two old books that would inform them greatly about kibbutzim. They were very popular at the time. One was by Bruno Bettelheim called “The Children of the Dream” and the other one by Melford Spiro, “Children of the Kibbutz”. However, kibbutz was a commune in a sense. It was a group of people who got together in which the main principle was everybody would contribute according to their ability and receive according to their means.

So, in a sense if you want, it's true communism, but part of it, part of the experiment was that the children would be raised by the community, not by the parents. And there were many other principles, ideas that governed the raising, the bringing up of the children and that was part of that brave experiment that I was talking about. The other part of that brave experiment was that it was supposed to for example, liberate women from the day to day of child rearing so that they can be equal contributors to society. I could go on, but that would take us elsewhere.

Amy Felman:
Yes, but it is very modern. Early on I guess those movements were happening around that time.

Moshe Lang:
Yeah, that's right, but it was a very substantial and significant movement in Palestine, in Israel, the Jewish community of Palestine, and they read Freud and Adler and many other people, and they were psychologically informed. They also distorted to varying degrees the writing or the theories, to fit their own grand ideology, but that's another story.

Amy Felman:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, in a sense you felt like you were in an experiment.

Moshe Lang:
Yeah, well it's the last few years that it struck me in a big way, to what extent I was the subject of a grand experiment and as such I think it did sensitize me greatly to psychology, the psychology theory and the experience. And the experience of the theory was not the same.

But if you let me, I'll continue, because what then happens is like other people in Israel at age 18, I was drafted to the army. I did national service and I was in the tank corps and after about a year, I was sent to three days of residential psychological assessment for suitability for officer training. And during that time, I had an interview with a psychologist and I could not have articulated it at the time, but looking back I realize that something very unusual happened to me.

A year in the army where everybody was barking orders at me, telling me what to do and what not to do. Kibbutz too, that was full of ideology in which everybody knew what was right and what was wrong and you had to behave according to a certain standard, and this man, this psychologist, was listening to me and he was really trying to understand my own experience. He tried to get in touch with my inner world, and I think it was a very unusual experience, and I think probably, that experience more than anything else made me decide to study psychology.

Having said so, there is a deeper level and I'm not sure we have to go there, but I will go there. Looking back I also think that what happened was … I was an only child and my father died when I was 10, and I felt very dutiful and very responsible for my mother and I think I also wanted to study psychology so I could help her, and that's the other dimension of why I think I did psychology.

Amy Felman:
So, at some point you made a decision to formalize that interest through training and you moved to Australia.

Moshe Lang:
I came to Australia specifically to study. I arrived in September 1961, and in March 1962 I was at Melbourne University studying psychology.

Amy Felman:
Why Australia?

Moshe Lang:
There are a number of reasons. One, I loved Australian soldiers who were in Palestine and they were so good to me, so kind to me. They threw money at me and all sorts of things, probably because I reminded them of their brothers or their sons that they had left back home. I was a red headed kid. The other reason is that I had an aunty here who always wanted me to come to Australia, and when she heard that I wanted to study, she said, “Why don't you come to Australia?”, so I said, “Okay.”

Amy Felman:
Wow. So psychology at Melbourne University, what year was that?

Moshe Lang:
I started in 1962 and finished with a double major in psychology at the end of 1964. There was no clinical training in Melbourne at the time and the one place in Australia that provided clinical training, was in Western Australia (a few hours by plane from Melbourne). So I thought, after I finish I'll go to either Western Australia or America to continue with my studies.

And then the man who I immortalized, I hope, Allen Jeffrey who was my teacher in psychopathology, said to me, “You know, there is a job going in psychology at the Bouverie Clinic, I think it may be of interest to you”. So, I said “Yes”, and I was interviewed by the chief psychologist of mental health, and he said, “Why don't you go to the Bouverie Clinic and Geoff Goding who was the Superintendent would interview you”. He interviewed me and at the end of the interview he said to me, “If you get all your results and you pass and you get your degree, you will be welcome to work here”, and I said, “In fairness, I think I want to continue to study so I'll stay for a year”. But as it happened, I stayed from 1965 till 1979 when I came here to the now Williams Road Psychotherapy Centre, and since 1979 I've been working out of this room.

Amy Felman:
Amazing.

Moshe Lang:
And walking up and down the stairs every hour, making another cup of tea, going to the toilet, asking my secretary, “Any news?”, and then I walk up again.

Amy Felman:
Wow. So much history in this room, you can feel it, I think.

Moshe Lang:
Talking about history… you see that jar over there?

Moshe Lang:
It's supposed to be about 3,000 years old. So when things get too much for me, I look at it and say, “In the scheme of things, compared to what this jar has seen, it's not so bad”.

Amy Felman:
(Laughs). So, somebody else suggested to you that you should go for this role at the Bouverie Clinic. In your mind, you were going down a clinical path, however you ended up at the Bouverie Clinic working with children specifically. Is that right?

Moshe Lang:
Yes it was a child psychiatric clinic. So the family came because of the child.

Amy Felman:
Ah hah. So at that point you weren't sure which direction you were going to go in, but you ended up staying for many, many years, and essentially working with families.

Moshe Lang:
Well, what happened was that for the first five years between 1965 and 1970, I worked with children. Children and adolescents doing play therapy and talking therapy.  On the Friday, I would administer a battery of tests which was part of the intake procedure. The common battery of tests would be the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children or the Stanford Binet and a number of projective tests, the Thematic Apperception Test, Children’s Apperception Test or the Rorschach InkBlot Test, sentence completion. If there was a possibility of brain damage, there was another test and so on.

That was my job as it were, and in 1970 Geoff Goding went to Greece and came back and said, “I discovered family therapy”, and we changed overnight to family therapy. Some people were very uncomfortable with the change, because instead of me seeing the child or the other psychologists and the psychiatrist or the social worker working at the same time with the parents, the idea was we would see them together in the same room.

Some people were very, very uncomfortable with that. To me it felt the most obvious and natural and comfortable way of working.  I think it probably went back to when I was a youth leader in Israel and I would sit and talk with a group of people. Anyhow, it felt perfectly comfortable, so I took to it like fish to water.

Amy Felman:
Wow, because people always talk about the different energy in the room when you're working with multiple people, but for you that felt really comfortable because of your experiences.

Moshe Lang:
Look, I was terribly challenged, but I like challenges. I wrote a story about who were probably the first family I've ever seen; would you like me to tell you that story?

Amy Felman:
Bring it on.

Moshe Lang:
Okay. I'm going into the room to see the family. I think there was the child and his parents, and the child in question was supposedly suffering from schizophrenia.  At the time, we had a social work student on placement and she came into the room with me to take notes and she also used a tape recorder.

And what happened was, at the end of this session, I felt so confused. I thought I really mucked it up terribly and I said, “Joan, I mucked it up didn't I?” And she said, “What the hell are you talking about? It was a wonderful interview”, and I said to her, “Listen, I'm a big boy, I can take it. Tell it to me straight”, and she said, “Well, don't believe me, just listen to the tape recording”.

So, I listened to the tape recording, and what do I notice? At one point this boy – I think he was about 12 years old, says to me, “You know, when I grow up, I want to be a psychiatrist”, and I said, “Do you really mean it?” He said, “Yeah”, and I said, “Well, if you do, how would you like to take over and run this session, because I'm confused and I don't know what to do”. So he said, “Do you mean it?”, and I said, “Yeah, my word”. So, he took a pad and pencil and he turned to his mother and he started saying, “Mrs. such and such”, and I still remember the actual surname and I have to be careful not to repeat it.

And he said to her, “Mrs. such and such, was the pregnancy of”, let's call him Peter, “planned or not planned?”. “What was labour like?”. “Was he a good feeder?”, and he proceeded to take the most detailed and magnificent developmental history. At a different part of the interview, he says to me he wants to talk about farting, but he refers to it as “the music that comes out of my backside”.

And I start laughing and I say to them, “You know, maybe to other people you are schizophrenic. To me you are a poet”. I have never met a boy who refers to farting as “music that comes out of the backside”. I'll continue with that story because it's good story.

Amy Felman:
Yeah, please do and just keeping in mind that this was the first time you'd worked with a family as well.

Moshe Lang:
I think it was the first.  One of them anyway.

Amy Felman:
It's amazing.

Moshe Lang:
And at that point, 40 years after the event, I remembered the words of this boy and it was not just music that came out of my backside, it was music to my ears.

So, coming back, 1970 I started working with families.

Amy Felman:
Yes, just on that story, do you remember what happened with that family after that first session? Did they continue coming?

Moshe Lang:
Yeah, they continued for quite a while.

Amy Felman:
Yeah, and the boy, because that sounded like you might have been one of the first people that actually spoke to him as if he was just a boy.

Moshe Lang:
Yep, I agree with that, very much so. Yes.

Amy Felman:
So many years later the boy insisted that his mother comes to see you. Does that happen to you a lot, because I've read a few of your stories and it seems on occasion you will have someone that comes back years later?

Moshe Lang:
Yeah, I know that later on you want to ask me about the pleasures of my work or something like that.

Amy Felman:
Yeah I do.

Moshe Lang:
One of the greatest pleasures for me is people come back. I mean obviously I'm sad if they come, because things are bad for them. But at a more personal level, sooner or later I would ask them, “How do you remember seeing me? Did it help? In what way did it not help?” et cetera, et cetera, and to me it's always a fascinating conversation.

And that's the one I remember, but also look, what happens is I walk down the street.  Some people who have seen me in the past, look the other way and try to avoid me like the plague and others chase me and they want to talk to me and it's at a different level in terms of the professional ethics. It's very confusing how you deal with that, but that's another issue.

Amy Felman:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). I just want to say this because I nearly fell off my chair when you talked about it last week at the couples training that I attended. You were saying you've practiced for about 50 odd years now.

Moshe Lang:
52. I'm in my 52nd year.

Amy Felman:
Wow, so 52nd year and you work that out to be roughly about 50,000 client sessions.

Moshe Lang:
It's a guesstimation.

Amy Felman:
It's a guesstimation, but I kind of broke it down actually, because I was just so fascinated and the math sounds about right. What has sustained you all these years?

Moshe Lang:
I did an interview that was published in the Australian New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, that they titled, or I did, I can't remember. It was an interview, but they published it under the title of “The Joy of Therapy”, and I also put it on YouTube so you could listen to the interview itself. How many hours have we got? I'll start and you can stop me at any-

Amy Felman:
Just some bullet points.

Moshe Lang:
Okay. I enjoy the company of people and I feel the most important thing, I have never lost the curiosity and the deep sense that I am deeply privileged that a stranger comes to see me and shares with me the personal, the intimate details of their life. But I'm a very, very curious person, so when people talk to me, I'm interested in the language they use, I'm interested in … stay with language for a minute.

For 50 years people have told me that they are anxious, but I'm fascinated how will they put it? You know different people describe anxiety differently. They have pain. How do they put it? Here is an example that comes to mind, a man describes to me that his wife is obsessional, but he doesn't say she's obsessional, he says, “You know she's tense in the kitchen worrying and as soon as she sees the leaf falling off the tree, she runs so that it would not be on the ground, because everything has to be so clean”.

And I remembered that, so if he comes 20 years later, I say to him, “I remember you. You were the one who …” So one other thing is a profound fascination with people, the language they use, the way they express their emotion, their body language. At another level, what sustained me I think, is the fact that I've always made sure that there is a lot of variety in the way I work.

Variety in a whole lot of ways. One, of being a therapist and that was my number one thing, but I also have been teaching and writing. Teaching, supervising and writing, so the sort of changing from one to another gives you another dimension. You do the work and then you reflect on it and so on. The other is that there was a great variety in the type of people I see, their ages, the constellation, the background of people, and so on. I've always ensured that what I do is also deeply meaningful to me.

And I think because I'm also very broadly based and that being very broadly based, being informed by untold number of sources makes it easier in some sort of a way for me to work. And it's all deeply rooted, because at the end of the day the way I work is a way that is deeply meaningful to me. I'm not doing somebody else's way of working. I work in a way that feels right to me and with the passage of the year, it became more and more me. I think also the other thing, because I know that you may want to raise it. I have also worked very collaboratively which means that I'm encouraging the people I work with to bring their own intelligence, their own experience, their own wisdom into the room with them.  So, I use their energy and mine and we bounce off each other, so I'm not alone, I'm working with them, and they sustain me.

If you are interested in exploring Moshe Lang’s work further, a comprehensive list of publications, interview transcripts, presentations and workshops are available on his website www.moshelang.com.au.

Your Content

 

Moshe Lang is one of Australia’s best known family therapists. Born in Israel, he migrated to Australia as a young man and settled here in 1961. He studied psychology at the University of Melbourne, and is the Director of William Road Psychotherapy Centre.

Between 1965 and 1979 he was senior psychologist at the Bouverie Clinic and Director of Training. In 1975, during a sabbatical, he worked in Ramat-Chen Mental Health Clinic in Israel. In 1979, he founded Williams Road Family Therapy Centre, the first independent family therapy centre in Australia. Moshe remained involved with the Centre until 2012 – sharing co-directorship with Dr Brian Stagoll from 1981 to 1997.

He was Foundation President of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (1979-1988), and from 1982 to 1984 was President of the Victorian Association of Family Therapists (now known as Australian Association of Family Therapy). Moshe is also the Recipient of the Inaugural Award of Special Services to Family Therapy from the Australian New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy (1994), and a Life Member of the Australian Association of Family Therapy (1992). Moshe gave the key-note address at the Inaugural Family Therapy Conference in Melbourne (1980).

Moshe has practiced and taught clinical psychology and family therapy in Melbourne since 1965 – the first 15 years at The Bouverie Clinic and since 1979 from 3 Williams Road, Windsor. He has been a regular commentator on issues associated with clinical psychology and family therapy, and he is well known for his workshops and unique teaching style, marked by clarity, humour and empathy.

Moshe has published extensively in the professional literature on themes ranging from work with children and adolescents, depression, eating disorders, suicide, school refusal, work with Holocaust survivors and their families, couples therapy and teaching family therapy. His publications include the Children’s Depression Scale (with Miriam Tisher), which has been extensively used, translated and published in numerous languages including Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Japanese, Hindu, Arabic, Nigerian and Hebrew.

He is the co-author of Corrupting the Young and Other Stories of a Family Therapist and Resilience: Stories of a Family Therapist (with Tesse Lang); as well as A Family in Therapy and The Answer Within (with Peter McCallum). These highly regarded books have been extensively reviewed and translated to Hebrew and French.

Recently he has brought out two highly praised DVDs, Behind Closed Doors, providing the viewers, professional and general public alike with the opportunity to see him at work.

Recommended Resources:

To learn more about Moshe head to his website – http://moshelang.com.au/

Books:

Corrupting the Young and Other Stories of a Family Therapist – Moshe Lang

Resilience: Stories of a Family Therapist – Moshe Lang (with Tesse Lang)

A Family in Therapy and The Answer Within – Moshe Lang (with Peter McCallum)

Behind Closed Doors, (DVD) – Moshe Lang doing couples therapy!

There books are also available as e-books at  – moshelang.com.au/where-to-buy/

Feedback

Leave me or Moshe a comment or some feedback about this episode in the comments section. I’ll respond to everyone!

Amy Felman

Amy Felman

Amy has a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Deakin University and is a working psychologist. She also has a Bachelor of Arts (Media Studies) where she majored in radio. Amy is the host of the "We All Wear It Differently" podcast, where she hopes to entertain and inspire her fellow psychologists.
Amy Felman

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