Podcast: #27 – Part 3: Family and Couples Therapist, Author & Teacher Moshe Lang
Edited and Modified by: Lucianne Grixti (Psychologist) and Lauren Beatty (Psychologist)
Amy Felman: Hi, and welcome to episode 27 part three of We All Wear It Differently. The final episode with Moshe Lang. We'd love to hear your comments about this series, so please leave us a review on iTunes or your comments on the website. Now, for the final episode. Let's see how we all wear it differently with Moshe Lang.
How do you look after yourself these days?
Moshe Lang: At the moment, I work four afternoons from two o’clock to six o’clock, which means I have sixteen therapy sessions a week. Apart from that, I write, teach, and supervise a little bit. All of my mornings are free, I’ll tell you what I do every morning. Monday morning, I go on a fast walk. Tuesday morning, I go to yoga. Wednesday morning, I play tennis. Thursday morning, I go dancing. Friday morning, I do Pilates. On Saturday, I go to yoga and on Sunday, I play tennis. On Friday, I'm free all day and I go on a very long walk. On a Friday, I typically would meet a friend at North Road, Brighton, and we'll walk to Sandringham and back. I also do lots of bushwalking.
Also, when I work, I work on the hour. I'm always on time and I always finish on time. When I finish, I go downstairs, take my teapot, fill it with more tea, go to the toilet, talk to my secretary for a minute or two, stretch, walk, and walk back. Yoga is such an important part of the way I am as a therapist. For example, I noticed that since I've been doing yoga, I'm so much more aware of what's happening to my patients. I notice the stiffness in the neck. I notice the tension, the anxiety, et cetera, both in them and in myself. I'm a much better monitor of them and me and the interaction. There's a beautiful study where they show that when the therapist does meditation for example, the clients are better off.
Amy Felman: I'd like to get that paper.
Moshe Lang: Usually I read and then I forget. Sometimes, I make it up, but I'm pretty sure… the other thing I have to say in relation to self-care and it's a very, very important thing. In the research on job satisfaction, one of the crucial variables, maybe the most crucial is control. Namely, that the worker has control of what they do and how they do it. That's what I have now. I'm sure that if I had of stayed at the Bouverie clinic, I wouldn't have lasted until today. The fact that I can do things the way I see fit, when and et cetera, has made a huge difference to me. That's a very, very important part of self-care.
Amy Felman: Obviously, you haven't always had this structure. If the people listening to this are thinking, I don't have time to do what Moshe does, what would you say to them?
Moshe Lang: Sometimes I use a very simple metaphor, both to people who listen, but also to my patients. If you want to drive your car, you need to fill it with petrol sometimes. If you want to keep an old car on the road, I'm pointing at myself here, you need to service it much more regularly. Spend as much time as you can, doing things that are good for you, that are relaxing and make you feel good. If you are unable to do that, you are unable to do the work too. In order to be effective at your work, you need to look after yourself.
When I talk to mothers who feel guilty for taking some time out to look after themselves, I say, “The best thing you could do for your son or your daughter is …” I then say, “What do you like doing?” I say, “Well, from what you tell me, maybe the best thing you can do for your son is go dancing or sing in the choir or whatever.” I'm sure I'm right.
Amy Felman: You say to the parent, the best thing you could do for your child is to go and have some pleasurable experiences yourself.
Moshe Lang: That's right.
Amy Felman: Yeah. That's just priceless advice. Great advice. I did want to just ask you what kind of dancing you do.
Moshe Lang: I do Israeli dancing. Actually, this I have to tell you because it's wonderful. It's something that I share regularly with lots of people. I think I have a world record in dancing. I've been doing Israeli dancing more or less continuously for 67 years. I refuse to go up a level, I'm still in beginners. My claim is this. To do something when you're good at it, is no big deal. Lots of people can do it. To continue to do it when you are lousy at it, when you are no bloody good, that takes some doing and that's me. No kidding, I'm terrible at it. I haven't got a musical ear. My timing is bad, but I love it so I do it regularly.
Amy Felman: That's really the message, isn't it?
Moshe Lang: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Amy Felman: Another thing that you love doing which has perhaps been a part of your self-care or has sustained you is, writing down your stories and experiences. When did you start actually writing them down?
Moshe Lang: I didn't start with stories. The first important thing that I wrote and published was the Children's Depression Scale. In the first place, it was a part of my master’s thesis that I did with my friend and colleague Miriam Tisher. It was an empirical study on school-refusing kids and the hypothesis was that they are anxious and depressed. In my thesis, I explored childhood depression and in order to measure this construct, we had to develop our own scale. Then the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) heard about it and they asked us if we wanted to publish the Children’s Depression Scale with them. If I can be a bit modest, I don't think I know many psychologists who collect royalties from something that was part of their master’s thesis 40 years later. It was translated into lots of languages and it's still in use. That was my first publication.
It's so great that you still collect your royalties from that. Wonderful. Good on you.
It's more of the bragging rights because the royalty may be $50 a year but it's wonderful money.
Amy Felman: So that was your first writing experience?
Moshe Lang: That was my first publication. But I continue to update it which keeps my hands in the psychometrics and so on.
When I became a family therapist, I started showing videotapes of my work to other people regularly and studied them at length. That eventually led to me publishing an article titled Debbie and Her Slurping Stomach. This was an article about my successful work with a family where the girl suffered from anorexia. What characterized it was, that we reproduced every word that was uttered in therapy plus the analysis. In addition, I invited experts from different fields to comment about the work.
Then I did the same with a family I called The Black Family, where the mother and then her daughter attempted suicide. I spent half a day a week with my colleague and friend Peter McCallum and we studied this one hour of tape for a year. Then we published it in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy along with the analysis by Peter and myself. Again, inviting other people to comment. To our surprise, when we finished the first session, we were still profoundly interested. We then did the same thing for the second session and the third session. The journal was good enough to allow us to publish the transcript of the whole of therapy.
When we finished, I made contact with McPhee Gribble, a very prestigious publishing house and they published it as a book. It was first published as a book under the title of A Family in Therapy. Then, McPhee Gribble went out of business, and I wanted the book to be back in circulation, so I approached my original publisher ACER that published the Children's Depression Scale, and they agreed to republish it on the condition that I share with the reader a review of my work 20 and 30 years later. I did the review over one summer. I watched the video tapes at home with a Dictaphone and just said, “Yeah, I like what I did here or I didn't like it. Or I don't know why I did such and such.” I basically offer my reflections 20 and 30 years later to the reader. As far as I know, nobody else has ever done it. Some people say, to quote you, “Very brave. Very brave.” Meaning, maybe stupid but that's what we did.
I realized at one point that I'm trying to write in a manner that is accessible and of interest to the general public as well as to people in the profession. That interested me a lot because it was a challenge to use ordinary good English. One of the challenges for me was not to use academic language, which often obscures a message et cetera.
Anyhow, I then published these two, clinical papers which basically offer an analysis of therapy. Around the same time, in 1980, we had the first family therapy conference which was held in Melbourne. The conference actually came into being when I was visiting Israel, not about a few hundred meters from where I was born and I attended an international conference in Tel Aviv, with my boss, Geoff Goding. We went for a walk along the beach and I said to Geoff, “Geoff, what do you think about us having a family therapy conference in Australia?”. He said, “I don't think we'll get the numbers.” I said, “But let's try.”
We organized it and we closed the registrations with 200 attendees. I was involved in organizing that first conference and I gave the keynote address. In the keynote address, I told a number of stories. Months after giving that keynote address, I realized, that most of what I said, people forgot. However, what they remembered were the stories. I also published an article titled Bad Therapy, which described a training technique. I mentioned it earlier in our interview, in Part One. That article did very well and it generated a lot of interest. At one point, an American publisher produced a book of the best articles for the year in family therapy, and that was the article that finished the book.
Basically, what I'm arguing in Bad Therapy is, that very often, what we think would be worst, makes it best. In my humorous way, I quoted Mae West who once said, “When I'm good, I'm very good, but when I'm bad, I'm better.” Now, the article did very well and I became fascinated with the phenomena, so I then started writing stories with my late wife that exemplify the bad therapy principle.
The concept of bad therapy also emerges in daily life. For instance, last week at the workshop that you attended (Moshe Lang: The Affair; APS Study Group), I thought that what I did during a role play that didn’t go as planned was terrible, but to my amazement, you and everybody else thought it was wonderful. So, when I was bad, I was better.
I started writing more and more stories and I accumulated many of them. The stories wouldn't leave me alone. They nagged me and gave me a bad time.
Amy Felman: What do you mean they nagged you and gave you a bad time?
Moshe Lang: I would wake up in the middle of the night and I would say, “It's a wonderful story. Tesse, can I tell you …” and she says, “Can't I sleep now?” et cetera. It was a joint project in a way. I think, she loved collaborating with me. Sometimes I would not leave her alone.
Eventually, I had lots and lots of stories and I didn't know what to do with them. Somebody told me about a lady named Rene Gordon. She described herself as a packager. You would go to her and she would help you edit and put a book together and then would approach a publisher on your behalf and negotiate the deal. She put together a wonderful book and then she said to us, “You know what? I decided, that I would rather publish it myself.” I would have preferred to have an established publisher, but I was so impressed by this woman who had worked on my book. She had been a wonderful editor and was willing to put her own money towards bringing my book out. She did and we had it distributed by Penguin and that made me very proud. The book received wonderful reviews. It did well in both the professional as well as in the general literature.
Amy Felman: Which book is this?
Moshe Lang: Corrupting the Young. Actually, I should tell you another story about it, because I think it's a wonderful story. In English, we titled the book ‘Corrupting the Young and Other Stories of a Family Therapist’. It was then translated to French, and the French titled the same book ‘Families: I Love You’. Then it was translated to Hebrew. In Hebrew, the title of the same book was ‘How to Stop a Nagging Mother and Other Stories of a Family Therapist’. I claim that in Israel, the sales were very poor because nobody believed what the title suggests is possible.
Anyhow, what happened then was also a good story. My mother was then still in Israel, the publisher who had become my mate, knocked on the door of her apartment one day and said, “Mrs. Lang, look what I've got for you.” He gave her a fresh off the press, copy of my book. She looked at it. I think she almost had a heart attack because she was convinced that the book was all about her. She found out that it wasn't and all was okay.
Amy Felman: Can I ask you Moshe, has the writing helped you in your practice?
Moshe Lang: Yes.
Amy Felman: How?
Moshe Lang: Well, to begin with, I love stories. When people come to see me, they tell me a story. That's what therapy is at one level. Sometimes, what do I do? I tell them the story of what they told me. They talk for one hour and I then say, “Look, the way I understand it, what you have told me is …” I spend five minutes summarizing, telling them their own story. That's one way of putting together the meaning. We make meaning of our life through the stories. I have been a storyteller all of my life. I love stories.
I go to yoga and there is the code for getting access into the building. I can't remember the numbers that make up the code, but I turn it into a story. The story I can remember. Now everybody in the yoga school remembers the code to access the building by the story that I told about it. Now, the two mutually facilitate each other. I listen and I've improved my skill of listening to stories and telling stories, and I listen to my patients tell me a story and then I tell it back to them. Once you also start writing, you listen in a different way. It sharpens your ear. It makes you more sensitive. Now, I am able to pay minute attention to the use of language. It also gives me a lot of pleasure.
Amy Felman: Sharing the stories?
Sharing the stories and thinking it through. For instance, I read your questions prior to our interview and I thought to myself, “Okay, how shall I tell Amy about my theoretical position? Shall I call myself a mongrel? Or should I say it's like a river? Or shall I use this cooking metaphor?” I entertained myself.
Very often, the truth is that, I improve people's stories. They tell the story and their story is unclear. I think their story is wonderful, but they are telling it so poorly. I ask them, “Can I tell you the way I hear what you've just told me?” I tell them. Therefore, I make sense of it for me and for them, but I also check with them, “Have I heard it correctly?”
At one level, I think, it's another way of defining myself as a therapist. I'm a therapist who is a story-listener and a storyteller. The other way I define myself as a therapist, is as a conversationalist. My therapy is a conversation. A conversation that leads to a story. If you allow me, I'll just go to my last book, which is Resilience. In Corrupting the Young, the stories are very short vignettes without any explanation. In Resilience, the stories are more substantial and I included my own reflections. It contains four parts. My work with children, with couples, with others and the last section which to me, personally, is the most important, is my work with holocaust survivors and their families. Do you want some stories about my work with holocaust survivors?
Amy Felman: I’m sure that we could talk for hours about your work with holocaust survivors and their families, is there something you wanted to say on that?
Moshe Lang: As we were writing the book, I assumed, along with the publishers that we will call the book ‘The Long Shadow’. When I finished, a different publisher who was responsible for bringing the book out talked to me and said, “Look, I’ll tell you the truth, I didn't feel like reading your book because I thought it would be too heavy. But actually, it's very readable and full of joy and optimism. I think The Long Shadow is not a good title.” We negotiated and we agreed to title it ‘Resilience’. A year later, I was in Israel negotiating the publication of the book in Hebrew. The publisher said to me, “I would publish it on one condition. That condition being that we title the book ‘The Long Shadow’.” It's a wonderful thing in itself, but it's also a wonderful metaphor about lots of things. That a coin has two sides and life has light and shade or light and darkness.
Amy Felman: We are a product of so many things as well. Where we come from, our culture, how we see the world, influences that too.
Moshe Lang: That's right.
Amy Felman: Are you still writing?
Moshe Lang: Yes. What I'm doing at the moment or trying to, is writing about the importance of humour in life and in therapy. If you are interested, on my website, there are links to a few recorded workshops amongst other things. It's a bit secretive, but I’m also working with a group of other people on developing another psychological test.
Amy Felman: After this conversation, I couldn't possibly even guess what it would be to be honest.
Moshe Lang: Good. I don't want to be intriguing.
Amy Felman: You are. I will wait with excitement to see what happens with that. I'm wondering if you see any challenges for young psychologists that maybe you don't feel were there for you.
Moshe Lang: Look, the truth is, I don't know the training of psychologists now. I'm not up to date with that. The way I see it is this, psychology offers the cure to the worlds ills, but it also is part of the worlds ills. A few years ago, I was asked what I thought was the most important theory governing mental health, my answer was economic rationalism. I think we are all becoming consumers, and psychology fits in with that. The problem is that, when your clients or your patients become the consumer and they live in a consumer society, human relationships suffer. There is little empathy. When families get together, they each watch their own screens rather than talk to each other.
Human beings can fly to the moon, they can do fancy factor analysis and brain scans, but their capacity to cooperate with each other, it isn’t so good. In my view, the challenge of psychology is to pay attention to those things. To pay attention to the capacity of humans cooperating with each other, offering each other respect and empathy, which is getting in more and more short supply.
Amy Felman: Yeah, that's a big task and you're just making me think beyond the therapy room when you say that actually.
Moshe Lang: At least we could be the counter to it rather than its fans and supporters, and beneficiaries of it. I'll give you an example, because you practice yoga and meditation. I've done yoga and meditation for many, many years. When I first did it, most psychologists rubbished me and looked at me with contempt. Then, the evidence came through and psychology has now discovered mindfulness which in essence is the same as meditation. What happened? Psychologists can get a week training, and be able to offer a rebate from the government to teach somebody else mindfulness and meditation. The true meditator who's been doing it for the last 30 years that any sensible person would go to isn’t able to offer a rebate. We are the beneficiary of that thing. My point has been made.
Amy Felman: I was completely with you on that story, and then forgot where we were going with that. Essentially, what you were saying with regards to the challenges that younger psychologists face is that, we live in a consumer kind of world and deep connections and relationships seem to be few and far between. So perhaps these are the things that will be presenting to us in our rooms and is what we need to pay attention to.
Moshe Lang: That's our task or challenge.
Amy Felman: Is there something you want to say about the journals that you're still writing for? Or anything else that you're doing in your current work that you'd like to share with the listeners?
Moshe Lang: I think in the written list of questions that you sent to me before our interview, you had asked what excites me now? I wanted to answer it. The one thing that excites me the most, is working with the people that I work with. I don't need to do it anymore. I go on holidays and I realize towards the end of the holiday, that I'm looking forward to going back to work. Today is Saturday, I'm looking forward to seeing the people that are coming to see me on Monday. That's one thing that excites me. In addition, I still run workshops from time to time, I provide supervision and I'm working on those two pieces of writing, the one about humour and the test development.
Amy Felman: You did light up when you mentioned writing about humour, so I'm guessing that is exciting you a bit at the moment too.
Moshe Lang: It gives me a lot of pleasure. Humour is around me all of the time. For instance, I went to yoga today and the teacher said, “Change legs” as I had just stretched the right. I stopped myself from saying, “But her leg would look funny on me”. I can't help it. That's the way my mind works. I go dancing and the teacher says, “It's called Yemeni to the left”. I want to yell, “Which left? I have two”. I then have to tell myself, “Behave.”
I laugh regularly with most of the people I work with. They cry with me and we laugh together. To find a way of capturing it in writing, is terribly difficult because often the thing that makes us laugh is very subtle. I love telling jokes, and I have a wonderful …
Amy Felman: Repertoire?
Moshe Lang: … Repertoire, but that's the crude part. The subtleness is the gentle little thing that makes us both smile or reduce the tension between us and et cetera. I find the area fascinating to write about. At the end of the day, what is most interesting for me is clarifying it for myself. I don't know how much will come out of my interest in the area, but that's what I'm doing now. I've run a few workshops for the Australian Psychological Society on humour in life and therapy, and I enjoy them very much.
Amy Felman: This might be a nice place for us to wrap up, with the warm feelings of humour and smiles. Moshe, I'm just wondering, if you had your time again, is there something that you would've liked to have known earlier in your career?
Moshe Lang: Yeah. It'll take away the warm fuzzy feeling answering it, but I will. When I did my thesis for university about school refusal and depression, the university was very discouraging. I think by and large, that during my training as a psychologist, there was an attempt to discourage creativity and originality. My supervisor didn't understand what I was doing. Now, when I look back, one of the things that also motivated me was the fact that I saw that children were depressed and their depression was not taken seriously.
One of the things that I would have liked to do differently, is that in addition to developing the Children's Depression Scale, I would have liked to actually describe what I heard and saw in ordinary language. I think perhaps that would have been a better way of drawing attention to children's serious unhappiness. Susie Orbach wrote a wonderful book about anorexia titled Fat is a Feminist Issue. I think I could have written about childhood depression in the same way, but I didn't. That's just one example of many, after knowing that there's another way of describing the world apart from the strict limited confines of psychology. Like you are doing now by interviewing people.
Amy Felman: It's about tapping into your creativity and being braver a little earlier perhaps?
Moshe Lang: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Considering that option but also, if I were the supervisor of that young Moshe, I would have said to him, “Obviously, you are very involved. You are very preoccupied with the question of childhood depression. Have you considered other ways of communicating this to the world? You know you could do this, this and this.” It's okay. I've had a good ride. I’m not complaining one little bit.
Amy Felman: Is there anything else you would like to share with our listeners before we wrap up?
Moshe Lang: Enjoy the ride and maintain your curiosity and appreciation. I don't like what I've just said because it sounds a bit preachy, but anyhow I'll keep it there.
Amy Felman: (Pause). I'm not going to let you take that away because it was absolutely authentic and I was just letting what you just said sink in, because it is a ride.
Moshe Lang: A ride is a better word than enjoy the journey?
Amy Felman: Are you asking me the question? Look, they're both good, but having a bit of an interest and a passion for surfing, the ride really rings true for me. Yeah, it can be bumpy but you’ve got to enjoy it.
Moshe Lang: I’ll use the metaphor of surfing because I did a lot of body surfing. It's a wonderful metaphor, that some waves you catch and you ride, but you have to watch out for the dumpers. Because sometimes you have to tuck under the wave and that's the skill of life. To know which wave to catch and which one to go under.
Amy Felman: Finally, who would you like me to try to interview next and why?
Moshe Lang: I will give you five recommendations. I thought a lot about it. Not necessarily in order, but maybe the order of age more or less it would be.
Amy Felman: Yeah.
Moshe Lang: Peter O'Connor, who is well-known as the Jung man. He has written about Jungian psychology and dreams. I’ve worked with him many, many years ago, but I haven't kept in touch. I think it would …
Amy Felman: Broaden?
Moshe Lang: Broaden your area of interest. Peter would be one. Two, would be Steve Biddulph, who has done important work in child-raising, child education for parents, and written a lot about it. He would be two.
I'll give you the name of a psychologist mate of mine who works in the area of family therapy, Andrew Relph in Western Australia. He is also a writer and a good man. Then my co-author Miriam Tisher. You could, amongst other things, interview her about her continued study and research into childhood depression. I think she would have things to say about that as well as many other things. Then finally, some family business, I'll recommend my son-in-law, Robert Takac who specializes and is very interested in play therapy. He's doing now what I did in the 1960's.
Amy Felman: Any parting comments Moshe?
Moshe Lang: I enjoyed talking to you. You're a good interviewer and the energy is very good. You smile, you laugh, and you’re interested. What you're doing is very important. You're demystifying psychology. You are making it accessible to young psychologists. For example, I told a friend of mine about your podcasts and she immediately said, “Could you send me the link because my daughter is now studying psychology and she'll then have to decide which direction to go”. Listening to those interviews would be a very important facility for them. It's wonderful. Good on you.
Amy Felman: Thank you so much for speaking with me today on We All Wear It Differently. It's been fun.
Amy Felman: That was the final episode of this interview series with Moshe Lang. Moshe, thank you so much for your time and wisdom and all that you've contributed to the field of psychology. I'm really excited to see what comes of your research into the role of humour in our work. I certainly felt really energized after a couple of hours of laughing with you. Subscribe to the podcast at weallwearitdifferently.com or on iTunes. If you're in the mood, leave us a review. It really helps us to come up in the search terms, so other like-minded folks can find us. Thanks again Moshe, and until next time, wear it differently.
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.
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.
To learn more about Moshe head to his website – http://moshelang.com.au/
Behind Closed Doors, (DVD) – Moshe Lang doing couples therapy!
There books are also available as e-books at – moshelang.com.au/where-to-buy/
Leave me or Moshe a comment or some feedback about this episode in the comments section. I’ll respond to everyone!