#MM01 – Q&A Mondays with Moshe Lang: Professional Control, Career Satisfaction & Language in Therapy
You're listening to “We All Wear It Differently,” a podcast for early-career psychologists, your window into the world of the psychology profession. And now your host, Amy Felman.
[00:00:30] Hi, and welcome to “We All Wear It Differently.” This is the first episode of a new Q & A series, with Moshe Lang, fittingly called, “Mondays with Moshe.” The idea is this: every fortnight, Moshe will answer a series of questions from you, the listeners. You can post these to the Facebook group, or email them to me through the website or directly at [email protected] In brief, Moshe has been working as a therapist, teacher, and author for over 52 years. He's Australia's best-known family therapist, and in his career, has been the foundation president of the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Family Therapy, [00:01:00] and president of the Victorian Association of Family Therapists. I could talk on, but to get a really good sense of Moshe, and to have a good think about what questions you might want to ask him, the best idea is to listen to the three-part interview series I did with him a few weeks ago for “We All Wear It Differently.”
So, without further ado, let's get into it. I hope you enjoy.
Moshe, it's wonderful to be doing our first Q & A session together. So thank you
[00:01:30] Our first question is from Ken in Israel, and Ken says, “Moshe, coming from another country, being a foreigner, and having English as your second language, how did this impact on your work in Australia?”
[00:02:00] At one level, in my view, we are all foreigners. I grew up when my parents were foreigners to each other, and both of them were foreigners to me. I remember, in the wonderful movie, “About Schmidt”, Jack Nicholson wakes up in the morning and he says, “Who is this strange woman lying next to me in bed?” He had been married to her for thirty or forty years by then.
[00:02:30] At a deeper level, being a foreigner is part of the human condition. We are foreigners to each other by virtue of you being a woman, I being a man; you being younger than me and so on. We have to deal with being foreigners all the time. And as therapists one of the things we need to deal with is the fact that we are different, too, in some significant ways, to the people we work with. And the challenge for us is how not to obliterate the difference, but how to cultivate a way of being in the world that allows us to value our differences.
[00:03:30] Now if you translate this to day-to-day of life, one of the challenges is that in some way you assume that being a foreigner and having, at least to begin with, relatively poor English was a disadvantage. I am reminded of, Milton Erickson. Do you know who Milton Erickson was?
Amy: Yes, indeed.
Moshe: Not Erick Erickson, Milton Erickson.
Amy: Oh, then, no.
[00:04:00] Milton Erickson was probably the most prominent medical hypnotist/therapist, and he suffered from polio. He regularly would say to his patients, “You do not have my advantage. You do not have polio.” What he did was he turned his disability into an advantage. And in a sense, I think that has been the challenge for me and to varying degrees, that is what I've tried to do. So being a foreigner, I would ask the people I work with, to help me by explaining this, that, and the other. So in a different way, I put them in a position of knowing, and the position of experts, and me in the position of the curious enquirer. And I would also say in relation to this, that it seems to me that … If I had the choice curiosity is probably a much more important quality in a therapist than knowledge. Obviously, within certain limitations …
[00:05:30] So my patients have helped me to improve my English, and have helped me to understand better the culture from which they come. So they've educated me and for that I'm very grateful to them. And maybe I'll tell you one story to illustrate it. I acquired English as a second language, but I love the English language and I play with it a lot. Often I hear a new word that I still don't know. So here, a woman talks to me, and she says to me that, “My father carries on like a pork chop.”
[00:06:30] So I think I understand, but I'm not sure that I fully understand. So I said to her, could you please explain to me more fully what you think it means. And she gives me her explanation. But I'm not satisfied. So I go home and I look in the dictionary. And I discover that the full expression is actually, “to carry on like a pork chop in the synagogue (or, in Jerusalem).” It's wonderful! It becomes a very picturesque thing for me. So I come back and I tell her. And then we both have a great laugh. And as a result, from now on, it becomes sort of a joke between us. But it condenses a universe of meaning about her father and about herself. When she gets anxious, which is common, she also carries on like a pork chop. So that's an example of me using my lack of knowledge to advantage. That's the answer.
Amy: (laughs) So, just tell me about the pork chop in the synagogue? I don't quite understand the meaning. Because I've never questioned the origin of that myself.
Moshe: Well, it's obvious in a way. Imagine …
Amy: Yeah …
[00:07:30] Somebody walks into the synagogue, carrying a pork chop. What would it create? It would create a hullabaloo. People would start yelling and screaming, “What the hell you are doing?”. You are being inappropriate, and you're creating a commotion.
Amy: Oh my goodness me!
Moshe: So it's picturesque, isn't it?
Moshe: It's lovely.
Amy: And it's all about the Jewish culture, as well, which …
Moshe: That's right.
Amy: Most people don't know who use that term.
Moshe: That's right.
Amy: That's so interesting.
[00:08:00] That's right. And so, as a result, we also had some laughs and I improved my English. And actually, I improved her English, too.
Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). So, what you've said, is that actually being somebody from another country was advantageous for you because it helped you to be curious about …
Moshe: About people and about their language.
[00:08:30] And … I made them the experts. In a sense, you see, the job at one level for the therapist is to make one's patients, one's clients, the expert. And they ARE the experts.
Moshe: They ARE the experts on their own life.
Amy: Mmm …
Moshe: And at one level it’s acknowledging that, and just being curious.
Amy: Mmm … Lovely.
Moshe: That's my answer.
Amy: And I love that word “curiosity,” as well.
Amy: The other thing that just really came out for me in your answer was that, in fact, we are all foreigners, because we are different people. We might be different sexes, we might come from different cultures, live in different places.
Moshe: Take a couple as an example …
[00:09:30] To me … A couple, a marriage, is the coming together of two foreigners. They come from different tribes, from different cultures, from different background, with different rules, with different values … And, it's always, a clash of cultures, and any couple that is honest with you or with each other, they know that you regularly do things that would absolutely dismay your husband or wife, “How can you possibly behave like that?”. And it applies to the smallest things in life, but also some of the biggest.
Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
[00:10:30] And it's very, very common that people spend a lifetime together and at one point, they'll come to me and say “How can my husband behave like that? I never imagined … He's a stranger to me, he's a foreigner, because how can somebody do things like that?”
Amy: So are we ever not foreigners, in the true sense, with anybody?
Moshe: I think in a way that we are also foreigners to ourselves
Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Moshe: Because the number of times, if you're honest with yourself, you say, “How can I possibly have said such a thing or behaved like that?,”
Amy: Yes, absolutely. Yep. Thank you. That's a great answer to that question. So let's go to question two.
[00:11:30] So this is from Vicki, in Canberra, and Vicki writes, “Moshe, I noticed in your interview with Amy that you talked about control as one thing that's kept you going in your career and satisfied you in your work. However, in my own personal experience, it has been acceptance and mindfulness that has enabled me to cope. What are your thoughts on this?”
[00:12:00] I forgot the name of the philosopher, but one philosopher once observed that unimportant things in life, the truth, the opposite of the truth is false. But for important things, the opposite is also true. This is an example of it, in relation to my own work, but it's also based on a lot of psychological research. We know that people’s job satisfaction is to varying degrees proportionate to their capacity to have say and control in their work..
[00:13:00] And we also know the opposite. What's one of the major causes of depression? A sense of helplessness. In other words, you have no say, you have no control in your life. But having said so, the opposite is also true, that very often we are unable to control, we are unable to change. And the only thing that is left for us to do, is to accept and be mindful. And life is a struggle to decide which is which and when is one appropriate and when is the opposite the appropriate way of being in the world.
[00:13:30] We are both, yoga practitioners, and if you practice breathing regularly, one of the things you do very often is you may do it on a minute-to-minute basis. You breathe in in a controlled manner and you just let go the exhale. So you can experience control and letting go, one after another and you need both and … That's my answer.
[00:14:00] That analogy of the breathing is a beautiful way to describe that. Specifically, I know for you, this sense of having control, comes down to having your own business and being able to make particular choices. So can you just say something about how this has been particularly satisfying for you in your career?
[00:15:00] Basically I worked in three places as a psychologist, the Bouverie Clinic, one year in Israel, and since 1979 in this office. Now at the Bouverie Clinic, I had no choice but to see the sort of people that the clinic in terms of its policy, dictated that I should see. Now, I pick and choose, and that makes my work, so much more rewarding.
[00:15:30] Like for example, a couple comes to see me, and then the husband decides to drop out of therapy, and the wife continues to come and see me, but it so happened that she's also a writer. And then one day she says to me, “Can I continue to come and see you and talk about my writing?” And I said, “I don't know if I will be of any use to you. However, if you want to, we will try.” Now if I worked for the government, Ican't do that. And we worked like that and for a while I continued to work with her. In other words, I had the freedom to be experimental and to suit myself and my clients. So that's just a simple example but a very, very important one.
Moshe: As I’ve got older, I prefer not to see children too often. But if I still worked at the Bouverie Clinic, where the reason for referral was the child, I would still have to work with them and probably by now would be impatient and my job satisfaction would have been diminished.
Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Mmm.
[00:16:30] In a similar way, I can work for as little or as much as I want to … etc., etc.
Moshe: So the fact that you have control in that sense is terribly important to job satisfaction.
[00:17:00] Just to be clear, I'm also aware that an attempt to exercise or, over-exercise control of one's life could be a, major cause of human unhappiness.
Moshe: Let alone try to exercise control over other people
Amy: Mmm. Mmm.
Amy: Now what I'm hearing is more that you were able to make the choices that you knew would sustain you and also enable you to be authentic in …
Moshe: Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Amy: what it is that you want to do and what you believe in.
[00:17:30] That's right. And maintain an interest. Like I could today, spend time during working hours answering your questions, however if I were working in another context, I may not be able to do that.
[00:18:00] And as a supervisor, I often run groups for Supervision and the number of times that what the people being supervised needed to and wanted to talk about are the troubles at work, rather than about the patients. The amount of time that we are, preoccupied and unhappy with a whole lot of issues at work, which are not to do with what work is actually about, is much greater than most of us would care to admit.
Moshe: But I could go into it, but that would take us to another world.
Amy: But you've also been free of that, as well, essentially.
Moshe: That's right.
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Very, very interesting stuff. Thank you, Moshe. And thank you, Vicki and Ken for those fabulous questions, and for you listeners out there, if you have any burning questions for Moshe, please get in touch through the website or the Facebook page and we will do another round of these Q & As soon. Thanks again, Moshe.
This is Episode 1 of a new Q and A series with psychologist Moshe Lang, Australia's best known family therapist, renowned author and teacher.
Every fortnight WAWID listeners send me questions to ask Moshe. These questions can be be about anything to do with his journey, therapy or in the field of mental health. Moshe is an incredibly curious person, and loves a challenge – he tells me he'll tackle anything sent his way. This weeks questions are:
1) Moshe, coming from another country, and having English as your second language, how did this impact your work in Australia?
2) Moshe, I noticed in your interview with Amy that you talked about control as one of the thing that has kept you going in your career and has satisfied you in your work. However, in my own personal experience, it has been acceptance and mindfulness that has enabled me to cope. What are your thoughts on this?
More Info on Moshe
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 fromwork 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/
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/
Leave me or Moshe a comment or some feedback about this episode in the comments section. I’ll respond to everyone!
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A question for Mondays with Moshe:
Moshe, you say that people are the experts in their own lives.
Do you think that one of the reasons people visit a psychologist is because they no longer feel that they are experts ( ie in control) in their own lives?
In my experience people readily offer solutions to other’s problems but these are seldom helpful. You assist people to find a solution that they own as theirs. They can then learn how to resolve new issues more easily.
Do you agree with this? What techniques do you use to help people in this process?
Great question, thanks! I’ll put it to Moshe at our next recording session and it will be published in August.
I’ll email you to keep you updated.