Graduate School – Transpersonal Psychology

The idea of going back to school has been floating around in my mind for quite some time. I enjoy learning and I find the school environment works pretty well for me, particularly in smaller classes where I can be mentored by a challenging professor. I was lucky enough to have that in undergrad and I think I can find that in grad school as well.

What hasn’t been completely clear is what I want to study in grad school and why I want to study it. Generally, we treat formal education as fulfilling two purposes: research/discover an area of interest or passion and gain the skills necessary for a career. The former can generally be done without school in the modern era. School is often unnecessary for the latter as well, except when there is certification necessary to practice and finding a mentor outside of the academy is difficult. Either way, going to grad school appeals to me, even if it is just an experience that I decide wasn’t right for me, at least I had the experience.

So, what do I want to study? As much as I love Economics I don’t have any interest to pursue it professionally or in any advanced way (sorry Dr. Calcagno!). The only field that has really appealed to me consistently since high school is psychology and the older I get the more that passion grows. I have a couple of interests within the field. If I decide to work on the clinical side I’d like to help individuals who are LGBT, polyamorous and/or in sexually open relationships, and I’d like to use some “non-traditional” methods. If I decide to work on the research side (which would probably involve more schooling but my economic background could provide some assistance) then I want to study sexual diversity within a society, particularly with regard to kinks and paraphilias.

What do I mean by “non-traditional” methods? I mean using things like meditation, psychedelic drugs (including MDMA), spiritual practices, and other altered states of consciousness. This seems to broadly fall under the field of Transpersonal Psychology, which is basically spiritual psychology. I know that my hippy, Burner side is showing with this, but I don’t think spiritual necessarily means pseudoscientific. I tend to take a similar view of spirituality as Sam Harris and think that spiritual practices and altered states can be beneficial to people without resorting to supernatural explanations.

It will be 5 years before I am really ready to enroll in grad school due to my bike ride, prereqs, and this shitty $65,000 student loan Sword of Damocles hanging over my head. That time is probably good though, it will give me time to research transpersonal psychology more and see if it really fits for me. If things do fit I hope to enroll in Naropa University’s fall 2021 MA Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program. They several interesting specializations. At this point Mindfulness Based Transpersonal Counseling is my first choice because of the explicit focus on human sexuality, yoga, and Jungian Dreamwork. I also like the Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy due to the focus on the outdoors and the natural world, as well as the Somatic: Body Psychotherapy because of the focus on touch and connecting the mind, spirit, and body.

I have my work cut out for me. Between the three programs that interest me there are 62 books that are recommended reading, as well as 6 undergrad courses that I will need to get credits for. I can knock out many of the readings on the bike ride, though I’m not sure how many are actually necessary. To be honest, I feel like I will be competing with much younger people out of my league and I need to be really on top of my game to be accepted at my age (though, I’ve heard that some grad programs would look at 20ish years of travel and life experience as a good thing). While on the ride I can also take free online courses to become familiar with the material before enrolling in a course for credit at a community college. There are also tons of YouTube videos by professors and authors on this subject that I can watch. I will also need some real world experience by working or volunteering in a “helping” profession and working directly with clients. Ideally, I will also find a transpersonal therapist to see for my own mental health needs once we stop the bike ride. I’ve got a Excel checklist ready to go.

All in all, I’m excited. It has been a long time since I’ve had any sort of focus. I tend to hop around from subject to subject trying to learn on my own, which is fun but it isn’t necessarily the most efficient way. Now, I feel like I have a path to explore something that I’m interested in and can maybe lead to passion and inspiration.

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Facebook, Libertarianism, and Your Name

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As many of us in the queer community know there has been a lot of anger brewing in the last week about Facebook’s “true name” policy. Recently Facebook has cracked down on drag queens who violate their policy to only use your real name on the social network. While the policy has long been in place the recent crackdown has sparked outrage from many across the queer community because it puts them in the unenviable position of leaving Facebook or exposing their birth name, which could lead to serious harm from bigoted family members, employers, or neighbors.

While the easy position for libertarians to take is to say they are a private business and they can do what they want, I find this approach to be heartless and lazy. Many libertarians take the stance on marriage equality that the government shouldn’t be involved in marriage at all, therefore they don’t support marriage equality. While that might be philosophically pure it is again, heartless and lazy (and in a few cases a way for bigots to cloak their hatred behind a noble cause). But, if that is your stance you should be encouraging non-government agencies to see identity, relationships, and names as something owned by the individual and not the state. Those companies that view people as individuals instead of looking only at their government issue IDs, accreditation, or marriage certificates should be praised. Libertarians should be standing next to the queer community and fighting Facebook on this policy, your name and identity belong to you. It is not the property of the state (or your parents who named you), it is your personnel property to define and use as you wish.

It is particularly sad that the liberty community is being so silent on this issue when many people use fake names like “Freeman”, “Rothbard”, “Liberty”, etc as their online identity. Facebook says that they are not targeting members of the queer community, that it is a computer algorithm that identified them. I don’t know if this is true, given Facebook’s very progressive stance on gender identity I am willing to give them the benefit of the doubt on this, but it is still a bad policy and libertarians should fight it. I don’t think the state should be involved but we should put pressure on them by writing to Facebook, boycotting those that advertise with them, and doing everything we can to stand in solidarity with those currently targeted, who face a very real fear of harm by this policy change.

Many have said that you can always have a “page” instead of a “profile” if you don’t want to use your name. While this might seem to be a solution on paper, the truth is separate but equal (and this would be far from equal) is not a solution. Facebook treating people differently because of their identity is discrimination, pure and simple. They are looking to the government as the only legitimate source of identity, something libertarians should be furious about. This policy, if left unchecked, encourages Facebook to require government verification for marriages, hometowns, and every other factor of our existence. We should draw a line in the sand here and vocally oppose it. There is nothing un-libertarian about encouraging private companies to change their discriminatory policies, but there is something heartless and lazy about remaining silent.

Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head? The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies

As is often the case on road trips and long flights I was able to get some good reading and writing done… maybe I need to find a way to do this more. Anyway, I finished reading “Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head?” by Brett Kahr. This 400-page book is the culmination of a multi-year study conducted primarily in the UK (though there are some US participants) about people’s sexual fantasies. These fantasies are what goes through a person’s head during masturbation and sex with a partner. The research was conducted through online surveys completed by over 23,000 people and 122 intensive face-to-face interviews with volunteers. It appears to be the most comprehensive attempt to catalog and interpret human sexual fantasies that anyone has ever done.

While I found the intentions of the study and premise of the book fascinating my feelings towards the book are bitter-sweet. As a Freudian psychotherapist Kahr spent much of his time focusing, analyzing, and, in my opinion, unjustifiably fishing or hoping for childhood trauma to explain sexual fantasies that people had. He mentions alternative approaches like evolutionary psychology only twice and only in passing. I understand that he is a Freudian but if his attempt was to objectively or comprehensively attempt to look into sexual fantasies and their foundation (if one exists) he should have brought in some alternative view points. To him humans seem to be born as a blank slate with no genetic predispositions or tendencies in place from evolution.

Kahr often at times come off as a bit judgemental and sex-negative, and even a bit LGBTphobic. He focuses several times on homosexuality possibly being linked to childhood trauma and child rearing but little acknowledgement of a biological aspect. He also seems to see all cross-dressers as “transvestites”. It also seemed like a negative judgement when he penned the term “intra-marital affair” to describe thinking about someone other than your spouse, as if thinking of another is a form of cheating. Some may agree that fantasies are cheating (but if they really are based in trauma or evolution it is cheating we have little to no control over) not everyone does and I think it weakens the betrayal of true affairs if we attach that phrase to a passing thought during masturbation.

Clearly, I have some problems with Kahr’s approach, but I want to give him some benefit of the doubt, it is possible that there is a generational gap and cultural one between he and I. He is British and a bit older than I, while Americans and our friends across the pond are similar in many ways I can’t help but wonder if the stereotypes about prudish non-sexual Brits might have some truth to it. It has also been almost a decade since this project started and a lot has changed in sexual research and views on fantasies in the last 10 years, particularly with the exponential growth of internet access and the pornography that comes with it.

There were also some wonderful things within the book though, and I actually very highly recommend it. Kahr’s analysis later in the book provides a lot of great information and provides some support to his hypothesis in some of the cases. There clearly can be a trauma at the foundation of sexual fantasies, and many of these trauma fantasies are causing great distress and harm to the individuals. In cases where people can’t live the lives they want or have the relationships they desire it is a problem, such as the case of “Julius” who has only been able to masturbate to mental images of a girl who tormented him in his adolescence and he has not had a long-term relationship in nearly 50 years.

I would have loved to see more research and questions about the ramifications of opening up about your fantasies to your significant others. Kahr mentions a few in one chapter but for the most part glosses over any potential benefits and instead focuses on trauma and harm. In my experience being open and honest with your partner about desires and what goes on in your head can have a bonding effect and open the door for new real life experiences. If we decide to enter into a partnership something as intimate and important as sex should not be a taboo subject. Much of the negative aspects seem to come from our social stigmas against sexuality as much as childhood events. As a culture if we can admit that sex is a healthy and enjoyable part of the human experience we can reduce the pain, suffering, and shame that seems to accompany so many fantasies.

Kahr does admit that this is just a beginning, and like a good scientist he hopes others will dive into the data, conduct their own studies, and come up with alternative hypothesis. I would love to see a larger sample size of humans from more diverse backgrounds. What is true for Brits (and in this case a few Americans) may not be true for Australians, Italians, Russians, Kenyans, Colombians, Thai, Egyptians, etc. The more information the better and it looks like this is a field ripe for research and exploration.

I definitely recommend this book for many different people. If you just have an interest in sexuality there is a lot to love about this book, as well if you are interested in seeing how a Freudian interprets things, though I would recommend skipping or skimming Section II if you get bored with it. You can only read poorly written erotica for pages and pages for so long before it becomes a blur. It is also a good resource for people who have anxiety about what goes on in their own heads. It will become quickly clear that “normal” fantasies don’t exist, and because of that there is really nothing that is “weird” or “abnormal”. Some people don’t fantasize at all, some think only about their spouse, some focus more on feelings while others have elaborate situations they play in their head, some people think of college professors, siblings, strangers, movie stars, and inanimate objects. Some people like to be raped, piss on people while they are shitting, or change genders. Some like to be whipped while others like to be bought a nice romantic dinner followed by a massage and some cunnilingus. The limits to human sexual fantasies are only restricted by the combined imagination of billions of people.

The Future

Making plans for the long-term is a funny thing. It is almost always out of our control and the universe has a way of throwing us unexpected curveballs, but we humans insist on making plans and pursuing them. This doesn’t seem to be a bad idea as long as you don’t continue down a failed or impossible path because you refuse to reevaluate your plans. I am no different than anyone else in this respect. I make plans… no specifics or expectations but I do try to align myself along a certain path and make preparations for where I think my life is going. This last week was an eye-opener in that respect and I have begun to make more plans for life after the 2-year bicycle ride.

We have all heard the cliche that you should do what you are passionate about. Your career, your life, your happiness can (should?) all be aligned. To be honest, until recently this never really rang true in my life, at least not in a long-term sense. I’ve had jobs in many places but nothing that really kept me passionate or in one place/career for long. I think that may be changing though. I have found what I am passionate about…. sex. Not just having an orgasm (that is awesome too) but about helping people and relationships deal with unhealthy views of sex. Particularly people who don’t fall into traditional orientations. I want to help individuals and couples dealing with the issues that are somewhat unique to LGBT, polyamorous, and sexually open relationships. People who would normally not be able to go to a therapist for fear of being judged, over analyzed, or told they should stop their non-traditional life to find happiness.

Luckily, I have a friend who is interested in going along a similar path. After literally dozens of hours talking we have a little plan… a plan that may shift, alter, and change but it is at least a guideline. While on my bike ride I am going research programs to get into Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in sex, I need to study and take the GRE’s, read all the literature we can get our hands on, and also work on getting any necessary prereq’s out of the way via free online programs or community college online courses. I am confident this can be done while on the trail.

After getting into and finishing a program my friend and I would like to set up a practice together. As a male/female team who has overlapping but different interests I think our practice could be incredibly successful. The end goal isn’t simply a practice in a city though. We would also like to round out our education with yoga and massage therapy, and then put together retreats to peaceful locations that people can sign up for. These retreats could have a variety of uses… single people dealing with sex or body issues, couples looking to bring together more intimacy and exploration, or some other random awesomeness we haven’t solidified. In addition, we may also jointly do some research or write a book or three together. 

All in all, I am excited. It has been a long time since I was really passionate or interested in a particular career or skill set. Hopefully following this path will continue to lead me to a happy life. If people have any recommendations, resources, or whatever I am always open to advice. 

Perv Part 1 – “We’re All Perverts”

After a little break from any type of serious reading or writing I decided to pick up “Perv: The Sexual Deviant In All Of Us” by Jesse Bering. I am only through the first chapter but I can already tell I am going to enjoy it. Instead of only diving into the quirky physical nature of humans Bering wants us to both be more comfortable with the sexual deviant in each of us, and more understanding of others. He wants a world where people are judged for their actions, and not their thoughts.

Bering sees a problem with a world where we hide our fetishes. When we hide what we feel and crave we are putting on a mask, the same mask as everyone else, but we are pretending the masks are real. Our realities become a lie, a lie that we have all tacitly agreed to honor even though underneath the masks we are suffering. To ignore what you feel, to pretend it isn’t there, to act “normal” all the time bears a significant cost on your mind and can be harmful. And we go to great lengths to keep this sexual facade up, to the point where we work to dehumanize anyone with sexual perversions, we compare them to animals when they are very human.

Bering points out that all too often we fall into the “naturalistic fallacy” when discussing sexual norms. I know that I’m guilty of this in my defense of polyamory. We turn to nature and point out that other animals have open sex, homosexual activities, and multi-partner relationships, therefore it is not unnatural for humans to do this. Unfortunately this puts us in the same category as fundamentalist religious people who make the “Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve” comments… basically they say sex is naturally for reproduction therefore if the act doesn’t lead to reproduction then it is unnatural. They are wrong when they resort to nature, and so have I been in the past. It may have strong rhetorical value but, as Bering says, “invokes a moral judgement against those whose sexual orientations are not found in other animals. Furthermore, even if we were indeed the lone queer species in an infinite universe of potentially habitable planets, it’s unclear to me how that would make marriage between two gay adults in love with each other less okay.” When we resort to the nature we spend so much time trying to defend it from an evolutionary point of view and stop asking the important question: is it harmful?

Sexual desires themselves to not cause any harm. They are firing neurons, a mental movie theater, an internal thought. Treating someone poorly or differently based on thoughts and urges that are beyond their control is a gross form of discrimination. We can’t help what we are attracted to. We should only pass judgement when someone acts on urges that cause harm to others, and maybe we should even congratulate the “perverts” who are open about their desires but don’t act on them if they are harmful.

We are all sexual beings. The lady at the grocery store, the old man on the park bench, your parents, grandparents, and siblings… they have all likely pleasured other people into orgasmic bliss. There is a serious danger when you criminalize thoughts or criminalize acts that do not have any proof of harm. Allowing governments to use force as an agent of morality means that someday those moral police may be turned on anyone if public opinion shifts.

 

Interesting Things – Tuesday (11/12/13)

Here is today’s collection of things I found interesting online. I often get Facebook messages from friends and strangers that say they enjoy the variety of things I post so I figured I would share it with the few people who follow me on here as well. As you probably expect it will lean pretty heavily towards science, sex, and anarchy.

Cute: Here is a link to something adorable (http://www.sanger.dk/)

Students For Liberty: This last weekend I had the pleasure of attending the Students For Liberty Southern California Regional Conference. One of the speakers was Conor Friersdorff from The Atlantic. Here is his talk (http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/11/how-to-safeguard-liberty-through-discourse/281376/).

War On Drugs: The War on (Some) Drugs has devastated countless lives through death and incarceration. It has also had an incredibly high economic impact by preventing collection of taxes on the nation’s largest cash crop, marijuana. (http://www.policymic.com/articles/72497/this-is-the-first-map-to-prove-how-valuable-legalizing-marijuana-would-be-for-america)

Social Norms: When you are done with a party to you just jet or do you make it a point to say good-bye to everyone? I am someone who just leaves (or ghosts). I wonder if there is a Myers-Briggs correlation between those who leave and those who hang around to formally say good-bye. (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/a_fine_whine/2013/07/ghosting_the_irish_goodbye_the_french_leave_stop_saying_goodbye_at_parties.html)

LGBT Rights: I don’t think the government should be involved permitting or licensing businesses at all, all that does is prohibit people from freely working and contracting and it disproportionately harms the poorest and least educated in our communities; but, if licensing must happen governments shouldn’t discriminate based on sexual orientation like this town in Mississippi. (http://thoughtsonliberty.com/mississippi-woman-sues-town-for-refusing-to-allow-gay-bar)

PTSD: As a veteran and open user of MDMA I hope people will recognize this as legitimate and effective medicine that has huge potential. Check out this video if you have a chance (http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/healing-trauma-in-veterans-with-mdma-assisted-psychotherapy)

Police Brutality: There have been several high-profile cases lately of police officers forcing anal searches and probes on people without any real justification (thank you Drug War), but as this article points out it is unlikely that any individuals will face any consequences. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/11/11/anal-probes-and-the-drug-_n_4254600.html)

Best Thing I Read Today: “Rarely has man been more cruel against man than in the condemnation and punishment of those accused of so-called sexual perversions. The penalties have included imprisonment, torture, the loss of life or limb, banishment, blackmail, social ostracism, the loss of social prestige, renunciation by friends and families, the loss of position in a school or business, severe penalties meted out for conviction of men serving in the armed forces, public condemnation by emotionally insecure and vindictive judges on the bench and the torture endured by those who live in fear that their nonconformist sexual behavior will be exposed to public view. These are the penalties which have been imposed on and against persons who have done no damage to the property or physical odies of others, but who have failed to adhere to the mandated custom. Such cruelties have not often been matched, except in religious or racial persecutions.” – Alfred Kinsey

Photo Of My Day:
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