It's on. The gloves are off. The bell's been rung and the curtains lifted. Clinical psychologist Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn, author of the tell-all book In The Therapist's Chair
has waged war on Valentine's Day. But, according to Dr. Gunn, the enemy isn't cherry chocolates or heart-shaped chalk candy; it's the shame some men carry when the clock strikes midnight and their Valentine's beds lay empty. Even so, the best weapon against the St. Valentine Day blues is perspective and Dr. Gunn teaches us how to use it.
Ramon: So, you've waged war on Valentine's Day?
Dr. Gunn: It's a difficult date for people.
For some guys it's the most hated holiday of the year. Should we just abolish it?
I think there would be some people disappointed at that, but I agree. The chocolates and the cards are out and you don't have anyone to give them to or feel pressured by your partner. It certainly could be eliminated based on the very fact that I'm not even sure myself why we have this day.
Every Fall in the Midwest they celebrate Sweetest Day. That makes two couple's holidays a year.
Good that I live in New York, then.
Does your client list sky-rocket around Valentine's Day?
It's not that I necessarily get new patients, but the patients I do have want to come more often for added support. But, it's the same for Christmas and Thanksgiving. And, I wonder how much the weather has to do with it, because I don't hear as many anxieties, for example, on Easter.
You say that doing nothing on Valentine's Day is fine as long as it doesn't evoke a sense of shame. How do you keep those thoughts from creaping in, especially if you're single and want a relationship?
Dr. Gunn's 6 Fundamentals to a Healthy Relationship
It depends on the person. That's something that I'm very aware of and address in my book, In The Therapist's Chair
. Each person is unique. For some people, it's whatever one imposes on the day. So, of course, the die hard romantic people suffer more. And then there are some people who deal with it by ignoring the day completely. Some people go out to singles' parties with the hopes of actually meeting someone, which happens. For some, getting together with friends is hopeful. And then there are the people that nothing is helpful but sleeping through the day. So, I think it varies based on the person.
-Shame on you, Shame-
The reason why I bring up shame is: People that ignore the day correlate not having a Valentine with being lovable. If you don't have a Valentine, it feels like a failure of some sort—like you're being assessed based on if you're in a relationship. And if you're not, you have to feel humiliated by that. Valentine's Day reinforces that feeling of shame and humiliation.
I write a lot of love and relationship type of content and the number one comment is: 'Hey, what about us single guys? Where are we going to find love?' There's an overwheling sense of anguish in men who've finally come out only to have a hard time finding love. Where should they start in terms of emotional health?
First of all, being in therapy is always helpful and a lot of it is your own subjective self talk. If someone is in any way equating the fact that they are not in a relationship with something being wrong with them, it becomes painful. Maybe they can't completely fix that on Valentine's Day, but certainly it can be worked through over time. The fact that they aren't in a relationship even though they want to be in one doesn't mean that they're not a valuable and loveable person; it just means they haven't found the right person yet.
You're like Deep Throat for therapists. In In The Therapist's Chair, you let readers see what's going on inside of the therapist's head during therapy. What feedback have you gotten from this book?
So far anyone intersted in therapy, whether in therapy, a therapist, beginning students or lay person, has found the book to be insightful. It demystifies the idea that some therapists give off, which is that we're sitting there taking notes and not emotionally engaged in what's happening. But, in order to be a good therapist you have to be.
Have you ever heard something so shocking you had to excuse yourself to get some water or something?
I'm not a Fruedian; I'm more contemporary. But the way I was trained, leaving the session in the middle to get a glass of water—even if you need it—probably isn't a good idea. It could send the message that whatever the content the patient brought in was too much. If the therapist walked out during something difficult, it would reinforce the difficulty. So, you have to sit through it.
I imagine a big fear is being judged by the therapist.
The book addresses this. Each relationship, called a diad—the relationship that exists between a therapist and a specific patient—brings up different things. It's easier for people that have friends that go to therapy than people that become so symptomatic that it becomes unavoidable to see a therapist. So, the beginning stages of therapy is more difficult and takes longer. Therapy is very different out there. The stigma probably comes from the lack of being educated on what the benefits of therapy can be for someone who doesn't have a mental illness and just wants to talk to someone about things that we all struggle with from time to time.
You're working on a second book. What can we expect?
It will also be filled with patient stories, but the case studies will be longer. And throughout the book I will be disclosing things that happened in my own therapy.
Ah, the therapist in therapy. Can't wait to read it.
Dr. Jacqueline Simon Gunn is a Clinical Psychologist and Author of In the Therapist's Chair. She has a private practice in Manhattan where she specializes in Trauma, Eating Disorders, Alternative Lifestyles, Interpersonal Problems and Sports Psychology.