In honor of Halloween weekend, let’s take a (humorous!) look at what might happen if notorious 80s slasher Freddy Krueger came to therapy. Let’s be clear: Freddy has so many problems, they’re (ahem) well beyond the scope of any therapist to solve, though Freud or Jung could probably have a field day with the dream aspects. But I thought that, for this post, I would focus on one aspect that leads to success in psychotherapy, which is goal setting. Setting a concrete, attainable goal is an important part of success. This is a lesson that can easily be applied to goals in your personal life as well.
Therapy Goes POP!: Thanks for being here today, Freddy. I understand you want to discuss your dream murder spree in which you've killed off several generations of Elm Street kids.
Freddy Krueger: That’s right. It’s been going on so long… I almost feel bad. Almost. But it’s complicated. I have my reasons for doing it.
TGP!: Yes, you mentioned that during our scheduling phone call. Was that the burning you alive after you victimized all those children and escaped prosecution on a technicality?
Freddy: That’s right. I mean, I did some bad stuff but…
TGP!: Yes, that must have been terrible, although you did some horrible, horrible things. But in the interest of helping you move forward, let’s set that aside for the time being.
Freddy: OK. Yeah. I've been having nightmares about all of this…
TGP!: I’m not surprised! A bit ironic, considering.
Freddy: Ha ha! I love a good one liner!
TGP!: Indeed. Where do you think you got that from?
Freddy: When I was a kid, I loved The Wizard of Oz. That scene where the Wicked Witch says “how about a little fire, Scarecrow?” I always try to tap into that spirit whenever I brutally off someone.
TGP!: Yes, I’ve noticed that. That seemed to really get going around Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors.
Freddy: It was the third movie. We needed fresh blood.
TGP!: I see. So, is it fair to say that in addition to achieving bloodthirsty, sadistic revenge, you also like to entertain people?
Freddy: Yes. I also try to bring a little “pizzazz” (makes air quotes gesture) to my kills.
TGP!: OK. So there’s a whole body of research that suggests that it’s easier to increase positive habits than it is to decrease negative habits. So, you want to completely stop killing, or at least greatly reduce the number of victims, correct?
Freddy: That’s it. It’s all become, just, too much. I’m not even sure why I’m still doing it, honestly. Half the time I don’t even know what the victims have to do with anything. It’s like, are these even Elm Street kids?
TGP!: OK. Here’s what I’m wondering. What if you tried to focus more on the aspect that is working for you, which seems to be the humor. Is that fair?
Freddy: That’s true, actually. I never regret the one liners.
TGP!: OK. What could you do with your razor-sharp wit that doesn’t involve senseless dream slaughters?
Freddy: Hmmmmmm. That’s a tough one. I do like to be the center of attention. Standup comedy maybe?
TGP!: That’s a great idea! I bet you’d be good at that. You seem to have an endless supply of material.
Freddy: Well, truthfully, I come up with some of those lines in advance. I kinda store them up and then when there’s an opportunity…bam! I've got something good.
TGP!: You store them up, like in a notebook?
TGP!: Maybe you could write some material for a comedy routine there. How often do you think you could write some new jokes?
Freddy: Well, maybe not every day. Five times a week?
TGP!: That’s great. And what about the standup part? I think there’s classes, right? Where you do a routine at the end?
Freddy: Yeah, that’s right. I could definitely look into those.
TGP!: And I need you to promise that you won’t kill the other comedians in their dreams.
Freddy: Well, let’s not go overboard. Some of those amateur comedians are painfully unfunny.
Freddy: But, I’ll do my best.
TGP!: That’s reasonable.
Freddy: But what about the killings?
TGP!: Like I said before, let’s try to focus on the positive for right now. Maybe keep a record of the number of kills in your notebook. And see how it goes. You’ve been doing the insane murderer stuff for quite a while, so it may take a bit to dial that down. Let’s see what happens once you start doing the comedy. So, to be clear, you’re going to write five jokes a week and start the comedy class. As you achieve that goal, maybe we can discuss setting more ambitious goals? It’s good to start with something achievable, as I want you to succeed.
Freddy: I think I can do that!
TGP!: Great, great. Before you go, I did want to ask you: Were you aware of the totally homoerotic subtext of Nightmare 2 at the time you made it?
Freddy: (scowls, lapses into stunned silence)
By Mike McMahan, LPC
Halloween has rolled around again. It’s a time when we all like a good fright. And maybe a laugh, too? Horror and comedy have made a perfect match for a long time. Psychology main man Sigmund Freud believed that humor could be used to expression aggression in a socially acceptable manner. This brings us to Scream Queens, a horror/comedy mashup show that expresses all sorts of tasteless ideas in a most, well, tasteless fashion.
The focal point of the show is one Chanel Oberlin, a superficial girl who is nearly sociopathic in her disregard for others and in her callous manipulations with only one goal in mind: keep her presidency of the KKT sorority and keep its social standing on campus as high as possible. Does she have minions to help her in this task? Of course. The delightfully named “Chanels”… (Chanel #2, Chanel #3, etc.). So self-absorbed is she, that it is unclear if she even knows the girl’s real names (although she did acknowledge that Chanel #6 should not be called by her given name, “Hester,” so there’s that).
But is there anything Chanel can teach us, despite her callous, evil ways? Why, yes, there is! And that something is the importance of a support system. Because, whether she appreciates them or not, the other Chanels do serve as a support system for Chanel Prime. And, as they're in college AND a sorority, they serve as a fairly typical example of how people go about building support systems. Often friend and social networks form around a common interest and in a situation where people can let their guard down.
A common question that I hear from clients is about how to go about building a support system, especially if you have let connections drift away or moved to a new city, perhaps for a job opportunity. It’s easier for young people, as a big part of making friends is being around new people in a situation where you can let your guard down. Often, school can provide that opportunity. But as we age and enter careers, professional goals and workplace etiquette often make it challenging to let our guard down and let our “true selves” shine. Social media can be a double edged sword. We may have hundreds (or even thousands) of friends, but feel as if we have no real connections. Again, we may turn to Chanel and her Chanels, who met through a common activity. Perhaps your school days are behind you, but activities remain a key way to meet friends outside of work. These activities can range from sports to church to book clubs. It is wise to choose an activity that you actually enjoy, so that if you don’t begin making friends right away it won’t seem like such a chore. A site like meetup.com can be a great place to start, as it is easy to complete a search based on interests.
Support systems are important for any number of reasons. A strong network of friends and family increases self-esteem and self-worth, helps us ward off loneliness and gives us a sense of security. Having a network of friends and family can reduce negative effects of trying events such as job loss or the end of a romantic relationship. Friends can help us recognize our strengths and positive qualities, which can, in turn, be used to solve problems that we face in our lives. Having someone to vent to is a healthy way to manage negative emotions. A strong sort support system has been shown to reduce stress, which in turn can help mitigate depression. Numerous studies have shown that close emotional ties with others reduce stress, increase immune system strength and reduce cardiovascular disease. Conversely, the lack of a support system can increase recovery time after a major illness.
Will Chanel experience these benefits? I’m guessing…maybe not! But, all kidding aside, if sociopathic sorority girls need friends, isn’t it important for the rest of us mere mortals? So, please, spend some time building your support system, and make sure you’re there when the other members of your team need you. But try to use these powers for good, not evil…!
Please note: this post has been revised and expanded since its original publication.
Mike McMahan, LPC is a psychotherapist based in San Antonio, Tx.
With news today that David Bowie will likely release a new album next year, I considered the many images he has had throughout his long and storied career. Though psychotherapy isn't likely to take most folks through a series of changes as radical as Bowie's, it is not a bad way to consider the process. Bowie changed his physical appearance during different changes of his career to signal a change in his music/art. But what about clients? We are all familiar with the cliche of a person who changes their appearance after a divorce or breakup. But what about a person who emerges from a long period of depression. Can this person change their appearance as a way of signaling their new engagement in the process of living? Or a person who conquers anxiety. Can their newfound freedom from his sometimes paralyzing disorder transform them in ways that affect the way they look or dress?
What about you? How have you changed your appearance to signal a more positive frame of mind?
Tom Petty has announced that he will be releasing a biography, and that it will detail personal aspects of his life that he has not addressed publicly, such as his heroin use. I don't know, but I would imagine that speaking about these matters was very therapeutic--such things often are. Though speaking with an interviewer is not psychotherapy, I would imagine the end result might be similar. He likely gained a perspective on the events as well as received an emotional boost from the biographer, who is very open that he is a fan of Petty's work. The difference between this and psychotherapy, however, is that a good psychotherapist can often alter your perception of your story both by active listening and in re-telling the story back to you in a slightly different way. This can, perhaps, emphasize your personal achievement highlight certain successes. Kudos to Petty for his apparent honesty.
Therapy Goes POP
Perspectives on therapy and mental health as viewed through the lens of popular culture