Showing posts with label Lance Dodes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lance Dodes. Show all posts

July 1, 2023

Changing a lie believing brain with psychology, logic, and attempts at rational persuasion may be futile: psychopathology, neuroscience, ingrained cultural metaphors


By Hal Brown, MSW, psychotherapist and mental health center director retired after 40 years of clinical practice.

Yesterday I praised Chauncey DeVaga for his Salon column which featured the opinions of two esteemed psychoanalysts, Justin Frank and Lance Dodes, both of whom have warned of the dangers of Trump's psychopathology for years.

If you missed the blog you can read it here: Dr. Justin Frank, author of "Trump on the Couch" gives us understatement of the decade about Trump's behavior.

I am on the email list for and by coincidence was sent the article The Language of Lies: How Hate Speech Engages Our Neural Wiring to Foster Division which I found presented another perspective on what I wrote about yesterday.

The article describes the research described In the book "Politics, Lies and Conspiracy Theories, just released, by Marcel Danesi Ph.D., a professor of semiotics and linguistic anthropology at the University of Toronto, Canada. He analyzes the speeches of dictators including Mussolini, Stalin, Putin and Hitler, as well as prominent hate groups.

Here's the summary:

Researchers analyze the language of dictators and hate groups, uncovering a common use of dehumanizing metaphors to fuel hatred. Such metaphors ‘switch on’ neural pathways in the brain, bypassing higher cognitive reasoning centers and steering focus towards certain ideas.

These mental patterns can become entrenched over time, making it challenging for individuals to revise their views even in the face of contradicting evidence.

The research underscores the potential dangers posed by such language, including the escalation of violence and political instability.

Danesi's research shows that such dehumanizing metaphors are powerful "because they tap into and ‘switch on’ existing circuits in the brain that link together important and salient images and ideas. In effect, metaphors bypass higher cognitive reasoning centers, directing our thoughts to focus on certain things whilst ignoring others."

He observes that the more these brain circuits are activated the more hardwired they become. Eventually they.becomes almost impossible to turn off. This can be see with those who believe conspiracy theories. The more the therapies are reinforced the more difficult it becomes to lead these people to rethink their basis of their beliefs and realize they are wrong. 

The conclusion is far from optimistic:

What can be done?

Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from the power of lies? According to Danesi, the best thing we can do is to understand the metaphors of the other party, and to examine one’s own metaphors.

However, history and science tells us that it is unlikely to work – research shows that once a lie is accepted as believable, the brain becomes more susceptible to subsequent lying.

Those mental health professionals who are attempting to understand the entrenched and erroneous  belief systems of Trump and his hard-core supporters tend to lean toward those who employ an understanding of the way the mind functions based of Freudian, or psychoanalytic theory (the reason for my photo of Freud's couch above).

I count myself among these mental health practitioners who have been trained in psychoanalytical personality theory and either psychoanalysis for them and psychodynamic psychotherapy for me. 

A highly regarded expert explaining the behavior and beliefs of Trump and his cult  is Bobby Azarian, PhD.  He comes from the world of cognitive neuroscience. Unlike Justin Frank, Lance Dodes, John Gartner, Bandy Lee, and far less prominent mental health professionals like me, who have written about Trump's psychology from a psychodynamic perspective, Azarian writes from what I might call simplistically a brain perspective. Another way to put colloquially it is that he writes about the hard wiring of the brain.

Chauncey DeVega interviewed Bobby Azarian in 2019 here:

Racism on the brain: a neuroscientist explains how the world moved right

"The effects of fear and anger [on the brain]" may make us even more polarized, says neuroscientist Bobby Azarian

His "Psychology Today" articles related to Trump and his followers have titles and subtitles like these: 

There's a glitch on the link to his articles, here, so it is temporarily unavailable. Hopefully this will be repaired before long. You can get an idea of what he writes about from the titles and subtitles of his most recent articles related to Trump and his cult.

Bogus conspiracy theories will undoubtedly play a major role in the upcoming presidential election. The question is whether anything can be done about it.

Is the nation's collective narcissism the reason for Trump's popularity and political invincibility? A study suggests a causal link between the phenomena.

This brain quirk makes gaslighting particularly easy.

Research suggests that the president is more intuitive than analytical.

Was Donald Trump sent by God to save America? Some believe so, and that should have us worried.

President Trump’s divisive rhetoric can warp a person’s mind into believing that domestic terrorism is justifiable.

Baffled by Donald Trump's political invincibility? Here are 14 reasons why people continue to support the president despite behavior that would have sunk any other politician.

Trump Is Gaslighting America Again — Here’s How to Fight It Gaslighting refers to a type of psychological manipulation used to get people to question their direct experience of reality. It's also one of the president's favorite techniques.

The president's backers share some consistent and troubling characteristics.

My point is sharing the Neuroscience News article and referencing Bobby Azarian's insights is to emphasize how complex addressing the underlying problem of how, if not insurmountable a task it is, how massive an endeavor it is to alter these deeply held beliefs.

Addendum: There's yet a third aspect to understanding Trump and those in power like him, and the hold they have on their supporters. George Lahoff, retired Distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkeley and now Director of the Center for the Neural Mind & Society has written frequently about this subject and Trump in particular. He was writing about his take on "Understanding Trump" (read essay here) as early as 2016.  His focus in on the often incredible power cultural metaphors have on people. 

It is vitally important to grasp how psychodynamics, the wiring of the brain, and ingrained cultural metaphors among certain groups not only influence but shape belief systems and resulting behaviors. These phenomena are interrelated but also must be understood in their own right to gain a complete grasp of why people think and act the way they do for the betterment of society and their own selfish needs to the detriment of society as a whole.


June 30, 2023

Dr. Justin Frank, author of "Trump on the Couch" gives us understatement of the decade about Trump's behavior


By Hal Brown, MSW, Retired psychotherapist

Chauncey DeVega once again has provided a form for some of the nation's top mental health professionals to explain in depth the psychopathology of Donald Trump. Today's Salon column is titled on the main page "Digging his hole: Trump can't shut up" and titled in the article itself 

Why Donald Trump can't simply keep quiet — even when facing prison. 

He shares emails from both Justin Frank, MD, the psychoanalyst who wrote "Trump on the Couch" and Lance Dodes, MD, a retired assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a training and supervising analyst emeritus at the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute. I recommend you reading the short and to the point Franks and Dodes emails in the Chauncey DeVega column.

Whether one is a distinguished mental health professional like Frank or Dodes or a state university clinical social work graduate who, in a past life ran a small community mental health center, and now blogs about Trump's dangerous psychopathology (like me), we find ourself trying to explain behavior so far beyond the normal abnormal it is difficult to avoid coming across as hyperbolic.

I think I can speak for not only Justin Frank and Lance Dodes, but also for Chauncey DeVega who as far as I'm concerned has earned himself an honorary doctorate in clinical psychology (or Trumplogy, if you will) saying that we don't want to sound like we're exaggerating about how pathological Trump is.

DeVega describes his own frustration, which I share:

For those of us, myself included, who have direct experience with sociopaths and other such dangerous people, living through the Age of Trump and trying to warn the American people about the disaster has been and continues to be remarkably frustrating and exhausting. For most of the Age of Trump, people said we had "Trump Derangement Syndrome" when we were just telling an uncomfortable and unpopular truth.
Psychotherapists and well informed non-therapists like DeVega, and notably George Conway, were accused by Trump supporters of suffering from a made-up mental illness, Trump derangement syndrome. 

In fact, way back in 2017 mental health professionals tried to warn about Trump.

Clinical psychologist John Gartner, founder of Duty To Warn, was (as far as I know) the first expert to publicize the rationale for diagnosing Trump as a malignant narcissist. This was way back in 2017 and was published in USA Today: 

Donald Trump's malignant narcissism is toxic

Mental health professionals have a 'duty to warn' about a leader who may be unfit to serve.

The best seller "The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump" edited by forensic psychiatrist Bandy X. Lee, was also published in 2017. The book had essays from 27 mental health professionals including John Gartner. It described the "clear and present danger" that Trump's psychopathology posed to the "nation and individual well being". Read table of contents here.

I don't think any of the warnings published by experts about Trump since 2017 were hyperbolic. 

I don't think I was stretching it to write in February of 2020 about adding a new diagnosis to the psychiatric manual to cover the highly unusual Trump diagnosis (read here). In fact, I think it was a mistake not to include the diagnosis of malignant narcissism when it was originally defined by Erich Fromm and others.

Click above to read my Daily Kos article

In that story, which I posted on Daily Kos, I cited a Chauncey DeVega interview with Justin Frank: "On a fundamental level, Donald Trump does not believe in America" which used one of the well known photos of Trump hugging the American flag.


While I want what I write in a serious vein to be taken seriously, I admit I am sometimes reduced to blogging snarky commentary and pictures of that flag hugging. I found it too hard for me to resist modifying them:

Top caption is "clinging to flag and anchor about
to sink" and bottom goes with this blog.

Further reading:

The Language of Lies: How Hate Speech Engages Our Neural Wiring to Foster Division


Summary: Researchers analyze the language of dictators and hate groups, uncovering a common use of dehumanizing metaphors to fuel hatred. Such metaphors ‘switch on’ neural pathways in the brain, bypassing higher cognitive reasoning centers and steering focus towards certain ideas.

These mental patterns can become entrenched over time, making it challenging for individuals to revise their views even in the face of contradicting evidence.

The research underscores the potential dangers posed by such language, including the escalation of violence and political instability.

Not an optimistic conclusion:

What can be done?

Is there anything we can do to protect ourselves from the power of lies? According to Danesi, the best thing we can do is to understand the metaphors of the other party, and to examine one’s own metaphors.

However, history and science tells us that it is unlikely to work – research shows that once a lie is accepted as believable, the brain becomes more susceptible to subsequent lying.

June 15, 2023

On the psychopathology of Donald Trump: John Kelly says Trump is scared sh-tless but there's fear one experiences and fear one represses

There's a reason why Edvard Munch's "The Scream" is the second most famous painting after the Mona Lisa. It represents an all too human, and all too normal reaction, to existential horrors.

By Hal Brown, MSW

Update Aug. 15, 2023: I just read this article and say the reference (my bold):

Perhaps he's setting himself up to plead diminished mental capacity after a slew of recent posts on his favorite social media platform that sound like a horrible cry for help. Call it the wailing of the banshees or whatever else you want, but Trump now seems the living embodiment of Edvard Munch's famous 1893 painting in oil tempera, pastel and crayon, "The Scream." He is out there with only his Kool-Aid drinkers beside him as he melts down into a puddle of sweat, makeup and a Rodney Dangerfield suit. From: 

Donald Trump has gone off the deep end for real: He's a danger to humanity, Salong Aug 10, 2023

Who would have thought we'd see profane words in headlines with dashes or asterisks referring to a presidential candidate, president, or former president. Probably the best known is a word which also is what you call a domestic cat.

Now we are reading that Trump's former chief of staff, John Kelly, is using a colloquial expression to describe extreme fright speculating that this is how Trump feels.

If you made it to middle age without being this scared, consider yourself lucky. You may have been this frightened if you were in combat or entering a burning building to fight a fire, but soldiers and fire fighters are trained to deal with this. Likewise, medical professionals like members of surgical teams deal dispassionately with life threatening emergencies.

Most people are not trained and thus prepared to handle this level of trauma. For example they may be sitting in a bomb shelter in Ukraine, or be an African villager who is victimized by genocide, or a Kansas farmer watching a tornado bearing down on his house, or much more commonly an ordinary person hearing a dire medical diagnosis for yourself or a loved one. 

In these and similar situations if you are like 99.99% of the world's population you will experience being really, really scared. You may feel more frightened than you knew was possible.

You will feel this viscerally. Your mind will react with the flight or fight response, but you will often be unable to do either.  You will probably experience a range of decidedly unpleasant physical reactions.

Then we have Donald Trump who, while very few people think will actually end up in prison, is actually facing charges which if convicted could end him up behind bars. 

He's already experienced the loss of freedom for the first time in his life. The closest most people have come to knowing how this feels is during a traffic stop. Even though you aren't under arrest during a traffic stop, or being questioned by a police officer in another situation, for that period of time you are not free to simply leave until you are told you can do so.

Trump has been under arrest now. Despite the fact that he was surrounded by lackeys they could leave if they wanted to do so. He couldn't. 

He didn't suffer what an ordinary suspect would have gone through when being booked. I have seen this from the point of view of a police officer (I was a reserve officer for 20 years). I helped arrest countless drunk drivers and observed the booking process in the county jail. This included mugs shots, finger printing, breathalyzer tests, and being put in one of several small cells behind the booking desk. (Our jail didn't house drunks together in what is often called the drunk tank.)

These would have been outrageous indignities for him. Instead he was treated like the celebrity he was.

Even so, Trump has had the experience of not being free, albeit for a very short time.

The following is from The Washington Post (subscription) 

Trump greets arraignment with showmanship in bid to upstage charges

The former president, in growing legal peril, faced down the most serious threat to his personal liberty and political future like just another day on the campaign trail

The almost celebratory display on Tuesday, clashing with the more typical sobriety of court proceedings, highlighted Trump’s instinct to face down federal charges with the same bluster he marshaled against previous threats to his business and candidacy, and to project strength for his supporters, constructing an alternate reality where he is not in deepening legal jeopardy.

“He’s scared s---less,” said John Kelly, his former chief of staff. “This is the way he compensates for that. He gives people the appearance he doesn’t care by doing this. For the first time in his life, it looks like he’s being held accountable. Up until this point in his life, it’s like, I’m not going to pay you; take me to court. He’s never been held accountable before.”

Kelly is assuming that he knows what Trump is feeling. What ought to be recognized as a known unknown is whether what Kelly calls compensation is something Trump is aware of. He may be exercising what mental health experts consider the most primitive of all psychological defense mechanisms, denial.

To the extent Trump is engaging in denial he is more and more unmoored from reality and closer to becoming clinically delusional. A defendant who becomes so psychotic that they can't participate in their own legal defense might be referred to a psychiatric treatment facility until they are rational enough to do so.

Trump ignored at lawyers who gave him good advice. One was the lawyer Christopher Kise, who he paid a $3 million advance. He told him his best course of action was to settle with the DOJ on the documents case. 

This is from The Washington Post (subscription)

Trump rejected lawyers’ efforts to avoid classified documents indictment

The former president was not interested in attempting to negotiate a settlement in the classified documents investigation

The attorney, Christopher Kise, wanted to quietly approach Justice to see if he could negotiate a settlement that would preclude charges, hoping Attorney General Merrick Garland and the department would want an exit ramp to avoid prosecuting a former president. Kise would hopefully “take the temperature down,” he told others, by promising a professional approach and the return of all documents.

But Trump was not interested after listening to other lawyers who urged a more pugilistic approach, so Kise never approached prosecutors, three people briefed on the matter said. A special counsel was appointed months later.

In addition to Kise, "former Trump attorney Alex Cannon in the fall of 2021 repeatedly urged the former president to return documents to the National Archives, according to the report, which notes that he repeatedly admonished him that he was required to do so."


Instead will seek out those like conservative activist Tom Fitton who isn't even a lawyer. Fitton told him he should fight the DOJ because he had every right to keep the documents.

Consider the following, from The Washington Post article first cited:

Trump has wanted to show, according to his advisers, that he is ready to fight — instead of looking downtrodden and glum — as he appeared in court Tuesday. The advisers, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private interactions, have said in the past that few things bother him as much as news accounts of his surly mercurial moods and occasional volcanic temper.

“It’s fine,” Trump said when asked about his mood in a right-wing radio interview on the eve of his arraignment.

“You sound like you’re in great spirits,” the host, Howie Carr, concluded.

“I am,” Trump said. “I’m just fighting for the country.”

Having "surly mercurial moods and occasional volcanic temper" are signs of mental decompensation, of psychopathology. They suggest his defense mechanism of denial is failing him. But then the bravado demonstrated in the answer to Howie Carr and his other "what me worry" behavior in addition to his attacks of his accusers show that he is walking on thin brittle ice (representing his personality) over shark infested waters.

To quote Harvard psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Lance Dodes from Lawrence O'Donnell last night:

"... as Trump's legal troubles continue to grow, he will "look worse and worse. That is the psychiatric explanation. He is fundamentally different from normal people. We'll see more and more of that" 

Indeed, Trump is truly different from normal people. Not only that, there are no indications that this behavior will change which means we will see more and more abnormal behavior from him.

The best thing for Trump, if convicted, could be that he actually does become severely mental ill and like Joe Bananas, John Gotti, and perhaps most appropriately Larry Flynt the publisher of Hustler Magazine, he could end up in the federal  Department of Corrections medical facility in Springfield, Ohio:


Click above to read article.


Hardly anybody clicks on what I tweet but I still usually put links to my blogs there. I was doing this today and looked down my Twitter page and was amazed to see that the tweet I made to publicize one of my favorite photo manipulations got thousands of impressions or views. 

Click above to enlarge without going to Twitter

December 12, 2022

The normalizing of delusional sociopathic grandiose narcissism

 The normalizing of delusional sociopathic grandiose narcissism
By Hal Brown

Archives on Right >

Select comments may be shared here. 

I was a practicing psychotherapist for 40 years before retiring, the first 20 of those I work as the director of a small mental health center. I have posted numerous articles online about the dangerous psychopathology of Donald Trump. 

There are myriad examples of people in the news who demonstrate by their behavior, their actions and words, that they, to put it bluntly, have one or all of their hinges so loose that if they were the door on the jam it would be hanging and about to fall.

Creative Commons Flickr

I don't have to tax my brain by coming up with a list of clinically deranged people in public life. Just a look at the stories on various websites will provide many examples. A Salon article by one of my favorite columnists, Amanda Marcotte, this morning offers a list of five:

Of course these five are just losers even though Trump could actually become president again. We still have winners like Marjorie Taylor-Greene and Loren Boebert who are still in the House and now that the GOP controls it have even more power.

From Elon Musk whose unhingedness knows no bounds as he just yesterday tweeted "My pronouns are Prosecute/Fauci, a sentiment supported by said Rep. Greene who is saying that if she was in charge of the January 6th attack on the Capitol the crowd would have been armed (something that could end her in front of a grand jury), to Ye and Herschel Walker (who I wrote about here) 

There are enough people to be analyzed for in a PhD dissertation titled "Abnormal psychology as manifest in people in public life."

In some ways it is more disturbing to know that there are so many ordinary citizens who embrace the Big Lie and the conspiracy lunacy of QAnon. There are uncountable millions people not just in this country but around the world who, if objectively assessed by mental health professionals, would be diagnosed with one or more psychiatric conditions listed in the DSM-5.
There are several hundred diagnostic categories in the DSM  and new ones are periodically added, for example:

  • Binge Eating Disorder.
  • Caffeine Withdrawal.
  • Cannabis Withdrawal.
  • Disinhibited Social Engagement Disorder.
  • Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder- DMDD.
  • Hoarding Disorder.
  • Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder – PMDD.
 "According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), about one in five adults lives with a mental disorder (any mental illness in the US, and about one in 18 American adults has a serious mental illness. Some psychiatric conditions may be temporary, occur occasionally, and never return again." Reference includes entire list.

It should be obvious that most people with psychiatric disorders actually suffer, thus the term "suffering from" one or another disorder. There are other people who don't suffer themselves. They make  people in their lives including family, friends, and co-workers, suffer. Just consider the number of books about being married to a narcissist.

Of all of these the two most relevant disorders to consider when looking at the people I am writing about are what is now called antisocial personality disorder but is often referred to by the previous name, sociopathic disorder, and narcissistic personality disorder. Some people meet enough of the criteria for having both and would be considered to be malignant narcissists. This diagnosis never made it into then DSM but in my opinion and the opinion of many mental health professionals including, notably, Dr. John D. Gartner, the founder of the Duty to Warn society, Donald Trump has this disorder. Gartner wrote about this in 2017:
If any single person could be described as causing an extreme and dangerous mental pathology as becoming normalized it is Donald Trump.

Gartner is, as far as I know, the only mental health professional critical of Trump to appear on Fox News. In 2017 he was on "Watters World" in an interview which, to put it mildly, did not go well. Here's the video:

Full disclosure: Dr. Gartner and I have had a relationship since the formation of his Duty to Warn society. 

Currently the media, with some notable exceptions like MSNBC which regularly has clinical psychologist Mary Trump on and others experts discussing Donald Trump, reports the behavior of Trump and people like those mentioned above as if it is normal. 

I have followed the media closely since 2017 to see whether any mainstream publications addressed the issue of public figures like Trump, Taylor-Greene, Herschel Walker by interviewing mental health experts. 

Salon stands out for having Chauncey DeVega who often publishes interviews with mental health experts like psychiatrist Lance Dodes like "Trump is a dangerous sociopath — but he's sane enough to stand trial" and Psychiatrist Bandy Lee says White House officials told her Trump was "unraveling".

Of course, Salon with its progressive slant, can't be considered mainstream the way USA Today can. As far as I have been able to tell USA Today is the only widely circulated publication to publish a story about Trump's dangerous psychopathology.

It is about time that the mainstream media, including publications that the far right fringe considers to be fake news like The New York Times and The Washington Post, have regular columnists who are mental health experts who can analyze the behavior of public figures based on their knowledge of personality.

It is about time dangerous psychopathology stops being normalized by the media. It must be called out for what it is.

You can post comments directly by clicking below.

Nixon and Kennedy were evenly matched intellectually in their first debate. Nixon lost because of how he looked on TV. Trump may lose because he "loses it" on TV. By Hal Brown, MSW

  Read: Team Biden bets an unfiltered Trump at the debate can shake up the race GOP pollster Frank Luntz said the June 27 faceoff will be &q...