Using his groundbreaking and highly effective I-M Approach, Dr. Joe analyses current events and human behavior through a psychiatric lens, discovering who we are and why we do what we do. On the Dr. Joe Show, he asks the question: How can we make the world better? By making ourselves better! Using his groundbreaking and highly effective I-M Approach, The Dr. Joe Show explores who we are and why we do what we do. Dr. Joseph Shrand routinely gives lectures on adolescent addiction and Theory of Mind and its application to re-conceptualize the behaviors of patients. He has developed a strength based model called The I-M Approach that suggests a fundamental paradigm shift, moving away from pathology to viewing a patient at a current maximum potential. It’s a hopeful, optimistic approach, one that may engage a positive fulfillment for anyone who embraces it. At any given time, especially this one, we’re all doing the very best we can. Show some respect, for yourself and for others here!
Dr. Joseph Shrand is an Instructor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, an Assistant Child Psychiatrist on the medical staff of Massachusetts General Hospital, and the Medical Director of CASTLE (Clean and Sober Teens Living Empowered), a brand new intervention unit for at-risk teens which is part of the highly respected High Point Treatment Center in Brockton, MA. Dr. Shrand has served as Medical Director of the Child and Adolescent outpatient program at McLean Hospital, has run several inpatient psychiatric units, and is currently also the Medical Director of the Adult Inpatient Psychiatric Unit for High Point Treatment Centers in Plymouth. He is also the Medical Director of Road to Responsibility, a community based program that tends to adults with significant developmental disability. Dr. Shrand routinely gives lectures on Theory of Mind and it’s application to re-conceptualize the behaviors of patients. Among colleagues and staff, he is affectionately called “Doctor Joe.”Leave a comment for radio show guests
Have you ever stopped to think about yourself and your story? If someone were to write your memoir what would it say? We all seek some level of authenticity but have trouble removing the labels and finding our whole story. Welcome to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. In this program we’ll explore diverse stories on identity to help determine what is truly yours. Now here is your host Diane Dewey.
Diane: Welcome to Dropping In. Everyone it’s summer holidays from school and it’s time to play but not so fast. It’s a big relief for parents who have been homeschooling during the pandemic but one thing that hasn’t changed in our environment and our guest today is going to speak to that. Dr. Joe Shrand is at Covid 19. We need coping skills and today we’re here with Dr. Joe. He’s an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an assistant child psychiatrist on the medical staff of Massachusetts General Hospital and the medical director of CASTLE, Clean And Sober Teens Living Empowered.
Last night I had the pleasure of being on Dr. Joe’s show on Apple podcast. I strongly urge you to tune in. Dr. Joe, you are just so genius at uncovering things and we’re delighted to have you so welcome.
Joe: I am delighted to be here Diane and I certainly couldn’t uncover things without you so thank you so much for being on the show last night. It was great hearing your story and your own course of discovery was amazing.
Diane: Well we had fun. I do know that I as well as our listeners are going to enjoy your guidance. Just a little bit more about Dr. Joe. Using his groundbreaking and highly effective I am approach Dr. Joe analyzes current events and human behavior through a psychiatric lens discovering who we are and why we do what we do. This is a big achievement because not only do you have this awesome background but you’ve broken this down into a package that everyone can use the I Am Theory. Really it’s a tool. It’s in simple layman’s terms and Dr. Joe, you’ve produced a daughter Sophie who does Science with Sophie I just learned and who sings the beautiful song that accompanies your podcast. I couldn’t believe when you told me that you had written this song. It is just so beautiful. Does it have a name?
Joe: It’s called Van Gogh. Oh it’s called Van Gogh. Science with Sophie, please people go check that out. If you’ve got young kids at home whether it’s during coronavirus or not you’re going to love it. It’s a science comedy TV show that is really trying to inspire young women and everyone to become scientists. It’s great Science with Sophie. I think like her dad Sophie is breaking it down into bits that we can understand and it makes it fun and funny. There is humor to be had and we are in the season of play after all.
I’m just going to see if I can do this. Let’s say I’ve got this.
Is that not the most beautiful song? I just Vincent van Gogh. This is just something I love. It was my ear worm since I started looking into you and what you do. I just love this song. It’s really stuck with me. That’s a big achievement in and of itself but you started out in the sort of entertainment realm. You were a kid on the first season of Zoom the PBS series and do you think that that paved the way for you to want to communicate to a broader audience somehow.
Joe: It absolutely did Diane. Yes, I was the first Zoom kid. I’m Joe. That was in 1972. I did a pilot in 1971. The show was really based on this idea by Christopher Sarson who was the executive producer, also was the executive producer of Masterpiece Theatre and has won many, many Emmy Awards. He would tell the story that he had kids about our age and was fascinated to see how did they to learn how to play with each other, how did they integrate with each other on a playground. How do you approach someone?
I really, really credit Christopher Sarson who we now call Zoom papa with inspiring me about this idea of respect and value. Here we were just a group of kids, all heritages, all socioeconomic status and we just hung out together and played. It just happened to be taped at WGBH and broadcasted throughout the United States. It was this idea that we are one group of people. We can all get along together. One of my phrases is every friend was once a stranger. Every friend was once a stranger. We have an opportunity in the world to go from strangers to friends just treating each other with respect and value.
Yes absolutely Zoom had a huge influence but the influence actually goes back even a little bit further because my mother Frances Shrand was an actress. She actually had her own radio show called Frances Shrand on the Spider’s Web on WGBH and they would read all sorts of children’s stories. She and I did a couple together. We won an Armstrong Award for our reading of Wind and the Willows which was really fun. It was lovely to work with my mom.
My dad Hyman Shrand was a pediatrician. I would go into his office in the days long before HIPPA and just sit with him and learn about medicine. I knew I was only going to do one of those two things like either going to be an actor or be a physician although there’s a joke that my parents used to say to me Joe you can be whatever you want as long as it’s a doctor but that’s aside. Those were the things that inspired me.
Diane: Yes and I think continued to generate a lot of energy for you. I think you synthesized both sides. I don’t think you had an either or choice there. You became musician and doctor musician doctor. It’s really very cool all of the and I do think that music and physics have commonalities. I did notice too that Zoom encouraged children to turn off the TV and do it. Well this is great advice. I also think that this concept of respect okay the way you’re pronouncing it is the way we all do respect. I love that a friend was once a stranger but respect. Respect the word when you break it down to re-spect. This is this is fundamental to your thinking as well. You take another look rather than inspect or criticize or judge. You reflect. You re-spect um another person. I wonder if you’d be kind enough to just give us your view when you’re just introduced to someone as you are here at Dropping In. If you just give us the intro to the I Am Theory.
Joe: Sure so we’re calling it we move from Imax equation to the Imax theory and now the I Am approach. The reason is because we want to be able to approach someone. This isn’t like theoretical thing. I really believe this is real. The idea is this. What if we start looking at everyone as simply doing the best they can at every moment in time? This is your current maximum potential. This is who I am and I matter.
We have spent so much time especially in medicine pathologizing, saying somebody is sick. This is why you’re here. You’re broken. There’s something wrong with you. You have a disease. We’re going to treat you and fix you. Just think about how would that really influence someone’s self-image if they think other people see them as sick and broken. The I Am approach, I really started developing this back in 1982 when I finished a career in theatre. I was still a young kid. I graduated from college. I had my own theater company for a little bit up here in Boston.
Then I went back to New York and started working for CARE and realized as I was doing fundraising and going overseas for Care that I was doing medicine wholesale but I wanted to do it retail. I wanted to actually work with the people. I know it’s a long story to get there but here’s how it started. I was taking physics. I hope the listening audience is still awake because whenever I say physics people immediately fall asleep.
Diane: We could set it to music.
Joe: We can set it to music right. In physics the symbol capital I stands for potential current for electricity. I thought what if we just flip it upside down and we call it a current potential. We start looking at everyone had a maximum current potential. Just doing the best they can at this moment in time with the potential to change in the very next second to another best they can.
We are always influencing responding to four domains. Your home domain, I mean no one can argue that your home has had an influence on who you are. Listening audience, Diane and I got a chance to chat about her growing up years and her home domain and how that has influenced her doing Dropping In all these years later so the home domain has an influence. Then there’s a social domain which is everything other than your home. Home is given a special place because it’s so important but then there’s the rest of the world which is also pretty important. These two domains are outside your home and your social domain but they’re also the two internal domains.
Your biological domain of your brain and body. Am I hungry? Am I tired? Am I digesting my lunch? Then what I call the I see domain. How do I see myself? How do I think other people see me? Human beings are very interested in what other people think or feel. We call that empathy. How are you feeling? What we really want to know is what are you thinking about me?
When Diane asked me to be on her show it affected my I see domain. I started to feel more valuable. Something in my social domain Diane had influenced my I see domain by saying come on the show which then influenced my biological domain which made me feel great. These domains interact all the time.
Diane: This is the oxytocin that’s flooding through your system and mine too for having our fun time. Yes and sorry to interrupt. Go ahead.
Joe: No absolutely. That’s right. The chemical that gets flooded through is oxytocin. Not OxyContin, you can talk about the opioid crisis later but opioid crisis is also part of the I Am. The thing is the I Am never said that you have to like your I Am. If you are at a place in your life where you don’t like okay, let’s just look at that. You don’t have to say I’m going to condone it and it’s okay. It’s not a free ride. The I Am is saying you are going to be held responsible for what you do because everything you do has a natural consequence. Responsibility is empowering. Responsibility is different than blame. Responsibility is empowering because you have choices. The I Am doesn’t even say that you’re going to be successful. For some people success is when you love going to work and love going home. For some people success is having food in the refrigerator. For some people success is having a home to have a refrigerator. For some people success is just waking up.
So you get to choose and decide what success means to you but instead of judging yourself and other people as less than, as broken, as not doing as well as you can let’s look again at why we do what we do based on the influence of those four domains. This is where Diane and I were talking about this. The word look again. Again look. Again to repeat something. Look like a spectator. Let’s re-spect why we do what we do.
Diane: It’s so cool.
Joe: Go on.
Diane: No. When is the last time fill in the blank.
Joe: When’s the last time you got angry at someone treating you with respect?
Diane: Never. Exactly. It’s such a good question.
Joe: That was the theme of one of my books called Outsmarting Anger which won the 2013 Books for Better Life Best Psychology Book of the Year. It was because of this really simple idea. We don’t activate anger when we feel respected the reason is anger is an emotion designed to change things. We get angry when we want somebody to do something different, start doing something, stop doing something but being respected feels great. The brain doesn’t activate anger. Just think about that for a moment. This changes the whole game when it comes to anger management because it’s not about managing your anger. It’s usually managing somebody else’s anger that’s most important.
Diane: I thought this was so fascinating because I listened back Outsmarting Anger.
Joe: You did. Good.
Diane: The respect is such a potent game changer. It such a potent energy changer and changes the dynamic between the two persons. Something very revelatory really for me I thought. That’s why I think when you call it the I Am approach it is much more dynamic than a theory. I realized I just interrupted you again and forgive me but I was really fascinated you had that scene with the guy. This is the pumped up guy. He’s got the tattoos all over his triceps and biceps. He’s outside your apartment building or the building where you’re staying in New York. You approached him. You are really just in all innocence but the guy like you glance over and he’s aggressive. Don’t look at me that way. There’s like this sort of sinister thing and that raises the hackles on your neck and you kind of get that fight, flight, freeze.
There’s a lot going on just in that split second although I wondered if he wasn’t just spoiling for a fight in general. Kind of a dominant kind of person but you did treat him with respect and even-handedly and defused the situation yet again. Plus you had tickets to go to a Broadway show and who has time to get into an altercation with somebody two times your size. I mean it’s very, the whole book it’s very entertaining. I urge you to get a hold of it. It’s so digestible for those of us and that means everyone who often misuses techniques in terms of handling our anger.
I think that the I see concept of removing the labels and seeing yourself as a certain person of value honestly unwittingly without knowing you I know that that concept has saved my life before because there are so many untoward labels that can get attached to you like Velcro and you have to get them off through the sense of agency that you describe.
We’ve got a couple minutes now left to our commercial break. I wondered if you would speak to the idea of you really are now flipping on its end the idea that rather than viewing people is inherently flawed you’ve got this kind of each person has the capacity for personal growth and change. Were you a fan of Carl Rogers or is this a kind of coincidental enlightening or enlightenment?
Joe: I tell you. It’s really interesting because we’re trying to clean out our basement. I’m going through all of these old books and papers that I’d written in college. All of those folks have had an influence on me. Rogers, Young, Freud. So many different people and I realized that I’ve sort of synthesized a lot but I’ve tried to take it to the next level. One of the reasons that it’s gone to the next level is because of this I see domain.
When I first created this idea back like I said in the 80s I didn’t know about something called Theory of Mind. Theory of Mind is a terrible phrase. It’s not Theory of Evolution or Theory of Quantum Mechanics. We can’t see someone’s mind so we have to theorize and guess what are they thinking or feeling. What are they thinking and feeling about me? The I Am integrates all of these things. The clunky medical thing called the biopsychosocial model which was about why people are sick and the adding Theory of Mind says wait, if you change this whole dynamic and wonder why people are doing what they’re doing that is not judging them. That gets back to respect and respect leads to value. That’s what everybody wants.
Think about every single person you’ve ever met in your life the common thread that binds us all is we just want to feel valued by somebody else. What’s cool is using the I Am, the I Am at every and any moment you can remind someone of their value. Whenever you remind someone of their value you increase your own value and that leads to trust. With trust you can make mistakes and still know you’re not going to be judged as less valuable.
Diane: You feel much better all along. I mean I think you just have a better, you feel good. You have a much better feeling in this exchange. It’s just feels better.
Joe: You feel better because we’re social animals and it is critical for us to be valuable. Critical. We can get into that.
Diane: We will get into that. Thank you. We’re going to go for a commercial break now but when we come back we’re going to talk about being a social animal versus where we find ourselves largely today. That is at home. In the home domain. Don’t go away. We’ll be right back on Dropping In with Dr. Joe Shrand.
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You are listening to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you if you have a question or comment about the show. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the letter email@example.com. Now back to Dropping In.
Diane: Welcome back everyone. We’re here with Dr. Joe Shrand. During the break we were updated on Dr. Joe Shrand’s resume. It is true now Dr. Shrand, Dr. Joe as you are called on your eponymous podcast. I urge everyone to tune in to. You are chief medical officer at the Riverside Community Care which is a very extensive organization. You also this coming together, this melding of sides of the brain and all kinds of skill sets also comes together in some work that you do with a theater company. Tell us about it.
Joe: We were talking earlier about with Dropping In. The theme is about how your identity formed and all these wonderful exploration that you’re offering people Diane with who we are. I just love this synergy because what you’re exploring is also what we explore. Who I am? Why I do what I do?
I told you about my parents. My mom was an actress. My father a physician. I decided over time to go into psychiatry, child psychiatry in particular and became the medical director and creator of a group called CASTLE through High Point Treatment Center Adolescent Treatment Program. I started to realize that every single person who I’ve seen in psychiatry, every single one of them on some level has felt less valuable. That’s where the I Am has come in. The I Am has helped people remind them of their value but when I was working with substance abuse kids I started to think how can we help remind them of their value. That’s where Drug Story Theatre was created.
What I’ve done is I have taken teenagers in the early stages of recovery, we taught in improvisational theater. Then we use something called psychodrama and they create their own scripted shows about the seduction of addiction to and recovery from drugs and alcohol. Then they perform these shows for middle schools and high schools so the treatment of one becomes the prevention of many. That’s our slogan. The treatment of one becomes a prevention of many.
In between each scene of the show the kids step out of character and they do these PowerPoint presentations teaching the audience about the neuroscience of adolescent brain development and why it’s in such risk for addiction. All the kids in the audience take a pre-show neuroscience quiz. They take the exact same quiz after the show and we are measuring and looking at how kids who learn about their brains change their perception. We’re not trying to scare anyone because think about it. If you’re going to choose between fear and pleasure you’re going to choose pleasure every time but what we are teaching them is look, your brain is the coolest thing ever. Why would you want to give it away to drugs and alcohol?
I’m going to put you on the spot here. Here’s a question that we asked the kids in the audience. If you start using drugs or alcohol after the age of 21 one out of 25 people are at risk for lifelong addiction. If you start using after the age of 21 one out of 25 were at risk for lifelong addiction. Then we asked the kids in the audience to shout out and answer if you start using drugs or alcohol before the age of 18 that number goes from 1 in 25 to and we say guess here. Not to put you on the spot but what’s your guess? You start using before the age of 18.
Diane: Okay so I’m a non-numeric person and you are a calculus physics and creativity person. I’m going to say one in ten. How about that? One in five. One in ten.
Joe: One in four.
Diane: Well it was closer the second time.
Joe: One in four.
Diane: That is unbelievable. It’s just that three year gap. You’re 18. You start using. One in four develops a lifelong addiction.
Joe: If you’re under 18 and this is what we are trying to teach the kids. It’s not about morality because there’s so much stigma around substance use. It’s not about morality. It’s about mortality. It’s just the way the brain develops. Your brain is at risk of lifelong addiction one out of four if you start using drugs and alcohol before the age of 18. That includes marijuana, that includes alcohol, that includes everything else.
We perform for over 40 000 kids in Massachusetts. After the show there’s a talk back between the audience and my kids which I moderate. We’ll be in a middle school, 800 kids in the audience. I’ll have 200 of them stand up. I’ll say that’s how many kids right now are at risk for lifelong addiction just because the way your brain is developing but what we also teach them is one of the great risk factors for first-time substance use is low self-esteem. How many middle schoolers, high schoolers have low self-esteem?
Diane: Many, many, many.
Joe: Many, many, many. We do this exercise. We said okay, whoever’s sitting closest to you just say something nice about them. I’ll give you 30 seconds. The whole room explodes in laughter and calm everybody down. I say is there anyone in this room that’s not smiling right now. Of course they’re all smiling. They’ve already learned that it’s oxytocin that’s going through their brains. I say that’s how easy it is to remind someone of their value. Whenever you remind someone of their value you increase your own. That is peer pressure but that’s positive peer pressure. We challenge these kids to remind each other of their value and see whether they can have fewer kids using drugs by the time they graduate high school.
Diane: It’s so life sustaining. It really is just a very not just beautiful and poetic way of demonstrating something but I also think that there’s such a neutrality to numbers when you start to say one in four, when you have the kids stand up and say this is how many. There’s such a bold, bold factness to numbers and seeing that that I think it’s non-judgmental. It’s not preachy. It’s just here it is the cold, hard fact.
I love also this idea of the improv and the psycho drama because you’re really developing well first of all improvisational is a real intuitive side of the brain. It’s a creative, spontaneous element as opposed to a methodical, logical element and it gives an empowerment to kids’ voices which I have to think is also something that makes them feel valuable. This sense of being valued. I mean I think having a performance in and of itself is something we all know it does stimulate a sense of shared, a shared exchange and you feel appreciated. There’s nothing like it. It’s the best kept secret. It seems counter-intuitive but the best thing to do for your self-esteem is to get up on a stage and start talking to people and see your response and feel your response. It takes courage. It takes a risk but you’re facilitating that risk. That just sounds like a really awesome project. The Drug Story Theater Company. Where is this then Dr. Joe?
Joe: You can go to the website www.drugstorytheater.org and that’s theater spelled with an ER because so many of our kids wind up there but you’re absolutely right. Again that is part of what I learned with my experience in theater there is nothing like that rush of performance and then the applause. What I began to realize and that’s what we tell the audience is you are helping these kids because whenever you are listening respectfully, standing up, applauding you are increasing the oxytocin levels in these kids brains. We know that oxytocin, that sense of value can overcome the loop of addiction.
There’s a lot of neuroscience that goes and we teach the kids in the audience about the difference between the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex, the interaction between dopamine and oxytocin and it’s just mind-blowing. My kids in the show following another one of my sayings contribute to society to help with your sobriety. Contribute to society to help with your sobriety because every time you remind someone of their value you increase your own.
Diane: You have a sense of community. It’s bigger than you.
Joe: Exactly. It’s bigger than you. That’s right. It’s been really great. We love doing it. We’re actually about to embark on a little bit of researchables as well. One of my colleagues out of Yale University Andreas Martin is looking at the data that we’ve collected with all these kids. We’re just going to start really reviewing it and seeing how this has an impact um both quantitatively and qualitatively on the audience and people who are involved but Drug Story Theater, what’s wonderful about it is we can do this in Massachusetts, Michigan and morocco.
If anybody’s listening out there and they want to try to form a Drug Story Theater troupe in their area. Contact us because this can be culture specific. I’m not going to take a group of kids from the south shore of Massachusetts and expect them to resonate completely with a group of kids in the Bronx but a group of kids in the Bronx can resonate with groups of kids in the Bronx. This is peer-to-peer and it is so much more powerful for a kid to be listening to another kid than some white-haired old guy like me.
Diane: I’m in your corner so I am not, I just think that this idea of acting locally though morocco, Michigan, Massachusetts. It can be another state without an M beginning. I just love the idea that you could spread out this network um of the circulation of just really positivity. What about Dr. Joe, what about those who are really lacking an audience these days. Lack of feedback is something that people are suffering from by being socially isolated in the pandemic. What are some of the like small changes that we can make for ourselves to overcome that feeling of just not getting feedback and how it impacts us?
Joe: We are certainly in this really interesting age with corona and Covid and people feeling more isolated. The first thing is to recognize that by feeling isolated what you’re really doing is saying oh my gosh I really like to be with other people. That’s not a bad thing. It’s a good thing to want to be with other people. The social distancing that we have right is not the same as emotional distancing. We do need to stay apart from each other to try to put a lid on the coronavirus and flatten the curve as they say.
What can you do? The first thing is we are lucky to have technology whether it is an audiophone or a cell phone or a computer. Reach out to people. You will be astonished at how receptive they are because they may be feeling and probably are the exact same thing that you’re feeling alone. This gets back to being a social animal. We want to be with other people. That helps remind us of our value which allows us to remain part of this protective group. If you’re not valuable you may get kicked out of your group. That is not happening now.
Just because you are isolated does not mean that you are being kicked out of your group. This is a really important sort of cognitive shift to make because part of our brain, our limbic system is on high alert right now. The limbic system is this ancient deep part of our brain responsible for irrational thought, for emotions from impulses from memory happens to be where addictions live as well. This limbic system right now is how we have survived for millions and millions of years. It alerts us if there’s something dangerous. Right now there’s danger it’s called coronavirus. It’s an invisible predator that does not discriminate.
Diane: We are the prey.
Joe: We are the prey. That’s part of why wearing a mask is so important because wearing a mask protects other people. It is a symbol of respect and value to other people. When I wear a mask it’s not just to protect me and to protect you to say I care about you enough that I’m going to put this mask on. The mask is a whole other area of interest. I actually wrote a blog on Psychology Today because we are as social animals really tuned into looking at other people’s faces to figure out what they’re thinking and feeling. Traditionally a mask has been associated with a criminal. That’s not the case now.
Diane: Or the Lone Ranger.
Joe: Or the Lone Ranger. Good point or some superhero but somehow there’s an anonymity that goes along with the mask. We don’t need to worry about that right now. It’s helping each other.
Diane: I think that the fact that this emotional network that we are able to maintain it disregards the mask. In fact the mask is a statement of emotional caring but it’s interesting and we’ve got to cut to a break here in a little bit. I mean in a couple of seconds but you’re talking about reading people’s expressions and that’s part of Theory of Mind which is really empathy, knowing what other people are feeling. I wonder about now you’ve touched on the limbic system which is the giant elephant in the room because right now with Covid it’s disrupted.
We’re going to take a little commercial break but when we come back we’re going to try to understand really how do we calibrate ourselves, how to get the oxytocin flowing again, how to come back to a state of play which is what this season is meant to be all about. Dr. Joe Shrand just a genius at combining all of these forces spiritual, creative and psychiatric. I mean a really, a gift so don’t go away. We’ll be right back with Dr. Joe Shrand on Dropping In.
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You are listening to Dropping In with Diane Dewey. We’d love to hear from you if you have a question or comment about the show. Send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. That’s the letter email@example.com. Now back to Dropping In.
Diane: Hello everyone and welcome back to Dropping In. We’re here with Dr. Joe Shrand. He’s got a great podcast Dr. Joe Show. He’s the author of two books Outsmarting Anger and an upcoming book The Fear Factor which I’ve got to ask you.
Joe: It’s actually four books.
Diane: Oh my gosh. They’re not on your website. What is going on with that?
Joe: This is the problem with doing too many things because I got to get somebody to bump up this website. I wrote four books in four years. The first book was on Stress, manage your stress. The second book was Outsmarting Anger we talked. I won an award. The third book is called The Fear Reflex at which point my wife said are you trying to tell me something? You’ve written a book on stress, anger and fear. I said no, no. Then the fourth book is called Do You Really Get Me. The Fear Reflex and Do You Really Get Me have both really expand on the I Am and I really would love people to go and get a copy of Do You Really Get Me because it talks about the I Am and Theory of Mind.
Then while that was going on I was doing Drug Story Theater and writing a musical on this guy Semmelweis, who we can talk about some other time. Unfortunately I have these four books and nothing has been updated on my website clearly so thank you for that Diane. I will go and do that momentarily.
The other thing I just want to thank you also for letting me be on the show because usually psychiatrists listen. This may be the only mistake that many people make when they ask me to come and give a talk because I listen so much. When I do get a chance to talk I don’t really stop talking so thank you so much for the opportunity.
Diane: It’s lovely. I mean talk about value. I mean it’s stream of consciousness from someone who actually has something to say and know something. You’re not off the hook for Semmelweis by the way. I’ve decided I looked into the musical. This is a musical um based on a doctor in Vienna, Austria I think in the 18, at the early 19th century.
Diane: I think it’s very relevant Dr. Joe and timely because at essence I think Semmelweis is about washing your hands right?
Joe: Yes it is. That’s right.
Diane: I say bring it on with Semmelweis. I mean as I understand it there was an inherent bias against both Hungarians and Jews at the time. He was relegated to the obstetrics ward where there was this raging outbreak of a deathly disease in the obstetrics.
Joe: Child bed fever.
Diane: It doesn’t exactly sound like the natural subject for a musical but if anybody can pull it off Dr. Joe it’s you. I hope you get a producer because then after the women so just the midwife section didn’t get the fever. They didn’t because they weren’t dealing with the corpses. Finally the light bulb went on Dr. Semmelweis wash your hands. I don’t know what could be more applicable today. We’ve got to wash our hands. We’ve got to wear a mask.
Let’s go back to what we were talking about before the break. The mask it inhibits us. I don’t even feel like myself wearing a mask. I do so religiously but it does strangely curtail a sense of emotional like connectivity and empathy. Your hot topic of Theory of Mind when we are compressed as we are now with the pandemic what happens to our ability to empathize? What happens to our Theory of Mind abilities to read and to absorb and osmose other people?
Joe: I think that we are enhancing our Theory of Mind by recognizing that we are all in this together. We’ve had a traditional way of communicating obviously for millions of years but communication is not just verbal. We know that. That’s what art is. When you look at a wonderful piece of art, painting or music or drama or dance or something it taps into a different part of who we are which combines both our limbic system and then this other part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex. The prefrontal cortex is what distinguishes us as humans. It absolutely is involved in rational thought. The ability to solve problems, execute a plan and anticipate what will happen next. That part of the brain to get back to Drug Story Theater for a moment is only developing in adolescence so a kid can use drugs without thinking about the future.
The prefrontal cortex is also where Theory of Mind lives. Right now with Covid we can either be limbic or we can shift to our prefrontal cortex. One of my other mantras especially came right out of Outsmarting Anger. Keep it frontal. Don’t go limbic. That’s right. We can now use this part of our brain to anticipate what will happen next if we stay limbic. Well if we stay limbic and irrational we’re going to potentially destroy ourselves because we’ll start thinking that that everything is a risk.
The reality is right now we have an opportunity to come together around coronavirus in a way that we have never been able to come together before not just as one house or one town but a social domain of the entire world. We can work together. In the future what I really hope and what I really know we can do is that we can all come together without having to have a common enemy. That is the ultimate goal but this common enemy thing is really interesting. We talked about oxytocin but the precursor to oxytocin, the neurochemical that we think oxytocin develops from is another chemical called vasopressin.
Now this is really interesting and I can’t remember which book I wrote about and I’m sorry but vasopressin is activated when one group feels attacked by something else. It brings this whole group together. I want people to really think about this in the world we live in right now especially in the United States. We’ve got coronavirus going. We’ve got all of the Black Lives Matter and the idea that that we have been discriminating against other people. These two things can work together or they can work against each other. We can either use that limbic part and think that everybody’s an enemy or we can shift to the prefrontal and realize we’re all in this together. Every friend was once a stranger. Every single friend was once a stranger. We had this thing stranger danger which meant that if it was a stranger you need to be cautious. It’s also an opportunity to have an increased social network where you have more people in your group which means you are actually safer.
Diane: There’s an evolutionary survival tactic right there. More people in your circle.
Joe: That’s right and it doesn’t need to be my group against your group. It doesn’t need to be well because you don’t look like me. I mean we need to be aware also of brain and evolution. I mean our human brains are designed to compare sets of information. That’s what we do. You give an infant a piece of paper with a black line drawn in the middle of it they will begin orienting towards that line so they can say oh that’s above it, that’s below it. They may not say above and below but they’re oriented to differences. It’s about survival.
The ancient ancestor who did not alert to the rustling in the bush and realizing that was different than it had been a moment ago may be lunch. I think that rustling may have been a predator so we are so tuned to differences. The thing is that you can also tune to similarities. Just because my skin is different color than yours doesn’t mean I’m really different. I’ve just got a different color skin. This is the I Am. this is the I Am in play. We’re all valuable and we all respect each other and we wonder.
Diane: Exactly. I think that’s the connector. I mean it’s in fight, flight, freeze or connect. In that moment when you’re just about ready to have fight you stop and become a curious person. It’s that pause really. I mean it’s interesting that what you’re suggesting we do is actually create an absence, create a moment for ourselves to reflect, to re-spect. Certainly in Black Lives Matter that’s the big realization. We lost respect for fellow human beings. We need to make up for that.
I also think okay and that it’s brilliant with that there’s maybe an outworn idea of lines drawn in the sand us and them and one that’s exploited frankly for other political purposes in a very negative way. Something that I think we have to overcome as well but one of the hopeful things what you’re talking about in terms of the limbic system I happen to know on great authority that is from my conversation last night with Dr. Joe that resilience is a profound outcome of endangered limbic systems and trauma and perhaps even the trauma that we’re experiencing now. What do you think Dr. Joe? Do we have the ability to really have resilience from this crisis and to move on in a way that was even more strong?
Joe: I think so. I believe so because resilience is based on value. We’ve got the literature to support this. The kids who’ve been the most traumatized, the kids who do the best are the ones that through Theory of Mind and I See domain knew that somebody saw them as valuable. This is part of what we really need to look at. If you really think about what racism is about you can’t be racist unless you have dehumanized somebody else. You’ve said they are less than me but what that really means is in our heart of hearts we can’t hurt somebody unless we see them as less than.
I mean that’s why we hurt each other because we think we have power or superior or we think that they are dangerous but what that means is in our human nature, our human nature is to be kind and we then have to learn how to be unkind. That’s so critical. An infant is not born racist. An infant is born with a sense of unity. They don’t even realize that there’s something different from them until later on as they develop. That is who we are. We are one group. It’s called humanity.
Diane: Yes and that empathy in fact is a natural state. We have to be alert for things that disrupt it and one of the things that’s going to disrupt it is us running out of time today. I’m so thankful for you to be here. If you’d like to reach out Dr. Joe Shrand, it’s DrShrand is your website. I also just want to leave on the note of when we hurt others we do hurt ourselves. It’s that real the connectivity. I want to thank you very much Dr. Joe. Please come back and see us again and we’ll listen attentively to all you have to say. Thanks very much to our listeners and to our engineer Matt Weidner and producer Robert Giolino. Till next week everyone. Remember to re-spect yourself and others. Be well and thanks for dropping in.
Thank you so much for dropping in. please join Diane Dewey again next Friday at 8 AM Pacific Time and 11 AM Eastern Time on the Voice America Variety Channel. We’ll see you then.