Eric Evans

Registered Psychotherapist

Toronto Psychotherapist working with depression, anxiety, serious illness, creativity, gay, lesbian, bisexual, queer issues.

City or country mouse?

I spent much of my childhood outside of cities and now, as an adult, I live in a big one and only occasionally get away. I'm sure this is true of many in big cities: this is why we have cottages, go camping, go on road trips to unknown places.

But sitting on a deck, overlooking water, newly budded trees all around and all filling with excited birds, frogs peeping at the water's edge, I was aware how I was NOT in the city. And later, emerging from the trip home, bag in hand on a busy street; surrounded by people and concrete and bricks, where I was that morning felt a lifetime away. I was aware of not wanting to breathe, of wanting to shut my ears and generally dull my senses. 

This sounds extreme, and it's true that I am a sensitive person, but I think it speaks to the cost of living an urban existence. It's not so much that in the city it's hard to understand that we are a part of something larger, although that is true. It's more that as a part of something, I can truly understand that something, by being a part of it. The understanding leads, I hope, to the thought that I must not impose my will on it, take it for granted or generally muck it up.

Cities are here to stay and they're likely only to get bigger. But I think we should at least recognize at what cost. The illusion of separateness seems alluring, but if I walk down the street and feel I can't actually breathe safely, that I can't contemplate something without interruption, that someone always wants to communicate with me in some disembodied way, it's easy to feel lost and part of nothing. There are many costs of course, but this one I think doesn't get enough attention.

Your language and mine.

The idea that the language we speak is closely linked with many things - with our bodies, our emotions, our unconscious selves, our past, our family – has been on my mind these days. Jacques Lacan, of course, spoke of this all the time, but many others did as well, mostly in philosophy and cultural studies.

We in psychotherapy, at least in North America, have a prejudice, I think. Something to do with privileging emotion over speech. As if the two were entirely separate. But we learn to speak at such an early age that it seems inevitable that the language we “absorb” from our family is inextricable from the emotional valance of that family. It is a part of all the dynamics of that family, along with its history and the facts of that history. The way our caregivers use language says so much about them as emotional and cognitive beings, with all the omissions and blindspots and assumptions they bring.

It is a reminder for me to pay attention to the actual speech my clients use, along with everything else they bring. It is just as essential to them as their emotions and memories. I was sitting with a client today and realized that the way he used a word – an everyday sort of word – was not the same way I use the same word. I asked him how he would define it and after a look of surprise, he defined it in a rich, nuanced way and in a completely different way than I would have. He realized that this word, for him, was connected to a very specific time of his life where a number of important and difficult changes occurred. All this from one word.

I feel like there's so much I could say on this topic so this may be the first of a few entries about language. Stay tuned.

Spring amid loss

I heard a rumour that spring was coming, and today I almost believe it. There is the promise of renewal, at least. This must be something we have mused on for millennia – at least in temperate climates: cold and dark followed by warmth and growth. Loss followed by birth.

In the past few months, three people have disappeared from my life; the latest this week. It's hard to rejoice in spring with loss colouring everything. How to be with the death of people on the one hand and the promise of renewed life on the other?

I feel there are no words to hold all of this. It seems so easy to lapse into phrases that seem overused, trite or lame. Yet something must be said – at least to each other. I suppose it is in the attempts that we say the most; the failure to capture holds the truth.

Spring will renew us, as it always has. Life will go on for those who still have it. New life will appear. Some will die in the midst of this. There are no answers, only questions. I guess the attempt is the thing.

Environmental sleeplessness

I woke up in the middle of the night recently and had a thought I've had before: does being a psychotherapist make a difference? It's kind of what James Hillman and Michael Ventura were asking in their book.

For me, it revolves around the issue of what we're doing to the environment in which we live. The air we breathe, water we drink, food, etc. There's a simple truth here that if we continue in this way, we won't survive. But we've built such sturdy walls around this idea,  and have the ability to think very narrowly and in such small amounts of time about it, that we have made it easy to not think about it. Or to tell ourselves that somehow everything will be ok, or that some other generation will deal with this, for now I just want to have a green lawn or a winter vacation.

I know, I know, this drum has been banged many times before. My point, I suppose is to say: as psychotherapists, do we have an opportunity, if not an obligation, to bring this into the room with clients?

Many in my profession say it's not up to me to ask those kinds of questions. If a client brings it in, that's one thing, but for me to introduce it, well that's beyond the pale. I would be imposing my own agenda, etc etc. That's fair, to a point. But it's not like these issues are all that particular or specific to any one person or community. These ideas involve every one of us. In that sense, it is similar to me bringing up the idea with a client that parents should treat their children without violence or abuse. That partners should be honest with each other. How are these things different from the idea that we might not want to destroy the earth so we don't perish?

Winter

While taking a little hike this holiday season, north of Toronto, I realized something: I like snow. There's something magical about everything changing colour to white; the trees hanging with the weight, the quiet caused by the blanket of ice on everything. Somehow, I think, it makes the chill and the dark a little easier to take. Canadians are lucky to have this transformation possible. Those in climates that don't change that much, beyond wet and dry, have a very different experience of winter. This may be a small comfort for those of us who experience Seasonal Affective Disorder, but maybe it helps? A walk in the woods, if you can find some, on a bright, cold morning can maybe be a little journey into a far country - maybe only your back yard - for a time as we wait, sometimes impatiently for the green transformation in spring. 

Levinas and Psychotherapy

I just read a paper by Emmanuel Levinas called "Dying For..." from his book Entre Nous. Levinas is new to me, but I'm starting to think he shouldn't be. 

Levinas was a student of Martin Heidegger and struggled, as we all have, with the fact of Heidegger's involvement with National Socialism. This struggle we all must wrestle with who have read Heidegger and found meaning there. 

Levinas starts from Heidegger's conception of being-in-the-world, -with-others, -towrad-death as definitive of us and extends this to a seemingly radical notion that we are being-for-others, culminating in death: perhaps the most radical of withs. One way I can look at this is to say that through our being-toward-death we are that much more -toward-others. We are always already connected to one another, inherently relating. 

As a psychotherapist, this feels right: it is the reason i do this work. We are born already in relationship, understand ourselves in relationship, and, as Levinas reminds us, die in relationship. He even suggests we are most in relationship at the end, perhaps even after. As D.W.Winnicott said: there is no such thing  as a baby, and I guess at the other end of things, there is no such thing as dying alone. 

Life of Pi

If you haven't read Yann Martel's book or seen Ang Lee's film of the same name, then I think you should run, not walk to Life of Pi - either to the theatre or the bookstore. I just saw the film and it's not perfect, it's not political, it's not "realistic" (that's the point!) and it's not about any particular struggle. I have friends who dismiss such films because they're not artistically adventurous enough, or politically aware enough, or don't engage with philosophical struggles in a rigorous way enough. Then I say either you are immune to pleasure, or there are many other films to see out there that fit that bill. But this isn't to say Life of Pi, the film, isn't engaging with something fundamental - it certainly is. It engages with how stories are told, why they are told and that they serve an essential purpose to all of us.

Granted, it's not about the struggle of itinerant zoo-keepers in a post-colonial India, about racism, classism, sexism, environmental degradation and whatever else my friend demands from every film he sees. His casual dismissal of this film, without seeing it of course, means that he is not open to the fact that no matter what our struggle, we need our imagination to make it meaningful and this meaning is what we carry with us for the rest of our life. Art doesn't have to "represent" every particular struggle. It can point to all struggles through a seemingly minor one. And a ravishingly beautiful one, at that. See this film.

Context is everything?

Recently, I have been wondering about how psychotherapy can have something to say about the state of the environment. In other words, I worry that what happens in my office has no effect on the outside world.

Sure, I help people to live better, more satisfying lives and this is a good thing. At the same time, given the state of the world: population, global warming etc. I worry that my worries about these things are unaffected - at least directly - by the work that I do.

I'm not sure where my thoughts will take me, but it is on my mind, and I wonder if it should be on other therapist's minds.