Therapy and mental healing with Daniel Mackler
February 23, 2019 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Daniel Mackler is the former New York City psychotherapist who creates videos about schizophrenia, sexual abuse, difficult parents, family secrets, grief, intergenerational trauma, being yourself and mental healing. He tackles difficult topics with honesty and courage, often relating to his own experiences as an abused child and burnt-out psychotherapist. Mackler offers insights into the profession and the problems facing modern psychotherapy.
posted by Foci for Analysis (27 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
Looks like very interesting material, but meanwhile, I'm sure that last word should be psychotherapist.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 8:55 AM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Mod note: Fixed typo at OP request]
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 9:19 AM on February 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I've just made a start on the schizophrenia one and I realise that I know almost nothing about this topic.
posted by lovelyzoo at 11:19 AM on February 23, 2019

There's a slightly unsettling tone to this - the schizophrenia video.

I can be elated that these people who suffered have recovered. I can be intrigued about the stats around low-medication societies versus first world, though not sure I can take as stated that all contrary studies are shills for the pharmaceutical industry.

The tone comes across a little anti-vaxey, as if anybody who ends up medicated - such as to prevent them harming themselves or others - is somehow doomed and/or being betrayed by the mental health system.

Abuse happens. Horrendous behaviors concentrate when forces combine to dehumanize those who need help. The therapists featured seemed to have the opportunity to do meaningful, painful, hard-to-justify things like sit quietly with someone who is unresponsive for years of sessions to build up enough trust to be able to begin a conversation. That's a superhuman act of compassion, but it's unclear if every such therapist can - in the US system, especially - reproduce it.

The system is garbage but the implication of "no meds needed" needs to be backed up with "as long as you can find and afford a therapist who can navigate these years-long treatments." There's an undercurrent of some kind of privilege here I can't put my finger on.

I respect the compassion, I'm bugged by the man-on-the-street indictments and the borderline time cube revelatory tone.
posted by abulafa at 12:32 PM on February 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

The second to the last link ("problems") is boldly funny against psychiatry, but may not resonate with people who prefer their medications. I recommend his take on narcissism for insight. When he gets too serious though, he needs a superman costume to imply caution. Some of his anti-family videos (burning bridges, separating from parents for good, etc.) put a lot of unnecessary risk into the mix. So you should just leave your parents because it is impossible to find a state of mind that is immune to their toxic charms? I don't recall him offering any warnings, which makes his advice dangerous for the impulsive. Family are often tied in with friends and other family members, and they form a natural support group in the event of collapse, especially economic, marital, physical, or otherwise. They intrude on our lives and try to ruin them in their image because they think they own us, but that means they would also give us a kidney or take an orphan in, if required, and usually leave part of an inheritance. Natural bonds are not something so casual to be extra brave about. It also pretends that the culture is a safer backstop. I would instead advise leaving undesired religious or ethnic expectations and then see how the family adjusts. If they leave you, then they can feel guilty about it and make themselves look bad. No need to volunteer for that in reverse order. Be the best example. (Mackler's prime example is the anti-family doctrine of Jesus, in several verses, which traditionally recruited monks and nuns for reclusive purity. Barf.)
posted by Brian B. at 12:36 PM on February 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

his affect, or aspect, or whatever it is, is so uncomfortable and generally suspicion-arousing that it is difficult for me to objectively form an opinion about his more, what is the polite word, controversial recommendations. it may be that I unfairly expect a certain calmness and appearance of thoughtfulness because he used to be a therapist, even though he isn't one anymore and wouldn't be acting as one in his videos in any case.

he says a couple of things about the mental health professions that I also say, but the way he says them does a lot to inspire me to re-evaluate any positions I share with him. I think that is what they call a paradoxical intervention in the tradition he no longer practices in, but I suppose it wasn't meant to be. I also think his theories are better evaluated from his writings than from his videos because there is less risk of reacting to irrelevant aspects of his personality.

(I get this profound discomfort from most therapists who create and market an intense media persona, even those who have more standard treatment philosophies. so it's not just him. but it's especially him.)
posted by queenofbithynia at 12:58 PM on February 23, 2019 [6 favorites]

Well, I only watched the video on breaking from parents, because I broke from my mother last year, and found it hugely insightful into the difficulties and benefits people face. Something I think it's important to keep in mind when discussing estrangement is that it usually only happens in situations with genuine and fairly severe abuse. See this article from the only researcher who has looked seriously into parent/child estrangement. If someone is on the verge of breaking from their parents they are probably facing abuse of a serious scope--and they are societally gaslit on top of that. No, no, they're your parents, they love you, you'll miss them when they're dead.

They intrude on our lives and try to ruin them in their image because they think they own us, but that means they would also give us a kidney or take an orphan in, if required, and usually leave part of an inheritance.

No. No, it does not mean that at all.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:57 PM on February 23, 2019 [19 favorites]

So I clicked on the one about abuse. As an adult, he was told that, as a toddler in the 1970s, he had told his parents that a former nanny had left him alone in the apartment at times months before. From this, he goes on to accuse his mother of intentionally choosing a mentally sick, abusive nanny in order to deflect from her own misbehavior towards him

That didn't exactly make my jaw drop as a story of 1970s child abuse. That mother of his must have had the mind of a chess master

Then he goes at considerable length about how, decades ago, his parents told him not to tell people about their dysfunctional and unpleasant verbal arguments. Clearly monsters

It makes me think that his parents couldn't win with him. Were they good parents, or as good as they could have been? Maybe or maybe not, but he definitely seems to magnify human flaws of theirs

What if someday my own child, or my one dried out potted plant as the case may be, appraises me so harshly, so unforgivingly?
posted by knoyers at 3:58 PM on February 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

Also, thank god for my supportive therapist who, when I was not ready to fully break from my mother in late 2017, after she battered me in front of my 3-year-old, told me: "I work with kids, some with serious self-harm and substance abuse problems. And I'm all about harm reduction. For some of them, that means seeking sources of clean needles. For you, it means this: if you see your mother, make sure it's only in public, with an escape route available to you at all times." Also big thanks to the therapist friend who told me, "You can love your mother but it is still not safe for you to be around her."

Their taking it seriously is what gave me the strength to begin to break ties.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:59 PM on February 23, 2019 [19 favorites]

like, I am on record as hating the good-enough-mother idea myself, but one of my reasons is the sexism in both the elaboration and the basic definition of the concept. and this guy, well. let's say the reasons for his grudge do not line up with mine.

how's he feel about reproduction? he thinks it's a bad idea and so do I. do we agree, then? well, I'm pro-choice and anti-coercion, so

no. that would be a no. also, his children-own-their-parents essay is full-on peak King Baby narcissism.

and then. then there's this. this is something.
one thing I'll give him, he doesn't fuck around with fake-out clickbait titles. he means what he says.

"Why Sex Is Inappropriate for Most People"
"Masturbation: Fantasy Rescue by the Parents"
"If the Healthiest People Remain Celibate What Happens to the Future of Our Species?"
"Being in Love is a Disturbed Ideal"

and so on. good stuff! And by "good stuff" I mean the ingenuous framing of this post and the characterization of his fringe philosophies as "insight" is sort of irresponsible.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:44 PM on February 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

"Why Sex Is Inappropriate for Most People"

His assumption in this piece that the average person is too emotionally wounded to have sex without forming false hope that it will provide "emotional healing" is a level of pathologization of the normal that would put the most overly-aggressive prescriber of psychiatric medication to shame.
posted by murphy slaw at 6:11 PM on February 23, 2019 [8 favorites]

Wow this guy is full of shit.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 6:14 PM on February 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

Applicants must successfully complete a two-year, ninety-hour-a-week child-rearing internship with others’ children.
Is this guy just taking the piss? I got the impression he was being serious, but now I really don't know...
posted by Juffo-Wup at 6:45 PM on February 23, 2019 [1 favorite]

Partner sex is a psychic set-up for failure and emotional destruction. Few can do much healing while in a sexual relationship with another, and past a certain point it becomes impossible. The dynamics are simply too intense and too emotionally laden. Most people have sex to avoid healing, which is exactly why society pushes it. Also, interactional sex often makes people into parents, which is the best way to seal their fates as non-healers.
When he's making any sense at all, he's talking about "healing" and "enlightenment" in terms of practices that sound a lot like insight meditation. But he seems to define healing in terms of a nearly monastic devotion to removing oneself from huge swaths of normal human existence until one is "healthy" enough to engage with them without doing oneself irreparable harm.

Dude is peddling obsessional perfectionism as an alternative to more established spiritual or therapeutic practices, from his position as someone who seems deeply damaged by the inescapable dissatisfactions of living in the world.

This is bad medicine.
posted by murphy slaw at 7:21 PM on February 23, 2019 [9 favorites]

Mackler is to psychiatry as David Icke is to astrophysics. He’s so far away from reality, it’s dangerous.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 11:43 PM on February 23, 2019 [5 favorites]

He notices the grandiosity of many therapists but seems blind to his own. I'm sure he'd admit to it if confronted--he's smart, but therapy isn't an intellectual pursuit. When I was starting out, I felt a lot like he does--that most therapists weren't that good, etc. but I grew out of it. There's some basis to what he saying but it's ultimately superficial. Also he takes a long time to get to the point.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:47 AM on February 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

It's interesting to hear Joanne Greenberg speak (in the first link.) Everyone should read her book.
posted by Obscure Reference at 1:12 AM on February 24, 2019

Some of the comments here are really puzzling. I mean, fuck this guy? He's far away from reality? This guy is full of shit? Like, you didn't find anything he said illuminating or even interesting? Not really sure why he gets this level of negativity. 🤷‍♂️
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:18 AM on February 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Applicants must successfully complete a two-year, ninety-hour-a-week child-rearing internship with others’ children.

All moms should be interned as nannies first? I can't disagree on safety grounds alone, and for taking the mass breeding algorithm away from nutjob conservative-planned overpopulation. Cut it down to a semester and we're basically at the same level of a cosmetology license or elderly home nursing assistant. And those are intended to prevent toenail fungus and choking on pills. Having said that, this guy has issues with families and is reactionary, but not with thinking clearly about preventing adult burnout. He hinted to being a narcissist and claimed it was from being ignored as a gifted child. I'm sensing a kind of guru Buddhism going on here by renouncing the world and backing it up with practical experience from having given treatment.
posted by Brian B. at 7:46 AM on February 24, 2019

Some of the comments here are really puzzling. I mean, fuck this guy? He's far away from reality? This guy is full of shit? Like, you didn't find anything he said illuminating or even interesting? Not really sure why he gets this level of negativity. 🤷‍♂️
The more I dig in the more I think this person is painfully unaware of the experiential and sampling bias they're reasoning from. The video on childhood sexual abuse acknowledges the perpetuating cycle of such abuse but focuses on a comparatively rare example that happens to reflect the author's own childhood experience, then generalizes that such experience is ubiquitous without a single reference to, say, academic work or statistical evidence. This doesn't mean those things don't happen or are under-reported but this increases my impression the author is not interested in a complete exploration based on rigorous ground truth.

Then reading his radically anti-having-children stances go beyond a resources argument into a "you're doomed to screw them up" one. If literally everyone screws up their kids, does that mean we should stop having them or we should adapt our standards to accept all the imperfections each of us carries and seek to love one another regardless? The author seems to genuinely hold love contingent on right behavior, which becomes a no true Scotsman race to the bottom very quickly since nobody is perfect (at child rearing, at sex, at healthy living) and therefore by his logic nobody deserves to do those pleasurable things if they can't be perfect at them. He phrases it as time better spent seeking your own healing, but the implication is you shouldn't be doing those things until your own health is secured.

His insights may be rich and reassuring in extreme cases, but his framing of mental health as something you need to focus on at the expense of things other humans commonly hold dear (sex, family, etc) suggests he's over anchoring on the extreme cases he's observed. That means his insights and advice are less universal than he seems to believe. And the fact he doesn't seem aware of this possibility and writes ultimately cruel and ridiculous things in response (eg the child rearing license) that can really serve no purpose other than to shame those who do not meet his arbitrary bar... Yeah I can see why one could get to "fuck that guy" and that he's disconnected from reality.

It's doubtless there's great insight and intelligence in what he's done, but a subtle and casual cruelty to it, too.
posted by abulafa at 7:53 AM on February 24, 2019 [7 favorites]

Not really sure why he gets this level of negativity

I did include links so that nobody would have to be unsure.

He said, as I quoted, that a mother -- and you will notice that he does not say "a parent" here -- a mother who takes psychiatric medicine of any kind is depriving her child of her full self (which he -- the child is always "he," for Mackler -- owns). He says this constitutes abuse.

do you not feel any negativity, yourself, towards a man who clearly and repeatedly tells women that caring for their own health and safety by taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers is child abuse by definition?

he is narcissistic -- I don't mean DSM-style pathology; I'm not qualified to say that no matter how obvious it is, I just mean regular dictionary-definition narcissism -- narcissistic and irrational to such a degree that, because he himself had some nanny-related trauma, he thinks that paying for childcare is abusive. (And because closeness to your own parents is a sign of unhealed trauma, free family childcare is ruled out too. Fun times for mothers all around.) What he is doing here is not making an argument; it is having a public therapy session without a therapist.

he has absorbed most of the nastier parts of the psych establishment, including some parts that the psych establishment has disavowed: the paternalism, the smugness, the irrationality, the savior complex, the wounded-healer mythos/aesthetic, the belief that parents are to blame for making children schizophrenic, the conviction that he understands people's childhood narratives better than they do themselves -- and discarded the worthwhile parts: the professional codes of ethics, peer supervision, continuing education requirements, and a certain basic respect for the patient as authority on her own experience (inasmuch as if you tell a psychiatrist that antidepressants helped your life, she'll generally believe you).

he is not alone in opposing medical abuse and forced drugging of hospitalized people for the convenience of staff. he is not alone in noting the well-known horrible side-effects of anti-psychotics. he's right about a lot of uncontroversial things. so is any random psychiatrist/ologist you could find in a phone book.

I think if people want an outdated, mistaken, and sexist but genuinely intelligent, compassionate, and thought-provoking discussion of psychosis, they should go back to R.D. Laing. who, thank god, was not able to regularly showcase his ghastly personal defects on his own youtube channel due to the kindly blessings of History.
posted by queenofbithynia at 9:17 AM on February 24, 2019 [11 favorites]

Like, you didn't find anything he said illuminating or even interesting? Not really sure why he gets this level of negativity.

On the contrary. He's right about most of what he says. His problem is that he doesn't know where he's wrong. He needs more humility. As a political force; getting his basic message out there, he's probably more effective in that he lacks it. But it leads to more polarity in a highly polarized world. An example of the polarization is exactly how much negativity he gets. You'd think a (former) therapist would be more aware of how people are going to hear him.

On preview, queenofbithynia says much of this better than I did.

Just to comment on her quote:
a mother who takes psychiatric medicine of any kind is depriving her child of her full self

We all deprive each other of our full selves. We don't need prozac to do it. It's the human condition. In practice, some on meds may be able to give more of themselves.
posted by Obscure Reference at 9:30 AM on February 24, 2019 [4 favorites]

Some of the comments here are really puzzling. I mean, fuck this guy? He's far away from reality? This guy is full of shit? Like, you didn't find anything he said illuminating or even interesting?

Ya know, I tried three separate times to listen to/watch his videos since this thread was posted and before the negative comments were. I couldn't do it. I lasted 2-3 minutes each time. I kept wanting to punch him in the face... the narcissistic, woe-is-me, everyone-else-is-wrong-and-I-alone-know-the-whole-truth vibe is SO STRONG.

Contrary to the implication in the comment quoted, it's exceedingly easy to sound wise and "illuminating" when you express empathy for victims of abuse. Abuse victims are so starved for empathy and understanding that we lap this shit up, we feel heard, we gravitate towards thinking that this person who seems to understand our pain must surely be telling us other good things as well. We would do well to evaluate these charlatans with a more skeptical mindset

Of course, that's only possible if we already have been heard and sympathized with and soothed by other, more substantial helpers in our lives - so I'm not judging or anything. I've been there, hungry as fuck for someone to echo my lived experience out there in the real world just so I could feel like my pain isn't imagined. Until I had a steady supply of compassion and understanding from friends and my therapist, I was looking for these things from random places/people too.

I'm just sounding a note of caution. Not everyone who can speak meaningfully about pain is actually insightful or illuminating or wise. Case in point: this fucking guy! Evidence: everything he says that ISN'T directly about sympathy for abuse victims!
posted by MiraK at 5:44 AM on February 25, 2019 [7 favorites]

Then reading his radically anti-having-children stances go beyond a resources argument into a "you're doomed to screw them up" one

At least Philip Larkin managed to distill this argument down to a single poem.

What he is doing here is not making an argument; it is having a public therapy session without a therapist

Poking around a bit, that's very much the vibe I get. That and a great big whiff of Internet Dudely Philosopher King
"The enlightened person is a new species. Although he can physically interbreed with others of Homo sapiens, he does not. He lives in a different world. His mental make-up is different from theirs. This is painful for him. He may be attracted to some members of Homo sapiens, but on a soulful level he is not compatible."
I'm sure it's possible to chisel some insights out his work—besides the No Fappery and the misindentification of simple ways to live more thoughtfully as "therapy"—"Ten Ways To Be Your Own Therapist" seems mostly unobjectionable—but it isn't advice I couldn't get anywhere else, either. Lacking the ring of Love Is A Dog From Hell, "Being in Love is a Disturbed Ideal" seems like fairly benign misanthropy, but it's probably a buzzkil on a date.

So, yeah, I see a guy here building a philosophy out of his own traumas—something I'm intimately acquainted with—but no reason to go to him for advice when I can make that shit at home!

(All that said, according to Steven Franssen, another internet "life coach" of a decidedly more alt-right-ish persusion, "Daniel Mackler attempts to sell anti-natalism and his quiet, closeted brand of Communism through his public platform ..." and that is maybe the best blurb he can get.)
posted by octobersurprise at 9:13 AM on February 25, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yeah octobersurprise, I was tempted to try to like Mackler more because of the enemies he attracts but... It turns out that not as good a reason to like someone as I hoped.
posted by abulafa at 10:48 PM on February 25, 2019

Oh man so this guy's "why I quit being a therapist" video has been popping up on youtube for me for months while watching other, better psychiatry/psychology channels (Todd Grande, Dr. Tracey Marks). I'd tried to listen to it before but I was just like "eh, sounds like this guy has some issues he's working through" before quickly tuning out.

Today, with this post as inspiration, I took the time to listen to a couple of his videos (specifically: "Why I Quit Being a Therapist", "How to Be a Psychiatrist - 9 Years of Education in 9 Minutes", "Am I enlightened? (A Short Exploration))"... Dude's a bit of a wingnut, I reckon. I've heard folks high on cocaine with a more modest degree of grandiosity.

He's like the cynical asshole therapist of my nightmares made flesh! Holy crap, is he ever scary.

The good news is though, through my history of help-seeking, even the shittiest therapists I've had seem to be more self-aware and positive than this guy. Even the one who ghosted me, and even the one who's spending the rest of his life in prison for horrific crimes!

This guy seems soooooooo full of himself, I think he's right to step out of being a therapist. Maybe even right to stay celibate and single, but not if it contributes to his delusions about being "near enlightenment", if so he ought to start fucking indiscriminately to get down off his high horse.

I doubt I'll ever click into his videos again.

Also I have that model of Ikea chair he's sitting in in a bunch of his videos, and it sucks, if he likes that chair he has bad taste in chairs.
posted by Matt Oneiros at 1:14 PM on February 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

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