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Dr. Greg: Why Hate Fat People?

Dr. Greg describes how Prop 8 affects his life and explains why a client does "bad things for good reasons."

By Gregory Cason

This episode touched on three major aspects in my life: developing empathy for a client, working-out, and the timely issue of marriage. Let's start with the last one first.

The question of marriage is on everyone's mind lately as the Supreme Court is about to hear the case of Proposition 8 in California, which limited legally recognized marriages to those between a man and a woman. The majority of California voters put a halt to a nearly five-month period in 2008 where two people of the same gender could be legally married in the state. Those who were married in California during that period can remain legally married; those who did not are (for the moment) prevented from doing so. Also being contested by the Supreme Court is the Defense of Marriage Act (or DOMA), which was enacted on the federal level in 1996, and also limits the legal sanction and federal benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples. And it is up to the Supreme Court to decide the outcome of both cases.

In a quick scene in our backyard, Kevin and I talk about our "marriage." We chose not to get legally married during the small legal window in California because we were hoping to wait until our anniversary to make that happen, but the window quickly closed. The way we are using the word "marriage" is more to affirm the relationship that is already in place, because we still could not get legal recognition. Rather than continuing to wait for a legal sanctioning of our relationship, we decided to socially sanction our relationship by having a ceremony. This is not unlike couples that have a ceremony to reaffirm their vows. The timing of our decision was borne of the concern for family members who were aging and wanting them to be there while they were still able. We are not starting something new (as in most legal marriages), but celebrating the love that has been there for 23 years. But at present, we have no legal right to "marriage" in California or the federal benefits. Hopefully, that will all soon change.

You also see me going to a gym and training with a trainer. Working-out is one of the most important aspects of my life. Though I have done it since high school, I started working out with a trainer and doing intensive boot-camp style workouts about 10 years ago. Doing so not only changed my health but every aspect of my life for the better. Besides the improved physical aspects, it is the best mood-elevator, mind-sharpener, and stress-reliever I know.

Ten years ago, I was working four different jobs. I had a full-time managerial job in a large non-profit overseeing four departments and approximately 50 employees. But on the side, I was the clinical supervisor for a large mental health research study at a local university. Meanwhile, I taught a class once a week at a local clinical psychology doctoral program and maintained a small private practice of about five patients a week. I literally worked every day from morning until late evening and rarely took time to see friends or even watch a movie and my diet was mostly junk. My relationship with Kevin was significantly strained and my health became compromised. Then the house of cards came tumbling down.The comment I overheard Kevin say about my weight was during this difficult time. That comment hurt, but it did not spur me on to action, as the episode seems to suggest. What spurred me on was the realization my life was out of balance and that career advancement was not as important as relationship and health advancement. By changing priorities and focusing on the things that mattered most in my life, everything else improved. Whenever my priorities get out of whack, I just remind myself of that difficult time and redirect myself back to what's important in life.

The episode also shows my own breakthrough as a therapist in developing empathy for his presenting problem: "I hate fat people." This was a difficult one. But as a therapist, I know that people do "bad things" for "good reasons." My job as a therapist was to find out what those "good reasons" are so I can help him develop a better way. A boy who was both older and overweight had bullied my client as a child. The other child had an unfair advantage and terrorized my client for a long time. As a result, my client developed not only an aversion to the person who bullied him, but to all people he perceived as "fat." This was my "aha" as therapist. The aversion to all people who are overweight became his brain's way of keeping him away from getting attacked. This is the "good reason."Now, my client avoids people who are overweight and if he cannot, he punishes them, rejects them, or attempts to teach them a lesson in order to make them change.  You see me explain to him that his power was taken away as a child and now he is seeking to get it back. My job now as a therapist is to both help him regain his power without resorting to harming another person and to help him realize the harmfulness of his actions while developing compassion for people who are overweight. Changing an aversion is not something that is easily done, but I am happy my client is up for the challenge.

To try to help him along in his journey, we will have him meet a group of women who were once overweight to hear about the impact his comments make and to hopefully help him develop more empathy for their struggles. That happens next week. See you then!

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