Cognitive Behavioral Strategies

Lynne S. Gots, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

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A Psychologist’s Open Letter to Gwyneth Paltrow

By Lynne Gots, posted on March 31st, 2014.

Dear Gwyneth,

I know everyone’s been giving you a hard time lately for saying in your recent E! interview that 9-5 moms have it easier than you movie stars because “when you have an office job . . .it’s routine and, you know, you can do all the stuff in the morning and then you come home in the evening.” You think your life is so much harder because “when you’re shooting a movie, they’re like, ‘We need you to go to Wisconsin for two weeks,’ and then you work 14 hours a day and that part of it is very difficult. I think to have a regular job and be a mom is not as, of course there are challenges, but it’s not like being on set.”

Like working mom Mackenzie Dawson, who skewered you in her NY Post “Open Letter to Gwyneth,” I found your comments utterly out of touch with life outside the rarified bubble of Planet Hollywood. You might as well have said, “Like, let them eat cake.”

But after I picked up my jaw off the floor, I switched to professional mode and tried to see things from your perspective. And I realized you’ve taught us all a very important lesson.

When you’re unhappy, it’s easy to imagine how much better your life would be if only you were [fill in the blank] . . . single, married, younger, older, thinner, prettier, richer, or—hard as it might be for most of us to believe—poorer and more ordinary. Your fantasy of what life as an office worker would be like should remind us that when we think the grass would be greener, we haven’t got a clue.

I can’t, of course, surmise your mental condition just by reading the statement you made on your website Goop about your split with husband Chris Martin. But no matter how you try to spin it—by calling it “conscious uncoupling” instead of divorce, say—ending a 10-year marriage and working out the logistics of coparenting when you have young kids can’t be easy, even for a celebrity.

So, Gwyneth, here’s my unsolicited advice to you: find yourself a good cognitive-behavioral therapist to help you challenge your distorted thinking. And, while you’re at it, you might consider hiring a new publicist.


Lynne S. Gots, PhD




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Willpower Failures: When Good Intentions and Outside Forces Collide

By Lynne Gots, posted on July 7th, 2013.

I just cleaned out the fridge. No more unidentifiable slimy greens in the vegetable crisper, shriveled limes in the fruit bin, and molding jars of pickled okra and salsa on the shelves. I’m planning a roasted eggplant dip and cucumber salad for dinner tonight to use up the last of this week’s CSA produce.

I was feeling pretty virtuous until I opened the freezer. Sharing space with the plastic containers of precooked beans, quinoa, and brown rice, alongside the loaves of artisian whole-grain bread, were three half-gallons of ice cream, three pints of premium gelato (there had been four until I polished one off last night—“to free up shelf space”) and three pints of frozen yogurt. I’d purchased one of the gelatos and one of the frozen yogurts. My husband had stockpiled the rest.

He’s pretty health-conscious most of the time, avoiding excess salt, eating massive salads every night, and eschewing red meat. Formerly a cooked vegetable hater, he’s even become a devotee of roasted Brussels sprouts and kale. So how to explain his frozen dessert hoarding habit?

I found the answer in a New York Times article, “Why Healthy Eaters Fall for Fries.” Several studies of consumer choices in fast-food restaurants found that posting calorie information did little to reduce calorie consumption overall. In fact, at Subway, people actually ate higher calorie meals despite reading the nutritional information, possibly because the chain offerred a $5 special on footlong subs.

Behaviorial economists conclude that good intentions take a back seat to economic incentives when we’re choosing what to order in a restaurant. That also seems to be what’s going on when my husband shops at the Giant. When I’ve asked him to cut back on buying ice cream because I end up eating more of it than he does, he says, “But it was on sale. Two for the price of one!”

I can’t get upset with him. It’s not his fault. Behavioral economics made him do it.

So I guess I don’t have to beat myself up either for lacking the willpower to eat fruit for dessert instead of gelato. And for not choosing the frozen yogurt—which, as I said, is in ample supply in my freezer and would be a lower calorie option. Because another study of consumer behavior found that people presented with a range of healthy, neutral, and unhealthy menu items most often went for the unhealthy foods.

As psychologists do, the researcher coined a term to explain the tendency to make a nutritionally unsound decision when more nutritious choices are available:  “vicarious goal fulfillment.” Just seeing the healthy menu options apparently makes us feel healthier and thus gives us the license to overindulge.

So the next time I’m tucking into a bowl of Talenti caramel cookie crunch, I won’t blame myself for my lack of willpower. And I might even top it with a dollop of whipped cream and a drizzle of chocolate syrup.

Because I’ll know it’s just a case of vicarious goal fulfillment.

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Colorado Movie Theatre Massacre: Trying to Make Sense of a Senseless Act

By Lynne Gots, posted on July 21st, 2012.

Whenever a deadly shooting rampage occurs, the experts are asked to explain the mental makeup of the perpetrator. Everybody struggles to understand what could drive an ordinary-seeming, though perhaps reserved, young man (it’s almost always a shy young man) to commit such a horrific act. But although the personality profiles of these mass-murderers share a few common features—paranoia and social isolation, most typically—we can’t really know what has driven a particular individual to violence.

A few hours after the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, I received a call from a local TV news station where I’d made regular appearances. They wanted to interview me about the tragedy. What could have motivated the twenty-three-year-old student, Seung Hui Cho, to kill two students in a dorm, then barricade a building and kill 30 more people before turning a gun on himself?

I declined to appear on-air because I couldn’t, in good conscience, render my professional opinion. I’m not an expert on violence. And even if I were, speculating about the psyche of a person I hadn’t met and knew nothing about would be unethical.

However, other professionals—including some forensic specialists—don’t seem to share my reservations. They freely offer up theories, often presenting their viewpoints as fact.

In a Washington Post article about the Colorado shootings, one forensic psychiatrist said, “Mass-shooting cases have the common motive of an attacker seeking immortality. Each of the attackers have [sic] different degrees of paranoia and resentment of the broader community. Some are so paranoid that they’re psychotic. Others are paranoid in a generally resentful way but have no significant psychiatric illness.” That makes sense (though I’d suggest that being a mass shooter is, ipso facto, indicative of significant psychiatric illness).

He goes on to add, “They’re people who are unfailingly unable to form satisfying sexual attachments.” Maybe that’s true. Still, I’d like to see more evidence.

But then he elaborates. “ . . . and their masculinity essentially gets replaced with their fascination for destruction. The overwhelming majority of folks who do this are male because of how, in our culture, masculine identity is so closely tied to the capacity to destroy.”

Really? Do most men derive their sense of identity from violence and destruction?

Fortunately, the Post article counters this histrionic gobbledygook with the more measured viewpoint of a psychiatric expert from Duke, who says, “They [mass killers] tend to be young and male and  . . . sort of isolated. The problem with that is that there are tens of thousands of people who meet the same description and never do anything like this.”

In the wake of this latest Colorado tragedy, we’re sure to see many more speculative statements about the mind of James Holmes. And they will be beside the point. Because no matter how much we’d like to comprehend the inner workings of a madman, we’ll never be able to make sense of a senseless act.

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This blog is intended solely for the purpose of entertainment and education. All remarks are meant as general information and should not be taken as personal diagnostic or therapeutic advice. If you choose to comment on a post, please do not include any information that could identify you as a patient or potential patient. Also, please refrain from making any testimonials about me or my practice, as my professional code of ethics does not permit me to publish such statements. Comments that I deem inappropriate for this forum will not be published.

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© 2008-2024 Lynne S. Gots, PhD. Photographs by Steven Marks Photography.