A THERAPEUTIC BLOG of Mark S Schwartz, Ph.D.

Why and What


Why did I start this Blog? At age 80, I have more time available and love writing. I am very grateful that my health has been stable for many years and that potentially severe medical conditions appear dormant. I am still actively providing psychotherapy via telehealth, but this is intentionally less than half-time. I am still actively doing some yard work every week, but much less than in years past. I finished the 4th Edition of my book “Biofeedback: A Practitioner’s Guide” a few years ago and did not intend to do another edition. I am nearly done with my lengthy memoir and slides that I have been working on for years, and I intend mainly for my grandchildren. I still have a lot to write about, and thus I started blogging to share many other topics with others.


Defend yourself.

Defend your innocence.

Stop prosecuting yourself.

Stop bolstering your prosecutor.

Act "as if" there is a real case to make about yourself because there is!

A Blog by

Mark Stephen Schwartz, Ph.D.

Create a balance between your impressions and facts about yourself.

Stand up for yourself.

Become more positive and realistic about yourself.

Argue against deceptions about yourself.

I encourage you to fact-check errors and lies about yourself.

Counter the prosecutor in your head.

Among the many common themes that permeate my patients' problems are variations of self-criticism and believing the negative opinions of them and criticisms of other people. Of course, some self-criticism and criticism by others are accurate and can be constructive. It is the excess criticism that is often part of the problem, the lack of balance, and the lack of an adequate defense.

As is known about me by many, I adore similes and metaphors and use them very often with patients, in writing, and in other communications. One that I often use with patients involves asking patients to think of themselves in a courtroom with a prosecutor, a judge, a jury, and a defense attorney representing the patient. However, in this situation, the prosecutor, jury, judge, defense attorney, and you are all in themselves, in their brain. In this scenario, in this simile, the prosecutor is vicious, and your defense attorney is meek and inefficient.

Another application is for patients who explicitly or implicitly resist cognitive restructuring and revising their beliefs about themselves, and that contributes to emitting increasing or prolonging the depression. They sometimes seem "oblivious" or "blinded" to the idea that they are engaged in "self-deception" that is maladaptive for themselves. I use this simile to convince patients to develop counterstatements or a "defense" of themselves against their own deceptive and maladaptive views. This simile also can help convince patients that their interpretations of themselves may be contributing to their depression.

So, here is the simile in more detail. Beliefs about ourselves, our relationships, and our interpretations of other people's statements are like people making statements that we know are completely false or primarily inaccurate. However, most people cling to misleading or mistaken beliefs that become habitual and seem to make sense. They are often simplistic and logical explanations and interpretations of themselves, their relationships, and their impressions of others.

Imagine that you are a defendant in a courtroom but without a defense attorney or with an inadequate attorney. How would that feel? Thus, imagine you are a defendant in a courtroom with an attorney who has not prepared, reviewed, and rehearsed your defense. How would you feel? Of course, you would not like this; in fact, you would detest it. You would not do it.

So, the bottom line is this. It would be best if you acquired a new internal persona within yourself. An adequate or supportive defense attorney persona. A part of yourself who views the events in your life, the verbal statements and behaviors of others in your life, and other experiences now from very different perspectives. The revised attitudes result in forgiving yourself, being correct, being redeemable, being innocent, having a justification, feeling neutral, calm, non-anxious, and other desirable thoughts and feelings. This attorney can negate neutralize, or discredit the prosecutor and convince the jury and judge that you have many positive, redeemable features. In other words, a defense that results in a better life and outcomes.

A significant part of being a competent defense attorney is the written preparation and rehearsals for courtroom events. In cases involving preparing oneself to deal with negative self-appraisals, the prosecution case effectively requires rapid, competent, compelling counterarguments. This writing and rehearsals are accomplished best with written preparation. Skilled and capable defense attorneys use written development that is well-rehearsed. The script applies to people with depression, anxiety, or anger-related cognitions. One primary goal is to revise cognitions and behaviors and to facilitate them to become predominant, take precedence, and become more likely to occur and do so much sooner in a person's thought processes.

Most people do not want to prepare written materials for cognitive restructuring and revised cognitive preparation to improve their maladaptive thoughts and behaviors. Even when preparing written documents, many, perhaps most, people may be hesitant or resistant to repeatedly reviewing and rehearsing the preparation. However, for the revised cognitions to be remembered, to become habitual and prepotent, and thus useful, they must nearly always be repeatedly reviewed, rehearsed, and implemented.

Aside from this being like one's own "defense attorney," it would be like being a football coach preparing plays and teaching them to the players. Imagine that without written preparation and practice scrimmages for the matches. How competent would you be as a player?

Or imagine being a military leader or strategist preparing for a battle without written strategies and options for varying contingencies or avoiding or minimizing the risks.

Or imagine preparing a presentation for a proposed company merger.

In none of these examples and many more, one would not consider any of these without extensive written preparations, reviewing, and rehearsing. You cannot do it entirely "in your head." You cannot do it without written preparation and rehearsal.

Imagine that the detectives investigating crimes against you or your family did not write down the information about the crime and potential suspects. How would you feel?

Thus, not writing down your restructured, rational, and more adaptive thoughts about yourself, others, and situations is like having no defense attorney, no prepared defense, rehearsing plays, or military strategies.


BLOG 2  https://docs.google.com/document/d/1uWpvQZUn7tyER61TPwsoCz02AR6oFnAW/edit 




Mark Stephen Schwartz, Ph.D.

June 16, 2020

I experienced bitter cold exposure to my lips and tongue while stuck on a ski lift. I became convinced that my speech had become distorted and that my mouth movements had become substantially affected. However, I was 100% mistaken.

       Hyperfocusing our attention on our bodily sensations and symptoms and misinterpreting the meaning of the perceptions can make them seem like something they are not. Such focusing makes them seem worse. They worry us unnecessarily and even perpetuate the symptoms. This hyper-focus is like magnifying specks that look horrific when viewed as enormous. The hyper-focus is also like sitting close to a large screen of gory movie scenes in contrast to seeing them from a distance and a transformed perspective.

        We humans commonly and understandably focus on our body parts in which symptoms appear. We focus on our body sensations and symptoms. We focus on our anticipated worrisome thoughts about the symptoms occurring, reoccurring, and worsening. And we focus on the impact on our lives. We understandably and commonly talk about our symptoms to family, friends, strangers, health care professionals, and ourselves. Some people unconsciously believe that focusing on the sensations and symptoms might give them some small degree of control and help them manage them better. Talking about symptoms can also be reinforced by the attention and sentiments from others that can sometimes result in undesirable “secondary gain.” However, focusing, and especially hyper-focusing, does not accomplish desirable outcomes. In contrast, the focus can increase the perceived intensity and negative impact. An exception is when treatment requires focusing, but that is not the focus of this paper. 

      Hyper-focusing is like high power magnification[1] or like being close to a huge movie screen showing very gory scenes[2]. I am not encouraging readers to necessarily view very horrific movie scenes as presented via these links. I include them only for some readers to consider in testing their reactivity to seeing such scenes close up and as large versus distant and small. View them at your own risk.

       This hyper-focus on bodily sensations and bodily parts, in essence, magnifies details that appear very real to the person experiencing them. They are real in the sense that they are in the brain. However, as we will soon learn, hyper-focus creates sensations and experiences that are far greater in “size” and “perceptions” than in “reality.”

       So, here is a true story that happened to me and the noteworthy lessons learned. Before 1988, I lived in Rochester, MN, and went skiing in Colorado 2 or 3 times every winter. I recall sitting on a stuck chair lift for at least 20 minutes in bitterly cold temperatures in the single digits and with some wind, thus a colder wind chill. My lips and parts of my face were the only exposed areas. I tried keeping them covered, but it felt like I experienced some frostbite on my lips and tongue.

         I returned to work at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Every day, I perceived that my lips and tongue were different and that my speech sounded different. It felt like there was numbness and that I spoke with distorted pronunciation. That happened all day with my colleagues and patients. I asked some of my patients whether I sounded different, but none heard any changes. Well, I thought, they don’t want to tell me, or they do not understand subtle differences. My colleagues were also unaware. However, it was clear to me.

       After 2 or 3 days of no improvement, I called the Chairperson of Speech Pathology, Arnold Aronson, Ph.D. He was a world-famous speech pathologist, friend, and colleague whose office was one floor below mine. I asked whether he would see me, and I explained the cold events and my perceptions. He listened. He looked. He asked me to repeat a few sounds and phrases.

       And then he said what profoundly impacted me a few hours later and in the next few days, and, even more importantly, for all the years since then. The impact was and still is in terms of passing on to many patients this knowledge, significant perspectives, and a meaningful lesson. When a person overly focuses on bodily sensations, mainly when those sensations are associated with an unpleasant and worrisome event, hypervigilance can result in many unwanted and uncomfortable thoughts.

     These thoughts are disturbing, and at least sometimes. While real at the time, the mere acts of hypervigilance could perpetuate the sensations. This mental process not only magnifies the impressions and results in worry about them; it actually could prolong the feelings. In my anecdotal experience, it disappeared within an hour or two of being reassured by a clear-cut and very credible health professional. He was very reassuring, did not hear what I heard and did not see what seemed clear to me existed. Although subjective and relatively brief in my life (i.e., a few days), it was clear to me and persisted all day, every day.

      That experience motivated me to try focusing on other sensations (e.g., occasional ear ringing, sometimes mild pain, paresthesia[3], or even the same tongue/lips sensations associated with cold exposure during the chairlift experience and the days after that. I sometimes can reproduce some of these sensations partially. Though I do worry about them, and they are usually not intense, they can be there. For example, as I write this, I focus on a tinnitus sound of mild chirping or hissing that was not present before I started writing these past few sentences. As I focus on the noise, it gets louder. It has not been present for weeks and only occasionally “returns.” I am confident it will not be present later today. (I paused writing here until the following day.)  “No” tinnitus last evening, nor in bed nor the following day…. at least until I started focusing on it again.

      I will add the perspective that I strongly tend to minimize my focus on bodily sensations and symptoms. I am far from a somatically focused person. I typically defer going to physicians despite their ready availability and little or no cost. So, this focus on my lips, tongue, and speech, indeed hyper-focus, was highly unusual.

      So, one question raised is, what do we do or does anyone do to hopefully substantially reduce, and ideally to eliminate, the bodily sensations and other symptoms? Most of that discussion is beyond this paper, but I feel obliged to address some of this. Sometimes, it might be valuable to know someone like Dr. Aronson, a highly credible health professional and mental health professional, to evaluate the “afflicted” person and provide reassurance when appropriate, perspective, and recommendations.

       However, the availability or feasibility of access to such a person is often not present or affordable. If there is a question about the potential seriousness of the sensations, then I recommend considering an evaluation by medical or psychological professionals who are as credible as you can find and see. There often is no substitute for believable reassurance.

       As briefly noted above, hyper-focusing on physical sensations and symptoms is like sitting very close to a huge movie screen showing very gruesome horror movie scenes versus sitting far from a small black-and-white screen such as on a smartphone. See below for details.

       So, here is the simile scenario. Imagine sitting very close to a large screen in a movie theater displaying very gruesome scenes, e.g., graphic bodily injury. Imagine your physical and emotional reactions. Do you cringe? Do you look away? Do you feel tense? Do you experience increased pulse, breathing changes, and muscle tension in your fists, jaw, head, and other areas? The more you watch the gory scenes, the more the symptoms remain or worsen.

       Now, imagine yourself sitting across a room, perhaps 12 or 15 feet away on a smartphone screen. The screen is on a bookshelf or propped up on a table. You watch it, but almost for sure, your reactions would be very subdued or even neutral, especially compared to sitting close to the large screen. Your bodily response will be very different and considerably reduced or non-existent. Many other stimuli surround the screen, and the images of the gory pictures are small. Even consider the movie or images in black and white instead of color.

       Thus, looking at, focusing on, and having fearful thoughts about specific bodily sensations and symptoms is like sitting very close to a large screen with gory and very graphic images. Shrinking the screen or moving it or far away from the screen can reduce or eliminate your somatic and cognitive distress, as would thinking of the pictures as tiny and black and white. 

       Our brain does not entirely distinguish fictional images from real images. Thus, fictional (i.e., movies, slides) elicit real psychophysiological, electrical, and biochemical brain reactions that influence emotion, arousal, and discomfort. When the images are small or less realistic, then other parts of our brains react with much less distress or none. It also could be less distressing when the pictures are black and white and distant. Close your eyes and picture your body part, with the sensations/symptoms of concern, on a 5-inch screen 10 to 15 feet away or even a 36-inch screen 50+ feet away.

       The use of this simile is for those people who want or need logical and credible techniques for reducing the degree, impact, and duration of their undesirable sensations and symptoms. These similes might not be appropriate or less appropriate for persons who have physical damage to the body area and brain that is sufficient to account for the symptoms and severity. It also might not be for persons who have watched many gory horror movies and have become desensitized to their distressing physical effects.

               So, the “bottom lines” are: suitable

  • Avoid hyper-focusing on body sensations and symptoms
  • Imagine that such hyper-focus is like hyper magnifying hideous microscopic creatures
  • Imagine that such hyper-focus is like sitting close to very gory movie scenes
  • A shift from hyper-focusing to realistic and even distant views.

[1] https://youtu.be/4lmmed3SEGL0  

[2]https://www.google.com/search?q=gory+movie+scenes&oq=gory+movie+&aqs=chrome.1.69i57j0l7.7539j1j8&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8 ;   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VgbUB4s-QTs

[3] Abnormal skin sensations (as tingling or tickling or itching or burning) usually associated with peripheral nerve damage.https://www.synonym.com/synonyms/paresthesia



Believing and Behaving "As If"

Facing "Reality"

Understand Oneself Better

Manage Many Stressors

Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D.

                      July 11, 2020     (Updated August 16, 2020) (Updated October 25, 2023)


  • People often behave "as if" their perceptions and impressions of themselves are accurate.
  • People often behave "as if" their perceptions and impressions of others are accurate.
  • People hold religious beliefs "as if" they are accurate, and very different views are less so, of less value, even incorrect, or even dangerous.
  • Some main religions encourage and ritualize confessions and ask for forgiveness from others and a deity "as if" doing so will "cleanse" themselves of their wrongdoing.
  • I argue with you "as if" I am correct.
  • I am angry at you "as if" you are wrong.
  • People get married and say their vows "as if" the marriage vows have a good chance of being confirmed and predictive.
  • Millions of people enroll in college and spend vast amounts of time, energy, and money "as if" it will pay off.
  • Millions of people start businesses "as if" the company will be successful.
  • Millions, indeed billions, of people try to lead good and decent lives "as if" this will get them into "heaven."
  • Millions of people invest in stocks "as if" it will make money.
  • Many millions of people invest in houses "as if" they will always appreciate them.
  • People support sports teams "as if" this year will be a winning year.
  • Many lawyers in court argue for some or many of their clients "as if" they believe in their cases.
  • As a medical patient, I believe my physicians and follow their recommendations "as if" they are correct.
  • Many people drink a lot of alcohol (or take other substances) "as if" this is the only way they can or the best way to manage their current situation.  
  • Do you choose clothes to buy "as if" you know your style and what looks best on you? 

The following statements of my beliefs might sound incorrect and even odd to some readers. There might be a temptation to stop after reading the following assertions. However, I encourage readers to finish this document. 

We hold our views, thoughts, and interpretations "as if" they are accurate, totally or mostly. Still, very often, probably nearly always, they are at least very insufficient and very often even inaccurate. Humans hypothesize about our understanding of ourselves and others and explanations for most events. However, we do not consider our beliefs "as if" they are hypotheses. "We" typically are uncomfortable with the idea that we might be incorrect. We are often uncomfortable thinking we do not understand many behaviors. We are uncomfortable admitting that we do not know why we say and do what we say and do. Further, we are uncomfortable accepting that we do not understand why others say and do what they do.

I have heard these distortions from thousands of patients, family members, neighbors, and even professional associates. OMG, the reader might be saying to themselves. Is Dr. Schwartz saying people do not know what they discuss when explaining their reasons, even their behaviors? And is he saying people also do not know what they discuss when explaining other people's actions?

My short answer is "yes." However, the "news" is often not "bad."' It is frequently "good." My message is that we are mistaken about many reasons for our thoughts. However, we can do fine with plausible hypotheses. We can function with "best guesses" and not necessarily the only truth and way of explaining ourselves or others. Consider that there are other reasonable hypotheses. Much of science functioned based on plausible assumptions that were insufficient or turned out to be incorrect. The learning theory attributed to Dr. B. F. Skinner still works very well even though it turned out that it did not explain some behaviors. Examples of inadequacies of this theory include language development in young children and "insight" learning. Nevertheless, Skinner's approach is still very widely accepted and is very functional in many applications.

The problem occurs; the "bad news" is when we believe the hypotheses are the only truth. The problem arises when we "cherry-pick" the options and data and thus distort the evidence we use to support the beliefs. I will return to discussing this later and give examples.

The concept involving not knowing the reasons for our behaviors is akin to a variety of theories that have been around for a long time. These include some psychodynamic concepts such as denial, displacement, suppression, and others. These are also similar and linked to some cognitive-behavioral theories, such as overgeneralization, jumping to conclusions, all-or-nothing thinking, and others.

However, the point of the present document is not to discuss or support any prior theories and concepts, although I subscribe to and agree with many of them. The point here is to point out and review my firm belief that, for whatever reasons, people do not know why they say and do what they say and do. And they often do not understand what others say and do. Furthermore, there is at least one distinct advantage of this "fact," I take the literary license to call it a "fact," although it is admittedly a hypothesis. This advantage is that it gives us options for self-statements, perceiving and explaining ourselves, and for explaining the behaviors of others. Consider being aware of two types of beliefs about yourself or two types of views about another person. One type results in adding to my anxiety, depression, or anger, and the other type results in feeling calmer, not depressed, much less depressed, or not angry. And suppose, in this general case, I recognize that these two hypotheses are just that and that I have no way of ever knowing which are correct. Thus, my choice is between one belief that results in feeling very uncomfortable versus the other that results in feeling much better.

 Examples are endless, but a few will hopefully suffice to illustrate. (refer to here but put in a different blog document.) Examples:

  • Why do mom & dad ask their daughter to calm down and speak in a lower tone? What the daughter hears is, "Shut up." 

 Most people will admit to themselves and others that there are a lot of topics for which they do not understand. However, these topics are often only a few essential issues in our lives. Consider religion, politics, marital and similar partner relationships, business, financial, parent-child, and even professional disagreements. 

And, of course, there are topics for which we are well-educated, highly experienced, knowledgeable, and typically correct. But those are different from the topics to which I am primarily referring. However, I have often heard people argue with real experts. These people understand and have far more education, training, and experience. Examples include a non-mental health professional arguing with a highly credentialed and experienced mental health professional. It often matters to only a few people whether the other person is highly credible and trustworthy. Religion, politics, and health are prime examples. Another recent example is COVID-19 risks. Another example is a layman, a politician, disagreeing with the long-term medical head of a federal governmental agency about face masks and social distancing.

Examples of problem topics include:

  • Why am I angry?
  • Why is s/he angry?
  • Why did s/he do what s/he did?
  • Why did I do what I did?
  • Is my religious belief about ____ more ____?
  • Will people who have certain religious beliefs ____?
  • Can an atheist lead a moral life?
  • Are people of specific races inferior in ____ to people of a different race?  

  Now, I come to a unique part of this Blog. This part is a simile to help readers who are skeptical and resistant to accepting new cognitions, self-statements, and hypotheses about themselves and others. It is also to help readers reduce or eliminate their resistance to new hypotheses about themselves and other people.

    One of my favorite creations is the simile of trying a new style and color of a suit. The new style and color contrasted with a prior incorrect belief. In other words, the prior belief was that this new color and style was for someone else. In other words, accepting changes in cognitions, interpretations, and lifestyle is like trying and getting used to new clothes. 

    Looking at clothes on a rack often appears different from when someone tries them on and looks at themselves in a 3-way mirror. Similarly, new attitudes, attributions, and behaviors often appear different when one first hears or reads them. "It's not me!" people say. Compliments by others can increase the likelihood that the new clothes become better accepted and worn more often. Similarly, better reactions from others in response to our revised behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs reinforce our revised hypotheses, ideas, and actions.

     Thus, accepting and getting used to a new self-dialogue, new cognitions, and new behaviors is like trying on, buying, and wearing a very different color or style of suit. New attitudes about yourself and others are as comfortable as a new and different style of clothes you grew to like.

            So, here is a more extended version of the simile. Have you experienced going into a clothing store and looking at some clothes hanging on a rack and thinking they wouldn't look good on you? The salesperson is someone you know or someone you have bought something you liked from before. You trust them. They encourage you to at least try on the outfit. The salesperson tells you that you would look good in it. That suit or dress looks better on you than on the rack. They believe that the style and color are right for you. You're doubtful, but for a few reasons, you agree to at least try it on.

           When you looked at the outfit on you, it did look better. The more you looked at it from different angles, the better it looked. It needed some alterations to fit your particular shape, but that was easy. When you picked up the altered outfit and tried it on at home again, it looked great. Then, when a few people complimented you on the new outfit, you felt good. You were pleased with yourself. You had taken a chance. You trusted the salesperson, an honest salesperson who genuinely believed you would look good. Sure, they wanted to sell you the outfit but wouldn't steer you wrong.

Developing new attitudes and beliefs about yourself, others, and events can be like developing new perspectives and opinions about new clothes. The new clothes might not look beautiful to you at first when you see them on you. But try wearing them; look at yourself with them from different angles. Try them out for a while, and you might be pleasantly surprised at how well they work. See how good you feel with them and how others see you differently and better. See how they seem to grow on you.                

    The above has happened to me several times, so I know it happens. I have heard about this happening many times with others. It is prevalent. Hasn't this happened to you?

There are multiple roots to the origins of the "as if" ideas incorporated into my writings and psychotherapy sessions. These origins include the philosopher Hans Vaihinger, whose "as if" philosophy influenced psychologist George Kelly[i], theory and therapy. Another significant influence on my thinking is the theory of effectance motivation (White, 195g9). My interpretation of Effectance Motivation is the fundamental need to understand.

A detailed discussion of the theories of Valhinger, Kelly, White, and other related approaches is far beyond the scope of this paper. I plan to address these in another document. At this point, I will briefly summarize some of my interpretations of their core thoughts that influenced my thinking. Humans assume and adopt many false and unrealistic beliefs about themselves, others, humanity, life, and more. These assumptions are not subject to sufficient study and thus cannot be confirmed or disconfirmed. Firmly believing these fictions help people justify their behaviors and feel more knowledgeable, empowered, justified, and controlled.

           The Psychiatrist Alfred Adler extended Valhinger's ideas by proposing that people's motivation includes future expectations. One example is behaving in ways consistent with their beliefs in heaven and hell that are fictional but assumed by many people to be true. Thus, they live "as if" there are heaven and hell. Adler referred to this thinking as "Fictional Finalism," behaving from perceived truths that are, in fact, fictional. This idea is unsurprising, including in the recent and current political world.

The less-than-conscious mind accepts much as accurate, which is fictional. Checking with reality can help balance this some of the time. However, sadly, a large segment of the population needs access to the facts and reality to counter the fiction.

Another influence on this theme in my ideas is the work by Robert White (1959), referred to as Effectance Motivation. Briefly, this is the need by humans to experience competence, thus believing that they understand and are correct. According to this reasoning, humans strive to think that we know and are right in our beliefs.

From one perspective, it does not matter whether the ideas are accurate and correct. It only matters that the person has enough knowledge, even fictional knowledge that makes sense to them, to believe they are right.            

It is "as if" they are saying to themselves, "I know; therefore, I am." "I am correct; thereforam okay." "I have enough information; therefore, I am okay." "My knowledge makes sense to me; therefore, I am okay." "Do not confuse me or complicate matters with information that I might not be able to understand." "Keep it simple." "Don't create inconsistencies or other information, including your "facts," that could negate or contradict my knowledge and my understanding."

 Intolerance of Uncertainty (I.U.)

Related to the need to understand is the research on people's intolerance for uncertainty (I.U.). A definition of I.U. is a human personality characteristic that results from a set of negative beliefs about ambiguity, i.e., uncertainty. The implications involve the tendency to react with negative emotions, cognitions, and behaviors to uncertain situations and events (Buhr & Dugas, 2009). People vary in this tolerance for uncertainty (Lauriola, Mosca, Trentini, Foschi, Tambelli, & Carleton, 2018; Morriss, 2019; Gosselin, Ladouceur, Evers, Laverdière, Routhier, & Tremblay-Picard, 2008).

The consequences of being intolerant of uncertainty are overestimating threats, worrying, harboring a need to control uncertain situations, and seeking reassurance. Uncertainty can contribute to significant stress and can result in inefficient coping. Examples include people adopting oversimplified, i.e., superficial and naïve explanations (Berenbaum et al., 2008Rosen et al., 2014Lauriola et al., 2015McEvoy and Erceg-Hurn, 2015Carleton, 2016b). One can think of I.U. as signifying fear of the unknown. (Hong and Cheung, 2015Carleton, 2016a).

Research supports the idea that people with various clinically significant psychological disorders and combinations of disorders harbor varying degrees of uncertainty intolerance. (Holaway et al., 2006Gentes and Ruscio, 2011Sternheim et al., 2011Holaway et al., 2006Yook et al., 2010McEvoy and Mahoney, 2011).

Similarly and by implication, people vary in their intolerance of misunderstanding events or at least the meaning or gist of events. These can include interpretations of oneself and other people's thoughts, intentions, and behaviors.

Listen to people debating on social media. They argue about many topics. These include politics, confederate flags, and "Black Lives Matter." They argue about gender variations. They argue about statues and monuments. People on each side of the debate attempt to justify their certainty in their viewpoints. The debate is "as if" their viewpoints are "facts." In the process, they often disparage the viewpoints of the people with different viewpoints.

This section delves into White's competence motivation[1]or effectance motivation. Effectance motivation is "the desire for effective interaction with the environment" (White, 1969, p. 317). My current interpretation and variation of the definition is the need to understand and make sense of one's environment, other people, ourselves, tasks, and events. One major part of my 1966 doctoral dissertation involved the effects of the assumed uncomfortable feelings associated with uncertainty and not understanding the meaning of events. Among these concepts of interest to me were and still are the motivation:

  • to be logical
  • for certainty
  • to understand and to predict accurately
  • to interact effectively (effectance)
  • to attain competence
  • to be accurate in our interpretation of our environment, events, people, behaviors, and
  • to feel and appear competent

 We also know that humans prefer and seek simple explanations and understanding of the complex worlds of others and ourselves. We typically base our presumed understanding and predictability on minimal variables and information. Look at why we vote for selected candidates, choose mates, make investments, and much more. Of course, many people, including me and you, try to rely on many factors. We weigh many factors, investigate, and consider many alternative explanations, or do we? We try. I try. And yet?

From Bill Griffitt's chapter (Griffitt, 1974), "reinforcement properties of similar and dissimilar attitudes are widely assumed to derive from a general motive to be logical, accurate, and correct (effective) in interpreting one's environment. ….. to the social environment, the accuracy, logicalness, and correctness of beliefs and attitudes concerning issues such as politics, war, and religion may be evaluated only by consensual validation or invalidation through social comparison with others (Festinger, 1954)…" (p.302)

This motive was labeled "effectance" and gleaned from the Robert White Effectance Motivation concept in related work. My use of Effectance Motivation focuses only on that part that involves the aspects that involve people's need to understand and not to master skills and techniques.

This content is also closely related to a more contemporary concept of self-efficacy AND extensive research and writing (Bandura, 1997). It is part of the theoretical and, for me, the logical and practical idea of people actively needing to correctly interpret the statements, thoughts, and behaviors of others and themselves. I am noting the relationship but will only elaborate a little on self-efficacy.

 Conclusions and Summary

So, as the age-old saying goes, "A rose by any other name is still a rose." The theoretical terms, theories, and research differ in some ways, as is common and typical of science and researchers. Each draws on the thinking and research of others and infuses their own with their terminology and variations, implications, predictions, and types of research. Those are standard in science and part of the ways that scientific thought and research progress. For example, ideas, theories, and research often date back to ancient Greek philosophers and other philosophers over the millennia. However, each theory has its terminology, interwoven ideas, implications, and types of research. I am trying to weave together related ideas and theories that support the same or similar ideas stated in various ways. For here, I choose the following tentative wording. 

 We humans,

  • Need and strive to understand and to be effective,
  • We vary and have a variety of limitations within ourselves and within the topics we strive for and need to understand
  • Strongly tend to use various heuristics, thus relatively simple and typically incomplete but also inaccurate in many ways to understand
  • Harbor varying degrees of intolerance for ambiguity and get uncomfortable with such uncertainties
  • Experience distress to the degree that we have such intolerance for uncertainty
  • with various types of limitations, e.g., psychological commonly experience more intolerance for uncertainty
  • Refrain from admitting to ourselves or others that we do not understand many of the perceived and actual crucial topics in our lives, e.g., spiritual, e.g., religious, political, e.g., conservative vs. liberal individual differences, e.g., racial, gender preferences, personality traits- think and behave "as if" we do understand, "as if" we are correct, "as if" there is truth and we know it.

- argue, debate, join, support, aggress against, and even go to war "as if" it is "our way or the highway." To be sure, our "as ifs" are sometimes correct in history and our lives. However, I believe that even in many of those instances, we do not know. Still, we allow our thoughts and emotional reactivity to dominate our lives "as if" they are in charge.

 There is a simile about our thoughts being like the defense and prosecution in a courtroom. Our positive and reassuring thoughts are our defense. However, our defense attorney is incompetent and ill-informed. The negative thoughts, with negative implications and outcomes, are like the powerful prosecutor. The prosecutor has been more easily persuading the judge and jury. This situation persists until our defense attorney displays devotion to speaking for our best interests. Our preferred defense needs to prepare better and rehearse.

We want our defense attorney to object to false accusations about symptoms, abilities to manage, and helplessness. We want our defense attorney to object rapidly before the prosecutor's words are allowed to influence the jury. Thus, we want the preferred thoughts to arise fast and effectively. I also wrote about this simile in my "Defend Yourself" Blog.

There is a more encouraging and preferable interpretation compared to the view that we humans do not understand anything. We need not live entirely in a "make-believe" or "as if" world.

Humans can behave fine with theories and belief systems that are functional, that work, that need not harm others, and that do not harm themselves. These beliefs allow and facilitate reasonably efficient and caring interpersonal relationships. We need not be perfect. We need to understand only some of what we seek to understand. We can and do make lots of mistakes. We can learn to tolerate lots of uncertainty. We can believe in and interpret "as if" systems in religion, for example, and yet not adopt all of the systems and not interpret parts that will harm others or ourselves.

We can support our political and religious systems without depriving others of their beliefs. We can learn to work together and compromise without believing that compromise means we lose or are doomed. We do not necessarily have to consider our beliefs, our theories, as the only correct ones.

Is this easy? No, of course, it is not easy! Are some people, perhaps many people, incapable of doing it? Apparently, in the environment in which they live and with their limitations and burdens, I reluctantly agree that many are not capable. My purpose here is not to persuade all or most readers to strive for this ideal world. My purpose is to enlighten people to think differently. I want readers to understand themselves and others from different vantage points. Be more flexible, be knowledgeable, and be more accepting of yourselves. Develop and cultivate thoughts and behaviors that facilitate improved adaptation. Those who can better adapt will be more successful in life.

Consider the familiar situation when one set of beliefs, a theory about yourself and others, is not working well for you. When this situation results in much distress, find another set of beliefs with better results. This option is akin to saying that if a scientist's theory is not allowing accurate predictions that account for enough of the data variability, then modify the theory. In this case, modify your interpretations of yourself, others, events, etc. Keep adjusting until you feel much better and predict more accurately and with more benefits for you and those relevant to you. So, if my behavior is not leading to the desired emotions and behaviors within me or by others, then modify your beliefs and try different behaviors. "Elementary, my dear Watson."


Bandura, A. (1997). Self-efficacy: The exercise of control. New York: W H Freeman/TimesBooks/ Henry Holt & Co.

Birrell, J. & Freeston, M. (2011). Toward a definition of intolerance of uncertainty: A review of factor analytical studies of the Intolerance of Uncertainty Scale. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(7), pp. 1198-1208.

 Buhr, K. &Dugas, M. J. (2009).The role of fear of anxiety and intolerance of uncertainty in worry: An experimental manipulation. Research and Therapy, 47(3), 215-223.  

 Fergus, T. A. (2013). A comparison of three self-report measures of intolerance of uncertainty: An examination of structure and incremental explanatory power in a community sample. Psychological Assessment, 25(4), 1322–1331. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0034103

Gosselin, P., Ladouceur, R., Evers, A., Laverdière, A., Routhier, S., & Tremblay-Picard, M.(2008). The Intolerance of Uncertainty Inventory (IUI): Development and Validation of a New Self-Report Measure. Anxiety Disorders, 22(8), 1427-1439.

 Griffitt, W. (1974). Attitude Similarity and Attraction (Ch. 12). In T.L.Huston, T. L. (Ed.) Foundations of Interpersonal Attraction. New York: Academic Press.

 Lauriola, M., Mosca, O., Trentini, C., Foschi, R, Tambelli, R. & Carleton, R.N. (2018).The Intolerance of Uncertainty Inventory: Validity and Comparison of Scoring Methods to Assess Individuals Screening Positive for Anxiety and Depression. Frontiers in Psychology, March 26, 2018. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00388 https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.00388/full

Morriss, J. (2019). What do I do now? Intolerance of uncertainty is associated with discrete patterns of anticipatory physiological responding to different contexts. Psychophysiology56(9),      https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13396

  [1] https://www.psywww.com/intropsych/ch09-motivation/competence-motivation.html

  [i] Coincidentally, my 2nd cousin, Jonathan Raskin, Ph.D., is an authority on George Kelly, Ph.D. and has published many papers about him. He wrote the document "As if" in "The Internet Encyclopaedia of Personal Construct Psychology." 


 BLOG 5 -- Reading a Person's Personal Journal: Why? Why Not? Risks? Perspectives that You Might Not Have Considered. 

Why am I writing this? My rationale for writing this stemmed from two of my patients with very different life situations that presented them and us in our therapy relationship during multiple sessions with circumstances that presented and still present substantial challenges that were and still are unique in my professional experience. Our sessions about the topic and challenges engendered and facilitated thoughts of mine, empathy with the patients for their dilemma and challenge, and my thinking about the potential issues, problems, and even risks. 

One of my patients was struggling with whether or not to read the journal of a family member who was no longer alive, having died from suicide. The content of our sessions, my patient's dilemma and ambivalence, and my thoughts during and after sessions helped propel me to pursue this blog with the notes I took Blogng our sessions. 

           With the other patient, their journaling was partly motivated by my encouragement and discussions about the potential benefits of creating a personal journal. In this case, another unrelated but very close person in my patient's life found the journal when alone in my patient's house, read it, and became very upset and angry about the content. That person's behavior then was very disruptive and destructive of my patient's personal property. That person angrily conveyed their reading of the journal to my patient, and their relationship ended. As it turned out, the end of the relationship was probably in my patient's best interest, but how it occurred was very upsetting to them and disruptive to the preferred therapeutic plans before the events. Fortunately, there was no disastrous outcome, thus no physical harm to anyone. However, the outcome could have been disastrous given a few possible changes in a few specifics in the two parties involved. Our sessions, my notes, and my thoughts during and after these sessions also stimulated my motivation to explore this topic and share my thinking with others. 

           These two cases are intentionally ambiguous in part to disguise any features of the two patients. However, suppose the two patients read this blog. In that case, they miBlogrecognize enough that they might have been one of my patients whose experiences I described. However, even this would only be partially clear to either of them. I have no problem or concern with them believing or knowing that their life experiences and our sessions motivate this blog. We discussed much of Blogcontent, or at least the gist of this content, in this blog during our sessions. 

Blogal health professionals often suggest or encourage their patients to create a personal journal expressing openly and with emotion their thoughts and feelings. These expressions can be and often are therapeutic. There are books about this topic and considerable research supporting the potential value of such journaling. (See Resources at the end of this blog for selected referenceBlogMost people, including mental health professionals, consider such journaling documents as "confidential" for the person journaling or between the patient/client and their therapist. Even for those people who learn of these references and read some of them such as for "self-help" or hear about the recommendations and techniques and then proceed with journaling, the writer has the right to consider the content as confidential, even considering the motivation and desire of parents and other people in similar roles in their lives. Of course, most people write expressively about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences without a therapist's direction or reading one or more books or articles about this type of journaling. 

This blog does not address the pBlogcy issues, such as HIPAA statutes, about family members gaining access to their family member's journalling that could be in the possession of mental health or medical providers. It is not about the parents of preadolescents or early adolescent children whose diaries might contain important information about their possible illegal activities, risky activities, or vital information that could affect people's safety. I need to be more knowledgeable or qualified to write about these topics. 

Furthermore, when someone, the author of the personal journal, wants to share their written documents with a friend or family, that is their right to do so as if they were sending a letter/email to the other person. However, I typically caution such people to edit and reflect on how other people, the recipient in particular but others as well, might interpret the content, react to the content, or their interpretation of the content. I also often caution the author to think carefully about their intent in sharing the content with another person. Too often, people journal or write communication content to others (e.g., spouse, other family, or other person) without sufficient reflection and consideration of potential and often unintended misinterpretations and ramifications. 

I understand, of course, as I assume most or all blog readers understand, the curiosity, the perceived "need to know" about the other person's (that is, the writer's) personal thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. These "other" people include their offspring and their spouses/life partners, parents, and various other people in our lives. Humans want and perceive a "need to know" to "understand," even if not fully or verified. Humans feel more comfortable when they think they "understand" even when the reality of the "understanding" is "as if" it were true, accurate, complete, and sufficient. (See my blog on the topic of "as ifBlogd noting "effectance" motivation" as a fundamental need to understand). 

Another influence on this theme in my ideas is the work by Robert White (1959), referred to as Effectance Motivation. Briefly, this is the need by humans to experience competence, thus believing that they understand and are correct. According to this reasoning, humans strive to think that we know and are right in our beliefs. From one perspective, it does not matter whether the ideas are accurate and correct. It only matters that the person has enough knowledge, even fictional knowledge that makes sense to them, to believe they are right. It is "as if" they are saying to themselves, "I know; therefore, I am." "I am correct; therefore, I am okay." "I have enough information; therefore, I am okay." "My knowledge makes sense to me; therefore, I am okay." "Do not confuse me or complicate matters with information that I might not be able to understand." "Keep it simple." "Don't create inconsistencies or other information, including your "facts," that could negate or contradict my knowledge and understanding." (Blog 3: Schwartz, M.S. (2020). Believing and behaving "as if," Facing "reality," understanding oneself better, managing many stressors, and accepting the "bad" and the "good" sides..) 


It is "as if" the information in the other person's journal provides me, the reader, logical and presumably sufficient information and explanations that very often seem sufficient. Humans also prefer simple or relatively simple explanations and interpretations and often do not reflect and consider the variety of possible explanations, meaning, and validity of the writer's content. It is, unfortunately, often accepted "at face value." 

           "Did I do something to contribute?" "Did I say something?" "Could I have done something to have prevented the writer's thoughts, feelings, and behaviors?" These are among the myriad of reasons and perceived reasons why we might want to read someone else's journal. I want to know. I need to know!

           A significant rationale for not reading the personal journal or diary of another person includes avoiding being misled, thus avoiding the distress and consequences of reading unedited, inaccurate thoughts and feelings contained in the content of the other person's journalling or diary and then living with incorrect interpretations, mistaken beliefs, and unintended consequences.   

Remember that interpretations of even great historical authors vary among experts reading and interpreting the same content. Varied interpretations exist even for the Bible, the US Constitution, and other documents. The intent and meaning of the same content varies among readers, including those academics and experts who read and interpret the same content and the authors. 

This variability of interpretations also exists for the interpretations and applications to individuals based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual from the American Psychiatric Association. Thus, when presented with the same patient, history, behaviors, and symptoms, various Psychiatrists, Psychologists, and other Mental Health Professionals often provide varied matches with varied diagnoses. Thus, diagnoses often differ. One aspect of this variability is the complexity and limited reliability of interpreting text content.

            The same can and is said about interpreting the oral content of what people say. Interpretation can and is improved considerably when the author takes great care in selecting words and sentences and when the person is very sophisticated and erudite in their use of language. Of course, most people lack these language advantages. Even when they have a reasonable degree of such skills, they likely will not choose to apply such skills in their journaling. 

Then, consider that many, if not most, of the journal content, when written, is done so during or soon after stressful and emotionally challenging periods and experiences. This writing happens when applying erudite and carefully worded language is not foremost in a writer's priorities. Another primary consideration when considering reading someone's journal is that they wrote it without awareness or intent that someone else will read it or that someone else might understand it differently than intended. 

For all the above reasons, why would a potential reader consider that they, the unexpected reader, will even remotely interpret the content correctly and sufficiently, understand the intent, and gain meaningful and unambiguous intent and meaning from the other person's journaling? 

Also, consider that when speaking and writing, most people soon or often immediately reflect on what they have said or written and edit, clarify, and revise what they said or wrote. Essentially, all authors do this routinely. The first draft is seldom, if ever, the final draft. 

Even listening to people speak often shows rapid changes in the use of specific words and phrases to reflect better their thoughts, intent, and accuracy. So, why would we consider that the same process is needed when writing yet often omitted for various reasons, e.g., time constraints, emotions, and circumstances? 

So, what do you do? Not surprisingly, the answers are sometimes complex. However, reasonable answers also can be relatively simple. If I am in your place, what do I do with the motivation and temptation to read the personal journal of that person in my life? Can I ignore or forget it? I understand that option is not feasible. One does not "walk away" and forget something as potentially informative and potentially emotionally charged as the personal journal of someone who is or was so close to you. 

           You are already pursuing one option in managing the motivation and temptation to read it. You are reading this blog. I intended this blog Bloge helpful to you, Blogreaders, faced with this significant challenge. 

The motivation and temptation will likely persist to some significant degree. Periodic reflection and self-talk with ongoing cognitive reframing (cognitive restructuring) will likely persist. That is not fundamentally different from our managing a wide variety of other stressful challenges that we all face. We all go through this ongoing process when faced with stressors such as various losses and adjusting to relationships for which factors support various options, with a choice of behavior being the best or least problematic. 

We often elect our political leaders after choosing the "least problematic" of multiple choices. And there are many other examples of avoiding, minimizing, or otherwise adapting to restraining ourselves from some otherwise strong motivations. I know I do, and often. I will not elaborate.  

Is there valid, factual, and accurate content in the personal journals and diaries? Of course, but that is not the point of this blog. I am not suggesting oBlogtending to imply or state that the contents of that "other" person's journal do not contain valid, accurate content with or without careful writing, sufficient reflection, and thoughtful and competent editing. I state this in case some readers of this blog interpreted other partBlog implying, even from my omission, anything that might suggest that such an omission could reflect my dissing the accuracy, valid, and helpful content of this journaling. 

Even mentioning this might seem absurd to some readers. Of course, such an omission would not mean or imply such a viewpoint by me. Yet, omissions sometimes raise eyebrows and offer fodder for those readers who disagree with me regarding the rest of this blog. And, I am not naïve that there will be readers who disagree with the overall and specific intent and content of this blog. That disagreement could be motivated by various reasons, a discussion that goes beyond this blog's scope or at least a Blog'sable allocation of space.  

           In conclusion, if you, the readers of this blog, are faced with the availability of the personal written journal of another important person in your life and have the opportunity, the motivation, the strong temptation, the perceived need, the perceived justification, the encouragement to do so by other people in your life, be careful, be very careful, before proceeding. Think about the ethical considerations, of course. Think about the risks as well as the potential advantages and cautions. Consider discussing it with trusted, well-trained, and experienced professionals, e.g., a mental health professional. Consider your motivations. Consider the potential consequences, especially if you find content that is ambiguous or upsetting to you. Consider whether you would want anyone reading your journal in a reversed situation.  

 Resources (Selected therapeutic writing ("journaling")

 Pennebaker, James W. & Smyth, Joshua M. (2016). Opening up by writing it down: How

expressive writing improves health and eases emotional pain (3rd Ed.)—New York: The Guilford Press. 

Lepore, Stephen J. & Smyth, Joshua M. (2002). The writing cure: How expressive writing

promotes health and emotional well-being (1st Ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. 

BLOG 1 -- Defend your innocence. Stop prosecuting yourself. Stop bolstering your prosecutor. Act "as if" there is a real case to make about yourself because there is! Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D. 


BLOG 2 -- Hyper-focusing on undesirable body sensations, thus magnifying them in our perceptions, can make them seem worse and prolong them. Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D. 


BLOG 3 -- Believing and Behaving "As If" / Facing "Reality" / Understand Oneself Better /  Manage Many Stressors  Mark S. Schwartz, Ph.D. 


BLOG 5 -- Reading a Person's Personal Journal: Why? Why Not? Risks? Perspectives that you might not have considered. Mark S Schwartz, Ph.D. October 24, 2023