Interview with Dr. Paul Hokemeyer and Dr. Marta Ra
Dr. Paul Hokemeyer is an internationally renowned psychotherapist and author. Dr. Paul is a clinical and consulting psychotherapist who, like Paracelsus Recovery, specializes in treating celebrities and ultra-high-net-worth individuals. A member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapists, he’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and was certified as a clinical trauma professional. In addition to holding a Ph.D. in psychology, Dr. Paul holds a doctorate in law. Dr. Paul is the author of Fragile Power, Why Having Everything is Never Enough, which poignantly explains why successful people are stigmatized, how lonely it can be at the top, and what mental health difficulties power can bring. His remarkable capacity for compassion and empathy set the tone of both his book and life’s work.
Dr. Marta Ra Hello, I am Dr. Marta Ra, CEO of Paracelsus Recovery. I am incredibly excited to have today with me Dr. Paul Hokemeyer, a celebrity in my industry. I have here my personal copy which hopefully will be signed one day by you, Dr. Paul. Thank you very much for taking time today to speak to me.
Dr. Hokemeyer Thank you, it’s a pleasure to be here, halfway around the world.
Dr. Marta Ra Thank you very much. Well I already held the book up, Fragile Power — while having everything it’s never enough. We will dig into that definitely a bit later, but before we do that, how have you personally coped during the last weeks, during the COVID lockdown yourself?
Dr. Hokemeyer They are challenging times aren’t they? It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster for me you know, I have some days that are good and I have some days that are not so good. What I have found personally, is that it’s a process and I have to ground myself in that process so that I don’t get caught up in this swirl and the anxiety that’s surrounding all of the uncertainty that we have in the world. So the two main ways that I do that I do that is that every morning I practice gratitude. I list 5 things for which I’m grateful, it could be as simple as just having a cup of coffee that morning. But by doing that, by grounding myself in a number of things that I’m grateful for and remembering things I’m grateful for, I can keep myself from getting caught up in the swirl. And the other thing that I do is I try to live my life in 24-hour segments because it’s quite easy isn’t it to get caught up in the swirl of what will the world look like once this is all over? Or what does the world look like now? What does this mean for humanity? What does this mean for our relationships, for our families, for our countries? But if I can keep myself in 24-hour segments and try to do something that has meaning and purpose, so grounding myself in gratitude and then finding something that has meaning for me personally that I feel like I can make a positive contribution to the world, whether it’s as simple as picking up a piece of rubbish that I see on the street, of course, then I go immediately to wash my hands, with COVID! But again,it’s that, it’s doing something that’s positive and tangible.
Dr. Marta Ra Thank you very much for sharing your personal insights and your tips. If I may extend in that direction, what is the most suggested tip that you give to your clients?
Dr. Hokemeyer Basically the same thing. So it’s keeping themselves grounded, living in 24-hour segments, finding something to be grateful for and creating meaning in our lives. This is an extraordinary moment for humanity, that we’re living in a huge transformation of our world order, of power, you know my work is power constructs, some identity constructs and because of the lockdown, we’re being forced to spend an enormous amount of times with ourselves. Most of my patients who come to me are living alone and they’re suffering from extraordinary existential anxiety and they’re hungering for a connection and they’re digging quite deep and they’re asking themselves very important existential questions. Who am I? What do I want the world to be? How do I want to live in this world? And through COVID and through the lockdown, we’ve all experienced an editing of our lives so the world, you, me, my practice was and is very international and I was probably in a couple of different cities a month and that’s not happening anymore so I’m forced to spend a lot of time with ‘self’, my patients are forced to spend a lot of time with ‘self’ and we’re working in terms of making meaning and moving ourselves, in our world and in our relationships in a reparative direction, because I think we recognize there’s an enormous amount of destruction that was happening personally, interpersonally and then social culturally.
Dr. Marta Ra So you have touched upon now the new reality that we live in and also the topic of purpose and also the topic of loneliness. If we could maybe expand a little bit on the topic of new reality and the implication of loneliness and then I would add another word, aloneness. So what are your clients now facing, is it aloneness or loneliness and is this what is most difficult for them or something else?
Dr. Hokemeyer They’re quite similar but different, aren’t they, this notion of loneliness and alone. So alone can be very rewarding and enriching and if we look at most of the great philosophical thinkers psychological constructs, people have removed themselves from the world to think, to think constructively, and to spend alone time. Loneliness is this angst that we get when we feel disconnected from the world and look, human beings, we are built for connection, we come to being in a relationship, first between our parents and then in the body of our mother and within the first moment of existential anxiety that we have is when we emerge from the womb, right? Many of my patients always say the problem started when I just came out of the womb and that’s quite true, isn’t it because we have this profound moment of disconnection when our lives depend on the care and nurturing and being seen and validated by another human being and depending upon the quality of that relationship, depending on the quality of that mirroring and that nurturing, that really sets forth the trajectory of our life, how well we are, how safe we feel in the world, how safe we feel with ourselves, how safe we feel in our relationships so this loneliness is this angst that claws at us, that we need to feel connected with other human beings and I know in your work in particular, most of the patients who come to you are suffering from some sort of substance abuse disorder and so that is a need to fill or to medicate the angst that comes from feeling this existential loneliness that haunts us. And it haunts all of us, we all feel alone, I feel certainly alone in the world and I have, as I wrote in my book, a very important developmental phases in my life and then the issue becomes what’s the quality of the therapeutic team that you align yourself with, to get you out of that loneliness and to make that therapeutic connection?
Dr. Marta Ra So we have clients that share, even those who are surrounded by their spouse, partner and children, they still feel very lonely so they experience loneliness. How would you explain that, in your view?
Dr. Hokemeyer We all have this need to be seen and validated, that’s deep in the core of us as human beings. And so a lot of it is biological, you know because again, our existence depends on being properly seen and validated and that ebbs over life, when we find meaning and purpose in our lives but it’s still with us all the time, I look at that basically like a life force so that angst, that discomfort that we have to connect, causes us to move, hopefully in a reparative direction, hopefully if I’m feeling disconnected from my spouse, that I will take actions to make a meaningful connection with him or her but not often, right? Sometimes we get off track and we find spending money to soothe us, or we find alcohol to sooth us or we find prescription drugs or we find exercise or we find food, you can find a whole other — there are lots of ways to try to medicate and to try to soothe that, but that hunger that we have to connect with another human being is a force that when properly directed, can move us in a reparative healing direction so that we can move ourselves to be the best human beings that we are called to be on this earth and I think that if we are placed on this planet, that we have a calling, that we have a mission in life and that we have an obligation to be of service to the world and try to improve humanity, and that’s organic, that’s hardwired into our DNA.
Dr. Marta Ra So in the last weeks, from time to time you see little videos from let’s say famous singers who are stuck at home who were supposed to go on tour and they’re all alone, so what kind of fear are they facing and how are they dealing with it?
Dr. Hokemeyer They are missing that external validation. So the nature of a celebrity construct is that, this is why celebrities who achieve celebrity at a very young age struggle so much because they get this extraordinary elevated baseline level of gratification. So a celebrity could have millions and millions of adoring fans right, and so the validation that they get from that is extraordinary, the highs are really high and the lows are really low and it becomes a bit of an addictive process doesn’t it? So we know that addiction has 2 key elements — there’s the notion of tolerance and withdrawal. So tolerance means that I need more and more of the activity or the substance to achieve the same baseline level of satisfaction. So let’s say I’m a music star and I sold 2 million records last time. Now the expectation is that for my next record, I have to sell 3 million, at least. Right? Simultaneous with this expectation of having to do more is this terror of failing because when you’re up on a perch, really you think the only way to go is down and there’s this extraordinary anxiety and this extraordinary fear of failure. When you think about it from the other side, if I’m living my life in failure, I can kind of always have hope that that can change, right? But for celebrities, it’s extraordinarily difficult, because they live in such a high baseline level of validation and external rewards and the lows that come with that are quite extraordinary and typically what happens is they don’t have a proper support system around them to provide them with, let’s say, what are qualitative measures of success — integrity in relationships, being properly seen and validated for their humanness which is the center of my work and your work as well. It’s piercing that veneer of labels that we assign on every human being that walks our planet. Woman, you’re a woman so there’s certain labels and certain expectations that are around that. If I’m a person of color that has a very significant meaning in our society, in our world still today. If you are a celebrity, it’s another label that we have all sorts of expectations and prejudices about what that means. In order to deliver quality therapeutic care to that patient who comes, that celebrity patient, or that woman, the beautiful woman who comes to you, or the person of colour who comes to you, you have to pierce those, you have to push through, you have to acknowledge those labels and then you have to push through them to get to the humanness, to get to the person who is in pain underlying for those labels, and that’s the art of psychotherapy and that’s the art that I write about in my book.
Dr. Marta Ra You gave me a very good chance to now touch upon the topic of cultural competence, if you allow. Could you please elaborate a little bit on your concept and how you’ve applied it successfully in your work with your clients?
Dr. Hokemeyer So my career as a therapist and as an author has been rather circuitous, it’s not been a direct line at all. I started my career as an economics major and I was in banking and then I became a lawyer and then I went into the realm of philanthropy, I was doing social justice work and throughout that thread of my existence I saw that people of wealth were being addressed and viewed and talked about in a very objectifying way. I did my training with a very marginalized population, I worked with HIV positive transgender sex workers and so you have one end of the economic and power belt curve and then simultaneous as a lawyer and in banking I was working with another, complete opposite side of the economic and power belt curve which are people who have extraordinary power and I observed that while the externals of these people’s lives were quite different, internally, very much the same. They suffered from things like an insecure attachment where someone early in their developmental path had betrayed them and so they viewed human relationships as unsafe and actually dangerous. The field that we are in, the field that we work in, the field of behavioral health had done an extraordinary job of working with people who live in a world of positions of powerlessness. So if we think about theoretical constructs like feminist theory upon which I base my work, notions of LGBT work, the construct of minority stress that came from Dr Meyer out of Columbia University, it said that people who live in a world where minority positions don’t suffer from substance abuse and mental health disorders because they’re genetically predisposed, but more because of the stress that they experience by living in a world in a minority position. And I thought to myself, wait a minute, here I am working with the population over here of people who live in positions of power and wealth, that’s a minority population. We call them the top 1% or the top 10%. Why haven’t we looked at the distinct cultural markers of this particular population and developed a clinical construct to address it and so my PhD work, I did a master’s degree in clinical psychology with the focus on family systems at a very progressive school and all that was talked about was being culturally competent and being able to address people who are different from ourselves. But those are all people who lived in the world and positions of powerlessness and so for me, as a privileged white male, I came in as the white doctor and they looked at me with a lot of respect and they would tend to listen to what I said because I brought with me all this power. This other group, not so much, they challenged everything that I said. Who are you? I just sold my company for 500 million Euros, who are you to tell me what to do? And I thought this is interesting, that we have not been able to develop an effective… and then we wonder why celebrities and people of wealth fail to get the quality care that they need, right? Their deaths are legion, we just think of everyone from Marilyn Monroe to Whitney Houston to Prince, the list just grows every single day. And I thought well that’s because we haven’t developed an effective clinical philosophy, a therapeutic technique to address this so I did my PhD in ultra high net worth identity constructs, so how people of wealth in particular, manifest their identities personally, interpersonally and then social-culturally and I developed a clinical formulation to address the humanness with that population and look, this isn’t a better than, less than — a lot of my work I get some push back in terms of …in fact, when I was looking for a dissertation committee with several very esteemed, one particular existential psychotherapist who is very renowned said to me Paul, why would you waste your time studying rich people? And I immediately said, I was quick, for that very reaction which you just had, because there’s this like, they’re not worthy of study and that as a human being who believes in culturally competent and clinically excellent and compassionate care, I don’t care where you are on the economic belt curve. I don’t think that we can put an economic threshold on who’s deserving quality, culturally competent care. So off I went and I did my PhD and then you know, then working with a number of clinicians and I worked with you guys as well. like developing, really developing and training clinicians to work with this particular population as a cultural competency and getting away from this notion of better than, less than, more deserving, less deserving. If you are born on this planet, you deserve care that respects and honors and meets you in your distinct identity constructs.
Dr. Marta Ra That’s a very nice way how you put it and I’m sure you’re often being asked that question — why are those wealthy people deserving to be treated and to be treated so well. there are enough less wealthy people who are much more struggling.
Dr. Hokemeyer Right.
Dr. Marta Ra So now that you are focusing on this particular minority, in your daily job right now, have you had much more requests since the lockdown or has the work changed?
Dr. Hokemeyer It’s changed and it’s been — my practice is, I tend to have a small practice because the people that I work with are complicated and the power, managing the power is a lot of work as you well know. But my practice has grown, probably doubled in the last couple of months from patients who I’d seen before who are coming back, from people who are just feeling profoundly alone, from people who really kind of want to use this opportunity to create meaning and purpose in their lives and we evaluate how they’re living their lives and how they’re spending their time and how they’re spending their resources in particular, people who are really hungry for meaning right now and using this time for transformation. The people that I have the privilege of working with — accomplish, success is very important to them and I will not diminish success. I think success is very important and I think power is incredibly important and I want to see power used in a healing, constructive way. I think wherever we are now in our society, in our world, we have had an explosion of narcissism, and narcissism is a way that people can use power in a very destructive way. And so my work, through my work, I enable my patients to connect with humanity. Most of the patients that come to you, that come to me, one of their cultural markers of this particular population is isolation. And so because of this, this isn’t unique to this population — all minority populations feel isolated from the rest of humanity because they’re minority populations, right? So it’s just inherent in that identity, there’s a sense of isolation so my work enables my patients to develop empathy and to develop compassion for the rest of humanity. Look, we have been talking about wealth and equality for decades now, it’s only getting worse, it’s not getting better because basically you have this division, you have this construct of us versus them and in this place of division, we are never going to fill the gap. My work is to work with people of power and help them realize that empathy and compassion for other human beings is a valuable proposition and by doing that, I hope that I can do my part to help bridge the gap between the haves and the have nots.
Dr. Marta Ra Wow, that’s a very beautiful way of doing that.
Dr. Hokemeyer It’s an ambitious goal, but you know — because I look at what we’ve been doing and it’s just not working, it’s only getting worse. So I feel that the solution can come in mental health and relational healing and that’s my calling, that’s my work.
Dr. Marta Ra I can absolutely feel that this is your passion and you’re dedicating your life to this. So if I may ask, are you seeing more men or women? I’m very interested if let’s say, the strong, I’m not speaking in stereotypes, the strong men who aren’t supposed to show weakness, if there is a shift now through Covid?
Dr. Hokemeyer There is, you know you tend to see, it’s interesting in this profession, you tend to see who you are and my career is I tend to see the issues I need to work with in my life so the universe puts my patients in front of me to help me with that process. I tend to see more men because I’m a man and the field of behavioral health, there aren’t many men, it’s very much a women dominated field, I think empirically it’s maybe 30% of the field are men so my practice probably tends to skew more towards men, but I see a lot of women as well. It’s really a function of the issue and it has to be a proper fit, right? It has to be a proper fit for me, the first analysis, the first question that I ask myself when I’m approached by a new patient is what’s the value I can give to that patient? If I can’t come up with a very clear, if I can’t articulate a very clear value proposition, then I will refer the case out, so I won’t take the case. So I have to feel like I can provide real value to that particulate patient regardless of their gender, actually regardless of where they are in the social economic spectrum. I mean I have patients who are not wealthy as well so you know, it just depends on what presenting issue is and if I feel I can provide value to that particular patient.
Dr. Marta Ra So regardless of wealth, all we have in common is the topic purpose right? So why is humanity now in a purpose crisis?
Dr. Hokemeyer I think there are a number of reasons. I think that, I like to think in terms of the macro and the micro. So I like to think in terms of the global and the interpersonal so from a macro standpoint, I think that technology has really, it’s an extraordinarily wonderful thing, but our humanness has not been able to keep up with the pace of technology. So if you look at other industrial revolutions, they were slow, much slower, we as human beings are extraordinarily adaptive and that’s one of the things I’m learning and seeing in this pandemic is how we’ve adapted, to this technology in particular. Even though I had an international practice, I was very resistant to see patients over technology because I like to work with all of my senses. You know, we’re human beings, particularly human beings who have trauma backgrounds, we intuitively feel our way with our patients and I work with a lot of patients, probably 90% of my patients have some sort of trauma in their background but I’ve adapted to this technology, it’s a lot harder for me, I still struggle with it, but we do it. So from a macro universal level, our central nervous system hasn’t been able to keep us with technology and we’re flooded with all sorts of information. And then I think that power has been taken by people who A. don’t deserve it and who aren’t responsible with it and who have used it in their narcissistic, destructive ways and I think that again, that it’s been an integration that we’ve conflated celebrity with compassion or with qualities we projected a lot of undeserving qualities in people with power and in that process, we as human beings have given our power away to people who don’t deserve it and we’re finding ourselves being betrayed by those people who occupy those positions of power. So I think that that’s where we are and I think that one of the gifts of this pandemic is that again, we’re being forced to spend more time with self and have meaningful relationships in our lives so with our spouses and families, and we’re finding our power in that. I hope we will be able to reclaim the power that we’ve been giving away, that we’ve been seduced. I wanted to say given away carelessly, but I don’t think that’s a fair statement, I think the fairer statement is we’ve been seduced to give our power away to people who don’t deserve it. We live in a world, particularly in the West, where we are constantly bombarded with commercial messages, upon what does it mean to be a person of value? Am I value if I don’t drive an expensive — my personal value is low if I don’t drive an expensive European sports car or if I don’t have a Swiss watch on my hand? I had to give a shout out to Switzerland. And so we have been, we are rewarded literally for spending money. When you think about all of these reward programs are credit cards, we get points, we get reward points for spending money so we have been seduced into this culture of believing that success is an outside job and that we are what we own, if we don’t have a designer hand bag, the list goes on. And so I think we’ve been seduced to giving our power away to entities and to people who don’t deserve it and who can’t handle it and we need to reclaim our power back.
Dr. Marta Ra But if we look back again on the celebrity topic, those people are very powerful, right and successful. And how come if they’re so powerful and successful, still in some cases, there is a purpose missing? What is happening there?
Dr. Hokemeyer Because power, the power of celebrity is like the power of electricity. So electricity is an amazing thing, you and I can communicate halfway around the world because we have electric, we have power. Power if it’s not properly utilized, electricity can kill a person right? If I put my hand on it so the power of celebrity in particular, has to be used in a constructive positive way and so that requires a very strong scaffolding, internal scaffolding, a strong sense of self, a sense of self that’s divorced from the celebrity identity. So if you look at people who I think have been quite successful in managing their celebrity identity, they’ve been able to divorce their selves, their true selves from their celebrity label. Kim Kardashian is actually a good example. So Kim Kardashian has this persona, and I don’t know Ki Kardashian, I’ve never treated her, big disclaimer here, but as a social scientist I’m also a researcher, she’s created this fiction of herself. If you’ve ever seen an interview of Kim Kardashian as a human being, it’s quite different, isn’t it? So being able to separate those two out, and so celebrities who haven’t been successful in doing that haven’t been able to tease that out and, they’ve given their power away to people who don’t deserve it, because they don’t have the internal scaffolding to be able to weather and to be able to use their intuition in a way that tells them who is trust worthy, who is worthy of trust and who is not worthy or trust which brings me, perhaps not us but to me, to another construct that I think is important to talk about in our work, which is this notion of vulnerability. So a lot of top psychologists, a lot of popular psychologists are now talking about this construct of vulnerability as if it’s this carte blanche, that we should be vulnerable in all areas of our lives, with every human being we meet. That is so dangerous! That is such a fiction! That vulnerability needs to be used strategically and in a way that challenges us, challenges us to grow but that’s safe and it’s grounded and this is particularly important for people who have a trauma background and I think celebrities — they’re vulnerable — so many areas of their whole existence is about critique and about judgement. Every piece of work, every act of creation, inherent in creation is judgment and criticism. Every work of art, every piece of literature, everything that involves, every meal that we make, right, every cake that we bake has judgment in it — oh this is so good, this isn’t — so inherent in creation is judgement and when you’re a celebrity and your whole life was built upon creativity, and the bigger you get the more expanded that becomes, and the more intense that judgment is and it just claws and eats and scratches and as we see, it’s profoundly, and then historically, these human beings don’t have a place to go because their clinicians objectify them and manipulate them because they haven’t been trained to work with them as human beings. And the field of behavioral health has done a good job in terms of marketing to this particular population, but they haven’t done anything in terms of developing any clinical cooperation. I worked with a number of treatment centers around the world and my work was always, wait a minute, you have these beautiful marketing materials, but how about your clinical team, would your clinical team know what to do?, how to properly handle a patient that has mega wealth or mega celebrity who came in or not, and typically they’ll have very good answers. So that’s why I wrote my book and came up with a distinct clinical formulation.
Dr. Marta Ra It’s really very, very exciting what you write about in your book, I have so many questions on my list but I would like to continue on that topic that you have raised right now, with regards to those celebrities who have the power, who have the people around them, who are successful and then — for example Amy Winehouse takes her life. How is this possible? Those people are for sure not alone. How can it come so far, I mean physically?
Dr. Hokemeyer But they’re lonely, right. I mean I think if you look at the narrative of Amy Winehouse, there’s this narrative of she didn’t have anybody who she could attach to, who she could trust and that the people around here, the significant people who should have been protecting and caring for her were the people that basically were engaging in exploitation and so she didn’t have an anchor. There was nothing for her to hold onto that was worthy of grabbing a hold of and that’s typically what happens. The person who really breaks my heart most is Whitney Houston. I mean the most extraordinarily talented, everything going for her, yet she was just cast at sea. I lived in Hollywood for a long time and I know that, people know that Whitney suffered for a long time and nobody was able to really step up in a way that was able to repair her, to give her an anchor in her world. And that’s what happens, the people begin to — yeah, I mean this is not a new tale that people view them as objects and people just suck the life force out of them, essentially is what happens and they just become shells of human beings. I mean look at the narrative of Prince, again, Michael Jackson, the same narrative, these were the most talented, brightest lights on the planet, Judy Garland, that and their life force got sucked out of them. Someone said, it wasn’t me, another celebrity, I think it was Frank Sinatra, said that every time she performs, a little bit of her dies, that her light was so bright and so extraordinary and she gave so much of herself that it just diminished and depleted her and she didn’t have other human beings that fed her up, everybody was just sucking the life force out of her. So it’s a sad tale, and then you know, then they go to a treatment center or go to a clinician who just doesn’t know how to deal with them as celebrities first and then manage all of that process that goes on, all of the testing, all of the challenging, all of this. The patients, so many patients come to us, they need to know intuitively that you are not going to treat them like everybody else does, and to get there, they are going to test you, challenge you and try to seduce you, right? Because that’s how they operate in the world, so as a clinician, you have to be able to have the presence of self and the wherewithal to tolerate those extraordinary challenges — it’s like I write in my book — how many times have I been fired by a celebrity patient? A lot. And so, and you know hopefully they will come back when they realize that you’re not going to fall into the trap that they prepared for you. They’re laying the trap because they need to know can you hold the enormity of my pain? Are you trustworthy? That’s a felt experience, just because I wrote a book on celebrity patients and just because I did my PhD research doesn’t mean that I can do it. They have to intuitively feel that and they will push me away, push me away, push me away, push me away and that’s why the work is so challenging and that’s why you can’t do a lot of it, you have to do it in very small increments because they will eat you up alive.
Dr. Marta Ra So do you also give advice to the children of wealthy clients? Children can also be grownups.
Dr. Hokemeyer Right, they tend to be. I give them the same advice I give all my patients regardless of their wealth, which is find meaning in life and get over your anger towards your parents, basically, you know? One of the fundamental truths of growing up is realizing that probably our parents are not perfect, they’re not really the people that we would have liked them to be and guess what? We’re not the kids they would’ve liked us to be too and so that is a huge thing to recognize and you know, give your parents a break, don’t be resentful towards your parents, don’t be angry towards your parents regardless of where you are. And this goes towards poor, this goes towards rich kids and middle-class kids, really find meaning and purpose in your life. That is the thing, that connection and purpose are the two most important things that we can have and connection based on integrity, connection based on values, and that’s all integrated, isn’t it with finding meaning and purpose in your life and if you have a famous surname, that’s a hard thing to get out, right? So claiming your identity and finding the purpose in the world — is it more challenging yes? Is it impossible? No. Is it critically important for the wellbeing of you and your children and your family? Yes, absolutely. So get rid of your resentment, get rid of your anger and go out and create something of value in the world even if it’s raising a family, if it’s being the best mother or being the best father that you can be. Yeah, being the best at what you do. You know, success is not a bad thing, success is a really good thing and we should all strive to be the most successful people who we can be because that enables us to give back to the world and try to heal some of the damage that we’re living in.
Dr. Marta Ra Now I have to challenge you on this. Do you think ambition being ambitious is a good thing or not such a good thing?
Dr. Hokemeyer I think it’s a good thing. I think ambition is a really good thing, I think that we are, it’s part of us being humans. I mean look, we’re hunter gatherers, that’s who we are so we are built to go out into the world and get nuts and bring them back, right? And so ambition is a really good thing. And we need to have ambition to make the world a better place, right? So if we didn’t have any ambition, if we were satisfied with the status quo, we wouldn’t have the technological advances we have, the medical advances that we have, the advances in human rights that we have. I mean look, we’re living in some challenging times right now, we’ve lived in challenging times In the past and gotten through them but if you look kind of the trajectory of human existence, we have accomplished some amazing things, we’ve cured diseases, we have redressed civil rights issues, Apartheid for example, do we have a lot of work to do? Absolutely. Extraordinary. But that’s where ambition comes in, so we have to have ambition to improve ourselves, our relationships and the world around us.
Dr. Marta Ra So does this mean that being ambitious is not ego driven actually?
Dr. Hokemeyer It can be but I think the ego is a healthy thing you know, I think that narcissism is like vulnerability, it’s a word we throw around a lot, and we don’t quite understand that narcissism exists like everything in life, on a spectrum so there’s healthy narcissism which involves the ego and the need to be validated for our work, right? I mean, when I’m validated for my book, it’s incredibly rewarding for me, that’s my ego, right? And if I didn’t have an ego, then I may have not wanted to write this book, to put this voice out into the world. And so I think ego is a healthy thing, it’s like anything in life, how is it channeled and how is it utilized? So ambition, ego, those things are critically important. When ego begins to eclipse our integrity, that’s when we get into challenge. And when our ego begins to eclipse our ability to be able to empathize with other human beings and find compassion for other human beings, that’s where it gets into trouble. When those two things collide in a conflict, that’s where we get into trouble. When they coexist as one trajectory, it’s actually a bad…..there’s a slip……that’s actually a good thing. because we’re using our ego in a constructive healing and healthy way, a productive way.
Dr. Marta Ra So if we speak about the ego and you just mentioned narcissism, then what is healthy self-love, if I may use those words?
Dr. Hokemeyer You may use any words you like. So healthy self-love is the capacity to see ourselves in a respectful… respect ourselves, being able to maintain humility, which is the capacity to be teachable, to recognize that we are imperfect and that we are a work in progress. I don’t care how much money you have, how much success you succeed or have obtained, I don’t care how big of a celebrity you are, there’s always work that you can be doing to heal and to grow and to make the world a better place. So healthy self-love is this capacity to negotiate the tension that’s in all relationships which is this need for connection and this need for independence. So I need to be able to have my own identity, I need to be able to have my own voice, I need to be able to coexist in the world and in my relationships with a degree of humility and with a degree of grace and with a degree of compassion for self and others. So it’s a titration, it’s a mélange, we always want to think that it’s just one thing and we want to put things into good or bad. Ego is bad, ego is good, well, it’s a mélange, it’s a combination, it’s a synthesis of things and so healthy self, love of self I think was the word that you used?
Dr. Marta Ra Yes, self-love, healthy self-love)
Dr. Hokemeyer Self-love, I’ll get there, self-love is that capacity to find autonomy in self and to be comfortable in what we talked about in the very beginning which is aloneness and then to be able to negotiate togetherness in a productive, generous way with others and then in the world that we live in because we can’t ignore that we live in a world that’s become very, very — we’re all very connected around the world. I know it’s happening in Switzerland, I know it’s happening in Saudi Arabia, I know it’s happening everywhere in the world. So yeah, it’s that negotiation.
Dr. Marta Ra There is a very nice sentence in your book which I would like to read. It’s from Chapter 8 Connected — A New Standard of Compassion and Healing”, you give such valuable insight into treating elite and powerful clients and the quote is “we must create treatment frames wide enough to hold these individuals in the uniqueness of their identity while facilitating a relational connection, it moves them in a reparative direction”. Can you tell me more about this?
Dr. Hokemeyer It’s basically what we just talked about in terms of love of self or self-love, sorry I keep screwing it up, but it’s this capacity to negotiate a number of different factors. So treatment, if we think about what treatment is, and we think about residential treatment, so you have a person who is occupying in a system where they’re causing destruction, destruction of self, destruction of relationships and we need to take them out of that system and put them in another system, a contained system which is what your program does and other similar programs. You take a person out of their environment and you put them in another environment that’s safe and contained and that’s very boundaried and it has very specific rules. So that’s the framework, you create a new frame. Now what you create within that frame is where this need to negotiate the uniqueness of that particular human being that is in your program, and that’s in your office, in your clinic, that you’re giving treatment to. No human being is the same, none of my patients are the same, none of the relationships I have with my patients are the same, none of my treatments — I’ve never done two treatment formulations that are the same. Everybody brings such uniqueness to the situation, I bring my uniqueness to the situation, and so we need to create a frame that holds that person and holds us in our therapeutic relationship and then begins to really do a dance, isn’t it? To dance in our personality and in our presentations and get into the challenges. You know you challenge the patient because you don’t need to give the patient same old same old, my job is to give them a reparative relationship which means that I need to figure out What their relationships are like in the outside world and then to create my relationship with them In a way that I’m able to be there for them, to see them in a respectful way but to challenge them, I need to challenge them, I need to poke them from time to time, don’t I to get a reaction and then challenge that reaction. You know, there are a lot of really clever people out there who are developing apps you know and I’ve been asked to be on advisory boards, everybody wants to create an app to heal extraordinary mental, psychic pain. I mean, okay, I’m a knitter, you know, I consider myself — I’m an artisan, I work individually with patients, I think this work is about quality, not quantity. I could personally, I just can’t do this to scale for me, I don’t see how the healing process of human beings, when the damage was caused in a relationship, how you can achieve that on a scale. I’ve been wrong about a lot of things perhaps you can, perhaps 20 years from now they would have done that but I think you need to work very intimately in the bespoke nature of each individual relationships. So that’s a very long-winded answer to what was a very succinct quote that I gave in my book. Perhaps I’m a better writer writer than I am a speaker, I don’t know, but I think that it’s, it’s just creating. I view my work as an art, I am an artisan, I am an artisan of human relationships. I base my art on science, you know, I draw it in the book, it’s all based upon empirical data. But when you’re sitting with another human being in a room who has experienced extraordinary psychic pain, who believes, who from a physical standpoint, believes and has been shown that human relations, that human beings are unreliable and dangerous, you need to be very artful in that relationship, don’t you? And I don’t think you will get that from an app. You might, you might be able to work on the surface, but what we really want, and what we do in our work, is recreate deep lasting change and that’s a very slow process and that’s a very intimate process.
Dr. Marta Ra I can very much feel how much you are with your heart in what you are doing and it’s touching all the way to Switzerland.
Dr. Hokemeyer Good…..
Dr. Marta Ra So we touched upon a lot of topics, we spoke about loneliness, aloneness, we spoke about purpose, we spoke about success. I have so many more questions to ask, but my last question for today to Dr. Paul, if he could please answer from a human perspective, with weaknesses, with humanness, what is the message from you out there to the humanity who is now trying to cope with the new normal?
Dr. Hokemeyer Be kind to yourselves and be kind to others.
Paracelsus Recovery is the world’s most individual and discrete addiction and mental health service, with 15 staff focusing exclusively on one client at a time. Working primarily with UHNW and celebrity clients, the clinic provides cutting-edge treatment delivered by a passionate and empathetic multidisciplinary team in a discrete environment. Originally based in Zurich, services are now also available in London.