Saturday, March 29, 2014

HOW TO LIVE WITH YOURSELF

‘As you ramble through life, brother, whatever be your goal:
keep your eyes upon the donut, and not upon the hole!’ Dr Murray Banks.



Dedicated to Nick S-G, who borrowed my copy of
How to Live with Yourself … or … What to do Until the 
Psychiatrist Comes some ten or more years ago ...
and never returned it. You can keep it, mate.
I've since bought another copy.


Have you heard of Dr Murray Banks [pictured left, and below], American professor of psychology, clinical psychologist, author, widely syndicated newspaper columnist, prolific recording artist, TV guest star, international speaker and circuit lecturer-at-large on the subject of ‘mental hygiene,’ cracker-barrel psychologist cum humourist, and all-round entertainer extraordinaire?

Chances are, you haven’t heard of him. Indeed, well before Dr Banks died without fanfare in 2008 he was for the most part a forgotten man, yet for over 25 years people all around the world waited in lines for hours around city blocks to buy tickets to his public lectures on matters psychological. When I first heard of the man, and purchased a couple of his LP recordings at secondhand shops back in the early 1970s, he was still riding high. I understand that he was still ‘working’ cruise ships until at least the mid-1990s, but by then he had largely faded from the public eye. 

Still, many of Dr Banks' recordings are available today on iTunes, eBay and Amazon.com, as well as on YouTube, and secondhand copies of his books are also available on various sites, including Amazon.com. The titles of his recordings and books say much about the man himself---titles such as How to Live with Yourself … or … What to do Until the Psychiatrist Comes, Just In Case You Think You're Normal, The Drama of Sex, Stop the World I Want to Get Off, Dr Murray Banks Tells How to Quit Smoking in Six Days or Drop Dead in Seven!, and Anyone Who Goes To The Psychiatrist - Should Have His Head Examined! 

Dr Murray Banks was no slouch or mere purveyor of 'pop psychology,' although he was at least in part the latter. In his heyday he was one of the most sought-after speakers in America in the 1950s and 60s. He captivated audiences with his humour and insight into the human mind, and this is clearly evident if you take even a little time to listen to his lectures some of which that have been preserved on vinyl and more recently in digital form. He was best-known for the speech, ‘What to do Until the Psychiatrist Comes.’ That speech, so I’ve read, turned out to be the second most heard speech in history. By the mid-1960s Banks had given the speech in person over 5,000 times in every English speaking country in the world. 

I live in Australia, and I am aware that Banks lectured here in 1961, 1965, and 1971, and possibly in other years as well. In that regard, I have seen a reference on the internet to the effect that he made personal appearances in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia in the mid-1990s. I do know this---his appearances at the Princess Theatre in Melbourne outsold the hit musical of the day, Hello, Dolly! Yes, he left quite an impression here in Australia on the occasions he was here, and his lectures in the United Kingdom, New Zealand and South Africa were extremely successful as well. Indeed, it is said that Banks, who was always a most powerful and entertaining presence on stage, spoke in every English-speaking country in the world. One thing is clear---while he lived he addressed some of the largest audiences ever gathered to hear one person’s thoughts on the workings of human mind and on how to stay mentally well.

Dr Banks was also an academic of some renown. A graduate of New York and Columbia Universities, he did postgraduate work at Rutgers University and post-doctoral research at Harvard, and undertook his clinical psychopathology study at Bellevue Hospital in New York City. A clinical psychologist, he was for a time a full professor of psychology at Long Island University as well as at Pace College, New York City, where he headed the psychology department, and was in charge of psychology courses, for over 5 years. 

The redoubtable Dr Banks was also for a time a visiting professor of psychology and/or special lecturer on psychology and other subjects at a number of American higher educational institutions including San Diego State College, Memphis State University, Fairleigh Dickinson University, the University of North Carolina, New York University, New York Institute of Technology, Temple University, New Jersey State Teacher's College, the University of Pittsburgh, and Brooklyn College. All very impressive. Yet, having said all that, there is precious little on the internet about the man---not even a Wikipedia profile. Not much hope for me. I am a forgotten man already.

In what was perhaps his most well-known and successful recording,  How to Live with Yourself … or … What to Do Until the Psychiatrist Comes, Dr Banks set forth his ‘Ten Sound Principles of Mental Hygiene.’ Here they are:

1. Are you happy? We all want to be happy but few of us seem to know that happiness cannot be obtained directly. Happiness is a by‑product of effective life adjustment. Prolonged unhappiness is a sign of illness---mental illness. It may even lead to physical illness as well.

2. Do you have zest or enthusiasm for living? Do you invite yourself to celebrate life? Can you enjoy the epiphany of the moment?


3. Are you socially adjusted? Being with others and sharing and otherwise interacting successfully with others is a very important part of a sound adjustment. A loss of interest in others may be the beginning of apathy (a lack of feeling) or depression. You reduce your chances of mental illness by saying ‘YES!’ to life.

4. Do you have unity and balance? Are you relatively ‘together’ in what you think and do? Reach out to others. Get involved. Get your mind off yourself. Develop many interests. Try not to wrap your life around any one thing, no matter how important that is to you. We need many supports and interests in life.


5. Can you live with each problem as it arises? Do you worry about things that never happen? We need to learn to live in the NOW. Now is the only moment that we will ever be sure of. The past is a cancelled cheque; the future is an IOU.

6. Do you have insight into your own conduct? Do you know the real, underlying reasons behind what you do? There is always a reason for any human behaviour, and the task of a psychiatrist or psychology is to help you help yourself. For example, a psychiatrist or psychologist helps you understand and attack your fears and your other maladjustments to life, that is, to challenge your ‘stinkin’ thinkin’’ (to use an AA turn of phrase).


7. Do you have a confidential relationship with some other person? Can you talk to, and share your feelings and thoughts with, intimate others? Many who have no trusted intimate friends find themselves in need of ‘renting’ an empathetic ear in the form of a psychotherapist of some kind.

8. Do you have sense of the ridiculous? Can you laugh? Easily? And at yourself? Laughter is the sunshine of the soul. It can heal illness. A sense of humour gets us through many tough times. You must learn to laugh! Have you been a good student? When did your stomach muscles hurt from extended laughing?


9. Are you engaged in satisfying work? We don't seem to ‘break down’ (note: Banks would often make the point that ‘nerves do not break down’) from over‑work as much as we do from over‑stress and over‑worry. How can we turn a distressful situation into something we can live with?

10. Do you know how to worry effectively? There's only one thing to do about worry---do something active about the cause of your worry. As Dr Norman Vincent Peale used to say, we are not born with the worry habit. We acquire it through experience. And because we can change any habit and any acquired mental attitude, we can always do something about worry, including casting it from our mind.

Banks would make the obvious point that we all have problems, frustrations, worries, stressors, fears, anger, guilt, etc. We can learn to adjust by applying the 10 principles listed above. Sometimes professional help from trained and experienced psychotherapists is needed.

Banks would also make the point that we learn so much rubbish at school and college, but not what we need to know to stay mentally well. I couldn’t agree more. He would speak a lot about ‘adjustments,’ and how we are all constantly making adjustments in life as a result of and in response to the daily occurrences and happenings of life. Many of the adjustments to life we make are unhealthy ones---that’s why we speak of ‘maladjustments.’ Banks would say, ‘The important thing, ladies and gentlemen, is---what kind of adjustments do you make when life hands you a dirty deal?’ The task is simple, but not easy---how do we learn to make healthy, positive adjustments to life.

You know, that word ‘learn’ is so very important. Banks would make the point that whilst none of us are born insane or even mentally maladjusted, we still need to learn how to stay mentally well. (That’s right. He says it doesn’t seem to come naturally, and I agree.) He identified our basic human needs as being these four: the need to live,  the need to love and be loved,  the need to feel important, and the need to experience variety in our lives.

All good stuff. So simple, yet so very profound. People pay hundreds of dollars to hear that from private consulting psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. 

Now, do yourself a favour. Listen to or read some of Dr Banks’ material. It’s not that hard to find on the internet. Spending some time with Dr Banks---bless you, Dr Banks, wherever you are---will do you no end of good---and you will laugh at the same time. And laughter, as Reader’s Digest has kept telling us for several decades, is the best medicine. You’d better believe it.

I leave you with this gem from Dr Banks, which I hope will stay with you for the rest of your life:

‘I hope you'll never forget, never, that happiness is just like chasing a butterfly. The more you chase it and chase it and chase it directly, it will always just elude you. But if you sit down quietly, turn your thoughts to other things, the butterfly comes and softly sits on your shoulders.’ 





IMPORTANT NOTICE: See the Terms of Use and Disclaimer. The information provided on this blogspot is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice from your medical practitioner or other qualified health provider because of something you have read on this blogspot. For immediate advice or support call Lifeline on 13 1 1 14 or Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800. For information, advice and referral on mental illness contact the SANE Helpline on 1800 18 SANE (7263) go online via sane.org


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