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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
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Psychotherapy and Murder in New York: Should We All Stay Home?

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Feb 14th 2008

 Once again we are confronted with an act of violence, this time the murder of a New York City psychologist and the brutal attack on her office mate, an elderly psychiatrist. That this is another tragedy is undoubtedly true. However, my concern is in relation to the comments I am hearing from many people in reaction to this type of news. For example, I am being told by family members, friends and patients that teaching is too dangerous a profession to enter into today because of the number of attacks that occur in the schools across the nation. Will potential students of psychology and psychiatry decide that these professions are too dangerous to consider entering into? Well, I guess we had better all avoid a career in education or psychology if we want to be safe!

Is it possible that students will refuse to select careers in psychiatry, psychology and social work because of potential danger? In fact, is it possible that patients in need of psychotherapy will avoid treatment out of fear of being attacked by a stranger in a therapist's office? Might it be safer to not go to a hospital or medical doctor because something violent might happen?

Where do we draw the line on what we will and will not allow ourselves to do because there is violence in the world?

My wife and I had booked a trip to Paris before the 911 attacks on the World Trade Center. Many people advised, even warned us, to not go. I remember that one well meaning family member cautioned us about the dangers of anti American attitudes in Europe. He warned us that we could find ouselves under attack. I had to remind this concerned relative that right here, in America, in New York City, we had just been attacked. Would it be that much more dangerous in Europe? We did go to Paris and had a wonderful time. In fact, so many American tourists had cancelled their vacations that we found ourselves very fortunate as popular places were not crowded and the French were extremely friendly.

The main point I want to make is that when acts of violence occur all of us become frightened and stressed. As a result, many of us have a tendency to want to stay home and feel safe.

As with any phobia, by remaining at home and avoiding doing things in order to feel safe we severly limit our lives. Fear can incubate within us, like a vicious disease, and become increasingly intense and crippling. It is important to not succumb to fear and to live life to its fullest. Like the child who falls off his bike when he is learning to ride, it is important to dust himself off and get right back on again.

I often point out to patients suffering from phobias or from social anxiety disorders that there is no cure like getting out of your zone of comfort and taking chances. Only by taking chances can we aquire the skills needed to overcome social anxiety and to reduce phobic fears so that life can be lived and enjoyed.

Your thoughts and comments are welcome.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

the courage to be - Royston - Feb 15th 2008

I have personally experienced what over protection by parent figures can do to your self esteem and I strongly endorse the view that a person should do what he or she is called to do or be even if it may require facing death. Parents all the more, should understand that your children are answerable to themselves and finally to life, so do not prevent THEM from "being" - merely to reinforce YOUR values or to quell YOUR anxieties.


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