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An Interview with Sandra Ceren, Ph.D., on Premarital Counseling

David Van Nuys, Ph.D. Updated: Jan 1st 2011

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Sandra Ceren, Ph.D.Dr. Ceren has devoted her clinical career to developing a systematic program for providing effective premarital counseling, a niche that presented itself after working with troubled couples and recognizing the need for a prophylactic approach to identifying and addressing likely causes of incompatibility prior to marriage as a method of improving marital satisfaction and reducing the need for divorce. Currently, premarital counseling is emphasized in pastoral counseling settings such as the Catholic Church. Dr. Ceren would like to see an expansion of such counseling, however, such that marriage licenses could not be issued without participation. She has developed a 10 session program wherein partners individually fill out personality and relationship questionnaires and then share findings so as to identify and address areas of incompatibility. Though opposites attract, couples with similarities fare better in marriage according to Dr. Ceren. Conflict is not an issue, although the couple's ability to achieve compromise is vital. Apart from compatible styles with regard to big issues including sex, money and religion, it is also vital to identify partners with personality disorders (rigid personality styles) which will prevent compromise from being achieved (because one or both partners lacks the flexibility to achieve that compromise).

David Van Nuys: Welcome to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by, covering topics in mental health, wellness, and psychotherapy. My name is Dr. David Van Nuys. I'm a clinical psychologist and your host.

On today's show we'll be talking with Dr. Sandra L. Ceren about premarital counseling. Sandra Levy Ceren, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, has practiced psychotherapy for over 40 years, mainly in Del Mar, California. A diplomate of the American Board of Family Psychology and fellow of the Academy of Marital and Family Psychology, she has served as editor of The Family Psychologist and was editor of the San Diego Psychological Association Newsletter. Her book reviews are published in Metapsychology Journal.

She earned a B.A. from Brooklyn College, an M.S. from the City College of New York, and a Ph.D. from United States International University. She trained at the American Institute of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in New York. Her doctoral dissertation, "Personality and Precognition," received international attention. Dr. Ceren is frequently quoted in the media and has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, and the BBC to discuss relationships.

Her popular newspaper column, "Ask Dr. Ceren," was published from 1999 to 2008. She's published two books on premarital counseling, Essentials of Premarital Counseling and Look Before You Leap. Her writing credits also include a series of published psychological thrillers featuring a psychologist amateur sleuth: Prescription for Terror, Secrets from the Couch, and Stolen Secrets and Imposter for Hire.

Now here's the interview:

Dr. Sandra Ceren, welcome to Wise Counsel.

Sandra Ceren: Thank you.

David: You've written a couple of books on premarital counseling. Now, how did you get into that area?

Sandra Ceren: Well, that's a very interesting story. I had been working - at the time I began writing the book I had been seeing many patients, couples who were having a lot of difficulty in their marriages. When I realized what was going on, I said to myself, there's just so many couples who probably should have never been together in the first place.

David: Right.

Sandra Ceren: And the conflicts were too huge, and wouldn't it be wonderful if I could help them - help new people who are meeting each other and wanting to get married - use it sort of as a preventative to any kind of a problem that would occur later on; that maybe if we avoided it - if we could handle it right away, it would be much better. So that's why I developed this whole business with premarital counseling, and what I did, if you're interested in how it started, is I decided that I would do a little research and see how premarital [audio skip] effective in helping people make the right choice.

So the little things that I did was I did some research, and one of the things I discovered is that premarital counseling helped a lot of people and prevented - was a good divorce prevention, if you will. They didn't have to get married and then get divorced.

David: Well, did you actually find data on that?

Sandra Ceren: Yes, I did.

David: You know in this era of evidence-based therapies, that kind of thing's really important to investigate.

Sandra Ceren: Exactly, exactly. And what I found is that there was a big study done - oh, I don't have the dates right here in front of me - but there was a big study done in which premarital counseling was found to have saved marriages and prevented divorce. Yes, the research project was by Carolyn Doherty, and it was cited in Family Relations in April 2003. It reviewed 23 studies of the effectiveness of premarital counseling, and it found that the average couple who participates in such a thing reports a 30% stronger marriage than other couples, and it showed that it was really productive in producing immediate and short-term gains and other ways, too, and personal-interpersonal skills, and overall improved relationship quality.

David: Yes, I would wonder if there's any research that's more long-term that would compare divorce rates.

Sandra Ceren: Well, yes, I'll get to that right now, because what I decided to do - I decided to open this premarital counseling part of my practice, and after 40 years, after specializing with treating troubled couples, I learned a great deal about why some relationships work and others don't.

David: Well, I imagine you did.

Sandra Ceren: Yes, so I developed a comprehensive personality inventory and relationship quizzes and a list of typical situational problems that the couples confront, and I began that study. It was a longitudinal study beginning over 10 years, and it proved the materials are effective in predicting marital satisfaction. What I did was I had over 70 couples seeking premarital counseling utilizing these materials. Seventy couples - that's a lot.

David: Yes.

Sandra Ceren: But that was over a long period of time. Fifty-six couples ranging in age from the mid-20s to the mid-40s responded to a five-year follow-up survey, and the majority of couples returned the survey. That they returned it was beyond my expectation; I didn't expect to get that many responses.

David: Yes.

Sandra Ceren: Of the 56 couples, 40 decided to marry; 33 couples of this group remain in satisfactory marriages - that's 82.5% - and gave excellent ratings to the counseling experience and to the materials as a predictor of marital satisfaction. Now, of the seven remaining couples, two divorced and five are in unstable marriages. Five gave the sessions excellent ratings and two gave satisfactory ratings. All regretted not heeding the warning signs.

David: Well, kudos to you for carrying out your own research; as a therapist and a clinician to take the initiative to track these people.

Sandra Ceren: It was wonderful. It was such a rewarding experience for me. I got so much out of it because every time I go to the mailbox or get something - because they returned it with a postcard - what I would do before I started the sessions with them, before we even began, I asked them whether they'd be willing to participate and that I would be sending them little postcards, and if they were to change their addresses to please let me know and keep in touch with me. And they actually welcomed that, which surprised me. I would think they would think it was a useless task or unimportant. I said, "Look, you're going to help other couples. I want to see how this worked for you." And they were very willing - not all of them obviously, because there were 70 couples and only 56 agreed, so there were some that were not interested.

David: Yes, I don't know why I have in my head this sort of - I mean I don't doubt that there's a need for premarital counseling, and yet somehow I have this antiquated - probably antiquated - notion in my head that associates it with pastoral counseling and something that used to happen but doesn't happen any more. Am I wrong about that? What sort of demand is -?

Sandra Ceren: Yes, you are wrong about that, because it's very, very big in churches, especially the Catholic Church. I had a guy come to see me who had premarital counseling. I never met his wife actually; he came on his own. He was having a lot of difficulty in his marriage, and he was Catholic and he didn't want to get divorced. And it was really a very interesting experience meeting this man. He showed me the materials that he had in premarital counseling with a priest, and some of the questions that were asked I felt were very pertinent, and I was really rather surprised; they have to do with sex, which is something that I didn't think that they would even bother with. They were really good: sex, money, religion. They hit on very, very good topics, and the couples had to really participate, had to agree, before the priest would marry them. So it is very big.

They don't go into the kind of detail, the personality difficulties between the couple; they don't do that, which I think my work enhances what they do. But what they do do is pretty darn good, and I think for the average couple who don't have any real problems it might work fine to see a rabbi or a priest or a minister who does offer that kind of service.

David: Yes, well, it's not surprising to me that it's big in the pastoral realm. Now, you're a psychologist. Is there any sort of organization that you're part of that would suggest that other psychologists, other therapists who are not associated with the clergy are involved in this area?

Sandra Ceren: Oh, sure. I have a lot of colleagues who have come to me and asked me for - you know, they've read my book and said, "Gee, I have a difficult case. Can you help me review this with me?" And I do this. I do this pro bono because I really want to build up the whole idea that premarital counseling should be actually a requirement. In fact, I think it's going to be a requirement some day. Already some states do require that before you can take out a marriage license.

David: Oh, that's fascinating.

Sandra Ceren: Yes.

David: Now, I think you made some mention of people getting married for the wrong reasons in your survey. What are some of the wrong reasons and some of the right reasons?

Sandra Ceren: Okay. Some of the wrong reasons are really pretty obvious: they're lonely, they feel the need to have companionship, they find this person sexually appealing, or they need money. Could be monetary, could be sexual, and they just grab a hold of that. Out of loneliness, very bad decisions can be made. Out of sexual needs that have been unmet, there can be a very strong pull.

And also in this bad economy, I think a lot of people right now - I see fewer people getting divorced because of what can happen, the ramifications of that. And I see people wanting to get married so that they can live in the same place and share their money. So those are not always good reasons. There may be other reasons that would be good, that would be better for them, including these, and I think that the most important thing is that you feel safe and satisfied with this person, that this person is really your soul mate.

David: Well, loneliness and sex also sound like they could be the right reasons. What are the right reasons for getting married?

Sandra Ceren: Yes, they could be. You're right - they are the right reasons, but it can't be exclusive; it can't be just loneliness and sex. It has to be that this person fulfills other needs in them: that they share values, they can have fun together. You could be lonely with the person that you're married to because they're off in their office playing computer games, whatever, and they're ignoring you, so that's not a very - or she's out shopping all day and whatever, meeting her friends, and he's lonely because she's not giving him enough time or attention, or she's always - I have one case right now where she's always at her parents' house. She's too tied to her parents that she can't let go, so she leaves him to run to her parents.

David: Um-hmm. So how can couples know if they're compatible?

Sandra Ceren: Well, that's why I devised this whole program. I have personality inventories, I have relationship quizzes. There are all kinds of things that they do in 10 sessions to see whether they really fit. And usually when they come, they have some questions; they have some indecision is there when they do decide to come. Not all cases - sometimes they just come because they feel that they should be doing this to make absolutely certain that this is - like it's a stamp of approval. They've taken this course, 10 sessions, and the counselor says, "Ah, okay. You guys are really right for each other in my professional opinion." And that's all they need, and that can work out just fine.

David: So you've actually developed a 10-session premarital counseling program that sounds like it's very structured. Maybe you can give us a brief overview of that program.

Sandra Ceren: Sure, be happy to do that. Well, first, I provide them with materials, and the materials are a personality test - not the test; it's a questionnaire. And they really learn - it's a very in-depth thing, and they really learn an awful lot about themselves. And what they do, each person gets the questionnaire, and then they fill it out, and they read it to each other - their answers to each other in the office with me, and they respond to how they feel about what the other person is saying.

They really get an in-depth view, and the person who is filling out - the people who fill out the questionnaire have to be really willing and able to be truthful about it, and I actually have not found anyone who has not been truthful. They will say these things about - they will answer negatively about certain things, and I think it's good that they feel safe enough to do that. "If we're going to get married, you need to know this about me. I have terrible problems making decisions. I hem and I haw and I'm really -" They will say that: "You need to know this about me. Are you willing to accept that? How can we work around that?"

David: So the personality inventory really creates a venue for having conversations about key issues.

Sandra Ceren: Exactly. Exactly. And whether they can fit well with each other, whether they can tolerate - will the holes in her head fit the bumps in his?

David: I like that. That's a good one. And I know you've written two books on premarital counseling. One looks like - Look Before You Leap looks like it's more directed towards the couple, and Essentials of Premarital Counseling maybe more towards the professional.

Sandra Ceren: Exactly.

David: Do you have these inventories in the books?

Sandra Ceren: Yes. They both contain the same exact inventories. The content is pretty much the same except I'm trying to teach other people to use the book, other professionals to use the information in a more in-depth way. I explain it a little bit more in depth. However, the material, like I said, is the same. In Look Before You Leap, I really designed this book for couples who are unable to avail themselves of premarital counseling, probably for financial reasons or because they live in areas that may be rural, remote, and there's no one around to do it. So I felt at least they will have something to guide them.

David: Yes, good, good. Well, take us some more through these 10 sessions.

Sandra Ceren: Okay. So there's the personality quiz, and then there's the personality quiz discussion. There's a relationship quiz, and the relationship quiz is really I think so telling. It's so very important the questions that are asked in this, and to give you an example - by the way, they all have to do these tests - they have to do all these tests apart from each other.

David: Okay.

Sandra Ceren: And they have to establish that there's not going to be any interruptions, that they're going to be doing this on their own, and it's going to be preferably in one sitting. And they should not erase anything they wrote; they shouldn't cross it out; they should just continue, because what comes to mind in the very beginning is what is the truth.

David: Yes, yes. I agree.

Sandra Ceren: So they're instructed to do that, and they know that this is for their own benefit. That has to be impressed upon them, that if you don't tell the truth, it's not going to work out. It's like going to a doctor and the doctor says, "Well, what's bothering you?" and you say, "Nothing." Well, then, "Why are you here," you know?

David: Right.

Sandra Ceren: Okay, so the relationship quiz - they have such questions like - just to give you an example: "If your prospective mate has similar personality characteristics to someone in your family, please explain." And they have a lot of room to write that down. "Do you get along well with that person?" Because we find that so many times we pick mates based upon someone in our family, a father or a mother, with whom we have a lot of difficulty; so sometimes you marry your mother and sometimes you marry your father because we hope that you'll be able to repair that relationship. You'll regard it as a reparative experience: you'll change that person; you'll make that person love you because you didn't feel loved by the parent that is similar to the mate you've chosen.

David: What about the old saw of "opposites attracting"? Do you find that has any validity, or not?

Sandra Ceren: Well, I think opposites may attract, but they really can rub each other the wrong way. There's a lot of conflict when opposites attract. I think it's much better when there are similarities. For example, one of the problems people have - and this doesn't lead to divorce necessarily, but it leads to friction - when we have a neat freak living with a slob, with a messy person.

David: Yes.

Sandra Ceren: The neat freak gets so upset with this messy person, and the messy person doesn't really care. It's not important where I leave my socks - if I leave them in the bathroom or I leave them in the bedroom. But they're always on the floor; they're never in the hamper where they should be.

David: Yes.

Sandra Ceren: So this can be a tremendous irritant to those people who are extremely neat. And what I tell people is that it's really more incumbent upon the neat freak - not the neat freak; the sloppy one - to do for the neat person, the neat mate, what is best to make that person feel better. Like for example, let's say I'm talking to a guy and I say, "You know, when she sees those socks, she really goes crazy. She becomes a mad woman. I can hear it in her voice when she's talking about this. So wouldn't it be easier for you to give in to this problem she has? It's the way she's wired. She can't really help being so neat, and there's some very good qualities about being neat: you can always find things. If you lost something, you wouldn't be able to find it because I understand from what she tells me that your desk is such a mess. So wouldn't it be easier to try and give in to this problem that she has, if we want to call it a problem? You know, it's a problem for you, but it's not a problem for her. She really enjoys being neat. It makes her feel in control. She needs that so desperately from you. Can you do that?"

David: I think I'll be booking an appointment with you.

Sandra Ceren: It's such a common problem.

David: Yes, but we won't go there. I've been married for a long time, and I've just learned to adjust.

Sandra Ceren: So have I, believe it or not. My husband comes into my office and he starts rearranging my papers. I say, "Get out of here. This is my desk. You have no business in here." He says, "How can you find anything in here?" I say, "I know. I know. It's my problem."

David: Yes. You know, I had a lesson in that. One of the administrators at the university that I recently retired from, one of the top administrators - a vice-president - I went into her office and there were papers all over the floor, just this incredible pile. And my first reaction was, "Well, if I were running this place, I would fire this woman, just based on what I see here." But in fact she was enormously competent. I think I couldn't bite my tongue and I did make some remark about what I was seeing, and she told me, "I can lay my hands on whatever I need."

Sandra Ceren: Yes, because she had it organized in her mind. She knew where things were. I mean, I know what's on my desk. I know have several piles; it's just that I have too many piles and I don't have a chance to file them, but I know what's in each pile.

David: Yes, so, in your opinion, what does it take to make a good marriage?

Sandra Ceren: Well, I think what takes to make a good marriage is that more similarities than differences actually. If two people are similar it's so much safer; it's so much better when they share the same values. To me the key thing is values. If you're marrying somebody who is a little bit - not a little bit; you're either psychopathic or you're not - but somebody who has some sociopathic tendencies, like if they're given the wrong change in their favor in a store they'll keep the extra $20 bill rather than give it back to the clerk who made a mistake. Those kind of little - they may appear like very small things. That can really - if you're the kind of person who is honest and forthright, and you're marrying someone or just thinking about marrying someone who is not the same way, that could be such a cause of friction, of conflict.

David: Yes, that makes sense.

Sandra Ceren: I mean you lose respect. You don't have any respect for such a person, so it's little things like that.

David: Yes. Now, I know you also write about arguments, and so what about arguments? If a couple is having arguments before they get married, does that mean they shouldn't get married?

Sandra Ceren: Not at all. Not at all. I think that arguments are natural. Who can't argue with -? There's always a reason to argue. "I want the sports page." "No, I want the sports page of the newspaper" - whatever it happens to be. "Well, you had it last week." "Yeah, I know, but I want it now because I gotta see how - I had a bet on something," or whatever it is. Things like that; they can argue and have little conflicts.

It's how they work out these arguments; or "whose house are we going to spend Thanksgiving with? Your parents or my parents?" "Well, we did your parents last year so we should do my parents this year." "Yeah, but we went for Christmas twice. We went for Christmas and Thanksgiving. Now, how are we going to arrange -?" You know, things of that sort. They're very small, minor things. They have to sit down and figure out what is fair: what is fair to you, what is fair to me.

David: What are some other examples of typical communication breakdowns or complaints?

Sandra Ceren: Okay. One of them that I really like: someone once wrote a review of my book and said they enjoyed reading the "gracious compromises" that he called it - I called it. And what I think is really important is that you're able to make compromises, so the question that you asked me, now I've lost my train of thought. I apologize.

David: Yes, I was asking you typical communication breakdowns or complaints, and I think you've kind of gone on to talk about how you deal with those, and so that's relevant as well.

Sandra Ceren: I got it, I got it, yes. Thank you, Dave. For example, okay, he comes home from work and he says, "There's a wonderful restaurant I want to go to dinner tonight." She says, "Where is it?" She's really tired; she's had a hard day at work. And he says, "Well, it's about five miles from here." "I can't go five miles from here. I'm just too tired," she's thinking. But he really wants to go. He really wants to go to this restaurant. She doesn't want to deprive him, and here she's just barely able to shuffle around the house she's so exhausted, but she doesn't tell him anything, she doesn't say anything.

They get to the restaurant and she's hungry. She gets to the restaurant; it's very crowded; they have to stand at the bar. She can't even stand she's so tired. She's very angry with him. She refuses to talk to him, because she didn't say - she's blaming him for something that really was her own fault. Because she wanted to please him, she didn't tell him, "Hey, I'm too tired. Why don't we go there tomorrow? I'm too tired tonight. Let's just eat home tonight, or let's just order a pizza." She didn't want to - through her wanting to please him, she didn't make a gracious compromise, which would have been what I just said: "Let's eat home. Let's order a pizza. I'm too tired. We'll go to your place you want to go to over the weekend."

David: Yes. Sometimes people talk about mind reading, that we expect our mate to be a mind reader.

Sandra Ceren: Right, exactly. "He should have seen how tired I was. Didn't he see me shuffling around?"

David: Yes.

Sandra Ceren: "Didn't he see me looking haggard? Didn't he see me with my feet up and that I couldn't even get off the chair?" You're right - it's mind reading. They expect their mate to read their mind. That's a very good point, and I'm glad you mentioned that because that happens so very often.

David: Yes. Now, earlier you mentioned that the clergy don't get into personality disorders, and I was struck - in both your books you talked about some case studies involving personality disorders. What was it that led you to bring that into the book?

Sandra Ceren: Well, I think it's so important. When I have seen cases through the years that come to me that were not for premarital counseling but were for trying to repair a marriage that really shouldn't have been made in the first place - a damaged relationship that couldn't really be repaired - when I see stuff like that, I say to myself, "If the people knew about personality disorders and how difficult it is to live with someone who has a genuine personality disorder. It really takes a very, very strong person, a very, very sensitive, caring person - almost a therapist, and even therapists have married people like with personality disorders, I know among my colleagues, and have regretted it, because even with all their tenderness and their empathy and their ability to really help people, they still couldn't work through this relationship.

So personality disorders - I think it's very important for people to understand them even when it isn't a marriage involved; marriage especially, because you get married, you're going to have kids, you're going to have to live a long life together with each other. There's going to be so much friction with these kinds of people unless eventually there is some kind of panacea, some kind of cure for a personality disorder. Some personality disorders, they're not as difficult to live with, but most are. And I have a whole list of - I have a whole chapter on personality disorders because I think it's really important to understand what these people are like and what you're getting into if you decide that you're going to marry someone with a personality disorder.

David: Well, maybe you could take us through one or two of the cases that you cite in your books.

Sandra Ceren: Sure, be happy to do that. Let me take you through the one that I think is the worst kind.

David: Okay.

Sandra Ceren: The hero and the con artist. Okay. Here's an interesting real-life case. There was a young man who came to see me. He did not marry this woman, fortunately. He came to see me. He had just moved from Boston to - well, from the East Coast. He's not around here any more, so I don't want to give too many identifying details.

David: Right, right.

Sandra Ceren: He came here from the East Coast, and I live in San Diego area and it's very, very beautiful, and there's pools outside apartment complexes. Anyhow, he came here; he was very lonely; he joined a company; they had imported him from the East Coast to work here. He was very lonely, and he moved into this apartment complex. He didn't know a soul, just the people he worked with, and they were all married and established and they didn't think to include him in any kind of social events or affairs or anything like that. And he really didn't know - he was alone, and he really felt it very deeply.

So he moved into this complex, and this gorgeous gal - he goes to the pool and this gorgeous gal grabs a hold of him, and she sees him and she sees that, oh, [inaudible] parked his nice car, and that he wore a nice suit, and he carried a nice briefcase. "Ah, this is really a winner for me," she thinks - he learned later. And she attaches herself to him, and she's extremely attractive, and he's really turned on by her, and she's very lonely, and so they have a relationship. And he soon learns that this woman lost her job and has no money and she's in arrears in her rent. So he's a hero. I call the chapter "The Hero and the Con Artist."

David: So he wants to save her.

Sandra Ceren: He wants to save her, and also he's lonely, and she's beautiful. She's really a knock-out. So he pays her rent and she moves in with him. And of course he's supporting her during this time. I think it was a matter of a few months that they were together actually - was less than a year when he came to see me.

Anyhow, what happened was she - like I said, he paid her rent and he supported her, and he noticed that some of his - he had an antique collection of these little figures or something. I don't remember what they were. He noticed that they were - every week he would notice that he had fewer and fewer of these, and he did not have a maid, so he couldn't accuse anyone else. The only one who was living there was her. So he became very suspicious, and that was at the time that he came to see me. "What do I do? Do I call her to task about this? What do I do?" I said, "Well, you've got to figure out where those antiques are, and you might ask her what happened to them."

Well, when he did, she got very angry and she started throwing things at him, and she had a temper tantrum: "How dare you accuse me. You probably lost them when you moved," and she was very, very angry. And when he saw that she was so weird about it, what he did was he said, "I think it's time that you moved out. I'll get you a place to stay." So he did. He got her an apartment about a few miles away, and he continued to pay her rent for a few months, and they saw each other off and on, and finally he decided to terminate the relationship. Turned out that she had been - mail came in for her, and he saw that there were a lot of credit - she had maxed her credit card. There were a lot of financial problems. She was a psychopath, so that was the end of that one.

David: Okay.

Sandra Ceren: That's the hero and the con artist. She conned him.

David: Yes, and you've got some other good examples in your book, so I would refer people to those, and unfortunately we don't have time to go into those, and as time is getting short, I want to shift into another area that's really fascinating, because I understand that you're also a crime fiction writer. Tell us about that.

Sandra Ceren: Yes, I got into that a number of years ago because I've always written and I've always wanted to solve puzzles. To me, it was very intriguing to solve a puzzle, and every time a patient comes to me, it's a puzzle that I'm going to be solving.

David: Yes.

Sandra Ceren: Who is this person and what can I do for them? What's the solution to this mystery? So that's exactly what I do in my books. There's a puzzle, there's a mystery, and the protagonist has to go about solving this mystery. So I wrote little short stories at first and got them published, which I thought was really very exciting. Every time I had a little story published somewhere - and I think I have about a dozen in different various anthologies, like the Detective Mysteries, was it called? Then I did one for Criminal Kabbalah. This is a Jewish - they were Jewish authors, I think. It was a lot of fun.

So I developed a new character, and her name is Dr. Corey Cohen, and I modeled her after a patient of mine, a man who was half Japanese and half Caucasian.

David: Oh.

Sandra Ceren: Yes. The problem that he had - and his last name was not Japanese. His face was definitely Japanese. He had a lot of problems with this bi-racial stuff, and I was working with him at the time, and I decided I'm going to make this character really an interesting one. I made her half Jewish and half Japanese, so her name is Dr. Corey Cohen. Her mother is Japanese; her father is Jewish. And I also gave her a very interesting kind of interesting background in that she - her mother abandoned her when she was a little girl, and her mother was a professional violinist in Japan. And she was raised by her - and her father was a violinist also - and she was raised by her grandparents, Jewish people in Brooklyn, New York, where I come from. So I gave her this interesting background - makes her kind of an intriguing woman.

David: Yes.

Sandra Ceren: Unlike me. Yes, she's unlike me.

David: Unlike you, huh?

Sandra Ceren: She's tall, Japanese, with long, black hair. I'm short - sort of - with blond hair. So she's not me, but she's kind of like my ego, my ideal kind of woman.

David: Right.

Sandra Ceren: She's very strong. She's a karate expert, and she gets into all kinds of things. And the reason I wrote my first book, and I think if any psychologist is - or anyone - interested in managed health care, I had to get even with managed health care. It was the year when managed health care came out really huge and was really destroying the practices of psychologists, because the confidentiality was abused. You really felt that your whole work was being compromised by this - let alone the economics of it.

David: Yes, so how -?

Sandra Ceren: So I made the culprit, the bad person, someone who worked for a managed care company.

David: Oh, great.

Sandra Ceren: So I'm solving the mystery. Because he works for this managed care company, he has access to all these data about people, and he is a rapist, and he is a very clever rapist. He calls these people up, he knows a lot about them, and he pretends to be someone he's not, because he knows so much them from the material that he gets from the psychologists. So they go out with him and he rapes and murders.

David: Oh, my goodness. Well, it sounds like you're having a lot of fun with this.

Sandra Ceren: Well, I've written three books already using the same protagonist.

David: Yes, congratulations. It sounds like a wonderful protagonist. Who are your favorite authors in this genre?

Sandra Ceren: Oh, I like Stephen White. He is really a nice man and a very good writer. And he kind of was my inspiration because his protagonist is also a psychologist.

David: Yes, I interviewed him, as I think you are aware.

Sandra Ceren: Yes, I was delighted that you did. I met him and he was very helpful to me. He told me how he got started. He was a very, very - you know, usually writers are very helpful to each other, and they're very much like psychologists in so very many ways. So he's one of my favorite. I also like Jeff Parker, Jefferson Parker. He's really a good writer, and also he wrote a very nice blurb; he reviewed one of my books, and I was really happy about that.

David: I've read several of his books as well. I like him too.

Sandra Ceren: Yes, he's good. And I also like Michael Palmer. Few people don't know him, but I like to learn something when I'm reading a mystery, and Michael Palmer is a physician, and he writes about medical stuff, so you learn a lot about the ins and outs of medicine, as well as figuring out the who-done-it of it all, and he really does create a very intriguing puzzle. So I like the content of his novels. I think he's really good, and I think he's written about, oh, maybe half a dozen, if not more.

David: Well, I'll have to take a look for him.

Sandra Ceren: Yes, I think you'll enjoy them. If you're interested in medicine, you really get a little bit more. I think, with mysteries, I like when the protagonist is teaching me something about a particular field. Oh, I used to like Patricia Cornwell. I got a little tired of her. But her early books, I thought, were really interesting, too, because they were forensic.

David: Well, I could go on talking about this because I love reading crime fiction myself and would love to regale you with some of my favorite authors, but I think we better wind it up here. Is there anything else you'd like to say?

Sandra Ceren: Oh, gee, I really appreciate this. I appreciate meeting you in this milieu, and I appreciate very much having the opportunity to have this interview and tell people about what I do.

David: Well, wonderful. Dr. Sandra Ceren, thanks so much for being my guest today on Wise Counsel.

Sandra Ceren: It's a pleasure.

David: I hope you enjoyed this conversation with Dr. Sandra L. Ceren. As you heard in the interview, I was particularly impressed by the fact that she took the trouble to do a follow-up study on 70 of her premarital counseling couples. It shows that you don't have to be in an academic setting to conduct research, and it sets a good example, I think, for other clinicians to do systematic follow-up research to validate the efficacy of their work, as well as to refine and improve upon their effectiveness. If you know someone who is about to get married or who has doubts about doing so, her book Look Before You Leap might make a good gift. And, certainly, the protagonist of her crime thrillers sounds like an intriguing character. She's promised to send me one of her novels, and I'm looking forward to reading it.

You've been listening to Wise Counsel, a podcast interview series sponsored by If you found today's show interesting, we encourage you to visit, where you can add a comment or question to this show's web page, view other shows in the series, or simply page through the site, which is full of interesting mental health and wellness content. Access the show's page and show archive information via the podcast box on the home page.

If you like Wise Counsel, you might also like Shrink Rap Radio, my other interview podcast series, which is available online at Until next time, this is Dr. David Van Nuys, and you've been listening to Wise Counsel.


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About Sandra Ceren, Ph.D.

Sandra Ceren, Ph.D.Sandra Levy Ceren Ph.D. a clinical psychologist has practiced psychotherapy for over forty years, mainly in Del Mar, California. A Diplomate of the American Board of Family Psychology and Fellow of the Academy of Marital and Family Psychology, she served as editor of The Family Psychologist and was editor of The San Diego Psychological Association Newsletter. Her book reviews are published in Metapsychology Journal.

She earned a B.A. from Brooklyn College, a M.S. from City College of New York and a Ph.D. from United States International University. She trained at the American Institute of Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis in New York. Her doctoral dissertation PERSONALITY AND PRECOGNITION received international attention.

Ceren is frequently quoted in the media and has appeared on Oprah, Good Morning America, BBC to discuss relationships. Her popular newspaper column Ask Dr. Ceren was published from 1999-2008.

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