Dr. Rob Lancer - Conversations with Artists
Talk to us about what you do.
"My objective is to take complex subjects such as fear, anxiety, depression and explain them in a more simplified form so that people can better understand them. It's really not about using complicated terminology - rather it’s about using an effective system that helps people face their fears and overcome adversity in their personal lives.
Starting at around the age of 11 through college I went through a very challenging time having recurrent anxiety and panic attacks. All those years I was in my own personal inferno. The only way I got through it was my powerful conviction that one day I would conquer my fears and anxiety. My book “Rise Within: Overcoming Fear and Anxiety” is a compilation of all the wisdom, strategies, and tools I learned and developed along the way. My objective in writing the book is to assist adolescents and young adults in gaining similar techniques and skills so that they can overcome their own fears and anxiety -- either with or without a therapist, with their parents or on their own. I purposefully wrote in a style so that everyone can benefit.”
What was your pain?
"It was mostly anxiety -- I believe my anxiety caused me to have an external and internal mask. On the external I was 'successful' - excelling at sports and in school, but my internal life was defined by negative emotions and feelings and anxious days and nights.
Anxiety is experienced both physically and emotionally. When anxiety attacks strike it's as if someone pulled an internal fire alarm without there being a fire. My physical and emotional system would go into overload as my anxiety heightened. There were endless and constant false alarms - panic all the time. It could happen in the middle of class, with a date, in the middle of sports, or while I was sleeping. The attacks occurred unexpectedly with no rhyme or reason. It was a physical feeling - shaking, trembling, that kind of thing, and the emotional feeling created despair, shock, and loss of confidence.”
Did you ever use art in any way to work through your panic attacks and anxiety?
"I used music. Music allowed me to tap in to my personal power and become inspired in times of pain. I found peace and freedom to express my emotions and love for others through my poetry. I took great joy in writing poetry for my parents. My poems centered around gratitude, positivity and appreciation for life - as opposed to expressing what I don’t have. I believe in the importance of focusing on and appreciation of what one has in life."
“During my struggles I intent-fully put signs and quotes next to my bed and on the wall to remind me to harness my inner strength. The sign that helped me the most was "Tough Times Don't Last - Tough People Do." I refused to take the victim mentality - I was determined to rise above and have a victorious mindset. I strongly held the belief that I would conquer my fears and anxiety. Even though I can't draw, I work with artists who can draw visual representations of my ideas. It is really important to me to use every and all outlets to help others grasp concepts and get my message across.”
Your struggles from adolescence - is that what drove you to go in this direction with your life?
"Yes. I graduated Cum Laude from Hofstra University with a B.S. in Finance. After running support groups and being very involved with the OC Foundation for years I decided to go back to Graduate School. Even though I never took an undergraduate Psychology class, I knew that I had a deep desire to help others and give back. Now, working with others to reach their goals is more meaningful than just a job, it's my passion. I am constantly inspired when I see progress and positive change in others- I believe I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through my struggles. As Confucius wrote: ‘He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior’.”
Do you use art therapy in your practice?
"I wouldn’t say that I use art therapy but I do use visuals to explain meanings, concepts and ideas - I am constantly visualizing in my mind how I can better explain things. It's more of a mindful artistic expression to help people express themselves. I try to create a way for people to take their fear and visualize it in their own way so they can defeat it. The mind can be the greatest creator of positivity but also can create negative representations as well. The ultimate goal is for people to turn their negativity into positivity.”
So many artists are plagued by insecurity and feelings of inferiority - do you see many artists in your practice?
"A lot of the teens I work with are into anime and drawing. They usually don’t think much of their skills but everyone else does. The key to succeeding in life is to believe in your own abilities. Everyone is going to have their opinion on your talents, but the most important opinion is your own. Unfortunately, it seems as if art is undervalued skill. I think there’s a need for more art programs. They are vital in the development of the creative portion of the mind -- whether, it be poetry, drawing, or photography."
How do you deal with your own negative thoughts and fears?
"For every one negative thought it takes five positive thoughts to reverse it. Watching the news - it’s 99 percent negativity. But we have a choice. At night I watch funny things - comedy. You’re not stuck watching negative things - it’s a choice. I was telling my children yesterday that ’if you want someone’s attention you either trip them and get instant (negative) attention or say kind things to them - that doesn’t get you instant (positive) attention but leaves you in a positive state.' We live in a world where it’s all about mindset. Unfortunately people tend to focus on the negative in their world, but positivity is an indescribable feeling -- it creates an internal energy. One of the most profound examples of that is Viktor Frankl - a holocaust survivor - he wrote “Mans Search for Meaning.” I believe he lost his wife and parents in concentration camps. In spite of all the adversity he faced he wrote, ‘Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.' That’s one of the most profound statements I’ve ever come across."
Why do you think we as a culture are so focused on the negative?
"There are a few reasons but I think it makes you feel better about your own life. When you’re having a bad day you don’t want to read about people winning prizes and doing great. You prefer to read about negative things. And lets face it, news is all about ratings. If there was a demand for positive stories that’s what they’d concentrate on. A lot of the times when I was feeling anxious and fearful I’d look at someone who was struggling whether physical or mental and I drew from their strength as inspiration. They became my mentors, teaching me how to persevere. I’d look at them and think 'these are amazing people - people I can learn from.' There’s a guy - Nick Vujcic - he’s a motivational speaker and writer - and he was born with no arms and no legs. He could have given up, but he persevered and believed in the good -- so today a person most people wrote off is married with children and enjoys more than most people. These are the kinds of people that I let into my head to influence me."
What is the art of what you do?
"My art is that I have a sixth sense. I think this developed from my suffering — and it really was more than just my teens - it was my teens, twenties, thirties. I have a way of being able to read people nonverbally. For so many years I was stuck in my own head -- I focused my attention on others' reactions, the way they expressed themselves, and communicated. Now, I have a stronger ability to read peoples' nonverbal communication, connect with them, and react more intuitively to their emotions. So my art is really the art of communication.
For a mental health professional, to have the ability to communicate effectively in order to assist others in 'facing their fears’ - that’s powerful."
If you could go back in time to when you were 11 years old, what would you tell yourself?
"I would tell all kids to never give up. People need to remember that profound change doesn’t happen instantly. You have to work at it - and not even think about the work. You have to put the work in day after day and something will happen along the way - guaranteed. It seems that today people seek out immediate gratification and forget work precedes results. We are a very fast moving society. In many ways, we have been programmed for instant gratification. However, when you’re programmed for that it’s very difficult to put the work in to attain what is beyond the horizon. That’s something that my father always used to say to me when I was depressed - ‘put your head up and watch the sun shine down on you.' And it’s true. There are so many beautiful things in this world that are not on a TV or on a computer — we just need to take time to appreciate them."
Why is "The Comeback Kid" in the title of your book?
"There are a few reasons. I have a friend whom I've known since I was five years old who lost his father at the age of 9. He’s had a hard life. In that sense it's more of a statement - we’ll bounce back no matter what the adversity. If you give yourself a choice - a plan A and a plan B, you will never achieve your goals. You have to be totally focused on Plan A so that there’s no other option. Why? Because Plan B gives you that out. I will be the ‘Comeback Kid’ for life because adversity doesn’t come once in a lifetime - it comes many times in a lifetime. This is what I so strongly believe in. This is an extremely importantly belief I work to instill in my own children. Quitting or giving up on yourself is not an option - never. People who are really troubled need to believe this as well— you can not give them any other option than fully committing to overcoming their adversity and pain."
What are you most proud of?
"My children. My children are my life. I can speak in front of my children about my personal past because they understand me. I'm not ashamed of the fact that I had to confront and conquer fear and anxiety. I want them to draw from my pain and find inspiration. Kids are much smarter than you think. They observe more, they understand more and they pick up more. The most important thing is to emotionally fuel them with strategies and tools. Sit down with them. They appreciate your time so much more than a gift Time, effort, and energy - making they feel like they matter."
To Max: Max - what do you think about what your dad does?
"It’s cool - he helps people who need help."
How has your dad helped you?
"He talks to me and gives me attention and listens to me."
What’s the best thing your dad has ever said to you?
"That If I choose something negative I get attention right away, but it’s not good attention. If I choose something positive I get attention, but not right away."
To Dr. Rob: It has to be an amazing feeling - to know you’ve helped someone.
"It is, but I don’t dwell on it. I’m ready for the next person."
Dr. Robert Lancer (aka The Comeback Kid, OR “CBK") is a NY State Licensed psychologist. He is an expert in the treatment of OCD and anxiety disorders. CBK has spoken nationally and internationally on OCD, depression, and anxiety disorders, including conferences in San Diego, Philadelphia, as well as Europe. In 2005, Dr. Lancer founded he New York Center for OCD and Related Anxiety Disorders (NYOCD). He understands the need to treat each person as an individual, building on people’s strengths and bolstering their deficiencies.
To learn more about Dr. Robert Lancer's practice, visit the New York Center for OCD and Anxiety Related Disorders.
Dr. Lancer's new book, Rise Within, details his personal battle with anxiety and offers insights, tools and suggestions for overcoming anxiety and depression.