David Bedrick, JD, Dipl. PW is an author, speaker, teacher and expert on the topics of shame, night time dreams, weight loss and body image, diversity and social injustice, and new paradigms in psychology.
David is a speaker, teacher, and attorney and author of the acclaimed Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology and his new book Revisioning Activism: Bringing Depth, Dialogue, and Diversity to Individual and Social Change. David spent eight years on the faculty of the University of Phoenix and has taught for the US Navy, 3M, psychological associations, and small groups. He has received notable awards for teaching, employee development, and legal service to the community.
David completed graduate work in psychology at the University of Minnesota and clinical training at the Process Work Institute, where he is a diplomate and adjunct faculty member as well as a member of the ethics committee and the advisory board for the master of arts program in conflict facilitation. As a practitioner of process-oriented psychology—a branch of Jungian psychology—he has worked with groups, couples, and individuals for over twenty years. He teaches and speaks on the topics of shame, night time dreams, weight loss and body image, diversity and social injustice, and alternative psychological paradigms. David is a blogger for Psychology Today and The Huffington Post and counsels people internationally. For more about David, see Media—Inquiries & Press Kit.
Interview with David
Where are you from, and how did that place and those people influence your life?
I grew up in New York City, in a high-rise building that housed 75 families. A hundred feet across the driveway was another building with 75 families. Within my neighborhood there were maybe 30 or 40 buildings like that. Most of my childhood friends lived in my building—not even across the street in the next one. So a big part of my conditioning was having to relate to people. It was Jews and Italians, so I had to relate to Italians and Jews.
Then on the train to my high school, one or two stops away, I’d be in Bed-Stuyvesant, which was a black community. The next stop was a Hassidic neighborhood. Then riding into Manhattan, you go through little Italy, and Chinatown, and Washington Square. So you are in this diversity scene. On the train, it’s so packed; you are standing smashed together in a physical, bodily way with people of different cultures and races. And the tensions, the looks, the discomforts are all around you. You cannot ignore the fact that there are many people who are nothing like you, all the time.
The other thing about my childhood is that I grew up in a violent home. That means emotionally and physically violent. I don’t know how to say what that gave me—so many different things. But I know what it’s like to be hurt and frightened in the world, physically and emotionally, on a regular basis. I know what it’s like to not be believed or heard about that experience. I know that very deeply. To not be believed about the way you are mistreated is a huge experience. So I guess that makes me want to believe people in a profound way.
I have fallen in love with the word educate because it comes from the root educere, to draw out. I love the idea of education as the process of drawing out of people the intelligence that is inside them. Society views education as a sort of banking concept: “I deposit information in you and then you can take it out and show it to me, on a test or something.” I prefer the idea of educing, of drawing out, the creativity and insights of my clients and students.
Even in the classroom setting, when I talk for 15 minutes on a topic, I am hoping that my words and stories will provoke students to think differently, to feel about themselves differently. So it is still an educing act, more than “I want you to remember what I have said.”
Also, being transparent is a big thing for me as an educator. Being vulnerable, nervous, self-critical, shy; not knowing answers, needing affection. . . . As an elder, or an authority, showing human qualities is really important. Showing tears when I hear something or say something that moves me. I think students need to make a feeling relationship with their teachers, so that the knowledge informs their emotional body as well as their intellect.
Name a few of your favorite books.
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok. Belly Song by Etheridge Knight. Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. Maus by Art Spiegelman. Breaking Bread: Insurgent Black Intellectual Life by Cornel West and bell hooks. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke.
I once asked you if you could invite ten people, alive or dead, over for dinner, who would they be?
You told me: Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Etheridge Knight, Cornel West, Marvin Gaye, Alice Walker, Nina Simone, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Howard Thurman, John Coltrane, and Rainer Maria Rilke. What is it about those people, or the African American experience perhaps, that resonates so deeply for you?
Many of our black elders and teachers have survived a history of pain, degradation, and violence—a crucible in which they found the deepest part of their own humanity.
Not all spiritual or psychological teachers try to turn that kind of suffering into artistic and intellectual expression. To give voice to their humanity through art, intellect, beauty—it is such a rare tradition.
They are not just saying “go inside and find your inner peace.” They are saying, “Find the artist inside you—your power, your poetry, your musical capacity. Find those things!”
African American women have been particularly important to my coming to consciousness. When I first heard Maya Angelou read her poetry, as soon as she opened her mouth I started crying! Just the sound of her voice was so profound. It accessed a truth insider her, a truth of her experience.
Men don’t often communicate this way. Many men speak with a patriarchal authority which at best expresses a strong intellect, or a musical capacity. But this sort of “Here is who I am, here is the truth of my humanity, the truth of my emotional experience”—that’s something women tend to articulate much better.
The black woman has been perhaps the most marginalized person on the planet, along with the Native woman. If she can endure that marginalization and find her center in it, she is in a position to discover something quite magnificent and powerful inside herself, in the humanity that can still find its way through. So despite being a black girl raped in Jim Crow America, Maya Angelou’s humanity was a pretty amazing flowering, one that could break through such a hard crust.
Who else could love America the same way? Who else could endure rape, witness their husbands being beaten, have their children taken away from them, raise the master’s white children, and not smother them to death, but love them dearly? That is an incredible capacity to love.
If you had a free month to do whatever you wanted, what comes up in your imagination?
I’d spend it at the Oregon coast. I love the rocky cliffs and the wildness of the water smashing against rocks. It is not really a calm beach to lie around on and go swimming from; it is wild and cold, with a wind that is always blowing. That otherworldly place takes me very deep inside, away from the mundane realities of accomplishments, tasks, and people. Here I connect with earth, wind, rock, and water; they are great teachers.
What things most nourish you in your daily life? How do you take care of yourself?
Every day I lie down for 30 minutes to two hours with something over my eyes, listening to music. In that place I “dream”—dream while awake—which means I let my deeper psyche and imagination take me to new places and insights. It’s a kind of deep experience with myself and with the spirits that are around me in my life and in the world.
My elders and teachers also nourish me. They love me, and I know that, and they can say that. And they are a step ahead of me in some ways; they are more awake and further along on the “being human” path.
And then I have my sweetheart, who constantly loves me and believes in me and is kind to me.
And there is poetry. I literally slept with Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet for a year and a half because he said that “sadness could grow big and be a wonderful condition,” and no one appreciated my sadness until he did. The e. e. cummings poem, “i thank You God for most this amazing,” I knew by heart and recited every day for months and months because I needed it. I hand-wrote T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” into a book with a fountain pen. It is 40 pages and it took me about six weeks, but I did it because I needed insight into that poem. Lastly, Etheridge Knight’s “Belly Song” opened my heart and was given to me upon having the opportunity to recite it privately it to Etheridge some 30 years ago—that moment changed my life.
Interview by Lisa Blair, Summer 2015