David H. Jacobs, Ph.D.
Our brilliant and beloved colleague, David Jacobs, died last month. He had been with Practical Recovery since 2003. David was a therapist’s therapist. In our era most therapists rush to learn the latest evidence-based techniques. David was not opposed to new ideas, but his focus was on continually refining the basics of the psychotherapeutic art: listening well, responding authentically, developing a relationship that is simultaneously a working relationship and to some extent a personal one, all in service of fundamental change, perhaps in both parties. I believe that all of us at Practical Recovery benefited from our collaboration with this therapeutic sage. We will miss him deeply.
With the permission of his wife the home page and “about” page of his personal website are reprinted below. Thus we honor his work and take a step (there will be more) to preserve his legacy.
David Jacobs’ Homepage
For the past 35 years I have endeavored to develop my understanding of why people become stuck in persistent and distressing psychological problems and how to help. When I am asked what I specialize in as a therapist, I find this a somewhat misleading question. Real people have complex psychological and interpersonal problems. There may be a very conspicuous problem, but protracted discussion usually reveals a complex web of interrelated psychological and interpersonal difficulties.
Although no two people are the same with regard to biography and personality, I have lately thought it is useful to conceptualize what is actually the matter (why does the person have the persistent problems he/she has, although the precise problem configuration varies from person to person) in terms of three related areas or fault lines: 1. negative self feelings and attitudes, 2. impaired or underdeveloped ability to self-soothe by drawing on internal resources or turning to others for assistance, and 3. impaired ability to realistically trust other people and develop trusting relationships. In other words, although the person seeking therapy typically names a specific complaint or difficulty from which he/she wants relief, the real (generative) problem is usually along the lines I have outlined. It is the real problem that must be addressed if significant and enduring benefit from therapy is to be obtained.
Stated most baldly and abstractly, but to the point, the fault lines I outlined above can only be upgraded via the experience of an important and positive relationship between client and therapist. It is the experience over time of being in a certain kind of relationship that matters. Advice, instruction, education, insight, etc. matter very little when it comes to significant and enduring personal change. Advice and so on cannot engage psychic life at a deep enough level to enduringly influence personal characteristics that were established and solidified during the pre-adult years of development within the crucible of family life. Only direct relationship experience can affect those aspects of psychic development that were formed in the crucible of relationship experiences (e.g., self feelings mainly derive from how one was actually treated by family members growing up). Only the therapist is really in a position to offer a corrective emotional experience. This is because the therapist is at work, and so can be dedicated to the task at hand, which is to consistently offer a corrective emotional relationship. It’s no one else’s job—spouses for example do not enter marriage to selflessly dedicate themselves single mindedly to providing a corrective emotional relationship while keeping their own needs strictly on the back burner. But being at work does not prevent the therapist from developing real feelings for and about the client. When two people meet consistently for a long time real feelings develop. This is how it is with human beings. But at the same time the therapist is at work and is dedicated to the work.
If significant and enduring change in living life is what is being sought (what else?), the way forward is the development of an important relationship over time between therapist and client. The legacy of maltreatment growing up is not easily or quickly altered. It’s second nature. That’s why it takes so much work, dedication, and time to overcome it. It doesn’t yield to thought or resolutions. You give yourself good advice and don’t follow it. Other people give you good advice you ignore or can’t follow. Only direct experience of a certain kind can make a dent in what has become second nature (bad self feelings, fear, distrust, etc.). An experienced therapist realizes this and patiently works on developing a relationship that you can trust and is important to you and therefore can make a difference. You may be impatient, frustrated, etc., but an experienced therapist knows this is part of the process and helps you persevere. If you persevere in good faith it makes a difference.
David Jacobs’ “About” Page
I have been a licensed clinical psychologist in California since 1989, and am currently providing services as a San Diego therapist. I grew up in Brooklyn and Queens, New York City. It took me a long time to realize how aberrant and damaging my formative experiences in my family of origin actually were, despite my undergraduate education in psychology and graduate education in psychology in my 20s. I’m inclined to think today that it takes a good deal of living to come to appreciate the real and long term effects of what was taken for granted (due to immaturity and naivete) growing up in the family of origin. Perhaps no one comes to fully see it without prolonged discussion with a person who appreciates the impact of the formative period of life on how one is doing in adulthood.
One of the main things I try to do as a therapist is to create an atmosphere in which personal issues can be discussed in a manner they cannot be discussed anywhere else. Of course confidentiality is crucial for this. But that’s not enough. I have to be someone you want to discuss recondite matters with; matters you will not discuss openly and candidly with anyone else. Recondite is an uncommonly used word. It has two somewhat different meanings: firstly, profound, difficult, complex, hidden; secondly, beyond ordinary knowledge or understanding. I have to be someone you discuss complex and hidden matters with, and I have to be someone that can grasp what you are talking about in a manner most others are not likely to. I’ve been working on both parts for a long time.
I appreciate that the presence of long-term personal problems indicates a lot of harm was done during the course of growing up. The challenge and task growing up in a family that is noxious in important ways is to survive and adapt as best you can. The child growing up is not in a position to realize how present-time survival and coping strategies will problematize life in the future as an adult. Later in life the very coping and adaptation strategies that enabled the growing child to survive in the family are major impediments to successful living. They have become second nature and as such can’t be disowned or even modified much without a great deal of effort over time and assistance. I get that the person seeking therapy has done all he/she can do to self-fix. I think it is imperative that the therapist realizes this. There is no proper place for blame in therapy, as I see it. This applies as well to the difficulties and pace of altering what has become second nature once therapy begins. Experience has shown me that benefit can accrue over time if both parties persevere. I can remind clients of this when necessary.