Reflections by
Dr. Stanley McCracken

Interviewed: 2018

From book: Purple Umbrella

Stanley McCracken is a Lecturer in the School of Social Service Administration. He is a licensed clinical social worker and a registered dual disorder professional. His practice and teaching interests lie in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, co-occurring disorders, multicultural mental health, aging, spirituality in social work practice, and dissemination and implementation of evidence-based practice. Prior to 2007 when he came to SSA full-time, he had a joint appointment as Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Chicago, Department of Psychiatry and later at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. In addition to seeing clients in the department of psychiatry, he also worked with patients in the departments of gastroenterology, cardiology, primary care, and the diabetes center.

How we can balance defensiveness with openess?

Problems arise when people are hypervigilant for external threats or excessively sensitive to interpersonal threats. When these kinds of problems lead to paranoia, people may engage in behaviors that attract attention or may interpret benign stimuli as threatening.

Unfortunately, it may be difficult to determine what is excessive unless you have lived in that person’s world, e.g., micro aggressions. Vigilance also has another end of the continuum when people are oblivious to their surroundings, e.g., people who walk around the city with ear buds in their ears and their eyes and attention focused on their phone. The trick is striking a balance that keeps one safe.

I start by trying to figure out who has the problem—me, the client, or both of us, and I am likely to seek supervision/consultation/advice. This happened more often in my earlier career when a big piece of the problem was my own insecurity, and a lot of my defensiveness was from fear that I didn’t know what to do or from my need to protect my credibility.

A lot of that went away when I realized that the client was the one in control and that I was just a bystander. True, I was an interested and hopefully helpful bystander, but the reality was that the individual had made it through life without me and would likely do so after me. Once I began to see myself as a consultant and facilitator to the person, I was less likely to feel defensive. (Amazing what a little dose of humility can do!)

Perhaps as a result of my experiences in Viet Nam, I feel that safety is a lot more of a continuum that people want to think and that complete safety is an illusion. Things can change rapidly.

Does this mean that I am hypervigilant?

I don’t think so, but I am probably a bit more vigilant than many. Does this keep me from trying new things?

Not at all, though I draw the line at things that will probably make me feel bad, e.g., bungee jumping, roller coasters, sky diving (why would anyone get out of a perfectly good airplane before it landed). Being open to others for me is very different. Once again, curiosity is a big piece of my answer. I like people and find them fascinating. I tend to be fairly open to others. In my personal life, I draw the line at getting involved with folks who love drama or are extremely needy…been there done that, don’t need to do it again.

Any quotes that have inspired your journey?

The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
…to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thank you for coming…

This interview is from our book パープル:Purple Umbrella.