What Mayor Bob Filner Needs in Counseling

Lucky us in San Diego. Our mayor's salacious activities have been plastered all over the news nationwide, although it does make for interesting conversations everywhere I go. Since Mayor Bob Filner started 2 weeks of intensive counseling today, I started thinking about how I would approach counseling with him if he came to see me. Obviously this is only based on what I've heard in the news, but this certainly is not the first time we've learned about a male politian engaging in sexual harassment.


My first consideration is that he refuses to step down from office and thinks the San Diego taxpayers should pay his legal fees. This leads me to believe he really doesn't think he's done anything wrong or serious. I'm guessing that the combination of his age and the generation he was raised in, as well as being in a position of political power, means he thinks that women are pleased when he hits on them and it’s all in good fun. With this in mind, my approach would be mindfulness cultivation, vulnerability training, and empathy-building (with gender education).


1) The first angle I would take with him is one of mindfulness practices. Changing any habit or pattern requires knowing what is happening in the moment that the pattern is triggered. Is it seeing a woman he finds beautiful? Feeling inadequate and down? Feeling sexually aroused? Whatever the trigger, unless he can identify the thoughts, emotions, and bodily sensations triggering his actions, he won't be able to change them.


Mindfulness is also foundational for working on the next two components - vulnerability and empathy. According the neuropsychiatrist Daniel Siegel, mindfulness develops a part of the brain that facilitates empathy, insight, attuned communication, emotional balance, and morality. I would teach Filner a combination of formal and informal practices around mindfulness so he has a better chance of shifting these patterns in a timely manner.


2) Building comfort with vulnerability will be important for his healing and changes. What are his insecurities? What is he afraid of? How is he handling getting older? Does he feel shame? How worthy does he feel? These aspects of insecurities often underlie bad behavior. When someone is always running, hiding, or numbing from their demons, they tend to do a lot of foolish things. Accessing vulnerability and teaching him ways to self-soothe will be valuable. And the more comfortable and accepting of his own shortcomings he can be, the more he should be able to understand the plight of others with humility.


3) The third step would be empathy-building with gender education. If possible I would bring in women who have been sexually harassed by other men, to speak to the angst they felt, how they felt pressured by status and power, and the impact on their confidence, job, and family. I would expose him to various situations that could evoke empathy, such as viewing a bullying scene, and walk him through all the emotions on both sides. It would be important for him to learn the concept of "privilege," as a white, wealthy, heterosexual man, and the importance of respecting and not abusing that role. Also, though, it would be important to recognize places where he is less privileged (such as his age and lack of attractiveness). As an aside, I've heard from someone who works with him on occasion that he can be rather rude at meetings, such as calling someone "stupid" in front of a group. It seems that empathy is a missing part of his interactional repertoire overall.


Of course all of this would require him actually wanting to change, and being open to learning new ways of thinking and acting. You can teach an old dog new tricks, and we have neuroscience to prove that. What kind of approach do YOU think would help?


~Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, San Diego -- Sexologist, Sociologist, Sexuality Speaker

(Image from Bill Wechter/Getty Images from: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/politics/ninth-woman-accuses-mayor-harassment-article-1.1416076)