A psychologist/psychoanalyst who maintains his private practice in La Jolla, California.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Favorite Professors: Gary Rosenberg, who was a mentor to me, Joe Vigilante, who was passionate and had a value-driven belief in social work, and Jery Tavel, who got us involved and was welcoming of all questions.
Connection to Adelphi Across the Country: I earned my PhD in psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego; Adelphi alumnus Nicholas A. Cummings founded the school’s four campuses. Also, Gordon Derner came out to CSPP-SD to teach. I took some of his classes and we kept in touch afterwards. Gordon Derner was a treasure…he was always mentoring others.
Greatest Professional Accomplishment: I am most proud of all the people that have been willing to commit themselves to groups and the time and emotional energy I have invested in the American Group Psychotherapy Association.
Advice for Adelphi Students: Do whatever you can to enjoy your work; do whatever you can to enjoy every day.
Helping Patients Find the Strength Within
The tables were turned on Gil Spielberg when he sat down for this interview. Why? Well, because he is used to asking all the questions.
Dr. Spielberg is a psychologist/psychoanalyst who maintains his private practice in La Jolla, California. His specialty is group therapy, a form of therapy in which a small number of people meet together under the guidance of a therapist to help themselves and one another by developing, exploring, and examining interpersonal relationships within the group. Some of the issues typically addressed in a group session include difficulties with interpersonal relationships, problems facing children and adolescents, depression and anxiety, loss, and personality and addictive disorders.
“Individual analysis is wonderful, but it has its limitations,” Dr. Spielberg explains. ”With group therapy, you see people in their natural habitats and can observe how they develop relationships.”
After assessing the developmental level of the patient one-on-one, the next step for Dr. Spielberg is putting the patient in a group that will enable growth from that developmental level. He prefers to place a patient with a group of people that the patient can both identify and disidentify with. “People work best with an optimal level of tension,” says Dr. Spielberg. Occasionally the groups are theme-oriented, but Dr. Spielberg prefers a heterogeneous group, combining patients with all different symptoms.
“What people really want in life is to feel deeply connected to themselves and others,” says Dr. Spielberg, which explains why group therapy is effective. Group members get this sense of connection as they relate to, work out their differences with, and build relationships among one another in the group setting. People in the group become mental images for each patient. Dr. Spielberg explains that the members of the group end up carrying the images of their group members around with them for the rest of their lives.
“I love the unpredictability of what I do,” says Dr. Spielberg. Since every group is different, there is no way for the therapist to know exactly what is going to help a particular patient in a particular group. “That means I need to live completely in the present with the group. I can’t miss a beat,” he says. Although Dr. Spielberg guides the group’s conversation, he finds that the members’ contributions are often most effective: “I’ll have a quiet guy who doesn’t say anything for months, and then one day he turns to the woman next to him and says just the right thing to make her feel fabulous.”
For a novice to group therapy, it might be difficult to understand at what point a person in therapy is cured. Dr. Spielberg explains that therapy is considered curative when patients reach the point where they are “better emotional citizens;” they develop an internal awareness and awareness of others, they form relationships that are enriching and satisfying, and they live life feeling content with themselves.
Dr. Spielberg began his higher education at The City College of New York, on a campus inundated with students interested in social action in reaction to the Vietnam War. This was an eye-opening experience for Dr. Spielberg. With a greater social consciousness, he decided he wanted to get involved with social work. Dr. Spielberg was drawn to Adelphi for its strong program in social work: “Adelphi stood out as having one of the best programs…it had a great deal of energy.” At Adelphi Dr. Spielberg respected his professors and found them to be very supportive. It was as a student at Adelphi that he became “hooked” on group work.
“Adelphi helped me build my confidence,” says Dr. Spielberg. “I graduated feeling well-trained and ready to start my career.”
After Adelphi, Dr. Spielberg spent four years working as a social worker. Realizing he was not earning the same respect or compensation as his colleagues who were psychologists and psychiatrists, Dr. Spielberg decided to go back to school to get his Ph.D. in psychology at the California School of Professional Psychology in San Diego. He also got his certificate in psychoanalysis from the Institute for the Psychoanalytic Study of Subjectivity and the Center for the Advancement of Group Studies, both located in New York City. To date, Dr. Spielberg has been involved in group therapy for nearly forty years.
Dr. Spielberg is very involved with the American Group Psychotherapy Association, an interdisciplinary community that has been enhancing practice, theory, and research of group therapy since 1942. Given his location in Los Angeles, Dr. Spielberg works with many creative people in the entertainment field. Besides maintaining his private practice, Dr. Spielberg is also an assistant clinical professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a training and supervising analyst at the Institute for Contemporary Psychoanalysis in Los Angeles.
Today Mr. Spielberg and his wife live in California. As his three children grew older and moved out of the house, Dr. Spielberg found time to pick up some new hobbies. Today he and his wife are dedicated Iyengar Yoga students as well as ballroom dancers. Dr. Spielberg’s brother, Warren Spielberg, is also an Adelphi alumnus, having received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from Adelphi in 1986.
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