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Are You Telling the Truth?

Barbara Bensoussan

Dr. David Lieberman, a popular leader in the field of human behavior and relationships who has penned numerous self-help books, has used his techniques for consulting for the FBI and constructing personality-profiled shidduch databases. What’s next for New York Times best-selling author and Lakewood resident “Dr. Dave”?

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

dave leiberman man deskSome people refuse to fit neatly into standard categories, and Dr. David J. Lieberman is one of them. He’s a PhD psychologist who doesn’t want to do therapy full-time, a former business major who didn’t want to go into the business world, a polished public speaker who claims to be an introvert, a centrist-leaning baal teshuvah who chose to settle in Lakewood, and an author who abandoned big-name publishing houses and secular fame to publish Jewish books under his own imprint.

A mass of contradictions? Not really, if you know the twists and turns of his unusual career path, which have ranged from consulting for the FBI to constructing personality-based shidduch databases. By staying true to his own interests, adapting them as he veered into Torah Judaism, and applying a lot of savvy on how to market himself, he’s managed to construct a unique and idiosyncratic career, even make himself into a brand.

Many readers may recognize Dr. Lieberman as “Dr. Dave” from the self-help style video clips he does for kiruv website aish.com; he also pens a weekly column for the Jewish Press. Others may know him from his numerous self-help books, such as Real Power: Rise Above Your Nature and Stop Feeling Angry, Anxious or Insecure; Never Be Lied To Again; Get Anyone to Do Anything; Make Peace with Anyone; How to Change Anybody; You Can Read Anyone; and Find Out Who’s Normal and Who’s Not.

On video, he presents with a friendly smile but a focused energy. In person, he’s much more retiring and relaxed, looking young and fresh for his 46 years. While he claims to be a natural introvert — his twin brother, he says, is the extroverted one — today it takes just a few questions to coax him into loquaciousness.

Lieberman was raised in Roslyn, Long Island, a town he describes as “90 percent Jewish, and about 1 percent frum.” His father worked hard in sales and had the kind of progressive vision to get interested in organic food long before it was fashionable. (“We were drinking bottled water 40 years ago,” Lieberman says.)

His mother was the first in the family to pursue an unusual writing career: she wrote gigs for stand-up comics like Kaye Ballard and Tubby Boots. “She’s very funny — both my parents have good senses of humor,” he says.

While his family’s observances bein adam l’Makom may have faded over the generations, he characterizes his parents as “morally centered people, who taught us a lot of good religious values.” He still cherishes many of his mother’s oft-repeated phrases, like “Not everyone can have good grades, but everyone can have good manners,” and “If you don’t have your word, you don’t have anything.”

Lieberman attended college at SUNY–Oswego, majoring in business and psychology, before entering a PhD program in psychology atCaliforniaCoastUniversity. As a student, he did well in the subjects he liked (which did not, for the record, include statistics). He wrote his thesis on the effects of nutrition on obsessive-compulsive disorder.

“My dad had always been interested in nutrition, and even today, when people call me with questions, part of my triage begins by asking them about their eating habits,” he says. “Too much sugar or caffeine can aggravate ADHD, as can lack of sleep. Exercise has shown to be as effective as meds like Prozac or Zoloft in treating mild to moderate depression. The prevailing wisdom holds that it stimulates production of the neurotransmitter norepinephrine, which seems to improve mood.”

As Lieberman neared the close of his doctoral program, he found himself in a bit of a bind; he realized that he didn’t want to work in business (although he’d studied some industrial psychology), nor did he feel himself suited to full-time clinical work.

“To treat people in therapy, you can’t cut right to the chase — you have to let things unfold slowly,” he says. “I’m not naturally well-suited to that.”

He also felt himself philosophically at odds with much of the prevailing psychological ethos, a sentiment that has only increased since he came into the Torah world. Too often, he says, the field of psychology seeks to blame outer circumstances for our problems; the field’s approach has been to label syndromes and treat them as diseases which have to be “cured” by the therapist. But emotional and spiritual ills are not viruses, and Lieberman feels the patient has to participate in his own rehabilitation.

“Most people get better in therapy when they decide to take responsibility for themselves,” he says. “It could be after five minutes, or after five years, but the decision to change has to come from the client.”

 

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