Richard Raubolt helps through psychoanalysis

February 5, 2010
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Grand Rapids psychologist Richard Raubolt said he wanted to know why people behave the way they do.

That simple thought as a teen has led Raubolt on a professional journey from Detroit to New York City to California to Grand Rapids, where he has spent 30 years helping people sort out their lives through psychoanalysis.

"It is where the most exciting work is happening. … It's in-depth, respectful, sophisticated and giving them credit for trying to make sense of their lives," Raubolt said.

Raubolt's office is a tasteful, quiet respite from the ceaseless traffic and bustle of southeast Grand Rapids. Colorful throw pillows cover cushy sofas. A small desk, nary an insurance form nor a computer marring its plain, anchors one corner. Abstract paintings by local artists punctuate the walls. And, yes, there is a "couch" — a wide leather chaise — for those who prefer the traditional recline of psychoanalysis.

This is where Raubolt's patients seek help, especially those who have survived trauma, his area of specialization.

In 2008, Raubolt published his second book, "Theaters of Trauma: Dialogues for Healing." He said he's working on a second printing with the Library of Social Science, a New York company that specializes in scholarly and professional books. It is a compilation of vignettes and drawings that take the reader through the pain of trauma and the steps toward healing, and the role of the therapist.

"I didn't want to write a book that anyone else has written. And I didn't want to write a textbook, because there's plenty out there. And I didn't want to write a technique book. So the book has to do with what it's like in the room, which I call the theater, between someone who has experienced severe trauma and the therapist, and the interaction that goes on between them."

He also chose the theater metaphor "because we all have so many different characters in us, and we are never sure which character's going to be on stage at any given time."

RICHARD R. RAUBOLT

Position: Private practice psychologist
Age: 61
Birthplace: Detroit
Residence: Grand Rapids
Family/Personal: Wife, Linda; two grown sons, Garrett and Jordan; one grandson.
Business/Community Organizations: Psychological Counseling Center, Aquinas College; supervisor via Skype, China American Psychoanalytic Alliance; board member and publications chair, International Forum for Psychoanalytic Education.
Biggest Career Break: Being challenged early in his career by a senior co-editor at a professional publication. “I don’t think he meant it as a challenge, but I sure as hell took it as a challenge.”

Raubolt said psychoanalysis is tied historically to its inventor, Sigmund Freud. Many of Freud's ideas were heavily influenced by the Victorian era in which he lived, and its repressed sexuality. Those ideas are outmoded now, Raubolt said, but Freud's interest in the subconscious and its effect on human behavior is a lasting influence on all facets of society.

"One of the appeals of Freud to me was that he was an original thinker who developed a whole, very elaborate theory of human nature that no one has come close to duplicating," Raubolt said.

"Psychotherapy is a field that's changing — and changing in large part because of the funding of managed care," Raubolt said. "It's really changed the way in which therapists approach people they see, and also what can be accomplished in a much briefer period of time.

"Now, I've remained outside the managed care circle. The people that see me usually do so because of my expertise in certain areas, and because they have already had a go or two at managed care — attempts at therapy that were not in-depth enough to really get at some of the difficulties that they were experiencing."

He said his patients are mostly private-pay or may have a partial payment from commercial insurance "to be able to get the kind of care and individual service they think will best help them."

Managed and insurance-driven care can put demands on treatment that are unrealistic, he said, adding that he supports parity for mental health coverage.

"If I'm told I have to see somebody in eight sessions, that reminds me of the TV show: 'I can name that tune in five notes. I can name that in four.' We don't work that way.

"It is economically driven, and I understand that. But by the same token, if we are going to do human lives and we're going to deal with the kinds of issues that I deal with — anxiety disorder, panic, trauma, marital disorders and strife … these processes can't be hurried."

Raubolt said his clients find him by word of mouth or through referrals from other mental health professionals, doctors or lawyers.

"(They) refer to me usually the tough cases, the complex cases," he said. "I'd never say I've seen everything, but I've seen a lot."

Raubolt grew up, with two brothers and a sister, as the eldest son of municipal lawyer Raleigh Raubolt and his wife, Esther, who was a law enforcement administrator until becoming a homemaker. The family lived in Wyandotte and Trenton before settling on Grosse Ile, an upscale island in the Detroit River.

"He was a very successful lawyer, very influential," Raubolt said of his father. "He would take me along with him down to Detroit, the Penobscot Building, and so I got to know Detroit — and Lafayette Coney Islands.

"We didn't see eye-to-eye politically, particularly in the `60s, but he taught me the value of hard work, of treating people decently. He had a number of farmers that he would see, and my mother was never sure what he would be bringing home in terms of payment: Would it be vegetables, fruit?"

Raubolt said that as the eldest son, he was groomed from an early age to take over his father's law practice. "Even in high school, it was very clear I was to take over the firm. And try as I might, I could not get myself to pursue a career in law," he recalled.

The summer of 1967 — the summer that Detroit went up in flames of fire and social unrest — turned out to be pivotal in Raubolt's life. "The experience that really shaped my interest in working with people more directly and with trauma specifically were the riots of '67."

Raubolt said he watched events unfold on television. He had spent hours hanging out in the city, hovering outside jazz clubs, haunting art shows and avant-garde movie houses.

"But to see the city that I really enjoyed just catch fire — there was so much rage, so much self-destructiveness. I found myself thinking that I don't understand this, there has to be some reason for this. I heard a number of reasons, and a lot of them — particularly at that point in time — had racial overtones. I thought there was really much more at play."

Fearing rioters might invade the island, the leaders of Grosse Ile posted guards at the swing bridges during the day and left them gaping open at night to prevent crossings. "I thought it was a foolish way of dealing with the problem," Raubolt said.

Instead, he rounded up some friends and a local pastor, and the group went door-to-door on Grosse Ile to collect food donations for the citizens of Detroit.

"We were able to do two things: collect a great deal of food and hear a great deal of misunderstanding," he said. "That has always been formative in my mind of how paradoxes work. … We took a van full of food down to Detroit against everybody's advice, including my father's. We were welcomed, treated extremely well. We were right in the heart of everything going on."

Raubolt entered Western Michigan University in pre-law, but switched to political science and sociology and graduated cum laude. He followed that up with a master's degree in applied human development from Columbia University in New York City and a doctorate in clinical psychology from The Fielding Institute of Santa Barbara, Calif.

During his eight years in New York City, Raubolt said he found a mentor in his wife's aunt, who worked in international public relations in Manhattan. "I fell in love with the city," Raubolt said. "She opened doors for me that were just phenomenal. She took my world from Grosse Ile and just opened it up."

His doctoral internship at Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services led Raubolt back to his home state. At Pine Rest, he worked with children and adolescents. When he moved into private practice, he continued to work with that age group. Gradually, he began to see more adults.

"It probably worked out best for me to come here in the sense that, at a much younger age, I could do a lot more than what I could have in New York, in terms of climbing the hierarchy that I'd probably still be climbing. I was able to take on some leadership roles, develop my clinical skills and develop a degree of confidence and interests in a variety of areas."

As his private practice developed, Raubolt said, he began to see more and more cases in which trauma played a significant role.

"I wanted to make a difference and felt this was an area that was underserved. I began to educate myself, think about and write about trauma."

An avid reader, Raubolt collects contemporary art, particularly by local artists. He writes short stories but has not published any fiction. He remains a jazz aficionado.

While Raubolt has traveled the world to present at conferences, he is now involved in supervising Chinese psychoanalysts via Skype, through the China American Psychoanalytic Alliance.

Raubolt clearly relishes the relationships he has developed with patients as well as colleagues, in a profession that he believes makes a difference in people's lives. He said he doesn't expect to ever retire, but will keep seeing patients and writing for the foreseeable future.

"Human nature is just fascinating to me," Raubolt said. "To see the paradoxes and contradictions of different people is something that gets me up in the morning and keeps me going."

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