Beaver talks relationship in the tech age


Adria Watson

Psychology professor Daniel Beaver speaking about how technology affects inter-personal relationships at LMC’s first TEDx event last fall.

When Daniel Beaver was just 20, he found himself burned out from trying to determine where in the world of psychology he fit in. He had obtained a B.A. in Psychology from U.C. Berkeley, graduated from Cal State East Bay with an M.S. in Counseling Psychology and interned at various places like Napa State Hospital. Now, Beaver is working comfortably at a United Crusade-supported family service agency in San Leandro.

His career had been a complex journey, but Beaver was open to new experiences he hoped would help him further define what he wanted to do. So when his director suggested he take a class in couples counseling, Beaver quickly agreed. However, as he walked into a room filled with people twice his age, Beaver was shocked to find that what the Department of Public Health of the State of California had aptly named “Teen Treatment and Couples Counseling” was actually a Masters and Johnson-style course in sex therapy.

“I was so mind blown, I couldn’t believe it. I was like, ‘Wow! They just covered it up with that euphemism’,” Beaver said.

Beaver’s career since then has had little to do with euphemisms and more to do with the reality of what it takes to maintain an intimate relationship. As a part-time teacher at Los Medanos College, he’s a no-nonsense kind of guy, with sharp brown eyes, quick remarks to bring a class to attention and little patience for sugar coating what our culture considers taboo. He talks about sex, relationships and emotions, with the kind of comfortability one only gets in private conversations with a close friend. Simply put, he’s dedicated and passionate about his practice.

In 1974, Beaver co-founded the Relationship Counseling Center of Walnut Creek and has been a practicing marriage and family therapist for 44 years. He has also been a teacher in Contra Costa County for the past 35 years. He has been a faculty member at JFK University, Cal State East Bay and Diablo Valley College, and now teaches a course in the Psychology of Human Sexuality at LMC. He has also published three books, each of which coincide with the course. In addition to all of this, Beaver has actively sought to bring to light what he calls the “communication void” that exists in all kinds of intimate relationships. He spoke about this idea at the LMC TedX event last fall.

Though his talk centered around how technology is contributing to that “void,” and how to fix it, Beaver admits the problem predated this new era of fast communication.

Earlier in his career when he spent time promoting his ideas to the press to elicit public conversation, one of the pitches he often gave was, “Nowhere is anyone taught how to have a great relationship — it’s just supposed to happen somehow.” There exists a cultural expectation that over time people will grow into emotionally stable adults capable of maintaining a healthy relationship, but that’s not how it works, he insists.

And if you ask Beaver, in spite of how long it has been since he first started practicing, that cultural norm has yet to change. What he sees today is much the same as what he saw when he first began his work as a therapist — people struggle to maintain their relationships, except now technology is involved.

Because “people still haven’t learned to communicate on a real emotional level,” and technology has infiltrated every aspect of our lives, Beaver sees technology as something he must address in the classroom.

The fast technology we have today, such as social media and texting, are not suitable for vulnerability and intimate conversation, he said. In his own life texting may be good for sending out a grocery list, but he would not suggest texting as a means for intimate conversation.

Intimacy and emotional vulnerability — the stuff that keeps a relationship going, according to Beaver — makes up a great portion of his class. The class begins with self-love and progresses into interpersonal relationships, he said, adding he hopes the course serves as a preventative measure to the problems he sees as a therapist. He may focus mostly on interpersonal relationships as a sex therapist and as a marriage and family therapist, but a lot of the intimate problems he deals with begin with the individual.

“A lot of those phrases are all psycho-babble,” Beaver said about psychology. “I like to make it real. What does that mean, ‘Love yourself’?”

What loving yourself really means, Beaver teaches, is caring about one’s own emotional well-being in the same way that a person might care about a lover’s well-being. Without that personal foundation, people often let themselves get run over by their partners and even by their own self-talk — something that Beaver said is a big no-no for a healthy sexual relationship.

Zita Flores, a former student of Beaver’s, appreciates the preventative style. Speaking to her own experience, Flores admits that emotionally abusive relationships and low self-esteem have taken a toll on her love life in the past.

“I learned a lot about the things that aren’t talked about today,” she said. “I think if I would have learned about that sooner it would have prevented me from a lot of heartbreak.”

Flores said that since taking Beaver’s class, she feels as though she’s far better off than she would have been otherwise. She makes a point to practice self-love and hopes it shows to the people who look up to her.

“At my church I’m a leader and a mentor,” Flores said. If she wants to make an impact on her youth members that means being good to herself so that she can be the best role model she possibly can.

This is exactly the kind of results Beaver is looking to get out of teaching at LMC. His work as a therapist is better defined as crisis management, but what he does as a teacher is preparation for the future.

“Teaching is fun. Therapy is hard,” Beaver said.

After so many years as a marriage and family therapist, as well as a sex therapist, Beaver is running out of steam. Emotions, especially other people’s emotions, are draining, he says. It takes a lot out of him to do what he does, no matter how much he loves it.

“People are crying, people are in pain, or frustrated. If you have any empathy you’re going to feel a lot of that,” Beaver said as his eyes softened. “My resilience to it isn’t as good as it was.”

On the other hand when, he hears results like Flores’s, teaching becomes exhilarating and gives new meaning to something he has always been passionate about. It’s an opportunity for him to catch the problems before they develop into the crises he deals with in his office. An opportunity to build strength, confidence and, most of all, health. That’s why a class like his is so important for college students, he said.

“They’re right in the middle between adolescence and adulthood,” and catching them early can make all the difference, Beaver said excitedly.

After an early career of self discovery and many years of practicing as a therapist, Beaver may be burning out, but teaching is helping to keep that flame alive. The part-time teacher says he’d consider teaching full time after he retires from professional counseling.

Then there was a playful glint in his eyes and he said with all of the euphemisms one can possibly fit into a sentence, “I get off on helping people, that’s why teaching is fulfilling. You can tell you’re turning them on. You can enlighten people. It’s more rewarding.”