Teen beat: 'Annoying' is not a disorder
For a while this spring, clinical psychologist Peter Sheras flirted with the idea of tossing his hat into the 57th District ring.
He figured the contentious legislature could benefit from his consensus-building skills, honed from more than 30 years of working with teens.
"What bothers me about the General Assembly is they don't play well together," he says. Nor does he like the polarization between the parties. "If you have teams, it's not good for the community."
He adds cryptically, "If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."
But when the announcement about his candidacy came in late March, it was that the UVA prof decided not to add elected official to his résumé– for now.
For one, he'd have to take an unpaid leave from teaching, which he loves. "It's like perpetual parenting with people who are really interested in what you say– unlike your own kids," says Sheras, whose kids are safely through adolescence.
He became interested in psychology in college while working at a community center where there were smoking, drug-using teens. "They weren't evil– they just didn't know what to do," he says. "I was intrigued by that naive sense I'd discover a cure for confusion."
Since then, he's worked on youth violence, bullying, divorce prevention, and supporting parents of teens.
And even now, the thing he likes best about his practice is watching people come to see the world differently.
Sheras has a double-psych household: his wife, Phyllis Koch-Sheras, also has a practice. "People think we spend all the time talking about our cases," he says. "That's the last thing we want to do." And of course there's that confidentiality thing.
But they do write books together, hold workshops, and can segue work-related trips into vacations.
So what's the common teen refrain? "Nobody understands me," replies Sheras. "Your kids confuse agreement with understanding. They think if you don't agree, you don't understand." For instance, if a parent says "No way, José" to a 1am curfew, teenagers think they need to explain it again, explains Sheras.
And psychology does have its limits as far as teenagers are concerned: "We don't diagnose them as annoying," he admits.
Why here? I came to take a job teaching at UVA, but I stay here because I love it here. So much great art, spirituality, beautiful surroundings and interesting people.
What's worst about living here? The humidity
Favorite hangout? Mudhouse
Most overrated virtue? My guitar playing
People would be surprised to know: I was a pretty good and accomplished child actor in Chicago.
What would you change about yourself? I would be able to relax more without feeling restless or guilty.
Proudest accomplishment? Helping to establish Couples Coaching Couples, a national group of couples working to enrich the lives of other couples
People find most annoying about you: I snore loudly.
Whom do you admire? Leo Szilard, the Hungarian-born nuclear physicist (1898-1964) who first had the idea of the atom bomb and worked on the Manhattan project. He later became a biologist and social critic and wrote a great short story, "The Voice of the Dolphins," in which it was discovered that dolphins had superior intelligence and were able to solve the world's problems.
Favorite book? Fiction: The Hobbit; nonfiction: The Pursuit of Loneliness by Philip Slater
Subject that causes you to rant? Zero tolerance and fundamentalism
Biggest 21st-century thrill? Watching our kids graduate from college– and the Cubs almost make the World Series but reassure their fans by losing in a spectacular way when a fan touched a ball in play.
Biggest 21st-century creep out? The 2004 presidential election
What do you drive? A Volvo Cross Country
In your car CD player right now: Fleetwood Mac The Dance
Next journey? Back to India next winter
Most trouble you've ever gotten in? Tear gassed by police on the New Haven Green during a demonstration for Black Panther leader Bobby Seale in the spring of 1970.
Regret: I wish I could have lived for a few more years in Northern California.
Favorite comfort food: Toast or anything chocolate
Always in your refrigerator: Kosher pickles
Must-see TV: West Wing or M.A.S.H reruns
Favorite cartoon: Rocky and Bullwinkle (South Park a distant second)
Describe a perfect day. Up early, work out (rowing or lifting weights), yoga and meditation for an hour, writing and then teaching a class. Dinner in town with friends followed by a discussion of politics or art, early to bed to snuggle with wife. Dreams of walking on the moon.
Walter Mitty fantasy: First psychologist astronaut on Mars
Who'd play you in the movie? Robin Williams
Most embarrassing moment? My freshman-year date to the college prom went home with the photographer while my friends looked on.
Best advice you ever got? From my grandfather: Don't lend money to your relatives– just give it to them. If they don't pay you back, you're not mad, and if they do, you're impressed.
Favorite bumper sticker? "This sentence no verb" or "Got Oars?"
PHOTO BY JEN FARIELLO