Passion, Grit, and Initiative with Dr. Michael Levittan

Dr. Michael Levittan is an accomplished and recognized expert on domestic violence, anger management, child abuse, trauma, PTSD, and suicide.  He is a licensed psychotherapist, director of T.E.A.M. – a state-certified batterers’ treatment program, serves as an Expert Witness in court, teaches seminars and courses at UCLA Extension, National Alliance on Mental Illness, International Conference on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma, L.A. Superior Court, Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, U.S. Marines, Women’s Shelters, etc.

Dr. Levittan’s media work as an expert includes the Tyra Banks Show, ABC-TV News, Starting Over, Bad Girls Club, Montel Williams, Robert Irvine Show,, Hollywood 411, and radio, on-line, and print publications.  He has contributed a chapter to the International Handbook on Interpersonal Violence, “The History of Infanticide;” a chapter in Violence in Our Society; and a chapter on Domestic Violence in “Her Story, His Story.”

Dr. Levittan appears in the newly-released documentary on parenting, “The Golden Opportunity of Child Development.”  He also recently completed the soon-to-be-published “Essentials of Anger Management.”  Dr. Levittan is currently appearing as a Relationship Expert on the “Frangela” TV show.  As an Executive Board member of the NPEIV Think Tank (National Partnership to End Interpersonal Violence), he launched the GLOBAL PEACE COMMITTEE in order to promote peaceful, humane solutions to societal problems.  Recently, he has completed podcasts on “Fathers Raising Daughters,” the “Me Too” movement, and “Gender Expectations in the 21st Century.”  Dr. Levittan appears in the soon-to-be released documentary “Chains.”  His passion comes across in his writings, presentations, and media appearances.



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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Treating your dissertation as you would a relationship: a labor of love
  • Originality is key
  • Transitioning from student to expert begins during your dissertation process
  • The person going into the defense is not the same person before the defense
  • Expecting the unexpected in the journey of becoming an expert
  • Some of your biggest life decisions are based on your childhood experiences
  • Being your own boss comes at a price
  • Taking initiative to create and pursue your ideas

In this episode…

Do you consider yourself to be a lifelong learner? How do you leverage that learning to benefit yourself, your family, and your community?

In this episode of An Unconventional Life, Dr. Michael Levittan talks to Dr. Russell Strickland about his journey as a student, transitioning to being a renown expert. Everybody has different goals in their dissertation process, but Dr. Levittan says that it was passion that carried him through. He also discussed the profound experience of becoming peers with your mentors, highlighting the transition from student to expert that every doctoral student undertakes during the dissertation process. Dr. Levittan also shares his favorite career story, which you simply must hear for yourself!

Sometimes it’s tempting to abandon your goals rather than pursue them. Taking the responsibility to create something may scare you quite a bit, but that is exactly what growth means and what being a real expert entails. Dr. Michael Levittan can help you become the expert you are meant to be.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

Sponsor for this episode…

This episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done, America’s #1 authority in dissertation completion for working professionals.

Founded by Dr. Russell Strickland, Dissertation Done serves people in two ways:

  1. If you’re struggling with your dissertation, getting ready to start your dissertation, or just plain wanting to get your dissertation done as soon as possible, go to and Let’s Get Your Dissertation Done
  2. If you’re busy living your Unconventional Life and have a message that you want to share, maybe you should join our Expand Your Authority Program to become a published author. Go to and let me know that you’d like to talk about Expanding Your Authority.

Visit to learn more about our other services and leave a message or call them at 888-80-DR-NOW (888-803-7669) to schedule your free 30 to 45-minute phone consultation.

Episode Transcript

Disclaimer: This transcript is here for your reading convenience. It was created by machines and may (a-hem) contain some errors. If you email us about these errors, the machines will undoubtedly find out. I hope they won’t get angry.


Intro  [00:03]

Welcome to An Unconventional Life, a podcast where we share stories about the crazy one percent out there, who earned their doctoral degrees, and then went on to use them in crazy, cool, unique and unconventional ways. Here’s your host astrophysicist turned teacher, author, dissertation coach, and more, Dr. Russell Strickland.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [00:28]

Hello, and welcome to An Unconventional Life. This is your host, Dr. Russell Strickland, the founder and CEO of Dissertation Done, and I’m here today with Dr. Michael Levittan, who is an accomplished and recognized expert in domestic violence, anger management, child abuse, trauma, PTSD, and suicide. He’s a local. He’s a licensed psychotherapist, director of team which is a state-certified batterers treatment program. He serves as an expert witness in court, teaches seminars and courses at UCLA extension. He works with the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the International Conference on Violence, Abuse and Trauma, LA Superior Court Interagency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect and the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists. Dr. Michael has done work in media, appearing on shows such as the Tyra Banks show, ABC news, Starting Over, Bad Girls Club, Montel Williams, The Robert Irvine show,, Hollywood 411, radio, online, and print publications. He’s recently published chapters in The International Handbook on Interpersonal Violence, including “The History of Infanticide,” — a chapter on Violence in Our society and a chapter on Domestic Violence in “Her Story, His Story,” obviously, Dr. Levittan has had an accomplished career. And I want to welcome him to the show today. Thank you so much for being here with us today.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [01:53]

Thank you for having me. And you say, I’ve had an accomplished career and it’s still going strong. Thank you.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [02:00]

Very well, very well, actually, that’s something that I always like to emphasize that for folks that that whatever our point in our career that we’re that we’re at, there’s still time to go and things that you can do, we recently had a student who was in their 70s graduate with, with her doctoral degree, looking forward to that next chapter in her life. So absolutely, it’s amazing the things that we can do and the new chapters that we can that we can write in this, this book of life. I’ll just let everyone know briefly that today’s episode is being brought to you by Dissertation Done. And here at Dissertation Done, we help adult doctoral students through the dissertation process. So if you are struggling through the dissertation or about to embark upon your dissertation journey, reach out to us at And we’ll have a conversation and see if we might be in a position to help you to graduate a bit sooner. And if you have graduated, your first name is “Doctor” and you’d like to be the recognized expert in your field, the best way to do that is to literally write the book on your area of expertise. And you can reach out to us at for us to have a conversation about that. Thank you again, for joining us, Dr. Levittan, let me start off by asking you. It’s sort of a crazy decision to pursue a doctoral degree what prompted you to go this route?


Dr. Michael Levittan  [03:28]

Well, actually, I could best answer that by saying that my decision to go to graduate school was tentative at first. I’ve been reading lots of psychology over the years. And my mind works that way. Trying to understand the psychology is many things but one it’s one simplistic perspective on it is that it’s an answer to the question. What’s really going on? Sure. So there’s certain depth to it that feels very real. The conversations I have the therapy I do with people, the lectures I provide. We’re not talking about the weather. We’re talking about real life issues that arise people in a very significant ways. So my initial impetus was, you know, I really am interested in this. Let me go to grad school. Once I went to grad school, I didn’t have much of a decision to make to go to for my PhD. I just assumed I was not going to stop at my masters from the beginning. Okay, I didn’t I didn’t have any decision to wrestle over. I just knew I was gonna go for once I’m in there. I’m gonna go for it.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [04:51]

Got it. So you you decided to pursue your doctoral degree. Tell us a little bit about what the dissertation process was like for you, because that’s where so many of our students find that that school starts to get truly difficult for them.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [05:08]

And, you know, I’ve had a couple of friends, classmates in grad school were friends, who never they went through all the courses and never completed the dissertation. Which means that they couldn’t practice. They couldn’t get their PhD. For me. I like to say my dissertation was a labor of love. I didn’t did not treat it as really much. It’s an assignment. I treated as something, I gave a lot of thought to what I wanted to write on. And, you know, at the time, I was presented with an option options of what I’m gonna do a research dissertation, or a theoretical dissertation. And the research didn’t, I mean, research in terms of giving out surveys and numbers and, and giving it to students and, you know, correlating and collecting data and all that, that didn’t interest me as much. I was interested in theoretical. And I chose the topic, the repetition-compulsion, how human beings, Freud originally conceived that human beings have a strong tendency to reenact the early traumas in subsequent adult relationships. And this causes this is very central to our being, one, that our adult relationships can be somewhat loaded and compromised. Because we are play-acting reenacting stuff from childhood that was never fully resolved in our current relationships, and to it think it curtails our freedom to live, if we’re just reenacting things from the past on an unconscious level, without awareness, where’s the freedom in that? So I was very interested in the topic I gave a lot of that’s what I did. Now that I look back on that process, I gave a lot of thought, I put in a lot of time to choosing my subject matter. I wanted something I was passionate about. And that passion carried me through. Now, like many of the people who are, you know, going to check out your podcast here, Dr. Russell. I was working. I just started my, let’s say, my, I was still an intern at the time when I started. Then I got licensed and I was working. I was developing a private practice. I maybe had a part time job at first, I had a relationship full time, I was busy. So my dissertation, in a way I was something I looked forward to. And what I did to spice it up for me, I went to different I’m in Los Angeles. So I did most of my research at the UCLA biomed library, which has nine stories, and has, you know, like documents from Freud from the 20s, and 1930s, and other noted psychoanalysts, etc. Plus, I went to various psychoanalytic societies and institutions, they all have libraries. And I’d interact with people and ask questions, and very where I was going, and I still remember the UCLA campus, when I go to that library, there was a botanical gardens at the front of the campus, I would walk through the area before my I’d hit the library, or after I made it, like I clear out a day and do nothing but my dissertation. And I looked forward to that. So that’s why I say a labor of love for me. It was something it was no question that I was going to complete it. Now, I could say a little more about is that okay, Dr. Russell?


Dr. Russell Strickland  [09:03]

Yeah, absolutely.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [09:04]

So one of the things that I learned that sort of prized when you’re doing a dissertation is you’re treated like, and you start to feel like you’re a professional. Even before I started seeing patients, to me, it started in graduate school. Like I this realization, I’m going to be a professional and then sort of like the deeper realization, I’m a professional now, any paper I write in grad school, anything I do any exam I take, I’m treating this professionally. I’m not going to eff around with this. This is my life. It’s my career, and it’s meaningful. I’m helping other human beings. I’m taking this as seriously as I can. And it was a natural process for me. And one of the things in a dissertation, I realized because I have a committee I’d send each chapter to and they’d approve or disapprove of send me notes, etc. and you become friendly with those mentors. And once you’re in grad school, the relationship between student and professor is, that’s why I think grad school is easier than people think. The one you specializing in what you really want to study, right? The further you get the most, you specialize, right? early on in grad school is required courses, then you start specializing, then you build up relationships with professors. And that relationship becomes from students, a professor starts evening up, where you becoming, like two adults, two professionals, you have consulting, they’re asking, because you’re doing research and a dissertation in a specific area, you start to really know that area better than some of the professors you’re working with. And I realized that originality was key. So I came up with this idea halfway through or two thirds of the way through my work, that I’m not just going to investigate the field of psychology. In terms of repetition-compulsion, I want to go through history. And prior to the whole field of psychology, was the field before that came about with Freud and psychoanalysis. Before that came about, there were philosophers, early philosophers who opined on human behavior and, and families and how to treat each other. Descartes had ideas. He was one of the early ones Descartes, the mathematician, philosopher, one of his ideas is still Central. Each said that human beings have a search for certainty in their lives, he talks about certainty and what uncertainty brings anxiety. I’m just one example. So I started researching philosophy, going back to the pre socratics, all the way through everyone pirkko Garden in nature and, and Spinoza and David Hume, etc. And I found this fascinating. And the more I did this, the more I can find people to chat with on this, this added probably another year or two to my dissertation. But I was in no rush. One of the things I found out early in my graduate studies was, it didn’t seem to be much of a time limit. I think I took almost six years to complete my dissertation.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [12:36]

And build almost as long as you want, they’ll start to hassle you around seven to 10 year mark, depending on the program.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [12:44]

Okay. But they saw that I was I had product, I was producing a chapter and another chapter. And I’d revise the first chapter and and in the next chapter, I was I was in process. And for me, it was, it was a fascinating journey. And it culminated, can I go to where it culminated, it culminated in, you hand in your final product, after much revision and consultations I and, and then, in my, the process for me was I’m in a room being grilled and tested on my dissertation by four or five professors, right. And that whole thing took maybe 45 minutes of grilling me. But in the first, I don’t know, maybe five, maybe, let’s say 10 minutes into the process. I thought to myself, I had a thought something like this, gee, these guys are pretty smart. They’re experts in their field, these professors, they’re my mentors. But no one knows my specific topic in this room as well as I do. This is going to be a breeze. And it was because when they asked questions, I could tell by the looks on their faces, I was bringing them some knowledge, information that they didn’t quite know. Because you when you’re into it, and you’re doing your dissertation, you are passionate about it, you become a real expert. And that’s what I realized. So I enjoyed that grilling after the first few minutes.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [14:23]

Well, that’s one of the things I get students who are early in the process, they always bring up that one of the things they’re concerned about is I’m gonna need help with this defense. I, I’m worried about it, it concerns me. And my advice is not to dismiss that although I want to, but not to dismiss that concern because they they really feel that concern. But the fact of the matter is that when you when it’s time for your defense, you are ready for your defense. This notion you mentioned earlier of the student-professor relationship becoming more and more even as you go through the dissertation process or the doctoral program. That’s by design. I mean, you’re meant to go through this transition period, where you become your mentors. When you leave the dissertation defense, you have the same degree that they do. And although they may have more experience, you’re meant to be peers at that point.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [15:21]

Let me say a little more about it. For instance, I suggested I want to do this philosophy chapter. And I had to convince two of my committee members to do that. But they, we had that mutual discussion. On the other hand, there were a couple of suggestions that they made. Most of these suggestions I certainly went with but a couple of suggestions. I said, no, I don’t really want to go in that direction. And then we discuss it. And I tell him, why not. And I was respected. In other words, you start feeling you have more of a voice. Right. And in my case, look, before I opened my mouth, I, I back it up with thought with reasons why I didn’t want to do such and such, or reasons why I did want to add such and such to my dissertation process. So I backed it up, and it would engender lively, mutual discussion. One of my, my, the, my most what can I say, well-known and internationally recognized psychoanalyst who I got to join my committee, and was very like in the beginning a little. What can I say? A little snobby with me, so I’m just starting out, I’m sure that, you know, people go through that. But he was brilliant. So I took that, to learn from him. And then as I went on in my dissertation process, it just knew it just sort of happened gradually and organically is the word I’m looking for. Where it became more and more peers. Were it by the end of this well known, internationally recognized analyst is inviting me into his study, to just discuss it. So I would go in there, and we just talk about topics for like, half an hour, an hour. And in other words, it’s not just you’re doing something I said earlier, you’re doing an assignment. I lost that concept early on. For me, I’m learning I’m, not only am I learning, but you start to get the feel, as a professional, that you’re joining something, you’re advancing a field of knowledge. Every lecture I do, I, I start out by saying, I’m trying to advance this field of knowledge. Hopefully, you’ll hear this, and you’ll take it forward in your way, joining the ranks of people who are advancing fields of knowledge to further human development, and an enhancement, etc, etc. It’s a fascinating process, if you look at it that way.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [18:11]

Absolutely. And this really highlights the fact that you can treat your dissertation in a variety of ways. We have folks who want to get through the process as quickly as they can, so they can graduate because their contribution comes with helping other people in a non academic way. And those are the students that we tend to work with the most, then you’re going to have students who want to go into research and who want to, as you put it advance human knowledge, understanding and development. And it can be a fascinating time of coming into your own and realizing that you can join those same ranks as the mentors that you’ve looked up to for so many years. So it really is an experience that you get to decide, how you choose to what you what you choose to be to focus on what you choose is important for you. Do you want to find a topic that you’re absolutely passionate about? Or and spend those extra years on your dissertation? Or do you want to find a way to get to graduation as quickly as possible? Because you know that you can be out there in the world, helping people who have real problems right now.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [19:21]

I do have a comment on it. I was when I was still practicing with my masters. So right I did not depend on my PhD to practice. But I want to say I don’t advise rushing through this process at all. This is your this is your shot your opportunity to really contribute something. And if you want to people who are you mentioned the word defense before I don’t even use that term. I forgot that that’s a defense of my dissertation. Right. People are well, I didn’t worry about that for a second. I just went I just focused on becoming an expert in my field, and the rest will take care of itself and it does That was my that was my attitude, I did not think, Oh, I’m going into a room, I have to defend it. And what’s going to happen? I didn’t, I just focused on the process. Because to me, that’s part of being a professional, you’re not in, in high school or college at undergrad anymore. It’s up, it’s on you now. You’re not getting writing a paper or composition or something just to get through it. And those days are over. You’re a professional now you have to put out good product, whatever you do.

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Dr. Russell W. Strickland

RUSSELL STRICKLAND, Ph.D., has been referred to as a “rocket scientist turned management consultant.” In truth, he applies an eclectic body of work from astronomy and nuclear physics to dynamic inventory management to market research to each of his student engagements.