Passion, Grit, and Initiative with Dr. Michael Levittan

Dr. Russell Strickland  [20:28]

And certainly for folks who do, when they do say they’re worried about this defense, that’s, that’s the the same advice that I give them is that when you get to that point, you’re going to be ready. They worry about it ahead of time, because they’re envisioning the person they are now going into that defense.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [20:46]

Right now, Russell, that’s correct. You’re right. That’s a great point, you’re gonna grow. Yep. Through this process, as a human being as your knowledge is going to grow as an expert. So your


Dr. Russell Strickland  [21:00]

Confidence level as well as, as you go through this, you’re going to accomplish a lot through this dissertation process. And so it is a different person that goes into the defense than the person who is worrying about that defense. ahead of time, right. Yeah. So so we go through the the the dissertation process, you’re out, you’ve graduated, you mentioned, you’ve been working in the field already. But then you end up specializing in some really interesting things. Tell me how, how did you sort of choose or gravitate towards those particular areas?


Dr. Michael Levittan  [21:34]

The first specialty I had was domestic violence. And I think you mentioned pre talk a little bit that the journey of being a professional, out in your, in your career is unexpected twists and turns and opportunities, things you never planned on. I never planned on all those specialties. You mentioned. Domestic violence, child abuse. I didn’t plan on any of that. So now I’m going to answer your question. My first specialty was domestic violence. Okay. And it came about I have two responses to that. The first response is I was an intern at the counseling center. And though my professor, not professor, my supervisor is what’s called when you’re an intern, but supervisor, a very bright man who helped me quite a bit. But he did not know domestic violence. Okay, he did not know that field. So what I did was, again, you’re thinking like a professional, I have to get this knowledge. I remember my first two patients I had as an intern, the first two were two different women who never used the term “abuse” or “violence.” But in the first sessions, I realized, these women did not feel safe with one with our boyfriend, the other with her husband, another didn’t feel safe to go home, I consulted with my supervisor, he didn’t seem to really be on it in that, or, look, some people don’t want to deal with domestic violence, whatever his reason was, I started seeking outside help. I didn’t just rely on my designated supervisor, I started doing research, who is in the field of domestic violence. And I found out the whole field in terms of treatment was started by a lot of women who were way back in the 60s and 70s, from the shelter movement, the women’s shelter movement. And I started looking at some of those, I would travel to go to their seminars, I would chat with them after I became sort of they were mentors, and I still was sort of friendly with them. I go to conferences, I do my own research. So after a while, even though I was the newest intern at this counseling center, it was a large counseling center, when they’d be a call at the front desk. You know, this seems like it could be a domestic violence or relationship issue with dispute, whatever. And it became “Given it to Michael. Give it to Michael.” Yeah, like no one else wanted to deal with it after a while because I made myself. I wasn’t an expert, then in the early years, but I was the one I was in process. Right. I was the one learning because I realized, I can fool around with this. If a woman doesn’t feel safe, and and one woman that a child didn’t feel safe, leaving a child with the husband, this is crucial work. Two things about domestic violence. One, it’s crucial that children and women and men grow up in safe environments, and flourish in their lives. And to it’s crucial, and the second thing is it’s immediate. Some people need immediate intervention. That’s what a lot of clinicians I worked with, at the time or interns didn’t realize the immediacy of the work, you have to intervene sometimes. Right, then you have to have a referral for a shelter, you have to, I had to come up with things I never thought I didn’t learn in graduate school. Right. And that’s what I’m saying being part of being a professional.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [25:17]

And the interesting thing that I get from what you just said, there was that having gone through the doctorial process, you were able to become an expert in this field of domestic violence rather quickly, because of the tools that you had accumulated through the the dissertation process. And those tools were not tools to help you with domestic violence, those tools were tools to help you with expertise.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [25:42]

That is an excellent point, Russell. Excellent. Now let me get my second response. Okay, so I became this new intern, who was became like the the go-to guy for domestic violence. I didn’t ask for this. But I certainly didn’t turn it away. And my second response is, because I think when we look back on portions of our lives, we may see the deeper reasons why we enter that relationship, why we ended a relationship, why we took a job, why we turned down a job, why we went to graduate school, why we didn’t, sometimes we need a little distance, a little perspective, to really get the deeper reason. So when I think domestic violence, I had a little time had to go by me to process that. And then I realized, wait a second. This has meaning for me domestic violence. I grew up with a father and my mom died when I was very young, I grew up with a father and a stepmother. And they argued constantly. I remember being a four year old, a five year old, running into the kitchen, or their bedroom, wherever they are, I hated the yelling, I hated the yelling, there wasn’t much physical violence, I saw it once or twice, but the yelling and the name calling, and I would run in there, and as a four or five year old, little boy, and tried to stand between them and separate them. Wow. And they would say get out of here, or they chase me back to my room or something. And but I kept trying. So the punchline of this story is, I’d like to think I’m a little more successful now at this work than I was as a four or five year old. I didn’t get anywhere with my parents. Yeah. But this is the deeper reason, Russell, when I look back on my life, yeah, this has meaning for me, to keep people peaceful and have harmonious relationships.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [27:44]

And I think that that’s something that most of us, if we, if we try, we can look back and see there’s something often from our childhoods, that helped motivate some of the big decisions that we make in our lives. I know that I personally can see some of that for myself when I reflect. So I think that’s an excellent point and something that people it’s worth reflecting on from time to time, why? Why is it that you’re drawn to doing something, because if you can connect with what it is that’s deeply motivating you to do it, the route of it yourself, you can, you can realize more fully,


Dr. Michael Levittan  [28:16]

then domestic violence, of course, you’re dealing with that a lot, and you start dealing with social services, and you start coming across child abuse. So I had to learn in a deeper way, what is child abuse? How do I work with it? How do I work with, again, as a professional, you’re going to work with a lot of other professionals, will be the social workers or attorneys or law enforcement. I mean, this is what and to me, this was very invigorating, I had to learn how to interact with police, let’s say sometimes on a call or, or a social worker who’s investigating a case of child abuse. They want you know, my information and feedback and, and I had to get theirs, and you’re interacting with these people. And that led to like working with posttraumatic stress. Because a lot of people are traumatized and various, yeah, A’s and that led to not just work and then I started lecturing and, and on these skills and when you to lecture you have to do a lot of research. You’re the expert in the room. It’s a combination of research and experience in the field. So before I hang out a shingle, I’m an expert in domestic violence. I’m an expert in child abuse. In fact, one of the things you read in my intro is my newest, quote, specialty is suicide. And before I can say to anyone I know about suicide, and I have a podcast, I wrote a chapter in an international book on it. I do a lot of work before I let people know that this is what I’m specializing in. This is what I’m an expert in. I, before I hang out my shingle, so to speak, I’ve attended seminars, I’ve read the books, I’ve done research I, and This to me is all part of being a professional. Yeah. And then a lot of this led to doing expert witness work, why would I do expert witness work in the courts? That’s probably the most difficult thing I do in my career. Although it’s become easier with experience, because when you’re an expert witness is you’re working with your attorney, it could be a post traumatic stress case, you have to prove that there was supposed traumatic stress, or it could be a domestic violence case, child abuse, whatever it is, you’re working with an attorney and a client. That’s who hires you, one of the others is going to call you. And they’re going to ask you questions, you’re going to consult with the attorney. But I learned how to do I joined organizations, to different expert witness organizations. So learn from people who’ve been expert witness for 2030 years, and I was new, but difficult part of being an expert witnesses, you deal with opposing counsel. Right? So what they call is your attorney asks you questions on what they call direct, direct examination, you’re going to consult with the questions. The difficult part is, and then the opposing counsel, and that’s called the cross that cross examination, it’s their job before they even get to the subject matter. They’re going to try to rip you apart. And okay, you say you’re qualified in such and such. Did you ever take a course in such and such? And I’d say no, you have to answer the question. So how do you call yourself an expert? In other words, they’re coming up with tricks to make you look bad on the stand, right? So what I would do is, after the first couple of cases where I had a rough cross examination, I go to the back of the courtroom, I wouldn’t leave the boardroom. And I’d watch the other experts. I’m just saying, I love the challenge, right. And after a while, nowadays, I welcome the cross examination. I know the tricks, you know what I mean? Right?


Dr. Russell Strickland  [32:13]

That’s the that’s what you have to do. Just do your homework. It’s again, it’s about becoming an expert, not in your field of expertise. But now in communicating your field of expertise.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [32:24]

Let me say one more thing to this. I meant to say this when you when you made a comment, similar comment before, that is a word that’s really important, I think in in becoming a professional and expanding your professionalism into whether it’s lecturing or being a clinician or an expert witness. The word is initiative. No one’s gonna say, “Dr. Michael, did you do?” No, you have to come up with your own ideas and pursue them. Yeah, if I want to find a mentor or someone who, from the woman shelter movement, I had to make a lot of phone calls, or you have to take initiative to be a professional. No one’s telling you, it’s not like, that’s why I really try to get away. I use the word the term earlier that the dissertation I didn’t see it as an assignment,


Dr. Russell Strickland  [33:12]



Dr. Michael Levittan  [33:12]

I’m taking it I’m doing this, I’m taking it in directions. No one’s telling me to do


Dr. Russell Strickland  [33:16]

A lot of people when they decide to become experts, one of the things they like to say is I want to be my own boss. And you got to understand that that’s an additional job. You know, being your own boss is itself a job. So you got to be good at that one as well.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [33:29]

Well, yeah, you know, I had a really great dad, I lost my mom early, but my dad said to me early in life, I don’t know why. He said, Well, I guess not know why. But he said, “Mike, whatever you do in life, you’re gonna have a lot of jobs along the way, but eventually be your own boss.” Yeah, you can handle but you know, that comes a price with that. You have to take responsibility to make things happen. You have to make it happen.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [33:32]

Right. 100% Well, along those lines, one of the things that I know that you’ve done in the little time we have left, I’d like for you to tell folks a little bit about how you become so pervasive in the media. You’ve had a lot of media exposure. How did you how did you make that happen?


Dr. Michael Levittan  [34:17]

Being on Los Angeles helps. doing a lot of lecturing means I’m comfortable in front of people and having specialized work like domestic violence, and actually, you know, I’m I didn’t mention it, but anger management, an offshoot of domestic violence, not the same thing. There’s some overlap of differences. You become known. And producers once one producer finds you, then, you know, location has a lot to do with it. You know, New York and Los Angeles. Can I tell one brief career story? That’s my favorite.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [34:55]

Yes, yes, absolutely.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [34:57]

So one of the lines of pursuit which we haven’t mentioned is I’ve done a lot of, well, I mentioned that I lecture, but I’ve done some teaching in graduate school also. Right? And how does this go? This goes all the way this story, right? I have a bunch of story. Okay. It’s my favorite one. Because this goes back to my PhD program. I got my master’s at at California. School for professional. Yeah. What was it California Graduate Institute. And I liked the experience. I knew a lot of the professors. I thought, by the way, they have a lot of boutique schools, for psychology, right people, we’re adults that already have careers, a second career or third career, you need life experience to do this work. Okay. But here’s the story. So I thought I would apply to a different graduate school just for variety. So I chose a school that was well, even more well known than mine, called CSPP, California School of Professional Psychology. And I thought I’d applied there. Now in my master’s, I got all A’s in every master’s course. And I was a professional, I was working. I already started doing some lectures, I was on the way. And I applied to this school without thinking much, and I got a response that I’m on a waiting list. Now, you can call this a bit of arrogance. I thought “Waiting list? I got all A’s.” I did an interview with them. I know when I’m, I was already a professional. I was not a 25 year old or 30 year old kid. I think I was in my 40s already. Early 40s. What? Waiting? In other words, I took offense to that, whatever you want to call that waiting list, why am I on a waiting list? So that was like in may be in May or June for the September semester. So in the meantime, I applied back to my original where I got my masters, and I but I wanted to go to this new school. So I thought okay, waiting list they’d let me in. Right. So you know, May June, July goes by I check in, I’m still on the waiting list. And I never got accepted to that school. Here is why it’s my favorite story. That same semester, they would not have me as a teacher. I became a associate professor at a school that would not have me as a student. I was recommended there was an opening I was referred by, apparently the admissions department for students. And then the professor’s choosing professors department are two separate departments. And I actually taught the course course. One of the courses that I would have been in as a student, they wouldn’t have me as a student, but I became an associate professor. That’s my favorite story.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [38:04]

Maybe student admissions had it right. Supposed to be a student there.


Dr. Michael Levittan  [38:11]

No, but I was the Associate Professor. You ever heard a story like that.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [38:17]

It’s a good one. It’s a good one. Well done. 11. I want to thank you so much for joining us here today. This has been just such an interesting chat. if folks want to reach out and continue this conversation, what’s the best way for them to find you?


Dr. Michael Levittan  [38:33]

Well, my website, my email, I’ll give that. My website I think you said you’re gonna put it on the screen. But it’s it’s a it’s my name. Michael No spaces, no dots except for the .com. And, and my email, direct email. Let me give that it’s mllpsych. I’ll spell it out. M-L-L-P-S-Y-C-H at earthlink dot net. N-E-T.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [39:12]



Dr. Michael Levittan  [39:13]

And Dr. Russell, this has been a pleasure.


Dr. Russell Strickland  [39:15]

Well, I appreciate you being here. I will let folks know if you missed any of that. Go to our blog at Find out your left hands episode there and we will link all of the points of contact and everything so that you can get to it. Easy as you please. also remind folks just briefly that today’s episode is brought to you by Dissertation Done so if you’d like some help with your dissertation, reach out to us at If you finish that part of your journey and you’d like some help, maybe becoming a published author, reach out to us at and we can help you in either of those ways. We happy to chat. Again, Dr. Levittan and I so much appreciate you being here today, I had a wonderful time talking with you today.

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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.