Dr. Micah Sadigh, Psychology
In Search Of Elusive Happiness
One Cedar Crest Psychology Professor Is On A Quest To Help Others
Discover The Power Within Themselves
It is a cloudy day. Some in the expectant audience look up to the sky, hoping amongst each other that any precipitation will wait. In the distance, the soft sounds of a harp begin to make their way from the garden to where the group has gathered under the trees, and a man, unassuming in his stature, stands in front of them and begins to speak.
Though soft-spoken, his words reach out with great enthusiasm and those gathered hang on every sentence. He tells the story of a patient he once counseled who suffered from an eating disorder and a very negative self-image.
The student was convinced that no one liked her, or could like her, or would ever even approach her. So he asked her if she had ever done anything or had anything that made her feel good about herself. She replied with a definitive "no."But he would not relent and pushed her to think of something, anything, that brought even the slightest joy to her life. Finally, she admitted that she had a scarf that she liked to wear. So the counselor encouraged her to wear the scarf more often. Reluctantly, she agreed.
A few days later she came to his office again for another session, wearing not only the scarf, but a look of total astonishment. She had summoned the courage to venture out to a social function on campus and was shocked that she was approached by a young man, they had a lovely conversation and were set to meet again to study later that week. But she just couldn’t figure out what had brought about this sudden change.
"What this student did not realize was that she had modified her self-image by wearing the scarf. When our self-image becomes positive, even if only for a brief period, it invites others to approach us and it begets creativity,"he tells the audience. "The student’s positive experience had a snowball effect on the rest of her life as well. She began to have more positive social and academic relationships, her grades improved and by graduation time, she was on the Dean’s List. She was viewing life from a whole different vantage point."
This is Dr. Micah Sadigh. He is a professor of psychology, a writer, a musician, a lecturer. And he is on a quest.
"Throughout my experience as a teacher and counselor, I have found that people generally want the same thing out of life – they want to be happy. And yet it seems that there are so many people who are not. They despair. They are despondent. They are stressed out,"says Sadigh. "I believe that, through all of my personal and professional endeavors, my goal is to help people find that elusive happiness."
But how? Has Dr. Sadigh really found the key to happiness?
"Of course, it is different for everyone,"he says. "But at its root, there is a commonality. It is meaning – it is having a sense of purpose. In my experience, if a person has this, their life is exponentially happier than one who does not. For example, I feel that helping people find their purpose is what helps give meaning to my life."
His journey toward accomplishing that purpose has taken many forms throughout his life. In fact, Sadigh almost ended up studying a different aspect of life altogether. He started his undergraduate studies at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA, as a biology major. But soon, after taking a psychology course, his direction shifted.
"It was the professor who taught the class that had a profound effect on me,"says Sadigh. "His tremendous love for the discipline shone through his teaching and it inspired a similar love for psychology, particularly research in the field, in me. It was also the first time I was aware of the truly positive way that a professor can influence a student."
As a psychologist, Dr. Sadigh has interests in various types of psychology including clinical, biological, health and existential psychology. His research and academic interests have covered everything from sleep disorders, personality disorders, applied psychophysiology, stress and disease, to the psychological treatment of pain, post traumatic stress disorder, and an existential approach to the treatment of psychosomatic disorders.
"I am very interested in how the mind, and what we feel emotionally, affects us physically. Gaining a greater understanding of this relationship opens up new possibilities for treatment."
He is widely published in the academic arena and has even lent his expertise to articles in consumer-oriented publications like Ladies’ Home Journal and Fitness.
But for the last few years, Sadigh has focused his psychological study on the idea of finding meaning in life and the effect that meaning has on the individual. In this area, Sadigh has been greatly inspired by the work of Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist who is credited with expanding the study of meaning, among other things.
As a Holocaust survivor, Frankl is most well-known for his 1946 book, "Man’s Search for Meaning,"which chronicled his time as a concentration camp inmate and his method for finding meaning in all forms of existence as a way of coping.
"Frankl shows us that having that sense of meaning allows an individual to overcome even the greatest of difficulties. I hope to expand on this theory through my research and publications."
In fact, Sadigh recently completed his diplomate credentialing through the Viktor Frankl Institute and has been invited to publish more work in this area of psychology. He is currently working on a major paper that explores the relationship of meaning and death and dying.
What many do not know is that Sadigh is also an accomplished composer of music. He started taking composition classes while at Moravian and was soon composing electronic music on synthesizers and making tapes of his music for a small group of fans. Eventually as his music became more widely known on campus, he was asked to compose the soundtrack for a pyschology education film.
Later, while finishing his doctoral work at Lehigh University, Sadigh sent a CD of compositions to a producer with the caveat that all proceeds be donated to children’s research. Six internationally released albums later, Sadigh is still composing, and a seventh album is on its way.
"Music is an amazing release for me and I am particularly struck by its ability to unite even the most seemingly unconnected people. Somehow, through people sharing it with eachother, it has found its way even across the ocean, and I have heard from people in Europe that send me letters about their experience with my music."
As a teacher, and more specifically a Cedar Crest College professor, Sadigh feels he has discovered the perfect environment for pursuing his quest. It is here that Sadigh has found the opportunity to pass on the knowledge of the history of psychology and also guide students as they form their own theories about its future. The addition of new labs in the psychology department has helped to facilitate the testing of some of these theories.
"We have technology that allows students to measure the physical responses, like heart rate and body temperature, to how something like a particular image makes us feel. It is exciting to watch the students take their classroom learning into practice. They are shaping the future of this field."
For Sadigh, teaching within the context of a liberal arts curriculum makes the knowledge he is sharing even more relavent.
"I think it is so important now, more than ever, that students be exposed to knowledge in all of its different areas and disciplines, instead of only one specialization. This will prepare our students to have not only successful careers, but also successful, meaningful lives."
"A human being is not just a mind, or a body, or feelings. A human being is all of those things put together. At Cedar Crest, we are trying to integrate this approach – what we call a bio-psycho-social-spiritual approach – throughout students’ college experience."
Dr. Sadigh sees Cedar Crest’s commitment to educating women in particular as giving the College a unique position to take on the challenges that face the 21st Century woman, especially as they pertain to psychology.
"Up until very recently, the majority of the research and study of health and wellness has focused on men. The study of women’s health and wellness is just beginning to emerge, and as an undergraduate women’s institution, Cedar Crest has the opportunity to be on the cutting edge."
To this end, Sadigh speaks with pride about a new organization he has helped to launch with students at Cedar Crest. A project seven years in the making, The College Women’s Alliance for Health and Wellness will work to educate, motivate and empower all women in health-promoting endeavors.
"The work of the Alliance will focus on consciousness raising by creating an opportunity for research in mind/body/spirit relationships and a vehicle to share that research through the organization’s published journal, WOMAN. The students have been working very hard on the first issue and we hope to establish not just local, but international relationships and connections to the Alliance."
Furhtermore, Sadigh is not a professor who merely shows up to teach his classes. He has fully immersed himself in the Cedar Crest community and the greater Lehigh Valley community. He regularly holds lectures and workshops for faculty, staff and students, often focusing on how to reduce stress and find meaning in life. He is one of the key contributors to the College’s innovative Health Connection program and has helped to lead the yearly Health and Wellness Conference for campus and community. Dr. Sadigh frequently takes his expertise off-campus, giving talks about wellness to various organizations and groups in the Lehigh Valley and beyond.
Sadigh believes that one of the greatest threats to wellness, especially for women, is ironically one of the most coveted qualifications for what is perceived as career and family success – the ability to multitask.
"People today are pulled in so many directions and expected to accomplish and balance so many things. Multitasking has become part of our everyday lives, but it is one of the number one causes of stress. I am a proponent of what I like to call ‘singletasking.’ Studies have shown that when a person focuses on just one task at a time and follows it through to completion, their stress level decreases and a sense of control and accomplishment is restored."
He notes that the increased stess levels from multitasking can have a snowball effect on a person and cause difficulty sleeping, which can lead to irritability and lack of focus, among other things.
"It can be a very vicious and destructive cycle. Hopefully, by getting the message out and offering techniques and tools to combat it, we can give people the freedom to follow their passions and find the meaning in their lives."
It is a hope that Dr. Sadigh feels he has been fortunate enough to witness evidence of. Back on that cloudy day under the trees, he recalled a certain psychology conference at which he was presenting a paper.
As he was leaving the presentation hall, he bumped into someone and their belongings were strewn across the floor. He knelt down to gather up his papers, muttering apologies at the person he had collided with, and soon realized that the person was holding onto his arm. It was a former student of his, who, inspired by his teaching, had decided to pursue graduate study in developmental psychology and was at the conference presenting her own paper on working with children. She thanked him repeatedly for his help during her undergraduate days and asked that he stay to hear her presentation.
"It was a touching moment for me as a teacher. Here was a student who I had known when she had no direction in her life and was on the brink of near self-destruction. And yet, as I watched her with a look of astonishment on my own face, I beheld a dynamic person – creative, engaging and articulate – and wearing a beautiful scarf around her neck."
"I knew that it was not the physical object that brought her the confidence, but in a way, it had become her talisman. It was a reminder of what gave her life meaning."
It is much like what he was trying to accomplish on that cloudy day under the trees. For Sadigh, it was another stop on his quest to arm people with the tools to help them find meaning and purpose in their lives. And for those listening to Sadigh’s story and message – and to the trees rustle, the soft notes of the harp and even the cars driving by – it might not be hard to imagine that these sounds, though distinct, could form their own peculiar harmony and lend new meaning to each one’s personal quests.
Who: Micah Sadigh, Ph.D. – Associate Professor of Psychology,
CCC Faculty since: 1999
Academic interests: Clinical, biological, health and existential psychology. Publications include work on sleep disorders, personality disorders, applied psychophysiology, stress and disease, the psychological treatment of pain, post traumatic stress disorder, and an existential approach to the treatment of psychosomatic disorders.
Courses taught: theories of personality, health psychology, history of psychology, existential psychology, stress and disease, systems of psychotherapy, psychology of anxiety.