Dale Michael

Retired World Book Executive VP and Psychotherapist

By Marjorie F. Eddington

Categories: David, Psychotherapy

Dale Michael was Executive Vice President for World Book Encyclopedia, president of The Old Spaghetti Factory in New Orleans, a volunteer for many worthwhile programs, a Reserve Police Officer, and eventually a psychotherapist. During our interview, he shared how the Bible has helped him find peace and worth for himself and others.

You've had two careers, really. Before we discuss your 22 years with World Book Encyclopedia, I'd like to ask how you became a psychotherapist later in life.
For years, both my wife Mary and I worked with people. We started doing work with illiterates and then ran into a lot of alcoholics and drug abusers. I worked at a halfway house, owned a restaurant, and eventually went to the Police Academy. I was a CEO of a hotel and then went to Spain and Portugal for two years to work. When we returned to the States, the question for me was, "What do I do now?" I decided I wanted to go back to school and be professionally trained. I went to graduate school and got a Masters in Counseling Psychology. Along with that came an official credential in substance abuse counseling.

What were some of your challenges as a psychotherapist?
Some of the challenges were working with older people who had been using drugs for so long and were so jaded to the point that they felt their lives were not worthwhile. One man told me, "If I have to give up pot, I'd rather die." But some of the most rewarding challenges I had were in marriage/couples counseling. Frequently I would use ideas I learned in Sunday school about God and the Bible, which has some of the most powerful psychological axioms:

  • Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. (Matt. 22:39)
  • Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. (Matt. 7:12)

How did you use the Bible passages?
I couldn't always come right out and quote the Bible, but I used the concepts. I could help people who had low self-esteem understand that they had innate goodness. I was able to help them understand why they felt so unhappy about themselves and begin to love themselves as they loved others.

How did you find out if they were open to God?
I often asked my clients, "How do you think you got here?" The discourse would often lead to God. Then I'd ask, "What do you think about God?" There's a saying, "God don't make no junk," which I shared with them. I would follow that with, "Do you think God made you imperfect?" "No," they responded. So we worked together to have them understand what they could do to feel better about themselves. Tears would often well up in their eyes. Sometimes I just asked if they cared to talk about their religious background. Most were Christians. I asked who their favorite character was in the Bible, and most of them didn't have one. I asked them if they wanted a Wisdom Figure in their life -- someone with whom they could talk whenever they had a problem. Among others, King David is one of my Wisdom Figures. He was about as bad as you could be. He murdered a man so he could have his wife. But he was still an amazing man when you consider his reformation and contributions. So sometimes I'll have a little mental talk with King David.

A Jewish girl in her twenties came to me for help. She had two Masters, one from a Hebrew University in Tel Aviv and one from an American university. Although she was incredibly intelligent, she was very disillusioned. I was able to go back to the first five books of the Bible. She was raised in an orthodox home. I had a copy of the translated Hebrew Bible on my shelf.

What did you use from the Bible, or the Torah, with her?
I used the concept of "love thy neighbour as thyself" (Lev. 19:18). She thought it was only in the New Testament. She had such low esteem and problems with promiscuity, drinking, and relationships. She hated herself and fought back by hating others. We looked at King David. I asked her if she saw him as a successful man. She said, "Oh, yes." Then I asked her if she knew that he had made a lot of mistakes. She didn't. We discussed all the mistakes and all the good choices he had made. We talked about how Moses killed the Egyptian soldier and how other individuals in the Bible had grown after doing terrible things. She began to get very interested. She loved the Cantor (singer) at her synagogue and had a good relationship with him. I encouraged her to talk with him, and he got her interested in the spiritual aspects of Judaism. As a result, her promiscuity lessened, and she met a man she eventually married.

It sounds like she was really searching, and you helped her find God again.
Our discussion reminds me of an experience I had. I owned a restaurant in New Orleans. One individual with whom I worked asked if I wanted to go to a St. Francis Jesuit monastery retreat with him. From Thursday lunch to Sunday lunch, you weren't permitted to speak a word -- just meditate and pray. Although I'm not Catholic, I went twice in a three year period. They were beautiful experiences. During a young priest's homily, he said to us, "You all look sour, and you all look angry and disappointed. I'm going to tell you something now that you should never forget. God loves you right now just the way you are, not the way you think you ought to be." It's stuck with me. So many of us think we're so far from what God wants us to be that we don't have a chance of changing. But the truth is that we already are what God wants us to be because we reflect His perfection.

You spoke about marriage counseling. What were some of the challenges you faced?
I think the primary challenge is that most people think that the spouse will give him or her what he or she needs… if he'd/she'd only change. The idea that the one can give the other what the other doesn't already have is nonsense. I'm not talking about money or material things. I'm talking about happiness, joy, and fulfillment. Each person already has what he needs for himself. People often go into relationships thinking they can change the other. It's not necessarily a conscious thought. But "once we're married, I know he'll change" is a fallacy. Nobody can make anybody else change unless that person decides to change for herself. What a capable psychotherapist does is to show the person the benefits of changing and how he can do it. There are four areas that ruin a marriage: 1) sexual problems; 2) money problems; 3) trust and respect problems; 4) communication problems. Those are things that often need to be addressed early in counseling.

Do you have any success stories from marriage counseling?
Oh, yes. I remember a couple who came to me for help. They were in their early 40s. When they were married, the wife was very trim (he showed me a picture of her). When they came to me, she weighed in excess of 240 pounds. She had started to put on weight four or five years after their wedding. The man had fallen "out of love" with her. If we lose love because figures are sagging or hair is falling out, then we're not really loving. These people were smart to realize they needed to love again. I had him try to understand that he was looking for a perfect physical body to love, but there is rarely a perfectly shaped person year after year after year. We talked about love being already in their hearts; it's not a question of gaining love. They just had to be willing to uncover it. We role-played a great deal. They saw that what was important in their life was not the physical aspect.

One of the greatest problems in relationships is the lack of good communication. Most people do not really know how to communicate. So, often, an innocent discussion grows into a bitter argument.

So how do you communicate successfully?
There are entire books written on that subject, but here are a couple of pointers. You communicate by listening very hard to the other person -- listening to the feelings that are creating the words, listening to the intonations, looking the person in the eyes, not thinking about what you're going to say. When it's your turn to reply, you ask questions to help you understand. Communication should never be, "I want you to think the way I'm thinking." That becomes an argument, which is really a control struggle: one person wants to be powerful and control the other, and the other person does not want to be controlled and wants to control the other. An argument is rarely just about a subject.

Looking at an earlier aspect of your life: How did you become a police officer?
When I had The Old Spaghetti Factory, we gave the policemen free meals. I became very friendly with the captain of our district. One of the times he took me around, he suggested I join them as a reserve police officer. I went to the Police Academy and, after graduation, worked about 20 hours a week, usually in a one man car. I ran across a lot of substance abusers. I was the only one who took them to the hospital to be detoxed instead of to the county jail. It was quite remarkable, but no one stopped me, not even my sergeant, although that was the rule. Maybe they had some respect for me because I was in my fifties. I was a police officer for five years.

You had had previous experience with substance abusers when you worked at Bridge House, a Catholic Charities halfway house. What was your motivation?
My heart went out to them because I saw what they were up against. I can remember when I was a little kid, I saw a very deformed person selling newspapers. I was so upset that I cried. As a child, I always ran around with the kids who were compassionate. One kid we called "Doc" because he walked around ants. I have always wanted to help people. I have had to learn patience with those who call people at the shelter good-for-nothing, lazy bums. I know from experience that so many of them were raised by a grandmother, as their mothers were on drugs. They grew up never knowing their fathers. These kids would join gangs because they wanted to belong. Gangs were their only social activity. We need to love so extravagantly the people who appear to have no chance to improve their lives. When I worked at World Book, I gave motivational and inspirational talks. I always tried to help them see that they were capable of doing much more in life than they had ever dreamed.

What was your 22 year experience with World Book like?
I started with World Book when I was 29 at the lowest rank and worked my way up to the home office. It was easy and fun because for many years I was the "fair-haired" boy of the company. I made money and traveled a great deal around the country. That's when I got away from the Bible. I got so tied up with climbing the ladder that I stopped relying on God. I was too busy for Him and too successful to need Him. I got on the fast track, and the fast track is bumpy. But whenever I was going through really tough times, I remembered things from the Bible. They came back to me as feelings more than words. They were the 23rd, 91st, 139th Psalms and verses in Romans and Genesis. They spoke of the absolute inevitability of our protection and safety:

  • If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. (Ps. 139:9, 10)
  • Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? … Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:35, 37-39)

I tried to realize that I was a person created in God's image and not a person making my own way. My wife, who had never veered from trusting solidly in God, wrote me a note: "You shine by reflected glory." I put it on my desk and kept it there.

What you do mean, "shine by reflected glory"?
I'm a good speaker, and people had me on their waiting lists to give talks at their branch meetings. That made me feel great. But Mary realized that any success I enjoyed came from God. She helped me realize that I should give the credit to God, not to myself. We reflect God's glory. That's the basic and absolute truth.

Was that how you got back to God?
Yep. What I had learned was still with me from Sunday school. It never really leaves any of us. It's in our being. I also had some physical challenges that made me turn to God. My work was very exhausting. Sometimes I would fly to three cities in one day, meeting with managers and giving talks. The verse from Isaiah made me feel that there were no limitations:

But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint. (40:31)

Tell me about your talks and speeches.
My talks were given to managers and representatives who were eager to get ahead. They seemed never satisfied with what they achieved. So, I helped them realize that being motivated by serving their customers rather than themselves was basic to their success. Self-satisfaction and fulfillment are the result of unselfish effort. As a Sr. Vice President, I was the only one in the company who didn't agree that setting goals was always the best policy. People set goals so high that if they didn't achieve them they thought of themselves as failures. I tried to help them be happy and satisfied with who and where they were. They were successful if they could provide well for their families and live comfortably. What were they trying to prove?

What's wrong with setting high goals?
Absolutely nothing -- if you realize what you're working for. But if you think that more money means more things and, therefore, more happiness, you might be in for a surprise. I wanted to help people work in a way that was going to help them and their families not only gain a more comfortable way of living, but also gain a greater sense of self-worth by helping others. Many wives were so dissatisfied and discouraged because of the pressure and anxiety they faced because their husbands spent so much of their time, energy, and thought on their jobs. I asked my wife to support and encourage other wives. If you're really into it, business can eat you up. Work can come before God and family. After five years of being an executive vice president, the work got so hectic that I went to my CEO fully planning to resign. Before I could give him my rehearsed speech, he promoted me. The responsibility and travel became my life. I had to take the responsibility for anything that went wrong, even though I wasn't responsible. There was no sense of beauty, peace, or contributing to the world. I had gotten so far away from the people who I was trying to help because I got so involved in PR, advertising, sales promotion, and flying to six different places a week. I realized it and gave it up. I'm extremely grateful that those days taught me so much that I could apply in my next activities. You can learn so much from just living, if you're thinking about it.

What have you learned from life by living it?
If you really want to find fulfillment and satisfaction, you have to go beyond the material. None of the material things -- jewelry, cars, furs, houses -- will alone bring you what you really want. See, people try to get things, but people don't really want things; they want what things can give them. Everything we buy or have or work for, we do for a reason. But things alone don't add up to a hill of beans really. The only thing that brings fulfillment is peace of mind. This inner peace comes from the understanding that you are perfect and loved right now because that's the way God made you; you are in the hands of God right now and always. If you know that, it won't matter if you don't have a dime in the bank. The dollar is not the real symbol of success. I guess I'm at the point now that the most important thing to me is finding peace within myself.

Why is finding peace important?
If you find that peace within yourself, you have everything that everyone could ever want. You can take away everything I've got, but if I have a sense of inner peace, the key to permanent security, nothing else matters.

About Dale Michael

Dale Michael is a retired Executive Vice-President of World Book Encyclopedia, Inc. with a second career as a Substance Abuse/Sexual Addictions Counselor, Psychotherapist, and Educator. He is also a volunteer and has participated in many programs. He lives in Florida with his wife Mary, to whom he has been married 56 years in September. He currently works for a non-profit organization and is very involved in church.

After earning his B.A., Liberal Arts, from Principia College, Dale worked at World Book. Throughout his 22 years working domestically and internationally, Dale designed and conducted "Success Seminars," motivational and inspirational speeches, which he gave to employees at all levels. He operated out of the belief that success in sales is directly related to success in living and that as an individual's sense of worth and esteem develop, along with their caring for others, business goals are achieved more readily and work and personal life become more satisfying and fulfilling.

as President of The Old Spaghetti Factory Restaurant and then President and CEO of The Columns Hotel. Many of his restaurant employees were students and recovering substance abusers who would come to him for advice and help. A police captain was a common patron of the restaurant and asked Dale to join the reserve police force. He went to the Police Academy and became a Commissioned Police Officer in the New Orleans Police Department. During this time, he joined a YMCA-sponsored literacy program and tutored illiterate and homeless individuals. He also informally counseled alcoholics and drug abusers at The Bridge House, a Catholic Charities halfway house for addicted homeless men and women. He and his wife spent two years working in Portugal and Spain.

When he returned to the States, Dale decided to obtain the appropriate education to become a psychotherapist. He obtained his M.A. in Counseling Psychology and earned his Certificate for Substance Abuse Counseling at the Alfred Adler School of Professional Psychology in Chicago, IL, in 1990. He maintained a general practice in Evanston, IL, for several years. He also was an Instructor/Counselor for Intervention Instruction, Inc. in Chicago, teaching in Cook County courts a 10-week "Level II-Moderate" class for DUI offenders. He was instrumental in developing and testing an audiovisual educational program for educating the public on the difficult and sometimes tragic consequences of being arrested for DUI. He was the recipient of the Intervention Instruction's 1995 Founders' Award "in recognition of his Efforts to Forward the Corporation's Mission through Many and Diverse Acts of Service to the Community, as an Educator, Counselor and Consultant." He was also a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Cook County Juvenile Court, assisting children in the juvenile welfare system to move to permanent homes or return to their parents.