Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Work’ Category

Through Different Eyes

I’m just a little bit trapped in my family room, while men of various nationalities and native tongues install wood flooring in the adjacent kitchen. So I thought I’d post, for a change. Maybe the various native tongues brought this story on.

The biggest part of my job at the counseling agency where I work is to provide clinical supervision to graduate student interns. We work with a variety of colleges and universities in the area which offer masters’ and doctoral degrees in counseling and psychotherapy. Our interns are required to audiotape or video their sessions, then present them for critique in supervision.

Last year, one of my interns was a priest from Malaysia. I almost always enjoy working with interns; it’s gratifying for me to help them grow and it’s truly exciting to me when I can watch someone realize they’ve discovered a true gift, a calling, for the counseling profession. Ed, the priest, was one I would say was truly gifted, and has great potential.

Throughout the year, I supervised his work. I was immediately struck by the sense of calm that his presence brought to the environment. I’m not sure that can be taught or learned; I think it’s part of a person’s spirit or it isn’t. Ed had this quality to a remarkable degree. He was an extremely well-educated, well-traveled man, probably in his early 40s. The most challenging part of his work was trying to make sense of American culture, particularly in regard to how we treat adolescents.

Ed was often clearly shocked by the way kids speak to their parents; and surprised that we condemn corporal punishment. He described having been beaten as part of a normal upbringing. He is close to his parents and does not see them as having been abusive in any way — his perspective was that beatings were for his own good, not out of their anger. Be that as it may, he agreed to the agency’s policy of requiring parents to agree not to use physical punishment while they are in treatment.

Working with Ed challenged me, both as a counseling supervisor and as an American. He asked questions that I honestly can’t answer, like “Why did she buy an XBox for Christmas when they can’t pay their rent?” “How will children learn respect if their parents don’t behave honorably?” It was fascinating for me to see “us” through Ed’s eyes.

Part of “speaking the language” of another culture is learning the slang, the idiomatic idiosyncrasies of a region. This is true, by the way, of American adults working with American adolescents. Not that we necessarily must “talk the talk,” but we must understand what they’re saying. (You know’m sayin’?) I helped Ed out with these kinds of things, when I saw he was floundering. Although he is a priest, his language was mildly peppered with profanity. My “style” as a counselor is to match (as much as is comfortable, without being disingenuous) my clients’ or supervisees’ way of speaking. So he cursed occasionally, I cursed occasionally, and we understood one another.

One of Ed’s client families was a very conservative, evangelical Christian Mom, Dad and two teens. They would not have dreamed of uttering a hell, a damn or an ass, unless they were reading from the scriptures.

One day, Ed sat down in my office and said, “I believe I have offended the Purebreds.”

“Oh? How so?”

“I’m not sure, but I may have cursed at them.”

“Oh. What did you say?”

“Well, you know how they are always flat, and never express any emotion?” I did know this; we discussed it regularly. Ed went on, “I have tried and tried to get them to share some feelings, but they do not. Last night, Adam was very disrespectful to his father. When I asked how his father felt, he said, ‘I do not like this.’ That’s all he said! No passion, no emphasis! So I said to his father, ‘Well, if it were me — and here I pounded on the chair arms — if it were me and my son spoke to me that way, I would let him know that I AM MAD AS SHIT!! MAD! AS! SHIT! MAD! AS! SHIT!’ Then everyone grew silent and looked frightened… is ‘shit’ considered vulgar?”

“Weeeelll…yea. It is.” I had to laugh. I couldn’t help but imagine the wide eyes and dropped jaws of the Purebreds while their Asian counselor pounded the chair and shouted about being MAD! AS! SHIT!

At the end of the year when we talked about how things had gone in the supervisory relationship, Ed profusely expressed gratitude for what he’d learned from me. He even asked if I would supervise him via Skype when he returns home. I would be honored. I told him that part of the reason he had learned so much was his humility. He was brighter, and more mature and better educated than most of my students have been. But he was by far the most humble; the most willing to risk being vulnerable, telling me about his blunders, asking for help. This ability is uncommon among humans in general; in my experience, it’s almost unheard of among priests, of whom I’ve supervised many.

He listened carefully to my assessment, and offered this perspective, “I don’t feel that I am being humble. I am being a student. In my tradition, a student finds a worthy master, and then submits himself wholly to the teachings of that master. You have been a worthy master.” Yea, that was a good day at work.

Usually when Ed offered his perspective on American life, I was left thinking, “You’re right; we’re pretty fucked up.” But there was one moment I recall when I felt some national pride, following Ed’s examination of Americans. Commenting on the prayer presented at President Obama’s inauguration, he said, “I thought it was just perfect. It was honest about difficult things, but in the end, it brought humor. It said, ‘We can laugh while we work together to do better.’ That is a very American way of being!” I hope so; I like to think of us that way. Here’s the part of the prayer he was talking about:

“…we ask you to help us work for that day when black will not be asked to get back; when brown can stick around; when yellow will be mellow; when the red man can get ahead, man; and when white will embrace what is right. Let all those who do justice and love mercy say, ‘Amen.'”

Amen.

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

I took a phone call at work this week that flitted from one unbelievable utterance to another. The mother was calling to arrange counseling for her family, and I took the application over the phone. After getting the basic demographic info, I invited Mom to tell me her story. Stories. This is just one.

It seems that young Damocles, 16, had stolen a check, a gift given to his older sister upon her high school graduation. Although he denied the theft, the family had suspected him all summer. And now they had proof.

The uncle who had given sis the check, called Mom to say that his bank account was being charged monthly for membership in an online pornographic site, and did she know anything about this?!

Yes, Damocles had stolen this sister’s check, with his uncle’s banking information, and had used that information to become a bona fide member of a porn site.

As the mother told this woeful tale, I was ready to empathize with all the “issues” raised — the family betrayal, the deception, the lure of internet porn, the loss of innocence, the humiliation when her brother discovered what her son had done . . . on and on.

I gently asked the now agitated Mom, “What did you say to Damocles when you found out what he’d done?”

Her reply was quick and firm. “I said, ‘You idiot! Don’t you know you can get porn online for FREE!!!?'”

Read Full Post »

One of the exercises I sometimes have couples do in counseling is to create a “relationship vision” for themselves. Their instructions are for each of them to make a list, independently of one another, of statements that they would like to be true of their relationship, whether or not those statements are at all true today.

These statements are to be stated in the present tense, cover every area of their relationship they can think of, and most importantly, they are to be stated in positive terms, i.e., the statements are about what the couple does, not what they don’t do.

Some things that might appear on such a list would be:
“We agree on how to spend and save our money.”

“We treat our in-laws with respect, while maintaining our family’s boundaries.”

Sometimes something that really belongs on the list will have to be tweaked a little bit, to make it fit the “positive” criteria. For example, “We don’t scream at each other,” may be changed to “We resolve our disagreements respectfully and creatively,” or “We can disagree without harming our relationship or one another’s feelings.”

Last night I heard a new one. On one of my clients’ lists was, “We do not mock each other.” Between the husband and wife, they had maybe 30 items. We compared, combined, discussed, until they had merged their lists into a relationship vision on which they could both agree.

When they left the session, the couple’s merged list included, “We only mock other people.”

Read Full Post »

Like so many parents today, from time to time I can be heard lamenting how my child is so much more techno-savvy than I. She knows much more about my cell phone’s capabilities than I will ever care to. Every so often, she changes some settings on it, just to keep things fresh.

During one of those freshening sessions, she decided I needed a more interesting ringtone than the default one. I told her she could choose something for me. She did better than that — she and her friend, Roxie, created my own personal “your phone’s ringing” alert. In the form of a recorded voice message. I told her that would be fine. Then I forgot about it.

Nearly 100% of the time, my phone is on vibrate while I’m at work. But then there’s that other minuscule percentage of time when the ringer is on, maximum volume. As it was recently when I was wrapping up a session with two parents and a child, LG’s age. We had been talking about the importance of maintaining age-appropriate boundaries within the family. The child had been treating her parents as peers — in terms of name-calling, cursing at them, telling them what to do, etc. — mostly because the parents usually acted her age. I thought we’d made significant progress in the hour. Then my phone “rang.” Except it wasn’t exactly a “ring.”

Nope. It was LG. Yelling at me. Her recorded “ringtone” was her shouting, “YO, MAMA! Telephone! Pick it up! I said PICK. IT. UP. Answer your phone, WOMAN!” And in the background, Roxie was hip-hop chanting, “Pick it up, YEA! Yo, pick it up! Pick it up!”

Ohdeargod. I had half-listened to it when LG and Roxie were playing around with it, but I’d never heard the final product, didn’t know it had been designated as my new ringtone. I scrambled to dig the damned thing out of my purse, trying not to look at the widening eyes of all three clients. When I finally found it, I quickly muted it, and apologized for the interruption. The tween client said, “Who was THAT?”

I sheepishly explained, being emphatic that “it was a JOKE,” and both my daughter and I knew that; my daughter would not speak to me that way in normal conversation . . .yadda yadda yadda.

Not sure they bought it.

Read Full Post »

Crazy Talk

The fall semester is in full swing at the agency where I supervise graduate students in family counseling. As usual, we have a number of international students. I have one from Malaysia and one from Korea. Both of them are quite brilliant and have a genuine gift for counseling, so it really is a joy to help train them. It is also quite challenging, sometimes hilariously so, as we navigate the cultural chasms between their native countries and the USA. This is particularly true when dealing with adolescents and their families. Sometimes our client families take advantage of the grad student interns’ obvious uncertainty when addressing matters of the not-so-secret lives of American teenagers. Elizabeth, the Korean intern, is a soft-spoken, thoughtful woman with a number of graduate degrees to her name. Ready to believe the good in her clients, she has been snowed a couple of times. First, a 14-year-old nearly convinced her that it is customary in American families for the oldest son to tell his father to “fuck off” from time to time. (This may be true, but not outloud.)

Elizabeth and I were discussing this same family the other day. Like many modern families, they don’t interact as much as they claim to want to. They often go their separate ways with little more than the occasional obscenity exchange that passes for conversation. Elizabeth has been trying to introduce more routine, more stability into their daily lives, starting with a homework assignment to eat dinner together as a family at least once a week. This is part of our supervision session earlier this week:

E: The mother said they can’t do that. They can’t eat at the table because the boys [ages 14 and 9] eat better when she feeds them on trays in front of the TV.

S: Eat better?

E: Yes, she says they’ll eat their vegetables in front of the TV, but they won’t eat them at the table.

S: laughing loudly That’s a new one. OK, it very well may be true that they shovel food into their faces mindlessly while watching TV, and that they are unaware of eating the vegetables during that process, so they don’t object to them . . . but . . . NO.

E: No?

S: OK, let me back up a minute. Are they malnourished? Any sign of rickets . . .

E: smiles No . . .

S: OK. Double check this, to make sure they’re not suffering from any nutritional deficit. And by all means, if they have scurvy, we’ll sit them in front of the TV with a big ol’ bag of oranges . . .

E: laughs

S: But short of that, we don’t give a rat’s ass what they eat, or even whether they eat. They’re not here because they need better nutrition, they’re here because they have no family relationships. They will sit at the table together and make some attempt at conversation. If they can also manage to eat without the aid of television, God bless ’em. If they can’t . . . we don’t care.

E: We don’t care?

S: Not a bit. I have no concerns about these boys starving. I have a lot of concern about there being no relationship, no communication in this family.

We continued the supervision session, and Elizabeth had a plan for the next few sessions by the time we concluded. The first thought I had when Elizabeth told me about the mother saying her kids had to be fed in front of the TV was, “That’s crazy talk!” This has been one of my favorite expressions for a while now. And believe me, in my line of work, I get to use it a lot. At least in my head. Thinking about this reminded me of a “diagnostic manual” that the staff and I joke about writing some day. We make entries into it from time to time. I’m going to share with you some of my contributions over the past year or so.

Please read with the understanding that I work my butt off and my heart out, and I really am considered quite good at what I do. In order for the preceding to remain true, though, sometimes I just have to find the dark, politically-incorrect, shockingly inappropriate humor in the whole process:

THE BOOK

It has come to our attention that the agency has been criticized for not adequately teaching diagnostic skills as part of our internship experience. In an effort to remedy this shortcoming on our part, we offer the following tips for assessment and intervention:

· It is often advisable to include the client in the diagnostic process. This is done through the use of “leading” questions, as follows:

“What are you — NUTS?”

“Are you CRAZY?”

“What is WRONG with you?”

“Have you gone BATSHIT?” (“APESHIT” is also acceptable in this form.)

· For those who prefer a more direct approach, a statement can be made, followed by a pause during which the client may agree or disagree:

“You’re crazy as hell.”

“You’re freakin’ nuts.”

“You’re a wacko.” Or the related, “You’re wack.”

· The following are some brief diagnostic labels that are acceptable:
Jackass, Freakshow, Wingnut, Loon

Clients have also supplied the following diagnostic categories: Bi-polo, “somewhat mental,” and “triflin’.” The latter two are usually reserved for in-laws.

· Following the example of Jesus, it is important to talk to our clients in language they can understand — using metaphors from the context of their everyday lives. Observe:

One might assess the mental status of an obese client as, “a few sandwiches short of a picnic.” The client will quickly grasp the gravity of the situation.

A self-mutilating client will immediately understand the concept of being, “not the sharpest knife in the drawer.”

Assessments like the preceding may appropriately be followed by, “You know’m sayin’?” in order to ensure that the client has understood the counselor’s assessment.

· It is important to use contemporary language when confronting a client with maladaptive behavior. For example, “in denial” is an antiquated phrase, whereas “reality” is a more progressive term.

So, instead of suggesting that a client is “in denial,” one might reflect, “So . . . if I hear you correctly, you and reality are not on speaking terms.”

Another example of contemporary vernacular: When a client makes a statement which you find difficult to believe, replace the meek and outdated, “Really?” with the more modern, emphatic, “OH NO YOU DI’INT!”

Similarly, replace, “That is a cognitive distortion,” with “Now, that’s just CRAZY TALK!”

· On occasion, it may become necessary to exclude a particular client from the counseling process. (Often, this will be “mom’s boyfriend.”) When that time comes, the most efficacious way of removing the uncooperative, non-compliant client is to say to that client, kindly but firmly, “You’re dead to me.” (More experienced counselors may use this intervention with its accompanying hand gesture for emphasis: as you say the previous sentence, raise your right hand in a saluting fashion, but instead of saluting, draw it sharply across the front of your throat, mimicking a quick and decisive severing of the carotid artery.)

*******

There you have it. Anyone want to come see me? MWAHAHHAHHAAA!

(Oh, and contributions to “the book” will be gladly accepted.)

Read Full Post »

Cannabis sativa.

The subject comes up with some regularity at the agency. One of our intake forms matter-of-factly asks about drug usage. It’s kind of tricky, though, knowing what to call it. The “cool” name changes every few years, have you noticed? In the sixties, before I was old enough to understand much about it, I heard references to it on shows like “The Mod Squad,” where they’d call it “grass” or maybe “reefer.” By the time I was in high school, and had seen a bit of it (and yes, smoked a time or two), it was called “pot.” Even then, it was mostly vicarious smoking on my part, since the idea of smoking anything smaller than a ham has never held much appeal for me. (Now, if they made a bacon cigarette . . . my life may have gone in an entirely different direction.) But yea, I hung out with the “heads” for a while. (What are the “heads” called now? I don’t know. Ohlord, what if they’re just called “high school students”?) And a few years later, my contemporaries “smoked dope.”

Today, if I ask a young client about marijuana usage, I call it “weed.” Because that’s what the kids in this area call it. I learned this from the following recent exchange with some clients:

Mom: I am tired of you disrespecting your Grammy!
Angie: And I am tired of my Grammy smoking weed!
Me (this is unexpected news): Uh . . . how often does Grammy smoke . . . weed?
Mom: Not that much.
Angie: Every time her friend Betty is over, before they go to bingo!

Alrighty, then.

So, yea, we try to discourage, or certainly not encourage, the smoking of weed, there at the agency. Except the other day, I had this earworm, this snippet of a song stuck in my head from channel surfing and pausing on an old episode of Earl. It was a Snoop Dogg song, covered by a bluegrassy band called The Gourds. (Video and audio NOT suitable for children or discerning adults, but it was the cleanest video I could locate, to um . . . go with the dirty lyrics . . . )

So, I’m there with that earworm, just the chorus:

Rollin’ down the street, smokin’ Indo
Sippin’ on gin and juice
Laaaaid back,
With my mind on my money and
My money on my mind!

And I’m aware of doing this bobble-head dance, this back and forth and side to side with my head, while I’m straightening up the magazines on the shelf in the waiting room . . . and I hear a giggle, and it brings me back to the present, and I think for a panicked second . . . was I? Was I humming? Ohdear, was I SINGING? And I bobble my head around to the side and see these two black kids, 11- or 12-year-old boys, sitting in the waiting room, laughing their faces off at me, and I’m all, “ohno,” like I’m rollin’ down the street in slow mo, and they’re still laughing as their counselor beckons them down the hall to their appointment.

I felt like I had to say something, so I said, “WHAT?!” in what I hoped was a clean and sober, authoritative voice, and they just laughed more and fell against each other and the wall, and I called after them, “JUST SAY NO!”

Read Full Post »

I just saw the website of a 25-year-old “Life Coach.”

REALLY? I hope I’m not ageist, but, really? I surely didn’t know enough about life at age 25 to sell coaching services.

The whole life-coaching thing intrigues and annoys me. Some therapists began calling themselves “life coaches” a few years ago. The theory is (so I’ve been told) that it’s what they were doing anyway, and if they marketed themselves as “life coaches,” they might get fewer people with actual mental illness, emotional distress, and more high-functioning, “worried well” types, who demand less and pay more.

Then there are those life coaches with no particular training of any kind in human behavior (or whatever one might need to know about in order to advise on matters of life, love, career, etc.), but who fancy themselves as having their shit together and capable of sharing that shit with others. These people can get a certificate saying they are a “Life Coach” from various groups who offer seminars and certificates, suitable for framing. In my state, and most I’ve researched, there are no laws regulating the marketing of oneself as a “life coach.”

One of my former clients, who was a therapist, who had among the most dysfunctional family and friend relationships I’ve ever seen, is a rather successful life coach. She does have a successful career. She has a lonely, drama-fraught life. She may be a case of “those who can’t do, coach.”

So what about this life-coaching stuff? What should the qualifications be? Does age matter?

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »