Who’s Afraid of a Little CRT?

Critical Race Theory (CRT) has been in the news lately, especially in Montana. As it turns out, several Montana public officials (you know who you are) appear frightened by CRT. Their response to the idea (not the reality) of CRT being taught anywhere or anytime is to try to ban it, as in make it illegal. It’s like a modern Montana-style prohibition (“Don’t you go out and get caught with a bottle of CRT or we’ll be taking you on down to see the sheriff!”).

All jokes aside (well, not all), I have a couple brief comments and a question.

I’m struck that, in the 21st century, anyone is using the old tried and failed strategies of banning ideas and burning books. Alcohol prohibition seemed rather unsuccessful. . . and we don’t need to know what happened with Romeo and Juliet to understand that, that which is forbidden, takes on a certain sex appeal.

My other main thought is that, just in case anyone was sleeping through science class, Critical Race Theory is a . . . (wait for it) . . . a theory! As with all theories, it’s not a perfect explanation of anything. It’s a working model, a set of ideas, with maybe a few scientific hypotheses. The right response to CRT isn’t to outlaw it—because if CRT is outlawed, then only outlaws will understand CRT. Instead, CRT is great food for thought, discussion, and public and private discourse. Rather than make it illegal, we should be discussing, evaluating, and critiquing its usefulness and validity, rather than acting like studying the presence of systemic racism in American history is blasphemy. If you contemplate the issue, the answer is “Yes, of course” there has been, from the beginning, systemic racism in the U.S. (think Columbus, slavery, Indian Boarding Schools, etc.). However, the fact that systemic racism is an historic and contemporary reality doesn’t make every jot and tittle of CRT true; but certainly it suggests we take it seriously. If not, we risk tempting our children with forbidden fruit or teaching them to be afraid of new ways of thinking. Either way, banning or illegalizing or running like scared rabbits away from CRT does a disservice to our state, our country, and our children.  

My question is whether I should write an Op-Ed piece on this topic. If you think so, let me know. If you think not, tell me I should let it go.

The Art of The Email

Most of my life involves emailing.

Most of the time I take irrational pride in my emails. I work very hard to eliminate typos and grammatical problems. I also work very hard to give my emails just the right touch of snark and hilarity.

My goal is to send literary emails. I keep waiting for someone to publish them. Something like the Freud-Jung letters. But alas, no one has offered, and so, once again, I have to be the responsible party and do the right thing and publish them here.

My emails are in italics; the introduction to each email is not in italics.

  1. To an academic friend from Xavier University who wrote to me to share one of his student’s complaints about the fact that we said something positive about Paul-Michel Foucault in our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories textbook:

Anyhow, I guess I’ll be cancelling Foucault in the future. I checked online, and the dude was a bad sexual predator creep. If it seems appropriate, offer my apologies to your student. It’s tough to stay up on all the idiotic creeps out there. When I read about them, I can’t figure out where they found the time to act out on all their stupid sexual perversions. Well, obviously, that’s not the only question I have . . .

2. To a former student who had the audacity to suggest she could beat me at games like Charades/Pictionary/Balderdash/Cards Against Humanity:

As someone who is a trained observer of human insecurities, I think you should know that when someone (like, let’s say, you) writes something like “You telling me you’ve never lost those games means nothing. . .” it’s a clear indication that whatever that person (like, let’s say, you) is writing about “means something.” You may be familiar with the protesting too much line from William S. . . . and he may have, indeed, been speaking of thou-est defense mechanisms.

If I cry during our upcoming competition, it will be from glee and not mushrooms or your game-playing domination fantasies.

Is the idea of using your corpse as a scarecrow an unusual idea? I’ve been away from human contact for so long that I’m not sure of what’s normal and what’s not and therefore take no personal responsibility for the normality of whatever I’m writing.

3. To the same former student (see above) who for some reason wrote to me about being open to being taxidermied after death and placed as a “greeter” on our porch:

You’re always so full of good ideas that I’m not sure what I can add. Back in the 20th century, we had a life-sized Jean Luc Picard cardboard cut-out that we kept on our porch to greet visitors. Should I outlive you, I’d be honored to keep your taxidermy self in our garden. Right now, Rita is writing about mushroom-based caskets as an alternative that results in quick biodegradation. We could put your likeness in a mushroom patch and then you might melt into the ground.

I probably should stop with all my good ideas now.

4. To an attorney who’s helping me with the details of a legal contract:

I’m glad to hear we’re outside the boundaries of HIPAA. One of my life goals is to pretty much always stay outside the boundaries of HIPAA. That’s why, when I ask people for their vaccination status, I also tell them I won’t be billing their insurance😊.

5. To a former student and professional counselor:

No one other than you would ever think to begin an email message with a statement about unmanned robot lawnmowers. I’d ask you about what you’re reading in your spare time, but I’m worried for what I might hear.

6. To my fellow faculty, when I forward them information I received from our national accrediting body:

Hi All,

I haven’t looked at this myself, but it seemed like I should pass it on.

7. To my Fall, 2021 Research class:

Hello Prospective Researchers,

It’s June, and anyone with any sense is thinking about the COUN 545 Research class right about now. Haha. Not really. I’m just procrastinating on other things.

I’m writing because I had emailed a few of you before saying that I would likely NOT be teaching the Research class . . . however . . . the excellent, very good news is that I WILL BE teaching the Research class. The plan is for us to be live, in-person, and following whatever health guidelines the University has in place for fall semester. I know, the good news just won’t stop.

I just wanted to clarify what’s happening and dispel any rumors and let you know in advance that we’ll be having the best research class experience ever.

More stuff will come your way (like a syllabus) in late July or early August. Until then, you should start systematically collecting data wherever you go and whatever you’re doing (sorry, more research jokes there, no need to do that).

Seriously, until then, you should have a fantastic summertime.

That’s all for now. And you all should have a fantastic June weekend!

John S-F

My Six Promises to Members of the Association for Humanistic Counseling

Rita and I have been watching way too many bad detective shows. You know the format, someone gets abducted, then the hero or detective or agent tells the frightened parent or spouse or sibling, “We’ll get her back, I promise.”

The words “I promise” are accompanied by intense eye contact and complete—albeit unfounded—confidence.

IMHO, these scenes represent a very poor use of the words, “I promise.” How can you promise something over which you don’t have complete control? For example, I can promise never to leave the toilet seat up again, but I can’t promise to rescue someone who just got abducted by aliens. What the writers/actors really mean to say is something like, “By golly, I’ll do my best to rescue your son from the jaws of that shark, but I don’t really have control over all the variables here, and so, although I wish I could guarantee a positive outcome, I can’t.”

Now you see why no one is asking me to become a screenwriter.

My point is that I’m about to make several promises to the members of the Association for Humanistic Counseling, and I want everyone reading this to know that I take promise making very seriously. I’m a careful and contemplative promise-maker. . . and I promise to do my best to fulfill the following promises during my online keynote speech this coming Friday, June 4, from 1-2pm (EDT).

Wait, one other sidetrack, before I share my list of promises.

My speech is titled, “Growth through Struggle: Embracing Sparkling Moments and Strengths, while Avoiding Avoidance and Denial.”

Now you can see why no one is asking me to come up with titles for their keynote speeches.

In the description of my speech, I included the following statement (which is sort of like a promise): “Join John Sommers-Flanagan in this keynote presentation, for a review of five positive strategies counselors can use for lightening their burdens, while simultaneously embracing deep existential challenges.” The problem here is that the five positive strategies I’ll be sharing come from the so-called “happiness” literature, and when talking about happiness with people who are fully in touch with their existential angst and nihilism, it’s advisable to offer a few caveats.

And so here come the caveats (aka promises):

  • I promise not to use reductionistic pop-psych pretend brain science terminology like the “amygdala hijack,” partly because if we really imagine an amygdala hijack, then we have to conjure up miniature D.B. Cooper character to conduct the hijacking, and those of us who embrace the humanist label tend to be rather disinclined to attribute our behavior to imaginary entities that live in our brains.
  • When talking about evidence-based happiness interventions, for obvious reasons, I promise to never use the phrase, “Happiness Hack.”
  • Throughout the keynote, I’ll never use the term “Mental illness” unless I’m explaining to everyone why I never use the term “Mental illness.”
  • Because I like to use a little Carl Rogers terminology here and there, I may spontaneously weave the term “organismic” into my speech. I’m sharing this in advance because, at that moment when I’m speaking to hundreds of people via Zoom and feeling nervous, there’s always the possibility that Sigmund Freud will pop into my brain, double-crossing Rogers, and taking over my unconscious. This could cause me to misspeak, and say “orgasmic” instead of “organismic.” Keep in mind that if you think you hear the word “orgasmic” during my keynote, I promise, what I really meant was “organismic” in the Rogerian sense of the word.
  • I promise to stretch myself, my self-awareness, and my understanding of the whole of existential humanism by refusing to boil down any part of human existence into the presence or absence of specific hormones or neurotransmitters like oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine.
  • I won’t engage in reductionistic and sexist discourse by using rhyming words, like “fight or flight,” to describe complex, multidimensional human behavioral choices.

Overall, I promise to do my best to talk about how to use happiness interventions to help cope with the immense struggles many of us have been experiencing, without pretending that any of us can easily discover a secret, magic, or miraculous solution to human suffering.

If you’re interested in tuning into this keynote speech, during which I do not say the word “orgasmic,” yes, there’s still time. You can register and experience to whole slate of amazing, live, online presentations brought to you by the fabulous Association for Humanistic Counseling and their cool and fantastic President, Victoria Kress, by clicking here:  https://www.humanisticcounseling.org/ahc-conference Then, just scroll down until you see, “Register for the Conference.”

I hope to see you there.

Today’s Mindfulness Epiphany in 98 Words

I just realized that mindfulness meditation is all about nonjudgmental acceptance of the experience of failing at mindfulness meditation. Mindfulness meditation always involves failure, therefore it requires nonjudgmental acceptance.

We fail at mindfulness because we are always more or less distracted; we cannot achieve perfect mindfulness.

Practice does not make perfect; practice makes practice.

If the goal of mindfulness is to practice, then we cannot fail, unless we fail to practice.

But if we practice nonjudgmental acceptance, failing to practice is neither failure nor victory.

All this brings us back around the circle to never failing, but just being.

Strategies for Dealing with Insomnia and Nightmares, Part II

This is part II of a two-part blog. For part I, see Sunday’s post: https://johnsommersflanagan.com/2021/05/23/strategies-for-dealing-with-insomnia-and-nightmares-part-i/

Asking About Trauma

You may have a form to screen clients for a trauma history. However, more often than not, you’ll need to ask directly about trauma, just like you need to ask directly about suicidality. In many cases, as discussed in Chapter 3, it may be beneficial to wait and ask about trauma until the second or third session, or until there’s a logical opportunity. Although insomnia and nightmares don’t always signal trauma, when they co-exist, they provide an avenue to ask about trauma.

Counselor: Miguel, I’d like to ask a personal question. Would that be okay?

Miguel: Okay.

Counselor: Almost always, when people have nightmares about guns and death, it means they’ve been through some bad, traumatic experiences. When you’ve been through something bad or terrible, nightmares get stuck in your head and get on a sort of repeating cycle. Is that true for you?

Miguel: Yeah. I went through some bad shit back in Denver.

Counselor: I’m guessing that bad shit is stuck in your brain and one ways it comes out is through nightmares.

Miguel: Yeah. Probably.

Even when clients know their trauma experiences are causing their nightmares, they can still be reluctant to talk about the details. Physical and emotional discomfort associated with trauma is something clients often want to avoid. To reassure clients, you can tell them about specific evidence-based approaches—approaches that don’t require detailed recounting of trauma or nightmare experiences. Two examples include eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR; Shapiro, 2001) and imagery rehearsal therapy (Krakow & Zadra, 2010). 

Miguel: If I talk about the nightmares, they get more real. I have enough trouble keeping them out of my head now.

Counselor: That’s a good point. But right now your dreams are so bad that you’re barely sleeping. It’s worth trying to work through them. How about this? I’ve got a simple protocol for working with nightmares. You don’t even have to talk about the details of your nightmares. I think we should try it and watch to see if your dreams get better, worse, or stay the same? What do you think?

Miguel: I guess maybe my nightmares can’t get much worse.

Evidence-Based Trauma Treatments

In Miguel’s case, the first step was to get him to talk about his insomnia, nightmares, and trauma. Without details about his experiences, there was no chance to dig in and start treatment. The scenario with Miguel illustrates one method for getting clients to open up about trauma. Other clinical situations may be different. We’ve had Native American clients who were having dreams (or not having dreams, but wishing for them), and we needed to begin counseling by seeking better understanding of the role and meaning of dreams in their particular tribal culture.

 Counselors who work with clients who are suicidal should obtain training for treating insomnia, nightmares, and trauma. Depending on your clients’ age, symptoms, culture, the treatment setting, and your preference, several different evidence-based treatments may be effective for treating trauma. The following bulleted list includes treatments recommended by the American Psychological Association (2017) or the VA/DoD Clinical Practice Guideline Working Group (2017), or both (Watkins et al., 2018).

  • Cognitive Processing Therapy (Resick et al., 2017).
  • Eye-Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (Shapiro, 2001)
  • Narrative Exposure Therapy (Schauer et al., 2011)
  • Prolonged Exposure (Foa et al., 2007).
  • Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Treatment (Cohen et al., 2012).

Although the preceding list includes the scientifically supported approaches to treating trauma, you may prefer other approaches, many of which are suitable for treating trauma (e.g., body-centered therapies, narrative exposure therapy for children [KID-NET], etc.).

Specific treatments for insomnia and nightmares are also essential for reducing arousal/agitation. Evidence-based treatments for insomnia and nightmares include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy for Insomnia (CBT-I; Cunningham & Shapiro, 2018).
  • Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT; Krakow & Zadra, 2010).

Targeting trauma symptoms in general, and physical symptoms in particular (e.g., arousal, insomnia, nightmares) can be crucial to your treatment plan. Addressing physical symptoms in your treatment instills hope and provides near-term symptom relief.

[Check out the whole book for more info: https://imis.counseling.org/store/detail.aspx?id=78174%5D

Strategies for Dealing with Insomnia and Nightmares, Part I

What follows is an excerpt from, Suicide Assessment and Treatment Planning: A Strengths-Based Approach (American Counseling Association, 2021). We address insomnia and nightmares in Chapter 7 (the Physical Dimension). This is just a glimpse into the cool content of this book.

Insomnia and nightmares directly contribute to client distress in general and suicidal distress in particular. In this section, we use a case example to illustrate how counselors can begin with a less personal issue (insomnia), use empathy, psychoeducation, and curiosity to track insomnia symptoms, eventually arrive at nightmares, and then inquire about trauma. Focusing first on insomnia, then on nightmares, and later on trauma can help counselors form an alliance with clients who are initially reluctant to talk about death images and trauma experiences.

Focusing on Insomnia

Miguel was a 19-year-old cisgender heterosexual Latino male working on vocational skills at a Job Corps program. He arrived for his first session in dusty work clothes, staring at the counselor through squinted eyes; it was difficult to tell if Miguel was squinting to protect his eyes from masonry dust or to communicate distrust. However, because the client was referred by a physician for insomnia, he also might have just been sleepy.

Counselor: Hey Miguel. Thanks for coming in. The doctor sent me a note. She said you’re having trouble sleeping.

Miguel: Yeah. I don’t sleep.

Counselor: That sucks. Working all day when you’re not sleeping well must be rough.

Miguel: Yeah. But I’m fine. That’s how it is.

To start, Miguel minimizes distress. Whether you’re working with Alzheimer’s patients covering their memory deficits or five-year-olds who get caught lying, minimizing is a common strategy. When clients say, “I’m fine” or “It is what it is” they may be minimizing.

But Miguel was not fine. For many reasons (e.g., pride, shame, or age and ethnicity differences), he was reluctant to open up. However, given Miguel’s history of being in a gang and his estranged relationship with his parents, the expectation that he should quickly trust and confide in a white male adult stranger is not appropriate.

Rather than pursuing anything personal, the counselor communicated empathy and interest in Miguel’s insomnia experiences.

Counselor: Not being able to sleep can make for very long nights. What do you think makes it so hard for you sleep?

Miguel: I don’t know. I just don’t sleep.

When asked directly, Miguel declines to describe his sleep problems. Rather than continue with questioning, the counselor fills the room with words (i.e., psychoeducation). Psychoeducation is a good option because sitting in silence is socially painful and because multicultural experts recommend that counselors speak openly when working with clients from historically oppressed cultural groups (Sue & Sue, 2016). The reasoning goes: If counselors are open and transparent, culturally diverse clients can evaluate their counselor before sharing more about themselves. As Miguel’s counselor talks, Miguel can decide, based on what he hears, whether his counselor is safe, trustworthy, and credible. 

Counselor: Miguel, there are three main types of insomnia. There’s initial insomnia—that’s when it takes a long time, maybe an hour or more, to get to sleep. They call that difficulty falling asleep. There’s terminal insomnia—that’s when you fall asleep pretty well and sleep until maybe 3am and then wake up and can’t get back to sleep. They call that early morning awakening. Then there’s intermittent insomnia—that’s like being a light sleeper who wakes up over and over all night. They call that choppy sleep. Which of those fits for you?”

Miguel: I got all three. I can’t get to sleep. I can’t stay asleep. I can’t get back to sleep.

Counselor: That’s sounds terrible. It’s like a triple dose of bad sleep.

As Miguel begins opening up, he says “I haven’t slept in a week.” Although it’s obvious that zero minutes of sleep over a week isn’t accurate, for Miguel, it feels like he hasn’t slept in a week, and that’s what’s important.

Exploring Nightmares

After Miguel yawns, the counselor asks permission to share his thoughts.

Counselor: Miguel, if you don’t mind, I’d like to tell you what I’m thinking. Is that okay?

Miguel: Sure. Fine.

Counselor: When someone says they’re having as much trouble sleeping as you’re having, there are usually two main reasons. The first is nightmares. Have you been having nightmares?

Miguel: Shit yeah. Like every night. When I fall asleep, nightmares start.

Counselor: Okay. Thanks. I’m pretty sure I can help you with nightmares. We can probably make them happen less often and be less bad in just a few meetings.

The counselor’s confidence is based on previous successful experiences, including using a nightmare treatment protocol that has empirical support (Imagery Rehearsal Therapy; Krakow & Zadra, 2010). Although evidence-based treatments aren’t effective for all clients, they can establish credibility and instill hope. Nevertheless, Miguel doesn’t immediately experience hope.

Miguel: Yeah. But these aren’t normal nightmares.

Counselor: What’s been happening?

Miguel: I keep having this dream where I’m sticking a gun in my mouth. People are all around me with their voices and shit telling me, “pull the trigger.” Then I wake up, but I can’t get it out of my head all day? What the hell is that all about?”

Counselor: That’s a great question.

When the counselor says, “That’s a great question,” his goal is to start a discussion about all the reasons why someone (Miguel in this case), might have a “gun in the mouth” dream. If Miguel and his counselor can brainstorm different explanations and possible meanings for the dream images, it’s less likely for Miguel to interpret his dream as a sign that he should die by suicide. What’s important, we tell our clients, is to look at many different possible meanings the unconscious or God or the Great Spirit or the universe or indigestion might be sending to the dreamer. To help clients expand their thinking and loosen up on their conclusions about their dream’s meaning, we’ve used statements like the following:

You may be right. Your dream might be about you dying or killing yourself. But our goal is to listen to the message your brain sent you and be open to what it might mean. It’s perfectly normal to think your dream was about you dying by suicide—but that’s not necessarily true. That’s not the way the brain and dreams usually work.               Some counselors use self-disclosure about dreams or nightmares they’ve had themselves. Others offer hypothetical or historical dream examples. Either way, normalizing nightmares helps clients become more comfortable talking about their bad dreams and nightmares.

To be continued . . . NEXT TIME . . . we ask about trauma.

If you’re interested in this content, you can buy the whole darn book from ACA here: https://imis.counseling.org/store/detail.aspx?id=78174

If you want the eBook, you can buy it through John Wiley & Sons: https://www.wiley.com/en-ai/Suicide+Assessment+and+Treatment+Planning%3A+A+Strengths+Based+Approach-p-9781119783619

The eBook is also available through Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Suicide-Assessment-Treatment-Planning-Strengths-Based-ebook/dp/B08T7VNCMK/ref=sr_1_9?dchild=1&qid=1621798923&refinements=p_27%3AJohn+Sommers-Flanagan%3BRita+Sommers-Flanagan&s=books&sr=1-9

The Hottest New Placebos for PTSD

Let’s do a thought experiment.

What if I owned a company and paid all my employees to conduct an intervention study on a drug my company profits from? After completing the study, I pay a journal about ten thousand British pounds to publish the results. That’s not to say the study wouldn’t have been published anyway, but the payment allows for publication on “open access,” which is quicker and gets me immediate media buzz.

My drug intervention targets a longstanding human and societal problem—post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Of course, everyone with a soul wants to help people who have been physically or sexually assaulted or exposed to horrendous natural or military-related trauma. In the study, I compare the efficacy of my drug (plus counseling) with an inactive placebo (plus counseling). The results show that my drug is significantly more effective than an inactive placebo. The study is published. I get great media attention, with two New York Times (NYT) articles, one of which dubs my drug as one of the “hottest new therapeutics since Prozac.”  

In real life, there’s hardly anything I love much more than a cracker-jack scientific study. And, in real life, my thought experiment is a process that’s typical for large pharmaceutical companies. My problem with these studies is that they use the cover of science to market a financial investment. Having financially motivated individuals conduct research, analyze the results, and report their implications spoils the science.

Over the past month or so, my thought experiment scenario has played out with psilocybin and MDMA (aka ecstasy) in the treatment of PTSD. The company—actually a non-profit—is the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS). They funded an elaborate research project, titled, “MDMA-assisted therapy for severe PTSD: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled phase 3 study” through private donations. That may sound innocent, but Andrew Jacobs of the NYT described MAPS as, “a multimillion dollar research and advocacy empire that employs 130 neuroscientists, pharmacologists and regulatory specialists working to lay the groundwork for the coming psychedelics revolution.” Well, that’s not your average non-profit.

To be honest, I’m not terribly opposed to careful experimentation of psychedelics for treating PTSD. I suspect psychedelics will be no worse (and no better) than other pharmaceutic-produced drugs used to treat PTSD. What I do oppose, is dressing up marketing as science. Sadly, this pseudo-scientific approach has been used and perfected by pharmaceutical companies for decades. I’m familiar with promotional pieces impersonating science mostly from the literature on antidepressants for treating depression in youth. I can summarize the results of those studies simply: Mostly antidepressants don’t work for treating depression in youth. Although some individual children and adolescents will experience benefits from antidepressants, separating the true, medication-based benefits from placebo responses is virtually impossible.

My best guess from reading medication studies for 30 years (and recent psychedelic research) is that the psychedelic drug results will end up about the same as antidepressants for youth. Why? Because placebo.

Placebos can, and usually do, produce powerful therapeutic responses. I’ll describe the details in a later blog-post. For now, I just want to say that in the MDMA study, the researchers, despite reasonable efforts, were unable to keep study participants “blind” from whether they were taking MDMA vs. placebo. Unsurprisingly, 95.7% of patients in the MDMA group accurately guessed that they were in the MDMA group and 84.1% of patients in the placebo group accurately guessed they were only receiving inactive placebos. Essentially, the patients knew what they were getting, and consequently, attributing a positive therapeutic response to MDMA (rather than an MDMA-induced placebo effect) is speculation. . . not science.

In his NYT article (May 9, 2021), Jacobs wrote, “Psilocybin and MDMA are poised to be the hottest new therapeutics since Prozac.” Alternatively, he might have written, “Psilocybin and MDMA are damn good placebos.” Even further, he also could have written, “The best therapeutics for PTSD are and always will be exercise, culturally meaningful and socially-connected processes like sweat lodge therapy, being outdoors, group support, and counseling or psychotherapy with a trusted and competent practitioner.” Had he been interested in prevention, rather than treatment, he would have written, “The even better solution to PTSD involves investing in peace over war, preventing sexual assault, and addressing poverty.”

Unfortunately, my revision of what Jacobs wrote won’t make anyone much money . . . and so you won’t see it published anywhere now or ever—other than right here on this beautiful (and free) blog—which is why you should pass it on.

The Root of (Most) Misery

For years I’ve been teaching counseling students that the cause of most emotional and psychological misery can be boiled down to one word. To inflame their competitive spirits, I tell them this powerful word starts with the letter E, and offer prizes to students if they can guess the correct word.

Sadly, no one ever guesses that I’m talking about “Expectation.”

Expectation is, IMHO, the biggest source of bad, sad, and maladaptive emotions. I suffer from my own expectations all the time. Just this morning, while trying to listen to a podcast on a walk, I became irrationally enraged with all things Apple. Why? Because my iPhone podcasting app didn’t work in an elegant, user-friendly manner. Even worse is that I’m fully aware of how silly it is for me to justify holding such high—or even modest—expectations when it comes to technology. I have repeated lived experiences that should have led me to know how often I (and others) are thwarted by technology. I also happily rely on and use technology for many hours every day, and although it feels otherwise, most of the time technology provides . . . my computer powers up, my emails get sent, my phone dials the right number, and magical things like Zoom conferences happen without adverse incident.

Here’s the irony: My expectations thwart my happiness far more often than technology thwarts my personal plans and goals. Nevertheless, I’m eager to throw a childish fit when an app malfunctions, but I continue to barely question my unrealistic expectations despite their predictable adverse emotional outcomes. Funny that (as the Brits might say). I resist blaming and changing that which I have some control over (my expectations), while I let loose with relentless complaints about that which I have little control over (technology).

The fortune in my fortune cookie from dinner with my father gave me a nudge toward recognizing and managing my expectations. Panda Express—not usually where I look for guidance—provided me with the wisdom I seek.

If I were inclined to use the word “wiring” when referring to neural networks (I’m not), I might question whether there’s a glitch in my wiring. However, because I’m pretty certain I’ve got no wires in my brain, I’m going after the glitch in my attitude. Sure, as I pursue my attitudinal glitch, my brain may undergo physical, chemical, and electrical changes, but I suspect the fix will be ever so much more complicated than clipping a wire here, and reconnecting another one there.

Thanks for reading . . .

Cultural Specificity and Universality: An Indigenous Example

These days mostly we tend to orient toward the culturally specific, and that’s a good thing. Much of intersectionality, cultural competency, and cultural humility is all about drilling down into unique and valuable cultural and individual perspectives.

But these are also the days of Both-And.

In contrast to cultural specificity, some theorists—I’m thinking of William Glasser right now—were more known for their emphasis on cultural universality. Glasser contended that his five basic human needs were culturally universal; those needs included: Survival, belonging, power (recognition), freedom, and fun.

Although Glasser’s ideas may (or may not) have universal punch, he’s a white guy, and pushing universality from positions of white privilege are, at this particular point in history, worth questioning. That’s why I was happy to find an indigenous voice emphasizing universal ideas.

I came across a quotation from a Lakota elder, James Clairmont; he was discussing the concept of resilience, from his particular linguistic perspective:

The closest translation of “resilience” is a sacred word that means “resistance” . . . resisting bad thoughts, bad behaviors. We accept what life gives us, good and bad, as gifts from the Creator. We try to get through hard times, stressful times, with a good heart. The gift [of adversity] is the lesson we learn from overcoming it.

Clairmont’s description of “the sacred word that means resilience” are strikingly similar to several contemporary ideas in counseling and psychotherapy practice.

  • “Resisting bad thoughts, bad behaviors” is closely linked to CBT
  • “We accept what life gives us, good and bad, as gifts from the Creator” fits well with mindfulness
  • “We try to get through hard times, stressful times, with a good heart” is consistent with optimism concepts in positive psychology
  • “The gift [of adversity] is the lesson we learn from overcoming it” and this is a great paraphrase of Bandura’s feedback and feed-forward ideas

In these days of cultural specificity, it makes sense to work from both perspectives. We need to recognize and value our unique differences, while simultaneously noticing our similarities and areas of convergence. Clairmont’s perspectives on resilience make me want to learn more about Lakota ideas, both how they’re similar and different from my own cultural and educational experiences.

A Short Video on Love: Featuring Max and Paula Sommers

This afternoon, Rita and I are doing a short lecture for the University of Montana Honors College course (HONR 391) titled “Love.” Dr. Timothy Nichols, Dean of the Honors College is teaching the course. They’ve covered a ton of very cool stuff (academic speak here) and Rita and I are getting a chance to throw 2 of our cents in.

While putting together the powerpoints, I also discovered and captured a 4 minute video of my parents talking about love and their relationship. The video was produced on Valentine’s Day of 2008 by Regence Blue Shield of Oregon. I contacted them and they said, of course, I could share the video . . . so, here it is:

The place to click if you want to learn about psychotherapy, counseling, or whatever John SF is thinking about.