Category Archives: Personal Reflections

How To Moodle

Grading a Quiz

Although automated quiz grading is awesome, two of your 25 quiz items need manual grading.

Click on item 24 of Student 1, to initiate manual grading.

Scroll everywhere without finding any place to manually enter grade.

Scroll again.

Find link to “manual override”

Click on manual override.

Enter grade.

Look for “save” button.

Notice that the Moodle screen doesn’t quite fit your laptop screen.

Begin muttering.

Plug laptop into larger external screen.

Move visual to larger screen.

Click on “save changes.”

Feel satisfaction from effective Moodle problem-solving.

Notice that nothing happens.

Swear.

Try clicking on next item that needs manual override.

Notice that nothing happens.

Swear again.

Click on item heading (in hopes of accessing ALL ungraded items)

Notice that instead of taking you into the item, Moodle takes you back to the whole list of student quiz scores.

Scroll sideways to re-locate items to grade.

Notice that item 24 for Student 1 IS NOW GRADED!

Smile to yourself at your Moodle success.

Follow identical process to grade item 24 for Student 2.

Notice the process no longer works.

Move to F-word in profanity cache.

Search “How to override an individual quiz item” in Google.

Almost find the right answer.

Try using the almost right answer.

Fail.

Continue with F-bombs, now in close combination with Moodle.

Write email to University IT help, trying not to type F-Moodle as Subject Line.

Wait.

Get tired of waiting.

Try grading again.

Notice that Moodle no longer recognizes you as having grading privileges.

Give yourself grading privileges.

Begin grading again.

Begin wishing you had used crayons to administer and grade quiz.

Step away from Moodle.

Begin an email invoicing Moodle or IT or the Universe for your lost time.

Delete email.

Consider describing your problems with Moodle in your next email to students, because you need to apologize to them for the delay in quiz-grading.

Delete paragraph of email to students where you described all your Moodle problems.

Send email.

Realize that Moodle timed out while you were composing your email, and consequently your email did not send.

Realize (again, because this has happened before) that Moodle has no automatic back-up for emails and consequently you have to re-write what was likely the most eloquent email you’ve ever written.

Recall that you had previously sworn to yourself to never again write a long email in Moodle.

Exercise risk management by stepping away from the computer.

Consider resigning from the University because of continued problems with Moodle, Qualtrics, Box, and repeated difficulties recalling your passwords.

Recognize, through a finely honed capacity for self-awareness and self-reflection, that you need to take a nap before engaging in any rash decision-making.

Take a nap.

Awake refreshed and optimistic.

Consider logging into Moodle.

Procrastinate, hoping Moodle will upgrade itself by the time you’ve finished writing a snarky blog about Moodle.

Post blog.

Goodbye 2020 . . . You’re Nothing but History Now

Happy New Year!

As a method for putting 2020 behind me and focusing on a hopeful 2021, I engaged in some forward thinking (rather unusual for me) and wrote an op-ed piece for the Missoulian newspaper to be published TODAY! Below, I’ve pasted the beginning of the article, along with a link to the whole darn thing in the Missoulian. If you feel so moved, please share and like this. . . and I hope you experience the return of happiness in 2021.

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The Return of Happiness: Your 2021 Guide

Usually a great source of snarky humor, the Urban Dictionary lists its top definition for 2020 as, “The worst year ever.” Sadly, even the Urban Dictionary couldn’t find creative inspiration from the horrors of 2020. Goodbye, 2020; you will not be missed.

. . . for the rest of the article, click below:

Your Weekend Homework: The Return to Happiness

As we approach the end of 2020, many of us are looking forward–like never before in the history of time–to turning that calendar to a new page and a new year. Readers of the Washington Post were recently surveyed and wrote, 2020 has been exhausting, relentless, and heartbreaking. Let’s put 2020 behind us and never look back (other than to remind ourselves of mistakes we shouldn’t make again).

In honor of turning the calendar to 2021, I’m working on an Op-Ed piece titled “The Return to Happiness.” The point of the piece is to acknowledge how good it is to move on, but also discuss the nature of New Year’s resolutions and how to make resolutions that have a reasonable chance of being accomplished. In the end, I’ll be making a pitch for everyone to sign up for my University of Montana course “The Art & Science of Happiness.” Well, not everyone, but anyone who wants to have a cool online “university” experience that provides an opportunity to test out the best, evidence-based, approaches to happiness on planet earth.

The course starts in January, and, for the first time ever, will be offered to “community” participants as a non-credit experience. This means EVERYONE can sign up. The catch is that it costs $150. But if you do the math, that’s only $10/week or about $3.50 an hour to discuss, learn, experiment with, and establish new happiness habits for 2021.

Here’s a description of the course:

Over the past 20 years, research on happiness has flourished. Due to the natural interest that most Americans have for happiness, research findings (and unfounded rumors) have been distributed worldwide. Every day, happiness is promoted via online blogs, newspaper and magazine articles, Twitter posts, Instagram videos, TikTok, and through many other media and social media venues. Ironically, instead of increases in national happiness, most epidemiological research indicates that all across the U.S., children, adolescents, adults, and seniors are experiencing less happiness, more depression, and higher suicide rates. To help sort out scientific reality from unsubstantiated rumors, in this course, we will describe, discuss, and experience the art and science of happiness. We will define happiness, read a popular happiness book, examine scientific research studies, try out research experiments in class, engage in extended happiness lab assignments, and use published instruments to measure our own happiness and well-being. Overall, we will focus on how happiness and well-being are manifest in the physical, cognitive, emotional, interpersonal, spiritual/cultural, behavioral, and contextual dimensions of our lives.

Other things to know: If you take the course as a community, non-credit, participant, you won’t take the quizzes, or get graded, and assignments will be optional. However, you will be asked to participate in small group lab sessions designed to give you (and others) a chance to talk and listen to each other as you experience and experiment with specific happiness assignments.

If you’re interested, you can register at this link: https://www.campusce.net/umextended/course/course.aspx?C=627&pc=13&mc=&sc

If you know friends who could use a happiness boost for 2021, share this post with them. And if you’ve got questions, you know where to find me.

Have a fantastic weekend.

Dear Karen: I have a professional and personal responsibility to speak out against Unacceptable behaviors

Last week I received a comment on this blog. Getting a comment is always very exciting, partly because I don’t get all that many and partly because the comments are usually positive and affirming. In this case the comment was neither positive nor affirming.

Although getting critical comments isn’t nearly as fun and ego-boosting as affirming comments, receiving criticism is important to self-examination and growth. The person who commented last Thursday was upset about my “politics.” As many of you know, I’ve occasionally written about Mr. Trump and lamented his behavior. Sometimes, I’ve felt nervous posting critiques of Mr. Trump, worrying that I may have been behaving in ways that were less that professional and worrying that perhaps I shouldn’t openly express my negative opinions about his behavior. However, in the end, I’ve often ended up deciding that my critiques of Mr. Trump aren’t really about politics anyway.

Digesting Thursday’s comment has helped me clarify my position on political commentary. Here’s a version of what I wrote back to my blog commenter.

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Dear Karen,

Thanks for your message.

Many years ago when I interviewed Natalie Rogers, I recall her telling me something very compelling about her father, Carl Rogers. She said, in her family, all feelings were accepted, but not all behaviors.

Although some of my judgments about Mr. Trump have political components, most of my judgments about him focus on his personality and behavior. Politics aside, I wouldn’t care if he was a democrat, an independent, a republican, a corporate mogul, a teacher, a coach, or a rock star. I find his behavior to be an unacceptable example for children. From my perspective it’s clear that Mr. Trump is much more focused on using and abusing power than he is on empowering others. To return to Carl Rogers: Rogers believed the best use of power was to empower others. My perception of Mr. Trump is that he’s invested in accumulating power, and not on empowering others.

I could make a list of video evidence of Mr. Trump mocking disabled people, calling women “fat pigs,” disrespecting war veterans (including John McCain, whom I’ve never written a negative judgmental word about, despite his politics), paying off prostitutes, saying positive and supportive things about dictators and racists, and his continuous flow of lies. If Mr. Trump was my neighbor or a colleague at my University, it would be wrong for me to let his behavior pass without making it clear that I find his behaviors to be a potentially destructive and negative influence on children in the neighborhood or the culture at the University. Not only do I have a responsibility to be non-judgmentally accepting in therapeutic contexts, I also have a responsibility to speak up and speak out against racism and the promotion of violence. I believe there’s ample evidence that Mr. Trump has promoted racism and incited violence. My rejection of those behaviors isn’t particularly political; I simply believe that it’s morally wrong to promote racism and foment violence.

I can see we have different views of Mr. Trump. You may not see the evidence that I see, or you may find his behaviors less offensive and less dangerous. Although it’s challenging for me to understand your perspective, I know you’re not alone, and I know you must have reasons for believing the ways you believe. I can accept that.

But to articulate my perspective further, here’s a therapy example. If I was working with a client who exhibited no empathy or said things to others that were likely to incite violence, as a psychotherapist, I would work toward a greater understanding of the client’s emotions. In addition, I would consider it my professional responsibility to question those behaviors . . . for both the good of the client and the good of people in the client’s world.

Again, thanks for your message. It’s important to hear other perspectives and to have a chance to question myself and my own motives. I appreciate you providing me with that opportunity.

Happy Sunday,

John SF

In This Sacred Hour . . .

Yesterday, for Halloween, I dressed up as agitation. I wasn’t alone. Everywhere I went, everyone I saw, and around every corner, I encountered agitation. Maybe it was herd mentality. But no one developed immunity.

This too shall pass, and it did. Last night I took a deep breath and exhaled, slowly. And then like all the best Yogis, I lingered on the outbreath. My costume, all the layers of agitation, melted away onto the floor, into the carpet, down through the flooring, seeping back to the earth where agitation can rest.

Today is my favorite day; a day to throw myself into the gift of an extra, socially constructed, sacred hour. In stark contrast to all my previous years on the planet, today I plan to stay here—in this sacred hour—all day.

Having fallen back, no matter how long in coming, this particular hour arrives with surprise. What shall I do in this dark hour before dawn? Shall I spend it now, or wait and spend it with Rita on a walk up the river. Which hour of this 24 will be my sacred, extravagant, unexpected hour?

Every year, I’ve rushed into this gift. Anticipating its disappearance even before it appears, I’ve tried squeezing enough productivity into one arbitrary hour to compensate for my perpetual time management problems. But this is a new year, a new day, and a new hour, and, after shedding my agitation costume, I now see peace. It’s a bumpy peace, much like the washboard road to East Rosebud Lake. We may get rattled, but we shall arrive.

What I’d never discerned before is that the sacred hour is an illusion. Like many things, the sacred hour was created out of nothing but time for someone’s convenience and instead of recognizing its nothingness, I’ve tried to grab it, wrestle it to the ground, and suck out its imaginary nutrients. Year after year, I’ve mulled its significance and then experienced angst over how to spend it. As I do with Mary Oliver’s query, “Tell me, what is it you plan to do. With your one wild and precious life?” I’ve demurred. The question is too big. Everything will eventually vanish, and if I choose one thing I’ll be left with only one companion: my own judgmental vengeance.

Peaceful, deep breathing is almost always about the outbreath. Fancy meditators and Yoga practitioners coach us to pace our breathing, and then to extend the outbreath into the place of no-breath. Oddly, the place of no-breath is the place of life and peace, if only for snippets at a time. While being still, without breathing, for a second or three or six before the in-breath comes again, the body’s physiology slows down, nearly halting in parasympathetic bliss. In the sacred space of the outbreath, peace happens in the body, and when peace happens in the body it can—with practice—transfer little seedlings of peace to the mind. The common admonishment, “Remember to breathe” is less profound than its uncommon sister: “Remember to not breathe.” Remember to let yourself extend your peace for a bit longer than usual today. Remember to be with peace tomorrow. Especially, remember to mingle with peace on Tuesday. You know why.

Today’s brief illumination is that there’s nothing special and nothing especially sacred about this extra hour. But also, like all hours, there’s everything special and sacred about this extra hour. It’s just another hour that, along with its pesky minutes and seconds, was simply created for the convenience of counting.  

I’ll probably forget all this by Tuesday, but for today, I see every hour is a collaborative creation. Every hour we get to return to the beginning, resetting our intentions, and refocusing on the mystery of what is and what might be.  

Tuesday, Wednesday, and beyond will bring as many sacred hours as we can count. How shall we spend those hours? For me, I hope we can collectively linger with our outbreaths on Tuesday as we begin, together and again, to build peace, reclaim justice, embrace empathy, and restore democracy . . . one bumpy and sacred hour at a time.

My Birthday Wish (and Request)

Yesterday, in anticipation of my 63rd trip around the sun, I started feeling a slow creep of melancholia. At my age, because all movements are slower than frozen molasses, I now have the luxury of spotting doom early on, as its ambling my way. Last night’s gloominess was mostly about aging, but amplified by my nightly dose of watching the evening news. As usual, the news inevitably featured Donald J. Trump being Donald J. Trump, and saying things that can’t—without the aid of a delusional disorder—be framed as anything other than mean, nasty, and dangerous. After yet again witnessing Mr. Trump’s malevolence, I turned to Rita and murmured, “I think he might be evil.”

As soon as the word evil escaped my mouth, I immediately thought of Carl Rogers. Rogers was an amazing American psychologist who, from the 1930s to the 1960s, developed a profoundly empathic way of working with people. Rogers was raised in a rigid fundamental conservative Christian family. He wasn’t allowed to dance or play cards. During college, at age 20 (the year was 1922), Rogers took a sharp ideological left turn while on a slow boat to China. He stepped away from his fundamentalist roots, and began embracing a broad and encompassing belief in the goodness of all people. Rogers stepped so far away from judgmentalism, and believed so deeply and persistently in the innate goodness of all humans, that many philosophers and psychologists in the 1950s and 1960s (like Rollo May and Martin Buber), viewed Rogers as dangerously naïve.

After realizing back in the 20th century that I would never be “Like Mike” (Michael Jordan), I started fancying myself as being like Carl Rogers instead. The match seemed perfect. Just like Rogers, I believe in everyone’s positive potential. Also like Rogers, I don’t really believe in evil. However, after four years of listening to someone with immense power mock the disabled, disparage the military, demean women, remorselessly lock migrant children in cages, stoke hate, division, and conspiracies, and threaten to blow up our democratic process . . . I’ve begun reconsidering my naïve Rogerian perspective on evil. Last night’s news snippet included Mr. Trump’s continued attack on the Michigan governor. As far as I can tell, the only times Mr. Trump manages to use his words to show empathy is when he’s reading—rather haltingly—off of a teleprompter.

Rogers might blanch at my judgment of Trump, but I think not. He wrote a book “On Personal Power” and his bottom line was that you should give it away. And when I interviewed his daughter, Natalie Rogers, in 2006, she made it clear that her dad was in favor of accepting and prizing all human feelings, but that he could be quite firm when people (and his children) behaved in unacceptable ways. I’m pretty sure that Carl Rogers, one of the most profoundly influential psychologists of all time, would be horrified by Mr. Trump’s behavior, and he would use his power to bring back civility, decency, and empathy.

A couple years ago I had the honor of meeting Joe Biden, face-to-face. He greeted me with flourish and enthusiasm. He oozed empathy, compassion, kindness, and a commitment to service. He spoke and acted without a whiff of arrogance. I’m convinced that he’s the sort of person who will use his power for good.

Here’s my birthday wish (and request). Instead of sending me all the lavish gifts you had planned to send me, just go out and spread the word that decency, empathy, respect, kindness, and love are making a HUGE comeback. And if you know someone whom you think isn’t voting, consider this: reach out with respect and kindness and ask them to vote for Joe Biden. That would be amazing . . . a little frosting on my birthday wish.

Thanks for reading this and for helping make my birthday wish come true.

My Cache of Unprofessional Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories Videos

In a surprising turn of events, this semester, I’ve decided to make a series of unprofessional theories videos to accompany my counseling and psychotherapy theories course (and text). When I say surprising, I mean surprising in that I’m surprised about feeling open to spontaneously video recording myself and making it available via YouTube. Could it be that as I grow older, I care less about how I look and sound, and care more about showing myself openly to others as an imperfect being who’s just trying to offer up something that might be educational? Alternatively, maybe I just caught the narcissistically-leaning, reality television, constantly-make-videos-of-myself, YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok, virus that’s infecting so many people. We may never know.

And I say unprofessional because I’m filming these all by myself, not using a script, and making side comments and using props that might involve embarrassing myself as I talk about counseling and psychotherapy theories. One form of these unprofessional videos includes me doing “dramatic readings” and commentary from the works of Freud, Adler, and other original theories thinkers and writers. Although I intended these readings to be dramatic, I can see how they also might just be dull.

With my explanations and caveats out of the way, here are the offerings, thus far, for this semester.

Week 1 – An Intro to Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories

Hypnosis for Warts: A Story – https://youtu.be/9FR4PyTcsKw

Psychotherapy Math – https://youtu.be/ZqMW0SNekY0

Week 2 – Psychoanalytic Approaches

Freud Dramatic Reading – https://youtu.be/L-fkveRk7B0

Week 3 – Individual Psychology and Adlerian Therapy

Adler Dramatic Reading, Take 1 – https://youtu.be/_sVysgm1UiY

Adler Dramatic Reading, Take 2 – https://youtu.be/xCQd6i_CWAI

Week 4 – Existential Theory and Therapy . . . coming soon!

Although this post focuses on my unprofessional videos, that doesn’t mean I’ve completely stopped behaving professionally. For example, recently, I was a guest on the podcast, “A New Angle” hosted by Justin Angle and Bryce Ward (both of the University of Montana College of Business). In this podcast, we talk about COVID, suicide in Montana, happiness, and why the College of Business supports the teaching “Essential” interpersonal and psychological skills. It’s a pretty cool (and professional) podcast, even if I do say so myself. You can find “A New Angle” on Apple Podcasts at:

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/i-i-happiness-with-john-sommers-flanagan/id1336642173

Or at: anewanglepodcast.com

I hope you’re all having a great run-up to the weekend.

Understanding Suicide – A Video/Podcast Interview with Paula Fontenelle

The word suicide, all by itself and regardless of context, can elicit anxiety, grief, anger, and other raw emotions. One of my goals as a mental health professional, is to advocate for open discussions of suicide. Why? Because I want to actively role model how facing, embracing, and discussing suicide directly can shrink the threatening nature of the word—and also shrink the anxiety, grief, and anger that people feel when they hear the word.

Just yesterday, Paula Fontenelle, author of “Understanding Suicide” (see Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Suicide-Living-loss-prevention/dp/1691504831), posted a podcast and video of her and I discussing suicide. As always, when I look at and listen to myself, I feel a bit shy about sharing this. The mirror (or video recording) is never as flattering as I wish it to be. However, I love that Paula is so dedicated to this topic and that she was willing to have me as a guest on the 1st anniversary and 40th episode of her show.

You can access a video of the show here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RDmY8kgf6Zc

You can access the audio (podcast) of the show here: https://bit.ly/3muZ2eD

If you want to know more about Paula and her interests and expertise, you can link to her in all of the methods listed below:

WebsitePodcast | YouTube | LinkedIn | Facebook | Instagram

Thanks for reading, listening, and watching. I wish you all the best this weekend and beyond!

John

Counseling Theories — Week One — Hypnosis for Warts

Theories III Photo

Being holed up in our passive solar Absarokee house made an interesting venue for blasting off this semester’s University of Montana Counseling Theories class. I’m mentioning passive solar not to brag (although Rita did design an awesome set-up for keeping us warm in the winter and cool in the summer using south-facing windows and thermal mass), but to give you a glimpse of our temperature-related passivity: we have no working parts (as in air conditioning). And I’m mentioning holed up because we’re in a stage 1 air pollution alert from California smoke and consequently weren’t able to use our usual manual air conditioning system (opening up the windows in the night to cool off the house). Our need to keep the windows shut created a warmer than typical room temperature and, based on my post-lecture assessment of the armpits of my bright yellow shirt, yesterday just might have been my sweatiest class since 1988, when I was teaching at the University of Portland, and started sweating so much during an Intro Psych class that my glasses fogged up. In case you didn’t already know this about me, I’m an excellent sweater. You haven’t seen sweat until you’ve seen my sweat. Top-notch. The sort of sweating most people only dream about. I’d rate myself a sweating 10.

Aside from my sweating—which I’m guessing you’ve had enough of at this point—the students were pretty darn fantastic. Attendance was virtually perfect, which, given that everything was virtual, exceeded my expectations.

Speaking of expectations, because I’m teaching online via Zoom, one thing I’m adding to the course are a few pre-recorded videos. Yesterday’s pre-recorded video featured me telling my famous “Hypnosis for Warts” story. My goal with the pre-recorded video—aside from letting my students see me and my yellow shirt in a less sweaty condition—was to break up the powerpoints. I could have told the story live, but instead, I clicked out of the powerpoints, told my students we were going to watch a video, and then showed a video of myself . . . telling a story I could have been telling live. I thought I was hilarious. However, mostly, the sea of 55 Hollywood Squares faces just stared into the sea of virtual reality, and so I couldn’t see whether the students appreciated my pre-recorded video of myself teaching strategy. I know I’ve got too many “seas” in that preceding sentence, but redundancy happens. Really, it does. I’m totally serious about redundancy.

Back to expectations . . .

One of Michael Lambert’s four common factors in counseling and psychotherapy is expectancy. He estimated that, in general, expectation accounts for about 15% of the variation in treatment outcomes. But, of course, treatment outcomes are always contextual and always variable and always unique, and so, as in the case of “Hypnosis for Warts,” sometimes the outcome may be a product of a different combination or proportion of therapeutic ingredients. If you watch the video, consider these questions:

  • What do you think “happened” in the counseling office with the 11-year-old boy to cause his eight warts to disappear?
  • Do you think the therapeutic ingredients that helped the boy get rid of his warts were limited to Lambert’s extratherapeutic factors, relationship factors, technical factors, and expectancy factors (his four big common factors) . . . or might something else completely different have been operating?
  • What proportion of factors do you suppose contributed to the positive outcome? For example, might there have been 50% expectancy, instead of 15%?

Here’s the video link to the Wart story: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FR4PyTcsKw

That’s about all I’ve got to share for today. However, if you happen to know of some nice 1-5 minute theories-related video clips that I can share with my students, please pass them on. I’d be especially interested if you happen to have video clips of me, but relevant videos of other people would be nice too. Haha. Just joking. Please DON’T send video clips of me. My students and I—we already have far too much of the JSF video scene.

Be well,

John SF

Suicide Education Resources . . . and Why is it so Easy to Experience Imposter Syndrome?