Category Archives: Uncategorized

Respecting the Client’s Perspective – Even When We Think We Know Better

There are so many ways we can . . . as therapists . . . subtly (or less so) disrespect our client’s perspective. Here’s a small example from the revision of Clinical Interviewing (5th ed).

Interviewers can negatively judge or disrespect the client’s perspective in many ways. Very recently, I (John) became somewhat preoccupied about convincing a client that she wasn’t really “bipolar.” Despite my good intentions (it seemed to me that the young woman would be better off without the bipolar label), there was something useful or important for the client about holding onto her bipolar identity. Of course, as a “psychological expert” I thought it was ludicrous. I thought it obscured her many personal strengths with a label that diminished her personhood. Therefore, I tried my best to shove my opinion into her belief system. For better or worse, I was unsuccessful.

What’s clear about this example is that, despite our general expertise in mental health matters, as mental health professionals we need to work hard to respect our clients’ worldviews. In recent years practitioners from many theoretical perspectives have become more firm about the need for the expert therapist to take a back seat to the client’s personal lived experience. It’s now more important than ever for interviewers to acknowledge and embrace client expertness. This may be partly due to our increasing awareness (as mental health professionals and advocates) that clients may have very divergent views of themselves and the world.

In the end, who am I to tell my client that she is better off without a bipolar label? What if that label somehow, perhaps even in a twisted way, offers her solace. Perhaps she feels comfort in a label that helps explain her behavior to herself. Perhaps she is not ready—yet—to let go of the bipolar label. Perhaps she never will—and that may be the best outcome.

Whatever their theoretical orientation, effective interviewers respect their client’s personal expertise or perspective. We need that expertise. If the client is unwilling to collaborate with us by sharing her or his expertise and experience, we lose at least some of our potency as helpers.

 Image

John offers his brother-in-law some advice.

In Honor of Swin Cash

     I just saw an advertising on ESPN.com with WNBA player Swin Cash is showing off her strength and power and it reminded me of an old newspaper column I wrote back in 1999 or so. When I wrote it I got a 10 page single-spaced piece of hate mail from a man who evidently hated women. I hope role models like Swin Cash make this sort of topic obsolete. Here’s the old column from the Missoulian newspaper.

Chess for Girls

“America today is a girl destroying place. . . girls are encouraged to sacrifice their true selves” 

                                                                                —  Mary Pipher, Reviving Ophelia                       

I recently learned about a special version of the classic game of chess.  This new chess game is designed especially for girls.  While I was busy irritating my wife by doing that male channel-surfing thing (we get 4 channels) I came across an advertising for a product called: “Chess for Girls.” 

The ad began with a boy and girl playing chess.  The girl made a move and the boy quickly countered, “Checkmate!  What a stupid move!”  The girl whined back, “I hate this game.” 

The ad rolls on.  “Aren’t you girls tired of that boring old-fashioned chess game?  You should try. . . Chess for Girls!” 

Chess for girls is just a bit different than chess for the rest of us.  It uses some of the same playing pieces as regular chess, but also includes Barbie and Ken and is based to a large degree on how fashionably the contestants can dress up their chess pieces and the Barbies.

As the ad ends, the girl wins and the boy slumps away muttering something like, “That’s not real chess.”

Turns out I was watching a Saturday Night Live advertising spoof.  Nevertheless, I got the point and those of you who watch television should get the point too.  Our culture goes the extra mile when it comes to messing with girls’ self-esteem. 

Some friends of mine recently told me that their daughter’s gym teacher scolded her for “running like a girl.”  And the teacher didn’t mean it as a compliment.  My friends went straight down to the school to express their concern.  The gym teacher said “Aw, heck.  I didn’t mean anything by it.  You know, it’s just an old saying.”  Of course, the problem is that the old saying is an insult to girls and women.  No one says “You run like a girl” or “You throw like a girl” or even “You play chess like a girl” and means it as a compliment.

Another group of students (boys and girls) at one of our local high schools were told that the reason girls aren’t as good as boys when it comes to math and the hard sciences is because of hormonally-based male-female brain differences. It’s doubtful that statements like that help girls achieve in those fields.

I know some girls who are joyfully in touch with their power.  Some of them flex their muscles for me when I see them.  They want me to know all about their toughness, swiftness, and agility.  Sometimes they’ll challenge me to an arm wrestling match or to race them across the park–or even to a game of chess.  And they really want to win.  They want to show me their power.  Unfortunately, none of these powerful girls are over 12.  Rarely do any teenage girls I know ever flex their muscles.  Usually, they don’t want me (or anyone else) to know about their power.

We need to teach teenage girls that it’s okay to be strong and powerful and smart.  Too often girls are taught that the only arena in which they should compete is with each other for the attention and approval of males.  Girls need to believe that it’s okay for them to compete fully in sports, math, and life.  They won’t always be victorious, but they should never have second thoughts about giving it their best.

In Reviving Ophelia, Mary Pipher describes common experiences of strong and smart girls:

“Many strong girls have similar stories: They were socially isolated and lonely in adolescence.  Smart girls are often the girls most rejected by peers.  Their strength is a threat and they are punished for being different.  Girls who are unattractive or who don’t worry about their appearance are scorned.”

Our girls need to discover and take pride in who they are–no easy task in the face of the loud and persistent messages they get about who they should be.  Pipher and others have offered tips on how to help our girls embrace their identities and survive to adulthood:

  • Encourage girls to find a safe place to explore who they are and what they value.  Usually this place has to be at home or some other place where they can turn off the television and not be oppressed by prominent cultural messages.
  • Actively point out the injustices and absurdities of the ways women are portrayed in the media.  Help them love themselves and their bodies just as they are.
  • Encourage exercise, sports activities, and solid academic effort as sources of development and pride.  Downplay girl-identities based on boyfriends.
  • Moms:  Model self-confidence and pride in being a woman. 
  • Dads:  Affirm your daughter’s worth as your beloved child and as a wonderful female with much to offer.  Communicate to her that you think girls are great, not because they can be like boys and not because they can dress up real pretty.
  • Help girls learn to say no and set boundaries.  Unfortunately, many girls are so busy worrying about how other people are feeling that they have trouble focusing on their own wants and needs.

I have a dream that I’m playing chess with my daughter.  We’re playing the traditional version of chess (not the Saturday Night Live version).  My king is on the run. . . my daughter’s queen is chasing him down.  She makes her final move and claims her victory.  “CHECKMATE,” she roars with laughter.  I smile.  I’m thinking we both just scored a major victory.

What Happens When You Store Your Gazebo Skeleton Under a Big Willow Tree

For years Rita has been wanting to transform a found six-sided gazebo skeleton into a real-live functioning gazebo. This has resulted in her gathering together six people at various points in time to move the gazebo skeleton from one location to another. Early this June, the bad news happened. Rita’s gazebo skeleton was crushed by a falling piece of a big willow tree.

The other bad news is that now Rita may have to depend on her husband with no particular construction skills to build her a gazebo. This could prove to be problematic because he was wanting to follow the designs of Theordore Reich and build an Orgone Accumulator (this sounds worse than it is).

Insomnia

There are three basic forms of insomnia: (a) initial insomnia (difficulty falling asleep); (b) intermittent insomnia (choppy sleep); and (c) terminal insomnia (early morning awakening).

It’s typical for people to say it’s normal to sleep 8 hours through the night. It’s also typical for people to say things like, “We only use 10% of our brains.”

Since I’m awake and it’s the middle of the night, I’m inclined to wonder if I’m experiencing insomnia. I think the answer to that is “Yes and No.” Insomnia is also characterized by distress or impairment and I’m completely against being distressed about this and will be fine and (relatively) unimpaired tomorrow (but then, who am I to judge my own impairment?). Mostly, I’m against pathologizing the normal experience of occasional sleep disruption or, it might be even more accurate to say I’m against the pathologizing of just about everything. This sort of makes me against the DSM, but that’s not quite right either, as I find it a very interesting resource.

And now, having spent 2.5 hours grading papers and contemplating the internet, I must have overloaded my brain by using its 11th percent . . . and so it’s time to return to the world of sleep . . . a place where Carl Jung claimed to hear the voice of God . . . or something like that.

And . . . thanks to tonight’s insomnia experience and the homeostatic reality of life, I suspect I’ll sleep quite well tomorrow.

A Tradition Like All Others

The big sports event of this past weekend was the Master’s Golf Tournament at Augusta National Golf Course in Augusta, GA. As usual, the hyped advertising slogan included the phrase, “A tradition like no other.” This is especially ironic and basically such a good lie that would make post-modern theorists proud.

In fact, the Master’s is a tradition like nearly all other traditions. It’s run by an all male club that doesn’t allow women to be members and only allowed Blacks membership in 1990. It’s about money and power and exclusivity. According to Wikipedia (I know I’m not elevating my research reputation here), “. . . club co-founder Clifford Roberts is reputed to have said, ‘As long as I’m alive, golfers will be white, and caddies will be black.'”

This year’s Master’s champion got $1,440,000. When Martha Burk tried protesting the tournament in 2004, tournament officials decided to air the entire tournament without commercials. This is just a taste of the money and power linked to these particular links.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like sports. I enjoy golf. I even get excited about watching a bit of the Master’s golf tourney on television. It’s good theater, a beautiful venue, and there are some amazing golfers out there. But it’s a little hard to justify Augusta not allowing women members. . . and I say this not because I think men only and women only organizations shouldn’t exist . . . but because excluding women from something that is so prestigious and so associated with money and power smacks too much of discrimination. When I watch the Master’s I always feel a little dirty. 

And so I’m hoping that one of these years an excellent golfer (think Tiger or Phil) will decide to skip a tourney held at a club that wouldn’t let their daughters, girlfriends, wives, mothers, or grandmothers be members. Somebody besides Martha Burk and this insignificant blogger should take a stand to do the right thing. Please pass this message the next time you bump into a great professional golfer.

Something Different

This is a poem that came to me at about 30K feet. It’s about aging and memory.

If you don’t like poetry or metaphor — it might be good to stop reading here:).

If you like poetry, you might want to read it twice.

 

Another Visitation

One armed men

And withered women

Hold candles where their teeth should be

Wax dripping

Burning

Staining

Carpet that needs replacing

It’s hard to find your way

This way

Because wrinkles

Will not slacken

And carpets

Will not give up the floor

Stubbornly

Refusing to move

As successors greedily lie in wait

Rolled into a consciousness contracting

In a universe expanding

Small orbits

Are especially strong

And wrinkles, old carpets,

Even dimming candlelight

Are intriguingly pleasant

As drops of hot wax

Blister your fingers

Partly because scars

Last longer

Than memories