Tag Archives: magic

Continuing the Trapper Creek Job Corps Magic

The RoadLast night’s (6/19/2019) news that Trapper Creek and the other Civilian Conservation Corps Job Corps will stay open is good news for everyone. Cutting Trapper Creek would have made little sense. Job Corps builds on common sense and conservative principles: Young Americans experiencing poverty need what Job Corps offers, “A hand up, not a hand-out.”

For 11 years I dodged deer and Bitterroot drivers on the 140 mile round trip from Missoula to work as a mental health consultant at Trapper Creek. From the moment I started back in 2003, I was hooked on Job Corps. I got hooked the same way most Job Corps employees get hooked. Helping young people turn their lives around is deeply fulfilling. I’m thrilled that the Trapper Creek magic will continue.

At Trapper, many students told me grim stories of their lives before Job Corps. These stories included school failure, chronic delinquency, gang and family violence, residential treatment, alcoholic black-outs, psychiatric hospitalization, foster care, parental suicides, and desperation so disturbing that teenagers regularly talked of putting the barrel of a gun into their mouths or a bottle of pills into their stomachs.

Trapper Creek magic often worked quickly. Students who came in on heavy doses of psychiatric medications were often medication-free in 3-6 months. Somehow, three meals a day, a safe place to live, being around adults who set limits and provided encouragement, opportunities for education, vocational training, and recreational pursuits accomplished the unlikely: mental disorders simply went away.

In one (of many) cases I treated a young man whose nightmares of a violent past were keeping him up at night. He showed up. We got to work. After 10 minutes, I stopped and asked him to reflect on his experience.

He turned his head back and forth and said, “My neck doesn’t hurt anymore.”

Then he grinned, “I feel like I can breathe again.”

And then, “I wish I’d known about this ten years ago.”

My favorite Job Corps scene was at an evening recreation event. I invited two counseling interns to stay late and attend “Trapper-Idol.” A man named “Fergie,” the recreation director, organized a talent show like you’ve never seen.

A short, stocky blonde girl stepped up to the microphone. She squeaked through a solo singing performance. She was completely vulnerable. My interns and I ached with anxiety for her. But we didn’t understand how Trapper-Idol worked. As she finished, the crowd of about 50 Job Corps students leapt to their feet, shouting and clapping in support. She bowed, walking off the stage to a series of hugs and high-fives.

On the drive home my interns and I couldn’t stop replaying the event. None of the performers had much talent, but they stepped up, performed, and were greeted with enthusiastic acceptance. We marveled at the therapeutic magic. These young people—young people who were never cool in school—got to have a health experience of social support and acceptance.

The Trapper-Idol experience is a microcosm of Trapper Creek magic. Students don’t have to be perfect—and they aren’t. What they have to do is show up, stand up, face their doubts, manage their behavior, and get to work.

I’m ecstatic that Trapper Creek didn’t die a cruel bureaucratic death. I’m happy for the community and for the Trapper employees. But mostly, I’m thrilled for the current and future students. Trapper Creek isn’t perfect, but for many students who have experienced poverty, it’s a balm of opportunity . . . and it’s one of the ways we can invest our tax dollars in America’s future.

Now I’m hoping for more Trapper Creek magic for decades to come.

The Seven Secret Steps to Filling out a Perfect March Madness Bracket

IMG-4487

All this depends on how you define the words “Secret” and “Perfect.” Don’t let linguistic precision interfere with what your heart really wants. You’ve never considered these seven steps yourself, and I’m confident that doing this will help you feel blissfully perfect, albeit briefly, in our palpably imperfect world.

Step 1: Find your special magic hat. Wear your hat around the house or office for at least 10 minutes. Doing this will sync the hat with your brainwaves. Ideally, while wearing your special magic hat, you will read an article or two that includes statistical guidance on how to make great March Madness picks. Even if you don’t understand the articles, your magic hat will absorb the pertinent knowledge through a process that I’m not authorized to share.

Step 2: Find a friend or two who would like to participate with you. You may need to offer food, drinks, or money. Encourage them to wear their own special magic hat. Don’t let them wear yours. Everyone sometimes needs to set limits.

Step 3: Create a bunch of cards or slips of paper with the names of all 64 teams. Even though upsets are fun and feel good, honor reality by creating more slips of paper with the favored team names than the underdogs. For example, put in more little slips of paper with the name “Duke” than “Abilene Christian.” Also, when deciding who’s favored, go with the Vegas odds-makers. Unlike the NCAA selection committee, the Vegas odds-makers actually pay attention to which teams are better; in contrast, the NCAA committee, Ken Pomernutz, ESPN’s “Bogus Power Index” (BPI), Joe Lunaticardi, and other people interested in power, control, and attention, put more emphasis on who they thought was good before the season started, and who won games way back in November and December. Although their information might be helpful, it’s more outdated than Vegas.

Step 4: Take off your special magic hat. You might want to simultaneously bow and say your favorite Harry Potter incantation; or you can just blow on the hat like you might blow on dice. Belching on the hat will not help. Don’t do that. Don’t even think of doing that. Then, put all the small cards or slips of paper into the hat. This is a good time, if you haven’t already started, to have a drink of your favorite beverage . . . but not too many drinks of said beverage. Sit still for a few minutes with your hat filled with team names, your best friend(s) filled with joy and anticipation, your favorite glass or mug filled with your favorite beverage, and a blank copy of the March Madness brackets. This scene is essential for creating magic, miracles, madness, and the right moment. Believe me.

IMG-4490

Step 5: Begin drawing team names out of the hat. Let’s say you shout out the words, “Mona Lisa!” and reach in and pick Cincinnati. If that happens, you write Cincinnati down as beating Iowa in the first round. You should feel good about that pick since Cincinnati will be playing Iowa in Columbus, Ohio . . . sort of like a Bearcat home game, which is why you should have more “Cincinnati’s” in the hat than “Iowas.” Feel that goodness, and then put the “Cincinnati” slip to the side. When (or if) you happen to pick Iowa later, just put it aside in a separate loser pile, because you won’t need it until you put all the slips back in the hat for selecting your next bracket. Now, suppose you pick Iona before you pick North Carolina. That’s okay. Write down Iona. You need to trust me, trust the process, and trust the magic. Just remember what happened to Virginia last year. If you knew these seven steps back then, you could have gotten that pick right and you’d already be living in paradise by now.

Step 6: Continue this process until you’ve selected all 32 first round winners. If you pick any additional Cincinnati slips (or more than one of any team), just put them aside. Then, after round one ends, put all the extra “winner” slips back into the hat to start round two, while keeping any the first round “loser” slips in a separate pile outside of the magic hat. Don’t let those losers touch the magic hat (until later). Losers don’t have any magic. Don’t be a loser.

Step 7: Use the same procedure to complete round two, the sweet sixteen, the elite eight, the final four, and the national championship. Get behind the process. Say nice things to the hat. Welcome and cheer whichever slips (teams) get picked. Feel free to trash talk with your friends. Soon, everyone will be jealous of you. Don’t let that go to your head. Remember that magic likes big, beautiful hearts, not big egos

Once you’ve filled out your first bracket, put all the slips of paper back in the hat (even the losers) . . . and repeat this procedure until you’ve filled out as many brackets as you want.

If this procedure doesn’t work, clearly, you’ve done something wrong. Although I feel sad that you’re a loser who couldn’t even manage to get this magic hat thing right the first time, you shouldn’t feel bad. Also, do not contact me for a refund, especially since I just gave you the secrets of filling out a perfect March Madness bracket for free.

IMG-4491

If you don’t get a perfect bracket this time, maybe you can fix your mistakes and do the Magic Hat procedure right next year.

Good luck with that.

The Birth of My New Secret Magic Unprofessional Blog

John Rap

People sometimes say, “Rules are made to be broken.”

I always say, “That’s just ridiculous. Rules were made to be followed.”

But every yang has a yin and it’s come time for me to let a little of my rule-breaking yin out.

As you know, I have this (Dr. John Sommers-Flanagan) professional blog. It’s serious, with a side of irreverence. But despite my irrepressible irreverence, being narrowly professional left me feeling like an academic in a tweed jacket. As an example, I felt compelled to avoid politics and profanity. I began realizing that this professional blog was too much yang.

So I invented a yin-flavored unprofessional blog. In my unprofessional blog I speak more freely about politics and personal experiences. It’s also a secret blog, and I use a mysterious yin alias, so that helps.

In this professional blog (the one you’re reading now), I avoid particular words, especially words like “secret” or “magic.” I avoid these words because magic is fake, and my professional self thinks that whenever writers use “secret,” it means they’re marketing something. It’s like unveiling the “secret rules to happiness.” The rules aren’t really secret and they won’t bring you happiness, but the words work to sell books and get likes on Facebook and Twitter. I also avoid words that don’t fit with my scientific, academic persona. That means I don’t use words like countless or tireless, because they’re just stupid words; nothing is countless and no one is tireless.

The inaugural post of my new Secret Magic Unprofessional Blog is about gun safety. It’s unprofessional, so don’t click on this link unless you want to read my thoughts on the social and political issue of gun violence and gun safety. Here’s the link:https://mysecretmagic.com/

Okay, I know, gun safety isn’t even controversial and my Pathetic Open Letter to the NRA is political like oatmeal is political. That’s because gun safety is all about professional issues related to suicide, mental health, and child safety. Okay, so I use the F-word and called a certain politician a dip-shit, but that’s just me tossing in some unprofessional language to make a point about what’s right and good and I know you know that making a point about what’s right and good isn’t really much political.

If you enjoy my Secret Magic Unprofessional Blog, please LIKE it and FOLLOW it and share it NOW and OFTEN: https://mysecretmagic.com/. As is the case with most bloggers, my purpose isn’t to become rich and famous. Instead, I’m all about exercising my freedom of expression, while irrationally hoping that someone on the planet might hear my voice and experience learning or pleasure or meaning or inspiration or solidarity. Now that would be magic.

https://mysecretmagic.com/

Reflections on Magic

I have a former graduate student (you know who you are) who always talks about using magic. If she wants something to work out a certain way, she simply “casts a spell” to make things right. Of course, like most of us, she expertly avoids paying attention to evidence refuting her magical abilities, while studiously attending to moments when it appears her spells have somehow affected reality.

This was all in good fun. We were driving many miles back and forth to an internship site at Trapper Creek and in some ways her spells were designed to counter my tendency to construct a firm deterministic viewpoint. Although I agree there are many mysteries in life and that there’s likely room for magic, I get quickly impatient with too many attributions about magic, miracles, past lives, and sinister ghosts in the halls of the female dorm at Trapper Creek Job Corps.

Despite my general avoidance of magical thinking, I find myself very intrigued with this old quotation of Freud’s that Steven de Shazer turned into a book title:

“Words were originally magic and to this day words have retained much of their ancient magical power. By words one person can make another blissfully happy or drive him [or her] to despair . . . . Words provoke affects and are in general the means of mutual influence among men [or women].”

I do think words have powerful influence . . . but it’s equally true that what we don’t say—the nonverbal, and listening in particular—can be just as magical. All this is a way of introducing the following excerpt soon be published in the 2nd edition of our Counseling and Psychotherapy Theories in Context and Practice textbook as food for thought this Monday morning. Here it is:

The Magic of Person-Centered Listening

Person-centered listening isn’t in vogue in the United States. It might be that most of us are too busy tweeting and expressing ourselves to dedicate time and space to person-centered listening. The unpopularity of person-centered approaches also might be related to the prominent “quick fix” attitude toward mental health problems. And so, call us old-fashioned, but we think that if you haven’t learned to do person-centered listening, you’re missing something big.

Years ago, when John was deep into the “Carl Rogers” stage of his development, he decided to create a person-centered video recording to demonstrate the approach. He recruited a volunteer from an introductory psychology course, obtained informed consent, set up a time and a place, welcomed a young woman into the room, and started listening.

Lucky for John, the woman was a talker. It’s much harder to get the magic to happen with nonverbal introductory psychology students.

It wasn’t long into the session when John attempted a short summary of what the woman had said. He felt self-conscious and inarticulate, but was genuinely trying to do the person-centered listening thing: He was paraphrasing, reflecting feelings, summarizing, walking within, and doing all he could to be present in the room and make contact or connect with the “client.” After his rambling summary, there was an awkward silence. John remained silent, trusting that the client knew where to go next. And she did. She cut through the awkwardness with a disclosure of having been sexually molested as a child. John continued listening non-directively as the woman told her story, shed a few tears, and spoke powerfully about her journey toward building inner strength.

The demonstration recording was a huge success . . . except for the fact that the audio was terrible. To hear the powerful disclosure and share in the magic of person-centered process, John had to force his class of 15 graduate students to gather within three feet of the television in perfect silence . . . which was also rather awkward.

The lesson of person-centered listening is that sometimes when you put it all together the client can take you places you never knew existed. There are many things about our clients that we’ll never know unless and until we listen empathically, communicate genuinely, and experience respect for the other person with our heart and soul. As Rogers (1961) said, “. . . the client knows what hurts. . .” and so it’s up to us—as therapists—to provide an environment where clients can articulate their pain and re-activate their actualizing tendency.