Tag Archives: Montana

The Missoula CASA Keynote

There are a number of problems associated with being asked to do a keynote speech for a local non-profit. Maybe this is all just me, but the pressure feels very big. Keynotes are supposed to be informative and inspiring and funny. Right? Well, to be perfectly honest, although I love to think of myself as able to be informative, inspiring, and funny, to actually have expectations to be informative, inspiring, and funny is miserable. That might be why, 15 minutes before stepping up to the microphone at the Doubletree banquet room in Missoula, I had a case of the complete BLANK MIND. I seriously had no idea what I had planned to say. Two days before the event I was sure I could memorize my 25 minute speech. Now, I looked at my notebook and words were there, but they seemed stupid and boring and not funny and I couldn’t help but wonder, “Who wrote this crap?” I suppose that’s an example of an unfriendly dissociation.

To top all that off, every speaker who offered introductions and who spoke before me was smooth and articulate . . . and I had decided to drink a cup of herbal tea which led to my bladder was telling me that I HAD to get to the bathroom right away. But I wasn’t sure how long I had before being called up as the highly acclaimed keynote speaker whose name was in big bold letters on the program. Mostly, I felt like crawling under the Crowley and Fleck sponsored keynote table or escaping to the bathroom. Neither of these options seemed realistic.

So I told my bladder to wait its turn and listened to Eden Atwood sing along with a group of fabulously talented and cute young girls. A man at the front table started crying. That’s what happens when you’re at an event celebrating and funding an organization that works with abused and neglected children. It was around then that Eden Atwood and her group (called the MOB) distracted me from my anxiety, calmed me out of my dissociative episode, and inspired me to go ahead and sing and dance around the stage as part of the ending of my keynote.

Just in case you missed it, the whole darn event was awesome. The best part was to be right in the middle of the generosity of so many people who help make Missoula a better and healthier and safer place.

And just in case you’re interested, I managed to deliver most my planned speech and people laughed and afterward offered big compliments. But I’m not certain how well I stuck to the script because at some point I remember saying “Of course, I’m lying about that” which I followed with, “But I understand that lying is popular right now.” I also recall, after one particular non-sequitur, saying something about the fact that because I was a university professor, I could say whatever I wanted and didn’t really have to make any logical sense. None of these comments were in the transcript to my speech. Obviously, I went way off script.

It might be surprising, but my plan to start singing and dancing actually was in the script. However, partway through the song my blank mind returned and I forgot the lyrics. The good news is that I’m fairly sure that everyone, including me, was greatly relieved when I stopped singing.

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The Sweet Spot of Self-Control

The Sweet Spot of Self Control (and Anger Management)

The speedometer reads 82 miles per hour. The numbers 8 and 2, represent, to me, a reasonable speed on I-90 in the middle of Montana. Our new (and unnecessary) speed limit signs read eight-zero. So technically, I’m breaking the law by two miles per hour. But the nearest car is a quarter mile away. The road is straight. Having ingested an optimal dose of caffeine, my attention is focused.

Slowly, a car creeps up from behind. He has his cruise control set at 83 mph. He lingers beside me and edges ahead. Then, with only three car lengths between us, he puts on his blinker and pulls in front of me. Now, with no other cars in sight, there’s just me and Mr. 83 mph on I-90, three car lengths apart.

An emotion rises into awareness. It’s almost anger. But nope, it not anger, it’s anger’s close cousin, annoyance. I feel it in my psyche and immediately know it can go in one of three directions: It could sit there and remain itself, until I tire of it; if I feed it, it could rise up and blossom into full-blown anger; or, I can send it away, leaving room for other thoughts and actions.

This is fabulous. This is the Sweet Spot of Self-Control.

Anger is lurking there, I know. I see it peeking over the shoulder of its cousin. “Hello anger,” I say.

In this sweet spot, I experience expanding awareness, a pinch of energy, along with an unfolding of possibilities. I love this place. I love the feelings of strength and power. I also recognize anger’s best buddy, the behavioral impulse. This particular impulse (they vary of course), is itching for me to reset my cruise control to 84 mph.  It’s coming to me in the shape of a desire—a desire to send the driver in front of me a clear message.

“You should cut him off,” the impulse says, “and let him know he should get a clue and give you some space.”

The sweet spot is sweet because it includes the empowered choice to say “No thanks” to the impulse and “See you later” to anger.

Now I’m listening to a different voice in my head. It’s smaller, softer, steadier. “It doesn’t matter” the voice whispers. “Let him creep ahead. Revenge only satisfies briefly.”

I feel a smile on my face as I remember an anger management workshop. With confidence, I had said to the young men in attendance, “No other emotion shifts as quickly as anger. You can go from feeling completely justified and vindicated, but as soon as you act, you can feel overwhelmed with shame and regret.”

A man raised his hand, “Lust” he said. “Lust is just like anger. One second you want it more than anything, but the next second you wish you hadn’t.”

“Maybe so,” I said. “Maybe so.”

There are many rational reasons why acting on aggressive behavioral impulses is ill-advised. Maybe the biggest is that the man in the car wouldn’t understand my effort to communicate with him. This gap of understanding is common across many efforts to communicate. But it’s especially linked to retaliatory or revenge-filled impulses. When angry, I can’t provide nuance in my communication and make it constructive.

The quiet voice in my brain murmurs: “You’re no victim to your impulses. You drive the car; the car doesn’t drive you.” That doesn’t make much sense. Sometimes the voice in my head speaks in analogy and metaphor. It’s a common problem. I want straight talk, but instead I get some silly metaphor from my elitist and intellectual conscience.

But I do get it and here’s what I get. I get that my conscience is telling me that this sweet spot is sweet because I get to see and feel my self-control. Not only do I get to see my behavioral options, I get to see into the future and evaluate their likely outcomes. I get to reject poor choices and avoid negative outcomes linked to aggressive actions. I’m not a victim of annoyance, anger, or aggressive impulses. I get to make the plan. I get to drive the car.

Now that other driver is far ahead.

Being on a Montana freeway, it’s hard to not think of deer. It’s clear now, but at dusk, deer will be everywhere. They have an odd instinct. Freud and my elitist conscience are inclined to call it a death instinct. Here’s how it works:

When I drive up alongside a deer on the side of the road, it dashes ahead, running alongside me; then it tries to cut across in front of me. This is the coup de gras of bad judgment. I’m in a big metal machine. The deer isn’t. So the deer dies. Not a good choice for the deer.

Yesterday, my phone alerted me to a Youtube speech by an unnamed alt right big-man. I watched and listened. So much smugness I was sick. In the end he shouted out “Hail Trump” and a few others jumped up and gave the “Heil Hitler!” salute.

Like a crazed deer, I felt an instinct. I wanted to drive to D.C. or Whitefish, Montana and find unnamed alt-right man and cut him off with some uncivil discourse. Instead, because I have a frontal lobe, I walked to the gym. Upon arriving, I discovered I’d stepped in dog poop. I’m sure this was an annoying but meaningful metaphor for something. At least that’s what my metaphor-loving conscience suggested. I didn’t buy it. Instead, I muttered “WTF” to myself. Okay, so maybe I muttered “WTF” several times. Then I walked outside in my socks and started cleaning the poop off my shoe. Not an easy task, especially if you’re wearing brand new trail-runners. I had to find a restroom near my office, an old toothbrush, lots of foamy soap, and mindfully scrub away the poop.

I was reminded of something my daughter Rylee once said at age three. She was being carried down a hill and there were many small piles of deer scat. She noticed, commenting: “I didn’t know the poop was so deep.”

Neither did I.

But the good news is that I (like you) own a functional frontal lobe that gifts me with the Sweet Spot of Self-Control. Many of us will be mindfully removing the metaphorical shit from our shoes for some time into the future. So let’s make some plans. Not revenge-laced plans; they don’t last. Yes. Let’s pause in the special sweet spot, evaluate our alternatives, and make some excellent plans.

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Suicide Assessment Powerpoints for MSU-Billings

I had a nice time today with the Student Health and Student Support staff of Montana State University Billings. Not only were they awesome, they were also awesomely dedicated to suicide prevention on their campus. Given that Spring is coming, that’s an excellent thing.

A link to the powerpoint for today’s talk is below:

MSU Billings Suicide Talk

Three Strategies for Conducting State-of-the-Art Suicide Assessment Interviews

Tomorrow is the first day of the MUS Statewide Summit on Suicide Prevention in Bozeman, Montana. From 2:30-3:45pm I’ll be participating on a panel: “Screening and Intervention Options with the Imminently Suicidal.” During my 10-12 minutes, I’ll be offering my version of what I view as essential strategies and skills for face-to-face suicide assessment interviewing. Below is the handout for the Summit. I think it’s a great thing that we’re meeting in an effort to address this important problem in Montana. Thanks to Lynne Weltzien of UM-Western in Dillon and Mike Frost of UM-Missoula for the invitation. Here’s the handout . . .

Three Strategies for Conducting
State-of-the-Art Suicide Assessment Interviews
John Sommers-Flanagan, Ph.D.
University of Montana

I. To conduct efficient and valid suicide assessment interviews, clinicians need to hold an attitude of acceptance (not judgment) and use several state-of-the-art assessment strategies.

II. If clinicians believe suicide ideation is a sign of psychopathology or deviance, students or clients will sense this and be less open.

III. Asking directly about suicide is essential, but experienced clinicians use more nuanced assessment strategies.

a. Normalizing statements

  • I’ve read that up to 50% of teenagers have thought about suicide. Is that true for you?
  • When people are depressed or feeling miserable, it’s not unusual to have thoughts of suicide pass through their mind. Have you had any thoughts of suicide?

b. Gentle assumption (Shea, 2002, 2004, 2015)

  • When was the last time you had thoughts about suicide?

c. A solution-focused mood evaluation with a suicide floor

1. “Is it okay if I ask some questions about your mood?” (This is an invitation for collaboration; clients can say “no,” but rarely do.)

2. “Please rate your mood right now, using a zero to 10 scale. Zero is the worst mood possible. In fact, zero would mean you’re totally depressed and so you’re just going to kill yourself. At the top, 10 is your best possible mood. A 10 would mean you’re as happy as you could possibly be. Maybe you would be dancing or singing or doing whatever you do when you’re extremely happy. Using that zero to 10 scale, what rating would you give your mood right now?” (Each end of the scale must be anchored for mutual understanding.)

3. “What’s happening now that makes you give your mood that rating?” (This links the mood rating to the external situation.)

4. “What’s the worst or lowest mood rating you’ve ever had?” (This informs the interviewer about the lowest lows.)

5. “What was happening back then to make you feel so down?” (This links the lowest rating to the external situation and may lead to discussing previous attempts.)

6. “For you, what would be a normal mood rating on a normal day?” (Clients define their normal.)

7. “Now tell me, what’s the best mood rating you think you’ve ever had?” (The process ends with a positive mood rating.)

8. “What was happening that helped you have such a high mood rating?” (The positive rating is linked to an external situation.)

This protocol assumes cooperation. More advanced interviewing procedures can be added if clients are resistant. The goal is a deeper understanding of life events linked to negative moods and suicide ideation and a possible direct transition to counseling or safety planning.

 

IV. When students or clients disclose suicide ideation clinicians should:

a. Stay calm

b. Express empathy

c. Normalize ideation

d. Move to conducting a full suicide assessment interview (i.e., R-I-P-SC-I-P*) or refer the student/client to someone who will do a full assessment along with safety planning

e. Use suicide interventions as appropriate

 

V. Using Shneidman’s “Alternatives to Suicide” approach is a parsimonious way to simultaneously assess and intervene to reduce danger to self

 

VI. IMHO: All health and mental health providers should be trained to use these clinical skills and strategies when working with potentially suicidal students/clients.

 

Adapted from: Clinical Interviewing (6th ed., 2016), Wiley. Feel free to share this handout as long as authorship is included. For more information or to ask about professional workshops for your organization, contact John Sommers-Flanagan: john.sf@mso.umt.edu or 406-721-6367.

 

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Hey Cameron Diaz! Wanna Make a Real Difference?

Dear Cameron Diaz:

For many years you’ve been a positive and happy highlight on the silver screen. You’re smart, funny, and beautiful, an excellent combination. From your use of sperm as hair gel in There’s Something About Mary to this week’s debut of Sex Tape, you’ve given us twisted, off-beat, and edgy hilarity. You help all of us be a little less uptight.

But as a psychologist, I’m also aware there are lines that we’re better off not crossing, which brings me to my point.

In a 2011 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live you exclaimed, “I love porn!” At the time, it seemed all in good fun—and completely consistent with your irreverent, quirky self. However, since then, I’ve come to view public declarations of loving porn as less than harmless.

Lately I’ve been reading pornography research and have discovered some very disturbing facts. As we’ve known for decades, there’s porn, and then there’s PORN. We need better ways to define this vast array of sexual material.

Because you were once a Charlie’s Angel—dedicated to saving the world from all things evil—I want to share with you what behavioral scientists are finding about the darker side of porn. Viewing more porn is associated with:

• Engaging in sexually aggressive acts (including rape or sexual assault)
• Becoming depressed, anxious, and stressed
• Functioning more poorly in real social interactions (and ironically, becoming impotent)

Research also reveals that young boys who view lots of porn are more likely to be sex offenders. And here’s the most disturbing thing I’ve discovered. Over 80% of pornography includes violence towards women. Within this violent category, a common motif involves a man having anal sex with a woman and then having her perform oral sex, so she tastes her own feces. This illustrates why we need to make distinctions between porn that is fun, educational, or artistic, and porn that is just plain destructive.

Here’s one last thing I didn’t know. The porn industry is GARGANTUAN. It hardly needs your endorsement to survive (http://abcnews.go.com/Primetime/story?id=132001). This week, the industry will make hundreds of millions of dollars on films with substantially less plot than Sex Tape, and my best guess is that you wouldn’t intentionally endorse most of these plots.

Although I don’t know you personally, I have trouble believing you “love” the sort of porn that denigrates women, contributes to impotence in young men, or increases sexual assaults. This leads me to a suggestion for how you might help people understand the differences between acceptable and destructive porn.

What if we planned a tour of the late night talk shows to discuss the stark differences between artistic, gently consenting porn and violent, degrading, and damaging porn? This is a discussion our culture desperately needs, and you could take the lead. With this simple, educational message you could save thousands of people from harmful sexual relationships, or no real sexual relationships at all!

Your legacy could include people not only saying, “Cameron Diaz was talented, beautiful, and smart,” but also “After the letter from that psychologist from Montana, she became an amazing role model for healthy and fun consensual sex.”

Thanks for listening and let me know how I can help!

Sincerely,

That psychologist from Montana