Wednesday, April 30, 2008

short game troubles

Second week of golf league tonight. Strangely, it was another night of high winds (like 20-30 mph). I scored a 54. Not too bad, though I could easily have golfed better. My short game wasn't quite where it was last week. Still, I generally hit the ball pretty straight. I can't really complain about that.

Oh, and I met the guy who is going to be my regular golf partner for golf league. He's about 20 years older than me, I'd guess. He's a pretty good golfer and a nice guy who swears like a sailor when he doesn't hit the shot he wanted. Oh, and he has his own golf cart, so I won't have to worry about renting one each week (thank goodness! They cost like $15 each time). Should be a good time, and hopefully I'll golf better.

Monday, April 28, 2008

unexpected places

Appointments to come see me professionally are sometimes occasions that people approach reluctantly, even fearfully. There are those sent to me because their children have been taken from their custody -- or because they're an adolescent whose behaviors have escalated to the point that they've been taken from their homes and put into state custody. And even some of those who come in voluntarily often have a bit of trepidation, I find -- a kind of fear of being exposed, rejected, blamed, or of being found deficient.

I've been thinking of this because several good blogs that I read have been reminding me lately that God is to be found in unexpected places -- among the poor, among the needy, among the disfavored. And I've been struck by this because it challenges me to find God amidst the often terrible chaos and dysfunction I work with -- but also because I think there is a challenge here to make grace present to people in their "unexpected places."

I am sometimes obligated to tell people that I do not believe they're ready to have their children return to their custody. I am sometimes obligated to inform people that they suffer from a mental illness that will likely impact them for the rest of their lives. I am sometimes obligated to give feedback that utterly contradicts the way they see themselves and their world.

And my challenge, it seems, is to find some sort of grace for them amidst these situations -- to join them in examining the darkest and most painful areas of their lives, and to leave them with some greater sense of being understood, of compassion, or insight on something that has always puzzled them.

Anyway, mostly I wanted to send this out as a way of saying thank you to my friends and fellow bloggers who've gotten me thinking about all this -- more cows, diane, katherine, mags, gannet girl. Thank you.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

golf and parenthood

This morning I took Jacob to the little golf course we joined. Mind you, he's five (well, almost six). So the time went something like this: we arrived, Jacob complained for 20 minutes about how we couldn't have a golf cart (the course refused to let us rent one because there was still patches of snow on the ground and they didn't want one getting stuck). So we spent 20 minutes processing, cajoling, soothing, and decision-making -- and at the end of this, he decided that walking (though greatly frustrating and to be avoided) was still preferable to the heinous evil called "going home."

So we walked three holes of golf. I played the holes, Jacob put his ball on the ground at times and made funny looking lunging motions at it with his little golf club. Jacob (who is up on the rules of golf after playing hours of golf on our Wii) gave me periodic reminders (e.g., that HIS ball was further from the hole and that by divine right HE should be the first to putt). I got to see his excitement in little things like chasing after the ball when I hit it, helping me to find the ball when I wasn't sure just where it had landed.

But mostly I was struck by our relationship, by his limited (though possibly age appropriate) frustration tolerance, his outbursts when things aren't going his way. And I was reminded that fatherhood (nay, parenthood) is -- if done correctly -- a kind of loaning of our frontal lobes to our children. In other words, we are (for this time in their life) their substitute voice of reason, the calm in their emotional storm. We guide, we direct, we give choices, we consider alternate perspectives.

The manner in which we respond will be imprinted on our children's brains -- creating sources of calm or fear, peace or pain. Our children have no choice but to take this loan, but only we can decide to loan something worth giving, worth copying.

Parenting can be hard. It can be hard because our minds and souls must contend not only with our own stresses, but with the intense stress that life can sometimes pose to children with little ability to handle it on their own.

But it is precisely this process that gives us the opportunity to give our children their most precious gift -- of minds and hearts formed on a foundation of peace, love, charity, and compassion.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

golf league

Tonight, I had my first ever experience of golf league. Some time ago, we decided to get a family membership at a little country club just outside of town. Mind you, there are a couple of country clubs IN our town, but their family memberships are like $2000/year. This one was more like $300.

So I decided to join the men's league at this little 9 hole course. Which, I have to say, made me a bit nervous at first. There's the fear that you will slow everyone down, that your golf game will compare pathetically to everyone else's, that you won't know anyone. But as it turns out, none of those things were true. I recognized a couple of the guys, and I didn't seem to slow the pace of play very much. And my score was respectable (a round of 49 over nine holes), within four strokes of the best player in our foursome, and one stroke better than the "worst" score in our foursome.

But more than the absolute score, I was just pleased that I played pretty well, overall. Mind you, we were playing with winds of about 30 mph gusting up beyond that at times. And my driving was initially pretty crummy. In fact, my overall score included four "penalty strokes" from balls that either went in the water -- or that, on one occasion, veered into the woods -- never to be found again. But despite all that, my shots were generally pretty straight.

I was also pleased that the guys I played with were friendly, had a good sense of humor, congratulated good shots, and were happy to talk strategy on the holes.

Ah, golf. I'm tempted to set some kind of goal for myself. Like maybe getting to a round of 45 or even 40 by the end of the year. But I'm also a bit leery of doing so -- the risk being that I might compare my round negatively to the "ideal" score rather than just enjoying the game. Hmm...I guess if I do decide to push myself that way, I'll have to find a way to view progress positively rather than in a negative light.

That's actually pretty good life advice, now that I think about it.

Peace to you all.

P.S. Just one other quick golf story to bore you with. On the eighth hole, I hit a rather poor drive, but kept it on the fairway. The eighth hole is a someone long (for me) par 4 -- meaning that an "average" score involves two strokes to get the ball on the green and two putts to actually get the ball in the hole. Anyway, my drive had me nervous, but I hit a really good 3 wood to get the ball within a few feet of the green. I think I ended up with bogey (one stroke over par), but I was pretty happy.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

the Pope and me

I've really only known two Popes in my life. Technically, there were more, but I was only really mature enough to understand the significance of the position with John Paul 2 and the current Pope, Benedict.

And I have to say that my view of these Popes has been ambivalent, at best. I admire their intelligence, I admire JP 2's life story, and I somewhat grudgingly will acknowledge that theirs is a difficult job.

But, mostly, my image of them is based on my profound disagreement with their positions -- on contraception, the role of women in the church, altar girls, divorce, the morality of homosexual relationships, the insistence that priests must be celibate and unmarried, etc. I see these teachings as profoundly unhelpful (at best) and as some of the most profoundly troubling obstacles to the Church achieving its mission at worst. (Well, at my worst, I might call them a variety of vulgar names, but you get the idea...)

I think that part of what I find so troubling about their Papacies has been this rigid clinging on to a particular view of tradition, a tendency to claim that certain traditions "cannot" be changed (when such traditions reinforce their pre-existing prejudices, IMHO), and an insistence that "modernity" must listen to (and dialogue with) tradition -- without any hint of mutuality in that discussion.

Which ends up closing the church from a full awareness of how God speaks to people today, in my view. Without this kind of awareness, tradition ultimately becomes dry and lifeless.

And then they decry the declining church attendance figures. Yeesh....

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

what the *&(%?!!!

I met not long ago with a woman who had been a member of an extremely conservative Christian church. She had the great misfortune of being married to an extremely abusive and controlling man. Mind you, I do not use the word "extremely" lightly here. We're talking about a man showing significant physical abuse, developing severe and inflexible rules about what clothes women and girls in the family were allowed to wear, and a general pattern of emotional/psychological control that rivals any I've come across.

For many, many years, this woman put up with that treatment -- believing that God called on her to do so. And when she met with me, she easily quoted a handful of scripture verses that (she had been taught) were God's word that she must do so.

Eventually she gathered up the courage and decided to leave the guy. And for the first time, she starts to feel some measure of hope, though she's no longer sure she believes in God. The children beg her regularly not to go back to her husband.

And the response of her "Christian" community? Many church members, people she considered friends, have told her that divorce is against God's will. That she should go back to her husband. That her desire to leave that situation is bad, shameful, sinful.

This, my friends, is what drives me absolutely batty about that particular form of religious belief.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

petty vindications on the reimbursement side of my job...

OK, so this might be a bit arcane, but...

The managed care company that in charge of medicaid reimbursement in our area has this chart. Precisely who made this chart is not known, nor is the criterion by which they arrived at this decision. But, for example, they decided in this chart that psychological test A is worth 1/2 hour of reimbursement, while test B is only worth 15 minutes worth of reimbursement.

To understand why this is nonsensical, you have to understand that tests A & B are virtually identical in their complexity, cost to order, administration time, interpretation time, and in most other ways. The only difference is that test B is primarily used in the assessment of ADHD, whereas test A is used to screen for a broad assortment of emotional/behavioral problems.

So I'm guessing, a little, but the only thing I can figure out is that they looked at this from a financial perspective, freaked out about how common it is to screen for ADHD nowadays, and decided to cut the reimbursement rate for test B.

And now for that "petty vindications" bit. Recently, test B came up with a new version. And in this new version, there are forms for the teacher, parent, and child to fill out (the last version only had parent & teacher forms). So whereas in the past, I could only get reimbursed for 1/2 hour if I gave both forms, now I can claim a full hour's worth of reimbursement if I administer all 3 forms (because they the minimum unit of reimbursement is a half-hour, so they have to round it up if you can claim 45 minutes worth).

And don't even get me started on the logic behind reimbursing psychological testing at a lower rate than therapy services. Yeesh...

I have to say, after years of feeling nickeled and dimed on this particular managed care inanity, this feels pretty good.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

of experience and DNA

Just another fascinating tidbit of information gleaned from that conference I attended: did you know that our DNA actually loops over itself? And that this "looping" prevents certain genes from being expressed at any given time? I certainly did not. And it turns out that interactions with the environment (i.e., our experiences) can affect the process of what part of the DNA is being "covered" and what is not.

So, for instance, it is now known that whenever a neuron in the brain forms a new connection, it is because an interaction with the environment caused the DNA to temporarily uncover a particular gene that allows for the new connection to be formed.

The implications here are actually pretty staggering when you think about how our experience affects us on such a basic, genetic level.

For whatever reason, it makes me think about the necessity of good self-care. I like to think that by nurturing peace within us, we are actually bringing to life a new capacity within ourselves -- for compassion, for understanding, for love, for life.

Enlightenment, perhaps. Or a kind of salvation.

Peace to you all.

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"This is SO fun!"

Patrick's ability to really express himself has been quite limited in a lot of ways. It wasn't that he didn't know a lot of words, exactly, but he didn't use his words to express how he was feeling. So he would respond to requests by saying "no, go sleep." Or he'd sing songs over and over. Or he'd respond to questions with a simple "yeah" or "no."

But for whatever reason, lately ability to express himself has been really taking off. Just the other day, I was playing a game where I toss him onto the bed. And he was laughing and squealing, and then he turns to me and says "this is SO fun!"

Which, really, is how I've been feeling -- watching him do all this communication. Watching him comment about his favorites, watching him TELL us that he doesn't want to do something (rather than simply throwing a fit or walking away), watching him express how much he loves his brother.

I could bore you all with comments about what this means about his cognitive development -- like how it indicates his growth in understanding that others have "minds" all of their own, and that the purpose of communication is sharing his "mind" with that of another person.

But for now I think his comment expresses where I'm at better than such a discussion ever could: "...this is SO fun!"

Thursday, April 03, 2008


OK, so I just had to follow up my last post with an example of the kind of genius I had the chance to observe at the SPA conference. Part of the training involved the chance to watch videos of assessment work.

In one video, the psychologist was assessing a woman who hadn't been progressing as she'd hoped in her therapy. So he did a number of tests with her, and found a number of results suggesting a tendency to keep others at a distance, a belief that she has to be "tough" and handle things on her own, and a kind of self-centeredness.

So he's meeting with her and when he gets to the finding about narcissism/ self-centeredness, he approaches it by saying "...this is a finding that often happens when people grew up in homes where they often felt alone." And after she agreed and processed how often she felt alone, he said "...this also comes up in homes where parents had a difficult time keeping their kids' needs in mind." All of this led to a discussion of how often she felt neglected, how selfish they were, how they insulted her and even kicked her out of their home. And then they discussed how she learned to be "tough," how she had to fend for herself, etc.

But notice where he started -- not with a label, not with "this finding suggests that you become preoccupied with your own needs." No, he begins on a level more in tune with her experience -- of being so alone.

Pure, utter genius.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Meg and I got back on Monday from the Society for Personality Assessment conference in New Orleans. We left last Tuesday, and had five enjoyable days spent learning (at the various presentations, seminars, lectures, etc.), eating, and touring.

I greatly enjoy seminars put on by SPA. They take psychological assessment seriously, in a way that many others do not. SPA fought to make testing reimbursable at the same level as, say, therapy. They have been a voice of reason against unfair critics of psychological testing. And they demonstrate that, if done properly, the process of psychological assessment can have a profound therapeutic impact.

Just some examples from the conference. One study found that a two hour collaborative assessment had a greater therapeutic impact on clients than five hours of traditional "cognitive behavioral" therapy done weekly. Another study examined individuals with pain disorders that had a very high frequency of ER visits. After a comprehensive psychological assessment and group therapy, these individuals cut back on their use of medical services by over 60% in the next year. This wasn't for mental health issues, but for their actual pain -- from migraines, fibromyalgia, irritable bowel, etc.

I was also profoundly struck by the intelligence and compassion of the presenters -- how well they know their stuff, how compassionately they gave feedback to difficult clients, how powerful a combination this made in terms of therapeutic impact.