…check its records let’s begin. Party on party people let me hear some noise! DC’s in the house jump jump rejoice!!! There’s a party over here, a party over there…
I am excited to tell you about an event coming up in Seattle that Shauna is administrating as Alumni Outreach Coordinator at The Seattle School and where I will be speaking. It’s called Symposium: An Intersection of Conversation and Innovation.
Symposium were forums in ancient Greece for conversations between philosophers, poets, musicians, and leaders that would fuel innovation and imagination.
At the inaugural Symposia last year, Shauna spoke about “How Coding Trauma Into Language Impacts the Healing Process.” You can watch the video of her message here. And this year, I will be addressing “Metaphor in Psychotherapy: A Bridge Between Thinking & Feeling.”
To learn more about this event, including a list of the presenters and their topics, and how you can buy tickets to attend, please visit: http://theseattleschool.edu/event/symposia2016/?instance_id=29185
This event will also be webcast. So, stay tuned to our Facebook page for how you can participate from afar.
I am excited to be a part of this event hosted by my beloved graduate school, as well as tickled that Shauna and I get to participate in an event together. It’s been a long time since our shared youth group endeavors. Tag Team, it’s so good to be back again!
Over the past few months, I have been studying to take the final licensing board exam. Passing that exam would give me the highest credentialing available for my degree. Not passing would mean paying to take the test again after six months had elapsed. I didn’t want to chance not passing, so I have dedicated many, many hours over the last month to preparing for today, Friday the 13th, the day I arranged in advance to take the test.
Spoiler Alert: The fact that there is a full moon tonight and that this day on the calendar may be considered unlucky did not have a negative effect on my test-taking abilities. I passed with flying colors and am moving on to submit all the necessary paperwork for state licensure.
But, after I received my scores and realized that I passed, I was remarkably aware of my disappointment. I had reviewed an encyclopedia of study materials. Practiced on over 1,000 questions. Listened to over 15 audio CDs. Handwritten 200 index study cards in order to take a 200 question test in less than 2 hours. What? I walked out of the building and thought to myself, “That’s it?” Three years of graduate school and a subsequent 3,000 hours of practice were necessary to sit for a measly 200 question test wherein only 160 of those questions were actually graded and I only needed to get 91 of them right. That doesn’t make any sense.
And yet, it does. All too often, I evaluate my progress and my profession by external measures of achievement. I defer to some governing board for a blessing. I buy into the status quo that asserts my competencies must be measured by a single exam, rather than by the passion and commitment I have to doing good work. I am not denying that there are appropriate measures and guidelines necessary to ensure that the people practicing are indeed capable and competent. I am simply acknowledging that I trust external measures to tell me what is true about myself more than I do my own intuition and self-knowledge.
There are some things I needed to learn before sitting for that exam. For instance, did you know that the Pearson Product-Moment Correlation Coefficient is a measure of linear correlation between two variables X and Y, giving a value between +1 and -1 inclusive, where 1 is total positive correlation, 0 is no correlation, and -1 is total negative correlation? Yeah, I didn’t either. But there are other things that I already know: I am passionate about this work. And that simply means that I would have practiced on over 2,000 questions. Listened to over 30 audio CDs. Handwritten 500 index study cards and taken a 400 question test if that’s what I needed to do in order to have the privilege of sitting with people and hearing their stories each and every day.
In light of our first Feature Story from Margot Hale, I want to offer some data regarding the social norms of grief. Shauna, Sarah and I were at a conference last November where we learned that in America, the standard timeframe wherein it is socially acceptable to grieve is twelve days. That means that after twelve days, people stop bringing over food. They stop asking how you are doing with a tone of empathy. They begin asking, “How are you?” with a raised inflection at the end of their sentences. This subtle shift is indirectly inferring that the only acceptable answer is that one has moved past grief and is now in the process of healing.
After twelve days, grief is seemingly no longer an acceptable burden for others to bear.
Moreover, this social stance makes it awkward for the person grieving to freely share their roller coaster experiences that inevitably follow a loss. After twelve days, they are likely still feeling sad and want to talk about how things were before they endured their loss. But everyone else has moved on and gives the impression that to live in days gone by is to suffer unnecessarily. However, psychologically, this is actually by far and away the most counterproductive measure.
It is in the retelling of the past that gives a grieving individual a firm and faithful foundation from which to begin their healing. Without a past, there is no hope for a future. They remain stuck in an unanchored present without memory or dreams. Allowing someone space to talk about what has happened (past tense) is rooting him or her in his or her experience (now). Unfortunately, what often happens is that people don’t continue to share the past after twelve days, because society expects them to be moving on to a hopeful future. And yet, I cannot stress this enough. Without a grip on the past, the visions of the future are not clear enough to move toward.
A beloved professor of mine once said,
Give me the norms of grieving in the Jewish community any day before those of the Christian church. They allow space for one another’s grief for a year.”
She went on to describe a Jewish custom of covering the mirrors in the home of one grieving. The mirror is traditionally the means of achieving social acceptance by enhancing the appearance. Covering the mirror allows for one to not feel the pressure to conform to social acceptance and gives them the freedom to render themselves just as they are.
I attended another conference more recently where a therapist was talking about a case in a South American culture where a young boy around the age of ten came into therapy mute. He had suffered watching his home and loved ones carried away by a massive flood. His trauma had left him bound up with emotion without words to communicate his feelings. Having some background information of the traumatic event from the parents, the therapist began by asking him to draw what he remembered. She described his initial drawings as chaotic scribbles and showed slides that were hardly recognizable. She also said that when he began drawing he started to speak and his words were as frantic as his fingers scribbling across the page. He took out another paper and continued to draw and tell the story. Each time he came to therapy he drew and spoke and drew and spoke the details of the event. It took several months of weekly sessions, but the drawings he rendered at the end of treatment were ordered and colorful and clear and bright. His ease of speaking had also returned and gone were the frantic anxious words he used to describe the story and in their place was the optimistic intonation that Americans demand after twelve days.
I want to use one more illustration before summarizing these thoughts. Several years ago when I first began my graduate education I attended a workshop that was aimed at helping children grieve in a group setting. Relatively new to the field, I was perplexed and even shocked to hear how children were encouraged to process their grief. The presenter explained several group therapy techniques to utilize. One was to stage a funeral for whom they lost. They would dress up and have a casket and say prayers. And they would want to enact this scene over and over and over again until they understood in their young minds what had really happened. Another exercise was to have the child lie down on the floor on top of a large piece of paper. Have someone trace a marker around their body so they can visually see themselves. Then, the exercise was for that child to find the hurt and draw where they feel it. They would draw pulse marks around their heart. They might have squiggles where their stomach would be. They could draw something heavy on their chest. Group leaders were encouraged to allow the children to find the pain, name it, describe it and tell their story again and again until they had some map of navigating grief, sorrow, loss.
There is a theme in these three vignettes that is counter to American culture of grief and loss. The antithesis of a twelve-day mourning period is illustrated by these more healthy and helpful measures. Don’t forget. Remember. Don’t go mute. Speak. Don’t stay with all of your confusing and painful feelings trapped on the inside. Get them out in a visual manner until you find some peace.
May we begin a community who will honor grief and loss in a way that is healthy, helpful, and ultimately healing. May we give space to tell stories of the past. May we be the listening ears so one needn’t try and forget. May we offer a blank canvas for friends to paint their pain. May we be the safe haven where the one grieving can go after the culturally mandated twelve-day recovery.
I am not one of those people that watches the same movie over and over again, but strangely enough I have watched We Bought a Zoo about six or so times since it was released in 2011. Don’t worry – there is no need for a spoiler alert. I won’t even give you a summary of the movie because that isn’t even the point of this post. What I will tell you, however, is that there are a couple of scenes in the film where Matt Damon’s character reflects on how an individual typically only needs 20 seconds of insane courage to do something outrageous. For whatever reason, I am mustering up the 20 seconds of insane courage necessary today to begin to type the first words for this blog.
Why the need for insane courage? Because to hope can be terrifying. To unleash desire can be overwhelmingly vulnerable. To enter into our own story or to engage the stories of others is risky business. In my experience, taking the first steps (or typing the first words) are the most difficult, but once we begin to move forward momentum can carry us into a new chapter. So here I am. Here we are. Three therapists are walking into a new blog.
Feel free to comment below. We’d love to hear about when you’ve had to muster 20 seconds of insane courage.