My friend Nicole has started blogging here,  and if you have any extra time, dear hearts, it will be more than worth your while to stop by.  She is loving, charming, funny, smart and one of the most talented therapists I know.  (I know a lot of therapists.)

Nicole and I met in graduate school when we interned together at a children's community outpatient mental health clinic in NE Portland.  I can't speak for her experience, but having her there was one of the most positive parts of my last year of grad school.  I adored interning with her, Amirah from Lewis and Clark and Joyce from OHSU.  Many positive memories of our intern cubicle, the crazy phone line we shared, group supervision, process recordings, Narrative Therapy, Data/Assessment/Plan, coffee at Black Sheep Bakery ....

Nicole now lives on my side of Washington State, about 2 hours North.  Over here, that's no more than a  daily commute.  We have tentative plans to have coffee in January, and I could not be more excited.  I miss  my friend.  That time in my life (although I thought I hated it then).  The clinic.  That growth.

Glad she's blogging.


When I was a kid, we lived in Europe.
When I was a kid, we lived in Europe and every Thanksgiving and Christmas my mom would make Apple Pfannkuchen.  There is no special reason why she made it on the Holiday holidays.  She just did.

When Shoes and I started dating seriously, I began making it for him.   We don't have a lot of family traditions.  I'm not that close with my family.  Sharing this with him was a big deal.

This year, I made it again on Thanksgiving and again on Christmas.  Shoes, who is not a breakfast sweet eater, partook enthusiastically.

But Shoes did something almost blasphemous.  This year, he unceremoniously dumped a healthy pile of Redi Whip on his.

I don't have many traditions, and one of the ones I do have, he Redi Whipped all over.

I gave him the eye.
He said, "What?  Is that ok?"
And what was I going to say?  No?
Hardly.

After many glances of stink eye, I took a forkful of his to prove him how wrong he was.
Turns out, the Redi Whip made it even more delicious.
So that's how this tradition changes for us.
That's how it became ours.  Kind of the same as my mom's.  But kind of different.

Besides.
This year, in October, I found out that my mom had gotten the "European" recipe we ate in Europe from an American 1983 Kitchen Aid recipe booklet.

This bring this truth home:  We make our own family traditions.  Apple pancakes, in and of themselves, are just a dish.  A bunch of pastry, capable, in itself, of doing nothing.

We decide what's meaningful to us and what we want to carry forth.
Every year Shoes and I are together, we make new decisions about what we want to carry forth.

Next year, I'll make sure to have the Redi Whip on hand.




Also, in other December related news:

ROSIE PASSED BASIC DOG OBEDIENCE AND HAS BEEN APPROVED TO TAKE GOOD CANINE CITIZEN CLASS IN FEBRUARY!

Good job, my dog!

Rosie has her last basic obedience class next Tuesday.  It's a big one guys.  This is the class where we find out if she can go on to take the Good Canine Citizen class (a critical step in her therapy dog training).  Fingers crossed.  This week is akin to university dead week for us, and Shoes and I are asking her to so a variety of recall tasks before she does anything:  receives food, goes outside, gets playtime ... 

This is the part, though, where I tell you about last week's class.  Rosie Darling, consistently, has been a model student in class.  (That might have something to do with the fact that this is her second round for this class....)

Denise, our dog teacher, is overall very pleased with Rosie's progress.  Rosie adores Denise and has an inordinately difficult time paying attention when Deniae is around.  Last week, however...

We were practicing recall: putting the dog in a sit, giving a "wait" command, walking away, waiting a few seconds, and then calling the dog.  You guys.  Rosie can do this in her sleep ... And has done this successfully several times in class, despite all of the distractions.  But last week?

She sat.  She waited.  And then at her "come" command, she went nuts.  As in: she doggie smiled, with teeth!, jumped on Denise, ran over to Assistant Linda, jumped on her, ran over to the counter, stole some of Denise's treats, and then ran around to the other owners and dogs, doggie smiling, tail wagging, super charged with Golden Retriever energy.

It happened quickly.  I've never seen anything quite like it.  

She received a short time out for that awesome display of naughty.  But here's what's also true:  we all laughed.  It was naughty, but it was also so her:  full of love, life, mischief.  Even Denise laughed.

Here's hoping that next week, of all weeks, is free of naughty.  We *really* need to pass this class.  To close, here's a small iPhone picture dump of my favorite rascal.  (The last pic is from Halloween.)





Rosie and I had our first official training day visit to my office up north today.  I should have gotten a picture, but too many confidentiality concerns in the room.

Well.  We kind of had an official visit.  It was to group supervision and it was great exposure to a group of people.  No clients.

I really don't think we're ready for clients quite yet...

You guys, she was amazing.  Relatively calm, good manners, charming as could be.  It is about an hour and a half drive to the city office, and the entire way there, all (literally.  All.) of the things that could go wrong ran through my mind.  

Extreme hyperactivity / excessive whining / barking / she could have an accident on the carpet / she would be too disruptive ...

And what did she do?
She received pets, smiled, wagged her tail, did not have an accident and fell asleep.

Remember, this is the same dog who was banned from the groomer for several months because she had "too much energy."

But she was a love.  
And I was relieved.
And now that I know she is capable, we have more things to try.

She's been asleep since we got home at 3:00.  I have no doubt it was exhausting for her to be so well mannered.

And now, a picture from yesterday, when we had a play date with her dog best friend, Mason.

Retriever Power.


I feel like this is going to be a strange post.  There's these ... things ... I want to share ... but I'm fully cognizant of the fact that I have to be wise in how I share them.

So I work with families, right?  Big families.  Little families.  Single parents.  Partnered parents.  Parents with infants.  Parents with teens.  Families.

For many complex, varied, and multifaceted reasons, the families I work with are having difficult times.  Every family I've ever worked with has wanted to see behavioral change in their children.  This is completely logical ... as I'm a child and family therapist; I don't get called when the forecast is sunny and a high of 72.

Child behavior doesn't exist in a vacuum.  Families are dynamic, restless creatures with complicated interactions.  For me, working with children automatically brings a family component.  So, as a professional kid worker, here's some of what I know:

We have to model the behavior we want to see in our kids.

If we want our kids to model gentleness and problem solving, we have to model that.
If we want our kids to get along well with peers, we have to model that.
If we want our kids to display honesty, we have to model honesty.
If we want our kids to be more compassionate, we have to model that.
If we want our kids to stop yelling at us, their peers, the dog, we have to model respectful communication.

Is it always that simple?  Of course not.  At any given time, there are always a myriad of factors that are taken into account and other points of clinical focus. Am I implying that all families who have children with explosive anger have parents who have explosive anger?  A resounding no. However, this is something I find coming up again and again in my work with families.  Am I trying to shame families?  Oh, please, dear hearts, no.  Not at all.  There are varied and complex reasons why these behaviors aren't being modeled.

I get that.

But it's a place for growth to begin for the entire family.

Often to introduce whatever change is needed, I work with the family to facilitate a "Full Values Family Contract."  Family members (sometimes this has included dogs and cats, too.  I'm not picky!) trace their hands on posterboard in a circle.  On the inside of the circle we write down what values we want to keep or increase; values such as honesty, respect, fun, laughter, etc. often show up here.  On the outside of the circle, we write down what we'd like to leave behind or chance; often, this includes dynamics such as yelling, fighting, and lying.  I've found that it is incredibly validating for children to see their guardians participate in this and take ownership for behaviors they would also like to change.  It is often a point in which families, even if just for a moment, experience a shared moment of being:  This is who we are.  This is how we are strong.

We, as adults, have to be examples of what we want to see in our children.  I would even go so far as to say it is not fair or reasonable to ask our children to exhibit behavior we ourselves have not mastered.  Am I saying parents  need to be perfect?  Dear heart, please.  What kind of a family therapist would I be if I thought parents could be perfect?

What an amazing opportunity for growth.  What would happen if we modeled taking a risk to change for the better?  What would happen if we modeled grace and compassion for ourselves as we tried new things?  What exactly would our kids be seeing?  (Our kids, by the way, are geniuses - smart and savvy in surprising ways.)

This, for me, is an exciting part of family therapy.  The implications are tremendous.
Effective change.  We all jump on board.
Rosie is having a bad training day.  As in, I took her to the park to practice skills (we do this in public a lot - she is one highly distractable pup and needs to work on focusing on me) and she was just not into it.

Like, not look at me, didn't care about freeze dried liver treats, bad.

Oh that dog.

I found myself beginning to get frustrated, and the more frustrated I became, the less praise I gave her, even when she complied.  I was mad, right?  And these were super basic things we were working on.

Then I remembered something I told a mom yesterday:  when we practice new things, we have to find a place of compassion and grace - for others, and for ourselves.  

It's called practice for a reason.

So I brought pup home, and when I laid down on the couch for a few minutes before returning to paperwork (ugh), she jumped up, snuggled in and immediately went to sleep.  

She's not doing these things to me.  She's a dog.  So we'll try again tomorrow. 

This is a lot of work, training this dog.  She is one stubborn girl.  I just keep looking to that point in the future where she will be able to be present I session with me.  

(Fingers crossed.)

Here she is on a previous good training day, the little love.  We're getting more and more used to the training vest.  That's a process, too.


Oh, friends.

It's been a long time since I've been here, catching up with your lives and my favorite stories.  I've missed you.

I had originally written out a light, breezy bulleted update on what's been going on here lately, but then deleted that sucker.  I don't feel light.  Or breezy.  I feel tired.

As in, tired in my bones.
Nothing new in the helping profession, I know.
I've been running at top speed for several weeks, working 50 hour weeks.

(And before I get the well meaning advice of "Don't do that" and "You have to take of yourself," please, loves, let me just say I know.  And let me just say that there are certain peculiarities to this job, including draconian fidelity measures, that make that impossible to do for several weeks at a stretch.  What would be more helpful are things like, "Hang in there" and "You're doing a good job."  Also relatively not so helpful and even more tiring are things like, "That's why I left social work."  That's a good choice for you, and I'm glad you made a choice that was good for you.)

So.  I'm working all these hours.  And my families are in remote, remote locations where there is, at times, a lack of:  cell service, law enforcement, running water, electricity, flush toilets (oh, yes, this still happens in rural America).   I now know all the park port a potties and park flush toilets in the county.  That is a very helpful think when you spend three hours providing in home services for one family and then drive an hour and a half to do the same thing with another family.

(Side note?  Drive me crazy when I attend urban trainings that address "safety."  Sometimes urban discourse is quite unhelpful for rural practice.  There is no McDonald's for me to duck into to use the bathroom.  My cell phone doesn't work at 85% of the homes I'm in.  Several of my families have lived at least 60 minutes from law enforcement, whom I would be hard pressed to call without cell service.)

Also I would LOVE to share some of even the most light hearted, non clinical anecdotes about my day, but because this town is 10,000 people without the students, I feel limited in that.  Even if I were to change identifying details, I still feel like my clients could be identified.

And then there's the not fun things that come with a job of providing in home family therapy to high risk families.  In the past 6 months, I've seen some stuff, y'all.  Stuff I haven't seen in the last 12 years of providing bachelor's level social work, which says something.  I've been around.

I've also seen a lot of healing, growth and change, to be fair.

So there's that.

Then.  I had this AMAZING idea that it was time for Rosie to start the AKC Therapy Dog process.  Because what BETTER time would there be?  (Sarcasm font.)  Only, Rosie and I needed to back up to re do basic obedience (where we are now).  Then Good Canine Citizen Class.  Then the visits to school/hospital/nursing home, etc. for more training.  I wanted to start her now, while she's still relatively young (the only time I've been grateful that Goldens stay young at heart for 2 years).  And I thought, it's only an hour of class a week.

And 15 minutes of practice twice a day.  Minimally.
And trips to the community to practice recall in distracting situations.

If Rosie weren't doing as well as she is, friends, I might throw in the towel, because I am just that busy. But Rosie, my darling demon possessed pup, is becoming a shining star.  And her becoming a shining star is validating and rewarding in ways I didn't know were possible.  When we practice body touching during training times, the way she rests into me and allows me to touch her ears, feet, tail and mouth just pulls at my heartstrings.  This little "girl" trusts me.  It is tender and a lovely moment of bonding.

And the fact that she loves and trusts people so much is just one reason why I think she's going to make a fabulous therapy dog.

Now if she would only calm down a little ....

But that's not enough to have on a plate, right?  Because life is simple for no person.

We had to replace our sewer line.  That doesn't sound like a big deal, right?  It was.  It was and it was terribly expensive.
Good.  Gravy.
Of all the places I wanted to put our home remodel dollars, replacing the sewer line was not one of them.  Maybe updating one of the upstairs bathrooms?  Replacing carpet?  Knocking out a wall in a bedroom?
But no.  When the sewer line calls, it calls immediately.
And thus commenced the ground shaking process.

So that's where I am.  I am exhausted.  Like, gained weight, bags under my eyes, feel like I need a nap all the time but my brain is too buzzy and full to pass out for a few minutes.

I open this up now to the helpers out there.  When it gets like this, how do you, in the moment, address your own needs.  Vacations are not going to be a possibility for awhile.  Days off are not a possibility right now.  In the moment, what do you say to keep yourself going?  What do you remember?  I'm not leaving social work.  I love it.  But it's kind of taking over my world right now and I need to find daily moments of balance.


Here's what I get, in rural Eastern Washington, when Shoes and I run into some of his male friends:



Did you catch that?  That white space up there?  That's what I get.
That's what I get for being a girl, married to a local.
That's what I get for leaving Portland.
That's what I'm worth.  (More on this below.)

{Disclaimer:  Shoes has a core group of friends from this town who are progressively minded, enlightened men who respect their partners and share equally in parenting duties.  This is not about them.}

Please don't think I'm kidding.  I'm not.  Please don't think I'm exaggerating.  I'm not.  Please don't think it's funny.

It's not.

I cannot count the number of times I have been introduced and have the other person literally not say anything.  It goes like this,

"And this is my wife, Lisa."

And then the man maybe nods, but then goes back to talking to Shoes.  They talk about work.  They talk about golf.  They talk about sacred PAC12 football.

Heyyyyyy ... What a coincidence, *I* work  - I even have a Master's degree which enables me to work with increasing responsibility!  AND *I* play golf.  And I don't care to talk for hours on end about PAC12 football, honestly, so they can have that.  But not one person has asked me what I do.  Or how I like living here.  Or anything about me.

Where are their partners, you ask?  And I apologize for the gender normative, hetero normative  language here, but I apologize more deeply for the fact that this is a difficult town to find acceptance in, and to be openly homosexual.  Their partners are there, in the background.  Not saying much (anything).

This difference is, of course, heavily highlighted by the fact that I moved here from gushy Portland, where the majority of my female friends' partners were stay at home dads, where people always asked me about me, and I where I was nestled in a safe cocoon of social justice in graduate school.  Shoes and I talk about this often, and it's been eye opening for him to see this first hand.  It's one thing to hear, it's another to be able to witness the subtle manner in which women are dismissed in this rural state of affairs.

So what to do about it, then?
We're still figuring that out.
At times we try to purposefully make me part of the conversation (which, honestly, becomes exhausting).
At times I walk away, deeply in need of some space.
And all the time, I remind myself that this has nothing to do with me as an individual, or my own self worth.  I remind myself that this is generations of privileging males over females, and that it has seeped down into deep fissures of this area's makeup.

I remind myself that I am here for a reason.

I just wish I knew what that reason was, sometimes.
More than that, now.

And although it has only been one year, I am, quite literally, astounded by the goodness and the integrity and the sheer joy that is my husband.  This man is :  loving, patient, kind, witty beyond belief, an incredible debater re: all things politics, a humanitarian to his core, level headed.

He is also:  mine.  I have no idea how that happened.

And let's be honest.  The first year of marriage can teach you a lot about a lot.  I knew that Shoes and I would have some adjusting to do to real life.  The majority of our relationship had been long distance.  You know what happens on the weekends you see each other when you're doing long distance?  Fancy dinners, lovely cocktails, trips to the zoo ... when you see each other only on the weekends, it's a perpetual party.  Real life is not always a party.

I mean, sometimes it is.  Sometimes life is a party.  Sometimes, though, it's more like "I took the dog out at 5:30 this morning so I think it's your turn to take her to the dog park."  Sometimes it's more like, "I know we had sushi last week but we're having it again this week because I'm exhausted and I just can't bear to make one more decision."  Sometimes it's more like, "Babe.  Why is the light fixture still in the closet and not installed in the dining room?"

And, then, sometimes life is like, "Lisa, watch this.  I can totally make Dogs bark now."  And sometimes it's like, "Your nephew just said he has a lucky muscle."  And sometimes it's like, "My best friend's kid is running around town wearing a batman cape."

Our marriage is in the living and my living now happens side by side by a short, brown haired gem of a human being.

We've done life this year.  O, Lord.  Have we done life.  We got a dog.  I got a job.  We got married.  We bought a house.  I quit my job.  I got a different job.  Shoes adjusted to his job (contracts and public records and risk management aren't quite the same as being a deputy prosecuting attorney).  Shoes and I, we've had some moments.  Some misunderstandings.  I think Rosie and I have taken him to depths of his patience he didn't know existed.  But more than that ... more than the dialogues and the life that had to be lived and the dog that's eaten just about everything under the sun ... more than that, there is a deep well of commitment, respect, and complete and consuming love for each other.

See, here's the thing.  When Shoes and I said our vows last year, we didn't commit to just a marriage.  We committed to a lifelong endeavor of supporting the other person and growing with the other person.  We didn't commit to "husband and wife."  Moreso, we committed to "human being and human being."

We committed to the entire sum of the other person:  the love, the strength, the humor, the fears, the insecurities.  We committed also to the commitment.

To celebrate one year of marriage, we headed north to a mountain lake and rented jet skis.  We chased each other around and raced each other and got deliciously sun burned.   We drank wine in the mountain town and ate delicious Italian food.  We took naps.  We laughed.  We hugged.  We talked about our wedding.  We talked about our upcoming year.

On the Sunday of our anniversary weekend, we took a walk in a large, nearby city park, where, on our actual anniversary, we watched from a distance another couple saying their vows.  And we saw how happy their loved ones were.  And we watched them celebrate.  And I cried.  Because that's what I do: Professional Crier.  And Shoes said, "Wife, stop."  Because that's what he does.  And I hoped for this couple what I hope for Shoes and I:  that even when life is hard and circumstances are terrible, you can still celebrate the union and the relationship and the other person.

Man.  A year goes by so quickly...




I have not been here much, on understanding (n.).  I have been working 60 hour weeks and celebrating a year of marriage and keeping up with dogs, who has decided she is entirely co-dependent and unable to be by herself.

Ever.  At all.

I am flexing today off.  I am flexing today off because I worked 55 hours last week, being with families, coming together with them in an effort to prevent placement of their children.  I am the live in therapist.  Only, I don't live there.  It just feels like I do.

I have had yay moments and oh no moments and this isn't safe at all moments.  I have had healing moments and scary moments and I have witnessed, in the last week alone, four drug deals.  I have called the Vet School, where we take our darling Rosie, to make sure I cannot bring home the Parvo virus because one of the apartment complexes I am in so often is infested and dogs are dying left and right.  It is truly heart breaking.

{It is highly unlikely I will bring home the Parvo virus.  I knew that, but I had to make sure.  This might be the reason my darling Rosie is co-dependent.  In any case, the Public Information Officer I spoke with gently suggested euthanizing the dogs that are there.  It is so very sad.  And more than that, this is the environment in which young children live.}

In flexing today off, I get to turn off my work phone.  I get to not read my work email.  I get to have lunch with my mother in law.  I do have to catch up on paperwork, maybe an hour's worth?, but that's it.

And tomorrow I will be up bright and early for another 13 hour day.  And I will work Saturday morning.  Part of the issue here is that we're still working on generating local referrals.  Until that happens, I have to take families in a town an hour and a half away.  That's a lot of driving.  That's 15 extra hours to my work week right there.

It's a juggling act.  But, in the end, when one counts all the benefits and costs, this is still a better deal than the last agency I was in.

It's amazing how much of a factor professionalism, professional growth and clinical support mean to a social worker / therapist.

So, onward.  On to catch up on this paperwork and go drink wine at the golf course with MIL.  On to an afternoon nap.  On to a mission to find clearance patio furniture for the deck.

Onward.
I mean, working in forensics would probably feel more strange to me.  Being a ghost hunter might also be more strange. Still, this is strange.

I wrapped up the last of 60+ days of training yesterday for the new job I took in May.  {Disclaimer:  all identifying details about this family have been changed.}  After following in another therapist's footsteps for 30 days, and having my supervisor watch every move I make with a client for 30 days, I am feeling more than ready to be out on my own.

I have been working with families for a long time.

So yesterday was the closing of 30 days of services with a family.  Brief reminder:  I provide time limited, very intense, in home therapy to families at risk of the kids going into foster care.  It's definitely present with me that it's either my therapy or bust.  And while that doesn't, to me, feel like much of a choice to the families, I'm also constantly reminded that it's the better choice.

Our data's good, by the way.  (I'm trying to keep this pretty informal, but, honestly, when I write sentences like that, as a former Research Assistant, I cringe a little.)  But, anyway.  It's pretty good.  2 years after our therapeutic services, 80% of these families who were at immediate risk of placement still have their kids.  And what we know about bonding, attachment and long term overall goodness is that, if safe and if possible, it's better for kids to stay with their families.

O, what was my point, anyway?  O, yes.  So.  I wrap up 30 days of intense in home family therapy.  We've done a tad bit of narrative therapy, a tad bit of solution focused therapy, a whole lotta' cognitive behavioral therapy, attachment work, parent education and a whole lotta' old fashioned social work advocacy.  Not enough food in the house?  In the car with you!  We get to learn about food benefits!  Monthly budgets?  They're awesome.  Let's work on one.

And with that, of course, is the gentle confrontation that comes in therapy regarding inconsistency, how actions don't mirror stated values, etc.  And when you're working  with PARENTS about their KIDS, you're treading on pretty sacred ground.   I wasn't sure how this would go.  I mean.  Although this service has a lot of the same elements of mental health therapy, it feels significantly different to ME.

But here's what happened on the last day, after 30 days of ups, downs, middles, and kiddos singing crazy songs in the car:  this family gently thanked me for coming into their home (even though *I* didn't feel like it was much of a choice for them) and said, "You helped all of us learn how to be better with each other."  And one of the parents choked up, tears welling, and said, "There are better ways to be a parent.  I understand my kids a little better now."

It's not always going to go this well.  I've been in the field for 12 years.  I know that.  What I'm left with today, though, as I'm writing my closing reports, is that this might be one of the more strange social work jobs I've had.  I've never really worked with NEAR mandated clients before.  Wait, no.  That's a total lie.  The kids in juvie were absolutely mandated, but that was a little different.

And what I can already tell is that this job is going to be a humbling lesson for me, as a therapist, in the art of asking for change, challenging to greatness, and celebrating any victory that comes along.  I'm also reminded that, even though I provide almost the same amount of therapy hours in 30 days that I provided in almost a year in mental health, change takes time.  I'm asking parents for a significant paradigm shift in a very short amount of time:  to very quickly explore how they were raised, what children know, what has worked for them and why. This process is going to be what it will be.

Hopefully, in the middle ground of asking for change and therapy, I'll continue to have these moments of connection with parents and their kids.  That's why I'm in it.  That moment where a person understands that I'm seeing them as a human being and I'm honoring them as a human being, no matter what the circumstances, is critical.  It'll be on me to offer these services in a manner that's empowering, honoring and authentic.

O, social work.  My strange, sometimes undecipherable, constant, familiar companion.  What AM I going to do with you?  Today you're my dear friend.  Next week, you might be my biggest headache.    You are what you are.  I guess we're in this for the long haul.


 But.

No seriously, I know a dog is not a child. Rosie is not human.  (Not convinced she knows that.) But Rosie is the 77 pound silly beast of a baby that lives in our house.  Rosie is not a kid, but we feed her, groom her, walk her, play with her ...

And when she gets sick, we care for her and it moves us to tender compassion.  

Rose had a bad Saturday night.  She was up moving around all night and Shoes finally put her in the basement because no sleep was being had by anybody.  Sunday she was in obvious pain and having trouble sitting.  She was lethargic.  And a little irritable.  Due to her breed and the fact that we are losers who bought instead of rescued (guilt!!), we worry about her princess, inbred  hips and we called the emergency vet line.

Now.   I complain a mighty lot about this strange rural area I'm in, but it randomly does still have the PAC 12 university with a good vet school, and for that I am so gushy grateful.  

I took her in to the vet yesterday where her favorite doc and a sweet 4th year student were there to treat her tenderly and gently.  And blessings on them, because trying to get in a crazy one year old Golden Retriever's hurt rear end is no easy task.  They were all up in her business and she was appropriately offended.

Verdict is she has a sprained upper tail from swimming on Saturday.  Right.  She is a water dog.  She hated swimming.  Doc said these sprains are not uncommon for first time swimmers.

Awesome.

She had doggie pain pills now and is feeling significantly better.  No worries - I has the controlled substance talk with her and told her we would also work on alternative pain management techniques.

Now that she is back to bring naughty Rose, Shoes and I are lighter and happier as well.  Rosie is the being in our house that all of our nurturing care goes to.  Shoes is not a highly emotive man, but with Rose he's different.  Softer.  Loving. She brings out the best in us and, honestly, although for non dog peeps this sounds ridiculous, we want her to be happy.  

So she's not human. Not a kid.  And we have the luxury of kenneling her when we go out (I hear you can't do this with kids?).  But.  She is definitely a part of the Shoes/Lisa family.

Power to the pup.
Shoes does not understand my work schedule.  (I don't understand my work schedule either).  I've done all I can do in scheduling this summer - and somehow we scheduled out until the middle of September.

Amazing.  Summer slips away.
It's a sweet slipping, though.  We are so very much enjoying our life together.
Rosie is enjoying it, too.

But it's busy.  Yes.  And I've written everything down on our family calendar, which Shoes forgets to check. I've verbally repeated our summer schedule so many times I can tell you exactly what we're doing, without thinking, for the next 10 weekends.

What a talent.

Shoes and I were talking about the next two weeks, and he said, "Why can't I get your schedule down?  Why is it so confusing?"  And I said, "Because I work when my clients need me.  Some weekends, some evenings, some early mornings, and then maybe 4 days off."

Then Shoes asked what this next week was like for me and I said, "You know, normal.  This is a normal week."  And Shoes said,

"So you're going to work at 2 am on Monday and then you'll work to 7 pm and then go to work again at 8 pm and then you have to drive a client out to Tukwila  for a jumping jack contest and then you have to deliver a baby  and then you have to clean up dog feces and then you have to write a report that you have to present all formally to your team and then you have to create a feelings thermometer with a 6 year old and then you have like all week off."

That is sometimes how it feels.
By the way, I do not cover Tukwila, but Tukwila is very fun to say.
I do sometimes help clients clean up after pets.

I have never been to a jumping jack contest.
I wonder  if there is such a thing.

Two thumbs up for social work.
And summer.  Two thumbs up for summer.
This is the last post about listening. Mostly because I've lost steam.  This happens a lot with me and "creative" ideas.

So.  Please remember, again, that nothing in this blog is intended to diagnose or treat.  But, I thought I'd share some tips on what it really means to listen - what might help to get into a place where you really hear somebody else.  I know, I know.  It should be easy.

Sigh.

Too bad it's not.

Also, this is not advice on how to counsel somebody.  Therapists do some of the following, but add a little bit extra.  Hey.  A magician never reveals her tricks (she said, completely tongue in cheek).  This is just a tiny snackling of advice on how you might put yourself in a spot to be a warm, empathetic, listening friend.

Here's my first piece of advice:

It can't be about you.  Really.  Truly.  If we're going to put ourselves in a place where we are truly trying to understand another person, our agendas, what we want to say, our own stories ... they have to be put aside. At least momentarily.  What might this take?  Maybe becoming mindful in the moment and reminding yourself silently that it's not time to talk.  Becoming mindful might also mean listening to yourself as you listen and monitoring your thoughts.  Are you focusing on what the other person is saying - or - are your thoughts immediately wandering to how what the other person is saying relates to you.  Let it not relate to you.  Give yourself permission to let go of your own story (for just a moment!) and realize that your job, in that moment, is to receive the other person's story.  We can train our thoughts.  Absolutely.  And we can train our speech.  Absolutely.  If you find yourself automatically jumping in with your own story, talking about your own feelings, etc., that's ok.  Name it to yourself, be present in the moment and then steer it back.  Things take practice.  It's ok.

Here's my second piece of advice:

This is so basic I feel like I'm going to offend everybody.  But, it's still true:  make eye contact.  Focus.  Get that connection with your speaker.

Third piece of advice:

As you're being mindful and focusing on the other person, check your empathy.   Can you guess what the other person might be feeling?  Would it be ok to gently reflect that back?  It's ok if you're not entirely accurate.  Really.  It's ok if your guess at their feeling isn't entirely accurate because if you're listening gently and you're in that space of being truly present with someone else, they'll probably be gentle back with you.  Sometimes when we guess wrong, it gives the other person permission to correct you and keep talking.

Fourth:

Ask open ended questions, but ask them at appropriate times.  Pauses are good.  Don't interrupt.  Wait for a break.  If you've been following closely, there should be something to ask about.  But don't ask things like, "Why did you think THAT was a good idea?"  Maybe something like,  "That sounds tough.  How have you been doing with all of that?" Or.  "What happened next?"

Fifth:

Try summarizing and paraphrasing.  It might sound hokey as you're doing it.  Eh.  That's ok.  You're not trying to therapize somebody.  Prefacing your summary with, "That's a lot.  Just to make sure I understand, it sounds like ....."

And, that's all I have.
You might have more, though, and if so, I'd invite you to please feel free to share your thoughts.
I don't everything.
I don't even know a lot.
I just really love people and their stories.
And I firmly believe that listening to each other with acceptance, compassion and authentic love frees us to be our true selves.

So, here's to your true self, friend.  May your journey in listening and being listened to be blessed.  May  you know love and be validated.

It's a good place to be.

{Note - I was cleaning out my draft folder of posts I have started and never finished and found this.  I wish I would have published this one when it was written.  This was about a year and a half ago, when I was still in school, still living in my beloved Portland, and getting ready to marry Shoes.  What a sweet time that was.}

i gave four miniature neighbors ....

and two adult-sized neighbors.

in one house.  there are more, of course, elsewhere, but i don't know them.

two of the four minis are Sophie (5) and Annabelle (3).
the two others are dog #1 and dog#2.

Sophie has told me the dogs' names several times, but i never remember.  they're corgies. or terriers.  or something.  i'm not sure.  they're small and bark-y and usually muddy and i love them.

but this is about Sophie and Annabelle, who race into the backyard to tell me hello and ask me to get the ball they kicked over the fence and ask me where i'm going and tell me about their rock collections and tell me about the afternoon's play dates.  their Mom and Dad usually ask them to stop pestering me, but really, it's ok.

i need to be around kids who don't have traumatic pasts because i need to re-set my definition of normal.  on a regular basis.

the other day i was in the backyard reading article after article for class and their parental units (also therapists) were asking me about school, the job market, etc.  Sophie, who is too smart for her own good, had climbed up the chain link fence and was half hanging off it, listening to the conversation.

she listened about as long as she could and then she sighed impatiently, threw up her hands and said,

"you GUYS?  what about the important stuff??  like ... the WEDDING!  duh!"

i didn't realize children still said "duh."  i haven't heard it from a kid (and i'm a kid therapist!) for a long time.  also, this ranked pretty high on the cute-meter.  just a little below when she and Annabelle told me they made a snowman, in  a rare moment of scant Portland snow, to celebrate Father Christmas' and Jack Frost's birthday.

i'll miss these two if i move away after school.
And honestly, folks, that's just almost unheard of in many social services agencies.

It's pretty easy for the problems of the system and the clients to seep into social service agencies.  You might think an agency of therapists would be a super healthy, nurturing and empowering place to work.

Sometimes it is.  When I interned in NE Portland, I was blessed beyond measure to work with a group of therapists who had a code of honor that included things like:  I'm not going to listen to you complain about another therapist - go talk to that person; and; what do you need to take care of yourself right now?  go do it.  The administrative help in that agency walked around saying things like, I never want to work anywhere but here.  What can I do to help you today?

That takes commitment, folks.  It takes a good daily examining of what's going on inside you and to not get caught up in what some folks call low brain thinking.  And when it works, it is simply fabulous.

I also worked for an agency that was a lot like Survivor.  Only, we all suffered infections in the brain, the production crew and any chance of rational help deserted us, and there was no cash prize at the end. Things like this happened:  therapists covertly took unflattering pictures of other therapists in staff meetings and sent them to other therapists.

I just can't really even think about that job.  It was as if I fell into some hell version of Wonderland.

So now, I work at another healthy agency, where my supervisor says, What do you need from me today?  What can I do to help?  Where are your families at?  Now.  At this agency, we are all currently at risk of being furloughed, indefinitely, because the State hasn't passed a budget yet.  Children's administration and the Attorney General's office have all received layoff notices.  I won't know until Monday, 7/1/13, when I check my email, if I'm going to work that day or not.  Shoes is also at slight risk of being furloughed.

This doesn't sit well with my planning nature.  And the thought of both Shoes AND I going without work makes me queasy.

But I was sitting in this emergency staff meeting this week, and we were all receiving this news, the first words out of my coworkers mouths were, "I can't believe this.  Do they not know how this is going to impact vulnerable children?  What can we do to support our clients during this time if there is a government shut down?"  And today, during my group supervision and team business meeting, one of our agenda items read:

How are you challenging your own unhelpful self talk about the current uncertainty with the budget?

My first thought?  Honestly?  This is ridiculous.  It's not unhelpful self talk.  It's a stinking reality.  Both Shoes and I are going to lose our jobs and how are we going to make our mortgage payments and my student loans are due soon and ...

...oh.  Oh.  So THERE it is.  That's the little bugger I need to challenge.  There's the fear.  The lack of faithfulness.

Not easy.

Then again, 100% of the change I ask my clients for is also not easy.  And those of us in the field tend to believe (although probably not all of us) that we can only take our clients so far as we ourselves have gone.

This job is helping to change me.  Thank.  Goodness.

I have a lot of refining that needs to happen.
Too late to start lying about my age now!

I am 35.  In the past year, I have:

* Graduated with my Master's
* Moved to the middle-of-nowhere
* Gotten married
* Adopted an insane Golden Retriever {who is the second greatest love of my life}
* Started my first therapy job as a community outpatient mental health therapist
* Bought a house
* Started renovating said house
* Quit my job as a community outpatient mental health therapist
* Started a new job as an in home family therapist {contracted with the Children's Administration}

I have:

* Laughed
* Cried
* Wept
* Argued
* Loved
* Been loved
* Threatened to give the Golden Retriever away
* Cried when the Golden Retriever graduated puppy class
* Stepped on home renovation screws
* Cursed because I stepped on home renovation screws
* Been hopeful
* Been despondent
* Been faithful
* Been fearful

In the road to 36, I would like to:

* Rest
* Rest
* Rest
* Learn how to play the violin
* Take a honeymoon
* Rest

I googled "On my 35th year" just now, and what came up was an entire host of personal narrative blogs (hellllo, like minded souls!) that addressed a type of self evaluation that comes with 35 -- what we want to do next, in the next 5 years, before we turn 40.  What our first 35 years has meant.

I don't know what my first 35 years has meant.  Many apologies.

But, I can tell you that it feels long and full, you know?  Like, I was born, and then I was a kid, and then wait, holy cow, a lot of adult things happened to me and now I am married with a house (mortgage), husband, job and yard that needs to be cared for weekly.  I also have a job where sometimes amazing things happen, sometimes truly sad things happen, and sometimes I get threatened with weapons.  A little variety.

This is what I plan to do today:  Practice a little extra gratitude and thankfulness.  Send out a little extra love in the Metta Bhavana.  Take a deep breath.  Slow down slightly.

Today, I am halfway to 70.

Hello, 35!


Last post: listening.

This post:  not listening.

I used to have a lady, whom I loved,  who did my hair.  She was truly a sweet, bubbly soul.  Optimistic.  Loving.  She amused me in many ways.... the least not being that she never stopped talking.  She would ask questions, I would get one word out, and then she would plow on with whatever thought was next in her head.  She would ask me about experiences I'd had in my past, and then, without stopping to take a breath, she'd say things such as, "Weren't you just so mad/angry/frustrated/ecstatic/fill in the blank?"  It truly never stopped.

And then one day she said, "I would be a great counselor, because I am so good at helping people with their problems."

I didn't respond.  Out loud.  I loved her and loved her hair cutting and coloring skills, but there's no way I would have sat in her therapy chair.

It was all I could do to refrain from giggling.

It is not a counselor's responsibility to solve a person's problems.  It is an individual's responsibility to move forward to solving his/her own problems.  It is a counselor's responsibility to listen, listen, listen, validate, re-frame, gently challenge and let the person come to the solution (solution) that is best for him or her.  (There might be a little more to it than that, but that's a good start.)

What happens when we don't feel listened to?  Well.  That's a pretty easy one, right?  Think about the last time you felt that a best friend, partner, parent, sibling, child, etc. wasn't listening to you.  What might have followed?  Misunderstanding.  Frustration.  A sense of shutting down.  Anger.

Maybe an argument ensued.

Why?

There is so much that is implied with being truly listened to.  When we're listened to, we feel validated.  We feel understood.  Our defensiveness comes down.  Maybe we feel like now that the problem has been hashed out, we're a little more released to take action.  And when we're not listened to?  Exactly the opposite.

(Before I start this next paragraph, please remember, as is stated in "Legal Issues" above in the pages, that nothing in this blog is intended to diagnose or treat.  The following is merely a couple of anecdotes about how difficult listening can be.)

When I participated in marriage counseling with the former spouse (ooooh, we're getting a little personal now!), we were speaking in session about how critical it is for couples to truly communicate their needs to each other, and how it critical it is for the receiving partner to listen and respond.  Former spouse indicated that the past week had been "exhausting", as he felt I was trying too hard to listen.  He said, "I shouldn't have to tell her what I need.  She should just know."  The marriage counselor tapped his pencil on the desk a few times.  Cleared his throat.  Stated, "I'm not sure that's a reasonable expectation."

Former spouse did not listen to that piece of advice.  (That is not why the marriage ended.  But it did not help.)

Today, when I see couples in therapy, I often find that communication is a key problem.  People haven't quite practiced how to be gentle, clear, firm and honest about what they need.  People haven't quite practiced how to actively listen, rephrase and ask for clarification.

These are not skills we are just born with.
It would be easier if they were, maybe.
Actually.  That would definitely be easier.

If you're in couples counseling with me, we'll inevitably do an exercise. This one is not complicated, but it requires a lot of set up. Here it is:  one partner speaks for five minutes while I model active listening.  When that person is finished, I model rephrasing and asking for clarification, and then I ask the person who was speaking how it felt to be listened to.  I then ask the partner who was observing what s/he noticed, and if s/he has any questions.  Then I complete the exercise with the other partner and listen to him/her.  Then I have the couple practice with each other and I elicit and provide feedback.

This can take A Very Long Time.  It takes an entire 50 minute session (usually more than one), and it's usually something that we practice for weeks.  (That's ok by me.  I'm in it to see change, so if it takes awhile, it takes awhile.) It can be a very frustrating thing for couples to go through, and often, I see conflict increase a little while things are getting hashed out.  (Most counselors give a little spiel that things will often get a little worse before they get better ... we're bringing up emotional topics, practicing new skills ... change takes courage.  And sometimes a glass of wine [as long as we're free from addiction issues].)  But then?  After awhile?  I can usually tell when mini breakthroughs happen ... because the couple will come in to my office (or right now, I'll come to their home, as that's my current modality), and there will be a sense of peace and love that wasn't there before.  Not perfect, but something has shifted.  There's even a sense of pride and smugness.  O, how I love that.  They absolutely should be proud of themselves.

Active listening is no easy task.  It can exhaust you.  Sometimes when I come home from work, I need an hour to myself, to just ... not listen.  I love my job (capital L), but I need that slight break.  We do the hard work (I as a counselor and families as family members) because it's worth it.

It should be easy, I know.
If it were so easy, though, the issue wouldn't come up again and again in our personal lives.

This is how this post ends:

"Being heard
is so close to being loved
that for the average person
they are almost indistinguishable."  -- David Augsburger
I'm not done with my posts about listening, but I'm taking a little break today to ramble about Father's Day.

I have been irritable with a capital "I-RRITABLE" these past few days, and I haven't known why.  Man, I hate that.  I mean, I'm pretty in tune with my feelings.  My affective language use is pretty darn high.  And I'm a jerk and I like to know exactly what's going on.

I think, what it is, now that today has come and I'm seeing everybody's loving and devoted posts on FB, is that it is ... Father's Day.

I don't think Father's Day is supposed to make you irritable.  I mean, I'll be calling my step dad today to wish him a Happy Father's Day.  I even bought Shoes a Happy Father's Day Card "from the dog."  They actually make those.  We're horrifically corny like that.

I don't have a relationship with my real dad.  I did, for many, many years (my parents separated when I was in high school), but it wasn't until the last 12 months that things deteroriated to the point of nothing-ness.  I guess I don't really want to tell every sordid detail, but the highlights include not coming to my wedding (and texting the night of the rehearsal dinner to tell me that) to activity on his part that had Shoes and I considering a civil protection order.  And a bunch of stuff in-between.

Is it jealousy that makes me hate this day?
Oh, yes, indeed.  Looking on FB this morning at friends' pictures of themselves with their fathers on their wedding day brought forth a few sad tears.

Is it grief that makes me hate this day?
Absolutely no doubt.  I fought for YEARS for a relationship with my dad.  Letting that go was so painful.  But no less painful than being on the receiving end of a bunch of poop (clinical term).

I have, over the years, had several well meaning friends who have "lent" me their fathers.  And while this has helped, and was a loving and kind gesture, it just can't make up for that sense of loss.  

Big, deep, fat, dark loss.

What I am grateful for?

1.  This sounds bizarre, but I am grateful for the years I did get to spend with my dad.  The early years. The early kid years of remote controlled airplanes and Muppets and gardening and music and smiles.

2.  The hope of restoration.  Every time these sad feelings pop up, I name them and am mindful of them.  That's a very real part of me that will do no good to pretend doesn't exist.  However, I also know that because I know what's going on with me, I have faith that I'll come to a point where it hurts a little less.

3.  A connection with God and the universe - Faith.  Although my faith looks different than it did in my mid 20s, the feeling that I remain held and regarded lingers, as does the sense that I am deeply connected to love.

So.

To Fathers who are there in those fb photos, I say, "job well done."  And I say "thank you."

And now I am going to go download music and paint my living room.  Get ready for the upcoming week.  Move on.




I learned that one in the church.

(This is part I of a few posts on listening.  I have no clue when it will end because I don't know when I'll run out of things to talk about.  Also, I might get bored.  Could go either way ....)

I have a therapist friend I love wholly and dearly.  She is the type of girl to have a glass of wine with, to get ridiculous with and to laugh naughtily with.  Lately, I've had some personal stuff going on and I mentioned something briefly to Friend about it.   Just to put my busy-ness in context.  I wasn't being coy on purpose.

She asked, "Do you want to talk about it?"

I said, "Nope."

She asked, "Because it makes it bigger, huh?"

I said, "Yep."

But that wasn't really the truth.  The truth is that I'm extraordinarily picky about with whom I share my stress.  And I am extraordinarily picky  because when I've got Big Stuff, I really need people to listen, really listen, to not try to relate what I'm saying to themselves, and to be empathetic.

Easy right?

Nope.

(Friend, by the way, is a successful therapist who builds incredible rapport with her clients.  I'm sure she listens well to them.  Maybe it's because we're friends, but I do not like trying to have serious talks with her.  I have just a few people I'm able to voluntarily go to when I have problems.  And this past year?  Ohhhhh, man.  Those poor handful of people!)

Listening is super hard, guys.  It can be incredibly difficult and exhausting to be fully present with someone, especially when you feel like you can relate and want to tell your story, and perhaps even more so when you don't agree with what the person is saying.  In my new job, I have 28 days to work with clients -- Approximately 40 hours of therapy.  That's an incredibly short amount of time, and you know what it's recommended we spend the first 6-10 hours doing?  Active listening.  (Oh my word.  I just asked Shoes what the hardest part of listening for him personally was, and he said, "Not injecting my own narrative into the person's story before they finish."  Somebody's been listening to the therapist in the house!)

It should be easy, right?  I mean, you just use your ears and listen, right?  Maybe it should be ... but it just isn't.  We spent the first several hours of core counseling class in graduate school learning how to listen actively, reframe, ask clarifying questions, etc.    Why?  Because you have to listen intently to start to understand the other person.

Let me tell you what.
That RUINED me.
Once I had a few experiences of genuinely being listened to, I started to get super frustrated when I felt like people weren't listening to me.

And let me tell you what.
That was incredibly VALIDATING for me.
Once I had a few experiences of genuinely being listened to, I realized the sheer power of knowing that I was being held and valued in another person's eyes.  It was deeply humbling and I felt deeply, deeply loved.

So, in this first part of this series on listening, I'm going to tell you two stories of what it feels like to be deeply listened to.  One is my own.  The other is from a past client.  (All identifying information has been changed about this client and the dialogue is re-created - no direct quotes).

My story:

2012.  Second year of graduate school.  I was interning at an inner city community outpatient mental health clinic in Southeast Portland, and I had just started to receive, as clients, families who scored higher on service intensity instruments. One of the families I was assigned was a father and step-mother who had recently regained custody of the father's 15 year old teen.  While in another person's care, the teen had suffered intense trauma, and, when referred for therapy, was engaging in behaviors one might expect from a 15 year old who had suffered intense trauma.  Father and step-mom were at a loss, and their way of dealing with the behavior, before therapy, was to blame and punish.

This hit a nerve with me.

While I understood, fully, that they were doing the best that they could, my heart went out to this teen, who was so thoroughly and utterly lost, lonely and hurting.  I was describing my own counter-transference in group supervision one day, and my group supervisor, who had been listening intently, said, "I think maybe you have a personal experience that is helping you to really understand this teen."

And I did.  In a long, rambling verbal vomit of monologue (ugh - sorry group!), I went on and on about my time working in juvenile detention and the things I had seen:  foster kids who misbehaved so they could get out of foster homes and come to juvie, where they knew the routine, knew they would be fed and warm, and knew we loved them; kids who came from abusive homes and asked us to please not return them back to the same environment; kids who were heavily gang involved on the "outside" who turned into loveable balls of bad body odor (well, they were teens after all) on the "inside".  As I talked, and as the group listened, I was able to tap into this strength I had in me - this experience of working with kids people didn't want anymore - and I was able to gain clarity into what I had to do therapeutically.

I walked away from that group supervision with more confidence and more resolve.
I felt a little more complete.
It was wholly and completely validating.

A client story:

The middle aged man came into the mental health clinic asking to speak with a crisis counselor.  "I need help," the man said, "finding housing."  Finding housing was not considered, by agency standards, a mental health crisis.  And to meet with this person, I had to cancel scheduled ongoing clients.  I could have referred the him to community resources and declined to meet.  He was also, honestly, menacing and rough looking - heavily tattooed and burly.   (That wasn't prejudicial thinking.  That was me thinking about safety.)

But.

But, the person was looking at me like he knew I was going to say no.  And that appeared exhausting.  I will never forget the look in his eyes.  There was no hope.
So.

What if?

I met with the person.  And I heard a long story of medical health issues - bills that couldn't be paid - assets that had to be sold off.  Relationships that were lost.  Complicating effects of the poverty that followed.

It wasn't a crisis by agency standards.
My other clients, who were cancelled, were frustrated the next day.

But here's how this ended.

At the end of 90 minutes, after listening, reaching for emotion, leaning forward and making eye contact, I gave the client a couple of resources that hadn't been tried yet.

And as he staggered painfully to his feet, looked at me and said, "I knew you weren't going to be able to help me."

I nodded.
After all, that sounded true.
And truthfully, I heard that a lot in crisis mental health.

But then he said, "And I will never forget that you chose to listen to me.  And it has been a long ass time [editor's note:  he said something a little more dirty than that] since anybody has done that."  And then tattooed man cried a little and shook my hand.

That was a good decision to make that day.

*******

And you, reader?
Was there a time you were so genuinely listened to that you felt loved in every fiber of your being?

Soldier's new mission:  Finding homes for female vets

I almost re-tweeted this article (linked - please visit and read for yourself).  I've learned to be a little careful, though, with that.  It's my responsibility to think about what re-tweeting says about my viewpoints- and especially what articles might convey (intentionally or unintentionally) about my view of others.

The article broke my heart in many ways.  Women veterans becoming homeless after returning from duty.  Women and children incredibly at-risk:
"While the Department of Veterans Affairs reports that overall veteran homeless rates are going down, female rates are going up. In fact, female veterans are the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. homeless population and are more at risk than their male counterparts, according to the report."
It has always been hard for women with dependent children.  The military has not been forward thinking in helping female veterans meet the unique challenge of having children and facing deployment.  Punitive, maybe, even.  (Is that going too far?)

Help comes in the form of a woman, Jaspen Boothe, the article describes, who is helping women veterans access transitional housing.  After facing similar challenges, including cancer, the military referred her to social services.
"They referred her to local social services, which Boothe called probably the most demeaning experience of her life."
Oh Goodness.

I wish I could accurately describe how demeaning it IS to access social services.  Forms are convoluted.  Waiting lines (and times) (even in rural areas) are long.  I've met many front desk staff (definitely not all) and social workers who are rude, judgmental and extremely condescending.  Applying for social services is a long process in which your intelligence, worth and dignity are continually called into question. You are continually asked, "What did YOU do to get to this point and what are YOU going to do to pull yourself out?"

(Sidenote.  Top causes of poverty:  illiteracy, health and income.  Now.  Think about what causes illiteracy, poor health and income.  We must, we must, we must, we must be careful to absolutely divorce the notion of poverty from personal effort/laziness.  I cannot even begin to describe how much more complicated the causes of poverty are.)

So Boothe has my heart in the palm of her hand, right?  And I'm soaking in her story to see how it ends, right?  And then this line pops up,
"  'I'm not a welfare mom, I'm a soldier.' "
Which came after this quote,
"You're treated basically as a baby's mama or a crack head, or some woman who's made a bunch of bad decisions with her life, and the only resources available were welfare," Boothe said.
And the record on the needle scratches and I instantly decide that I'm not re-tweeting this article.

Boothe found herself in the position of needing social services after falling on incredibly hard times.  She found that she needed transitional help.  Well, glory be -- turns out that the purpose of welfare is to help people transitionally.  Turns out that the myth of the welfare mom is rampant and that most people who use cash assistance or food stamps do so .... transitionally.  Turns out that Boothe fits the description of somebody who needs the assistance of ...welfare.

So does that make her a welfare mom?

I guess so.  Technically, right?  And I say that without any judgment or prejudice.  We have to start combating that term and the prejudicial attitude it conveys.  Boothe served her country (and continues to do so as she works with the VA).  I'm so grateful for that.  And I'm so very, very sad and disappointed that when she went to ask the country she so unselfishly served for help, the country made her feel demeaned and demoralized.

What's a welfare mom?

I have friends who, as a result of the recent economy, have used the assistance of food stamps.  WIC.  The cash grant.  I had single friends in undergraduate school (when this was still a possibility) who received food stamps to help them eat through the end of the month.  I have friends who, in the State of Oregon, which as a provision for this, received $1200 in welfare benefits to help flee domestic violence.

Are there people who abuse the system?
Yes.
Are there people who are dealing with addiction who receive welfare benefits?
Yes.
Are there MORE people who use welfare transitionally?
Yes.
If you research academic journals will you find the last statement to be true?
Yes.
Does this country have large prejudice and misinformation regarding who receives welfare?
I think so.

I commend Boothe for her work with female veterans and I wish her the best as she moves forward in continuing to act selflessly for the sake of others.  I sincerely thank her for her service to this country.  May her journey be blessed beyond belief.

And may we all start to examine the attitudes we have to people who receive federal / state assistance.

(I am proud of the "welfare moms" I know.  Because sometimes asking for help is infinitely harder than it should be.)

(Back on the soap box again ... I've written about this before ... I'd stop, but it keeps popping up ...)

As a social worker / therapist, it's easy to develop pet peeves.  As in, really easy.  As in, it's probably a good thing to watch those immediate reactions you start having to people - OR - you might lose sight as to what's really important:  empathy / respect / appreciation for the journey most of my clients have been on.  (Most people don't just wake up one day and think, Man, today would be a GREAT day to (fill in the blank) ....)

I'm an in home family therapist for families who are at immediate risk of losing their children to foster care.  When Children's Administration (meaning, CPS, or Child Welfare, or the Department of Children and Family Services, or whatever variation your state has) calls me, things have gotten pretty hairy.  That's a euphemism.  I don't really want to detail right now what kinds of things happen in homes that help facilitate my presence, mostly because when I do that, the back story as to why families are going through the hardships they are gets lost.  Most people are not psychopaths.  Most people do not want to hurt their children.  That might be hard to believe, but people's stories are so widely varied and complex.

I mean, really, really complex.  Do I get frustrated?  Sure.  Do I have to call in new CPS reports?   Sometimes.  Do I still have hope?  Absolutely.  Do some families make it?

Do some families make it?  (Not a typo.  I asked that twice.)

Some families stay together, and people have widely varying definitions of success.  I've had to really, really examine my class issues in defining success and have had to really, really examine how comfortable I am with the concept of minimum sufficient level of care.

Oh, my word.  I digress all over the place.  The job is complex, much like many jobs!, and I find myself re-explaining what I do again and again out of habit.

Back to the point.  I have worked with children and families for 12 years.  Not always as a therapist.  Not always at the Master's level.  But I have a lot of experience with kids.  I've seen a lot of kids heal.  I've seen a lot of kids go through some earth shattering,  heart breaking experiences.  I've been around kids.

I've been around kids who have been physically or sexually abused.  I've helped take injury photos of bruises and I've listened to kids disclose physical torture.  I've advocated for them in court.  I've worked with kids in therapy who have PTSD because they've witnessed family members die in gang shootings. I've detained some of them involuntarily to psych beds for their own safety.  In one season of my life, I was a Detention Officer and I physically restrained them for their own safety.  In that same season, I stayed up all night with them when they had nightmares, wet the bed, needed someone to talk to.    I have chosen a life of public service (long hours, terrible pay, etc) because my heart is wrapped up in kid healing.  This is a choice I have made.

(Loop back to the beginning of the post ...)

So I do not take it well when people tell me, "You'll know when you're a mom" - or - "You don't understand because you don't have children."

I was in a training today on cognitive interventions and REBT when a training participant purposefully ignored a statement I made, turned to my co worker and said, "Well, you know about kids, because you're a mom."

Sweetheart, I have been to more dark places with kids than most moms will ever go.  I do not know what it is like to be a mom, but I know about kids, and what I know is that giving birth does not make you an expert on all things child.  (I didn't say that.  I took a drink of water and doodled on my handout.)

Strangely, none of my clients have ever had a problem with me not having kids.  Some of them, in our closing work together, have stated that they had initial concerns that I would not be able to relate because I do not have my own kids, but that those concerns dissipated quickly.  I have only ever received the cold shoulder from some colleagues (not most), conservative Evangelical moms (not all) and some acquaintances (my good friends are generally supportive).  I do not have to have schizophrenia to treat schizophrenia.  I do not have to be suicidal to treat suicide ideation / depression.  I do not have to have kids to be a good kid / family therapist.

Also, strangely, Shoes and I are having long, complicated discussions about when to start our own family, (if we start our own family), with no clear answers as to when, in part  because I am so busy taking care of other people's children.  (Calm. That's not the only reason the discussions are complicated).

So.  In sum.  My uterus is empty.  It might be empty for a good long while. And me and my empty uterus?  We're still a good family therapist.  I can still jump rope, shoot baskets, make a worry box, and depersonalize an issue like nobody's business.  I haven't stayed up all night with a colicky baby, but I've stayed up all night with a suicidal teenager.  I haven't dropped my 5 year old off for his first day of kindergarten, but I've worked hours and hours and hours to get a child the special education service he desperately needs.

Not a mom.

Still an advocate for all things child.

Funny how that works.
Shoes and I are turning 35 this year.  I don't mind telling you that at all.  Shoes' birthday is today, and we've had a lovely weekend of dinners, golf and spending time together.  Due to not being in the city, this birthday was much harder to plan.  You see, we make a big deal out of birthdays around here.  We don't make a big deal out of presents (we both prefer not to - with any celebration - but that's a story of a different post), but we make a big deal out of the celebration.  The connection.  The ritual.

The ritual ended kind of early last night and we were in bed by 10.

That might have been worth it because I feel pretty fantastic this morning, which is, no doubt, another sign of being another year older.

Last night, when we were out at fancy dinner (kind of - the nicest dinner we could have in this rural town),  I asked Shoes what he had learned over the course of the last year.  He sighed and said, "I've learned to not let Rosie have any more fabric toys."  (Really.  She consumes all of them and then there's Big Trouble in Little Rosie's Stomach later.)

We also talked about 35 being kind of a difficult birthday.  For us, anyway.  We've both been very grateful to have been in the position of being "young professionals" after college and entering into our respective fields.  That part of our identity is slowly slipping away as we approach middle age.  We are no longer the bright, young people at the professional table.  And while that's a bit of an adjustment, there's also a reservoir of treasure that comes with that.  Namely, experience.  Patience.  Wisdom...

I've written many time about here about the long journey I took to find Shoes and be ok with marriage again.  We don't have to talk to about it again.  But it is worth mentioning that he still surprises me.  His wit, his patience, his kindness, his gentleness ... it is immense and all enveloping and there is still a piece of me that is astonished I get to help him celebrate any birthday with him.  He is an incredible partner, which is how I usually prefer to refer to him.  He truly partners with me in every sense of the word.

I do not know how to be more grateful for this human being in my life.
I do not know how I am so lucky to be able to help him celebrate another year of incredible living.
I think I can't love him more, and then, of course, I do.

Cheers to another year of a life very well lived, Shoes.  You're making the absolute most of your time on this earth, and it is humbling to see you not take anything for granted.  Cheers to this next year, too.  I have no doubt that you will find ways to live it even more fully.  Thanks for letting me celebrate with you.  There's nowhere else I'd rather be.
I don't know if you know this about me, but I come from a military family.  My father was career military and my hometown was "Any Military Base Anywhere."  We lived in Europe until I was 9.  Both of my grandfathers served, my uncles served, my cousins served, my sister served and is now in the Reserves....

It's an interesting thing:  to be able to hold a deep river of gratitude for those who choose to serve the country, and to balance that with an equally deep river of heartbreak around how shattering war is, how damaging it is to countries and human beings, and how much is spent on this country's military budget.  It's an interesting thing:  to deeply honor and truly respect the choices of your family members, and to zip it when we're all of having holiday dinners because we wouldn't want to have that discussion again, now, would we?

(I secretly do want to have that conversation, but, you know ... I wasn't always a trouble maker.  In fact, when I was a kid, I talked so little in class that one of my elementary schools sent me to speech therapy.  They were convinced that the reason I wasn't talking was because I was having trouble actually forming words.  I wasn't.  "Speech Therapy" didn't last long.  I don't have that problem anymore.)

Despite any deeply held political beliefs I have, this is still true:

In all of the US Conflicts,  more than 1,319,729 soldiers have lost their lives.  That, to me, is an absolutely staggering number.  (Of course, some of those conflicts included conflicts (including US military / American Indian conflict) that I just cannot support by any stretch of the imagination.)   I honor the loss of life and the millions of family members who have been affected by that loss.

Today is Memorial Day.  We honor those who lost their lives in combat.

Today is Memorial Day.  I also remember that a generation of Russians lost their lives in WWII.  I also remember that between 112,789 and 123,419 Iraqi civilians (civilians) have lost their lives in the most recent conflict.  I also remember the millions upon millions of Native Americans who were killed by foreign settlers.  I could go on.  And on.  And on.

Memorial Day is not simple for me.  It is not a 10% discount at Taco Time for veterans.  It is not American flags flying on Main Street.  It is not Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA."  It is a sticky situation, a terrible middle ground, where many of my own truths run headlong into each other.  I'm remembering.  I'm troubled.

And I'm hopeful, because, darn it.  That's part of who I am as well.

Am I really going to end this post by a quote by Fred Rogers?

I am, my friends.

“When I say it's you I like, I'm talking about that part of you that knows that life is far more than anything you can ever see or hear or touch. That deep part of you that allows you to stand for those things without which humankind cannot survive. Love that conquers hate, peace that rises triumphant over war, and justice that proves more powerful than greed.” 
 Fred Rogers


And our night away was perfect and lovely and warm. Unseasonably warm.  We played the resort's golf course, and while I normally just tee off and putt, I played several holes all the way through.

I am a terrible golfer.  Really.  Just terrible.  But I love it.  Every time I get to that ball, it feels like a brand new opportunity.  (To biff it, usually, but still a new opportunity).  We were so very lucky that the other two in the foursome were regular rural PNW guys who wanted to drink beer and have fun.

That meant they were able to cheer my very small successes and not be super serious about this expensive round of golf at the resort.

Now "vacation" (do you count one night away as vacation?)  is over.  And I'm at training in the city for the new job, missing Shoes and Rosie.

This new job is doing intense in home family therapy for families who are at immediate (read:  IMMEDIATE) risk of having their children placed in foster care.  It's either do this therapy or the kids will be removed. So we're back to child protection, and honestly, and please read my heart here as I am not, of course, saying I am ok with child abuse / neglect, it feels very much like my career "home".  I have worked with child protective services as a professional for years.  Years.

I think this is what I know.

I always wondered when therapists talked about their "specialty" areas (grief and loss, eating disorders, geriatric counseling, etc) how they got there.  I don't think it's that far fetched to say that one of my specialties is becoming working with families who have experienced trauma.

We're at this training and we're talking about referrals and engagement and motivation and hope and optimism and change and how the data shows that 90% of the families who make it to the end of the program stay together.

Hard to argue with those kind of numbers, right?

And I'm feeling all stirred up again, like this experience is speaking to the heart of who I am as a social worker.

Up with families. ;)


... it hits like a hurricane.  We'll call this one hurricane Christina (only because Christina begins with a C and this is the 3rd metaphor hurricane of this year for Shoes and I.  Christina is also the name of one of the therapists I grew closest to while I was at Community Outpatient Mental Health; Christina the person is not the same as Christina the hurricane.  I just spent a solid 3 minutes explaining that to you, when it doesn't matter at all, because none of you have met Christina the person.  But, there it is.)

I went to Day 1 of training at new Social Work Agency and it was lovely.  I left town at a decent hour. I was home at 5:00.  Shoes and I visited and had dinner.  The people at Social Work Agency are talented, top notch therapists and social workers who are also extremely empathetic.  They told me I could take Friday off since I'll be out all next week at training.  It was calm, and peaceful and healthy.  Not all days will be like that, I know.

I am a social worker, after all.  Sometimes it just gets crazy.  Like, crazy.  O, the stories I could tell, of fights and cops and emergency rooms.

But I digress.

I went to bed last night and couldn't wake up this morning.  As in, begged Shoes to take Rose downstairs to her Puppy Palace (we keep her in our unfinished basement during the day - it's huge) so I could keep sleeping.   And I slept and slept and slept.

Sometimes when you get out of a situation that's not the right fit for you, you see things with more clarity.  Sometimes you see how unhealthy things really were.  That's the spot I'm in.  And I'm a little freaked out by it.  Sometimes when you're in the middle of trying to work and survive and live, you let a lot of things go, because you just have to.  You have to to be able to make a living and try to serve the needs of high risk clients who deserve your absolute best.

I still don't know how to talk about the bad place I was in with this other job.  Not in a way that I would be proud of or comfortable with.  I'm sitting here staring at my exit interview packet thinking how in the world am I going to answer these questions when I know it doesn't matter and my feedback (which has always been gentle and empathetic and constructive) will be taken personally.  How can I fill this out when I know that at least 4 other therapists, in the last 12 months, have tried to share the same feedback .. and there have been very few efforts to address what's there.

You know what was good about the old agency?

The therapists I grew close to.  There are a handful I trust implicitly, and was always so grateful to see their faces at the Emergency Room as we supported each other in detainments that lasted hours and hours and hours.  We've hung out.  We've met spouses.  Our dogs have made friends with each other.

It was one of the therapists that quit earlier this year that told the new Social Work Agency that would be crazy not to hire me.  We're now working together as satellite therapists in our Very Rural County.  I don't have to miss her; she's right here.  But I am so very grateful for the people who are still holding it down at the Old Agency.  And I'm looking forward to camping trips and summer bbqs and deck parties with them.  When you're dealing with untenable situations, there are few things that are more dear to your heart than colleagues who drop everything to  back you up.

Oh, the things I continue to learn in my 35th year of life.

I don't feel as tired this afternoon, but the feeling of being wiped out still lingers a little.  The weather is gorgeous, and I'm about to take Rose over to Shoes' mother's house to hang out with her and her new Terrier puppy, Maggie.  Rose is having "Grandma's weekend" while Shoes and I go up North to the mountains for a night away on a crystal clear mountain lake.  I feel different already.  I feel like a human.  I feel like I still want to do social work.

Self care, dear hearts.  Self care.
I've majorly violated my one big New Years' Resolution for this year, which was to live 12 months with no major life changes.  In this case, though, I think a major life change was needed for my health (see previous post) and the health of my family.  (A husband and a dog is a family.)

I've resigned from my job as a child and family therapist with the community outpatient mental health clinic.  Hearing Shoes say (over and over and over and over), "We can sell the house, babe.  We'll move back to Portland.  It will be ok." made me realize how much sadness and grief and stress this job was bringing into my home.

It hit me really hard about a month ago when Shoes said quietly, "You can't go on like this.  This depression is eating you alive."

Depression?  Well.  Not really.  I mean, sad and stressed out and trying to rely on God's promises, but I know that I didn't match the clinical criteria for depression.  You gotta watch how you label mental health around a therapist. But the fact that Shoes was experiencing my situation as depression was a bit of a shake up.   I have more to say about the job I'm resigning from, but I'm looking for a graceful, diplomatic way to own my truth and not slander the agency.  And I will probably wait until I've fully left to write that post.

Before I resigned, though, I accepted an employment offer from a parent agency in a town a couple hours away who was looking to expand services in my county.  So.  I am still a child and family therapist.  Now, I am a child and family therapist who will be providing intense, in home therapy to families who are either:  1) At imminent risk of losing their children to Child Welfare; or 2) Having their children returned to them out of foster care.  This is gloves off kind of stuff.  The kind of therapy that happens as a last chance resort to try to keep families together.

I'm going from one intense agency to another, I know.  Here's the thing though.  With the new agency, my maximum caseload is 2.  2 families.  Now, each family gets 10 hours of in home therapy a week, but I will never be assigned more than 2 families.  And paperwork is written into my work agreement.  And here's the thing that my heart is the most grateful for:

I will be working from home.  I will not be away from the house 12-14 hours a day.  The implications this has for Shoes and I is huge. We might actually have space to start thinking about human children.  We'll see.

I have 3 more client days at the clinic.  This has been tough.  Due to the very high turnover at the clinic, I am the 3rd or 4th therapist these kids and families have had in the last 12 months.  These families are upset, and understandably so.  It has taken all of my professional energy and clinical skills to be able to hold their disappointment, irritation, frustration, fury ... and grief and loss ... while experiencing my own.  I have never ascribed to the school of thought that I, as a therapist, should be a blank slate.  Especially not when working with kids and families with a history of trauma and attachment issues.  (No worries, I'm not letting myself fall apart.  It's been several days of lots of emotion, though.)  It's also been incredibly difficult to professionally, yet with empathy, respond to statements such as, "That agency must be a really terrible place to work if they can't keep any of their therapists"; or; "I don't know where you're going after this, but it has to be better than (my agency)."  (That last one was from a professional I respect and admire.)

I've been working almost every day, many hours a day.  My last day with the current agency is Wednesday, and on Thursday and Friday, I'll drive up to the parent agency for initial training.

If anything, the past 9 months has taught me how important the health of the agency is in social work / social services.  That's obvious, right?  Maybe, but it's really difficult to assess that in an interview.  I know to ask more questions early on now.  I know to ask for what I need.  I know to ask, "What makes a person a good fit for this agency?".  Maybe I won't always get straight answers, but I can only do what I can do.

It's beautiful outside right now.  I went into the agency this morning and worked on cleaning up client files.  And then Rosie and I went to the dog park.  It's time to start putting this behind me.  It's time to start remembering why I wanted to become a therapist.

Oh, social work.