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.


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.


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.


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.


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?"


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.