Saturday, September 18, 2010

A really bad day

Today was a really really really bad day. It's already seven PM and I have barely left my bedroom after having a fight with R this morning in which I--I!--used the f-word and told him he was a loser. Woo-hoo, that's some really good parenting there.

I am angry at myself and discouraged and still angry at him, too. I even got annoyed at the dog when she was trying to be comforting: I wasn't ready to be comforted, I was angry. I did apologize to him--that only took me a couple of minutes--and even tried to have some sort of reasonable follow-up--which took an hour or so longer--but he wasn't ready for it. So I'm giving him space now and taking plenty of my own. But wow, what a...what an unexpected flare of truly deep anger. And the cause? Spanish homework. Well, that and his desire to quit the moment something gets tough. And the fact that he's willing to let a bad grade ruin his ability to enjoy something. I feel like I've wasted $40,000 and a tremendous to try to give him a different kind of education, and in the end, it's all wasted. It all just boils down to the number someone else gives you being the most important thing.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Primaries yesterday. Watching the Republicans go insane used to just be frustrating, but I think I'm starting to become actually afraid.

The most annoying thing about that is that I guess it means I have to start being an active Democrat again, despite finding them unbearably incompetent. But in a choice between incompetent and bat-shit-crazy...well, it just doesn't feel like much of a choice.

Get nothing done has got to be better than destroy the safety net, start WWIII, and run with an economic agenda that's focused on the supporting the greed of the few instead of the needs of the many. Maybe our system has just become so complex that it's impossible for anyone to remain competent within it. That doesn't say good things for our future.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Note taking

My professor for Foundations of Counseling wants us all to keep journals. In the abstract, okay, yes, I see the point. In the concrete, I just don't do it. I don't know whether paper and pen would increase the likelihood, but mostly I think it wouldn't.

That said, I do want to take random notes on some of the stuff in the book, and this feels like a good place for it. I don't really want to start backing-up my personal computer's hard drive: I don't want to save non-work-related material on my work computer; blogs are public, but it's not like anybody is really going to be reading blog notes it is. I'll make sure to be really boring in he first parts so any readers drift away quickly.

Two chapters cover--with incredible brevity--many major theories of counseling.

There's psychoanalysis, of course, with the infamous Freud. Lots of important concepts, ranging from repression to displacement, and the techniques include dream analysis, free association, and lots of stuff about transference and resistance. But let's be frank: no one does psychoanalysis anymore, except maybe for the rare incredibly wealthy New Yorker who is willing to spend years lying on a couch. It might be cool, but it's out.

Adlerian counseling, founded by...oh, let me work for this...Adler. It's much more behavioral, and I'm pretty sure positive discipline is based on Adler. And, as with positive discipline, I'm a bit of a skeptic of some of the basic principles. Adler's main tenet was that human beings are motivated by social interest, ie how they connect to others. I am not nearly that sanguine about the nature of humanity. Possibly the nice human beings are Adlerian, but as with PD, I think it assumes a high level of functioning. People motivated by hunger are not going to be thinking about their social interest. And the emphasis on inferiority doesn't resonate for me: I think plenty of people who aren't functioning well are not struggling with feelings of inferiority. But Adler has the "as if" technique, basically acting "as if" what you wanted was real, and I like that.

Next up, person-centered counseling. This one was basically begun by Carl Rogers, and I think its name ties to the importance of the client-counselor relationship. It's all about creating space where the client can work on self-actualization, and try to become "a fully functioning person who has no need to apply defense mechanisms" (Gladding, pg. 209). It isn't technique-driven, but is about building a relationship. Now, nobody could object to this really. Building relationships is a lovely thing. And the influence of the ideas in terms of creating an accepting therapeutic relationship can't be underestimated.'s sort of unfocused. Even bland.

The existential counselors, on the other hand, think that life is what we make it and even under the worst of conditions, we can choose who we want to be and how we want to behave. I, of course, love that. I also really like that counselors can share their own experiences, because I know trying not to do that is going to be one of my biggest challenges. But at the same time, I have a tough time seeing how the existentialists really help people. It's not concrete enough for me. (Granted, these summaries are brief, maybe I'll get more out of it when I learn more.)

Gestalt theory sounded like total bunk to me. Absolutely ridiculous. But then I thought about how I would apply it and I immediately became a convert. It's pretty 1970's, really, which ordinarily would not appeal--very self-centered, focused on the immediate here and now, not being able to feel your feelings and live in the moment--but one of the goals is to become a mental grown-up, and to learn how to accept yourself. And that, I really like. Plus, some of the techniques, while potentially silly, struck me as the kinds of things that could lead to real breakthroughs. The "I take responsibility" exercise, where you finish every perception by owning your own feeling, could be really dumb or it could be really moving. I vividly remember what it felt like to be learning to own my own feelings, and how hard and how powerful it was. I also really liked the creativity of the gestalt techniques.

Moving on to the next chapter, we have behavioral therapy. This one is Skinner's idea and it's an obvious winner, in some ways. Whether it's systematic desensitization or assertiveness training, it's giving people the structural tools to change the way they behave. But it's also prescriptive, and it lacks acceptance. It's 1-2-3 magic parenting, instead of emotion coach parenting. And it's not for me.

Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy (REBT), however, was the first one that made me say, ooh, yeah, that's me! Maybe I really can become a counselor. It's concrete and scientific, using the ABCDE--activating experience, thoughts about experience, emotional reaction, disputing the irrational thoughts, replacing them with effective thinking--methodology. Doesn't that sound great? It's all very focused on thinking, and how thinking relates to feeling. (Ellis developed it, and it sounds as if he was maybe pretty quirky.) But then comes the bad part: it's also about changing your thinking by learning how to think differently. I think that's possible. But I definitely gravitate more to...well, to emotion coaching. To learning how to understand your reactions and give yourself a break. I don't want to practice a kind of therapy that says, well, the way you're thinking is wrong. I want to say, yes, how you feel is understandable, and let's look at where it comes from, work on experiencing it, and then see how to move on from it. I like the concrete and the scientific, but I don't want to be envisioning that I'm going to be "fixing" my client's thinking.

Reality therapy is sort of the next step, I think, and Glasser is the one who developed it. We've got four needs in the reality therapy world: belonging, power, freedom, fun. It's funny, because if I were to be naming those ideas, I'd be calling them community, power, autonomy and flow. I guess power never changes! Reality therapy uses the WDEP system--wants, direction, evaluation, and plans. I was actually really fine with reality therapy until I got to the line, "The approach holds that all forms of mental illness are attempts to deal with external events." Yeah, nope, I think that's flat-out wrong, and insulting. But maybe I need a modified version of reality therapy.

Cognitive therapy belongs to Aaron Beck. It seemed to focus on negative thinking and how to change it. I really find that shallow, but perhaps it was the brevity of the material.

Systems theory, is, of course, mostly about families, and it's broken down into several groups.
Bowen systems theory is about looking at the family of origin, and trying to break dysfunctional patterns. It, of course, could be extremely useful for some people--but not for everyone. Some issues--in fact, probably most issues--aren't about coming from a dysfunctional background. Structural family counseling (Minuchin) is another systems theory, and it's about reorganizing family dynamics to be "healthier." I'm putting the quotes around healthier because I'm being ironic--it sounds to me as if it tries to reorganize a family to be traditional, as if traditional family dynamics are always the best way to be. Again, I could be wrong about that one--it's not as if two pages gives one a lot to go on. But the "special focus on parents being in charge of their children" irked me (Gladding, pg 238). If you want obedience, get a dog.

I still have a number more to go over: strategic (brief) counseling, wherein the counselor focuses on process not content, but usually works with a team; solution-focused counseling, which requires the client to be ready to change; narrative counseling, which I loved, as it's about encouraging people to change the stories they tell about themselves; and then crisis counseling, which includes multiple types of crisis. But I feel like I've processed this information pretty well. And I'm starving--time for dinner!