Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

Docsplainin'--it's what I do.
After all, I'm a doc, aren't I?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Scientific Literacy

I teach Introductory Psychology as a general education course on a campus populated mainly by engineers--which is to say that few, if any, of my students in a given section are psychology majors. It is therefore my goal to teach, above all else, the practical uses of psychology in everyday life. I want them to learn how their minds work, how others' minds work--how to make better decisions, how to understand attempts to influence them by advertisers and politicians. 

To that end, after the Las Vegas shooting we had a big discussion on guns in America, using data from the American Psychological Association's report on gun violence. (It's available on their website, here, free for anyone to read.)

I originally made the decision not to carry my gun on campus based, in the end, on this one simple consideration (see previous post): To walk into the classroom with a gun on my person is a statement that I am willing to shoot a student under whatever circumstances I believe, in the heat of the moment, justify it. Which I most definitively am not. It also seemed weird to me to carry a gun to defend myself against my own students: What kind of a world. . . ? etc. And I've never thought arms races were a good idea.

However, as I read studies and considered the material in the text while preparing my lectures, I found support for this stance from entirely other than a philosophical point of view. To wit:

1. We make certain cognitive errors in locating the dangers in our world. For example, we are more likely to perceive a person of another race as a threat or to interpret their actions (especially if ambiguous) as a threat than we are a member of our own race--even if the latter is in fact more dangerous. This speaks directly to the point often insisted upon that the only answer to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun: We don’t have a clue who the bad guys are and aren’t, nor do we always act “good” ourselves. There are several separate but related research streams that have all come to the same conclusions: The data that Harvard University researchers have collected, for one, showing how common implicit bias is and how it drives behaviors like shooting unarmed people; a study showing that white people can't accurately gauge Black people's potential for violence, for another; and shoot/don’t shoot research.

2. The media and advocacy groups like the NRA perpetuate the myth that it is The Other who is dangerous to us when in fact (especially in the case of women) it is most likely that if you are going to be assaulted, raped, or murdered, it’s going to be by a member of your own family or someone trusted like your boyfriend. This is easy to do as the media tends not to report routine everyday domestic violence, suicide, or accidental shootings: They do, however, report Stranger Danger type crimes and due to the representativeness heuristic we, the public, believe these are, well, representative. This speaks directly to the argument advanced when Campus Carry was in the legislature that students need to be able to protect themselves at school just as they are legally able to elsewhere. No, it seems, they do not. Here or elsewhere.

3. The NRA (and gun manufacturers) perpetuate the myth that a gun is a good tool for self-protection, protection of your family, or to safeguard your property. One of the ways that they do this is by reporting individual cases where someone did use a gun in self defense: We seem to be hard-wired to use heuristics that leave us thinking these incidents are representative even though they are tiny in number compared to gun violence statistics overall. In fact, owning a gun actually increases the odds of someone in the household being shot and killed whether by suicide, accident, or domestic violence.

So I decided that, like anyone else within one and a half standard deviations of the means, (1) I don’t need my gun at all, never mind on campus; (2) It is actually a risk to me or to anyone who might be visiting my household--or classroom, God forbid--especially to children and teens; (3) If trained police officers can’t exercise judgment untainted by unconscious racism in a shoot/don’t shoot scenario, I can hardly expect that I, a civilian, would. 

Bottom line, I am less likely to use a gun against a Caucasian to save my own life, and more likely to use it against an African American or Hispanic or whatever when that person is innocent of any evil intent toward me. Statistically speaking, really, I’m more likely to accidentally shoot myself or someone else in the household or use it to kill myself than I am to use it in self defense.

And so I decided, based on science, that there is no mythical "Good guy with a gun." There are only idiots with guns. 


Friday, May 12, 2017

Could I? Should I? Would I?

"We discuss sensitive and highly charged topics in my classroom," wrote a professor who's just resigned his tenured position, "concerning anti-religious bias, racism, sexism, classism and many other indexes of oppression and discrimination. Students need to be able to express themselves respectfully and freely, and they cannot do so about heated topics if they know that fellow students are armed. . . ."

Something I'm seriously pondering as I half-heartedly look for another job this summer. Because I do teach social justice--in fact, have joined a social justice learning community at KSU in order to hone my skills--and this is a consideration for me, too.

Is it going to be safe this fall for me to challenge students to think, to question their assumptions, to analyze their prejudices? Will it be safe for me to confront cheaters? To fail people who cannot or do not do the work? Is it going to be safe for students if I encourage them to challenge each other in classroom discussions and exercises as I have done in the past? Can they still speak up about their own experiences as racial and sexual minorities? And don't tell me that it's always been a small risk: I know that. I also know that if the single best statistical predictor of death by gun is presence of a gun, then campus carry laws can only elevate the risk.

Should I spend $5-800 on a bullet-proof vest, if only to guard against accidental discharge? (That's a month's salary--or more--for one class.) I'm only half joking here: These are kids we are talking about, after all, people of an age at which rates of accidental injury and death are higher than for any other group. And this is Georgia we're talking about, where no training at all is required for permitting.

You can't take a loaded gun into a range or a gun store or show on your hip or in your purse or any way other than in its case. You have to show that it's unloaded, and at shows they even tag it to show it's been inspected and put a plastic thing through the trigger guard to prevent it firing. Why should I not take the same precautions in my classroom? Because unfortunately, under the law, I will not be allowed, that's why. And would I want to start every class by checking guns at the door, even if I could? No. It's ludicrous. I am not Wyatt Earp.

Should I carry a gun of my own? Could I, would I, shoot a student, even in self defense? (Probably not: It is a central tenet of Buddhism, according to my admittedly limited understanding, that my life is not inherently more valuable, for any reason, than that of any other sentient being. And as the effects of my late husband's NRA-induced paranoia wear off with the passage of time, I am progressively more and more inclined to just "peace out".) Would I, could I, shoot a student to protect a whole classroom full of innocent kids? Possibly. Probably, even. Do I want to place myself in such an ethical quandary? That would not seem wise. "If you don't want a slip, stay off the ice," advise AA old-timers.

And how would my kids feel about a professor with a gun on her hip? What would it be like for them to know that I, by even bringing one onto campus, have thus publicly stated my willingness to kill one of them or one of my colleagues under whatever I judge, in the heat of the moment, to be the "right" circumstances? What the hell kind of message is that sending? Especially to Black students, given what I teach about implicit biases! Would any of them, Black or white, feel free to challenge me? To question me? To argue with me? No. I can't imagine that they would: It's already enough of a challenge, given the power differential between professors and students, under normal circumstances. As it is, most of the challenges directed at me only come from white males.

No, the idea of going into the classroom or even into office hours armed is ludicrous, appalling even. And ultimately unacceptable. Carrying one in the van for personal protection on campus is only slightly less objectionable. It's like Mutually Assured Destruction. I can ramp up my defenses, thereby increasing the danger to us all, or I can start the disarmament process. It's got to start somewhere; might as well be with me.

Monday, August 25, 2014

158 Days

Things have been a little hectic in the Wood household lately, and I've gotten behind with posting -- again. 

I'm back, but only because I stumbled across something someone else wrote that is so brilliant that I couldn't not share it. 

A Facebook friend of mine has just been through a hideous, traumatic breakup. A couple of days into it, she wrote this:

158 Days with the Love of Your Life 

I found myself wondering this morning how we could ever expect the people around us to keep their promises to us when we don’t keep the ones we make to ourselves. I wondered if we let people ruin us with lies about love because we’ve never really taken the time to fall in love with ourselves.

I think maybe we do.

I was in a serious relationship for five months with a man who I believed (and my family and friends believed) was the love of my life. I was becoming friends with his ex-wife, spending time with his utterly adorable boys, and between the two of us, we were at each other’s places at least four days a week.

I have a long history of entangling myself with sociopaths; a step-father who led a double life with a second family, a live-in boyfriend who hid another girlfriend from me for a year and tried to strangle me when I finally confronted him with her in tow, another who conveniently never told me he went back to his wife…  But it’s been 12 years since I’ve been tripped up by a pathological liar. I thought maybe I had managed to learn to read the signs.

Then I got a Facebook message from the love-of-my-life’s girlfriend on Thursday night, the one he had been seeing the entire time we were in a committed relationship. I honest to God had no clue. He was swapping out her things and mine depending on who was spending the night at his place. He was texting us essentially the same “I love you baby” texts.  (I know because I’ve seen the screenshots as well as the sexting videos) He told me his mother was relentless and called him worried every night if she hadn’t heard from him. Of course, now I know he wasn’t talking to his mother. What a brilliant way to be able to tell another woman you love her while your girlfriend sits there smiling fondly at you… (Oh, and he and his ex-wife didn’t have an open marriage like he explained – at least not her side of it. So all those other girlfriends I heard about were just years of him doing what he does, what he was doing to me.)

Anyway, this isn’t about revenge. I wrote this all down for me to heal, not for me to hate. I’m just explaining what happened because it was quite possibly one of the most destructive things that could have happened to me emotionally. (To anyone perhaps, but my scars here run very very deep and they were gashed open again and now deeper.) The worst of it is the voice in my head that keeps screaming, “WHAT IS WRONG WITH YOU? Why do these people find you? Why do you let this happen? How can you be SO FUCKING BLIND. You know why everyone always betrays and abandons you? YOU ARE TOO BROKEN TO EVER BE WORTHY OF LOVE.


And I’m not the only woman (or man) to be here in this dark place. I know we all get better. Time heals. Yadda yadda. But that’s not enough this go round. I want to meet that voice head on.  I want it to shut the fuck up.

So I’m taking back every day I gave him. Over the next 158 days, I’m going to date myself and do everything for myself that I did for him… and little bit more. And yes, because I know there’s a joke in there, I do mean sex as well. Girls, feel free to PM me with your sex toy/technique advice. And to anyone who thinks that’s crass or is pondering juvenile jokes, so be it. Love is a full package deal that includes physical touch… even if the only one doing the touching is yourself.

So I’m going to see if I can fall in love with myself. I’m going to see if I can be my own best friend.

I’m not the only one. We are all so many of us broken-hearted. So I challenge you too, my comrades of the torn and bloodied heart— for the next 158 days, let’s love ourselves. Maybe my list will help you make your own.

  1. Make promises to yourself that you mean. Then keep them.
  2. Run. Run until there’s no more hurt. Run until you’re healthy. Run so that you can be completely there for yourself.
  3. Praise yourself for your successes.
  4. Hold yourself when things are bad. Promise yourself you will do everything in your power to make it better.
  5. Remind yourself repeatedly that you are a good person, but no one is perfect. And that you love the imperfect parts too.
  6. Be thoughtful. Put gas in the car before you almost run out. Make coffee the night before a busy morning. Do kind things that make life easier.
  7. Send cards. Leave yourself adoring and funny notes.
  8. Make yourself laugh.
  9. Take yourself out with friends so they can see what an amazing person you’re dating.
  10. Binge watch new television and commentate out loud.
  11. Cook yourself something delicious and sinful for date night every week.
  12. Read stories and poetry to yourself out loud.
  13. Sing to yourself. Loudly.
  14. When you wake say “good morning.”  Ask yourself how you’re feeling. Listen. Say, “I love you.”
  15. Say “I love you” every night before you drift off to sleep.
  16. Smile at yourself with love every time you meet your own eyes in the mirror.
  17. Take snapshots, save mementos of good times with yourself.
  18. Do things that make you feel beautiful, because beauty is an attitude and attitude is damn sexy, even when it’s your own reflection.
  19. Paint your nails, do your hair, put on makeup, wear sexy underwear (hell — corsets, garters, stockings, do it all up) and enjoy the results.
  20. When things get rocky, have a talk with yourself. Forgive yourself. Give yourself another chance to be the partner you deserve.
  21. On day 158 write yourself a long love letter. – the one you wrote him the morning before you found out about the betrayal,—the one where you will be there through the rough patches, the one that lists all the things you love about yourself including the quirks and faults. Write this letter and know that you can be certain that every word you write about you is true. That the five months of romance were real.
Then recommit. And then maybe I can let someone else into the relationship too.
Sadly, I suspect that loving myself is going to be one of the hardest things I’ve ever tried to do. But the list starts with a promise and I promise that I am going to commit myself to this relationship. I’m going to start by sending myself postcards. Here I need your help, friends…  If you are willing to help me, please drop me a line. I’ll give you something to write on a postcard and ask that you mail it to me on random day over the next five months. Or… if you are someone who has read my writing, you can pull a few lines from one of my books or posts and send them. This I’m sure, will help me stay on track.
I told her, and I meant it, that this was brilliant, that I had never, ever said anything even close to a client after a terrible breakup. And I asked her permission to repost this. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

Crass Commercialism

I'll have to apologize in advance, but I'm still gonna do it.

Hard as it is, I've made the decision to monetize the blog. I've put the ads only at the bottom, so most of you should never be bothered by them. I've blocked those annoying animated ads. I've blocked weight loss products. And anything to do with any of the various F0x "News" commercial enterprises is, of course, fox-blocked.

As other as-yet unforeseen obnoxious items pop up, I'll block them on an as-we-go basis.

But a girl's gotta make a living somehow.   

Thursday, July 31, 2014

I Don't Want To Be a Responsible Adult Any More

Digital Photography School put up an article the other day on using photography for personal growth. The woman who wrote it, Catherine Just, was struggling with being a new mom, and found herself taking a photo every day of the part of the process that was the most frustrating to her. In her case, it was not being able to get the little sprat to take his naps. She wound up with some emotionally stunning iPhone pics of herself and the bébé sleeping together. She said the photos -- and her attitude -- changed in about a month of doing this.

I had been wanting to document Mr. Wood's last year? journey? something, and struggling for a way to do it that captured our emotions but was respectful of his desire for privacy. For example, I wanted to go with him to the barber shop when he got his head shaved the other day (his hair and beard are falling out from the chemo), but he would have none of it. The notion of a daily photo of something that frustrated me really clicked, because that wouldn't necessarily be about him at all, but I still spent two or three days trying to figure out what the theme needed to be.

And finally, a light dawned. I'd been noticing a lot of nights, when it's time to go to bed and I discover I haven't cleaned up the kitchen yet and I'm already tired and my legs are already giving out, that I've been surveying the wreckage and saying to myself, "I'm tired of being a responsible adult." I want to go to bed, let my mother do it. And so it dawned on me that the most frustrating part right now is not about him or even necessarily the cancer itself at all, but about my physical inability to rise to meet the occasion, the limitations that post-polio sequelae put on my ability to care for him. Which does indeed frustrate the $#!% out of me.

And too that phrase encapsulates so much more about what's happening to us and our reactions to it. I find myself wistfully recalling times when we didn't know what we know now -- some times as recently as this spring, other times from the beginning of our relationship -- and wanting that innocence back. Not our youth or our health, even, just that sense that not only is today not threatened, but that there's always a tomorrow. I have even cracked to a high-school friend who asked if there was anything she could do, "Take me back to my childhood and leave me there." I don't want to be a responsible adult any more.

But I digress.

This morning what hit me first was the instructions on top of our dog's food storage container. I left them there for the pet sitter, in case of another medical emergency like the one we had two weeks ago, but they seemed this morning, at 6 a.m., to be a demand on me -- "Feed TWICE daily," the stickers shouted. And it's on me to do it because Mr. Wood's fatigue is so bad that he can't reliably be counted upon to be out of bed before noon, and the animals can't wait. (Sometimes he doesn't get up all day. When he got out of the hospital, he slept 28 hours straight!) So I have been, for quite some time now, getting up 20 minutes early every day to take care of the animals before I leave for work.

I took a photo of it this morning, my first for this project.

Something bugging you? Give it a try!

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Actually now I'm remembering why I quit reading the paper in the first place

In Sunday's paper there was also a response by "Dear Abby" to a potential sexual assault victim that nearly made me blow my obstreperal lobe. The writer explained that she walks her dog in a park close to her house where a park employee is creeping her out with his staring. She would hate to have to stop walking there. Abby advises her that she's probably worried about nothing, and should ask other women if he creeps them out, too. Gee, she (Abby) sure would hate to see the poor guy lose his job if the writer were to make a complaint. Which, by the way, the writer never even mentioned. She had responded to the staring by being more deferential (smiling, saying "hi") and was looking for a more aggressive response -- how, perhaps, to confront the guy.

Seriously, woman? 

In the first place, this park is close to Dog Walker's home. Perpetrators are known to place themselves in jobs, hobbies, and volunteer positions that give them access to victims. There was a guy around here some years back who worked for a car wash, enabling him to copy the keys of women in the neighborhood, you know, for easy entry into their handily nearby homes at a later date. Where he had followed them after detailing their cars.

In the second place, living in a rape culture as we do, women are taught practically from the cradle not to make a scene. When I first started out doing rape crisis, I was amazed to learn that self-defense instructors had to make their students practice screaming. The women didn't want to do it. Couldn't do it. Our instructor told us that, among other things, women would not cross the street to avoid someone whose demeanor concerned them, would not go into a public place to avoid someone they believed was following them, would not even confront someone who touched them inappropriately -- all for fear of making a scene. Mind you, it doesn't make it a woman's fault when she gets raped: My point is that we are forbidden in this culture to act to protect ourselves, and Abby's perpetuating this with her response to Dog Walker. We are taught not to listen to our gut, not to make a stink when something's rotten in Denmark. The last thing we as women should be doing is blowing off each other's instincts that there's something just wrong about a guy.

In the third place, I purely do hate to see that the "Poor, Pitiful Rapist" syndrome (he's lonely, he's frustrated, he can't control himself, he's sick, he's crazy, blah, blah) is still alive and well. Of course this guy's not a proven rapist, but all the same, what's with all this concern about him?? This is not about him. This is about Dog Walker feeling threatened. He might be mute, Abby writes, or not speak English (although what this has to do with staring is beyond me*). Children stare because they don't know any better. But when someone or something higher up the food chain (be it a man or a leopard) stares at someone or something lower down (be it woman or mountain goat), it's a threat that's recognized across all species and so it has been for millennia. Yet just in case she might hurt his feelings or threaten his job or some such, Dog Walker's not supposed to say anything?

No, no, no, no, no -- a thousand times no, Abby. This man's right to creep women out -- for any reason, harmless or otherwise -- does not trump Dog Walker's right to feel safe in public spaces. You should have told her absolutely to quit walking her dog there, or at the very least to give this dude a very wide berth and never be out when or where there's not large crowds around. And even then. What's to stop him from following her to find out where she lives?

And further, Abby, you should have given her permission to tell anybody she damn well pleases about this guy, although I stress that she is not obligated to do so. She can tell park personnel office, security, other women, whoever she wants. It's her story: She can put up a billboard if she wants to. She doesn't have to check with other women in the park first. If it turns out that it's only that he's mentally ill or intellectually handicapped, fine. Administration can put him in a position or on a shift where so many demands aren't placed upon his limited interpersonal skills. If he's some creep who was never backgrounded before he was hired, then better they know about it and deal with it now than later.

*in fact, it strikes me now that that's even a bit ableist or racist

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Renouncing Psychology

Deutsch: Phrenologie
Deutsch: Phrenologie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Well, maybe not quite yet. 

It did get your attention, though, didn't it? 

And it's true, I do have a beef with psychology. My introduction to psychology was accidental, a story many of you have heard. I wandered into a psych prof's office when I was getting signed up for a business degree, and the rest, as they say, was history. 

But these were academics. I got introduced to clinical psychology through Ann McAllister and Stuart Strenger, Ph.D.s who practiced together in Buckhead back in the '70s. They were wonderful clinicians and even better human beings, and I wanted to be like them when I grew up. 

Twenty years later, I was surrounded by so many psychologists whom I could not even like, never mind respect, that I began to wish I'd never let my counseling license go. I no longer wished to identify with the arrogance, callousness, unscientific thinking, unprofessional behavior, and outright greed that I was encountering on a daily basis. The profession, however, I still loved. I was proud of the science of psychology. 

Psychology was already changing, however, and I can't say I like the direction it has taken. So while I am not quite ready to disavow it, I do have a beef. 

Once upon a time, the scientists in psychology were all rat-runners. The psychotherapists were all theorists. And their theories generally took into account the whole human being. Psychotherapy was an emotional, intellectual, psychological -- dare I say it? -- even spiritual journey that the therapist and patient/client took together. 

And then, along came Skinner. That was the start of our slippery slope. 

Don't get me wrong: Behaviorism is a damn good theory, and behavioral therapies have some great applications. But what happened next was that, coincidentally with our long-standing desire to be taken seriously as doctors came the push to be included in insurance reimbursement, to be classed as healthcare providers. And that, my dears, was the beginning of the end as far as I'm concerned. 

 The number of mental illnesses we can diagnosis (and of course this is psychiatry's fault, not psychology's, but it stems from the same sources and we've been on board with it from the git-go) has multiplied astronomically from what it was 50 years ago. Everything's abnormal now, treatable, and most importantly from the point of view of many practitioners, reimbursable. 

The twin drives to be taken seriously and be paid as doctors has spawned the evidence-based practice movement, a child of the devil if ever there was one. Ironically, perhaps, it is also the part of the science of psychology with which I most identified in the early days. Why would we waste people's time and money, and offer false hope, for silly woo-woo therapies that don't work? Let's study what does! Sounds great, right? But somehow, in the process, we have reduced diagnosis and treatment if not to the level of the petri dish then to something scarily close to it.

Therapies are manualized. Follow this cookbook recipe with every client you have with this diagnosis, and they'll get better. It's pigeonholing clients, and reducing professionals to technicians. Everything, even assessment, is by the numbers. The person's humanity is out the window, all their experiences and dreams and complexity reduced to three symptoms from group A, two from group B, for a duration of not less than two years, and not due to some other specified disorder or circumstance listed in Appendix C.

Worse, the therapies don't work. Or they only work in the lab. One I got all excited about last year after a workshop turned out to be this sort of dud. Thirty percent of the potential participants in the big study its proponents were trumpeting were weeded out before the study ever started. They had more than one problem, or they were on medication, or whatever variation in their circumstances that normal human beings coming into clinician's offices every day exhibit. So at best, I'm thinking as I'm reading this, the new treatment works with 70% of people with this diagnosis, right?

Not so fast, Virginia. No fewer than 50% of the folk enrolled in the study dropped out! So now, if the new treatment helped every single one of the completers (which, of course, it didn't), we're talking about a therapy that is effective for 35% of the folk for whom a clinician might consider it. Thirty-five percent.

And yet this has now become the only approved therapy for this disorder.

I kid thee not. It works for maybe 35% of the population with this disorder, but if I don't deploy it with every one of them who walks through my front door, I will not be treating my people according to the standard of care, once this gets written into the standards, which it will. Mark my words.

Ironically, chasing the money has led us to fly directly in the face of the best and latest science, offering "treatments" that are absolutely proven not to work for "disorders" that are pretty much proven by now not to exist because they are lucrative. Jumping on the weight-loss bandwagon, as psychology has over the past year or two, is perhaps the best example.

I'm done.

I want to go back to sitting with my clients. And no, they're not patients. They're not sick! I want to go back to being with my clients, not sitting there trying to look attentive while running algorithms in my head or jumping ahead to what I'm supposed to say next according to the treatment protocol. I want to go back to the day when the therapeutic relationship was the primary healing factor, when my own best tool was my self, not a checklist with lines and boxes and graphs to complete to tell me what's the matter with the person. I want to go back to the day when my care was caring, not steps I followed in a manual, to a time when good therapeutic technique mattered, yes, but when there was an art to it.

Is that too much to ask?

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