Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

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

Friday, October 31, 2008

Wood's Rules: #2

Rule 2: I never wait for anyone, not even God, for more than 20 minutes.

The Mister and I went to vote this morning. Lines have been long, but Mr. had called ahead and was told that we could go to the front of the line because of my disability. So we turned up promptly at opening time this morning (8 am). It was a madhouse. The parking lot was full and there were lines of cars snaking up and down the aisles looking for a spot. Which of course they weren't going to find because no one had voted yet and therefore no one was leaving. Ever the optimist, Mr. dropped me off at the front door and I went to the front of a very long, very fat line--only to find that handicap voting didn't 't start until 9:30!

But it all got me to thinking again about disability rights, which we talked about in Ethics class on Wednesday. Going to the front of the line is not a privilege. It merely evens up the playing field. I could wait in line all day, and have done (Jimmy Carter's election comes to mind) but a lot of handicapped people can't maintain for that long. So they could not vote the way things are this year. Point is, "privileges" like going to the head of the line enable us to do things we could not otherwise, things the able-bodied take for granted.

The dean of my graduate school told me once that my fellow students envied my special parking space. At the time we were moving through a buffet line: I picked up a carving knife and told him that anyone who wanted one could bend over and I'd qualify 'em for special parking right here, right now. He did not get the message that he had it all backwards. Curb cuts, special parking, wide doors, grab rails, ramps, all that stuff is not a privilege to be resented by TABs (Temporarily Able Bodied people) like him, but assists that we need so that we can attend graduate school, travel, get to a job, go to the store, stay in a hotel, see a movie, and partake in community life in general. His facial expression clearly said that he thought I was the one being inappropriate.

Anyway, to get back to Wood's Rule #2, which is where we started, I wasn't inclined to wait an hour and a half for special voting privileges. Why, if everyone else can start voting at 8, can't we? Mr. and I have things to do this morning, so we came back home. We will try again later. Maybe we will be able to get a parking place.

But it did occur to me that every rule has an exception, and this rule is no exception to that rule. I would wait in line ALL DAY to vote, if necessary. In fact, before I found out about my disability getting me to the head of the line, I had planned to take Tuesday off if standing in line all day today didn't get me to a voting machine before closing. It took all night to vote the year Jimmy won: I went to the polls after I got off work at 4:30, and they closed the doors at 7. There were so many people already inside that gym that it was after 10 before I finished. Boy was I bored! There's only so much you can chat about to the total strangers in line with you, and you can only study your ballot for so long. Somebody had a paper, and we read it about seven times each, then that got old, too. But voting is so important that it was ok. I would have still been standing there at daylight if that's what it took. I'm just glad the pollworkers were willing to keep at it until we had all voted.

Generally speaking, however, I consider my time valuable, and I hate late. If you are my last client of the day and you aren't there by 20 after, I'm gone. If you are meeting me for lunch and you aren't there within 20 minutes of the agreed-upon time, I'm ordering without you. If you're my doc and you aren't ready for me within 20 minutes of my appointment time, I'm leaving. And I tell my classes that if I'm not there within 20 minutes of the scheduled start time, I'm not coming and they are dismissed. I once had a professor whom I never actually met because he was late for every single class the first few weeks of the semester. The fourth time this happened I went to the Registrar's at 20 after and withdrew: I made them give me every penny back, too. No withdrawal fees, or late registration fees for the new class I signed up for either. I felt disrespected, and I worry that, when I'm late, no matter the reason, that I am communicating a disrespect that I don't feel to the person cooling their heels waiting on me.

Why is this such a big issue for me? Possibly because my mother was late everywhere she went. When I was a kid, I don't think I ever saw a movie from front to back. We would arrive late, stumble around in the dark looking for a place to sit, then climb over people in the middle of the movie. I was always so embarrassed! We'd watch the last half of the show, then sit through the previews and the newsreels and the cartoon and watch the first half of the movie. Mom would announce, "This is where we came in," and we would get up and leave, climbing over everybody again and stumbling out of the theatre in the dark. My mother-in-law was the same way: The Dad-in-Law used to always tell her things were starting 45 min. before they actually did in order to get her dressed and out of the house in time, and even that didn't always work. Mr. is prompt, thank heaven, or we never would have made it as a couple.

Part of promoting Rule #2 to patients is that so often they--especially the women--do not hold themselves in high enough esteem. They are willing to be kept waiting endlessly by people who obviously are disrespecting them by making them sit. One of the faculty at the Internship From Hell pulled that on me once, deliberately, and when I left after 20 minutes he went ballistic. (It turned out that he had not arrived for nearly two hours!). In business and politics, apparently, keeping people waiting like that is a deliberate ploy to establish dominance: What made the guy so mad was that I didn't demonstrate the expected subservience. I won't play that game, and don't encourage my patients to, either.

Anyways, that's Rule #2.

Postscript: The second time was the charm. There were no handicapped spaces available, so Mr. had to drop me off, take the car across the street to the drugstore, and walk back, then repeat the process in reverse afterwards to pick me up. But except for that we were in and out with no problems. The guy in front of us, who had come through the regular line, said he'd been there 4-1/4 hours. My hat's off to him and to every one of those other good people so determined to vote. You go, America!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Reassigned Time: On Guiding Students Through the Research Process

A few months ago (geez, has it already been that long?) I posted a whine on teaching senior undergrads to write. Dr. Crazy has tackled this task in a recent post, and does it ever so much better than I did.

For one thing, she's not whining. Read Reassigned Time: On Guiding Students Through the Research Process, and the Comments.

Since my first post, I have had students in my Ethics class turn in four Reaction Papers. The average grade on the first paper (and the mode, too, while we are at it) was the moral equivalent of an "F". (Among other problems, despite most of them having already been through the Research Sequence, they still don't know APA style.) I was horrified, and they were pretty freaked, too.

Slowly, the papers began to improve--gradually at first, then radically between the 3rd and 4th assignments. I suspect that part of this is that now they realize I'm dead serious about the grading (one student admitted to me that he hadn't even opened his style manual since the course began), but the biggest part I think is that they have heard the same things ("You need a thesis statement in your first paragraph. Really. You do.") three times. Now they're gettin' it.

This last crop has actually been fun to read.

The whine, I now believe, was the result of inexperience. I don't feel so bad after reading the posts on Dr. Crazy's blog about teaching writing. In fact, it feels to me now like an appropriate part of my task (as in, "Writing Across the Curriculum"--why not?) and no reason it can't be as fun and productive as arguing about whether psychologists should be working at Guantanamo.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Blogging may be good for you.

Read the results of a three-year-old survey (I know, I know) here.

The survey has its flaws, not the least of which is an infinitesimally small response rate coupled with a lack of data about how the respondents might differ from the blogosphere as a whole, but it is interesting nevertheless.

The conclusions, and what others make of the results, do not mean that blogging is actually therapeutic--for that, you'd need some data other than self-report on whether blogging produces change. A literature search of the databases available through the American Psychological Association's website produced 107 hits--and not one empirical study on the therapeutic value of blogging. One fellow wrote an article referencing this survey and calling for research on this potentially fascinating topic, but nobody's responded yet.

All the survey tells us is that therapy is what many people hope for when they blog, and that they feel, afterwards, that it was helpful. This kind of self-report data is highly prone to bias. And there was an article in the New York Times in April questioning whether "name-brand" bloggers were actuallly stressed by the pressure to post, and post well. This refers specifically to information workers, however, not the average blogger.

There is a good bit of research out there on paper-based journaling that does show, especially if (a) it's problem-solving oriented in nature rather than just complaining, and (b) entries are processed in therapy or in a group, that it can be quite helpful. I believe that these results ought to generalize quite nicely to blogging. Studies of blogging following the design of journal-therapy studies would tell us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Gini's Cherokee Rose was my therapy dog for the first six or seven years of her life. She started coming to work with me as soon as she was housebroken, when she was still so small that I could carry her up the stairs to our offices in her puppy crate like I was carrying a purse.

She had a doggie door at home, and so could help herself to the back yard in the mornings. If she was outside when it was time to go to the office, I would holler out the back door, "Time to go to work!" and she would come running. Her favorite day was Tuesday, when her favorite client, "Miss B." had her regularly-scheduled weekly session. Miss B., who had a dog of her own at home, always brought a dog-biscuit for Rosie, but other people brought treats, too: Miss B. was Rosie's favorite for other reasons. At first, I would tell Rosie on Tuesdays that "It's Miss B.'s day today," or "Miss B. is coming today!" but she eventually learned somehow which days were Tuesdays and would be noticeably more excited about going to work those mornings.

Another client, we'll call her Mrs. C., brought in a cartoon once showing a dog, with a little diploma on the wall that said "Pet Therapist," explaining to a new client that the therapy works because "I wag my tail and you feel better." Rosie didn't have more than two inches of tail, if that, but the therapy worked: Mrs. C. used to refer to her treatment schedule as "coming to see the Dog's mother."

Freud's dogs were often present in sessions. He swore that people would tell the dogs things that they wouldn't tell him. The day Miss B.'s dog died, she came in, took Rosie onto her lap, and announced, "She knows. She knows why I'm sad." And Rosie probably did, although I could not tell that she was doing anything different that morning. And she was a great comfort to Miss B. for many sessions afterward. Miss B. once asked, if I died, could she inherit Rosie?

Rosie also went to school. She made several appearances in my Introductory Psychology classes as a demonstrator for the units on behavior modification. In between lecturing, she wandered up and down the aisles between students' desks, sniffing their lunches and stealing Kleenex out of the girls' purses.

At work she liked to leave her toys in other therapists' wastebaskets in exchange for wads of paper which she could shred and scatter like confetti all over the suite. One colleague kept a pair of walking shoes on a shelf in the knee-hole under her desk, with socks stuffed into the toes. Rosie was particularly fond of stealing those.

She was such a fixture at the office that for a while her crate served as my end-table: I even had a lamp on it and could put my coffee-mug there during sessions. A neighbor, not realizing that this was my practice, came for an initial consultation with a colleague. I heard him say as he was leaving, "Wait. I know that dog! Does Ginny Wood work here?" after which he stuck his head in my door to say hi.

When she got older, she got snarly and snappish and I eventually had to "retire" her, but even after she became less friendly with people, Miss B. remained a favorite. Rosie would lie across her lap on the couch throughout the session, and Miss B. would stroke her as we talked. One day, Miss B. was making a series of points. "Number one," she would say, and absently poke Rosie's shoulder. "Number Two," poke. "Number Three," poke. Rosie never batted an eye.

Rosie died the Saturday before Labor Day. She was 14.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Holy Mackerel, George (Bush)! What Were You Thinking??

I see that our government, and some of my fellow psychologists, have (once again) been up to no good.

For evidence, I offer MALINTENT, Homeland Security's cool new airport screening device. Short version, it uses "research on human behavior and psychophysiology" to detect bad guys. Read about it here, then tell me it doesn't leave you speechless, too.

"Yikes" is all I could think of to say.

By Monday, when we discuss the ethics of the pilot study in my Theories of Personality class, perhaps I will have found my tongue.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Wood's Rules

You may have noticed the new name on the banner. Or perhaps not.

You may be wondering what it means. But perhaps not.

I am going to tell you anyway.

There is a pretty good blog out there already with a version of the shrink wrap pun, which confirmed for me my suspicion that I wasn't being very original when I named mine. Wood's Rules, on the other hand, are my own invention, and since what I am offering here is more of the same, to wit, my opinions on nearly everything, "Wood's Rules" makes a better title.

Anyone who has been in therapy (or class, for that matter) with me for any length of time has heard of Wood's Rules. Wood's Rules are little maxims for therapy and for living that I share occasionally, always with the comment, "That's one of Wood's Rules." There are not many--less than a dozen--developed over my last 30 years (most in the first six months, actually) as a therapist, and I will be posting on them over the next few weeks by way of explaining the title further.

For now, they are, simply:
  1. Rule 1: Where there's breath, there's life--and the corollary, where there's life, there's hope.
  2. Rule 2: I never wait for anyone, not even God, for more than 20 minutes.
  3. Rule 3: Never be afraid of a fact.
  4. Rule 4: If you don't have a problem right now, then for all practical purposes you don't have a problem. (Also, see Rule #5.)
  5. Rule 5: If there's nothing you can do about it right now, you don't have a problem right now. If you're still convinced you have a problem, refer to Rule #6.
  6. Rule 6: This, too, shall pass!
  7. Rule 7: For the first year after your divorce (or its moral equivalent) becomes final, you are forbidden to say "I love you" to anybody or anything who/that weighs more than 50 lbs.
  8. Rule 8: You can (indeed, should) say anything you are thinking or feeling in therapy--this is not, after all, Amy Vanderbilt's Manners Class--but you may not do anything to hurt yourself or me, or to bust up my place.
  9. Rule 9: If you come to therapy drunk or drugged, I will not meet with you. And, of course, the corollary: You're not driving yourself home.
  10. Rule 10: Never lie to your kid(s).
There may be more, but if there are, I can't remember them right now.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

A Perfect Day, As Far As I'm Concerned

It started with the rain. It hasn't rained here in at least a month, but last night it started coming down and it hasn't stopped since. It's blessedly cool and the humidity in the house is up to 62%, which feels wonderful compared to living in the Sonora Desert, which is what it's been like around here.

Then I got an e-mail via Facebook from an old friend I've been looking for. We exchanged a couple of quick notes before I had to split for school. I am delighted to be reconnected.

As if that weren't enough to make me happy, as I was packing up my stuff and getting ready to head over to school, I got a phone call. I didn't want to take it as I was in a hurry: Parking is at a premium at KSU, and I am always afraid if I don't get there early I'll wind up late for class.

But I took it, and boy, howdy am I glad I did! A vaguely (very vaguely) familiar voice said, "You'll never guess who this is" and as I was struggling for a polite way to say, ok, so don't make me... just tell me! he identified himself and I nearly fell off my chair.

This is a kid I first saw just before his 16th birthday. He's 43 now, married, kids, the whole enchilada, and doing great. Not anything I did for him, as far as I can tell--I think it was a God thing.

Regardless, he's doing wonderfully and it just made my day to hear from him. I've been grinning ever since.

The funny part was he said he'd been thinking about me lately and wasn't sure why. I had to laugh and tell him it was because I had his genogram up on the board in my Theories of Personality class on Monday! I am sure his ears must have been burning.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Economic Stress

According to the APA, 8 out of 10 of us are stressed about money. Women in particular are taking it on the chin because we are less financially secure to begin with.

The study's author recommends implementing stress-management skills rather than letting yourself continue to suffer the symptoms (headaches, compulsive eating, and so forth). I have joined a gym again, and resumed my meditation practice.