Docsplainin' -- it's what I do

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The politics of shoes

Naomi Wolf 's thesis in The Beauty Myth (1991) was that the 'beauty industry' keeps women down by demanding the attention to our appearances that it does. It siphons off physical and mental energy from other pursuits. It drains our purses. Sometimes, as in the case of cosmetic surgery, it kills us. Her book asks questions like:
  • What could we accomplish with the 45 minutes we spend every morning doing our hair and putting on makeup if we put that same time and energy into our careers? Or politics?
  • How many battered women's shelters could we fund with the money we spend on face cream?
Right after Geraldine Ferraro was nominated for Vice President, a shoe company ran an ad in a women's fashion magazine with the tag line, "Every woman needs a platform to speak from," over a picture of an admittedly hot shoe with a three-inch platform. I knew right then that Ferraro was going to lose. A 3-inch heel, be it platform or spike, is, it goes without saying, most emphatically not the sort of platform we needed. The advertiser viciously trivialized the platform Ferraro was running on. The ad's creators overtly sought to channel all our political ambitions into a "suitable" direction for women and girls, and away from real power--as Wolf points out, much in our consumer society does. It's almost as if the shoe guys were saying,
"It's ok girls. You aren't ready for the White House, but here's this cool consolation prize--a pair of shoes you could break your ankle falling off of. Be careful when you walk, but hey. At least you'll look sexy! which is all you girls really want out of life anyway, right? Not to mention that we guys are much more comfortable if you stay in that space, ok?"
Now Dr. Isis has some truly hot shoes in a recent post. I bet she looks spectacular in them. And I am not, repeat not, criticizing her for wearing them. I like them. And given her station in life, they are obviously not the consolation prize. But Dr. Isis and I grew up in very different times. I was just coming of age when the second wave of feminism hit young women of my generation like a tsunami, and that, believe it or not, has a lot to do with how I feel about shoes.

Rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters sprang up everywhere in the '70s, as did self-defense classes for women. And one of the things I learned early on was that high heels are literally crippling. For one thing, they actually damage your feet, legs, and back. No biggie--lots of things we consider fun or fashionable are not good for us. Take chocolate, for example.

But feminists back then equated spike heels in particular with the ancient Chinese practice of foot-binding. If it was hard for a woman to walk, and her activities were thereby severely restricted, it was obviously going to be easier to keep her in her place--to wit, submissive and dependent. And as the women who ran the self-defense classes pointed out, it is damn difficult to run, kick, or fight wearing spikes. (Although removed from the foot, they do make pretty good weapons.)

So to me shoes are important to mobility. If I'm not mobile in them, I won't buy them. These are my office and classroom shoes. They are simply the most stable, comfortable shoes I have ever owned. They are Brooks and you can buy them here (although I got mine cheaper on e-bay). I have two pair (the other pair is tan) and if they ever start making them in purple, Dr. Isis, I shall have a pair of them, too!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Second Life, mainly

I should blog on shoes more often. That one's gotten more hits than anything else I've done--but no comments. Leave some comments about my shoes, ladies!

But. As promised, here are my thoughts on Second Life:
  1. I spent about two hours the first night building an avatar. That's two hours of my life I will never get back. So thought number one is that Second Life is (a) time consuming, and (b) consumes time that might be better spent elsewhere (see #6).
  2. It was frustrating from the very first, because if I were going to have a Second Life (hereinafter referred to, for the sake of brevity, as SL) I would want it to be a truly mind bending experience. I would want to experience life from a totally different point of view. I would want to really learn something. I would want to be a dog. SL won't let you do that. You can "build" a dog and "script" it to follow you around, but you can't be one. Which makes thought two that people don't really want a Second Life. They want a do-over of the first one.
  3. I am not (and cannot be within the limits of SL) satisfied with my avatar. She neither looks like me nor looks like what I might like to look like if I were, say, able-bodied, or simply just better-looking. So thought number three is that other avatars I saw on line are probably imperfect expressions of their owners as well, and therefore SL might not be too effective insofar as it's intended to let people live out a fantasy.
  4. The avatars I saw were indeed fantastic. A lot of them looked like fantasy fiction or sci fi characters. Some may have belonged to the kind of people who hang out at medieval festivals--caped and bearded and booted and all that. Although I didn't see any avatars with wings, I understand that you can add them! Thought number four, therefore, is that SL is inhabited by people who are not happy--or at least not fully satisfied--being who they are, where they are, when they are.
  5. Some people have businesses and make money on SL. My first thought is that I would open a psychotherapy practice: Some of those people probably still need therapy! So the fifth thought on SL is that people who are happy with their lives will more or less replicate it on SL, which makes it sort of redundant, and therefore unnecessary. Which is why I won't be back after today.
  6. Or I could open a bookstore. But I make a choice every day to continue to be a psychologist because I like what I do. Thought six, therefore, is that people on SL would rather do something else. Which raises the question, then why don't they? Might not all the effort (and money--you can spend some real bucks "in world") be better spent making your only real life count for something?
  7. But here's the real kicker. Research, clinical, and my own experience all tell me that in life (specifically, in group therapy, the transference, the workplace, and the family) people will sooner or later reenact whatever issues they have going on elsewhere. Sure enough, in just a few hours on SL the other night, I saw people rejected, ignored, pestered, and one guy suggested that "everybody get naked". So my final thought on SL is that even if you don't want it to, your personal frustrations and limitations are going to follow you onto "the grid" and you will inevitably find yourself disappointed in the same ways that you are in life (so take the advice offered in #6 and put your energy into working through your issues in the here and now!).
There were 57,646 people logged onto the grid when I got there. That's kind of scary.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Goddess, hard at work


But before I get to Second Life, I just have to weigh in on this shoe thing.

Here are my favorites:

These are so awesomely comfortable that I feel guilty wearing them to work, which undoubtedly limits the range of Hotness I can aspire to on

See, to me, the real revolution is when we can wear comfortable shoes (like men do) without being accused of being dumpy, frumpy, dorky, or otherwise not feminine enough.

Second Life

OK. I just discovered Second Life. This is some scary sh-t. More about this later.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Just finished reading John Lescroart's Betrayal (at 1 a.m. this morning, but compulsive reading is another subject for another day). In it, a defendant has no memory for the time of the crime. The defense attorney's handling of this problem is a bit muddled.

He hopes to get in Posttraumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) as the explanation for the gap in memory. In a preliminary hearing, a psychiatrist with expertise in PTSD testifies that flashback-related blackouts last only a few minutes (pp. 211-217). My quibble with this is that these experiences are not technically "blackouts" at all, but dissociative episodes. The person is fully conscious, but not really present because they are re-experiencing events from another time and another place. Most likely, they will remember the content of the flashback, but not necessarily what they said or did, or what other people said or did, while they were having it. It is in that sense that it is a blackout, in that the information they forgot was never recorded in the first place, and this is why it cannot be recalled.

During the trial, the evidence proffered is that an old head injury is the cause (pp. 274-279). Unfortunately for the defense, a neurologist testifies that brain injuries do not account for extended periods of unconsciousness (after the initial trauma, that is) and the defendant has four days to account for. Not to mention that his blood alcohol at the time of his arrest shows clearly that he'd been wide awake and drinking like a fish for goodly portions of the days in question. Here the problem is that, once again, "blackout" as a term is being used by the attorney to mean one thing, and by the expert to mean another.

The defense attorney recognizes this little problem in mid-testimony and gives up on this witness, when another question or two would have established that "blackout" is not synonymous with "unconsciousness." Indeed, testimony from a VA staffer is available to show that, while still in the hospital, the defendant had experienced an episode during which he was fully awake but thought he was still in Iraq: He remembered nothing of this afterward (pp. 226-228).

And then I must have had some kind of blackout, because I started this blog entry over two months ago and never published it. I found it when I decided to write a little scribble on memory in general, and was checking to see if I'd done that already!

I have no idea any more how I intended to finish it, so here it is, as is. Scary.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

This is Io

Io will be accompanying me to the office most days, beginning the first of January. Mr. Wood and I adopted her a few weeks ago from the Atlanta Humane Society. She may be a Flat Coated Retriever mix, although there has been some difference of opinion on that. She is two years old, well-mannered although you could not say "trained," and has the sweetest disposition. She is shy at first, but once she gets to know you, very affectionate.

She is named after the Greek goddess, and it's pronounced "eye-oh".

She and I went by the office today to feed Larry Bird, post yesterday's deposits, and pay this month's tax bill. This was her first visit to the office, and she went straight for the Rescue Dog toy a client had brought in after 9/11 for Rosie. Io loves stuffed-animal-type toys!

From there, we went to the bank and the post office, and as you can see it was a tiring day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Participated in the biennial ritual of license renewal. It is now legal for me to practice in the state of Georgia in 2009-2010.

Monday, December 22, 2008

It's good to be back.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

How I spent my vacation

Claire Potter, over at Tenured Radical, turned me on to Scars of Sweet Paradise: The Life and Times of Janis Joplin, by Alice Echols when I put the word out a couple of weeks ago that I needed someone I could use as a model for my Personality students to follow in writing their papers. I'm about halfway through, and loving it. Janis's debut album, Cheap Thrills, came out when I was 16, and she had a helluva influence on me. Broke my heart when she died.

I anticipated that I would be able to mine her life for some good psychoanalytical stuff for the Theories class, but after that, I worried that there wouldn't be good material. My first surprise was what a hard worker she was: There's some good Trait Theory stuff to be mined there--not only Conscientiousness, but also Neurosis and Openness (to Experience). But the real surprise is the cultural angle: She was a Boomer, of course, so before she was in the thick of things in the Haight, she'd had that whole 50s-suburban-middle-class-nuclear-family-upbringing thing going on. And of course Big Brother was one of the original San Francisco bands, so she was turning pro just as everybody out there was going psychedelic and plugging in. The cultural angle shouldn't be a surprise, but being a late Boomer myself and having come of age in the 60s, I tend to forget what a revolutionary experience that would have been for her.

In other words, to my amazement, I am less than halfway through the book and have three sets of theories I can apply to Janis's life to teach my class
  1. how to use theory to explain a real human being,
  2. how to find relevant empirical literature, and
  3. how to pull it together for a paper.
And it's such a fun read! Some of the history I knew of course, having lived through it, but some of it was before my time, so the book has been providing some fascinating background to my own adolescence.

Thanks, Dr. Potter!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Dr. Wood on vacation

  • Fog drifts through the woods from the river, blanketing my sister's horse pasture in soft, gray light and shadow.
  • I woke up during the night to find my bed co-occupied by two cats and a 95-lb. Labrador Retriever.
  • Went to the bookstore yesterday to watch my niece work and was thrilled to see three copies of Shreve's book on the shelf!

Friday, December 5, 2008

So Whudja Think?

I'm loving the discussions on discussions in the blogosphere of late. Sisyphus (who is actually a cat, but never mind) over at Academic Cog started it. When you get done with that, read Dr. Crazy's response at Reassigned Time.

I am not nearly as intellectual as either of these ladies, so my classroom discussions tend to begin with, "So whudja think?" But like Crazy said in her comment,
"I definitely have an agenda for what I want them to get from the texts that I assign, but I think that the best discussions happen when I'm not terribly controlling in my methods for getting students there."
Before we go anywhere else, I want to find out where the class is at with the assigned reading. Sometimes they have a better idea than I did about where to go with it. Sometimes I find out up front that they didn't even get it, so some explaining is in order before we try to discuss. But I always start with their initial, gut reactions to the thing.

We have to get past that, though. I want them to do in class (and in their reaction papers) more. In ethics, there are, obviously, some clear Rights and Wrongs. You don't have sex with a client. That would be a clear Wrong. But some things are fuzzy, and some things in the ethical code conflict. And some things haven't been sorted out by the experts yet. For example, some say we should never mix the therapeutic and forensic roles. Others say that separation is neither possible nor practical. So how do we as practitioners handle that? I want them to be able to cite cases from licensing board and ethics committee proceedings, the Code itself, and case law to support their arguments. I want them to be able to cite commentators' opinions and research findings when they are available. And finally, I want them to be able to consult with colleagues and document their ultimate decisions as to a course of action.

But Sisyphus complains that "the refusal or just plain inability to dig your fingers into the guts of the text and mush things around is prevalent in my class right now,"and there is some of that in my class as well. Indeed, my students occasionally express frustration that the Code and its commentators don't just tell them what to do! They even accuse people who grapple with ethical issues of the sin of ethical relativism, apparently on the theory that "everybody" already "knows" (or should know) Right from Wrong. I want these folk to come to understand, over the course of the semester, that part of what makes psychology a profession (as opposed to a technical field) is that there isn't just a manual that you can follow, that the work requires sometimes difficult judgments.

I came to teaching in general (and to discussion in particular) with more clinical than academic experience. As I have noted previously, the Georgia School of Professional Psychology was oriented toward clinical practice, not research and teaching. So I never had the opportunity to TA with the professor I most admired, and we had no undergraduate program to practice on either. What I did know how to do was group therapy, and I brought some of those skills (e.g., getting people to talk to each other, not the group leader) to the classroom. And that did give me a good start. It feels natural to me: I don't agonize over it they way I do over my lectures in my Personality classes. (I've never given birth to an infant, but I imagine the process is somewhat similar.)

Classrooms are also similar to groups in that, while you want members of each to be talking to each other more than they do to you, you also must still remain in charge. You have to keep people on task. You can't let someone become a scapegoat for the rest of the group. And as Crazy noted, you can't be afraid of silence. Group therapy is not performance art: Members can't come to group expecting you to 'do them some therapy.' They have to bring something to the table. It is similar with students, at least in ethics class: You can't just lecture people on ethics. That's not how people learn to be ethical. They have to engage with the issues. So if they aren't, you can't be afraid to just sit there until somebody pipes up. I learned a long time ago as a group therapist that nobody can stand it longer than one minute: Try it yourself. Count off 60 seconds in your head next time you find yourself doing all the work and see if somebody doesn't start something before you make it to 60. Works every time.

What I'm still learning is how to be "explicit about how what we do in class... connects to what they do when they read, what I expect of them on writing assignments, and what they do on tests." My Personality classes have been totally at sea on how to use empirical articles to examine a public figure's personality, and my Ethics students tend to write reaction papers that are just that: their reactions. No processing at all.

Crazy's post made me see the obvious: That not only have I got to do this 'make explicit' thing more than I have been in class discussion, but also in instructions for assignments, study guides, and even in my lectures. For next semester's Personality class, I'd already picked one public person (just like they will use for their case study/term paper) to follow all the way through the course, using research and theory to explain her as well as using her to demonstrate theory and research. Before, my choice of examples from one class session to the next was pretty random, and they haven't been 'getting' how to do their papers because of it. Now in addition to using a better class of example, I know I have to lay out for them how to use that example.