Posts Tagged ‘psychology’

What’s in your brain?

I just finished reading Towelhead, by Alicia Erian. This is a wonderful and disturbing novel. It is a coming of age story about Jasira, a 13 year old Lebanese American girl. I like coming of age stories, and I like this one too, but her sadly dysfunctional family and predatory neighbor gives it a decidedly dark twist.

This isn’t a book review. You can find all you want online and I don’t like to tell too much about a story, anyway. What I want to talk about is how the book affected me. This has happened to me before, and I’m wondering about other people’s experiences. I read the book over the course of two days, staying up till 4:30 am then waking up to finish it in late morning.

Once I finished the book, I got busy with my task of the day – more book packing. I sorted through two shelves of books but I found myself feeling sluggish, so took a quick break to take Bodhi out. Standing outside in the yard, I felt a wave of sadness come over me. I thought it might be related to packing and spending too many hours alone. I came in to the apartment, wandered around the living room and kitchen for a few minutes, but couldn’t get focused.

It took me another half hour to realize that my feelings were directly related to the book. What I was feeling was not sadness about leaving, but deep grief for the character in the book. The first person descriptions were so realistic that I felt a bit like I had been sitting with the main character, as if she were a real person. Except that the book covered a good bit of time in (for me) just two sittings and my empathy bag was overflowing.

I read a study recently that described the ways that the brain is essentially unable to tell “real life” from television, movies and books and I knew just what they were referring to. (a link to a NYT article about this research – I think I read about it in a book but this explains the idea) I spoke to some people about it and we all joked about feeling like characters from TV shows in particular feel like friends of ours. We talked about “missing” characters that left shows and being sad at the end of a series. 

No one else that I spoke to talked about books, though. I remember reading a book about a woman in a moderately bad relationship – no physical abuse but her partner consistently undermined her – and during that time I found myself rather short tempered with my own partner. It wasn’t until the book was over and the character’s issue was resolved that I realized my snippiness was related to the book.

I’d be interested to hear about other readers’ experiences. The one’s I noticed in myself of have mostly been sad/angry feelings. What books have moved you so much so that you carried those feelings around with you? Have you read books who’s joy or humor perked up your mood?

I’m especially interested in books that cheer you up. The other two books I’m reading at the moment are Death at SeaWorld and Poe and Fanny – I might need to read something else first.


Panic – or just graduate

A couple of mornings ago I woke up and was convinced that it was August 6th. I really don’t know why I thought so, but I did, and I continued to think so all day. Getting the date mixed up isn’t a big deal in general (although maybe it is to the staff who keep leaving me little notes that say I have two people scheduled for the same time on the same day). I know it happens to people and it’s definitely happened to me before (just ask the staff).

Since I’m planning to hit the road on August 17th, waking up and thinking it’s August 6th was electrifying. I mean it made my heart rate soar about six times that day. I actually broke out in a sweat a couple of times.

My life here in Mass has been a fairly boring one, to tell you the truth, as I suspected it would be. Most of my days consisted of going to work and coming home. There were a few weeks of dissertation scramble, some late nights writing and a few nights dancing. But for the most part, it was just me, going to work and coming home. A few weeks ago my neighbor asked me, “Don’t you ever go anywhere?! Your car is always here!”

And now that I am getting ready to move, suddenly I have things to do. I went out with the neighbors for a couple of hours after that comment. I went camping for the very first time last weekend (well, it was only one night, but it’s important to start slow with something like camping).

More on Barbarian Weekend later…

Also, about two months ago, I bought a ticket to see Margaret Cho. It seemed like a good idea at the time. She’ll be performing in Provincetown, which is awesome. But it will take up my whole Saturday. 

Waking up believing it was the 6th, though, totally freaked me out. NINE days is NOT enough time to get ready to move! And why was I making plans to do…things? Really?

Uh, yeah. Luckily, it was not the 6th. Now that I’m clear on the date, I’m actually feeling pretty good about where I am in the process. I have most of my clothes packed up and got a good start on the books. I marked off the wall to show the size of the trailer I plan to use, then started stacking things in that corner. 

Meanwhile, in the midst of this sudden whirlwind of activity (hey, for me, one event a weekend is a lot!), I almost forgot that I’m graduating at the end of this month. If you’d like to donate for my move or congratulate me monetarily – the button is at the top on the right. 🙂

Postdoc application woes

Great title, huh? Really grabs your attention and makes you want to skip this post. Which is ok, feel free, my feelings won’t be hurt a bit. I don’t wish these woes on anyone.

The process for getting a doctorate in psychology is a long one, with financial and time related hardships that many people don’t even know about before they start school. Even I, the research queen didn’t “get” what this part of the process would be like.

Last night it struck me how it parallels the process for becoming a medical doctor. First, let me say I am not a medical doctor nor do I know any, personally. Everything I am about to say came from TV (old ER and old Grey’s Anatomy), my sister’s nursing experience and, well, you know, the cultural nether.

How I understand it is this, MD residents work ridiculous hours, with little time off. They are asked to stress their physical bodies and their mental acuity with these hardships for at least a year. They are prone to mistakes because they are sleep deprived, not to mention illness – physical and psychological. They are asked to work hours “regular” doctors wouldn’t, and to go against all their training on how to stay healthy and clear headed.

After residency they do some specialty work (more underpaid, long hours) and then they still have to take tests to become “actual” MD’s.

Psychology interns are treated to similar stressors. Starting with the internship application process, which is very competitive but without clear rules, so extremely psychologically stressful. Plus the cost of applying and flying out to interviews. Finally many interns are forced to move far from wherever they’ve been in school to work at a difficult job with very little pay. Lots of hours (not usually overnights like MD’s, but stay with me here), usually very tough cases that many psychologists with the choice choose not to see.

After internship these candidates are still not “actual” psychologists, but postdocs. Which means they have their degree (doctorate) but are not yet licensed. So another round of applications is opened midway through the internship year – even more competitive because there are fewer positions – and still completely arbitrary. They are usually paid better this year, but because they are not licensed, they are still not paid “well,” which is a stressor also because student loans are now coming due.

Postdocs do have the option “create their own” postdoc, meaning make an arrangement/agreement with a licensed psychologist or agency to let them work under the LP’s license while paying for or somehow getting supervision. There are a lot of variables there, but it is possible. And sometimes people stay on at the site where they do their internship, usually with slightly higher pay.

If the postdoc wants specialty training, however, or to hold off those mountainous student loans, a formal postdoc is the way to go. Which means that in the middle of internship they cast their lots again, and again manage the stress and cost of applying and interviewing. Depending on where they are located, this means another move.

Like MD’s, psychologists are asked to do all the things they would encourage their patients NOT to do: move away from social supports, work ridiculous hours for little pay, move again in 12 months just as they are settling in, and incur ridiculous debt to do so.

Writing cover letters is what I’ve been up to for the last couple of weeks, and it sucks. I wasn’t good at it last year and I’m still not good at it today. It stresses me out and seems pointless. None of the bits of paper I send to these sites tells them if I am or am not a good psychologist, so I have to hope that at least my experience will say something useful about me. But besides all that, I also struggle with that age old question:

Maybe it would be better for me to stay here, at my current site. No, I wouldn’t make much money. Certainly not enough to pay my student loans. But I like the office and the staff and a few co-workers (although the agency has a pretty high turnover rate). It would mean not moving (bonus points) and not trying to find a place for me and Bodhi.

Who could deny this face?

It would mean feeling better about making friends in the area. It would also mean staying far from friends – but it is really unlikely that I will make it to any of my close friend’s locations, so that doesn’t seem relevant.

Thinking about all this reminds me of something a professor once told me, years ago, “be sure to do your graduate work in a place you don’t like, because it’s unlikely you’ll end up there.” And something another mentor told me, “people often end up staying where they did their internship because they have begun to build relationships and be known in that community.” So, if I stay on another year, it’ll be that much harder to move. Back to my original question – which is stronger here, a body in motion stays in motion – or a body at rest tends to stay at rest?

5 in the hole?

So, back in my strong Science of Mind days, someone told me about the “hole card.” I think it was my friend Paula. She said that if you *said* that you really wanted A, but meanwhile in the back of your mind you were holding on to B as a kind of back up, or hole card, that you were kind of jinxing yourself. Ok, she probably didn’t say “jinxing,” but that was the idea. That you were holding back your “Ace in the hole.” The idea was that you were not giving yourself 100% to idea A, that you were holding a little back just in case A didn’t work out. The idea is to really put your attention and energy on what you want, and not to waver.

As I’m typing it, though, it sounds a little like another concept she told me about, “New Age Guilt Trips,” an idea she was strongly opposed to. That idea was something like saying that you caused all your ailments because you weren’t positive enough and such, so isn’t that the same? If you don’t put your 100% on the idea A, if you spare some attention for the “whatifs” then somehow you don’t deserve A?

I just sent off my first letter to a local post-match internship site and I can’t decide if that was a good idea or not. In my last round of applications, I applied for 3 out of state which all seemed like good placements to me. Yesterday someone in class (my last class EVER) came up to me and said that she heard that I applied at one of those sites (she matched with them already) and told me about what a great site it would be. She also told me that they are typically slow in process and it might take a while to hear from them. It was the site that I was least sure about because I have very little experience in that area, but hearing her talk about it made me feel excited about it too.

However…the bottom line for me is that I must get an internship. I do NOT want to go through this process again next year (or ever for that matter) and I am just about beyond caring how well of a “fit” the site is. Yes, I still want to work with children, but if that isn’t in the cards for next year, I can live with that.

So, am I shooting myself in the foot by applying locally to a site that really has very little to offer that I am very interested in? I mean, yes, it would mean I don’t have to move – and you already know the parts about MN I will miss – so that’s good, right? I would mean working a ridiculous number of hours, since it would mean that I would have to continue at my private practice for the duration (given the low stipend). And I just thought of this this morning, it would give me the year to sell my place so that when the year is up I could move easily.

But it feels something like a hole card, like I am just trying to keep my options open.Not that I consider this local site to be much of an Ace…more like a 5 of diamonds. The truth is I am keeping my options open.

So, is that a bad thing or what? What do you think?

“Procrastination, procrastinaay-tion…

It’s making me late…”

For those of you who don’t remember, that’s to this tune:

I sing my version of the chorus whenever I realize that I am procrastinating myself into a corner. This week, I should be working on my internship applications. I did do a bit of work on it yesterday, but not nearly enough. I have two days before I need to turn in a first draft – but I don’t have one.

Well, I do have a first draft of the first essay – but it is twice as long as it should be. Here’s the question:

1. Please provide an autobiographical statement. There is no “correct” format for this question. Answer this question as if someone had asked you “tell me something about yourself.” It is an opportunity for you to provide the internship site some information about yourself. It is entirely up to you to decide what information you wish to provide along with the format in which to represent it. 4000 characters

They’re kidding, right? Mamma mia. The worst thing, though, isn’t even the application. The worst thing is that it’s my dad I wish I could talk to about the application. For those of you who don’t know, my dad passed a few years ago. It’s kind of a nasty cycle, missing him. I get to working on my thing, then I think of something I’d like to ask him, then I feel sad and I can’t seem to get going again. Not that I’m blaming my dad for my procrastination – I’m an old pro at procrastinating. This just makes it sadder.

I’m supposed to be sleeping

I did, in fact, put myself to bed about 10 minutes ago. But as I lay there, looking at one of my bedside books Savor, I began to think about all the different kinds of stress in my life. In the past, one of the things that helped me to get to sleep was to write down all the things I needed to do – sort of a to do list for the next day – but really more of a “get it out of my head and on the paper” kind of list that was supposed to stop the thoughts from spinning endlessly in my head.

Sometimes it works. Sometimes I journal, and getting those thoughts out helps too. But lately I find that blogging has become something like a journal for me, and so, here I am. I actually think late at night is the perfect time for blogging, both reading and writing. I know it isn’t late now, but since I feel like I ought to bed in bed, it feels late enough.

But back to my stressors. I have so many these days that they need categories. And sub categories. Money, for instance is a common stressor. And I can easily claim it for myself. My money stressors fall into different categories. One category would be Immediate Financial Difficulties, like the idea that a check might bounce or a payment might be late. My bank balance used to live there, and in those days, it was kind of a minor stressor. These days, though, generally that is not where my balance lives, and so the slightest chance that it might happen feels much bigger. Anther category would be Consumer Debt – all that money I owe that is accumulating interest at an absurd rate which is directly related to last year’s break up.

That stress is more of a “stupid, stupid, stupid!” kind of stress wherein I say nasty things to myself about the issue. I have ridiculous student loan debt (with a much lower interest rate) that feels more inevitable than stupid, and at this point is a very minor stress (as it is not in repayment).

I have Billing stress which is related both to work and money and is a very high stressor these days because it feels pretty big and if I don’t get it under control, well, I don’t get paid. Which would add to the Immediate Financial Difficulties….

I thought I had more categories for money, but I guess that’s really it.

Then I have graduate school stressors, in order of lowest to highest – stupid poster board presentation, stupid final paper, methodology section to my dissertation, IRB forms for my dissertation, internship application, military application…

Which leads to the OMG I need to “release” (this is my attempt to fix the very imprecise language set-up that we usually use – if you “lose” weight, doesn’t that imply that you will “find” it again someday?) some weight for the military stress. This is a stressor as changing body weight always is – and has the added benefit of needing to do it because your (oh, hey, here it is) Financial health is directly related to it. Also, it seems so wrong to me that I would get into better shape for the military. Everyone knows you are supposed to do it for yourself, right? Not for vanity, but for health. Not for your job, but because you feel better…blah blah blah.

In a nutshell, the average internship will pay about $18,000. I have to manage all my stupid consumer debt and my mortgage on that amount WHILE living in a different state (and so needing to pay rent) with my large dog (ch-ching – add that to the regular rent) who is part Rottweiler (ch-ch-ching) and not being able to do any work on the side. IF the Army takes me…well, the rate of pay is considerably higher, I can stay very cheaply on the military, eventually there is a possibility of student loan repayment…uh, yeah. I kinda feel like everything hangs on this.

Meanwhile, the truth is even if I were svelte (which I shall never be) this is no guarantee that the military will take me. So, yeah, that just leads back to all the other financial worries again.

And this doesn’t even touch the relationship stuff!

I gotta get some sleep.


Ok, so, at my school, there is an exam at the end of your doctoral education which we affectionately call “comps.” It stands for Comprehensive Exam,” although it is anything but. Comps are considered a nerve wracking necessary evil and bound to drive students to therapy. The short of it is that the profs make up some questions that are meant to test one’s ability to synthesize all that they’ve learned and prepare a comprehensive answer. Here’s the thing, though. Nearly every year for the last 6 they have changed the standards and procedures for comps, so much so that when you ask a prof about them, they are either unwilling to answer or just tell you what they remember from last year. So, three years ago, they offered 7 questions. There were 4 categories, and in 3 categories, students had to pick one of two questions. The 7th question was mandatory. After the answers were graded (which took one month) students were allowed to re-write answers that they missed (for up to two questions) AFTER getting feedback from someone on the comps committee. They were given pretty much as many chances to re-write as they needed to pass. The person who was then in charge of comps was since fired.

Two years ago they made up a new system. Same question set up, but only 3 re-writes on only two questions. Something like 60 of 75 students failed right out of the box. It took them 6 weeks to decide this and send out the ego-bruising emails. Then they got together and realized that one of the question really, really sucked. And the most of the people who failed missed that question and one other.

I know this may seem boring and not very important, but it gets better. Or worse.

So all of this is kind of ok, so what, it’s school, you signed up for it all of that. Learn to manage your stress, you will not die, it’s just a test. However, in the meantime, students at the stage are writing their dissertation proposals and expected to begin the process of applying for internship, which is annually, nationally managed by the APA, is very competitive and has no tolerance for nervous breakdowns.

If, for example, two years ago you were in the “failed” group, this meant that you could not go on to apply for internship, which means you have to pay for classes you don’t need to maintain your student status for a full year while you wait for the internship train to roll around again.

Let’s get to this year, as that is what concerns me. This year, they changed the set up again and just handed out 4 mandatory questions. If you miss two, you are out, bye-bye, see you next year when you get to go through the harrowing process again. If you miss one, you will get some feedback and go on to the re-write. Except it isn’t a re-write, it’s a new-write, as in, you get a whole new question to answer. They said they would get back to us in 2 weeks.

Meanwhile, the old time lines are still in play PLUS a new one that requires students to have completed their dissertation proposal by May 15th (two weeks after comps) in order to be allowed to apply to internship.

So, I missed one question. They told me last week and that the new question would come out this week. Yes, this week, while I have two summer classes to attend, two papers due, client files to close at my practicum (sort of like an unpaid internship) and my dissertation to get out. Ok, ok, I understand, I am jumping through hoops, I’m cool.

Today I went in for my feedback. It was brutal. She started by saying that my writing was not graduate level at all. That my first sentence was essentially prejudicial. I admit that I cried – my emotions have been high all week and damn I just did. Not like, sobbing and all that, just tears. So then she says, “Can you even hear me? I mean, are you even able to take this in? Maybe we need to stop so you can be in a better place.” I started by saying, “I don’t really have a choice, do I?” Maybe that was the wrong answer… At any rate, I convinced her to go ahead, but later she said, “I’m concerned about the way you are taking feedback, or NOT taking feedback.” “I got it,” I said, “I understand. I don’t know what you want me to say. I don’t know why I said that,” pointing to some sentence she didn’t like, “I guess it seemed alright at the time. I wasn’t thinking, maybe. I don’t know.” She said, “Well, whatever the reason, it makes the reader feel as though you didn’t read the question.”

Here’s the thing. I am ok with her telling me where I messed up. As she pointed out each thing, I could see her point. But asking me why was stupid. Because the answer to that is always, “because it seemed like a good idea at the time.” I mean, really, ask a kid why he lied to you with chocolate on his face. What is his answer? I don’t know (it seemed like a good idea at the time!). It was obviously a mistake. Did she expect me to say, “well, I figured the readers wouldn’t really be reading the answers, so I just stuck that in as filler?” Or maybe, “I’m so stupid, I didn’t realize that was wrong?”

Here is the kicker. At the end, she said one other thing that brought tears to my eyes…I can’t even remember what it was…and then she said, “I’m sorry……if you…….feel………” and trailed off. She’s sorry if I feel. Ok. Well, today, me too.

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