Saturday, April 30, 2005

Losing a member of the family

Today was a sad day in our household. We lost a long-time member of our family. No one died, but in a way, it very much feels that way. We had to get rid of our family pet of six years, Molly. She simply did not fit into our family very well anymore. Although she was never overtly aggressive towards them, she did not like our children. She was constantly terrorized by Aidan, and she would walk around nervously when Regan cried. We did not have the time or the means to give her walks or the attention she needed anymore. Additionally, our pending move this summer would have been even more difficult with a dog in tow, not to mention finding a rental place that accepts dogs. As difficult as it was for us, we thought it would be best for both us and her if she found a new family to live with. The timing was appropriate because of our upcoming trip to Texas. We would had to have paid someone a large amount of money to keep her for two weeks, and we thought this would be a good time to make a clean break.

I'm sure that there are those of you who think us heartless for abandoning our dog-child simply because it became inconvenient to have her. I completely understand your point. In a way, it feels very inhumane for us to do this (and that is probably why we had not yet done this). We had been considering doing this for a number of months, but we recently came to the conclusion that she too would probably be happier in a family that would actually play with her and enjoy her company.

Others of you might think, "What's the big deal? It's just a dog!" To you, I say you too are right. She is just a dog, but for a significant portion of time, she was much more like our child than a dog. She had long since outgrown that role, however, despite her temperament remaining very sweet and well-mannered. The time had come to move on with our lives and hers.

Of course, I realize that this is not the same as a person (or even a pet) dying. Yet, we mourn. We have lost a significant part of our family. Even though it was our choice, it was not an easy choice, and we still feel great loss. We hope to get another dog one day when our children are a bit older, and we are physically in a position to give the dog what it needs. But Molly will always be our first dog. We will miss her, and we will not forget her. I hope with all of my heart that she will be happy wherever she ends up.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

My attempt at writing a play

I tried to write a play once. I was about to begin my masters program in MFT, but I still had a few months before the semester began. I was doing You Can't Take It With You at the ACU Theatre, and I wanted to find a way to combine theatre and therapy. I decided to write a play about a therapist who falls in love with his client, who, despite having her fair share of problems, appears to connect to the therapist in a way he had never connected before.

Much of the play deals with the therapist's inner struggle of evaluating his identity as a therapist and his feelings as a person. (I soon learned that this evaluative process is known in MFT as "self-of-the-therapist" work.) The therapist does not engage in any overtly unethical behavior because I didn't think that would be a very interesting play, despite its sensational nature. Rather, he has to work with this intriguing woman to whom he is drawn while working through his personal issues with her. He understands the shaky ground he is on, but he has difficulty understanding how to handle the predicament. I thought that the problems in his own life could provide a backdrop for his turmoil and add to the complexity of his situation.

Once I began to write the play, however, I realized that I didn't know nearly enough about writing or therapy to write such a play. I have since learned a lot about therapy and the ethical issues that the play touches on, but I probably know less about writing a play now than I did then.

I mention all of this because my brother, Kyle, has become a pretty good playwright. He has written a couple of plays that have been produced on small scales, including one currently playing at the Mary Lou Burkett Texas Playwright's Festival. He has shown some real potential, and he may one day write that great play that will make him famous and chic, but for now he's a high school theatre teacher who graces people with his writing/acting/directing talents when given a chance. I'm proud of him. If he goes on to greater things, great. If not, I'm sure he will keep writing.

I occasionally wonder what could happen if I actually finished that play. I may pick it up again one day, assuming that no one rips me off after reading this blog. I still have the little bit that I wrote, despite the fact that I probably would rewrite it entirely. It might be fun to write about it, now that I know a bit more about the subject matter, but I'd more than likely need a little help with the scripting. Maybe if we happen to have some free time at the same time (unlikely), I'll see if Kyle wants to collaborate. I think it could be a good story, and it would be fun to work with him.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Changes and Transitions

Since my daughter was born 9 days ago, my family has been in a great time of transition. As I finish up things here at MSU, move somewhere, and begin my internship, that time of transition will certainly continue.

My wife has transitioned a ton already. Two weeks ago, she was working a full-time job and a regular routine. Since the baby was born, she has hardly had any predictability in her life. I know it is very stressful for her, but she is handling it well. She is committed to staying home with Aidan and Regan until the end of June. It will be difficult, especially considering the attention that Aidan requires. I will still have to work, but I will do my part and take over when I get home.

The transition that is perhaps the most difficult is Aidan's. He is no longer an only child. He no longer goes to the babysitter that he's been going to since he was 6-weeks-old. He is sharing time and space with this baby that he seems to love, but doesn't know what to do with. He will soon leave the only home he has ever known. That's a lot for anyone, especially a 2-year-old.

This morning Kari and I discussed his (and her) need for a solid routine. He needs to get up at the same time, eat, go out, play, watch Sesame Street, and take a nap at exactly the same time every day. He had that at his babysitter's, but he has lost it in the almost 2 weeks that he's been at home. We owe it to him to reestablish his routine and help his life feel safe and predictable again. It will be hard to transition yet again into this regular routine, but we all need it.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Regan Karina Martin

My daughter was born yesterday (April 5) at 10:26 AM. My wife was incredible, and yesterday was a beautiful day. I'm sure I will discuss her on this blog a lot in the future.

Friday, April 01, 2005

What is therapy?

Ever since I decided to enter the field of marriage and family therapy, I have been struck by the great number of misconceptions that exist about MFT and therapy in general. Many people either think of the Freudian couch, which is very outdated and almost never used anymore, or they think of Dr. Phil, Dr. Laura, or some other pop-culture half-wit that tries to yell at and guilt clients into change. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dr. Phil, for example, seems to have his theory down pat. Everything I've seen of him indicates that he can conceptualize a problem and pinpoint the reasons for difficulty, but his methods of "helping" the couple/family change are atrocious. He attempts to guilt, shame, and humiliate his clients into changing. This has been shown over and over as being completely ineffective at helping people change. (After all, isn't that often what they're already doing to try to solve the problem?) Normally, I would role my eyes and let it go and another example of sensationalism in the media, but I have found that Dr. Phil and those like him are influencing the way the public understands relational therapy and therapy in general.

So, I have taken it upon myself to thwart some of these misconceptions and describe what therapy is and more importantly what it is NOT. I understand that everyone's experiences in therapy is different, and many people have experienced the bad and little of the good aspects of therapy. That is unfortunate, but the points I am trying to make reflect what I belief are the goals of therapy. This is what I strive for as a therapist, and this is what the field as a whole upholds as what all therapists should do.

Therapy is NOT:

  1. Giving advice. Chances are that clients have enough people giving them advice. Therapists don't want to be one more. Even if others aren't giving them advice, raw advice probably isn't what they need anyway.
  2. Telling clients about themselves. I've often heard people say they don't want to go to therapy because "They don't know me, and I know myself better than they ever will." Of course! Thank fully, most therapists recognize this too. Any good therapist is not presumptuous to think that they know clients better than they know themselves. Therapists are trained in theory, technique and family processes, but the client is and always will be the expert on his/her own life.
  3. Directly trying to change clients. Even though many clients come to therapy wanting something to change, they are afraid of change, especially at the hands of a virtual stranger. Overtly trying to change the client is often counterproductive to therapy and is often resisted. While change may be an end product of therapy, only clients can change themselves. Therapy helps to motivate them to change and discover how and when they want to change.
  4. The client listening to someone "smarter than" himself/herself. Without getting into the misconceptions about intelligence in general, therapists are certainly no more or less intelligent than their clients on average. The fact is that we are all human with human failings. One such failing is that we all become somewhat short-sighted, fatalistic, and closed when it comes to our own problems. Therapists attempt to address this with clients (This is explained in greater detail below.), but this has nothing to do with intelligence. It's all about the therapist being able to see the problem in a way that perhaps the client has neglected.

Therapy is:

  1. Helping the client understand his/her life better. This isn't something that the therapist attempts to tell or show the client. It's something that the client discovers. Therapists are trained to help clients think about their lives in a new way, while the client is the expert on his/her life. The analogy is that of a dark room. You know the room; you live there; it is your life. Therapists are electricians who can find the light switch. We help you find the light switch so that YOU can turn it on and YOU choose what you want to do with the light on.
  2. Recognizing destructive routines that clients may get into. Our problem are often perpetuated by our attempted solutions, but we are too close to the situation to notice it (i.e. we can't see the forest for the trees). Consequently, we (and I include both therapists and clients in this) are short-sighted, fatalistic, and closed to potential solutions. It often takes the perspective of an unattached third party (i.e. a therapist) to help us see the problem and the potential solutions in a new way. Therapy helps clients step back from the situation and get a better perspective on life. We take the blinders off the horse. Only the client sees what the client sees, and only the client can choose what to do when the blinders are removed, but we usually can't remove the blinders ourselves. Therapist, though, can help.
  3. Providing a framework to understand the patterns and processes of clients' life experiences. We, as emotive human beings, experience feelings based on the way we interpret of our experiences. While those feelings are important resources and adaptive responses, they can sometimes cloud how we think about our experiences. As continue to have difficult experiences, we begin to see everything with the expectation that the difficulties will continue. Consequently, they often do. Because of the lack of proper perspective, though, we are often blind to the patterns of our lives. We have achieved a sort of comfort in our misery, and it is difficult to imagine anything else. Therapy helps us to identify this pattern and determine alternatives that we hadn't considered. Therapy helps people see that the arguments, disagreements, and hurt feelings usually aren't a result of the stated problem but are a result of the underlying meaning that we attach (i.e. the process). Knowing this allows us to address the real problems that often undergird the presenting problems in our lives. These real problems often go unrecognized and unaddressed, thereby perpetuating problems despite our best efforts. Therapy can help bring them to light and allow for meaningful change.

I understand that many people may read this and still have a negative understanding of therapy. I understand that many of the points I have made may still dissuade people from engaging in therapy. My hope, however, is that I have provided some answers to some of the misconceptions about therapy. At its core, therapy is about helping the client. The therapist should have little or no personal agenda other than that. The client knows his/her life, and the client knows what will make that life better. The charge of the therapist is simply to help the client achieve that goal.