March 2010


At 8 o’clock tomorrow morning, I am taking my first round of comprehensive exams for my couples and family therapy program. The purpose is to make sure we understand all of the theory we’ve been learning before we start seeing clients. If I don’t pass, I will be given another chance at it in the summer–I won’t be able to see clients this summer, but I could start in the fall.  I feel good about it. I am ready.

We will be graded Pass, Fail, or Pass With Distinction. I expect to get a Pass. I know the material quite well, but we’re supposed to write 3-4 single spaced pages on each of three questions, all in five hours. With citations. That’s a lot of typing. I’ve done three dry runs through the test, and the most I’ve been able to type, even with my outlines in front of me, is 7 1/2 pages, total. I’m not a fast typist, and I still have to think some about what I’m going to write. I’m fine with a “Pass.” Part of my learning curve is learning how to stop at “good enough.”

We’re allowed to bring food, drinks, ipods, and our reference lists with the references in any order. (I’ll paste in my list below). I’m also bringing my own keyboard (Microsoft Natural Keyboard Elite) and mouse (Logitech TrackMan Wheel). Five hours of fast typing–I need to be comfortable! I’d like to bring my chair, too (Herman Miller Aeron), but it’s difficult to bike with.

Tonight I’m treating myself to some food someone else made and getting into bed early.

Here are the questions. I’ve had them since December. Below them is my reference list. Wish me luck!

Question 1

Describe in detail systems theory, contrasting it with modernism (aka positivism). Be sure to include central concepts of both epistemologies and explain them fully. Also detail the main concepts of communication theory, and the connections between communication theory and system theory. Describe a family problem in detail using a specific model of family therapy (Structural, Strategic, Solution Focused, Experiential, EFT, Bowen) to describe the relevant associated concepts to understand the situation. What are the model specific concepts you will use to understand the family? How will it direct your treatment? What interventions might you utilize to help this family? Why are these interventions systemic? How will you evaluate outcomes based on this model of therapy? How will the common factors research influence your view of intervention with this family?

Question 2

Research ethics includes principles of social justice and dictates competence at each of the following levels: a) conducting research, b) consuming research, and c) utilizing the research literature.

Describe the key social justice considerations when conducting research, when evaluating the merits of a research study, and when utilizing research data as a clinician. In your response include notions of consent, validity, and the characteristics of a well-constructed qualitative and quantitative research designs. Finally, specifically describe how you will incorporate your knowledge of research and its relationship to social justice while a clinician at the CFT.

Question 3

Please describe a process for how you will develop a systemic diagnosis and treatment plan for the client system depicted in the vignette below. Carefully describe how your diagnostic impression and treatment plan are informed by your knowledge of (1) diversity, (2) empirically validated treatments, (3) relational ethics, (4) the diagnostic and statistical manual and (5) CFT theoretical frameworks (systems and communications theories). Finally, based on the vignette below, talk about your treatment approach and how it is informed by the five areas mentioned above. Clearly articulate your systemic diagnosis and treatment plan for this client system.

Kelly (39) and Kris (26) presented for couples therapy. The couple reports they have been together for about two years and are very serious about their future together. Kris reports they have “problems understanding each other. We just can’t communicate.” Kelly agrees and reports it’s been that way for several months. Every time they try to talk with each other about their problems they don’t get along and often engage in escalating verbal arguments. The arguments often lead to Kelly leaving the house very upset and not coming home until the next day. Each partner is hoping for it to get better and want to engage in ongoing couples therapy. Kris reports feeling down and “out of sorts” most of the time and has had difficulty in getting out of bed and making it to work on time the past few months; however, is able to have some good days feeling happy and energetic. After the third session, Kelly discloses to you over the phone that he is thinking of engaging in a sexual relationship with another partner but doesn’t want to bring it up in therapy yet, and doesn’t want you to, either. He states that he feels having another partner will help the relationship because he will “be able to get my needs met.” He further reports to you that they both occasionally seek out partners outside the relationship and feel an open relationship works for them, though made the decision years ago to just not talk about it when it is happening.

Comps References

Becvar, D. S. & Becvar, R. J. (2006). Family therapy: Systemic integration. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Burbatti, G. L. & Formenti, L. (1988). The Milan approach to family therapy. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson.

Fisch, R., Weakland, J. H., & Segal, L. (1982). The tactics of change: Doing therapy briefly. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Gehart, D. (2010). Mastering competencies in family therapy: A practical approach to theories and clinical case documentation. Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Haley, J. (1993). Jay Haley on Milton H. Erickson. New York, NY: Brunner Mazel.

Madanes, C. (1991). Strategic family therapy. In A. S. Gurman & D. P. Kniskern (Eds.) Handbook of family therapy (pp. 396-416). Madison, WI: Routledge.

Nichols, M. P. & Schwartz, R. C. (2008). Family therapy: Concepts and methods. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Sandberg, J. G., Johnson, L. N., Dermer, S. B., Gfeller-Strouts, L. L., Seibold, J. M., Stringer-Seibold, T. A., Hutchings, Andrews, J. B., & Miller, R. B (1997). Demonstrated efficacy of models of marriage and family therapy: An update of Gurman, Kniskern, and Pinsof’s chart. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 25(2). 121-137.

Sprenkle, D. H. & Blow, A. J. (2004). Common factors and our sacred models. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 30(2), 113-126.

Watzlavick, P., Bavelas, J. B., & Jackson, D. D. (1967). Pragmatics of human communication: A study of interactional patterns, pathologies, and paradoxes. New York, NY: Norton.

Sells, S. P., Smith, T. E., & Newfield, S. N. (1996). A clinical science for the humanities: Ethnographies in family therapy. In S. Moon & D. Sprenkle (Eds.), Research Methods in Family Therapy (pp. 25-63). New York: Guilford.

National Institutes of Health (1979). The Belmont report: Ethical principles and guidelines for the protection of human subjects of research. URL http://ohsr.od.nih.gov/guidelines/belmont.html

National Institutes of Health (2010). The Nuremberg code: Directives for human experimentation. URL http://ohsr.od.nih.gov/guidelines/nuremberg.html

Sue, S. (1999). Science, ethnicity and bias: Where have we gone wrong? American Psychologist 54(12), 1070-1077.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Continuum.

Aronson, E., Ellsworth, P. C., Carlsmith, J. M., & Gonzales, M. H. (1989). Methods of Research in Social Psychology. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill.

Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed methods approaches. Los Angeles, CA: Sage.

Corey, G., Corey, M.S., & Callanan, P. (2011). Issues and ethics in the helping professions (8th Ed.) Belmont, CA: Brooks/Cole Cengage Learning.

Fisch, R., Weakland, H., & Segal, L. (1982). The tactics of change. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.

American Psychological Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.-TR). Washington, DC: American Psychchological Association.

Bettinger, M. (2006). Polyamory and gay men: A family systems approach. In J. J. Bigner (Ed) An introduction to GLBT family studies (pp. 161-181). New York, NY: Haworth.

LaSala, M. C. (2001). Monogamous or not: Understanding and counseling gay male couples.

Families in Society, 82(6), 605-611.

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PsychCentral reported today on a study in Psychonomic Bulletin and Review that found, unexpectedly, that 2.5% of the participants in a study were fully capable of driving while talking on a cell phone. Apparently they were interested in finding out just how much cell-phone talking disrupted driving abilities, not whether anyone was capable of doing it. Their answer: It disrupts it a lot. Cell-phone talkers take 20% longer to hit the breaks on average, for example. But this 2.5% were unaffected. They called these people “supertaskers.”

Still, 2.5% is not a large percentage. I’ve heard that something like 90% of drivers consider themselves to be better drivers than average. I wonder how many people think they are in the top 2.5%?

Tomorrow, March 27, 2010, hundreds of millions of people on all seven continents will use no electricity between 8:30 and 9:30 pm, their time. “Earth Hour,”  is an annual “action against global warming” event that started in Australia, four years ago.

At first I thought it was silly–a drop in the bucket–but I’ve decided I’m going to do it. This is why:

1) I think it will be nice to turn everything off for an hour. I always love it when the power goes out. It’s relaxing.

2) I like that it is a global event. I like things that encourage people to think globally. Yes, this event could be a bit of an ego-stoker or guilt-assuager, but overall I imagine it stands to reduce ego-centrism in participants, a little less focused on ourselves, a little more focused on everything else.

3) There is good evidence in social psychology that token acts like this can be a gateway to real political action. People who participate may come to think of themselves as someone who takes action about global warming, like voting or spending money differently.

4) I think that global climate change may well be the biggest challenge humans face in the next several generations. The people I know who think the most about it are divided into two camps. One group prioritizes amelioration: If we act quickly and dramatically, we can keep things from getting out of control. The second prioritizes adaptation. These folks say that we’re just now experiencing the effects of the beginning of the industrial revolution, over a hundred years ago, and anything we do now may help our ancestors, should they come to exist, but not us. They say it’s time to start figuring out how at least some of us can survive the coming incredibly harsh conditions. There is a third group, of course, who are ideologically immune to the idea of catastrophic climate change. If they are right, hooray! I’ve yet to come across one who seemed knowledgeable about complex-system behavior, though. (Can anyone point me to one?)

While I’m on the topic of climate change, my favorite lectures on the subject are two of the Long Now Foundation’s Seminars About Long Term Thinking: John Baez’ “Zooming Out In Time” and Saul Griffith’s “Climate Change Recalculated.” They are worth checking out.

This is a version of the old “stranded on a desert island” game. I’m pretty sure it was my friends Tilke Elkins and Kyla Wetherell who invented it. It was a popular conversation for a while back at Suntop.

If you could eat only five species for the rest of your life, which would they be? You get spices, salt and water for free. You get the species that you choose in unlimited quantities, fresh, good quality–perfectly ripe, if applicable. You also get everything that species makes. If you choose cow, for example, you get the dairy products that come from cows, their meat, and whatever else from them you might want to eat. (Brains? Some folks eat cow brains, right?)

Here’s the list I made back when we first played it. I’m considering revisions, but I still think it’s a good list. What’s your list?

oats

salmon

porphyra (the kind of seawead nori is made out of)

cherries

blueberries

I have spent my entire adult life worried about overpopulation. What is the carrying capacity of Earth? At what point will we have a massive die-off? Will there be anything like wilderness left by the time that happens? Enough biodiversity left to adapt to climate change in a way that will be tolerable for humans? Etc etc. Just look at a chart of human population growth and it’s clear that we are in the upswing of a human version of the algae bloom/die-off.

And maybe we are, but I just listened to two Seminars for Long-Term Thinking focused on population, Stewart Brand’s “Cities and Time” and Philip Longman’s “The Depopulation Problem” and I’m thinking differently about it now. It’s looking very likely that our population has doubled for the last time, and most of the rest of our population growth is going to be in old people, not babies. People are living longer and having way fewer kids.

There are a few reasons for the radical shift in population-growth rate. First is urbanization. People are flocking to cities in massive numbers, and in the city, kids are no longer an economic asset like they are on the farm. In economic terms, if you are in the city, you are probably better off without them. Second is feminism, or at least it is a phenomenon feminists are in favor of. Women are getting educated, working, and more in control of their reproduction, so they are having fewer babies. (This is arguably another result of urbanization–if you’re on the farm, women are most economically valuable for making babies. If you are in the city and kids don’t matter so much, why not have that second income?) Third is television. Philip Longman called this phenomenon “TV taking the bandwidth out of the bedroom.” Birth rates are inversely proportional to hours of TV watched. This may be because it is urban, small families that are idealized in TV shows.

Stewart Brand’s version of the story is the more optimistic: Perhaps this means we humans have a shot at long-term survival after all. City living is greener than country living–way smaller ecological footprint per person. We still have to weather the population peak without ruining the planet as a habitat for ourselves, which will be no small feat, but at least there might be light at the end of the tunnel!

Philip Longman’s version is pretty depressing: The only population group able to withstand this small family trend are those who are highly principled, anti-materialistic, and dogmatically in favor of big families: religious fundamentalists. Liberals are a dying breed. Fundamentalist populations are burgeoning. The future looks very conservative and patriarchal. And, since we can now tell the sex of our kids before they are born, it means we will have fewer and fewer women–that is to say, more and more females will be aborted. This is already happening in China, where the sex ratio has reached 6 men for every 5 women. With women a scarce resource plus a highly patriarchal society, and the outlook for women’s freedom does not look good. On top of that are the economic problems that come along with an aging population with fewer and fewer workers to sustain it. We are about to get a small taste of that with the retirement of the Baby Boomers. Over the next 100 years that situation will be global and on a much bigger scale. The poverty and desperation that will produce will put ecological concerns on the sidelines, making Stewart’s version of the story unlikely. He advocates governments giving incentives to have kids, but says that it hasn’t worked at all in countries that have tried it.

There are two official DSM diagnoses for eating disorders, with two variations each. This gives us four options: Anorexia Nervosa, Restricting Type; Anorexia Nervosa, Binge Eating/Purging Type; Bulimia Nervosa, Purging Type; Bulimia Nervosa, Nonpurging Type.

This is are direct direct quotes from the DSM-IV-TR. “Postmenarcheal” means after the onset of the menstrual cycle. In addition to Anorexia Nervosa and Bulimia Nervosa, there is a category with no diagnostic criteria called Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified that clinician can give to someone “for disorders of eating that do not meet the criteria for any specific Eating Disorder.” People diagnosed with EDNOS are even more likely to die from their conditions than those in AN or BN.

Diagnostic criteria for 307.1 Anorexia Nervosa

A. Refusal to maintain body weight at or above a minimally normal weight for age and height (e.g., weight loss leading to maintenance of body weight less than 85% of that expected; or failure to make expected weight gain during a period of growth, leading to body weight less than 85% of that expected).

B. Intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even though underweight.

C. Disturbance in the way in which one’s body weight or shape is experienced, undue influence of body weight or shape on self-evaluation, or denial of the seriousness of the current low body weight.

D. In postmenarcheal females, amenorrhea, i.e., the absence of at least three consecutive menstrual cycles. (A woman is considered to have amenorrhea if her periods occur only following hormone, e.g., estrogen, administration.)

Specify type:

Restricting Type: during the current episode of Anorexia Nervosa, the person has not regularly engaged in binge-eating or purging behavior (i.e., self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas)

Binge-Eating/Purging Type: during the current episode of Anorexia Nervosa, the person has regularly engaged in binge-eating or purging behavior (i.e., self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas)

Diagnostic criteria for 307.51 Bulimia Nervosa

A. Recurrent episodes of binge eating. An episode of binge eating is characterized by both of the following:

(1) eating, in a discrete period of time (e.g., within any 2-hour period), an amount of food that is definitely larger than most people would eat during a similar period of time and under similar circumstances

(2) a sense of lack of control over eating during the episode (e.g., a feeling that one cannot stop eating or control what or how much one is eating)

B. Recurrent inappropriate compensatory behavior in order to prevent weight gain, such as self-induced vomiting; misuse of laxative, diuretics, enemas, or other medications; fasting; or excessive exercise.

C. The binge eating and inappropriate compensatory behavior both occur, on average, at least twice a week for 3 months.

D. Self-evaluation is unduly influenced by body shape and weight.

E. The disturbance does not occur exclusively during episodes of Anorexia Nervosa.

Specify type:

Purging Type: during the current episode of Bulimia Nervosa, the person has regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas

Nonpurging Type: during the current episode of Bulimia Nervosa, the person has used other inappropriate compensatory behaviors, such as fasting or excessive exercise, but has not regularly engaged in self-induced vomiting or the misuse of laxatives, diuretics, or enemas

This is a handout I got in my Medical Family Therapy class. The copyright at the bottom says “(c) 2005 National Eating Disorders Association. Permission is granted to copy and reprint materials for educational purposes only. National Eating Disorders Association must be cited and web address listed. www.NationalEatingDisorders.org Information and Referral Helpline: 800.931.2237.” I think that covers me. I’m willing to take the risk, anyway, because eating disorders are a huge problem. The most conservative estimates, using the most strict definitions, are that six million people in the US struggle with disordered eating. Estimates using less strict definitions (including Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified in the DSM-IV-TR), but still very realistic, are at about 20 million. And eating disorders are the most deadly mental disorder. If not treated, 20-25% of those with serious eating disorders die from them. You won’t find that statistic in many official sources, though, because for some very strange reason, coroners will not list Anorexia or Bulimia Nervosa as a cause of death. They prefer “Cause of death unknown” in those cases. Plus, eating disorders are learned behavior. Don’t let your kids learn the values that encourage disordered eating from you!

OK, here it is. It’s by Michael Levine, PhD:

1. Consider your thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors toward your own body and the way that these beliefs have been shaped by the forces of weightism and sexism. Then educate your children about (a) the genetic basis for the natural diversity of human body shapes and sizes and (b) the nature and ugliness of prejudice.

*Make an effort to maintain positive attitudes and health behaviors. Children learn from the things you say and do!

2. Examine closely your dreams and goals for your children and other loved ones. Are you overemphasizing beauty and body shape, particularly for girls?

*Avoid conveying an attitude which says in effect, “I will like you more if you lose weight, don’t eat so much, look more like the slender models in ads, fit into smaller clothes, etc.”

*Decide what you can do and what you can stop doing to reduce the teasing, criticism, blaming, staring, etc. that reinforce the idea that larger or fatter is “bad” and smaller or thinner is “good.”

3. Learn about and discuss with your sons and daughters (a) the dangers of trying to alter one’s body shape through dieting, (b) the value of moderate exercise for health, and (c) the importance of eating a variety of foods in well-balanced meals consumed at least three times a day.

*Avoid categorizing and labeling foods (e.g. good/bad or safe/dangerous). All foods can be eaten in moderation.

*Be a good role model in regard to sensible eating, exercise, and self-acceptance.

4. Make a commitment not to avoid activities (such as swimming, sunbathing, dancing, etc.) simply because they call attention to your weight and shape. Refuse to wear clothes that are uncomfortable or that you don’t like but wear simply because they divert attention from your weight or shape.

5. Make a commitment to exercise for the joy of feeling your body move and grow stronger, not to purge fat from you body or to compensate for calories, power, excitement, popularity, or perfection.

6. Practice taking people seriously for what they say, feel, and do, not for how slender or “well put together” they appear.

7. Help children appreciate and resist the ways in which television, magazines, and other media distort the true diversity of human body types and imply that a slender body means power, excitement, popularity, or perfection.

8. Educate boys and girls about various forms of prejudice, including weightism, and help them understand their responsibilities for preventing them.

9. Encourage your children to be active and to enjoy what their bodies can do and feel like. Do not limit their caloric intake unless a physician requests that you do this because of a medical problem.

10. Do whatever you can to promote the self-esteem and self- respect of all of your children in intellectual, athletic , and social endeavors. Give boys and girls the same opportunities and encouragement. Be careful not to suggest that females are less important than males, e.g., by exempting males form housework or childcare. A well-rounded sense of self and solid self-esteem are perhaps the best antidotes to dieting and disordered eating.

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