graduate school


I am moving away from Eugene after more than ten years, and that means saying a lot of goodbyes to close friends and family. Last night I had dinner with my experiential support group from my couples & family therapy grad school cohort, Ryan and Debra. In family therapy, “experiential” means very generally that you take a humanistic stance in your therapy and believe that emotions are as important as behavior and thinking. (I wrote a piece on it here if you want more details.) We called ourselves “Experiential Lunch” because we met every week for lunch for a year and a half, to discuss how our understanding and application of family theory was evolving throughout the program. It was super helpful and we came to feel quite close and supported each other through some difficult times. I am going to miss them.

Nathen, Ryan, Debra: Experiential Lunch, 10/27/2011

Debra is a Zen meditation teacher and a farmer as well as now a therapist in private practice, and I can highly recommend her in all capacities. If you need a therapist for individual, couple, or family work, you can reach her at (541) 844-4917.

Ryan is working with at-risk children and families at the Oregon Social Learning Center. When he starts a private practice, I will recommend him to you as well.

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2011 Cohort (I love these people!) by Hillary Nadeau (I'm at the top right, hatless)

Jeff, Deanna, Christian, (Faculty) In Regalia, photographer unknown

Post-Graduation With Reanna's Family, Dad, & Robert, by Aly

Post-Graduation With Reanna's Family, Aly & Robert, by Steve Lester

Faked Post-Graduation Shot With Pikes, Including Grandpa Bob

Goofy Faked Graduation Photo With Pikes

Sealing the Deal by Dunking in the Willamette, by Steve Lester

Leaving my last doctor visit, I had a chance to check myself on their eye chart. It was not official–I just backed up 20 one-foot floor tiles and looked at the chart. For the first time ever I was not able to make out some of the letters in the bottom, smallest row. That means my eyesight is now 20/13 instead of 20/10, or however small the denominator was before I started grad school. (The numerator is distance in feet (in the US) and the denominator has to do, in a way that I don’t quite get, with the size of the letters.) If you can see better than 20/10, you generally never find out: 20/10 is good enough. And so is 20/13–I am not complaining. Not much, at least.

I’m more concerned with my focal length, which has moved out at least an inch during the last four years, to a solid 8.5 inches. This happens with aging, of course, but I am willing to bet it is accelerated by reading 30+ hours a week. It is inconvenient not to be able to see my spoonful of food clearly while I am blowing on it. It is also inconvenient that Reanna and I have no overlap in clear vision. When we are looking into each other’s eyes, we have to choose who gets to see clearly, or else she has to wear her contacts. I know it will someday be inconvenient when my focal length exceeds my reach, and I will need glasses to read a book. Ah, aging. As my friend Robert says, “Getting old is very inconvenient. It is better, however, than the alternative.”

It has been four years of sitting in hundreds of hours of lectures, reading thousands of pages of theory and research, writing hundreds of pages, and seeing clients for hundreds of hours. It has been long weeks, late nights, steep learning curves, and lots and lots of thinking. It is amazing how much learning you can do in four years of 60-80 hour weeks!  In 2009 I finished a Bachelor of Science degree in psychology, with a research assistant position in Sara Hodges’ social cognition lab, a practicum position at a residential treatment facility for teenage sex offenders, an honors thesis entitled “Differentiating the Effects of Social and Personal Power,” and a GPA of 4.23. Yesterday I graduated with a Master of Education degree, Couples and Family Therapy specialization, 455 client-contact hours at the Center for Family Therapy and Looking Glass Counseling Services, one term as a counselor for the University of Oregon Crisis Line, four terms volunteering for the UO Men’s Center, a GPA of 4.19, and a “Pass With Distinction” on my final Formal Client Presentation. It has been a wonderful, exhilarating, exhausting four years.

It has also taken a bit of a toll on my health, but the major loss was in community. If you do not live in Eugene and we have not made a point of a regular visit, I probably have not spoken or even written to you much, if anything, since 2007. For that I sincerely apologize. It is not how I prefer to live but I could not seem to do this any other way. Know that I miss you. Let’s reconnect. Call me up, write, send me your unfinished song, your idea for a book, something to read and talk about. Let’s go for a walk, go swimming, have lunch, see a show. I am looking forward to it.

Couples & Family Therapy 2011 Cohort

Me & My Dad, June 14, 2011

The first time I worked for money outside of my parents’ home I was 12 years old.  The Morongo Basin Ambulance Association hired me and my best friend John to move a pile of gravel from one spot to another with shovels.  I think we got paid a dollar an hour.  It was summer in Joshua Tree, and so around 100 F (maybe 45 C for Canadians), and the pile of gravel was huge.  After a couple hours I still could not see that we had made a dent in the pile and I complained that we would never finish this job.

John was bigger and stronger than me and remained more in touch with his logical faculties.  He said, “It doesn’t matter if we can’t see a dent.  As long as we keep shoveling gravel, we know that we are making progress, and that we will eventually be done.”

It is hard to argue against that, so I am thinking of John while I am working on my Formal Client Presentation, which is the Master’s thesis of my Couples and Family Therapy program: a monster paper incorporating all of the theory and practice that we have learned in two years, plus a presentation of video of me using all of that during therapy sessions.  It is going so slowly that each time I come back to it, I feel as if I had made no progress. But I know as long as I am typing new words each time I must be making progress, and that means eventually I will be done.

Thanks John!

I’m studying Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, or EFT, this term in my Couples and Family Therapy master’s program. In her book for therapists, Susan Johnson writes that many people, especially those with histories of trauma, have strong fears about expressing strong emotions. She gives five common examples. These are directly quoted from her book, Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy, p. 73:

We may fear that if emotions are unleashed, they will go on forever.

We may fear that we will be taken over by such emotions and our ability to organize our experience, our very sense of self, will disappear.

We fear that we will lose control and be slaves to the impulses inherent in these emotions, and so we may make things worse or actively harm ourselves or others.

We fear we will not be able to tolerate these emotions and will go “crazy.”

We fear that if we express certain emotions, others will see us as strange and/or unacceptable.

I turned 39 at 8:50 this morning. I’m on the cusp of middle age! As usual, I used my flights to and from Not Back to School Camp to brainstorm about my 40th year. Camp is a great end-of-year celebration and source of inspiration. I’m going to do a lot this year–finish my Master’s degree and see clients for at least 400 hours, for example–but I’ve decided not to put that stuff on my list. I want to concentrate on how I do it. I just watched the outgoing cohort finish up my program and they seemed really stressed out. I want to do it without overwhelming myself, in good health. I want to enjoy it. So I came up with one intention that sums it all up:

This year, I intend to take exquisitely good care of myself.

To me, that means that I think about myself like I do my best friends, with affection and optimism, with care. I am not a slave to being productive.

When I touch myself, I do so gently, with attention, not mechanically or absent-mindedly. Like I would someone I love.

I don’t eat crap.

I meditate 30 minutes every day.

I exercise 45 minutes every day.

I do my physiotherapy daily and get health care whenever I need it.

I get good attention, from friends, co-counselors, or a therapist, when I need it.

I take a day off every week.

I say yes to social invitations.

I sleep a bare minimum of 8 hours a night. That means giving myself an hour to chill out with nothing electric and no reading before bed, and an hour to lie in bed before I need to be asleep, so I don’t get worried about falling asleep quickly enough.

I keep my living space looking nice.

I have some ritual (yet to be designed) which helps me stop thinking about my clients when I leave the clinic.

I’ve also put a lot of thought into how I will prioritize my commitments. They will probably often conflict with each other and I’d like to be able to make choices about what to do and what to leave out with minimal stress. That part will be a work in progress for a while

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