The Dodo Bird Verdict

Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.

First it marked out a race-course, in a sort of circle, (`the exact shape doesn’t matter,’ it said,) and then all the party were placed along the course, here and there. There was no `One, two, three, and away,’ but they began running when they liked, and left off when they liked, so that it was not easy to know when the race was over. However, when they had been running half an hour or so, and were quite dry again, the Dodo suddenly called out `The race is over!’ and they all crowded round it, panting, and asking, `But who has won?’

This question the Dodo could not answer without a great deal of thought, and it sat for a long time with one finger pressed upon its forehead (the position in which you usually see Shakespeare, in the pictures of him), while the rest waited in silence. At last the Dodo said, `EVERYBODY has won, and all must have prizes.’

`But who is to give the prizes?’ quite a chorus of voices asked.

`Why, SHE, of course,’ said the Dodo, pointing to Alice with one finger; and the whole party at once crowded round her, calling out in a confused way, `Prizes! Prizes!’

(Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Caroll)

The Dodo Bird Verdict postulates that different orientations of therapy (cognitive-behavioral, rational-emotive, etc.) don’t have significantly different outcomes. They’re all winners! They all get prizes! That is to say, it’s less a matter of which kind of therapist you go to…and more a matter of what kind of relationship you develop with them. Are you comfortable disclosing? Do you feel that they’re invested in your success? Do you feel like you’re being patronized or led in circles? Strong therapist-client bonds matter.

[Sidenote: the studies and analyses I'm going to run through didn't examine therapeutic outcomes in children or in those with psychotic features as part of their disorder.]

[Second sidenote: psychotic and psychosis are specific scientific terminology, and not adjectives for people who do weird and/or disagreeable things. Also, having psychotic features does not necessarily equal having schizophrenia. /rant]

Ahem.

Luborsky, Rosenthal, et al. do a really fascinating meta-analysis of seventeen meta-analyses (a Meta-Meta-Analysis?). In essence, when research corrects for the allegiance of the therapist (who may prefer on type of treatment to another), there are small, non-significant differences between treatments across patient types. Really, I’d suggest reading that study in its entirety (it’s freely available!).

The point is one I’ve tried to make before, albeit with fewer citations: If you are able to go to therapy, how you feel about your therapist matters. Ask questions! Conversely, if you feel like your counselor just isn’t getting it, it’s not necessarily because therapy doesn’t work. It’s not even necessarily because your therapist’s orientation is wrong. You may not find them to be empathetic, or to fit your personality. In fact, one of the tangets of the Luborsky article presents evidence that while across patients, outcomes in different therapeutic orientations are different in non-significant ways, there is research to suggest that pairing subgroups, such as temperament and personality types with specific types of therapy may account for slightly better outcomes.

That is to say, if you want to be given concrete direction in your life, you might develop a better client-therapist bond in a type of therapy where the counselor is viewed as the expert or teacher for the client. As someone who studies psych services and likes to draw their own conclusions, I prefer therapy with a ‘team’ structure; the therapist and I are both working together to fix things. Current research suggests that if you and I switched therapists, we’d both do better than if we didn’t attend therapy at all, but we might be more frustrated and less fully involved in the process.

So. Go read that article!

Klout: Free Stuff from Burt’s Bees

I work in social media and so, perhaps unsurprisingly, I follow my Klout score (and other people’s Klout’s scores) with more attention than strictly necessary.  Let’s blame my love of numbers.

With my busy-ness in grad school my number has dropped from a high of 74 to my current score of 69.  In any event, that was high enough to earn me a free package from Burt’s Bees, a package that came without conditions!

So, in my mind, Burt’s Bees is responsible for the little jars of lip gloss that are relatively popular and that is all I know about them.  I suppose they have bees or something that are really into soft lips.  Unsure on that front.  Here’s their mission statement:

Burt’s Bees is an “Earth Friendly, Natural Personal Care Company.” We create natural, Earth-friendly personal care products formulated to help you maximize your well-being and that of the world around you.

I am fairly indifferent to nature, which generally is trying to kill me, so “natural” isn’t a terribly big selling point.  But “free” certainly is.  So, I sent them my address to get my “perk” and this is what I got in the mail:

I was expecting a tiny package with lip balm or something equivalent — who sends out massive packages for free?  More pictures:

“In the fight against dry skin, Nature is your fiercest ally.”  I feel like it is necessary to point out that, if it wasn’t for nature, dry skin wouldn’t be a problem in the first place.  Nature is basically extorting you to pay for more nature to fix your dry skin.

I don’t actually have dry skin, so the product isn’t completely well targeted.  But… free!

So, I got a cleanser, a moisturizing treatment mask, and overnight moisturizer cream — like $50 of swag and I didn’t pay shipping.  If you have dry skin, they work extremely well.  The cream cleanser is very good, but the moisturizers are too heavy for my skin generally.  They aren’t greasy or anything, but my skin felt unnecessarily wet, like it couldn’t absorb the stuff.  Might be good as a body moisturizer for me.

The sage scent, or whatever it is, is also not my favorite, I vastly prefer unscented body products, but it is not an overwhelming smell and it doesn’t stick to your skin the same way a lot of scented moisturizers do.  It’s not Bath and Body Works, much to its credit.

RECOMMENDATION: If you’ve got dry skin or are looking for a facial cleanser that isn’t really drying, go for it.

The Fallacy of Generalization from Fictional Evidence. (a.k.a. Harrison Bergeron)

A few days back, I cheerfully pointed out via a comment that when you say things like this:

I handle controversy really well; I do not break down in tears, jump to unreasonable conclusions about my safety, or have mental breakdowns.

…in the greater context of an article about how, in essence, those who can’t handle the heat should get out of the kitchen, (an idea which Stephanie excellently skewers here), that is ableism. Have breakdowns? Oh, it’s because you couldn’t handle controversy. You know, I’m just going to tell you (as someone who is neither your therapist or friend) that if you have mental health problems, you should just stay out of debate. Even if, y’know, it is about issues that involve you. Let us neurotypical people handle it.

I’m not going to tackle the resulting comments and blog post from the OP, because honestly, I’ve no interest.

What was interesting was the commenter who left one of those brief rhetorical comments (as you do):

Have you read Harrison Bergeron?

…with one of those faces of forced confusion and shock, O.o, the sort that always fail to convey their intended meaning by reminding me of these marsupials.

In brief, “Harrison Bergeron” is a dystopian short story by Vonnegut,  where ‘equality’ has become so inverted that those with talent are hamstrung and given handicaps to prevent them from expressing any ability better than anyone else. Those of intelligence wear earpieces that blast noise at intervals, the beautiful must wear masks, etc. In other words, the ‘equality laws’ have trampled the people. Harrison throws off the confinements, stands up against a world that wants him to conform to a normative idea of ability, and for a few brief moments, lives unconfined by society.

Now, to the actual question of my education: I have read it. In fact, due to a public school system that didn’t communicate required reading from grade to grade, it was part of my studies no less than three times.

Did I think the state of my high school literary education was actually the point of inquiry? No.

But, the “What about Harrison Bergeron?!11?!!” response is one I get often, and it’s still exams week(s) and I’m fed up.

You’re committing a logical fallacy. And it’s not even one of the fun ones. But, lest I fall into the trap of the Fallacy Fallacy, let me point out why, besides the obvious “this is a fictional short story”, “Harrison Bergeron” is not the appropriate response to actions to remove ableism.

Where exactly do you want me to draw the line? Do you think it’s utterly wrong to be saying sexist/homophobic/racist things, but when it’s fine to dismiss people on the basis of their mental health? Skin and gender and orientation aren’t up for mockery, but, hey, we gotta draw the line at being nice somewhere!

Then there’s this sticky situation:

Point 1: Ableism is treating a group of one type of able-ness as though everyone else should cope in their world, whether or not it serves them well.

Point 2: In ‘Harrison Bergeron’, less-preferred kinds of ability is forced to conform to the world, by use of handicaps, whether or not it serves them well, and leads to a heartbreaking climax…and THAT PROVES THAT DISCUSSING ABLEISM IS SILLY BECAUSE…..oh. errrr…….ooops?

If you’re upset with the way those we would call ‘normal’ are restrained to conform in Vonnegut’s tale, but not fussed by things like the Canadian government fighting to avoid updating their websites to work with screen readers for the visually impaired, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re upset with the earpieces (which blare noise to disrupt intelligent thought) in the story, but think it’s fine to joke around about illnesses like OCD and schizophrenia, which often have invasive and uncontrollable thoughts that prevent concentration, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re using “Harrison Bergeron” to tell me why I shouldn’t care about ableism and you don’t notice that it’s proving my point, you’re doing it wrong.

Ever paid taxes in SC: You’ve probably been hacked

About an hour ago, WLTX broke a story about hackers.  It seems foreign hackers have broken into the Department of Revenue’s computers in the state of South Carolina and stolen 3.6 million social security numbers — from a state with 4.7 million residents.  Essentially, if you’ve paid taxes since 1998, your information has been compromised.

It gets worse — they’ve also stolen hundreds of thousands of credit card numbers.

I called the Department of Revenue who answered the phone, “It’s a great day in South Carolina, how can I help you?” and proceeded not to know anything about the breach.  Fortunately, she talked to someone else who I think googled it and found the news story that had a different number to call.  I called the number provided, which was for Experian, and got the following information:

They do not know whose information in particular has been stolen.  The breach in which the info was taken happened end to mid September and the state learned about it October 10th. They’re working with law enforcement so there shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.

In addition, the state of SC is providing one year free credit monitoring and ID protection through Experian for everyone who may have been breached.  They will be mailing out access codes to the protectmyid website or you can sign up on the phone through the 866-578-5422 number.  I signed up over the phone and it was relatively painless.

I don’t know how necessary the signing up thing is, but I feel like if something did happen the state would be more responsive to me if I’d shown an interest in protecting myself.  The website is sort of questionable — it lists all my student loans twice for some reason.  That was a number I didn’t like seeing.

Perhaps SC should invest in proper IT specialists instead of spending it’s legislative capital on phone greetings.

There will be a briefing 1:30 EST

http://www.wltx.com/video/breakingvideo.aspx

Behold the Blog: All My Stubborn Ounces

I’ve been meaning to make some regular features of my blogging here, and now that I’ve lassoed a free half hour to myself, I’m starting this one: Behold the Blog. Every Monday, give or take the occasional midterm, travelling, or mid-quarter-life-crisis, I’m going to talk about a blog I hope is new to you.

Today:

To Feel the Stubborn Ounces of My Weight

You’ll see I haven’t put a link on that title. That’s because the best posts on this blog deserve a very clear preface. I’m going to let Cassy, the author, tell you in her own words:

TRIGGER WARNING: No-holds-barred descriptions of sexual violence and strong language to follow (also, discussion of depression, PTSD, alcohol abuse, and anorexia). Please, practice self-care in reading this, as I made sure to do so in writing it.

Cassy is this lovely beautiful person I met almost exactly a year ago. I showed up to the first Carl Sagan Day Chicago, knowing very few people, and somehow in the hustle and bustle I ended up wandering over to the redhead holding nutella-frosted cupcakes.(Chocolate–it’s like magnets!). When I joined the Secular Student Alliance a few months following, we ended up as the only two members who woke up early enough to attend church: the culmination of our Send An Atheist to Church fundraiser. A little later, Cassy was the one of the two people I asked to make sure I didn’t skip out on my first therapy session.

And then, this summer, Cassy told her story:
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part I, Partner Rape
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part II, Date Rape
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part III, Relationship Violence
I Am a Survivor, and This is My Story: Part IV, Healing & Epilogue

She’s been blogging ever since. And she’s still the strongest person I know.

Death and Talks

Today, I’m giving a (very brief) talk at our interfaith society’s meeting about atheists and death. This is a semi-outline of my points and suchlike. Criticism is accepted and encouraged. A good deal of the highlights are cribbed from this piece: Why Atheism Inspires Me to Seek Social Justice.

Hi, everyone. I’m Kate. Junior, Psychology and Psych. Services double major, president of the Secular Student Alliance, atheist blogger, maker of rambling and self-descriptive lists.

I’m to talk about atheism and how the non-theistic community handles death. The questions that the others on the panel have addressed: their faiths rituals for the death of member, the prayers, the burial rites, aren’t ones I can answer.

Atheism isn’t defined by shared rituals, by prayers, by faith. I can’t tell you what is done by the atheist family of a deceased atheist because there is no script. At its simplest, most defined-by-dictionaries, atheism is a lack of belief in a god or gods. There isn’t a guidebook or a standard or an “ought to” or “should”.

I can’t tell you that atheism makes facing death or bereavement easier, though I’ve heard grieving atheists say it’s true. I can’t say that because I haven’t faced loss as an atheist, and if there’s one thing death does, it’s reminding us of our own humility and frailty.

This is a roundabout way of saying I can’t answer a lot of your questions, I suppose. Here’s what I can say: I can tell you why I face my own mortality and that of my friends more comfortably.

I’ve but this one life to live, and that motivates me more than anything. That means when I see homophobia, when I see sexism or littering or injustice in the world, I must act. I must act because all I have is this very moment. But most importantly, I must act because the person who is suffering, like me, only has this moment for themselves. There isn’t any other happy alternate life for them either.

In religion, heaven (and hell for some), is some kind of equalizer. Die horribly, or unexpectedly, or after a long illness? Heaven means you’re in a better place. It’s a solace for those you’ve left behind. Hell lets us feel more okay about those we find evil, or that guy who cuts us off in traffic. Without that egalitarian afterlife, you can only improve this one. Without ‘just rewards’ and ‘just desserts’, you just have to make this one place and one moment better.

Intake Edition

This quarter at school, I’m enrolled in a number of classes geared towards a pre-professional student. Of course, I’m a psychology undergrad, and to be a counselor or therapist, graduate degrees and/or certifications are required. However, at this point my class load is centered around learning theoretical orientations, practicing micro-skills (don’t cross your arms at a client), writing up psychosocial histories of imaginary clients, looking at standardized tests of mental functionality.

Simultaneously with this, I’m restarting therapy at a new location. I write about the first interview with a new client…and then I go to my first interview. We talk about effective note-taking techniques….and I observe my therapist’s legal pad of blue scribbles and arrows and diagrams. I plan my first psychology internship…and then give permission for an intern to sit in on my session.

In discussions with peers and classmates and friends considering finding therapists, I notice a sort of mystery surrounds therapy. Everyone’s sure you sit around and talk about things eventually, but how do you get one? What about all the forms? How do you start with someone you’ve never met? And, in the case of friends applying for reduced or free sessions (at community or university health clinics, who have limited therapists, and often take only some of their possible clients), what are all the questions looking for?

I can’t tell you how every therapist works. I can’t tell you how to get taken on for free or reduced-fee treatment. I can’t tell you that the first therapist you see won’t be homophobic or transphobic or non-skeptical. There’s bad therapists and therapists that you just don’t like because they’re too loud or too boring or too patronizing or too unsure. But I can de-mystify the process a little. I can tell you what I know of each side. I can know that I felt safer, more relaxed, when I knew what would happen beforehand, and hope that I can offer you a little of that.

Not considering therapy* because brain-wise, you’re just peachy? That’s spectacular, but as I ranted to Facebook friends today, you aren’t handed an Always Mentally Heathy Certificate at birth. You aren’t the Okay side that gets to pity the Other. Life is messy, and those lines are blurry at best.

So. The Intake Interview. The dancer in me thinks of this as an audition: trying to figure out what treatment and whether or not the two of you can work together. It’s unethical for a therapist to take on a client for whom they aren’t qualified, so some of this is them feeling out what you need from them. Intake has other ethical obligations; the counselor tells you when they would have to break confidentiality (harm to self or others). They have to check for suicidal ideation, because your life trumps it all. They have to get a handle on what you might be dealing with.

This means a lot of questions. Direct, sometimes uncomfortable questions. Were you abused? Do you think of suicide? (In my case) How much food have you had today? Yesterday?

Then there’s my least favorite: Why are you here? I loathe it. How do you start? What do you say? I want to say how well I’m doing, how much I’ve improved…and that’s not what they want. They want all the bad, six years of eating disorder that morphed into disordered eating and out-of-control exercising. So I run through it. I’m never linear; I stop and go back, and gesture, and leave out names and clarify and repeat and confuse. I’m never satisfied with my explanation, and I trail off until they finish scratching out notes.

Intake is…unpleasant. It’s scooping out your guts along with your life story. You offer up this blobby mass of tears and feelings and facts and say, “This is me. Help, please?”.

And it’s worth it. You do it once, and you have this terribly unproductive session, but it’s over and there’s a file and you don’t have to retell it ever again. You can move forward. Therapy starts. You come back and there’s a plan.

Therapy doesn’t work for everyone. It’s not a cure-all, and I don’t want to represent it as that. A lovely friend reminded me after my Friend Manual posts that it’s important to talk about psychology’s bad side: the side that tried to “cure” and diagnose homosexuality, a side that still does problematic gatekeeping, that still has practitioners that treat their own clients with therapy that isn’t empirically based.
Furthermore, not everyone CAN access therapy. Transportation, the cost of insurance, cultural norms, inability to take time from work or life or caring for family are all problems we need to and should address. 

[Guest Post] Raining on the Gay Pride Parade

Today is National Coming Out Day. Below is a guest post from Miriam, who writes at Brute Reason (“Ruining your fun since 2009!”). She’s a friend, a social justice blogger, psychology student, and aspiring therapist.

National Coming Out Day is a bittersweet day for me.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea. I’m thankful to be out to my friends, and I’m glad that so many people are able to come out nowadays–although, of course, we still have so much left to do.

However, the reality of my life is this–I can never come out to my family.

Now, I know how the script goes. The poor queer kid is terrified of coming out. They’re sure that their parents will disown them or start a fight or send them to therapy or just go silent and cold, never to really return again.

But then they finally get up the courage and do it anyway, and their parents cry and hug them and say, “Well, this may not be what we would’ve wanted, but you’re our child and we love you anyway.”

Or they say, “Oh, we already knew, silly.”

Or they say, “We don’t care who you love as long as you’re happy.

Or they say, “Okay. When can we meet him/her/them?”

But that’s not how it would go for me at all.

I know them too well after 21 years. “We wouldn’t want our son raised around…those people.” “Call it whatever you want, just not ‘marriage.’” “I mean, I don’t care what they do, but why do they have to shove it in our faces all the time?” “It’s disgusting.”

It’s not just that I don’t want to be branded as one of “those people,” of course. If it were just a matter of dealing with bigotry, I could do it. As an open atheist and survivor of mental illness, I do that plenty.

The larger issue here is that of my culture, which is a collectivist one. (You wouldn’t know by my skin color, but it is.) In my culture, family ties trump personal identity. You don’t disappoint your family for the sake of “being yourself.” Love may be unconditional, but acceptance is not. My family is not required to accept who I am simply because I am their daughter.

In fact, although my parents probably think I’m not nearly obedient enough, every step I take to individuate myself from them is full of anxiety and guilt. Knowing how disappointed they are at my refusal to pursue a PhD or marry someone of our ethnicity or be politically conservative is hard enough; coming out would just be too much.

Of course, my privilege is what makes this choice possible–ironically. Since I’m bisexual, I can still date with my parents’ knowledge, and since I have the privilege of attending college and living apart from my family, having a separate life that doesn’t involve them is an option for me too. And even if I were to be outed, the consequences would not be nearly as awful as they would for many other LGBT folks. I try to remind myself of these things a lot.

But regardless, this is why I have never truly felt like a part of the queer community. Centered as it is on the idea of coming out–to everyone, not just to friends–it leaves little room for people like me, who choose to remain closeted in certain spheres of our lives. We are cowards at best and traitors at worst.

Instead of accepting my choice and supporting me through it, some people throw the same tired bits of advice at me. “You have to be yourself, it doesn’t matter what your family thinks.” “They’re just bigots anyway, ignore them.” “If they really loved you they’d accept who you are.” “I’m sure they’ll get over it.”

Advice like this comes from a Western perspective, a perspective that I understand and even agree with, but that does not even resemble the one I was raised with. I will not abandon my family for the sake of my identity or for the good of the queer community. “Being myself” is not more important than my family. “Ignoring” them is not an option. And yes, they do really love me, and I really love them too.

So, I’m sorry to rain on the gay pride parade. I’m sorry this isn’t another inspiring story about overcoming homophobia and coming out. I wish it could be.

But that will never be my story. I will not martyr myself for the cause. All I can do is keep writing and doing activism that will give others the opportunities that I don’t have.

-Miriam

Gone

I’ve been gone for a few days, in part because I started school, and in part because there was a tragedy at school. I couldn’t muster interest in Internet Words when I wasn’t even able to offer useful words to people right in front of me.

Which brings me to this.

I’d like you to do something for me. It might just be for me.
Or you might use it to help someone else later.

Take out your phone (or, if you’re reading this on your phone, congratulations on efficiency!)
Open your contact list, or whatever, and type an ‘A’. Hit the space bar, and then type in ‘Suicide Hotline’.
The extra first letter means that the number will always be at the top of your contacts–useful in an emergency, and a good reminder that you have it.

The actual number to use will vary, but here’s a (very incomplete) list:

US of A: 1-800-273-8255
The Netherlands offers online therapy, as well as phone-in services.
The UK: 08457 90 90 90
Australia: 13 11 14
Israel has Mental Health Aid hotline(s) for a variety of different language speakers. Click the link to find the correct one.

So put it into your phone.  Acknowledging suicidal ideation is messy and complicated, and too often we decide it’s easier to pretend they aren’t really serious, they couldn’t be that depressed. Don’t do that. Call this number. Hand over the phone.

You don’t know what to say? You don’t have to. You just have to take them seriously, and try to get them the help they need. This is a first step.

Do it for me?

Feel free to add numbers for other countries in the comments 

The Friend Manual, Part IV

This one is all from you–from the brilliant comments on Part I, Part II, and Part III of the Friend Manual series. You made me think of new things, put into words things that had been percolating in my mind, and in the case of this comment from tolladay, reduced me to unexpected tears over my laptop.

So here you go, the advice of your co-commenters:

15. Unsolicited Advice is Awful
(From Ashley, herself!)

Please don’t tell me what kind of medicine is good/bad, what kind of therapy is good/bad, and how I should cope with things UNLESS I ask you for that advice. If I complain of depression, a headache, an allergic reaction, a panic attack, or PTSD, the correct response is not “Why aren’t you taking [MEDICINE]?” or “Why haven’t you dealt with that yet?” or any other attempts at help that read like you think you know more about my life and conditions than I do.

Even if you have the best possible intentions, just don’t do this. It always manages to sound like the worst mix of unsympathetic and nosy. If you simply can’t contain your medicinal Holy Grail, start with “I might have a suggestion–are you interested?”

16. Just Listen
(From anthonyallen)

What helps me most is to have someone just simply listen. You don’t have to solve my problems for me, you don’t even have to understand them, but if I work up the courage to actually speak about what’s gotten me into my latest spiral, all I need from you is that you care enough to really listen to me. That alone helps me more than all the therapy in the world and all the meds there are.

17. Don’t Make Comparisons
(from Nepenthe)

The biggest thing I ask from friends is that they don’t make that comparison, unless they actually have depression/an eating disorder.

It’s like… no, your temporary sadness does not have any meaningful comparison to the suicidal ideation that has plagued me for 15 years. Have your down days ever led you to be sequestered in a locked ward against your will? Has your diet ever led you to burst into tears in a grocery store because the thought of dealing with food was too overwhelming? No? Then I think we have very little in common in this regard.

18. And Another Thing About Not Being A Therapist…
(from chrislawson)

I’d add one more point (although it’s in a sub-class of trying to be a therapist), and that is: Don’t suggest new therapies that you read about in a magazine/on the news/in a pamphlet at your local health food shop. Most people think they’re helping when they do this, but they don’t understand that people with chronic illnesses (and not just in mental health) get bombarded with crappy information from well-wishers who know nothing about the illness or the evidence (or lack thereof) for the treatment they are enthused about. Essentially what they’re saying is “I know nothing about your condition or this suggested treatment, but if I pressure you to put in the effort of researching and/or trying it, then I get to feel good about myself.”

The Friend Manual, Part I
The Friend Manual, Part II
The Friend Manual, Part III