Entering the Final Year- the last run

Can you believe it?

Looking back at my first post prior to joining this course, it’s surreal where I am at now. It has been a long journey  tinged with lots of sweat, tears and uncertainty. I remember scoffing at tutors when they said ‘this course is going to test all that you have’, thinking that they are a bunch of dramatics. I mean, how hard could it be?

As my views matured, I begun to gain a more realistic picture. The course not only asks you to be an excellent therapist, you’ll have to be a doctoral level researcher and academic too. It asks you to address excruciatingly painful unresolved issues. It asks you to carry your clients difficulties whilst managing your own anxieties of being a trainee. To top it off churning out essays and research is a given part of the course. It certainly brings to fore and augments the self doubts and criticisms that you try so hard to bury and forget. In the race to the finish line, our cohort have lost half of its members, people whom I’m sure the whole cohort holds dear to their heart. All of them were incredibly passionate about the field. In the past, I believed that determination is the root of all success, as long as you try your best, you’ll get there, but it seems that in reality, it’s much more complex than that. One can’t help but feel slightly jaded in the face of all that.

Having said that, you can’t help but look back and think, did I really do all those things? Was I really capable of those things? It takes a holiday to realise how much pent up tension I have held within me. I may be somewhat jaded but definitely more settled in my confidence.

M

What’s selective feminism? Are we guilty of it?

‘Be a man, fix the light bulb’- This is a phrase that I’m certain some self-confess feminist may on one or more occasions throw out to their male friends or partners.  Admittedly, I have been guilty of it myself although I am a strongly proponent of women’s independence. And if you’re fortunate enough to have a male partner like mine who isn’t afraid to challenge me, and simply retorted, ‘what’s this about ‘being a man’, how would you like it, if I say ‘be a woman, cook my dinner’. It struck me. His comment makes sense.

So, do some of us practice selective feminism? Are our whims merely a call for attention by women? Do women secretly crave a man who complements your dress and buys you dinner? If so, are we being hypocrites? Do we even dare to call ourselves feminists? Perhaps, now more commonly known as the ‘f’ word. Where is the line? Is it a minefield for men, if women practice selective feminism? What is the consensus?

I support equality in the workplace, and breaking glass ceiling. I am also a strong believer in women’s determination and independence in supporting themselves. I have no qualms with professions such as strip dancers nor escorts, although some may deem it as objectification of women and strongly oppose it. However, equality in general? I don’t know… Perhaps, it has something to do with the way each of us are brought up? For me, I come from a family where traditional gender roles are practiced, moreover non-traditional ones are not avoided too. Household chores are carried out by my mother, moreover, she is also a managing director of a successful company. She would constantly say, ‘as a woman, you must know how to cook and take care of your family’. On the other hand, my father is the outwardly stern figure, who does all the DIY around the house. However, he would occasionally go food shopping and make meals. So, for me, domestic duties are second nature, however, I will never be content with being a stay at home mom. Does that make me less of a feminist? If feminist are not defined so, what exactly is it?

So going back to one of my earlier questions about selective feminism being a potential minefield for men. They may feel more than ever, that they cannot understand what goes through a woman’s mind. Obviously, there are some comments that are outright sexist , and no further thought needs to go into challenging them. But there are some, where, they may have a logical point, but somehow, they sound strange. For instance, recently, I spoke to someone who commented- ‘women should be excluded from the front line, they bring down men, when conflict happens, men have to take care of them, it’s dangerous. Men naturally have better stamina, physique, this is undeniable’. I was stunned, there is some kind of truth to it, but at the same time, the way it was expressed, was distasteful, I felt. Perhaps it was something about the neglect in recognising individuality. This is perhaps similar to the infamous popular notion that ‘all men are rapist’ because ‘male has more testosterone and greater sexual appetite, this is undeniable’. I am certain my male friends, wouldn’t enjoy this accusation and assumption of an universal nature.

(For those who are interested: I proceeded to challenge the idea of  ’front line’  with more modern warfare especially in Iraq and Afghanistan and that women are perhaps more than ever suited for this profession if they so wish. Also, I would imagine that policy makers would consider standards which must be met in order to proceed. Obviously, such topics doesn’t go down well around the dinner table. )

Perhaps, fundamentally, if conflicts in conversations were to be avoided, sensitive topics needs to be approached with care.  It is imperative to recognise that the feminist movement has a long history and alot has been fought for and achieved. It has not been an easy road. Gender stereotypes (Persaud and Brugen, 2013) and inequality still exist whether one likes it or not. Moreover, as with other ideologies, individuals are on different points on this spectrum. It is not a black and white scenario. Furthermore, it is an ever changing concept  There are even talk of a 4th wave of feminism (James, 2013) :

I always say, women have brains and uteruses, and are able to use both. (Karen Brady)

I find this quote particularly relevant,

You can flout traditional feminist conventions and still be a feminist. Feminism is about freedom of choice (Georgia James, 2013)

Equally, I feel that sexism towards men is not acceptable. Feminism has long had a bad rap because of anti-men sentiments, some individual feminists do, but not all.

I find this quote rings true to my idea of feminism:

I would also add that we all have choices. Do what you love first. I know many women who broke the glass ceiling but years later, had no children or even a partner in life. So, it’s my opinion that we all have to consider the realities of where we want to be and what we are willing to give up for it. It’s also OK not to be in the boardroom, but have a equal-paying job and live a balanced life. (Mary Buffett, 2013)

I would like to end this entry with a quote derived from Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Lean in’ taken from Buffett (2013). I find that it espouses the idea of equality well:

Feminism never meant that 50% of the jobs of any company should be distributed to women because of their gender; it meant that women should have an equal shot at any positions based on their abilities, regardless of their gender.

M

Reference

Buffett, M. (2013) Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In and the Rise of Fourth Wave Feminism. Retrieved on 10th September 2013 at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mary-buffett/lean-in_b_2902325.html.

James, G. (2013) Is this What It Means To be a Modern Feminist. Huffington Post. Retrieved on 10th September 2013 at  http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/07/11/modern-feminism-definition_n_3582876.html#slide=2686103

Killerman, S. (2012) 5 reasons why so any people believe feminism hates men and why they’re not true. Everyday Feminism. Retrieved on 10th September, 2013 at http://everydayfeminism.com/2012/12/6-reasons-why-so-many-people-believe-feminism-hates-men/

Persaud, R., Brugen, P. (2013) Psychologists find female success is bad for romantic relationships. Huffington Post. Retrieved on 10th September 2013 at http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/dr-raj-persaud/female-success-is-bad-for-romantic-relationships-_b_3878694.html?utm_hp_ref=uk

I’ve learnt, but what does this mean?

I used to be tremendously afraid of conflict. And through months and months of talking it through with others, I have been constantly faced with one question: why am I so afraid of pissing people off?

Yes, it makes sense to avoid conflict, to maintain good relationships, but we are fundamentally very different individuals with very different opinions and ideas- so why would I expect that conflict will never exist? What was it that stopped me from engaging in conflicts? A desire to please others? A fear that I would be overpowered? An anxiety of not seeming to look like a ‘woman’?

I came to a realisation that I am experiencing what seems to be a gender identity crisis- What does being a woman means? What does being a woman who comes from a collectivist to an individualist culture means? What does being a woman who was brought up to do wifely duties yet studying a doctorate at the moment means? How does this impact on the people around me who may have perceived a big change in me, the M pre-doctorate and the M during-doctorate. The M who used to smile sweetly and politely but now stands up for her beliefs.

It has been an interesting journey so far. I recently got engaged, and some of the comments I received in my engagement card was to ‘be more submissive’, or ‘you’re sensitive’. More recently, I realised that, when I expressed my opinions vehemently, my male friends started leaving the table for a smoke or look around uncomfortably (Except for my fiancé who would debate to death with me). To clarify, I am in no way blaming them, merely very interested and curious at this phenomenon! The feedback I received was that I was behaving in a ‘sensitive’ manner. Am I? I acknowledge that when I feel very strongly about something, I can feel blood rushing to my face, my eyes flaring up and I respond with fervour. Moreover, I feel that I can take what is being said to me, and respond to it accordingly. I don’t feel at all uncomfortable in being challenged unless comments becomes personal – which I feel becomes the case a lot of the time. Topics tend to veer off to comments on personal attributes or quality rather than about the subject/topic itself. This is when I get defensive, which perhaps I should reflect on.

This anxiety where I will ‘piss people off’ and it’s a huge no no took alot of conscious effort to work through. It hasn’t come easily, it has taken years of confidence cultivating. It has served me well in my field especially, it had allowed me to publish, to present my opinion and ideas.

Perhaps, my male and even female friends are not used to this different me, perhaps it’s something about being a woman within a collectivist culture, perhaps it’s me coming across as defensive- it remains to be examined.

Last but not least, perhaps something to bolster recent knock-backs.
http://www.policymic.com/articles/46107/10-things-women-are-afraid-of-but-shouldn-t-be/597301

M

Imagery helps, doesn’t it

Recently I came across this image and thought of saving it. It’s always been helpful for me (as my memory generally sucks) to visualize things. Like when studying the brain anatomy and chemicals during my undergrad..it’s obviously a very limited representation, but check it out:

 

~A.

Unblocking the writing block – what works for me

So, it appears I will be able to continue into 2nd year as the examination board of my course has agreed that I can carry on the expected 100 hours of client work into the next stage of my studies. This is quite a relief but it comes with the pressing thought that I’d need to catch up with hours whilst trying to meet the 150 hours expected for year 2!*gulp*… I have also finally received all my grades on work I’ve done during year and I’m beyond pleased to realise that I haven`t failed anything in year 1! To be honest, I find this hard to believe and I’m still thinking things like ‘’maybe there is some other assignment left that I’ve forgotten about’’. Fortunately, in year 1 most of the work took form of assignments, reports, studies etc., and nothing from the sort of a viva or presentations, like M had to do.. *phew*.

I don’t think I got great marks and I don`t consider myself an excellent academic, but it seems I have done something right and will attempt to repeat it. I was told that year 2 will bring along an increased number of written works and of course – more close deadlines. So, I was thinking back on all those times when I felt that I just don`t want to think or touch anything psychology related, let alone complete a decent assignment, added to the stress..stress..stress of placements, supervision and whatever else.

Thinking back, I can say that I have come up with a personalized working strategy which I’m gonna share here (in case I forget it :P ) that seems to have helped me go through the year. First and most important is the old saying ‘’know yourself!’’ What I mean is this- I know that I am NOT able to write anything in the last minute. It’s simply impossible for me to start 3-2-1 days before the deadline, and no, it’s not because I’m such a diligent student. It is purely because if I have so little time left I just wouldn’t want to go through the pain and struggle of sleepless nights..not even one! No way! I just value my sleep too much and no assignment is worth more than my peaceful sleep!! I know many students would disagree, but this is what I mean when I say –know yourself and what works for you.

What works for me in fact is much beyond a peaceful sleep. It’s more like a Zen-chilled type of mood that I need. I’m aware of how pretentious what I’m gonna write down may sound..but writing is not something that comes easy at times when I just have to do it. I normally start an assignment about 3 weeks before the deadline and try to follow a very chilled routine. This includes waking up at around 9, having my coffee and emails in the morning..dog out for a long walk, clean up a bit or do some workout, or just lazy around at home if that’s what I fancy. At around 1 or 2pm I try to gradually start writing, not pushing myself too much. If I’m not in the right mood yet (this happens if I get pissed off in the morning by some unpaid or new bill in the post, annoying email, or even my dog pulling me around too much, lol, god..i can be such a princess) Anyways, if I’m in a bad mood I would try to do some creative work normally decorate, move furniture or fix something in the garden and let my serotonin does its job.

Once I’m beginning to write, music is also very important. Whilst writing I can`t listen to music with lyrics (especially in a language I understand). This is because I end up listening to the songs, so I typically go for relaxing feng shui music. Apparently, some of those songs contain sounds with brainwave stimulation that improves your concentration (I don`t know if that’s the case but it works for me regardless). In fact, I have a favourite album which comes to the rescue when I’m completely blocked in my work. I think knowing the songs well allows my mind to relax. This is the one,lol:

So, at times I’d stop writing at around 5-6pm or go on till late in the evening. In case that the day is too busy or doesn’t allow me to chill, I just decide not to write (I try not to postpone, I just decide – so that I don’t need to think about it for the rest of the day).

The problem with the above scenario is that it’s hard to achieve on daily basis, considering traveling around and other money-related responsibilities. So it’s been very hard to find the time and have a reduced stress assignment-writing experience, but it has definitely worked for me, and I intend to keep using it..hopefully it will get me through year 2 as painless as possible (which btw starts next week :/ ). I wonder what other people’s copying strategies are..or do they have ones?!?

 

A.

Harm Minimisation

Came across a rather new concept for me today- Harm minimisation. It’s an approach used in working with individuals who self harm. It recognises that life can sometimes be too unbearable for some and self harming may be the only way to cope perhaps for the time being. So, although it doesn’t encourage the act itself, it educates individuals on how to self harm safely. For instance, using a sterile blade to cut instead of a dirty one to prevent infection or cutting lengthwise instead of across to reduce the risk of severing tendons. This approach is also used in other areas in public health such as drug use, safe sex and prostitution. It makes sense in a way but I am not sure if it’s a long term solution (or that it’s meant to be one) as I feel that there are definitely underlying issues to be explored if self harming is elected as a coping mechanism.

I think this quote explains this concept very well:

“Habit is habit and not to be flung out of the window by any man but coaxed downstairs one step at a time” Mark Twain (Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar, chapter 6), cited an article by Marlatt, Somers and Tapert (1993) on Harm Reduction: Application to Alcohol Abuse Problems.

If you would like more information you can go to this website: Self harm.co.uk or HarmLESS Psychotherapy 

Reference:

Marlatt, G.A., Somers, J.M., Tapert, S.F. (1993) Harm Reduction: Application to alcohol abuse problems. NIDA research monograph. 147- 166

Naranjo, M. (2012) Webinar on Self-harming Behaviours. Online Events. 23rd August 2012

M.

The sob story

After months of getting to terms with the news, it’s now easier for me to say yes I failed an in depth client study/ process report. I have grappled whether I should share that here but what’s the sense in only sharing the superficial difficulties of the course and not the real challenges faced by me on the course. After all the reason I started this blog is to offer those considering this field a better idea of it when back then I couldn’t find qualitative information.

On reflection, it was a huge shock considering that the assignment was the last piece of work for the year and I thought I had improved from when I first started on this course. To make things worse, it was just by 2%! Well I know a fail is a fail but 2%! Sigh…

So many feelings flushed through me the past 1 and half months; justifications, excuses, self defeat, increased motivation, challenged, questioning, blaming, jealousy, unfairness, apprehension, uncertainty, hope, supported, confusion… Some have resolved itself, some consolidated itself.

Perhaps the best way to start is to consider and clarify what is an in depth client study/process report. It is essentially an assessment and psychological formulation of the client’s presenting issues. The second part of the assignment then requires a transcript of a session with the therapist’s thought process and reasons for intervention. Finally, what you have learnt from the client as well as the placement. So as you can see, the first part requires a professional examination and evaluation of the client’s mental health and the second and final part considers the effect the client and the therapeutic relationship have on the therapist. Having said that, the piece of work relies heavily on the subjective opinion of the psychologist and is in no way claiming the absolute truth to the client’s issues. Another person might come along and come up with a different formulation based on their impression of the client.

Hm, I wish I had such a clear idea of it then. Takes a fail to really push me huh.

So what did I do wrong then? – to be continued.

M.

Posttraumatic Growth… ancient, universal and not well understood

This summer I have spent most of my time researching and digging up info on what is being called Posttraumatic growth (PTG) experience. Most of what I’ve learnt about the phenomenon, in particular relation to violence and abuse, I have included in my systematic review. However, while learning about the phenomenon of PTG I wondered how far back could I trace any documented accounts? I got to learn some curious historical facts that’ve decided to share here, and hope others may find it as intriguing as me.

What is PTG on the first hand?…According to Tedeschi, one of the developers of PTG research: ‘’at least for some people, an encounter with trauma, which may contain elements of great suffering and loss, can also lead to highly positive changes in the individual. It is a change in people that goes beyond the ability to resist and not be changed by highly stressful circumstances; it involves a movement beyond pre-trauma levels of adaptation and has a quality of transformation, or a qualitative change in functioning.’’

In short PTG holds that while trauma can be painful and have highly negative outcomes, there is also an opportunity that trauma can serve as a catalyst towards personal growth in one’s life.

So, when was it that people realised that with suffering comes strength?

Starting with the Bible itself,  I found a number of suggestions of positive transformation in the aftermath of suffering, such as: ‘’we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, and perseverance, character; and character, hope’’. Another example is the biblical narrative of the Great flood found in the Book of Genesis and the Quran. It depicts a symbolic rainbow with which God promises Noah not to kill again and that this is the beginning of a new life.

Another, quite touching story is about Buddha and the development of his enlightening view. Born in a royal family in North India, before his enlightenment Buddha was a prince whose parents wanted to keep away from the pain and dissatisfaction of the world. The first 29 years of his life were filled with all aspects of joy, until a time when he met with suffering in 3 subsequent days. Outside his castle ‘’he saw someone desperately sick, someone wrecked with age, and finally someone dead. He was beyond thinking of himself, but the awareness that pain strikes everyone gave him no rest’’. Stroke by this insightful experience about the inevitability of suffering, Buddha fled his palace and began his journey into the understanding of mind’s timeless essence and all beings’ wish for lasting happiness. His countless encounters with pain allowed him to mature, to learn about the human mind’s potential which later led to his enlightenment. The symbol of a rainbow is also found in Buddhism and serves as a reminder of the positive.

A quite popular example of posttraumatic growth motive, found in a non-religious context, is the myth of a phoenix being born from its own ashes after being fiercely burn. Interestingly the myth is found in the mythologies of many ancient cultures such as Arabian, Persian, Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Chinese, and Indians.

Also, from the time of the ancient Greeks to the present day, tragedy has been a dominant theme in great literary work and that the popularity of such texts has impelled authors and philosophers to ponder what attracts people to themes of suffering. For instance, Aristotle’s Poetics offers plots where the protagonist is involved in a high degree of suffering, usually involving physical harm and death. When a character is unfortunate, the hero’s remorse provides a catharsis that is purifying, and perhaps therapeutic for the spectator shared opinion among representatives of the moral understanding of tragic catharsis is that Aristotle contemplated tragedy to be ‘’particularly well suited for educating the emotions and for building character; for it offers a way we can learn to know  and develop the appropriate emotional responses without having to undergo ourselves in reality the dramatic situations represented in a play.’’

Perhaps, the best know suggestion of posttraumatic growth in written text comes from the German philosopher Nietzche, whose words: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger” still resonate in Western society. There are numerous debates regarding the accuracy of his statement.

Actually, among the most expressive defenders of the idea of positive changes following adversity was the Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl. His book ‘’Man’s Search for Meaning’’ chronicles his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, the loss of his family and his struggle to survive. He writes: ‘’The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity- even under the most difficult circumstances – to add a deeper meaning to his life.’’ During his career, Frankl developed logotherapy and taught about the two-sided face of suffering – while there might be nothing inherently good  in misfortune, it might be possible that to extract something good out of misfortune.

Currently, the idea of meaning found in a suffering finds further support in the work of the existential psychologist Irwin Yalom. He teaches about four ultimate human concerns: death, freedom, isolation and meaninglessness and how confrontation with each of these may result in an existential conflict. In his words: ‘’A core existential conflict is the tension between the awareness of the inevitability of death and the wish to continue to be…A real confrontation with death usually causes one to question with real seriousness the goals and conduct of one’s life up to then.’’

The historical accounts of the PTG phenomenon go on and on. This makes me wonder whether PTG knowledge can find a place within psychotherapy and whether there is something we can learn from it about the human nature in times of adversity.  Fortunately, empirical interest has noticed the PTG potential. A more recent and scientific attention to PTG has occurred in the past decade with the development of positive psychology. The field advocates that life comprises of ups and downs and that it is naïve to hope for a life without any pain, rather to understand how to learn and grow from adversity. This makes me feel optimistic about the future of our understanding and treatment of trauma. Or, is it too naive to think that through tough experiences people are presented with a chance to develop an ability to cope with difficult situations in the future and simply because a misfortunate has happened to someone it means that they are condemned to be damaged from then on?

A.

Sources:

Frankl V.E., (1985) Man’s Search for Meaning, New York: Washington Square Press

Joseph S., (2011) What Doesn’t Kill Us: The New Psychology of Posttraumatic Growth, Basic Books, New York

Nydahl (2008) The way things are: a living approach to Buddhism, John Hunt Pub

Tedeschi, R. G.,Calhoun L., (2006). Handbook of posttraumatic growth: research and practice, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers

Yalom, (1980), Existential Psychotherapy, Basic Books

Statistical jargons in literature review

These statistical jargons are presented as how I understood them in terms of research for psychological treatments but is generally applicable to the field. Tough learning especially when quantitative research/statistical analysis is not my strong field at all. Slightly uncomfortable about reducing individuals to subjects to be studied and talking about them as though they are something to be measured rather than each having their idiosyncracities.

Effect size : small, medium, large-
-more commonly reported in the social science research when reviewing literature’s results (if I understood correctly) in addition to statistical significance ie. p values.

between and within subjects paradigms
- between subjects is the measure of outcome for examples, across different psychological treatment
- within subjects is the measure of process for example, difference pre and post treatment
- important for issues of internal and external validity. At the moment, I only understand external validity as whether the results is generalisable to the population studied.
Edit: internal validity is whether the effect studied is indeed the one affecting the results and not some other unwanted variable. For example, in comparing a psychological therapy to waiting list- results may show a positive outcome for those being seen by a therapist but is this due to the psychological treatment per se or other factors such as further deterioration of mental health due to the passing of time being on the waiting list.

Participant used for final analysis : intention-to-treat vs completers
- Intention-to-treat is an inclusion of all participants that were originally assigned to an experimental condition into final analysis. .
- Completers analysis includes only participants that completed the course of psychological treatment. This may present bias results as individuals who do not complete a psychological treatment for example may have dropped out because they don’t feel it was working ie. negative outcome

Ok, this is as far as I have gotten at the moment in what I use in my review of the literature. I am aware there are so much more to learn. For example, different kinds of statistical analysis may have their own pitfalls for example, random effects analysis may yield a more conservative measure of combined effects. Not even going there at the moment.

M

Santa or No Santa?

Santa Claus and his Northern Elves. We all heard the stories before, of how the nice and good kids get presents from Santa and the bad and naughty one doesn’t. And that on christmas eve he would come down the chimney and lay out carefully chosen presents for the nice children. But how does Santa fare in the modern world? With authors like Richard Dawkins and ‘The Magic of Reality’ which seeks to present a realistic and scientific view of the world in its splendid form, myths and childhood fantasies seems to be ‘poisoning’ children’s mind by putting them into their respective society generated gender roles. But the question is, are we not then creating a whole new kind of archetypes to take over the old ones?

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