Archive for Politics

An Old Letter

While I was cleaning out my grandma’s house, I found an old letter from my grandpa, addressed to me. I only have two memories of the man. The first memory was him taking me out to Applebee’s for ice cream. The second was of the day he died, though he wasn’t really there for that one. After reading this letter, I wish I had known him better. It reads:

January 10, 1990

Letters to my unborn grandson

Dear __________ ,

          I don’t know your name because your mother, my daughter, and your father can’t agree on a name for you. I suggested several, but kids never follow a parent’s suggestion. Maybe you ought to make a note of that profundity for future reference, which brings me to the point of these and other letters which are to follow. Anyone who has reached my advanced age wants to insure that his progeny (look it up) doesn’t make the same mistakes that he made, as he at least makes an attempt to allow the possibility that his grandson will have a chance for a better life than he has had. It is not that I had a bad life by any means, but we always want something better for our kids and their kids. Beside that, I think it is a good idea to tell you something of the way your predecessors lived. That way you may better appreciate whatever advantages may come your way. Also, I might not be around when you reach the age of understanding.

          In my short life I have seen an enormous growth of technology. Some of these are talking movies, technicolor, T.V., radar, dirigibles, which I used to see fairly often as a small child in Dallas, jet planes, rockets, nuclear power, and a myriad of wonders in the areas of chemistry, astronomy, physics, biology, medicine, and so on too numerous to mention and most of which I don’t understand anyway.

         I have lived through three major wars and never served in any of them. I was too young for World War II (look it up, it was in all the papers); Korea came along when I was old enough, but three of the armed forces didn’t want guys with flat feet. Incidentally, if you have flat feet, you get them from me. All of the males from my mother’s side have, or had, flat feet. I used to fret about not having been in the service, but I have since come to the conclusion that it was a blessing in disguise. I don’t think that you will ever be called upon to serve, much less actually see combat. Events in the last six months have pretty much excluded the threat of any major conflicts in the United States.

The letter ends there. He probably intended to write more. Whether there are more letters hiding in that old house or not, I don’t know. I hope there are.

-Austin

The Long Wait

I notice that as we at GiTH get farther from the original purpose of the blog, the more I seem to enjoy it. What we envisioned as a young professionals blog is turning into a pretty revealing window into the ups and downs in our individual lives.

Which may, ironically, be the recipe for a good blog.

If this were truly just a young professionals blog, we wouldn’t touch stuff like poetry or personal growth with a ten foot pole. Well, maybe I would, because vulnerability is a big part of counseling, but for most folks? If it doesn’t paint me in the best light, don’t do it. Getting and keeping a good job is all about keeping up appearances, right?

You know, I was even tempted to go off on a rant about how hard it is to find work in today’s economy, and turn it into this big political thing. I’m not going to, because I refuse to beat my head against that particular rock.

Like I’ve said in the past, work is not what you do. It’s a part of who you are. And, like it always is for people trying to lead an authentic life, there are going to be things that get in the way. Some of those are systemic, and that’s crappy, but it doesn’t change who a person is in their heart-of-hearts. In fact, I would say that it is that core that determines the life a person leads. Their job is a byproduct.

I’m not one for giving advice too often, I can’t seem to do it without sounding like a know-it-all. But here’s the one thing I’ve learned about careers since I started mine 6 years ago. If you want to succeed in your career, succeed as an individual first.

I’m not saying things will be perfect. Most of the time, to do what you want to do, you have to wade through the crappy jobs first. I’ll probably have to do my time in case management before I can get back to counseling people the way I want. But the core of who I am, I can apply to any job in a way that makes meaning for me. Same goes for Dan and Clark.

In the mean time, we’ll write poetry, and we’ll talk about our pet projects, and we’ll worry about whatever is coming down the track. And we’ll be that much better at our jobs because of it.

Press and Gambling

Being a beginning counselor comes with a lot of doubt. I have gotten much better at managing that doubt, but some of it is just part of the territory.

Specifically, I got the opportunity to plan a group activity today. It’s for a DBT group, which gives me a bit more freedom than some of the others we have at my site. With that in mind, I elected to to teach something from my personal theory base, which is largely existential. This you-are-going-to-die-what-are-you-going-to-do-about-it way of thinking is in sharp contrast to the CBT that is usually expected, which is by far the most common and concrete, theory in use today.

I only mention this because I think the heart of it can apply to several different situations. Institutional press in any line of work will try and push you into a role that does not fit.

What I decided to present was Sheldon Kopp’s Eschatological Laundry List. Which, for those who don’t know it, is a controversial move.

You see, Sheldon Kopp was a very existential thinker, with a particularly Buddhist bent. When I was struggling in making changes in my own life, reading Kopp helped me put things in perspective, and so I’m hoping to pay it forward.

Here’s where it gets tricky. Kopp was also very outspoken in his beliefs that there is no creator and no afterlife. Some argue that anything of his is so bogged down by his spiritual beliefs (or lack thereof) that to present it would be a bummer at best, and a legal powder keg at worst. Which is why a lot of counselors haven’t even heard of the guy.

For my job, the counselor that plays it safe and only presents the CBT stuff is all the higher-ups really want. You can say the same for most jobs, really.  Bosses want what their bosses want, and so on to the top boss, whose only real motivation is success for its own sake.

For the profession of change, that may not cut it. If I don’t own what I believe and put it into practice, people will start to wonder why they should believe me at all. And bottom line, I believe teaching this list will do some good.

That being said, it’s still pretty nerve-wracking. The idea of gambling on doing something new, even for something as low-stakes as a 15 minute group activity, can make me question a lot of pretty core stuff of who I am.

Maybe testing my conviction is exactly what I need to do to grow. After all, as Kopp would say, “you only get to keep what you’re prepared to give away.”

-Austin

Broken Systems

MinerHelmet

One of the first things my teachers told me when I entered Grad School was this: “Remember, you are going to work in a broken system.” I had no perspective then on what “broken system” meant, of course, and so the thought was promptly drowned in the resulting deluge of research papers and assigned readings.

Then came the day when I was looking for an internship site. At the place I now work, my interviewer, now my supervisor, told me the same thing: “Remember, we work in a broken system.” Now, the words scared me, because I wasn’t going to work in a broken system soon, I was going to work in a broken system tomorrow. I still wasn’t sure what it meant. I’m still working on it. It’s one of those phrases that lacks form until it is experienced. For the sake of education, though, I’ll try to put it into words.

We, as Americans, live in a society that is governed by certain assumptions. One such assumption is that everything of value can be measured. We also tend to assume the reverse: that only measurable things have value. As a result we have institutions such as insurance agencies, whose job it is to assign values to the trickier subjects in life, such as death, injury, and sickness.

Here’s where it goes awry for us Counselors. The above organizations set out to quantify the disruption of life brought on by serious mental illness. They landed on the idea that a person had to either have been hospitalized by their illness, or have an illness which is by definition disruptive. This is why certain mental illnesses, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, are usually covered by insurance, and things like, say, a personality disorder are rarely covered by insurance. In things like Medicaid, the system is even more bare-bones in what it covers.

It makes sense, from that point of view; Bob is too sick to go to work, money is lost (and Bob can’t afford his insurance payment), society as a whole is weaker for the sickness, and everybody loses. However, loss is not the key determinant of the severity of mental illness. It’s a canary in the coal mine, but it isn’t the killing smoke. In my mind, The severity of mental illness is based on the suffering of each individual person. The problem with that, as any professor will tell you, is that we have yet to successfully define “suffering”. Even if we could, there’s still the idea that a person can still function even if they’re miserable and in need of help. Try selling that to the insurance companies.

The cherry on top? The people that need mental health care the most are those who can afford it the least. The people that fall through the cracks and have to rely on things like Medicaid have to make due with fewer services than people who are actually healthy. Hence, broken system.

I want to leave you with a sense of hope, as I see this may come off as a bit of a hopeless situation. What I will conclude on is this: Any profession is only as good as the character of those within it. I can’t think of any job with kinder, hardier people.

-Austin