August 27, 2020

Identity Diversity & Acceptance, Don't get Boxed In!

It's been a long time coming, I'm nearing 50! My gender identity story. I’ve not shared it publicly before for fear of being misunderstood. But recently I've been encouraged by others to share it for the sake of others. In addition, I’ve been asked what does LGBTQ+ friendly mean? 

I can answer that last part first in couple sentences. It means I provide a safe space for anyone.  As a person of faith I believe God loves everyone and is working in their best interest. My role is to be a vessel for Him.  My personnel belief system doesn’t preclude me from being accepting of others. That said, I believe in the Bible and I have my own personal story about not fitting into a particular box. Life isn’t simple and neither are we. I have a burden to help people break free of boxes created by the world and various religions while staying true to their own healthy value system or morality!

So, with all that preamble, here's a short, partial version of my own identity journey. 

Generally speaking I have a poor recollection of my childhood, but there are some portions that really stand out. When I was about five or six I started to grasp the concept of boys and girls. As the realization set in, I became very upset that I was a girl. I remember crying and praying with every fibre of my being, "Why God did you make me a girl?" "I should have been a boy." I totally, 100% felt I had the wrong body. I didn't feel like a girl at all and I was upset and confused by it. It was a very painful and upsetting.  

Over the next few years, I continued to hate "being a girl", and from time to time had some negative thoughts about it, but for the most part I enjoyed my childhood. I made big truck box forts but never touched a doll. I cooked, sewed, and cleaned, all the chores any boy or girl should learn to do (certainly my husband and his two brothers learnt all these too!). I'd wear dresses my mom made but played barefoot in the mud. But my saving grace, I would spend hours in the woods, we had 5 wooded acres with water springs and beautiful flowers. I loved nature and it was so healing. I grew closer and closer to God through the Bible and nature, and thought less and less about my body or my gender. 

As I grew up, I found I could make friends with just about anyone; old or young, boy or girl, hell's angel bikers or church members. I knew how boys thought and fit in with them very well, rough and tumble, no problem. But I could get along with girls too. People were people. In my mind I didn't fit any box so why should I box up anyone else? 

As I went through puberty I trusted God to get me through the mixed emotions and He did. I knew no matter what life threw at me, even genetics, God could get me through. My faith kept me looking to Jesus rather than myself or my identity. I learned that, while life circumstances can be hard or painful, and my body may not be what I want, I could choose to enjoy life.  (By the way that's CBT in a nutshell, but I didn't know that!) As a teen I realized, maybe it wasn’t so bad that I was kind of half boy half girl. Maybe this was a blessing. 

I’m thankful I grew up processing my gender issues by myself. I’m really glad I didn’t live in a world that pushed people into boxes (because my parents protected me from that). I feel like as much as we're trying to be neutral or helpful, these days we are stressing out kids more with all the "education" on this topic. Kids don't need a science lesson to discover who they are. Give them a safe place to grow up and they will figure it out on their own. Key is a safe place, and that's pretty rare, but that's another story.

I want to pause here. There are all kinds of factors that can influence what gender is. There’s chromosomes, physical appearance, and stuff we don’t have a full understanding of. Did you know you can have the physical appearance of one gender yet the DNA of another? YES, it's possible and more common than you might think. In fact, 1 in 1000 babies are born intersex.1  Add to that XXY chromosomes to chimera’s to Androgen insensitivity syndrome, and you can see, sometimes it’s just not black-and-white as far as male vs female. And while there may be people out there who are afraid of that thought because of their religious beliefs it is not too hard for God to figure out. 

God isn’t scared when a person feels like they don’t fit into one gender role or has the wrong body compared to their chromosomes. In fact, Jesus said in heaven we will "be like the angels"... gender neutral. Wrap your mind around that! Gender doesn't have to define who you are at all. Wow! 

Ok, back to my story. The end result... I am a happily married Christian to a wonderful husband. I am comfortable with who I am, and not interested in my identity any longer. Labels simply don't matter to me anymore. I check yes for a girl in some surveys and sometimes I check “I prefer not to share” but I no longer struggle over who I am or my body. I suppose 'non-binary' is the best label if I am forced to pick one.  I honestly this is because of my strong connection to God who accepts me for who I am. This is how I can be LGBTQ+ friendly and a Christian, both as a person and as a counsellor. They are not in opposition to each other.2

Anyway I hope my story might touch someone to see themselves or others in a new way. I think we hear about identity struggles, those in turmoil about their bodies or gender or identity, and I wanted to share it doesn’t always have to be that way. 

By the way I still love trucks, mud, and hate dolls. 

From my heart,

Angie


1. https://www.webmd.com/parenting/baby/news/20190503/study-about-1-in-1000-babies-born-intersex

2. More info for Christians and gender from a Christian Doctor, two very good videos on the subject:  

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mwz-qEqcl6c

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dT41w3fZwTs&t=1s


Oh here's a footnote for PARENTS! 

It is really important part to be comfortable with your kids as they are. My parents never made it a big issue that I was a tomboy, that’s what they called it back then. They didn’t try to talk me out of it, they didn’t look worried or concerned, it was just part of their kid, part of who I was, and they were OK with that. My parents concerns were more along the lines of was I kind, honest, doing my chores, learning at school, finding friends, enjoying church, and so on.

September 16, 2019

Why is therapy so slow to change?

Let’s face it, if you’re going to spend eight years going to school you’re going to want to use what you learned. Even if the material is 30 years old or your schooling was 10 years ago. For some reason we understand that we’re constantly learning new things and technology and even in medicine. And yet we don’t seem to expect that of psychology. This is really erroneous thinking on our part. There’s new research being done on the brain, DNA, nature vs nurture, and various techniques used in psychotherapy.

One of the most researched techniques, cognitive behavior therapy, shows some real promise in areas of therapy we thought wasn’t possible to fix. There are certain mental illnesses that were thought incurable, as if they were some kind of brain deformity. Now we’re learning even if the brain has had issues, or there has been trauma, we can teach coping skills to provide a more fulfilling and rewarding life. But the industry itself is slow to change. You don’t have to go back very far when people just shut away those with a low IQ or mental illnesses that were treatable.

It grieves me to hear people talking about how long, or even impossible it is to recover from traumatic events or years of abuse. It does take effort, and it can be painful.  It does take time, even with brief therapy your brain doesn’t change instantly, but certainly there is hope for recovery. I don’t believe in some magical formula. What grieves me is the idea it is going to take years and years and there are only little changes, little advancements. I’ve not found to be the case in my experience. And I have colleagues who’ve found that’s not been their experience with their clients either.

So why aren’t all new therapists doing things differently? Many are. That’s the good news. Every week I meet new colleagues who are embracing a more effective way of doing therapy. There are more and more people going into the field who want to see their clients get better quickly. Who believe that there’s a lot of labels in the mental health industry that are not useful and possibly even wrong.

Unfortunately, not all therapists are trained the same. Unlike other professions where there is a very specific set of diagnostic and treatment tools, in psychotherapy and psychology there are many of theories, many ways to do “therapy” and much subjective debating. Even the DSM-V is under fire by some experts. The general public is not always aware of all this. First of all we can get in trouble with our associations if we say things that make others in our profession look bad. But it’s important we not hide from the facts. We need to embrace change and propel this industry into the future with success. Peoples lives are at stake. So I’m willing to take the risk because I think it’s unethical not to make a stand. Our profession needs to change. There needs to be more accountability. And regulations and associations are not cutting it. I get that that’s a starting place but without some kind of unifying documentation to show what works and what doesn’t we’re all sitting around a table arguing theory.

What does this mean to you as an individual? It means don’t give up. Don’t fall for the rhetoric you see on TV and don’t be afraid to try more than one therapist or counsellor if you’re not finding recovery and success. That being said your therapist can only provide so much without you investing in a willingness to change yourself. That leaves me to number three.

Of course I don’t have all the answers, nor am I the perfect therapist. I don’t even have a doctorate like many others in psychology.  I only know that without awareness we can’t move forward. We have to be able to analyze what’s going on right now. What’s working? What isn’t working? And the only way to do that is to have data. The only way to have data is to do testing. Many aren’t ready to go that route. They think it will interrupt therapy, cause a break in empathy. The evidence I have seen so far is the opposite. Testing actually brings us closer to the patient. (burns podcast) We can’t read minds.

No matter how skillful therapist is they can’t possibly know what a patient is actually thinking and feeling 100% of the time. If one thinks they know something they don’t improve. They think they’ve got it figured out. In school we are told if the client is not improving that’s transference and it’s some kind of psychological issue the client has. Or the client has some incurable mental issue. The reality is more likely if a client isn’t improving it’s likely the therapist who has the problem. Either they’re not creating enough empathy and therapeutic regard, or they’re jumping into methods too soon, or they’re using the wrong methods for that client, or they haven’t dealt with the clients resistance to change, or the pushing the client to change something the client is not willing to change.

Mental Health does have many subjective components so how do you collect data? What is happiness? How do you define that? What does the client mean when they say I feel desperate? In medicine it was thought pain was too subjective to measure. For years pain management was done by doctors analyzing the source of pain and use a calculated average based on nerve endings, function, non-verbal cues, etc. But we’ve learned that, while pain is subjective, it is relevant to the person who’s going through it. And now pain scales are used in hospitals all over the world on a regular basis to test patients and collect data to determine a course of action. Yes, observational tools are still also used but medicine did just throw up its hands and say, it’s too subjective to test and treat, so each doctor can just do whatever they feel is right.

This is totally doable in the Mental Health industry too. Dr Beck started it with his depression inventory in the late 70’s. There’s been some other surveys and assessments out there and there’s new ones coming out. They’re not always done with skill. Anyone can write a survey, but unless you understand how statistics work, you can create questions that skew the data. This leads to conflicting information and the conclusion we really can’t understand the brain so we have to go by instinct alone. But in my mind this is unacceptable. We can go over data, we can see where we’ve made mistakes, and we can continue to refine it and prove it. We can combine the art of therapy with a more trained, objective process.

Let’s continue to explore and learn. We don’t want to get stuck in the dark ages when it comes to mental health. Let’s embrace analyzing what works and what doesn’t. We don’t have to be tricked into thinking it’s not possible. We really can put a number on it and find healing.

August 18, 2019

Why is TV therapy stuck in the dark ages?


And not just TV, but the general public’s beliefs about therapy as seen in various media. By dark ages, I mean the earliest ideas, such as those by Freud and others in that era. There is some knowledge that is still relevant but come on, why are we using techniques in TV for mental health that are over 75 years old?

One of the things we see in the media is ONLY the most severe cases get therapy.  This is very frustrating to me! Like you’ve got to have it really bad before you should go get help. Honestly that’s ridiculous. You might have just one minor nit picky feeling of shame that you want to deal with that’s totally OK to get help for. You don’t need to be traumatized to see a counselor.  Another thing shown in TV land that is from ages past is you have to see a therapist for years and years to recover. Especially if it’s OCD, PTSD, or major depression.  But research shows brief, solution-focus and/or CBT, therapy is far more effective than the old ‘couch’ approach. And lastly, some of the tools used in TV therapy make for great scripts but are not very effective in real life. Spending session after session talking about your mother won’t cure your fear of heights!

It really bugs me because we don’t see actors using bloodletting on modern medicine shows, yet we keep showing therapy from the 1950's, with the couch and never-ending weekly sessions. Why is that? Well I’ve got a few ideas.

First of all, confidentiality. Many don’t want others to know some of the stuff they’ve had to face. And even if they are thrilled with the results of recovery, it is completely unethical for us to use any testimonials.  So the mental health industry looks silent and closed off. While we see ratings and reviews for all other services, counsellors and therapists avoid this (even anonymous ones) because we’ve been programmed to thing that is unethical.  So, the real stories and rates of recovery are hidden from view.

Secondly, quick full recovery is not as common as it could be and hit and miss from practitioner to practitioner. Therapists are not all trained the same, they are left to ‘be congruent’ with themselves and do what comes ‘naturally’. Unlike other trades or professions where there is a very specific set of diagnostic and treatment tools, in psychotherapy and psychology there is all kinds of conflicting theories, many ways to do ‘therapy’ and much subjective debating. More on this next article.

Third reason we don’t see lots of recovery stories or effective therapy on TV or in the media is most people like the status quo. Believe it or not most of us don’t want to change. Actually, there’s lots of reasons to not change, some of them actually quite positive. But in any case, we want to believe we can’t change because then it gives us complete 100% permission to just stay the way we are. Even those with severe depression or crippling anxiety. Maybe It’s become part of who they are and they’re afraid that somehow if they let go, they will lose a part of themselves. Maybe we feel it’s unfair we have to change when we are the victims. Which is totally true! It’s not fair. In fact, I’ve gotten flak for posting articles on how to improve your life because some feel that’s victim blaming. It would be wonderful if all the perpetrators of hurtful things had to take on the responsibility to change. But unfortunately, the way we are designed, it doesn’t work for someone else to fix us even if they are responsible for the hurt.  

Fourth reason, we don’t want people to feel bad if they don’t recover. If there are shows on TV where someone can go to therapy and recover from the PTSD in a few sessions, people will feel everyone should recover quickly and that would lead clients to be disappointed if they didn’t.  

Fifth. The writers don’t know better. Yep, full recovery with brief therapy is still pretty new. And there’s a lot if old shows and reruns out there. Plus new ones created from novels written decades ago. Just like it took Hollywood quite some time to get leading female roles on major motion pictures I think it’s going to take time for Hollywood to catch up with modern therapy.

Lastly, there are still plenty of therapists practicing old school therapy like you see on TV.

Don’t let what you see on TV discourage you!!!  You can get successful results for minor or major issues with a good therapist. Many counsellors offer free consultations and you can talk to them about what to expect. We can’t give you a timeline or guarantee but you can find healing for most issues if you are willing to put in the work to change and ready to face your inner demons.  It’s not always easy but it’s totally worth it!

Identity Diversity & Acceptance, Don't get Boxed In!

It's been a long time coming, I'm nearing 50! My gender identity story. I’ve not shared it publicly before for fear of being misunde...