Monday, October 15, 2012

Reluctant Student of Psychology

In college, while taking the required psychology 101, I told myself that though learning how our minds worked seemed interesting, I would never like to deal with people with psychological problems every day. I never had the dream of being a psychologist or a therapist. It could have been because I grew up in the Midwest, where there seems to be a stigma against going to a psychologist or therapist, instead of California where there is more acceptance and encouragement. Or it could have been because my dad was pretty depressed after he lost his sight, or other relatives with psychological problems that overwhelmed me. Instead of having compassion, I avoided them and others that were having trouble in that area. It was almost like how I tend to draw away from blind people, even though I know how to help. It takes a lot of effort on my part to push through the initial avoidance of the blind and of people who show signs of mental illness or psychological problems. It isn't a good thing to be that way. I needed to change.

I think God knew what he was doing when he called us to foster and adopt our two youngest kids. I fell in love with them before I knew all the little letters that would be strung after their name... Letters like MR, FAS, PTSD, RAD, ADHD...

I thought I was prepared for the RAD. Our foster care classes taught us about it, but we needed to learn more once our children came to our home and we were living with the reality of kids that were not attached. Within a month of placement our social worker referred us to an awesome therapist who helped us with attachment issues. And that's when I really started becoming a student of psychology. Of course, it wasn't in the formal sense. I'll probably never get a degree. But I found that the more I learned, the better I was able to raise my children. I learned to ask for help from our social worker and therapist, which is a big thing with my Midwestern, I can do it myself attitude. I learned more about fetal alcohol than most doctors by reading and studying. While learning about attachment, I learned about different personality disorders, and how that affected some of my interactions with people. In helping my son overcome his PTSD using techniques I learned in therapy and in reading, I learned to overcome my own fear of tornadoes. Because my daughter's academic ability was affected by fetal alcohol, I am learning new ways to teach her. I learned about autism spectrum after first spotting a book on our therapist's shelf, and then doing further research and reading. I learned how that was affecting our family, and my friends' families, and have become rather good at spotting it in others. I don't diagnose anyone, but I have suggested friends get their children tested to see if the problems were because of autism. It's pretty common here in Silicon Valley.

Through all of this, I have learned some pretty important things:
  1.  I can't do it alone. Psychologists and therapists are there to help us and there is no shame in going to someone for help.
  2. There really are good therapists around who have a world view that is similar to mine.
  3.  Learn all I can about how the mind works and what will help my children, family, and friends.
  4. There is no way I can keep avoiding people with mental illness or other psychological issues.
  5. God knew what he was doing when he gave us our children. They are a gift. All people are a gift.
I was thinking today, when I took Ms. D to her psychologist appointment, how my attitude of psychologists has changed the past ten years. I see Dr. C as more of a partner in helping my daughter. I take her suggestions, mix it with what I know about my daughter and with what I know from what I've already learned, and then I do them, especially when confirmed by other sources. After all, when the psychologist tells me to start doing something one day, and our dentist says the same thing the next, and then a social worker who knows the case confirms it, it might be something God wants for us to do.

So even though I am a reluctant student of psychology, I am learning more than I had ever thought possible. And in the learning, and the doing, I am becoming better at helping not only my own children, but those around me. I am not as overwhelmed when encountering others who have psychological troubles. And best of all, I have a greater compassion and patience for others who are struggling.

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