Resources for therapists who see “geek women” clients

Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of arztsamui / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Women (cis and trans, straight and queer) working in “geeky” or STEM professions often experience harassment, marginalization, and hostile work or networking environments as well as internal and external stigma, “imposter syndrome,” and a host of other issues that may be relevant in individual and couple therapy.  The Geek Feminism folks have started a wiki entry offering information and resources for therapists working with geek women, to help us help our clients.

I thought this site was a great reminder of the ways that current events can be so salient for our clients – when a particularly visible example of misogyny or discrimination in tech has just happened, it’s not uncommon for my clients to want to talk about how it’s impacting them in their professional and personal contexts.

I wound up talking about the UCSB shootings with many of my women clients the week it happened, as well as some of the men. Discussing emotional reactions to the murders, to the shooter’s manifesto, and to the #yesallwomen hashtag campaigns on Twitter and Facebook were an important part of understanding clients’ social context, and provided opportunities for talking about internalized gender norms and their impact on relationships.

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Happy Holidays!

I’ve been quiet around the blog for a long time, but I’m hoping to write more in 2014.

Meanwhile, the holiday season has crept up on me yet again!  As someone who wears a lot of different hats in my work life, this time of year always seems to be a rush of “Grades are due! Textbooks for next semester are due! Holiday crises are happening! Family has needs!” and suddenly I look around and my gifts are all in a pile under the sewing table, the cards are still stashed in a bin of craft supplies, and the “Days Until Christmas” calendar has been in single digits for quite a while.

I wish my calendar looked like this these days.

I wish my calendar looked like this these days.

The holidays are rough times for lots of people.  Grief and loss, loneliness and depression, and the sense that “normal people enjoy this time of year” can make it hard to take the endless demands to get into the “holiday spirit.”  Here’s some ideas for how to take care of yourself if you are finding yourself all out of cope:

- Practice mindfulness.  Mindfulness is the practice of slowing down and tuning into the present moment, rather than the past (ruminating) or the future (worrying).  Mindfulness suggests that if we can be kind and friendly to our difficult and painful feelings, rather than trying to resist or change them, they will have less power over us.  Mindfulness practices like R.A.I.N. (recognizing feelings, accepting their presence, investigating what they are trying to tell us, and non-identifying with them – getting a little distance from them, being an observer instead of drowning in them), body scans or progressive relaxation, meditation, etc., can help you get a little “breathing room” between yourself and the painful feelings that are threatening to take over your present experience.  I recommend that everyone get themselves a present of “Comfortable with Uncertainty” by Pema Chodron – even if you are not Buddhist or have no intention of meditating, her writings on working with fear and pain may profoundly change your way of handling these emotions.

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- Get some tools for dealing with difficult people.   I really love the “Ask Captain Awkward” advice blog, particularly because they are very good at suggesting “scripts” for dealing with difficult interpersonal situations.  For example:

I particularly like the Captain Awkward point, oft-repeated, that if people cross your boundaries even after you have politely asserted them (e.g. asked to change the subject, requested that people not talk about your weight, made it clear that you do not find racist jokes cute and funny, etc.), THEY are the ones making things awkward and expecting YOU to bear the consequences by not calling them on it.

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- When tension arises in your intimate relationships, try your best to fight fairly and repair whatever damage gets caused.  Emotions run high at the holidays – family members are thrown together willy-nilly, people are jet-lagged and sleeping in strange places, routines are disrupted, expectations for “the perfect celebration” put stress on even the most mellow. Tempers may erupt – dramatically, or in cold, detached anger.  Toes get stepped on, literally and metaphorically.

  • Do your best to avoid the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” identified by John Gottman’s research as the most hurtful behaviors when fighting:  criticism, defensiveness, stonewalling, and most importantly, contempt.
  • When you start to get overwhelmed with emotion (or “flooded”), ask for a time out.  Commit to returning to the issue at a specific time (in a few minutes, an hour, tomorrow after you’ve both gotten some sleep), and make sure what while you’re apart, you’re soothing yourself – thinking calming thoughts like “we’re working on this together” and “everyone is having a tough time right now,” rather than upsetting thoughts like “my partner is always such a JERK!”
  • Practice accepting influence from the other person.  Even if you don’t agree, find something you can say “you have a point” or “I can see how that would make sense” about.  Try “let me think about what you’ve said just now” rather than the reflexive “NO!”
  • Repair, repair, repair. We all use harsh words at times, or let problems build up, or blame others for things beyond their control.  We intend something as a neutral comment but it comes off as a jab at the other person. We shriek when we should talk, or go “selectively deaf” when we should be paying attention.  As a wise friend of mine once said “apologies are a down payment on making things right.”  Even if you genuinely feel you were in the right, saying “I didn’t listen as well as I could have” or “I let my emotions get the better of me” tells the other person “I respect that you’re a human being with feelings.”  When you get yourself that glass of iced tea while you take your time out, bring the other person one when you come back.  Sometimes it’s the little things.

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- It’s a cliche, but: work on your self-care.

- If things get stressful for you, call a crisis hotline.  This link is for Alameda County in California, but it includes national resources as well.  Many people think of hotlines as something you’d only use in a dire emergency, if you were suicidal, but in fact crisis counselors are trained to provide a friendly, supportive listening ear for whatever is stressing you out.  If you find yourself thinking “if my mother comments on my weight one more time, I’m going to have to pull a table flip,” call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and lock yourself in the bathroom with your cell phone for a while, if that’s what it takes.

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- And as always, if you drink too much, whether in celebration or as a coping mechanism, take care of that hangover!   (And practice a little harm reduction next time please?)

Just remember what Kate Bornstein says in her book “Hello, Cruel World“:

Get out of hell free

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Thanksgiving 2013: remembering to give thanks thoughtfully.

I’m just going to link to myself from last year.

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A recent publication in “Fat Studies” journal

I’m pleased to say that I’ve been published in the “Fat Studies” journal, and an e-print of my article is now available online.  I was asked to review two recent publications, Hanne Blank‘s “Big Big Love,” and Rebecca Weinstein‘s “Fat Sex.” Although I had very different responses to the two books, I was very pleased to be asked to submit the reviews, and with the positive feedback from the journal’s editor afterwards.

It’s been quiet around here due to spending more time on my private practice and my teaching, but I’m working on creating some writing discipline for myself, and if I succeed, some of my efforts will show up here.

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Cultural appropriation bingo

Last week, a friend tagged me to tell me about a post on Jezebel about cultural appropriation, that happened to feature an old project of mine: the cultural appropriation “Bingo card.”

“Bingo cards” have become a popular way to track and raise awareness about the common phrases and arguments that come up over and over again when certain social justice topics are “discussed” (OK trolled) on the Internet – sexist jokes, feminism, fat people, racism, you get the picture.  There’s even a “discussion of Internet Bingo bingo card.”

At some point a few years back, I was really sick of hearing the same old arguments and de-rails come up every time the subject of cultural appropriation was broached on a particular plus-sized fashion community, so I knocked the above out one evening when I probably should have been studying for the California licensure exam or grading papers or something.

Some years later, I found that my scrapbook hosting company had somehow lost the source file for the image – you could still see the thumbnail but the original had vanished.  So I was very pleased to learn this week that the Native Appropriations blog, which is awesome in and of itself, had put up an article about it a while back, and  still had a good copy of the full-sized image.  Which I guess has made the rounds a few places, including into some college courses even.

Anyway, I’m really pleased that it still has a little online life independent of me, and wanted to give props to Native Appropriations for helping to keep it from vanishing into the ether, and to Jezebel (even if they can be oh-so-problematic at times) for giving it a little life this fall.

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Giving thanks, thoughtfully.

It’s been quiet here at my blog of late, but the day before Thanksgiving, I’m reflecting on the traditional American celebration of the season.

On the one hand, I appreciate the benefits that gratitude can bring to our health and overall well-being.  Reflecting on the positive parts of our lives – our successes and good fortune, the support and encouragement we receive from others, the opportunities we have to give back to our community and world, the many privileges most of us enjoy just by virtue of our birth -  gives us a charge of dopamine and other brain-boosting chemicals.  This year, I’m particularly grateful for the support of my friends and family, the health I’ve enjoyed and the medical care I’ve been able to access when I needed it, and the opportunities I’ve had as a teacher and a therapist to contribute to the growth of people around me.

On the other hand, this is also a holiday that is based largely on a whitewashed mythology that, for Native American people, is actually a story about the beginnings of the genocide that nearly wiped them off the continent.  It’s a day for mourning.

It’s also a holiday rife with stereotypes about Native American/First Nations people and full of opportunities for stereotyped images.

Love the leopard-print undies. Leopards, as I’m sure you know Victoria, are from Asia and Africa.

So, whether or not you choose to celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you’ll take this time of year as one in which you cultivate gratitude, and solemnly reflect on the complicated history of life in these United States, and the many opportunities we all have for using whatever privilege we have wisely.

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AAMFT 2012 presentation

It’s been a quiet couple of months on the blog here as summer has ended and fall has begun.  I’m at the AAMFT Annual Conference in Charlotte, NC where I’m presenting with Dr. Michael Loewy of Alliant International University on our research about one of his doctoral electives.

Dr. Loewy has offered a “Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size” class for the Alliant psychology students about half a dozen times over the past few years, and as far as we know, this is one of the only classes on FA/HAES being taught in graduate mental health training.  So we’ve started interviewing students who’ve been through the class, asking them “what effects has this class had on you?”

This year we’re fortunate to have the chance to present our research, along with a dose of “FA/HAES 101,” at the AAMFT conference, a place where the only talk about weight and body size is usually centered on eating disorders or the “obesity epidemic” and how therapists can help fat children or adults get thin (free hint:  They can’t.)  We were excited to get the opportunity to bring the FA/HAES perspective to AAMFT, and to talk about what our students have told us about how the class affected their lives and work.

You can access the PowerPoint of our presentation here, and if you attended the presentation, give special attention to the “Do No Harm” slides toward the end – PowerPoint skipped them, and we think they’re especially important!

Our handout for the presentation is available for download.

We’d love to hear any thoughts and comments people have.

Our presentation wasn’t comfortable for everyone.  Which we understand: there’s a tremendous personal investment in the weight-loss paradigm, both for ourselves (and our fantasies of being thin) and for our clients who desperately want (themselves, their children, their partners) to be “normal.”  But that’s OK.  Radical paradigm shifts like a weight-neutral approach to health are challenging.  Rejecting the hard sell of the diet and bariatric industries is difficult when we’re inundated with  hundreds of messages a day about “willpower” and “fat = death.”

We agree with Dr. Linda Bacon, who writes:

“The toughest challenge in adopting HAES is to recognize that change has got to come from inside you. You are trying to define your own beauty and value in an environment that doesn’t want you to get away with it. No industry profits from your self-love or from the very simple notion that you’ve already got the tools for fulfillment right there inside you.”

The “war on obesity” is a war on PEOPLE, on fat children and fat adults.  We don’t take care of our bodies if we learn to hate and blame them, and we can’t support people of all sizes if we’re trying to eradicate some of them.

Posted in AAMFT 2012, Dr. Sheila Addison, Education, Fat, HAES, MFT, Presentations, Research | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Quick post: Independence Day

As we take a day to celebrate American independence, here’s some freedoms worth celebrating.

My ancestor George Wythe is somewhere in here. Thanks George!

- Independence from dietingWe hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are unique, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.That to secure these rights, women have previously attempted diets with hopes of yielding such results. However, whenever any Form of dieting becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new way of feeding one’s self, laying its foundation on such principles as mindful eating, permission, flexibility, intuition, and the wisdom of the body and choosing foods in a way that to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.

- Freedom of religion, which means the freedom to “let a hundred churches bloom” thanks to immigration, migration, and religious diversity.  Including freedom to change your mind about how you understand your faith, but not freedom from other people’s existence or freedom to lie about being oppressed (well, you do have that freedom but you probably shouldn’t exercise it) or freedom to demand that your faith be treated one way while everyone else’s be treated another.

- Independence from the myth that America was founded on equality, that everyone has had an equal chance at success, and that slavery and racism is something “in the past” that doesn’t matter to how we live our lives today.

- And of course, freedom from hangovers.  In case you’re feeling too festive to sit through my blog post about alcohol and your body, here’s good advice in easy to consume YouTube format.

Happy 4th!

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Freaky Friday: Gay marriage opponent does an about-face.

David Blankenhorn, known for testifying in favor of California’s Proposition 8, has come out in support of gay marriage.

Instead of fighting gay marriage, I’d like to help build new coalitions bringing together gays who want to strengthen marriage with straight people who want to do the same.

Yeah, it’s kind of like that.  I’m still… kind of stunned!  But I’ll take it.

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Quick post: On supporting marriage.

Sociologist Phillip Cohen, who writes the excellent blog Family Inequality, appeared on Talk of the Nation recently as a guest alongside the head-desk worthy economist Isabel Sawhill who recently brought single-mom bashing into the 21st Century.

He points out that many of the tangible benefits of two-parent families are things like stable housing, greater economic security, and health insurance, slyly implying, I think, that if government really wanted to support children and families, they could go “direct to the source” and just work on equalizing access to these resources instead of focusing on marriage as their proxy.  Why go through a middle man, especially such a fraught and unreliable one as millions of individual couple relationships?

I have to note that, for all the interest in “promoting marriage” that has been spouted about in the past decade or two, rarely has anyone ever asked Marriage and Family Therapists (the marriage experts?) about how to sustain and support existing marriages.  I’ve got a two-part plan for you:

1) National health care
2) Stop excluding couple therapy from health care coverage under the false belief that health care coverage should only treat individual DSM diagnoses using individual therapy methods*

distressed couple
*(There is more than adequate evidence that many “individual” diagnoses are effectively treated with conjoint or family therapy.  And there is more than adequate evidence that couple conflict, parenting problems, etc. are not just “problems in living” germane to the “worried well” but are in fact major stressors that impact both physical and mental health.)

In a nutshell:  make couple/marital therapy affordable so people can have the benefit of relationship counseling before and during marriage.  Evidence based treatments like Emotionally Focused Therapy find that 73% of distressed couples recover (become non-distressed) over the course of therapy, and over 80% improve (the gap between the two numbers is largely accounted for by couples where one or both partners have trauma histories; longer courses of EFT are proving helpful in closing that gap).
Weirdly though, I’ve never seen anyone interested in promoting and preserving marriage actually talk seriously about making it affordable and accessible for married people to get help in sustaining their relationship through difficult times.  Go figure.  Let’s urge people into marriage and then… leave them to flail at it.

(Echoes of the pro-life stance here I feel, where it’s Incredibly Urgent that every pregnancy be carried to term, but Incredibly Unimportant to care for the children who are born as a result.)

And meanwhile in other “What’s really good for children?” news, when anti-same-sex-marriage folks can’t keep claiming that gay and lesbian households are bad for children based on the research (because it doesn’t exist), they lie.  What is this, a day with a “Y” in it?

Posted in Children, Families, GLBT, Marriage, MFT, Social justice | Tagged , , , , , | 9 Comments