Funny if it weren’t so painful:

Madame Jujujive from Everlasting Blort

sent me this, as a backdrop to my post Shaming Young Mothers

last week: Earlier Regier article had same message: ‘Florida’s new child welfare chief, who denied last week writing a controversial 1989 essay that condoned spanking even if it produces bruises or welts, wrote another article for a magazine that encouraged the use of ”manly” discipline, and quoted from the Bible: “Smite him with the rod.” The article, which bears Jerry Regier’s name alone, appeared in the July-August 1988 issue of Pastoral Renewal, a religious magazine no longer published. The article is titled “The Not-So-Disposable Family.” ‘ The Miami Herald

Not to mention this:

White House to push “embryo adoption” plan

: ‘Abortion rights advocates worry that the program lays the legal groundwork for considering embryos human beings with full legal rights. Using the term “adoption” rather than “donation” makes it appear that the program views embryos as children, said Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.’ Salon [thanks, Julie!]

Caveat Emptor Dept: Direct Answers Coming!

Online advice columns are not usually something I read, or point to, but this blink

was sent to me — without further explanation — by a reader, responding to my invitation to fill my mailbox with URLs while I was away from my surfing last week. Here’s the crux of the mission statement of the columnists, couched in terms of drawing an interesting distinction [emphasis added — FmH]: The difference between Dear Abby, Ann Landers, and Wayne & Tamara.

Wayne and Tamara realized …how often Abby and Ann Landers dodge the question. Those two columnists, 82-year-old twin sisters, are each in their fifth decade of syndication. When they began writing, “see a counselor” may not have occurred to some people. These days it’s a way of avoiding an answer.

The Mitchells decided they would answer each letter in a way that gives the writer deeper understanding. As they often say, their aim is to help people become students of relationships, so they can answer their own questions.

At the time, Tamara remarked, “We need to give each person a direct answer,” and that is how the column became “Direct Answers from Wayne & Tamara


Let’s examine this a little, because IMHO in setting up on the one hand Abby and Ann and on the other ‘counseling’ as straw men, the Mitchells hoist themselves on their own petard of self-contradiction and self-condemnation. Through the unlikely vehicle of an advice-to-the-lovelorn column mission statement, they unveil some deeply held misconceptions they share with the public about the facilitation of personal change. I know, I know, I may be giving this alot more significance than it deserves, but it’s a vehicle, so bear with me…

The term ‘counseling’ — and I hope I’m qualified to have an opinion on this because I took a master’s degree in counseling psychology before I went on to medical school and my subsequent psychiatric training — denotes an ill-defined wastebasket profession-without-portfolio in a permanent identity crisis. Arising from ‘guidance counseling’, it remains caught betwixt and between the effective change agency techniques to which I would refer as ‘therapy’ or ‘psychotherapy’ and the well-meaning handholding, advice-giving and ‘direct answers’ that have no place in therapy but are suitable to coaching, career or guidance counseling… or advice columns. People hang out ‘counseling’ shingles aspiring to do therapy, but do not necessarily have the experience, qualifications, training, or in some cases the sophistication to do so, and their profession does not provide the gatekeeping, quality control, suypervision or rigorous foundations of any of the pathways to a ‘real’ psychotherapy career. The public at large does not understand this distinction. People increasingly use the terms ‘counseling’ and ‘therapy’ interchangeably and increasingly go to ‘counselors’ rather than ‘therapists’ never knowing their potential to be shortchanged — caveat emptor!. [This is partly due to the progressive erosion of support for psychotherapy — for meaningful change — in the funding of mental health in the modern managed healthcare environment.This, however, is a subject for a different diatribe, and a fit I throw here in FmH fairly frequently at that.] I don’t mean, BTW, to disparage the endeavors of any of you readers who describe your professional activities as ‘counseling’; you are probably very good and very effective at what you do; in some cases, I would say you are good therapists, but note I said “not necessarily” above…

The Mitchells don’t understand the distinctions either. They appear not to recognize that their stated goals of providing ‘deeper understanding’, ‘ to help people become students of relationships, so they can answer their own questions’ are precisely the aims of any competent psychotherapy relationship. Then they go on in the very next paragraph to contradict these stated ideals with the conceit of concluding they should provide ‘direct answers’. Uhhh, this would seem to be inimical with helping people answer their own questions, wouldn’t it be? It is certainly the case in bad counseling, it may be the case in all counseling, but is not at all the case in a psychotherapy relationship that facilitating change is invalidated by the client’s tendency to ‘avoid an answer’, as the Mitchells ignorantly characterize it. If change were easy, it would be easy. There would be no grace or art to therapy if there were not a universal human tendency to avoid changing. Working with such resistance — usually in ways so subtle they are never noticed — is the constant subtext of the therapy process and the central skill of forming the therapeutic alliance and facilitating change. It involves grappling with one of the central existential paradoxes all good therapists embrace but the Mitchells seemingly do not grasp — that giving a ‘direct answer’ to someone ‘avoiding answers’ prevents, not facilitates, therapeutic progress. Quite simply, an answer that you do not discover for yourself does not stick to the bones.

To amplify on this abit, here’s how psychotherapy works, regardless of theoretical school. You can skip this paragraph if you want; it is not essential for the argument of the rest of this post; if you read it, please forgive me for oversimplifying abit…:

Distress is largely caused by characteristic ways of doing business with the world that are experienced by the client as inevitable and automatic. Therapy is a relationship enough like every other relationship in the client’s life that they enter into it in the same characteristic ways of doing business. Yet it is different from every other relationship in one crucial respect. The therapist is not only a participant in the relationship but a trained observer of it as well, with the aim of enlisting the client to become an observant participant-observer as well, and the skill to do so. The therapist’s finely honed ability to sort out what is the therapist’s own contribution from that of the client, so that the latter can be an object of study unimpeded; and to gently and subtly overcome the client’s instinctual resistance, allows them to gradually begin to experience their ways of doing business as discretionary instead of inevitable. With the freedom to do things differently comes the ability to avoid recreating one’s characteristic ways of creating distress. The therapeutic relationship can be a ‘laboratory’ for empirical trials of doing things differently which, when solidified, can be implemented in the ‘real’ world. Disparate theoretical schools of therapy differ in whether they involve any explicit discussion of what is happening in the therapeutic relationship — ‘analysis’ — and the balance between discussion of what’s happening ‘in the room’ vs. outside ‘in the world’ the rest of the week; in the relative emphasis placed on present- vs. past-centered, or emotional vs. cognitive, paradigms for describing how one does business. Those differences, however, are IMHO just window-dressing — the ‘hooks’ that enlist the client in the essential participant-observation process. If this process happens in untutored ‘counseling’, it happens inadvertently, instinctively, certainly not explicitly. And, of course, it never happens in advice columns…

So should we not have advice columnists? Certainly not those who do not know their own constraints! It is probably a stretch to tout Ann Landers and Dear Abby as paradigmatic change agents — and I have never been a close enough observer of their columns to know — but their ‘dodging the question’, as the Mitchells put it, is in this sense almost surely much closer to effective therapy — and certainly to recognizing their own limits — than the grandiosity of Wayne and Tamara’s ‘direct answers’. Pitiful… [And what’s up with their innuendoes about A. and A.’s five decades each of experience, syndicated or not??]

Okay, enough, I’ll stop here. The reader who sent me the blink was probably recommending these guys anyway…

Amazing Magnetic Fluids:

“If you don’t see it for yourself, you might not believe it.

A grey blob oozes down the side of a laboratory beaker. It’s heading for the table, but before it gets there a low hum fills the air. Someone just switched on an electromagnet. The goop stiffens, quivers, then carries on oozing only after the hum subsides.” NASA