Michigan’s Julea Ward “Freedom Of Conscience” Act Is Anything But

21 Jun

I’m gearing up to move across the country and don’t have a ton of time to write, but this is too ridiculous and awful not to mention. Michigan’s House recently passed HB 5040, which allows students in counseling, social work, and psychology programs to refuse to serve clients with ” goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief.” 

According to Think Progress, Julea Ward “sued Eastern Michigan University after she was kicked out of her counseling graduate program — she refused to affirm a client’s gay orientation because it ‘goes against what the Bible says.’ A federal district court judge dismissed her suit, ruling that the university ‘had a right and duty’ to enforce the professional ethic rules that dictate its counseling accreditation… The 11th Circuit similarly ruled against Jennifer Keeton, who experienced a similar situation at Augusta State University in Georgia, stating that ‘counselors must refrain from imposing their moral and religious values on their clients.’  By advancing this legislation, Michigan lawmakers are essentially attempting to circumvent — if not dictate — counseling ethical standards.”

So what’s the big deal? How can a student counselor be expected to work with a client who is engaged in behavior he or she personally finds immoral? Shouldn’t the counselor’s values matter as much as the values of her or his client?

The answer is a definitive no. As noted by the 11th Circuit Court, counselors do not impose their moral and religious values on clients. By definition. End of story. Sure, there are some basic societal moral values we’re expressly charged to uphold – if a client tells me he’s abusing his children, I get to report that – but I don’t get to force my personal moral beliefs down my clients’ throats. Counselors choose to work in a profession in which they will be expected to help people whose background, behavior, and beliefs differ from their own on a daily basis. It’s the nature of the job. I wouldn’t become a veterinarian if I were opposed to working with animals, and I wouldn’t become a psychologist or professional counselor if I were opposed to working with people with backgrounds different than my own. There are plenty of career paths available to individuals who want to limit their helping services to heterosexuals and those who closely share their beliefs: religious counselor (for some institutions) and priest/minister (for some institutions) come to mind. (So does “typical conservative Republican lawmaker” if I’m being snarky.) The counseling programs attended by Julea Ward and Jennifer Keeton were nonreligious programs at secular institutions. Professional counseling is a secular job for individuals who are willing to honor its established code of ethics, and who are willing to do their best to avoid abusing the power they are entrusted with in the room.

Our ethical code (and by ethical code I’m talking about the one my classmates and I operate under, the APA Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct, although all ethical codes for counselors look more or less the same) specifically states the following:

Psychologists are aware of cultural, individual, and role differences, including those due to age, gender, race, ethnicity, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices.

Refusing to provide services to a person because of his or her sexual orientation is a discriminatory practice. The LGBT population is a minority population in the same way that Latino populations, African American populations, Jewish populations, and disabled populations are minority populations. A student in counseling would never be allowed to refuse to see a client because he was Black or Jewish or because she used a wheelchair. Sexual orientation is no different. Universities with programs in counseling and related fields must be allowed to uphold professional standards if we are to have a competent, ethical next generation of helping professionals.

But HB 5040 ensures that LGBT clients get services, right? Isn’t there a clause saying that clients must be referred to someone else who can provide them with the services they need?

That clause is present. And it’s true that psychologists are urged to consult on or refer clients with whom they feel they cannot competently work, and this could include a client with whom a therapist has difficulty empathizing for personal reasons. But – and this is a big but – you’re supposed to try to become competent. To unilaterally reject working with clients of a certain minority group without attempting to address the underlying personal bias present is to knowingly participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices, practices our ethical code expressly forbids.

And frankly, refusing to work with LGBT clients (or clients in any minority group) directly opposes the ultimate goal of counseling: to help people recover from mental health problems. According to the APA, “Antigay victimization and discrimination have been associated with mental health problems and psychological distress (Cochran, Sullivan, & Mays, 2003; Gilman et al., 2001; Herek, Gillis, & Cogan, 1999; Mays & Cochran, 2001; Meyer, 1995; Ross, 1990; Rostosky, Riggle, Horne, & Miller, 2009).” Discriminating against LGBT clients perpetuates psychological problems. Transferring a client because of prejudice against his or her sexual orientation can convey extremely negative messages no matter how delicately the transfer is handled… and it’s a rare counseling student who has mastered “delicate” in the first place.

APA’s Code of Conduct states that “psychologists are aware of their professional and scientific responsibilities to the community and the society in which they work and live… Psychologists are concerned about and work to mitigate the causes of human suffering.” Bottom line: HB 5040 is designed to make it easier for psychologists and other counseling professionals to promote human suffering. Here’s hoping Michigan rejects it as the crappy piece of legislation it is.


Spoiled by PsycINFO

31 May

Ted and I are in the process of showing our house to potential buyers, meaning we spend a lot of time vacuuming and wondering what possessed us to choose long-haired cats instead of more practical pets like naked mole rats.

Oh wait, now I remember.

As per the holy wisdom of HGTV’s Designed to Sell, we’ve put a lot of time, money, and effort into staging our house (thanks again, by the way, to all the friends who helped us whip this place into shape!). Everything has been ruthlessly scrubbed, art and artificial plants are everywhere, the yard and garden look like someone actually cares about them,  the deck looks like someone actually uses it, all minor repairs have been made, and all evidence that real, slightly strange people live here has been erased as thoroughly as possible. There was no hiding my pet newt Spike, but hopefully people will just think he’s a deformed fish or something. Spike, UNLIKE our CATS, values our home-selling efforts and does not deposit hairs everywhere. Cats have a reputation for being imitative learners, so I make a point of complimenting Spike on his thoughtfulness whenever they’re around.

One thing I’ve realized as a product of house-staging is just how much I’ve come to rely on research to inform my decisions. Not just clinical decisions, although that’s where my research addiction began… we’re talking everyday, mundane issues. Should I be taking Omega 3 supplements? I’ll check PubMed. I don’t really feel like exercising. Is there any research that would justify me not exercising? (Not really, as it turns out. Maybe it’s just a matter of time?) This article says the “obesity epidemic” is overblown. What does the literature say? How does Ted’s and my retirement savings plan compare to the national average? Better see what I can pull up with Academic Search Premier. Don’t get me wrong – I’m as aware as anyone of the bias that can lurk in even the most objective-sounding study, and I’ve toyed with statistical software enough to know that you can often get the answers you’re looking for with enough prodding. Then again, “truth” is rarely clear-cut, and my faith in science as the best possible approximation of “truth” is still very much intact. My doctoral program has instilled a near-pathological need for empirical support in my brain, and with anecdotal methods still yielding less-than-accurate information (for example, our realtor insisted that we remove a peacock feather from its decorative location in our house because it would “bring bad luck”), I have yet to find a better source to guide my choices.

So you can imagine my disappointment when my search for controlled studies of how different house staging techniques affect buyer response yielded nothing. The only stuff I was able to dig up involved surveys of realtors (I might as well just watch HGTV) or comparisons of sale statistics for staged versus unstaged houses… funded, may I add, by the completely impartial Real Estate Staging Association. How’s a girl supposed to maximize sale potential in a research wasteland like this? I’ve been baking cookies like a fiend to make the house smell nice, but for all science knows, that could be totally pointless. It’s times like this that make me want to abandon my position of being a consumer, not a producer, of research… to get out there and answer important questions with the crushing power of SCIENCE!

But then I think about how much I hate SPSS. And who would fund a controlled study of house staging techniques, anyway? (The Real Estate Staging Association, duh.)

Anyone out there with loads of extra cash and a keen understanding of stats feel like doing some studies on home staging? I can provide cookies.


Feminist Win of the Week: Privilege and MMORPGs

20 May

John Scalzi has a nice piece on heterosexual white male privilege over at Whatever – check it out here. His follow-up article is worth a read, too. I think his massive MMORPG role playing game analogy is an accessible one.



Using Google Drive to Track Client Behaviors

9 May

I came across an article at Lifehacker recently that included a downloadable Google Drive form billed as a “Daily Personal Inventory.” The article, titled “Fill Out This One-Minute Form Every Day and Find Out Why Your Life Sucks (Or Doesn’t),” got me thinking about the countless ways Google Drive could be used to track client mood, eating patterns, self-care, or other behaviors related to therapeutic goals. Because spreadsheets on Google Drive can be shared and mutually edited, I could increase accountability by periodically checking client progress and leaving comments in a designated column. Client data could also be graphed for a quick visual assessment of progress, and it could ultimately be used as a rough measure of therapist effectiveness. Google Drive documents could even be shared with psychiatrists or other health professionals involved with a client to increase integration of care.

I’ve been playing around with a simple mood-tracking spreadsheet format, and I may try creating tracking documents for other behaviors. Although confidentiality could be an issue – Google’s confidentiality policy is relatively solid, but not water-tight by any means – clients could be informed of the risks and benefits and given the opportunity to sign a consent form prior to data tracking.

Have any of you ever used Google Drive as a therapeutic aid?


Amendment One and My Extinction Burst Theory

9 May

North Carolina passed Amendment One yesterday, and I’m extremely disappointed with my future home state. But I also think this piece of discriminatory legislation is the beginning of the end. As ThinkProgress points out, equality momentum is at a new high. Obama (finally) endorsed marriage equality today. And public support for same-sex marriage is growing.

My theory is that the slew of discriminatory legislative efforts we have seen of late – not just those targeting same-sex couples, but also those targeting women – represent an extinction burst.

Let’s say you’ve got a kid who has learned that if he screams in the supermarket, Mom will buy him a candy bar to keep him quiet. He likes candy bars, so he screams every time he and Mom go to the store. Mom gets extremely tired of this, orders the first season of Super Nanny, and learns that to put an end to the screaming, she’s going to have to stop inadvertently reinforcing it with candy. The next time she and kiddo go to the store, he starts screaming as usual. But this time Mom doesn’t get him a candy bar. He is confused. He is upset. This behavior has always worked before. Maybe he’s just not screaming loud enough. He screams louder, but nothing happens. He wants that candy bar and is getting frantic now, so he throws in some flailing too. Mom doesn’t give in. The same thing happens the next few times he and Mom go to the store. Eventually the screaming stops.

This is an example of an extinction burst – an escalation in undesired behavior in response to that behavior no longer producing the desired reward. I think anti-feminist, anti-LGBT legislators are in the same boat as our hypothetical screaming kid. This kind of legislation used to produce the “reward” of smoothly maintaining the status quo, ensuring the continued power of male heterosexual leaders, and providing comfort to those with prejudicial fears. But we live in a country that is increasingly less willing to provide those rewards without a fight, and legislators are upset and screaming. Our job is to keep withholding that candy bar, and to continue fighting, writing, talking, and voting with the knowledge that we’re slowly but surely ushering a discriminatory past to extinction.

Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education is “Evidence-Based.” Also, Unicorns Are Real

2 May

The Department of Health and Human Services recently released an updated list of “evidence-based” programs for teen pregnancy prevention. Since we have apparently been plopped into an alternate universe where “evidence-based” means exactly the opposite of what it sounds like, the Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education program somehow made the list, despite a glaring lack of support in peer-reviewed research literature.

No surprise about the lack of effectiveness. A few choice quotes from the Heritage Keepers Student Manual, pulled from RH Reality Check’s piece on the curriculum:

  • “Males and females are aroused at different levels of intimacy. Males are more sight orientated whereas females are more touch orientated… This is why girls need to be careful with what they wear, because males are looking! The girl might be thinking fashion, while the boy is thinking sex. For this reason, girls have a responsibility to wear modest clothing that doesn’t invite lustful thoughts.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 46)
  • Sex is like fire. Inside the appropriate boundary of marriage, sex is a great thing! Outside of marriage, sex can be dangerous.” (Heritage Keeper, Student Manual, p. 22)
  • “Cohabitation (when two people live together before marriage) is not like marriage! [Heritage Keepers, p. 30] When couples live together outside of marriage, the relationships are weaker, more violent, less [equal], and more likely to lead to divorce” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 26)
  • “One reason may be that when people bond closely through sexual activity, then break up and bond with someone else, and then someone else, it may become increasingly difficult to maintain a lasting bond.” (Heritage Keepers, Teacher Manual, p. 56)
  • Young men are asked to envision their wedding day: “The doors swing open and there stands your bride in her white dress…This is the woman you have waited for (remained abstinent for) who has waited for you…This woman loves you and trusts you with all that she is and all that she has. You want to be strong, respectful and courageous for her. With all your heart, you want to protect her, and by waiting (sexually) you have.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 59)
  • Young women are asked to envision their wedding day: “Everything is just as you have seen it in a million daydreams…” When the bride takes her father’s arm: “Your true love stands at the front. This is the man who you have waited for (remained abstinent for) and who has waited for you…This man wants to be strong and courageous for you, to cherish and protect you… You are ready to trust him with all that you have and all that you are, because you have waited (sexually) you have it all to give.” (Heritage Keepers, Student Manual, p. 49)

Gross, gross, gross, gross. What was the Obama administration thinking? This program drips with dated gender attitudes, unsubstantiated (and often blatantly false) claims about the dangers of premarital sex, heterosexism, and slut-shaming. Even if Heritage Keepers somehow manages to produce scientific support of the caliber expected for other programs on the “evidence based” list (very unlikely), its deeply problematic premise and language choices make it an unacceptable choice for schools or any other public sphere. Punching someone in the mouth may be an effective way to remove teeth, but dentists don’t use it in practice because it’s damaging, unethical, and a generally crappy thing to do. Again, I doubt Heritage Keepers will ever prove its effectiveness in peer-reviewed literature, but regardless of research outcome, I sincerely hope the Department of Health and Human Services recognizes its error and pulls its endorsement for a program that should never have received serious consideration in the first place.

Sweet Justification

26 Apr

I have a confession: I eat dessert for breakfast all the time. Especially cookies, but I occasionally go for pie, cake, or whatever sugar-loaded food happens to be around. When Girl Scout cookies are in season, I eat Tagalongs for breakfast every day, for weeks. (I figure they’re healthier than the other kinds because of all the protein in the peanut butter. Right?) Whenever I behave myself and eat “real” breakfast items, they’re just desserts in disguise: Fruity Pebbles, sugary granola bars, cheerios with chocolate chips mixed in. Ted’s family-size box of Grape Nuts almost can’t stand to share a pantry with my breakfast food.

But now, thanks to SCIENCE, I no longer have to be ashamed of my breakfast choices. A recent study by Jakubowicz, Froy, Wainstein, and Boaz (2012) randomly assigned obese, sedentary, non-diabetic participants (n=193) to one of two groups: a group instructed to eat a high-carbohydrate, high-protein breakfast that included a dessert, and a group that ate a low-carbohydrate breakfast that did not include a dessert. All participants were placed on an isocaloric diet, and the groups differed only in their breakfast assignment. While there were no significant differences in weight loss between the  two groups at the end of the diet intervention, participants in the group who had eaten a dessert as part of breakfast continued to lose weight weeks after the intervention ended, and weight regain was observed only in the group that did not eat a dessert in the morning. Participants who had a dessert at breakfast also reported significantly lower hunger and fewer cravings.

The authors suggested that this surprising finding may be attributable to reduced reinforcer value: that is, when you get a dessert every morning, it loses some of its “specialness,” and cravings don’t occur as often. As noted by Jakubowicz et al., “In many weight loss diets, energy is restricted concomitantly with the restricted intake of preferred foods, leading to an increase in the reinforcement value of the omitted or restricted food. This may be expressed as increased cravings for the desired food. In contrast, repeated reinforcer presentation leads to a reduction of reinforcer efficacy and reduced motivation to obtain the desired food. It is possible that the consumption of sweets at breakfast in the [dessert] diet group (chocolate bar, chocolate mousse, cake, or donut) represents repeated reinforcement leading to reduced cravings” (2012).

Take THAT, Grape Nuts! This study proves* that I’m making choices that support a healthy weight! Can’t wait for science to find support for all my other bad habits.

*SOME people might say that one study does not constitute a body of proof. But I can’t hear what they’re saying because this cookie I’m eating is very crunchy and it drowns out all sounds.

Source: Jakubowicz, D., Froy, O., Wainstein, J., & Boaz, M. (2012). Meal timing and composition influence ghrelin levels, appetite scores and weight loss maintenance in overweight and obese adults. Steroids, 77(4), 323-331. doi:10.1016/j.steroids.2011.12.006.

A Good Read on Self-Doubt in Therapy

21 Mar

My friend Molly shared this article with me today, and I thought it did a nice job of illuminating the anxiety we often feel as beginning therapists and describing one individual’s process of working through it. Check it out here:

A Crash Course in Psychotherapy: Moving Through Anxiety and Self-Doubt – by Charlotte Dailey

An Actually Informative Post About Internship Match Day, North Carolina, and the Nature of Happiness

4 Mar

So here’s how it all went down.

Rewind to February 23: After a productive week of worrying, I spent the evening at a potluck at a friend’s house, where I ate baked ziti and watched the latest Twilight movie with Rifftrax and pretended that the Match process was just an uncomfortable dream sequence, like the eighth season of Dallas.

Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1 was largely unbearable (see fine review here – it starts about a fourth of the way down the post) but turned out to be an excellent choice for Match Day Eve, what with all the soothing dialogue-and-action-free segments. I had this idea that I’d be lying awake in bed for hours that night, but the movie eased me into a blissfully somnolent state. Also, who am I kidding, I am really good at sleeping.

Before bed, I made a list of all the reasons it would be good if I didn’t get an internship and stayed in grad school another year (i.e., continued proximity to my friends here, more time to sell the house, ongoing access to my favorite cupcake shop). I also performed a rigorous emotional readiness exercise on my dude. “Let’s say I roll over tomorrow morning and tell you I matched in… VIRGINIA. How do you FEEL?!” “Fine. Excited.” “OK, I roll over tomorrow morning and tell you I matched… NOWHERE. How do you FEEL?” “Fine. Not as excited, but fine.” “OK, I roll over and tell you I matched in… INDIANA. How do you FEEL?” “You didn’t apply anywhere in Indiana.” The boy is good. Anyway, the point is that he was emotionally prepared, thanks to me and my fab psychology skills.

Applicants were told we’d hear about our match status by 8:00am MST, but a couple more advanced students in my program recalled receiving their notification emails earlier than that. I set an alarm for 6:30am, dreamed something about chapstick, woke up to my Super Mario alarm and checked my phone. No dice. An APPIC email had arrived when I checked again at 6:45, and I told Ted with bleary happiness that I had matched to one of my top sites in North Carolina. Thanks to our emotional readiness work, he was able to handle all the joyful feelings. Family members were called, friends were alerted, and my cohort-mates (whom, I am thrilled to say, all matched) and I swapped text messages. Most communications were excited, but there were also conversations that were mixed or sad… a conversation with best friends we’d hoped to live closer to; texts with friends from my cohort who hadn’t gotten the matches they’d wanted most; chats with people out here in Colorado that I’d have to leave behind. And as the initial high wore off over the course of the day, the Kitten Principle kicked into action.

When you decide that you want to get a kitten, you start thinking about all the things your kitten could be. Your kitten could be striped, calico, gray, black, green-eyed, yellow-eyed, short-haired, long-haired, feisty, snuggly, male, female. You imagine yourself playing with your long-haired black kitten or petting your blue-eyed Siamese kitten. Then you get a kitten, and he’s striped and long-haired and green-eyed and purry, and you love him. But because he’s striped, he can’t be calico, gray, black, or Siamese, and the little dreams you had involving hypothetical calico/gray/black/Siamese kittens will never be realized. Doors have closed, opportunities have been lost, and while you have a beautiful striped kitten, the reality of owning him includes some things that didn’t appear in your daydreams, such as him peeing in the sink and attempting to sleep on your face. You know you should be 100% happy with your striped kitten, but there’s a part of you that feels a little sad about the hypothetical kittens you missed out on, even though you know that if you’d gotten a calico kitten, a part of you would be mourning the fact that she wasn’t a striped kitten. That’s the Kitten Principle: the idea that the time of indeterminate possibility can be happier than the initial time of determined reality, even if reality gives you exactly what you want.

Now obviously, the Kitten Principle is not a new idea: it’s just a more adorable way to conceptualize what we already know about the negative effects of “choice overload,” the psychological impact of opportunity costs, and our bumbling incompetence when it comes to predicting how happy we’ll feel after future events (Daniel Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness does a nice job of covering this). Kittens… super cute, right? Not so cute when they’re peeing in your sink, let me just tell you.

The Kitten Principle has largely resolved itself now that Match Day is a week behind me, and I’m feeling super excited about moving to North Carolina. Extensive Wikipedia research this week revealed that North Carolina’s state mammal is the Eastern Gray Squirrel and its state vegetable is the sweet potato, which explains a lot about the mystifying Microsoft Word clip art in my last post.

FUN FACTS, North Carolina Edition:

  • The State Beverage is milk. THAT’S RIGHT. While you’re drinking your orange juice or whatever stupid beverage is beloved in your state, I’ll be sucking down a cool glass of milk.
  • The State Blue Berry is… the blueberry. North Carolina, why did you even create this category?
  • The State Carnivorous Plant is the Venus Flytrap.
  • Home of the Mullet Festival (I think they mean the fish, not the hairdo, but it’s probably best to show up in a mullet just in case), the North Carolina Pickle Festival, and the previously mentioned Woolly Worm Festival

I’m sure there are many more fascinating NC tidbits out there, but I got Wikipedia fatigue and stopped searching. Anyway, I’m really looking forward to starting the next chapter of my life in North Carolina. Keep this on the DL, but my dude and I are thinking about taking the plunge into family life and adding new members to our household.

Specifically, we’re thinking a puppy and some chickens, although we may also be willing to consider some button quail.

Next steps: finishing my dissertation, staging the house, selling the house, terminating with clients, and closing out client files.


28 Feb

I landed an internship, and Ted and I are headed to the great state of North Carolina! That’s right, I’m going to be living in the birthplace of human-powered flight, where the squirrels roam and… is that a yam? I guess also where the yams grow. This Microsoft Word clip art is not very informative.

This post will also not be very informative, due to all the things I need to get done this week… but I promise to put up a real piece in the next few days.

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