A Great Way to Get Less Sleep Tonight

21 Feb

If you haven’t read this article in The Atlantic and are looking for a) new ways to fuel your nightmares or b) an interesting read on a unique line of schizophrenia research, check it out:

How Your Cat Is Making You Crazy

If you’re like me, you’ll probably read the headline and first paragraph, chortle because you can already tell that this article is going to be the stupidest article ever, and then feel a growing sense of horror as you continue reading and realize that the article is actually pretty well-researched and maybe there really are cat protozoans that can subtly puppet a human brain. You will look suspiciously at your cats. You will do a cursory lit review on Google Scholar, hoping to find evidence that all of this stuff is made up and/or the product of blatantly crappy research, and you will not find the comfort you are looking for. Oh, no.

Admittedly, this line of research could potentially have really cool implications for our understandings of schizophrenia etiology and treatment, and that’s worth getting excited about. But it also brings up some disturbing thoughts. If T. gondii really is capable of discreetly altering human behavior, what other microscopic “puppeteers” might be out there? Have cat ownership and my lazy approach to vegetable-washing already converted my brain into a teeming mass of protozoan cysts? Could these protozoans be early evolutionary precursors to a Yeerk race bent on taking over the world via brain infiltration? You know, rational thoughts like those.

What reactions do you guys have?

Awesome Stuff That Happened This Week

12 Feb
  1. Prop 8 was overturned!
  2. Rep. Maureen Walsh made this speech.
  3. I submitted my rank order list for internship. I read a deeply inspiring article a couple months ago about a circus psychologist, so I put “Cirque du Soleil: Cavalia Rotation” as my top choice. Sure, maybe Cirque du Soleil isn’t officially participating in the Match, but once they find out I ranked them first, they’ll be so blown away by my go-getter attitude and sassy confidence that they’ll immediately create and accredit an internship just for me.
  4. TWO of my friends successfully proposed their dissertations this week. Way to go, Kasey and Matt!
  5. Although it’s too early to tell for sure, my friend Wesley appears to have beaten the odds and narrowly avoided death by brain-eating amoebas despite constant misuse of his NetiPot.
  6. I reacquainted myself with the cinematic masterpiece The Neverending Story.
  7. An eighth grader with autism described me as a “smokin’ hottie” and asked me to be his valentine. Watch out Ted, you’ve got competition. Among the middle school set… with serious social and behavioral difficulties. You know what, never mind.
  8. My cat demonstrated improved comprehension of the “play dead” command. Admittedly, this trick is pretty close to his usual preferred state.

Inclusive Art in Therapy Rooms

4 Feb

I spent a lot of time touring mental health care facilities last month, and many of these sites – especially university counseling centers – demonstrated a clear commitment to decorating their walls in a culturally inclusive way. I saw Peruvian wall hangings, portraits of African-American jazz artists, a Buddha painting, Frida Kahlo prints, and West African masks. One training director explained the rationale for her site’s decor as she shepherded me and other internship applicants through the building: “We want everyone to feel represented here.”

I also spent a lot of time sitting around in airports last month, which provided ample opportunity to sort through my own ideas about what makes “good” therapy room decor, and what I might do to make a room feel inclusive. If I get an internship this year, it’s likely that I’ll be given a space to decorate. And I really like the idea of channeling the ol’ creative juices into making a therapy room my own. I am, after all, a person who guiltily and avidly follows a bunch of craft and decor blogs, feverishly pinning projects to a Pinterest board to make “eventually.”

Prior to my trip, I had always imagined myself decorating in a soothing, blandly nature-themed way. And while I certainly still want my theoretical room to have a positive vibe, and I like things that are shaped like branches far too much to abandon the idea of nature-themed decor entirely, I think I could accomplish more with art that conveys inclusiveness.

A small (and not at all exhaustive or fully inclusive) selection of art I’d love to put in a therapy room:

Pakistani Girls Show Their Hands Painted with Henna Ahead of the Muslim Festival of Eid-Al-Fitr by Khalid Tanveer; from allposters.com

Unite with Pride; image from advocate.com

Peaceful Moment, by Monica Stewart (from allposters.com)

Disability is an Art, from the University of New Hampshire Institute on Disability

Balloons, Mexico by David J. Negrón (see the artist’s site here)

Cherry blossoms painting, identity unknown – I came across this one here and loved it, but I can’t find its name or the artist who painted it anywhere. Does anyone recognize it?

**Note: A friend informs me this is Chinese Painting by Jun Wan. Thanks, Wes!

The Path of the Shapeshifter, by Helena Nelson-Reed (artist’s website here)

Any sculpture by Shelly Tincher Buonaiuto (below: Wind)

To other future psychologists or current therapists: do you ever daydream about therapy room decor? If you already have a room of your own, how have you chosen to decorate it?

Speaking of Paula Deen… Feminist Win of the Week

29 Jan

I was kind of appalled by Josh Ozersky’s piece in this week’s Time titled “Grease Under Fire: Paula Deen parlays just deserts [sic] into a sweet deal.” And not just by the uncharacteristic typo in the title. (Just deserts?) A few choice quotes (emphasis mine):

It’s probably safe to say that few of her viewers were surprised when down-home-cooking doyenne Paula Deen announced on Jan. 17 that she has Type 2 diabetes.”

The woman just didn’t care; she was going to deep-fry some Twinkies, and that was the end of it. The result, just as our mothers told us, was predictable. ‘Paula Deen was going to have some kind of health problem,’ says New York City chef Franklin Becker… ‘It might not have been diabetes, but it would have been something. If you cook that way, if you eat that way, you’re going to get issues.‘”

“The truth is that Deen has some real questions to answer, and she hasn’t done a good job so far. It’s one thing to be diagnosed with diabetes after you’ve built a career promoting bacon-wrapped mac and cheese and other I-dare-you dishes that contribute to obesity, a risk factor for developing the disease. But Al Roker, speaking for tortured dieters everywhere, asked her on the Today show why she took so long to tell people the news…”

“Paula Deen, after cooking all the wrong things so well and for so long, doesn’t seem to feel any guilt at all.”

Notice any themes? I should note that Ozersky doesn’t paint Deen entirely as a demon, and he admits a grudging respect for what he describes as Deen’s “freewheeling indifference to health concerns.” The issue of Time in which this article appeared also included a quote from chef Anthony Bourdain in the Briefing section: “‘When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut and you’ve been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you’ve got Type 2 diabetes… It’s in bad taste.'”

Credit: Time

Ozersky’s article – and the implications of Bourdain’s quote – really bother me. The language is damning and weight-shaming, and it conveys a poor understanding of how Type 2 diabetes works. The tone is unattractively gleeful – how funny is it that this woman got diabetes? – and the utter lack of compassion makes me cringe. The self-righteous grousing about Deen’s unwillingness to immediately disclose her diabetes diagnosis is also inexplicable to me. Does Bourdain have a blog somewhere in which he lists all of his health problems? Couldn’t find it, but I guess it must be out there somewhere. There’s also an implicit assumption that Deen eats exactly as she cooks on TV. Do you honestly think this woman has time to make homemade fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits every night? Do you know how long that stuff takes to make? I joked about eating peanut butter pie at Paula’s house in my last post, but I am fully aware that she’s a celebrity with a TV show, guest judging gigs, book deals, a magazine, speaking engagements, and a business empire. I doubt she spends a ton of time at home, much less making gravy from scratch when off air.

I could go on, but I think Susan over at Persephone Mag does a much better job than I could of addressing the problems inherent to the current media dialogue around Paula Deen’s illness. Check out her excellent takedown here: http://persephonemagazine.com/2012/01/takedown-paula-deen-abetes/

If that doesn’t constitute a feminist win of the week, I don’t know what does.

Decisions, Decisions

26 Jan

I flew home from my last interview on Monday, and I have been gleefully soaking in the reality of sleeping in my own bed and talking about things other than An Ethical Dilemma I Once Experienced with a Client.

Don’t get me wrong. I got to spend time with several friends along the way, and there were parts of the trip that were really fun, including but not limited to getting lost in D.C., making Nutella Brownie Bricks, drinking the best milkshake in North Carolina/possibly the universe, snorgling kittens, watching horseback acrobatics, and reading trashy vampire urban fantasy novels (TVUFNs, as they’re known in the biz). And by trashy, I mean trashy. Twilight, please.

That said, I’m incredibly grateful that I get to hang up my suit and move on. Ranking lists are due on February 8, so Ted and I have been poring over weighted spreadsheets and working on an order of preference. I went into this process knowing that I had no interest in living apart from Ted for a year and that his opinions about where he’d like to live would have just as much weight as my own. I imagined that this might entail passing up an excellent site in a less-preferred area in favor of a more mediocre site in a location that would be a better fit for us as a couple. But throughout my interviews, I didn’t find any sites that didn’t have excellent training opportunities. Every site also seemed to have a class of happy interns, a friendly staff, and a positive work environment. There are some sites I liked slightly better than others, but overall, choosing favorites feels like trying to pick a favorite cupcake: maybe a red velvet cupcake would make you a tiny bit happier at a given moment than a vanilla bean cupcake, but they’re all cupcakes, you like cupcakes, and the amount of extra happiness the red velvet cupcake would give you probably isn’t all that meaningful.

That leaves location as the big deciding factor. My sites are all located in Texas, Georgia, North Carolina, or Virginia. After much thought, I’ve determined that the pros and cons of living in each of these states are as follows:

***TEXAS***

Pros:

  • Delicious tacos
  • I already own a Texas-shaped cookie cutter
  • Everything is bigger. Probably including my pants, because of all the delicious tacos
  • Close friends live there, eliminating need for perusal of shady Craigslist “platonic” section
  • Dude ranches?
Cons:
  • When driving, tumbleweeds may obstruct view of road in a dangerous fashion
  • Armadillos? Texas has a lot of armadillos, right? Did you know that armadillos can transmit leprosy?
  • State looks like a giant tomato in political maps
  • Would sweat extra during scorching summers. Would probably have to spend more $$$ on deodorant

***GEORGIA***

Pros:

  • Biscuits!
  • Everything seems to have a picture of a peach on it
  • Friends and family in area
  • Large lightning bug population
  • Might run into Paula Deen and become friends and she would invite me over to eat peanut butter pie and I could gently tell her to stop wearing so much eyeliner because her magazine covers are creeping people out

Cons:

  • If living in the vicinity of Atlanta, would need to purchase a helicopter to evade hideous traffic. Used helicopters difficult to find on Craigslist
  • People might call me “hun”
  • Pollen
  • Traffic. I’m going to list traffic twice for emphasis

***NORTH CAROLINA***

Pros:

  • Home of the Woolly Worm Festival
  • Small colony of friends established here
  • Seasons do what they’re supposed to do
  • Could have a banana pudding Cook-Out milkshake whenever I felt like it
  • Access to beach AND mountains

Cons:

  • Somebody might make me go to a NASCAR race
  • NASCAR is the official state sport
  • Of the states on my list, “North Carolina” takes the longest time to write
  • Having a banana pudding Cook-Out milkshake whenever I felt like it might take a serious toll on my health

***VIRGINIA***

Pros:

  • Easy access to Baltimore (and a close friend who lives there), D.C., beaches
  • Chincoteague ponies
  • Seasons do what they’re supposed to do, and they do it even better than North Carolinan seasons
  • Could grandly tell people that I live in “Old Dominion”

Cons:

  • State slogan is “Virginia is for lovers.” Gross
  • Someone might make me go watch people “bring history to life” (e.g., play a fife in a sweaty wool waistcoat) in Colonial Williamsburg
  • Would always have vague concerns about likelihood of nuclear attack if living anywhere in the vicinity of D.C.
  • Dangerous environment for my friend Laurie due to ubiquitous presence of the beloved Virginia peanut

Ted and I have a lot to ponder. Obviously I hit the highlights in my pros/cons section, but for those of you who live in the states in question, are there any other factors we should be considering?

Feminist Win of the Week: The Where Do You Stand? Campaign

16 Jan

I get really, really sick of sexual assault prevention campaigns that are targeted toward women. My undergraduate residence hall required me to participate in a certain number of educational events each year, and one of the annual events offered was always a women’s “rape prevention” seminar led by our university’s chief of police. The seminar focused on what we ladies were supposed to be doing to protect ourselves: keeping our keys between our knuckles when we walked around at night, keeping our drinks with us at ALL TIMES when at bars or parties to avoid potential roofies, wearing modest clothing, and carrying a rape whistle. Complimentary rape whistles were passed around, we applauded politely, and we left  with the comforting knowledge that we were now immune to rape.

Not. Women’s “rape prevention” is an idiotic, dangerous concept that perpetuates victim-blaming, makes women (and men) less likely to speak up after being sexually assaulted, and impedes prosecution of rapists. The vast majority of sexual assaults on women are not stranger rapes; they’re committed by men that women know and trust. Baggy clothes and a hand over your drink aren’t going to do you a lick of good if a rapist is already inside your house, sitting in his usual place on your couch. As a society, we need to spend less time and resources teaching potential victims how to “avoid” rape, and more time and resources teaching men how to recognize sexual assault and how to prevent it. Most men who commit sexual assault don’t consider themselves rapists afterward (check out the stats here); a “rapist” is someone who roofies drinks or attacks women in dark alleys, not someone who decides that a woman is radiating nonverbal come-hither signs and is playing hard-to-get by saying no. Men live in a media culture permeated with the idea that guys are supposed to take the lead when it comes to sex and that a woman’s “no” is most likely an eventual “yes.” I don’t know why we continue to be surprised by the depressingly high sexual assault rates in our country when we do so little to teach men how to appropriately initiate and respond in sexual situations and help their friends do the same.

That’s why I’m really loving the new Where Do You Stand? ad campaign over at mencanstoprape.org, which urges men to recognize and stop behaviors associated with sexual assault. These posters model specific bystander interventions that inform young men what they can do, implicitly convey what types of behaviors are unacceptable, and portray the modeled interventions as actions fit for men with strength, self-confidence, and integrity. This isn’t the first ad campaign Men Can Stop Rape has produced, but it’s by far my favorite. Men Can Stop Rape also offers trainings and action guides for college campuses interested in expanding on the materials in a systemic way. Props to an excellent organization for a much-needed campaign. I would love to see these posters plastered all over my town.

Interview Blues, Part Two

13 Jan

The Grand Interview Tour began last Friday. Yesterday I woke up on a friend’s couch in Maryland, and tonight I will be situated on another friend’s couch in Georgia. Eight interviews down, one interview and an open house to go. I am tired. I had thought that interviews would start to feel easier after a while; they would become a performance I knew by heart, and the dread would ebb away. Lol! I still feel like vomiting before every single one.

My last couple of interviews have been held on organized interview days, meaning that I’ve been spending a lot of time with other applicants in addition to site staff and current interns. This has been making everything infinitely worse. The problem is that these other applicants are nice. They’re funny, they’re polite, they’re well-spoken, they’re well-dressed. I sit with them during lunches and meet-and-greets, and we are a small sea of nearly indistinguishable suits and smiles. I enjoy talking to them, they seem to enjoy talking to me, we could easily be friends. When I send thank you emails after interviews, I sense the other applicants typing in tandem with me from their hotel rooms. How in the world am I supposed to stand out here? Every minor mistake I make during interviews – realizing I forgot to  add something during a case conceptualization, stumbling over a word, pausing too long to think – feels like a death knell when my fellow applicants are this good, this likable. I have no idea where I stand.

This process has been an enormous investment of time, energy, and money, and it’s really discouraging to think that a fourth of this year’s applicants (maybe including me) will have to go through it all a second time. Or a third time. The price of my flights, car rentals, gas, suit, and hotel stays will be around two grand when all is said and done, and that’s after cutting travel costs wherever possible (staying with friends for all but two nights, choosing economy cars, and not visiting every site on my list). Two grand. That’s average. That kind of price tag doesn’t jive with psychology’s professional value of improving economically disadvantaged groups’ access to opportunities. I was able to rely on my partner to cover the costs of the internship application process, and I know some others who have been able to rely on their parents… but there seems to be an implicit assumption that everyone applying has access to those kinds of resources, and that’s absolutely not the case. Many university counseling centers, blessedly recognizing the magnitude of the financial burden associated with the internship process, have begun to move toward phone or Skype interviews, but there are just as many sites that continue to insist on (or “strongly prefer”) doing things in person. There are some applicants out there who are going to spend $2000 this month that they don’t have, and then be expected to do it again next year.

And the internship crisis doesn’t seem likely to be resolved anytime soon. Every Monitor or gradPsych I’ve read lately has included articles about what’s being done to address the problem, but the “things being done” seem to consist primarily of holding meetings to discuss what should be done. The last gradPsych described two “landmark victories” achieved last year: securing continued access to federal funding, and restoring intern positions in New York that were temporarily cut last fall. These are important achievements and I’m grateful that APA made them happen, but they represent maintenance, not improvement.

Not that I have any bright ideas for how to fix the problem. Getting an accredited internship program going is a labor-intensive project, and interns must be (sparingly) paid and provided with benefits. Making intern pay optional might create more positions, but it would also create serious difficulties for interns, many of whom already carry a heavy load of student loan debt. Psy.D. programs tend to have class sizes that significantly larger than those of Ph.D. programs, and some really nasty stuff went around on graduate psych listservs a while back about how Psy.D. students were “taking up internship spots” that rightfully belonged to Ph.D. students. Right… because it makes sense to blame other students for the shortage. Students who have devoted years and thousands of dollars in loan money to their educations, and who need APA-accredited internships to legally practice in many states. Much like… Ph.D. students. Not cool, guys. Maybe regulation of the maximum number of students allowed in incoming graduate psych cohorts (Ph.D. and Psy.D. programs alike) could reduce the internship disparity, but I get a headache thinking about the logistical and financial nightmares that a move like this would spawn. Best of luck to the APA.

But… deep breath. If I don’t get an internship, I have good backup options. During the interview process I’m getting to spend a lot of time with friends. And on Sunday I get to go home for a brief interview-free hiatus, ditch the makeup and heels, hang out with my dude, and do regular grad student stuff. I will also get to use as much shampoo as I want without fear of emptying my tiny TSA-approved bottle. It’s going to be magical.

2012: Pretty OK So Far, Minus All the Trips to Walgreens

4 Jan

Sorry for the posting hiatus – this holiday season has been a whirlwind grand tour of the Southeast, a distant region where most of my family members and friends insist on living. I just got home from a New Year’s celebration with my closest friends in North Carolina, and I can tentatively say that 2012 is looking good so far, although my friends clearly didn’t eat whatever food it is you’re supposed to eat on New Year’s for good health (turnip greens? pickled eggs?), since we spent an inordinate amount of time browsing the cold and allergy medication aisle at Walgreens. I’ve got a suspicious tickle in my throat and may need to seek out some turnip greens myself.

I make resolutions every New Year’s. I know that a long list of vague, undissected goals chosen on an arbitrary night  is not a path to behavioral success, but there’s something traditional and comforting about making that list, and I have an agreement with myself that I can say it’s been a highly successful year if I accomplish 60% of my goals.

Last year I only had 2 resolutions, which were:

1. Use canvas bags when grocery shopping

2. Defend thesis

I utterly failed number one. I think I remembered to use canvas bags once, after Ted reminded me. Full success on number two. You might say that puts me at 50% success, but in 2011 I also proposed my dissertation, successfully married off a sizeable proportion of my friends, and trained my cat to give me a high five, which officially puts me at 99% success or something like that.

Anyway, this year’s list of resolutions is a little longer, with separate divisions for professional goals and personal goals. Without further ado:

2012 PROFESSIONAL RESOLUTIONS

1. Accept internship match news with minimal drama if it’s not exactly what I want (or not an internship at all). I’ve got a good backup situation if I don’t get an internship, and if I do get an internship but it’s not one of my top choices, then I can still have an excellent year. There’s no need to flip out.

2. Complete my dissertation. I don’t technically have to have it done until spring of 2013, but I really want to knock it out before I move.

3. Write in blog at least once a week, excluding holidays/vacations. 

2012 PERSONAL RESOLUTIONS

1. Use canvas bags for at least half of grocery trips. Clearly I was too ambitious last year. We’re going to shoot for 50% this time. This will be my anthem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EVh15aUt8-c

2. Do at least one fun thing a week with the friends I’ve made during grad school. If I get an internship, Ted and I are moving this summer, and I want to maximize the time I have with the awesome people we’ve gotten to know here.

3. Stage and sell our house (internship dependent). Depending on how the housing market behaves in our area over the next 6 months, this may be the toughest one on the list. I should probably spend more time watching HGTV.

4. Try at least one new recipe a week, excluding weeks when I’m traveling. I’m mostly trying to trick myself into cooking more with this one. It makes me feel less depressed than making a resolution like, “Make all meals at home except on weekends.” I like cooking OK, but I like eating out a lot more. We’re not even talking vaguely upscale dining here; I could happily eat the same sandwich at Subway for multiple meals a week. (And sometimes do. I have no explanation for myself.) Unfortunately, my bank account demonstrates a definite preference for cooking. And since I’m married to someone who is also willing to cook and knows how to make fancy-pants things like creme brulee, and I have a large box of plastic straws to put into my Diet Cokes to simulate the restaurant experience, there’s no good reason for us to eat out so much, unless we’re celebrating something or going out with friends.

5. Get a puppy (internship/job/house-selling dependent). If I get an internship, Ted gets a new job, and we sell the house, we’ve agreed that  we will finally get a puppy. We’d like to have a giant or semi-giant dog, and our current living situation and frequent travels are not conducive to giant puppy ownership. But if all goes according to (admittedly complex) plan, we’re getting that puppy this year, suckas!

6. Contribute to my friend’s startup nonprofit in a meaningful way. I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about the nonprofit before it goes public, but you can trust that it’s awesome and that details will appear here eventually.

And that’s it. I hit the ground running by taking my canvas bags to the supermarket this afternoon, which was much more appealing than sitting down to work on my dissertation. What resolutions have you guys made?

Feminist Win of the Week: “Binge Drinking, Straw Man Arguments, and Rape Prevention”

22 Dec

Check out this great piece by Feministing’s Zerlina on victim-blaming and her own experiences with rape: http://feministing.com/2011/12/22/binge-drinking-straw-man-arguments-and-rape-prevention/.

Zerlina does an especially nice job of addressing the problems inherent to the concept of “rape prevention.” Definitely worth a read.

Exercise is Depressingly Awesome

20 Dec

I hate exercising for the sake of exercise. I wouldn’t be able to pass my high school’s Presidential Fitness Test today – I mean, I barely passed it back then, and I only passed because our gym teacher let us all cheat at pull-ups – and the idea of “running for fun” is mystifying and unsettling. The only forms of exercise that truly appeal to me involve large, expensive animals that I cannot currently afford (horseback riding, doing stuff with my future giant dog), swimming leisurely, dancing, or actively accomplishing things (i.e., gardening). I also like the playground game Four Square, but it’s really hard to get a group together to play now that I’ve graduated from middle school, and these days everyone wants to do the online kind of Four Squaring anyway.

So when I finally caught up with my backlog of APA Monitors this week, I was pleased to read this month’s Questionnaire section, in which Dr. Howard Friedman was interviewed about his longevity research. As a person who is always searching for justification to avoid the gym, I especially liked the following quote:

“…our studies suggest that it is a society with more conscientious and goal-oriented citizens, well-integrated into their communities, that is likely to be important to health and long life. These changes involve slow, step-by-step alterations that unfold across many years. But so does health. For example, connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.”

Excellent, I thought, chortling to myself. The Presidential Fitness Test can suck it. But a few pages later, I ran into Kirsten Weir’s “The Exercise Effect,” which briefly and convincingly summarizes some recent research supporting the effectiveness of exercise as an intervention for major depression and anxiety disorders. Weir’s article is the latest in a stream of exercise-related literature that has made its way into my hands in the last couple months, and while the notion that exercise can be helpful for depression and anxiety isn’t new, it seems that interest in the focused use of exercise as a behavioral intervention has been on the rise lately. So much for my plans to connect with and help others solely from a sitting position.

This isn’t to say that I neglect discussion of exercise’s benefits when working with clients who are depressed or anxious. It always shows up somewhere in the  “Here-are-some-things-that-we-know-can-be-effective” speech, and sometimes I help clients develop brief behavioral plans to get them moving. But if clients express little interest in exercising, I focus on other interventions and don’t push the issue – because after all, who am I to push someone else to exercise? Yet the research I’ve been exposed to lately suggests that maybe I should be pushing… and not just pushing clients. Weir quotes Dr. Michael Otto, who claims that “failing to exercise when you feel bad is like explicitly not taking an aspirin when your head hurts.” A physician who refuses to use aspirin because it’s “too hard” or “not interesting” would be ridiculed. Should the same level of ridicule be directed at a psychologist who explicitly refuses to exercise?

I’m admittedly biased, but I don’t think Otto’s analogy is a fair comparison. A physical workout is usually a  sweaty, gaspy, time-consuming set of behaviors that requires organizing on the part of the individual and produces effects that aren’t always immediately apparent. (I have never, ever experienced a runner’s high, and there have been times when I have tried to make exercise a serious part of my life.) Taking an aspirin is a three-second endeavor… maybe six seconds, if you have a hard time with the child-proof cap. We’re not talking about similar behavioral investments. There’s also still a lot we don’t know. Should we all be running six miles a day, or will a brisk 20-minute walk a few times a week do the trick? Does it matter if we exercise alone or with others? Weir notes that “researchers don’t yet have a handle on which types of exercise are most effective, how much is necessary, or even whether exercise works best in conjunction with other therapies.”

Despite the questions that remain, the research I’ve been reading lately has encouraged me to make more of an effort to engage my clients in exercise, and to get myself more engaged too. But if my own hate-hate relationship with exercise has taught me anything, it’s that for most of us, exercise must be rewarding in the moment for it to be truly sustainable. If you legitimately enjoy going to the gym or training for 10Ks, then that’s awesome, and I really wish I had a share of your crazy exercise-loving genes. But I don’t think there’s anything wrong with making exercise a secondary component to some other goal, whether that goal is doing something fun with your dog or doing yardwork or getting to the grocery. For me and the clients who despise the gym as much as I do, it may be worthwhile to create behavioral plans that focus on adding exercise to already-enjoyed or necessary activities rather than instituting a “traditional” exercise plan from scratch. Some examples of what I mean:

  • Primary goal: hang out with friends, family, or your partner. Exercise addition: hang out while swimming, walking, window-shopping, dancing or hiking. Or take a movement-based class with friends through a university or community center.
  • Primary goal: have a phone conversation with a family member. Exercise addition: stretch or walk around building during conversation.
  • Primary goal: make a difference in the community. Exercise addition: choose a volunteer activity that requires movement (e.g., cleaning cages at the humane society, participating in fun runs/walks for charity, helping with a Habitat build, etc.)
  • Primary goal: have a romantic evening with your partner. Exercise addition: sex, duh.
  • Primary goal: make apartment/house more attractive. Exercise addition: incorporate active DIY projects, like painting, landscaping, thorough cleaning, etc.
  • Primary goal: cook dinner. Exercise addition: turn on music that makes you want to dance and bust a move while cooking. Ke$ha and LMFAO, though not exactly highbrow, produce some pretty irresistible dance music.
  • Primary goal: play video games. Exercise addition: play games on a console that requires movement (like the Wii or Playstation Move)
  • Primary goal: keep dog from getting bored and chewing up all your stuff. Exercise addition: go on interesting walks or hikes, play frisbee at the dog park, take an agility training class.
  • Primary goal: make extra money during grad school. Exercise addition: babysit an active child or children.

Exercise doesn’t have to involve weights or running shorts to count as exercise, and even small “doses” of exercise seem to produce measurable mental health benefits (see Weir’s article). And if we conceptualize exercise in a simple, essence-based way – as sustained, purposeful movement, separate from the very specific types of movement promoted by Fitness Magazine spreads and Nike commercials  – then maybe I don’t hate exercise at all. It’s the word itself that’s the problem for me, and its connotations of in-the-moment pointlessness and endless striving toward weight- or muscle-based goals that my genes never meant for me to achieve. But dancing while cooking dinner? I can do that. I can like that. And I think some of my clients could too.

Does anyone else have ideas for making exercise a natural addition to primary goals?

%d bloggers like this: