Wake Up: This is Naropa, and You’re Missing It.

I wanted to start this post by saying “I’m sorry, this is a departure from my other posts” and other things.  But you know what?  I’m not sorry.  This needs to be said.

In the past few weeks, I have come to feel markedly less safe here at Naropa.  I don’t need people to agree with me in order to feel safe, or even to accept me necessarily, but I do need people believe in the integrity of my own experiences, even if they don’t understand where I’m coming from.  And I need to know that, if someone uses a power dynamic or a privilege against me, that someone will stand up for me if I’m feeling too ashamed, or fearful, or dissociated to do it myself.  We were taught in Helping Relationships that even if we are the “authority” on mental well-being in therapeutic relationships, our clients are the “authorities” on their own experiences.  No matter how much we understand, no matter what we learn or how long we practice or how many clients we’ve seen over the years, we will never be more of an expert on a person’s experience than that individual is.  This is because, regardless of how much we empathize, we can never actually know what it is like to be another person. 

I fully believe this.  Unfortunately, this belief does not only come from the classroom.  It comes from a long history of misunderstanding and judgment from people who did not understand me.  While I have become accustomed to this, it is a lonely and painful way to live.  I’ve outgrown most of the people I’ve loved.  I’ve stood up for my beliefs, even when they were different than everyone else’s.  I’ve been ignored, teased, threatened, and even physically attacked for disagreeing.  I’ve had to quit jobs, withdraw from classes, and seek out resources for myself because nobody offered any.  I’ve had to advocate for myself quite a bit, and while I suppose I never really expect this to end, I had hoped that maybe I wouldn’t need to do this quite so much at Naropa.  Unfortunately, I’ve found the opposite to be true.  I’ve had to advocate for myself here, as well as for others, more than almost anywhere else I’ve been because Naropa asks us to be so incredibly vulnerable.  And while I’ve had a lot of practice advocating for myself, many others have not.  I’m starting to recognize more and more the incredible damage that can occur when vulnerability and misunderstanding are mixed.

Because that’s what we do here.  We’re vulnerable.  We break ourselves open and ooze onto the floor and hope that nobody minds the mess too much until we put ourselves back together.  And in our deepest hearts, we hope that people will understand.  Or, even if they don’t, that they’ll step up and say:

“Wow, I really have never known what it’s like to experience that.  I won’t pretend that I have…I know pretending would be meaningless, and wouldn’t help you.  It would only be to make myself feel better.  But I want you to know that I heard you.  I didn’t ignore your pain, and I’m not going to drop the ball.  I’m going to sit here with you and help you hold your fragile pieces together until you’re okay to hold them by yourself.  I’ll listen to what you have to say, really listen, and I won’t judge you for your perceived ineptness.  And I’ll help make sure this space is safe for us to do just that.”

But for all those hopes, I’ve noticed something in our classes.  I noticed that I am almost always the one who steps up when the space isn’t held.  When microaggressions happen, when people express powerful, scary things that are summarily ignored, when people express a need that the group can’t meet.  When issues of privilege and oppression come up.  When someone forgets, and slips in a prejudicial stereotype.  When someone makes an insensitive joke.  When someone’s real and honest feelings are labeled as “projections” because those feelings too scary for someone else to deal with.  When that happens, I step up.  And almost NOBODY ELSE DOES.

I routinely sit in classes of up to 45 people, who know and care for each other, who have been together through intense emotional and academic rigor, and who claim to feel deeply the suffering of their peers.  And it is ludicrous how rarely someone else steps up, ignoring the anxiety and fear of speaking the uncomfortable words that are needed to advocate for those who have been marginalized.  And every time I step up, a couple of classmates (and not just the same people over and over) come up to me after class and say, “Thank you so much for saying something, Mari.  It was totally unfair what that person was saying.” 

And I just have to wonder if what they’re really saying is “thank you for saying something, because I didn’t want to, and now I don’t have to feel guilty for not speaking up.”

There are people in this program who have experienced such withdrawal, such mass ignoring, such utter lack of support and understanding and empathy from us that they have stopped speaking about their deepest feelings altogether.

Let me repeat that: THERE ARE PEOPLE WHO FEEL SO UNSUPPORTED BY US THAT THEY HAVE STOPPED SPEAKING.

We are here to learn to be therapists.  How are we going to do that if we can’t even stand up and say something when our own classmates are marginalized???

What would you do if your therapist couldn’t handle your pain?  I know what I’d do, because I’ve had to do it with therapists who couldn’t handle my pain.  Who changed the subject automatically.  Who asked if maybe I was really dealing with some other issue, and that the issue I’d brought up was in fact just *hiding* something more important (so let’s not deal with the it please).  Who were so unable to tolerate their own anxiety that they wouldn’t let our sessions go deep even when I was ready.

You know what I did?  I left and never went back.

We can’t become good therapists if we can’t address our own problems, and most of us can’t address our own problems without a supporting relationship in which to process.  Naropa offers an opportunity the likes of which most of us will never have again.  We will probably never again have an entire community full of professionals and peers whose sole purpose is to instruct and support us in our personal and professional development in this way.  This is the best possible opportunity that we have to learn to advocate for others who are being marginalized.  And we simply cannot utilize this opportunity if someone else is always coming to our rescue.  Yes, it’s scary, and we’re afraid of confrontation, and we were yelled at as children, and we were never taught to handle anger.  So what?  Do you think our clients are going to care about that? At best you’ll lose your client.  At worst, you’ll re-traumatize them and set their healing back years.  

So think about that the next time someone says something oppressive, or microaggressive, or dismissing.  Think about that when you’re waiting for me, or one of the handful of other people who regularly step up to challenge inequities. Maybe next time, I’ll just stay silent, and see if anyone steps up.  Maybe next time, you’ll step up instead.

Location, Location, Location: Finding Your Boulder Home

1418651_45118022So you’re new to Boulder.  Or maybe you’re just needing a cheaper place, somewhere that allows pets, or new roommates.  Let’s say you’re on a budget.   Congratulations, you’re in the wrong town!  In all seriousness though, Boulder (and the whole Boulder area) is pretty expensive .  As you may likely have discovered already, It can be difficult to find anything bigger than a shoe-box for a reasonable price, especially if you’re relying on part-time work or student loans.  How do you go about finding somewhere new to live?  The answer to this is somewhat complex, and there are actually more options than you may think.  I’ll try to do them justice, but feel free to ask me for clarification on any of these points.

Ultimately, where you can live depends on what you really need.  Everyone wants a lot of space, reasonably low rent, and to be close to school.  Unfortunately, that will probably not happen.  However, you can have any two of these things; you just have to decide which two of the three are most important.

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So let’s start with the first two.  Let’s say that you want somewhere that has lots of space and low rent.  You’re most likely looking at living outside of Boulder proper, and you have a few different options.

  1. Living in Longmont/Niwot/Gunbarrel: This will be one of your cheapest options, but that comes at a price.  Many people who work in Boulder live in Longmont, and therefore must make the commute every day.  The town is northeast of Boulder, and since Naropa’s Paramita campus is in northeast Boulder, the actual distance isn’t that far.  However, the Diagonal Highway (which is the main road into Boulder from Longmont) is always clogged during rush hour, and during the winter it gets very slippery.  The road itself is actually inclined, but doesn’t seem like it.  Consequently, people tend to drive down it at unreasonably high speeds and get into car accidents when it snows.  Be prepared to make the 30-60 minute commute if you choose this option.   There are regular buses, but that will tip your commute time over the 1-hour mark.  You can find a one bedroom apartment with reasonable square-footage for anywhere from $600 to $900 pretty easily, particularly if you have the time to shop around.  If you don’t mind living a little way outside of the town center, you may even find a duplex or a house with a yard.  The town itself has less character than some of its neighbors, but is not a bad place to live by national standards, and the town center is actually quite lively.  Alternatively, you may be able to find a place in Gunbarrel (which is technically part of Boulder) or Niwot.  They’re closer to Boulder along the Diagonal Highway, and cheaper than Boulder, but will likely be more expensive than Longmont.
  2. Living in Lafayette/Louisville/Superior/Broomfield:  These four towns are pretty typical towns, all located southeast of Boulder.  They’re a good option for anyone who has a regular need to go to Denver, and They’re all reasonably close to US-36, which goes straight into Boulder.  Lafayette and Louisville can both be reached easily by taking one of several main Boulder roads east out of town, and the commute is usually between 25 and 45 minutes.  These towns also have regular buses, which also usually take an hour or more to get into Boulder.  Louisville will be a bit more expensive than Lafayette, which is often more expensive than Superior and Broomfield.  Louisville is sort of like a mini-Boulder; it’s a cute, friendly little town.  Lafayette has a bit less character, but it’s  quickly developing its own personality (Lafayette is also the town that I live in right now).  Broomfield and superior are a bit more cookie-cutter, with many chain-stores and less personality, but are good options for families as there seems to be larger housing available there for less money.  You can usually find 1 bedroom apartments in Louisville and Lafayette for $700-$1100 per month if you look around.  For whatever reason, it seems to be harder to find cheap 1 bedroom apartments in Superior and Broomfield, but the 2 bedroom apartments are often only about $800-$1100 if you look around.
  3. Living in Nederland/Lyons:  These two cities are up in the mountains (Nederland is at about 8200 ft., and while Lyons is actually a bit lower than Boulder, the road to Boulder from Lyons is a bit more winding).  Lyons is about 25 minutes from Boulder on a clear, dry day without traffic, but can be significantly more if it’s snowing.  Nederland is about a 40 minute drive up the canyon from Boulder, which can be impassible on particularly snowy days.  There are regular buses to and from Nederland, and having lived in Nederland without a car, I can vouch for this method of transportation.  However, there will be days when it’s simply not possible to get to Boulder because of the snow.  That being said, both towns are very fun places to be–they’re known for their love of good beer and local music, and both host at least one festival per year.  They’re also very beautiful places to live.  Nederland particularly is surrounded by national forest, and the drive up is breathtaking.  Since the towns are smaller, they have less housing available, but they’re great places to live if you like small towns.  They can be great options if you want to rent a house instead of an apartment or a duplex, and both cities have cabins that come up for rent frequently.   Lyons also has fairly inexpensive 1 bedroom apartments, with $550-$750 fairly common.

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If you’re hoping to stay in Boulder proper, then you’ll have to forego either that spacious home you had hoped for, or some extra cash.  Here are your options if you want to live close to school for cheap.

  1. Live in South Boulder: South Boulder is the one place in Boulder that reliably has (comparatively) inexpensive apartments available.  They will not be big (or even medium-sized usually), but you can find clean, fairly well-maintained 1 bedroom apartments for about $700-$900, or 2-bedroom apartments for about $850-$1100.  The problem with Boulder housing is that much of it is concentrated around the University of Colorado, including the south Boulder ones, so this housing will have very little character. The area around Table Mesa Drive between Foothills Parkway and Broadway seems to be the best place to look.  Expect to see the same drab light brown carpet, white walls, and tiny kitchens everywhere, and don’t fool yourself into thinking you’re likely to find a place with a yard.  However, the drive time is only about 15-30 minutes usually, and there are buses that run every 10 minutes during rush hour, and every 15-20 minutes during most of the day, which will take longer but are very reliable.  Chances are that if the buses stop running because of the snow, the school (and most businesses) won’t be open anyway.  If these prices are still a bit high, consider option 2.
  2. Find roommate(s): Most people in Boulder seem to have roommates, and I consider this to be the only truly “budget” option for Boulder housing.  It’s the only way around the ridiculous rental rates.  Boulder has an annoying law that allows only 3 or fewer unrelated people to live together in one residence, so you can’t hope for a 5 bedroom house with 8 inhabitants.  The cheapest way to do it is to find a reasonable 2 bedroom apartment and find a couple to share the other bedroom (or if you’re part of a couple, find a single person to fill the other bedroom).  It’s seems pretty standard here to split rent based on the number of people, rather than the number of bedrooms.  If a couple is sharing a room, they may pay a bit less per person than you are, but it should be split fairly evenly.  (For example, I lived in an $800 per month, two bedroom apartment for two years with a couple.  I paid $300 per month, and each of them paid $250).  If you can afford a bit more, finding only one roommate is an option.   If you have roommates, the locations in Boulder that you can live open up significantly.  You can find a 3 bedroom house in South Boulder (with a yard) for about $2200 with a little hunting, which brings the per-person total down to just under $700.  There are also apartments and condos west of Broadway in Central Boulder that have 3 bedrooms for about $1500-$2000, as well as some apartments and condos right next to Naropa’s Paramita campus in North Boulder for about the same price.  Most of these places will want at least 6 month leases, and many want 12 month leases, so make sure you can live with your roommates for a year before signing on the dotted line.
  3. Wait a *really* long time: good deals do come up from time to time.  I knew someone living in a two bedroom condo right next to school that cost a mere $600 per month, and it allowed pets.  I’ve also seen a small cabin in West Boulder, right against the mountains, come up for rent for about $500 per month.  If you’ve been living in Boulder already, you’ll know that a lot of rentals get passed on by word-of-mouth.  Keep your ears open, and ask everyone you know if they know of anyone who is moving out.  The best times to look are usually around February (which is when people start signing advanced leases for fall) and May (which is when the University of Colorado students leave).  Strangely enough, there also tend to be places opening up in December, as students come to the ends of their 6 month leases and decide they don’t like where they are living, or have decided to leave school.  Take these apartments with a bit of healthy skepticism though.  Nobody moves in December in Boulder (snow!) unless they have to for some reason, or they are really unhappy with the place.

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Finally, if you’re in the fortunate position of not having to worry about the cost, you’re in luck, because Boulder was designed with you in mind.  Here’s how to find somewhere spacious and close to school:

  1. Rent a House: The sky really is the limit in terms of housing here.  Boulder caters to people with sufficient income, and the properties here range from simple to palatial.  You can easily find a house for about $2500-$3500, and almost all of the houses in Boulder have at least a little unique charm.  If you look into the West Pearl, Mapleton, or Chautauqua areas, you’re sure to find more expensive but beautiful houses with charm and old-world details, many of which are old Victorians.  Houses just outside of Boulder are likely to have decent lot sizes, and it’s not uncommon to find houses with ten or more acres of land from time to time.  In North Boulder, the housing is actually less expensive than many parts of Boulder, and all you really have to worry about is finding one that you like that is also available.  If you’re into mountain living, there are many gorgeous new homes with ample amenities nestled into the rocky cliff faces that overlook the beautiful Boulder valley.
  2. Rent a Condo: Boulder has a lot of condos, many of which are very upscale homes in desirable locations.  The Pearl Street area has new condos that are close to everything, including some of Boulder’s best dining and recreation.  Some of them have shared gardens or other outdoor common areas, and most of the nicer ones have balconies.  If you are willing to pay for the view, some condos face the flatirons, which are a striking and incredible sight to wake up to.  Perhaps best of all, these condos cost enough to keep most obnoxious undergraduate party-goers away, so you will likely enjoy relative quiet.
  3. Buy a Home: Boulder’s real estate market has always been high.  Even in the 2008 housing market crash, most Boulder properties seem to have retained good value, and the property value just keeps going up.  This is because Boulder’s city limits are intentionally kept from expanding so as to preserve the natural beauty of the area.  Without the option to expand, and with the money that tends to accumulate in this city, residents pay a high premium for the privilege of living here.  There are many real-estate agents in the area who can provide more detailed information about buying a home here, and this may be a good option if you see yourself living in Boulder long-term.

Finding a home in the Boulder area can be a bit of a challenge.  But with a little patience and prioritizing, you can find somewhere comfortable that meets your needs.  If you have any specific questions about anything I’ve mentioned (or left out), feel free to leave a comment below, or send me a message!

Money Doesn’t Buy Happiness: Finding a Naropa Practicum Site

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After a long hiatus, I’m back. And, I’m eager to share my newly acquired information about the practicum application process. Now, I’m guessing that many of you current students probably know a lot about this already (since you’ve likely been going through this process yourselves), which I think is great.  In fact, I’d love it if you’d share your expertise in the comments area below, because I know I can’t cover everything (and wouldn’t know everything, even if I could cover it).

The first thing I’ll say about this, and probably the most important thing, is that you do NOT want to procrastinate. This operates on a first-come-first-served basis.  Many practicum sites have only 1 or 2 placements, and will already have filled their available positions by early summer, including the very-coveted Noeticus Counseling Center.  Additionally, many sites require 2-3 letters of recommendation, in addition to a resume and a cover letter.  You definitely don’t want to be asking your instructors for recommendation letters while they’re grading final papers, and many instructors leave during the summer, so make sure time is on your side when doing this.  Some people may actually prefer you to write a letter yourself, which they will then proofread and sign, so you may want to suggest this when asking for those letters (particularly if time is short).  Additionally, ask them to give them your final letters in digital format on official letterhead, as it will make things easier in the long run.

Applying for a practicum is  much like applying for a job, except that you aren’t getting paid in money.  Instead, you’re getting paid in training, exposure, and perhaps most importantly, in resume fodder.  A lot of Naropa’s Counseling students seem to have limited mental health-related experience (although there are also many who do), so this may be the biggest indicator of whether or not a future internship site will choose you.  What that means is that you’ll be wanting to get the biggest bang for your lack-of-a-buck.  Choose internship sites that will look good to future employers in your chosen area of specialty.  So, for example, my chosen area of focus is  Marriage and Family Therapy.  So, while it might have been interesting to work at Medicine Horse, I thought it would make more sense to apply to sites like Boulder Valley Women’s Health and the Boulder ARC because reproductive decisions and addiction are both issues that could be central to family or couples counseling.

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Another important thing to consider is the big ‘D’: “Diversify.”  You always want a wide base of experience, so that you’ll be appealing to various employers for various reasons.  Now, you can interpret that as you wish, but I choose to approach it in terms of clinical experience.  Naropa gives us a lot of Rogerian-oriented counselling and mindfulness skills in our first year, but fairly limited clinical experience.  So, even though doing meditation instruction with kids sounds pretty fun, I wanted to choose sites that would have me filling out intake forms, witnessing or administering clinical assessment, and giving me a better understanding of social services.

So, let’s assume that you’ve gone through the practicum site list and found a few different placements that sound pretty rad.  Then what?  Well, before anything else happens, I recommend doing two things.   First, find the organization’s website, and read up on it.  Much of the placement info on the site list isn’t as comprehensive as it could be, and you want to be able to ask relevant questions (and show that you’ve done your research) when you go to step 2.

Step 2 is calling the site.  And, although it would seem logical to call the number on the practicum list, don’t do it.  Seriously.  It’s most likely wrong.  I contacted 5 different sites right away, and all 5 of them had incorrect contact information.  It would be better to find the volunteer coordinator (or equivalent) on the website, and get contact information this way.  Two of my placements didn’t get back to me because my voicemail went to the completely wrong person, and I had to go back and find correct information.  Once you’ve figured out who you actually need to talk to, which may involve a few transferred calls, introduce yourself briefly (being sure to mention your name and that you’re from Naropa!), and tell them some form of the following:

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“Hi, my name is ________ and I’m a Counseling Psychology student at Naropa University.  I know you’re probably very busy, but I’m wondering if you have a quick minute to tell me a little more about your practicum position and answer a couple of questions for me?” (Don’t say this verbatim, as it will be weird if all Naropa students seem to be reading from a script).

Why is this important?  Well, I have to give credit to Casey McCarthy on this, because this is in fact an old sales trick that he taught me.  People who manage other people are busy…and at nonprofits (such as most of our practicum sites), they’re often VERY busy.  They don’t want to waste their time talking to people who don’t know what they want, and they certainly don’t want to waste their time talking to someone who doesn’t even value their time.  Furthermore, as frustrating as it may be, Naropa students sometimes get an unfortunate reputation for being unfocused and unreliable.  The best way to dispel that assumption is to show potential sites that you do not fit that stereotype.  Mentioning that you’re aware of their busy schedules, asking politely for just a few minutes, and actually taking ONLY a few minutes will make a big impact.

Once you’ve gotten the information you need, including contact name(s), phone number(s), and e-mail address(es) where you should send your application, be sure to follow up.  Send an e-mail right away thanking whoever you talked to for their help, and assuring them that you’ll send your application along presently.  You basically want as much exposure as possible, and you want them to remember you.  If they have a personality and a face to put to your name and resume, you’re already a step ahead.

The next step, obviously, is applying.  Many sites will also have an online volunteer application to complete, so don’t forget this step.  You will want to send a CUSTOMIZED resume and letter of interest.  This is very important.  Do not send the same resume to every site.  If you’re applying to an organization that works with adults who have developmental disabilities, focus on your understanding of human developmental theory, or your experience with this population.  If you’re hoping to work with kids, focus on any childcare experience, teaching experience, or youth mentoring you’ve done.  You get the idea…play your strengths.  One very effective way to do this is by using a functional resume, which will highlight your skills and expertise, instead of your chronological work history.  I have personally been using a functional resume for the past year or so, and I’ve found it to be very effective.

Logically, you’ll next want to focus on your cover letter.  Your cover letter should be equally customized, and additionally, personal.  These people get dozens, maybe even hundreds of resumes for their volunteer positions.  Making it personal will make yours stand out.  Instead of starting with “I have all of these qualifications for this position blah blah blah…”, start by highlighting why this is so important to you.  For example, I started my own Boulder ARC resume with “When I first learned that someone I loved was suffering from addiction, I remember feeling surprised, confused, and scared.”  This immediately tells my potential site that I am both personally motivated to pursue work with addictions, and that I am already familiar with some of the ways that addiction affects people.  Of course, you’ll want to highlight your experience to some extent as well, but it’s key to remember this: any applicant can be trained, but only the ones who are motivated to learn will be effective.

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Once you have your completed your resume, cover letter, and (if applicable, although I recommend them anyway) letters of recommendation, you’ll want to send them (probably electronically, unless otherwise specified) to the person in charge of hiring.  I usually name my resume and cover letter files something like “(MyName) – (Site Name) – Resume/Cover Letter” so that I don’t accidentally send a resume that was customized for a different site.  Plus, it helps keep things organized.  Thank the person again for considering you for their position, and ask if there are any next steps you should take in the application process.  As a bonus, if you find out that the practicum list information is out of date, it may be helpful to include Mary Bear-Rittenmeyer’s (our current practicum coordinator) contact info so that they can send her updated information for the site list.

A final note on the practicum application process: if you’re going to need help from Mary, you have to be on top of it.  She is very busy, and has limited office hours.  Although her phone message says she’ll get back to you within 48 hours, I called her at one point and only heard back a week later because she’d been working from home and wasn’t checking her messages.  Send e-mails and leave voicemails, and be proactive about it getting ahold of her.  You’ll need a practicum placement by the time school starts, and no practicum hours worked during the summer count towards your requirement (per Mary), so if you run into problems, waiting until the last second isn’t the best choice.

Happy practicum hunting, and as always, let me know how it goes!

Aside

If I Only Had a Brain: Media Portrayal of Mental Health Professionals

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We’ve all seen them in movies and TV shows–the heady, overly critical, frumpy old therapists who look at their clients through thick spectacles and expound upon the psychological horrors that only they think plausible. They’re usually portrayed as incompetent, overly analytical, and generally out of touch with reality.

Characters such as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest show a cold, remorseless approach to mental health, while others such as Sean Maguire in Goodwill Hunting display the belief that it’s expected for even good therapists to unload damaging counter transference onto their clients.  The list goes on: Dr. Thurman in Donnie Darko, Jack Nicholson in Anger Management, not to mention Anthony Hopkins’ incredibly creepy depiction of Hannibal Lecter.  The media is rampant with therapists who sleep with their clients, scream at their clients, betray their clients’ trust, even physically attack their clients.  And most of all, therapists in the media seem to have an uncanny knack for wrongly diagnosing clients, and consequently cause them countless miseries.

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Perhaps this provides people with comfortable distance from which to identify with the social fear this country seems to have of mental healthcare, but I find it rather troubling.  On the infrequent occasions that I do encounter a positive (or even accurate) depiction of a therapist in a film (such as in Lars and the Real Girl), I am reminded of how rare this sort of occurrence actually is.

So why does American media seem to hate mental health so much?

Well, to be honest, there are some good reasons for Psychology’s bad reputation.  I still find myself griping about Freud’s emphasis on sex, and shake my head at the gross ethical violations of the Milgram Experiment and the Stanford Prison Experiment.  The field’s history is rife with unethical studies, instances of misinterpreting data to promote prejudiced views, and overall, there’s been a lot of misinformation.

Now, this is true for every field, but nobody seems to blame scientists for once believing that the earth was the center of the universe.  There are probably a couple of reasons for this.  First of all, people care less about the effects of research on the lives of mice than their own.  But furthermore, science is all about figuring out new and better ways to understand the world and accomplish things, which the United States is all about. Psychology, until recently, basically focused on figuring out what makes the mind break.  Strengths-based approaches are fairly new, and still haven’t really caught on in the popular view.

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I guess that means we have our work cut out for us.  On the other hand, we’re also at the very forefront of a new wave of psychology.  We’re the ones who get to show people that counselling isn’t mad science, and that the therapist’s office isn’t (necessarily) a petri  dish.

What do you think?  What will it take to shift the public attitude towards mental health into the realm of the healthy, instead of the horrifying?

Dunbar’s Number: How I Manage Large Quantities of Homework

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So…a new semester, a new load of reading. And when I say a new load, I actually mean a truckload. The amount of reading that’s been assigned this semester seems to have outdone last semester’s efforts threefold.

At some point, as numbers become progressively larger, the human mind becomes unable to hold the idea of that quantity. We start to group things together out of necessity. Instead of thinking of all the people you’ve ever met as “people I’ve met,” you start seeing them as “people from school,” “people from work,” or “people from that one awful seminar I went to that I hope I never see again.”  We categorize because it’s too hard for us to keep track of everything individually.  This phenomenon is known as Dunbar’s Number, and although it applies specifically to social relationships, I think it does a good job of illustrating how this semester is starting to look for me.

For example: This week, one of my instructors was sick, so I didn’t have my first class.  The rest of my classes (combined) required a total of 24 reading assignments by next week.  If we consider that these 24 readings came from 4 classes, we can average 6 readings per class per week.  Since I have 5 classes total, if we average 6 readings per class per week, and there are 14 weeks (except for one class which only has 8 weeks), we can estimate that my total semester’s readings will be about (14 weeks x 6 readings x 4 classes) + (8 weeks x 6 readings x 1 class), which equals 384 readings.

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Now, I know that math isn’t our strong suit at Naropa, but it doesn’t take much to figure out that this will probably leave me about zero free time.

Which leads to my point: with all of this reading, how am I going to keep track of it all?

Well, as those of you who have met me know, I like putting things in (metaphorical) boxes.  Not unnecessarily, and not as a means of stereotyping, but as a method for cognitive organization.  For instance, I mentally categorize the things that I like to do as luxury (playing video games), fun and constructive (scrap booking), fun and necessary (cooking dinner), and not very fun but producing fun results (exercising).

Yes, I actually think like that.

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And it helps.  It allows me to see the mountain of work ahead as less daunting.  In order to manage the workload, I break assignments down into the following categories, generally in my mind, but sometimes on paper:

  • Due very soon, and therefore urgent
  • Due pretty soon, but time-consuming, and therefore fairly urgent
  • Due fairly soon, and quick, so not urgent
  • Due not soon at all, but fun, and therefore good to do between tough things

I also categorize things by how important they are:

  • Worth a large part of my grade, so a project to be worked on regularly
  • Worth a fair part of my grade, so worked on occasionally
  • Worth little of my grade, but time consuming, so to be worked on regularly
  • Worth little of my grade, and easy, so to be worked on last

And finally, the readings themselves:

  • Most relevant to this week’s topic (definitely read)
  • Somewhat relevant to this week’s topic (Read when “definitely” pile is done)
  • Not very relevant to this week’s topic, or covered by another reading (if I have time)
  • Not at all relevant to this week’s topic (don’t read)

I know every teacher says that all of the readings are important, but that’s simply not manageable sometimes.  Between my work schedule and in-class time, I am already at 40.5 hours per week.  If you consider that we’re supposed to add 3 hours of homework for each hour of class time, that would put me at about 80 hours of class, work, and homework, which equals two full-time jobs.  Add the half hour commute to school, and I’m easily at 84.5 hours dedicated to this stuff.  IF I don’t have a day off, that puts me at about 12 hours per day of work, school, and driving.  If I do have a day off, it puts me at 14 hours.

So basically, if I did all of the homework that’s assigned, woke up at 7 in the morning, and never had any free time, by 7 in the evening, I would have 4 hours per day left over before I needed to go to sleep.  That’s four hours per day to cook and eat all meals, do all laundry, do all grocery shopping, shower, and any other myriad of tasks that come up during a day, with no free time whatsoever.  If I wanted a day off, or a couple hours of free time, cut that down to 2 hours per day.

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It’s simply impossible.  So I have to prioritize.  I have to pick which readings I’m just not going to do.  I also have to pick which ones I procrastinate on and which ones I skim.

And this isn’t cheating.  It’s just how grad school works.  Tons of people have reassured me that this is normal, and after seeing the coming semester’s workload, I have to agree.  We’re only people after all; we’re not superhuman.

What about all of you?  How is your semester looking?  While I hope that it’s a little less crazy than mine, I’d love to hear how you manage your time around the massive amounts of coursework. Feel free to comment!

A Naropa Wrap-Up: Reflecting on My First TCP Semester

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Well folks, it’s Thursday of the very last week of the first semester of grad school.  As could be expected, I’ve been thinking a lot about how this past semester has gone, how it met or did not meet my expectations, and what I have gained during my time here thus far.

Might as well get it all down on “paper,” right?

So here goes.

The first thing that has become very apparent during my first semester is that Naropa is not a shining beacon of beauty, love, and unity for all beings.  Sure there’s more emotional connection and acceptance going around than I would expect to find in just about any other program, but it’s not an all-inclusive buffet of positive vibes.  Naropa has its shadow issues too.  These show up in many forms, but the biggest one that I have noticed is the way Naropa handles anger.  In Duey Freeman’s Human Growth and Development class, he says that when we are young, we learn spoken, unspoken, and secret rules from our parents that influence the way we live.  Well, Naropa is a young school, and it’s got its rules too.  In regards to the anger issue, Naropa’s spoken rule is that “anger is an important and useful emotion, as long as you don’t let it control you.”  The unspoken rule is that “anger is something you should work on yourself; don’t expect others to process it for you.”  The secret rule is that “it’s not okay to be angry as a student at Naropa university.”  That’s not to say that you’ll get in trouble for being angry, but people here don’t always know how to handle it, and they’d rather not see it unless you can keep yourself calm and collected.

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Needless to say, this has caused problems.  It will probably continue to do so.  But every school has something, so I hardly think it’s fair to judge it based on this issue alone.  Naropa has a lot of great qualities as well, and it would be a mistake to ignore them.

The second thing that’s become apparent to me is that the faculty here have a subtle, but strong undercurrent of interpersonal and institutional politics.  Some instructors don’t like it when you disagree with them.  Some don’t agree with other instructors.  Some think that some other instructors’ courses aren’t necessary.  Once in a while, something you say will really trigger one of the instructors, and you’ll be left wondering why the thing you said was really such a big deal.  Grad school isn’t a game, but you do have to play to the politics of the school from time to time.

Bear in mind, I don’t think this is unusual for any type of institution.  All schools have interpersonal politics, as do companies, families, social groups, etc.  It’s impossible to get away from them.  But it’s important to be aware of them too.  Sticking your head in the sand and ignoring this important aspect of the Naropa dynamic can lead to problems.  Of course, I may have encountered this more than most, as I have trouble keeping my mouth shut in class.  I’m sure people experience this to varying degrees.  But it is a real aspect of attending school here, and worth keeping in the back of your mind.  And, having said that, the positive sides of the Naropa faculty far exceed the negative.  The instructors here are truly amazing people, and considering that they work for almost no pay, you know they’re teaching you because they want to be.  I am unceasingly amazed at the incredible knowledge and competence of Naropa’s teachers, and feel extremely grateful for having the chance to learn from them.

The third thing that I’ve noticed is that Naropa’s TCP students are incredibly mature.  Really.  I feel like a little kid in some of these classes.  I am, admittedly, on the low end of the age spectrum here, but it’s worth noting the incredible intellect, savvy, and skill that people bring to this program.  And for me, this fact makes every class an absolute delight.

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Finally, my fourth observation is that Naropa has got something.  I know I’ve said this before, but this semester has really reaffirmed it for me.  There is an almost tangible X-factor here that changes you in some way.  Whatever it is, you can’t go through a semester of this without feeling its impact.  And the anger-related issues, politics, etc. are well worth it to have the privilege and the pleasure to attend this school.

So there it is–my first semester is over, and now all that’s left is to wait and see what the next one will bring.  However, I’m sure my experience is not universal.  How has your semester gone?  Feel free to comment on your own experiences during these last four months!

Shops, Schnapps, and Snowboards: The Best Boulder Christmas Activities

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It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…or at least it ought to be (the snow has been eerily absent this year).  I for one will be spending this Christmas in Oregon with my family for the first time in the 4+ years that I’ve lived here.  Unfortunately, my past 3 holiday seasons have been spent in Boulder, and I’ll be the first to admit, they can get a little bit lonely.  Somehow seeing your family’s holiday photos on facebook is not nearly as great as helping them set up a tree.  But my own few years of Boulder winter experience  have helped ease the frustrating prices of plane tickets and unwavering work schedules.

So without further ado, here are my own personal recommendations for how to enjoy your holiday season.  I’ve added links to my recommendations, if you’d like to check them out for yourself.  Also, I do not get anything for recommending these places/activities; they really are my favorites!

The first thing I’d recommend is to embrace the cold.  It does get pretty chilly here, especially for those of you from warmer climates, and it’s bound to snow sooner or later.  Luckily, the snow is about as much fun as it is cold, so if you’re feeling a little adventurous, it’s almost worth the discomfort.  The first, and most expensive, way to enjoy the snow is by heading up to Eldora.  You won’t have to drive if you have a few dollars (or a Naropa bus pass), because the ‘N’ bus heads straight up the canyon to the ski area and back multiple times per day.  You will encounter delightful slopes up there for multiple skill levels.  If you’re hungry and looking to round out the day, stop by the funky little town of Nederland on your way back down the mountain.  Try out the Wild Mountain Smokehouse and Brewery, which has delicious BBQ and excellent craft beers…they’ve even got a vegetarian option or two.

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A second snowy-day activity is to strap on some skates.  Boulder has a seasonal ice-skating rink at the One Boulder Plaza which, while somewhat small, is a great use of a few dollars.  If you bring a canned food item to donate to the Boulder Community Food Share, they’ll discount the cost.  The rink rents out skates and will hold your bags/purses for you, plus you can skate as long as you’d like.

If you’re hoping for something fun that doesn’t cost money, consider the many walking trails that Boulder offers.  I can personally attest to the beauty of the Boulder Creek Path, which runs along the often-frozen Boulder Creek.  Make sure to bring a camera, as photos of this winter wonderland will be a perfect way to make your friends back home jealous.  The best part is that the major trails (Boulder Creek included) are plowed early in the morning (at the same time as the roads!) so the walking is easy.  Just slide into some cold-weather-wear, throw some holiday songs on your mp3 player, and head out to breathe in the chill.

If you don’t mind the cold, and have presents to buy, the Pearl St. Mall is a great place for shopping.  It is home to many small, locally owned businesses that rely on much of their annual revenue from Christmas shoppers.  They range from the Boulder Book Store, Boulder’s largest independently owned new/used bookstore, to the Boulder Army Store, a great stop for winter and outdoor gear.  Plus, there are all kinds of holiday-themed events going on there, such as St. Nick on the Bricks and The Christmas Revels celebration at the Boulder Theater.

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If you end up doing some Sunday shopping, head over to Conor O’Neill’s Traditional Irish Pub afterwards to enjoy their weekly Celtic music jam.  A variety of performers show up every week, producing the best possible music to pull you out of your winter blues.  I particularly recommend trying to snag one of the small booths, as these are quiet enough to have a conversation with a friend, but are still close enough to enjoy the music…just get there early, because they fill up fast.  Conor’s offers some delicious dinner options, and is one of the few Boulder locations that has hard cider on tap.  So set yourself up with a good stout, or one of their delicious Hot Apple Pie drinks, and you’ll soon be warm and cheery.

And of course, my final favorite: sleep.  Whether it’s after a long day of snow-related activities, or a warm drink with friends, the ability to catch up on some much-needed rest should not be underestimated.  Curl up in bed, on your couch, or by the fireplace (if you have one), and rest easy knowing that finals are over, next semester isn’t here yet, and you have nothing to do in the morning.

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Finally, if you’re bored and lonely, I personally will be here for a couple of weeks and would love to spend time with you all in a stress-free context.  So if you’re interested, shoot me an e-mail.  I would love to see you.

So what about you?  Do you have a favorite winter activity?  Feel free to share!

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