Memories of 9/11

I just picked up an interesting article in the APA magazine, Monitor on Psychology. It reports on 2 studies that look at American’s flashbulb memories surrounding 9/11, a rather timely article, given the recent 10 year anniversary.

What I love is how people now remember that day. My armchair quarterback psychic friends have told me how they just knew something was off that morning (these are friends who rarely got up before noon) or that something had been brewing in the air over the city the whole summer. And then, there are those who report having no memory of anything specific simply learning about the attacks from the news.

The article in Monitor, “Seared in our Memory,” discusses the flashbulb memories of 9/11. Flashbulb memories are the detailed and vivid ‘snapshots’ of the moment in which emotionally arousing news was heard, a concept made famous by the assassination of JFK. While these tend to be more accurate than other types of autobiographical memories, they are not bullet-proof. People, over time, begin to make up details that weren’t a part of the event as they tell and retell the story. As the rehearsal continues the memories get more firmly planted into our brains as truth, rather than fictionally padded truth, becoming more prominent in our memory than do the factual details. For example, a study that looked at memories surrounding the Challenger explosion, students remembered learning about the event on the news, rather than from a friend… interesting, since the same students surveyed after the explosion reported hearing it from a friend first. As David Rubin, a memory researcher says;

“Seeing it on tv is riveting and having a friend tell you about it is not riveting. You feel like a part of history saying you saw it live, when it was really the 16th replay.”

The article goes on to say that the closer you are to the sights, sounds, and smells of the event the more accurate your memories are.

I remember a few things about that day, which stand out clearly. Other memories have become blurry as I blend them into the days, weeks and months following 9/11. I had been out into the early morning at the Windows on the World bar (the bar on top of the World Trade Center’s south tower) and on the way home called in to tell work I wasn’t coming. After a few hours of sleep, I was making a smoothie getting ready to go to the gym when my cousin called. I was so happy to hear from him, we rarely got to speak and was surprised he was calling in the morning when he should be in class teaching. In panic he asked that I was ok and said that I needed to turn on the tv. I told him I would call him back (little did I know that was the last time I would be able to use my cell phone for days.) I turned on the little janky bunny-eared tv and couldn’t see anything but snow. After waking my roommate up, we went on top of our roof and having just missed the second plane, watched the black smoke pouring out of downtown.

The 2 thoughts I remember most at that moment: 1. Giuliani planned this media stunt so he could remain mayor (Bloomberg had just been made the mayor-elect) 2. I was worried that I wouldn’t get my credit card back, which I had forgotten was on tab at the WOW bar…. I think the bizarreness and irrationality of those thoughts express more clearly than anything else how mind-boggling and incomprehensible the whole things was.

As the years have rolled on, what has struck me is my reaction to people who talk about 9/11. Most people weren’t in NYC, that field in Pennsylvania, or DC on that day, but mostly everyone has extreme emotions and memories surrounding the events. I remember for a while the anger I would feel as people in small towns in remote places in the US gave their opinions about what happened, why it happened, and what needed to be done to correct it. I saw the events of 9/11 as being something that affected a community not the world. To me, it was a private pain that no amount of news coverage, political ballyhoo, candle light vigils or militia organizing could erase. I wanted the US to leave New Yorkers alone so that they could pull together and lick their own wounds without comments from personages like Jerry Falwell. I remember the day Bush came to the rubble to deliver his Independence Day speech with more seething than I can express. Politics aside, I felt like he was coming into our pain; he wasn’t there and he didn’t know.

Now, having had some time and distance from that day and the days leading past that day- the days of passing thousands of signs posted looking for family and friends, days of trying to find my own family and friends, days of no power, no cell phones, days of breathing in polluted air that you did your best to forget was comprised of buildings and bodies, days of being scared to go into trains, buildings, and planes, days of not knowing anything, not being able to go anywhere, and mostly days of complete fear and sadness- now that I’ve had some distance from those days, I realize we all have our right to our grief, (I still find no amount of words that can describe my anger when people use 9/11 as an excuse or a reason to politicize). This did affect the community and country and while some might not have been in the thick of it, the news made sure that it was seared into our memories.

From the Cruise:

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It has been a while, hasn’t it…

As many of you know I was slated to be wed last weekend. What with the final rush up to those days and finals I had nary a moment to write.

However, the official blog for the Mercer MFT program has been set up and will be updated by all of the incoming officers of the Graduate Student Organization throughout the next scholastic year. Give it a visit and subscribe to the update emails. Here we will be posting about all things Mercer and MFT related that might be of interest; volunteer activities, opportunities for continuing education and the coming events.

Mercer MFT ATL

Finally, I hope everyone has enjoyed our short but needed summer break. I myself am off to Panama with my new husband in tow. I am looking forward to beginning the semester and continuing to fill your ears throughout the year. Thanks for reading and see you soon!

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Healing ourselves so we can heal others.

“Our work with families, perhaps especially when they are most like us or most different from us, requires us to examine our own attitudes, beliefs, stereotypes, relationships, and life choices through many lenses… vis-à-vis that of our clients” (Lerner, The Expanded Family Life Cycle: Individual, Family, and Social Perspectives 3rd ed, p. 519)

When we first started our program at Mercer last August I was struck in Intro to Family Systems at how much time was spent on issues of multi-culturalism. In the true act of “knowing thyself” we had to investigate our inter and intra personal schemas regarding ethnicity, gender, and the life cycle.  Our first paper was a cross-cultural analysis of ourselves and someone of a different ethnicity. Finding someone to interview was the easy part; trying to parse out and understand my own ethnicity was a horse of a different color.

“It is a daunting task to try and decipher which group I share a common ancestry with and from whose value system I have evolved. Is my ethnic identity folded into the Scottish, German, Jewish, English, Native American, African American, or Scandinavian of my blood lines? Should I consider myself to be a 3rd, 5th, or 8th generation European American, thus discounting my Native American and African American ancestors? My family, like many “Americans,” faces the difficulty of finding an ethnicity, because in essence we are a hodge-podge of many that add up to make one singular family. Just as someone reading a horoscope and selecting from the narrative, I feel as though I am cherry picking what feels inherently ‘me’ or ‘mine’ from one culture and leaving behind the rest. It wasn’t until I moved away from my home in South Carolina that I realized I did have a culture if not a clear-cut ethnicity, and that was of the American Southerner. What I did not realize was that my romanticized view of the South and what it means to be Southern was just what it means to be raised in my, at times, Faulknerian family. Further complicating my understanding of my ethnicity is that my maternal and paternal lines both consist of the same ethnic groups, yet the expression of these ethnicities is absolutely contradictory.”

While the above illustrates my own complicated relationship with my white ethnicity the real triumph of the paper was beginning to truly think as a multiculturalist; especially in regards to how my ethnicity can affect what goes on in the therapy room.

I had even more trouble writing the dreaded Life Cycle paper. Intrinsically, I find the life cycle concept to be limited in its construction and bound by the ideals of middle-class European-Americans. Most of the major milestones in the cycle are centered on women’s fulfillment of the traditional maternal role. This alone limits a swath of modern families and individuals from being represented. Complicating this is the fact that both my interviewee and I faced a dramatic change in the placement on our life cycles during the time I was writing the paper. The one thing I do find to ring true with the life cycle work is that although an individual may not be traditional they have a place in a family; be it a family of origin, family of procreation, or a family of their own choosing. All family systems, even non-traditional ones, have the potential to be affected by the key moments highlighted by the Family Life Cycle. Once again the importance of this paper really came through for me when I realized that I might be a tad rigid in my beliefs surrounding what a woman can or cannot do in order to be fulfilled, and that those beliefs have nothing to do with maternity.

Before beginning the program, I thought “I can do this therapy thing; I am an empathetic, non-judgmental person that really likes to get in people’s business.” Throughout the first semester there was a nascent understanding budding in me: being a therapist has very little to do with you, rather, it is about being open to understanding clients the best you can from their own perspective. In short being a multi-cultural thinker. And truly being a multi-cultural thinker is a far cry from just believing you are one. These ideas are being elucidated further for us this semester as Systems II focuses primarily on the post-modernist thought that the client is the expert on their lives.

I began discussing all of this to highlight an important and, in fact, the first code in the AAMFT code of ethics.

  1. Marriage and family therapists provide professional assistance to persons without discrimination on the basis of race, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, disability, gender, health status, religion, national origin, or sexual orientation.

I think that the Mercer program prepares us well to handle this code, but not only that. I think that Mercer is actually concerned with growing responsible multi-cultural thinkers that truly respect other’s otherness, instead of merely following a rule. No easy task, so kudos to the program and our professors. I have often found myself wondering if other MFT programs are similarly geared and if so how they go about it. The story of one counseling student in particular comes to mind.

In 2009 Althea Ward, a counseling student at Eastern Michigan State University, was released from her program. She is a devout Christian who believes that homosexuality is wrong and as such she refused to provide counseling services to a client assigned to her, because he was gay. I have to admit when I first heard about this, I was extremely upset. I really felt for the client and his situation, and where he must have been after being denied care because of his sexual orientation. To Eastern Michigan’s credit, they do follow the American Counseling Association Code of Ethics which among other things states that therapists cannot discriminate or force their values upon clients. After the school released the student, she sued the school for violating her civil and religious rights. The courts sided with the university in stating:

“In sum, plaintiff unequivocally demonstrated her unwillingness to make any effort at working within the clients’ value systems when they are not in accordance with hers. By insisting on undifferentiated referral of an entire class of clients, plaintiff violates the ACA Code of Ethics….” And that the student“… was not required to change her views or religious beliefs; she was required to set them aside in the counselor-client relationship – a neutral, generally applicable expectation of all counselors-to be under the ACA standard.”

This is not the first or last instance when someone lets their beliefs get in the way of providing care, and in fact a student at Augusta State is currently suing her counseling program over a similar issue. These cases bring up an important feeling I have been mulling about our program. While we are particularly good at discussing gender and race issues, there does seem to be a dearth of considerations for two important elephant-in-the-room issues: sexual orientation and religion. We don’t really discuss sexual orientation as something that needs to be understood and explored and I worry that because we don’t talk about it, some of the students might be surprised when they have to work with their first LBGTQI clients.  On a similar point most, if not all but a few, of the students are Christian. I find it a shame that we don’t really talk about being multi-cultural in regards to both of these aspects. Just as being of a race working with different races will affect our work in therapy, so will our ideas about religion and sexual orientation (which often go hand-in-hand).

But maybe it isn’t the professor’s jobs to bring up these points. Maybe it is something, as students that we need to consider and make relevant. I am pretty positive that all of us are going to encounter something uncomfortable in our future clients. It is our job to be able to give them the service they deserve. So I think we need to look inside ourselves and pinpoint what those uncomfortable issues are, so that now when we having the time, the willing ears to listen, and the guidance of our professors we can work on them, in short- Physician, heal thyself.

A quick note I would like to make. This article, like all on this site, consist of my opinions alone and I do not intend to represent the other students, the professors or the university when I write about such things. If you disagree lets talk. I am open and interested to hear others opinions. Cheers!

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Armour Lecture Photos

Here are some of the photos taken of our beautiful, intelligent, impassioned faces taken during the Armour lecture, including the group shot. Enjoy!

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GAMFT Newsletter!

For the May-June newsletter Dr. Shatavia Thomas and I discussed the importance of belonging to professional organizations. I was happy to get it in the mail yesterday and I’ll take this moment to reiterate my belief that it can only better us as students and therapists to be active in our organization!


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Dr. Hardy on opression and privempathy

On Wednesday last the Mercer University Armour Lecture series hosted Dr. Kenneth Hardy. I am unsure of the proper lexis surrounding how I feel about the experience. Perhaps it is too much to say that I was star struck, but I definitely came away from the lecture with stars in my eyes and little hearts circling over my head. If I were a swooner, I might just have swooned.

Dr. Hardy was basically everything you could want from a therapist, professor and supervisor; instantly engaging, warm and open. He was also extremely adept in talking about the difficult issue of race in a way that appeared to be off-the-cuff, but in reality demonstrated the depth and breadth of both his regard for and dedication to problems of race issues. I enjoy a therapist that is political and believe that as therapists we have a certain duty to our clients to work from a political philosophy rather than a neutral dis-allowance of cultural and contextual issues. Never before have I had the opportunity to listen to someone so impassioned yet personal.

In a way Hardy reminded me of Victor Hugo, yes the Victor Hugo. Hugo begins many of episodes of his novels with a lengthy description of the anatomy of something, before diving into the story around it. For example, in Les Miserables he discusses the Paris sewer system at length, before the reader is taken through them on Jean Valjean’s escape. It is this factual personification that Hardy engages in first describing the concept then following with a narrative (usually a very funny one) from his own life. He crafts the knowledge around real life, taking it out of the philosophical sphere and placing it squarely in the realm of the relational.

The focus for the day was working with families of color, and although race was the topic at hand, Hardy readily admitted that much of what he was saying could be applicable to issues of gender and sexuality.

He outlined 3 different assumptions when working with families: Assumption 1: families of color are like all families, some families and no other family. Assumption 2: race and skin color are significant markers and organizers in our lives. Assumption 3: to work with families of color we must understand something about the anatomy of oppression.

Within the anatomy of oppression Dr. Hardy discusses the 2 levels of oppression. The primary level is the tangible one. It requires 1) the physical presence of the oppressor 2) a power differential between the oppressor and the oppressed 3) a differential access to resources 4) and objectification.

Language is generative and we form the basis and meaning of our lives through it. Being as such language is also a powerful tool for objectification. We have a tendency to objectify so many things in our lives we don’t even notice it any longer. Think simply in the terms of food. We do not call Venison- Deer or Beef- Cow. Who wants to sit down to a perfectly cooked steak and think of the gentle animal with big doe eyes chewing grass in the field? In a similar vein, and in a point made by Hardy, the military objectifies their opponents all the time. By calling another “the enemy” it makes it much easier to kill the human being you oppose without considering their status as son, daughter, mother or father.

The secondary level of oppression appears to me to be the most dangerous because there is no voice around it. This level no longer requires the physical presence of the oppressor because the oppressor is internalized within the oppressed. In this way the oppressed becomes the vehicle of their own oppression and can begin to identify with the oppressor. This is like the concept of internalized homophobia, or women who deny other women their experiences.

Both levels of oppression can be felt when watching the powerful scene from the not very powerful movie, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men (interview #42).

As Audre Lorde writes, “The true focus of revolutionary change is never merely the oppressive situations which we seek to escape, but that piece of the oppressor which is planted in each of us.” We must develop a multicultural perspective of the world which involves developing a multi-dimensional view of ourselves. We all have different selves within us and it is our experiences of ourselves in the world that informs us. Even though we probably are aware of some parts of ourselves better than others, we need to be truly aware of all parts of ourselves.

A first challenge to that is to realize when you are relating to a person from a stance of privempathy. Privempathy is a neologism that Dr. Hardy has crafted to describe the phenomenon we are all guilty of engaging in. It happens when someone tells you about a hardship they have encountered and in an attempt to relate, we turn the story around to a hardship we have encountered; highjacking the other’s experience. For example; a white woman talking to a black man: the black man discusses not being able to get a cab in NYC, and in an attempt to relate, the woman talks about how she must always be mindful of her surroundings when walking alone in the city. This conversation has just turned from the man discussing his subjugation (by the skin color of the woman) to the woman discussing how men (the gender of the man) subjugate her. It is her way of shedding the part of the oppressor (being white) onto the other (being male). Privempathy often turns a conversation around from one point of subjugation to another that places a person in a position of privilege. And as Hardy says, no one wants to find themselves in the position of the oppressor.

This is at the heart of the challenge to be a multi-cultural thinker, to be able to understand yourself in relation to others. And while you will never truly understand the others self, you can be aware that the other is (to steal one of Dr. Hardy’s thoughts) just like you, something like you and nothing like you.

I, obviously, could go on and on, but for the sake of long forsaken brevity I will end with the three points most salient to me from the lecture.

1. You don’t have to be one to treat one, as long as you do your work.

2. If you live a segregated life it is hard to have an integrated practice.

3. If you are tired of hearing me (Dr. Hardy) talk about this, then you (therapists, students, humans) talk about it, and I will be quiet.

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Dr. Kenneth Hardy

I am really excited to be writing about this Wednesday’s Armour Lecture series presenter. He is an inspiring writer and speaker and from watching videos of his work, I can imagine that he is a truly effective therapist. When he speaks it is with a calm precision that makes me sit up a little in my chair for fear that I might miss even a nanosecond of it.

Dr. Kenneth Hardy (Professor Family Therapy at Drexel University, Director of the Eikenberg Institute for Relationships in NYC) is leading the Armour Lecture series this Wednesday. Dr. Hardy is the 2005 recipient of the American Family Therapy Academy’s Distinguished Contributions to Social Justice Award.

Hardy’s video The Psychological Residuals of Slavery is a documentary that addresses the reluctance  on the part of many people, and especially therapists, to confront ethnocultural differences in perspectives and historical experiences, which stifles interethnic communication and undermines therapeutic transactions.

Hardy has been well published and his book, Teens Who Hurt, (which I just cracked open last night) promises to be an insightful and informative book on taking a multidimensional view while working with violent youth and their families.

Hardy is a true believer in systems theory and utilizes his passion for relational dynamics to fuel his work with clients. In an interview Dr. Hardy discusses how after he finished his PhD program and was working in the field he came to the startling revelation that he was a “pretty good white therapist” which left him lacking with the client population he primarily served; people of color and immigrants. Since that realization Dr. Hardy has worked to broaden the emphasis of what therapists study and who they work with. One of Dr. Hardy’s most salient and driving point is that he wants to help people (clients and therapists) to live a healthier relational life; which involves paying attention to and taking responsibility for their actions and words rather than defending or explaining yourself away.

This Wednesday’s workshop will find Hardy discussing the interpersonal and intrapersonal dynamics of racial oppression. Hardy will give special note to orientation toward survival: the unique developmental tasks that children and families of color must negotiate to ensure their survival within a racially oppressive environment. Workshop participants will learn how to distinguish developmentally appropriate behaviors from those that are cause of concern and common pitfalls that can work to undermine effective therapy with children of color and their families will be explored.

  • Where: Mercer University, 3001 Mercer University Dr, Atlanta, GA 30341
  • Date: May 25, 2011
  • Time: 9:00am–4:30pm

About the Armour Family Therapy Lecture Series- This lecture series is a gift (in all sense of the word) from Dr. Mary Anne Armour and Dr. Rollin Armour.

Dr. M.A. Armour was a professor at Mercer University’s Medical School from the very star, in 1982, and retired in 1998. While with Mercer, she worked to  establish the medical student program in family therapy, and founded the Mercer University master of Marriage and Family Therapy program.

Dr. R. Armour was the former dean of the College of Liberal Arts and also retired in 1998.

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