Mental Health: Yes, There’s an App for That..

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Nobody wants to be irrelevant, and many mental health practitioners want to try out new technologies like Apps, but how to choose?  Currently the App Store in iTunes makes available 835,440 different Apps, of which approximately 100,000 are categorized as lifestyle, medical or healthcare & fitness.  And Android users have just about as many to choose from according to AppBrain, which says there are a whopping 858870 as of today.  With so many to look at, how can a clinician keep current?  Hopefully we can help each other.

Instead of writing the occasional “Top 10 Post,” I’m setting up a site for you to visit and review different Apps.  I’ll review some too, and hopefully by crowd sourcing we can get a sense of what are some of the best.  I’ll need Android users to weigh in heavy, as I will be test-driving Apple products alone.

Why have I decided to do this?  Several reasons, the complicated one first:

1. Web 2.0 is interactive.  We forget that, even those of us who are trying to stay innovative.  We keep thinking we need to get on the podium and deliver lectures, information, content.  And to a degree that is true, but we can easily slide back to the old model of doing things.  That’s what you see in a lot of our well-intentioned “Top 10 App” posts and articles.  Recently I found myself trying to explain on several occasions why doing a lecture or post on the best Apps for Mental Health didn’t sit right with me.  Part of it was because Apps are put out there so fast, and then surpassed by other apps, that it becomes a bit like Project Runway:  “One day you’re in, the next day you’re out.”

I was getting trapped behind that podium again, until I realized that we don’t need another post about the top 10 mental health apps, we need an interactive platform.  I need to stop acting as if I’m the only one responsible for delivering content, and you need to break out of the mold of passive recipient of information.  I’m sure that many of my colleagues have some suggestions for apps that are great for their practice, and I’m hoping that you all share.  Go to the new site, check out some of the ones I mentioned, and then add your own reviews.  Email me some apps and I’ll try ’em and add them to the site.  Let’s create something much better than a top 10 post with an expiration date, let’s collaborate on a review site together.  Which brings me to:

2.  I want to change the world.  That is the reason I became a social worker, a therapist, and a public speaker.  I think ideas motivate actions, and actions can change the world. The more access people have to products that can improve their mental health, the better.  By creating a site dedicated solely to reviewing mental health applications, we can raise awareness about using emerging technologies for mental health, and help other people improve their lives.  Technology can help us, which brings me to:

3.  Technology can improve our mental health.  Yes, you heard it here.  Not, “we need to be concerned about the ethical problems with technology X,Y or Z.”  “Not, the internet is making us stupid,” or “video games are making people violent,” but rather an alternate vision:  Namely, that emerging technologies can allow more people more access to better mental health.  Let’s start sharing examples of the way technology does that.  There are Apps and other emerging technologies that can help people with Autism, Bipolar, Eating Disorders, Social Phobias, Anxiety, PTSD and many more mental health issues.  I can’t possibly catalog all those alone, so I’m hoping you’ll weigh in and let me know which Apps or tech have helped you with your own struggles.

Is this the new site, Mental Health App Reviews, a finished product?  Absolutely not.  What it will be depends largely on all of us.  This is how crowd sourcing can work.  This is how Web 2.0 can work.

If you want to contribute, just email me at mike@mikelanglois.com with the following:

  • App name
  • Screenshot if possible
  • Price
  • Link to App

and I’ll take it from there.  Please let me know if you are a mental health provider and or the product owner in the email as well.

You can also contribute by reviewing the Apps below that you use.  Be as detailed as possible, we’re counting on you!  And while you’re at it, follow us on Twitter @MHAppReviews

Saving Ideas

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Sometime, over 40,000 years ago, someone decided to put images of human hands on the cave pictured above.  It turned out to be a good idea.  This painting has given scientists information on life in the Upper Paleolithic, raised questions about the capacity of Neandrathal man to create art, and sparked debate about which species in the homo genus created it.  Other later cave paintings depict other ideas: Bulls, horses, rhinoceros, people.

I wasn’t there in the Paleotlithic but I doubt that the images we are seeing in caves were the first ones ever drawn.  I imagine that drawing images in sand and other less permanent media happened.  I suspect that the only reason we have cave paintings is because at some point somebody decided they wanted to be able to save their idea, to keep it longer or perhaps forever.

Every day, 7 billion of us have untold numbers of ideas.  So what makes a person decide that an idea is worth saving?  What makes us pause and make a note in our Evernote App or Moleskine journal?  What inspires us to make a video of our idea on YouTube or write a book?  We can’t always be sure that an idea is a “good” one or even what the criteria for a good idea is.  It usually comes down to belief.

In the past several centuries, the ability to save ideas was relegated to the few who were deemed skillful or divinely inspired.  Books were written in monasteries, then disseminated by printing presses, and as ideas became easier to save, more people saved them.  But, and this is very important, saving an idea doesn’t make it a good idea, just a saved one.  Somewhere along the line we began to get the notion that only a few select people were capable of having a good idea, because only a few select people were capable of saving them.  Even in the 21st century, many mental health professionals and educators cling to the notion that peer-reviewed work published in journals is the apex of quality.  If it is written, if it was saved by a select few it must be a good idea.  If you have any doubt of what I’m talking about just Google “DSM V.”

With each leap in human technology comes the power to save more ideas and then spread them.  People who talk about things going viral often forget that an idea has to be saved first, and that in essence something going viral is really a form of society saving an idea.  If anything, technology has improved the democratization of education and ideas.

This makes many of us who grew up in an earlier era nervous and frustrated.  We call the younger generation self-absorbed rather than democratizing.  We grumble, “what makes you think you should blog about your day, take photos of your food, post links to cute kitten videos?”  We may even take smug self-satisfaction that we aren’t contributing to the static.  I think that’s a bad idea, although it clearly has been saved from earlier times.

40,000 years from now, our ideas may take on meanings we never anticipated, like cave drawings.  Why were kittens so important to them?  In the long view I think we remember that people have to believe they have an good idea before they take the leap of faith to save it.  The citizens of the future may debate who saved kitten videos and why, but it will be taken as given that they must have been important to many of us.

What if everyone had the confidence to believe that they had an idea worth saving?  What if everyone had the willingness to believe that it just might be possible that their idea was brilliant?  Each semester I ask the students in my class to raise their hand if they think they can get an A- or higher in the class, and most do.  Then I ask them to raise their hand if they think they can come up with in an idea in this class that could change the world.  I’ve never had more than 3 hands go up.  That’s sad.

This is why I admire the millennials and older groups who take advantage of social media and put their ideas out there.  I doubt that they are all good ideas, but I celebrate the implicit faith it takes to save them.  Anyone, absolutely anyone at all, can have a good idea.  It may not get recognized or appreciated, but now more than ever it can get saved.  Saving an idea is an act of agency.  It is a political act.  Saving an idea is choosing to become just a bit more visible.  On the most basic level saving an idea is a celebration and affirmation of the self.  Think about that, and dare to jot down, draw, record or otherwise save one of your ideas today.  I just did and it feels great.  Then maybe you can even share it with someone else.

What makes a person decide an idea is worth saving?

You do.

 

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You’re The Reason Building Your Business Is So Hard

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Recently I was asked by a student to take some time and talk with her about her career options. She was trying to plan for her career post-graduate school, and struggling some with the vicissitudes of a graduate program in mental health. Such vicissitudes, once you commit to studying in the field of your choice, are out of your control. Students are often told what to learn, how to learn it, where to intern, and what kind of internship they can have. Want to learn psychodynamic theory? Sorry, school X doesn’t believe in it, so if you go there there may be one or no mention of it in your foundation work. Want to work at a leading hospital? Sure, you and 100 other students from the schools in your area; so apply, but don’t count on it. So, in graduate school, students like my student often have to like it or leave it.

This disempowers the budding therapist in many ways, not the least of which is that it conditions her to take her cues from others even beyond graduate school. It is hard to learn that you have the power to build your career and business after having been taught that the schools, placements and agencies are the ones who make the rules.

If you are out of school, you have more power than you think, and therefore more responsibility than you may want.

Many therapists want to avoid taking responsibility for their businesses. No sooner do we get out of a school or agency then we start to recreate an agency of our own devising. We create our own set of disempowering expectations, and there are usually plenty of people around to collude with us in this. I call them disempowermentors.

Disempowermentors in the mental health field are the ones that tell you all sorts of rules about how things work. They’ll tell you you can’t build a practice without being on insurance panels. They’ll tell you you need to work in our field for 10 years to build up a reputation before you can open a practice. They’ll tell you you should sublet a few hours and not jump in to a full-time practice. None of these things are true, but most of them are usually fear-based. They are usually the way the disempowermentors did things, either because they recreated their own inner agency and/or because they listened to disempowermentors themselves. If my student isn’t careful, she’ll end up listening to one of these folks, and set herself and her future business back a few years. She’ll have a structure, but it will be one that restricts her choices rather than increases them.

Take a look at who you are listening to: Are they disempowermentors? (One sure clue is that disempowermentors almost always look more tired than happy, more miserable than inspirational.)

One example of someone whom the disempowermentors would say is doing everything wrong is my consultee Lindsey Walker. Lindsey is going right into private practice after finishing graduate school. Lindsey is working on building a full-time practice. Lindsey isn’t in any insurance networks. And things are starting to happen for her. This is largely because Lindsey is very creative and responsible. She has started a blog, Waking The Image, which combines photography and essays on psychodynamic theory. She also just finished writing her first e-book Love Over Trauma: Healing With Your Partner on helping couples recover when one or both of them has trauma in their past.

None of these projects occur in a separate pocket universe: Lindsey works daily on these projects and other tasks that we come up with in the course of our work together. I send her a list of things she’s committed to, and within the next several days she does them. That is why her work is slowly but surely getting noticed and her practice growing. She isn’t waiting passively in her office sublet for the phone to ring. She isn’t waiting passively for insurance panels to accept her, or accepting the fee they want to pay her. Lindsey knows that she is responsible for the success of her business. She is investing time and money into building it, not subletting 2 hours somewhere cheap and hoping she’ll get a client or two after her “day job.” Lindsey made the decision to make building her business her day job. I should also mention that she is not independently wealthy, and that this venture has been a risky and courageous one.

So take a look at your career. Are you happy with it? Is being safe worth it? Are you investing time and money into building your business? Are you taking risks?

If you answered no to those questions, then you are the reason building your business is so hard. You aren’t in grad school any more. You choose to apply for a job, accept it, or strike out on your own. You choose whether to make building your business your day job and make whatever sacrifices you need to make to do that. You decide whether or not to invest in an office, a consultant, or other business expenses. You decide to wait passively for someone to pay you a fraction of your fee, or actively market and network for hours and days and weeks. You decide whether to contribute a blog, book, talk or idea to the world like Lindsey; or not to contribute anything without permission from somebody else. You decide whether to confuse worry with effort and wishing with doing.

Lots of things are possible for you. Owning your own business is neither easy or safe, but it is possible. It takes lots of effort and doing. It’s risky, but no one is making you do it or holding you back. It’s up to you to decide.

 

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Twenty-Three Apps for the 21st Century Therapist

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Mobile applications have a lot to offer therapists.  Whether you are looking for games to play with patients, productivity or billing tools, or something to help you research, there’s an app for that.  Many supervisees, students and consultees have asked me lately what apps I recommend, so I thought it was about time I gave you a list sampling those I find most helpful and fun.  Many are cheap or free, and available for the iPad, iPhone and Android:

1. GoToMeeting

Planning on doing online therapy?  Gotomeeting has desktop and app versions of videoconferencing software, which is HIPAA-compliant.  The app version allows you to attend meetings, but the meeting needs to be initiated from the desktop version.  I use this program for the majority of my online sessions with patients and supervisees.

2. IbisMail

If you are juggling multiple roles or a portfolio career, or simply want better therapeutic boundaries, this is the email program for you.  Installed on your iPad or iPhone, this program allows you to set up automatic filters, so you can sort through junk mail.  But it also allows you to set up folders for patient emails, so that you can have them all in one place.  Then it is up to you to decide when you review your patient communications, rather than have everything coming through one inbox.  Supports multiple email accounts.

3. Flipboard

If you are wanting to add value to your twitter followers or consultees, this is a great app.  It provides a slick intuitive interface on your mobile device that pulls in stories from feeds you set, from you Facebook account to the Harvard Business Review blog.  When you find something you want to share, the app allows seamless sharing on a variety of social media platforms.  In a few minutes you can browse and share selected readings and keep up to date on current interests.

4. Bamboo Paper

This app allows you to write notes on your iPad.  It is great for note-taking during evaluations, and allows you to send these notes to Evernote as a .pdf or email yourself a copy.  NOTE: Doing this is not HIPAA-compliant if you have distinguishing identifying information in the note, so I recommend you refrain from using the cloud-based features if you have any concerns about patient privacy.  If you are using it for workshops or other personal uses, however, no worries.  And if you keep the notes local to your password-protected device, it can be a great tool.

5. Evernote

I was hesitant to add Evernote due to the recent hack they experienced, but their quick and effective response to this have actually made me more confident that this cloud-based note-taking device is still useful.  It is NOT HIPAA-compliant, so I don’t use it for patient notes ever.  That said, it is great for dictating notes about workshops, blog ideas, snapping pictures of things for study aids, and a myriad of other useful tasks.  The notes synch up between every device you have them on, so you’re always up to date.

6. iAnnotate

One of my favorites.  iAnnotate allows you to mark up .pdf files on your mobile device.  If you need to sign off on a document someone emails or faxes you, no more scanning, printing, scanning again stuff.  And if you are a student or researcher this is a must-have, as it supports highlighting and annotating research articles.  Synchs with Mendeley and Dropbox so you can store your research library with notes online.

7. 1Password

How can you make your mobile device more secure and use your web-browser more safely?  This may be the answer for you.  1Password installs on your mobile or desktop, and allows you to save and generate extremely long and secure passwords.  The level of encryption can be adjusted for the most cautious of password protectors.  This program also synchs over the cloud so that you always have the up-to-date passwords on all of your devices.  Even more convenient, it can bookmark your sign-in pages.  All of this is secured by double-password protection on your iPhone.  Stop using the same lame password for everything and start generating unique hard-to-crack ones for true HIPAA-compliance.

8. Mendeley

One part social network, one part research library,  Mendeley allows you to store research articles and annotations online and on your device.  It allows you to network with other colleagues to see what they are researching, share articles, and store all of your articles in one place.  Often it can even pull up the bibliographic entry from the web just by reading the .pdf metatag.  Geeky research goodness!

9. PayPal

This is one option for billing patients and paying vendors that is good to have.  You can invoice by email, transfer money to your bank account, and keep track of online payments on the website.  The app works well in a pinch if you aren’t ready to swipe cradit cards in your office.  NOTE, each transaction has a small fee.

10. Prezi

I’d love to see more therapists using this one.  This presentation software allows you to create dynamic visual presentations on your computer or mobile device.  You could use it to convert boring DBT worksheets to a dynamic online presentation.  Prezi supports importation from powerpoint, and provides free online hosting of your prezis as well as tons of templates and tutorials.  If you do public speaking, upload some of your prezis on your LinkedIn profile to give potential clients a vivid sense of your work.  You can see a sample here, but bear in mind that it would make more sense if I was there giving the talk.  🙂

11. DCU

I haven’t been to a bank in over 2 years, and this app is the reason why.  Digital Credit Union’s Mobile Branch PC, allows me to deposit checks from patients via my iphone.  Just login, scan the checks, and in 10 minutes you’ve done your deposits for the week.  Meanwhile, the online interface allows you to keep track of your spending easily and export to Excel or accounting software if you need to.  Great for tax season!

12. Dropbox

Dropbox is a great and free way to store non-private information on the cloud.  The app allows you to email items easily, so I use it to email intake instructions to patients, press kits to people inquiring about keynotes, and a number of other items.  I also keep all my DBT worksheets on it so that they can be sent quickly and easily to patients should they be feeling in need of extra support between sessions but not acute enough to warrant hospitalization.

13. TED

This app allows you to stay inspired and experience innovation daily, by beaming TED talks to your mobile device from the offical TED site.  You can favorite, search, and share your favorite ones, or hit “Inspire me” for random ideas.  As I wrote this, I was listening to Amanda Palmer speak on “The art of asking.”  This app can allow you access to ideas outside of the filtered professional bubble with therapists often get ourselves stuck in.

14. Line2

Want a second phone line on your iPhone?  This app allows you to have one.  You can port your practice number to it, and stop carrying two cell phones.  At $9.95 a month you can have unlimited US/Canada calling, at $14.95 a month you get a toll-free number and virtual fax.

15. CardMunch

Tired of keeping all those business cards from a shoebox?  CardMunch allows you to snap photos of a colleague’s business card and convert it to a digital one which it stores in your contacts.  Synchs with LinkedIn.

16. Micromedex

Keeping up-to-date on medications is pretty daunting, but this app, with frequent updates, helps you keep track od a medication, its Black Box warnings, contraindications, drug interactions, adverse effects, alternate names, standard dosages and more.

And now for some games!

17. Plants Vs. Zombies

This game is great for helping patients who want to learn about strategy and pacing.  Choose a certain number of plant types to plant in order to stop the zombies from overrunning your backyard.

18. Zombies, Run!

Continuing my zombie kick, this game is better than any pedometer I’ve ever used.  The more you walk or run, the further you progress in this game of fleeing zombies.  Go on multiple missions, play with friends, and even train for a 5K.

19. Kingdom Rush

This game is a classic tower defense game, which helps patients learn to make choices, control impulse spending as part of a winning strategy, and work on pacing, problem-solving and a host of other cognitive abilities.

20. Minecraft Pocket Edition

This mobile app version of Minecraft is a great way to connect with a patient’s gaming, and the app allows you to play together on a wireless LAN, so you can fight for survival or create an amazing construction right from your office together.

21. Flower Chain

This is a completely nonviolent game that focuses on setting up a chain reaction of flower blooms in order to complete each level.  Great eye candy, and a fun game for clearing the mind after a difficult session.

22. Trainyard

This puzzle game requires you to plan out and design multiple railroad tracks.  The trick is to set them up and pace them so that they all meet their goals without running into each other.  Great prompt for talking with adolescents about how they can learn to negotiate peer relationships in the same way, or learn to compromise with adults in order to get along with them.

23. Lavalanche

This puzzle game is reminiscent of Jenga, in that you have to dismantle a tower without letting the Tiki Idol fall into lava.  Another great one for executive function capacity-building around sequencing, planning and problem-solving.

So there you go, give some of these a try and let me know what you think.  Have a favorite app that you want to share?  Please feel free to comment and include the link.

Like this post?  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info?  And, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Happy New Year!

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As we start the New Year I wanted to share a quote I think applies to you:

“Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.”

— Arthur Schopenhauer

Going into the New Year, entertain the possibility that you are a genius.  Whether you are a gamer playing first-person shooters, a therapist trying to build your private practice, an educator trying to reach students, or someone trying to live a good life, ask yourself:  What are the targets you can see that other people can’t?

Don’t expect praise, people will think you are crazy for shooting into thin air.  You may be bullied, insulted or ignored, but remember you are not alone.  Find that person or group who believes in you even though they can’t see your target.  Those are true people of faith in your life.

Does this mean you’ll be coasting?  Nope.  It takes practice allowing yourself to look for things invisible to most.  It takes constant effort to hone your talent.

If you play Minecraft, think of 2013 as your new sandbox.  2013 is loaded with things you’ve not discovered yet.  Any rock could conceal diamonds or ore.  You will encounter creepers when you least expect them, lose things and have setbacks.  But you can opt for multiplayer, and build in community.  All of the materials are there for you.  You may think you are starting with nothing, but you always have the tools to build tools.

If you keep at it you can change the world.

Whether you are a regular visitor or a loyal follower of this blog, thank you.  In case you missed them, below are the 5 most popular posts from this year:

 

Dopey About Dopamine: Video Games, Drugs, & Addiction

Epic Mickey and Frittering

Gamer Therapy

How to Get Taken Seriously as a Mental Health Professional

Skyrim, Stealing & Sadism

 

Like this post?  I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info?  And, for only $2.99 you can buy my book.  You can also  Subscribe to the Epic Newsletter!

Avatars & The Curated Self

If I ever meet James Cameron, I hope I will remember to ask him if it was a coincidence that he chose to the make the aliens blue.  His movie, Avatar, garnered 3 Academy Awards for it’s epic tale of humanity’s encounter with the Na’Vi, largely through the creation of avatars, body forms that humans beam their consciousness into so they can mingle and fraternize with the locals.

The concept of the avatar comes originally from Hinduism, and refers to the concept of a God or Supreme Being deliberately descending to earth in a manifest form.  One of the most popular gods for doing this is Vishnu, also blue.  The concept of avatar in  Hinduism is more complicated than this, but the piece of it that pertains to this post is the general concept of the attempt of a supreme being to incarnate part of itself to enter the world.  There is an inherent diminution or derivative quality to it.

If you are more familiar with video games than Hinduism, you are probably more familiar with the concept of an avatar meaning the graphical representation of the player’s character in the game.  When we play Pac-Man, our avatar manifests in the video game as a little yellow circle with a mouth that races around gobbling dots.  Over the decades games and graphics have become capable of more sophisticated avatars ranging from the Viking-like Nords of Skyrim to the soldiers of Call Of Duty.  As these video game worlds proliferate, players descend into them with avatars of many shapes, sizes and species.  Some games, like Eve Online, allow you to customize the features of your avatar extensively; others allow you to pick from a limited number.  We are always diminished by the process of taking on an avatar.  Even if the powers an avatar has in the video game world are immense, it is derivative of the complexity of being human.

What is interesting is that most of us use avatars every day online, we just never realize it.  Video games are just one form of social media, and avatars abound in all of them.  The graphic may be as simple as our picture next to a blog post or comment, or a video on Youtube.  But in the 21st century most of us are digital citizens and use one form of avatar or another.  Some people in the world will only ever know us through our avatar in a video game or Second Life.  And yet we know something of each other.

I think more and more of us are becoming aware of the connection between the avatar and the curated self, the aspects of our psychological self we choose to represent online.  The curated self is the part of ourselves we have some ability to shape, by what we disclose, what graphics we choose, and how we respond to others.  Like an avatar, the curated self at its best is deliberate.  I say at its best, because although the curated self is in our care, we can also be careless with it.

Recently I posted a video of myself on my YouTube channel entitled “Should Therapists & Social Workers Post Videos Of Themselves On YouTube?”  In making the video I chose to wear a bike helmet, and by the end of the post was using the bike helmet as an example of the risks we take when we opt to attempt innovation of our curated self.  The video was designed to inspire critical discussion and thinking, and it did just that.  In some groups where it appeared people described the video and points it was illustrating as “brilliant.”  Other groups interpreted it as an instructional video on how to advertise your therapy practice and lambasted it.  There was a myriad of responses, and I’m sure even more from people who opted not to comment on it.  I received a number of likes of it, and a number of dislikes.

What I think is important and instructional here was how people began to comment through their avatars as if they were addressing the whole person I am rather than an avatar.  And they made incorrect assumptions ranging from my age to my motives.  The bike helmet and my posture on the video became the target for some incredible nastiness disguised as constructive criticism.  From the safety of their own avatars they hurled some invectives at who they thought I was and what they thought I was doing in front of an audience of other avatars who alternately joined in, were silent, emailed me privately to offer words of support, or publicly commented on what they saw.  The irony to me was that people began to demonstrate all of the roles we encounter in “cyberbullying,” which was part of what the video also touched on.  In a perhaps not surpising parallel process, we got to see and play out the sorts of dynamics that our patients and children experience all the time.

We need to remember that every avatar is a derivative of the person.  It is connected enough that we have attachments and responses to it.  We can feel proud or ashamed, hurt or healed through our avatars.  In fact, research from Nick Yee on “The Proteus Effect” has shown that playing a game with a powerful avatar for 90 seconds can give the player increased self-confidence that persists for up to 6 hours.  It stands to reason that if someone experiences their avatar as weak or socially unacceptable for a brief time there may be lasting effects as well.  Behind the guy in a bike helmet is someone else.  He may be a faculty member at Harvard, a sensitive fellow, a father, a student, a man who just lost his partner, a person with a criminal record, or any, all or none of these.  But he is always more than the derivative of his avatar.  We need to practice being mindful of this and model it as we train others to be digital citizens.  It is counterproductive to sound off on cyberbullying to our children or grandchildren, when they can Google us online and see us doing it ourselves.

We also need to help our patients, their families, and colleagues understand the active role we need to take in curating ourselves online.  We need to understand what may happen when we put certain things out there.  For therapists this includes the dilemma of putting out a curated self that resembles what kind of work you would do, while not disclosing or conveying more than you want the world to know.  The example I always use with students and consultees is how I talk about my family but never who they are in particular.  This is deliberate, because it is no big disclosure that I have a family, everyone on the planet has one of sorts with the possible exception of Dolly the cloned sheep.  But beyond that I curate a private self, and let folks project what they may.  If we put out comments describing patients or coleagues as “screwed up,” we are also curating ourself, I suggest poorly.  We need to be mindful that most groups we participate online in are open and searchable.  Many of my colleagues became therapists at least in part because they didn’t want to be known and thought the best defense was a good offense (“We’re here to talk about you, not me.”)  They’re used to sharing the gallows humor with the team, and think the same applies to online.  I’m with Rilke on this one:  “for here there is no place/that does not see you. You must change your life.”

To paraphrase Wittgenstein, “our self is everything that is the case,”  not just one avatar, blog, string of emails or video; not even the composite of all of them.  Nor is our curated self everything that is the case.  We’re more than our Facebook likes or our Twitter following.  Human beings are so much more, much more wondrous and tragic than the curated self.  We descend into the Internet and are diminished, but do bring some deliberate part of ourselves along.  We will only ever know hints and glimmers of ourselves and each other online.  As for the rest:

“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” –Wittgenstein

 

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Should Therapists & Social Workers Post Videos of Themselves on YouTube?

 

 

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How to Get Taken Seriously as a Mental Health Professional

Many therapists looking to start or grow their private practice often wonder the same question when they are starting out:  How do I get referrals?  If you can tolerate a mild rant, I may have one answer for you.

Let’s look at this concern through a tried and true mental health paradigm.  First, we take a symptom, and then we look at the underlying conflict that the symptom represents.

So what’s the symptom?  That’s easy, head on over to LinkedIn and take a look at several profile pictures of colleagues.  Go ahead, I’ll wait.  What did you see?  When I looked I saw some professional headshots, but more of the following:

  • blank photos
  • top of head/ chin cut off
  • people in front of a car
  • waterfalls
  • tank tops
  • the “I’m holding my phone camera at arm’s length” shot
  • at a party
  • graduation gown
  • flower
  • too dark to see
  • wearing sunglasses
  • skiing

 

If you want to generate referrals, this may be a problem. Some colleagues may have a different opinion or be too diplomatic to say this, but let me not mince words.  If you don’t have a professional headshot it is doubtful I will refer to you.  I don’t send people to waterfalls for psychotherapy.  I suspect people wearing shades of paranoia or vampirism.  I envy people who can ski much too much to ever want to help them grow their business.  Cars in photos are either nicer than mine or too shabby, triggering too much judgment either way.  And party-goers scare me.  😉

My experience as a consultant has been that these headshots are symptomatic of one of two scenarios:

1.  You don’t take social media seriously.  In this day and age, our potential patients want to see us before they see us.  They often do their research by checking out our online presence.  If you go on LinkedIn for example, you may find that several people viewed your profile this week.  A picture is worth a thousand words.  I have seen great head shots in black and white, or even avatars for online therapists, so it doesn’t have to be a standard color shot.  But the way technology works now, whatever picture you choose will most likely attach to your emails, tweets, blog comments, posts, and feeds of all kinds. There are exceptions to this, like my colleague Social Jerk, who needs to maintain a tight hold on her anonymity to allow for her to create such creative and satiric posts about social work.  But if you are not trying to be a satirist, but rather grow a therapy practice, this will not work for you.  And if you’re on Twitter, please don’t be an egg.  When I need to jettison followers to follow additional people, the eggs are often the first to go.  Accept that social media is the point of professional first contact with your colleagues and customers.  Take it seriously.

2.  You don’t take yourself as a therapist and businessperson seriously.  Anyone that has read this blog or chatted with me at a workshop can probably tell you that I am neither dour nor constantly serious.  I certainly think there is a lot of room in our profession for humanity, play and creativity.

That said, we are in the business of providing treatment for serious concerns, working with people who have a range of predicaments.  We assess for suicidality, psychosis and trauma.  Your patients come to you with vulnerability and hope that you will help them create profound change, recovery and healing in their lives, maybe even help them stay alive.  If you think that therapy is just two people in a room chatting, then by all means keep the beach picture.

To get a professional head shot requires investment of your time and money.  It is a business expense.  If you are unwilling to invest in a professional image to represent your business concern I suspect you are not ready to own and run a business.  If you are unwilling to invest the time to look through your existing photographs and select one (if you have it) that presents a professional demeanor online then I suspect you are not ready to own and run a business.

Now I know that the term “professional” photo is vague and subjective.  I am not saying that you need to be in a suit and tie.  You can be a play therapist and have affect like my colleague Charlotte Reznik.  But slapping up a blurry photo of you near a palm tree sends the message that you can’t be bothered to represent yourself or your brand.  And in business we need to be concerned about our brands, even as therapists.

Look, I’m not saying these things to hurt your feelings.  I really want you to succeed, and I know that there are a lot of people out there who need your help.  That’s why I suggest that the photo is the symptom of an underlying issue, which is the difficulty to take either technology or your business seriously.  If you have taken time and consulted with trusted colleagues and have come to the conclusion that “I want potential patients to see me as someone blurry whom they could go skiing with” is your brand, and that the head shot is a conscious and intentional image to brand yourself online than you have my blessing.

If not, get thee to a photographer.

 

If you are interested in participating in a small group supervision experience, you may want to check out the Supervision Package I’ll be offering this fall.  You can find out more about it here.

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When Wallflowers Attack

Back in graduate school, my group therapy professor once said to me, “early risk-takers are often scapegoated by the group.”  This comment came on the heels of yours truly taking a risk in the group, a group of psychotherapists in training.  I learned two things in that group class on that day.  The first was that early risk-takers are often scapegoated.  The second was that we therapists can be just as cruel with our comments as anyone else.

This is something that many of my supervisees encounter when they start to put themselves out there, especially on the interwebs.  They are stunned when the blog post they write elicits comments that are sometimes shocking in their nastiness.  They are confused as to why this happens, and what to do about it.  If you are beginning to use social media to build your psychotherapy practice, write newsletters, prepare a public speaking campaign or just write a blog, this post is for you.

The internet has made it easier to be both impulsive and anonymous, and emboldened some people to hurl invectives.  I call these people the wallflowers.  These are the people in any given group who are afraid to take risks or stand out, and resent those who are brave enough to do so.  They are quietly resentful, and more often than not envious of people who are not quiet.  I’m not talking about introverts here, but rather a particular group who stand on the sidelines seething.

These are the people who send you a nasty email at 2:00 AM criticizing your post for a spelling error, or the folks who text really ugly comments to you after you post something on a listserv they don’t like.  They’re the people who make personal attacks on your workshop evaluation in the guise of constructive criticism, or bait you in discussion groups by deliberately misconstruing your words.  Yes, I’m not making this stuff up, all of these things and worse have come at me by email, Twitter, Facebook, blog comment, and text message.  The majority of the time it will be behind the scenes of whatever arena you’re in, so that you can see it and the larger group can’t.  Consciously or unconsciously, wallflowers are counting on you not passing these barbs on to the larger group.  Nobody likes a tattletale.

So what do you do about them?

First, take a second and calm down, and note that the intensity of your response is probably an indicator that this is out of the ordinary.  Next, try to find a trusted friend or family member that you feel comfortable sharing it with, and ask them what they make of it.  Supervisors are often really helpful here.  Often they will react more strongly then you did, which gives you another clue its a wallflower attack.  Your inclination may be to try to learn something from the comment.  I’m going to say something that may go against the therapist grain here–Dismiss the comment and the wallflower.  Don’t bother trying to make this into a growth opportunity, there are plenty of other growth opportunities out there for you.  Don’t give this your energy.

In my experience this is very hard to do, because therapist wallflowers have a lot of skills to hook you.  They bring their therapeutic arsenal and try to come at you as a therapist, by analyzing or interpreting you.  Don’t fall for it.  Just because you both speak the same language doesn’t mean you have to have a conversation with them.  Therapy is a specialized and voluntary form of conversation, and anyone who tries to inflict this on you unasked is using their Jedi therapy powers for ill.

This is your reminder.

This is the price you will have to pay for being an innovator and a risk taker.  Early risk takers are often scapegoated.  You didn’t do anything wrong, you were just putting yourself out there.  And every time you do that, you will run the risk of a wallflower attack.  Don’t overprocess it, move on.  And definitely don’t let it stop you.  Remind yourself that the reason they had anything to attack you about is because you’re doing something they wish they could, creating.  Anyone can ping off a blog post, or fire off a Tweet in reaction, but it will only be a reaction, not a standalone.

Remind yourself that your ideas are precious.  I’m not trying to sound New Agey here.  What I mean is that the fact that you had something to put out there is not to be taken for granted or underestimated.  You could have not had the inspiration for that workshop or podcast, but you had it.  All over the world there are people who have not given awareness to ideas, throughout history millions of good ideas have never been expressed or seen the light of day.  Not you.  You did it!  And if you stop taking risks the wallflowers win, and the prize is one less idea in the world.  Yippee.

I know this can be hard to do, trust me.  And the technology we have today has made it even easier for wallflowers to attack.  It’s sort of like that sense of invincibility drivers get when they are encased in the protection of their cars.  Shake it off.  Share it with someone you trust for perspective.  Dismiss it.  Stay focused.  You can take time to smell the roses, but don’t get distracted by the wallflowers.

 

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Thinking, and Just Thinking

Originally I was going to title this post, “How to Make A Million Dollars as a Therapist Without Ever Having to Talk About Money.”  And if I was just concerned about driving traffic to my blog and business, that would be the title.  Because there are a lot of our colleagues out there who  want to have a very successful business without having to deal with the sordid matter of coin.  I used to think this was the number one reason that psychotherapists have a hard time being successful as entrepreneurs.  I used to read, and agree with, several psychodynamic articles that have been written by colleagues which talk about how we feel shame around money, project our devaluation of ourselves by refusing to spend money on coaching or supervision, and have difficulty set fees and enforcing missed appointment charges with our patients because we feel that we don’t deserve to make money for our work.

I still think those are big hangups a lot of us have, but recently I’ve started to suspect that an even bigger one is our fuzzy thinking about thinking.

Therapists as a whole love to think.  We like thinking deeply about our patients.  Many of us love working with emergent adults in a large part because their neurology has finally blossomed and they are starting to reflect on their thinking.  We often enjoy studying and debating the thoughts of major theorists.  We even see the value of self-reflection in our work with patients.  We like to think about others, the thoughts of others, our thoughts about the thoughts of others, and what great thinkers have thought about the thoughts of others and our thoughts about them.  Boy, do we like to think about thinking.

Now I am no exception to this.  I see an immense value to thinking, in fact I schedule time during my daily work week where I walk around the Charles and think.  During this time I don’t take calls, I don’t check email, I don’t make appointments.  I think.  I intentionally schedule it during the day to remind myself that thinking has a critical place in my work, and has as much if not more value than a billable hour.  And I will often lament to colleagues in academic settings about the need for more critical thinking skills.  I’ve had colleagues critique my wanting more theory classes at BC by saying, “these students want classes that give them practical tools that they can use,” to which I respond, “how about thinking?  That seems like a pretty good tool to me, when did we stop considering it practical?”

So I am not intending to come across as anti-thinking here.  But I have noticed over the past several years who succeeds in getting their private practices off the ground and thriving, and who doesn’t.  And the ones who fail are usually the ones who come to consult with me, or then need to “think about it.”  I’m very concrete when I talk with consultees, and if they are in job crisis I call it that.  I’ve worked with people whose incomes have shrunk by halves over the past several years.  I tell them what has worked for me, and offer suggestions, and the suggestions require things like calling people to network or EAPs or insurance providers every day or write a business plan, or any number of other things.

They listen and say they’ll think about it.

Some people will make a lot of money off of those folks.  There are dozens of people out there who can tell you how to “visualize” your ideal client, “ideate” abundance, or give you a 5 point plan to success.  I’m not one of those people, and so sooner rather than later the conversation peeters out.  Because they have a hard time moving into doing something other than thinking and talking.  Maybe they’ll write a blog post or tweet a few times, but they get discouraged, because I’m not going to waste their time.  This isn’t therapy.  I’ll tell you what I think you ought to do.  You don’t have to do it, but I don’t have a second set of things I think you ought to succeed in your business.  So if you don’t want to do them, we really don’t have a lot more to talk about.

A lot of therapists, myself included, like to try to think and talk our way out of everything.  And many things can be significantly impacted by strategic thinking, and thoughtful process.  But eventually you have to do some other form of work if you want to be in private practice.  We have more autonomy as sole proprietors, but we also can’t just sit in an office hour after hour “just helping people.”  This is actually the fantasy I often hear expressed by colleagues, “I just want to help people,” as if the nobility of that entitles one to not have to exert any other effort.

One of my friends has a mentor who frequently says, “don’t confuse worry with effort.”  Much of the time I think we confuse worrying with deep thinking, and even more so with taking other forms of action.  We think if we worry about a problem either alone or with another that somehow that “counts” as having done something.  The idea of sustained effort truly alarms us.  I’m talking about me too here.  One of the reasons I have a set time in my week to think about things is so that I contain that urge to think fretfully and know that there is a time and a place for me to think about stuff.  And then I go on to other activities that are required of me during the day.

Another reason the Charles river is such an important place for me around this is that it is where I run.  During the week I walk along it and think, and on the weekends at least once I run along it.  But, and this is key, I don’t go to the Charles and think about running.

I can really only tell you what works for me, and incessant and indiscriminate thinking does not work for me, or my business.  If someone tells you that there is an easy, simple way to succeed in creating and growing your practice, I encourage you to be skeptical.  Creating and growing your business involves taking risks, trial and error, and most importantly sustained effort that is not entirely cerebral.  My experience has taught me that you won’t think your way into a successful practice, but you may succeed in thinking yourself into a bankrupt one.

Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.