One year ago, I moved to Bergen to work with children with learning disabilities. This was quite different from what I had been working on until then: Treating patients. I had to work with children for one year to finish my requirements to become a clinical psychologist, and now I am finally here. 6 years has already passed since I started working, and I almost can`t believe it. I still remember my months as a psychologist: Feeling nervous, not ready to help people. I was after all, just one woman. I had my training, like all psychologist, but had never actually worked clinically. Now I had real people sitting in a chair, telling me things they had not told anyone. And how on earth was I supposed to help them? After some time, I was not nervous anymore. Hearing people talk about their fears, opening up when they felt there was so much to loose, felt like a privilege. I understood that my fear was nothing compared to what some of my patients had gone through. It was impossible to think about myself while I listened to their stories. I discovered that I had the best job in the world. Sitting there, talking about what really matters with truly magnificent people, made every day meaningful.
The last year has not been the same. Instead of clinical work, I have written reports where I have to figure out of the children get what they need at school. I have observed teachers, talked with worried parents, and tested children with the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children. I have written referrals to psychologist so that the children can be diagnosed with AD/HD or anxiety. I have given advice on how teacher can help children with autism or different disabilities. Although I have learnt a lot, I have often felt that I am out of my depth. Writing reports has not been my forte either. It has been difficult to judge if one child needs special education or not. My knowledge about teaching, has not been sufficient. I have sat in meetings, not being able to contribute much.
There has also been interesting cases where I got the chance to be a psychologist again. When I had the chance to talk about traumatized children, and what adults should do, I have loved my work. Me and a woman I work with also had the chance to guide school personell on how to help a child with oppositional defiant disorder. We talked about how important it is to realize that all children would chose to follow the rules if they could. That some children never have the chance to learn how to regulate their emotions, that they try their best but sometimes need help from grown-ups to calm down.
I have also met a lot of wonderful people where I work now. They are kind and dedicated to helping children. I have talked with teachers who walks the extra mile, seen special educators help children with dyslexia and talked with parents who does everything for their children. But I still have not found my place. I have learnt a lot and know I have done important work, but I have also missed my previous work.
In March I will start in my new job. I will work with adults again. I will be a therapist. And hopefully, I will continue doing clinical work for the rest of my life.
To find what you love to do, is important. We can get interested in different things, but usually we need to devote our lives to something that really engages us.
Right now I am struggling to adjust. A new job means thousand small differences that all must be brought together in a new way. My room-mate told me: the people who manage to survive, are those who are able to adapt. Some of the differences I have to adjust to, is more tasks of a different kind. I also must learn to work with children and the system, instead of long-term therapy with traumatized adults. I must learn to remember more practical information, like when the children got extra help in class and which subjects they like and dislike. I must learn to use different types of questionnaires and tests and focus on school instead of how they suffer psychologically. This also mean that I must put aside time to reflect and rest my head, like I do when I write. Instead of rushing from one task to another, making mistakes along the way as I forget things, I must take a breath and ask myself questions: what did I just learn? How can I remember the phone call I will have to take? How did it feel to feel a bit stupid since I couldn’t answer a question about what a dyslexic child needs?
By giving myself time, I am able to enjoy what I’m doing. I can appreciate the newness of it all by realizing that this is a chance to broaden my knowledge-base and understand even more about the complexity of our minds. Learning new things can be so frustrating, but the reward when we finally get where we wished we were from the begin with, is even higher since we had to struggle a bit with it. And the best of all: by being mindful about the process I’m going through, I’m more able to understand how it must be for children with different cognitive disadvantages to learn something new.
“Stories are the foundation of identity. We forge meaning and build identity.”
I am moving my eyes back and forth as I chase the words of enlightenment in Solomon`s book. Sometimes I glance up, look out the window and stare at moving cars or people. I let my feelings, awakened from a line beautifully crafted, circulate inside. I let the meaning of it touch me, and let the aftershock of new insights and hope explode. I want to inspire. I want to live.
The power of books, and the people writing them, can never be unappreciated. Instead of learning every lesson ourselves, we can let other words touch us by reading and listening to other`s experiences. The last week, I have either let my eyes rest on «The Noonday demon» or listened to “Far From the Tree “. Andrew`s two books feed you with experiences and knowledge from the first to the last page. The first digs deep into Andrew`s personal depressive demons, the other explores learning disabilities and challenging diagnoses like autism, schizophrenia and down`s syndrome.
Both books have a plethora of examples fitting the themes like a glove. They both blow life into theory, by letting us feel the people`s pain so we can also feel it. As psychological theories shows, you learn more when emotional. Another thing I like, is that my eyes never bumped into walls of bad writing, you simply float from page to page, only irritated by lack of time to devour everything at the same time (I have wished many times that I`d taken more time to learn to read faster, like I tried for a while).
In addition to relevant stories from people with different types of problems, he writes about the newest research and even test many of the methods himself. He is not afraid of testing even alternative approaches that hasn`t been researched much. This is done in a balanced way since he manages natural skepticism blended with openness for new experiences at the same time (
I`m not sure how much time he`s used on the books, but I do know he`s been travelling all around the world (Bali, Africa, Europe and of course many states in USA) and investigated both medical and theoretical theories by reading and talking with professionals with diverse thoughts. He even tried to talk with America politicians (who sadly had their hand tied). It is clear he has taken the time necessary to write the book, even if he had to stop writing when Mr. depression knocked on the door.
Far From The Tree: Parents, Children and the Search for Identity by Solomon, Andrew (Feb 7, 2013)
Another positive feature of the book, is the compassion towards people with a variety of conditions most of us would automatically turn our backs too. He is honest while describing his thoughts and experiences, and doesn`t try to walk on the water with the work he`s done. He has a down to earth attitude, also when it comes to the description of own shortcomings. He writes he can feel self-absorbed at times, and tries to look own motives in the eye if they walk next to him. This acceptance blend together with curiosity, and the end-product is two of the best books I`ve read this year. He talks about the magnificent courage of the interviewees, but seldom points to his own. If he mention it, he talks about how he should have written more, and he is humble when presenting different views.
I must not forget how much knowledge he has managed to fit in between the true experiences of people who fight every day. He is capable of doing this in a very readable way, and because I was triggered by the stories before and after the facts, I remembered them more easily. He presents a cocktail of different treatment options, and is not judgmental or pressure his ways of doing it, on others. Once in the book he states that people can use whatever they want, as long as it helps. This shows more than anything, that he writes (among other reasons) to help others who suffer.
What touch me the most is his own insight as to why he writes; Because it gives hope. He chose the stories of people who impressed him, which doesn`t mean that you won`t see the dark sides of depression or learning disabilities, because you will. It just means that he again uses his ability to balance between everything with grace and style. After my opinion, if others find it biased towards a positive view, I think it`s fitting. After all, we usually don`t learn so much if we can`t see what we can do. Thats is why they have anti-smoking advice on the cigarette packages. You can`t jump into the water if you don`t know how to swim.