Three Juggling Balls, Two Hands

Morgan, saying hello to everybody.

Video four done and we are ALMOST at the point of juggling with three balls. The rest of the videos aren’t up yet though, so I will have to get my daughter to teach me the rest in person. I just checked; my three-ball cascade has not improved. It’s something I learned years ago and just do the same way, when I do it. I think my core skills of throwing and catching are better, but now I’ve added thinking about it which negates the improvement in core skills.

Thinking about it is the challenge. Thinking about the ways that we do habitual actions can be a stumbling block, but it’s one we need to acknowledge and challenge if we want to change our behaviours or thoughts. If I want to get past 28 catches in a three-ball cascade, I am going to think about how I throw and catch and build better physical behaviours around those skills. If I want to lose weight as a middle-aged human, I’m going to have to think about my eating and fitness behaviours and understand them to rewrite them.

By the time I submit this assignment, I will not have mastered this skill. I’ll still be thinking about it. When my proficiency is such that I can perform the three-ball cascade with few drops and without thinking about it, I believe I will experience this as transcendent. I will have reached beyond effort and struggle by going through effort and struggle, and will have arrived in a place of flow. This flow state is one of “optimal experience” which author and psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes as “when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile” (Flow, 1990. Harper & Row, New York: NY, pg 5). I have enjoyed such optimal experience before in writing, acting, providing counseling, sports, and other arenas.

My experience of flow state has been akin to the spiritual state of transcendence. It is a mind state, a spirit state, an internal space where we touch Spirit, as we conceive Spirit to be. It is a state of harmony and ease; it is being one with everything. Which leads to the inevitable question:

What did the Buddhist monk say to the hot dog vendor?

Thud, Thud

I’ve taken in another instructional video and I continue to practice throwing the juggling balls to the appropriate height, and having them land <thudthud> in my hands. The videos are at a two-ball cascade right now; I tested my three-ball cascade to see if it has improved through my efforts. It has not. I’m OK with that. My life continues to be busy with counseling clients in my internship, getting back to working my actual job, and volunteering for the Crisis Text Line. Throwing and catching balls <thudthud> is a rhythmic escape.

I’ve been wondering if this academic adventure was going to skew more to Spirit or to Community. I honestly suspected community, as there is an active and vibrant juggling community. My daughter engages with her juggling and circus communities at least weekly online. For me though, the throwing and catching of balls <thudthud> blends well with isolation. I mostly prefer to spend the bulk of my time alone; I’m adept at entertaining myself.

I’m generally also skilled at keeping my spirit buoyed. This pandemic is challenging. Increasingly, clients are having panic attacks. People call in not knowing if they are angry or depressed; their emotions are confusing and scary. The ambiguous loss of not knowing when we will hug our friends again has gone to a more threatening despondency of accepting we might never. Sometimes, out of nowhere, I am angry, or frustrated, or hopeless. I’ll have a good flow happening, keeping my spirit up and pressing onward, throwing and catching my ambitions and intentions and then <thudthud> one fumble and they tumble to the ground.

In the instructional videos, to perfect the throws, you deliberately let the balls land on the ground. The placement of dropped balls gives you information of how they were thrown, and the transit they took before falling. When our spirits drop, can we learn from how they fall and where they land? Tracing their path from their drop spots, we might see what tripped us up; perfectionism perhaps, or maybe a tendency to doubt ourselves. “I should be exercising more with this free time” “They probably wouldn’t pick me for that job anyway.” <thudthud>

We can pick those balls back up. We can try again. We’ll drop them again. We can keep trying.

It might not be the Holy Spirit, but it’s sure the human spirit – and by my reckoning, that’s divinity enough.

Fat or COVID?

It’s not the COVID, it’s the humidity

When I was recovering from COVID in April, I was keenly aware of my health. There’s no way to know for sure when you’re done having COVID, and the symptoms are so diverse.

Out of breath walking the dog – is it still active COVID? Are my lungs permanently scarred? Or am I just out of shape? I started thinking of these questions as “Fat or COVID”.

As April fades to memory, my dog walks are getting longer so either my lungs are healing or I’m getting into better shape. On days when I feel that asthmatic hitch and cough, I wonder again – is the COVID back? People can get sick more than once. Maybe it never did go away. I was so sick with it. I probably shouldn’t have been alone the whole time, there are gaps of time I don’t recall because I’d sort of collapse on the couch with exhaustion and low oxygen. My chest hurt more than it ever has with bronchitis. Every breath felt like I was 14 years old and trying smoking for the first time. I do not want to go through that again – and that was mild.

Some reasons I might feel breathless aside from succumbing to a novel and deadly virus: extreme humidity, seasonal allergies, anxiety, and exercising outside of my cardio capacity. Some more adult minded readers might come up with others but I am writing this in the pandemic and I live alone.

I have found it best to treat the breathlessness as if it has arisen from one of these more mundane causes. Drink water and find a cool place to be still. Take antihistamine and wait and see – COVID won’t respond to allergy pills. Take grounding breaths and centre myself to fight anxiety (and medicate if needed).

The combination of breathlessness and exhaustion for most of the month of April reminded me of how I feel the week after donating blood. Iron deficiency can cause both symptoms, and with the drastic change in my shopping habits, I only occasionally had meat in the house; rarely red meat. I don’t think we give enough credit to the influence our diet has on our day to day health, including mental health. Taking iron supplements once I twigged to the connection helped resolve some of the brain fog and weary breathlessness.

My exhaustion could be because I, along with literally everybody else, am living through the isolation and anxiety of a global pandemic. Going through a ‘normal’ day of completing tasks such as preparing and consuming food, bathing and dressing, walking the dog, and sweeping the floor is just very tiring right now. Personally I’ve added on top of that attempting a graduate degree term remotely over a novel delivery system, and commencing an internship placement where I cooperate with people I haven’t met over software I’ve never used. I am so tired, COVID notwithstanding. We all are I think.

My exhaustion could be mostly from recovering from a disease. I’m STILL healing. While the virus vacates the body in its two to three weeks, symptoms can continue for months. I still nap more days than not, and not planned naps but rather ‘my body is shutting down for a wee bit’ type naps. My lungs don’t function like they used to. Every once in a while my temperature goes up a degree and a bit and I worry; I cough and I worry.

The other day I had a novel symptom – the mottled discolouring of legs; my worried turned to alarm. How could I have a new symptom? The discolouring lasted for less than two hours – had I had this before but not noticed? Or…. is it back? Luckily, Ontario is finally letting anyone be tested for COVID. I got my result online within 48 hours.

It feels like a clean slate, a new starting point. No, I won’t be physically joining a protest. Yes, I will be wearing a mask if I need to enter a building. And I will continue to do so for the months that it will take for medical science to make the world feel safe again. Allergies and anxiety I can handle, but I never want to see COVID again.

There’s Always Money in the Banana Stand

 Introduction to Family

The target client is Lindsay Bluth Funke. She has had one session of therapy which she sought due to feeling anxious and as if life holds no meaning. She feels that her family only values her for her appearance; in fact, she feels that appearances are the most important thing to her family.

 Lindsay is married to Tobias Funke who is a non-practicing psychoanalyst and is currently pursuing an unsuccessful acting career. It seems apparent to everyone but Tobias that he is likely gay. The couple has one child, Mae Funke, who goes by the nickname Maeby. Maeby is on her third attempt of her final year in high school.

            Lindsay discovered in her adulthood that she was adopted. She had previously believed herself to be the twin of her brother Michael, who currently runs the family business. The news of her adoption was startling for her, but encouraging to Michael’s son George Michael, as he is in love with Maeby. Michael and Lindsay have an older brother George Oscar Bluth (GOB) who is an unemployed magician and who is unmarried but recently discovered he has a son. Despite having never done anything constructive, GOB often appears to have his father’s favour. They have a younger brother, Byron “Buster” Bluth who is the youngest in their family of origin and is extremely fused with their mother.

            Lindsay’s adopted father is George Bluth, who created the family company and accrued a great deal of wealth for the family, meaning the adult children do not need to work. The exception to this is Michael who has taken over running the business and whose job it is to keep the family ‘together’. George often speaks cryptically. For example, all throughout their childhoods, the Bluth children have heard him say “There’s always money in the banana stand.” The banana stand is a beach front kiosk that sells frozen bananas. Michael takes this to mean that there is value and reward for working hard and serving the clients face to face, and it motivates him to work harder. George actually meant that there was literally money stashed in the banana stand, a fact Michael learns regrettably after accidentally burning down the banana stand. Buster has recently learned that George is not his father, but rather Oscar is. Oscar is the identical twin of George and he has had an intermittent affair with George’s wife, Lucille Bluth. While George attempts to mold his children by selectively withholding approval, Lucille’s method is selectively withholding affection. It is from Lucille that Lindsay, and on occasion her daughter Maeby most often receive the messaging that their values are held in their appearance.

            Due to their wealth and their notoriety in the community, the Bluths are very much in the public eye. Lindsay is not concerned about her husband’s lack of income as they can draw funds from the family business. She feels that her freedom from employment prevents her from having any value in the world and deprives her from having a sense of purpose. When asked, “What about Maeby?” she replied, “OK, maybe I have no purpose. But if I have one, I don’t know what it is!”

            When Lindsay told Tobias she was going to therapy, he was supportive of the idea and told her the problems he could see in her. She mentioned that they might go together, and he laughingly said that wouldn’t be needed because as a psychoanalyst himself, he has no problems. She asked her extended family if they would come because she felt their dynamic would be too difficult to describe in their absence, and they said she should try it out and if she didn’t lose interest, they would consider it. The intricacies of this family have been detailed by Modern Roots (n.d.) as shown in the following diagram.

 

Sessions One and Two – Lindsay

Solution Focused Therapy is selected to begin with Lindsay as she has some immediate feelings that are problems looking for solutions. As her family members do not see themselves to be in need of therapy, this model is not appropriate for them as clients need to want to change for this model to be effective (Gladding, 2019). Lindsay’s concerns are with her family, and how they view her, and the anxiety caused from wanting to see herself as worthy and valuable in other ways. The goal will be to help Lindsay create enough change to give her the “confidence and optimism” (Gladding, 2019, p.334) required to bring family members into future sessions.

In particular we will work with exceptions and assertiveness training. In session Lindsay will think of occasions her family has praised or valued her for something other than her physical appearance and will begin a list of ‘other things my family likes about me.’ Her homework in these early sessions is to notice and record any instance of her family praising her for anything other than her looks.

With assertiveness training under her belt, Lindsay’s other challenge at home will be to thank her family for noticing her other positive aspects thereby encouraging them to do more of what is working. Additionally, and more challenging, she will use ‘I statements’ (this is borrowed from feminist theory, which will flavour all sessions) to explain to her family how it affects her when they see her looks only. She has previously quietly accepted their appraisals, here she will “do something different.” (Gladding, 2019, p.333)

Sessions Three and Four – Lindsay, and then Lindsay with Tobias and Maeby

Feminist Family Therapy will inform the breadth of Lindsay’s treatment, but will be the focus of the middle sessions so that she, her husband, and their daughter gain insight into feminist thought and move together to a more egalitarian household. Some aspects of their family make Feminist Family Therapy appropriate: Lindsay is feeling powerless to resist the expectations and shallow thinking of her extended family; Lindsay has very little relationship with either her mother or her daughter; Tobias has crippling body image concerns that prevent him from ever being unclothed and refuses to look at his likely homosexuality in the context of his wife’s family where there is a wide gender divide and men make the money and the decisions. For each member of this family, the goal of Feminist Family Therapy as written by Bitter (2014) should be held up: to “seek to empower clients to take control of their lives and free them from rigid expectations and structures.” (p.355)

Care will be taken to establish an egalitarian therapeutic relationship with Lindsay from the outset. Despite her wealth and relative fame, there can still be a power difference in the counseling relationship and this needs to be leveled out so Lindsay experiences equality and a relationship where her words, thoughts, and feelings are valued and important. Once she is comfortable with this, and as her family members are brought in, they will see this consistently modeled. Maeby and Lucille will be able to experience Lindsay being treated with respect and can start to imagine this for themselves in other relationships.

Sessions Five and Six – Full Extended Family

While this family would benefit from a systems-based approach for therapy, it is unlikely they would commit to the work and time that this would entail. With the target client being Lindsay, we will work to create small changes in the family members and family as a whole to give Lindsay room to achieve her own goals and to maintain her change within her family setting. The success of this method will hinge on the family members accepting that the problem is actually a problem. The problem that Lindsay voiced and that is shared by the whole family in different ways is ‘caring only about appearance.’ The family business was established on appearances in that the homes they built look good but have no structural integrity. JOB’s career in magic is premised on appearances. Lucille is more concerned with the attractiveness and reputation of the family than with anyone’s well-being. For each family member it can be shown that there is a stark over-emphasis on appearance equaling worth. If the family can accept that this is a problem, the sessions will proceed to externalizing this problem. The benefit of this is the family can separate themselves as family members from the problem itself and cooperate in tackling the problem as they have banded together to fight external pressures such as keeping George and Lucille out of jail. As the family has many display models of their real estate development, one such model house can be used as a focal point to represent the problem in session, although gently perhaps as even the models are poorly constructed. In these sessions then, the Bluths will not be focused on ‘helping Lindsay’ but rather on building awareness of and solutions to their shared problem.

Inherent in this process will be asking questions around how the problem has affected each person” (p.348) according to Gladding (2019). Rather than address each other, which could start a pattern of blaming each other, the family members will address the model home as the problem of being over focused on appearances in statements formed in a semblance of  “You have had this effect on my life and because of that I have done these things.” The family can learn more about each other, build awareness of how each has been affected by this family rule, and learn compassion for each other.

Another technique that will be used with the whole family, that comes from Narrative Therapy but is common to Solution Focused Therapy as well, is to look for exceptions. The family will be given the homework to look for exceptions in their appreciation of each other and take note of when these appreciations are for non-appearance traits. They will be further challenged to voice these compliments to each other and to note how it feels to be the giver or recipient of these compliments.

Reconvening after the first week of engaging in this homework, the family will be encouraged to discuss the compliments that were exchanged and thereby begin compiling an aggregate of family strengths. These strengths will be written down in a manner familiar to the family, perhaps on a flip chart if that is what is used in the business. The conversation will be opened up to brainstorming other strengths that are not immediately apparent, so the family learns to take pride in assets that are not tied to public image or physical appearance.

While the family will be moving into a new technique to bring some focus back onto Lindsay, we will not fully drop Narrative Therapy. Their homework will continue and as sessions draw to a close, the therapy team will give letters to the family members to “serve as a medium for continuation of the dialogue between the therapist and family members and as a reminder of what occurred in the therapy session” (p.350). Following the Narrative Therapy model, there will be a celebration complete with certificates to mark the last session of therapy as a group.

Sessions Seven and Eight – Full Extended Family

Leaning into the Bluth family’s love of entertaining, the next few sessions will culminate in a Parts Party taken from the Satir model (Satir, Banmen, Gerber, & Gomori, 1991). Lindsay will take the role of the host as our target client, and the family members will be cast as her varied parts. One reason this family might be so focused on external appearance could be that they carry shame for aspects of themselves; that they see some of their parts as ‘bad’. In a Parts Party, according to the authors, a participant “looks closely at the many parts we human beings have, how we handle them, and how we can transform them into resources for being whole and congruent” (p.175).

There are some expected outcomes from the Parts Party. Firstly, Lindsay can acknowledge, accept, and transform her parts and inner rules. There are bound to be hidden resources she will discover as well as parts of herself previously labeled as ‘bad’ that can be transformed into resources. By participating in this process for Lindsay, her family members will learn to see her as a complex and multi-layered whole instead of their current two-dimensional view of her.

Her family members, by virtue of interacting with and as Lindsay’s parts, will recognize and discover their own forgotten or hidden parts. They may find themselves surprised by how well they can portray one of Lindsay’s ‘bad’ parts and realize it is because they mirror the part within themselves. Recognizing this can build empathy within the family as well as build self-awareness and personal growth in the family members which is a goal of the sessions in order to give Lindsay a more fertile ground within which to plant the seeds of her personal change.

Another expected outcome will be as Lindsay uncovers and voices the unspoken rules she lives by; the family members can reflect on the extent to which they either also follow these rules or had a role in creating said rules. Done cooperatively, this uncovering of implied family rules can allow the family to transform them to more helpful messages together.

Session Nine and Beyond – Individual and Dyadic Sessions with Family Members

While each member of the Bluth family would benefit from Psychodynamic Therapy, many may not be willing to commit to the longer, more in-depth process. As therapy with the whole group will therefore be coming to a close, we will orient them to this upcoming ending and summarize the changes and discoveries that have been made. The final session with the group as a whole will include a ceremony and certificates in line with Narrative Therapy, and with a playful tone fitting to the Satir Model.

My hope is that Lindsay and Tobias will continue for a longer term delve into Psychodynamic Therapy. Up until this point, sessions have mostly focused on the present and on the future; on identifying problems and solving them, but not on how those problems arose. After doing so much personal work and building up her self-worth through saturation in the feminist model, my hope is that Lindsay will be willing to examine and heal the past that brought her to this point. Tobias, who is the most obviously conflicted of the group, may need to do the same in order to keep their marriage intact. Having uncovered and worked with aspects of her Self in the Satir model, and externalized and reauthored her problem with Narrative Therapy, Lindsay will have ample material to work with in a Psychodynamic model. With the confidence and sense of worth achieved through the influence of Solution Focused Therapy and Feminist Therapy, and through a strong therapeutic alliance, Lindsay will have the strength and resources required to take this next step in differentiation and personal freedom.

 


 

References

Bitter, J.R. (2014) Theory and practice of family therapy and counseling. 2nd ed. Belmont, CA:

Brooks/Cole, Cengage Learning.

Gladding, S.T. (2019). Family therapy: History, theory, and practice (7th ed.). New York, NY:

Pearson.

Modern Roots. (n.d.). The expanded family tree of the Bluths. Retrieved from

https://vignette.wikia.nocookie.net/arresteddevelopment/images/a/a7/Bluth_family_tree_infographic.jpg/revision/latest?cb=20150918151412

Satir, V., Banmen, J., Gerber, J., Gomori, M. (1991). The Satir model. Family therapy and

beyond. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, Inc.