Practicum Internship Lessons

A practicum is kind of like a residency. An internship where you do actual therapy work supervised by more experienced people who sign off on all your work. My practicum internship was hard. One of the hardest times of my life. But not because of the clients. Below is a reflection from the middle of my internship:

I look forward to most of the interactions with the clients. I like the kids (most of them) and I like their parents (most of them). I actually love the kids, it’s like my heart is made of velcro and almost all of them stick onto me. Not all, but most. I’m excited to meet each one and hear the story, try to put the puzzle together with the clues they share and the ones they hold back.

I like being the person who hears their complaints and their skewed versions of their lives. I know it will be very different from their parents’ versions, and their teachers’ versions. I like being the one who listens as if what they say is true. I also like gently pointing out their doublespeak, their evasive tactics and the holes in their stories.

I like making the really sad ones smile. Even getting them to furrow their brow feels like entre with some of them; the ones whose affects are flattened or who can hardly hold their heads up. It turns out that many of the things that make me awkward with adults, actually work pretty well with troubled kids. I am often impulsive, irreverent and weird. I have no poker face and other people’s emotions get under my skin quickly.

I wish I could draw people a picture of these kids and what I like about them. I find the boys especially easy to fall for. When I meet them, I want to hug them and hold their faces in my hands. What I do is shake their hands and look them in the eye. If they have a good handshake, I compliment it and ask them who taught them how to shake hands like a gentleman (even if their girls). If it’s a terrible handshake I make a mental note of that.

What they do is break my heart. The kids I see are on the troubled end of the spectrum. Somehow they’ve gotten onto the radar of the The County. Could be because the school social worker is worried about the mental health of a kid. Could be that their probation or parole Officer thinks there’s more to a kid’s truancy, shoplifting or assaultive behavior than just badness. Might be that a Child Protective Services worker meets the kid and family and believes there’s a mental health problem with the kid. Every once a while, it’s a parent who is desperate to get mental health attention for their kid and doesn’t know where else to turn.

The other big way I meet kids is if they, or their parents, or their school calls the children’s crisis line. For example if a kid at school says he or she wants to kill him or herself, they might call the crisis line to assess the suicide risk for the kid. I go out on crisis calls sometimes, even though my main job is to do diagnostic assessments on kids who are not in crisis at the moment. Often the crisis line will refer a kid for a diagnostic assessment and referral for services.

Often, there’s something wrong with the kid. I see lots of kids with anxiety, lots with depression (they’re best friends, anxiety and depression). I see kids with PTSD and kids who are grieving and can’t move through it without help. I see kids who are stressed out, who have personality disorders and kids who are just pissed off. I see kids who are low functioning intellectually, in low functioning families, in a world that is fast moving and tends to prey on the easy marks.

Some are, for whatever reason, just rotten or naughty. They are making their families miserable and they are unwilling or unable to behave and stay out of trouble. Some have lost multiple friends to gunshots, jail, heart failure, car accidents. Stupid bullshit to have to deal with when you’re 17. Two the kids had lost multiple friends in the previous year. And by lost I mean either to death or to incarceration.

Many of them have problems with drugs and alcohol. Almost none of those kids are ready to stop using substances that seem to tame their biggest demons, but sap their motivation, kill their ability to tell the truth and cause them to hurt themselves people who care about them.

One of my kids doesn’t sleep well. His apartment has rats and bedbugs and they wake him or scare him. Many of my kids have serious mental illness in their families. One kid is really worried about growing up to have schizophrenia. She has family members on both sides who are schizophrenic. Lots of them are unsure where and with whom they will live in six months. Christ! Of course they’re troubled.



Because I don’t feel good right now. Because it’s too hot. Because someone might come home. Because I should be doing homework. Because I should be looking for a job. Because I should be doing laundry. Because I have to take X to X appt. Because I want to talk about X person in a good way. Because I want to talk about X person in a bad way. Because I’m worried about X. Because I’m worried about Y. Because I’m worried about Z. Because I didn’t get good sleep last night. Because I should be working on X. Because other people are home. Because other people might come home soon. Because I’m sleepy. Because it’s almost time for X.

Because I have nothing to say. Because what I have to say could make someone mad. Because what I have to say could embarrass someone. Because it’s nobody’s business. Because nobody cares about my boring life. Because the interesting parts are nobody’s business. Because I hate when I hear people say they’re writers. Because I love people. Because I hate people. Because I hate myself. Because I’m a freak. Because I’m totally normal.
All the reasons I have had for not writing. Here they are.  So easy to go shopping or wash a floor instead. So easy to log onto fb instead. And I am hungry, and sleepy, and tired, and I don’t feel good.

Hi.I’m trying again.

Enter the crazy

That’s the thing about the crazy. It makes sense at the time. If not, you’re dealing with something other than the crazy.  That’s The Crazy’s claim to fame, is that it can make any old weird thing seem sane. It came upon me a couple weeks ago, just like it might come to you. I can look back on it now and laugh, but it could have gone the other way, where it looks back on me and laughs.

I was washing dishes at the sink as the dishwasher was washing dishes under the counter. Sometimes a person has to do this. I was just doing my thing, you know? Washing the wine glasses that were too tall to fit in the dishwasher. As I was daydreaming and washing dishes, I heard a noise in the dishwasher. It was a kind of creaking, but not really a creaking, more of a croaking…. OK, what it was, was a quacking noise. It sounded something like what you might imagine a duck might sound like if it were caught in the dishwasher.

I was mulling this, rolling it around absentmindedly in my head when one of the voices which usually speak in a kind of muddled crowd-speak when mulling things over, one of these voices spoke up and said, “It does sound a lot like a duck. A lot like a duck.” That was the beginning of the argument that happened in my head for the next few minutes. It went something like this:

A LOT like a duck.

It’s not a duck.

How hard would it be to just open the dishwasher and check?

You’re the crazy. There are not ducks in the dishwasher.

Maybe I’m the crazy, but for god’s sake why not check? It really sounds just like a duck.

It sounds something like a duck, but there wasn’t a duck in there when the dishwasher started ten minutes ago.

Anything can happen. That noise is seriously duck-like. Why not just check? What bad could come of that?

Dude. A duck could seriously never have gotten in to the dishwasher. Hell a duck couldn’t even get in the back door.

The sound is getting a little quieter. Be pretty sad if a duck got killed just because we didn’t just take a peek.

This is how people start going crazy.

This is Awkward

I couldn’t write. Couldn’t. Wouldn’t. You wanna know why? Yeah me too. So many whys. It’s just us, though, right? Let me share some of them with you. What I don’t write about, haven’t written about much is Shame. Shame is holding me back. Deserved or undeserved shame is weighing me down. Fat, slouchy shame and his pointy sister, jealousy. 

I haven’t been able to really write for years. I write best about pain, anger and suffering. I’m not an angry person, but I need to process my anger externally and that seems to beget some sort of connection with people when I write. It all started years ago when I had a seriously interesting experience in a foreign country and couldn’t tell the tale without sacrificing some people at the altar of disclosure. I didn’t do it. Thus began a downward spiral of stagnation and loss. 

First, I haven’t written about my most intimate struggles because they’ve been with people I love, and don’t want to trash publicly. People I’ve lost in that ambiguous way we lose people sometimes, nay, most of the times we lose people, I’d venture to say it’s an ambiguous loss. Ambiguous loss is the allergy of losses. Very few people really understand how miserable you are, because you don’t have a real disease. But god dammit, allergies suck as much as a cold. More, maybe, because people who don’t have them are much less sympathetic.

Some people I lost weren’t mine to begin with. Some aren’t really for sure lost. Some are both. Some have  self destructed before me in ways most people don’t see, but I see. Some have avoided me because they know I recognize self destruction and they don’t want to burden me. It has hurt my heart and my soul to be able to be so fond of people. I don’t know how else to be, but I don’t know how to talk about it. It’s cumbersome to carry such things inside you.

Secondly I haven’t written because some of what I feel the urge to write about is of an intimate AND graphic nature and one of the things that hurts my feelings most of all is to hear “TMI, lisa”. I overshare, I know. I don’t have a mode that’s moderate. When I stopped being able to share candidly, I couldn’t share at all. Maybe this could be averted by posting a warning, like a skull and crossbones, or a vagina (!) at the beginning of some postings. People could opt out. Or better yet, they could pretend like they opted out and read with guilty and perverse fascination… I see promise in this. 

Thirdly, my writing energy has been subsumed by graduate school writing which, for the most part is unchallenging, unrewarding and unworthy of public consumption. I’m almost done with graduate school for now, so that will take care of itself. 

Fourth, I really need to write about my family, but haven’t figured out how to do that without alienating them. I’m so jealous of those talented assholes who can tell their real, unvarnished, brutally honest, but clearly (to me, but not their families) fond stories of family melodrama. I have some important shit to say. God dammit, what if I can never say it because I’m too fucking decent? That’s some bullshit right there. 

Fifth, I’m ashamed that I’m not the best writer. I’m jealous of people with discipline or talent, or god forbid, both. I hate them. They’ve paralyzed me instead of inspiring me. I’m ashamed of that. Oh Jesus, ashamed of my jealousy! Can it get any more circular?

Lastly, and just FYI: I’ve been depressed for a couple months. I’m not prone to depression, generally. It’s terribly uncomfortable, oppressive and full of suck. Nobody wants to read about how sad you are, really. Even therapists have to get paid to do it. Depressives, you have my sympathies. I hope to  be able to help you all once I finish my fantastically inspiring and worthwhile graduate program in counseling psychology. 

I’m trying to come back to writing, if anybody cares. It’s been a hard couple years and I tried to process them inside my head without much success. I know this, right here, is crap. But I have to wade through the crap, I think. 




Don’t You EVah

I attend a rather prestigious institution. I’ve been a little torn about attending this institution, but it served my need for a structured graduate program with evening courses in psychology. We’ve had a sort of grudging acceptance of each other for the last year or so.

One of the bothersome things about the program is that it seems to be growing outside its limits, meaning there are too many students and not enough qualified instructors. I have had a degree plan arranged since the first semester. That’s how it works: you look at the courses available and the courses required, you look at which semesters your courses are taught and which are prerequisites for which. Then you consider which are required for practicum.

Practicum is a kind of residency/internship period required to get to the point where you can practice counseling psychology as a professional and to graduate from the program (there are other hoops to jump through to get licensed, as well).

I worked hard getting my plan to line up. Logistics isn’t exactly my forte, so it took me a really long time. Hours and days, matching various prerequisites for practicum and prerequisites-for-prerequisites- for practicum, with available courses offered each semester. Some courses are offered every semester, some are offered once a year. Some are horrifying ten hours, once a month ordeals (which I tried to avoid). Some are twice a week, some are once a week for 5 hours during the summer semester. It’s a lot of information to process, and as I’ve said, I’m not that good at juggling all those datapoints in my dainty little head. My advisor looked at my plan, double checked it and signed off on it.

 As I was getting close to practicum, I had to fill out another form showing how I planned to complete my prereqs by practicum time. We hammered it out on yet another planning form, and talked a little about what kind of a course load I could handle. We signed the form and went off marching.

Last semester when I went to register at noon on the first day of registration, all of my planned courses were full. Often this is solved at universities I’ve attended by adding a section or adding seats to a section that already exists. Alternatively, if I get on a waiting list and shown up for class,I’ve gotten in to whatever class I’ve wanted. The waiting list for these classes were full and no new sections were being added. People in the halls (except those lucky enough to have registered in the morning) were pissed off.

I went to the second string and tried to rearrange some things to make it so I’d take care of my practicum requirements on time (you can only start practicum certain times during the year). I spoke with my advisor and we hammered out a new plan. The new plan required me to take a horrific weekend course taught once a moth from 4 to 10pm on Friday and 9 to 1pm on Saturday. There are three weeks between class weekends. It sucks, but I signed up for it and I’m doing it because that’s the plan.

Today, in advance of registration opening on Monday, I sat down Friday afternoon to look and see what my schedule might be over the summer. The two classes on my planning form for this summer are both offered over the summer, however, they are offered on the Same Night of the Week. There’s no way I can do both.

The guy who’s in charge of practicum stuff is a nice guy. I felt like we hit it off immediately when I met him for the first time. I was actually thinking of setting up a meeting with him to discuss the doctoral program. He seemed more engaged than my regular advisor, who is nice, but seems slightly disinterested.

I called this more engaged guy and told him my problem. Hmmm… he looked at the courses I needed to take in the summer. When did I start the program? Hmmm… When was I supposed to start practicum? Hmmm. And then he said the following:

“You know, I hate to say this… but if the classes are on the same night? These course offerings have been available for quite a while. You really need to plan ahead. You needed to be planning ahead for your courses. There’s not much we can do.”

Oh my jesus, I need to PLAN? I need a fucking PlaN? Then I went on facebook and posted my response (which I didn’t say to the actual guy).

Imagine if I Were Your Mom

Today I received the following email.

Dear Mr. & Ms. Morgan,

Jasper has brought it to my attention that he does not have a graphing calculator.  Our Algebra II class is going to begin using graphing calculators heavily this upcoming week.  It is important for Jasper’s success in Algebra II for him to have a graphing calculator.

I understand that graphing calculators are an expensive purchase, but consider this an investment.  Jasper will continue to use it as he continues on into higher level math classes.  Please let me know if you cannot afford a graphing calculator because SPCPA wants to support your student in his education.

Thank you for your support.


To which I was compelled to respond:


I think we may, indeed have a graphing calculator. If we don’t have one, we will purchase one, fear not. It will get lost within a few months, however, and we won’t buy another one, but probably find one in the lost and found. I know the drill.

I wish you hadn’t said that thing about it being an investment, because I have to say, I don’t actually think of this as an investment at all, but more a sort of unholy alliance the education system has forged with Texas Instruments. We have purchased (and lost) a multitude of such calculators over the years since our first son was in high school. Never have we or any of our children actually used such a device outside of high school classes. No one I know has. Ever.

My son isn’t college bound any time soon, so he won’t need it for his college classes, either. Personally I think the school should buy enough to mount on the math room tables or better yet, teach them how to find a good application on the internet, which is what they will be doing when they leave SPCPA, should they decide to engage in complicated math.

I don’t mean to take this out on you, I understand you need to run a uniform sort of ship or your job would be inordinately difficult. We will get a graphing calculator, forthwith and it will cost over $100.00 to get the model specified by the school. I get newly outraged every year when I have to do this. We are middle class folks. It isn’t a hardship for us, but for many of your students it really is. There’s something wrong with the system, here.

~lisa morgan

That Girl

I always wanted to be the kind of woman who accessorizes.  I like scarves, headbands, jewelry.  Problem is, I’m not that kind of woman. The scarf seems to end up wearing me at some point, and I’m pretty sure I’m supposed to be in charge.  Hell, I can barely wear a belt without some sort of consternation. Boots or fancy shoes are sort of a stretch, but I’m working on that.

To me accessories imply a kind of grace, maturity, confidence, organization, put-togetherness….  I don’t know how to say it well. Someone who can wear a scarf on her head without having cancer implies a kind of attitude that says, “just for now, I’m able to live in the world and not in my own head.”An acceptance that you may or may  not be the main character, but you’re comfortable with your part on stage.  I find that in my life I’m frequently unable to get over even being on stage.

I went to my class on Thursday.  I ‘m the teacher.  When you teach adults, latino adults, especially, you have to think about your outfits in a way I’m not accustomed to.  Latinos have no problem telling you they like your skirt, or sweater or boots.  The men take it a step further, even.  And want to have a conversation about why American women dress the way they do.

There’s this back-handed insult/compliment thing they do. It goes something like this: “You looks rily pritty today.” I blush and say thanks, they continue, “How to say wear something nice?” I pause, “I think what you’re looking for is, “Dressed Up”. “mmm Dress-up? Why American women usually don’t wear emm, skirt and nice things? You like so much the jean and clothez not so nice like you have on now.”

They want to know why American women wear pants so often, why they wear clothes that are so loose, why they don’t wear heels.  They have no idea that complaining about the clothing of another person is inappropriate.  It’s unnerving. Or they tease each other, “You don’t paying attention, only focus on she skirt and boots.”

I try to dress up for my class.  I usually wear conservative or modest clothes.  More so when I taught Muslim students.  You don’t want to distract your students from the lesson plan by flashing your midriff  while you’re writing on the board.  I wore lots of jumpers when I taught the Somalis.

My current group is all Latinos.  Last week I wore knee-high boots and an asymmetrical skirt.  When my students showed up, the first woman to arrive told me I looked very nice, she liked my skirt and boots.  The first man to arrive complimented me as well.  Then the woman started making comments that she thought the  men weren’t paying attention to the lesson because they were too busy looking at me and my great outfit.

This week I had weird hair.  Hair so weird that I needed to wear a headband in order to disguise its weirdness.  The headband I picked out was very stretchy and tight.  It matched my outfit, which was a bonus.  I was a little nervous about it, because I’m not the kind of person who accessorizes without feeling self-conscious.  I had a nagging doubt about wearing it, but the problem is that I have a nagging doubt about almost everything I wear. If I wear most normal clothes, I feel confident, but constricted. The tags itch, the waistbands chafe or slide around. If I wear my comfies, which I do almost every day, I worry my husband will stop loving me. This is not as outrageous as it sounds, just ask him. If I wear dressy shoes, the noise they make makes me feel ostentatious.

Keep in mind, I haven’t even gotten to the place where I decide if I should accessorize. If I wear a scarf, it’s likely to migrate one way or the other. If I wear a hair ornament of some type, it might slide down the back of my pointy head, leaving me with very weird hair and a cloth band hanging from the back of my collar. Jewelry dangles into my food if I’m out, catches on things.

When I get those nervous feelings, I chide myself.  What am I so worried about? It’s a headband, not a scepter or crown.

I started teaching my class, which turned out to not be my classroom.  Someone had locked my actual classroom, so I moved into the next-door classroom.  I have started to wear dark colors when I teach, the better to not get white-board marker obviously all over myself.  The new classroom had no white board, but it did have a blackboard and chalk.  Not ideal, but it would work.

I began teaching.  As I did, I noticed my headband started to slowly, slowly creep backwards on my head.  This was concerning, but I yanked on it every two minutes or so and it went back into place.  It made it hard for me to think about what I was saying.  I was self conscious because I knew every time a teacher touches her hair or face, the students notice.  Every time she adjusts her clothes, they notice.

I was teaching about phrasal verbs, I think.  But I wasn’t focused on phrasal verbs.  I was focused on the headband slipping backwards on my head, getting smaller, smaller. .  I pulled it forwards a couple times, but that only seemed to speed up the process.

It’s hard to explain how disturbing a wardrobe malfunction is while one is in front of a group.  I talked verbs, answered questions.  I knew, though, and they knew that this headband was a mistake.  After about 30 minutes of clumsily surreptitious attempts to keep the damn thing in place, I finally pulled it off, tripled it up and used it as a pony-tail holder.  It was bad, but it stopped moving around and bothering us all.

This type of stupid event is what keeps me from wearing accessories

Sometimes when you wear a headband, it starts sliding around on your head. Sometimes it wants to return to it’s smaller, constricted state from the stretched out hair-holding state. A headband can ruin your night. I k now it seems like an overreaction. I know. But trust me when  tell you, the headband (or belt or scarf or jaunty ribbon) doesn’t want to serve you. It’s got its own life to lead.

You are mistaken if you think the scarf exists for you. You exist for the scarf or headband or belt. You exist to amuse these items. Headbands will slide back on your hair. Or maybe they’ll slide forward. Either way they’ll take whatevever semblance of style you thought you had with them.