the circular runner

Posts Tagged ‘work issues’

group therapy at the workplace…

In observations on October 23, 2010 at 10:00 am

some therapists just make me mad

OK, so here it goes. The non-profit I work for recently hired a couple therapists to come in and consult about the dynamics of the organization, which in theory, is not a bad idea, actually. There’s a lot of overlap and a lot of territorial thinking, and like every other workplace, there’s a lot of ego and insecurity. But here’s the thing: in practice, I’m not sure what to make of the meetings that we have with these therapists. The staff has been broken up into small groups that meet bi-weekly. I’m tempted to describe these get-togethers as being group therapy sessions, but that’s not quite right because then there would be an obvious goal of some kind. As far as I can tell, the therapist has some plan for us. She really wants us to move in a certain direction, but she just doesn’t want to come clean about it. She wants us to believe that we have come upon this direction on our own.

Maybe the best way to show you what I mean is to show you what I mean. As the writing teachers of the world say, “show, don’t tell.” So, imagine, if you will, a therapist who speaks in calming tones sitting in a dimly lit, dingy rec-room at a long table with four employees who probably should be doing something else with their time apart from sitting in said room with said therapist. (We work with under-served young people in the Mission in San Francisco, by the way.) Now, imagine the following exchange:

Therapist: I thought we’d start things off by going over some of our wish-list for how to improve the way the organization functions. Would that be ok with everyone?
(SILENCE. Employees look down at their papers. A couple braver souls look up but avoid eye contact with therapist at all costs.)
Employee #1: I guess I’ll start.
Therapist: Good. Great!!
Employee #1: I guess because of who I am and because of my interests, I’d like to start a birthday calendar. I think it would be good for morale if every month, we’d do something special for each other.
Therapist: OK, yes. Nice. (Big, calming smile.) So what I’m hearing you say is that you’d like to help people feel special because of your interests and because of who you are. Would you say that that is a fair interpretation?
Employee #1: Umm, I guess. I guess that’s what I mean.
Therapist: Good. Yes. And not to put you on the spot, but would you feel comfortable coming up with an action statement for this very worthwhile project?
Employee #1: I guess. What’s an action statement?
Therapist: Oh, it’s just a way of breaking down your goals into manageable chunks. We don’t want anyone here to be overwhelmed. (Bigger, more calming smile.)
Employee #1: So what are you asking for, exactly?
Therapist: We just want to know if you can come up with–oh I don’t know–a way of cutting up this really wonderful goal into smaller goals. Do you think that would work for you?
Employee #1: I guess I could go and find out everyone’s birthdays?
Therapist: Yes!! Yes, that’s a great first step.
Employee #1: And then I could make the calendar and put the dates in.
Therapist: Yes. That’s wonderful Now, tell me: I’m hearing that you are going to find out everyone’s birthdays and then you’re going to record those days on a calendar?
Employee #1: Yeah.
Therapist: Great. That’s really great. I think we’re really making progress here. Let’s go to the next person. Would that be ok with everyone?

Maybe you’re wondering if this therapist gets paid for this? I imagine so, and though we are a poor organization, we are probably paying her well to hear us out, and to repeat what we say with slightly different prepositions prefaced by a cooing-therapeutic-support voice. And she does this for each of us until our hour of power is over. I’m trying not to complain. I mean, I am complaining a little, but it’s difficult to listen to a voice that sounds like the female equivalent of Hal from 2001. It makes me feel like I’m being manipulated, actually. I mean, Hal was trying to sound calm as he was taking over a ship that was about to blow up, and in a way, the therapist is doing the same thing. For all her language of open exchange, the fact is that she has an agenda. I just wish she’d admit it. That would make me feel relaxed. All I’m feeling now is tension. For the whole hour, I’m constantly hoping my face won’t twitch, or worse, grimace.

This situation, of course, could be one serious cliche. The therapist is all touchy-feely, and I, being a man and not in touch with that softer side of myself, want to run away and hide in my man-cave. It’s possible. But then again, maybe the therapist is just lame and I need to rant. My colleague who feels that the best way to help the organization is to have a little b-day party for employees every month has every right to believe that. And if he is willing to go out and get other people interested in helping him set these things up, then I say, “Great. Have at it!” But did we need to pay someone to tell him that she heard him saying what he said and that she suggested (never pushed or cajoled) that he should then go out and do what he said he was going to do anyway? I don’t think so.

I won’t bore you with the details of my wish. I’ll just tell you that my action plan for the next week is to write my boss an e-mail (my boss was there at the meeting, btw) in order to remind her to send other staff an e-mail asking them if they can come to yet another meeting in which we all tell each other what we want and hear each other out, and, more than likely, repeat back what each of us just said to each other and look pleased while doing so. Is this what therapists do? Is this community building in the workplace? Let me tell you, if the road to community is paved with more and more meetings and soft, computer-sounding tranquility, and therapists keeping us happy and underwhelmed, then please hear what I am saying to you now: I’m going to go out and find myself a cave, and I’m going to do it soon.



In teaching & education, Uncategorized on May 26, 2010 at 12:33 pm

It’s late. My wife is asleep and I should be doing the same, but I just got home from teaching my “hot-shots”–the kids who think white people have no culture. This week we moved on to patriotism and what it means to be American. But this post won’t be dealing with that so much. The more interesting issue and the reason why this post is called “sucking” has to do with how I feel. You see early on in tonight’s class, while my students usually are journaling, one of them ( a student I’ve written about before) started in with his usual schtick: while the rest of the room was settling in to write on the prompt I assigned, he started in with “what are we supposed to do? I don’t get what a Liberal is?” There was a lot of giggling at his table. He was playing the clown, but at the heart of it, he was probably really confused by the prompt I gave. It wasn’t easy. I was asking them to think about what the words “liberal” and “conservative” mean. And these kids are not political. Anyway, instead of encouraging the clown to be quiet and start writing, I took another tack. I very forcefully told him that he had to his best and just write something. I didn’t care what. He just had to be quiet. This may not sound so bad, but if you don’t know me, then imagine a 6 foot 3 inch bald man looking like he was about to kill someone, and you’ll get my point. I lost it. He knew it. And for the rest of the class, this smart clown didn’t make one peep. He was offended. I know it. I lost him. My only hope is that I didn’t lose him for the duration. Sometimes with the community I teach, this is more than possible.

My other more immediate hope is that once I am offline, I’ll let it go. I’m pooped, so I probably will be able to sleep, but there’s tomorrow and a long drive to work’s worth of beating myself up that I want to avoid. I know I’m human. I make mistakes. The religious side of me wants to ask God for forgiveness. I can’t say I’m the best church-goer, but I often start my day with St. Francis’ Peace Prayer. In those words, I try to remind myself it’s my job to help when I can and to get out of the way when I can’t. Tonight I didn’t quite hit that mark. In the end, if I can’t let it go, there’s not much point in taking it to the Divine. Oh well, I’ll try to let it go. I will let it go. See, I let it go (kind of).

bitch-fest–teacher style…

In teaching & education, Uncategorized on May 21, 2010 at 1:41 am

I love teaching, and I’m lucky enough to be able to do it at the college level, which is what I wanted and why I went to grad school for three years.  There is a hitch, though: I teach at a private community college, which is just like a public one except that it’s a lot more expensive and sometimes feels like a bit of a factory.  This is the kind of place where kids are encouraged not to think, but to be practical, to get ahead and to get out.  They don’t always know why they are here.  They are after better jobs and better futures, but I am not sure they’ve been made to think about what those phrases mean.

Enter the faculty.  We’re supposed to challenge them to figure out where they are heading after graduation.  That’s what I think, though many of my colleagues on faculty are not really interested in this kind of question either.  I’m not sure the administrators would want me to do much of this either, to be honest. 

Anyway, that’s the backdrop.  Now here’s the question that I put out to anyone who has an answer for me.  What do you do if you love your job, but your job requires you to work all the time, and not getting paid very much for it and sometimes even beats you down for trying to do too good of a job?  I know I may sound like a whiner, and I apologize.  If I keep this post, I may delete some of the previous paragraph.  Truth is though that I don’t feel like I have much time for anything but my job.  I don’t see my wife enough.  When I’m home, I’m always grading (or trying to avoid grading).  But on the other hand, working an office job (the other lot for a person with an advanced degree in the Humanities) sucks.  Sure, there’s no HW to grade, but your mind has to be turned off for eight hours at a time.

I know.  I am complaining.  But does anyone have any ideas?

%d bloggers like this: