Monday, May 25, 2009

'You’re my friend, right?': An Interview with Dr. Jay Hamer

"The way I personally approach psychotherapy is very much about creativity and spontaneity": Dr. Jay Hamer in his traditional therapeutic pose.

You’re a counselor at The College of Saint Rose, but I also know that you like to dabble in music as a hobby. How did you get started with that?
Like a lot of people, I listened to music that I liked as a teenager. Being inspired, I thought, maybe I could make something that sounded sort of like that. So I bought a guitar and started teaching myself to play it.

What do you feel that you get out of being a musician?
I like to do spontaneous things as opposed to just reading music and playing what I see. Being a musician feels playful and joyful. I think as an adult, we often don’t get enough opportunity to experience a sense of play and joyfulness.

Do you feel like it helps you deal with the stress of your job? Would you say music is your preferred coping mechanism?
I would say it is one of my preferred. I also like going to see films. They are probably tied as my two favorite things to relieve stress.

Were you aware that of all the arts, Freud was least receptive to music?
He probably interpreted people playing woodwinds as being orally fixated. Freud suspected that deep down inside we are all conflicted and violent. I imagine he would value art in general, and that it would be both fascinating and scary to him. I didn’t know in particular that he was hard on music.

It is interesting to me that he didn’t care for music, given his fixation on sexuality, particularly childhood sexuality. Music is very sensual, with a great deal of bodily involvement. I can’t help but wonder why he would be more interested in say, poetry than music.

Freud was so grandiose that it was probably as simple as he wasn’t very good at music.

Where do you think creativity fits into psychology when it comes to working with clients?
In my first year of graduate school, I nearly got kicked out of my program for writing a paper explaining what I thought psychotherapy was. I wrote about it as a creative, artistic process, and the professor hated that. I remember him screaming and yelling at me out in the hall. It really caused me to think, and set some goals for myself.

On the one hand, I wanted to quit, but there was something that kicked in with me that said, “No, I think that I know what I’m talking about, and I’m going to stick it out.”

So for me, the way I personally approach psychotherapy is very much about creativity and spontaneity that is informed by empirical literature. I read the literature; I know all the tools and have them at my disposal, but still I am just like an artist picking the right color and the right brush. I still choose the right intervention as informed by research, but ultimately it comes from a creative place.

Do you think that psychoanalytic theory still has validity in today’s society?
I still think it has validity. I think what you have to do with psychoanalytic theory is subtract out the things that are ridiculous, and see what’s left. I think that a significant number of therapists believe that there are psychological processes that are less than conscious.

The most important thing about psychoanalytic theory has to do with transference and counter-transference. I think that anybody that does this work sees that after awhile. Clients often project stuff on to you, by virtue of being their therapist, and those therapists do the same with clients. Having some type of awareness of that process being out there is really important to doing good work.

What was it like working in Rockville, Maryland at Chestnut Lodge, a psychoanalytic-oriented hospital?
In terms of my first job, it was really interesting. It was founded by Harry Stake Sullivan who was in the Freudian line. It was a country club for very rich, very crazy people. Consistent with strict Freudian practice, they met with a psychotherapist four times a week for therapy. They believed that therapy still cured the most ill people. This was starting to change when I was there, but for a long time they tried to never use medication.

A method we used to sedate people was something called “cold wet sheet packs.” A client would be wrestled to the ground and then wrapped in ice-cold sheets. What happens is that when the body is that cold, the blood apparently rushes to the abdominal area and slowly starts to expand. That gradual expansion of warmth in the body is sedating. So, it does actually work.

What was your first day like at John Umstead Hospital?
I walked in, not really knowing where I was. At the time, the patients were doing their morning chores. There was this fellow playing (really loudly) some Jackson Five song, and he had this great big, wonderful, Afro. He was playing air guitar on his mop and I thought, its kind of nice, I kind of like this.

Then this fellow walked up to me, stuck out his hand and said, “You’re my friend, right?”

So I thought, trying to apply all my knowledge, okay, how should I answer this question, I’m not really his friend, but we’re friendly?

While I’m thinking this he said, “You’re my friend, right?!” a little bit louder, a lit bit more agitated. Then I started talking, “I guess.” He got really upset and started saying, “You’re my friend, you’re my friend!”

It started escalating, and I thought Oh my God! What I am going to do? I’m going to be attacked by a patient on my first day! By instinct, I just blurted out, “Yeah, I’m your friend," and then he said, “O.K.,” and he immediately quieted down and walked away.

I think I was fixated on trying to be a professional psychologist, you know, what does theory say is the right thing? All he wanted to hear was that I was his friend. He just wanted some reassurance. It was a good lesson.--Heather Dingman

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday 5/19 in Banalbany

Good morning you crazy Banalbanians. Here's a quick look at what's going on in your 'hood this morning.

Taking a page of New York City's playbook once again, the rest of the state is looking into having chain restaurants and supermarkets post calorie counts of all products that are sold. I wonder if fast food chains are included as part of the deal. I say if we're going to kick the bucket, we might as well do it with something we all do and for cheap. And that's clog our arteries. No one will admit it, but we all know the food is better when you can see the grease through the bag. That's what happened when I went to Five Guys in Glenmont yesterday and felt no guilt at all. I wish we had a McDonald's that looks like that.

Also going on...the state wants to ban text messaging while driving statewide now. Here in Banalbany, Schenectady County are the only ones who have as law and Albany County will join them soon. Pretty soon car makers will make cars where your hands will be glued to the steering wheel the moment you get into the car.

Sounds like a Tuesday morning in Banalbany. What's your story today?

Monday, May 18, 2009

The Cliff-Jumping Shaman-in-Training: An Interview with Megan Wright

"I like to help people": Meg Wright looks into our soul.

Megan Wright is a sophomore who used to go to Saint Rose and now attends University of Vermont in Burlington. I caught up to her on a rare visit to Albany and sat her down to ask about Vermont, hippie stuff, and her studying to become a holistic healer. Yep, that’s right. A Shaman.--Teresa Farrell

So, OK. My Spanish teacher in high school told me I couldn’t apply to any schools in Vermont because ‘bad things’ would happen. I think he meant that I would turn into a hippie. And be on hardcore drugs. But to be fair, nobody's said anything about drugs in this conversation. 

But there are a couple things I’m wondering about. Like how safe do you feel there? And I know you grew up in Virginia, really rural and everything, so just give me a sense, I guess, a comparison of the three?
Well, wow, I could definitely draw more similarities between my home state Virginia and Vermont. As a matter of fact, when I was considering Vermont for transfer over the summer, many people who came through my place of work--a resort in the hills of Virginia--remarked on how similar the mountains and the landscape are, and I would have to agree. And I do feel safe here.

I guess Burlington is the perfect combination of city culture with country vibes and views.

Ok. So I know at least while you were at Saint Rose, you used to be an English major, and music major, which are both pretty creative things. So why did you change to psych? I don’t follow.
 I’m starting to differentiate between my hobbies and potential careers. For me psych was the next logical choice.

Since a young age I've been that person who everyone finds easy to confide in. I feel that I am empathetic and sympathetic and I can offer insight to situations. But the main driving factor of my choice is my desire to help people find their releases.

That’s awesome. So, umm. Do you remember the first time someone did that for you? Like, the first time someone came up to you and was, like, You’re the only person I can tell this to? You don’t have to tell me who it was.
You know I've heard that phrase a surprising amount of times, "I haven't told this to many people," or "You're the only one I can tell this to." I don't remember honestly who the first person was, but the most recent was my friend Kayla.

Cool. So how about this whole therapy thing, the whole holistic medicine business? I know you’re into that, but I’m wondering if you can explain why, cause I know I mean it’s not every day that you go to study psych for the sake of being a holistic healer.
I've always been interested in herbs and their medicinal properties. Did you know most chemical prescriptions have a basis in some herbal counterpart? And when I decided on psych as a major, it was only natural--pun intended [chuckle] to combine the two. [Gets serious again.]

So many people today are dependent on dangerous medications, but with herbs and other alternative healing methods, they can be treated safely and sometimes more effectively.

Right on! I know, I remember once being sick—I was always sick living in the dorms, like once my roommate had pink eye and the stomach bug at the same time and I couldn't escape--but you had this whole arsenal of herbal stuff that you wanted me to try for it. And I never would, but that’s not your fault, I’m just a skeptic. So what is it exactly that you want to do? Is this actually, like, being the Shaman in a tribe sort of thing?!
[Laughs.] Not quite. I am looking into a much more professional setting, but relaxed at the same time. I would like to own a co-op or sorts with a partner, with a sort of "take care of the mind, by taking care of the body" motto. A combined gym, massage, aromatherapy, acupuncture, herbalist place.

So is that like a health spa?
Very similar.

Sweet. So ok, now, I know you go to school in Vermont for this, which is pretty perfect. So tell me a story! What was your first adventure there?
Cliff jumping off of red rocks in Lake Champlain. It was exhilarating and one of the most daring exploits I've had in a long while. I felt like such a daredevil.

Oh my God, I love cliff jumping. I used to go up at my camp in the summer, technically I guess we were in Canada so we weren’t supposed to, in case anything happened, but usually it didn’t except once I almost died cause I slipped when I got up on the rocks. They were pretty high up but not far enough out, so you had to jump and I just didn’t, I failed to make it work at all. Everyone was so pissed. I almost got them all in trouble I guess. We were like fifteen though, who cares! But tell me the whole story. I want to hear it. Who were you with?
I actually went with my room mate and her boyfriend and his roommate.

Yeah? I think that’s one of those things everyone should do. At least once. It’s awesome, you’re so right. Is that what you guys do in Vermont? All this cool crazy adrenaline stuff? I’m jealous. Seriously, do you?
During the summer it's much more rampant, a need for thrills. It's as common as any other place steeped in the outdoors. Being active is very important to Burlington lifestyle, but during the winter, unless you do snow sports, you tend to hibernate and relax a bit.

I'm so jealous. So do you go out and get crazy in the warm weather? Like what do you do? For example?
[Laughs.] Cliff jumping was the most exciting; I've taken up long boarding as well and just enjoying the scenery, sitting on the docks on Champlain, touring downtown and Church Street. It’s a beautiful place to be.

Oh! Church Street, I've heard about it!! Pretend we’re there and be my tour guide. What’s good at Church Street?
Well, Church Street is easy to discern from the other downtown streets. It’s marked off so cars can never drive down it, and it’s paved with bricks. All the shops are quaint stores, and most of them locally owned, as is the Vermont style. I recommend sticking to the outdoor shops. And in the summer, stalls and vendors come out. It's really like a cultural flea market in the 21st century. And it all leads down to the waterfront.

Sounds awesome! So I have to ask this, cause we all know this is Vermont, ok. So are there hippies all over? Does it match the stereotype?
Yes [Laughs] It certainly does. [Begins to recite passage that she wrote about Burlington] Burlington is a town of educated, health-nut hippies. A town that cares about global warming and recycling anything they can get their hands on and some things they can’t. And what better place to camp than the majestic peaks of the Green Mountains or the encompassing Adirondacks cupping the shores of Lake Champlain?

You should write travel literature.

Seriously--you've got me thinking about transferring. How’s the weather up there? I can’t deal with too much snow.

Actually, up until after winter break, I was feeling overly confident about handling the winters here. It seemed relatively mild and about the same intensity as what I had experienced in Albany. Then we got a cold spell that lasted for weeks—the kind that sinks into your bones and never leaves. Since then we have had a few warm days, but that icy bitter cold is never too far behind.

Ew. Sorry, I guess I’ll pass on that. Well, Meg, it was great catching up with you! Totally wish you the best with this whole Shaman thing, too. And, legit, sign me up when you open a place. I have ridiculous knots in my shoulders.
Great talking to you too, Teresa! Come visit me sometime. Like you always say you will.

Okay. Just not when it’s 30 below.

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Childhood Dream of Food: An Interview with Mary T, Price Chopper Price Accuracy Coordinator

Four white walls surround the table Mary and I sit. Birthdays of the Month, Position Availabilities, Insider Notices all stare at us while we discuss Mary’s influence on Price Chopper. For almost 30 years she has dedicated her life to working with the public under our corporation. Managing different departments, keeping the store in check, and conversing with ‘regulars’; she has made a small difference in everyone’s lives she has touched. A part time job turned into a lifetime of challenging days, the many smiles, the laughter after something difficult was accomplished, and finally the small achievements that have been met. --Sarah Downing

When you started working in the Deli Department when you were a senior in high school. Did you ever think you would come to love this job?
Well, I’m a people person and I enjoy working with people; I love meeting new characters. Working with the public is my type of career path. I could not imagine working anywhere else. I like what I’m doing and it’s different day. Every day is a different challenge when I accomplish a difficult day it’s a motivating and encouraging feeling.

In the Price Chopper world, each store is a different volume, four being the highest and one being the lowest. Because you have worked in numerous stores with all different volume numbers; which one would you prefer to work in? Which environment do you think fits you best?
Westgate is my number one choice, it is a volume 2. I like the clientele better here; it gives a person a rough edge. Our co-workers have tough attitudes being we work on Central Ave. The surroundings are not picture perfect.

This job is about being consistent. Also, how you mold the associates you have to work with you to be the most productive. Being a team gets this job done right. My team works well together; we are always up front about issues.

If someone isn’t cutting it, then you have to put a smile on your face and try to keep up, make up for the work being lost. You just need to smile and try to get the most work done in one day to make the store look presentable. It’s my 100% responsibility. When my crew doesn’t do their job to their fullest potential, then I look bad.

Everyone here at Price Chopper has a different attitude towards work. What’s yours? Remember, ‘job’ and ‘work’ have different meanings.
Work seems like you are going to have to do work and you better hope that you enjoy what you’re doing. Work is about everyday life. You can’t survive without work. Although this job is hard for me sometimes because I had been a manager such a long time; I have always been meticulous in my job. High shrink numbers, for example, bother me.

Why the Departments allow items to go out of code, or become damaged for some reason is something I also don’t quite understand. Why, if an item isn’t moving very fast on certain days, why put out that much? Item movement is important especially in Perishable Departments to keep their shrink numbers down. Putting out a large amount of a certain item that will spoil quickly on a day when the store isn’t busy doesn’t make sense.

Working is how you’re doing your job and my job is my title. My job is my work and what is my work relating to? My job title is Price Accuracy Coordinator; my work consists of everything: monitoring all the departments, physically price changing the stock on the shelves, dealing with discontinued items. And the list goes on.

A childhood obsession of food became a career for you. Did you take after your parents in your career path?
My father was a cook, my mother was a nurse. As a child I always dreamed of being a school teacher or on occasion of being a nurse. Although I loved to cook in my free time, I was one of eight children and my father always was cooking around us. That’s most likely why I liked being a Food Service Manager.

Besides dedicating your life to the public world in Westgate Price Chopper, you also worked another job for only six months. Why?
Well…before I started working for Price Chopper, I worked for the New York State Liquor Authority. It was an interesting job, but I hated it. Completely opposite from the job I have now.

I was in an office with no windows. I sat at a computer and typed these outrageous files of the applicant’s entire history and then filed them. I did the same thing every day; repetition gained new meaning to me while I had that job. Here at Price Chopper, every day has a new mission, a new task to handle, new items to deal with, and people to converse and smile with.