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Watching Therapy Videos

            Early in the school year I went searching for information on ADHD and Autism, to try to understand behaviors I was seeing in some of my students at synagogue school. I didn’t learn much about either diagnosis in my three and a half years in graduate school for social work, or even during the two years prior to that, when I was studying psychology in hopes of applying to a doctoral program in clinical psychology. And I certainly didn’t learn much about how to teach kids with those learning differences.

            I watched a lot of short, explanatory videos on ADHD and Autism that left too much unexplained and undescribed, and then I watched a lot of videos made by adults with ADHD and Autism who could describe the neurological differences they experienced, but still couldn’t give me, as a teacher, a clear idea of how to be helpful. And then I watched a bunch of videos about the blurry lines between ADHD, Autism, and trauma responses in children and adults, many of which validated my own experience of the mental health field, which is that there’s a lot we don’t know, but there are a lot of people who like to sound certain anyway, which is just annoying.

“So annoying.”

            But while I was looking into ADHD and Autism for my students, I kept finding videos that resonated with me, and I realized that I’ve been hitting a wall in therapy, in large part because the plans I had for my life have been derailed by my health issues and that has left even my therapist stymied as to how to help me. So even though the ADHD and Autism videos weren’t panning out, I thought I would keep looking though YouTube to see if I could find some ideas to try out in therapy, or even just ways to help me accept where I’m at and find some peace.

            I took a deep dive into the big names in Psychology, and especially in Trauma and Sensorimotor therapies and Attachment, thinking I must have missed some important ideas along the way that could have healed me by now, but I realized quickly that I’d heard all of it, and studied it, and parsed it for all of the helpful morsels of wisdom long ago. In almost thirty years of therapy, I realized, I’ve learned at least a doctorate’s worth of information/wisdom on the impact of trauma, even though I struggle to feel confident in what I know.

            But then I found a relatively young therapist/social worker named Patrick Teahan who had made a lot of videos about dealing with the impacts of a traumatic childhood in really down to earth, practical ways. And while he wasn’t telling me things that were new to me in theory, he had a way of talking, especially when sharing his own stories, that was validating and made me feel less alone. He shares a lot of concrete examples about what it feels like to have your sense of reality constantly challenged, and he’s able to describe situations and put things into words that often remain blurry for me.

            He can be a bit verbose at times, though not in an academic way, more like if a friend were telling you a story and kept interrupting himself to tell you about another aspect of the story, and then getting back to the main idea only to go off on another tangent. I decided to take notes when I watched his videos, to help me follow the main through lines of what he was saying, and to give myself permission to take the videos more seriously, and to take my time with them, because the real value I was getting was a sense of his basic kindness as he worked to remove the shame that comes with a difficult childhood and from the lifelong dysregulation it can cause.

            He works in a form of therapy I’d never heard of, called the Relationship Recovery Program, and I have no idea how commonly it’s practiced or where it’s practiced, but I like the way he seems to respect each person’s life story, and I like that he doesn’t profess to have all of the answers. Most of all I like his sense of hope, that with time and effort people can come out of therapy feeling better and seeing things more clearly than before.

            I haven’t watched all of his videos, but I have a long list of the ones I want to watch carefully, taking notes and absorbing the material without overwhelming myself too much. And whenever I watch one of his videos, YouTube recommends a handful of other videos on similar topics, with other therapists, and even if I don’t watch them right away, there’s this reassuring sense that they’ll be there for me, some day, when I need them.

            The biggest gift from all of this video research, though, has been the reminder of how much I already know, about myself, and my students, and how valuable it is to just be a witness to what others are going through and to validate their experiences instead of evaluating or diagnosing them. Attention and kindness really can help people heal. I just have to keep reminding myself of that.

“I’ll remind you!”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

Twice-Exceptional Dogs


I’m currently taking a class in the psychology of the exceptional child, and my favorite discovery, during the first few weeks of class, was a subject barely mentioned in the textbook: twice exceptional children. These are gifted kids who also have a disability, like ADHD, a mood or anxiety disorder, a learning disability, or an autism spectrum disorder. When I started to read the research I felt like the clouds had parted and rainbows and light were filling my eyes.

This was me.

Me, and my fashion sense.

Me, and my fashion sense.

I was gifted. I wasn’t a prodigy in the 160+ range, but I was gifted enough to not fit in with my classmates. My teachers were so impressed with me that no one noticed how much I was struggling – socially, emotionally, and with certain academic tasks. I couldn’t judge distance. I couldn’t read maps. I could not make sense of a fast food menu up on the wall at McDonald’s. God forbid I tried anything like interior decorating and my intelligence level dropped like a rock.

But none of those things were noted, or even tested, when I was in elementary school. And when there was a spatial relations section on an achievement test in ninth grade, no one but me seemed to notice the results. I scored in high 90’s for math and verbal and at the 50th percentile for spatial relations. I was so excited! I’d been telling my parents and teachers that I had a learning disability for years, and they would all look at my grades and laugh hysterically.

Not funny.

Not funny.

My hope was that this almost 50% gap between my strengths and my weaknesses would be a neon sign to get people to look at me more closely, but no one cared. To be fair, they didn’t notice that I was suicidal either.

I think Cricket is twice exceptional too. She is very bright, but she has such anxiety that she struggles to learn. Cricket can read even the smallest body language cues: she knows the difference between Grandma getting dressed to go outside alone, or to go outside with dogs; she can hear every whisper and know when it is about her and when it’s not; she not only knows specific words, but what the tone of voice they are said in implies.

Cricket, reading Grandma's mind.

Cricket, reading Grandma’s mind.

But, she is a terrible student. She will never do something just to please her people. She can’t focus when she’s emotionally agitated, which is a lot of the time. And if she doesn’t want to do what she’s being asked to do, she won’t do it, no matter how many chicken treats I offer her.

I refuse!

“I refuse!”

When she’s calm and focused she can learn new skills in minutes. She can sit and stay and even twirl. Her name recognition and ability to come when called were perfect, at home, but once she got to her obedience class she was a mess. If she were a shedding dog she would have been sitting in a puddle of hair by the end of each class.

If she were a human she might be diagnosed with ADHD, or Oppositional Defiant Disorder, or Social Anxiety, or all three. If she were a human, she’d be in talk therapy, and taking a drug cocktail, and she’d probably be in special education, despite her high intelligence. She is a classic twice exceptional dog.

For my paper, I spoke to a professor who runs a program for twice exceptional students at a local college, secretly hoping she’d give me some ideas for Cricket and me. She talked about creating a scaffolding for these kids, including: faculty trained to adapt to their needs; a social skills counselor; study skills classes; peer mentors; academic advisors who can give them emotional support. She said that the fundamental thing these kids need in order to succeed is love.

It’s such a simple idea. We all need help. We all need praise for our strengths and support for our weaknesses. The idea that each and every one of us should be able to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and reach our full potential alone, is bullpucky.

Butterfly loves to help her sister, even as a pillow.

Butterfly loves to help her sister, even as a pillow.

But I’m not sure how to apply this scaffolding to my life, or Cricket’s. I haven’t been able to find the doggy equivalent of special education, let alone twice-exceptional education, for her. The classes I can afford are mostly one size fits all and Cricket has to sit in the back and watch the Golden Retrievers heel, and roll over, and shake their beautiful tails in her face.

Delilah, the A+ student

Delilah, the A+ student

Just once, I wish I could help Cricket get a gold star on a test, and give her a chance to stand tall and let everyone see her extraordinary potential, the way I do.



“I can do it!”