Saturday, January 19, 2013

Lessons From Sandy Hook: Put A Psychologist In Every School Before That Armed Guard

I was glad to see Don Roger's column "Mass Murder's Myths" in my local paper, the Vail Daily on 1/18/13. 

The article does an excellent job of clearly explaining some key points about risk, safety and the homicide rate.    As a psychologist, I especially appreciate Jeff Mariotte's quote "Put a psychologist in every school before that armed guard."   Because mental health services are often undervalued, it might actually cost fewer tax payer dollars to add psychologists to school staff than it would cost to hire full time armed guards. 

Upon reflection, maybe it could turn out to be quite a shame that most psychologists are opposed to "packing heat". At the rate things are going it wouldn't surprise me to hear someone suggest that the most economical option would be to hire armed psychologists.  When they aren't counseling students they could function as security personnel. Now, that would convey an interesting message to school children, wouldn't it? 

On a serious note, I feel privileged to practice in a profession that has so much potential to make a positive difference in people's lives. We will never know how many mass murders never happened because a potential assailant was helped by a psychologist before things got to the breaking point. As discussed in the column, we do know that mass murders have happened with armed security personnel on site. I'm pleased to see a dialog about adding psychologists along side discussions about having teachers carry concealed weapons and requiring armed guards in every school.  

Of course, there was a psychologist on staff at the Sandy Hook School and sadly, she was one of the victims. My entire profession is very proud of the effort she made to intervene with the shooter, even though it cost her her life.  Psychologists may not carry guns, but we carry the ability to help people who are troubled and improve lives. And as evidenced by the actions of Mary Sherlach, the school psychologist killed at Sandy Hook School that day, we can be pretty brave too.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Redefining yourself and embracing possibilities or why exactly did I move from Texas to Colorado anyway?

This spring, my family and I moved to our own little corner of paradise. After 22 years in San Antonio Texas, I relocated to Eagle Colorado, a small town in the Rocky Mountains near Vail. We’ve been here for almost 9 months. I still wake up each morning with a smile on my face and the vague desire to pinch myself to prove I’m not still asleep and dreaming.  “Yes, I REALLY do live here.  WOW!”

When I was young I thought a lot about where I wanted to live someday. My dream was to live someplace with no winter where professionally I could be a “big fish in a medium sized pond". I also wanted to have a really great house, something I came to jokingly refer to as "house lust."  Of course, I also wanted (among other things) a wonderful husband, wonderful kids, wonderful friends, good health, money in the bank and career success.  But this second list was more general because it wasn’t location specific.  

I knew I couldn’t have everything on my list if I stayed in California.  San Antonio appeared to fit the bill reasonably well so I moved there in 1990.  Over time, I found myself growing tired of the constant heat, the rather generic suburban life style and engaging professionally in that “medium sized pond”.  It was time for a little soul-searching and I began re-evaluating my dreams.  I’d always thought of myself as a beach person.  When I lived in California, I was only a short bike ride away from the Pacific.  Of course, when I settled in San Antonio, I had to make peace with the fact that it took much more effort and planning than hopping on my bicycle to get to the coast.  I came to accept that while I did indeed love the ocean, it was pretty easy to visit wonderful beaches so it was perfectly fine not to live near one.

 I found myself waxing nostalgic about fall and spring and bright clear winter days.  In particular, I yearned for the crunch of leaves underfoot and cool autumn nights hinting of a winter that was just around the corner.   I missed the warmth of toasty fires in the fire place, the wonder of snow flakes falling, the fresh clean smell of coldness and the pleasant feeling that comes when chilly cheeks begin to warm upon stepping into a heated house.   I longed for the promise of a spring filled with young plants emerging from cold damp soil, gentle rain, burgeoning flowers and that clean fresh scent of newness that permeates springtime air.  I missed the comforting rhythm of the seasonal march and the pleasant anticipation of the changing weather, activities and scenery that come with each new season. I came to realize that I was ready for four seasons again, so long as winter wasn’t bitterly cold. I’d always loved playing a mental game in which I would ponder questions like, “beach person or mountain person”? Well, I’d enjoyed the beach when I was young, now I wanted the mountains.  Specifically, I wanted scenery and skiing.  

The other locale question I’d often asked myself was “urban vs rural.”  When I was a child, living in New York City, I had always dreamed of living in a pretty suburb or a small friendly semi-rural town.  When I made my decision to move away from Los Angeles in my 20s, San Antonio had seemed to offer a very nice compromise.  It is a big city that feels like a small town.  We were fortunate enough to live close to where we worked with woods in back of our house and a park with hiking and biking trails just one block away.  But, it was still very suburban in what I eventually came to see as rather bland. I was ready for something a little more rural where I could be closer to nature.  I’d never lived in a small town but  I’d always been charmed by them. I am very happy to be living in one now. So far, its all I had hoped it would be.

Making a life transition of this magnitude involved a great leap of faith.  We had comfortable lives and successful careers in San Antonio.  Sometimes though, you have to take a chance and try something new.  I don't recommend taking foolish and ill-consdered risks. But, I also don't recommend sticking to what you know simply because its comfortable and you've never made the effort to question where you stand and consider alternatives.  Ideally, you should be happy where you are, but you should still maintain your sense of possibility and wonder. Be open to options you haven't yet considered.  And if all roads seem to point in the direction of change, be brave and take a chance.  At the end of their lives, most people don't regret the things they did, they regret the things they didn't do.  So dwell in possibility and try something new if it seems right for you, even if it involves risk and change. Of course there are no guarantees in life, but if your experience turns out anything like mine has, you will be so glad you did.