Constructive Criticism

Most of the time I post your comments.

But what would you do if you got this one?

No need to post this, Mom -- but you know what you should never do? Write a lengthy, complicated piece about how complex an issue is... and then make a blanket, black-and-white statement along the lines of "no guns, no killing." You would hate if someone simplified the NIU tragedy, by saying people with schizophrenia are dangerous, so they should all be locked up. Why simplify it for your own political views?

Love ya!
Well, needless to say, the comment didn't make the cut. But we talked, and he explained that he liked the post, but that my adding a political view (about which you really don't know much, Mom) took away from the substance, the subject, which should have remained mental illness.

And he's totally right. I don't know all that much about gun control as a political issue. And you can get the gun control pitch in a thousand other places. You're not here for that.

Generally I look to my kids for advice. I figure, I'm old. They're young. I'm lost in a sea of issues and problems and threads that can take me virtually anywhere. If I stay on one topic in a post it's a minor miracle.

But it can sting when they lay into me, you know, and like most people, I can be a little sensitive. Still, it's good to get constructive criticism and I'm glad that my kids feel they have permission to dish it out. If you make it through a doctoral program you can make it through virutally any kind of criticism. Profs are vicious in graduate school.

So it's not hard to step back, think about it, accept/reject/thank/regroup.

You know that process, right?

Someone criticizes you. It's constructive (but of course). You have to listen to it because you're all grown up. You ponder, try not to be defensive. You hem/haw. You might tell it over to a friend, a relative. Your therapist.

(You might BLOG on it and tell half the world).

Then you get to the accepting or rejecting phase, which shouldn't happen within the first few minutes of receiving. It's a thoughtful process. You accept what's good about the criticism, possibly after clarifying what the sender meant by checking it out with the sender.

And you reject what you don't like.

You thank the sender. After all, much of what others have to say really is interesting, if not always constructive, and people don't usually mean any harm. Not your friends. Not your family. (Okay, so some people do, it's true, but they can't help it.)

But at the end of the day, you regroup. You get back your sense of self. You determine it's a good idea to change, or that you're fine the way you are. You regroup and in the process, you grow. It's a gift when someone helps you do that, especially if they can do it in a nice way.

An even finer gift to be able to take it.

So okay. He's right. The post on schizophrenia (differential diagnosis) was a strong post. It didn't need that bit about guns. And for all we know, reading it upset NRA members who read the blog! Who knows? Perhaps Republicans or Democrats, even Libertarians! As a conflict avoider (default position), that's the last thing I'd ever want to do.

But here's the catch. Now, I've got to respond to his comment. Let's do it in a letter, right now. And you should know, the two of us do this only to have something to talk about, except perhaps how I stop mid-sentence and wonder what any of the kids are doing at any given moment. This is universal for parents? I don't know.

Dear Son,

In reference to your comment and what we talked about on the phone, you're right, I'm not a political blogger. ENT is about mental health and mental illness, except for when I throw in an occasional story about you :) and your sibs and my grandkids, my parents, Safta, and of course, old FD.

But about not knowing much about gun control, well, my job description includes hearing firsthand about murder, involuntary, voluntary, it doesn't matter, this isn't Law and Order, suicide, and accidental death. These senseless acts all have one thing in common, guns.

And in under a year we have had two grisley stories about mentally ill people who probably (certainly in Cho's case, we're waiting to hear about Kazmierczak) had expressed the wish to kill others and themselves, and were sold guns, sometimes two or more at a time, by reputable dealers.

I have to sit within three feet of relatives of victims of murder who are sure they'll never recover from their losses. I have to hold back any of my personal indignation and political views (lame, I know, I know). I have to wait, week after week, until my patients feel better, knowing that they have been robbed.

And it's not fun.

So although you may not feel I'm very educated about the issue . . .

I don't really think there's all that much to know. We have to do something. Maybe it's education about mental illness. So we'll stick to that for the most part. For the most part.

Love ya',


We're good.



yes, therapists have so much vicarious trauma. its hard for anyone to understand how deeply our work affects us. on a side note, its great you have such rich dialog with your kids.
Anonymous said…
In Ada County, Idaho, the place you apply for a concealed weapons permit is in the DMV. Everyone who walks into that office and gets a drivers license MUST pass that desk; it is right next to the camera. There are always people at the concealed weapons desk. Always.


Strange, I can't think of a single good reason to own a gun, let alone be permitted to conceal it. Without a pen, though, I'd feel really vulnerable.
Anonymous said…
Go Mom!!!
Anonymous said…
there are two family and marriage therapists who run a webpage

But this therapydoc has a better page.
Anonymous said…
sometimes i wish you were my mom
YZF said…
You're being too hard on yourself. Or, more likely, I am. But you always were a model of how to deal. Now is no exception. Love ya! I'll call you tomorrow.
therapydoc said…
I think that learning to deal with criticism is one of those things that you get used to. Like everything else, we learn to "deal."
jeanie said…
ha ha - because it is in my national psyche to be all for major league gun control I didn't even see that statement as something political - I just saw it as great common sense.

People with guns kill people. Therefore you either have to take away the guns or take away the people. As there are more people in the equation, it seems more logical to remove the gun factor.

But I KNOW that there is a totally different national psyche in operation over there. I can comprehend that.

I just think it is better our way.

But lovely way to talk about other issues in the way that you do.

I am crap at criticism - take it straight to heart and can use it as angst for years.
Anonymous said…
Thanks for sharing this story. I find it hugely valuable to hear about examples of good mothering.
Anonymous said…
I am a new reader and a relatively new MSW grad. I recently got a job as a therapist at a residential treatment program. I am the therapist for girls 6-14 years old. A few of these girls have borderline tendencies and I am already feeling burned out. These girls actually have the ability to hurt my feelings. I know thats diagnostic but I also know I need to get my emotions in check. I will definitely be looking though your blog for some helpful hints. I am glad to find a blog like yours!
Anonymous said…
Your son's response begs the question of whether we're allowed to have personal opinions on our own blogs. Or if we all need only share informed political views if we are to share anything of value. It's a valid question. And I love your response.
Anonymous said…
Angela - I'm an amateur mental health professional ;) and I think that's common in that age group to begin with, but then exponential with your population... just think, "WWTDD"? (What Would TherapyDoc Do?) ;)

TherapyDoc - Where are you? Are you snowed in? Hope you're OK.
therapydoc said…
When it comes to a chutzapdik (brazen) 6 year old, I'd probably say. . .well, I can't say. It would depend upon the 6 year old, depend upon the context, depend, depend, depend.

So I'll tell Angela, while you're in the process of feeling hurt, you think, wait, this kid comes from this family, these circumstances, this gang, this body, this, this, and while you're adding up the variables that might contribute to the behavior, you find that you're not even in there.

I find that helps a little. Welcome to the cloth. Ask questions, chime in anytimes :)
Margo said…
I keep watching American Idol despite the general lack of talent this year specifically because I find it so interesting to watch different people respond differently to (what is usually constructive) criticism. I'm sure I'd react terribly in a similar situation, but it IS kind of a personality tip-off. Though, to be fair, the contestants are young enough to be fairly new to that kind of experience.

On a side note, I can't believe someone ripped off not only your name and URL but practically your professional website, too!

Beverly Hills - ugh.
therapydoc said…
Yes, dear, you should spleen her since you designed my website. (sorry, readers, since I'm anonymous on the web, you don't get to go there).

All I can say is that imitation is considered the highest form of flattery.

You can only go so far with it, though, right?

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