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Cricket’s Anxiety Disorder

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Cricket’s anxiety has increased tenfold since Miss Butterfly died this summer. It’s been five years since we’ve seen Cricket quite this clingy and over the top; not that she was calm and pleasant during Butterfly’s tenure, but she was at least demonstrably better. She’s at a level ten now (or an eleven, really), but for a few years she managed to get down to a seven, or even a six on occasion, with Miss B’s help. Now, Cricket is bullying her Grandma more than ever: physically pushing Grandma around, instead of just moping, and leaning on her, and making puppy dog eyes. If Grandma dares to eat something, Cricket will sit in front of her and yell – “Where’s mine!” – endlessly, until she gets her share. She doesn’t do this with me, partly because she knows I’m a harder nut to crack, but also because I know how to deploy “the look,” persistently, until she loses hope and hides under her couch in frustration. But giving that look wears me out, and the effect is only temporary.

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“Harrumph.”

 

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Cricket has her own version of “the look.”

 

The fact is, Miss Butterfly was the best medicine for all of us. She brought happiness and peace with her everywhere she went. Cricket was pretty sure Butterfly radiated calm from her butt, and therefore sniffed it regularly. Butterfly could even get in Cricket’s face, in a non-threatening way, and interrupt a tantrum.

butterfly front feet on floor copy

It seems obvious that my only option, for the sake of Cricket’s sanity, and Mom’s, is to go out and look for another dog, someone mature and generous and compassionate, to act as Cricket’s therapy dog when needed, and her friend the rest of the time. But I’m not ready. When I try to think about finding a replacement for Miss B, I fall apart. I know I‘m being selfish. I feel cruel leaving Cricket in her current state, just because I’m not ready to let go of Butterfly, and the illusion that she could come back, somehow.

butterfly hair askew

In the near future, we will be pet sitting for an old friend of Cricket’s, a nice old gentleman who used to be my therapy dog, and will now make an effort to bark Cricket into shape, if he can. And then we’ll see. Hopefully having Teddy around will also help me become ready for a new dog, but his Mom made me promise that I won’t try to keep him.

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We’ll see.

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Dance Therapy

 

Something made me look into Dance Movement Therapy again. I follow a blog that often shares videos on this topic, but during the school year I was too busy to follow up on it, thinking, longingly, that it would be a great thing to be able to offer to the clients at my internship, and then when the internship ended, I thought, hey, what about me?

I loved to dance as a kid. I loved music and movement. I hated the wall of mirrors in my dance classes, and having to wear leotards and tights, but you can’t have everything. The problem was that, pretty quickly, I became self-conscious of my body and unwilling to move, and then unable to even imagine moving. The thing I could do least was to express myself with my body. I could follow instructions and do the steps as prescribed, but I couldn’t move as a way of speaking, because I was too afraid of what I would say and how other people would respond.

beatiful animated dancer

I’ve always dreamed of having a dance movement therapist to help me with this. I love talk therapy, and it has worked well for me, but I’ve always wanted a chance to work in other areas, like music or dance or art, because that’s where a lot of my unfinished stuff is hiding. I am afraid of being seen as I am, and being judged as unworthy, untalented, disgusting, ugly, annoying, inarticulate, stupid. The list of epithets gets worse and worse, if I let it.

But even the snippets of Dance therapy I’ve been able to find online make me feel nervous, and alienated, and bring up my insecurities. I watch So You Think You Can Dance and I keep hoping that the language they create with their bodies will help make me more articulate by proxy, that watching them will help me learn how to express things I can’t express with words, but somehow what they do on the TV doesn’t translate into my body. It doesn’t say what I need to say.

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Cricket has tried to help me with this. She is all body language all the time. She has hundreds of specific facial expressions, and her dance vocabulary is intricate and exhaustive. But I can’t seem to learn these skills from her either. I’m sure part of the problem is that her particular body type and mine do not have much in common, but still.

doing the twist

This is Cricket’s version of the twist

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This one is both a tongue stretch and a paw lift, a complex maneuver

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This move cannot be captured in words

 

I can’t even make a plan for what I’d want to work on with a dance therapist. When I try to imagine finally making an appointment and showing up, I feel like I’m going to jump out of a window, just to escape the horror. I don’t know what the horror is, though. I just know that it will be there, somewhere in the air, this miasma of pain and anxiety and self-loathing that I don’t know how to confront without having to feel it all at once, which will kill me.

My magical and unrealistic dream is that dance therapy will make me so free that I will be able to fly. Not for long distances, just for a second, the way Butterfly used to do out in the backyard.

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Cricket is always free. She stretches as a matter of course and goes outside without her clothes on every day. But, I don’t need to progress quite that far.

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The Secret Keepers

 

One of the primary concerns in social work is confidentiality. It is important for clients to feel secure enough with their social worker to share difficult information, and many social workers make a point of telling clients, right away, that anything they say will be kept private, expect in cases of danger to self or others. In the case of a social work intern, though, confidentiality has to include a few more caveats: What you tell me is just between you and me, and my supervisor, and my coworkers, and my teachers, and my classmates. You don’t mind, do you?

I read instructions from a social work class, at another school, where they specifically told the students to camouflage not just the name of the client they were writing about, but also identifying details in their physicality, personality, and life circumstances. We were not told to be that thorough in our classes. My fellow classmates and I tend to use initials in our assignments, if identification of a client is necessary, under the assumption that since we do not work at the same agencies the initials will not be identifiable to fellow students. But some people choose to use false names instead, to make the prose flow more smoothly. I’ve been tempted to go whole hog and use “Cookie Monster” or “Voldemort” for some of my class assignments, just to see if people are actually paying attention, but I haven’t done that, yet.

I don’t think dogs care about confidentiality, but I’m not sure. I’m hoping my dogs don’t care, because I share an awful lot of their personal information online. Cricket doesn’t seem to experience shame when her behavioral quirks are uncovered, like pooping on the mat by the front door overnight, or peeing in the quilting area in the back of the living room (though that could be because she believes it is my fault, because I failed to get up when she asked for an outing at three o’clock in the morning). Butterfly is unconcerned with her missing teeth, or any leftover poopy on her butt, when she goes outside to meet new people.

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“The pee was up to my eyeballs, what did you expect me to do?”

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“What? I think I look great!”

Dogs are the ultimate secret keepers, actually. Cricket has never told anyone information she alone was privy to about me. And Butterfly lets people think that I am strong and confident and secure, even though she knows different. The dogs accept me as I am, with all of my facets intact. They’ve never suggested that I should be fired as a dog Mom because I have this or that imperfection, though they do expect me to make it up to them in extra chicken treats.

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“Secrets are yummy!”

Maybe we should all go to doggy therapists, instead of the human kind, and then we’d never have to worry about confidentiality (unless you believe that dogs are capable of speech, and are just barking to keep up the ruse that they are dependent on us, and there is actually a secret network of doggy spies collecting information about their humans to send to the doggy version of the NSA, or the real NSA).

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“You’ll never know.”

The fact is, humans are not built for unconditional positive regard, even though that’s what therapist’s try to offer to their clients. Even the most generous-hearted therapist will find herself looking askance at a client for one or two of his decisions. Most dogs, though, have unconditional positive regard down pat. Human therapists carefully guard their boundaries, conscious of how physical behaviors, and offers of support, can be misconstrued by people in desperate need. Dogs don’t do this. Human therapists are also taught to hide their own needs and vulnerabilities from their clients, both to protect themselves and to protect clients from feeling responsible for meeting the therapist’s needs. Dogs have no problem walking up to someone, even someone in deep and unrelenting pain, and asking for affection, and offering affection in return.

Dogs listen openly and without an agenda, whereas most human therapists have a goal in mind for each session: to find out the client’s story, to uncover the blocks in their life, and to offer healthy options for forward movement. Dogs don’t interrupt; they are more classically Freudian in their approach, allowing the client to free associate, and just know that someone is listening to them.

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“We’re listening.”

But, there are a few ways that human therapists can be more helpful than dogs, especially when you are ready to move past the venting stage of the work. It’s possible that, while the unconditional positive regard of a dog can be healing, you may take the positive regard of a human more seriously, because you know that their regard is conditional and you must have done something right to be winning their approval. Human therapists are also more knowledgeable about problem solving, unless the problem you need to solve is where to find the best place to pee, or how to fully appreciate the sounds of the backyard.

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“I can help with that!”

 

The fact is, human therapists are more than just secret keepers, or a safe place to confess the things you don’t want anyone else to know, they are bridges and teachers and support systems to help you make the connections to the life you really want to be living. A life in which, hopefully, you will have a faithful dog at your side to give you unconditional love.

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My Therapy Dog is Leaving Me

My therapist is moving. For as long I’ve known her she’s had an office in her house, with her husband occasionally vacuuming above our heads, and a dog barking to let us know if someone is coming up the driveway to kill us. But now, she and her husband are getting older, and the house is too big, and the driveway is a hell-scape in the winter. So they are moving into an apartment. There’s no office attached to this apartment, or even nearby, so my therapist will now be sharing office space at a building with elevators and valet parking. A building that does not allow dogs.

I’m fine with the move in every other way – no more climbing up their mountain of a driveway, no more feeling like I’m invading her husband’s life by being in his house when he’s watching TV – but not having the dogs there for therapy is inconceivable. Her miniature poodle, Teddy, and her Golden retriever, Delilah, offer the kind of comfort and approval no human can supply. They love me. They know me. They offer themselves up for petting. Teddy, especially, is one of my best friends.

Teddy!

Teddy!

Teddy is a ten year old miniature poodle, and I have known him since he was a ball of black fluff curled on his mom’s lap. Teddy greets me at the door, and ushers me to my seat, and sits on my lap, and gives me kisses, and listens carefully to everything I have to say. Delilah, the Golden Retriever, is a more recent addition, but she offers comfort whenever she can, when she’s not busy taking care of her Dad. In fact, the closer we get to the move, the more time she chooses to spend in the office, as if she knows something is about to change and she wants to soak up as much therapy time as possible. I don’t think I’d have survived therapy this long without my buddies there, letting me know that I’m wonderful and special no matter what I talk about.

Delilah!

Delilah!

I’m worried that it will be strange not going to the house anymore. Will I feel like saying different things in the new office? Will my therapist seem like a stranger in different surroundings? Will I even recognize her without Teddy in the room?

The new office is in a building full of other therapists, and yet they don’t allow dogs. How can this be? What is with this overwhelming prejudice against dogs, especially in places where they can do the most good?! My therapist is considering sneaking Teddy in on Saturday mornings when the building is mostly empty, but, Shh, don’t tell anyone. It would be harder to sneak Delilah into the building. Maybe in a very big suitcase, on wheels, with air holes?

Delilah looks concerned.

“Are you sure about this, Rachel?”

I worry about Teddy, actually. He has been a co-therapist for most of his life. He looks forward to telling people when to come in, and when to leave. He has meaning and purpose in his life from his work. What will he do in an apartment all day? He might actually have to play with other dogs! I think Delilah with her Golden temperament will be able to adapt, but Teddy takes things to heart. He gets depressed when his mom goes away. He loses weight and has tummy troubles. He loses his spark. How will he feel knowing his Mom is going to work without him?

“How will the humans know where to sit without my help?”

I offered to have him over for visits with me and my dogs, for my sake as much as his, but my therapist said it wouldn’t work, because Teddy would be outraged to see me with other dogs. Because I belong to him.

What will I do without him?

Don't worry. Cricket and Butterfly are coming up with a plan.

Cricket and Butterfly are working on a plan.

Talk Therapy For Dogs

We’ve been learning a lot about how dogs can be helpful to people, as therapy dogs, guide dogs, service dogs, grief and tension and anxiety and stress relieving dogs. But where can dogs go for therapy?

When Cricket was in her second training class, her anxiety was through the roof, and her trainer was unable to break through the storm in her brain to make much progress at teaching or calming her. I have tried massage, exercise, and medication, but each one only helps Cricket a little bit, and only for the short term.

Cricket is tied up in knots.

Cricket is tied up in knots.

To me, the point of talk therapy is to be heard and valued by another person, and, if at all possible, understood. I feel like Cricket really is trying to talk to us, and she is frustrated by our inability to understand. If only we could find her a therapist who could listen to her version of talking, and really understand her. I get the gist of what she’s saying, but I think I miss the subtleties.

When we are getting ready to go out for a walk, Cricket makes an insistent cawing sound that echoes through the hallway. She seems to be telling me to get her leash, but she repeats the message over and over like a panicked car alarm, even after her leash is on.

When her Grandma comes home after even a short absence, Cricket climbs on Grandma’s lap, paws her face, and cries, a very delicate, high pitched keening sound that seems to express her grief and fear during the unacceptable absence.

Her most verbal-like moments are the long diatribes when she trills and gurgles and growls and seems to be pleading her case, usually for some item of food. I listen to her. I nod my head. I respond with “Hmm, that’s interesting,” or, “I never thought of it that way,” and, gradually, she gets it all out of her system and flops on the floor, exhausted.

Cricket just wants to be understood.

Cricket just wants to be understood.

Butterfly, who spent most of her first eight years in a puppy mill, surrounded by other dogs and not many people, communicates more with body language. She licks people to tell them that she likes them. She licks her lips to let us know that she’s anxious, and her tongue can even fold in half from the tension. She barks at me in the middle of the night if I accidentally push or kick her, because she has chosen to sleep where I think my arms or legs should be. But she especially likes to express herself through dance, hopping and skipping across the grass when she’s happy, and stiffening her neck and sitting perfectly still when she’s mad. I’d still like to help her find a way to process her sadness and grief, from her years in the puppy mill, but I don’t know how to do that. Could we try paw painting? Or sand play?

Butterfly speaks without words.

Butterfly speaks without words.

Sometimes, I think the girls could use another dog as their therapist. A mentor dog could act as a role model and show them the ropes. She would probably be a Golden Retriever, and wear a scent that other dogs could recognize as authoritative, but not intimidating. She could lead group hikes to teach polite pack behavior, or work one on one with clients, like Cricket, to teach her how to stay calm when the mailman comes too close. Butterfly has blossomed so much with Cricket as her mentor, how much more could she learn from a role model with a, let’s say, healthier mental state.

A Golden Therapist. (not my picture)

A Golden Therapist. (not my picture)

My big dream is that one day schools will train therapists to specialize in dog and human family therapy. They would have easy-to-wash floors, with dog toys scattered around, and snacks. We would go there together as a family so that the therapist, and her doggy co-therapist, could see how we interact with each other: Cricket overexcited and racing around with her tug toy, and Butterfly bobbing and weaving and then running to me, and back to Cricket for approval. And the doggy therapist would do the head tilt, and the human therapist would say, “Hmm, that’s interesting.”

And then Cricket would gain confidence and start her long diatribe, with Butterfly sitting nearby, listening intently. And all of the pain and frustration would pour out of Cricket’s voice and inspire Butterfly to speak up and tell of her own grief and disappointments. And the human therapist would tilt her head to the side, and say, “I never thought of it that way.” And the dogs would finally feel heard, and understood.

Butterfly and Cricket, completely happy.

Butterfly and Cricket, completely happy.

Teddy, the Therapy Dog

My therapist has a miniature Poodle named Teddy, and he is her assistant therapist. He comes out of the office to get me from the waiting room, either barking at me or nosing my leg, depending on his mood, and then he does his Gumby-like stretch to relieve the stress of his very difficult job. He is my yoga guru; he does not seem to have bones at all.

Teddy, analyzing the depths of my soul

Teddy, analyzing the depths of my soul

Teddy, analyzing the smells I brought with me from home

Teddy, analyzing the smells I brought with me from home

Teddy is eight and a half years old and I have known him since he was a ball of puppy fluff. He was shy at first. He slept on his Mom’s lap or looked at me with suspicion. I spent a large part of two years in therapy working on my relationship with Teddy. If I was too eager to pick Teddy up early on, he would let me know, by backing up and walking away. But the next week he’d let me try again. And if I overcorrected, by not reaching out at all, he’d take a step closer to let me know he was willing to be addressed. He worked with me, and the more carefully I listened to his cues, the better he liked me and rewarded me, with attention and kisses.

Baby Teddy looked something like this

Baby Teddy looked something like this

Teddy is the reason I looked for a Poodle mix when it was time to get a new dog. Before I met him, Poodles looked too frou frou to me, with those strange dog show haircuts (pompoms on the tush, etc) and prissy bows and ribbons in their hair. But Teddy had a puppy hair cut that made him look like a real dog. He gets his hair cut every four or five weeks, because his groomer is something of a tyrant about inappropriate hair length for miniature Poodles, but also because his hair starts to cover his eyes and his black eyes are impossible to see through the poof of black hair.

            When I brought Cricket home, six years ago, one of the first places she went was to therapy to meet Teddy. I brought all of her paraphernalia with me in the equivalent of a diaper bag. There was a wee wee pad, poopie bags, paper towels, water, tissues, a chew toy, a soft toy, and treats. Cricket fell in love with Teddy, and with my therapist, right away. She tried to jump onto both of their laps and sniff all of Teddy’s toys and every corner of the room. Teddy took to hiding behind his Mom’s wicker chair so that Cricket couldn’t sniff his butt. He had to growl at her, to warn her away, because she wasn’t listening to his cues and taking it slow. Cricket is not good at adapting to other people’s rules.

Puppy Cricket, the menace

Puppy Cricket, the menace

Teddy prefers when I don’t bring my dogs. He likes to sit on my lap, facing me. He sits like a little gentleman, and leans into scratchies, until I have to hold him up, like the leaning tower of puppy. He is starting to get some grey hair on his chin, but he’s still mostly black velvet and very amenable to being scratched.

He has a “little” sister, an eighty pound Golden Retriever, who comes galloping up the stairs to visit the office sometimes. I’ll have Teddy on my lap and his sister next to me, giving me her closed-eyed smile while she gets her scratches. This is my idea of effective therapy.

Teddy's sister smiles like this Golden, and thinks we should have therapy outdoors.

Teddy’s sister smiles like this Golden, and thinks we should have therapy outdoors.