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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

What Does Therapy Have to Do with Jazz Piano Lessons?

My hobby, my main hobby, is jazz piano. I love jazz, and I enjoy expressing myself through jazz piano. Unfortunately, my musical IQ is not at the genius level. In fact, it is far below it. And at times, I find the lessons I am learning to be difficult, tedious, or even confusing. During some lessons, my teacher will demonstrate a chord voicing. I see her fingers on the keys, but I don't really comprehend what chord structure she is demonstrating. To her it is simple. For me, it sometimes makes me feel that I need to be in a remedial piano class.

So what has that to do with therapy? Everything. Learning something which is complex and complicated is difficult. It takes energy. It takes perserverence. There are times when we feel we are just not capable of learning it, and other times when we are sure that "other people" could learn it much more quickly. There are times when we are tempted to think that the way we used to do things was good enough, and we wonder why we are going through this grief of learning something a new way when it is so frustrating.

The answer is that there are points, when after considerable mountain climbing, we are able to look back over the terrain that we have covered, and we see just how far we have come. It is then that we realize that it has been worth it. But during the climb, we often wonder why we are doing it--why we are putting ourselves through it.

Taking lessons is in itself a lesson in humility. One of my graduate professors called the rejections he received on articles submitted for publication his way of learning humility. Taking flying lessons, and now taking the jazz piano lessons, is my way of learning and/or remembering what it must be like for my patients at times. I am presenting to them ideas and concepts as if they are simple and can be comprehended quickly. However, sometimes the brain goes into a "fog," and the concepts which seem simple to the teacher can be incomprehensible at the moment for the student. Perhaps all teachers need to be students at times, and need to try learning something really difficult. I know that every time I leave one of my jazz piano lessons, I have greater respect and empathy for what my patients are going through--not just in their daily lives but in undergoing the process of therapy itself.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Down with Laziness

It is not uncommon in my counseling sessions for people to blame themselves or others for being "lazy." I have a major problem with that, because frankly, I don't know what it means. Nothing in my years of training or continuing education has ever prepared me to understand laziness. I understand something about depression, which can rob people of their motivation. I understand something about ADD, which can make people tend to wander around in life or in their everyday activities. I understand something about frontal lobe brain damage, which can rob people of motivation. I also have some general understanding of passive aggressive behavior, which in my experience is usually a reaction to punitive parenting in childhood. But I'm just not sure what laziness it.

I'm not saying that it doesn't exist. But it's one of those words and concepts that is really good for beating ourselves up without having a clear meaning. That makes it rather dangerous. We can call ourselves lazy and feel inadequate and depressed. We can call others lazy and feel angry at them. So we had better know what we mean by it. It's a powerful word.

"Lazy" is a moral judgement. We apparently are saying something more than "I feel unmotivated," or "he is relatively unmotivated."

There's another problem with the word. Lack of motivation is a relative thing. Even persons that we might be tempted to think of as lazy are often in fact motivated to do some things, maybe even things we ourselves wouldn't do.

In almost every situation that I encounter where a patient calls themselves lazy, they are in fact, either depressed, ADD, or experiencing a psychological reaction against a very dominant person (parent or spouse). The word lazy obscures rather than clarifies, creates obstacles rather than solutions. We have to know what the real problem is before we can fix it. So whenever one of my clients uses that word, you can be sure I point it out to them.

Usually, the client is depressed, and calling themselves lazy only compounds their depression. It is not usually accurate for a client to call themselves lazy because that (if it exists) is a character issue, a lifelong quality rather than being part of a temporary episode of depression.

It may be possible that people are born with a lethargic temperament for some reason, and may naturally not be very motivated. If so, that would not be a moral issue; it would be a psychological or biological issue.

So down with the word "lazy." When we encounter problems with lack of motivation, we need to figure out what is really going on and address the real issue.