Category Archives: Psychotherapy

A Fiction-Writing Shrink?!?

I live in a medium-sized town where I run into a minimum of ten people I know every time I go to the grocery store.  Often, these people are past or current psychotherapy clients.  More often than not, I have my children with me.  My clients have seen me in restaurants, in a bathing suit at the swimming pool, marching in the fourth of July parade with my daughter’s junior girl scout troop.  One former client was my daughter’s favorite camp counselor.  I have attended parties where clients were fellow guests.  They see my name in the paper as the new member chair for a local secular-humanistic Jewish family group.  In other words, unlike some therapists, my life is no mystery to my clients.  Seeing as my practice currently involves no individuals, and I see strictly families, this is less of an issue than it might be for some.  Families like to know that I am a mother.  Couples and individuals like to imagine I am simply their therapist.

To be fair, I’m pretty visible around town.  People know me as the biracial—black, white, Jewish, family therapist.  I’ve done talks on parenting, Multiracial Jewish Identity, Body Image and Talking to kids about Race.  People know what I think … about some things.

But a novel (un-agented, unpublished, but a novel all the same) exposes a much deeper, weirder piece of me: some form of my own reality skewed by the warped lens of my wildest imagination.   Writers of good fiction are supposed to take big risks.  How can I do that while responsibly adhering to the NASW Code of Ethics?  A fiction writing therapist opens herself up to all kinds of questions.

Are my characters based on my clients?  (Deliberately?  Never, ever.  Subliminally?  Maybe.)

Do I really think like my characters? (Some part of me has to, right?)

And what about this blog itself?  Where I’ll be writing about my ballet-dancing, eating-disordered past (which inspired Birch Wood Doll, my novel), as well as the more complicated aspects of being biracial?  In order to write at all, I’ve had to free myself from these worries.  I am not a private person by nature, which serves me as a writer, even if it presents a challenge for me-the-therapist.

My therapy practice, like everything else I do, has to be compatible with my personality.   I refuse to be fake and constrained with my clients, to answer their questions with the artful dodges we were taught in social work school.

For example:

Client: have you ever used drugs?

Therapist: I’m wondering if you’re asking that because you’re concerned that I might not be able to help you if I haven’t shared your experiences of drug use.

…Really?

As long as I’m writing fiction and blogging, I won’t practice individual psychotherapy—where your relationship with the client is the most important part of the work, where clients  hold onto their own stories about who you are.  Families generally like knowing I am a whole person with a family and experiences of my own.

The best thing to do—the only thing I can do—with my writing and my life, is be honest and open and me.

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About the “Cultural Drive for Thinness” Article

Eating Disorders and the Forces Behind the Cultural Drive for Thinness: Are African American Women Really Protected?  began as a paper I wrote for graduate school, where everything I read about eating disorders seemed to exclude women of color.  It was 1996 and I kept opening books on eating disorders to find some statement like the following:

Because the African American community is more accepting of fuller body shapes, eating disorders are rare among black women.

Gee, I thought.  What about black women who live, work and play primarily in the mainstream or “White” Community?   What about upper middle class black women who share ideals of physical beauty with upper middle class white (and upper middle class Asian and upper middle class Latina) women?  What about biracial women with rail thin white mothers and cousins?

And speaking of biracial women, I know my world view is skewed by ballet but here’s some food for thought (no pun intended).   In all the years I was dancing, I knew a lot of white girls who did not have eating disorders, but I never met a single biracial girl who didn’t – myself included.

So I began to dig.   My Social Work in Healthcare article is the result.  The tone is way more radical than I’d be about it today, but the sentiment is still important to me.

(You can find the link to the original article on the My Articles page.  If for some reason, you can only get the abstract, let me know and I will post the whole article on this site.)

The Body As Self: Weight Identity for a Young Ballet Dancer

For years I struggled with identity without thinking about identity.  I was a secular Jewish, black and white biracial girl, an only child of “older” parents, an Upper Westside kid.  But I didn’t think about these designations.  More important than anything else was that I was a ballet dancer, and all that it entailed: daily after school practice, weekends booked with rehearsals, summers in a hot studio, no vacations, no French fries, no non-dancer friends.  When, I broke ranks and went to a liberal arts college instead of joining a ballet company, I was suddenly a swan out of pointe shoes, lost without the familiar ballet culture, but also deeply curious and so excited about what else the world might have in store for me.  I didn’t realize that my life was about duality, always straddling two roles, two cultures, navigating two divergent paths.  I said I struggled without thinking about it because I had no time to think about struggling with identity or anything else; all through college I had a full time job whose name was bulimia.

I’d been anorexic in high school, but in college, the stress led me to abuse food as a substance rather than starve myself.  Being thin was all that was left of my ballet self, I thought.  And I clung to it.

I had an eating disorder from the age of eleven until I was twenty-three, and at no point did I understand that this had to do with pain, a refusal to accept my body or myself.   I wonder what would have happened if one of the therapists I saw at the time had gotten me thinking about identity.

Who exactly are you anyway?

Who am I?  Thin, that’s who.

No, I mean besides that.

I had no idea.   Skinny was my starting point, my grounding: if I could feel my hip bones, if I stood feet together and my thighs didn’t touch, I was okay.

I remember a session when I was nineteen.  I was on a year’s hiatus from college to dance.  I’d just signed a contract with the Cincinnati Ballet and was preparing to move to Ohio.  I’d be rooming with a friend from my ballet school, Alessandra (name changed), who was also anorexic.  I was anxious about the move but not for the reason my therapist thought.

“Leaving home can be difficult,” she said, “to go far away for the first time brings up all kinds of feelings.”

This was true, but I’d lived away from home for a whole year in college.  Before that, I’d spent summers in California with friends.   What I was really afraid of was living with Alessandra, whom I knew was a “better” anorexic than I was.  She had restriction down to a science, never lapsed into vulgar binging and purging as I did.  She was thinner.

It’s hard to write this, hard to imagine that I once felt this way, but a big piece of my identity was being the thinnest among my closest friends.   Granted I now lived in the world of professional ballet, where reed-like was the norm.  My body-type dictated that I would never the thinnest in the dance studio.  Being just five foot three and busty—despite weighing well under one hundred pounds—disqualified me, I thought, from having the ideal dancer’s body.   In a land where a B cup is considered huge, I was a C-D, which did make me appear heavier than my scantly endowed counterparts.  But thinner dancers didn’t bother me so much in the rehearsal studio. There was distance between me and those girls.  They weren’t my closest friends; they weren’t my family, so they didn’t infringe on the space where I was me.  I was afraid of living with someone like Alessandra because I imagined that she was more me than I was.