Friday, September 23, 2011

Dr Kathy's Rules for Fighting Fair

 Dr Kathy's Rules for Fighting Fair

Through the years, I've spent a lot of time refining the do's and don'ts of good communication. This list has affectionately become know as my rules for fighting fair. The idea is that we should strive to do as much as we can on the do list, while minimizing the things we do on the don't list. 

If you're working on your relationship, pick just one task from the list below to focus on for a week. Pay attention to how making that change affects the rest of your relationship. If it makes an improvement, even a small one, keep doing that task and add another one when you feel ready. Ultimately, the secret to changing your relationship is to make small changes often and keep doing the things that make the relationship better.

•    Soften up
•    Be gentle and kind
•    Reassure your partner
•    Be empathetic and compassionate
•    Take responsibility for what you can
•    Ask for what you need to feel better
•    Complain without blaming the other person
•    Try to see the other person's perspective
•    Focus on feelings
•    Stay with the here and now
•    Take breaks
•    Try to find a solution
•    Try to help your partner feel better
•    Say loving things, like compliments or praise or concessions, during a fight
•    Stop when you feel like you're losing self-control

•    Attack
•    Insult
•    Blame
•    Judge or label
•    Withdraw
•    Criticize
•    Call names
•    Be defensive
•    Use profanity
•    Call the other "crazy"
•    Assassinate character
•    Play games
•    Make threats
•    Yell, throw or hit
•    Give ultimatums
•    Threaten divorce
•    Bring up every problem or fight you've ever had
•    Give silent treatment
•    Bring in other people or their opinions
•    Walk away without saying you'll be back later

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Preparing for a 730 Child Custody Evaluation

If you're reading this, chances are that you are currently going through a divorce and either you or your spouse has requested a 730 evaluation. I am so sorry; few things are more stressful than a divorce and few things are more worrisome than a child custody evaluation. But hang in there! You can prepare and you can present yourself well during your 730 evaluation.

First things first, let's talk about what a 730 child custody evaluation is.

A 730 evaluation is a court ordered review of the parenting practices and behaviors of two parents, with the intent of determining the best custody arrangement for the children. In this process, a licensed therapist (which could be a psychologist, MFT, or social worker) will meet with you and your spouse, separately, and will interview you both about your parenting practices, your parenting beliefs, your relationship with your kids, your work life, your personal life, your thoughts and your feelings. With your permission, the evaluator will also meet with your kids and will talk to other adults, such as your kids' teachers, your babysitter, your boss, and anyone else you'd like, to find evidence to corroborate the information you provide. The role of the 730 evaluator is to make a recommendation to the family law court about where your kids should live and how you and your spouse will share custody of the kids. The goal of the 730 evaluator is always to make a recommendation in the best interests of the children.

Now, let's talk about how to behave in a 730 child custody evaluation. I am happy to provide you with my thoughts and ideas about how best to proceed with an evaluation, but before you implement any of these suggestions, please discuss them with your attorney and your therapist. Remember, I am not an attorney and I don't know anything about your case, so you need to chat with your legal team to make sure they give you the personal guidance you need.

1. Treat the evaluator with respect.
The evaluator is a professional, who has gone through years of training, and deserves your respect. I know that you're not excited about this process, that it probably seems a little unfair, and that it's expensive, but the last person you want to vent your frustration to is the evaluator. The evaluator may only see you one time and will base their opinion of you on this one meeting, so don't blow it by being disrespectful.

2. Be on time, dress appropriately, don't be jerky.
How we act says a lot about our feelings and our attitudes. Make sure to arrive to your appointment on time, dressed in clean, professional attire, and be polite. If you arrive late, the evaluator might conclude that if you're ok with being late for the 730 meeting, that you will think nothing of being late to pick up your child from school. Please don't sabotage your evaluation by showing up in dirty jeans, ripped t-shirt, messy hair, and unbrushed teeth. Again, the evaluator will likely assume that you're trying to present him/her your best image and if what you show is a messy image, the evaluator will really worry. Also, be polite and friendly to the evaluator; they are not your enemy.

3. Realize that the evaluator is NOT your therapist.
Although the evaluator is a therapist, it's really important that you realize the evaluator is not YOUR therapist. The evaluator's job is to critically analyze you and your behaviors to make a recommendation to the court about your parenting ability. The evaluator really works for the court, so be mindful of the information you share with the evaluator. I am not saying that you should lie to the evaluator or withhold information, but I do think you should think about how you're coming across. For example, you might be thinking, "God, I hate this process, sometimes I'd rather just move to China then put up with this one more day!" You could say this to your own therapist and your own therapist would understand that it was a fleeting thought. But a court appointed evaluator is going to take this remark very seriously and will be very concerned about it. So choose your words, your expressions, and your stories carefully.

4. Keep it about the kids.
One of the most tempting things to do in a 730 evaluation is to go in and tell the evaluator what a terrible, miserable, horrible person your spouse is and how they're a lousy parent. Don't do this. This makes you look terrible and will probably negatively bias the evaluator against you. Instead, talk about the things you do with the kids, why you think those things are important, and what your plans are for the kids when they're in your care. A smart evaluator will be able to compare and contrast your plans with your spouse's plans and if your spouse is a terrible person, that will probably come out in the evaluation. However, you can share critical information with the evaluator if there is a police or legal record to support your report. If your spouse has a history of drunk driving, domestic violence, substantiated child abuse, or other criminal activity, then you should mention this to the evaluator.

5. Provide lots of evidence and data.
Since the evaluator is making a recommendation to the court, he must provide evidence to support his recommendation. The more evidence and data you can provide to support your perspective and ideas, the better. Review everything and anything you want to share with the evaluator with your attorney before you have your meeting with the evaluator.

6. Connect the evaluator to others who can support your report.
Be sure to provide the evaluator with a list of people that he can call to learn more about you and your parenting practices. Teachers, babysitters, neighbors, and others who have seen you in a parenting role, but who are not your family members, are especially important. We all assume that your family loves you and will back you up no matter what, so they tend to be viewed as biased sources of information. Your child's teacher is not likely to be as biased, so this is a great person to have the evaluator talk to. Just like with a job interview, before listing anyone as a reference, ask them if they are comfortable being that reference for you and if they'd have any concerns providing you a good recommendation. If they don't think they can give you a good recommendation, I would not list them as a reference.

7. Share testing results with caution.
If your therapist has done any psychological testing on you, you may want to share these results with the evaluator. Before you decide to share these results, talk to your therapist about any negative aspects of the testing. You may be within normal ranges on all but one "scale" and depending on what that scale is, you may not want to share the results. Also, when you share things with the evaluator, the information may become part of the court record. I am pretty sure that you testing results will not become public information, but there is a chance that part of the results could be included in the 730 report and that the report can be viewed and obtained by others. Before releasing anything, check with your attorney about how this information might be used in the future.

8. Don't make yourself out to be perfect.
As therapists, we mostly believe in the golden rule: if it looks too good to be true, it's probably not true. So be mindful of this when you go into your evaluation. If you present yourself as the perfect parent, the evaluator is likely to wonder what's really true. A better plan is to go in and be honest about your strengths and your weaknesses, but handle weaknesses the same way you would at a job interview. For example, let's say that your parenting "weakness" is that you're inconsistent with discipline and rules. Don't say, "Yeah, I really don't like rules, so sometimes I just don't make the kids brush their teeth." Do say, "I am still learning how to be more consistent because I know that kids thrive on schedules and routines."

9. Don't be defensive.
I've heard that some evaluators will try to provoke their subjects because they want to see how they handle stress and being agitated. I think this is a really inappropriate thing to do, but since it might happen to you, I want you to be prepared. If the therapist says something upsetting, like, "So I hear you have a bad temper and your ex-wife is concerned that you discipline your kids too harshly," don't get defensive and start yelling and attacking. Do say, "Hmmn, it's hard for me to understand why she would say that. I love my kids, I would never hurt them." This is just an example, but hopefully it conveys the idea that no matter what allegation is made, you should try to stay calm and explain your honest perspective of the matter.

10. Do your research - pick a good evaluator.
Ideally, your attorney is experienced with 730 evaluations and can guide you towards choosing an evaluator who will be fair and impartial to you. However, some attorneys do not have tremendous experience with these hearings and may not know much about the different evaluators. If this is the case for you, the best thing to do is to go online and review and research different 730 evaluators. The court typically provides you and your attorney a list of approved evaluators. Please research every therapist on the list and share your research with your attorney. Instead of focusing on trying to find the very best one for you, try to come up with a list of the ones you absolutely do not want to see. As you and your spouse must agree on the evaluator, it's likely you won't get the exact evaluator you want, but it's probable that you can get the one you don't want excluded from consideration.

I hope this list will help you prepare for your 730 evaluation interview. Please remember to discuss these ideas with your attorney and therapist before your meeting with the evaluator. If you'd like, please feel free to email me any specific questions you have. I wish you all the best!

-Dr Kathy Nickerson

Friday, January 21, 2011

The Fight Recovery Guide for Couples

If you've recently had a knock-down-drag-out argument with your spouse, I am very sorry. Fighting is exhausting and extremely stressful.

I believe you can make it better and will recover from this bad fight, but there are two things you need to do: (1) think about what happened and why, and (2) have a talk about what happened and work towards healing from it.

To do both of these things, I'd like for you each to spend some time thinking about the questions below, do this on your own. Once you have your answers, make a "date" with your spouse to discuss your responses together.

If things get heated again, take a break and calm yourself down. Working through this issue is stressful for you both! Calm yourself and do anything you can to help soothe your partner. You will get through this.

1. Summarize your experience of the fight. How are you feeling about what happened? What are your thoughts and feelings about the fight?

2. Share your subjective reality. Summarize your own personal reality about the disagreement. What was the reality or "the truth" for you?

3. Find something in your partner’s story that you can understand. Now, try and see how your partner’s subjective reality might make sense, given your partner’s perspective. Tell your partner about one piece of his or her reality that makes sense to you.

4. Are you emotionally flooded or too upset to talk? If you're really upset - a level 8 or more on a scale of 1-10 - then take a break and self-soothe before continuing.

5. Admit your own role. It is essential that each of you takes some responsibility for what happened. See if anything from the list below applies to your situation.
1. I have been very stressed and irritable lately.
2. I have not expressed much appreciation towards my partner lately.
3. I have taken my partner for granted.
4. I have been overly sensitive lately.
5. I have been overly critical lately.
6. I have not shared very much of my inner world.
7. I have not been emotionally available.
8. I have been turning away from my partner.
9. I have been getting easily upset.
10. I have been depressed lately.
11. I would say that I have a chip on my shoulder lately.
12. I have not been very affectionate.
13. I have not made time for good things between us.
14. I have not been a very good listener.
15. I have not been asking for what I need.
16. I have been feeling a bit like a martyr.
17. I have needed to be alone.
18. I have not wanted to take care of anybody.

Overall, my contribution to this fight was:____________________________________.

6. Make it better in the future. What is one thing your partner could do differently next time? What is something you could do better next time? What do you long for now to help you feel comforted and reassured?

Women & Depression

Hello friends. Lately, I have had a lot of questions about women and their tendency to suffer from depression. I wanted to address some of these questions here. I hope this information is helpful to you. If you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to ask!

Why are women especially at risk of depression?

Women tend to internalize their thoughts and feelings more. This means that they tend to blame themselves when something goes wrong, that they tend to think they are responsible for the failure. Men are more apt to blame outside circumstances and external factors.

Why do women suffer more often from the disorder than men?

The exact nature of depression is not completely understood. We believe that there are many factors that contribute to someone becoming depressed, including hormones, heredity, environmental factors (like having a stressful job), We also know that depression in women often coexists with other emotional health challenges, like anxiety and easting disorders. Additionally, women who are suffering from poverty or abuse are at very high risk for depression. So, the causes of depression are diverse and we really don't know the exact triggers for the condition.

What are the leading causes?

In addition to the above, we are most prone to depression when we experience a major loss or major life change, such as the death of a loved one, loss of a job, or ending of a relationship. We could say that such times are "vulnerable periods," where we are more likely to be vulnerable to our genetic predisposition or chemical predisposition to become depressed.

Another "vulnerable period" for women is when they are experiencing a significant hormonal shift, such as during adolescence or post-pregnancy. In fact, reproductive stress (i.e., trying to become pregnant, worrying about delivering a healthy baby, fearing that one is pregnant) are all correlated to depression in women. This suggests not only a hormonal connection, but a lifestyle/social connection between reproduction and depression in women.

What is the impact of depression on a person's ability to flourish?

The impact of depression is tremendous. If you've never had depression, it's hard to imagine how debilitating it is. It may seem like it's not that big of a deal, we've all been sad before. But true clinical depression is not just sadness, it's debilitating and all-consuming. You tend to feel like the world is a terrible place, that you are a bad person, and that things will never get better. You have no hope for the future, nothing sounds appealing, everything seems difficult and overwhelming. You can't think clearly, you cant feel pleasure, it's truly awful. And this is to say nothing of the physical symptoms! There is a very strong mind-body connection; so when you're hurting emotionally, your body will often follow. You will move sluggishly, you'll feel achy and sick, you will be tired and easily exhausted. Depression is a really painful condition that often requires medication and talk therapy to improve.