Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Challenges facing LGBTQ Christians

Due to my involvement in One Wheaton, I was recently quoted in Time Magazine online about some of the difficulties Christian LGBT people experience.

Raising Gifted Children

A special interest of mine is working with gifted children and adolescents, both as a therapist and as someone who does IQ testing. I practice in a school district in Illinois (District 220) that has a phenomenal program for gifted youth. Gifted, in this context, means having IQ test scores in the 5th percentile.

The label "gifted" can be very controversial. What parent doesn't think s/he has a gifted child? Isn't every child gifted in some way? Doesn't labeling some children as gifted an elitist notion that denies all children equal educational opportunities? These criticisms have at times contributed to a reduction or absence of funding for gifted and talented programs. It also must be noted people are not simply "born gifted." Children from economically disadvantaged communities are subject to a wide range of factors limiting the development of their IQ, sometimes starting in the womb.***

The reason I think it can be helpful to identify some children as gifted is because of their unique needs, not only intellectually but emotionally. These children can get bored in a normal classroom, contributing at times to behaviors that can mimic ADHD, such as daydreaming and restlessness. Emotionally, it is not always a gift for things to come easily. What happens when that child comes across something that is difficult to do? Many gifted children struggle with perfectionism. Another common challenge for these children is finding peers that are interested in the same things, leading sometimes to feelings of isolation and even inferiority.

Paradoxically, no matter your child's IQ, it does not help to focus on the idea that they are smart. In his book How We Decide Jonah Lehrer reviews some fascinating studies supporting the idea that success comes from the willingness to persist and to learn from our mistakes. Interestingly, children who identify as "smart" may fear losing that "smartness" every time they find a task difficult or do not get the "right" answer, leading them to avoid difficult tasks and ultimately learn less. In contrast, it is good to praise your child for effort and for trying again when they face obstacles.

*** In her book Origins, Annie Murphy Paul does an excellent job of reviewing recent studies of the impact of the prenatal environment on a wide range of factors, including IQ.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

"When the heart breaks, no it don't break even..."

These lyrics from the popular song "Break Even" by The Script illustrate an unfortunate truth about the end of relationships. In theory, people would like their intimate relationships to end mutually over relatively benign, agreed upon statements such as "We were growing apart" and "We were just two different people." In reality, it's usually a lot messier and the stories often stand in sharp contrast. In my office, people often come for help because they are stuck with either feelings of rejection or feelings of guilt.

Person #1 feels rejected, abandoned, and sometimes betrayed. Sometimes, Person #1 starts therapy with some denial about whether the relationship is truly over. Attempts may be made to win back the affections of Person #2. When the reality that the relationship is over sinks in, Person #1 is stuck with intense feelings of sadness, loss, and devastation. S/he commonly feels rejected or even abandoned.  Sometimes, the pain is so significant that s/he cannot see a future where there is hope. Is there something wrong with me? Person #1 wonders. Will anyone ever truly love me and stay around?

Person #2, in contrast, usually feels a combination of guilt, shame, and relief.  Person #2 often feels like a "bad" person for wanting ending the relationship in light of the pain of Person #1. Sometimes the shame and guilt leads Person #1 to make decisions that are appealing in the short-run but ultimately prolong the pain, such as attempting to comfort Person #1 about the divorce or break-up. Person #2 may also deal with the guilt and shame by minimizing the pain of Person #1 or by trying to prove to themselves and others that they were justified to end the relationship. Ultimately, Person #2 wonders: Will I ever be able to love someone without hurting them?

Whether you are Person #1 or Person #2, your pain is legitimate and psychotherapy can be a good option. Identifying the problems that led to the end of the relationship can help you avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. Also, grieving in a healthy way will allow you ultimately to open your heart to future happiness.