Back To Chi-Town - A Scary Visit

Once again, I have a trip planned to Chicago this weekend. It seems like I commute back and forth twice a month; I'm already calling it my "second home." In actuality I do very little in the city. Most of my time is spent at St. Clare's Friary on Archer and Damen Ave. The few times that I do go out into the city, one of the friars or postulants are the guide.

The same will happen this weekend, as my visit is less about visiting and more about testing. This is the weekend I've been dreading: the one on one with the psychologist.

I was asked a few months ago if I'd ever had psych testing before. I answered no. Later I remembered that I in fact did seee a pyschologist when I was a kid, and that the experience was so embarrassing and awkward, I'd simply forgotten it ever happened. Even now, I cannot remember all of the "sessions," but I remember enough to still be wary of what's to come.

When I was around 11 or 12, my mom took me to the Vera French Center in Davenport, IA. They called themselves "counsellors," but I knew what they really were. I don't think there was anything wrong with me except being a pre-teenage boy going through puberty, and I think my mom acted more out of ignorance than concern for any real issue. It's also why I don't think it lasted longer than six months.

I believe it started with a few dumb things that kids do at that age: I'd taken money from my mom' secret hiding place, I was a latch-key kid as my mom worked odd hours to bring home money, and somehow I'd found a Playboy or two outside and my mom found my secret hiding place (one thing I always wondered: why do people leave porno mags outside?).

I definately wasn't an angel, but it was nothing out of the ordinary by today's standards. I don't think my mom was used to that kind of activity. My family comes from migrants and a culture where those things are unheard of. I think she was startled, didn't know what to do, and shot for the strongest solution she could find.

Initially I talked to an older gentleman and a woman. Both of them were very nice and smiled a lot as they asked their questions. They talked down to me a somewhat, but I imagined they worked with kids much younger than I, and this was the "getting to know" phase. I wasn't offended. They asked questions about what I thought of myself, about my friends, my sexuality, if I liked school. They never asked anything intrusive like: "How many animals have you killed in the past month?" or anything outrageous. I felt comfortable talking with them, and I think if the experience had ended there, all would be good.

After that session, they asked if I wanted to continue to see someone. Aha! I thought to myself. If there was something wrong with me, they wouldn't have asked, they would have scheduled me for more visits. They seemed like nice people, weren't really too agressive in trying to "figure me out," so I said I would come back to visit again.

Big mistake.

I don't remember the name of the doctor I saw after that, nor do I remember him ever smiling. I do remember being asked lots of questions in a small room, sitting in a wooden chair, and giving quick yes/no answers to him as my fingers traced over the arms of the chair. I remember awkward silences as he sat staring at me, as if trying to examine me. Any time he tried to start a conversation, it dissolved quickly. Something about him either intimidated me or just told me not to open up to this guy. I remember one snippet of a conversation:

Shrink: "Do you like to tell jokes?
Me: "Sure."
Shrink: "Can you tell me a joke?"
Me. (after long pause) "I can't think of any."

After six months (a session a month), he started spending more time talking to my mom than me. Without knowing it at the time, my ability to shut down and put of the emotional wall kept the psychologist from either finding anything wrong with me, or not considering it worth the trouble to continue working with me. Mom and I never had any issues after that, and I've never had to see a counsellor since. I think my "issues" were not so much a mental concern, but the product of being from a single-parent family, and I think a father-figure would have helped more than a therapist during that stage of life.

The one thing that scares me about this visit is that I won't be the same shy kid I used to be. In fact, I'll talk about any and everything to everyone. Hell, I'm talking about a repressed memory from my childhood with random people over the InterWeb. What is my fear? That he'll find something wrong with me.

Again, I don't think I'm much different from anyone else in this world. Sure I have my own issues to work out, personal quirks to tweak; I am far from perfect by anyone's standards. I just worry about how "abnormal" I'm allowed to be before the shrink starts to think "Hey this guy might be an issue."

God's gotten me through my worries of debt and self-worthiness. I pray He helps me get through this weekend.

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2 Response to Back To Chi-Town - A Scary Visit

February 21, 2008 at 9:34 PM

Hang in there, man. I remember my anxiety - very similar to the way you describe yours - when it was time for the Psych testing before seminary. I mean, I knew I was an OK and well adjusted guy...but I wasn't a professional. :-)

What I discovered made lots of sense to me. #1 - If I'm REALLY surrendering my life to God and the Church (which is the only path to a true vocation), and there IS something in the Psych Eval that prohibits a vocation... then I just keep surrendering. (My spiritual director helped me a ton see there was a difference between being on a personal mission to pursue a priestly vocation and surrendering to God and discernment to follow Him wherever the call led.)

#2 - The eval was only partially (and minimally) diagnostic in purpose. The stronger purpose was to get a pshychological perspective on my strengths and weaknesses that can inform the formation and discernment process. Where can formation (i.e., postulancy) specifically address who and how I am so that I and the Church can best discern with me.

#3 - It wasn't nearly as close to a visit to the dentist as I thought it would be.

Hang in there. Surrender. Trust. Give it all to God. Entering the Order or not, if we can figure out how to do this, we'll be blessed beyond our wildest dreams.

I'm praying with you.

March 1, 2008 at 8:03 PM

I've been through a couple of psych tests for jobs (seminary/religious order are likely similar in a lot of ways.)

It wasn't a big deal. One of them kept digging for an answer I KNEW he wanted, but I wasn't going to give it...because it wouldn't have been my answer. And he was laughing in his frustration in trying to get it from me. I found it entertaining. After all, I'd worked in psych, I knew what he was getting at, and it didn't apply to my life at the time.

I went through another one with another job, that one was actually less intimidating, although I should see if It's still possible to get the results of it. I'm curious as to their findings. I passed as I was hired (for the FD), but I'd grown a bit since the last psych.

They really aren't a big deal.