Meet Baby Pearce!

The moment you've all been waiting for [and by all, I mean Tammy]: Joel and I are going to have a baby! We saw our little spud for the first time today, and here's photographic evidence in case you are skeptical...

Head on over to to read up on all the blogging I haven't been doing over here!


Wonder why it's still so quiet on the blogging front? I've got another little, though rapidly growing, project on the side....stay tuned, you'll find out Tuesday what it is!

Ooooh the suspense is killing you, I just know it...

Regent University Commencement Exercises

Well, it's official! Well, almost. Even almost-er than before when I defended my dissertation. I'm so perilously close to having my doctoral degree, I can taste it.

On Saturday, May 8, 2010, I participated in the Regent University Commencement Exercises. Even more meaningful was the Commissioning Ceremony the previous afternoon, which was a worship service and hooding ceremony just for the School of Psychology & Counseling. At the ceremony, my faculty placed my doctoral hood over my head, anointed my forehead with oil, and prayed over me. And the following morning at Commencement, Dr. Robertson himself conferred upon me the degree "Doctor of Psychology", with all the rights and privileges thereto appertaining. I even got to switch my tassel to the other side!

I am so grateful to the Lord for sustaining me through the past five years. What a journey it has been. And I praise God not only for His faithfulness, but for the steadfast support of my beloved husband at every turn. When I moved to Virginia Beach to start this program, he followed without hesitation. When my internship brought us to Reading, PA, he uprooted himself from his stable, decent-paying job and is now working two part-time jobs and taking library science courses - finally, a chance to pursue his own dreams. Joel, husband of my youth, I know that you are not one for grand laudatory comments or public acknowledgments of your merit. But you are truly my rock and my hero. For your selflessness and constant encouragement over the last five years, I thank you. I could not have done it without you, and that is no exaggeration.

I also thank my parents - mom and dad, I will always remember your gift of my doctoral hood and all that that symbolizes. As the song says, your love has given me roots, and helped me find my wings.

To mom and dad Pearce, I thank you as well, for welcoming me into your family even as I was about to drag your wonderful son on this whirlwind adventure of a doctoral program. Thank you for your support and encouragement, and for advising me so strongly against getting off of the train in the middle of the tunnel.

There are so many thanks to be poured out here. My precious sister, and my sisters and brothers in law, you have all been behind me every step of the way. My cohort members have been sweet friends and fellow sojourners through the crucible that is a clinical psychology program. I don't even remember who I was before you all came into my life.

Before this becomes an Oscar acceptance speech (too late?), allow me to cut to the photographic evidence.
Behold, almost-Dr. Pearce:

Two sweet friends, Amy and Michele, and Michele's little Jacob.
This is pre-hooding, hence the bare black graduation robes.

Complete regalia, after the Commissioning/hooding Ceremony. It's not that I favor the Pearces over my own family, but somehow this was the only picture I have access to at the moment!

And, complete with the souvenir hat and fake diploma! If we look a little uncomfortable, it's because we were - I baked in my own portable oven on a brick patio at 90 degrees for three hours. Joel at least got to sit in the shade...

And what's all this to-do about a hood? Behold, the Regent Psy.D. hood in (most of) its glory! It has a sweet tail thing at the bottom that shows more of the royal blue and green colors.

To clarify, I will be totally official when I have completed my internship and that final internship credit has posted with the registrar. Then, they will unceremoniously mail me a diploma, and I will commence signing even my grocery receipts with a "Psy.D." on the end.

Thanks for your kind attention, if you've read this far. Here ends the public lauding of my own success, I promise. Now, back to the barely-paying, lowly intern grind...hmm, I think this post was more to remind me that I really did graduate, than it was to inform anybody else of the fact. I love being in tune with my underlying psychological drives...

Home Stretch

Hi, my name's Elizabeth, and I used to have a blog. I'm here today to dust off the cobwebs and see what's left of my corner of the interweb. Is anybody in here? HELLOOOO? [hello, hello, hello....]

Well. At any rate, I guess I could give the three of us who are here a quick update on how things are going, seeing as how it's been so long. As this post title suggests, I'm in the home stretch of my internship. Only fifteen weeks to go! (I confess, I have numbered the weeks in my planner so that I can watch them tick away.) I'll spend the remainder of my time focusing on my outpatient caseload and conducting forensic evaluations with Dr. Larry Rotenberg, a renowned forensic psychiatrist in Pennsylvania. I would tell you what my work with him is like, but then my husband wouldn't allow me to go back. We get some rather unsavory characters - but don't worry, they're usually very friendly criminals.

I'm also pleased to report that I have an interview on Friday for a postdoctoral position! It would be a job with a private practice in Leola, PA, so it would enable us to move toward Lancaster as we have been hoping to do. Also, I share a mutual friend with the head psychologist, so this has been a helpful connection thus far (thank you, Migdalia!!). I'm not sure whether the practice as a whole is explicitly Christian, but the head psychologist who founded the practice is a believer, and several of the therapists in his employ are Christians and incorporate spiritual concerns into their treatment. I'm so excited for this opportunity! Please pray that the interview goes well, and that they like me as well in person as they do on paper.

As I mentioned, we're looking for a place to live. Before you pause to pray about my interview, please add to your prayer list our housing search. We have a couple of leads on houses for rent, and Joel's mission (should he choose to accept it) is to contact realtors and follow up on these leads until we have, in fact, a new place to live. We covet your prayers to this end. There are so many details to fall into place, and we trust the Lord to provide for all these needs.

Otherwise, we are supremely happy and eagerly anticipating the future. It's a relief to be on my final rotation so that I (hopefully) have a little more time to think and blog. We'll see how that goes, eh? Thanks for stopping by, and thanks for hanging in there for these past four months of blogging silence!

You Know It's Time for a New Post When...

...You check your blog on January 4 and realize there are still pumpkins gracing the page. I can't believe I missed my opportunity for Christmas cheer here on the interwebs!

Sadly, nothing has happened between November 13 and January 4 to inspire a truly substantive post. Well, that's not entirely true, but they're working me hard these days and between a new rotation and catching my breath from the holidays, I don't have bonus thoughts to string together for the blog.

You read that right: This week I begin a new rotation over on the inpatient unit. Spruce Pavilion. Club Spruce. The Spruce. I hear the food is excellent. Yes, there is shuffleboard.

For the patients, that is...I, on the other hand, will magically transform into Spruce's Personal Assessment Slave (I wish that were backwards so I could be a SAP....Slavish Assessment Person?) (oh wait, it could be SPAS, pronounced "spazz". Yes!), help run therapy groups over there, and still carry my outpatient caseload. Hopefully it won't be quite as stressful as my former office-mate Eileen would have me believe. ("Former" because she and Monica traded offices, not because I finally lost my patience....).

The internship's going great, yes I'm a bit loopy (hazard of the job, I'm afraid), and don't expect another blog update til May 1 when I flip rotations for the third and final time! Someday I'll be free again to think my own thoughts and share them with you...

Almost-Dr. Pearce (fingers crossed!)

Therapeutic Self-Centeredness

Perhaps this one will be a true "musing"...

If you've read my most recent posts (though not terribly recent, I'm sorry to observe), then you're likely aware of my position as a psychology intern and therapist extraordinaire at a local hospital. I've enjoyed my unique (read: lonely) perspective as a Christian psychologist, poised to catch those moments in which psychology and faith intersect. Usually, the crossroads are sublime. Sometimes they are not. This is a musing about the latter.

Therapy is sort of an individual thing. Even in group therapy, the focus is on improving yourself, building your coping and interpersonal skills, learning how to overcome your depression/anxiety/self-pity/mass media-induced neurosis. Accordingly, self-esteem is paramount. Therapists exhort clients ad nauseum to use positive self-talk, make a list of positive qualities about themselves, identify strengths and successes, disregard the opinions and past abuses of others. And there is merit to this, in the sense that no person was intended to be a doormat, nor deeply and permanently depressed.

But the opposite of, and cure for, self-loathing is not self-worship. I don't believe the answer to low self-esteem is to build a shrine to self and lie there prostrate. How I want to scream this to my clients, even as I listen to my co-therapist encourage a group of used, abused, weepy-eyed, self-flagellating women (we had a gender-homogeneous group today) to put themselves first. These women roll out their laundry lists of thankless tasks: cleaning, cooking, caring for the kids, putting up with a sour (at best) relationship, enduring emotional havoc from aging parents. They pour themselves out daily for others and are realizing that this is draining, impossible to sustain indefinitely.

As I listen, I hear much of what is biblical about femininity: nurturing, caring, raising children, having a sensitivity to the emotions and behaviors of others. To an extreme, perhaps, and many of these women do not know how to set boundaries or to say no when it might be appropriate. I also hear much that is biblical concerning the human experience: it stinks sometimes to live in a fallen world among fallen people. And sometimes we feel ugly in our own skin.

I agree with secular psychology on one point: the answer requires a drastic re-aligning of priorities. But it is not a re-aligning that places the self in the top position. Far from it! Fulfillment will never - not EVER - come from selfishness, even well-intentioned selfishness designed to salve a wounded ego.

Rather, the answer is in reorienting ourselves so that our primary and ultimate allegiance is to the One who created us to be women (and men) bearing His image. My spirit resonates with the struggles of these women: I, too, feel the pressures of balancing a home and work, of pushing myself to sort the laundry when I don't feel like it, of cooking meals when I'm tired, of cleaning things that I'll never be thanked for. But I do believe that many of these tasks are at the heart of what it is to be a woman: a suitable help-mate for a man. I do not find the strength to do these things through scheduling regular bubble baths and pedicures (though those are nice when they happen), nor by washing my own clothes and dishes and letting the rest of the house go to pot (that was an actual suggestion today, to show the rest of the family what an important job she does). I find the strength to do these things through worshipping my God and believing His word that He created me to serve and to nurture. I find fulfillment in the thankless because I do all to the glory of God, not to the glory of me or my husband. I feel worthwhile because charm is deceptive and beauty fades, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

I wonder if our therapies are rendered less effective because we emphasize the self so heavily, to the exclusion of considering other, higher priorities. Ironically, our therapeutically self-centered culture is making us all the more neurotic because we can never raise our self-esteem high enough - until it is too high, and then we have a whole different set of pathologies.

Yes, we are to see value in ourselves and in our work. But that value is to flow from the ultimate worth-ship of our Creator, who created us in His image and declared that, behold, we are very good. And we are to always remember that our value is only because He has made it so: apart from His grace, we are in a state of abject wretchedness. The women in my therapy group are only feeling the reality of their condition! When my self-esteem is low, I return to the truths of Scripture and believe, even when my heart doesn't feel like it. I believe that God is God, and I am not. I believe that I ought to esteem myself lowly. And I believe that by His good pleasure and grace, He has placed me a little lower than the angels, nay, has clothed me in the righteousness of His Son and adopted me as a co-heir of heaven.

How could listing my positive qualities, filthy rags such as they are, possibly compare with the inestimable riches and beauty of the crown of life? What positive self-talk could I possibly craft to encourage me more than to say I am a daughter of El-Shaddai? When my spirit groans in this fallen world, may I not yield to therapeutic self-centeredness, but may the Lord help me to cast my eyes heavenward, to cry "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!" and to be faithful by His grace until He does.

God and Psychotherapy, Part the Second

I'm not sure I have the energy to make this post quite as eloquent as the one about angel-guy and reality, but as I witness the ongoing intersection between therapy and faith, I feel compelled to share.

Actually, this post will be more of a musing than a story (thus perfectly befitting the title of my blog, for perhaps the first time? do I often muse? how can one tell?) (I might not muse, but I certainly digress). ANYWAY...

I've noticed that clients seem reluctant to talk about their faith in session. I've had several who, just in passing, have mentioned something about God or religious beliefs, or some Christian song that they enjoy singing. Because I love Jesus and was trained at Regent University, I'm usually on that like a hawk. "Oh, are your beliefs about God important to you?" "Oh, do you enjoy singing Christian songs? What are your beliefs about that?" It is glorious when this occurs, like a sudden, unexpected beam of light shining down onto my therapy couch.

I'm always amazed when my clients seem surprised that I should ask. Those who have opened this door have turned out to identify as Christians, and to report that their beliefs are of core importance to them. How could such a person claim to desire healing without incorporating such a central component of their humanity? It blows the mind, really. Have we, as a field, professed so much hostility toward religion that our clients, the very ones for whom we exist, feel afraid to mention their love for the Lord?

One feels inspired to cuss. Or would, perhaps, if one weren't such a thoroughly sanctified girl.

I have one client in particular, whose name is startlingly appropriate to this story (we'll call her Faith, not her real name). She has been struggling with overwhelming guilt and shame related to her daughter's experience of abuse in the past. Faith has been stuck in a very deep depression for over a year, and to make matters worse, is somaticizing her distress as physical pain throughout her body. She feels little relief from her pain, even with medication and a sporadic exercise regimen. It is difficult for her to function from day to day because of the staggering weight of her guilt and sorrow.

I was trying to help her identify activities that lift her mood, even a little. She mentioned reading, and I asked what she enjoys reading. Her reading material of choice includes books about God, love, and becoming a better person. Choosing to believe that she was not referring to anything Olsteen-related, I asked about her interest in God. Does she have a relationship with God? Is this important to her? How has she experienced God since she learned of her daughter's abuse? Has she felt a disconnect between what she knows about God, and the way she feels her relationship with him is now?

Well oh my stars. If this woman didn't just light up at the mention of her God. We didn't solve world hunger, or even permanently do away with her depression, but we had such a conversation as has rarely graced a therapy room. It turns out she has felt very distant from God lately, and this is very distressing for her. She believes in Jesus, but it is incredibly difficult for her to let go of the guilt that comes from blaming herself for her daughter's abuse.

Does this not change everything about the way we will move forward in therapy??

In fifteen minutes we moved from a cold, stuck, barren place in which Faith has little hope for ever improving, to a warm, beautiful, living place in which Faith remembers her love for God, her passion for beauty, and her gift for writing poetry. Next time I see Faith, she will bring her old writings and we will speak of the only thing that is really True. Before she left that day, she smiled for at least five minutes and complimented my hair.

And all I did was agree with her that God exists, and He gives us good things, and that sometimes what we know about Him is very different from the way we experience Him. I gave her permission to speak about that which is Real in a way that her guilt and depression never will be. All I did was spot an unlocked door, and nudge it open enough for us to peer through together. And I do believe we'll be walking through it in the near future: the door to forgiveness and hope.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. With depression as significant as Faith is experiencing, progress tends to be slow and recovery is not always complete - i.e. some symptoms and/or some tendency to relapse will always remain. I blame the genetic component of mood disorders. But if we can reduce the heavy burden of guilt, I would imagine that we will see some level of improvement.

You know, it's interesting. That morning, as I laid in bed struggling to wake up and leave my warm (canoe-shaped...but that's a different post...) cocoon, I said a prayer for the clients I would see that day. Wednesdays are my full days, and I am there roughly 11.5 hours, so it takes a fairly strong kick in the pants to get me going. I find that it helps to minimize my stress and fear of exhaustion if I pray over that day's workload (go figure). And I prayed for Faith, who previously had been a bit of a frustration to me because of her stuck-ness. And lo and behold, the Lord saw fit to enter into the healing process that very morning.

I love my job.

[editor's note: I guess this turned out to be both a musing and a story. I have such a gift for smooth transitions and combining literary genres.]

Get It???


Operation Snowball

Joel and I sat down to a long-overdue business meeting this morning and hashed out our budget. Actually, our first step was to list our one-year goals as a couple, including family, financial, personal, and professional goals. These goals may or may not have included "no more back pain!" and "get a normal job!". I won't tell you which goal was whose.

This was a great experience. I'm reminded of a well-known piece of wisdom: Begin with the end in mind. If you don't know where you want to end up, how will you ever get there? It was neat to envision where we want to be in another twelve months. We also hope to do the same with five-year goals and perhaps longer-term goals than that, but this was a good start.

When we had listed our financial goals in particular (though some of our personal goals are related), we realized that our next priority had to be examining the budget. We have been sorely remiss in not evaluating our financial situation monthly, or even bimonthly, in the recent past, with the result that we weren't entirely sure where we stood in relation to our financial goals.

Enter Operation Snowball.

I don't know whether you're familiar with the Snowball philosophy of getting out of debt. It's from the Dave Ramsey school of thought, I believe (if not him, then someone similar with perhaps a different hairstyle). You write a budget that involves minimum monthly payments toward each of your debts, and look to see whether you have a monthly surplus or deficit. We found ourselves extremely fortunate to have a modest monthly surplus - the advantage of going from one income to two, and downgrading our housing for this year. This is where the Snowball philosophy kicks in.

As we looked at putting all of our monthly surplus toward the debt with the lowest monthly payment, we realized we could be rid of that one by January (!!). Roll the monthly surplus and what we had been paying toward that debt into a payment for the second-lowest-monthly debt, and we can be rid of debt #2 by May! Wow, this is really working! And miracle or miracles, when we take all of the monthly surplus + debt 1 payment + debt 2 payment and put it toward debt #3 each month, we'll be done with that one a short time later. Voila, financial goals #1, 3 and 4 passed and surpassed with style.

We are really, really motivated to stick with this, but we sometimes have trouble with willpower. Therefore, we decided to dub our aggressive budget plan "Operation Snowball". Any time we feel tempted to splurge on something outside the budget, we will squint menacingly at one another, yell "Operation Snowball!" and exchange fist pounds (the exploding kind). Should you ever witness this, you are welcome to participate by throwing your hands in the air and waving them like you just don't care. Perhaps then we will be able to resist the siren song of the strawberry kiwi Gelato from Rita's.

I'm not so optimistic about resisting the Sesame Chicken from Zhuang's Garden, but like I always say, baby steps, people.

The Fictions of Our Healing

I spent today on the partial unit because they were short-staffed due to something about a state inspection. Hopefully they only reviewed charts that I have not yet touched, because I doubt that my paperwork wherewithall is on par with state regs at this point.

And also, it's a "partial hospitalization" unit, not half a hospital wing. It can be a bit confusing when we healthcare professionals toss around the medical jargon, I know. Basically, the patients come in for a day of structure and group therapy and return home around 2:00. They need more support than just weekly outpatient therapy, but don't require the constant supervision of inpatient care. Anyways.

My brain and schedule have been so full lately that I fear I have not been on the lookout for "bloggable moments" as much as, say, mid-July, when my life was to file my nails, eat bon-bons, and pine for my husband. How things have changed! Now I get up at dawn, eat cafeteria food, and pine for my husband.

So I was thankful when, just this morning, a bloggable moment basically smacked me in the face. It's my honor to bring it to you, and hope you find some worth in its reading.

Picture a room, large enough for two long tables pushed together on one side (for lunch, therapeutic recreation, and psychoeducation group) and a circle of a dozen or so chairs on the other. A noisy air conditioner in each of two windows stands silent, abandoned in favor of audible therapy. The air hangs heavy with the remnants of this morning's muddy coffee and the closeness of fellow sojourners about to bare their souls. There is one empty chair in the circle, and a girl jokes that her hallucinations have a place to sit today. This is a place where the lines between reality and non-reality tend to shift around a bit, and are sometimes ignored altogether.

Reality. For one weathered man, reality is a foreclosure, an abusive wife, and a suicide attempt two weeks ago. For the new girl, it's somehow picking up the pieces and her baby girl and moving on from the suicide of her live-in boyfriend. The quiet lady in the corner is "down" today; yesterday she was "up" and couldn't stop fidgeting, drawing, talking, drinking coffee. The other therapist and I value reality and work so that our patients are in touch with it; our patients, on the other hand, would sooner spit on it than live it. And they tell us so.

This is a tough crowd. A cynical bunch. What does a white-bread little girl know about reality? They want to know. I'm a no-fat double latte to their whiskey on the rocks. Oh they're kind, they let me sit in their circle and ask polite questions about their troubles, offer bland suggestions about deep breathing and challenging negative thoughts.

As though I'd be coping just fine with the things they carry in those dark, tattered corners of their souls.

Enter a man with the name of an angel. He's fat, and he has a mustache and the kind of voice you'd pair with Steve Urkel if you didn't know better. He came to us for the first time yesterday from inpatient, after a brief stint in the regular hospital. Angel-guy has chronic health issues and attempted suicide by altering his meds. He's not cool by a long shot, and he hasn't been here long enough to know that the only people who talk about God are the schizophrenics with "religious preoccupations".

We had just begun morning process group, and it was one of those days when, in the words of my co-therapist, you just know you're going to haul out your crowbar and start playing dentist. Like pulling teeth, I chimed in, clarifying his allusion so that the more easily frightened in the bunch wouldn't be sent into full-blown panic attack mode. That's not a joke. You never know whose meds were adjusted by the doc yesterday.

Bless his heart, angel-guy stepped into the void of going first in group. His voice was shaky because he struggles with social anxiety (in this group, who doesn't?), but angel-guy took a deep breath and talked to us about God.

Nobody else noticed anything amiss. The other group members probably (barring auditory hallucinations) heard a guy saying, among stutters and stops, that he knows God is still there, but it's hard to feel connected with him right now because he's so depressed. My co-therapist probably heard delusions teeming with maladaptive thoughts, a sick man so intent on connecting with a mythical deity that he won't be able to discard his unhelpful beliefs and focus on his own health.

Me? I watched the paradox of reality shattering un-reality before my very eyes. In this room, where supposedly the sane lead the insane, the craziest thing of all was happening. Suddenly the fictions of our healing were fatally wounded by the Truth. We were children offering each other jellybeans for our ills while one simple, pathetic man spoke of the Bread of Life, a sovereign God who has spoken peace once and for all if we would only take and eat. He knew that reality, true reality, was somewhere just beyond his grasp, if only it would find him again.

It was a moment that loses something in the translation. But in that moment I wondered what we were doing. In that moment, my soul wept bitterly, and even now mourns, for the lost who believe they are found by cognitive therapies and relaxation techniques. Our healing is dressing mortal wounds in pretty colors if we do not offer the balm of Gilead. Our foolish reality, ignorant of the eternal God, is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Oh, there is a place for our pretty colors and positive thoughts. I feel no less called to offer compassion and help to those who suffer in the prison of the mind. If we can liberate our patients from the chains of depression, anxiety, and psychosis, so much the better. But let us not delude ourselves into believing we have saved them from anything particularly important. Indeed, perhaps it is those with chronic and persistent mental illnesses (and other chronic health problems, certainly) who are not "cured" by our treatments and believe themselves to be beyond hope in this world, who are the nearest to understanding their true plight. And it is up to us to offer hope that is beyond this world.

Father, God, show me how you would have me serve as a psychologist for Your kingdom.
Make me an instrument of the peace that passes all understanding.
Where there is hatred, let me model unconditional love.
Where there is injury, may I speak of true pardon.
Where there is doubt, help me to show that there is Truth worthy of our faith.
Where there is despair, may hope be evident in my ministering.
Where there is darkness, go before me as the light that defeats all shadow.
And where there is sadness, may I demonstrate the joy that lies deeper than circumstance.

Lord, I encounter pain on a daily basis. It seems my caseload consists of Job after Job. Grant that I would not seek merely to treat superficial problems of thought and feeling, but that I would also seek open doors to conversations about Your reality, which is our true reality. Even while I am constrained by law and ethics, sharpen my intellect with discernment and poise my tongue to speak the truth whenever possible. Help me to remember that to love is to point to you.

And Father, when I am weak of heart, remind me of this man who was not afraid to speak your name into the darkness.