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…,and keep your sense of humor.

January 19, 2012

My first clinical internship while in graduate school, was as a therapist in training at a hospital.  I worked primarily on the adolescent residential unit with kids who were there for a length of time.  During the internship, I was also hired to work weekends.  After graduating, I worked full time while completing the requirements for licensure.

I loved my job.  I might still be there, except the hospital closed.  But while I was there, I loved being a therapist and working with teenagers in an inpatient setting.  I had already worked a lot with kids in a church setting, and I discovered there were many similarities between church and hospital.  Perhaps the most striking difference was that the kids now lived at the “church”.  They were there 24/7, which meant I got to be present for the best and the worst as teenagers tried to navigate their life (lives).  The teachable moments happened frequently right in front of me.

We’re used to thinking about teachable moments in the lives of children.  We’ve heard a lot about the importance of adults recognizing and taking advantage of those moments as golden opportunities for growth.  Moments when children are more open to learning, more malleable.

Working in that hospital, fresh out of graduate school, taught me that teachable moments aren’t reserved for children.  I was sometimes painfully aware that while the kids on the unit were trying to find themselves and their path, the adults involved were engaged in a parallel learning process.  We were routinely faced with our own teachable moments, often under the instruction of the kids we were responsible for.  Growth was an equal opportunity experience for doctors, nurses, techs, a variety of therapists, unit school teachers, and me.  It was on that adolescent residential unit that I learned the impact of responding vs. reacting.  I began to watch the ways our behavior as staff helped escalate or de-escalate the behavior of the kids on the unit.

One day as I talked with a frustrated colleague, I began to think out loud about the self-management skills that could make or break your work with hospitalized adolescents.  Over time my colleagues began to refer them as Paulann’s Cardinal Rules for working on an adolescent residential unit.  A fellow therapist arrived at the hospital one day with a stack of computer generated “Cardinal Rule” cards for me to hand out to my peers.  It became a running joke grounded in seeds of truth.

When the hospital closed I went on to new jobs, new colleagues, new consumers, and new teachable moments.  I don’t think I realized at the time that the one thing I took with me were those rules.  I discovered they were helpful to remember and to practice, with my children, my colleagues, my clients.  Those rules have been with me for twenty years.  I think I even have one of those original cards in my momento stash. Those rules have served me well.  I would like to say they’ve become second nature to me.  That I do them in my sleep, with one hand tied behind my back.  But in spite of knowing them, there are times I violate every single one.  So maybe they’re better thought of as goals to shoot for.  So, for what it’s worth, Paulann’s…,

Daily Goals To Shoot For

1.  Don’t Forget to Breathe.


2.  Keep Your Sense of Humor

3.  Don’t Take it Personally

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Carol Wiebe permalink
    January 20, 2012 5:51 am

    Teachable moments are like golden needles in life’s usual haystack. Perhaps that isn’t a very good metaphor, because they can actually happen much more frequently if you tune yourself into the students/clients you are working with.

    For me, teachable moments don’t just happen when the student is more open to learning, but when I am. We have all these precious lesson plans and goals, but interacting with another person, especially one “under your charge,” involves staying in tune with where they are at. If that is my primary focus, and I continually test the waters to make sure they are with me, or at least moving in that direction, I greatly increase the teachable moments we have together. I also think it’s important to be flexible in your approach: if what you are doing is not working, change it, midstream. At the very least, stand on your head or bring out a chicken puppet.

    The pics are perfect, Paulann; they made me laugh!

    • January 20, 2012 10:29 am

      I absolutely agree, Carol. It’s amazing what is there to learn if we open ourselves up to the lessons. Kids are some of the best teachers I know, and when we’re open to learning from them, the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts. I’m grateful that the youthful teachers in my life have hung in there with me even when I’ve been a slow learner.

      I love your thoughts on the willingness to change midstream. Sometimes seemingly absurd and pointless things bring about wonderful outcomes. I’m glad you enjoyed the pics. I chuckle each time I look at them too.

  2. Anonymous permalink
    January 20, 2012 6:03 am

    Love this and have lived by it for years. Thanks.

    • January 20, 2012 10:31 am

      Thank you for stopping by, reading, and leaving your thoughts. Sometimes I wonder how different our world would be if most of us lived by these three things most of the time.

  3. Pam Knight permalink
    January 20, 2012 8:06 am

    Excellent! Just what I needed particular now. Will you be posting more? I always learn so much from you .
    Thank you Paulann

    • January 20, 2012 10:38 am

      Hi Pam! Thank you for taking the time to visit the GrowthLines thinking place, and for joining in the conversation. I will be posting more, and look forward to hearing your thoughts. The post “Best laid plans”, gives a rundown of where I hope to take the blog over the next little while. Of course, I frequently start in one direction and find the writing takes me somewhere else, so we’ll see.

      I hope we get to have another face to face catch up visit soon. I thoroughly enjoyed the last one. Let’s not wait another decade. 🙂 Hope all is well with you and yours! ~ Paulann

  4. Pam Knight permalink
    January 20, 2012 8:12 am

    Thanks Paulann. Does
    Grouthlines have is’s own
    Facebook page?

  5. January 20, 2012 12:17 pm

    These are good rules to live by, those kids were lucky to have you. For me a sense of humor is key to helping others. Somehow a little dose of absurity helps loosen us from the death grips of just about anything. I wish more therapists were encouraged to practice it, but so often we’re taught to take things so seriously. In working with teens now I find laughter helps a lot. When they see I can take a joke, laugh at myself, it frees them to do the same for themselves.

    • January 21, 2012 8:47 pm

      I always hoped to be a caring and hopeful presence to those kids who had often dealt with a lifetime’s worth of pain before they were out of childhood. I know I was lucky to have them in my life. They taught me with patience and persistence.

      I agree that the “helping” professions are often at risk of losing and/or bridling our own creativity and humor. What a shame to lose the beauty and the healing of the absurd. It is unfortunate when we fail to see the connection and the partnership between seriousness and laughter. I know you bring an authentic voice, and laughter to your work.

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