The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size. ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Is Santa Real?

I looked up at the wall and watched the clock quietly ticking each moment away.  Just a few more days and school would be out for Christmas, my favorite time of year.  I must have been all of 9 years old at the time. 

During recess, a group of kids were sitting on the floor playing jacks and chatting about what they were going to do during break. Some were going on vacations, others were going skiing with their families.  I piped in saying, "I can't wait until I see what Santa brings me!"  With that they all began laughing, teasing me relentlessly for being such a baby.  

"There is no such thing as Santa stupid!  Your parents buy you all that stuff!" I stood there  - mortified and heart broken.  Not sure if this was true or just some cruel joke, I went home and posed the question to my mother. Ah yes, that dreaded question every parent must face sooner or later. How one answers it makes all the difference in the world.

My mother sat me down and asked me a few questions. "Was Nana real?"  That seemed like a silly question.  Of course my grandmother was real. She used to live right next door to us, at least until she died.   "Do you still believe in her?" Certainly! I knew that she was somewhere, still watching over me. "Do you believe in Love?" Obviously! I was surrounded with it with plenty left over to go around.  "Do you believe in the magic of Christmas?" There was no question about that. All you had to do was look around. Even people who tended to be grouchy seemed to be jolly during the holidays. There was music, lights, colors, decorations, parties, family get togethers, traditions, and a festive feeling in the air. How could anyone not feel the magic?" Do you believe in giving and doing for others?" Nothing made me happier than making gifts for my family in school and lovingly wrapping them or helping my mother bake cookies and taking them to our cousin and her friends at the nursing home. I'd always ask my mother for some coins to toss in the bucket for the donations outside stores or pick out a gift to go under the tree at church for those who would otherwise go without. It made people smile and THAT was a gift in itself. With that she looked at me and said, "Then he is real."

She went onto explain how he existed long, long ago, and would give gifts to those in need. Although he grew old and died, his legend of kindness lived on. Throughout time people adopted his traditions and every country found a way to make them their own. That in itself, the spreading of this one man's acts throughout the world, bringing everyone together to celebrate was magic in itself.  She then told me that, like my grandmother, his spirit lives on and is a part of why Christmas is so special. His love becomes a part of everyone, bringing the joy and desire to give and share. This was something I could accept and treasured. Although no longer in body, he was still alive in the most important place - my heartSanta was and always will be the essence, the magic, the "spirit of Christmas".

I passed this story down to my children when they approached me with that question. For me though, it was not so dreadful, knowing I held the key to keeping the magic alive.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Choosing the Right Therapist

The search for the perfect therapist is not much different than the search for the perfect mate.  It's a specialized relationship requiring "good chemistry", one where you can feel at ease to open up and discuss your deepest, sometimes darkest feelings.  Most people put more time and effort into shopping for electronics than they do choosing the right practitioner for treatment of their mental and physical concerns.   

Here's some tips to get you started off on the right foot.  If it is an emergency, however - by all means call 911.  Don't wait.

Take some time to do your research.  You can't  just point and click and expect good results.

  • Be wary of those who rely on mass media to advertise their services.  A truly good physician (or any other professional for that matter) relies on word of mouth and referrals from their peers to build their practice.  They don't need big, gaudy ads in magazines or newspapers, billboard space or television commercials.  They don't offer coupons,  freebies other gimmicks to rope you in.   
  • If you have insurance, begin with their website directory.  This will confirm let you know who is "In Network" or not.  Most sites allow you to search by specialty and type of practice (private, clinic, group, hospital).  They will included a short profile including educational background, years in practice, languages spoken, sub-specialties and contact information.  It also gives you the opportunity to narrow your search according to your location.  
  • Better yet, ask your primary care physician.  Doctors usually have particular providers they recommend and in turn, can assist you with referrals if necessary.  Although there may be a certain amount of favoritism based on reciprocal referrals, most offices will adjust this list according to patients experiences.  While you're at it, have a check up if you have not done so recently.  Emotional distress might be linked to physical ailments or be the result of adverse side effects of a medication.
  • Friends and family are also valuable resources.  Nothing is better than first hand accounts, that is as long as you allow enough wiggle room for personal preferences and personalities.
  • Just as you might turn to "Consumer Reports" when shopping for a particular item, there are Internet sites dedicated to personal reviews written by former or current patients.  Check out or  Just bear in mind, you need to find that fine balance between extremely positive and negative comments.  Some doctors are trying to fight off patient's freedom of speech, looking for ways to shut these sites down.  However, the fact is - any legitimate business opens itself up to being judged by its clients and consumers and doctors are no exception.  
  • If you are a connoisseur of MDs you can always check TopDocs in America.  Just note - most of these doctors are located in major cities and because of their reputation many may be closed to accepting new patients or have long waiting periods for appointments.  Make sure they are covered by your insurance and if not, be prepared for the bill - you pay top dollar for top quality.  
  • The American Medical Association is another great resource for information on training, certifications, and disciplinary actions.  And if all these resources are not enough, use social media to check them out.  Many doctors have Facebook accounts, blogs, or can be found on LinkedIn (a professional networking site).  Or - simply Google their name.  You'll be surprised how much you can learn with just a few minutes of effort.

Now that you have narrowed down your selection, "the dating phase" begins.  Begin taking careful notes even before meeting face to face.

  • Were you able to get in to see the doctor within a reasonable frame of time following your initial request for an appointment?
  • When you arrive at the office, is the staff friendly and welcoming?  Remember, they are the conduit to him and if they are miserable, rude or outright incompetent - it might give you an idea about the character in the other room.
  • Note the waiting area.  Is it clean, pleasant and orderly? Are there reading materials and informational pamphlets for to peruse that are up to date - or are they torn and dated?  I like to keep the late Erma Bombeck's quote in mind -“Never go to a doctor whose office plants have died.”
  • How long are you kept waiting before seeing the doctor?  No more than ten minutes is ideal.  However, if you are left sitting there for a half hour or more or are told, "I'm sorry but the doctor is running behind" too often, it may be time to find someone new.  Remember, your time is also valuable, a fact that should be respected.  For those who choose to sit it out, make sure your session is not rushed or cut short.   
  • Does the doctor greet you by name and shake your hand? 
  • Look around.  Is his office and desk neat and organized? This is a good indication about how HIS mind works.   

Before getting down to business ask some or all of the following questions.  This is your chance to interview him to get an idea of whether or not he is the right person for the "job" of treating you.  After all, this will be a working relationship.  Get a feeling for his style, temperament and approach and how comfortable you are with it. 

• What are his credentials; schooling, accreditation, licensing etc (if you do not already know)?
• How long has he been in practice?
• What is his specialty?
• What are the office policies on missed appointments, payments etc?
• Is he available, on call in emergencies?
• What sort of approach does he take to therapy? (have him explain it in detail)
• How long does it take for him to evaluate a patient confidently (this should be a min. of 6 visits)?
• If this is a psychiatrist, is he all drugs and no talk, or does he combine both approaches?
• Is he open to you receiving or referring you to alternative therapies?
• Is he willing to disclose his treatment plan and notes to you (by law all doctors must do this as well as providing you with an idea of how long you will be in therapy and what goals you are working towards?

If you are in a weakened state of mind, take a family member or friend with you as support.  They cannot and should not be turned away.

We need to be informed and ready to advocate for ourselves.  While we may need help when it comes to healing our bodies and minds, our welfare is ultimately in our hands.  Carefully choosing the right therapist will maximize the benefits reaped from the experience.