Cognition & Reality

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Survival Instinct

Filed under: Basic Goodness,Human Evolution — drtone @ 5:59 pm

Sometimes we do things that are hard to explain at the time, only to understand their significance later. It could be that this represents some kind of instinctive response that, because it arises from deep inside one’s being, does not respect time and space. I have had at least one experience of this phenomenon.

Anyone who knows me knows that, outside of the written page, I am “organizationally challenged.” I somehow managed to acquire a doctorate, although I can’t take notes to save my life (no matter how strong my survival instinct); the same problem with note-taking has arisen again in connection with my clinical practice. My “files” are a ridiculous, musty mess. Most of the time, every horizontal surface in my place is at least partially obscured with papers, magazines, and other crap. I am the opposite of “detail-oriented” and am the world’s worst clerk. Nevertheless, years ago, I accomplished a difficult clerical task, involving repeated attention to boring details, that promises to make it possible for me to live without having to flip burgers.

When I was working for Western Psychological Services, in LA, I found out that I could count my hours at my job toward the 3000 clinical hours required to obtain a psychology license. In order to accomplish this, I had to submit an application to the state Board of Psychology to be a “psychological assistant.” This involved asking my department head to be my “supervisor,” something I was loathe to do, because I never liked owing him anything. In addition, I had to send the Board a passport-sized photo and my fingerprints, which involved spending a few bucks at some Kinko’s-like place. If the business had not been farther than only a couple of blocks away, I might never had gone there. I also had to fill out a long form and have my transcripts sent from UCSD (and perhaps other places). Furthermore, I had to reapply each year to renew my status as a psych assistant, which I managed to do, as well. After I accumulated my hours, I also studied for and passed the national examination, the name of which escapes me, that is part of the California licensing process.

I did all of this stuff, although it was entirely out of character for me to do so, something I recognized at the time and mentioned to more than one person. Further, I filled out the applications, paid various fees, and maintained my status in spite of not needing a license for my work and without intending–ever!–to become a psychotherapist. At the time, nothing in my life was forcing me to act in ways I would normally not act unless forced. I even went to state orals exam, which I failed miserably (scoring 7-1/2%!), although it cost money and involved spending an absolutely horrible day at an airport hotel. I proved that I didn’t care whether I had a license by not finishing the process, because I knew I would have to study for real to have a chance of passing the orals.

Nearly a decade after abandoning my desultory quest for a license, I found myself in Silver City, New Mexico, facing both a divorce and the prospect of starting my life all over again. I knew that it was impractical for me to stay in Silver City, where there were no job prospects. Desperate for a sign to tell me where I should go next, I called up the California Board of Psychology, sure that they would tell me that my application was void and that, time having passed, my hours had expired. They told me no such thing. In fact, everything I had accomplished, the hours and passing the national test, remained in place. Miraculously, they told me that the state had abandoned the oral exam that had stood in my way previously, replacing it with a multiple choice test!

Having passed the national exam and aced many other multiple choice tests, I assumed that I would be able to pass the new exam easily. I was wrong: It took me over a year to prepare for the test. Once I passed it two years ago, however, I was a licensed psychologist in the State of California. It would never have been like that if I had not engaged in the bureaucratic dance years before. It was as if I had known, almost a decade in advance, that I would need and want to have a psychology license.

I’m not sure what this all means. At minimum, it warns that the feeling one has that one’s actions are transparent may be wrong. Sometimes, at least, our motives are hidden, and sometimes they’re downright mysterious.

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