Friday, July 18, 2008


When I was a therapist, part of my job was doing "intakes" on patients before they were admitted into the program. Patients met with the psychologist and a drug counselor, and then with either the dance therapist or me, the art therapist. My assessment usually took about a half an hour. I had them fill out a form, draw, replicate a tile thing and talk. My job was to assess them and give my opinion of their willingness to participate in treatment, their thought process as evidenced by how they manipulated art materials and their cooperativeness.

After a while, I could generally tell what they were going to be like when they walked into my office. The way they waited or didn't. The way they took the cue and sat in the chair I had pulled out for them. How they responded to art materials. I knew what they were about pretty quickly, but it was usually interesting to talk to them and watch them draw or put the tile thing together or talk about how childish they felt being made to draw.

It's totally the idea behind Blink, a book by Malcolm Gladwell. The idea of the book is that we form an opinion of just about anything before we even realize that we've formed an opinion. I recommend the book. The opening chapter is a little tedious, but the book as a whole is really great. Listen to it if you can. He's a good reader.

These days, I'm getting intake work at my teaching job. My supervisor (for lack of a better word) is out of town and I've been given the opportunity to do intakes - and chalk up some hours. It's different in that these people aren't coming to our place of business because they have a major mental illness and they aren't doing anything with art materials, but other than that, the process is pretty much the same.

People are fascinating. And their ability - or inability - to speak English is fascinating as well. Some people are clearly nervous and some people treat me like the next thing in a long line of things they have to get done that day. Having taught many classes, I feel like I know the right questions to ask. It's mostly about getting them to talk. I ask about their job. I ask about their education. My favorite new thing is to ask them to tell me how to get from where we're sitting to their office or the front door. You'd be surprised. It's just talking to them for half an hour and then writing up a summary of who they are, why their taking English classes and what they should focus on.

My father has the ability to talk to anyone about anything. I once read a book by Larry King about how to talk to anyone about anything. It's mostly about getting them to talk. My father talks a lot, but he always enjoys a good story. Mostly he likes a good story because he knows he'll enjoy re-telling the good story.

People are pretty amazing. They all have a different story. Their ambitions aren't always what I expect. They don't always respond to my joke (even the gems). And their English level is sometimes way above or below what I initially thought it was. Some people explain how they've had several English classes through their lifetime, but still struggle with it.

People are generally on their good behavior when I do the assessment. I like that. This is one of those jobs I've had where people are nice to me 99.5% of the time. That makes up for the few things about this job that are not fabulous.

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