My mother said that when I was in first grade, she knew I would be a psychologist.

I came home from school one day, excited to have my first-grade pictures!  Remember those big sheets that you had to painstakingly cut into little squares? I was proud of my pictures and couldn’t wait to pass them out.

Okay, so fast forward with me 19 years. I have been in college five years…switched majors twice, taken two pre-professional tests, and have landed a spot in graduate school - in clinical psychology. My mother takes my face in her hands, smiles, and says "I really always knew this was what you would do. Remember those first-grade pictures?" She goes to her dresser, pulls out a leather wallet, and removes a picture from it. It is of me, at age 6, smiling into the camera. “Flip it over,” she says. I turn over the picture and, there on the back, in big purple magic marker letters are the words “If you’re feeling blue, call me - ________.” I had given my phone number, with that message, to all my friends and many adult friends of our family, in first grade.

I guess I have loved and felt moved to try to help hurting people for a long time. I came to this type of work, helping children and families touched by chronic medical problems and the difficulties they can cause, through my work in graduate school and then, later, in consultation and intervention work through my developing practice. One of my favorite things is to help children discover the strengths and abilities they already have and help them, and their families put those strengths to work improving other aspects of their lives. Children with IBD aren’t broken, nor do they need to feel diminished in their ability to live a “normal life.” In my experience nobody lives a normal life; we all live extraordinary lives with both difficult challenges and triumphant successes. What I love most about helping children with chronic illness, though, is that regardless of their at times significant traumas and daily problems, they’re still trying to find something to smile about.

There is a joke about our outlook in difficult situations. Two children whose parents have volunteered them for research are taken into separate rooms. The researcher tells his students, “These two children are helping us test whether optimism and pessimism are permanent attitudes in people.” The children are then placed in rooms. The more negative child is placed in a room full of beautiful toys, the more positive child in a room full of horse manure. An hour later the researchers return. The room once full of beautiful playthings now has broken toy debris and a child, sullen, sits in the middle of the room, crying. In the other room horse manure is flying everywhere as a little boy moves through it, eyes open and full of wonder. The lead researcher, bewildered, opens the door and says “Billy? What are you doing?”  To which the boy replies, “I just knew that with all this poop, there must be a pony in here somewhere!”

I believe that, although both optimism and pessimism can be persistent, pessimism doesn’t have to be permanent. Children who feel hurt or scared can feel hopeful again if we give them support and help them find and use their own tools. Our patients with IBD, and their families, are amazing and strong, although they don’t always feel like it. They need and deserve community, hope, and the realization that together, they can accomplish great things and have fun along the way. I believe in them, I believe in the benefits of programs like ImproveCareNow, and I’m thrilled to be a part of this community.


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