Friday, December 31, 2010

End of Year Update

Entry for 31 December 2010:

I had been feeling very impatient with the slow pace of my recovery when I saw my surgeon at the beginning of December. Amusingly, when I disclosed my fear that perhaps my progress was being slowed by scar tissue, he said pridefully, “Impossible! The anastomosis was perfect!” Then he told me that my progress was in fact good and was encouraged by my gradual but continuing progress. He told me to give myself at least 6 or 7 months post surgery, and had me schedule a follow-up visit for another 3 months on.

Then they tested my blood for PSA. After a couple of days of anxious waiting, the nurse phoned to say that my 3-month follow-up PSA was undetectable, essentially zero, which was really, really good news, and actually quite a relief for me. This is another sign that the surgery was successful in removing all the cancer, and that it hadn’t spread elsewhere. I now feel like I have my life mostly back.

It is of course still possible that there are undetectable micrometastases floating around my body somewhere, which means that it is now my job to make sure that I live my life to make it less likely that these potential tiny loose cancer cells might take hold somewhere. This means eating healthily, continuing my micronutrient regime, getting plenty of sleep (at least 8 hours a night), keeping the stress down, and restarting my running.

I asked my surgeon if I could start running again and he said yes, so the next day I went out for a run. I am pretty out of shape in terms of strength and aerobic capacity, from the aftereffects of the surgery and the results of the sedentary life I’ve been living for the past 3-plus months. I tried to take it easy the first day, running about half the time on my usual 5k course over Clevedon Hill to the Canal, then down the River Kelvin to the Botanic Garden and home, but it was still a bit too much, so I backed off a bit from that. Since then I’ve been able to work up to running 3 times a week a week, running about half the distance, sometimes under rather appallingly icy conditions in Glasgow. It has felt very good to get out and run again, but I’ve noticed that I’m more tired afterwards than before the surgery. So, I will continue to slowly build my capacity.

The incontinence is another matter: After more than 3 months, I am fine as long as I am laying down or sitting, and am OK if I stand for a few minutes (the latter is a recent development); however, I have problems whenever I have to walk for more than a couple of minutes. This is called stress incontinence, but it certainly doesn’t take much stress for this to happen. This doesn’t sound like much but is in fact progress and makes me hopeful.

So I have settled in for the long haul, the long game. Mostly, I am philosophical about this, put it into perspective: Compared to dealing with metastatic prostate cancer and death, this is a Wonder, a miracle that has given me literally a new lease on life. Living with incontinence is annoying and sometimes pretty frustrating, but it beats dying of cancer by a mile, and I feel very grateful.

Moreover, the lifestyle changes I am now making and continue to forge as I phase back into work are things that I should have done ages ago. My project now is to negotiate with myself and the University a slower, less intense pace of work. A few weeks ago I wrote to my head of school that it was now clear to me that I am going to be able to work 40 hours a week without difficulty, but that the 50- 60 hrs/wk that I’ve been working for the past 30 years is going to be out of the question. She wrote back to remind me that in fact our work week is 35 hrs and that no one is asking me to do more than that. I appreciate this, but it strikes me that the volume of work that we are asked to do exceeds what can be done within 35 hrs/wk, so the real issue is going to be reducing the amount of work in order to fit into the available time. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next couple of months.

In the meantime, I've enjoying my time in the US, first touching base in Toledo to finish Christmas shopping before going on to visit my oldest son, Brendan, his partner Mayumi, and our 7-month old granddaughter for Christmas. Mizuki has inspired me these past months with her attempts to crawl, which have recently met with success. We’ve now flown down to Northern California, where we enjoyed a peaceful post-Christmas period with Diane’s family. We then drove up into the Sierra Nevada foothills east of Sacramento to stay at my sister Louisa’s and to celebrate New Year’s Eve with my mom, siblings and their partners. No Murray Creek this year, but still, Happy New Year, everyone!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Empirically Supported Relationships Summaries Published Online

Entry for 13 November 2010:

Last year, Art Bohart, Jeanne Watson, Les Greenberg & I were asked to update our 2002 meta-analysis of research on the relationship between therapist empathy and therapy outcome, published in John Norcross’s Psychotherapy Relationships That Work. The revised version, in book chapter and journal article formats is still in press; however, a sneak preview version has just been published online, along with the rest of the reviews to appear on the second edition of John’s book.

SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, is a branch of the US government responsible for improving treatment of mental health and substance abuse issues by funding research and disseminating information about evidence-based practice. Somehow, the Powers That Be were persuaded to sanction summaries of the current set of meta-analytic reviews being published on their website.

SAMHSA have now published online a set of summaries of evidence supporting the importance of different aspects of the therapeutic relationship for promoting successful psychotherapy or counselling. We updated and replicated our previous analyses with somewhat larger data set and found a moderately strong and highly reliable relationship between therapist empathy and therapy outcome. In addition to empathy, the other Rogerian conditions of therapist warmth and genuineness also fare quite well.

The summary of our review can be found at:

The other reviews can be found in other parts of the same document/webpage.


Elliott, R., Bohart, A.C., Watson, J.C., & Greenberg, L.S. (2010). Empathy. In J. C. Norcross (ed.), Evidence-Based Therapy Relationships. National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP). Online Resource, available at:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Journey to Health: Eight Weeks Post Surgery

Entry for 31 October 2010:

It has now been 8 weeks since my surgery. I have spent that time off work, on medical leave, getting lots of sleep, spending an increasing amount of time on pelvic floor muscle (“Kegel”) exercises, walking 30 – 45 min/day, reading, doing email, writing & beginning to do phone consultations with my research students. It has been a time of healing, rest, recovery, but also frustration as I have had to deal with post-surgical complications (urinary incontinence) that were worse than I had anticipated (hence the exercises).

When the biopsy results came in, they indicated that the cancer was more advanced than anticipated (T1c => T2c), but that they had got it all (the prostate margins were clear of cancer). It’s a very good thing that I didn’t wait any longer to have the surgery!

I did a bunch of reading to try to understand what was happening to me, and what I learned struck me as deeply ironic and darkly humorous: While women have only one urinary sphincter, controlled by the pelvic floor muscles, men have three: one between the urethra and the bladder, the prostate itself, and the external sphincter, which is the same one women have. This is why women have more trouble with incontinence generally than men, and especially after giving birth vaginally, and why most women are familiar with Kegel exercises. I had apparently been relying heavily on my other two urinary sphincters, which now had been removed surgically along with my cancer and associated replumbing. This put me on an even footing with all the women in the world, including my new granddaughter Mizuki! There appears to me to be some sort of poetic justice to this. And while the adult women I know clearly now have a headstart on me, I am pretty much in the same camp as my granddaughter, trying to learn how to use a part of me that I wasn’t even sure I could sense, let alone control. I feel like I now have a new body, which I have to learn how to use.

From my research I learned that I was likely to have to practice these exercises for as long as six weeks before I would even begin to see any effect. I would have to do them on a sort of blind faith; I would have no basis for judging my trajectory of recovery. The research I read indicated that a systematic program of exercises of at least 6 weeks was likely to produce substantial positive results; however, I had no way of knowing if those average results would apply to me. To tell the truth, I found the whole situation scary, embarrassing, infuriating, and as I said ironic and darkly humorous.

I’ve now been doing my Kegel exercises for 5 weeks now, and am starting to see some results, but it’s slow, incremental progress. Over time, they’ve become a kind of prayer, for myself and friends who are going through a hard time.

All through this period, I gradually increased how much work I could do, to the point where I was easily doing 4 or 5 hours of email, writing and phone consultation a day. I managed to work my way through the enormous backlog of emails dating back to last January. I wrote a challenging book chapter on negative therapist reactions.

Last week, after having had my medical leave extended to near the end of October, I met with both my GP and the University’s occupational health physician. They both agreed with my assessment that although I am not currently able to work full time, I am fit enough to go back to work on a part time basis, on a “phased return to work”. The plan is for this process to continue for the next 6 weeks, between now and the Christmas holidays, with me gradually increasing the amount of work I’m able to do. This makes eminent good sense to me, although it is requiring some renegotiation of commitments for that time period. Tomorrow (Monday) I give my first lecture in months!

In the end, as much of a nuisance as the incontinence is, it is infinitely preferable to having a cancer that I now know was far more dangerous than I realized at the time. I am enormously grateful to have that burden removed and equally so for this time of rest and healing, which I so badly needed. This is clearly a much more healthy way of life. I am also deeply grateful to all those who brought by gifts (some quite creative) and cards or who sent positive thoughts, prayers, and wishes my way. Although I have spent most of the past 8 weeks in my flat, I haven't felt lonely with all of this caring around me. Thanks!

My current challenge continues to be, as one of my friends recently wrote to me, “master of my flow”. But after that, the even bigger challenge will be learning how to master the flow of my life so that it is no longer overwhelming and harmful. It is now clear to me that this will be a matter vital for the health of both my body and my soul.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Theories, Models or Approaches?

Entry for 21 October 2010:

I’m still at home, recovering from surgery, but sometimes I get questions out of the blue, little bits of grace like falling autumn leaves:

Dr. Elliott-

I first would like to apologize for the forward nature of this email as I am indeed a complete stranger to you. However, I have spent several days searching for an answer to my query and am at a loss as to who to turn to for assistance. I first emailed Dr. [Clara] Hill who promptly referred me to you (see her response below). Please know any information you can provide if your time allows will be warmly welcomed and greatly appreciated.

I am currently a graduate student at the University of __ in a counseling skills class where [Clara Hill’s] book Helping Skills: Facilitating Exploration, Insight, and Action is being used as our text. I was recently in discussion with a peer about different models that explain the concept of helping skills. I think the term 'model' is what has me blocked. My first response was simple...person-centered or a humanistic approach (the basis for the exploration stage), a behavioral model, and of course a psychodynamic model all came to mind as models used in the helping process. I realize after further thought that these concepts are theories and may not be considered 'models' within the realm of helping skills. The scope is certainly much broader than that. My friend argued for a more complex idea that 'models' include approaches such as motivational interviewing, solution-focused brief therapy, and the like. To me, these are methods or techniques used in counseling. Would you consider these approaches to fall under the category of helping skills are they 'models'?

It is quite possible this makes no sense to an outside expert, so please let me know if further clarification is needed. I just wanted a little guidance on what the term 'model' in reference to helping skills might mean to you. Dr. Hill labeled her approach as an integrated three-stage model; are there other models such as this with different theoretical foundations authored by other practitioners/researchers in the field?

Again, I appreciate your valuable time in offering any insight to this query. Have a wonderful day in the meantime; it is an honor to communicate with you.



Graduate Candidate in MHR

Dear Carissa,

You are engaged in philosophy! The questions of what is a theory and what is a model and how they are and are not similar; these are philosophical questions. Philosophy can be very useful for clarifying what we are talking about, and reducing the probability that we are talking nonsense! Of course, an awful lot of what we do when we talk about counselling and psychotherapy is, from a philosophical point of view, nonsense, because we usually don't stop to clarify our concepts.

To properly answer your question, we would have to look at how people (philosophers, scientists) have defined the words "theory" and "model". I'll leave that for you to do a bit of investigating into; you'll soon find that there are lots of different definitions and views, but in general we're talking about systematic representations of reality. Beyond that, it quickly gets very complicated. This means that whenever you or someone else uses a word like "theory" or "model", you or they need to be clear about what they mean by the word. What kind of systematic representation of reality? For what purpose? How systematic? Descriptive or prescriptive? Big or little bits of reality? etc.

What I generally say to people when they ask me a question like this is, "Isn't it fun how many words there are in English that mean roughly the same thing? And isn't it interesting how when there are a bunch of words meaning roughly the same thing, people start inventing distinctions and attaching them to the different words?" But if you were Winnie the Pooh, you'd laugh and say "It's the same thing!"...

"When you wake up in the morning, Pooh," said Piglet at last, "what's the first thing you say to yourself?"

"What's for breakfast?" said Pooh. "What do you say, Piglet?"

"I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?" said Piglet.

Pooh nodded thoughtfully.

"It's the same thing," he said.

I hope haven't been too irreverent in addressing your question. The fact is, models, theories and approaches to counselling are very interesting and exciting and fun. It sounds like you are enjoying yourself and I hope you go on doing so!


Robert Elliott

Footnote: I should also have added that underlying Carissa’s question is an ancient distinction that goes back to the Greeks: theoria vs. praxis: theory vs. practice; that is, how we represent the world vs. what we actually do. Theories, models and approaches are different ways of talking about representations; counselling skills (or help-intended speech acts) are what we actually do in practice.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

“I Take My Waking Slow”

Entry for 19 Sept 2010:

I am not bored; there is plenty to do, and just the right level of visitors. My main frustration is with the catheter. This has gotten pretty old, especially over the past few days when, as I've gotten more active and find that it holds me back. I don't like this at all! However, it turns out that the catheter is my friend also, for one very important reason: It reminds me, forcefully at times, to go slow, to not try to rush things. This is critical for me at this point, because going slow is exactly what I need to be doing.

This going slow is such a contrast to my normal life, where I often have to rush around from meeting to meeting and sometimes end up being double-scheduled. Deadlines loom, and I feel forced to stay up late to meet them, cheating on my sleep, which isn't healthy. Email piles up, because ordinarily I don't have time to read it during the day. There were over 1000 messages in my inbox when I went into the hospital; it's less than that now, in spite of the time I've spent in hospital and resting at home. So ordinarily, I live under quite a bit of time pressure and feel like I have to do things quickly and not “waste time”.

But it does make me wonder: Was living at such a pressured, fast pace EVER a good idea? It now seems to me that this was one of the most unhealthy aspects of my old lifestyle, creating conditions for the cancer to develop -- or now for it to reoccur. Maybe the slow life I'm living now is actually closer to the way I should be living my life in general. Is there a way to go back to work in a healthy, less pressurised way? I don't have any answers about this, but it seems important to think about.

In the meantime, as Theodore Roethke writes, "I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow. I know by going where I have to go." I first encountered this line 40 years ago and now I try to take this as my motto to live by. I live in my old gray cotton bathrobe, reminding myself of some kind of celibate Hugh Heffner, but the love that surrounds me is not eros (or more accurately porneia, whence pornography), but rather philia and agape. This is calming; this is what I need; not striving (trishna, in Sanscrit), but letting go of striving, as the Buddha preached. It is a bit of heaven, as I've said before, a gift, a blessing.

2010 Emotion-Focused Therapy: Level 2 Workshop Series

Facilitated by Robert Elliott

Professor of Counselling, University of Strathclyde

Saturdays, 9.30-16.30, 20 November, 2010 – 14 May, 2011

Sir Henry Wood Building

Jordanhill Campus

(Sponsored by HASS Research & Knowledge Exchange,

University of Strathclyde)

The Counselling Unit at the University of Strathclyde is offering further training in Emotion-Focused Therapy (EFT) for counsellors and psychotherapists (Diploma level or above) who have completed Level One training in EFT or the equivalent. This series has been restructured from its previous evening format and will now meet on seven Saturdays throughout the 2010-11 academic year, beginning in November. The format will be a mixture of brief lectures, videos or demonstrations, experiential practice exercises in small groups, supervision of cases seen by course members, and discussion.

The specific topics to be covered will feature material not covered in the Level 1 course, including

· Therapist experiential response modes

· Client modes of engagement

· Narrative Retelling of difficult/traumatic experiences

· Relational Dialogue for Alliance difficulties

· Creation of Meaning for meaning protests

In addition, the Focusing and different forms of Chairwork will be particularly emphasized:

· Focusing with difficult or painful experiences

· Clearing a Space for overwhelming or chaotic experiences

· Two chair enactment for Self-interruption splits

· Two chair conflict split work for depression, anxiety and self-harm behaviour

· Compassionate Self-soothing for painful self states

· Empty chair work for unfinished business

This series is scheduled for the following dates:

Autumn 2010:

20 November

11 December

Winter-Spring 2011:

15 January

19 February

19 March

16 April

14 May

  • Enrolment is set for a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 20.
  • Course fee: Until 15 Oct: £395; after 15 Oct: £445
  • The course could be taken for continuing professional education credit.

Please direct enquiries and requests for applications to HASS Research & Knowledge Exchange, Jan Bissett (, 0141 950 3135), or alternatively Counselling Unit office ( or 0141 950 3165) or, after 1 October, Robert Elliott ( or

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Recovering from surgery

Entry for 14 September 2010:

Last January, I was diagnosed with prostate cancer, apparently early stage. I did not record here my experiences during this process; I chose not to circulate them in this forum. Why? There were many reasons, but the principal were the uncertainty; my own discomfort and embarrassment (it somehow felt like a personal failing); and because I didn't want this to turn into a cancer blog. Thus, I chose not to reveal this information here. However, because this has been the major process going on in my life throughout this time, it has had the unwanted effect of pushing this blog to the side. In this entry I attempt to remedy this situation by offering a summary of my process over this time.

In the USA, men are routinely screened for elevated PSA from age 50 onwards, and I'd been tracked for slightly elevated PSA scores for the 6 years before we moved here. PSA screening isn't done routinely here, because of its high false positive rate and the resulting risk of over-diagnosis and unnecessary treatment. Now my elevated PSA (7.8) had been followed by two biopsies, the second of which identified early stage prostate cancer in a small part of my prostate. What was I to do?

There is currently a controversy -- on both sides of the Atlantic -- about what if anything to do about early stage prostate cancer. Here in the UK, NICE guidelines advocate Active Surveillance, essentially continued testing until it progresses to a more advanced stage, while some in the US are beginning to question indiscriminate prostatectomies for this stage of prostate cancer, because a large majority of men diagnosed with it die of something else first ("die with it, not of it").

What I did was to read a lot studies. It turns out the prostate cancer outcome literature is far messier than the psychotherapy outcome literature, because the cancer generally grows so slowly that 15-20 year follow-up studies are needed. Also, it turns out that most early stage prostate cancer is diagnosed in men 75+ or older, only 5% of whom will die of it. Eventually, I found a study of a European study tracking men of my age with my stage of prostate cancer for 8 years: I could see that death from prostate cancer leveled off a year or two after surgery, but with Active Surveillance the death rate kept trending upward in a shallow but straight line. Extrapolating from these data and given my life expectancy (I was 59, otherwise healthy, and could expect to live at least another 20 years), there was a better than even chance that this would kill me before something else did. Furthermore, I was more likely to be able to make a full recovery, with less chance of recurrence, if I had the surgery now rather later. I decided to go for it, in defiance of the NICE guidelines.

The issue of what kind of treatment was also problematic, and has odd parallels to the psychotherapy outcome literature: There are several competing treatments, with no compelling arguments or evidence to support any particular one, but a lot of strong opinions. Paralleling psychotherapy research, however, the crucial variable appears to be skill of the surgeon, indexed in this case by their having carried out whatever procedure it was hundreds of times previously. The person of the surgeon is more important than the procedure itself. On this basis, I decided to stay in Scotland and to receive an older form of the surgery at the hands of a highly skilled surgeon, rather than attempt to fly back to the North America for a more modern laproscopic-robotic surgery.

More importantly, as I delved into all this, I learned (a) that prostate cancer is now considered by key researchers like Neil Fleshner and his team at the University of Toronto to be primarily a nutritional/lifestyle illness, and (b) that there is a pretty good chance that the cancer had already spread to other parts of my body micro-metastically. This meant that surgery, of whatever kind, wasn't going to be enough; I would have to change my lifestyle: I switched to a mostly vegetarian diet (the exceptions being fish like salmon and free range, organically grown chicken); began making sure I got at least 7 hours of sleep each night; went on about 10 micro-nutrients with research evidence supporting their anti-cancer properties; and substantially increased my level of exercise. I also starting drinking alkalinizing water (at the encouragement of my friend Leigh McCullough), and tried in general to reduce the level of stress in my life.

I'd like to say that these measures reversed my prostate cancer and removed the need for surgery, but unfortunately that turned out not to be the case, although further PSA testing clearly indicated that its steady progression was halted and remained steady for the past year after years of steady increase. They did, however, ensure that I was in peak physical condition going into the surgery.

Finally, on the 3rd of September, I had a radical prostatectomy, that is the complete removal of my prostate gland. This is a delicate, painful, major operation: I was under anaesthetic for about 5 hours and hospitalised for 4 days; the catheter will have to be in for 3 weeks, and I won't know for some time after that how much incontinence and impotence I will be left with long term. In addition, although I've been assured that the surgery was successful and appears to have removed all of the cancer, I don't have the pathology results yet. Ultimately, I'm not likely to know for years whether the combination of surgery and life style changes will have prevented a recurrence of this cancer. But in any event, I will have done my best.

So that's the story. I will be off work for at least 4 weeks through the end of September and possibly for much of October. It's my hope to be able to continue regularly to write this blog during this time, but at this point, in the meantime, really my only job is to heal as best I can: Drink a LOT of fluids, to prevent blood clots and to keep my catheter open; to take daily walks around my neighbourhood (for the same reasons); to sleep a lot (8 - 9 hrs / night); and to be at peace. Mostly, I take my days slowly, and listen a lot to my body. This makes it a special, almost holy time, like being on extended spiritual retreat, communing and listening to what my body and spirit are saying. In fact, it is a marvelous gift to be given this time for healing and reflection.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rubidium Wedding Anniversary Adventure

Entry for 28 August 2010:

Although actual date was more than a week ago, things were a little busy in the US before we left, so we decided to celebrate our Rubidium Wedding Anniversary (ie, number according the Periodic Table of Elements).

According to Wikipedia, “Rubidium is a soft, silvery-white metallic element of the alkali metal group.” It is “soft and highly reactive.” Rubidium is not biologically active, but is metabolized like Potassium, which is above it in the Periodic Table, which means it can be used as a marker in brain scans. It is highly stable in its more common isotopes. More recently, it was been used to form Bose-Einstein condensate, an exotic form of matter that displays quantum effects.

I suppose we could make something of the “highly stable but reactive” nature of this element, but I’m more struck by the fact that it means that we have started a whole new row of the Periodic Table.

We celebrated by taking a Saturday Adventure to the National Museum of Rural Life, a farm museum not far from Glasgow. We had been a bit leery about this locate National Trust property, but in the end we were delighted by the working dairy adjoining the farmhouse with all its original fittings. We spent a lovely few hours there talking with the volunteer in the house, the farm manager and dairyman as he milked and fed the cows, and with the docent, who proudly showed us their prize baby bull calf and pigs. We’ll have to take a closer look at the actual museum, gift shop, formal garden etc next time…

On our return, we walked down Great Western Road to a new restaurant, Persia, where we had a very nice meal. We finished our day by Skyping with our son Kenneth. It was a lovely finish to a great day!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Murray Creek Impressions 2010

Entry for 19 August 2010:

The haiku form seems to work well for writing about Murray Creek, especially now, when it is so quiet and peaceful.


Late summer stillness

Deer eat brush just below house

Nature fills our space.


Leave all that behind

Labyrinth knows what matters

Arrive at center.


Old trail above creek

First time cleared in many years

Heart must follow now.


Unpicked all summer

Wild blackberries that yield easiest

To hand taste so sweet.


Before he left, my

Brother removed dam from creek

Water finds new place

Tree branch reflects in still water.


Dusk: we wait for owls

Their low cries come up from creek

Suddenly fill the trees.

Friday, August 20, 2010

California Spotted Owl Visitation

Entry for 19 August 2010:

For the past 3 nights, my mom has been receiving nightly visitations from an owl, which on each occasion landed on the rail of her deck. The first two nights there was a cry and a silent visitation while on the previous night my mom had interacted with the owl for several minutes, as they mirrored each other’s head movements, and the owl emitted its haunting cry. What did this mean? It seemed worth further investigation.

Therefore, last night after dinner, we went out and sat on the deck about 8:30. It was dusk and the colors were fading into darkness as we looked out over the valley. We talked and waited and listened as the darkness deepened. After awhile I could barely hear, at the edge of my ability, a long, low cry in the distance, sometimes punctuated by a chattering sound. Since I was a small boy, I’ve loved strange noises (which might have something to do with why my musical tastes are so broad); so I tried imitating the cry with a breathy sort of whistle. After ten or fifteen minutes of this, we noticed that the cries were getting louder, and as they got closer, it began to sound like more than one.

Then suddenly there were cries from the top of the tall tree just below my mom’s house, then from the next tree to the left of it, opposite the deck where we were sitting. There were soft flutterings and a couple of times I saw a shadowy form flitting from one tree to the next. Finally, a third set of cries emanated from the tree above the house. The three owls continued to cry back and forth to each other, and I joined in. Entranced, I’d been sitting on the chaise lounge, out under the stars in order to see better, but I was now struck by a powerful sense of uncanniness, and began to feel terribly exposed sitting out in the open. I felt as though at any moment these three mysterious beings might descend on me, and I was filled with a mixture of exhilaration and terror. I got up and moved under the shelter of table’s umbrella.

My mom and I now really wanted to know who our mysterious visitors were, that is, what kind of owls they might be. I went inside and got my new iPad and brought back it out again. I found and began looking up likely species and listening to their calls. After trying about 20 or these, we finally came to the California Spotted Owl, whose recorded cry closely matched what we’d been listening to. The annotation to the matching cry characterized it an “agitated contact call" which “may be associated with territorial disputes”; it noted that this type of cry is mainly used by females. At some point during the process of trying to explain what we were experiencing, the object of our interest got bored and moved away back down the hill toward the creek. As often happens in life, reflection had replaced direct experience.

Because the two outlined shapes we had glimpsed looked smaller than what my mom had seen the previous nights, she concluded that we had been visited by a mother owl and her two young owlets, whom she was instructing while at the same time checking out the humans who live in their valley. This narrative seems as good as any other, and my mom vowed to continue her Owl Vigil in order to see what might come next.

Birthday Haiku Poem for Gladys

A linked set of stanzas, roughly in haiku form, in honor of Diane’s mother’s 80th birthday. The first stanza plays with the mathematical factors of 80 (not counting 1 and 80). We celebrated her birthday in great style, with 40 people, including family, friends and friends of family. Gloria, Diane's exchange student sister also came from Chile along with her husband Juan & eldest granddaughter Daniela.


Eighty years, many factors:

Two, four, five;

Eight, ten;

Sixteen, twenty, forty.


Who knew?

Such a petite person

Could actually be

A very large tree?


Roots sink deep

Through valley's sandy loam,

Ground tree to grow

Strong secure base.


Branches spread:

Children, grand-, great-,

Adopted by marriage or exchange.


Friends flock, many-colored birds,

Summer and winter,

In your sheltering shade.


There is a stillness:

You listen without judgement

Reveal indwelling treasure.


Time passes: Four generations.

Spreading wave of love.

Everything connects.

-15 August 2010

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fifty to Sixty

Poem written for family celebration of my 60th birthday a week ago. Kenneth has been reading Greek poetry and had been critical on the lack of poetic structure in my poetry, which I took as a challenge to try to work on a more formally structured way. The poem is in pentameter, although the individual lines vary between iambic, trochaic and alexandrine (trochaic but with a final foot consisting of a single stressed syllable.

At fifty years, I faced my fear of death:
And found it based on greed, a need to live
Forever, grasping after endlessness.

And so I made a prayer, a thing to say,
Recited as I run, approaching home:
Lady of the Universe, I know not
Where I came from first, before my birth;
I don’t know where I’ll go after my death.
The limits of my knowing are: I come
From nothing, and therefore, to nothing go.

This means, every moment is a gift:
Every day a gift, and every month;
Every year a gift, and all my life.

This prayer weighed my life against the empty
Nothingness of death, dividing every
Separate moment of my life by zero:
Undefined, divine, they shoot toward
Infinity; each one showing, magnified,
In sharp detail, is luminous and glowing.

Since then, ten years have passed, a time of turning:
A broken job, a father’s death, and more:
Children graduate, house then empties out;
A move, across the sea, new place to be,
New work in Scotland next unfolds for me,
New daughter, and granddaughter now arrive,
And illness, brings re-thinking of my life.

Of course in saying something over and over
My prayer of every-day-a-gift evolves,
It does not stay the same; things happen to it:

So other parts appear, to say their piece:

Lady of the Universe, I also know that
All I am comes out of all that’s come
Before me: Galaxies and trilobites,
Etruscans, Galicians, parents, siblings: all.
Likewise, all I’ve been, am now flows out
Through all I’ve known and touched in sixty years,
And does so every moment, day and month:
Children, colleagues, students, grandchildren: all.

And then my mind runs far beyond its common
Orbit, and this image comes to me:

We are all there, in an endless place,
Beyond this life, beyond all dates, we wait;
And with us, people nine hundred years from now,
And from all times, they wait, these ecologues,
Star-dwellers, strange galactic citizens;
Even blue-green algae, waiting for the
Final flare, and all the company of
All conscious creatures, standing, swimming, floating
Assembled in the endless Hall of Being,
Watch in awe as universe completely
Cools, and time exists no more.

-Murray Creek, Aug 2010

Elliott & Farber (2010) Carl Rogers Research Leader Chapter Published

Entry for 14 Aug 2010:

A couple of years ago, Louis Castonguay and other colleagues in the North American Chapter of the Society for Psychotherapy Research decided to do a book on famous/important psychotherapy researchers, as a way of “bringing psychotherapy research to life”. I felt very pleased and honored when they asked Barry Farber (an old SPR friend and former fellow clinical psychology course director) and me to write the chapter in Carl Rogers.

In order to prepare myself, I got a hold of a pre-publication copy of Howard Kirschenbaum’s (2007) new Rogers biography, which I read on the plane while flying across the Atlantic back to Ohio, and then mostly drafted while on holiday. Barry added other bits, a broader perspective, and bits of poetic expression. In the process of writing the chapter, it became clear to me in a way that had I not fully grasped before that Carl Rogers really had invented most of contemporary psychotherapy research.

We were under fairly tight space constraints and had a lot of material, so writing the chapter ended up feeling a bit like write haiku, and indeed writing it did inspire a kind of lyric quality in both of us, I think the following passage, which opens the chapter illustrates what I mean:

In many ways, Carl Rogers was and continues to be a figure of contradictions. Dreamy idealist who was also a hard-headed pragmatist; humanist grounded in positivism; shy, somewhat stiff midwesterner who ended up advocating openness, disclosure, and intimacy; persuasive advocate for empathic and respectful listening raised in a judgmental, non-expressive home; founder of a major school of therapy who discouraged followers, training institutes, and professional organizations; academic who rebelled against almost all of the trappings of academia; and key figure in the origins and development of psychotherapy research who at a crucial moment gave it all up to move to California to pursue encounter groups, educational reform, and peace-making. What are we to make of these contradictions? Do they detract from his contributions? Or are they essential to what drove him and what continues to inspire his supporters more than twenty years after his death in 1987? (p. 17)


Elliott, R., & Farber, B. (2010). Carl Rogers: Idealistic Pragmatist and Psychotherapy Research Pioneer. In L.G. Castonguay, J. C. Muran, L. Angus, J.A. Hayes, N. Ladany, & T. Anderson (Eds.), Bringing psychotherapy research to life: Understanding change through the work of leading clinical researchers (pp 17-27). Washington, DC: APA.

Kirschenbaum, H. (2007). The life and work of Carl Rogers. Ross-on-Wye, UK: PCCS Books.