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Author Topic: EP434: Coping Mechanisms  (Read 1031 times)
eytanz
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« on: February 12, 2014, 09:00:20 AM »

EP434: Coping Mechanisms

by Gerri Leen

read by Danni Cutler

This story was previously published in Return to Luna, the anthology of the winning stories of the National Space Society’s fiction contest (published by Hadley Rille Books, 2008).   The story also appeared in the author’s collection of short stories, Life Without Crows (also published by Hadley Rille Books, 2010).

--
The interface between Luna and Earth was particularly bad–like a slow connection to the Net when I was a kid and my grandparents had been too cheap to move off dial-up.  Cal’s image moved in fits and starts, and it wasn’t what I wanted–okay, needed–to see.  As chief base shrink, I should be woman enough to admit I _needed_ to see my husband in some way that didn’t immediately scream he was roughly 380,000 clicks away.

Even if Cal was barely my husband; he and I hadn’t touched in eight months–and I’d only been on Luna for six.  Coming here had been my way of saying goodbye, of letting our marriage die slowly and gracefully rather than living through the drama of a messy divorce.  Funny thing about the moon, though: you don’t get over people here.  You miss the hell out of them, every part of them.  Or maybe you just forget the bad parts, maybe they disappear in the middle of this resounding grayness.

I used to think my marriage was gray and grim.  Landing at Echosound–getting my first view of my new home in the bright lunar daytime that had gone on for fourteen Earth-days–had been a reality check of the highest order.

“Vanessa?”  Cal was probably wondering why I’d called.  We were supposed to be getting used to being away from each other, and I didn’t have much to say that was related to the impending dissolution of the marriage.

So I said the first thing that came to mind.  ”How’s Denny?”

The jerking image made his expression unreadable.  ”He’s fine.”

I didn’t normally ask about his parrot.  In fact, I hated that damn bird.  Probably because I knew Cal would part with me, but not with him.  As a psychiatrist, I don’t shy away from truths.  Unfortunately, that doesn’t make me any better at dealing with them.

“Van, I have to go.”  Cal didn’t sound disappointed, especially on five-second delay.  Not for the first time I wished personal calls were given the same priority for real-time access as mission-related calls. But they weren’t, so I would deal.  Badly, no doubt.  But I’d deal.

“I have to go, too.  Time for my shift.”  Which was a lie.  I may have normal duty hours, but as essential personnel, I’m on call all the time.  No shift work for Doctor Vanessa Holmes.  It used to make me feel important; now it felt like a stone around my neck–an Earth-stone in Earth-gravity where it would actually be heavy.

Cal ended the call before I could say anything more.  It shouldn’t have hurt.  It did anyway.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
« Last Edit: February 12, 2014, 09:29:55 AM by eytanz » Logged
davidthygod
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« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2014, 10:02:50 PM »

I think I was in the right mood for this having gone through a recent divorce and other personal losses, so it resonated.  I though the story execution and dialogue had a couple of mild clunky areas, but the concept was solid.  I always appreciate "the story within a story" / "personal saga" in a science fiction setting sort of stories, and to me this read a little like a possible Next Generation episode, or at least maybe one of the Deanna Troi episode arcs.  It was an entertaining listen and I appreciated all of the subtle, and obvious, ways that coping was alluded to throughout the story.
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Asomatous
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« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2014, 10:56:38 PM »

I have heard it said that the best science fiction is about the characters rather than the setting. Exploring the inner world of lunatics (pun intended) seems to qualify. The struggles of isolation and loss seemed real enough but there wasn't the backstory depth that made me fully identify with the doctor or her newest patient. Nor did I find her lack of struggle against professional ethics to be realistic. Those familiar with the therapeutic process are aware of patient transference and how failure to keep professional boundaries can lead to problems (intentional and unintentional). While I am sympathetic to the notion that even highly trained and proficient professionals have struggles applying the tools of their trade to their personal lives, finding solace for ones troubles in a connection to a patient suffering the same  psychological issues is counter-indicated. Ethical concerns about violating the doctor patient relationship are hot topics for all mental health professionals. Is it possible that the symmetry of the story arc that has doctor and patient struggling with the same issues, undermines the story's believability?
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Dem
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« Reply #3 on: February 13, 2014, 08:29:30 AM »

I'm with Asomatous here. I thought the character focus could have placed the story anywhere a significant threat exists and so I felt the SF element was redundant. I agree also about the asymmetry of the doctor-patient relationship and how the concluding scene indicates a breach of ethics. This for me makes it the beginning, not the end, of the real story - the struggle to maintain appropriate boundaries under these particular circumstances. This is going to be real some day; some day, small groups of people living and working in space or on other planets will need on-site psychological support - and those people will need somewhere to discharge all that without cracking up.

Those of us working therapeutically with patients can at least go home to be relaxed and real, but if you live in a small community even that can be problematic. For some months, I accorded the young lass in the village shop only neighbourly acknowledgments even though I knew quite a lot about her because I had no idea if she knew I was her mother's psychologist. Then one day she said her mother would probably be cancelling next week's appointment because she was going hot air ballooning and wasn't that great! Being human is important, showing we cope (rather than master) situations is also important, but demonstrating flaws that threaten confidence isn't and neither is trading frailties when your own needs are being met and possibly prioritised. That's the story I would have liked to see. Next time, maybe Smiley
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HueItzcoatl
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« Reply #4 on: February 13, 2014, 08:52:44 AM »

Meh, technically this is a science fiction story. But to me all it read as was an episode of doctor phil in space. I understand that this is exactly the kind of thing which is going to happen as people advance to the moon and other planets. Not every single moment of our lives is going to some epic space odysessy. But this one just didn't do it for me.
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Jompier
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« Reply #5 on: February 13, 2014, 10:09:39 AM »

The therapeutic aspects of the story did not grip me so much, but I did like the "slice of life" look at the story provided. The seamless integration of details about life on the lunar outpost kept me quite engaged.

As to the issue of how Dr. Holmes and MacDougall interacted, I can see how the apparent role reversal between doctor and patient could be problematic. I got the sense, however, that MacDougall was not a typical laborer but was instead another psychologist sent, surreptitiously, to work with Holmes. I was a little too lazy in combing through the printed version of the story to find the clues that I thought I picked up on during the narration, but here are a few:

MacDougall: “You don’t have to be perfect, you know?  You’d no doubt tell me to share what’s hurting.”

I thought it strange how he would use this wording and express some familiarity with the process of psychological counseling. It could just be that he is parroting Holmes from their previous session.


“If you want to talk about it…?  Some other place and time, when it’s not so crowded?”

The rebuff was on my lips, but I pulled it back.  ”Maybe.  Yeah.  We’ll see.”

He looked disappointed.  ”You just can’t stop being the professional, can you?  Not even for a minute.”


And here he offers a diagnosis that resembles what Vijay offers in the very next scene. Again, it could just be a coincidence and part of MacDougall's entrainment having been subject to such interpretation before. Still, it seems strange.



To my surprise, he grinned.  ”Let’s not strain you too much.  How about we start with you telling me a little about yourself?  We can work up to the other thing.”


And then there's this. MacDougall presented himself as interested in Holmes as a person, not as a patient. So even if he really did want to hear what was troubling her why continue to adopt a process of inquiry that mimics counseling? "Tell me a little about yourself" and "we can work up to the other thing" don't seem like the sorts of things that guys say to women they are interested in getting to know.

Of course each of these quotes could be explained away as a guy interested in talking to a girl and realizing that adopting this faux-professional persona is a foil to get over the awkwardness of the underlying doctor/patient relationship. I really can't counter that with any evidence from the story. But it seems that Holmes' personal troubles were known well enough that someone might have attempted to get her counseling and would have realized a need to do it quietly if Holmes was to engage at all. Introducing a love interest to engage a doctor who is having difficulty taking care of herself (e.g., not using the day room) because of her failing/failed marriage seems a little tidy to be purely coincidental.

Even if I'm totally wrong, I still find it intriguing to think of MacDougall's presence as a kind of sneaky psychosocial development.

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Dem
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2014, 11:02:29 AM »

Good points, Jompier - he could have been a plant but that would be sooooooooo unethical! More likely he's someone who's had extensive therapy himself and just naturally shifts into psych-speak when he's with a psychiatrist/ologist OR (even better story!) he's a mimicker of professions he admires and tries to get alongside them by using their language and also befriending them. He wants to be a peer and not a patient. Actually, I'm liking this idea more and more!
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statisticus
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« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2014, 12:29:45 AM »

I'm with HueItzcoatl on this one.  Technically the story is SF on account of the setting, but that is quite irrelevant to the story.  The protagonist might just as easily have moved from New York to San Francisco and we'd have the same driver for the story.  Nor did I find the story itself compelling.  Social workers on the Moon working through their personal problems, when they could be doing something interesting like exploring a new and unearthly environment?  Who wants to hear about that?

OK, obviously some of you do, and kudos to you.  But this story did nothing whatever for me.
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FireTurtle
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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2014, 03:16:31 PM »

I pretty much concur with what's been said already. I had additional issues with the seemingly self-important way thesis character kept referring to herself as a Psychiatrist. Yes, it's your professional identity, but it doesn't seem realistic to go all "Bob Dole" about your profession. When I'm contemplating something I don't think "I'm an anesthesiologist so I think XYZ". I just think "XYZ". I am sure the same is true for engineers, accountants, and all other professions. It felt inauthentic.


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Asomatous
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« Reply #9 on: February 19, 2014, 12:27:19 AM »


I got the sense, however, that MacDougall was not a typical laborer but was instead another psychologist sent, surreptitiously, to work with Holmes.


Interesting take! I usually suspect everyone of almost everything but this never occurred to me. I agree he did use quite a bit of psycho-speak yet I am not sure he really was an undercover shrink. Your evidence is strong however.  Smiley
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albionmoonlight
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« Reply #10 on: February 19, 2014, 12:08:20 PM »

The story presented a world where the people in charge knew the psychological stresses of the environment and would not hesitate to take people away who could not handle it.  It seems that if the people in charged suspected Holmes of breaking up, they would have either removed her or forced her into therapy.  MacDougall as a secret shrink does not seem to work with that world.

Not saying that it was not intended by the author, but if it was, I think that it was a bit inconsistent.
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #11 on: February 20, 2014, 09:41:10 AM »

The protagonist might just as easily have moved from New York to San Francisco and we'd have the same driver for the story. 

I don't think that's true at all.  Much of the difficulty from the situation came from:
1.  The fact that every person she could possibly talk to about anything is a patient, or at least a potential patient.  If she were in San Francisco that wouldn't be true.
2.  The fact that there's no way for her to leave the environment.  If she were in San Francisco, she could take a weekend flight up to Seattle or something.

That being said, I didn't really dig the story either.  A little too much navel-gazing for me, I guess.  I like the idea of the guy being an undercover therapist, and I don't think the story necessarily rules that out, but I don't think the story really supports it either.  I think that if the administration realized she needed therapy they'd send her a memo telling her to report for therapy, and if that didn't work they'd send her back to earth.  For that matter, she might have realized she should ask for this herself, but I can understand why she wouldn't feel comfortable asking for that or why it wouldn't occur to her. 

My interpretation of the patient's psychiatrist-speak is that he has learned from being a patient how to apply the same techniques to other people.  I can see how this would be a problem with the doctor-patient relationship, and I can see how it could also be positive in at least some respects.

But all that aside, I thought it ended where the story really began.  The inciting incident, for me, was when she decided to crawl out of her shell.  The End.  There was a lot of words before the inciting incident and no words after.  So I found that disappointing.
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SonofSpermcube
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« Reply #12 on: February 23, 2014, 12:00:28 AM »

This story reminded me of the anime "Planetes."
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adrianh
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« Reply #13 on: February 24, 2014, 06:47:37 AM »

Dealing with mental health issues in a high-pressure situation like a lunar colony sounded like a neat place to tell a story, but this one didn't particularly work for me. It wasn't the character led story, but that the world-building didn't really hang together with what I know already about organisational psychology & counselling.

* The colour deprivation therapy/problem didn't really ring true for me. We already have people living and working for months and years in environments with similar issues (the antarctic, submarines, oil rigs, etc.). We already know quite a lot about colour psychology. I would have though that decorating the general working environment would be much more economic than the colour-booth-thingy. And we're already getting small scale cheap VR rigs. Having only a single massively overbooked "holodeck" room - on a site where major psych problems are acknowledged - seems unlikely and slightly contrived.

* The patient/therapist relationship is a complete ethical no-no. Somebody hired and trained for the critical context of a therapist on a lunar base would be having serious issues with that - and it was barely mentioned in passing.

* We already have many places (the military, the current space program, the police, etc.) where therapy can have major implications on life and death situations. It is common for therapists to be stressed and worried, and have major work problems, due to managing those stresses. And - guess what - we have solutions. It is common, and in some contexts mandated, for counsellors to have therapy themselves. That this wasn't even brought up just blew the suspension of belief for me.

So while the personal character arc was nicely done, I just couldn't really buy into the environment it was happening in.

(I did like the reading, but I found the sfx added around the party scene distracting.)
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Sir Postsalot
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« Reply #14 on: February 24, 2014, 10:33:26 AM »

* We already have many places (the military, the current space program, the police, etc.) where therapy can have major implications on life and death situations. It is common for therapists to be stressed and worried, and have major work problems, due to managing those stresses. And - guess what - we have solutions. It is common, and in some contexts mandated, for counsellors to have therapy themselves. That this wasn't even brought up just blew the suspension of belief for me.

I did wonder about that as well.  It seemed like the story was going there when one of her colleagues mentioned that she never talks, and I was kind of expecting it to go to a conversation of "By the way, it's mandatory that you talk to someone."  But it didn't.
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Myrealana
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« Reply #15 on: February 24, 2014, 11:45:17 AM »

I'm with HueItzcoatl on this one.  Technically the story is SF on account of the setting, but that is quite irrelevant to the story.  The protagonist might just as easily have moved from New York to San Francisco and we'd have the same driver for the story.  Nor did I find the story itself compelling.  Social workers on the Moon working through their personal problems, when they could be doing something interesting like exploring a new and unearthly environment?  Who wants to hear about that?

OK, obviously some of you do, and kudos to you.  But this story did nothing whatever for me.
This is the same thing I was thinking as I was listening. The SF element served only as a mechanic to put her in an isolated environment. It meant nothing to the story in general. It could as easily have been a therapist in any relatively remote location. The fact that it was on the moon rather than a submarine, a military outpost in Kandahar or Antarcitca was entirely incidental to the story.

I also didn't care too much about her issues. As Unblinking said - too much naval-gazing.
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Devoted135
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« Reply #16 on: February 25, 2014, 03:58:49 PM »

I enjoyed this story fine, but felt many of the issues that have already been brought up.

* The colour deprivation therapy/problem didn't really ring true for me. We already have people living and working for months and years in environments with similar issues (the antarctic, submarines, oil rigs, etc.). We already know quite a lot about colour psychology. I would have though that decorating the general working environment would be much more economic than the colour-booth-thingy. And we're already getting small scale cheap VR rigs. Having only a single massively overbooked "holodeck" room - on a site where major psych problems are acknowledged - seems unlikely and slightly contrived.

* The patient/therapist relationship is a complete ethical no-no. Somebody hired and trained for the critical context of a therapist on a lunar base would be having serious issues with that - and it was barely mentioned in passing.

* We already have many places (the military, the current space program, the police, etc.) where therapy can have major implications on life and death situations. It is common for therapists to be stressed and worried, and have major work problems, due to managing those stresses. And - guess what - we have solutions. It is common, and in some contexts mandated, for counsellors to have therapy themselves. That this wasn't even brought up just blew the suspension of belief for me.

I would love to read a re-write of this story with all of the background research properly done and integrated.
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adrianh
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« Reply #17 on: February 26, 2014, 07:30:18 AM »

Quote
The SF element served only as a mechanic to put her in an isolated environment. It meant nothing to the story in general. It could as easily have been a therapist in any relatively remote location. The fact that it was on the moon rather than a submarine, a military outpost in Kandahar or Antarcitca was entirely incidental to the story.

Wearing my devil's advocate hat: By the same argument 1984 could be set in any repressive regime, and The Forever War could be set in any extended conflict with an isolated conscript army.

I'm personally happy to call things SF where we're using a setting to emphasise a point or take it to the extreme. It's just that, for me, the details of this story didn't particularly hang together for me. It was the character and the world building that didn't work for me.
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SF.Fangirl
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« Reply #18 on: March 04, 2014, 09:21:05 PM »

I enjoyed this as gentle sci fi.  No battles and the high stakes (saving lives) are mentioned in passing but not really present in the story.  The main story didn't interest me too much, but I did enjoyed the views of the slice of life of the moon's inhabitants and the passing mentions of life on Galetaia. However the story has the unfinished feeling of the start of something (ie a relationship or a longer work) and just didn't feel like quite enough for me to really love it or the characters.

I did also wonder if MacDougal might have been a planted undercover shrink, but if he was meant to be I suspect the author would have given more obvious hints and as others have mentioned it would be problematic and unethical so I think he was just a guy wit whom she was compatible with.
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CryptoMe
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« Reply #19 on: May 22, 2014, 01:20:01 PM »

I'm surprised by how little commentary this thread has.

I really enjoyed the slice of Moon station life this story presented. There was minimal science, sure, but I don't expect the average non-tech person (as our MC was) would be all that interested in the tech aspects, so that rang true for me. What didn't ring true, as several people have already mentioned, was the BIG ethical no-no of using your patients as therapy for yourself. Come to think of it, if everyone but the other shrink is a potential patient, is there anyone on base that you can be friends or lovers with? That there will guarantee you'll go wonky sooner or later....
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