The next year Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, and her Harvard crew wanted to do a landmark study at the school. I had taken a course from her at Harvard; she now asked me to be an in-house interviewer for the next six years. How could I pass up the opportunity? I stayed on.
After the Laurel/Harvard study was completed, someone had to go to other schools and conferences to share what we had learned. Carol Gilligan was moving on to other studies and was too busy. Thus began my life as a gender expert. Laurel School graciously allowed me to take several days each year to do this. By now I was also experiencing the joys of being an administrator, having become director of the middle, primary, and early childhood divisions through another instance of serendipity. The previous director resigned in April one year, and the school was in chaos. What better person than the school psychologist to fill in the gap? It would only be temporary, the head of the school assured me. Well, it wasn't, exactly. Five years later, because of my speaking engagements around the country, and a growing list of requests for me to present gender equity workshops for parents, teachers, administrators, and students (girls and boys), I was asked by the National Association of Independent Schools to be on a national committee for women in independent schools. My already crowded calendar of speaking engagements and the growing demand for my gender equity workshops made my next career step clear: I became a full-time consultant, working year-round with schools, parent and teacher organizations, and students themselves in the United States and abroad.
Early in my career as a psychologist, after teaching for several years and then interning in a variety of settings, and with a variety of clients, from the very young to the very old, it was clear to me that for many clients, treatment was long, expensive, painful, and often ineffective. Being the idealist that I am, my core philosophy fit with the philosophy of prevention, and that is where I turned my attention as a specialist.
Preventive psychology is at the other end of the spectrum from the kind of private practice work most people envision when they think of a psychologist or therapist. I do counsel individual children and their families privately, but most of my time is devoted to what we call primary prevention. I evaluate factors in schools or families that cause mental health or learning issues and work to fix them, eliminate them, or modify an environment so those factors don't exist. As a public speaker and a consultant, I work with schools and communities around the country, conducting workshops for parents and teachers who want to create schools and families where children can thrive, and speaking with students about their concerns or issues of the day. My life and career have thrived in ways I would never have imagined in earlier years. I have made my way as many women do: on the winds of my intuition, a perfect model of affiliation motivation, influenced by people, connections, and gut feelings.
Wherever I go, I generally find thoughtful, caring, determined parents and school staff with a lot in common. They typically have high ideals, a desire for clarity, and a willingness to work at making their schools and homes places that support healthy development for girls. Parents always want to know in general how to be a good parent. Teachers want to be the one a student remembers fondly thirty years later.
But often, it is problems, issues, and concerns that motivate many of us to seek help, listen, and try to do something different. Sometimes it takes a problem to get everyone's attention, and then the task is twofold: Find a way to solve the problem and find a way to change conditions so it doesn't happen again. In these circumstances, I often encounter an undercurrent of fear, sometimes a kind of siege mentality, that prompts adults to respond to unwanted challenge by clamping down, nipping it in the bud. The prevailing attitude in that setting is that challenge or change are threatening and have to be quashed. It never works. Not for long, anyway. Not in families and not in schools. Not in politics or government. Not in nature. Growth requires change; how we fare with it depends on how we respond to it.
Copyright © 2002 JoAnn Deak, Ph.D.
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