This week I got an email from Chris, the graduate student I've been helping with the narcissism study. He said that Dr. H, the head of the personality disorders lab, wanted to meet me and possibly use me as a research assistant. Today I met the good doctor for the first time. His photograph looks rather stern and stuffy, so I was pleasantly surprised to see his office filled with photographs of his wife and children, and pictures that his little girls have drawn for him. We talked for over an hour, mostly about personality disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Dr. L, the PTSD researcher in the department, walked by just as we were discussing my dad's book about combat vets, and Dr. H invited him in to meet me. He told us about two papers he read recently about trauma and PTSD suffered by exchange students while living abroad. This of course lead into a discussion of my experience as an exchange student in Japan. Both professors were enthusiastic about my background in literature and history, and Dr. H said that this was why he thought I'd be so good for this project.
Would you like to hear about the new research project I get to work on? This project has to do with predictors for borderline personality disorder. Dr. H's graduate students (including Chris), have collected four Thematic Apperception Test (TAT) stories from each of 400 participants. What is a TAT story? you may be asking yourself. The Thematic Apperception Test is a series of up to 31 simple drawings which are shown one at a time to the person being assessed. For each picture, the test-taker is asked to tell a story about what is going on in the picture. For instance, one of the pictures is of a person looking down at a violin lying on a table. The researcher prompts the participant to include in her story what has led up to the event in the picture, what is happening at the moment, what the characters in the picture are thinking and feeling, and what the outcome of the story is. Everything the test-taker says is recorded and then transcribed.
Before the stories can be used for research, they must be scored. There are many different standardized ways of scoring this test. The method we will be using is the Social Cognition and Object Relations scale (SCOR). This scale attempts to uncover how the participant thinks of and relates to other people. I will be in training until I can show, but the way I score a story, that I am "reliable" , i.e. that my scoring is similar enough to everyone elses' that it can be trusted and used for analysis. Even after I have been deemed reliable, I will check in with my team and Dr. H every 20 stories or so to make sure that we are still scoring in a uniform way. I am really looking forward to the training, and, most of all, the story reading.
Just a few posts ago I was lamenting the fact that none of the professors had any interest in using me as a research assistant, and now I'm best buddies with two different professors, all thanks to Chris. Many of the hours we spent in his office were just waiting as one after another participant never showed up. We have talked and talked about his research interests and my background and dreams. I am full of questions and he has happily answered them all. Sometimes I have wondered whether helping in this study has been a good use of my time, especially since I have to leave the girls with a friend during nap time. Now I can see that it was not the role I played in the study (basically sitting in a room pretending to be a participant), but the relationship I developed with Chris (and his fiancee Danielle), that is valuable. I probably learned more about psychology and research from picking his brain than I've learned in my class at the community college this semester. Because of this relationship, when Dr. H said he needed more research assistants to score the TAT stories, Chris recommend me.
Today was the last day of Chris's narcissism study. I was the confederate for the 50th and final participant. I am struck by the fact that today, just as one study ended, I was invited to help with another. I have felt repeatedly that God is parting the waters for me so that I can follow this path toward becoming a therapist. This feeling of working toward something uniquely suited to my strengths and experiences, with God's blessing, has brought me a lot of peace and happiness in recent months, and for that I am grateful. Until we meet again, gentle reader, adieu.