talk therapy & web development [rough notes]

Note: I’ve had this in my drafts for almost two weeks. It’s a terrible rough draft, and yet I’m publishing now anyway, mostly because I want to clear my head after the first run and give it another shot.

I’ve taken at least two runs at this blog post and gotten NOWHERE. I wonder if I should write it a bit more like the morning glory essay: intersperse personal anecdote and science.

What is CBT

All the therapists I’ve seen: the horrible behavioralist; the older woman in Arcadia (I think she was actually a freudian/psychodynamic); three therapists at UPS (guy, white lady, black lady); the one who didn’t work out in Tacoma; the city councilman; the woman who did EMDR (?); Holly. (why am I so bad at remembering therapist names! and I can see all of their faces, too.)

I didn’t originally realize that it was my history in therapy that was giving me the tools for usability studies & whatever the hell this is that we do in the work sessions.

I think I read somewhere about the most effective talk therapy being a mix of techniques and schools. Sort of like the way I’m trying different things with different groups of people, adjusting & experimenting.

The work sessions: are they content strategy? Content development?

(Is there a content strategy equivalent to medication? To short-term therapy plus re-reading CBT books & doing the exercises? Is that why I got so excited about Relly’s online class? The potential to be the Feeling Good of content strategy/development?)

Damn, I think I’ve found a new professional ambition: to write the Feeling Good of content strategy. A workbook for people “in the trenches” of content development, the ordinary site editors, people who would never think of themselves as content strategists. Something with some theory for people who go that way, but with a strong focus on practical advice, building a practice of creating better content. Do “this” once a day, once a week, once a month, once a year.

Of course, that doesn’t get me any closer to writing this damn blog post. I feel like I need some help getting focused on what I want to say, what I have to share. Hm.

“I’ve had a lot of therapy”

Active Listening

Why Behind The Why


When we first started doing usability testing at Evergreen, I led the first couple of session mostly because I’d done it before. But then they said that I seemed to have a knack for it, and I’ve been the primary tester ever since.

I’ve explained it a few times with the throwaway line “I’ve had a lot of therapy,” but recently a few things have prompted me to think about that in more depth.

We did usability testing on a section of the site, and I was telling someone else about it. Notably, that the stakeholders watching had come to realize that they had too much text, and that it was difficult for visitors to get the right information. The person I was talking to said something about a therapist not being able to tell you when you have a problem, but to guide you to where you can see it yourself. (Paraphrasing badly.)

And then we have these “work sessions” where we help stakeholders with their audiences and goals, then work through their content. I missed the start of a meeting, because I got caught in a conversation elsewhere, and they were totally at sea. Which kinda bothers me, but I guess that’s ok. And it turns out that this part, pushing gently, redirecting, reframing, is something that I’m actually good at.

Which: therapy.

My father died when I was eight years old, although I think even without that I might have ended up in the ranks of the depressives. (There’s a lot in the family.) But because of that, we did a lot of family therapy, some of which was genuinely terrible. Pure behavioral therapy: not great in a household with …. anyway.

In the years since, I’ve done a lot of talk therapy, lots of kinds of talk therapy.

What about therapy?

Good therapists are good at active listening. At being there and helpful, redirecting, reflecting, but not being at all a focus of conversation. My therapists have had different personalities, different lives, but I honestly can’t say I know much about them beyond the theraputic context. (I was genuinely surprised when a former therapist ran for city council.)

When I (the patient) ask a question, it helps me if they (the therapist) put it back to me for how to answer it.

Let you talk, wait for the pause, “how does that relate to X?”

And CBT, in particular, has given me tools for finding the why behind the why. I’ve spent a lot of time doing exercises of figuring out feeling->thought->thought BEHIND that. “the audience member wants to…” “but in order to do what, exactly?” so that experience of knowing that the first answer isn’t exactly the answer.