Allan Gold, Ph.D.

When I think back to challenges in my school psychology career, I recall that when I started my job at age 29, I was pretty inexperienced. I was trained to be a good consultant to teachers and parents. My training emphasized being a good listener and asking questions, but I had a strong sense that I needed to know the answer to everyone’s questions and have solutions for everyone’s problems. So some of the most difficult situations were when I felt that someone was really counting on me and I didn’t have an answer. Over time, in fact a lot of time, I became less hard on myself and more understanding that solving problems and a cooperative venture with being able to assist people, whether adults or students, in brainstorming and coming up with solutions involved empathy, understanding, asking good questions to clarify situations is an effective process. As I have continued to develop these skills, the positive feedback I receive as being helpful validates this process.

Another completely different challenge was being open about my sexuality. When I started my job in 1976 I wasn’t completely out about being a gay man. Times were quite different than they are now and I wanted to hide my own questions and struggles. When I first attended a Pride Parade in San Francisco in 1977 I was finishing up my graduate school course work and my internship. At the same time there was the Briggs Amendment to be voted on in California to ban any homosexual from education. So, I was particularly frightened that I would be discovered. For the early decades of my career I kept my own personal life secret. Sometimes a parent would ask me if I had children and I had to be honest, but I worried that they would think that I didn’t understand parenting. Though I never did have children, but have many godchildren, my years of experience have made me quite aware of what parenting demands and involves. So, just being gay was only the surface of having to assure parents that I could be of help. I, also, felt that when I spoke to students or parents, it wasn’t my life and experiences that mattered, but theirs. I have since changed that viewpoint and when a student or a parent relates an experience to me that is similar to one of mine, I will share my own experiences, feelings, and actions. I find that this makes me much more human and relatable to them. By the mid 1990’s I still hadn’t come out to students and parents, though some of my colleagues knew that I was gay and had a partner. For my 50th birthday in 1996 I had one of my ears pierced, but before I got to school each day, I took out the little stud, as I didn’t want anyone to think I was gay because I was wearing an earring. It took until the 21st century that I began to be more open about myself with parents and sometimes with children about my sexuality. I had developed enough respect from the entire community that I didn’t feel that I needed to hide. When I spoke to middle school students who were questioning their identities, I felt comfortable sharing my own experiences. The same was true for parents who had concerns or questions about their own children and wanted my advice and perspective. It was so much easier to be appropriately honest and everyone found that useful. Being open enabled me to start a Gender Sexuality Alliance Club about four years ago and students dealing with gender identification and sexual orientation feel quite comfortable and attending meetings with an experienced gay man as facilitator.

When considering what I might have done differently in my career, there is not much I would change. I think I had to develop patience with myself, but that comes with time and experience, rather than just telling myself that mistakes are normal and learning is continual. Some things that I would do the same way would be to look for opportunities to engage in activities that I had passions for and thought kids would enjoy, even though they were not in my job description. The purpose of doing a whole variety of different activities is to be very visible, available for all kids, not just those with significant academic or emotional problems, and to present as a kind, funny, approachable person to destigmatize seeking out support for mental health issues. I have done class programs on good and bad touch, self-esteem, social status, teasing and bullying, run small groups for social skills development, children of divorce, students with special needs siblings, run challenging math clubs (my original degrees were in math and statistics), Teach Equity and Acceptance, and the Gender Sexuality Alliance Clubs, taught gifted students, acted as “nurse/doctor,” and counselor on Outdoor Education trips, even taught rock and roll back in the 80’s and made many cameo appearances in school plays, just to show my flexibility and humanness. All of these activities impressed students that I was easy to talk to and could be asked for help whenever they needed it.

After 47 years it’s hard to remember what made the biggest impact on me. Kids’ letters of appreciation and drawings of me always have meant a lot. One recent strong impact was when a transgendered 6th grade boy reached out to me after a couple of years of my offering his parents to be there to talk and he contacted me to do that. We worked together for a couple more years on social and emotional issues. After his graduation ceremony this year he gave me a huge hug, which made me feel so good. All of the letters of appreciation from parents greatly affected me in such a positive way. Another person who impacted me so much is my personal therapist, whom I have been with for 29 years. Every Friday I would have a session with him and a good part of the time we would discuss work issues. He certainly helped me with possible ways to address specific issues, but he also helped me to deal with my own struggles with perfectionism and accept myself for the always growing and learning professional that I am.

I have always tried to access resources from the California Association of School Psychologists, National Association of School Psychologists, and online information in order to improve my knowledge and skills. I’ve attended annual conventions including legal workshops to add to my knowledge and skills, as well. The school psychology organizations have been available since the beginning of my career. I might have taken advantage of courses in brain physiology and even pharmaceutics in order to be more knowledgeable of the physical aspects and treatments for mental issues.

I think my greatest attributes that enable me to be sought out by parents, teachers, and students are my ability to convey caring and compassion, being a good listener and showing genuine interest by asking thoughtful questions, knowing when to be silly and humorous, and when to be serious, having excellent intuition (maybe learned over the years) about how to talk with children of every age, the ease of giving compliments and recognizing even small positive behaviors, and being a role model for ethical, kind (not mean) behavior. My overall intelligence and analytic skills certainly helped to better understand academic and emotional challenges. My strong ability to be a “team player” and work with teachers, administrators, and parents was really helpful in helping all of us to deal with many challenging situations. This is the main reason that I never wanted to open a private practice; I love working with others and sharing the responsibility to solve problems. I feel that many of these attributes may have been innate in me, but did not necessarily show when I was younger, but through practice, experience, and further learning, I was able to use these attributes to be a very effective school psychologist.

Being a school psychologist definitely means exposure to traumatic events. Whether there are threats of suicide, accidental death of a student, death by suicide or illness of a parent, traumatic natural events, student’s having to deal with divorce, illness, relocation, a school psychologist will be called in to help someone deal with trauma. It takes a very measured psychological balance to be able to handle these situations. On the one hand psychologists need to feel compassion and empathy. On the other hand they need to protect themselves from being sucked into the maelstrom of grief, pain, and confusion that accompany traumatic events. Over the years I have been able to build effective “armor” to be able to help others, while not getting despondent myself. That is not to say that I wouldn’t tear up when talking with a student or parent in trauma, but I remind myself that I have experienced my own very challenging situations and have gotten through them, so I can help others without falling back into my own pain or grief from past experiences. These can be some of the most challenging situations to deal with, but my own therapy, my ability to reflect on my own strength, both enable me to get through these situations and encourage others that they, too, will be able to manage these very, very challenging life events. Encouraging others to talk about these serious life events is crucial. If approached by a student who has concerns about a friend, I will encourage them to invite their friend to talk with me or even accompany them to make them feel more comfortable. Talk therapy with a trusted person over time can really help to cope with traumatic events, and I have certainly used my own therapist for that purpose, whether death of parents or friends, serious illness, or accidents, my talking about these situations was extremely helpful and provided important life lessons I could convey to others.

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