Sunday, May 06, 2012

Pursuing Seminary: Shrinking my head

On March 14 I visited the North Central Ministry Development Center in New Brighton and met with psychologist Dr. Mary Honstead.

When I arrived, before meeting with her, I was given two short (10-minute) multiple choice tests. The first was vocabulary: finding synonyms, and it started out deceptively easily. A made-up example: find the best synonym for "baker": 1) chef, 2) stoplight, 3) bookcase, 4) keyboard. I say deceptively, because by question 35 of 40, the words had gone from grade-level-easy to ginormous words I'd never even heard of before. This made educated guesses more or less impossible. I had pretty much nailed the first 35, but those last 5, killer.

Second test was pattern recognition. So, for example, fill in the blank: 1, 3, 5, __, 9. Or: big / little, high / low, cold / ___ (hot). Again, it started deceptively easy, growing progressively more complex. My brain is totally wired for these kinds of questions. To be quite humble, I aced it; only 1 of 25 Qs completely befuddled me, and I finally figured it out on the drive home. Apparently most people don't even finish the tests; my ego felt pretty good about itself.

Once I finished testing, the receptionist collected and quickly scored them. A few minutes later, Dr. Mary greeted me, and we went into her office.

I've never been to a psychologist's office (at least, that I can remember). Cliché-icly, there was a couch, but we sat in comfy chairs instead. She gave me an overview of her background and the ministry center's history, explained how, at the end of our conversation, she'd write a report about me, I'd sign a release, and that report would be furnished to the ELCA (I'd have a chance to review for factual accuracy first). Then we dove in.

Mary's voice was very soothing. Her's would be a great bedtime story-telling voice.

We talked about my feeling of Call, what that journey has looked like, what gifts/talents I feel I would bring to ministry, and what I saw as areas for growth and improvement; pretty much all the stuff I'd already written about in the psych evals (though in-person I could expatiate significantly more than in writing). Mary also asked specific questions based on what I'd written, in several cases reminding me of more stories to share. None felt prying. Even if they were, several pastor friends had encouraged me to go into this being completely open and honest, because there's no point in lying. Easy for me: I'm open and honest to a fault. More on that later.

We talked about the results from my Strong Interest Inventory. There was nothing very surprising in it, though I've never thought of myself as a librarian, so that kinda came out of the blue. Here are a few excerpts:
  • My highest themes were Artistic, Social, and Enterprising.
  • My highest interest areas were Religion & Spirituality, Writing & Mass Communications, Programming & Information Systems, Mathematics, and Entrepreneurship.
  • My top ten Strong occupations were:
    1. Investments Manager
    2. Translator
    3. Librarian
    4. Marketing Manager
    5. Musician
    6. College Instructor
    7. Attorney
    8. Broadcast Journalist
    9. Reporter
    10. Technical Writer
  • My "occupations of dissimilar interest" were:
    1. Physical Education Teacher
    2. Athletic Trainer
    3. Physical Therapist
    4. Firefighter
    5. Art Teacher
I guess that means my dreams of being a high school PE teacher are off the table now.

After Strong's we took a break, then went on to discuss the PEPQ, the PsychEval Personality Questionnaire. Of notable mention was my low score on the "Impression Management" scale, more or less a scale of how truthful / forthcoming the test-taker is being. Whereas many people going through the Center will score high (because they are trying to present themselves favorably, in an "overly-positive" way), I scored a 4, which is in the bottom 5th percentile of the population. In other words, I was "willing to describe not-positive aspects" of myself, "probably more open and more honest than a lot of people would be going through this kind of process," but also probably too self-deprecating and too hard on myself. It's great for the psychologist evaluating me, though, because it means I'm not hiding anything from her.

Overall, I took it as a compliment, and affirmation that someone else thinks I'm as honest as I think I am.

Other points of interest:
  • In the "normal personality scales", compared to a "normal" population I scored higher toward abstract over concrete; apprehensive over self-assured; tense over relaxed; and serious, expedient, and shy over lively, rule-conscious, and socially bold.
  • In the "pathology-oriented scales", my only outliers were "obsessional thinking" and "threat-sensitive."
I've been thinking about that non-stop since I found out.

(That was a joke. Get it? Obsessive?)

As Mary explained it, that index just means I tend to worry about stuff. Which is true. For that, as well as the tense-ness / anxiety I feel, Mary recommended I seek out a counselor to meet with on a regular basis. Which is actually something I've wanted to do for a long time; I don't recall if Mary put it in these terms or not, but I feel I'm the type of person who could really benefit from that outward reflection (counselor reflecting my own ideas back at me). I know this to be true because many of my friends have served a similar role in the past - listening to my ideas, asking probing questions, and in the end that has helped me figure out the answer on my own.

Now I just need to follow through on contacting the guy Mary recommended.

After PEPQ we went on to talk about my parents and family, my youth, my friends and interactions with others, schooling history, health history, spiritual history, and so on.

Eventually we got to discuss my MMPI-2 results (the 567 question test), and once again Mary affirmed how I was "being remarkably open and honest." Apparently, "for this kind of setting [my score is] unusual." On the plus side, because of that, she said it means they can trust the result to be "quite accurate."

On the hilarious flip-side, MMPI-2 indicated I'm shy and introverted, apparently so much so that Mary said, "I look at this and I sort of expected you to come in and go stand in the corner. And obviously that's not the case, you're obviously a very engaging person, you have a nice social presence, you can converse with me easily..." That first line was very funny to me; I laughed quite hard.

MMPI-2 also confirmed my self-awareness (about any issues I'm facing, any emotional struggles, etc). I've long thought I know myself well, and apparently that's objectively true, at least compared to a "normal" population. For Mary this also reaffirmed how I could make good use of a counselor, because I'm already willing to admit my faults and work on them.

In closing, Mary said she's "intrigued by what this can mean for you.... I don't see just a completely typical path for ministry.... You're not walking through the door looking like... the case example for a typical pastor."

One more step on the adventurous road.

Earlier this week I received Mary's written report about me. Here are some interesting excerpts:

Personality Characteristics and Leadership Style

The personality profile on the PsychEval Personality Questionnaire (PEPQ) is
broken down into five themes that incorporate sixteen aspects of personality, and another section that takes a more clinical look at psychological functioning.   Although Jeremy’s clinical profile suggests that he is not experiencing any major psychological difficulties in the areas of depression or risk-taking behaviors, he does report worrying and ruminating (Jeremy agrees that he can “get obsessed” about a problem, but this sometimes also helps him solve the problem). The personality portion of his profile describes the following characteristics:
  1. He tends to be anxious and tense in his emotional temperament, becoming impatient and frustrated at times, and often doubting himself or blaming himself when things go wrong;
  2. He is somewhat introverted in his orientation, bringing a quiet, shy manner and preferring to tackle problems on his own rather than in a group;
  3. He is balanced between adapting to others’ wishes versus directing events in an independent fashion (although he is hesitant in social situations, he may sometimes question others’ motivations);
  4. Although he may be cautious in his demeanor, he also is flexible, bending the rules and thinking “outside the box;”
  5. He is balanced between being sensitive to emotional and aesthetic dimensions versus being pragmatic and task-oriented.


Jeremy appears to bring gifts of intelligence, creativity and integrity to his sense of call to ordained ministry within the ELCA tradition.  He also brings organizational leadership skills, and he has taken initiative in trying out new endeavors in his life.  He describes a supportive family background, and he seems quite self-aware, making good use of his naturally introspective nature to deepen his own self-understanding.  Although there does not appear to be any symptoms of major depression or anxiety, Jeremy readily admits that he worries and often is self-critical, holding himself to high standards that can easily turn into perfectionism.  The following recommendations are made in the spirit of enhancing his growth and development as he continues on in the next phase of his discernment process:
  1. That he seek out a wise counselor (perhaps one who makes use of a cognitive behavioral approach) who can help him moderate his performance anxiety through understanding and changing his high standards of perfection (this will help him in all aspects of ministry and he will likely be able to make good use of such a process given his resourcefulness and reflective nature);
  2. That he develop more comfort with social situations through mentoring relationships, small groups, and CPE (he seemed at ease in a one on one context);
  3. That he continue to actively discern how to best use his particular gifts in a ministry context, trying out various roles and settings to help him with this (including CPE to try out his current sense of call toward chaplaincy);
  4. That he seek out a mentoring relationship with a clergy person who can model a style of leadership that Jeremy could emulate, including insight about how to delegate effectively, set healthy boundaries on time and energy, and let go of perfectionism.

No comments: