The Expert Within Has Moved!

February 18, 2013

I now have my very own domain name, which means a new address.  Click here to see TheExpertWithin in its new home.  Actually, The Expert Within resides in you.  The blog address is for help in finding it.

My digital files are made up of two general categories:  word files which I write myself (covered in a different post), and all other files.  The broad “other” category consists of faxed documents, scanned documents, and emailed documents, among others.

It’s fairly evident what to do with documents you write yourself.  If not, see the (File and Smile!) post.  If your intention is to go completely digital, you’ll want a way to manage all things mailed, faxed, and emailed to you (as well as handed to you by, say, a client).  Ideally, everything follows the same storage system you’ve set up in order to store the documents you compose yourself.

I receive my faxed documents with my Brother All-In-One (copier, fax, scanner) which converts them directly to digital files.  You will receive them with whatever fax you own, which may differ from mine a bit, but the information I offer should be universal to all machines.  When you receive a file, right click on the name, rename it (using the File! protocol mentioned above) and drag and drop it into the file in which it belongs.  For a demonstration, click on this link:  (video under construction–My boyfriend Dana’s expertise; please check back)

Scanned documents will open in a window after you’ve completed the scan.  Right click on the document name, and rename it.  Then drag and drop it into it’s “destination” folder.

My All-In-One comes with software called Scansoft, which offers more flexibility in naming and moving files than those I’ve used in the past. The software packaged with any fax/scanner varies between machines.  I mention Brother in this blog because I had to trade up from the less workable HP all-in-one I owned previously in order to get the features which allowed me to work more efficiently.  Brother doesn’t pay for this plug (though I wish they did).

Client’s sometimes use email either to update me on recent events or to send completed homework assignments ahead of their session.  I like to convert those emails to pdf files (a more versatile file type) before storing them in a client’s folder.  When I convert them, I change the name, using the protocol described in my File! post.

You can convert emails in a couple of ways.  You may already have a pdf converter app installed in your system as part of another software package.  To test this, find a print icon somewhere in or around an open email and click on it.  A window should open which will allow you to choose the “destination” (the printer).  If there is a “print to pdf” option, or anything that says “pdf”, click on it and click print.  Choose the destination; if you’re just learning, “desktop” is a safe choice, because the file will end up on your desktop where you can find it easily.  Once you get good at this, you can select the correct client folder for the document; using this single procedure you can then convert, rename, and store your file.

If no pdf converter appears to be installed on your system, you can download PDF Creator (freeware) from pdfforge.  Download the link, install it, and then try again to print your document.  This time you should see a pdf convert option when you hit print.

As a therapist I digitally store (and need to be able to easily find) a number of intake documents which have been filled out, read, and signed by my clients.  You may work with deeds, bonds, contracts, wills, or other legal instruments.  Scanning works for most signed documents, unless a copied signature will not suffice.  But scanning is not a favorite part of my daily routine–not nearly as rewarding as face-to-face client time, reading current research, or other inspirational and creative pursuits.  So a new Adobe web-based tool called EchoSign has me calculating the time I’ll save when scanning intake documents is no longer a part of my routine.  I used EchoSign to create, send, and sign some test documents.  I created a beautiful (in my eyes, anyway) client information sheet by dragging “form fields” (boxes to type stuff into) onto an existing form and then emailed it (to myself via a second email account) in encrypted form with a code I selected.  Once received, I clicked on a window, entered the code, filled out and signed the document, and emailed it back.  I easily downloaded the returned, signed document.  Test it out with any of your digital documents, and I’ll keep you posted as I begin to use in in my practice.

Teaching the nuts and bolts of a digital storage system is new to me.  Mastering a skill over many hours spent in “isolation” doesn’t necessarily translate to teaching it skillfully.  Your comments are part of the collaboration–write and let me know if you get stumped, or if you like what I’ve written.

File! (and Smile)

January 14, 2012

Ready to convert to digital record keeping?  The first step is to develop a naming protocol for your computer files.  (Just so you know, files are the computer counterpart of paper documents.)  Once you develop and master a standardized way of naming your files, you will easily be able to find any document among hundreds, even thousands, of files in a single folder.

You may be tempted to just follow a workable system you’ve already set up.  But not every part of your current paper system will translate well to digital storage.  Open the cabinet (or box, or whatever) in which you store current  paper files, and note what you see there.  You probably have a way of subdividing the storage with manila folders within green hanging folders.  The good part:  subdividing can help you when searching for a particular document–it quickly narrows the space to scan so that you can find it in a hurry.  (If you’re like me, hurried searching is the norm.)  But in a computer, that kind of subdividing (folders within folders) is not as helpful, because you have to open one folder, then find another folder inside of it, open that folder, then search for another folder…and so on.  By the time you’ve clicked to open 2 or 3 folders, you’ve lost track of what you’re looking for.  Better to limit clicks to get to any eventual document to just 2 clicks at the most.  The naming protocol will take care of the rest.

The naming system I “invented” to store client folders lets me find everything I need quickly while the client and I set together and chat.  I can find things we worked on weeks before in an instant, allowing me to tie together seemingly disjointed ideas and mini-discoveries.  (Sessions can take many directions, but they are always interconnected, it seems.)  I name each file as follows:  Last Name (First letter in caps), First Initial(s) (caps), abbreviation of file type in lower case, and the date in year-month-day format:  Driscoll J pn 12.1.14

This naming protocol can be applied to any kind of file, not just my files.  If you’re a musician, you might want to store tracks or variations (called the “mix” Dana tells me) for a single song in a client folder.  Your ideal file name would then be the client’s name, the abbreviated song name, an abbreviation indicating “track” or “mix”, and the date.  Same thing if you’re an antiques dealer–you can name digital photos of each piece with first the antique category which you can abbreviate (uph, acc), followed by the name of the antique (1965 chair green stripe), and the date purchased.

As a general rule, each file name is built upon categories you would use to sort paper files, going from general to specific.  That way, when you open a folder, the wealth of information is all there; document types ordered alphabetically, and documents of a type (like, say, psychotherapy notes) neatly organized by date.  If you have a great number of documents and are looking for something recent, you can click on “date modified” near the top of the window, and the most recent document will appear at the top of the list.

A word of caution:  although naming documents the way I describe will save you time in the long run–careless naming will not.  A document with even a single letter or digit missing will put it out of order because your computer can’t generalize the way you can.  Remember the old saw:   “garbage in, garbage out”.

I’d like to give you all the fine points, but why don’t you give it a try first?  Then under comments, let me know where you get stuck.  If I can, I’ll help you out.  With any luck, others will write and share what works for them, too.  I envision a community of readers with perfectly organized digital files and lots of free time for things you find exciting!

In an attempt to become an honest-to-God writer, I look online for a primer and find Writing Tools, which I chase down in the library.   I dig in.  Roy Peters Clark (in Chapter One) tells me that an active voice entails beginning sentences with a noun and a verb and is the most effective way to grab and hold the reader’s attention.  I rewrite a recent blog entry so that nearly all the sentences start with a noun followed by a verb.   A wave of satisfaction takes hold as I note the improvement in my writing.

Then (for some unknown reason) hopelessness edges out the satisfaction.  Cursing this new feeling, I try to rekindle the old “expert within” momentum.  I Google two writer friends to find inspiration in their blogs.

I find a partial blog on by a NY friend, Jean Reilly.  She seems to espouse the noun-verb format, too!  The expert in her is thriving, I notice. She writes, she interviews famous wine makers, she skydives, and she will soon assume the “role as principle on-camera wine specialist and commentator for ‘Jet Set Chefs’, a culinary adventure travel series scheduled to air next year”.  A year ago, she “became this country’s 26th Master of Wine, only the sixth American woman to hold this prestigious title”.  I remember that at one time, she did solitary taste tests in her home, sipping wine from identical glasses while blindfolded.

I think about my life.  She is famous and I am teaching myself to write in a blog which has only two followers, my boyfriend and my therapist.  The blindfolded taste test part of Jean’s story fades to the recesses of my consciousness.

My mind wanders to a children’s book called Sheep Out to Eat I purchased for my now 30-something nephew long ago.  I loved that book!  I loved it for the same active sentence construction espoused by Roy Peters Clark in Chapter I.  I download it to Kindle.  It starts, “Five sheep stop at a small tea shop.  They ask for a seat and a bite to eat.”  Then it foreshadows an imminent cultural collision with the following words, “Sheep get menus, sheep want feed.  They point to words that they can’t read.”

I see in those words the cultural mismatch I feel with the world.  I search for meaning in my life. When I can’t find it, I start with the simple noun and verb structure: I drink tea. I write the beginning of a blog entry. I get ready to clean the mobile home.

DIY Digital

January 9, 2012

I started my private practice with a hurried, do-or-die approach.  I wouldn’t advise this knee-jerk approach as a general rule, but having had the brain injury just months before, it was a way to stay afloat and still make my clients’ needs a priority.  Think: small, low overhead with a manageable case load = sanity intact.

When considering how the years ahead would roll out, the mandate to keep client records available for 6+ years loomed a bit large.  Staff at my former group practice had struggled with the unwieldy volumes of  chart hard copies which had been stored in what now was an unworkable format; the owners had not yet established a digital record keeping format and so were keeping every chart in its entirety.

The same unwieldy room of paper threatened to follow me to the end of my career.  So a year of so into my practice, I scanned every single piece of paper in my office, and set up a DIY format for future case note entries.  I bought a Brother all-in-one and started to acclimate to the learning curve of all things digital.

I researched clinical billing/documentation software, but found it expensive.  This made me question the cost vs benefit of investing in a pre-packaged computerized system to manage clinical documentation and billing data.  I didn’t question that a software writer could invent a way to chart and bill better than I could, but there were aspects of these software packages that seemed limiting.  The case notes sections had point and click options to streamline the job of charting, but did I really want to describe clinical interventions by selecting from a series of multiple choice options?  I boldly set about inventing a rudimentary, but workable, system, using the software programs I already owned.  I used  Scansoft to convert scanned documents to PDF, a universal file type that could be easily transmittable and accessable through the years.  (Scansoft was included with my All-In-One software, so it was a useful freebie.)  I jumped on Open Office (a freeware word processing program) when I noticed it would support note-taking during client appointments without distracting me with the bells and whistles so prominent in Microsoft Word.  Quicken was the workhorse which downloaded and tracked business-related finances and produced reports for my billing service.

This took some doing.  Sometimes I was still glued to the computer when Anani arrived to clean the building–and he works late.  But my time investment has paid off in spades.  I built an affordable system that I can continue to tweak as my practice grows and shifts, and most of the time I find computerized record-keeping fairly effortless.  And it’s given me the extra time to write this blog.

How about you?  Have you resisted the digital trend or jumped on the HIPAA bandwagon to rethink your old pen to paper routine?  How do you organize those important records of yours?  Do you fax directly from your computer, or do you still feed documents into your fax machine?  Write and let me know if you could make use of a blog entry about the strategies I’ve invented.

The Power of Story

January 6, 2012

Life has the same built-in elements which, in good fiction, are used to build dramatic tension and hold audience interest.  In the real world, we get attached to people and things, and the attachment is broken.  We intend to do things, then can’t or don’t follow through.  We feel drawn by a sense of purpose, then lose our way.  There are challenging people and situations; and there are ups and downs.  Rare is the person who sees happiness derailed in these ways and considers their life story enlivened and their growth trajectory more sure.  In fact, my work as a therapist consists primarily of helping clients to eliminate or overcome life’s detours which keep them from well-being and contentment.

These story elements can run throughout multiple generations.  Some are tragic–abuse, financial struggles, and mental illness can bring about a quicksand-like sense of entrenchment which seems impossible to climb out of.  Others are joy-filled, denote success and accomplishment, and add to life’s sense of sweetness.  And the shades of grey between those extremes are endless.

The use of story elements in describing and rebuilding a personal narrative is a way to gain some distance and perspective from life’s difficulties.  It provides an alternative to the standard societal imperative to ignore and/or eliminate them.  A model embracing human imperfections might allow the “perfect story” to contain elements of difficulty and challenge which serves as a foothold towards greater illumination and contentment.  Examining one’s life story to share it with others helps bring into focus a greater meaning for life’s events, good and bad.  It brings into focus hidden personal rules and belief systems not working to ones own best advantage.

Thinking of the zig-zagged path of my life, my thoughts go to a recent “zag”–a horseback riding accident which caused a brain injury and a series of abrupt life changes.  Though milder than most, it fell into the traumatic range and caused memory loss, extreme fatigue, and various other cognitive difficulties lasting for years.  I looked for the proverbial silver lining to make sense of it all.  Turns out, it was one of the greatest motivators to rebalance away from a life that was overly focused on achievement–it taught me to let my heart rule my head a bit more.  Telling a survivors story in front of a large crowd of TBI professionals brought an even greater focus to the general sense of purpose and meaning to the event which I at first found so difficult.  Many of the attendees told me later that they identified strongly with the video I made to help tell my story.  Giving it a dramatic framework made it more moving and meaningful.  The story elements themselves had an archetypal resonance, resulting in a more effective and memorable presentation.

Conflict, tension, difficult situations or people, or things just generally not working out:  in general, do these enrich life?  If story’s function in my life is any indication, life’s twists and turns may be a good thing.

You can see my TBI video on YouTube:



Today, my boyfriend Dana and I are driving to Duluth (Minnesota) to pick up Dana’s father’s camper, which he is loaning to me for a year.  This is all part of an experiment to follow my excitement, recommended by Bashar in videos I’ve watched on the internet.  Since purchasing this parcel in Milltown, WI, I’ve wanted to spend a broader chunk of time there than the occasional overnight Dana and I have managed to fit into busy and divergent schedules.  This summer will be my first of many opportunities.

A similar philosophy, stated as follow your bliss, was part of Joseph Campbell’s legacy.  He saw this not merely as a mantra, but as a helpful guide to the individual along the hero’s journey that each of us walks through life.

Most of the philosophies I’ve encountered based on this idea of pursuing  things that drive up life’s excitement meter recommend making this the most important priority in life.  Not that excitement is focused on at the expense of everything else, but that you focus on it as much as possible, or as much as your current responsibilities allow.

I find myself, instead of balking at the idea of such risk-taking behavior, excited by the very idea of it.  Suddenly, the list of things I’d like to pursue becomes ample, filling a space too in my mind too large even for my own comfort.  The seemingly unrelated paths to pursue range from introducing DIY video production in working with my clients, to building a grand-scale permaculture to my 30-acre parcel (then living off the grid and eating mostly what I grow); from developing a website helping other clinicians to “go digital” with record-keeping, to a site that stretches the DIY paradigm more broadly so that it would include teaching clinicians to help their clients provide much more of their own expertise on the healing journey.

Looking at it now, there is a thread of DIY-ness woven throughout.  Makes me feel a little better to assign a theme to these far-flung imaginings.  For now, I’m attempting to talk soothingly to that little voice in me who insists that the kookiness factor in all of this has gone through the roof, and to do what I can with my limited free time.  I’ll spend free days this summer mostly in the little motor home on my land parcel, learn more about The Hero’s Journey, and add some of the self-help tools I currently use with clients to this blog and/or my web site for others to use.  I’ll also present a film I made about my own Brain Injury recovery at a second conference for the benefit of those working with TBI patients.

It’s a start.