M OTHER The daily practice is tedious, but the therapist says practice is the key — it’s like building a good filing system and then maintaining it.

KAYLA So there’s nothing wrong with my brain! I just need to organize it. I can do this.

BUBBY First therapy, next thing they’ll tell me to hire one of those — what do they call them? Professional organizers.

When Kayla arrives for her first session, she’s greeted with a two-foot-high pile of papers on my desk. Beside the desk is a filing cabinet.

I invite Kayla to have a seat. “Here’s a water bill for my office,” I say, handing Kayla a piece of paper. She scans it mutely. I go over to the copy machine and make a copy.

“I like to keep my stuff organized,” I explain. I open the filing cabinet and show Kayla the neatly labeled and alphabetized folders. “See, phone bills go here, under ‘P,’ and this water bill goes here, under ‘W.’ ” I hand the bill to Kayla, and she slips it into its proper place.

“Sometimes I’m busy, though,” I continue. “Then I just dump it into a pile.” I take the copy I just made and stuff it randomly into the pile of papers on my desk. “Now,” I say, taking out a timer, “let’s say I need to find the water bill in the filing cabinet. How much time will it take?” It takes Kayla about 15 seconds to locate the paper in the correct file. “Now see if you can find it in the pile.” On the clock, it takes us six minutes, working together, to find the bill.

“Word retrieval works the same way,” I explain to Kayla. “If something is filed properly in your mind, it’s easy to retrieve when you need it. But if you’re tired or distracted or overwhelmed, you may not file it properly, and then you can’t always retrieve it when you need it.”

Word-retrieval difficulty may be caused by weakness in the areas of memory or storing information. “Filing,” or categorization, improves both.

“It doesn’t happen to my friends,” Kayla protests.

“Well, it happens to everyone on occasion. But you mean that it happens to you much more frequently than to your friends. That’s okay. Everyone’s mind works differently, and some things come more naturally than others. In therapy, we’re going to teach you tricks that will help your mind organize information so you can retrieve it quickly, whenever you need it.

Therapy will not eradicate Kayla’s weakness, but it will decrease the frequency of occurrence so it’s no longer crippling.

We start with association webs. I draw a circle in the middle of the page, with three lines leading out from it. In the circle I write, “food.”

“Can you tell me words that are associated with ‘food’?”

Kayla fills in three associations: fruit, meat, bread.

“Excellent.” I draw lines from each word, and Kayla continues listing associations. As the web expands, the subcategories become more specific and it becomes more challenging to create the associations.

Associations are the glue that make information stick in your mind. The more associations you make, the better you can remember words and information.

We work on variations of this exercise, and Kayla tries to beat her own time. Bubby sits draped on the couch throughout the session, busying herself with her phone. But on her way out she winks at me and shows me the screen: It lists over 100 kinds of food, categorized by color! (Originally featured in Family First, Issue 545)