Friday, December 29, 2017

Social Work Super Powers

Social Workers have many super powers, you realize. Here are two...

1. Empathy

This means truly and deeply understanding and accepting the thoughts and feelings of another. It feels amazing and powerful. When was the last time you experienced empathy - when someone understood and accepted you completely? It makes you feel sane and connected, no matter what story you have to tell.

In the book, Confessions of a Sociopath, by M.E. Thomas, the author notes that most people confuse sex with love but what really feels like love is being understood. When I read this, I thought, that is our super-power as social workers! And like any power, it can be used for good or evil.

Manipulators use empathy to take advantage of their target. Manipulators find it easier to get whatever they ask for from someone who thinks they are understood, accepted, and in love. This game ends when the target taps into their own deep well of self-love. Self-acceptance and self-love trump fake love and empathy from a manipulator.

Social workers practice empathy because it is healing. Sometimes there are no words and empathy is all you've got to give. Fortunately, it's plenty powerful.

2. Exploring Ambivalence 

We feel ambivalent about everything.
We love and hate our parents.
If notified about a $20,000 raise and promotion, we would feel both excited and scared at the same time - What will be expected of me? Can I rise to the challenge? Will I succeed or fail?
The main obstacle standing between us and our biggest dream or deepest desire is our ambivalence. One of my mentors taught me to explore ambivalence in order to release it's grip on goals.
Exploring ambivalence involves asking about and bringing to light all fears, worries, doubts, questions, and concerns. We can address them when we acknowledge them. Facing fears, worries, doubts, questions, and concerns is important if we are to start the journey to our promised land.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Disclose & Confide

When given the opportunity, people readily divulge their deepest and darkest secrets (Pennebaker, 1989). 

Self-disclosure of upsetting experiences serves as a basic human motive…most people naturally discuss daily and significant experiences with others…talking about a trauma with others can strengthen social bonds, provide coping information and emotional support, and hasten an understanding of the event (Pennebaker, 1989).

Less socially acceptable traumas, however, can be far more difficult to confide: marital infidelity, embezzlement, being the perpetrator or victim of rape…the inability to talk with others can be unhealthy for a number of reasons…not confiding any type of traumatic event is associated with illness episodes and measures of subjective distress…there is a beneficial role in talking about traumatic experiences and, conversely, there is danger in not confiding (Pennebaker, 1989).

When individuals are required to confront traumatic experiences (by talking or writing about traumas), significant changes occur within the body...These effects are most pronounced for high disclosers – individuals who disclose extremely personal topics that they previously have actively held back from telling others (Pennebaker, 1989).

Failing to confront traumas can be physically harmful, whereas talking or writing about them can be helpful (Pennebaker, 1989).

If there is a story inside you that you have not dared to tell a soul, there is good reason to write about it. Include the facts surrounding the event and your associated emotions - both the positive and negative emotions. Write several drafts until it makes sense to you and the story has a beginning, middle, and end with details.  

Write about your anger from a self-reflective perspective. That is, explore why you are so upset, why the offending person touched such a raw nerve. The awareness and understanding of the emotion decreases its intensity (Pennebaker, 1989).

Reactions from participants in a study examining the impact of journaling about traumatic events (Pennebaker, 1989):
"Now that the experiment is completed, could you tell us how it may have influenced you in the long run?"
"It made me think things out and really realize what my problem is."
"It helped me look at myself from the outside."
"It was a chance to sort out my thoughts." 

Pennebaker, J.W. (1989). Confession, Inhibition and Disease. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology, 22, 211-244

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

How to Stop Being a Victim or Hater and Truly Live Out Your Dreams

Chapter 1

It's painful to feel envious or jealous. It makes the baby in us rage inconsolably.
After the requisite crying, grieving, mourning, and wailing at the moon, there's a message and lesson in those emotions. 

Is it that someone else is happy and you are not? 
What will it take to make you happy?

Is it that someone else has something that you want? 
What are you willing to do to achieve it too?

Do you believe that if someone has something or is happy, then that takes something away from you? That there is now somehow less for you? 
What will it take to change your beliefs about scarcity vs. abundance?

Is it that you are frustrated because you don't know how to do it - that is, how to be happy or achieve things that you truly want?
What are you willing to do to learn?

Is it that you believe your track record is full of failures vs. achievement and you don't believe you can do it?
What's it gonna take to change your limiting beliefs?

Is it that you want it all for you and nothing for anyone else?
Are you willing to go through the pain of growing up and learning to share?

Is it enough for you to complain and blame others? Is it satisfying or enough for you that others feel sorry for you?
Would accomplishing what you want feel even better? What would it take to take the first step even if you knew that there would be slip ups, obstacles, and failures along the way?

Is it enough for you to name call, put down, talk shit or trash, criticize, or tear down what you envy?  To vandalize it so that looking at it doesn't seem to hurt as much?
Do you believe that is the best that you can do? Who told you that lie and what makes you still buy it?

Is it that you feel you deserve things without having to put in the work or work for your ups? 
Are you willing to leave the comfort of being a fetus (being fed without asking, being warm without working at it, being comfortable without having to pay for it) in order to be born?

Is it that you think other people are just "lucky" - that is, they don't have to work for it - and it is not fair that you aren't as lucky?
What have you learned about cause and effect? What do you know about reaping what you sow?

How badly do you want it? How strongly do you desire it? Can you picture it? What are the feelings in your body when you imagine it?

Are you willing to look at your fears and limiting beliefs? 
What people, places, things, ideas, beliefs, experiences, and resources do you have to overcome your fears?

Have you given up? What will it take to hope and believe again?

The first step is to decide. Then write it down. Tell me all about your dream and desire. Be vivid and specific. Keep going and include lots of details. Stretch your imagination. Be honest and true. Picture it. Describe it. Feel it. Smell and sense it. Can you feel it? What does it feel like? Do you realize it is already yours? It's okay to believe. It's safe to trust. What you want wants you. Search your heart. You know it's true. I dare you. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Excerpts from our trauma textbooks

It is the end of the fall semester and I am grading student reflection papers. These are some of the best excerpts from our textbooks quoted by students in their essays... 

From Joy DeGruy's book, Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome:

“Belief is a truly powerful thing, much more powerful than most people suspect. Our beliefs color everything with which we come in contact. They determine what we perceive and how we evaluate. They determine what we consider unlikely and what we consider possible” (DeGruy, 2005).  
“Whenever I ask an audience of people if they know what the term ‘racism’ means they almost universally say they do. I often give a little test to determine if everyone is on the same page regarding the term. I first ask my audience if whites can be racists. Of course, everybody agrees they can. I then ask if blacks can be racist and I get the same the response. I then ask them to identify the ways in which ‘white racism’ adversely impacts the lives of black people as a group, and a list forms. My audience tells me blacks are impacted economically through discriminatory hiring practices. Having little or no access to capital, blacks are seen as lacking business acumen. They are impacted by limited access to health care. They are impacted by overrepresentation in the criminal justice system and underrepresentation in the university system. They are impacted by redlining and other discriminatory practices barring them from finding housing in the areas of their choice. The list goes on. I then ask them to identify how black racism adversely impacts the lives of white people as a group and there is silence. There is silence, because while black people may have prejudices, and at times even feel hatred towards white people, perhaps even causing many fear, the reality is that black people lack the ‘power’ to affect the lives of white people as a group. Black people’s feelings towards white people do not preclude a white person’s ability to get a loan, receive fair treatment by the justice system, acquire education, etc. This then is racism. It is the belief that people differ along biological and genetic lines and that one’s own group is superior to another group. This belief is coupled with the power to negatively affect the lives of those perceived to be inferior” (DeGruy 2005). 
“When African Americans accept the depreciating accounts and images portrayed by the media, literature, music and the arts as a true mirror of themselves, we are actually allowing ourselves to be socialized by a racist society” (DeGruy, 2005, p.175).  
The fact that white man could profit from raping their female salves does not mean that their motive was economic. The rape of a slave women by their masters was primarily a weapon of terror that reinforced whites’ domination over their human property. Rape was an act of physical violence designed to stifle black women’s will to resist and to remind them of their servile status (DeGruy, 2005, p. 77).  
“In the future, if we are to move ahead and thrive we need to truly understand and accept who we are as people. It is through knowing who and what we are that we can identify our strengths and build upon them. Then, using our strengths, we need to heal from the injuries of our history. We need to heal ourselves.” (DeGruy, 2015, p. 181)  
“Beliefs can so color our minds that we become paralyzed, unable to move beyond our fears and our doubts, thus limiting our choices. Blind to our potential, we wander aimlessly, searching for enlightenment, yet remain barred from the infinite possibilities that are all around us” (DeGruy, 2017, p. 122).  
“To understand why many African Americans become angry so quickly we first need to understand the cause of anger. Dr. James R. Samuels explains, “In its simplest form anger is the normal emotional response to a blocked goal. Often, if a person’s goal remains blocked over time, they will begin to consider the possibility of failure and so experience fear, and when we are fearful we also lash out in anger.” So anger can be both a response to the frustration of blocked goals and the fear of failure.” (DeGruy, 2015, p. 130)  
“Racism has run like poison through the blood of American society since Europeans first landed on these shores. And, since that beginning, America and Americans’ denial of their blatant racism and the attending atrocities committed throughout the nation’s history has become pathological. Such denial has allowed this illness to fester for almost 400 years. It is what keeps this country sick with the issue of race.” (DeGruy, 2005, p.20)  
“If a person has negative beliefs about their value and skills, they will often self-sabotage their efforts or cease trying at all. If a person has a positive belief about their ability and worth, they are more likely to achieve the results they are after. When we believe ourselves to be unworthy or incapable these beliefs have little basis in fact, yet they can still be powerful influences. What we need most in these instances is evidence to the contrary. If we can see that we are, in fact, valuable, that we are, in fact able, we will change our beliefs about ourselves accordingly” (DeGruy, 2005).  
It is now time to consider establishing new, healthier patterns of behavior, patterns that will be the foundation upon which a new and powerful legacy can develop. Rather than crush self-esteem, we must do everything in our power to build it. Rather than be torn down by the anger that is present within us, we must be able to create and maintain a state of inner well-being. Rather than allowing our children to be socialized by a racist society, we must consciously and deliberately educate and socialize them to understand their inherent mobility. (p. 184) 

From Judith Herman's book, Trauma and Recovery:
This simple statement – “I know I have myself” – could stand as the emblem of the third and final stage of recovery. The survivor no longer feels possessed by her traumatic past; she is in possession of herself. She has some understanding of the person she used to be and of the damage done to that person by the traumatic event. Her task now is to become the person she wants to be. (p. 202)  
“As a defense against the unbearable feeling of helplessness, the therapist may try to assume the role of a rescuer. The therapist may take on more and more of an advocacy role for the patient. By so doing, she implies that the patient is not capable of acting for herself. The more the therapists accept the idea that the patient is helpless, the more she perpetuates the traumatic transference and disempowers the patient” (Herman, 1997).  
“REPEATED TRAUMA in adult life erodes the structure of the personality already formed, but repeated trauma in childhood forms and deforms the personality. The child trapped in an abusive environment is faced with formidable tasks of adaptation. She must find a way to preserve a sense of trust in people who are untrustworthy, safety in a situation that is unsafe, control in a situation that is terrifyingly unpredictable, power in a situation of helplessness. Unable to care for or protect herself, she must compensate for the failures of adult care and protection with the only means at her disposal, an immature system of psychological defenses” (Herman, 1997).  
Having come to terms with the traumatic past, the survivor faces the task of creating a future. She has mourned the old self that the trauma destroyed; now she must develop a new self. Her relationships have been tested and forever changed by the trauma; now she must develop new relationships. The old beliefs that gave meaning to her life have been challenged; now she must find a new sustaining faith. These are the tasks of the third stage of recovery. In accomplishing this work, the survivor reclaims her world. (Herman, 1997, p. 196)  
“Gaining possession of oneself often requires repudiating those aspects of the self that were imposed by the trauma. As the survivor sheds her victim identity, she may choose to renounce parts of herself that have felt the most intrinsic to her being” (Herman, 2015, p. 203).  
Many abused children cling to hope that growing up will bring escape and freedom. But the personality formed in an environment of coercive control is not well adapted to adult life. The survivor is left with fundamental problems in basic trust, autonomy, and initiative. She approaches the task of early childhood-establishing independence and intimacy-burdened by major impairments in self-care, in cognition, and memory, in identity, and in the capacity to form stable relationships. (Herman, 1997, p. 110).  
“One positive memory of a caring, comforting person may be a lifeline during the descent into mourning. The patient’s own capacity to feel compassion for animals or children, even at a distance, may be the fragile beginning of compassion for herself. The reward of mourning is realized as the survivor sheds her evil, stigmatized identity and dares to hope for new relationships in which she has no longer has anything to hide” (Herman, 2015, p. 194)  
“The principle of recovery is the empowerment of the survivor. She must be the author and arbiter of her own recovery. Others may offer advice, support, assistance, affection, and care, but not cure. Many benevolent and well-intentioned attempts to assist the survivor founder because this fundamental principle of empowerment is not observed” (Herman p. 133).  
“Since neither the intrusive nor the numbing symptoms allow for integration of the traumatic event, the alternation between these two extreme states might be understood as an attempt to find a satisfactory balance between these two. But balance is precisely what the traumatized person lacks. She finds herself caught between the extremes of amnesia or of reliving the trauma, between floods of intense, overwhelming feeling and arid states of no feeling at all, between irritable, impulsive action and complete inhibition of action. The instability produced by these periodic alterations further exacerbates the traumatized persons sense of unpredictability and helplessness” (Herman, 2015 pg. 47).  
“Feminist redefined rape as a crime of violence rather than a sexual act... “Man’s discovery that his genitalia could serve as a weapon to generate fear must rank as one of the most important discoveries of prehistory times, along with the use of fire and the first crude stone axe. From prehistoric times to the present, I believe, rape has played a critical function. It is nothing more or less than a conscious process of intimidation by which all men keep all women in a state of fear.”” (Herman, 1997, p. 30).  
“Traumatic events call into question basic human relationships. They breach the attachments of family, friendship, love, and community. They shatter the construction of the self that is formed and sustained in relation to others. They undermine the belief systems that give meaning to human experience.” (Herman, 1992, p. 51).  
If the therapist’s bystander guilt is not properly understood and contained, she runs the risk of ignoring her own legitimate interests. In the therapy relationship she may assume too much personal responsibility for the patient’s life, thus once again patronizing and disempowering the patient. In her work environment she may similarly take on excessive responsibility, with the attendant risk of eventual burnout. The therapist may also feel guilty for causing the patient to reexperience the pain of the trauma in the course of treatment. (Herman, 1997, pgs. 145-146).

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Minority Male Crisis in Colleges

The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that members of minority groups will make up 54% of the nation's population by 2050. Collectively, we will be the majority. In true solidarity, we will be one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Yet, Black and Brown male representation is better in prisons than in colleges.
At U.S. Public Institutions, the 6 year graduation rate of Black males was 34.7%.
For Native American males, it was 35.8%.
For Latino males, it was 46.3%.
For Pacific Islander males, it was 49.5%.

In contrast, Black males are almost half the inmate population and Latinos constitute 20% of that population. This is not a testament to who we are and what we are capable of - these statistics inspire us to ask, "What are we going to do about it?"

I am partnering with colleagues and students at CSUN to figure this out on our campus. If we make headway, then we can franchise M3 (for free) because there is a crisis among our men in this country and attention must be paid.

Monday, November 6, 2017

Sports Psychology for Academic Peak Performance

Public speaking is listed as American's number-one fear!
Yet, in school and in life, we are called upon to give presentations every now and then.

I reached out to a CSUN professor and sports psychologist, Dr. Jacob Jensen, to develop a positive guided imagery presentation for students in our Coping & Resilience Groups (adapted from CBITS).

Click on the YouTube link if you are feeling worried about an upcoming presentation, and please let me know if it helps:

Sunday, November 5, 2017


I was spent and recovering from bronchitis after working on an NIH grant proposal. That's when I got the approval to write an academic paper for the National Symposium on Student Retention to be held in Destin, Florida. Initially, I passed up the opportunity in order to recover. Then, one of my colleagues said, "Destin has one of the top 10 beaches in the world." To which my daughter responds, "Mom, write the paper." Now me and my favorite research assistant are here and enjoying the powder sugar soft sand beach preparing for my workshop presentation of "Minority Male Mentoring: A Multi-Tiered Model for College Success." Academic life is a beach.

Social Work Super Powers

Social Workers have many super powers, you realize. Here are two... 1. Empathy This means truly and deeply understanding and accepting t...