Monday, April 30, 2012

Communication for Social Justice

I heard a presentation from GLIDE (Gays & Lesbians In Dialogue for Equality) recently and took the following notes (the presenters were fabulous):

There is an imbalance in asking about causation - why people are straight vs. why people are gay?

They reported a study that showed the 4th or 5th son in a family is more likely to be gay.

There is also the perception that childhood sexual assault is a causal factor.  However, considering the prevalence rates of sexual assault by age 18 (1 in 3 boys; 1 in 5 girls), it can be thought of as a confounding factor at best.  The high rates are staggering when you use them to project that about 1,000 out of 4,500 high school students (typical large high school in Los Angeles) are victims of sexual assault.  If there was a connection between sexual assault and homosexuality, then you'd expect a higher number of gay high school students.

**Gay kids are at increased risk of being abused because they are outsiders, out of the flock, and therefore at risk.

95-97% of sexual abuse perpetrators are straight men and acquire access to the child via mother (boyfriend, relative, friend, etc.).  It is therefore ironic that gays and lesbians should be perceived as such a danger to children - an example of the bastardization of fear.

"I want to be able to tell the truth."  This is what one of the GLIDE presenters said about why they volunteer to conduct community presentations like this.

One can still be fired for being gay.  There is no current national law protecting this group.

When you do something kind for someone else, "the fragrance remains with the hand that gives the rose."

Sperm is a prescription item!


Sunday, April 29, 2012

My Clinical Supervision Approach


I was contacted by recent MSW graduates requesting clinical support and supervision.   I wrote up the following description of my approach to social work and training/supervision:

1.  The SW Process
  • Engagement - getting to the "kept" appointment at intake and throughout treatment; developing a therapeutic relationship (genuine, honest and caring)
  • Assessment - risk and protective factors, strengths, history, goals, dreams
  • Diagnosis - helpful guide(s) for treatment planning and self-understanding
  • Treatment Planning - clear map of where we are going and why (so we don't feel so lost and floundering)
  • Interventions - integrating both evidence-based and traditional medicine approaches
  • Evaluation - monitoring progress, pre/post, scales, client satisfaction, goal attainment ratings
  • Termination - saying goodbye properly

Each of these stages can be studied/practiced in great depth.

2.  The Levels of Intervention
  • Micro - individuals, couples, families
  • Meso - groups, classrooms
  • Macro - communities, organizations, policies
I have studied and worked across all the levels of intervention.

3.  Mind-Body-Spirit-Soul

If we primarily focus on talk therapy (mind), then it is my experience that clients get a little bit better. If we incorporate body therapies then they get even better.  Spirit healing and soul retrieval makes
people whole and unstoppable.

4.  The Theoretical Frameworks, Approaches and Modalities that I draw from:
  • Solution Focused Brief Therapy
  • Cognitive-Behavior Therapy
  • Resilience Theory
  • Humanistic-Existentialist Approach
  • Client-Centered Counseling
  • Kleinian Psychotherapy
  • Family Therapies
  • Group Therapies
  • Mental Health Consultation
UCLA Sculpture Garden

Monday, April 23, 2012

Baby Steps

During this major transition in my life on all fronts, I am choosing to take baby steps.  One step at a time.  No pushing because I want to stay healthy on all fronts.  It matters to me.

After soul retrieval work with a shaman (and the cumulative effect of life long work with a litany of healers, self-reflection and prayer), I feel whole.  The angst of, "Did I do something wrong?  What's wrong with me?" is not chasing me into the night.  I am just fine, albeit human, but just fine.

I go to bed with smile on my face.  I wake up in the morning with a smile on my face.  It feels wonderful to live this way.

Balancing instead of juggling.

Saying it all, no matter what.

Loving and paying attention to myself as much as I do others.

The good and bad co-existing peacefully side by side.

Integrated.

Whole.

Joy.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Smile & Say Thank You

When we are anxious and depressed or scared and sad, we complain about everything - like Eeyore.

We only have eyes to see the negative.  Even though the negative is standing side by side with the positive.  They are both true.  Which do you want to focus on and help to grow?

We only have eyes to pick out what's wrong or worrisome.  We don't see what's going right.

As a result, we forget to smile and say thank you.

What if we started the day just smiling and saying thank you?  How would that feel to our brain? to our body? to our loved ones and whoever lives with us (roommate, pet, plants, etc.)?

Try it out for a week and let me know the results of your experiment.

Yes, smiling for "no reason" and saying "thank you" to whatever shows up.  Then tell me what happens and what shows up.

We can't control other people's behavior - we can manage our own.  If we start to smile more, then our mirror neurons will start a chain reaction in the mirror neurons of others and there is no telling where it will lead.  I want to live in that world.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Remembering My Mom


Friend:  Tell me something cool about your Paris experience(s).

Me:  I love that you asked about Paris - it is a long story that goes waay back. I grew up bilingual (English and Spanish). The summer before 7th grade, my mom took me to the jr. high to register for classes. The lady behind the counter offered me a Spanish class.

My mom: She already knows Spanish, what else you got?
Lady behind the counter: Well, we offer French but not for 7th graders.
My mom: Ok, sign her up for that.

I took French that year and the following.  In the 9th grade, my jr high did not offer French 3 (I was the only 7th grader to have gotten past their policy) so my counselor sent me to the nearest high school. My mom drove me everyday for a year (8 am - local HS, 10 am - snack and back to Jr. High).

When I got to HS officially, as a 10th grader, I took French AP. The Moroccan teacher did not like me and gave me a C. I passed the AP exam (one of three students in the whole class - the other two were his favorites and one was a Vietnamese immigrant!) and he had to adjust my grade (B).

I would have continued taking French at a Community College for 11th and 12th grade but I couldn't put my mom through that again. It has been my dream since then to go to France and practice my hard-fought French (I love rolling those "r's").

In 1998, I started taking art classes and my instructor has become my mentor, family friend and a father-figure (both my parents died in the last 9 years). My art mentor tells me not to lay that trip on him (father-figure) but I tell him it's no use - I love him and look up to him - he is an awesome person and has a great spirit. He also loves Paris. What artist worth his mettle does not? He has been a couple of times. He had an art show about Paris a few years ago and practically sold out. He is planning one this year at the Fremont Gallery in South Pasadena - I encourage you to check it out.

I finally made it to Paris (May, 2005 - Ah, Paris in the Springtime). I went with my now ex-husband and daughter (she was 4). I would have taken my mother but she died in 2003. I told my daughter we were going for her birthday (May 8) - which was partially true. I get to celebrate the day of her birth too, no?

I loved the Art - especially at the D'Orsay. They had a neo-impressionist exhibit that blew my mind. I have an exhibit book with most of the paintings. I treasure it and the memories. I loved everything about the Louvre but it wiped me out. I liked the Pompidou but was bummed that one of the floors was closed (with modern stuff by Pollack and other cool guys).

I loved the food! I can't have butter normally but the French butter treated my well. I enjoyed every meal. God bless them and their culture.

I loved walking around - the architecture, the people (the immigrants living and working there were the nicest), the parks and gardens, the cafes, the air. I took lots of pictures and I treasure them too.

At first, I wished I'd gone on a tropical vacation instead (I was stressed out and the drive from the airport to the hotel was not very pretty) but walking around and being immersed in beauty, history, art, fine food, culture - well, it was meditative and I found myself profoundly relaxed.

I read the book, Paris to the Moon, before and during my trip and it was a wonderful companion. I recommend it if you haven't read it. I could go on but I will stop now.

Thanks for the question. I enjoyed going back there just now.

Course Feedback from Students


I teach a class at CSULA.  One of my students took the letter from this sign and gave it to me for my collection (initials).

I am kidding, of course.

I should only hope to inspire such levels of vandalism from my students.

I am kidding, of course.

Here is what they said:
Professor Acuna demonstrates a genuine interest in teaching.  She is extremely knowledgeable and is extremely capable of transferring that information.  She is approachable and truly cares about her students.  I am honored to have had her as my instructor!

I have been at CSULA for 7 years and Ms. Acuna is one of my top 5 teachers.  Please hire her on staff.  We need more professors like her.  Thank you!  Learned soo much!

Professor was very knowledgeable in the subject matter and she was very prepared for the course.  Excellent class.

Professor Alex is wonderful & very knowledgeable in the mental health field.  I feel blessed to have had her as a teacher because of what I learned regarding the social work process.

Thank you for being original. I enjoyed and learned a great deal in your class.

Great lecturer and information provided during class.

Best teacher I've had all 3 years - authentic, engaging, intelligent.  (3 hearts) her.

Dr. Acuna (sic) is very approachable & open to students & their feedback.  She's very knowledgeable and eager to share her wisdom with us.

Alex is an awesome professor.  She's got great knowledge & practical experience to share with students.  I feel lucky to have her for one of my required elective courses before I graduate.

Great class!  I really enjoyed it!

Truly loved your class.  Learned a lot of intervention and skills from you.  I will never forget your class.  You are one of the professors that I will always remember.

Wonderful professor.  Loved the stories for examples.  Open & real professor.

The almost Dr. Acuna is amazing - dynamic, outgoing, passionate.  A huge, positive addition to the Department Staff.  Thank you!

Cooool class.
I'm jealous you aren't teaching my capstone.
And because you can't win them all over, even if you are Bill Clinton...
Alex, I expected more from this class content to focus on the Recovery model.  There were several classes that lacked structure and cohesiveness.  Overall good energy.  Too much of your examples focused on school setting.  The assignments were irrelevant and not well explained.

I really enjoyed this course and look forward to Children, Youth, Women & Family Capstone class.  I feel that the directions for some of the assignments were unclear and could have been more detailed, especially the grading standards.

The assignments were changed throughout the quarter, it was confusing.  The class structure appears to be disorganized at times.

This one was written to me in the 3rd person - even though I am the only person who gets to read these.  This proves you cannot win for losing.  I talked about the assignment every class period for 5 weeks.  I gave an entire class lecture about empowerment, using your voice and exercising your vote (core concept in the Empowerment Model) - I had an anonymous suggestion box (I passed out index cards on week 5 to solicit feedback from students), I made my cell phone and email available to the class.  Only one person asked to meet for office hours.  But here is what he or she said:

This was a class about mental health and recovery, yet she spent very limited time reviewing and teaching this model in a concrete or theoretical way.  She was overly invested in teaching the social work process, but this information we repeatedly received in our foundational year.  Please revise your teaching model to fit the purpose of the class.  If you are confused about what to focus on, ask the class for feedback.  Your agenda may be very divergent from ours.

More Great Quotes

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."  Jeremiah 29:11

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the LORD require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.  Micah 6:8

Friday, April 13, 2012

Family Resilience

"I've long been interested in the concept of resilience.  I grew up in a family challenged by many adversities.  I was often viewed as hardy, despite my family experience.  I later came to see that those challenges made me stronger.  It took a long time to appreciate my parents' struggles and their remarkable courage, perseverance, and resourcefulness.  In my young adulthood, their deficits loomed large.  Traditional psychotherapy dredged up all the negative experiences of childhood and elaborated on parental failings.  The field of mental health was so heavily skewed toward pathology that it might more aptly have been called the field of mental illness.  My clinical training taught me how to diagnose disorders, but gave no attention to healthy functioning or how practitioners might recognize and promote it."
--Froma Walsh, Strengthening Family Resilience

Please share your stories - how do you recognize and promote healthy functioning in your clients and their families, even in the most adverse circumstances?

Sow and Reap

After toiling, everybody wants to know - what difference did it make?

Service counts and logging units of service is only half the story - it tells what you did and how much of it.
I saw 30 students.  I met with 10 families.  I ran 2 groups.  I filed 20 child abuse reports.  I conducted 13 suicide assessments.
Wow.  You were busy.  What were the outcomes?

What we really want to know is - what kind of fruit did it bear?  What was the impact?
Two of the students I counseled were asked to be keynote speakers at their graduation.  Ten students received Reading Awards at the end of the year.  Fifteen students scored Proficient or Advanced on the California Standards Test.  Seven students earned perfect attendance awards.  Most of the students in the counseling groups reported reduced symptoms of depression, even at one month follow up.  All 10 parents reported improvement in their child's behavior at home and at school.
That's the story that funders, policymakers, school administrators and staff, and community leaders want and deserve to hear.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Whatever happened to . . .?


In case you were wondering, "Whatever happened to Michael Dukakis?"  He has an office on the 6th floor of the Public Affairs building at UCLA.  I hear he teaches a class sometimes.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Great Quotes

How wonderful is it that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.
- Anne Frank


Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful.
- Paulo Freire


To build community requires vigilant awareness of the work we must continually do to undermine all the socialization that leads us to behave in ways that perpetuate domination.
- bell hooks


It was we, the people; not we, the white citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union.
- Susan B. Anthony

I don't believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person.
- Eduardo Galeano


The master's tools will never dismantle the master's house.
- Audre Lorde


Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
- Margaret Mead

Monday, April 9, 2012

Healing in Nature



There is now strong evidence that viewing nature, even in a picture, delivers mental health benefits. Please enjoy the view . . .

Yosemite Park Deer

The Redwoods of Yosemite

The Miwok of Yosemite


I participated in a sweat lodge and Bear Dance Ceremony with the Miwok people of Yosemite.  It was good medicine.  I am so grateful.  Thank you, Creator and all my relations.

From the sacred grounds and museum of the Miwok people in Yosemite Park & Village:

Miwok elders tell us that by the early 1900s, most Miwok people no longer lived the old lifestyle and used fewer native plants.  By then, Miwok people were employed by non-Indians and bought supplies at local stores instead of only gathering natural food and herbal medicines.

Today, some Indian people continue to use herbal medicines, and prepare native foods (such as acorn mush) for family gatherings and celebrations.  A few people occasionally gather plants for food, baskets and other uses.

Few tribal elders know how to gather and use all of the native plants, but since the 1970s, a small number of Indian and non-Indian people have been attempting to re-learn these ancient skills.
Mistletoe leaves were boiled and the Miwok drank the resulting tea as a treatment for rheumatism, epilepsy, hysteria, and other nervous conditions, and to induce abortions.

The ceremonial roundhouse (entrance shown above) is the center of religious activity.

El Capitan, Yosemite

California Poppies in Yosemite

Yosemite Falls

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Effects of Nature on Mental Health

Eaton Canyon

Article Abstract:

Irrespective of where we come from in the world, it seems that the presence of living things makes us feel good.

There are three levels of engagement with nature.

The first is viewing nature, as through a window, or in a book, on television or in a painting.

The second is being in the presence of usually nearby nature, which is incidental to some other activity, such as walking or cycling to work, or reading on a garden seat or talking to friends in a park.

The third is active participation and involvement with nature, such as gardening or farming, trekking or running.

There is now strong evidence that all these levels deliver mental health benefits. The evidence also suggests that green spaces and nearby nature should be seen as a fundamental health resource.

Physical activity is now known to be a co-determinant of health. Yet there has been a dramatic fall in physical activity in recent decades, with severe health consequences.

Exercising in the presence of nature (green exercise) thus has important public and environmental health consequences.

How nature contributes to mental and physical health, Jules Pretty
Spirituality and Health International Volume 5 Issue 2 2004

Foundational Assumptions

I woke up this morning with all these random aphorisms . . .

If you don't mean it, then don't say it just to be "nice."  Being honest and authentic is respectful enough.  Say what you mean - tell the truth.

We are not that fragile.  Think of the worst that you have been through and how you made it.  We are pretty hardy.

Nobody needs to be emotionally rescued. Both the rescued and the rescuers end up feeling resentful.  The rescued may feel infantilized.  The rescuers may feel used.

I read my own blog notes and they come in handy to me as reminders.  I hope you find something that resonates for you too.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Notes on Shamanism

My dissertation proposal will be about the relationship between parent-child communication about trauma/resilience and posttraumatic resilience.

I am also interested in the relationship between traditional/cultural healing practices/medicine and posttraumatic resilience.

I should focus on the former but I will try to fit in questions about the latter in my research interviews with low-income ethnic minority urban youth and families.

To that end, I am reading, Shamanism:  The Neural Ecology of Consciousness and Healing by Michael Winkelman, a retired scholar from the Department of Anthropology, Arizona State University.

Here are some notes . . .

Shamanism:
  • is an ancient tradition
  • religious, spiritual, and healing practices and consciousness traditions
  • a primordial natural form of healing and personal development with continued relevance
  • a universal phenomenon
  • involves alterations of consciousness
  • has been denounced as fraud, trickery, delusion by modern rationality (science & atheism)
  • has reemerged in modern societies
  • involves techniques for the alteration of consciousness to support healing and personal development
The role of religion has been viewed as a source of refuge and comfort to the downtrodden.
Ritual activities are complex ethnomedical practices that provide important cultural healing resources.

Investigations of shamanistic practices reveal their ability to manipulate:
  • physiological processes
  • psychophysiological reactions
  • personal experience
  • social psychology and relations