Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Fuck, Stories Can Be Beautiful

I'm crying in the cafe after reading that excerpt.  Fuck, stories can be beautiful. 

It reminds me that my daughter, at age 11, still wants to be tucked in and hear stories. 

It used to mean I read Cinderella to her ad nauseum

Then I turned her on to children's bible stories (I enjoyed reading them over and over too). 

Now she just wants stories about my childhood and life - my past Halloween costumes, things I did with my mom, embarrassing crushes I had on boys, etc. 

Anything that will help her to understand her thoughts, feelings and experiences. 

Any story that will bring meaning to all the changes and newness of life. 

Connection, integration, meaning, making sense of it, digesting, learning, growing, acceptance, belonging, soothing, understanding, seeing - fuck, stories can be beautiful.

Storytelling (Fucken) Heals (Duh!)

The evaluations that day indicated that people were pleased with the workshop, felt understood for the first time since 9/11, and wanted to continue meeting in the large group. In that setting, they asked to continue working with the therapist assigned to them.

Teenagers and children could join if they wished, but were clearly listening even as they did artwork. They always moved in when stories were being told about their lost parent. The kids seemed hungry for such stories. 

One of the interactions in the multiple family meetings that was most poignant occurred when a worker spoke up. An operating engineer we shall call Bill (not his real name) had survived, but was injured, bumed, and traumatized. On the recommendation of his therapist, he and his wife attended the meeting with his fellow workers’ families that day. He wanted to connect with the families of his missing coworkers, but was afraid the wives would ask him about their suffering in the inferno just before he was miraculously blown out. What happened instead was that Bill told a story. After being quiet all day, he shifted in his chair, leaned over toward a young girl who was crying, and said:

Honey, I want you to know that your Daddy led out a thousand people. He knew the building, and it was complicated. He led them out-and then he went back in, but that’s what we do. That’s our job. He was going in for more people, but he didn’t make it out that time. The next time you go to a ball game, I want you to look at the crowd and see what a thousand people looks like and know that your Daddy saved that many people. 

For centuries, storytelling has helped heal trauma and loss by providing access to meaning. Nothing a therapist could have done that day would have equaled the healing power of Bill’s story for the little girl, her mother, and for himself and his wife. Brothers and sisters in the union family were connecting by breaking their isolation, sharing stories, painful as it was. Everyone, including therapists cried, but with a new and more positive meaning about the tragedy.

Pauline Bossl, Lorraine Beaulieu, Elizabeth Wieling, William Turner, Shulaika LaCruz
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 455–467, October 2003

How We (People of Color) Grieve

There is a cultural chasm dividing European American families and families of color, especially immigrant families, around issues of death, loss, grief, and ambiguity. For the European Americans, there is often the seemingly impersonal and bounded culture-keeping a stiff upper lip and the avoidance of public displays of emotion. Get over it; move on. For African Americans and Latinos, among others, there is often a more direct, intimate, and expressive tradition around death, as well as with ambiguous loss. The cultural differences existed in therapists, too.
Pauline Bossl, Lorraine Beaulieu, Elizabeth Wieling, William Turner, Shulaika LaCruz 
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 455–467, October 2003

Families - where it's at

The New York therapists who volunteered to help us with these meetings were an eclectic group. Those who felt most successful working with families in a community setting, regardless of their original training, could approach multiple generations flexibly and systemically. Therapists accustomed to quiet professional offices were challenged, because typically, families were large, including parents, children (newborns to teenagers), grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends, and even clergy. The Union Hall was alive with sound and activity, but this was not the case at the first meeting. That was eerily quiet-at first.
Pauline Bossl, Lorraine Beaulieu, Elizabeth Wieling, William Turner, Shulaika LaCruz 
Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 455–467, October 2003

Monday, October 29, 2012

Meditation and the Brain (and the Body)

Scientists have found that Tibetan lamas who do something called "loving-kindness meditation" have thicker-than-average neuron development in parts of the brain associated with happiness.  Meditation has also been shown to lessen heart disease, high blood pressure, infectious illness, and many other indicators of both health and aging.

Steering by Starlight
Martha Beck

Friday, October 26, 2012

Dating Psychology

PRAT, to pretend rejection to increase desire
by Iceberg Slim

Do you - like a fish - prefer a lure that's moving away from you?
Do you like it when someone heaps on the praise and attention that you feel you never got from ______ or ________?
Or do you like it when someone is direct about what they want or like about you (and it resonates with your own desires and self-concept)?

When someone feigns disinterest to lure me in, I get turned off instead.  
First, it's disingenuous.   
Second and simply, I want someone who sees me and gets me and thusly wants me (duh).

This PRAT game sounds like it goes over well between two insecures.  I know who I am and what I want.  No games necessary.  I either like you or I don't.  You either like me or you don't.  The next part is the really fun part (more fun than disingenuous games).

Thursday, October 25, 2012


All work and no play can lead to writer's block, breakdowns, or divorce.

Complete Your Dissertation or Thesis in Two Semesters or Less
Evelyn Hunt Ogden

Monday, October 22, 2012

Rigor & Relevance

Balancing rigor and relevance is one of the tensions inherent in social work research...the two are not mutually exclusive.  It is important in a dissertation to carry out rigorous systematic research underpinned by an appropriate epistemology or theory.  This does not mean that your dissertation cannot address a practical problem.  It does mean that you have to have to have a theoretical framework to explain your theory of change.

All questions have behind them theoretical foundations without the exploration of which the questions are impossible to answer...the purpose of research as theory building and testing.

The Dissertation: From Beginning to End
Peter Lyons & Howard J. Douek

Dissertations & Theory

Theories have several basic functions; they are used to describe, to explain, and to predict. 
The role of theory in your dissertation is to provide an organizing framework through which you conduct your study. 
In addition, your dissertation research can make a contribution to the confidence we have in a particular theory or to our understanding of the conditions under which the theory coheres.
The basic purpose of scientific research is theory.
A research question is of little consequence without a theoretical framework to help conceptualize why this should be so.
One of the contexts that your review of the literature provides for your research is the theoretical connection between variables of interest.  This connection allows you to make tentative predictions and test how robust the theory may be.

The Dissertation:  From Beginning to End
Peter Lyons & Howard J. Douek

Combining Open and Closed

In social study, you open your eyes and look, in diagnosis, you close them and think.

Mary Richmond, 1917

Friday, October 19, 2012

Family Therapy Notes...

If people are really going to get deeply into therapy, they need to know that they can escape easily. So at the end of every hour we implicitly give the family the option of not making another appointment.
If the family situation is very difficult, it may even be necessary for the therapists to grow personally in order to respond adequately to the crisis.
Confrontation can lead to disaster in relationships, as well as to renewed caring, with so much of the balance held by the unconscious intent of the people involved.
The Family Crucible
Napier & Whitaker, 1978

Fathers in Family Therapy

Fathers usually are the outsiders in the modern family, and often they find coming into family therapy very uncomfortable.

The Family Crucible
Napier & Whitaker, 1978


For God has not given us a spirit of fear but the power of love and of a sound mind.
2 Timothy 1:7

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Individual vs. Family Therapy

"Claudia...was very sensitive to pressure from adults.  She felt pressured by her parents, and the therapy felt like more pressure.  She began to see the therapist as a special kind of policeman who had been hired by her parents to 'shape her up.'"

"By trying to treat her in isolation from the real source of her problems, the psychiatrist was unknowingly collaborating with the scapegoating process in the family."

The Family Crucible
Napier & Whitaker

Integrated Assessments

The framework considers the balance of risk (forces contributing to a problem condition) and protective (internal and external resources for the protection against risk) factors that interact to determine an individual's ability to function adaptively despite stressful life events.
Risk and Resilience Ecological Framework for Assessment and Goal Formation.
Corcoran, J. & Nichols-Casebolt, A.

Spirit, Growth and Healing

"Rogers acknowledges another characteristic of person-centered therapy increases effectiveness for the client - that is simply the presence of the counselor is releasing and helpful.  He feels that the inner spirit of the client, producing the potential for profound growth and healing energy."

Client-Centered Counseling

Person and Environment

"The ecological perspective provides a useful guide for the assessment process.  It deals with life situations and with the interface between the child and the important subsystems in which the child must function.  According to this perspective, there are neither inadequate persons nor inadequate environments; rather, the fit between person and environment is in relative accord or discord.  The ecological perspective further assumes that the attributes of the person and the situation need to be internally consistent, coherent, and positively complementary (p.105)."

Assessing Behavior Disorders in Children:  An Eclectic Approach
Paula Allen-Meares

Therapeutic Alliance Bests Treatment Method

The results also showed a significant relationship between total therapeutic alliance ratings and treatment outcome across modalities, with more of the variance in outcome attributed to alliance than to treatment method.

Krupnick et al., 1996
"It fails [marriage] for a complex set of reasons, most of which we will deal with later, but the major reason is that the protagonists get very scared that they are each going to lose their identities in the dependency, in the same way they lost them in the families in which they grew up.  The marriage begins to feel like a trap, a replication of the old family of origin.  So the couple begins to back away from each other, mistrusting."

The Family Crucible:  The Intense Experience of Family Therapy
Augustus Y. Napier with Carl Whitaker

"our failure to know joy is a direct reflection of our inability to forgive"

52 Quotes and Weekly Mindfulness Practice
Jack Kornfield

In the spirit of forgiving the inevitable failings of others and our own, here's to lots of love, joy, and peace, peeps :)

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Cold Memory & Hot Memory

Cold memory contains contextualised information about one's life at different levels of organisation, with increasingly specific information at each stage.  The first and most accessible stage contains information relating to 'lifetime periods'...The next stage contains information about 'general events'...Event specific knowledge is the next stage...In addition to the contextual information stored, sensory and perceptual information (referred to as 'hot memory') is also linked to this event specific knowledge.
'Hot' memory includes detailed sensory information as well as cognitive and emotional perceptions and physiological and motor responses, all of which are intertwined.  Unlike with cold memories, there is evidence that the limbic structures associated with emotion are heavily involved in sensory perceptual representations of events.  For traumatic events, these sensory perceptual representations are known as 'fear networks' or 'fear structures.'

Robjant & Fazel, 2010 (p.1032)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Dissertation Proposal Title

Love, Culture, Stories & Resilience:  The relationship between open family communication about traumatic memories and posttraumatic resilience

Love = The only reason you would withstand the pain of talking about it

Culture = What our grandmothers and ancestors taught us to do in order to heal

Stories = An organizing narrative takes the fragments of our trauma memories and puts them into a whole, coherent story

Resilience = Not only reduced PTSD, anxiety, and depressive symptoms, but also Hope, Trust, Love and Growth.


Robjant, K. & Fazel, M. (2010).  The emerging evidence for Narrative Exposure Therapy:  A review.  Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 1030-1039.
"The three core symptoms of PTSD are:
  • Firstly the re-experiencing of intrusive vivid memories of traumatic events both during sleep and in the day, when the individual often has a sense they are re-living the event.
  • Secondly, the active avoidance of anything that may trigger these memories, with associated emotional numbing, derealisation and depersonalisation.
  • The final symptom is persistent hyperarousal and an exaggerated startle response, reflecting the readiness of the body's fight or flight response."

Not a Pimp, Not a Ho

Everyone seems to call dating and relationships a game.

Being an inveterate dork, I was advised to read the urban classic, Pimp by Iceberg Slim.  Amazon is shipping it as I write.

In the meantime, I watched the documentary, American Pimp by the Hughes brothers.  I took five pages of notes (soo dorky, right?).

One definition of naive is "lacking information or experience."  Imma tackle this nonsense with the same rigor and intensity that I bring to everything.

At first blush, a pimp is a classic con artist - a sociopath, a narcissist.  And a ho is a classic borderline (personality disorder).  Both survivors of trauma, abuse and attachment problems.  Ironically, in (non-business) romantic relationships, narcissists and borderlines seem to gravitate to each other too.

I wanna write the book, Not a Pimp, Not a Ho:  the How & What of Healthy Relationships.  Everybody has got a bit of pimp and a bit of ho in 'em.  I wanna learn all I can so as not to be so dorky and naive and then I wanna share the wealth of info - I want it to be a classic best-seller.  Not a pimp, not a ho, but wise to the game.  Not cynical or bitter, but wiser.

Send me your Pimp/Ho stories, you know you got 'em.  Write the coherent narrative (it's healing) and then send it to me.  I'll look for the patterns and report back.  Taking one for the team.

Monday, October 8, 2012


I am nearly ABD (All But Dissertation).  I have completed all required coursework and passed all comprehensive and written exams.  Now, I am assembling the dissertation proposal for defense.

My adviser said that you don't get a PhD by taking classes - you get it by completing the dissertation.

Wikipedia says:
Indeed, in most scholarly fields, the dissertation is the most important part of the doctoral degree, because successful completion and defense demonstrates that the candidate has sufficient expertise, self-discipline, and originality to advance the field of inquiry.
I like that story :)

Letter of Application

The time has come.

I began this journey in the Fall of 2009 (but really, it began long before that even).

Now I am submitting my letter of application for an Assistant Professor position.

I am so glad that my leap of faith back then and there has lead me to where I am in the here and now.

Here is my first draft of the letter:

October 8, 2012
Dear Dr. Weaver:
I am writing to apply for the position of Assistant Professor, Tenure Track in the School of Social Work. I am a doctoral student at UCLA working on a dissertation proposal under the direction of Dr. Stuart Kirk. I am currently assembling the proposal in preparation for defense by December. I expect to complete all work for the Ph.D. by June of 2012. I believe that my teaching experience combined with my course work and research background make me a strong candidate for the position outlined in your notice.
As my curriculum vitae shows, I have had excellent opportunities to teach a variety of social work courses, including Social Work in the Schools, Child Welfare, Women’s Issues in Social Work, Human Behavior and the Social Environment, Empowerment and Recovery in Mental Health and the Advanced Practice series for the Children, Youth, Women and Families concentration. Among the most satisfying experiences for me as a teacher has been working as a field instructor for undergraduate and graduate students, earning several awards.
My work in the schools has provided me with the inspiration as well as a kind of laboratory for my dissertation research. My project, Families, Stories, Love & Resilience: The Relationship between Family Communication and Post-Traumatic Resilience, examines the association between the nature of family communication about traumatic memories – as a form of narrative exposure therapy – and variability of PTSD development among low income urban families. I hypothesize that families that engage in open communication about traumatic events and memories are more likely to exhibit posttraumatic resilience than families who tend to engage in avoidant coping. The purpose of this study is to lay the foundation for a social marketing campaign as mental health intervention among low-income urban families with chronic exposure to multiple traumatic events, an underserved and vulnerable population. Ultimately, I am interested in bridging the divide between research and practice in my own practice, research and teaching.
In my career as a profession social worker and in the health and human services field in general, I have worked at all levels of practice – micro, meso and macro – primarily with diverse children, youth, women and families. This clinical experience informs my teaching practices. I am able to integrate the current literature with numerous case examples and experiences, which I believe bring theories and concepts to life, making them easier to understand and remember. I am interested in employment at CSULA based on my satisfying teaching experience here since 2001. One of the strengths of CSULA is the diversity of the student body. My impression is that the best students from the surrounding urban neighborhoods come to CSULA. It is also my impression that strong students who are interested in an affordable quality education are also drawn to CSULA. This mix translates into rigorous and rich classroom discussions. I am also a product of the surrounding urban neighborhoods and most of my career has been working with the same. It is truly an honor to prepare the best and the brightest students from my old neighborhoods to give back to the same neighborhoods and contribute to their progress and well being.

Alejandra Acuña, LCSW, PhD Candidate

Friday, October 5, 2012

The Coherent Story of the Memory Heals

ABSTRACT of what I like to call a "mother-effin smoking gun" article:
Individuals who have experienced multiple traumatic events over long periods as a result of war, conflict and organised violence, may represent a unique group amongst PTSD patients (sic) in terms of psychological and neurobiological sequelae.  
Narrative Exposure Therapy (NET) is a short-term therapy for individuals who have PTSD symptoms as a result of these types of traumatic experiences.  
Originally developed for use in low-income countries, it has since been used to treat asylum seekers and refugees in high-income settings.  
The treatment involves emotional exposure to the memories of traumatic events and the reorganisation of these memories into a coherent chronological narrative.
This review of all the currently available literature investigates the effectiveness of NET in treatment trials of adults and also of KIDNET, an adapted version for children.
Results from treatment trials in adults have demonstrated the superiority of NET in reducing PTSD symptoms compared to other therapeutic approaches.
Most trials demonstrated that further improvements had been made at follow-up suggesting sustained change.
Treatment trials of KIDNET have shown its effectiveness in reducing PTSD amongst children.  
Emerging evidence suggests NET is an effective treatment for PTSD in individuals who have been traumatised by conflict and organised violence, even in settings that remain volatile and insecure.

Robjant, K. & Fazel, M. (2010).  The emerging evidence for Narrative Exposure Therapy:  A review.  Clinical Psychology Review, 30, 1030-1039.

Secrets, Truth & Freedom

Iyanla Vanzant is back on Oprah - thank God for reconciliations and reunions.  I recommend her book, In The Meantime, to all single folks wondering what to do (self-work) while we are between love partners.

I watched one of her show's last night about family secrets and it resonated with my research interest on open family communication.  Here are highlights of some of the insights:
  • No family secret is worth the shame, sadness & energy it brings into the world.
  • I had a hard time telling my family my secret because it caused so much pain for me and I didn't know how to tell them.
  • Family, please forgive me for believing you couldn't handle the truth.
  • Family, please forgive me for withholding the truth.  I didn't know how to heal myself.
  • By keeping my secret, I betrayed their trust.  
  • Sometimes, parents teach their children how to lie by hiding what they believe is shameful - which is what makes it so shameful.
  • Secrecy and lies create a crazy-making and toxic environment.
  • It is time to be free!
  • Release the secret and be free!
  • Come clean.
  • Make a behavior change request of your loved one with a consequence and then move forward.
  • Tell the truth - step out into the unknown and dare to be loved as we are.  Don't be more concerned about how they will respond initially.  Principled speaking means we tell the truth despite the cost and trust that the truth will win out.

Amen and Thank You, Yesus.  All this truth-telling at the risk of ostracism and shunning is already paying off.  All I gotta be is myself. sigh.

Are we human or are we dancer?
--The Killers

Truth Opened

Freud presented a paper in April, 1896 to the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna on the sexual abuse of his female patients by t...