Saturday, December 29, 2012

Predictors of Resiliency

Based on a generation of research studies, here is the short-list of correlates and predictors of resilience:
  • One or more effective parents
  • Connections to other caring, competent adults
  • Cognitive, attention, and problem-solving skills
  • Effective emotion and behavior regulation
  • Positive self-perceptions; self-efficacy; self-worth
  • Beliefs that life has meaning; hopefulness
  • Religious faith and affiliations
  • Aptitudes and characteristics valued by society (for example, talent, attractiveness)
  • Prosocial friends 
  • Socioeconomic advantages
  • Effective school, a sense of connectedness to school
  • Effective community (for example, safe, with emergency services, recreation centers, options for young people)
Resnick & Taliaferro, 2011

Personal Change

Is it possible for people to change?  Yes, we can!

Do most people change?  Sadly, no.

Personal change is supremely difficult, even if we really, really wanna change.  It's a death of sorts and therefore super scary. 

Most of us prefer the devil we know over the devil we don't know.

But if we have faith, hope or optimism that we can create a new reality that is better than the fix that we're in - then it seems scarier to stay the same than to change.

If the door that we're scared to open - the one that leads into the darkened unformed room of our future - seems dangerous, then would it give us courage to know that we are the architects and decorators that can wield power and imagination over the space?

What would you do with the new, open space?

Wishing you an auspicious and transformed 2013 of your own creation.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dissertation Proposal Checklist

I am working on the dissertation proposal - full throttle.  Actually, I have been working on it for the last two and a half years - it is taking that long to digest the reading, concepts and theories and bring the vision down to size (I keep telling myself that it's an exercise and not a life project).  In truth, the thinking behind most dissertations are a lifetime of cumulative thoughts, feelings and experiences.

Once I was done with coursework and left to my own devices, the writing process could be quite unstructured.  Fortunately, at this level, most students are neurotic enough to find the discipline and structure internally to bang it out.

There are tricks I employ to help me get it done, like:

  • postering my walls with notes and references for each section of the proposal
  • studying with other PhD students (misery loves company or as my friend, Jenna, said: if you see your friend reading and writing - you feel competitively compelled to follow suit)
  • scheduling daily time in my planner to sit on my butt and write (and actually following through despite all tempting distractions)

The truth is, for me the greatest motivator is my own passion for reading and writing about my topic and population.  I feel lucky to get to do this - to have the time and space to think about these things and to use my imagination, my spirit and soul in this way.

Checklist toward Proposal Defense:

  • Statement of Problem
  • Research Questions
  • Significance of the Study
  • Assumptions
  • Limitations
  • Definitions of Key Terms
A Review of the Literature
  • Theories to Guide the Study
Methodology (draft sumbitted to adviser - check)
  • Research Design
  • Research Questions
  • Participants & Sites
  • Research Variables
  • Data Collection Procedures
  • Measures
  • Data Analysis Plan

Also, I need a committee of four like-minded scholars that get along. And I need to request IRB approval to conduct the study.  Plugging away a little at a time, every day, I know I can do this.  I wanna defend by May.  This means I enjoy summer break with my daughter, preferably in Hawaii AND be eligible for employment as an Assistant Professor next Fall.  Most of the social work programs in Los Angeles are hiring now.

This is the longest journey.  Had I known, I may not have started.  On the other hand, what else would I be doing?  Watching TV and complaining about my life?  Sometimes there is beauty in the difficult - like being purified and polished by fire.  Ironically, as hard as this is, my life has never been more balanced.  When you focus, really focus, on what you want - you get down to the essentials like work, love and play - all in moderation.  Compared to my previous workaholic lifestyle, this pace seems like semi-retirement.  I could get used to this - a life of passion and balance.  Thank you, Yesus. Amen.

Parenting and Adolescent Behavior

"Externalizing problems were much better predicted by familial and extrafamilial factors than by the individual characteristics of the adolescent."

"The quality of attachment to parents is strongly related to adolescent's well-being and depression.  Because parents provide support for conventional behavior and sanctions against conduct problems, positive bonding to parents seems to function as a protection against antisocial behavior and delinquency.  In addition to parental bonding, parental ability to supervise their child and parental monitoring of the child's daily activities increases the likelihood that the adolescent will be deterred from problem behaviors.  Parental monitoring decreases unsupervised time and narrows the range of negative social influences."

Dekovic, 1999

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Burden of Not Talking About It

To inhibit ongoing thoughts, feelings or behaviors is associated with physiological work...If active inhibitory processes are maintained over an extended period of time, they serve as a long-term cumulative stressor that increases the probability of stress-related diseases.  A particularly insidious form of inhibition occurs when individuals have experienced a traumatic event that they are unable to discuss with others.

Disclosure of Trauma and Health Among Holocaust Survivors
James W. Pennebaker, Steven D. Barger, and John Tiebut (1989)
Psychosomatic Medicine, 51, 577-589


Jourard was a visionary who argued that openness in at least one significant relationship was a prerequisite for a healthy personality.

Self Disclosure in Personal Relationships by Kathryn Greene, Valerian J. Derlega, Alicia Mathews

Friday, December 21, 2012

The Physiological Cost of Not Talking About It

Results from a series of studies are summarized in support of a general theory of inhibition and psychosomatics.

According to this view, to inhibit thoughts, feelings, or behaviors is associated with physiological work.

In the short term, inhibition results in increased autonomic nervous system activity. Over time, inhibition serves as a cumulative stressor that increases the probability of psychosomatic disease.

Actively avoiding thoughts and feelings surrounding a trauma and/or not discussing a trauma is a particularly insidious form of inhibition.

The results from recent surveys and experiments indicate:
  • (a) childhood traumatic experiences, particularly those never discussed, are highly correlated with current health problems;  
  • (b) recent traumas that are not discussed are linked with increased health problems and ruminations about the traumas;  
  • (c) requiring individuals to confront earlier traumas in writing improves health and immune system functioning;  
  • (d) actively talking about upsetting experiences is associated with immediate reductions in selected autonomic activity. Implications of these findings for our understanding of disclosure, trauma, and disease are discussed.
...trauma may cause slight anxiety and cause us to think...If we were molested as children, fired from our jobs, or mugged, far more physiological and cognitive activity would ensue.

A fundamental psychological question concerns how we come to find meaning in traumatic experiences.
In this paper, we present the results from several studies that indicate that talking about---or in some way confronting--traumatic experiences is psychologically and physically beneficial.  

Soc. Sci. Med. Vol. 26, No. 3, pp. 327-332, 1988

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Internalizing our Parents

When our children internalize our negotiable rules and loving structure, then they often make decisions based on these beliefs:
"It's okay for me to grow up and still be dependent at times.  I can think things through and get help doing that.  I continually expand my ability to be responsible and competent."

When we provide structure and enforce non-negotiable rules consistently, then children often make decisions based on these beliefs:
"There are some rules I have to follow.  I can learn from my mistakes.  I am a good person.  I'm lovable and capable.  They care about me and take care of me."

If parenting relies on criticism, then children believe:
"I have to know what I don't know.  I will try harder, be strong, be perfect.  If I don't do things right, I am a bad person.  I can't be good enough.  I am hopeless.  Why bother?"

If parenting consists of freedom without responsibility (marshmallow parenting), then children learn to believe:
"I must take care of other people's feelings and needs or I don't need to care about anyone but me.  I am not capable of learning how to value and take care of myself.  If help is offered, mistrust it or at least expect to pay a price for it but don't expect helpful structure from others."

If parenting lacked rules, protection or contact, then children begin to believe:
"Don't ask for or expect help.  No one cares.  If I am to survive I will have to do it by myself.  If help is offered, mistrust it.  Help and trust are a joke."

If parenting is characterized by rigidity, which springs from fear, then children will often make decisions based on the following beliefs:
"I am not wanted.  Parents don't care about me.  Rules are more important than my needs.  I will let others think for me.  I will comply, rebel or withdraw.  I will blame myself."

Growing Up Again:  Parenting ourselves, parenting our children by Jean I. Clarke and Connie Dawson

Supportive Care in Parenting

"I love you, you are loveable.  You are capable.  I am willing to care for you.  Ask for what you need.  Your welfare is important to me.  I am separate from you.  I trust you to think and make judgments in your own best interests."

Growing Up Again:  Parenting ourselves, parenting our children by Jean I. Clarke and Connie Dawson


Care and support are based on unconditional love.  If, as children, we didn't feel loved unconditionally, it may be hard to recognize and accept unconditional love when others offer it to us.  If our being loved hinged on how we were useful to our families, we may hold our breath and wait for the other shoe to drop when someone says, "I love you."  We wonder, What will I have to do to deserve this? or What is this going to cost me?

If we had to accept long ago that adult needs came ahead of ours, we questioned love and support to ensure our survival.  Now we will have to learn to believe in unconditional love and that may take awhile.  But we can do it and the better we learn to accept unconditional love for ourselves, the better we will be able to offer it to our children.

"I am loved, I am lovable, I am loving."  These are the unconditional love decisions.  Here are some personal rules that flow from these decisions:
  • I accept love freely.
  • There is an infinite supply of love.
  • I give love freely.
  • I surround myself with loving people.
  • I protect myself from unloving people.

Growing Up Again:  Parenting ourselves, parenting our children by Jean I. Clarke and Connie Dawson


Usually  I write about what is on my mind - what I'm curious about and what I've been mulling over - in an effort to organize it, detail it, digest it, make sense of it until it is coherent and I feel calm.

Lately, I have been doing a lot of grieving and letting go.  I could post those thoughts but they seem so personal, even for me.

What I can say that is pretty universal about grieving is that sooner or later, we all experience loss so we have to learn how to grieve.

Sometimes we're stoic about it.  Sometimes we dive right in.  Sometimes we alternate between stoicism and hysteria.

We tell the story to our friends.  When they can't hear it anymore (God bless them for their patience), then we make more friends and regale them with the same stories.  The bigger the loss, the greater the need to tell the story over and over again.

Sometimes there are tears, lots of tears - ready to burst out of your eyes but have to wait till you get to the car or until your daughter goes to sleep.

Sometimes there are so many questions and doubts that you gotta write them down in excruciating detail in journals, planners, post-its, the nearest scratch paper (the back of junk mail envelopes, for example), or the margins on the page of the book or article you are reading.

Unfortunately, all this digesting doesn't make the story any smoother, cleaner or more "in a nutshell"-like when you talk about it over lunch with friends.  There are soo many drafts of the story before it is ready to be put to rest.

Like a good novel, there are many layers of meaning.  And grieving a current loss can't help but remind you of every loss that has preceded it - that's when the story feels infinite.

What I've learned is to feel all my feelings.  Better out than in.  The feelings will pass unless I stifle them and allow them to get stuck.  The work of grieving is like an homage, a memorial and a clearing.  Sweeping the house for a new day.  There are moments of peace.  There are moments of pain.  There is lots of love and support available.  There is always a new day.

Monday, December 10, 2012

A definition of codependency

Codependency:  an excessive preoccupation with the lives, feelings, and problems of others.

Yikes, isn't that called altruism in social work?  My hypothesis is that social workers were groomed by families of origin to take care of others.  When we realized we could get paid for doing what we do best, we applied to an MSW program.  Hopefully, in the process, we also learned that helping could look vastly different in our relationship with our clients as compared to what it looked like in our families.

The antidote to codependency is self-love, self-care and self-worth.  Cheers to all this good stuff in the New Year!  As it turns out, taking care of ourselves is good for others too.

Psycho-education for PTSD

Niles et al., (2012) summarizes the purpose of psychoeducation for PTSD clients is “to increase one’s understanding of stress reactions, readjustment difficulties, and recovery, as well as to normalize experiences, and assist in the early identification of symptoms that my reflect the development or exacerbation of a mental disorder (p. 540).”

Thrive with Self-Love

Four major factors appear to contribute to compassion fatigue: 
  • poor self-care
  • previous unresolved trauma
  • inability or refusal to control work
  • stressors and a lack of satisfaction for the work.”
Positive affect can increase and be increased by physical, intellectual, and social resources.  Fredrickson (1998) recognized the importance of individual resource in promoting health and well-being.  Positive emotions facilitate and are facilitated by resource building.  Resource building revolved around one’s ‘compassionate core’ grounded in altruism.  This core consists of an individual’s inner resources and capacities (i.e., thriving and resilience) and accumulated wisdom derived from life experiences.”

From the article, The Social Psychology of Compassion

Fear & Resilience

"In an analysis of facial fear expressions of female assault victims with PTSD undergoing prolonged exposure for PTSD, fear expressions during the first reliving of rape memories were highly correlated with improvement at posttreatment."
 From the article:  Influence of Emotional Engagement and Habituation on Exposure Therapy for PTSD

Don't be afraid to face the fear - it actually means something better is on the other side.

The ordinariness of resilience

“Expectations that special qualities were required to overcome adversity may have been influenced by prevailing deficit models of psychopathology that the early resilience investigators set out to overturn.  In other words, expecting extraordinary qualities in resilient individuals implied that ordinary adaptive resources and systems were not enough.”

From the article:  Ordinary Magic, Resilience Processes in Development

Challenge the Family Structures

“Family therapy is not social change, and it is hardly self-evident that changes in the power relations between men and women can be bought for the price of a therapist’s fee.  Male privilege and female masochism are structured into the psyche and into the social arrangements of everyday life.  A challenge to these structures requires no less than a momentous social upheaval, and that is now in progress.”

From article, "Feminism and Family Therapy"

Families as Systems

“The more satisfying their experience of growing up has been, the more likely are people to choose a partner who provides them with a sense of continuity of that experience.  Whatever the nature of the early family life, everyone has a profound need to maintain a sense of identity developed in the early year; invariably, there are close links between the old family and the new mate” (p. 222).

“Clinicians also become much more aware of the family.  Some therapist discovered the family system by being bruised by it…working with an individual and being totally defeated by the family’s power over the patient…”

The major problem we see in the individual approaches is that it fails to take account of the powerful interdependence between family members…it is very difficult for individuals to change, maintain that change, if the family does not change too…it doesn’t matter who has the presenting problem or what the problem is – whether it’s a child who wets the bed, an alcoholic husband, a couple considering divorce, a wife who is depressed, a runaway adolescent, or a capable student who is failing in school.  The ‘symptom’ is merely a front for the family’s larger stress (p. 271).”

Ideally, we would like to start with the larger system we are able to assemblewe want to relate to the most global system first, then move on to the smaller subsystems…we may work for some time with the couple…we can then work with individuals…individual therapy should be like the Ph.D. – the last stage in the training (p.273).”

From "The Family Crucible"

Disclosure is Powerful

“The mere act of disclosure is a powerful therapeutic agent that may account for a substantial percentage of the variance in the healing process” (Pennebaker, 1997, p.162)
Writing about emotional experiences as therapeutic process, Psychological Science, 8(3), 162-166.

MBSR for Urban Youth

"The data suggest that MBSR instruction for urban youth may have a positive effect in domains related to hostility, interpersonal relationships, school achievement, and physical health” (Sibinga, Kerrigan, Stewart, Magyari & Ellen, 2011, p.213). 

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Urban Youth The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 17(3), p.213-218

Choosing to be Lovable

"I am loved, I am loveable, I am loving."

These are the unconditional love decisions.  Here are some personal rules that flow from these decisions:

  • I accept love freely.
  • There is an infinite supply of love.
  • I give love freely.
  • I surround myself with loving people.
  • I protect myself from unloving people.

From "Growing Up Again" by Jean I. Clarke & Connie Dawson


I am not a good girl or a bad girl. No self-judgments.

I am a Woman who chooses and accepts the consequences of my choices.

Unashamed and whole.

Who are you?

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...