Monday, December 30, 2013

Being Whole

It's amazing what you can walk away from, understand or do when you are whole.

Whole, meaning balanced and integrated by connecting:

left and right
front and back
black and white
yin and yang
light and dark
strengths and dark side
from the bottom up
roots and tree
research and practice
process and content
task and process
details and the big picture
judgments and perceptions
thoughts and feelings
instincts and analysis
brain and gut
adult, parent and child
mind, body and spirit
love, work and play
character and image
words and actions
good and bad
saint and sinner
Madonna and whore
a good time and a keeper
scared and courageous
vulnerable and strong
hungry and full
past and present
then and there with the here and now

To wholeness in the New Year :)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Notes from Lecture by Dr. Fellitti about Trauma Assessment

Trauma assessment helped to treat intractable medical problems. Change will be resisted despite enormous benefits. Trauma oriented approach to medical care is feasible, affordable and acceptable. Trauma assessment as a routine mechanism of all entry care.  Simply asking, listening, implicitly accepting. 

Why the resistance to Trauma Assessment?
  • The awakening of personal ghosts and unpleasant memories
  • It flies in the face of social convention
  • Magnitude huge
  • Haven’t been taught what to do with this and be comfortable

Hospital Administrators fears about Trauma Assessment: 
  • “Patients will be furious” 
  • “Make people suicidal if you ask those questions” 
  • “Make people decompensate” 

Elderly patient response to Trauma Assessment:
“Thank you for asking [about trauma] – I thought I would die and no one would know about what happened.”

Friday, December 20, 2013

Creativity & Madness

In a mental status exam, a clinician asks: "Do you ever see things that other people don't see?" in order to assess for possible hallucinations.

But what if the answer is, "Yes" and you are not hallucinating (organically or on substances)?  What if you are visionary?

...creatively delighting in the same waters as those who suffer madness...

There is a thin veil between the natural and the spiritual. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Self-Determination & Detachment

We don't gotta pay for the consequences of someone else's choices - it is not our role, it is not our responsibility.

Duh, right?  But we need the constant reminder - like a mantra, affirmation or prayer - because the urge to rescue is so strong.  The pain of seeing a loved one in pain seems intolerable.

Sometimes the important lessons are only learned through pain.

If there ain't no shit, the grass don't grow.

I don't wanna stand between someone's lesson and growth.  I don't wanna interfere with cause and effect.  The lesson to be learned is way too important.  It's the difference between staying in the cocoon and flying.

There is a role for us - listening, bearing witness, empathizing, understanding, acknowledging.  That is caring with respect.  To a person in pain, it makes all the difference.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

Our Stories

The role of theater is to help people speak about the otherwise unspeakable.
--Peter Sellars

Job Talk

The day started at 10 am.  I was interviewed by the search committee for an hour.  Thoughtful questions:  Have you participated in any change efforts, if so, please describe?  What is the primary issue facing social work that needs to be addressed in education? Talk about your scholarly activity and teaching philosophy.  What are your strengths and limitations?

At 11 am, I got to meet with the Dean.  He spelled out the state of the college and university and trend projections.  He talked salary and perks.  It all sounded very good.

At lunchtime, I ate with some of the faculty, including new and familiar faces. They suggested that I consider negotiating for items in addition to salary (technology, travel expenses, etc.). I asked about the challenges and strengths of working at this school.  I got candid responses.  So far so good.

My colloquium was at 1:30.  It was a packed room.  They were attentive and asked questions.  The job talk tips I found online told me to be prepared for zingers.  Few zingers were asked, thankfully.  Mostly, they were curious.  They wanted me to ask them questions too.  I asked them what they were looking for in a candidate.  They said, "someone who likes to teach, which you clearly do."  They read me like a book.  They also said, "someone who has a sense of humor, which you have."  Flattery is always appreciated (thank you).

Then there was about an hour of informal Q&A scheduled.  Half a dozen of the faculty and staff attended.  Everyone came off as warm and friendly - in a very real and honest way.  Like they have been together for a long time (which they have) and gotten really comfortable with each other (in a good way).

Next was a meeting with the director.  He was engaging, complimentary and supportive.  He gave me positive feedback about my presentation and extolled the virtues of the school.  He was also clear about expectations - what they were looking for in an Assistant Professor.  All still good.

The day ended with dinner.  Very nice restaurant - 20s decor and ambiance, eclectic menu and smooth house wine.  It was just me and the search committee again.  I had been asking questions all day (how to get tenure? how many publications required? what is the teaching load and schedule? is there money for travel to conferences? what are the opportunities to secure internal and external research funding? how did you manage to secure NIH funding? and so on).  I didn't have many questions left and my head was spinning with new faces, information and all the experiences of the day.  I asked them what made them decide to come to this particular school.  Their answers reflected who they are and what was happening in their lives at the time they applied.  Mostly it boiled down to deciding what's best for you, right here and now.  Also, just like in real estate, location mattered.

One of the committee members recommended a book written by his mentor, Karen Sowers-Hoag (and Diane Harrison):  "Finding an Academic Job." It includes all the informal stuff that is important in these kinds of searches.  I've already ordered it from amazon.

I got home after 8 pm. I brought in the trash bins that were curbside.  I kissed my daughter good night.  Then I played the meditations on my iPhone to put me to sleep.

Thank you, Yesus, and good night.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Exercise in Trust

When I am stressed about something - BIG or small, I hear God asking, "Do you trust me?"
And I'm like, "Duh, God, of course I trust you.  I just don't wanna fuck this up for us."
Because me and God are like that.

I'm walking into a daylong interview on Tuesday and I'm feeling it, all of it: excited and numb, hopeful and wary, confident and unsure.

I'll do my best, whatever that means in the 5th year of my doctoral program.  But the rest is completely outta my control. 

1) On the one hand, the pressure is off because I can only do what I am capable of right now
2) On the other hand, I have NO CONTROL OVER THE OUTCOME (!!!!!).

Doing my best and then letting it go.
Showing up and then going with the flow.
Trusting and losing control.

This is my dance with God.
This is my exercise in Trust.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Recommended Reading

I highly recommend a book, The Center Cannot Hold by Elyn Saks.  It is a memoir written by a woman diagnosed with schizophrenia.  It follows her journey from high school to Vanderbilt University, Oxford, Yale Law School and USC.  It describes, from a deeply personal perspective, the mental health system in the US and England.  It taught me so much about the disorder, which has been invaluable to me as a mental health professional and family member.

I also highly recommend another memoir, Confessions of a Sociopath: A Life Spent Hiding in Plain Sight. It's written under the pen name of M.E. Thomas.  Sociopaths, narcissists and borderlines tend to target trusting, trustworthy, kind, helpful, and responsible people.  Becoming wiser, not cynical or jaded, may be helpful over the long haul in our profession where we may stumble upon these souls more often as a personal and professional hazard. We can't help being a target but we can choose not to be a victim.

I am grateful for stories that help us make sense of our sometimes complex lives and relationships.  I am grateful for the power of stories to inform, inspire and heal.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Why Nice Guys/Girls Finish Last...

...because everybody has a dark side and integrating our dark side is sexy.

I'm assuming that when we say someone is "too nice" - we are talking about being a pushover. Nobody likes a pushover.  Respect is lost. 

Since we all have a dark side, when we act like a pushover - we are not being honest. We are not being real and others can't really know who we truly are.

Sooner or later the dark side will surface.  By the time this happens, it can be vicious and surprising.

In our interactions and relationships, our energies connect and balance each other out.  If I'm scared of my dark side and you are not - then I will be drawn to you to play it out for me.  I'll enjoy my dark side vicariously through you because the dark side can be a lot of juicy fun.  But like anything, too much of a juicy thing can be dangerous.

I want balance. I don't want to be cut off from my own dark side and I don't want to be mired in it either. 

When we are around people who are integrated, it is easier to accept all of our own thoughts and feelings - the light and shadow sides. It feels like we have a right to think and feel whatever we'd like - no judgments. There is acknowledgment and acceptance that we both have a dark side.

The opposite of being a pushover is standing up for ourselves and this is magnetic.  It lets others know who we truly are and that we know our value.  It sets the tone for others about respecting our worth and how to treat us.

We can stand up for ourselves and be tender too.  The antidote for being "too nice" is not being mean.
"I can take all the tenderness you got."
Esther Hoffman (played by Barbara Streisand) in A Star is Born (1976).  
Tenderness is also sexy - as long as it is real and yet, can't nobody be tender all the time. 

Think of it:  We all have a right to our thoughts and feelings. All of us.  We all have a dark side. All of us. Relishing in this right, balancing and feeling sexy ;)

Monday, November 25, 2013

Asking & Listening.

"...being exposed to suicide questions in the first survey did not exacerbate distress or suicidal ideation among depressed students.  On the contrary, the direction of the significant depression by randomization group interactions on the POMS-A2 indicated that among depressed youth, the experimental group had slightly lower distress scores than the control group."
Gould, M.S., Marrocco, F.A., Kleinman, M., Thomas, J.G., Mostkoff, K., Cote, J., & Davies, M. (2005).  Evaluating Iatrogenic Risk of Youth Suicide Screening Programs:  A Randomized Controlled Trial.  JAMA, 293(13), 1635-1643.

Over 2,000 New York high school students were screened for depression, substance use and suicidal thoughts.  Many fear that asking about suicidal thoughts may be harmful or distressing to youth.  In fact, it turned out that depressed students who were asked about suicidal thoughts were less distressed than depressed students who were not asked about it in the screening survey.

We are so afraid to ask and yet, the consequences of asking are not greater distress but more than likely relief that someone finally cared enough to ask.

Ask and Listen.


I'm two chapters away from being done with my dissertation.

Pending approval (or denial) from a school district to obtain secondary data for my dissertation study.

Awaiting acceptance (or rejection) of my first (and sole-authored) peer-reviewed publication.

Drafting a second publication and identifying a suitable peer-reviewed journal.

Negotiating an end-of-probation raise at one of my part-time gigs.

Submitting applications for Assistant Professor and research positions.

Mindfully co-parenting a sensitive tween and trying to mindfully eat during the stress and storm of limbo.

Scheduling weekly reiki sessions, monthly spa massages, bi-monthly nutrition coaching, daily naps, meditation CDs at bedtime, writing and writing and writing, choosing what goes into my heart/mind/body/soul/spirit wisely, and limiting toxicity in all its shapes and forms.

I have faith, hope and optimism but there are just so many oranges flaming swords you can juggle while blindfolded about the future. 

I am feeling it.  BIG TIME.  I am grateful for my reiki session today.  It opened up my solar plexus and root chakras - they were closed :(

Risking it all now.  Cliff diving.  Scared and exhilarated.  Overwhelmed and at peace.  Pendulating. 

Thanking Yesus.  Amen.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

My Lazy Ego

The first time I heard the term, fragile male ego, was in a sociology course my freshman year. 

I'm not sure about the sociological origins or ramifications of my own ego but I think it's kinda lazy.

For example, when the inner critic whispers to me:  "That's sooo embarrassing or scary!  Don't do that!"  My ego sorta rolls it's eyes.

When there is peer pressure to buy ________ or wear ________, my ego chooses to take a nap.

When someone wants to compete for a symbolic trophy, I am happy to hand it over. If they want it so badly, then why stand in the way?

When insecure people or bullies try to cut or take down, even brazenly humiliate, I sigh and stand up for myself or others and leave it at that.  I mean, what can you do to the poor souls that they don't already do to themselves all the time? 

I wasn't swayed by the peer pressure of a cool image even as a dorky but happy pre-teen (I got the pictures to prove it). There's a delicious freedom in being less concerned with what others think and more tapped into our inner voice. The homeless will attest that one of the joys of living on the streets is the abdication of social conventions and the camaraderie of outsiders.

Some people presume that my journey to the PhD is a vanity project.  Hardly!  It kicks my a$$ on every level - humbles me to the core.  I'm doing it mostly out of obedience to a calling.  It is also exhilarating.  I risked everything and gained everything in return.  I found my purpose - what I came here to do - and saved my soul.  This is not hyperbole - it is the honest to goodness truth, la pura neta.  

I am grateful for my life of reading, thinking, writing, napping, learning, discovering, and imagining.

I'm not striving.  I've got nothing to prove.  I don't value status symbols.  I just want joy, peace and freedom - to use my voice and faculties in the service of something meaningful and to reach the end of my days with a smile on my face. 


Saturday, November 16, 2013

"Like Adam and Eve, the price they have paid for the love given them by their parents is unconditional obedience, blind faith, the voluntary renunciation of knowledge and personal convictions--in short, the abandonment of their own true selves."
"The consensus is that early emotions leave indelible traces in the body and are encoded as information that will have a serious impact on the way we feel and think as adults, although those effects normally remain beyond the reach of the conscious mind and logical thought."

--Alice Miller

Thursday, November 14, 2013

"The schizophrenic is drowning in the same waters in which the mystic swims with delight."
Joseph Campbell

Changing Beliefs or Behaviors?

My assumption is that everything we do is an expression of our underlying beliefs.

(For example, when we put up with mean behavior from others, that is an indication of our belief that we are deserving of it.  When we stand up for ourselves, that is an indication that we believe that we deserve better treatment.  Both behaviors - putting up with or standing up for -  reflect our underlying belief about our self-worth - the mother-lode of all beliefs.)

Where do our beliefs about our own self-worth come from?  Our earliest experiences - before we even had language.  So these beliefs are stored as wordless memories - so we can't even challenge them.  We can't say the words out loud and hear how wrong they sound to us.

Some men say they respect a woman who respects herself.  So if he doesn't respect her then it is her fault.  This is pimp mentality conveniently co-opted by the selfish and irresponsible.  So women who were taught from their earliest experiences that they did not deserve to be respected - a tragic travesty - are now considered at fault when men treat them disrespectfully.  The victimized are at fault for the target on their back? And the target on their back makes them an easy and justified mark for thoughtless men. Can you believe this $hit?? Fuck that $hit.

The challenge is that our beliefs can be so underlying that we don't even know what they are!

Beliefs tend to sound something like this:

I am good enough or I am not good enough.
I matter or I don't matter.
I am loveable or I am not loveable.  
I am capable of getting things done and figuring shit out or not.
I have a right to get what I want or not.
There is plenty for me.

So if we are not aware of our underlying beliefs, then how on earth can we change them??

If beliefs influence our thoughts, feelings and behaviors...
And our thoughts/feelings/behaviors both influence and are influenced by our actions/feelings/behaviors...
Then if we change our thoughts/feelings/behaviors, would that change our beliefs??

That is, if we do something different (remember "opposite George" on Seinfeld?) over and over again, despite our underlying beliefs - fake it till you make it, so to speak - then will the results of our new and uncomfortable behaviors change our beliefs about ourselves?

If we keep taking risks at work, in relationships, etc. - even though we are feeling scared to death because we don't believe we are competent or loveable - and the risks pay off then we might start to believe something different about our competence or loveability.  Hmmm, are you down to experiment?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Chosen Habits

What behaviors do we repeat? 

I'm talking about...  What do we tend to eat?  What kind of pressure do we put on ourselves at work? What kind of work do we continue to do despite its stressful effects on our bodies, minds or spirits?

...friendships: What kind of people are we drawn to and how does this make us feel?

...conversations: What do we spend our time talking about? Complaints or compliments? The past, the present or the future? Being wronged or forgiveness?  Our strengths or our weaknesses?  Is there a balance?  Do we tend toward the negative and feel sad or worried a lot?  Do we focus on the positive and ignore the problems that need to be addressed?

What are the results of our patterns?

Are we satisfied with the results we are getting?

What experiences do we want to have?

What results do we want to see?

What would it take to have a different experience and result?

What would we be willing to do differently - even a little bit - just today - in order to baby step our way to a different storyline?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Passion & Work

Things that we really, really want take a bit of work.

If you wanna make some money, buy a house, mate with a beautiful soul, play an instrument, carry out your purpose or whatever, it takes some work.  But not work like labor, work like energy.  So if you got some passion and heart behind your moves then it feels less like labor and more like flow.

As David Deida puts it,
 "..."fuck" both to smithereens, to ravish them with your love unsheathed, to give your true gifts despite the constant tussle of woman and world, to smelt your authentic gifts in this friction of opposition and surrender, to thrust love from the freedom of your deep being even as your body and mind die blissfully through a crucifixion of inevitable pleasure and pain, attraction and repulsion, gain and loss. No gifts left ungiven. No limit to the depth of being. Only openness, freedom, and love as the legacy of your intercourse with woman and world.

If you are going to tryst with women and world at all, better to go all the way and ravish them from the depths of your true core, blooming them open with the wide gifts of your unrelenting heart. Otherwise, if you sheepishly penetrate them to gratify your own needs, your woman and the world will feel your lack of dedication, depth, and truth. Rather than yielding in love to your loving, they will distract you, suck your energy, and draw you into endless complications, so that your life and relationship become an almost constant search for release from constraint."
Well said.  I'm craving a cigarette and I don't even smoke.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

My Hypnotherapy

In my first session, she wanted to see how suggestible I was.  I was "out" for at least 20 minutes.  She suggested that I vent my troubles through my dreams and my dreams became vivid - clearly working out the goals that I came up with for hypnotherapy about letting go of the past.

In my second session, she did inner child work.  I found myself at four, wearing a blue dress and smiling in my front yard.  I gave the four-year-old-me gifts and promised to take very good care of her.  Looking into her four-year-old eyes and face, I am inspired to choose well in all areas of my life.

In my third session, we worked on visualizing for the purpose of manifesting my future goals.  It was so much fun!  I could clearly see images and scenes of what I wanted.  Just for fun, she had me name and describe the future.  She wrote it all down so that when it happens, we can confirm how on the mark my vision actually was.

My eating habits have also changed since the first session.  Most noticeably, I am listening and trusting my body.  It has incredible wisdom! Rather than focus on specifics like juicing daily, I feed my body as much or as little as it requests with plenty of variety.  I am going through a warm burrito phase (egg burrito for breakfast, chicken burrito for lunch) - I think it's a response to all the juicing and cold salads I ate for several weeks.

I looked forward to meeting with my hypnotherapist on Monday nights.  It was like eating chocolate cake - yummy.  She said people come back to her even after they achieve their initial goals because it feels like a mental massage. Yeah, I can relate to that.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Notes from my Hypnotherapist...

Here are some notes from my last session with a hypnotherapist:
  • The purpose of dreams is to help you make sense of something, to figure it out.  We dream the same dream (recurring dreams) until we work it out.  
  • Negative thinkers think about the problem.  Positive thinkers think about the solution.
  • A thought or event can trigger shallow breathing if we are stressed or panic-stricken.  Shallow breathing means we are only using 1/3 of our lung capacity and not breathing to the bottom of our lungs.  Our breath needs to go to the bottom of our lungs in order to enter our bloodstream and circle through our body (left to right).  Eventually our brain gets the needed hit of oxygen.
  • The brain cannot function without oxygen - we have poor judgment, make poor decisions and don't think straight when our brain lacks oxygen.  Taking 3 purposeful breaths can fix that.  Breathing relaxes you.


Embrace and understand your emotions, especially the unhappy ones, and appreciate their meaning - even their beauty - in your life.

from Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley

Limiting Beliefs

Limiting Beliefs are a motherfucker.  "Yes" keeps the door open.

When confronted by a limiting belief - from the inner critic or from a naysayer other than me - I like to say:  Fuck that shit.  I say it out loud if I am in my car or at home alone.  I say it in my head if out in public or within earshot.

"I don't know what I'm doing, I'll never learn, I'll be fired!"
You have figured things out before, you can do so again.

"I'll never succeed because I was not born into a wealthy, well-connected family" or
"I will never succeed because I was not blessed with a high IQ - intellectually or emotionally."
That is only true if I continue to believe it.  I've got other skills, talents, abilities and resources to succeed.

"I'll be happy once I lose weight."
Fuck that shit.
What does happiness have to do with weight?  Nothing - unless we think, say and believe so.

"I am afraid of failing, being disappointed, being hurt, or not being approved of."
Fuck that shit.
It's time to grow, which can only happen by facing and dealing with your fears and, when possible, following them to the limiting beliefs that have created the false perceptions.

"I feel powerless."
Fuck that shit.
You are, of course, powerful.  You've just lost momentum.  It's like riding a bike; you've got to keep moving in order to stay balanced.  Begin to take baby steps - forcing change in the areas of your life that trouble you most.

"That's the way life is."
Fuck that shit.
That's not the way it's going to continue.  From now on things are going to be different.

"My heart's desires are selfish and foolish."
Fuck that shit.
The truth is that there is enough for everyone, and your receiving your heart's desires does not mean others are going without theirs.  Plus, how can you give to others until you have first received?

Inspired by Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley

Hypnotherapy, Relaxation and Health

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) has studied the effect of hypnotherapy and other relaxation strategies on health outcomes.  Here is an excerpt from their website:

Hypnosis (also called hypnotherapy) has been studied for a number of conditions, including:
  • state anxiety (e.g., before medical procedures or surgeries)
  • headaches
  • smoking cessation
  • pain control
  • hot flashes in breast cancer survivors
  • irritable bowel syndrome
If hypnotherapy is a form of relaxation, then learning more about relaxation techniques may be helpful to understand the connection between intervention and recovery/healing:

Relaxation techniques include a number of practices such as:
  • progressive relaxation
  • guided imagery 
  • biofeedback 
  • self-hypnosis
  • deep breathing exercises
The goal is similar in all: to consciously produce the body’s natural relaxation response, characterized by slower breathing, lower blood pressure, and a feeling of calm and well-being.

Relaxation techniques (also called relaxation response techniques) may be used by some to release tension and to counteract the ill effects of stress. Relaxation techniques are also used to induce sleep, reduce pain, and calm emotions. 

Relaxation is more than a state of mind; it physically changes the way your body functions. When your body is relaxed breathing slows, blood pressure and oxygen consumption decrease, and some people report an increased sense of well-being. This is called the “relaxation response.” Being able to produce the relaxation response using relaxation techniques may counteract the effects of long-term stress, which may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including depression, digestive disorders, headaches, high blood pressure, and insomnia.

Relaxation techniques often combine breathing and focused attention to calm the mind and the body. Most methods require only brief instruction from a book or experienced practitioner before they can be done without assistance. These techniques may be most effective when practiced regularly and combined with good nutrition, regular exercise, and a strong social support system.

People may use relaxation techniques as part of a comprehensive plan to treat, prevent, or reduce symptoms of a variety of conditions including stress, high blood pressure, chronic pain, insomnia, depression, labor pain, headache, cardiovascular disease, anxiety, chemotherapy side effects, and others.

To understand how consciously producing the relaxation response may affect your health, it is helpful to understand how your body responds to the opposite of relaxation—stress.  When you’re under stress, your body releases hormones that produce the “fight-or-flight response.” Heart rate and breathing rate go up and blood vessels narrow (restricting the flow of blood). This response allows energy to flow to parts of your body that need to take action, for example the muscles and the heart. However useful this response may be in the short term, there is evidence that when your body remains in a stress state for a long time, emotional or physical damage can occur. 

Long-term or chronic stress (lasting months or years) may reduce your body’s ability to fight off illness and lead to or worsen certain health conditions. Chronic stress may play a role in developing high blood pressure, headaches, and stomach ache. Stress may worsen certain conditions, such as asthma. Stress also has been linked to depression, anxiety, and other mental illnesses.

In contrast to the stress response, the relaxation response slows the heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and decreases oxygen consumption and levels of stress hormones. Because relaxation is the opposite of stress, the theory is that voluntarily creating the relaxation response through regular use of relaxation techniques could counteract the negative effects of stress.

The brain needs oxygen to think clearly so when you are stressed - take 3 slow belly breaths to nourish your brain.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Love, Relaxation, and Well-being


My mentor/father-figure gave me a gift certificate to a hypnotherapy session for my birthday.  The sessions have made a big difference for him in the last five years - he feels like a new person.  I had my second session last night.


The relaxation achieved in hypnotherapy is deep and delicious.  The lower back tension and pain from my new and long commute (45 min) two days a week went away after the first session.
My dreams have become vivid.  As it turns out she (the hypnotherapist) provided a suggestion, while I was in a deep meditative state, to vent my problems through my dreams.
She is also working on breaking down walls that make me seem less than approachable - "expanding my boundaries" she said.  I feel it working in the "real world" (aka the local cafe where I study).


She said that our immune system works hardest when we are sleeping.  This means we need to relax deeply in order to be healthy.
She said to never feel guilty for taking naps.  Good, because I never do!  Even if I have a paper due - there's always time for a good nap and finishing the paper.
She also did some inner child work with me - she said, "heal the child, heal the adult."
This is going to be good :)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Candidate in Philosophy Degree Update

I got this in the mail today.  It looked so official, it made me happy and I had to share.  It has been such a long road.  After having been through a lot in the last few years, being able to accomplish this is especially meaningful.  When you want something, the universe conspires on your behalf . . .
Here's to wishing that all your dreams come true.



Dear Ms. ACUNA

Based on the recommendation of the members of your doctoral committee, who indicate you have passed your University Written and Oral Qualifying Examinations, you were advanced to candidacy for the doctoral degree on 7/1/2013. The UC doctoral candidacy fee has been billed to your BruinBill account and will appear as two separate charges.

If offered by the program the Candidate in Philosophy degree will automatically be awarded to you.

Please be aware that you must be continuously enrolled throughout the completion of your degree. Continuous enrollment means you are registered, registered in absentia, or on an official leave of absence.

For information regarding the filing of your dissertation, including filing fees, information sessions, and the formatting and filing guide, please visit

We congratulate you on your accomplishments thus far and wish you success in the completion of your doctoral degree requirements.


Academic Services
UCLA Graduate Division

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Taking Good Care of Yourself

When working with clients or living with someone who drinks/uses or used to drink/use and/or struggles with mental illness, there is a pull and a risk of falling into a codependent relationship – a danger that may lead to stress, burnout and disease.  In order to understand this phenomenon, here is an excerpt from Codependent No More:  How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie: 

"Codependents were a necessary nuisance.  They were hostile, controlling, manipulative, indirect, guilt producing, difficult to communicate with, generally disagreeable, sometimes downright hateful, and a hindrance to my compulsion to get high.  They hollered at me, hid my pills, made nasty faces at me, poured my alcohol down the sink, tried to keep me from getting more drugs, wanted to know why I was doing this to them, and asked what was wrong with me.  But they were always there, ready to rescue me from self-created disasters.  The codependents in my life didn’t understand me, and the misunderstanding was mutual.  I didn’t understand me, and I didn’t understand them.

. . . I saw people who felt responsible for the entire world, but they refused to take responsibility for leading and living their own lives.

I saw people who constantly gave to others but didn’t know how to receive.  I saw people give until they were angry, exhausted, and emptied of everything.  I saw some give until they gave up.  I even saw one woman give and suffer so much that she died of “old age” and natural causes at age thirty-three.  She was the mother of five children and the wife of an alcoholic who had been sent to prison for the third time.
I worked with women who were experts at taking care of everyone around them, yet these women doubted their ability to take care of themselves.
I saw mere shells of people, racing mindlessly from one activity to another.  I saw people-pleasers, martyrs, stoics, tyrants, withering vines, clinging vines, and, borrowing from H. Sackler’s line in his play The Great White Hope, “pinched up faces giving of the miseries.”

Most codependents were obsessed with other people.  With great precision and detail, they could recite long lists of the addict’s deeds and misdeeds: what he or she thought, felt, did and said; and what he or she didn’t think, feel, do and say.  The codependents knew what the alcoholic or addict should and shouldn’t do.  And they wondered extensively why he or she did or didn’t do it.

Yet these codependents who had such great insight into others couldn’t see themselves.  They didn’t know what they were feeling.  They weren’t sure what they thought.  And they didn’t know what, if anything, they could do to solve their problems – if, indeed, they had any problems other than the alcoholics.

It was a formidable group, these codependents.  They were aching, complaining, and trying to control everyone and everything but themselves.  And, except for a few quiet pioneers in family therapy, many counselors (including me) didn’t know how to help them.  The chemical dependency filed was flourishing, but help focused on the addict.  Literature and training on family therapy was scarce.  What did codependents need?  What did they want?  Weren’t they just an extension of the alcoholic, a visitor to the treatment center?  Why couldn’t they cooperate, instead of always making problems?  The alcoholic had an excuse for being so crazy – he was drunk.  These significant others had no excuse.  They were this way sober.
By then, I had been sober for a while.  I was beginning to understand myself, but I didn’t understand codependency.  I tried, but couldn’t – until years later, when I became so caught up in the chaos of a few alcoholics that I stopped living my own life.  I stopped thinking.  I stopped feeling positive emotions, and I was left with rage, bitterness, hatred, fear, depression, helplessness, despair and guilt.  At times, I wanted to stop living.  I had no energy.  I spend most of my time worrying about people and trying to figure out how to control them.  I couldn’t say no (to anything but fun activities) if my life depended on it, which it did.  My relationships with friends and family members were in shambles.  I felt terribly victimized.  I lost myself and didn’t know how it had happened.  I didn’t know what had happened.  I thought I was going crazy.  And, I thought, shaking a finger at the people around me, it’s their fault.

Sadly, aside from myself, nobody knew how badly I felt.  My problems were my secret.  Unlike the alcoholics and other troubled people in my life, I wasn’t going around making big messes and expecting someone to clean up after me.  In fact, next to the alcoholics, I looked good.  I was so responsible, so dependable.  Sometimes I wasn’t sure I had a problem.  I knew I felt miserable, but I didn’t understand why my life wasn’t working.
After floundering in despair for a while, I began to understand.  Like many people who judge others harshly, I realized I had just taken a very long and painful walk in the shoes of those I had judged.  I now understand those crazy codependents.  I had become one.

Gradually, I began to climb out of my black abyss.  Along the way, I developed a passionate interest in the subject of codependency.  As a counselor (although I no longer worked full-time in the field, I still considered myself one) and as a writer, my counselor was provoked.  As a “flaming careening codependent” (a phrase borrowed from an Al-Anon member) who needed help, I also had a personal stake in the subject.  What happens to people like me? How does it happen? Why? Most important, what do codependents need to do to feel better? And stay that way?
I saw people who were hostile, they had felt so much hurt that hostility was their only defense against being crushed again.  They were that angry because anyone who had tolerated what they had would be that angry.

They were controlling because everything around and inside them was out of control.  Always, the dam of their lives and the lives of those around them threatened to burst and spew harmful consequences on everyone.  And nobody but them seemed to notice or care.

I saw people who manipulated because manipulation appeared to be the only way to get anything done.  I worked with people who were indirect because the systems they lived in seemed incapable of tolerating honesty.

I worked with people who thought they were going crazy because they had believed so many lies they didn’t know what reality was.

I saw people who had gotten so absorbed in other people’s problems they didn’t have time to identify or solve their own.  These were people who had cared so deeply, and often destructively, about other people that they had forgotten how to care about themselves.  The codependents felt responsible for so much because the people around them felt responsible for so little; they were just taking up the slack.

I saw hurting, confused people who needed comfort, understanding, and information.  I saw victims of alcoholism who didn’t drink but were nonetheless victimized by alcohol.  I saw victims struggling desperately to gain some kind of power over their perpetrators.  They learned from me, and I learned from them.

Soon I began to subscribe to some new beliefs about codependency.  Codependents aren’t crazier or sicker than alcoholics.  But, they hurt as much or more.  They haven’t cornered the market on agony, but they have gone through their pain without the anesthetizing effects of alcohol or other drugs, or the other high states achieved by people with compulsive disorders. And the pain that comes from loving someone who’s in trouble can be profound.

‘The chemically dependent partner numbs the feelings and the non-abuser is doubled over in pain – relieved only by anger and occasional fantasies,’ wrote Janet Geringer Woititz in an article from the book Co-Dependency, An Emerging Issue.

Codependents are that way sober because they went through what they did sober.

No wonder codependents are so crazy.  Who wouldn’t be, after living with the people they’ve lived with?

It’s been difficult for codependents to get the information and practical help they need and deserve.  It’s tough enough to convince alcoholics (or other disturbed people) to seek help.  It’s more difficult to convince codependents – those who by comparison look, but don’t feel, normal – that they have problems.

Codependents suffered in the backdrop of the sick person.  If they recovered, they did that in the background too.  Until recently, many counselors (like me) didn’t know what to do to help them.  Sometimes codependents were blamed; sometimes they were ignored; sometimes they were expected to magically shape up (an archaic attitude that has not worked with alcoholics and doesn’t help codependents either).  Rarely were codependents treated as individuals who needed help to get better.  Rarely were they given a personalized recovery program for their problems and their pain.  Yet, by its nature, alcoholism and other compulsive disorders turn everyone affected by the illness into victims – people who need help even if they are not drinking, using other drugs, gambling, overeating, or overdoing a compulsion.
I’m not an expert, and this isn’t a technical book for experts.  Whether the person you’ve let yourself be affected by is an alcoholic, gambler, foodaholic, workaholic, sexaholic, criminal, rebellious teenager, neurotic parent, another codependent, or any combination of the above, this book is for you, the codependent.

This book is not about how you can help your alcoholic or troubled person, although if you get better, his or her chance of recovery improves too.  There are plenty of good books on how to help the alcoholic.  This book is about your most important and probably most neglected responsibility:  taking care of yourself.  It’s about what you can do to start feeling better."

What it is

Spirituality and mental health is not about proselytizing or religious rules. 

It's simply about the fight in the dog, playing with heart, passion, spirit.

It's that je ne sais quoi element that turns the dark horse into a winner.

It's about engaging and integrating the mind, body and spirit - parts of us that are inextricably linked anyway.

It's about acknowledging who we are and understanding how we're built.

We are meant to be whole - it is our birthright.

Go on and get yours.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Spirituality & Mental Health 5

"An increased interest in the effects of religion and spirituality on health is apparent in the psychological and medical literature.  Although religion in particular was thought, in the past, to have a predominantly negative influence on health, recent research suggests this relationship is more complex.  This article reviews the literature on the impact of religion and spirituality on physical and mental health, concluding that the influence is largely beneficial.  Mechanisms for the positive effect of religion and spirituality are proposed."

Seybold, K & Hill, P.C. (2001).  The Role of Religion and Spirituality in Mental and Physical Health.

Spirituality & Mental Health 4

Corrigan et al., (2003) suggest that spirituality holds unique promise in fostering recovery from psychiatric disabilities.

Corrigan, P., McCorkle, B., Schell, B., & Kidder, K. (2003). Religion and spirituality in the lives of people with serious mental illness.  Community Mental Health Journal, 39(6), 487-499.

Spirituality & Mental Health 3

"Emerging evidence about the beneficial impact of spirituality on recovery outcomes suggests that the successful incorporation of spiritual approaches into clinical practice has the potential to contribute to the next quantum leap in the development of effective, person-centered systems of care."

Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 2007.  Volume 30, No 4, 247-249.

Spirituality & Mental Health 2

"Spirituality has been cited as having a positive effect on mental health outcomes. . . .Results suggest that age, gender, having psychotic symptoms, having depressive symptoms, and having a higher global quality of life, hope and sense of community were all significant correlates of spirituality."

Psychiatric Rehabilitation Journal, 2007.  Volume 30, No. 4, 287-294.

Spirituality & Mental Health

"In the past decade or so, researchers across a range of disciplines have started to explore and acknowledge the positive contribution spirituality can make to mental health.  Service users and survivors have also identified the ways in which spiritual activity can contribute to mental health and well-being, mental illness and recovery."

Cornah, D. (2006).  The impact of spirituality on mental health:  A review of the literature.
( Health Foundation spirituality reportx.pdf)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013


You are beautiful and a gift to anyone's life.

-- Goddess Tauheeda

Cause & Effect

Do not stand in the way of a person and their natural consequences. 

The Law of Cause and Effect is an important lesson to learn. 

Allowing someone to learn this lesson is more loving and respectful than attempting to buffer them from their natural consequence.

Self-determination means we value a person's right to make their own choices (cause) and be responsible for the consequences of those choices (effect).

The hands-off approach may feel cruel - like leaving a fool to their folly.  That assumes that people are foolish versus acknowledging that people have agency (power, capacity).


Saturday, August 17, 2013


". . . words that you deliberately choose, such as affirmations - can be an amazing tool for installing new beliefs and attracting new thoughts and ideas that are in line with your dreams.  Affirmations are not only helpful in installing new beliefs, but like our acts of faith, they can also help us make strides in eroding invisible, limiting ones.  In case affirmations, which are sometimes called mantras, are new to you, they're simply short, empowering statements that you repeatedly say to yourself.  An example would be a statement such as "I am surrounded by wealth and abundance," or instead of "wealth and abundance," you might choose "friends and laughter" - anything at all that you want to be surrounded by (stated as if they already surround you).  There's no format and there are no magic patterns; it's just a short phrase or two (or three) that you repeat again and again, usually out loud but sometimes silently."

Mike Dooley

Examples of affirmations:
  • I am happily married to my best friend.
  • I have a harmonious family life.
  • I am doing God's work efficiently and effortlessly.
  • I eat and move daily to maximize my good health and attractiveness.
  • I maintain a love-work-play balance that nurtures my radiance, sensuality and good mood.
  • I am beautiful and a gift to anyone's life.
  • I am present with myself right here and now.
  •  I know exactly what needs to be done and I do it with ease.
  • I deserve to receive good in all ways.
  • I attract all the people and opportunities that I need, when I need them.
  • I am open to all experiences and all people.
  • I am free to be myself in all my relationships.
  • I have an incredible capacity to manifest.
  • My wisdom is my wealth.
  • I make money easily and effortlessly.
  • I am decisive and focused.
  • I radiate positive energy and abundance.
  • I give thanks for ever increasing health, youth and beauty.
  • I say everything I need to say with ease and honesty.
  • I love and accept all of myself and all that I see in my partner.
  • I am destined to achieve true wealth.
  • It is safe for me to love and be loved.
  • I enjoy being loved.
  • I eat nutritious foods that fill me with energy and vitality.
  • I invest my time in becoming healthier.
  • I have healthy relationships.

Underlying Beliefs

". . . words spoken spontaneously provide an excellent roadmap to your beliefs, which is why I always strive to pay close attention to everything I say.  When we listen to ourselves as we converse with others, we can catch ourselves espousing our beliefs, as was true about observing our actions.  For this reason, it could be said that our words are simply our thoughts that will become things soonest.  But by following those words back to the beliefs they were drawn from, we can begin identifying which ones either support or deny our dreams."

Mike Dooley

Infinite Abundance

"The truth is that there is enough for everyone, and your receiving your heart's desires does not mean others are going without theirs."

Mike Dooley

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Show Up

"Intent, or thought without action, is not enough. 
But as you open your mouth to speak, as you put forth your leg to walk, as you pry open the pages of any book to read, these physical gestures overwhelmingly imply that you believe your intent will be matched with results. 
All this adds to the energy of your initial thought sufficiently enough that a tipping point is reached; critical mass is achieved, allowing the Universe to grab the baton and take over, all for the seemingly feeble actions we initiate
You don't even have to know how to complete the processes started, yet starting the process clearly demonstrates a belief that it will somehow be completed. 
The original intent (vision, desire, dream), bolstered by the expectation and empowered because of the action that follows, is sufficient to cause the necessary articulation, muscle movements, and idea formulations invoked by life's magic via the thoughts become things principle for there to be the corresponding manifestation."
--from Infinite Possibilities by Mike Dooley
It is said that 90% of success is just showing up.  Where's your next baby step headed??  I'm officially ABD - I'm almost there...

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Exploring the Ambivalence with Families in Children's Mental Health

When I was a beginning school social worker, I noticed that only half of the families showed up to their scheduled intake assessment appointment.

In school, 50% earns a failing grade.

So I ran to my clinical supervisor, Reevah Simon.  She schooled me about how what I said right over the phone might keep families away.  I changed my introductory rap and more parents started showing up to their appointments.  Eventually, I reached over 90% family engagement, even at the high school level.

Since then I've read family engagement in children's mental health is about 50% - across the country.  It turns out that I wasn't the only one failing.

Mary McKay, LCSW PhD, is pioneering research to improve family engagement in children's mental health (that's what happens when clinicians become researchers - studies with practical application that can improve our practice get done).

She developed a script based on structural family therapy principles that can be used at first contact - like when clinic staff schedule an appointment for families over the phone.  One of the elements in McKay's script reminded me of what Reevah taught me - explore the ambivalence.

Often we think we need lots of water under the bridge before we go there - what are your concerns, doubts, questions about coming in for this appointment?

Research and experience shows that if you don't go there in the phone conversation (granted, you may save it for the end of the conversation), then families are not likely to show up.  If you do go there, then they are much more likely to show up.

If it makes everyone feel better (and normalizing usually does), then add:  "families usually have concerns, questions or doubts about coming in for their first appointment - is this true for you?"

Exploring the ambivalence is one of those clinical tools that has helped me in every setting, with any client population and presenting problem.

In fact, it is so universal that I find myself exploring my own ambivalence when making decisions.  Thanks, Reevah.

Exploring the Ambivalence with Chronically Homeless Veterans

My research interest is trauma, PTSD and resilience, particularly how attachment security moderates the relationship between these variables.

I'm funding my last year in the program with part-time work as a clinical supervisor, so I am supervising MSW clinical case managers working with chronically homeless veterans.  This is a new population for me but the issues of trauma, PTSD, resilience and attachment security resonate.

I had dinner with my clinical supervisor of many years, Reevah Simon.  Now semi-retired, I run to her regularly when I need her wisdom.  She was on fire.

One of the most important clinical concepts she taught me was the power of exploring the ambivalence clients have about change - even if the change is positive.

Implementing a program that attempts to fast-track housing for chronically homeless veterans seems like a no-brainer but the challenges are numerous and mostly invisible.  That's where clinical assessment and interventions come in handy.

Exploring the ambivalence

Reevah recommends that clinicians imagine that they are homeless - what are the advantages and disadvantages?

What's the best thing about being homeless?
  • Freedom from rules and regulations
  • The street is an unstructured setting
  • People that are homeless form networks - pairs look out for each other
  • Avoid feelings of paranoia and feeling trapped within four walls, feeling suffocated
  • Can move on when feel they feel like it
  • Can hide in plain sight - hard to locate
  • Form families and are willing to give up their life for each other
  • Taking care of their buddies motivates them - gives them a sense of belonging, community, and purpose
  • They have a place on the sidewalk
Having an apartment may mean that everyone knows where they are - like a sitting duck.

For chronically homeless veterans, traumatic experiences probably date back to childhood.  Insecure attachment to primary caregiver may have left them vulnerable to PTSD.

As a veteran, they may feel like
  • they don't belong anywhere - don't have a job
  • miss the structure of the military
  • miss the identification of their position/role/rank - someone always told them what to do
  • civilian life is individualistic vs. military life is group oriented
Any change, even for something seemingly better, provokes feelings of ambivalence.  We feel ambivalent about everything.  So when veterans don't show up to appointments or don't return phone calls, exploring their ambivalence about moving into stable housing is in order.  We all feel ambivalent about everything - so we either explore it using language and words or it goes underground and we act it out behaviorally (missed appointments and other forms of self-sabotage).

More questions for exploring the ambivalence:
Why wouldn't you want to move into stable housing?
Do you feel you would be giving something up?  What would you have to give up to move in?

Explore ambivalence with empathy - by putting yourself in the place of the other person and imagining what it would feel like to you.

What we, as clinicians, bring to the conversation is that we know the alternative.  We know the situation that veterans are in (assuming we have asked and listened well) and know what could be, that is, what is possible.

First, establish the way things are and then bring in the alternatives.

What do you do to prevent feeling claustrophobic?
What are the advantages to living in an apartment?
Are there difficulties living with another person?

Scheduling appointments

When scheduled to meet at a certain time and place, veterans may feel trapped.  "I'll catch you around" vs. commitment to time and place.

What are you comfortable with?  What do you think you could live with?

Keeping appointments carries with it symbolic baggage - feeling controlled.

Who's goal is it?

We've taken on the goal when the goal is more important to us than to the client.  The more we want it, the less likely they are to show up.  They take pleasure in screwing us especially if we act like we know better.

Understand who they are

What do they like about their current life?
What are the negatives about moving in?
Tell me what you like about living on the street?
If I was gonna live on the street, what would I need to know?
You are not trying to get them to do anything.
No matter what it looks like, they are immersed in a community.

When client may be acting like it's all our problem (as clinicians):
What are you planning to do about this?
How did you think I could help?
I notice this is the second time that this happens on the first of the month.  Do you run out of money?

The Centrality of Emotions

"Emotions give our lives meaning and reason, and the unpleasant ones serve us by hinting at how we can get back on track with life's truths."

Mike Dooley

Hope after Evil

"...evil always inevitably self-destructs."

Mike Dooley

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it--always."

Mahatma Ghandi

" know a lot of secrets about him but don't spread gossip.  It's good for your character. Let his undoing be his own doing."


Monday, August 12, 2013

Our Dark Side

When I came home from college to visit my mom, I found her watching Spanish-language tele-novelas.

In my most annoying tone I told her:  "Oh. My. God. Mom, why are you watching that ridiculous soap opera?  It's not even real."

She countered:  "No, you are ridiculous if you think people don't really act this way."

Now I'm 44 and the protagonist in my very own tele-novela (sans the TV audience unless facebook counts) replete with melodramatic villains.

We really do act this way.  Well, not all of us and not all the time.

Growing up in mind, body and spirit means that we see life as it really is and not as we wish it were - eyes wide open and not in denial. 

We all have a dark side (the baby part, the id) - villainous and melodramatic with murderous impulses.

But we don't all act on our dark impulses. 

We also have a mature side (the adult part, the ego) and a good side (the parent or God part, the superego). 

Even if we identify with those of us that choose to hurt, lie, cheat, steal and kill ("I can see why he or she would do that"), what we mean is we have had the same thoughts and feelings.  However, we would not do the same thing. 

The baby part wants revenge for the pain - even if the pain is self-inflicted, like envy or jealousy.  The parent part tells us to do the right thing, take responsibility for our feelings and actions, think of the consequences.
The adult part then decides what to do based on the impulses of the baby part and the rules/principles of the parent part.

Sometimes the baby part wins, sometimes the parent part wins and it is the adult part in us who decides.
Out of envy and jealousy, I have seen people compelled to spread rumors and gossip in order to take someone down that is identified as a threat.  Battles may be won this way but not wars.

Out of insecurity, I have seen people lie to everyone - including themselves - in order to maintain a certain image.  It's much easier to maintain an image than to do the work to build character.  My money is on the latter - it's a long-term investment.

In families, sibling rivalry (primal envy and jealousy) runs deep:  fighting over the shot-gun seat in the car, parental love and attention, the bigger piece of cake, bragging rights, and so on.  Physical and psychological warfare is employed in order to prevail.   In the workplace and life in general, sibling rivalry continues but without the limits usually set by mom & dad or the limits of blood and love.  That's when physical and psychological warfare gets really ugly.  

We also have a side that believes in love, hope and truth.  It wants the best for us and the greater good.  This part of us struggles with our dark side.  The tension is what makes us human - not pathological.  It is how we resolve this inner struggle of good and evil that shapes our character, our lives, reputations, and relationships.

Our beliefs about ourselves, others and the world influence which way we go on this.  If we don't acknowledge the dark side in all of us - we are naive and vulnerable to exploitation by others.  If we only see the dark side in all of us - we become cynical, paranoid and bitter.  Tension is good - it keeps us from either extreme.

What are your beliefs about yourself?
What do you think of people in general?
What do you think of life in general?

Our beliefs influence observations about our reality and ourselves.  Do we have the eyes to see?

Believe It

"Whatever it is that you now want, give what you can of it to yourself...Enjoying your life today, by living your dreams to the degree you presently can, is perhaps one of the most powerful things you can do toward expanding your belief system, while disabling limiting, even invisible beliefs."

Mike Dooley

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Forgive or don't forgive,
talk about it or don't talk about it,
grow up or stay the same,
tell the truth or don't tell the truth,
figure it out or don't figure it out,
do the right thing or back down,
face your fears or avoid,
know yourself or hide,
love yourself and others or not so much
 - you may do whatever you'd like.

What we are responsible for, like it or not, are the consequences of our choices.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Fill It Up

"You don't put yourself online only because you have something to say - you can put yourself online to find something to say.  The Internet can be more than just a resting place to publish your finished ideas - it can also be an incubator for ideas that aren't already formed, a birthing center for developing work that you haven't started yet...Having a container can inspire us to fill it.  Whenever I've become lost over the years, I just look at my website and ask myself, 'What can I fill this with?'"
--Austin Kleon


"One knows exactly what kind of plant will grow from the words being sown...Am I planting seeds of hope with my words or am I planting seeds of fear?  In order for healing to take place I must plant seeds of hope." -- Sandra Ingerman

Gains & Losses

"We all gotta learn how to grieve." --Rose Monteiro, LCSW
Breathing in... and out...

Aging is about gains and losses - trade-offs.  Wiser and worn.  You gotta let go to begin anew.

You gotta let go of mom and dad - emotionally and financially - in order to be an adult.

You gotta take a risk and detach from the outcome in order to usher in change.

You gotta let go of the trapeze bar behind you in order to grab the bar in front of you and swing forward.

The birth pangs usher in new life.

Death pangs signal passage into the next.

There is always pain in re-birth. 

We all gotta learn how to grieve.

Breathing in... and out...

Friday, June 28, 2013

ABD (!!)

ABD = All But Dissertation.  AKA All But Done.

The consensus is that the dissertation proposal defense is more challenging and important than the dissertation defense.  The proposal consists of the first four chapters (out of six) of the dissertation.  It represents your thinking about the how, what and why of your study.  If your committee buys that you have thought it through enough and gives you the green light to proceed with your study, then you are ALL BUT DONE.

My adviser warned me to take a moment before answering questions - he said the questions would get harder and harder.  If I paused before answering the questions, then I would just seem thoughtful when pausing for the tougher ones (instead of seeming totally stuck).  One of my committee members told me I rocked the Q&A part :)  It felt natural - like I was talking about myself.  It's like I've been preparing for this moment my whole life.

I met a PhD candidate at a cafe last year. I asked him about his dissertation proposal defense and he said that it was wonderful - you get to talk about the topic that you are most passionate about with a committee of brilliant people.  Pretty blissful.

My sentiments exactly.  I was a little nervous but mostly excited.  Anyone who has ever asked me about my research question knows how I bubble over at the chance to talk about it.

My committee was wonderful.  I squealed when they told me that I had passed.  I went around the table and gave them all hugs - like how you are taught to do at your birthday party when you open a present if you are a Latina.  I was all Latina that special day - June 25, 2013. 

Post-It on Fixing

It is NOT our job - personally or professionally - to fix anybody.
Take very good care of yourself out there.
Happy Friday Peeps  :)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Culture, Emotions, Confession

Notes from Chapter 2 - A Cultural and Historical Perspective on Confession

  • The disclosure of deeply personal topics as a therapeutic technique is an entrenched and long-standing feature of Western culture
  • Cross-culturally, as well, confession-as-therapy is found in a widely diverse array of societies
  • However, in other cultures, confession is absent -- even actively discouraged -- on the premise that the disclosure of intimate thoughts and feelings would compromise health and well being
  • There is meaning attached to confession in cultures that rely on the practice to effect healing, as well as in those that explicitly proscribe it in order to maintain health.
  • Confession as symbolic healing
  • From the perspective of medical anthropology, disclosure is usefully categorized as a form of symbolic healing:  a therapy that is based on the ritual use of words and symbols.
  • Ritual can be secular as well as religious, and here it refers simply to a repetitive, patterned and symbolic enactment of a cultural belief or value.  The efficacy of symbolic therapies is contingent on a shared symbolic universe that ensures that a given therapy carries culturally specific meaning.  In other words, a symbolic therapy is meaningful and can be said to "work" insofar as it is related to the theories of illness-causation of a particular culture and, more broadly, to the other aspects of that culture.
  • The central anthropological insight here is that historically determined cultural values and social processes give meaning to a symbolic therapy and, in doing so, facilitate its ability to heal within a given context.  Early socialization into this symbolic system, through the acquisition of language and culture, provides the framework that enables people to make sense of their interior experiences.
  • Disclosure as a method of self-knowledge can be traced at least as far back as the Stoic philosophers of the first two centuries A.D. For the Stoics, daily inscription of one's thoughts and actions in diaries, journals, and letters was a means of knowing one's self in order to overcome flaws and refashion the self according to a specific ethos or model.  The objective of this reflective process was both moral and medical well-being, and ongoing attention to health maintenance was one of the significant features of contemplative self-disclosure (Foucault, 1988 via Pennebaker).
  • The identification of the pastor-confessor as a "physician of souls" is probably traceable to the notion of Christ as a healer and to the medical ministrations of early Church Fathers
  • Although obligatory confession to a priest was rejected by the Protestant revolution, the practice of confessional self-inspection nonetheless persisted.  For the Puritans in the seventeenth century, for example, daily writing in confessional diaries was a technique for monitoring one's state of sin.
  • Confession in the West has a long history as a culturally authorized "idiom of distress" that is associated with some benefits to body and soul
  • In American English, anger is metaphorized as heat or fluid that can dangerously accumulate in the bodily container, causing physiological damage if not allowed to exit.
  • Folk understanding clearly mark "letting off steam," "getting something off your chest," and the like as salutary processes
  • Among the unacculturated Ojibwa living in the 1930s and 1940s in Canada, it is clear that confession was an important technique used to effect healing in cases of serious illness
  • Healing was believed to occur after a healer elicited a confession from the sick person.  However, in contrast to much of the Western tradition, confessions were not private, dyadic transactions, and patients were not isolated.  On the contrary, confessions were public statements of transgression, made to the group.  They were also in a real sense compulsory, for even if the patient wanted to withhold the disclosure of her or his transgressions, the healer would find out anyway through the assistance of his "other-than-human" helpers ("grandfather" spirits who routinely interacted with humans).  In essence, serious illnesses forced the sick person to accept responsibility for culturally disapproved conduct in full public view.  Ritual confession thus provided a recurrent public forum for stating and restating the core values of Ojibwan culture to members of the group as well as a venue for the socialization of children.
  • For the Ndembu of West Africa, confession is also an important technique for effecting the healing of serious illness and is also publically performed
  • The Ndembu healer orchestrates the confessions of not only the patient, but also of relatives, neighbors, and other members of the community who must all confess in order that the sick person get well
  • The Ndembu, like the Ojibwa, believe that individual illness is an indication that something has gone awry in the social body
  • The Ndembu doctor heals by tapping into the various streams of affect associated with conflicts and inter-personal disputes that have built up in the community over time
  • Confessions are thus used as a mechanism (along with other cultural practices) for transforming ill-feeling into well-wishing, for restructuring relationships to restore social harmony, and for reintegrating the sick person into the social group
  • For the Ndembu and the Ojibwa, as for many Westerners, there is a clear and positive association between the disclosure of personal events and the restoration of health
  • While for Westerners the goal of disclosure is enlightenment through the process of self-reflection or alleviation from the "work" or "burden" of containing negative emotion, for the Ojibwa and the Ndembu the goal of therapy is collective: to restore social relations to a harmonious keel
  • In other cultures disclosing negative emotions and one's "deepest thoughts and feelings" is believed to be directly responsible for poor health, illness, and general misfortune
  • Balinese are socialized from infancy not to disclose negative emotions such as sadness and anger.  Children are taught that such emotions can be conquered by the strategies of "not caring" and "forgetting" as well as by laughing and joking, even in the most somber of circumstances.
  • For the Balinese, "not caring" and "forgetting" are explicitly linked with the preservation of sanity and health.  Balinese do not disclose emotional difficulties often, even to family and close friends, for two reasons.  The first is compassion for others, since it is believed that sadness spreads when it is verbally and nonverbally expressed.  The second is to maintain their own mental calmness, since by not disclosing emotion and "forgetting," it is thought possible to shape inner feeling itself...The only appropriate technique for their elimination is to try not to think about and not to care about the experience that aggravates the feeling.  In this effort, laughter is regarded as especially effective.  It is important to stress that Balinese acknowledge that these strategies involve much emotional work, effort, and struggle...Disclosing negative emotions and experiences is thought to increase susceptibility to illness by weakening one's life force...Black magic is believed to be an omnipresent potential threat to well-being.  Because strong emotions such as sadness or anger can blur judgment, they can result in a person offending, disappointing, or hurting others and provoking their magical attacks.  Under these circumstances, disclosure could threaten an individual's very survival.
  • Emotions for the Chinese are private and embarrassing, or shameful, events, with polluting qualities.  Thus, they are best left unscrutinized and are almost never disclosed to others.  What would be called psychological insight in the United States, the Chinese regard as self-absorption.  Thus, children learn from an early age not to attend to their emotional states.  When feelings are expressed, it is generally in somatic terms, using idioms of bodily organs and their functioning...the Chinese did not think in terms of the intrapsychic qualities of these emotions and lacked a language for their expression.  Finally, like the Balinese, the Chinese believe that the excessive expression of feelings will disturb the harmony of the body and lead to illness.
  • A psychiatrist (from the People's Republic of China) advises a female patient suffering from depression and anxiety that "You must contain your anger.  You know the old adage:  'Be deaf and dumb!  Swallow the seeds of the bitter melon!  Don't speak out!'"  Chinese values affirm an understanding of the self that is more sociocentric, more attuned to and resonant with relational and situational contexts than to inner, private states.
  • It becomes evident, within a framework of culturally and historically specific contexts, that no single, universal meaning or function can be attributed to the institutionalized disclosure of intimate thoughts and feelings...both disclosure and nondisclosure are related to particular cultural expectations of health and of cure.  Furthermore, the fact that both disclosure and nondisclosure are deployed to therapeutic ends in a wide variety of cultures suggests the possibility that a range of habitual strategies exists for dealing with negative emotions, and that the specific strategy chosen may vary according to a culture's understanding of emotions, the self, and the maintenance of health.

Pennebaker, J.W. (1995)  Emotion, Disclosure, & Health. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. 

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...