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. 

Feeling, Talking, Healing

Notes from Chapter 1 - Emotion, Disclosure, and Health:  An Overview
  • Traumatic experiences provoke mental and physical health problems
  • Talking about these experiences is beneficial
  • An important feature of therapy is that it allows individuals to translate their experiences into words
  • Writing about traumatic experiences produces improvements in immune function, drops in physician visits for illness, and better performance at school and work
  • Failure to talk or acknowledge significant experiences is associated with increased health problems, autonomic activity, and ruminations
  • Traumatic experiences affect basic cognitive and memory processes and the abilities to construct coherent narratives
  • The reason that we ruminate about events is because we are trying not to ruminate about them
  • Future-oriented worry may disrupt health, disclosure about the past may reduce worrying and improve health
  • One idea is that translating experiences into words forces some kind of structure to the experiences themselves
  • Through language individuals are able to organize, structure, and ultimately assimilate both their emotional experiences and the events that may have provoked the emotions
  • Talking about an event accomplishes two important goals:  1) Talking both reflects and reduces anxiety. 2) Repeated disclosure over time gradually promotes assimilation of the upsetting event.
  • Writing or talking about emotional the laboratory...brings about striking reductions in blood pressure, muscle tension, and skin conductance during or immediately after the disclosure.  These biological effects are most apparent among participants who express emotion.
  • Inhibited emotional expressiveness in various parts of the body is linked to headache and back pain
  • The repression or inhibition of emotion is central to an understanding of disclosure.  In theory, individuals who attempt to confront traumatic experiences without acknowledging emotions should not benefit and could, perhaps, suffer from disclosure.
  • Whereas talking about a trauma may make the discloser feel better, it can make the listener feel worse
  • An overwhelming majority of people share most of their emotional experiences with others.  This natural tendency, however, is most likely to be blocked for the emotions of sharing is powerful in reducing anxiety and psychological distress with a variety of populations.
  • Many but not all cultures look favorably on the sharing of emotions.  In addition, the types of emotions and the modes of expression vary considerably.
  • Within Western culture, the disclosure of traumatic and emotional experiences can promote physical and psychological health.  The underlying mechanisms for this phenomenon are cognitive, emotional, biological, and social.
Pennebaker, J.W. (1995)  Emotion, Disclosure, & Health. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Aw, Fuck That $hit

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an evidence-based intervention for the treatment of anxiety and depression.

One of the components of CBT involves examining our automatic negative thoughts and challenging their validity, accuracy, evidence, likelihood, and so on:
  • what evidence do I have that this thought is true?  
  • what other thoughts might explain this event?  
  • how likely is it that my thought may be true? 
  • even if it is true, what is the worst that can happen?

Negative thinking, unrealistic expectations, shaming, stigma, fear, criticism, put downs, oppression, condescension, pressure to be perfect and never make a mistake, and imposed limitations can come from the outside (from uptight haters) or from the inside (from the inner critic/mean troll that lives in our head).

In Spanish, fear of stigma (bullshit that comes from the outside) is described as fear of "el que diran" (what "they" will say - "they" meaning polite society). So the antidote is: "a la gente decente se les miente" or lie to "decent" people/polite society.

But I like to say (mostly to myself), "Fuck that shit."

If doing something is gonna make me feel guilty - that is, doesn't jibe with my values - then I won't do it.  I'm a grown up.

If doing something is gonna elicit judgment from others even though I am okay with it (doesn't offend my own values) then I do it and say, "Fuck the judgments."  I'm a grown up.

When someone tries negging me - my internal eyes roll and I think to myself, "Fuck that shit."

Negging is a new word for me - I've heard it used recently to describe a phenomenon where someone finds your insecurity or assumes you have a common insecurity (for example: "I am not smart" or "I am not pretty" or "I am not loveable" or "I am not competent") and uses it to try to put you down so that you are motivated to overcompensate and attempt to please them.  Because if they break you down, they think they own you.

Fuck that shit, right??  Feel free to use this powerful phrase liberally and as appropriate when faced with put downs of any kind.

Also, feel free to believe and affirm that you are smart, pretty, loveable and competent.  They'll assume falsely that this is an insecurity when it is NOT and you will therefore be immune to the lame trick of negging.  I've witnessed men, women and employers try to use it.  Lame.

Caution:  "Fuck that shit" is mostly a note to self.  Saying it out loud in social settings might have very negative consequences.  Fortunately, thinking it in your head and feeling the sentiment in your bones and in your loins is protection enough.

Tip:  I usually pump both middle fingers in the air when employing this CBT anti-negative thoughts intervention (Fuck that shit) - it seems to intensify the effect. 

Ojo (Watch Out)

Past behavior predicts future behavior.
Know your history and learn their history of behavior - unless you want more of the insane same. 

Choose wisely - let the good parent in you love, protect and choose well for the happy but sometimes vulnerable child in you. 

Transformation is possible but please remember that most people don't wanna change.  See them for who they really are and then decide - can I live with that?  can I build a relationship with that?

The best protection and magnetizer of good stuff (in relationships, interactions and experiences) is to take very good care of yourself. 

Positive vibes and energies beget positive vibes and energies so fill yourself up with the good stuff - whatever that means for you. 

Right now, for me, this means:
  • Dark chocolate
  • Dancing in my underwear
  • A massage followed by hanging out in the sauna and then a steak dinner (sola or with a friend)
  • Regularly sweating it out at the gym followed by a hot bath with Epsom salt
  • Energy healers
  • Burning sage and prayer
  • Meditation & visualization
  • Reading (self-help, fiction, journal articles, the Bible, magazines and so on)
  • Painting
  • Journaling
  • Having fun with my daughter (Italian dinner, movies, reading at the bookstore with a chai latte)
  • Lots of really good friends, mentors and family fun time
Hope and believe.  Our beliefs are more powerful than facts or whatever others claim to be true.  Beliefs are stronger than medicine.  So what do you wanna believe?

Monday, June 3, 2013

Making Progress on Dissertation Proposal

As my fourth year of the doctoral program is coming to an end, I have just confirmed the date (June 25) of my dissertation proposal defense meeting.   My committee members include:  Todd Franke, Stuart Kirk, Sheryl Kataoka, and Lene Levy-Storms.


Please feel free to send positive vibes that morning.

The dissertation proposal consists of four of the six dissertation chapters:
  1. Introduction/Statement of the Problem
  2. Literature Review
  3. Theoretical Framework, Conceptual Model and Research Questions/Hypotheses
  4. Methods and Timeline
My committee will give helpful suggestions and decide if I am ready to proceed with my study - examining the presumed moderating role of family communication on the relationship between exposure to stressful/traumatic life events and post-traumatic resilience vs. PTSD development among low-income urban Latino youth in Los Angeles schools.

If approved, I will be officially ABD (All But Dissertation).

I have also submitted a paper to the journal, Children & Schools.  It is under review.

I will be working on two more papers in the next six months while the data for my study is being collected.

This has been so much harder than I ever anticipated.  My entire life has changed.  I am still grateful that I get to be doing this.  I have found my purpose in life.  This is what I came here to do.  

Five years ago I imagined myself with a stack of research articles - reading and writing with a smile on my face.  You can't see me but this vision has been realized.

I have been documenting the steps of the process with notes from my readings and reflections in the off chance that someone might have a similar dream and want to see what it's like.  It's an effort to break open the black box of doctoral education.  If there is an inkling, a spark inside that is telling you to move in this direction - I encourage you to take the next baby step.  The last five years have been a tying together of baby steps.  I can't believe I am here.  It is possible.  

Thank you, Yesus. Amen.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Just as we are

We all wanna be accepted just as we are.

We all wanna be loved. Just as we are.

Some of us were loved and accepted at birth.

Some of us got the message that the only way to get love and attention was to bend, reshape, modify and comply - that we had to do things for someone else (a parent) in order to get the love & attention we needed to survive (literally). 

At a teeny tiny age, we learned to sacrifice our selves, needs, wants, emotions, perceptions (like a lamb to the slaughter) for the good of others and in order to survive.

We learned to read the energy in the room - in order to stay safe or to get love & attention.  This is work
Some of us got attended to instead.  That is, a caregiver sought to read us - to attune to and respond to our needs. 

One experience builds our skills to know others.  The other experience builds our skills to know ourselves.  Interpersonal relationships require both sets of skills.

Sometimes we over-focus on our own needs - we become selfish and insensitive to others.
Sometimes we over-focus on the needs of others - we become co-dependent - and lose or neglect ourselves.

In any relationship - work, friendly, or romantic - it makes sense to take things a bit slowly. 

First, know who you are and where you come from.  Be solid and flexible.  See yourself with eyes wide open and full of love.  No thought, feeling or behavior is too shameful to know or accept.  Shame gets in the way and is opposite to self-love. 

Then, and only then, can you really see another person.  It takes time to discover who they are, especially in relation to who you are.  We exist in interaction.  I am more open and honest when I feel that I am talking to someone that is open and honest as well.  I tend to restrict my range of emotions and expression if I sense the other person is restricted.  When I try to be more open and honest than the person in front of me - hijinx ensues.  I sniff out the loving, open and honest ones and then nurture those relationships because they are rare and golden.  I treasure people like this because I feel at home and completely myself.

I love, forgive and accept myself.  This has had to be learned.  Always learning.

Now I can see others as they are - good, bad and horribly beautiful.

Now I can truly choose - who gets trusted, who gains entry into my holy of holies, who I enter into relationship with on a personal or professional level.  Water seeks its own level.

Take your time, slow your roll.  Observe and record.  Discover.  Conocelos.  Then you can decide who you wanna accept into your life and love - just as they are.  Because you can't change them.  And they don't wanna be changed. 

We all wanna be accepted just as we are.

We all wanna be loved.  Just as we are.

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...