Author Archives: Whole Person

Holiday Stress Habits

‘Tis the Season to be Jolly!

Christmas, St. Lucia Day, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, St. Nicholas Eve, New Year’s Eve, December Solstice, Boxing Day, St.Stephens Day, St. Ambrose Day,  and   we can’t forget December 15th – National Cupcake Day!

So, this is a time of joy, family, and good will to all…right? For lots of folks, it is. Many of us, however, find this season stressful. We expect good tidings of great joy, but end up feeling stretched to the max and unfulfilled. The holiday we remember from our childhood just isn’t there.

  • Are you struggling to complete shoulds?
  • Do you feel guilty because others are loving the holidays and you aren’t?
  • Are you overindulging, overscheduling, overspending, and still feeling unsatisfied?
  • Do you feel emptier at the end of the holidays than you did at the beginning?
Holiday Stress Habits

Holiday Stress Habits

If you answered yes to these, you are probably trapped in some negative holiday stress habits. Now some stress is good for you and pleasurable. It can fire you up; give you energy, supply zest and excitement. Too much stress, however, can wear you down, sapping your energy.

What about last year? Make a list of the positive things you enjoyed such as caroling, midnight church services, Chanukah get-togethers, and reunions with friends and family you rarely see.

Now make a list of the other side of the coin. What wore you out? Was it last-minute gift shopping, lack of sleep, planning an open house for 50 and having 75 folks arrive, dealing with Great-Aunt Grizzelda?

To some extent, the same events can provide both good and bad stress. Your open house was a raging success, but you were really worried about running out of food. You loved seeing the rest of your family, but if you had to hear Great-Auntie say one more time, “Well, in my day it was better,” you might actually do her harm.

Popular wisdom says that negative stress is simply the way we are reacting to circumstances. You might freak out with 25 extra people while others find it stimulating. You might love baking 30 kinds of cookies for the party while your sister buys them at the bakery. Take a quick look at a couple of stressors lots of folks find difficult and make a plan to avoid having to hide in the attic with the cocktail shaker.

Holiday Traps

The Santa Claus Trap, often known as the “I’ve got too many people to buy gifts for and not enough time or money to do it.”

Make a list of the folks with whom you truly want to exchange gifts. Be honest with yourself. To pick on Auntie Grizzelda again, if you are stressing out buying her old-lady notepaper just to have her disparage your choice; take her off the list. Contact your friends and see if they are enjoying gift giving with your group or dreading the cost and effort. You might decide to give each other time and get together after the holidays for a celebration of absolutely nothing.

Once you’ve made an accurate list of those you really want to gift with something special develop a budget and stick to it. Many are great at the budgeting part… sticking to it is another story. Promise yourself you will be tough and won’t overspend. Plan a post-holiday reward for yourself when you succeed.

Budget and list in hand either hit the local stores or the internet. Today with free shipping readily available it is tempting to stay home and click away your shopping duties. Remember the sights and sounds of your community at the holidays. It might be worth scheduling a day to enjoy the bustle, street singing, and bell-ringing and to pick up some unique gifts at the same time.

The Activity Trap. We aren’t always good at checking our calendars before we say no and find ourselves due at a party, a dance recital, a kid’s sports event, and a date with our spouse all at the same time. On the other hand, some folks find themselves with little to do and miss the interaction with others. Again, make a list of what you need to do and what you really want to be part of. Don’t say yes without time for thought. Do you really want to go to your kid’s coach’s wife’s tea? Are you looking forward to the all high school Holiday Concert where you will sit in the same auditorium seat for four hours?

If you are over scheduled get out a pencil and delete those things that you don’t want to do. If you don’t have enough contact with others, call the Salvation Army, your local soup kitchen, the local volunteer coordinator, your mosque, church, or synagogue, or check in with your neighbor who lost her husband this year and schedule some time helping others. Nothing feels better!

The Tradition Trap. Okay, I admit it, this is my personal stressor. I want to do everything that I’ve been part of all my life, and I’m a grandmother! I want to provide the kind of environment my stay-at-home mom did. I want to have all the same decorations I had growing up. I want my kids and their kids to show up when I want them, not when it works for them because, “We always went to church together. It won’t be Christmas without everyone being there.”

Choose the traditions that really mean something to you. Accept the fact that you work full time and can’t bake sixty different kinds of cookies, have three open houses, decorate the synagogue, decorate your home, and still be alive when it is over. Traditions are great as long as they contribute to the enjoyment of the season. If they don’t, be brutal; toss them out. Find new and interesting ways of celebrating. Enjoy the process of learning something new.

Kind of in the same vein, we often fall into The Life Script Trap. When the holidays roll around we fall into feelings and roles remembered from the past.

No matter how old we are, the holidays give us permission to be childlike. Festivities become magic and full of meaning as we bring the past up to the present, still enjoying the familiar sights and sounds of the past. Celebrate your heritage, but look out for the pitfalls that have caused problems in the past. Cherish those events you hold dear. Stay away from those that cause you pain.

The Magic Trap: expecting the perfect holidays. We expect to feel just as we did in the third grade when we got new skates, or on that first holiday with our first child. If we don’t feel the way we remember feeling we are disappointed. What are we missing that the feeling isn’t there? Try to limit your expectations of others. We can only control ourselves. Think about the things that enrich the holidays for you now, and experience them to the fullest.

As Nancy Loving Tubesing andDonald A Tubesing who wrote Kicking Your Holiday Stress Habits said,

Your holiday preparation agenda resembles the space shuttle prelaunch checklist. Holiday trap or holiday treasure? It’s up to you!

You could put on your martyr’s cloak and try to fulfill your grandiose expectations in suffering silence. You could work your fingers to the bone cleaning and sewing and cooking and wrapping and writing and orchestrating and pleasing others.

OR you could take this opportunity to relinquish your stranglehold on the holidays, inviting others to share in the burden (and benefit) of getting ready.

OR you could assemble the clan for some values clarification, polling family members about what they really treasure about the holidays, and then making a plan that includes everyone.

OR you could decide that this is theyear for some kind of alternative celebration.

Tubesing and Tubesing

What moves you to choose a holiday treasure instead of a holiday trap? Often it is your belief system – your views about yourself, the world, and what makes life worthwhile that is guiding your choice.  If one of your values is the value of work above all else, no wonder you are running yourself ragged. If you really want to kick your holiday stress habits you will have to decide what is really important to you. Once you’ve figured that out, the rest is pretty easy.

Ask yourself three questions:

  • What’s of major importance to me?
  • How do I hope to accomplish it?
  • If that doesn’t work, how else could I meet the need – or what would be a satisfactory substitute?

Take the time to make a list of what you need to make your holiday season meaningful. Be specific… just listing holiday joy doesn’t count. What do you need to feel that joy? Then look at what values those things encompass. You will recognize what will fill your holidays with what you need. (Not what Auntie Grizzelda needs! What you need.) Ask for what you need. Don’t expect your family and friends to intuit it. Tell them. If the answer is no, give yourself permission to find an acceptable substitute.

  • Refuse to suffer. Do the “have tos” quickly and efficiently and get them out of the way.
  • Keep the things you enjoy for yourself. If you love wrapping gifts, don’t farm that out to Cousin Bill.
  • If you hate the whole Christmas Card thing don’t do it. Surprise folks you care about with a phone call. Not just an email or a text, but a chance to hear the joy in your voice when you reach them.
  • Make positive contact with folks you didn’t know. At a party seek out those you haven’t met. At the church social find someone sitting alone and get to know them. Just chat with the clerk at the store in a pleasant and friendly way. You’ll make their day.
  • If your list of friends and family is disturbingly short, look for others in the same boat. Reach out to the crisis shelter, local hospitals, a halfway house, homes for the elderly, etc.
  • Make your gifts meaningful. Rather than just tickets to an event plan to go along and share the experience together.
  • Write something special for those you love. Tell them how much they mean to you.
  • Give to some of the charities that are trying to make others’ lives better.
  • Don’t forget to give yourself something.

One thing especially important: Take time to laugh. Laugh at yourself, at silly things you see and hear, look for the humor in holiday dilemmas. Put the wrong color in the cookie dough? Make purple trees. Enjoy telling the story about how you did it to everyone eating them.

When all is said and done, pay attention to your spirit. Take the time to reflect. Listen to your core. Think about what you believe. What’s really important to you?  Where did those values come from?

Light a candle every evening. Focus on the flickering flame and allow your thoughts and prayers to rise shimmering upwards into the silence.

Tubesing and Tubesing

Focus on the flame and allow your thoughts and prayers for others to rise up into the silence. Sit in a chair for a few moments while your family and friends are busy around you. Cherish the sounds and smells and essence of your holiday.

Make a plan. Reflect on the Tubesing’s suggestions. Choose the things that resonate with you and yours.

Happy Holidays!

Excerpted from Kicking your Holiday Stress Habits by Nancy Loving Tubesing, EdD, and Donald A. Tubesing, MDiv, PhD.

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults: A Blog Series, Part III

Compassion for self and others is essential for building intimacy and community.

Self-compassion and compassion toward others are important social skills. They are the building blocks to forming your own community. Remember that fMRI imaging confirms that compassion-based contemplative exercises make visible changes in the structure of the brain. Self-compassion, as opposed to the ever-popular self-loathing, judging, and comparing are what help us make true, lasting connections to friends and romantic partners.

  • In what areas in your life where you are too self-critical or critical of others?
  • What would happen if you softened just a bit, toward yourself or toward others?

There are many road blocks that can come between you and the compassion for yourself and others that is necessary to create and sustain meaningful relationships.

  • Self-consciousness
  • A friend gap
  • Lacking a sense of place
  • Not knowing how and why to ask for help
  • Not understanding mindful communication
  • A lack of self-compassion
  • Understanding the difference between intensity and intimacy

Learning how to do the following will help you weather the difficult times we all experience:

  • Heal a broken heart
  • Calm social anxiety
  • Stop comparing and begin connecting
  • Tame fear of missing out (FOMO)

More information on learning the skills listed above is available from Mindfulness for Emerging Adults by Donna Torney, MA, LMHC, RYT.

Emerging Adults Self Conscious Compassion

Taming Self-consciousness

We’ve all felt it. You’re standing at a party or sitting in a meeting at work, and you just feel like an outsider. You might be thinking: They must have made a mistake when they invited me/hired me/ accepted me. These thoughts and feelings are so distracting that your fight or flight response revs up and you start to have trouble contributing to the conversation. The worst part about this anxious chain reaction is that you feel isolated even though you are in a room full of people.

What can help?

Memorize the four tools listed below before your next social gathering. They will help you tame self-consciousness and encourage genuine, safe, human connection. Just as if you were preparing for an important presentation, practice these tools with a video camera, voice recorder, or trusted friend or mentor.

Normalize. When the demons of self-consciousness take over, we tend to have thoughts like: What is wrong with me? Why can’t I just relax? Although everybody’s nervous system is wired differently, all humans are social animals, and social connection is vital for our well-being. Did you know that the area of the brain that registers social rejection is very near the area of the brain that registers physical pain? Ouch! That is why social rejection can feel so threatening. We learn to protect ourselves from any pain, even imagined pain. If you are somebody who has experienced social rejection in the past, as we all have, you might be on guard for the next attack at a party or at work. One of the best ways to tame this misfiring of the nervous system is to bring awareness to the chain-reaction, and correcting the internal dialogue. You might try repeating a phrase like, “Just like me, everyone here wants to be accepted. Just like me, they might feel a little nervous.” This kind of normalizing self-talk helps heal and re-wire the brain.

Picture the face of a trusted being. When you find yourself in a stressful social situation, take a few deep breaths, and picture the face of someone you feel entirely comfortable with, someone with whom you can be your true self. This might be an old, dear friend, a family member, or a pet. For some of us this may be the face of a spiritual mentor. Get into the habit of picturing your trusted being before your social event.

• Get curious. Trust in the odds that others around you are feeling like outsiders as well. Try switching your focus toward someone else. Is there someone around you who might benefit by being drawn out? Get curious about someone near you. Ask a question about their day. What are they planning to do to relax this weekend? If this person seems nervous, take a deep breath and drop your shoulders, which will encourage them to do the same. Take the focus off of your own stress, and offer someone else the gift of your kind attention.

Balance your external desire to impress with your internal intention to connect. A young lady I work with is a flutist. She, like most musicians, sometimes struggles with performance anxiety. After a particularly miserable performance where she was plagued with self-consciousness, she came close to giving up performing all together. She was scheduled to perform the following week, and to her surprise, this performance went much better and she was able to enjoy the process. When I asked what had changed, she said, “Well, I decided that I prepared the best I could with the time I had. Even so, I can’t control others’ reactions, so I decided to focus on what I want to express, which is my love of music.” Her internal value of sharing her love of music outshone her external desire to impress. What values do you want to carry in your pocket in social situations?

Normalizing feelings, picturing the face of a friend, getting curious, and being clear about what you want to express versus how you want to impress: Practicing these four tools will help you feel less self-conscious and more connected.

My heart is broken and I’ll never be okay again!

Young woman heartbroken compassion

You are not alone! If you have recently experienced the loss of a love, mindfulness can help you through the healing process. Here are just a few suggestions to help you on your road to feeling whole again. These techniques will help you get back out there in the world where you can exercise your self-compassion and compassion for others and use your experience to further build your community.

• The pain of a broken heart may come in waves –You may feel intense feelings of grief over the next few days and weeks. Know that these feelings are a normal part of the healing process. Think of them as a bitter medicine that you must take in small doses to feel better. Watch as the waves of sadness, shock, anger, shame, and feelings of rejection rise, have a peak, and then disappear. Trust in the fact that this is a form of healing,and these emotions have a beginning, middle, and end. Notice the peace and stillness that comes after they pass. Practicing a series of long slow inhales,followed by slightly longer exhales will help calm your nervous system as you work through these waves.

• Treat yourself like you have the flu – There’s a physiological reason you may feel like you were punched in the gut. Did you know that the area in the brain that is active when we are experiencing physical pain overlaps with the area that is active when we experience social rejection? Attend to the physical manifestations of a broken heart by taking long walks, or start a totally new exercise routine. It is important to balance your waves of pain with some healthy distractions like exercise, moderate amounts of sleep, and a healthy diet. Take some time to outline a new but gentle physical routine for the first few weeks of healing.

• Don’t isolate yourself – The temptation to hide in your room might be strong, especially if you and your ex-beloved shared the same group of friends. Make attempts at connecting with new people. If you are in school,consider joining a new club. Explore community projects that might need your help. Helping others who are in need will restore your sense of self-worth. Building compassion for yourself as well as others is at the heart of mindfulness and healing. Think of three ways you can connect with others to avoid isolation. Write them in your centering journal.

• Don’t self-medicate – Healing requires taking scheduled breaks in the day to monitor your breathing and your thoughts and these breaks will prevent your break-up from becoming a full-blown downward spiral. By coming back to the breath and the body in an intentional way several times throughout the day, you can be curious about any destructive cravings you may have, instead of giving into them. What go-to unhealthy behaviors do you want to try to avoid while you heal? Write about them in your journal. Celebrate your successes.

• Limit your social media use – If you see pictures of the one you long to see every time you go on social media, this will prolong your pain. Consider limiting your social media use. Use a phone, email, or voicemail to make plans with friends. Journal about what would help you avoid social media during this time.

• What was missing? – As you start to heal from your break-up you may start to see that you were not getting all your needs met in the relationship. Now is a good time to take a look at your values and deeply held desires. What is it that you hold most important in your life? What steps can you take to incorporate your values in your life in an intentional way? Set a timer for five minutes. Focus only on your breath, then grab your centering journal and free-write about where you want to be in one year.

• You are not alone! – One of the great outcomes of mindfulness is growth in the understanding that we are all connected – that we are not so different from everyone else. Heartache is part of the human condition and none of us is immune to this fact. Mindfulness reminds us that this condition is temporary. Stay connected with family, good friends, or mentors who can help you heal your heart and reconnect with your true self. What aspects of your true self were put on the back burner during your relationship? What activities do you want to try that reflect your true nature?

• What have you learned from your journey? –Mindfulness helps us learn from our mistakes. Trust in the fact that mindfulness engages the more rational side of the brain, helping you to move forward with clear intention. How will you use mindfulness to heal your heart?(Some examples: Gentle yoga, guided relaxation, bringing your thoughts back to the present.) Another good way to solidify a lesson is to share your hard-won wisdom with a good friend who is experiencing a broken heart. Listening to another’s pain is an act of compassion and will help you to continue to heal.

Excerptedfrom Mindfulness for Emerging Adults byDonna Torney, MA, LMHC, RYT.

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults: A Blog Series, Part II

Mindfulness Sleep Tips

On the Road to Mindfulness: Finding Balance

The information from the series of articles on Mindfulness focuses on learning to be mindful by, in part, regaining balance as we teach emerging adults stress reduction skills, ground participants in their present surroundings, and help them make the important connection between daily routines and health. It is designed to reset an overwhelmed nervous system so emerging adults and others are then free to focus on finding strong social connections, and meaningful, sustainable work. Emerging adults will have an easier time rediscovering motivation and happiness after anxiety, stress, and low energy are addressed, and routines that foster self-confidence are established.

October’s blog focused on food and exercise issues. This month we are looking at the all-important issue of getting a good night’s sleep.

Mindfulness Sleep TipsAn important part of finding balance in our lives is discovering a way to get the sleep we need. Many college students, new mothers and fathers, the elderly, and almost everyone in between seem to be overtired all the time. A few folks will sit in the coffee shop, drink their third double espresso, and brag about how little sleep they need. Surviving on a caffeine buzz and adrenaline from deadlines, they think they are still performing at their optimum level. They are ignoring the fact that all things in the natural world have rhythms and routines. Consider the phases of the moon, the waves of the ocean, the seasons of the year. Humans, too, have rhythms. Unlike the rest of the natural world, we often work against the natural cycle of work and rest by denying our bodies and brains enough sleep every night.

Sleep Tips and Sleep Facts

Read the sleep facts below and choose a couple of sleep tips to try. Remember, change doesn’t happen over-night – pardon the pun – so don’t expect results the next morning. Practice the new behaviors for a month and you will see a positive change in all aspects of your life.

Sleep fact: Memory consolidation – the ability to learn and record new ideas – is greatly enhanced by a good night’s sleep, as is our ability to be creative. This is the science behind the phrase, let me sleep on it. During sleep, neuronal pruning takes place, helping us shed neuro networks that we no longer use, experience mental clarity, and make better decisions.

Sleep tip: The next time you have a big decision to make, write down a summary of the situation. Place the summary away from your sleep area. Ask sleep to help you with the answer. In the morning notice if you slept better and have more clarity. By following this process, chances are good that you will come up with a creative answer to your problem.

Sleep fact: Ghrelin, the hunger hormone, is released when we are sleep deprived. When we deprive our body of sleep, the nervous system receives a stress signal, making us hungrier.

Sleep tip: Going to bed with a stomach that is too full or too empty may disturb your sleep. An hour before bed, have a small, easy to digest snack, like a small bowl of yogurt, whole-wheat toast, or a glass of warm milk.

Sleep fact: Studies show that one night of poor sleep inhibits the immune system by 25 to 30%. Take note of the connection between your seasonal allergies and colds and your good sleep habits.

Sleep tip: Note in your journal how many hours you slept. At the end of the day enter how your seasonal allergies and/or colds felt. Note the correlation between adequate sleep and how your body reacts to outside stimuli such as pollen.

Sleep fact: Experimenting with your ideal sleep schedule is an essential part of getting quality rest.

Sleep tip: Try to go to sleep and wake up as close as possible to the same time each day. If this seems boring or unsustainable, try adjusting your sleep/wake times to something that works for you.

Sleep fact: Shaking off physical and mental stress at the end of each day will lead to better sleep.

Sleep tip: Practice gentle stretching to release the day’s tension before you get into bed. Take note of one or two accomplishments of your day in your centering journal. Resist the natural tendency of noting what’s left on the to-do list.

Sleep fact: Make your room a sleep sanctuary by limiting activity.

Sleep tip: Keep your room cool, dark, and quiet. If noise and light are a problem, try earplugs and an eye mask. Break the habit of falling asleep in front of a screen. The blue light from electronics sends a signal to the brain to stay awake. Instead, get into bed and take some long, slow breaths with extra-long exhales. Relax all the muscles in your body staring at your feet, think about feeling heavy and relaxed. Welcome sleep!

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults Book ReleaseThe sleep tips and sleep facts material above has been excerpted from Mindfulness for Emerging Adults by Donna Torney.

Teenage Anxiety

Teenage Anxiety

Teens experience stress about a great number of situations and circumstances, and anxiety is a normal reaction to stress. For teens, circumstances such as speaking in public, moving to a new neighborhood, dating issues, taking tests, making good grades, and competing in athletic events may all cause stress. For some teens various circumstances or events can cause more than the usual amount of stress. This leads to anxiety. Anxiety has been defined as a state of intense apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting mainly from the anticipation of a threatening event or situation, often to a degree that disrupts normal, everyday physical and psychological functioning. Fear is an emotional response to a real or perceived threat.

Teenage AnxietyAnxiety is anticipation of a future threat. Anxiety is normal in the everyday life of everyone and can actually be a good thing. Anxiety motivates one to accomplish goals and warns a person of a dangerous situation. However, intense anxiety can involve debilitating symptoms and affect performance in school, athletics, and interpersonal interactions. Some teens persistently experience excessive amounts of worry and fear about everyday situations and this may lead to depression. Persistent anxiety and fear can interfere with daily activities. Often, these symptoms are difficult to control.

Anxiety affects one’s general well-being and manifests itself physiologically, behaviorally, and psychologically. The following are some of the affects of teenage anxiety:

  • Apprehension
  • Chills
  • Cold or sweaty hands and/or feet
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Emotional tension
  • Fear of anticipation of the worst outcome
  • Feeling as if one’s mind has gone blank
  • Feelings of powerlessness
  • Feelings of extreme fear
  • Heart palpitations
  • Inability to act
  • Inability to express oneself
  • Inability to sit or stand still
  • Inability to sleep and/or remain asleep
  • Inexplicable feelings of dread
  • Irritability
  • Jittery feelings
  • Muscle tension
  • Nausea
  • Over-alertness for signs of danger
  • Panic attacks
  • Mind racing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tingling of hands and/or feet

“Normal” Anxiety vs. Intense Anxiety Disturbances

Anxiety manifests itself in the everyday life of most teens in many different ways. Some of the most common types of everyday, “normal” anxiety:

  • Situational Anxiety – Feelings of apprehension and dread related to a specific situation such as taking a class in physics, moving to a new community, or trying out for the soccer team at school.
  • Anticipatory Anxiety – Feelings of apprehension and dread when one confronts something that has been frightening in the past, or that has resulted in a negative experience such as speaking in front of classmates.
  • Anxiety Disturbances – These can be distinguished from the everyday, “normal” anxiety because they are more intense (panic attacks), last longer (often months or years instead of going away after an anxiety-producing situation), and interfere with a person’s ability to function effectively in daily life (i.e., afraid to go to school, fear of getting bullied, etc.). 

Intense AnxietyDifferent types of disturbances related to thinking and behavior are conveyed and expressed in different forms:

  • Panic Disorder: Teens have feelings of extreme terror that strike suddenly and often without any warning. Teens with a panic disorder often experience sweating, chest pain, and/or heart palpitations. They feel as if they are out of control during one of their attacks of fear, and they attempt to avoid places where panic attacks have occurred in the past.
  • Social Anxiety Disorder: Teens have feelings of overwhelming worry and experience extreme self-consciousness in everyday social situations. These worries include fear that others will judge them harshly, they will do something that may be embarrassing, and they fear being ridiculed by other teens. Teens with this disorder often are very anxious around other people and have a difficult time talking to others. They will stay away from places where there are other people and have a hard time making and keeping friends. This can lead to avoidance and selective mutism.
  • Generalized Anxiety Disorder: Teens exhibit excessive, extreme, and/or unrealistic worry and tension, even if there is nothing (or very little) to be worried and/or tense about. Teens with this disorder may be worried about just getting through the day and doing everyday tasks. They often have trouble falling and staying asleep, relaxing, and concentrating in school.
  • Specific Phobias: Teens experience intense, unwarranted fears about an object or a situation. The fear involved in a phobia is usually inappropriate for the phobia-producing object or situation and may cause people to avoid specific everyday activities in order to avoid the object or the situation. Some common phobias include snakes, speaking in public, clowns, fear of situations where escape from bad things is perceived as difficult. Phobias are intense fears resulting from real or imagined exposure to a wide range of situations.
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD): Teens experience anxiety caused by exposure to traumatic events (i.e., child abuse, abandonment, accident, house fire, loss, victim of crime).
  • Anxiety Disorder Due to Another Medical Condition: Teens experience anxiety attacks directly attributed to an existing medical condition (i.e., cancer diagnosis), and it often parallels the course of the illness.
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Teens have repetitive thoughts that will not dissipate (obsessions) and/or engage in ritual behaviors to dispel anxiety (compulsions)

Which Teens are at Risk?

Many risk factors or things that might make teens more vulnerable or sensitive to experiencing anxiety have been identified. Some of these risk factors include genetic factors such as living in a family with a history of mental health issues; personality factors such as high sensitivity or extreme introversion; environmental factors, such as experiencing ongoing stress or a single stressful event that occurs in the teen’s life; and medical factors such as ongoing physical illness.

When to Worry?

Symptoms related to intense anxiety can be very complex and difficult to cope with. The good news is that teens can develop the skills needed to manage the symptoms and progress forward to begin enjoying life more. Undergoing the stress that accompanies many of the mental health issues can be a very frightening way to live.

A teen experiencing anxiety and stress over time is at risk of developing a serious mental or physical illness and needs to seek a medical professional.

Suicide Warning!

People who experience intense anxiety may feel suicidal, harbor suicidal thoughts, and plan to die by suicide. Sometimes they think that the only way to escape the physical, psychological, and emotional pain is suicide. Remember to take any talk about suicide or suicidal acts very seriously.

Signs of Suicidal Thoughts

  • Calling or visiting people to say goodbye
  • Drastic changes: angry person becoming super happy, style of clothes, shaving head
  • Dropping out of school
  • Engaging in reckless actions
  • Expressing feeling of being trapped with no way out
  • Expressing severe hopelessness about the future
  • Giving away possessions
  • Increasing use of harmful substances
  • Making a plan for dying by suicide
  • Purchasing a weapon
  • Talking about harming oneself or another person
  • Withdrawing from family, friends, and activities of interest in the past

Managing Anxiety Workbook for Teens - Teenage AnxietySerious Mental Illness

If participants have a serious mental illness, they need to be taken seriously and facilitators can take an active role in their finding help immediately. All disturbances related to intense anxiety need to be thoroughly evaluated by a medical professional and then treated with an appropriate combination of medication and group and/or individual therapy.

The material above was excerpted from Managing Anxiety for Teens by Ester R A Leutenberg and John J Liptak, EdD.

The Breakup Experience

The Breakup Experience

A committed relationship in this article is defined as one based on mutually agreed-upon parameters that might involve exclusivity, honesty, openness, loyalty, trust and other implicit and explicit characteristics. Forms of committed relationships can be varied and might be short or long-term. These commitments may be reflected in domestic partnerships, religious and civil unions, single-sex and heterosexual couples living together, commuter (or long distance) marriages, and other arrangements.

breakup-divorce-separation-relationship-coupleCouples become separate entities when they break up and must chart their individual ways. Loss of a relationship can mean the end of dreams, routines, stability, emotional and financial security, companionship, and family as it existed before the breakup. The resulting trauma is one that impacts on the partners, of course. To varying degrees, children, extended family, friends and colleagues suffer from and grieve the loss as well.

In addition to grieving the loss, those in the midst of ending a committed relationship face a great many practical challenges:

  • Children
  • Parenting
  • Housing
  • Finances
  • Legalities
  • Division of property
  • Establishing an independent life

The legal break up of couples through divorce adds significantly to the complexity of working through the emotional and practical issues inherent in the process. Divorce involves legal considerations, binding agreements, and an economic reality that can alter the expectations and security of all family members.

Ending a committed relationship is an extended process with different phases. Educating your clients about this progression is an important part of working through the confusing, challenges and difficult experiences of breaking up. The following are phases your clients might encounter:

  • Significant relationship distress over time
  • Increased distance from each other
  • Confrontation(s) with partner and family
  • Permanent or temporary separation
  • Temporary reconciliation
  • Decision to end the relationship permanently
  • Selection of legal representation in the case of a divorce
  • Negotiations for the financial break up
  • Creation of a co-parenting plan
  • Day by day co-parenting
  • Creating a new, single life

Divorce is a legal dissolution of a marriage by a court or other competent body. Many of the same concerns involved in divorce can apply to domestic partners and others in a committed relationship even though resolving legal issues associated with marriage may not be necessary. Laws governing divorce differ from state to state, and from country to country. Facilitators need to be particularly sensitive to the cultural differences that may have a significant impact on the way in which individuals, families and communities think about and handle divorce.

The following will help your clients work through these tough issues.

Discuss these aspects about your client’s present situation:

Trust – How safe do you feel emotionally? How safe do you feel physically?
Safety – How safe do you feel sexually?
Love – Is your love romantic, platonic, intermittent, evaporating, or other?
Cooperation – How do you help each other with day-to-day responsibilities?
Respect – What level of respect does your partner have for you? What level of respect do you have for your partner?
Physical intimacy – How are you and your partner “in sync” about intimacy and sex? How are you and your partner not “in sync” about intimacy and sex? How would you describe your sex life?
Communication – Do you talk to each other about finances?  Are you only sharing information or are you able to discuss feelings, worries and excitement?
Values – How much do you agree on ethical and moral issues? How does that influence your relationship?
Religion and spirituality – Describe how you share a religious and/or spiritual belief system. If you do not, describe how that works in your relationship.
Raising children – If you have children, describe how you have or have not been able to find common ground regarding discipline, guidance, medical decisions, educational plans and goals.
Family-of-origin relationships – Do you believe you and/or your partner are more loyal to your own families-of-origin than to each other?
In-Law relationships – How have you or have you not worked out relationships that avoid high levels of conflict with each other’s families? Do you have close relationships with your in-laws? Is that likely to continue if your relationship breaks up? Why or why not?
Finances – Are you both contributing to the family economy, either by working outside the home or inside? How does that work for you? How do you agree or disagree on methods of spending money? How do you agree or disagree on a budget or saving money?
Arguing – Do you and your partner stick to the issue at hand when you argue? Do you or your partner bring up wrong-doings of the past when arguing? Does your fighting ever become physical? When you are arguing with your partner, how safe does everyone in your family feel?
Future – How do you believe your life (and that of your children, if applicable) would be better without this committed relationship? How do you believe your life (and that of your children, if applicable) would be worse without this committed relationship? Explain.

Discuss which answers were surprises. What is the take-away for your client?

Breaking Up Is Hard To DoEnding a committed relationship is very difficult, full of twists and turns and unexpected potholes. As you help your participant on their personal journey the following worksheets (from the workbook, Breaking Up Is Hard To Do) will help them clarify their position. The worksheet versions of To Stay or Go, Being Left, The Quality of Current Relationship, and Goals are available to download here.

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults: A Blog Series, Part I

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults in the Digital Age

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults Book ReleaseMindfulness has been a hot trend this year. We hear all kinds of inspiring stories about how folks have used this ancient tool to become a better employee, student, partner, and person. Since the scientific community has become interested in mindfulness and other age-old contemplative arts, studies have proven the value of the ability to be fully present in what you do.

Mindfulness has been described as, “A state of mind in which people can observe mental activity without attaching to it or evaluating it.” (Leutenberg, Liptak, 2013) Using mindfulness, people can forge a path to find authentic identity and healthy personal and community connections, creating a good life in the digital age.

Emerging adults who are today defined loosely as those between 18 and 33 years-of-age, have always had rites of passage as they move from youth to a fully functioning adult. In today’s world of constant change and pressure to succeed, these milestones have changed drastically, even since our grandparents time. Although we can now communicate with the world at the drop of a cell phone, more and more people are finding themselves disconnected and lonely.

As they learn about mindfulness and how to incorporate it into their lives, both young adults and their mentors will become more grounded in the present moment and experience more ease, contentment, and life satisfaction – a state that positive psychologists refer to as well-being. From this place of growing comfort and ease, young adults will become more discerning and forward thinking, ready to take on the challenges of emerging adulthood with youthful common sense.

We at Whole Person Associates will present a series of articles which will include materials to clarify the problems facing emerging adults and a path to overcome these issues. We hope you find them useful and encourage your comments.

Mindfulness 1

Why do we need Mindfulness for Emerging Adults in the digital age?

Just as it is a toddler’s developmental task to master walking and talking, it is the developmental task of emerging adults (young adults roughly 18 to 33 years old) to build independence and intimacy. However, if we want these emerging adults to truly thrive in our society, we need to go beyond the developmental basics. We know toddlers need to feel loved and safe for optimum development to occur, but we sometimes forget that emerging adults need to be resilient, compassionate, optimistic, and connected to community to reach their full potential.

There are many advances in neuroscience that encourage seeing mindfulness and other contemplative practices as indispensable life skills. These ancient and now rigorously researched practices are more important than ever in our age of accelerated change, media overload, and chronic busyness. Because of the large interest in mindfulness by the scientific community, we now have evidence that these practices create positive change in the mind and body. By exploring and adopting mindfulness and other contemplative practices, emerging adults can forge a path to find authentic identity and healthy personal and community connections, creating a good life in the digital age.

Universally and eternally emerging adulthood is a transition time full of excitement and potential as well as risks and challenges. Facing our fears during times of transition is brave work. It may seem counterintuitive, but staying open-hearted and open-minded during the rollercoaster ride to adulthood gives us an opportunity to employ values-based decision making that will lead to balance, connection, and contentment.

In a series of eight articles we will explore four important categories: Balance, belonging, focus, and meaning. Each category will enable readers to build a personalized toolbox of skills. These skills will empower emerging adults to take control of stress and navigate difficult emotions. Both young adults and their mentors will become more grounded in the present moment and experience more ease, contentment, and life satisfaction – a state that positive psychologists refer to as well-being. From this place of growing comfort and ease, young adults will become more discerning and forward thinking, ready to take on the challenges of emerging adulthood with youthful common sense.



The Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation and Conscious Breathing.

No matter what our personal stress style, all human bodies respond physically to stress in the same way. Fortunately we have some simple and free tools at our disposal to help us counter the stress response. These tools can be practiced anywhere! Deep breathing allows us to access the underutilized rest and digest response. This response causes blood pressure to decrease and slows the heart rate. Gastric juices are released so that the body can digest and absorb the maximum amount of nutrition available in food.

The opposite of the rest and digest response is the over-utilized fight or flight response. In fight or flight mode, the heart rate increases, pupils dilate, and blood flow is rushed to the limbs to help us escape danger. This response happens whether the stressful situation is at work or at home; whether it is real or imagined.

The fight or flight response helps us remove ourselves from dangerous situations. Problems occur when these stress reactions happen too frequently and/or too close together. Then occasional stress becomes chronic stress. The body is then bombarded with stress hormones such as cortisol, and we run the risk of developing conditions such as sleep disorders, depression, heart disease, and chronic fatigue, among others. Stress can make us more vulnerable to illness and can prematurely age us. How we respond to chronic stress – going for a walk as opposed to smoking, for instance – will ultimately slow down or speed up these unwanted processes.

The exercises that follow will help with food issues and exercise issues.

Click here to download free exercises.

The material above has been excerpted from Mindfulness for Emerging Adults by Donna Torney.

Effects of Loneliness

Exploring the Forms and Effects of Loneliness

In November of 1960 Elvis Presley sang Roy Turk’s lyrics to teenagers through their transistor radios:

Are you lonesome tonight
Do you miss me tonight?
Are you sorry we drifted apart?

-Roy Turk – 1926

The theme was so popular the song was released by popular singers and bands more than seven times…each time becoming a hit.

What is Loneliness?

Human beings are social by nature and need human interaction and connectedness. When people experience adequate levels of human interaction and connectedness, they feel a sense of satisfaction. On the other hand, when people are experiencing inadequate levels of interaction and connectedness, they feel lonely – something’s missing.

Therefore, loneliness is a noticeable difference between people’s desired level of social interaction and the actual level of social interaction. Loneliness is a sense of connection to others who help to satisfy one’s needs. It is the feeling of no one to talk, relate, or share with – even though people are all around. Being with loved ones does not guarantee absence of loneliness.

Loneliness is not synonymous with being alone. People who are alone are by themselves and not with other people. Some people view aloneness as a positive and others see it as negative.

In our society filled with people who communicate primarily with a wide variety of technology, face-to-face social interaction has become less common, feelings of connectedness are rare, and people are lonelier than ever before. Technology can provide a false sense of being connected twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. This feeling of virtual connection, however, may be deceiving, and people benefit with social face-to-face connections with other people.

People experience loneliness for many different reasons. Most of these reasons are related to feeling a lack of social support and fall into five basic categories:

  1. Life Changes – Loneliness often occurs in the midst of major life changes such as loss of loved ones, moving to a new city, or not being able to work because of an illness or disability. These types of major life changes often discourage people to meet others.
  2. Getting Older – As people age, they experience the death of friends and family and often feel as if they have fewer people who share their life experiences.
  3. Inadequate Social Skills – When people are unable to communicate with others because they have weak social skills, they are at risk for loneliness. A lack of adequate social skills can make it difficult for people to develop and maintain relationships with others.
  4. Personality Characteristics – People often are shy or lack the power of self-esteem to make friends easily, and therefore receive fewer responses to their overtures and less support from other people.
  5. Situational – People often experience loneliness when they are surrounded by people who have different ideas, values and interests. Therefore, when people do not have friends, family members, and acquaintances with whom to share experiences, they perceive themselves to be different, and feel lonely.

Almost everyone will experience loneliness from time to time. Different forms of loneliness exist.

Situational Loneliness –people feel lonely due to a situation or experience. This is a temporary situation.  An example would be moving to a new city where a person does not have any friends and has not made any acquaintances. Even though this situation brings on feelings of loneliness, these feelings will naturally disappear once the person has made new friends. This state of loneliness is usually a transient form of loneliness that changes as the situation or circumstances change.

Chronic Loneliness – This is a form of loneliness that persists over time, regardless of the situation or circumstances. This chronic form of loneliness usually results from having a weak or non-existent support system, a lack of social skills, shyness, and/or low self-confidence. An example would be a person who lacks the self-confidence to initiate conversations when meeting new people, or a person who fears being alone. This type of loneliness often requires the person to take action and build a new set of social skills. A specific type of this loneliness involves people with mental health issues. Even if they have a great support system and are surrounded by those who care, their issues cause them to feel alienated and lonely. They need to see a medical professional if it continues.

As loneliness becomes a bigger problem for people on all levels of society, it is important to distinguish the specific symptoms of loneliness. Because loneliness is an extreme emotional state in which people experience powerful feelings of isolation from others, it is accompanied by a variety of thoughts and feelings. People who are lonely will exhibit many of the following symptoms:

• Crying a lot of the time

• Feeling “hollow” inside

• Feeling alienated from other people

• Feeling as if you are alone, even though you

are surrounded with others

• Feeling as if you are not accepted

• Feeling as if you are not as worthwhile

• Feeling as if you are not loved

• Feeling as if you cannot make friends or build

stronger relationships with acquaintances


• Feeling as if you do not have the same

interests and values as those around you

• Feeling as if you have nobody with whom to

share personal concerns and experiences

• Feeling cutoff or disconnected

• Feeling damaged and unloved

• Feeling empty

• Feeling lost with no direction

• Feeling physical pain akin to a “broken heart”

• Feeling sad


Effects of Loneliness

Negative feelings of loneliness can lead to a variety of other health-related concerns and stress-related conditions including heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke. In addition, loneliness is often related to addiction, various forms of anti-social behavior, disrupted sleep Effects of Loneliness - Coping with Lonelinesspatterns and various mental-health conditions. People experiencing long-term (chronic) form of loneliness are more susceptible to experiencing these wider effects of loneliness. If your participants are experiencing any of these effects, suggest they see a medical professional.

This article was excerpted from Coping with Loneliness
By Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak, EdD

Coping with Chaos in the Twenty-First Century

Chaos and Confusion

Coping with Chaos Workbook and Card DeckExcerpted from Coping with Chaos
By Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak, EdD

Definition of chaos: a state of utter confusion – Complete disorder – a jumble.

One thing that all people can count on in the twenty-first century is living with chaos. Chaos refers to a state of confusion in your life, the experience of random or unpredictable occurrences, and/or a lack of order to your daily life, space and belongings. Chaos can be seen in the many changes in the workplace, cell phones ringing and people constantly beset with interruptions, the barrage of new information flooding into your brain, thousands of choices, new and improved product ideas, new technologies that arrive daily, and new family structures. Often a family member volunteers or is forced to take on a new role such as caregiving. These are just a few of the many ways people are experiencing increased chaos in their lives which leaves them feeling irritated, frustrated, exhausted, angry, overwhelmed and/or confused.

Many people are interested in returning to the days when life was simpler, calmer, more controllable and more predictable. People want their lives to be full of events, people, and things they can predict and count on. Instead, they feel like they are losing their sense of purpose, control and predictability, and the result of these feelings is a sense of exasperation and weariness.

Faced with many choices, loads of information at everyone’s fingertips, and complex technological systems, people seek to establish order and control in their chaotic lives. More than ever before, it is important to understand chaos and attempt to find patterns in the chaos.

This can be seen throughout history:

  • Religion – Various religions have tried to make sense of the world by coming to terms with evil and making sense of a world that seems aimless, violent, and full of random acts and events.
  • Science – The history of science is an ongoing attempt to discover patterns in the physical world and to understand incomprehensible and disorderly events. Scientists usually spend their lives searching for laws and patterns that can be repeated and therefore understood.
  • Mythology – Myths have been handed down through the ages to help cultures make sense of the randomness of events. Myths include parables related to birth, death, journeys to distant lands, magical beasts, mythical heroes and heroines, and gods and goddesses.

People often ask, “Why worry about chaos…there’s nothing you can do about it?” The fact is that people can control the chaos in their lives. It can be quite liberating to realize that chaos, although unsettling, need not be as frustrating as people believe. They can learn to define patterns of chaos and redirect their energies and abilities.

A New Way of Looking at Chaos

The Chaos Theory is one of the best theories for dealing with the chaos in the lives of people. This Chaos Theory was developed in the 1970s when James Gleick and Edward Lorenz found that small changes and fateful events set off patterns that could affect everything in their surroundings. They referred to this as the “butterfly effect” when they observed that a butterfly flapping its wings in China could affect weather patterns in Europe.

Therefore, even though chaos finds its way into the lives of every person, it is critical that people find ways to effectively cope with and overcome the chaos. The Chaos Theory suggests that there is no chaos; rather, there is a pattern and underlying order that can be defined by observing it with the right lens.

There are several ways to embrace and manage chaos:

  • Expect it – In the twenty-first century it is almost impossible to avoid chaos in life. People need to be aware that their plans are likely to be interrupted and changed, and that everything cannot be predicted and controlled.
  • Understand it – By seeing chaos for what it is and accepting and controlling it, people can see chaos as freedom from predictable routines and constraints. Eventually, chaos can be seen as a transition point to a more controlled, calm and satisfying life.
  • See it for what it is – Chaos Theory reminds people that even in chaos one can find distinct, critical life patterns. When people are able to identify the patterns in their lives, they can work to control the chaos and live simpler lives.
  • Control It – Chaos Theory suggests that there is always going to be chaos in the lives of most people. The secret is to be alert to the opportunities chaos brings and find ways of doing one’s best to control it so that it does not negatively affect one’s life.

All people at some point will experience chaos that will come from a wide variety of sources and can cause people to feel frustrated, stressed out and weary. Most people see this chaos as a symptom of the twenty-first century and feel that there is nothing they can do about it. In reality, chaos can be seen for what it is. People can do something about it and control it in their own lives.

The following worksheets will help your clients begin the process of controlling the chaos in their lives. Try them first yourself so you can guide participants through the process.

Click here to download these worksheets.

Problem Solving Styles and Skills

Sharpen Your Problem Solving Skills

Practical Life Skills Workbook Problem Solving StylesExcerpted from Teen Practical Life Skills
By Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John L. Liptak, EdD

There are, in general, four problem-solving styles:

  • Social sensitive thinking
  • Logical thinking
  • Intuitive thinking
  • Practical thinking

A social sensitive thinking problem solving style is one in which you want to find the best answer for all people involved (focusing primarily on their emotions and values, and you are most comfortable when they add emotion to the problem situation.) You depend on what has been successful for you in the past, rather than focusing on the facts of this new issue. You try to put yourself in the other person’s place so that you can identify with the person. You will solve problems based on your value system that respects other people in a situation. You are caring and want to support everyone involved in the problem. This indicates a high level of interpersonal skills.

Here are some indicators that you use the social sensitive thinking style:

  • You are considerate to others in the situation.
  • You are guided by your own personal issues.
  • You are compassionate.
  • You assess the impact of the problem on other people.
  • You want everyone to be satisfied in the situation.
  • Others call you caring and/or compassionate.
  • You always try to treat others fairly.
  • You believe that positive interactions are important in solving problems.

A logical thinking problem solving style involves the exploration of the problem and the effects of your environment. Using this style, you identify the problem that has occurred, explore alternatives in solving the problem, and develop a plan for solving the problem based on information. You carefully weigh the costs and benefits of the various ways to solve the problem. You gather and consider additional information about alternatives and the possible consequences of each alternative. The ultimate solution you find to the problem is based on a logical problem-solving approach.

Here are some indicators that you use the logical thinking style:

  • You are analytical.
  • You look for possible solutions to problems.
  • You rely on your good judgment.
  • You are reasonable.
  • You have good common sense.
  • You want everyone to be treated equally.
  • You develop solutions and then choose the best options.
  • You remove yourself emotionally from the situation.

An intuitive thinking problem solving style is one in which you solve problems based on gut-level reactions. You tend to rely on your internal signals. You identify and choose a solution based on what you feel is the best possible solution for everyone involved. You do not spend a lot of time collecting facts and gathering information before you decide on a solution. This style can be useful when factual data is not available. It is important not to substitute intuition for gathering needed information to solve the problem. You often solve problems based on hunches or your sixth-sense about the problem situation.

Here are some indicators that you use the intuitive thinking style:

  • You consider the future.
  • You communicate creatively.
  • You develop imaginative solutions to problems.
  • You reach solutions quickly, based on your hunches.
  • You look for similarities in other problems you have needed to solve.
  • You need the problem to make sense to you.
  • You are able to see new possibilities.
  • You see the big picture.

A practical thinking problem solving style is one in which you take in information that is clear and real. You want to know what is happening in the situation. You notice what is going on around you, especially the practical realities and facts. You may overlook recurring themes, focusing instead on the concrete issues involved in the situation. You rely on and trust your previous experience in dealing with similar problems.

Here are some indicators that you use the practical thinking style:

  • You stick with it until you find a solution to a problem.
  • You focus on what is really happening.
  • You trust your experience from previous problem situations.
  • You trust facts rather than other people.
  • You are perceptive.
  • You are able to remember specific facts about the problem.
  • You understand ideas through practical applications.
  • You carefully work toward conclusions.

The Problem-Solving Process

There is no simple step-by-step process that will guarantee you a solution to every problem you encounter in your life. The problem-solving process is a search for, and implementation of, the best possible solution for a specific problem. As a problem solver, you will develop your own method for solving problems. One of the best ways of doing this is to try to use the most effective aspects of the four different styles. The following is an outline of how to integrate the four styles in the problem-solving process. Before you begin, write down a problem you are currently struggling with.______________________________________________________. Use this issue when working through the following steps:

Step 1 – Define the problem by using practical thinking characteristics to see the problem situation as it really is. You can do so by answering some of the following questions:

  • What or who caused the problem?
  • Where did it happen?
  • What happened?
  • When did it happen?
  • With whom did it happen?
  • Why did it happen?
  • What was your part in the situation?
  • What was resolved?

Step 2 – Consider the possibilities using intuitive thinking characteristics to brainstorm all possible solutions to the problem. You can do so by answering some of the following questions:

  • What other ways did you look at the problem?
  • What did you learn by information you gathered?
  • What were the connections to the bigger picture?
  • How did the other people fit into this picture?
  • What did you think caused the problem?
  • What were some possible ways to approach the problem?

Step 3 – Weigh the consequences of courses of action to resolve the problem using logical thinking characteristics. You can do so by answering some of the following questions:

  • What were the pros of each option?
  • What were the cons of each option?
  • What do you think would have been the outcomes of each option?
  • What was the result for each person involved?

Step 4 – Weigh the alternatives to each course of action using social sensitive thinking characteristics. You can do so by answering some of the following questions:

  • How did each alternative fit with your values?
  • How were the other people involved in the situation affected?
  • How did each alternative help everyone involved?
  • How did each alternative enhance positive interactions?

Step 5 – Decide which aspects of Steps 1 – 4 will be most effective in solving this problem.

Step 6 – Act on your decision.

Step 7 – Evaluate whether the problem was resolved successfully.

Click here for printable versions of the problem solving activities above, more worksheets, and educational handouts.

Girl-Centered Practice: Transforming Community

See the Girl: Transforming Community Through Girl-Centered Practice


This paper is a collaborative effort between three staff members at the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center and a faculty member at the University of North Florida written after discussing our collective desire to share the work the Policy Center is doing to engage communities, organizations, and individuals through quality research, community organizing, advocacy, training, and model programming to advance the rights of girls and young women, especially those in the justice system. Our personal and professional identities are tied to partnership and mutuality with girls and young women. We value their lived experiences, knowledge, culture, ethnicity, and language, which aligns with the tenants of Relational-Cultural theory. With this paper, we hope to highlight the need for comprehensive, girl-centered practice to transform communities, share the girl-centered practice model of the Policy Center, and clarify how the constructs of Relational-Cultural theory are used to “See the Girl”. Inderjit Vicky Basra, LMSW, at Dr. Natalie Arce Indelicato may be contacted at Vanessa Patino Lydia, MPA may be contacted at Dr. Lawanda Ravoira may be contacted at

Over the past two decades, efforts have been made to increase gender-specific services and understand gendered pathways for girls involved in, or at risk for entering into the juvenile justice system; however, there is still significant opportunity for reform. Radical transformation of community and public resources, attitudes, and responses to address the unique psychosocial and educational issues of girls are needed (American Bar Association & National Bar Association, 2001; Bloom & Covington, 2001; Sharp & Simon, 2004; Sherman, 2005). In addition, comprehensive girl-centered practice models grounded in Relational-Cultural theory (RCT) should be adopted. Those place growth fostering relationships and the lived experiences of girls at the center of decision making and advocacy, and offer girls many points of access to needed services along the continuum of involvement with the justice system. In this paper, we discus why comprehensive girl-centered practice models are critical to continued reform, offer an example of a girl-centered practice model grounded in RCT, and illustrate, through sharing several stories, how we are creating growth fostering relationships to transform community as we “See the Girl”.

Click here to download the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center Girl-Centered Principles

Why Comprehensive Girl-Centered Practice Models are Needed

Researchers, practitioners, and policy makers have begun to acknowledge gender bias within the juvenile justice system and have started to examine the unique needs of girls. Resulting gender specific programming and service delivery models have included acknowledging the unique needs of women and girls, their perspectives, development, and the biased attitudes that prevent or discourage young women from recognizing their potential (Belknap et al., 1997).

While these contributions have significantly advanced the dialogue regarding system reforms, they typically have been translated into single policy or intervention programs, which have not addressed the overarching system practices within or across programs at local and state levels (Ravoira & Patino Lydia, 2013). For example, a policy change may focus on a school suspension, a specific charge, or a dependency issue, rather than seeing the interconnectedness among all aspects of girls’ lived experiences. Ravoira and Patino Lydia (2013) note that this “piecemeal response can result in compartmentalizing the lives of girls with little or no interfacing among the systems charged with providing services and interventions” (p. 300). Another consequence of this approach is that it tends to minimize the importance of mutuality, or connectedness, which is at the core of growth in relationships, particularly for girls and women (Miller, 1997). Without continuity and coordination among multiple points of care, relationships are often short-term interactions with providers rather than the deeper, mutually empowering and growth-fostering relationships that girls need to overcome the disconnections they have faced and continue to face as they navigate multiple systems (Covington, 2007). Additionally, it is important to note that most gender responsive treatment programs or policies do not include the girls or families in the development of the programs and policies that are provided for them, which inevitably leaves them feeling more disconnected and increases the risk for revictimization by the system.

Contextual and sociocultural challenges for girls who are involved in the justice system frequently include poverty, addiction, history of family violence, housing instability, sexual and/or physical abuse, caregivers’ physical and mental health problems, caregivers’ incarceration, and educational failures (Acoca & Dedel, 1998; Patino, Ravoira & Wolf, 2006; Watson & Edelman, 2012; Zahn, Hawkins, Chiancone & Whitworth, 2008). These relational disconnections and violations happen early and often for most girls. Kaplan (1986) discussed the consequences of these types of chronic disconnection including feelings of loss, inhibition to take action, internalized anger, and low self-esteem. Miller and Stiver (1997) also named the consequences of chronic disconnection as the central relational paradox. They wrote:

In the face of repeated experiences of disconnection, we believe people yearn even more for relationships to help with the confused mixture of painful feelings. However, they also become so afraid of engaging with others about their experience that they keep important parts of themselves out of the relationship and develop techniques for staying out of connection. (p. 2)

Not being able to represent oneself authentically can lead to psychological distress, inauthentic expressions of self, and lack of connection with others (Miller & Stiver, 1997). This is similar to situations Gilligan (1982) described for adolescent girls who, when they perceive the threat of loss of connection, lose theoretical “voice” by keeping important thoughts and feelings, either verbally or non-verbally, out of relationships in order to save the relationship. Chronic disconnection can lead to decreased energy, disempowerment, confusion, diminished worth, and turning away from relationships (Jordan & Dooley, 2000). Turning away from relationships can result in feelings of isolation, which has been described as the source of most suffering (Jordan & Hartling, 2002). Further, these disconnections occur in the context of individual, family, and sociocultural experiences (Jordan & Hartling, 2002), which calls for comprehensive intervention at all levels, as well as models of care that allow girls and young women to enter at multiple points along a continuum – from prevention to intervention to system advocacy – in order to have support to navigate the various connections and disconnections in their lives.

Relational-Cultural theory gives a theoretical underpinning for why comprehensive, girl-centered models are needed for continued system reform because it argues that systemic change, along with relationally focused individual intervention, is needed to move girls out of condemned isolation to connection and empowerment. Comstock and colleagues (2008) noted:

RCT complements the multicultural/social justice movement by (a) identifying how contextual and sociocultural challenges impede individuals’ ability to create, sustain, and participate in growth-fostering relationships in therapy and life and (b) illuminating the complexities of human development by offering an expansive examination of the development of relational competencies over the life span (p.279).

Although chronic disconnections can lead to psychological distress, researchers have consistently found that connected relationships predict health and well-being (Meyers, 2000; VanderVoort, 1999). People who have supportive, close relationships with friends, family, and support networks are less vulnerable to negative life events and some physical illnesses than those who have few social ties (Meyers, 2000). Relationships provide the opportunity to develop a positive sense of identity through constructive feedback, meaningful connections, and other people with whom one can work through problems (VanderVoort, 1999). Relationships promote positive and creative growth in addition to protecting us from stress (Jordan, 1992). Relational Cultural theorists argue that growth-fostering relationships, characterized by movement toward mutuality, mutual empathy, and mutual empowerment, are essential for lifelong resilience (Jordan & Hartling, 2002). Hartling (2005) defined resilience as relational rather than a unique, internal quality that is the ability to be tough or resistant to difficult challenges. Therefore, from an RCT perspective, resilience can be nurtured through developing and maintaining growth-fostering relationships. This is a critical perspective when engaging and reengaging with girls who are marginalized.

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center Girl-Centered Practice Model

Several years ago, I, Lawanda, was to give testimony before the Florida legislature about urgently needed changes in the justice system. On my way to the session, I stopped at a lock up facility to talk with the girls about what they felt needed to change. We sat on gray metal chairs in a small circle. I shared with the girls why I was there and asked each girl what message they would like me to share with members of the Florida House and Senate who had the power to change how girls are treated in the justice system. Maria, an intelligent, thoughtful girl who had spent most of her adolescence locked up simply said:

Ask the adults to be there for us, to do what our parents couldn’t do, be somebody we didn’t have. Be a friend. We don’t have anyone to really talk to. That’s where you can start to help us. Whether we are good or bad, I have no one. And I really try to be good, but I always mess up. See me for who I am, not who you think I am. See me for who I can become.

“Seeing the Girl” is the mission of the Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center. Utilizing Relational-Cultural theory as a framework, along with decades of knowledge and efforts toward advancing the rights of girls involved in, or at risk for entering into, the juvenile justice system, the Policy Center has created a comprehensive, girl-centered practice model to “See the Girl”. We do this by creating and maintaining mutual, growth-fostering relationships with girls, among staff and trainees, and within the community. The Policy Center is unique. The model is grounded in and driven by the voices and lived experiences of girls. All aspects of the Policy Center’s work, from research, service delivery, and training to advocacy efforts to reform the system, is informed by girls and their families, who are considered partners in the work. This is how the Policy Center operationalizes the concept of mutuality and challenges systems to move toward a “power with” versus a “power over” paradigm with regard to girls in the community. Transforming community requires a mutual understanding among all those who are involved in girls’ lives, including families, schools, mental health and medical providers, and the court system.

History and Approach of the Policy Center

The Policy Center is an outgrowth of the Justice for Girls movement that began in Florida in the late 1990s. In response to the need for reform, the Justice for Girls: Blueprint for Action (Ravoira & Miller, 2007) called for comprehensive reform in how Florida responded to girls in the juvenile justice system. The Blueprint stated that girls have a fundamental right to fair and equitable treatment, to freedom from violence and exploitation, to be valued and respected by those who interact with them, to be able to trust the system, and to have a system advocate. It is through these rights, coupled with the RCT framework, that new training and community awareness initiatives, service delivery modalities, changes in public and organizational policy and practices, individual and system level advocacy, and research were initiated. The work is about operationalizing girl-centered principles (see Table 1) that guide our mission and addressing issues that violate girls’ rights. We provide access to a continuum of services and support for girls and young women—starting from prevention through intervention—such as skill-building in elementary schools, girls’ groups in alternative schools and detention, individual counseling, comprehensive care management, and transition services. Although each component of the Policy Center’s girl-centered practice model is outlined separately in Table 2, it is critical to note that, in practice, the programs are interconnected and are continually being informed and updated through feedback from girls engaged with the Policy Center and in response to policies that either support or violate rights of girls within the community and nationally. The model demonstrates the need for comprehensive services to address the fragmented and disconnected experiences girls are facing.

The programming and services at the Policy Center are based on understanding the trends of the local community in incarcerating girls and the needs of girls. We develop an understanding of girls’ needs through listening sessions where we provide space to listen to girls and ask them for their recommendations and what they want others to know. This information is used in our advocacy agenda to educate the community about what girls are experiencing. We partner with girls in every aspect of our work because we believe they are the experts of their life stories and should be partners in making recommendations for system reform, program development, and advocacy efforts. Additionally, we use relational, reflective research practices that include vetting assessments and measures to ensure they are appropriate, strength-based, and help to build connection and relationship with the girls. For example, we measure the strength of the therapeutic relationship, but would not use assessments that include questions that are blaming or do not provide context to understand her experiences.

The girl-centered practice model components have been developed based on the information and insights girls and families share with staff at multiple points along development, implementation, and evaluation of services. For example, girls in the Girl Matters: It’s Elementary program to reduce suspensions and increase social supports share that the most impactful part of their involvement is the relationships they build with the interns. The interns share the great experiences they have working with girls from a girl-centered lens.

When using a therapeutic alliance measure with girls involved in the justice system, preliminary data shows that although there is not always agreement about what needs to be done to improve a situation, the girls report when having a voice in their goals and plans that they feel appreciated and heard. Ninety percent of the girls reported that something had changed in their lives that they feel good about. At the beginning of counseling, girls noted changes in family relationships. As girls continued to attend sessions, they identified positive school related outcomes. With time they named examples of changes about how they saw themselves. Programming staff attributes this emerging pattern to how the therapeutic goals emerge. Initially, meet girls where they are—which is often starting in crisis—and then working to stabilize basic needs and family relationships before moving towards addressing school and other goals. As Basra explained, “We see the therapeutic process at work when the work deepens and the girls’ understanding of who they are shift, as other people reflect back to them their value and worth, even when they make mistakes” (Patino Lydia & Zayets, 2016).

Our qualitative research with girls confirms that they have experienced relational disconnection from individuals and institutional systems. The research also indicated many points of intervention where connections could be strengthened (Patino & Moore, 2015). This information affirms our comprehensive services at multiple points along the system that are grounded in mutual empathy and mutual empowerment, the building blocks for growth fostering relationships (Jordan et al., 1991). Research has shown the mental health benefits of situations where individuals receive support from others as well as situations where benefit is derived from ongoing exchanges of supportive behaviors (Cutrona, 1996). These exchanges are the cornerstone of mutuality in relationships with girls and their families, as well as among staff, at the Policy Center.

Building Internal Staff Supports and Community Partnerships

Among Policy Center staff, mutuality is nurtured through the multidisciplinary team approach to staffing and supervision. Everyone is invested in relational growth with the girls and with one another. Communication about clients and their needs happens daily, and we value the different perspectives that all team members bring. We have found this to be very helpful in growing our collective and individual knowledge base. One of our newest staff members shared that she loves the “we environment” of the Policy Center. In prior work environments, she stated that she felt like she was always on her own and at the Policy Center she feels like she has a whole team supporting her and everyone is invested in the girls’ successes.

The Policy Center recognizes that a key component to implementing the girl-centered principles in practice depends on hiring staff that understands the importance of the Center’s values and their roles in shifting the culture. Our hiring process focuses on connecting with the core values of the staff along with recognizing the skills they bring. Through the questions asked during the interview process, we hope to better understand how a candidate would make choices aligned with the organization’s values. Individuals applying for a position at the Policy Center meet with the hiring supervisor, the CEO/President, the team they will be working with, and with anyone else at the Policy Center who is interested in participating in the interview process. The extended interview process also allows for a relationship to be built and for the individual to better understand the culture of the Policy Center and what it offers the community. In this way, the Policy Center team and the interviewee can see if the Policy Center is the right environment to work together to address the needs of girls.

The Policy Center recognizes that the development of girl-centered tools and ongoing training are critical components to effectively meeting the needs of girls and young women, families, and the community. Ongoing training and professional development is provided for the community, Policy Center staff, and student interns. This helps providers interact with girls in a girl-centered manner, allowing our community to see the girl, not just the behavior. This is especially important when interacting with girls who have often experienced trauma. Experiencing trauma can affect the way a girl or young woman perceives and responds to the world, yet staff members are, at times, ill-equipped to respond in an effective manner. We make significant effort to ensure that our language, trainings, and curriculum do not result in victim blaming. As a way of creating mutuality and shared power, we invite girls to co-facilitate trainings and presentations with us. Many times, presentations are designed with the girls and the girls decide what they would like to present.

Through training undergraduate and graduate interns, we have opportunities to develop mutuality in our relationships, as well as help them build the skills to develop mutual relationships with the girls. Many interns share that they initially work with the girls in elementary school assuming the girls would learn so much from them. In the end, interns share that they learn just as much from the girls as the girls learn from them, which underscores the RCT concept of mutuality in growth fostering relationships.

Addressing Multiple Levels of Advocacy

Relational-Cultural theory acknowledges that chronic disconnection occurs on an individual level, and also, simultaneously, on a cultural and institutional level. Racism, sexism, classism, and heterosexism create social and cultural disconnections and have a direct impact on an individual’s sense of connection and disconnection. Jordan (1997) wrote, “Due to our culture’s handling of difference, through a system of hierarchy and dismissal, major, chronic, and painful disconnections occur around diversity; racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, and ageism all become forces in creating disconnection rather than connection” (p. 3). Jordan goes on to say that these forces create deeper isolation, withdrawal, fear, and shame. Ultimately, especially for marginalized groups, this leads to chronic disconnection. At the same time, “empathy across difference”, can serve as a catalyst for growth and validation in relationships (Jordan, 1997).

Since chronic disconnection can occur at the cultural and institutional level, the Policy Center is actively engaged in public policy changes that impact the advancement of girls’ rights. Advocacy is provided at the individual, community, and systemic level. On the individual level, advocacy for each girl is provided during participation in multidisciplinary staffing, in court, in school, and during counseling sessions with girls and families/caregivers. Through advocacy we are able to identify the services that are needed and also identify points along the continuum where the system(s) failed to meet girls’ needs. Many of our girls have experienced acute disconnections and advocacy helps them to engage in the systems to rework the acute disconnections and develop more positive relationships. Through all of the work, we bring authenticity with other staff members and with the girls.

On a community level, the care manager advocates on behalf of the girl with juvenile probation officers, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office, the judge, and community partners to ensure the voices of girls and their families/caregivers are heard in the judicial system. The care manager helps the girls and families navigate the complex legal system and processes, which includes arranging pro-bono legal services when indicated.

The care manager also works with community partners to build a network of care for each girl based on her complex individual needs. Many times these care plans can serve as alternatives to locking girls up as it gives judges other options and a better understanding of the true needs of the girls.

Finally, what we learn from the girls directs the advocacy platform at the local, state, and national level used to develop better public policies, processes and practices informed by the lived experiences of the girls. For example, when girls were being transported within the residential facility, they told us that they had to walk with their hands behind their backs. The young women told us that this was re-traumatizing for them, given the trauma they had experienced in their lives, and that walking with their hands behind their backs increased their feelings of agitation, stress, and hyperawareness. After hearing from the young women, the Policy Center staff shared the concerns with the administrators at the residential facility and, ultimately, the young women were allowed to walk with their hands by their sides. Administrators reported fewer fighting incidents with guards and other residents due to this change in policy.

From development to evaluation, the Policy Center model is centered on our relationship with girls, their voices, and the research that comes from listening to girls and their families. The goal is to “See the Girl” within the context of her family, community and lived experiences.

What it Means to “See the Girl”

From the relational exchange described earlier between Lawanda and Maria, along with the theoretical foundation of RCT, the girl-centered practice of “See the Girl,” seeing the context of girls’ lived experiences, has emerged. It guides the mission to advance the rights of girls in or at risk of juvenile justice system involvement by engaging others as partners in the movement. It requires staying in relationship through various individual and system level disconnections. In Maria’s case, “seeing” her meant looking beyond her behavior to understanding the historical trauma that was part of her unresolved family and personal history. “Seeing the Girl” meant understanding the acute and chronic relational disconnections Maria faced as she navigated unstable living situations, the responsibility of care-taking for her siblings, and addiction. By age fourteen, Maria started selling drugs to get money for places to stay. She was arrested for drug paraphernalia, and while on probation she ran away and received a violation of probation and began the cycle in and out of locked facilities. Maria’s story is the narrative of most of the girls trapped in the justice system. The Policy Center’s research found that at the epicenter of the girls’ stories are the shared experiences of grief, loss, and trauma as well as resilience and longing for connection (Patino Lydia & Moore, 2015).

Tina’s Story 

Like Maria, Tina’s story also helps illustrate the multiple points at which girls can access and receive services. The first time the Policy Center staff met Tina and her mother was during a juvenile justice staffing where her support team was trying to put together an alternative plan so she would not be sent to a commitment program. The Policy Center had no prior connection with Tina but was invited to participate in the meeting as a possible resource for her and her family. The group was made up of juvenile justice staff, including her probation officer, a representative of the school board, her attorney, a case manager, a therapist, and others who had been referred to Tina and her family.

The group started by reviewing Tina’s file and sharing why they were there. When the group facilitator started reviewing Tina’s past traumas and exposure to violence, the facilitator became very detailed in his questions and comments of her lived experience. The level of details that were shared made everyone in the meeting, including Tina and her mother, uncomfortable. Even though this was our first interaction with Tina and we were not very familiar with her story, the Policy Center staff chose to speak up and ask the purpose of going into such detail in the meeting. The staff member reminded everyone that this could re-traumatize Tina. The meeting facilitator shared that this was how these meetings were conducted, with the intent that everyone would know the details and have better options for Tina. Staff commented that they understood this, but did not understand the benefit of going into that level of detail with everyone. After the Policy Center staff member spoke up, the meeting facilitator became less detailed in his descriptions and shifted the way he addressed Tina.

Tina made eye contact with the staff member, her body language shifted, and she seemed more relaxed. Later, when Tina agreed to work with the Policy Center, she shared that she was grateful that we had attended the meeting and that, although she felt herself getting angry, she did not know how to stop the facilitator from continuing to ask intrusive and traumatizing questions.

The Policy Center provided Tina and her family with therapeutic and care management services. The therapist and care manager met with her and her family in their home and at the Policy Center depending on what was most convenient for Tina. The Policy Center staff attended court dates with her and continued to advocate with her, and at times, supported her basic needs such as helping her to purchase clothing, toiletries, and other items for her home. After a year of services, Tina decided she no longer wanted to participate in services with the Policy Center.

We did not hear from her for over a year until a staff member received a collect call from Tina from the local jail. She had been arrested and was being held until her next court date. She was now eighteen and being held in the adult system. The Policy Center staff was present in the courtroom for her next court date. Since she was not presently receiving services, we were not able to approach the judge and advocate for her best interests; however, we were present and let Tina know that the relationship was still available to her. Tina made eye contact with staff when she was brought in front of the judge. Staff listened and, once the judge moved on to the next case, turned around, held Tina’s mother’s hand, gave her a business card, and told her to have Tina contact her if she needed support. The family later shared that based on their interactions with Policy Center staff they trusted the authenticity of the relationship.

All of the choices the Policy Center makes are focused on keeping the relationship with the girl at the center because no matter what we do, if the girl does not trust us, there will not be growth. As illustrated in Tina’s case, our work always includes her family and her community because they are important to her. By creating a model that focuses on the continuity of care for the girl and her family, we continue to enhance our relationships with Tina and her family. The goal is to be present and continue to build the relationship through the inevitable connections and disconnections that occur. The relationship continues to grow because the same people continue to support her regardless of where she is in the system. This is different from other experiences Tina has had, where her juvenile probation officer and/or case manager changed at different points.

Regardless of the program girls participate in or what point along the continuum of services they enter into, we recognize the importance of relational connection in girls’ lives as we coordinate services within multiple systems. We make efforts to divert girls from incarceration, and identify appropriate, girl-centered interventions. The importance of growth fostering relationships to mental well-being is central to the interactions Policy Center staff have with girls and each other. Knowing that disconnection is the source of psychological suffering, Policy Center staff are able to understand and “See the Girl” through the disconnections she has experienced and connections she is driven to establish (Jordan, 1997). Jordan (1991) pointed out that even in relationships that are mutual overall, not every specific interaction is mutual. Therefore, even the most connected relationships will inevitably experience disconnection. Policy Center staff recognizes this inevitability, and contends that disconnections in relationships can serve, depending on the response of both parties, as opportunities for further growth. Policy Center staff recognizes that strategies of disconnection can be authentic experiences and someone can be disconnected from therapy but not from an authentic relationship (e.g., calling therapist while on the run). It takes energy to be connected. From an RCT perspective, if the hurt person is not able to express her feelings or is met with apathy, or disregard of her experience, she will begin to distort herself in order to keep the relationship. In our experience, most girls feel less powerful in most of their relationships; therefore, much of the service delivery component of our work involves establishing mutually empowering relationships, respect, and acknowledging relational disconnections. Counseling and care management focus on discovering and addressing the relational disconnections that often manifest as depression, anxiety, and/or externalizing behaviors such as substance abuse, running away, and aggression. Girls are an integral part of their care planning which focuses on the ability of girls to learn and employ healthy coping mechanisms and skills.

The approach to working with girls and families is relational and contextual, and the benefits of the continuity of care management and therapeutic services can follow a girl regardless of her point of entry. This type of intervention creates incredible opportunities for better understanding of girls’ perceptions about their relationships and how their connections, disconnections, and sense of supports may shift over time.

Ann’s Story

Ann’s story is an example of how relationship building happens over time and occurs in the context of providing comprehensive support and care management. Ann was 16 years old and referred to the Policy Center by her mother and an investigator working with the family. She was very hesitant to reach out and connect with the Policy Center. Ann’s mother was incarcerated, she did not have a relationship with her father, and she did not feel comfortable coming to the Policy Center on her own. Although many appointments were scheduled with the counselor, Ann continued to make excuses for why she could not meet with our staff. The counselor told Ann that she would meet wherever Ann wanted to meet and would support her in any way she needed, including providing bus passes. One day, the counselor received a text from Ann asking, “Do you think you could bring me a bus pass? I have a class at 6:00 pm today and I have no way of getting there. I also tried looking up different bus schedules and different buses, and I am not sure which one to take.” The counselor immediately reached out to her supervisor and shared the text she received. They agreed that providing Ann with bus passes was an important part of building an authentic, trusting relationship. The counselor replied to Ann’s text message by saying that she was in a meeting, but as soon as the meeting was over she would meet Ann and bring a bus pass. Once the counselor arrived at Ann’s house with bus pass and the bus schedule, they sat down and reviewed the possible bus routes. Ann shared that tonight was her first college class and she was very nervous. The counselor explored with her what was making her nervous and they set up a plan to help her through the evening, which included being able to text the counselor when and if things became too overwhelming. The counselor also told Ann that if she did not hear from her that evening, she would check in with her the next day. From that moment on, Ann has been regularly attending her meetings with the counselor and feels supported.

The Policy Center recognizes that relationships are not only built during the counseling session, but by being present when someone needs you the most. Many times we lose clients even before we ever start working with them because we are never able to build mutuality in the relationship. Our clients need to know that they matter to us and that their well-being matters to us. By dropping off the bus pass and spending time to listen to Ann’s concerns, the counselor was able to build a relationship that showed Ann that she mattered. Mutuality is the ability to step outside of the therapeutic “expert” role into the authentic trust building moments of connection. It is the ability to create a work space that gives permission for staff to build a relationship with the girls based on the needs of the girls in that present moment, allowing the girls to be the lead on how fast and when the therapeutic relationship will develop.


There are many girls and families hurting in our communities. The way a community and service providers respond is a critical piece to transformation. When we “See the Girl” as part of the community fabric, it has a lasting impact. Communities are transformed through mutual empathy, as it decreases the experience of isolation and increases the capacity for connectedness (Miller & Stiver, 1997).

Creating and participating in growth-fostering relationships are not only critical to individuals’ psychological well-being and development (Comstock, Hammer, Strentzsch, Cannon, Parsons, & Salazar, 2008), they are essential to creating vital and responsive communities. Growth-fostering relationships are the central building blocks for both individuals and the communities in which they live. Service providers can contribute to community transformation by developing comprehensive care models grounded in Relational-Cultural theory. The Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center has developed a girl-centered model, informed by Relational-Cultural theory. Together, we are creating system reform and transformation in our community through a comprehensive approach to service delivery, research, advocacy, and training for girls who are involved in, or at risk of entering into, the juvenile justice system.

Ultimately, “Seeing the Girl” transforms the community by reducing the number of girls involved in the juvenile justice system, keeping more girls connected to their communities through engagement in social services instead of locking them up, and sending a clear message to girls that they are valued, have power, and play significant roles in our communities. Communities are transformed by the healing power of mutual relationships.


 Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center Girl-Centered Principles

Our mission is guided by girl-centered principles.

·         Acknowledges girls as experts of their lives and relationships.
·         Embraces sitting where the girls sit and seeing what they see.
·         Honors and values girls’ lived experiences, knowledge, culture, ethnicity,and language.
·         Understands health as more than and different from the absence of illness.
·         Emphasizes the importance of girls’ connections (family, friends, schools, and others).
·         Recognizes the dynamic community in which girls live, play, and learn.
·         Focuses on the intersectionality of gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, nationality, age, ability, and education.
·         Uses reflective practice and listening without judging.
·         Ensures that programs are guided by gender relevant theories.
·         Promotes activism and informed advocacy.

Note: Developed with Dr. Barbara Guthrie, RN, PhD, FAAN

Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center Girl-Centered Principles
Community Need Policy Center Response Description
Service Delivery (Prevention) Girl Matters: It’s elementary school-based interventions Services provided in schools to interrupt school disconnection include individual care management and referrals to appropriate resources, groups for girls, mentoring and skill building, and or advocacy within the school system regarding academic and disciplinary matters.
Service Delivery (Prevention) Girls Leadership Council The Council is open to girls, age 12-21, and provides a bi-monthly meeting to promote confidence, leadership, knowledge, and safety.




SAVVY Sister Groups for Girls Groups for girls are intended to increase girls’ knowledge and coping skills to address girls’ pathways into the juvenile justice system. Each topic addresses safety with self, with others, in the program, and in the community. Girls explore both their personal and societal values. Additionally, they learn and practice important skills including communication, building relationships, activism, and team building.
Service Delivery (Intervention) Care Management


Care management includes crisis intervention, individual level advocacy to have access to appropriate resources, monitoring of the quality of services, mentoring, transitional and re-entry services, housing, employment support, school connectedness and re-engagement, and advocacy at multi-disciplinary team (MDT) meetings. This includes helping girls as they transition back to the community and their families. Care managers also help girls and families navigate the legal process, which can include arranging pro-bono legal services when warranted.
Service Delivery (Intervention) Girl-Centered Counseling and Telemental Health Individual and family counseling is provided with girls who are referred due to their juvenile justice involvement (e.g. probation) or risk of involvement. Sessions focus on discovering and dealing with the relational disconnections driving her behavior, which creates difficulties for the girl (internalizing and externalizing behaviors). Girls are part of care planning, which focuses on the ability of girls to articulate coping mechanisms, learn, and employ healthy coping skills.
Research Girl-Centered



Ongoing inclusion of girls’ experiences, recommendations through listening sessions, assessments, and surveys, which inform service delivery, continued research, and advocacy for shifts in public policy.
Training Community-based


Based on research, information shared by girls and community needs, trainings are developed or experts are brought in to train professionals in our community.






The Policy Center is one of the first organizations to collaborate with a local university to develop a continuing education curriculum focused on Girl-Centered Practice and Development of Advocacy skills.
Advocacy System Level


Work with local, state, and national lawmakers and lobbyists to develop policies that advance the rights of girls.
Advocacy Community Level



Care managers advocate on behalf of the girls with probation officers, the State Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office by increasing awareness of Policy Center practice model and developing a contextual understanding of girls’ behaviors.
Advocacy Individual Level Advocacy


Advocacy for girls provided during multidisciplinary staffing, in court, in school, and with families/caregivers. Care managers also help girls and their families navigate the complex legal system.

Relational-Cultural Theory Series, Previous Articles:

What is Relational-Cultural Theory?
Transforming Community Through Disruptive Empathy
Combining the Neuroscience of Relational-Cultural Theory and Clinical Practice
RCT: The Power of Connection Through Student and Professional Mentorship
RCT: It’s All About the Relationship
Unpacking White Privilege: An Experiment in “Going There” with White Relational-Cultural Practitioners
Integrating Critical Race Theory and Relational-Cultural Theory


Acoca, L. & Dedel, K. (1998). No place to hide: Understanding and meeting the needs of girls in the California Juvenile Justice System. San Francisco: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

American Bar Association & National Bar Association. (2001). Justice by gender: The lack of appropriate prevention, diversion, and treatment alternatives for girls in the justice system. Retrieved from authcheckdam.pdf

Belknap, J., Dunn, M., & Holsinger, K. (1997). Moving toward juvenile justice and youth-serving systems that address the distinct experience of the adolescent female. A Report to the Governor. Office of Criminal Justice Services, Columbus, OH.

Bloom, B.E. & Covington, S. (2001, November). Effective gender-responsive interventions in juvenile justice: Addressing the lives of delinquent girls. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Criminology, Atlanta, GA. Retrieved from Comstock, D. L., Hammer, T. R., Strentzsch, J., Cannon, K., Parsons, J., & Salazar II, G. (2008). Relational-Cultural theory: A framework for bridging relational, multicultural, and social justice competencies. Journal of Counseling & Development, 86(3), 279-287.

Covington, S. (2007). The relational theory of women’s psychological development: Implications for the criminal justice system. In Ruth T. Zaplin (Ed.), Female offenders: Critical perspectives and effective interventions (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.

Cutrona, C.E. (1996). Social support in couples: Marriage as a resource in times of stress. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Gilligan, C. (1982). In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hartling, L.M. (2005). Fostering resilience throughout our lives: New relational possibilities. In D. Comstock (Ed.), Diversity and development: Critical contexts that shape our lives and relationships (pp. 337-354). Belmont, CA: Thomson Brooks/Cole.

Jordan, J.V. (1992). Relational resilience. Work in Progress, No. 57. Wellesley, MA: Stone Center for Developmental Services and Studies.

Jordan, J.V. (Ed.). (1997). Women’s growth in diversity. New York: The Guilford Press. Jordan, J.V., & Dooley, C. (2000). Relational practice in action: A group manual. Wellesley, MA: Stone Center Publications.

Jordan, J. V. & Hartling, L.M. (2002). New developments in Relational- Cultural theory. In M. Ballou & L.S. Brown (Eds.), Rethinking mental health and disorder: Feminist perspectives (pp. 48-70). New York: The Guilford Press.

Kaplan, A. (1986). The “self-in-relation”: Implications for depression in women. Psychotherapy: Theory, research, and practice, 23, 234-241.

Kaplan, J.B. Miller, I.P. Stiver, & J.L. Surrey (Eds.). Women’s growth in connection: Writings from the Stone Center. New York: Guilford Press.

Meyers, D.G. (2000). The funds, friends, and faith of happy people. American Psychologist, 55(1), 56-67.

Miller, J.B. (1997). The development of women’s sense of self. In J.V. Jordan, A.G.

Miller, J.B. & Stiver, I.P. (Eds.). The healing connection: How women form relationships in therapy and in life. Boston: Beacon Press.

Patino Lydia, V., & Moore, A. (2015). Breaking new ground on the First Coast: Examining girls’ pathways into the juvenile justice system. Jacksonville, FL: Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Patino, V., Ravoira, L. & Wolf, A. (2006). A rallying cry for change: Charting a new direction in the state of Florida’s response to girls. Oakland, CA: National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Patino Lydia, V., & Zayets, B. (2016). Continuity of care model demonstration period outcomes report. Jacksonville, FL: Delores Barr Weaver Policy Center.

Ravoira, L. & Miller, R. (2007). Justice for girls: Blueprint for action. Tallahassee, FL: Children’s Campaign, Inc.

Ravoira, L. & Patino Lydia, V. (2013). Strategic training and technical assistance: A framework for reforming the juvenile justice system’s treatment of girls and young women. Georgetown Journal of Poverty Law & Policy, xx(2), 297-319.

Sharp, C. & Simon, J. (2004). Girls in the juvenile justice system: the need for more gender-responsive services. Washington, DC: Child Welfare League of America.

Sherman, F.T. (2005). Pathways to juvenile detention reform: Detention reform and girls, challenges and solutions. Baltimore, MD: Annie E. Casey Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.pretrial. org/download/juvenile-pretrial/JDAI%20Pathway%2013%20 Detention%20Reform%20and%20Girls%20Challenges%20and%20 Solutions.pdf VanderVoort, D. (1999). Quality of social support in mental and physical health. Current Psychology, 18(2), 205-222.

Watson, L. & Edelman, P. (2012). Improving the juvenile justice system for girls: Lessons from the states. Washington, DC: Georgetown Center on Poverty, Inequality and Public Policy.

Zahn, M.A., Hawkins, S.R., Chiancone, J. & Whitworth, A. (2008). The girls study group: Charting the way to delinquency prevention for girls. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

Finding Intellectual Well-Being

Enhancing Your Intellectual Habits

Excerpted from Intellectual Well-Being Workbook
By John D. Liptak, EdD, and Ester R.A. Leutenberg

Finding Intellectual Well-Being

Intellectual Well-Being Workbook

Developing our mental functions can be a challenging task, but you can do this! The following tips will help:

  • Take one step at a time. By working on one behavior at a time, the task of changing your behavior will not feel insurmountable. Because mental functions are so difficult to develop, it is important to start with small mental functions and work slowly to change one at a time. By trying to change more than one behavior at a time, people set themselves up for failure. Keep it simple!
  • Create a support system to help you develop your intellectual functioning. Who can you ask for help and support in modifying your intellectual functions? Choose people with whom you feel comfortable, people who would be helpful in a specific area of your life, and people who know that you are trying to make changes. You don’t have to suffer in silence to successfully develop new, more effective thinking skills. Let people know about your desire to change and allow others to support you.
  • Write everything down. Saying you are going to make changes will not suffice. Working on defined behaviors and writing concrete goals that you set for yourself will help you to be successful.
  • Be persistent in your efforts and do not give up on yourself. Remember that it takes time to change ingrained thinking patterns. Do not expect immediate results. The purpose of setting goals is to help you take smaller steps leading to your overall goal.
  • Be accountable. If during your efforts to make positive changes you slip and go back to old thinking habits, don’t let this stop you. Attempt to learn from your setbacks and use your newfound knowledge to make successful choices to move forward. Monitor your progress.
  • Reward yourself for a job well done. Healthy and meaningful rewards provide you with positive feedback and motivate you to continue in your efforts to develop greater intellectual well-being. Find ways to reward yourself for each job well done.

The following are some ideas to help you broaden your intellectual well-being. Open your mind, avoid rejecting ideas as going too far, or being too outrageous for you. Journaling about these questions will help you refine where you are and where you want to go.

Am I thinking outside the box?

For what problem are you having a difficult time finding a solution?

With whom does this problem occur?

Is this problem at work, in school, in the home, in the community, or somewhere else?

How do you typically solve your problems, or find solutions to your problems?

Who can help you solve this problem?

Is there any reason not to ask this person for help?

Think outside of the box. What are a few possibilities of actions you can take to solve this problem?

Am I open to new ideas?

Do you consider yourself flexible or rigid? Explain.

Do you consider yourself open to new ideas or closed? Explain.

What was a time you were presented with a new idea, refused it, and were so glad?

What was a time you were presented with a new idea, refused it, and were sorry later?

What was a time you were presented with a new idea, immediately open to it, and sorry later?

What was a time you were presented with a new idea, immediately open to it, and it worked out great.

How does this quotation from Edward de Bono relate to you?

Studies have shown that 90% of error in thinking is due to error in perception. If you can change your perception, you can change your emotion and this can lead to new ideas.

Am I using my imagination?

How would you describe your imagination?

In what ways do you use your imagination?

What is an example of a time when you used your imagination and it enhanced your intellectual growth?

How does your imagination help in solving problems?

How do you use your imagination by picturing images in your mind?

What has been a barrier to your using your imagination?

Some tips to help you along the way.

Outside the Box

  • Try to look at a situation or task from a different perspective.
  • Think differently with an open mind and find new ways of functioning creatively.
  • Challenge your assumptions and beliefs. Where did they come from? Just because some things have always been done a certain way does not mean that they must continue to be done that way.
  • Break pre-conceived norms or rules to get ideas or the solutions you need. Try doing something backwards to get a new perspective.
  • Gather a few people together and free-style, brainstorm solutions.


  • When you have ideas, jot them down to avoid forgetting them.
  • Brainstorm for ideas. When brainstorming, state ideas regardless of how different they sound at the time. Write down all ideas and then revisit them at a later time. You can do this by yourself or with partners.
  • Get away from habits and routines. When you do, you will find that the mental habits which are stifling your creativity will disappear.
  • As you daydream, jot down ideas that simply pop into your head. Because your subconscious continues to work while daydreaming, you will generate more creative ideas than when you are concentrating on a task.
  • Keep a piece of paper and pencil by your bedside. If, during the night, a thought pops into your head, write it down and go back to sleep. There might be more!


  • Be creative and try different ways of thinking by engaging in puzzles like crossword puzzles, number puzzles, jigsaw puzzles, etc.
  • Read books that will take you to new worlds. This will allow you to experience sights and sounds that do not exist in your present world. Regardless of the plot of the book, think about new ways that the story could have ended.
  • Think about stores, businesses, and online shops where you interact and how you could improve upon their products, packaging, logo, service, etc. Think about ways (in your mind) that you could envision each working more effectively.
  • Try new hobbies and activities such as learning a new language or researching a country you know nothing about. You will look at the activity from a different perspective.
  • Try a guided imagery CD to help you visualize.

Good luck as you develop true intellectual well-being. Remember that this is a difficult task to master, just as learning to play a Bach toccata or shoot consistent free-throws takes time. Practice, practice, practice and you will be successful.

Stress Management

Stress – A Problem for All Ages

Stress Management Coping With Everyday StressorsStress Management article and exercises excerpted from Optimal Well-Being for Senior Adults, Vol. 1 by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and Kathy A. Khalsa, CPC, OTR/L and Coping with Everyday Stressors  by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD.

We live in a world fraught with stress. Stress has many sources and can bestress  generated from within a person through self-imposed thoughts and feelings, while others stressors come from the environment: Stress is completely age tolerant. Our reactions to stress might be different as we get older, but it is out there waiting to pounce.

Stress generated from within a person ‒ Stress can be self-imposed through low self-esteem, anger, feelings of hopelessness, feelings of helplessness, anxiety, perfectionistic tendencies, jealousy and hostility. For example, people who are perfectionistic often bring stress upon themselves by being too careful and worrying about tasks being perfectly accomplished.

Stress generated from the environment – Stress can be felt from the results of environmental catastrophes such as severe storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes, floods and acts of war. For example, people who are trying to rebuild their homes and lives after a hurricane find themselves struggling to meet their most basic needs.

Stress generated from conflicts – Stress can be the result of situations in which people are faced with an incompatibility with people, needs, demands, opportunities or goals. For example, a person who does not get along with a co-worker will experience stress on the job.

Stress generated from daily hassles – Stress can be the result of minor irritating annoyances that occur in daily life. Some of these daily hassles may be losing keys, car breaking down, waiting in long lines at a store, waiting for appointments, and getting stuck in traffic. For example, a person having to sit in traffic going to and coming home from work will experience stress.

Stress generated from economic factors – Stress can be the result of economic factors such as losing money in the stock market, not having enough money in retirement, growing inflation, and amassing too much debt. For example, many people have to work later in life because of a lack of enough money to live on in retirement. People may struggle with overcrowded housing, inadequate heating or air-conditioning, dangerous neighborhoods, etc.

Stress generated from changes in families – Stress can be the results of changes in the family such as parents’ separation, divorce, blended families, loss of loved ones, change in residence, birth of a child, adoption, changes in health of family members, and caring for aging parents. For example, people who are forced to care for aging parents often feel guilt, and are stressed because it takes time away from work and other family obligations.

Stress generated from changes at work – Stress can be the result of changes on a job, loss of work, changes in a role played at work, uncomfortable physical demands in the workplace, a lack of safety, interpersonal demands such as an abrasive supervisor or co-worker, and having too much work to complete. For example, a person who must work with an abrasive supervisor will feel uncomfortable most of the work day. In order to successfully deal with all of the various types of stress, people must find creative ways of coping. The exercises that follow will help you manage your stress and move forward to lead a happy, healthy life.

The stress experienced by seniors is greatly impacted by past lifestyle choices and the tools we have learned to cope with our stress. Stress Management – Past and Present will help clarify those skills that work well and those that do not.

Stress Management – Past and Present

The lessons we learned in our past inform us on how we manage stress now. Answer the following questions in your journal or discuss them with a friend. If you wish, click here to access a printable version of the worksheets.

In your past:

  1. Think back to your childhood. How did the adults in your life manage their stress?
  2. As a child or teenager, how did you manage your stress?
  3. What is a memory from your childhood or teen years when you managed stress in an unhealthy way?
  4. What is a memory from your childhood or teen years when you managed stress in a healthy way?

In the present:

  1. What was one way in the last month that you managed stress?
  2. When you are at home, what is one stress management activity that is immediately accessible?
  3. Who is one person in your life, who can support you in managing stress well?
  4. What is one goal or boundary that you can set to assist you in stress management?

How did the lessons you learned in your past inform how you manage stress now?


Physical Distress Symptoms

How you move and hold your body tells a great deal about your level of stress and physical wellness.  Look at the list of stress symptoms below. Which of these do you exhibit and when do you find yourself experiencing them? In your journal list the symptoms and write about when and with whom you experience them. Write about how you might overcome this. If you wish, click here to access a printable version of the worksheets.

Foot tapping (impatience)

Tight, hunched shoulders (anxiety or frustration)

Tightly folded arms (anger or disappointment)

Sagging shoulders (fatigue)

Biting nails (anxiety or worry)

Frowning forehead (worry or fatigue)

Clenched teeth (stressed)

Biting or Licking Lips (nervousness)

Downturned corners of mouth (disapproval)

What other physical distress symptoms do you exhibit? Write about those as well.


Stress Relief A to Z

Good coping skills are a must to handle the stress we all experience. On the left you will find a list of skills. In your journal write what you would do, following the A to Z pattern. If you wish, click here to access a printable version of the worksheets.

Stress Relief A to Z


Your Own Stress Relief A to Z Suggestions


Avoid negative people. A
Be yourself. B
Change your thought. C
Don’t think you know all the answers. D
Exercise often. E
Feed the birds. F
Give someone a hug. G
Hum a joyful song. H
Invite a friend to dinner. I
Join others when invited. J
Keep a journal. K
Look up at the stars. L
Make duplicate car or house keys. M
NO! Just say it with no excuses. N
Open a door for someone. O
Pet a friendly dog or cat. P
Quit trying to fix other people. Q
Repair things that don’t work properly. R
Stand up and stretch. S
Take a shower. T
Use time wisely. U
Visualize yourself relaxing. V
Walk in the rain. W
X–plore a new idea. X
Yak with a friend. Y
Zoom into a healthy restaurant. Z

To download a digital copy of these stress management worksheets, click here.

Integrating Critical Race Theory and Relational-Cultural Theory

Weaving a Fabric for Transformative Social Justice Learning: Integrating Critical Race and Relational-Cultural Theories

By Cynthia Renee Donner, MSW, LGSW

Critical Race Theory and Relational-Cultural Theory

Critical Race Theory (CRT) emerged in the 1970s in response to changing forms of racial oppression, drawing from earlier movements and philosophers in critical legal studies and radical feminism (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). Delgado and Stefancic (2012) define CRT as a movement “of activists and scholars interested in studying and transforming the relationship among race, racism, and power” (p. 3). They also state that most social activists agree racism is a common experience, yet difficult to address because of color-blind perceptions of equality that advance white privilege in perceived and real experiences. A prominent base from which CRT evolved is the “social construction thesis” that “holds that race and races are products of social thought and relations” (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012, p. 8).

Relational-Cultural theory (RCT) is a modern psychological theory developed by Jean Baker Miller, and an initial group of scholars—including Judith Jordan, Alexandra Kaplan, Janet Surry, and Irene Stiver through the Stone Center at Wellesley College in Boston (M. Walker, personal communication, March 6, 2017). RCT posits growth-fostering relationships are central to human development (Jordan, 2010). Social justice activists have joined psychotherapists and educators in applying this theory in conjunction with other critical post-modern theories and advances in neuroscience to strategies that promote justice and healing. In particular, RCT examines the oppressive forces and related trauma and social isolation (Jordan, 2010).

CRT is concerned with disparities resulting from forces of structural oppression and was influenced by feminist views on the relationship between power and the social construction of roles and privileges that support patriarchy and domination (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012). These concerns with disparities are also reflected in what Jordan, Frey, Schwartz, and Walker presented on RCT in the June RCT conference that took place at the College of St. Scholastic, Duluth, Minnesota in 2016. CRT examines oppressive social stratification; “it seeks to uncover the mechanism and structures that actually disadvantage people, even those ostensibly designed by institutions to serve the needy” (Ortiz & Jani, 2010, p. 183). Carillo, Hernandez, and Fitch propose that the lived experiences—and understandings of those experiences—leave diverse teachers/learners in a place of “ideological dislocation, in which their interests and passions are neither consistent with Eurocentrically-based curricula nor fit well as acceptable research questions” (Ortiz & Jani, 2010, p. 181). According to Ortiz and Jani (2010), this ideological dislocation is manifest in higher education in in three ways: there is lack of curriculum content that speaks directly to the experiences of students and faculty of color; students frequently lack mentors who can assist them in successfully navigating the learning environment; and having few faculty of color likely affects the overall research agendas of universities. They write: “Racial assumptions become a part of the development of the psyche for members of all groups through internalization, the phase of social construction by which ‘facts’ become a part of the conscious and unconscious” (p. 181).

Jordan (2010) writes that RCT examines the trauma, isolation, and social shame resulting from human disconnection that accompanies forces of oppression. She further poses the basic premise of RCT that justice is served when interpersonal relationships and institutional alignments are grounded in empathy, respect, and mutuality. Both RCT (Walker, 2008) and CRT (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012) consider the role of stories and empathy as significant features of their philosophical dimensions and related practice approaches.

Transforming Community: The Radical Reality of Relationship

The June 2016 RCT conference sparked a unique synergy. People from diverse communities representing many histories of oppression and privilege convened with Jordan and other current leaders in RCT over the three days to listen, share, and reflect. There were heartfelt stories of struggle and transformation, and many individuals reported a renewed strength or clearer vision resulting from the connections made with new people and testimonies during conference sessions and dialogues. It was evident that several presenters and attendees were well steeped in theoretical and/or experiential understanding of oppression and related traumas and disparities from their respective fields of psychotherapy, education, health care, and social activism. But the focus on and practice of RCT over the three days seemed to launch both RCT followers and newcomers into previously uncharted territory rich in meaningful connections that generated substantive qualities of relief, validation, and hope for many in attendance.

Because these kinds of outcomes are not common among professional conferences or circles of learning and action, they merit particular consideration if the desire is to move communities beyond critical analysis to transformative change through shifts in individual and collective consciousness. Through dialogue that adhered to principles of RCT, conference participants demonstrated how the practical application of this theory facilitates growth-fostering relationships among diverse people and deepen engagement among those pursuing transformative change. This has been a significant missing piece in the curriculum and analytical approaches to social justice organizing in the past.

Implications for Social Justice Education

CRT is important to social work education. Like other critical perspectives, it promotes an understanding of racial segregation and the functions of postmodernism that is described by Ortiz and Jani (2010) as a “refusal of positivism, recognition of intersectionality, deconstruction of social constructions, understanding of categorization, and rejection of totalizing categories” (p. 177). In their argument for CRT as a transformational model for teaching diversity, they point out that because race-based ideology is woven into the fabric of the dominant culture, “research methods, theories, and practice techniques taught in social work education rest on the assumptions and values of dominant culture, which, unless subjected to critique, will have questionable applicability to non- Euro-American populations” (p. 182). In a discussion of explicit and implicit curriculum requirements associated with CRT, they further argue that in addition to teaching students about culture they also need to be taught how to “analyze the institutional arrangements of society, assess how they are shaped by dominant cultural assumptions, and recognize how they may disadvantage members of nondominant cultural groups” (p. 189). They conclude by declaring that CRT is a paradigm that calls forth action across all spectrums of social work curriculum with its use of socially conscious indicators, the nature of questions it poses, and the patterns of interaction it promotes can be conceptualized as social work competencies and be concretized into practice behaviors—with some creativity particularly on the part of social work educators.

RCT offers a framework for transformative learning that can be applied across social work curricula (as demonstrated in the June 2016 conference dialogue sessions) to facilitate understanding of CRT in engagement, assessment, planning, and evaluation in a context of growth-fostering relationships. As Ortiz and Jani (2010) assert, “teaching diversity is more complex than trying to attend to the various differences among people in society and the resulting ‘isms’” (p. 190). They further cite the need for students to be prepared to move outside of their prescribed roles and/or comfort zones, and be ready to engage in dialogues that lead to transformative evaluation and outcomes on micro/ mezzo/macro levels. RCT’s foundational principles for cultivating growth-fostering relationships can facilitate integration of CRT learning and development in cognitive, affective, value, and skill dimensions. These principles are grounded in what Jean Baker Miller proposed as Five Good Things which have been described as “Attributes of a growth-fostering relationship: zest, sense of worth, clarity, productivity, and a desire for more connection” (JBTMI, 2017, para. 15). The leading scholars of RCT have contributed research and curriculum in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, social work, education, and social and environmental justice with practice methods that can be integrated into curricular approaches with CRT and other post-modern theories to prepare teachers/learners for the challenges of today’s fragmented world.

At the June conference, Jordan suggested the “social prescription of self-interest” (how we have been socially conditioned to identify with a separate individual self) is a major consideration in examining the isolation that is prevalent among people and in accounting for the increasing disparities along lines of race and class. The separate self that we are conditioned to identify with is constructed along lines of race, class, and gender which creates an isolating fabric of internalized notions of privilege and oppression around our psyche that prevents us from engaging in growth-fostering relationships. Internalizing that isolated separate self is restricting on both cognitive and emotional levels. It requires intentional reflective work to be aware of how these restrictions impact our worldview and relationships. Conscious effort is required to be fully open, empathically present, and responsive with others who are different.

Learning how to connect with others in growth-fostering relationships may be the glue to hold movements together that are focused on transformative justice. People who benefit from or succumb to the dominant individual-centered mindset are not typically invested in transformative social change; and yet they regularly challenge our classroom, professional, and community learning circles. Individuals who expect to be taught what will be on the test, so that they can pass it and receive the degree that will land the desired job are conditioned to do so. The “what’s in it for me” worldview competes with critical thinking to the degree that people adhering to this mindset are not easily motivated beyond personal self-interest to examine the role of structural power and privilege affecting social conditions across micro-mezzo-macro practice fields. The separate individual self-interest orientation combined with privilege that comes with perceived or real socioeconomic status inhibits some people from stepping outside of the comfort zone of conformity and, in the June conference, what Walker called the field of anxiety between right and wrong. CRT suggests that this results from internalized social construction of race and the real socioeconomic benefits afforded people who fit the categorical expectations of white—including behaviors as well as skin colors. Walker further discussed how people are often willing to learn how to talk in politically correct “pseudoempathy” terms (i.e., Minnesota Nice), but not necessarily willing to walk in the field which demands critical curiosity void of judgment and the courage to be vulnerable.

For some the shame of identifying with a privileged group’s discriminatory beliefs or the inability to overcome one or more experiences with oppression is an additional layer of socially prescribed separateness that perpetuates isolation and suppression of voice. As Schwartz and Frey asserted in their presentation at the June conference: “shame is a social emotion,” and too often shaming is a public experience for people in classroom and professional/field encounters. They proposed that learners benefit from a context of mutuality (especially within the dynamics of power in the learning process), and appreciation that their thinking and efforts matter.

The experiences of trauma and shame associated with structural forces of oppression permeate lived experiences of both teachers and learners in a way that influences cognitive understandings of those lived experiences. The socially conditioned orientation toward a separate-self places the challenge of transcending these experiences and related beliefs deep in our individual and collective psyches. Schwartz and Frey went on to state at the conference that we all have “possible selves”— images of who we want/don’t want to be. They suggest that “feedback loops” are a powerful way to learn from and deal with our possible selves and the disconnection in emotional reactions to others’ thoughts and actions—providing the teacher/mentor is grounded in genuine openness to learning and utilizes reflection and support from colleagues.

Jordan cited the importance of relationship in her discussion of relational resilience. She wrote that it is “Movement to a mutually empowering, growth-fostering connection in the face of adverse conditions, traumatic experiences, and alienating sociocultural pressures; the ability to connect, reconnect, and/or resist disconnection. Movement toward empathic mutuality is at the core of relational resilience” (JBTMI, 2017, para. 39).

Implications for Marginalization 

Jordan suggested at the June conference that “closed hearts are taught” through socialization of the separate self in a society where “unacknowledged privilege is embedded in every social structure and system of the U.S. culture”. She further stated that capitalism has woven the fabric of U.S. history since early colonization, and stories of injustice continue as the interconnected threads of oppression have tightened under extreme corporate-capitalist control of global economies and political systems. Banks and Craddock pointed out in their presentation at the conference that “social exclusion and perceived social exclusion can be deadly”. They proposed that the psychological resistance to marginalization and other forms of social pain (e.g. overt and covert microaggressions, stereotype threats, exclusionary policies) is a part of the lived experience of people who occupy our classrooms, community, and professional circles. Pain can be enhanced by the combination of ideological dislocation and human disconnection that compels silence while inducing fear and isolation.

How might more inclusive policies and practices transform organizational and institutional systems if they ensured people coming together were grounded in analytical dimensions of RCT and relational dimensions of CRT? Social work values and guiding principles demand that implicit and explicit curriculum ensures inclusion of experiences and perspectives. As teachers, we have more to learn and can be transformed by students. As teacher-learners we must recognize as Frey stated at the conference that “expertise is fluid” and therefore must “be aware of our own disconnection to emotional reactions” to students and others with different in views or experiences.

Walker suggested in her keynote presentation at the June conference that our “embodied difference—or racialized bias/ narrative” is part of the human experience and yet we seldom acknowledge this in ourselves, much less make it part of our classroom discussions, nor hold each other accountable through institutional or community dialogues. Empathic dialogue is increasingly rare in our sociopolitical realms today, with rancorous debate dominating in public discourse and social media. It seems challenging for most people to actively listen to a speaker or connect interpersonally for any length of time, evidenced by the constant need to ask people to turn their communication devices off during class or professional meetings. Dialogue enables us to make meaning of our stories and experiences. Mutual compassion and genuine empathic listening, unconditional positive regard and courageous curiosity are important elements of dialogue that can take us to deeper levels of understanding. The conference dialogue sessions incorporated these elements, and demonstrated the cognitive and emotional levels of understanding that can be reached toward individual and collective transformation.

Ortiz and Jani (2010) emphasize CRT principles of asking the right questions, focusing on structural transformation, honoring contextual competence, refusing assumptions. Walker in her conference address identified five practical steps for respectful and courageous engagement with each other: Embrace the whole brain, all voices; pause, breathe; question normalcy; learn about people who’ve resisted racialized power systems; and develop a community of allies. Perhaps more focused and deliberate integration of both these approaches in classroom and community learning circles can foster transformative justice. Given the social and interpersonal isolation in current times, a firm base of knowledge and skills for growth-fostering relationships with diverse people is central to social work education. We are social beings, wired for connection; but unfortunately we are dealing with social systems that challenge this core aspect of humanity. Combined, both theoretical paradigms could help us through the struggles of transformative change—CRT for analysis to help us deconstruct oppressive forces and understand the complexity of intersecting systems, and RCT for building growth-fostering relationships into new and better ways of understanding and being with each other and the world.

About the Author

Transforming Community Relational Cultural TheoryPrior to teaching in the Undergraduate Social Work Program at The College of St. Scholastica and being Coordinator of that program delivered at Fond du Lac Tribal Community College, Cynthia Donner worked for over two decades with non-profits in the Duluth, Minnesota area. In merging a life-long passion for social justice with the role of educator, she strives to create spaces and opportunities for people to discover the transformative potential of connecting with and contributing to shared stories. Cynthia Renee Donner may be contacted at

Relational-Cultural Theory Series, Previous Articles:

What is Relational-Cultural Theory?
Transforming Community Through Disruptive Empathy
Combining the Neuroscience of Relational-Cultural Theory and Clinical Practice
RCT: The Power of Connection Through Student and Professional Mentorship
RCT: It’s All About the Relationship
Unpacking White Privilege: An Experiment in “Going There” with White Relational-Cultural Practitioners


Delgado, R. and Stefancic, J. (2012). Critical race theory. New York: New York University.

Ortiz, L. and Jani, J. (2010). Critical race theory: A transformational model for teaching diversity. Journal of Social Work Education, 46 (2). Council on Social Work Education.

Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (2017). Glossary of key terms. Retrieved from:

Jordan, J. (2010). Relational-Cultural Therapy. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Torres, C. A. (2007). Paulo Freire, education and transformative social justice learning. Retrieved from Multicultural/carlosalbertotorres.pdf

Sleep Issues: Exercises and Worksheets

Sleep :  Are we getting what we need from the sleep we get

We often hear how important it is to get enough sleep… the right kind of sleep. Even setting the alarm on a cell phone can trigger an electronic lecture. “Join us to learn better sleep habits.” Many of the suggestions we hear make perfect sense for dealing with sleep issues. Go to bed at the same time every night rings true to us. It follows that if we have regular bedtimes we will fall asleep easier. We know our bodies respond to habitual behaviors. We’ve trained them to do so. However, reality steps in and we find it almost impossible to get to bed at the same time every night, let alone get up at the same time each day. Where do we go from here?

sleep issuesThe following material is excerpted from the Coping with Sleep Issues Workbook by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD.

Many people feel that their sleep issues are just a normal part of their everyday life. Sleep issues can be disruptive and leave one feeling tired and sluggish throughout the day. These issues can continue, get worse, and become a sleep disorder.

Identifying and awareness of your sleep issues will help. Things pertaining to your sleep habits that you take for granted may be okay, or they may not be okay. Use the following information to help you document your sleep issues.

If you know or live with someone with sleep problems, send them a link to this blog and ask the person to do the exercises. Even better, interview the person by asking the questions posed below, and writing the answers down.

Your responses will also serve as a guide to take to your medical provider who can guide you to healthier sleep.

Click here for a set of printable worksheets covering the following topics.


My Sleep Issues

Name ______________________________________ Date ______________________

How many of the items below that pertain to you and/or your situation? Describe your experiences in your journal or print out a copy for your use of the worksheet.

While Sleeping …

I am able to recall a frightening nightmare.

I am afraid I will leave the house when I sleepwalk.

I am confused upon waking after I sleep walk.

I am hard to console when I awaken after sleep walking.

I am often sleepy during the day.

I am sweaty and my heart is pounding after a bad dream.

I dream about doing work while I am sleeping.

I awaken out of breath.

I am confused if someone wakes me up.

I awaken feeling frightened.

I engage in aggressive behavior.

I awaken sweating and breathing fast.

I awaken with a dry mouth.

I awaken with a sense of panic.

I awaken with my heart pounding from fear.

I cannot fall back to sleep when I have a nightmare.

I do not respond to others when walking in my sleep.

I feel scared at the end of my dreams

I have difficulty staying asleep.

I often choke or gasp during the night.

I often have headaches in the morning.

I scream and shout.

I snore loudly.

I wake up and sit upright with a look of panic on my face.

I walk around while I am sleeping.

I will often scream while sleepwalking.

My dreams feel like they threaten my safety.

My dreams become more disturbing as they unfold.

My nightmares are so realistic they are scary.

Others say my breathing stops when I am sleeping.


Sleep issues can become worse if not treated. Treatment usually consists of a combination of cognitive-behavioral activities like the ones in this workbook as well as medication. Consult and bring the three pages that you just completed with you to a medical or sleep professional to ensure you are doing everything possible to treat your sleep issues.


My Self-Care Sleep Habits

Sleep habits are often dependent on wellness habits that you display during the day. Think about some of your wellness habits and how they may be negatively affecting your ability to sleep at night. In the chart that follows, write about how you can make positive change in your wellness habits.

Self-Care Habit My Present Self-Care Habits How I Can Take Better Care

Eating habits

I eat a heavy snack an hour before bedtime.


I can take a light snack a few hours before bedtime.


Eating habits



Consistent bedtime rituals






Intake of liquid



Medications/drugs legal or illegal



Nap during the day












Highlight each Self-Care Habit you can change immediately to ensure healthier sleep.


Exercise for Better Sleep

There is a specific correlation between stress and a lack of sleep. Research has shown that exercise is critical in the reduction of stress. Physical activity earlier in the day can be a key factor in your ability to let go of some of the stress and sleep well. Answer the following questions in your journal or print a copy of the worksheet for your use.

  • What types of exercise do you do regularly (jogging, walking, swimming, aerobics, etc.)?
  • How much time do you spend regularly in the activities above?
  • Which types of exercise do you like best? Why
  • Which types of exercise do you like least? Why?
  • What exercise classes would you like to take?
  • What stops you from taking those exercise classes?
  • Are there any team sports that you could join?
  • Why don’t you exercise more? (Be honest!)
  • How can you compensate or overcome the reasons you do not exercise more?


Nutrition Influences of Sleep

Your food habits may have an influence on the amount and restorative power of the sleep you are currently experiencing. Journal about your current food habits, and then identify changes you would be willing to make. Note your current habits about the food group in question, and then identify the changes you want to make.

Proteins (example: milk, eggs, meat, poultry, fish, dried beans, oats, rice, whole-grain bread, whole-grain pasta, cashews, broccoli, peanuts)

Fats (example: butter, cheese, chocolate, pork, bacon, beef, veal, hotdogs, margarine, mayonnaise, canola oil, lunch meats)

Bad carbohydrates (example: sugar, corn syrup, sodas, doughnuts, cookies, cakes, pies,sugary cereals)

Good carbohydrates (example: potatoes, sweet potatoes, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, corn, oats, wheat, soybeans, black-eyed peas, kidney beans)

Vitamins (example: liver, fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, whole-grain bread, milk, cheese, salmon, tuna, potatoes, poultry, peas, soybeans, whole-grain cereals, seafood, carrots, seeds)

Drinks (example: water, alcohol, coffee, sweetened fruit juices, sodas, hot tea, iced tea, lemonade)


Stress Management for Better Sleep

The relationship between stress and your ability to sleep well has been well documented. People who are experiencing a great deal of stress do not typically sleep well.

Write down the stress management techniques listed below that you will commit to trying.

  • Avoid hot-button
  • Be assertive with others – you have needs and wants too.
  • Breathe deeply.
  • Do not try to control what cannot be controlled.
  • Eat nutritionally.
  • Enjoy life’s simple pleasures.
  • Express your feelings in a safe, effective manner.
  • Focus on the positive.
  • Forgive yourself and others.
  • Journal about your feelings associated with stress.
  • Keep and prioritize a to-do list.
  • Learn how to say “No” when you feel overwhelmed.
  • Look at the big picture of life and see where your issue fits in.
  • Manage your time well so that you have time for yourself.
  • Plan your time effectively.
  • Prepare and accept that unexpected problems will arise.
  • Relax with calming music.
  • Schedule time for Yoga or stretching exercises.
  • Spend less time with people who stress you out, if you can.
  • Take control of your own environment.


Sleep Concerns

People who have sleep problems or disorders often have concerns when retiring for bed because of some of the issues that go along with their sleep patterns. Going to sleep with these concerns, and worrying about falling asleep, can make it more difficult to fall asleep. Sometimes, talking or writing about the issues will help.

In your journal identify three of your concerns associated with your sleep.


Taking Worries and Fear to Bed

We often worry and fear things we cannot control. Read the Serenity Prayer out loud. Make photocopies of it, cut it out, and tape it to your bathroom mirror, by your bedside, or any places where you can easily see it and re-read it.

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things

I cannot change;

Courage to change

the things I can;

And wisdom to

know the difference.


Bed-Time Self-Care

Print out this page. Cut out the tips below that pertain to you, and those you need to remember. Post them in places that you will see them. (bathroom mirror, refrigerator, etc.)

Reduce your liquid intake before bedtime.


Refrain from eating a large meal or snack before bedtime.


Remember that your bedroom is for sleep and intimacy only.


Get at least seven hours of sleep.


Have a bedroom free of and electronic products.


Turn your alarm clock around so that you cannot see it from bed.


Don’t go to bed unless you are sleepy.


Go to sleep and rise at the same time each day – even on weekends.


Avoid watching television shows that are upsetting before bedtime.


If you aren’t asleep in 20 or30 minutes, get out of bed until you are tired.


Keep a comfortable room temperature. Cool, but not cold.


Think positive thoughts as you are falling asleep.


Establish relaxing bedtime rituals.


Maintain a healthy diet.


Consider the things you have to be grateful for as you are going to sleep.


Make sure that your bedroom is quiet.


Review the good things that happened during the day as you get undressed.


Free your mind as you get into bed.


Avoid alcohol before bedtime.


Use caution with sleeping pills that can become addictive.


Do not allow cats or dogs in bed with you no matter how much you love them.


Exercise regularly but not three or four hours before bedtime


If there are noises, use a fan or white noise to block out the sounds.


Avoid stimulants like nicotine and tobacco before bedtime.


Avoid caffeine several hours before bedtime.


Lower the lights a few hours before bedtime


Finish eating anything an hour before bed.


Reduce the number and time of naps during the day.


Make an appointment with a medical professional.


Make an appointment with a sleep professional.



Using Mental Imagery

Mental imagery (or guided imagery) harnesses our brain’s natural tendency to create vivid mental representations of our beliefs, desires, experiences and goals. It’s also a simple, inexpensive, and powerful tool for soothing symptoms and creating positive change. The use of mental imagery has been found useful with some sleepwalkers as well as people with other sleep problems.

Mental imagery is using memories of visual events to project a mental picture in your mind.

An example:

I picture myself at a beach in Delaware where I used to live. When I begin to feel anxious or stressed I can project myself back to that beach and begin to feel relaxed and sleepy. I just close my eyes and picture myself sitting in the sand. I notice how blue the water looks and how white the waves appear as they come in. I imagine walking along the beach looking for seashells. I smell the fresh air and hear the seagulls chirping above. The sun is warm on my body and I feel safe. With each breath I take I imagine breathing in the beautiful, vivid colors that are present. This is my personal paradise.

 Now, write out a pleasant imagery scene that you will like picturing and remembering.

Before going to sleep each evening, you can begin to imagine this scene vividly.


Support for My Sleep Issues

In overcoming any sort of sleep issue, regardless of how minor or severe, support is important, and sometimes critical. Support can come in many different forms and from many individuals in your life. In the following boxes, list people whom you can rely on to suggest healthy lifestyle changes and activities that allow you to have a healthy bedtime sleep.

Make a list in your journal of all those who could support and help you with your sleep issues. Note how you believe that person can help you. Possible supporters could come from medical professionals, sleep issue professionals, family members, friends and acquaintances in the community, people with whom you work at a volunteer job, spiritual sources, or other groups you might know. Print the worksheet for your use if you wish.

Click here to download printable worksheets related to this article.


Racism is Not a Thing of the Past

We like to believe that we have conquered racism. There is no such thing as being pulled over by the police for driving while being brown anymore, right? Click here to read the story about Nubia Escobedo from November 16, 2017.

We all hoped bias against black children in school was gone in the 1960’s.  Not so. The reality is quite different. Read this article in the American Bar Association’s Journal about its impact today.

Racism discussed in the Social Well-Being WorkbookWhen I think of the size of this problem I am overwhelmed into inaction. What can I do…no, what can all of us do about this pervasive issue? Here are some suggestions from Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak from their workbook, Social Well-Being that we can all manage.


  • Become more aware of your own perceptions and biases. Think about your biggest bias when it comes to diversity and whether it is valid for ALL people.
  • Observe and listen when speaking with people from cultures different from your own in order to become more aware of their values, beliefs, customs and feelings.
  • Do not view everyone from the same point of reference. Instead, have empathy and attempt to “put yourself in the shoes” of other people when communicating.
  • Be aware of the differences in the ways that people from various cultures communicate.
  • Meet people from other cultures, take time to learn about them, and share your experiences.


  • Treat everyone the way that you want to be treated.
  • Give equal consideration and understanding of the viewpoints of others, and value those views with equal importance.
  • Be open-minded and non-judgmental when communicating with people from backgrounds different from your own. Think about how you can be more open-minded and non-judgmental.
  • Develop an awareness of how cultural differences make life more exciting. Think about how boring life would be if everyone were the same. Make a plan to experience and explore cultural differences.
  • Allow yourself to experience things that are different from what you are accustomed to.


  • Diversity enriches your life. Think about some of the ways it does.
  • You learn the most from people whose beliefs, perspectives, and experiences are different from yours.
  • Diversity challenges stereotypes, encourages critical thinking, and prepares you for a global society and economy.
  • Diversity prepares you to be a good global citizen who is ready for a complex and pluralistic society.
  • People with different backgrounds, skills and experiences bring new ideas and fresh perspectives to all facets of life and career.

Try these easy suggestions above. They are great starting place for what should be a life-long effort for change.

For a different spin on the issue read this article about white fragility.

Unpacking White Privilege

Unpacking White Privilege: An Experiment in “Going There” with White Relational-Cultural Practitioners

By Lisa Eible, DSW, MSW, LCSW

Transforming Community Relational Cultural TheoryWe were an informal group of educators, social workers, and therapists who felt deeply moved by ongoing race-related violence, and the difficulty in talking about race-related topics, even among RCT practitioners. We formed an informal group to examine our own white privilege and to address race-related issues and have been meeting for the past year and a half. As the poster describes, we are focused on further development of our personal and professional lenses in the application of RCT to racism (interpersonal and systemic). We seek to understand our individual and collective journeys and to further develop Relational-Cultural theoretical constructs related to racism. We expect and plan further work on this topic, as our group work continues. Lisa Eible may be contacted at

From its inception and early beginnings, Relational-Cultural theory (RCT) has been characterized by co-creation. Jean Baker Miller strongly held to the notion that the work itself was “in relation”—that is, ever changing in a context of mutual learning and impact (Miller, 1976). In this rich collaborative tradition, a group of Relational-Cultural practitioners began working together on a personal, professional, and theoretical journey related to racism and white privilege after the 2015 Jean Baker Miller Institute (JBMTI) in response to yet another national race related tragedy—the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting. A call to action developed there for further RCT work specific to issues of racism and white privilege. Miller (1976) cited the importance of a “good conflict”; and authors such as Ayvazian and Daniel Tatum (1994), Daniel Tatum (2004), Jordan (1997), Tatum and Garrick Knaplund (2004), and Walker (2002) addressed racial issues. Our group thought there was another layer of “unpacking the knapsack” of white privilege which needed to be done (McIntosh, 1989).

A call was made for conference attendees and other RCT practitioners who were interested in working on issues of racism.  It was decided that the group would be composed, at least to start, of those who identified as “white”.  We observed, in the group’s conception, a need for “us to work on our own issues” and not place additional stress and expectations on our sisters and brothers of color to help us “get it”.  This was a decision made in love and protection, not with the purpose of exclusion. It was also a place to start, not a forever decision.

Initially, two groups of social workers, therapists and educators from across the United States and Canada were established and began meeting in Fall, 2015, via on-line meeting forums. While all group members identified as “white” and “female”, there were cultural, religious, and sexual orientation differences among group members. The initial goals were to raise each person’s individual awareness of their own privilege and to name how it impacted the lens through which they experienced the world.  The longer-term goals of the group are to contribute to the Relational-Cultural theory literature as it relates to issues of race, diversity, and white privilege, as well as to develop some sort of individual or collective social action agenda.  The two groups combined to form one group after the first series of meetings due to a smaller number of participants at that point, and has continued as such through April 2017.

A closed Facebook group was set up to share information that included materials such as worksheets, journaling, readings and videos (ex. Race—The Power of an Illusion, Wealth: America’s Other Racial Divide). Survey Monkey was used to gather data from the nine participants in the final group. In response to the question, Have you changed as a result of your participation in this group, participants answered:

  • I feel more empowered to speak up on issues of privilege and racism…this group has provided connection and a safe learning place for my continued growth.
  • I am angrier. In a good way.
  • I am more knowledgeable about the history of racism and institutional privilege in the United States and more aware of how it has affected my habitual perceptions.
  • I have become more conscious of my white privilege and have initiated numerous conversations with other white people about white privilege.
  • I speak up in uncomfortable situations, whereas before I would be silent. Even if I don’t think I will change anyone’s viewpoint, I make it known that there are other perspectives.
  • My self-awareness has increased though I know I have to keep learning. I also appreciate the access to resources…. I use and will continue to use these resources to expose others in my community. I see it as my responsibility to educate other white people.

In response to the question, “What was your biggest learning/takeaway from this experience/group dialogue,” they replied:

  • I still have a long way to go with my understanding of privilege. This process is a marathon not a sprint.
  • I was once again struck by the importance of taking time for the growth process to unfold, and to continue to hold the responsibility for learning rather than looking outward to people of color to educate me.
  • How helpful it is to have an ongoing white affinity group to learn with.
  • That I have the option to deal or not deal with racism and privilege, whereas others are confronted with it daily.
  • We are all uncomfortable and will all make mistakes (embrace and acknowledge the mistakes).
  • I would say becoming sensitized to the pervasiveness of my privilege. Once your eyes are open, it’s impossible to “unsee” things. And the group has given me courage to act.
  • Hearing the complexity with which some of my colleagues describe their own growth in this area has helped me grow too.

When asked about their experiences and observations, they cited scheduling and technology issues as well as the emotional nature of the interactions. One participant seemed to summarize the emotional impact: Several group members noted that the group provided support in tolerating the shame about unacknowledged privilege, opening participants up to greater consciousness and action.

Since the initial series of meetings, the group has continued to meet, and further published work is anticipated and planned. Our group members include: Christina Borel (, Denise Dojka (, Lisa Eible (, Shannon Finn (, Lisa Frey (, Catie Green (, Lynne Lieberman (, Betsy Nordell (, Audra Sbarra (, Harriet Schwartz (, Erica Seidel (, and Gail Walker (


Ayvazian, A. & Daniel Tatum, B. (1994). Women, race and racism: A dialogue in black and  white. Boston: Wellesley Centers for Women Publications.

Daniel Tatum, B. (2004). Racial identity development and Relational Theory: The case of black women in white communities. Boston: Wellesley Centers for Women Publications.

Jordan, J.V. (1997). Women’s growth in diversity: More writings from the Stone Center. New York: Guilford Press.

McIntosh, P. (1989, July/August). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. In Peace  and Freedom Magazine (10-12).

Miller, J. B. (1976). Toward a new psychology of women.  Boston: Beacon Press.

Tatum, B. & Garrick Knaplund, E. (2004). Outside the circle? The relational implication for white women working against racism. Boston: Wellesley Centers for Women Publications.

Walker, M. (2002). How therapy helps when culture hurts. Boston: Wellesley Centers for  Women Publications.

Relational-Cultural Theory Series, Previous Articles:

What is Relational-Cultural Theory?
Transforming Community Through Disruptive Empathy
Combining the Neuroscience of Relational-Cultural Theory and Clinical Practice
RCT: The Power of Connection Through Student and Professional Mentorship
RCT: It’s All About the Relationship

LAUGH! Using Humor as a Stress Management Tool

Laugh laugh laugh laugh laugh…

Don't Get Mad Get Funny - Laugh

Expressions such as, “Oh, just laugh it off” or “Don’t be such a sour puss” don’t make me smile. They make me more annoyed than I was before someone tried to lighten my load. Furthermore, I often snap back with something pithy such as, “Great! What other trite expression can you offer?” Not helpful to anyone. Leigh Anne Jasheway in Don’t Get Mad Get Funny offers a path to find healthy laughter that actually works.  The following is excerpted from her book.

Finding Your Funnybone

Before you can begin to use humor as a stress management tool, you need to understand some things about your sense of humor and your ability and willingness to smile, giggle, or laugh so hard it hurts. Everyone has a different sense of humor and unless you are attuned to yours, you will end up missing many opportunities to use your humor skills to deal with life’s little unexpected miseries.

A recent study reported that the average American five-year-old child laughs out loud around four hundred times a day, while the average adult laughs out loud only fifteen. Young children are truly hedonistic – when something is no longer fun, they stop doing it. We adults call that a short attention span.

A boy laughs while readingReaching adulthood does require a degree of buckling down and getting serious. Let’s face it – there are things we have to do whether we want to or not. But so many of us have lost the sheer capacity for fun, joy, and laughter that even when we have the opportunity, we miss it.

Many adults face a debilitating disease that has never been medically diagnosed: humor impairment. Humor impairment is the inability to find humor even in situations that are funny to most other people. My personal term for this state is constipation, because if you can’t release your emotions through laughter, you emotional and spiritual systems are “backed up”.

Your level of humor constipation is often a result of the environment in which you grew up. If laughter was always present in your family, your ability and willingness to laugh with others is probably great. On the other hand, if, like me, you grew up in a family where laughter was frowned upon, you will probably find it more difficult to express humor in front of others.

But, as with any other behavior, you can change. I grew up in a family where expressing any type of emotion was seen as a sign of immaturity. As a result, I was a most serious child, preferring Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath to the daily comics. I married a man who believed that neither laughter nor tears were acceptable or desirable. Today, however, I make my living teaching laughter and comedy and performing as a stand-up comic. My background has truly taught me how bleak and unhealthy a life without humor can be. (By the way, I still love Edgar Allen Poe and Sylvia Plath, but now they rub shoulders on my bookshelves with books by Dave Barry and Rita Rudner.)

Take this short quiz to determine how willing and able you are to laugh at life and its foibles.

Your Laughter Profile

  1. During an average day, I laugh out loud, snicker or giggle:
    1. Once or not at all
    2. Two or three times
    3. At least once an hour
    4. Constantly, I’m under medication
  2. When I am alone and read, see, hear, or think something funny, I:
    1. Smile to myself
    2. Laugh out loud, but look around to see if anyone saw me
    3. Laugh out loud and find someone with whom to share the funny thing
    4. Take a cold shower
  3. In the past year, I can remember:
    1. At least one time I spent at least a whole minute laughing
    2. At least two to five times I spent at least a whole minute laughing
    3. More than five times I spent at least a whole minute laughing
    4. I can’t remember – what was the question?
  4. When I’m around other people, they laugh and joke:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. I never hang around other people, they might laugh at me!
  5. When faced with daily crisis (the dog peed on the rug, I missed the project deadline again, my daughter needs brownies for school NOW!) I respond with a laugh:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Only if it’s someone else’s rug, deadline, or child
  6. I do things intentionally to make myself laugh:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. That might hurt!
  7. The people I spend most of my time with:
    1. Leave me feeling drained and depressed
    2. Don’t really affect my attitude
    3. Make me laugh a lot
    4. Usually steal my lunch money
  8. I can name:
    1. One thing that almost always makes me laugh
    2. Two things that almost always make me laugh
    3. At least three things that almost always makes me laugh
    4. My closest relatives
  9. I laugh at myself:
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. Only when I’m not in the room
  10. I do silly things on purpose (wear strange buttons, make funny noises, and do things to see how others will respond):
    1. Never
    2. Sometimes
    3. Often
    4. No one ever notices
  11. When I hear people laughing at work, the first thing I think is:
    1. I wish I could get paid to goof off
    2. I wish I knew what the joke is
    3. How wonderful that they’re having a good time, I think I’ll join them
    4. That it’s Saturday and I shouldn’t even be here

How to score your laughter profile

Give yourself the following points for each letter: a=0 b=1 c=2 d=3. Then add them up to obtain your total score.

If your score is less than 5, you are suffering from humor malnutrition. Someone probably told you “Grow up, get serious!” and you did. In order for you to find the humor in daily events, you will have to start slowly – first by convincing yourself that humor is an acceptable emotion and one that is healthy when used regularly.

If your score is from 6 to 15, you occasionally have a good laugh, but your life lacks humor regularity. Remember, laughter is like exercise – you have to do it regularly to get the full benefit. Use it or lose it! You’re good at expressing humor when you find things funny, but your goal now is to try to find humor in those things that usually make you angry, annoyed, or irritated.

If your score is from 16 to 20, you are humorously fit! Not only do you approach life with the right amount of humor and benefit from it, you also probably make other people’s lives more enjoyable. You should become a friend and role model for people around you who need the healing power of humor yet who don’t seem to be able to use it in their lives.

If your score is from 21 to 33, you’re downright silly, aren’t you? Don’t stifle those childish instincts! Sure they told you in school that the class clown would never go anywhere in life. But they were wrong! Look at Chris Rock! He’s taking it to the bank.

Click here for a printable version.

Your Humor Compass: Where do you find the funny in life?

Friends laugh togetherNow that you have a better idea of your ability and willingness to use humor on a daily basis, it is important to understand the kinds of things that you find funny. After all, just as our taste in food or art varies, so does our taste in what is and is not funny to us.

An important note here: You do not necessarily have to laugh out loud to find something funny. One of my best friends and I went to a movie together a few years ago. I laughed so hard I couldn’t see through the tears. She sat there quietly. Afterwards, she said the movie was one of the funniest she had seen in years.

Ask yourself the following questions to determine the types of humor that you will be able to use to most effectively manage your stress.

  • Do you laugh more at the physical or slapstick humor you find in the Three Stooges, I Love Lucy, Perfect Strangers, and The Mask, or do you prefer verbal humor, or do you enjoy both?
  • Do you have a strong sense of humor ethics? In other words, do you find certain specific types of jokes to be offensive rather than funny?
    It is important for you to understand the types of humor that distress you rather than tickle you. They may include stereotypical jokes, put-downs, or humor about certain subjects that are too close to your heart for you to find them fanny at present.
  • Do you like jokes that focus on things you have in common with the comedian?
    Studies indicate that many people do prefer humor that speaks to their own personal experience, which means that we often prefer comedy from people who are similar in age, race, or gender.|
  • Do you like topical humor, jokes that build on current events?
    Late night humorists are scheduled to appear on television after the news to help people cope with the negative images painted during the evening newscast. If this type of humor is appealing to you, you can try, yourself, to find humor in your local newspaper and nightly news report.
  • Do you like wordplay and puns?
    An interesting thing that I have discovered is that different types of humor appear to be more or less popular in different parts of the United States. When teaching humor classes, I have noted, for example, that people from the Midwest tend to enjoy the humor of puns more than people from other areas of the country.
  • Do you prefer humor that stands on its own, or do you like props and gimmicks?
    Some people find Gallagher extremely funny (for those of you who don’t know, he’s the guy famous for smashing watermelons on stage). Others think he’s just silly.
  • Do you regularly find humor in things that aren’t necessarily meant to be funny?
    For example, do you make jokes about commercials, billboards, medical forms, or warning labels on food packages?

Answering these questions for yourself will help you identify the types of humor to seek out, as well as the types of humor you yourself may attempt in order to reduce your stress and have more fun in life.

Mental Health Issues: Erasing the Stigma

Erasing the Stigma of Mental Health Issues

Managing Intense Anxiety WorkbookExcerpted from Managing Intense Anxiety Workbook
By Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak, EdD

Mental health stigma can be divided into two types. Social stigma is characterized by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health issues. Perceived stigma is the internalizing by the people with mental health issues of their understanding of discrimination.

The following worksheets will help you learn to change the stigma of mental health issues and deal with their impact in a more effective way. Click here for a printable version.

The Stigma of Mental Health Issues

People who experience mental health issues in their lives are prone to reoccurring symptoms. When this happens, they often have a stigma placed on them by other people. Often the stigma attached to this issue stops one from moving forward—being unable to talk about it for fear of being judged or labeled. We can erase the stigma of any mental health issues by starting to discuss it with one person at a time, and taking the time to explain the anxiety you lived through in the past.

Let’s start with people with whom you have already shared your story.

With whom have you discussed your issues?


What did you say? What was this person’s reaction? What did the person say?


How did you feel?








People in your community or your house of worship








If any one of the above reacted in a negative way, to what do you attribute that reaction?






If we stamp out the stigma attached to mental health issues, shed the shame and eliminate the fear, then we open the door for people to speak freely about what they are feeling and thinking.

~ Jaletta Albright Desmond

Journal about what this quotation means to you. How can you do your part to erase the stigma of mental illness.

Glenn Close said, “The most powerful way to change someone’s view is to meet them … People who do come out and talk about mental illness, that’s when healing can really begin. You can lead a productive life.

Name a time when you have changed someone else’s view – about anything.




How did that feel to you?






Name a time you were tempted to talk about your anxiety issues, but didn’t? Why not?






Write about a situation in which you talked about your anxiety issues.







How did that feel? How did it work out?






Who is a trusted person you can talk with and begin to heal? Anyone else?




Who is a trusted person you can ask for a referral of someone to talk with in order to begin to heal




Anyone else? In an ideal world, how can you lead a more stable life?






How can you contribute to changing stigma?






Ways I Am Treated

Think about some of the ways that people treat you because of the symptoms you show due to your mental illness. In the spaces below, write about those who treat you unfairly and why.

I am criticized by my family and/or friends …






I am ignored by my family and/or friends …






I encounter problems at work …






I encounter problems at home …






I am subjected to teasing or harassment …






I am laughed at …






I treat myself unfairly by …






I treat myself fairly by …






The Stigma of Going to a Mental Health Therapist 

Many people have pre-conceived ideas about anyone seeking therapy.

Do you know of anyone who has gone to a mental health therapist? Write what you know about

the experience. ______________________________________________________________________










Here are some facts about mental health and mental health therapy.

  • Mental health includes how you act, feel, and think in different situations.
  • Mental health problems can be caused by many different things including medical health issues, abuse (emotional, physical, verbal, sexual), stress, worry, loss of a relationship, food issues, ADHD, STD’s, family changes, addictions, traumatic event, problems, wanting to build up self-confidence, etc.
  • If someone goes to a mental health therapist, this does NOT mean the person is crazy. Mental health therapists treat people the same as any other medical doctor treats problems.
  • There needs to be a good connection between you and the therapist. Your therapist should be someone you feel you can trust.
  • This might take a few meetings and/or a few therapists, to find the right one for you.
  • Non-judgmental people who truly care about you will not judge you in a negative way. They will be proud of you for seeking help.
  • The therapist does not assume that you have a mental illness. The therapist assumes something is troubling you, knows that no one leads a perfect life, and admires you for trying to make changes in your life.
  • The therapist’s job is to help you understand what’s going on.
  • The therapist will not tell you how to live your life, or how to think, act, or believe.
  • The therapist is not an advice-giver, but will help you think about how to increase your quality of life.
  • The therapist may have some thoughts, and with you, will help you make changes.
  • The therapist can help you to increase your life management skills.
  • The therapist will help you recognize and express your feelings in a healthy way.
  • The only person who can “fix” your problems is you, but a therapist will help you with an action plan.
  • The mental health therapist may suggest that you see a medical doctor for medication.
  • Therapy can be a slow or long process. Being open and honest, and wanting to feel better, will make the difference.

Place an X by the facts that you were not aware of.

What are your concerns about talking with a mental health therapist?_ __________________________








After learning about these facts, consider making a commitment to speak with a counselor or therapist.

National Military Appreciation Month

May is National Military Appreciation Month

Excerpted from Veterans: Surviving and thriving after trauma
By Ester R.A. Leutenberg and Carol Butler, MS Ed, RN, C

Forward by John Sippola, LTC, ret., MDiv

Veterans front coverDeclared by Congress in 1999, May was selected National Military Appreciation Month as a month-long observance honoring the sacrifices of the United States Armed Forces.  There are more military related observances during the month of May than any other month, so it is an appropriate time to celebrate the men and women in uniform.  During May, we recognize Loyalty Day, VE Day (the end of World War II in Europe on May 8, 1945), Armed Forces Day, Military Spouses Day and Memorial Day.

War casts a long shadow. For far too many service members and their families, the initial expressions of welcome, joy and relief are soon overshadowed by hidden wounds to mind, body and spirit. Too many veterans find they are engaged in yet another desperate battle. And, in this hidden war after the war they discover enemies they feel ill-equipped to fight. Aftershocks of war-related trauma and dangerous undertows of depression sabotage their mission for a more satisfying life in community. Moral injury drowns the quest for inner peace, and substance abuse undermines hard-won gains.

Initially, homecoming is happiness, applause and affection, but reintegration to daily life does not resume as they knew it. Veterans, their partners and families have changed. The labor market may not welcome their skills; their finances may plunge. Statistics show alarmingly high suicide and unemployment rates.

Help abounds via the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Department of Defense, Wounded Warrior Project and numerous governmental and private agencies. Many veterans are reluctant to seek assistance due to the perceived stigma of asking for help; others are too overwhelmed, unaware of available resources, or receive little or no help for other reasons.

As more veterans return from combat, society is increasingly aware of their needs. They will be directed toward professional and spiritual counselors. Veterans differ from other abuse survivors; they have seen atrocities and experienced horrors most civilians cannot comprehend. Their intelligence, determination and resilience that served our country are now needed to save themselves, to heal their invisible and visible wounds.

One of the issues Veterans face is how to problem solve when they are overwhelmed with problems. They often need help finding a way to break their difficulties down to something manageable. The exercise, Problems Can Be Opportunities, will help them discover a way to prioritize their issues and work through a solution…a solution that works for them. A facilitator’s guide is supplied here.

A downloadable version of the exercise “Problems Can Be Opportunities” is found here.


RCT: It’s All About the Relationship

Relational-Cultural Theory Series, Previous Articles:

What is Relational-Cultural Theory?
Transforming Community Through Disruptive Empathy
Combining the Neuroscience of Relational-Cultural Theory and Clinical Practice
RCT: The Power of Connection Through Student and Professional Mentorship


It’s All About the Relationship

By Julie Kim, MSW, LICSW 

Transforming Community Relational Cultural TheoryFrom: Transforming Community: Stories of connection through the lens of Relational-Cultural theory

Edited by: Connie Gunderson, PhD, LISW, Dorothy Graff, PhD, LICSW, & Karen Craddock, PhD, EdM

As a student counselor with Health Services at the University of Minnesota, Duluth, I am sharing a personal story relating insights and experiences about surviving systems of oppression to living. Learning about Relationship-Cultural theory (RCT) clarifies the impacts of racism and oppression and helps people of color move from survival and isolation to building a foundation to live a meaningful life. RCT reflects my values, validates my personal experiences, and has taught me about the power of connection and healing. Julie Kim may be contacted at

“It’s all about the relationship” is a phrase Connie Gunderson says quite often. It couldn’t be more true, as I reflect on my life journey so far. Relational-Cultural theory (RCT), developed by the work of Jean Baker Miller, identifies the concept of chronic disconnection, a disconnection which promotes condemned isolation to such a degree that relationships are feared and persons have a sense they do not deserve loving relationships filled with understanding.

As a Korean girl, adopted at a young age into a white family, and growing up in a predominantly white community, I began my journey into condemned isolation. Being told daily that I didn’t belong, I wasn’t wanted, and I needed to go back to my country was reinforced through people’s attitudes and by systems I was involved in every day. Always feeling a sense of being left out, of being different, I was a label of ridicule, especially because of my appearance. Hearing comments such as: “Chink, you would be cute if your eyes were bigger. Can you see out of your eyes?” was a normal occurrence. I experienced an additional sense of condemned isolation because, since I was not fully Korean, I didn’t fit into the American culture and I did not belong in my home country. “Where do I belong?” and “Where do I fit in?” were common questions that continued until I reached my early 30s.

Learning about racism and beginning to understand the personal consequences of racism turned my world into wonder, curiosity, and the unknown. “What am I supposed to do with this information?”, and “Will it change my life?” At the time I remember thinking: “It was never my fault.” This was a defining message that promoted internal change. I began to seek people who would support me for the way I looked; who understood my life experience; and who accepted my authentic self; an authentic self no longer ruled by fear, people’s glares, or by people asking me personal questions about whether or not I was a “foreigner”, or why I was in the United States.

Living authentically didn’t come easy at first. I constantly questioned myself about whether or not my perceptions and ideas were valid. However, as I moved into deeper questions and reflections, my relationships became deeper and more intentional. Feeling accepted and understood was profound and life changing and I started to believe “I do matter” because my relationships reinforced this every day.

My journey continues and I am constantly reminded of my story as I listen to college students of color share their experiences which are very similar to my own. My goal is to help them recognize that they are enough, their multiple identities matter, and to teach them to live authentically. I say this because I know that no one can do this work alone or in isolation. For example, I was provided the opportunity to teach an all student of color course and in doing so, we created an environment that was not influenced by institutionalized systems already in place. In looking back, the students and I created an environment from the basic tenets of Relational-Cultural theory that modeled interdependence, empathy, mutuality, and connection. SunNy Vang, a class participant, summed up the learning experience for all by stating:

My experiences with relationship building in our class began from a place of vulnerability. As a person of color, I struggle tremendously with a sense of belonging. Knowing that I do not “fit” nicely with what is considered normal or customary; I learned to appreciate it and to acknowledge that I have more to contribute to my community. These awarenesses did not happen overnight. We had discussions every day that reflected our reactions, thinking processes, and how we felt about a number of awesome and sad things. We all came from different places and our stories were welcomed. We connected on a far deeper level compared to other classes.

The students and I focused on building empathic relationships, and it truly fostered a responsive and relevant teaching and learning environment in ways that included much more than racial, social, and ethnic demographics. We supported each other by validating and embracing each other’s knowledge, values, experiences, and differences. We all became more mutually responsive persons. I’m truly grateful for the students, as their insights and experiences have helped me to grow and continue to heal. Connie Gunderson was right, “It’s all about the relationship”.