Is Your Stress Spoiling Your Holiday Experience?

Only 9 more days until December 25th and the stress level is rising. Cortisol is racing through your body, anger is way too likely to erupt into a scene, and burned cookies turn into a disaster equal to global warming. What can be done over the next few days so that the big day is one of joy and celebration and not one of apologizing to your loved ones because you lost your temper when the dog ate a roll of wrapping paper.

Here are some suggestions that may help.

In The Wellness Lifestyle Workbook by Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak PhD, they suggest the following tips for managing your stress.

1.         Seek to change the situation

How is that supposed to work, anyway? You can’t change the situation, the Holidays are coming in only nine days and you have to be ready. Try reframing the issue by saying, “The holidays will be here in nine days. I will complete the most important tasks before me and celebrate that I managed that. I will not fret about what cannot be accomplished.”

2.  Be more organized

Being more organized is a no-brainer. Make a prioritized list of what needs to be done. Put a couple of easy ones at the top so you get the satisfaction of crossing them off quickly. As you write it, remind yourself for example, that twenty different kinds of cookies are not necessary for a happy holiday.

3.  Ask someone to alter his or her behavior

Someone making you crazy? Constantly asking if you got this or that done and bemoaning the fact that you didn’t. Ask them to alter their behavior. Nicely. Don’t scream at them to back off right after they ask you the same question for the tenth time. When your temper is under control tell them that their constant questioning (read nagging) about what is and isn’t done only makes you crabby and slows you down.

4.  Exercise

Get out of the house for a run or go for a swim. If the weather is too bad go to the Y, the mall, or the gym and be in the moment while you are there. Think of how good it feels as the endorphins speed through your body. Notice how much better you feel when you get home after a few hours away.

5.  Engage in deep breathing, meditation, etc.

If you have tried meditation or guided imagery you already know how helpful it can be. If you are a newbie, find someone who will read you a relaxation script or purchase a relaxation CD. They are quite inexpensive and can be an amazing help. Remember, though, if you are trying this technique for the first time it might take a few attempts before it works easily. Here is a link to a good beginner’s relaxation script.

6.  Be assertive

How can being assertive help your stress levels? The thought of conflict makes many folks cringe. However, learning to say no is an important part of maintaining your mental health. Don’t say yes to something you don’t have time to do.

7.  Alter irrational beliefs

This is one of the best stress relievers. During the holidays many people try to replicate what they had as a child. Handmade gifts, tons of cookies and candies prepared to perfection, a huge dinner with all the relatives before the midnight service, a spotless house before the kids wake up in the morning, a gingerbread house that replicates the National Cathedral, or wrapping each stocking gift separately and writing a poem to go on each one. Most of us work full time.  Most of our mothers did not. It is irrational to expect to get the same amount of preparation done in the time we have. Rewrite your expectations of what the holidays should be keeping in mind your limited free time. Get rid of the traditions that are marginal to the enjoyment of your family and go with a plan that is actually possible.

8.  Withdraw from the situation

Withdrawing from the situation doesn’t have to be as drastic as it sounds. Perhaps you sing in your church choir. Maybe you always shovel the snow for your neighbor. It could be that you are the one who prepares the coffee and cookies for after the service. Someone else can do those things. Trust in the fact that as valuable as you are to the organizations you serve there are others who would relish the chance to try their expertise on what you do.

9.         Accept the stressor

You can, of course, simply accept the thing that is stressing you out. Saying to yourself I’m going to be a bit more stressed than usual because I have to finish 20 angel costumes by morning and then hitting the machine and doing it doesn’t really relieve the stress of the moment, but if you insist on doing the task you know is going to make you a bit crazy you can accept the stress that comes along with it. Understanding this will help you get through whatever it is with grace. Finishing the task will give you an immediate lift in spirits.

10.       Maintain good health by nurturing yourself

Don’t forget during this often frantic time of the year to take good care of yourself. You can’t avoid holiday stress if you are overtired, hungry, or have overindulged in your favorite treats. Don’t eat the whole fruitcake, don’t feel you have to finish that last Tom and Jerry,  remember to take your meds on time, and don’t cheat yourself of needed sleep. Limit your day and go to bed at least within an hour or so of the usual time. You will find that you get lots more done if you are fully awake and rested.

Leutenberg and Liptak suggest these coping strategies in The Wellness Life Style Workbook that will help manage your stress.

  • Changing old habits takes time. Do not attempt to change too much too soon or you might get frustrated.
  • Assess the types of support you will get from family and friends before choosing your coping strategies.
  • Remember that you cannot change or control everything. Focus on which you have control.
  • Do not expect a single coping strategy to “fix” the stressful situation.

Suicide and Self-Injury on the Rise

Whole Person Associates announces publication of two new resources: Suicide & Self-Injury Prevention: A Clinician’s Guide to Assist Adult Clients and the Teen Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention Workbook, two outstanding new offerings from Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD.

Suicide & Self-Injury Prevention Workbook

Suicide rates are on the increase in every state except Nevada. They are rising at an alarming rate: by more than 30% in half of the states and as much as 58% in some. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States. Every 28 seconds someone attempts suicide. Retrieved from on 6/17/19.

What can a clinician or trusted mentor do to help end this epidemic? Where does one look to find the right avenues to follow? Will discussing suicide with someone we are concerned about simply place suicide ideation in their minds where it wasn’t before instead of diverting the person’s mind to a safer place?

Not so. In their two new books, Suicide and Self-Injury Prevention Workbook: A Clinician’s Guide to Assist Adult Clients and the Teen Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention Workbook authors Ester Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD, collaborate to create a resource “…to help clients recognize that many other people have many of the same issues, to which no shame is connected, and that self-injury and/or suicide is definitely not the answer to their problems.” Trained clinicians are given a plethora of assessments to help discover what their clients are thinking and feeling. Worksheets and handouts then provide methodology to guide clients through a process to reevaluate their situation and find reasons to continue the battle and lead them to find their own safe place.

Teen Suicide & Self-Harm Prevention Workbook

Click here for a free worksheet titled Why You Can Be Hopeful.

While self-injury or self-harm are not the same as an attempt of suicide, many of those who self-harm eventually adopt suicidal ideation. A review of some of the myths about self-harm from the teen version of the workbook reminds us that it isn’t just kids who self-harm.

Myths about SELF-HARM
It is important to look at self-harm from an objective mindset. Below are some of the myths and misconceptions that surround the topic of self-harm.

MYTH: Only adults self-harm.
People of all ages self-harm. Self-harm is not particularly meant as a suicide attempt. It is an unhealthy attempt to cope with emotional pain such as anger, frustration, loss, sadness, etc., and physical pain.

MYTH: Teens who self-harm are usually open about self-harm behavior.
Self-harm in teens is usually kept private.

MYTH: Teens who self-harm do this as an occasional expression of behavior and only do it once or twice.
Some teens may self-harm once or twice and then stop. However, many teens do it frequently and it becomes a long-term, continual behavior, and possibly a habit.

MYTH: Teens who self-harm use only the cutting behavior.
Teens who self-harm cut or scratch with a sharp object, hit or punch themselves, carve on or pierce the skin, pull out hair, burn, pick at a wound, etc., or continually put themselves in harm’s way, i.e., engage in fights, drive recklessly, abuse substances, etc.

MYTH: Only teens with a mental illness consider self-harm.
Not all teens who self-harm have a mental illness, but they may have emotional, physical, and/or social issues that create unbearable emotions that lead to extreme physical responses.

MYTH: Teens who self-harm are willing to talk about it with others.
Usually, teens who self-harm do not share with other teens. It is vital for the person having self-harm thoughts or behaviors to talk with someone they trust: a therapist, friend, family member, spiritual or religious leader, etc.

MYTH: Self-harm calms the person for a long time.
In fact, the person usually feels guilt, shame, and other painful emotions afterwards.

MYTH: No real damage happens with self-harm.
There is a strong possibility that serious or life-threatening consequences can occur from self-injuring behaviors.

MYTH: Teens self-harm for attention.
Teens who self-harm should not be considered attention-seeking. Teens self-harm for many reasons: to help themselves feel something when they are emotionally numb; to distract themselves from their emotional pain; to punish themselves; or to disfigure themselves.

Although these are only a few of the myths and misconceptions about self-harm, they will provide you with some insight into the thinking that is prevalent about people who self-harm. Encourage individuals to call a trusted person, see a mental health facilitator or medical professional, find a positive support system, and use local or national resources and hotlines.

Click here for the Myths about SELF-HARM handout designed to help clients reframe bothersome incidents.

Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness

By: Peg Johnson, MA

Erasing the stigma of mental illness. But what is stigma? A stigma is defined by Merriam Webster as “A mark of shame or discredit, a stain, such as she bore the stigma of cowardice.”  Defined like this it makes us cringe. Surely an educated person in the U.S. would not think this way. Not true. In a survey published in June 2009, Vol 40, No. 6,  Sadie F. Dingfelder  found that:

Despite decades of public information campaigns costing tens of millions of dollars, Americans may be as suspicious of people with mental illness as ever. New research by Bernice Pescosolido, PhD, published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior (Vol. 41, No. 2), finds that 68 percent of Americans do not want someone with a mental illness marrying into their family and 58 percent do not want people with mental illness in their workplaces.

Sadie F. Dingfelder, Monitor Staff
Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness

Imagine what it feels like to have that stigma applied to you when you are already struggling with mental illness. When the people surrounding you believe that you are socially unacceptable, when they see your illness as an unwanted attribute, it only deepens the sense of unworthiness you are already trying to overcome. 

People who stigmatize and /or stereotype others bring about unfair treatment rather than help. This unfair treatment can be very obvious. For example, people make negative comments or laugh. On the other hand, this unfair treatment can be very subtle. For example, people might assume that a moody person is dangerous or violent. Rather than improving, some attitudes have gotten worse over time: For instance, people are twice as likely today than they were in 1950 to believe that mentally ill people tend to be violent. Sadie Dingfelder reports:

Of course, the vast majority of people with mental illness are not violent—though they are 2.5 times more likely to be victims of violence than members of the general population, according to a study published in 2001 in the International Journal of Law and Psychiatry (Vol. 24, No. 6). And a new study, published in February in the Archives of General Psychiatry (Vol. 66, No. 2) finds that mental illness alone does not increase the chances that a person will become violent.

Sadie Dingfelder

How can we reduce or (better yet) succeed in erasing the stigma of mental illness? Why should we bother? Compassionate reasons aside, one in four Americans will be affected by a mental health disorder in any given year, and many more will have a family member affected. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), serious mental illness costs the US $193 billion in lost earnings per year. There are ample statistics to underscore the need to remove this extra burden from those already struggling with a difficult diagnosis. Sixty percent of those with a mental illness fail to seek care, many because they fear the stigma.

Erasing the Stigma of Mental Illness Worldwide

The stigma of mental illness is a world-wide issue. What can be done? What has been tried? In Israel Ezer Mizion offers a variety of psychological support services and rehabilitative programs for people suffering from psychological disorders, emotional issues and mental illnesses. These services include:

  • A Big Brother/Sister Program that pairs individuals suffering from mental illnesses with trained mentors who provide companionship, offer assistance with basic daily function, and teach the skills necessary for independent living.
  • Rehabilitative employment centers that provide mentally handicapped people with basic vocational training and employment, and ease their integration into free market employment.
  • A psychological referral team that recommends appropriate psychologists, psychiatrists and counselors to people grappling with emotional disturbances, mental health issues or difficult relationships.
  • A network of psychiatrists and psychologists throughout Israel who provide their services at a discount to patients referred by Ezer Mizion.
  • A 24-hour crisis hotline for non-medical emergencies, including mental health crises such as suicide attempts or severe manic episodes.
  • Click here to go to their website:

In Canada the focus has been on the prevalence of mental illness, as well as the symptoms of the disease. JianLi Wang, Phd, found 75 percent of Canadians could diagnose a depressed person described in a story. A follow-up survey revealed the not-so-good other side of the issue. Forty-five percent of the folks surveyed said they were sure depressed people are unpredictable, and 20 percent believed the depressed folks were dangerous. Wang posited, “You can hold the belief that mental illness is a real disease and still be afraid of people with it.”

The message that mental illness is a disease like any other didn’t seem to work, either, according to Bernice Pescosolido, PhD, professor of Social Science at Indiana University. 

A recent campaign in Scotland called “See Me” tried a different strategy around erasing the stigma. It educated reporters and editors about the harmfulness and inaccuracy of the stereotype that people with schizophrenia are prone to violence. While it succeeded in reducing the number of stories linking violence and mental illness, other unexpected results occurred. Coverage of people with mental illness became more negative. They were often shown as being objects of pity (International Journal of Health Promotion (Vol. 10, No. 1). Neil Quinn, PhD, from Glasgow School of Social Work noted that journalists became afraid to report on mental illness.

A lesson of the Scotland campaign, says study co-author Lee Knifton, Head of Scotland, Assistant Director UK, is that anti-stigma campaigns can’t just focus on eradicating negative depictions of people with mental illness. They need to tell positive stories as well, he says. Read more about the Scottish Mental Health Arts and Film Festival at

The take-away: “If you focus on the competence of people with mental illness, that tends to lead to greater tolerance,” says Pescosolido.

Canada is now telling the stories of people with mental illness. Here in the U.S. more and more celebrities and people in the public eye are coming forward to discuss their mental illness and show how they have been able to succeed even though they had a mental illness. The National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMH) has issued the following:

Navigating life with a mental health condition can be tough, and the isolation, blame, and secrecy often encouraged by stigma can create huge challenges to reaching out, getting needed support, and living well. Learning how to avoid and address stigma are important for all of us, especially when you realize stigma’s effects:

  • People experiencing mental health conditions often face rejection, bullying and discrimination. This can make their journey to recovery longer and more difficult.
  • Mental health conditions are the leading cause of disability across the United States.
  • Even though most people can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need.
  • The average delay between the onset of symptoms and intervention is 8-10 years.
  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death of youth ages 15-24 and the tenth leading cause of death for all Americans.

Click here to go to the NAMI site and sign the pledge to fight mental illness stigma: Let’s work together on erasing the stigma, and unite to relieve those with mental illness from this additional burden.

Sexual Abuse Survivors

Do Victims of Sexual Abuse Survive?

Almost every day we hear about a new case of celebrity sexual abuse. Is this because of things like the #MeToo movement… people feel more comfortable talking about these issues, or is there an overall increase in individual cases? The experts are divided. In a story by Kristy Totten of Nevada Public Radio it was reported that:

Daniele Dreitzer, the executive director of the Rape Crisis Center, told KNPR’s State of Nevada said, “We’re not seeing evidence that this is a result of more assaults happening. We really do believe that it is more people feeling comfortable speaking out.”

Dreitzer said more people are coming forward with their own experience or are calling to ask how to help family and friends. She attributes the rise in calls to people breaking their silence through the Me Too movement and the change in the national conversation about sexual violence.

“More people are recognizing I think that in some cases may be an experience they had that they didn’t necessarily identify as being sexual violence maybe was,” she said.

Here are some common myths about sexual abuse:

  • MYTH: Sexual abuse only occurs to women. In fact, both men and women can be perpetrators and victims of sexual abuse.
  • MYTH: Sexual abuse always occurs between strangers. In fact, most victims of sexual abuse actually know or are related to their perpetrator.
  • MYTH: Sexual abuse is always violent. In fact, many acts of sexual abuse are not violent, but all people have the right to decide what they want to do and what they do not want to do sexually.
  • MYTH: Sexual abuse occurs most often in same-sex relationships. In fact, sexual abuse occurs in both same-sex and opposite-sex relationships.
  • MYTH: Sexual Abuse always involves physical contact. In fact, sexual abuse may not involve any physical contact at all and can include such behaviors as repeatedly using sexual insults to other people, spying on someone, spreading explicit sexts, ogling or leering, suggestive comments, etc.

Just as myths abound about sexual abuse, many people who have been sexually abused develop several critical misconceptions about themselves and their value as human beings.

  • “I’m damaged goods now.” Many survivors feel that the abuse has made them sexually inadequate or inferior to other people. They often feel as if they can never get their adequacy back.
  • “I’m a sexual object.” Many survivors have lost their sexual identity due to the abuse and believe
  • that they must either please others, or see themselves as easily controlled by others.
  • “Bad things happen to bad people. I must be bad.” Many survivors believe this about themselves and think they deserved this abuse. This is not true. Bad things sometimes happen to good people.
  • “I am dirty.” Many survivors cannot push the feeling of being dirty out of their mind and/or body.
  • “I’m a bad person.” “I deserved it.” “No one will ever want or love me.” “I should have known.”

Many survivors experience feelings of guilt and shame. Consequently, they feel like they are worthless and unlovable. Although all of these conclusions are not true, they can cause tremendous mental, emotional, and physical damage. They represent a negative self-concept and can be extremely demeaning to the survivor. If these notions continue, survivors need to see a mental health and/or medical professional.

Common Reactions of Adults Who have Been Abused

As sexual abuse becomes a bigger problem for people on all levels of society, it is important to make note of the specific symptoms people may be experiencing or exhibiting. Because many of the symptoms tend to stay with survivors throughout their lives, it is important to acknowledge these symptoms as survivors work to recover and heal. People who have been abused may exhibit many of the following symptoms:

AngerHatred of bodySexual addiction
Boundary issuesHelplessnessShame
ConfusionInability to control feelingsSuicidal thoughts
DepressionIsolation from PeopleTrust issues
Detachment while having sexLack of interrest in sexUnable to enjoy sex
Disturbing sexual thoughtsLow self-esteemUnrealistic expectations of self
Eating disorderNegative view of sexUnusual response when being touched
EmbarrassmentPanic attacksVictim thinking
Empty feelingPoor self-acceptance
FearProblems with rage and anger
Fear of a physical examRelationship issues
Feeling worthless or “dirty”Sadness

In order to heal and thrive after being sexually abused, people need support, trust, and understanding as they begin their healing journey.

Special Safety Considerations When Working with Survivors of Sexual Abuse

Your professional skills and familiarity with your participants is crucial. Emphasize that participants are survivors. Skills that helped in the past may help now, in addition to new strategies. They are already working toward recovery by attending this session. Reassure participants about their safety, their control, and their empowerment.

Emphasize the following:

  • They decide what to disclose, when, and how, (through writing, drawing, etc.).
  • Their privacy is respected: sharing is voluntary, and what is said in session stays in session.
  • No one must stay in the room or be forced to participate.
  • They may stop, take a break, or request a different activity, etc., if they feel overwhelmed.

Discuss and legitimize concerns. Telling too much too soon can be overwhelming. A slower pace may be safer. People may have told them “It’s no big deal.” It is a big deal. Explain that emotional reactions are unique to each person, and reactions may range from numbness to panic. Discuss that cultural factors affect responses to abuse and to attitudes toward seeking help. Alternate between coping skills activities and trauma-related work. Plan to end each session with deep breathing, guided imagery, or another relaxation technique. Allow people to select their seats (some may want to be near an exit, etc.). Opt for the maximum distance between seats for privacy and personal space preferences. Prepare participants for exposure to others’ emotions, disclosures and sexual content. Tell people to share if they feel uncomfortable or need a time-out from an intense situation. Ask whether the majority of participants prefer brighter or dimmer lighting.

Safety Plans

Encourage group participants to request private sessions as needed. Emphasize the importance of telling the facilitator if anyone has thoughts of violence or self-harm. Create a climate of collaboration. Demonstrate that facilitators are partners in the recovery process, not authority figures.

Encourage peers to support each other by engaging in these ways:

  • Sharing thoughts and feelings within their comfort zone.
  • Modeling coping skills.
  • Asking for help.
  • Demonstrating self-care and assertiveness.
  • Setting boundaries, e.g., what one will and won’t disclose to the group.
  • Reinforce resiliency by assisting participants to achieve these goals:
  • Develop a support system of people, places, and resources that promote recovery.
  • Help others.
  • Focus on strengths.
  • Recall positive experiences.
  • Gain perspective through spirituality, religion, higher power, peace in nature, etc.
  • Nurture hope for a healthy future.

These worksheets will help your clients begin to verbalize and explore their experiences. Click here for printable versions.

The information above was excerpted from Coping with Sexual Abuse by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John J. Liptak, EdD.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is about developing the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where you are and what you are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by daily hassles. Mindfulness is a tremendous technique, one that is powerful for snapping you back to where you are in the present and what you are doing and feeling. While all people possess the ability to develop mindfulness, it is rarely activated and utilized when daily hassles build up and begin to cause stress and frustration.

Mindfulness Skills Workbook

Mindfulness has been described as a state of mind in which people can observe mental activity without attaching to it or evaluating it. Mindfulness is about becoming aware of your natural tendency to sleepwalk through life. When on autopilot, you navigate through the day totally unaware of what you are doing. This happens when a driver arrives at work and does not even remember traveling there, or the person who is so busy thinking about the future that the beauty of the present is overlooked.

Through mindfulness, people can recognize when they are operating on autopilot and step into the present moment free from worry, anxiety, and stress. It is paying attention on purpose, being present in your surroundings and with people, and enjoying and appreciating life more. Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is going on with the body, mind, and environment which leads to an understanding of how you are getting stuck in autopilot. By developing mindfulness, people can build a fresh perspective and start to become more aware of personal habits that cause stress, fear, dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger. With this awareness comes the ability to stop reacting to daily hassles and start to begin to make more effective life choices.

Although mindfulness is not automatic and does not occur spontaneously, it can be learned and practiced so that it can be accessed intentionally when needed. Some of the characteristics of mindfulness include non-judgmental awareness, paying attention on purpose, remaining non-judgmental, staying in the present, being non-reactive, and remaining openhearted and compassionate.

  • Increased acceptance—By not making evaluations, participants can accept the internal thoughts in their mind and see these messages as simple mental processes rather than pure truths.
  • Greater awareness—Participants will be able to experience expanded awareness and a clearer vision of the world and its processes.
  • Less intense reactions—Participants will be less inclined to react when experiencing the stress of daily hassles. Instead, they will develop an observer stance through which they are free from evaluation, attachment, and frustration.
  • Relaxed approach—Participants will learn to relax to be better able to cope with worry, anxiety, and stress related to daily hassles in life.
  • Calm demeanor—Participants develop a state of mind in which they are mentally and physically at peace. They will be prepared to deal more effectively with the daily worry, anxiety, and stress caused by everyday hassles. They will experience greater overall well-being.
  • Mental functioning—Participants will experience greater concentration, focus, and self-awareness that will promote greater personal and professional growth and development.

What are Your Daily Hassles?

Negative big-life events such as losing a job, death of a loved one, and moving to another location can be extremely stressful and can cloud every moment of the day. On the other hand, it is the daily annoying or troublesome concerns that cause enough worry, anxiety, and/or stress to wear people down over time.

Select your daily hassles from the list below. Journal about why they are hassles for you.

Big life events
Future concerns
Getting ahead
Home maintenance
Losing things
Past events
Sleep issues
Social obligations
To-do list
Volunteer job
World affairs

Click here for printable worksheet: What Are Your Daily Hassles?

Are you operating on autopilot?

Living on autopilot means to do something without focusing on it or thinking about what is actually happening. Many people live their lives doing the same things over and over regardless of the results they receive. When this occurs, people lack awareness of what is occurring in their lives, and they operate from habit.

Respond to the questions below by journaling about your day yesterday to see how mindful you are.

What time did you wake up in the morning?
What did you eat for breakfast?
What did you eat for lunch?
What did you eat for dinner?
What snacks did you have throughout the day?
Who did you see throughout the day and what did you talk about?
What was your most pleasant moment of the day and how did you feel?
What was your most stressful moment and how did you feel?
Who was kind to you? Explain.
To whom were you kind? Explain.
How did your day end?
What time did you go to sleep?

The more you remember about your day, the more mindful you tend to be. On a separate sheet of paper, or in your journal pick one or two items and expand your reflections in detail.

Click here for printable worksheet: How Mindful Are You?

*Excerpted from Mindfulness Skills Workbook: Remedies for Worry, Anxiety & Stress

Celebrate Social Workers: National Social Work Month

Celebrated each March, National Professional Social Work Month is an opportunity for social workers across the country to turn the spotlight on their profession and highlight the important contributions they make to society…. We celebrate the contributions of social workers during National Social Work Month in March.

Elevate Social Workers

Who are Social Workers, and what do they do?

Social workers are responsible for helping individuals, families, and groups of people to cope with problems they’re facing to improve their lives. Child and family social workers protect vulnerable children and support families in need of assistance. Social workers help people solve and cope with problems in their everyday lives. Clinical social workers also diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional issues.

Advocacy is an important aspect of social work. Social workers advocate or raise awareness with and on behalf of their clients and the social work profession on local, state, and national levels.

Social workers typically do the following:

  • Identify people and communities in need of help
  • Assess clients’ needs, situations, strengths, and support networks to determine their goals
  • Help clients adjust to changes and challenges in their lives, such as illness, divorce, or unemployment
  • Research, refer, and advocate for community resources, such as food stamps, childcare, and healthcare to assist and improve a client’s well-being
  • Respond to crisis situations such as child abuse and mental health emergencies
  • Follow up with clients to ensure that their situations have improved
  • Maintain case files and records
  • Develop and evaluate programs and services to ensure that basic client needs are met
  • Provide psychotherapy services

Social workers who are licensed to diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders are called clinical social workers (CSW) or licensed clinical social workers(LCSW). They provide individual, group, family, and couples therapy; they work with clients to develop strategies to change behavior or cope with difficult situations; and they refer clients to other resources or services, such as support groups or other mental health professionals. Clinical social workers can develop treatment plans with the client, doctors, and other healthcare professionals and may adjust the treatment plan if necessary based on their client’s progress. They may work in a variety of specialties. Clinical social workers who have not completed two years of supervised work are often called master’s social workers(MSW).

Requirements to be a social worker vary by state, but most states require social workers to be licensed, registered, or certified in their field. For example, it generally requires taking an exam and completing at least two years of supervised clinical experience.

Retrieved on March 5, 2019 from The Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Social Workers, 

Are you working with a social worker? Do you know someone who is in the field? Make a point of giving them a shout out and a big thank you for all they do to benefit others.

Myth or Fact

Continuing our focus on social workers, here are some myths and truths about mental health issues.

Myth: Mental health issues are rare.
Fact: Mental health issues are not rare and affect nearly everyone either directly or indirectly.

Myth: People with mental health issues are unable to lead productive lives.
Fact: Most people with a mental health issue respond to treatment, learn to cope with and manage their problems, and go on to lead productive and fulfilling lives.

Myth: People who have mental health conditions will not get better.
Fact: Once diagnosed, mental health issues are treatable. While they are not always cured, they can be managed effectively. Most people with mental health conditions live productive and positive lives while receiving treatments for their mental health issues. As is the case with any illness, individuals with severe or persistent mental health conditions who respond poorly to available treatments may require more support and may not function as highly as others.

Myth: People with serious mental health issues are violent and unpredictable.
Fact: While some people who suffer from serious mental health issues do commit antisocial acts, mental health issues do not equal criminality or violence – despite the media’s tendency to emphasize a suspected link. People with mental health issues are no more likely to commit violence than anyone in the general public, but they are more likely to be victimized and are more likely to inflict violent behaviors on themselves.

Myth: Mental health issues happen because of bad parenting or personal weakness.
Fact: The main risk factors for mental health issues are not bad parenting or personal weakness but rather genetics, severe and prolonged stress (such as physical or sexual abuse), or other environmental influences (such as birth trauma or head injury).

Myth: Treatments for mental health issues are not usually effective.
Fact: The effectiveness of any treatment depends on a number of factors including the type of mental health issue and the particular needs of the individual. A combination of psychiatric medication and psychotherapy, or social interventions is the most effective way to treat mental health issues.

Myth: Mental health conditions are caused by everyday stressors.
Fact: It may seem that stress is responsible for mental health conditions; however, there is no one clear cause of mental health issues. Rather, it is a result of complex interactions between psychological, biological, genetic, and social factors. Stress, stigma, and lack of support can make it worse on the individual.

Myth: Mental health issues are always hereditary.
Fact: Some mental health issues include a genetic component, which results in a predisposition or vulnerability toward the mental health problems among children and siblings, but environment also plays a key role in the development of certain conditions. If someone in one’s family has a mental health condition, that person will be a higher risk.

Managing Moods

People become sad for a variety of reasons including disappointment, grief, frustration at not being able to accomplish a project or not getting what’s desired, experiencing despair during holiday seasons, etc. When these feelings of sadness and/or dysphoric moods last for hours and even days, they may not be a cause for concern. These feelings are part of the normal “ups” and “downs” of life. It is common for people to feel blue or down, become frustrated and/or experience a sense of emptiness from time to time.

However, a sad mood which won’t let up can change the way people think and feel and may be a sign of a more serious mood problem. When people find themselves for several weeks taking little joy in activities they have previously enjoyed, appear irritable a majority of the time, and feel fatigue and a general loss of energy, they may be experiencing the symptoms of more serious problems.

These more serious mood problems stretch far beyond the normal limits of disappointment, loss, frustration, and joylessness. Mood problems can be accompanied by an inability to cope with everyday life issues and stressors. Rather than temporary feelings of down in the dumps, these extreme feelings tend to last for more than a few hours or days. These feelings tend to affect all aspects of a person’s life and leave the person feeling empty, unable to move, and hopeless for weeks, months and even years.

People who experience problems in maintaining a balanced and healthy overall mood are often incapable of functioning well in daily life. They often experience extreme emotional states, negative feelings, and self-defeating moods that are inconsistent with what is happening in their environment. People struggling with this mental condition find that they are unable to conquer their moodiness in the workplace, at home, with family and friends, at school, and in their community. People who experience moodiness have problems in interpersonal relationships, ability to work effectively, study and concentrate, and in the ways they eat, sleep, relax and live their daily lives.

Types of Serious Mood Inconsistencies for the Facilitator

Many different types of mood disturbances are conveyed and expressed in different forms.

  • Major depression (often referred to as unipolar depression) involves a profoundly sad mood and a high probability of distorted depressive thinking that occur over time.

Some of the additional symptoms:

• A persistent, sad mood most of the day accompanied by feeling empty
• Experiencing a significant reduction in appetite and weight loss when not dieting, or increased appetite and weight gain
• Sleeping too much (hypersomnia) or an inability to sleep (insomnia)
• Feelings of inadequacy
• Racing thoughts and impulsive behaviors
• Hostility or aggression
• Feelings of agitation or feelings of restlessness
• Fatigue, loss of energy or feelings of being slowed down
• Feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt
• Diminished ability to think or concentrate, remember things or be decisive
• Constant feelings of anxiety or feelings of irritability
• Loss of interest in activities, or a decrease in pleasure in activities once enjoyed
• Physical symptoms such as headaches, pain, digestive problems
• Thoughts of suicide and /or danger to others

  • Bipolar depression involves an alteration (like a roller-coaster ride) of down feelings (depression) and up feelings (excessive and often inappropriate euphoric), rapid speech and hyperactivity.

Some additional symptoms:

• Cycles of elation and depression
• Thoughts of suicide and /or danger to others
• Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
• Decrease in the need for sleep
• Flight of ideas
• Distractibility
• Increased engagement in risky behavior

  • Milder forms of depression carry detectable symptoms and impact daily activities in ways that demonstrate a diminished interest in things people usually find interesting or enjoyable.

Some of these types of mood disturbances:

• Dysthymia – Person has a mild depression that lingers for more than two years. For people with dysthymia, life has little pleasure and they tend to be cranky, irritable, and testy.
• Postpartum Depression – Person experiences depression after childbirth. Sometimes called baby blues, this type of depression may be associated with psychological and physical factors.
• Seasonal Affective Disorder – Person experiences depression with seasonal changes in climate and light.

Depression from unknown origins includes feelings of sadness and emptiness, low energy, and a lack of interest that occurs naturally when experiencing change or stress in life. Unlike the feelings of sadness and moodiness that are part of everyday life, many people are often unable to deal with their feelings of sadness and moodiness and their feelings last much longer. The mood is accompanied by feelings of irritability and hostility, a growing sense of fatigue, and a sense of hopelessness about the future.

Sources of Serious Mood Inconsistencies (Click here for a reproducible handout)
Where do disturbances in mood originate? Why do some people experience changes in mood and moodiness, while others do not? That is not an easy question to answer. Because mood inconsistencies are very complex in nature, they usually do not originate from one source. Rather, many things can lead to mood disturbances in people, and often it is not one of the following sources, but a combination of several sources.

Negative Thinking
Distorted, maladaptive, and irrational thinking can cause and enhance feelings of sadness and moodiness. A thorough examination should be conducted of a participant’s thought processes as they relate to and affect feelings.

Genetics and Biology
Family history can influence one’s predisposition to moodiness. A complete medical and psychological history should be completed to identify family members who may also have experienced periods of sadness.

Uncontrollable Situations
Situations in which people find themselves unable to control the outcomes can enhance feelings of sadness, a loss of interest, and a sense of hopelessness and helplessness. An examination of the situations in which participants experience feelings of moodiness should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.

Life Events
An inability to cope with major stressors can be a factor in moodiness. Some of the major stressors that often precede mood disturbances include separation and divorce, traumatic shock, legal troubles, feeling stuck in a situation without an exit, loss of a loved one, and loss of a job. An examination of the life events that may be causing sadness and moodiness should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.

Medical Conditions
People who have medical conditions often experience mood disturbances as a secondary symptom. A participant’s medical history can reveal conditions that might induce a mood problem and should be examined by a medical/psychological professional.

People often experience mood problems from chronic use of alcohol and drugs. An examination of a participant’s drug and alcohol abuse should be examined by a medical/psychological professional.

Lack of Social Support
People who have access to a social support system are much less likely to experience severe and extended bouts of sadness. An examination of participant’s support system should be conducted by a medical/psychological professional.

External Causes of Moodiness

Moodiness develops from a variety of external causes. By becoming more aware of some of the external causes of depressed moods, a plan can be developed to overcome them. Some of the external causes of depressed moods are:

  • Loneliness
  • Lack of social support
  • Recent stressful life experiences
  • Family history of depression
  • Marital or relationship problems
  • Poor self-esteem
  • Financial strain
  • Early childhood trauma or abuse
  • Unemployed or not satisfied with job
  • Health problems or chronic pain
  • Loss of loved one(s)

Click here for an exercise to help clients recognize external causes of depression.

*Excerpted from Managing Moods by Ester R.A. Leutenberg and John Liptak, EdD.

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults: A Blog Series, Part IV

Finding Belonging in the Digital Age

By Donna Torney, MA, LMHC, RYT

If you had a magic wand, and could build your ideal community, what would it look like?  Clarifying who you consider your “people” will help you discover a deeper sense of belonging.

Picture this scene:  It’s a warm, sunny day in a small city or town. You are strolling by an outdoor café. The tables are full of people sipping coffee and nibbling pastries. Some people are talking to one another, but most are looking at their hand-held devices. Are they feeling connected, or lonely?  It’s really hard to tell isn’t it?  And what about you?  Are you, as you walk by the café, feeling a sense of belonging?

Finding social connection today is a different process than it was even a decade ago. But the fact is, like our ancestors, we are social animals and in most cases experience a stronger sense of well-being when we travel in a group versus flying solo. So what does it mean to feel like you “belong” in the digital age? 

Finding Belonging in the Digital Age

Technology is wonderful! I am after all writing this article on my laptop, on a program that helps me catch typos and make my points as clearly as possible. However, the pervasiveness of technology can trick us into thinking that we are physically evolving just as rapidly as our digital gadgets. We are much more than walking, talking, processing systems. Our nervous system is the same as our grandparents and our great-great grandparents. This slow-to-evolve system that we all share needs to be cared for and tended to with connection to community and the natural world.

You may be thinking, “Well, I’m an introvert,” or “I get enough time with my friends online.”  But just imagine that you have zero connection to other humans and zero connection to nature. A bit unsettling, isn’t it? Remembering that you are a social animal and part of the natural ecosystem will help you build motivation to stay connected. But we need more than this reminder. To build our ideal community we also need to feel safe in this ecosystem.

If you are feeling stressed by daily life or even struggling with anxiety or low energy, it’s going to be difficult for you to connect with your people. When I talk to clients about building community, I first talk about emotion regulation skills. If you are anxious, do you know how to calm yourself down?  If you are tired or overwhelmed, do you have the skills to shift your energy just enough to accept an invitation to go for a walk with a friend?  We need to find physical/emotional balance. After we do that, finding belonging becomes much, much easier.

Once you are feeling safe, you can start to build compassion for yourself and for others. Here’s one way to flex your compassion muscle:  Remember that everyone around you wants and needs a community just as much as you. My husband and I recently planned a holiday party. When it came time to get ready, we were faced with an all-night rainstorm.  My internal dialogue started sounding something like this:  “Nobody is going to want to make the effort to come out in the rain…. What were we thinking?”  As it turns out, people did show up – a small but lovely mixture of old and new friends. I may have cancelled the party and missed out on a very pleasant event if I hadn’t continued to remind myself that I was building community by creating an opportunity to connect. Keeping this in mind is a form of compassion and self-compassion. We all want and need to connect. It’s okay if we don’t do it perfectly – or if we get stuck in the rain on the way to the party.

“Who the heck am I anyway?  It would sure help to know the answer to that question before I try to find my ideal community.”   This is a universal and timeless question. Problems arise when we think we have to be some fully formed version of ourselves before we pursue friendships. After all, everybody seems to have it all together on Facebook, right?  Rest assured, we are all works-in-progress. We are allowed to grow, mature, and change through the decades of our lives. If you honor this truth about your human existence, you are giving others the opportunity to do the same. Score another point for self-acceptance and compassion.

People hiking finding belonging in nature

There are some experiences that just can’t be digitized, but a sense of belonging doesn’t necessarily have to come from other people. You can also foster a greater feeling of belonging by paying attention to your physical surroundings and cultivating a sense of place. This develops through directly experiencing and learning about a particular area. You can cultivate a sense of place by having direct exposure to the history, geographical features, natural elements, and culture of a place. What is your favorite natural element of your home base?  Where are your favorite places to sit? Developing a sense of place will help you feel connected to a community and less alone even if you are by yourself. You can take this a step further by assessing the needs of you community and becoming an active member of a local organization.

Remember – don’t give up. Continue to honor your nervous system, your work-in-progress identity, and your community.  Even if it feels unnatural or if you tend to lean toward the introverted side, try to connect one of your people or your physical surroundings every day. If you hate small talk, remember the saying, “There is no small talk.” You never know when a “meaningless” interaction might be profound for the person you are talking to, or for yourself.

To read more about mindfulness check out Mindfulness for Emerging Adults by Donna Torney, as well as Mindfulness Skills Workbook: Remedies for Worry, Anxiety & Stress or the Teen Mindfulness Skills Workbook, also available from Whole Person Associates,

Largest Trial of Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

A recent article in the New York Times had a headline that read, “Schools in England Introduce a New Subject: Mindfulness”. In reality, the British schools have launched a study to discover in today’s world of rapid change what mindfulness and mental health relaxation techniques will be most beneficial to students as they grow up under the pressures of the modern world.

Damian Hinds, the British education secretary, said in a statement, “Children will start to be introduced gradually to issues around mental health, well-being and happiness right from the start of primary school.” The National Health Service found that one in eight children in England between the ages of 5 and 19 suffered from at least one mental disorder at the time of their assessment in 2017. Another British study, released in November, 2018, indicated a slight increase in mental disorders in five to 15-year-olds, which rose to 11.2 percent in 2017 from 9.7 percent in 1999. Disorders like anxiety and depression were the most common. (New York Times, Feb. 4, 2019)

Mindfulness Techniques

As you will read if you the click through to the UK press release from the British Department of Education, the Department of Health and Social Care, and two current members of parliament, schools there are in the midst of the biggest trial ever of mindfulness techniques and other relaxation skills. 370 of England’s 20,925 primary schools will indeed be rolling out mindfulness as a new subject. While the value of mindfulness techniques has been tested extensively, this is the largest look at how it might make the lives of elementary students better, and how it will influence participants as they age.

Donna Torney in her book Mindfulness for Emerging Adults gives a great example of how mindfulness techniques can influence further development by imagining the brain to be a set of nesting Russian dolls:

If one of the smaller dolls has a chip or a gap, it may not be able to fit easily into the next doll. It may require going back and reshaping the smaller doll for the entire set to fit. Far better if we can avoid the chips or gaps in the first place.

Another benefit to exposing children to mental health issues is easing the stigma of mental illness. “Fear of judgment and ridicule about anxiety [mental health] issues often compels individuals and their families to hide from society rather than face criticism, shunning, labeling, and stereotyping. Instead of seeking treatment, they struggle in silence.” (Leutenberg, Liptak 2016). Kids are more likely than adults to speak out about mental health issues just as they do about just about everything else. Who hasn’t been embarrassed by a child saying something like, “Mommy, look at that giant!” just as your favorite NBA star passes by at the mall. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Ten people who speak make more noise than ten thousand who are silent.” Informed children will speak out. Children who have a basic understanding of mental health and bullying will help their classmate who is being taunted by others.

Becoming Upstanders

In schools and out, bystanders who had simply stood there and watched a fellow student being bullied can become upstanders. Witnessing bullying is upsetting and affects the bystander, too.  These children have the potential to make a positive difference in a bullying situation. An upstander is someone who sees what happens and intervenes, interrupts, or speaks up to stop the bullying. Children who learn about mental health issues are more likely to become upstanders simply because exposure to mental health and what mental illness is demystifies if for them. Kids are less likely to make fun of what they understand. Furthermore, when youth who are bullied are defended and supported by their peers, they are less anxious and depressed than those who are not. ( retrieved 2/4/19).

Portions of this article have been excerpted from:

Focus and Mindfulness

But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is, I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?

-Henry David Thoreau
Woman Painting Focus Mindfulness

Focus can be improved

Focus can be improved using mindfulness-informed tools that are designed to increase mental concentration and inner calm. The art and science of focusing has many faces. It may look like a man sitting in solitude on a meditation cushion, or a woman sitting in a café slowly sipping from a paper cup, mindfully watching her thoughts. At other times the face of focus is a person absorbed in an art project, or a group of friends on a ten-mile run, or a teen absorbed in her favorite music. Of course, all of these activities can be done unmindfully – without focus – but they are infinitely more rewarding when performed with attention to the present moment. When we focus on our present moment experience, the brain rewires itself in such a way that it makes the experience more satisfying. With practice, we can gain the ability to focus on demand. Take a minute to think of an area in your life that could benefit from more focus.

Focus can arise when we are moving just as easily as when we are sitting. Stilling the mind is what matters. If you are feeling especially physically or mentally agitated or if the busyness of your life is getting you down, try these suggestions calling for stillness or internal focus. Building mental focus will benefit each one of the four domains of your life: balance, belonging, focus, and meaning.

Take note of what is distracting you – if you don’t feel ready for a meditation practice it’s okay. Start by noticing what is distracting you.

  • Are your distractions fear-based – are you worrying about some future outcome?
  • Are your distractions fantasy-based – is there something you don’t have that is stopping you from living your life in the here and now?
  • Start by noting what takes you out of the present moment – just taking note of what is keeping you in a state of distraction is a step toward mindfulness.

Perform a single routine task mindfully – fold laundry, wash dishes, feed the dog without slipping into autopilot. So often, we get up in the morning and do our routine in zombie mode.

  • Get out of bed and stretch for half a minute. What is the first thing you usually do in the morning? Can you do it with all your senses engaged?
  • Resist automatic thoughts and mentally rehearsing your to-do list.
  • You might find that the routine task is actually enjoyable, or you may decide to change the start of your day so that the very first task is something that feels pleasant, like reading a few pages in a good book versus checking your email.

Take a slow walk or run – routine exercise is another place where we can easily check our focus.

  • Take your walk or go to the gym as usual, but consciously slow down your pace.
  • Notice something new about the gym or the walking/running route you are on.
  • Refrain from projecting into the future or thinking about the past. Sure, you may burn a few less calories by slowing down, but what you gain in tranquility and calm will more than make up for it.

Pet or play with an animal – if you have one, your dog or cat can become your Zen master.

  • Take time out today to be with your pet and just with your pet. Animals are experts in being in the present moment.
  • Get down on the floor and get on your pet’s level. Gaze into their eyes as you play with or pet them.
  • Thank them for being your Zen master.

Belly breathe with a baby or small child – babies and young children can also anchor us to the present moment in a special way.

  • If you have an infant in your life, take some time to watch them while they nap. Babies have not learned the bad habit of taking shallow breaths. Take long, slow breaths like a baby.
  • If you have a toddler in your life, ask him or her to lie on the floor next to you. Place pillows on your bellies. Watch them as they float up and down on your belly as you take
    long, deep inhales and exhales.
  • Take some time to giggle with your toddler as the pillows rise and fall.

Walk barefoot – if the temperature allows, kick your shoes off and walk in the grass for a few minutes.

  • Walking barefoot requires mindfulness to avoid sharp objects or other outdoor goop.
  • It is also immensely grounding and healing.
  • Focus on how it feels to connect directly with the earth.

This is a good start to using mindfulness techniques to increase your ability to focus. Remember, without mindfully focusing on the present you will miss much of the experience.

Mindfulness for Emerging Adults Book Release

Excerpted from Mindfulness for Emerging Adults by Donna Torney, MA, LMHC, RYT.

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


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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.