Saturday, April 27, 2013


May is Mental Health Awareness month. The #WhatsYourNumber campaign references a number you can get after taking the screening so you know where you are on the spectrum of mental health.
The idea is perhaps that the more we promote it, the more people who suffer will reach out and get the help they need for themselves, their families and progressively further out, affecting their communities at large. 

The stigma about people who struggle with mental illness is real and prevalent. For example, I myself spent the evening watching What About Bob with my family. Before we started the film, my son asked what it was about and before I could think better of it I had already said, "Oh, it's about a funny, crazy guy." Woops. The point is, even though I work in this field, am very close to people who suffer with this stuff & study it myself, I still contribute to the stigma because it's so culturally part of our/my everyday existence. Like any invasive hobgoblin, it needs to be fought off at first sight with laughter and full light.

Struggling is part of life but life itself should not be a battle. If you are buried in things you cannot see your way out of, please get some help. You don't have to let it get too drastic beforehand. The counseling can be very effective, as can the medicines. Contempt prior to investigation when dealing with mental illness can be a dangerous idea. On behalf of all of us at "May is Mental Health Awareness Month," I urge you to get screened, get help and keep on keepin' on. It's worth it. I promise.

Van Gogh as he might have looked in real life with his famous self portrait.

"Mental illnesses are physical brain disorders that profoundly disrupt a person's ability to think, feel, and relate to others and their environment. They are no fault disorders.

One in every five families is affected at some point in their lifetime by a severe mental illness such a bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders and major depression. 

Mental illnesses are “equal opportunity” diseases, occurring in all cultures, races, countries and socio-economic classes.

75% of mental illnesses are treatable with supportive services,counseling, and medication, yet stigma and misinformation are still major barriers to treatment & recovery.

1/3-1/2 of the homeless population has a mental illness. 

90% of persons who commit suicide had a diagnosable mental illness.
Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes and heart disease. 

Treatment success rates for psychiatric disorders are better than those for heart disease: 
Depression = 85% 
Bipolar disorder = 80%
Schizophrenia = 60%"

(American Psychiatric Association 1997)

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Idleness is Suspect

I am writing today from the land of vacation. There is obviously wifi in this land, praise jah. It's been good to get out of the usual scene, to have my perspective turned inside out a but, to see some different landscapes and of course, to spend time with my family.

The history of vacation was something I was wondering about as I started this blog. This is an interesting NPR radio show about it.

Vacation, according tho this is historically a middle class thing to do. We all know poor folks don't have time to travel. They are too busy working multiple jobs, finding people to pick their kids up from school, baking pies for bake sales, mowing their very own lawn. I am not middle class but I like so many Americans, I really like to pretend that I am. Point is, we made our trip happen by saving some money and making the time. So we left.

And then we made it to Mt. Shasta.

Yesterday we went to Pluto's Cave. It sounded simple enough. I downloaded the directions from googlemaps. It was off this road, onto that one. The directions were so specific, I was impressed but we only made it there by a couple hunches. It was worth it.

Yes, it was tagged but it was so much more than that. It was history. It is not actually a cave at all, but in fact a lava tube. There were multiple rooms with air shafts and sections breathtakingly shaded and green, a sharp contrast to the lava scrub of the drive in.

Today we did something much less rustic but also quite amazing. This time we did the tourist thing and took a boat to a bus which in turn took us up a mountain to see the Lake Shasta Caverns

The photos do nothing to reflect the size of the caverns, the shape and variation of the formations, the humidity, the bats on the roof of the highest room, the adventure...

"The caverns are Limestone, an unusual carbonate rock for the region in that it is not highly re-crystallized or metamorphosed, thus preserving a diverse fossil fauna and flora marine record from 270 million years ago." (National Park Service)

After all that, we topped off the day with a trip to the snow. There wasn't much left, but enough for a few dozen snowballs. 

Perhaps idleness was suspect to the Puritans but my experience of vacation is anything but idle. Road trips and hikes are an adventure. Adventure nourishes the human spirit. It recharges us, makes us push ourselves harder than maybe we would in other aspects of our lives. We grow closer to each other, we are open to new people and we grow. We grow faster than the cave formations.


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Stand in the Place Where You Live

When I was a kid during the 1980's, I watched a lot of MTV. It was back when the show had music videos on all the time and this weird quirky new band called R.E.M. was coming up and coming on strong. I liked the simplicity and the pep of their early music. Stand is the one above and the one that's singing in my head right now.

Listening to this song through my social worker goggles after reading the National Association of Social Worker Code of Ethics makes it sound like Michael Stipe is singing about how to be a good social worker. On the surface, one is a happy go lucky song borne from college days making music on the side and the other is a serious and methodically thought out conceptual framework on how to steer social work ethical practice.

Below the surface, they are two parallel flavors that inform each other to make people like me a better social worker by offering me the catchy phrases to worm deep into my psyche and also the theory-rich content with which to hang my hat on at night after a stressful day at the office.

It's funny but it's all true. As social workers, need the heavy content but we also need songs like Stand, to keep the pep in our step.

Also: Honorable mention to Andria Ford for being a die-hard MS fan all these years.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

This is Not Art Therapy

Someone used to teach the Art Therapy class. They don't anymore. I am the intern and I had taken a few classes in Expressive Arts Therapies as an undergraduate so I said I would do it. I even have a bunch of art therapy books that have somehow survived the years for reference. I am not a therapist. I am an intern. So it's Process Group instead of Therapy.

I skimmed the texts again and found so many great ideas. For this group though, it would have to be pretty basic. Who knew who would show up, if anyone? I prepped the room with chairs around the table. I also supplied a stack of a handy mandala (circle) I found on the internet that is a wheel divided into pie pieces with words like this on it:

Health Care
Life Purpose
   Self Esteem   

The words are toward the outside of the wheel but still within the circle. The words Self Care are in the very center. Not for any other reason than that they inspired me to think about these aspects of my life.

On the table next to my black and white internet printouts were supplies. Nothing fancy, but the basics. Basics are all you need, if you ask me. My theory is simply that when you let it, the art will come. So it was crayons and pens and pastels and paper.

There is therapy in making art. The process of getting out of your busy little brain to make pretty shapes or disturbing shapes or whatever it is you're making can be a good diversion. 

Since I am not a therapist, I am not asking the people in the group to dialogue with their art to discover what it might be trying to say to them. I am not asking them about the shapes or the use of certain colors in certain places. 

Instead, I grabbed some crayons and paper and got busy coloring a mandala myself. I listened and helped direct the conversation to what was happening right now, helping frame attainable goals to larger dilemmas and simply enjoy the humanizing camaraderie of making art with other people.

It was a good day. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Boundaries (Updated)

This image of plate tectonics is here not because I am going to write about what happens when one plate rubs against another creating an earthquake, tidal wave or volcanic eruption but to illustrate what can happen with absence of personal boundaries:  A violent shaking, a feeling of being pushed and pulled in opposite directions at the same time, frantic responses to real or imagined crises that seem to demand an immedate response.

My parents have a big garden. When volunteer plants sprout up (the extras that sprout randomly, when not even planted) they are moved them to another place where they have more room to grow, more access to sun and water, space so they don't get so entangled into another plant that both become stifled.

Without proper boundaries, lines blur and the capacity for friction as described above in the plate tectonic example above can manifest in all kinds of unhealthy ways, ways described so beautifully in this blogpost.

I am a firm believer in supporting others in maintaining healthy human boundaries, but I cannot say I have it figured out yet. I am still practicing getting better at saying no. The lines one I have to maintain for my profession can get blurry in a small town but these guidelines are there to respect and protect all parties. 


In the context of personal lives, the importance of boundaries is probably pretty obvious. This goes back to my favorite example of not just social worker self care, but self care and personal boundaries in general: 

I am useless to you if I cannot breathe. If I am not taking care of myself, I have nothing to offer you. I don't want to forget. This is a metaphor for everything else. Other smart people tell me I can't transmit what I do not have. Having healthy boundaries is a self-care practice and by practicing this method, I am more likely to be able to be of use to others. 

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Professional Use of Self

I missed class this week due to yet another sinus infection. While blessedly not cancer, is still a major hindrance to living my daily life. I am sorry to sound glib about huge issues. It is a flawed coping skill that helps me retain my sense of humor. I hope that is ok and if not you will say so. Then I can grow and learn and we can establish a rapport or whatever they call it.
While on the couch literally crying in pain with sinus pressure, my class was "happening" online with my fellow MSW students from all over CA and points beyond. The subject of the class was on the Professional Use of Self.

The Power Point slides were extensive and the conversation full. I know this because I watched "class" afterward as it had all been captured for me to go find when I was in less pain. So I did and what I found was a classroom full of great conversations about classmates experiences, professors perspectives and some great slides referencing specifically Carl Rogers

Carl Rogers is known as an influential American psychologist and is considered to be one of the founders of the humanistic approach (or client-centered approach) to psychology. For full analysis I encourage you to look to this website or even his Wikipedia site.

In addition to many other successes and contributions, Rogers is known for practicing "unconditional positive regard," which is understood as acceptance of a person, without negative judgement of that person's worth. 

Pretty revolutionary thinking for the 1950s and it was further developed into a client-centered therapeutic model (also translated to student-led educational models) as described in this interesting diagram that I certainly did not create.

Carl Rogers was only part of the discussion in "class." The other part was the title of this blog. What is and why would you want to use yourself professionally? This is in relation to self disclosure, acknowledging what barriers there are if that is part of where the client wants to go and remaining authentic while not bowling someone over with personal tale after personal tale. 

In my professional life as it is developing, it is tricky to remain available and authentically who I am while also remaining open to others with completely different worldviews and yet this is the role of a social worker. Not to be what everyone might want, but to be as accessible to the stories that need to be told so issues can be solved. 

I also feel that I cannot be any help to anyone if I do not acknowledge my own flaws. I may have had one set of experiences and read a few things but it does not make me an expert on anyone's life or their experience. Some people want to meet you. Others don't. I am learning to make myself available but not chase people around. I might not be the best fit for someone either. Other than that, lately THESE are what I try to keep in mind:

 Both in and out of work. 

Until next time. Cheers!


Thursday, February 28, 2013

Give Us Your Good Advice

Back in Middle School, someone on the yearbook committee wrote that my future profession was going to be 'Peace Activist.' At the time it seemed pretty weak considering one of my best buddies was written in to be a much cooler sounding 'Tattoo Artist.'

These both seemed highly unlikely at the time, albeit interesting. The facts remain however. I am a social work student and case manager for a housing program for homeless folks and that friend of mine turned out to be an acupuncturist. Ha. I realize they are not the same things but along the same lines, perhaps. 

The point is, what is it that propels any of us through our barriers to make use of opportunities that come our way?

Rollins has a good story about a choice he made and what happened because of it.
Baz has lots of advice on what to do, how and why. It's set to pretty music and have nice imagery.
This Oriah poem is one I have posted printed before. Here is a new version of it. I don't need to really know if you will get up in the middle of the night to help the children, but I think it's a good thing for all of us to ask ourselves. 

What are we willing to do? How committed to ourselves, our goals are we? If you are reading this, these are questions for you. What makes you stick with what you are working on?