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“There is Nothing Wrong With You”

In previous blog posts, I have written about the importance of understanding a couple’s persistence in seeing one partner as the identified patient.  Quite often, couples will enter treatment with both partners having decided that there is something wrong with the other, and that they themselves are in fact “normal” or “innocent.”

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A major goal of Neurodynamic Couples Therapy is to help partners complete the metabolizing of troublesome emotions, which they have already been nonconsciously attempting to accomplish through their conflicts.  Some forms of therapy purport that this metabolizing can be done nonverbally, but we believe that it takes the translation of right-brain experiences into words in order to adequately and fully create the understanding of self and the other that is necessary for genuine empathy.

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Training Imitating Actual Practice

John Donne penned the often-quoted line “No man is an island entire of itself”. Similarly, most of us are familiar with the African proverb “it takes a village”. One of my personal favorites is a quote from Aristotle “nature abhors a vacuum”. As clinical social workers we come alongside individuals, couples, and families at some of their most challenging times; but we don’t do the work alone. We collaborate with our clients, their families, support systems, community resources, other providers and the list goes on. We recognize that healing happens best when we engage our clients within a larger restorative community.

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Life in Transition

The Corona Virus Pandemic taught us numerous life-long learning experiences.
Three years later, we continue transitioning.
Mandatory masking was finally lifted a few months a- go.
Some of us working remotely returned to the office for increased socialization.
Others found remote work was perfect and won’t look back.
Virtual modality of conducting business is a new norm.
As things return to their new “normal”, a  greater emphasis is now placed on not solely existing.
But Living and finding a good work and life-balance.
Compressed schedules have gained popularity.
Work meetings are integrating a few minutes for meditation and social interaction.
Self-care and being happy are now cultivated and encouraged.
Finding joy in life again is a new must.
So I’m working on re-shifting my life-long process of self-sacrifice for the cause of serving others..
To focus on helping myself.
And find joy again.
Have you found yours?

Simple–not easy

As I was growing up, I remember one of the mantras that I heard from some of the adults in my world.  They would say one of the best approaches to difficult situations is encapsulated in the acronym KISS–Keep It Simple, (warning! pejorative word coming up) Stupid.  I found this to be quite helpful as I grew and developed.

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Juneteenth: Social Well-Being and Health Equity

Juneteenth became a National Holiday in June 2021.  For years, this observance also known as Freedom Day was celebrated across African American communities and into others.  Juneteenth is widely becoming an American observance and provides an opportunity to learn the full narrative.  Enslaved people in Galveston Bay, Texas were informed of their freedom on June 19, 1865, however, enslavement continued in some U.S. border states.  At the end of the year, the 13th Amendment abolished slavery in America. As we reflect on the past and embrace how far society has come, optimism and open perspective can guide mindsets.  Social well-being and health equity are central to ongoing progress.  The underserved and under resourced people are part of a humanity, deserving of social parity and access to care.  The disparate conditions affecting them can be seen as remnants of practices such as redlining.  Similarly, maternal health disparities largely impacting Black women have some origins in implicit bias.  As clinical social workers and human service professionals, what is your call today for the cause and how can you activate it?  Does the practice setting provide space for advocating, mediating, or bridging the gap as a trusted professional?

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Understanding Resistance

The New Oxford American Dictionary defines resistance as “the refusal to accept or comply with something”; and “the ability not to be affected by something, especially adversely.”  Our training histories as therapists have unfortunately tended to focus more on the first definition.  I would like to challenge us to think more about the second one.

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Frozen Grief and Emotional Eating

Brenda was a beautiful woman with long black hair who came for therapy and recounted her story: “Two months ago I had a double mastectomy. At that time, my husband left me for another woman. My daughter, who saw me through all this, is leaving next month for school in California. Now I have no one. Both my parents died in a car crash when I was 12. I went to live with my grandmother who died when I was 17. That’s when I got married. And now I have no one.” She stared straight ahead, lost in reverie. The image of her parents’ violent death, her mastectomies, and all her other losses were overwhelming.

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Social Workers Breaking Barriers-One Day at A Time

As a private clinician, and Manager of the Social Work Department at the Valley Hospital, collectively we view our purpose as making a difference, making connections, making meaning and making a life- all of which entails breaking barriers on a daily basis. As social Workers, we are trained to help people address personal and systemic barriers to optimal living.  Social workers are tasked uniquely to assist patients in the most difficult psycho-social circumstances and guide patients families and medical providers with navigating medical care coordination and social service challenges in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic.  We must adapt to change manage stress and innovate.  We are employed to effect positive change with individuals, families, groups and entire communities. Social workers use their collective skills to establish policies that give more people to access community services.

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Utilizing Present Feelings

In the previous blog post, I addressed the importance of using the present-day conflicts that couples bring to therapy to access historical wounds, traumas and losses.  But often couples don’t want to talk about their pasts.  They have usually come to deal with current conflicts–not their family histories.

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Visibility through Intersectionality

Intersectionality refers to the interconnectedness of social categories such as race, gender and socioeconomic status.  It can enhance understanding an individual and the interplay among their identities.  For example, a person may identify as non-binary and self-report in an ethnic minority category.  In addition to these primary identities, there could be less salient ones such as religious or spiritual preferences and generational group.  Intersectionality was first coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, Columbia University law professor, to describe factors contributing to the social being of African American women.  In particular, the intersection of their race and gender was purported as a significant factor.  Intersectionality became widely applied over the years and has relevance when understanding systems and structures that impact vulnerable populations such as children and persons who are wrongfully criminalized.  Consider a child who experienced adverse events such as family violence and is also subjected to impoverished conditions.  Knowing them from these circumstances will offer insights for clearer visibility.

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How Couple Therapy Creates Growth

Couples come to see us to help them resolve their conflicts — not to create growth.  But if we stop at attempting to help them resolve their present-day conflicts without moving on to creating growth, we have cheated our clients out of at least half of the potential of couple treatment.

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Preparing for Conflict

Just like public speaking or any other skill, I am realizing that conflict resolution is a skill worth mastering. As an Army officer, you are expected to lead, but in order to lead, you have to know how to manage conflict to accomplish the mission. The “mission” does not always mean going into battle or winning a war. Depending on your specialty, your unit, or work environment, the mission may be proving good health care, gathering intelligence information, maintaining and supplying units, etc. Whatever the mission is, conflict in the workspace can feel like you are going into a battlefield. Your heart starts to race, your temperature may increase, you become nervous. It is a similar physiological reaction to when a soldier is facing a threat. The big difference is that work conflict, for the most part, does not present a danger to us. However, our physiological reaction makes us feel like we are, thereby guiding our thoughts and behaviors, potentially leading to increased conflict. This is why it is so important to consult, use humor, and not personalize the situation to be in the best possible stance to manage workspace conflict.

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Unsafe Partners

In 2009, the South Carolina governor reportedly “disappeared” for a few days.  It was later discovered that he had been with his mistress in Argentina.  In one of his former wife’s interviews on a news talk show, she described their therapy together after his return.  She said that she could recall the moment in their treatment when she knew their marriage was over, as she began to realize that he was not going to take any responsibility for his part of the problems in their marriage.

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Positive Psychology Principles in Therapy

Positive Psychology is the study of conditions and processes that contribute to the optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions (Gabe & Haidt, 2005). Therapy builds on the client's positive experiences to improve their well being and to ascertain the role of their positive experiences. Clients begin to recognize they have the solutions to their problems; each moment and each situation is a moment of growth and learning. Our clients need to have hope in their situation and in the challenges they face. 

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Achieving Whole Health: A New Approach for Veterans and the Nation

New consensus study report from the National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine is now available.  Read now to explore a #WholeHealth approach to improving the health and well-being of both veterans and the nation. The new report identifies five foundational elements of an effective Whole Health care system. It must be people-centered, comprehensive & holistic, upstream-focused, equitable and accountable, and grounded in team well-being. 

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Avoiding the Identified Patient Trap

Early in the development of family therapy theory, authors used the term “identified patient” to describe the family member whose behavior brings a family into treatment.  This is usually one of the children, but not always.  It is the person who has acted out enough to cause the parents to seek help or to get the family referred for treatment.

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Certification and Membership Committee

Greetings to all from the American Board of Clinical Social Work (ABCSW) Certification and Membership Committee. I wanted to take a moment to introduce you to the committee. The ABCSW Certification and Membership Committee’s charge is to review certification criteria and processes, develop certification guidelines, assist ABCSW staff with decision making, develop membership benefits, to work with other committees in coordinating efforts to benefit certification and membership, to establish an open channel of communication with all stakeholders (a function of this blog post), and to be a reference point for ABCSW support staff with certification and membership issues. 

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New Year's Resolutions

You … and some of your clients … have set goals for 2023 in the form of obligatory “New Year’s Resolutions” … many of which may be broken prior to January 30.  Have you considered setting up some mini-goals to assist in the process?  If resolutions are established annually, why not divide things up into more manageable monthly goals?

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Reframing Repetition Compulsion

As students, those of us who were pursuing a career as psychodynamic psychotherapists learned about the repetition compulsion.  The Oxford Reference ( defines this phenomenon as “a tendency to place oneself in dangerous or distressing situations that repeat similar experiences from the past.” Webster’s Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary describes a compulsion as “an irresistible impulse to perform an irrational act.”

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