Congresswoman Karen Bass Leads Passage of “Put Trafficking Victims First Act

On February 7, 2019, Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), lead the passage of the “Put Trafficking Victims First Act”, which ensures that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed. The bill was approved by a vote of 414-1. Watch her remarks below:

REMARKS AS PREPARED:

I introduced H.R. 507, the “Put Trafficking Victims First Act,” with my colleague the gentlelady from Missouri, Ms. Wagner.

Ann, thank you for your hard work over the years on this important legislation.  We are here today because of your dedication and willingness to work, in a bipartisan manner, to address the problems faced by victims of trafficking. We both recognize that Congress must do more to combat this heinous crime.

HR 507 is designed to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed.  First, it expresses the sense of Congress that law enforcement set aside a portion of the funds they receive for combatting human trafficking to ensure that victims receive support that is trauma-informed and victim-centered.  This will provide victims with a better chance of recovering from their experiences.

Second, this legislation addresses the tremendous need for expanded victim services, improved data-gathering on the prevalence and trends in human trafficking, and effective mechanisms to identify and work with victims in an effective and respectful manner.

It directs the Attorney General to form a broadly-representative working group to assess the status of the collection of data on human trafficking and recommend best practices, conduct a survey of survivors regarding the provision of services to them, as well as prepare a report to Congress on Federal efforts to estimate the prevalence of human trafficking, the effectiveness of current policies addressing victim needs, and analyzing the demographic characteristics of trafficking victims and recommendations on how to address their unique vulnerabilities.

The bill also directs the Attorney General to implement a pilot project testing the methodologies identified by the working group and requires the Attorney General to report on efforts to increase restitution to victims of human trafficking.

With this type of information in hand, Congress can provide appropriate oversight of efforts to combat human trafficking, and researchers, advocates, and law enforcement agencies will all have a shared resource as they continue to develop innovative approaches to stop traffickers.

Finally, the bill expresses the sense of Congress that States should implement trauma-informed, victim-centered care for all trafficking victims.

Forced labor and human trafficking are among the world’s fastest growing criminal enterprises. Globally, these inhumane practices generate an estimated $150 billion a year in profit.  That’s three times the amount that the top Fortune 500 company made in 2016.  Criminals are profiting from the systematic abuse of vulnerable people around the globe. Sadly, women and girls represent approximately 71% of these victims.

The U.S. State Department estimates that between 14,500 to 17,500 people are trafficked into our country from other nations every year. These victims are part of the estimated hundreds of thousands of victims of trafficking, currently living within our communities.

My home state of California has the 9th largest economy in the world. It is also one of the nation’s top four destinations for human traffickers, especially for child sex trafficking.  In 2018, of the 5,000 reports to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, 760 of them were from California.

As the Founder of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, I am very aware of the risk to vulnerable youth. Foster youth, along with runaways and homeless youth are at the highest risk of being sex trafficked.   Experts agree that the foster care system is yielding a disproportionate number of human trafficking victims.  Nearly 60% of all child sex trafficking victims have histories in the child welfare system.  We cannot allow this to continue.

Washington, DC is home to the most powerful government in the world. Yet, even in DC, women, and girls are being trafficked.

Organizations like Courtney’s House are working to improve the outcomes for sex trafficking survivors

Tina Frudt, Director of Courtney’s House (right here in DC), asserts that African American and Latino communities are not immune to human trafficking. Her organization provides trauma informed services to sex trafficking survivors between the ages of 12 and 19.

Tina is also a child sex trafficking survivor.  As a 9 year old in foster care, she was sex trafficked.  By the time Tina turned 14, she became one of the 2 million children who run away from home each year. Nearly 200,000 of them will be sex trafficked.

In Tina’s case, her adult abuser was more than twice her age and forced her to become a child sex worker. It took her years to escape.  Now, Tina helps children, like her recent client, a 12-year-old girl, whose 25 year-old abuser called himself her “boyfriend” rather than her trafficker.

H.R. 507 will improve the implementation of the Justice for Victims of Trafficking Act of 2015.  Trafficking victims, like the girls at Courtney’s House, face many challenges even after they are freed from trafficking rings, ranging from access to social services and utilizing assistance programs.  Survivors face difficulties navigating social services and assistance programs.

What’s more, survivors may face criminal charges, possibly even convictions for prostitution, loitering, or indecent exposure.  The threat of prosecution may lead trafficking victims to avoid contacting law enforcement for help, even as they face horrific trauma on a daily basis.

This bill is designed to ensure that survivors of human trafficking do not go unnoticed.  First, it expresses the sense of Congress that law enforcement set aside a portion of the funds they receive for combatting human trafficking to ensure that victims receive support that is trauma-informed and victim-centered.  This will provide victims with a better chance of recovering from their experiences.

Another component of H.R. 507 encourages law enforcement and prosecuting agencies to make every attempt to determine whether an individual has been a victim of human trafficking before charging them with offenses that are a result of their victimization.  This is of particular concern to communities of color. According to the FBI, African American children made up 57% of all juvenile prostitution arrest.

In Los Angeles, we changed how children were treated. Today, a minor cannot be charged with prostitution, which means children are no longer being placed in handcuffs when it’s the adults who are abusing them who are the real criminals.  There is no such thing as a child prostitute. I strongly support efforts to recognize children as victims rather than criminals.   In this bill, we encourage treating victims as victims and providing them with the necessary supports.

I am reminded of a case in Tennessee that has been in the news recently, involving Cyntoia Brown.

Cyntoia was only 16 years old when she was abducted by a drug trafficking ring, repeatedly drugged and raped, and sold to a child predator for sex.  In a moment of desperation, she fought back against her trafficker and killed him.  She, the victim, ended up with a life sentence.  Mercifully, Cyntoia was granted clemency last month, by the Governor of Tennessee after having served 15 years—for defending herself.   Victims of these horrific acts, like Cyntoia, should not have to hope for grants of clemency 15 years later.

Although much of the focus of human trafficking is on those who have been sex trafficked, those who have been trafficked for domestic labor should not be overlooked. There was a story a few years ago in The Atlantic entitled “My Family’s Slave.”  The author shared an intimate account of the life of a Filipina woman who for years was forced to work for a family as a domestic laborer in the U.S. from dusk till dawn.  An estimated 21 million men, women, and children are forced into labor around the world.  There are cases all across the United States.  We are working towards eliminating human trafficking in the United States.

Mr. Speaker, Congress’ intent is clear:  Protecting victims from the heinous crime of human trafficking is of utmost concern.  I am proud to have worked across the aisle with Congresswoman Wagner on this important legislation, and I urge our colleagues to support it.

Mr. Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.

Mr. Speaker, H.R. 507 supports efforts to stop human trafficking.   We are making progress in protecting those who have been caught up in this horrific criminal activity, and this bill is a great example of what we can accomplish when we focus on helping the most vulnerable among us.

We have an obligation not only to end human trafficking but to support people who undergo horrific experiences like these.  This bill is yet another step in the right direction.

Once again, I would like to especially thank Congresswoman Wagner, for her efforts in this regard.  I was very pleased to team up with her again on this legislation and hope we can continue to work on these issues in the future.

For these reasons, I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting this bill today.

Social Workers Call on White House, Congress to Fully Reopen Federal Government

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) calls on Congress and the White House to act to fully reopen the federal government immediately. Allowing the shutdown to continue is unconscionable.

We are currently at the 33-day mark for the partial shutdown of the federal government. This is the longest such shutdown in our nation’s history and it is exacting a heavy toll on many NASW members and the often financially fragile clients they serve.

Nearly 800,000 federal employees, including social workers and allied professionals, are negatively affected by the shutdown. Almost half of these federal employees have been furloughed without pay.

Many of our nation’s most vulnerable, including children and older adults, could lose essential safety net services if the government is not restored to full operations. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Rental Assistance program, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), among others, are unable to fulfill their missions.

SNAP participants have received their benefits even during the shutdown, but these are in jeopardy in future months.

Contracts for HUD’s programs for the lowest-income seniors, people living with disabilities, and families with children have not been renewed. This places nearly 70,000 program participants at risk of major rent hikes and possible evictions. Low-income Rural Housing Assistance participants were informed on January 11 that due to the federal shutdown they would have to pay the full (not discounted) rent by January 20 or face eviction. Normally, their rent is limited to 30 percent of their income.

TANF authorization expired in December. The federal government could not distribute $4.2 billion to states for the period January to March due to the shutdown. States are permitted to cover TANF expenses, but it is unclear how many will do so and for how long.

For more information about the impacts of the shutdown on the most vulnerable, please visit the following websites: Coalition on Human Needs, Food Research and Action Center, and National Low-Income Housing Coalition.

SWHELPER Announces Its Second Annual Global Social Welfare Digital Summit

On March 19th thru March 22nd, SWHELPER will be hosting the Global Social Welfare Digital Summit which is an all online digital conference. You can attend the conference from any place in the world with an internet connection. The conference themes will focus on advocacy, trauma-informed care, self-care and healing, and solutions.

Are you feeling unmotivated or uninspired? Maybe you need some professional nourishment to broaden your perspective or add tools to your toolbox for future career growth. The Global Social Welfare Digital Summit aims to extend learning to a global classroom by allowing you to connect with helping professionals around the world. Additionally, you may be eligible for up 10 continuing education credits (CEUs).

Early Bird Tickets went on sale January 1st at 50% off the regular price. The Four Day Education Pass regularly $55 is available at $25. For government employees, the four day pass is $49 and $69 for private and nonprofit. All passes come with 1 year access to view all the sessions on your schedule.

Click here and Use coupon code 4DAYSWH to get an additional 10% off of early bird pricing. Early Bird pricing ends February 8th, 2019. You can also view the session agenda before purchasing your ticket.

Some of the presentations include:

  • Twitter – Jerrel Peterson, MSW: From Micro to Macro Leveraging Research, Data, and Ethics for Social Impact
  • Facebook – Avani Parehk: Tech and Movement Building…How to Hold Space in the Digital Age
  • USC – Melissa Singh: Trauma Informed Interview Coaching for Global Environments
  • Columbia University – Matthea Marquart: Helping the Helpers Online Self-Care Technique

Some of our sponsors include the International of Association for Schools of Social Work, International Council for Social Work, Network for Social Work Managers, and the National Organization for Human Services.

For more information visit, https://www.globalsocialwelfaresummit.com.

Certain Moral Values May Lead to More Prejudice, Discrimination

People who value following purity rules over caring for others are more likely to view gay and transgender people as less human, which leads to more prejudice and support for discriminatory public policies, according to a new study published by the American Psychological Association.

“After the Supreme Court decision affirming marriage equality and the debate over bathroom rights for transgender people, we realized that the arguments were often not about facts but about opposing moral beliefs,” said Andrew E. Monroe, PhD, of Appalachian State University and lead author of the study, published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology: General.

“Thus, we wanted to understand if moral values were an underlying cause of prejudice toward gay and transgender people.”

Monroe and his co-author, Ashby Plant, PhD, of Florida State University, focused on two specific moral values –what they called sanctity, or a strict adherence to purity rules and disgust over any acts that are considered morally contaminating, and care, which centers on disapproval of others who cause suffering without just cause – because they predicted those values might be behind the often-heated debates over LGBTQ rights.

The researchers conducted five experiments with nearly 1,100 participants. Overall, they found that people who prioritized sanctity over care were more likely to believe that gay and transgender people, people with AIDS and prostitutes were more impulsive, less rational and, therefore, something less than human. These attitudes increased prejudice and acceptance of discriminatory public policies, according to Monroe.

Conversely, people who endorsed care over sanctity were more likely to show compassion for those populations, as well as support public policies that would help them.

“The belief that a person is no better than an animal can become a justification for tolerating and causing harm,” said Plant. “When we believe that someone lacks self-control and discipline, we may make moral judgments about their life choices and behaviors, which can lead down a dark path of discrimination and hate.”

The first experiment involved people who were generally moderate politically and religiously. They rated their agreement with five moral values (care, fairness, sanctity, loyalty and authority) and then read short descriptions of five different men: a gay man, a man with AIDS, an African-American man, an obese man and a white man. Afterward, the participants filled out questionnaires about their thoughts on each man’s state of mind (e.g., “John is rational and logical”) and emotions (e.g., “John is rigid and cold”) and their attitudes and feelings of warmth toward each man.

“We found that people who placed more value on sanctity were more likely to believe that the gay man and man with AIDS had less rational minds than the obese, African-American or white men,” said Monroe.

Experiment two focused on how political affiliation might affect responses. The researchers recruited an equal number of self-identified liberal and conservative participants and used the same morality survey as in the first experiment, but this time, participants rated their thoughts on the state of mind for only four men: a gay man, a man with AIDS, an African-American man and a white man.  The liberals and conservatives then assessed their feelings of prejudice for each man (e.g., “I would rather not have a black person/gay person/person with AIDS in the same apartment building I live in”), their attitudes about public policies that would help or harm gay people (e.g., conversion therapy) and people with AIDS and their willingness to help them by being involved with pro-gay/AIDS awareness activities.

Liberals tended to value care and fairness more while conservatives were more focused on loyalty, authority and sanctity. And the people who valued sanctity were more likely to discriminate against the gay man and man with AIDS but not the African-American or white men, according to the study.

Experiment three focused on perceptions of transgender people and found that participants who endorsed sanctity were more likely to hold prejudiced attitudes about transgender people and to support discriminatory public policies.

The fourth experiment tested whether temporarily increasing sanctity values, relative to care, increased dehumanization and prejudice. Experimenters collected survey responses on a college campus on two separate days –Ash Wednesday—a day associated with sanctity and spiritual cleansing in the Christian faith—and a non-religious day. Participants filled out a survey intended to assess their moral beliefs and attitudes toward a woman described as a prostitute.

Participants surveyed on Ash Wednesday reported much higher concerns about sanctity compared to care and this caused participants to become more likely to dehumanize and express negative feelings towards the prostitute, according to the study.

The final study explored whether heightening concern about care was an effective method of reducing prejudice about gay and transgender people. To prime care values, participants listened to a radio news clip about the importance of safe spaces for people of color, while in the control condition participants listened to a clip about Brexit. Afterward, the participants rated their moral values, made judgments of a transgender woman, a gay man and a white man and indicated their support or disapproval of three public policies that would either help or harm gay and transgender people (e.g., national legislation for marriage equality, banning transgender people from the military).

Participants who listened to the clip about safe spaces emphasized caring as an important moral value over those who listened to the clip about Brexit. Caring individuals showed less prejudice toward gay and transgender people and less acceptance of discriminatory policies against them.

“Our study suggests that a person’s moral values can be altered, at least temporarily, and that highlighting certain values, like caring, can be an effective way to combat prejudice,” said Monroe. “We hope that by showing the moral roots of bias and discrimination against sexual and gender minorities we encourage others to conduct further research to increase equity and inclusion.”

How Astrology Enhanced My Spiritual Practice

I have always been interested in astrology, mostly for entertainment purposes. Over the years, I would spend time reading my horoscope in the paper or digging through the odd astrological book. I would kind of play it in whatever way suited me at the time. If I liked what was being said, then I bought into it. If I didn’t like it, I tossed it out. It’s just astrology, after all.

Well, that all changed for me about a year ago when I was introduced to a man who has spent his life researching, discovering, and developing an approach based in astrology and integrated with spiritual principles, making a real difference for me.

His name is Christopher Witecki and he discovered the 11 Steps to Sirius Joy. He is the Sensei to Sirius*JoY! Christopher is a psychic-astrologer, web TV series host, and software creator who combines his unique talents to form a cohesive life-coaching program for people seeking to find their joy and happiness. His weekday series “Namaste Today” provides daily spiritual guidance inspired by astrology and focuses on individual daily achievement with practical applications.

I’ll tell you more about Christopher late. For now, I want to tell you how these steps have changed my life.

Learning about the different states of being which exist within us has provided me with so much more information in order to understand the process we go through as we experience our lives and create our experience.

Self-Compassion

I’ve had a couple of key takeaways this past year that have changed the playing field for me entirely, both personally and professionally. Christopher taught me about the need for Self-Compassion and how deeply lacking I had been in this regard.

Previously, I had equated self-compassion with letting myself off the hook when I felt I had screwed up. It was really more like making excuses as opposed to genuine self-compassion.

Before, I thought it had to do with giving myself permission to be “lazy” instead of doing something for my health because after all, I deserved it. It was really a justification for my lack of follow through and commitment to myself and to my own wellbeing.

When I felt sad or afraid or anxious, my past behavior would be to go to something for relief as quickly as possible whether it was destructive or constructive. The goal was to get away from the feeling instead of acknowledging it and honoring its message.

When I most needed someone by my side ~ when I most needed to be by my own side ~ I was nowhere to be found. And I actually believed I was pretty good at demonstrating self-compassion. I mean, I knew I could be really hard on myself and wallow in guilt and shame for longer than I needed to, but still…

Well, I realized after absorbing the material I was learning from Christopher that I had a long way to go in my capacity for self-compassion.

When we are lacking in self-compassion it shows up in so many ways in our lives. We feel it in the times of resentment and remorse. We sense it when we step out of integrity and deny our own truth for any reason. We hear it when we tune into the bully inside our heads which never lets up. We recognize it when we see ourselves accepting scraps and crumbs because we don’t believe we deserve any better. We have settled.

Recently, I had an epiphany. The situation itself was small in the grand scheme of things but the insight and shift was profound.

I was sitting drinking my morning coffee ~ the only one I want and enjoy all day.   A few seconds earlier when I had added the cream, I noticed there were a few flakes floating around and I got to scooping them out with a spoon. I took a little sniff followed by a little sip and thought to myself, “It’s okay…I can drink this.”

A few sips later, I was fully aware the cream was sour but I kept trying to convince myself it would be okay and I could just “suck it up,” so to speak. Suddenly, I realized at that moment, I didn’t even think enough of myself to pour it down the drain and make a fresh cup. I sat there trying to make my way through a cup of coffee I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Wow!

I declared right then and there this habit of settling for something or pretending something is good enough when it clearly isn’t was over in my life. Done. Finite. And I didn’t take another sip.

Later that morning, I heard Christopher say quite often we only think of self-compassion when we do the “big” things like leaving a toxic job situation or relationship, perhaps after suffering for many years. But, the truth is, acting with self-compassion is most powerful in response to the “little” things; the way we treat ourselves each day.

Feeling Good

Another profound piece of Witecki Wisdom which has altered my life in the past year is this notion that my primary task on a day-to-day basis is to feel good. Wow! Really? Could it be that simple?

Well, when you think about it, it is. If I’m engaging in authentic self-compassion with a focus on my ability to feel good, I’m likely to be a much more powerful force for love in the world. I’ll bet you any Service I wish to extend to others will be more genuine, of higher quality, and ultimately fulfilling to me as well. If I’m feeling the love, there is a greater chance others will feel it, too.

I have come to realize honoring my heart’s desires is a very profound way to demonstrate self-compassion. I don’t have to make myself jump through hoops to prove I am worthy of what I want and need to make life safe, secure, comfortable, easy, and fun. And neither do you.

About Christopher

Witecki has pioneered a new arm of astrological study he calls “step astrology.” His method combines the knowledge of numerology, astrology, and sacred geometry into a definitive, step-by-step method to self-awareness. His approach known as “the 11º steps to Sirius*JoY” walks a person through a process of self-enlightenment, opening the doors for personal joy and manifesting abundance.

Born to a psychic beautician and a self-proclaimed Jedi knight, Christopher grew up in a spiritually eclectic household of Catholicism, Buddhism, Tarot, Star Wars, and the occult. He discovered his passion for studying astrology at age 19 while pursuing filmmaking at Columbia College, in Chicago Illinois.

In 2006, at age 33, Christopher launched his first YouTube web series, “Soul Horoscopes” where he hosted a video horoscope for all 12 signs, five days a week. (60 videos a week) He continued at this pace for five years, producing over 16,000 videos before moving on to host and produce a variety of free spiritual videos on topics ranging from Feng Shui to Archangels.

In July 2014, Christopher began his most recent web series, “Namaste Today.” Airing on weekdays, Christopher provides the “Zodiac Weather” of the day and dives into a fascinating spiritual topic with “Tea Time.” The series compliments his daily Sensei Service. To watch Christopher or book a personal reading with him, please visit www.siriusjoy.tv.

Listen In

Believe me, I could go on and on but I would rather you learn more about the Steps to Sirius Joy from the Creator himself ~ Christopher Witecki. Chris joined me as my guest on the Spiritual Astrology episode of Serving Consciously.

Christopher’s work is mind-blowing and heart expanding. Where do you stand on the relationship between astrology and spirituality? Tune in to other live shows and become a part of the conversation.

Increased Inmate Deaths and the Lack of Accountability

Sandra Bland

One year after the death of Sandra Bland on July 13, 2015, the Huffington Post compiled a list of persons who died in jail. In the following twelve month period, there were 811 deaths, most of which were the result of suicide. In fact, 253 detainees committed suicide in the year after Sandra’s death, constituting 31% of all fatalities.

This heartbreaking statistic highlights a historical pattern; one of racial targeting and classism, poor management, health care oversight, and corruption. The criminal justice system fails our communities by allowing preventable inmate deaths while targeting the most vulnerable communities. These alarming trends in our prisons, jails, and juvenile detention centers have us wondering, why?

Experts examining suicide and death in our nation’s jails reveal disturbing trends across the most vulnerable communities. A recent New York Times article, for example, Preventing Suicide in America’s Jails, reveals in 2013 a total of 967 jail inmates died while detained in local corrections facilities. This statistic continued to grow the year after, even though the inmate population declined by 4%. Other authors and researchers cite poor management, inadequate health care, and perfunctory oversight as major culprits. Although these issues go mostly unresolved, they continue to institute a pattern of death and suicide.

Reasons Behind Inmate Deaths

Many jail fatalities are overlooked and underreported. Generally, jails are not required to disclose fatalities occurring within their facility to their community. Even the most egregious incarceration centers can go unnoticed by the community at large when they aren’t being held accountable for deaths occurring in their own institutions.

Different from prison, jail stays are shorter (approximately 21 days) and most of the inmates have yet to be sentenced. Jail inmates could also be under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or have mental or physical health issues that correctional staff might be unaware of. For these reasons, many jail suicides occur in the first week of incarceration as indicated below by the Prison Policy Initiative.

According to KyCIR’s reports in Kentucky’s Grant County Jail, rampant corruption, employee incompetence, ineffective staff preparation, and inmate maltreatment were all present in the jail’s culture. In an environment where accountability is minimal, inmates are more likely to be disregarded and mistreated, as is the case of Danny Ray Burden at Grant County Jail.

“Danny Ray Burden fell asleep mid-sentence as he was booked into the Grant County jail, toppling over on the bench where he sat. Prodded awake, he coughed, shook and pleaded for emergency medical attention. A blood test showed that the 41-year-old diabetic badly needed insulin. Instead of assisting with proper medical standards and medications, deputies put Danny Ray in a cell, where he was found unconscious just three hours after he had entered the jail on March 27, 2013. He died a week later.”

Reflecting on the data, including the specific cases of Sandra Bland and Danny Ray Burden, who is at risk for jail fatality?

Vulnerable groups at correctional facilities include:

  • Persons booked for lesser crimes
  • Those without financial resources who are unable to post bond
  • Communities of color who are profiled by police and often receive harsher punishments
  • Sex offenders and those accused of vicious crimes

Why Death by Suicide?

For inmates whose lives were previously difficult, a brief jail sentence could prove traumatic. The most at-risk inmates may be experiencing withdrawal symptoms, a lack of access to prescriptions, and/or low availability of medical or mental health services. An inmate with a troubled emotional, mental, or physical state of inmates suffers even more while imprisoned, especially when our system neglects their basic needs.

Correctional facility detainees may have anxiety about unemployment, broken relationships, loss of residence, healthcare, or the inability to care for children. Without financial resources, these issues are compounded by the inability to pay a bond. And for black inmates, especially those in the 18 to 29-year age range, accruing considerably greater bail amounts than their peers in other racial groups isn’t uncommon.

Suicide Prevention Strategies for Correctional Facilities

In Matti Hautala’s article In the Shadow of Sandra Bland: The Importance of Mental Health Screening in U.S. Jails, the author examines the multifaceted environment of our American jail system and garners evidence-based recommendations for inmate suicide prevention.

The author suggests the initial entry procedure, including the preliminary psychological evaluation, acclimates the inmate to the criminal justice environment. This experience could have a lasting impact on the immediate future for that inmate; although alternative programs such as parole, probation, or mental health courts are recommended. Community supervision, rather than incarceration, is especially effective for those with psychological or mental health issues. Further recommendations include:

  • Psychological evaluation instruments and qualified evaluators
  • Proper procedures regarding medical records and treatment
  • Limiting the use of restraint and isolation
  • Frequent visual follow-ups, every 15 minutes, with suicidal or homicidal inmates.

The gross lack of culpability by local and state corrections personnel and increasing inmate deaths calls for advocacy and reform. Social workers, helping professionals, and concerned citizens must engage our political and community leaders in evidence-based dialogue and program development to reduce the number of inmate fatalities in our nation’s correctional facilities.

By engaging with our local communities and representatives, together, we can hold our system accountable. We can force our jail and correctional facilities to say “mea culpa!” and reform our policies to prevent tragic and unnecessary death.

Serving Consciously and The Art of Language

How often do you really pay attention to your choice of words as you express yourself?

Do you believe in the power of language to create an experience?

Constructive Use of Language

I have long believed in the power of language and the energy we create when we choose our words carefully and what happens when we don’t.

In health care and human services, for example, we are bombarded with labels, diagnoses, syndromes, and a plethora of academic and organizational language. Within the system we currently live in where funding for services is of great focus, this kind of terminology works in our favor when we are seeking access to services and supports.

We use this language to prove that the service is needed.

Destructive Use of Language

On the other hand, much of this language serves to perpetuate stigma, prejudice, discrimination, marginalization, and ultimately separation. We tend to become reliant on certain words and jargon in order to get our point across quickly. But is this really what it’s all about?

When I began my academic preparation for human services work, I was accepted into a program that was called Mental Retardation Counselor. Shortly, after the first semester began, the program was renamed and became Developmental Services Worker. We were encouraged right from the start to always think in terms of “person first.” So, instead of saying the “autistic child,” it was preferable to say the “child with autism.”

Feels like a step in the right direction, however, if we look closely, there is still an emphasis on “autism.” And while it is so important to be aware of and honor the unique characteristics and needs of each person we are serving, it is equally crucial that we do not use these terms and diagnoses to create a limited identity for people.

For example, if you are familiar at all with the word, “autism,” there are likely a whole slew of images, ideas, and interpretations you make almost automatically about the person I am describing. And whether you would describe these images as positive or negative, affirming or destructive, the jump to the conclusion is the real problem here. At that moment, intentional or not, we have put this person inside a particular “box.” We also do this when we refer to mental health, substance abuse, survivors of childhood trauma, and on and on.

Conscious Use of Language

The challenge is to continue to open our minds so that we learn from each individual we serve and those we are blessed with in our personal lives what it means to be them. How does this person live their identity? What ELSE makes them who they are?

How can I use language to demonstrate my openness and willingness to learn about the people who come into my life? How can I speak in ways that show my deep respect for humanity and my commitment to acceptance?

This is an ongoing challenge for those of us involved in Vocations of Service. It is a continual process of integration of new knowledge, self-reflective practice, and engagement with others.

It is about being conscious as we choose the words which will best express our clearest and deepest intentions and beliefs. And if we get tongue-tied, we can always come back with something new to say.

What do you wish to see in your Service to others? How can you communicate with others so they know what you are all about?

What do you intend to create and contribute to this world? How would you explain this to a child?

If you could imagine the best possible scenario in your communities, what language would best describe it?

This is just a glimpse of a much larger discussion.

Join Us

I dove more deeply into this material in this episode of Serving Consciously with my guest, Valerie Marks.

Valarie Marks is a retired public school teacher who left her career at the age of 32 to start an educational services organization grounded in the principles of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs;” an organization providing parents and educational institutions with resources to best nurture, protect, and educate the generations here to Re-create our world.

During her time in the classroom, Valarie also developed an English Language Arts curriculum which uses rhythmic thought patterns to teach academics, not only to build analytical skills within Common Core, but also to open up the student’s psyche for creativity and receptivity.

Valarie is also a mother to three children of her own, ages 10, 8, and 6. Because one of her sons was identified as autistic just months after her leap of faith into retirement, Valarie’s life mission in creating the “Maslow Educational Services Organization” took a sharp turn, pulling her out of the classroom entirely and deep into the world of Autism. With a population each so uniquely divine, this new chapter deepened her understanding of the needs and challenges facing the youth of today.

Valarie is currently stepping back into the classroom through her new company, “Marks Education,” where the mission is to teach children how to look at the whole English language for its individual parts, so they can craft their own words to accurately express their ideas, thoughts, and feelings, as well as to keenly understand the words and intentions of others.

She also speaks her Truth to a more intellectual audience through blogs on her Facebook page ~ Valarie Marks, through writing and short videos on topics about self-acceptance, intimacy, and unconditional love.

Valarie is here to talk about how she is serving consciously through her life mission: teaching adults how to nurture, protect, and educate a generation here to deconstruct our current world not just to restore it, but creatively recreate life as we know it into a beautiful future.

Valarie’s work is so important for those of us who wish to be actively involved in recreating the world.

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Does language have energy and power in your books? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Conscious Service and Expressive Healing Arts

How do we honor history and heritage in ways that help us powerfully integrate our past experiences with our present lives?

What helps us heal when we struggle with a sense of loss or grief?

How do we create our identity if we feel a sense of disconnection?

Tribute and ritual are common methods for finding peace within the turmoil.

Tribute is defined as an expression of gratitude and praise. It is meant to honor and acknowledge someone or something.

We can pay tribute to past experiences as a way of appreciating the opportunity for growth provided to us. We can express gratitude for the most challenging situations if we are able to see deeply into the tiny, yet profound gifts of wisdom buried beneath the muck.

Healing Through Art

What comes to mind when I say “Art Therapy?”

Traditionally, we have reserved this for those situations involving children who are not yet able to put language to their experience. Or, we may think of it as a medium for any individual who is unable to express verbally perhaps, as a result of disability or injury. Very often, we associate it with healing from trauma.

And this is all very true.

However, healing through Expressive Arts is a modality that can benefit anyone. Further, it does not necessarily need to be considered trauma in the most dramatic sense of the word. We can consider even the tiniest traumas that sometimes have a profound impact on our souls.

Expressive Healing Arts can include anything from painting and drawing to poetry and creative writing. You might be more inclined toward music or dance as an expression of your emotional state. Maybe your feelings speak through sculpture or jewelry design. And it doesn’t matter if you are not an expert artist. It’s all about giving voice to what you feel without the specific language.

Expressive Healing Arts with Mele Kramer

Expressive Healing Arts is the focus of this episode of Serving Consciously. I welcome my guest and an expert in this area, Mele Kramer.

Currently, Mele is pursuing her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology/Consulting Psychology. She completed her undergraduate studies at New York University where she studied Psychology, Education, and Art and Expressive Therapies. She has been an Executive Leader in Healthcare and Education for over 15 years working in public and private sectors including hospitals, institutions, and corporations as an Educator and Leader, Public Speaker, and Change Consultant.

Her recent work has been within the cardiovascular specialty area, focusing on Leadership Training and Development with Clinicians in Hospitals with an emphasis on Transition of Care to expand awareness, education, and connection within services including alternative options for preventative and post follow up care with the goal of optimizing costs to optimize healthcare services and wellness.

Mele’s current focus is on integrative healthcare with a spotlight on harmonizing traditional and alternative health care approaches through awareness and education.  She has been a guest speaker in hospitals, conferences and educational and healthcare institutions facilitating interactive creative expressive therapy and healing workshops.

In addition, Mele advocates for International Adoptees and organizations supporting the healing of children and adults of domestic violence and abuse.  Her workshops include 100,000 Kranes for my Mother (healing tribute for Korean Adoptees), Dol Jabbi, (A Rebirthday Process) and Journey to Joy, (Phoenix Process), and Reclaiming YOU (following abusive experiences).

Benefits of Expressive Healing Arts

There is a transformative energy to expressing ourselves through creative or artistic activities. Engaging in these alternative practices allows us to get out of our own way, so to speak.

You might notice when you try to process your emotions by talking about them it’s easy to get stuck in the thoughts surrounding the feelings. In this way, we get lost in the mental pursuit of trying to understand. Now, there are benefits to exploring our interpretations of the experiences we have; it’s part of integrating the meaning it holds for us. However, it is also true some of our experiences are never going to make sense to us no matter how long we think or talk about them.

When we express ourselves in other ways, we open the door to hearing and giving voice to what emerges from our Soul. We tap into this divine wisdom allowing us to heal and to emerge stronger as a result of the circumstance. It’s in this space that acceptance is possible. We don’t think our way into integration and transformation; we feel it.

Expressive Healing Arts taps into the other side of our brain where we can access creativity and intuition. We turn off the thoughts taking us away from the truth of our hearts. This enables us to be present and engaged with our own internal process and sometimes that is all it takes.

Paying attention to our emotional state acknowledges and honors our experience and provides the opportunity for us to learn whatever is available to us through it.

How have you used artistic practices to help you heal?

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The Tonight Show Makes Television History

On Thursday, September 13, 2018, Central Park was buzzing with more than just insects and birds. The SummerStage was bright with lights and music, and filled with 1,500 people. Jimmy Fallon, the host of The Tonight Show, partnered with T-Mobile to make television history.

As local New Yorkers and fans alike took their seats at Central Park SummerStage the anticipation for the beginning of the show built. This was no ordinary show – this was the first ever late-night show in Central Park. Fallon had promoted the event earlier in the week with People TV and even took Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie behind the scenes.

The show began with ear-blasting cheers and applause from the audience as Jimmy Fallon took the stage. His energy radiated through the audience as he welcomed the crowd.

“Welcome to The Tonight Show at SummerStage in Central Park!”

As the crowd settled down, Fallon jumped into his monologue, introducing his guests for the night. Country music superstar Carrie Underwood and promoting her new movie “A Simple Favor”, actress Blake Lively would be joining Fallon, along with a few other surprise guests throughout the show. Playing alongside The Roots are members from none other than the New York Philharmonic.

“New York City is here tonight, ladies and gentleman!”

Like the rest of The Late Night Show’s tapings, tickets are free. Fallon kindly reminds guests who got tickets to the taping that if they paid for them, “I’m sorry, and welcome to New York City.”

Although Fallon has grown up and lived in New York all his life, he’s only been to Central Park once before. For those who weren’t familiar with the park they took some time for a quick tour and to introduce the must-see sights. The highlights?

  • The Ramble – also known as where all the bodies on “Law & Order” are found.
  • Hamilton Statue – or the only other place in New York City you can see Hamilton without spending $1,000.
  • Strawberry Fields – where every bad guitar player in New York goes to ruin Beatles songs.
  • Boathouse – where bad dates get stuck because they’re on a boat.
  • Great Lawn – or as New York City dogs call it “The Master Bathroom”.

Before Fallon continued the show he took some time to thank T-Mobile.

“I wanted to thank T-Mobile for helping to make all this happen. Really, thank you, guys. They’ve been so great to us, and so, so great and fun to work with. They have so many amazing artists that work with them. You guys may have heard of one of them… Justin Beiber.”

The crowd exploded in applause again. Turns out, Fallon and Bieber were in Central Park earlier that week and decided to do a skit of their own. Dressed in disguise with wigs and mustaches, they used earpieces to dance to Bieber’s hit song “What Do You Mean”.  The duo made their way through Central Park dancing, singing, and photobombing the park’s visitors. The catch? Only they could hear the music.

In addition to the skit with Bieber, Fallon introduced a new game called Name That Song Challenge. Fallon and Blake Lively went up against Carrie Underwood and surprise guest appearance, Henry Golding. The pairs faced off in a music challenge – whoever could name the song played by The Roots and The New York Philharmonic the fastest won each round.

Fallon interviewed Lively about her new movie “A Simple Favor“, her outfit the night of the movies premier, and some throwbacks including a picture of her dressed as Baby Spice. As Underwood took her spot on the couch, Fallon excitedly asked her about her new album, “Crying Pretty” which was released the same night at 12 am.

To finish off the first-ever late night show in Central Park, Underwood took the stage, performing “Love Wins” off her new album. The audience stood with pink flashing batons and bracelets in the air in honor of T-Mobile. The energy between Underwood and the audience radiated through SummerStage, Central Park.

After the taping, Fallon and Underwood performed a fun karaoke duet of “Islands in the Streams” just for the audience to enjoy. The episode aired at its usual 11:35 timeslot and was a huge success for the first of its kind. Check out clips, pictures, and tweets on #FallonCentralPark and T-Mobile’s #AreYouWithUs for additional fun clips.

The Surprising Downside to Mental Health Awareness

It’s common knowledge our society isn’t great with mental health. We don’t talk about it enough and invalidate those who are struggling. We often simplify mental health issues as personal weakness while ignoring complex factors which comprise mental well being. By focusing mental health awareness on illness or “weakness,” we are not adhering to scientific research which shows a complicated web of factors comprises mental health.

It’s interesting how many of our mental health “awareness raising” narratives relate to illnesses and chemical imbalances. Awareness raising campaigns often portray mental health as an individual medical problem. However, when we consider this on a societal level, it is hard to justify the idea that nearly everyone develops abnormal brain chemistry. We don’t have a collective wonky wiring making us all depressed or vulnerable to mental health issues.

Our personal challenges might be emotional bruises from our childhood circumstances, for example, poverty, trauma, bullying, instability, or learning difficulties. We may also face more recent challenges such as a lack of fulfilling friendships, stress, alcohol or drug dependency, debt, trauma, or tumultuous relationships. Indeed, some of our challenges might have followed us across the spectrum of life such as factors to include gender, race, sexuality, (dis)ability, emotional sensitivity levels, etc.

We know those of us who face greater life challenges are more likely to be at the sharp end of distress. To me, it’s not as simple as an individual medical problem or failing. The common “illness like any other” narrative simplifies a complex issue, suggesting some people are ill and others are simply not.

This narrative would be necessary, perhaps, if psychiatric diagnoses were reliable and clearly differentiated people with and without mental “illness.” This narrative might also be necessary if conditions of distress were proven biological illnesses, but they’re not. Mental health diagnostic criteria are subjective and culture-bound, there is no clear line between mentally “ill” and mentally “well.”

Depending on which mental health professional one sees, the kinds of questions which are asked, even factors such as one’s age or gender, one could get a very different diagnosis. For example, Borderline Personality Disorder is characteristically feminine. Many people cycle through a range of professional labels before finding one which fits their personal experience – often, a person adopts several diagnoses before finding their best fit.

Also, note how the presence of a “chemical imbalance” or any other biological test for that matter, is not a criterion for a mental health diagnosis. We cannot detect depression, developmental disorders, eating disorders, or “personality disorders” in a blood test, brain scan, or any other biological test. Indeed, science has not proven there is a chemical imbalance for many mental health diagnoses.

According to the British Psychological society, “Our experiences and distress are likely to arise out of a range of factors. The things that have happened to us, including influences on our development before, during and after birth, childhood and educational experiences, our current circumstances and responses, our brains and bodies, and how we make sense of our lives are all important… there is no firm evidence that mental distress is primarily caused by biochemical imbalances, genes, or something going wrong in the brain (with a few exceptions, such as dementia).”

Of course, we know taking medication can help some people feel better. But by promoting an “illness like any other” way of understanding mental health, we are suggesting distress should largely be treated as a physical illness, i.e. with biological treatments. However, medications have the best results when given to people with severe distress and for the shortest time needed, considering long-term medication often has serious side effects.

Many people find the illness narrative useful and validating. For some, it offers answers or proof their distress is valid and should be taken seriously. But, this is up to the individual who should have a choice as to whether or not to accept the medical “illness” metaphor of understanding or to seek alternative understandings about their distress.

This article is an evidence-based suggestion we, as a society, need to be more open to dialogues and alternatives when addressing mental health. We need to consider the full spectrum of understanding mental health and raise awareness of the multiplicity of factors supporting and hindering our well being. Only then can we be truly empowered to take control of our mental health – both as individuals and as a society.

What is Meditative Psychotherapy?

Meditative Psychotherapy is a unique synthesis of Eastern and Western thought that illuminates each discipline’s strengths and weaknesses in ways that show us how they can enrich each other.

The three elements of Meditative Psychotherapy include “stereophonic listening, understanding and meaning and liberated intimacy.” It involves the centering of self and quieting of the mind to reach greater levels of Self-Connection and deeper experiences of connection with others. And we know that deeper connection with others is the pathway to creating Transformative Relationships ~ another element of the Conscious Service Approach.

Dr. Jeffery Rubin

Jeffery Rubin, Ph.D., is the creator of meditative psychotherapy, a practice he developed through insights gained from decades of study, teaching, and helping thousands of people flourish.

The author of the critically acclaimed books Psychotherapy and Buddhism, The Good Life, and A Psychoanalysis for Our Time, Dr. Rubin is a practicing psychotherapist in New York City and Bedford Hills, NY, and has taught at various universities, psychoanalytic institutes, and Buddhist and yoga centers.

He lectures around the country and has given workshops at the United Nations, the Esalen Institute, the Open Center, the 92nd Street Y, and Yoga Sutra. His pioneering approach to Buddhism and psychotherapy has been featured in The New York Times Magazine.

I am intrigued by paradox. I love the grey area and I am curious to explore the opposite ends of the spectrum. When we talk about Meditation and Psychotherapy, we are doing just that.

Many years ago when I decided to return to university to finish my degree, I made a choice that gave me the opportunity to actively focus my learning in this way. I had previously completed a number of credits towards a degree in Psychology before putting my academic career on hold to have babies. During that time, life changed immensely and when I would think about finishing my degree, I experienced a range of emotions. Sometimes, I would think, “Oh who cares if I ever finish it?” and other times, I felt compelled to complete it simply because I didn’t like the feeling of leaving things undone.

Here is a great example of the power of informal learning ~ the wisdom we gain through simply living our lives that is often disregarded in our society. As a side note, I am convinced when it comes to being of Service in the world, we must begin to honor more deeply the wisdom gained through the school of life in ways that integrate what we innately know as human beings with the theoretical and foundational philosophies associated with helping professions.

Anyway, one day, I decided it was time to go back and finish that degree. As a result of the soul-searching I’d been doing, I couldn’t bring myself to simply return for 3 credits and complete the Psychology degree; it just wasn’t the crux of what most interested me anymore. So, I enrolled in a program that would have me graduate with a double major in Psychology and Religious Studies. I didn’t realize at the time I would be embarking on a journey that would challenge me in paradoxical ways and pull me in opposite directions at times. And I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.

Opposite Ends of The Spectrum

Psychology is considered a science. There is research and studies and numbers and stats to consider. The emphasis is on proving something and generating data in order to understand human experience.

Religious Studies, depending on where you focus, is much more abstract, without much physical evidence, and has very little to do with numbers and data. Well, at least this was true for me as I chose courses more focused on Spirituality as opposed to the history of Religion or the state of the Church in our society.

People used to ask me “What are you going to do with that degree?” In other words, how would this benefit me vocationally? I could never answer that question. And I still don’t have a solid response. What I can say is it was important to me to follow my curiosity and to follow the path which held the most passion and interest for me. I knew somehow this combination of learning was a way of honoring what I already knew and what I wanted to learn. And I knew it was related to my desire to be of Service in the world.

And you know what? I have drawn on the learning I gained through my studies in Psychology and Religious Studies, coupled with my background in Developmental Services to create the foundation of what is now the Conscious Service Approach.

It All Works Together for Good

There is no one right way or one path to go down. One thing does not have to become wrong in order to make something else right. We can combine various approaches in order to come up with a new perspective.

And that is what Meditative Psychotherapy is all about. A blend of Eastern traditions associated with the Buddhist practice of meditation and the Western philosophies of psychotherapy, meditative psychotherapy holds the tension between analyzing the human experience and letting go of the story all at once.

Service Through the Written Word

When was the last time you read a book or an article and felt like it had been written just for you? In fact, you may have caught yourself wondering if your picture was going to be on the next page as an example of someone who has lived what the author has described. I know this has happened to me more than once in my lifetime.

I have been blessed many times through a book I’ve read. Sure, we often search out reading material that is relevant to our experience or curiosity at the time, so we might come to the experience already expecting ~ or at least hoping ~ we will be enlightened, validated, or soothed on some level. And it is a gift when we find exactly what we are looking for ~ most of the time!

I believe many authors ~ especially in the world of self-help and spirituality ~ seek to serve others through their writing. In fact, I have read comments and heard interviews with well-known writers who have expressed their writing practice has first and foremost been a self-transformative process ~ one that may have begun without any consideration as to whether it would serve others or not.

The Creative Energy of Writing

Writing is a creative endeavor whether we are journaling our private thoughts, developing professional materials, or writing the next best seller in creative fiction. When writing engages us on a holistic level, it becomes a channel through which we can express our deepest musings and lay bare our souls.

As Service Providers, we are often engaged in a variety of writing activities. In the traditional sense, we write case notes and progress reports outlining the details of our engagement with the people we are serving. We may write program reviews and other more business-like materials as an element of our position. Whether providing service traditionally or alternatively, we may have opportunities to write for publication or research dissemination over the course of our careers. There are countless opportunities to express ourselves through the written word.

How we choose to do this with the energy to serve others is important. The words we choose, the dedication to writing clear observations as opposed to personal opinion, the desire to demonstrate respect for privacy and compassion for the individual who will read it are all aspects of how we serve others through our writing.

Journaling can be one of the most powerful tools we have at our disposal as Service Providers ~ tools can not only provide a safe space for the venting of emotions and challenges, but also a tool that helps guide you to the deepest parts of who you are and how you show up in service to others.

Through creative writing, we can lose ourselves in a private world of fantasy and make-believe that may have some similarity to our real-life experiences. Through this practice, we can create our own alternative endings ~ the ones that light up our hearts and spark our inspiration.

Join Us

On this episode of Serving Consciously, I welcomed my guest, Joyce Sweeney.

Joyce Sweeney is the author of fourteen novels for young adults and two chapbooks of poetry. Her first novel, “Center Line”, won the First Annual Delacorte Press Prize for an Outstanding Young Adult Novel. Many of her books appear on the American Library Association’s Best Books List and Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers. Her novel “Shadow” won the Nevada State Reading Award in 1997. Her novel “Players” was chosen by Booklist as a Top Ten Sports Book and by Working Mother magazine as a Top Ten for Tweens. Her novel, “Headlock” (Holt 2006), won a Silver Medal in the 2006 Florida Book Awards and was chosen by the American Library Association as a Quick Pick for Reluctant Readers.

Her first chapbook of poems, “IMPERMANENCE”, was published in 2008 by Finishing Line Press. Her second chapbook, entitled “WAKE UP”, was released in February.

Joyce has also been a writing teacher and coach for 25 years, beginning with teaching five-week classes for the Florida Center for the Book, moving to ongoing invitation-only workshops and finally to online classes which reach students nationally and internationally. Developing strong bonds with the students, critiquing and instructing is her hallmark. She believes writers need emotional support as well as strong, craft-based teaching if they are to make the long, arduous, but very worthwhile journey to traditional publication. At this writing, 57 of Joyce’s students have successfully made this journey and obtained traditional publishing contracts.

In 2011, Joyce and a coalition of local playwrights, directors, and actors formed The Playgroup LLC, which conducts workshops for playwrights and actors and produces original works by local playwrights. The Playgroup currently presents three productions a year at their home base, The Willow Theatre in Boca Raton.

Joyce lives in Coral Springs with her husband, Jay and caffeine-addicted cat, Nitro. You can learn more about Joyce and her services on her website.

How has the service of writing touched your life?

Operation Surf Uses Surfing to Help Veterans

Photo Credit: ESPN

Every day roughly twenty veterans commit suicide. It is estimated that 22% of all suicide deaths in the US are veterans. Former professional surfer Van Curaza wants to change that.

Curaza originally founded the nonprofit Amazing Surf Adventures (ASA) as a way to help at-risk youth by getting them into the ocean and off the streets. He expanded ASA to help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war with surfing – a program dubbed Operation Surf.

Operation Surf is a free program “that offers week-long adaptive surfing trips for wounded-veteran and active-duty military men and women.” They pair veterans “with their own individual surf instructor and develop a goal-based curriculum around their unique abilities. Operation Surf offers an environment of camaraderie and healing to its participants by giving them a shared experience in the water each day.”

Curaza and Operation Surf are featured in the award-winning Netflix documentary “Resurface.” The film is about Marine Corps veteran Bobby Lane. Bobby was planning on committing suicide, but he wanted to check surfing off his bucket list first. He ended up participating in Operation Surf and it changed his life. Not only did Bobby decide he wanted to keep living, but he decided he wanted to work with Operation Surf to help other veterans.

The first time I volunteered for Operation Surf I briefly met a young man named Tommy Counihan. He was learning how to kiteboard. With his long blonde hair and slender build, he looked more like a surf hippie than a veteran.

In 2011, while on deployment in Afghanistan the armored vehicle Tommy was in drove over an IED. It exploded directly under Tommy’s feet. His right foot ended up needing to be amputated. But it was more than a physical injury, “I felt like when I made that decision that day to amputate my foot that I lost more than just a physical part of myself,” he said. “It plays tricks on your head. It brings you to a really dark place that’s almost impossible to get out of on your own. I remember the times when I would sit there by myself and contemplate whether or not I should commit suicide.”

On the advice of his therapist, Tommy participated in Operation Surf. Even though Tommy had surfed when he was a teenager, he was skeptical that it would help him now. Then he caught his first wave, “I was just so ecstatic that I was able to stand up on that board because in that one instant I knew that everything that I thought I had lost was just something I was creating in my head. That I was going to be able to do it all. I just had to push myself to overcome these barriers that I placed in front of myself.” Tommy won the wounded warriors division at the Hawaii Adaptive Surfing Championship last year.

Surfing can have a profound impact on veterans’ mental health. Dr. Russell Crawford, Air Force veteran and licensed therapist, conducted a research study on Operation Surf participants and found that surfing decreased PTSD symptoms by 36%, decreased depression by 47%, and increased self-efficacy by 68%.

Surfing can help veterans overcome the challenges caused by war. It has given Bobby, Tommy, and hundreds of other veterans a new lease on life. You can show your support by volunteering or donating to Amazing Surf Adventures and Operation Surf by visiting their website.

Using Deliberate Practice to Improve Social Work Practice

Every field from sports and entertainment to science and politics include individuals who excel, those who are average and those that struggle. We all dream about being the top performer but it may not be obvious how we get there. If you’re familiar with the pop-psychology book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, you’ll know that he suggested 10,000 hours as the magic number for greatness. While that book de-emphasized some of the elements identified by researchers, there is a lot of research on how to be the best Social Worker you can be.

Deliberate Practice

Deliberate practice, as defined by Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson (one of the foremost researchers in the topic of expertise) involves training or learning activities that are specifically designed to improve performance. Usually, that means having a coach or trainer who is a high-performer and working through an outcome-based curriculum to develop one’s skills. The “read it, watch it, do it” model of teaching counselling skills is one example of deliberate practice in action.

Applying Deliberate Practice to Social Work

In order to apply deliberate practice to social work, we must understand the current state of the field. Scott D. Miller and his organization, the International Center for Clinical Excellence (ICCE) has conducted research showing that much of the outcome in therapy sessions among different clinicians was the result of how much time they spent developing and refining their skills. This deliberate practice added up to 7 hours per week in the most effective clinicians and just 20 minutes per week in the least effective ones.

Clinical supervision is one opportunity to engage in deliberate practice, as is video or audio-taping your sessions (with client consent) in order to identify areas for improvement. Taking classes and other courses as part of a continuing competency program is also helpful – as long as you ensure you actually change your practice as a result of taking those classes.

Evaluation and Outcomes

In addition to engaging in deliberate practice, one must also regularly evaluate themselves to ensure they are really making progress. In the same way that we may administer a Beck Depression Inventory (BDI-II) tool to a client as they proceed throughout therapy, it is important that we evaluate ourselves.

The ICCE provides two tools for this purpose: the Session Rating Scale (SRS) and the Outcome Rating Scale (ORS). The SRS is used to assess the degree of therapeutic alliance (your client’s perception of their relationship with you), while the ORS allows the client to rate their level of functioning in order for the therapist to get a sense of their pre-session and post-session change.

Both the ORS and the SRS have been extensively researched. Clinicians using the ORS/SRS and engaging in deliberate practice have the opportunity to move from being an average therapist to being one of the “supershrinks” – the top 10% of performers that are known for being extremely effective with clients.

The reason this kind of evaluation is effective is because they have a true understanding from real-time data of what works and what doesn’t work in therapy with each individual client, a far cry from the generic tools used to evaluate therapy after it is completed or exit-interviews emailed or mailed to clients who have stopped showing up to sessions.

Conclusion

If you want to improve your social work practice, you can begin to put deliberate practice into use immediately. Add rating scales like the ORS/SRS to your therapy sessions. Go back to the basics and review the therapeutic modalities. Practice your empathy statements, and continue your professional development.

#WhenWeAllVote Wants You to Vote and Check Your Registration Status

The upcoming midterm election may be one of the most consequential elections ever for women and minorities. Record numbers of women, LGBTQ, and people of color are running for office in this election cycle.

According to the website blackwomeninpolitics.com, a record 397 black women are running for office in 2018. In places like Harris County, Texas the number of Latino candidates has gone up by more than 40% since the 2014 midterms. There is such an increase in LGBTQ candidates that it has been labeled the “Rainbow Wave.” While the diversity of candidates has gone up, there still remain many obstacles to voting.

In Florida, it’s estimated that “since the 2000 election, thousands of truly eligible voters have been removed from the state’s voter rolls, and many didn’t find out until election day,” according to Deborah Cupples a professor at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in favor of an Ohio law purging voter rolls. 

In places like New York and Alabama, there is no early voting, absentee voters must provide an explanation as to why they couldn’t vote in person, and there isn’t automatic voter registration. Further, it’s been documented that in places which require photo ID, like Alabama and Texas, it discourages minorities from voting.

When We All Vote is a nonpartisan, not-for-profit organization with the aim of registering voters and getting them to the poles in the face of such obstacles. The organization seeks to bring together “citizens, institutions, and organizations to spark a conversation about our rights and responsibilities in shaping our democracy.”

The organization’s co-chairs are a diverse collection of celebrities including, most prominently, Michelle Obama. She wants us to understand the importance of the upcoming midterms.

Other co-chairs include Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monáe, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw. Faith Hill recently hosted a When We All Vote Event in Nashville.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, “This is a high-stakes mission. You’ll be asked to do big things between now and November. We’ll arm you with the information you need — like candidate scorecards, registration deadlines, your polling locations, as well as ways to take action — so that you’re heard and counted. But you won’t be alone — millions of people across our country will line up side-by-side with us to take back our democracy and vote like our rights depend on it. Together is the only way we’ll win.”

Don’t let the proliferation of fake news create apathy and cynicism. It is possible to make a difference. So don’t sit this one out. Democracy only works When We All Vote.

Contact your local Supervisor of Elections to check your registration status and for poll locations.

Plastic Might Be Convenient, But Is It Worth It?

Plastic is everywhere in our lives these days. Water bottles, microbead skin products, disposable razors, shopping bags, and red solo cups.  It’s amazing how much of this ends up in the water systems, my dear Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean.

When this debris ends up in the oceanic system, they all get pulled around by the currents–typically ending up in the same place, if not in an animal’s throat or around their neck first.  According to National Geographic, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch “is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. Marine debris is litter that ends up in oceans, seas, and other large bodies of water.

This “patch” is more than twice the size of Texas. It’s not surprising considering a study released in 2015 estimates that 8.8 million tons of plastic waste ended up in the ocean in the year 2010. I keep having this nightmare that the garbage patch is going to grow until the whole Earth is one large garbage patch!

Before we get to that point, too many animals will die from plastic. In 2013 in Spain, scientists found a dead whale, whose cause of death was intestinal blockage. The digestive system contained 59 pieces of plastic waste totaling 37 pounds in weight. Sea turtles are now ingesting twice the plastic they were 25 years ago. In total, it is estimated that plastic ingestion kills 1 MILLION marine birds and 1 HUNDRED THOUSAND marine animals every single year!

Other than ingestion, plastic can also ruin an animal’s life by tangling them up; this can make movement and growth difficult or impossible. Some species happen to inhabit areas where plastic pollution is more of a problem, causing them to be more susceptible to entanglements and ingestion caused by plastic. This fact proves true for species like the Hawaiian monk seal, which swim and feed in areas close to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.

Not only can plastic hurt them in its full state, but also in later states. Although plastic does not biodegrade, it does break down and the chemicals that break down impact animals as well. The toxic chemicals really mess with the hormones of marine animals. In the long term, this can affect humans as well because many people are consuming the animals affecting by these pollutants.

So what can you do?

Of course, recycling can be a big help and not littering, but the only way to completely prevent these problems is by decreasing your plastic consumption. The best thing you can do is to completely eliminate plastic from your life! Convenience is not worth possibly living on a garbage planet.

In my single-handed fight I have collected 180,000 items – 50 pieces of litter a day for 10 years. If only the world didn’t find this weird – Andrew Mayer

Learn more about Andrew and his efforts to help pick up trash before it makes its way to the ocean in the article he wrote for the Guardian entitled I pick up plastic waste to save it from landfill. It’s lonely but worth it.

Mental Fitness: We Can Actually Train to Become Resilient Leaders!

What if I told you that mental fitness is something you can develop in the same way you build your physical fitness?

We hear a lot these days about stress and when we do, the conversation often focuses on avoiding it or managing it. What if that isn’t actually useful?

The best illustration I’ve read highlighting the direct link between mental toughness and performance comes out of a research lab. A team of researchers wanted to look at what made subjects mentally fit or resilient and took some baby chicks into the lab to study their theory. Painting the chicks and grouping them in separate pens, the first group was left alone to interact happily and normally.

The second group was periodically picked up and stressed in a confined space. After the stress, the chick was given time back in their group pen to recuperate. The third group was continually stressed in the confined space, with no recovery time or play opportunity with other chickens. The researchers created three distinct populations with different experiences.

After raising them for a time in this manner, all the painted chicks were placed in buckets of water, with researchers timing their struggle until drowning. I know, this sounds just awful.

The chicks that had been continually stressed drowned almost immediately; they just had no hope in the face of hardship that they could swim. The second group to succumb was comprised of those “happy innocents” in group one who had never been confined and stressed. They didn’t know how to withstand this watery hardship and folded in the face of it. The last swimmers fighting to make it were the chicks from the stress adaptation group.

Somehow, the confinement stressors followed by time to recover had rendered them stronger and able to swim and survive much longer than their peers. This group was resilient; they had experienced hardship before and believed they had a chance to make it and recover. They had those past mastery experiences to rely on, and they just fought to keep swimming.

Stress has a purpose. Stress is opportunity. It’s meant to teach us to swim!

Responding well to stress requires high functional capacity of your brain’s frontal cortex. This area of our brain houses something called our working memory capacity, which helps us with both emotional regulation (being able to think and not just react) and upper-level cognition (focus). We can improve that capacity with the use of some well-studied, relatively simple exercises.

Think about the last time you experienced stress. I always think back to those really awkward years – for me it was 13 – and last week. Think about that age, standing in the middle of the school lunchroom with your meal tray. As you gaze over top of your sandwich, anemic vegetables, and cookie snack pack, you anxiously wonder who will make room for you at their table.

What happened in your body at that moment? Maybe your heart sped up, you started breathing fast, your face flushed – your body fires off a full-on stress response. As the stress is registered by your brain, wherever that stress comes from – a chain reaction fires.

Your body releases cortisol, adrenaline, and a host of other chemicals to help you cope. It also releases a hormone called DHEA into your bloodstream. DHEA’s entire role is to help your brain grow from the stressor you just survived. But there’s a catch – DHEA only does its job when you give yourself a post-stressor break.

You need that time to de-escalate your revved up nervous system in order for DHEA to do its brain-building work for you! The hormone increases synaptic firing and neural connectivity (you’ll think faster) and increases working memory capacity (emotional regulation and focus). DHEA is what makes stressful experiences worth your time, but you have to create the space for it to do its work.

Creating this space is the heavy lifting of mental fitness training, and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. If I say rest, self-care, nervous system regulation and you think taking a nap, you’re on the wrong track.

When we are asleep our brain waves are long and slow. We call these delta waves, and our brain is in delta state. When you’re awake and ambulatory, walking and talking in the world you’re in Bets state. What’s interesting for a lot of us in a hyper-stimulated environment is that we find ourselves often entirely on or entirely off, and the place in the middle where DHEA does its building work is theta state.

In this space, you’re at rest, but still aware. Also, your nervous system has space to rebuild and strengthen. So what does a drop in stress hormones and downshifting of the nervous system feel like? Think about the last time you enjoyed an activity or training – when you took a deep breath in and you just felt that “Ahhh!” feeling – even if you were working hard and running up and down trails.

You may find it while running, skiing, doing yoga, getting a deep tissue massage, taking a bubble bath, or even lifting weights. Some people call it a “click,” or a “shift.” Here is where you have to experiment a bit. That moment will look different for everyone, but when you find it, take note.

Do more of it – especially when you’re feeling stressed and overwhelmed. I find it often on a yoga mat. I have a friend who tells me she finds it swimming laps. Now for me, I’m trying not to drown while swimming laps, there is nothing theta state happening for me there! Dedicate the time to finding your practice. What down-shifts your nervous system? Then do it. Ritualize it. Make downshifted moments part of your training routine.

All of us face periods of adversity, and no one is going to ask us if we can swim before the crisis. We have to train for the hard times, and we can. Make a little time for your brain and watch yourself get sharper, smarter, more focused, kinder. You’ll also be ready for the bucket of water.

You need to know how to become mentally fit to be the best student, professional, parent, and friend that you can be. Be the chick that lived well! Train yourself to swim.

A wrote a book on this subject that’s brand new from Praeger – check it out here.

Colin Kaepernick’s Eternal Vigilance

Aldous Huxley said, “The price of liberty, and even common humanity, is eternal vigilance.” Huxley was letting us know that democracy isn’t easy. Democracy doesn’t just happen. Rather, it’s a constant struggle to maintain a society in which all citizens, regardless of race, sex, religion, or sexual orientation, have equal rights under the law.

From time to time we are fortunate enough to have an individual who reminds us of this, even though we may not want to hear it. Colin Kaepernick has assumed this role in American society and Nike has given him a stage to act it out.

Nike’s new commercial ends with Kaepernick saying, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.” It was criticized almost instantly. “Sacrificing everything,” they say, should mean sacrificing one’s life, whether it be during war or the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The underlying argument is Kaepernick and Nike are insulting those who died for our country.

https://twitter.com/LaLiberalVetera/status/1037371278796181504

There is no doubt the War on Terror has taken the lives of too many US soldiers. Since 2001, roughly 2,300 US soldiers were killed in Afghanistan. There is also no doubt that losing one’s life is the ultimate sacrifice.

It doesn’t make the war in Afghanistan any less tragic, but in 2016 and 2017 Chicago saw almost 1,500 murders. Around 76% of the murder victims were black. When you add in all the murders that occurred since 2001 the number is well over 5,000. This is just one of the types of tragedies Kaepernick wanted to draw attention to.

It’s almost a cliché at this point to make the comparison, but Muhammad Ali was met with similar criticism when he refused to fight in Vietnam. Ali was called everything from a nigger to a traitor. He lost three years of his prime as a fighter, and he had to take his case all the way to the Supreme Court to get his conviction overturned.

Ironically, President Trump has repeatedly criticized Kaepernick, while earlier this year he sought to pardon Ali. And even more ironically, President Trump did everything he could to avoid going to Vietnam.

https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1038018199449567232

https://twitter.com/EdKrassen/status/1038018543516897280

In 1963, when Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was jailed in Birmingham, Alabama for protesting racial inequality, he penned a lengthy response to an article written a group of moderate white church leaders, criticizing the way Rev. King went about protesting. Rhetorically, Rev. King asked the clergymen, “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, and marches and so forth?” His answer, “Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored.”

Kaepernick is criticized for confronting America about its racial inequality at the wrong time.  The clergymen also questioned Rev. King’s timing. He responded, “Frankly, I have yet to engage in a direct-action campaign that was “well timed” in the view of those who have not suffered unduly from the disease of segregation.”

It’s true that Kaepernick hasn’t had to deal with police armed with fire hoses and attack dogs. His house wasn’t bombed, and obviously he hasn’t lost his life like those courageous members of the armed forces who selflessly went to war to protect the United States.

Kaepernick also didn’t lose his life like Rev. King fighting inequality. Does that make his point any less relevant? If Rev. King was to say, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything,” would you tell him, “You can’t say that because you didn’t die in war”? Probably not.

Sexual Violence Haunts Women With Vivid Memories Years Later

Women who are sexually assaulted experience more vivid memories than women coping with the aftermath of other traumatic, life-altering events not associated with sexual violence, according to a new Rutgers University–New Brunswick study.

The research, published in Frontiers in Neuroscience, found that women who had suffered from sexual violence, even those who were not diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), had more intense memories – even years after the violence occurred – that are difficult, if not impossible to forget.

“To some extent it is not surprising that these memories relate to more feelings of depression and anxiety because these women remember what happened and think about it a lot,” said Tracey Shors, professor in the Department of Psychology and W.M. Keck Center for Collaborative Neuroscience in the School of Arts and Sciences who coauthored the study.  “But these feelings and thoughts are usually associated with PTSD and most women in our study who experienced these vivid memories did not suffer from PTSD, which is generally associated with more intense mental and physical reactions.”

The study included 183 college-aged women between the ages of 18-39. Sixty-four women reported that they were victims of sexual violence while 119 did not have a history of sexual violence. Less than 10 percent were on anti-anxiety or antidepressant medication.

The women with a history of sexual violence reported stronger memories with specific details that included seeing the event clearly in their mind. They reported having a harder time forgetting the incident and believed it to be a significant part of their life story, according to the research.

“Each time you reflect on an old memory, you make a new one in your brain because it is retrieved in the present space and time,’’ said Shors. “What this study shows is that this process can make it even more difficult to forget what happened.”

Studies have shown that sexual aggression and violence is one of the most likely causes of PTSD in women, a condition that is associated with decreased brain functions related to learning and memory that can be both physically and mentally debilitating and difficult to overcome.

“Women in our study who ruminated more frequently also reported more trauma-related symptoms. One could imagine how rumination could exacerbate trauma symptoms and make recovery from the trauma more difficult,” said Emma Millon, a Rutgers graduate student and coauthor of the research.

According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of women worldwide experience some kind of physical or sexual assault in their lifetime with adolescent girls much more likely to be the victims of rape, attempted rape or assault. Recent surveys indicate that as many as one in five college students experience sexual violence during their university years.

Shors has developed a new treatment to lessen these vivid memories and help women recover that is different from the traditional Prolonged Exposure Therapy, which includes recollecting the traumatic memory during interviews, story writing and even revisiting the traumatic location.

Mental and Physical Training (MAP Training) developed by Shors combines 30 minutes of mental training with silent meditation followed by 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, twice a week for six weeks. In previous studies, MAP Training diminished trauma symptoms in women who experienced violence, with those participating reporting significantly fewer trauma-related thoughts and ruminations about the past.

“This problem will not go away soon and we must keep our attention focused on prevention and justice for survivors – and their recovery,” Shors said.

Up and Vanished Season 2: A New Town, A New Case, A New Mystery

Up and Vanished Season 2 – Kristal Anne Reisinger (L) Payne Lindsey (R)

On August 7, 2015, Payne Lindsey released the first episode in his first-ever podcast. What started as an interest in film and documentaries became an inspiration after watching Netflix’s series Making a Murderer.

In an interview with Atlanta Magazine Payne says, “Watching that show, something clicked. I said, ‘I want to do that.’”

Payne’s interest in people and storytelling expanded after taking a cross-country road trip. He and two friends traveled through 20-30 states starting from Atlanta, Georgia to the West Coast and making their way back to the East Coast. The 13-minute documentary focused on the lives of local people and trying to discover what makes them happy. Once completed, they took the film titled “Our People” on the festival circuit and won the best documentary short of 2015.

As Payne began research on his next big project, he took inspiration from Making a Murderer and Googled Georgia cold cases. That’s when he found Tara Grinstead a young woman who went missing from her home on October 22, 2005.

Authorities found her front door was locked, and her cell phone was sitting in its charger. Tara’s car was found sitting under the carport, the doors unlocked, and the front seat pushed all the way back. However, her purse and keys were missing. The last time anyone heard from Tara was Saturday night at 11 pm. She was 30 years old at the time of her disappearance.

Tara was an 11th-grade high school teacher from Ocilla, Georgia, and a former beauty queen. At the time of her disappearance, there was little to no evidence found except a single latex glove in her front yard and a broken necklace inside the home.

Family, friends, and investigators had no leads. Over the last decade, law enforcement was never able to identify a suspect, creating the largest criminal case file in Georgia’s history. When Payne came across the case, investigators and law enforcement were no closer to solving the case than they were in 2005.

Payne reached out on Websleuths asking about the case and was contacted by Maurice Godwin, a private investigator hired by the Grinstead family shortly after Tara’s disappearance. From there, Payne’s Podcast began.

Maurice shared leads, contacts, and his own theories with Payne as he collected research, reached out to Ocilla locals and gathered as much information about Tara as he could. In August of 2015, episode one of Up and Vanished launched, clocking in at 5,000 downloads in the first day.

From there, Up and Vanished (UAV) took off, quickly jumping from a small side project to Payne’s full-time job as new leads, evidence, and tips sprouted. On February 24, 2016, Ryan Alexander Duke, a former student of Tara’s, was arrested with charges against Tara’s disappearance, with another arrest on Bo Dukes made in the days following. Bo Dukes is another former student from Tara’s high school and Ryan Duke’s best friend. Though Payne doesn’t take credit for the arrests, the GBI did thank all the media for keeping the case in the spotlight.

Season one concluded with Payne conducting interviews with Brooke Sheridan, Bo Duke’s girlfriend, on details of the night Tara went missing, possible motives, and the aftermath of her disappearance. The trial for Ryan Duke and Bo Dukes is still ongoing, and Payne promises updates on the trial as he moves forward with season two.

On July 31, 2017, Payne aired the last episode. In the last few minutes, he played a recording of a conversation between him and Maurice Godwin. This is what it said:

Payne Lindsey: Hello?

Maurice Godwin: Hey Payne, Dr. Godwin here.

Payne Lindsey: Hey, what’s up, man?

Maurice Godwin: I’ve been thinking. We did some really good work on Tara’s case. There’s another case I had in mind. I’ve been looking to it for years. Maybe you and I should take a look into it.”

There has been radio silence on the upcoming season two until recently. A teaser trailer released on the UAV website for season. Viewers see choppy video footage with voice-overs from different people.

“She’s gonna turn back up. She’s gonna come back. She just went on one of these journey’s,” says one voice. “Maybe she’s in a cult somewhere and she’s just fallen off the face of the Earth and doesn’t want anybody to find her.”

“There’s just something really, really strange about this whole deal,” says another.

“Apparently there was this one guy that seen her walking off alone into the forest.”

From the clues suggested in the trailer, listeners can expect an investigation on another missing person’s case, but with fewer clues and more speculation. With the help of Maurice Godwin, Payne will likely be investigating the cold case of Kristal Anne Reisinger in the hopes of finding more answers. Season Two was release on August 20, 2018.

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