Category Archives: Social Work
I worry about the overdiagnosis of ADHD, particularly for children (mainly boys) who are younger than most of their peers in the classroom. This video helps me realize I am worrying for a good reason. The video cites a study showing that children born in December (the youngest in their class) were 48% more likely to be put on medication for ADHD.
Oh, the warriors within us! Longfellow said it eloquently: ”If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man’s … suffering enough to disarm all hostility.” Indeed. And yet, we do find many things to argue about. Usually it’s not so much about the subject as it is about someone being on your turf.
As parents we spend a certain amount of energy interacting with our warrior children — hopefully this is only a small part of your relationship, but sometimes it can go on for too long, and it might be worth further exploring your internal warrior — the part of you that engages quickly in conflict, the part that escalates even as you know it isn’t good, not right or healthy or even sane.
Same holds true for marriages. Hopefully you are not spending the majority of your time interacting with your partner’s warrior, but we’ve all been there, and when it gets really ugly, it’s no fun. John Gottman talks about the four horsemen of the relationship apocalypse and one of them is “contempt.” When the conflict gets to the point that you genuinely begin to feel contempt for your partner, it’s time to get help.
I enjoy helping clients explore the parts of them that get in the way of harmonious relationships, the parts that bring more conflict into their lives than they need or want. Sometimes what lies beneath the fightin’ mad part of us is a very interesting part — a creator or a fool or an innocent — who wants to enjoy life or work at something more important. But with the warrior always being in conflict, these other archetypes don’t get the time and attention that they deserve.
Some wonders never cease. One such wonder is David Jaffe, friend, colleague and erstwhile blogger here at Kmareka. Some of you will remember David’s fabulous blogging here at Kmareka back in 2006 and 2007, when the world desperately needed voices like his to call attention to important issues and set the stage for new leadership.
Yesterday David celebrated his 50th birthday with a surprise that makes my heart do flips:
EASTHAMPTON – It was 11 a.m. Monday and David Jaffe was grinning quite a bit for a guy who just parted with $1,400.
Jaffe, a tall, bespectacled man who turned 50 Monday, spent the morning at the Easthampton Community Center on Clark Street giving a $50 bill to each person who came in to pick up groceries at the center’s food pantry.
“It’s my 50th birthday today and I decided I wanted to celebrate it by giving 50 people $50,” he told each recipient, as he handed them the money from a bank envelope.
People hugged him. One or two teared up. Most asked if he was serious. Some simply thanked him and shook his hand. Several veterans shared stories with him. One woman showed him a picture of her baby daughter on her cell phone.
Jaffe handed out 40 of the bills by noon and gave away his final 10 when the center reopened at 4 p.m. – for a total of $2,500, as beaming center volunteers looked on.
“I thought I would get more pleasure out of giving to others on my birthday than I would doing something nice for myself,” said Jaffe, who lives with his cats on Terrace View.
Jaffe is a social worker who evaluates youths in the Hadley and Springfield court systems.
“I’m not a wealthy guy,” Jaffe said. “I don’t own a home. But I’m lucky.” [full text]
Thank you for your generosity, David, and for continuing to surprise and delight the world with your wonderful ideas. I feel blessed to know you and call you my friend.
For those of us who like rare pieces of history, this is footage of Helen Keller with Anne Sullivan demonstrating how Helen learned to speak.
I recently joined a Deaf Community on Facebook as a way to educate myself more about this unique community. How amazing to find this video and be able to see Helen Keller.
Here’s some news I feel like I’ve always known intuitively: writing fiction fine-tunes the brain.
For more than two thousand years people have insisted that reading fiction is good for you. Aristotle claimed that poetry—he meant the epics of Homer and the tragedies of Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides, which we would now call fiction—is a more serious business than history. History, he argued, tells us only what has happened, whereas fiction tells us what can happen, which can stretch our moral imaginations and give us insights into ourselves and other people. This is a strong argument for schools to continue to focus on the literary arts, not just history, science, and social studies.
But is the idea of fiction being good for you merely wishful thinking? The members of a small research group in Toronto—Maja Djikic, Raymond Mar, and I—have been working on the problem. We have turned the idea into questions. In what ways might reading fiction be good for you? If it is good for you, why would this be? And what is the psychological function of art generally?
Through a series of studies, we have discovered that fiction at its best isn’t just enjoyable. It measurably enhances our abilities to empathize with other people and connect with something larger than ourselves.
My first serious novel was about a teenage girl who unwittingly conspires with her boyfriend to knock off her mother, manipulating him into thinking he is rescuing her from her terrible family. My second novel, The Pyramid of Human Growth, is a sort of romance between an introverted technocrat social worker (and lifelong procrastinator) guy and a lovable but difficult social worker gal trudging through the early years of her career, still trying to get over her early life trauma and move to the ultimate stage of marrying and childbearing. Currently I am at work on a novel about a woman’s death by overdose. It’s something we social workers get to have intimate knowledge about, for better (when we help prevent it) and for worse (when despite all the efforts made toward prevention it happens anyways). The working title (forgive the sarcasm, but it helps to keep the demons of writer’s block away) is “Twelve Easy Steps to Suicide.”
Hopefully someday all of my labors at fiction will result in some more published works. Earlier in my career I made a point of sending out my fiction and getting it published, both online and in smaller literary journals, but since having two children, I had to give up some of my goals (as I write this, I am being pestered for snacks). Anyway, even if they are not published, I take pride in working these things out in fiction — and believe that doing so helps me both personally and professionally. Viva the writing life!
This headline in MSN jumped out at me — “How To Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About it” — because I recently talked with a couple about needing to talk to each other less. That’s right — to make their relationship work better, talk less. The corollary for their situation was: do more. Talk less, do more. Show your love in other ways — by being on time, by following through on promised projects, by nourishing each other with good food.
It looks like Patricia Love and Steven Stosny, the co-authors who wrote the new self-help marriage shocker, How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It, have some compelling research to present about how men and women differ in communication patterns. From MSN:
[...] According to Stosny’s analysis of several hundred human and animal studies, male and female responses to stress are distinct from birth. “When a baby girl hears a loud noise or gets anxious, she wants to make eye contact with someone, but a baby boy will react to the same sound by looking around, in a fight-or-flight response,” he says. What’s more, while newborn girls are much more easily frightened, boys have five times as many “startle” reactions, which are emotionally neutral but pump up adrenaline. Boys need to intermittently withdraw into themselves to keep from becoming overstimulated. These differences hold true for most social animals and correlate with our biological roles: The female’s fear response is an early warning system that serves to detect threats and alert the males of the pack to danger.
As girls grow, they go beyond needing eye contact and refine a coping strategy identified by UCLA psychologists as “tend and befriend.” If there’s a conflict, girls and women want to talk about it. Boys and men, however, need to pull away. A man’s greatest suffering, Stosny says, comes from the shame he feels when he doesn’t measure up—which is why discussing relationship problems (i.e., what he’s doing wrong) offers about as much comfort as sleeping on a bed of nails.
Similar to Stosny and Love’s approach is the idea of the diversity of ways to express love described in The Five Love Languages. For many couples, there is a much greater need for showing their partner that they care about the relationship by attending to the children, or doing chores, or being on top of finances — by what Gary Chapman calls “Acts of Service.” For others, gifts and quality time are more important, and still others are primarily concerned with physical touch. Finding out which of the love languages is primary for you and your partner can help you reflect and build a better relationship. And sometimes what you might learn is that you want to talk less.
Cross-posted at my private practice site, kierstenmarek.com
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and reading about marriage and family lately, due to my practicing more couples therapy and wanting to beef up my knowledge and technique, as well as just general curiosity about what makes a marriage or a family into something enriching and rewarding. I set out googling and goodsearching to answer two basic questions: what makes a family work and what makes a marriage work?
These do not seem to be burning questions in the minds of many other people. In America today, we seem to be too busy trying to exclude people from marriage (i.e. same-sex couples, although this is changing, slowly, state by state, with NH signing it into law yesterday and RI destined to be dead last in following suit) to notice that our institution is in serious disrepair, with 50% of US marriages ending in divorce, and a rate for children growing up in single-parent households that continues to steadily rise.
In my quest for information on what makes marriage work, I discovered some fascinating research called State of Our Union by Barbara Dafoe Whitehead and David Popenoe, who work out of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University. The Project at Rutgers has studied marriage from several different angles including a comparative study with Scandinavian families and their divorce rates. Here is how they describe the ideal family environment for raising young children:
[...] I have suggested that the ideal family environment for raising young children has the following traits: an enduring two-biological parent family that engages regularly in activities together, has developed its own routines, traditions and stories, and provides a great deal of contact time between adults and children. Surrounded by a community that is child friendly and supportive of parents, the family is able to develop a vibrant family subculture that provides a rich legacy of meaning and values for children throughout their lives.(9) Scandinavians certainly fall short on the enduring two-biological parent part of this ideal (yet even there they are currently ahead of the United States), but on the key ingredients of structured and consistent contact time between parents and their children in a family friendly environment, they are well ahead of us.
The authors go on to describe how difficult it is in America to achieve this ideal environment:
In America today the achievement of this ideal family environment requires what many parents are coming to consider a Herculean countercultural effort, one that involves trying to work fewer hours and adopting the mantra of “voluntary simplicity” for those who can afford it; turning off the TV set and avoiding popular culture; seeking employment in firms that have family-friendly policies such as flexible working hours; and residing in areas that are better designed for children and where the cost of living is lower. Families in Scandinavia need not be so countercultural to achieve these goals because the traits of the ideal child-rearing environment are to a larger degree already built into their societies.
If you want to keep going with learning about marriage, Poponoe and Whitehead publish a yearly version of “State of Our Unions.” In the most recent version I could find online, Poponoe talks about ways to recommit to marriage, and suggests we’d need a cultural awakening to pull it off. Here is a link to the 2007 essay.
With regard to the question of what the key ingredients are of stable long-term relationships, here are some very telling statistic from Poponoe and Whitehead:
By now almost everyone has heard that the national divorce rate is close to 50% of all marriages. This is true, but the rate must be interpreted with caution and several important caveats. For many people, the actual chances of divorce are far below 50/50.
The background characteristics of people entering a marriage have major implications for their risk of divorce. Here are some percentage point decreases in the risk of divorce or separation during the first ten years of marriage, according to various personal and social factors:
Percent Decrease in Risk of Divorce:
Annual income over $50,000 (vs. under $25,000) — -30%
Having a baby seven months or more after marriage (vs. before marriage) — -24%
Marrying over 25 years of age (vs. under 18) — -24%
Own family of origin intact (vs. divorced parents) — -14%
Religious affiliation (vs. none) — -14%
Some college (vs. high-school dropout) — -13%
So, you want to reduce your risk of divorce? Have a household income of more than 50 K. That’s right, all those people who try to tell you money doesn’t count in love, well guess what? It does. If you have a household income of less than 50 K and you are still married, you are beating some pretty stiff odds. You should probably find some cheap way to celebrate your amazing luck and good fortune in relationships.
You want to do something else to reduce your risk of divorce? Be at least 25 before you tie the knot. Go to college and think about what kind of person you want to spend the rest of your life with.
Want to reduce your risk even more? Join a church. Get around a good group of people who share your core values.
Oh, and one more thing. Use birth control (and hope that it doesn’t fail) until you are married. It helps.
And finally, if you are having trouble in your marriage, you might want to consider going to a professional (not that I’m biased!). The biggest problem I see with couples is that by the time they get to making an appointment to see a therapist, they are often feeling extremely burned out about the relationship. They are sick and tired of fighting and want things to be better, but their ability to feel hopeful about the other person or the relationship is quite damaged.
Couples therapy does not need to be a long, involved process. Many times the process of a therapist suggesting some reflection and communication exercises is enough to get the ball rolling. You can also read up on your own and try being your own therapist. I recommend John Gottman and the Gottman Institute, particularly the book 10 Lessons to Transform Your Marriage. For a more spiritually-centered approach, I also recommend Gary Chapman and The Five Love Languages.
UPDATE: This post is getting tons of page views due to friend and fellow Ascensioner Andre Araujo’s post on Daily Kos. Thanks, Andre!
Father Greg Lisby holds a Masters Degree in Divinity and a Masters Degree in Social Work. He came to lead Church of the Ascension in Cranston, RI in February of 2008, and since that time has helped shape a time of spiritual exploration and awakening.
Kiersten Marek: My first question is: I recently read this article in The Atlantic called “The Velvet Reformation,” about Bishop Rowan Williams and the question of whether the Anglican church can become open to gay marriage. The article referenced an essay by Rowan Williams called “The Body’s Grace” in which Williams talked about how intimate relationships are about experiencing grace and that this grace should be accepted as part of both gay and straight relationships. He wrote:
“Grace, for the Christian believer, is a transformation that depends in large part on knowing yourself to be seen in a certain way: as significant, as wanted.”
I wonder if you can comment on how this idea strikes you, both as a church leader and as a partner in a gay relationship.
Fr. Greg Lisby: To know you are significant and wanted –isn’t that what we all desire? In the lore of creation, found in the book of Genesis, God said it is good for a human to have a partner (it isn’t until the second creation story that it specifically says male and female). God desires for us to be in relationship with another. It is in relationship, whether intimate or not, that we can glimpse the reality of God’s presence. So, whether it is an opposite-sex or same-sex relationship, all possess the potential for manifesting God’s presence. When that presence is realized, acknowledged, then the sense of worth and vulnerability that opens us to God’s grace is made possible. This, I believe, is what Archbishop Williams is getting at.
Kiersten Marek: This past summer you became a parent, along with your partner, Tim, to two infant sisters, Leah, 2, and Miriam, 10 months, and are now in the process of finalizing adoption of both girls. What has this been like for you? What are some of the joys and pains of being a parent for these two little bundles of glory?
Fr. Greg Lisby: Incredible! If I may, Rowan Williams is right, grace is to know you are significant and wanted. Children are a channel, an instrument of God’s grace. Nothing can prepare you for having children, you learn as you go, but nothing can ever prepare you for two children, all at once! And, they are only 11 months apart. That was the struggle, jumping into the deep end, with no family in the northeast, and having to rely on the generosity of our parishes for support.
The joys are too many to count. They have shown us another way of seeing God. They have shown us how to be more patient and relaxed. They have demonstrated the power of love, unconditional love. And, we’ve learned to laugh at ourselves more often.
The struggles are the same as any other family with two young children. We don’t sleep enough, daycare germs keep our pediatrician in business, we have to watch how we schedule outside meetings … keeping a ‘family calendar’ is wise, and learning to say sorry helps smooth over rough moments. Oh, and kissing the booboos always makes it feel better.
People often wonder what two dad or two mom families are like, how are they different than a mom and dad family? They don’t differ at all. We have the same joys and challenges that they do.
Kiersten Marek: We’ve spoken about wanting to do more outreach as a church. Are there specific areas of outreach you think are particularly suited for Ascension?
Fr. Greg Lisby: Church of the Ascension sits nears Cranston East High School and next to the Auburn Branch Library. We have homes surrounding the church, and the neighborhood is really a nice blend of urban and some-what suburban. This is where we might find outreach opportunities. This blending of the two environments creates a unique situation and challenge for a parish. On one hand, we could open a soup kitchen and on other we could start a mothers-morning-out group. This summer, the Cranston library system will use Ascension’s facilities to operate a children’s summer reading program. We have explored the possibility of providing an after-school tutoring opportunity. Yet, we could invest in expanding the Cranston inter-faith food pantry, which is located off Park Ave. Once a month, we could volunteer at the Epiphany Meal Site, which meets at Grace Church in downtown Providence.
Another way Ascension is doing outreach is by opening our facilities to therapeutic private practices. We have nice office space available for those interested in expanding services to folks in the Auburn neighborhood in need of psychotherapy.
Kiersten Marek: We recently held a “jazz mass” at our church, a wonderful way to celebrate and experience a very different kind of energy together. Is this something you hope to do more of at Ascension?
Fr. Greg Lisby: Yes! We have another Jazz Mass scheduled for Sunday, June 7th @ 10AM. It’s a great way to connect with the holy through music that seeks to move the spirit within us. Back in October, the church hosted a service called U2charist. That worship experience featured the music of Bono and the U2 band.
Kiersten Marek: You’re known for having an openness to children and for wanting them to participate in mass, that you like the “buzz” of all the children’s energy, even if it is a bit loud at times. What do you see as the trajectory of transformation for Ascension in terms of its care and nurturance of our younger souls?
Fr. Greg Lisby: Jesus said that we are to be like children. Now, he probably didn’t mean that we should all be jumping off the walls, saying ‘no’ whenever we are asked to do something, or stealing our favorite toy from our sister. But, like children, we are to be inquisitive, seekers and searchers. Children usually have an openness to exploring and discovery. How you ever noticed the expression on a child’s face, say at the children’s museum or even the zoo, when they see or hear something for the first time? That is what Jesus says we are to emulate.
So having children in worship allows for us sometimes stuffy adults to hear and see God in new ways. But also, children are no different than adults in their need for worship. Worship, or the participation in the liturgy, allows us to offer praise and thanksgiving to God. By immersing children in the worship of the church, they begin to see the mystery of God revealed. The research shows us that children who attend the entirety of worship from an early age are more likely to continue participating in their faith tradition in adulthood. This is because it has become part of who they are, and they know they are significant and wanted.
Over the years I have treated many children with reactive attachment issues and, while sometimes heartbreaking, there is also a great deal of joy in the work. Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) is a cluster of behavioral and emotional issues that are believed to relate to a child’s lack of appropriate early bonding with a primary caregiver. RAD is often what is going on when a child asks if I can be his mommy during the first session, or when a child makes little or no eye contact and behaves as if he doesn’t want to interact with me. Usually with RAD, there are clear markers in the child’s history — sometimes in utero, sometimes after birth in the first three years — when there was no stable primary caregiver.
It happens a lot with foster children, naturally, if they have been moved around a lot, or if their reunification plans with bio family keeps falling through. I also think there is an argument to be made that reactive attachment can start off in utero, when a child is exposed to high levels of stress hormones. Mark Brady, PhD, has a great post in which he describes the developmental problems resulting from neglect and early stress. He quotes Dr. Bruce Perry, author of The Boy Who Was Raised by a Dog, talking about how the human brain responds to childhood neglect:
“As you grow, the brain is essentially like a sponge. It’s absorbing all kinds of experiences. So if a child is not held, touched, talked to, interacted with, loved, literally neurons do not make those connections, and many of them actually will die.”
“Big, big ventricular spaces (show up in stressed out kids), which will impact sleep, regulation of anxiety, regulation of mood, whether or not you’re very happy or sad.”
“Simple things like eye contact, touch, rocking and humming can make all the difference to a baby. It makes neurons grow, it makes them make connections. Then, it makes the brain more functional.”
One of the most impactful experiences I have had working with a RAD client was working with a little boy who had been raised for his first three years in an extremely neglectful environment — to the point where when he was moved to foster care, he did not know how to play other than to lay on his belly on the floor and put his fingers in front of his face and move them around. There were very few toys in his early home, and even less of a primary person paying attention to his needs and giving him the closeness he would need to understand the world emotionally. He had come a long way by the time I was seeing him, could play and interact with others, had probably quadrupled his vocabulary in the year he had been in a stable home, but he was still a very skinny kid with rotted teeth that had to be capped and lots of ear infections and other illnesses constantly weighing him down.
Part of my message to RAD kids is the constant reminder to them (and to their brains!) that they are growing, expanding, developing, changing, become whole, becoming strong. I say these things not only because they are true but also because they are the mantra of our shared hope — that their growth will now take place, that they will be able to make up for lost time and accelerate fast enough to get the ABC’s and color identification and some decent social skills in before kindergarten starts. And most of all, because I want them to know that I see them. I see them. They are here.
The importance of this knocked my socks off one day in session with this little guy, who I’ll call James. I was giving him the message that he was growing, asking him how old he would be turning on his next birthday, reinforcing that he would soon be in kindergarten, when suddenly James said, “When I was a baby, I was invisible. Now that I’m older, I have skin and bones.”
“Indeed,” I said, to draw out the moment. “And you have your whole body. And you’re growing bigger all the time.” When I had James create himself on “Mi” on the Wii (I did the controls as he was behind most kids on video game skills) he created a person who was as tall and big-boned as possible, with a big head of black hair. He wanted to be big. And compared to how small he had been made to feel in his birth home, he was indeed a big guy now.
We all need closeness in order to know we exist. If no one knows who you are, knows you internally, knows your needs and how to fill them, you grow up feeling invisible. Anyone who has ever been in a situation where everyone around them was deliberately ignoring them knows how awful it is to feel invisible. Imagine this being the world you are born into. Imagine how devastating that would be.
The good news is that most of us are not born into such cruel environments. Even in families where there is physical and emotional abuse, there is often still a sense of attachment for the child — that their needs are still very high on the list of things that get taken care of. It was enlightening, but also frightening, working with James — realizing just how powerfully he was experiencing the arrival of his identity, and how much catching up there was to do.