Category Archives: Social Work

My Letter to Michelle Obama

Did any of you other liberals get the email from Michelle Obama yesterday entitled “Up Late”?  It started:

Dear Kiersten,

Every night in the White House, I see Barack up late poring over briefings, reading your letters, and writing notes to people he’s met.

I decided to write a response.

Dear Michelle,

Please tell Barack that I would prefer he not stay up late at night.  Sleep is one of the most important factors in mental health, and I would prefer to have a president who understood this and got his proper supply of Z’s.  Without sleep, a person can become quite emotionally imbalanced.  Without sleep, your body cannot properly rejuvenate to fight off disease and infection.

I like your husband very much and I want to see him survive for another term in the White House, as well as long into his retirement years.  Please tell Barack to go to bed and stop worrying so much about the next election.  The Republicans don’t stand a chance, IMHO.

Sincerely, Kiersten

What do you think, should the President stay up at night writing notes to people he’s met, or should he let his body and mind rejuvenate so he can make decisions and lead the free world? Just sayin’.

The Nonprofit 1 Percent — Village Voice

I have worked at several non-profits over my 20-year professional tenure since college, and it has always been a question in my mind how the top tier in non-profits could be paid so much money.  It seems that since non-profits benefit from their tax status, it would make sense for them to be required by the government to follow a formula for how much they can pay their top tier — something like no more than 10 times the minimum wage of the organization.  The way it is now, the non-profit sector is rife with corruption at the top as this article from the Village Voice describes. The Nonprofit 1 Percent – Page 1 – News – New York – Village Voice.

National Social Work Month Infographic

Via MSW@USC: Online MSW

Children born in December 48% More Likely to be Medicated for ADHD

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.

Kiersten Marek:

This is an interesting way to view things, for the sake of experimentation. I would like to see how corporate education reformers would respond to this.

Originally posted on Teacher Under Construction:

View original

The Warrior in All of Us

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.

(cross-posted from my private practice site.)

 

David Jaffe Gives Away $50 to 50 People at Food Pantry

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.

Interview: Anne Sullivan talks about Helen Keller

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.

Fiction is Good for the Brain

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!

Myths About Marriage and The Need to Talk

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

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