half a tank is all you need…

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…and we’re back

It has been almost a year since my last post and I am pleased to come back to this site feeling refreshed and motivated right off the heels of the 2014 American Counseling Association Conference.

This year’s conference was held in Honolulu, Hawaii and provided many of us a chance to learn, re-engage with our practice and our passions, and recuperate from a bitter cold winter we’ve experienced on the East coast.

I had the privilege of hearing from great minds on the subjects ranging from solution-focused therapy and its many practices and applications in secondary school to workshops that helped to demystify the DSM 5.

This spring brings a lot of change. A new job, new client population, new ways of engaging in the world around me. I look forward to bringing that back to this blog space.

We’re back.


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The Power of Social Media

I will be the first to say that I do not quite get social media. I typically un-tag myself in Facebook photos. I’ve been known to make mistakes when using the past tense of tweet that would make one blush. For a long time, I thought LinkedIn referred to a concept as opposed to an actual website and online community. Over time and with a lot of help from some amazing and patient people, I’ve been able to get a handle on how to use use social media to both delight and connect with others. But, nothing that I had engaged in thus far prepared me for what I was going to encounter at SMARMIE.

Funny acronym right? When I first heard of it, my imagination ran wild with all the things each letter could stand for. What I did not expect was that this conference of a peculiar name would be so singularly powerful and educational that it could very well change the way that I view social media and its powers forever. Now, I realize this this sounds very dramatic but it wasn’t until the presentation by the keynote speaker (blew my mind) that it really hit me.

Social media is crucial in the development of a global community of volunteers and it directly contributes to and enhances our ability to respond to those in crisis.

For counselors and counseling students, it is so important for us to be aware of the ways in which we can be involved in the creation and maintenance of this burgeoning movement. Humanitarianism is going digital and if you are a counselor YOU are engaged in humanitarian work.

Below are a few things I took away from the conference. I invite and urge you to check these sites out. Sign up for updates. Be involved. Get connected.

iRevolution – This blog features short thought pieces on how innovation and technology are revolutionizing the power of the individual through radical self-sufficiency, self-determination, independence, survival and resilience. While you’re at it, follow the incredible Patrick Meier.

Standby Task Force – Tired of feeling like you could be doing more when crisis hits? STF organizes digital volunteers into a flexible, trained and prepared network ready to deploy in crises.

Crisis Mappers – The largest and most active international community of experts, practitioners, policymakers, technologists, researchers, journalists, scholars, hackers and skilled volunteers engaged at the intersection between humanitarian crises, technology, crowd-sourcing, and crisis mapping.

iDisaster – The amazing Kim Stephens heads up this blog that seeks to provide exemplary practices, news and information about applications of new media, with the longer-term objective of improving practice and outcomes in emergency management.

Geofeedia – Identify “hot spots” by quickly performing situational awareness on impacted communities, prioritize resource allocation and logistical efforts using real-time intelligence from Geofeedia, and communicate with impacted populations using social media.

I’d also highly recommend keeping your eye on what’s coming out of Dr. Mark Dredze’s team at JSU. Social media for public health: very much here and now.

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Back to Basics

I’ve been privileged enough to have had several interesting conversations in the past few days. Strangely, they all seemed to have common threads dealing with acceptance and happiness. I ended up with a couple of questions that feel very relevant.
1) Am I accepting of my place in the present moment? and 2) Am I happy or not?
The nuances in the answers to those questions CAN be vast…but for a second I put all of that aside and gave myself the old elementary-style quiz.

happy or not

Life is undeniably more complicated than this. I’m as guilty as anyone of getting wrapped up in the nuances, the expectations, and the anxieties. I know too well the feelings of confusion, frustration, and muddled sense of self that sneaks in even while sprinting down the “path to success”. The simplicity of those questions and boiling it down to the basics helped push aside all of the “should, could, musts” that come along with this existence and helped me tap into the most primary feelings and motivations. In asking myself these questions and allowing myself to sit with the answer without analysis or expectation, things became just a little bit clearer in the moment.

Isn’t that what most of us strive for anyway? A little slice of clarity and simplicity one moment at a time?


Fall Reboot @ Acadia National Park

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Fall is not my favorite season.  I dread the upcoming cold and long for more days of summer heat, green grass, and balmy evenings.  But, this fall, my partner and I decided to kick off the season with a trip to Maine.  A chance to reconnect with nature, with ourselves, and bid a sweet farewell to the last days of summer.  I’m more of a beach-goer and would happily spend each and every day counting sand grains and listening to the waves roll in.  But, every once and a while, there’s a place so beautiful that it almost makes me think I could opt for a woodsy retreat as a viable beach alternative.  This was my experience at Acadia National Park.  The park is full of trails for hikers/ climbers or all levels and there’s enough beautiful landscape to keep everyone happy.  We had a chance to hike the Beehive Trail (a fun trail but not for the vertigo-afflicted) and take in the most beautiful views from the top.

What do you do to welcome the fall and reboot?

This gallery contains 15 photos

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Make the most of your internship experience

The process of finding an internship can be daunting.  Perhaps you had to find one on your own, or maybe you were assigned a site by your school.  In my case, I had to find my own internship and I needed it to coordinate with my full-time work hours.  Hard?  Yes!  Impossible?  Not at all.

Reflecting back on the internship experience brings me to this series of posts.  Check out tips on securing your internship, and once you’ve secured one, here are some ways that you can make the best of your experience.

Try It On: Internships are not just a degree requirement; they’re a great way to try on your new role as a Mental Health Counselor.  Convinced you want to work with adolescents?  Try it on for size in your internship.  Internship sites might have a defined role for you, but there’s no harm done in citing your interests.  Conversely, try challenging yourself by working with a population you are not familiar with.  Not only will you broaden your skill-set but working with a different population may open you up to new interests and aspirations.

Do the Prep: When I learned that I got the internship I wanted, the first thing I did was yelp with joy and relief.   Hooray, I get to counsel offenders.  Ummm…what does that mean exactly?  I trotted right on over to my school’s library and checked out a few books/ articles on exactly that subject.  Preparing is not about mastering a subject before you start it (and if you think you’ll master anything during your internship, think again!); instead it’s about coming to the table with a level of understanding that will ultimately help you better comprehend what you learn at your site and help you better facilitate conversations with the site’s staff and supervisor.  It also does a world of good in relieving the first client jitters.

Fill the Gaps: Want to make an impression?  Good interns follow the rules and do their work well.  Great interns do all of that and find ways to enhance the agency.  Are you good at organizing?  Maybe you can recommend a new filing system that will help staff and other interns do their work more effectively.  Or create a new orientation manual to help future interns begin their work at the agency.  Or create a library where articles and books are readily available for interns and staff.  Many of my fellow classmates started brand new groups and workshops for clients.  They recognized a gap, a need, and took initiative to create something new (I should also mention that many of those classmates were offered positions post-graduation.)

Ask Away: Wherever you are, don’t forget that you are there to learn.  What better way to learn than to ASK QUESTIONS.  Ask them of your supervisor, of your peers, and of the site staff.  As an intern, I was full of questions.  At least 30% of my supervision consisted of me rattling off a list I’d prepared.  What I found was that I started to get answers and a deeper understanding of the work of counseling.  I also found that other interns had the same questions (and those that are less vocal appreciate when their unasked question gets answered!)  Be fearless – ask away.

What are some ways other interns have enhanced their internship experience?

Stay tuned for more on the topic of internships…

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“Who are you?”

As a neophyte counselor there are still a slew of issues and topics that I’m getting used to.  I was lucky enough to continue my work with ex-offenders during which I’ve grown more comfortable dealing with issues of probation, prison experiences, blush-worthy sex topics, and a gamut of experiences that pull on the full range of emotions.  Still,  it’s the personal questions directed towards me that make me freeze up.

“Do you want kids?”

“Why aren’t you married?”

“Do you believe in God?”

While I have answers and explanations for each of those questions that I would normally be happy to spout over a drink at the bar, in the counseling chair I feel just like…

deer in headlights

While there are a number of reasons they might be asking those questions, I realize that sometimes it’s just a humanizing method.  These questions are just leading to the bigger question clients might have: “Who are you?”

Who Are You – Alice in Wonderland

How much of who I am is important in session and I still struggle with determining when it might be appropriate to answer any questions the client might have; disclosure isn’t always cut and dry.

I try to determine whether disclosure would have any therapeutic usefulness.  Does it matter if I pray to one God, pray to several gods, don’t pray at all?   What value does the answer have and if it does have value, what is the best way to express it and where do we go from there?   Is it unreasonable that some would want to know more?  To feel less like they’re coming in for therapy and more like they’re meeting with someone they know?  It’s tricky ground this therapeutic relationship stuff and the rules around disclosure do not seem to be “one size fits all.”

I tend to err on the side of caution, not giving too much, volunteering virtually nothing, and when I do answer, it may be the bare minimum.  Would it be so bad to share a real answer to any of their questions?  The answer for me is, “yes, sometimes.”   The balance of private and professional feels precarious at times, disingenuous at others.  I’ve seen the damage that it can do to have a hard-fast rule that removes the person from the experience.  The “It’s Not About Me, It’s About You,” approach.  I’ve also seen what happens to counselors that cannot seem to hold their tongue – their usefulness quickly comes into question.  From personal experience, I’ve enjoyed the bond that can take place when a therapist discloses; I know that it is a decision they made to do so and that when made correctly it can add something invaluable to the therapeutic experience.  Maintaining boundaries is important to me and in the profession.  Disclosure is part of that, but learning how to navigate the nuances is still a work in progress.

How to others navigate self-disclosures?

“Damn, and just when I was starting to get it.”  ~Edgar Degas

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Transculturation and the art of spirit-snatching

A woman on a praia in Bahia spoke about her son’s  love of America and its culture before he even stepped foot on North American soil.  When he was old enough, he moved to the States. She laughed ruefully as she stated that when he finally arrived he wrote her and told her that he was home.  I don’t understand it, she said.  How can you feel at home in a place you’ve never known?

Good question.  It’s one that I have no answer to but the sentiment is a familiar one:   Sometimes it’s not the place you’re from that feels like the best fit.

If someone told me I’d been spirit-snatched – that somehow my spirit was from some other country and had placed in an American body – I’d hardly be surprised.  In fact, it would explain an awful lot.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy being an American but sometimes I don’t feel very American.  I was born here (1st gen) yet place me in some other culture in some other country and I often feel like more at home.  Other places I’ve felt more at home: Brazil, London, Jamaica (though this shouldn’t count considering my family is West Indian).  Though I’m still intrigued as to the “why” of this phenomenon, I’m coming more to an acceptance of the feeling on a whole and more interested in figuring out how to reunite my cultural spirit with it’s home.

Last week, Language Tutor commented on the work ethic norms of people in his home country.  “There is no work ethic,” he said. “Things are not rushed and often get pushed until later.”  We laughed over the inefficiency of such work practices but secretly it sounded marvelous. Check my email tomorrow? Sit down to drink my coffee rather than hastily swiping it from the Starbucks counter in a rush to get to the next person, place, thing?  Have face to face meetings that start out with every topic except work?  There’s a sense of a person-centric way of doing business, not just in his culture, but in other non-Western cultures.

The above might sound lazy.  I’ve wrestled with that idea – perhaps I like it more because it suggests less work, less urgency.   But, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m no slouch. I work 9-5, 5 days a week, see clients during the evenings, and provide academic tutoring on the weekend. In the few hours I have to myself, there’s a relationship, friendships,  language classes, and attempts to engage in the tricky work of self-care by way of movies, books, and the gym (the latter is the trickiest of them all). If my time feels more free now it’s only because I’ve just graduated from grad school. So no, it’s not that lazy is the issue, I just think maybe some cultural attitudes resonate more even though I’m from a place with very different norms.  No, I think Language Tutor’s people do have a work ethic and it’s one that I’d like to adopt.

“Just Right”

It’s not just work ethic.  I’ve experienced other cultural differences that revolve around relationships, language, gender & sex roles, spirituality.  Travels have become part vacation and part nest-seeking; vetting out what feels best, like Goldilocks, taste-testing for the “just right.”

It’s more than a “grass is greener” complex, but a real sense of fitting in better elsewhere.  Being that it’s not quite the time to fully entertain a complete upheaval of my life here, I’m working on navigating life with this transcultural feeling.  Certainly there are some things that can’t be changed and I’ll probably always filter things through an American cultural lens first (even when debating how much I want to adhere to it) but like many other things in life, culture is not fixed. It changes and shifts…so maybe it makes sense that there are certain cultures that “fit” with who we are, our values, and our way of being.  And maybe that shifts over time too.  I look forward to finding out.

Thoughts, experiences, comments?  Do share!