There was a little headline in a Boston newspaper this week about the continued collaboration between MSPP and two inner city High Schools, with suspension rates significantly higher than other Boston area schools. As part of the program, alternatives are offered to students such as opportunities to make up lost work, mental-health screenings, and individual attention and support. I was particularly curious to see MSPPs work with struggling students this week, after the tragic murder of a 24 year old Boston area teacher by one of her pupils. There is little doubt that additional mental health resources need to be placed in our schools, but perhaps nowhere is it as vital as in communities riddling with poverty and violence.
I’m a psychotherapist, with a focus in trauma. Most of my clients live in poverty, many are women, but I also treat veterans and a few families. The unconscionable murder of a 24 year old teacher is tragic, but unfortunately it’s also a microcosm of violence littering our inner city streets every day. I’m in awe of all my clients, their strength, courage, and perseverance never seizes to amaze me. But I also continue to be amazed by the violence happening only a few miles from some of the wealthiest areas in the country which we never hear about. For instance, one of my clients is a woman from Roxbury in her late twenties, she has witnessed countless shootings, including that of her 18 year old brother who was shot and killed in front of her eyes. My client dropped out of high school after she was repeatedly (sexually) assaulted at age 16, without access (or knowledge thereof) to resources except an alcoholic mother. I wish I could say that her experience growing up in the inner city was an isolated incident, but unfortunately she is just one of many. We are thankfully beginning to address the severe impact Post Traumatic Stress has in our military community, but I can safely say that the trauma experienced by most of my client’s rivals that of any veteran I’ve treated. Helping at risk students by providing mental health and other resources to keep them in schools is a great start, but we cannot stop there, we also need to understand the real depth and scope of the problem.
I’ve lived in Boston for just about four and a half years. Well, let me be more accurate: I’ve lived just outside of Boston for just about four and a half years. If you’re new to the area, you’ll find that actual Bostonians find this distinction to be very important. So I’ve lived in the Cambridge area, and I’m pretty comfortable being around here. Downtown Boston is a whole other place, though, one I’m trying to get into the habit of visiting and exploring more often.
And that’s definitely something that all students attending MSPP should do. Get to know your own area, get to know Boston, and for your own sanity – get to know what festivals are happening around you! It’s not all Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots and Celtics madness (although, let’s face it, Boston stands transfixed beneath the glow of a sports screen)! In and around Boston are some truly fantastic little fairs and festivals, full of great food and shows, and you get to know the culture of the different suburbs and many “squares” of the Boston area.
Having lived mostly in the Cambridge area, most of my favorites are around there, but www.boston.com/thingstodo and www.yelp.com are fabulous ways of keeping up with whatever sorts of events float your boat.
Davis Square’s Art Beat, which usually takes place in the later part of July (lots of craft booths, fun activities to get involved in, music galore, and delicious food. I’d go into detail about the food, but that deserves its own entire post)
Cambridge Block Party: I don’t know what website to give for this, but keep an eye out for it on Boston.com and other such sites in June. It’s a family-friendly event that goes from about 7-11pm and involves a lot of loud music near Central Square, line dancing, innumerable glow sticks, and just about the best time you’ve ever had dancing with people you don’t know.
Outside the Box: I’ve never actually been to any of the events, but this year’s fantastic and I’ll definitely be checking it out next year! http://outsidetheboxboston.org/
Moving to a new city, a new culture, can be hugely daunting, and it can be hard to resist the comfort of what you know: your apartment, MSPP and the gym. Being around new people and good energy will help to keep you from running on empty, I promise you. I’m currently working on expanding my own experiences of Boston, so I’ll keep updating about new finds, and if you need more suggestions, feel free to comment with questions about any of that!
Throughout the last several years, colleges and universities around the country have been adding programs and classes to their online rosters, opening university doors to many students who don’t have the time or flexibility to commit to a traditional class schedule. In fact, over 6 million students, nearly a third of total enrollment at degree-granting postsecondary institutions, are now taking at least one online course. I am one of those students, faithfully working to balance my professional and personal life, with my academic one.
Since beginning my journey at MSPP, first in the Media Master’s program, and now in the Leadership Psych Doctorate, I have contemplated how different my personal and professional development might be if I was at MSPP on a daily basis. At first I feared that I would be a number, part of MSPPs financial equation, but I found that the opposite was true. While there is a trade off in the blended program which only requires us to be on campus part of the year, I’ve found myself bonding with my cohorts and instructors in ways I had not thought possible before. Moreover, I am consistently surprised by the personal interest, guidance, patience and respect our instructors and advisors have given each of us.
The needs of a society drive innovation, and academia is forced to evolve along with it. MSPP has evolved, continues to evolve, and is changing through collaboration of both faculty and students – always receptive to criticism and feedback. In turn, it has enabled them to deliver outstanding programs, as well as world class instructors and top notch students. Please believe me, if I could say this without coming across as a sounding board of the marketing department I would, but the truth is that MSPP has done a terrific job.
This weekend, I had the opportunity to travel back to my alma mater, Georgetown, to do research on musical rehabilitation of prison inmates. Along with having an amazing time and seeing friends and colleagues, I went to a symposium and master class on social justice and the performing arts. The event was geared toward film and music’s application in the prison system. As a musician and student in the forensic program, this might just be the coolest subject I can think of.
Meet Wayne Kramer. Wayne was the lead guitarist for the great proto punk group the MC5. Along with being a great rock star and performer, Wayne and the MC5 were well-known for their political activism. After the dissolution of the band, Wayne found himself in prison on a drug charge. His prison sentence marked the end of the MC5, and The Clash (close friends of Wayne) wrote the song “Jail Guitar Doors” about Wayne’s imprisonment.
During his experience, Wayne found that the prison environment was not only failing in rehabilitation of its inmates, but actively compounding psychological issues which lead to recidivism. Kramer found that his greatest strength inside prison was his ability to write songs. He found that songwriting provided an expressive outlet that helped him find the issues that led to his issues with substance abuse.
Today, Wayne runs the American wing of Jail Guitar Doors, an organization focused on bringing guitars and teaching to prison inmates across the country. Wayne’s mission is to allow prisoners to utilize the expressive therapy that he experienced through songwriting. Participants have found this treatment to feel empowering and humanizing in a situation which is otherwise not. Others find relief in using music performance as a way of escaping their confines, even if for a few minutes at a time. Additionally, many participants feel that both songwriting and performance give them a sense of self-worth which is often hard to develop in a penitentiary.
I’m hoping to get involved with Wayne in the coming months and possibly help start a Boston chapter of Jail Guitar Doors. This is not only an incredibly interesting subject to me, but something that I really believe in. In times of personal struggle, I have also found that music was often the best way to express myself and work through many of my issues and in previous music instructing experience, I’ve seen just how powerful music can be as a tool of self-development.
I think MSPP could also be an excellent medium to help promote Wayne’s work, since we offer both a Forensic & Counseling Psychology as well as an Expressive Arts Therapy tracks in our counseling department (more on that later). I’m also hoping to set up a more general musician’s group at MSPP (if you’re a student and interested in the group, let me know). I am going to be in contact with Wayne in the coming weeks and months, so if any readers have interest in working with the organization or just have questions about it, comment below or email me. Also, check out JGD’s website, http://jailguitardoors.org/
There are over 400 people in this room, and yet it is quiet. We all sit enrapt and engaged with presenter Michelle Garcia Winner, nodding at the clear and concise expression of what we all know to be common sense in our line of work. Then I hear the scratching of pencils and shuffling of paper as she walks us through a new strategy for developing the social competencies of our children and our groups.
What I have found particularly helpful is the way in which she has labeled and defined the various levels of social functioning and, more importantly, “social executive functioning.” It can often be a challenge for us to develop social goals that feel meaningful: yes, we want Tommy to learn to say “hi” to others, but what we really want is for him to know when it is appropriate to say “hi” or “hello” or some other greeting based on reading the social context. For that to become a SMART goal, we need operational definitions of Tommy’s current level of social performance, and a definition of where we’d like him to be. Enter Social Thinking.
On a personal level, this conference has also highlighted the way that this year of internship has already transformed my thinking from “student” to “professional”. I am listening to the presenters and thinking about how I will use these strategies to change this group, or how next year I will look to use this method of measurement for baseline and monitoring data. I am also thinking in terms of the educator evaluation and the ways in which these tools will enable me to write my own SMART goals for professional practice.
The change was sneaky, but it happened. Maybe it had to do with the fact that, for me, it was slipping back on an old pair of favorite shoes. I’ve been here before, employed and ambitious. This is still my “practice” year, but I am already feeling fully confident in my ability to venture out on my own next year!
Anyways, before the age of the internet and universal access to a seemingly endless world of amusement and procrastination, people would read books *gasp* for fun. Notedly, some books were more fun than others, especially for kiddies. One of these ‘fun’ books was “Where’s Waldo?
The goal of this book was to look at the same page for a long period of time to locate this patriotic-looking world-traveling type of fellow named ‘Waldo’.
Waldo constantly finds himself in situations that many of us would find ourselves in, such as at the beach or a carnival — or, he’s in outer space, underwater, or has traveled back in time. Some of the puzzles are easily, while others seem nearly impossible. Regardless, they all assume that you, first- have an interest in finding Mr. Wally and second- have the patience.
But, if you are neither interested in finding our good old friend nor have the patience to find him, why should you care about good ole’ Waldo?
Life is Like Ancient Troy
You’re going to need to click on the image and zoom on this one
Please take the next five to ten minutes to click on the picture, zoom in to the scene, and find Waldo.
Yes, I’m serious. It’s kind of important.
That was too fast. Don’t tell me you’ve given up already! Keep trying!
Did you find him?
What did you notice when you were looking for him? What was going on in the scene? What was going on within you? Were you Calm? Focused? Anxious? Overwhelmed?
What if Waldo was real- how does he seem to be in this environment?
It’s interesting- Waldo is nearly always in this extremely crowded, active, chaotic environments that would be overwhelming to many. But, if you look at Waldo, he consistently has the same posture, same expression, same demeanor. He appears unfazed by the chaos that is going on around him. Of the eighty or so people that are surrounding him he is okay that:
About 25 people are all looking up at who knows what
There are several armed fights erupting around him
A filming crew also time-traveled with him and have staged an armed fight scene (as if one had to be staged)
There are two men laid out on the ground from which we can assume was the result of their punishment for littering when it was clearly marked that there is to be no littering!
Despite all of this, Waldo is smiling and happy; “just chilling” (if you weren’t able to find him but want to see what I am talking about, you can click here for a MAJOR spoiler alert).
What if we were Waldo? What if, on a daily basis, we were expected to delve into chaos and be okay with it?
Not everybody wants that job description. But, even if you hope to earn your degree and work in an environment that is less predictable than Ancient Troy, it is still important to learn self control and to be aware of our emotional state, and how this may be effecting how we come off to others. On the other hand, some like the idea of working in an environment as unpredictable as Ancient Troy. Self-awareness and the ability to remain collected is just as important on both ends.
Life at MSPP is like Being Waldo in the Stone Age (Bear with me here)
We don’t know much about Waldo. We don’t know who he is, where he came from, or how long he’s been standing there. Who has he talked to in the picture? What has he done there? Before he got there? Maybe Waldo is really running around causing mayhem and, with superior timing skills, poses for a still shot and then carries on? Where does he go after his time at that location has been served? Who do we have to pay to get a case study done around here?!
Who knows. But what I do know is that a graduate education in Psychology can be chaotic. There are classes to attend, papers to write, assessments to perform, staff to meet with, and this isn’t even touching the chaos that may meet us at our practicum sites we attend two or three times a week. We can learn a lot from this single shot of Waldo- that in the face of chaos, to appear calm, collected and responsible is very important. Finding Waldo itself is an awarding experience, and to be met with such a well put-together character was definitely worth the effort.
*Ah,* Much Better!
Despite the chaos, both MSPP and my current practicum site have been amazing at making sure that when chaos does present itself, it’s manageable. We do not enter, or exit, a chaotic situation alone. When life happens, both professors and teacher aids have been excellent about working with students to make sure work is done in a way that is effective for learning. When chaos presents itself at my practicum site, even those who are not my direct supervisor are more than willing to work through potentially confusing or problematic cases or situations. There are plenty of people to help along the way and to point in the right direction so that we can all be happy and cool like Waldo in the Stone Age.
This past week at my practicum site, Jessica Minahan, a board-certified behavior analyst and special educator, directed a parent workshop on Helping Parents Help Kids with Anxiety. The seminar was aimed at providing parents and professionals with valuable skills and tips to help children with anxiety. This was my first seminar that I attended within the psychology field and it was a very beneficial experience. The speaker brought valuable insight about the matter at hand and was very engaging and funny.
I learned that children and adolescents with autistic spectrum disorders are at an increased risk of having anxiety and anxiety disorders. Anxiety can be a very debilitating, for as it increases in a situation, working memory rapidly decreases, which in turn can cause the child or adolescent to act in different manner. Oftentimes, children are not able to identify the reasoning for their anxiety but instead lash out in negative mannerisms at parents and professionals. When parents and professionals are at the receiving end of such behavior, it is often easier to address the conduct rather than the root of the problem, or rather anxiety.
Imagine working with a child who often misbehaves in class, answers back to teachers and parents, and has a very negative attitude about learning. A team of parents and professionals can work together to help the child, but when further exploration is not done, it can be so easy to miss the route of the problem. A child can behave well during the morning but can change his or behavior very quickly when they find themselves in an anxiety causing situation, such as overhearing a discussion between classmates about a birthday party he or she was not invited to. That one second immediately put a damper on the child’s day, and in the afternoon, is now a completely different child.
When Jessica Minahan was explaining this example and change of behavior that she sees often in children and adolescents with anxiety, I was struck by how devastating anxiety can be. I never realized the role it plays in children and adolescents, especially in children and adolescents with autism.
In a world where bullying has taken on a new face and lives are lived online, situations that cause anxiety are everywhere now. It was already difficult to be a child when I was growing up, I can’t imagine what children go through nowadays.
The workshop helped prove to me that I made the right choice in changing careers. More than ever, well trained therapists are needed for children and adolescents, to help them navigate such murky waters. Parents and professionals have to coordinate to best assist children and adolescents. I learned so much at the seminar, but what struck out to me the most was how vital it is to help children and adolescents work through their problems, in order to become the best person they can be. Without recognizing the subtle changes in a person and their roots, it can become very difficult to help a person change their behavior.
If you are looking for a book to read, I highly recommend Jessica Minahan’s recent book “The Behavior Code.” Jessica Minahan and Nancy Rapport, a psychiatrist, discuss a systematic approach for interpreting causes and patterns of difficult behaviors found in children and adolescents. After hearing the presentation, the book is definitely on my reading list. The question is when will I be able to get to it? I think I will have to save it for my winter break
I’m a first year student in the Clinical PsyD program, with a concentration in CFAR (Children and Families of Adversity and Resilience). I’m a Jamaican student who’s lived and studied in Massachusetts for many, many years (as well as living in a few other countries) – but I will always identify as an international student. I have a MA in Teaching (Pre-K to 2nd grade), and love working with preschool-age children, so taking part in the CFAR concentration seemed like the appropriate option for me.
Deciding to enroll in a doctoral program was a huge deal for me, so I thought that in this initial post I could share a little info about what my application and decision-making process was like. This blog and similar blog posts (as well as endless conversations with people who were “in the know”) were instrumental in my being able to make a confident and informed decision, and I only hope that I can help even one person who might be struggling in weighing his/her own pros and cons for going back to school.
There were a few big things I had to consider in deciding what school to go to. Money, of course, was an issue. But I also needed to be sure that I would be getting what I wanted at this point of my life, in order to advance my career. It was a decision that was also based on the prospect of experience; would I be in a challenging new environment that would offer me new experiences? Would I get a full range of opportunities in order to broaden my understanding of psychological and personality development and mental health? (To be quite honest, CFAR wasn’t even on my radar at that point. I had enough things to think about, and I figured that I would be able to focus my learning on children wherever I went.)
The other program I considered was an MSW (Master of Social Work) from a really excellent school (my alma mater, actually). Everyone I spoke to about the MSW said that I’d end up in the same place with an MSW as I would with a PsyD – that I could do private practice, focus on children and families, focus on social justice and multicultural issues, and really come to understand the therapeutic process. And I’m sure I could have done that program and got all those things. But in the end I decided I wanted a longer program, one that would be in-depth and thorough and technical, and have all the trappings that would give me the confidence to practice independently at the end of it all.
One thing I would suggest in making your decision is to really research the different programs and what they have to offer. Some might have more of a research component, or emphasize cross-cultural learning, or focus primarily on blending clinical practice and theory. I ended up talking to Mario Murga who connected me to a current MSPP student who was simply amazing in her wealth of knowledge, and I don’t know that I would have got all that information from statistics or simply reading up about the school. Know what it is that you need at this point, whatever that point is in your career. Go to Open Houses (MSPP has a bunch), read the literature, ask past professors, talk to current students, even talk to past students!
I’m only at the beginning, but so far this has been a good start to what’s sure to be a rather long journey, but hopefully fulfilling journey! I’ll certainly keep updating on that process as the year continues, but in the meantime – feel free to post comments/questions!
Mid-fall is my favorite time of the year. It’s sweater and boot but not yet shoveling weather. The leaves light up the sides of streets and pathways, but the trees are not completely bare yet. But even more wonderful than warmed caramel apple cider is the fact that at this time of the year, on this very year, it is the perfect storm for Boston sports fans. Yes, the Red Sox are chasing late October victories. The Patriots, for better or worse, have begun playing with my heartstrings again. The Celtics and Bruins are kicking into high gear, previewing what promises to be an exciting winter (and hopefully spring) full of green and white, black and gold. For a girl who grew up planning weekends around games of my own and my beloved Boston teams, this is pretty close to heavenly.
With all of these games, the demands of my practicum, and my coursework, sleep has become a cherished resource. Some nights, I’m not going to lie, I find myself crawling into bed whispering in a Sméagol (Gollum) voice, “my precious …” before conking out. Others, I am on the edge of my chair, adrenaline pumping as my former athletic competitive spirit is awakened. Unfortunately, this occasionally results in using the snooze button a little too liberally the following morning. This past Thursday morning, the day after the first Red Sox-Cardinals game of the series (which started at 8:00 pm – Fox, you’re really making it tough for us), it was clear from peers’ arrival times for our 8:30 class that I was not the only one mumbling, “just another minute” to my annoyingly cheery alarm. And while this may have been an irritating side effect of Boston fandom for our instructor, she handled it the way that most instructors do at MSPP – with understanding.
Life happens. And the great thing about this environment is that the instructors and staff members are accommodating. They maintain high standards while recognizing that we’re balancing significant demands in our practicum placements, classes and life in general. Our instructors not only talk the “self care” talk but also are there to encourage us to walk the “self care” walk. While I’m not one to use this latitude all willy-nilly, I am appreciative. It makes the glory of this fall just that much more magical.
One of the best things about living in a city like Boston is the ease with which you can go to other major cities on the East Coast. I’m going to be taking advantage of this a bit this semester. I’m finalizing my plans to spend Thanksgiving in New York, and this weekend, I am going on a trip to Washington, DC to do research on musical therapy of prison inmates (how cool is that???). I love Texas, but realistically, making trips to other cities is pretty difficult back home. Drives from Austin to El Paso regularly take about eight hours – if you drive fast and don’t take breaks – and going to Dallas or Houston takes even longer.
Getting to New York from here is considerably easier. Thanksgiving is going to be exciting for me because I have never been to New York City. I have friends who have convincing me to check out the big city since I moved to DC for college. It’s also really accessible by driving or via train or bus from Boston (you can find tickets for five bucks between the two cities!). DC is only… ok, so DC isn’t that close to Boston. But it’s definitely easier to get there from Boston than from Texas (hence, why this is my first return to the hilltop since graduating two years ago). I’m going to be taking the train this time around, but I did consider driving.
Point of the story: being up here is an opportunity to experience entire worlds that I wouldn’t know about back home. I can’t wait to see as many of them as I can. My next entry will be more focused on the research that I’m going to be doing over the weekend and will have pictures and stories of my adventures in the capital, so stay tuned for that.