Bubbles. Round, iridescent, and fragile, bopping along in the breeze until a gust dashes them against an unforgiving surface, shattering their short and playful existence. Sometimes our kids have days that remind me of this tumultuous dance. They arrive at school, cheerful, dressed in the rainbow of colors that is the latest in the all the stores. There is a skip in their step, but also a sort of obliviousness that comes with a happy spring day and a lack of executive functioning. Sometime unexpected happens, dashing their delicate sense of self against the unforeseen and shattering their mood.
My “drop ins” all have various forms of this scenario that disrupt their days. You can’t really repair a bubble, but, where there is one bubble there are usually hundreds. So, my job really is to help them identify what burst their bubble and then to identify a new bubble that can carry them through the rest of the day. Eventually I’d like to upgrade them to the more resilient balloon, but as young children I am content to see the carefree bubbles dancing in the breeze.

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Alliance for MA (SAM)

sel4mass_logoMSPP has many members that have joined the Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) Alliance for Massachusetts (SAM) http://www.SEL4Mass.org. Nicholas Covino, Bob Lichtenstein, Margaret Hannah, Craig Murphy, Erika Johnson and Nadja Reilly have all joined because the mission of SAM is to help all young people succeed socially, emotionally and academically by advancing and supporting effective social and emotional learning programs, policies and practices in all schools and communities in Massachusetts.

SAM takes advocacy seriously as an integral part of moving education toward policy changes that reflect the views of health care providers and educators alike.   Teachers can be trained to be the first responders in what is clearly a mental health crisis in the United States. SAM gives expression to the views of those who believe in educating the whole child in a safe and supportive environment by teaching skills that makes people happier and more successful.

With eight working committees, SAM has assisted in bringing social-emotional learning into the Boston mayoral campaign where both candidates adopted an education policy that includes SEL.   SAM has already met with Mayor Walsh’s education advisor. Representative Ruth Balser (D. Newton) is preparing legislation to file on SAM’s behalf in January 2015 to make SEL training required to obtain a teaching certificate in Massachusetts. Twenty-two people have signed up to become part of the SAM SEL Speakers Bureau to go and speak to the community, wherever they meet, about the benefits of implementing effective SEL in their schools. They will be going to speak this summer, fall and winter. SAM is having its third Annual Spring Conference on May 22, 2014 at Wellesley College addressing the topic, “Leveraging SEL in an Era of Accountability.”

Lastly, a new committee, chaired by school psychologist Carla Volturo of Hudson Public Schools, called the School-Based Mental Health Providers Committee, is being launched.   If you are interested in joining, please contact Carla Volturo at crvolturo@hudson.k12.ma.us. We encourage you to get involved in making change happen.

There are no dues incurred when you join the SEL Alliance because it is a grassroots effort to join together to move policy makers. Everyone has volunteered their time, in whatever capacity they can, to work in this educational policy initiative. So far over 300 people have joined SAM in just the last two years. You can see who the membership is and where they work by clicking on Committee listings here. http://www.sel4mass.org/sel-alliance-for-massachusetts-sam-committees/.

Please join us at the SEL Alliance for Massachusetts because there are great people involved and you can make a difference. You can join quickly by filling out the form here. http://sel4mass.us5.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=eae30f8de1d6dd7ccbdb7ac5d&id=0d96a3198b

For the Adventure Seekers

The other night I went to out to dinner with old friends and we started discussing bucket lists. Although my list is quite lengthy, I have not had the opportunity to cross off a lot of the activities on it. Among the things I want to do, I want to travel the world one day, go scuba diving, play quidditch, and see the Northern Lights. All of these events are adventures, and I think there is no better time to partake in such ventures than in grad school, because they provide such excellent self-care and are an amazing way to take a break from studying.

A couple years ago, during undergrad, as a birthday and graduation present to myself, I decided to go skydiving. It was by far one of the best experiences I’ve ever had!  I crossed this particular item off my bucket list at a local airport and I was terrified beyond belief. My friends bailed on me unfortunately, but luckily, I was going with my school’s skydiving club, so I knew I would find support in others.

Prior to sending you up in the air, they train you on how to jump and how to control your body in the air, in order to maintain proper form. This is important to understand because you do not want to be flailing around as your falling. Afterwards, you get suited up and wait your turn to go up in the air.

Here's proof I really did jump out of a plane!

Here’s proof I really did jump out of a plane!

I got my jump videotaped and had pictures taken as well, and although it is more expensive, I highly recommend others to do it as well. I was visibly nervous my flight up but the jump itself was liberating. I was able to see Springfield and Hartford because it was a clear day, and it really was such an incredible moment. There’s nothing quite like barreling through the air free falling after jumping out of a moving plane. I promise, as daunting as it sounds, it is worth it, and I feel like everyone should at least consider adding skydiving to their own bucket list.

When you’re pounding pavement and stuck in a routine of classes, homework, internship, work, you often find yourself in a slump come this time of the year. Going on an adventure, such as skydiving, can be rejuvenating and can provide you that adrenaline you need to be going until the end of the year.

I hope I didn’t scare you with this post, but I promise skydiving is really a great experience. I’ve seen groupon and livingsocial deals for skydiving in Western MA, so if you’re really up to it, keep an eye out for those! I have also heard it’s absolutely beautiful to do it in Hawaii and I would love to do it over the Swiss Alps one day. Here’s to crazy, but 100% safe, adventures :)

Posted in Around Boston

Trauma & Treatment

Greetings dear readers,

We are taking a course in Trauma: Theory & Treatment. It has been an eye-opening experience thus far. One of our first assignments was to read part of a book called Empire of Trauma, which tracks the development of how psychology has come to understand and view trauma now. It looks at the interaction between new ideas in the field of psychology and social/moral attitudes from the late 19th century into the 1970’s. I didn’t know that at one point, at least in Western countries,  experiencing trauma was seen a character defect! Wow, what a long way we’ve come! A character defect??As we look at what “trauma” has meant and what it means, we are also looking at what treatment looks like now. What techniques and approaches are available? How do we decide, as therapists, which to use? Which to include in our toolkit?

My understanding before undertaking this program was that trauma is about events and memory, and especially memory beyond the individual. For a long time I did believe that trauma was something you had to live with rather than something you can completely move on from. I believe now there isn’t one answer that matches all of humanity. For some, the legacy of trauma requires endurance and for others, moving on in a particular way is their natural response. A salient clinical implication I am left with is the importance of the therapeutic relationship. It seems trauma treatment in Europe was based on fear tactics and shaming for a long time, a very active sense of having to do something. The concept of durational time, and the shift in the notion of trauma wrought by the Holocaust, point to the power of witnessing. Witnessing is one part of the therapeutic process, and there is the larger posture that belongs to, which is simply about being present with someone. There is a lot of emphasis on techniques and the latest technique in this day and age, but what is it to simply be with someone? To witness them sometimes, to accompany them sometimes, to facilitate sometimes, to support with specific needs sometimes.

Posted in Global Mental Health

Cultural Competency and the DSM-5

At MSPP we talk a great deal about becoming culturally competent and building our skills of understanding how others interpret and understand their world.  In my studies, I have been reviewing the Cultural Information Interview (CFI) within the DSM-5.  I believe the set of interview questions will be an extremely important tool for me as a clinician serving refugee communities.

As a diversity consultant, I have spent a lot of time understanding the ways in which people are made aware or unaware of the ways in which their culture mitigates their experiences in life.  It is certainly the case that we all belong to various cultures – and I have found that many discussions of culture lean heavily on our understanding of race and ethnicity and overlook other aspects of culture that mitigate experience.  I also think it is important that the CFI not only be used for people whom I perceive as different from me, but is a useful tool for those whom I perceive as “like me.”  The CFI allows us to discover aspects of someone’s life that may not be obvious or may arise organically from the questions.  It is clear that the DSM-5 situates culture not as descriptive, but discursive – culture is not neatly ordered, it arises in language, it is filled with idiosyncrasies and complexity – the most significant of which may not even be of conscious awareness to the client.

Posted in Global Mental Health

Interview Days

Recently I bumped into a prospective student and her mother, as I was on my way out of the building. They were both milling in the lobby, looking at the list of floors, and generally had that look about them that most people have when they are looking for information but are unsure whether they are in the right place. So we chatted for a bit and I tried to answer some of their questions – it turns out the student’s interview would be the next day and they were just trying to get a sense of where the building was and where to go once they got there.

I figured I’d post a few of the tidbits that came up, as I know there are a lot of nerves around interviewing at schools.

Checking the school out beforehand is definitely a good idea. You want to know how long it might typically take you to get there and back during the week. Get a sense of the parking situation (MSPP has tons of it). Get a feel for the atmosphere – MSPP has more of a “corporate” feel and look than most schools, I think. It’s also pretty tough to take in anything when they do tours of the building on interview day, since nerves are pretty much in control then. It is also a good idea to know what is nearby – for example, in nicer weather I love taking a break between classes to sit outside with friends or walk through some of the trails outside.

I cannot stress enough just how beneficial it is to talk to a current student! Perhaps a first year and someone who is further along in the program. That way you get an idea of what it was like to transition back to being a student or into this new atmosphere, and you get an idea of what possible challenges/benefits/surprises/realizations might come your way as you go along.

I know it’s easier said than done, but there really isn’t too much need to get overly anxious on interview day. I think a lot of the pressure comes from being in an atmosphere where there are so many other anxious people. You know what you should do? See if you can bump into a current student in the first floor open area on your interview day, and get some real info on what your experience at MSPP might be like!

 That’s all I’ve got for now. Best of luck to all the students interviewing for next year, and maybe I’ll see you around next year!

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Art as Self Care

This weekend, despite struggling to overcome a wicked stomach bug, I took some time out to stroll through the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) with a friend who was visiting town. Historically, I had considered taking in art as a luxury; currently, however, I am beginning to approach art viewing as a mode of self-care. It may not be the traditional example of “art therapy,” and I do love a good finger-painting session when possible, but for those of us who do not consider ourselves artists beyond Painting by Number, having the opportunities to delve into art as an observer (and by extension, an active participant) can be a healing and fulfilling process.

There’s something about walking around the MFA that is relaxing to me. I think it’s partially the quiet, the fact that visitors whisper when communicating, the absence of cellphone rings, along with the architecture itself – high ceilings grounded by stone upon which my boots made a hollow thud. And then, there’s the art. The number of pieces is overwhelming to me, so I try to have a plan of attack each visit. Most recently, my friend wanted to look at art of the ancient times, most specifically Greek and Roman sculptures. To me, there was an indulgent quality to getting lost in the marble, following the lines of the sculptures’ draperies. In a way, it’s a bit like an exercise meant to instill appreciation for the “here and now” by forcing me to focus on exactly what I see before taking a click out and thinking about the piece in historical context.

This rediscovered appreciation for art coincides with the arrival of new students at my practicum, some of whom are artistically inclined. Their work now serves as decoration in the classroom, and the creative use of colors, materials and perspective provides fodder for conversation in addition to enjoyment. Also, one of my clients recently completed a watercolor during an art enrichment period. We referenced it in a session, drawing upon the blend of colors as a parallel to the blend of emotions she experiences at any given moment. Maybe it’s spring’s arrival and the promise of crocuses popping up, or maybe it’s having the opportunity to catch my breath, but for whatever reason, I’m thankful that art has made its way back into my life.

I leave you with this image of Rodin’s hands sculpture as a “hurrah!” to art and as a reminder of how art can touch us.

(from http://www.statue.com/aber113.jpg?resizeid=-2&resizeh=500&resizew=500)

Posted in Around Boston, Personal Growth | Tagged ,

Nick Covino: Leveraging technology in education & mental health

Check out this interesting conversation with Nick Covino on leveraging technology in health care and education…

MSPP Veterans Conference, April 18!


Don’t forget about MSPPs veterans conference! The conference is April 18, 2014 – hear details from Dr. Dingman directly below. It will be an exciting day, with a terrific program and speakers.


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Summer Breeze Makes Me Feel Fine

The school year feels as if it’s winding down… and it doesn’t. Getting through the month of March for any educator is always the last long push before the spring rolls by- there are no breaks, no long weekends in an endless haze of snow, mud, and MCAS. April 1st is in sight, and rumor of a sixty degree day over the weekend has everyone contemplating digging out their grills to take advantage.
I am already registered for summer classes (and given up nearly every single day of it) and am beginning the process of interviewing for jobs this fall. This process of looking ahead -which we are constantly doing in schools via IEPs, annual goals, and MCAS prep- makes me feel as though my vacations are already spent and make me desperate for some time to myself. I intend to spend some of this weekend in self care, doing my best to ignore all of the final papers I have to finish writing in favor of some quality time outside. Wish me luck!