On Loneliness

lonelinessI don’t want to be a downer after reading about all of the exciting and innovative presentations but I cannot help the pull to highlight a session I attended on loneliness. I think that part of my draw, as well as my conflict, is that loneliness is such a universal experience.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis started the panel discussion by sharing a couple of case examples that highlighted the struggle with loneliness when there is a conflict between seeking others out and avoiding them. Dr. Curtis described characteristics of this type of loneliness as being related to perfectionism — that an individual desires being in relation with another yet simultaneously devalues others by having high standards for the relationship.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

In helping to further expand the concept of loneliness, Dr. Ben Mijuskovic added:

The fear of loneliness is the ultimate universal drive in human beings, in all we feel, think, say and do … loneliness is the prime motivator in all our passions, thoughts and actions. The opposite of loneliness is intimacy, a desire for empathic unity with another self-conscious being, whether divine, human or sentient.

Dr. Mijuskovic went on to criticize behaviorism’s view that loneliness is passively caused by external conditions — environmental, cultural, situational and even chemical imbalances in the brain, in which he argues that the DSM is compatible with this approach since all of these external conditions are transient and avoidable.

On loneliness and the DSM, Dr. Mijuskkovic added:

The DSM analytically dissects, classifies, reduces and vivisects the emotions into separate “diagnoses” and thus fails to “see” the whole interplay of the emotions and its concomitant developing dynamic. Therefore, the DSM fails to include the “diagnosis” of loneliness because it has misunderstood the dynamic presence and force of loneliness by tearing it into lifeless pieces; it has separated the original constitutive members and transformed them into dead parts.

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

So much of this talk and presentation resonated to the core with my understanding of loneliness in my clinical work. After reflecting on the talk for a bit, I cannot help but see many of the parallels with a larger process of our work as psychologists, and also why the room for this talk was quite full. Each year, thousands of us gather at an annual convention with like-minded individuals in a way to avoid our experience of loneliness in our work, and increase our intimacy and connections with those who we truly believe have the capacity to understand what it is that each of us does. While loneliness can stem from the urge for perfection, I would also argue that loneliness, especially for psychologists doing the work, can also arise from personal insight and self-awareness. Perhaps it is because we are reflective clinicians and have a harder time connecting with those we encounter in everyday life outside of the office, in particular, those who struggle with self-awareness and do not value interpersonal connection.

While this talk focused on understanding loneliness in clinical work with patients/clients, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the loneliness and isolation of our work as clinicians. If you are willing, please share your experiences in the comments.

Going to Mars

DSC_0028What amazes me the most about this convention is the diversity of how psychology is applied across disciplines, fields and careers. The panel discussion and presentation titled “How Psychologists Can Help Create Healthy Workplaces” examined the role of psychologists in shaping organizations to promote overall employee health.

Dr. Eduardo Salas of the University of Central Florida shared his experience as a psychologist in working with NASA astronauts to help design and organize a team for a landing mission to Mars. “From the research, there are five characteristics that this team must demonstrate in order to achieve mission success,” Salas said. He described healthy team resilience as incorporating the following:

  • adaptability and the ability to tolerate stress through self regulating
  • the ability to manage conflict within the team through mutual trust
  • mutual support and backup behavior
  • a strong “team coach” who promotes others, develops the team and creates incentives for success
  • organizational conditions that align with the team and the mission, which includes the policies, procedures and senior leadership to promote change

Nasa-MarsAs I reflected on Dr. Salas’ work, I started to think about his role with NASA and team training and considered all of the factors that the general public may discount in the process of selecting and training a team for a mission to Mars. Dr. Salas emphasized the concept of stress inoculation training — cognitive training to help individuals cope with stressors – to help train astronauts how to respond effectively and efficiently in extremely stressful conditions, in particular those conditions that would be unique to a mission to Mars.

“Communication to and from the International Space Station is about one second,” said Salas. “Communication to and from Mars would be 20 minutes in each direction, which can result in a multitude of issues.” He continued to describe many of the likely and possible stressors that these astronauts would encounter, including not being able to see Earth from Mars and living with seven individuals in an enclosed space for a prolonged period. I continued to think of simply how much the field of psychology can be applied to so many different situations. I’m recognizing more and more, despite of how obvious it is, that wherever there are people involved, psychology will always play a role.

The True Convention Experience

DSC02104APA convention is fun all around. It’s more than just men in suits and ties, or women in pants, dresses or fancy attire. APA convention is an experience like no other. You can go from a day of scholarly presentations to fun at social hours; and connecting with old and new colleagues.

Today was truly a rewarding experience, which solidified why I love psychology.This convention experience was full of high moments and anxiety about presenting my first solo symposium. My day started bright and early with attending the Minority Fellowship Program breakfast, which allowed me the opportunity to meet other fellows and mentors. This was followed by a busy day of seDSC02098ssions to gain valuable psychological knowledge, stopping by the APA art project in the convention hall, and then having my stomach in a knot while feeling anxious about presenting my symposium on parent-child interaction therapy (PCIT).

Convention attendee doing art.

Convention attendee doing art.

Overall, my day was busy yet rewarding. I used my own cognitive-behavioral techniques that I often use with my therapy clients to calm myself before giving my talk, which must have worked really well. I was very pleased that I was able to give my talk to a packed room waiting to hear me present on treating disruptive behaviors in children. The highlight was after my presentation getting a comment from Karen Budd, PhD (professor at DePaul University who does research on PCIT), who complimented me on doing a great job presenting and encouraged me to continue my work. Who knows, this could open doors for future collaboration. That’s what I love about APA convention. There are so many opportunities to network.

DSC02114

The celebration continued, and ended with attending social hours sponsored by the
Committee on Early Career Psychologist (CECP), as well as, the Division 42 S/ECP social hour. I am truly excited to be in this profession and look forward to continued involvement in APA. I hope your convention experience is full of fun.

APA members at ECP social

APA members at the ECP social

Stronger Together: How to Build Resilience to Community Violence

riskandresilience

What strengths-based solutions can psychologists develop in response to community violence? A panel of psychologists who work with widely disparate groups tackled this question for the Public Interest collaborative program — “Risk and Resilience – Overcoming Exposure to Community Violence.” What common thread united each of the panelists’ work? The importance of resilience in addressing each group’s needs.

Dr. Karen Roberto found that intimate partner violence (IPV) directed at older women was a little understood issue in the New River Valley community of rural Virginia. Many community members held inaccurate and ageist notions about older women being targets of IPV – “old people don’t do that.” Dr. Roberto joined forces with the local Women’s Resource Center and developed a three-tiered action plan with short-, medium- and long-term goals for providing direct services and educational materials to older IPV victims and training on late life IPV for volunteers at the center. This local collaborative effort strengthened the response to IPV at both individual and systemic levels.

Violence in rural communities is understudied, perhaps due to the nostalgic view of rural areas as crime free and pastoral, according to Dr. Velma McBride Murry. Her research focused on how community violence affects rural African-American parents’ psychological functioning and their parenting processes. Drawing on data from the Family and Community Health Study (involving 897 families), she found supportive community connections create a protective function for these families by enhancing parents’ abilities to parent well.

Dr. Alexandra Pierce, a member of APA’s Task Force on Trafficking of Women and Girls, echoed the consistent theme of gaps in the research. “Nothing has been published on sexual trafficking of American Indian girls.,” Her Oshkiniigikwe program had to start from scratch. This community-based program in Minnesota works with homeless American Indian females ages 12-21, many with histories of abuse, trauma or exposure to commercial sexual exploitation. The program draws on American Indian cultural teachings such as “survive and resist” and offers intensive case management along with programs on healthy sexuality and relationships and mind-body medicine. In encouraging news, at six month follow-up, 90 percent of the girls stayed in or graduated from high school, and 80 percent reported avoiding sexual exploitation.

Dr. Muninder Ahluwahlia focused on the resilience that the Sikh community has had to develop post-9/11. Sikhs have become targets of record high discrimination, racial profiling and hate crimes from Americans directing their vitriol at anyone they perceive as Muslim — wrongly in this case. In response, the Sikh community draws resilience from religious and cultural resources such as gurdwaras (i.e., places of worship and community gatherings), youth camps, and online communities that strengthen geographically scattered groups.

Dr. Ann Masten, as discussant, closed the session by applauding how each case presented reflected resilience at work, or, as she phrased it the ability of dynamic systems to adapt successfully to disturbances that threaten their function, viability and development.”

Connection, Authenticity and Mutuality in Clinical Supervision

“We are relational beings,” said Dr. Pam Niesluchowski at a roundtable discussion I attended during the convention. “We strive to be in relation with and long for connection. But we keep parts of ourselves out of relationships in order to be in them.” She called that “the core relationship paradox.”

This is one of the main tenets of relational cultural theory (RCT), a feminist-based approach originally developed to focus on women and their relational experiences.

While this approach is effective for understanding therapy relationships, what does this have to do with clinical supervision? “Everything,” said Dr. Meghan Hanlon, former supervisee of Niesluchowski. “In growth-fostering relationships, RCT describes the ‘five good things’ that those involved in the relationship experience.”

Those five things — an increase sense of worth, a sense of zest or energy, an increased knowledge of the self and the other in the relationship, a desire to take action both inside and outside the relationship, and a desire for more relationships because of the feeling of the current relationship — are extremely applicable to providing competent and effective supervision.

Watching Drs. Hanlon and Niesluchowski interact and reflect on their supervision experience had a profound impact on me, as I could experience their deep sense of understanding and connection. As I stood witness to their supervision relationship, I could not help but reflect on what the quality of supervision would look like if supervisors emphasized the core relational factors that an RCT therapist would recognize in psychotherapy:

  1. Power — acknowledging and addressing power in the supervisory relationship while working toward collaboration mutuality (not necessarily an egalitarian approach and denying the inherent power and responsibility of a supervisor).
  2. Space for relational images — providing space to explore a supervisee’s relational images that they bring to the supervisory relationship, welcoming what might have been previously denied in order to have a growth-fostering relationship.
  3. Mutuality and authenticity — the ability of the supervisor to be authentically affected by the supervisee, and for the supervisee to know that she or he had that impact.

After participating in this roundtable discussion, I very much want RCT to be further integrated into all supervisory relationships. I walk away from this discussion offering a series of challenges: For institutions — how might you integrate the RCT framework in teaching supervision models? For clinical supervisors — does your current practice of supervision incorporate any or all of the tenets of RCT as a way to further enhance the quality of your supervision? For supervisees — continue to ask yourself if you feel safe to be vulnerable in your work with your supervisor and if you are able to be your “authentic self” in supervision.