The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
DEC 2001/JAN 2002, No. 1
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Heads Up: Stress Doc Group; HR.com; KLAC570 Radio; AOL/Digital City
Shrink Rap: The Light at the End of the Calendar; New Dimensions Conference
Main Essay: Practicing Organizational Safe Stress in Trying Times
Reader Submission: Men's Thesaurus
For those in the Metro-DC area, I am looking for people interested in
participating in a weekly therapy/support group to be held in the Dupont Circle
area of DC. (2 blocks from Metro.) Group will run from 7-9:30. Fee is $30.
Questions: email or call me at 202-232-8662.
1. Media Exposure:
a) "Getting Beyond the Box" appears in this week's HR.com --
b) Had a dynamic interview on KLAC570; LA Talk Radio with Leslie Marshall on
Dec 19th, drive time; show was repeated on Dec 21st.
(Email firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to publish any essays, past or
present, in your online or offline publication.)
2. Chat Group and Live Workshops
a) Stop by my AOL/Digital City Shrink Rap (TM) and Group Chat DC Support
Chat, Tuesdays, 9:30-11pm EST DC Support Chat. It's a dynamic, lively, at times
witty and always warm, thoughtful and supportive problem-solving group. We raise
questions and share our ideas, hopes and experiences with each other.
Shrink Rap: The Light at the End of the Calendar
The end of 2001 can't come soon enough
Terrorism and home front trauma,
economic downsizing and dot.bombing, with the all too human -- not just virtual
-- fallout. While my losses have been fairly trivial in the poignant scheme of
things, still there's been stress aplenty: from a pronounced shortage of
training and speaking programs since the fall to the mid-year implosion of my
book publisher, AdviceZone.com.
I'm reminded of a short poem, "Fallout," written during a
despondent autumn years ago:
As the hot air lingers
The downfall of New Orleans:
A friendship changes seasons.
The summer passion fading
A coolness in the air.
For the moment
The change of colors is a drab
Mix-up of mellow and melancholy.
Thank God for cycles!
And, hopefully, with a new season and New Year, despite danger there is
opportunity, especially when honestly confronting the parameters -- strengths
and vulnerabilities -- that comprise one's life-space. For example, I'm back in
the book writing trenches, reworking the manuscript that keeps eluding
publication. But there's a second chance. I wasn't too happy with how the book
was edited; now I can better put my stamp on the final product. Of course,
there's a small matter of finding a new publisher.
Also, recently I've joined the national association and local chapters of the
Employee Assistance Professional Association (EPA). Then reupped with
ProfNet.com, an online databank linking reporters, journalists, media producers,
etc., and subject experts (like yours truly -- hint, hint). Unlike the al-Qaeda,
I'm getting out of the writer's cave and doing more face-to-face networking.
Then again, maybe the dot.bombing debacle has pushed me out as well.
Next, the Executive Director of the Washington Metro National Association of
Social Workers asked me to write a regular column for the chapter newsletter. So
volunteer Contributing Editor gets appended to the resume. (See first effort
Perhaps the most compelling light at the end of the labyrinthine calendar,
one that has me impatient to turn the corner into 2002: a Practice Safe Stress
speaking program for the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA)
in Nashville on January 9th. And preliminary statistics are very encouraging --
300 registrants and counting for my program. Will this will be the breakthrough
No matter what, there's that Stress Doc maxim to fall back on: "I don't
know where I'm going
I just think I know how to get there!"
So to graceful and good adventures in the New Year. And, of course
Using an upcoming National Association of Social Work "New
Dimensions" conference as a base, the Stress Doc turns to his Roget's
Thesuarus for insights on: a) the opportunities and dangers in pursuing
"the new" and b) what it means to be "dimensional." Rubbing
together synonyms and program subjects, along with a sprinkle of free
association, gives off some synergistic insights on creativity, the
vulnerability of being a raw beginner, the Yin and Yang of age and youth and
pursuing life with depth, breadth and rejuvenating breath.
The "New Dimensions" NASW Conference:
It's Even More Dynamic than You Think!
As many of you know, the Metro Washington Chapter professional conference
will bloom in early March 2002. And none too soon. With a world that's cycling
from "lean-and-MEAN" downsizing to ever faster upgrading while
periodically spinning scarily out of control
did someone say, STRESS! A forum
that helps social workers: a) stay abreast of new information - policy and
programs, strategic methods and unconventional roles, b) prepare
technologically, psychologically and spiritually for an uncertain yet,
certainly, challenging future, c) strengthen collegial solidarity, camaraderie
and networking opportunity and d) explore job positions and career path
possibilities is surely a professional imperative. The conference title says it
all: New Dimensions for Social Work Practice - Creating Tools for Tomorrow.
Or does it?
Taking a trip through my trusty Roget's International Thesaurus: Fifth
Edition, gives one pause
as well as perspective. Just the first two words
-- "New" and "Dimensions" -- seen through a Roget's
frame provides a semantic and conceptual context for better appreciating the
richness and complexity of our chapter's undertaking: grappling with the
wide-ranging challenges and opportunities for the profession and the
professional. To highlight the "New Dimensions for Social Work
Practice" menu and its potential for "food for thought and
action," I will link synonyms and select program topics. Then comes a dash
of purposeful and playful free association and voila (hopefully)
In keeping with one of the conference themes -- "Spirituality" --
let's begin with "the word." For "New," here are key entries
in the thesaurus index: original, unaccustomed, unused, fashionable, present and
young. Who among us doesn't have aspirations, at least time to time, for being
original, fashionable, present and/or youthful? Still, pursuing these categories
a bit further one discovers a double-edged notion of newness: for example, is it
newfound or newfangled?
On the positive side, one finds such familiar dynamic terms as fresh,
modern, novel and advanced. And in March you'll also encounter
corresponding dynamic conference programs. Here's the synonyms and subjects
linkage, with "New" as a glass half full:
a) Novel. Sex Therapy as a New Dimension in Social Work Practice
(Technology and Spirituality Track). Why not start with a little sizzle. Let's
place some nontraditional mind-body flesh and soul on Social Work's
person-in-the-situation theoretical skeleton: recognizing the human connection
amongst the conceptual and technical along with the emotional, sensual and
spiritual. It's an evolving practice dimension that challenges professionals to
better appreciate the multi-flavored spectrum of preferences and behaviors in
the psycho-sexual realm. (In a recent weekend workshop with the presenter, I
learned that sex and sex therapy are no longer just for "Vanilla"
lovers! Personally, not being a black vs. white kind of guy, I've always liked
By the way, how about "Technology and Spirituality" as a track?
Novel or contradictory enough? Is the notion of "Cybergrace" off your
psychic radar screen or have you seen data indicating that increasing numbers
are turning to the Internet to meet religious needs? My intention here is not to
boost religion or the technical wizardry of "The Web" but to advocate
for grappling with the unconventional or seemingly disconnected. To quote noted
American author, F. Scott Fitzgerald: The test of a first rate intellect is
the capacity to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time and still
retain the ability to function. For example, one should see things as hopeless
yet be determined to make them otherwise. (Just don't get hopelessly
entangled or burnt out in a sunk-costs, "egoal"-driven erosive
b) Fresh. Micro-Macro Services for Persons with Developmental
Disabilities (Advocacy and Empowerment). Sometimes the fresh and surprising
occur by reconnecting the obvious with the often overlooked. Or a new
perspective and approach emerges by uniting that which was previously divided or
non-functionally competitive (as is often the tendency between the macro and
Actually, relating seemingly unconnected or oppositional elements in a
surprising and fresh way is a vital component for achieving novelty or
originality. For noted philosopher Arthur Koestler, author of the treatise, The
Act of Creation, when this unexpected connection occurs a palpable
vocalization parallels the mental epiphany: in the field of art we say,
"Ah"; in science, "Aha"; and when we laugh it's
c) Modern. Expanding and Redefining Social Work Roles in Mental
Health Settings (Lunchtime Keynote) and Best Practices for Clinical
Social Workers in Psycho-Pharmacotherapy (Advocacy and Professional
Empowerment). Maintaining a contemporary and ever growing bio-psychosocial
framework, still nurtured by professional roots, in a rapidly changing world of
scientific and cultural knowledge bases requires openness to ideas, practice and
research and systemic wisdom. Actually, a system is flexibly focused and wise
when it is: 1) diversely talented, 2) highly mobile, 3) interchangeable with
parts, 4) acutely responsive to its environment, 5) error and opportunity-driven
and 6) self-organizing. Not a bad roster of skills and strategies for being
"survivors" in today's health care battlefields.
d) Advanced. Speaking of wisdom, let's go back to the last term on the
dynamic list of the "New." Ironically, "Advanced," also
makes a Roget's appearance under the opposite of "New," that is
"Old" and its related term "aged." Around "Aged"
cluster worldly-wise semantic cousins - advanced, advanced in life and venerable.
With advanced as a bridge, perhaps "the new" and "the
old" are closer conceptually and spiritually than we might think. Surely a
unique bond between "New" and "Old" unfolds in the
grandparent/grandchild relationship. While occasionally wearing them out,
grandchildren often help sustain psycho-spiritual, if not physical, youthfulness
in grandmas and grandpas; kids frequently call forth a newfound generativity in
the aging or aged. Conversely, grandparents often provide a protective buffer,
softening the growing pains maturation of youth (also for the not quite ready
for prime time parent/s). Might we say "the advanced" impart some
venerability to the vulnerable?
And our conference anticipates closing some of this semantic-generational gap
with the following program: Kinship Care: New Challenges for Grandparents
(Aging and Health).
So perhaps "New" and "Old" are not just opposites but
have a dynamic, symbiotic relationship, not unlike that ancient Yin/Yang
interconnection. Talk about New Age!
The Vulnerable Side
Now to the untested, undeveloped or vulnerable side of "New": green,
raw and immature. Surely, exploring "the new" also means
meandering mentally, a willingness to risk, to appear foolish at times
fail for a larger future insight, achievement and reward. We all can look back
at our early student/professional years (some don't have to strain much) and
wonder at our exuberant, uncluttered idealism. Then again, maybe we were just
innocent if not occasionally clueless. Yet one must be "green" or
"immature" to have the potential for ripening. (Know it alls have
shallow learning curves.) And sometimes not knowing what we don't know allows us
to naively, if not boldly, slay immovable or supposedly invincible demons and
dragons. Cinematically, if not literarily, think young Harry Potter or a
precocious Muhammed Ali!
The vulnerable "Raw" is certainly on the edge. Despite being
untutored, "raw" is often quite "sensitive" -- a two-sided
word if ever there was one: irritated and reactive as well as attentive and
empathic. Raw also radiates passion and power. Another potentially complementary
pairing of "New" and "Old": raw and ripening young
professionals (or students) often help support and rejuvenate a somewhat
world-weary veteran team.
How about a universal methodology for integrating vulnerable emotions, raw
passion and the tender green -- along with all the other colors and
psychological hues comprising the spectrum of life? Is there a role for the
quintessential interpreter and conductor of the emotional spectrum, that is,
music? Why not a cutting-edge program that integrates artistic energy and
healing therapy: Transformative Healing Power of Sound (Spirituality and
Of course, with all this newness, some will experience "future
shock." Equally real, an approach being new or novel doesn't automatically
make it valid or sound. But progress yields to exploring and fresh relating, to
data gathering and careful measurement (from the experiential to the
scientific). Oh yes, and with a conceptual crisis sandwiched somewhere in
between. According to theoretical historian, Thomas Kuhn, these are the time
tested means for creating, "The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,"
that is, for building upon while challenging the conventional wisdom. Here is
the process for transforming the new into the original or novel and, finally,
into the next path blazing paradigm.
In closing this "What's New" section, let's come down to earth with
a Roget's selection balanced precariously between the desirable and
vulnerable facets of the "New" -- "Virgin!" And like a good
objective professional, I've decided not to touch this one.
Onward to the second conceptual lode -- "Dimension." Roget's
provides two index categories: "Space" and "Size." Key
associative terms for:
"Space" -- extent, expanse and measure. A fourth bell (cow) concept
is field followed by arena, sphere and capacity.
"Size" -- largeness, greatness, proportion and scope.
In addition, two synonyms overlap "Space" and "Size" --
breadth and depth.
While some differentiation is apparent, so is some fuzziness. Let's stop in
on Webster's Third New International Dictionary. Consider these two broad
categories (my labels) and definitions of "Dimension":
A. Physical/Scope Characteristics
1) one of three coordinates of position: the physical characteristic of
length, breadth and thickness; i.e., the three dimensions of a cube,
2) the quality of spatial extension; e.g., magnitude, size and
3 the range over which or the degree to which something extends - extent,
B. Personality/Organizational Characteristics
1) the quality, character of moral or intellectual stature proper to or
belonging to a person (or, one might add, a chapter or a profession),
2) the particular set of circumstances or environmental factors with which
someone or something exists or with reference to which something is viewed and
3) one of the factors making up a complete personality or one of the
organizing aspects of a cultural phenomenon.
So Webster's goes beyond the physical and abstract, giving a more
human and cultural and, even, ethical face to the concept of
"Dimension." Now working with a double-barreled lens, let's hit a few
program target "dimensions":
a) Cultural Breadth. A sense of cultural space, diversity and breadth
is certainly captured by programs on "Aging and Health" in the
Caribbean, Asian and Latino communities. A cultural and historical sweep, too,
is found in African Spirituality: The Practice of Restorative Justice
(Spirituality and Cultural Competence), along with an undeniable moral
b) Caregiver Breath. In addition to breadth, what about breath, as in
catching one's breath? Why not a program that helps social workers engage both
with other's crises and with our own battlefield fatigue or trauma -- September
11th: Catharsis and the Shattered Self (Spirituality and Cultural
As for character, stature and scope, if not a touch of "Greatness,"
for their conference building efforts, let's throw the spotlight on Metro
Washington Chapter stalwarts, Joyce Higashi, Executive Director and Barbara
Strother, Vice-President of the Board and Chair of the Program and Conference
Steering Committees. Program and Steering Committee Members and Track Chairs and
the task groups also merit kudos. From a bare landscape, this collective has
sculpted and networked a comprehensive, wide ranging and cutting edge conference
structure -- one with both substance and style. (Though, to exercise some
dimensional "proportion," I am somewhat ambivalent about the form and
function of the conference logos. For the person coming up with the best
name/descriptor for this "cutting edge" tool I will bestow my on the
edge book -- From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon
Cats: The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc. Just email all entries to email@example.com.)
Being on a roll, here's a brief plug for my own conference program.
Hopefully, with some "moral or intellectual stature proper," it will
integrate the excitement of the "New" with the possibilities of
"Size" and "Space," that is, the breadth and yes, even,
depth, of cyberspace -- From Technophobia to Cybermania: Generating a
Powerful Web Presence. (I'll also share how I lost my "computer
and despite a love affair with the Internet, why I have a few
Finally, this is my first column as Contributing Editor to Social Work:
News Report. My charge is to focus on issues relevant to chapter members and
the profession with a psychohumorist touch. In addition, I'd like to receive
submissions from readers, about 500-1000 words; also any comments on the essays.
Articles and letters might be published outright or woven into (and credited in)
To a graceful and adventurous New Year. Practice Safe Stress and
you at the Conference!
Practicing Organizational Safe Stress in Trying Times:
Three Keys for Rebuilding Productivity and Morale
Today's 24/7, "do more with less" downsizing economy definitely
uploads workplace stress and conflict. Some of the consequences of an over
stretched and over stressed environment include reduced performance, increased
absenteeism, rising health, disability and grievance claims along with a
potential for burnout and workplace violence. Clearly, business as usual is not
an acceptable Human Resources response to these productivity- and morale-busting
A purposeful and "out of the box" management strategy involving all
personnel levels is critical if the organization is to survive and thrive in
these uncertain and rapidly changing times. Management needs to recognize
employees as vital resources, providing motivational support and learning tools
for strengthening both employee commitment and performance as well as team
communication and decision-making. The big challenge in an increasingly complex
business-government world: to create a hi-tech and hi-touch workforce. Here are
three key strategies, structures and skills for helping your employees and the
organization as a whole Practice Safe Stress:
1. Soothe Wounds, Rebuild Cohesion. Issues of loss are common during
stressful contraction and restructuring, for example, the loss of familiar
practices and procedures accompanied by a loss of control and performance
anxiety; the loss of colleagues, often senior leaders - formal or informal -
with a sense of company history, along with budget and program reductions.
Perhaps most upsetting are the tandem beliefs that one's role or mission has
been devalued and one's increasing mistrust of company management. As an
employee derailed from her management fast-track by a reorganization bemoaned:
"I once had a career path
Then this boulder fell from the sky and crushed
Interactive Stress & Conflict Management/Team Building workshops are
critical for bringing staff and organizational units together to discuss, vent,
even, grieve the transitional trauma. In addition, such programs demonstrate
that HR/Management recognizes the depth of the workplace disruption. Actively
listening to employee pain and the appropriate expression of anger followed by
such activities, as brainstorming discussion, creative role-play and
participatory problem solving is how you rebuild workforce energy, commitment
and trust. And, clearly, the leader of such a dynamic workshop must be adept in
a variety of psychological, interpersonal and group training skills in order to
create a safe climate for constructive engagement. Selecting the right fit
consultant or training team is a critical HR function.
2. Renew Mission and Team Goals. Once you've stopped the reorganizational
hemorrhaging, replace management by crisis with proactive leadership and
consensus building. In team building sessions or staff meetings, encourage teams
and departments to assess and/or redefine the organization-department mission
and vision. Also, barriers to productivity and morale need to be delineated;
performance goals and action steps with achievable time lines must be outlined.
As with the healing workshop, the team building process often benefits from
an outside consultant/facilitator seen by employees as both knowledgeable and
objective. Key rebuilding tasks include: a) honestly examining the strengths and
vulnerabilities of past operational procedures, b) planning to help rebuild
individual and collective identity and pride, c) recommitting to a collaborative
method of conflict resolution to generate a diverse, participatory team focus
and d) exploring new options for problem-solving and opportunities for tapping
underutilized talents and resources amongst your workforce.
3. Sustain the Positive Change. Clearly, surviving a disruptive
reorganization does not happen by waving a one-shot motivational/magical wand.
Sustaining productivity and morale requires a continuous operation of positive
procedures and policies. Consider these two acronyms:
a) The Triple A. The basic formula for runaway job stress is simple: a
work situation having high demand and/or high professional responsibility paired
with little authority or low control over work processes and outcomes. A heavy
workload isn't the automatic culprit. People can thrive on a reasonably high
volume of work if they have some impact on timing, scheduling and workflow. So
consider "The 'Triple A' of Professional/Organizational
Responsibility." Management must encourage reasonable "Authority"
and "Autonomy" in employee thought and action. Employees must
understand that "Accountability" to the mission and effective/ethical
management practices support autonomy and credibility. And a mutually backed
"Triple A" is both a commitment to your workforce and to quality
products and service delivery to your customers and clients.
b) Establish Organizational IRAs. When employees are embracing the
mission and meeting buy-in goals, they have earned those IRAs: Incentives,
Rewards and Advancement opportunities. From merit bonuses and promotions to
training opportunities and conference attendance, management truly has tools to
keep employee hearts and minds dynamic and growth-oriented. And remember, the
greatest human desire is to feel important.
In closing, when HR and the right training/consulting professionals are
partners stressful energy will be transformed into team synergy. By healing
wounds, rebuilding mission and group goals through consensus, and by rewarding
positive performance rejuvenated employees will enable your company to both meet
the challenges and beat the expectations of these demanding and exciting times.
And you and your troops will...Practice Safe Stress!
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , is an internationally
recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress, anger management,
reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! A partner of AimCorporate, the
Doc is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist" with a USA
Today Online "HotSite" - www.stressdoc.com. For more info,
email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-232-8662.
"I'M GOING FISHING"
Means: "I'm going to drink myself dangerously stupid, and stand by a
stream with a stick in my hand, while the fish swim by in complete safety."
IT'S A GUY THING"
Means: "There is no rational thought pattern connected with it, and you
have no chance at all of making it logical".
"CAN I HELP WITH DINNER?"
Means: "Why isn't it already on the table?"
"UH HUH," "SURE, HONEY," OR "YES, DEAR..."
Means: Absolutely nothing. It's a conditioned response.
"IT WOULD TAKE TOO LONG TO EXPLAIN"
Means: "I have no idea how it works."
"I WAS LISTENING TO YOU. IT'S JUST THAT I HAVE THINGS ON MY
Means: "I was wondering if that redhead over there is wearing a
"TAKE A BREAK HONEY, YOU'RE WORKING TOO HARD".
Means: "I can't hear the game over the vacuum cleaner."
"THAT'S INTERESTING, DEAR."
Means: "Are you still talking?"
"YOU KNOW HOW BAD MY MEMORY IS."
Means: "I remember the theme song to 'F Troop', the address of the first
I ever kissed, and the vehicle identification numbers of every car I've ever
owned, but I forgot your birthday."
"I WAS JUST THINKING ABOUT YOU, AND GOT YOU THESE ROSES".
Means: "The girl selling them on the corner was a real babe."
"OH, DON'T FUSS, I JUST CUT MYSELF, IT'S NO BIG DEAL."
Means: "I have actually severed a limb, but will bleed to death before I
admit that I'm hurt."
"HEY, I'VE GOT MY REASONS FOR WHAT I'M DOING".
Means: "And I sure hope I think of some pretty soon."
"I CAN'T FIND IT."
Means: "It didn't fall into my outstretched hands, so I'm completely
"WHAT DID I DO THIS TIME?"
Means: "What did you catch me at?"
"I HEARD YOU !"
Means: "I haven't the foggiest clue what you just said, and am hoping
desperately that I can fake it well enough so that you don't spend the next 3
days yelling at me."
"YOU KNOW I COULD NEVER LOVE ANYONE ELSE."
Means: "I am used to the way you yell at me, and realize it could be
"YOU LOOK TERRIFIC."
Means: "Please don't try on one more outfit, I'm starving."
"I'M NOT LOST. I KNOW EXACTLY WHERE WE ARE."
Means: "No one will ever see us alive again."
"WE SHARE THE HOUSEWORK."
Means: "I make the messes, she cleans them up."
Mark Gorkin, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" , is an internationally
recognized speaker and syndicated writer on stress, anger management,
reorganizational change, team building and HUMOR! The Doc was recently featured
on CBS TV's Newspath segment -- Workplace Violence -- and in Biography
Magazine. He is America Online's "Online Psychohumorist"
leading a weekly chat group for AOL/Digital City -- http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/stressdr.
(Keyword: Stress Doc.) Check out his USA Today Online "HotSite" - www.stressdoc.com.
For more info, email email@example.com or call 202-232-8662.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2001
Shrink Rap Productions