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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 Chat
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

Heads Up:

Special Announcement:

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 -- http://www3.hr.com/HRcom/index.cfm/74/

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 stressdoc@aol.com 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 below.)

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 speaking opportunity?

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…Practice Safe Stress!

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)…more light than smoke.

What's New?

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 Vanilla Fudge.)

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 spiral.)

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 micro camps).

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 "Ha-ha"!

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…even to 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 Cultural Competence).

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, scope, proportion

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 dimension.

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 Competence).

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 stressdoc@aol.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 virginity"…and despite a love affair with the Internet, why I have a few regrets.)

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) this column.

To a graceful and adventurous New Year. Practice Safe Stress and…See you at the Conference!

Main Essay:

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 conditions.

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 it!"

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 stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.


Reader's Submission:

Men's Thesaurus

From: sjeffries@mdp.com


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."


Means: "There is no rational thought pattern connected with it, and you have no chance at all of making it logical".


Means: "Why isn't it already on the table?"


Means: Absolutely nothing. It's a conditioned response.


Means: "I have no idea how it works."


Means: "I was wondering if that redhead over there is wearing a bra."


Means: "I can't hear the game over the vacuum cleaner."


Means: "Are you still talking?"


Means: "I remember the theme song to 'F Troop', the address of the first girl

I ever kissed, and the vehicle identification numbers of every car I've ever owned, but I forgot your birthday."


Means: "The girl selling them on the corner was a real babe."


Means: "I have actually severed a limb, but will bleed to death before I admit that I'm hurt."


Means: "And I sure hope I think of some pretty soon."


Means: "It didn't fall into my outstretched hands, so I'm completely clueless."


Means: "What did you catch me at?"


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."


Means: "I am used to the way you yell at me, and realize it could be worse."


Means: "Please don't try on one more outfit, I'm starving."


Means: "No one will ever see us alive again."


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 stressdoc@aol.com or call 202-232-8662.


(c) Mark Gorkin 2001

Shrink Rap ™ Productions