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
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 -- 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 firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to publish any essays, past or present, in your online or
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
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
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
No matter what, there's that Stress Doc maxim to fall back on: "I don't know where I'm going
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
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.
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
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 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
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
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
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 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 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 virginity"
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
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
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 MIND."
Means: "I was wondering if that redhead over there is wearing a bra."
"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 girl
I ever kissed, and the vehicle identification numbers of every car I've ever owned, but I forgot
"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
"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 clueless."
"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 worse."
"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