The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist
APR 2002, No. 1
Fight when you can
flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Heads Up: Testimonial from Dir., Schl. of Continuing
Education, IU of PA
Shrink Rap: Creative Couple/Family Counseling
Main Essay: Rebounding from Psychic Regression and Economic
Readers Submissions: NFL Joke and Jewish Humor
1. Training Kit: Want to strengthen your ability to lead or market a
stress workshop or any kind of speaking/training program? Consider the Stress Doc
Training/Marketing Kit, which includes both "how to" manual and articles and the
opportunity for phone coaching. For more info: Training/Marketing Kit
2. Stress Doc
From Stress Brakes and Shrink Rap to Safe Stress and Cool Moon Cats:
The Wit and
Wisdom of the Stress Doc, Stress Doc Enterprises, 1995
A 90 page compilation of my
former syndicated radio essays, pioneering songs in the field of psychologically humorous rap music
- "Shrink Rap" Productions - a creative visualization poem and other humorous
lyrics/poems. "Stress Brake" radio essays are short (300 words), fast-paced and
witty, covering such topics as stress, burnout, anger and conflict resolution, time management,
creativity, men's and women's issues, romantic relationships, codependency, etc. (They make
excellent fillers for newsletters.)
Price: $20 (which covers priority postage and
Make check payable to: Mark Gorkin
Send check to:
Stress Doc Enterprises
1616 18th Street, NW #312
Washington, DC 20009-2542
a) Stress Doc as Training Caoch
This is Rebecca from IUP. I spoke with you a few weeks ago for permission to use
various information as part of my presentation on "Creative Problem Solving Techniques for
Living Your Dash".
Well - I did present - while in the midst of having the horrible flu
that is going around. Usually I am a roamer-presenter. This time I clung white-knuckled to the
podium - listing a little but still upright. Two good friends sat in the front ready to rescue me.
presentation went exceptionally well - had 38 people attend. Lots of applause - but the best was the
gratitude for the information. Your information was a real key and I thank you very much.
am still recovering from the flu - and a little slow mentally - but I need a bit of clarification. I
printed off your information RE the "Stress Management Marketing/Training Kit". Is
this a kit that would provide me the information I need to learn in order to present to others?
is this a "sample kit" of what would be learned/experienced by others -
that you would
in fact come/present to others? Sorry if I missed the point - but am really interested.
Note: It's the former.]
Looking forward to hearing from you. You are an inspiration -
and you brought many smiles to the group. Have a great day.
Schl. of Continuing Education
Indiana University of Pennsylvania
724 357 2292
firstname.lastname@example.org if you'd like to publish any essays,
past or present, in your online or offline publication.)
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.
A writer for a national women's magazine
recently called about how a therapist might use humor in his work with couples. I decided to
focus on the frequent fist intervention step: strategically removing "the problem
child" caught in the marital crossfire. A sense of play, paradox, patience and the power
of imagination ultimately yielded "the pass in the impasse."
Discovering the Paradoxical Pass in the Impasse
When life gets
anxious and contentious, injecting some playfulness, if not a touch of absurdity, can help troubled
couples and families find the creative and loving "pass in the impasse." And not
surprisingly, this often involves extricating the kids from their roles as buffers, allies,
diversions, lightning rods and messengers or of just being stuck in the middle. This removal
process is vital if the couple is to have a clean and cleansing fight. Let me share a vignette
in my role as a family and couples therapist. A married woman in her late 30s came in for an
individual session. Ms. W, weary if not somewhat depressed, presented her 10-year-old son as
the problem. Brian was not doing well in his "special ed" class and he was
increasingly teasing and fighting with his precocious eight-year-old sister. Mrs. W also
shared feeling that her husband, an accountant, in his early 40s, was not actively involved with
Brian; he was not setting sufficient limits on the boy's aggression. (Two diagnostic
questions: To what extent did Brian's acting out reflect "attention" deficit [in the
family environment] as well as "attention deficit" [within Brian]? Was Brian's
aggressive actions the medium through which Mr. W expressed indirect anger towards his wife?)
this one-on-one, the whole family came in. To my surprise, Mr. W. ambulated with leg-length
braces and crutches. He had contracted polio as a child and presently his demeanor seemed sad
and weary, with much frustration under the surface. Towards the end of the session, I sensed
mom and daughter had a strong bond while dad and son seemed like isolated moons revolving around the
female planets. Younger sister had been more articulate, if not vocal, than Brian; Brian
appeared more restless. Then, just before our closing, Brian energetically, if not defiantly,
raised his left arm and declared: "I'm a lefty and lefty's are special!"
was not quite sure how to respond, though I knew Brian had provided us with some psychic ore. The
challenge would be imaginatively processing and transforming his potential gem. However, I did
give some homework, asking Brian to list the different ways he bugs his sister. He seemed
eager to work on this assignment with his mother's help.
A Paradoxical Plan
following week began with Brian's list, which was pretty gross -- from putting gum in his sister's
hair to occasionally spitting in her cereal when she wasn't looking. During the week, an
"aha" had occurred giving me a possible plan for working with Brian's difference.
Now, in front of the family, I acknowledged how well Brian had done his assignment. After
Brian explained a bit further, I then agreed that lefty's are different. Still, I wanted to
talk with him alone about his powerful list and about being "special."
the idea of having a private meeting with me. Alone, Brian talked more about the list and
being lefty when I interjected: "Brian, I know lefty's are unusual, but you know who is
really special?" Brian shook his head and I continued: "People who are
ambidextrous." Again he was dumbfounded. (Nothing like some creative confusion to
open up a mind.) I explained that my father was ambidextrous: for example, he wrote with
his left hand and played tennis with his right. I then added: "Would you like to
see if you could be ambidextrous?" Well, Brian seemed ready to fly out the window to show
he could be special in this new way. I continued: "Brian, we know your tough lefty
side has you picking on your sister. What would you have to do to be a "righty" with
Initially perplexed, then with a little coaching, Brian finally blurted out,
"You mean be nice to her?" My immediate counter, "Not every time.
But each time you do a tough lefty thing you then need to follow with some "right"
behaviors. We generated a short list of right-minded responses. Brian liked that we would keep
our ambidextrous plans secret. We now had created something special between the two of us and
some secrecy meant no one else would have to know if he couldn't achieve the ambitious goal.
Brian returned to the family in a more confidently calm manner.
A few days later, Ms. W.
called for an individual session. The first words out of her mouth: "I don't know
what you said to Brian, but he sure is behaving different." She was perplexed but
pleased. Now she could share more of her increasing bitterness with her husband's evolving
passivity -- both at work and at home. She also expressed frustration with her Administrative
Assistant position. Getting Brian out of the spotlight helped me glean the bigger and more
troubling marital picture.
We had a couple's session that was more like antagonistic lawyers
presenting charges with a litany of examples: he's depressed and passive; she's overly
critical; and he would do more with Brian if she wasn't so controlling, etc., etc. A closing
report on Brian's behavior: overall better, but he was slipping.
Of Human Bonding
the week I had another brainstorm, this time around involving father and son. Tact was
critical as I didn't want dad believing I was pushing him to be more involved with Brian just
because of Ms.W pressuring him or me. (Reminds me of the husband's declaration to his spouse:
"I don't mind paying the bills. I just don't like it when you tell me to pay the
bills." Anyone recognize this passive-aggressive power struggle?)
At the next
family session, Brian recognized there had been some slippage in our plan. (Throughout, his
sister expressed her feelings when needed and seemed pretty cool with Brian being the focus.)
I affirmed that it's not easy to be truly special, and that I had come up with an improved
plan..."But I would need dad's help." Brian agreed to dad entering our male
covenant. Mr. W quizzically went along.
I explained our ambidextrous experiment and
asked dad to give a secret signal to help Brian balance his tough and nice sides. Dad would
call out the old military marching mantra: "Go to your left, your right, your left.
Go to your left, your right, your left. Sound off -- 1, 2. Sound off -- 3, 4, etc."
gulped when the situational context dawned upon me. How would this man, disabled almost all
his years, react to a task that involved a drill sergeant role, an impossible role for him in
"real life?" To my relief and amazement, dad boomed out our signal with gusto and
true passion. Clearly, some longing had been touched deep inside this man. Brian's face
lit up seeing this rejuvenated, powerful side of his father. A father-son connection was
created and, ultimately, cemented by pain, passion and team performance. By playing and
working together they could achieve both a genuine bond and truly be "special," especially
for each other.
The Couple Close and the Closing Couplet
Now, once having the
kids off the therapeutic couch, if not out of the bedroom, the focus could be squarely on the Mr.and
Ms. W. And while I had no other magic brainstorms to pull out of my therapeutic bag, none were
needed. The couple were ready to openly discuss past and present hurts; to identify and
gradually disarm the list of usual suspects that rob a marriage of its vitality. Career
changes and nightly couch time were part of the rejuvenating regimen. So too was singing out,
"Go to your left, your right, your left" when an interactive cycle was starting to spin
out of control.
I'll end with my satirical ditty that, hopefully, will further encourage an
appreciation for laughing at our flaws and foibles; for getting past our self-absorbed entitlements
or martyrdoms. In our increasingly complex and stressful lives, it's not surprising that one
may have to risk mixing vulnerability and absurdity, courage and imagination for love and
partnerships to survive and thrive.
Tenacity-Tea for Two
You for me and me
Oh how nurturing you will be.
Forget to be or not to be...
Just simply think of Me,
(c) Mark Gorkin 1998
Shrink Rap Productions
light of the past year's challenges and crises for the Travel, Destination and Conference Management
and Hospitality Industries, the Stress Doc posits "Seven Pillars of Psycho-Economic
Rejuvenation." Through grieving and laughing, conferencing and in-house training
individuals and organizations can become healing and inspiring coalitions and communities for a new
season of rebirth.
Rebounding from Psychic Regression and
Bonding, Grieving and Laughing in the Face of Trauma
As most of us in the
Convention Management and Hospitality Industries can attest, the past year has been fraught with
challenges and crises. In response to terrorism, biochemical scares, government security
warnings and economic downturn the public in general, as well as associations and their members,
have battened down the hatches: tourism, travel and conference participation have, until very
recently, all been fairly depressed. While logical on one level, turning inward does not
reflect the best psychological or business strategy for creatively responding to the uncommon
"dangers" and "opportunities" in times of crisis. So what is the best path
for sowing the seeds for a season of rebirth after (to borrow loosely from John Steinbeck) "The
Fall and Winter of Our Discontent?"
Seven Pillars of Rejuvenation
these seven action concepts for helping individuals and organizations overcome mental blocks and
marketing barriers for springing back into our buyer-supplier networks and partnership building
meetings and conferences:
1. Generating Community Solidarity and Team Synergy.
An industrywide need for cohesion and closeness was brought home during the January 2002
Professional Conference Management Assn (PCMA) Annual Meeting in Nashville. Two hundred
attendees showed for my "Practice Safe Stress: Managing Stress and Building Team Cooperation
through Humor," despite being held on the last day and the early morning after "Party with
The turnout and the overwhelmingly enthusiastic and creative responses
to the interactive and workplace specific exercises and group sharing indicates, more than ever:
a) people are looking for tools, techniques and tips for getting a home and work life handle on
stress and conflict and b) participants need to vent with knowing others; they desire renewing
relationships and connecting with a larger community for support and strength in numbers in a highly
uncertain world. Conference attendance signals that no relationship or partnership should be
taken for granted. Laughing and playing with others becomes its own stress reducing and morale
building reward. When given the chance to come together in diverse teams, people will generate
inspiring processes and innovative win/win solutions that demonstrate team synergy: the whole
is truly greater than the sum of its parts.
2. Linking Pre-Conference
Commitment and Courage. Clearly, face-to-face meetings and conferences is the way to
tackle trauma and temporary setback. Yet intervention can begin pre-conference.
Registering and traveling to an out-of-town conference itself is an affirming action that toughens
one's psychological muscle and fiber in the face of threat. Let me give an example.
Taking AMTRAK from Washington, DC to New York's Penn Station three days after 9/11, no doubt stirred
some stress hormones. But I'm also convinced that by quickly testing my vulnerable state (and
surviving "the dreaded possible"; see #5 below) I short-circuited a potential constrictive
anxiety spiral. Facing the fear increased both my short-and long-term, personal and
professional degrees of freedom. And the longer one stays in a security shell, the harder it
is to venture out.
Or consider this vignette: a month after 9/11, a PhD. Research
Psychologist working at the National Institutes of Health (in the Metro-Washington area) at a Center
meeting recalled the terror-induced distraught weeping of her ten-year-old daughter. The girl
was trying to dissuade her mother from attending an out-of-town conference shortly after the
September attacks. Despite having left the child with her parents, this single mother was
still not sure she had done the right thing. Once discerning that the daughter was doing fine,
I asked this mom to loosen her guilt knot and to consider that, "You've been a role model for
courage. That despite having some fears, the message you gave your daughter was not of
neglect. Your actions revealed having enough confidence in yourself and in her, and a belief
in meeting important responsibilities even in tough times."
Training/Morale-Building Programs. In today's vulnerable climate reaching out to
association/organizational staff, as well as membership or clients, is critical. For example,
in the early 90s, the US Postal Service in response to a tumultuous period of restructuring and high
profile incidents of violence expanded their mission statement: responsiveness to employee
well-being was added to customer service and efficient profitability as operational pillars.
One consequence: stress and violence prevention focus groups were held at postal facilities
across the nation. (And believe me, I've been postalized.)
For a rebound effect,
consider training programs or support groups that will engage:
a) emergencies - help
employees share their post-9/11 anxieties - from emotional post-trauma debriefings to understanding
company emergency/security procedures; publicized threats may stir up 9/11 memories,
- help staff deal with the possibility or reality of organizational consolidation, downsizing (or
"frightsizing," my preferred term) by acknowledging the sense of loss, if not a
"losing team locker room" atmosphere and by appropriately discussing strategies for
confronting future vulnerability; such actions reduce dysfunctional rumor-mongering and passive or
aggressive acting out, e.g., work slowdowns, sabotage, harassment, destructive territoriality, etc.,
travel issues - help staff overcome anxieties regarding overnight travel and out-of town work
For all the above interventions, a trainer or training team with the appropriate
psychological credentials, not simply a "motivational speaker," is strongly advised.
Finally, regularly invest in your human capital by having a staff appreciation week or with periodic
on-site/off-site events that help employees feel they are a vital part of the organization's
4. Dispensing Organizational IRAs. Providing
"Incentives, Rewards and Advancement Opportunities" clearly is a staff motivational tool.
However, IRAs can also energize and literally bring together a membership. For example,
shortly after 9/11, one association offered free airfare for members to attend a conference.
Okay, so their intent was less altruism and more about satisfying exhibitors. Nonetheless,
this crisis-driven, "out of the box" strategy: a) helped save a conference, b)
preserved business alliances and good will while c) promoting a sense of community when industry
personnel and players needed it most.
While many associations may not have this option, why
not higher attendance discounts for members with multiple conference registrations. With a
"let's make it happen" attitude, promotional giveaways by exhibitors or conference
programs that balance high tech and high touch along with other IRAs
"If you build it
(and market it right), they will come!"
5. Spreading the Humor.
Infusing the industry as a whole -- buyers and suppliers, staff, volunteers and members -- with
"healing humor" would be an invaluable and inspiring gift. Provide both light and
enlightening programs for in-house training and conference programming. Sometimes major
planning isn't necessary; healing humor may only require a deft touch at a sensitive moment.
Consider the repertoire of a Southwest Airlines employee at a traditionally somber moment.
Reviewing takeoff procedures, the steward, holding both oxygen mask and float cushion, suddenly
says, "Since part of this trip will be over water, in the unlikely event that this flight
becomes a cruise"
and before he could complete his instructions, waves of laughter rolled
through the cabin.
Clearly, there's no joking away the terrible tragedies of 9/11, yet as the
comedic genius, Charlie Chaplin, understood, more than ever we need to laugh: "A
paradoxical thing is that in making comedy the tragic is precisely which arouses the funny...we have
to laugh due to our helplessness in the face of natural forces and (in order) not to go crazy."
If I may, here's another vignette. Years back, when a tumor was discovered on my thyroid, good
old cut throat medicine was the only way of determining if it was benign or malignant. I
certainly did some poignant and painful anticipatory grieving. But also injecting some
absurdity and self-effacing humor both before and after was definitely prophylactic.
Pre-surgery a friend and I started planning for a future workshop on "tumor humor."
And in the aftermath of having a right lobe with benign tumor surgically removed, my quip:
"Half a lobe is better than none!"
Facing our doubts and demons, whether getting on
a plane or being apart from family while attending a conference are all vital components for
long-term relief and rejuvenation. As the psychiatrist, Ernst Kris, noted: "What
was once feared and is now mastered is laughed at." And as the Stress Doc inverted:
"What was once feared and is now laughed at is no longer a master!"
Distinguishing Probable vs. Possible. A coping strategy we can all employ is reducing
"stinkin thinkin." And a great first step is valuing the difference between
"What is possible?" and "What is probable?" When decision-making is driven
by "the possible" (adverse consequences) then we are nearly always anxious, vulnerable and
on the edge. With a fertile mind, almost any negative influence or occurrence can be lurking
in the shadows.
However, if we evaluate situations more objectively, often with the help of
dependable feedback, thereby discerning what is a reasonable expectation or likely result, that is,
"the probable," we can more competently and confidently: a) assess
past-present-future issue indices and indicators, b) identify more accurately the problem-solving
context and critical content and c) generate more reliable, optimally risk-taking and productive
problem-solving options and actions.
7. Recognizing and Responding to PTSD. If
after putting into practice the above strategies, you still have forgotten how to laugh or are in a
post-9/11 or workplace downsizing funk -- having generalized anxiety and irritability, sleep
disturbance, weepiness, and/or exhaustion -- then you may be experiencing some Post-Traumatic Stress
Disorder effects. Heroic coping or, at least, "holding it together" during times of
crisis, ironically, may set the stage for "burnout" or some exhaustive wear and tear in
our coping armor weeks and, even, months after the traumatic fact. Don't suffer in silence.
(Remember, misery doesn't just like company
it likes miserable company. You are not alone!
Seriously, we all have engaged in some degree of grieving after a combination of acute
(terror) and chronic (recession) tragedies and setbacks. Such life stressors often mingle with
other unfinished psychological baggage we've been quietly carrying around. Consulting with a
mental health professional is the best way to forestall depression, to rebuild pre-trauma or
pre-crisis coping and most important restore a sense of hope. As I once penned: Whether
the loss is a key person, a desired position or a powerful illusion each deserves the respect of a
mourning. The pit in the stomach, the clenched fists and quivering jaw, the anguished sobs
prove catalytic in time. In mystical fashion, like spring upon winter, the seeds of
dissolution bear fruitful renewal.
In closing, seven action concepts have been posited for
helping the Conference Management and Hospitality Industries rebound as a psychological and economic
community. By: 1) Generating Community Solidarity and Team Synergy, 2) Linking
Pre-Conference Commitment and Courage, 3) Implementing Training/Morale-Building Programs, 4)
Dispensing Organizational IRAs, 5) Spreading the Humor, 6) Distinguishing Probable vs. Possible and
7) Recognizing and Responding to PTSD we can grieve and laugh, bond and rebound together as
individuals, companies, associations and industries -- as a higher power, healing alliance of
renewed commitments and rejuvenated connections. Surely a plan to help us all
Subj: NFL joke
11/28/2001 2:36:53 PM Eastern Standard Time
The NFL announced today that for financial reasons, they had to eliminate one
team from the league. So they've decided to combine the Green Bay Packers and the Tampa Bay
Buccaneers and form one team, thereby saving jobs.
They will be known as the TAMPACKS.
they're only good for one period and have no second string
Note: In light of all the horrible news out of the Middle East, a brief respite with some
self-effacing Jewish Humor seems welcome.]
Subj: Jewish Humor
Welcome to "So You Wouldn't Mind Being A
Kosher Millionaire (You Should Be So Lucky)"
You have three lifelines to help you,
1. You may call your Rabbi for his opinion.
2. You may ask the congregation
for their opinion.
3. You may consider your spouse's opinion ... or not.
lifeline! Your Mother will give you her opinion, whether you ask for it or not.
play "So You Wouldn't Mind Being a Kosher Millionaire (You Should Only Live So
Q. What is the name of the Russian Space Station that crashed and
burned on re-entry?
A. Oy Veys Mir
Q. How does a Jewish woman call her family
A. All right, everybody get in the car.
Q. Who is Israel's
favorite Internet provider?
Q. What is the name of a facial
lotion made for Jewish women?
A. Oil of Oy Vey.
Q. What is the title of the
new horror film for Jewish women?
A. Debbie Does Dishes.
Q. What is the
technical term for a Jewish woman who catches her husband in the act with his secretary?
Q. How does a Jewish kid verbally abuse his
A. "Nyah Nyah, Your Mother pays retail."
Q. In the
Jewish doctrine, when does the fetus become human?
A. When it graduates from medical school.
Q. What do Jewish women do to keep their hands soft and nails long and
Q. Define "Genius".
A. A "C" student with a
Q. How do you know when a Jewish woman is about to have an
A. She puts down her nail file.
Q. When should a Moyel retire?
When he can't cut it anymore.
Q. If Tarzan and Jane were Jewish, what would
A. A fur coat.
Q. What is the difference between a Jewish
Grandmother and an Italian Grandmother?
A. The accent.
"Jewish Mother's Answering Machine"
If you want varnishkas, dial
If you want knishes press 2;
If you want chicken soup, press 3;
If you want matzoh balls
with the soup, press 4;
If you want to know how am I feeling, you are calling the wrong number
since nobody ever asks me how I am feeling.
New Jewish Dictionary
JEWBILATION n. Pride in
finding out that one's favorite celebrity is Jewish.
TORAHFIED n. Inability to remember one's
lines when called to read from the Torah at one's Bar or Bat mitzvah.
SANTASHMANTA n. The
explanation Jewish children get for why they celebrate Hannukah while the rest of humanity
MATZILATION v. Smashing a piece of matzo to bits while trying to butter
BUBBEGUM n. Candy one's mother gives to her grandchildren that she never gave to her own
CHUTZPAPA n. A father who wakes his wife at 4:00 a.m. so she can change the baby's
DEJA NU n. Having the feeling you've seen the same exasperated look on your mother's
face but not knowing exactly when.
DISORIYENTA n. When Aunt Sadie gets lost in a department
store and strikes up a conversation with everyone she passes..
GOYFER n. A Gentile messenger.
vb. To forget all the Hebrew one ever learned immediately after one's Bar Mitzvah
JEWDO n. A
traditional form of self defense based on talking one's way out of a tight spot.
BALLS n. Matzo balls that are as good as mother used to make.
MEINSTEIN slang. "My son,
MISHPOCHAMARKS n. The assorted lipstick and make-up stains found on one's
face and collar after kissing all one's aunts and cousins at a reception.
Moving from Brooklyn to Miami and finding all your old neighbors live in the same condo as you.
HASHANANA n. A rock 'n roll band from Brooklyn.
YIDENTIFY vb. To be able to determine ethnic
origins of celebrities even though their names might be St. John, Curtis, Davis, or Taylor.
n. Going to incredible lengths and troubles to find a tenth person to complete a minyan.
n. Indigestion from eating Israeli street food.
DISKVELLIFIED vb. To drop out of law school,
med school or business school as seen through the eyes of parents, grandparents, and Uncle Sid. In
extreme cases, simply choosing to major in art history when Irv's son, David, is majoring in
biology, is sufficient grounds for diskvellification)
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 chat group for AOL/Digital City
--http://www.digitalcity.com/washington/stressdr . 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
Shrink Rap Productions