The Stress Doc Letter
Cybernotes from the Online Psychohumorist ™
SEP 2009, No. I, Sec. I
Fight when you can
Take flight when you must
Flow like a dream
In the Phoenix we trust!
Table of Contents
Shrink Rap I: News of the Wild and Request for Stories
Main Essay: 3-D Group Combat-Intervention at the Burning Out and Burning Up
Battlefronts: Part I
Readers: The AMA Speaks Out on Healthcare, Hollywood Squares Game Show
Responses, Mother's Milk
Main Essay: 3-D Group Combat-Intervention at the Burning Out and Burning Up
Battlefronts: Part II
Testimonials: Federal Asian Pacific American Council (FAPAC) -- Southwest and
Offerings: Books, CDs, Training/Marketing Kit: Email email@example.com or go
to www.stressdoc.com for more info.
1. Shrink Rap. The Stress Doc makes Iraq and a request for reader stories re:
2. Main Essay. In a two parts (Secs. I & II), the Stress Doc
illustrates and analyzes his most powerful stress and team building exercise and
how it helps reduce tensions at the "burnout battlefront."
A colleague/friend and I are thinking about ways of expanding the visibility of
the Stress Doc through various media, including training videos, new/social
media outlets, TV and who knows whatever other media mutations will be spawned
by the time you read this email.
[Hey, I just was informed that my words have made it to Iraq. (The
announcements immediately follow and the article is pasted below.) So who knows
what crazy possibilities are still lurking. Actually, some of you are aware
that I have been doing "Stress, Team Building and Humor" programs -- often at
pre-deployment offsites, with both soldiers and spouses -- for a number of army
brigades these last three years.]
Here's the first email re: the Doc in Iraq from a good friend and mentor, and
the person who first brought me to Ft. Hood, Commander Larry Phelps, 15th
Sustainment Brigade, now deployed in Iraq **.
So there I was...in between meetings, caught up on updating my organizer,
nothing to do for 10 minutes today. I picked up the latest "Expeditionary
Times"...thumbed through the paper. Page 17, full page article, a lovely Jewish
man in the upper left hand corner...entitled "Managing A Critical Aggressor:
Case Example 1"! Wow...aren't you the Stress Doctor to the deployed service
How did this come about? Our collaboration to get you wired in to the military
was successful beyond my initial dreams!
Proud of you! You should have MAJ Raul Marquez send you a copy!
COL Larry Phelps
Commander, 15th SUS BDE
SUPPORT THE ACTION!
[** That first program at Ft. Hood was for spouses; the real catalyst was
a dynamic advocate, Laurie Dunlop, a volunteer/spouse active in the 1CD Rear
Family Readiness Group.]
Subject: RE: E-Times (UNCLASSIFIED)
So far we've published two of your articles in our Expeditionary Times. SSG
Strain sent you the one from last week and now you have the 1st one. We are
trying to have one of your articles published biweekly...I think they are
insightful and extremely helpful.
Col. Phelps said you were trying to get in contact with me...now you have my
email. If you have any other articles you would like to share with us...send
them to me and we will review and include them in our
Thank you for your support and for making us laugh while still addressing some
very important issues.
Marquez, Raul E MAJ USA 13th ESC PAO
Back to the need for stories. Toward this end, we'd love to have anecdotes,
stories (shorter is better) about workplace/power struggles, embarrassing
moments that especially askew to the absurd if not outright funny. Your
privacy, of course, is absolutely respected, unless you would like to have your
story published in my newsletter and/or blog. Of course, you will receive full
credit. (Another option is to publish your story anonymously). Anyway, I will
try to publish as many stories as possible.
Thanks for your help.
3-D Group Combat-Intervention at the Burning Out and Burning Up Battlefronts:
Using Discussion-Drawing-Diversity to Disarm Conflict and Build
Camaraderie-Community: Part I
Being a conference or retreat speaker and "Motivational Humorist" sounds like a
lot of fun; and it usually is. However, sometimes you are asked to intervene
with a group that's under siege. At these times, the tension and acting out of
frustration between management and employees or mistrust within the diverse
employee ranks is palpable and a bit scary. And the dissension and discord has
reached such degrees and decibels of intensity that management alone cannot
disrupt the vicious cycle. To work effectively with groups in such troubled
settings, when you only have limited time -- whether two hours or two days --
requires helping people discuss both the overt and underlying sources of tension
and conflict without the workshop regressing into a dump on the enemy or primal
scream session. Let me briefly illustrate such a contentious scenario and the
3-D Stress Busting and Team Building exercise that is my most powerful disarming
and bridge building tool.
In the 90s, I helped defuse a racial and generational time bomb in a federal
govt. agency. Under the pressure of reorganization, if not elimination, a
federal division was physically relocated from a relatively new office complex
in the suburbs to the dark, dank basement of the Dept. of Commerce in
Washington, DC. Job insecurity and rumors were running rampant, especially for
the senior employees, as their craft was starting to be phased out by computer
graphics. Minorities, women and younger workers began moving into positions
once mostly filled by the "dominant" culture. Not so surprisingly, fear and
frustration turned into rage and retaliation. One group started pulling up and
sharing KKK websites. In return, a second group began playing Louis Farrakhan
tapes. And the federal government was starting to hemorrhage tens of thousands
of dollars in grievance procedures. An outside Project Manager told top
management it was time for the Stress Doc ™. After some preliminary meetings
with management and the union, two one day "Managing Stress & Conflict and Team
Building" programs were held with half of the sixty person division in each
program. And through a mix of dynamic and real exercises, constructive and
challenging large group dialogue, group role play along with the abovementioned
3-D team exercise the aggressive acting out stopped, along with the grievances.
(It probably didn't hurt that by this time I had already been a Stress and
Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service. I definitely was
The BLUF (Bottom Line Under Fire): The Project Manager observed that our
intervention "saved the federal government hundreds of thousands, if not
millions, of dollars in grievance procedures."
3-D Stress Busting and Team Building Exercise
So just what constitutes this Team Discussion-Drawing-Diversity ("3-D") Exercise
and what makes it such a potent critical intervention -- stress busting and
consensus-community building -- tool? And how does it impede the vicious cycle
and turn it into a virtuous one? While the 3-D instrument is not exactly "real
life" it does deal with real issues; and it's far from being abstract or
hypothetical. It is not simply a venting session or a mind game. However, it
does resonate with some of the less obvious meanings of the word "consensus":
the exercise provides participants an opportunity to have a "meeting of the
minds" by verbally and visually drawing out (instead of acting out) "feeling(s)
together." Its essence in ten words or less: shared angst and laughter through
group discussion and art therapy.
The large audience is divided into small groups (four-six people) and the groups
are tasked (usually for ten minutes) to discuss the sources of or factors
contributing to stress and conflict in everyday workplace operations. (The
question can be modified to suit the specific client's needs, for example, "What
are the obstacles to more effective team coordination?") This is the easy
part. The groups are then informed they will have another ten minutes to come
up with a group picture -- a stress icon, a storyboard, a Dilbert-like cartoon
-- that turns their individual stress factors and perspectives into a picture
with a unified theme. Anticipating participant uncertainty if not angst,
especially around the drawing segment, I provide a clarifying example. Years
ago a burnt out CEO of an engineering company was running his company into the
ground. Actually, he was hardly running the company; more likely he was off
flying his small airplane. Things were getting a little bizarre, when, finally,
he hired a Vice-President who anxiously called me for some stress and team
building help. In our workshop one of the groups drew a picture of a menacing
creature, calling this big stalking dinosaur a "Troublesaurus." All the little
people in the plant are scattering in fear. However, one person, bigger than
the rest, is totally oblivious, has his back to the dinosaur with his head in
the clouds while watching planes fly by. Helps you get the picture, doesn't it?
While some are immediately excited (especially upon learning that they will be
using colored markers and flipchart paper), even with the above illustration,
usually a number are confused; some people are more than a tad ambivalent or
resistant: "What's he talking about…turning individual stressors into a team
image?" Or these familiar refrains: "I can't draw" or "Drawing isn't my
Oh, and to add to the confusion, I try to maximize diversity in the composition
of the groups, demographically -- gender, race, age, etc. -- and the groups are
diversified organizationally by mixing management and line staff, white and blue
collar or military and civilian personnel, etc. And I especially try to place
representatives of various departments (in reality often isolated from each
other) in the same work team.
Safe and Subtle Steps for Turning Danger into Opportunity
At first glance there appears to be divided or uncertain common ground among the
array of participants and perspectives. Still, a look through the proverbial
optimist-pessimist glass reveals conditions ripe for turning a seemingly
confusing and conflicted exercise into a camaraderie- and community-building
laboratory. So how do you get this disparate collection literally and
figuratively working on the same page? Consider these "Five Steps for
Turning 3-D Danger into Opportunity":
1. Making It Safe. First, I inform participants that, "This is not true
confessions. Share at the level at which you feel comfortable." In paradoxical
fashion, I believe this injunction reduces anxiety and actually frees people to
reveal more than anticipated. And the process of group sharing and drawing out
feelings further encourages this openness.
Second, I quickly attempt to defuse people's performance anxiety about drawing,
especially drawing in public. (Providing broad-tipped colored markers and
large-size easel paper makes the task seem a bit more child-like and playful.)
I emphatically state that I'm not looking for artistic wizardry, but for images
and visual symbols that convey a feeling, a message and/or tell a story. For
example, sinking ships and sharks in the water represented a major
reorganization experience at a naval base. With operational icebergs looming
large, one group depicted an officer rearranging desk chairs on the Titanic.
Finally, I inform participants that, "We are not going to get too uptight about
the drawing exercise: Stick figures are fine! I myself am a graduate of 'The
Institute for the Graphically-Impaired.'" Hmm…maybe I'm into a new and playful
synthesis of the verbal and visual: "Shtick figures!" (Go ahead; groan now.
We'll see who has the last groan!)
Actually, I use humor to reduce drawing anxiety throughout the exercise. For
example, during the transition from the discussion to the drawing segment, after
all groups have markers and flipchart paper, I announce the "final drawing
instructions. Just remember what your fourth grade art teacher likely said.
She probably said, 'Have you thought about music?'" As the laughter subsides, I
affirm that she most likely proclaimed, "Use the whole page, make big images,
and use lots of color." Then I add: "And be Out-Rage-ous!"
2. Allowing for Multiple Sensory Channels and Evolving Comfort Levels.
This discussion and drawing exercise gives people room to participate based on
comfort level and skill confidence. Some members primarily focus on the verbal
brainstorm; others are into conjuring visual imagery and/or coloring. While
exercising both sensory channels excites a number of individuals. And perhaps
most important, once you get people to open up and share, no matter the level,
something fundamental occurs: by identifying and talking out so-called
individual perspectives or differences, invariably some common or overlapping
issues if not universal themes are discovered. People are more ready to move
onto the same drawing page. In addition, an initial perspective may take on new
shading and hue through verbal-visual give and take.
3. Overcoming Confusion and Resistance through Group Dynamics, Ego and
Targeted Support. As noted, a number of people become confused or
anticipate having difficulty transforming their stress issues into a visual
image or thematic picture. Sometimes these folks begin to withdraw or voice
skepticism about the exercise.
However, the positive problem-solving power of the team almost always quickly
emerges: as soon as one person comes up with a visual image or metaphor to
which all can see or relate (e.g., "going through a reorg feels like walking a
tightrope without a safety net") then the clouds recede and all team members can
come out and play and contribute.
Certainly, some groups take the exercise as a test of their cleverness and
problem-solving powers. I recall a trial attorney commenting how he and his
litigator peers (those "verbal swordsmen") took the exercise as a personal
challenge, especially the visual component. This team was competing with me,
the provocative authority, as much as with the other drawing groups.
Still, occasionally, a group becomes stuck during the drawing phase. I will
approach and, after hearing some of the stress issues already identified, may
volunteer a couple of possible broad visual metaphors. Once I used this process
for a teaching point with people who were preparing for a job layoff. After
sharing a couple of images, I quickly walked away. I was confident that their
brainstorming process had been jump-started; and, in fact, the group
demonstrated it was up to the task. Later, though, during the post-exercise
analysis, I underscored the group members' reluctance to ask for help. This
behavioral characteristic obviously can inhibit success on a job search.
4. Generating Big Picture Metaphor Power. In addition to helping
overcome project resistance by envisioning a common starting point, a visual
metaphor (e.g., a company or division being compared to a five-ring circus)
allows team members to free associate and build bridges from their individual
experience to a shared and/or more specific individual-group perspective: most
can relate to feeling like a juggler overwhelmed by the number of balls in the
air; or the inverse may apply - going from an individual juggler to being caught
up in a circus atmosphere. Now the individual diverse threads are working
together on a common loom, eventually producing a unique tapestry whereby the
whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Coming up with a big picture vision
(akin to a "big tent" philosophy) has the potential for allowing diverse
individuals to identify with at least some of the metaphor or theme. This often
facilitates buy-in to (or, at least, a willingness to work with) a common and
5. Transforming Barriers into Bridges. When I determine that there is
considerable tension in the room and management appears defensive or is not
ready to hear some "bad news," I may add an "extra credit" component to the
exercise. I challenge the small teams to illustrate how the sources of stress
and conflict or "barriers" to productivity, good communication and cohesiveness
may also yield new opportunity. Significant change in the organization is an
obvious example of how a potential "barrier" may also be a "bridge." Or, I ask
the group to identify both the sources of stress and the sources of support in
the workplace. I remind people of a quote by the novelist, F. Scot Fitzgerald:
"The test of a first rate intelligence 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
One of the most double-edge -- critical and celebratory -- pictures I've
witnessed was created by a group of administrative assistant-type university
employees. In this work setting, overall, there seemed to be palpable friction
between employees and management. The exercise group (four women) drew a
picture of a man dressed in a fashionable uniform sporting a "First Prize" badge
pinned to his chest. The "barriers to bridges" transformation fully emerged in
the subsequent "Show and Tell" segment (more shortly about "S & T"). As part of
their post-team discussion-drawing "Show and Tell", the spokesperson explained
that their picture represented a team that had been having communication
problems with a micromanaging leader (who was male). The group's task was to
produce uniforms. One of the members had heard of a corporate contest for the
best designed uniform. The women persuaded their manager to let them enter the
contest and asked the manager to trust each woman to best utilize her expertise
without prejudging their efforts. One woman selected the best fabric, another
chose the fanciest buttons and epaulettes. A third did the pattern design and
measuring and the fourth the sewing. The manager was to be the runway model in
The message and moral was clear: when a manager loosens up on the controls and
lets his people demonstrate their talents, employee motivation and the quality
of the work will speak for itself…and all will celebrate. In fact, when
addressing the larger audience, the team presenter emphasized that these
"designing women" didn't need to be in the spotlight. They were happy to help
the manager "look good," in all senses of the phrase.
[See SEP 2009, No. I, Sec. II, Part II for continuation of article.]
Subj: The AMA Speaks Out on Healthcare
The American Medical Association has weighed in on Obama's new healthcare
package. The Allergists were in favor of scratching it, but the Dermatologists
advised not to make any rash moves. The Gastroenterologists had sort of a gut
feeling about it, but the Neurologists thought the Administration had a lot of
nerve. Meanwhile, Obstetricians felt certain everyone was laboring under a
misconception, while the Ophthalmologists considered the idea shortsighted.
Pathologists yelled: "Over my dead body," while Pediatricians said: "Oh, grow
The Psychiatrists thought the whole idea was madness, while the Radiologists
could see right through it. Surgeons decided to wash their hands of the whole
thing, and the Internists claimed it would indeed be a bitter pill to swallow.
The Plastic Surgeons opined that this proposal would "put a whole new face on
The Podiatrists thought it was a step forward, but the Urologists were pissed
off at the whole idea.
Anesthesiologists thought the whole idea was a gas, and those softy
Cardiologists didn't have the heart to say no.
In the end, the Proctologists won out, leaving the entire decision up to the
assholes in Washington.
Subj: Hollywood Squares Game Show Responses
These great questions and answers are from the days when ' Hollywood Squares'
game show responses were spontaneous, not scripted, as they are now. Peter
Marshall was the host asking the questions, of course..
Q. Paul, what is a good reason for pounding meat?
A. Paul Lynde: Loneliness!
(The audience laughed so long and so hard it took up almost 15 minutes of the
Q. Do female frogs croak?
A. Paul Lynde: If you hold their little heads under water long enough.
Q. If you're going to make a parachute jump, at least how high should you be?
A. Charley Weaver: Three days of steady drinking should do it.
Q. True or False, a pea can last as long as 5,000 years.
A. George Gobel: Boy, it sure seems that way sometimes.
Q. You've been having trouble going to sleep. Are you probably a man or a woman?
A. Don Knotts: That's what's been keeping me awake.
Q. According to Cosmopolitan, if you meet a stranger at a party and you
think that he is attractive, is it okay to come out and ask him if he's married?
A.. Rose Marie: No wait until morning.
Q. Which of your five senses tends to diminish as you get older?
A. Charley Weaver: My sense of decency.
Q. In Hawaiian, does it take more than three words to say 'I Love You'?
A. Vincent Price: No, you can say it with a pineapple and a twenty..
Q. What are 'Do It,' 'I Can Help,' and 'I Can't Get Enough'?
A. George Gobel: I don't know, but it's coming from the next apartment.
Q. As you grow older, do you tend to gesture more or less with your hands while
A. Rose Marie: You ask me one more growing old question Peter, and I'll give you
a gesture you'll never forget.
Q. Paul, why do Hell's Angels wear leather?
A. Paul Lynde: Because chiffon wrinkles too easily.
Q. In bowling, what's a perfect score?
A. Rose Marie: Ralph, the pin boy.
Q. It is considered in bad taste to discuss two subjects at nudist camps. One is
politics, what is the other?
A. Paul Lynde: Tape measures..
Q. During a tornado, are you safer in the bedroom or in the closet?
A. Rose Marie: Unfortunately Peter, I'm always safe in the bedroom.
Q. Can boys join the Camp Fire Girls?
A. Marty Allen: Only after lights out.
Q. If you were pregnant for two years, what would you give birth to?
A. Paul Lynde: Whatever it is, it would never be afraid of the dark..
Q. According to Ann Landers, is there anything wrong with getting into the habit
of kissing a lot of people?
A. Charley Weaver: It got me out of the army.
Q. It is the most abused and neglected part of your body, what is it?
A. Paul Lynde: Mine may be abused, but it certainly isn't neglected.
Q. Who stays pregnant for a longer period of time, your wife or your elephant?
A. Paul Lynde: Who told you about my elephant?
Q. Jackie Gleason recently revealed that he firmly believes in them and has
actually seen them on at least two occasions. What are they?
A. Charley Weaver: His feet.
Q. According to Ann Landers, what are two things you should never do in bed?
A. Paul Lynde: Point and laugh.
Subject: Mother's Milk
Students in an advanced Biology class were taking their mid-term exam. The last
question was, 'Name seven advantages of Mother's Milk,' worth 70 points or none
One student, in particular, was hard put to think of seven advantages. He wrote:
1.) It is perfect formula for the child..
2.) It provides immunity against several diseases.
3.) It is always the right temperature.
4.) It is inexpensive.
5.) It bonds the child to mother, and vice versa.
6.) It is always available as needed.
And then, the student was stuck. Finally, in desperation, just before the bell
indicating the end of the test rang, he wrote...
7.) It comes in 2 cute containers.
He got an A.
Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a Licensed Clinical Social
Worker, is an acclaimed keynote and kickoff speaker and "Motivational Humorist"
known for his interactive, inspiring and FUN speaking and workshop
programs. In addition, the "Doc" is a team building and organizational
development consultant for a variety of govt. agencies, corporations and
non-profits and is AOL's "Online Psychohumorist" ™. Mark is an Adjunct
Professor, No. VA (NOVA) Community College and currently he is leading "Stress,
Team Building and Humor" programs for the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions
and Brigades, Ft. Hood, Texas and Ft. Leonard Wood, MO. A former Stress and
Conflict Consultant for the US Postal Service, the Stress Doc is the author of
Practice Safe Stress and of The Four Faces of Anger. See his
award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" -- www.stressdoc.com --
called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR). For more info
on the Doc's "Practice Safe Stress" programs or to receive his free
e-newsletter, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 301-875-2567.
(c) Mark Gorkin 2009
Shrink Rap™ Productions