Monday, November 16, 2015

Bullying Prevention and Early Intervention for the Columbia/Howard County School System: A Proposal

Two socio-demographic characteristics of Columbia/Howard County, MD, are its quality of education and diversity of cultures, including racial and ethnic groups.  However, sometimes even positive intentions and progressive dynamics can fuel psychological and social pressures and tensions within and among individuals and groups of students.  And such differences and dynamics can contribute to bullying behavior.  And of course, these days bullying behavior is not confined to the classroom, hallway, cafeteria, schoolyard, or on the trek or travel home.  In a digital age it can occur virtually anywhere and at any time, day or night!

I.  Proposal Overview:  Problem Description and Assessment

A.  Bullying Defined

According to

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education released the first federal uniform definition of bullying for research and surveillance.  The core elements of the definition include: unwanted aggressive behavior; observed or perceived power imbalance; and repetition of behaviors or high likelihood of repetition.  There are many different modes and types of bullying.  The current definition acknowledges two modes and four types by which youth can be bullied or can bully others.  The two modes of bullying include direct (e.g., bullying that occurs in the presence of a targeted youth) and indirect (e.g., bullying not directly communicated to a targeted youth such as spreading rumors). In addition to these two modes, the four types of bullying include broad categories of physical, verbal, relational (e.g., efforts to harm the reputation or relationships of the targeted youth), and damage to property.

Bullying can happen in any number of places, contexts, or locations.  Sometimes that place is online or with a cellphone.  Bullying that occurs using technology (including but not limited to phones, email, chat rooms, instant messaging, and online posts) is considered electronic bullying and is viewed as a context or location.  Electronic bullying or cyberbullying involves primarily verbal aggression (e.g., threatening or harassing electronic communications) and relational aggression (e.g., spreading rumors electronically).  Electronic bullying or cyberbullying can also involve property damage resulting from electronic attacks that lead to the modification, dissemination, damage, or destruction of a youth's privately stored electronic information.

Some bullying actions can fall into criminal categories, such as harassment, hazing, or assault.

B.  Who’s at Risk:  Potential Local Sources of Pressure and Tension

No single factor puts a child at risk of being bullied or bullying others. Bullying can happen anywhere—cities, suburbs, or rural towns. Depending on the environment, some groups—such as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth, youth with disabilities, and socially isolated youth—may be at an increased risk of being bullied ( 

1)  Howard County.  In Columbia/Howard County, sources of student stress and tension might include socio-economic differences, differences in exposure to childhood trauma, including acts of violence, and early separation and loss issues, a competitive, high demand “college prep” culture, adaptability to a traditional classroom setting, students with special needs, racial and ethnic diversity, everyday family stress levels and communication patterns, immigrant status and relocation stress, etc.

2) Critical Difference.  Whether in an individual or a group, differences are often the characteristics “that are going to be made fun of and known as odd or weird because (they are) different (or alien).”  Variation in social rules, language, dress, and religious practices may contribute to bullies’ views of victims as strange or weak. These differences can lead to students being less accepted by their peers, having less friends from other cultures (or social groups), and feeling isolated or lonely.

3) Mitigating/Instigating Factors.  A child’s ability to consider another’s views or feelings, how much competition or conflict a student experiences directly or believes exists between groups at school or in the community, and prejudicial beliefs (such as an unreasonable fear of foreigners) expressed by important people in a child’s environment all factor in to the likelihood of he or she bullying others (Scherr, T. G., & Larson, J. (2010). Bullying dynamics associated with race, ethnicity, and immigration status. In S. R. Jimerson, S. M. Swearer, & D. L. Espelage (Eds.).The Handbook of Bullying in Schools: An International Perspective. New York: Routledge).

4) Traumatic Experience.  Finally, a factor that may well exacerbate the likelihood of being bullied or being the aggressor is exposure to trauma:  Traumatic experiences and high levels of “toxic stress,” can change the course of a life.  If untreated, trauma can interfere with an individual’s emotional well-being, physical and cognitive health, and interpersonal relationships.  Ultimately, it can change the way individuals view the world and the systems of care around them.  Traumatic and adverse experiences, whether chronic or in isolation, gener­ally occur in the context of community.  They happen in people’s homes, at their jobs, and in their neighborhoods and schools.  Both individuals and communities can experience trauma, through neighborhood violence, per­vasive poverty, and shared experience of oppression, racial discrimination and injustice. (Bloom, S. (2006). “Neither liberty nor safety: The im­pact of fear on individuals, institutions, and societies, part IV,” Psychotherapy and Politics International, 4-23. Retrieved January 16, 2015)

C.  Victim or Bully:  Warning Signs
Whether bullied or the bully, both individuals are caught in a dysfunctional behavior pattern with consequences for maturational growth and adaptive educational-psycho-social development.

Signs a child is being bullied:
" Unexplainable injuries
" Lost or destroyed clothing, books, electronics or jewelry
" Frequent headaches or stomachaches, feeling sick or faking illness
" Changes in eating habits, such as suddenly skipping meals or binge eating; kids also may come home from school hungry because they did not eat lunch
" Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
" Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork or not wanting to go to school
" Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
" Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
" Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves or talking about suicide

Signs a child is bullying others:
" Get into physical or verbal fights
" Have friends who bully others
" Are increasingly aggressive
" Get sent to the principal's office or to detention frequently
" Have unexplained extra money or new belongings
" Blame others for their problems
" Don't accept responsibility for their actions
" Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
[From Erin Stewart, "Is Your Child a Bully or a Victim?," Erin Stewart, Desert News, Nov. 2 2015]

II.  Bullying Prevention and Early Intervention Plan:  Structure and Strategy
Focusing on the above psycho-social-cultural assessment, a team of local and national experts – educators, e.g., local teachers, former NYC Principal of an Intl High School, clinical social worker, motivational speaker/workshop leader and stress resilience/trauma consultant, and substance abuse specialist, etc. – have developed (and will continue to evolve) a comprehensive and multifaceted Stop the Bullying Program:  Prevention and Early Intervention for Columbia/Howard County School System.

A.  Target Audience
The prevention/early intervention structures and strategies proposed will be specifically designed for and shared with three main audiences:
1) students (from middle school to high school; might also be relevant for pre-middle schoolers)
2) teachers staff, and administrators
3) parents and close family members

All three stakeholder groups would also have meaningful input in shaping the substance and structure of a prevention/early intervention program before it is launched.  Focus groups led by team facilitators would solicit input and, hopefully, constituent buy-in.

B.  Learning and Sharing, Support and Healing Structures and Strategies:  A Program/Services Menu
Based on the above diagnostics and dynamics, an initial menu of structures and strategies is hereby proposed for positively increasing awareness and understanding of the bullying problem as well as strengthening the security, safety, and trust levels in classrooms, of the overall school environment, within and between families, etc.  The key is creating structures, providing tools and techniques, and creating climates for more open dialogue and emotional sharing among students, faculty and staff, and parents/family members.

Prevention/Early Intervention Programs

A three-part prevention/early intervention sequence is proposed:  1) Psycho-Educational Classes, 2) Supportive Workshops, and 3) Individual Counseling/Coaching or Clinical Referral

1.  Psycho-Educational Classes:  classes may be designed for each of the above three audiences; depending on social-cultural demographics, there may initially be classes held for different grouping of students before mixing groups of students, e.g., boys and girls groups, immigrant groups, etc.; when deemed appropriate, the three main groups (H.S. students, teachers/staff, family members) may be asked to participate in the same class; the below topic sections can comprise an overview class as well as a stand-alone offering

a) Identifying the Bully-Bullied Cycle:  risk factors, sources of stress, pressure and tension – from individual to communal, social to cultural warning signs
b) Anger Dynamics and the Bullying Process:  acclaimed Four Faces of Anger: Model and Method; learning to see anger as potentially constructive or destructive; becoming aware of sources of anger and “hot buttons”; practicing assertiveness skills; replacing blaming “You” messages with affirming “I”s; learning how to say “No,” learning how to walk away;
c) Stress Resilience and Conflict Resolution Skills and Strategies:  classroom and peer group tools for understanding the impact of trauma and “toxic stress”; defusing power struggles, disarming critical aggressors and conflict negotiation skills; overcoming rigid or dysfunctional perfectionism; the Stress Doc’s formula for Natural SPEED; affirming self-esteem and learning to reach out for appropriate support, inside and outside the school; actions to take as a witness to bullying; speaking up is courageous not snitching, etc.
d) Loss (of Control), Trauma, and the Grief Process:  understanding and overcoming sense of shame, feeling out of control and panic, addressing and dressing emotional wounds; compassionately challenging hopelessness and helplessness; letting go of toxic peer groups, recognizing codependent behavior, and building healthier friendship systems; replacing dysfunctional behavioral patterns with positive activities, hobbies, creative expression, etc.; when indicated, making “gentle handoff” to appropriate referral resources
e) Substance Abuse and Going MA&DD (Media Addiction and Digital Distraction):  linking substance abuse and compulsive gaming/gadget use with increased anxiety, aggressive behavior, apathy, and depression
f) Cyberbullying:  adapting above skills and strategies, tools and techniques for addressing critical or crisis electronic communication/social media situations; recognition that with greater distance and anonymity in communication empathy often decreases and aggression increases
2.  Bullying Prevention/Early Intervention Training for School Personnel
a.  Disarming the Bullying Cycle: for teachers, administrators, and staff; skills and strategies for effective intervention in bullying, anger management, or conflict intervention; creating a climate of trust, learning, consequences, and support for bullying targets, aggressors, and witnesses
3.  Peer Support Workshops:  Adult Facilitated and Peer Facilitated
a.  Supportive Workshop:  opportunity for students and others who have (or have not) attended the psycho-educational class, to more intimately discuss bullying experiences inside or outside of school, e.g., in family, neighborhood; peer group; community gang, etc.; separate groups for students; also for faculty/staff and parents as needed; early peer support workshops led by trained adult facilitator; adult facilitator may shift to observer role; or depending on the maturity of the students might function without adult in the room
b.  Peer Support Workshops and Train the (High School) Student Facilitator Trainings: 1) workshops initially facilitated by trained adult facilitator; (2) with successful training, peer facilitated student support groups; student facilitators will be formally supervised by appropriate school personnel
c.  High School Culture:  recognition that more subtle or disguised bullying often occurs in this setting

4.  Sustaining a Bullying Prevention/Early Intervention School Culture:  Additional Structures and Strategies
a. Sprigeo Online Reporting System (being introduced at Harper’s Choice Middle School)

“We recognize that creating a safe learning environment is a critical part of helping each child achieve academic success. This year we will introduce Sprigeo, a new online system that students can use to report bullying incidents and school safety incidents. Sprigeo will give your child another medium for communicating with our school administration when bullying or school safety incidents occur. All information sent through the Sprigeo system goes directly to selected central office staff who will then send the report to our administrators through a secure online connection.

How does the Sprigeo system work?

Students can access the reporting form directly through a link on our school web site or they may go to the website. After completing the reporting form and clicking the "submit" button, the report details are sent in a secure email to selected central office staff who will then send the report to our administrators through a secure online connection. Over 90% of students include their name when using the Sprigeo system. However, reports can be made anonymously.”

Adam Eldridge, Principal
Harper's Choice Middle School | 5450 Beaverkill Road Columbia, MD 21044 | 410-313-6929 |

b.  Stress Doc Experience.  Based on my experience as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service and as a Critical Incident, Stress Resilience, and Organizational Development Consultant for a variety of organizations, the following structures and strategies are proposed:
1) Face-to-Face Meeting with School Administrator: once bully incident (or likely bully incident) is identified, there’s a meeting with bully and bullied and when needed teachers and/or with their respective family members
2) Ongoing Monthly Matrix Group: for three main constituents to assess prevention/early intervention effectiveness; adult and peer facilitators will also participate
3) Friendly “Listener” and “Observer” on the Hall Beat:  having a teacher, school counselor/social worker walking the school halls during change of classes, walking in the cafeteria, etc., to identify and engage with potential parties to bullying or seemingly distressed/depressed individuals; this recommendation is based on my experience as a Stress and Violence Prevention Consultant walking the workfloors and warehouses for the 6,000 person, 24/7 Baltimore Processing & Distribution Plant; provided a supportive ear and shoulder for employees; source of personal stress identification/intervention and employee-employee, employee-supervisor, supervisor-manager, and within team conflict and harassment; quickly identified employees needing informal workplace, personal, and/or family stress coaching; also facilitated identifying individuals needing counseling, including walking individuals to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) Office
4) Resiliency Rap/Poetry on the “Dance of Bullying” in Groups:  small groups consisting of teachers, facilitators, and students from pre-middle to high school reading and discussing the Stress Doc’s age-appropriate verse on bullying and family behavior-communication patterns with different student groups; for the past two years, author has had powerful experiences with children under thirteen and their parents reading/singing the resiliency lyrics at a US Patent and Trademark Office “Take Your Child to Work/Wellness Health Fair”; “Resiliency Rap” samples in Addendum below
5) Stress Resilience/Stop the Bullying Health Fair:  invite all three constituents to a Bullying Prevention Program kick off (with free pizza) as a way of getting all parties engaged and excited about the launch of the prevention/early intervention educational and support campaign

5.  Additional Prevention/Intervention Ideas and Strategies from a good friend, colleague, and team member:
Burt Rosenberg
Former NYC International High School Principal
National Coach for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Consultant with several national education reform programs

You have certainly proposed a very comprehensive approach, incorporating all the stake holders.  Well done.  Many of your strategies are ones we've used at my school and I know they can work.  We focused more broadly on diminishing violence and conflict resolution, but bullying is certainly an integral part of it.  I appreciate your extensive list of suggestions, knowing full well that schools are pressed by limited resources and limited time, but such a comprehensive list allows them to pick and choose.

In addition to all the strategies you suggest, we also incorporated some other strategies that you may or may not have included:

1)  The use of role playing, which is particularly effective as it is experiential and helps students model appropriate behavior.

2)  Inviting in a school (high school or college) or community theater company that performs dramatizations of potentially violent (or bullying) situations with an eye towards conflict resolution.  This could be followed by large or small group discussions to debrief.

3)  We conducted some sessions specifically directed to the "bystander" or the "friend" of the perpetrator, since most students are neither the bully nor the bullied, but almost always witness or personally know the perpetrators.  How should they act?  What can they do or say?  Why should they get involved?  

4)  One issue you will confront in trying to get such a program underway is structural i.e. where in the school day could this take place?   Here are some suggestions:
  • Most schools already have weekly professional development, whole faculty or department meeting time.
  • Most school have professional development days.
  • Many schools have professional learning communities where these issues could be discussed. 
  • Many schools have student advisory time where teachers meet with small groups of students.
  • On a given day, a school could shorten class periods to allow for a large or small group meetings.
  • Counselors could visit designated classes to facilitate a discussion or do training.
  • One school department could incorporate a unit on bullying into their curriculum.  It could easily be incorporated into language arts or health.
  • Involving extracurricular groups to get involved, e.g. starting a peer counseling group, the school newspaper to publicize bullying, a sports team (to serve as role models), the school theater group, etc. 
5)  Of course a critical piece of this is getting faculty buy-in.  You don't need every staff member to get on board initially.  A principal just needs to designate one interested faculty member who could lead the effort.

What you're doing is important.  Hope this all works out.  I'll send you my resume next.
Good luck

6.  General Strategies for Reducing Bullying
·         Bullying prevention programs. Contact the school and ask about anti-bullying procedures and diversity education. Do they have research to back up their programs’ effectiveness? Bully prevention programs and diversity education are most likely to be effective if they’re used regularly and are backed by research showing they have been tried and shown to be effective before.
·         Codes of conduct. Make sure that everyone is protected by asking the school to list detailed descriptions of the types of bullying (racial, ethnic, immigrant, etc.) that won’t be tolerated. Conduct codes often list just a few of the most common types of bullying, and students may not understand that other kinds of bullying are wrong, too.
·         Recorded stories. Keep track of bullying that targets race, ethnicity, or immigration, so you can begin to evaluate the extent of the problem at your school. Once you’ve gathered sufficient data, present it to the administration or school board to help facilitate change. Sharing actual examples can help show school leadership that there is a problem that needs attention.
·         Reach out. Make sure that students have an on-campus adult who shares their language—or at least has an understanding of their culture. A trusted adult can give kids the courage to report bullying incidents, especially if they believe the report will result in help being given.
·         Survey. Student surveys and focus groups can help spread the word about local conflicts and possible solutions to bullying. Additionally, putting a spotlight on these incidents will show students that their school is aware of this problem and is working to fix it.
Rally the troops. Encourage educators, parents and community leaders to work together and solve problems related to bullying. The more solutions that are suggested, the better chance the group has of finding an effective solution to bullying based on race, ethnicity and immigration. (Scherr, T. G., & Larson, J. (2010). Bullying dynamics associated with race, ethnicity, and immigration status. In S. R. Jimerson, S. M. Swearer, & D. L. Espelage (Eds.).The Handbook of Bullying in Schools: An International Perspective. New York: Routledge).

C.  Program Lead’s and Team Members’ Bios and Credentials

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist” ™, is a former psychotherapist and Stress & Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service.  The Doc is a Trauma Debriefing and Critical Incident Consultant for variety of organizations, including the national post-earthquake, Nepali Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative. He has led numerous transformative -- silo-breaking and communications bridge-building -- Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for US Army Senior Officers and Sergeants.
From a Ft. Hood Brigade Commander:  Your (Command Offsite) session on managing change and stress was the perfect lead-in to the work we had to accomplish throughout the conference.  It set the conditions for the free, uninhibited work (regardless of rank). Here's the BLUF: Your session was the critical building block on which we built the rest of the conference.  The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger:  Transforming Hostility and Rage into Assertion and Passion.   The Stress Doc blog appears in such platforms as and
His award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  As SHRM and IPMA-HR Program Chairs recently noted, Mark has a way of captivating an audience and makes them want to hear more...Take a passionate and creative ride with the Stress Doc!
The Stress Doc’s Bullying Prevention/Early Intervention Credentials are based on:
a. long-recognized expertise as a Stress & Change Resilience and Critical Incident – Grief & Trauma – Debriefing Consultant, Inspiring Speaker, Workshp/Retreat Leader, Group/Team Facilitator; Stress Doc Programs help audiences “Get FIT” by being FUN-Interactive-Thought-provoking; over twenty years as a private practice psychotherapist
b. decades experience as a Stress & Violence Consultant for the US Postal Service and a Stress Resilience-Humor-Tean Building Retreat Leader for various military units at Ft. Hood, TX; workshops at Ft. Meade, MD, etc.
c. ten years Adjunct Asst Professor at Tulane University School of Social Work teaching graduate level course on "Crisis Intervention and Brief Treatment"
d. Co-Founder of post-eathquake mental health-focused Be Well Initiative for the U.S. Nepali Diapora
e. led 2015 “Anger and Conflict Management Workshop” for faculty and staff of Wash, DC Carlos Rosario Intl Charter School
f. two years Stress Resilience and Anger Management Trainer with “Welfare Mothers” in a MD Career Support/Independence Skills Program
g. author of The Four Faces of Anger – Model & Method:  Transforming Anger, Rage, and Conflict andPractice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression
h. 20+ years experience as a “Psychohumorist” ™ pioneering the field of psychologically humorous rap music, Shrink Rap ™ Productions
i. ground-breaking children’s lyrics and “Resiliency Raps” on “Bullying,” “Family Dynamics/Family Communication,” (email to read the lyrics/raps; he is the self-described Dr. Seuss of Stress for Adults (and kids of all ages)
j. “The Stress Doc’s ™ Stress Resiliency and Brain Agility Formula for Natural SPEED – Sleep-Priorities/Passion-Empathy-Exercise-Diet and, most important,
k. own personal experience being bullied as a child and young teen for too many years.
Burt Rosenberg
Former NYC International High School Principal
National Coach for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
Consultant with several national education reform programs

New York City Department of Education (1969-2004)
  • 36 years as a teacher (grades 6-12), counselor, assistant principal and principal
  • Thirty of those years at two innovative high schools on the campus of LaGuardia Community College (CUNY), Middle College High School serving at-risk students and International High School serving recently arrived immigrants.
  • Retired in 2004 as Principal of International High School

Middle College National Consortium (2004-present)
  • A nationally acclaimed school reform organization, which was one of the first organizations to receive Early College funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Middle College National Consortium has also received funding from the Pew Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the US Department of Education.
  • Since 2004, serving as a coach for numerous early and middle college high school programs throughout the country.
  • In addition, has worked with other education reform programs including the North Carolina New schools Project, the School Redesign Network at Stanford University and the Internationals Network for Public Schools (a consortium of schools serving English language learners). 

Eddie Waddington      
Steps to Recovery, Director of Client Care

Ed Waddington, CNDAI, Director of Client Care of Steps to Recovery, a Premium Addiction treatment Network, is a peer advocate for Addiction Prevention, Treatment, and long-term recovery.   A treatment outreach coordinator, Ed also provides intervention services, addiction education, and family education for Steps to Recovery clients. Currently, he is on course for his CIP credentialing; Ed has been working in the field of Substance Abuse treatment for the last 5 years.  Due to his own personal recovery he found a calling in the field to share hope to the seemingly hopeless.  Ed has been asked by local committees of Bucks County to speak to High Schools, and Grade Schools in the area about the effects of Substance Abuse and Peer support.  As a former member of ATOD (Alcohol Tobacco and Other Drugs) he provided substance abuse awareness programs to local grade schools in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.  Ed is also an active member of the recovery community and up and down the East Coast and speaks at large 12-step fellowship conventions.

In addition, Ed is a founding father of Phi Kappa Theta Fraternity at Temple University and since working in the field has been asked by LaSalle University and Temple University to speak to the Fraternal Community about prevention and guidance with chemical dependency.   In Ed’s free time he is still highly active in sports, playing on numerous softball teams but his heart lies with coaching the 10-11 year old Northampton Indians Pop Warner football team.   Ed is well versed in adjusting his approach to the specific audience, whether an actively using client, a teen struggling with acceptance, a parent struggling with a teen’s dependency, a parent in the grips of codependent behavior, or even with his kids on the football field.
Children’s Lyrics and Resiliency Raps – Bullying and Family Communication


[A variation on, yet in the tune of, the children’s song/camp favorite, “B-I-N-G-O”; can be sung as BULLY Girl]

{In this version, the four (or five lines) of each stanza are sung with the same melody as in the original; specifically, the last two lines of each stanza have the same melody as the first two lines.  The same rules apply to the B-U-L-L-Y chorus as in the B-I-N-G-O chorus.}

In my school there is a kid      
And Bully Boy’s his name, oh
Blaming me for what he did
And tries to make me cry, oh…

B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y…
And Bully Boy’s his name, sigh.

Chasing me right after school
Bullying’s his game, oh
Calling me a “little fool”
My oh my oh why, oh?

B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y…
And Bully Boy’s his name, sigh.

Why does he just pick on me?
The Boy should be ashamed, oh
Is he green with jealousy?
Or just a red bull guy, oh…

B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y…
And Bully Boy’s his name, sigh.

I must learn to take a stand
And nurture my heart’s flame, oh
Not give in to his demands
And look him in the eye, oh…

B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y…
And Bully Boy’s his name, sigh

I will find one trustworthy
To talk out all my pain, oh
Then stand tall as an oak tree
Or walk away, nothing to say
But with my head held high, oh…

B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y…
And Bully Boy’s his name, sigh

Now I see…a scared boy like me
Who hides his pain and shame, oh
If he wants to talk to me
I’ll share how I wrestled free
But he must want to try, oh…

B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y… B-U-L-L-Y…
I won’t play his bully game, oh
B-R-A-V-O… B-R-A-V-O… B-R-A-V-O…
I stood up for my own name, OH!

© Mark Gorkin  2014
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

Reaching Out and Within to Disarm the Bully

Mom is overload edgy
Dad is big boss upset
Sis is boyfriend angry
And you’re in a sweat!

The in-crowd at school
Shoves you to the side
While they pass by so cool
You wish you could hide…

Panic and terror
Like lightning and thunder
Where is a big rock
For me to crawl under?

But charging down the hall
Like a mad bull in heat
As you feel so small
Resigned to defeat…

The schoolyard bully
Laughing at your fear
Taking your lunch money
Leaving you in despair!

Panic and terror
Like thunder and lightning
Why do I find
So many things frightening?

And why, oh why
Isn’t a teacher around?
To hear your silent cry
Or the bull’s snorting sound!

When life seems hopeless
With nowhere to turn
There’s help for your stress
Sit back…listen and learn.

Panic and terror
Like lightning and thunder
Is it much sound and fury?
I’m starting to wonder.

Let Me Be Brief:
Key Pillars of Relief

First, be wary of “friends”
Who act like big shot stars
They use you for their ends
And ignore who you are.

But the biggest mistake
Is to bottle up fear
From this you will break, so…
Find a trustworthy ear.

She’s older and wiser
Shows you how to hold them
He’s artful in poker
So knows when to fold em.

Reframe panic and terror
As more trial and error
Embrace flaw and failure
Expand human nature!

Now speak calmly, move swiftly
The Poet-Ninja Way:
Eye the bully coolly
Like a fox, no delay.

Breathe out anxiety
Smartly walk away.
Reflect in a diary…and live
To fight (and write) another day!

Reframe panic and terror
As more error and trial
Grow from flaw and failure
You’ve walked the toughest mile!!

Actions, Reactions, and Trans-actions:
Logical, Psychological, and even Spiritual

To disarm this cruelty
Find a strong allied voice.
Talk with the Bull family
But, if left no other choice…

March with authority
To the principal’s office.
Rid your back of the monkey
You are through playing nice!

You are not a snitch
Nor squealer or tattler
Less disloyal witch
More real gutsy battler!

Rename terror and panic
Rethink flaw and failure
You’re just a bit “manic.”
Don’t let labels nail ya!

We all have fantasies:
“Go ahead…make my day!”
Alas, the “real” enemies
Are oft hidden away…

Inside one’s caged mind
To be gently torn apart
As you explore humankind
Through the beat of a heart!

To view panic and terror
As neither error nor trial
Receive flaw and failure
With a sly Buddha smile!

Natural SPEED for Kids (of all ages): 
Stress Resiliency Rap (and other outrages)

When the crisis is past
And you no longer bleed
For strength that will last
Try the Doc’s Natural SPEED!

© Mark Gorkin  2014
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

The Stress Doc explores a range of family life dynamics in this powerful lyrical piece based on a familiar Civil War tune.  This offering has relevance not only for families, and also for the military, educators, social workers, counselors, and a wide array of family-allied health professionals.  And while sliding from the joyful to the poignantly painful, the lyric closes on an uplifting note of grace and hope!

Who’s Coming through the Door Again?
[To the tune of “When Johnny Comes Marching Home Again”]

When mommy comes walking through the door, hurrah, hurrah
When mommy comes walking through the door, hurrah, hurrah
My mind will dance, my heart will sing
When I hear the doorbell ring
And we’ll all shout “Hurrah” when mommy comes home again!

When daddy comes walking through the door, hurrah, hurrah
When daddy comes walking through the door, hurrah, hurrah
He’ll lift me high, like a bird I’ll fly
“Never put me down,” I’ll cry
And we’ll all shout “Hurrah” when daddy comes home again!

When mommy can’t come home again, boo-hoo, boo-hoo
When mommy can’t come home again, boo-hoo, boo-hoo
Now my shouts turn to self-doubt
As I pout or just lash out
Oh we miss you mommy, please come home again!

When daddy can’t come home again, boo-hoo, boo-hoo
When daddy can’t come home again, boo-hoo, boo-hoo
My heart no longer has a song; my hero’s missing
Something’s so wrong
Oh we miss you daddy, please come home again!

When mommy and daddy fight again, uh oh, uh oh
When mommy and daddy fight again, uh oh, uh oh
When mommy yells and daddy hits
Now my tummy’s having fits
And we all feel bad when mommy and daddy fight!

When mommy and daddy drink again, oh no, oh no
When mommy and daddy drink again, oh no, oh no
“No place like home” more battle zone
And all I want to be is gone
And we’re all sad when mommy and daddy drink!

When mommy and daddy fight and drink, watch out, watch out
When mommy and daddy fight and drink, watch out, watch out
My head against the wall I’ll bang
Help…I don’t want to join a gang
And we’re all mad when family fight and drink!

When angry silence comes marching in, please no, please no
When angry silence comes marching in, please no, please no
A once happy home feels like a tomb
Covered by a shroud of gloom
I can’t even hide in my room
For overhead the sword of doom
We’re all numb when angry silence comes through the door.

Why can’t we be a family again, oh please, oh please?
Why can’t we be a family again, oh please, oh please?
We’ll laugh and sing and even fight
Not might – but help – will make it right
Talking together helps shine a light
And fear will finally sleep tonight
Holding each other warm and tight
And we’ll be a family, ‘Hoorah,” we’ll be a family again!

© Mark Gorkin  2015
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

Grief Ghosts:  A Viral or Vital Metamorphosis

And the Grief Ghosts will rise from the ashes
When one tries to bury the pain.
Feeding a fire that chokes dreams and desire
Oh when will your tears fall like rain?

Too late…look, soul-sucking phantoms
Spiral higher and higher, madly morph and conspire
As Trojan worms raiding while aerating your brain.

Wait…Perhaps there is still time to reach for the sublime:
Grieve, let go…and grow with the flow!

© Mark Gorkin  2012
Shrink Rap ™ Productions

As a Critical Incident Consultant, I’m poignantly aware how unexpected dramas and tragedies lurk behind every corner and crevice of our hearts and minds…and also lie in the shadows of our homes, schools, and places of work.  Out of the quiet, out of The Death of a Salesman closet, Arthur Miller screams:  Attention must be paid!  And sometimes we must risk trusting our gut, risk "overreacting" and being mislabeled, and say something to the right someone...or be the right someone!

Learning from the Fatal Flaw

Did she really take her life over a phone?
Taken from a colleague…now all’s undone!
One woman dead, one torn apart
Guilt spears a throbbing heart
Regret for filing that stolen report
Who is at fault?  Who is at fault?  Who is at fault?

Can one grasp obscure knowledge
On the all too human fatal edge?
To get on the same page, one must leave a stage
Masked by “got it together” pain and rage.
Even with the latest gauge, who knows faux-taupe from beige?
Who is a sage?  Who is a sage?  Who is a sage?

Yet a friend sensed her look, a fearful absent look.
Still her head stayed by the book...
Why didn’t she speak up?
Neither one trusted their gut
"Don’t be a pain in the butt!”
So we doubt?  So we doubt?  So we doubt?

Do we pass in the hall and nod
In a hazy-distant fog
And mouth, “How you doing?”…
But only reminiscing; more simply whistling
Who has time for real listening?
Do your thing?  Do your thing?  Do your thing?

Now so sad; maybe wiser: are we respecting one another?
Whatever happened to “sister” and “brother”?
Wide-eyed to foreign experience
Energized by expressive variance
Growing through world view contrariance.
Will you dance?  Will you dance?  Will you dance?

Is it too risky to share
Without some faith in the air?
Of course, you can’t flip a switch, still
Pull one from a ditch; let another bitch…
The sky’s not falling – more like a glitch.
For a culture to be rich, offer a broad-shouldered niche.
Hey, it’s "get real" or be a bust:
Now they might trust!  Now they might trust!  Now they might trust!

© Mark Gorkin  2014
Shrink Rap ™ Productions


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Leading with Passion and Paradox: Harnessing Personal Depth and Breadth

Leading with Passion and Paradox:  Harnessing Personal Depth and Breadth 

 “When, where, and what activities bring out your best energy?”  This was the opening exercise question to Employee Assistance Professional Assn (EAPA) participants in my 2.5 hour workshop – Leading with Passion Power:  Inspiring with Courage, Clarity, and Creativity.  (Alas, I reminded folks that this was a PG-rated program, so some energy settings/sources were beyond our scope. ;-)

And it seems like we walked the talk, that is, the workshop itself proved to be a powerful energy – sharing, learning, and bonding – generator:  In fact, many thought the program felt more like a professional “retreat.”

Nov 9, 2015

Mark, Heard some great feedback. Comment that resonated was that it was like a retreat for practitioners and the timing couldn't have been better! Sorry that I had a conflict but wanted to stop by and say hello, after such a long time!!!  Jim

Jim O'Hair
Coordinator, Employee and Family Assistance Program at Northrop Grumman Corp.

Hi Mark,

Thank you so much for the great training yesterday! I really enjoyed it and feel that everyone really liked having the interaction amongst our groups. It really helped us all learn more about each other which was nice. 

I will surely keep you in mind for some upcoming events I am doing in the New Year. 


Kate Black
Senior Marketing Coordinator
Maryland. Washington DC. Northern Virginia. Delaware
24/7 Admissions 717-859-8000


Actually, a prelude to the energy exercise question was my quickly (and unexpectedly) soliciting feedback from the audience about how I was projecting myself to the group.  As anticipated, someone commented on my “high energy and passion.”  And this segued to my sharing, before and after the exercise, thoughts on maximizing personal performance energy and presentational presence.  Let me highlight two psycho-behavioral concepts – Passion and Paradoxthat ignite, shape, and focus fiery energy and creativity:

1. The Unrecognized Notion of Passion.  The term passion often evokes “s”-word associations:  sex, sensuality, and soap opera; in Wash, DC it used to conjure the word “Senator”…but then Bill Clinton ruined my joke ;-).  Actually, if you have a good dictionary, the “s”-word for passion is suffering, as in the “Passion Play” – the sufferings of Jesus or, more generically, the sufferings of a martyr.  (Of course I can’t resist the easy laugh line:  “Imagine all this time I never knew my Jewish mother was such a passionate woman.”)

And having this expanded notion of “passion” once helped a professional find the pass in her career impasse:  During a break in a Safe Stress Program, a social worker approached me about her interest in doing public speaking.  People have told her she has a flair for communicating with groups.  When I encouraged her to choose a subject that evokes feelings of passion, her immediate reply:  “That’s what everyone says.”  But alas, she claimed she wasn’t feeling passionate about anything right now; she couldn’t focus on a particular subject.

I realized my reply had been reflexive, without genuinely considering what this woman, likely struggling with third-stage burnout, really needed.  Understanding the soulful connection between pain and passion, I asked, “What’s the source of your pain and suffering, past and present?”  Being more consciously engaged, I now raised several suggestions and questions:

1) identify a source of or an experience related to major personal pain, suffering, or trauma and/or life-identity challenge or crisis
2) reflect broadly and deeply on how this experience impacted you and significant others?; what were past-present-future fears, frustrations, and fantasies exposed or cultivated by this trauma or challenge?
3) how did you not just cope but fight through the warring external dungeons and dragons and internal self-doubts and demons?
4) what did you learn from the initial or ongoing trials, failures, and successes?  What aspects of your life – roles and relations, substance and style, mind-body-spirit – were transformed? and
5) how will you nurture and integrate your newfound understanding in your head and heart?; how will you package and share this hard-earned wisdom?; how will you walk your talk and inspire others?

And suddenly the light went on.  This seeker had a pregnant concept to ponder, nurture, and pursue.  She stated that she would credit me for her launch once she’s on the national speaking circuit.  And with practice and persistence, along with a healthy dose of such attitude, she just might make it!  Remember,

For the Phoenix to rise from the ashes
One must know the pain
To transform the fire to burning desire!

2.  Develop a Paradoxical Personality.  Increasingly we are becoming a hybrid society, whether as a multicultural workforce, being in love with cars that run on gas and electricity, or craving devices that combine the best of tablet and laptop.  Is it time to build on this socio-techno-cultural diversity by also cultivating a mindset and temperament that integrates and harnesses sharply contrasting qualities?  Can we fundamentally forsake the exclusive and judgmental “black or white” for “black and white” as well as a rainbow spectrum of color?  Can we unite and synergize “High Tech and Human Touch?

What might be some advantages of having a holistic Yin/Yang nature, beyond increasing options and possibilities, ala Woody Allen who years ago observed that he “could see the potential in being bisexual…it would dramatically increase his chance for getting a date on Saturday night.”  For me, being able to see both hill and valley views, and the biases therein, to explore the highs and lows of life, to recognize the cognitive differences between “manic and melancholic” (see below), and somehow integrate these divergent mood swings, to synthesize masculine and feminine energy, etc., means being able to:
a) thoughtfully consider and even harmonize multiple perspectives; e.g., to be logical and psychological,
b) resist rigid simplicity and inflexibility; be a more responsive and adaptive problem-solver; as acclaimed author and contemporary essayist, Adam Gopnik, noted:  Repetition is the law of nature but variation is the rule of life,
c) engage with diversity and contradiction to heighten a tolerance for uncertainty; be more comfortable exploring and enjoying novelty; challenge a “b.s.” – be safe – culture,
d) understand and resonate with the multifaceted-multicultural complexity of human nature and life itself, and sometimes
e) flow with oppositional tension spurring a mind to original, synthesis building or barrier-breaking conceptualization; such as my pioneering efforts in the world of psychologically humorous rap music – Shrink Rap ™ Productions!

And as acclaimed 20th c. novelist, F. Scott Fitzgerald (along with many others in the arts and sciences) observed:  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 otherwise.

For illustration, let me return to our workshop-retreat.  As part of the post-“best energy” exercise discussion, I shared having a somewhat paradoxical temperament, including both melancholic (moody, reflective, in-depth, and convergent thinking) and manic (high energy, quick thinking, rhyming and rapid talking, divergent thinking) tendencies.  This psychic dichotomy corresponds to my two basic natures:
1) Cave Persona (e.g., as an introverted and introspective writer) and
2) Stage Persona (e.g., as a dynamic and extraverted speaker).  Each holds sway in a particular space-time-role context.  And both mind-settings are vital to a sense of self as well as exploring and designing opportunities-strategies for being and engaging with my world.  For example, grappling with this bifurcation predisposes me to see the proverbial glass as “half empty and half full.”  (You know how to tell where certain women fall on this familiar ratio:  look for the lipstick stains.)

Here are some tools and tips for tuning into contradiction and turning on creative conflict:

a. Of Time and Thrustration.  Of course, avoiding less complex “black vs. white” thinking and judging, trying to reconcile contradiction to achieve higher-order unification requires an investment of time and energy.  Not surprisingly, trying to weigh and synthesize multiple viewpoints or conflicting parts or people often generates a stage of “thrustration” – when you’re torn between thrusting ahead with direct action and frustration; you haven’t yet put together the kaleidoscopic pieces of the puzzle.  But staying with this tension, mulling over your hunch, taking an “incubation vacation” – from days to decades – is a cornerstone of the creative process.  Quick and easy won’t cut it; however, with energy, focus, and sustained effort you just may hatch a new perspective or paradigm!

b.  Fire and Flow.  Not only does grappling with opposites fuel head and heart, task and touch synthesis, but optimal problem-solving tension may both fire up your brain and generate a state of flow – heightening a capacity for acute observation and being in the zone; this space-time often stimulates recall, imagery and imagination, along with ingenuity.

c.  Shades of Gray.  Tension between “black or white” polar opposites or scalar endpoints also creates a spectrum or gradient with the potential for evoking gradation, subtle differentiation, a series of steps, as well as shades of gray.

d.  Parts, Partners, and Possibilities.  And when you can create a jazz riff synergy, people reverberating and harmonizing to the free flow and exchange of soulful sounds and rhythms, provocative images and ideas, even and because of doscordant strains, this means:
1) the whole is greater than the sum of its parts,
2) the parts often magically turn into partners, and
3) new possibilities tend to emerge from post-conflict, variation-hued horizons.

e.  Cave and Stage Psycho-humor.  And, if nothing else, grappling with contradiction just may yield some “psycho-humor.”  As renowned humorist, Mark Twain, observed:  Wit is the sudden marriage of ideas which before their union were not perceived to have any relation. For example, I recently realized the possibility for expanding my personal “Cave and Stage” dichotomy with a three-part professional setting-role spectrum.  Now there’s a new gradation between Cave and Stage:  “Office” Persona. Then the resolution of this thesis (introvert-Cave) and antithesis (extravert-Stage) tension, opened my mind to pairing setting with role titles, and voila…a Stress Doc witticism:

At the “Office” I’m a Psychotherapist

On “Stage” I’m a Psychohumorist ™ (Of course, I let the audience decide on the placement of semantic emphasis.)

And in the “Cave”…I’m just a little “Psycho.”  (Now it’s obvious why I let the audience determine where the stress on “Psychohumorist” should go!)

Closing Summary

Two tools and techniques – Passion and Paradox – have been explored and illustrated for engaging one’s own mind as well as for inspiring – breathing spirit into – others.  Discovering the link between pain and passion along with the multi-perspective and creative tension inherent in contradiction and paradox will widen and deepen understanding of one’s own personal nature.  P & P will also add flexibility, subtlety, adaptability, and creativity to a leader’s or high impact communicator’s tool kit.

Mark Gorkin, MSW, LICSW, "The Stress Doc" ™, a nationally acclaimed speaker, writer, and "Psychohumorist" ™, is a former psychotherapist and Stress & Violence Prevention Consultant for the US Postal Service.  The Doc is a Trauma Debriefing and Critical Incident Consultant for variety of organizations, including the national post-earthquake, Nepali Behavioral Health & Wellness Initiative. He has led numerous transformative -- silo-breaking and communications bridge-building -- Pre-Deployment Stress Resilience-Humor-Team Building Retreats for US Army Senior Officers and Sergeants.  He also provides international Stress Resilience and Burnout Recovery Phone-Skype Coaching.

The Doc is the author of Practice Safe Stress:  Healing and Laughing in the Face of Stress, Burnout & Depression and The Four Faces of Anger:  Transforming Hostility and Rage into Assertion and Passion, and Resiliency Rap:  The Wit and Wisdom of the Stress Doc.  His award-winning, USA Today Online "HotSite" – was called a "workplace resource" by National Public Radio (NPR).  Email for more info.