Tag Archives: Thesis Progress

Thesis Blog 11: References

I’m keeping it short this week. Shout out to Susan for reading my stories and giving me feedback on some confusing parts. I appreciate the feedback and am going to start applying it when I dive into the editing process in the remaining weeks.

Below are my references by category. I still need to complete the annotated part, but at the very least I can show my sources for now. I will probably add a few more before the end.

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate – I am thankful for you all.

Thesis Resources and Categories

Care

Held, V. (2006). The ethics of care: Personal, political, and global. Oxford University Press.

Raghuram, P. (2019). Race and feminist care ethics: Intersectionality as method. Gender, Place, and Culture: A Journal of Feminist Geogragphy, 26(5), 613-637. https://doi.org/10.1080/0966369X.2019.1567471

Woodly, D., Brown, H. R., Marin, M., Threadcraft, S., Harris, P.C., Syedullah, J., & Ticktin, M. (2021). The politics of care. Contemporary Political Theory, 1-36. Advance Online Publication. doi: 10.1057/s41296-021-00515-8

Trauma Informed Care

Carello, J., & Thompson, P. (2021). Lessons from the pandemic: Trauma-informed approaches to college, crisis, change. Palgrave MacMillian.

Imad, M. (2021). Transcending adversity: Trauma-informed educational development. Education Development in the Time of Crisis, 39(3), 1-23. DOI: https://doi.org/10.3998/tia.17063888.0039.301

SAMHSA. (2014). TIP 57: Trauma-informed care in behavioral health services. https://store.samhsa.gov/product/TIP-57-Trauma-Informed-Care-in-Behavioral-Health-Services/SMA14-4816

SAMHSA. (2014). SAMHSA’s concept of trauma and guidance for a trauma-informed approach. https://ncsacw.samhsa.gov/userfiles/files/SAMHSA_Trauma.pdf

Van Der Kolk, B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin.

Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Care

Anzaldúa, J. M. (2022).  Internationalizing trauma-informed perspectives to address student trauma in post-pandemic higher education. In  R. Ammigan, R. Y. Chan, & K. Bista, (eds), COVID-19 and higher education in the global context: Exploring contemporary issues and challenges (pp. 154-171). STAR Scholars. https://starscholars.org/product/covid-19-and-higed/

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory (3rd ed). New York University Press.

Shevrin Venet, A. (2021). Equity-centered trauma informed education. W.W. Norton & Company.

Evidenced Based Practices

Shelton, R.C., Cooper, B. R., & Stirman, S.W. (2018). The sustainability of evidenced-based interventions and practices in public health and health care. Annual Review of Public Health, 39, 55-76. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-publhealth-040617-014731

Vita, A., & Barlati, S. (2019). The implementation of evidence-based psychiatric rehabilitation: Challenges and opportunities for mental health services. Frontiers in Psychiatry, 10, 147. doi: 10.3389/fpsyt.2019.00147

Peer Support

Mental Health America. (n.d.). How to become a peer support specialist. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://www.mhanational.org/how-become-peer-support-specialist

SAMHSA. (2009). What are peer recovery support services? https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma09-4454.pdf

SAMHSA. (2009). Illness management and recovery: Practitioner guides and handouts. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/practitionerguidesandhandouts_0.pdf

White, W. L. (2009). Peer-based addiction recovery support: History, theory, practice, and scientific evaluation executive summary. Great Lakes Addiction Technology Transfer Center. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/228459175_Peer-Based_Addiction_Recovery_Support_History_Theory_Practice_and_Scientific_Evaluation_Executive_Summary

Supported Education

OSECE. (n.d.). Supported education. Retrieved November 22, 2021, from https://osece.org/supported-education/

SAMHSA. (2021). Substance use disorders recovery with a focus on employment and education. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/SAMHSA_Digital_Download/pep21-pl-guide-6.pdf

Burnout

OHA. (2016). A trauma informed workforce: An introduction to workforce wellness. https://traumainformedoregon.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/A-Trauma-Informed-Workforce_An-introduction-to-workforce-wellness.pdf

Van Dernoot Lipsky, L., & Burk, C. (2007). Trauma stewardship: An everyday guide to caring for self while caring for others. Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

An Outline For My Thesis: Proof I’m Actually Accomplishing Something

To prove that I do indeed have a plan for my thesis and I’m not just stalling for time while having absolutely nothing done, I am sharing a rough, but detailed outline of my Memoir of Care. I have the anchor stories holding the ship steady, now I just have to secure them together so it is less a mess and more a cohesive…mess. Without further ado, I present my outline and I’ve even included links to the stories if anyone wants to read and give me feedback (and I need all I can get):

Outline for unnamed “Memoir of Care”

  1. Introduction: What do I mean when I say “care” and how does this memoir of care contribute to a conversation on issues of care?
    1. This will kind of be a lit review/proposal to explain the theory behind the stories I am telling. I wish I could get across all the things I want to through the experience of reading my Memoir, but I know that isn’t going to work. So this piece will be what sets the scene theoretically and the stories will apply the theory to real life. My main themes are the following:
      1. Ethics of Care
      1. Evidence Based Treatments in Community Mental Health Agencies:
        1. Peer Support Specialist
        1. Supported Education Specialist
      1. Trauma Informed Care
        1. Equity Centered Trauma Informed Care
      1. Burnout/Vicarious Trauma

I know this is what the intro needs to be, and I have various pieces written here and there, but I don’t have a complete draft of this yet… coming soon.

  1. The Interview
    1. The story begins with the protagonist (me) in an interview for a peer support specialist (PSS) position – a job she has many mixed feelings about. In the course of the interview, the reader learns more about what the PSS position is and they are introduced to some “tools of care”. The questioning of what care is for the protagonist begins. 
  1. Shadowing Troy
    1. The protagonist begins working at the mental health agency. As part of the training for a new PSS, the individual is required to “shadow” other peers. The first shadow experience with a “high functioning peer” exposes the protagonist to some failures to care properly within the agency and within the client/provider relationship. We get the first glimpse into a client interaction.
  1. Jeff’s Unraveling
    1. The protagonist continues their shadowing with a peer who she is working in the same department with and who will alter her view of self-care. A shadowing experience with Jeff exposes her to the duality of how a peer can present themselves to a client as caring and yet be in a state of burnout. We learn that an unraveling is occurring, both in Jeff and the protagonist.
  1. Training Day 1
    1. This is my weird shit story. The protagonist has been working a few months now and already the signs of burnout are appearing. The story highlights the dynamics between the institution and the carers and the disconnect that often occurs between the two. We also find out more about the protagonists background and learn the significance of “story” as a “tool of care” within the PSS position.
  1. Training Day 2
    1. The cost of not having your story figured out comes to light in a second day of training. The power of language and a new vocabulary is explored in the context of a “person centered” practice. This again highlights another “tool of care” and furthers the questioning of the adequacy of this tool.
  1. Jon and the Library
    1. As Jeff gets progressively worse in his unraveling, the protagonist starts to step in for him and ends up having her first one-on-one with a client that she has visited before but only with Jeff present. It shows the conflicting feelings that go with the practice of caring: client victories and institutional policies.
  1. Crystal and the Dog
    1. Another client story that highlights in a painful way the failure of the proper tools of care. We see the impact of trauma on the client’s behavior and the signs of burnout in the protagonist. An example of how trauma informed care has to be practiced in situations that aren’t clear cut or easy to know what is the right thing to do.
  1. Deliah and the Rainy Day
    1. This was the first story I wrote that helped me see how I want to move forward with this memoir. It will need to go towards the end of the story because it is set at a point in the protagonist’s experience where she is at the high point of burnout and is looking for a way out. It shows the protagonist in a state of dissociated despair that mirror’s Jeff’s but she is mimicking his behavior of putting on a face with clients to keep the appearance of care going.

These are the pieces I have in semi-states of completion (i.e. they are written, but need editing and rewrites). Now my goal is to solidify things more by aligning things on a tighter timeline that will span from the time I started to the time I left (close to 3 years). I have a pretty good foundation started for the beginning, but I need to write the intro, have a story that shows the turning point in the middle, one that explains my experience of learning about trauma informed care, maybe one or two more client stories, when my unraveling comes to a head, and a kind of epilogue that shows how the crash and burn of my time as a peer support specialist and supported education specialist lead to a deep personal exploration about care and how Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Care has now become the focus of my personal life ethic. I am on track to have this done by the end of the month and then I will use the remaining time to edit.

The main issue I can see in these pieces that are done is that I am not being able to maintain the same voice through each. I have a very abstract tone in some and in others it’s more realistic. I am not sure how to fix that at the moment… I want to lean more towards the abstract, but I don’t want to be SO abstract as to be off-putting.

I feel like the writing process of doing this thesis has been a kind of unraveling in and of itself. I started with one lofty idea and I just didn’t have the ability to pull it off in the time I set for myself. This memoir was birthed not totally out of desperation (though there is some of that) but it came from me stopping one day and saying – why are you so obsessed with trauma informed care? This led me to a journey of self-exploration and introspection. I decided I wanted to share my story to highlight something I don’t think is talked about much – how lacking the tools people are given in positions of care can be and how this impacts both them and the people they care for. My hope for this story is to capture something that people recognize in their own struggle to care and that they know it isn’t just them. My hope is that through this recognition they can seek the “proper tools of care”, whatever those may be. I don’t know if those hopes are too lofty, but at least I’m moving in a direction now.

A Fast in the Face of Abundance

I have decide to fall back into the practices of my childhood faith and start a ‘fast’. My attention span, motivation, and productivity continue to suffer due to the easy access of temporary relief and distraction found in my phone and social media. The temptation is too great, and so I am ‘plucking out my eye’ to avoid the hellish nightmare of failing to get done what I need to accomplish. My plan is to stay off Instagram and Twitter and YouTube (which are the only platforms I use) and to limit my news scrolling and use of my phone by turning it off for long stretches of the day until December 1st. The hope is that by doing this I will emerge out of this month of abundance with a harvest of ideas and completed work that I can truly be thankful for.

The essay I am including below is an updated ‘proposal’ of sorts for my thesis. In very simplistic terms, it captures what I am trying to get at with the storified memoir of care I am writing.

Care

Care is one of those interesting concepts that we all think we understand, that we all have experience with, and yet that we don’t fully know how to explain or define. Theories of care often contend with questions like what responsibility do we have to each other? Who should be responsible for the care of those who are dependent? How do we maintain our self-care? Are there proper ways to care? Are there proper emotions of care?


In the view of philosophers like Virginia Held, care has to be both a “value” and a “practice”; in other words, we must be caring in our actions but also in our motivation. Virginia Held explains this further in The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global:


“A caring person, in my view, will not only have the intention to care and the disposition to care effectively but will participate in caring relations. If persons lack the capacity to do so, they can be persons who are trying to be caring, but they are not yet caring persons. To be a caring person requires more than the right motives or dispositions. It requires the ability to engage in the practice of care, and the exercise of this ability. Care, as we saw, is work as well as [an] emotion or motive or intention. The caring person participates in this work in ways that roughly meet its standards. Care is not only work, however. So it is not enough that the work get done and the child get fed if done without an appropriately caring motive. But, in my view, having caring motives is not enough to make one a caring person.“ (p.51)


These individuals with caring “dispositions” are the very ones that want to use it and are drawn to careers and institutions that are traditionally linked with offering care: Doctors, teachers, counselors, case workers, firemen, police, military personnel, lawyers – these ‘caring’ roles are usually associated with people who are ready to serve those that are dependent on their care. But what happens in these roles when there isn’t the “practice” of care? What would be defined as a practice and what is a motivation or disposition?

A relevant real life example is that of the call to defund the police. There are many who would argue that because of the historical origins of the police force being born out of wealthy white individuals wanting protection from Black individuals that policing has never been about care; that said, those within the profession would argue that their role is to care. So the motivation to care is there for these individuals – in their case ‘protect’ and uphold the law – but are the ways they care actually achieving the goal of care? Those in the BLM community and who adhere to an abolitionist ideology give a resounding NO to this question.


The goal of this thesis project isn’t to address the complex questions brought up by care in policing, but it is to address the related issue of what it means when there is a lack of proper tools/practices of care. The lens through which I approach this is from my time in mental health and my role as a peer support specialist and a supported education specialist. Though I will explore the issue of practices of care in general, I will pay special attention to the specific practice that is termed trauma informed care and the subtype proposed by Alex Shevrin Venet called Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Care.


Through a storified memoir format, I will explore care from a care provider’s perspective and from the perspective of those being provided care. The aim of this project is to highlight the implications of a failure to wrestle with ideas of what care is and how it should be gone about; it is to seek insight into what is meant by ‘proper tools of care’ and how these can be implemented to protect carers from vicarious trauma and burn out and from carees from being further harmed (retraumatized, one could even say) by ‘improper’ care.

Short and Sweet Blog 8

Though I still feel behind, I think I have found a bit of a way forward. I was able to do what I planned last week and worked on my creative pieces Monday and Friday, and then did some on my literature review on Thursday night. My problem is still a matter of the amount I’m able to get done in the time I set aside to do it. This has always been an issue. I don’t seem to be able to just plan for x amount of work to be done in y amount of time. I never know how much I will get done, but I just try hard to get SOMETHING done.

Anyways – my plan is to just keep using this model of creative work at home and lit review during class time until the end of the month and hope by Thanksgiving week I will have everything in a workable draft and then can begin editing.

Today I wrote out another piece of the story and realized I need to create something of a linear narrative. Shout out to Maura for reading my story last week and giving me much needed input on some of the parts that were confusing. I took both suggests she made about clarification and that lead me to realizing I need to just create a really simple storyboard so I can craft the rest of my memoir of care in a cohesive way. In addition to the story, I wrote out a simple storyboard today and will continue to add detail as I clarify how to set up pieces.

I am on a good roll I think, and I feel a little more like I will be able to get something done. I don’t think it is going to be a perfect and complete piece, but it will be in the shape of a piece that can be built out and added if I choose to in the future.

Basic Storyboard for Memoir of Care

Thesis…Groundhog Day?

I feel a bit like I have been in a thesis Groundhog Day situation – actually, I’d rather use the example of Russian Doll – Same premise basically, but with Natasha Lyonne.

Everytime I sit down to my thesis, it is almost like I am writing from scratch. Nothing has traction. I lose track of the pieces I have already written. I don’t feel good about what I wrote. I keep reliving the process of figuring something out, discovering a possible path forward, writing to follow the inspiration… and then it dissipates into something dissatisfying. Something that doesn’t fit what I’m trying to get at. 

Not counting my blogs, I’ve written 20,000+ words for this thing and maybe 5,000 of those are sticking at the moment? So now that I’m back on track and getting my productivity back up I have made some decisions for how to move forward. 

In my blog for last week, I included a story I wrote and the voice of it and feel of it is the closest thing I’ve gotten to what feels like me. I am a little afraid it is going to be what the critic in my head keeps calling “affected” or “indulgent”, but if I keep listening to it I am not going to be able to get this thesis done. I am genuinely worried because I don’t see the finish line at all at the moment, I’m more just running on faith that I will get it done because… I always do… somehow. 

So moving forward, I am just going to write my ass off in the style of the story I shared last week and will share this week. I am attaching the story below to show another example of how I am moving forward with this writing style and the story. Whether it is good or not, I have no idea, but I am committing to it and going to switch into more organized production. 

I will do my creative writing at home and I will work in class on my literature review, at least until I can get it done and then I’ll switch over to just the thesis. The literature review has me so stressed and frozen that I go to do it, feel like I don’t know where to start, think about switching over to my creative writing, feel guilty I’m not working on the lit review, get worked up into a frustrated state of overwhelm, and ultimately end up getting hardly anything at all done. I can’t keep this cycle up. I am hoping by making myself do the literature review at school will give me a more disciplined environment, access to help, and accountability. That way, when I am home, I just have to worry about the actual writing of the thesis and any further research I need to do.

I don’t have much else to say other than that. Below I will include the link to my latest story. It is kind of a weird one, but I am rolling with it. If anyone wants to take the time to read it and leave me any critiques about clarity, I welcome the input!

Blog 6

Here is a link to a story I wrote that I feel like captures how I want to move forward with the rest of my thesis:

I’ve been sick the last few days, so I will admit my productivity has slowed considerably in pretty much every area of my life. I was trying to remember the last time I was sick, and I think it has to have been over a year now… and I haven’t been THIS sick in at least a few years. Not sure if it is the stress of life + being back around so many germs or what, but I am being reminded this week of the physicality of my humanness and how easily it is broken down.

That said, I won’t make it to class tonight and once again I will miss another presentation. I am sorry to both Hugo and Kate for missing your explanations of your thesis projects. I really wanted to be there but life continues to get in the way.

It actually sounds like a lot of my fellow classmates are dealing with some pretty rough life circumstances and my heart goes out to all of you. Trying to juggle work, school, family, and self is difficult – especially when one or more of those areas isn’t going smoothly. I know I have been dealing with some rough waters in several of those areas myself since the beginning of the semester and it has made things feel incredibly overwhelming. I hope you all can give yourself time and grace to care for yourselves as we all try to do this juggling act individually and in community.

Speaking of – this idea of the individual vs the communal was a huge theme in my research this last week as I continue my wrestling with this “theorizing memoir of care”. I decided I needed to do some research into the actual word “care” to see what is out there besides my “ideal type” of trauma informed care and I came upon some intriguing pieces.

Namely:

  • The Ethics of Care: Personal, Political, and Global by feminist and philosopher Virginia Held
  • “The politics of care” by Woodly, etal.
  • Peer-Based Addition Recovery Support: History, Theory, Practice, and Scientific Evaluation by William L. White
  • Darkness Visible by William Styron
  • The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks

Reading about the theoretical side of care was helpful to place it within a more concrete definition. I have never read much about care outside of my experience with trauma informed care and so I was pleasantly surprised to see how much of the thoughts concerning it address it as interdependent, contextual, story-based, and practical. The Held book and the politics of care article are a great balance to each other. Held gives me a basic run down of the ethics of care and how it has evolved while the politics of care article brings in the modern, racial justice lens. Both emphasize the importance of interdependence and story in some way and of rewriting old models of understanding how we are supposed to relate to each other in society: i.e. getting away from the Enlightenment “individual” who is only responsible for themself and moving into a new era of interdependent responsibility as found in movements like BLM and in abolition ideology.

Seeing both these resources bring up the question of responsibility towards ‘the other’ was validating and soul sucking. Validating in that it confirms the creeping suspicion I’ve had that we have a responsibility to take care of each other, soul sucking in that it then means I am not the sole focus of my responsibility. One of the overarching feelings I had while I worked in mental health was that of resentment at being held responsible for someone else that ‘shouldn’t’ be my responsibility. Why should I be the one to have to get YOU to make a call that YOU should be motivated to make yourself? How is it that I seem to be the only one who cares about figuring out how to get YOUR financial aid reinstated? Is it really on me that YOU can’t turn in your assignments on time and don’t understand the course material? Why aren’t the people who are SUPPOSED to be doing their jobs and meeting your need failing and leaving me holding the bag?

Now, I don’t believe that the responsibility is 100% on me to make another person succeed; but, at the same time, I can’t help but think I have some role in the success of others and that if I do drop the ball, I contribute to their failure. And that is an uncomfortable place to be because then if you fail, I fail, and because I can’t control you or the forces around you, we are left at the mercy of our collective effort and the effort of those around us to do their job to properly care. “Proper care” is again the operative word because ultimately my success and your success depends on the tools of care that we start with; if we don’t even have an accurate view of what care is or how it should be gone about, we are set up for failure.

A specific example of what I am trying to get at with this whole ‘proper care’ diatribe is found in the third resource I found, the monograph on peer support in recovery. When I first started working at the mental health agency I was at I was a ‘peer support specialist’. Simply put, it is a person who has lived experience with mental illness and who has come to a place in their recovery where they are able to turn around and help others with mental illness. I emotionally fought so much in myself the entire time I was a peer because of how much I felt I wasn’t equipped well enough to do my job; but over and over I was told that my story – my self – was the tool I was to use to help others and so to just keep using what I had.

White’s writing on peer support made me feel seen in a way that I didn’t in the entire time I was in that role and captures the struggle I had. It his monograph, he calls peer support out as the complex and contradictory thing that it is:

“The emphasis on reciprocal self-disclosure and mutual identification in [peer support] is in marked contrast to the debate surrounding self-disclosure in psychotherapy and addiction counseling, where such disclosure has been discouraged except under strict clinical guidelines.  In contrast, peer helpers often view self-disclosure of their recovery story as self-reparation, an offering of hope to those still suffering, and an instrument of public education that might counter social stigma and widen the doorways of entry into recovery for others…

The self-disclosure debate reflects a broader difference in the degree of personal involvement in the helping relationship by the peer specialist[:]

 The peer encounter is neither narrowly rule-directed nor reflexive; each participant must think, evaluate various alternative actions, and interpret the other’s actions…. Consequently, [peer] support providers must always evaluate how much to invest emotionally and how much to refrain from investing.  They must decide how much they want to be distanced from the recipient by the veil of objectivity and detachment versus how much they want to be emotionally invested through empathy, compassion, and caring.  This means that support providers must work at finding a balance between the pitfalls of indifference (i.e., detached, bureaucratic helping) and enmeshment (i.e., biased, overly emotional helping), which involves determining the boundaries of the relationship…

The peer’s degree of personal involvement is a strength and vulnerability of [peer support].  The distancing maneuvers of treatment professionals are intended to ensure objectivity in assessment and counseling, reduce the risk of exploitation in the helping relationship, and minimize the effects of vicarious traumatizaton (VT)—also known as secondary traumatic stress.  VT occurs when helpers lack the defenses necessary to protect themselves against the emotional impact of helpees’ stories of victimization, degradation, and/or perpetration.  Diagnostic schemes, theoretical models, manual-guided service protocols, therapeutic techniques, ethical codes, and brief service relationships all serve as protective shields for the professional.  In the world of peer support, the helper has greater levels of emotional exposure. (pp. 86-87)

When I went into the role as a peer support specialist, I felt this exact feeling of being completely vulnerable to the trauma of others without the proper tools to protect myself. I did have ‘some’ training, but my role with clients was often far more invested and personal than any of the therapists’ experienced. That isn’t to say the therapists never experienced vicarious trauma or that their jobs weren’t stressful – of course they did and their roles in care are a whole other story.

White adds yet another interesting piece that stood out to me as something I was lacking and that fits into the ethic of care ideal that proper care is interdependent:

“For the [peer support] specialist, protection comes not from intellectualization of the horror to which one may be exposed, or by personal distancing, but through support for the helper and helpee from a larger recovery community.  In other words, the emotional intensity of reciprocal self-disclosure and the intimacy produced by such disclosure are diffused within a larger community of mutual support.  When peer helpers work in isolation from this support, they may injure themselves through the helping process.  Some stories are so horrific that their poisons cannot be emotionally digested by the peer helper.” (p.87)

I think my thesis is a way of “emotionally digesting” what I wasn’t able to at the time I was working because of the lack of the proper tools of care in me and around me. The peer support specialist role is a powerful one because it is showing those that are in early recovery that making progress is possible. By having people who are further along in their recovery care for those in early stages, the peer embodies hope for peers and inspires more empathy within the institutions that are offering care. But what is their true responsibility towards their peers? What are the proper tools of care in a position like that? Why do I feel like I was so lacking in what I needed to properly care for people and for myself?

These are the questions I am wrestling with as I consider all this. Which is why I feel like I need to just tell stories about what happened. But as I write my stories, I feel like many of them are dark and the burnout I had is so present that I don’t know if it overshadows everything. That is why I added in Styron’s Darkness Visible – his short book on his own recovery journey with depression and suicide. The book is dark and heavy, and you never forget just how horrible the place he is in is… but he brings something to the story that informs the reader and that leaves the reader with hope in the end. Not a happily ever after, but a glimpse of ‘okay’. I want to try and accomplish this.

I also included Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat because he is a) a great example of academic story telling and b) does it in a way that incorporates information the reader needs to consider deeper questions he is contemplating about life and humanity. I also want to use his book as a negative example because I want to do better than he does at humanizing and not pathologizing the people in my case study stories.

Theorizing Care: How My New Bestie Helped Me Find a Way Forward

“To sum up, research can be triggered by a problem, by something interesting, and by something surprising. Regardless of what sets off the research, however, it is important to emphasize three things. First, the initial phase of observation should be carried out in a very free-ranging manner. Second, theorizing should be held off for a while. And third, the topic to study is not necessarily what you initially set out to analyze, but what after a while strikes you as being the most promising to pursue.”

– from The Art of Social Theory by Richard Swedberg

“Why are you obsessed with trauma informed care?” I asked myself, trying to get at the heart of this term. 

“Why are you so obsessed with trauma informed care?” I quietly mused, suddenly realizing the weight of THAT word and the way it related to me.

“Why… you are obsessed with trauma informed care!” I discovered, realizing that THIS word – so vague and all encompassing – was at the heart of the matter.

What I discovered was a) Swedberg’s model for understanding the process of “theorizing” and b) that this whole time I have *actually* been chasing that tiny little word “care”:

What IS care supposed to look like?

Why do I even need a model like trauma informed care?

My ‘hypothesis’ is that there is a failure to care that needs to be patched up, but is trauma informed care really the ticket?

Breaking down something like “care” is a tall order, and if I’m not careful I’ll run into the same issue I’m having now of a topic that is way too big. Thankfully, I feel like I already have step one done which is the creation of some terms that get at the heart of the issue of a failure to care (i.e. illusions of care – fantastical, self(ish), and callous) and utilizing the existing term Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Care as my “ideal type” to stack things up against. A digression is warranted to explain the word “ideal type”.

As my new bestie Rich says: 

 “An ideal type has a number of practical functions, and one of these is to provide terminological clarity and precision. Since reality is endlessly rich and contradictory, it is of importance that the ideal type is clear and coherent…[it also functions as] a “heuristic tool,” and this means that it should primarily be used to discover new aspects of a phenomenon… when you begin to study a complex phenomenon, it is very useful to have an ideal type at your disposal. Once you have reached the point where you know in which direction to look… focus on the significant differences (if any) between the ideal type and empirical reality, and to try to account for these. At this stage the initial ideal type has fulfilled its function and can be discarded.”

– from The Art of Social Theory by Richard Swedberg

Trauma Informed Care, and the special restructuring of the term that Alex Shevrin Venet created with her Equity-Centered Trauma Informed Care, is the “ideal type” I’m using to speculate about “care.” The aim of this speculation is to begin pointing towards a theory of understanding care that can meet the needs of our modern, ‘post’-pandemic society. I will be doing this speculating and theorizing through my memoir of care by detailing my experience of working in an institution of care as well as my experience as a human who claims to “care”. This detailing will be done in the ways I have already described, by using fictional case study, personal experience, and probably some form of academic explanation.

Concerns/Questions/Problems I’m left with:

  1. I’m drawing inspiration from a social science approach to theorizing. It takes a more quantitative approach in some ways, but I feel that this fits my background and, actually, Swedberg is a pretty flexible guy in terms of the process of research. He is literally advocating for what he calls “creative theorizing” so… what better term is there then that for what I’m attempting here.
  2. The whole second half of Swedberg’s book has to do with needing to understand social theory to create theory. I am drawing strongly from CRT – would that count I wonder? Do I need to concern myself with that if I’m not really planning on making my thesis theory, but more a process of theorizing?
  3. This idea of “care” probably still seems too big. I don’t know how to address that critique at the moment, but I am hoping through the process of writing my memoir pieces that I will be able to show what I am envisioning in a more concrete way. I have some pieces now that I have written, but nothing that is a definitive way to begin this whole thing. Still looking for my way in.
  4. I am still planning on incorporating The Night of the Iguana and some religious themes. This could turn out to be too tangential; but Swedberg says that books, movies, and literature of all sorts can be used in the observation and learning phase of theorizing. The Night of the Iguana encompasses for me the spirit of care I am trying to get at – I just have to make it make sense. Maybe I should do a blog about that next week or something… possibly a bonus blog if I can make the effort and time?

Works Cited

Swedberg, R. (2015). The art of social theory (3rd ed.). Princeton University Press.

Blog 4: Meta…morphosis?

I’ve spent the majority of today laboring on one of the elements of my thesis and I think I finally have the form of something. Initially, I thought it was going to be one of my reflective essays, but it actually turned into the preface for my project. This works perfectly because it will be what I present on Wednesday. 

Getting this piece out has me both encouraged and concerned. It took me a long time to write what ended up being a very short piece. When I say I labored, I LABORED to get the words down on the page and to make my thoughts organized and make sense. This makes me feel freaked out that every single one of my essays, fictional pieces, and theory-ish pieces are going to be massive undertakings and that I’m never going to get anything finished. 

But – I am encouraged as well. We talked last week about addressing those things in our lives that are getting in the way of our productivity and I have tried to do just that. I have found that one of the biggest distractions for me really is my phone; and when I am stressed, Instagram is my best friend. I like to think that my curation of memes and funny posts in my stories isn’t just for me but is a service I provide to those who see them, but… I can’t even bullshit myself that hard. In order to curb the compulsive need to check my phone every 5 minutes, I have been turning it off and leaving it in a drawer all day. It is amazing how the simple act of putting your phone away in a place where you can’t see it makes your brain attend better to the task at hand. Yes, my mind will wander to my phone and I’ll wonder if anything has happened in the last few hours since I looked at it; but I acknowledge the thought and let it pass so I can keep on writing. 

I am addressing what is contributing to my concern, but the writing itself and the articulation of my thoughts is still one of the hardest things about this project. I can feel the essence of my project, like a tip of the tongue kind of feeling, but it takes me a lot of focused concentrating to get the ball rolling in describing it and when I have the distraction of my phone or my stomach telling me I am hungry (we just ate, I promise) or my cat yelling at me to let her go for a walk… my train of thought gets derailed so much that I have a constant sense of being scattered and unclear of what it is exactly that I am trying to say. 

But, despite all that, here is what I have come up with: 

I am writing what I’m going to call a “theorizing memoir of care”. I don’t know if that makes sense, so you can tell me what you all think on Wednesday. A line from my writing today that kind of captures what I am trying to get at by calling it that is: 

“It is one thing to understand the why of a theory, but another to understand the why of the theorist.” 

Now, I could just be full of shit, which… I mean, I am most of the time. I love to play with contradictory things to the point of confusion and I very well might have done that with this piece. But I do also believe that I am on to something and that I finally might have put my finger on the pulse of my project. I think I am going to end up doing a lot more fusing of the personal and theoretical than I originally planned, and I don’t really plan on having any kind of definitive answer or argument by the end of it. I mean, I do, but I don’t. A huge theme in my life is what I call “living in the tension” and that is what I want this project to be. Living in the tension of the fact that answers aren’t ever certain and that they evolve with time. 

A huge breakthrough for me this week was realizing how to do the fictionalized case study. I am doing it in a totally different way than what I did over the summer and the format fits my vision so much better. It will only focus on one fictionalized person and I will thread their story through out each of my sections. In addition to the case study, I am planning on having reflective pieces that takes on the majority of each section, but with it will somehow be the theoretical/policy/academic pieces… this part I am still trying to figure out how to move forward on. Maybe you all can give me some advice on how I could do it better.

I am excited to share with you all the format I have come up with for my project. I hope that it won’t seem too meta or confusing but if it does, I hope you’ll let me know.

Thesis Progress Blog 3: Chasing “the spook”

John Huston’s 1964 film adaption of Tennessee Williams’ play The Night of the Iguana

In The Language of Race and Ethnicity class, the first reading we did was “We Aren’t Here to Learn What We Already Know”. I was impacted by this article for many reasons; it is a great resource for figuring out how to think deeply about content you have to engage with, and an excellent model for how to come up with critical questions. But what spoke the most to me was when Wazana Tompkins talks about feelings and how they relate to critical thinking and discourse:

“…your intuitions and feelings are what will lead you to original insight but they are not a substitute for thinking and working hard…movement, from individual intuition or feeling, or even memory to analytic or critical intervention in larger structural issues is the movement that I try to model again and again…Less me; more us. Less me-search, more research.”

She relates this dynamic to the role of the teacher, but she is also trying to get at the balance that has to come with engaging with issues that hit a personal note but need a critical (i.e. distanced and objective) eye. The idea is that better critical thinking and engagement with an issue will occur as a result of our efforts to look beyond ourselves to the bigger picture.

I’m going to be real with you and say I’ve most definitely been more in “me-search” the last few weeks than research when it comes to my thesis. Which is strange because I started out with what I felt like was a personal yet distanced (if not objective) approach to the topic of trauma informed care. Yes, I chose the topic from personal experience and my work with college students, but my interest in the topic was very theory focused and in the realm of the academic or clinical.  

But the more I leaned towards turning my thesis into something personal along with the academic, the more I have begun to lose myself in it. Which is ironic because I am finding myself in a way I haven’t been able to in years. Though I am finding this to be personally enriching, I am finding myself getting further away from the part of my thesis that I have labeled “lofty policy” and this scares me. I don’t want to navel gaze with this project and just have it be important to me. I want it to mean something outside of myself because of the importance it has to me, not in spite of it.

My thesis progress report:

  1. I am having ideas for the personal part of my thesis that make me excited to a degree that I rarely feel about school assignments.
    1. I am considering structuring this project around a religious theme I’m not ready to reveal yet because it feels too vulnerable and I’m not 100% about it. The religious elements keep coming to me so strongly and it is so intimately connected to my experience of care that I almost can’t get away from it if I pursue a personal side to the topic of trauma informed care.
    2. Tennessee Williams’ The Night of the Iguana is finding its way back into my life, and it sets the ‘stage’ (ha) for my discussion of the reality of care verses the “fantastic”. This play has been in my life since I was 18 and has meant so much to me; I feel elated at having it find its way back into my life in a meaningful way, and I am fascinated by the fact that because I am older and have gone through more, it has taken on new meaning. It may be a “darling” I have to kill, but I’m going to roll with it for now and see what comes of it.
    3. One idea that came to me for organizing everything within a “versions of care” theme is to do something like:
      • The first section would be Fantastical(?) Care
      • The second section would be “Self” Care
      • The third section would be Calloused Care
      • The fourth (?) section would be Trauma Informed Care
      • The final (?) section would be Learning to Care (?)
  2. Last week was a rough week for me personally; and though I probably spent 6 hours “doing my thesis,” I probably only got about 2 ½ hours of productive work done. It is a new week and things have evened out so that I’ve got some footing back, and that means getting to work. I’ve decided that Mondays and Fridays are my intensive thesis days. The minimum goal is to work six hours total those two days, but I want to get in double that ideally.
  3. For the academic side of things I have had some theoretical stuff come up that I need to consider:
    1. “Ecology” keeps coming up in Alex Shevrin Venet’s work which inevitably leads back to Bronfenbrenner’s theory of human development. I know I don’t want to get deep into him, but I think I will need to draw on his views because I really want to explore the individual, institutional, and structural elements of FA and Trauma Informed Care.
    2. I was able to sort through my Laughlin source and determine what she did in her research and how I am differing from her approach.
    3. An Ecological Perspective on Health Promotion Programs – (McLeroy, Steckler, & Bibeau, 1988) is an article that I got from Alex Shevrin Venet’s work and that brings up some fascinating thoughts around individual and social interventions to address issues that are often caused by society.
  4. How do I move forward?
    1. My ideas are flowing so fast, but my writing can’t keep up and I’m finding myself getting frozen when I try to pour it all out. I feel the pressure to get it right and organized. I have to just keep pushing through to get stuff down on the page and then review it to start thinking how I can organize it.
    2. The research side of things has to stay at the forefront of my mind. The personal has been exciting, but I think it is a kind of sneaky way for me to procrastinate on the academic piece of this project. Productive procrastination at its finest. That said, I need to work Monday on the personal and Friday on the academic. That way I can dedicate time to both each week and they can inform each other.
    3. Prep my presentation for next week and use that process to maybe nail down more of the organizational elements of my project.
      1. I am considering a kind of visual element to the whole thing that would be an actual mental health chart page with my “callous care” note, have my “lofty policy” written out in the style of the policy that you can look up on the Federal Register , and then the personal side of things I have two separate ideas – one is to start each page with the elaborate drawings like you see in old books and/or set it up like a journal to give it a more intimate feel.

I’ve got so much more I want to write about all this, but I am the only one who benefits from that; I’ll spare you and go write some more elsewhere.   

Not So Divine Revelations

Over the weekend I had a kind of personal and academic break through, though I’m a little worried for what it means for my thesis timeline-wise.

This weekend was an unveiling of the driving force behind why trauma informed care is such a soapbox issue for me – something I have hidden from myself for a while now. Like most of us when we discover our “why” beneath the surface of our passions, it often hinges on things that hurt.

The rough working title of my thesis is “Failure to Care” with a back up title/subtitle “The Power of Proper Tools”. My big revelation this weekend was how not having the proper tools to care for others has been one of the biggest failures of my life. And it may seem like that would be a depressing thought, but it was a massive relief when it came to me.

A Digression into the Personal

I am about to digress into some religious and personal talk, much of which is revealing the past me. If you would like to skip over it, please scroll to the end of the white boxed text. I will include the more technical side of my thesis plan after this section.

Just for some extra context to what I am about to share – I am what Paul refers to in 1 Timothy 1:19 as one who has a “shipwrecked faith.” What Paul fails to mention though is that even when one is desperately clinging to a piece of broken ship, drifting aimlessly in the vast ocean, there is God – just not in the same way I was taught to believe growing up.

In the Christian world there is a lot of talk about what “gifts” a person has and how this gift should be used to serve the “body of Christ” (i.e. the church):

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” Romans 12:4-8 (NIV)

My whole life, my “gift” was that of service, or at least that is the one I most identified with. I didn’t want to be a “prophet” or a leader or a teacher, I just wanted to be a conduit for the love of Jesus and for that love to be what helped heal others. My worth became inseparable from my ability to “help” and “love” others. Only when I was “helping” did I feel worthy.

As I sailed out into the seas of doubt around faith in my 20’s, and more specifically left the institution of Evangelicalism, I still maintained the old habits of giving endlessly to only be left empty, the result being I would hurt both others and myself. I did discover some tools along the way (yay boundaries), but I didn’t fully understand the connection between my unhealthy “helping” and my lack of tools until I started to work at the mental health organization I was at before I came to Jersey.

It was here that I saw that proper tools of care are your life source, and when you don’t have them, THAT is when burnout will grab you and drag you deep into the pit of hell. It doesn’t matter how much you “care,” if you aren’t caring skillfully, you will hurt more than you will help. I was lacking the proper tools I needed to care in sustainable and proper ways and it resulted in more harm than help.

This brings me to equity centered trauma informed care.

So many of the service professions – whether is it is counseling, medicine, teaching, or, yes, financial aid – draw people who want to make a difference in other people’s lives; these are usually people with the gift of service. But what is often missing in these professions is the proper tools and training for how to properly care and serve others; “proper” meaning that which maintains your sanity and actually helps the person you are serving. Setting proper boundaries, understanding the forces at play in society, being able to connect with the human that is behind the person before you – these are all desperately needed tools of care, but they are too often missing and can lead to harm.

SO – my long windedness for this thesis blog will end with a first draft outline of my thesis. The tentative plan is to create a series of short essays that use my idea of combining different styles of writing to draw out the tension of calloused care, lofty policy, and practical human experience.

The first section will always start with a reconstruction of the mental health notes I had to write in my old job for each of my appointments. These were always emotionless and relayed the bare facts of complex, human situations (i.e. callous care). This will be followed with a discussion of the academic and policy related issues, so this would be more like an informative article to give context (i.e. lofty policy). Lastly, I will end the section with an essay that draws on a related piece of my journey of “failing to care” (i.e. human situations). All of this should culminate in a project that shows how my journey brought me to my academic claim that equity centered trauma informed care is a model that needs to be integrated into all higher education institutions, with a special focus on financial aid to offer a specific example of how this would function/why it is important.

[One more note that is specifically directed to Dr. Zamora; I know that part of this “revelation” was no doubt inspired directly by reading some of the work you and Dr. Bali are doing on care, and so I expect I will need to discuss this further to make sure I am giving proper credit where it is due when it comes to these ideas. My ideas are built on the work of many, and I want to pay my dues to as many as I can.]

Thesis Outline:

  1. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. Why FA?
      1. All of higher education needs equity centered trauma informed care, but FA offers a unique lens to explore the way that a department that is often see as more “policy” based and technical is one of the most in need of something like equity centered trauma informed care.
        1. Movie Star Ranch
          1. If anything from my childhood captures this idea of toxic care, it is the idea I had for a ranch for movie stars to come to in order to recoup from their stress. My “care” was the treatment.
  2. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. Policies and their Shadows
      1. What are some examples of FA policies that state one thing but have dark implications or applications?
        1. Driving Decisions
          1. I made a decision one day when I was driving home after talking to my grandmother that I would go into psychology and counseling because I wanted to help people like her and I.
  3. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. But There are Tools for This…Right?
      1. What is the training and education that is given to FA professionals around dealing with the human behind the student?
        1. Everybody’s Everything
          1. Most of the time, I rode on my ability to pour myself into peoples’ issues and to break off pieces of myself to try to plug up their holes.
  4. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. A Model Model
      1. What might work – Equity Centered Trauma Informed Care/Practice
        1. My proposal is to adapt Alex Shevrin Venet’s model to HE, and FA specifically.
          1. Caring Badly Professionally
            1. Moving into a career where I lacked the skills I needed to care adequately, I learned how to care poorly and how this impacted others in a high stakes environment.
  5. Reconstructed Mental Health Chart Note
    1. The Times, ARE they a-Changin’?
      1. How does change come about and what policies do we need in place to bring it about?
      1. Heavy, heavy influence of CRT, Lorde, Kendi, Dr. Zamora
        1. Learning to Care
          1. At this point in my life I am having to contend with the level of hurt that has come from caring badly and how to care well without falling back into bad habits or becoming numb.