Stumbling on Creativity
CHAD MORRIS, Ph.D., Director
A personal goal this year is to “review and refresh” my world of work. While I am well into my career as a psychologist, my current career path is one I would never have envisioned for myself back in graduate school. Over the last 15 years, there have been many interesting occupational twists and turns. Reflecting back on my training as a clinician, I see how I have found new ways to apply these initial skill-sets.
Like many healthcare providers’ career trajectories, I began as a front-line clinician and have slowly moved into more training, administration, and leadership roles. I highly value all my current activities, but, at times, miss the gratification of the one-on-one client interactions that once filled my days. So I am in the midst of refreshing clinical skills with the aim of providing Motivational Interviewing (MI) training and services.
Although intellectually stimulating, the process has also been anxiety provoking. My first step was to accept that “I am rusty.” Even with many years and much money devoted to clinical training, it was quickly clear that I still have a lot to learn. As a fairly introverted person, the anxiety related to willingly choosing to participate in training and submit my work for critical evaluation and coaching is not insignificant. It has been a long time since I have been the student rather than teacher or mentor.
As I move past my initial trepidation, it is liberating to acknowledge that learning is a process. And I don’t have to be the expert. At times, I have defined “work” as what needs to get done on any given day. As I continue to expand my training, daily work feels like a hobby in which I get to tinker with and refine my craft. It has been revitalizing to review my career and begin to build upon past experience to meet my current interest.
CINDY WANG MORRIS, Psy.D., Clinical Director
Maybe you can help me out. I’ve been searching for a new word to describe my work/play/life. There is so much talk of work-life balance. As if my work could somehow be separate from my life. Not only do I spend a lot of time engaged in work activities. I LOVE my work. I’d like to come up with a word that captures the creativity, passion, meaning, fulfillment, nourishment, and downright fun I experience in my day-to-day life. It doesn’t begin or end when I go to work. Or head for home. Or travel—for work or leisure. It’s all the same to me. There’s not a full stop transition from one place to another. Or one activity to another. It is all of me.
I don’t work just to earn an income (although earning an income is certainly nice). I work to be challenged. To grow. To create. To transform. I work to live. My work is my calling. My purpose. I’m driven to look for the next new experience. And my work is full of these opportunities. Not to say that I don’t ever get tired. Or overwhelmed. Or frustrated. Or maybe it’s because I feel these things that I love it so much. I don’t ever want it to be too easy. I like a challenge. I like waking up in the early hours to create, solve, and envision. I want to sink my teeth deeply into the flesh of life. And savor the pleasure of it.
So if you are inspired as I am by your work/play/life and come up with a new word or phrase that captures the essence of it, drop me a line. I’d love to hear about it.
CHRISTINE GARVER-APGAR, Ph.D., Research Associate
For the past few months, my 4th grader has been experiencing a small, but significant, ‘wellness deficit’ when it comes to her primary occupation, school. I blame homework.
When I was in elementary school, homework was rare. Now, students (and parents) are expected to supplement elementary education outside of school hours. Supporters of homework for elementary school students believe that it helps students develop responsibility, reinforces lessons taught in school, and ensures parental involvement. Research suggests otherwise. And, as a parent who struggles each evening to create a calm, supportive environment in which family members have an opportunity to reconnect and decompress, I couldn’t disagree more with these sentiments.
Between the hours of 5:30 and 8:30 each evening, my 4th grader must usually accomplish at least 90 minutes of homework, split up into four or five different subjects. She doesn’t lack for other opportunities to develop responsibility, as she must also walk our dog when weather allows, make her lunch for the following day, eat dinner with her family, shower, and practice the piano for 15 minutes. Not surprisingly, coaxing our daughter through this gauntlet of tasks when she is already tired is not particularly conducive to a relaxing familial atmosphere.
This endless string of nightly tasks undermines the very benefits homework is purported to instill. When the volume of homework exceeds children’s ability to complete it independently, parents feel compelled to micro-manage their children, becoming the “Homework Police.” And, as almost every working adult can attest, being micro-managed is a one-way ticket to occupational “burn-out.” For children, the consequences of being over-scheduled in this way extend beyond increased stress and resentment (not to mention straining relationships with parents). By assigning more homework than elementary students can handle, children are robbed of the opportunity to feel personal satisfaction and pride in their own accomplishments. Instead of learning responsibility and self-direction, children learn to rely on their parents for help prioritizing (and even completing) an overwhelming list of tasks. When children are shepherded from one thing to the next, they rarely get to practice answering the question, “What should I do, now?” Allowing children to make choices about how they spend their time is a critical part of developing executive function skills, such as self-regulation. We know that these skills are far more predictive of adult success than any academic proficiency. Perhaps it is time for those who advocate for children to recognize the need for a more balanced approach to education – an approach that considers how educational strategies impact not only academic achievement, but socio-emotional and cognitive development, as well.
Working It Out
Guest Contributor: DEREK NOLAND, M.P.H., Community Liaison
As the newest member of the BHWP team, the opportunity to start forming my own voice and identity in our newsletter was intriguing and exciting. But as I started to ponder the many different topics I could discuss in the process, I soon realized that my newness itself made for a compelling (and fleeting) topic—as well as one that I was uniquely qualified to consider. Starting a new career—particularly one in a state I had never even been to before—was both a daunting and exciting prospect. So how does one go about making such a major transition as smooth and successful as possible?
For me, such a drastic life change provided the perfect occasion for self-evaluation with an aim to improve my overall well-being; I figured if I was effective in this task, the rest of the process of transitioning to a new environment would take care of itself. As the big move approached, I began to consider what personal and professional habits I wanted to change, as well as which to keep. I set personal and professional goals for myself, ranging from work habits I wanted to modify to dietary and exercise plans, all with the intention of not only achieving a smooth transition in the short-term, but to establish a foundation for long-term success. Essentially, the move served as an opportunity to reflect in a mindful manner.
What have I discovered since arriving? Well, things rarely play out exactly as we plan or envision, and my case was no different. Settling into a new environment is full of adjustments and surprises, many falling well beyond our control. But even though there have been unexpected bumps along the way, the time spent laying a foundation in advance has paid dividends. Having first taken the time to evaluate myself and establish goals, I found that I was much better prepared to adapt to the inevitable curveballs that came my way. More specifically, establishing this foundation made it easier for me to modify those goals that have not meshed very well with my new environment. Perhaps any day or time of our lives is as good for self-evaluation and refinement as any other, but for me, tying this process to a major life event has proved to be an ideal opportunity for doing so.
SARA MUMBY, B.A., Program Administrator
Students in my literature class opened up about the difficulties of maintaining a work/life balance:
“If you let your work sphere bleed into your home sphere, then you let your work-self bleed into your home-self. And I think in some ways, those should be two distinctly separate selves.”
“If I didn’t keep my work out of my marriage, then all we would ever talk about would be work. We wouldn’t have a home.” (This coming from a classmate who works at the same school as her husband.)
“When you have an issue at work, and you are also stressing about it at home, then you let work take control of your life, and it defines your existence.” (This coming from a classmate who refuses to work for her family’s business).
This discussion was in no way orchestrated by me, I swear! But it was fortuitous. We were discussing Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, The Unconsoled, a meandering 500-page novel that amplifies the problems that persist when your professional life is your only life. The story is best described as Kafka-esque with its illogical and extreme portrayal of this modern phenomenon. And through our discussion, it became apparent that sometimes we need an issue to be elevated to the extreme in order to notice it, and through its “caricature-ization,” we detect some reality.
I find it inspiring that others separate from the “wellness world” recognize the need for distancing their professional lives from their personal lives. The growing awareness around wellness in all aspects of life can even bleed into discussions of world literature. Progress is being made, my friends.
SUSAN YOUNG, Ph.D., Research Director
Tom Crowley, my colleague of 26 years and my first academic mentor at the University of Colorado, recently retired after more than 40 years of work dedicated to researching and treating addictions and associated psychiatric conditions. He is an icon in the substance abuse field, who has been awarded many millions in research dollars and has published over 150 peer-reviewed papers.
However, these honors and accomplishments were not what shined brightest as I attended several events celebrating his amazing career. Instead, what seemed most impressive was the legacy he has left behind. I am not referring only to the multiple residential and outpatient treatment programs he built or to the Division of Substance Dependence, which he established in a time when addiction was viewed more as a socially-driven, rather than biologically-driven, disease.
What struck me most was the personal legacy Tom has left behind. Many of the students, fellows, and residents he has mentored across those decades are now part of the next generation of leaders in the substance abuse field. During our warm (and a bit tearful) farewell, many members of Tom’s research group shared their own statistics on the years they had worked with him. Most of his team reported over a decade of collaboration, and more than a handful of us had celebrated our ‘silver anniversary.’ In light of the painful gutting of many research labs during the great recession, Tom’s retention numbers are beyond impressive. That kind of loyalty is uncommon and worthy of recognition, both for the mentor and the mentees. How did he do it? The lesson, I believe, is you must find something that feels stimulating and purposeful. Then surround yourself with colleagues who share your passion and commitment. (Oh, yes, and write tons of grants to keep it all afloat!) I truly hope that I can bring some of Tom’s wisdom into my own leadership role and foster that cohesion among my wonderful colleagues.
JIM PAVLIK, M.A., Program & Policy Analyst
I work full time. I am taking a class as a graduate non-degree student. I am training for a triathlon in April. And I’m moving into a house I just bought. This is following a year where I got married, went on a honeymoon, and lost my dog, a close friend, and my stepmother. Every time we passed one of these events, my wife and I would make a mental checkmark—one more thing off the list of things that are making our lives chaotic.
It’s true, I won’t be getting married again this year or going on a honeymoon. Those things are behind me. But life isn’t. No matter how many things we’ve already gone through, life has a way of throwing more things our way. In 2016, it may be that a tree falls on our roof, or our water heater turns into a rocket. The point is that waiting for life to get into balance is surefire way to ensure that it doesn’t.
It’s easy to pay lip service to the idea of work-life balance (a central component of occupational wellness) but it’s a much harder thing to actually obtain. To some degree, all the things I’m doing have imposed upon me certain responsibilities. And it feels weird—nearly immoral—to take a few hours off to purposefully not work on my To Do list when my To Do list is so long and so many people are depending on me.
But this is precisely what needs to happen. The fact is that if we don’t take a few moments to ourselves, to step away from all of these Must Dos, we eventually can’t do them at all. The weight of them can get overwhelming. It can lead to professional burnout and perhaps depression and frequently, physical illnesses. If you won’t take a nap on your own from time to time, your body will figure out a way for you. When you think of what a couple sick days will do to your ability to meet deadlines, a walk around the block every now and then seems like a small inconvenience.
Stepping away from piles of appointments, emails, missed calls, target dates, deadlines, and meetings helps to unmuddle the mess. It helps us reassess and reprioritize. It removes us from the frantic flight-fight mode and allows us to creatively engage in our work for better, more timely, more effective results. It also gives us a chance to remember why we work so hard so that we can intentionally recommit to our larger purpose.
The mission of the Behavioral Health and Wellness Program is to improve quality of life by facilitating evidence-based health behavior change for communities, organizations, and individuals.
The Behavioral Health and Wellness Program (BHWP) offers training, consultation, and program evaluation to organizations, administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists. We have worked in over 25 states and provided services internationally. Our offerings include:
Training Programs and Workshops
We provide comprehensive training and education for administrators, healthcare providers, and peer specialists to build awareness and knowledge, enhance motivation, facilitate wellness groups, and create positive social networks. Training participants learn to facilitate their own wellness while increasing their ability to build, administer, and sustain effective wellness interventions. We developed multiple evidence-based training curricula to increase health and wellness for the general population as well as many at-risk priority populations. Programs include:
DIMENSIONS: Peer Specialist Program – Core and specialized skills for peer specialists
DIMENSIONS: Tobacco Free Program – Tobacco cessation and tobacco-free policy
DIMENSIONS: Well Body Program – Physical health and well-being
DIMENSIONS: Work & Well-Being for Physicians – Interventions and strategies for promoting physician wellness
Motivational Interventions for Behavior Change – Increasing motivation to change
Rocky Mountain Tobacco Treatment Specialist Certification Program – ATTUD-accredited TTS certification program
We assist organizations and their employees to create, implement, and maintain wellness programming. We offer education regarding the importance of maintaining overall wellness and evidence-based strategies for improving individual and workplace well-being. We provide comprehensive feedback and recommendations to support implementation of pragmatic and case-specific wellness solutions.
Program Evaluation and Technical Assistance
We provide consultation and technical assistance to organizations across the nation. We work with organizations to help them evaluate their current programming, define new goals, and implement effective wellness solutions. Our goal is to build the capacity for positive change through our ongoing, creative partnerships.
We work with communities, healthcare organizations, and government agencies to develop wellness policy initiatives that meet local needs. We have proven expertise in aligning policies and procedures with federal and state legislation on topics such as tobacco-free policy and workplace wellness initiatives.
We develop evidence-based materials to assist those working in health-related fields. Our resources focus on information about health behavior change, health risks of certain behaviors, enhancing motivation to change, and strategies and solutions to support movement through the change process. We develop resources for the general population as well as for priority populations who face health disparities or have specialized healthcare needs, including behavioral health conditions, criminal justice involvement, low-income populations, youth, and pregnant/postpartum women, among others.