If the title of this newsletter sounds dull, please keep reading, at least this paragraph. Exactly one year ago Nadine Kaslow, then-president of the American Psychological Association, gave a talk titled “Translating Psychological Science to the Public” (published in American Psychologist, July-August, 2015 issue.) Dr. Kaslow makes a compelling and engaging case that applies whatever your area of expertise and interest. Too often we talk with like-minded colleagues and rarely attempt to translate what we know to outsiders in other fields.
As coaches, pastors, professors, or leaders of any other specialties, how do we communicate and impact people outside of our own specialties? Much of my work has involved translating practical findings from psychology to non-psychologists, including ministry leaders who lack up-to-date training in psychology or counseling. This newsletter/blog is a translation piece, converting information from selected articles or books into language and summaries that might be of value to others. We all know Christian leaders who seek to translate basic theological concepts into words that reach people who otherwise might be uninterested. Here are some of Kaslow’s conclusions geared for psychologists but with far broader implications:
- Translation means conveying some message “in a comprehensible, memorable, and relevant manner so the audience appreciates what it means and what difference [the information or message] makes.”
- To whom do we translate? It depends on our message. For example, it may be relevant to various professionals, policymakers, students, therapy patients/clients, or the general public.
- How do we translate? Be succinct, accurate, and with writing that holds interest and anticipates how recipients may respond to the message.
- What methods do we use? Obviously utilize articles, books, and traditional media like magazines, verbal presentations, radio and television. But focus too on using websites and social media. Many people are best reached through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, podcasts and other channels including, of course, blogs. And don’t overlook the arts, museums, or public education campaigns.
- What gets in the way? First, common attitudes, especially in professionals or academic circles where there is concern about inaccuracies or disdain of “popularizers” who may even be devalued professionally if they produce anything for popular audiences. Second, logistical barriers in those who don’t know how to reach beyond their own fields. One example, do you know how to get a magazine article or popular book published?
Thanks for reading beyond the first paragraph above. Now please leave a comment about your translating.
Gary’s back! Thank-you to all who wrote notes of encouragement when I announced that I’d stop writing this newsletter/blog for a while. This was not a sabbatical, as I may have implied. It was a hectic time of packing, selling our house and moving to temporary housing. Uncharacteristically, I cut back on my reading and we didn’t get this newsletter format revised – at least not yet.
Several years ago I spent two-days with a “life planning coach.” At his suggestion I thought back over my life and then divided this into phases such as the college years, the full-time teaching years, and the years with the American Association of Christian Counselors. Last week, when I quietly turned 80, I may have entered the final phase of my life. I am blessed with good health, a supportive family, future-looking friends and a good attitude so I don’t see the future as retirement or senior citizen years. Regardless of what comes my way, these can be grand finale years – like the final part of a fireworks display, the last act of a drama, or the concluding movement of symphonies like Beethoven’s ninth. Often grand finales are exciting and spectacular. At other times they are less jubilant, quiet, even difficult, but they too have the potential to be impressive and influential.
Recently I finally read Rick Warren’s purpose-driven life book. The revised edition is titled What on Earth am I Here For? I also read an American Psychologist (September 2014) article on meaning in life. Not surprising, the professional article was scholarly and dull in spots; Warren was practical and biblical. Both acknowledged that life is better, regardless of age or circumstances, when we have a purpose.
Of course life is rarely, if ever, easy. Apparently God didn’t intend for it to be that way. As leaders, coaches and counselors, we often are involved in helping others (and ourselves) find purpose, especially in times of crisis, transition or aging. I agree with Warren’s conclusion that we are all on earth for some purpose as long as we’re here. Do you agree? Please comment. And consider commenting again on the newsletters that will come later. It is good to hear from you – and to be back.
I don’t pay much attention to politicians, political conventions or campaign literature, especially when this gets invasive or focuses on personal attacks. But behind hyperbole and distortions of fact there are genuine issues at stake—issues that concern mental and physical health, core values, personal beliefs, biblical teaching, and all kinds of suffering. The words social justice are not new but they have emerged as the overall umbrella concept to cover any focus on decreasing human suffering, promoting fairness, stimulating respect for all people and “promoting human values of equality and justice.” Even if you have no special interest in psychology please ponder these reflections stimulated by Melba Vasquez in her presidential address on social justice presented to the American Psychological Association (American Psychologist, July-August, 2012):
- Dr. Vasquez never referred to the Bible but the scriptures often mention suffering and injustice with appeals for believers to make a difference. Jesus bypassed many of the issues that concern Christians today but he put significant emphasis on helping the needy, especially the poor.
- Some believers and churches focus either on personal salvation and discipleship or on what once was termed the “social gospel,” something more like social work than encouraging commitment to Jesus. Over history, haven’t Christians been involved with both: introducing people to Christ and fighting injustice?
- Many of us have training, knowledge and expertise that equips us to work with individuals. But that also enables us to help “facilitate the resolution of personal, societal and global challenges in diverse, multicultural and international contexts.” Should we be more proactive in “addressing critical social problems, especially those to which our research speaks?”
- How do we respond if our professional organizations, churches, or political parties take stands with which we disagree? That is likely to happen. Resigning may not be the best solution. Maybe it is better to work together when we can but otherwise work with like-minded colleagues elsewhere.
- Should we work across-generations? I have noticed growing interest in social justice among younger counselors and psychology students, sometimes bordering on elevating social justice above other basics of the Christian faith. Can we learn to work on this together, cross-generationally?
Should we care about social justice? How are you showing this? Please comment.
An article in American Psychologist (April 2012) discusses something called mental health literacy. The article makes no mention of coaching or leadership but it reminded me of an article I once read about well-intentioned leaders, especially coaches, who undercut their own effectiveness because they are oblivious to mental health issues in themselves and in their clients. Sometimes we even harm the people we work with because we lack basic mental health literacy (MHL).
Briefly defined, MHL is “knowledge and beliefs about mental disorders which aid their recognition, management or prevention.” Research data from a variety of countries confirms that treatment is delayed and problems often worsen when mental issues are unrecognized or ignored. As a result, coaching, leadership, career development, spiritual development and personal effectiveness all suffer. For many years pastors and other spiritual leaders have been on the front lines of spotting and intervening in mental health issues. Shouldn’t coaches and others be able to do something similar? Shouldn’t basic mental health literacy be a part of coach training and leadership development programs?
This does not involve in-depth knowledge of mental health issues. Instead, MHL includes building awareness about:
- Basic signs of mental disorders. This is the ability to recognize when a disorder is present or developing.
- A willingness to raise evidence of mental instability in coaching clients or coworkers without implying criticism or disapproval.
- Mental health first aid including: assisting in any crisis (like substance overuse or debilitating stress), listening non-judgmentally, offering support and information, and encouraging professional help or support from friends or family.
- Knowing where help is available and how to get it.
- Self-help strategies that people can apply on their own. This works best with milder problems.
- Effective evidence-based treatment options.
- Ways in which mental disorders can be prevented.
- Prayer and other spiritual resources.
The magazine article concludes that “the public [including politicians, coaches, leaders, educators and pastors] need to be convinced that mental disorders have a major impact…. as the most important contributor to disability in the population.” How have mental health issues impacted your work? What do you think of mental health literacy? Should MHL be included in coach or leadership training programs? Please comment.
The New York Times recently published an article critical of life coaching (January 27, 2012). Coaching is now taught in more than 30 American universities including Harvard, Yale, Duke, Penn State, University of California at Berkeley, George Washington and NYU among others, but the thrust of the article was the extent to which people without coach training are advertising themselves as coaches and selling their services. Many of these people charge high fees but lack credentials or have certification that is meaningless. The Times article never mentioned this but the Christian coaching field has the same mix of high quality training and competent coaches mixed with self-proclaimed, poorly trained coaches similar to those profiled in the Times. The incompetent practitioners pull down the whole coaching field and reinforce the negative perceptions of coaching that come from many mental health professionals and the broader public.
This came to mind as I read a carefully documented article titled “Public Skepticism of Psychology,” published in American Psychologist (February-March 2012). For years people have misunderstood and mistrusted psychology and counseling because there is confusion about what mental health professionals do, misrepresentation of the fields by incompetent practitioners including popular media figures like Dr. Phil and Dr. Laura, and limited public awareness of the scientific underpinnings of these fields. Similar attitudes appear about coaching, especially since there is almost no scientific documentation to show that coaching is effective. Personal testimonies from clients mean little since statements like “it worked for me” are subjective and not very convincing.
Countering skepticism is difficult and involves all of us whatever our specialties. Facts to counter misperception can help and so can evidence-based scientific support for our work. Can we improve training standards and credentials to increase our credibility? Competent, authentic practitioners can do a lot to meet the skepticism, including the writing of articles that present a different side of the Times criticisms. It is taking years to dispel skepticism about mental health practitioners. Coaches can learn from their example, then show and teach skeptics what we do and how we do it well.
How have you countered skepticism of your work? Please share your experiences as a way of helping all of us.
“Lifestyle and Mental Health” is the title of the lead article in the October 2011 issue of American Psychologist. I almost skipped the article when I saw that the author, Roger Walsh, was arguing that unhealthy lifestyles are powerful contributors to psychological disorders and physical problems. Of course we all know this. But Walsh goes much further with a clearly written, well-documented review of research showing how our lives and our work with others are impacted by lifestyle factors that include nutrition, exercise, relationships, stress management skills, religious and spiritual involvement, and service to others. Of special interest is the research documenting the value of exposure to nature, the reduction of “media immersion” and the value of recreation. Walsh argues persuasively that “therapeutic lifestyle changes are sometimes as effective as either psychotherapy or pharmacotherapy and can offer significant therapeutic advantages…. In the 21st century, therapeutic lifestyles may need to be a central focus of mental, medical and public health.” The article is worth reading carefully and you can do so by clicking here.
The benefits of healthy lifestyles are well known and documented but mental health professionals and other leaders rarely emphasize or recommend them. What are some reasons for this?
- Cognitive Dissonance. People-helpers whose own lifestyles are unhealthy are reluctant to mention lifestyle issues to others.
- Society issues. Most of us live in a culture where whole industries are geared toward encouraging unhealthy choices.
- Professional bias. “Even when changes in lifestyle would be more effective, doctors and their patients [among others] believe that for every ailment and discontent there is a drug” or a therapy that is better.
- Patients. Many resist healthy, research-supported, cost-free lifestyle changes that are readily available and have no side effects. Making changes is too much effort and perceived as less valuable than a medical intervention.
What is your attitude about this? In light of this research how much are lifestyle choices important in your personal health, treatments or recommendations to others? Where can you make changes?