Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2010


by Wells Hanley As a self employed musician, I am always in a state of current economic crisis! The sense of security provided to most by their jobs is a luxury which I have certainly never received from my workplace. On the first day of every job, I am holding in my mind the reality that it will end. But the self employed artist finds his security in his ability to adapt and his faith in the strength of his nimbleness muscle. I think it is safe to say that there is a psychological space which the entrepreneur/artist inhabits very comfortably which is now being thrust upon the workers of the world. For those who have derived their security from their relationship to an institution, being laid off can be as much an identity crisis as a financial crisis. If there is no external stability from which we can derive a feeling that everything is going to be okay, we can either go crazy or find a way to live in an ever changing workplace. My life as a creative professional has taken me to both


by Wells Hanley, MA As a self-employed artist, part of me easily resonates to the painful relationship many artists have to networking - we view it as a necessary evil, having to gear up for surface level conversations in the hope of scoring a gig or a gallery placement. Something we feel pressured to do but do not want to do. Some people are just good at it and I’m not. Part of the issue is that many artists are introverts, happiest in our own home, tending to our inner creative process. We find a room full of people we don’t know exhuasting - even terrifying. The popular American “go-getter” model makes no sense to us. We prefer instead to build our careers from the inside out. When we think of the art of networking as surface level, meaningless, and not nearly as important as what’s going on inside our heads creatively, we distance ourselves from something that is actually much more relevant to our lives and livelihood. If we can think of it as working a “net” that is an extension o


by Nicholas Wolff, LCSW, BCD, TEP Merlin the Magician, according to legend, trained the boy who would become King Arthur by transforming him into various animals through which he experienced different ways of thinking about power and groups. As a snow goose, he participates in a peaceful culture in which leaders are chosen based on their ability to navigate. Things are quite the opposite when he is turned into a falcon and nearly killed when a competitor picks a fight with him, or a fish when he is nearly devoured by a much bigger one. As an ant he can only adapt by becoming robotic, hearing "a noise in his head, like a song on the radio that repeats over and over, and he hears a voice, constantly giving him directions," because the ant culture has eliminated independent thought. Merlin's method would be called "role-taking" in our world, a learning method that is powerfully effective for internalizing an unfamiliar skill or new information, e.g In a recent trai


by Nicholas Wolff, LCSW, BCD, TEP As a psychodramatist, often faced with a group of people in conflict- a couple, a family, a work team - I appreciate the creative tools through which Action Methods help obtain as much of the whole story as possible. The conflicts that present themselves, the ones people are talking about, can have roots in hidden power struggles that are part of the group’s culture from which no one involved can get sufficient distance to fully understand. Recognizing these underlying truths will either transform the couple or group or break it apart; toxic foundations will either give way to progress in a group or organization or stall growth through terminal stagnation. Action Methods help reveal what a group has not wanted to know about itself, but needs to know to have a healthy future. Issues of race and racism are among the most difficult hidden truths for groups to deal with whether the issues come up in professional settings or personal experiences. Gett


BY Nicholas Wolff, LCSW, BCD, TEP War is one way to work things out. Somebody wins, somebody loses. But winnng a war, as Israel did in 1967, did not mean winning the peace. And for the losers, home took on an entirely different meaning. The conflict remains what anthropologist Scott Atran and psychologist Jeremy Ginges refer to as the "the world's great symbolic knot." Both sides are convinced of the righteousness of their position, outraged by the wrongs inflicted by the other, and unable to imagine anything like mutual trust. In their January 25, 2009 New York Times Opinion piece titled "How Words Could End a War" Atran and Ginges describe the remarkable results of their research about the kinds of transactions that hold potential to break the impasse, and none of them have anything to do with breaking heads or brokering business deals. "Absolutists who violently rejected offers of money or peace for sacred land were considerably more inclined


by Nicholas Wolff, LCSW, BCD, TEP As a dedicated comic book collector and reader, as well as veteran psychotherapist and trainer, I bring this observation to my work: we want our heroes to be what we fear we can never be. We project our power onto them and root for them to be on our side. And to the extent that is true we never move very far beyond our fear. When I read Homer's The Illiad in college, I was electrified by accounts of the warrior Hector. Undefeated in battle for 9 years, and at the same time a good and pure man, he gave tremendous confidence to the people of Troy. Until he was killed by Achilles, throwing the entire city into a sea of grief. I imagined Hector was to his people as Superman was to me when I was a kid, victorious in the most potent battles, a source of security in a threatening and unpredictable world. I knew Superman existed only in our imaginations, but that is what made him so safe and magical. Then, in 1992, they killed Superman. Superma


After 24 years of successful practice, the last 15 happily self-employed primarily in the design of home renovations, Milwaukee architect Calli Spheeris now has a pressing redesign project of her own: career change at age 56. The economic downturn has had a direct effect on her profession. Homeowners are thinking twice about renovations, architecture firms shedding staff at unprecedented levels. Even with her many long-term relationships with contractors in the area, and having won several awards in the field - most recently Milwaukee Homes' Gold Award for Best Kitchen in 2008, Best Remodel in 2006, and one for a design called "Ranch Redux" from M Magazine in Oct 2005 - there is simply not enough consulting work for a consistent income. When the economic hits keep coming and uncertainty is the only sure thing, a person has choices: contract in fear or use the adversity to build psychological muscle, focus on the injustices behind this financial mess or find the

Face Time Vs Facebook - Chicago Tribune Jan 10, 2010

Technology is increasingly user-friendly and can be used to create strengthen family connections and tell stories. Last year my film editor-niece and I collaborated on a family reunion DVD for which I videotaped interviews with my mother and aunt about marriage and family life during the Great Depression and WWII, stories about a world anyone born after 1960 would not recognize. We used photographs that matched the stories the women were telling in a kind of video collage (ala Ken Burns), recorded songs that underscored photo collages as well, and made an authentic and (hopefully) artistic expression of our family's history. Technology made it possible for us to do this affordably and to work on the piece over a huge geographic distance (my niece lives in Milwaukee and I live in New York). This article by Richard Asa of the Chicago Tribune describes more ways that technology can keep families connected over long distances. Its very informative, an opinion not at all biased by the

Stress and Brain Chemistry: Not Just a Kick in the Head

Stress is a bit like falling in love - its all about chemistry. 21st century life, with its crazy pace and fancy technology transforming everything before our eyes, actually started out like many romances - all sexy and new, heady with that heightened sense of possibility. But an adrenaline rush - whether its from falling in love or failing an exam - must be balanced by more sustainable and stable emotional states or the intensity will burn us out. Psychological stress produces the same bio-chemical rush of cortisol and adrenaline that primitive man experienced running from a charging lion but with less clear ways of knowing the danger has passed. Now that we have stresses related to economic uncertainty and critical bosses who remind us of our moody old dad who could never be pleased, now that our own habits of mind can bring on the cortisol cocktail whether or not we actually need to gear up for fight or flight, the effort to eliminate internal scripts based on hurtful, discouragi

The Network Economy: When Net Worth Is A Network

Change is like rain. We need it for growth, but too much at once can drown us. And its not just that the relentless pace of change these days is at times a flood and others a perfect storm of complications, its that for some of us the changes have come in the form of loss: of a job, a pension fund, of continuity. In today’s economy, we are all awash in a sea of uncertainty, and there is no end game of which we can be sure. Things are changing in our social and work environments: the rules, the process, and the structures, and with that the roles we play within them. Time's May 25, 2009 cover story, “The Way We’ll Work” describes the parameters of the new economy as “a more flexible, more freelance, more collaborative and far less secure work world.” Among the values and abilities for navigating within it the article cites striking a balance between “doing well and doing good,” an more independent-minded approach to career advancement to replace the “corporate ladder” t

Creative Change-Makers: Center For The Arts

Lois Saperstein, Executive Director of the Center For The Arts: Prevention facilitates an annual "Breaking Down The Walls: Reaching Youth At Risk Through The Arts" conference which brings together a community of individuals dedicated to the mission of her organization: "To develop and facilitate programs utilizing creativity and the arts as a self-expression, psycho-educational, and communication tool to buttress human development, health and wellness." Lifestage trainers were privileged to attend and present at the 2009 conference at Rutgers University, where we met inspirational ground-breakers who work to bring innovative arts training and experiences to prisons and detention centers, foster care and after-school programs among many others. You can connect with and find out how to support this community through The Center For the Arts.

Five Improvisation Techniques That Improve Relationships

Accepting. Improvisation is an exercise in taking what is given - a suggestion from the audience, the rules of a game or a fellow improviser's action - and building on it, the practice of which trains us to deal with the unexpected as we co-create stories with others. Accepting what is external to us is the first step to fixing a dysfunctional relationship and enhancing what's working in a good one. Listening . Theater games require close attention to what others say in the context of the exercise so our response connects appropriately. In one commonly-used game a player begin a story with 2 sentences, points to another group member who must pick up the story with 2 more sentences and so on until every person in the group has contributed to the narrative. In this game, as in real life relationships, we do not know when we will be called upon to contribute and we must cohere to the story line. A narrative co-created with others who may take the story in a direction we had not a