Removing Barriers To Care for Youth

I have been writing about encouraging trends in mental health (and substance abuse) treatment for children and adolescents for the past several weeks.  Most notably, the evolution of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) screening/assessment information and Trauma Informed Care protocols gives new hope for the most vulnerable among us.

But even as I celebrate these advances in the way we understand and care for kids who suffer and struggle, the systems which would bring them relief continue to slowly (painfully) creep along, stall out, and then start to crawl a little more.

The good news that we have developed incredible tools, scientific breakthroughs and individualized treatment models which offer a brighter life for untold thousands of children is tempered by legislative and societal hesitation to embrace and fund them for delivery.

Slow and Steady May Win the Race…But At the High Cost of Human Suffering

Consider how long it has taken for us to offer mental health and substance abuse treatment services to children and adolescents at a level similar to other illnesses.  In 1996 Congress passed the Wellstone/Domenici Mental Health Parity Act (MHPA) which basically asserts that insurance companies cannot charge more for mental health/substance abuse than medical/surgical coverage when (or if) it is offered in the benefit plan.

It was not until 2008 that The Mental Health and Addiction Parity Rule (MHPAEA) was passed to fill in obvious gaps. MHPAEA requires health insurers and group health plans to provide the same level of benefits for mental/substance use treatment and services that they do for medical/surgical care.

Finally, on March 29, 2016 the Final Parity Rule related to MHPAEA  was passed.  It requires Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) managed-care plans to cover mental health and addiction treatment at the same level as medical and surgical care.  It has taken 22 years to get to this point.  And it’s still far from perfect. States have the authority to limit and restrict benefits.

While states like Texas have stepped forward to fully fund their programs others have not.  Insurance companies continue to deny coverage and to treat substance abuse disorders (SUDS) and mental illness (MI) as if they were non-essential.  Managed care companies fight providers every step of the way as services are attempted to be provided for kids who suffer.  The ideal of the Final Rule was to offer the same quality of comprehensive care to SUDS/MI as is offered to diabetes patients (including home health care benefits).

That just is not happening even though a nearly flawless model is provided by American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) Placement, Continued Stay and Discharge Criteria which individualizes and guides treatment based on the severity of illness.

Charting a Way Forward

In 1989, I was chosen as one of the professionals that would help develop the ASAM guidelines for children and adolescents.  Dozens of us met in Cleveland, Ohio with the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers core group.  We were challenged with the task of creating a system which would provide individualized treatment protocols for kids who were struggling with SUDS and dual diagnosis MI.

The plan was then coordinated with a similar adult model.  In 1992, ASAM unveiled the final draft to government officials, insurance providers and treatment professionals of every stripe in Atlanta.  We believed that we were ending a one-size-fits-all approach to these illnesses with a comprehensive one which truly addressed the needs of the individual patient/client.  It was an exciting time and universally accepted as the new Best Practice.

Unfortunately, most everyone went back home and continued the same old ways of operating.  A few of us made major programmatic changes and the results were incredible.  But mostly, we had just given insurance companies more efficient ways of denying coverage. Twenty years after the Atlanta unveiling, I ran into Dr. David Mee-Lee, MD who was one of the originators of ASAM at a conference.

We shared some reminiscences and I asked him what he was presenting.  He sighed, telling me he was promoting the use of the ASAM Criteria remarking; “After 20 years they still don’t get it…but they will.” David has the patience of Job.

Many Factors Influence the Underutilization of SUDS/MI Services by Parents and Children.

Despite the Final Rule of The Mental Health and Addiction Parity Act (MHPAEA), Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) making it possible for people from all socio-economic levels to access mental health and substance abuse services for children and adolescents, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP) continues to estimate that only 15% to 25% of children with psychiatric disorders receive specialty care.

Furthermore, The Department of Health and Human Services reports that only 6% to 8% of kids who could benefit from alcohol treatment, and 9% to 11% of those who could benefit from drug treatment are able to access treatment. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) informs us that;

  • An estimated 3 million U.S. children ages 12 to 17 had a substance use disorder in 2014.
  • About 1 in 10 kids ages 12 to 17 (11.4%) had a major depressive episode (MDE) in the past year. Among adolescents with MDE, only 41.2% received treatment or counseling for depression in 2014.

Insurance Companies, HMO’s and Managed Care continue to deny coverage based on the same levels provided to medical/surgical benefits. According to a 2017 column in the conservative Chicago Tribune, about 59 percent of providers in Illinois surveyed said Medicaid managed care organizations “always” or “often” denied coverage for inpatient treatment for addiction and mental health issues during the past year.

Gatekeepers to Treatment

Special patient advocate groups have had to be formed to help consumers fight the adversarial benefit gatekeepers. A friend of mine who works in the insurance industry told me that “We still hire people to say “No” when behavioral health claims are first received regardless of circumstances. Usually people won’t appeal and the company is saved millions.”

The vast majority of SUDS/MI treatment providers still offer consumers the same kind of treatment they were offering three decades ago…usually at higher costs than ever to payors.  I recently called a local inpatient treatment facility which only provides care for those who have health insurance or can afford to pay out-of-pocket.

Their program neither offered trauma informed care nor used ACEs assessments.  It was basically a 12 Step Recovery based program with daily group and individual counseling sessions even though it described “every service we provide is designed to produce the most clinically appropriate solutions to the serious problems facing our patients.”

That said, Memphis is a leader in providing care to kids who suffers SUDS/MI at little or no cost to consumers.  There is a long- term inpatient facility and community based outpatient organization which admit and serve children readily.  Treatment protocols could be more current, but they are forging ahead to meet critical needs unlike any others I have known.

Other factors which are affecting the ineffective delivery of services include stigma, cultural barriers, access to region-wide rather than local distribution of providers, and a shortage of child/adolescent psychiatrists.  Sometimes it is difficult to find treatment even though it might be nearby.  Here is a good resource to make the search easier:

What We Can Do To Help Right Now

SAMHSA released a statement in June 2018 which reports that opioids are responsible for one in five deaths for young adults.  We have to do something.  We are not powerless players in this country and can influence legislation to make things happen quickly.  We can join advocacy groups, volunteer as mentors and help people find treatment options.  Here are some points of action for you to consider:

  • The Helping to End Addiction and Lessen (HEAL) Substance Use Disorders Act of 2018 is in the Senate Finance Committee scheduled for markup on 6/12/2018. It will then (hopefully) move forward.  This Act provides sweeping changes that would alter the way we deal with SUDS/MI. Dr. Nora Volkow, Director of National Institute on Drug Abuse just announced that HEAL is being kicked off at current funding levels of $500 million.  It is a light at the end of the tunnel.  Contact your congressional representatives and Senators.  Encourage them to support HEAL.
  • Talk to pediatricians and other doctors you know. Pediatric primary care providers (PCPs) are in a unique position to take a leading role in this effort because families often turn to them first for help with mental health concerns. Although there are a number of systemic, cultural, and individual barriers to accessing mental health care, promising interventions and integrated behavioral health care models have emerged that can be implemented in the primary care setting to help PCPs close the enormous gap between mental health needs and access for children and families experiencing poverty.
  • Encourage legislators to change Juvenile Justice treatment of Medicaid eligibility requirements. When kids enter jail or prison, many states terminate their Medicaid enrollment, meaning they must reapply once back home or in the community.  This often leads to gaps in coverage and delays in access to treatment.  There is a House bill that would prohibit states from terminating Medicaid enrollment for youth under 21 who are incarcerated.  It would also require states to re-determine their eligibility prior to release so coverage is immediately available when they return to the community.
  • Building Blocks for a Healthy Future is a website where parents, caregivers, and educators can find great tips and tools that help children make healthy decisions as they grow up. Pass this information on to friends, family and associates.
  • National Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day raises awareness about the importance of emphasizing positive mental health as part of a child’s overall development from birth. This year’s national observance focused on the importance of an integrated health approach to supporting children, youth, and young adults with serious emotional disturbance who have experienced trauma. For more information and downloadable graphics, visit the continually updated Awareness Day 2018 page.
  • The Safe Schools/Healthy Students initiative is a program designed to prevent violence and substance abuse among our nation’s youth, schools, and communities. The Safe Schools/Healthy Students Initiative takes a comprehensive approach, drawing on the best practices and the latest thinking in education, justice, social services, and mental health to help communities take action. To date, SS/HS has provided services to over 13 million youth and more than $2 billion in funding and other resources to 386 communities in all 50 states across the Nation. For more details about the SS/HS Framework and how it can be used to assist communities engaged in this work, click here.

So let’s get started.  We still have a long way to go if we are serious about abating this life or death healthcare crisis. You are a critical link in making the changes necessary. Please help save our suffering children.

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast

The Profound Effect of Childhood Trauma; A Gentle Revolution of Trauma Informed Care

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“We are all impacted by trauma.  We are all paying the cost whether personal or societal. We help people heal when we promote connections to one another.” ~ Dr. Vicky Kelly

Nowadays we are witnesses of significant trauma and the consequences of trauma every time we connect with social or commercial media.  We are drawn into graphic displays of individual and community experiences which include violence, abuse, bullying, natural disasters, death, war, terrorism and the effects of an opioid epidemic.  And so, trauma has moved to the forefront of national consciousness.

It is important to note that every one of us has experienced some kind of trauma in our own lives as well. Trauma seems to be everywhere.  Of course it is.  And it always has been.  But with our increased awareness of the pervasiveness of trauma and our collective brokenness, a gentle revolution has evolved.  We have created and are developing behavioral, medical and mental health services that are effectively healing childhood and adult trauma.  This new approach to what the CDC is calling perhaps the single biggest healthcare problem facing our nation today is called Trauma Informed Care (TIC).

Just what is Trauma Informed Care?

Trauma Informed Care (TIC) is one of the most exciting things to happen in the way we provide psychosocial treatment (behavioral health) services for children and adults. We are shifting our perspective and treatment model from one which asks “What is the matter with you?” to “What happened to you…and how does that impact your life and functioning today?”  This basic modification in approach is offering a dramatic new strategy which is helping people cope and heal.  We are now equipped with new, extensive research and information about trauma, development, and the brain.

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We begin to be trauma-informed when we understand what trauma is;

“Individual trauma results from an event, series of events, or set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically or emotionally harmful or life threatening and that has lasting adverse effects on the individual’s functioning and mental, physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.” ~ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)

There you have it.  SAMSHA gives us a good definition for trauma.  With that understanding you have just become more trauma-informed.  And I believe that being trauma-informed is a way we can shape the future.

Where Did the TIC Model Come From?

The stage was set for Trauma Informed Care by two major research studies.

  1. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study (Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997 and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013) was a large epidemiological study involving more than 17,000 individuals from United States; it analyzed the long-term effects of childhood and adolescent traumatic experiences on adult health risks, mental health, healthcare costs, and life expectancy.
  2. The Women, Co-Occurring Disorders and Violence Study (Multiple studies from 1998 to SAMHSA, 2007) was a large multisite study focused on the role of interpersonal and other traumatic stressors among women; the interrelatedness of trauma, violence, and co-occurring substance use and mental disorders; and the incorporation of trauma-informed and trauma-specific principles, models, and services.

These two studies generated action within the behavioral health systems creating a basic adjustment from short term biomedical/pharmaceutical and behavior modification in nature (diagnosis and symptom treatment) to a longer term, holistic model of neurological healing which treats the set of circumstances that have created the trauma/stress.  We have not abandoned the other treatments altogether of course. There is still a place for medications and traditional methodology.  We have just found a new and more effective approach.

Trauma Informed Care Comes From a Brain Thing

We can now help brains heal and rewire with Trauma Informed Care. As a result, there is new hope for victims of adult PTSD and Developmental Trauma Disorder (Childhood PTSD). Studies show that a healthy well-regulated brain where the thinking brain and survival brain work well in tandem can be facilitated with TIC.

It helps to understand that we have two brains and a mediator.  The thinking brain is the Cortex.  It is where our personality lives, where we make good decisions, and where our memories are stored. This is where we receive information, process it and take action based on that information.  The other brain is the midbrain and brainstem also known as the survival brain.  It is out autopilot. and runs our bodies so that we don’t have to think about those functions  It is where we are told to breathe, where our heart is told to beat, and where we are informed about how to digest food.  It is also where fight, flight and freeze responses reside. Trauma and stress have particular influence on the survival brain. The important mediator in the brain called the Thalamus which receives sensory information (sight, sound, touch, taste) and acts as a relay station that sends a signal to both brains. The survival brain is wired faster than thinking brain (because the faster you react the more likely you are to survive).

Here is why this is so vital to trauma informed care.  The brains of adults who suffer with PTSD and children with Developmental Trauma Disorder have been hyper-activated or hyper-aroused.  A soldier who is constantly facing an enemy who wants to kill him or a child who is being sexually, physically or emotionally abused is in a survival brain mode of operation of fight, flight or freeze twenty four hours a day.  When that soldier returns home from war, or when the abused child is placed in another home the brain is still programmed to expect trauma or abuse. The thinking brain has been informed of the change but the survival brain is still hyper-activated. They cannot think their way out of new stressful situations but react with programmed survival brain responses.

Traumatized brain impacts:

  1. Fear and lack of safety in the adult or child’s environment cause automatic conditioned behavioral responses of fight, flight and freeze (along with more complicated survival responses such as hiding, withdrawing, pretending, and so on). Brain studies show that the survival brain literally hijacks (turns off) the thinking brain. In other words, the traumatized brain cannot effectively discern good decisions from bad decisions because it cannot always access the thinking brain.
  2. The brain’s alarm system for danger becomes distorted. The traumatized brain perceives the presence of danger almost everywhere.  Impedes the ability to find help and establish relationships.
  3. An inability to appraise the present and to learn from experience. The traumatized brain becomes Velcro for bad and Teflon for good. Such that good experiences in later life cannot balance the negative trauma experiences of the past (childhood).

Now that we know all of these things about the brain and can actually see how it works in brain imaging and brain scans we are tasked with doing things to reduce the stress from trauma.

The hurt happens in powerful childhood relationships and it takes new relationships to promote the healing.  We have found that Trauma Informed Care actually causes the brain to reprogram.

TIC; A ‘Best Practice’ for Kids and Adults

During my 48 years as a provider of behavioral services for children and adolescents, I have seen the worst kinds of things that can happen to my clients. They have suffered multiple stressors that most people could never imagine.  And the effects are cumulative. These are kids who have been physically and sexually abused.  They have experienced their mothers enduring domestic violence and other disturbing chaos at home.  Many witness chronic substance abuse and the effects of mental illness every day along with frequent incarceration of family members. They are dependent and neglected.

Trauma Informed care has allowed me to see my clients through a new pair of glasses.  I believe that this exciting treatment model is the emerging framework for human service delivery. Until recently, the toxic stress and trauma these kids faced went largely untreated or undertreated.  Trauma Informed Care is now effectively healing the effects of the traumatic events which result in adverse physical, social, emotional, or spiritual consequences. One example of a TIC program in action can be found at St. Aemilian-Lakeside in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. SaintA is in the forefront of trauma informed care therapeutic practices.  They teach that there are seven essential ingredients in understanding what trauma informed care is and how to implement it. These elements are;

  1. Prevalence — Exposure to and difficulty adjusting to adverse experiences is significantly more common than we previously had known. A keen appreciation for the scope of adverse events, especially on children, is a key element to understanding the needs of people who have been exposed to events such as domestic violence and substance abuse, separation/divorce, mental illness, physical and sexual abuse, emotional and physical neglect, and acts of violence.
  2. Impact — Trauma occurs when a person’s ability to cope with an adverse event is overwhelmed and contributes to difficulties in functioning. The impact of this process is profound, especially when the adverse event occurs during key developmental timeframes. The seminal ACE (adverse childhood experiences) study shows how early trauma also can have a serious effect on a person’s physical health in later life and ultimately impact life expectancy.
  3. Perspective Shift — A shift in perspective can bring a new reality. Helping those charged with caring for people struggling with trauma by simply changing the question from “What is wrong with you?” to “What has happened to you and how can I support you?” can bring enormous understanding.
  4. Regulation — Knowledge of the basic architecture of the brain provides both an understanding of the impact of trauma and a key toward effective treatment. Many of the interventions that have been offered to people struggling with trauma have focused on the cognitive or “thinking” parts of the brain. Trauma informed interventions often prioritize enhancing emotional and behavioral regulation. This could include the use of sensory and regulating strategies such as drumming, singing, dancing, yoga, etc., which have been shown to be effective in addressing the impact of trauma.
  5. Relationship — Relationships are key to reaching a traumatized child and to mitigating trauma. Strong relationships help create resilience and shield a child from the effects of trauma.
  6. Reason to Be — Reason to be creates a sense of purpose or direction for individuals by ensuring they’re connected to family, community, and culture. It is bolstered by resiliency – a combination of the individual’s internal attributes and the external resources that support them.
  7. Caregiver Capacity — To effectively work with traumatized individuals, caregivers must take care of themselves and find a work/life balance. Critical is identifying our limits, knowing sometimes we will be pushed beyond them, and what we will do to find balance.

They have a YouTube video which is terrific at telling the story of Trauma Informed Care.  I suggest that you connect with it at the following web address:

SAMHSA offers some sobering statistics in their recent Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP 57) that have compelled service providers of all stripes from educators to chaplains to behavior and mental health professionals to juvenile justice institutions and police officers to embrace trauma-specific interventions in their work.  How can we not when we learn that;

  • 71 percent of all children are exposed to violence every year
  • 3 million children are maltreated or neglected each year
  • 5-10 million kids witness violence against their mother each year
  • 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before adulthood
  • 94 percent of children in juvenile justice settings have experienced extreme trauma

Finally, Trauma Informed Care is about healing through building safe relationships and developing trust. When mentors extend a helping hand to kids and adults who have suffered so much they begin to develop a reason for being.  Peer support and mutual self-help are also key vehicles for establishing safety and hope, building trust, enhancing collaboration, serving as models of recovery, healing, and maximizing a sense of empowerment.

We can make this happen by encouraging politicians to sponsor ACEs and TIC legislation.  We can make this happen by making noise in the public square at PTA meetings, Service Clubs, Town Hall gatherings and the like.  We can make this happen by offering ourselves as available mentors. There is a groundswell of hope.  38 states and the District of Columbia are gearing up.  It’s time to join the movement.

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Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


Kids in Trouble; Injustice Posing as Justice in America

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“I think it’s important for us as a society to remember that the youth within juvenile justice systems are, most of the time, youths who simply haven’t had the right mentors and supporters around them because of circumstances beyond their control.”  ~ Q’orianka Kilcher

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I am worried about the way we treat children in trouble.

This is not a new feeling or experience for me.  But it has intensified.  It’s not new because I have been struggling with the system which incarcerates warehouses, punishes and abuses kids since 1973.  It has intensified because, despite domestic progress made over the past 45 years, recent treatment of children rounded up and separated from their parents at our southern border set off alarms that cannot be ignored.  They, like approximately 50,000 children in the United States are incarcerated.

This number represents one of the highest rates of juvenile detention in the world. Shockingly, it is also true that every state in the union allows children to be tried as adults under some circumstances, and approximately 5,000 child offenders are held in adult jails or prisons at any point in time.

We must understand that these children in our juvenile justice system and those detained at our border are always suffering from the effects of serious trauma. My worries have intensified because we are exacerbating this trauma by the way we are treating our most vulnerable.

Incarceration of Children; Harsh Conditions Which Re-traumatize

Incarceration is defined for adults as a process by which a person is forcibly taken into custody and deprived of liberty.  The same definition should be recognized for kids.  But we try to dress up child incarceration facilities by giving them ambiguous names.  They are rarely called prisons or jails.  We know them as wilderness camps, youth centers, juvenile halls, training schools, development centers and dozens of other names.  I was the executive director of one such place called Lighthouse Care Center.  The pleasant name obscured the fact that within our cottages, many of the most abusive elements of adult incarceration were going on every day.

The 12 to 17 year old girls were committed to indefinite lengths of stay with us by the Department of Corrections.  Very little of our camp-like atmosphere resembled the guiding beam of a lighthouse to the kids who lived there.  Counselors were more like gatekeepers who kept score of behavioral infractions which lengthened the amount of time the girls would be living there.  The kids were regularly restrained for aggressive behavior.  They had no freedom to choose any personal or community activity.  There was very little compassion or care at Lighthouse Care. I don’t intend to single out that one juvenile facility.  My work within the prison system informed me that all of them were about the same.

Harsh conditions, or policies and procedures within places of confinement for troubled children hinder normal child development, traumatize children, worsen physical and emotional disabilities and cause a lifetime of health problems. Too many kids are incarcerated in solitary confinement for 22-24 hours per day. Imagine what it must be like for a child locked up alone in a small empty room for days, weeks, or even months. This is exactly what is happening in every community.  Solitary confinement can cause permanent psychological damage and may lead to self-harm, schizophrenia, psychotic disorders, and suicide. Studies suggest that youth of colorLGBTQI kids, and those with disabilities are more likely to be placed in solitary confinement “for their own protection,” or because the facility lacks appropriate services or accommodations.

Strip searches likewise are traumatic, degrading, and humiliating. Children, especially those who have been sexually abused, can be re-traumatized  by strip searches.  They often feel like their perpetrator is violating them all over again by these searches. Although federal law prohibits sexual violence against incarcerated kids, children still remain at risk of sexual assault in juvenile facilities.

Incarcerated kids are also subject to shackles, pepper sprays and sleep on nothing more than a lightly padded concrete slabs. These abusive practices cause physical injuries, emotional trauma, psychological damage, and interrupt healthy development. Children in these facilities face physical and sexual violence at the hands of adult employees charged with their care and by other children.  This compounds the trauma imposed by their isolation and separation from families, friends and schools. Furthermore, few of the institutions provide quality education services or access to mental health care. Under these cruel and harsh conditions, a system which was designed to habilitate children and provide them second chances, causes more harm than good and does little to protect our communities.

Perhaps the most startling indictment among the many discussed above is this; The United States is the only country in the world that sentences people to die in prison for offenses committed while under the age of 18.

The Child and Adolescent Brain; Understanding Diminished Reasoning or “Why Teenagers Act Crazy”

Brain-science research was cited by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2005 ruling (Roper v. Simmons) which banned capital punishment for crimes that were committed when a defendant was under the age of 18.  The Court ruled that “standards of decency” had evolved to recognize that a juvenile’s “lack of maturity and an underdeveloped sense of responsibility” distinguished his crimes from those of an adult. The ruling was based on research showing that the brain is still developing during adolescence, making young people especially vulnerable to impulsive behaviors.

Despite the common sense stand of the Supreme Court, forty-four states and the District of Columbia continue to regard children as young as 14 years of age as mature enough to be held just as responsible as adults in the criminal court. They virtually ignore what is known about child and adolescent brain development and give little support or full consideration of age-appropriate services and supports. Governors and legislatures still operate within the tough-on-crime framework that led to the rise in the misguided imposition of life without parole on so many juveniles based on the false notion that they were “superpredators.”

These are some of the most important things to know about current findings in adolescent neuroscience:

  • During adolescence, the brain begins its final stages of maturation and continues to rapidly develop well into a person’s early 20s, concluding around the age of 25.5
  • The prefrontal cortex, which governs the “executive functions” of reasoning, advanced thought and impulse control, is the final area of the human brain to mature
  • Adolescents generally seek greater risks for various social, emotional and physical reasons, including changes in the brain’s neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, which influence memory, concentration, problem-solving and other mental functions. Dopamine is not yet at its most effective level in adolescence
  • Adolescents commonly experience “reward-deficiency syndrome,” which means they are no longer stimulated by activities that thrilled them as younger children. Thus, they often engage in activities of greater risk and higher stimulation in efforts to achieve similar levels of excitement
  • Adolescents must rely heavily on the parts of the brain that house the emotional centers when making decisions, because the frontal regions of their brains are not fully developed

Scientists and clinicians interested in the practical application of neuroscience have created a substantive body of work that should inform juvenile justice policy. The MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Adolescent Development and Juvenile Justice established and expanded the knowledge base on adolescents and crime, and dissemination of that knowledge to juvenile justice practitioners and policy-makers has played a critical role in policy change.

Organizations like the National Conference of State Legislatures have summarized research for application to law, such as “bright line” age limits. Nonprofit groups such as the Juvenile Law Center use brain science research to produce recommendations for the improvement of the juvenile justice system. Models for Change, a multi-state initiative relying on a network of court officials, legal advocates, and researchers, produces research-based tools and techniques to make juvenile justice systems more fair, effective, rational, and developmentally appropriate.

Other scientific groups, including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are examining juvenile justice through their existing brain science lens. And the National Academy of Science’s National Research Council recent report, Reforming Juvenile Justice, organizes all recent research to promote a developmental agenda for juvenile justice in the future.

Child/Adolescent neuroscience research confirms that we have no business treating children and adolescents the way we do under the current Juvenile Justice model.  The distinction between youth and adults is not simply one of age.  Our brains operate differently.  Our bodies operate differently.  And when trauma has shaped early childhood behavior there is no way that we can expect good judgement, impulse control or predictable responses to consequences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and Trauma Informed Care (TIC) for Juvenile Offenders

I recently wrote a column on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) for ChaplainUSA. To summarize it I would re-iterate that decades of research have solidified the link between childhood trauma and poor outcomes later in life. The number of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) determines the risk for a wide range of health problems including heart disease, chronic bronchitis or emphysema, diabetes, severe obesity, substance abuse, suicide attempts, cancers of all kinds and early death. The more ACEs a person has, the higher their risk for chronic disease and a shorter than average lifespan.

It has also been shown that ACEs result in a range of behaviors punishable by the law. According to figures from the National Institute of Justice, abuse or neglect in childhood raised the chances of kids being arrested by 59 percent. The likelihood of criminal behavior in adulthood increased by 28 percent and violent crime by 30 percent, according to another study cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Kids in the juvenile justice system have often have been exposed to multiple types of victimization and other childhood adversities. In total, this more than doubles the number of traumatized youth in juvenile justice programs (67 to 75 percent) who need effective services in order to recover from Childhood PTSD and a wide range of related emotional, developmental, academic and behavioral problems such as substance use, attention deficit, oppositional-defiant, sleep and eating disorders, suicidality self-harm, exploitation and sexual trafficking.

These stark facts have led to an international call to action in the past decade for juvenile justice systems to become trauma-informed. The 2012 report of the U.S. Attorney General’s Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence identified nine practical steps based on the experience of experts in law enforcement, the judiciary, juvenile justice services, child protective services, racial and ethnic disparities, and traumatic stress. This was done under the leadership of Robert Listenbee, the administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention:

  1. Make trauma-informed (Aces) screening, assessment and care the standard in juvenile justice services.
  2. Abandon juvenile justice correctional practices that traumatize children and further reduce their opportunities to become productive members of society.
  3. Provide juvenile justice services appropriate to children’s ethnocultural background that are based on an assessment of each violence-exposed child’s individual needs.
  4. Provide care and services to address the special circumstances and needs of girls.
  5. Provide care and services to address the special circumstances and needs of LGBTQ (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transsexual/questioning) youth.
  6. Develop and implement policies in every school system across the country that aim to keep children in school rather than relying on policies that lead to suspension and expulsion and ultimately drive children into the juvenile justice system.
  7. Guarantee that all violence-exposed children accused of a crime have legal representation.
  8. Help, do not punish, child victims of sex trafficking.
  9. Whenever possible, prosecute young offenders in the juvenile justice system instead of transferring their cases to adult courts.

Nadine Burke Harris, CEO of the Center for Youth Wellness recently reported that “Many of the kids who end up in the juvenile justice system, the vast majority of them have been exposed to high doses of adversity. Screening is the key to prevention, not just for illness but for jail time, too. We’re looking at it from a health standpoint, but we know for a fact that if we’re screening for ACEs and doing effective intervention, it’s going to impact justice outcomes.”

The good news is that Juvenile jails are adopting ACE and trauma-informed practices. Jane Halladay, of the National Child Traumatic Stress Network has been working to disseminate best practices in partnership with the federal Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, says the political and funding climate for trauma-informed juvenile justice work has brightened in recent years. “It’s now infiltrating the federal mandates, or at least it’s becoming part of the language,” she says. “There are more strategies and practices available. There’s also a really long way to go.”

It seems obvious to me that using ACEs and TICs will bring about changes that will forever change the broken juvenile justice system.


The Movement to Change Juvenile Law and the Treatment of Kids in Trouble

“There are no monsters, villains, or bad guys.  There are only folks who carry unspeakable pain.” ~ Gregory Boyle


Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, is a leader in reforming the way we look at and treat both kids and adults who have been incarcerated.  He asks us to refrain from an us versus them attitude.  The successful results of his work have commanded the attention of people across the country.  He simply does not recognize good and evil.  Instead, he offers unconditional love and compassion to those who have suffered through pain few of us can imagine.  The community, not an institution of confinement, is the vehicle that will bring healing to kids in trouble.

A report by Wendy Sawyer called “Youth Confinement: The Whole Pie” addresses the grim statistics and facts surrounding the juvenile incarceration problem. She detailed some action steps that we can encourage legislators to take in addressing the issues she discussed in her study:

  • Updating laws to reflect our current understanding of brain development and criminal behavior over the life course, such as raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction and ending the prosecution of youth as adults;
  • Removing all youth from adult jails and prisons;
  • Shifting youth away from confinement and investing in non-residential community-based programs;
  • Limiting pretrial detention and youth confinement to the very few who, if released, would pose a clear risk to public safety;
  • Eliminating detention or residential placement for technical violations of probation and diverting status offenses away from the juvenile justice system;
  • Strengthening and reauthorizing the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act to promote alternatives to youth incarceration and support critical juvenile justice system improvements.

Juvenile Law Center describes itself as one of the leading advocates for the abolition of solitary confinement and other harmful conditions that youth face in the justice system. Juvenile Law Center’s work focuses on: eliminating solitary confinement, strip searches, and the use of excessive force against kids; keeping kids safe from harm — whether from facility staff, other youth, or themselves; ensuring kids have developmentally appropriate care, treatment and programming; fair treatment, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, gender expression, sexual orientation, or disability status; and reducing the over-incarceration of youth and promoting alternatives to incarceration.

I am currently associated with innovative community leaders who drive the Shelby County, (Memphis) Tennessee Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative. which was designed to support the Annie E Casey Foundation’s vision that all youth involved in the juvenile justice system have opportunities to develop into healthy, productive adults. Shelby County has drastically reduced the number of youth admitted to detention.  It is also actively addressing the gross racial disparity issue with incarcerated kids of color who are five times more likely to be jailed than white kids.

Where to Turn for Help

There are more organizations out there advocating in the public area for reform.  Among them is the The Southern Poverty Law Center which recently told the story of Tyler Haire who was 16 when he was locked up.  The boy spent 1,266 days waiting in a Pittsboro, Mississippi jail awaiting a mental health evaluation. SPLC informs us rightly that the system has let him (and us) down. Another organization,  The John Howard Association of Illinois actively watches over the five juvenile prisons in the state.  It reports that the average annual cost for keeping a child in the state’s facilities is $141,428. Can you imagine what could be done to help a traumatized child with that kind of money? We have already discovered the ways to affect healing changes necessary to help our kids in trouble. The time for action is now.  Our children are waiting.
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Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


How Trauma Is Killing Us: Understanding Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)

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“If we do not transform our pain, we will most assuredly transmit it.” ~ Richard Rohr

Another tragic mass shooting resulted in the deaths of ten people at Santa Fe High School near Houston on Friday May 19, 2018. There have been 22 school shootings so far this year where someone was injured or died.

It is hard to comprehend.  There has been more than one shooting each week. What is going on? Our children are killing each other in a very public forum at the places where nurturing, learning and growing into good citizens should be happening for them all.

Instead, the threat and fear of death and violence is following them into every classroom.  Why do we adults seem powerless to put measures into effect that would change the situation immediately? We seem to be passively accepting that this is the new normal…that nobody is safe anywhere.  Of course, this is not true. My sense is that we are overwhelmed and don’t understand that unimaginable pain, mental illness and trauma are culprits behind all the violence.

I have learned a lot about (and from) kids through my professional involvement over the past four decades. Even though I would love to pour all of my experiences and wisdom shared by mentors and the kids themselves regarding childhood trauma into these pages, there would never be enough room.  So allow me to synthesize some of what I know about violent children and relate it to school shootings.

  1. Childhood trauma is an underpinning of the rage which creates horrific violence.
  2. Traumatized kids cannot imagine a future without more pain. Usually they lead lives filled with current conditions of chaos and unpredictability leaving them continually re-damaged.
  3. Aggressive behavior is the last survival behavior a kid uses. He has already tried to find relief in every other way.
  4. No hopeful kid ever picked up guns or explosives, took them to school, and started a killing spree. Only hopelessness can create it.
  5. No kid ever thought that killing his classmates and teachers would bring him attention and fame. He just wanted to die.

“The status quo is only interested in incessant judging, comparisons, measuring, scapegoating and competition.” ~ Gregory Boyle

In each case, experts have lined up to offer all kinds of solutions.  Mostly they involve gun control of one kind or another on one side and the arming/hardening of schools on the other.  We seem to be stuck in debates which lead to very little action.  Unfortunately, almost all of the proposals are reactive.  Rather than putting our efforts into primary prevention, we seem bent on expending massive resources fighting a losing battle against the NRA or by turning schools into impenetrable fortresses.  I wrote a column several weeks ago about the folly of these tertiary interventions as they apply to our addiction epidemic.  The same applies when it comes to this problem.

Since childhood trauma, Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), seem to have a causal relationship to violence and school shootings, I believe that we can develop screening and assessment protocols to identify at-risk people and circumstances.  We will then be able change our modus operandi from blaming, shaming and punishing people to understanding, encouraging and healing them.

Graphic from Center for Child Counseling.

What are ACEs?

ACEs are Adverse Childhood Experiences.  These are events which occur before age 18 (most damaging are those which happen prior to age 6) and are beyond a young person’s control.  A lifetime of hardship and adversity can follow which could be passed on from generation to generation.

The principal types of ACEs are:

  • Emotional, physical of sexual abuse
  • Emotional and physical neglect
  • Living in seriously troubled households (homes that have domestic violence, or mental and/or substance (alcohol or drug) disorders, or parental separation or divorce, or a family member who is incarcerated.

As the number of ACEs a youth experiences increase, so too does the risk for these health and mental health problems – often before they depart their teen years. The greater the number of ACEs a youth experiences, the greater is the likelihood of multiple problems. ACEs science clearly shows that childhood trauma results in adolescent and adult onset of chronic physical and mental illness, violence, and being a victim of violence.

ACEs and the Extreme State

Most of us have been exposed to at least one ACE in our lives.  But very few of us can relate to the impact of real life, hard core trauma experiences which cause the ‘survival brain’ to take control of our behavior. Children who have suffered cigarette burns at the hands of parents or those who are abused sexually every night endure torture which most of us cannot imagine.   These events or series of events have been referred to as the extreme state by Dr. Corinne Gerwe.

Sigmund Freud theorized survival as a predominant driving factor in human behavior.  When trauma is experienced it is followed by an intense feeling such as fear or anger.  Physical symptoms follow like a racing heart or nausea.  The survival brain goes into high gear, virtually closing down the ‘learning brain’ sensing an emergency situation.  The behavior(s) which are enacted and relieve the intensity of the feeling are logged in the memory and become intrinsically linked to emotional survival.  They will be continually reactivated by their inter-related feeling/physical symptom states whenever the intense feeling shows up.  They can develop into persistent and often obsessive patterns that are not grounded in rational thinking or intention.  They can be described as behaviors that a person will swear never to do again and yet repeat despite attempts to resist.  These behaviors can be difficult to explain and even a mystery to the person enacting them as noted by Gerald M. Edelman in his 2003 study of neuronal consciousness.

Understanding ACEs and the extreme state should allow us to stop wasting time looking for scapegoats, endlessly searching for motives, slapping the dismissive labels of evil, loser, or bad guy on a person who has inflicted terrible damage.  It will enable our communities to own their part in violence when little has been done to prevent it.  Healing only occurs when we recognize the true nature of a problem, understand its’ defeating nature, and apply steps to change the way we deal with it.  Prevention is the only long term solution.

“Denial is perfectly beneficial until it’s not anymore.  Then we need to find a safe place to peel back the layers of our own pain.” ~ Gregory Boyle

Primary Prevention and Intervention Using ACEs

We have a golden opportunity to solve this most intractable school shooting problem as well as other less dramatic consequences of ACEs.  One community where systems are in place to change the dynamic is Memphis, Tennessee.  Their ACE Awareness Foundation takes a three-step approach.

  1. Universal Parenting Places (UPP sites) ~ UPP sites are judgment-free zones where parents can go for help. They can talk with counselors, explore their own ACEs and learn how to alter their behaviors in their homes. Counseling is offered at no cost to the consumer. Research has shown that being able to trust another adult and “just let it out” helps people work through their experiences and take control. For some adults with a high ACE score, finding out that there may be a scientific reason their minds and bodies react in certain ways can also be liberating.
  2. Parent Support Warm Line ~ At home, caregivers can call a free phone line (844-UPP-WARM) administered by Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital for guidance and support with parenting issues in real-time. It’s manned by licensed therapists who have trauma training. ACEs are more likely to occur during peak hours of parenting — late afternoon to bedtime — so the Warm Line is available for parents who need to talk through something or who just need a timeout.
  3. Community Outreach ~ Healthcare providers, organizations and civic leaders attend workshops focused on creating trauma-informed citizens. The State of Tennessee has also held statewide summits and created task forces to combat the issue, creating ACE Awareness Partners.

“We envision a Memphis where everyone knows where to get the help they need. Every adult and child should be able to take control of their own destiny.” ~ Ellen Rolfes

The more we can do to prevent ACEs, the closer we will come to ending school violence, bullying and even mass shootings.  With this in mind, I propose that every student in every school, and every parent or caretaker should complete an ACEs assessment.  Those who are deemed at risk would receive immediate referral and help.  This is a full systems change from intervention to prevention that won’t come easy. But we need to create a critical mass of people who understand ACEs, can speak that language and can take action.

The Work Has Already Begun

There are now 38 states and the District of Columbia who have done their own ACE surveys through the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) since 2009.  The BRFSS is an ongoing data collection program designed to measure behavioral risk factors for the adult population (18 years of age or older) living in households.  The original Kaiser-CDC ACE Study began in 1995 and completed in 1997, but participants were followed for 20 years. New data on the more than 17,000 participants continues to be collected.

ACEs assessments and questionnaires are being used in education, healthcare, parenting programs and juvenile justice systems around the country.  A group called ACEs Connection describes themselves as “a social network that accelerates the global movement toward recognizing the impact of adverse childhood experiences in shaping adult behavior and health, and reforming all communities and institutions — from schools to prisons to hospitals and churches — to help heal and develop resilience rather than to continue to traumatize already traumatized people.”  They have organized concise methods for communities to start up local ACEs Networks.

Below you will find pdf downloadable tools from my Google Drive that can be used to determine ACEs risk for adults, children and teens. Start by finding your own ACE score. Let’s join the effort to bring about some real, long lasting change.

ACEs Toolbox; Questionnaires and User Guide

ACEs User Guide

Finding Your (Adult) ACE Score

ACEs Child Questionnaire

ACEs Teen Questionnaire

ACEs Teen Self Report

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_team_member admin_label=”Robert Kenneth Jones” name=”Robert Kenneth Jones” position=”Columnist” image_url=”” facebook_url=”” linkedin_url=”” _builder_version=”3.0.101″ global_module=”26968″ saved_tabs=”all”]

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


Loneliness; A Clear and Present Danger of Our Times

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Much has been written and broadcast about the devastating Opioid Epidemic facing us.  The most recent data and statistics report increasing tens of thousands of individuals and families have suffered enormous losses.  But we are just beginning to understand that there is an underlying cause of this terrible crisis.

Extreme loneliness just might be the powerful primary feeling fueling opioid, alcohol and other drug addiction. The sweeping problem is being called “The Loneliness Contagion” because it actually seems to be contagious.  John Cacioppo, PhD from the University of Chicago believes it is spreading from person to person like a disease. Though experienced inordinately among millennials, it is increasing across the generations.

Where Is This Loneliness Coming From?

Dr. Shannon Monnat says that we live in an era of individualism, disinvestment in social safety nets, declines in social cohesion, and increased loneliness.  Could it be that this is coming from a new kind of isolation due to social media?

Isolation due to lots of time spent on social media sites while glued to cellphones is one of the reasons for decreasing real life interactions and what is being called Fear of Missing Out (FOMO).  Though there are multiple chatting contacts, swapping of photos and other kinds of interaction, people are feeling lonelier than ever.  This is strikingly similar to the social isolation commonly known as an experience affecting the elderly due to decreased mobility and loss of friends and partners. Despite the fact that younger people have massive quantities of friends online, this increasing loneliness stems from a decreasing quality of relationships.  In other words, a person may have a lot of friends but still find that their needs for social contact are not met.

I remember playing a mean trick on a rather needy friend in college.  She couldn’t stand missing out on our group adventures.  One day we posted a sign outside of her dorm room saying; “We are out having fun without you.” All of us hid behind her door waiting for her arrival.  We heard her shuffling down the hall.  She stopped, read the note and brokenheartedly sighed. “Oh, No!”  Even though we burst through the door merrily giggling, she had a really hard time recovering from our prank. I’m not sure she ever really forgave us.

We have a fundamental need to belong.  This is what gives life meaning.  In order to feel a sense of belonging there must be the presence of real (skin-to-skin as opposed to virtual) relationships.  They must be based on mutual caring responses in which we feel loved and valued.  It is also necessary to have frequent interactions with other people.  Loneliness diminishes or disappears when we feel like we matter.

One of my most profound memories of loneliness is of a time shortly after divorce.  I had moved back to Fort Lauderdale in hopes of re-centering my life.  A friend helped me find good digs in a little house to rent and a job to keep me busy.  For the first time in several weeks there seemed to be a light in the darkness.  I pulled into the driveway after a rather successful day at work, opened the door and shouted “I’m Home!” as was my custom when living with my ex-wife and kids.  Only emptiness replied.  I was alone…really alone…and the feeling of loneliness overwhelmed me.  My response was to pour myself into a bottle of bourbon.  And I kept pouring for a long time.

The Extreme State; Loneliness and Repetitious Behavior

“I am not a mechanism, an assembly of various sections.
and it is not because the mechanism is working wrongly, that I am ill.
I am ill because of wounds to the soul, to the deep emotional self,
and the wounds to the soul take a long, long time,
only time can help and patience, and a certain difficult repentance
long difficult repentance, a realization of life’s mistake,
and the freeing oneself from the endless repetition of the mistake
which mankind at large has chosen to sanctify.” ~ D.H. Lawrence

Dr. Corinne Gerwe, PhD has done extensive research on what she calls the Extreme State.  Her research shows that loneliness can be a predominant feeling which is responsible for igniting addiction and chronic relapse.

Her book, The Orchestration of Joy and Suffering: Understanding Chronic Addiction (Algora Publishing 2001), explores the relationship between childhood experiences resulting in extreme feelings and subsequent behaviors that relieve or diminish the intensity of the feelings.  She demonstrates that the behavior patterns, including addiction can persist throughout a lifetime.  She also outlines unique treatment methods.

I worked with Dr. Gerwe for several years.  We found that when loneliness is experienced in the extreme (or for long durations) that the brain begins to search for relief found in behaviors.  Neuronal pathways provide quick solutions to resolve or lessen the intensity of the feeling.  Even behaviors which have proven to be destructive such as drug and alcohol abuse are repeated and repeated (as D. H. Lawrence explains in his poem).

It is a cycle that feeds on itself.  For example, one set of behaviors that results from loneliness is isolating oneself.  It would seem counterintuitive yet is one of the most common responses.  As a person withdraws from the world, isolates and avoids, they become even lonelier and more likely to use opioids and other drugs/alcohol.  Is it any wonder that powerful opioids, which practically eliminate physical/emotional pain and suffering are being used to combat chronic loneliness?  Is it any wonder why that might be contagious?

Health Issues Result from Loneliness

Loneliness is killing us…and not only through an opioid epidemic. It has been reported by Richard Lang, MD of Cleveland Clinic that loneliness affects 60 million Americans and that chronic loneliness poses a serious health risk. New research suggests that loneliness and social isolation are as much a threat to your health as obesity and smoking cigarettes. It can impair cognitive performance, compromise the immune system, and increase the risk for vascular, inflammatory, and heart disease.  A recent study also indicates that loneliness makes people more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes.

Loneliness is one of the feelings most associated with suicide.  Being socially isolated from society can take a toll on mental health and lead a person to become depressed and consider suicide. Socializing and interacting with other people is a basic human need. If social needs are not met, a person can start to feel lonely which leads to depression and possibly suicidal thoughts.

Finally, studies show that loneliness increases the risk for early death by 45 percent and the chance of developing dementia in later life by 64 percent. On the other hand, people who have strong ties to family and friends are as much as 50 percent less at risk of dying over any given period of time than those with fewer social connections.

There seems to be no doubt that loneliness is an epidemic, a contagion and one of the most serious health risks facing us today.  So, what can we do as Chaplains, pastors, social workers, healthcare providers, friends and family to help turn the tide?

How Relationships Defeat Loneliness

 “Keep in mind that to avoid loneliness, many people need both a social circle and an intimate attachment. Having just one of two may still leave you feeling lonely.” ~ Gretchen Rubin

 There are two basic remedies for loneliness:

  1. We must have and develop strong skin-to-skin relationships. It’s not about the number of ‘friends’ we have on Face Book.  We can be surrounded by people and still be lonely. There is undeniable benefit to real time interaction, play, work and social gatherings with people we care about.
  2. We need to belong. Our special communities such as religious organizations, 12 Step Groups, hobby circles, fraternal societies and other intimate gatherings are like a transfusion for loneliness.  This is not about activities.  We can go from event to event or meeting to meeting and still be lonely. A sense of belonging, really being an integral part of something, is what’s critical.

I counseled a young man who was suffering from intense loneliness.  He had just started his freshman year at a local college and had changed from a happy, confident, outgoing high schooler to an isolated, self-conscious, anxiety ridden guy.  All of his friends had gone away to other schools and he was the only one left behind.  There were no more service clubs or sports teams in his life.  His studies were going nowhere.  Jeff was considering suicide.  It was not that he was alone.  He had a roommate, lived in a busy dorm, had joined an intermural football squad and was attending church on campus. He was a busy as he could be. But there were no real quality personal or community relationships.  He might as well have been a hermit for the overwhelming loneliness he was experiencing.

Jeff’s situation is not uncommon. Senior citizens who retire from their life’s work know well what he was going through. Folks who relocate to another part of the country for great work opportunities understand it. Suddenly, what I call a ‘peopled life’ becomes vacant. The answer cannot be found by busying oneself.  For Jeff, and all the lonely people, the solution lies in connecting and creating personal relationships through belonging to meaningful community.  A feeling of being understood and valued creates a closeness that is being craved in loneliness.

This closeness doesn’t have to be something that happens randomly or by accident.  For Jeff, we connected with a religious fraternal campus organization.  He joined and was embraced by the members.  He had a new family of friends.  He also began attending AA meetings at a nearby community center.  There he found other people who were struggling just like him.  The members met for coffee and had frequent social events.  His loneliness faded into oblivion.  It was as simple as that.  Community is within our control to create.

This contagion or epidemic of loneliness can practically be eliminated. Parents can be alert to the fact that filling our kids’ lives with activities is not always the answer.  Quality play time with a friend or friends (yes…unsupervised by adults) is what is needed.  Chaplains can spot the isolated LEO and help direct him or her to the right organizations.  It might be a great idea to establish support groups right in the workplace as well. We have the power to help others find the way out of loneliness…and we all have the power to stop feeling lonely. That power is found in real relationships.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_team_member admin_label=”Robert Kenneth Jones” name=”Robert Kenneth Jones” position=”Columnist” image_url=”” facebook_url=”” linkedin_url=”” _builder_version=”3.0.101″ global_module=”26968″ saved_tabs=”all”]

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


Our Obligation to Privacy; Offering the Seal of Confidentiality

I woke up a few mornings ago, fumbled for my IPhone to check the ‘urgent’ message flash on its’ screen, and found that Twitter was advising me to protect my privacy.  It seems that a virtual bug of some kind exposed their users to hackers by showing passwords in plain text.

Oh, horror!  I complied quickly…and you should too Mr. President.  Who knows what fake news might be transmitted in your tweets. 

I recovered from my cyber-panic rather quickly as a little chuckle came from my inner Bob.  None of the social media outlets like Twitter, Face Book, Google+, LinkedIn even existed twenty years ago. My privacy worries in 1998 were more concerned with who might see through our windows with the drapes wide open.

The only thing that I can think of which corresponds with current qualms about privacy was when folks dug deep in the early 1950’s to get a private telephone line so that nosey people might not overhear their conversations on less expensive party lines. My maternal grandfather always had a little quip to offer.  When asked how he felt about the lack of privacy on party lines he said; “You shouldn’t go skinny dipping if you’re worried people will see you naked.” That kind of says it all.

Millions of us proudly throw ourselves (wearing-only-a-selfie-smile) into a collective cyber lake showing everyone anything they want to see. Then we gripe about privacy and confidentiality. If transparency is what we want, privacy will be sacrificed. You just can’t have it both ways.

Privacy and Confidentiality; What’s The Difference?

The terms Privacy and Confidentiality are sometimes used interchangeably but there is a distinct difference.  Just about everybody has some desire for freedom from public scrutiny. We want to share information deemed private at varying degrees depending on our own boundaries and need for personal space.  These are the issues surrounding privacy and confidentiality. So, what is the difference?

  • Privacy is the right to be let alone in personal matters and limits public access.
  • Confidentiality refers to a state where an expectation of trust is established between parties that information/records will be kept secret within the parameters of their informed, expressed, often written, agreement.

In other words, Privacy is about a person and Confidentiality is about information.

Privacy; From Being Available to Being On-Demand

The fourth amendment to the constitution which secures our right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure is also cited as the basis of our right to privacy. But is a real expectation of privacy even possible in the age of technology?  An Op-Ed Piece in the New York Times announced “The End of Privacy” in October 2017.  It reminded me of The Times famous article in January 1966 stating that “God Is Dead.”  We often rush to sensational observations.  Traditional notions of God were changing in the 1960’s and our understanding of Privacy is changing in this era.  We are continually evolving.

Several years ago I accompanied a friend to the porch of an elderly gentleman in the remote mountains of Western North Carolina.  The man’s son asked us to intervene in a rather sensitive family situation.  Mr. Caldwell was nearing 90 and living alone at the cabin in which he had been born.  His wife had died many years earlier.  One of his seven children lived on a section of land nearby, but worried about his aging father.

Mr. Caldwell refused to have a telephone.  When Mathias, the son, contracted with AT&T to install a line, the service man was met at the door with a shotgun aimed at his midsection and orders to “git offa my land”.  My friend and I went over to mediate a couple of days later.  Steve talked to him about how nice it might be to be able to pick up a phone to call Mathias anytime he wanted to say “Hey” and check up on the grandkids.

Mr. Caldwell seemed to agree and thought that would be a really nice convenience.  I asked him if it might be okay to set up another service installation to which Mr. Caldwell said “Hell no!”  I responded that I thought he liked the idea of calling up Mathias.  He responded that it sure might be nice, but on the other hand, Mathias could also call him up anytime he wanted.

The thought of random telephone ringing and family involvement was like an invasion and “an end of peace and serenity.”  Mr. Caldwell died several years later with no telephone but plenty of self-directed privacy.  If Mathias and any of the family ever wanted to make contact with him they just made their way to the house.

Our evolution from Mr. Caldwell’s concept of telephone privacy to cellphones becoming a fifth appendage and being always on-call is dramatic to say the least.  We have to be reminded constantly to silence or turn them off in churches, businesses and theatres.  They are a part of every meal and activity, buzzing and ringing us to respond to a text or pending conversation. We have increasingly accepted and embraced this intrusion.  Now, it seems there are concerns that the devices have become addictive. The average American adult spent about 2 hours and 51 minutes on their smartphone every single day in 2017. So much for privacy as we once knew it.

What I’m getting at here is that even though we have every cause to be alarmed at massive amounts of personal information being hacked from our merchants, healthcare and service providers, we have made a choice to provide easy, on-demand, real time access to all of this data.  There are a number of ways to protect information stored on smartphones by simply restricting privacy and location settings. You don’t have to share everything on social media outlets like Face Book.  You can limit who can see/share your information by deciding who can access it.  Privacy should be honored and respected by corporations and by the techno-world.  Every effort should be made to continually improve safety of information and to foil hackers.  But it is incumbent upon each of us to create our own limits and boundaries as well. Remember what Grandpa said about skinny dipping.

Confidentiality; A Seal of Promise and Trust

Chaplains, Clergy, Attorneys, Social Workers, Substance Abuse Professionals, Therapists and Healthcare Professionals are well instructed in matters of confidentiality.  It has become so important that I have started calling the relationship established as The Seal of Confidentiality (like the Seal of the Confessional known to Roman Catholics). All fifty states, the District of Columbia, and the federal government have enacted statutory privileges providing that at least some communications between clergyman and parishioners are privileged. In United States law, confessional privilege is a rule of evidence that forbids the inquiry into the content or even existence of certain communications between clergy and church members. It grows out of the First Amendment to the Constitution. Common law and statutory enactments may vary from place to place.

The ethical principle of confidentiality requires that information shared with a clergy member, healthcare worker, counselor or therapist in the course of the professional relationship or treatment is not shared with others. This principle promotes an environment of trust and reinforces honest and open disclosure by the client, patient or parishioner. Exceptions to confidentiality exist when it conflicts with the professional’s duty to warn or duty to protect. This includes instances of suicidal or homicidal ideation (with plans) as well as child, elder or disabled/dependent adult abuse. All-in-all, there are five generally recognized exceptions to the seal of confidentiality referred to as the Five C’s.

  1. Consent; A professional may release confidential information with the consent of the patient or a legally authorized designee (parent, guardian, or medical surrogate).
  2. Court Order; Confidential information can be released upon the receipt of an order by a court of competent jurisdiction. A subpoena may not meet the standard for release in many places.
  3. Continued Treatment; A clinician may release confidential information necessary for the continued treatment of a patient. This exception is recognized by HIPAA.
  4. Comply with the Law; A professional may reveal confidential information in order to comply with mandatory reporting statutes as mentioned above (abuse).
  5. Communicate a Threat; This is known as the Tarasoff Exception to confidentiality. It exacts a professional’s duty to protect others from violence from a client/patient.

We must be ever vigilant and serious in our confidentially sealed relationships.  It can be easy to compromise by disclosing information to other interested parties when the situation seems important or worthwhile.

In my role as a Clinical Director at a residential hospital based substance abuse treatment center in North Carolina, I was once faced with the daunting choice of disclosing or not disclosing confidential information to a local chief prosecutor.  The attorney and I had a good working relationship and casual friendship.  One day he called me at my office to inquire about whether a certain fugitive was a patient in our facility.  I responded that due to federal and state confidentiality laws I could not give him that information.  Of course he knew this to be true, but continued to press the matter by saying that he could arrest me for not telling him of the persons whereabouts.

I told him that he was putting me in a situation of obstructing justice (by his definition) on one hand or violating federal statute on the other.  Either way, I was could find myself behind bars. He was angry when I denied his request saying that he would serve the executive director and me with a subpoena.  Then he became furious when I told him that a subpoena was not good enough.  Within thirty minutes the prosecutor showed up at the hospital with his document in hand accompanied by several squad cars and a SWAT team.

They forced their way into the treatment center, practically running over the 140 pound middle aged executive director.  After a search of all the patients, the suspect was finally found hiding in the cafeteria.  Though successful in his endeavor, the prosecutor was fired several weeks later for his violation of federal and state statutes. Neither the director nor I were charged or arrested in the matter. It took a long time to reestablish therapeutic trust with our patients. To say that I take the seal of confidentiality seriously is a gross understatement.

Many of us who serve people in some kind of counseling relationship have established Best Practices that I would recommend to everyone:

  • Make sure that any confidentiality forms are properly signed, dated and witnessed according to the requirements of the organization you represent.
  • Review the documents thoroughly with the client at least every six months. It is an even better idea to draft a new one if possible.
  • Start every session reminding the client of the confidentiality of information he/she is about to disclose.
  • Make sure that any kind of disclosure transmitted electronically has a statement of confidentiality attached. Below is a sample of such a statement I use in every email. Feel free to copy it.

Confidentiality Notice

This message is intended exclusively for the individual or entity to which it is addressed. This communication may contain information that is proprietary, privileged, confidential, or otherwise legally exempt from disclosure. You are only authorized to read, print, retain, copy or disseminate this message (or any part of it) if you are the named addressee. Please notify the sender immediately either by phone at (your number) or by reply to this e-mail if you have received it in error. Delete all copies of this message if it is not intended for your use.

We All Need Someone in Times of Trouble

Respect for privacy and good confidentiality practices are the basic ingredients of trust which make counseling or other professional relationships work.  Police officers need to be able to turn to Chaplains without worry when they share their vulnerability or grief.  Folks who struggle with addiction have to be able to disclose the things they have done in secret to a trusted therapist knowing that family members will not be told without informed consent.

When we make sure that these policies and procedures are followed to the letter, our clients will feel safe to come to us with the burdens that weigh them down.  Carl Jung went so far as to say that such therapeutic relationships are sacred in nature.  And so they are.  We have been entrusted with the inner lives of those we serve.

Banner Photo by Rafal Jedrzejek on Unsplash

The Graying of Baby Boomers; Some Challenges of Ageing in the 21st Century

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I found myself thinking about aging and the issues facing us as the percentage of our population becomes older every year.  It was a sudden jolt when it came to me that the subject not only concerns me but that it is about me.  I am a member of the generation of people born between 1946 -1964 called The Baby Boomers.

World War Two ended and, as the soldiers and sailors came home to start a new life, we showed up in droves.  The 1968 cult movie “Wild in the Streets” boasted our political strength and societal influence in a song called “52 percent” claiming we were a majority of the world’s population.  Now we are reaching 65 at a rate of 10,000 every day.

This statistic is important because as more and more boomers are reaching ‘senior status’ significant challenges face us all. Among them are economic hardships, an overly burdened healthcare system and an alarming rise in elder abuse. But this graying of my generation does not have to be a shipwreck. We all have a role in accepting and embracing a demographic shift that has potential to provide wisdom, perspective and humor to a culture that is moving too fast and which might take itself a little too seriously.

“I knew if I waited around long enough something like this would happen.” ~ George Bernard Shaw

Let me add a personal reflection before launching any further into my curated column subject matter.  I have become a student of ageing by receiving on-the-job training.  One of the things I have learned is that Bernard Shaw’s famous line alleged to be a musing about death is not inscribed on a tombstone because he was cremated and scattered in his garden around a statue of St. Joan. So, I have adopted it to increase my sense of humor about getting old.  It happens if you hang around long enough.  Body parts are not going to work the way they did ten years ago…or perhaps not even as well as they did yesterday.

Getting up off the floor after playing with my dog, Wrigley, has some of the same challenges that running wind sprints had when I was in high school. The mind, who still thinks I’m 20, plays funny little games with me.  One of its’ favorite tricks is to erase any memory of why I walked into a room just as I arrive.

Simple is not always simple any more when you reach these golden years.  But, beyond the fact that humor is a necessity in accepting and embracing older age, I have discovered that life has a symmetry.

Nothing happened by mistake.  Every moment, each event, all of the celebrations and tragedies led me to this moment.  And so, life is sacred.  This is what we are called to impart to the younger ones and to each other.  Chaplains, pastors, counselors and health care providers especially have this important message to pass on. So I will say it one more time…with gusto; Life is sacred.

The Facts and Figures to Absorb As So Much of Society Gets Old

Perhaps the most definitive information was provided to us in a report by the World Health Organization in 2015.  It stated that:

“With advances in medicine helping more people to live longer lives, the number of people over the age of 60 is expected to double by 2050 and will require radical societal change – rising from 900 million in 2015 to 2 billion by 2050…governments must ensure policies that enable older people to continue participating in society and that avoid reinforcing the inequities that often underpin poor health in older age.”

The Census Bureau issued a similar study in 2014 with sobering charts and graphs which indicate far reaching changes is the makeup of our national mix.  And the process is speeding up. They report that declines in fertility and mortality rates are hastening the shift, leading to what are expected to be profound changes for issues ranging from Social Security and health care to education. So there you have it. We won’t be able to discount, delay, deny, and wiggle out of this…or to call it ‘fake news’.  As they say in 12 Step Recovery Groups; “Denial works until it doesn’t.”

We Will Need to Redesign Healthcare and Senior Services

Although an aging population undoubtedly places pressure on policymakers as they seek to stem rising health care costs, insufficient attention has been focused on new approaches designed to improve community-based services, quality of life, and mobility across the life course. Forbes recently called the problems facing our changing demographics as a “defining issue of our time.”

As the number of older adults continues to grow, public health professionals will have to find innovative ways to meet the multiple needs of this population, as well as to address the shortage of professionals trained in aging and to help relieve the often overwhelming demands placed on caregivers and family members.

Things are starting to happen which make me think solutions will ultimately abound.  Sweden is among the nations that are rising up to meet the short and long term needs of senior citizens.  Public and private sectors are cooperating in an effort to provide housing, quality medical treatment, professional geriatric training, transportation services for its’ graying population.  They are providing an excellent template for the rest of the world. Companies like Google have started to tackle the issues surrounding this.

In 2013 it launched Calico, a new company focused on health and well-being. Chief Executive Larry Page said that Calico will attempt to tackle the universal challenge of aging and related diseases. He went on to declare that; “These issues affect us all — from the decreased mobility and mental agility that comes with age, to life-threatening diseases that exact a terrible physical and emotional toll on individuals and families. And while this is clearly a longer-term bet, we believe we can make good progress within reasonable time scales with the right goals and the right people.” There is always hope when we make a decision to do the right thing. Our policymakers must join the effort before it becomes another fire to put out.

Elder Abuse; A Horrible Symptom Growing in Proportion to Global Graying

It is heartbreaking to see a once active, vibrant, person fall victim to an abuser or abusers when ageing robs them of independence.  I’ve seen my share of it over the years.  Every once in a while the problem hits the headlines.  High-profile elder abuse cases, like that of Mickey RooneyCasey Kasem, and Brooke Astor, show families fighting for money and power while a formerly adoring public remained clueless. Mickey Rooney was actually denied necessities like food and water while his stepchildren drained his bank account. Abuse can happen to any older person but is most frequently reported as occurring with those who are frail and mentally compromised. The rich are not immune.

Perhaps there was a kind of global awakening to the enormous crisis of elder abuse when The United Nations General Assembly designated June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This is to be one day in the year when the whole world voices its opposition to the abuse and suffering inflicted to some of our older generations.  It’s about time!

It is incumbent upon Chaplains, Social Workers, Healthcare Providers and other professionals to be attentive and to take action. The World Health Organization tells us that 1 in 6 seniors are victims of various kinds of abuse which include;

  • Physical abuse happens when someone causes bodily harm by hitting, pushing, or slapping.
  • Emotional/Psychological abuse, can include a caregiver saying hurtful words, yelling, threatening, or repeatedly ignoring the older person. Keeping that person from seeing close friends and relatives is another form of emotional abuse.
  • Financial abuse, happens when money or belongings are stolen. It can include forging checks, taking someone else’s retirement and Social Security benefits, or using another person’s credit cards and bank accounts. It also includes changing names on a will, bank account, life insurance policy, or title to a house without permission from the older person.
  • Neglect occurs when the caregiver does not try to respond to the older person’s needs.
  • Abandonment is leaving a senior alone without planning for his or her care.
  • Sexual abuse involves a caregiver forcing an older adult to watch or be part of sexual acts.
  • Healthcare fraud can be committed by doctors, hospital staff, and other healthcare workers. It includes overcharging, billing twice for the same service, falsifying Medicaid or Medicare claims, or charging for care that wasn’t provided.

What are the warning signs of elder abuse?

  • Has trouble sleeping
  • Seems depressed or confused
  • Loses weight for no reason
  • Displays signs of trauma, like rocking back and forth
  • Acts agitated or violent
  • Becomes withdrawn
  • Stops taking part in activities he or she enjoys
  • Has unexplained bruises, burns, or scars
  • Looks messy, with unwashed hair or dirty clothes
  • Develops bed sores or other preventable conditions
  • Unexplained, strained or tense relationships; frequent arguments between the caregiver and older adult.
  • Sudden changes in financial situations.  This abuse costs older Americans $36.5 billion per year.

One more appalling fact…elders who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated.

I have been a caregiver and it isn’t easy.  When I began researching the topic of the graying of my generation as it concerns elder abuse, I began to feel guilty.  Had I abused my mother or my wife when I was trying to be a good son/husband?  My irresponsible handling of my mother’s assets during her terminal illness caused her to suffer.  My denial of my wife’s inability to do some things during her rehabilitation process probably caused her to feel isolated and misunderstood.  None of this was premeditated or intentional.  I was trying to do my best.  But caring for a loved one involves many stressors which can be damaging to both parties since it is usually a long term challenge. There is a good quiz to measure the level of your caregiver stress.  It has proven to be a big help to many people.

I found that it is crucial to ask for and get help.  No matter how stressful your caregiving responsibilities or how bleak your situation seems, there are plenty of things you can do to ease your stress levels, regain your balance, and start to feel positive and hopeful again. The alternative could be to hit a breaking point and fall into abusive behaviors with a loved one.

What the Elderly Have To Offer

What a waste it would be to allow the elders to become, as David Zahl worries, “The Last, the Least, the Lost, the Little and the Old.” There is so much wisdom to be tapped and so many dusty diamonds to be brushed off.  Boomers are pessimistic about being honored by their children and grandchildren despite what has been called a “gentler generation gap” by Pew Research.

After all, we weren’t all that good and uncovering the treasures of our parents Greatest Generation.  I remember a story told by Robert Bly in which he was asked to interview a renowned nuclear scientist from the WWII era.  Robert made a trek up to Maine where the long-retired genius lived.  He began by making an apology to the man saying he was sure that young students had been a continual bother to his serenity.  The old man replied; “I have been here for thirty years.  No one has come.”

There is a terrific book by Henry Alford called “How to Live: A Search for Wisdom from Old People (While They Are Still on This Earth).” Alford was moved by the wisdom of his 79 year old mother.  He interviewed her along with people like Harold Bloom, Phyllis Diller as well as a woman who walked across the US at age 89, authors, pastors and others.

He became convinced that older people are indeed wise and have much to offer us. I was fortunate enough to have a grandfather who inspired us to pay attention.  Roy H. Jones was born in 1875 and lived until 1972.  His father was born in 1816.  His two generational wisdom spanning 150 years was freely tapped through his good humor, motto, sayings and philosophy (“Don’t Worry, Don’t Hurry and Don’t Hate”).  His family took him seriously.  To this day he is quoted by his many descendants.  We believe that there is a storehouse of riches waiting to be revealed in the lives and stories of the older generations. There are many reasons to listen and seek them out.

Boomers are the newest gatekeepers of great wisdom. And we are waiting. The next time a holiday or special event enables you to gather together with extended family, take the opportunity to make real contact by asking and listening. Spend some time face to face.  All the texting, emailing, FaceBooking, and FaceTiming can take a back seat to the close encounter of a family kind. You may find some information that will give deeper insight into who you really are.  What a gift to be given and to receive. This is what we long to offer.

Below Joseph Campbell quotes Schopenhauer that life can seem like a novel that has been composed by an omniscient author. (from documentary “The Power of Myth” with Bill Moyers)


Banner photo by Phillip LeConte at

Video clip from documentary “The Power of Myth” originally broadcast as six one-hour conversations between mythologist Joseph Campbell (1904–1987) and journalist Bill Moyers.

Please support The Joseph Campbell Foundation

Tax-deductible donations can be made online by clicking here, or by sending a check to:

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[/et_pb_text][et_pb_team_member admin_label=”Robert Kenneth Jones” name=”Robert Kenneth Jones” position=”Columnist” image_url=”” facebook_url=”” linkedin_url=”” _builder_version=”3.0.101″ global_module=”26968″ saved_tabs=”all”]

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


Tribes; Losing and Rediscovering Kinship in a Time of Widening Polarization

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There is a natural inclination for people with similar characteristics and like-mindedness to congregate. We are tribal beings after all.

Our tribes enabled humans to survive hostilities over the eons.  Even the challenges we face today draw us to those of similar status and values. It is in these modern day tribes that we form comfortable bonds of friendship. Our social networks, business and community groups welcome us.  We are nurtured and provided with a sense of belonging and kinship.

Over the past few years there has been a call from authors and social scientists to ‘find your tribe’ due to increasing isolation in the internet age. But there is a worrisome downside to all of this as well. In his book, The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart, Bill Bishop provides a breakdown of how our tribes are making it far less likely for us to consider views different from our own.

He points out that when we are surrounded by people who agree with us, our views become more and more resolute and extreme. We tend to denounce those who are different and competing ideas are considered invalid. In tribal extremes, binary or dualistic thinking becomes dominant and inclusivity becomes almost impossible.

Our First Tribes; That Old Gang of Mine

We don’t get to choose our family tribe, but as children move out from home to school, and the community at large, we begin to form attachments, and friendships emerge through play. These relationships influence behavior and we become powerfully motivated to be a part of a peer group.  We form what I call a chosen tribe.

My own consisted of neighbor boys, all about seven years of age, and who lived within the confines of a city block.  Our beliefs were dualistic. We determined what was good, bad, moral, evil, acceptable and unacceptable.  Good guys wore white hats.  Americans were moral. Nazi’s and The Imperial Japanese Navy were evil. Protestants were acceptable and those with other religious beliefs unacceptable (and probably going to hell).

Our first challenge to ‘us versus them’ binary thinking came when two Roman Catholic kids were admitted to our gang.  We liked them and they were good at baseball. Our parents were okay with it even though we were not allowed to go to their church nor were we invited to ours. This ever so slight shift in the dominant view actually began to open each of us to the prospect of including others.

Despite later adolescent fear of being ostracized and rejected for ever-expanding and diversifying our choice of friends, each of the original tribe became young men who accepted and honored differences in others. And it has continued into our middle and old age. Tribes can open us or close us up.

Our Oneness and Common Bonds

So how can any of us embrace uniqueness found in tribes while recognizing, including and honoring diversity and differences? An answer can be found in spiritual and scientific oneness. For example, while finger prints may point to uniqueness, our DNA connects us to a widening family of people and places beyond our imagination.

Jesus challenges his followers through word and personal example to include the poor, the sick, the tax collector, the rich, and the despised into a great banquet feast.  He asks us to love neighbor as self. If we want to make a society work it must be expanded beyond, while not excluding, the tribes that make us feel safe and welcomed.

Finding the things that unite us and underscoring our sacred humanity is the key to kinship. But this will require an openness to do so.  Our deep divisions in politics, religion, economics (and seemingly every other facet of life) play out on television and social media every day.

“One thing we know – there is only one God. No man, be he Red man or White man, can be apart. We ARE all brothers after all.” ~ Chief Seattle

 I was watching an interview with Joseph Campbell by Bill Moyers when I first heard the words of Chief Seattle’s 1855 letter to the U.S. President. Those interviews, called The Power of Myth, were presented on PBS.

It was inspiring to hear his wisdom and insight regarding global inclusiveness.  Not that the concept was foreign to me in 1990, but striking how polarized and dualistic we remained 135 years after the letter had been penned.

Now, another 28 years has passed and the situation has grown worse in so many ways.  However, I got a promising glimpse of our oneness when watching the funeral service of former First Lady Barbara Pierce Bush on April 21, 2018. I mention her middle name because she is a cousin of President Franklin Pierce, who was the recipient of Chief Seattle’s letter.

In attendance at the funeral were the current First Lady and four former Presidents as well as dignitaries from extremes of political and philosophical persuasion.  It occurred to me that perhaps neither time nor our humanity has separated us so much after all. Campbell used to talk about how important it is to have the experience of sacred spaces. Such a sacred space was evident in Houston at the celebration of Mrs. Bush.

I could almost hear Joe Campbell reminding us that; “where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existence; and where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.”

Sacred Spaces and Welcoming Places

There are ways to create these sacred spaces which I believe will connect us to the God of our understanding and widen our scope of oneness with all of creation.  We might not be like Moses who heard his name being called and found a bush which was burning but not consumed by flames in a place that was made holy.  But we can answer God in the spirit of Moses by proclaiming as he did; “Here I am.”

The personal experience of disciplined, practiced prayer and meditation is a means by which we can create a sacred space in higher consciousness for listening and connecting within.  It is a way of shutting off the binary, dualistic brain.  Richard Rohr, the Franciscan contemplative teacher says that “The lowest level of consciousness is entirely dualistic (win/lose)—me versus the world and basic survival. Many, I am afraid, never move beyond this. The higher levels of consciousness are more and more able to deal with contradictions, paradoxes, and all Mystery (win/win). This is spiritual maturity.

At the higher levels, we can teach things like compassion, mercy, forgiveness, selflessness, even love of enemies. Any good contemplative practice quickly greases the wheels of the mind toward non-dual consciousness. This is exactly why saints can overlook offenses and love enemies!” We make ourselves fully present saying, “Here I am.”

The very Tribes to which we feel drawn to for belonging, comfort and safety can be a means of re-connecting and of decreasing our dangerous climate of polarization. As members of the group we have the authority to be leaders.  First and foremost, we can help each other to stop worrying about what other people think about us. We can begin to talk about similarities of those whom we have opposed. We can collaborate with other teams at work.  We can explore positive aspects of the culture we want to see more of.  We can begin to establish associations with individuals who are different.

Expanding our tribes will not come through logical arguments or sound reasoning. It will come through a building of individual connections. It can happen just as it did for my little gang of boys so many years ago when we found out that two strange kids were ‘good at baseball’. We will always find that we are not really very different. And at long last…what a fine Tribe we might be.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_team_member admin_label=”Robert Kenneth Jones” name=”Robert Kenneth Jones” position=”Columnist” image_url=”” facebook_url=”” linkedin_url=”” _builder_version=”3.0.101″ global_module=”26968″ saved_tabs=”all”]

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


Survivor Guilt: What Happens When We Are Left Behind

When tragedy strikes and we are untouched by its’ full force, the pangs of Survivor Guilt can plague us.  We are grateful on one hand, but filled with thoughts of “Why not me?” We ask ourselves what we might have done to prevent this from happening.  How could we have not seen this coming? There is a sense that we are responsible for remaining intact and living on. The self-condemnation can be crippling.

“The problem with surviving was that you ended up with the ghosts of everyone you’d ever left behind riding on your shoulders.” ~ Paolo Bacigalupi

How Can We Begin to Understand and Cope With Survivor Guilt?

The awful weight of self-indictment is the main characteristic of Survivor Guilt.  People experience a seemingly endless loop of the gut-wrenching belief that they did something wrong or failed to do what they could have done.  It happens to war veterans, accident survivors, those who live through natural disasters, cancer survivors, police officers, and Holocaust survivors. It is also common among friends and family members who have suffered the loss of a loved one to suicide.

I am no stranger to Survivor Guilt.  My sister died of neuroblastoma when she was four years and nine months old.  Mother was grief-stricken as one might imagine.  Her beautiful little child had been taken and she was left to cope with the terrible loss feared by almost every parent.  We should not have to survive our children.

She slipped deeper and deeper into dark sadness and depression. Her continual demand was to know why God would take Mary Kathryn instead of her. She had begged to be the one to die in my sisters’ stead only to be forsaken. There was no comforting her.  Despite opening her own business and trying to carry on with family and friends, she could not.  Our family doctor told Dad that the only thing that might help would be for Mom to get pregnant again.

She did, and I was the replacement kid. Sixteen months after my sisters’ death, I was born into a house replete with Survivor Guilt. I have learned that many kids who survive the death of their siblings also experience this phenomenon.  I will never forget an occasion while playing on the living room floor with my Aunt Lucille. She was a registered nurse and had spent many hours with my sister.  At one point she mistakenly called me Mary Kay.  I could hear my mother break down into sobs in the kitchen.  I wondered why I was alive when my sister was not.  A wave of shame swept over me. I wished we could trade places. I was only three years old.

Symptoms, Indicators and Healing Tools

Survivor Guilt has been linked with PTSD in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which recognizes the role of negative emotions such as guilt and shame.  The following are symptoms associated with those negative emotions;

  • Avoidance
  • Feeling on edge
  • Hypervigilance
  • Detachment
  • Easily startled

Other associated indicators not included in DSM are;

  • Feeling disoriented, confused and unworthy
  • Obsessing over the tragedy
  • Being ambivalent about living
  • Overwhelmed by the sense that you’re never really safe

Measuring Survivor Guilt

A good instrument for measuring Survivor Guilt and PTSD is the Trauma and Loss Spectrum Self-Report instrument (TALS-SR).

It explores the lifetime experience of a range of loss and traumatic events and lifetime symptoms, behaviors and personal characteristics that might represent manifestations or risk factors for the development of a stress response syndrome.

This tool is of great value to those like Police Chaplains, who deal with survivors.  Police Week reported in that one of the most important things an LEO who is experiencing Survivor Guilt can do is to “share your story with someone you trust and who will actually hear you rather than judge you.” The Chaplain fulfills such a role for many officers. First responders witness some of the most unimaginable sights in unfiltered, graphic situations. Police officers, firefighters, and paramedics also need to be given action-oriented methods of healing to cope with all they experience.

Survivors Continue to Suffer

The Associated Press reported that Survivor Guilt and symptoms of PTSD continues to plague those New Yorkers who lived through the attack on The World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Dr. Nomi Levy-Carrick, mental health director of World Trade Center Environmental Health Center program reported that; “There was tremendous Survivor Guilt, so people who survived didn’t feel worthy of wanting to seek care.

The fact that they had survived, they felt, should have been enough.” She said people who tried moving on despite the lingering psychological effects of 9/11 realized they weren’t getting better. 9/11 is perhaps the national tragedy that most of us remember in vivid detail.  We were devastated on a personal and community level beyond anything since the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Think what it must be like for those who continue to suffer as if it happened yesterday. It never seems to leave. In a real sense, this is the essence of understanding Survivor Guilt PTSD.  When it brings the darkness once again, unannounced, that unspeakable yesterday suddenly becomes today…here and now.

Not Limited to Tragedies Surrounding Death.

We have learned that Survivor Guilt is not limited to tragedies surrounding death.  I have provided counseling services for both adult men and adolescent boys who were victims of sexual abuse. The effects of the abuse are lasting. They have complicated feelings and vivid memories that haunt them relentlessly.  One of the most heartbreaking revelations is that so many feel that they were somehow responsible for what happened.

“I was cute and kind of a sexy kid,” said Shane “He (the abuser) probably couldn’t help it.  I could have stopped it.  If I would have, other boys wouldn’t have been hurt.  It’s all my fault.”  He begins to sob uncontrollably. Shane is reduced to the little boy in a dark bedroom under the blanket of violence in the monstrous act at the hand of a trusted adult. My response is to try and carry light into their darknesses.

I have found that the most valuable thing we can bring to those who experience Survivor Guilt PTSD is the listening ear and open heart of one willing to accompany them without judgment and with unconditional acceptance and love.  When the victim is no longer alone in the memory healing can begin.

Our Veterans and the Burden of their Experiences

Veterans of war carry the burden of their experiences in silence like so many victims of sexual abuse.  Their service is often marred by the loss of comrades and buddies in bloody scenes that none of us can imagine.  They come home to families who have longed for their return only to feel estranged.  A different person seems to be living in the body of their loved one.  Repeated inquiries about what happened ‘over there’ are met with silence and denial.  I remember men, including my Dad, who were soldiers and sailors in WWII.

They rarely, if ever, talked about their combat experiences.  There was a wall of unknowing behind which nobody could come.  One of my friends fought in Vietnam and was known to have witnessed something horrific over there.  It was not until thirty years later when we read his suicide note that we found he had held the body of his wounded best friend for hours.  Merciful death or help from medics was not coming so Billy did what he had to do and ended the suffering with his service revolver.

The note said he could no longer bear the decades of pain.  Billy was alone for all of those years. I was never able to bring him a torch for the darkness.

Some Truths and Some Hope for Survivor Guilt PTSD

We know of so many things can cause Survivor Guilt and how to cope or heal.  The one who lives on after a loved one takes their own life, the one who survives after a sibling dies and the one who stays alive in an otherwise fatal auto accident are among the many who might shoulder the weight of Survivors Guilt.  There are two facts which are universal when it comes to this;

  • It always comes when something happens which brings an extreme state of feeling previously unexperienced
  • It must be dealt with or will persist for a lifetime

Here is some good news that comes to us from the most unlikely of situations. A most remarkable thing is happening for survivors of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting. Social media, protest marches and the honoring of fallen friends seem to have empowered the young people who survived, helping them in ways that were not available to earlier such tragedies.  They tweet to huge audiences of thousands about their pain and about actions they are taking to prevent further violence.

Their #NEVERAGAIN page on FaceBook has more than 165,000 followers. These kids bravely stand up to criticism by adults and persist in their efforts day after day. They are courageous. Though probably unaware, they are doing almost all of the things that are offered by experts on Survivor Guilt PTSD to heal from their tragic losses.

We can learn a lot from these young people. They seem to be carrying light to each other (and to us) in the darkness.  Not in the form of a torch but in hundreds of thousands of little beams coming from their cell phone flashlights.

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration, and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast

Prejudice and Transformation; The Experiential Roots of Bias and Spiritual Awakenings

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I am writing this column from Memphis as the fiftieth anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination has come and gone.  My visit to The Lorraine Motel and Mason Temple on April 4 was such a moving experience.  It led me to re-think prejudice, racism, and all that separates us from one another.  Creating a curated column with this in mind is a challenge.  There is so much information online. Sorting through it is mind-boggling and formidable. I have gained much in this research.  You might say I have a new pair of glasses.

Despite progress made in narrowing the gap between the privileged and marginalized, it remains wide.  Discrimination based on race, sex, age, religion, national origin and sexual orientation exists as surely today as ever.  We see it or hear about it daily. In Memphis, the CEO of United Way reported on February 27, 2018 that “the median income of African Americans is still 50 percent that of whites, despite our increased high school graduation and college degree rates and when it is consistent across other socioeconomic indices, we’re still stuck.”

We are still stuck indeed. Each of us is biased and possesses some degree of prejudice. My own roots of prejudice and discovery of redemption might be of some help to others. While I don’t think it would be useful to re-disclose the mounds of data, there is some good current information in this column’s hyperlinks.  The most important thing to gain from this is that anyone can change. I have found that such conversion is unlikely unless there is a spiritual awakening from self-examination and soul searching. As the AA people put it in the second step of their program of recovery; “We came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”

Jean Vanier, a philosopher, writer, religious and moral leader and the founder of two major international community-based organizations, L’Arche, and Faith & Light, that exist for people with intellectual disabilities, teaches that fear is the basis of prejudice.  He asserts that “We are all frightened of those who are different, those who challenge our authority, our certitudes, and our value system.  We are all so frightened of losing what is important for us, the things that give us life, security, and status in society.  We are frightened of change, and, I suspect, we are even more frightened of our own hearts.”

Self-Examination and Childhood Experience Reveal Roots of Bias

Examining ones heart is not easy work.  I never wanted to think there was a prejudiced bone in my body.  I was raised in Danville, Illinois, not in the Deep South where racism seemed so glaringly blatant.  I just couldn’t have experienced such intolerance growing up in my comfortable Midwestern town.  But, upon deeper reflection and introspection, it seems that early childhood experiences hidden within implicit messages from adults shaped my opinions and attitudes more than I had imagined. I also discovered that Danville has a past that brought it some well-deserved shame. There was a horribly brutal mob lynching in 1903 which made headlines around the country. No place is immune from the fears which fuel hatred and violence.

My earliest memories of African-American people surround several women and men who served as caterers for my parents’ elegant dinner parties. When I asked my mother why they were all black, she responded that the family had ‘colored’ servants for generations. Her ancestors had freed their slaves in Kentucky when they decided to migrate to Illinois in 1829.  One of them, a pregnant girl named Polly, followed on foot behind their covered wagons into the Free State.  She was not allowed to cross the border in the wagon due to federal law. Aunt Pol, as she came to be known, and her family acted as our servants and nannies for years to come.

In fact, her grandson, Frank Neal and his wife, Florence were among the caterers I knew and loved. So my first impression was that African Americans were our family members. It also bothered me, even as a little boy, that we had once been owners of slaves. I decided to pay attention to family members and other trusted adults as they talked about and interacted with black people.  My observations were puzzling.  It was forbidden to use the “N-word” in our home but when my mother gave Florence Neal a ride home from a party she told me she was taking her to nigger town.

When we saw black children with their parents she referred to them as ‘pickaninnys’. Mom wasn’t the only one who gave me mixed messages.  But hers were the words that stuck with me. In my mind, there was clearly a disparity between what the adults said they believed and how they behaved.

Media helped to shape my attitudes and those of most kids.  There was no internet, but there were other means that guided our thinking just as much Face Book does today.  Children’s books like “Little Black Sambo” which portrayed the character as a stereotyped ‘pickaninny’, was quite hurtful to black children “The Bobbsey Twins In the Land of Cotton” portrayed cotton picking laborers in this way;

Negroes, both men and women, were gaily dressed in bright-colored shirts, or sunbonnets and aprons.  Most of them were singing. “They must like their work,” said Nan. “They seem so happy.” “Cotton picking is healthful exercise.” Replied the plantation owner.

Several recording artists like Al Jolson who wore blackface and sang as minstrels depicted a negative stereotype of African Americans. Ralph David Abernathy talked about those stereotypes as black people “scratching where they didn’t itch, and laughing when they were not tickled.” Amos ‘n’ Andy was hugely popular radio show whose characters were voiced by two white men portraying black men.  Later, a television show of the same name appeared with ‘colored’ actors.  Bishop W. J. Walls of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church wrote an article sharply denouncing Amos ‘n’ Andy, singling out the lower-class characterizations and the “crude, repetitious and moronic” dialogue.  These were only a few of my boyhood influences.

I discovered early on that people loved the way I mimicked and imitated voices.  It wasn’t long before my jokes turned on black people, polish people and others who were easy and, I found, socially acceptable targets.  My popularity among friends and family grew dramatically as I acted out my characterizations. It all seemed harmless enough.  Little did I suspect that my antics were affecting people in lasting ways. I was a privileged white boy who was leveraging my position at the expense of those who were suffering injustice and discrimination. I could feel this in my stomach, but the approval and laughter I created only increased the frequency of my bad behavior.

The origins of prejudice can almost always be traced to childhood experiences and to beliefs taught by parents and other adults.  Between the ages of 3 and 6, kids begin to understand prejudice and to apply stereotypes.  We are not prejudiced because we are evil but because we are human and it is easy to fall into it. The infrastructure of prejudice is not moral depravity, but our regular thinking mechanism that just went wrong.

How Pivotal Events Shake the Foundations of Prejudice

It has taken a series of ah-ha moments, tragic events, studies, workshops and close work with marginalized people to create my conversion and transformation process which continues to this day.  The first such experience happened in 1958 when I was seven years old.  My parents spent winters with my grandparents in South Florida near Pompano Beach.  I loved going there and considered it my second home.  On this trip there was a special treat.  The State of Florida had just opened the Sunshine State Parkway.  It was a divided tollway and you could cruise along at speeds and ‘make time’ unheard of on the two lane roads from Danville to Pompano.  To top it all off, there were full service rest areas with free orange juice and a restaurant.  We stopped at the first one we saw. The booths at the restaurant each had a little juke box and you could pick songs you liked for a nickel.  We were all quite impressed.

I will never forget what happened next.  I had to go to the bathroom and my folks decided I was old enough to go on my own.  I confidently strode to the facilities only to be met by signs that baffled me.  The restrooms were marked for use by race.  They were labeled as White Men, Colored Men, White Women and Colored Women.  Water fountains were also separate.  What was I supposed to do? I pondered for a minute and chose the colored bathroom thinking that the people in there had to be interesting (purple, red, orange?).  I went inside and started to approach a urinal when a black man took me by the hand and asked to take me back to my parents.

I protested that I had to go, but he persisted and led me to our booth.  The man told my parents that; “The little master was gonna use the colored bathroom.  We could all get in a lot of trouble.” Dad apologized and took me to the White Only boys’ room.  I was indignant.  It took lots of rather clumsy explanations for me to finally be told to accept that things were different in the South…and to shut up.  I decided never to forget the look on the man’s face who saved us from ‘trouble’.  There was something terribly wrong.

There were other influences over the years.  My friend, Jack Lord from Pompano introduced me to books by Martin Luther King, President Kennedy’s Profiles in Courage, and one about Gandhi.  They made big impressions on my thinking.  Not a reading list my conservative Republican parents endorsed, but they allowed me to delve into them anyway.  But the next event that shook up my conscience happened in 1967.  I was 16 and a sophomore at Pine Crest School in Fort Lauderdale.  One weekend I was invited to a friend’s house in Pahokee, Florida.  Any excuse to get out of the dorm was welcome.  Several of the dorm kids were from Pahokee and it sounded like a great time.

On Sunday I was expected to attend church services with my host family at First Baptist Church.  One of my friends Dad was a deacon at the church and met us at the door to chat about football prior to the services.  As we were talking, an African American couple from out of town began walking up the steps to the sanctuary.  The Dad excused himself, went into the vestibule and returned with a shotgun.  He pointed it at the couple and said; “You must be in the wrong place.  The nigger church is down the street.”  The frightened folks made a hasty retreat.  I was so angry that I couldn’t find words for hours.  I just sat there in the car all the way back to Ft. Lauderdale with hot tears in my eyes.  I finally decided that I would never be silent about something like this again.

On April 4, 1968 I was in night study hall at Pine Crest when the teacher in charge, Mr. Ed Sickman, called for our attention and told us Senator Robert Kennedy announced in Indianapolis that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis.  We were devastated.  How could such a thing happen in our country? King’s words kept playing in my head; “I have felt the power of God transforming the fatigue of despair into the buoyancy of hope. I am convinced that the universe is under the control of a loving purpose and that in the struggle for righteousness man has cosmic companionship.”  Was he wrong? Had we sunk to such a level as a people that all hope was gone? How could God let this happen? My heart was broken.  That was undeniable.  Then, a few short weeks later, Senator Kennedy was killed.  My inner transformation was in full swing.  I began to question everything about my beliefs.  But, like any conversion, the process was not linear.

Conversions and Transformation Take Time to Affect Change

My penchant for racially insensitive and mean joke telling continued for years. Even though my heart was changed, my mind wasn’t.  The guilt I experienced was not enough to stop my comments to others which might have influenced or reinforced their own prejudices. It is said that one has to really want to change for it to happen.  I believe that this is true. Certainly, the pivotal events I described above were the impetus for my change.

But there is more to it than that.  I spent much of my life helping kids who suffered the most terrible trauma, and adults who struggled with addictions as a result of horrific childhood experiences.  They are of every race, religion, sexual orientation, social background and on and on.  They have been my teachers.  More than all of my college African American Studies, workshops, retreats and community leadership gatherings about prejudice, my patients led me to the spiritual truth that we are all unique but conversely all the same.  It took years for me to reach a place where my bias does not actively direct my behavior.  But I still have to be on guard. Old demons can still raise their pointy heads.

The process of conversion and transformation is well told in the lives of Saul of Tarsus (a relentless persecutor of early Christians), John Newton (the slave trader who wrote Amazing Grace) and George Wallace (the Governor of Alabama who infamously preached; ”Segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”). All three of these men were feared and reviled, but celebrated by many as well.  Then something happened which turned each of them around and transformed not only their own lives, but the lives of countless others.

Saul became the Apostle Paul and spent his life dedicated to those he once would have slaughtered. 

John Newton wrote the beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” and wrote extensively on the evils of slavery.  His conversion took 38 years by the way.  It is seldom immediate.  George Wallace was shot in 1972 by a would-be-assassin.  He recalled as he lay on his back, blood pooling on the ground, a light came into his heart and as his son later remarked “this was his first step on the road to Damascus.”  Wallace poured himself into Bible study and found a new faith system that did not allow discrimination and hatred.  He asked his former enemies for forgiveness.  Congressman John Lewis, for one, offered it to him saying; “George Wallace should be remembered for his capacity to change.”

Storytelling and Use of Resources to Stem the Tide of Prejudice; It’s Always a God Thing

Telling your own story and listening to the fears of those to whom we minister are critical elements in the work we do to help people find their way.  There are important questions to ask ourselves when developing such stories. This involves self-examination and seeking to find the roots of prejudices.  Among them are these;

  • Do you remember the attitudes your parents had about other races, religions, ethnic groups when you were a child?
  • How did your prejudice develop?
  • Can you recall a time when you held prejudiced attitudes or beliefs or acted in a discriminatory manner because your group of friends expected you to?
  • Can you think of a prejudiced attitude you have held toward a group of people?
  • Have you ever been the target of discrimination? If so, how did this negative treatment make you feel?
  • Do I hold any stereotypes that may lead to excluding, avoiding, and biased treatment of others?
  • Have you witnessed racism toward any racial or ethnic groups?
  • Are you aware of racism in your community?

In addition to the stories we develop, there are also some excellent tools available to us that would help create dialogue and build bridges between groups.  Among them is the Sojourners Study Guide and Book by Jim Wallace called “America’s Original Sin”.  I have used them in my work over the years and find them to be extremely helpful to participants in exploring belief systems and building community.  A copy of the study guides are provided here in pdf form for your use. There is a virtual learning series called “Racial Equity & Liberation” which is also quite valuable and easy to access. Another good current resource guide was developed by Yusef Mgeni in 2017.

The time for action is now. Clare Hanrahan, the social activist, leaves us with this formidable warning;

“Like the deadly currents in the Mississippi River, racism still lurks about even when much of the surface seems calm.  Today, its poisons are rising again like a deadly fog off the surface of deep and troubled waters.”

Here is the truth. 

Fear of others is the fundamental emotion that guides prejudice and discrimination. It always searches for a scapegoat. When we develop a desire to change through the intervention of a “Power Greater the Ourselves” a realization begins to take hold.  As one of my patients used to repeat over and over to me; “I’m not in charge. It’s a God thing.” We will realize that all of us are fundamentally the same, no matter what our age, gender, race, culture, religion, limits or disabilities may be.  We all have vulnerable hearts and need to be loved and appreciated.  We belong to a common humanity.  As we begin to listen and really hear each other’s stories things begin change and everyone involved is transformed.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_team_member admin_label=”Robert Kenneth Jones” name=”Robert Kenneth Jones” position=”Columnist” image_url=”” facebook_url=”” linkedin_url=”” _builder_version=”3.0.101″ saved_tabs=”all” background_layout=”light” global_module=”26968″]

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


The Listening Mission: Learning to Hear Each Other in Times of Noisy Saber Rattling

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It seems that we are all too eager to pick sides nowadays. 

My wife, Bonita, asked me earlier this week how and when I was going to write about counseling victims of gun violence, the kids march on Washington and important issues of the day which divide our country. Memories came of being an eleven year old on the Edison Grade School playground in Danville, Illinois way back in the dark ages.  A baseball game was about to commence.

Captains were appointed by our teacher and then the chosen boys began picking their favorites, or the most talented as team-mates. Sides quickly developed.  Friends became immediate rivals and the game began. We decided to be The Cubs vs The Yankees.

Young Mickey Mantle faced Don Cardwell.  Little Ernie Banks faced Whitey Ford.  It was 1961 and hard for a boy not to love the Yanks…but we lived in Cub Country.  What are ya gonna do? When the game was over, despite heated arguments about who was safe on first, and what the strike zone was, we all became friends again.

Wouldn’t it be great if it worked that way in all our affairs?  But today we often make hard and fast binary choices which create permanent teams.  This ‘adult’ kind of side picking just isn’t working very well.

Finding Common Ground through Deeper Listening

We have worn ourselves out with fist shaking.  It is time for some really deep listening.  We who are Chaplains, students, human service providers, educators, youngsters, counselors, and folks from every walk of life who believe in freedom cannot rest until the possibility for common ground is reestablished.

I learned a lesson about listening from a group of eight sexually abused boys who were participating in group therapy with me.  We were working on the 12 Steps and they had received a Second Step assignment at the previous session to identify a ‘Power greater than themselves’.  These kids suffered things that most of us can never imagine.  They were tough survivors in small packages who protected themselves by keeping everyone at an arms distance.  I found that it was more important to hear what they weren’t saying.

But finding common ground in something greater than their abuse and bigger than their addictions was an important milestone to achieve for each of them and for the group.  Each session always began in moments of silence.  They hated that.  But it allowed them to find a quiet safe zone from which to begin.  On this day, one after another, they revealed their ‘Higher Power’.  Shane chose a traditional God, Michael chose The Universe, Jason chose numbers (no beginning and no end).  Then came Thad.  He chose a doorknob.

The group burst into laughter and he became red-faced.  I quieted the guys and asked Thad to explain.  He said that he had seen a picture of Jesus standing in a garden knocking at a door.  He had noticed that there was a doorknob on the inside of the cracked open door but none on the outside.  He then glared at the other boys and said; “That’s my Higher Power.  I get to choose whether to open the door or not.” There wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  Laughter had been replaced by little sobs.  We had listened deeply to Thad.  His wisdom opened us all to new possibilities.

Giving Advice, Good Counsel and Talk is the Easy Fix…Try the Listen First Project

My training as a counselor and therapist emphasized listening over talking.  This can be a tough practice when people who come to me are overtly seeking direction.  They say they want me to tell them which way to turn.  They beg for solace, wisdom and comfort from my words.  They want for someone to fix things, to ease the pain and guide them to safe shores.  But I have found when I follow their desire and offer interventionist management that my clients are seldom helped for very long.  It is dangerous and presumptuous of me to think I know what is best.  Rev. Gregory J. Boyle, S.J. recently told me that ‘we can shine a beam of hope on the light switch but it is up to the individual to turn it on or not’. Carl Jung said the therapist has been invited into a patient’s sacred inner temple and that we must remove our shoes before entering. He often told stories rather than give advice. The short of this is to say that we always bring bias and pre-judgment to the table.  This is why it is so important to listen carefully, thoughtfully and tenderly.  Unless there is a severe mental illness blocking the way, every person has a pretty good idea of where they need to go and what they need to do.  We just need to shine the light in the right direction to help them see the way to their own answers.

Chaplains know better than most about the power of listening.  They are called in times of crisis to be present without fixing people.  They learn that being there, often in silent oneness, for those who are grieving and in pain is more powerful than any words or evangelizing could hope to be.  They bring psychological and spiritual healing as they experience gut wrenching stories of loss happens with deep listening and empathy. This ‘Listening Presence’ is perhaps the most critical skill a Chaplain can develop.  It is the tool they will use more than any other.

This active listening approach is used in business and community affairs to reach goals and solve problems.  Lee Iacocca, the automobile industry genius said; “Business people need to listen at least as much as they need to talk.” The Listen First Project has identified four drivers to improve economic results.

  • Discover what listening means to your employees, each person’s listening style, and how to build your team around a common set of core principles
  • Learn effective listening techniques and specific behaviors that drive results
  • Practice the skills necessary to become a professional listener
  • Engage employees beyond the workshop by infusing communications with Listen First principles that foster a positive team listening environment

Listen First is a ‘movement to mend the frayed fabric of America by bridging divides one conversation at a time’.  They have been instrumental in bringing healing to communities around the country. Their National Week of Listening began on April 20th of 2018 in Charlottesville, VA (#ListenFirst).  In an age of ever increasing division and polarization, this group is offering hope. The first step is to take their Pledge:

“I will listen first to understand and consider another’s views before sharing my own. I will prioritize respect and understanding in conversation. And I will encourage others to do the same.”

Creating Safe Places for Listening

People don’t feel safe sharing their opinions.  Even though there is quite a bit of ranting on Face Book, Twitter and other social media, most of us put on a brave face and don’t engage. A woman I know and have helped over the years is struggling with the binary choices and ponderous polarization that her son is experiencing in a northern high school.  They moved from the south a few years ago.  She confided in me that “my son gets “bullied” by his peers AND teachers for wearing Trump, NRA or God Bless America items. Todd (not his real name) is a responsible long gun competitor.” The young man is dating a girl whose mother has strong “liberal” principles and exerts quite a bit of influence over her daughters thinking. The girl and Todd have to hide his beliefs or she would never allow them to see each other. Additionally, my former client feels unable to tell people about her strong fundamental Christian faith or political preferences for fear of being chastised and shunned by her community.

I wonder what it might be like if we created Listening Missions in our places of work, play and worship? Imagine regular meeting places and times where ideas, differences and possibilities were really heard, honored, discussed and processed. I am sure that we would find some brilliant solutions.

Then there is the former Rural Southern Voice for Peace (RSVP) now known as The Listening Project, which is a group offering help to organizations and communities. Back in 1981, The Rural Southern Voice for Peace, founded by Herb and Marnie Walters in Celo, North Carolina, began a “deep listening” fellowship which has become The Listening Project.  My best friend from Danville, Steve Magin was one of those engaged in starting community listening projects (CLP’s).

These CLPs are a comprehensive listening, organizing and action process that can take grassroots organizing to new levels of skill and success. They also organized Facilitated Group Listening (FGL) which is another communication and action program offered by Listening Project. FGL enables larger groups of people to come together at the same time, to address differences, commonalities, problems and solutions. It is structured so all participants agree to a contract that protects each person’s right to be heard and respected. Listening takes place in small groups that are guided by a trained facilitator.

They can be reached at Rural Southern Voice For Peace ~1036 Hannah Branch Rd., Burnsville, NC 28714 or 828.675.4626 or

We Have the Bully Pulpit

Our 26th President, Teddy Roosevelt, recognized that his office gave him a unique platform from which to listen, advocate and act.  He called it the Bully (wonderful) pulpit. Our influence as servant leaders offers just such a platform and means to facilitate listening.  We can shape a new conversation where win/lose or compromise are transformed to cooperation. When we compromise everyone has a stake in the loss.

When we cooperate everyone has a stake in the win.  We will have facilitated common ground and new ways to succeed are established. Our children are watching, pleading and demanding our cooperation in ending the stalemate that comes from polarization.  They showed up and demonstrated across the country to make their point.  We must begin to listen…and to hear each other in radical new ways.  We share the bully pulpit.  Let’s find a way to create Listening Missions wherever we serve.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_team_member name=”Robert Kenneth Jones” position=”Columnist” image_url=”” facebook_url=”” linkedin_url=”” admin_label=”Robert Kenneth Jones” _builder_version=”3.0.101″ global_module=”26968″ saved_tabs=”all”]

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


The Addiction Epidemic: Re-ordering Strategies for Substance Abuse Disorders from Intervention to Prevention

[et_pb_section fb_built=”1″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ custom_padding=”23px|0px|54px|0px|false|false”][et_pb_row _builder_version=”3.0.47″ background_size=”initial” background_position=”top_left” background_repeat=”repeat” custom_padding=”9px|0px|40px|0px|false|false”][et_pb_column type=”4_4″ _builder_version=”3.0.47″ parallax=”off” parallax_method=”on”][et_pb_text _builder_version=”3.0.101″]More than 64,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2016, including illicit drugs and prescription opioids…nearly double in a decade. An estimated 88,000 people (approximately 62,000 men and 26,000 women) died from alcohol abuse in the same year. We lost 152,000 people.  This makes alcohol and drug abuse/addiction the third leading preventable cause of death in the United States. Only heart disease and cancer took more lives.

Congress approved and the President signed a bill funding $7.4 billion for addiction in 2018.  But are we allocating our resources well? Are we addressing this health crisis in new and effective ways? It is a good and meaningful try to be sure.  The problem is that we continue to allocate much more money and effort into putting out fires as opposed to preventing them.

Chattooga River

Chattooga River

Are We Focused on the Real Problem? Insights from the Chattooga River

In my role as an addiction professional, I used to speak before groups of mental health, substance abuse and adolescent treatment providers on a fairly regular basis. One of the stories I liked to tell is that of a hiker in the Blue Ridge Mountains who had wandered onto an active emergency situation at a Class IV rapid on the Chattooga River.

There were ambulances, EMT’s, police officers, a coroner and lots of onlookers trying desperately to pull the dead and dying from still-treacherous waters below the rapids.  The victims were young people who were beaten by rocks, lungs full of river, no longer able to help themselves.  Knowing that he would only get in the way, the hiker hustled upstream.  There he found another frantic situation indeed.

The whitewater of Bull Sluice was enveloping kayaks, canoes and swimmers. Specially trained First Responders and Experienced Whitewater Guides were using all of their skills in efforts to get people out of harm’s way to little avail.  So the hiker went around the bend and up to a point where he heard cries for help and found several river guides and volunteers throwing floating devices on ropes, wading into swift water, hauling kids and boats up to shore from an area just above the Class IV treachery.   Many were being rescued but some were swept away.

There was still little room for him to be of any use, so the hiker ran along the bank to find a group of youngsters swimming in the river.  Some neighbors and volunteers from the down river site were trying to talk them into getting out of the water…warning of the perils downstream.

Several of them paid attention and followed the urgings of their warnings and headed in for dry land.  Finally, a few hundred yards further on, the hiker found a bend in the river where it seemed to be warm and inviting.  A group of kids were changing into swim wear and heading toward the water with rafts and inner tubes.  There were no adults supervising, warning or rescuing.  The situation was so ostensibly innocent.

He approached the young people, told them of all he had witnessed and talked about finding another way to enjoy the afternoon that might not be so life-threatening.  He showed them the way to a little private cove where still water, a diving well and nice beach waited.  Everyone took him up on the offer and enjoyed a safe day of adventure.

From the Intensive Care to Early Screening:

Our Inverted Focus (or Looking for Cures in All the Wrong Places)

I think my subtitle is a little cutesier than it should be. It makes me think of the 1980 Country song “Lookin’ for Love” by Johnny Lee making it hard to resist.  Anyway, my story about the Blue Ridge Hiker is what I believe is an upside-down pyramid of attention, emphasis, funding and research in dealing with the opioid/addiction epidemic.  The following are the categories of treatment intervention as I have experienced them in decades of direct service in the field of Substance Abuse Disorders (SUDs).

Tertiary Intervention: Most of our precious time and resources has been given to what I call tertiary intervention.  Like the hiker approaching the chaotic rescue efforts downriver, we have spent most of our time giving CPR to the dying and burying the others. Tertiary Interventions include;

  • Emergency Response Teams (First Responders, LEO’s, Emergency Rooms, Hospitals, Intensive Care)
  • 24 hour hospital based Short Term Medical Detox Centers
  • Criminal Justice System
  • Universal availability of naloxone

Secondary Intervention: These are Medically Managed Services for adolescents and adults.  In my story, it is the discovery of direct whitewater rescue.  Secondary Interventions include;

  • Hospital based 24-hour nursing care and daily physician care for severe, unstable patients who cannot manage life without these intensive services.
  • 24 hour Intensive Inpatient Services Withdrawal Management centers with counseling, physician, nursing and medication management services.
  • Residential treatment centers with flexible programs to meet individual treatment needs depending on severity of illness.

Primary Intervention: Services at this level help those who do not require round-the-clock care.  The hiker in the little tale finds swimmers and adventurers above the rapids but in some degree of real trouble.  Primary Interventions include;

  • Partial Hospitalization Services for adolescents and adults, this level of care typically provides 20 or more hours of service a week.
  • Intensive Outpatient Services for adolescents and adults, this level of care typically consists of 9 or more hours of service a week.
  • Outpatient Services for adolescents and adults, this level of care typically consists of less than 9 hours of service a week.
  • Opioid Treatment Programs. (OTP) utilizes methadone or buprenorphine formulations in an organized, ambulatory, addiction treatment clinic for clients with severe Opioid-Use Disorders to establish a maintenance state of addiction recovery
  • Drug Courts

Primary Prevention: Early Intervention for Adults and Adolescents, this level of care constitutes a service for individuals who, for a known reason, are at risk of developing substance-related problems, or a service for those for whom there is not yet sufficient information to document a diagnosable substance use disorder. This represents the final stop for our hiker.  Primary Preventions include;

There is practically universal accord that our methods of dealing with drug and alcohol abuse have failed to achieve the desired results.  The efforts to stem the tide of addiction by declaring a war on drugs (which was really a war on people engaged in it) proved almost fruitless.

The problem is that despite good intentions, and an allocation of massive funding, we are continuing to pour resources into the least effective means of turning the tables on our nationwide epidemic. Policy makers and leaders have decided to ignore the facts and double down on a status quo method of dealing with a healthcare crisis which has been raging for almost 20 years. And the status quo has made virtually zero impact (statistically speaking) on outcomes.

The Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act (CARA) of 2018 heralds a new era which will “Expand prevention and educational efforts—particularly aimed at teens, parents and other caretakers, and aging populations—to prevent the abuse of methamphetamines, opioids and heroin, and to promote treatment and recovery.  However, it authorizes funding at the roughly the following levels nationwide;

  • Inpatient, outpatient and OTP treatment at $4.1 billion
  • Criminal Justice at $1.59 billion
  • Prevention at $221 million (4.4 million per state)
  • Recovery Support Services (FAVOR, recovery high schools, recovery housing) at $7 million or $140 thousand per state (not even enough to fund services in Upstate South Carolina for example)

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Iceland Teens

There is a place on the planet which has used effective local initiatives in the form of policies to discourage drug use while offering solid alternative programs.

Iceland built an anti-drug plan that focuses largely on providing kids with after-school activities, from music and the arts to sports like soccer and indoor skating to many other clubs and activities.

They coupled this approach with banning alcohol and tobacco advertising, enforcing curfews for teenagers, and getting parents more involved in their kids’ schools to further discourage drug use.

Researcher Harvey Milkman says of Iceland’s approach, that it’s “a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry … without the deleterious effects of drugs.”

As a result, Iceland, which had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, has seen adolescent consumption fall. The number of 15 and 16 year-olds who got drunk in the previous month fell from 42 percent in 1998 to just 5 percent in 2016, and the number who ever smoked marijuana dropped from 17 percent to 7 percent in the same time frame. In a similar time period, from 1997 to 2012, the percentage of 15 and 16 year-olds who participated in sports at least four times a week almost doubled — from 24 to 42 percent — and the number of kids who said they often or almost always spent time with their parents on weekdays doubled, from 23 to 46 percent.
[/et_pb_tab][et_pb_tab title=”The Vermont Approach” _builder_version=”3.0.101″]In another approach, the State of Vermont has developed a comprehensive health care policy which has changed the outcomes for opioid disorders dramatically using medication assisted treatment programs.

It is called the “hub and spoke model” which was developed by the American Society of Addiction Medicine. The results have been encouraging. Vermont is doing much better than nearby states.

It was the only state in New England that in 2015 was below the national average (of 16.3 per 100,000 people) for drug overdose deaths.
[/et_pb_tab][et_pb_tab title=”The Los Angeles Approach” _builder_version=”3.0.101″]One of the most dramatic approaches to dealing with the Drug Crisis can be found at Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. Here, and in a multitude of spin-off organizations, comprehensive employment and life redirection strategies have been used to help gang members, previously incarcerated individuals and families to overcome violence and addiction.

They are unconventional.  Established by Rev. Gregory Boyle, they tell that at Homeboys, hope has an address.  He tells us that, “Homeboy Industries has been the tipping point to change the metaphors around gangs and how we deal with them in Los Angeles County.

This organization has engaged the imagination of 120,000 gang members and helped them to envision an exit ramp off the “freeway” of violence, addiction and incarceration. And the country has taken notice. We have helped more than 40 other organizations replicate elements of our service delivery model, broadening further the understanding that community trumps gang — every time.”

Every member of Homeboys must test clean on drug screens to be a part of the community service.  Their unusual program is based on a spiritual model of unconditional love.

[/et_pb_tab][et_pb_tab title=”The Memphis Approach” _builder_version=”3.0.101″]Memphis is using ACE’s.

Infographic created to share information about what adverse childhood experiences are, how prevalent they are and their impact.Web jpg

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Awareness Foundation of Memphis “informs the community about the role of emotional trauma in mental, physical, and behavioral health, and implements innovative models that provide preventable and sustainable solutions to reducing toxic stress in family systems.

The Foundation launched and provides strategic oversight to the ACE Task Force of Shelby County, the Universal Parenting Places, and the Parenting Support Warm Line.” Although not an addiction or substance abuse disorder specific program, ACE’s used in the comprehensive way Memphis is developing will stem the tide through screening and direct services.  The fact is that pain drives addiction and SUDS. Drugs and alcohol are abused by people who have childhood experiences and trauma that the rest of us cannot imagine.

They are seeking relief and a hiding place.  When a community like Memphis gathers its schools, juvenile justice system, LEO’s, pediatricians, colleges, churches, other human service providers, parents and families together, you can be sure that something incredible will happen.

There is new research telling us incredible things about the way addicted brains work.  Drugs have been found to hijack dopamine systems making ‘getting high’ an almost unavoidable consequence.  Also, the adolescent brain, when exposed to drug use has little chance to form good cognitive processes. The idea that addiction is a moral failing has been practically eliminated.  With that in mind, it is even more important that we begin thinking outside of the box.
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It’s Up to Us…Here and Now:

Just think…152,000 people lost from this preventable disease or disorder.  People in our lives will die.  We have a lot of work to do.  Funding and programs will only go so far.  Certainly, we have to encourage a change in the way budgets are allocated.

Prevention first…at the very top priority…is the best and most worthwhile model to embrace. We cannot keep repeating mistakes of the past and expect different outcomes.  But there is a spiritual, community reality that we must embrace as a foundation for how we deal with the problem of addiction and substance abuse disorders.

The one who suffers is not someone else but is each and every one of us.  If we are going to get beyond all of this, there is no other way to look at it.  Our wounds are shared.  We are all in this together.  Here and now, and in each and every moment, we should be asking the question ‘What can I do to help’.

Then we will find an answer.

[/et_pb_text][et_pb_team_member name=”Robert Kenneth Jones” position=”Columnist” image_url=”” facebook_url=”” linkedin_url=”” admin_label=”Robert Kenneth Jones” _builder_version=”3.0.101″ global_module=”26968″ saved_tabs=”all”]

Robert Kenneth Jones is an innovator in the treatment of addiction and childhood abuse.

In a career spanning over four decades, his work helping people recover from childhood abuse and addiction has earned him the respect of his peers.

His blog, An Elephant for Breakfast, testifies to the power of the human spirit to overcome the worst of life’s difficulties. We encourage you to visit and share this rich source of healing, inspiration and meditation.

Contact Bob Jones on Linkedin

Bob Jones’ blog An Elephant for Breakfast


Servant Leadership: Developing Powerful Co-reliant Communities

Twenty-seven years ago I was trying to figure out where my faith journey was going and what I would do about living differently.

Brevard, NC was the place I was calling home at the time.  As a faith formation coordinator in my church, I was coming into contact with several other middle-aged folks from different religions that were hungry for some kind of renewal.  A group of us began gathering on a regular basis in each other’s homes for study, prayer, and conversation.  We soon discovered that people were meeting in nearby Hendersonville under the direction of Bennett J Sims, a retired Episcopal Bishop. Bennett and his wife Mary had moved their Institute for Servant Leadership from Atlanta in 1988. We joined with the Hendersonville group and began classes to prepare ourselves for servant leadership.

Robert K. Greenleaf began the modern day Servant leadership movement in a 1970 essay The Servant as Leader.  It has become “a philosophy and set of practices that enriches the lives of individuals, builds better organizations and ultimately creates a more just and caring world.” His concepts, ideas, and writings were seen as controversial, lofty and unrealistic at first.  But soon, the religious and secular worlds began to embrace these principals.  Many have found that Servant Leadership has the power to transform human experience.  Greenleaf’s work and Bennett Sims direction led the twelve of us from Brevard to attend two resident workshops at The School of Servant Leadership at the Festival Center in Washington, DC, and ministries of The Church of The Savior.  The teaching and experiential group processes under the gentle mentorship of Gordon Cosby changed each of us in profound ways.

The Wisdom of Gordon Cosby

I will never forget Gordon’s words to us when we first met.  We had filed into a room where he was reclining in a chair.  When we were seated he met each one of us in an intentional loving gaze.  In a few minutes he said; “Welcome to the Festival Center and to your Nation’s Capital.  We have been waiting for you…for a long, long time. All of eternity has conspired to bring you here right now.”

Gordon Cosby’s greeting sums up the message of Servant Leadership for me.  Though it is certainly a philosophy which has generally prescribed practices, the welcoming of this well known, great man expressed its essence in the language of unconditional love.  He shared his vision of Christ who serves the poor in community while empowering each other.  He taught that power comes from the bottom up rather than top down.  He proposed that each of us find a passion which might lead to conquering and healing poverty, racism, addiction, and disease.

Servant Leadership Goes Mainstream

Servant Leadership is the future of our future according to Anthony Perez.  It has been expressed in many ways and applied in many contexts. Some of the most well-known advocates include Joyce Hollyday, William C. Pollard, Jim Wallis, Ken Blanchard, Stephen Covey, Peter Senge, M. Scott Peck, Ian Fuhr, Margaret Wheatley, Ann McGee-Cooper, Larry Spears, and Kent Keith.  Servant Leadership Institutes have been established across the entire country in community-based programs from Greensboro, NC to Austin, TX to Carlsbad, CA and are attended by thousands of people from all walks of life. The bottom line is that satisfaction and great results come with the applications of servant leadership.

Larry Spears 10 Core Characteristics of Servant Leadership

  1. Listening ~ Servant leadership requires leaders to listen to other people, not just be good at communication and decision-making. Listening is about focusing on what is being said and using this information for guiding the group towards objectives. An effective leader should also identify the things that are left unsaid, as well as the inner voices.
  2. Empathy ~ Listening increases the ability to empathize. Since the focus of servant leadership is to serve others it necessitates an ability to accept and recognize the individual values and feelings people have. A servant leader should be able to love and understand others without prejudice.
  3. Healing ~ Servant leadership emphasizes the emotional health of an individual, together with mental and physical wellbeing. A servant leader should focus on his or her potential to heal one’s own self and others creating a greater possibility of achieving wholeness.
  4. Awareness ~ Servant leadership requires awareness, both in terms of general awareness and self-awareness. Self-awareness, in particular, requires the leader to see their emotions and behaviors in the context of how it affects the rest of the community or group. Through self-awareness, you become better at noticing what the people around you are doing and fix problems quicker.
  5. Persuasion ~ Servant leadership doesn’t rely on authority to get things done. Instead, the concept uses persuasion in order to make a decision. The servant leader seeks for consensus rather than compliance, which is perhaps the biggest difference to traditional authoritarian models. Personal relationships are developed rather than exerting positions of power.
  6. Conceptualization ~ A servant leader is able to conceive solutions to problems, which are not presently there. This kind of conceptualization, therefore, requires the leader to look beyond simple day-to-day realities. In a traditional leadership model, the leader’s focus is often on short-term operational objectives. But a servant leader must look beyond these and conceptualize issues that might not even be on the horizon.
  7. Foresight ~ Another relating point to conceptualization is the concept of foresight. Servant leadership requires the ability to foresee likely outcomes through the understanding of the past. There are three key points to foresight in leadership:
  • The ability to learn from past experiences
  • The ability to identify what is currently happening
  • The ability to understand the consequences of specific decisions
  1. Stewardship ~ Stewardship in servant leadership relates to taking responsibility for your actions and those of the community, group or team. The main assumption is to commit to serving the needs of others first. Not only is the organization holding its trust in the leader, but the whole organization is also to serve the wider community. It’s not about controlling the actions, but to rather allow yourself to be accountable.
  2. Commitment to the growth of people ~ Servant leadership model focuses on the intrinsic value people offer. Therefore, the aim of a servant leader is to help people realize their potential beyond just the ability to perform well. Servant leadership requires the commitment to help people realize their potential, as well as to support it.
  3. Building community ~ Servant leadership relies on the creation of a community and a sense of togetherness within the organization. Greenleaf wrote in his essay, the best way to achieve community might stem from smaller groups. He said, “Achieving many small-scale communities, under the shelter that is best given by bigness, may be the secret of synergy in large institutions”.

Chaplain Programs Embrace Servant Leadership

In January of 2018, The Annual Law Enforcement Management Conference included a session called The Positive Power of Servant Leadership. It was recognized that the Chaplain program is an example of Servant Leadership in action.  Those who serve, often without monetary compensation, offer comfort and counsel in the most painful of circumstances.  Their acts of mercy and kindness relieve LEO’s of dealing with crisis intervention, death notices, and hospital or home visitations (to mention only a few of their duties).  They provide the human face of police departments. That humanity allows the Chaplain to build trusting relationships which nobody else can do.  When Chaplains are given the opportunity to receive Servant Leadership training, their empowering work takes on deeper dimensions of humility and vulnerability.  They become more comfortable in making mistakes and more easily accept setbacks. The qualities of a good servant leader are the ones most often applied to Chaplains.  They are as follow;

  • Open-mindedness
  • Trustworthiness
  • Helpfulness
  • Selflessness
  • Awareness
  • Accountability

Chaplain Harold Elliott’s long-standing Servant Leadership program has been widely acclaimed as a model for other departments. The Greenleaf Center has an ongoing program for Chaplain training in Atlanta.

Servant Leaders One and All

Whether we are chaplains, LEO’s, human service providers, educators, corporate executives or anyone else for that matter, we are called to some kind of leadership in our families, workplaces, and communities. When we recognize our role of service in that context, incredible changes take place. Lives are enriched through the building of relationships with both those being served and those who are serving. I have come to believe that servant leadership is a powerful movement which humbly embraces powerlessness. This is an epiphany which can shape and transform every relationship in our lives.

Try A Little Nudge; How to change habits and manage life using simple positive influence

by Robert Kenneth Jones

Can we parents, family members, friends, supervisors, teachers, pastors or human service providers get the people in our sphere of influence to do things that are good for them when they seem to be going in the wrong direction or even on a collision course with disaster?

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