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Our family impacts our developmental trajectory and outcomes to a far greater degree than most of us in this ruggedly individualistic culture care to admit. Consistent with family systems psychology, this talk challenges the dominant individual orientation in psychological research and practice. Carlson highlights research from the past 50 years that demonstrates the pervasive impact and importance of family relationships on human well-being, then challenges the state of the science in family research and practice, while illuminating a hopeful future.

Cindy Carlson is a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology and Board Certified in the specialty of couples and family psychology.

 

Research shows that when parents practice positive parenting while their children are young, they can protect them from a host of emotional and behavioral issues down the road.

For families who already experience social and economic disadvantages, access to information and resources that can teach them about these practices and provide guidance are often unavailable until children enter the school system when they are five or six years old.

This lack of access to resources during the critical early years for a child’s behavioral development can leave families vulnerable to future behavior issues such as delinquency and substance abuse.

Photo of Abby Bailin and Sarah Kate Bearman

Abby Bailin (left) and Sarah Kate Bearman (right)

Sarah Kate Bearman, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, and Abby Bailin, a doctoral candidate in the school psychology program have created and are testing e-health intervention that can fill this gap in primary and pediatric care settings. It’s part of “Promoting Positive Parenting for Families in Pediatric Primary Care,” a project through the Leveraging Evidence and Advancing Practice for Youth Mental Health Services (LEAP) Lab.

The intervention is a seven-minute video, which is available in both English and Spanish. It is shown to parents and children while they wait in the exam room before seeing their pediatrician for a well-child visit.

Under the Affordable Care Act, insurance plans are required to cover well-child visits to primary and pediatric care facilities within the first few years of the child’s life, making clinics the perfect place to provide additional resources for families with the greatest need.

“We believe that pediatric primary care is a natural place to meet families in a setting they already trust. By creating an e-health intervention, we were able to take advantage of the time that families spend waiting in these clinics without requiring more from care providers in these clinics,” says Bearman.

Parents are shown examples of positive attending and brief mild ignoring – known as differential attention parenting strategies – that demonstrate how to encourage desirable behaviors with praise and discourage undesirable ones by removing attention. The video focuses on practices that prevent disruptive behaviors like child noncompliance and mild aggressive behaviors, which increase the likelihood of child maltreatment.

After watching the video, families are able to ask questions of their care provider about the techniques in the video and receive additional information that could benefit them after viewing the video or during their next appointment.

The intervention is currently being tested at four pediatric clinics in the Austin area where 63 percent of participating families are at or below the poverty line: CommUnity Care East, People’s Community Clinic, Seton McCarthy Community Clinic, and Del Valle Children’s Wellness Center.

Early results suggest decreases in parenting stress, an important predictor of family well-being.

“One of the key outcomes we’re focusing on is reducing parenting stress. When parents are given support in the important job of parenting, they may feel less overwhelmed and more able to connect with and enjoy their children—which is good for everyone in the family,” says Bearman.

Funding for the project was secured through the Seton Family Healthcare Partners, UT Center for Health and Social Policy, and the UT Office of the Vice President for Research.

Kinesiology and Health Education junior Vida Nwadiei and Educational Psychology Professor Kevin Cokley will travel to Ghana this summer as part of a new research project, The Color Complex. The project, which received the President’s Award for Global Learning, is a cross-disciplinary look at colorism, both in Ghana and here at the University of Texas at Austin, in order to mitigate its harmful effects.

Colorism is discrimination based on skin color or skin shade. Dominate groups can prefer people with lighter skin shades, and the preference can also occur within communities of color. In some cultures, the preference for lighter skin causes people to use harmful skin bleaching creams in order to lighten their own tone.

Nwadiei, Cokley, and a team of students and faculty across campus, will investigate how businesses can stop the promotion of conventional “fair and lovely” beauty standards to young women of color. The team will conduct a qualitative study about the perceptions of skin bleaching and use their findings to create a campaign that educates people on the dangers of the practice.

–Videos by Christina S. Murrey

And how can music be used to help counselors in training? According to Educational Psychology Professor Aaron Rochlen, more than you might think.

In his Counseling Theories class, Rochlen frequently connects complex psychological theories to media, movie clips, and song lyrics. In a recent visit to his graduate level course, several examples unfolded. He played a clip of LeBron James discussing why people enjoy when he loses as examples of “splitting” and “projection.” A clip from the classic movie Scarface, where Tony Montana tells others why they needed him to see him as the “bad guy” illustrated the concept of projective identification.

In another lesson, Rochlen shared a clip of the new Jim Carrey series Kidding, in which Carrey plays Mr. Pickles, a happy go-lucky TV character whose personality contrasts his depressed, grief-ridden, off-screen character. The scene was used to show the Jungian concepts of persona, shadow, and incongruence.

The class also talked about Tiger Woods, who made a recent comeback after a devastating personal scandal to win his first major tour in five years. Woods’ rise, fall, and return provide a case study for competing archetypes. Specifically, the class discussed the destructive power of what one could argue as Woods’ “hidden shadow,” which competes with his earlier good-guy public persona.

These in-class discussions gave the students the opportunity to apply what they learn about psychological theory and counseling. Says Rochlen, “Popular culture connects to and entertains us. But it’s often much deeper, more personal. In class, I try to make these connections and use these examples to facilitate an understanding of human distress and common life-challenges in a fun way.

It’s within this context that Rochlen introduced lyrics of one of his favorite bands, Dawes. Says Rochlen, “When I first discovered Dawes, I loved the music. After a while, I realized the lyrics offered ideal connections to concepts articulated by Freud, Jung, and existential authors. In class it became clear that my students were learning in different, creative, personal ways, and who doesn’t like jamming out in class?”

Some Dawes examples used for teaching stand out.  He played “Just Beneath the Surface” to illustrate Freud’s concepts of the unconscious, defense mechanisms, and Freudian slips.  He asked students to listen to “Something in Common” while prompting them  to reflect on the concept of “persona” and the unconscious message of dreams.

Professor Aaron Rochlen with the band Dawes

Professor Aaron Rochlen, center, with the band Dawes

After the listen, Rochlen typically asks students to describe what they’ve heard, including their emotional responses, with a particular connection to the lyrics. One student said that the Dawes line “All the best kept secrets are the ones I didn’t know I had” had a connection to the unconscious. Explained Nina Clinton, a student studying counseling education, “Freud saw the unconscious as having all of the deep hidden secrets or true selves hidden away, that in therapy he tried to recover.”

The lines, “The way that she remembers me is not the way I really am. But I’m hoping they’ve got something in common” reminded another student of “working with the shadow.” They explained “the persona and shadow should share some of the same qualities, so that a person does not become too conflicted … which leads to anxiety.” When a person’s outward persona and shadow have nothing in common, there can be hell to pay.

Taylor Goldsmith, lead singer and songwriter for the band, learned that Rochlen was using the band’s lyrics for class.  He said that it was “easily the highest honor of my career as a songwriter. It goes way beyond what dreams a songwriter like me could possibly have for his or her songs. When I met Aaron, he explained to me the ideas he used my songs to help illustrate. I wasn’t familiar with any of the terms or thinkers he was referring to, so that was definitely an added thrill … especially for someone who never got to finish college, which is something I hope I get to go back and do someday.

Says Rochlen, “A songwriter doesn’t need to be aware of the concepts to be impacted by them or communicate them.  It was clear Taylor has done plenty of introspection in his own life.”

Rochlen adds, “That’s part of why using popular culture is so powerful. It shows these concepts are an intrinsic part of the human mind and psyche. Each of us has the capacity to demonstrate the core concepts in our life, in healthy or unhealthy ways. Of course, although Freud, Jung and others wrote about all of this in different times, the prescience of their work remainsjust turn on the radio or television.”

In July, the College of Education’s Educational Psychology Department hosted the 5thBiennial American Psychological Association Division 45 Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race Research Conference. It is the only psychology conference that focuses entirely on culture, ethnicity, and race and the biases present because of these factors.

“In the current climate, it is imperative now more than ever that psychological research is utilized to help communities of color address these current issues related to immigration and the increase of racial tensions,” said Professor Kevin Cokley, who co-coordinated the conference with fellow College of Education Associate Professor Germine Awad.

Interdisciplinary Collaborations Help Address Complex Problems

The pre-conference opened with a panel presentation and discussion, Fostering Effective and Impactful Interdisciplinary Collaborations. College of Education Assistant Professor Sarah Kate Bearman, a clinical child psychologist, presented.

Bearman’s research focuses on effective interventions for underserved children and their families. She explained how her work within a transdisciplinary space—which involves basic science, translational and intervention research, as well as organizational science, interaction with doctors, nurses, care givers, and health communicators—leads to better outcomes.

“The best way to solve complex social and health problems,” said Bearman, “is a participatory team science framework, which is a collaborative effort.”

This interdisciplinary approach helps her create and implement culturally responsive health care interventions for children and families, such as an e-health parenting intervention that can be delivered during routine well-child visits in pediatric primary care clinics. Bearman stressed that team science and community-based participatory research involves continual input from the community. “The research is done with the participants, rather than on them.”

Racial Biases Create Health Disparities

Keynote speaker Lonnie Snowden kicked off the conference. Currently a professor at University of California, Berkeley, he teaches in the Health Policy and Management program in the School of Public Health.

In his address, The Affordable Care Act (ACA), Racial Bias, and Behavioral Healthcare for African Americans, Snowden discussed how policy has impacted ACA expansion, increased access to and quality of behavioral healthcare for minorities, and how biases and stereotypes have negatively impacted Medicaid expansions.

The current combination of biases, both implicit and explicit, and stereotypes surrounding African-Americans and Medicaid recipients has created the concept of the “undeserving poor,” those who supposedly do not deserve healthcare Keynote Speaker Lonnie Snowdencoverage due to their income, race, employment status, or a variety of other factors, said Snowden.

He explained how the concept of the undeserving poor and misconceptions about Medicaid participants has created consequences for public health, healthcare delivery, and employment. This merging of stereotypes has exasperated underlying racial biases in healthcare policies and has led to coverage gaps.

Snowden encouraged psychologists to increase their roles in policy, stating that “what happens in policy creation and implementation can have either a positive or negative impact on people’s lives. The things that we study effect a lot of people, they matter.”

Psychologists of Color and Public Policy

In addition to presentations of findings and networking for practitioners, researchers and students, a plenary panel presented Using Psychology to Impact Public Policy: The Role of Psychologists of Color.

Rice Academy Affiliate Fellow Luz Garcini discussed how her background as a 16-year-old undocumented immigrant impacts her research. She shared with the audience how she frames the issues surrounding undocumented immigrants in terms that can affect public policy, particularly by focusing on the unaddressed health care needs of the population and the subsequent toll those needs take on them and the larger society.

Awad discussed how her research about how Americans of Middle East, North African descent has helped inform policy discussions of categorization of this population within the 2020 Census. All of the panelists stressed that though policy work is difficult and time-consuming, psychologists of color, and those who address issues related to people of color, need to be in the room in order to improve the health and well-being of diverse populations.

This was the first time the conference has been held at the University of Texas at Austin. Previous conferences were held at the University of Michigan, where it was founded by Professor and VP of Diversity Robert Sellers; the University of Oregon; and Stanford. 

Cokley is the Oscar and Anne Mauzy Regents Professor for Educational Research and Development. 

China’s former One Child Policy had profound effects on the parenting of children in the country. As China promoted the policy, extolling the benefits of “high-quality” only children, parents began to devote extraordinary time, attention, and resources to their single child. The children also felt pressure to be the “great” offspring that their parents and country expected them to be.

It was thought that such inordinate attention to and pressure on only children would create generations of “Little Emperors,” children with an exceedingly high self-regard, leading to egocentric character traits considered negative, especially in Chinese society.

Educational Psychology Professor Toni Falbo has spent much of her career studying the effects of China’s One Child Policy on children. Her latest study evaluated research previously published about China’s only children through a new lens that included what has been learned in intervening years.

Head shot of Professor Toni Falbo

Toni Falbo

Falbo’s research compared how only children saw themselves and how they were seen by others, such as the parents and classmates. The results show that singleton boys had a high regard for themselves, a high level that did not match the assessment others had of them. Meanwhile, singleton girls assessed themselves as others saw them.

Says Falbo, “Gender seems to moderate the self-enhancement attributes of the only children we studied. Whereas the boys described themselves more positively than did their parents and peers, the girls described themselves as positively as their parents and peers.” In fact, says Falbo, the girls’ self-assessment was comparable to the self-assessment of girls with siblings.

“While China’s One Child Policy caused parents to favor boys with some negative consequences regarding their egocentricity, it had a positive impact on girls,” says Falbo. She believes that this is because parents devoted resources and attention to girls in a manner that they would not have prior to the policy. “The One Child Policy opened up opportunities for girls, which created a positive effect for female only children.”

To read more, download “Evaluations of the behavioral attributes of only children in Beijing, China: moderating effects of gender and the one-child policy” and listen to a BBC story about only children that features Falbo’s research.

-Feature photo by Lau keith on Unsplash

Divorce. Addiction. Chronic Illness. Jail. These traumas occur in American life at all societal levels, and they affect the lives of both adults and children every day. When kids are affected by traumatic events, they bring the effects of that trauma with them to school. Depression, anxiety and trauma-induced behavioral challenges impact their ability to learn and their relationships with teachers and peers.

Educational Psychology alumnus Elizabeth Minne, Ph.D. ’06, is helping to provide an outlet for students to deal with some of these issues for Austin Independent School District (AISD) students through on-campus school mental health centers. Vida Clinic, which was founded by Minne, has partnered with AISD to provide on-campus mental health centers with licensed counselors.

Elizabeth Minne

Initially implemented at Crockett High School, mental health services have expanded to 18 middle and high schools, and 22 elementary schools. These schools serve students who live in multilingual neighborhoods, many of which have a higher proportion of crime and a lack of transportation. These factors can lead to issues such as disruptive behavior or chronic absenteeism.

The stress that students experience can lead to disruptive behavior in and out of class that can, in turn, lead to suspensions or expulsions. Meeting with a counselor provides a way for students to work through their issues, without relying on punitive measures that help fuel the school-to-prison pipeline.

Vida Clinic helps fill a void that school counselors typically cannot take on. Most school counselors are required to spend the majority of their time supporting students academically—making sure students are earning their school credits and are on track to graduate. The job of Vida Clinic’s clinical therapists is to support student mental health. When counselors encounter students who are struggling emotionally, they can refer students to the on-site clinic for mental health services. Students do not have to travel and miss minimal class time. This also means that parents or guardians do not have to take time off of work to take children to appointments.

A case study from the 2016-2017 school year at Crockett High School offers support that these services benefit the students who participate. Compared to a control group, students in the treatment group exhibited increased attendance, fewer expulsions, and higher academic performance.

Teachers and parents can be involved in a variety of ways, says Minne. “They can participate in individual therapy services for themselves. They can take part in individual consultation services in order to develop trauma-informed strategies for responding to challenging student behaviors. They can participate in small group workshops to develop skills and knowledge of mental health concepts. Or they can attend campus-wide presentations for initial learning of mental health concepts, such as Trauma-Informed Care.”

The on-campus clinics also help destigmatize mental health. When appropriate, therapists can also work with the student’s parents or teachers, taking a holistic approach to mental health.

Providing teachers with resources to deal with disruptive behavior can also help reduce teacher stress. “Teachers can sometimes take disruptive behavior from students personally, when many times the disruptive behavior has less to do with the teacher and more to do with stress or mental health issues the student is facing,” says Christopher McCarthy, a professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at the University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education.

McCarthy and his graduate students have collaborated with Minne for several years to help teachers develop coping resources for classroom stress. They also help improve teachers’ occupational health and allow them to better recognize when students might be experiencing mental health concerns.

Says Minne, “We find that when we have mental health professionals on campuses who are able to provide therapeutic support for everyone, both the adults and the students, the climate begins to shift to one that is more open to talking about mental health. It becomes easier for everyone to acknowledge that mental health is something that we all need to pay attention to. As one teacher told me, ‘It takes a village, we are all in this together.’”

 

Valentine’s Day can be challenging for those without a partner to shower them with tokens of affection. The holiday also sets up expectations for those in romantic relationships—expectations that may backfire.Kristin NeffProfessor Kristen Neff in Educational Psychology., associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin’s College of Education, studies the impact of self-compassion on people’s emotional and psychological health. She says that Valentine’s Day can present a terrific opportunity for people to show themselves self-compassion, which can lead to greater emotional satisfaction and actually improve intimate relationships.

According to Neff, people who are not partnered can “ask themselves what they need and want from a partner. They may come up with answers like love, being heard, being seen for who they are. They can make a list of those things, and they can give those things to themselves.”

She recommends that people also give themselves validation and appreciation verbally.  A person can say to themselves, aloud, “I’m here for you. I care about you,” and meet that need for themselves.

Research also shows that self-touch impacts the body and mind positively. “The warmth of human touch has a positive impact, even if that touch is from your own hand,” says Neff. She recommends placing your hand over your heart while speaking words of kindness to yourself. “Doing so can help ease the sadness a person may feel about not having a partner.”

People often have high expectations of days like Valentine’s Day. Neff recommends letting go of those expectations. “A supportive and open-hearted attitude for the particular situation can be especially helpful,” she says. “And if a person is not in a relationship and wants one, it’s important for the person to accept that desire, have compassion for the struggle, and also remember that relationships can bring both joy and pain.”

In the end, says Neff, “Meeting your own needs and showing yourself compassion, acceptance, and kindness are important activities that also lead a person to be more kind and supportive to their sweetheart too.”

Self-compassion, she says, “is not only good for individuals, it’s also good for relationships too.”

–Photo by Elijah Macleod on Unsplash

Valentine’s Day is a day for romance—cards and chocolates, flowers and dinner dates. It’s a day to celebrate love and affection.

But are men really that into it? Or are they just going along to keep their partners happy?

Aaron Rochlen researches men and masculinity, with a focus on men’s mental health. He’s a program director and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education. He offers his perspective on how Valentine’s Day is perceived by many men who identify as heterosexual. He also discusses why it may be hard for some men to express their feelings openly.

Is Valentine’s Day an Obligation?

“Speaking in broad generalizations, women in relationships are perceived as embracing the romantic element that Valentine’s Day reinforces,” says Rochlen. “Women may be seeking an emotional connection they don’t always receive, or at least not as much as they’d prefer, from their male partners.”

“My sense is that men have this same emotional capacity, but accessing and expressing emotions may be more difficult to many guys,” says Rochlen.

The pressure to express that emotion may add to a sense of obligation some men feel about making a big deal about Valentine’s Day.

Rochlen says that personally, he’d rather not be on a timeline for expressing closeness and generosity. “When men feel there’s a specific date to express emotions—like Valentine’s Day— hanging over them, it’s tricky. Many guys would rather take out their partners for dinner or be romantic at other points in their relationship, when it comes more naturally or spontaneously, instead of being dictated by a calendar.”

Rochlen says he’s seen that pressure from family, friends, and even significant others can influence a man’s perception of masculinity.

“Men often are reinforced by culture to equate love with sexuality versus relational closeness and affection,” says Rochlen. “Men are socialized in troublesome ways to be sexually dominant and demonstrate power over women.”

There’s Hope

Yet men may feel that they scorned for being too masculine, but ridiculed for not being masculine enough. This Catch-22 can influence how they see Valentine’s Day.

However, Rochlen says he’s noticing a cultural movement that’s redefining masculinity—it’s becoming more acceptable for men to express their vulnerable side, even with each other. “There’s a shift toward men deciding ‘let’s embrace each other—metaphorically and literally.’”

Rochlen’s op-ed in Psychology Today, “A Positive and Refined Masculinity,” takes a look at how physical and emotional contact among men is changing. He references the NFL’s 2018 Super Bowl commercial featuring Eli Manning and Odell Beckham, Jr. “It shows us a different message of masculinity — one of playfulness, creativity, closeness with other men.” The NFL wouldn’t have considered airing an ad like this even five years ago.

Photo of Aaron Rochlen

Aaron Rochlen

Rochlen says the NFL may be opening up a new playbook on masculinity that a lot of men could follow.

Are we seeing men’s perceptions of Valentine’s Day changing? Maybe.

As more men begin to think it’s acceptable to express vulnerability and care, maybe their perception of Valentine’s Day will shift too. Says Rochlen, “And that would really be something to celebrate.”

 

 

Sara Bearman and Erin Rodriguez

Sarah Kate Bearman

Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology

Erin M. Rodriguez

Assistant Professor, Department of Educational Psychology

Children need and deserve mental health care that has been tested and found to be effective. Sarah Kate Bearman is nationally recognized for the study of dissemination and implementation of psychosocial interventions for children and families in schools, clinics, and primary care settings. Erin Rodriguez studies family and sociocultural influences on children’s health. Her work focuses on understanding cultural and developmental processes in children’s coping with stress, with the goal of informing culturally relevant interventions to reduce health disparities.