Community Mental Health
with Ross Laird
Working with a community participant in a mental health project at the Derby Museum, Derby, UK. Photo credit Jason McKeown.
I offer workshops and presentations, on a wide variety of topics, to many different kinds of communities, groups, and organizations. I present to schools (on topics related to parenting, childhood development, and mentorship), to organizations in arts and culture (on topics related to professional arts development and changes in the cultures of the arts), to corporations and professional associations (on topics related to leadership, mentorship, and conflict resolution), and to social service organizations (on topics related to trauma, addictions, and healing).
Typically, my presentations are customized to the specific needs of each community or group. I do not prepackage and deliver set pieces but rather consult with potential clients about what is most needed, what will work best, and what to emphasize. Presentations can be as brief as an hour or as long as several days, and fees are contingent upon the requirements of each presentation. Below are a few sample presentations that have been developed in conversation with previous clients. Typically, a client will choose a synthesis or blend of several of the topics shown below. Feel free to get in touch if you'd like to discuss a possible presentation.
The word mentor refers to a character in Homer’s Odyssey, a friend of Odysseus who offers counsel to his son during the father’s long absence upon the sea. But the sage Mentor is actually Athena in disguise, the goddess of war and wisdom who guides and sustains Odysseus through his journey. A mentor, therefore, is a wisdom guide. The mentors of myth and literature are always wanderers. They have traveled, they understand the ways of the road, they have traversed their own circuitous paths in the desert. They have experience, hardscrabble wisdom, clarity, a history of grappling and searching. Of having faced up to it – whatever it is. Adolescence is typically the period of our deepest grappling and searching – indeed, the most pivotal phase of our lives. We decide, often without recognizing it, our trajectory into the world. And how we enter is how we go on. Adolescence is the first tentative step forward, the juncture at which we establish our speed and direction and even our purpose. The character of our movement is defined. And that character is shaped by mentorship more than by any other force. The mentor might be a parent, or grandparent, or teacher, or counsellor – it doesn’t matter much. But it must be someone whose temperament coaxes from us our better nature. Without mentorship a child becomes a wanderer in a strange country. In this workshop we will explore the challenges, skills, and strategies required for purposeful mentorship.
The landscape of education has changed more rapidly in the past decade than in the previous hundred years. New technologies challenge established norms. Emerging practices promise new modes and methods. Cultural, economic, and social changes encourage (and perhaps even demand) a comprehensive review of what education is, and what it’s for. We are — to put it mildly — living through an age of educational destruction and renewal. As educators, we need to decide how to deal with this turbulence. Opting out is a not a viable option. After all, education is a service profession: we serve the means and ends of learning. If those means and ends are challenged, if they change, if they are re-imagined and reinvented, we must respond accordingly. We must join the conversation, engage with the turbulence, be willing to evolve as circumstances evolve around us. Most of us are trying hard. We’ve started using digital media and materials; we’ve found ways of engaging students with laptops and handhelds; we’ve spent time researching the trends and considerations that lie before us; we’ve started adapting our curriculum to the new conditions we face in culture and society. We’re making headway. But we also need some clarity. The landscape is changing so fast, and so often, that it’s hard to know where and how to find a foothold. Should we blog, tweet, check-in? Should we use tools today that will be relics tomorrow? How do we integrate the storied, established traditions of education (traditions that have built formal education into the most successful cultural enterprise in the history of humanity) with the forward-looking, adaptive, spontaneous activities of learners today? This presentation offers educators (and parents) a clear sense of how to think about the current situation and what to do about it. No previous geekery is expected or required.
This presentation explores the emerging cultures of technology and their impact on childhood development, family life, and education. Technology is now an essential feature of the landscape of childhood and adolescence. Gaming, micro-blogging, social networking, texting, and other digital tools now provide the central means by which adolescents manage the challenges of their development. Issues such as anxiety, depression, isolation, anger, and addiction are increasingly finding niches in the online worlds. Educators, parents, counsellors, and all those who work with children must be able to respond to this groundswell of change with new skills and strategies. This presentation provides a summary of those skills and strategies along with a suite of simple, practical tools that can assist adults in navigating – and helping kids navigate – the complexities of the digital landscape. This is typically an evening presentation intended for parents (and their kids), educators, and social service professionals.
Addiction is the most common and the most misunderstood challenge we face. Most of us find addictions somewhere close by: in our families, in our peers, sometimes in ourselves. Addictions are everywhere. And yet, it's tough to know what addiction really is: a habit, a means of coping, a way of just having fun? And at what point does having fun become something else: something darker and much more difficult? Despite the mysteries and complexities of addiction, we do know quite a bit about how it starts: in adolescence, typically, with a series of situations and events that tend to lead people toward addictive behavior. And we also know a great deal about how to stop addictions: through education, healthy relationships, mentorship, and meaningful experiences. In this workshop we discuss the matter of addiction: what it is, how to understand it, how to deal with it. We talk about different kinds of addictions: drugs and alcohol, technology addictions, addictions to risk and recklessness. We explore the skills and knowledge required to be safe and self-aware, and we explore new developments in addictions research. This is an open forum for discussion, debate, and learning.
Technologies are now foundational to both our personal and professional lives. We surf the web, communicate via email, immerse ourselves in social media, stream our favourite shows, and read our digital books. Our daily activities increasingly depend upon technology — searching for gas stations on our route, browsing research findings online, organizing meetings and events through the web. And yet, we haven't had much opportunity to think through how we are using technology. Is constant connection good for us? Does social media corrode or enhance personal relationships? Are we hurtling toward a society of permanently sedentary, spoon-fed automatons? Or are we building new visions of integrated and engaged human society? How do we know, and how do we find out? This workshop explores these questions and offers suggestions for engaging — purposefully and mindfully — with technology.
Dealing with conflicts in the workplace is immensely stressful for most people. We feel adrift, uneasy, activated. How can we learn to manage these reactions and to approach conflict with self-awareness, neutrality, and confidence? This workshop explores behaviours and strategies that increase the likelihood of resolving conflicts in the workplace, with an emphasis on self-development perspectives, power dynamics, and positive approaches. Conflict is inevitable; how we deal with it determines, to a large extent, how successful we can be both in the workplace and in life.
Trauma occurs when stress exceeds our capacity to cope. Physiological (i.e. emotional) energy breaks through our emotional containment and we fall into incomplete responses (fight, flee, freeze, orient) that become locked and habitual. We remain stuck, replaying and reliving traumatic moments over and over again. The work of trauma healing requires the completion of locked response patterns and the development of new adaptations for dealing with similarly stressful situations. This sequence is, essentially, our evolutionary imperative toward healing. In this workshop we explore how to identify trauma (in ourselves and others), and we learn how to support ourselves (and our peers, and our families) as we navigate stressful environments. We examine how to resource ourselves with healthy containment, how to promote and sustain core relational skills, and how to develop and maintain the body awareness skills essential for healing and growth. When combined in the spirit of authentic inquiry and relationship, these skills deliver presence, emotional management, safety of feelings, and overall psychological health.
We live in a world focused on the individual, but our most meaningful experiences are with groups: in the family, in the workplace, in our personal relationships. Our ability to be with others, to communicate, to learn and grow together, is the essence of what being human is all about. The world is a strange place at the moment, and it can be tough to find a sure way forward. How do we respond to the momentum of technology? How do we handle the acceleration and pressure of modern life? How do we stay connected -- to ourselves, to our peers, to those we love — in a world that sometimes seems so fragmented? This workshop explores some of the skills we can use (or develop) to stay in touch with our self-awareness, our empathy, and to find ways of moving in the world that are purposeful and clear. Using principles and values centered on group creativity, play, and self-reflection, the workshop will offer participants strategies and considerations for working on ourselves, working in groups, and working toward healthy communities.
Working with the emotional lives of people is immensely rewarding but also very stressful. Highly-charged emotional situations can sometimes lead to overwhelm, compassion fatigue, and even trauma. In these types of scenarios we easily lose our boundaries, our skills in self-care, and our ability to resource ourselves and others. We get stuck, replaying habituated stress responses and reliving traumatic moments over and over again. Healing these patterns requires the development of new adaptations for dealing with similarly stressful situations. This sequence is, essentially, our evolutionary imperative toward healing. In this workshop we explore how to identify overwhelm, trauma, and compassion fatigue (in ourselves and others), and we learn how to support ourselves (and our peers, and our families) as we navigate stressful environments. We examine how to resource ourselves with healthy containment, how to promote and sustain core relational skills, and how to develop and maintain the body awareness skills essential for healing and growth. When combined in the spirit of authentic inquiry and relationship, these skills deliver presence, emotional management, safety of feelings, and overall psychological health.
The contemporary age is one of tremendous upheaval and uncertainty for the literary arts. New technologies challenge established business practices. Nascent and rapidly emerging markets pose new questions about processes and products. Conflicted conversations about rights and the uses of creative commodity dominate an increasingly fractured landscape. Within this turbulent tumble lies the writer as artist: pressured by the exigencies of commerce, burdened by the minutiae of intellectual property law, increasingly hobbled by anxiety and disorientation. The writer now feels at the whim of indifferent and unpredictable forces. The buffers which once protected professional writers from the messiness and incipient momentum of the market are now, for the most part, dismantled or disintegrating. Creative and professional paths that once were secure are now fraught with new obstacles. The sacred space of creative inquiry seems under threat. The artifacts of that inquiry have lost much of their meaning. The casual blog has vanquished the thoughtful book. At least, this is how it seems to many writers working today: dark times, enemies at the gate. But this is how all the great stories begin. Turbulence – emotional, cultural, political – is the source and fuel of creativity. The current age is thus a great gift. Artists and writers are now free to pursue the clamour and craft of their work in a manner that we have not encountered before. Not since the audacious invention of writing itself. This workshop invites writers to discover – or rediscover – the unrivaled adventure of creative work in the world today. Participants will explore tools and practices such as blogging, social media, web content, online communities, personalized publishing, and many other opportunities for engagement with writing and with readers.
The Heart in Hand workshop explores — collaboratively, playfully, mindfully — the role of creative work in self-development, learning, and community engagement. Through the work of hands — in creative expression, movement, words, music, and other arts — participants in this workshop will reach for the essence of creative endeavour. Using various creative approaches, including those explored in my book Grain of Truth: The Ancient Lessons of Craft, the workshop will follow the simple alchemy that begins in the hand as it opens the palm and reaches, with supple fingers, outward. This reaching, in which the hand and heart together grasp the world, is the core of creative work.