A Needed Response

This 27 second video was posted on YouTube in response to the Steubenville Rape case that has been much reported on by the media in recent months.  If you are not aware of the case then you can certainly find more information online.

As a man, I completely agree with the video’s tenor and perspective.  I was raised with the idea that men should treat women with respect and protect those in need of protecting.  Taking advantage of someone in a vulnerable situation is a terrible thing.  Inexplicably there has been a variety of responses to this event including victim blaming of the girl involved and a well-publicized empathetic response by CNN anchors towards the convicted rapists.

There is a concept from social psychology, “Cognitive Dissonance,” that lends an explanation to why there are other reactions than abhorrence at this event.  Cognitive Dissonance is the discomfort we feel towards a situation when we have to hold two competing ideas in our mind at the same time.  For instance, a person that victim blames may  struggle with the conflicting ideas that on one hand their world is made up of generally good people who would not harm and humiliate someone in this way and on the other hand the fact that this woman was so abused.  The rationalization that comes from this is that there must have been consent in some form or fashion – however loosely contrived – in the amount of alcohol she drank or the clothes that she wore.

Returning back to the video, I believe that it cuts through cognitive dissonance with its simplicity.  When faced with a decision to help another we oftentimes complicate the situation rather than act.  In this case, the best action is to act compassionately and with regard for the person’s safety.

Next week is Sexual Non-Violence Week across the country and on Loyola’s campus.  This is an opportunity to look at how we can cut through the cognitive dissonance and see the moral simplicity of sexual violence.  No one deserves rape and no one will ever ask for it.  Therefore, I think a charge to the men on campus is in order, a charge to treat women with a higher level of respect, including the most basic form of respect that is sexual nonviolence.  Because, as the video points out, that’s what real men do.

-Logan Williamson, LPC

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Intro to Psych 101

Many people throughout the ages have viewed the change process differently.  One that has risen to the top has been Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  It has risen because it can be manualized, quantified (albeit this is up to debate), and it works.  I don’t qualify its ability to work because of how often I’ve seen it make long lasting change within my clients.  I want to lay out a couple of its main principles in the next two blog posts.

As Monty Python says, one of these is not like the other.  You can change your thoughts fairly easily.  For instance, don’t think of a big elephant.  Gotcha.  You can change your behaviors fairly quickly as well.  I can start typing a sentence or I can sto… p.  The thing that I cannot do is directly change my feelings.  To wit, a therapist, parent or professor can’t tell you to stop feeling a certain way.  ”Stop feeling so depressed Jenny!”

However, we are not slaves to our feelings and we change them constantly.  The flexibility of emotions and gradations of emotions are important concepts here.  There is a difference between feeling pleasant, giddy, happy, and ecstatic.  Once you have been able to identify an emotion that you would like to change, it is important to address the feelings that you are having by looking at what thoughts and behaviors that are associated with that emotion.

-Logan Williamson, LPC

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Smartphone Shuffle:

This isn’t the Superbowl Shuffle or the Harlem Shake, but I bet it makes people feel like you are doing the Macarena.  I’m talking about the head down, arm extended from your waist at a 90 degree angle, sliver of plastic wrapped in metal and glass firmly clutched in your palm, slow gait that seems to afflict nearly every person on campus.

I am just as guilty of it as you are.  Trust me.  The question that I have for you is simply: What has us so engaged?  I will admit that I love a funny video or a sarcastic So Me Card.  I even appreciate it when someone likes my status about how I checked in at my favorite place in town.  I like texting people so I can get a quick update on how they are doing or sharing on Facebook a picture that I just took.  One of the most expensive luxury items that I own is my phone and I take it everywhere!  But, I write to ask what has us so engaged that we have given up keeping the phone in our pocket and enjoying the sights and sounds of a bustling campus.

When I first started at Loyola, someone asked me, “How do you like the Uptown area?”  I replied immediately, “Honestly, it is one of the most beautiful places in this country.”  I meant it and I don’t take beauty for granted.  I had just moved from the Rocky Mountains being at my doorstep every day in Denver.  Of course, I’m not suggesting that we should use our phones based on some sort of comparative beauty measure.  I am more drawing out the fact that we should be present in the beauty that surrounds us, in the ugliness that surrounds us, and the everyday.  It is good practice to take in what is physically around and understand our internal experience that comes from that environment.

This idea of being present is a hallmark of psychological health.  I talk to clients about it every day.  Some might argue that their “better living through technology” is their present.  And I empathize with those people.  I love my technology and feel that it is an integrated feature to my existence – one that I welcome!  But, I would disagree that it is the present.  The beauty (and danger) of technology is its permanence.  Yes, something may have been posted just now, but you’ll be able to read it later too.  On the other hand, the people around you will not be there and that smile you give to someone as you leave the door open for them a second longer than socially expected will not be either.  You might even get an in real life (IRL) “like” back.

-Logan Williamson, LPC

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Being a graduate student in today’s world is far from easy.  Learning to navigate your responsibilities while maintaining balance in your personal and professional life proves challenging for everyone, but bring in the added pressures of licensing exams, your thesis, and fiscal debt and you’ve got some serious obligations to manage.  As a fellow graduate student, I can commiserate all too well with the difficulties faced in the day-to-day life of someone pursuing an advanced degree, and at times it’s a struggle to keep moving forward.  So, if you ever find yourself in a similar position, and have grown tired of Psalm 64’s “Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint,” allow me to share with you my prayer for resilience:

Our Father, who art in Heaven
Please calm my racing mind
And help me (somehow) to complete
This Power Point on time.

Oh and this annotated bib
That was due yesterday?
Please help my prof. to understand
And not dock my grade, I pray.

My coffee mug is running low,
My patience has worn thin.
Lord, give me strength to beat the odds
And finally begin

This paper, and this project, too!
Oh, and that test tomorrow!
Please help me God to get it done,
If you lead, I will follow.

I started out so energized,
So ready to dive in,
But I need your aid to push me through
And make it to the end.

Lord remind me to conduct myself
In a most dignified fashion,
And when I hear my friends complain,
Please bless me with compassion.

Please give me peace and fortitude
When sleep is not an option.
I was wondering if you might know,
Can I put loans up for adoption?

God, please help me to remember
To take time for myself
And not to leave my favorite book
Collecting dust there on the shelf.

To pray or run or bake a cake,
To spend time with my friends.
(My dog’s the only one I’ve seen
Since this program commenced.)

Give me confidence in all my work
And help me to resist
Those times when I begin to think,
“Why did I sign up for this?!”

I know it will be worth it
Once I have my degree,
But until then, I need you Lord
To stand right next to me.

   And, if you find yourself too stressed
Or feeling down and blue,
Stop in here at the UCC –
We’ll make some time for you.

-Emma Cate Pegues, Intern, Grad Student, Dog Owner
University Counseling Center

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As St. Patrick’s Day weekend approaches, so does the opportunity to experience some of the unique culture and traditions around this holiday in New Orleans. St. Patty’s in the Big Easy is a special time to experience parades that use cabbages and other vegetables as throws in the season that we like to call “post-Mardi Gras.”

Of course, part of St. Patrick’s Day culture also involves the choice to take part in drinking or not.  It is our hope that you, as part of the Wolf Pack, make smart and informed decisions about how you choose to spend the day. Remember our Jesuit value to be men and women with and for others.

Loyola never condones underage drinking; however we also know that there will be some students who choose to drink when under the legal age of 21.  Our most sincere hope is that all our students stay safe this weekend and throughout the year.  Whether or not you are over 21, if you choose to drink it is always important to practice low/moderate drinking both for your health and safety, and for the safety of others.

A few quick tips if you choose to drink:

  • Pace your drinking to 1 drink or less per hour
  • Shy away from shots or drinks with higher alcohol content
  • Sip your drink; don’t chug or slam a drink, especially by playing drinking games
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and potentially prevent a hangover
  • Keep track of your drink and what you are drinking
  • Set a limit and stick to it, keep a count of how much you have had
  • Have friends look out for each other and respect the choice to not drink
  • Use public transportation, Never drink and drive

Earn your time to celebrate in the city by attending the Employ the Pack event scheduled this Saturday. This could be your quick way to add productivity to this fun weekend and feel better about spending time with friends.

However you choose to spend this weekend, please be aware of the potential for negative consequences to arise and know who to go to for help.

If you feel that anyone is in need of help, do not hesitate to get an RA, call LUPD (504-865-3434) or 911.  Making the call is always better than not seeking help at all, but remember: the best way to stay safe is to avoid the emergency in the first place.

We hope you have a wonderful St. Patrick’s Day weekend and enjoy this special time in our city.


Adapted from a letter to students written by Rob Kelly, Vice President for Student Affairs at Loyola University Chicago.

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What is your Axiom?

Have you ever heard a word before that you recognize and probably used to know the definition, but for now it has escaped you?  That is my relationship with “Axiom.”  To the similarly minded or to those that scored a little higher on their math section of the SAT than the verbal section, the definition is:

ax·i·om – [ak-see-uhm] – noun

  1. 1.       Self-evident truth that requires no proof.
  2. 2.       Universally accepted principle or rule
  3. Logic, Mathematics – a proposition that is assumed without proof for the sake of studying the consequences that follow from it.

This is a concept I’m not unfamiliar with.  I use the concept of an Axiom all the time in my counseling here at Loyola, but perhaps not with the force that Axiom brings to bear.  Core values? Jesuit/Ignatian values?  Personal ethics?  All of these have the idea that they are principles or truths in some sense, but depending on your perspective they might not carry the idea of “assumed without proof.”  Now, I’m not arguing that we should center our lives on a set of values that are assumed without the use of our developing critical eye or living values that are unexamined.  Allow me to explain.

Developmentally, we are born as these undifferentiated masses.  Maybe we can open our eyes.  Maybe we can curl our tiny fingers around a father’s outstretched index finger (as a father, top 5 moment in life, FYI).  We depend on others to define our lives for us.  As we move into adolescents, our friends are our reference points for right and wrong, acceptance in society, up and down.  During college, this shifts.  Developmental theorists like Kohlberg assert that the final stage of development is moving from a law abiding social contract to one where morals and values are solidified within the person.  This is not to the exclusion of laws, social norms or peer acceptance, but the motivation to follow these Core Values/Ethics/Axioms shifts inward.  To wit, the concept of Civil Disobedience is difficult to communicate to a middle school aged child, but one that a college student can wrap her mind around.  Breaking laws in a peaceful way to enact change on a broken system?  It has worked in the past.  Alternatively, paying taxes to a government where you have deep philosophical differences with can be acceptable… after all, Congress has a lower approval rating than Nickelback.

What I encourage you to do as you wind your way through the college experience is to define your values.  Listen to other perspectives, try on different ones as they come, and center yourself in the ones that fit.  Make them strong, make them defensible, know them so well that they become a part of you.  Turn your values into Axioms; “a proposition that you can study the consequences that follow from it.”  Because our imperfections are the reasons why values, ethics and axioms are so useful in guiding our behavior, be willing to redefine your Axioms when your studies bring findings that have repeated painful consequences.  Through this process, you can achieve your goals and find motivation to overcome life’s hurdles.

-Logan Williamson, LPC

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Think alcohol isn’t affecting your sleep?  Think again.

Last week marked the beginning of a poster campaign within the residence halls regarding substance use.   Our goal is to educate students on the impact of substance use in various aspects of their lives to assist them in making informed decisions.

Although alcohol can serve as a sedative and can induce initial stages of falling asleep, it is also believed to contribute to overall poor sleep quality.  Sleep cycles typically last 90-120 minutes and studies have shown that alcohol can disrupt the second phase of sleep.  In fact, alcohol use before bed can reduce rapid eye movement (REM) sleep which is typically associated with the deep, dreaming phase of our sleep cycle.  REM sleep is also thought to assist with learning retention and memory organization.  This means that even if you get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, alcohol induced sleep can still leave you feeling fatigued and disoriented the following day

So, the next time you are feeling tired and irritated, it might be helpful to take a look at your pattern of alcohol consumption and remember that with sleep, quality is key!

-Alison Cofrancesco, M.Ed.
University Counseling Center 

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I’m not afraid to admit it, girls scare me.  I think they will soon take over the world and there isn’t anything I can do about it.  I just hope that I can be along for the ride.  You may ask how I came to this conclusion.  Well, it probably starts and ends with my two year old daughter, but in between there are the hard cold facts.  Allow me to explain. 

We live in what is called a Meritocracy.  A meritocracy is a society that ideally rewards those who are the most educated, hardest working and produce the most.  This is in contrast to Nepotism, which rewards people based on their families – regardless of their merit.  Nepotism used to reign supreme, but now those with degrees and those with credentials are hired, promoted and lead.  So in this Meritocracy of ours, we find ourselves with an overwhelming majority of women in our college classrooms, graduate schools and more and more, in the workforce.  This is especially true for minorities, for which gender gaps are humongous; however, women earn more degrees now in every racial and ethnic category.

Now it is also a cold hard fact that women are paid less than men in our country.  On average women earn 18 cents on the dollar less than men, but this number has decreased significantly over the years and I expect that to continue.

My point is not to wade into the debate over gender equality/inequality, but to rather point out that our world is changing.  Men are less represented in our classrooms and in the dialogue.  I make this statement with the assertion that if women’s representation and ideas are to be valued, men’s should be valued as well.  I can see this in my office as well.  I am the only male in our office, which combines the University Counseling Center and the Office of Career Development.  So while I encourage women to continue to raise the bar for everyone, I also encourage the men to strive to represent us in the most positive light possible and in as many areas as possible too.

This dynamic is multifaceted, but part of the problem that I have seen is that men are less supported in their endeavors; whether by design or by choice.  I am a counselor at the University Counseling Center and I see more women than men… by far.  I frame this as – I know men have problems just as frequently as women, so why do they not seek help as often as women?  For whatever the reason is – gender roles, stigma around mental health, etc. – not seeking help has to impact men’s success.  My experience at the UCC is that once my clients enter therapy, they are able to succeed equally – no matter their gender.

So if you are a man reading this and you need someone to help you be more successful, make an appointment with me or the other counselors here.  If you are woman reading this, keep up the good work.

-Logan Williamson, LPC

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The Panda Project

A few years back, the San Diego Zoo heard from the Chinese government that their request to get a Panda was approved.  They would have exactly one year to complete its enclosure and accept the rare Panda.  Zoo officials were overwhelmed.  Not only would this bring in much needed revenue, but it would be able to claim that they were one of the few zoos in the world to house a Panda.  Fortunately, they had been preparing for this news for the last five years.  They had a state of the art enclosure planned and the money already raised.  State of the art was understatement.  The new Panda pen was going to have native bamboo from his region, waterfalls, rolling grassy hills, ropes to climb and plenty of sunlight.  No expense would be spared.

Six months later and the structure halfway up, the San Diego Zoo received an odd shipment.  Their Panda had come 6 months early.  After contacting their Chinese liaison, he stated that the early shipment was unavoidable and that they would have to take the Panda or give up hope of ever having another Panda.  So of course they held onto the Panda and tried to make him comfortable in an extra cage that they had on hand.  Construction of his new enclosure renewed at a harried pace and was completed, inspected and ready to go in 3 months’ time.  What a victory!  There was just one problem.

When zoo officials unveiled the new Panda and the new enclosure to the world they found that their prize possession wouldn’t move outside of the imaginary boundaries of the old cage that they had been forced to keep him in during construction.  He would pace inside a 30X20 outline, while leaving the newly constructed Panda Playground untouched.  Officials were not worried, but a week later they started to panic.  Expert zoologists were brought in to help fix this problem.  Finally, after a month, the zoo put an ad out in the paper asking for interested parties to submit their suggestions.  A $10,000 reward was offered.

So what would you suggest?

I heard this story from a psychologist giving a presentation on the power of metaphor.  In this example, the Panda is the problem and the lush environment surrounding the Panda is Life happening outside of the problem that is being avoided.  As I’ve retold this story to my clients I’ve gotten many different responses:

  • Get another panda
  • Move their food outside the box
  • Place something that they like to play with outside of the box
  • Have someone guide them across the imaginary border to show them that the boundary doesn’t exist
  • Place treats closer and closer to the edge of the box and then after you’ve got the panda moving, place one outside of the box.

The worst solution I’ve heard was given by the psychologist’s husband who was told the story when he was in a deep depression.  His answer?  Do nothing.  The Panda will eventually run out of room to poop.  Pretty indicative of where he was at emotionally, huh?

What this story allows the reader to do is abstract their problems onto the Panda and play armchair therapist.  Let me rephrase each solution in their proper psychology terms:

  • Get another Panda increase social support
  • Move their food outside of the boxNegative reinforcement (taking away something to increase a desired action)
  • Place something that the like to play with outside of the box Positive reinforcement (giving something to increase a desired action)
  • Have someone guide them across the imaginary border to show them that the boundary doesn’t exist modeling or attributing expert status to a guide who can teach you about the world (ie. therapist, priest/minister/rabbi, RA, parent, teacher, etc.)
  • Place treats closer and closer to the edge of the box and then after you’ve got the panda moving, place one outside of the box.  – Behavioral shaping – encouraging small behavioral approximations of the desired outcome until you are rewarding the desired behavior.

Sometimes when we are struggling, it is helpful to relate our problems to something outside of us so that we don’t personalize the problem so much.  When we personalize, our feelings, ego, and biases get in way sometimes of us using the problem solving skills that we all have already learned.  Getting some distance and talking about the Panda in the room can help us practice those skills and see how everyday solutions can apply to your unique situation.  What Panda are you having trouble moving?

-Logan Williamson, LPC

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Sexual assault is a heavy topic for a Saturday. Yet this weekend, 18 people gathered to spend the better part of a day participating in the Sexual Assault Response Advocacy training.

The training is collaborative in nature with faculty from the Women’s Resource Center, the Department of Criminal Justice, LUPD, Student Conduct, and the University Counseling Center (UCC) providing information in their areas of expertise. Representatives from both NOPD and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners program volunteered to provide information on their services. These speakers address the gendered nature of violence, review various options available (including medical, legal, and judicial options), and provide empathic communication skill building. Each trained advocate then serves as a knowledgeable, initial point of contact, connecting survivors to community resources for health and healing.

Among the participants this weekend included students, staff and faculty representing a variety of departments, ages, cultural backgrounds, genders, and grades. Herein lies the note of hopefulness: many people from many backgrounds care and are seeking ways to address the problem of sexual violence. Though sexual violence permeates our culture, there are individuals choosing to teach, learn, listen, brainstorm, volunteer, and dialogue.

If you are a survivor, a list of trained advocates and a list of local resources can be found on the UCC’s webpage.

If you are a community member looking to engage this topic further, consider the following:

  1. Challenge your peers who make comments that blame victims.
  2. Reflect on the posters in residence halls highlighting the link between alcohol and sexual violence.
  3. Look for information about Sexual Non-Violence Week (in early April).
  4. Consider being trained as an advocate.
  5. Attend a lecture on a related topic.
  6. Talk to a counselor about how you can engage this topic. We’ll be providing information on the UCC services in residence halls tonight!

By: Brooks Zitzmann, LMSW

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