Dr. Barbara Petratos, DSW, LCSW leading FREE workshop on Meditation and Dream Work Group Spiritual Psychotherapy

Meditation and Dream Work Workshop

It will be ongoing Thursday Nights at:

36 East 20th Street 6th Floor (around Broadway)

New York, NY 10003



Thursdays:  From 6:00 PM to 7:30 PM FREE To All (both experienced and non experienced in meditation and dream work); please plan to arrive 15 minutes early as the door will be locked.

Dr. Petratos will take all participants through a guided meditation and people who are already experienced in meditation can can also use their own to meditation and then she will take people through the dream work process. If people are new to meditation she will gently guide them through it.

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Families in Support of Treatment (FIST) Event in Brooklyn – October 24th

Families in Support of Treatment (FIST) Event in Brooklyn - October 24th

Anyone who has been impacted by addiction in any way is welcome to attend.
If you have lost a loved one and would like to participate in the presentation,
please contact Anthony@fist-familiesinsupportoftreatment.com. We also encourage
attendees with loved ones who have died as a result of being denied treatment to
bring an 8 x 10 photo of them as a way to support other families.

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Eleanor Roosevelt on Human Rights

Where after all do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home—so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood we live in; the school or college we attend; the factory, farm or office where we work. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

former-first-lady-eleanor-roosevelt-everett(Eleanor Roosevelt, 1884 – 1962)


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Sibling Abuse: Contributing Factors

Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW

Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW

Editor’s Note: This is a follow-up submission to the author’s earlier post on sibling abuse. To read the original article, click https://naswnyc.wordpress.com/2012/10/18/an-under-recognized-trauma-sibling-abuse/

Although sibling rivalry and sibling abuse are terms often used interchangeably, they are distinct experiences.  Sibling abuse is characterized by behavior that poses danger – both explicit and implicit – to one child: physically, emotionally, or both. The ramifications on the victim of an enduring aggressive and assaultive sibling relationship have both short-term and long-term repercussions.

Clinicians need to be mindful of the developmental and emotional influence of the sibling relationship, and as such, the nature and quality of this relationship should be assessed to the same extent as parent-child relationships.

There are environmental factors outside of the family that may increase the likelihood of sibling on sibling aggression such as substance abuse, peer bullying, and low self-esteem. However, sibling abuse tends to develop from certain family conditions that create resentment and hostility between children. Most parents are upset to learn that sibling abuse occurs under their roof; they may be unable to manage the behavior; or they may feel helpless to address it. Additionally, parents may report that their child is also abusing them.

Assessment of the presence of sibling abuse can begin with the following:

1.     Is there abusive behavior between the parent(s) and child(ren)?

Sibling abuse is more likely to occur when parent-child abuse is present. However, sibling abuse exists in all homes, even where there is no evidence of child abuse or domestic violence. It occurs across irrespective of race, culture, religion, geographic location, and socioeconomic status.

2.     Do the parents argue with each other and their children in a “healthy” manner?

Children learn how to manage conflict by observing disagreements and conflict between parents and through the interactions parents have with each child. Learn how discipline and conflict are handled in the family system. Is a range of emotions from the children acceptable? Are the parents able to manage and tolerate challenging behavior and intensity of emotion?

3.      Pay attention to the child’s peer relationships.

Children who have challenging peer relationships are apt to bring this behavior into the home – as either a perpetrator or victim of sibling abuse. A child bullied at school may displace his/her anger onto a sibling. If the child is the target of peer bullying he may be prone to victimization in the home.

4.     Take a child’s complaints and expressions of distress seriously.

If a child is complaining about a sibling’s behavior towards him/her, monitor the relationship. If the child is scared of being alone with his/her sibling or finds reasons to stall coming home from school, ask if he/she feels safe at home. Often, children abused by a sibling will seek refuge at a friend’s house or get involved in after-school activities as a way to avoid being home until parents arrive from work.

5.     Do children have adult responsibilities in the home?

Children should not be in the position of caregiver. Sometimes parents are overwhelmed and need help with tasks. That is ok! However, children should not serve as a substitute spouse. Children, especially from single-parent homes, tend to be burdened with the care giving of younger siblings. This breeds resentment. While children may seek positive reinforcement – and are praised – for being a “mother’s helper”, they have the ability to grow up resentful of taking on that role. Again, displaced anger onto a sibling is apt to occur.

6.     Is favoritism evident in the household?

Granted, each child cannot be treated the same all the time. However, it is important for caregivers to recognize the strengths of each child. Favoritism can create hostile sibling relationships. Whether the perpetrator of abuse or the victimized child is favored, both dynamics warrant potential sibling aggression. When a child experiences his/her sibling as favored, he/she may react by mistreating the sibling. When a child is favored, the sense of entitlement may create a dynamic in which roles are blurred and boundaries are crossed; often time this is represented through the child who takes it upon him or herself to “discipline” the sibling (in favor of a parent’s praise or modeling the parent’s behavior).

Children who are victims of sibling abuse may present with anxiety, depression, or academic difficulties.  Interventions must target not only the presenting problem, but the source of the problem. Assessment of parent-child and child-child relationships is critical. Understanding family dynamics is imperative to helping parents identify behaviors that may promote or perpetuate hostile sibling relations.

Adults with a history of sibling abuse often present to treatment with challenging interpersonal relationships and may be unaware of their history as abusive due to the lack of recognition sibling abuse has received as a legitimate experience. Therefore the clinician who explores current and early sibling relationships has the potential to uncover the dynamics which contribute to the client’s challenges and help the client make these connections.

Practitioners who provide counseling services and psychotherapy to children and families have the potential to transform dysfunctional familial patterns of communication and help parents develop better parenting practices. The structural model of family therapy focuses on helping parents to develop and maintain appropriate boundaries within the family system and between siblings. Building on individual and family strengths promotes protective factors and establishing family and environmental supports promotes resiliency, ensuring that children are kept safe from all types of harm within the family system.

Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW is Chair of Social Work at The College of New Rochelle in Westchester, NY.  She has provided trainings on sibling abuse assessment and intervention to staff at Departments of Social Services/Child Protection and to practitioners at mental health and social service agencies in various counties of New York. She also maintains a private practice in NYC. Learn more at www.psychotherapynyc-healing.com

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Being Accountable: Understanding the Daily Injuries of Racism

Jennie Encalada

Jennie Encalada

Editor’s Note: NASW-NYC in partnership with the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, houses the Undoing Racism Internship Project students.  For more on anti-racist social work practice, please click here.

From the major victories of the civil rights movement to the election of a Black president many Americans complacently conclude that we have eliminated racism. They cling to the belief that we live in a post-racial America. People are entitled to their views, but the idea that America is post-racial is problematic for many reasons.  These reasons included that it forecloses discussions of ongoing race and racism and leaves little room to address the subtle ways internalized racial superiority[1] insinuates itself into ordinary interactions every day.

There is no doubt that our country has moved forward. Yet I challenge just how far we have come.  Despite the end of Jim Crow and reduced legal discrimination, racism creeps into our daily life. In fact, the United States is experiencing an epidemic of Institutional Racism in many social institutions evidenced by the disproportionate stop and frisk of Black and Brown men and the growing number of imprisoned Women of Color among many other racial injustices.  It is also the case that the practice of racism had changed over the years from overt acts of violence and exclusion to more covert and obscured acts of marginalization, stereotyping and social hostility.  Even the most progressive people often find they have held onto derogatory ideas about people of color.

Some call these covert and subtle acts racial microaggressions. Racial microaggressions[2], which include microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidations, convey hostile, derogatory, or negative racial slights toward people of color. Embedded in personal interactions, they show up every day in verbal, behavioral, or environmental indignities, whether intentionally or not.

In 2008, William Smith, coined the phrase, “Racial Battle Fatigue” (RBF) to refer to the cumulative effect of being ‘on guard’ and having to finesse responses to insults, both subtle and covert.  RBF is experienced by People of Color as they work in mostly white institutions, where they regularly face prejudice, discrimination and denigrating comments from peers and/or superiors.[3]

We cannot let social work off the hook. The racial microaggressions that contribute to RBF can be experienced and committed by social workers if we do not ensure that we are explicitly discussing the pervasive and insidious nature of institutionalized racism in social work education. They continue to arise in the field given that most graduates, including those working in the mental health area continue to be White and trained primarily in Western European models of service delivery[4]. However, social workers can also play a corrective role by calling out the racial microaggressions they witness in schools or on the job.  This will both reduce the potential psychological harm to People of Color resulting from micro-aggressions and will help us build a less racist and more just society.

The Undoing Racism Internship Project (URIP) supports organizing by social work students seeking a stronger antiracist and anti-oppressive lens in social work education.  URIP has received considerable interest in and support of this work. The Interschool Council on Undoing Racism (ICUR), a URIP project, hosted a lab on February 22nd entitled: Racial Microaggressions: Real Pain, Invisible Scars. It was facilitated by Alberto Guerrero and Andrew Lawton.  Some 46 social work students from 4 of the 9 NYC graduate programs attended and role-played scenarios showing how racial microaggressions manifest in common interactions. Most importantly, participants left with concrete skills and information about strategies that students of color and white allies can use when working toward “undoing” racism. The strategies include naming microaggressions in the classroom, field placements, and in their lives. This and other ICUR workshops prepare social work students with the knowledge and tools they need as new and emerging professionals to be the true change agents that the profession calls for.  However, there is so much more work to be done.  I invite NYC area Schools of Social Work to assume even greater leadership to advance racial, social and economic justice in America NOW.

[1] People Institute for Survival and Beyond defines Internalized Racial Superiority (IRS), as The acceptance of and acting out of a superior definition is rooted in the historical designation of one’s race. Over many generations, this process of empowerment and access expresses itself as unearned privileges, access to institutional power and invisible advantages based upon race.

[2] Wing Sue, et al, (2007), “Racial Micro-Aggressions in Everyday Life: Implications for Clinical Practice, “ American Psychologist, Vol. 62 No. 4.

[3] Hernandez, A. V. (2013). Christopher Dorner and Racial Battle Fatigue. The Huffington Post. New York.

[4] Sue, D. W., & Sue, D. (2003). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice (4th ed.). New York: Wiley.

*The Interschool Council on Undoing Racism (ICUR) is a project of URIP that began in 2008. ICUR supplies foundational community organizing skills to students from the NYC schools through Skill Labs and Theory Labs.  Community Organizing skills are essential to building and sustaining the movement to undo racism. ICUR provides a space for all anti-racist organizing groups, at each of the individual schools, to report on their organizing work, suggest ways others can support, and to build across institutional lines. Finally, ICUR organizes events for anti-racism organizers/supporters to meet and socialize in order to create cohesion between students involved in the movement to transform social work education.


Jennie Encalada is a second year community-organizing student at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College.  Jennie is a current intern with the Undoing Racism Internship Project (URIP) and is dedicated to bringing awareness to racism and the need for an institutional racism-lens in the social work curriculum beginning with NY social work programs.  She is Latina with family roots in Colombia and Ecuador.  To learn more about URIP or ICUR please email Jennie at jennie.encalada@gmail.com.

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Newtown Tragedy: Recommendations for Coping with the Psychological Aftermath

Anne Conway

Anne Conway

Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared in the news feed of the Columbia University School of Social Work site.  For a listing of resources around working with your clients or family around trauma, please click here.

Have you found yourself glued to the television watching updates on the Newtown shooting and aftermath? Are you having trouble sleeping and finding yourself overwhelmed by the idea of sending your child to school? Is your child is asking you questions about the tragedy to which you just don’t know how to respond? Is your child frightened to go to school? Do you feel as if your anxiety level has increased significantly since the shooting occurred?

Reactions such as these can be quite common following a tragedy even when we are physically distant from the site of a disaster or an attack. They reflect what is known as “distant trauma.” For example, research shows that individuals across the nation experienced stress-related symptoms after the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded and after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Such symptoms generally resolve very quickly as children and adults are quite resilient.

Some individuals, however, may react with greater stress than others. For example, individuals with mental health problems, and those who have experienced trauma in the past, may experience higher levels of stress. It is important for individuals, family members, teachers, and social workers to watch for signs that may reflect heightened stress or problems with coping.

Often, heightened stress levels are observed in difficulties or changes in sleeping patterns. In a study conducted by our research group here at Columbia and at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, we found that even young toddlers 500 miles away from the site of the 9/11 attacks experienced higher levels of sleep problems and crying than they manifested at an earlier age. In adults and even young children, difficulties or changes in sleep can suggest the presence of stress. Young children may also cry more, separate more reluctantly from parents, or not want to go to school. Parents may have trouble letting their children go off to school or separating from their children.

In the wake of the tragedy at the Sandyhook Elementary School, here are some steps you can take that should make a positive difference to yourself, your children or others who are feeling especially vulnerable:

1.  Shut off the TV. With a strong desire to follow each detail, some may have difficulty turning away from the TV. Often people feel compelled to follow many details because it may make them feel in control as they search for signs that they are now safe. Yet, watching excessive TV coverage of traumatic events often has the opposite effect: it makes people feel more stressed, and in some cases it retraumatizes them. Thus it is important to minimize exposure to traumatic images.* To reduce feelings of helplessness, one can channel concerns into empowering, positive steps and begin talking with neighbors and friends about how to address this problem that faces our communities.

*Although online coverage of the Olympic games provided “spoiler alerts,” there are currently no warnings for online articles regarding upsetting content such as details about the shootings, pictures of the young victims, etc.  Without such warnings, it can be difficult to reduce one’s exposure and children’s exposure to the graphic details of the traumatic events on online sources. Under these circumstances, one could elect to follow only media outlets and online newspapers that provide such warnings or tend not to provide graphic details.

2.  Practice healthy sleep behaviors. For example, before bedtime, it is important to wind-down to get ready for bed. Watching stressful, upsetting images of trauma before bed can be overstimulating and distressing, and can interfere with the ability to fall asleep or get a restful night sleep. It is important to stop following coverage of the story for at least one to two hours before bedtime. Taking a bath or reading a book can help prevent overstimulation and stress before bedtime.

3. Pay special attention to young children and beware of signs of stress. One-, two- or three-year-olds can be very perceptive and pick up when their parents are in distress, without even knowing what has occurred. They just know that their parent is upset. It is important to be aware of this and try to manage your own reactions to distressing events.

4. Be attentive to children’s needs and be willing to talk with them about the event if they have questions. If children ask you about the event, it is first important to find out what they know about the event. Listen to your children and the concerns they have. Letting them express their emotions is important. (They may also want to do this through drawing or play.) Reassuring them that they are safe is also important.

In sum, parents should monitor their children to see if they are crying more than usual or having difficulties sleeping—and if it does not resolve, contact their pediatrician or other health professional.

Likewise, school social workers, teachers, and other school professionals can help by reassuring children and parents that they are safe in the school. Letting parents know that you have an emergency plan in place, and allowing them the opportunity to contact you with any questions they may have, will signal your awareness of their needs and the fact that you regard the safety of their child and other students as paramount.

Mental health professionals and youth workers should also be aware that some of their clients may have higher stress levels following traumatic events such as mass violence, disasters, and terrorist attacks. Indeed, the stress of such events may be associated with an increase in symptoms or possibly precipitate a relapse of a pre-existing mental health conditions or trauma. Helping those who are distressed by allowing them to express their emotions, encouraging them to reduce or eliminate media exposure of traumatic events, engage in healthy behaviors such as physical activity and social connections with others, and maintain healthy sleep patterns should hasten their recovery.

To reiterate, although stress-related symptoms can be experienced even in those far away from the site of an attack, adults and children are very resilient, and most recover very quickly. In a few cases, however, adults or children may react with high levels of stress and have difficulties coping. It is, therefore, important for caregivers to be aware and monitor difficult reactions to traumatic events that they or their children may experience. These simple steps may help people cope.

Recommended Resources:

A number of resources are available to provide additional information to families and professionals. Some of these include:


Anne Conway is an assistant professor of social work at the Columbia University School of Social Work who conducts research on emotional and cognitive development and mental health in children and youth. Dr. Conway and her colleagues have recently completed a study documenting the effects of 9/11 on young toddlers and their parents.

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How do you See me? A Poem

Gwen Butler, LCSW

Editor’s Note: Gwen Butler is the 1st Vice President of the NASW-NYC Chapter.  She presented us with this poem at the 2012 Board of Directors Retreat, which resonated deeply for everyone in the room.  We wanted to use our blog as a platform to share this poem with you all.  Please let us know what you think in the comments section below!

How do you See me?

How do you See me, when you look at me?
With my Dark Skin Latin Curl, Africana Sass
Educated, Well-dressed, and yes a little Class
Full of life, Full of love, Full of Pizzazz

But what if I was Three Shades Darker
With Locks for Hair and a Fist on my Shirt
What if I was Three Shades Lighter
With Waves for Hair and a Perfect Pencil Skirt

Tell me… What if when I spoke
My accent is what you heard
Or when I passed you in the hallway
You smelled the herbs that I burn

If I came to you in marital distress
And Feeling hopelessly bound
Then I introduced to you my wife…yes, my Lesbian wife
Would you assume I’m hell-bound?

If I was an 18 year old male
With my pants hanging low
Would you automatically hide your bag
And slow the flow of resources I might need to go….forward

What if I do not speak English
But tried really hard with what I know
Would you raise your voice 10 decibels higher
I’m not deaf, or dumb, you know…

How about if you see me struggling to walk on 42nd Street
So many people, so many cars, so many sounds, so many feet
I’m blind, I need my stick to walk
Excuse me, I didn’t know I was in your way

Or how about if I’m trying to catch that bus too…
I got a job, finally!
Does my wheelchair offend you?

If I stood before you, with an unshowered smell
Because I live in a shelter, more like a ‘hell’
Would you meet your eyes with mine?
Nope, not asking for a dime…
Just looking for some time, a moment to call mine

What if I came to see you, with all my five young children
Yeah, they’re loud and rambunctious
They’re young children what do you expect?
I couldn’t find a sitter
But I want to keep my appointment, trying to be responsible
In this already unforgiving world

Ok, wait… Let’s change the scenery

I’m your new supervisee, so excited to work
But please don’t send me into that room with him
He smells of dirt!

Help me Supervisor!
This paperwork is Nuts!
How can I manage all of this?
And I feel like I’m working for PeaNuts!

Please don’t let me go…
I really need this job
I entered this field because I truly love it
But passing the exam has been hard!
I know you think I’m young
It’s true, I do have a lot to learn
But listen to me… this technology thing
Is something you need to learn

I don’t work on the Sabbath
It’s my day of rest
Yours may come tomorrow
I will honor it too, at best

Social Worker, this is a call
to the inner most parts of YOU
A time to reflect and examine
The way in which you view
The people around you
The thoughts you have
The feelings you have
And the way it informs YOU


Gwen Butler is a NYS Licensed Clinical Social Worker currently in Private Practice, both in Manhattan and Forest Hills, Queens.  Gwen is also the First Vice President on the Board of the National Association of Social Workers, NYC Chapter where she serves on the Executive Committee.  She is also Chair of the Diversity Plan.  Additionally, Gwen serves in her community as the President of the Queens / Long Island Chapter of Mocha Moms, Inc., a National Organization in support of Mothers of Color.  More information about Gwen Butler and her practice can be found at www.gwenbutler.com 

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An Under Recognized Trauma: Sibling Abuse

Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW

Editor’s Note:  The author responded to our invitation for guest blogging for NASW-NYC Connections.  If you are interested in submitting a piece, please email us.

Sibling abuse is an understudied phenomenon that continues to receive little attention. Curiously, intake and psychosocial assessments in social service and mental health agencies continue to focus on the quality of parent-child relationships. Assessment regarding the nature and quality of sibling relationships is either neglected or minimized.

A widespread societal belief holds that most siblings have conflicts and fights while growing up, and that these conflicts are normal. This may be. However, sibling abuse is NOT sibling rivalry! There are distinct differences between normative sibling rivalry and sibling abuse. With sibling rivalry, children have an equal opportunity for advantage or disadvantage. Sometimes, one sibling is hurtful to another; and another time the other sibling is hurtful. Sibling abuse indicates pervasive, ongoing damaging behavior from one sibling to another in which there is intent to harm by the abusive sibling and an induced sense of fear, shame, and hopelessness in the victim. While sibling rivalry fosters skills of communication, negotiation, and competition, sibling abuse does not warrant any positive outcomes.

It is interesting that as a society we have rallied to the cause of bullying: through media, anti-bullying legislation, and outraged parents. I would posit that bullying could be termed peer abuse. In much the same way that we distinguish peer teasing from bullying, we need to distinguish sibling rivalry or sibling aggression from sibling abuse. There are parallels between peer teasing and sibling rivalry and between bullying and sibling abuse. And, thankfully, serious measures have been taken to protect children from peers in the realm of bullying. As a society we have acknowledged the devastating influence a child can have on another child – physically or emotionally. We also need to pay attention to the devastating implications of siblings who abuse siblings.

A child who presents with academic issues, behavioral issues, a depressive disorder, or anxiety disorder may be the target of sibling abuse.  Practitioners who are aware of the influence of sibling abuse are able to recognize how to help each sibling involved in the abusive relationship, the family system, or the adult who has this traumatic past. Sibling abuse is not only a psychological issue for the victim, but also representative of a dysfunctional family system in which the dyadic relationship or the behavior of the perpetrator is a symptom of greater pathology.

Additionally, failure to assess the nature and quality of sibling relationships or the developmental history of an adult client can have profound effects on the survivor. Consider how this experience may influence one’s sense of self, mood, career, and relationships.

Most of us have siblings. Yet I often wonder how many of us consider the influence of those relationships on our current interpersonal relatedness and general functioning. At workshops where I have trained staff on sibling abuse assessment, I invite attendees to consider many facets of their own current and historical relationship with their sibling(s).  Most acknowledge that this is the first time they have reflected on this.  Yet, they are well-aware of the impact a parent(s) has had on his/her own development. Giving consideration to our own dynamics, countertransference, transference, and projections is a fundamental aspect of practice.  Be curious about your own experience with a sibling – and be curious about those you treat.


Amy Meyers, PhD, LCSW is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at The College of New Rochelle. She has consulted for the Administration of Children’s Services and has provided trainings on sibling abuse assessment and intervention to the Department of Social Services and staff at mental health agencies in NYC where she also maintains a private practice.

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