PASEO Program Adventure—Day 38: Huanchaco, Peru

This morning (Monday), we had our class on DBT (Terapia Conductual Dialéctica), which focused on chain analysis—an integral part of this type of therapy. Chain analysis looks at the ineffective behavior an individual has conducted, in addition to the precipitating event that led to the behavior. From there, vulnerabilities surrounding the behavior and event are explored, as well as consequences stemming from the behavior, and links in between (such as actions, bodily sensations, cognitions, events, and feelings). While it’s definitely not easy being cognizant of each link when analyzing a behavior or triggering event, practicing this type of thinking and analysis regarding our actions truly helps us be more mindful of our behaviors and ways in which we can improve and react to situations differently in the future.

We also learned about validation, and the importance behind this seemingly simply concept. More often than not, we tend to respond to dilemas that others are facing by trying to fix their problems or simplify the situation. Has anyone ever told you that what you’re experiencing isn’t really all that difficult, or that you’ve overcome similar (or harder) situations before, so you’ll figure out a way to do the same once again? While the latter statement may in fact be true, it’s not exactly the response we’re always looking for. In fact, for some, this type of “validation” may lead to experiencing self-doubt in how the individual reacts to and handles trying situations.

So how do we validate what an individual is going through? Instead of trying to solve or minimize their problem, we just need to be attentive and truly listen to what they are saying. While it’s much easier to jump in and interrupt with our perceived “wisdom,” active listening will go even further and make an even greater impact. 

We were left with a quote in our class that truly resonated. It translates to something along the lines of: “Sometimes we simply need someone to be with us, not to solve our problems or anything in particular—just to make us feel that we have their support and that we are important to them.” That right there is the simplest form of validation. More often than not, all we really need is somebody to listen to us. And in that moment alone, when we have that person’s undivided attention and support, we can feel validated and supported in whatever it is that we may be experiencing.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Days 34 and 35: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

On Thursday (of last week), we returned to three different schools to observe whether or not any changes had been made in the classroom following the workshops we provided throughout the past few weeks. While some classrooms continued to have difficulties gaining the attention of students, other classrooms were thriving with participation, motivation, and passion on behalf of the teachers. It’s truly incredible to see such a small difference taking place, and we can only hope that these students will feel a greater level of support in the classroom setting, since so many of them lack the support they need and deserve in their households.

On Friday, we had our Spanish Grammar course, followed by a new experience that myself and one of the other students are just beginning. Today, we began a group for adolescent males at a site that provides meals to children of women (many of whom experienced domestic violence), as well as a safe space where they can play, do homework, do crafts, or just have socialize with friends and community members. Since there are no male workers or volunteers on site, myself and another male from our program began a group for adolescent males, which will focus on providing psychoeducation regarding healthy interpersonal relationships, feelings of anger, aggression, and how to manage them in a healthy manner, as well as effective communication skills.

While there is a great need to focus on possible trauma and situations that these children and adolescents have experienced, unfortunately, due to timing, it wouldn’t be fair to begin therapy and return to the States shortly after. Therefore, we can only hope that these groups will provide these teenagers with a greater level of support, as well as beneficial information about the aforementioned topics. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 32 and 33: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

Today (last Tuesday), was the first day of returning to some of the schools we observed and hosted workshops at to see how the teachers have been implementing what they learned in the workshops. I was (honestly) surprised to see a drastic change in teaching methods utilized by some of the teachers, and the involvement on behalf of the students was pretty incredible too. It just goes to show that change can be made at any level as long as the motivation to accept and implement change is there.

On Wednesday, we had our Spanish for the Mental Health course, followed by supervision for our field experience. I’ll leave this post short and sweet, so as to not bore you, and more so because I honestly can’t remember what else I did during these days. So with that, enjoy your evening, as I try remembering what else I did and continue catching up on the remainder of last week. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 31: Huanchaco y El Porvenir, Peru

This morning (last Monday), we started the second half of our program with a class on Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT, or Terapia Contactual Dialéctica in Spanish). DBT believes that people are doing the best they can, but that we can always do better. And if you really think about it, we can do better in any given aspect of our lives- especially in areas we are trying to work on. Trough acceptance, mindfulness, and distress tolerance, the aim is to attain emotional regulation and interpersonal effectiveness.

A big tenant of DBT is Mindfulness, which centers on paying attention in the present moment without any judgments. While at first glance, we may think this is a simple concept, imagine how quick we are to judge different situations we face on a daily basis. The trick here is to put these judgments aside and observe the present moment we are living in and experiencing, both willingly and willfully.

We learned about three different types of minds, so to speak that are important to understand- really in any area of life if you find yourself communicating with others. Some people think with a rational mind (often times parents), others think with an emotional mind (often times adolescents), and others think with a wise mind. None of these are bad or worse than any other, but it’s important to understand that we each make decisions differently. Not everybody thinks alike, and in general, if we can try to understand this concept, we may find that we can work together more easily to come to agreements and find solutions.

After class, we had our weekly meeting with a group of local women and family members in El Porvenir that I spoke about in prior posts. Each week, two students from the program are responsible for teaching the group members relaxation and emotional regulation techniques for them to utilize at any given moment and teach others in their community. This week’s topic focused on effective communication, because often times, this is a skill that each of us can improve upon.

Think about it. How many times do you get home and have your parent/child/significant other “nag” you about something you did or didn’t do? And how many times do we do the same to those around us? While we may like to think that accusations, assumptions, and commands are part of effective communication, unfortunately they aren’t.

In the group, we discussed ways to empower the participants to express themselves more openly, because often times they may not have the opportunity to do so.

Effective communication is as simple as: 1. Describe the situation, 2. Express how the situation makes you feel, 3. Recognize the good intentions or feelings of the other person, 4. Ask/Make the request of what you would like the other person to do.

If we can feel validated for our effort or intentions as opposed to feeling guilty for possibly making a mistake or forgetting something, we’ll likely try that much harder and work with the other person to get the job done as opposed to arguing back and shutting down.

Even though these steps sound beyond simple, it takes practice to build effective communication, but it’s a worthwhile skill that can take us very far in any kind of relationship.

PASEO Program Adventure—Days 29 and 30: Lima y Huanchaco, Peru

On Saturday morning, I flew to Lima for the day to see my dad who came to visit. I landed at 9:30 in the morning, and we left on a city bus tour an hour later. Our first stop on the bus tour was the Museo Oro,  del Perú y Armas Del Mundo. 

In 1960’s, Miguel Mujica Gallo took his private collection of historic artifacts and created a foundation that manages the Museo Oro, del Perú y Armas Del Mundo. The artifacts on display were truly incredible, and it’s definitely a site worth visiting. The rest of the bus tour was spent driving by different historic landmarks and important buildings throughout the city. After a hard day’s work of sightseeing, it was only appropriate to treat ourselves to some ceviche for lunch. 

I returned to Huanchaco on Sunday morning and spent the day walking around the city by the beach with some of the other students on the trip, before officially starting the second half of our program. 

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 24: El Porvenir y Trujillo, Peru

This afternoon (Monday), we had our weekly meeting with a group of local women and family members in El Porvenir that I spoke about in prior posts. Each week, two students from the program are responsible for teaching the group members relaxation and emotional regulation techniques for them to utilize at any given moment and teach others in their community. This week focused on psychoeducation regarding anger and ways that anger can manifest and build up if not properly released.

Due to gender roles and societal expectations, in many cases, women are not “supposed” to experience any other feelings aside from sadness (because of course men can only be angry and women can only be sad). For this reason, it’s so important to discuss and normalize feelings of anger because without doing so, it would likely continue to remain an unspoken topic that women “should not” discuss. Throughout the next week, we’ll place more of a focus on how to release such feelings in a positive and healthy manner, now that these feelings have been normalized and accepted.

After the group, we drove into Trujillo for our Psychology in Peru class. During the class, we each participated in Biodanza, “a system of self-development that uses music, movement and positive feelings to deepen self-awareness. Biodanza seeks to promote the ability to make a holistic link to oneself and one’s emotions and to express them.” Biodanza, originating from the Greek word bio (life) and danza (dance in Spanish), translates to the dance of life. The purpose of Biodanza is to focus on human integration, organic renewal, affective re-education and relearning of the original functions of life. Its methodology is to induce integrative experiences through music, singing, movement, and situations of group encounter.

Biodanza has five main tenants including: 1) Vitality: Increased joy of life, vital momentum (energy available for action), motor integration, neurovegetative balance. 2) Sexuality: Awakening the source of desire, increased pleasure, connection with sexual identity, and decreased sexual repression. 3) Creativity: Ability to express, innovate, and construct. 4) Activity: Ability to make connections with other people through love, friendship, altruism, and empathy. 5) Transcendence: Connection with nature and feeling of belonging to the universe.

Participating in Biodanza was truly an eye-opening and enlightening experience. Seeing as not everyone may be able to verbally express themselves the way they may like, being able to express oneself through natural and fluid movements in a safe and accepting group environment may be a beneficial alternative—especially when “talk” therapy is considered taboo in many cultures.

PASEO Program Adventure—Day 21: El Porvenir, Huanchaco, y Cajamarca Peru

This morning (Friday—yes, we’re still playing catch-up), we traveled to El Porvenir to present our first workshop to teachers in one of the local national (public) schools. For the past two-and-a-half weeks, another student and I have been conducting observations in 12 national schools throughout El Porvenir and Trujillo Alto. The purpose of these observations was to note how students behave in the classroom setting, how teachers respond to student behaviors, and overall student/student and student/teacher interactions. Seeing as the specific program the other student and I are working with is geared towards preventing students from getting involved in the legal system, the overall goal is to help the teachers develop and foster a more supportive learning environment for these students.

Keeping in mind that many of these students do not have strong familial support, have limited resources at home, have parents who have to work around the clock to provide for the family (and are therefore left with limited parental supervision), have parents who want them to start working after primary school because an immediate income is more important than continued education, have parents who are involved in gangs/in jail, and/or are involved in gangs themselves, there are many outside factors that come into play that prove difficult for teachers to make an overall difference in the lives of these students.

As we interacted with the teachers throughout the workshop, we discussed various individual, social, familial, school-wide, and communal risk factors that many of these students face including teenage pregnancy, alcohol and drug abuse, joining gangs, and dropping out of school. Seeing as these were primary concerns addressed during the observations we conducted, we were then able to hear about the experiences these teachers have had with their students in each of the aforementioned categories. We discussed supportive factors too though, because as difficult as it may be to navigate around so many risk factors, there are always supportive factors that can counteract any and all risk factors. For many of these students, these teachers are exactly that.

When you spend years working in a profession where more often than not you feel exhausted, pushed to the limit, under-appreciated, and feel like the odds of success for your students are stacked against them due to so many outside influences, it gets difficult (to say the least) to persevere and keep trying to impact the lives of our future generation. The teachers we met with continue to do this, and as they described their motivation to join the field of education and their desire to continue working in this field, it truly sparked a beacon of light and hope in what has seemingly felt like a dark tunnel—especially when looking at the overall resources provided to these schools for educational purposes and the countless barriers that so many of these children continuously face on a daily basis.

After the workshop, we returned back to Huanchaco for our Global Mental Health class, which I’ll discuss in a later post. The rest of the day was spent getting a head-start on homework, and of course eating pollo saltado before traveling to Cajamarca, Peru for the weekend.

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PASEO Program Adventure—Day 14: El Porvenir y Huanchaco, Peru

Last night, we went salsa dancing at a local club, which didn’t start until midnight. Given the fact that most reasons to stay up later in the States (i.e. Blacklist, Scandal, How To Get Away With Murder, etc.) are over by 10:00pm., it’s safe to say that this was way past my usual bedtime. We were out until 3:00am before I remembered I had to be at my internship site nearly two hours away at 8:00am.

Today’s observation was pretty interesting, since I was able to observe an art class, during which the students were learning Marinera—the coastal dance of Peru. I was then able to observe another class where the students were asked to draw a tree in which each part of the tree represents an important aspect of their lives—including values, support systems, and goals for the future. Last week, one of the principals informed me that vocational considerations aren’t usually discussed with the children, so it was great for so many children to have the opportunity to think about their interests, plans, and goals. It was also refreshing to see a professor teach with such passion because doing so allowed her to maintain the class’ attention, which appears to be a big problem in many of the public schools here. But it just goes to show, if you are truly passionate about what you do, you can absolutely make a lasting difference in the lives of so many others.

Upon returning from the school, I had class on global mental health, which I’ll discuss later on. For dinner, we went out for local street food, and of course, we had more papas rellenas, a baked potato dough usually filled with beef, onions, hard-boiled eggs, cumin and other spices. Once prepared, this incredible healthy (just kidding) blob of goodness is deep-fried. Because what isn’t ten times better deep-fried?

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 2: Leaving Lima for Huanchaco

Seeing as my flight from Fort Lauderdale was delayed (I feel like you can no longer have expectations when using any type of transportation these days), I arrived in Lima, Peru shortly after midnight. By the way, if anyone is actually out there reading this, this post is a day behind- so as to live in the moment. (I figured writing that would be a good, understandable excuse. And if not, stop by tomorrow to see what I’m doing today.)

I was able to spend the morning with family friends from the city, as we shared breakfast together in Moraflores, overlooking a beautiful city and ocean view (top left photo). Since it is wintertime in Peru, the sun doesn’t shine as often in Lima, which explains the cold, overcast weather. 

My flight to Trujillo was scheduled for the early afternoon, so shortly after breakfast, I had to head over to the airport to make it to my final destination. The owner of the house we are staying in picked me and the other students up from the airport, and drove us to Huanchaco, which was a 15 minute drive, at most. 

We took a quick tour of the city, which is known to be a fisherman city with great seafood. (I’ll keep you posted about that). While the size of the city is small, it is seemingly filled with life, as you can hear Celia Cruz, Marc Anthony, and many other classics playing from inside the restaurants by the water. At a time like this, I’d say it’s fitting to hear the words, “La vida es un carnaval.”

The other students (from across the country) and I had dinner at a restaurant called “My Friend,” which offers a variety of Peruvian dishes, as well as hamburgers and pizza for visiting Gringos. I ordered pollo a la plancha con arroz y papas (grilled chicken with rice and French fries) for only 16 soles (around five dollars). The cost for food in the area is pretty inexpensive, so here’s hoping I eat well before any Amazon/Whole Food buyouts and mergers make their way over here. 

Tomorrow starts our first class with a local psychologist in Trujillo- Psicología en Peru. Until then, hasta pronto!

PASEO Program Adventure- Day 1: Flying to Lima, Peru

For anyone who stuck around throughout my hiatus, you probably realize that it’s been a while since I last posted on here, aside from following through with my Simple Quote Sunday challenge. A lot can happen in such a short span of time, but I won’t bore you with minute details. I’ll save those for a rainy day. 

Having recently graduated from a three-year master’s program in clinical mental health counseling and vocational rehabilitation counseling, I’ve found myself stuck between choosing what the next step will entail- pursuing a doctorate degree or joining the workforce. Before making a final decision, I was fortunate enough to come across an exciting opportunity that truly sparked my interest (and helped me postpone my decision making for the time being). 

About a year ago, I was informed about PASEO (Psychology and Spanish Elective Opportunity)- a Spanish for Mental Health Immersion program that focuses on global mental health. This immersion-based language training program is designed to build Spanish skills for use in mental health settings. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the program last summer due to classes and internships, but things seem to have a way of working themselves out. Now that I’ve graduated, the timing couldn’t be better. Besides, I couldn’t think of a greater opportunity, given the fact that there is such a large Spanish speaking population in Miami, and an immense need for mental health services in so many underserved Spanish-speaking countries. 

So, for the next month, I will be living in Huanchaco, Peru, and working in Trujillo, Peru. I’ll be sure to provide information about both cities throughout the upcoming weeks. During this trip, I’ll be taking intensive Spanish classes- mainly focusing on use for the mental health setting. I will also be practicing under a licensed clinician at a site of my choosing. 

I decided to work for the court’s Juvenile Restorative Justice Program (Justicia Juvenil Restaurativa). Again, I’ll be sure to include more information about this program as my time in the program progresses. 

I’d like to think that we should always be open to new adventures, and I’m glad to say that the time has come for me to embark on my newest adventure. I look forward to sharing this exciting journey with you, each step of the way. Cheers to new adventures for all of us. And for now, it’s time to get to Lima!