Sunday, August 21, 2016

Preventing Sexual Assault on University Campuses

The need to establish a comprehensive approach to sexual violence prevention on college campuses has never been greater. Young women attending a college or university are most likely to be assaulted within the first two years, with the overall incidence of sexual assault estimated to be between 20%-25 %. According to research by economic researchers Jason Lindo, Peter Siminski, and Isaac Swenson. It has been found that Division 1 football games increase daily reports of rape among 17-24 year old victims by 28%. The consequences of being assaulted while in college can result in an increase in Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, alcohol and drug abuse, and other negative health outcomes.

Today, colleges and universities are under increased pressure to provide clear and effective educational material and programming in order to prevent sexual assault. The bystander approach has been utilized as a way of changing the social environment on campuses and to encourage men and women to intervene if and when they observe potential inappropriate behaviors. A recent study by Senn, Eliasziw, Barata, Thurston, Newby-Clark, and Hobden, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, June 2015, studied the impact of a new four year college small group sexual assault resistance program that was compared to providing brochures on sexual assault. The goal of the study was to determine whether the workshop intervention could reduce the one year incidence of completed rape among first year female students at three universities. The value of this kind of study is that it provided specific training for first year female students in an attempt to decrease the likelihood of sexual assault. The important components of the training included a unit on self-defense, learning to trust your own intuition and small group discussion regarding a variety of scenarios that young women often face in social situations on campus. The training also focused on healthy sexual behavior and alcohol use. The results of the study indicated that women who participated in the 12 hour training were 4.6% less likely to be raped and 5.9% less likely to have someone attempt to rape them. 


The following recommendations are offered for students:


1) As an incoming freshman or transfer student, you can inquire from your college counseling service about the kind of training available to prevent sexual assault and resources available in the event of an assault on campus.

2) You and your parents can ask the university about the process of reporting an assault. You can program the campus police phone number into your cell phone and make use of campus security escort services.

3) When on dates:

     a) Let a date know from the start that you can handle yourself and share the decisions about where you are going and what you will be doing.

     b) Arrange a double date with a couple you know well if you are seeing the person for the first time.

     c)  Always let someone know where you are going, when you expect to return and who you are with. Let your date know that someone else knows you are with him or her.

    d) If you begin to feel uncomfortable, pay attention to your intuition and begin to plan a way to leave.

    e) Always carry money with you. If a situation gets risky, call a friend or family member or take a taxi home. In a dangerous situation don't hesitate to call the police.

    f) When going on a blind date, always go to a public place like a movie or coffee shop.

4) If you experience a sexual assault seek medical attention immediately at a local hospital or emergency room. You can also contact campus police and seek support from the college counseling service.

5) You can take an assertiveness training class to learn to communicate in a direct and firm manner with someone who is pressuring you sexually. 

6) Avoiding the use of alcohol or drugs that may cloud judgement is strongly recommended.

7) Do not engage in sexting or sending inappropriate pictures of yourself or others.

8) Be aware that forcing or coercing someone to engage in sex is hostile and aggressive.

9) Partners who say "No" to sex are not rejecting you as a person. They are expressing their desire not to participate in a single act.

10) Accept a partner’s decision not to have sexual contact. "No" means "No".

11) Do not assume that paying for a date means that your partner owes you sexual favors.

Here are some links to additional resources in Pennsylvania and nationally to contact for support and training.

Phone numbers to call:

·  911
·  National Sexual Assault Hotline (RAINN) 800-656-4673
·  National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 or 1800-787-3224
·  National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline 866-331-9474
·  Trevor Project 866-488-7386 
·  National Suicide Hotline for Gay and Questioning Youth

Training and websites:

Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
National Sexual Violence Resource Center
Clery Center Security on Campus
(SAFER)   Strengthens student-led movements to combat sexual and interpersonal violence in campus communities
Not Alone- Together Against Sexual Assault
It's On Us

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Parenting Children with Special Needs: Advocating for our Children

Daniel A. Schwarz, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

When we, as parents observe our children's social and cognitive development and see that it is progressing well then we are proud of their progress and accomplishments.  However, when we sense that there is something not going "according to plan" it can make us feel anxious and afraid. It may be tempting at first to wait and give it time to see if our child "grows out of it" and begins to accomplish the tasks needed for academic and social success. But as time goes by, it is incumbent upon us as parents to accept the possibility that our child may have a delay or special need. It is not easy to accept this possibility.  It can be tempting to blame ourselves and so it is important to be fair about this as we work towards an inner acceptance of the truth.

At the same time, it is critical to begin to turn to others for support and guidance to develop a strategy to understand our child's condition and what we can do to help our child to make the important progress that we hope for.  This means that we contact professionals in our community such as teachers, pediatricians, child specialists, psychologists and other mental health professionals to discuss our concerns and to request whatever evaluation or testing may be indicated.

As parents, we need to advocate for our children and do our own research into what may be going on. We need to go online and find magazines and books to educate ourselves about what our child's condition means to our child and to those around him or her. The amount of available information can be overwhelming and it is important to be fair and realistic with ourselves as parents as we try to understand the challenges that face our child. Once we receive a diagnosis for our child's' condition, we can then work towards becoming “experts” on the current scientific research in the field. Armed with the necessary information regarding our child's needs, including test results, recommendations and proven strategies for success, we can then approach our child's teachers, counselors, educational support staff, coaches and others. We can also be a part of the team of educators and specialists that make decisions regarding treatment approaches, including therapies, tutoring, in-school accommodations, potential need for an Individualized Educational Plan( for students who qualify for special education services)or a 504 plan (for students who have a medical condition that requires accommodation). It is important to communicate and advocate with school personnel and other adults in a respectful but assertive manner. We should expect bumps and challenges along the road to getting the needed help for our children. If the challenges become overwhelming the option of pursuing meeting with a mental health professional or finding a support group can help.

As advocates for our children, we are also providing a crucial role model for them. Talking with our children about their own special needs and helping them to accept their own needs in an ongoing way is also important.  As our children observe our efforts as parents to advocate for them respectfully, it helps our children begin to advocate for themselves (see my prior blog on children learning to self-advocate) Over time, our children will come to learn the importance of communicating with adults respectfully about their needs and to accept their own needs and  learn strategies for success.
One of my favorite resources for parents and children with Special needs is ADDitude Magazine: Strategies and Support for ADHD and LD. The website is WWW.ADDITUDEMAG.COM.
For more information go to

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Teaching Children to Self-Advocate, Sooner Rather Than Later

By Daniel Schwarz, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

The importance of advocating for ourselves in life cannot be overstated. The earlier that we teach children to be positive self-advocates the more likely it is that they will be able to assert themselves as adults. In many cultures and families, children are taught that adults are the authority in children's lives. Children may learn that it is not acceptable to speak up or question adults. Also, many children and adults are shy or introverted, making it uncomfortable and even anxiety-provoking for them to be speak up for themselves.

Learning to self-advocate means that we should encourage children to express their opinions, needs and preferences in a respectful way. This is important for all children, but especially for children with special needs.  The article, "Help Wanted? Get Accommodations at Work" by Scott Wilbur in ADDitude Magazine, Spring 2014, is a great resource for adults who have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and/or Learning Disabilities. He describes the importance of self-advocacy as,  "the key that unlocks the door to achievement." I would agree and add that children learning to self-advocate is critical to their success in school and in life.

What are some important aspects of learning to be a good self-advocate? Children can learn to assert themselves in a positive and respectful manner. Assertiveness can be viewed as being on a continuum, of passivity and silence on one end of the continuum to aggressiveness on the other. Assertiveness lies in the middle of this continuum and has both verbal and nonverbal components.

Verbal aspects of assertiveness include the specific word choices that we utilize to express ourselves.The importance of word choice and approaching what needs to be said in a positive manner is important to teach children. It can often help children to practice out loud what they would like to say prior to approaching an adult or a peer. Role playing with a child can help the child feel more confident and clear about what they want to say.

Nonverbal assertiveness includes establishing direct eye contact, modulating our tone of voice and using  our body effectively to communicate. This is an often over looked aspect of self-advocacy. Helping children to look an adult in the eye can be an intimidating exercise, but it can be practiced when we greet or say goodbye to someone. We can also help children practice modulating the volume of their voices. Standing up straight when speaking to an adult and using our hands appropriately to express ourselves can be additional strategies to model with children.

Parents, teachers, school counselors and other adults can encourage children to be assertive and self- advocate. For students with special needs who have an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP), attending the meeting should be encouraged as soon as the parent, child and teacher feels it is appropriate. Children should be coached and prepared to attend part or all of the meeting and to express what they feel is working well and what aspects of the IEP need to be adjusted. The opportunity to self-advocate and ask questions in the meeting conveys to children that they have a voice that can and should be heard. A child should never be forced to attend an IEP meeting, but the option should always be presented. As a student enters high school, attendance at these meetings should become more of a priority. Including a high school student in post-high school transition planning becomes a more integral part of the IEP meeting and these students need to have their preferences heard.

Students who do not have special needs can self- advocate utilizing the same assertiveness strategies described above.  With ongoing support from parents, teachers and other adults, children can learn to be healthy self-advocates and develop self- confidence that will carry on into adulthood.

Daniel Schwarz, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

Friday, December 5, 2014

Learning to Relax Prior to a Medical Procedure (Effective Treatment for Anxiety)

Daniel A. Schwarz, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist

While some patients approach the process of a medical procedure with minimal or no anxiety, some patients may feel a sense of worry and even dread. The reasons for this anxiety can include fear of needles, “going under” from general anesthesia or the fear of experiencing pain and discomfort. Many of these symptoms are common for anyone who is approaching a medical procedure.  This is called anticipatory anxiety.

Developing coping strategies for anticipatory anxiety can be critical in creating a more comfortable and even positive experience as a part of having a medical procedure. Here are some strategies to consider:

1)      Ask as many questions of your doctor or the medical staff as you need to prior to agreeing to the procedure. Feeling informed and educated can be very important in decreasing any fears or anxiety. Examples of possible questions include asking what exactly will be done and how long will each step of the medical procedure will take. Discussing the options for pain management and discomfort during and after the procedure can be important.

2)      Try to understand your own anxiety. Psychological research has shown that people who take time to reflect on their own fears can prevent the anxiety from taking place.  Ask yourself what is the worst fear I have as I think about having a dental implant? Speaking about your concerns with your doctor and his or her staff can help prepare you and the doctor for your upcoming procedure. If you have a history of anxiety it can be important to let the doctor know about it. The doctor or the staff can answer questions and alleviate some of your fears.

3)      Once you have a more clear understanding of what you are fearful of try to have a conversation with yourself to help calm yourself. These inner conversations are normal and are like having a self-coach who is reassuring and encouraging. It can also be helpful to speak with a mental health professional about your fears if needed.

4)      Practicing relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to lower heart rate, blood pressure and symptoms of anxiety. Once you experience the ability to relax, you can approach your medical procedure with improved confidence. It is easy to learn deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing. Start by finding a comfortable chair, couch or bed to sit or lie on. Place your hand on your belly and take a deep breath. As you breathe in imagine that your lungs are like a balloon, a three dimensional object that can inflate both outward and upward. As you breathe in you will feel your hand on your belly rise up slowly. That is your lungs expanding and is the signal that you are breathing more deeply. Once you have taken in a full breath hold it for a few seconds and notice the fullness of your breath and then slowly begin to release that breath. Feel the letting go of the breath and let it all the way out. Then take another full deep breath and hold that as well. Repeat the deep breathing a third time. Then continue to breathe normally. Listening to calm music can be helpful during your relaxation exercise. As you continue to breathe you can choose to take a deeper more full breath anytime that you wish.

5)      You can also begin to focus in your mind’s eye on a safe and positive place. Perhaps a place that you have been to before or that you would like to go to or have seen in a movie. This part of the relaxation exercise is called visualization or imagery. The safe place should include all of the senses. Ask yourself what you see in the place. What is there and who are you with or are you alone. What sounds are a part of this place and what is the temperature there?   Is it warm or cold? What does it smell like in your safe place? Perhaps the smell of the beach or water or of trees or flowers?

6)      You can also try to imagine a gentle wave of relaxation starting at the top of your head and gently moving downward into your forehead and eyes and then into your jaw muscles and chin. This gentle wave of relaxation can continue downward through your whole body until it reaches the tip of your toes.

Practicing each of these relaxation exercises twice per day can help to decrease anxiety and increase a sense of self-confidence. You can look at these exercises as tools that you can use, even during your medical procedures. There is always the option of medication to cope with anxiety and that option should be discussed with your doctor in advance of any surgery.  The relaxation strategies described above can often preclude the need for medication and should be tried prior to utilizing anti-anxiety medicine. These strategies can help to make the process of your upcoming medical procedure go more smoothly. Many of the strategies described above can be utilized in coping with anxiety symptoms in general.  For more information go to