Choosing Words that Help and Heal Resources

Sticks and Stones may break your bones and words can hurt or heal.

There is a difference between thinking before we speak and being thoughtful about the words we speak. Words themselves make a difference for they form images and response based on experiences and associations. Our mental models, implicit biases, and trauma experiences show up to respond to the interpretive call.

The power of words to create response has been demonstrated throughout time. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of language empowered a movement.  His words transcended his death and time to inform ways in which a broader population can do good and move towards equity.  Who can forget the power of dreaming about a time when people are judged based on the content of the character rather than the color of their skin.  The use of language by others has incited individuals and groups of people to commit acts of violence and participant in creating or perpetuating harm.

We know of the power of words to invoke responses on a physical level. Stop. Danger. Enemy. What is sometimes less clear is whether the language creates a condition and under what circumstance. A few years back I was doing some work around the impact of self talk. I was asked to repeat a phrase until I actually began to believe it and accept it as my own reality. I had the opportunity to show the power of words during a presentation on the Body/ Mind/ Belief connection when I was confronted by a heckler in the audience. He was a large strong man, loud and disruptive to the group.  He didn’t want to be at that presentation and was not happy.  I  told him that I would release him from the presentation with full credit for his attendance if he would be willing to help me with a little demonstration. He agreed feeling certain there was nothing of value for him that could be gained by his participation. I asked him to hold his arm straight out to his side and to resist me as I attempted to push his arm down with my hand.  As I suspected he was fairly strong, and I could barely make his arm move. Then, I ask him to repeat the words “ I am weak and worthless”  three time out loud. He laughed. I said he didn’t have to believe the words, just say them.  Afterwards, I asked him to once again raise his arm and resist my attempts to lower it. With two fingers on his arm, I was able to collapse his arm to his side. The look of shock on his face said it all. I had him repeat the words, “ I am strong and powerful” three times out load and attempted again. You can guess the results.

What we say to ourselves to others, does matter. It makes a difference, and whether we are putting words that mend or word that tear into the world can impact our collective outcomes.

Think about Dr. King and how his use of language empowered a movement.  How can we learn from the way he articulated messages to invoke action and stimulate positive change?  While his loss was devastating, it could also be seen as a catalyst for the movement. Government and the CDC’s ban on language does a disservice to our work in many ways. If you can’t even name something, how do you intend to work on improving it?

Our work has  been directly impacted by word choices by federal funders and partners.  From the now famous 7 words that the CDC is encouraged to avoid in their funding requests to, perhaps the lesser known,  Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) shift from “multi-system youth” to “offender”.  These words matter.  It matters that science based and evidence based are terms that have been diluted by that guidance.  It sends a message that evidence and science are not as important in policy, funding and program implementation.  It is scary.  The OJJDP word shift conveys a message about how our system thinks about young people who are involved in their system.  It reverses what we believe to be the right direction of more emphasis on rehabilitation and support rather than punishment.

CM has been promoting an intentional use of language since our formation.  We believe that in cross system collaboration the use and definition of terms is a necessary first step when coming together.  We also believe that in an attempt to be culturally responsive, it is imperative to be aware of and curious about the language of others.  

There is another way in which CM incorporates a focus on language in our work.  We work with a wide variety of individuals who all need to reach a shared understanding of conditions, challenges, and current thinking in order to move collectively toward change.  Language can be too academic or distant from the experiences of youth, caregivers, community members, providers and administrators.  In fact, there is no individual who is well versed in the accepted language of other stakeholders.  CM ensures that in every facilitated dialogue, planning process, training or really anything else we do, that words, terms, labels and acronyms are surfaced and defined by the group with an eye towards external messaging.

Lots of opportunity to create change in language and a lot of ways to use language to create change!  Change sometimes begins with a recognition that words mean so many things to so many people.  What words will you use to heal, engage and make change?

Resources on Language:

Word Choice

Contributed by: Shannon CrossBear & Elizabeth Waetzig
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Deciding What Type of Collaborative Group Meets Your Need

Change Matrix promotes collaboration for collective impact, learning and innovation. Collaboration can enhance our work, help us address community issues, and implement community-driven solutions. But collaboration isn’t always easy. It can be hard to know what collaboration should look like, since collaborative groups can take many forms. Through our work with states and communities, the Change Matrix team has experienced and supported different types of collaboration and the recognizes the value of each type. This tool attempts to highlight some of the most popular types of collaborative groups. While there are no clear-cut definitions and this list is not exhaustive, we present a few key considerations as you are forming your group.

 Resource Links:

General resource links:

What are some other group types and considerations? We would love to hear from you. After all, through collaboration, we can often generate a more meaningful outcomes!

Contributed by: Naomi Ortega Tein & Sandra Silva
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Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness, Emergency Preparedness, and Post-Event Considerations

The growing number of recent natural disasters and tragedies have directly touched some of our Change Matrix team personally, and have affected us all in some way, as part of a global community. These traumatic events prompt us to consider proactive measures and post-impact considerations related to individuals directly or indirectly affected, as well as those providing a service or response to the events. Reflecting on these considerations may enhance our resilience; and emergency preparedness planning, and enable us generally to prepare and respond more effectively and organically. Two post-impact considerations are 1) cultural and linguistic responsiveness, and 2) mental health.

Some related resources we’ve put together on the topic:

Using Culturally-Aware Practices to Inform Emergency Preparedness and Recovery Efforts for Future Disasters

Cultural and Linguistic Competency for Disaster Preparedness Planning and Crisis Response – The racial and ethnic diversity of the United States population is increasing. An inclusive and integrated approach to disaster and emergency preparedness, response, and recovery activities ensures that culturally and linguistically diverse populations are not overlooked or misunderstood. Public health officials and emergency managers who are prepared to address the cultural needs of communities affected by adverse events can be instrumental in reducing people’s psychological distress and meeting the community’s needs to recovery effectively. This web page will introduce and connect you to resources and tools that enhance and address cultural and linguistic competency to help mitigate the impact of disasters and emergency events.

National Resource Center on Advancing Emergency Preparedness for Culturally Diverse Communities (“Diversity Preparedness”) – This web-based library of resources and information on disaster preparedness for culturally diverse communities and other at-risk populations includes planning tools, fact sheets, trainings, and other materials. They are geared for public health, healthcare, emergency management, and social service providers who work with diverse and high-risk communities.  See the groundwork for this website’s inception.

Developing Cultural Competence in Disaster Mental Health Programs – Peoples’ reactions to disaster and their coping skills, as well as their receptivity to crisis counseling, differ significantly because of their individual beliefs, cultural traditions, and economic and social status in the community. For this reason, workers in our Nation’s public health and human services systems increasingly recognize the importance of cultural competence in the development, planning, and delivery of effective disaster mental health services.

Culturally-Sensitive Trauma-Informed Care – Culturally-Sensitive Trauma-Informed Care refers to the capacity for health care professionals to effectually provide trauma-informed assessment and intervention that acknowledges, respects, and integrates patients’ and families’ cultural values, beliefs, and practices.

Cultural and Linguistic Responsiveness in Emergency Preparedness


Emergency Preparedness and LGBTQ: What Health Centers Need to Know

Special Populations

Toolkits, fact sheets, referral sites, and other resources for special populations and responders

Emergency Preparedness: Including People with Disabilities

Children and Youth

Helping Children Cope with Tragedy-Related Anxiety

Tips for Talking with and Helping Children and Youth Cope After a Disaster or Traumatic Event

Psychological First Aid for Schools – Field Operations Manual

Reproductive Health

CDC Reproductive Health Emergency Preparedness and Response Training

First Responders: Support for Pregnant Survivors of Abuse or Rape during Disasters

Mental Health and Post-Event Considerations

How Stress Affects your Health

Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project

Spanish Language Resource on Children and PTSD

Psychological First Aid Operations Guide in Multiple Languages

Disaster & Trauma Mental Health Resources

FEMA Tips on Coping with Disaster

Get Involved with Community-Oriented Groups

National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster

Volunteer with All Hands

Portlight: A disaster response group dedicated specifically to people with disabilities


Contributed by: Naomi Ortega Tein & Alina Taniuchi
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