The AHA! Moment: Coping with the Coronavirus’ Psychological Fallout

By Steven Libowitz   |   May 7, 2020
Tara Schlener, MA, AMFT

AHA! has long received kudos in town for its success in equipping teenagers, parents, and educators with social and emotional intelligence and strategies to serve as an antidote to everything from apathy to despair. In addition, AHA! has had great success interrupting hate-based behaviors such as bullying. The organization’s programs have become touchpoints for transforming the community by empowering youth to be leaders in the effort to create safer, more joyful environments through AHA!’s Five Pillars: mindfulness, awareness, connection, empathy, and resilience.

But tending to our youth community has become a bigger challenge in the time of COVID-19, when everything moved from in-person contact to the virtual world online.

In response, AHA! moved all of its groups to Zoom and started some new support groups for teens and adults on the platform, too, an effort that AHA!’s Director of Programs and parent coach Melissa Lowenstein called “an instant total pivot from full-touch with hugging” to the definitely less tactile challenge of connecting online. “We just keep trying to figure out ways that we can bring what we have to the community.”

Rudy Ruderman, MFT Trainee

The latest offering from the AHA! team is a new series of free workshops from the organization’s therapists and coaches that are open to everyone in the community, as well as the world beyond Santa Barbara, over Zoom. Topics include self-compassion for men, body image issues, couples’ relationship repair, skills for parenting-in-place, and overcoming an increase in addictions.

“We have a lot of great trainees and associates, and we all have cool skills and lots of wisdom we want to share with the community, and we were exploring how to stay in touch with people in a way that doesn’t feel off-purpose or with any diminution of integrity.” Lowenstein said, explaining that the series of six events taking place during the month go far beyond the typical static webinars. “They’re workshops, not just talking heads. The format has people participating, having a voice, and sharing their wisdom, because, just like with all AHA! programs, it’s also about connection. We’re all really just hanging out talking about things with a person who happens to have some expertise in that area.”

Lowenstein referred to herself as “the odd one out” because she’s the only non-therapist or trainee who will lead one of the events. But she’s got a wealth of experience in helping parents deal with difficult children, a skill much in demand in the time of having to spend 24 hours a day with the family sheltering in place.

Tools for Managing Pandemic Pandemonium

Claire Blakey, MA, AMFT
Melissa Lowenstein, MEd & Certified Parent Coach

“It’s a response to a lot of stories I’ve been hearing from parents, and been reading about on social media, that parents are losing their minds nowadays because they’re working from home and also doing some version of homeschooling.” she said. “I have some great tools that I learned as a parent coach that help smooth things, and make it easier to steer the ship around such things as power struggles and oppositional behavior, which increase when kids are stressed out.”

Participants in her “Parenting in Place” workshop, slated for next Thursday, May 14, will have a chance to share “how awful and hard it can be,” Lowenstein said, noting that her own kids, now teenagers, mostly operate on autopilot. “But having small children during this situation can be a nightmare. So people can show up, commiserate, tell stories and laugh. Then I’ll teach some very specific parenting tools that were huge for me and have helped lots of other people in tough situations.”

The tools are based on The Nurtured Heart Approach, a parenting model and behavior management strategy that was created nearly 30 years ago by Howard Glasser, with whom Lowenstein has co-authored 11 books, she said. It is based on the concept that by recognizing a child’s strengths and focusing on positive, everyday occurrences rather than energizing negativity, this process creates an environment in which children can thrive. Lowenstein, who also conducted a training for her staff at AHA!, said the approach is popular with teachers, therapists, group home, and foster care system leaders because “It’s very simple and effective. I’m wanting to give people the pearl at the center of the approach, the one piece that helped me the most.”

That would be remembering the part about not giving energy to behaviors you don’t want, because energizing negative behavior only reinforces it.

Positive Rather Than Negative Reinforcement

Orian Rivers, MA, AMFT
Julian Castillo, MA, AMFT

“Most parents understand positive parenting and positive discipline, focusing your energy on what kids are doing well, with lots of praise and acknowledgement, which is very valuable. But children grok that they get more of their parents when they do something wrong. So without that piece, all the positivity in the world can get overwhelmed.”

That piece is especially important during the stay-at-home era because parents are working from home, and kids who want attention aren’t going to do it by being well behaved because that doesn’t get them much attention. “We’re so busy that we mostly feel relieved and tiptoe past their room so as not to disrupt anything,” Lowenstein said. “A kid who needs a lot of attention will go to the mat to suck that energy out of you.”

The tool she’ll teach isn’t rocket science, she said, rather a really effective way to implement it. And it works for adults, too.

“The people who really learn and practice the approach eventually realize they can use it on their partner and it really improves the relationship,” Lowenstein said, adding that the technique is actually at the heart of Tara Schlener’s “Positive Mindset and Reset: Couples’ Issues in Extreme Conditions” scheduled for Tuesday, May 26. “The reset part is about when you’re sucked into the negativity, move away from what you don’t want to what you do. It’s really magic.”

Here’s the List of the Free AHA! Workshops:

Thursday, May 7 (6-7 pm): Self Compassion for Men, with Rudy Ruderman, MFT trainee. For men, being stuck at home can be especially hard when activities that gave them purpose, self-esteem, and an outlet to blow off steam are no longer available — when there is less to “do” and we are forced more to just “be” with family, partners, children, and ourselves. Male-identified people are invited to explore self-compassion as a way to find peace and fulfillment during this crisis. Pre-register at

Tuesday, May 12 (10-11 am): Overcoming Negative Body Image with Orian Rivers, MA, AMFT, and Claire Blakey, MA, AMFT. For many of us, times of great stress can bring up struggles around body image. In this Zoom gathering, the facilitators will hold space to share about body image journeys and provide helpful insight and support. Pre-register at

Tuesday, May 19 (10-11 am): The Weight of Body Image During Corona with Claire Blakey, MA, AMFT. The event is a hosted open conversation about the impact of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders on an already toxic mix of body shame, diet culture, and weight-gain jokes and memes. Participants are invited to share their own experiences and leave with tangible take-aways for self-love and body acceptance during this challenging time. Pre-register at

Thursday, May 14 (10-11 am): Parenting in Place: an AHA! Parent Workshop with Melissa Lowenstein, MEd. Are you feeling occasionally less than loving toward your kids in the midst of our extended period of self-isolation? You are not alone. Join other parents and AHA!’s Director of Programs and parent coach Melissa Lowenstein to share stories and support, express frustration, remember joys, and learn sanity-saving strategies for parenting during COVID-19. Pre-register at

Tuesday, May 26 (10-11 am): Positive Mindset and Reset: Couples’ Issues in Extreme Conditions with Tara Schlener, MA, AMFT. How do we communicate with our partner effectively, listen deeply, and keep the love flowing when we are under the stress of sheltering-in-place? Explore how to create a positive mindset and reset when we are triggered in a relationship. Pre-register at

Thursday, May 28 (10-11 am): Managing the Urges to Indulge: Acceptance and Surrender, with Julian Castillo, MA, AMFT. Addictive behaviors are strategies for self-soothing our most difficult emotions, which can be increased during periods of stress such as our current sheltering-in-place. Join in an honest and compassionate conversation about acceptance and surrender as a route to healthier strategies. Pre-register at


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