As a therapist in private practice for 20 years, Lisa Catania has seen the effects of bullying on her clients, whether they are children, adolescents or adults.
“It has a devastating, profound impact on people, causing trauma, anxiety and depression and affecting our coping mechanism and self-esteem,” Catania said. “It takes a toll on everybody.”
Concerned about the negative consequences of bullying in society, Catania and two of her colleagues, Michelle Wood and Jennifer Lara, are taking action, and they are spearheading an effort to create a bully-free zone in Beverly.
According to Catania, the “Bully Free Beverly” initiative began a couple of years ago when Steve English, co-owner of The Blossom Boys, responded to a series of publicized stories about American children and teenagers who committed suicide after being “bullied to death.” He and his partner, Ryan Steinbach, launched a local campaign to stop bullying, and they kicked off the crusade with an “informational and inspirational” presentation by Anne Parry from the city of Chicago’s Office of Violence Prevention.
Catania, Wood and Lara are part of Beverly Therapists, a group of psychotherapists, each with their own private practice, that work together in a suite of offices at 10725 S. Western Ave. They have picked up where English left. Their goal is to raise awareness of the issue and to develop support networks for those who have been affected by bullying. They are also working to change the culture that supports bullying dynamics, Catania said, by promoting the role of the “upstander,” the person who stands up for the victim.
“In the traditional bullying dynamic, there is the bully, the victim and the bystander. Although they are not participating in the bullying behavior, bystanders can feel guilty because they did nothing to stop it—they don’t know what to do or they’re scared that they’ll be targeted,” Catania said. “Through their actions, upstanders can affect change, which we think offers a positive message and positive momentum.”
The group has created a Facebook page, Bully Free Beverly, that provides links to news articles, videos and other resources that address bullying, offer examples of upstanding and focus on values that combat bullying, such as kindness and compassion.
The women are also reaching out to local schools to engage students in their “I am an upstander” and “Bully Free Zone” campaigns. The group is asking for submissions from students, which can include posters, drawings, declarations, poems and videos, that promote the idea of standing up and taking action, Catania said.
“Similarly, I think ‘kindness is cool,’ ‘cultivating compassion,’ or ‘bravery moments’ could be sub-themes,” Catania said in an e-mail. “I envision submissions that can be posted on the Facebook page and developing a set of posters/banners that can hang in store windows, on playground fences, in school hallways and in the front windows of homes.”
Down the road, Catania said, she envisions community presentations, discussion groups and assembling a group of professionals who would be available for PTA meetings, teacher training and classroom workshops. She hopes that by reaching out to various audiences through a variety of mediums, “We can activate the community and get conversations on upstanding happening in different places.”
Catania first became an anti-bullying advocate, she said, when her oldest daughter was in third grade at a local elementary school and was indirectly involved with a bullying situation. When she learned the school did not have a comprehensive plan to address the behavior, Catania said, she worked with the principal to develop one.
Eight years later, Catania has renewed enthusiasm to lead the crusade toward a bully-free zone, she said, to ensure a safe, healthy environment for all—now and in the future.
“The more kids compromise their values to belong, the more they accept this type of behavior,” Catania said. “But the flip side of crisis is opportunity, and this is an opportunity to help make our kids activists and leaders that are compassionate and kind.”
For more information, visit the Bully Free Beverly page on Facebook or on the Web site at beverlytherapists.com.