Adventures of Counseling in American Samoa | Robert Toelupe | TEDxPagoPago


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Description Robert discusses of how his upbringing and culture relates to his profession of a social worker. Robert Toelupe was born and raised in Hawaii but has strong ties as his father is from the village of Leone and his mother from Ta’u, Manu’a. He attended college and graduated with his Bachelors and Masters Degrees from Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. He met his wife at school, and she is from the village of Aua. They married in 2002 and after their first 2 children they decided to move to American Samoa. 7 children later and here he is, a survivor. He is currently a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with the Department of Veterans Affairs. As Director of the Vet Center program, they provide Readjustment Counseling services to veterans who have experienced trauma while in the military, either through combat related experiences or sexual trauma. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at <br> <h3>Auto Generated Captions</h3>

there is a well-known salmon proverb
that states ll a little law I’m out lava
alibi which translates to the duck will
fly all over but will always return to
the water this is the proverb that
contains so much wisdom and resonates
with me because of my experience you see
my parents are from here
American San Juan my father from the
village of Leone and my mother from
Tahoe and manure several years after
they married they moved to Hawaii I was
born and raised in Hawaii in a small
town called la year I attended college
in Utah and I met my wife there she’s
also from American Sam walk from the
village of our world we married and
eventually had the opportunity to move
back here to American sawa to raise our
family and this is why I love this
proverb lll its allure I’m a lover you
leave I the duck will fly but will
always return back to the water this
proverb usually refers to one leaving
his home or homeland and eventually
returning to his roots or to where he is
from I feel that I am that duck
returning home
returning to the water when I started my
university studies and looking for a
major I knew I wanted to work with
people I knew I wanted to help people to
improve their well-being I received my
bachelor’s and master’s degree in social
work and that education changed my life
forever I learned about mental health
and how important it is in every stage
of our lives from childhood to
adolescence and even into adulthood
mentor whose are emotional psychological
and social well-being mental health
impacts the way that we think the way
that we feel and the way that we behave
it influences how we deal with stress
how we relate to others and how we make
choices the education I received not
only gave me the knowledge and skills to
help people in to improve their
well-being but I also learned a lot
about myself
I learned how to recognize my emotions
and how my emotions impacted my
behaviors I learned how to process my
thoughts and my beliefs and how those
impacted the way that I felt and behaved
mental health helped me to make sense of
my personal experiences and also my
relationships but with information so
essential and so valuable I wondered why
I didn’t learn any of this before as a
young someone growing up I don’t ever
remember being engaged in discussions
about my emotions the only emotions that
I knew were angry sad happy sleepy and
most importantly hungry you know the
basic emotions I learned that I wasn’t
alone and that for many saw moins mental
health is not a common topic of
discussion and seemingly not a priority
through my experience here in American
sawa I’ve come to realize that the
average individual is not well-informed
about mental health this is a concern
even more so today than in any other
time in history more and more we read in
the news issues that pertain to mental
health issues of sexual violence sexual
assault drugs and addiction and domestic
violence we are we’re seeing the effects
of war and with our brothers and sisters
returning home trying to cope and deal
with experiences that they were exposed
to while beyond appointment all these
issues and many more affect our mental
health many of these events cause trauma
which are emotional wounds many who are
experiencing these unfortunate events
don’t even know how to cope with it some
turn to drugs some alcohol and
unfortunately some even contemplate or
attempt suicide and because many are not
informed about mental health our
community as a whole in turn is not very
sensitive in the way that we respond
there is a great need for our community
to be educated in mental health after
graduating from school I eventually
obtained my license to practice
counseling or
therapy growing up I thought that
counseling was where you go into a room
with someone and get hypnotized to do
some crazy stuff but that’s not what
counseling is about in counseling we
teach about mental health the process
that helps people to recognize their
thoughts their emotions and their
behaviors and the impact that they have
on an individual’s life throughout my
years of practice I was able to witness
how beneficial counseling was and how
mental health and the counseling process
can be for people and see firsthand how
it can help to improve people’s lives
when the opportunity to move back here
to American Samoa surfaced I thought
great this is an opportunity for me to
serve my people to give back and to
provide a service that I know will
positively impact our people I worked
the combat veteran who recently retired
from the military and he was trying to
readjust to civilian life in counseling
he eventually mustered up the courage to
share something they had been bothering
him he shared that several days ago he
had disciplined his son and he felt
guilty about it he asked his son to wash
the dishes before he got home and when
he returned the dishes were not done he
said he just got upset went and beat up
his son his wife jumps in upset at the
veteran and asked why did you beat up
our son and his response was because he
didn’t do the dishes like he was told
the wife responds over dishes you beat
him up over dishes so this veteran comes
into my office upset and feeling guilty
for what he did and couldn’t reconcile
the fact that he beat up his son over
dishes in counseling I was able to
process with this veteran and by going
through the counseling process he was
able to realize that he got upset
because his son had a job to do
and he didn’t do it see the veteran
explained to me that in the military
when you have a job to do and you don’t
do it there could be some severe
consequences it could be in life or
death his son’s actions had triggered
feelings of insecurity and fears for
safety the same feelings that he
experienced during his time in Iraq the
counseling process has had helped him to
be aware of his thoughts emotions and
behaviors and the impact they had on him
and his family and it wasn’t about the
dishes I also worked with the couple who
the wife had complained that her husband
was spending too much money every week
he would come home with the new
appliance she was frustrated because she
said we have 20 weed eaters 15 leaf
blowers and ten power washers her
husband explained that whenever they
would go shopping and he sees something
he likes he would purchase it
his wife replied it wouldn’t be so bad
but if we were buying stuff we need but
we don’t need 20 weed eaters like my
previous example this husband didn’t
understand why he was doing what he was
doing but through counseling and being
able to process his thoughts and his
emotions he realized that ever since he
lost his job due to an injury he became
depressed and did not know how to cope
he was an electrician by trade and an
injury to his hand kept him from being
able to work steadily with his hands he
bought these appliances and would work
on them tweaked them rewire them to make
them more powerful or more fast and he
was trying to prove to himself that he
was still capable of doing what he used
to do he enjoyed being able to work with
his hands again
this couple realized that it wasn’t
about the twenty weed eaters or the
fifteen leaf blowers but it was about
the experience he was purchasing an
experience when his wife realized that
their money was being invested in an
experience that helped her husband with
his depression she was more
understanding and more accepting and
then she whispered to me and asked do
you know where they sell any electronic
diamond necklaces
there is a great need for our community
to be educated in mental health and to
invest in programs that help to improve
our mental health through my experience
working in the mental health field here
in American Samoa I realize that the
average individual is not well informed
about mental health and as a result I
find that our community is not very
sensitive to issues regarding mental
health and often do not respond
appropriately to individuals dealing
with normal mental health issues being
well informed will allow us to be more
understanding and accepting of others
and allow us to respond appropriately
but to understand why maybe mental
health is not a very common topic of
discussion or why the average individual
here in American Samoa is not well
informed let me provide some context I
want to make a comparison of traditional
Sawa versus modern-day some more
traditional Sawa I would define it here
as some more before there was any
foreign influence you see the Samoan
culture is a set of customs practices
and beliefs that guide our everyday
actions this is called fossum or or the
Samoan way of life we are taught this
way of living from those who have been
here before us from our ancestors to our
elders Chiefs parents down to the
fossum war was the only information
needed and in order to survive life in
some war that was the only information
that we needed in this system
information flows one way downward
meaning that information and knowledge
was taught by the elders and Chiefs who
were at the top down to those who are at
the bottom of the hierarchy we have our
Mateo or chief system where decisions
and information came from top to bottom
and mechanisms were put into place to
make sure that the fossum wall was
adhered to and to challenge or combat
any resistance or ideas that would
challenge the fossum or as children we
were taught to listen to our elders
learn from those who have been
before us those who have experience we
were told not to question just do it or
I will kaffir poco don’t be a smart
aleck know your place you don’t know
individual expression of emotion was not
very appropriate because the needs of
the group or the family was paramount
certain topics were taboo and there were
a lot of controls put into place to
facilitate this fast are more
information but this was such a wise
system because in order to survive life
in San Juan the only information that
was needed was the somme own way of
living we didn’t need to know what was
going on in other parts of the world
because that had no relevance to life
here in San Juan
there is a Samoan sake besties some more
warm own a trophy which I understand it
to mean that in Samoa
everything has its place everything is
set there was no need for discussion of
change because our ancestors believed
that the fossum war was sufficient and
they were right the practices customs
and traditions were designed to promote
the salmon way of life but eventually
through time and through years of
foreign intervention the fossum war
would constantly be challenged and
exposure to foreign influences new
information and new technology would
begin to challenge the Samoan way of
life the fossum war the practice of
trying to control the flow of
information have proven to be very
difficult let’s take a look at the
dynamics of modern Samoan culture our
current culture is a culmination of the
fossum war and years and years of
foreign influence and intervention we
still have the mitai system or chief
system where information still flows
downward but as you can see the
landscape between traditional Sawa and
modern-day Sawa is drastically different
people on the bottom are now exposed to
much more information especially in this
day and age with technology and the
internet access to information is that
one’s fingertips people are now
naturally in
firing and asking about certain topics
keys are asking parents why this why
but the practices of old are still
strong and shutting down any curiosities
or any discussions the same practices of
a low-key fear Popo don’t be a smartass
know your place we don’t talk about
those topics
there are many trying to hold on to the
practices of old thinking that if we
abandon those practices we would
compromise our Samoan identity and we
would fail to be Sol Moines
we again hear the saying Sam or will
whom own a trophy that everything is
already in its place but in context this
is referring to traditional Sam walk as
I’ve shown the landscape of modern-day
saw moi is immensely different than the
Somme war of the past times have changed
and the practices of yesterday cannot
solve the challenges of today our
ancestors understood this because of
another well-known Samoan proverb a soui
final item alpha-a by practices change
what principles remain forever we need
to change our practices instead of
shutting down discussions or genuine
inquiries we need to promote having
discussions especially with our children
discussions centered on mental health
teaching them how to recognize and
process their thoughts and emotions
learning about mental health and how it
affects our everyday life understanding
that there are many individuals who want
to reach out who are looking for help
but get discouraged because many times
people make light and make fun or even
invalidate their experiences now some of
you might feel that this is a difficult
challenge to take on but I want you to
think about our recent trend with
regards to physical health if you look
back 10 or 15 years ago our community
was not very comfortable having
discussions about our physical health
talking about how much you weigh what
diet you’re on
what workouts you’re doing these were
not common topics of discussion but
there was a huge push for awareness
mainly because of the epidemics that
we’re now facing issues with diabetes
heart disease etc there was greater
awareness on the benefits of being
physically healthy and how it can lead
to a better quality of life and now we
see that people are very comfortable
discussing their physical health people
talking about their diets talking about
their weight freaking posting pictures
of their healthy food online people
wearing clothes like spandex and tights
to work and some even to church but this
level of community comfort has
encouraged those who need to work on it
to do so and feel okay doing it I
believe the same can happen with mental
health as a community we need to invest
in mental health the more we are aware
of mental health and mental health
related issues the more comfortable we
as a community will be in having
discussions about it the more
comfortable we are and discussing and
having a dialogue about mental health
the more sensitive we will be the more
sensitivity we stoke the more those in
need will feel comfortable reaching out
let’s continue these discussions even
after tonight it will only help to
improve our quality of life here in
American sawa Buffett I tell lava
thank you and good night

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