Lorraine Mangione, professor and director of practica in the department of Clinical Psychology at Antioch University New England, delivered dual presentations at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute’s first mental health and wellness conference on October 5-7, 2010, in New York City.
The event, which focused on the development and changing nature of psychological and familial structures in the Italian American community, was attended by psychologists, mental health professionals, academic researchers, students, and members of the Italian American community.
“People think that the old ethnicities who came to this country in the late 1800s and early 1900s are all assimilated, but research has shown that people have their traditions, and they still affect them as they go through life,” said Lorraine. “Italian Americans are very intense. Historically, a really strong line has been drawn around the family, and keeping things in the family, with an emphasis on self-reliance. Until recently, there’s also been the stigma about seeking mental health help. Your history, background, and culture matter. They’re not everything, but they matter.”
Lorraine and AUNE PsyD candidate Rachel Urbano, who is completing an internship at the Massachusetts Mental Health Center at Harvard/Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston, discussed “The Use of Poetry in Identity Formation in Italian American Women.” In addition, Rachel presented a paper on mourning, loss and identity formation, and Lorraine presented one on lifespan development. Using the work of three groups of Italian American women poets as catalysts, they examined various themes, including the ways that family relationships and spirituality contribute to the development of personal identity for Italian American women.
“Navigating Grief and Loss in the Italian American Culture” was the title of the interactive workshop Lorraine conducted with AUNE alumna Donna Dicello, who is a professor and the associate director of the Graduate Institute of Professional Psychology at the University of Hartford. After a discussion of the psychology of grief in the Italian American culture, the pair proposed that extended metaphors can be powerful tools for working through bereavement.
Through discussion and writings, they shared the ways they had personally used metaphor to help them heal after the deaths of their Italian American fathers—Donna through the use of koans (in Eastern philosophy, contemplative phrases), and Lorraine through cooking. Workshop participants then talked about their own experiences of grief and ways in which Italian American culture can inform grief psychology and help the bereaved create personal metaphors for healing.
“Italian Americans may grieve in different ways than other ethnic groups, and may grieve longer,” said Lorraine. “We talked about how that’s okay—it’s a normative way to be. Keeping the dead with you and alive is a very Italian thing.”
“People grieve through metaphorical processes,” she said. “We used ourselves as examples. My father owned a restaurant. Since his death, cooking has taken on new meaning for me. Donna writes koans to keep connected to her father. It was really fun. People were engaged and very interactive, commenting on what their own metaphorical measures are. People came up to us saying that they cried through the whole thing because they felt understood.”
Read more about the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, Queens College of City University of New York (CUNY) here.