Karla McLaren’s Blog

Announcing Dynamic Emotional Integration!

March 21, 2015

A new education, self-awareness, and licensing program!

Logo for Dynamic Emotional IntegrationPeople have been asking for years about a deepening and licensing program in my work, and surprise! The Dynamic Emotional Integration™ education and licensing program commenced in April of 2015.

Dynamic Emotional Integration™ is a nonclinical approach to emotional health and empathic awareness; it’s a learning and self-awareness process based on the work in the books The Language of Emotions and The Art of Empathy. It’s also a licensing program for people who want to work with others.

Dynamic Emotional Integration™ licensing program is an 8-course, year-long program that’s taught primarily online. However, it’s a fully responsive and empathic program focused on interaction and extensive community engagement among students.

For people who want to study for their own health and well-being, and not necessarily go forward into a licensing track, we have a 5-month Self-Care and Awareness track (see below).

There are two in-person retreats (in Marin/Sonoma County, California), and for people who cannot travel, online retreats are an option.

You can take the first 4 courses for your own health and well-being, and if you want to become licensed, the entire learning program will take one year.

The Dynamic Emotional Integration™ process

Self-Care and Awareness Track: You can take the first 4 courses for your own emotional health and well-being without needing to go onward into a licensing track. The Self-Care track is a 5-month program.

Licensing Track: After course 4, you have the option to go forward into the full year program in one of these 2 DEI licensing tracks:

  • Consultant is for people who will utilize the DEI principles and practices in non-clinical consultations.
  • Trainer is for people who will offer individually developed group trainings on emotions and empathy using specific DEI manuals and materials.

What each course entails: Each online course includes regular live weekly webinar group sessions (of one hour per course week) with Karla McLaren, curriculum design associate, Amanda Ball, and co-instructor Tino Plank (schedule permitting), who has developed this work alongside Karla for over 20 years. Amanda, Tino, and Karla also engage with students in extensive forum interactions, Q&As, and opportunities for deeper learning. This is a live, responsive program focused on your well-being and your empathic awareness and skill.

Time requirements: Each DEI course involves 10 hours (per course week) of study, assignments, and exercises that you can complete on your own schedule. You’ll also be able to interact in the forum whenever you have questions. The 10 hours include one (1) required 60 minute live weekly webinar (per course week) that will be offered at 2 or 3 different times and days so that people with heavy work schedules or people in different time zones can easily attend.

Prerequisites: Students need to have read The Language of Emotions or listened to the audio learning program before the first course (LOE1) begins. This is not a read-along course; it is a deepening and interactive inquiry into Karla McLaren’s “grand unified theory of emotions” model and the Empathic Mindfulness practices she has developed over the past four decades.

To learn more

For DEI course schedule and pricing information, please see the Course Schedule page at Empathy Academy.

To apply for the second cohort, beginning in April 2016: Please see the About page at Empathy Academy for more information on how to apply.

Thank you for bringing more emotional awareness and more empathy to our waiting world!

Karla, Amanda, and Tino


Emotion work revisited!

February 21, 2015

Emotional Dynamics at Work with RI’ve had the opportunity to bring my work into the corporate world recently, and I’m having such a wonderful time! In Emotional Dynamics at Work®, we’re working on emotions, empathy, and the crucial concept of emotion work, and I want to share it with you.

Understanding emotion work

In her groundbreaking book, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, sociologist Arlie Hochschild (pronounced hoke-shilled) described what she termed emotional labor, or the way that our emotions and emotional states are a part of what we offer (and what is expected from us) in the workplace.

In her book, Hochschild gives examples of flight attendants, who must not only understand the intricacies of their physical work on airplanes, but must also display an open and welcoming demeanor to passengers. Even when passengers are bad-tempered or overly needy, part of the work of a flight attendant is to continually offer a calm, helpful, and accepting face to the public. This is a flight attendant’s emotional labor, or emotion work.

As we’ve all witnessed, flight attendants are expected to continually offer an accommodating and empathic demeanor to passengers, no matter what perils or discomforts occur. These demeanor rules are not often written down explicitly in job descriptions, yet they’re an intrinsic part of what we’ve all come to expect (and even demand) from flight attendants.

The concept of emotion work helps us look at the often unwritten emotional and empathic behaviors that are expected in the workplace – and at how workers must manage their own emotions and the emotions of others in order to get their jobs done. (Read more…)

Autism, empathy, and the mind-blindness of everyday people

February 2, 2015

Hello! I’ve completed graduate school, and I’m now Karla McLaren, M.Ed! My master’s degree is in education and curriculum design with a concentration in linguistic anthropology, and my focus is on autism, empathy, disability rights, and human rights.

Over the next few months, I’m going to be posting pieces of my own research and the excellent research I’ve found. For instance, if you’d like to explore healthier and more empathic ways to engage with the autistic people in your life right now, check out my Matrix of Autistic Sociality page!

A note about the identity-first language I use: In my academic work, I intentionally use identity-first language (autistic person) instead of person-first language (person with autism). Person-first language is an attempt to foreground the person first, and to add the disability as an appendage, i.e., “person with learning disabilities.”

Though often well meaning, person-first language is a tactic that actually tends to underscore rather than sanitize problematic conditions. For instance, we would not say “man with handsomeness,” “woman with French ancestry,” or “person who is funny;” person-first language tends to be used only when the condition referred to is temporary, feared, or undesirable.

Identity-first language challenges the idea that disabilities are something to hide, fear, or be ashamed of.

As Ellen Brantlinger (2009) writes, person-first language “is meant to convey respect for those labeled; however, harmful naming and sorting practices continue regardless of new and improved classifications” (p. 407).

Person-first language has also been very controversial in disability rights circles, and is not the accepted terminology for many disabled people themselves, especially for many members of the blind, deaf, and autistic communities. In these communities, disability-positive and identity-first language is often preferred, i.e. blind person, Deaf person, and autistic person, or simply, autistic (see Bagatell, 2010; Brown, 2011; Cohen-Rottenberg, 2012, and Sinclair, 2009). In each case, these authors suggest that the preferences of disabled individuals should take precedence over any naming conventions.

This means that — even though I intentionally use identity-first language as a sign of solidarity with the disability rights and human rights movements — if you as a disabled person requested different terminology when we were together, then I would certainly use whatever terminology you preferred.

Autism, empathy, and the mind-blindness of everyday people*

Back in 2006, I read dozens of books about autism as I prepared myself for a new job, with my new job came a new insurance plan, I’m thorough and read the the e111 benefits for autisim. As an academic liaison for 22 autistic college students I would need to know everything about the e111’s offered. These books asserted that autistic people are socially impaired because they are “mind-blind” and therefore unempathic. (Read more…)

April 24th — The Art of Empathy in Seattle!

January 26, 2015

Empathy is an art, and you are the artist

Art of Empathy evening lecture and book signing

Friday, April 24th, 7:30pm at East West Bookshop in Seattle

$15 (or free, see below)

What if there were a single skill that could directly and radically improve your relationships and your emotional life? Empathy, teaches Karla McLaren, is that skill. (Read more…)

April 25th and 26th — Emotion Theater in Seattle!

January 26, 2015

Emotion Theater™!
Embodying Your Emotional Genius

April 25th and 26th, Saturday 10:30am to 5pm, and Sunday 1pm to 5pm

at East West Bookshop in Seattle

$125 (includes free admission to Friday evening’s lecture)

Current neuroscience is catching up with what artists and poets have known for centuries: Emotions are messengers from the deepest parts of your soul. All of your emotions are irreplaceable aspects of your intelligence, your social skills, your capacity to learn, and your ability to love – and there is no such thing as a negative emotion. All emotions contain genius, and all emotions are necessary.

Join empathic pioneer Karla McLaren for a weekend workshop where you’ll learn how emotions work – in real time – with the help of a delightful empathic teaching process called Emotion Theater™. (Read more…)

How to Be a Privilege Traitor

November 25, 2014

There is a tremendous amount of structural injustice and inequality occurring, and when a structure is unjust, it’s important that people learn how to think structurally in order to change the system. The concept of privilege can really help with that thinking, unless …

I’ve been noticing a lot of anguish and conflict occurring in my online communities about the word privilege. White privilege, male privilege, elite privilege, and more … these things are finally being talked about openly, and thank goodness! But there has been a lot of backlash, because people are mistakenly thinking that their privilege is somehow intentional or should be shame-inducing.

Photograph of Karla - a smiling white middle-aged female with brown hair and glasses

I have white, middle class, educated, heteronormative, able-bodied privilege, and I’m not afraid to use it for social justice. I am an intentional Privilege Traitor.

No. Just no. Privilege in this context doesn’t mean that you’ve got it made and you’re actively denying basic necessities to everyone. Privilege is a sociological term that helps us talk about structural inequality.

You don’t have privilege intentionally, and you don’t earn it; you’re born into it. It’s a feature of the social structure and not of you as an individual. However, as an individual, you have many choices about what to do with your unearned privilege.

But there is a lot of push-back about privilege from people who feel that they’re being shamed or mocked for simply existing in their white skin or in their male bodies (etc.).

Some people intuitively understand the concept of privilege and can engage with it almost immediately (these people are often disabled or unprivileged in some ways, yet privileged in others, so they know the territory). However, many people are reacting and digging in — not just because the concept of privilege is somewhat shocking, but also because it is often explained very poorly.

You have to earn your privileges, young lady

One issue that I see is that the word privilege is very charged in its regular usage. Privileges in regular life point to a power inequality; they’re something you earn from an authority figure by being an obedient and high-producing child, or by being a compliant prisoner, student, or underling. The granting of privileges means that there is often a tremendous power discrepancy at play, and that’s charged.

My parents didn’t play the privileges game with me, thank goodness, but many of my teachers did, and it always felt like self-betrayal to play their game. I spent a lot of time in the principal’s office because I often refused to be manipulated into behaving for rewards or punishments. For many people, the everyday definition of privileges is pretty toxic.

On the other side of the coin, being privileged (in everyday language) can be a pretty unflattering situation — it can mean that you are unfairly empowered, self-satisfied and self-absorbed, and/or greedy. Think Lifestyles of the Rich and Fatuous.

So when people hear about (for instance) white privilege, they can react pretty intensely against it.

I think that it’s not only hard to look at the structural racism and structural inequality that is a foundation of our society — but it’s also shocking for people to think that they’re being called three awful things: 1) an intentional racist, 2) a compliant underling, and 3) also an unfairly empowered and greedy person!

It’s no wonder people fight against the idea that they have privilege!

But it’s actually an entirely different thing that we’re talking about

I was very fortunate to have learned the sociological definition of privilege, which is to unevenly give voice or status to something.

For instance, if you are writing a research study about life in a school, and you mistakenly privilege the accounts of the janitors, your study will be biased toward the janitor’s views, and it will be a failed study (if you intended to paint a picture of the entire social world of the school).

Here’s the big secret about privilege: If it’s working as it should, no one who has it will be aware of it!

When you work as a researcher or as a journalist, watching out for how you’re privileging certain voices is a way to make sure that you don’t mistakenly insert unnecessary bias into your work, whew!

In society at large, however, privileging occurs regularly and often unintentionally. The voices and structures that are privileged, sociologically speaking, create bias and inequality.

This privileging may not have been a conscious decision, but the bias becomes a fact of life, and there are repercussions for the people who have not been privileged. There is inequality built into social structures because privilege (and hierarchy) exists in social structures.

This definition of the word privilege is what’s so often missing in discussions of privilege — because the big secret about privilege is that if it’s working as it should, no one who has it will be aware of it!

If people were openly aware of their privilege, then it wouldn’t be structural, and it wouldn’t be hidden, and it wouldn’t be privilege in the sociological sense.

Privilege in the sociological sense isn’t something you earn through compliance, and isn’t something you get by being greedy or bigoted. Privilege is structural and invisible, and you should be completely unaware of it until you become enlightened about it.

It is a privilege to be able to talk about privilege!

So instead of shaming people about something they can’t possibly be aware of until they learn about this strange concept, let’s have fun with privilege! Privilege is not a personal failing; it’s something that we have no control over until we become awake to the absolute and inarguable facts of structural inequality.

When you are awake to privilege, you can stop being an unwitting tool of inequality, and you can use the power of your privilege in amazing ways.

Once you know privilege, you can use it as a tool of social justice. You can become a Privilege Traitor! It’s fun!

If you have white privilege (or any other racial privilege), you can work in a hundred ways to make race less toxic for people of color. You can use your privilege as a tool for social justice. #BlackLivesMatter #ImmigrationReform

If you have middle class privilege, you can work to make the excesses of the upper classes less toxic, and you can work to help people in the lower classes become more safe and secure. You have power; use it well. #InterrogateInequality

If you have upper class privilege, you can marshal your resources to create fluid and empathic networks of support that empower the people below you. #NoblesseOblige

If you have male privilege, you can raise your voice in support of women, and actively work to challenge the structures that demean, objectify, silence, and endanger them. #EqualityNow

If you have majority religious privilege, you can work to call out religious bigotry wherever you see it. As a member of the majority, your voice has a power that minority voices simply don’t have. #DoUntoOthers

If you have the privilege of education, you can use your skills to support people who didn’t have your opportunities, or you can lend your education to people in need, to struggling students, or to people who can’t read or write. #OpentheAcademy

If you have hetero-normative privilege, you can use it to make life safer and more just for sexual minorities and gender-diverse people. #NoH8

If you have able-bodied privilege (if you aren’t disabled or ill, or you don’t look disabled or ill), you can use it to advocate for accessible spaces, for education and social support, and for inclusion for all people with disabilities. #DisabilitySolidarity

And so forth.

No matter what privilege you have — even if you only have a tiny little bit, look closely. Simply having Internet connection and the ability to read and write in English is privilege, and you can wield it in service to so many people and so many causes. #KnowledgeIsPower #AccessJustice

Look closely at your privilege — not as a shameful thing that fills you with impotent regret and remorse, no! That’s a silly thing to do with power you’ve inherited. Instead, find all of your privilege and use it intentionally for the good of all. Structural inequalities can be righted, but only when people in the structure wake up, stop being cogs in the machine, and start using their power to challenge — and reduce — injustice.

Become a Privilege Traitor. Turn your unearned privilege into a blessing, into a tool for social justice, and into a dedication to the soul of the world.

Discover and celebrate all of your privilege and put it to work, you traitors. #PrivilegeTraitorsRock



A call for input from the autism community

August 18, 2014


I’ve got an invitation for people in the autism community!

I’m currently writing my master’s thesis in education, focusing on research-based suggestions for working with autistic children and adults in ways that support their neurology and their unique learning styles (note: I use identity-first language in my work; this approach is explained on the research page).

In this phase of my research, I’ve collected some fascinating suggestions, and I’m looking for input from autistic people (and from parents and teachers who have worked with children in these ways) about these suggestions.

As you may know, most autism research literature focuses on autism as a medical problem, as a deficit, as a lack, and as a loss; however, a small but growing group of researchers are questioning this deficit focus and instead are asking about autism in more humane and creative ways.

I’ve been studying autism in this tradition and have discovered specific, research-based approaches to autistic ways of learning and autistic forms of socialization that could humanize and improve education for autistic children and adults.

My thesis is focused on gathering and presenting these autism-positive approaches to the larger community, but first I want to get direct input from the people who understand autism best: Autistic people themselves.

If you are autistic, or are the parent or teacher (or aide) of and autistic child or adult, your input in this phase of the research is invaluable, and I thank you in advance for your time and attention. The research page is here.

Thank you for your time!


When suicide is in the news

August 11, 2014

The Darkness before Dawn: Understanding the Suicidal Urge

Photo of a sun dappled valleyWe have lost a beautiful, brilliant, and funny man, Robin Williams. He struggled for many years with depression and substance abuse, and we grieve along with his family, loved ones, and colleagues — and send wishes for peace and healing to all. Update after his death: Robin seems to have been dealing with a severe depressive disorder related to his developing Parkinson’s disease; no drugs or alcohol were found in his system.

When famous people commit suicide, and breathless news reports glorify or confuse the situation, there is the danger that others will follow his or her lead. Careful reporting can reduce this risk, and providing straightforward information about depression and suicide can help suffering people find help.

If you are feeling suicidal here in the U.S., you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Suicidal feelings can be very isolating, and this lifeline exists to give people the support they need to make it through the despairing periods in their lives. If you or anyone you know is feeling suicidal, please let them know that support and help are available immediately. You’re not alone.

The TALK lifeline is available in the U.S.; if you’re in another country, the International Association for Suicide Prevention has a list of crisis centers and suicide prevention centers throughout the world. Please reach out if you’re in pain. (Read more…)

Are you an empath?

July 21, 2014


After studying empathy and emotions for four decades, I’ve developed a very simple and accurate way to tell if you’re an empath.

Are you ready to find out?

Karla McLaren’s Amazingly Accurate Quiz for Empaths


Question 1: Are you breathing? Yes/No (choose one)

Yes? You’re an empath.

No? Take a breath and start over at Question 1. (spoiler alert)

Congratulations! You’re an empath!

That’s a joke, and yet I’m also being serious. Empathy isn’t a magical skill that only special people possess. Empathy is a central feature of human intelligence and communication.
(Read more…)

The difference between deep empathy and niceness

July 3, 2014

When people think of empathy, they tend to see it as a soft skill — as a yielding and pleasing kind of behavior. They think: If you listen to me and agree with me and make me feel good, that’s empathy. If you fix my problems and soothe everything, that’s empathy. Empathy equals niceness.

But there’s actually a deeper form of empathy that transcends mere niceness and helps us engage with people across lines of discord, difficulty, pain, and trouble. I call this a full-bodied empathy, and it is a deeply emotive process that makes room for things that that don’t feel good and don’t seem particularly nice.

In this deeper form of empathy, you don’t jump in to fix things right away. Instead, you create a space for people to sit with problems and conflicts until they are able to find the brilliance (their own brilliance; not yours) sitting just beneath it. (Read more…)

A surprising new empathic skill: Complaining! (Consciously!)

June 23, 2014

When people think of empathy, they tend to see it as a soft skill, full of yielding and niceness. That’s a part of empathy, but there’s a deeper and more full-bodied form of empathy that helps you engage with people when they (and you!) are not feeling nice at all. In The Art of Empathy, I share a number of relationship skills for dealing with conflict and for repairing bonds, and this is one of my favorites: Conscious Complaining. (Read more…)

January 4th to January 9th, 2015 — The Art of Empathy at Kripalu!

June 14, 2014

The Art of Empathy Retreat at Kripalu

Learning How to Balance Connection, Self-Awareness, and Healthy Intimacy

Empathy is possibly your most essential skill, yet many of us trip over it because we weren’t taught how it works. In this six-day program at the delightful Kripalu retreat center in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts, you’ll join empathy pioneer Karla McLaren in an experiential exploration of The Art of Empathy. (Read more…)

The Magical Healing Powers of Art

May 30, 2014

Art is a specific empathic healing practice

This month’s newsletter about art has started a lot of conversations; this post expands on the healing power of art (artistically)!

Artistic expression is a wonderful and soul expanding thing for anyone, but it has a particular healing quality for anyone who wants to understand and work with empathy, because art helps you express and channel emotions intentionally. Empathy is first and foremost an emotional skill, and learning how to work with and understand emotions is a vital part of developing healthy and intentional empathy.

Photo of colorful fruits in an artistic arrangement

Art can also be edible!

Whether you write, draw, paint, sing, compose, play an instrument, design, do metalwork or paper arts, work with fabric or jewelry, create with wood or ceramics, dance or do martial arts, do graphic arts or photography, do math or science, or work in your garden or your kitchen – artistic and creative expression will give you a way to connect with yourself and tangibly symbolize emotions, thoughts, and ideas.

And the wonderful thing is: this art doesn’t have to be any good! (Read more…)

How do we celebrate our mothers?

May 11, 2014

How do we celebrate our mothers —
The ones who are here and the ones who aren’t
The ones who gave their lives for us and the ones who walked away
The ones who lovingly directed our lives as if we were art projects
And the ones who never knew how to welcome us into the world

How do we celebrate our mothers —
The ones who were ready for anything we could bring
And the ones whose childhoods impeded their capacity for love
The ones who held themselves liable for every possible outcome in our lives
And the ones who threw us into the deep end of the pool
The ones who chose our fathers wisely, carefully
And the ones who were children themselves, desperate for love, or unable to choose anything at all

How do we celebrate our mothers —
Do we live out their dreams for themselves and for us?
Or do we fight against their hopes and fears and become the opposite child?
Do we follow their paths and parent in their way, in our way, or not at all?
Do we care for our mothers as they age, and mother them as they die?
Or do we lose them before we can care for them, or before we know who they — and we — are?

How do we celebrate our mothers?
The complex ones and the simple ones
The peaceful ones and the raging ones
The ones who created stability
And the ones who shook the ground under our feet

How do we celebrate our mothers?

~Karla McLaren

Photo of a path in the forest

May 23rd — The Art of Empathy in Santa Rosa!

April 16, 2014

Empathy is an art, and you are the artist.

Free talk and book signing, Friday, May 23rd at 7:00pm at Stepping Stones Bookstore in Santa Rosa, California.

What if there were a single skill that could directly and radically improve your relationships and your emotional life? Empathy, teaches Karla McLaren, is that skill. (Read more…)

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