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Coaches Offer Free Course in Optimism Skills to Katrina Caregivers, First Responders; Spokespeople Avail. for Interviews: Tips on Dealing with Stress and Trauma from Katrina, 9/11 Anniversary


WASHINGTON, Sept. 12 -- Optimism is a choice. Even in the most dire circumstances, such as the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, survivors can choose optimism over despair, according to Pathways to Happiness coaches Nancy Montagna, PhD and Robin Carnes, MBA. Montagna and Carnes were both trained by Dr. Martin Seligman, a noted psychologist who pioneered the field of positive psychology.

“A whole body of research shows that people who choose an optimistic response to life, rather than a pessimistic response, live longer and healthier lives,” says Montagna, a clinical psychologist. “There are so many things we can’t control in life: from natural disasters and societal events such as hurricanes and terrorist attacks, to private events such as cancer or car accidents.” While we can’t always control events, what we can do is learn to control our responses to these events, Carnes says.

Because optimism and resilience are so crucial to the long-term emotional health of people who have survived trauma –- such as the Gulf Coast evacuees –- Montagna and Carnes are inviting fifteen first responders and care givers to participate in their next Pathways to Happiness class, on a tuition-free basis. The next class begins on Oct. 12, and lasts for 20 weeks. Participants will need to have access to a telephone and a computer for the phone and web-based course. Applications are available online at

“We are as overwhelmed as everyone else by the disaster that has struck New Orleans and the Gulf Coast area,” says Carnes, a native of Tennessee. “We especially want to support those who help others, because they often put the needs of others ahead of their own. We also hope that the caregivers can teach the skills they learn to other survivors of Hurricane Katrina, thus multiplying the effects of the course.”

For the two years, Montagna and Carnes have been offering Pathways to Happiness, teaching specific skills and practices such as: how to build psychological resilience; how to think like an optimist, even if this does not come naturally; how to change negative habits into positive actions; how to cultivate gratitude on a daily basis; how to find stillness in the midst of chaos through the practice of mindfulness; how to forgive oneself and others, and more.

Carnes herself has seen her share of hardship: she ran away from a troubled home at 14, got married at 15, had a baby at 16, and divorced at 17. She was a “welfare mother” living on public assistance until she made a conscious decision to take control of her own life, get her GED, and stop blaming circumstances for all her troubles. She eventually earned an MBA and worked as a corporate consultant. (For a more complete bio, see

Montagna has worked as a clinical psychologist for the past 25 years. She also volunteers with International Partners, a group that seeks to connect American resources such as money and expertise with the needs of people in developing countries. Nancy’s particular focus has been to train leaders in a program that is effective with domestic violence offenders. In addition to her work in Latin America, Nancy has been Volunteer Coordinator of the Helping Hands Craft Sale, a project that raises funds in order to empower hungry and homeless people.


More information on the Pathways to Happiness course is available at Montagna and Carnes are available for interviews.


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