Brain and Behavior

The Healing Power of Hugs

One day several years ago, I spontaneously hugged a patient of mine, Gretchen. It was during a moment in which her despair and distress were so intense that it seemed cruel on a human level not to reach out my arms to her, in the event that she might derive some relief or comfort from an embrace. She hugged me for dear life.

Months later, Gretchen reported to me that the hug had changed her. “The motherly embrace you gave me that day,” she said, “lifted the depression I have had all my life.”

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Bipolar

Bipolar: My Life on the North and South Poles

I was born in 1969, the flower power days.

School for me was difficult because I had dyslexia, and back then the word "dyslexia" wasn’t in the dictionary. Instead they said I was lazy and not working hard enough.

After school, I started a jewelry apprenticeship -- you don’t need to read much when you are a jeweler, you see. I decided to work as a contractor. I realized it’s easy for your boss to kick you in the bum, but it’s hard to do it yourself.

I knew I needed a change, so I went to work at a lighting company where I met Roseanne. I had a seven-year relationship with Roseanne, but when we broke up the depression set in.
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Disorders

Checkmate

The check. And here you thought I was talking about the dinner bill, didn’t you?

No, for those hearty souls battling obsessive-compulsive disorder, “the check” refers to something different than picking up the restaurant tab. For those afflicted with OCD, the check could mean ritualizing about the pedestrian they may have hit, sprinting to the restroom to scrub cracked hands, or fleeing a dinner date to check whether the garage door is shut.

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Bullying

Kill Them with Kindness

“Matt, you are too sensitive,” a family member said.

I chafed at the label. Sensitivity, within my immediate family, is disparaged as a sign of weakness. Stoicism, with the occasional angry outburst, reigns. Feelings? According to my family, Oprah and I should schedule couch time to discuss them.

In my world, feelings predominate. My mood and emotion vacillate based on a heart-warming compliment or stinging rebuke. When feeling well, I exude confidence and joy. When feeling down, I ruminate and question. Feelings -- and a willingness to experience raw, unfiltered emotion -- define me.
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Brain and Behavior

Family Constellation Work

For all of us who have experienced family life and its impact, with all of its places of light and darkness, there is a wonderful group process that fosters present-day healing. It is called family constellation work and is a day-long workshop run by a trained facilitator.

Family constellation workshops were started by Dr. Bert Hellinger, a family therapist from Germany, and are now available worldwide. Participants target an area of their present life that needs clarity, resolution, or healing. It does not have to relate to family history, nor are the processes always related to the family of origin.

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Bullying

The Hidden Face of Mental Illness

It breaks my heart every time I see it. A morning scroll through my newsfeed only to find a GoFundMe posting for funeral services of someone I knew in high school. Sometimes it's drugs, other times, suicide. Tragedies that could’ve been avoidable. People taken too young, too fast, too soon.

Every time I see their faces, I think back to what I may have thought of them in high school. Was I mean? Did I make fun of them behind their back? Did I avoid them? Was I nice? After all these years, I can’t really remember. Though I know I did my best to treat people with kindness and respect, it’s possible I joined in on the judgments or comments others around me made.

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Children and Teens

What Do You See in the Mirror?

In 1973, an inquisitive psychologist named Beulah Amsterdam wanted to know whether babies recognized themselves in the mirror. To explore this riddle, he used the rouge test, which you likely studied in Psychology 101. Step one: put rouge on baby’s nose. Two: place teeny clown before mirror. Three: observe.

Babies aged 6 to 12 months typically thought, “Woot! Another baby. Let’s play.” Infants in their second year of life often acted wary of the “imposter” before looking away. Toddlers aged 24 months often recognized themselves, prompting some to wipe off the rouge. (Others were arguably too busy mulling over riddles, such as, “Where’s my milk carton?”)

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ADHD and ADD

How to Stop Stressing about Work & Finally Fall Asleep

If you’re like most people, you’ve been affected by stress-related sleep problems at some point, lying awake at night filled with anxiety about your career and the future.

Often everyday worries about impending deadlines and your to-do list give way to bigger, more stressful questioning, “Is this job really what I want to be doing with my life? What if I quit? Will I ever discover
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Brain and Behavior

4 Tips for Feeling Successful

"If I try to fail and succeed, which have I done?" - Anonymous
I use the above quote with my college students. I try to challenge them to look at life from a different perspective. In challenging our perspectives I am not merely playing semantics -- I firmly believe that words actually do hold meaning. Words have the power to affect our emotions. By challenging ourselves to look at our own definitions from a new perspective, we have the ability to change how we feel.

How I define success influences how I feel about myself. Many of us have culturally learned that success is defined by tangible goods and wealth. We hear expressions such as “If I have more things than someone else, I am successful” or “if I have a title or initials after my name, I am successful.” Does someone else's level of success negate my perceived level of success? In other words, is one's success defined in relation to another's accomplishments?

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Brain and Behavior

Compassion Fatigue in the Animal Welfare Community

Before becoming a psychotherapist, I had a career in animal welfare. I’ve worn both the boots and the sandals -- that’s jargon for working on the law enforcement side and the shelter side -- and I’ve seen my fair share of trauma.

Whether you’re a humane officer or a shelter volunteer, a vet tech or an animal rights activist, you have likely seen, heard about, or experienced things that most people can’t even begin to understand. Long-term exposure to abuse and neglect, euthanasia, and grief-stricken clients not only can affect your work productivity and satisfaction, but it can also wear on you mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually. If you feel like you care so much that it hurts, you may be struggling with compassion fatigue.
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Anxiety and Panic

Mind Games

What does your morning shower feel like?

“Come again, Matt?”

Yes, what does your morning shower feel like?

“Why? Before work, I typically hop in and hop out. Can’t be late for boss -- he’s a real jerk. I rinse off in 10 minutes. Why? Are you planning on opening a Turkish bathhouse?” you snidely remark.

Not quite. But I am interested in washing away the incessant worry that pervades our daily lives. That humming cacophony drains us, greying life’s days.
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