Psych Central Original articles in mental health, psychology, relationships and more, published weekly. 2016-10-20T17:45:24Z Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW <![CDATA[What Is Synchrodestiny?]]> 2016-10-20T17:41:56Z 2016-10-20T17:45:24Z ]]>

Kundalini Meditation “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” – Arthur C. Clarke

You think of someone who has not crossed your mind in decades and within a day, or perhaps even a moment later, they call, e-mail, Instant Message you, or another person speaks their name.

Humming a song that is a favorite, a delighted smile spreads across your face, when, turning on the radio, what is the next one the DJ plays?  

Questioning the trajectory of your life and a response that seems picture perfect reveals itself to you instantly through a physical manifestation such as a license plate on the car in front of you.

In many psychological circles, this could be referred to as “ideas of reference,” or “magical thinking,” when taken to the extreme. In mathematical terms, the concept that:

“‘Correlation does not imply causation’, underscores that a correlation between two variables does not imply that one causes the other.”

Are there times when these events can not only be acceptable, but desirable and empowering?

Matthew Hutson believes so and in The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy and Sane, he elaborates. Defining magical thinking in this way, he sets the groundwork for what follows, “Attribution of mental properties to non-mental phenomena or vice versa” — treating the natural world as if it had elements of mind or consciousness, or treating your own thoughts as if they could have a physical influence on the world.”

What if this was true and our thoughts do have a powerful impact on the outcome?

Because humans are meaning making beings, we view any event through our personal lenses. A therapist uses this simple analogy with her clients. She wears glasses and asks them this question. “If I put my glasses on in the morning and the lenses are smudged, how will the world appear to me?” Of course, the answer is “distorted.”  She continues, “If I clean them before I wear them, how will everything look?” Naturally, the response is, “clear.”  If we view the world through shiny specs, our eyes will not to strain to see. So it is with our belief systems.

This same clinician recognizes patterns in her own life that show up daily and when asked the inevitable question, “What are the chances that this could happen?”, she responds, “Only 100%, since it did occur.”

Deepak Chopra, MD refers to this concept as “Synchrodestiny,” as highlighted in his book, entitled: Synchrodestiny: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence to Create Miracles. He designates it as is “coincidence but it contains a purpose and meaning, and has a direction and intention.”

A woman describes a humorous interaction with this notion. On her way home from work she was listening to Kids Corner on WXPN, which is a radio station that is broadcast out of The University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Weird Al Yankovich was doing a parody of one of the more recent films in the Star Wars collection. The song was called The Saga Begins and it sets the stage for young Anakin Skywalker pre-Darth Vader. She was enthusiastically singing along and shortly afterward pulled into the parking lot of a local supermarket to pick up a few things. As she was entering the store, from the other door cavorts a boy of around 8 or 9, his mother by his side; not dancing, but laughing at his antics. He was wearing a Yoda t-shirt, with the words Jedi Master written across it, and a headpiece of what at first looked like ram’s horns. When she asked, his mom let her that know that they were Princess Leia’s hair rolls (remember them?). Shorts and flip flops and a plastic rain poncho completed the outfit. Astounded, she told them about the song that she had heard moments earlier and they sang some of it together. Of course, the child knew all of the lyrics. The woman complimented him on his fashion taste and he grinned broadly. She didn’t notice anyone else’s reaction and it was as if time stood still and the three of them were the only ones in the store.

What tickled her about this encounter, besides the speed at which she had manifested a Star Wars connection; the Force is indeed a powerful energy, was how accepting his mother was of her son’s get up. She thanked the woman for being willing to engage with him in their shared interest.

In completing the supermarket saga, the woman adds, “I wish more parents were as supportive of their child’s out of the box thinking, rather than attempting to have them fit a particular mold. Perhaps as a result, this young man will become a Padawan (Jedi knight initiate in the first stages of training/apprenticeship) and be right up there with my favorite little green sage whose image and likeness decorated his t-shirt.”

A social worker employed in an inpatient psychiatric hospital, tells a story about a series of conversations that reinforce this idea. At work one day, a colleague muses, “What if what we diagnose as psychosis, is sometimes a spiritual breakthrough?” This co-worker was not overly metaphysical in her thinking, so the question was a profound portent of what was to follow. The social worker, who would identify herself as someone who did indeed engage in what she refers to as ‘functional magical thinking,’ agreed that in many cases, that could indeed be so, brain chemistry and neurological wiring non-withstanding.

Stanislav Grof, M. D. refers to this as ‘spiritual emergence’ and defines it as “the movement of an individual to a more expanded way of being that involves enhanced emotional and psychosomatic health, greater freedom of personal choices, and a sense of deeper connection with other people, nature, and the cosmos. An important part of this development is an increasing awareness of the spiritual dimension in one’s life and in the universal scheme of things.”

When the social worker returned home, and was checking emails, she saw that she had received one from a friend who was seeking an editor for a book she had just written. It was a story about her own experience of having had such an encounter that had her admitted to a psychiatric hospital, since what her well -meaning parents saw as a pathological break with reality, she came to view as a psycho-spiritual breakthrough. The social worker experienced goosebumps, which she calls her ‘truth barometer.’ She reached out to this friend and became the editor of the book.  The factors lined remarkably.

Another chilling story was heard by this author the day before this article was written. A visiting Canadian friend was walking down a street with her and a Philadelphia area mutual friend and they were describing something that occurred in the first woman’s home in Stratford, Ontario.  A woman was injured in a motor vehicle accident while crossing a street without looking carefully. The American woman had witnessed the accident and assisted the victim, by placing her purse under her head while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. The incident made the news in Canada and it wasn’t until we were all crossing the street together, that the Canadian woman knew that it was her friend who had been the good Samaritan. She knew instinctively what to say to keep the injured woman calm and still and she eventually recovered. All three of us shook our heads in bewildered awe at the ways in which our lives intersect in synchro-destined fashion.

Jonathan Berent, LCSW, ACSW <![CDATA[Toward an Understanding of ‘Reservoir’ Implications in the Treatment of Social Anxiety]]> 2016-10-18T17:43:53Z 2016-10-19T17:15:25Z ]]> Haunted By Ghosts Of Her PastSocial anxiety is a major mental health challenge impacting millions, yet the disorder has proven to be a significant challenge for the mental health community. The primary reason is that social anxiety is driven by the underlying emotions of shame, embarrassment, and humiliation. Most sufferers do not seek help because of these emotions, making social anxiety the quintessential “disease of resistance.” Those who do seek treatment often fail to thrive because many existing treatment modalities neglect to take into account the deep underlying causes of social anxiety.

The critical script that programs the pain of shame and embarrassment driving this resistance to treatment was created in the sufferer’s “reservoir,” which comprises pertinent emotional content from a person’s past, much of it unconscious. This concept builds upon the theory of John Sarno, MD, that “the anger, to the point of rage that exists in this reservoir leads the mind-body to produce physical symptoms as a diversion.” (1) The energy of this rage is so powerful that it inhibits the flow of oxygen into the bloodstream, resulting in the psychophysiological phenomenon we know as the anxiety response. According to Sarno, “inhibited or consciously suppressed anger contributes to the reservoir of rage in the unconscious.” In fact, he theorized that the mind-body actually produced pain to distract from intense emotional issues. Similarly, social anxiety suffers learn to disconnect from the thoughts and feelings associated with anxiety, becoming skilled at detachment as a defense mechanism. This disconnect or detachment enables them to repress this reservoir of content, prompting the physical symptoms of anxiety and panic.

Common physical symptoms of anxiety and panic include increased pulse, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, physical weakness, and upset stomach as well as an overall fear of losing control. The more observable symptoms of anxiety, however, are often the ones that themselves cause anxiety, because sufferers fear being “noticeably nervous”: blushing, hyperhidrosis (sweating), selective mutism (speech paralysis), voice stammering, and hand tremors. This fear of being noticeably nervous can create pathological feelings of shame and embarrassment. These emotions often lead to phobic avoidance or substance dependence to anesthetize the emotional pain. This pain should not be underestimated. Consider Andrew Kukes, who committed suicide because his social anxiety was so extreme; his parents established the Andrew Kukes Foundation for Social Anxiety in the hope of funding research and resources to improve both awareness and treatment success of this debilitating disorder. (2) Another tragic story is that of Brandon Thomas, who committed suicide because of his pathological blushing. (3)

The level of functioning among social anxiety sufferers can vary considerably. The following are examples of two 53-year-olds who experienced long-term social anxiety. One is high-functioning. One is low-functioning. At age 53, Sherry had no relationships that were not dysfunctional. She was on disability because of her anxiety and depression. After an early adulthood that included alcohol abuse, she had been in recovery for 27 years. She identified as struggling with selective mutism.  In her journal, she articulates very clearly her internal critical script:

I’m afraid of the physical response to the fear, am I going to die or pass out, someone’s going to harm me, ridicule me, think I’m a freak, unworthy, undeserving, I don’t belong, unable to function in society, find out how incapable I am, validate what I believe about myself.

Sherry also identifies and vividly depicts her particular reservoir which was an important component of her treatment.

Our house was the house everyone would go to because my parents were seldom home. People were always partying. It was daily life. The partying interrupted everything. I was left alone to fend for myself. One night my brother overdosed and was in a coma. It was my job as a teenager to keep everybody alive. I thought everyone would die because of their self-destructive behaviors. One cat had kittens. One of my brother’s friends put it in a shoebox and buried it alive in the back yard. Utter terror and panic.

From the outside, it would seem that Bob, another 53-year-old patient, had little in common with Sherry. A self-described workaholic, Bob was a seven-figure-a-year earner who managed hundreds of individuals at work. Yet Bob suffered from public speaking anxiety. He was especially concerned about his hyperhidrosis (profuse sweating), which would make him noticeably nervous.

Janet Singer <![CDATA[OCD and Doing the Opposite]]> 2016-10-14T19:26:51Z 2016-10-18T17:15:41Z ]]> Different Business ThinkingWhen my son Dan was struggling with severe OCD, his compulsions were all done “to keep something bad from happening.” In his mind, if he moved from his chair, neglected to engage in all sorts of mental compulsions, or even ate, something terrible might happen to those he cared about. While the rational part of him understood there was no connection between him eating and a catastrophe occurring, it didn’t matter. There was always that doubt. Rightfully so, OCD is sometimes called The Doubting Disease.

It’s so ironic when you think of it. The very behaviors those with OCD indulge in often produce results that are exactly the opposite of what they intend. Dan didn’t eat for over a week because he thought something bad would happen if he did. Well, plenty “bad” did happen as a direct result of his not eating: He became physically ill with dehydration and hypokalemia. He had to be taken to the hospital. His family was distraught. He could barely function.

My guess is that every person with obsessive-compulsive disorder can easily come up with his or her own examples of the opposite happening, courtesy of OCD. Perhaps someone obsessed with germs and cleanliness has developed shower rituals that last for hours. This person now avoids showering because it is just too stressful to complete these complex rituals. The result? The opposite of what was intended. They are now unable to keep themselves clean, perhaps mustering a trip into the shower once a month, if that. This happens more often than most people think. When Dan’s OCD was bad, his college dorm room looked like a hurricane had just gone through, and his reasoning was that it was too overwhelming to clean it because it had to be done “the right way.”

If you’re a Seinfeld fan, this post might bring to mind the episode where George, the ultimate “loser”, decides to do the “exact opposite” of what he usually does, with the hope of turning his life around. And it works!

Wouldn’t it be nice if OCD could be scripted as easily as a television show? While it’s certainly not that easy, there is good treatment available for obsessive-compulsive disorder. Not surprisingly, exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy involves doing the opposite of what OCD commands. Think you might have hit somebody while you were driving? OCD tells you to go back and check while ERP therapy tells you to keep driving. Think you shook hands with someone who is contaminated? OCD tells you to wash your hands for twenty minutes, while ERP therapy tells you to go on with your day and accept the anxiety you might feel from not washing. By going against what OCD demands, you are letting your brain know what’s important and what’s not worth giving attention to. While there is more to ERP therapy than just “doing the opposite,” it is an essential component of this therapy.

With the right therapy and therapist, those with OCD can learn to accept whatever thoughts they have as just thoughts and refrain from performing compulsions that will ultimately rule their lives. In short, there is a huge payback for people with OCD who have the courage to do the opposite. They get to live their lives on their own terms, not OCD’s.

Jennifer Paterson, ARCT <![CDATA[The Benefits of Solitude for Kids and Parents Alike]]> 2016-10-14T19:21:48Z 2016-10-17T17:15:41Z ]]> little girl sitting on a bench on a beach and looking at the oceYou know your kids need attention — from the time they’re born, they need to be loved and played with and stimulated. But, that doesn’t mean you have to be hanging over their shoulders every minute of every day. There’s a line parents must balance between giving their children enough attention and overwhelming them with too much attention.

Allowing your child (and yourself) to have “me” time enhances both of your lives, and can even strengthen your bond with each other. The goal is to balance family time with solitude. Take a look at the benefits of solitude and how to find the time for it.

The Power of Solitude

There’s a lot of power in allowing both children and adults to spend time by themselves. Experiencing solitude helps individuals learn certain tasks, think creatively, and deal with their emotions. The right amount of time spent alone can even improve empathy and social skills.

Research shows that solitude helps individuals form lasting memories. One Harvard study suggests that people form lasting memories when they believe they’re experiencing something alone. For example, a child learning a musical instrument may have an easier time remembering the notes and fingerings if they have time alone to practice it.

A certain amount of solitude gives a person control over their time, and a feeling of freedom. In solitude, they can work through complicated issues at their own pace, or unwind at the end of a busy day.

That’s not to say solitude is superior over social interaction when it comes to learning and handling emotions. It simply means that the two work together to help people become the best they can be. For children, solitude may mean time spent learning new things without feeling self-conscious. For parents, it can give the time they need to relax and recharge.

The Problem: No One Gets Alone Time Anymore

While many parents understand the benefits of alone time, they don’t always find the time for it. Whether your time is eaten up by driving your kids to soccer practice and music lessons, or you’re trying to get the family to sit down for a nice meal, the fact is that parents’ lives are busy.

What’s worse is that if you leave your children alone — to ride their bikes around town, or to play games in their own bedrooms — there’s a good chance you’ll be judged for “neglecting” them. Remember this: solitude and neglect are not synonymous.

According to one study, time spent actively engaged in teaching and playing with your kids has increased in recent decades, even though parents are working more than they used to. That means parents and children are spending less and less time alone.

Why is this a problem? Without alone time to pursue your own passions and unwind, both parents and children burn out. You end up sacrificing your own self-care. And, at what cost? Studies show that the amount of time you spend with your kids between the ages of 3 and 11 isn’t so important; what’s important is how you spend time together. The amount of time itself has no relationship to your children’s academic achievement, emotional well-being, or behavior.

In fact, as you spend more and more time with your kids, the effect on your children can worsen. When parents don’t get enough solitude, they become stressed and sleep-deprived, which adversely affects their kids. When you feel wiped out, exhausted, or anxious, you aren’t giving your kids your best.

What does matter is the quality of time you spend with them. Again, balance is key. Both children and parents need time spent together and apart.

The Solution: How to Find Alone Time

If you feel overwhelmed and too busy for “me” time (don’t we all?), consider working it into your schedule. For example, family members could go to their own bedrooms and enjoy “me” time for a half hour after dinner, or an hour before bedtime. If it sounds too time consuming to do this every day, perhaps you schedule this on only two or three days per week.

During that “me” time, you may work on your personal hobbies — whether that’s sewing, reading, woodworking, gardening, or exercising. Your kids can take that time to develop hobbies of their own, such as playing an instrument, reading, or drawing.

If your schedules don’t match up, consider alternating your “me” time to suit each person’s schedule. You could take your own alone time while your kids are at sports practice, and your children could enjoy their time of solitude while you’re cooking dinner.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time every day in solitude, but it’s important to get some alone time daily to learn new skills, pursue your passions, and take care of yourself.

If you find that it seems just impossible to get in a moment alone, perhaps it’s time for your family to re-evaluate your schedules, and drop an activity or two. Taking on too much will only stress everyone out, and for health and wellbeing, you all need a couple of minutes alone every day.

How to Get the Most Out of Your “Me” Time

Your time of solitude is a time to relax. You may use it to meditate or pursue a hobby. It is not the time to do chores, or check your work emails before bed. For your children, it’s a time to have unstructured fun. While they can do plenty of learning alone — such as reading or playing music — the few minutes you’ve set aside for solitude shouldn’t be used for homework, or cleaning their rooms.

Try to take your “me” time day by day. Go with the flow. What will help you de-stress today? What are you in the mood for? Don’t force yourself or your children into any activities. Otherwise, this alone time just becomes another stressor on your to-do list. Your kids might want to play with their toys one day, and practice their instrument another day. The beauty of it is that your children don’t have to answer to anyone during this time, so they are truly free to do what’s enjoyable for them. Think of this time as “free” time that’s flexible with your mood — you’ll all feel much happier getting some of this daily free time.

Taking alone time may seem selfish in the eyes of other parents. If you’re met with judgment, remind yourself this is truly in everyone’s best interest. Give yourself permission to take a break and recharge. When you take care of yourself, you can better care for your children, because you’ll be operating at your best. And, so will they. It’s a win-win scenario.

What will you do to unwind in your time of solitude?

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. <![CDATA[While Trump Leered, the Other Men Laughed]]> 2016-10-14T19:19:06Z 2016-10-16T17:15:45Z ]]> Hipster friends on road trip on a summers dayPresidential candidate Donald Trump on the stump has sneered at and objectified women to shouts of approval from much of the crowd. On a hot microphone during a bus tour in 2005, he bragged that he can do anything sexual to a woman because he is a star.

Response on social media has been shock and dismay. But just as alarming as his lewd comments is hearing the men with him on that bus laugh! With each outrageous statement Trump made about sexual assault, they laughed some more. When they got off the bus, interviewer Billy Bush encouraged the actress they met to hug him. Really?? Knowing what he said only minutes before, Bush wanted a woman anywhere near him?

When confronted, Trump’s excuse for this and other film clips of his sexist behavior is that all men do it; that it’s a guy thing. During the second debate, he stated and restated that his remarks were “locker room talk” and “only words.” He really believes that such “talk” shouldn’t trouble us. He really believes that other men agree that women are either sexual trophies or not worth their time. Why wouldn’t he? Crowds cheer! Other men around him laugh!

Trump may be a boorish cartoon but the approval, chants and laughter are nothing to laugh about. This is rape culture in action. This is why bullies can bully; why some men can justify groping women; even why some rapists rape. It is the action (or inaction) of others that gives guys like Trump permission and approval.

Women, even very powerful women, can’t put a stop to rape culture on their own. Only men can deal with what other men say privately to each other or do publicly with implicit support from other men. It’s not enough for men to individually behave as a sensitive male. It’s not enough when men support their own wife or girlfriend and daughters in their ambitions and their right to walk in the world safely. For the victimization of women to end, men must insist that other men treat all women with respect.

There are many men who are doing their part. There are many men who are appalled by Trump’s remarks. In my own community there is a men’s resource center that for decades has been working to inform and support men in combating men’s violence against women. I salute their efforts to get all men to see it as their moral obligation to take part. What is sad and angry-making is that their work is even necessary.

If you are male and reading this, please listen up: It’s up to you to stop telling yourself it’s none of your business when you hear or see other men belittling women. It is your business to intervene whenever and wherever other men aren’t being civil to and about women. It’s up to men, all men, to stop pretending that men who are violent against women, whether in words or actions, are exceptions who can be ignored. To change rape culture, men must make it clear to other men that emotional and verbal degradation of women will not be tolerated.

How? Since some men seem to need specifics, here’s a list:

  • Walk out on a candidate for public office who insults, objectifies and justifies violence against women.
  • Refuse to engage in “locker room humor” (wherever it takes place) that reduces women to body parts and that justifies assault.
  • Call other men out when they make catcalls or inappropriate comments to women.
  • Step in when another man treats a woman badly in the mall, on the street, or in a bar or restaurant.
  • Ban from your home video games that include victimization of women.
  • Do not support the porn industry by buying it or viewing it.
  • Do not buy or listen to music that calls women bitches or suggests that violence against women is okay.
  • Make it clear that anyone who is your friend must be a friend to women.

There’s an old saying that “not to decide is to decide.” I suggest that those who don’t take direct and regular action to end rape culture are contributing to it. Men who believe it is more important to “fit in” with other men by remaining silent during anti-female lewd comments, “jokes” and actions are as guilty of hurting women as perpetrators. It is only through male support and inaction that misogynists can keep it up.

Imagine a world where a candidate for office who calls women names is loudly booed off the stage. Imagine a world where what Trump called “locker room humor” is met with stony silence. Imagine a world where bystanding men stop being bystanders. That’s what it takes to end rape culture and to make a world where women are safe.

Janet Singer <![CDATA[OCD and Ignorance]]> 2016-10-14T18:55:03Z 2016-10-15T17:15:45Z ]]> bigstock-123151913I’ve been an advocate for OCD awareness since 2006, and from the very beginning I’ve received compliments from people after they hear how I did everything I could to help my son Dan during his journey through severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. “He is so lucky to have you,” and “You’re so supportive” are two of the more common phrases I hear frequently.

These words should make me feel great. And they do, for the most part. But something about the praise also makes me sad. What it implies is that my, and my family’s, unwavering support for Dan is not the norm. And maybe it’s not. I don’t really know. But I do know it should be. If Dan had a physical ailment, such as asthma, would I get the same comments? Probably not. Of course any good parent would do everything in his or her power to get the best help possible for their child with asthma.

Why don’t we have the same expectation when dealing with someone with a brain disorder?

I think the only logical answer to this question is: ignorance. A lack of understanding about obsessive-compulsive disorder. Maybe parents think their child is just seeking attention, or faking, or is not as bad off as they seem. Maybe they think their loved one should “just snap out of it,” or are embarrassed by them or their behavior. Maybe they even ridicule the person with OCD. Whatever their thoughts or behaviors, they often stem from a lack of knowledge and understanding of brain disorders.

And then there are families who actually do realize the severity of their loved one’s disorder and want to help, but have no idea where to turn. I know that feeling of being completely lost and not knowing who to listen to or where to seek help. Ignorance again. It’s kind of like being in the middle of a fire, and not knowing how to escape. Not the best time to go looking for a book or searching the Internet for “how to escape a fire.” Think how much easier it would be to handle the situation if we had that knowledge beforehand. It still boggles my mind that so many people are not aware of exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, the proper treatment for OCD. And I’m not just talking about those who are dealing with OCD; I’m talking about health-care providers as well.

So not only are there people out there suffering from OCD, there are people out there who are suffering alone. I know how difficult it was for my son to defeat OCD, and he had a lot of support. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to fight this disorder on your own. So I continue to advocate for OCD awareness through sharing Dan’s story, with the hope of eradicating this ignorance. Knowledge is power and hopefully as the truth about OCD continues to unfold and misconceptions are wiped out, more family members will support their loved ones who are suffering — steering them toward proper treatment, and offering them unconditional love and support.

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW <![CDATA[More Than Child’s Play: Dangerous Games]]> 2016-10-10T20:20:59Z 2016-10-14T17:15:48Z ]]> bigstock-150274811 Young people are inclined to take risks and push the envelope when it comes to daredevil activities. Stories recalled from the childhood of one woman, told by her father, were about his history of jumping on and off moving trains and swimming in reservoirs with his buddies. He shrugged them off as normal behavior when he knew his mother would be horrified if she ever found out. Tame stuff when compared to the games teens are engaged in today.

A warning was posted on the Facebook page of a mother of a middle school boy, after receiving a letter from the school, letting parents know that children as young as her son were involved in hazardous and potentially deadly activities. She was stunned and felt a need to let other parents know what their own children might be doing.

Some of these present day perils are highlighted in an article, called “12 Dangerous Games Your Children Might Play” by Ronald Agrella. They include:

Choking Game

This game involves strangulation by using a noose or strap to cut off the oxygen supply to the brain and create a high. A CDC study into 82 reported choking game deaths found those who died ranged in age from 6 to 19, with the average age being 13 years old. Almost all of those who died were playing alone. Most of the parents (93 percent) were unaware that the game existed, according to the CDC.

Cinnamon Challenge

This game made headlines after being seen on YouTube and was the subject of a segment on Mythbusters, a Discovery Channel series that uses science to test popular myths and rumors. Someone swallows a teaspoon full of cinnamon, which immediately dries out the mouth. The painful effects may include violent coughing and vomiting. The cinnamon can also enter the lungs and require respirator-breathing support.


A kid chugs a full bottle of cough syrup. The syrup produces a high induced from the chemical DXM (dextromethorphan), which in large doses can produce hallucinations and can kill in excessive amounts. More than one in 10 teens has used over-the-counter cough or cold medicines to get high, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Gallon challenge

In this game, a child drinks a gallon of water or milk within a one-hour period. The human stomach can’t handle this volume, so the person becomes violently ill, vomits and may suffer diarrhea and cramps.

Why Do Teens Play Russian Roulette with Their Lives?

  • There is a sense of invulnerability and invincibility.
  • They want to escape boredom.
  • They experience peer pressure
  • They see some of these activities in movies or on television
  • Some experience depression and have a desire to end their lives
  • They may be in denial of potential negative consequences
  • They discount the ‘horror stories’ told by well- meaning adults
  • They are straddling the line between childhood and adulthood and not firmly in either realm.
  • They desire independence and fear it simultaneously.
  • They may experience emotional dysregulation.

One in four teens has misused a prescription drug at least once in their lifetime, according to survey results from the partnership at and the MetLife Foundation.

Brain Maturity Is a Key Factor to Unlocking the Door to Safer Choices

Child and adolescent psychiatrist Jay Giedd, MD says that the way the brain develops creates a period of risk-taking susceptibility that is heightens with the onset of puberty.

Brain development is far different in adults than in teens. The reaction of the adolescent brain can be compared to that of an easily distracted squirrel moving at warp speed up a tree.

“That is when the balance is tipped most in favor of high emotions and risk taking,” he says. “The key parts of the brain involved in controlling impulses and risky behavior don’t really reach maturity until about age 25.”

A Family Affair

In studies created by Lawrence Fisher, PhD, professor at the School of Medicine, University of California at San Francisco, and S. Shirley Feldman, PhD, associate director of the Program in Human Biology at Stanford University in California, adolescents who describe their families as emotionally close, orderly, and stable (compared to those reared in emotionally disconnected families) participate in significantly lower numbers of high risk behaviors. These adolescents are less likely to:

  • regularly drink alone
  • drive a car while under the influence of alcohol
  • engage in promiscuous sexual activity
  • use drugs
  • smoke cigarettes

How to Encourage Safer Choices

  • Have an open door/open ear/open mind policy in your home about topics such as sex, emotions, substances, driving, abuse, bullying, rape prevention, body image, eating disorders, self-esteem, smoking, mental health issues and good self- care
  • Remember your own likely ill-advised decisions in your youth.
  • Do a cost-benefit analysis with your child, so he or she can weigh the possibilities.
  • Let your child know you want to trust his or her discernment.
  • Guide your teen to develop skills in various aspects of life, so that confidence will grow.
  • Listen more than talk.
  • Encourage him or her to have peers who make healthy decisions as well.
  • Develop a network of other parents, so you are each aware of what your children are doing.
  • Make sure that your children are supervised at the homes of their friends.
  • Keep abreast of trends such as the ones highlighted in the beginning of the article, as well as the substances that are accessible. You might be surprised at the variety and availability even in ‘safe neighborhoods’.
  • Monitor without helicopter parenting.
  • Encourage your child to have life affirming hobbies and volunteer opportunities to keep them occupied.
  • Create a balance of structure and freedom so your child can learn from mistakes without repeating them.
  • Model responsible decision making.
  • Teach resiliency skills.
  • Create appropriate boundaries and limits, rather than being rigid or laissez faire.
  • Help them discover their own unique identity.
  • Pick your battles. Refrain from assessing and correcting everything your child does.
  • Realize that you are the parent and not your child’s friend while he or she is growing up. There is time for that relationship when maturity occurs.
  • Role play possible scenarios so that he or she will be prepared should they arise.

Conscious awareness, as well as early and ongoing intervention can be a game changer.

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. <![CDATA[7 Reasons to Smile]]> 2016-10-10T20:14:19Z 2016-10-13T17:15:43Z ]]> Healthy Smile. Teeth Whitening. Dental care Concept. Woman Smile“Now, when you are in New York, walk purposefully. Keep your head down and don’t smile at anyone.”

It was kindly meant advice. A friend was coaching me about how to walk through a part of the big city that, though close to a major university, does have a reputation for being dangerous. Maybe he was even right. But the idea made me sad.

What has happened that smiling, the most basic affirmation of happiness, has become dangerous? And, what if, I ponder, the lack of smiles is not the reaction to feeling stressed but creates it? What if shutting off our smiles is making us unhappy, less healthy and less attractive and connected?

Research provides some answers. Smiling is good for us individually and collectively. It has positive effects even if we fake it. Let’s look at good reasons to smile.

  1. Smiling makes us happy.
    You don’t have to wait for something positive to happen to smile. You can make happiness by smiling. Smile. Smile broadly. Squinch up your eyes. That’s right. That’s called a Duchenne smile. During the mid-19th century, French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne discovered that a smile that raises your cheekbones and squinches your eyes is associated with increased positive feelings that others are invited to share. Smiles that only involve turning up your lips are felt by you and seen by others as merely polite and automatic. They may keep the social wheels turning but they don’t enhance your life.

    LeeAnne Harker and Dacher Keltner at the University of California, Berkeley studied the yearbook pictures of 114 (women) grads of Mills College that were taken from 1958 – 1960. Fifty had Duchenne smiles and 61 had smiles that merely involved the upturned lips of a polite smile. Thirty years later, those with the Duchenne smiles were found to have been more likely to get married by age 27, to stay married and to report satisfying marriages. They also scored higher on measures of physical and emotional well-being. How about that?

  2. Smiling connects us to others.
    Smiling is a statement of friendliness, openness and willingness to engage. It’s a nonverbal hello. Student raters of those pictures of the Mills grads referred to above reported more interest in approaching the women who showed those Duchenne expressions.
  3. Smiling relieves stress.
    The simple act of making a big smile will activate endorphins and reduce levels of a stress-related hormone called cortisol. Researchers Tara Kraft and Sarah Pressman at the University of Kansas ran an experiment with undergraduates they recruited for the study. The students who smiled while recovering from a mildly stressful task had lower heart rates than those who had neutral expressions. Those with Duchenne smiles had lower heart rates yet. (Heart rate is an indicator of someone’s stress level.) The experiment shows that smiling when stressed can help reduce the intensity of the fight or flight response, even if we aren’t really feeling particularly happy.

    Try it. The next time you are feeling stressed because you are being kept waiting or you are late for an appointment or you are worried about a school exam or a job interview, or anything stressful — smile. Smile big. Smile with your eyes as well as your mouth. Chances are you will feel your anxiety and stress go down a notch.

  4. Smiling will help you live longer. Really.
    Psychologists Ernest Able and Michael Kruger at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan sorted pictures of major league baseball players (printed in the 1952 Baseball Register) according to the broadness of their smiles. They then looked at the players’ life spans. Imagine their surprise to find that the players with the biggest smiles lived an average of 79.9 years — a full seven more years than players who wore neutral or polite but less than genuine smiles.

    Other studies show that smiling actually promotes relaxation through the release of certain neurotransmitters. This boosts your immune system. If you want to “immunize” yourself from this year’s flu, get your flu shot, then smile more.

  5. Smiling makes you more attractive.
    A confident smile can be more attractive than good looks. A study by the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry found that 96 percent of American adults believe an attractive smile makes a person more appealing to members of the opposite sex. Researchers in Bern, Switzerland found that less attractive but happy faces were judged as equally or even more attractive than attractive but less smiling faces for both male and female faces.

    Dr. Monica Moore studies nonverbal courtship behavior at Webster University in Missouri. She found that smiling people who made eye contact in bars and malls were approached more often than non-smilers, even when less physically attractive.

  6. Smiling makes you memorable.
    Smiling calls attention to you in a positive way. Teachers and professors remember the students who smiled at them during class and tend to provide them with more glowing recommendations when asked. Bosses remember subordinates who greet them with a friendly smile.
  7. Smiling leads to success.
    Studies show that smilers do better at work and in school than non-smilers. Sonja Lyubomirsky and her team at the University of California-Riverside reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people. They found that consistently happy people are generally more successful in life than unhappy people. Further, happiness leads to success, not the other way around.

I don’t know how to respond to my cautious New Yorker friend. He may be correct that less-than-upstanding strangers might view a friendly smile as an indication of vulnerability. He may be right that it’s best to purposefully stride, head down and smile-free, to wherever I’m going. I’ll be careful for now and will save my smiles for when I’m reasonably sure I’m safe. But I do think that a song Louis Armstrong used to sing had it right: “When you’re smilin’, keep on smilin’; The whole world smiles with you.” Maybe, just maybe, if everyone on the street started smiling at each other, it would make the world a happier, healthier, and, yes, safer place.

Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S. <![CDATA[Clinicians on the Couch: 10 Questions with Christine Selby]]> 2016-10-10T20:10:10Z 2016-10-12T17:15:01Z ]]> selby-head-shot

Every month, in our interview series, we give readers a rare glimpse into the lives of therapists. Rare because how often do you get to ask a therapist about how they personally cope with stress or whether they’d actually follow the same professional path again? Rare because how often do you get to sit with a therapist and explore the most challenging and rewarding parts of their job?

Therapists share their answers to these questions, along with many others. They reveal everything from the biggest myth about therapy to what they wish their clients knew.

This month we’re pleased to feature Christine Selby, Ph.D, a licensed psychologist with a part-time private practice, and an associate professor of psychology at Husson University in Bangor, Maine.

Selby is a certified eating disorder specialist with the International Association of Eating Disorders Professionals and certified consultant with the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She has published primarily in the area of eating disorders in athletes for largely non-academic audiences.

Selby also has presented locally and nationally on eating disorders and related topics at professional conferences and to allied professionals who work directly with those dealing with eating disorders and related concerns. She is the author of the book Chilling Out: The Psychology of Relaxation.

1. What’s surprised you the most about being a therapist?

I think the biggest surprise is how much I truly enjoy the work. I don’t mean to suggest that it is always easy or that hearing about people’s pain is “enjoyable”; however, I enjoy the challenge of helping people figure out what is going on and why. I also enjoy the process of helping clients live the life they want to live and helping them resist the messages that the life they want is not good enough.

2. What’s the latest and greatest book you’ve read related to mental health, psychology or psychotherapy?

I don’t know if it is the latest book I’ve read but one of my favorites is Irvin Yalom’s Love’s Executioner & Other Tales of Psychotherapy. I read it sometime during my graduate training to become a psychologist and remember feeling intrigued by the complexity of people’s struggles. But perhaps most importantly, I was relieved to read that someone considered to be a master psychotherapist wrote openly about his internal reactions to his work.

Clinicians on the Couch

Psychotherapy is a complicated process that at its core involves two human beings working together to resolve a lifelong or newly emerged concern. Yalom masterfully portrays this imperfect process through the stories. I also really like his newer book The Gift of Therapy, which is also a really good one for students of psychotherapy to read.

3. What’s the biggest myth about therapy?

That there is some version of a magic wand that the psychotherapist has. Psychotherapy is really difficult work. And even situations or problems that seem “simple” often do not have simple or easy solutions. There truly is nothing magical about the process. There is no particular phrase or thing a psychotherapist can say that will make things better.

I don’t think most people view psychotherapy this way. But when this expectation exists—that the client/patient just has to show up and the psychotherapist will fix them —the initial work then becomes about educating them about the process; allowing them to say what they think and feel about what psychotherapy really is; and helping them decide if they want to proceed or not.

4. What seems to be the biggest obstacle for clients in therapy?

Change. I work with adults, none of whom are mandated by any authority to be in my office (though some may schedule an appointment because a family member really wanted them to). So when they come to see me they are doing so because they have already identified that there is a problem and something needs to be done about it.

Once I fully understand what their concerns are (as fully as possible), we then move in the direction of determining what may be keeping these concerns from going away and what it might take to do things differently. It is usually the “doing things differently” part that becomes the obstacle. It is not the case that the person is not motivated to change, or to make things better for themselves. But it is one thing to want things to be different, and it is another to make dramatic changes in their lives to make it so.

5. What’s the most challenging part about being a therapist?

Feeling helpless. Usually when I’m feeling helpless with a client it is a reflection of how helpless the client has been feeling. There are some situations where there is truly nothing anyone can to do make it better. I can listen, empathize, and not “run away” from what they are experiencing. But there may be nothing that I or anyone else can say or do to make the experience stop or go away.

Alternatively, in these situations there may be something that can be done. But it involves the client feeling even more pain before things start to feel better. That is difficult to recommend to a client. I believe in the transformative power of effective psychotherapy but do not begrudge a client who elects not to volunteer for a highly painful process—especially when the promise of feeling better feels so ethereal.

6. What do you love about being a therapist?

Helping. It is quite cliché, but I love when I’ve been able to witness a client’s journey from pain, hopelessness and/or helplessness (especially when they have stated out right that this is their last ditch effort to try to make things better) to feeling like life is worth living—and they know exactly how they want to live it. It is an honor to be a part of that process and to provide some measure of assistance along the way.

7. What’s the best advice you can offer to readers on leading a meaningful life?

Listen as best as you can to your own voice. We each have one. I’m not necessarily talking about an inner child or anything like that, but the voice, experience, feeling, etc., that lets you know what is a good fit for you and what is not. Left to our own devices we are usually quite good at knowing this.

Unfortunately, our voice may have been muted for so long we don’t think we really know what we want or need. Alternatively, our voice is there but is drowned out by others around us telling us what we ought to do, how we should think or feel about something, etc.

When you hear your voice, listen to it as best as you can. You don’t have to act on it immediately, but listen to what it has to say. Eventually you will learn to trust that it truly has your best interests at heart and is worth honoring. And, by the way…the voice..”it”…that’s you. That is who you truly are.

8. If you had your schooling and career choice to do all over again, would you choose the same professional path? If not, what would you do differently and why?

I absolutely would. I would not change my educational path at all (student loans at all). I love what I do. It is fulfilling to me professionally and personally. It challenges me intellectually when I am trying to help someone figure out why they keep ending up in the same place time and time again. The work fuels me personally as I often learn about myself through my clients. They teach me ways of looking at things I hadn’t considered before.

And sometimes they have surpassed me in one way or another. Sometimes when my clients are ready to move on, I know that they have some life skills that are now more well developed than mine. That is humbling for sure!

9. If there’s one thing you wished your clients knew about treatment or mental illness, what would it be?

You deserve to take care of yourself. You don’t need my or anyone else’s permission to do so—you just deserve to take care of yourself because you exist. We are continuously told and expected to look out for other people and to consider them before ourselves. On the surface that is a nice idea and in some cases it is wholly appropriate. In many cases, however, it is not.
Granted my frame of reference is working with people who by definition are not happy about something in their lives; however, I continually work with people who in one way or another realize their needs and wants are not being met, in part because they are not attending to them and/or asking for help from others.

We are consistently told that thinking about ourselves first or at all automatically makes us selfish and self-centered. Nope. Not automatically, and depending on how you go about it not at all. The analogy I often think of is the instructions on a commercial passenger plane about oxygen masks. If you are traveling with someone who needs help getting their oxygen mask on, the instruction is to put yours on first before you help them.

You cannot help them if you are impaired or incapacitated. This is no different psychologically. Moreover, taking care of yourself gives you a better chance of being genuinely happy and content—and you deserve that too!

10. What personally do you do to cope with stress in your life?

That has been an ongoing challenge for me, particularly since I grew up with the idea that “being productive” was important. This, of course, meant that any form of relaxation was a waste of time. So, I had to learn how to relax by figuring out IF I relaxed what would I do (or not do!). Then I had to do the work of eliminating the mantra that I needed to be productive at all times.

So the short answer to the question is that I relax (watch TV, read Facebook on my phone, hang out with one of my cats who will allow me to). The slightly more complicated answer is that I had to figure a few things out for myself to make all this happen. One of those things was recognizing that I am an introvert, which means that I require time to myself so I can recharge. Being around others even if we are just sitting in the same room not interacting was not sufficient. I needed zero distractions from human beings.

This is not always easy to come by when you live with others. But over the years I taught myself how to ask for what I needed and educated others in my life what it really meant to need time alone. It didn’t mean I was mad or didn’t want to be around them per se. I didn’t want to be around anyone and need to NOT be around anyone so I could more fully relax and recharge…and not be unbearably cranky.

Janet Singer <![CDATA[OCD and Messiness]]> 2016-10-10T20:03:01Z 2016-10-11T17:45:41Z ]]> OCD and messinessAs I’ve frequently lamented, obsessive-compulsive disorder is an often misunderstood and misrepresented illness. Those with the disorder are often portrayed in the media as “neat freaks.”

It is true that many people with OCD deal with compulsions revolving around the need to have things arranged in some type of orderly fashion. Perhaps specific items (such as desktop articles) need to be lined up or spaced a certain distance from each other. Or maybe there has to be an even number of items visible to the sufferer (such as books on a bookshelf, for example). This type of OCD is often referred to as evening up. Evening up compulsions can also include mental compulsions such as counting, tapping, or touching things a certain number of times. These are all examples of how order, symmetry and evenness are often included in the compulsions of many people with OCD.

Then why on earth is disorganization so common in those with obsessive-compulsive disorder? One of the first things I said to my son Dan after he told me he had OCD was, “Why is your room so messy? Doesn’t OCD make you really neat?” Everything I knew about obsessive-compulsive disorder up to that point had come from the media, and most of what I’d learned was wrong. Many people with OCD have unbelievably messy living areas. I’m not talking about hoarders. That’s a whole ‘nother story. I’m talking about not being capable of keeping your space and belongings in any kind of order.

When Dan was suffering from severe OCD, I saw his college dormitory room, and that memory still makes me shudder. There were papers and artwork, sketchbooks, schoolwork, clothes, art supplies, books, towels, food, and toiletries, all completely covering the floor. When I questioned him about it, he said that once he lost control of the order, he just couldn’t get it back. It was too overwhelming. Perhaps his OCD took so much time and energy that he had none left for the activities of daily living, including keeping his room neat. For others with OCD the need to do everything “perfectly” leads to procrastination in cleaning. They wait until they feel they have enough time, motivation, and focus to clean perfectly. Chances are that time never comes, and like Dan, the chaos builds.

Another explanation some people with OCD give for not being able to keep their living space neat and clean is the fear of germs. While it might seem counterintuitive (if they’re afraid of germs, you’d think they’d clean up), it makes sense in a convoluted way. Perhaps a piece of food was dropped on the floor while cooking. Now the person with OCD feels that food on the floor is seriously contaminated and won’t touch it, so there it stays on the floor. Before you know it there are “germs” everywhere, and nothing can be cleaned or put back in its proper place.

It’s not hard to see that giving into OCD’s demands creates the world that those with the disorder are trying so desperately to avoid. They’re deathly afraid of germs, but are now surrounded by them. They crave order, yet are living in chaos. The list goes on.

Thankfully, nobody has to live this way if they are willing to get help. The vicious cycle of OCD can be beaten with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy, and the ability to keep a clean home will be just one of the many benefits of freedom from OCD.


Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW <![CDATA[The Meaning of Success]]> 2016-10-10T20:00:52Z 2016-10-10T20:00:52Z ]]> the meaning of success“The starting point of all achievement is desire.” – Napoleon Hill

“Action is the foundational key to all success.” – Pablo Picasso

Although it might seem like a dichotomy, these two bits of guidance offered by a best-selling motivational author and an iconic artist, are fundamental principles that go hand in hand.  In order for someone to achieve a modicum of success, they need the initial spark of inspiration to light the flame that will guide them through the action steps. One therapist refers to it as “putting legs under your dreams.”

This goes far beyond pie in the sky and instead encourages baking the symbolic confectionary treat, finding the right recipe and blending the ingredients until the finished product is both tasty and nourishing.

How Do You Define Success?

An article in the Harvard Business Review, entitled What Does Success Mean to You? by Boris Groysberg and Robin Abrahams indicates that success can be measured both objectively and subjectively, with the former relating to what seem to be status oriented and the latter, emotionally connected. They need not be mutually exclusive and it is indeed possible to be both financially and emotionally successful.

For some, it means having a certain amount of money in a bank account, designer labels on clothing, vacations to exotic locales, the latest gadgets and a huge home.

For others, it presents itself as having fulfilling relationships, peace of mind, healing from an illness or injury, sustained sobriety or re-creating a life following a major loss.

What Messages Did You Receive About Success?

Early lessons about the concept can have a powerful impact on the trajectory you take as you scale the heights placed before you. A poster in a child’s bedroom, bore an image of steps and the words, “Now climb higher,” were inscribed on it. It was meant to serve as motivation for her to continue to excel.

Sara grew up in a working class home with parents who shared income producing responsibilities as well as upkeep of their home and parenting tasks. Her father held blue collar positions and her mother ‘pink collar’(clerical) as well as a series of part time work from home jobs. She witnessed them skillfully managing all of those realms and making it look simple. As an adult, she modeled her own work-home intentions after theirs, but often felt as if she fell short.

Margaret was told that she was smart and precocious; “a little grownup” who could hold her own in conversation with adults. As a result, she felt compelled to maintain that image and strove to know more and do more in order to feel as if she was sufficient. Competence and confidence were goals for her to achieve. She was the first in her family to earn an advanced degree and work in corporate, medical and mental health settings. Still this wasn’t enough for her. With many decades of experience behind her and even though she is called on as a consultant, she still questions the validity of her abilities.

Joe had a different story to share. He was told by his businessman father that he would never excel in his career of choice as an artist. Fearful that his son would not be able to support himself, his father used manipulative techniques to persuade him to seek success in the same lucrative field with which he had supported the family in grand style. Reluctantly, Joe pursued an education in business and went to work for the family company. At night, he would sit before his drawing table and engage in what truly fed his soul.  Keeping the dream alive, he went on to become a sought after artist whose work has been shown in galleries and even (now proudly) displayed in his parents’ home.

Who Are Your Models for Success?

Family values are key factors in shaping ideas around success. If it is measured in dollars and cents rather than the intangibles of loving relationship and overall wellbeing, it is common for someone to feel like a failure if they are not meeting standards.  

Janice describes her own dilemma, “I grew up in a family in which the role models for financial success were men in mainstream businesses. There were no independently wealthy women. If they had money, it was due to the labors of their husbands, even if they too had jobs. When I look at my own inconsistent financial circumstances, I see that even though I have supported myself throughout my adulthood, sometimes it is paycheck to paycheck.”  

She had a recent revelation that most of her friends are high achievers in the emotional and creative aspects of their lives as artists, therapists, healers, writers and performers, but very few can say that they are well off financially. Repeating the pattern from her family of origin, she sees that many who who are monetarily successful, are doctors, lawyers and accountants.  A few have broken the mold and travel and teach classes that garner them more than acceptable income. She questions what it will take to have her break through that barrier.

In It for the Outcome

A career social worker shared a story about seeing a t-shirt that had inscribed on it “Social Work:  In It for the Outcome, Not the Income.”  She cringed when reading the meaning behind it, since she found that it is what keeps salaries in that field notoriously low. “It is possible to provide compassionate service and be well compensated for my time and education.”

From the Experts

When 62 business women and men were asked what constitutes success for them, the responses were varied.

“To me, success means working toward my dreams. As long as I keep moving in the right direction I feel successful.” – Cara Newman, Editor, Young Money

“Success means leaving the world a little bit better because I was here.” – Mark Black, Inspirational Speaker, Author, Transplant Recipient

“Success is knowing I’m in alignment with my personal integrity no matter the external appearance.” – Jennifer Davidson, Reality Check Coaching LLC

“Success means the accomplishment of your self -defined goals. Once you feel that you have accomplished them, you have succeeded.” – Ben Lang Founder

Does Success Lead to Happiness or Happiness to Success?

A valuable question is “Are successful people happier or are happy people more successful?” It seems to return to the definition of success for each individual. Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I have time for work and play in close to equal measure?
  • Can I support myself and my family at my current job?
  • Is my environment sufficiently nourishing?
  • Am I taking care of myself as best I can?
  • Have I developed or am I willing to cultivate resiliency skills to keep me steady in the midst of life storms?
  • Can I communicate my needs to those around me and be willing to have them met?
  • Do I feel purposeful in my day to day?
  • Am I mindful of what I do or am I on auto-pilot?
  • Do I live with a sense of gratitude for what I do have, rather than focusing on what seems to be lacking?
  • Am I in integrity and practicing what I preach; walking the talk?
  • Am I open to learning something new every day?
  • Can I seek and accept guidance from those who have succeeded in the areas of my own interests?
  • Am I willing to learn from ‘failures’ and do something different the next time?
  • Can I look the woman or man I see in the mirror in the eye and know that I have given each day my best?
  • Am I willing to forgive myself on the occasions I have fallen short of my own expectations?
  • Can I put my heart and soul into all that I do, regardless of outcome?

“Love many things, for therein lies the true strength, and whosoever loves much performs much, and can accomplish much, and what is done in love is done well.” – Vincent Van Gogh


Suzanne Kane <![CDATA[How to Use Mindful Walking to Combat Stress]]> 2016-10-07T16:41:17Z 2016-10-07T17:45:05Z ]]> Walking Or Running Legs In Forest, Adventure And ExercisingIf you’re put off by the phrase “mindfulness meditation,” you likely shy away from anything mindful. That’s a shame, because research shows that the practice of mindful meditation and mindfulness in everyday activities is both powerful and effective, especially when trying to overcome stress.

One of the easiest ways to get involved with mindfulness is to begin mindful walking. To gain some insight into how meditation can work to help manage stress, I spoke with David Lynch, Namaste Culture Limited, who practices in the United Kingdom.

Lynch modestly says he’s no expert in mindfulness, but he is “a practitioner, a facilitator of learning, a coach, who has combined several professional qualifications (teaching, counseling, management) and 30 years’ experience to create an experiential model of learning that adapts to the learner’s needs and vulnerabilities. They learn, I learn… and I love my work.”

How to be more present.

To start, I asked Lynch if he has a simple statement he uses to help people be more present — even if they are resistant.

“Meditation can seem like a daunting prospect, especially if you’re already feeling anxious or low in mood,” Lynch says. “When addressing an audience who have little experience of it, I tend to talk more in terms of a practice that helps you still your mind, in the way that a run or yoga might do. I use terms like an invitation to experiment with a new approach to managing stress. I make reference to the findings of neuroscience and the many proven benefits of developing a regular practice.

What is a mindful walk?

While it may seem like a complex topic, according to Lynch, a mindful walk is like any other walk — but with a twist. Mindful walking involves an extra focus on all the senses, exploring both internal and external landscapes, and their interconnectedness. “It’s walking more slowly than usual, less concerned with the final goal, more engaged with the sensations of the body, and savoring the impact of the external world on the inner experience.”

Letting go of all the “noise” in your head.

With so much going on around you, it may seem tough to rid yourself of all the noise in your head. While it doesn’t take that much time, it can, however, feel like a long time “if you’ve come straight from a busy office environment, where you’ve been very goal-focused. Walking outdoors in nature helps you to switch off, to disengage from fast thinking and problem-solving.”

Mindful walking indoors.

Suppose there aren’t any gardens near your work or school or elsewhere to walk. There is another way to achieve the same effect. Lynch recommends walking indoors.

“In some ways, it can be easier to walk indoors, either in a circle or in straight lines, where the invitation is to focus very much on your body’s internal experience, without the distraction of nature’s beauty,” he says.

But there is a caveat. “I think you have to be clear in your motivation to walk purposefully in a room, to be yourself on track, but once you get going, the rhythm of your body and the simplicity of the task soon stills your mind. Even 10 minutes on your lunch break can make a difference.”

Specific benefits of mindful garden walks.

Despite the value of mindful walking indoors, Lynch agrees that nothing compares with the breadth and richness of mindful garden walks. This is especially true if you want to effectively combat stress.

“My experience is that the combined regenerative effects of walking in nature’s beauty, breathing fresh air and practicing mindfulness, results in an immediate uplift in mood and outlook. It’s as if these combined forces offer a fresh perspective on whatever your mind is grappling with.”

Perhaps the best news is that the length of time involved in a therapeutic mindful walk is actually quite brief, a little over a half hour. Lynch recounts a recent session this past summer.

I was inviting office workers to a 40-minute experience, enough time to get back to the office during a lunch break. This included 10 minutes of instruction, 20 minutes walking and 10 minutes debrief and discussion.

How mindful walking helps relieve stress.

Newcomers to mindful walking typically wonder how it works to relieve stress. They also want to know if you need to intentionally shut your mind off from stressful emotions, thoughts, etc., or do you go through a process of letting go?

Lynch offers clear advice on the way mindful walking helps reduce stress.

“Mindful walking helps relieve stress because the invitation is to connect with the felt experience of stress in the body and mind, the opposite off switching off from it, or suppressing the unwelcome and sometimes painful sensations of stress.”

He adds that walking works on at least two levels to relieve stress:

  1. The mind is focusing on the moment by moment experience of the walking movement, the placing of the foot, the shifting weight from leg to leg, and not on the source of what’s inducing the stress response. Just keeping balanced and upright is enough to focus the mind.
  2. The invitation is to acknowledge and connect with the sensations, emotions and thoughts, no matter how unpleasant and unwelcome, e.g. I can feel my heart racing, I feel nausea in the pit of my stomach, I notice my racing obsessing thoughts.

“The additional benefit of walking in nature is that our mind’s attention falls on the sound of the rustling leaves, on the beauty of the light falling on the path, and gains a broader perspective on our experience. Suddenly, we note that we are part of something bigger and [better] than our stress response.”

Ask a friend to join you.

Is it better to walk alone or with others? Lynch is quick to advocate whatever works best at the time.

“It’s probably easier to practice together when you first start, as it helps motivate you,” he says. “However, once learned, mindful walking can be done anywhere and enjoyably by yourself; walking to work through busy streets, walking to your next business meeting. You just choose to do it with your attention on your felt experience, slow down and enjoy the sensations of walking.”

Making mindful walking a healthy habit

Since adopting a new habit involves repetition, I asked Lynch how long it takes for mindful walking to take. He advocates eight weeks, which is the length of his program, because that’s what researchers/experts recommend to establish a sustainable meditation practice, to embed a change in our daily routine, and to commit to a lifestyle shift in how we manage demands, responsibilities and stress.

“Of course, it is not enough to learn mindfulness practices for eight weeks and then to expect the change to happen, without maintaining a daily practice, or at least regular practice,” Lynch says. “We’re talking lifestyle change. That said, I have trainees who have said that although they no longer meditate on a regular basis, they have learned the tools to address stress differently when it arises, and therefore benefit from the skills development, no matter what.”

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. <![CDATA[When Your Parents Won’t Accept Your Divorce]]> 2016-09-27T23:18:05Z 2016-10-06T14:40:01Z ]]> when your parents won't accept your divorceJames is struggling. “My parents are being impossible!” he said. “It’s hard enough to go through separating from my wife without my folks giving me a hard time about it. Every time we talk it’s the same thing: Why can’t you stay together? Why don’t you get some counseling? Why, why, why?”

In this case, there is no reason to assume that James and his wife can’t separate and do well by their kids and themselves. James and Tamara don’t hate each other. They are disappointed and saddened by the failure of their marriage. But they aren’t blaming and shaming each other. They are separating their marriage, not their relationships with the kids. They are doing the work they need to do to do it reasonably well.

Nonetheless, James’s parents are upset and are actively lobbying the couple to stay together. What could be going on here?

When the older generation pressures their adult child not to divorce, there are often reasonable reasons underlying the anger and upset. Let’s take a look at a few of the common issues and what to do about them.

  • They haven’t seen the problem.
    You and your spouse may have been very good at keeping your private issues with each other private. Your parents haven’t seen your conflict or your fights or your coolness to each other. You’ve had months or years to come to terms with the fact that you can’t make the marriage work. For your parents it is new information. They think you are being impulsive. They just see two fine people who they believe should be together.
  • They are invested in the relationship with your partner.
    Parents who genuinely love and respect their son or daughter-in-law may fear that if you break up your marriage, you will require that they break up with a person they have opened their hearts to. They don’t know how they are going to manage continuing in a relationship that you have stopped.
  • They worry that communication about your family will slow or stop.
    Often it is the women in a family who keep the older generation informed of family news, includes them in events, sends the birthday or get-well cards, and who remembers to call, email or Skype with them now and then. If the soon-to-be-ex is a daughter-in-law, they may worry that they will only be contacted as an afterthought, if at all. They worry that their attempts to stay in touch with you will seem intrusive.
  • They worry about their ability to see their grandchildren.
    The rights of grandparents are often not considered at all during the legal decisions around a divorce. They may worry that they will be distanced or cut off from grandchildren they love. They may be confused about how to maintain the level of visiting they are used to. If you all celebrated holidays or vacations together, they may be grieving the loss of some or all of those special times.
  • They take your separation as a comment on their choices.
    If one or both of your parents has been unhappy in their marriage, they may resent you making a decision that they didn’t. They may think you should “stick it out” as they did. If they stayed together for the sake of the kids, they may believe you should do the same. For you to do something different suggests that maybe their sacrifice wasn’t necessary or appreciated.

    Conversely, if they did work at it with some success, they may not understand why you can’t do the same. They may not understand that you and your partner are different people living in a different time and that you have different choices available to you.

Below are some tips for turning objections to support.

  • Communicate.
    You are an adult. You don’t owe your parents an explanation. But if you want their support, you do need to give them enough information so they can understand that you aren’t making an impulsive and thoughtless decision. They don’t need the details of your discontent. But it would be helpful if you let them know that you wish it could be different and that you want to get through the divorce with as little collateral damage as possible.
  • Ask for support.
    They may be sufficiently upset that it doesn’t occur to your parents that you would appreciate some support. Let them know that this is a stressful time. Ask them to trust your judgment. Emphasize that they didn’t raise someone who would give up on a relationship without a struggle. In an amicable situation, stress that it is important to you that they not take sides or badmouth anyone. If it is a less than amicable situation, ask them to stay out of the conflict.
  • Reassure them that they will not lose their grandchildren.
    A positive relationship between grandparent and grandchild is healthy for them both. Studies show that kids who have a close bond with grandparents are better able to manage stressful experiences like their parents’ divorce. If your parents are anxious that they will lose contact, reassure them of your commitment to maintaining their relationship with your kids and work with them to come up with practical ways to make it happen.
  • Share your vision of your future.
    Like you, your parents are not only losing your partner as a regular part of their lives, they are also losing their vision of what your future was going to be like. They may be worried about your emotional and financial stability as you move forward. If they saw you and your partner dividing tasks for everything from housecleaning to childcare to wage-earning, they may worry that you won’t be able to manage on your own. Let your folks in on how you intend to manage everyday life without a partner. Ask for help if you need to learn some of the tasks that your partner was responsible for.


Janet Singer <![CDATA[Pure Obsessional OCD]]> 2016-09-27T23:19:19Z 2016-10-05T14:40:18Z ]]> pure obsessional OCDWhen my 17-year-old son Dan told me he had obsessive-compulsive disorder, my first comment was “But you never even wash your hands!” While that statement surely revealed my limited knowledge at the time regarding OCD, what I was really trying to say was that he had no outward signs of the disorder. There was no repeated checking to see if the front door was locked, no order that had to be maintained in his room (in fact it was a mess), and not even any requests for reassurance from me. But yet, he had OCD.
Enter Pure-O, or Pure Obsessional OCD. The name is deceiving however, as it leads us to believe that those with Pure-O have obsessions, but not compulsions. The truth is that those with this type of OCD do in fact have compulsions; however they are either not easily observable, or not the “typical” compulsions most of us associate with OCD. Compulsions might appear in the form of avoidance behaviors (Dan avoided so many people, places, and things that his world became one safe chair he would sit in for hours at a time), reassurance-seeking behaviors (for Dan this manifested through excessive apologizing), and mental compulsions (this included counting, reviewing events and conversations in his head, and lots of other things I don’t know about because I couldn’t read his mind and he didn’t often share with us).

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and now that I know so much more about OCD than when Dan was first diagnosed, there definitely were some visible signs of his obsessive-compulsive disorder early on. Dan had stopped eating ice cream (avoidance) and would no longer go into our backyard swimming pool (more avoidance). And he did a lot of touching and tapping (visible compulsions but not as well-known as hand-washing). While I did notice these behaviors, they certainly never stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder if my son had a brain disorder. At the time, all I knew about OCD was what I had learned from the media, which often misrepresents the disorder. So because Dan didn’t present with “classic OCD symptoms” my husband and I didn’t know he had the disorder until Dan diagnosed himself with the help of the Internet and then told us himself.

The truth is that those with Pure-O often have an easier time of hiding their OCD than others with the disorder because of their unobservable compulsions. This means those with this form of OCD might suffer in silence longer than others with more visible compulsions.

However, there is good news as well. No matter what type of OCD you or a loved one might be dealing with, there is good treatment available. Exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy is the front line psychological treatment for all types of OCD, including Pure O. A competent therapist who specializes in treating OCD will be able to help you fight your OCD, and might incorporate other techniques such as imaginal exposures into your ERP treatment plan.

OCD, no matter what form it takes, can be an insidious disorder, but with commitment, hard work, and a good health-care provider, it can be beaten. While many with Pure-O believe that their OCD isn’t treatable, that is simply not the case. My son has gotten his life back — others with Pure-O can too.


Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW <![CDATA[The Will to Live]]> 2016-09-27T00:15:18Z 2016-10-04T14:40:49Z ]]> the will to live

He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.” – Friederich Nietzche

Hospital beds are filled with people whose bodies are connected to machinery that keeps hearts pumping, lungs expanding and contracting, tubes providing nourishment and draining excess fluids. These are external forces offering life sustaining activity. It may very well be, that in combination with an intangible… the will to live keeps them from crossing over the line between this life and the next.

In recent conversation with a friend, she posed the question: “What do you think gives people the will to live when they are in chronic pain or when faced with serious illness?”  This came in the midst of the hospitalization of two friends. One is in an ICU, following open heart surgery and the other is receiving major doses of chemotherapy and radiation for metastatic cancer. Both have made it clear that they although they know death is one possibility, they have no conscious intention of “leaving the building” at this time. 

Is it fear of death or love of life that helps us to remain incarnate? 

When visiting the second friend a few days ago and then today, she related that she wants the hospital staff who have been caring for her to “love my life as much as I do.” She was propped in bed, wearing pretty pink floral pajamas. Her hair was combed and she had a sparkly headband at the ready, should it become unruly. At the foot of her bed was a laptop computer. Although the nurses sometimes chided her for working when she should be resting, she retorted, “What if I live?  I will have all this work to catch up on when I get home.” She also made it clear to us that if she was to die, she wanted to be sure her co-workers knew what needed to be done in her absence.

Two friends and I visited and offered her Reiki. We get the strong sense that she is there to teach the staff how to work with patients who don’t fit the typical mold. She looks far better than they expect given the prognosis and what they view as the norm. Decked out in Hello Kitty jammies with strawberries on them, newly showered, her hair being brushed by her wife, sense of humor intact big time. She joked about many things. Then she mentioned this song, feeling that she was ready to play centerfield. I pulled it up on my phone and all of us in the room bopped around to it, including her. I made a sign to put up on her bulletin board that reminded staff that there was absolutely no place for negativity in that room; only love, only healing intention. She said that she thought she was there to give the staff hope; not the other way around.

The other friend who had the cardiac surgery and is still receiving dialysis and is breathing via a Continuous Positive Airway Pressure (CPAP) machine that is predominately used by people with sleep apnea, has a strong desire to continue on this side of the veil. He has a wife and many friends who are praying for his recovery. The strong support system, he has acknowledged, has helped greatly.

What Gives Life Meaning?

When asked this question, responses included:

“The promise of tomorrow. The beauty outside. It does change day to day sometimes moment to moment

For me, it does change from day to day. Staring down death lately does have a way of addressing this very important question. Sometimes the will is there and other times it is not but I ignore the not times. I don’t want to leave that kind of legacy to my young ones. Surely I can do better than that! Leave them with intangible things worth living for.

“Sharing my joy and how I increase it gives my life meaning. In physical illness, I know there is a way out and it will be revealed. Depression is my cry for help. My guide grants me hope. My spirit assures me it’s true. It changes day to day because there are so many aspects of me that the each require time and attention. This is me grounding, refining, nurturing, teaching, learning, exploring, enjoying and expanding.”

“I don’t always have the will to live, or at least not for myself. What has typically pulled me out of it has been the desire to help somebody else, knowing I was needed to help them. I suppose if I had children or people in my life who literally needed me, that would be my answer. But since I don’t, it’s usually the need of an outsider.  I can somehow put them in the way no one else has chosen to do.”

“Knowing that we are all here for a reason… learning lessons from past lives to hopefully “get it right” this time to be able to move forward to the next chapter… at least that’s what I believe today!”

“I was a caregiver for a decade for my late husband. He REFUSED to give in because he didn’t want to leave me. After he transitioned, my will to live became a testament for those that lose the struggle, like my husband. I feel as if I do not live life to my happiest… I am slapping people like him in the face.”

“Knowing that life is impermanent. Indian masters have said that to come into a body is a powerful way to heal a soul, because we can reach out and get help. I am reading a text called A Course of Love that speaks about unity consciousness. It takes a village to get me through. When I am depressed, I have to reach out, sometimes at 4:00 in the morning and ask someone if I can sleep on their couch, because I am that scared.”

In an article written by John Grohol, Psy.D, entitled The Power of the Will To Live, he explains that in anticipation of pivotal events, such as holidays or birthdays, people have the capacity to hold on a bit longer, if they are facing death. They are referred to as “ceremonial finish lines,” over which they want to cross before giving themselves permission to die.

Is it fear of death, self -preservation or purpose that keeps the heart beating?

Is Depression Draining the Life from You?

Depression is one of the most prevalent mood disorders and can be caused by genetic, biological, environmental, and psychological factors. Each person responds in a different manner to the occurrence.

Signs and symptoms of depression include:

  • Self-described or other observed persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” mood
  • Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism … “Why bother?”
  • Uncharacteristic irritability
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness… “I don’t matter.”
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities
  • Decreased energy or fatigue
  • Moving or talking more slowly; a feeling of heaviness
  • Feeling restless or having trouble sitting still
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, or making decisions
  • Problems sleeping, early-morning awakening, or oversleeping
  • Little desire to get out of bed
  • Eating too much or restricting food
  • Appetite and/or weight changes
  • Thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts

A therapist who has worked with clients who have either expressed suicidality or acted on the commensurate impulse to end his or her life, observed that what prevented someone from following through with the outcome that led to death, was a stated will to live. Sometimes the reason de’tre is another person, or a milestone achievement, such as a child’s graduation or wedding.  Others have said that they are continuing to live for their dog or cat.

She noted that learned resilience was a key factor. When people are able to look back at life events and determine that they have survived each of them, they are better equipped to move forward. In conversation with someone in crisis, she asked what had gotten him through previous challenges. He had learned helplessness that was no longer serving him. He reported that relying on his parents was his M.O. Now that his father has died and his mother is in a nursing home, he needs to formulate a new strategy.

Another person reported that her parents had “taught me how to live without them,” so that when she feels overwhelmed, she calls on her resiliency reserves to get her through every eventuality. Even in her darkest moments when the thought that “it would be better if I wasn’t here,” that certainty that she would emerge triumphant helped her to keep on keepin’ on.

The will to live is a powerful force that can be generated and sustained in the face of love.