Psych Central Original articles in mental health, psychology, relationships and more, published weekly.2015-08-28T14:23:34Z Tamara Hill, MS <![CDATA[Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers & Toxic People in Your Life]]> 2015-08-20T22:17:43Z 2015-08-28T01:44:49Z If someone new in your life were to offer you a free book or a free home-cooked meal, you might think something’s up. Or, you might graciously accept their offer and think they’re really nice. According […]]]>

If someone new in your life were to offer you a free book or a free home-cooked meal, you might think something’s up. Or, you might graciously accept their offer and think they’re really nice.

According to Wendy Patrick, the author of Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Toxic People in Your Life, we must be mindful of deceptive people who try to ingratiate themselves. As a deputy district attorney and team leader of a sex-crimes-and-stalking division in San Diego, Patrick has dealt with sexual predators, white-collar criminals, and sociopathic criminals who have a history of social prowess and financial power. But while some might consider Patrick’s background essential to the topic of underminers and deceptive people, as a therapist I found her book to have many holes and questionable theories.

Patrick writes that her background in law as well as her schooling in psychology have shaped her views on human nature and personality over time. And so, using a simple acronym, she describes four things we should be mindful of when examining the authenticity of people we communicate with in our daily lives. We must, she writes, notice what captures a person’s attention and determine if their attention is focused on themselves or on others. We should also consider how the person spends their time and determine what their hobbies and interests are. We should look at what company the person keeps, what companion they are interested in, and what organizations they belong to. And, Patrick thinks, we should note their priorities in life and try to determine if their ambitions are selfless or selfish.

Really, many of the ideas Patrick shares on how to separate the dangerous from the desirable are things we already do on a daily basis, have been told to do by our parents or guardians, or are naturally programmed to do as human beings. These guidelines, however, fail to acknowledge the gray areas in people. In reality, we can know all there is to know about someone’s focus, lifestyle, associations, and goals and still struggle to develop an accurate profile of them. As a therapist, I know firsthand that despite our level of intelligence, social prowess, life experience, and, for some of us, years of training, some people will still evade us.

And even when we try to be vigilant, we are easily swayed, especially when people are attractive, financially stable, or charming. We also cannot always tell whether a certain trait truly indicates a problem, but have to instead consider it as part of a larger picture. This is part of why therapists, psychologists, and researchers of human development and personality disorders struggle with educating the public on which red flags they should look out for. We can correctly identify some toxic characteristics, like traits often typical of sociopaths or sexual predators, that should tip us off. But we cannot oversimplify this kind of analysis.

Unfortunately, Patrick does oversimplify. Her legal training seems to give her a black-and-white perspective on the world. That perspective might hinder her ability to see the complexity in a person, and it also might turn off some readers.

At the same time, Patrick does do well in some areas of the book. Her discussion of how we can tell if someone we are dating, living with, working for, or sharing an innocent hello with is somewhat useful. After all, many of us believe that if we are dating someone who is successful, attractive, and charismatic, things are going well. Patrick reminds us that what looks too good to be true usually is.

For example, in chapter two, she focuses on “the attraction of power” and other leadership qualities that tend to draw us in. Then she shows us that sociopaths, CEOs, and others we encounter often manipulate us using their power in order to control, weaken, and deceive us: people like convicted child molester Jerry Sandusky, or Jim Jones, the cult leader who led a group in mass murder–suicide. Both individuals were charming to some degree, charismatic, powerful, and alluring. But both used power to control others, and, ultimately, to hurt or kill them.

Still, Patrick is lacking something in her analysis, and focuses too much on certain kinds of traits or behaviors that, in reality, do not always indicate a problem. Her book might be helpful for those who want a basic look at potential red flags, but it’s missing a lot of important nuance.

Red Flags: How to Spot Frenemies, Underminers, and Toxic People in Your Life
St. Martin’s Press, May 2015
Hardcover, 320 pages

Tamara Hill, MS <![CDATA[Bonded to the Abuser: How Victims Make Sense of Childhood Abuse]]> 2015-08-20T22:12:15Z 2015-08-27T19:34:44Z Before I became a therapist, I had a very hard time seeing how one could forgive the abuser of an innocent child. I found it almost excruciating to try to understand the mindset […]]]>

Before I became a therapist, I had a very hard time seeing how one could forgive the abuser of an innocent child. I found it almost excruciating to try to understand the mindset of the person who had harmed an innocent kid, often their own. But once I became a therapist, I recognized that a host of problems in the abuser’s life and upbringing often contribute to their violent behavior. Mental illness, their own experience of prior abuse, their own early childhood trauma, and substance issues can be factors. Sometimes, though, we cannot quite identify what the behavior stems from.

But as Amy Baker and Mel Schneiderman write in Bonded to the Abuser: How Victims Make Sense of Childhood Abuse, no matter what the cause of the maltreatment, there are children who suffer through unthinkable experiences yet still feel connected to their abuser. They often reach out for some shred of love from the very person who has hurt them. Why?

Baker and Schneiderman deftly explore the issue through the stories of survivors and through their own analyses of those stories. And it is an important subject to analyze. In my own work, I have made more than 500 child-abuse reports, also called childline reports, to date. In the United States, we collectively make a whopping three million of these reports each year, and our country is said to have the worst record among industrialized nations, according to It is even more frightening when you consider that such a report is made every ten seconds. The question becomes: How can we understand what kinds of mental and emotional problems in adults can lead them to mistreat their children, and what kinds of attachment theory can help us parse the unhealthy connection that results?

In the book, Peter, one of the adults who recounts his story of physical abuse at the hands of his parents, realizes that the unbearable beatings from his father occurred only when his father was drunk. “With each lash of the belt,” Peter recalls, “my body swung and juddered as if I was a rag doll being flung about by a rabid dog.” And although it only happened after his father drank, Peter explains, “Violence of this kind seemed normal to me. It was what parents were for, what they did to you.”

In fact, Baker and Schneiderman reveal, in many cases such violence stems from a parent’s own unhealthy emotional and psychological needs. Socioeconomic stressors, lack of education, lack of mental health treatment, lack of social and familial supports: all of these can result in pent-up rage that gets discharged onto innocent children seeking the love of a parent.

And because we only have so many parents in our lives, children of abusive parents still rely on those guardians for support. As Peter puts it, “Stupidly, I looked forward to seeing him. He was my dad and I wanted him to be pleased to see me. The hopefulness that very young children have hadn’t quite been bashed out of me. I don’t know what I expected but I would run to meet him when he came in.”

Here, Baker and Schneiderman provide insight. One explanation is that many of these children are like hostages who have a dependency. As the authors write, “the one who inflicts the pain is the one who can relive the pain.”

This type of bonding, which they refer to as “traumatic bonding,” can happen when a child experiences periods of positive experience alternating with episodes of abuse. By experiencing both positive and extreme negative from a parent, the authors explain, a child can become almost co-dependent. But, Baker and Schneiderman point out, although they compare this to a hostage situation, a child in these cases is different than an actual hostage, in the sense that the child has a pre-existing caregiving relationship with the abuser. So, although for many of us the idea a child bonding with that person may be impossible to fathom, the way that caregiving combines with violence makes separating oneself from the adult very difficult.

In addition, the book explores why survivors often feel the need to understand the reason that they were abused. Baker and Schneiderman write engagingly about this, too. They look at Monica Holloway’s memoir Driving with Dead People, in which Holloway observes her father being social and personable with the neighbors. She wonders why he is so nice to them and yet so terrible to her. Similarly, the authors quote Peter, who says, “I believed it was no more than I deserved and that it was my fault I brought this kind of punishment on myself. I often thought that if only I wasn’t so bad, I would get affection and sympathy.”

In many ways, Peter speaks for the many victims of maltreatment in the U.S. Indeed, most children believe that they are being abused because they deserve it — they think they must have done something to earn the punishment. They experience self-blame, self-hatred, and humiliation as they try to make sense of why they in particular are the victims of someone’s worst behaviors.

When it comes to this difficult but extremely relevant topic, Baker and Schneiderman give us an excellent resource  As a therapist, I found their book not only interesting but also necessarily jolting. It can be easy to forget, or to not understand, what happens to the millions of children who are hurt by a disturbed parent. One way to ensure that we contribute to the eradication of child abuse is by educating ourselves and awakening our senses to this very heartbreaking reality.

Bonded to the Abuser: How Victims Make Sense of Childhood Abuse
Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, May 2015
Hardcover, 186 pages

Tamara Hill, MS <![CDATA[Life is Trichy: Memoir of a Mental Health Therapist with a Mental Health Disorder]]> 2015-08-20T21:58:41Z 2015-08-27T01:58:14Z As a therapist I am a firm believer in the power of personal experience to connect with clients and remove barriers. Sometimes the best tool we have to teach others […]]]>

As a therapist I am a firm believer in the power of personal experience to connect with clients and remove barriers. Sometimes the best tool we have to teach others is through our own experience with tribulation. Still, when I first picked up Life is Trichy: Memoir of a Mental Health Therapist with a Mental Health Disorder, I thought the author, Lindsey Muller, may have gone too far.

I wondered why a therapist like Muller would disclose her most personal experience with potential clients, past clients, and strangers. Perhaps writing such a book is a show of courageousness, or perhaps a way to help “heal” her clients through her own experience. Whatever the case, Muller describes in detail her struggle with trichotillomania and other body-focused repetitive behaviors, called BFRBs for short, in a way that both lets us into her innermost experience and yet leaves out too much important information.

Trichotillomania is a disorder that causes hair pulling from various parts of the body, including eyelashes, scalp, beard, chest, pubic area, and other places that result in patches or bald spots. The mental health field currently considers it an obsessive-compulsive disorder triggered by anxiety, but also sometimes considers it a self-injurious behavior, or SIB.

Both BFRBs in general and trichotillomania in particular are complicated. We do not, at this point, always know what triggers the behavior, or how it should be treated. And, as Muller knows, we do not often discuss it.

That is why Muller discusses her challenges in a way that normalizes the experience of BFRBs. She uses very few mental health terms and writes more for a lay audience — and through the art of disclosure, aims to help readers better understand these conditions.

As Muller explains, she had a positive, healthy, calm childhood — nothing there that would seem to precipitate her hair-pulling behaviors. She had attentive and supportive parents. She went to a good school and got good grades, and was an overachiever. So why did chronic hair-pulling and skin-picking begin? What would trigger these behaviors if her life seemed to be good?

Muller suggests that her trichotillomania may have been triggered by brain overload, such as multi-tasking or engaging in a difficult task that requires sustained attention or brain stimulation. She also attributes it to a desire for internal homeostasis (balance) and low attentional demand (boredom). She provides a brief overview of the diagnostic criteria for trichotillomania and available treatment options — and she admits, to a certain degree, that her view of the disorder is different from that of other clinicians. Some experts believe the illness is caused by behaviors that become habitual and anxiety-related, or that they are related to ruminative thought patterns that trigger emotional responses.

As to how Muller overcame her trichotillomania, she remains vague. She states only that she grew tired of the hair-pulling, and it stopped.

It is useful that Muller reveals her internal thought patterns, feelings, and conflicting emotions that often accompany her BFRBs. That can help educate clients, parents, and families about the reality of living with trichotillomania. At the same time, by projecting herself to have been a well-adjusted child, Muller may make it hard for readers to relate to her.

Moreover, the way she seems to have easily overcome trichotillomania may alienate other sufferers. My own clients with BFRBs mostly report that their behaviors are very difficult to stop, and some even have suicidal thoughts that seem to be triggered by their BFRBs. If they could just “grow tired” of the disorder, they would. But, unlike what Muller claims happened to her, they do not.

And so Muller leaves us confused. She does offer a very personal look at what it’s like to be an otherwise well-adjusted person who suffers from trichotillomania. But when it comes to treatment, she leaves a lot out.

Life is Trichy: Memoir of a Mental Health Therapist with a Mental Health Disorder
Mindful Publishing Co., November 2014
Paperback, 192 pages

Stan Rockwell, PsyD <![CDATA[8 Keys to Practicing Mindfulness: Practical Strategies for Emotional Health & Well-Being]]> 2015-08-20T22:13:21Z 2015-08-26T19:34:16Z In 8 Keys to Practicing Mindfulness, part of the Norton 8 Keys series of self-help books on mental health, Manuela Mischke Reeds provides an excellent introduction to mindfulness for those who […]]]>

In 8 Keys to Practicing Mindfulness, part of the Norton 8 Keys series of self-help books on mental health, Manuela Mischke Reeds provides an excellent introduction to mindfulness for those who want to begin and grow a practice. Reeds teaches mindfulness-based and somatic psychology around the world and co-directs the Hakomi Institute of California, and also has her own private practice.

The very first step, or key, in mindfulness, Reeds explains, is to “meet the present moment.” She excels at teaching the reader about the integration of mind and body, which, really, are one and the same to begin with.

One exercise traditionally used in teaching relaxation is alternating tensing the body and then relaxing so we can tell the difference. Reeds has us, as readers, move our body into a position as if we had a big weight on our chest and take note of how we feel, then note the difference when we change posture and let that weight go. This is an exercise from the book that I have incorporated into my own practice and in my teaching.

Reeds also teaches posture and breathing and progressively leads the reader along the path of increasing awareness of each moment. Just changing posture and breathing can have an amazing effect on our emotions and sense of well-being. Other subtopics in the book include slowing down, befriending your body, and trusting your sensations. Reeds thoughtfully builds each section upon the one before it. And, because the solid research she enumerates is not enough — we need to actually develop a practice to feel the effects of mindfulness — Reeds also gives us a way to measure our baseline at the beginning, then follow our progress as we go.

Reeds gives examples of how mindfulness has helped her and her clients, with one especially nice story. Her son, she writes, is getting very frustrated trying to remember the name of a Roman emperor for an exam the next day. He is close to panic, or, as Reeds calls it, “the invasion of the body snatchers” when emotions “hijack reason and recall.”

In this situation, Reeds’s mantra is “cool head remembers, busy head forgets.” She leads her son through a body-awareness exercise that calms him. And then, the answer for the Roman emperor comes.

Other great examples in the book show how mindfulness and meditation can bring out an awareness of pain, and Reeds teaches us how to deal with that. We can use curiosity, she writes, and learn from fear, anxiety, trauma, and shame. And, she explains, there are physical aspects of emotional reactions. Reeds deftly describes what happens during fight-or-flight, and the role that our vagus nerve plays in emotional regulation.

We can choose how to act, Reeds emphasizes. We can change our lives and those we touch with kindness and by opening our hearts. We can be open to the world with a sense of curiosity and without judgment. To illustrate, Reeds relays the Taoist story of a man whose horse runs away. In the story, a neighbor says how unfortunate it is that the horse is gone. The man is not so sure. The horse returns with other horses. The neighbor says how fortunate that is. The man is not so sure. The man’s son is thrown from one of the new horses and breaks his leg. “How unfortunate!” says the neighbor. The man is not so sure. The army comes through and drafts all the young men except the man’s son with the broken leg.

You never know what life will hold, Reeds writes. What you do control is how you react to it. And although it is up to us to keep at it once we begin a mindfulness practice, Reeds provides a thoughtful, helpful guide.

8 Keys to Practicing Mindfulness: Practical Strategies for Emotional Health and Well-Being
W. W. Norton & Company, June 2015
Paperback, 256 pages

Megan Riddle <![CDATA[The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success]]> 2015-08-20T22:13:05Z 2015-08-26T01:34:08Z As a grad student I was part of a group focused on women in science and medicine. In addition to getting camaraderie and support, we had the opportunity to bring in notable […]]]>

As a grad student I was part of a group focused on women in science and medicine. In addition to getting camaraderie and support, we had the opportunity to bring in notable women to hear about their paths to career success. And here, inevitably, the conversation would turn personal. The underlying question was always the same: How do you do it? How do you have a life — children, a spouse, a white picket fence — and a career?

While each reply was different, each tended to tip the concept of work-life balance on its head. Rather than describe a steady equipoise with scales weighted equally — career on one side, family on the other, each woman would depict a perpetual state of flux and flow, of give and take, of bringing work home and home to work and, at different times, of focusing hard on one, possibly at the expense of the other.

And so, given how many times I have heard from women about how work-life balance is not really balance, per se, I looked forward to Teresa Taylor’s new book The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success. And yet Taylor’s account left me feeling harried, not ready for action.

By any measure, Taylor has achieved significant career success. Despite being the first in her family to finish college, she worked her way to CEO of telecom giant Qwest, putting herself in the rare position of being a woman in the upper echelons of a Fortune 200 company. She also has a husband and two sons. In the book, Taylor describes her own process of struggling with work-life balance. She used to try to keep everything divided, she writes, maintaining distinct home and work calendars, keeping her kids out of any workplace conversation, and generally trying to maintain everything as separate but equal. Instead of feeling balanced, however, this left her split in two.

Realizing it wasn’t working, she began to let the two overlap. She collapsed her two calendars into one, noting, “As a consequence, I stopped feeling so segmented, and it felt increasingly comfortable to intertwine my two lives. At work, I mentioned my kids. I talked about my family. As I did this, my relationships improved at the office as well. I discovered that other people have family issues, too.”

To us, her readers, she gives the following advice. “Above all,” she writes, “try not to think of your life as a zero-sum game or as an equation that has to be balanced. I’ve learned that there is not one magical answer to the question of ‘balance.’ Society tells us it’s acceptable to succeed at work, provided it doesn’t impact our home life,” she continues. “Unfortunately, trying to achieve the mythical ‘balance’ simply causes endless frustration.”

Rather than a separation, Taylor proposes a concept of layers, integrating work and home life. She shares stories of taking the kids to the office on the weekend, when her husband was working as well so he could be home for part of the week with the children. Bringing the kids to work mostly went well, she explains. Except when it didn’t.

“One Sunday afternoon while in the conference room,” she writes, “Jack and Joe grew bored while filling the whiteboard with Picasso-like expressions in blue, green, red, and black dry-erase markers. In search of loftier artistic pursuits, they extended the limits of their creativity to include the walls. The wallpaper. The wood trim. The paint. On the large conference table sat a clean, unused whiteboard eraser. Along with explaining its uses to them, I taught my boys how to scrub walls that day.”

But while I appreciate Taylor’s message that balance may be both an unrealistic and impractical goal, I am not entirely on board with the alternative she offers.  

In her description of her layering approach, for example, she details her method of time management. She writes, “If I have any sort of superpower, it’s an awareness of time. I am always watching the clock. Wonder Woman had her bullet-deflecting bracelets. I have my wristwatch. My wristwatch tells me how much time until and how much time since for every meeting, errand, chore, and task I take on.”

Reading this, I can feel myself start to hyperventilate. Who would want such a frenetic schedule? Maybe it brings career success, but happiness?

Similarly, Taylor describes working late nights after her children have gone to bed and long weekends after she has already put in a more-than-full work week. “Be who you are all the time and work harder than everyone else to make it work,” she offers.

I appreciate that she is being true to herself and encourages others to do the same, but am not sure that the way Taylor does it will ring true with many. Her energy and intensity are undeniable. But rather than leaving me inspired to push forward, her book left me thinking I couldn’t do that — or, perhaps more accurately, I don’t want to.

The Balance Myth: Rethinking Work-Life Success
Greenleaf Book Group Press, April 2013
Hardcover, 232 pages

Bella DePaulo <![CDATA[The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists & Rebels]]> 2015-08-20T21:55:49Z 2015-08-25T19:25:20Z Psychotherapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson know that marriage is in trouble. Close to half of all marriages end in divorce. Growing numbers of adults are raising kids […]]]>

Psychotherapist Susan Pease Gadoua and journalist Vicki Larson know that marriage is in trouble. Close to half of all marriages end in divorce. Growing numbers of adults are raising kids without marrying. Millions are cohabiting and millions more are living solo. But the co-authors are not despairing. In The New “I Do”: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels, they want to make marriage work for people who want to marry, in ways that suit their personal reasons for marrying.

Many books promise to help couples succeed in their marriages by telling them “how to improve communication, resolve conflict, manage expectations, and enhance intimacy and sex.” Gadoua and Larson promise that their book is not still another variant of that tired template, and they stick to that promise.

Instead, they wisely realize that when a particular institution fails to deliver on its promise (“happily ever after”) at a stunning rate, the problem is not with the individual married people, it is with the institution. The contemporary model of marriage is suited to marriages “based on survival, procreation, property, and wealth.” Today, though, people are more often marrying for love.

That’s dreamy, but it is not specific enough. When pushed to consider what they really want out of a marriage (as couples are too rarely asked to do), people turn out to have many different kinds of ideas. Some are committed to their relationship but want to live in places of their own (living apart together marriages). Some want to be married but not monogamous (open marriages). Others don’t care much about passion; they are in it for the friendship (companionship marriages). Some want the comfort of financial security or health insurance (safety marriages). Other couples just need to give marriage a try for a few years, without having children or promising to be there for each other for the long haul (starter marriages). A few want to sign on to exacting standards of commitment, vowing not to divorce except under conditions of extreme duress (covenant marriages).

The varieties of marriage presented by the authors are vastly different from each other, and the authors are resolutely nonjudgmental about all of them. They do, though, have strong opinions. They believe that people who are thinking about marrying, or who are reassessing their current marriage, should be very deliberate in spelling out – in a legal contract (which is what marriage really is) – what they actually want. They are all for prenups (or postnups, if it is already too late for the prenup) and offer a chapter dispelling myths about them and describing the special considerations relevant to the different kinds of marriages.

The heart of the book consists of individual chapters about each of the different kinds of marriages. The authors share stories from people they have interviewed and present statistics and relevant social science data. Each of these chapters ends with bulleted sections on what’s good about that kind of marriage, what’s not so good about it, how to make it work, whether it is right for you, suggestions for further reading, and a very helpful list of takeaways. If you are seriously considering a do-it-yourself marriage, in the sense that you and your partner want to choose the marital model that is best suits your particular goals, you could expand your thinking and learn a lot in a very short amount of time simply by reading that very last section of each chapter.

Bookending the self-help chapters in the middle are several opening chapters and one concluding chapter that are more contextual. With one exception, they are broad-ranging, thoughtful, well-researched, concise, and highly readable. Readers who want detailed, book-length histories of marriage can find several elsewhere (for example, Marriage, a History, by Stephanie Coontz and A History of Marriage, by Elizabeth Abbott). Gadoua and Larson, in Chapter 1, offer the best brief history I have ever read.

Chapter 2, “Why Put a Ring on It?,” also had a lot to offer, but it was marred for me by a table of selective research findings supposedly demonstrating the benefits of marrying. It includes the typical misleading statements that “Marriage makes people happy” and “Marriage makes people healthier” and many more. These are claims that I have been debunking for nearly two decades (early on in Singled Out, more recently in Marriage vs. Single Life: How Science and the Media Got It So Wrong, and in countless blog posts and article in between).

As a lifelong single person and a scholar of single life, I also cringed at the places in the book where living single was equated with being alone. Most were in the chapter on Companionship Marriage; for example, “Marrying a good companion may be better than being alone.” It is as if single people have no parents, no friends, no siblings, no cousins – well, no one of any variety who is important to them. That assumption, too (like the ones about how getting married will make you happier and healthier), is hardly unique to this book. It is part of the prevailing ideology of our time that “alone” is synonymous with single.

After the unfortunate claims about the alleged superiority of married people and married parents, I was delighted to get to a concluding chapter that really did recognize and value the many different kinds of people and relationships in our lives (other than spouses and marital relationships). There, the authors raised what I think are some of the most significant questions about marriage: “Why should the government give benefits to you because you got hitched and others haven’t…? Why should the state decide that some relationships are ‘worthy’ and valuable and others aren’t?”

Drawing from the work of scholars and advocates, Gadoua and Larson present the argument that society needs to protect those who are most vulnerable and those who care for the vulnerable. In a society that placed caring relationships at its ethical center, “Single parents would get the support they need, as would whoever cares for the elderly, disabled, or sick – from childfree couples to singletons.”

The New “I Do” is the most useful resource out there for the marrying kinds who want to define what marriage means to them and then make it work. In the opening and closing chapters, it is also a wonderful read for readers of any marital status who like smart, insightful big-picture discussions of what marriage has been and what it could, and perhaps should, be in the future.

The New “I Do”: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists, and Rebels

By Susan Pease Gadoua and Vicki Larson

Seal Press, 2014 [find the month]

Softcover, 234 pages



Lauren Suval <![CDATA[Book Review: Tiny Beautiful Things]]> 2015-08-20T22:02:08Z 2015-08-24T19:32:24Z Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here. ~ Cheryl Strayed Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things features a beautiful collection of well-crafted, undeniably relatable letters, along with astute […]]]>

Let yourself be gutted. Let it open you. Start here. ~ Cheryl Strayed

Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things features a beautiful collection of well-crafted, undeniably relatable letters, along with astute responses from advice columnist ‘Sugar’ (Strayed).

The premise of Tiny Beautiful Things is simple, yet paramount. Countless readers write to Sugar, in the hopes that she will dole out succinct, pertinent and compassionate advice, sprinkled with doses of tough love. And not one response fails to do just that.

Strayed isn’t a professionally trained clinical psychologist, but in a way, that’s what makes her replies inspirational. Because of Strayed’s past experiences, because of her endearing tenderness for humanity, she is quintessentially the perfect voice for Sugar.

These thoughtful letters illustrate a wide variety of issues, including grief, infidelity, strained family relationships and a general feeling of restlessness, by individuals who feel stuck and lost.

Sugar’s words are earnest, honest and heartfelt, echoing pivotal truths.

“Nobody will protect you from your suffering,” she writes to a grief-stricken woman.

“You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal. Therapists and friends and other people who live on Planet My Baby Died can help you along the way, but the healing — the genuine healing, the actual real deal down-on-your-kneees-in-the-mud change — is entirely and absolutely up to you.”

When one nervous 29-year-old writes to Sugar, wary about her upcoming wedding vows, Sugar responds: “It’s a long damn life, Happily Ever After.”

“And people get mucked up in it from time to time. Even the people we marry. Even us. You don’t know what it is you’ll get mucked up in yet, but if you’re lucky, and if you and your fiance are really right for each other, and if the two of you build a marriage that lasts a lifetime, you’re probably going to get mucked up in a few things along the way. This is scary, but it’s okay. Sometimes the thing you fear most in your relationship turns out to be the thing that brings you and your partner to a deeper place of understanding and intimacy.”

In an interview Strayed discusses the universal nature of her Dear Sugar column and how readers’ letters truly encourage her to help herself and reflect upon her own life.

“Ultimately, the truth is that we have to help ourselves — we all benefit from people helping us, but we will never get anywhere if we don’t help ourselves,” she said.

“[There is] a universal truth that we are all responsible for our lives — that we all suffer, and we all try to find light in that darkness, strength in that weakness….I’m talking to myself too — all the time, every day. It’s not as if I have the answer, and I’m giving the answers. I’m, instead, really down there in the struggle, speaking to it, trying to speak as openly as possible about what it means to be human.”

Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things is a testament to the human condition. Don’t pass it by.

Amira Aly, MD <![CDATA[Book Review: Rethinking Narcissism]]> 2015-08-20T22:05:37Z 2015-08-24T14:39:11Z While developing an awareness-raising campaign for the identification and treatment of psychological abuse for the nonprofit I work with, I delved deep into researching personality traits and disorders that contribute […]]]>

While developing an awareness-raising campaign for the identification and treatment of psychological abuse for the nonprofit I work with, I delved deep into researching personality traits and disorders that contribute to the dynamic of psychological abuse. I was reading all the literature I could get my hands on. Some of it was aimed at mental health professionals. Some were heartwrenching personal accounts of those who have been to narcissist hell and back. While there is no shortage of books on narcissism, very few of them are suited for the narcissists themselves. Even fewer of them offer hope.

Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — and Surprising Good — About Feeling Special can be recommended to those who deal with narcissists and those think they are narcissists and wonder if there is hope. It handles the topic compassionately and empathetically without sacrificing realism.

Craig Malkin, a Harvard psychologist, starts the book by taking us along on a journey back to ancient Greece. He recounts the legend of Narcissus, the prototypical narcissist, and Echo, the quintessential self-abnegator. Dr. Malkin’s semantic approach makes all the difference. In rebranding narcissism as “feeling special,” he depathologizes it and opens the doors for discussing how narcissism can both be healthy and necessary in moderation. He coined the term “Echoists,” named after the self-effacing Echo of the legend, to describe those who think too little of themselves.

In doing so, the legend of Echo and Narcissus became a cautionary tale. Envisioning narcissism on a spectrum that we can slide up or down rather than a fixed personality trait offers hope for all. This, I believe, is the most helpful stance for mental health professionals seeking to counsel patients on dealing with painful self-involvement, both their own and their loved ones.

Dr. Malkin’s contention is that unhealthy self-involvement manifests in two distinct pathologies: too much of it (the affliction of narcissists), and too little of it (the bane of Echoists.) Between Echoists and narcissists lies healthy narcissism. The author frequently points out that gently moving along the spectrum, without sliding all the way to becoming a self-negating Echoist, is important. His message offers hope and direction for people at both ends of the spectrum should they want to change.

The nuanced narcissism test included in the book solves the age-old problem of pathologizing the overly self-involved while not pointing out to the overly self-effacing that their behavior opens doors for their victimization. This stance is the empowering way out of abusive relationships. Often I hear women in our support groups say that they are acting the way they are because they are “kind.” I hear these women say that it’s their responsibility to “suck it up” and “take one for the team.” Demonizing narcissists comforts their victims but does not help them out of trouble.

The part that follows delves into the roots and making of narcissists and Echoists and their operant beliefs — “don’t be ordinary” and “don’t dream big,” respectively. It also presents an in-depth discussion of the dynamics of relationships among people with varying degrees of narcissism.

Part III has plenty of information on, and analysis of, the warning signs of unhealthy narcissism. Two chapters are dedicated to describing interventions aimed at dealing with narcissists, and the rationale behind them. Both chapters are in the same vein: what to do to empower oneself, how much to try and then how to identify when it’s time to call it quits. Dr. Malkin’s advice is helpful, sensitive, and professional. The author rightly emphasized the importance of feeling emotional and psychological safety before attempting to engage the narcissist in a change conversation.

My only concern is that the caveats and warnings he provides are laid out inadequately. This important information is placed amid the regular paragraph text and can easily be glossed over. Many people scan material looking for “the answers” through reading subtitles and first sentences of paragraphs, and so they might not notice the prerequisites for attempts at repair.

I hope that the emphasis on feeling psychological safety will be displayed prominently in future editions, either through placing them in a box, quote caption, or even just through an alternate formatting form. Perhaps I am overly worried and patronizing of readers, but when it comes to victims withstanding abuse thinking they can change their abuser’s behavior, I would rather err on the side of caution.

Part IV is chock-full of practical tips and hope-inspiring messages. Its theme is “promoting healthy narcissism.” The recommended parenting practices are both comprehensive and firmly rooted in theory. One of the true gems of the book that will prove useful to every mental health clinician is the chapter on the healthy use of social media. The author offers an overview of the most recent studies of the interplay between social media and narcissism and tips on how to use social media to promote emotional well-being.

Among all the books that have been published on the topic in the past 10 years, Rethinking Narcissism: The Bad — and Surprising Good — About Feeling Special stands out as a definite must-read.

Claire Nana <![CDATA[Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun & Conversation for a Happier Family]]> 2015-08-20T21:49:21Z 2015-08-23T14:48:46Z Dinnertime can become a distracted conversation while folks check their phones, or a heated conflict that ends in anger and unfinished food. Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family […]]]>

Dinnertime can become a distracted conversation while folks check their phones, or a heated conflict that ends in anger and unfinished food. Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids attempts to explain what’s going on at the table and how to transform our family through our meals.

Author Anne Fishel offers plenty of nutrition advice and recipes, but her focus is on the emotional dynamics that arise when we all try to sit down together. Fishel, a practicing family therapist who co-founded the Family Dinner Project movement, introduces us to something we should have known all along: that dinner is a metaphor for how the family works.

According to Fishel, family dinner patterns symbolize the way the family functions. Families who don’t sit down and connect often have unfinished business. As Fishel explains, “As a family therapist for more than twenty-five years, I’ve developed a belief that helping families develop new dinner rituals can be a form of healing.”

The book includes compelling studies that show that eating together improves things like intellectual development and mental health. And, Fishel writes, “According to Columbia University’s National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, adolescents who ate family dinners five to seven times a week were twice as likely to get A’s in school as those who ate dinner with their families fewer than three times a week.”

“When kids are home for dinner,” she explains, “it means they aren’t out roaming the streets and getting into trouble.” And since age is a factor, Fishel describes how to engage toddlers, school-kids, adolescents, and even empty nesters in the process of transforming the meal.

In terms of healthful eating, Fishel draws from the wisdom of Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food and other widely praised books on how we eat. Pointing to Pollan’s seven-word maxim — “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants” — Fishel reminds us that eating, like other family rituals, should not get bogged down by the latest fad. She weaves wholesome foods into several simple and tasty recipes that can easily be used to engage and educate children. She also offers tips for kids with allergies, autism, and type-2 diabetes. And in terms of preparing to cook, she offers an exercise called the “Supermarket Scavenger Hunt,” meant to derail the all-too-predictable supermarket tantrum.

For Fishel, food, like life, should be fun. So she devotes an entire section of the book to the idea of playing with food and creating mealtime opportunities for artistic expression. She also suggests games to make dinner an intellectually and creatively stimulating event.

Although the family is its own microcosm, Fishel also reminds us that what happens at our own table affects the rest of the world. She encourages us to bring new cultural experiences to our meals and to teach kids how to compost.

In one moving example, Fishel writes of how she used cooking to raise money for the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, which seemed to help her own children grieve their grandmother’s death. Through “serving up a cure,” her children were able to transform their sadness into action and advocacy — showing, once again, that dinner is more than just a meal.

Home for Dinner: Mixing Food, Fun, and Conversation for a Happier Family and Healthier Kids
American Management Association, January 2015
Paperback, 240 pages

Paula Lopez <![CDATA[Snapshot: Reading & Treating People Right the First Time]]> 2015-08-20T21:44:27Z 2015-08-23T02:42:47Z Are you more like Queen Elizabeth or Jim Carey? That is one of the questions Dan Korem poses in his book Snapshot: Reading and Treating People Right the First Time, which […]]]>

Are you more like Queen Elizabeth or Jim Carey? That is one of the questions Dan Korem poses in his book Snapshot: Reading and Treating People Right the First Time, which introduces the “lite” version of what he calls the Korem Profiling System, or KPS, a “rapid-fire” way to profile an individual on the spot after interacting with them for only a few minutes. Korem writes that profiling someone only takes a few questions, and that you can even profile yourself to understand how others perceive you and how you would prefer to be treated.

But, as a mental health professional myself who is trained to read others, I had a difficult time reading his book.

Korem describes the full-fledged KPS method, which entails making four different reads of a person, combining them, and then getting a two-page profile that is supposed to identify how that person is likely to communicate, perform tasks, make decisions, and be open to your influence. As Snapshot is more of a primer and not a comprehensive guide, Korem encourages us to read one of his other publications, The Art of Profiling, too.

But this book, at least, is distracting. Korem includes many stories and examples, which help to flesh out some of his concepts, but he also overwhelms the reader with self-promotion, links to his website, recommendations to buy his other products, and suggestions to download his apps. As a mental health practitioner, I am trained to watch for non-verbal cues and behaviors to read people and ensure that what they are saying is what they are actually feeling. I was hoping that Korem might help me delve into how to more accurately read a person, but came away disappointed.

In the early 1990s, several presidents of companies asked Korem to develop a system for negotiations in foreign countries to avoid racial, ethnic, and cultural stereotyping when making on-the-spot behavioral reads. He then presented his profiling method to police psychologists and the FBI’s Behavioral Sciences Unit. The system was to help figure out how a person prefers to communicate, operate, perform, and make decisions. Korem recruited behavioral experts to help him develop his method, and they identified different types of behavior that every person exhibits that one can get at through four “behavioral wires,” or questions.

The idea is to find out (1) If the person prefers to control or to express emotions when they communicate, (2) if the person prefers to be assertive or nonassertive, (3) if the person prefers to be conventional or unconventional, and (4) if the person makes decisions confidently, cautiously, or out of extreme fear.

This is where Queen Elizabeth and Jim Carey come into play. When determining whether a person is conventional or unconventional, you can ask yourself, Is this person more like the Queen (conventional) or more like Jim Carey (unconventional)? Other famous people come in handy, too. Korem suggests Mr. Rogers for non-assertive versus Russell Crowe for assertive, and Spock for controlling versus Lady Gaga for expressing emotions.

While this may sound easy enough, the book was difficult to follow at times and I found it hard to implement the principles in real life. Korem does provide examples and pictures that make some of his ideas easier to grasp, but I was not left fully embracing his methods.

Snapshot: Reading and Treating People Right the First Time
International Focus Press, March 2015
Hardcover, 380 pages

Claire Nana <![CDATA[I’m Working On It in Therapy: How to Get the Most Out of Psychotherapy]]> 2015-08-20T21:46:48Z 2015-08-22T19:36:16Z Therapy is hard — especially if you don’t know how it works. Enter Gary Trosclair’s new book, I’m Working On It in Therapy: How to Get the Most Out of Psychotherapy. […]]]>

Therapy is hard — especially if you don’t know how it works.

Enter Gary Trosclair’s new book, I’m Working On It in Therapy: How to Get the Most Out of Psychotherapy. Weaving together compelling case studies, relevant research on the efficacy of therapy, and sound advice, Trosclair presents ten tools helpful for therapy and self-growth.

A prominent psychoanalyst and former director of training at the C.G. Jung Institute of New York, Trosclair reminds us that “it’s not what the therapist does, or even a particular model of therapy that accounts for change.” Rather, he writes, “it’s the client’s involvement, participation and contribution that actually accounts for most of the progress in therapy.”

Trosclair encourages us to “get real,” and warns against the danger of the “good client” mask: We can help ourselves more if we see our many sides not as good or bad simply as part of who we are.

“The healthy human psyche seeks not perfection, but wholeness,” he writes.

Next, Trosclair shows us how to channel our emotions: to allow ourselves to have them, to express them, and to avoid the tendency to suppress our feelings. Bringing our feelings into therapy, he says, can create new neural connections between the more emotional parts and the more rational parts of our brain. In addition, he prompts us to explore our unconscious motivations to figure out the original adaptive intent of our behaviors.

But what if you don’t want to connect with your therapist? Trosclair uses narrative examples to demonstrate how “trying to avoid feelings of dependency, attachments, or closeness … may limit what you get out of therapy.” He then shows us just what a therapeutic alliance should be, and how feelings about our therapist can provide access to our unconscious.

Another key point in the book: learning to be curious and not judgmental when observing ourselves, and to let down our defenses. Rationalization, Trosclair writes, is a kind of self-deception. He uses a powerful case study to show us how to acknowledge and release the burden of defenses. And when we blame others for our issues it does not always help, either, he writes. Instead, it can leave us feeling victimized and powerless. To prevent that, Trosclair shows us how to identify situations where we take too much responsibility, or where we don’t take enough.

When it comes to identifying our own patterns, Trosclair helps us see the things that may be holding us back but that keep recurring, and then shows us how to “build a better narrative.”

And although the book emphasizes therapy itself, it also asks us to do our own work outside of sessions. That work includes things like journaling, dreamwork, and even a ceremonial ritual to “symbolically mark the end of an old way of living.”

Finally, Trosclair reveals his tenth tool: using challenges as opportunities for growth and change. To make his case, he presents us with research on resilience and post-traumatic growth, as well as the spiritual and mythological implications of challenge. He encourages us to harness our “innate drive toward psychological well-being” — even when things get tough.

In the end, the book is a fascinating look at self-growth, and one that’s useful whether or not you go to therapy. Trosclair elegantly transforms complex psychological concepts into powerful, understandable tools.

I’m Working On It in Therapy: How to Get the Most Out of Psychotherapy
Skyhorse Publishing, June 2015
Paperback, 240 pages

Niki Hilsabeck <![CDATA[8 Keys to Old-School Parenting For Modern-Day Families]]> 2015-08-20T21:42:35Z 2015-08-21T19:42:07Z In our effort to leave behind the harsh parenting tactics that generations before us suffered through, we may have swung a little too far in the other direction. Now, we tend to give children […]]]>

In our effort to leave behind the harsh parenting tactics that generations before us suffered through, we may have swung a little too far in the other direction. Now, we tend to give children room to make decisions that they aren’t developmentally prepared to make — and try to protect them from all of life’s challenges, which can leave them ill-equipped to function as adults. As Michael Mascolo writes, we need to move to a middle ground.

In 8 Keys to Old-School Parenting For Modern-Day Families, part of Norton’s 8 Keys to Mental Health series, Mascolo provides a guide for parents who want to make the transition away from an overly-loose style and toward a more, well, old-school one. But he does not think we need to go back to the other extreme, either.

Indeed, he frequently refers to the two extremes of parenting as permissive versus authoritarian. Permissive parents, he writes, take a child-centered approach, letting their children take the lead in decision-making. Authoritarian parents, meanwhile, take the opposite approach, giving the child little or no opportunity to make choices.

But there is another option. According to Mascolo, a more effective type of parenting means taking an authoritative — rather than authoritarian — approach.

Authoritative parents actively guide their children through life, taking their needs into consideration and maintaining a strong sense of discipline along the way. Some of the eight keys to this approach include valuing parental authority, cultivating character, applying discipline rather than punishment, and managing conflict.

Each key also comes with plenty of useful examples, charts, sample dialogues, and research-based explanations. And each drives home the point that children will learn best from their own collective experiences.

One of my favorite sections in the book details how to apply discipline instead of punishment. After clearly explaining why punishments and rewards do not help in building a child’s sense of self, Mascolo encourages parents instead to follow a different course: clear limit-setting with plenty of discussion, and meaningful consequences as opposed to punishment.

What’s the difference? Mascolo defines punishment as an unpleasant experience to deter behavior — whereas a meaningful consequence is an unwanted outcome as a result of behavior. As a teacher, I’ve often wished that parents (and even some of my fellow teachers) understood this concept, as students who understand meaningful consequences are usually much more motivated to make better choices for themselves.

I also enjoyed Mascolo’s tips for fostering emotional development in children. It is important, as he writes, to allow kids to experience challenges and failure and navigate their own way. For parents who are new to this, Mascolo provides a great explanation (along with a graphic) of how to encourage children to embrace challenges without pushing them to the point of extreme frustration.

When young ones go through difficulties — with some guidance — it gives them the opportunity to build true confidence and self-esteem. They learn to trust their own judgment and coping skills, which is crucial to their development.

As I read Mascolo, I almost felt like cheering. His book supports much of what I’ve learned in child development and education classes, as well as lessons I’ve learned both as a teacher and a parent. Children need to be nurtured, but they also need clear boundaries and appropriate challenges.

Parents who read this book and are not familiar with the concepts may find the information overwhelming at first, but the methods Mascolo presents do work. Of course, there are situations where children don’t respond to authoritative parenting, and, in that case, it may be helpful to seek professional help. Old-school parenting, as Mascolo sees it, does indeed require a lot of work on the part of parents, but that work pays off as the child develops into a confident, resilient adult.

I would recommend this book for both parents and teachers, as it provides many useful tips, explanations, and resources. My only complaint about the text is a small one: frequently missing words that distracted me as I read.

Wherever you fall on the parenting spectrum, it’s helpful to remember that most parents are sincere in trying to raise their children to be successful, caring adults. But in my opinion, you can’t go wrong with a book that encourages parents to take an active, authoritative, and nurturing role as they guide their kids through the trials and joys of growing up.

8 Keys to Old-School Parenting For Modern-Day Families
W. W. Norton & Company, May 2015
Paperback, 288 pages

Megan Riddle <![CDATA[Building Your Ideal Private Practice, 2nd Edition]]> 2015-08-20T21:40:27Z 2015-08-21T14:39:34Z When we enter the field of mental health, we do so almost universally with the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. We may be drawn to […]]]>

When we enter the field of mental health, we do so almost universally with the desire to make a difference in the lives of others. We may be drawn to this career by our own experiences: a connection with our own therapist, or seeing a loved one struggle with mental illness. Having made the decision, we spend years of our lives, along with substantial sums of money, honing our craft. Finally, at the time of graduation, be it as a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or any of the other healing professions, we face a world of possibility, eager to use our hard-earned skills to ease the burden of our clients.

But as idyllic as it may seem to “hang out a shingle” and watch the clients come strolling in, the reality is far more challenging. For all those thousands of hours we spent focused on therapeutic technique during our graduate education, how many did we spend on the business side of our future career?

For many of us, those hours were few and far between if they existed at all as part of our program. While we did not go into this field to get rich quick — or at all (if you did, you chose the wrong field) — there is still the appreciable need to earn a living, if for no other reason than to pay back those niggling student loans.

Enter Lynn Grodzki’s book Building Your Ideal Private Practice: A Guide for Therapists and Other Healing Professionals, just recently released in its second edition.

Grodzki helps us create a blueprint for a successful practice, regardless of the stage of our career. Leaving her executive role in her family business, she writes, she felt called to go back to school to become a therapist after her own experience in therapy had “dramatically” changed her life. After that, she was able to combine her interests in business and therapy as a business coach for therapists, and has been doing so for nearly twenty years, in addition to maintaining her private practice. She distills these years of experience in the latest edition of her book.

One of the first things Grodzki addresses is the dichotomy we often perceive of being a therapist versus being a business person. “Recently I asked a group of therapists to give me a word that described their feelings about business,” Grodzki writes. “One bravely stood up and said, ‘Would hate be too strong a word?’”

She draws our attention to the cultural ideas we have of the ruthless, manipulative businessperson and the compassionate healer — and helps to bridge that divide. The beginning of the book works on both shifting our thinking as well as helping us nail down our core values and vision. Next, Grodzki focuses on how we can solidify the practice we already have, such as through developing our brand and connecting with others. She also covers the pros and cons of shifting to a group practice, the possibility of expanding beyond therapy to add additional services, and, for those reaching the end of their careers, how to get a practice ready to be sold.

For those who read the first edition of this book, this second edition includes six new chapters as well as various updates to cover issues that have emerged over the last fifteen years. These include leveraging the internet in establishing and expanding one’s practice as well as addressing financial changes, such as the ever evolving role of insurance and managed care.

In her chapter on establishing an internet presence, Grodzki goes beyond the basic “you need a website” admonishing. She explains how to go about optimizing a website so that it appears in search engines, how to use social networking as a tool, and how to reach out through blogs, vlogs, and e-newsletters.

Grodzki’s writing is approachable and engaging. She incorporates personal experiences as well as anecdotes from her workshops and private consulting, and she offers helpful exercises. She deftly tackles difficult topics, such as how to sustain a healing business during times of burnout. Overall, this is a well-written and useful book.

Building Your Ideal Private Practice: A Guide for Therapists and Other Healing Professionals, 2nd Edition
W. W. Norton & Company, March 2015
Hardcover, 384 pages

Paula Lopez <![CDATA[Anxiety & Depression in the Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide to Fostering Self-Regulation in Young Students]]> 2015-08-20T21:37:04Z 2015-08-21T02:36:30Z I remember feigning a stomachache for two weeks in second grade in order to go home from school. Back then, the principal and my mom caught on that I was […]]]>

I remember feigning a stomachache for two weeks in second grade in order to go home from school.

Back then, the principal and my mom caught on that I was feeling anxious about being away from home. Now, as a therapist, I know that anxiety disorders are among the most common mental, emotional, and behavioral problems to occur during childhood and adolescence. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders affect one in eight children. Research shows that untreated children with anxiety disorders are at a higher risk to perform poorly in school, miss out on important social experiences, and engage in substance abuse, and that these disorders often co-occur with others such as depression, eating disorders, and ADHD.

Telling someone — whether or a child or adult — “Just think happy thoughts and it will be okay” rarely works. Emotions do not simply disappear. If we do not release or acknowledge feelings, they get stored and become part of our physical and emotional make-up. Children’s feelings that are stored and “stuffed” become activators for negative behaviors. And so, what we must teach them is how their emotional reactions affect their behavior. We want to help them become aware of situations that cause stress, frustration, or emotional upset and to develop strategies for reducing that stress.

In Anxiety and Depression in the Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide to Fostering Self-Regulation in Young Students, author Nadja Reilly presents a wealth of information for educators on the impact of anxiety and depression and other mental health issues in children. She provides suggestions to build resilience and teach self-regulation in order to help kids to succeed in school and beyond.

Everyone may have occasional moments of feeling anxious or worried, but an anxiety disorder is a medical condition that causes people to feel persistently, uncontrollably worried over an extended period of time. This can result in significant distress in a number of settings, such as school, peer relationships, and home life. And as Reilly writes and as the literature shows, stress in childhood leads to increased incidence of depression and anxiety disorders in young adulthood. Stressed children often get overwhelmed by upset feelings; act impulsively; misbehave, withdraw, or tune out; get distracted easily; have difficulty learning and remembering; are difficult for others to get along with; and engage in risky behaviors with drugs, gangs, or sex.

Children who are stressed or anxious do not have much fun and are not in tune with their minds and bodies. They may be too busy dealing with stress or they may feel that everything is serious, and they may have difficulty letting down their guard and playing. In turn, helping them to become more mindful and have fun can be important tools. Self-regulation (awareness), fun, and play activities are natural ways to relieve stress and worry and recharge energy.

To that end, Reilly discusses how to teach students deep-breathing exercises and various ways to understand their bodies. Indeed, the book provides very detailed instructions for readers who teach children in grades K-5. Reilly lists materials needed, gives step-by-step instructions, and offers variations to accommodate specific needs.

For example, to help children identify feelings and manage somatic symptoms, Reilly introduces an activity she calls Finding the Body Clues for grades K-3. It is a type of body scan to help kids identify where in their bodies they are holding tension, and it provides a fun way to develop the language they need to describe their feelings and link it to their somatic experience.

The teacher, Reilly writes, provides large sheets of paper on which students can trace their bodies. Then, students draw in the body sensations they notice in themselves, such as an ache in their tummy, or sweaty palms.

As Reilly explains, the teacher also encourages students to come up with funny or silly names for these sensations to make them less threatening. Afterward, everyone comes together to come up with ideas for decreasing these body sensations, such as deep breathing.

The book also provides a chapter on communicating with parents to promote teacher-parent collaboration and assist families with kids who are struggling. For use both in the classroom and with parents and home life, this is a thoughtful, invaluable book — and should be required reading for anyone working with school-aged children.

Anxiety and Depression in the Classroom: A Teacher’s Guide to Fostering Self-Regulation in Young Students
W. W. Norton & Company, May 2015
Paperback, 368 pages

Sandra C. Fykes <![CDATA[Conversations With My Soul: Stories & Reflections on Life, Death & Love After Loss]]> 2015-08-20T21:34:22Z 2015-08-20T21:34:22Z I remember my piano teacher telling me that music is a universal language. Now I put love, loss, and grief in that category, too. Regardless of who we are, what we […]]]>

I remember my piano teacher telling me that music is a universal language. Now I put love, loss, and grief in that category, too.

Regardless of who we are, what we believe, or where we live, all of us will experience some degree of love, loss, and grief in our lifetime. And in Conversations With My Soul: Stories and Reflections on Life, Death, and Love After Loss, therapist Ellen P. Fitzkee lets us go deep into her own experiences so that we may reflect on our own.

“I have accumulated five significant losses in a span of three years,” Fitzkee writes, “and in some ways, I continue to recover from the depths of despair.” I knew right at this line that I would not be a detached, observational reader of her book. I knew that I would also be reflecting on my own journey in dealing with loss, grief, and healing.

Fitzkee gives brief descriptions of the New Age movement and mindfulness. Both have had a significant impact on her life. In reference to the first, she acknowledges that “some of the coping skills I explore are not main stream but they offer a change in focus and as a result, a better understanding of human existence by looking within and discovering what we have always known to be true.”

I am a Christian, so I have a different belief system, but I respect and recognize that this is Fitzkee’s experience. These off-the-beaten-path techniques are how she attains peace, becomes centered and connected, and draws her hope and strength when dealing with enormous sadness and setbacks.

Fitzkee has also chosen to serve others during the course of her work. “I became the parent to others that I wanted to have,” she writes. “I chose career paths that allowed me to express this whether I was a teacher, coach, counselor, therapist, or mentor.” Here, she courageously opens the door to her heart through journaling, which is a widely used practice for stress reduction, reflection, and problem-solving regardless of one’s spiritual or religious beliefs or affiliations. Her entries — which we as readers can explore — reveal her professional and personal experiences, identity, discoveries, pain, joys, and desires. We learn about some of her experiences as a school counselor, and as “Mom” to two dogs.

Fitzkee also reflects on her past, present, and future relationships. She uses spirit guides, channeled writing, and other approaches that may sound mystical to some readers but that Fitzkee finds help her learn about herself. Since she also incorporates mindfulness and centering on a daily basis, she gravitates toward “living in the moment.”

I know from my own experience that grief and loss are huge forces in our lives, often leaving us with a bruised heart and emotional scars. However, I’ve found, if and when you’re open to healing, your heart and soul will slowly begin to slough off the layers of pain. Then, almost by surprise, you find that you have the ability and stamina to live and love again.

There are not too many people in this world who willingly invite strangers into their painful journey through grief, but Fitzkee is one of them. I am thankful for the way she graciously allows us to see this process unfold in her life, and to share the things that mean the most not only to her, but to all of us.

Conversations With My Soul: Stories and Reflections on Life, Death, and Love After Loss
Balboa Press, October 2014
Paperback, 118 pages