Psych Central Original articles in mental health, psychology, relationships and more, published weekly. 2016-06-30T17:15:35Z Caroline Comeaux Lee <![CDATA[Book Review: Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children]]> 2016-06-24T17:02:15Z 2016-06-30T17:15:35Z My home can sometimes be the embodiment of chaos. My oldest child is four years old and working through attempting to control every detail. There is also the fifteen-month-old, who […]]]>

My home can sometimes be the embodiment of chaos. My oldest child is four years old and working through attempting to control every detail. There is also the fifteen-month-old, who is cutting at least four teeth right now and rivaling Mommy Dearest’s greatest tantrum on almost an hourly basis. Finally, there is our newborn baby, and any parent will automatically know the struggles that come with the beauty of a new addition to the family. At any one time, all three children can be having their own epic meltdowns while my husband and I attempt to run defense à la the Denver Broncos 2015 line up.

All this to say that when I saw the opportunity to read and review Ready, Set, Breathe, by Dr. Carla Naumburg, I jumped at the chance.

Naumburg’s book is the guidebook for parents who are looking for a way to bring some calm to their homes and children’s lives, even if it is just for a moment. The full title says it all; Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family. There is no lecturing, nagging, or impracticality presented in this book. Rather, Naumburg’s approach is straightforward, sympathetic, and realistic.

Most people understand that they cannot change another person’s behavior, but rather, can only change their reactions or their own initial behaviors. Thus, Naumburg’s approach starts with the parent. Her introduction and first few chapters address how mindfulness in the home begins with the parents. She describes mindful parenting as: “Making a choice to focus our attention on the present moment, with kindness and curiosity, so we can make a thoughtful choice about how to proceed rather than react out of frustration or confusion.”

For the potential skeptic, Naumburg provides a list of the benefits of mindfulness, including decreasing anxiety, better sleep, and improved concentration. Even her own personal anecdotes reveal that in order for mindfulness to be effective in children, the parent must initiate it in their own lives. For example, parents who are overwhelmed and frustrated cannot adequately guide a child through deep breathing without first taking a step back to calm themselves. Possibly the best exercise for this is STOP, which stands for Stop, Take a Breath, Observe, and Proceed. Naumburg explains that this exercise allows parents to come back to the present moment before proceeding to their next step.

As the book moves into introducing children to mindfulness, Naumburg explains that mindfulness embodies five main experiences: concentration, creativity, curiosity, compassion and silence. These experiences provide parents a glimpse at when their child is having a mindful moment; these are moments that can be expanded on if addressed appropriately by the parent (which may mean doing absolutely nothing). Naumburg elaborates on these five experiences individually, providing examples of how to expand on the experience for the child. One tip that she provides is to create a “Calm-Down Corner” for children. She provides suggestions for how to decorate the area, toys that would be conducive to calming a child, etc.

The final chapter of Ready, Set, Breathe is titled “Your Mindfulness Toy Box.” The true gold of this book, the final chapter is a list with descriptions of ways to expand and implement mindfulness practices into a family’s life together. A few of the examples from this chapter include:

  • Guided meditations and visualizations at bedtime
  • Teaching children to put down the fork between bites at meals.
  • Using “finger hugs” (entwining fingers with your child) to help children feel more connected and grounded when it is a particularly busy moment
  • Have children practice “stealth compassion”: children send “secret happy wishes” to people they know

I quit highlighting and taking notes at this point in my reading because I was certain the pages would be ruined beyond readability if I continued.

With an amazing list of resources and references to support her writing, Dr. Carla Naumburg’s Ready, Set, Breathe is an incredible resource for parents everywhere. Her book is researched without being verbose, practical without being dry and aloof, as well as compassionate and sympathetic without being whiny and self-pitying. I recommend that parents purchase this book before their next breath, or at least before the next epic tantrum.

Ready, Set, Breathe: Practicing Mindfulness with Your Children for Fewer Meltdowns and a More Peaceful Family
New Harbinger Publications, December 2015
Paperback, 224 pages

Stan Rockwell, PsyD <![CDATA[Book Review: The Road to Calm Workbook]]> 2016-06-24T16:58:11Z 2016-06-30T00:56:50Z I am constantly looking for resources both for my counseling clients and for my taijiquan students that can help them manage anxiety, pain, and emotional regulation. Carolyn Daitch and Lissah […]]]>

I am constantly looking for resources both for my counseling clients and for my taijiquan students that can help them manage anxiety, pain, and emotional regulation. Carolyn Daitch and Lissah Lorberbaum have provided a wonderful resource with The Road to Calm Workbook. This work is a follow up to Daitch’s 2007 book, The Affect Regulation Toolbox, which was written for mental health professionals. The Road to Calm Workbook is for everyone.

The Road to Calm is very user friendly. The authors start with a quote from Viktor Frankl: “Between the stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” The authors take this to heart and put it into a practice that anyone can do.

The first part of the workbook is an excellent guide to getting to know yourself and how you manage your emotions. The authors begin by teaching us about the dynamics of emotional flooding, and immediately we get a chance to explore our relationship with feelings such as anger, fear and loneliness through questions and rating scales. We also learn the physiology that drives emotional flooding — how the brain acts and reacts and the effects on the body. We are guided through exercises that help us find where we are on the continuum of the stress response, from generalized anxiety to panic, obsessive compulsive problems, intermittent explosiveness, posttraumatic stress, and depression. We identify triggers, we identify ways that we handle relationships, and we begin to see patterns contributing to our distress. Each chapter has a summary of “take away points” to help us develop our own toolbox.

The second part teaches us how to regulate our emotions and stop the flooding. It begins with stress inoculation, something I first learned about many years ago in a workshop with Donald Meichenbaum. The procedure works well, and I have used it on myself and shared it with clients and students. The authors are very thorough in telling us how and why it works, and in a step-by-step guide, how to set it up to work for us. We learn breathing, creating a safe space, creating our own self affirmations, and the stress inoculation process itself. The authors also help us structure time so that we can practice daily and make it a part of our routine by employing one of the many helpful checklists in the workbook.

After all this preparation, we are ready to begin the STOP program. STOP stands for Scan your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and bodily sensations that indicate emotional flooding is either occurring or on its way; Take a time-out; Overcome initial flooding using fast-acting interventions to de-escalate runaway emotions; and Put the twelve tools in place. We learn how to put this into action, and then we learn the twelve tools, ranging from mindfulness with detached observation to self statements, heavy hands and heavy legs to juxtaposing two thoughts and feelings.

The workbook has lots of space for writing so you can deeply and thoughtfully put these tools into action. The book includes a CD with 36 guided exercises that take you through each step of the process. There are guides for dealing with specific stressors, like frustration, hopelessness and anger, or relationship stressors, like feelings of abandonment or betrayal, with the tools presented in the order that would be prescribed for that particular issue. For example, if you are worried, you can look at the tool-sets chart and see that for worry, you begin with Tool 1, mindfulness with detached observation, followed by Tool 3, dialing down reactivity, followed by Tool 11, postponement, and finishing with Tool 12, self statements. The chart also refers you to audio track 18 to guide you through the process. The audio tracks are very well done. Daitch talks you through each step while relaxing music plays.

The book ends with ways to help you consolidate and build on all of the work you have done in the workbook. And it has a list of online resources, books, audio resources, referrals to therapists, tables of the STOP process for typical problems, and additional blank inventory worksheets. To top things off, there is an app for your smart phone so that you can take your workbook with you wherever you go. Apps are downloaded at the app store for your phone. There is a free and a premium version.

This book is extremely well-thought-out and structured and is an excellent resource for anyone dealing with anxiety and all that goes with distress.

The Road to Calm Workbook: Life-changing Tools to Stop Runaway Emotions
W.W. Norton and Company, April 2016
Paperback, 224 pages

Claire Nana <![CDATA[Book Review: Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise]]> 2016-06-24T16:56:34Z 2016-06-29T17:12:25Z Have you ever wondered how great musicians, athletes, and writers become great? Maybe you have heard of the ten thousand hour rule (that to become exceptional at anything it takes […]]]>

Have you ever wondered how great musicians, athletes, and writers become great? Maybe you have heard of the ten thousand hour rule (that to become exceptional at anything it takes ten thousand hours of practice), and questioned if it was true.

Answers to questions like this and many more can be found in the new book, Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise, by Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool. In fact, while the ten thousand hour rule was made known by Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, Ericsson is actually the psychology professor who performed the studies.

And not only do Ericsson, whose work has been cited by numerous others, and Pool, who is a popular science writer with several other publications to his credit, dispel the misconceptions surrounding the rule, but they help us understand just what we need to be doing during those ten thousand hours to truly become exceptional.

It starts not just with practice, but purposeful practice. “Purposeful practice,” the authors write, “has several characteristics that set it apart from what we might call ‘naïve practice’ which is essentially just doing something repeatedly, and expecting that repetition alone will improve one’s performance.” Those characteristics — well defined and specific goals, focus, feedback, and getting out of our comfort zone — combine to move us past the usual place where we stop improving.

To prove the point, the authors introduce us to several examples of near freakish improvement, one of which is Steve Faloon, who worked with Ericsson to memorize strings of digits. By using Ericsson’s training methods, he was able to remember (and recite correctly) eighty-two random digits after only two hundred training sessions. Numerous other examples are cited from expert violinists, surgeons, and athletes — all who broke the mold of what was thought impossible.

And the reason they did, we are told, is because they refused to live in a world of “good enough.” Instead of lacking innate ability, or even capacity, what holds most people back, they write, “is that they are satisfied to live in a comfortable rut of homeostasis and never do the work that is required to get out of it.”

That work, of building our own potential and making things possible that were not before, begins with challenging our homeostasis, which means getting out of our comfort zone. But when we practice in a purposeful and deliberate way, we also develop highly sophisticated mental representations, which are mental structures that allow us to quickly take in vast amounts of information, organize it, recognize patterns, and even predict future outcomes. Mental representations, the authors tell us, are what allows surgeons to make lightning fast adjustments when the patient is on the table, chess masters to recognize patterns in a split second, and people like Steve Faloon to remember unthinkable amounts of numbers. And in a sort of feedback loop, the better our mental representations get, the better our practice becomes and more elaborate and well defined those representations are formed. Ultimately, mental representations take us from simply having the knowledge to having it organized in a way that is rapidly accessible.

But becoming great also means practicing in a way that clearly identifies what good performance is, what other experts do to be great, and what errors we make that keep us from reaching our potential. In short, we must move beyond simply putting in our ten thousand hours. Instead, we must start with the belief that our abilities are malleable and not limited by our genetically prescribed characteristics. Then we must look for ways to practice — especially what we are not so good at. We must focus on what we are doing, have clear goals, immediate feedback from an established mentor, and a way to measure our progress. And if we do all of these things, the authors remind us, that they “have found no limitations to the improvements that can be made with a particular type of practice.”

As engagement is one of the most powerful ways to improve the effectiveness of our performance, we can use shorter sessions with clearer goals. But we must know where we are falling short, and selectively look for ways to manufacture our own opportunities to improve. If we hit a plateau, which we likely will, the authors write, “the best way to move beyond it is to challenges your brain and your body in a new way.”

On the motivation to keep going when practice is tough, the authors tell us that those who maintain the grueling schedules that exceptional demands are not bestowed with a rare gift of grit or willpower. What motivation boils down to is a regimen that consistently strengthens the reasons to keep going, while weakening the reasons to stop.

Like Gladwell did in Outliers, Ericsson and Pool will have us rethinking our potential. But perhaps even more important, we will rethink what we need to break through our own barriers and realize our true capability. And because deliberate practice can open the door to a world of possibilities we may have been convinced were out of reach, there is no reason we shouldn’t open that door.

Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, April 2016
Hardcover, 336 Pages

Tamara Hill, MS <![CDATA[Book Review: Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies That Work]]> 2016-06-24T16:49:47Z 2016-06-28T17:11:29Z Bernard Golden, author of Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies that work, freely admits that his personal struggles with anger motivated him to write his book, advocate for individuals, and teach strategies […]]]>

Bernard Golden, author of Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies that work, freely admits that his personal struggles with anger motivated him to write his book, advocate for individuals, and teach strategies to overcome or cope with anger. One of the things I appreciate about Overcoming Destructive Anger is its simplicity. Although the first few chapters might seem redundant and simplistic to some, the author does a good job of maintaining reader interest while also educating.

Part I of the book provides a general overview and engages the reader in identifying various kinds of anger and the “mechanisms” by which anger becomes psychologically, emotionally, and even neurologically ingrained. For many people, anger is often fueled by the culture in which we are born and in which we develop. But Golden explains that anger is cemented into behavior because we learn (through our environment, cultural experiences, and upbringing) to express and view anger in certain ways. We also develop patterns of anger because we find that it can be a tool to get us what we want in certain situations.

As a result, anger is reinforced by the responses that others exhibit toward the angry person. For example, drivers will move into the next lane to avoid coming in contact with the hostile emotions of an angry fellow driver. The hostile person, sadly, “learns” that their feelings and behaviors gets the person what he or she ultimately wants. Golden further explains that anger blocks accountability, provides an adrenaline rush, and feels “comfortable” because change is difficult.

Part II of the book provides an overview of ways to cultivate change and mindfulness. Golden discusses mindfulness practices and self-compassion as ways to cope with and ultimately change destructive anger. Part III focuses on interpersonal relationships and ways to practice what is learned throughout the book in relationships that may have been negatively affected by out of control anger.

For some readers, Overcoming Destructive Anger might not resonate. One thing that concerns me about Golden’s book is how overly simplistic it can be in regards to teaching tools for anger management. For example, Golden says at the beginning that readers will learn about anger and then read about tools and strategies that can help someone manage their anger. However, it could feel like the strategies provided in Parts II and III are not sufficient to help control powerful emotions.

For an individual struggling with years of anger, it may be difficult to read Golden’s book and relate to the information on mindfulness, self-compassion, and self-awareness. It also may be difficult to see the difference between Golden’s book and any other self-help book on the same topic.

In addition, while Golden provides an easy-to-understand overview, we must be careful not to minimize (intentionally or unintentionally) the destructive nature of anger. Anger is a very powerful emotion that is often at the top of multiple layers of life experience, resentment, cultural and social influence, inaccurate perceptions or thinking errors, trauma, abuse, untreated mental health conditions, personality disorders, and a myriad other similar things.

Despite some of the above observations, Golden’s book is a good first start for readers who are new to the topic of anger and its impact on the sufferer. For instance, it would be very helpful for adolescents or teenagers needing to learn more about their own anger. Golden’s book is certainly one that I will add to my library and recommend to clients.

Overcoming Destructive Anger: Strategies That Work
Johns Hopkins University Press, June 2016
Paperback, 224 pages

Stephanie Kotelnicki <![CDATA[Book Review: The Art Of Risk]]> 2016-06-24T16:55:13Z 2016-06-28T02:52:58Z When I first read the title of Kayt Sukel’s The Art of Risk: The New Science Of Courage, Caution, and Chance, I’ll confess I had a mini adrenaline rush. After […]]]>

When I first read the title of Kayt Sukel’s The Art of Risk: The New Science Of Courage, Caution, and Chance, I’ll confess I had a mini adrenaline rush. After all, the topic of risk is exciting! The idea of a 288-page book dedicated to helping readers understand how to make more successful risky choices? Well, that is a read I can’t pass up! My excitement was short lived, however, after realizing that Sukel’s book more thoroughly explores human biology than how to improve your risk-taking abilities. The closest thing to “the art” of risk-taking is chalked up to a few points in the final chapter that could be easily summarized in a blog. This did come as a disappointment, but the analysis on risk was educational none the less.

Sukel’s desire to understand risk-taking is triggered by a whirlwind proposal, which is concisely laid out in her opening chapter. She candidly writes about adventure; her stories about swimming with sharks and climbing mountains are filled with more zest and life than can be found anywhere else in her book. But, Sukel’s descriptions turns melancholy when those days of adventure have been traded in for a mini-van, a residence in suburbia, and the responsibilities of being a newly single mother. As a reader, it was not hard to see why she was yearning to explore what risk means. Enter love! Sukel writes about the scars she carries from her first failed marriage and her hesitancy to enter a second marriage despite meeting a man she believes will suffice as a lifelong partner. Sukel admits they fell in love quickly and after only six weeks of dating, he proposed.

Because she has a child to consider, though, this swift proposal requires some serious reflection. “Do I consider the possibility of marrying again, especially so soon, even though my first trip down the aisle ended in such disaster? And how can I even begin to calculate how marriage, whether it fails or succeeds, may affect my child?” Sukel ponders. Coming full circle, these thoughts propel her forward into writing The Art of Risk.

But first, Sukel wonders, what is risk? Answering this question actually requires an entire chapter. While we could all easily Google the definition of risk, there is a point to Sukel’s madness. A fair look at risk, as Sukel’s later chapters confirm, requires exploring different definitions because risk is everywhere. Risk is defined by probabilities, outcomes, consequences, actions, end results, situations involving danger, and so on. It is both scientific and emotional. It is calculated and intuitive. Our desire to take risks is stimulated in different ways by different variables. It is prompted internally and externally. The verbiage for the economic definition of risk is not the same as the psychological definition. Although Sukel never quite puts forth a structured definition for the book, it is in analyzing what the definition should be leads her to the bulk of her book: What influences why we take risks?

Is it age? Gender? Experience? Emotion? Genes? Community? Turns out, the short answer to all of these things (and a few more) is yes, they do influence you! The heart of The Art of Risk, how and why, truly begins in Part II (of four). While the first section (“Risk and the Brain”) is heavy on medical terms, the succeeding chapters are worth the wait. The structure of almost every chapter is as follows: Introduce a new character, share case studies from experts in various fields, tie them back to character and self (Sukel). While the psychology and science talk is informative, it’s the character stories that pull at the heart strings and make every piece of data relatable.

However, despite each chapter offering exceptional research, I was left wondering three things. First, will there be a study that combines all predispositions that influence your risk-taking ability? For example, am I inherently more risky than an 80-year old man because I am a 30-year old woman? Or is it the other way around when two of those predispositions tend to even one another out?

Second, is there an art to risk taking? Sukel writes early on, “I use the word ‘art’ intentionally. Because the pervasive take away from much of this work is that human beings are pretty bad at making good (or, at least, rational) decisions when faced with risk. We are terrible calculating the actual probabilities of specific outcomes. We hate ambiguities the point where we just pretend it doesn’t exist. We would rather hear a good story than bother with a not-so-good reality.” I can’t help but wonder if she was looking for a good-story-fairy-tale-ending regardless of her research. By the end of the book there was no clear correlation between what she had learned and her big decision to get remarried. (Spoiler alert: She does accept the proposal.)

Finally, can risky behavior become addicting? My previous book review of Habits of a Happy Brain has me speculating that you can…. After all, risky behavior is tied to emotions, and people get into behavioral cycles all the time as a result of this connection. Consider those who are addicted to gambling. Or those who seek “the travel high.” I think back to my early twenties, when I volunteered abroad. During vacation time, I traveled the country alone — a risky decision that resulted in a feeling of personal triumph. Since that time, I frequently long for that same daring feeling.

Ultimately, The Art of Risk will not give you tips on truly becoming a better risk taker, but it will give you answers about why you may or may not be a high-risk, high-reward type of person. If nothing else, it might be worth reading just for that.

The Art Of Risk: The New Science Of Courage, Caution, and Chance
National Geographic Society, March 2016
Hardcover, 288 pages

Paula Lopez <![CDATA[Book Review: Trauma Is Really Strange]]> 2016-06-24T16:39:56Z 2016-06-27T17:17:40Z Steve Haines, in his 32-page comic, Trauma is Really Strange, provides easy-to-understand, useful information regarding how trauma affects the brain. The illustrations, done by Sophie Standing, are simple yet informative. […]]]>

Steve Haines, in his 32-page comic, Trauma is Really Strange, provides easy-to-understand, useful information regarding how trauma affects the brain. The illustrations, done by Sophie Standing, are simple yet informative. First, Haines points out that people can have a wide variety of reactions during and immediately after a trauma. Some are physiological responses, which include headache, muscle tension, stomachache, increased heart rate, exaggerated startle response, or shakiness. People who have suffered a trauma may also experience psychological responses, such as feeling outside their body or finding it hard to stay connected and focused on the present.

The main focus of the booklet is how people can use three statements for working with and overcoming trauma. The statements are: there is trauma, we can overcome trauma, and healing trauma is about meeting the body. These statements are derived from the work of Dr. David Berceli, the creator of Trauma Releasing Exercises (TRE). Dr. Berceli’s exercises help individuals release stress or tension as a result of difficult life circumstances, immediate or prolonged stressful situations, or traumatic life experiences.

In the first part of the booklet (There is Trauma), Haines describes that bad things happen. He describes trauma as being a single event or a period of events that overload our ability to cope, what he says is “being stressed to breaking point.” He further states that tension, stress, and developmental trauma should be seen as interconnected. Developmental trauma is especially important as it deeply affects children, whose growing brains are more vulnerable to trauma, and these early events leave deep imprints often resulting in a child feeling unsafe. How a person responded to early events in his/her life becomes the default in how they respond to future events. For example, if a person learned early to disappear when a stressor occurred, any future stressor will elicit the same response.

For example, if you feel unappreciated by your spouse, it may not actually be your spouse or the situation that is causing your feelings. It may be that the situation is a stimulus that elicits a conditioned response to a root cause, something that happened before; it may be a conditioned response to a traumatic memory.

In the second part of the booklet (We Can Overcome Trauma), Haines describes how we are wired to survive. Our bodies respond to an impending threat, danger, or fear with an initial rush of adrenaline and cortisol. Once these hormones peak, the cycle of activating the central nervous system into hyper arousal mode begins. However, if a person’s body is in a constant state of arousal due to trauma, this impacts the brain’s ability to make good decisions, to react appropriately, and even to think.

The limbic system is the structure of the brain concerned with arousal and emotion. When confronted with danger, the limbic system increases in activation of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that engages in executive functions, and the body mobilizes for flight, fight, or freeze. The limbic system also includes the amygdala, which is deep inside the brain, and the hippocampus, the main area involved with emotions. The cognitive portion of the brain (cerebral hemisphere) is shut down and the ability to process verbal information cannot be activated. When stress overwhelms normal coping mechanisms and the danger response is activated, key survival systems take over and non-essential systems are deactivated. Consequently, higher cognitive processes are non-essential in times of stress or trauma. For children who experience chronic trauma, the ongoing exposure to danger (whether it be real or perceived) takes a toll on the development of higher cognitive skills.

This is why it is so important to learn to understand and deal with trauma. The third half of booklet (Healing Trauma is About Meeting the Body) deals with this aspect. Haines encourages readers to learn to pay attention to their body and learn to self-regulate in order to rewire the brain. In order to accomplish this, a person needs to slowly develop the ability to self-regulate his/her body responses, much like a soda bottle and opening it slowly to relieve the pressure.

It is important to allow body sensations, feelings, and behavior to be slowly integrated so as not to produce arousal in the autonomic nervous system. A person who has experienced trauma demonstrates core deficits in the ability to regulate physiological and emotional expressions. The person may have difficulty understanding what he/she feels, where it comes from, how to cope with it, and how to express it. The person needs to feel safe and experience safety in order not to feel overwhelmed and be re-traumatized. Thus, by using the body and body sensations to regain a sense of safety and empowerment, the person will regain the ability to regulate arousal responses and access their cerebral functions to reorder and reintegrate their trauma experiences into an explicit and meaningful framework.

Trauma Is Really Strange
Singing Dragon, December 2015
Paperback, 32 pages

Dave Schultz <![CDATA[Book Review: Loaded: Money, Psychology & How to Get Ahead]]> 2016-06-24T16:52:52Z 2016-06-27T00:52:04Z Money is always lurking in your mind, right? We have so many emotions around money, and there are so many ways money affects us. We worry about not having enough, […]]]>

Money is always lurking in your mind, right? We have so many emotions around money, and there are so many ways money affects us. We worry about not having enough, how we spend it, and how much we need to save. We experience occasional guilt over purchases. We may use money as a way to feel good, or to atone for some fault, or to reward ourselves for some achievement. Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values explores our complex relationship with money and helps to unravel some of the twisted thoughts we have so money can more comfortably fit into our lives.

Loaded is a great book. It is part education, part story-telling, and part workbook. The author, Sarah Newcomb, PhD, tells us in her introduction about her upbringing and her studies in math, financial planning, and psychology. I have not thought much about how I came to think about money the way I do, and I expect that is true of many readers. But our parents or grandparents instilled certain attitudes in us that we may still exhibit today, for better or worse. Newcomb tells us that our relationship with money is a “social and cultural phenomenon,” and after reading her book, I must acknowledge that it is.

In the chapter titled “Money Messages,” Newcomb helps us to evaluate how we came to think about money the way we do. Some of our thinking may be clear to us, but there are also aspects we may give little thought to. She challenges us on our values about money. She makes us question our core beliefs and we are forced to think about where our attitudes or values came from.

Just think about some of the phrases we have heard (and used) over the years: “Money doesn’t grow on trees”, “You must think I am made of money”, and “A penny saved is a penny earned.” Did your parents say these to you? Another phrase, “Money is the root of all evil”, is very common, although those who earn even a moderate income may disagree with the thought. And even though the true Biblical quotation is, “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:10), we may still feel some guilt because we admit that we do love money (or at least like it a lot, or prefer it over its opposite, hating money).

In the great section, “Poverty, Privilege and Prejudice”, Newcomb discusses the social and psychological aspects of each. Poverty, of course, has many well-documented societal impacts, but the psychological aspects are also significant and affect our well-being. There is a story about a child who was so ashamed about his parents’ lack of money that he isolated himself from friendships in school and didn’t invite friends to his home. Although this could also be caused by other factors connected to not being proud of our parents or family, this is not an uncommon experience, and think of the lasting and widespread damage to people over time.

And many of us have opinions about privilege regardless of which side of society we are on. Humans have long divided their communities into haves and have nots. But even people who move from one side to the other, through education, hard work, or other reasons, often have difficulty becoming comfortable with their new persona.

You may be wondering where the title, Loaded, comes from. Aside from how “loaded” some of our money issues may be, Newcomb has devoted the final lengthy chapter to “The Loaded Budget,” in which she helps us to create a new type of budget. Forget the typical income and expense budgets, which track cash flow and make all expenditures seem bad. Newcomb has a different and valuable approach for budgeting. She discusses what makes an asset for us, including some possible surprises. She describes good debt vs. bad debt, but her concept of what constitutes a “need” is remarkable. We may think of a need as housing or a utility bill. She takes us into the psychology of how and why we spend and what we get from it.

Throughout the book, readers are directed to the workbook section, which includes self-assessments so we can personalize our situation using Newcomb’s questions. Numerous exercises follow those. Personally, I didn’t always like to do these worksheets, but it was helpful to put my thoughts into words.

I enjoyed this book and recommend it to others who are intrigued by money and its hold on us. You may be surprised, but also enlightened, by what you read.

Loaded: Money, Psychology, and How to Get Ahead without Leaving Your Values Behind
John Wiley & Sons, Inc., April 2016
Hardcover, 208 pages

Sophia Dembling <![CDATA[Book Review: Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls]]> 2016-06-24T16:37:34Z 2016-06-26T17:15:23Z In Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, psychologist Lisa Damour charts a course for parents through the turbulent seas of girls’ adolescence. Anyone who has, knows, or […]]]>

In Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood, psychologist Lisa Damour charts a course for parents through the turbulent seas of girls’ adolescence. Anyone who has, knows, or has been a teenage girl will recognize the girls Damour describes.

Damour presents the seven transitions teenage girls go through with a chapter dedicated to each: Parting with Childhood, Joining a New Tribe; Harnessing Emotions; Contending with Adult Authority; Planning for the Future; Entering the Romantic World; and Caring for Herself. Using research and anecdotes from her experience counseling girls and their parents, Damour provides concrete suggestions, including specific language, to help parents (or any adult) address the challenges of these transitions.

In discussing the painful push-pull girls put their parents through — one minute rolling their eyes and showing them the hand, the next reverting to the loving little girl parents yearn for — Damour uses a metaphor she admits is tortured and yet, she says, has been cited as helpful by many parents. She says, “Consider the metaphor in which your teenage daughter is a swimmer, you are the pool in which she swims, and the water is the broader world. Like any good swimmer, your daughter wants to be out playing, diving, or splashing around in the water. And, like any swimmer, she holds on to the edge of the pool to catch her breath after a rough lap or getting dunked too many times.”

Damour helps parents understand the best ways to provide guidance to teen girls, and the ways that will only get them the eye roll or the “veil of obedience,” when girls nod compliantly while internally checking out. She also points out that “Girls can listen and roll their eyes at the same time” and so parents will sometimes have to just talk through the eye roll (succinctly and nonjudgmentally).

Damour cautions parents to stay out of conflicts where their daughters hold all the power, such as schoolwork and food; adults can offer guidance here but cannot force a teen’s hand. She urges parents to consider whether they closely monitor their daughter’s online interactions because they think there is real risk she will do something dangerous or just because they can. She writes that the digital trail today’s teens leave means “we have a useful record of interactions that go poorly, but it also can mean we have too much access to what should be private communications among teenagers.”

She discusses not only ways to work through conflict with teenage daughters, but also the benefits of well-managed conflict to girls’ developing emotional intelligence. She addresses body image; bullying (from the perspectives of the daughter as the bullied and the bully); sexting and other forms of sexual expression; and risk-taking, from drinking to sex. Each chapter concludes with a section titled “When to worry,” and gives signs that girls might be showing more than the usual level of adolescent distress.

Untangled is highly readable and striking in its level of compassion and respect for both parents and girls. It should be helpful to parents struggling to guide their daughters through a difficult developmental stage even as they come to terms with letting go and allowing their almost-woman to find her own way to adulthood.

Untangled: Guiding Teenage Girls Through the Seven Transitions into Adulthood
New Haringer Publications, February 2016
Hardcover, 352 pages

Claire Nana <![CDATA[Book Review: Good Trouble]]> 2016-06-24T16:31:12Z 2016-06-26T02:26:07Z For those struggling with Asperger’s, there are arguably few inspiring memoirs. Joe Biel’s new self-published book, Good Trouble: Building A Successful Life & Business With Asperger’s, promises an uplifting tale […]]]>

For those struggling with Asperger’s, there are arguably few inspiring memoirs. Joe Biel’s new self-published book, Good Trouble: Building A Successful Life & Business With Asperger’s, promises an uplifting tale — and a way to turn your difficulties into superpowers — but it reads more like a laborious history of Biel’s publishing company, Microcosm.

Biel begins by describing his childhood as the son of second-generation immigrants who settled on the East side of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania during a time of rampant social and racial tension. Yet, while Biel writes, “The troubles started even before I born,” he later tells us that he “hardly knows anything about (his) parents.”

Without clarity about Biel’s early life, he then details his entrance into punk rock, shoplifting, avoiding people, and creating zines, which he never defines. When I researched the definition of a zine, I found the following:”A zine is most commonly a small-circulation, self-published work of original or appropriated texts and images usually reproduced via photocopier. A popular definition includes that circulation must be 1,000 or fewer, although in practice, the majority are produced in editions of fewer than 100, and profit is not the primary intent of publication. They are informed by anarchopunk and DIY ethos.”

Biel, however, does seem to recognize something of himself in zines. He writes, “Each zine offered what was uniquely missing in my immediate environment. A production that was proudly amateur, usually handmade, and always independent, espousing views that my middle finger alone couldn’t encapsulate and yet were rarely boring.” Again, although the world of zines seems fascinating, Biel fails to help us make the connection as to just what zines represent, or what those rarely boring views are.

Instead, Biel takes us on a history of developing his zine company, Microcosm Publishing, while struggling with Asperger’s, what appears to be severe drinking, and a less than palpable case of depression and loneliness. What we are left to wonder is not just how a zine publishing company works — Biel leaves out the details of how money is made — but who Joe Biel really is.

When Biel meets his future wife, Heather, we do begin to experience some of the relational difficulties those with Asperger’s often struggle with. When describing Heather, Biel writes, “She would insult me in front of them (my family) while also arguing with my friends. But she was also supportive of me in ways that my friends were not.” Later, Biel tells us that Heather breaks up with him, so he starts a new relationship with a co-worker and then writes a zine detailing his relationship with her. Biel’s continued hope that he and Heather will “rekindle (their) relationship” does help us understand possibly how frequently disconnected those with Asperger’s may feel, although Biel never makes this connection.

Disconnection arises again when Biel describes the success of his company. Biel says the success “was so extreme,” he begins to “feel guilty and even bad about it,” but then tells us that, “coming to work each day was always unique and exciting.” We are left to wonder how Biel really feels, and how much of his story is attributable to Asperger’s, because he quickly shifts back into an insentient history of Microcosm.

Later, when Biel is accused of sexual impropriety and seeks the help of a therapist, he seems to come to terms with some difficult lessons. “Boundaries,” he writes, “cannot protect you from everything.” And yet here again, as Biel details signing on with Independent Publishers Group and distributing his books to a larger audience, it is unclear just how Biel dealt with a seemingly false accusation while managing a large public company or while coping with Asperger’s.

Finally, upon bringing Microcosm to a healthy place and developing what appears to be a healthy relationship with a woman named Elly, Biel offers a revelation: “No amount of cognitive retraining can make me neurotypical. I still make mistakes and do or say things that come across as callous, but now I can avoid having a meltdown 95% of the time when someone questions my habits.”

While Good Trouble does explore Biel’s life, the dogged determination of a DIY self-publishing company, and the punk culture of zines, we are left to find our own insights and lessons about how to cope with the difficulties of living and working with Asperger’s.

Good Trouble: Building A Successful Life & Business With Asperger’s
Microcosm Publishing, March 2016
Paperback, 221 Pages

Bella DePaulo <![CDATA[Book Review: All the Single Ladies]]> 2016-06-24T16:24:48Z 2016-06-25T17:15:23Z Some books are not just books, they are events. Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation is among them. As I began […]]]>

Some books are not just books, they are events. Rebecca Traister’s All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation is among them. As I began writing this review, the book had been out for less than a week, and already it had been reviewed in the New York Times and many other major newspapers and magazines. Excerpts have already been published, and dozens of writers who were inspired by the book have written articles on the topic.

The attention is warranted. All the Single Ladies is a carefully researched and compellingly argued case for the significance of single women not just in 21st century America but in centuries past. Traister calls them “free women” and she is referring not just to those women who live single for life, but to women who live single for important parts of their lives. We know there are enough of such women today that the age at which women first marry (among those who do marry) has climbed to 27, but the single-woman demographic has been significant at other times, too.

When substantial numbers of women live outside the constraints of marriage, they do great things. Many of the most significant progressive victories in the US were powered in no small part by the efforts of single women. They include, for example, the abolition of slavery, the achievement of women’s right to vote, the invention of birth control, the founding of women’s colleges and colleges for African Americans, the beginnings of the labor movement, and victories for civil rights, LGBT rights, and women’s rights.

All the Single Ladies is even more than what it promises in the subtitle, which is to make the case for the role of unmarried women in “the rise of an independent nation.” Drawing from more than 100 interviews with single women, including a few famous ones such as Gloria Steinem and Anita Hill, as well as from her own life story, Traister has a lot to say about what it is like to live single in America. So, the book is also a journalistic account of single life. It is all of these other things, too:

  • It is a manifesto on the value of single life.
  • It is a rewriting of the story of single women and single mothers, from weak victims flailing around in a state of chaos to strong agents creating their own meaningful and rational life paths.
  • It is a thoughtful, fact-based, compelling answer to all the pundits, political leaders, political wannabes and all the other shamers who insist that marriage is the answer to poverty and so many other social problems.
  • It is that rare single-women narrative that acknowledges something significant: when it comes to important trends and accomplishments, often it was poor women, working class women, and women of color who got there first.
  • It is a decimation of the popular right-wing formula for success (graduate from high school, get married, have kids, and stay married).
  • It is a reclaiming of the value of the many pursuits that can make single life so meaningful, such as work, friendship, and solitude.
  • It is a powerful pinprick, bursting the bubbles of all sorts of moral panics (OMG, college kids these days are hooking up! OMG, single women are prioritizing their education and their careers! OMG, women are having babies without having husbands! OMG, women are not having babies, and that spells the end of America! OMG, women are not having babies soon enough, and their eggs are going to dry up!).
  • It is a fresh, feminist take on so many kerfuffles, media obsessions, and significant historical moments, from Anita Hill’s testimony about Clarence Thomas to the case of the Central Park jogger to Rush Limbaugh’s calling Sandra Fluke a slut.
  • It is a rewriting of history that brings single women out from the margins and into their rightful place at the center of social progress.

I have a special interest in All the Single Ladies because I have been thinking, researching, teaching, and writing about single life for nearly two decades. In fact, my first book, Singled Out: How Singles Are Stereotyped, Stigmatized, and Ignored, and Still Live Happily Ever After, was first published in 2006.

In Traister’s robustly positive take on single life and her perspective on marriage that avoids being matrimaniacal, All the Single Ladies fits very nicely in the tradition of Singled Out and other books before it, such as Kay Trimberger’s The New Single Woman and Jaclyn Geller’s Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique. However, I wish Traister had acknowledged more clearly her intellectual predecessors.

I have a few other reservations as well. For example, in a chapter on friendship, Traister writes one of the most beautiful odes to female friendship I have ever read, insisting that it is not some sorry substitute for romantic relationships but the real thing. Maybe even better than romantic relationships. But then she admits that after she got married, she demoted her friends. She didn’t have the same time for them anymore.

The chapter on work was another example. In Singled Out, I mocked the scare stories lobbed at single women telling them that their work won’t love them back. Traister does, too, and notes that actually, if you are lucky enough to have the right kind of work, your work will love you back. But then she adds this:

“The fact is, being married to your job for some portion or all of your life, even if it does in some way inhibit romantic prospects, is not necessarily a terrible fate, provided you are lucky enough to enjoy your work, or the money you earn at it, or the respect it garners you, or the people you do it with.”

Not necessarily a terrible fate? I think that may well be the faintest praise imaginable.

My reservations, though, are small stuff relative to my overwhelmingly enthusiastic appraisal of All the Single Ladies. This is one of those rare books that have the potential to make a real difference. It could wake up some political leaders to a powerful, but mostly overlooked, constituency. It could change the media narratives, from fluffy trend pieces and regressive pity-the-poor-single-person embarrassments, to much more serious stuff. And maybe it will create momentum toward accomplishing some of the goals Traister outlines in the Appendix. One of my favorites is this:

“We need to support alternative family structures, including cohabiting friends, people who live on their own and in clusters, people who parent with partners and without.”

In the course of research for my own How We Live Now: Redefining Home and Family in the 21st Century, I have found that fewer than 20 percent of American households are nuclear family households. It is time to take seriously all of the many ways that single women – and single men, and everyone else – actually live. All the Single Ladies is a superb contribution to what I hope will be a new social movement.

All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation
Simon & Schuster, March 2016
Hardcover, 352 pages

Tamara Hill, MS <![CDATA[Book Review: The Handy Psychology Answer Book ]]> 2016-06-24T16:22:23Z 2016-06-24T19:45:44Z Are you a student of psychology or interested in becoming one? Or are you an avid reader interested in psychology, social relationships, and complex concepts? What about a beginning therapist […]]]>

Are you a student of psychology or interested in becoming one? Or are you an avid reader interested in psychology, social relationships, and complex concepts? What about a beginning therapist or mental health professional? If so, Lisa J. Cohen’s The Handy Psychology Answer Book is for you. The book claims to provide 1,500 answers to the questions readers might ask about psychology.

One of the things I loved about studying psychology as a student and later as a beginning therapist is that there were so many mysteries, theories, and terminologies that challenged me to increase my knowledge and engage in research. But although I loved the challenge, I disliked the fact that I did not have access to resources that could offer a brief overview of some of the topics of psychology. With The Handy Psychology Answer Book, Cohen has made psychology topics accessible and interesting.

Cohen begins her book by explaining the usefulness of such a book and provides a brief overview of the basics of psychology, such as the history of psychology, theories and theorists, and important facts. The rest of the book includes topics focusing on culture and psychology, major movements throughout history, brain anatomy, psychological development, interpersonal relationships (i.e., love, marriage, parenting), concepts of social psychology (i.e., group dynamics), existential topics (i.e., motivation and everyday life), abnormal psychology (i.e., topics on mental health, behavior, personality), and forensic psychology (with a focus on mental illness and the law).

Cohen’s book provides a brief overview of important facts much like an encyclopedia does. It can be useful for graduating students taking the National Counselor Examination or similar exams and during internships and practicum experiences. For beginning therapists or other mental health professionals, this book can refresh your memory on topics essential to understanding psychology.

However, I am sad to say that for more experienced mental health professionals, the chapters on beginners’ theories may prove to be quite unstimulating. I found the most stimulating chapters were on brain anatomy, group dynamics and the public sphere, mental health and mental illness, the psychology of trauma, and forensic psychology. While reading these chapters, though, I noticed that the book seemed to lack statistics that may help shed light on certain topics. Also missing from these chapters were resources to continue learning about the topic.

For other readers, the book may seem somewhat biased because psychology is a very big topic and in order to make the book “readable,” the author had to choose certain topics to discuss and not discuss and certain topics to limit. There isn’t enough room in the book to cover the entire topic of trauma or mental illness and the law. In order to allow fair space for other topics, the author would have had to choose how much time to give to each section/chapter or topic.

Even more, in some ways, the description of the book can seem to exaggerate the real appeal of the book. For example, online descriptions regard the book as “fascinating” and “intriguing” with “fun factoids” that is written in a “lively, accessible, and engaging way.” While this may be true for some readers (primarily those beginning in the field of psychology), it may not be true for most readers (primarily those who are more experienced in the field of psychology). Personally, I did not find the book that engaging, but I attribute this to my many years in the field.

Despite some of the limitations, the book is easy to read, easy to understand, applicable to everyday life, and seems free of political influence and bias. It is a general overview of the field and the topics of psychology, which makes it a decent book to add to anyone’s library.

The Handy Psychology Answer Book, Second Edition.
Visible Ink Press, March 2016
Paperback, 544 pages

Niki Hilsabeck <![CDATA[Book Review: How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce]]> 2016-06-24T16:20:16Z 2016-06-24T16:20:16Z Although divorce is hardly a new phenomenon in our culture, it continues to have an impact on the many families struggling with its effects. From changing addresses to new schools […]]]>

Although divorce is hardly a new phenomenon in our culture, it continues to have an impact on the many families struggling with its effects. From changing addresses to new schools to separate living arrangements and financial upheaval, children often bear the brunt of the change that divorce brings. In How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce, Dr. Samantha Rodman offers a clear, consistent guide for parents looking to communicate in a positive manner when discussing divorce with their children.

Samantha Rodman clearly knows her stuff when it comes to divorce. As a clinical psychologist, the author of the popular website, and the writer of numerous online articles, Rodman helps couples deal with conflict on a daily basis. How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce speaks directly to those parents who wish to minimize the damage their children will suffer as they go through the process of divorce (and deal with the many changes in the years to come). By focusing on open, neutral, and consistent communication, Rodman guides parents through the process of talking with children at any age about the changes happening to their families.

Rodman addresses parents in every type of divorce situation from the amicable to the acrimonious, and the author provides strategies for co-parents (her preferred term over exes) to begin and navigate difficult conversations. Readers will find tips on breaking the news about the divorce to their children, as well as explaining custody changes and issues (even difficult ones), and helping children adjust to new partners.

The book has three sections: discussing divorce, specific advice for communicating at each “age and stage,” and dealing with new challenges. Throughout the book, the author stresses that it’s the parents’ responsibility to keep the communication age appropriate and neutral, particularly if there is conflict with the co-parent. Rodman includes advice for unique situations, such as when one parent is incarcerated or abuse is involved. The author reminds readers that although they might be feeling overwhelming animosity toward the co-parent, it’s important to respect the child’s love for his or her parents and to refrain from badmouthing the co-parent.

While reading this book, I was impressed with the author’s ability to champion the needs of children going through divorce while simultaneously sympathizing with the needs of the divorcing parents. The author encourages parents to maintain empathy for their children as well as their co-parents, and to speak directly to co-parents about issues that arise. Readers are also warned about the dangers of adults confiding in their children about their own feelings or putting children on the defensive by badmouthing the co-parent or new partner. Even if a child seems to be adjusting well and is agreeable to listening to a parent’s problems, Rodman stresses that confiding adult thoughts and feelings to children is inappropriate. Children who become their parents’ confidantes are at risk for having their own needs unmet and may have damaged views of intimate relationships between adults as a result of too much information from their parents.

As I read Rodman’s advice, I was frequently reminded of my own parents’ divorce, which took place at a time when divorce was becoming more common but was still new territory for many parents. Most of the author’s suggestions rang true for me, as I remember my parents making several of the mistakes Rodman describes.

There were only a couple of areas in the book that I thought could have been explored a bit deeper, one being specific advice on the use of social media (which has become a new frontier in relationship wars). I also wondered what the author would advise when children feel left behind if one of their parents re-marries and begins having additional children. New partners were discussed, but it was generally from the perspective of a positive relationship with the new partner. Although the author mentioned blended families (new step-siblings), I didn’t see anything about how to address the topic of the birth of new siblings, which sometimes comes quickly on the heels of a divorce and remarriage.

I would recommend this book for parents at any stage of a divorce, whether it is about to become a reality or happened years before but is still causing pain. The author does a great job of gently reminding readers that while they may be suffering through their own pain during a divorce, it’s important to put the children’s need for love and consistency first so they can adjust to their new normal and move on to develop healthy intimate relationships once they become adults.

How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for your Changing Family
Adams Media, September 2015
Paperback, 254 Pages

Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. <![CDATA[Summer, Teens and Alcohol]]> 2016-06-22T18:21:27Z 2016-06-23T17:15:22Z ]]> summer, teens and alcoholA teen I talked to recently was surprisingly candid about her summertime fun at the beach. “My friends and I have a special spot far from where families go and out of sight of the lifeguards. We’re not supposed to bring in alcohol,” she laughed, “but someone always manages to spike a watermelon or smuggle in a cooler of beer so we can party.”

She loves the sun — and alcohol-soaked afternoons. She loves the late-night gatherings under the stars. “We have our own place and our own friends and no one gives us a hard time about drinking.”

When I asked about parental supervision, she laughed some more. “It’s summer. No school. Our folks go to bed before we come home and go to work before we get up. As long as we get to our jobs and do a little around the house, parents don’t bother us.”

I wish the parents would “bother” them. Flying under the radar of adult supervision, these kids are drinking and they are drinking too much.

Many parents don’t talk to their kids about alcohol because they are unaware of how serious the problem is. Studies have shown that parents tend to underestimate their own children’s behavior around alcohol. One study showed that a significant number of parents surveyed believed that their kids’ friends would drink and drive but didn’t believe their own children would do so.

Another study showed that while 71 percent of the teens in the sample reported that they had been to places where other teens were drinking, only 54 percent of the parents were aware of it. And, according to a 2015 survey by the Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, about 1 in 7 teens binge drinks yet only 1 in 100 parents believes his or her own teen does it.

Parents can have more influence than they think they do. Parental monitoring matters. Talking proactively matters as well. If you have a child who is in the pre-teen years, it is not too early to start discussing alcohol-related behavior. If your child is already a teen, it’s never too late to have that conversation.

Here are some tips for dealing with teens and alcohol:

  • Get your head out of the beach sand.
    At least some of your kids’ friends are drinking. Your kids may be drinking, too. You won’t know unless you ask. Ask with sincere interest. Ask without judgment. Instead, express your concern about the statistics about teen alcohol use and the associated risks. Discuss your values and ask them about theirs. Talk about how they can resist the peer pressure that is an inevitable part of teen partying. Studies show that when approached calmly and reasonably about alcohol use and abuse, teens do take in what we’re trying to tell them.
  • Take an honest look at your own behavior around alcohol.
    Kids are not interested in talking to adults who they see as hypocrites. If your kids know you’ve made alcohol-related mistakes in the past, acknowledge them and talk to them about what you learned. If you are not in control of your own drinking, take seriously what you are modeling for your kids. Own up to it and get yourself into treatment.
  • Do not serve alcohol to your kids.
    Some parents think that if kids drink at home, they are better prepared to handle peer pressure. This idea may have appeal but is, in fact, a myth. Research has found that when parents permit teens to drink at home, the teens are more likely to drink when with their friends. Further, it can lead to problems with alcohol as adults.
  • Be interested in your kids’ day.
    Yes, summer is a time to relax. But it is not a time to relax interest and vigilance about what your kids are doing during unsupervised time. Lack of parent monitoring and worthwhile activity can lead to risky behavior or depression. Get the kids away from long hours alone or peers who are at loose ends. Help them find jobs (either paid or volunteer) or activities (sports leagues, camps, classes) that provide them with structure and direction. Such activities will both keep them productively occupied and will help build a resume for future applications to jobs or schools.
  • If your teen has a party:
    Make a no-alcohol policy. Contact the other parents and let them know that the party is a sober one. Tell them they will be called to pick up their teen if he or she shows up intoxicated or brings alcohol to the party. Several studies found that parents who supervise teen parties in their own home were less likely to report that their teen had ever come home intoxicated than parents who reported that they don’t supervise parties.
  • If your kid is invited to a party:
    Call the host parents to confirm that they will be present and that they will intervene if kids bring alcohol. One study showed that teens are less likely to drink when parents check to see if other parents will be present when their teens have a party in their home. If no adult will be present, find something else for your teen to do during the party time.
  • Agree on a safety plan.
    Make sure your teens always have a safe way home. Tell them that they should call you for a ride if they have had too much to drink or if the friend who was their ride home is too intoxicated to drive safely. Agree to pick them up with no questions asked and no angry scene. What’s important is that they stay safe. The next day is soon enough to review the rules.


Thomas Edwards <![CDATA[Making Room for Gray]]> 2016-06-18T19:40:22Z 2016-06-19T17:15:58Z ]]> making room for grayBeads of sweat rolled down Randy’s brow as he waited for someone to pick up his call.
 “Hello! Sexual assault victim hotline. How can I help you?”

“I am looking for help for rape victims,” Randy replied.

The hotline rep said, “Sorry, sir, the number for prevention is 800–”

Frustrated, Randy interrupted, “No, I’m not looking for info on prevention. I am the one who was raped.”

April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, comes and goes. My inbox, Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter accounts swell with stats, inspirational quotes, and articles concerning sexual assault assistance and prevention for women. My daily driving routes are canvassed with billboards displaying turquoise ribbons and hotline numbers for sexual assault victims.

It’s encouraging. It’s about time. However, my heart saddens as I reflect on male survivors like Randy and me. We are part of a statistic that reports 1 in 6 boys has been sexually victimized. Today, as a male survivor life coach, at various times my inbox explodes with 10-page emails from survivors searching for help as they attempt to reclaim their lives from the devastating aftermath of the sexual abuse that occurred years ago.

Feeling alone and isolated, many of us struggle to develop supportive male friendships, which are crucial to the healing journey. How do we begin to reclaim and restore this daunting black hole in our lives? How do we cope with such consuming loss?

I want to encourage men in this category to reclaim, build and develop friendships after the sexual abuse by following three concepts: making room for gray, locating and partnering with healthy, safe male friends and being open but not desperate.

No Room for Gray

The trauma of childhood sexual abuse not only complicates life, but adversely disrupts developmental life stages. As kids we first learn to interact with our world in black or white terms. It’s adorable at times. Never argue with a child who has learned that grass is green. No matter what form or color it comes in, dried, burned or pink filling an Easter basket, all grass is green. There are no shades of gray.

Now consider our abuse occurring during this childhood developmental stage, before our little brains have opportunity to grow, develop and experience different perspectives. We are stuck and frozen in a time continuum with one-or-the-other or black and white thinking. Our world partly becomes defined by the perceptions we held during the abusive experience. These perceptions, fueled by pain, guilt and shame, follow us into adulthood. As male survivors, no room for gray thinking often leads to lives devoid of supportive male relationships.

Drew sat in my office in tears. 
“Sharon is heading out the door with the kids if I don’t get a handle on this. She says it’s just too much for her to handle. I can’t figure out why. I am going to therapy twice a week. I let her know everything that’s going on, but that’s not enough. I thought perhaps getting coaching from you might help.”

In Drew’s world, the emotional baggage was too much for Sharon to bear. Drew had no male bonds or friendships outside their marriage, no safe, emotional connections with other men. He heavily relied on Sharon as his sole emotional dumping ground.

Although not consciously expressed, internally he held the belief that all men were abusing him. Since his perpetrator had been male, no men could really be trusted. Even when life presented opportunities for Drew to build safe, healthy male friendships he resisted. His self-sabotaging of male relationships was a defensive mechanism. It was a challenge to disbelieve that all grass is green. His fear of revictimization stifled attempts to connect, bond and build friendships with other men.

I can relate to Drew’s predicament as it used to be my plight as well. Others could recognize it, but I could not until I began taking the challenge.

Black or white challenge

Give this challenge a whirl. It’s a list of simple polar opposites. Simply identify and write down one word that accurately represents the middle ground. No pressure.

  • black and white
  • up and down
  • large and small
  • easy and hard
  • left and right
  • good and bad
  • fast and slow
  • near and far
  • happy and sad
  • clean and dirty
  • pass and fail
  • calm and anxious
  • loud and quiet
  • pass and fail
  • young and old
  • shy and outgoing

Did you find it difficult to produce words that were representative of gray language besides the usual drab words such as moderate, middle-aged, average, or normal? Using dichotomous black and white language is easier, more convenient and requires less emotional vulnerability and attachment. Often when listening to the abuse experiences of clients, I hear tons of dichotomous language. It shortens, sanitizes and minimizes their complicated and emotionally involved experience.

Having been there myself, I understand. Resorting to dichotomous words changes the truthful reality of our experience. It downplays the internal struggle to connect with the story. It’s easier to say, “I’m bad, no-good, a failure, lazy” than to admit my life has been affected by sexual abuse therefore making it difficult to emotionally bond with other men.

Making Room for Gray

My coaching motto is to “cause them to think and encourage them to act.” I never end a coaching session without encouraging movement and progression. How do we make more room for gray or balanced language and thinking in our lives, therefore increasing our ability to develop supportive male friendships? You have already started with the black or white challenge. Now let’s begin to put it into practice. Start by increasing your daily vocabulary. Not just any vocabulary, but your emotional connecting vocabulary. Challenge yourself to express your inner world without relying totally on dichotomous black or white words. For example:

“Frank, how are you doing today?”

Dichotomous answer looks like this: “I am sad.”

Open, colorful or gray language looks like this: “I am utterly confused about my masculinity and finding it challenging to really share what I’m thinking and feeling right now.”

Whoa! Don’t freak out! I know what you’re probably thinking. That’s scary! It takes time, but eventually you will progress to that level of connection, honesty and intimacy. If you had a safe, emotional connection with a friend, which language would be more rewarding — the dichotomous or gray and colorful language? Work at your ability to express emotionally connecting words instead of polar words. Attempt to be aware when you are in black or white thinking mode. In a journal, write down the situation and scenarios in which you used the dichotomous words. Step back and assess. What promoted usage of the words? What other gray or color words choices could you have used to improve your story?

This can be a powerful exercise in bringing awareness to our stories. Let me be vulnerable and share. I discovered that often I used black and white language around my male friends who were fanatical sports fans. It was a defensive mechanism to keep my inklings of not feeling masculine enough around them, because I was not fanatical about sports like them, masked.

Catching and correcting my dichotomous thinking began my transformation from unrealistic to more truthful and emotionally connecting life. I began to develop and find more supportive male friends by engaging the gray side of things.


Janet Singer <![CDATA[Can We Decide Not to Worry?]]> 2016-06-14T17:34:20Z 2016-06-16T17:45:32Z ]]> can we decide not to worry?I was an anxious child and an anxious teenager. After I graduated high school, I made a conscious choice not to worry. I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Enough worrying. I’m sick of it. You’re going to college. Relax and have a good time.” And I did. I didn’t worry about my grades (a big worry in high school even though my grades were great) or my social life, or anything, for that matter. I didn’t slack off; I just didn’t worry. It’s amazing, now that I think of it. How is it that I could stop worrying so easily?

My worrying and anxiety came back with a vengeance after going through a tragedy and learning a tough lesson. Bad things, horrible things, really do happen randomly, for no obvious reasons. The world is a dangerous place where things can go wrong, and so much is out of our control. And of course at that point I didn’t just worry about myself. I was fortunate to have so many people in my life whom I loved dearly, but that only led to more worry.

I worried constantly about my children, my husband, my entire family and my friends. So much stuff and so many people to worry about! When there was a lull in the action, when there were no pressing concerns, I worried that there was nothing to worry about. Seriously. I’d get an unsettled feeling and would actually search for things to agonize over. It’s what my brain had become used to; what it craved. And it was easy to do — worry was never far away.

Blogging about OCD and learning more about anxiety and neuroplasticity have helped me through my own journey with anxiety. Over the past several years I have again chosen not to worry. It hasn’t been as easy to follow through with this decision as it was when I was in college, but I’m trying, and more often than not, I have success. It’s not easy; in fact it’s a lot of hard work, but the payoff is huge.

Now I’m not for a minute suggesting that those with obsessive-compulsive disorder can just decide not to worry. I don’t have OCD, and I know it is likely that the severity of the worst anxiety I have ever felt might be nowhere near what OCD sufferers experience routinely. What I am saying is it is possible, for all of us, to change the way we think. If I can do it, others can too.

Some people can do it on their own, and others might need professional help. For those with OCD, the best thing they can do for themselves is to connect with an OCD specialist who is experienced with exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy. This type of cognitive-behavioral therapy will help retrain their brains. It’s not easy; in fact, it can be extremely difficult. But the hard work is so worth it and the payoff is huge: less worry, more time to actually enjoy life, and perhaps most important — freedom from OCD.