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Brain and Behavior

Moving in the Right Direction: My New Role at Psych Central

Oprah Winfrey told the 1997 graduating class of Wellesley College that failure is God's way of saying "Excuse me, you're moving in the wrong direction." She also said that when you are doing what you were created to do, it should feel like breathing.

The talk show host was spot on with me because the last six months as a strategic communications consultant (whatever the hell that is) at a large consulting firm felt like 175 days of suffocation. The more I tried to fit in with all the Harvard MBAs, the more awkward I felt (as a theology major). The more I studied the various models of change management and how to direct a government agency from vision to implementation, the greater gap I felt between who I was and what I was doing for a steady paycheck.

I didn’t make a very good consultant because I’m too honest. I cannot sell something I don’t believe in. And my heart was nowhere in all those communications plans I was writing. All of my therapy and support groups have trained me how to teach a person to fish, instead of handing him grilled salmon on a plate … to get people to do things for themselves. Which isn’t exactly what your employer wants you to do: to give a client a list of reasons why they don’t need you and why they should save their money for more important things.

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Brain and Behavior

2 Simple Ways to Enhance Joy in Your Relationship

As a couple, when you're dealing with the many demands of day-to-day life, it can feel like the fun has been zapped from your relationship. But contrary to popular opinion, you don't necessarily have to do anything spectacular or pricey to bring the enjoyment back.

Below, Susan Heitler, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist in Denver who specializes in couples and author of The Power of Two: Secrets of a Strong & Loving Marriage, offers a simple 2-step plan to perk up your relationship.

1. Do a joy audit.

Ask yourself ”How much time are we devoting to doing things that we enjoy as a couple?”

Consider a further question. “How enjoyable are we making time together when the activity we need to do isn’t essentially fun?” For instance, you can easily turn “have-to” activities such as cleaning, cooking or running errands into enjoyable shared time, Heitler says.

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Think Like a Skeptic, Part 2

I was a presenter at the JP Fitness Summit in Kansas City in 2009, where I spoke about the importance of exercising skepticism in your life, whether you're a fitness expert or anyone else. You can read my first article on the topic here.

Here are some additional notes from my lecture at that event. I hope to be able to help readers understand the importance of relying on logic and how to do this more often in everyday life, and, in essence, how to think like a skeptic.

The Concise English Oxford Dictionary defines "logic" as the science of reasoning, proof, thinking or inference. In the structure of a logical argument, one or more premises leads to a conclusion (a conclusion that could be true even if the argument is invalid).

To sharpen critical thinking skills, it is important to identify logical fallacies. Here are some common examples...

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J. Raymond DePaulo, Jr. On Getting a Second Opinion

The following passage from J. Raymond DePaulo Jr.'s book, Understanding Depression, was helpful to me in knowing what to look for in a doctor, and when to go for a second (and third, and fourth, and fifth, and sixth, and seventh) opinion.

My comments on his advice are in parantheses.

The best patient care requires three components:

A well-trained, dependable clinician who knows what to do and is accessible to the patient;
A well-informed patient who actively participates in his or her care plan and follows it; and
A trusting alliance between doctor, patient, and family.

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Brain and Behavior

10 Forms of Twisted Thinking

Both David Burns (bestselling author of Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy and Abraham Low (founder of Recovery, Inc.) teach techniques to analyze negative thoughts (or identify distorted thinking -- what psychologists call "cognitive distortions") so to be able to disarm and defeat them.

Since Low's language is a bit out-dated, I list below Burns' "Ten Forms of Twisted Thinking," (adapted from his "Feeling Good" book, a classic read) categories of dangerous ruminations, that when identified and brought into your consciousness, lose their power over you.

1. All-or-nothing thinking (a.k.a. my brain and the Vatican's): You look at things in absolute, black-and-white categories.

2. Overgeneralization (also a favorite): You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

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3 Top Sources of Psychology Myths

In a recent interview I asked Scott Lilienfeld, the author of 50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology, about the sources of psychology myths.  Here's what he has to say about where psychology myths come from:
The primary source is the huge, burgeoning pop psychology industry: self-help books, the internet, films, TV shows, magazines, and the like. But many of these myths also spring from the allure of our everyday experience; many of these myths seem persuasive because they accord with our common sense intuitions. But these intuitions are often erroneous. The public can defend themselves against shams by becoming armed with accurate knowledge.
Many other fields -- not just psychology -- are subject to myths disseminated by the media.

So what are some of the top sources of psychology myths? Here are the top three...

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Best of Our Blogs: February 25, 2011

Tomorrow is an exciting day for us here at Psych Central. It will be the first time we're hosting a Live Event on Facebook with you and our four therapists: Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D. Kristina Randle, Ph.D., LCSW, Daniel J. Tomasulo, Ph.D., TEP, MFA, and Julie Hanks, MSW, LCSW, BCD.

You may recognize them from our Ask the Therapist feature, which allows anyone to get answers from the therapists for free. You can find out more about our therapists here.

This time all four therapists will be available to answer your questions on Facebook Live. Got questions about your current partner? Your friendship? Your career? You will have the chance to ask questions to the experts, get answers and interact with them Live.

Join us tomorrow on our Facebook page from 4:00 pm - 7:00 pm ET. Look out for my update and then let the questions begin.

Have a great weekend! And don't forget to enjoy our top posts of the week.

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How Abraham Lincoln Used Faith to Overcome Depression

Abraham Lincoln is a powerful mental health hero for me. Whenever I doubt that I can do anything meaningful in this life with a defective brain (and entire nervous system, actually, as well as the hormonal one), I simply pull out Joshua Wolf Shenk's classic, "Lincoln's Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness." Or I read the CliffsNotes version: the poignant essay, "Lincoln's Great Depression" that appeared in The Atlantic in October of 2005.

Every time I pick up pages from either the article or the book, I come away with new insights. This time I was intrigued by Lincoln's faith -- and how he read the Book of Job when he needed redirection.

I've excerpted the paragraphs below from the article on Lincoln's faith, and how he used it to manage his melancholy.

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Brain and Behavior

6 Steps to Living a Good, Happy and Long Life

Compassion. Gratitude. Conscientiousness. Being humble. A little stress to keep you energized and motivated. Using common sense. Hanging out with the people that are doing healthy things. Having a stable relationship.

You might think the secret to a long and happy life was hidden in a book or could be found by following that famous media guru, Oprah. The truth is, a long life and happiness are not obtained by doing extraordinary things or looking for that magical "dream job" (or dream spouse, for that matter).

Research has shown -- most recently by psychologists Friedman and Martin in The Longevity Project (2010) -- that getting to a long life is really just a combination of simple, everyday things and an approach to life that some might say emphasizes a sense of resiliency and openmindedness toward our fellow human beings.

You don't need even read a long book to understand the basic building blocks of a good, happy and long life. Five minutes of your time and this article will do just nicely.

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Eating Disorders Awareness Week: How Parents Can Help

This week is National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, which is sponsored by the National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA).

Like I said in my post on Weightless, I believe that awareness means spreading accurate information about eating disorders.

One of the biggest misconceptions is that parents cause eating disorders. They don’t!

In fact, many complex factors are involved in predisposing a person to an eating disorder. According to eating disorder specialist Sarah Ravin, Ph.D:
“…the development of an eating disorder is influenced very heavily by genetics, neurobiology, individual personality traits, and co-morbid disorders. Environment clearly plays a role in the development of eating disorders, but environment alone is not sufficient to cause them.”
(Check out her blog post for more.)

But while parents don’t cause eating disorders, they can make a difference in their child’s life by creating a safe, diet-free and nurturing environment.

As Kenneth L. Weiner, M.D., co-founder and CEO of the Eating Recovery Center, said recently:
“Because eating disorders are genetic, an individual who has a family history is much more likely to be sensitive to others’ words and actions surrounding food and body image. It’s important for families to talk about these deadly diseases and avoid behaviors and actions that could act as eating disorder triggers.”
Below Dr. Weiner and other eating disorder specialists from the Eating Recovery Center share some of the ways you can help your child. (I think these tips are relevant for all kids):
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Brain and Behavior

Cellphone Use May Increase Brain Activity

Brain studies get more interest in the media, because the brain is truly one of the last great unknowns of the human body. While our understanding of the brain has made great strides in the past few decades, we still have only very basic and rudimentary knowledge of this important organ. Honestly, researchers still aren't quite sure how the brain even works.

When you consider where we are with our understanding of the brain's basic functions, you have to take studies that use brain imagery with a healthy grain of salt. The consumption of sugar by the brain is thought to indicate important brain activity, but it's a correlational association that researchers have documented.

The latest "gee whiz!" brain study showed that when you put a muted cell phone next to someone's ear for 50 minutes while they were sitting in a positron emission tomography — or PET — scan machine. Even though the cell phone was on mute so the participants couldn't hear the phone call, there was a 7 percent increase in activity (as measured by blood glucose levels) in the area closest to the cell phone's antenna.

What does this mean?

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Brain and Behavior

The Two Worlds of Grief and Depression

Think back to the last time you suffered a major loss -- particularly the death of a friend, loved one, or family member. You were knocked for a loop, of course. You cried. You felt a piercing, painful sense of loss and longing. Maybe you felt like the best part of you had been ripped away forever.

You probably lost sleep, and didn’t feel much like eating. You may have felt this way for a few weeks, a few months, or even longer. All this belongs to the world of ordinary bereavement -- not of clinical depression.

Yet the two constructs of “normal grief” and major depression are a source of continued controversy and confusion -- and not just among the general public.

Many clinicians still find it hard to disentangle grief and depression, inspiring countless debates over “where to draw the line” between normality and psychopathology.

But the problem is not one of “fuzzy boundaries.” Grief and depression occupy two quite different psychological territories, and have vastly different implications with regard to outcome and treatment.

For example, ordinary grief is not a “disorder” and doesn’t require treatment; major depression is, and does. Unfortunately, the inner worlds of grief and depression are hardly glimpsed in the symptom check lists of our present diagnostic classification, the DSM-IV. And, alas, it’s not clear that the DSM-5 will bring great improvement in this regard.

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