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Brain and Behavior

Subtle Tools of Unconscious Power

Embodied Cognition is a branch of neuroscience which explores the unconscious effects of touch (and other senses) on the mind and emotions.

Soft Things


Touching a "soft" article or texture has been linked to creating deeper states of kindness and social friendliness.1,2

Feeling a soft object (like a teddy bear) stimulates the motor cortex, which in turn stimulates the higher thought centers. The implications suggest that squeezing a rubber ball before (or during) a meeting, for example, could enhance a situation that requires social affiliation, relaxation, tolerance, or similar moods.
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Ethics & Morality

Spouses Who Volunteer Create Awesome Marriages

You cannot love someone maturely and try to control him (or her). The behaviors of both partners should be voluntary.

As you discuss the kind of life you want to have together, focus on what really fits for you. Ideally, before marriage, you will discuss how you would like to handle money, chores and responsibilities, parenting (or step-parenting) concerns, if applicable, where you want to live, and so on.
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Children and Teens

Talking to Your Children about the Threat of Nuclear War

On Nov. 29th, the Today Show reported on North Korea's latest ballistic missile launch and then my 13-year-old son Tommy asked, "Is North Korea going to bomb us? Mom, is this going to be our last Christmas?"

I was struck by Tommy's intelligence and lack of innocence in his startling inquiry. I was born in 1963, the year after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and grew up during the Cold War. But I would have never had the wherewithal to ask something such as this. Schools had stopped teaching duck and cover. I don't think I even knew in junior high what a nuclear bomb was. The only hint I had that these types of weapons existed was the fact that my older brother had a poster on his wall which offered advice about what to do if a nuke bomb went off. It said, "Bend over and kiss your ass goodbye."
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Children and Teens

How Parents Can Overcome the Consumerism Trap This Holiday Season

Consumerism and materialism can be challenging for parents as the holiday season is approaching.

Many people experience pressure to buy gifts, sometimes in excess of what they might be comfortably able to afford. Kids often have high expectations for receiving gifts based on how many gifts their friends are getting and messages from the media telling them that they need more and better.  

Without mindful awareness, we as parents can easily fall into the trap of going on automatic pilot and doing what we think we “should” do to keep up with societal expectations instead of making choices based on what is most meaningful to us.

Here are a few suggestions for how to step out of the consumerism trap this holiday season:
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Bullying

Victim Shaming and Blaming

With all the allegations coming to light about sexual abuse perpetrated by celebrities, including Harvey Weinstein (no relation to the author of this article), Roy Moore, Louie CK and Kevin Spacey, it seems timely to write an article, about supporting survivors, how to avoid victim shaming, even if it took years to speak up, ways to prevent abuse, as well as means to deal with disillusionment when our icons commit such crimes.

First and foremost is the acknowledgment that sexual assault, whether it comes in the form of words or touch, is about power and control. Sex is merely the vehicle of transmission. It dehumanizes. It steals sovereignty. It robs a person of their sense of safety in their own environment and their own skin. There is no ability to consent when someone has power over another, whether it is economic, legal or by virtue of having given birth to the victim.
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Ethics & Morality

What We Can Learn from Thanksgiving

There is a chill in the air (in New England anyway), we’ve “turned back” our clocks, and the fall foliage has peaked. This can only mean one thing -- Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, is fast-approaching. I love the simplicity surrounding the meaning of the holiday -- it began as a gathering to give thanks for the bounty of the harvest. Today, for many, it has become a day to be thankful for all our blessings.

I don’t believe the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians who celebrated the first Thanksgiving almost 400 years ago were aware of the health benefits of expressing gratitude (who knows, though, maybe they were?) but in recent years, studies have shown that taking time in our lives to express gratitude can indeed have major health benefits.
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Ethics & Morality

Podcast: Gabe & Vin (Probably) Rule the World

In this episode of the Psych Central Show, hosts Gabe Howard and Vincent M. Wales, inspired by the TV show, Kevin Probably Saves the World, discuss how exactly one would go about choosing a small number of people to help them rule the world. They discuss many of the different factors that should be considered when choosing the composition of a group, including the balance between the sexes, races, ideology, skill sets, and more. It also touches on nepotism, cronyism, and other personal biases, and examines the ways in which we come to agreements and reach decisions as a group. 
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Children and Teens

Can Parents Love Each Child the Same and Treat Them Differently?

Readers of a certain age may recall the sibling comedy team called The Smothers Brothers and the classic line Tommy delivered to Dick, “Mom always liked you best.” There are some who would tend to agree that parental preference contributed to their sense of self; either to their benefit or detriment.

Although parents may not love one child more than another, they may not always treat them the same since each is a unique individual. This topic came up in conversation recently with a parent of three boys. Each of these youngsters ranging from elementary to high school age, has a distinct personality, accompanied by challenges, exacerbated in part because of being part of a blended family in which the adults themselves came from backgrounds with varying parenting styles.
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Ethics & Morality

Gunning for a Solution

“There will certainly be a time for that policy discussion to take place, but that’s not the place we’re in at this moment,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.

And then she teared up at the horrific Las Vegas shooting.

I rolled my eyes--not because I am questioning Sanders’ sincerity. Like all of us, she is aghast at the latest senseless tragedy. But I roll my eyes--and chuckle ruefully--at the practiced condolences. American society: the equivalent of a Hallmark card.

We decry senseless gun violence in the most visceral of terms. Our Twitter feeds and Facebook post lament the latest tragedy. And following Vegas or Orlando or San Bernadino, we buy a cup of coffee for an appreciative stranger. We reaffirm -- at least temporarily -- our collective faith in humanity’s benevolence.
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Ethics & Morality

Pathologizing the President Reinforces Mental Illness Stigma

A large group of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, and other mental health workers have declared Donald Trump mentally ill and unfit to be president.

They don’t name the mental illness, or cite any specific behaviors that make him a threat to the country or constitution. They merely state that he is sick and call for his ouster.

“Duty to Warn” has the signatures of 60,000 mental health professionals, none of whom have assessed the president, on a petition calling for Trump’s removal due to “serious mental illness that renders him psychologically incapable of competently discharging the duties of President of the United States.” [Ed. - Actually, as we pointed out here back in August, this is simply a petition of 60,000 signatures -- NOT of ONLY mental health professionals. For context, there are 340+ million individuals in the United States. Psychology Today was pedaling its own version of "fake news."]

To take the petition at it’s word, it is not any deviant acts that disqualify Trump, but the mere fact that the undersigned believe he has a mental illness, and that alone disqualifies him. Many responsible people have serious mental illness that they manage, and they function very well. But they still have a serious mental illness. Would these doctors disqualify this group of patients from doing their jobs?
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Anger

The Las Vegas Shooting: A Therapist’s Perspective

In texting with my mother and sister about the mass shootings in Las Vegas, they shared their concerns, sadness and confusion. “Mental Illness?” my sister asked, as I am the professional… I suppose.

In my career I have worked with clients who have committed murder, who have had multiple cases of sexually assaulting young children or disabled victims, who have been witnesses to traumas of being held at gunpoint, sex trafficking, watching one parent shoot the other, incest by a parent. These are extreme cases and I wish I could say they are rare.

My reactions to mass shootings, the opioid drug epidemic, and other heart-wrenching situations that you wish were not reality, are extremely mixed. I have to react as a human being and as a therapist in the field. Maybe saying I “have to” is not accurate. In actuality, I am just internally torn.
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Anger

What You Can Do Before Anger Becomes Violence

When I heard about the violent attacks in Las Vegas, my heart sank. Why does this keep happening and what can we do to prevent it from happening again?

Awful things are happening with much more frequency. The sense of powerlessness with each tragedy can feel paralyzing. What can we do? Blaming and crucifying the perpetrator doesn't stop the violence. 

There are things that you can do. While you cannot control or prevent another person’s behavior you can help. First, pay attention to anyone in your life that's really struggling. Check in with them and listen. It's not your job to assess their mental state but notice what's happening. Not everyone suffering is in crisis, but don't be afraid to ask questions. If you have concerns, share them with their family. Don't stay quiet.
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