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Brain and Behavior

You Can’t Unlearn the Progress You’ve Made

I've been repeating to myself lately something my therapist said in our session last month: "You can't unlearn your progress."

Meaning, I can take a few steps backwards in my recovery from depression and anxiety, but that doesn't erase all the lessons, skills, and wisdom acquired in my past.

Those words are consoling to me the last three or so weeks as my boundaries crumble and I go back on promises I made myself not so long ago. I know that the footprints are going in the wrong direction, but I seem incapable of making myself turn around to walk toward healing. I'm afraid that I'll lose it all -- the knowledge, the insights, the discipline that I procured the last three or so years -- as my strides reverse.

My therapist swears I won't. And I'm holding her to her word.

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Submit Your Psychotherapy Stories

There are a ton of good stories out there about people's experiences with psychotherapy, and we want to feature them each week here on the World of Psychology. By shedding more light on the process of therapy, we believe it will make people more comfortable and perhaps get a better understanding of it.

So we're putting out a call for any and all psychotherapy stories -- from therapists, psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, clients and patients. If you have a story you want to tell and can do so in under 1,400 words, we're interested.

We're not looking (just) for salacious stories. We're looking for stories that show the personal nature of therapy, and how it can help people.

Read on for details...

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Bad Habits of Inconsiderate Doctors and Therapists

Most of us have had direct experience with seeing a doctor or therapist, whether it's for a checkup or some sort of problem we've identified. Some docs are a pleasure to see. I once had the kindest physician who was the epitome of an old-fashioned French country doctor. I'm not sure if he was my best doctor ever (he tended to treat my concerns with a "wait and see" attitude), but he certainly had a fantastic bedside manner and never kept me waiting more than a few minutes.

I appreciated that even more when I went to see my most recent doctor. He was far more gruff, business-like, and running more than 20 minutes late for our appointment. He didn't apologize for keeping me waiting, and while he listened to my family history with detached professionalism, he went through his canned speech about needing to exercise regularly and other kinds of things with the kind of empty delivery you find in a person who's said the same thing so many times it has lost all meaning.

Doctors and therapists both can keep bad habits, and they are the kinds of things that turn patients off from them. Patients rarely feel it's appropriate to address these bad habits directly with the doctor (especially if they intend to keep seeing them), so it was with some relief I came across Dr. Dominic Carone's blog entry about the "10 ways doctors can lose their patients."

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11 Ways to Help a Loved One in Denial

What if your friend, mother, sibling, or father-in-law is severely depressed but refuses to recognize it?

Most of us have been there at least once in our life: the awkward spot where you know a loved one has a mood disorder or drinking problem, but is too stubborn to admit it and to proud to get help. You might see the consequence his behavior is having on his children, his job, or his marriage, but he is blissfully blind or is in too much pain to see the truth.

What can you do, short of taking the person by his shoulders, shaking him, while screaming, “Wake the hell up and see what you are doing?!?”

It’s very complicated.

Because people are different.

Mood disorders vary.

And families are as unique as the illnesses themselves.

After doing a bit of research and consulting with a few mental health professionals, I have compiled this list of suggestions, to be read as merely that: suggestions.

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Therapists Don’t Dance, Do They?

About a month ago I attended a wedding in Sonoma, California. Before the ceremony, I made random small talk with one of the other guests. We covered occupation and connection to the bride and groom, moved on to comments about the beautiful setting, and then parted ways to continue with the obligatory mingling process.

Strangers’ responses to learning that I’m a therapist are varied, and it’s not uncommon for them to be loaded in some way or another. “You’re analyzing everything I say, aren’t you?” many people joke. “Mmhmm,” I’m tempted to respond, with a raised eyebrow and Mona Lisa grin. “Oh,” others murmur, before the conversation trails off into stilted silence and the person starts surreptitiously glancing over my shoulder for someone else to rescue them.

The wedding guest’s response to learning I’m a therapist was of the “Oh, that’s cool” variety. I didn’t think anything of it. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t really “analyze” anyone, let alone people I’ve just met.

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Brain and Behavior

The Idiot’s Guide to Dealing With Idiots


The world is full of them. How hard it is for us, non-idiots, to put up with them. But to get our jobs done, our kids fed, and our pets groomed, we must deal with them.

Idiots come in many shapes, forms, and types, but the ones that frustrate me the most are those who don’t believe in any form of mental illness. These creatures maintain that all mood disorders are cute, creative stories crafted by persons who enjoy obsessing, ruminating, and crying their eyes out... a wealthy bunch who can’t think of anything better to do than come up with a make-believe tale about a few neurons wandering around the limbic system afraid to ask for directions, just like Moses.

We must tune out the idiots to achieve any kind of sanity or serenity. But how? Here are four ways that have worked for me.

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Should You Share Your Therapist With a Friend?

I have a friend who lives by this cardinal rule: She will never ever work with a friend.

So when jobs surface in her company, or if she hears of an opening in her field, she only shares the information with non-friends. It’s just too messy, she explained to me the other day.

Having experienced a situation not too long ago that became just that -- messy -- I can understand her logic and applaud her for sticking by that rule. I am now much more careful about sharing work opportunities with close friends... in order to protect myself.

Should the same rule apply to therapy?

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Brain and Behavior

My Therapist Won’t Stop Yawning in Session

Psychotherapy is often described as an art as much as it is a science. The professional relationship between a therapist and their client can be a tricky one. Especially when it comes to bad habits of either the therapist or the client.

One of these bad habits is especially frustrating to clients -- a therapist's constant yawns during session. People often read into a yawn far more than what is usually meant -- or not meant -- by the behavior.

Part of the problem is yawning itself -- we don't really know why people yawn in the first place. So a person often will assume the worst -- "I'm boring him with what I'm talking about."

But that's often not the case.

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Finding a Male Therapist – Take Two

I had about 10 people forward me the New York Times article on the dwindling number of men going into counseling professions. Most of them know that male psychology is an area of special interest to me, and I'm also one of the only male therapists that they know. It has been interesting for me to learn that some controversy has emerged from the article, and the rationale for there being cause for alarm.

The article essentially made the case that if fewer men go into counseling professions, then fewer men may want to attend because they feel more comfortable talking about certain topics with other men.
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Getting the Love You Want, Over and Over Again

In his New York Times bestseller, Getting the Love Your Want, psychologist Harville Hendrix explains why people who grew up in homes -- well, a little like the one in the 2006 flick Little Miss Sunshine -- without proper emotional nurturing seek dysfunctional relationships as adults. He explains the low brain — our more reptilian thought process that can’t handle anything different than what it already knows and reverts to fear as its primary gear — and the new brain, the cerebral cortex that is conscious, alert, able to reason and think logically. He writes:
What we are doing, I have discovered from years of theoretical research and clinical observation, is looking for someone who has the predominant character traits of the people who raised us. Our old brain, trapped in the eternal now and having only a dim awareness of the outside world, is trying to re-create the environment of childhood. And the reason the old brain is trying to resurrect the past is not a matter of habit or blind compulsion but of a compelling need to heal old childhood wounds.
Some of you undoubtedly are thinking: “Oh puh-leaze, move on from the naval-gazing-it’s-my-mommy’s-fault theory.”

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10 Reasons Why Therapy May Not Be Working

A few months ago I was called to be an expert witness at the county court. Not my favorite thing to do. What makes it hard is the tendency lawyers have to ask complex questions and expect a "Yes" or "No" answer.

I have learned to slow myself down, detach myself from the process, and be absolutely truthful while remaining as unprovoked as possible. Otherwise it is an exhausting exercise.

One question did get me going, though. It revolved around whether or not a person can change and what causes a person in therapy to improve or not improve.

The conversation below is a dramatic re-enactment of real events...

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Interview with SAMHSA Administrator Pamela Hyde, JD

While at the Voice Awards, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat for a few minutes with the head of the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), Administrator Pamela Hyde, JD.

Ms. Hyde is an attorney and comes to SAMHSA with more than 30 years experience in management and consulting for public healthcare and human services agencies. She has served as a state mental health director, state human services director, city housing and human services director, as well as CEO of a private non-profit managed behavioral healthcare firm. You can learn more about Ms. Hyde here.

Dr. John Grohol: So I wanted to understand a little bit better how the Voice Awards originated. What was the motivation behind coming up with this novel sort of way of recognizing both consumers and Hollywood contributions to mental health and substance abuse issues?

Pamela Hyde:  Well, let me start by just saying SAMHSA's role in the federal government is to be the voice for people with mental health and substance abuse service needs and for people who might be at risk of those needs. So that means that part of our job is to try to educate the public and to try to provide information, provide materials, and just get the right information out.

So, as a part of that effort over the last many years, I think there's been a variety of ways of trying to do that, and there's no question that the entertainment industry has a profound impact on people's understanding and perceptions of lots of things.

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