Hello again after four months. I wish I had an excuse but I’m not going to lie I just was focused on some other things with work and family. For a long time I thought that being a counselor was one of those jobs that will not evolve much with technology because a counselor will have to always be present. I still believe this is true but not as much as I used to think was true.
For a few decades now we have had biofeedback for counseling. A person is hooked up to different medical devices that record biological processes like heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, or brain waves. The counselor then work a person through counseling skills and the client can see how their body reacts and then learn to control those body reactions to improve their coping skills. This was always interesting but not done a lot because of the cost involved. I thought this was it then technology has been catching up.
Virtual reality is one of the most interesting new options that could be involved in counseling. Putting a client through a virtual reality of a phobia could provide helpful desensitization for their fear until the fear is habituated and gone. Not only that, it could be used to help someone suffering from PTSD. The most effective treatment to this day involves talking through the past treatment in as much detail as possible. It is called Prolonged Exposure Therapy and is something I have done for a while in my practice because of how effective the results are. Now if we could program the trauma into the virtual reality and the counselor could walk the client through the trauma and have the client reprocess the trauma I am curious how effective that would be. This would require a lot of research at this time but it brings a lot of hope, in my opinion, to the future treatment of PTSD.
One small thing I do feel is helpful, and some of my clients have used, is an app on their phone. There are a number of apps that can be beneficial to many clients. One general app I have suggested involves meditation. There are a number of apps that help people learn to meditate and can be useful. The other app I have had some clients use is a mood tracker. This allows the person to input their general mood and make notes related to it being good or bad. Then I can look at it and see some trends or patterns that can be discussed in counseling. It allows us to figure out ways to structure their life outside of therapy to improve their mood.
A final piece of technology that was researched was a therapy-bot. A “bot” is a computer program that you essentially type to and it responds based on what you typed or said to the bot. A therapy-bot was created and tested based on CBT principles as that is a structured therapy mode that involves little individuality from the counselor. In a recent study the therapy-bot improved depression levels in 40 percent of the participants. That is not as high as an in-person counselor but still that can help a lot of people and if people get helped that is what every counselor wants in the end. Still a lot of time and energy is needed to research this but it is interesting nevertheless. Plus who knows what else will be developed for the counseling field in the next couple years and if it helps a person then I am all full it.
There is a podcast I enjoy. Actually I enjoy a number of podcasts but I am thinking of one in particular. They say they are a weekly podcast. In all actuality they release a new podcast about every six weeks. Each time they do they apologize and again say they plan to do it weekly. This always annoys me until I realized it is what I do with this blog. The best laid plans of mice and men and all that I guess. So this time I will not promise it is going to be weekly.
So one of the first things you will notice when you come into my office is what a huge nerd I am. You will see nerdy things from three areas I care about: comic books, sci-fi, and psychology. In the past I would have hid all these things and very few people would even be aware of the importance of these areas of my life. Thankfully we now live in a time where it is okay, even popular, to be a nerd. There are a couple main reasons why this has changed in my opinion. The show “The Big Band Theory” and all the recent, and future, comic books movies from Iron Man to the upcoming Batman V. Superman in a couple days.
There are still a couple things that confuse me and show me that geek culture has not moved as much as I would like though. Between the Marvel, DC, and if we add Star Wars movies billions of dollars have been spent on these movies and everyone has seen them or knows three other people who have. If Batman V. Superman is based on the classic “Dark Knight Returns” comic book from the 80’s as it seems to be why do people not read the comic then? People will ask if I go see the movie but when I ask them if they will read the book I get the oddest look. What is the difference? Why am I a nerd if I read the book but if I see the movie I am like everyone else?
Now I am going to put some of the blame on the comic book industry. Over the years I have tried a couple times to get my wife interested in comic books. She is very supportive of my enjoyment (probably too supportive) but she does not read any herself. The reason why is not because of her thinking they are for children (a lot I read would be rated R if they were a movie) but rather because they are not made for women. I can only think of two comic books from the main publishers out of dozens that have a strong female lead who is not about being sexy those being “Black Widow” and “Spider-Woman.” Ironically both are written by men. Even as we were watching the very enjoyable show “Agent Carter” on ABC, a Marvel studio show, my wife asked if Agent Carter has a book she could read and my answer was unfortunately “no.” I believe my wife wanted to read that because it was a strong, smart, female lead who was not just about sex. When you see on “The Big Bang Theory” jokes about no women in the comic store and the guys are shy when one shows up it is because women have no need to go to the store because nothing is made for them in the comics. Imagine any business that immediately cuts it’s demographic in half by not appealing to one sex.
The other problem with comic books is pricing. I do not know the last time I saw a child in my local comic book store. The average price for a book now is $4. What 10-year-old is going to spend all of their allowance on one or two books a week and have nothing else. You have to have a full-time, well-paid job, just to be able to regularly enjoy comic books. That also cuts the readership down quite a bit. When my parents were children a book might be 10-cents. Now it is $4. It is no surprise hundreds of thousands of copies of Superman were sold monthly in 1955. Now if you sell 50,000 you might be the best-selling book of the month.
What does this have to do with psychology? A couple things really. The first is how nice it is that I can be myself without as much judgement as their used to be. This allows me to be more comfortable in my life and when we do not have to hide who we are we usually are healthier. The other thing is, if you cannot tell, comic books are made for a person just like me. So when someone looks at me and does not understand why I like comics it is probably because comics are not made for them in mind. Maybe we need to all think about whom our comic books, movies, music, politicians, healthcare, and everything else are speaking and marketed to and if it is not us then why? Maybe that will make us see things from other people’s view who do not look, or live, exactly as we do.
It is always a hectic time around the holidays. Then with getting sick, my children apparently alternating who is sick each week, and the semester starting back up at DMACC I lost track of time. Well during this busy time I was able to watch “Making A Murderer” on Netflix. If you have watched it you know how engrossing this is and probably want to talk about it with everyone else you know who have watched it. If you have not it is the story of a man named Steve Avery. Steve was convicted in 1985 of rape and spent 18 years in prison. He was let out when he was found to be innocent and the police arrested him even though there was no evidence against him. Once he got out he was suing the Sheriff and DA and was going to win many millions of dollars from them. After this lawsuit went to depositions he was arrested for murder two weeks later. The majority of this 10-part documentary follows the murder case against him and if he did it or not. I will not spoil it for you but in case you plan to watch it, and you do not want to know anything at all, do not read any further.
For this blog post I do not plan to comment on whether I think Steve committed the murder or not. Part of the reason is based on some other reading I did about evidence that was not mentioned in the documentary. The documentary does make a strong case that he is not guilty and an even stronger case that the police did plant evidence against Steve and broke the law repeatedly to make him look guilty. I am not saying he is innocent I am just saying the police were so sure of his guilt they were willing to break numerous laws to make sure he was convicted of this horrible crime
The biggest concern I saw, that could hurt me or anyone, is the presumption of innocence. We are all taught “innocent until proven guilty” and we are taught that because it is in the constitution. I can state, without a doubt, if you are arrested you are guilty until proven innocent, and then still “kind of” guilty. I can sit here and say I will never commit a crime. I cannot sit here and say no one will accuse me of a crime and when that happens people will believe I, or anyone who is arrested, is guilty. In the Steve Avery murder case, 129 out of 130 prospective jurors stated they already felt Steve was guilty. This is not abnormal in court cases. So why do we still say the constitution says innocent until proven guilty when almost everyone believes you are guilty as soon as you are arrested? One of these has to give.
For a long time now psychologists have pointed out just exactly what is wrong with our trial system. We have made a strong case for decades about how unreliable eye witness testimony is and why we should no longer allow it in court. Psychologists have also made the case that trials should be videotaped and then any part the judge has ruled jurors should not see edited out since people cannot just “ignore” what is said because a judge told them to ignore it. There are a number of other issues that psychologists have proven be wrong with how we pick juries especially on death penalty cases in other states that have the death penalty.
I wish I had a good answer for you on this. There are a lot of changes that can and should be made to have people get a fair trial. The strange thing is most of these changes are actually in line with the constitution and not against it. So why do we keep the status quo? Why do we keep seeing people as guilty until innocent? Why do we keep the legal system stacked against the accused when the constitution says it is supposed to be stacked against the state? I do not know. I wish I did but as you can see the legal system does not always care about what scientists, including psychologists, have to say. I will say that it is scary though and no one can ever state they will not be accused of a crime so this could affect you or someone you love. Generally when that happens we see people starting to care about these issues but why not care now?
On October 21, 2015 we had a special day. It was Back to the Future day. If you missed this a couple weeks ago that can only mean one thing. You have no connection to media in any form and that tells me you are not able to read this anyways. In the movie Back to the Future II Marty McFly and Doc head 30 years into the future on October 21, 2015. In the media a couple weeks ago you saw a number of stories and comments about what they got right and what they got wrong in the media. What is surprising is a movie, a sequel, getting this much attention 30 years after it came out. The easy blog post would be something along the lines of whatever everyone else did which is to compare and contrast what they got right/wrong. That would be too easy in my opinion and I would have nothing special to say about it that has not already been said i.e. hover boards.
What I want to spend some time doing is imagining what it would be like to have another “self” come visit you from a different time on both sides of the equation. The psychology of this has never been discussed as far as I know and at this point it is all just for fun anyways as time travel does not happen (that we know about?!?!?!)
There are three possible scenarios I can think of that this would involve. The first scenario is being the “time traveler.” This would be the “me” sitting here right now stepping into a time machine. I feel, in this little thought experiment of ours, that this would be the easiest psychologically. If I went to the past I would already know what I look like from my current memory and what has happened for the most part. I feel like it would not be much different from looking at a home movie or photograph.
Now let us imagine the current “me” goes to the future to visit myself in 30 years. I would imagine that this would be a little more troublesome. I would be witnessing some things that have not come to be yet. I may be scared to find out what has happened to my life, my family, and the events that have transpired. Best case scenario though is how I already imagine the next 30 years to be in my life in a general way although that is also unlikely. As I think about this prospect I do not think I would take this option if it was presented. I feel psychologically it would be too damning. I feel I would come back to the present time and spend too much time agonizing over every single decision I make wondering if it leads to the good or the bad I saw in my future life. Knowing myself I think this would cause full on neurosis and that would not be worth it.
Now let’s switch it up. Now I am walking around one day when I’m a little older than I am now. Let’s make me 45 years old. I am at home and suddenly in walks myself at 25 years old. As I imagine this all I feel is shock but nothing more really. At least at first. I assume I would recognize myself like in the other scenario. This option does not seem so bad. I actually feel it would be worse for the self visiting from the past than my current 45 year old. Again, knowing myself as I do I believe I would actually spend my time reassuring my younger self that has visited that things will be okay.
Finally, the last option would be my 70 year old self going back in time to visit my 45 year old self in the “present.” Most likely I would not recognize that person immediately but may have a strong feeling that I know this person somehow. I do not feel this would be too bad for my current self except for curiosity. I, like previously, would want to know how my life has turned out and would want to know from my older self what I should do and not do for big events in my life. My older self will probably have been told not to tell my current self these things and I think my current self would understand this if told albeit still be very curious. I think this situation would be exciting and also very surreal.
So out of these four options I feel that psychologically visiting my future self would be worst followed by my young self visiting current me, then my old self visiting the current me, and the easiest would be my current self going back in time to visit the young me. If you see me let me know what you think. I hope you have enjoyed this semi-humorous attempt at the psychology of time travel.
P.S. When the day comes don’t go to the right…
As I type this I am looking at a room of about 30 college students that are taking their second psychology test of the semester. For many of them this is their first semester in college. It is an 8 am class on Tuesday/Thursday. To be here I can assume they woke up at 7 am on average. How many of them would we guess went to sleep at 10 pm last night? My guess would not be very high. How many of them realize that a good night’s sleep before the test matters more on how they will perform than staying up late and cramming for it? I did tell them this, to be fair, but I also know how college students work as I was one not too terribly long ago.
Sleep is one of those things that most of us have had a problem with at some point. For some of us we might have some insomnia the night before we start a new job or have a first date. For some other people insomnia can be debilitating and cause problems with every other part of their life. One example I give to emphasize the importance of sleep is that militaries use lack of sleep as a torture tactic. Our military used it down in Guantanamo to torture prisoners on the advice of psychologists. The American Psychological Association now has it as unethical for a psychologist to be a part of torture in anyway following this, and other, revelations.
As you can probably guess, or tell from your own life, to figure out one cause of insomnia is not really possible. At least not by me! One of the main causes of insomnia in our culture is related to screens. To explain why this is let me explain how our brain knows to sleep in the first place. Our sleep pattern has evolved to coincide with light and dark. For most of human history we fell asleep when it got dark and woke up with the light. Melatonin is a natural chemical our brain releases in response to darkness. Once melatonin is released in our brain we go to sleep. Unfortunately in the last few decades artificial light has become prevalent. Most light bulbs were fine because they were not the same spectrum of light as our sun. The problem began with screens though. Including phones, tablets, TV’s, computers, and any other screen that gives off light. The light they give off is in the same spectrum as our sun. This confuses our brain and makes it think it is still light out so our brain does not release melatonin. This would be okay if evolution works in a matter of a few decades but it does not.
In a recent study they separated people into two different groups. Both group participants were given the exact same book to read and were asked to read it 30 minutes before bed. One group was given the book in regular book form. The other group was given the book on an e-reader. What the researchers found was that the participants given the book on an e-reader took a significantly longer time to fall asleep and their sleep was not as good once they fell asleep as the group given the old fashion book to read.
Adults need between 7-9 hours of sleep every single night. You can get 6 hours rarely and 10 hours rarely and be okay. Anything below six or above 10 is never okay. I want to emphasize that this has to be every single night. It is not an average of the week. This means you cannot make up sleep or bank sleep on the weekends. The younger you are the more sleep you need though. Infants can sleep up to 18 hours per day. A few other habits to get into to help your sleep are to go to bed (and get up) the same time every day. Yes even weekends. You should also have a regular routine prior to bed. Those who have a TV in the bedroom have worse sleep than those that do not. Finally, if you are not falling asleep do not get out of bed. Stay in bed and rest because that rest is better for you than getting up and being active in the night. I know if you do these things your sleep will improve. It will take time and making a habit but it is well worth it.
Yes it has been awhile since I last updated this blog. With the recent holiday where I was able to go out of town to visit family, teaching at DMACC, and running my practice I got a little busy. Things are starting to settle now and be normal in professional life. That being said the house I am moving into is completed but there is no electricity to it as MidAmerican Energy is behind on their work all around. I am not an economics wiz but I assume that means that the economy is so good now that they cannot keep up with all the new projects.
What I have been thinking about a lot lately is diagnosis in mental health. When you go to your family physician they will tell you what you are diagnosed with including cancer, Type II diabetes, or just influenza. You expect to have a diagnosis when you go to your family physician. Yet when people come to see a mental health professional they so often either do not care about a diagnosis or they already have one in mind.
So why is this? I recently met a new client who has been in counseling before and has a long-term psychiatrist. I asked what his psychiatrist has diagnosed him with to help me narrow down my diagnosis. The client told me he was not diagnosed by his psychiatrist. Immediately I know the client was wrong. His psychiatrist did diagnosis him as all insurance companies require a clinical diagnosis for them to pay you for their services.
This is not an uncommon occurrence in mental health. When I do an evaluation and diagnosis someone, and yes I do always diagnosis, I always try to tell the person their diagnosis and explain it to them. This is a patient right and they should be well informed on treatment and their mental health. The only reason I can come up with why therapist and psychiatrists do not go over their diagnosis of the client is fear. They do not want to have to tell someone potentially sad news. I have had to tell parents their child has schizophrenia. That is not easy to do but in the field we do not do just what is "easy." If you do now know your diagnosis ask!
The other side of the coin is when people come in and say "My mom thinks I'm bipolar." My first question anymore is, "Where is your mother's psychology degree from?" Do not get me wrong. Family and friends can be great collaborative informers to diagnosis but I would assume they have never read the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders like us professionals have. It seems to me that Bipolar Disorder is the one families like to claim is the problem. When I ask why they say because they have mood swings. Let me say it here as "loud" as I can. Mood swings have NOTHING to do with Bipolar disorder. It is a very debilitating disorder. A common example I give is this: 49 weeks a year the person is just fine with no problems, two weeks a year they have major depressive episodes (can't eat, get out of bed, shower, and thinking of suicide), and one week a year they will have a manic episode (sleep two hours per night and not be tired, not be able to stop moving, spend $10,000 they do not have).
Diagnosis is very tricky which is why it takes a lot of education and practice to make it work. When someone says they can no longer focus most people think ADHD. In fact I can name a dozen different diagnoses that include lack of focus as a criteria. In my experience lack of focus is more often than not related to an anxiety or mood disorder and not ADHD. I am assuming most of your friends or family are not aware with it which is why they try to be helpful but remember "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." Diagnosis serves two purposes in modern psychology and psychiatric. The first I discussed was for insurance companies. The second purpose is for us providers. Diagnosis is no more than nomenclature for us. When I contact a psychiatrist I could spend a half-hour detailing every symptom my client presented with or I could spend two seconds and say "major depression with psychosis." We use diagnostic labels solely to provide a lot of general information between providers. That is it! So be informed, listen to your providers (you pay them for their knowledge), and do not care so much about your diagnosis anyways.
As a member of the American Counseling Association I get a monthly trade magazine called Counseling Today. The articles in this magazine fall somewhere between the popular magazine “Psychology Today” and journals such as “The Journal of Counseling and Development.” Each month I read Counseling Today and find some of the articles and studies to be somewhat helpful for my practice. This month one of the articles was extremely interesting due to personal reasons, which you will soon see why, but also for professional use.
I have two children. A boy who is two and a half and a ninth month old girl. They are the reason why I do everything I do. My son is getting closer to preschool and a lot of people ask me about ADHD, children, and what are normal behaviors per age group. Since child psychology is not my specialty I can give broad answers but in the recent article I found exact answers that I can now reference to anybody and use for myself. This post is intended to sum up the article that can be found here if you want the full article. The purpose is not for diagnosis either and if you think you child might have a problem I encourage you to get a professional assessment completed.
I think at some point every parent will think their toddler or young child has ADHD. Some teachers out there seem to believe every single child has ADHD while other teachers can be better at discriminating who does and does not but remember your child’s teacher is not qualified to diagnosis. Only therapists and psychiatrists are but they can be a very good source of information anyways. First off, children under six years old are not diagnosable. That means if your child is under six they cannot be diagnosed with ADHD even if actual symptoms are present. If symptoms are not present by the age of 12 then the will not develop ADHD and focus problems will be related to another issue. When a child has ADHD symptoms they need to be present for more than six months and in different areas of life. If they appear to have symptoms at school but not at home then it is not ADHD. It is something going on at school or vice versa. We also need it to be longer than six months consistently to make sure it is not just a developmental phase.
If a two year old does not stop jumping on the bed and throws a tantrum if stopped or a five year old who does not sit at the table for dinner every night is NOT ADHD. If a four year old says “no” a lot more and will not follow directions that is also NOT ADHD. A six year old in kindergarten cannot stay in her desk for 30 minutes during a lesson is NOT AHDH. Here are you guidelines for realistic attention levels when you are watching your children as a parent, grandparent, or teacher:
This means that they can stay focused on one activity like a book, tv show, or a toy. I also will point out that they are NOT expected to stay still during this activities. If they stay on the activity but jump around or move around on the couch that is perfectly normal behavior!
If these criteria are not met and ADHD is still expected a therapist will tell you that parenting is the next course of action. A diagnosis will NOT be made without consistent behavioral medication techniques on the parent’s part. This means parents will need to be educated on a parenting plan and required to implement it at home consistently for many months. Then if a child has still not responded professional ADHD treatments should be considered. Unfortunately this is a factor many parents seem to “forget” as do child therapists as well.
Finally, if you still think your child may have ADHD because he is well below the focus time lines listed above, it’s lasted for more than six months at school and home, and you have tried consistent parenting techniques for six months it may be time to get a professional evaluation. Some other behaviors that will be look at with the child are: putting their self in danger (trying to jump off second story boundaries, or jumping entire flights of stairs while jumping off couches/four stairs is fine), being physically aggressive to others, cannot make/keep friends or other parents consistently cancel play dates, or extreme positive/negative reactions to minor events (do not get yogurt and the tantrum lasts one hour even with appropriate parental redirection and behavioral modification techniques during that hour.
Hopefully now you will be more educated with your own children if someone tells you your child has ADHD because your toddler keeps running around and cannot stay focused. You can now be an educated health care receiver and stand up for you and your child’s rights. If you think there is still something clinical going on contact me and I will refer you to some excellent child therapists.
As I am writing this I am four hours removed from teaching my first class at Des Moines Area Community College (DMACC). This semester I am teaching Intro to Psychology. This is anyone’s first real course into the topic and field of psychology. Because of this it is a broad overview of psychology in general as most people, even in the field, do not realize how big an academic area of study psychology is. It includes therapy, personality theory, research, social, evolution, biology/chemistry of the brain, industrial/organizational, forensics, behavioral economics, cognition, memory, language, and that is just some of the main areas!
Due to this some people who may have been interested in psychology because of the idea of abnormal psychology are turned off to it in intro to psych because we teach overviews of all areas. I hope anyone that is turned off in intro because they expected one specific area continues because, in time, you will get to study that area of psychology.
I had never taught at DMACC before and was not quite sure what to expect. It is a community college but it is also the fourth largest college in the state and has athletics, dorms, a huge physical campus, and everything else you might expect from a four-year university. When I asked my class today “How many is this your first college course” it seemed maybe three-quarters of the 30 students raised their hands. Since the course is at 8 am and started the first day of the year I was their first experience with academics in a college setting. That may be scarier for me than them!
There were some things I found surreal about teaching though. When I would start discussing a concept in psychology I would suddenly see pens writing and people typing on their computers. It made me think about my time in school when I would look at the professor and see them as the expert and I had to ask myself “Do they see me as an expert.” This hits on my theory that all adults feel like they are about 17 years old and that they are going to be “found out.” Found out by who, or why, I do not know but just that feeling. I still do not see me as an expert at all so I found that to be an odd feeling earlier today.
What I found most exciting about today was how the students were excited. Yes it was an 8 am class and when you are 18 that is about the worst time for a class. They still appeared to be interested and actually care about the field that I love so dearly. In some ways I think their excitement was contagious and transferred to me. I know this because today was the first time in my academic life I sat in a classroom and when the clock told me class was over I did not want it to be! I wanted to keep going.
Today I loved it. Will I next Tuesday? I don’t know but I think I will. Will I next semester, next year, or in 10 years? I cannot say. One thing I hope does not happen is that it becomes “just a job.” I feel if I ever wake up and see that I look at it like just another job or chore I will have to quit. The students I saw were mostly excited to be at class (although not at 8 am) and wanted to learn. If I cannot provide them that opportunity that they are paying a lot of money for then someone else should take my place who can. Well now it’s time for me to go prepare next week’s lessons!
It’s that time of year again. We can smell sweat, body odor, and muscle rub. We hear whistles in the distance and ever sports channel is gearing up. That’s right it is time for football. In the fall you can find me on Saturday’s cheering on our beloved Hawkeyes. On Sunday’s you will find me watching any of the pro games but the Colts trump everyone else. Throughout the year I will log more hours on Madden than I would care to ever admit. My wife will also tell you I suddenly am on the computer more as well because I’m research and adjusting my fantasy football team throughout the week. I’ve already been contemplating who I will draft first this year depending on my draft pick. I love football. Despite all this my son will never play football (unless he is a kicker).
As much as I love football I love my son more. That is why he will not play at any level in football. The reason being is that his brain is too important for any game that exists in the world. No matter how much the NFL has worked to cover it up brain injuries are the standard for football. If you don’t believe me read “League of Denial” and see how much time and money the NFL has spent to cover up science in brain injuries. The worst case scenario is Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy or CTE. This is a fancy medical term that means brain damage due to recurring trauma. The majority of pro football players will develop this to one degree or another. Autopsy’s in college football players have found it as well. Imagine someone who is 80 years old with Alzheimer’s. It acts very similar but you have it starting as early as 20 years old. At this point there is no treatment, cure, or fix of any sort. When you have it you get to just watch it worsen until you die or you commit suicide like so many ex-football players.
There is no safety equipment that can prevent this. No matter what they tell you about the helmet they are putting on your child it will not prevent this in any way. It’s a simple matter of physics. Imagine your brain as a Jell-O mold floating in a suspension inside your head. When your head hits an immovable object your head stops but your brain, floating inside, does not and slams into the inside of your skull, then reverses, and repeats until the energy of the hit has been dissipated. There is no helmet that holds your brain in place. In fact the makers of the helmets admit this and will tell you all they really do is prevent skull fractures.
So now that we all remember middle school physics and why no helmet can protect your child’s brain let’s talk about what happens next. Almost everyone will get a concussion at some point in your life and this usually leaves no long-term damage. The problem with football is not that a child gets a concussion. That by itself does not matter but there are a couple other factors that do matter. They get one concussion but their coaches still want them to play because a game is more important than a child’s brain right? This does not allow the brain to heal while it still takes continued hits. A second concussion before the first is healed is extremely damaging. Here is the thing though. CTE is not caused by any certain number of concussions as long as they are properly healed. The research is showing that CTE is caused by repetitive impact hits to the head. This is the type of hit that each player has 100 times in each practice and 200 times in each game. Hits that players do not even notice at this point because they do not result in concussions. A very conservative estimate for a high school player would be almost 10,000 hits each football season. Maybe now you see how those little hits can add up. By the time pee – wee football first begins and a child turns 18 they can have over 100,000 hits to their head. Throw in a couple concussions that did not fully heal and that is when we find an 18 year with the brain of a 75 year old who is in the beginning stage Alzheimer’s.
Now you see why my son will never play football. In fact I do not know anyone who works in the field of the brain/mind that will let their children play football. To be fair we see the effects of this, and the research in it, on a more regular basis than people not our field. I will not go so far to say that we should outlaw football. Although it seems unfair that parents put their kids into this and the children have no choice or information in what it can do for them their entire life. If I chose in my 30’s to go play then I would be at least making an informed decision. Now that you have read this you probably will never let your kid play another snap of football. That’s okay though because by doing that you will get to see them grow up healthier and happier for their entire lifetime and isn’t that what we all want for our children?
A lot of people are confused about the different professionals in the mental health field and what each of them can or cannot do. I do not mean that only people outside of the people are confused but also professionals in the field. The purpose of this post is to clear up some of this confusion for the “main players” in mental health although this is by no means a comprehensive list either. There are roles I have not listed that can be just as important or more so even. Hope this helps clear things up for you and where you need to go for what you need.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor. They go to medical school just like surgeons or family physicians except their residency after medical school is in psychiatry. A psychiatrist is able to do talk therapy but usually this is minimal in modern day due to the demand on psychiatrists. They will prescribe your psychotropic medications and manage the medication aspect of mental health. A psychiatrist is also trained in electroconvulsive therapy, psychosurgery ie deep brain stimulation, or transcranial magnetic stimulation.
There are also Physician Assistants (PA’s) and Nurse Practitioners (ARNP’s). A PA is essentially a Master’s degree in medical school. They can prescribe medications but only under the supervision of a medical doctor. An ARNP is the equivalent of a Master’s degree in Nursing. They can prescribe medications and work independently unlike a PA.
A psychologist is a person who got a Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology. This means they spent roughly five years post-college in graduate courses. They go on to write a dissertation which is a piece of original thought/research that has not been done before. These can be 150-500 pages in length. During this time they also do a year-long full-time internship in the mental health field. Most psychologists do talk therapy but they also do more research and teaching. Their knowledge in therapy is deeper and more advanced. A psychologist is also required to do most psychological testing like personality tests and intelligence tests. These are rarely done anymore due to insurance companies not covering this but if you need this done a psychologist is who you would try to find.
A therapist and counselor are basically acronyms. In fact some psychologists will also call themselves therapists or counselors as well. Although a therapist (like myself) cannot call myself a psychologist. Usually this is someone who received their Master's Degree in counseling or psychology and completed an internship in the field. My degree is in clinical psychology and my internship was in a mental health clinic in Chicago conducting therapy session. Most states also require two years post graduate supervision for them to get licensed to practice independently. During those two years they need supervision from a licensed therapist. In Iowa we are called Licensed Mental Health Counselors (LMHC) although this will change state by state. They will do your stereotypical talk therapy. The only main difference is that counselors will mostly address current problems and try to find solutions while therapists will go into the past or deeper into your mental health issues although this line continues to be very fine.
Finally you will find social workers. They have a Master's Degree in social work. They then have a practicum in the field. They also have to have two years post graduate supervised experienced to become licensed. In Iowa that would be an LISW but that also changes by state. The difference between a social worker and therapist is that a therapist takes all their graduate courses in diagnosis, counseling skills, testing, and psychological theories/treatment. Social workers will get training in diagnosis and counseling skills. They will also get classes on case management, grant writing, lobbying congress, and management skills which I did not receive in my graduate program. Where a therapist like myself is focused on one small part of the field (therapy) social workers get a broader view and are able to do more because of that. They will help find resources in the community for people and work in hospital settings. They are also able to work in shelters and things like that which would be out of my abilities.
Hopefully now you will have a better idea of what is going on when we have these letters behind your name. This will also explain why you may only get 10 minutes with your psychiatrist who writes your prescription but an hour with me but no medication. My goal is this helps you become a more educated person in your healthcare.
P.S. I was recently on Insight on Business on KRNT 1350 discussing the business of mental health. If you would like to listen to that spot here is a link. This is a picture of me taken during my spot on the radio.
August 3, 2015
This morning I went to the YMCA to work out for a little bit. Ideally I would do this 5-6 days a week. I try to hit 4 days a week as a realistic goal. Last week I went once! Right not this probably sounds like a lot of you out there reading this…or maybe all three of you who read this! I feel I am not alone in my struggles to get the exercise I need and that we all need. Recently I have been reading more and more in my trade publications that therapists should be prescribing exercise to all their clients. One author went as far as to say that any therapist who does not recommend exercise is being unethical. That may be an extreme but not by much.
Yes exercise is extremely important. I have been a member of the YMCA for about the past year going fairly regularly as you already know. I have not lost any weight through doing that. What I have found are benefits to my mental health. The weeks I hit my four times goal I seem to have more energy, more motivation, sleep better, and feel healthier mentally. There is enough research out there to know that this is not a coincidence for me nor would it be for you. So if everyone feels better after exercising why are we not all doing it each day? Well first off it kind of sucks. Lifting heavy things and moving repeatedly in a running motion for 30 minutes is not really exciting. For me there is also the hassle of dealing with packing my gym bag, making sure I have time to shower afterwards, and trying not to smell like sweat for my clients the rest of the day. There is also the expense of exercise and not just a gym membership. Having the right shoes, the cost of the time to exercise, any injuries if you are like me, and music to listen to as you run of course.
Why has exercise even become a thing in the last 40 years? As Ron Burgundy said “I’m trying a new thing called yogging. Jogging or Yogging I’m not quite sure how it’s pronounced.” The reason I have come up for us needing to proactively exercise is that we are not getting it in our daily life. Prior to the advent of vehicles we had to use our own power to get everywhere so why would we need to take a run if we walked 10 miles a day already. Then we had cars but we were still more active in our nights and weekends because we did not have as much TV or electrical devices taking our attention. Even when I was growing up I didn’t have to exercise because I played outside with friends as much as I could. Now the NFL has to have a program to get kids to go outside and play for 60 minutes a day called “Play 60.” You have probably seen the ads for it a lot because this is America and we all love watching football. When I was a kid you know what I would have called 60 minutes of play a day? A boring, horrible day because I need at least three hours of play!
So what is my suggestion for you to start exercising for all the benefits it brings? Try to make it your own. I believe that the influx of all these 5k runs where you run for a charity, or through mud, or get color on you, or at night, etc is just because people need a reason to run. Everyone knows you can go run 5k for free anytime and if you need someone to throw color at you I can volunteer for free! This is also the same reason for all the 13.1 and 26.2 stickers on cars for the half-marathon and full-marathon. (By the way those stickers are a huge pet peeve of mine). One study found that audiobooks, that you only listen to at the gym while exercising and nowhere else, are a major incentive to get people to exercise more. Make everything exercise. As long as it gets your heart rate up and you moving it is exercise. Go for a walk, play catch with your children, go to the driving range, or walk your dog. Whatever you do make it exercise and your brain will thank you. If you have children set the good example now because if they see you on the couch all night, every night, then do not be surprised when they do that too.
July 23, 2015
I love science. I cannot get enough information on science even though I do not understand most of it. I listen to Neil Degrasse Tyson’s podcast and just read his book “Death by Black Hole.” When I have some free time I usually spend it on Reddit and one of my most frequently viewed subreddit is about science. Do you want to know why you can read this post on your computer, tablet, or phone? Well it is because of physics. The knowledge to make “1’s and 0’s” turn into Netflix shows is based on physics as well as that electron field between the two pieces of glass on your smart phone that allow you to “touch” it. We as a society love science even if we do not know it. It is not only for the internet or our Iphones. Sciences is what makes our cars go each day. It is also what makes the roads safe to drive and the bridges from collapsing under us. We also love science when it brings us television that is beamed down from satellites in space and when we are able to get pictures of Pluto from a satellite launched 10 years ago that is now only 7500 miles away from Pluto. Why do we love science then but suddenly get very angry, hate it, and question it when it is something we do not believe in? I am not talking about religion but something like when I tell a person that spanking children does not stop the behaviors. I have heard people give the argument, when they do not believe the science that “it’s just a theory” or “statistics can be made to say what you want” but they never say the science that allow you to use your smart phone “is just a theory.”
I am not meaning to talk about anything that could be politically or religiously heated as I am not trying to court controversy. What I want to talk about is the psychology of why we agree with something in one area of life but in another that challenges our beliefs we suddenly change. Specifically I want to discuss the confirmation bias. The confirmation bias is something that every person uses. It goes like this: when I have a belief I will only search for information that confirms this belief and I will disregard anything that contradicts it. So, for example, if I think blue is the best color (which it is) then I will search out research, online articles, and other people to be in my life who think blue is the best color. When I see a headline on CNN that red has been found to be the best color I will not read the article because it does not confirm my belief.
Why does this matter though? Who cares what is the “best” color? Well it really does not matter there but let us look at other examples. Enron was a large company that basically exploded. The main reason why Enron became such a huge failure was due to confirmation bias. The directors of the company refused to look at any evidence that contradicted their beliefs even though the evidence would have saved the company. On January 28, 1986 the Challenger lifted off and subsequently exploded killing seven people of astronauts. Most people know that O-Rings were to blame for the explosion. What you may not know is that the contractor of the O-Rings told NASA the night before not to have lift off and the O-Rings would fail. He was supposed to be the person to sign off on this and he refused. NASA went to his boss who just signed off on it because NASA no longer wanted to reschedule the launch. Because of confirmation bias within NASA seven people died.
So maybe now you are seeing why paying attention to our confirmation bias is important. Abraham Lincoln is prized for his “Team of Rivals.” He created a political cabinet of people from all sides of the political spectrum including people who downright hated him. President Lincoln did so knowing the power of confirmation bias and is considered one of our best presidents ever, partly because of that. Just recently a client felt they had a problem that I did not think I saw completely. They finally got me to give some screens and do a better evaluation of that particular problem and it turns out they were right and I was wrong. My confirmation bias had gotten in the way but thankfully I was (finally) able to overcome my bias and now the client will be better off for it. This is something I will keep in mind during my daily life and I hope you will too.
July 16, 2015
This week I started to think about intelligence. This is most likely because I was reading the chapter on intelligence from the textbook I will be using in my Intro to Psychology course I’m teaching at DMACC this fall. What I have realized is something that can be difficult to understand but also quite easy to understand. The fact is “intelligence” does not exist. You are probably saying “of course it exists! Did you really go to school? Everyone knows intelligence is a thing! I took an IQ test in elementary school so if intelligence does not exist then what was that huh?!?!” Well first off stop yelling at your computer since I cannot hear you through the screen anyways.
Intelligence is a concept. It is a concept created, and defined, by psychologists a little over 100 years ago. That’s right. Someone in my field sat down and said “I want to define intelligence. I am also going to make a test that tells us how intelligent someone is.” On the face of it does it seem really valid that we tell you what intelligence is, create the test, and then tell you how important it is? You can now find thousands of “intelligence tests” online. Let me advise you on something and that is those online tests should only be considered entertainment. There are really only two intelligence tests that are actually valid: Stanford-Binet and the Weschler series of tests that are age dependent. These tests are time and energy intensive. Insurance does not usually pay for it so to get it done you will probably spend hundreds of dollars just so you can tell people what your IQ is. Yes, I do know my IQ, and no I have not told anybody it and I don’t plan on it. Stephen Hawking, yes that smartest man in the world, said “People who boast about their IQ are losers.” That’s harsher than I would put it but essentially getting wrapped up in our intelligence is, frankly, a waste of time.
We know that our DNA is only 4% different than chimps which, admittedly, is mostly regarding what we call intelligence with some physical differences obviously. Unfortunately for us in some ways chimps are smarter than us as we know young chimps have a true photographic memory standard while that is pretty rare in humans. I also personally love crows. Most people who like birds will never say a crow is their favorite, mainly because they just have black feathers and are not pretty like the state bird of Iowa the goldfinch. Why I like crows most is because they just happen to be one of the smartest animals out there. Here is a fun article about the intelligence of crows. There is one reason why most animals are actually more intelligent than humans. Yes we just had New Horizon go to Pluto for the first time. We also do things that we know destroy our habitat but still do it knowing it will cause us to go extinct. As far as I know there is no animal out there purposefully destroying their own habitat.
Here is where intelligence gets scary. Let’s say we are 4% smarter than chimps, the next “smartest” animal. What would happen if an alien race comes to Earth and is 4% “smarter” than we are? I would imagine that they would just study us like we study chimps. They would run us through tests and find it amusing when we communicate with them on their children’s level. The famed astrophysicist Neil Degrasse Tyson has a quote about this: “Perhaps we’ve never been visited by aliens because they have looked upon Earth and decided there’s no sign of intelligent life.”
So I am hoping at this point we will all stop caring intelligence and basing our self-worth and worth of others on this concept created just 100 years ago. I have talked with people with intellectual disabilities who tell me very insightful statements and I have seen people with high IQ’s do nothing with their life. Maybe we should start talking about how each of us can make a contribution to each other and society. Maybe we can also talk about how we should teach empathy in schools instead of teaching tests. Yes, there is still an important place for science, math, and literature but if you ask me I’d rather have someone in my life that has more empathy than someone with just a higher IQ.
July 9, 2015
Most people that spend more than a few minutes around me or even step into my home or office figure out very quickly I am an avid comic book reader. There is a book that is currently being published on an ongoing basis. Issue #30 just came out this past week. The book is called Saga and written by Brian K Vaughan and art by Fiona Staples. Saga is, on it’s most basic level a Romeo and Juliet story set in space where a man from one side of the war has a child with a woman from the other side of the war and they are hunted by both sides for having a baby together. I would go on to explain more but you would probably think I lost my mind. I will say my favorite character might be “Lying Cat” who is a domesticated large cat who simply says “lying” anytime someone around it is lying. Saga has won just about every comic book award that exists during the last three years it has been out. At this point you are wondering why I am doing a book report for you. Throughout Saga there are so many pearls of wisdom that I think are related to psychology and/or life in general so I will be giving you some quotes and my thoughts on them. I do not intent to express any political or religious views on this as I am just trying to relate what the psychology research has said.
“Violence is stupid. Even as a last resort, it only ever begets more of the same.”
For this quote I am going to speak on spanking of children. Child abuse has gone down to record lows. In a previous blog post I pointed out how the rates of abuse were much higher in the 1950’s (the good old days supposedly) than they are now. For this I am not speaking of abuse but regular spanking. Most parents do not do this anymore but two-thirds say it is okay to do at times. There are two parts of research for this. The first is that spanking only causes your children harm including physical harm, mental health problems, and children who are spanked are more aggressive to others than children who are not spanked. Spanking teaches kids how to spank with a side of clinical anxiety for the children. The second fact is that spanking does not stop problem behaviors no matter what your anecdotes are. Dr. Alan Kazdin of Yale University says “You cannot punish out these behaviors that you do not want. There is no need for corporal punishment based on the research. We are not giving up an effective technique. We are saying this is a horrible thing that does not work.” So to sum that up spanking hurts children and does not change behavior so why waste your time with it?
“Doesn’t matter if it’s personal or professional, a good partnership takes work.”
This one seems to be self-explanatory. If you are in any type of relationship with any other person you need to work on it if you want it to be good. Many people get into a long-term relationship and become comfortable with how things work so they do not have to try anymore. These are the relationships that will end. A marriage will only last for decades if on your 50th wedding anniversary you are still trying to work on improving it.
“If there’s an opposite of a honeymoon, it’s the week after a couple’s first child is born.”
After being the proud parent of two children in the last two years I can say this is absolutely true. I also do not think this is a bad thing. The research points out that the most difficult time in a relationship is the first year after a child is born. More relationships end because of children than anything else. If you are in the spot where you might think having a child will help the relationship then your relationship will end. I believe people need to have the strongest point of their relationship be just before a child is born because for the next year it will only be hurt the relationship. Now I said I don’t think this is bad because frankly when you have children your life is not yours anymore. It is the children and the benefits they give cannot be measured by anything else. They should come first that first year but not be “only” either. Please refer to the previous quote for this!
“When a man carries an instrument of violence, he’ll always find the justification to use it.”
I am not going to write politically about gun rights since I did not write the constitution and no one has elected me to do anything about it. What I will say is based on research into weapons. First off guns do make people more aggressive. When people are put in a room with just a picture of a gun their aggression levels increase. One of the largest studies on gun ownership done by researchers at Boston University looked at rates from 1981-2010 in all 50 states. They found a 1 percent increase in gun ownership increased the homicide rate by 0.9 percent. This makes sense. Most people buy weapons, of any sort, to use them. If they are next to you then you will probably use it. If it is not in your house it would be hard to use of course. Again please do not get mad at me, I am just relating the scientific research out there. I will also say guns are not the only weapons. Words can be weapons too. Ask anyone, like myself, who was bullied a lot if words are weapons and we will uniformly say “yes” so be careful if words are your instrument of violence.
“Never worry what other people think of you, because no one ever thinks of you.”
This is my favorite quote in all of Saga because it is so true. It’s like the author reads psych journals for fun. I cannot tell you how many people say to me they worry about what people at work, the mall, church, or restaurants are thinking about them. People will even say they worry what I think about them in session. The fact is if you are at the mall thinking what everyone is thinking about you then so is everyone else. Essentially everyone there is thinking about themselves and no one is thinking about anyone else. As I said there is a multitude of research out there about this. So be yourself and remember “no one ever thinks of you.”
“Some parents let their young kids win at games, but mine never did. I don’t think it was because they were particularly competitive, they just wanted to teach me a valuable lesson. Life is mostly just learning how to lose.”
The first of the “Four Fold Truths” about life in Buddhism is that “Life is Suffering.” We will lose (or fail) at almost everything we do. We are rejected for more dates than we have accepted. We are rejected for more jobs than we will work. We are rejected by more friends than we will have friends for life. Accepting that we will lose and suffer until the day we die is important. If you have an expectation that life will become easy and you will not suffer in the future then you are just setting yourself up to be very disappointed. Changing your outlook to realize we can learn and grow through losing is what matters more. We learn nothing about ourselves when everything is going well so we have no change to grow or better ourselves. Only through suffering can we improve who we are as humans. When we know suffering will happen in our future it makes us pay attention to when things are good as well.
If you are curious about this book or think it might be something you would enjoy I would encourage you to go to Capes Kafe at the Des Moines Social Club at 9th and Mulberry. They have been my comic book supplier for years now. They also make some of the best coffee in Des Moines and you can pick up your Djonuts there too!
July 1, 2015
Today marks my one year anniversary of opening up Sullivan Counseling. A lot has happened in the past year in my personal life (my second child being born, moving, etc.) as well as my professional life. Opening up Sullivan Counseling has probably been the most important thing I have done in my career, the hardest thing I have done professionally, and the most rewarding thing I have done professionally. During this time I have learned a lot about my professional field, the business world, and myself which is what I want to share with you today.
Since I conducted my first therapy session nine years ago the act of counseling has not changed much. Any job I have had since the counseling session stays the same in general terms. All that changes is the format of the paperwork and the people you work with. I have found in the past year that my personality works best working for myself. Thankfully I am a fairly good self-motivator and I do not need someone to make sure I get my work done (even the boring parts done). My introverted personality also means I have had less anxiety about having to interact with a lot of coworkers on a regular basis. Extroverts tend to love those lunchtime get together’s but for introverts those can be draining and exhausting.
Another thing I learned about myself, and that quite surprised me, was that I really relish taking on a lot of responsibility and work. As I said previously, in the past year I have worked harder than I ever have trying to run a business along with providing therapy. In the past I only had to be concerned with therapy but now I think about advertising, fire codes, door signs, and a host of other things I never thought about in the past. The problem I have had with this though is that I will say I’m the hardest boss I have ever had. When I first started last year, and to an extent still, I work myself harder than I probably should. I would never advise my clients to do some of the hours I have done but therapists are their own worst clients! Learning to keep my own work boundaries is a process but something I need to make sure I do not burn out and can continue to provide the best care I can. There is a sense of pride I get from making sure the door stays open so that people can come in and get the help they need in a comfortable, safe place.
I always said that I wanted to help provide the same therapy services for people who cannot afford therapy as for those who can go to the most expensive private practice in Chicago. One of my concerns about private practice was only being able to work with the people who could afford it. Thankfully the Affordable Care Act was passed and most everyone now has insurance that pays for my services. I also choose to accept Medicaid as an insurance so that no one would be unable to see me due to financial reasons. This helps me keep my roots and puts things in perspective for my own life as well as the clients who are better off financially as well.
The only part of my entire first year with my own practice that I have really not enjoyed is working with the insurance companies and dealing with money. Firstly, I hate asking people for their copays. I know it is not a surprise to anyone coming to see me that they have to pay that and when I go to the doctor I know that is just a part of me seeing them but when I am the one asking I just feel awkward. The insurance companies can be difficult to work with only because there are so many rules and laws that govern them. I have (attempted) to read more contracts with insurance companies this past year than I would care to my entire life. For someone like me with absolutely no business or law training a lot of it does not make sense. It really can be like reading another language. To be fair I have not had any major problems with any insurance companies and they seem to be receptive to the importance of mental health now which was not always true.
In the end opening up Sullivan Counseling has been one of the most important and best decisions I have made in my professional life and is in the top 10 personally as well. I hope to keep the doors open as long as there are people I can still help live a fully, better life. If the day comes that mental health problems have been cured then I will close the door with a smile on my face. Thank you everyone who has helped me in big or small ways over the past year. I could not have done it without all of you!
June 18, 2015
This past Friday through Sunday Des Moines hosted their first ever comic-con. It was put on by a company called Wizard World who does about 20 of these across the country each year. This is separate from the big one you may have heard about called the San Diego Comic-Con. For those of you who do not know what a comic-con is let me describe the basics of it. Yes comic-cons have a lot to do with comic books which I am heavily into in my personal life. During the con you have booths selling new, old, rare, or variant comic books that are fun to look through for someone like me. During the time you also have booths selling memorabilia related to comic books or the sci-fi genre. There is also a part of the booths called artist alley where artists, usually comic book artists, are selling prints, originals, or doing commissions. There is also a place where you can find celebrities related to geek culture. At the Des Moines comic-con I saw William Shatner, Billy Dee Williams, Brandon Routh, and Jewel Staite among others. Finally you will have what are called “panels” in break out rooms. These take two forms with the first being a celebrity talking and you can ask them questions from the room. The second type are usually informational teaching about comic books or cosplay. Speaking of cosplay, which stands for costume play, people will dress up as their favorite characters from books or TV and the outfits can get quite elaborate.
Now that you know more than you probably want to about comic con let me tell you why I found this relevant to write about. When I was there I never felt more comfortable being my own self. Growing up a nerd and then becoming a huge sci-fi and comic book nerd as an adult has been a somewhat difficult transition for me. I remember hiding a sci-fi show’s DVD set in college so that when people came over they wouldn’t see it right away. I also remember many times feeling somewhat ashamed when I would bring up a sci-fi show or comic book. Over the last few years I have become much more open with this as anyone who has been in my office or home would attest to. At comic-con I saw so many people who were into the geek culture just as much as I am or many times more into it than I am. It really made me wonder if others there had the same experience of peace in getting to be themselves for the first time without any judgement.
Being who we are without filters is incredibly important to our well-being. I am going to give you two quotes by the infamous psychologist Carl Rogers. “What I am is good enough if I would only be it openly.” And “The curious paradox is when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” Carl Rogers has influenced therapy more than any other person who has walked the planet and is my personal model as a therapist. You will not find a therapist now who is not influenced by Dr. Rogers. So if we examine these very famous quotes by Carl Rogers we see that he is talking exactly about what I felt walking around comic con. So many people, in therapy or elsewhere, want to live up to their ideal self or what they think they, or their life, should be. We see from Dr. Rogers that is not what you should strive for at all. In fact it is quite the opposite. I have seen, personally and professionally, that when a person admits to who they are and fully accepts it then their life becomes fuller and they become more at peace with everything. Carl Rogers leaves people with one question to ask themselves and I recommended you ask yourself this regularly. “Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?” If the answer is “no” then it is time to do something to make the answer “yes.”
Here is a selfie with Boba Fett from comic-con!
June 11, 2015
This week I felt like breaking things up and doing something a little more fun. I am not the type of person that needs to believe everything has to be important or of some major value in life. Because of this I wanted to break out and this leads to my topic this week: Game of Thrones. I have read all the books that are out so far and I am current on the TV show as well. The show is wrapping up its fifth season so I feel like this is a good time to do this. The idea of this post is that I am giving general advice, as a therapist, to the world of A Song of Fire and Ice aka Game of Thrones. Some of you may enjoy this and find it somewhat humorous. Others might think I am a huge nerd. Either way you are both right!
I hope this gives you some advice along your travels through Westeros, Essos, North of the Wall, or anywhere else you may go. After writing this list I think it may be a lucrative job to be a therapist in A Song of Fire and Ice. I mean who couldn’t use some counseling in this world?!?!
I hope you enjoyed this as I think anyone who likes Game of Thrones will find some humor in this. If you do not watch Game of Thrones or you want something more serious than the good news is I’ll be back to normal blog posts next week on psychology. Enjoy the season finale of Thrones on Sunday. I know I will!
June 4, 2015
Has there ever been a manager who does not ask their employees to multitask? Have you ever heard someone brag about how well they multitask? I know I have probably bragged about it. I also know I have heard many bosses require multitasking and praising it from their employees. It turns out we are all wrong about that!
The first thing I want to say is that even the idea that multitasking exists at all is still questioned. This may be a new thought to you as the idea has been around for a while and common in our culture. What I believe, based on research, is that multitasking does not exist but rather our brain will just quickly alternate between different items we are working on but I digress a bit.
What research in the last few years is telling us for sure is that multitasking, regardless of the basic neurocognitive definition, is harmful to us! It hurts our productivity, IQ score, EQ, and even shows changes physically in our brain. Let’s start with productivity. Our bosses always want us to multitask to increase our productivity at work. Why is this so prevalent in the workplace when we now know multitasking is harmful to productivity? Why aren’t more managers telling us “you better not be multitasking in there!” The simple reason is that the idea is so entrenched in our professional culture no one, outside of some psychologists, even question it anymore. Unfortunately when your reason for doing something is that “it has always been done this way” you have a pretty weak argument in the first place. Some research has shown that productivity is decreased 40 percent when multitasking! So in a 40 hour standard work week this means up to two full days of work each week are just to make up for multitasking. If you manage people at all you need no further reasons to tell your employees to stop multitasking!
When it comes to IQ the University of London did some research. What they found was that in men who are multitasking their IQ lowers 15 points. This is one standard deviation from the mean. Without boring you on statistical analysis I will say this. Two standard deviations below the mean puts you into intellectual disability IQ requirements. That is how draining multitasking can be on your IQ.
I mentioned above that our emotional quotient (EQ) is affected negatively when we try to multitask. This is mainly believed due to the physical changes in our brain regarding multitasking. Advanced MRI’s have shown that people who state they multitask show a significantly smaller Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC). The ACC is known to control empathy, cognitive control, and emotional control. So if we do something that takes away our ability to think, have empathy, and control our emotions it is no surprise that our EQ lowers. There is one caveat about this though which is common in research in general. We cannot say if multitasking shrinks our ACC or if people who already have a smaller ACC tend to multitask more. This is extremely important to pay attention to when it comes to work place settings. In a recent study they found that of all the top performers, across multiple companies, 90% had the highest levels of EQ. This is just more evidence of how important not multitasking is for ourselves and work places.
So now you are thinking “What do I do with this information?” I have a couple recommendations on that question. The first is to stop multitasking as much as you can in your life. If you have 10 projects on your to-do list start with the first one and complete that until it is done then go on to the next one. When you are watching this week’s Game of Thrones do not use the second screen app on your phone that syncs with the episode because you will miss more from the show than just watching it. (By the way how good was last week’s episode?!?! White walkers…Am I right!!!) If you personally do any managing of employees at your job take time to pass on to them how not to multitask and actively discourage them from multitasking. That will take time to get used to but I can almost guarantee you will see more things get accomplished faster and better in your work place. Finally remember that if you multitask you may just be physically damaging your brain and who wants to do that anyways!
May 18, 2015
Recently I was doing some dishes in my kitchen and I remembered that I needed to get something in the living room. I knew what it was. I knew it was important. I was sure I was going to go get it when I finished the dishes. I thought about it while finishing up washing the pans in the sink. I dried my hands and walked to the living room. At that point I stopped and had no idea what I was supposed to be getting from there. I am only 32 years old! How can this happen? Am I losing my memory? This seems to be happening more and more often. In fact I think everyone over 30 I have ever talked to has had this happen to them. Most people under 30 have had this happen as well. We want to tell someone something but when we go to find them or go to send them a text about it we suddenly blank. Some of my clients who are just a little older than I am have expressed concern about this being related to dementia i.e. Alzheimer’s Disease. That can be really scary to think about or have happen to yourself especially since most of us know someone who has battled dementia. The truth is that this is a normal part of our memory and cognitive functioning.
In psychology there is a theory now that explains this type of forgetting and why it is so common. It is now called the event horizon theory of memory. The name comes from astrophysics in relation to black holes. We cannot see a black hole but rather we can only see things (planets, asteroids) that are being sucked into the black hole. The edge of the black hole to space is called the “event horizon” and once you cross that there is no coming back.
Gabriel Radvansky of the University of Notre Name is the psychologist who has defined this theory and studied it in detail. For a recent experiment he did you can read it here but I warn you reading psychological journal articles can be somewhat boring. Basically the theory posits that once you cross and “event horizon” it causes a break in our memory and we forget what we are going for. In the article he showed that when people went from one room to another room their likelihood of forgetting what they were going for increased greatly. In this example the doorway to the other room was literally the “event horizon.” I have noticed these in other ways in my own life including picking up my phone to text in which case tapping on “messages” is the “event horizon” that makes me forget who I was going to text. I have also wanted to look something up online but once I cross the “event horizon” and type in “google” into my browser I forget what I wanted to search in the first place.
I hope that this brings some comfort to you the next time you go to the next room to tell someone something and you forget what you wanted to tell them. Remember this is a normal process that happens to all people and now that you know enough about the event horizon theory of memory you will just think of black holes and know you are alright. If you still have some concerns about dementia I will leave you with an example of abnormal memory problems. If I forget where I left my keys to my car that is an “event horizon” problem. If I forget how to drive a car at all that is dementia and treatment is needed as soon as possible.
January 30, 2015
Many people who know me are going to understand why I was delayed writing this post. My daughter was born in November so between that and running the practice I’ve had little time for much else. I think finally things are starting to normalize!
The people who know me also know I’m a bit of a tech junky. I find it interesting and fascinating which is good since that is where the world is heading. There is a really amazing piece of technology that is called the Oculus Rift. Their website is https://www.oculus.com/ where you can read all about it. A brief description is that it is a lifelike virtual reality. You can check Youtube for people using it which is kind of interesting. If you are a Game Of Thrones fan you will want to check out the actress who plays Arya Stark using the Rift to pretend she is standing on the ice wall in the show/books. It was so real for her she had a small panic attack.
I am not just writing about this because I think it is fun. I now believe the Rift could be one of the most useful tools in mental health treatment that is out right now. A lot of what I’m going to say now is theoretical but based on existing models of treatment, some recent experiments, and thought experiments. I think the Rift could possibly change therapy greatly.
There are already numerous psychological studies being done with the Rift. The best thing I think it could do is help people learn empathy for people who are not like them such as sex, race, religion, and anything else you could think of. Imagine if bullies in school or workplaces were required to view in life-like detail what their victims feel like or if criminals were taken through what they did to their victims.
A really interesting use has been for switching sex where a male and a female use it simultaneously to see things from the other persons view point. How might that change or beliefs on the opposite sex? If you want to read an interesting article about this already being done click this link: http://www.polygon.com/2014/3/4/5423330/oculus-rift-vr-gender-swap-girl-mirror-look
What about putting someone who is racist into the Rift to see what it is like to be another race? How much might this change or views on other people or cultures. As I do a lot of trauma work imagine if I could take a spousal abuser and show them what it is like living with an abuser. Or treating someone with PTSD with in-vivo exposure but in a safer way and place?
At this point you might be able to see why I believe the Rift could be the best thing to happen to therapy and the population in general if used in a proper and safe setting with a mental health professional. Beyond that if I had one in my office, well, I would probably check out the wall from Game of Thrones over lunch too!
October 29. 2014
It has been too long since I last wrote something. So much so it has been pointed out to me by a couple people and I appreciate that. It was the motivation I needed to write. Today I figured out what I was going to write about after having some time to contemplate. After making a decision on what to write about I decided to discuss decision making.
Decision making falls into two broad categories. Big decisions such as buying a house and small decisions such as where to eat lunch. The first thing I started with was a simple Google search of “decision-making process” and I got over 100 million hits. I decided to click on images since I can be lazy at times. I saw everything from a four step decision making process up to a nine step process! How do you even make a decision about what decision making process to use? What I am going to try to point out is that those are all wrong and in fact there are only two ways to decide something. Your head or your gut.
When I say “head” I mean the rationale, intellectual part of us that weighs all the different options and comes up with a smart decision. Our “gut” is that feeling we have that tells us what to do without any evidence or sometimes rationality it seems. Your first thought is that the “big decisions” should use our head and the “small decisions” we should use our gut. In fact it is quite the opposite. The bigger your decision the more important it is to use your gut. When I bought a house or decided to go to graduate school my “gut” immediately knew the right answer when my brain told me all the logical reasons not to go to school or buy a house.
In one study college students were shown only three seconds of a professor’s lecture and they then took the semester evaluation that his class took. After seeing only three seconds their evaluation was the exact same as people who had the professor for an entire semester course. In Malcolm Gladwell’s book “Blink” he discusses this study and many others to show we should trust our gut on the big decisions. He writes that for things such as where to go to lunch then we should use our head. It is a great book and I highly encourage you to pick it up and give it a read. He is an actual writer and not a psychologist so it is not just filled with psych-lingo.
A few years ago scientists also found that we have a “second brain” that actually resides in our gut. It is made up of about 100 million neurons which are the same cells that make up our brain. In fact, over 30 neurotransmitters are found in this second brain that are also found in our first brain. Over 95 percent of serotonin is found in this second brain. Makes you wonder where all the serotonin medications for depression are actually going to do their work? This all comes from an article http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/gut-second-brain/ that I encourage you to read as it is quite interesting.
Another part of decision making is based on how many options there are to choose from. We have found that the fewer options people have the happier they are with their decisions. Ever known that person who is never happy with their car, cell phone, or house? Probably because they saw too many options. When people are presented with just one or two options they tend to be happier with their choice. This is another counterintuitive principle that is at work in our decision making. So the best thing you can do it lower your options for making decisions before you have to choose.
Finally, the reason I am telling you all this is to help you (and me) with all those pesky decisions we make day in and day out. I challenge you that the next time you have a big decision to make to STOP THINKING! Try listening to what your gut, i.e. second brain, is telling you and just go with it. If it turns out bad then I’ll let you tell me how wrong I am. That is how sure I am your gut knows what you should do.
September 10, 2014
Anymore it is common to hear people talk about how dangerous the world is. Personally, and professionally, I hear some version of the same thing. People tell me it is a much more violent time “nowadays.” I also am told that “in my day kids could walk to school and play outside and we did not have to be afraid.” When I hear these things my skin jumps. Mainly because these are completely wrong! The rates of violent crime are dropping every passing year.
Here is a graph of the homicide rate decreasing:
Here is another graph of crime decreasing since 1990. You can see all six measures are headed down and updated statistics continue this trend.
The New York Times even had an article on the decline of child sexual abuse stating:
“Overall cases of child sexual abuse fell more than 60 percent from 1992 to 2010, according to David Finkelhor, a leading expert on sexual abuse” and “From 1990 to 2010, for example, substantiated cases of sexual abuse dropped from 23 per 10,000 children under 18 to 8.6 per 10,000, a 62 percent decrease, with a 3 percent drop from 2009 to 2010, according to the researchers’ analysis of government data.”
Why do I want to point all this out to you? Is it just because I’m sick of people saying that it was “safer in my day.” No, it is to point out a psychological principle known as the availability heuristic. We use this mental shortcut in our decision making and judgment. It tells us that the more readily something comes to our mind the more important it must be.
The problem with this is we are inundated with negative news and stories all the time. With the 24-hour newscycle, internet, and social media we find out a child was kidnapped 2000 miles away within minutes. In 1950, you would not have heard about this at all. Because of the availability heuristic we think it is more common only because we hear about it more. There was no sex offender registry to check online before the internet yet there were more sex offenders back “in my day.”
I hope we can now live without fear and realize our kids can play in the yard even if we are not watching with an eagle eye. Someday my children will run around the neighborhood, terrorizing my neighbors, just like I did as a child. When they do this I will know they are safer than I even was because I will not be falling trap to the availability heuristic.
August 12, 2014
I know this blog is late. I had meant to do it for a couple weeks or so now but life has been busy this summer. I had the idea to do a post on why people do not go to therapy with myths about what counseling is about. I still plan on doing that here discussing the myths of counseling first. There is a link attached on an article about myths about therapy and in a future post I will discuss reasons people do not go. I have heard all of these myths multiple times in my years in the mental health field. The best thing about the article is how they point out alternatives to these myths about counseling.
One of the main reasons people should go to therapy has hit the news late last night and today. That would be the suicide of Robin Williams. From what I have read it appears he has battled drug abuse and depression for many years. He has sought treatment in the past but I do not know if he was now or not. Either way he is a very high profile of why it can be so important to seek therapy.
Please click on the link and read the article. If you have found yourself thinking any of these things to yourself maybe now is a good time to seek some counseling.
July 18, 2014
To start with I have been busy! That is a good thing. I have officially transferred over to Sullivan Counseling full-time and just completed my first week as my own boss. Everything seems to be running fairly smoothly and hopefully Sullivan Counseling will be part of the community for many, many year to come.
For this entry I want to discuss a recent study that just came out of the University of Virginia that actually made mainstream news. I have included the link to the press release which will give you most of the information on the study. Don’t worry it is not written in research jargon. There were a couple points I wanted to discuss though.
The main point of this study was to see how people do when they are left alone with their thoughts from only 6-15 minutes at a time. They tried in a lab and at the person’s home. Most of the people in the study could not do this. I will not go into why I think this is here in this entry. I am saving that for a long post of my thoughts on ADHD. What was interesting was people were willing to electrically shock themselves instead of being alone with their thoughts. They even knew beforehand the extent of the shock and most said they would pay money to not be shocked. That means two-thirds of men and one-third of women purposefully chose to cause themselves pain instead of just thinking their own thoughts! In a joking way you could open a successful business have people pay you to not be alone with their own mind!
What I really enjoyed being pointed out by the head researcher was that our electronic devices are not the problem. In society we see more and more people complaining about the usage of different devices especially with teens and children. I have been adamant that using devices are not a problem in and of themselves. Part of this is just the generational bias that has existed for thousands of years where older adults think their childhood was perfect and anything different is wrong in newer generations. There was even a writing found from ancient Greece of an old man complaining about children “now a days.” Again another topic for a long post later. The psychologist stated that our cell phones and IPad’s are just “a response to people desire to always have something to do.” It is fundamentally no different than going out and chopping wood or baking a pie as a way to escape being alone with your thoughts.
What is the answer to this issue presented in the study? How do we learn to spend 15 minutes a day out of the 1440 minutes that are in each day? Well if you have been reading the blog you already know the answer. Mindfulness! Mindfulness! Mindfulness! If you have not read that entry now would be a perfect time to.
June 25, 2014
One week from today Sullivan Counseling LLC officially will open its doors. On July 2, 2014 I will be seeing clients in my own private practice. This is something that I did not think would ever happen. I did not think this would happen even six months ago. There have been a number of events in my life that have long term effects for good and bad. I believe opening this practice will be one of those events and will hopefully be good.
During this time I have found myself to be more capable than I would have believed. This is due to all the work, effort, and time I have put into this office. On this Saturday I will be moving furniture into the office and I believe that will be the easiest part of this whole process. There have been times that I have been very stressed and cannot sleep. Then there have been times I am very excited and cannot wait to open up and start seeing clients. I find myself daydreaming about working for myself, continuing to help the clients I have already been working with, and thinking about the new people I will get to help in the coming years.
To be honest, the only reason I have been able to open this practice is because of help from others. If it was not for my family, friends, business partners, and many other random people I hardly know I would never have been able to do this. In this country we seem to have this belief that getting help means we are “weak” or “dependent.” I find this notion to be contrary to people achieving the most they can get out of themselves or their life.
Without help from others in every day of our life we would not exist for very long. Our tap water does not magically appear nor does the food on our dinner table. Very few of us paved the roads we drove on to get to work or home. Yet we do not think of this as getting “help” but it really is. Clients tell me all the time that they know their family and friends will help “but I don’t want to bother them.” I ask them about when their friend asks for help if they feel bothered. I have never heard anyone answer “yes” to that question. This, I believe, is almost universally true. We want to help our loved ones but we cannot read minds.
I challenge you to regularly ask yourself, “Would getting help further me or my life more than going it alone?” If the answer is “yes” then by all means ask for some help. We as a people do not grow “weak” or “dependent” on getting help. Our society and race as humans has only become what it is now because of helping others and asking for help in return. Trying to do everything on our own only leads to stagnation at best and extinction at worst.
June 12, 2014
I do not remember the first time I was introduced to the concept of mindfulness. Apparently I was not being mindful that day. A person does not study psychology for too long without having mindfulness drilled into them. At first I believed it was just another one of those eastern concepts from thousands of years ago which are nice but not too practical this day in age. I was wrong.
During my studies I started to read more and more about being mindful in everyday life and the benefits it can have for any person. I started to move from articles to books and supplemented that with peer-reviewed journals. After you have so much evidence for the benefit of something, backed by science, you have to take it seriously.
Mindfulness is a temporary state of consciousness. When we are mindful we are fully present in the moment that we are in right now. That does not mean one minute ago or one minute in the future, just now. Abraham Maslow once said “When I think about the past I’m depressed. When I think about the future I’m anxious. Therefore the ability to be in the present moment is key to mental well-being.” Dr. Maslow hit the nail on the head with those three short statements. I see this every day in my practice as well as in my own life. There are ways to learn to become more mindful in our daily lives. When I started practicing mindfulness years ago I would constantly ask myself “What is happening right now?” After doing that dozens of times a day it became second nature. Now I am able to slip into being mindful fairly easily without much effort. Other times it still takes a lot of effort to be mindful.
A benefit of mindfulness I have found personally is that I enjoy my life more fully. When I am playing with my son, eating a great cheesecake, playing softball, or am on vacation I get to experience these activities in a greater way. In the past I might eat a piece of cheesecake, finish, and ask myself “what happened to that cheesecake?” That is not being mindful but now with mindfulness I can enjoy and remember the cheesecake. I am sure we can all relate to that common Sunday night statement of “What happened to my weekend?” Wouldn’t it be nice never to have to ask that again?
I have found mindfulness to be extremely helpful in my practice as well. I have seen positive results with it from people suffering from depression, anxiety, psychosis, relationship problems, and any other issue you may have. No, mindfulness is not a “cure all,” but it is a part of the puzzle to living better. Research has shown it to be effective for improving memory, focus, performance, and confidence. Finally, the best thing about learning and practicing mindfulness is that there are no side effects!
May 30, 2014
For the last six or seven years I have had a “Sigmund Freud Action Figure” on my office wall. During these years I have collected a number of Freud related objects that have either come as gifts or I have found and gotten myself. The list includes: Freud interchangeable clothing magnets, Freud foam stress head, “Freudian Slips” post-it notes, and “Freudian Sips” coffee mug. I have also read a number of books during my studies in psychology on Freud and his psychoanalytic theory.
The common statements I get from people that come in my office and notice my Freudian collection is “wasn’t he crazy?” There is always some form of this question or statement that I get routinely asked. This has permeated into our culture and in some ways is absolutely correct. His dream interpretation is almost completely off. His famous cocaine years are often brought up as well. What is important is that his work in his cocaine years is written off now. Even Sigmund himself realized cocaine was not the “medicine” he thought it was and only used it for a relatively short amount of time.
What I want to touch on now is how important Freud was, and still is, to our understanding of the mind. The first thing I always point out is how Freud was the first person to say that you can heal someone’s suffering just by talking to them. This is common knowledge now but I think it is equal to saying the Earth is round. At one time this was a very controversial belief. If you go back far enough it was even thought our mind was located in our heart. For Freud, an already respected physician, to push the idea you can talk and heal was revolutionary.
The most accurate part of Freudian theory is his idea of defense mechanism including: denial, repression, reaction formation, sublimation, displacement, and a whole host of others. Yes Freud’s daughter Anna arguable did more work on this topic then Sigmund, but he got it started. Defense mechanisms are what the ego uses to decrease conflict between the id and the superego. (Do not get me started on the current colloquial use of “ego” to say someone is narcissistic. What a complete misrepresentation of the definition of ego!) There has not been a day in my professional practice that a client has not been overusing one of the defense mechanisms. There has also not been a day personally I have not used a defense mechanism at some point.
Another part of Freudian theory that is still accurate and useful in modern day counseling is the repetition compulsion. This states that a person who has been thorough traumatic events will reenact or put oneself in situations where this is likely to happen again. If you know anyone who grew up in a family of addiction or abuse this idea will pop right out to you as completely accurate.
The idea that we are guided by the interaction of pleasure and pain in our daily life appears to be correct in my experience. Freud was also the first to identify the role of child abuse in psychopathology but he gave that up for some unethical reasons I will not get into here. Finally, recent neuropsychology research including work with fMRI’s has started to confirm parts Freud’s theory as accurate and psychoanalysis as being a helpful treatment mode.
I hope you now know more than you ever really wanted to about Freud and psychoanalytic theory. Psychology and therapy is still considered a relatively new field of science as it really only started 130 years ago with Sigmund Freud. As you probably noticed the professionals in psychology are still debating the original therapy model and theory from 130 years ago. We have come a long way in psychology, but I can promise there is still more to be found in the mind, brain, and what drives us each and every day.
May 25, 2014
Welcome to the first entry of my new blog on news, events, and information on psychology in general. My goal is to update this blog weekly with articles, videos, and my own musings on the mental health field. Lately my time has been spent between my current employement as a therapist and setting up this practice.
What I have found to be the hardest part of setting up a practice in the insurance credentialing. Each insurance provider has their own forms and paperwork they need submitted. It does appear that this electronic age has made things easier but still quite intensive. Thankfully I am getting help on this and should have no problem taking most major insurances. I just feel that there has to be a better way to do this that is easier on the provider, insurance companies, and of course the healthcare consumer.
The biggest benefit that has happened in mental health with insurance companies is the parity law. Not so long ago insurance companies set their own mandate for how many therapy and/or psychiatric appointments you could receive in a year. At that time, like now, you could see a family practice doctor as much as you would like. The parity law stated that insurance could only cap mental health appointments if they capped physical health appointments as well. During the years since this parity came about I have found the healthcare consumers to have better outcomes with their mental health which saves money, time, and work in the long run for all three of the parties involved in healthcare.
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