One of the "Trending" items according to Facebook today has to do with a young lady who decided not to attend her high school graduation but more specifically how the mother asked long-time advice columnist for the Washington Post Miss Manners (aka Judith Martin).
The mother, clearly dismayed by her daughter's decision not to attend her high school graduation - which most parents rightfully consider to be a major milestone in their child's life - asked Miss Manners if their daughter's non-attendance was okay and whether or not the gifts she would have received should be returned. They also cited that the daughter does not like parties.
Miss Manners laid into both the daughter and the parents:
D: According to Miss Manners the daughter did exhibit thoroughly rude and callous behaviour and it would be okay to return the gifts because, although generally an inappropriate gesture, the daughter went one step further in ignoring her guests' attendance for her special day. Such an insult bypasses gift etiquette.
P: Miss Manners does not absolve the parents of responsibility (which is why I loved reading this column. Rude children are often the product of rude parents). After reinforcing that the parents should return gifts and work with the daughter (my addition) to write letters of apologies to attending guests, well-wishers, and gift-givers the response goes on to say that besides not teaching good manners to their child the parents should also be ashamed for throwing a party for a young woman who doesn't like parties.
Based on the parents' letter to Miss Manners I would say that this is a growing social anxiety that has been cultivating for quite some time and without attention or care. I have a sister who is graduating this year (YAY!) who has severe anxiety and depression, so much so that she had to be home-schooled for the last couple of years. Throwing a party for her (after inviting guests) would guarantee this exact pattern of behaviour.
This is where prevention and intervention collide.
To Parents: Do yourselves a favour and pop over to the Psychology Tools website where there are a handful of screening and assessment tools that, although no longer in general use remain highly reliable and valid sources for identifying the possibility of chronic distress in your child (possibly in yourselves). Do not take these as diagnosis! I recommend them for the contemplative process of identifying needs. A needs analysis is one of the first steps in the therapeutic process. Talk to your kids about how they are feeling on a regular basis and get involved in their lives no matter their numerical/chronological age.
To Youth: Do your absolute best to attend your graduation ceremony and associated parties. If you are feeling distressed for any reason let your parents know RIGHT AWAY, even if you cannot describe what it is you are feeling, and maybe ask to visit a mental health clinic or your family doctor about seeing a counsellor. We are here to help.
I challenge you to go to Google Scholar and use keywords having to do with food and mental health and not get more than 500,000 search results including some hundred-or-so-thousand from the last 20 years.
There is a distinct and irrevocable correlation between what we place in our stomach and what goes on in our brain that has been studied, at length, and yet there is a key piece that I find to be missing. Similar to how ex-religious tend to say that the notion of being a Child of God had no personal meaning I think the correlation between food and brain also lacks personal meaning... a practicality is lost somewhere in the interpretation. When we try to incorporate these things into our lives we get the overwhelming sense that something is missing and then simply lose the motivation to carry forward.
When I talk about food and mental health to my clients I try to provide practical options and make the push more real through several steps but ultimately nothing takes hold without relevance. For example: Goal Setting exercises. I, like many other therapists, use SMART Goal exercises. The goals are laid out and explained under the categories of Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-Bound. Losing weight is a fantastic goal but if it carries no practical meaning you will end up using that 3 month gym membership for a week. Equally, eating healthy can be motivating and exciting for a few days and then you're off the wagon and back to making gourmet frozen dinners.
There are three aspects that I find important to practical, goal-set, relevant healthy eating:
1) What is in the food doesn't matter! Counting calories and eliminating certain foods from your diet are strenuous and unnecessary unless for a specific and diagnosed health concern (ie. removing gluten because of an allergy or inefficiency of your body to metabolize it). What matters is how you cook it (baked vs. fried), how much you eat (portion control: stop filling the plate), and how fast you eat it (it takes about 20 minutes for the stomach to relay the "Full" message to your brain).
2) Variety really is the spice of life! There are amazing websites and social media attention paid to changing up your eating routine. Tasty is a foodie's dream page on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and alike, posting short videos and full recipes of some awesome dishes. Supercook has quickly become a favourite site of mine for showing recipes based on what you already have in the home and you can create an account to track recipes and so much more.
3) Cook for others! Many of you reading this page have one or both of: Having heard that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach (works on women, too); or, have a significant other in your life either who you have wooed enough to start dating or who you want to woo. Cooking for others is a great way to socialize, learn portions, make something new, and (hopefully) build confidence.
Food is not the enemy.
WAY, way back when it was considered risqué to even show part of a stocking... kind of a fun thought experiment to think about social media back then and people sending in ankle pictures. Now, sending pictures of penises over text, SnapChat, and Twitter appears to be some bizarre norm.
My, how far we have fallen.
I am really disturbed that no secular biology or psychology bothers to uphold the greatness of the human person for its intrinsic value - the value something holds simply for existing, focusing rather ruthlessly on extrinsic value - the value we place on a thing. It is no surprise, then, that the human person has lost intrinsic value and we now focus on the value we place on the body.
More accurately, says the person reading as I type, the value we place on specific parts of the body.
May 19 was the first National Send Nudes Day basically meaning that yesterday was the day that social media moderators got their fill of teen and young adult genitals. For those unaware, SnapChat, Twitter, Facebook, other social media networks, internet service providers, cell phone providers, and telecommunications service providers all log what goes through their feeds. Doesn't take a great stretch of logic to figure out that these images were logged and organized by an employee that we only hope is nice enough not to take a few home for their own enjoyment.
And don't kid yourself, parents. It is youth and young adults between 15 and 21 that make up a solid 80% of these images. Even though it is pictures of themselves they could be charged with distributing child pornography and the person asking, even if underage, is also guilty of multiple criminal offenses.
Which begs the question, "What the hell is wrong with us?" There is a blatant hypocrisy, I find, when it comes to media and the body in that these always focus on women and this is a 5000 year old problem starting with the first recorded contraceptives (concoctions placed in the woman's vagina in Egypt and China) to genital mutilation (Africa and South America) to pessaries (Western Europe) and then pornography and various forms of sexual contact electronically took over with men blackmailing, coercing, or (less often than the other two) kindly asking for women to bare themselves in pixels.
Empowerment through obedience?
We understand ourselves first and foremost through our bodies. Psychologists have been saying this for decades. Understanding ourselves as male or female physically is our first glance at who we can and will be later in life. Simple fact is that (A) the gender binary is both necessary and sufficient for early development and (B) there are complimentary differences between the sexes that must be respected in order to achieve sex and gender equality. I will submit that men have disrespected the differences for centuries if today's neo-feminists submit that their ideal form of equality and education is neither.
Our bodies, however, are not a sufficient understanding of our self. Funny how early religious and non-religious philosophers called out the separation of body and self (soul/spirit) as borderline heretical because they knew that body and self are intricately connected. What happens to one happens effects the other regardless of the physicality of one and the immaterialism of the other.
This post is getting long and I think I covered the main points so I can get to where I am going.
I think my generation holds those who were the last to be pushed to have meaning and motivation in their lives because I remember quite clearly learning about careers, language, culture, and independence from very early in life. The world I remember even up to my teenage years was worth developing.
A while back I did a quick write-up on weathertainment and how constantly inundating with doomsday reports about global warming and extreme weather was messing with our heads, so much so that it was a factor in the former diagnosis Seasonal Affective Disorder - a climate-/weather-related depression. In the same mindset I wager that social and mass media force-feeding of negative futures citing disease, war, overpopulation, and alike are responsible for a lack of motivation and searching for meaning in the last two-and-a-half decades.
In my mind meaningfulness and motivation are cyclical and inter-relating giving rise to action, desire, and development. Without them we become stuck in various ruts which serve only to keep us down and away from our true potential. If this all sounds somewhat spiritual - it should. Spirituality is man's search for meaning. We find that meaning in many different ways but one thing that is consistent is that meaningful and motivating paths are those that develop the person in themselves and/or their relationships. Those who find their meaning in violence or are motivated by greed continually falter regardless of how successful they appear on the outside.
The reason I even bring any of this up is because of the number of depression rating scales I have completed with youth and young adults compared to those in their 30s to 60s where one of the traits of depression is a lack of motivation and sense of meaning - a sense of urgency. A sense that there is something that a person wants to do that they are unable to do... or, worse, a sense that a person does not desire.
Meaningfulness is an active process. We set goals for ourselves and, when done properly, find ways to achieve those goals through action and commitment. Nothing of any worth comes from sedentary living. With the internal and external disconnections that come with social media and overuse of electronics we make developments further into meaninglessness because the little we do has no value. We need to take drugs (including prescription medication) and alcohol in order to feel things that motivated people get from doing something of value such as reaching a goal or creating something with their own hands or intellect.
Depression, anxiety, anger, despair... these negative characteristics of our psychological life are amplified by a lack of meaning, motivation, and value. To learn more about how to improve these aspects please contact me anytime.
I have done quite a bit of work in the area of trauma but somewhere along the way managed to completely miss the concepts and design of Trust-Based Relational Intervention. Oddly enough, the overall precepts are simple: A child who has undergone at least one traumatic event may not be capable of being taught compliance with trust the way "normal" children tend to do. This is especially true of children who have undergone multiple or chronic traumas as seen in many children in the foster and adoption lists.
The parts of the brain that need to be active for compliance and self-regulation are borderline inaccessible to these children because they have been in survival - flight, fight, or freeze - mode for years. The current model of discipline doesn't allow for children, teens, and even adults who are caught in early stages of regulation - requiring some if not all assistance in doing so from others - considering any negative behaviours to be willful disobedience instead of survival.
Think of the brain like a series of connected cities. The parts of the brain required for survival are very well connected - lots of back roads and main routes - while the parts of the brain required for executive function and decision making are not so well connected and, in fact, are practically disconnected from one another when the individual perceives danger. They have had to use one survival behaviour or another multiple times through their early development and only know how to use those behaviours when they are experiencing sensory overloads.
Learning self-regulation is difficult past infancy as it is, much less when the executive functions of the brain are inaccessible. This new methodology allows for parents and caregivers to proactively negotiate the brain's natural compliance systems while also building trust.
This new treatment methodology is comprehensive, taking much time to learn and execute, but is worth the effort. Typically this treatment is for parents involved in the foster and adoption systems but is easily integrated into most settings. I will post more information as it is summarized.
**Disclaimer: If you actively watch pornography and enjoy it I do not expect you to have a positive reaction to this blog posting. This is intended for those in relationships or who are single who have come to the conclusion that porn is ruining their lives in some way. The views expressed are based on counselling and therapy experience with individuals, couples, and families across age groups and cultures.**
The porn industry is slowly garnering more and more criticism as access and content disturb more and more audiences.
Marketed for audiences over the legal age of majority, it was found that the median age range for those who view porn for the first time - the images defined by full nudity and provocative situations - is between 11 and 13 in North America and Europe. It serves as an enticing simple pleasure that locks on to our most basic instinct in sexual gratification and is largely viewed as a private experience. Porn actors and actresses, and those who portray them such as the episode "Teamwork" in House, MD, periodically show up on record in favour of porn to help couples improve their sex lives and how it is a legitimate industry, and so on.
I usually don't know where to start when kicking down the walls of lies these folks have put up. Generally, as I will now, I go after the legitimacy of the industry. Every other week another "star" or "starlet" leaves the porn industry after coming to the realization that what they are doing is disgusting on multiple levels. Former starlets Vanessa Belmond and Shelley Lubben are great witnesses to the lengths women will go through (pun intended) to put themselves through scenes, primarily using drugs and alcohol to remove themselves from the experience. Men are equally disappointed with themselves, citing internal battles with sexuality and general struggles with shame, doubt, and alike as their reasons for even starting in this industry.
And these are the folks who are licensed, paid, and tested to participate in the industry. It is estimated that more than 75% of the available pornographic material on the internet is made of men and women being recorded without their knowledge or consent, who are underage, and who are doing illegal actions for viewers (beastiality, incest, mutilation, other forms of violence). This doesn't include animated and game versions of pornography that go several steps further using "models" over the age of majority.
So what makes porn a problem?
Although not necessarily addictive, at least not in the same sense as cocaine, porn does distort our sexuality in several ways. Frequent masturbation decreases testosterone and is linked to forms of erectile dysfunction. The dysfunction isn't caused by cardiovascular disorder - it is psychological. Men and women who regularly view porn become aroused more easily to what is seen through pixels than human beings. Marriages have dissolved over this - very treatable - issue. This issue has also led to various degrees of affairs as either partner "rediscover" their sexual appetite. Bear in mind, there are many forms of sex addiction and there are those who are addicted to sex who don't care for porn and those who are addicted to porn and are able to remain, more or less, monogamous.
Porn does increase sex drive. This is best described as an internalized sex drive - masturbatory - but, similar to what people view, it escalates. What starts as a novel fascination with Sports Illustrated can devolve into BDSM fantasies and, further, into violent sexual actions with living, breathing partners. What starts as an occasional view can quickly turn into a daily habit. How? Sex is a natural drive. Some versions of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs even goes so far as to place sex into the biological needs (lowest need). Those who do this have no concept of how the Hierarchy works in doing so but once it's online it apparently truth.
Finally, regardless of popular belief porn objectifies men and women. I have had it described in my office by a woman who said that she could tell by the way her husband looks at her that he has been watching porn. (The number of times I have heard this have made me wonder if I should do group therapy for this.) The eyes and body language focus on genitals and general sexual behaviours. Even speech is objectifying. I have no issues with adjectives like "Sexy" but there are words and phrases that no one uses outside porn to describe the person of sexual desire.
If you or someone you know is being negatively impacted by porn in their lives please invite them to seek counselling. This post only scratches the surface but, as always, I save the best for the office. For more information please contact me.
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon several shocking trends that, in conjunction with some trends I was already aware of, really disturbed me. Now, this is no small task but somehow the internet manages to do this to me on a regular basis.
Based on what I read there is a trend out of China and other Asian countries where women are attempting to get their waist to be smaller or equal to the width of an 8.5"/11" piece of paper (your standard print and writing paper). Essentially it is a challenge that some women started that infected North America.
In accordance with an evolutionary perspective of the region it is not unheard of to be able to be healthy while still having a forward profile of 8.5 inches. Asian women are, on average, shorter than Caucasian women and because of differences in dietary consumption Caucasian women tend to have larger waists in order to better fit their larger bone structure and frame.
But because social media ultimately dictates what people do (the pass-out challenge being one of the first) Caucasian females have started to starve themselves and choose exercises regimens in a desperate attempt to fit this unhealthy mould. The A4 ("technical term for 8.5"/11" copy paper) Challenge puts new shaming on those who do not fit the sheet, including those who are already at risk physically and mentally.
That's just Problem 1 of this scenario. The response has become equally shameful.
When I work with youth and parents I try to help develop "proportionate response" basically meaning that the punishment, in the case of a parent-child event, has to be consistent with the severity of the action. When you catch your child drawing on the wall you have them clean up the mess and maybe have no dessert for a few days.
There is a middle-ground, proportionate response campaign labelled #NotPaperThin which is awesome and gets the point across however there are some who are going the extra mile and skinny- or thin-shaming. Those whose waists are wider than an A4 sheet of paper are essentially starting to bully their skinny counterparts instead of opening factual and healthy conversation. Shaming in either direction stigmatizes - adds a negative trait to - the intended target(s) for the purpose of putting that person down. Psychologically this is similar in some regards to positive punishment but it misses a key element.
In operant conditioning, where terms like positive and negative punishment and positive and negative reinforcement come from, there is an intention to what is being done. Back in the day spanking was a form of "positive punishment" where in an unfavorable punishment was presented (hence positive) for an undesirable behaviour. [Many parents and caregivers took this option too far and spanking has since become a form of abuse.] The point of spanking was to get the child to stop doing the thing the parent didn't want them doing. Less extreme forms of positive punishment are being scolded by a professor for not putting your phone on silent before class and getting a speeding ticket.
Each of these punishments has an intention, whether it be to reinforce good behaviour, social contracts, or safety.
Shaming has no intentionality. The point of it is to bring the person being shamed to a low point. In a sense, one intention may be to have that person idealize the values of the shamers however this is not what happens. Shaming adds to depression and anxiety, and in many ways reinforces negative behaviours.
Take, for example, Wentworth Miller (Prison Break, The Flash). Following massive success as the star of Prison Break in 2009 Miller sunk into a deep depression. Common symptoms include overeating/undereating and corresponding weight gain/loss, sadness, anger, sleep changes, fatigue, and so on and in 2010 a picture was taken by paparazzi of Miller, who was out for a stroll with a friend, that showed he had gained quite a bit of weight, compared to the physique we were used to seeing in the television show. A shameful meme sprung forth rather quickly that he recently responded to. The point of the meme was to make others feel better while getting a good laugh at a celebrity who, remarkably enough, are humans, too.
Long story short, there is no point to shaming people. Odds are, they are already quite ashamed of themselves. Respect, generosity, and time are what these folks need in order to make the changes they need to make to improve their function and health.
There is no doubt that our day can easily be consumed by our electronics. Video games, social networking, blogging, emails... even making calls to friends and family... takes a significant amount of time out our lives if we're not careful. Further, it can affect children and their development - in every aspect - in just as negative a way as to adults.
Technology is a great tool and should be treated as nothing more. The Internet was first developed as a new way for the military to pass information between squads and between allies and became the hub for, theoretically, all of the world's information. You watch a movie like Transcendence and see just how much information could be out there but we spend most of our time focusing on 140 characters or less.
I find the biggest issue with technology today is its ease of use. Cell phones, tablets, computers, and alike boot up quickly, run on powerful batteries, and can connect to every form of radio wave we use for communication. With that ease of use comes ease of access - said with some irony attached - which can lead to addiction to various forms of gaming and pornography.
What we do with that access to pixels is put up (fire)walls around ourselves against the people around us. Individuals within couples will complain about the other not spending enough devoted time - time away from the object of addiction; often just asking for a half hour without the tech in hand or in view. What is concerning is I am now hearing this from children.
And it comes down to this simple act: Put the tech away for increasing increments every day. Regardless of the profession it is possible to put the tech away for an extra hour per day literally starting at just 1 minute. I propose two challenges:
A) Day 1: 1 minute. Day 2: 1 minute. Day 3: 2 minutes. Day 4: 3 minutes. Day 5: 5 minutes. Day 6: 8 minutes... and so on. (I call it the Fibonacci challenge)
B) Day 1: 1 minute. Day 2: 2 minutes. Day 3: 4 minutes. Day 4: 8 minutes. Day 5: 16 minutes.... so on
C) One minute added per day.
In each case, this must be consecutive time as opposed to random minutes away from the tech. As you build up the minutes, use the time you have earned to do something with friends, spouses, children, and family to make up the gap.
In his article published February 28, 2016, Tyler Hamilton of the Toronto Star wrote up a brief report about how climate change rhetoric and mental illness are correlated. I have been saying this for the last several years but it's nice to see that others are on board.
My thesis focuses more on the notion of "How could it not?" whereas Hamilton's article focuses on the emotional impact of future thinking - the apprehensive expectations (worry) that we tend to associate with anxiety. The "How could it not?" approach has to do with how much air time climate change has received over the last decade-plus and the violent, apocalyptic rhetoric it receives. Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth is a great example of this rhetoric. He divides the many faces of climate change to focus on the impact of global warming and the climate refugees that become victims of the battle we have with our environment. Any time there is any even remotely significant weather event - high temperatures, stronger hurricanes - news agencies like CNN cannot wait to point to global warming/climate change. The Ottawa Sun, more than ten years ago, created an image of Santa swimming in the Rideau Canal on December 25 sometime in the not-so-distant future because the average temperature in the winter is over 15 degrees.
I have the link already provided for Hamilton's article and I don't want to dive to far into this as I plan on making this a discussion topic for future presentations but the point is this: The weather messes with our heads in a variety of ways. The DSM-IV-TR had a disorder called Seasonal Affective Disorder wherein depression-like symptoms would appear in certain times of the year - stereotypically in winter but it depends on the person. With the DSM-5 this disorder has been declassified and is now part of the diagnosis for Major Depressive Disorder as it occurs in seasonal patterns.
My point for posting this quick note is this: Find out if you are, in fact, so concerned for the future of our environment that it is causing anxiety. I am in the process of finding quick self-assessments but you will know if that worry exists just by how your body reacts to reading this article, Hamilton's article in the Toronto Star, or to other stories that come through various media.
If caught early anxiety can be dealt with much easier.
I am not sure about other practitioners but one of the issues some of us have is using either using big words or using small words with larger contextual meaning than we let on during sessions. Now, at the time we may try to explain things and there is the usual near-hypnotic nod that follows our explanation and then 3 days later there is a call or email saying, "What in the name of all that is good and holy did you mean by ________?"
Psycho-babble is a broad term I like to use for anything even remotely technical that therapists and counsellors say during sessions to try to summarize discussions on the fly. For example, when working with someone who falls into patterns of abuse I may say that he or she struggles with attachment and belongingness. We all know what attachment and belongingness are but the psychological background of these two concepts is quite a bit deeper than the Oxford Dictionary of the English Language dares to extend.
When we talk about attachment we actually talk about failures to become emotionally connected to our parents as far back as the womb and the overwhelming domino effect that follows when we are unable to form proper attachments during the following stages of life - infancy, toddler, childhood, adolescence, adulthood and so on. Belongingness has a similar trait but the terminology shifts from a psychosocial phenomenon to a need. Abraham Maslow created the hierarchy of needs in 1943 and started a shift in how we view internal and external psychology. In his view, belongingness is a need that comes after biological needs - food, air, water - and safety needs - clothing, housing, resources - and is dysfunctional until biological and safety needs are met. A combination of poor attachment and a chaotic needs hierarchy can be the basis for abusive relationships, substance use, shifting employment, and few close (supportive) friends.
How does one break through the psycho-babble, then? I recommend the same thing as when someone asks me the best way to read a book - whether it be a mundane topical book or the Bible - and my answer is ASK QUESTIONS when you are in the moment, not later. If you are reading a fantasy novel and don't understand a word or phrase then go to Google, a dictionary app, or a physical dictionary and find an answer. If you are reading the Bible the same idea applies with the added bonus of having study Bibles for all denominations. We like psycho-babble because it's a universal language for us in the helping professions and want you to know where we are coming from.
Just a way to get a few thoughts across outside of the office. In this blog you may even find entries that assist in your healing without needing a session