“Anything will give up its secrets if you love it enough. Not only have I found that when I talk to the little flower or to the little peanut they will give up their secrets, but I have found that when I silently commune with people they give up their secrets also–if you love them enough.” -George Washington Carver
I’ve been a psychotherapist for over thirty years. I have long ago lost count of just how many of my clients have commented–sometimes with appreciation, other times with disbelief–on how they don’t know how I do what I do. How can I possibly listen to so many terrible stories, they wonder. These comments invariably emerge after a patient has shared a deep dark secret.
I reply with my genuine feelings–I am constantly grateful and feel deeply privileged to do what I do. Although I do hear horrible stories at times–those of violence and pain, rife with injustices and betrayals–I also bear witness to the healing that can come when people reveal certain secrets about themselves or their loved ones that they thought they had to carry alone.
People keep secrets for a variety of reasons that are not necessarily good or bad. Each individual, family, and culture has spoken and unspoken rules about privacy vs. transparency. I am not suggesting that it is better to tell everyone everything.
But there are some secrets that become toxic when not revealed to anyone, ever. Underneath toxic secrets there is some fear that keeps that person from opening up. Sometimes the fear is justified but often it is misplaced, magnified or completely false. What are some of the reasons all of us keep information buried inside even when we desperately want to tell someone?
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.” -Friedrich Nietzsche
The TV ads would have all of us believe that the best cure for depression is the latest and greatest medication. First it was Prozac and now it’s Pristiq and Abilify. Although medication is a life saver for many, for others the side effects are too debilitating, and the meds don’t seem to help enough anyway.
Study after study has shown that the best treatment for depression includes some form of psychotherapy. Once again, there is always the cure du jour–right now it is cognitive behavioral (CBT or DBT). Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that something is missing from the information.
Your doctor or family may have told you (if you are the depressed one) to get help. What you haven’t been told is to make sure you do some counseling with your spouse, your children, and/or your family as well. Here’s why this missing information is so important…
Psychotherapists have long known that social support is crucial–not only when the patient suffers from depression but with any physical or emotional illness or disability. When you visit your doctor for your annual check-up, how often are you asked about the quality of your relationships? We now know that this is even more important than we thought.
A new study by Alan Teo and his team in the Psychiatry Department of the University of Michigan conducted a ten-year follow-up of almost 5000 adults aged 25-75 to determine just how big a part relationship factors played in the risk of developing depression years later. Their conclusion: the magnitude of the impact of social relationship quality on risk for depression is as strong as the effect of biological risk factors (like obesity, smoking, high blood pressure) for cardiovascular disease.
“To use fear as the friend it is, we must retrain and reprogram ourselves. We must persistently and convincingly tell ourselves that the fear is here–with its gift of energy and heightened awareness–so we can do our best and learn the most in the new situation.” ~Peter Williams
Barely a week goes by these days without some mention of the skyrocketing rates of anxiety in our culture. Drugs are offered as a quick fix but they come with a price. As discussed in a previous blog, most psychotropic medications like Xanax and Valium are highly addictive, and can be very difficult to withdraw from.
In the psychotherapy research, the use and benefits of various cognitive behavioral therapies have been widely proclaimed as the answer. New research from a team led by Elizabeth Phelps, a professor in NYU’s Department of Psychology and Center for Neural Science, now demonstrates how there can be a bit of a slipped cog in cognitive methods. Published last month by Raio et al. with the provocative title, “Cognitive emotion regulation fails the stress test,” this new research got my attention.
What Is Cognitive Emotion Regulation Anyway?
Cognitive emotion regulation is a fancy term to describe managing one’s feelings by deliberately thinking about them in more helpful ways. For example, millions of people override their fear of flying by reminding themselves that travel by plane is far safer than travel by car. Cognitive therapy teaches consumers to question their fear-inducing beliefs and to substitute them with more accurate appraisals, and these tools have been widely shown in the laboratory to be effective in altering the nature of our negative emotional responses.
However, what this newly published study demonstrates is that even mild stress can derail the ability of someone to use these otherwise effective weapons when they most need them–in real life. “In other words, what you learn in the clinic may not be as relevant in the real world when you’re stressed….Our results …
Would you like to be able to answer yes to the following questions? Would you like your partner to answer yes? Your children?
Do you prefer to be organized and disciplined? Is neatness important to you? Do you have high standards and expectations of yourself? Do you have a need to strive for excellence? Sounds good, but…
What if the questions were these instead…
Do you often feel disappointment after completing a task, knowing you could have done better? Does your best just never seems to be quite good enough? Even when you have performed well, do you feel little satisfaction at your victory?
Perfectionism is a personality trait that psychologists have been studying for the past thirty years. It is used to describe people who set extremely high standards for themselves, striving to be the best at whatever goal they are pursuing. It sounds good–except when it’s not. The big difference is whether the goal is to excel (potentially attainable with dedication and hard work) or to be perfect (unattainable since no one succeeds without trial and error).
Although most people wish they had at least a small dose of perfectionism, there is a fine line between healthy perfectionism and its maladaptive form. Too much of this trait leads to setting goals that are excessively high and is usually accompanied by hypercritical, unrealistic expectations of self and others. No surprise it can lead to depression, anxiety, eating disorders and a slew of other problems.
Psychologists Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett, believe that perfectionism comes in different shapes and sizes, each associated with different kinds of problems. Although some of the associated issues may be less severe than others, no perfectionism is trouble proof. The three types they have identified are self-oriented perfectionism, other-oriented perfectionism, and socially prescribed perfectionism.
The self-oriented first types focus their need for perfection on themselves; …
Have you ever walked into your parents’ house as a mature adult and suddenly turned into a rebellious teenager? Or suddenly burst into tears (unlike those around you) at a certain scene in a movie? Or found yourself wanting to smack your child even though you would never do so? Or begun yelling at your wife because of the look on her face?
There is a movement afoot across the planet. Since surfacing in England only a year and a half ago, news has spread from Europe to cities in America, Canada and Australia. Who would have thought that so many people would be so eager to talk about death–but they are.
Since the beginning of recorded history, people have come together with other members of their tribe or village to discuss matters important to the progress of their community. Tribal councils, town hall meetings, Greek symposia, European salons–all are examples of forums designed to give citizens a voice. Many ideas and movements for social change or personal transformation have been born in these types of gatherings.
Although for some kids, finding the right medication is a life-changer, there are many parents who are adamantly opposed to putting their kids on drugs–particularly without trying something more holistic first. There is great news on many different fronts as well as new research from around the world, showing that there are alternative approaches to treatment shown to be effective in combatting depression in children and teens. Here are just a few of them that have recently caught my eye…
Just yesterday, a friend told me how her family doctor prescribed her mother antidepressants for twenty years. She was outraged that he never encouraged her to get counseling as well. She believes her mom could be happier if encouraged to grieve the untimely death of her husband and directed to build a bigger support system.
Last week, a new client came in for help with anxiety, and her doctor told her she must see a psychiatrist—not a psychologist or family therapist. This was the GP’s advice in spite of the fact that the woman complained about the controlling behavior of her husband. Unfortunately, far too many psychiatrists now prescribe medication (usually anti-depressants but sometimes addictive drugs like Xanax) rather than doing psychotherapy or even suggesting it.
This is no small question since one in six people will experience depression at some time during their life. Study after study has shown that psychotherapy helps people–and not just for depression. Given that therapy is available in many forms—and that low-cost or sliding fee scale options are available in most communities across America—why are doctors still not prescribing it as the first line of attack for depression and anxiety?
One answer can be found by following the money. Intense marketing strategies on the part of drug companies sell every new drug therapy as the quick and easy fix–while only mentioning in fine print the negative side effects that typically coincide with any drug. In the blog I wrote about anxiety, I received numerous heartfelt comments from readers who became addicted to prescription meds being taken just as their doctor prescribed.
Perhaps there are so many different forms of therapy out there these days that doctors are unfamiliar with and therefore hesitant to make referrals. While it is broadly …
1. Do you spend time alone on a regular basis? When you are alone, are you comfortable or do you get anxious?
2. When your partner wants to spend time alone, do you feel rejected, scared or unloved?
3. Do you get jealous or upset when your partner spends time with other friends or family members?
4. Are you afraid that when your partner is out of sight, you are no longer in his or her thoughts?
If you are puzzled about what autonomy has to do with the capacity to be alone then keep reading. Autonomy gives us the ability to make choices according to our own free will. Without it, we feel like victims. If you cannot tolerate being alone, then you will choose to spend time with anyone but yourself. You will sacrifice your autonomy, your very sense of personal freedom, in order to feel connected.
If you feel that you cannot survive being alone, then fear will be in the driver’s seat. When run by fear, people choose partners who aren’t good for them (or are even dangerous) just to avoid being alone or rejected. On the other hand, if you know that you can be alone—and take care of your own needs—then you can risk being the unique individual that you are. You are able to let your partner come and go, both physically and emotionally instead of desperately clinging on for dear life.
Most people value their relationships above everything else. Half of my clients come to therapy longing to find a healthy relationship, and the other half seeking to improve an already existing one. We are, by nature, social animals. But living in close quarters with family members is anything but easy. Part of what makes the dance of relationship so difficult is the ongoing tension between closeness and distance, connection and autonomy.
Unfortunately, too many people fall prey to the myth that intimacy is only about connection. Authentic connection is a big part of it, of course, since …
I attended a powerpoint presentation recently, given by a nationally renowned psychiatrist, who provided an excellent overview of modern day psychiatry in America. It was quite disturbing to learn that the most widely prescribed psychiatric drug is Xanax. More bad news is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting a sharp increase in fatal overdoses of prescription drugs. In fact, if you look at the top fifteen most prescribed psychotropic drugs, you will find Ativan (at #3), Valium (#8) and Klonopin on the list as well. If your regular doctor is prescribing them, they can’t be all that bad, right?
Many of you reading this article may not know that all four medications are classified as “minor tranquilizers” and are from the same family of drugs, called benzodiazepines. The first “benzo” sold in America was Librium in 1960, followed quickly by Valium, which was the number one prescribed psych med for most of the 1970′s and is still high on the list. When Xanax became available in 1981, it was marketed as the best drug for panic attacks. Certainly Pfizer did a great job of marketing, making Xanax the big winner–the most popular psychiatric drug in America–but is this really the best treatment for anxiety?
Some of you who are reading this article may currently be taking one of these drugs as prescribed by your doctor. I am a psychotherapist, not a doctor, and I am not offering medical advice here. Rather, I am offering information so that you, as a consumer or interested family member, can have more facts at your disposal. Unfortunately, hugely expensive, clever commercials flash onto our screens daily, touting one promising drug or another for various psychiatric conditions. Given how debilitating anxiety can be, it is no wonder that we reach for something, anything, to fix it.
Without going deeply into the chemical composition of benzodiazepines (such information is readily available on line), they …