Blog Overview

Interactive Discovery has been, and continues to be, a home to a diverse group of amazing individuals who dedicate their lives in helping people.  We are of varying backgrounds and interests; accordingly, our blogs reflect a wide range of topics and perspectives, which we hope can be a resource for our community.  

Foods for Brain

by Olga Ivanov, MS, Nutritionist, RD, CDN, RYT

 “We are indeed much more than what we eat, but what we eat can nevertheless help us to be much more than what we are.” – Adelle Davis, an American author and foremost nutritionist.

From time immemorial, people around the world were aware that food could affect general health, emotional well-being, mood, and even libido. Nowadays, the scientific community is driven by experimental research, observational studies and data analysis investigating how nutrition influences every aspect of our lives. Although within the last few decades there has been an increase in life expectancy secondary to the medical and pharmaceutical advancements, our brains often times cannot keep up with our longer living bodies. Yet people of young and middle ages become more and more aware of cognitive health, which includes the ability to learn and remember new things, organizing and planning, decision making, and judgment, in order to keep up with our highly demanding modern world. 

There are many factors that influence our cognition throughout our life span. Some of them we may not modify, such as heredity or age. However, we do have power to better our lifestyles, habits, and diets so that it will positively affect our physical, emotional and cognitive health.

How can nutrition influence our brain function? Lets talk about our brain. It is a fatty organ that is comprised of nearly 100 billion brain cells - neurons. Our neuron membranes need essential fatty acids (those that come from the diet) in order to keep them flexible. These are the omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids (FA). Good sources of omega-6 FA are seed and nut oils, such as safflower, grape seed, sunflower, and walnut oils. In addition, these oils have a high smoking point and are good for cooking, rather than olive oil, which when heated turns into carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds. 

Omega-3 FA are found in cold-water fish, such as salmon, herrings, sardines, and cod liver. Seeds such as flax and chia seeds, and walnuts are another rich source of omega-3 FA, especially for vegans and vegetarians. Hence, 2-3 servings of fish per week, a handful of nuts daily over our salad or as a snack, and two tablespoons of seeds in your morning oatmeal, a smoothie, or a yogurt cup will provide you with essential fatty acids that will keep your brain cell membranes fluid and flexible. Moreover, omega-3 FA are well-known precursors for anti-inflammatory agents and today we know that inflammation is at the core of virtually most health-threatening diseases, including neurological, cardiovascular, gastrointestinal disorders, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, and arthritis, just to mention a few.

Free radicals are molecules that oxidize (damage) our DNA, eventually leading to disease and aging, and are inevitable byproducts of cellular metabolism. That is why anti-oxidant foods lately gained their popularity. They are found in green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables (cabbage family), nuts and seeds, vegetable oils, citrus fruit, berries, and dark chocolate. Therefore, it is essential that we consume these foods daily. It is not clear how these compounds affect cognition, but they certainly reduce the oxidative stress and damage, while protecting our DNA and cellular integrity. Moreover, a diet rich in colorful vegetables will provide your body with essential vitamins and minerals for the formation of myelin, a protein that insulates brain cells (neuron’s axons), so that they can communicate properly forming new networks (learning a new skill). Iodine is another important counter partner in myelin synthesis and is found in sea vegetables. One can incorporate iodine into the diet by adding various seaweeds into soups, salads or as a snack.

On the other hand, the major source of energy for the brain is glucose. However, one should avoid refined carbohydrates, such as white bread, pasta and rice. Even whole wheat breads and pastas should be consumed in moderation. Another way to provide our brain and red blood cells (rely exclusively on glucose for energy) is to incorporate whole grains into the diet by consuming foods such as oatmeal, buckwheat, millet, quinoa, brown rice, and amaranth. These grains are not just good sources of complex carbohydrates that fuel our brain while keeping us full longer, but also provide us with essential amino acids, as well as with vitamins and minerals that are crucial for the neurogenesis (formation of the new neurons).

Health experts recommend a balanced diet that provides healthy nutrients from the real foods you eat and Hippocrates’ famous quote “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” puts it all in perspective.

Self-Esteem

by Veronica J. Brodsky, Psy.D.

Everyone has potential.  To discover it is a road to success.  To apply it is a road to happiness.”

The above statement has been my philosophy and core belief ever since I have established Interactive Discovery in 2007.  However, one of the main challenges for me as a clinician is not only to recognize someone’s potential, but to help adults and children learn to recognize this within themselves.  How can one apply their potential and their talent when they face struggles with low self-esteem on daily basis?  While many educators, mental health providers and even politicians recognize the importance of self-esteem as a way to improve performance and feel more satisfied in life, we are still faced with many people feeling that they are simply not good enough. Most clinicians will attest that a common treatment plan goal, regardless of the presenting problem, is to improve self-worth and confidence and yet few feel that this is an easy goal to accomplish.

We all have a history and past that can influence how we experience ourselves. What is striking in my practice is that regardless of how bad or good one's past experience has been, the struggle with self-esteem is very similar across the board. It just varies in its intensity. One of the things I have observed over the span of 20 years of working and studying psychology, is that one common element the majority of my patients have is high self-criticism and low self-compassion. Teaching children and adults to be kind, loving, and gentle with themselves has been one of the most important, and yes, the most difficult aspects of my practice.  Unwiring the habit of self-criticism is a lot more challenging than receiving a promotion at work, high grades in school, and being selected for an Ivy League college.

Recently I came across an article in The Atlantic by Olga Khazan about why self-compassion works better than self-esteem. This article resonated with what I have observed over the span of my work as therapist.  In her interview with Dr. Christine Neff, a psychology professor at the University of Texas, she speaks about how we as a society promote high self-esteem.  However, what it actually means is to “feel special and above average.”

As a society, we are competitive. The term “keeping up with the Joneses” is an understatement.  We are constantly comparing ourselves to others. We want a lot more than we need and feel that by obtaining things, status, senior positions, and real estate, we will be happier. In his book Happier, Tal Ben' Shahar, a Harvard professor of psychology, states that "While levels of material prosperity are on the rise so are levels of depression."

We want our kids to go to the best schools, get the best grades and be the best in everything –athletics, music, arts, social leadership; the list goes on and on.  Kids know this & they feel it.  Just the Middle School selection process in New York City is enough to make a healthy child develop anxiety, panic attacks and depression. If you didn't get "that" job, didn't get into "that" school, didn’t pass "that" test, what does it say about you?  So when we equate our accomplishments with self-esteem, it is not surprising that we often don't feel good about ourselves, no matter how much we accomplish, because there will always be something that we didn't get.  According to Neff, "When we fail, self-esteem deserts us, which is precisely when we need it most…The best way to think about the problem of self-esteem is not whether or not you have it, but what you do to get it... usually self-esteem is highly contingent on success." 

I think it is very important to have goals, ambitions and purpose, but it is no less important to have self-compassion. Being gentle with yourself, setting realistic expectations, forgiving yourself for mistakes, allowing yourself to be taken care of, asking for help, making space and time to do something you truly enjoy and nurturing yourself helps to develop self-compassion.  Neff suggests that self-compassion is “treating yourself with the same kind of kindness, care, compassion as you would treat those you care about -- your good friends, and your loved ones.”  Without self-compassion, the road towards achieving our dreams can be self-destructive. Applying one's potential cannot lead to the road of happiness if self-compassion is missing.

References:

Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier. New York: McGraw Hill Publication.

Khazan, O. (2016). Why self-compassion works better than self-esteem. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2016/05/why-self-compassion-works-better-than-self-esteem/481473/.

EMDR

by Veronica J. Brodsky, Psy.D.

Wow, I have just processed in this two-hour session what I have tried to process in therapy for years.” This was a statement made by a client after I have incorporated EMDR into his session.  While not everyone has this experience, many patients do report that past traumatic or highly disturbing experiences have been processed, through bilateral stimulation, in an accelerated manner. Many studies indicate that by using EMDR therapy, people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference.  In addition, what is remarkable is that EMDR therapy shows that the mind can heal from psychological trauma much as the body can recover from physical trauma. 

I became particularly interested in EMDR after recognizing that many of my own patients felt “stuck.” Although we made many connections to their past and its impact on their current functioning, simply recognizing this connection was just not enough to help patients move forward in a way that freed them from their past.  As a result, “talk therapy” alone became less productive, so I was in search of other modalities that could be of help. 

What attracted me to EMDR was its fundamental link to our physiology and “mind-body” connection.  I observed that many people with a history of trauma, especially complex trauma, held on to these experiences in their bodies.  Somehow I wanted to aide in helping them to release these experiences from their body, similarly as we want a message therapist to help us to release a tense knot in our body.  

EMDR Institute describes Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as a “Psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories (Shapiro, 1989a, 1989b).  Francine Shapiro developed this modality about 20 years ago.  Shapiro’s (2001) Adaptive Information Processing model posits that EMDR therapy facilitates the accessing and processing of traumatic memories and other adverse life experience to bring these to an adaptive resolution. After successful treatment with EMDR therapy, affective distress is relieved, negative beliefs are reformulated, and physiological arousal is reduced.”

EMDR is used for a huge range of clinical application.  The premise is that 1) we move towards health and wholeness; 2) we have a natural impulse to heal; 3) we have wisdom within us.  EMDR incorporates the Adaptive Information Processing model and its main premise is that we move from a dysfunctional state to a functional one.  Trauma impacts the integration of the information and stores traumatic experience in a fragmented way on the right side of the brain.  By incorporating bilateral stimulation, we are reprocessing this experience and moving it in more organized way to the left side of the brain.  The other important premise of EMDR is that you don’t lose anything you need. 

Often in this work we refer to various traumatic events as “Large T” or “Small t.”  Large T traumas are referred to the events that were life threatening (e.g. war, accident, rape, etc.).  Small t – traumas are referred to the events that were experienced by individuals as traumatic, but were not life threatening (e.g. humiliations, sense of inadequacy, shame, difficult interpersonal relationships).  Thus, these experiences limit how we view ourselves in the world.   The impact of many “small t (s)” on one’s psyche can be just as devastating as experiencing one “large T” trauma. 

In my training with Dr. Laurel Parnell, who had modified the original protocol and incorporated “Attachment Focused EMDR” I have learned that a lot of the techniques and the use of bilateral stimulation can also reduce anxiety, improve sleep, and overcome trauma.  With successful EMDR process often “anger turns into power and fear turns into love.” While the techniques used in EMDR can be helpful to many, they are not for everyone and the success rate can vary depending on the individual and other factors.  However, I feel fortunate in having this technique in my “tool-box” and have seen impressive results when they are incorporated into “talk therapy.”

 

References:

Parnell, L. (2007). A therapist’s guide to EMDR; Tools and techniques for successful treatment. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Parnell, L. (2013). Attachment focused EMDR; Healing relational trauma. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Shapiro, F. (1995). Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing; Basic principles, protocols, and procedures. New York: The Guilford Press.

Family Therapy: Addressing the Communication Break Down

by Julia Albores, LCSW

Conflict, differences and disagreements are a natural part of family life.  When a family’s communication system is working well, problems get resolved and everyone moves on.  On-going family conflict, however, is often a reflection of a communication break-down.   With today’s reality of increasing work demands and busy lifestyles, there are plenty of opportunities for communication problems to occur.  Despite all of the new technology and the million ways to send messages across the airways, we still somehow lack the time and ability to really connect.

Typically family communication issues get noticed when one member, often a child, starts to show signs of stress.  The not so subtle signs of stress show up as anger, irritability, yelling at other family members, breaking house rules and/or fighting at home and in school.  These children are waving a red flag that things are not quite right.   Some less obvious signs of stress manifest as depression, withdrawal, anxiety and excessive fear.  These behaviors are not only worrisome for the individual, but they can also impact the rest of the family. Mom and/or Dad’s time may be constantly pulled in to help manage the anxious behavior of one child, while siblings get ignored or neglected.  Often the child who waves the red flag becomes the identified patient, the child with the problems; however, he may simply be carrying the symptoms for the whole family.  

Individual problems can, and often do, involve the whole family; larger family issues can prompt negative behavior in the individual and/or negative behavior begins to impact adversely upon the rest of the family.  When one member of a family is struggling, the rest of the members can have very different responses which, in turn, can cause subtle or not so subtle imbalances.   Each member of the family has their own story about how they are experiencing stress.    Frequently, when one person holds the sadness of an experience, another can hold the anger, but these are two parts of a whole.  Once the whole family is in the room together, all of the feelings get heard and all of the pieces of the puzzle come together and problems come into focus.  Family therapy makes use of the whole system as a resource for healing and change.  

I often see families who have all the right intentions to connect but somehow keep missing each other.  Teenagers have no problem articulating the communication break-down, “I don’t talk to my parents because they wouldn’t get it.” Or, “They think they know what I am going through, but they have no idea.”  Parents have the bigger picture in mind, looking toward the future with hopes of school success and better opportunities down the road.  Kids, on the other hand, are more concerned with the here and now of their daily experiences, getting over the latest academic or social challenge at school, for example.   So how do we get these two different worlds to intersect? Or better yet, how do we prevent them from becoming so distant in the first place?

The power of family therapy lies in opening up communication.  The problem may or may not point to larger issues in the system as a whole, but when families come together to communicate and work on problems, creative and systemic solutions take place and everyone benefits.  

What are some basic strategies to help families address communication break-down?  As a family therapist, I often start by helping families build new routines and habits that center on connection and develop active listening skills.   

One of the hardest challenges to improving communication is finding the time to slow life down and focus on connection.  You can start by identifying the best times of the day to connect.  First thing in the morning while scrambling to get ready for work or school, for example, is usually not the best time.  On the other hand, at the end of the day when the day’s activities are winding down and everyone is relatively calm and relaxed can be a good time to take a few minutes to connect.  Doing something fun and sharing focused attention builds connection and may be all that is needed.  There are also those unexpected moments when life’s unique circumstances offer an opportunity to connect: you happen to find yourself with the unusual luck of being on an uncrowded subway car and still several minutes from home; or the therapist or doctor is running a little late and you have time to talk in the waiting room.  Throughout the day you can ask yourself, “Does this seem like a good time to connect?” And at the end of the day ask, “Did we connect enough today?”  Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot. 

Another important task geared to improving communication is helping parents turn down the multi-tasking-problem-solving-brain and turn up the actively-listening-brain.  Active listening is often a lost art for parents who are running ragged trying to meet all of life’s responsibilities.  Let’s face it, getting ready for work in the morning, while simultaneously getting kids ready for school—IS – near rocket science.  Dr. Craig Kinsley a psychologist at University of Richmond found that there’s actually hard science behind why Mom’s, in particular, seem hard wired to solve problems and think several steps ahead.(1)  In the study led by Kinsley, female rats who had recently given birth performed better on learning, memory and cognition tasks than non-mothers.  They concluded that the mother rats were better at problem solving, handling stress and completing certain memory tasks.  Parents are on the job all day and we better be or we’ll miss the boat, or the bus or train, as it were.  The hard task is balancing this revved up wiring and energy to get things done with an equal dose of communication and connection. 

As a general rule, active listening should precede problem solving.  In fact, through active listening a parent can guide a child to solve problems for themselves.  Active listening is a skill that is targeted at gaining a deeper understanding of your child’s feelings and experience.  Carl Rodgers, the founder of the humanistic approach to psychology, called it “reflection of feelings”.  Dr. Thomas Gordon, widely recognized for his pioneering work on communication, developed a communication model that includes active listening and is now used in 45 countries around the world.  The effective use of active listening skills by parents has been shown to lead to positive change in children’s behavior. (2)  With kids, active listening not only helps them to feel understood, but it also helps them to understand themselves.  There are many resources that offer parents guidelines for how to connect and build effective active listening skills.  A brief list is provided at the end of this article.

Here are some basic skills of an active listening approach:

  • Slow down and find a good time to connect
  • Offer your undivided attention
  • Focus your attention on the your child’s words/emotions not on what you want to say
  • Be willing to listen to and accept your child’s feelings (though you need not necessarily agree)
  • Reflect back the meaning and emotions of what you hear

 “Sounds like you were pretty mad, when… “,  or “I hear that your feelings got hurt when…   ”

1. Ask clarifying questions: “So when you say __________, do you mean___________”  “Can you describe that part more for me?” 

2. Test your understanding of what you heard: “I think I hear you saying__________, do I have that right?”

Our kids come to us with a problem and we come back with a million ideas for how to fix it.  Can our undivided attention and active listening be what they really want and need? 

References:                                                                                 

Motherhood Induces and Maintains Behavioral and Neural Plasticity across the Lifespan in the Rat; Kinsley, Craig Howard Archives of Sexual Behavior , February 2008, Volume 37, Issue 1, pp 43-56

The effects of a mother’s use of I-messages and Active Listening on a Child’s behavior in the home; Chant, Christine; Nelson, GeoffreyFamily Therapy, Vol9(3), 1982, 271-278

    Parent Effectiveness Training: The Proven Program for Raising Responsible Children by Thomas Gordon, Ph.D.

    How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

    Playful Parenting by Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.d

    Using Art in Therapy with Children and Adolescents

    by Lauren Feiden, Psy. D.

    Art therapy encourages self-expression, self-discovery and emotional growth; for these reasons, it has been used in the treatment of mental health issues for many years. As a form of psychotherapy, art therapy often involves both the creation of art and the discovery of its meaning. Individuals are encouraged to visualize, and then create, the thoughts and emotions that they cannot talk about (Brooke, 2006).


    It is often difficult for children and adolescents to verbalize their problems or concerns. The resistance found in children and adolescents to direct discussion of their difficulties and feelings prompted child psychotherapists to seek additional ways to communicate (Schaefer & Cangelosi, 2002). Since children and adolescents are naturally more artistic and creative, art facilitates expression of their emotions and feelings without the use of words. Furthermore, adolescence can be sensitive time which can cause an adolescent to be more aware and concerned their image, especially among their peers. These adolescents often find it difficult to verbalize these feelings (Riley, 2001). “Art therapy can offer a support system to adolescents experiencing anxiety, depression, low self-concept and self-esteem, and academic difficulties. Art as a language of therapy, combined with verbal dialogue, uses all our capacities to find a more successful resolution to our difficulties” (Riley, 2001, p.54)”.  Using art in therapy can offer a nonthreatening way for teens and children to express their inner feelings (Riley, 2001).

    Integrating art in therapy offers children and adolescents a more viable solution for communication than simply verbalizing their feelings. With the use of art, children and adolescents can help bring suppressed emotions to the surface (art therapy blog).

    Benefits of using art in therapy:

    • Can be used as a means of nonverbal communication
    • Used for self-expression and self-exploration
    • Increases awareness of feelings
    • Can help release feelings
    • Facilitates emotional development
    • Non threatening therapeutic modality
    • Fosters creativity
    • In a group setting, everyone can engage in the activity, it can increase peer socialization and increases feelings of connectedness

    Art in therapy can be useful for, but not limited to, the following:

    • Anxiety
    • Depression
    • Grief and loss
    • School and learning related issues
    • Social anxiety/shyness
    • Low Self-esteem and self-concept
    • Identity confusion/difficulties
    • Trauma
    • Stress

    References:

    Brooke, S.L. (2006). Creative arts therapies manual. Charles C. Thomas, Il.

    Liebmann, M. (2004). Art therapy for groups, 2nd Edition.  Brunner-Routledge, NY,

    Riley, S. (2001). Art therapy with adolescents. Western Journal of Medicine, 175(1), 54-57.

    Schaefer, C.E. & Cangelosi, D.M. (2002). Play therapy techniques, 2nd Edition. Jason Aronson Inc, NJ.

    www.Arttherapyblog.com

    Ways to decrease anxiety through rewiring our brain: Mind-Body Connection

    by Veronica Brodsky, Psy.D.

    During my 15 years of clinical practice in the field of psychology, both as a practitioner and a supervisor of other clinicians, it’s becoming more apparent that there are more and more people, and sadly, more children, who are struggling with anxiety. The questions “why?” and “what’s causing it?” have been raised by many who come into our field of practice.  I often pose the question “How can one not be anxious?” considering the type of lives the majority of adults and children live.  With the constant need to “run” and “check off” yet another thing on the never ending “to do list” and after-school activity schedule, it’s no wonder that the National Institute for Mental Health reports the prevalence rate for anxiety at 18.1% of the U.S. adult population and 25.1% of 13 to 18 year-olds.  Clearly our lives today require a much quicker pace and a particular type of energy that impacts our mind and our body.  With today’s technology and rhythm, we want many different things and we want them instantly.  This type of arousal in moderation can be beneficial for people to achieve goals, but when frequency and intensity increase, the effects of this overstimulation damages our central nervous system, which can cause considerable damage on our physical and mental health. Teaching people how to relax is a lot more challenging than helping them to manage their “to do list.”  For many, relaxing is counterintuitive to productivity.  However, for many, this type of productivity is achieved at a very high cost, not only damaging their health, but also their relationships with family and friends.

    How we feel has a lot to do with how we perceive and experience the world and the life situations we are exposed to.  The nature/nurture model has long been accepted as the major contributor to our mental health.  In other words, our biological predisposition and sensitivity, combined with the experiences of one’s environment, contribute to how we deal with daily life and stressors.  Some people are more sensitive to how they see events in their lives, while others are able to disconnect from the situation.  This question of why some people are capable of managing their emotions better than others, while facing major stressors including experiencing trauma, initiated a wide array of research on resilience.

    The National Institute for Mental Health wrote in their press release of October 18, 2007, “In humans, stress can play a major role in the development of several mental illnesses, including post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.  A key question in mental health research is:  Why are some people resilient to stress, while others are not?  This research indicates that resistance is not simply a passive absence of vulnerability mechanisms, as was previously thought; it is a biologically active process that results in specific adaptations in the brain’s response to stress. Results of the study were published online in Cell, on October 18, by Vaishnav Krishnan, Ming-Hu Han, PhD, Eric J. Nestler, MD, PhD, and colleagues from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, Harvard University, and Cornell University.” (http://www.nimh.nih.gov/news/science-news/2007/stress-brain-yields-clues-about-why-some-succumb-while-others-prevail.shtml)

     For those who are prone to anxiety, being exposed to stressful situations can trigger intense anxiety and even panic attacks.  Our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and stress-related hormones become active when faced with stress, telling our brain “Danger!”  While sometimes these mechanisms can serve as a healthy sign of avoiding harm, the majority of the time we are overreacting to these situations, causing us to feel restless, irritable, sad, and anxious.

    In my experience, more often than not, an anxious child tends to have at least one anxious parent or a grandparent.  Thus, suggesting that children can inherit the “anxious gene” and if exposed to an anxious parent, children’s response to stressors are often mirrored. If becoming anxious to situations is not only learned, but is organic, we then need to help our brain to become more resistant to stress.  When you exercise your body, you become stronger and healthier – even if you were not born a natural athlete.  Similarly, when you exercise your brain it also becomes stronger and healthier even if you were not born with the “resilience gene.”  Our brain is a muscle that requires exercise in order to help it during periods when we are more sensitive and susceptible to anxiety.  More and more research in neuroscience supports the theory that we can retrain or rewire our brain to respond to stress and events in our lives differently, as well as improve cognition in other areas. (Frederickson 2001; Hanson & Mendius, 2009; Keller, T. A., Adam, M., J. 2009).

    Recognizing how our brain affects our body (and vice versa) and emphasizing the importance of mind-body connections is a key in treating anxiety. If you want to use the mind-body connection to decrease your stress, you need to “stimulate the parasympathetic (PNS) wing of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Our mental activity has greater direct influence over ANS than any other bodily system.  It is not surprising that relaxation is one of the key factors to help our body and our mind to feel calm.  Although we know all too well that relaxation is important, actually doing it is a lot harder and yet when you are relaxed, it’s hard to feel stressed or upset (Benson 2000).  Therefore, learning and practicing relaxation techniques, not only when you are faced with stressful situations but during “down time”, is quite useful in building a stronger PNS – which, in turn, quiets and rewires our brain.

    Rick Hanson, Ph.D. and Richard Mendius, MD., in their book Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom, outline various relaxation techniques, including these four quick ones: 1) Relax your tongue, eyes, and jaw muscles2) Feel tension draining out of your body and sinking down into the earth3) Run warm water over your hands4) Scan your body for areas that are tense, and relax them

    Breathing is another widespread method used to help people to relax.  Deep, slow breaths, while inhaling and exhaling, stimulates the PNS and balances your heartbeat.  I learned one of my favorite breathing exercises while attending a talk by Andrew Weil, M.D., considered to be a guru in the area of holistic intervention.  It’s called the relaxing breath.  I refer to it as a 4: 7: 8 breathing exercise. It is a formal breathing technique for pranayama, the ancient Indian science of breath control, that forms a part of yoga (Weil, 1995).  Although you can do it while lying, and even standing or walking, I prefer to do it while sitting with both of my feet planted firmly on the floor.  “You place your tongue in the yogic position: touch the tip of the tongue to the backs of the upper front teeth, and then slide it just above the teeth until it rests on the alveolar ridge, the soft tissue between the teeth and the roof of the mouth.  Keep it there during the whole exercise…Then close the mouth and inhale quietly through the nose to a silent count of 4.  Then hold the breath for a count of 7.  Then exhale audibly through the mouth to a count of 8, making an audible sound.  Repeat for a total of four cycles, and then breathe normally.  If you have difficulty exhaling with your tongue in place, try pursing your lips: you will soon get the knack of how to do it.  Note that the speed with which you do the exercise is unimportant.  What is important is the ration of 4: 7: 8.” (Weil,1995, pg. 206-207).  He believes that even for the most severe forms of anxiety, breathing exercise is the best treatment.  Dr. Weil also believes that practicing breathing is important, so you will have it ready to use in case of need.  In order to determine what breathing exercises can do for you and your healing capacity, you must practice them regularly.

    Therapeutic intervention can certainly aid those individuals who are experiencing ongoing struggles with anxiety.  Helping patients to recognize the underlying cause of anxiety, processing some of these feelings in a safe therapeutic environment, reframing and using the mind-body connection, can assist in rewiring our brain and decrease anxiety, not just for us, but for our children.

     

    References:

    Frederickson, B.L. (2001). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology. American Psychologist 56: 218-226.

    Hanson, R. & Mendius, (2009). Buddha’s Brain: The practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom.  Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publication, Inc.

    Keller, T. A., Adam, M., J. (2009). Altering Cortical Connectivity: Remediation-Induced Changes in the White Matter of Poor Readers. Neuron, 2009; 64 (5): 624-631 DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.10.018 

    Krishnan, V., Han, Ming-Hu., Nestler, E.J., (2007) Cell –on line October 18

    Weil, Andrew (1995). Spontaneous Healing. New York: Fawcett Books; The Random House Publishing Group

    Are You My Mother?? Am I my mother?

    by Elisabeth Schreiber, Ph.D.  

    Do you remember the children’s book by P.D. Eastman about a baby bird whose mother is away when he hatches from his egg? The hatchling drops out of the nest and wanders about on his own, asking different animals and machines he encounters, “are you my mother?” Finally he sees a steam shovel. “Oh no! You are not my mother. You are a scary Snort!” The baby bird is frightened and confused: where does he belong? But the steam shovel lifts him back up to the safety of his nest, where his mother greets, feeds, and holds him. 

    Perhaps one of the reasons this book is beloved by many children and adults is that it puts into words the importance of the parent-child relationship while also depicting the sense of fragility and displacement that goes along with the developmental process that psychologist Margaret Mahler called separation and individuation. Mahler (1963, 1975) believed that newborns are unaware that they and their mothers are distinct from one another. For Mahler, such awareness begins between five and nine months of age, with a phase she termed “hatching.” This is the beginning of having a sense of self. Separation does not entail giving up close relationships --it is a matter of realizing that we do not have to be emotionally or psychologically fused with others. This permits a person to round out his her own ideas, thoughts, and feelings.   

    More recently, infant researchers have shown that infants are actually aware of both themselves and others in surprising and significant ways (e.g., Lyons-Ruth, K. (1991). In light of this research even Fred Pine, coauthor of some of Mahler’s original publications, has modified his opinion. Pine no longer believes that newborns are fully psychologically merged with their caretakers. Instead, he says, infants experience moments of relative merger, for instance during feeding and while falling asleep (Pine, 1992). Based upon those moments of relative subjective merger a fantasy of merger develops. For Pine, this fantasy is revisited again and again throughout life. 

    Separation-individuation, too, is not only the developmental domain of infants. Adolescence is a time when people typically assert themselves in new and important ways in a second main period of separation-individuation (Blos, 1979). And Calvin Colarusso (2000) writes about separation-individuation as a challenge people face repeatedly throughout the entire lifecycle. Transitions such as relocation, marriage, retirement, and bereavement are only a few of the many situations one may face that that require recalibrations in identity to allow for increased awareness that we are both separate from and deeply connected to others. Separation-individuation can bring exciting and empowering realizations, contributing to feelings of capability, creativity, and renewal. But it can also be painful and disorienting, as one has to let go of expectations and assume daunting responsibilities. It is not surprising, then, that gestures toward separation/individuation are often marked by ambivalence. During times of heightened separation-individuation demands, people may oscillate between proud displays of independence or competence and requests for comfort or efforts to return to the safety of the “nest.” Ultimately, the aim is to feel autonomous while also being communion with others. 

    For a variety of reasons, the goal of being both separate from and deeply engaged with others may be particularly hard to reach.  In some families, for instance, independent thought or feeling is seen as a betrayal of the parents, and an enmeshment with the family unit may be implicitly demanded. Children who grow up in such families are in quite a bind: in order to grow into self-confident adults they must learn, express, and respect their own thoughts and feelings. But if doing so is to be disloyal to the caretakers they love and need so dearly, that may feel forbidden from exploring their own internal worlds. In order to protect the relationships they need children sometimes feel compelled to sacrifice things that are essential to their own personal growth. They may develop into people who lack confidence in their own basic capabilities, have great difficulty making decisions, rely on others excessively, or are unable to bear the intimacy of romantic relationships. They may be beset by fears of abandonment, and sometimes turn to extreme behaviors such as self-harm, disordered eating, or addiction. 

    This is sometimes when the support and help of a trained clinician is sought.  In therapy some of the questions that frequently come up explicitly or through symbol are: who am I and how do I relate to and differ from those who raise(d) me? Who really is my mother? How am I like my mother? How am I different? These questions may be accompanied by feelings of terrible guilt, as people may wonder whether they are simply “blaming” others and avoiding responsibility. But ironically, it may be that only by asking these questions can one truly take responsibility for oneself and one’s behaviors. The first task, then, may be to learn to feel alright about questioning assumptions with which one was raised. Families must develop the strength to permit and even nurture children’s efforts to carve out unique reactions and points of view. And individuals must learn to bear these questions as they face life’s many changes. It takes courage, but the rewards are great: one can find a unique voice, feel more free and proud, and be able to endure and make use of a broader range of emotions. When this happens, too, the door to a deep kind of love and relatedness may be opened where once it was closed. 

    References:

    Blos, P. (1979). The adolescent passage. New York: International Universities Press. 

    Colarusso, C.A. (2000). Separation-Individuation Phenomena in Adulthood. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 48: 1467-1489 

    Lyons-Ruth, K. (1991). Rapprochement or Approchement: Mahler's Theory Reconsidered From the Vantage Point of Recent Research on Early Attachment Relationships. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 8:1–23. 

    M.S. (1963). Thoughts about Development and Individuation. The Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 18: 307-324. 

    Mahler, M., Pine, F. & Bergman, A. (1975). The psychological birth of the human infant. New York: Basic Books.

    Pine, F. (1992). Some Refinements of the Separation-Individuation Concept in Light of Research On Infants. Psychoanalytic Study of the Child, 47: 103-116.

    Sibling Rivalry – What’s a Parent to Do?

    by Jennifer Saba, Ph.D.

    Chances are, unless you are a free-spirited collegiate hanging out in Daytona Beach, this past week of Spring Break has brought you closer to your family.  If you are a parent, this has meant a lot of time with your children.  And if you have more than one child, chances are that they have spent some time arguing, bickering, and generally making you long for your Spring Break of yore. 

    Sibling rivalry. Normal, yes. But what, if anything, can a parent DO about it? Is there a way for parents to help their children and reduce the stress that everyone feels when siblings fight?

    For the answers to these questions, I turn frequently to the book, Siblings Without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Faber and Mazlish, who co-wrote the widely acclaimed, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, found that they were unable to contain the section on sibling rivalry to just one chapter. It was just too hot a topic among the families that they interviewed.  So they wrote this book as a way of helping parents help their children learn to live together. 

    The origin of sibling rivalry is thought to be the deep desire for the exclusive love of one’s parents.  Children naturally want to be their parents’ one and only love. The presence of another means that there might be less of everything for them.  Faber and Mazlish contend that when you add the envy, resentment, and the personal frustrations that they can only take out on a sibling, it is no wonder that “the sibling relationship contains enough emotional dynamite to set off rounds of daily explosions.”  One of my favorite ways that they illustrate this is through this initial exercise: 

    “Imagine that your spouse puts an arm around you and says, ‘Honey, I love you so much, and you’re so wonderful that I’ve decided to have another wife (husband) just like you.’ 

    The reader is then instructed to give their reaction to this and other follow-up scenerios involving this “new wife.”  

    This amusing but eye-opening exercise demonstrates the powerful feelings that siblings bring to their relationships, leaving parents to wonder whether it is possible to ever tame the wild beast of sibling conflict. To this the authors say yes, parents can make a difference.  Parents can change how they respond to their children, to reduce competition, to allow anger to be expressed healthily, to avoid putting their children in “roles” that limit their potential within the family.  Chapter by chapter, the authors provide anecdotes and role plays from their intensive parent workshops and illustrate throughout the book, in clever cartoon form, “before” and “after” demonstrations of responding to sibling conflict.  

    One of Faber and Mazlish’s major ideas about how to handle conflict is to allow children to express their feelings about their siblings, even if they are unpleasant ones.  Parents should remember that children have the right to have their feelings, even strongly negative ones.  Remember, feelings are just that – feelings.   They are different from actions.  Parents help their children by teaching them how to express anger without hurting. There are several ways that parents can do this.

    1. Instead of dismissing negative feelings about a sibling, acknowledge the feeling. 

    Instead of…

    Child: “Mom, Jack said I’m stupid!”

    Parent: “Oh, just ignore him!” 

    Put the feeling into words: 

    Parent: “A comment like that could make you mad!”

    Child: “It did!” 

    2. Give children in fantasy what they don’t have in reality.

    Instead of:

    Child: “Send the baby back!”

    Dad: “ You don’t mean that, you know you love her”

    Express what the child might wish:

    Dad: “You don’t want her here. Sometimes you wish she’d go away.” 

    3. Stop hurtful behavior. Show how angry feelings can be discharged safely.  Don’t attack the attacker. 

    Instead of:

    Child: (punches baby sister)

    Parent: That’s a terrible thing to do! She only touched your blocks! 

    Show better ways to express anger:

    Parent: (stopping child) “No punching! Tell your sister how angry you are with your words, not your fists!”

    Child: “Stay away from my blocks!” 

    Although these ideas were not 100% guaranteed to work every time, in general parents found that when they allowed their children to express bad feelings about each other, good feelings resulted, and when parents insisted on good feelings between siblings, bad feelings resulted.  

    In a funny, very readable way, Faber and Mazlish offer many other ideas to help parents create more harmony at home and experience less stress and frustration themselves. 

    But you will have to read it for yourself.  Right now, I have to go.  I hear some fighting in the next room…

    References:

    Faber, Adele & Mazlish, Elaine. (1998) Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. Harper Collins Publishers.

    Parents: Strategies for Dealing with Disruptive Behaviors

    by Melissa Malakoff, Psy.D.

    Many parents are dealing with children with disruptive behaviors that are difficult to control.  Despite parents’ effort, it often feels like “nothing works,” leading to frustration on the part of both parents and children.  However, the use of new strategies on the part of parents can help when used frequently and consistently.  The skills discussed in this blog entry focus on promoting positive parent-child relationships and interactions while teaching parents effective child management skills.  The aim of these skills is to decrease negative aspects of the relationship between parent and child and to develop consistently positive and supportive communication.  With proper and regular use of these child behavior management skills, you will see your child’s behavior improve.

    The following skills should be practiced for five minutes per day while parents sit down at a table and play with their children.  The child should be provided with a couple of options for play, but parents should avoid games with rules such as board games or card games.  The child should be given the opportunity to lead the play, with parents playing along and using the skills listed below.  These skills, knows as PRIDE skills, include Prasie, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, and Enthusiasm.  These skills are taken from Parent Child Interaction Therapy, developed by Sheila Eyberg (Eyberg & Funderberk, 2011).


    RULE I. Praise Appropriate Behavior.
    Reason:

    • Causes the behavior to increase
    • Lets the child know what you like
    • Increases child's self-esteem
    • Adds to the warmth of the relationship
    • Makes both parent and child feel good! 

    Examples:

    • That's terrific counting!
    • I like the way you're playing so quietly.
    • You have wonderful ideas for this picture. 
    • I'm proud of you for being polite. 
    • You did a nice job on that building. 
    • Your design is pretty. 
    • Thank you for showing the colors to me. 

    RULE II. Reflect Appropriate Talk. 
    Reason:

    • Allows child to direct the conversation
    • Shows child you're really listening
    • Demonstrates acceptance and understanding of child 
    • Improves child's speech
    • Increases verbal communication 

    Examples:

    • Child: I made a star. Parent: Yes, you made a star. 
    • Child: The camel got bumps on top. Parent: It has two humps on its back
    • Child: I like to play with this castle. Parent: This is a fun castle to play with. 

    RULE III. Imitate Appropriate Play.
    Reason: 

    • Let child lead
    • Approves child's choice of play
    • Shows child you are involved
    • Teaches child how to play with others (e.g., taking turns)
    • Tends to increase child's imitation of what you do 

    Examples:

    • Child: I'm putting baby to bed. Parent: I'll put sister to bed too.
    • Child: I'm making a sun in the sky. Parent: I'm going to put a sun in my picture too.  

    RULE IV. Describe Appropriate Behavior. 
    Reason:

    • Allows child to lead
    • Shows child you're interested 
    • Teaches concept
    • Models speech
    • Holds child's attention
    • Organizes child's thoughts about play 

    Examples:

    • That's a red block.
    • You're making a tower.
    • You drew a smiling face.
    • The cowboy looks happy. 

    RULE V. Enthusiasm.
    Reason:

    • Demonstrates interest in child
    • Models appropriate positive emotions
    • Supports positive statements
    • Strenghthens positive relationship

    Examples:

    • Wow!
    • That's great!
    • That's super. 

    References: 

    Eyberg, S. & Funderberk, B. (2011).  Parent Child Interaction Therapy Protocol.  Gainesville:  PCIT International