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Foods for brain I self esteem I EMDR I Family Therapy I Art Therapy

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.  

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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, Geoffrey Family 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