Category Archives: Blog

Group Psychotherapy: Acknowledging Our Need for Others

We allow our ignorance to prevail upon us and make us think we can survive alone, alone in patches, alone in groups and even alone in gender.

Maya Angelou (as cited in Rutan, Stone & Shay, 2007)

We are born into groups. Our original group is our family where we adapt relational styles of interacting and intimacy. These manners of relating to others stay with us into adulthood. But as our world grows around us so does our group experience. Unfortunately, many of these same adaptive behaviors learned through childhood interactions become outdated, and keep us from growing into our truer selves, or maintaining deeper relationships. In turn we may experience life feeling hindered in some way, and unable to reach our full relational potential.

Furthermore, when feeling stuck in old behaviors, our societal tendency is to retreat to a “safer” place, rather than challenge ourselves to resolve conflicts. Sadly, what feels safer in the moment may perpetuate isolation and frustration with others. In actuality it was the interaction with others that helped create such maladaptive behaviors, so it makes sense that others will be needed to form new, healthy ways of connecting (Rutan, Stone & Shay, 2007).

Group psychotherapy can be a place to explore our relational styles in real time with others who are motivated to grow. It can be a place to give and receive honest feedback in order to gain insight about our own behaviors, and build a stronger sense of safety with our peers and within ourselves (Yalom, 1995). Of course, joining a group can be stressful. For some, the thought of disclosing personal information or emotional reactions in front of strangers can be frightening and overwhelming. It is common to talk ourselves out of such an exposing commitment. Although such questioning is understandable, an opportunity for growth will be missed if we allow our fears to stand in the way.

In an attempt to better illustrate such an internal conversation, I have explored 4 common statements that potential group members contemplate that can stand in the way of the help available. I have followed each statement with reasoning which promotes taking the risk of group therapy.

I have nothing to offer a group.

Despite how individual human consciousness can be, there are common or universal themes to all of us. For instance, the most common secret we keep from others is a deep conviction of inadequacy or incompetence (Yalom, 1995). Thoughts such as, “I will be found out if others really get to know me” can be understood by a majority of those around us. With this in mind, simply offering beliefs of inadequacy with other group members will promote safety, connection and cohesion. In this manner, expressing the basic feeling of “I have no idea what I’m doing in here or what I really want from this” can be one of the most integral aspects of the group process.

Its only once a week, how can I feel comfortable with strangers?

Given enough time group members will act in a natural fashion. We will interact with fellow members as we do with others in our social and familial spheres. In this way, members will create the same interpersonal patterns as we have experienced throughout our lives (Yalom, 1995). As the group increasingly becomes a social microcosm for each member, interpersonal learning can take place. Group then becomes a safe place to experiment with new behaviors. The more spontaneous the interaction within group, the more rapid the authentic behavioral change will happen outside of group. In this way, the psychological time the group spends together far exceeds the weekly (physical) time spent in the therapy room.

I can work out my own issues, by myself and with my friends or family.

As stated above, many of our earliest learned behaviors are established by interacting with family and friends. In this we form role dynamics with those closest to us. As we grow, these roles become further solidified. We establish unconscious expectations for each of us to stay in the roles we have co-created. Therefore, one person’s desire to change would change the entire family unit, or circle of friends. In many cases, this desire for change can be met with resistance from the people in our lives.

Thus, group therapy is created with a “new family” where roles can be established, explored and changed again and again. Furthermore, for many the vulnerability of behavioral or emotional experimentation feels safer in the group context (rather than with preexisting relationships). Having no connection with members outside of the group therapy session allows for a deeper safety and purity within session. As a fundamental sense of trust grows within the context of the group, members will begin to feel a more authentic self outside of the therapy room as well.

What can a group offer me; I don’t need anyone anyway.

Another universal belief that increasingly isolates us from each other is one of interpersonal alienation. We, despite appearances, believe that we cannot love another (Yalom, 1995). In this belief we defend against hurt, rejection and truly caring for even those closest to us. To care brings forth the potential for loss. We remain isolated and unaffected by others. In this we resist the help from others that we need (Rutan, Stone & Shay, 2007).

Group cohesion, or the attractiveness, care and belonging members feel for a group, has been said to permit growth more than any other aspect of group dynamics (Yalom, 1995). A feeling of belonging and care for one’s group builds acceptance, intimacy and understanding. In turn a deeper sense of internal safety exists, even during times of struggle. The group therapy experience can nurture the ability to care for another. Ultimately, it is this ability to care for others, and to acknowledge our need for others, that creates desired change in our lives.

References:

Rutan, J. S., Stone, W. N. & Shay, J. J. (2007). Psychodynamic Group Psychotherapy. New York/London: The Guildford Press

Yalom, I. D. (1995). The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy (4th edition). New York, NY: Basic Books.

By: John Peloian, PsyD Psychological Assistant (PSB 9402067)

Supervised by: Susan Frankel, Ph.D (PSY 14552)

On Saying Goodbye

Grieving is not about forgetting. Grieving allows us to heal, to remember with love rather than pain. It is a sorting process. One by one you let go of things that are gone and you mourn for them. One by one you take hold of the things that have become a part of who you are and build again. -Rachel Naomi Remen

When we think of loss, we often think of the extreme, like the death of a loved one. However, loss can take many forms and includes things like moving, the ending of a relationship, or changing jobs. We’ve all heard the wealth of platitudes that exist when it comes to loss. They are in a better place now. Nothing lasts forever. There are plenty of fish in the sea. While such sentiments certainly fill the silence in uncomfortable situations and quell anxiety, they merely put a band-aid on a problem that we are faced with over and over again.

Loss can be life shattering. At our core, we have a fundamental need to connect. This need starts at birth through attachments to our earliest caregivers. As adults, we replicate these bonds in various interpersonal relationships, as well as environments. In essence, these ties provide a sense of security and safety. When these attachments are threatened, we are reminded of our utter dependence on the external- on the other. As result, we may feel threatened, anxious, sad, angry, or even utterly confused.

Dealing with loss can test even the best of us. Worden (2009) discusses four tasks of mourning that help one adapt. These include:

1) Accepting the Reality of the Loss- We may attempt to protect from the loss by denying its significance and meaning. We tell ourselves to move onward and upward rather than onward and inward, risking a life filled with unfinished business. On the other hand, acceptance is geared toward an intellectual and emotional understanding of what has happened and what this means. Embracing the reality of the loss can be a time consuming affair, but inherent in the process is the possibility for astounding personal growth.

2) Processing the Pain of Grief- Working through the emotional pain of loss is an essential component of grief work. When we numb and cut off feelings, mourning is prolonged and the use of maladaptive coping strategies such as drugs or alcohol may become prominent. Eventually, the grief catches up to us and can manifest as depression, anxiety, interpersonal difficulty, or physical ailments. We try to tighten our emotional valves, but unfortunately, they leak. Utilizing social support networks, talking to a trained therapist, or journaling can be useful tools when dealing painful emotions.

3) Adjusting to the World- When something ends, we are called to make external and internal adjustments. Adjusting to a new external environment means acknowledging the many ways that we are impacted by the loss. It also involves exploring the various roles that the lost object or person may have filled. Internal adjustments involve examining how the loss may have shifted our sense of self and who we are. Because of attachment patterns and our need to connect, we are prone to define ourselves through external things or people. As a result, loss may impact self-esteem and self-efficacy- our sense of belief in our ability to succeed and have impact on the things that happen to us. Exploring external and internal adjustments promotes a new sense of self and the world while providing meaning to the loss. When we struggle to make such adjustments, healthy adaptation comes to a standstill and helplessness or withdrawal may occur.

4) Finding an Enduring Connection to the Loss- In this task, we attempt to integrate and internalize aspects of the lost object or person into our own sense of self. This does not mean that we forget the loss or what it meant to us. Instead, we begin to incorporate what the loss represented into our daily living and future relationships. Participating in rituals and engaging in practices that honor the legacy of the lost object or person can help foster such a link.

While loss can certainly trigger unpleasant feelings, we cannot let go unless we are afforded the opportunity to grieve an ending. It is perfectly normal to feel scared or angry, just as it is perfectly normal to feel conflicting feelings like sadness and excitement. While such emotions may be confusing and hard to tolerate, moving toward the grief is often far more rewarding than moving away.

References:

Remen, R. L. (2000). My Grandfather’s Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group

Worden, J. W. (2009). Grief counseling and grief therapy: A handbook for the mental health practitioner (4th edition). New York, NY: Springer Publishing Company.

 Written By: Chrystal Rahmani, Ph.D., Psychological Assistant (PSB 37860)

Supervised by Bruce Brodie, Ph.D. (PSY 6574)

Post-Traumatic Growth

Traumatic experiences can leave a fundamental and distressing impact on our lives. For many people, it can be difficult to make sense of what has happened in the aftermath of trauma and how we feel about ourselves, about others and about the world around us. For some, the impact of the trauma is so devastating that it may leave them unable to cope or move forward. So why is it that others are able not only to cope with the trauma but also to experience personal growth and positive change? The answer may be found in a concept known as Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG).

Post-traumatic growth is positive psychological change or development that is experienced after trauma, crisis or the ongoing struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. Whereas resilience refers to the notion of “bouncing back” to a prior equilibrium, post-traumatic growth can be viewed as the idea of “bouncing forward” in response to adversity (Walsh, 2002). PTG experiences are not just about learning how to live with the effects of trauma or bouncing back from trauma but about undergoing personal growth and individual development as a direct result of the trauma (Tedeschi, Park, & Calhoun, 1998).

There are three main areas of PTG growth that have been identified. These include changes in perception of self, changes in relationships with others and changes in philosophy of life (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 1999). Many individuals who come face-to-face with trauma can ultimately find meaning in their suffering and as a result, experience both PTG and increased life satisfaction (Calhoun, Cann, & Tedeschi, 2010).

Although the question as to why some people are able to experience PTG in the aftermath of a trauma and others do not remains largely unexplained, the existing literature on stress and trauma suggests that certain personality characteristics, such as optimism or openness to new experiences, may factor into the relationship between traumatic experience and post-traumatic growth (O’Leary, Alday, & Ickoviks, 1998; Tennen & Affleck, 1998). Other factors that may foster PTG include a strong social support system, adaptive coping strategies, and a spiritual belief system.

But even if you’re not naturally optimistic or deeply religious, exploring the possible benefits of a particularly challenging event can be a stated goal of therapy. It is human nature to attempt to make sense out of the events in our lives, which is why we tend to assign meaning or interpretation to something like an illness or a divorce. Surviving a cancer diagnosis, for example, may serve to prompt many individuals to reevaluate life goals or shift priorities.

It’s important to realize that experiencing post-traumatic growth doesn’t necessarily preclude experiencing stress as well. In fact, suffering and growth may occur simultaneously. What’s important is being able to find meaning in the suffering. Don’t hesitate to seek out therapy if you’d like to explore what meaning, if any, can be made out of a seemingly senseless and devastating life event. A skilled therapist can help you make sense of the trauma, which is what will ultimately help you overcome your circumstances, rise above adversity and thrive.

 

By Jennifer Moizel, M.A., Psychological Intern

Supervised by Bruce Brodie, Ph.D. (PSY 6574)

 

Calhoun, L.G., Cann, A., Tedeschi, R.G., & McMillan, J. (2000). A correlational test of the relationship between posttraumatic growth, religion, and cognitive processing. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 13, 521–527

Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (1999). Facilitating posttraumatic growth: A clinician’s guide. London: Erlbaum.

O’Leary, V. E., Alday, C. S., & Ickovics, J. R. (1998). Models of life change and posttraumatic growth. In R. G. Tedeschi, C. L. Park, & L. G. Calhoun (Eds.), Posttraumatic growth: Positive changes in the aftermath of crisis (pp. 127-151). London: Erlbaum.

Tedeschi, R. G., Park, C., & Calhoun, L. G. (1998). Posttraumatic growth: Conceptual issues. In R. G. Tedeschi, C. L. Park, & L. G. Calhoun (Eds.), Posttraumatic growth: Positive changes in the aftermath of crisis (pp. 1-23). London: Erlbaum.

Tennen, H., & Affleck, G. (1998). Personality and transformation in the face of adversity. In R. G. Tedeschi, C. L. Park, & L. G. Calhoun (Eds.), Posttraumatic growth: Positive changes in the aftermath of crisis (pp. 65-98). London: Erlbaum.

Walsh, F. (2002). Bouncing forward: Resilience in the aftermath of September 11. Family Processes, 41, 34– 36.

 

Categories: The Sidestep and the Slide

My friend Lila and I had been trying to make plans for many months. But when the day came, I was feeling worn out and sick, and called to cancel. I spoke in stutters, I apologized, I was torn. I hate disappointing friends.

Lila sighed with restrained annoyance. “What’s your sign?” she asked.

I was stunned. I had hoped Lila would offer a friendly dose of “Are you okay?” But she didn’t. She blurted out, “Are you a Pisces?!”

“No.” I wasn’t enjoying this conversation.

“You’re a Gemini!” It sounded like an attack.

“No, I’m a Leo,” I said defensively.

“Really! You don’t seem like a Leo at all. I never would have guessed. So,” she concluded, “We’ll get together another night.”

I hung up feeling awful. Lila was hurt that I had cancelled; I felt misunderstood and ignored. We missed an opportunity to connect in a mutually caring way.

What is this compulsion we all have to use categories with each other?

What’s your sign? What’s your favorite kind of music? What car do you drive? Do you like Burning Man? These are some subtle and not so subtle ways to pigeonhole someone. A Prius means you lean to the vegan-loving left, a Hummer means the opposite. Right? 

Categories can be useful—to help us makes sense of the chaos, both internal and external.

  • Categories can help us understand how to best to approach each other. If you like alternative music, then I might approach you via counter-culture topics; and if your preference is show-tunes, then I would choose very different inroads. It helps to know these things! It saves time. As Elliot Aronson points out, categories can give us a “shorthand way of dealing with complex events,” and is an essential part of surviving and dealing with the day to day.
  • Categories can help us contain our emotions. They can, as Lila attempted to do, help us NOT take things personally. If I had conveniently been a Pisces (apparently characterized by fickleness), then Lila could see my actions simply as part of my nature, rather than directly aimed at her. Also, the chaos of life can sometimes feel overwhelming. Being able to see it in an organized way, understanding the whys and wherefores, (whether accurate or not!) can provide relief from the anxiety.
  • Categories can offer a lens with which to foster acceptance. That friend who spends inordinate amounts of time holed up in his RV: we might perceive him as avoidant, lazy or depressed. However, if we view him through an archetypal lens, we can perceive a hermit. Aha, so he likes it that way! And then his behavior becomes right on target, maybe even quaint.

Of course, psychologists are notorious for their use of categories. That’s what a diagnosis is. Mea culpa. We use the lens of a diagnosis to best understand and then treat specific behaviors and emotions.

But what of those times when we use categories to avoid connecting with each other and to avoid feelings that arise?

  • We use categories (or stereotyping) as a way to stay separate from and unaffected by others. A variety of “isms:” racism, ageism, you-name-it… these are lazy ways to classify and dismiss people. It keeps us ignorant and disrespectful of the other. Even if our blanket assumptions are favorable (as with celebrities, clergy, or perhaps librarians), the person can feel burdened by the inaccurate attributions and his/her individuality gets erased.
  • We create an US vs. THEM dynamic to distance ourselves from unpleasant traits: By placing others in a separate group (“They are fascists,” is an oft-heard accusation these days), we can feel better than the “bad” people over there. Then there is the false assumption that “my people are not capable of such bad behavior because we are in a different tribe.” Sigh. If only.
  • We classify others as a way to detach from our feelings. To avoid feeling hurt by my actions, Lila put me in a dismissible category: a Pieces. She could then keep happy thoughts (about herself, about me, about our friendship). But in dismissing it, we both missed out on the authentic damage-and-repair that makes up the stuff of life.
  • We put other people in a box as a way of dodging our responsibility. If I deem the other person “a bully,” then it’s easy to dismiss his words as “mean and meaningless.” When, in fact, he might have a point.
  • We put ourselves in a box, as a means of cutting off. If I deem myself “a space cadet,” I can ignore the desperate longings, unease, and messages from my very core. Dangerous business.

The juice of life is found in experiencing the connection with self and with other, even if our logical mind protests. It’s messy. It takes time and attention. Categories can keep you on the periphery of meaningful human engagement, or they can serve to deepen your authentic, textured relationship to life. Which do you prefer?

References:

Aronson, E. (2007). The social animal, 10th ed. New York City, N.Y.: Worth Publishers.

by Laura O’Loughlin, M.A.

Supervised by Susan Frankel, Ph.D. (Psy14552)

Finding Growth through Societal Demands

During this era of constant stimulation and the ever-increasing pressure for productivity, we, as a society, have been led to believe that the more money, media, and things we acquire the better off we’ll live. Although present in many modern lifestyles, this belief can leave little time to invest in our emotional well-being (Diener, Suh, Lucas & Smith, 1999).

It seems we are more often told what’s currently important by the trends on our favorite social media site than any intrinsic desire for exploration. Combined with our already hectic lives of answering to bosses, parents, and significant others, business calls, papers for school, dropping Jill off at soccer or entertaining the in-laws, for some of us this rapid mental movement results in feeling disconnected from ourselves, our work, and our loved ones.

But what if the stress of contemporary culture and emotional health weren’t mutually exclusive?

Could these societal struggles actually help in our psychological and emotional growth?

In fact, in the psychotherapeutic realm, opportunities for growth lie within the exploration of current societal challenges (Pande, 1968).

Psychotherapy becomes a useful tool in achieving connection to ourselves and those in our lives by better acquainting us with our reactions to these very same challenges. Given the safe space that therapy provides, our reaction or response to the environment in which we live is allowed to surface and be explored in an open and non-judgmental fashion.  As the therapeutic client, this can provide us with enhanced insight into our own social views.

Of course, psychotherapy also strives to achieve an understanding beyond the simple spoken word.  A deeper exploration of our internal or emotional world can take place, allowing pathways to be made between the current emotional experiences of our environment, and how we react to these demands placed upon us.

In this, the challenge is to imagine shifting our outlook on stressful daily pressures ever so slightly.  Instead of a burden, perhaps we can see opportunity.  Instead of feeling lost in societal chaos, we simply gather information for future growth. Although seemingly subtle, these changes are easier in statement then in action; psychotherapy can be one tool utilized in this lasting transition directed to improve the quality of our lives and relationships.

by John Peloian, M.A.

Clinical Supervisor, Cythnia Speich, PsyD; PSY18015

 

Diener, E. D., Suh, E. M., Lucas, R. E., Smith, H. L. (1999). Subjective well-being: Three decades of progress. Psychological Bulletin. 125(2), 276-302.

Pande, S. K. (1968). The mystique of “western” psychotherapy: An eastern interpretation. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease. 146(6), 425-438.

Parenting Under Pressure

For parents, there is constant pressure to do things right. There are endless measurements of success, such as getting your child to sleep through the night, weaning off pacifiers and potty training by a certain age to name just a few.

Eventually these small milestones fade away and the more ambiguous, uncharted parts of parenthood emerge. Are children learning to be compassionate? Are they courteous? Are we raising children that other people will want to be around? It seems close to impossible to not feel pressure to “get it right,” especially when little eyes are intently watching your every gesture. This is particularly salient when children are on display in front of friends and family and therefore on their absolutely worst behavior.

Inevitably this leads caretakers to assume that they have been doing a terrible job and begin to reevaluate their role as parents. However, Alfie Kohn, author of the book Unconditional Parenting, points out that parents often need to reconsider their requests.  For example, children can feel insecure and overwhelmed when presented with a chaotic and unpredictable schedule. While parents can try to prepare children for these less than ideal moments (i.e. let children make small choices throughout the day, carry more comfortable clothes, pack a bag of snacks), it is essentially an opportunity to show children how to work with frustration.  It is not a novel idea that children learn through mimicry (Bandura, 1971), but rather than just modeling, parents can identify with their kids by realizing that the same pressure they feel to produce grateful, gracious representations of their parenting is probably similar to the pressure children feel to perform.

Part of this journey may also relate to coming to terms with one’s own imperfections. Is it even healthy to predict and provide for every need? Donald Winnicott was a leading object-relations theorist who developed the notion of the “good-enough mother.”  “The good-enough mother…starts off with an almost complete adaptation to her infant’s needs, and as time proceeds she adapts less and less completely, gradually, according to the infant’s growing ability to deal with her failure” (Winnicott, 1953). Winnicott believes that parents should gradually separate from their child, thereby promoting independence and autonomy. This is accompanied by the inevitable disappointment that children feel when their parents are not there for them, but Winnicott promotes that this is a necessary and empowering developmental stage. With that being said, it is a valuable lesson for children to see their parents falter and fall short. The best example to demonstrate this is to be generous with yourself when it comes to your shortcomings and show your children how to gracefully recover in light of less than ideal circumstances. Now that sounds like a New Years resolution.

by Sarah Foroosh, M.S.

Clinical Supervisor Kenneth Scott, PsyD; PSY 18087

Bandura, A. (1971). Psychological modeling: conflicting theories. Chicago: Aldine·Atherton

Kohn, Alfie. Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishments to Love and Reason (Atria Books, 2005)

Winnicott, D. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena, International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34:89-97

 

 

 

Perfectly Perfect

My heart was beating out of my chest as I waited nervously for the results of a difficult graduate exam. How did I do? Did I pass? Did I fail? As the professor handed out the scores, he gave me a wink and told me he wanted to speak to me after class. I hesitantly unfolded the paper and was instantly surprised- 110%! I immediately calmed down and told myself that my professor simply wanted to tell me how fabulous I did. Little did I know, he really wanted to point out the costs of my never-ending pursuit for perfection.

Being a perfectionist is exhausting. For the perfectionist, life is a constant series of tests and exams that prove or disprove your worth. Perfectionism is an unremitting quest that never seems to stop nagging at you. Do it better. Do it faster. Failure is not an option, nor is anything less than 110%. Research indicates a link between perfectionism and procrastination due to fears surrounding failure, high stress levels, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders, to name a few (Flett, 2002).

Perfectionists often link their self-concepts to the idea of success. This idea moves beyond the concept of self, as it also has implications for how you view and relate to others. For instance, do you worry that others will disapprove or be disappointed if you fail to perform at the highest possible level? Do you experience feelings of shame, guilt, and embarrassment if you make a mistake? For many, fears of rejection and disapproval rob one of taking a step back and recognizing accomplishments, especially since success is rarely seen as good enough in the first place.

With some time and effort, one can begin to recognize ways to alter perfectionistic tendencies and improve overall well-being, as demonstrated below.

1) Explore all-or-nothing thinking. Perfectionists tend to think that things are all good or all bad. For instance, you might miss one point on a test and believe that you are a failure. Get curious about whether things are really all good or all bad, as well as about fears of failure.

2) Look at the “shoulds” in your life. This revolves around feeling that others want you to perform well or do something a certain way. For many, “shoulds” take precedence over individual needs and wants leading to feelings of anxiety, anger, sadness, or resentment. Instead, focus on your own desires and what you can do to accomplish your own personal goals. Ask yourself who you are trying to please as you engage in certain tasks or make life decisions.

3) Set time limits for tasks. For example, give yourself three hours to write a short essay and move on. This will help decrease procrastination as well as help curtail perfectionistic tendencies.

4) Examine your standards of success and think about when good enough is good enough. For example, play with the idea of giving a task 95% instead of 110%. Pay attention to your thoughts and feelings as you experiment with your standards of success. Usually, we find that things do not fall apart when things are not perfect.

With a little time and practice, you can begin to tackle the stresses related to your perfectionism. Remember, you don’t have to decrease your perfectionism perfectly!

References:

Flett, G. L., & Hewitt, P. L. (2002). Perfectionism and maladjustment: An overview of theoretical,definitional, and treatment issues. In G. L. Flett, P. L. Hewitt (Eds.), Perfectionism: Theory,research, and treatment (pp. 5-31). Washington, DC US: American Psychological Association. doi:10.1037/10458-001

By Chrystal Rahmani, Ph.D., Psychological Assistant (PSB 37860)

Supervised by Bruce Brodie, Ph.D. (PSY 6574)

Rhythm and Your Health

“Our psychic life has rhythm: it is a series of transitions and resting-places, of ‘flights and perchings.’ We rest when we remember the name we have been searching for; and we are off again when we hear a noise that might be the baby waking from her nap.” – William James.
Rhythm must be important; it exists in too many facets not to be. It’s hard to think of much that is independent of some form of rhythm: the rising and falling of the sun, our own circadian rhythms, the daily, habitual routines we develop, even the way we walk. Rhythm’s pervasive inclusion must serve a purpose. Some dutiful observation and report, along with recent advances in technology, has born significant insights into the importance of rhythm. One such arena where this has become evident is psychoneuroimmunology, or the study of the interaction between emotional states, like stress, with nervous and immune system functioning (Merriam-Webster’s 2013).
Dr. Barry Bittman is at the forefront of researching the intersection of rhythm and psychoneuroimmunology. Bittman et al. (2001) examined psychoneuroimmunological measures in normal individuals recruited for a group drumming exercise at a community health center. They found immuno-enhancing effects that are contrary to classic stress response. These effects may create a buffer to protect an individual from the harmful physiological processes activated by the classic stress response that can contribute to acute and chronic illness like heart disease and various cancers. Bittman and his colleagues continue their work and have expanded their research to multiple populations including older adults and health care workers (Bittman et al., 2005; Koyama et al., 2009). Research has also focused on how drumming may assuage some of the ill effects stress can have on our genes (which also impacts our immune functioning) (Bittman et al., 2005).
This only touches the tip of the iceberg regarding the potential healing benefits of rhythm and drumming. For individuals interested in pursuing more research regarding this topic or exploring these potential benefits, please feel free to contact Owen with your question(s) at (424) 442-0813.

Owen Petersen, Psy.D.
Psychological Assistant (PSB 37859) and Post-doctoral Intern at The Saturday Center for Psychotherapy, supervised by Bruce R. Brodie, Ph.D. (PSY 6574)

Connecting With Nature: The Power of Incorporating Natural Elements Into Your Daily Life

Imagine taking a bath in the forest. Smelling the fecund soil and the fresh, pine-scented air, feeling the slight breeze against your skin, hearing the birds chirping and the wind rustling through the trees, the damp soft ground beneath your feet. Your heart rate and brain waves are decreasing, your body begins to produce less cortisol, you feel less stressed, and are harnessing your body’s healing potential.

We often give great effort and thought toward what we put in our bodies that can help prevent a myriad of diseases. We constantly hear about the benefits of being more physically active and reducing our level of stress. One more body of literature that you can add to your well-being knowledge base is the benefits of communing with nature. Throughout the past 25 years, research has amassed supporting the powerful healing potential of natural environments (Frumkin, 2001, Mayer, Frantz, Bruehlman-Senecal, & Dolliver, 2009, Tennesesen & Cimprich, 1995). This literature demonstrates that contact with plants and natural landscapes positively impacts human physical and psychological health.

Many people feel good being outdoors, that is the obvious part, but there is actual research to back up the WHY and HOW you feel good after that hike! Being physically active outdoors provides physiological and emotional benefits, such as:

• improved mood
• self-esteem
• decreased anxiety
• reduced blood pressure

(Hartig, Evans, Jamner, Davis, & Gärling, 2003; van den Berg, Hartig, & Staats, 2007).

Gardening, for example, has been found to reduce symptoms of depression (Baum & Poslunsky, 2001, Sandel, 2004).

One particularly unique body of research is on shinrin-yoku, which translates to forest bathing. This is a term first coined by the Japanese Department of Fisheries and Agriculture. Shinrin-yoku is defined as taking in the atmosphere and experience of the forest. Close your eyes and imagine yourself taking a bath in all of the good energy and fresh air of the forest. Your brain waves and heart rate have likely already slowed upon conjuring up this image.

There is a reason when you are sitting in the dentist’s chair that you are looking at pictures of the natural world, or why when you are getting an MRI you can have headphones with soothing nature sounds piped in. In hospital and medical settings, patients with a window looking onto trees, or who view pictures of nature:

• recover faster
• need less pain medication
• report more positive emotions
• have better rapport with the medical staff

(Diette, Lechtzin, Hapnoik, Devrotes, & Rubin, 2003; Malenbaum, Keefe, Williams, Ulrich, & Somers, 2008).

Many people say that being out in the natural world is one of the times when individuals feel most at peace and restored. You do not have to go to Yosemite to commune with nature! Below are some suggested activities you can do to incorporate elements of nature/aspects of the natural world into your every day life, so you can feel some of the restoration you get from being out in the backcountry, far from other humans.

• Eating lunch in a park
• Taking a walk along the beach
• Placing photos of nature in the home and at work
• Downloading apps of natural sounds on mobile devices
• Changing background photos and screensavers to natural environments
• Using guided imagery and mindfulness meditation in anxiety-provoking situations
(e.g., medical situations, therapy sessions)
• Surrounding oneself with plants
• Incorporating metaphors of the natural world by likening experiences, particularly
traumas (e.g. cancer), to a season, a force of nature, or a sentient being
• Connecting with a force, season, or sentient being that parallels your current state of
mind, or your current feelings (e.g. connecting with a budding or barren tree, getting
drenched in a rainstorm, yelling into the wind)

Contact with nature has the potential to provide valuable, wide-ranging benefits to humans. Consider how nature immersion and natural images, sounds, and symbols can be used to help you foster a greater sense of well-being.

References

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for cancer, pp. 143-173. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological
Association.
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therapy with nature sights and sounds reduces pain during flexible bronchoscopy:
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its environmental context: Implications for designing environments to enhance
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beneficial?: The role of connectedness to nature. Environment and Behavior,
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Park, B. J., Tsunetsugu, Y, Kasetani, T., Kagawa, T., Miyazaki, Y. (2010). The
physiological effects of Shinrin-yoku (taking in the forest amostphere or forest
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Societies: Stress, Restoration, and the Pursuit of Sustainability. Journal of Social Issues, 63(1), 79-96. doi:10.1111/j.1540-4560.2007.00497.x

By Alexandra Emmons, Psy.D., PSB 36947
Supervised by Justin Shubert, Psy.D., PSY 23766

Who are those guys?

This refrain from the old movie, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid for me captures an essential aspect of parenting.  People tend to talk about “raising” kids, but for me kids are not so much raised as “discovered.”  I remember driving in my car with my younger son who would then have been around sixteen.  I was listening to a classical radio station and an aria came on.  I don’t remember the name of the aria or the name of the tenor, but the aria was beautiful and the tenor was good, really good.  I remember thinking, “Should I force my teenaged son to sit through some opera or should I switch to a rock station that he will enjoy?”  But the aria was too beautiful.  “To hell with him,” I thought, “he can suffer through one aria.”  When the aria was finished my son shook his head.  “Dang,” he said, “to be able to sing like that!”  I looked at him in disbelief.  “Who is this kid?  Where did he come from?”  You can’t “teach” that to a kid.  You can educate a child about music.  You can take him to violin lessons (as we had with our son), but you can’t teach that kind of an ear, that ability to be deeply moved by a beautiful voice.  That comes from within.  And I discovered it in my son as he was discovering it in himself.

If parents can only passively (and appreciatively) discover our children, so too can we only passively (and appreciatively) watch (and celebrate) as our children create themselves.  Logically, creating and discovering are opposites of each other.  If something is created, it is new.  If it is discovered, it has been there all along.  But tell that to a growing child.  In reality, self-discovery and self-creation are merely opposite poles in the wonderful dialectical dance of growing up.  Both my sons discovered in themselves at an early age a love of nature, and both became ardent backpackers.  But my younger son always stashed a book in his backpack.  While his older brother is creating himself as an environmental biologist, he is in the process of creating himself as a writer.  And, of course, his favorite subject: the outdoors.

Is that all we do as parents, passively watch our children create/discover themselves?  Is the best we can do to merely cheer them on in that process?  No, of course not!  We also teach our children, we discipline our children, we serve as role models for our children.  Parenting is not and should not be a hands-off activity.  But I submit that the passive sides of parenting are under-appreciated and the active “parenting” functions that we usually associate with raising kids are often over-valued.  As a clinical psychologist I have worked with adults who have had the life nearly pruned, shaped, and guided out of them.  It is not negligent to allow our children to discover themselves and to create themselves.  It is kind and it is respectful.  And in me it was the source of wonder, awe, and delight.

 

By Bruce R. Brodie,  Ph. D.

Director Emeritus