Thursday, January 17, 2013

More thoughts on guns and violence

The popular saying that guns don’t kill people, people kill people is wrong.  Or misguided, because I don’t like to think in terms of right or wrong.  It’s a misguided statement.

In my endeavors to maintain a healthy mind and body, I try to eat as many fruits and vegetables as I can.  I’m vegetarian, so I incorporate all the different beans and nuts and grains and all that stuff.  I consider myself a healthy vegetarian.  In spite of this, however, my downfall is cookies.  Any kind or flavor will do, as long as it doesn’t contain alcohol, which I personally abhor.   The immediate gratification of cookies is wonderful.  And by immediate, I mean the split second that I eat it.  After that I feel terrible, even worse than before.

So anyway, I try not to keep those things in the house.  Every once in awhile, though, a box of cookies makes its way into my pantry, and I am often tempted to taste it.  That, in and of itself, is not a big deal.  But the more down I’m feeling at that moment, or the more preoccupied or angry or guilty or any other disturbing emotion I’m feeling, the more likely I am to eat the whole box.  This is probably true of many people, especially women.

Other people may have different go-to things during times of emotional distress.  We do this because disturbing emotions cloud our vision and judgment.  We can’t see clearly or think clearly or act clearly when we’re feeling bad, because those emotions get in the way, and we do what is immediately gratifying.

If I am feeling bad and I don’t have cookies in the house, then I won’t eat them.  The thought may be there, but the possibility is not.   

Similarly, if someone is feeling bad or angry, for whatever reason, their judgment is clouded.  Anything can precipitate this: an argument, the loss of a job, house going into foreclosure, a divorce, a death, etc.  If a gun is there, the thought and the possibility to use it are there.  When one is feeling distressed, all logical and conscious thought disappears as the irrational, illogical emotions flood our minds.  When this happens, people get angry.  And anger may be understood as an attempt to get something to stop.  To stop the other person from yelling at us, or to stop the intruder from breaking in the home, or to stop the bank from foreclosing on the house.  You can come up with your own examples.  But when this attempt is not fulfilled (when the person doesn’t stop yelling, or when the intruder doesn’t go away, or when the bank doesn’t forgive the loan) violence often ensues.  Not always, but sometimes.  And the greater the emotional distress, the greater the likelihood that violence will occur.

If a gun is readily accessible, then both the thought and the possibility to use one are also readily accessible.

We’ve seen too often how the combination of emotional distress and the accessibility of a gun have resulted in mass destruction of human lives.  Anybody can feel overwhelmed by disturbing emotions.  Anyone can feel angry.  It’s a part of life.   And for many, the anger causes them to do harm to others.  When the thought and the possibility to use a gun are readily accessible during a time of emotional distress, the likelihood of death by gun increases dramatically.

So guns don’t kill people and people don’t kill people.  People who are overwhelmed by disturbing emotions, who have both the thought and the possibility to use a gun, kill people.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

In response to Newtown, CT

The shootings in Connecticut have put a spotlight on a number of issues which had been in the shadows of our collective minds, those of gun control and mental health among them.  Tragedies such as this connect us on a deep level, because we all were children at some point, and we all can remember the feelings of innocence and comfort with loving teachers, parents, neighbors or even strangers.  What we struggle to understand, however, is how one man can so ruthlessly exterminate this innocence in one fell swoop.  As I read somewhere, the children were in the age “between the world of magic and the world of reality.”  The magic was stolen and replaced with a terrifying reality.

Whether it’s because of this connection or something else, we as a society have begun to focus on the elephant or elephants in the room.   We look at what could have caused a man to kill not just one person, but a whole classroom worth of kids, along with their mentors, all at once.   There is no doubt that gun laws need to be modified.   People with guns kill other people, and that has become increasingly frequent in the United States.  Apart from that, people look to how the gunman was different from the rest of us, and what readily comes to mind is his mental state.  While that certainly played an important role in his rampage, mental illness itself does not cause people to become violent.  Less than 5% of mass murders are committed by those with a diagnosed psychiatric illness.  Another idea that has been tossed around, however, is that it was the threat of being hospitalized for his mental illness that caused him to act violently.  Regardless of whether it was in fact the reason, this makes more sense.   He likely felt trapped and scared, as many would in that situation.

Anger and violent behavior come when people are feeling alone, disconnected, misunderstood, and isolated from the ones with whom they most want to connect emotionally.  Certain mental illnesses may make it almost impossible for the individual to connect meaningfully with others, but the desire to do so remains strong.  It is not that there weren’t mental health services available to this person (he lived in a well-to-do town in a well-to-do state).  A simple search on lists 27 therapists in Newtown, a city of 60 square miles.  That’s about one therapist for every 2 square miles, not counting the other therapists in other directories or not listed at all in the internet.

As far as mental health is concerned, the problem has not been access to services, but rather access to effective services.  Innumerable studies, books and articles have come out during the past 20 or so years, citing discoveries in neurobiology and neuroplasticity, discussing how neural pathways in the brain are always reforming and reshaping in response to experiences, and conversely, how responses to experiences are reshaped as a result of the changes in the neural pathways.  (While much has been written about this, an excellent book is The Brain that Changes Itself , by Norman Doige, MD. ) 

Effective psychotherapy aims at rewiring the brain, so that disturbing emotions are reduced or eliminated completely.  It is the way that the mind responds to experiences or events that causes people to feel whatever emotion they feel.  Although I admit I am biased, Rapid Resolution Therapy is, as far as I’m concerned, by far and away the most effective in eliminating disturbing emotions and in instilling clarity and peace, by reorganizing the mind’s response to those events.  Yoga, mindfulness meditation, and other disciplines which focus on the awareness of one’s self in the present moment all work to this same end.
I envision a time in the not-too-distant future, when all mental health therapists will be practicing effective therapy, so that no client/patient resorts to violence.

On another note, a silver lining—if there may be one—is that the families of these children have each other.  They share the same tragedy forever.  They have received support from the world at large, but even after that fades, they have each other.   The death of a child is one of the most difficult, lonely and isolating experiences one can ever have, but to share that suffering with a group, to connect with the only others who could come close to understanding, is tremendous.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Paradox of Indifference

Indifference doesn’t always happen on its own.  Sometimes it has to be discovered and, when useful, illuminated.  

As far as disturbing or bothersome sensations are concerned (tightness in the throat, sweaty palms, butterflies in the stomach, weak knees, etc.), sometimes indifference is a beneficial attitude to take.  Insofar as one can recognize what the sensations are about and the message they are sending, action makes sense.  Beyond that, nothing needs to be done.  Focusing on the sensations while wondering why they are there and wondering what they mean usually serves to intensify them.  In other words, contrary to popular belief, indifference can be useful.  

Take Travis.  He was feeling the jittery stomach and clammy hands while he was walking in the mall with his friends.  There was no recognizable cause for these feelings, and because he didn’t understand them, he worried about them, thereby making them even stronger and more severe.  Typical of anxiety, the more he worried about them, the stronger they became.

He came to me saying “I wish I didn’t have this anxiety!  I hate it!”  So I worked with him.  Once he learned to become indifferent to those sensations, the anxiety left completely.  It has been two years, he told me recently when I bumped into him at a bookstore, and no recurrence of the anxiety.  He has felt mild sensations similar to previously, but they have been small blips in his day, short-lived, minor and insignificant.
Once you get it, you get it.  The work I did with him “clicked” his mind into place, quite literally.  He finally felt the peace and comfort he had been longing for.  And once this happened, the feelings of nervousness went away.  “It’s impossible to feel calm and nervous at the same time,” he told me with a laugh.

Indifference in relationships is different, however.   In relationships indifference can be deadly.  The importance of movement and connection in relationships cannot be understated.   Relationships, by definition, are dynamic; they are always in a constant flow, or dance, moving to the music of each partner’s emotions.

Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another's heart, or its flame burns low.” Henry Ward Beecher

Many couples come for therapy when they at a standstill, when either both or one of them refuses to engage with the other in any way, maintaining that he or she is “done” and no longer interested in the relationship.  This presents a particular problem for both of them, because the other partner is oftentimes either at a loss as to what to do or tries extremely hard to get the partner’s attention.  Either way, the end result is that the two of them are not communicating in any meaningful way.

As in any relationship, both of the partners long to be heard and understood.  As one client said to her partner, “I want to feel connected again.  I want to feel love from you and to feel that the love I return is accepted.”  The feeling of connection, what is known as a secure attachment, is universal throughout life, but the ways in which we express this need are sometimes not greeted by our partner as we would like them to be.

Effective couple therapy, which focuses on the emotions and the communication which stems from these emotions, helps partners to deepen their understanding of each other, while at the same time learning more about themselves.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

An antidote to abuse

Relationships with violence don’t usually start out like relationships with violence.  They typically start out as any relationship: there’s an attraction between two people, they spend time together, like each other and decide to spend more time together.  Oftentimes it feels like a magnetic attraction, where they can’t stop thinking about each other and want to be together all the time. 

At some point in the relationship, though, one partner (let’s say a male partner, although it can be male or female, gay or straight) begins to think that his partner isn’t exactly as he would like her to be, and he thinks that he can mold her and shape her into his ideal partner.   Let’s take Kim and Steven (fictitious names, not based on anything more than composites of a number of clients).  Their relationship begins with the two being happy, fairly content people.  They meet at a party, through a mutual friend, and they start dating.  Steven treats Kim well, tells her how beautiful she is, what a nice, special person she is, and how lucky they are to have found each other.  Kim is flattered by this attention. Although she’s a little skeptical of Steven’s attention, she chalks it up to her own insecurities.  She’s having fun, for the first time in her life.  

Soon, Steven begins to say how disappointed he is that she showed up late for a date.  He questions if she’s been seeing someone else.  No, she hasn’t, she says.  She was just late because she had to get gas on the way and it took longer than she thought.  He doesn’t believe her and accuses her of being whore, a slut, a manipulative bitch.  He points to other times in the relationship where she has not done exactly as he expected, and she thinks that maybe he’s right, and maybe she has been insensitive to his feelings.  His words may have been kind of strong, but she’ll let it slide and try to be a better partner.

But the harder she tries to fit into his ideal of her, the more he criticizes her.  And the more he criticizes her, the worse she feels and the harder she tries to please him.   Sometimes he hits her; sometimes he just threatens.  She cries.  He apologizes and promises never to hurt her again.  He does, though, invariably.  The cycle repeats itself, and each time she hopes that he has finally changed, that this time he gets it.  He never does, though.

Kim wonders what’s wrong with her that she stays with him.  Her friends tell her she’s either crazy or a saint to put up with his abuse.  She thinks she’s an idiot, and she is convinced that there must be something very wrong with her because she keeps choosing to stay.  This is, in fact, how most people think.  Not just Kim, but others like her, as well as those friends and relatives who feel powerless to help.  When the friends, powerlessness turns to frustration and anger, Kim feels even further alienated and even worse.

So why does she stay?  Because she’s hoping that he’ll “get it.”  In the face of all evidence to the contrary, she still maintains the hope that if she tries a little harder, or if she approaches him in a different way, or at a different time, maybe when he’s in a better mood, that he will become the kind, compassionate man she fell in love with.  “I know he’s capable of it,” she cries.   

Her staying is based on a hope that something completely out of her direct control will somehow change.  What she doesn’t get fully get is that he won’t because he can’t.  Steven may not be able to change in relation to Kim, but Kim can in relation to Steven.  Rapid Resolution Therapy, which communicates to all parts of the mind, helps people like Kim to see herself and her relationship clearly.  Once clear, Kim is free.  And with clarity comes strength.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The many wonders of the brain: a book review of sorts

Someone contacted me recently, asking help for a family member who had been suffering extreme depression during the past six months.  She explained that this woman had seen a number of therapists, had been hospitalized after trying to commit suicide, and was presently living with round-the-clock supervision, since she was unable to adequately take care of daily tasks.  The woman who contacted me lives in another state, and she heard my work from another person (a “six degrees of separation” type of thing!).  She said she was willing to try anything, but she was skeptical that Rapid Resolution Therapy would help.  This is common for most people, so I didn’t think much of it.  But what struck me most was how “in the dark” people are about mental health.  I mentioned in a previous newsletter that even the National Institute of Mental Health has said “that there is no cure for anxiety.“

Having recently finished Norman Doidges’s The Brain that Changes Itself, I see that there is no longer any question of the brain’s adaptation to experience, both rewarding and challenging.  Study upon study, as demonstrated in the chapters of the book, show very clearly how the brain rewires and adapts to the experiences the individual encounters.  From retraining the brain to acquire movement after a stroke, to reorganizing the brain so that blind people learn to see and autistic children learn to speak and interact*, the book is, without a doubt, required reading for anyone interested in the mind.  (I particularly liked the part about how imagining lifting weights strengthens the muscles of the arms almost as much as actually lifting the weights!)

RRT works precisely because of its ability to reorganize the mind.  As is repeated over and over again in neuroplasticity lingo, “neurons that fire together, wire together.”  By looking at things in a different way, we automatically draw our minds toward that and, in doing so, automatically rewire our brains.  An alcoholic thinks about the joys of alcohol all the time, so his/her brain is wired in that way.   Reorganizing the mind to no longer focus on alcohol, for instance, we are rewiring the brain.  A corollary to the above statement is that “neurons that fire apart wire apart.”  So when we get the client’s brain to no longer find alcohol appealing, we are changing the map of the brain, changing how the neurons interact with each other.  

The book is readable, interesting and highly entertaining. Whatever opinions I may have of it don’t nearly do justice to the actual studies that are cited or to the conclusions that are drawn.  My only disappointment is that nowhere does the author refer to Jon Connelly or to Rapid Resolution Therapy.  I’ll have to email him about that….

*I worked with a young man with Aspergers, which is thought of as a high-functioning autism.  He was brilliant (on his way to a prestigious law school) but lacked even the most basic of social skills.  I saw him twice.  His mother called two weeks later to thank me for the wonderful change she'd seen in her son.  Whereas he rarely spoke to anyone, he was now flirting with a waitress at a restaurant; whereas he hated talking on the phone with his critical, impatient grandmother, he was recently chatting with her about his life and inquiring about his aunts and uncles and cousins.  His mind and brain were now working in a useful way!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Interesting news from the brain science front

The term neuroplasticity seems to be everywhere these days.  Or at least everywhere I’ve been.  So what is it?  And what’s so new about it?  Neuroplasticity is the notion that the brain is always forming, all throughout life.  The neural networks in the brain change and adapt in response to new information it's receiving.  Whereas previously, people thought that the brain stopped forming after childhood, new studies have shown that this is not the case at all and, in fact, people are always learning new things.  Every time we learn something new, the brain changes in such a way that new pathways are created.  The brain basically rewires itself in this new way when we are doing something productive (aerobic exercise, learning a new language, doing those brain teasers that we used to do as kids).  And just as the brain rewires and grows as we learn new things, it shuts down when we are feeling stuck; when we’re depressed, or sad or worried those neural pathways not ony stop forming, but they actually break down.  In the language of Rapid Resolution Therapy, we could say that brain growth happens automatically when the camera lens is pointed out, when we are curious and interested in what's out there.  In contrast, when the camera  lens is pointed in, when those painful emotions are causing us to be introspective, the brain shuts down and even deteriorates.

Now, what’s so new about this?  I don’t know.  I’ve always told my clients who said that their problems were due to a chemical imbalance in the brain, or to something having to do with the neurotransmitters in the brain, that every experience we go through changes the make-up of the brain.  I never had any scientific proof to back this up, but it just made sense to me.  It made sense that if someone is traumatized from having served in Vietnam, then their brain structure was different than others who didn't share that experience.  It also, then, made sense that if someone were at the wedding of a good friend,  or witnessed a child being born, that that too would change the structure of their brain.  Now, listening to Norman Doidge, Daniel Siegal, Bill O’Hanlan and others talk about this, it’s all coming  together in a clear, scientific format that’s both informative and easy to understand.  The implications for applying the results of  neuroplasticity research in practice are tremendous and exciting.  To learn ways to actually grow the brain way into adulthood and beyond is very interesting indeed.

For more information on neuroplasticity, I encourage you to visit or any of the links above.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Who wants a cookie?

It's always impressed me that this work I do is so incredibly rewarding and energizing.  Instantly.  It's instantly rewarding and energizing.  I saw a man today for an hour.  He had been robbed at gunpoint at the store where he worked.  It happened a week ago, but it was still bothering him.  So he told me what happened, then he told me again, then he told me backwards, then he told me in jumbled up sentences while I sprinkled some humor into it (something about the cookies the robbers took from the cookie rack), and by the time we were done he was laughing.  "I'm not scared anymore," he said.  "It's done.  It's over.  And I don't have a headache anymore.  My headache was constant since the incident, but I don't have one anymore.  Wow, this is different than what I expected."  His mind was now clear.  He had been suffering with fears and anxieties and headaches for a week, and after about 30 or 40 minutes, he was clear. 

We spent the next 20 minutes wondering whether the cookies were chocolate chip ,oatmeal or peanut butter.