Archives For: December 2010

Start the year by admitting that "willpower" isn't enough


2011 is upon us, and the New Year will find painful mornings at the gym, empty shelves in the dietPostcards2CardsNewYearsResolution1915  section of booksellers, and a renewed commitment to activities that bring purpose and happiness.  At least, for a while.

What are your New Year’s Resolutions—save money, quit smoking?  People are trying to cash in by helping you keep them.  There are even new apps for your phone designed to keep you on the path to self improvement:  NikeCouch to 5k (C25K), Mint (you guessed it—save cash!), and lastly—LeadMyGoals.

The motto “there’s an app for that” aside, how does one successfully accomplish and keep New Year’s Resolutions? Is it worth it?

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal makes a startling claim: forget willpower, reaching a goal means retraining the brain to form new habits.

Really?  Sounds like a direct contradiction to conventional wisdom. But here’s the argument: 

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Bullying kids into weight loss is still bullying


Anti-bullies art Parents in the Flagstaff, Arizona, school district were shocked to find their elementary school children coming home with letters from the district announcing that they were overweight. 

The children had been given a Body Mass Index test during gym, and the results – along with district commentary about how the children stacked up to the rest of the population and a demand that something be done – were sent to parents.

“They didn’t mail it home, they didn’t even bother putting it in an envelope,” parent Deborah Dela-Bruer told ABC News.  “It was stapled with a cover letter for her and her friends to see.”

The program doesn’t include improved nutrition (school lunches are notoriously unhealthy) or opportunities to exercise.  It also doesn’t test for actual health issues like high cholesterol or high blood pressure that are correlated with obesity but not limited to it (some people who are overweight don’t have these issues, while some people who aren’t overweight do). 

Doing such things would be harder than publicly sending a “fat note” home to parents, and more expensive.  The takeaway, then, is that childhood obesity is a crisis of epic proportions ... but not enough to inconvenience adults over.    

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Do you ever outgrow adolescence? (Yes. Yes you do)


High_Resolution_FMRI_of_the_Human_Brain According to Newsweek, you never escape high school.

The magazine reports that recent studies - based on MRI scans - have concluded that teenage brains are in a crucial developmental phase, and what happens to you as a teenager will in large part determine the rest of your life.

“This emerging research,” wrote Russ Juskalian, “sheds light not only on why teenagers act the way they do, but how the experiences of adolescence—from rejection to binge drinking—can affect who we become as adults, how we handle stress, and the way we bond with others.”

Naturally we’re all very impressed.  This research telling us that teenage years are crucial to development is surely the most important research on personality since the research telling us that the years from 0-3 are a crucial to development and determine what happens to you for the rest of your life. 

Also, there’s the research telling us that the brains of people in middle age are still developing and that middle aged people can change their lives and develop in wholly new ways. 

And – let’s not forget – the research telling us that the brains of senior citizens are still developing and that seniors can change fundamentally ... affecting who they are for the rest of their lives. 

So ... if I get the research right ... the years when you are a child, an adolescent, an adult, and senior are all crucial developmental phases that explain who you are for the rest of your life.  Is that it?

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Haley Barbour isn't the only person in America with public amnesia


James Meredith walks to class We all forget things, from time to time.  Last week, I forgot where I put my keys. 

This week, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour forgot what it was like to live through the civil rights era.

In comments that are fast becoming as infamous as “Houston, we have a problem,” Barbour said that he recalled growing up in Mississippi during the civil rights era, and that “I just don’t remember (the conflict over integration) as being that bad.” He also claimed that secret segregationist groups called Citizen Councils were in fact protecting law, order, and black people. 

These are the kinds of claims that it takes someone with an internet connection maybe 10 minutes to debunk – if they use dial-up.  Yet Barbour, a major Republican figure and potential presidential candidate, somehow didn’t realize he was painting a bulls-eye on his political future when he made them. 

That’s a lot worse than losing your keys.  How did this happen? 

Conventional wisdom is saying that this is pure cynical politics … a deliberate extension of the infamous Republican “southern strategy” that plays off racial divisions to capture public office.  And sure – okay:  anyone who says “politicians are being cynical and manipulative!” gets an easy A.  But is there more going on? 

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What does it take to keep college students from depression and suicide?


Gustave Courbet - Le Désespéré The numbers of college students seeking mental health services has increased over the years. More students are reporting that they’re not coping with college, and pleas for help are showing up on Facebook posts and from classmates who see their friends struggling hard just to keep going.

We’re not just talking about reports of stress or anxiety, we’re talking about suicide attempts and nervous breakdowns.  According to a report by the American College Health Association (ACHA), in 2008, 1 in 3 college students reported that they felt so depressed that they were not able to function. About 1 in 10 reported they had thoughts of suicide.  One out of 100 students attempted to commit suicide, 133 students were successful.  These numbers are bleak.

The most painful stories are about the students who shatter to such a devastating degree that in their grief and rage they take other students with them.

Is this a sign of the times or has this been a constant presence in the lives of young college students?

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The stigma attached to mental illness is unfair, unjust ... and unchanged


Goya Casa de locos Research has shown that there is little to no relationship between “mental illness” and violent behavior.

But try telling the public that. 

Stereotypes are powerful, and not only is this one a thousand of years old, but it’s reinforced every night on prime time when cop shows and procedural dramas portray schizophrenic or psychotic killers. 

This fear has serious consequences:  the General Social Survey (GSS) showed that as of 2006 the majority of people were not willing to work closely or socialize with the person in the vignette who was schizophrenic or alcohol dependent. They even indicatd that they are unwilling to have them as neighbors, marry into their families and even perceived them as being potentially violent. Major depression was not seen as being dangerous, but the stigma related to this was still unchanged.

Given that the link between mental illness and violent behavior is illusory, it sounds like this is just the kind of damaging stereotype that needs to be corrected by a public awareness campaign.  The trouble is it’s been tried, several times, and it’s not working. 

In fact, the GSS shows that American attitudes towards mental illness have changed very little from 1996 – 2006.

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Studying "place" - and all its powers


Retreat Center Where you are can effect what you do.  We just don’t know why.

A University of Georgia study (PDF) of more than 10,000 fifth-graders in 71 elementary schools showed that students who could see gardens, mountains and other natural elements from their classrooms scored significantly higher on tests in vocabulary and math than students whose classrooms had views of roads and parking lots.

We just don’t know why.

According to a different study (PDF), students who have access to classrooms with more natural light advance 20 percent faster in math, and score 7 to 18 percent higher, than students with little daylight in their classes.

We’re just not sure why.

The nature of the places we work, live, and play have a significant impact on the way we go about our lives and what we want to accomplish.  So much so that international negotiator William Ury (author of Getting to Yes) deliberately chooses places that have histories of successful peace negotiations as the settings for mediations he leads.  He says it helps. 

In fact, there are many different occupations that work with “place” and “settings”:  architects, urban planners, farmers, eco-psychologists, to name just a few, and all of them have sets of evolving “best practices” about how to make places come alive for the people who live and work there. 

As Saybrook alumna Renee Levi discovered, each professional and academic field knows a great deal about the relationship between people and place, but they rarely have opportunities to share what they know and learn from each other.  

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Understanding "desire" - what do we really want?


Psyche in love As an analyst, James Hollis has had many clients struggling to come to terms with sexless marriages. 

If they were coming to him with trouble sleeping, or an eating disorder, or a drug habit, they’d have no trouble saying “I have a problem, how do I solve it?”  But in the case of an unfulfilling sex life, or a low libido, he says, they’re much more likely to ask “how do I come to terms with it?”

Writing the lead article in the Fall issue of the journal Parabola, Hollis calls this a “disorder of desire,” and points out that our ability to express and experience desire is a key element of mental health.  To be cut off from one’s own desire is to be cut off from one’s own life. 

 “While levels of desire vary from person to person,” he writes, “the absence or diminution of desire is psychologically and spiritually significant for it is desire which most expresses the life force.”

This is not a casual problem, or something to shrug off with a resigned “oh well.” 

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Time to RSVP for Saybrook University’s Inaugural Festivities


Saybrook logo Saybrook University’s 40th anniversary year will officially begin with the inauguration of Saybrook President Mark Schulman on Friday, January 14, 2011.

All Saybrook students, faculty, staff,trustees,  and alumni are invited to the inaugural ceremony, the luncheon immediately following, and the academic colloquium. .

Please let us know as soon as possible if you plan to join us with your RSVP here.

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Mind-Body Medicine dean James Gordon leads mental health delegation to Haiti


Saybrook logo In the last decade James Gordon, MD, has helped train thousands of healthcare providers from around the world to tend to the psychological damage of war and conflict.  He’s trained healthcare practiciones in Kosovo, Israel, and Palestine. 

In December Gordon, who directs The Center for Mind-Body Medicine and serves as Dean of Saybrook’s Graduate College of Mind-Body Medicine, led an international delegation with representatives from all of those places to Haiti. 

Together they are laying the foundation for Haiti’s first-ever nationwide program of primary mental healthcare. 

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Saybrook University names full professors


Appointments Recognize an Extraordinary Legacy of Accomplishment and Contribution Saybrook logoto a Broad Range of Disciplines



Mark Schulman, president of Saybrook University, announced this month the appointment of twelve faculty members to the rank of full professor. These appointments represent the first time that Saybrook University has chosen to bestow this rank, and recognizes the outstanding professional achievements of its senior faculty. 

These 12 faculty members represent an impressive record of scholarship, practice, and research in the fields of clinical psychology, creativity studies, humanistic and transpersonal psychology, human science, integrative health studies, organizational systems, and social transformation. Among the honors bestowed upon them are awards by national and international professional associations, foreign governments, and their peers. Many of these faculty have been honored by divisions of the American Psychological Association and have served as chairs of these divisions. All of them have presented and published extensively.

The Saybrook University colleges in which they teach and a brief summary of their professional backgrounds is provided below.

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Saybrook President Mark Schulamn interview with Natural Medicine


Saybrook logo Saybrook President Mark Schulman spoke this month with the journal National Medicine, recording an interview that covers everything from Saybrook’s history to how mind-body medicine is changing the medical paradigm.

If you’ve ever wondered about the connection between humanistic psychology and mind-body medicine, or wondered about how to tell the legitimate science of integrative health from the pseudoscience that often surrounds it, you’ll want to listen to this interview.


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Eugene Taylor to be given 2011 Abraham Maslow award


Eugene Taylor, PhD, Historian and Philosopher of Psychology, Saybrook Faculty Member, and Director of the Concentration in Humanisic and Transpersonal Psychology, has been honored by the Society for Humanisic Psychology (Division 32) within the American Psychological Association with the Abraham Maslow Award for 2011, given to an individual for an outstanding and lasting contribution to the exploration of the farther reaches of the human spirit.  

Prof. Taylor will receive the award in August, at the 119th annual meeting of the American Psychological Association in Washington, DC. His address to the Division will be on "Self-Knowledge as a Legitimate Method in Experimental Psychology."

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Are antidepressants accomplices to school shootings?


Cho image 2 Do you know that the perpetrators of some of the most notorious school shootings in the world were on antidepressants?

No?  I din’t think so.  Most people don’t.  It doesn’t get talked about very often. 

But in fact Cho Seung Hui, the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre in Blacksburg, Virginia was on antidepressant medications. He killed thirty three people and wounded countless others, before taking his own life.

Eric Harris, one of the shooters at Columbine High School, in Littleton, Colorado was on antidepressant medications at the time of his shooting rampage with fellow classmate, Dylan Klebold.

Matti Juhani Saari, the shooter of ten at a Finnish College in Europe was on antidepressant medications at the time of his shooting spree when he later took his own life.

Kip Kinkel, the fifteen year old shooter at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon, had been on anti-depressants in the weeks before his shooting spree that killed and injured nearly two dozen people.

So, what is the connection between anti-depressants and shooting sprees? Could antidepressantmedications be “accomplices” in some of the worlds most senseless and horrifying school shoot sprees. What are the implications and what is being done?

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You are not your brain


Brain_-_Lobes Where is your brain?

Well, of course it’s in your head.

Your mind is in the same place, right? Well, not so fast…

As a recent article in the New York Times asks, “Is it possible that, sometimes at least, some of the activity that enables us to be the thinking, knowing, agents that we are occurs outside the brain?”

The article isn’t claiming that your mind is a separate, immaterial, thing – but it does point out that according to the theory of “embodied cognition” or “the extended mind,” much of what makes up your mind actually happens outside your brain ... in your body.

If this is true then the mind, unlike the brain is really not all about neuroscience..neuroimages…and neurologists…after all.  Perhaps that’s one of the reasons why, despite the recent neurological advances, science still has great difficulty describing consciousness and cognition—some of the most vital activities in daily living.

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How insightful breakthroughs happen, and why


Lightning_animation_-_NOAA Think back to the last brilliant moment you had.  You know the one:  first you were racking your brain trying to figure out a solution to a difficult problem, and the next moment it was like a bolt of lightning hit, and suddenly you were a genius. 

Problem solved.

These wonderful “Aha” moments often happen when we least expect it and when we need them the most.

Researchers Sascha Topolinski from the University of Würzburg, Germany, and Rolf Reber from the University of Bergen, Norway have proposed a new hypothesis that could explain the phenomenology of the ‘Aha’ moment.

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Is "pay for performance" innovative? Aristotle says no.


Plato and Aristotle by Raphael The problem with being “innovative” is that somebody’s usually done it before. 

This winter the city of Quincy, Massachusetts, will be expanding a pilot program that introduces “pay for performance” to the companies it hires to plow city streets.  Instead of paying by the hours worked, the new approach pays them by the amount of snow they plow.  Seems simple, right?

It should be, but “pay for performance” initiatives tend to hit a political firestorm these days (which is why the way Quincy, Mass., plows snow is in the news at all). 

Attempts to re-imagine the way we compensate employees are almost automatically controversial:  large sections of the country think that “pay for performance” and “privatize” (another element of the Quincy plan) are ways to save money by squeezing workers and offering worse service … and they’re often right.  Indiana recently tried privatizing its Medicaid and welfare systems – and the results were so disastrous that even that state’s conservative Republican governor decided to go back to paying unionized government workers to handle caseloads. 

Privatization efforts in prisons have generally led to less safe prisons (for both inmates and employees) and so far the new emphasis on “pay for performance” for teachers … however boldly hyped … has been more likely to lead to scandals and fiasco than improved education. 

And yet … doesn’t it seem like the Quincy snow plowing plan is a good one?  How can you argue with it?

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The nicotine/depression connection


No_smoking_symbol Have you heard friends or family members who smoke say they do it to calm their nerves or lift their mood when they are depressed? Or maybe you’ve even told yourself and others this is why you keep smoking.  It's generally understood:  smoking calms your nerves.

But a new research report found that this may exactly the wrong reason to keep smoking – the results show that when people quit smoking they were happier and less anxious. Even more interesting, when they resumed smoking, depression and anxiety set in even deeper than before. 

The research was published online November 24 in the journal Nicotine & Tobacco Research sponsored by Brown’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies, Centers for Behavioral and Preventive Medicine at The Miriam Hospital, Keck School of Medicine at USC and the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

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Social change, from the library to the jail


Liu_Xiaobo_Photo_on_Grand_Hotel How does a society transform?

Liu Xiaobo had a few ideas.

For the second time in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, no one was there to receive the award.  The chair of winner Liu Xiaobo sat empty on Friday. Neither Liu nor his wife, Liu Xia, were allowed to travel to Norway to receive the honorary degree.

Liu Xiaobo is currently serving an eleven year jail sentence in a China for “subversion of state power.”

Who is Liu Xiaobo? What have his efforts shown us about what it takes for a society to change?

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Why the era of anti-depressants is ending


800px-Prozac_pills The numbers are startling. More Americans than ever are receiving treatment for depression. The clincher? Psychotherapy is declining and the use of anti-depressant medications is increasing – steadily.

Consumers had better beware.

In 1998, 54% of patients being treated for depression received psychotherapy. Nine years later, in 2007, only 43% of people with depression received psychotherapy.

The problem? Anti-depressant medication alone is not effective at treating most depression in the long-term; and many medications have crippling side effects.

So why is an ineffective treatment more popular than ever?  Because anti-depressant medications are covered by most insurance carriers. Psychotherapy, on the other hand, maybe effective, but getting it paid for is like playing Russian roulette with your insurance carrier.

The result is that more money is being spent to put more people through a less effective treatment to an increasingly common problem.  In fact, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, anti-depressants are the number one most commonly prescribed drugs by physicians in the United States. If only they did what they’re supposed to.

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The connection between hope and rehabilitation


“Hope is important because it can make the present momentPrisoner behind bars less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today." -- Thich Nhat Hanh


Having hope can be the one thing that will help prevent a criminal from ending up back in prison.

It seems simple but it is an idea that has yet to catch on in the field of criminology. A research report published in the International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, “Is Hope Related to Criminal Behaviour in Offenders?” looked at the relationship between an inmate’s level of hope and criminal behavior. They found that inmates who had higher levels of hope were less likely to reoffend.

This research shows that more can be done for former inmates in order to help them succeed.

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Kids in violent environments find a path to non-violence more often than we give them credit for


Actors portraying killers When kids grow up in neighborhoods that terrify adults, they learn to survive fast. 

In one study, 76 percent of youth living in urban areas were exposed to some form of community violence including fighting, the use of weapons, and gun violence that led to murders. 

When violence is a moment-to-moment experience, when it always seems to be happening just around the corner, it’s easy to assume that the kids are part of it, that they’re stuck in it, and that only a few of them will ever escape it. 

It’s easy, but it’s wrong. 

A recent study shows us why. Teens growing up in these neighborhoods have developed their own way of coping to survive -- to survive not just to the end of the day but into a brilliant future.

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The Human Rights/Humanistic Psychology connection


Friday, December 10th is international Human Rights Day. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, it has been promoting the cause of human rights for 61 years, and it seems there has been just as much progress as there have been struggles and failures. There are still many individuals, organizations, and governments who are hard at work dismantling the social, cultural and political systems that abuse the rights of millions of people all over the world.

The vision and mission that is the foundation of humanistic psychology embraces fulfilling human potential, and in order to do this we must recognize to connection between human potential and human rights. Yes – historically humanistic psychology has been focused in individuals, but the good news is that over time the field has moved from focusing on self actualization and growth to recognizing that the individuals well being is connected to the well being of their community.

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Psychiatry and clinical psychology have failed. Here's how we do better.


DSM 4 This has been a bad week for mental illness.

According to the New York Times, five of the current ten “personality disorders” will not be included in the next publication of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.  The most controversial to be cut is “Narcissistic Personality Disorder” – the “Malady of Me” disease!

So if you’re suffering from those conditions, don’t worry – in 2013 they’ll cease to exist. 

In the meantime millions of people have been diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder and the other personality disorders that will soon become extinct. They have been medicated, treated in psychiatric hospitals, received psychotherapy and have permanent records stating their psychiatric diagnosis. They have been stigmatized, charged money in the form of co-payments and out of pocket medical expenses, and experienced deep personal pain and shame – only to find that their diagnosis was a “pseudo-diagnosis” and no longer exists.

Truly, this is malpractice and professional negligence.  Even worse:  there is no known cause of any of the ten personality disorders, and never has been.  The gurus at the American Psychiatric Association hypothesize that the personality disorders come from a mix of genetic and environmental factors – but it’s hard not to be be incredulous when five of ten personality disorders are vanishing.

It’s not just personality disorders, either:  another New York Times article last week points out that the cost of residential eating disorder programs can run $30,000 dollars a month – with many patients needing three or more months of treatment. The kicker:  most insurance companies will not cover long term treatment because the inadequate empirical evidence of effective treatment remedies is inadequate. 

We don’t know how to fix an eating disorder, but we’re going to charge you $30,000 a month for trying.  We claim to understand personality disorders, but there could be five, or 10, or none:  the evidence is unclear. 

It’s time to call it like it is:  mainstream psychiatry and clinical psychology are failing. 

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Deck the halls with Anxiety, Pain, and Loss


Credit_card_terminal Tis the season! Eating…buying….decorating! The cycle seems endless. First there was Halloween candy, then tom the turkey, and now the little man in the red suit.

The holidays in America represent capitalism in all its grandeur.

Most shopping connoisseurs and major retailers agree that the holiday shopping season officially begins with the day after Thanksgiving; notoriously called Black Friday. This year, Time Magazine, published several articles regarding the topic calling the binge of shopping “a carnival of capitalism.”

The National Retail Federation estimates that the average person spent $365.00 dollars during the Thanksgiving weekend. The scary part? It’s up six-percent from last year.

With all the busyness of the holidays, the anxiety, pain and loss that the season brings is easily overlooked and unacknowledged. For many, the holidays represent a time to spend with loved ones. But for others, memories linger of days past when loved ones were living. Often, this pain is only exacerbated by the expectations of the season of gift giving, cookie making and party-going; resulting in phone calls from the consumer credit companies.

With all the hecticness of the season, and its demands that you BE HAPPY, what can someone in anxiety and pain do?

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The Psychology of Survival: what happened after AIDS


AIDS test Prior to the advent of the antiretroviral (AVR) medications, gay men who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS were confronting almost certain death. Now, with relatively easy availability of AVR medication, they confront a life that will be devoted dealing with a chronic illness and any potential lingering medical and emotional complications. Many experience shame, grief, isolation brought on by stigma or self isolation because they have chosen not to disclose.

They have survived not just an individual illness, but a community-wide epidemic that killed friends, lovers, neighbors and even members of your family. The impact of AIDS, both in succumbing to it and surviving it, can be every bit as great on the psyche as on the body. 

Silvio Machado, a PhD student of Psychology at Saybrook University provides a vivid research based narrative on the existential dimensions of the lives of the men who have survived.  His article, “Existential Dimensions of Surviving HIV: The Experience of Gay Long-Term Survivors,” is published in in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology. 

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Carl Rogers' legacy of human dignity


Recently, Time Magazine compiled a list of the twenty-five most powerful and influenential women of the century. And, to no surprise, Mother Teresa ranks in at the top.

A Roman Catholic nun, known for her symbolic simple white garb with blue stripes, Mother Teresa brought the values of human dignity and intrinsic worth to one of the most impoverished places on earth, working with the sick and the dying.  Teresa, named at birth Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, undoubtedly revolutionized a world by her humble example and unselfish love to the dying, the sick, and abandoned in Calcutta, India.

As I read about Mother Teresa, I was reminded of another Nobel Peace Prize nominee, one who brought the values of human dignity and intrinsic worth to the psyche, bringing the idea of self-determination and presence into the both the therapists office and everyday life. 

Carl Rogers We are nearing what would have been the 108th birthday of Carl Rogers, and he deserves to be celebrated as much as Mother Teresa – and for many of the same reasons. 

Rogers, a true revolutionary and pioneer, looked at human nature through the lens of hope, promise, and positivism. Rogers was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (an award Mother Teresa won) in 1987 for his work in South Africa and Ireland in conflict resolution. His scholarly work, nearly as influential as that of Sigmund Freud, introduced the concept of research to the world of psychotherapy and brought the revolutionary person-centered approach to psychology, education, organizations and communities.

Roger’s believed in affirming a person’s basic worth; without judgment, doing so in the form of unconditional positive regard. Perhaps nothing describes Roger’s and his theoretical work more than his renowned book, Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. In this piece, Rogers describes the nineteen core tenets of his theory regarding the human person, their worth and the therapeutic environment.

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