Archives For: January 2011

Money can't buy brains, but poverty can hurt them


Urban poverty The richest nation in the world recently received a failing report card on its treatment of children.

In a report entitled The Children Left Behind, UNICEF reported its findings on how children in the richest country are being cared for.

A UNICEF report (PDF) called “The Children Left Behind” shows that one fourth of American children are in poverty.

Does that matter?  Morally and ethically, of course it does – but it also matters developmentally, as new research shows that while spending money for already well-off kids does little to improve their brain power, growing up in poverty can cause significant drops in intellectual capacity

Money doesn’t increase intelligence, but poverty can decrease it. 

Here is a glance at the research:

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In love? Beware of "Financial Infidelity"


Dollars Do you know what ruins intimate partner relationships? If you are thinking the obvious, cheating, try again. You very well might not guess this one – but you should know it,  because it ranks up in the top three reasons couples split, relationships end, and divorce proceedings occur.

The culprit? Financial Infidelity.

Yup, it is about that pesky almighty green dollar bill. And, researchers tell us it is one of the biggest stressors for middle-aged Americans.

Money + relationships = volatile territory. Financial infidelity involves lying to one’s significant other about any aspect of money or finances.

Here is the clincher—it may be just as damaging to a couple’s relationship as sexual infidelity.

Harris Interactive, Redbook, and researched this delicate subject and found startling results. Out of the over 1,700 couples studied, twenty four percent believed financial infidelity was worse than sexual infidelity. Twenty-nine percent admitted lying to their partner regarding finances; most often because of excessive spending on personal shopping. And more-- twenty five percent reported being lied to by their partner regarding some aspect of their combined financial state. If you do the arithmetic, over fifty four percent of couples lie to each other about their spending habits and earnings.

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Research shows: stories have the power to heal


Blood pressure cuff What is the best approach to encourage people to tend to their personal wellness and health – and how do we overcome cultural barriers? 

It may be telling a story ... as long as it’s the right kind of story. 

This was recently proven in studies addresing one of the most common, and most difficult, medical conditions to treat :  high blood pressure.

Treatment plans require that people take their medications, follow a specific diet and see their physicians on a regular basis – which is more than many people are willing to do.  When they don’t look after their own health the mortality rate for those with high blood pressure goes up. The work of overcoming hypertension is especially hard on the African American community. Reports have come to show that social and cultural barriers have made it challenging to treat this illness in the community, and that African Americans are more likely to suffer from the long list of complications that often come with hypertension such as heart disease and stroke.

A recent study published in the January 2011 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, “Culturally Appropriate Storytelling to Improve Blood Pressure: A Randomized Trial” draws on the cultural strength of the African American community as a way to help patients initiate and maintain their treatments.

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Doctors need empathy, STAT!


Stethoscope A recent study out of the University of Toronto videotaped session with oncologists and found that only 22% showed empathy at times when patients needed it.  

That’s too bad, not just because it’s cold and cruel – but because a large body of evidence is showing that empathy in conventional medical settings can make a big difference in patient outcomes. 

In 1997 Dr. Art Bohart and Dr. Leslie Greenberg published a book entitled “Empathy Reconsidered.” This text presented research that supported the theory that empathy in therapy room can aid in improving outcomes for individuals. Since then additional research has shown that empathy can promote healing on the physical level, as well as the psychological.  Now the new University of Toronto study has shown that clinical empathy (empathy within the confines of traditional clinical setting like hospitals and doctors’ offices), can improve a patients’ satisfaction with their care and encourage them to follow through with their treatment plans. Hospital administrators would be most interested in an additional fact the study found:  increases in patient empathy lowered malpractice complaints.

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The dangers of "second hand" media - why what your friends watch is more important than what you do


TV set with internet in it If you’re the kind of person who’s “plugged in” to culture, chances are you know what’s so controversial about Skins.

A program on MTV that debuted January 17, Skins got three million viewers and launched six million arguments with its depictions of wealthy suburban teenagers who engaging in illicit drug use, sexually mature behavior, and violence.  Emotions run high as the characters deal with divorced parents, substance abuse, and one night stands—while facing grave consequences from their actions.

The cast consists of teens, some as young as fifteen, who are portrayed in sexually explicit ways; the premier also contained over forty references to street drugs and alcohol. The Parents Television Council is among many who are protesting the show claiming that it violates anti-child pornography laws in the United States.   

As of today, six major retailers have yanked their sponsorship of Skins including: Subway, H&R Block, Taco Bell, and GM. The show’s racy content has even reached capital hill; with the Parent Television Council asking the Senate, House Judiciary Committee and Department of Justice to open a federal investigation to evaluate if the show violates laws.

Behind the stormy debates, lies the real question:  do shows like Skins actually affect teenage development?  Is it just a show, or does it become real life? 

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The couch is not where healing happens


Yoga group picture In the 20th century the popular metaphor for therapy was “the couch” – the therapist’s couch, Freud’s couch.  What did you do when you went to therapy?  You lay down on the couch.  It was almost a cultural cliché.

It won’t work for the 21st century.  More and more, psychology is telling people to get off the couch and get moving. 

That’s because mind-body therapies, especially with a humanistic emphasis, are increasingly being shown to have a significant positive impact for people with a range of problems – including not being able to get off that couch.

Yoga, in particular, has recently been shown to have a host of benefits:

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90 percent of us have big regrets: dealing with it is a crucial skill for healthy living


Maybe an unexamined life is a little more worth living than we thought:  recent research has shown that wallowing in regret can lead to feeling stressed, anxious, unhappy about life … and even impact physical health.

A study in the recent issue of the  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin shows that about 90 percent of adults have deep regrets about their lives, and that the more they dwell on it the worse their quality of life tends to get.  If we all have big regrets – and it looks like we virtually all do – then managing regret is a crucial life skill.

How do we do that?

Current research in psychology and sociology has begun to focus in on self-regulation processes – a person’s ability to come up with ways to manage how they feel at any given moment. For example, someone may self regulate, ease their pain, about losing a job by thinking about the homeless person on the street.

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Psychology still needs to take Martin Luther King Jr.'s advice


Martin Luther King Jr speaking In 1967, as black communities in Detroit and Newark were still picking up the pieces after rage had exploded onto the streets during the “Long, Hot Summer,” Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed the American Psychological Association in Washington, D.C.. 

From the podium, Dr. King offered his vision for how psychology and sociology could help pull us all towards humanity’s highest potential.  “You who are in the field of psychology,” he said, “have given us a great word. It is the word maladjusted. This word is probably used more than any other word in psychology. It is a good word; certainly it is good that in dealing with what the word implies you are declaring that destructive maladjustment should be destroyed. You are saying that all must seek the well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities.”

Today psychology is still very focused on maladjusted individual.  But King’s vision went beyond neurosis or what we think of as “mental illness.”  What, he wondered aloud, does psychology have to say to the average person who supports the status quo, who remains blind or chooses to ignore the ills that plague or society?  


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America is great at creating the kind of peole who can solve its problems, and terrible at letting them


Dollars Social mobility is the engine that powers the “American Dream” – the idea that all it takes to reach the top is hard work and talent. 

Maybe America needs a new engine.  Social mobility doesn’t seem to be taking us anywhere anymore. 

If you want to work for a top level investment bank, law practice, or consulting firm, a study out of Northwestern University shows,  there are only five colleges you can graduate from.  Nobody else is even considered. 

Forget prestigious:  if you want to be a well compensated lawyer at all, an article in the New York Times explains, you’d better have graduated from a law school in the top quartile.  Otherwise, most firms will touch you. 

In fact, The Atlantic has gone so far as to suggest that the “new rich” are pulling further and further away from the rest of us ... not only in terms of wealth, but in the way they live, the rules they live by, and the opinion they have of “the rest of us.”

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The secret to mental health isn't rocket science -- it's gratitude


Einstein Albert Einstein knew a lot about math and physics.  Did he also know how to beat depression?

This quote of his – “There are two ways to look at life. One way is that nothing is a miracle. The other is that everything is a miracle.” – suggests that perhaps he did. 

For all his intellectual grandeur, Einstein had a profound understood the shared experience of being human: needs, wants, and pain. His strategy was to develop gratitude and forgiveness as part of one’s the foundational experience of daily living. Exist in gratitude for daily life

A newly released book, The Mind-Body Mood Solution: The Breakthrough Drug-Free Program for Lasting Relief from Depression – tackles this very subject.  Gratitude, it suggests, is the mechanism to free oneself from depression and meaningless living.

Jeffrey Rossman’s empirical research and academic acumen provides the glue and adhesive for our broken hearts and unlived potentialities.

Given the recent tragedy in Tucson, Arizona and other national and personal travesties, gratitude seems inconceivable and implausible--the farthest thing from logic. Look again. Try these tips: Cheesy? Maybe. Psychologically Effective—Irrefutably so!

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Can we show compassion to the families of killers?


Jared Lee Loughner mug shot One can only imagine the suffering that the families of killers go through when they first find out what happened. 

But we have to imagine:  there has been very little research published on the trauma that families such as the Loughners are experiencing at this moment. It may have to do with the fortunate fact that there are very few crimes like the one Jared Loughner committed.  The families of most convicted criminals rarely experience the piercing spotlight that the Cho, Loughner, Klebold, or Harris families experienced ... public and political scrutiny on a global scale. 

They are left to deal with the public questions that rarely have clear answers:  did they know what was happening?  Could they and their families have been the source of this pain?   

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The lesson of Tucson: mental health care has to be available to be effective


MRI device Monday morning, president Barrack Obama called for a moment of silence to remember the tragic events that happened over the weekend in Tucson, Arizona.

Jared Lee Loughner, twenty-two, has been charged and is facing two counts of first degree murder, one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress and two other counts of attempted murder—and prosecutors say that this is only the beginning.

The question burning at the heart of this ordeal remains: ahat motivates such an individual to commit such an abhorrent and repugnant act?

Jared Lee Loughner has been described by classmates and teachers as “odd, eccentric, paranoid, and delusional.” Is he indeed a cold-blooded murder? Or, is he simply a very disturbed, mentally ill young boy who our mental health system has failed to treat? The evidence suggests Mr. Loughner is one of many who has “slipped through the cracks” and in turn has acted out because of his mental disturbance.

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A year after Haiti's earthquake, here's what we've learned about trauma relief


Haiti earthquake picture January 12th will mark the year anniversary since the devastating earthquake in Haiti brought down its city, communities and people. Immediately after the earthquake, aid from all over the world rushed in to pull potential survivors from the rubble and to help with the physically and emotionally wounded. Medical response teams were usually followed by teams of mental health workers with the mission to ease psychological caused by the disaster.

There has been a good amount of recent research about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and disasters. But an article published in the December issue of Psychological Science in the Public Interest offers another viewpoint: the field may be able to be far more effective if there is a shift in how mental health workers see their roles in helping after a disaster.

Researchers Bonanno, Brewin, Kaniasty and La Greca argue that the chaotic nature of disasters make it difficult to know what if any psychological affects people may suffer and what is the best way to help them recover. In order to gain perspective on what is being done for mental health in disaster relief, the researchers reviewed multiple research studies on disaster response they drew five conclusions:

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Is there a psychological treament for autism?


A parent’s worst nightmare can a diagnosis of Autism for their child.

Also known as ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder effects one out of every one hundred and ten children. ASD is characterized by an array of neurodevelopment disorders; which result in impaired social functioning, communication impediments, repetitious behaviors and overall restricted development.

The terrifying part? The number of children diagnosed with ASD is growing—some sixty percent between 2002 and 2006.

The growth in ASD cases has become a pandemic of sorts in families and the medical community. All are looking for answers—to both prevent and treat.

Without a clear and concise understanding of autism, its causes and triggers, psychiatry and the medical community as a whole are left with psychotropic medications—to treat the symptoms, not the causes—coupled with horrendous medication side effects.

Take Hope. Psychology is making so much headway that The Autism Research Institute purports that “Autism is Treatable.”

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Ron Kurtz, who combined Buddhism and psychotherapy into a remarkable method, has died


Ron Kurtz picture We've lost a  scholar, visionary, hero and prominent psychologist.

Ron Kurtz, a revolutionary clinician, author and human, passed away Wednesday morning from a massive heart attack in Ashland, Oregon.

Kurtz, known for his work as a body-centered psychologist, developed what is known as the Hakomi method of psychotherapy. Congruent with humanism and existentialism, the Hakomi Method is often described by scholars as “applied Buddhist psychotherapy.” The method, developed from over forty years worth of clinical know-how, works by way of nonviolence, gentle mindfulness, honesty and openness within the psychological framework of the mind-body connection.

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What America can learn from Brazil about fighting poverty


US_states_by_poverty_rate_svg It may seem counter intuitive to give poor families money just for sending their kids to school,  keeping a full time job, and buying healthy foods.  But what if that’s what works?                    

Programs in the United States have long been providing financial assistance to families in the form of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Federal level food stamp programs, to name a few.  Some good has been done, but all too often the result has been a continuation of poverty and its many problems. 

Now New York is reviewing an approach with a better track record:  giving assistance to mothers who commit to keeping their kids in school and healthy. 

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The placebo strikes again! Here's how we can harness it for better medicine


Four Placebos The trouble with placebos is that they work.  They shouldn’t.

Placebos ... a harmless sugar pill given that patients are told it is an actual drug ... have a long track record of curing, healing, and improving the lives of patients.  Often a bigger track record than the actual drugs themselves. 

Placebos work.  They shouldn’t.  We don’t know why they do. 

We have a better idea, however, of how they don’t work. 

Much previous research with placebos was based on the idea of deception – that doctors were lying to patients to convince them that the placebo was a real drug. 

Recent research suggests that’s not the case. 

A team of leading placebo researchers from the Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center looked at the effectiveness of placebos pills on patients who knew they were taking placebos. The study was published in the December 22 issue of PLoS ONE.

It turns out that letting patients in on the “secret” had very little impact on the effectiveness of the placebo. 

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Pretending to be happy makes other people miserable


466px-Depression-loss_of_loved_one When you’re having a lousy day and someone asks “How are you?” ... what do you do?

If you’re like most people, you lie.  You decide that the truth won’t go over well and push down your negative emotions. 

But just because it’s common doesn’t mean there aren’t consequences.  What does publicly denying our unhappiness do to our well being, and what effect does it have on others?

Researchers from the University of California Berkeley, Stanford University, and Syracuse University recently answered those questions in a study called “Misery Has More Company Than People Think: Underestimating the Prevalence of Others’ Negative Emotions”

Their conclusion:  People think that others are happy even when they may not be. Believing that others are happier than them can lead to rumination, loneliness and feeling less satisfied with life.

In other words, we’ve got to stop doing this.  Sure, sometimes it’s not appropriate to say “I’m miserable, actually” – but when we put on a happy face, people believe us, and it causes problems.

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2011 is the year to fight psychiatry and the pharmaceutical industry for your mind


DelacroixTasso According to epidemiologists 30% of Americans will be diagnosed with a mental illness in 2011. That’s disturbing enough, but this is also the year when the definition of what a so-called “mental illness” is could change.  You could be mentally ill right now - and if the pharmaceutical companies get their way, you certainly will be.

The DSM-5, the very newest “Bible of psychiatry” is scheduled to come out, and as the publication date nears the battle is raging. 

Accoding to many critics, the DSM-5 will go out of its way to make many of the ordinary issues of life "treateable" by expensive medication.  They won't make your life any better, but they will pump you full of drugs.  Allen Frances, lead editor of the DSM-4, calls what’s happening now a “hoax.”  If it is, it will have a drastic impact on that 30% of Americans who get diagnosed – along with their families, friends, and loved ones. 

So, lets look at some of the hard and fast facts on this elusive and tenuous publication – and then examine why so many psychologists think the new DSM will give drug companies a license to medicate everyone for anything:

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