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World Sickness and the Thirst for God

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By Nicolina Santoro, MA, IMF 77972

Once upon a time, in the vast kingdom of the helping professions, there lived a therapist whose thirst for knowledge and desire to aid in the process of personal and interpersonal change was unrivaled in all the land. This therapist had taken it upon herself to rewrite the story of her own history in a manner that changes the context of painful past experiences from blockages into tools that create a larger understanding and empathy for those she has chosen to serve in her work.

This constantly evolving therapist became immersed in theory and work of great minds such as Carl Rogers and William James. Realizing that human potential is vast, she wanted to understand how important stories and fairy tales were to constructing the memories that colored the landscape of reality, a reality that seemed to have the power to dictate how people see themselves and live their lives.

These dominant fairy tales permeate the fabric of our perceptions which also bump up against the lives of others we come into contact with out in the world. Personal narratives or “life styles” are filled with characters that are archetypal in nature, influencing us to play out repetitive sequences in life. These characters tend to take on the personas of stereotypical themes that are reinforced by learning them at a young age, or by the social referencing effect of our dominant culture.

William James calls the mental fatigue effect of living in an environment laden with unrealistic scenarios or fairy tales “world sickness.” It appears as though living in a world dominated by stereotypes and fairy tales could be implicated in the aggravation of many types of mental health issues.

How can we address the fatigue, depression, anxiety, and thought distortions that world sickness creates and impacts?

Let’s start with being gentle with ourselves. When we imagine a supreme spiritual being, the embodiment of certain characteristics seems to be present across many cultures. Some of these characteristics include unconditional love (a love that exists beyond judgment), a superconscious presence that never dissipates or abandons, and the ability to create out of seemingly thin air. For the scientists who have a different path, god could also be described as the picture of what we theorize as the highest human potential. We have the potential to express this in our own reality by living our lives in accordance to our deepest and strongest values while moving away from comparing ourselves to the unrealistic standards or “fairy tales” woven into the fabric of our society, loving ourselves and others through the lens of acceptance and vulnerability, a gentler version of happily ever after.


References

James. W. (1902). The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study on Human Nature. Longmans, Green & Co. London, UK.

Miller, W.R. (2006). Integrating Spirituality into Treatment: Resources for Practitioners. Washington: American Psychological Association.

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School Refusal Solutions for Parents and Teachers

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school kid

By Christine Brady, M.A.,
Intern of Marriage & Family Therapy

What parent among us has not experienced the plaintive pleas of little ones, their little voices crying out, “I don’t want to go to school!” Sometimes these requests are due to vague physical complaints such as, “I don’t feel good”, or “My tummy hurts”. Other times, the range of reasons can vary from mean teachers to lack of friends, or perhaps an exam is scheduled for that day. For a lot of children these occurrences are few and far between. For others, this is a pattern which seems to happen almost daily, increasing family stress, and causing harried parents to count down the days until graduation (a daunting task if your child is in elementary school).  School refusal, if left unchecked, this pattern can escalate lead to chronic lateness, repeated absences, and consequences from truancy officials at school.

Consistently truant children often attempt to conceal their absence from parents and spend their day away from home while children typically termed as school refusers tend to stay home during all or part of the day with parental knowledge. School refusing children commonly become upset at the prospect of going to school and may show signs of fearfulness, crying, temper tantrums, unexplained physical symptoms, or other behaviors, such as stalling, missing the bus, or oversleeping. Children who are refusing to attend school may be attempting to avoid a fearful experience. Being bullied, the structure and discipline of the school setting are common reasons for avoidance. Another motivation for school refusal could be pursuing a positive experience like staying at home with access to video games, access to the internet, or gaining parental concern or attention.

School refusers can have anxiety around specific situations such as the bus ride, cafeteria, restrooms, or locker rooms thereby increasing the desire to avoid school. A child may or may not be able to identify their specific fear, only knowing that they don’t want to be at school because it makes them feel awful. Another group of school refusers may find the social or performance aspects of school such as interactions with peers, writing on the board, being called on in class, tests, or performance classes such as PE make the prospect of attending school frighteningly unbearable. Some children experience school as a place where they are constantly reminded that they are not good enough to achieve at a normal level, let alone, excel.

Dr. Haarman further relates in his book, School Refusal Behaviors, that the most important factor in increasing the likelihood of success with children who can’t or won’t go to school is to return to school as soon as possible. The longer the child avoids a normal school day routine, the more difficult and traumatic it will be to return to school.  A viable starting point for the effective exposure therapy of the child returning to regular school attendance may be to build tolerance to the anxiety provoking activity by attending some portion of the school day whether attending particular classes for a limited time period, or certain days until the child’s anxiety returns to near normal levels. This may require cooperation of school administration, such as a modified schedule change, a teacher change, or allowing the child to arrive late or leave early.

Treatment of School Refusal

This chart is adapted from research conducted by Kearney and Albano, identifies a number of possible intervention strategies most suited for each of the four types of school refusers.
Function Treatment Components
(crying, nausea, distress, sadness, and various phobias, i.e. bathrooms, cafeteria, teachers, bullies, etc.) Somatic control exercises such as breathing retraining and muscle relaxation

Gradual re-exposure to school

Reduce physical symptoms and anticipatory anxiety

Self-reinforcement, self-talk, self-esteem

To escape aversive social and evaluative situations (social phobia, test anxiety, shyness, lack of social skills) Role play restructuring of negative self-talk

Gradual exposure to real life situations

Social skills training and reduction of social anxiety

Coping strategy templates

To get attention  (tantrums, crying, clinging, separation anxiety) Parent training in contingency management

Clear parental messages

Evening and morning routines

Use of consequences for compliance/noncompliance

For positive tangible reinforcement  (lack of structure or rules, free access to reinforcement, avoidance of limits) Family contingency contracting to increase rewards for attending school and decrease the rewards for missing school

Curtail social and other activities for nonattendance

Alternative problem solving


References and Further Reading:

Albano, A.M., Chorpita, B.F., & Barlow, D.H. (2003). Childhood anxiety disorders. In E. Marsh and R. Barkley (Eds.), Child psychopathology (279-330).New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition, Text Revision. Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2000.

American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Washington, DC, American Psychiatric Association, 2013.

Berg, I. (1996). School avoidance, school phobia, and truancy. In: M. Lewis (ed.), Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.  Baltimore, MD: Williams and Wilkins.

Berg, I. (1997). School refusal and truancy. Archives of Disease in Childhood, 76, 90-91

Bernstein, G.A., Helter, J.M., Burckhardt  C.M., & McMillan, M.H. (2001). Treatment of school refusal: one-year follow-up. Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 40, 206–213.

Broadwin, I.T. (1932). A contribution to the study of Truancy. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 2, 253-259.

Coolidge, J.C., Hahn, P.B., & Peck, A.L. (1957). School Phobia: Neurotic crisis or way of life? American Journal of Orthopsychiatry, 27,296-306.

Dube, S.R. & Orpinas, P. (2009). Understanding excessive school absenteeism as school refusal behavior. Children and Schools, 31(2) 87-95.

Duckworth, K. & deBug, J. (1989). Inhibiting class cutting among high school students. High School Journal, 72, 188-195.

Evans, L.D. (2000). Functional School Refusal Subtypes: Anxiety, avoidance, and malingering. Psychology in the Schools, Vol. 37(2), 183-191.

Fremont, W. P. (2003). School refusal in children and adolescents. American Family Physician, 68, 8, 1555-1560.

Haarman, G.B. (2012). School Refusal: Children who Can’t or Won’t go to School, Foundations: Education and Consultation Press. Louiseville, KY.

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Four Principles of Ecologically Sound Parenting in the New Age

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(Photo Credit: SUDIO 1ONE)

By Nicolina Santoro, M.A., MFTI #77792

Our modern society does not appear to be slowing down, and uncensored information is readily available, even among young children. But as technology continues to expand, so has a focus on parenting practices aimed at helping families navigate the use of digital devices in a mindful and balanced way.

More and more research reveals how family and social environments, whether in person or virtual, heavily impact the way children learn to understand the world. According to Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom by Sharon G. Mijares, PhD., moderating access to technology, while remaining connected to children through active participation, can positively influence the developing psychological health of youth today.

With this aim in mind, here are four principles of ecologically sound parenting in the new age that can create a more compassionate humanity in generations to come.

1. Attachment

In psychology and development theories, attachment is described as a central component of parenting because of its impact on positive pro-social behaviors in children. Secure attachment has shown to be an important aspect of a child’s developing personality and intrinsic security. Attachment-fostering activities are fairly global, such as breastfeeding, physical contact, talking, singing, playing, and attending promptly to a child’s needs. The concept of, “it takes a village,” adds to a sense of belonging and worthiness that children develop early. Fostering secure attachment in children inspires them to view the world as generally safe and to become more autonomous with less hindrance from fear.

2. Autonomy

As children begin to branch out and initiate new experiences on their own, the child benefits from his or her parent’s support in this endeavor. The encouragement of a child’s autonomy enhances creativity, imagination and wonder. In later adulthood, a child whose autonomy is nurtured will tend to feel more creative and solution oriented when presented with life on their own or with added familial responsibilities. An autonomous child is also more likely to explore the world outside of the family for a greater understanding of context.

3. Exploration

By fostering and supporting the explorative nature of a child’s experience, parents can bring new information into the family system. Children whose natural desire to explore is supported by primary caregivers and the larger family system have a natural advantage in the experience of expanding their awareness into many ways of viewing the world. The culminating experience of a truly diversified and differentiated individual that thinks beyond culture and color is the next evolution into the globalized human.

4. Globalization

A person that is globally minded has cultivated an aptitude for assimilating new information, promoting awareness, social androgyny, resource-based contribution, and creative solutions to global issues. A globalized family may creatively adopt spiritual rituals and practices from many cultures. Some tribal traditions and philosophies on family system and structures may come from many indigenous peoples and times in history with no distinction that any one way is superior to another. A globalized family may exhibit qualities that are collectivistic and individualistic depending on what would work most advantageously for the health and wellbeing of not only the family, but the larger context in which the family exists, spanning all the way out to the family’s footprint on the culture of their continent and the world.


References and Further Reading:

McGoldrick. M., Pearson, J. & Giordano, J. (2005). Ethnicity and family therapy. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN:9781593850203

Mijares, S. (2003). Modern Psychology and Ancient Wisdom. New York: Haworth Healing. Integrative Press. ISBN:0789017520

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Sacramento Earth Day 2015

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The Annual Sacramento Earth Day Celebration is held every April at Southside Park, downtown

4/21/15 @ 7th Street and T Street. 11am - 4pm

Healing Pathways Psychological Services is excited to join the celebration of Sacramento Earth Day 2015. Our contribution to the event not only educates people about what we’re up to in our city, but we will be putting smiles on their faces with fun activities and prizes. We are so delighted to share these festivities with all of you and look forward to sharing this rare opportunity to spend the day together.

As always, the Sacramento Earth Day Celebration is FREE!

Parking:
During the event, parking meter spaces adjacent to the park may be available, but the meters are limited to two hours.  The two hour parking limits at sites that do not have meters, on nearby neighborhoods streets, are not applicable on weekends.

Food and beverages will be available for sale at the park during the event.  Sacramento Earth Day 2015 will be hosting six vegan food vendors in the northwest corner of the park during the event.  Compostable waste, recyclable waste, and landfill waste containers will be stationed in triads throughout the event venue.  Containers at each station will be marked by printed labels and event volunteers will be present at most stations to advise attendees, vendors, and other volunteers on waste separation requirements.

The Annual Sacramento Earth Day Celebration is filled with wonderful food, entertainment, interactive activities and business, non-profit, cultural and government organizations with invaluable and practical information, goods and services for saving money, living healthier, and protecting and celebrating the environment and the Sacramento region.

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Stop and Smell the Roses: What is Mindfulness, Anyway?

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(Photo Credit: Gromovataya)

By Melanie Ernould, Psy.D.

Have you ever driven somewhere and arrived at your destination thinking that you have no recollection of the actual drive? Have you ever realized the amount of time you spend on your mobile phone to the exclusion of the world around you? Or perhaps you’ve realized you’ve lost touch with important people in your life because you’ve gotten caught up in the tasks of your everyday life? What about spending time doing something to realize that you’ve spent most of that time worrying about something else, like your to-do list or your messy house? These are all common ways that we miss out on being in the moment in front of us.

You may have heard the term “mindfulness” being tossed around in conversations about staying in the present moment, but have you wondered exactly what this means or how to apply the concept to your life?

Mindfulness was once an obscure Buddhist concept but has become a wildly popular psychotherapeutic intervention in the past 10 years. This is due to the popularity of successful mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) programs and the mindfulness component of dialectical behavior therapy. The term mindfulness can mean a “moment-by-moment awareness”  or a “state of psychological freedom that occurs when attention remains quiet and limber, without attachment to any particular point of view,” according to Jeffery R. Martin, Ph.D.

In the article What are the benefits of mindfulness? (from the July/August APA Monitor on Psychology), the authors Daphne M. Davis, Ph.D. and Jeffrey A. Hayes, Ph.D. define mindfulness as a “moment-to-moment awareness of one’s experience without judgment,” and claim that this is the definition that is most often used in the research. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D. was the first to develop a modern definition of mindfulness, and defined it as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

The application of mindfulness meditation in the field of psychology was not a huge leap. According to Mindfulness-based Approaches: are they all the same? (from the 2011 Journal of Clinical Psychology) by Alberto Chiesa, M.D. and Peter Malinowski, Ph.D., the goals of mindfulness meditation and psychological health are related: both Buddhist philosophy and psychology discourage behaviors that bring on and maintain negative emotions, and encourage positive emotions. Mindfulness is considered an acceptance-based therapy, where there is not an attempt to change thoughts or emotions no matter how unpleasant they may be. Well, how does it work then, you might ask?

Perhaps paradoxically, it is through acceptance that change is brought about. In other words, the less you try to change how you think, the more you are able to then change how you think. You focus on being rather than always trying to do. This works because you are not trying to force change; you are accepting yourself as you are and creating a freedom in your thoughts in the process. It takes practice to be truly mindful but this practice has helped treat and prevent people with problems, such as anxiety and depression. Below I outline a few exercises to aid in your mindfulness practice.

Paying Attention

To start the practice of paying attention mindfully, try this practice next time you are eating something that you would normally take for granted or not think about, a chocolate or M&M candy for example:

  1. Before you put the food in your mouth, bring your attention to seeing the food as if with new eyes. What do you see? What color is it? What is the shape? What texture do you notice?
  2. Now feel the food with your fingers. What does it feel like? Is the surface smooth or bumpy?
  3. Notice whether you have any thoughts that might be coming up for you about the candy, food, or eating in general.
  4. Now smell the food and pay attention to what you notice about the experience of smelling it.
  5. Bring the food item to your lips, noticing how your hand is holding the item and moving it toward your mouth. How does your body respond to the food moving toward your mouth?
  6. Now put the food in your mouth and leave it in your mouth for a while, noticing how it tastes and what happens to it as you suck on it.
  7. Pay attention to the impulse to swallow. Imagine the food item entering your body, like you are one M&M or ____ heavier.
  8. Finally, what are your reactions and observations about this experience? How did this compare to how you usually eat?

We tend to eat mechanically and for emotional comfort without paying attention. However, if we can slow things down, we start to notice and enjoy our experiences, and act with purpose. This is what meditation is: paying attention to your experience from moment to moment.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Pay attention to one pleasant event each day as it is happening. Write in a journal the answers to these questions:

  1. What was the experience?
  2. Were you aware of any pleasant feelings while the event was happening or only later?
  3. How did your body feel during the experience? Describe this in detail.
  4. What moods, feelings, and thoughts were present as the event was actually happening?
  5. What thoughts are in your mind now as you write this down?

I’m Stressed!

When you notice that you are feeling stressed about something, start by bringing your attention to your breathing. In… and out… In… and out… Then, ask yourself these questions:

  1. How does my body feel?
  2. How fast is my heart beating?
  3. Am I tense? Where am I holding my tension?
  4. What am I thinking about?
  5. What am I feeling? How do I know I’m feeling this?

References and Further Reading:

Allen, M., Bromley, A., Kuyken, W., & Sonnenberg, S. J. (2009). Participants’ experience of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy: “It changed me in just about every way possible.” Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 37, 413-430.

Chiesa, A. & Malinowski, P. (2011). Mindfulness-based approaches: Are they all the same? Journal of Clinical Psychology, 67, 404-424.

Davis, D. M. & Hayes, J.M. (2011). What are the benefits of mindfulness? A practice review of psychotherapy-related research. Psychotherapy, 48, 198-208.

Ernould, M. (2012). Addressing lesbian, gay, and bisexual bullying: A mindfulness-based intervention manual. Retrieved from aura.antioch.edu

Germer, C.K., Siegel, R.D., & Fulton, P.R. (2005). Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford Press.

Grossman, P., Niemann, L., Schmidt, S., & Walach, H. (2004). Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits: A meta-analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 57, 35-43.

Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain and illness. New York: Dell Publishing.

Martin, J.R. (1997). Mindfulness: A proposed common factor. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 7, 291-312.

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The Importance of Social Support and Positive Self-Talk

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(Photo Credit: Pavla Zakova)

By Nicolina Santoro, M.A., MFTI

A pivotal developmental theorist, Lev Vygotsky, placed heavy emphasis on the social learning environment of children, and how important speech stimulation is to cognitive development. Vygotsky used the environment as a chief influence on child speech, language and skill development.

The connection between external and internal communication is particularly powerful when we realize how much our internal dialogue can influence emotional states. It would make sense that, as children, the patterns of internal communication will evolve through time, affecting human interactions throughout life significantly. Vygotsky proposed that this self-talk is also used as a means of self-regulating our external communications and behaviors.

Vygotsky held the belief that language is a tool that humans developed to interact with the social environment, a way that sprang from children communicating not only to get their needs met, but as way to exercise their imaginations in play, and to form relationships with others in the environment.

This ever-evolving tool of human language is also a means by which the environment and those interacting with it can help each other grow new skill sets in what Vygotsky termed the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). In this paradigm, people act as “scaffolding” to one another as the levels of the skill become more complex, and varying levels of skill support are adjusted to provide the intrinsic motivation to learn and practice the new skill set. This is similar to how people call upon mentors to enlarge their arena of professional or personal expertise in any given platform.

Vygotsky hypothesized about psychological systems in constant states of cohesion, and individuation, guiding the human mind to make comparisons about objects in the environment based on intuitive messages from the internal dialogue that is constantly running. The concept that this activity in the mind begins before any event happens in terms of real experience is a testament to the extraordinary processing capabilities that the mind has and continues to develop through the internal dialoguing process common to the human condition.

Using the concept of mindful and positive self-talk as an internal moderator can help to minimize the destructive emotional aspects of many mental disorders leading to more meaningful, present and authentic interactions with those around us.


References and Further Reading:

Zavershneva, E. (2010). The Way to Freedom: On the Publication of Documents from the Family.

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Keeping Kids Humble Around The Holidays

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Holiday Kid

(Photo Credit: Sunny Studio)

By Melanie Ernould, Psy.D.

I have a friend who is divorced and raising a 7-year-old daughter. He and his ex-wife are immersed in a battle to see who can “out fun” the other. While the girl is lovely and sweet, I can’t help but wonder how much entitlement this is building in her. I am the parent of a 3-year-old girl, and I want to raise her to be a person who cares about others more than her own pursuit of fun or entertainment. But I look around my house and see the shear amount of toys she already owns, because she has two doting parents in two separate households, and also several sets of doting grandparents, and I feel a little nervous. My interactions with this friend and his daughter have me thinking about this topic a lot, particularly with the blast of commercialism that we face during the holidays.

I also had a friend who, for her son’s birthday party, requested that guests bring a book to donate rather than gifts. I thought this was a wonderful idea for many reasons, but at the same time, I remember the pure joy and excitement I felt on those few days each year that I got to open a pile of presents just for me. I’m not sure I feel a child should be completely deprived of that experience either. So how do we raise children who get to experience this joy, but also understand exactly how lucky they are to experience it? How do we raise little people who actually enjoy giving to others as much as they enjoy taking for themselves? I’m not sure I can answer that definitively, but it is a continuous dance to figure out the right balance for each individual child.

Here are 6 ways to help keep your child grounded in humility & empathy:

  1. Don’t overdo it with gifts over the holidays. Sometimes when grandparents are involved, this is hard to avoid. Do your best. Carefully evaluate what your child actually needs. Consider more experience-based gifts, such as museum passes or a trip. Check out this Huffington Post blog post for 18 non-toy gift ideas for children.
  2. Consider family activities that are less about manufactured entertainment (think Disneyland) and more about spending quality time bonding and connecting with nature. Go on a hike, bake and cook, or do an art project together. For an excellent resource on ideas that are arranged by season, see Amanda Blake Soule’s The Rhythm of Family: Discovering a Sense of Wonder Through the Seasons.
  3. Simplify your life in general. There are many, many things in our households that we don’t need. We think we need them, but we don’t. Re-evaluate your priorities and whittle down your stuff a bit. Clean out your closets and drawers and have your children help you donate items to charity. Start having a conversation about giving to others, and about the unnecessary possession of stuff. In addition, when you do need something, consider finding it used. I recently read this interesting blog entry about a family that happily simplified their lives.
  4. Model giving behaviors and humility. Apologize often, take responsibility and admit mistakes. As parents, we are our children’s first teachers. And the most effective lessons are through our own actions. Talk with your children about what you do for others such as volunteering and giving to charity. Additionally, when you express empathy to your children, they are more likely to grow up to be empathic individuals themselves. Research shows that parents who model empathic and caring behavior toward their children and others in front of their children are more likely to have children who demonstrate empathy and prosocial attitudes and behavior (Eisenberg-Berg, & Mussen, 1978; McDevitt, Lennon, & Kopriva, 1991; Zahn-Waxler, Radke-Yarrow, & King, 1979).
  5. Participate in volunteering activities with your family, and make them fun! Experience is also an incredibly effective teacher. We tend to isolate ourselves in our bubbles, ignorant to the plight of others. And in our society, it is easy to do so. Instead of turning a blind eye, expose your children to opportunities to give to those who are less fortunate. According to Wilson (2000), volunteering is associated with positive life-satisfaction, self-esteem, health, educational and occupational achievement, functional ability, and mortality. In addition, youth who volunteer are less likely to engage in problem behaviors such as school truancy and drug abuse.To make the lesson of giving stick, it is important to do this all together as a family and in a way that can be fun for your children. Check out CBS Local’s list of great family volunteer opportunities.
  6. Finally, have frequent conversations with your children about empathy and giving to others. When a conflict arises, help your child understand the position of the other person. In addition, read books together and ask them questions to get them thinking. Many books can be a starting point for a conversation involving perspective taking, but these books deal with the concept of empathy specifically:
  1. Hey, Little Ant (Hoose, Hoose, and Tilley, 1998)
  2. The Berenstain Bears Think of Those in Need (Berenstain & Berenstain, 1999)
  3. Those Shoes (Boelts & Jones, 2009)
  4. Ivan: The Remarkable True Story of the Shopping Mall Gorilla (Applegate, 2014)
  5. The Invisible Boy (Ludwig, 2013)
  6. Charlotte’s Web (White, 2006)
  7. Prairie Evers (Airgood, 2012)
  8. Junonia (Henkes, 2011)
  9. Mockingbird (Erkine, 2010)
  10. Each Kindness (Woodson & Lewis, 2012)
  11. To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 2004)

References and Further Reading:

Eisenberg-Berg, N., and Mussen, P. (1978). Empathy and moral development in in adolescence. Developmental Psychology, 14(2), 185-186.

McDevitt, T. M.; Lennon, R.; and Kopriva, R. J. (1991). Adolescents’ perceptions of mothers’ and fathers’ prosocial actions and empathic responses. Youth and Society, 22(3), 387-409.

Wilson, J. (2000). Volunteering. Annual Review of Sociology, 26, 215-240.

Zahn-Waxler, C.; Radke-Yarrow, M.; and King, R. A. (1979). Child rearing and children’s prosocial initiations toward victims of distress. Child Development, 50(2), 319-330.

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Between Religion And Science, The Soul Gleefully Swings

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Soul Food...we all need it.

Soul Food: We All Need It! (Photo Credit: Dollar Photo Club)

By Nicolina Santoro, M.A., MFTI

Humans have contemplated the origins of the soul, and its connection to some sort of divine, omnipotent source for thousands of years. This post is not an advertisement for religion; it’s an exploration of the theme. Religion is a comforting, human way to personalize and categorize our universe. It is also the ghost in the machine, impossible to ascertain, or even quantify. The matter of divine connection as a collective species is the fire that forged worship, mysticism, philosophy, psychology, and eventually transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal Psychology is a school of thought inspired by the pioneering work of American psychologist, William James, one of the forefathers of modern psychology. It is the exploration of the highest potential of man, as defined by the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology.

According to James, the religious experience has four key components:

  1. It is short in duration
  2. It is hard to describe in words and very emotional
  3. It leaves the subject feeling as though they have learned something significant
  4. It happens to the subject usually without conscious manipulation, though the environment has shown to play a role.

Imagine a feeling that at once dissolves the individual into a place of complete connectedness and love. The religious experience is so moving that it can affect an individual for the rest of his or her life. The memory of the experience is so charged, it seems it can be recalled at will for years. A normal physiological occurrence that feels similar, albeit usually shorter, is the human orgasm.

There is nothing modern about this experience or this longing. Ancient cultures all have their unique brand of religious experience. Deep trances, speaking in tongues, dancing frenzies, and altered states of consciousness, in various forms, were common to indigenous people of almost every continent. Their purpose was to bring whole tribes of people into communion with the divine force. As time went on, this unseen force acquired many names, was worshiped in many languages, but the only constant in the matter seemed to be this shared drive to find, and have a communion with this force.

The religious experience has been known to have long-term effects on the subjects who have had them. Modern science has become increasingly interested in studying these effects, which include a new appreciation for life, better moods, inspired creative activity, increased levels of tolerance, patience, and empathy. The subject feels a part of something special, like a divine force took a moment out of infinity to validate them. We all know how good validation feels. Validation is like high performance fuel in the gas tank. The engine of the car is going to run better.

Science has some very interesting conclusions to bear on what is happening to the subject of a religious experience on a neurological level. In The Neuroscience of Religious ExperiencePatrick McNamara and collaborators describe how the neurotransmitter dopamine, when produced excessively, has been correlated with increases in religious inclination, hallucinations, and dramatic shifts in the subject’s perception.

Positive correlations between religion and health have also been noted in the research on dopaminergic neurons, and their managerial properties in relation to the autonomic nervous system. A subject in the throes of a religious experience shows high activity in the frontal and pre-frontal cortex of the brain, suggesting that higher order functions are at work, rather than the evolutionary biological reaction that would reside mostly in the limbic system. Some of the noted positive health effects on the subject include reduced anxiety, blood pressure, and pain symptoms. Subjects reported more positive mental well-being, and confidence. The lasting effects of regular spiritual practice are positively correlated to improved mental and physical health.


At Healing Pathways Psychological Services, we work with people of all faiths, backgrounds and cultures. We all have the same goal: to live a happy and purposeful life! Call us if you’d like to meet one of our talented therapists.

 

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Learning From The Loss Of Robin Williams

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Ron Henry/Flickr/Creative Commons

By Leona Kashersky, Psy.D.

When I learned of the tragic death of Robin Williams two weeks ago, tears came to my eyes.

I valued his mind and contribution to the arts and humanity, as did so many in the world who share in the loss of this beloved comedian, who took his own life on August 11, 2014.

Not only did I feel an emptiness at the thought of never seeing another new Williams’ masterpiece, but knowing that so many looked up to him, I feared that his end could inspire those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts to follow his example.

Recent studies have shown that when a mentor, parent, loved one, or admired celebrity commits suicide, communities can become vulnerable to more tragic loss of the same kind.

As such, I’d like to speak to Williams’ specific situation, and address some general suicide risk factors in hopes that education could help us to grieve and prevent further harm.

O’ Captain, My Captain: Robin Williams’ Struggle

It is well documented that Williams had a long battle with substance use, and mental health professionals have hypothesized that he also suffered from bipolar disorder.

In early July, he checked himself into rehab, though news reports stated that he did not technically relapse. This readmission into rehab was right after his new sitcom The Crazy Ones was canceled after only one season. Whether or not Williams actually relapsed or was preventing a relapse, it is important to recognize that he was proactive in addressing his need for help.

Further, Williams had just started a new medication to treat his newly diagnosed Parkinson’s disease; his medication did come with warnings related to depression and suicidal ideation.

Risk Factors, Warning Signs & Intervention

Though we don’t know the complete details of Williams’ personal life, there were risk factors present in Williams’ history and current life situation that indicate that he was vulnerable to suicide.

Most suicides occur within three months following the treatment of a major depression, as the patient’s energy increases and before negative and destructive thoughts decrease. This leaves individuals in the initial phases of treatment at risk to follow through on suicidal thoughts. Moreover, even individuals who have a drug, alcohol, or eating disorder in full remission can be 10 percent more likely to complete suicide and are at higher risk. Professional monitoring is needed in the form of regularly scheduled counseling to teach healthy coping skills for managing stress.

In addition, patients starting some new medications that are not related to mental health treatment can be at risk of developing depressed and self-destructive thoughts. When patients are warned of the side effects, they don’t always remember the warning was given when the thoughts start to intrude. Often, patients are caught off guard and can be at greater risk of harmful behaviors.

Most people who contemplate suicide do not want to die, but rather feel disconnected from others and are likely experiencing difficulty thinking creatively about how to solve life’s challenges.

Here are some more general risk factors and warning signs that can help you identify and help those considering suicide:

Risk Factors

  • Mood changes or depression
  • Peer and/or family conflict
  • Perfectionism/overachievement
  • Poor coping skills
  • School or work failure
  • Drug or alcohol use


Warning Signs

  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Recent break up
  • Running away
  • Talking about suicide (even if it sounds like a joke)
  • Dramatic changes (for the worse) in personality and/or appearance


9 Initial Interventions for First Responders to Suicide: 

  • Be patient and nonjudgmental
  • Treat the problem seriously
  • Do not try to talk the person out of it
  • Do not be afraid to ask direct questions about suicide
  • Communicate your concern and support
  • Offer yourself as a caring listener until professional help can be arranged
  • Try to evaluate the seriousness of the risk presented in order to make the appropriate referrals to mental health professionals and emergency services (i.e. 911)
  • Do not swear to secrecy. Contact someone who can help if the individual will not get help personally
  • Do not leave the person alone if you feel the threat of self-harm is immediate


Ted Eytan / Flickr / Creative Commons

At the “Mrs. Doubtfire” House, 2640 Steiner Street, San Francisco, CA, USA. Ted Eytan / Flickr / Creative Commons

 

Community’s Role in Suicide Prevention

As community members interested in preventing suicide, we must work together to identify, reach out, show compassion, and educate people who are or who know someone that may be at risk.

As a larger community, we can support individuals in developing a spiritual practice that fosters community inclusion and engages individuals in altruistic projects that inspire them to help others or the environment. Programs that build a sense of mastery and inspire a sense of community inclusion rather than alienation are known to be effective in preventing suicide.

In addition, community can support centers that provide organized outings for cultural enrichment, specialized training, education, sexual counseling, crisis intervention, and health care.

We can find a Healing Pathway!

Healing Pathways offers its condolences to everyone who loved Robin Williams dearly. We hope that we can all grieve together as a community and teach each other how to move through pain and sadness with compassion for each other and ourselves.

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The Compassion Door: 5 Steps to more LOVE!

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love-lines

By Leona Kashersky, Psy.D.

For the last year I have deepened my study and practice of compassion, using embodiment practices to integrate  “Lovingkindness” or “Metta” into my daily life and physical being.  My personal experience mirrors what research in the fields of transpersonal and mindfulness psychology is saying about the overall health benefits of the practice. This practice actually enhances immune  function, cardiovascular health, glucose regulation, and even improves social skills!

Metta can be loosely defined as love and compassion for the self and others. Researchers are learning that practicing lovingkindness or metta has objective and observable emotional, physical, social benefits. Donald Rothberg, whose work spans over 30 years as a leading teacher and writer on transpersonal psychology, meditation, and socially engaged spiritual practice, wrote “The Engaged Spiritual Life: A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World.” Both Donald Rothberg and Barbra Fredrickson have been influential in conducting and participating in research to establish evidence for the health benefits of meditation, self-love, and compassion in modern society.  Fredrickson teaches what she calls “micro-moments of love” or  “positivity resonance” in scientific lingo and in everyday language. As Fredrickson points out, compassion generates loveand love feels good! Start with yourself, and it will naturally radiate out to others near and far.

In my most recent experiences with meditation on love, compassion, and kindness I have used Metta mantras such as “rest in an awakened heart”, “safe and free from harm”, “the body supports the practice”, “surrounded by love and kindness”, in combination with movement. The pairing of movement, breath, mantra, and human connection help to assist in the integration of the compassion practice into the entire mind, body, and spirit.  Movement can include yoga, walking, and dance, including 5 Rhythms; Included are a couple of links to local favorites! The practice of movement meditation has assisted in my personal journey to embody the practice of loving kindness.

The following  techniques reduce burnout and increases positive emotion and LOVE on many different levels in the lives’ of individual people, families, and communities.  A brief and concise description of how the mantras are used are outlined below:

for HP Blog

Step 1:

Cultivate self-compassion: First, focus on the easiest person to grow compassion towards, the self. This is done by not merely reciting words or phrases, but by allowing one’s self to feel the meaning of the phrase or words during the meditation.

  1. I rest with an awakened heart
  2. May I be safe and free from harm
  3. May my body support my practice
  4. May I be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 2:

Cultivate compassion for a ‘dear one’, someone you love dearly. This may be your child, your parent, or a romantic partner, or even a pet!  This is the second easiest form of compassion to grow. As you concentrate on the meaning or feelings of phrases or words, picture the face of the dear one; allow yourself to really experience the face of this dear one. Then slowly use  following mantras. One meditation session may only focus on one of the phrases for each of these steps.

  1. May you rest with an awakened heart
  2. May you be safe and free from harm
  3. May your body support your practice
  4. May you be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 3:

Cultivate compassion for a ‘neutral person’. This neutral person can be someone you see at Starbucks every weekday morning; however you don’t really know them. You don’t usually talk or say hello, you may just see each other in passing. You have no strong feelings towards them, neither positive or negative. Allow yourself to really imagine them in your presence, see their face in your mind’s eye. Begin the following mantras for them.

  1. May you rest with an awakened heart
  2. May you be safe and free from harm
  3. May your body support your practice
  4. May you be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 4:

Cultivate compassion for a ‘difficult person’, someone you find challenging to feel compassion for at the moment.  The difficult person can be someone  close to you, or a someone you’ve never met, such as a political leader. Sometimes the ‘difficult person’ and the ‘dear one’ can be the same person depending on how you feel at the time. Really allow yourself to feel the presence of the difficult person before using the following mantras.

  1. May you rest with an awakened heart
  2. May you be safe and free from harm
  3. May your body support your practice
  4. May you be surrounded by love and kindness

Step 5:

Cultivating compassion for all beings is a meditation focusing on humans, plants, animals, and the entire living planet. We continue to use the four focused mantras or phrases to do this with the following.

  1. May all beings rest with an awakened heart
  2. May all beings be safe and free from harm
  3. May all beings be free from pain and suffering
  4. May all beings be surrounded by love and kindness

 

References: 

Cultivating self-care and compassion in psychological therapists in training: the experience of practicing loving-kindness meditation. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, Vol 7(4), Nov 2013, 267-277 Boellinghaus, Inga; Jones, FergalW.; Hutton, Jane
Effect of Kindness-Based Meditation on Health and well-Being: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Galante, Julieta; Galante, Ignacio; Bekkers, Marie-jet; Gallacher, John Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, Jun 30, 2014, No Pagination Specified.

The nondiscriminating heart: Lovingkindness meditation training decreases implicit intergroup bias. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 143(3), Jun 2014, 1306-1313 Kang, Yoona; Gray, Jeremy R.; Dovidio, John F.

Self-compassion: Conceptualizations, correlations, and interventions. Barnard, Laura K.; Curry, John F. Review of General Psychology, Vol 15(4), Dec 2011, 289-303.

Effects of intranasal oxytocin on ‘compassion focused imagery’.  Rockliff, Helen; Karl Anke; McEwan, Kirsten; Gilbert, Jean; Matos, Marcela; Gilbert, Paul Emotion, Vol 66(8), Nov 2011, 1388-1396

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