psychology notes.

This site was originally created in 2009 as a virtual repository for all of the various psychology and therapy-related things (quotes, articles, videos, music, pictures) I came across both online and in my work as a psychotherapist. It has morphed into something slightly different in the past four years, and is now perhaps slightly more outward facing, but is still at heart a place for me to collect and share things related to the life of the mind.


Disclaimer: Posting something to this site does not mean that I necessarily agree with or endorse the opinions being expressed therein. All text on this site is informational and for educational purposes only. This site is not meant to be a substitute for professional mental health or medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified mental health provider with any questions regarding a medical condition or mental health issue. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this site.


And please, be kind to one another.


"We sort of accept that the price for that free-flowing, fast-paced, inexplicable comic genius is a counterweight of solitary misery. That there is an invisible inner economy that demands a high price for breathtaking talent. For me genius is defined by that irrationality; how can he talk like that? Play like that? Kick a ball like that? A talent that was not sculpted and schooled, educated and polished but bursts through the portal, raw and vulgar. Always mischievous, always on the brink of going wrong, dangerous and fun, like drugs.

Robin Williams could have tapped anyone in the western world on the shoulder and told them he felt down and they would have told him not to worry, that he was great, that they loved him. He must have known that. He must have known his wife and kids loved him, that his mates all thought he was great, that millions of strangers the world over held him in their hearts, a hilarious stranger that we could rely on to anarchically interrupt, the all-encompassing sadness of the world. Today Robin Williams is part of the sad narrative that we used to turn to him to disrupt.

What platitudes then can we fling along with the listless, insufficient wreaths at the stillness that was once so animated and wired, the silence where the laughter was? That fame and accolades are no defence against mental illness and addiction? That we live in a world that has become so negligent of human values that our brightest lights are extinguishing themselves? That we must be more vigilant, more aware, more grateful, more mindful? That we can’t tarnish this tiny slice of awareness that we share on this sphere amidst the infinite blackness with conflict and hate?

That we must reach inward and outward to the light that is inside all of us? That all around us people are suffering behind masks less interesting than the one Robin Williams wore? Do you have time to tune in to Fox News, to cement your angry views to calcify the certain misery?

What I might do is watch Mrs Doubtfire. Or Dead Poets Society or Good Will Hunting and I might be nice to people, mindful today how fragile we all are, how delicate we are, even when fizzing with divine madness that seems like it will never expire.”

The disappearance of mourning rituals affects everyone, not just the mourner. One of the reasons many people are unsure about how to act around a loss is that they lack rules or meaningful conventions, and they fear making a mistake. Rituals used to help the community by giving everyone a sense of what to do or say. Now, we’re at sea.
Meghan O’Rourke, The Long Goodbye
There is more to life than increasing its speed.
Gandhi

“For me, language is a freedom. As soon as you have found the words with which to express something, you are no longer incoherent, you are no longer trapped by your own emotions, by your own experiences; you can describe them, you can tell them, you can bring them out of yourself and give them to somebody else. That is an enormously liberating experience, and it worries me that more and more people are learning not to use language; they’re giving in to the banalities of the television media and shrinking their vocabulary, shrinking their own way of using this fabulous tool that human beings have refined over so many centuries into this extremely sensitive instrument. I don’t want to make it crude, I don’t want to make it into shopping-list language, I don’t want to make it into simply an exchange of information: I want to make it into the subtle, emotional, intellectual, freeing thing that it is and that it can be.”

Jeanette Winterson

by Ryan Howes

Most people enter therapy wanting something. They seek relief from debilitating symptoms. They want help making a life-changing decision. They long to heal past hurts. Couples need tools for communication. Some want better self-control. Others search for the ability to reach their potential. The list goes on.

If their therapy has the right formula of therapeutic competence, perseverance, compatibility, and good fortune, those individuals will likely reach those goals. They’ll learn what they need to learn, internalize the therapist’s message or voice, and charge into the next challenges of their life.

But many people find that therapy also provides some unexpected benefits. When they leave, they realize they’ve gotten more than they bargained for—sort of a bonus for engaging in the experience. Here are four unexpected benefits of therapy I’ve seen in my own practice:

Depth: In polite society, we’re accustomed to having mundane conversations revolving around the weather, bullet points from work, some celebrity/sports highlights, and the story we just heard on NPR or Fox News. We skip along the surface because doing so is safe and universally accepted. Therapy pushes beyond the superficial to deeper introspective questions of personal experience, historical precedents, deep feelings, and drives—a variety of topics that would never end up on a Facebook status update. When people realize talking on this level is not just interesting, but also productive and healing, they want to recreate this depth in other relationships.

Empathy: It’s kind of ironic: The majority of people come to therapy wanting to understand their own problems and why other people impact them the way they do. But once they delve into their own issues, they discover insights that help them understand their lovers, their friends, their co-workers, and their bosses on a whole new level. A light bulb goes off and they may think, “Oh, that person’s worst experience was when he was abandoned by his dad. I understand why he reacted so strongly when I bailed on our plans.” People often learn to understand the people who inhabit their lives nearly as much as they understand themselves. Or maybe they become curious and ask a few more questions, which leads to this deeper understanding.

Contagion: I can’t count the number of individuals who came to therapy to learn more about themselves and before long, their friends were interested in finding their own therapist. It happens all the time. People feel empowered and excited about growing. Their mood, attitude, and/or behavior changes, and their friends are intrigued. Occasionally, individuals in an entire friend circle will seek their own help and everyone relates on a deeper, more functional level. Fixing your friends is not a reason to seek therapy, but it sure can be rewarding when this is the outcome.

Listening: When a person spends significant time with a professional listener, that person often develops the ability to listen. They sit for many hours with someone who keeps eye contact, pays attention, and indicates reflecting or recalling past information. People in therapy know how good it feels to be on the receiving end of that kind of attention and are more likely to replicate that for their loved ones. They’ve reaped the benefits of close focused attention, had it modeled for them, and can now show it to others.

At the risk of sounding too pro-therapist, the common thread here is that therapy helps people learn to adopt some basic therapeutic characteristics. They learn to talk on a deep level, to empathize with others, to discover the thrill of self-knowledge, and to listen well. This is to be expected, as we humans often take on the characteristics of the people we spend time with, from attitudes to behaviors to communication styles.

Like I said, these are the bonuses of therapy. The main objective is helping people relieve their symptoms and underlying issues. But if they can resolve their problem while becoming better listeners and empathizers with an ability to discuss deep issues in a way that positively impacts their inner circle, what’s the problem?

Sounds like a bonus to me.

Ryan Howes, PhD, ABPP, is a clinical psychologist in Pasadena, California, the founder of National Psychotherapy Day sponsored by GoodTherapy.org, and a writer for the Psychotherapy Networker Magazine.

by Julie Beck

Laughter is the best medicine, or so the cliché goes. Actually, given the choice between laughter and, say, penicillin or chemotherapy, you’re probably better off choosing one of the latter. Still, a great deal of research shows that humor is extraordinarily therapeutic, mentally and physically.

Laughing in the face of tragedy seems to shield a person from its effects. A 2013 review of studies found that among elderly patients, laughter significantly alleviated the symptoms of depression [1]. Another study, published early this year, found that firefighters who used humor as a coping strategy were somewhat protected from PTSD [2]. Laughing also seems to ease more-quotidian anxieties. One group of researchers found that watching an episode of Friends (specifically, Season Five’s “The One Where Everybody Finds Out”) was as effective at improving a person’s mood as listening to music or exercising, and more effective than resting [3].

Laughter even seems to have a buffering effect against physical pain. A 2012 study found that subjects who were shown a funny video displayed higher pain thresholds than those who saw a serious documentary [4]. In another study, postsurgical patients requested less pain medication after watching a funny movie of their choosing [5].

Other literature identifies even more specific health benefits: laughing reduced arterial-wall stiffness (which is associated with cardiovascular disease) [6]. Women undergoing in vitro fertilization were 16 percent more likely to get pregnant when entertained by a clown dressed as a chef [7]. And a regular old clown improved lung function in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [8]. More generally, a mirthful life is likely to be a long one. A study of Norwegians found that having a sense of humor correlated with a high probability of surviving into retirement [9].

Unfortunately, there’s a not-so-funny footnote to all this: the people who are best at telling jokes tend to have more health problems than the people laughing at them. A study of Finnish police officers found that those who were seen as funniest smoked more, weighed more, and were at greater risk of cardiovascular disease than their peers [10]. Entertainers typically die earlier than other famous people [11], and comedians exhibit more “psychotic traits” than others [12]. So just as there’s research to back up the conventional wisdom on laughter’s curative powers, there also seems to be truth to the stereotype that funny people aren’t always having much fun. It might feel good to crack others up now and then, but apparently the audience gets the last laugh.

What psychoanalysis, at its best, does is cure you of your wish to know yourself in that coherent, narrative way. The trouble is that we use knowing in bits of our lives where it doesn’t work, or where it’s actually not the point.
Adam Phillips
Are we measuring basic facts about children? Or basic facts about rich kids?

by Jane Hu

Living in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past few years, I’ve gotten used to lots of things that would probably seem strange in other cities. Commuting on a unicycle? Sure. Rampant midday nudity? Everywhere. Vegan dinner fundraiser for your Burning Man art car? Of course. So I hardly bat an eye when a 4-year-old says, “My favorite food is edamame.”

As a developmental psychologist, I test children to learn basic facts about kids, such as how they learn language, navigate social interactions, and gain knowledge. These things seem like they should work about the same way for any young human. But there is growing evidence that the timing and efficiency with which children learn these general skills vary a lot based on experience. A huge amount of a child’s early life experience is determined by the family’s socioeconomic status—how wealthy and educated the child’s parents are. The edamame-loving professors’ kids I’ve been testing are unlikely to be representative of an average child, or even an average American child.

There’s a term to describe the types of people who participate in most social science studies: WEIRD. They are weird in the sense that they are unusual compared with most of the world’s population, but WEIRD is also an acronym describing the white, educated, industrialized, rich, and democratic culture they come from. A trio of psychology professors coined this term in a 2010 paper, pointing out that fields studying human behavior often use participants who are “Western, and more specifically American, undergraduates.”

(full story here)

US goalkeeper Tim Howard, who had a record-setting World Cup game today (despite the unfortunate 2-1 loss to Belgium), has been dealing with Tourette’s syndrome and OCD issues since childhood. This article and accompanying video details Howard’s struggles and his continuing efforts to inspire others and dispel the myths and ignorance around TS and associated disorders:

"The United States goalkeeper in his third World Cup doesn’t mind being asked about Tourette’s syndrome, a neurological disorder he has suffered from since childhood.

In fact, despite it being cruelly used to single him out early in his career he welcomes the inquiry and embraces the condition, proud of having controlled it and determined to raise awareness for the benefit of others afflicted.

He might be the most ideal ambassador for a cause that you can imagine, living proof that those with Tourette’s are normal people with the potential to be exceptional. And, with a brush of humor, he dispels the myth that it is simply a condition that makes you swear a lot.

"You know, we don’t all curse," smiled Howard, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo Sports. "I do on the field, unfortunately, to get my point across, but it’s not because of my condition.

"It’s defined as involuntary motor tics, twitches if you like. Some of it is blinking, clearing my throat, different muscle tensing of different body parts. Unfortunately it’s misconstrued and portrayed in a comical way, particularly in Hollywood and movies and stuff." "

Knowledge is important, but only if we’re being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are.
Brene Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection