Racial Injustice: Taking the Steps Towards Change

The past two weeks have been an emotional roller coaster, starting with the visceral rage and anguish from yet another black man mercilessly killed, crying out “Mama!” while a white cop kneels on his neck, his hands casually in his pockets. Then excitement and hope at the overwhelming outcry across the world, demanding racial justice and an end to police brutality. Embedded inside my reaction to external events sits the uncomfortable feelings of guilt and despair as I contemplate my own complacency in challenging white privilege. Among my friends and colleagues, conversations about social justice, race, and unpacking white privilege in the therapy room have been frequent and raw at times. There is an energy burning all over right now. It is critical that we catch this momentum and turn this energy into action.  

Contemplating my own role in fighting racism societally, exploring how racism manifests in myself, and how white privilege benefits my own life led me to reflect on my own in-action, though racial equality is something I would profess is very important to me. From the conversations I’ve been having with friends and family, I believe a great many of us are in the same place: devastated, but not taking action yet. And I thought, what if we could move this great mass of people into the “action” phase of the Stages of Change Model.

For a bit of background: the Transtheoretical or Stages of Change Model was developed by Prochaska and DiClemente in the 1970s, and has been applied widely and successfully in changing health behaviors. The model suggests that change, instead of occurring quickly and decisively, takes considerable time and occurs through a series of stages. Briefly, the stages are precontemplation: people in this stage are not really considering change; contemplation: in this stage people are aware of need for change and plan to do so in the next six months, but are still highly ambivalent; preparation (determination): people are making a change in the next thirty days and are making small steps towards the change; action: these are people who have really changed their behaviors; maintenance: these folks have maintained the change for six months and intend to continue; and termination: people in this stage have no more desire to engage in the unhealthy behavior. 

I looked at myself through the lens of the Transtheoretical Model to see what stage I would fall in, if fighting for racial justice was the change I wanted to make. I have long believed in the need for changes to the sociopolitical forces that confer unfair advantage to people because they are white, while systematically oppressing communities of color. However, my actual behaviors to support this belief (making donations, signing petitions, signing up for mailing lists) are not indicative of any real change in my behavior. In the last two weeks, my behaviors have shifted to more direct, intentional, and decisive actions. I’ve felt a kind of energy and responsibility that I haven’t felt before, and believe that I am in the process of moving from the contemplation phase into the action phase.

As I felt the determination to take part in the change that must transform systems of oppression, I came across a number of great resources listed below. One, that stood out in particular, was the 21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge. It provides a structure for beginning to develop effective social justice habits. It offers a plethora of resources to read, watch, and listen to, as well as a variety of exercises to foster reflection and community engagement. But, as energized and excited as I am, one point from the 12-Day Racial Equity Challenge that stood out to me was the critical, necessary step of reflection. As the author states, “action without a vigorous self-education and self-reflection practice can unexpectedly reproduce the very power and privilege dynamics we seek to interrupt in this work.”

I have answered the call to move this great energy within, diving both inward – to explore and confront racism within myself, and outward – to devote my time and resources to social justice causes. I think that a great many of us are in the same place and ready to move toward actions. So let’s catch this moment and take responsibility for change and dig in for the long haul, because sustained and informed effort is needed to begin to deconstruct racism. 

Resource Links:

21-Day Racial Equity Habit Building Challenge

Implicit Bias Test

105 Things a White Person Can Do To Support Racial Justice

Dr. Angela Williams is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in cognitive-behavioral and humanistic/existential approaches to therapy. She has extensive training in Brief Crisis Intervention as well as mindfulness based therapeutic approaches. Her therapeutic style blends strength-based acceptance with practical skill development. Incorporating mindfulness-based interventions, she helps her clients move through difficult experiences and be more present in their lives.

Attachment: The Balancing Act

The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted swift lifestyle changes for folks across the globe. Drastic social and quarantine measures have triggered fears and concerns about the foreseeable future. For caregivers, this has translated to increased time at home facing new challenges with their children. Mental health has become a secondary priority which can disrupt attachment patterns between parents and children of all age and developmental spectrums.

Caregiver characteristics that promote or hinder a safe and trusting relationship with their infants are the basis of attachment theory and have been correlated with later psychological functioning. Attachment can bear significant weight on self-perception and personal beliefs, and primary caregiver dynamics often mirror relationships with friends and romantic partners across the lifespan. Stemming from the womb, infants ingest, process, and interpret surrounding sensory inputs, including caregiver emotional states. Thus, greater exposure to parents experiencing anxious or traumatic distress during the quarantine period can trigger maladaptive mental health symptoms and family functioning.

Below are some pointers to foster a healthy home environment promoting secure attachment with your child while prioritizing self-care and emotional well-being.

  • Space

As the saying goes, everything in moderation, and this includes attending to your child. Engage in favorable outlets just for you to promote relaxation and mental healing. This will model and encourage your child to accomplish individual tasks and respect personal space. Benefits include enhanced autonomy, self-confidence, and agency to problem-solve. Take the breather!

  • Stability

It’s impossible to entirely mimic your child’s school structure, but it doesn’t mean that you can’t borrow some tactics and strategies. Healthy attachment is promoted by stable and safe parenting, and predictability throughout your child’s day can help reinforce that. Try to identify and jot down times for eating, sleeping, and playing. If developmentally appropriate, include your child in creating the daily plan to value their choices while establishing a consistent routine.

  • Praise

It’s important to remember that the pandemic has disrupted life as we knew it- provide patience and grace while your child projects their worries and fears. They too are navigating this new territory. Praise them for rolling with the punches, instill gratitude, and lend a shoulder for them to cry on when they miss their friends. This is the time to build them up while creating space for vulnerability. Critical parenting can contribute towards poorer psychological functioning. Highlight your child’s strengths while attempting to minimize negative language when they misbehave.

These deliberate practices will reap many rewards including enhanced ability to practice self-forgiveness, healthy emotional expressiveness, and self-soothing strategies with an intrinsic awareness that you are a reliable source of support. It’s okay for your child to not be okay, so long as they know that you will always be the lighthouse leading their way to safe terrain.

Dr. Bahar Rahnama obtained her Doctor of Clinical Psychology degree at the APA-accredited California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles (CSPP-LA). Dr. Rahnama completed coursework and field-based training in congruence with her graduate specializations across family, child, and couple dynamics. Through both research and clinical practice, Dr. Rahnama’s interest encompasses the correlation between enactment of cultural norms and parent-child attachment styles. Her examination and focus on these factors have led to a multitude of clinical opportunities and advancements including her UC-Davis certification in Parent Child-Interaction Therapy (PCIT), an evidence-based model that meticulously targets disruptive behaviors in children between the ages of two and seven while enhancing a positive and healing bond between caregiver and child.

Pandemic Parenting Tips

Pandemic, coronavirus, COVID-19. Regardless of what you choose to call it, this globally-impacting disease translates to one universal fact—these are challenging and unprecedented times for all. In the midst of a new normal, mental health is sacrificed while many scramble to establish structure in their daily lives. In other words, life doesn’t simply stop, even when it may feel like we’re in a perpetual state of limbo. With survival mode as our shield of armor, we learn to shift and adapt.

Now picture this: school is closed for the remainder of the academic year, and parents suddenly have to tackle new roles including teacher, tutor, therapist, mediator, and friend—just more skills to add to your repertoire as a parent. Children are ripped from their routine, and in turn, may be manifesting these sudden changes in the form of anxiety, depression, and developmental regression. You may find that your fiercely independent six-year-old is now begging you to let her sleep in your bed. Your sweet and shy four-year-old is kicking and screaming with every ounce of his being. Your Tic-Toking teen has officially locked herself in her room and is refusing to engage with the rest of her family. Here’s where the good news kicks in—you are not alone, and this is not your fault—nor your children’s.

Below are some tips and tricks to tackle common behavioral and emotional concerns that parents are facing today, and more importantly to start welcoming mental health back to the forefront of your mind.

1.     Gut over guilt: Parental guilt is inherent, and especially now can be at an all-time high. It’s understandable to feel upset that your child was robbed of the joys and benefits of school, yet your desire to fill the void and promote happiness may be hindering them. By needing to fulfill their every demand, wish, and desire, you are strengthening your child’s capacity to eventually push back against structure and defy your requests. Follow your parental gut, the one suppressed underneath the guilt, and follow accordingly when something isn’t sitting right. It’s okay to delete that extra toy out of your Amazon cart, or to have difficult conversations with your child, even if it may upset them.

2.     Establish structure: This is both to your benefit and theirs. Create a makeshift school or daycare, one where rules are written and verbalized. Sit down with your child and identify at least three rules or tasks to be followed daily. Including your children in this activity places the accountability in their court. Children thrive off structure, even when they crave chaos and spontaneity. Find a happy medium and attempt to create a weekly schedule to check off homework, meals, and playtime.

3.     Negative attention = attention: Highlight positive behaviors you are desiring more of, and practice selective ignoring when the negative behaviors are not posing a safety threat. This applies to children across all ages. Ignoring your child does not make you neglectful, so long as you are boosting their confidence and recognizing them for their polite manners, problem-solving skills, and following the rules. Replace words that are trigger points for children including “don’t” or “stop” with positive statements that promote the behaviors you are wanting to see in them (e.g. please use your inside voice; please keep your hands to yourself).

4.     Set consequences: This one is tough. Every family has a different tactic and strategy when it comes to discipline. However, removing desirable objects and activities from your child of any age when they are breaking important rules or acting defiantly is an effective measure to establish greater harmony at home. Sit down with your child and identify three consequences that can be enforced in a single day if a house rule is broken. These may include losing electronic privileges such as the television or cellphone for four hours after refusing to complete homework, or losing coloring time for 20 minutes after screaming at a sibling. Setting concrete consequences removes the power struggle and heated arguments by simply identifying and sticking to the structure. Selective ignoring will be a key player if your child attempts to refute.

5.     Spend quality time with your family:  You’re probably wondering why that would be a suggestion when you are with your loved ones more than ever, but there is a difference between physical presence and emotional connection. Go for walks as a unit, play board games, spend a few minutes each day letting your child pick the activity to build their confidence and assurance that their opinions matter, and remind every family member that you love and appreciate them. These are trying times, but your family will get through this as a team, one day at a time. Remember to prioritize your mental health—your silent, but efficient, captain chartering new territory in the right direction.

Dr. Bahar Rahnama obtained her Doctor of Clinical Psychology degree at the APA-accredited California School of Professional Psychology at Alliant International University, Los Angeles (CSPP-LA). Dr. Rahnama completed coursework and field-based training in congruence with her graduate specializations across family, child, and couple dynamics. Through both research and clinical practice, Dr. Rahnama’s interest encompasses the correlation between enactment of cultural norms and parent-child attachment styles. Her examination and focus on these factors have led to a multitude of clinical opportunities and advancements including her UC-Davis certification in Parent Child-Interaction Therapy (PCIT), an evidence-based model that meticulously targets disruptive behaviors in children between the ages of two and seven while enhancing a positive and healing bond between caregiver and child.

The Power of Visualization: Imagining Yourself Doing Something Helps You Achieve Your Goal

How often have you heard an athlete say they visualize the moves they are going to make before they actually do it? Visualizing something and actually acting it out are closely connected. This process involves the activation of our motor cortex located in the frontal lobe of our brains. Our motor cortex is involved in planning, controlling, and executing voluntary movements. Basically, thinking about moving a body part or side-stepping to avoid an opponent from stealing the basketball from you activates the same areas of the motor cortex responsible for initiating that movement directly. Although thinking about a movement does not increase the amount of excitatory postsynaptic potential (EPSP) enough to reach a threshold to actually cause firing of a neuron in the brain that generates that movement, it does still activate the same region. So in short, you can think of something that activates the same region of the brain involved in movement without actually generating movement. Visualization allows us to rehearse our anticipated movements and over time primes our brain and body to more accurately and effectively execute an action. This occurs by the way of stimulating a component of the basal ganglion, the putamen (part of the striatum), a region of the brain that is involved in the rehearsal of movement. Over the course of rehearsing movements via visualization, the brain learns routine movement, making the movement more programmed and fine-tuned.

Basically, cognitive practices can get us closer and more prepared to execute a task with more success. Studies have shown us that cognitive practices are almost as effective as physical practices, and engaging in both cognitive and physical practices is even more effective than doing either one alone. Additional benefits of mental visualization include: improved attention, planning, memory, motor control, and perception. The bottom line is that the brain is receiving additional training for actual performance during imagery rehearsal. It has also been evidenced that these practices enhance motivation, self-esteem, increase states of flow, and improve motor performance. Examples include sharpening your chess skills, practicing your surgery that is coming up this week, practicing your softball swing, your forearm pass in volleyball, or your dance move, or simply working out your muscles. 

As I am writing this blog, I keep wondering if our readers are wondering how this relates to psychological well-being. Let me explain how it works. It is great to know that an athlete can use visualization to enhance his or her performance, but how could this affect someone who is not an athlete or is not planning on executing a movement?  What these studies are really teaching us is the powerful connection between our mind, body, and behavioral execution–in other words, the powerful interaction between our thoughts and our behaviors. Brain studies have now supported that idea that our thoughts produce identical mental commands as actions. Let us reflect on that statement for a second. If studies are showing that you can increase your physical health by simply thinking about it (Harvard study: Crum & Langer, E. J.), what other domains in life can you impact by simply thinking about it in a positive way? I frequently discuss with my patients the importance of positive visualization when working towards a goal, as this visualization impacts motivation and goal attainment. Therefore, if you want something to happen in your life, first you have to think about it, set your goal to achieve it, and then visualize it happening. The difficulty that many face is that we set goals and forget to do the necessary prep work that is needed to get to that goal. Part of this necessary preparation is to visualize the goal being achieved. Essentially, Henry Ford was right: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–you’re right.”

Dr. Narineh Hartoonian is a Clinical Health and Rehabilitation psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine. She has several years of interdisciplinary clinical and research experience in health and rehabilitation psychology and has served the needs of many individuals with chronic medical conditions and disability. Dr. Hartoonian received her Bachelor and Master of Science in Physiology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Loma Linda University (LLU). She has taught various graduate and undergraduate courses in the physiological sciences, health and psychobiology.


REFERENCES

  1. Crum, A. J., & Langer, E. J. (2007). Mind-set matters: Exercise and the placebo effect. Psychological Science, 18(2), 165-171.

  2. Franklin, E. N. (2013). Dance imagery for technique and performance. Human Kinetics.

  3. Gabriele, T. E., Hall, C. R., & Lee, T. D. (1989). Cognition in motor learning: Imagery effects on contextual interference. Human Movement Science, 8(3), 227-245.

  4. Jeannerod, M. (1995). Mental imagery in the motor context. Neuropsychologia, 33(11), 1419-1432.

  5. Ay, K., Halaweh, R., & Al-Taieb, M. (2013). The effect of movement imagery training on learning forearm pass in volleyball. Education, 134(2), 227-239.

  6. Lacourse, M. G., Turner, J. A., Randolph-Orr, E., Schandler, S. L., & Cohen, M. J. (2004). Cerebral and cerebellar sensorimotor plasticity following motor imagery-based mental practice of a sequential movement. Journal of rehabilitation research and development, 41(4).

  7. Mulder, T., Zijlstra, S., Zijlstra, W., & Hochstenbach, J. (2004). The role of motor imagery in learning a totally novel movement. Experimental Brain Research, 154(2), 211-217.

  8. Richardson, A. (2013). Mental imagery. Springer.

Mindful Relationships Part 4: Presence as a Source of Passion

Passion in relationships is often thought of as a strong emotional or sexual connection to one’s partner. While this is often a start to many relationships, sustaining that intense enthusiasm can be difficult over time. In fact, relationships that are based on passion alone often struggle because they do not make room for the reality that our feelings often wax and wane.

Relationships founded on passion alone also tend to struggle with the fact that partners see an idealized version of one another and there is sometimes little room for the variety of feelings both positive and negative that one can feel for someone that they are in a long-term relationship with. Passion-based relationships can also can also struggle with a competitive or tit-for-tat quality that has partners playing for opposites sides rather than working together as a team (Walser and Westrup, 2009).

While having a strong emotional connection to your partner can feel amazing, it can be more helpful to build a sense of connection that is focused more on vitality rather than on raw emotion or sexual chemistry. In this case, vitality refers to a sense of liveliness or active engagement in the relationship (Walser and Westrup, 2009). This level of investment in the relationship can help your bond to stand the natural ups and downs that all relationships face as changes take place and stress comes and goes.

There are some helpful practices that allow you to focus on building a sense of connection and vitality in your relationship (adapted from Walser and Westrup, 2009):

Be mindful of the sound of your relationship. Pay attention not only to what your partner says but to the sounds of laughter, tears or the voice crack of pure excitement.

Appreciate your partner’s physical presence such as the warmth you feel as you sit next to each other on the couch or the calm you feel when experiencing a forehead kiss or touch on the shoulder.

Be thankful for the opportunity to grow old together including the ways in which you each age over time. For example, notice the laugh lines that mark the many smiles and good times that you have shared or even a few extra new pounds from a string of delicious meals shared. Be aware that aging with someone is an honor and a very intimate experience.

Notice the cute things that your partner does. This can take effort because we often attend more to the annoying things than the good ones. Maybe you will start to see things you have missed such as a funny expression or a loving, idiosyncratic gesture.

Take the time to ask your partner about something that he/she finds interesting or important and really listen to the response that is shared both verbally and non-verbally.

Lie next to one another with mindful awareness simply noticing what it feels like to be physically close or hold hands and simply notice the sensations of touching.

Learn about a hobby your partner enjoys and join him/her with sincerity and a curiosity about the joy he/she finds in this activity.

Purchase a small gift that your partner would find meaningful, thoughtful or symbolic. Let your partner understand that you see who he/she is.

Ask what you can do to support or help your partner and follow through. Check back to see how he/she felt about the experience.

Dr. Stephanie Davidson is a licensed, clinical health psychologist and co-founder of the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine specializing in the use of cognitive-behavioral, humanistic and existential approaches to treat patients with a range of medical and mental health challenges. She has a strong interest in acceptance and commitment therapy and other mindfulness-based interventions to heal the body and mind. Her focus is on collaboration with the goal of assisting patients in adjusting to difficult experiences and achieving a greater sense of well-being, balance and peace in their lives.

REFERENCES

Walser, R. D. & Westrup, D. (2009). The Mindful Couple: how acceptance and mindfulness can lead to the love you want. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 

Turkey or Trump: Navigating the Holidays in Post-Election America

Following the highly controversial presidential election of 2016, our nation is clearly divided. A dangerous “Us vs. Them” ideology has emerged and is threatening the nation’s sense of unity and oneness. People are feeling uneasy and (more) fearful of strangers, neighbors, friends, and even family members, wondering who is on their side versus against them. Sometimes they discover that their deeply held beliefs differ from those of their friends and family. This emotionally charged political race has engaged (and in many cases, enraged) Americans in a unique and historic way. When we are in a heightened state of arousal–feeling panicked, afraid, threatened, and vulnerable, we are susceptible to making irrational, poor decisions. We may preemptively lash out or become defensive in relation to those we perceive as being in opposition. Acting without thinking about the consequences (i.e., who we may hurt in our path of righteousness) can have hurtful, even devastating, results on interpersonal relationships.

With the holidays upon us, many people are understandably feeling anxious about, even dreading, get-togethers with their families. Spending time with family at the holidays can be stressful during a typical year, but perhaps especially so in the midst of what may be considered a national crisis. This is because families are comprised of people of different generations, levels of education, ethnicity, and religiosity. They live in geographically diverse places and often have vastly disparate experiences, values, and perspectives on hot-button, divisive topics, such as LGBTQ and women’s rights, immigration laws, minority protections and legislation, taxes, gun control, international affairs, etcetera. As people do not usually choose their family members (aside from their spouses), it is almost inevitable that there will be significant differences of opinion with at least some relatives.

It has been said that it is safest to never bring up politics or religion at the dinner table. Is that possible in the aftermath of this historical and controversial election? The following are some difficult questions you may be asking yourself. Is it best to spend time with family and attempt to avoid discussion of politics or forego seeing family this holiday season in anticipation that it may become too contentious and heated? Is it healthier to avoid potential confrontation and the inevitable politicking at the dinner table and/or give everybody time and space to calm down and heal? Would it feel disingenuous to not address important current events? Is it possible to have genuine connections with family members when you know they are on the “other side” (whatever side that may be)? If you do wish to engage with family on the issues that you feel a strong personal investment in, you may consider allowing a cooling off period post-election and addressing these issues one-on-one at a later date, rather than at a big family gathering.

People naturally make efforts to preserve the important social bonds and relationships they have with family and friends. This begs the question: Is it possible to reconcile our differences when we vehemently disagree with the other side’s position, and if so, how? Can we preserve the relationship and maintain our love and respect for the other person even if it seems like their beliefs/perspectives are antithetical to what we value? Individuals may perceive that those family members who voted for/supported the “other” candidate have personally betrayed them, disrespected, or even invalidated their identities and beliefs. It may be worth remembering that a particular political affiliation does not necessarily mean that a person condones all of their candidate’s attitudes/behaviors or embrace wholeheartedly everything they represent or have promised. For instance, a Trump-supporter is not necessarily “ignorant, misogynistic, or racist,” nor is a Clinton-supporter necessarily a “brainwashed, morally depraved liberal.” Taking another person’s perspective into account and developing empathy may help decrease anger toward your loved ones. Would your parent, partner, child, or dear friend say that they were trying to intentionally hurt you by voting for a particular candidate, or more likely, that they were voting based on particular values (i.e., economic growth, equality, etc.)? You may think that this election has brought to light irreconcilable differences between you and a family member, and while this could be true, you may want to allow time to pass before making any rash decisions that you may one day regret.

There is ultimately no right or wrong decision about whether or not to attend the holidays this year and how to participate in them. If you decide to see friends and family, you may wish to reevaluate your expectations about the interactions you may have. Consider putting a ban on political discussions. You may even designate one or more non-partisan individuals to respectfully enforce the “No politics” rule and redirect the conversation to more polite, neutral, and friendly topics. Find common interests and shared beliefs. It is important to know your audience as well. You may decide whether or not it is worthwhile (and safe) to share your thoughts and feelings on a particular matter depending on who is present. Another suggestion is to pick your battles wisely, and consider your end game. Is it more important to try to convince your grandparent, sibling, cousin, uncle, [fill in blank] who has equally fixed beliefs as you to change their minds or to maintain your relationship(s) and still have that family member in your life in a week, a month, or a year from now?

If you do decide to tackle these topics around the Thanksgiving dinner table, there are ways to communicate more respectfully. Dr. Susan Heitler, a clinical psychologist, suggests strategies to both maintain friendships and family bonds while discussing politics (2012). She offers recommendations about effective communication skills that include listening with an open mind and curiosity, asking open-ended questions, not trying to prove you are “right,” and using a neutral, gentle tone of voice. Successful communication with those who express divergent opinions also involves remembering what you have in common and maintaining respect for one another (http://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Friends-With-Different-Political-Views). Avoid defensiveness, bullying, name-calling, degradation, and intimidation. Personal attacks do not help get your point across, and if anything, only make you and your perspective seem less credible.

For most, the holidays are about connecting and spending time with loved ones. If emotions are still too raw post-election, consider getting together with supportive friends for a Friendsgiving this year. Take care of yourself (and maybe preserve your familial relationships in the long-term). It is key to know your own limits and thresholds. Whether you are with family or friends, decide if/when you have had too much talk of politics and excuse yourself from the conversation. In that time, do something personally productive, such as going for a walk, journaling, playing with the family pet, calling a friend, and so on.

This sociopolitical climate feels unpredictable and uncertain, as we do not yet know what the future holds for our purportedly united nation, which many folks have only recently come to realize, is comprised of people with quite disparate experiences, beliefs, and points-of-view. As the election outcome has been highly contentious, many people are left in a state of surreality, wondering, “Is this really happening?” Uncertainty often contributes to a sense of anxiety. We want to know things, to feel certain, but this is of course not always possible. Sometimes, all we can do is tolerate the unknown and cope as best we can.

There are several things you can do to better cope and tolerate the distress you may be feeling:

  1. Watch or listen to your favorite comedy. We can all use some levity now and again, especially when everything feels intense, chaotic, and impossible to reconcile. Positive emotions (i.e., joy, hope) are incompatible with and may even “undo” dysphoric feelings, such as anger and depression (Fredrickson, 2001).

  2. Know your personal limits. Know when to turn off the news and pause the barrage of social media commentary, articles, videos, in-person debates, etcetera. (It will inevitably all still be there if/when you decide to tune back in.)

  3. Connect with others. Seek the good in people and that which makes us alike (i.e., desire for happiness, health, connection, safety, justice, freedom). Do something kind for someone else.

  4. Take action. Try to channel your energies into a cause you truly believe in, rather than worrying about all the “what ifs.”

  5. Do what is within your control: Sleep. Exercise. Focus on your health.

  6. Remember the temporary nature of life. Change is inevitable. What feels catastrophic in one moment may feel less so in time.

  7. Be kind and compassionate to yourself. Validate your emotions and treat yourself with the gentleness that you would extend a friend or loved one.

  8. Challenge unrealistic/irrational beliefs (i.e., “The world is over” and “We are doomed”). Is there evidence against this? Are there alternate ways of looking at the same situation?

  9. Try not to panic. Anxiety is normal; honor that, but do not dwell. Panicking contributes to bad decision-making. Try to make rational decisions by achieving a state of calm via deep breathing, meditating, exercising, etcetera.

  10. Look at pictures/videos of animals online (especially baby animals). These images can certainly lift most spirits (even if temporarily)! Or, spend time cuddling and playing with your own pet.

  11. Think about your personal values. If you do not believe that name-calling and degrading others is helpful, don’t do it (even if provoked). At the end of the day, you are responsible for your actions and choosing behaviors that are in line with your values.

Dr. Jacquie Talesnick is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine who has trained in both cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic therapeutic approaches. She considers herself to be an integrative therapist, pulling from different methodologies and theories to tailor treatment to each individual with whom she works. She offers psychotherapy services to the adult population in individual and couples modalities. She specializes in working with individuals in the LGBTQ community. Her other specialties include treatment of relationship difficulties, trauma, depression, and anxiety.

REFERENCES

Deal With Friends With Different Political Views. Retrieved November 17, 2016, from http://www.wikihow.com/Deal-With-Friends-With-Different-Political-Views.

Fredrickson, B. L. (2001, March). The role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. American Psychologist, 56 (3), 218-226.

Heitler, S. (2012). 8 Ways to Lose Friends By Talking Politics. Retrieved November 13, 2016, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201209/8-ways-lose-friends- talking-politics.

Making the Decision to Pursue Therapy

There are myriad reasons why people decide to seek therapy. Some individuals want to explore recurring patterns in their lives. They may find themselves making the same mistakes or ending up in situations where they feel chronically dissatisfied and unfulfilled. Others may be searching for clarity or closure on an issue, desiring increased insight and self-awareness, or simply seeking a safe place to process their thoughts and emotions. Some folks may notice that they are not coping well with life’s stressors, such that they are consuming more alcohol than usual, using substances, or avoiding situations or people. Impairment in sleeping and eating habits, frequent conflicts with loved ones, decreased motivation to perform work and household tasks, and a sense of isolation may also be signs that professional support can be helpful. Seeking counseling may be about obtaining feedback about how one is doing and preemptively gaining support before reaching “rock bottom” (one’s subjectively lowest point).

The decision to begin the challenging, yet often rewarding process of psychotherapy can be a difficult one. It is normal to feel uncertain and to experience mixed emotions. This is known as ambivalence, which Merriam-Webster defines as: “simultaneous and contradictory attitudes or feelings (as attraction and repulsion) toward an object, person, or action.” As per Dr. Derek Lee, ambivalence is often characterized by uncertainty, indecision, and fear; he states, “it is a tension between opposing beliefs, feelings or behaviors.” He indicates that our motivation to pursue action may change depending on our complex and sometimes conflicting needs and priorities at a given moment. Rollnick, Miller, and Butler agree that competing motivations—“to simultaneously want and not want [change] are normal and common” (2008). Ambivalence may manifest as simultaneously wanting to lose weight, but hating exercise/diets or wanting to quit smoking/drinking alcohol for the personal health benefits, but needing the stress relief it provides.

The prospect of change can be exhilarating, while terrifying and overwhelming all at once. There may be a comfort in the familiar and a tendency to stay in the exact same situation, even when it is clearly dysfunctional or unhealthy. One need not hit “rock bottom” in order to decide that it may be helpful to seek the services of a mental health professional. If you recognize that something needs to change, but do not know what or how to make the change, you may benefit from professional counseling services. Perhaps you know that you are miserable in a relationship, job, or otherwise, but you cannot figure out how to resolve this dilemma or there is a discrepancy between your current self-perception and how you wish to see yourself. You might have a hard time identifying goals or overcoming the obstacles (i.e., low motivation/energy, poor organization) to achieving them.

Why is change in your life necessary and important? Achieving self-growth and actualizing one’s goals can be empowering and improve our sense of self-confidence and agency that we CAN achieve and are in control of our lives. The capacity to change demonstrates mental flexibility, which is believed to be a sign of emotional health and well-being (Ebberwein, 2010). Sometimes it can be helpful to stir things up in a positive direction. If you decide to pursue therapy, remember that you are not necessarily making a lifelong commitment. Try framing therapy as an opportunity to try something new. Imagine what you can learn about yourself! Of course, along with all the potential benefits of therapy, there are some intrinsic risks as well. Learning about yourself may be helpful in the long run, but it may also illuminate aspects of your personality or ingrained behavioral patterns that are not congruent with how you would like to see yourself, thus, potentially causing some temporary distress as you figure out how to reconcile this discrepancy.

These are some questions/issues to consider when deciding whether or not to begin therapy:

1)    What are your expectations of therapy? Clarify any misconceptions and get more information as needed.

2)    Consider your goals and what you hope to get out of counseling. This may be a collaborative process between you and your therapist, who may facilitate the development of realistic, achievable goals.

3)    What are you willing/able to afford on a weekly basis? Will you be using insurance or paying for services out-of-pocket?

4)    Does your health insurance cover mental health (also called “behavioral health”) services? What is your co-payment and deductible? The therapist’s office should be able to assist you in obtaining this information if you have difficulty.

5)    Consider the pros and cons of starting therapy. Pros may include: having an outlet to share concerns with an objective third party, working with a professional toward personal goals, learning new coping skills, becoming aware of patterns that may not have previously been clear. Meanwhile, cons may include: actively confronting the thoughts and feelings you may have been avoiding or repressing, in addition to investing time, financial resources, and energy “doing the work” required to effect desired changes.

6)    What are the motivating factors pushing you to seek help (i.e., what do you want to be different)? What values are perhaps incongruent with your current behaviors (i.e., you value health and quality of life, yet cannot seem to quit smoking)?

7)    What is your availability and willingness to commit to therapy, even for a trial period?

8)    Conduct research online to find a therapist who is both qualified and seems to be a good fit for your needs. Consider someone’s credentials and training relative to the problems you are hoping to address (i.e., a life coach may be suitable for certain concerns, whereas someone with a master’s or doctoral-level education may be better equipped to help you through more complex mental health or relationship issues). Do you want someone who specializes in a particular area (i.e., weight loss, medical illness, couple’s work, grief counseling, relationship concerns, LGBTQ issues)? Do you feel more comfortable speaking with a counselor of a particular gender, someone who is younger or more senior in the field, someone who shares a similar cultural background or speaks your native language? You may contact your insurance company for referrals and/or find referrals for local providers through comprehensive websites such as Psychology Today.

There is no right or wrong decision about whether to pursue therapy. Consider the above to determine if it is the “right” choice for you at this time. 

Dr. Jacquie Talesnick is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine who has trained in both cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic therapeutic approaches. She considers herself to be an integrative therapist, pulling from different methodologies and theories to tailor treatment to each individual with whom she works. She offers psychotherapy services to the adult population in individual and couples modalities. She specializes in working with individuals in the LGBTQ community. Her other specialties include treatment of relationship difficulties, trauma, depression, and anxiety. She has a special interest in the benefits of animal companions, as well as supplementing traditional “talk therapy” with creative approaches (i.e., writing, art). 

 REFERENCES

Ebberwein, C. (2010, May). Practicing Flexibility for Good Mental Health. Retrieved September 08, 2016, from http://www.yourmindyourbody.org/practicing-flexibility-for-good-mental- health/ 

Lee, D. (n.d.). Ambivalence in Therapy: Exploration & Resolution. Retrieved September 8,  2016, from http://www.psychodelights.com/pdfs/ambivalence1.pdf

Rollnick, S., Miller, W.R., & Butler, C. (2008). Motivational interviewing in health care: Helping patients change behavior. New York: Guilford Press.

Mindfulness Meditation for Anxiety Group

The Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine is offering a 12-week group to teach mindfulness skills to individuals struggling with anxiety. The group will focus on experiential exercises designed to teach mindfulness meditation, breathing retraining, and present-moment focus. Mindfulness has been shown to help people successfully cope with stress and difficult emotions and increase vitality in daily life. 

Day and Time:
Mondays: 6:30 pm  – 7:30 pm

Led by:
Puja Chhabra, LCSW RYT LCS24159

Location:
The Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine
500 East Olive Avenue, Suite 540
Burbank, CA 91501

Cost:
$50 per session
Some insurance benefits may apply. Please inquire further.

Contact:
Please call our Intake Coordinator at (818) 446-2522 or email info@rowancenterla.com to schedule your free half hour screening. 

Puja Chhabra is a licensed clinical social worker, specializing in psychodynamic, trauma informed and holistic approaches in working with individuals. She is a dedicated yoga teacher, committed to learning about the deep connections between the mind and the body. Puja believes that the combination of psychotherapy and yoga compliments one another and alleviates symptoms related to depression, anxiety and trauma. She specializes in supporting individuals in connecting to their sense of hope, in the midst of life’s stressors, transitions, and challenges. Puja’s unique therapeutic approach is based on reflecting on the past, understanding barriers to living in the present moment, and moving towards self compassion and acceptance.  Puja is committed to sharing simple yet effective tools of mindfulness, body movement and meditative practices to enhance clinical work. 

Please feel free to call the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine for further information 818-446-2522 or email info@rowancenterla.com 

 

Holiday Tips During Your Fertility Journey

For a couple that has been struggling with infertility, the holidays can be a particularly painful time. Family gatherings that may be filled with babies and children can serve as bittersweet reminders of what didn’t happen for you this year. You may have had one or more failed cycles or even miscarriages over the past several months. While you and your partner tried to avoid getting your hopes up, it is likely that with each embryo transfer you found yourself daydreaming of holding your precious little one at holiday family gatherings. Whether you’ve been private about your fertility journey or an open book, you can depend on the fact that you are bound to be subject to some uncomfortable conversations about your ability to bear children. 

One woman described a horrific episode early in her fertility journey. Her first retrieval had gone very well and the couple had gotten pregnant on the first embryo transfer. The elated couple shared the good news with both sets of parents and several friends only to learn that they had miscarried at eight weeks. To the woman’s mortification, her husband’s parents had shared the news of their pregnancy with friends who were eager to offer their congratulations at the family’s annual holiday party. She was faced with the task of glumly informing virtual strangers about the miscarriage throughout the endless evening. 

Here are some things to keep in mind as you face gatherings and celebrations with friends and family this holiday season.

  1. Discuss who you will share information with and be specific. Prior to discussing your fertility journey with anyone, it is important that you and your spouse clearly designate who is allowed to be in the know well as any particular details either of you would prefer to keep private. Key to avoiding situations such as the one described above is to tell the people that you confide in that you’d prefer to remain private about you efforts to conceive.

  2. How to handle booze. You might find yourself mid-cycle during the holidays and abstaining from alcohol. This can lead to eyebrow raises and even pointed questions about possible pregnancies. It can be helpful to plan how you are going to handle these situations. Some couples prefer to abstain from alcohol together, while some women feel more comfortable nursing a Sprite to blend in. Whatever your approach, it helps to think about what you’ll say and do when asked about your drink preferences so you aren’t caught off guard.

  3. Plan for invasive questions. It seems that almost every family has that person that asks the awkward and intrusive questions. It can be very difficult to graciously field Aunt Sally’s third degree about your sex life with your partner. Thus, it is essential to anticipate some common situations and plan some responses. Remember, you do not OWE anyone information about your private life and, conversely, the people who are prying are likely well-meaning. By thinking of pithy ways to handle questions and comments, you can avoid being caught off guard.

  4. Come up with a cue. Plan as you will to field awkward and intrusive family and friends, it is likely that one or both of you will find that you need to check in and get strength from one another throughout holiday festivities. It’s helpful to come up with a secret cue that can serve as a signal for your partner to come and give you support. A hand on the shoulder or a stolen moment in a hallway could be just what both of you need to get through a difficult moment at a party or function.

  5. Spend some time processing losses alone. Though the holidays are typically crazy, hustle and bustle times, it is important to make space to process the losses and trials you have been through over the past year. Set aside some time, perhaps a quiet evening, to burn a candle and take turns sharing your thoughts and feelings about your fertility journey. Don’t shy away from shedding tears or expressing your hopes and fears to one another.

  6. Give yourself permission to take breaks or go home early. Finally, it is perfectly acceptable to be choosy about where you go and how long your stay. There is no edict that says you must go to every single gathering for the entire time. Feel free to make brief appearances or choose to spend time with friends and family that are the most safe of supportive of you during this time.

Taking time to plan ahead and care for yourself and your partner can make the holidays more enjoyable. This preparation and thoughtfulness can also help you and your partner to feel closer and better supported by one another and by those you have chosen to include in your fertility journey.

Dr. Angela Williams is a licensed clinical psychologist, specializing in cognitive-behavioral and humanistic/existential approaches to therapy. She has extensive training in Brief Crisis Intervention as well as mindfulness based therapeutic approaches. Her therapeutic style blends strength-based acceptance with practical skill development. Incorporating mindfulness-based interventions, she helps her clients move through difficult experiences and be more present in their lives.

The Pursuit of Happiness: A Lifelong Quest?

Since recently being asked my thoughts on happiness, I have been reflecting on this perpetually relevant topic. The above title is a question that has intrigued, and in some cases, plagued human beings across generations and cultures.

The pursuit of happiness is a captivating topic that has inspired blockbuster films, several catchy tunes (“Happy” by Pharrell Williams, “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” by Bobby McFerrin), and countless forms of written and spoken word (from our Founding Fathers’ Declaration of Independence to this current blog). How often do we think about our own and/or other people’s happiness? I would reckon fairly often, but granted, I am probably biased being in the field of psychology and regularly addressing the human struggle to “be happy.” People often say some iteration of the following: “You should be happy,” “Do what makes you happy,” “I deserve to be happy,” and “I’m trying to find happiness.” But, what do we all mean? Are we referring to the same thing? What is this elusive construct we call happiness

Research suggests that happiness/joy is one of several basic human emotions, transcending generations, race, ethnicity, gender, and cultures (Ekman, 1992). While it may be a similar phenomenon across people, I believe it is still a highly subjective experience, varying on at least several important dimensions—the origins/causes (i.e., what contributes to someone’s subjective experience of happiness), duration (i.e., whether it is fleeting or enduring in nature), and the expression and communication of happiness.

Ask a child what makes him/her happy. The answer is often something relatively simple and concrete: ice cream (!), winning a game, seeing an awesome movie (Minions!), running around outside, sleepovers, acing one’s test. Of course, there are also more complex things that undoubtedly make children feel happy. These are things that they may or may not be able to consciously identify or articulate (i.e., a parent acknowledging their accomplishments and uniqueness, feeling accepted by peers, gaining self-confidence).

At some point, as we grow into adulthood, happiness becomes much more complicated and muddled. Ask an adult what makes him/her happy, and this question is likely to give one pause. We may derive satisfaction from our employment and feeling like valued, contributing members of our household and society. Our friendships and relationships may contribute to us feeling loved and special, but is that enough to “be” happy? Is it a combination of all the possessions, identities, and relationships we have? Achieving certain milestones? If we have a good job, an intimate relationship, and loved ones, does that automatically make us happy? Unfortunately, for many people, the answer is no.

The question of the duration of happiness is also a difficult one, whether someone feels happy in a moment (a state of being that is inevitably changing and variable) or whether happiness is something achieved…a long-term goal that you obtain. Ahh, now that —- (fill in blank) has happened, I’m finally happy. At what point is that achieved–after successfully completing a marathon, having a family, getting a job promotion, becoming a grandparent? Do milestones measure or impact our happiness? Are we overall happier when in our youth or when we are older? If someone achieves happiness, can it last? Or, is it a constant battle between innate desires to be happy and self-sabotaging self-talk to “do or be better”?

It is well-documented that our thoughts and attitudes about situations impact our emotional experiences (Seligman, 2006). If, when a person loses his job, he thinks, “I’m such a loser” or “This is the worst thing that could happen. Now what will I do?,” not surprisingly, he may feel depressed, hopeless, and overwhelmed. What if someone who loses his job were to think, “Well, it just wasn’t the right fit,” “Now, I have some free time and can find a job that is better suited to me” or even, “I didn’t really like the work/my boss/the commute anyway”? Looking at the situation not as terrible or catastrophic, but as an opportunity for something new/better, relates to the concept of learned optimism (Seligman. 2006).

As I’ve mentioned in a previous blog (see Altruism: Helping Others to Help Yourself), reframing our way of thinking about situations can be helpful for our mental well-being and psyches. We can preserve our sense of personal worth and goodness if (and this is admittedly challenging) we are able to look at external factors, rather than accept the self-destructive belief, “there must be something wrong with me for being let go from my job.” Is changing your thinking about situations possible…and enough to be happy? 

At the end of writing this stream of consciousness, I’m happily left with more questions than answers. That is okay. I say, be curious, ask yourself the tough questions, allow yourself to take a meandering road in the search of answers, or in some cases, more questions. How would you respond to the question, “Are you happy?” What about: “When were you happiest? What is your happiest memory? What makes you happy?” How do we achieve a personal sense of happiness? Do we feel best about ourselves when we are with family or friends? Is happiness within our control? Dare to ask: “What is happiness to me? Is how I am living in line with my values?” For example, if friendships are significant, are you prioritizing contact and get-togethers with friends? If not, why not? What obstacles are getting in the way, and how can you tackle them so that you can meet this goal?

Our lives need meaning and purpose. When we have this, it may contribute to our sense of well-being and happiness. We also may need to modify our expectations; it is not realistic to feel happy 24/7. By believing the prescription that you “should be happy,” you may be inadvertently setting yourself up for disappointment when you cannot achieve this difficult-to-define state of being. Instead of setting the seemingly impossible goal of happiness for yourself, try making mindfulness your goal. That is, try to live in the moment and experience happiness (or any other emotion) as it comes, rather than focusing on an elusive and potentially unattainable goal. Enjoy your friends and family when you are with them and capitalize on what brings you joy (i.e., immerse yourself in the moment when you are playing with your kids, petting your dog, and having a conversation with a loved one).

Dr. Jacquie Talesnick is a licensed clinical psychologist at the Rowan Center for Behavioral Medicine who has trained in both cognitive-behavioral and psychodynamic therapeutic approaches. She considers herself to be an integrative therapist, pulling from different methodologies and theories to tailor treatment to each individual with whom she works. She offers psychotherapy services to the adult population in individual and couples modalities. She specializes in working with individuals in the LGBTQ community. Her other specialties include treatment of relationship difficulties, trauma, depression, and anxiety.

REFERENCES

Ekman, P. (1992). “Are there basic emotions?” Psychological Review, 99 (3), 550–553. 

Seligman, M. E. P. (2006). Learned optimism: How to change your mind and your life. New York: Vintage Books.

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