Friday, February 29, 2008

Pills or Skills?

I stole this title from an article I read many years ago about ritalin for kids with ADHD. Last week I watched The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. As I implied in my last blog, Jesse would have been medicated today, or at least someone would have tried to medicate him. His mood swings were pronounced and deadly.

The nature-nurture debate has always fascinated me. If it’s nature, medication makes a lot of sense to me. Even with nurture, perhaps Jesse’s parents’ were abusive and he was traumatized, I can see the possibilities.

But how do we remain unique, exciting and daring if we’re in a prozac fog? I’ll add creative as well, although I certainly know a lot of creative souls who take their antidepressants religiously.

What does this have to do with life coaching and psychotherapy, anyway? Simply this: if you’re interested in change, medication sometimes reduces the motivation for change. You start to feel better, even if you’re in a bad situation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that’s necessarily bad, and clearly it’s essential for survival at times. Many of my most interesting clients take medication. But where do we draw the lines?

I recently attended a psychopharmacology workshop. A requirement, interestingly, for license renewal for psychologists in the state of Georgia. The presenter showed a few clips from Sophie’s Choice. They depicted her depression and PTSD quite well. Later I thought, you want to medicate Sophie? Styron himself relied on antidepressant medication and his book, Darkness Visible, is an awesome look at depression.

The point is that we have to consider these choices carefully. I know, like you wouldn’t. But honestly, there are a lot of unanswered questions in the medication arena. It makes me wonder about my own recommendations, the standard in psychotherapy being, well, if we don’t see any improvement in [fill in the blank based on severity] weeks, let’s discuss medication again.

Check out When do meds make the difference?" in the APA Monitor on Psychology at, Listening to Prozac, by Peter Kramer and Ritalin is not the Answer, by David Stein.

Monday, February 25, 2008

And the Oscar Goes To...

I love the movies. Of course, I had to watch the academy awards to see the rich and famous do their thing. And what’s up with our fascination with the dark side this year? Well maybe it’s not just this year. After all, the Hitchcock scenes are timeless (Cary Grant running in that field) and definitely dark.

The awards themselves are a great example of gratitude at work. Thanking people for their hard work in a public forum watched by millions. Okay, less millions than usual, but millions nevertheless.

My community has a heart of the community award given annually to several people who have provided community service par excellence. The chamber gives an award, the optimist club and so on. More gratitude.

So for those that pooh- pooh Oscar, just think of it as gratitude to those fabulous artists who make us laugh, cry, dream, and, best of all, think.


Think about this: Should Jesse James, Anton Chugurh, and Daniel Plainview all have been on meds? Did any of them have any redeeming qualities? Why did Anton get to walk away?

What about Llewelyn Moss, and Eli Sunday? Surely they had some issues. Were Llewelyn and Eli good? Bad? Both good and bad? Why were they both punished?

Who would you award Oscar to in your life? In what category would you receive your Oscar? Hint: Think about your strengths. And dream on.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Give a Little Bit

I probably give as much as the next privileged person. I give time and money to charity. Sometimes I provide psychotherapy for free or on the cheap. I am always giving away coaching for free or greatly reduced rates in order to get my certification. E-mail me at!!!

Do we do things to help others selflessly, or only out of self-interest? This latter giving away of coaching has, of course, nothing to do with altruism. It’s totally self-serving. I realized that when I came up with acts of gratitude in my last blog, there’s a fine line between altruistic acts and acts of gratitude. I tipped the woman at Subway a lot because she was all alone behind the counter, had a ton of people and was doing a great job. It was given in thanks, but somewhat altruistically, since she didn’t know. If you tip someone you’ll never see again is it gratitude or altruism? After all, you won’t get anything back. For that matter, when we thank people, aren’t we expecting something back at some point? Like money in the bank, interest will accrue and come back to us. Everything we give returns 10 fold?

Why does any of this matter?

Actually, research shows that people who are happier are more altruistic. I suspect that when you give with the anticipation of receiving something back, the happiness benefit is not as great. It makes sense, since giving with the anticipation of receiving is one of those expectations that can result in disappointment, or maybe even anticipation of disappointment. How many times have you heard…but I do everything for that kid (man, woman, parent, etc.) and I ask her to do one thing for me and she can’t be bothered…

And how crummy is it when we perceive that the lover, or friend or parent has only done things for us with the expectation that they’d get something back? If you’re expecting your offspring to care for you in your old age in return for all your care, I’m not gonna lie, I think you’re setting yourself up for a fall.

So giving from the heart is the key to feeling good about what you’ve done. There’s no disappointment. It doesn’t matter what happens next. You’ve done your good deed and can have that warm, fuzzy feeling.

It’s sappy but true. For a slightly more revved up version: Give a Little Bit – The Goo Goo Dolls

Friday, February 15, 2008

Thank You

I've been pondering gratitude for awhile now. Even some of my best friends turn up their noses at the notion that thanking someone or being grateful, can actually have a significant impact on the psyche. Now I'm thinking of the client, depressed for months, who said, very loudly, yelling I believe: "Why is everyone telling me to volunteer at the homeless shelter? Like that's going to make me less depressed!!!!!"

That complaint notwithstanding, research shows that performing acts of kindness, counting one's blessings, keeping a weekly gratitude log, and the like, do improve our sense of well-being. I suppose part of it is about merely thinking in terms of gratitude. To come up with five acts of kindness in one day as was the method in one study, you'd have to start spending quite a bit of time considering how to actually do that. All that time would then be spent in positive thinking.

I'll be at the soccer fields most of the weekend. Offer someone a bottle of water. Tell the team manager she's doing a great job. Thank the coach for his efforts...okay, especially if we lose. Let someone in line at the restroom. Thank my friends for coming to watch. Alright, not too difficult.

At the office? Thank the secretary for sorting my mail. Thank someone for getting in touch with me. Buy a box of chocolate for the office (always a winner) for no particular occasion. Give my colleague a late birthday card. Thank a colleague for referring a client.

Okay, not so difficult. But you do have to take the time. And sometimes it's going to take a little more thought. What if you stay home alone all day? Send a thank you email? Why not.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Blocked or not?

Whenever I send out a newsletter, my blog gets blocked. It's like I've completed a thought and I'm done. I've talked about giving myself (or yourself) a break in this context before. Yet I've been starting so many blogs in my mind: one on lying (is it okay to tell little white lies?), another on women's mag tips (do people really sew buttons on the ends of draw strings to keep them from getting lost in the garment; does anyone care?), yet another on whether multi-tasking and mindfulness are mutually exclusive (can you run, listen to music and be mindful?).

So what's the point of this meandering monologue? I'm trying to change my pattern and push ahead even though there's a cacophony of ideas in my head instead of one clear thought. As I tell blocked writers: just write something... anything. You can always go back later and perfect it.

Not that this blog is perfect. Okay, no need to laugh. But it's become important to my newsletter production, my thinking about positive psychology and allied topics and my ultimate writing goals. What, you my goal not to produce a better newsletter? I'm still thinking about that self-help book. Maybe my newsletters will feed into that goal.

While I collect ideas for blogging and writing, I'm also collecting ideas for my novel. Yes, of course, another frustrated novelist.

But seriously, this is the first time I've publicly admitted that I'm planning a novel. Public commitment is an important step in relapse prevention. It's also an important step in getting things done.

Like the novel which unfolds for the writer, much as it does for the reader, this blog turns out to be about moving ahead with my commitment to write regularly. Yup, even if I don't necessarily have anything particularly profound to say. But the commitment idea is profound.

Prochaska and DiClementi, in an article in 1982, identified stages of change: precontemplation (do I want to make the change), contemplation (I'm thinking about it seriously), determination (I'm gonna do it baby), action (requires no explanation) and maintenance (maintaining the change). After that comes relapse (also requires no explanation, but just in case, not maintaining the change). Like most stage models, you can bounce back and forth, sometimes skipping a step and sometimes regressing two. Commitment is the place between determination and action. Maybe it's between action and maintenance. Maybe it is maintenance. Clearly, commitment is all over the place.

I don't always write as regularly as I'd like. But I'm committed to making it happen. Whatever your goal, you can be too. Meandering around in my head is All You Need is Love..."There's nothing you can do that can't be done."