Tips for dealing with violent news in the Media
Many folks have been shaken by the news of the horrible shooting of Congressperson, Steve Scalise, in Alexandria Virginia. And even though most people weren't directly affected, the non-stop coverage from the media has increased the impact of the event and made the story more personal and immediate. It is important to note that a number of recent studies have found positive correlations between extended exposure to tragic reports via the television or the internet and the occurrence of PTSD like symptoms such as nightmares, difficulty concentrating, increased anxiety and recurrent flash backs of disturbing video and still images.
Coupled with other brain research, it is becoming clear that vicarious exposure to trauma can create neuro-pathway damage consistent with what is experienced by deployed soldiers or other trauma victims. This new evidence also provides clues for treating those who are affected by shocking stories in the media.
But first a little background. We have learned that trauma does not have to be physical to be harmful. Emotional trauma can disrupt the bridge between our immediate perceptions and our higher thought processes which allows us to interpret the meaning of our experiences. Without access to one's neo-cortex, a person is left with only the primitive amygdale to cope with stress and threats. Unlike the more advanced part of our brain, the amygdale's responses are limited to anger and fear, aggression and flight. In other words, a person who is overwhelmed by trauma experiences panic.
The key to dealing with a PTSD reaction is to calm the panic and restore the neuro-pathways to the parts of our brain which can think and accurately assess the seriousness of the immediate perceptions and discern from prior experience what response should be made.
Fortunately, there are several effective tools anyone can employ to reduce the disruptive impact of panic reactions. Here is a brief list of things to try ( in addition to the obvious limiting your exposure to disturbing content) if you are having problems coping with the news:
1) Don't forget to breathe: When things are out of control, it is important to remember that our rate and depth of breathing is something tghat we can control. In most cases, slowing down our breathing rate and taking in deeper breaths along with slowly and completely exhaling can provide instant relief from panicky sensations.
2) Writing in a journal: Putting into words and describing in the unpleasantness that you are going through shifts the locus of brain activity from the feeling to the thinking part. This shift reduces the intensity of the dysphoria and helps provide a larger and less threatening perspective. It is so effective that the U.S. military uses this technique for its men and women who have undergone traumatic stress.
3) Meditate: Providing brief breaks for you brain, during which time all demand or problem based activity ( thinking , problem solving, worrying over unsolved challenges) ceases , has been shown to heal broken connections and restore more rational thought. (We will talk more about meditation in a future post.)
4. Exercise: Sustained movement (and it doesn't have to be complicated or gym related) which gets your heart-rate into the aerobic zone for twenty minutes releases endorphins which are group of hormones/neurotransmitters which provides an analgesic effect and contributes to a sense of a wellness and well-being .
5. Talk about it with a therapist: If unpleasant or interfering symptoms persist for more than two weeks, find therapist to talk to. Research shows that the area of the brain, the hippocampus, which
among other things converts short-term into long-term memories, helps us to sort out and compare recent experiences with old , is often damaged by emotional trauma. Verbal therapies are very effective in causing traumatized and shrunken areas of the hippocampus to return to their normal size and functioning.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 6 16 2017
Understanding the Parallels between Biblical and Psychological Wisdom
Some time ago (12/4/2016)), I addressed some of the misconceptions folks had about Pastoral Counseling. Today I'd like to give three examples of how Pastoral Counseling uses similarities between Biblical wisdom and modern psychology to help their clients. Old stories from childhood can sometimes help bridge the gap between the familiar concepts of faith and the strange and unaccustomed language of psychotherapy. Indeed there are profound similarities between a biblical and a psychological point of view in three important areas: Anxiety , Reality Testing and Detachment.
Many suffer from the anxiety caused by an obsessive-compulsive disorder but the very terms used to describe this emotional problem can be off-putting and even scary. For those people of faith who are familiar with the Bible ,however, the story of Mary and Martha (Mt. 10.38-42) not only provides an excellent description of what an anxiety /obsessive/compulsive disorder looks and feels like but it does it in a way that is non-threatening and understandable.
Talking about Martha's worry and crippling inability to simply be present and enjoy Jesus's presence in her home, is a situation with which many can identify with and relate to. Likewise, Jesus', addressing her and identifying her anxiety , literally, gives her permission and reassurance that she does not have to worry and that it is okay for her to relax and be with her guest as her sister Mary can. In addition to offering reassurance to Martha, the story also help us to understand that underneath Martha's rude or angry behavior is a painful anxiety.
Many people have trouble making decisions and are plagued with self-doubt and confusion knowing what to believe, especially when they have strange or destructive impulses and thoughts. Indeed an important technique of cognitive therapy which has become a fundamental tool in psychotherapy is to be aware of our thoughts and to reality test-them before acting on them.
Thousands of years ago, Paul provides some similar advice for in his first letter to the Thessalonians (5.19-21). At the time, many Christians were filled with the spirit (or at least believed that they were) and it was causing a practical problem for worship services. So many people wished to speak that worship could go on for four or five hours.
Paul in striking a balance noted that, people would neither despise prophesying nor quench the spirit but ... he also added, that they should test everything. Again, for someone who comes from a religious background, the notion of testing the spirit is more graspable than the somewhat cold notion of reality-testing. The lesson is the same however: Just because a person feels or thinks something strongly does not mean that it is truth or helpful. Carefully examining thoughts in the context of logic and known facts it a good way to sort out that which can be trusted.
Finally, many families are plagued with the problems of addiction and co-dependency and while the notion of detachment is recommended to protect family member from the abuse of those who refuse treatment, many Christians feel guilty or that detaching is cruel or worry what will happen to their loved one if they don't enable their addiction and go along with their manipulations. Some believe that their faith requires them to accept and endure outrageous behavior.
In sharp contrast to this belief the story of the Prodigal Son ( Luke 5.11-32) provides an excellent example of a loving father who nonetheless is able to completely detach from his renegade son. It also models how a parent can love and welcome their child back after s/he had come into his mind and returns having really changed and asking for forgiveness.
These are but a few examples of how old and familiar bible stories can help those of faith approach and understand psychological problems and psycho-therapeutic concepts. Most of all it is important to understand that the life of faith is not in competition or conflict with science and psychotherapy but that the two can work together and mutually enhance our understanding of life and our world .
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 5 31 017
Appreciating the Emotional Complexity of Mother's Day
Mother's Day is that time of year when we honor and express our gratitude to our moms. It is a time to remember all of the sacrifice and love that was show to us and to shown how much we appreciate it. Cards and flowers, family dinners and trips to nice restaurants are just a few of the ways we try to express our love and gratitude.
That said, it is important to remember that Mother's Day isn't the same for everyone. While joyful gratitude comes naturally for those whose mothers who were loving and who are alive, the experience can quite be different for those whose mothers have died or for those whose mothers were absent, neglectful or abusive. Even those with great moms also have felt emotional wounds which complicate things.
Further, the happy-happy-happy emphasis of the media and the flower and greeting card industry make a it difficult to deal with any feelings that are other than joyful. Indeed, the mother-child relationship, no matter its obvious quality, is an emotionally complicated one. Nonetheless, whatever your situation, or experience with your mom, Mother's Day can be an opportunity to seriously reflect about your life and the help you have received along the way.
For those who have lost their moms, Mother's Day a time of grieving but also a time to look at photos and remember wonderful times and moments and the life lessons learned. For those who didn't have the blessing of a loving mom, it is a time to acknowledge and give thanks for those people, whatever their gender or age or relationship who have loved and supported you through the years. Our families may not have looked like or been a Norman Rockwell painting, but we all have persons who have been there for us and made an important difference in our lives.
Mother's Day, in this larger sense, is about appreciating those who have nurtured us and helped us in growing up and along the way after. May this day be a time for remembering all of the help we have had in our life and for appreciating the importance of nurturing one another throughout life's journey.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 5 14 2017
Redefining Mental Heatlh: The Struggle to be Reasonable
Since May is Mental Health Awareness month, I have to ask : How mindful are you about mental health ? or, What does it mean to be mentally healthy?
While understanding has grown and attitudes have improved over the years, there are still some misconceptions which linger concerning psychological disorders and emotional health which create confusion and unnecessary fears. One such myth is the notion that those who have emotional problems are “different” from you and me.
Perhaps part of the problem stems from the bifurcated way we have come to think about mental health and mental illness, i.e. that one is either sane or insane (psychotic) . The very fear and stigma of insanity has caused many folks to avoid seeking help or even talking about anything to do with psychological problems. In fact, while there are rare psychotic disorders, most of the folks who suffer from emotional difficulties are quite sane.
New brain research has shown emotional problems are much more fluid than previously recognized and that emotional trauma can disrupt neuro-pathways and interfere with our ability to be logical and use good judgment. These findings have implications for the way we understand and conceptualize psychological disorders. Rather than seeing mental illness in a static way or in either-or terms, a better way to conceptualize and measure mental health is to see it on a continuum which runs from complete rationality on one end of the spectrum to complete irrationality on the other. Mental health and illness, then, may be seen as relative and contextual notions wherein healthier means more rational and ill means less rational.
The advantage of this model is that it recognizes and expresses the important fact that folks who suffer from mental disorders are not a separate or inferior class of people. We all have moments when we may become unreasonable. The key distinction for determining mental health or illness is how much and for how long the irrationality is present and to what degree it interferes with the person's (or another's) life. Indeed, most of us live somewhere on the continuum where no one is completely rational or irrational. Mental health, understood this way, is winning the struggle to be reasonable and resisting the pull of irrationality.
The aim of Mental Health Awareness Month is to increase understanding and discussion as well as to reduce embarrassment, fear and the stigma concerning psychological health and its disorders. Realizing that mental health is goal for which each one of us strives but that no one perfectly achieves expresses the universal challenge all humans face - to be reasonable in our approach to life.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, FEllow A.A.P.C. 5/02/2017
Judgers and Perceivers:
In coming to Jugders (Js) and Perceivers (Ps) we have arrived at the fourth axis on which the Meyers-Briggs personality grid is built and it is one of the most difficult style contrasts to resolve interpersonally.
Js, like Ts, believe that there is only one correct way to proceed in any given situation and are quick to act. Ps, on the other hand, look at a situation from different angles and perspectives and need more time to reflect on how to proceed. Ps believe that what is right varies depending on the perspective one has and depending upon where one stands to view it. Thus, Js tend to have more problems getting along in situations where there are many different cultures or perspectives represented.
Js ,like Ts, have trouble reflecting or condidering other points of view when they are clear what the right course is. They believe that the truth or what is right is absolute and does not depend on context or cultural norms.
Ps, on th other hand, often have trouble making decisions because they can become paralyzed with the different ways to understand a situation. In society we need a balance between those who can be decisve and those who are reflective.
Interpersonally, Js and Ps often hook up and their peronality differneces can be a source of considerable strife and irritation.
It is important for the P in the relationship to be assertive and set clear boundaries which the J must learn to respect. The P needs to communicate that his/her point of view must be honored equally with the Js and taken into full account along with the J's when decisions are made.
As with all personality type differences, it is very important andhelpful for Js and Ps to be aware of each other's distinctions which can serve as a starting point for understanding problems and finding workable solutions. With practice the clashes between personality styles can be reduced and mutual understanding and respect can be attained.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 4 2 2017
Communication Tip # 6 : Understanding the Differences between Thinkers and Feelers
In continuing our theme of improving communication skills, we come to the third axis of the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator scheme: Thinking (T) and Feeling (F). T/F is the only indicator in which gender seems to be determinative. 75% of men are Ts and 75% of women are Fs.
Thinkers are concerned with being accurate and getting things right. The facts are their first priority and, thus, Ts are not afraid to debate or argue point which which they feel is important .
Feelers , on the other hand are empathic and are sensative to the impact of a statement or position has on others. Their concern is for the feeings of others and that folks can get along.
Communication conflicts can arise between Ts and Fs when their primary perspectives and concerns are not up front and visible. It is important the Ts understand that Fs have a different value system and the Fs understand the same. Specifically, it is important that Ts and Fs understand the difference they each place on the two issues of factual accuracy and maintaining social harmony.
For example , at a party two guys may get into it over who was a better ball player and argue strenuously, while all the while, their wives may be rolling their eyes, concerned that their debate may spoil the party for everyone else.
Sometimes accuracy is absolutely necessary and sometimes it is not. Good communicators are able to discuss the relative significance and what is most needed in the moment , i.e. either struggling over a point to be right or letting it go to get along.
Frustrating conflicts are more easily resolved when the underlying conflict between a T's and and F's perspective is acknowledged and understood. It is important that each perspective be respected before a calming solution can be found.
Rev. Michael Heath LMHC, Fellow A..A.P.C. 3/19/2017
With acknowledgement to www.marissabaker.wordpres.com for image.
Communication tip #5 : Understanding iNtuitive and Sensate Personality Differences
Another common communication snag results from personality-style clashes which Myers – Briggs classifies as iNtuitives (N) and Sensors (S). Briefly, Intuitives are folks who think in abstractions and generalities and anticipate and plan for the future. They see patterns and like to connect the dots. On the other hand, Sensing individuals are keenly perceptive and detail oriented. They are focused on immediate and present experience. As we have written before, neither style is better than the other. We needs both qualities in our society but Ns do suffer more from anxiety and Ss from depression.
It is important to understand how these two perspectives interface because, when these different styles are not appreciated or recognized, their clashing can lead to misunderstandings and interpersonal conflict . Fortunately, there are some helpful tips that can prevent unnecessary frustration. Here are a few examples of common N/S misunderstandings:
1. Ns love to look ahead and plan. They anticipate and get excited at the thought of experiencing the future – like an upcoming vacation. They pack well in advance and think about the smallest detail of a trip.
On the other hand, Ss are in the moment and take in the details of experience. They go with the flow and let experience come to them. These variances can result in relational misunderstandings. For example, a hubby who is an N and has been planning a trip for weeks may become discouraged because wifey, who is an S, does not seem to show the same level of enthusiasm or excitement as he does toward their getaway.
The problem is not that she doesn’t care but that her perceptional set doesn’t allow her to experience the anticipated event in advance. Solution : Be aware that we do not all experience life in the same way and don’t assume that one’s level of immediate enthusiasm is an accurate reading of how much your partner will enjoy your trip. Adjust your expectations accordingly to fit your partner’s personality style.
2. In caring about particulars , Ss are interested in concrete facts and details while Ns are concerned more about the overall conclusion. This difference about what is important can lead to frustration and conflict.
Many years ago, after a 20 minute phone conversation with an old friend, my wife, who exhibits S tendencies, asked me , “How was Craig?” - To which I answered, “Fine.” My wife took offense and felt that I was putting her off and was unwilling to talk to her about what was said during our phone call.
From my point of view, my response reflected what I thought. There was no illness or difficulties shared. Everything was fine. Nonetheless my wife wanted details and wanted them now. To avoid future misunderstandings, I learned to remember that particulars were important to her and did not make the same mistake a second time.
Not assuming that you and your partner or workmate or boss think the same way and taking time to understand how they perceive life events can go a long way towards avoiding misunderstanding and conflicts in everyday life.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC, Fellow A.A.P.C. 3/4/2017
Communication Tip # 4: Understanding the differences between Extroverts and Introverts
A common communication problem arises when an unaware extrovert talks to an unaware introvert. Neuro-science has revealed that there are organic differences in the way information is processed in the brain which can result in communication problems and misunderstandings. (See illustration above.)
For example, when an extrovert, who typically not only loves to talk but also learns through conversation, talks to an introvert, who does not like to talk and learns by mulling things over in his/her mind privately, s/he can flood the introvert with too much information. The person who is being overstimulated can come across as disinterested or not paying attention or even irritated when, in fact, his/her circuits are simply overloaded.
Fortunately, there are some simple tips to overcome this processing mismatch which help avoid confusion and conflicts.
1) Be aware of differences. Not everyone thinks or processes like you do.
2) Know what you are. Are you more Extroverted or Introverted ?
3) If you are an Extrovert and are having problems with someone who may be introverted --
Be considerate and think or write about what you want to say before actually saying it. If the communication is important you may want to send a written summary of your thoughts to the other person in advance so that they may have time to process and digest the message.
4) If you are an Introvert -
Be aware of becoming overwhelmed before you reach your limit and let the other person know that you need a break to think things over before continuing.
With a little practice, assertiveness and consideration, you will find that folks with whom you used to have difficulty communicating are no longer a problem. Knowing your own information-processing style and respecting folks whose style is different than yours can go along way to improving the way we talk with one another and get along.
Rev. Michael Heath, LMHC , Fellow A.A.P.C. 2 21 2017