Blog & Video Archives

Past Bridge Street Mental Health segment with accompanying text.

Stigma and Depression

Stigma and Depression

There is good news for those who worry about the stigma associated with mental health.

The amount of stigma surrounding counseling is much less than it used to be.  When I first started counseling in the late 70s, some men would not schedule appointments during daylight hours for fear of being seen going to a counselor’s office.

Although attitudes have improved, many people still view getting help with emotional problems as embarrassing or even shameful. In large part, this discomfort is due to certain lingering myths about mental health. Common myths created misunderstandings about psychological disorders and their treatment. Here are some common notions which are misleading and or false:

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988 IS NOW OPEN !

988 IS NOW OPEN !

Have you heard about 988 ? This national service begins today (July 16th 2022) !

In the wake of so many unsettling events, the need for increased mental health services has never been greater. To this end, access to the national mental health hot-line has been simplified to a new 988 number,

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What ? Sex Toys ?

What ? Sex Toys ?

Sex toys ? Why would a pastoral counselor want to talk about sex toys ?  Perhaps providing some context would help.
 Being Sex Positive
An important theme throughout my career has been to allay the false guilt and shame engendered by religion and our sexist culture. My goal has been, and continues to be, to promote positive attitudes about sex.  That is, as young folks say, to be sex-positive.
Religious and Cultural Bias

First, it needs to be understood that being sex-positive flies in the face of thousands of years of religious and cultural bias.

To be sex-positive, one must feel free to have sex just for its pleasure.  While this view may seem obvious, for many, it’s not.  For many, especially older folks, enjoying sex is complicated. A cloud hangs over the notion that sex can be enjoyed just for fun.  Hedonistic enjoyment is suspect and guilt ridden.  That’s because religion has often portrayed sex in a quasi-sacred way that confusingly combines erotic experience with the spiritual mystery of procreation. 

Indeed, traditional religious beliefs have negatively influenced our culture’s attitudes toward sex.  Condemning normal practices like masturbation as sinful has created unnecessary guilt and shame for older generations. masturbation | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

Pernicious Myths Ignore Single People and Older Adults

The indisputable fact is that conservative Christianity is and always has been uncomfortable with sex. (See St. Augustine) It sees it primarily as the means for procreation. (See Thomas Acquinas) In doing so it refuses to acknowledge the legitimacy of sex simply for pleasure or outside of the bonds of marriage.

As a result, the church’s outlook toward sex ignores and fails all single folks and seniors who are beyond child-bearing years.  Further, through its silence, the church implicitly promotes false notions about sex and aging.

For example: we are led to believe that sexual interest wanes with age and becomes less and less important the older you get. In fact, barring serious medical limitations, interest and enjoyment of sex is a lifelong entitlement which actually can increase over the years.

That said, aging does change certain things about the way folks can have sex. The loss of flexibility or increased discomfort may require that some things be done differently.  Unfortunately, this general discomfort with sex prevents many couples from even talking about sex much less exploring new, more adaptive and exciting sexual possibilities.

What about Sex Toys ?

All of this brings us to sex toys and a recent article in Slate online.

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Marital Mindfulness

Marital Mindfulness

You may know that the term mindfulness is very popular among psychologists, therapists and the self-help crowd.  However, you may not have realized that marital mindfulness is important for improving initmate relations.   

Certainly, the institutions of marriage and family have undergone dramatic changes over the past decades.  And it is true that the divorce rate has consistently dropped as the average age of those marry has risen.

Indeed, being older and more mature helps couples to negotiate the challenges of a partnership. Millennials Are Causing the U.S. Divorce Rate to Plummet – Bloomberg That said, over the past 50 years, other cultural shifts have made sustaining marriage more difficult, now than in the past.  

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Being Present

Being Present

I was recently in a seminar on polyvagal theory (Being Polyvagal: The Polyvagal Theory Explained – Windhorse Integrative Mental Health – Windhorse Integrative Mental Health (windhorseimh.org) and trauma when I was struck by how much the science which informs our understanding of psychological disorders has changed over the years.

As I look back to when I first began training in 1978, it is obvious that recent advances in neuro-biology have been extraordinary. In short, we have gone from thinking of emotional problems as originating in the brain to understanding that, in most cases, environmental trauma is the culprit.  Indeed trauma damages the brain, specifically the vagal nervous system and hippocampus.

Nonetheless, scientific progress and innovative therapeutic techniques notwithstanding, the basic goal of psychotherapy has remained the same: To help people live more rationally in the present.  Becoming Reasonable: Updating our Notions of Mental Health and Counseling. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

Today, while the expressions of ” being present “or “living in the  present” are widely used in the media and promoted by mental health professionals, How to Live in the Moment: 35+ Tools to Be More Present (positivepsychology.com) , what it actually means to live in the present is sometimes confusing.

Basically, being present means being able to be attentive to and to be aware of our own immediate experience. When our focus is on the present, we are then able to fully engage with others.  While it sounds simple, many people have a hard time being present.  With that in mind, there are two obstacles which prevent us from being emotionally  present.

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BAD IDEAS ABOUT GOOD SEX

BAD IDEAS ABOUT GOOD SEX

It’s no surprise that most people want to have “good sex”.  Unfortunately, many people report that they are not having it. 

Over the years, I have found that, even among highly educated folks, much is lacking with respect to their understanding of sex and intimacy. 10 Myths About Sex That Many Adults Still Believe | HuffPost Life

Indeed, our culture is saturated with misinformation and myths which have created unrealistic notions and expectations of what good sex is or what is needed to have it. Intimate Communication: Tips for Talking to your Partner about Sex | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  Indeed, unrealistic expectations about sex are the biggest obstacle to erotic bliss.

Therefore, let’s look at some of the bad ideas about good sex and debunk them with facts and accurate information:  

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Pastoral Counseling ?

Pastoral Counseling ?

Recently I was asked to do an interview to explain what pastoral counseling is. I was glad to talk to the reporter because, over the years, I have found that many people are confused by the term.

Of course, folks know what the words pastoral and counseling mean. The problem is that, when taken together to designate a therapeutic approach, the meaning isn’t clear.

For example, ministers, rabbis and imam’s provide religious counsel for their followers. Also, non-psychologically based efforts such Christian or Bible-based counseling offer services for a fee.

Perhaps the lack of understanding stems from the fact that, when compared in size with other counseling professions like social work or psychologists, the number of pastoral counselors is relatively small.   Nonetheless, I believe that pastoral counseling brings an important perspective to psychotherapy which is particularly relevant in today’s over-stressed world.

Therefore, to really understand what pastoral counseling is, two myths about it must be debunked, i.e. that it is directive/judgmental and  that it is only for “religious” clients.  Knowing what pastoral counseling is not , we can better appreciate what it is.  Specifically, pastoral counseling has two unique and distinguishing characteristics:1) its integrative world view and 2) its training requirements.

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The Slap: Why we “lose it”

The Slap: Why we “lose it”

Actor Will Smith stunned America when he slapped comedian Chris Rock during the Oscars and both the news and social media went wild.  Reactions to the incident ran the entire gamut from praise to disgust. Some saw it as a chivalrous act. Others viewed it as a disgusting example of toxic masculinity. Still others felt is was evidence of mental condition.    CNN+ | Interview Club | Interview – Why the Oscars Altercation Between Will Smith and Chris Rock Was Such a Trigger

As a therapist I help people learn to control their dysfunctional impulses,  It would be helpful to learn from this unfortunate incident and clear up some fundamental misunderstandings about anger.  This event can be an opportunity to shed light on the serious but misunderstood societal problem of poor impulse control.

With respect to Will Smith, there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. What he did was wrong and unacceptable on so many levels. In addition, the audience’s calm reaction to it all demonstrates that the problem is much greater than the act of an individual.  The whole situation is a glaring and a sad commentary about how callous and insensitive our culture has become to aggressive behavior.

To be clear, my concern, here, is neither to judge nor defend the man but to explain the psychology of impulsive behavior.  Indeed, it must  be acknowledged that. under the right circumstances, any one of us is capable of a similar reaction. Rather than seeing this as  Will Smith’s problem, it is more helpful to view it as a human problem. That is, I want to explain how impulse control issues are rooted in the fundamental structure  of our brain.  Here are a couple of basic facts which debunk some common myths about anger:

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On Feeling Overwhelmed

On Feeling Overwhelmed

Given the Ukranian situation, skyrocketing gas prices and COVID, many folks are feeling overwhelmed.  If you are one of those folks, it is important to understand that there is nothing is wrong with you for feeling over-stressed. 

Of course, feeling over-stressed is nothing new.  Indeed, human beings have always had emotional limits. Fortunately, there are many resources available online to help you cope.

To help you sort through them all, here is a summary of what you need to know about feeling overwhelmed and what to do about it:

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On Leisure & Mental Health

On Leisure & Mental Health

I try to practice what I preach.  And so, as I am currently on vacation, today’s segment is on the importance of leisure for mental health. Indeed, leisure activity does not command the respect that it deserves.

Unfortunately, for too many people, leisure’s health benefits are neither appreciated nor understood.  Too many think of vacationing time as an unnecessary luxury or, worse, as wasting time.  Think leisure is a waste? That may not bode well for your mental health — ScienceDaily

Today I want to debunk some of the myths concerning leisure and explain why leisure activity, is so essential for brain health and emotional well-being.

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On Romantic Love

On Romantic Love

Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and romance.  Unfortunately, many of the popular beliefs confuse romantic love with true and enduring love. 

Typically, romantic notions of true love mistake the magical feeling of infatuation with sustainable love.  This conflation comes from classic literature’s portrayal of idealized courtly love. You know, the intoxicating experience of star-crossed lovers such as Romeo and Juliet.  Sadly, these stories distort our understanding of what real love is. Worse, they have created unrealistic expectations for those who marry.

Today we are going to debunk at some common myths about love and, instead, provide some helpful suggestions to keep love alive.

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Vulnerability and Romance

Vulnerability and Romance

With Valentiane’s Day fast approaching , people’s minds turn to love and romance. As marriage counselor, I am struck by number of relationships which suffer from a romantic deficit.  Ironically, despite modern culture’s emphasis on sex, physical intimacy is a serious problem for many couples.  While there are many how-to books and blogs created to help folks increase romance5 Ways to Rekindle Romance in Your Marriage  and  spice-up a flagging sex-life A Valentine’s Day Primer for Couples who want more Romance in their Marriage . | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  , an important but much overlooked area of concern is a couple’s ability to be vulnerable with one another.

Vulnerability is a physical or emotional state of being exposed. Communicating your vulnerability means to talk about and admit your fears, weaknesses and confusion.  Intimacy means to know the other person deeply. One can’t really know the other person without knowing their vulnerabilities.  Thus, communicating one’s vulnerability is an essential part of an intimate relationship.  In order for a person to expose their vulnerable issues requires that both persons feel safe from attack and trust that each is being honest about their feelings. Letting your partner know when you are feeling weak or scared or confused, signals them that you are not threatening and that you’re being honest.

Today, let’s look at:  1) Some of the reasons why people have trouble being vulnerable with one another and 2) Steps that you can take to make sharing anxious feelings easier.

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Grieving’s 6th Step

Grieving’s 6th Step

I’ve noticed that, as we start the new year in the midst of COVID, many folks are struggling with loss and grieving.  For some, the loss involves the death of family members or loved ones. For others, it has meant the loss of financial security. And, for others, COVID has meant the frustrations encountered in the loss of normalcy.

For many, the words grief and grieving are synonymous with the name Kubler-Ross and the five stages of grief.  Five Stages Of Grief – Understanding the Kubler-Ross Model (psycom.net)  What you might not be aware of are the important developments in grief research which have taken place over the past 40 years since Kluber-Ross’s publication.  This research has significantly advanced our understanding of the grieving process and revealed that there is yet another stage of the recovery process.

One important discovery explains how the grieving process ends. Rather than finishing with the 5th stage of acceptance, research has shown that folks who have reported successfully recovering from serious loss have reported finding a new purpose in their life which has given rise to hope and joy about the future.

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PLAN B for Lower Stress

PLAN B for Lower Stress

As we begin 2022, many turn their thoughts making new year’s resolutions. Helpful tips for making resolutions can be found everywhere, in special news reports, internet blogs and in the self-help section of bookstores.  7 Proven Steps to Set Achievable Resolutions – Life Leaders Institute    Indeed, over the years, I have also offered advice to help folks stick to their resolutions. Getting Real about New Year’s Resolutions: Some things to think about before making one. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  Today, however, due to COVID and other stressors, which have made 2021 so difficult and anxiety filled, I want to talk about a stress management/anxiety-lowering approach called Plan B. 

Feeling anxious is sometimes unavoidable. There is some stress which can’t be avoided because some aspects of life are out of our control,  However, even when things happen which are out of your control, it is possible, with some practice , to reduce our level of anxiety. Expectations, for example, are something that we can control and adjust with a little reflection.  When traveling unexpected problems like cancelled flights or rooms not being ready can cause emotional distress, if one, unrealistically, expects that things will go perfectly without a hitch.  Understanding how our brain reacts to surprises and having a Plan “B” to turn to when frustrations occur can dramatically lower our experience of anxiety. Here’s how it works:

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The Holiday Blues

The Holiday Blues

Let’s face it, for many folks, the holidays can be difficult.  Given the media pressure to be happy, it is tough to be blue during the holidays. Amid the hustle and bustle of Hanukkah and Christmas hype there are many folks for whom the season is not joyous or bright.  Adding to the normal strain, is the latest surge of COVID-19 and the new Omicron variant.

Although many of us look forward to Christmas as a time for gifts and to celebrate family and friends, there are many others for whom the occasion is difficult and even painful. Death , divorce, financial troubles , loneliness , depression and failing health are but a few of the reasons which keep many folks from experiencing the full joy of the holiday.  

While we can’t always make things all better when we encounter someone who is blue, being aware of his or her plight can help us to be more sensitive and compassionate in our interactions with them.  
It is important to remember that what folks who are blue really need during this painful time is empathy and understanding. Here are some tips to help you improve your empathy skills and to show more kindness and sensitivity to those you meet during this holiday season :

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2016

2015

Rekindling Passion: Part Two – The Secret to Re-igniting the Fames of Desire

 

2012

Flirting with Your Spouse

 

2011

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