Blog & Video Archives

Past Bridge Street Mental Health segment with accompanying text.

Christianity, Sex & Shame

Christianity, Sex & Shame

Recently, I wrote about the problem of false guilt and shame which can interfere with a person’s ability to think clearly and relate rationally to others.  False Guilt and Shame | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

Today I want to talk about shame and guilt about sex and the major source of these destructive feelings, i.e.  traditional religious teachings about sex and pleasure.  Over the centuries, traditional Roman Catholic and Protestant doctrines have caused of a lot of needless stress.  And, as hard as it is to believe, they continue to be a source of pain for many.

From a psychological point of view, traditional Christian beliefs viewed normal sexual feelings to be in conflict with God’s law and, therefore, sinful.  Thus, lacking positive teachings about sex, natural desires evoked feelings of sinfulness and even self-hatred. 

Those who suffer with this conflict need to know that this antipathy was not always the case.  It is important to understand the evolution of Christian thought and how the delights of sex found in Song of Solomon were squelched and replaced with negative views.

While complex, two major developments are largely responsible for this change:  1) apocalyptic expectations. and 2) The disappointment of those expectations experienced by the delay of the Jesus’ 2nd coming (the Parousia). Let me explain,

read more
The Internet and Addiction

The Internet and Addiction

I recently wrote about how the advent of internet pornography had made raising children much more difficult for parents. ON PORN AND PARENTING | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)   

Today, I want to discuss how frequent internet activity triggers dopamine release in the brain and may lead to addiction. Specifically, I will explain how excessive time on a smart-phone use can hook its unsuspecting users .

Although addiction is an age-old problem, smart-phone technology presents a new risk .  Research has confirmed the problem that parents and unhappy spouses have struggled with for years: How to get members of their family to put their phones down?

To better grasp the risk that smart phones pose for addiction we need to understand 1) Some basic neuro-chemistry.  Particularly how dopamine creates addictive behaviors. 2) How folks can become addicted to their smart phones. 3) How to tell if someone is addicted to their phone. and 4) Successful treatment strategies for smart-phone addiction.

read more
ON PORN AND PARENTING

ON PORN AND PARENTING

Few would disagree that omnipresent internet pornography harms children and poses a difficult challenge for parents. That said, many who oppose it don’t understand the real damage that it does.  Worse, many of the common approaches exacerbate the problem or interfere with open communication .

Although internet porn has been around for over twenty-five years, we are now just beginning to understand how it impacts a child’s social and psychological development. To be clear, internet porn is more difficult to deal with than pornography from an earlier era. The Impact of Internet Pornography on Adolescents: A Review of the Research: Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity: Vol 19, No 1-2 (tandfonline.com)

In response, I want to examine the problem and provide some help for parents. Specifically, I want to:
— Explain why internet pornography is different from earlier X-rated materials.
— Dispel some common myths about pornography.
— Clarify how internet pornography is harmful for young children and teens.
— Debunk popular approaches to dealing with porn which do not work. and
— Offer a rational approach for teaching children about porn on the internet.

read more
Before Seeing a Therapist

Before Seeing a Therapist

Recently, I received a questionnaire from my new doctor in advance of my annual wellness exam and this got me to thinking: Why not do the same for my new clients ? 

In the past I’ve written a number of articles which try to explain what counseling is. Becoming Reasonable: Updating our Notions of Mental Health and Counseling. (revmichaelheath.com)  Likewise, there are many books and articles which explain what to expect from counseling but not a lot which help you to mentally prepare for your first session. –What to Expect from Therapy | JED (jedfoundation.org)   Many wonder if it is okay to just show up? 

Although many folks do come in for their first session unrehearsed, I have found, over the years, that it’s helpful for a client to take a little time before the first appointment and ask themselves some basic questions about what it is that is bothering them. 

So, today’s segment is just that, some things for folks to consider who have never gone to counseling before and who are a little uncertain about how to proceed.  After all, it is intimidating to sit down with a complete stranger and talk about personal and even embarrassing problems. How does one begin ? 

Reflecting on what’s bothering you not only helps to calm the jitters but it also can provide an important context from which the issue emerged.  This wider perspective is necessary for the counselor to accurately assess and treat what is of concern to you.

Here are some questions to ask yourself which can help you clarify / communicate your experience to your counselor and help you get started: 

read more
Religious Talk in Therapy

Religious Talk in Therapy

There was a very interesting article in the Washington Post recently about how more and more therapists were opening their counseling approach to include religious beliefs and concerns. More psychotherapists are incorporating religion into their practices – The Washington Post    

As a pastoral counselor, I wish to applaud this development and make some observations that I have learned over the past forty-five years of practice. Pastoral Counseling ? | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

First off, it is important acknowledge and to understand why religious language has been a problem for some therapists in the past.   Even though cultural sensitivity and inclusiveness has increased toward race, gender and sexuality, spirituality has been neglected.  One reason stems from the fact that American culture is predominantly secular.  For example, in contrast to the ancient Europe,  Americans build sports stadia and skyscrapers, not cathedrals. Statistically, fewer people now worship than ever before in America (less than 50%).

Another contributing factor to psychotherapy’s awkwardness towards spirituality is psychology’s open hostility to religion. For example, Freud skeptically referred to it as “mass hysteria”. 

Not surprisingly, therapists tend to be less religious than the general population. Many openly acknowledge feeling awkward when encountering clients who espouse a faith or employ religious language when explaining their concerns.
Psychology’s antipathy to religion is not a secret. Not surprisingly, many clients report feeling self-conscious about their faith and sometimes are reluctant to speak of their spiritual concerns in therapy for fear of appearing “religious”. 

All of this notwithstanding, it is important that clients and therapists, alike, understand that neither needs to be uncomfortable when discussing matters of spiritual or religious content. It is my belief that much of the tension between psychology and religion stems from a fundamental confusion about their roles.   

read more
WHY DO MEN CHEAT ?

WHY DO MEN CHEAT ?

Why do men cheat ?

I suppose, to be fair, that one should ask why do people cheat. That said, statistics show that, after the age of 25, men do tend to be more unfaithful to their spouses than women.   And, as we age, the disparity increases.  After age 60, the percentage of women’s extra-marital activity begins to decline while men’s continues to increase until age 70.

Gender differences aside, the real question is: Why is it so difficult for people to be faithful to one another in marriage ?  While the question is complicated, there are some things that we do know. 

First. there is no one reason that people have affairs.  Some folks have a trauma-based sexual compulsion. Others, use sexual conquests to calm anxiety issues, similar to the way some use alcohol, drugs, gambling etc. Still others have affairs out of sheer boredom or lack of meaning in their lives or relationship.

Apart from these general distinctions, there is a myth which confuses our understanding of affairs. Many folks believe that sex is the prime reason people cheat. While the thrill of new sexual experience is a part of the attraction of affairs, research shows that that sex is not the primary motivation.  Why do People Cheat Even When in Happy Relationships? (simplepractice.com) Let me explain why:

read more
False Guilt and Shame

False Guilt and Shame

Psychologists write a lot about guilt and shame. Shame vs. Guilt – Brené Brown (brenebrown.com) False guilt and trauma induced shame are two of the most emotionally destructive experiences felt by clients and challenging for therapists to treat. 

Despite their notoriety, folks often confuse their meaning. Guilt-Tripping and Emotional Manipulation | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  For example, it is common for people to use the terms interchangeably.  In fact, their meanings are quite different. 

Today, we’ll highlight the differences between guilt and shame and suggest ways to deal with and reduce their impact.

read more
WHAT IS LOVE ?

WHAT IS LOVE ?

Has there ever been a word more written about than love ?  

Everyone seeks it. Most folks think they know what it is. But, ironically, couples often worry about if they are loved or if they are able to love .

Over the centuries, no one has improved on what St. Paul had to say about love in I Corinthians 13.4-7 (rsv) :

”  Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; 5 it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6 it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. 7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

St. Paul is clear about what love (agape) is in relation to a friend or neighbor. However, when love is understood in the context of marriage, it is a little more complicated.  The intimacy of a committed adult relationship adds the elements of sexual passion and desire.  Navigating and balancing concerns for one’s beloved and for oneself own can be challenging and confusing. Is It Love or Chemistry? Tips for knowing when real love comes along. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) To make matters even worse for couples , many of the romantic myths, found in popular literature and media, have created unrealistic expectations about relationships which distort many folks’ understanding of love. Here is an approach that can help us to sort it all out . 

read more
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:

read more
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,

read more
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.

read more
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.  

read more
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.

read more
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:  

read more
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.

read more

2016

2015

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

 

2012

Flirting with Your Spouse

 

2011

Call – 315.380.1005

Rev. Heath Can Help!

Individual Counseling

Depression

Anxiety

Obsessions / Compulsions 

PTSD 

Grieving & Loss

Spiritual Confusion

Loss of Faith

Stress Management

Anger Management

Poor Self Esteem

Assertiveness

Anger Management

Pornography/Alcohol / Substance Abuse

Couples Counseling

Realistic Expectations

Conflict Resolution

Poor Communication

Sex

Infidelity

Recovery from Affairs

Lack of Desire

Sexless Marriage 

Pornography

Sexual Abuse

Lack of Desire

Separation / Divorce

Parenting Issues

In-law/Family Problems

Blog & Video Archives

Click here for my recent and past Mental Health postings.