Blog & Video Archives

Past Bridge Street Mental Health segment with accompanying text.

When Mother’s Day Is Not a Joyous Occasion.

For those who have recently lost their moms or for those who associate absence, neglect or other kinds of emotional trauma with their mothers, this holiday can be painful.

Apart from being aware of the fact that not everyone is excited about celebrating Mother’s Day, I wanted to share two thoughts.

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BREAKING THE ICE: 7 Tips to Improve Sexual Communication.

One of the most important emotional blessings of marriage is the experience of true intimacy and trust.  Good communication is essential for building the trust which is needed to deal with marital challenges and problems.  Knowing and understanding our partner’s feelings, opinions and preferences are necessary to resolve conflicts , negotiate compromises and to make joint decisions and future plans. Sexual communication is an important form of communication which is often overlooked and neglected.

While we do pretty well communicating when it’s about practical and mundane issues,  when it comes to sex, there can be a  problem.  Sex is a tricky thing and difficult for many folks to talk about. Many have misguided feelings of guilt which prevent them from speaking honestly about their feelings or desires.  Others think that  their wants or preferences are abnormal and are ashamed to reveal them. Still others avoid talking about their frustrations or conflicts with their partner because they are afraid of either hurting their partner’s feelings or being personally rejected.
Fortunately, with a little help and practice , overcoming one’s uneasiness with and aversion to talking about sex can be accomplished. Greater sharing can lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying relationship. Indeed, learning to speak openly and explicitly about sexual matters with one’s mate can be a deeply rewarding and intimacy-enriching experience.
If you or your partner feel stuck in this area or have trouble sharing feelings or concerns about sex, here are seven tips to help you to get started opening the lines of communication with one another :

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Easter as Psychological Metaphor: The Resurrection of Hope and Meaning.

Easter is almost here but, to be honest and especially under COVID restrictions, it is not what it used to be. Even so, it still important  even though this holiday means different things to different people.  For some, Easter is a celebration of the coming of Spring. For others, it is a playful time for children and their colored eggs and chocolate bunnies.  For Christians, it remains a time of spiritual renewal and remembering the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Still for many,  Easter has lost much of its spiritual meaning. Indeed, there is no denying that America is becoming less and less religious.  A recent Gallup poll found that, for the first time since it has been keeping data, fewer than 50% of Americans attend Church.  For many , the narrative of Jesus literally rising from the dead is an insurmountable obstacle.
Does this cultural shift and institutional decline mean that we have lost our ability to experience important spiritual dimensions of life ?

I don’t think so . I believe that form many the conceptual framework for experiencing spiritual matters has changed from supernatural representations to psychological ones . To the point, is it not necessary to suspend your belief in science to experience the full joy of Easter ? Likewise when holy scripture is interpreted metaphorically rather than literally or as a historical account, the full spiritual significance still shines through.

Easter may be understood as a spiritual/psychological metaphor which conveys, symbolically, the fundamental affirmation of faith.   Apart from the improbable literalism, the Easter story expresses a profound psychological journey which passes through the devastating  experience of loss to the joyous discovery of new life and meaning .  That said, I want explain how it is possible to celebrate Easter apart from either supernatural or nature-based interpretations,  i.e.  how to appreciate Easter without myth.

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The Atlanta Shooter and Psychologically Harmful Religion.

Many times the role of a pastoral counselor is to point out and lift up spiritual concerns hidden by cultural or psychological trappings. At other times, it is to call to task errors and abuses of religion which have gone astray and become abusive of mental health or to help those who have suffered abuse from harmful religious practices or clergy misconduct to heal. The latter is the nature of our discussion today.

The recent murder of Asian women in Atlanta has brought attention to the growing number of attacks against Asian-Americans. There is another aspect of this slaughter, however, which must not be overlooked : the harmful influence of the alleged shooter’s religion. More specifically, I believe that the conservative church’s teachings about sex and women played a significant part in the murderer’s enraged emotional state . The church’s ignorant and outdated attitudes about…

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Hope and Understanding for Sexless Marriages.

I don’t understand why but, recently, the number of sexless marriages reported by the couples I see is on the rise. Indeed, this lack of physical intimacy has becoming a major source of concern and even results in divorce for those who do not seek help. Having checked national statistics , as of 2019 as many as 15 to 20% of marriages surveyed are sexless. (A sexless marriage is one in which the couple reports having sex less than once a month,)   This statistic is shocking because , as little as ten years ago,  only 2 to 5 % of marriages  were classified as sexless. In addition, one wonders if the stressful effects of COVID-19 has made the percentage even higher.

Typically, there are always some couples who don’t have sex from time to time.  The most common reasons married people abstain  are obvious.  Stress from work, marital conflicts, exhaustion from raising children and work as well as…

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Alone on Valentine’s Day : Looking at your Outlook on Love

Depending on your romantic  situation, Valentine’s Day can mean dramatically different things.  For lovers and happily married folks, it can be a  joyful time to reflect on and express love and affection for one another.

However, this media-hyped day can be an excruciating and heartbreaking time for folks who have lost, are without partners or who are in the midst of relational strife or divorce.  Indeed, the plight of those who are lonely can be overlooked and ignored in the wake of the red-hearted deluge of the holiday.

We need to remember  that, for these folks, Valentine’s Day is at best awkward and at worst a painful reminder of loneliness, frustration, disappointment and loss.  Beyond the pain of being without or losing a loving partner is the destructive impact on one’s self-esteem . Unfortunately, partner-less and divorcing folks often blame themselves for their lack of romantic success and see themselves as defective or so damaged that they will always be alone.

While some folks do suffer from emotional issues which make sustaining intimate relationships difficult or problematic, that is not the case for most.  If you are bummed out on Valentine’s Day, here are some questions and tips to help you better understand the mystery of romance and improve your odds for finding love.

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The Secret to More Romance: THE FIVE SECOND KISS

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, our attention naturally turns to thoughts of love and romance. Ironically, despite all of the media hype advertisers place on it, many folks (especially women) report that real romance is in short supply in their relationships.  The stress and restrictions imposed by COVID-19 have made matters even worse.  That said, now is a good time to talk about romance and desire because there is good news for folks who want to rekindle their passion.

Kissing is one of the most often overlooked and undervalued gestures which will evoke romantic feelings between lovers. While couples report that they still kiss, they also report that kissing often has become almost perfunctory and has lost a  lot of its pizazz. This observation leads us to the title of this blog post: The Five Second Kiss. 

Doing more kissing for at least five seconds is a simple change that couples can do which will increase the amount of romance ( and mostly likely sex) in their relationship.   Once you give this a try, you will be amazed what a big difference such a simple thing like taking a little longer to kiss makes. It’s also great to learn that, for healthy relationships, even though romance has been neglected in the past, it’s never too late to get it back.  If you have a romance deficit and want to improve but aren’t sure what to do or feel a little awkward getting started , know that breaking the ice is the hardest part.  Here are some tips to help you get started.

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BABY STEPS : The Best Way to Make New Year’s Resolutions.

As we head toward the last week in January, it is important to realize that it is not too late to think about new year’s resolutions and deciding to make important changes and improvements in your life.   You know, things like losing weight, exercising more, not smoking and cutting down on drinking.

Sadly however, despite good intentions, many have trouble carrying through with their plans and are unable to achieve their goals.

Fortunately, there are things that one can do to improve one’s chances of succeeding. Specifically, Baby Steps is an excellent alternative to all or nothing thinking when trying to make life changes.

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The Psychological Importance of Prayer.

In the wake of news reports about the recent assault on the Capitol, many have been pushed to edge of their limits to cope. The level of violence and the intensity of the anger displayed in the videos reveals a shocking and dangerous segment of America which causes many to wonder if the center can hold.

In troubling times such as these, people throughout the ages have turned to prayer for emotional and spiritual support. For many in this science dominated world, however, the idea of praying to a god is archaic and has lost its meaning and power.

Some falsely believe that one needs to be “religious” to experience the power of prayer. I disagree. I firmly believe that the need to call out to the divine in times of distress is imprinted in our DNA regardless of one’s religious beliefs or lack thereof. Even those who are technologically advanced seem to possess a spiritual longing for transcendent meaning and reality. This fundamental curiosity and need for comfort and reassurance is deeply imbedded in human nature.

That said, prayer may have many meanings and forms. Prayer does not necessarily have to be conceived of as praying to a man with a long white beard who sits on a throne. Indeed, reality of the divine may be experienced in many ways just as the practice of prayer has many forms. Personally, psychology has been a powerful alternative to literalism which makes prayer meaningful for me. For many, psychology is the Rosetta Stone which translates eternal spiritual concepts into contemporaneously meaningful ideas and truths. Let me explain:

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5 Tips for Keeping your Brain “Sharp”.

As we begin a new year, rather than talk about resolutions and tips for keeping them as I have done over the past many years, I decided to do something different.  Upon turning 72 today, I decided to celebrate by sharing some new and truly significant research with you (especially for those older folks like me) about how to keep your brain young and to fight off dementia.

My inspiration and source for this segment is CNN’s chief medical consultant and neurosurgeon Sanjay Gupta, M.D. and his new book Keeping Sharp .  In it, Dr. Gupta provides not only a concise summary of practical information of how to stay mentally sharp but also offers new data which suggests lifestyle changes which can help fend off dementia and even reverse some of its effects. Here is a summary that I hope will get your new year off to a great start . Happy New Year ! 

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Coping with COVID, Depression and the Holidays

Where to begin ?  2020 has been an absolutely horrible year for so many with increased social and racial tensions, violence, economic ruin, sickness and death all under the never ending threat of the COVID virus.  Indeed, these have been depressing times.  Worse, the unexpectedly long duration of this plague has worn down the our resolve and exhausted our energy and dampened the joy of the holiday for many .  This year  depression is not simply a clinical diagnosis. For many it is a daily reality. 

Nonetheless, the end of the year has brought signs of hope.  We have new president who acknowledges the reality of the viral threat and is committed to waging a vigorous and unified attack against the disease. Most importantly, the arrival of effective vaccines will mean that the end of the devastation and death is in the foreseeable future.

Whether you suffer from depression which pre-existed COVID or whether life over the past few months has simply become too much, here are some tips to help you cope with the holidays and make it to the new year:

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How to talk ,not fight, about jealousy .

While good communications and the ability to talk to one another is the cornerstone of solid marriages and relationships, one issue  which has  proven to challenge even the best communicators is jealously.  Jealousy is the green demon which exacerbates self-doubt about one’s own value and increases suspicion and paranoia about the behavior of one’s mate. There is something in human nature which is inherently insecure and threatened by the reality or even the thought that one’s mate is interested in or attracted to another.   Shakespeare’s Othello, for example, vividly depicts how jealousy can torture an individual and  poison an intimate relationship.

It is important to understand that jealousy stems from the fear of losing love .  Likewise, the grim statistics regarding infidelity are real.  However, exaggerated fears  can result from bad past experience which can create a hyper-sensitivity or  an emotional allergy to the issue.    These pre-existent worries can result in over-reactions and corrupt our ability to rationally discern and tell the difference between a real threat  and an irrational fear.  Likewise hypersensitivities from the past can make  getting over past relational problems more difficult. Thus, one way for couples to learn to calmly talk about situations which involve jealousy is for both to be aware of and realize how past bad experiences can impair one’s ability to be reasonable in the present.

So here is the dilemma:  On one hand, the best way to keep jealous feelings from getting out of hand is to talk about and reality test them with one’s mate.  On the other hand, unfortunately, these conversations can be so emotionally radioactive  that they often result in arguments and fights.  Fortunately, there are some simple steps which can help couples to discuss jealous feelings rationally and reduce painful worries and recriminations. Take a look:

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Why can’t you just get “over it” ? How to tell when someone has recovered from an affair.

One of the most commonly heard laments when working with couples who have survived an affair is: ” Why can’t you just get over it and move on ?”

While the comment is usually made by the offender who is frustrated that his/her mate still brings up what s/he has done, the remark also raises a good question to which many folks don’t know the answer.  So, today let’s talk about what has to happen emotionally for one to “get over” and “move on” from betrayal and how one can tell when it has happened.

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Halloween, COVID-19 and the Confusing Paradox of Fear and Disbelief.

This year Halloween arrived just as the coronavirus pandemic is surging across America, again.  This ironic coincidence of spooks and a deadly virus  provides an opportunity for us to discuss the interesting but confusing paradox in the human psyche which allows us to fear that which is not real and to deny that which is really threatening or dangerous.

On one hand, we celebrate and enjoy horror movies and other things which can scare us temporarily. Yet , as we have seen in the popularity of Donald Trump and his attack on science and the refusal of so many to wear masks and take reasonable precautions to prevent contracting or spreading the coronavirus, many Americans deny  the reality and the severity of COVID-19.  Although counter-intuitive, psychology can explain, at least in part , why this strange contradiction is so.

To begin, let’s understand why we love scary things like movies and Halloween.  When we are scared, our brain releases dopamine which gives us a rush.  The neurochemical reaction is emotionally stimulating and similar to the terror response caused by a real threat or crisis. However, horror movie thrills are significantly different from the experience of actual danger because the rational part of our brain knows that the scary perception isn’t real.  This enjoyment is the same sensation we feel when riding on a roller coaster or in other thrill seeking activities. We like it because it is exciting but down deep, we know that we are safe. We know that we are safe because our neo-cortex , the part of the brain which is rational, assess the situation to be safe.

On the other hand, sometimes we tend to deny real threats when they are overwhelming, and feel out of control. We become overwhelmed when there is a real threat confronting us and don’t know how to handle the dangerous situation or to feel safe.  Neurologically, to make matters worse, the panic which comes from being emotionally overwhelmed causes the amygdale , the hypervigilant part of the brain which constantly looks for threats, to hi-jack and block access to the logical part of our brain which, in the case of a real threat, would cause us to take reasonable action.

In some cases, fear causes us to become angry and attack the threat. In other cases, it causes us to run away. Denial or disbelief is a type of emotional running away which gives us some emotional space to avoid having to deal with or engage the problem before we are ready.  If, however, access to the cortex is not re-established in time ,denial can complicate or make it impossible to respond effectively to the crisis.

In practical and every day terms, we are often in denial.  For example, we all are going to die and that is , at some level, a real threat.  That said, if we are healthy or don’t suffer from hypochondriasis, we don’t think about it  very often. Denial in that sense is not a problem. In fact, it allows us to live our lives with less worry.   On the other hand, if our doctor tells us that we have a serious condition which needs treatment and we, despite many warnings chose to deny and avoid getting treatment , the results could be catastrophic.

Fortunately, there are effective techniques to help us to sort out and and identify irrational fears and problematic denial from normal avoidance. Here are three  basic steps to follow when fear and denial has blocked  access to your neo-cortex:

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Religion , Sex and Guilt .

October is World Mental Health Month and, as such, I want to address what I regard as a neglected but, nonetheless, a significant obstacle to emotional wellness and overall mental health: erroneous guilt and shame associated with sex.

As a pastoral counselor who has helped folks deal with a wide variety of emotional issues and conflicts over the years, I have witnessed many individuals and couples with this problem. While there are multiple factors which have created this difficult experience, it is indeed ironic that traditional church attitudes and teachings about sex are largely responsible for so much of the unnecessary guilt and emotional pain experienced by so many , especially by Christian believers. To be clear, I believe that much of the problem stems from Christianity’s fundamental discomfort with and ignorance about sex.

Despite the many decades of progress made by our society in the areas of human rights and social justice, our cultural and especially religious attitudes about sex have remained mired in myth and false ideas. It is amazing to me to realize how many folks are influenced by archaic views about sex and are tormented because of them.

Frankly, the way many clerics ignore science and pervert biblical teachings about sex constitutes theological or spiritual malpractice . The extent to which they have condemned as sinful, normal sexual feelings and practices is nothing less than abusive and ethically reprehensible. Instead uplifting and promoting joy, understanding and love, many of the damning attitudes and scowling views have caused spiritual conflict and resulted in personal self-hatred and relational strife.

Fortunately, the damage done by such beliefs is not permanent and can be undone with combination of accurate information and supportive therapy. Today I want to review with you three of the most common , destructive and egregious errors found in traditional church teachings about sex:
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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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