Blog & Video Archives

Past Bridge Street Mental Health segment with accompanying text.

V’Day for the rest of us.

V’Day for the rest of us.

It’s Valentine’s Day.  Beyond the hearts and flowers, it’s important to understand that the day means different things to different people.   For those intoxicated by infatuation, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love and sexual passion.  ( Actually, the thrills of infatuation are not love.  They are sensations caused by dopamine, phenylethylamine and norepinephrine.)

Many relationships are more sober. The initial chemical rush has run its course and the blush of new love has calmed down.  Their experience of Valentine’s Day can be different. Indeed, for many, Valentine’s Day can be awkward. Ironically, as the media raises expectations for romance,  for a lot of folks, the flames of passion have died down or even gone out.

Fortunately, even though passion may have waned, it can be reignited.  Valentine’s Day, then, can be an opportunity for couples to reflect on their love and talk about ways to add more sexual excitement to their relationship.

Unfortunately, many folks find talking about sex difficult, especially with their partner. To be clear, sexual communication is necessary to revive sexual interest and enjoyment. If your sexual communication needs some help, here are some tips: : Tips for Talking to your Partner about Sex | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

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Trending:Throupling?

Trending:Throupling?

With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I wondered what to write about for my blog. Over the past 18 years, I’ve written all kinds of articles about love, marriage and sex. With them, I’ve helped couples rekindle the flames of passion. A Valentine’s Day Primer for Couples who want more Romance in their Marriage. | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

This year I wanted to do something different and write about a relationship topic that was trending on social media. Surprisingly, one item jumped out. TikTok recorded 34.5 million views on something that I had never heard of before: throupling . What Is A Throuple? The Three-Way Relationship, Explained (womenshealthmag.com)

To be clear, despite the current flurry of social media attention, the actual number of throuples is small. Those who are represent only a tiny percentage of the total number of folks who are in committed relationships, 5%. Polyamory is More Common Than You Think – Public Health Post

If the number of throuples is so small, why is it getting so much attention ?  My sense is that the image of a throuple taps into and expresses not only our curiosity for the unusual but also our forbidden erotic fantasies.  While fantasies are okay, my concern is that couples understand the pitfalls of actually getting involved in this kind of relationship.

To be clear, throuples encounter some major psychological, logistical and even legal problems. So, if anyone is curious about this arrangement, here are some things to know:

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The Depressive “Hole”

The Depressive “Hole”

Everyone knows what it’s like to feel depressed. Indeed, we commonly associate depression with sadness and tears, but there is so much more to this painful condition. DEPRESSION | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)

When bad things happen to us, it is normal to feel depressed for a while. With time, most folks adjust and things return to normal. Others, however, get stuck and things don’t improve. Clinical depression is a condition that does not just go away.

Depressed moods don’t improve, in part, because depression is not just about how we feel. It’s also about how we perceive.

Depression distorts the way we see ourselves and our outlook on the world. A restricted view blocks our ability to see resources and options and, thus, the situation can look worse than it is.

Although it’s difficult to approximate what a depressed person experiences, the analogy of being in a deep hole comes close.  Among other things, being in a hole makes it impossible to see anything but the hole.  How depression and anxiety disorders affect our perception of reality (telepsychhealth.com)

Thus, depression prevents us from having a panoramic perspective on our life.  Worse, when we are in it, we don’t realize that our perspective is limited. Fortunately, there are ways to become aware.

If things haven’t felt right for more than a couple of weeks and you just can’t shake that feeling, here are some tips to help you know if you’re in a depressive hole and, if needed, how to get out of it:

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New Year’s Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions

Okay, it’s the start of a new year and many folks are making New Year’s resolutions. Indeed there are lots of folks offering tips on how to succeed. Personally, I have written over 10 articles myself on this topic.

And yet, even with all this help, many are disappointed by their inability to keep their resolutions. Goal Setting Foundations – Arc of Monroe (arcmonroe.org)

The goals, like getting in shape, losing weight, eating healthier, not smoking or drinking less, are good things to strive for.  The problem lies in the fact that making and sustaining significant change is complicated.

That said, it is still important to have self-improvement goals and not to give up. Today, I want us to look at the practice of making New Year’s resolutions historically.  By doing so,  we can gain both perspective on this ancient practice and some insight to help us achieve our goals.

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Giving the Gift of Empathy

Giving the Gift of Empathy

As Christmas fast approaches, some are still struggling with what gifts to give and how much to spend.  While presents and festive wrappings are fun to get, there is one priceless gift that lasts a lifetime and doesn’t cost a cent: empathy. 

At a time when tensions are high and conflicts seems to be everywhere, showing understanding and compassion is in great demand. Empathy and Compassion: Building a Stronger Support Community – (b-present.org) Here are some basic tips to help you spread the love of the season and lift the spirits of those you meet with an empathic encounter: 

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The Story of Mary & Martha

The Story of Mary & Martha

Some people believe that religion and psychology are fundamentally at odds with one another.  While there are instances where science contradicts literal interpretations of certain events depicted in the Bible, there are also many stories found in scripture that reveal important psychological truths.  https://revmichaelheath.com/reducing-stress-around-the-holidays-a-pastoral-counseling-approach/   

Indeed, as a pastoral counselor, I find that using stories from the Bible is a helpful way to communicate psychological concepts.  With that in mind, as we approach the holiday season, I want to tell you the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10: 38-42). This beloved biblical classic has an important lesson for those who struggle with the stress that comes from family and social gatherings at this time of year.  https://uihc.org/health-topics/coping-holiday-anxiety-and-stress

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Thanksgiving & Stress

Thanksgiving & Stress

Thanksgiving is just around the corner and many families are busy with cooking or travel plans.  Although this is a festive time of year, there are those for whom the season is difficult and filled with pain.

Sometimes the contrast between the Norman Rockwell painting and a person’s reality can be depressing. Indeed, having unrealistically high expectations may  create unnecessary disappointment.    https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/housecall-10-tips-for-coping-with-holiday-stress/

Besides the hype there are all kinds of reasons that can cause problems.  Physical or emotional illness, financial or work stress, marital conflicts, recent loss or loneliness are just a few of some of the challenges that can complicate holiday celebrations.

Likewise, when extended family members or friends gather, long standing feuds and political differences may be a source of strife. So, today I want to offer some tips that can reduce your stress and increase your joy for the holiday season, whatever the problem : 

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LETTING GO OF SHAME

LETTING GO OF SHAME

Shame is one of the most common and destructive of all human emotions.  Further, I can say, without reservation or qualification, that shame is a completely useless experience. One of my goals as a therapist is to help eliminate shame whenever I encounter it.

Sadly, many folks misunderstand what shame is. Even dictionaries confuse it with guilt Shame Definition & Meaning – Merriam-Webster. To be clear, guilt is what we feel when we do something that we know is wrong.  Guilt refers to feelings of regret over having done something that violates our sense of morality or ethics. Guilt is something that you can do something about to make amends. 

I disagree with Webster.  Shame does not stem from behavior. I believe that the sense of shame that a person feels stems from an underlying lack of self-worth. It is the comprehensive feeling of self-condemnation for who one is. Shame is an irrational, pervasive, and negative sense of self that falsely seems hopeless and unchangeable. 

Another important thing to know is that shame is learned. People have a natural sense of embarrassment but not shame. Shame is the consequence of abuse, be it physical, emotional or verbal.     

With these thoughts in mind, I want to focus today on sexual shame: where it comes from, how to get rid of it and how not to shame others.  

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WAR ,MEDIA and KIDS

WAR ,MEDIA and KIDS

The Hamas attacks and Israel’s response have shocked the world.  In response, the media has gone with wall-to-wall coverage of the bloody details. 

Apart from the devastation itself, the accelerated ways that we receive information from the 24/7 media has created a collateral problem.  Fifty years ago people learned about the Viet Nam war on the six o’clock news.  Today, however, the omni-present media coverage has greatly intensified our experience of these horrifying events.  

As a result, it’s well documented that the incessant flood of bad news has had a negative impact on our emotional health.  For example , graphic descriptions of things like beheadings or setting innocent people on fire are simply too much . As a result, folks are reporting that they feel more anxious and depressed than usual.  

Given how much kids use their phones, the effects on children can be even worse.  Graphic stories and images available on smart phones make those far-away threats feel like they are right next door. Further, the problem is only going to get worse. It is clear that the war is just beginning and the news is not likely to get better in the foreseeable future. 

In light of this reality, parents need to be on the lookout for tell-tale signs of trouble. Things like nightmares, out of character crying and other unexplained frightened behaviors could be warning signs to check out.

That said, many parents tell me that they are not sure  how to react or what to say to their young ones for whom the war is upsetting.  Here are some basic guidelines for helping children deal with disturbing news:

(These tips can not only help you to help your children concerning the war but they also can promote better, over-all communication in the family: How to Talk With Your Child About the Israel-Gaza War – HealthyChildren.org )

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SPIRITUAL ANXIETY

SPIRITUAL ANXIETY

People often ask me about the origins of pastoral counseling. While I have written about what pastoral counseling is Pastoral Counseling ? | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) , I haven’t  spent much time explaining its history or its therapeutic foundations.

Historically, clergy have always counseled people with their problems but often their guidance was given clinical training or expertise.  However in the early 60s, things changed.

A group of ministers who were also trained psychotherapy got together to form a professional group of pastoral counselors. They called their organization  the American Association of Pastoral Counseling.

AAPC’s goal was to elevate the quality  of pastoral counseling by requiring more clinical training, supervision and personal therapy for therapists. 

Pastoral counselors offered a holistic approach to psychotherapy which included religious experience.  This new perspective integrated the psychological and spiritual dimensions of life and its problems.

Not everyone cheered this development. Fundamentalist skeptics condemned professional pastoral counselor for putting psychology ahead of the Bible and  of turning to psychotherapy. They viewed science as a threat to traditional religion. 

Rather than being a threat to faith, pastoral counseling sought to reduce the tension between religion and science.  Pastoral counselors understand science and religion as complementary. Rather than conflicting, they function on two different levels of reality: the physical and the metaphysical (spiritual).  

Although religion and science dwell in different realms, they are not disjointed. Earlier in the 20th century, Christian theologians like Rudolf Bultmann believed that the mythic husk of tradition religious language contained a valuable kernel of truth which needed to revealed to fully understood .

Pastoral counseling uses existential psychology to translate/de-mythologize religion’s supernatural/pre-scientific language into expression which are more understandable to the modern world. Psychology provides a way to understand ancient religious wisdom in modern terms.

The existential theologian, Paul Tillich, identified anxiety as the human experience which bridges both worlds of religion and psychology.  In his book ,The Courage to Be,  he explains how spiritual anxiety underlies psychological anxiety. Paul Tillich – excerpts from “The Courage to Be” – Religious Naturalism

To fully appreciate the significance of Tillich’s insights, it’s important to understand how anxieties differ and how to tell them apart: 

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JIMMY BUFFETT AND FUN

JIMMY BUFFETT AND FUN

Like millions of others, I was saddened by the news of Jimmy Buffett’s passing. But I was frustrated by the term used by a number of media outlets to describe the significance of his life and music : escapism.  https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/02/arts/jimmy-Buffett-dead.html?fbclid=IwAR16ox4eBhTkMHnSUGp_88lndNnGy6KjitCVhJAHMAFGCsThb4wm1gWGOYc

Rather than escapism, Buffett understood what many others do not:  namely that having fun is important.  As a therapist I would say that leisure time is not a luxury ; it is an integral part of balanced life style.  Indeed, his life expressed this balance. In addition to being a successful musician and entrepreneur, he always found time for leisure.  As he has aid on numerous occasions, “It’s important to have as much fun as possible while we’re here.

Frankly,  fun is an interesting word which deseerves more respect. Everyone likes ot have fun but fun itself is seen as trivial and the ursuit of which is not respected. Today I want to share some thoughts to address the under-appreciatiion of fun. I suggest, that despite its trivial associations, having fun it a vital part of a healthy life style.

Given  the high level of stress so many experience, Buffett’s perspective on life is a much-needed counterbalance to America’s dominant, hard-work ethic. This stern attitude has permeated the American psyche since our country’s inception. Here are some thoughts to help you bring your work/play division in balance.   

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Labor Day & Self Care

Labor Day & Self Care

With Labor Day approaching, we mark the end of summer qnd the start of school and the Fall season.   Historically, the Labor Day holiday is a tribute to the contributions that the American worker and organized labor unions have made to our country. 

In addition to its social significance, I want us to recognize the contribution Labor Day has made to America’s  mental health, i.e. its appreciation of the importance of self-care.  APPRECIATING THE DEEPER SIGNIFICANCE OF LABOR DAY: The importance of leisure and self care | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com)  

It must not be forgotten that the American labor movement gave us important self-care structures such as the week-end and the 40 hour work-week.  These work-limits, which we now take for granted, were mightily opposed by many and were difficult to attain.  Implicitly,  these  work-rules recognized the necessity for workers to have time off from work and to enjoy leisure and rest  . 

Despite the immense work-place progress which allows for self-care, many still minimize the importance of self-care.  So, today I want to take a deep dive into the basics of what real self-care involves. 

Specifically, having restful sleep, good nutrition, physical activity, adequate leisure, knoiwing effective  stress management, having strong social relationships and getting regular medical/psychological wellness exams are vital for us to be at our best. In doing so, we can learn how these 7 elements work together to promote our mental health and happiness.

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Talking or Arguing.

Talking or Arguing.

You probably know that communications is a big deal in couples therapy.  Although not # 1, numerous surveys have found that, along with money and sex, poor communications is one of the most common reasons that couples seek counseling. 

Indeed, many partners report that  talking to one another is so bad that they have completely given up on even trying to discuss problems. That’s because what starts out as a simple conversation often winds up as an unpleasant argument. 

Today I will show you why you need to 1) Stop using You Statements, 2) Start using You-Statments and 3) Begin using a Marital Journal will help you to dramatically transform your intimate communcateions.

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SEX AS A HOBBY ?

SEX AS A HOBBY ?

In trying to keep up with “what’s happening now” in the field of sexuality, I came across  the phrase “sex-as-a-hobby”.   Recently, this way of looking at sex has become popular, especially among those who identify as asexual. They find the perspective useful because it understands sex as something that one does and not as a defining characteristic of who one is. Sex As A Hobby: A Transhumanist’s Perspective – Philosophy, Politics, and Science – Asexual Visibility and Education Network (asexuality.org)

Others, such as sex coach Ruth Ramsay, employ  the sex-as-a-hobby approach to de-mystify the highly emotional topic of sexuality.  She finds the concept useful to help couples learn to discuss and deal with sex-related problems more rationally.   Revamp your sex life in 6 minutes | Ruth Ramsay | TEDxDaltVila – YouTube

At first I laughed at the notion of thinking of sex was like a hobby but, the more I thought  about it, the more I realized that it made sense.,  Although a hobby might not be the best metaphor, we do need to redefine and change how we think about sex. Here’s why:

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Common Porn Myths

Common Porn Myths

Recently, I have noticed a significant up-tick in the numbers of clients contacting me who erroneously feared that they had a pornography addiction.  After a careful examination, it was clear that, while they had been suffering from misinformation, they did not have an addiction. 

It needs to be understood from the outset that even though “pornography addiction” is a  popularly used term, I do not find it a help way to conceptualize the problem nor is it listed in the DSM5 as a disorder. Religious or moralistic discussions often denounce problematic masturbation and porn viewing as immoral or a lack of self-control without understanding of its psychological origins. 

Although pornography is part of the problem with which these men struggle , it rarely was not  the root.  Prior childhood trama,  religiously induced guilt and shame about sex and marital dischord are common underlying culprits.

The last time I wrote on this subject was four years agao. A Reasonable Approach for Discussing Masturbation and Pornography: Part 1 | Pastoral Counseling Syracuse NY (revmichaelheath.com) .  Given that misunderstanding has not declinced, I wish to debunk some of the most common myths about  pornography.   

A recent article in Slate on-line provides an excellent segue for this discussion. What NoFap does to your brain: Why so many people who abstain from masturbation end up suicidal. (slate.com)  Although it’s focus is on a particular anti-masturbation effort, NoFap, it provides a goosd summary of  the major false notions about pornography.  

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2015

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

 

2012

Flirting with Your Spouse

 

2011

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