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Depression: More Than Just An Attitude Problem

Posted: November 2nd, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

Every year, I am struck by how far we still have to go to learn what is going on in the depressed brain.   7.6 % of US citizens ages 12(1) and up suffer per year, and medications are unable to help at least 1/3 of those afflicted.

Part of the struggle is the sheer complexity of this phenomenon.    For example, Duman et al (2015) cited nutrition, sex sterioids, cardiovascular VEGF, stress, and the immune system all effect and are impacted by depression and anxiety.(2)   Others have noted how brain activity shifts so the sufferer struggles to remember, make decisions, and feel motivated.  The following article adds another component.  It describes how the very structures of the brain are changed, possibly minimizing the ability to recall positive memories while more strongly linked to areas associate with punishment.

Of course, these are not taking into account the environmental factors like trauma, social isolation, stressors (like financial, employment, relationship conflict) that also play apart.  In all, I never want to forget that a sufferer cannot easily solve this problem.  Hence why therapists like myself work with the person, and sometimes a team of people, to rebuild and repair.




Synaptic plasticity and depression: new insights from stress and rapid-acting antidepressants, Ronald S Duman, George K Aghajanian, Gerard Sanacora, & John H KrystalNature Medicine, 22, 238–249 (2016) doi:10.1038/nm.4050  Received 11 March 2015, Accepted 21 January 2016, Published online 03 March 2016


The Orlando Shooting

Posted: June 16th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I’m still reeling from the news in Orlando that a devastating decision led to the worst tragedy since 9-11.  Someone, fueled by justification and hatred, deemed that the lives of over 100 people no longer mattered.  The victims were people out on the town, enjoying music and friendship, when this stranger burst in and brutally murdered 49, wounded 53, and altered the lives of the survivors and loved ones forever.

Sadly, the LGBTQIA community is no stranger to violence.  Paul Brussard (killed by 10 men in Houston), Matthew Shepard (tricked, beaten, and left to die in Laramie, W), Harvey Milk (shot in California) are just a few of a long list of hate crimes.  And the transgender community has so many murders each year that they have created “The Day of Remembrance” to annually honor their deceased brothers and sisters.  As we come up on the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow same sex marriage in all fifty states, this recent atrocity is just one more reminder that we still have so far to go before the community can ever feel safe, let alone accepted.

I hope that one day, diversity does not mean different or dangerous.  Where unfamiliar is no longer frightening but is approached with openness and warmth.  For no matter our uniqueness, we are all part of one race- the human race.  We are all part of the same family.  We should celebrate those who are bravely trying to live authentically, and cease turning the one you love into an issue.

We now must make a choice- do we now use recent events to fuel our hatred for the Muslim community?  Do we allow ourselves dangerous permission to dehumanize other people so it is gets easier to be cruel and inhumane?  Do we support institutions or doctrines that teach us that one group of people is better than another?  We must stop the contagious hate that is like a cancer.  We must stop waiting for others to take the lead and instead practice each day to work against bigotry and prejudice.  Finally, we must show solidarity with those who have been brutalized.  Please, consider making a financial contribution to a place dedicated to being a loving force to our traumatized brethren or to those organizations working to eradicate hate.

Meanwhile, may this tragedy offer us the opportunity to change.  May it bring us together, instead of apart.  May we take the challenge to make this world a safer and kinder place for all to live in.

Donation Suggestions:


Mindfulness In a Nutshell

Posted: June 14th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

The following article does a great job of introducing us to mindfulness, noting some key benefits and complementary exercises:  Some people get intimidated by the term, envisioning success only by donning a monk’s cloak and meditating for years in a cave.  It does not have to be that way, there are levels of practice and intensity that can range from general stress management to spiritual awakening.  

For those people who want to take a break from the frantic pace and constant noise of our day to day lives, brief meditation is a wonderful tool.  It encourages deep breathing and focused attention, reconnecting us with our bodies, the present, and the rhythm of this life-giving action.  Counting, visualizations, and calming phrases also distract us from nagging pressures that can keep us escalated.  By the end, it’s like the mind’s reset button has been pushed, and we have fresh perspective and a greater sense of center.

There are others who hope to take this a step further, working to become less mired in the constant stream of thoughts that are as persistent as a stalker.  Through specific exercises, a skill is created to observe the inner world with more detachment.  Instead of being controlled by the thoughts and the corresponding emotions, we can consider the health and value of what we see.  It is then possible to determine how the information can help us find positive trajectories and cease reckless reactivity and defensiveness. 

Finally, mindfulness has the ability to change the way we see and approach our life and those we encounter.  It is a spiritual practice, where one has long gaps where the thoughts are quiet, allowing one to tune in to what if feels like to just “be”.  This opens the way for connection to be felt with all living things, creating a blend of humility, gratitude, and contentment.  The ego has little importance here- instead, the focus is on how to be a positive influence in the world, using a sense of peace, wisdom, and compassion.

What you decide to aim for is whatever works for you.  Hopefully the article above can be a welcome introduction and give you a taste of something that could be a powerful balm for the challenges that come with each day.

Trans-Phobia and the Dangerous Legislation You Should Know About

Posted: April 12th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

There was a recent segment on The Daily Show that had a fantastic piece on aspects of being transgender.  Some elements were subtle, like Trevor Noah not falling for the common trap of asking Angelica Ross about her genitalia, but instead treating his guest like a three-dimensional human being.  But there was also a segment provided by Jessica Williams that highlighted the daily bigotry they have to endure.  Please watch April 6th’s episode:–2016—angelica-ross-season-21-ep-21087

One important element not stated was that this community is constantly at risk for hate crimes without these policies.  Blazer noted that every third day a trans person is murdered.  Hate crimes released by the FBI in November 2015 gave a startling report stating that hate crimes tripled between 2013 and 2014.  In fact, this is such a painful reality for trans people that each year on November 20th, there is a sobering ceremony called the Day of Remembrance to honor those brothers and sisters who died under these circumstances in the last year.

This means that safety is one of the most important aspects a trans person must be constantly vigilant about.  “Passing”, or the ability to blend in with cisgender majority (people whose gender identity matches their biology at birth) is crucial. Imagine having to be a trans male forced to walk into a woman’s bathroom with a beard, or a trans woman having to use the men’s bathroom wearing a dress.   We are either asking individuals to have bladders of steel so they can “hold it” until they are home, or being instantly outed to a community we already know is hostile.

For those worried that this puts others at risk, there are no statistics supporting this.  Gender identity is separate from sexual deviance like pedophilia, voyeurism, or assault.  Nor is it linked to sexual orientation.  They aptly state in the segment that just because you have a job, like the priesthood, or an identity like being a feminist, republican/democrat, etc. does not mean there are inherent mental health issues.  And in case anyone quotes former diagnostic manuals, realize that the American Psychiatric Association has evolved enough to no longer consider gender dysphoria a disorder.  It is a therapeutic issue because, like other quests about self-esteem and identity, so therapists can help lessen the discomfort they feel every day.

These individuals want what most people want- to live in a world where they can be themselves, be safe, and to be happy.  Please do what you can to help make that possible, whether it is through political activism to educating yourself so you can be a compassionate person to those who need to be welcomed.



 Balzer, Carsten (2009). “Every 3rd day the murder of a trans person is reported” (PDF)(3).

Kava: Warnings About This Anti-Anxiety Supplement!

Posted: January 28th, 2016 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

A local doctor recently share that the common herb used for anxiety, Kava, needs significant caution and doctor’s oversight.  Based on recent research, it not only has risks like impacting the effectiveness of birth control, some users have had liver damage in there have even been deaths.

We must be aware that just because something is a supplement/herb, does not automatically make it safe.  The Diet Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 means that these products are not regulated to insure consistency and purity.  In addition, these plants are medicines that create a chemical reaction within the body.  One needs an understanding of individual history, potential interactions, genetic factors, and research to ensure that a consumer has all the information to make an informed decision.  I highly recommend doing research before introducing something into your system, and consulting your doctor before you decide.  Health is precious- let’s do all we can to protect it.

Supporting articles:


Posted: November 14th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

A client recently shared an article that highlighted another hardship people have to deal with in times of difficult- stupid platitudes. (see below)  I’m sure we have all been there, where someone tries to give “comfort” with some statement that is supposed to put a silver lining around pain. While I the person believes that they are being helpful, it is actually the furthest thing from the truth. The other person usually ends up feeling dismissed and is doing all they can to not throw something.

And for good reason. These “pearls of wisdom” usually come from an objective, removed position where there is no connection to the pain or vulnerability.  Instead, it is shared like a sage who sees with complete objectivity and clarity the way the universe works.   The pain is treated as temporary distress that will wane once the person sees the bigger picture. These are examples I have heard first hand:

  • The mother, whose baby who died days after birth- “You’re young- you can always have another child.”
  • The accident victim- “You should be grateful you’re alive.”
  • The woman who had a miscarriage- “This is nature’s way of clearing out babies with severe defects.

Another problem is that the statement is superficial, simplistic, and sometimes just absurd. This is particularly true when God is used in the statement. For example, I was sitting with someone recovering from an accident that occurred just moments before and a man told her, “The angels were watching out for you today.” As we saw medics rush to put two other people onto stretchers and load them into the ambulance, the survivor said, “Why weren’t the angels protecting them?”  The man had no answer.

For those wondering what is helpful, let’s start with a key principle- that some pain cannot be fixed. It can only be endured. A body altered by disease, an accident, a death, a betrayal- no matter the pain, we are forever changed by these experiences. When we stop trying to pretend that there is a way out, there can be a huge sense of relief that there is nothing we can (or should) do. Instead, it is time for a different but very precious set of skills- just being.

There is a short list to embrace. First, sit in the shit with them. Let their feelings have room to be expressed, whether through tears, anger, or a shrinking collapse. Hand out tissues, get fluffy socks, see the truth in their perspective, and validate. I can’t say more about the value of being heard. A person does not have to measure their words- s/he gets to pour them out, knowing that you are strong enough to handle what s/he is willing to share what’s overflowing on the inside.

Next, do all you can to understand what people experience in a specific situation. So many people begin to project their experience with pain onto others, then become concerned when the process does not follow their imposed blueprint.  However, others in similar situations can and do give insight into what is a normal course, especially the contextual elements that make all the difference in the world. For example, imagine how these situations might differ:

  • Death: natural versus suicide
  • Job ending: retiring or fired
  • Divorce: where two people grow apart or where one partner fears for his/her safety

Finally, realize that healing takes time and most people will get tired of the heavy demands of ongoing recovery. As others drop off, ill-equipped for the marathon, if you are able, gather your patience and if possible, stay the course.   Pain is already isolating- choosing to hang in there is an unmeasurable gift to your heartbroken loved one that will have long reaching impacts you can’t even imagine. One client said to me, “If it weren’t for her, I know I would not have made it.”

There are very few times in our lives when we will be called to be our best selves- this is one of them. We will be tested, tempted to take the easy road of verbal pats on the head that feel nothing more than patronizing. But if we can choose to be more- more understanding, more patient, and as self-less as possible, we become a light that leads those we love through the darkness.



***If you are needing a little lightness at the end of this, consider watching a quick clip from the people at the Onion, who have their own way of addressing this issue:




Finding Forgiveness

Posted: September 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

It is so tempting to believe that there is some magic switch that will turn off pain and allow us to move forward.  Not only is this far from any reality I’ve seen in my 19 years working with trauma, it also denies the potential growth and wisdom we can gain by going through the process of letting go.  We cannot go back to who we were before the incident happened.  To quote Anne Lammott, “Forgiveness is giving up all hope of having had a better past.”  But it also does not mean that we have to feel wounded for the rest of our lives.  We are more than what happens to us and we retain the power to find peace of mind.

I have borrowed from all kinds of sources- personal experience, religious leaders, colleagues, and the generous vulnerability and openness of clients who dared to take this path, to come up with the following steps:

Step 1:  Remember.  Many people do not want to dwell on what happened because it is painful and uncomfortable.  However, unless there is willingness to spend some time making sense of the experience, we remain blind to the harmful impacts that can continue long after the memory.  We must dive in, taking an honest look at all the facets and context we could not have processed while in the eye of the storm.  There are contributing factors, lies we swallowed, reasons behind our reactions, ways dignity was broken down, and meanings we adopted about ourselves and the world.  Robert Schreiter states, “Suffering only becomes redemptive or ennobling when we struggle against these corroding powers and rebuild ourselves in spite of the pain we are experiencing.” p. 33-34.

Step 2:  Identify the harm.  Determine the ways the experience was detrimental either permanently or for the time being.  Grief will be an intimate part of this process, because it acknowledges that some things can never be regained.  A victim cannot will themselves to be without scars nor can innocence be restored.  There might also be specific periods of times where opportunities passed us by.  Or perhaps there have been important segments of life that were deleted (example: lost childhood, independence, or life skills)

Step 3: Find the silver linings.  In many cases, we come out of struggle with greater understanding.  There will be new information about yourself and those who are closest to you.  Perhaps you saw some values that you had not noticed before or there may be strengths that had been dormant until then.   How were you able to grow in spite/because of what happened?  By exploring these factors, the situation is not just a tragedy- you found a way to empower yourself through it.

Step 4:  Identify the lessons.  Consider what information needs to be implemented for you to feel as safe and happy as possible.  For example, what has this taught you about skills you need, information gaps, etc.  Perhaps there are missing boundaries, or new appreciation for your intuition.   Maybe there is difficulty seeing warning signs or being able to determine trustworthiness.  The goal here is to determine how we can wisely interact with others in a way that provides protection from those who may harm but also does not keep us from taking risks and connecting.

Step 5:  Implement.  Insights serve little purpose if they do not turn into action.  Take classes, talk to people you respect, do research, and gain confidence to take risks.  During this time, it is important to remember that there will be a learning curve; you cannot be an expert without lots of opportunity to fall down.  Be kind and remind yourself that every time you try, no matter the result, is a success.

I find it very helpful to touch base with your value system for the next steps.  There is such a strong pull to be righteously angry that there have to be compelling reasons for doing something different.  For me, I try to keep in mind that I want to live a life that allows me to enjoy the moment without a lot of baggage weighing me down.  If I’ve done the work above, I’ve taken everything valuable I can from the experience.  Further review only keeps me upset and stuck, not centered and healthy.

Step 6:  Let go. Make a commitment to releasing the past. Intentionally engage in visuals and activities that suggest closure.  For example- write a brief summary of what happened.  Then create a ritual similar to a burial, where you burn the paper and say a prayer/poem about the life you are ready to embrace.  You may also consider putting all the pain and hurt symbolically onto a leaf.  Breathe the distress onto the leaf, then release it into a stream.  Watch as the leaf floats away, allowing you to breathe in the smell of nature, life, and peace that is left behind.  The Dali Llama encourages visualizing the distress of the incident then a positive state.  Note how each one feels and ask which you would rather have in your life.  There is then a promise made to yourself: “Whatever befalls me, I shall not allow it to disturb my mental joy.”

Step 7:  Focus on the present. The past is over. Bring yourself back into the present, hopefully with delightful enticements. Enjoy little things, play, work, make love, get dirty, feel, and make new memories.  If old thoughts and images return, acknowledge it happened and gently resume focus on the here and now.  If that is ineffective, deliberately distract yourself.  Over time, the pull of the incident will lesson because mental, emotional and energetic resources are no longer feeding it.

Step 8:  Feel compassion. Finally, cease to see the person who harmed you in a depersonalized way. He or she is a flawed human being, like the rest of us.  Since you are not responsible for making them change, you can release them from your grasp (and therefore any hold s/he had over you).   This does not mean condoning what they did- it is ceasing to be saddled with resentment.  Wish them the same happiness you hold for any living being and let a sense of compassion grow in your heart.

As you go through the various stages, please remember that each journey is unique.  Some steps will take little time while others may be tool you use from this point forward. As long as you continue to maintain dedicated effort, things will change.  In the end, you will have given yourself a great gift- peace.



Fascinating Read

Posted: August 27th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

I just finished a book that highlighted a common form of the behaviors listed in the last post- specifically, dehumanization, a lack of accountability, fanaticism, and a lack of accountability.  It occurs when we use social media to create public shaming.  As I read the various stories of both positive impacts and devastations, there were so many examples of justified viciousness while those imposing their “justice” held fast to the belief that they were doing good while ruining people’s lives.

If you choose to read Jon Ronson’s book, “So You’ve Been Publically Shamed”,  consider this an exercise in exploring your own sense of morality.   I found that the lines are much more complicated and blurred than I realized.

  • When should this form of pressure be used?
  • Noting the limits it had in times long past and the reasons it was banned, does that change your views?
  • What is appropriate shaming and when does it cross the line?
  • How has the internet changed the experience and impact of social shaming?  With a medium with very little limits, what norms might we need to maintain civility?

I think you will find, as I did, this is far from easy and it calls into question some of the very ideas you hold about yourself and your notion of what is “good.”

Hurt That Justifies Harm

Posted: August 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

As I have explored the various elements that make forgiveness so difficult to attain, it became apparent that those who hold onto their anger and resentment can easily slip into cruel retaliation.  We want justice, not necessarily through due process but through our own version of what that should look like.  Holy wars and generational family feuds are dramatic examples.  But how might this play out in our everyday lives?  We want to believe that good and evil are opposites, but it appears that in many cases the separating lines blur.

It all resides with our justifications.  Most of us want to believe that we are good people so we go through a series of mental gymnastics to make an action that is normally reprehensible seem righteous.  According to Joseph Campbell (1998), once the mental effort is complete, it only gets easier to be cruel again because all of the angst working against the action will have already been cleared away.   At this point, behaviors not only become more frequent, they also become more damaging.  And being caught does not mean we will see the light.  More commonly, a breathtaking array of defensiveness and bullheadedness emerges that refuses to accept responsibility, no matter the reason or evidence.

So what are these mental gymnastics that drive inappropriate reactions to wrongdoing?  I have chosen the five I see on a daily basis:


A very easy tendency to elevate ourselves by putting others down.  It is as if there is only so much respect, beauty, or love to go around so we compete to ensure we end up on top.  Of course, the more we exaggerate differences, the easier it is to see the other as subhuman.  Once this occurs, the empathy switch is turned off and people can engage in cruelty without even twinges of guilt.   Fascinatingly, our cruelty does not affect our favorable views of ourselves.  In fact, Koehn states, we even go as far as to believe those we hurt should hold us in high esteem!

By degrading our fellow human beings, we hope to make ourselves more loveable.  We convince ourselves that the very people whom we despise should love us more.  Since we are smarter or lovelier than they are, we are more deserving of esteem and affection.  Our self-elevation makes us appear even more worthy of everyone’s esteem, including the respect of people whom we feel entitled to victimize because they are not worthy to live.  (2005, p. 71).

How can the situation be addressed if there is this level of delusion?  A common example is when you angrily mandate respect and obedience from your child, while yelling and pointing in your child’s face.  Or the pot calling the kettle black when you say, “those Christians are so judgmental.”

Power Hungry

Power and control are complimentary motives that come from a basic belief that we should get what we want.  We don’t care that others may disagree, or have different needs.  Since our satisfaction is all that matters, if they speak up, they are ignored or belittled.  Meanwhile, we try to gain cooperation through persuasion.  If this does not work, there is always the backup plan- overt or covert aggression.   Of course, before we employ this strategy, we cannot see the other as an equal we love or respect so we promptly shut down empathy and use the rational of “survival of the fittest”.  Every day examples:  giving the silent treatment until the other person apologizes, or bad-mouthing your ex to the kids to ensure that their lack of respect punishes him/her for what he/she did to ruin the marriage.


This is the belief that the world owes us something.  Whether it is due to wealth, ethnicity, level of popularity, or some other trait, the idea is because we exist in such a certain way, we deserve whatever we want.  Earning something is not a requirement; it is assumed it will occur.   Of course, we do not even consider the fact few others will agree to cater to our every whim.  Instead, when our expectations are not met, we feel denied.  Koehn states, “Frustrated by the world’s indifference, we revenge ourselves upon the world.”  (2005, p. 66)  Common examples: making a scene at the dinner table because the meat was not cooked to your liking, or spanking your child because you hurt your foot on one of the toys he did not put away.  It never occurs to you that being messy is normal at this age.  **When I wrote this, I realized I wrote everything in the third person.  Talk about not wanting to identify with this quality!

Lack of Accountability

Our selfishness is largely held in check by embarrassment and the consequences we might face if caught.  But what happens when no one is watching?  Do we hold fast to our scruples or does anything go?  According to numerous studies, it is the latter.  Years ago, social psychologist Alfred Bandura found that as personal responsibility lessened, there was a marked increase in the tendency to dehumanize others and engage in aggression.   Others have also found that we are more likely to act impulsively than use critical thinking.  In all of us, once we do not have to care about the impacts, we can act with indifference and amorality.  (Konnikova, 2013)  Common forms: stealing office supplies without guilt because the company does not pay you enough anyway, road rage, and making slurs to someone who has an opposing opinion on the internet.


This is the extreme form of certainty, when we insist that we know what is right, good, and just.  Because it is often fueled by a belief that our “truth” is in line with the will of the divine, there is a sense of duty to impose it on others.  Opposition is dismissed as ridiculous because we believe our views are universal and morally superior.  For example, you believe your child is well-behaved so you have the right to tell another parent what s/he is doing wrong.  Or telling someone they are going to hell because they are acting in a way that goes against your beliefs.  “Ex: God hates fags.”

I warn you- it will be tempting to point the finger and see these tendencies in other people.  However, real change only occurs when we are willing to look within.  Although uncomfortable, it is of vital importance that we realize it is not a matter of “if” but “when” we will become afflicted.   Also, consider if your thoughts, feelings, and behavior help or just continue the cycle of harm.  Gandhi said it best, “An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.”



Koehn, D. (2005).  The Dark Nature of Evil.  New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Schreiter, R. J. (2003).  Reconciliation: Mission and Ministry in a Changing Social Order.  Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books.

Aronson, E.  (1992).  Social animal (6th Ed.) W.H. Freeman and Company.  New York, NY

Johnson, Norman A, Randolph B Cooper, and Wynne W Chin. 2009. “Anger and Flaming in Computermediated Negotiation Among Strangers.” Decis. Support Syst. 46 (3) (February): 660–672. doi:10.1016/j.dss.2008.10.008

Konner & Perlmutter. (Producers), & Pappas, R. K. (Director). (1988). The Power of Myth [Motion Picture]. United States: Wellspring.

Konnikova, M.  (OCTOBER 23, 2013).  The Psychology of Online Comments.  In The New Yorker [On-line], Available:

Messy Empathy

Posted: July 15th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

In a delightful article, Stern and Divecha discuss the common struggle of caring to the point of getting lost in the pain of another.   Perhaps you know someone who believes s/he is responsible to fix other people’s problems or worries.  Or perhaps s/he becomes weighed down because of a conviction that it is unfathomable to be happy when a loved one is in pain.  This article will help people know that they are not alone, clarifies the differences between sympathy, empathy, and compassion, and provide some helpful tips to try.  I have one caveat:  they mention that compassion is a slightly more removed experience where one is able to offer assistance.  Compassion does not have to include an intervening action.  Many wise minds highlight that struggles are great teachers.  We learn about our patterns, develop new understandings of life, and grow in our skills.  Sometimes, the greatest thing we can do is be with someone as they work through something difficult.  With that said, please enjoy:


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Tania Henderson
M.A., L.P.C., N.C.C.