October is Bullying Prevention Month, so let’s break the silence surrounding all types of physical abuse. Let’s speak about the negative ramifications of childhood abuse, and talk openly about the repercussions.
Specifically, today we’ll clarify the powerful connection between physical abuse and trauma and addiction. We’ll talk about what physical abuse is, how it is linked to addiction, and what people can do in order to heal fully.
What Is Physical Abuse?
Physical abuse is defined on Wikipedia as “any intentional act causing injury or trauma to another person or animal by way of bodily contact.”
According to The Child Welfare Information Gateway at ChildWelfare.gov, child abuse is defined as “any nonaccidental physical injury to the child”, including striking, kicking, burning, or biting the child.
In most states, the definition of physical abuse also encompasses “acts or circumstances that threaten the child with harm or create a substantial risk of harm.” Neglect – the failure of a responsible adult to provide for the child’s needs – is also a type of abuse categorized by the absence of action.
Statistics on Physical Abuse and Addiction
Research has established a strong connection between physical abuse — particularly childhood abuse — and addiction.
Childhood trauma and addiction are definitively linked.
According to a study by Kaiser Permanente and the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), individuals who score high on the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire are five times more likely to become alcoholics, and up to 46 times more likely to inject drugs.
Five out of the 10 total questions in the ACE survey center on bodily harm, so people with high scores are extremely likely to have a history of physical abuse.
As Neil Swan writes in Exploring the Role of Child Abuse in Later Drug Abuse:
“As many as two-thirds of all people in treatment for drug abuse report that they were physically, sexually, or emotionally abused during childhood, research shows.”
How Childhood Physical Abuse Can Lead to Addiction
While enduring physical abuse at any age can be devastating, childhood physical abuse tends to be particularly harmful because children’s brains aren’t fully formed.
As such, children must create stories to make sense of the deeply painful abuse experiences. Too often, those stories boil down to, “It’s all my fault.”
Why? Because the idea of true helplessness – total dependence on an unreliable, hurtful parent or authority figure – is too hard to bear. Being the one at fault allows children to cling to a small semblance of control.
However, the hurtfulness of the painful story — “It’s all my fault” — only increases over time. As people repeat this subconscious story day in and day out, the mental and emotional pain builds, prompting them to use drugs and numb out.
When people don’t know how to work with that original trauma, they’re much more likely to abuse substances. Addictions begin when people try to manage their mental and emotional pain with drugs rather than with self-compassion. We call this an underlying core issue.
To fully address this trauma, it’s important to locate the original hurt and work with it in a safe setting.
It’s Not Your Fault
A classic scene in the movie Good Will Hunting demonstrates the power of connecting with a safe person and rewriting a painful belief related to childhood physical abuse. (The scene is Hollywood-style dramatic, but it’s still illustrative.)
When Robin Williams’ character Sean (the therapist) tells Matt Damon’s character Will (the troubled math genius) that Will’s brutal history of childhood physical abuse wasn’t his fault, Will mutters, quickly, “Yeah, I know that.”
That knee-jerk “I know” is Will’s conscious mind speaking. Intellectually, he understands that of course the abuse he endured wasn’t his fault. Emotionally, however, he’s trapped by the pain of his past. He’s defensive, walled-off, unwilling to feel. On a subconscious level, he believes, “It was all my fault.”
But Sean – himself a survivor of childhood physical abuse – doesn’t let it go. Instead, he keeps repeating, “It’s not your fault. It’s not your fault.”
Will gets angry, but then his anger quickly dissolves into tears. His control breaks, and – after many weeks of building trust with Sean – Will allows himself to feel the pain of his past. This is a turning point in his life.
Will’s story is not uncommon.
If you’ve been struggling with substance abuse and the pain of past bullying or physical abuse, it’s time for your turning point.
It’s time to know what you know and feel what you feel.
It’s time to work with your past, and thereby free up your future.
There are many things in life we try to control on our own. We try to control what other people do, say and feel about us. Sometimes, we internalize these things. There are also times where we don’t control the things we can. Some days, we just don’t feel like it because it appears as though everything is falling apart in the middle of a life-storm creating a flight or flee response. But even in difficult times, we can get through life-changing events.
As life happens, try to be honest for what’s true for you. Remind yourself, you have power no matter the circumstances that comes your way and with the help of a therapist; you can cultivate a meaningful, fulfilling and compassionate life for yourself. It is empowering to keep in mind that you are not alone.
Here are 12 ways **therapy can be helpful in navigating life.**
1.How you talk to yourself – therapy can provide tools on how to use positive self-talk.
2.How you react to others – therapy can help you align your emotions so they do not negatively impact your behaviors.
3.How you structure your time – therapy can help you identify ways you may be spending useless energy and time on things that do not add to your overall, daily productivity and well-being.
4.How to create your space – healthy boundaries in every area of your life are important to avoid emotional, spiritual, physical and mental fatigue.
5.How to ask for help – this can be a struggle for everyone, yet therapy starts the process of learning how to ask for help and from others in your life.
6.How to say yes and no – therapy can help with not feeling guilty for saying “no” or “yes” when you absolutely need and have to.
7.How to take care of you – therapy can provide tools on how to practice meaningful self-care with a lasting impact that can be used time and time again.
8.How to be honest with yourself and others – it can be hard to face yourself and admit certain truths, but therapy provides a safe space for being honest and self-exploration that can be freeing for you and others in your life.
9.How to channel your grief – a therapist can help guide you through the stages of grief in a healthy way.
10.How to manage racing thoughts – therapy can provide a safe space to release those racing thoughts and process in a healing way.
11.How to deal with regrets – therapy can show you how to be mindful, thankful and live in the present while accepting the past as it is – the past.
12.How to have a healthy relationship with your body and food – therapy can help you identify loving ways to treat your body not based on food.
I encourage you to think of ways therapy can be helpful for you.
I’m proud of being an occupational therapist, but I don’t always like explaining it.
Occupational therapy is a profession that a lot of people don’t understand, some people think it is all about work and others confuse it with occupational health.
In June 2016 an occupational therapist sent a confession into the Simon Mayo BBC radio 2 show, she stated that she was not going to give her job title or explain her role as it was too confusing. It soon became clear to myself and all occupational therapists across the land that were listening that she was an occupational therapist.
It was a shame that she didn’t want to explain our profession, what a great opportunity to fly the flag for occupational therapy on national radio at prime time. But also completely understandable that she would not want to take this task on, and endeavour to succinctly explain on national radio. Occupational therapists were listening and an occupational therapist from the OT Practice was on the programme the following day explaining very well what occupational therapy is. The profession sighed a huge sigh of relief.
You may have heard that we are called OTs too, that’s right, but I’m not using the phrase here as I think it confuses matters more, and that as a profession we need to use our full title to promote occupational therapy.
Some people say that the physiotherapist will support you to walk again, but the occupational therapist will support you to put your dancing shoes on and get back on the dance floor. An explanation I heard when I was studying was that the doctor will help you live longer and the occupational therapist will help you live better.
The trouble is with explaining occupational therapy is that the profession is so broad and occupational therapists work in so many settings. We are dual trained in physical health and mental health, we work in paediatrics, orthopaedics, social care, learning disabilities, hospice, hospitals, community, the list is endless, but we could pop up anywhere. All of these roles will be different, so there is not a set answer for what is occupational therapy?
But let me have a stab at explaining it for you here.
Occupational therapy is a profession that promotes health and well being through occupation. Occupational therapy focuses on enabling people to take part in their hobbies and activities despite illness, disability, mental health or emotional difficulties. We are motivated and inspired by the things that we want to do, this is what gets us out of bed in the morning!
We view occupation as being anything that we do, so this includes having a shower and brushing your teeth, paid or voluntary work, leisure and sports activities, even sleeping. While we can take these things for granted, if we have an accident, illness or disability it can become much more difficult and exhausting to do any of our activities or our occupations. If you are fortunate enough to be fit, well and able bodied how would you cope if you broke an arm or a leg?
After illness or injury it can be difficult to participate in your every day roles, and maintain structure and routine, especially if your mind and body are affected. When you have barriers to achieving your goals an occupational therapist can support you as an individual to accomplish what is important to you, by building on your skills and adapting your activities and environment.
After my breast cancer surgery I was unable to run, so I had to adapt and substitute running with walking. I could not reach or lift things so again I had to adapt by placing things in reach, and getting help with the heavy stuff. I was fatigued so I had to learn to pace myself throughout the day and I had trouble sleeping so I developed a good sleep hygiene routine.
I was being my own occupational therapist, making adaptations to the way I do things and to my environment to enable me to live life my way, and continue doing my occupations.
This is what occupational therapists do, we treat the person, not the diagnosis, we find out what is important to you, what you’re having difficulty with and support you to live life to the full. We are problem solvers, and love to be creative in our approach, we treat you holistically and will work on small goals with you to reach the big ones.
If you or somebody you know are living with or beyond cancer and you think you or they could benefit from occupational therapy please get in touch.
If there’s anything I have learned from more than 20 years of being a therapist, it’s that we all can benefit from therapy at different points in our lives.
As part of the human condition, we each may experience issues such as stress, anxiety, depression, grief, or relationship problems. Therapy can help us resolve these issues and move forward in our lives, both personally and professionally.
Many of us have somebody in our lives who we believe might benefit from therapy. This may be a sensitive issue to broach because we don’t want them to feel criticized by the suggestion that they might benefit from counseling. The following are seven tips for effectively recommending therapy to somebody:
1) Act swiftly, don’t delay
Resist the temptation to minimize issues or just hope the problem will magically disappear
Don’t wait until there is a full-blown crisis to recommend therapy
Remember that saying something sooner may prevent a larger issue from arising (i.e. relationship break-up, job loss, etc)
2) Normalize, don’t shame
Express empathy for their feelings; recognizing that their feelings are a normal response to their nature and nurture
Consider saying something along the lines of,“It’s completely understandable that you are overwhelmed with everything you have going on right now. You deserve real support.”
Share your perspective that therapy is something healthy and proactive—a routine aspect of healthcare, like going to a dentist or physician. Encourage them to consider a therapist as a personal trainer or coach for the mind, or for relationship success.
Disclose if you yourself or others you know (without violating any confidentiality, of course) have benefited from therapy. If you haven’t, express that you yourself would be open to the seeking counseling as needed.
3) Express care, not judgement
Provide love and support, not criticism
Don’t diagnose–leave that up to the experts
Do say, “I love you” or “I care about you” or similar expressions of support. “You just don’t seem like yourself and I want you to feel good.”
4) Address concerns and provide reassurance
Explain that therapy can shift your thinking so it’s more positive, help you process feelings, know yourself on a deeper level, increase coping skills, improve self-esteem, stop self-sabotaging behaviors, end relational patterns that no longer serve you, facilitate healthy communication at home/work, and help you create healthy work/life balance.
Let them know that therapy doesn’t have to be long-term. Solution-focused, short-term therapy can be very effective in resolving many issues.
Understand that some people have a fear of being analyzed or judged but that a good therapist is one who is compassionate, supportive, and objective. Therapists are professionals who can provide insight and tools to help you move forward in your life, both personally and professionally.
5) Provide resources to find a therapist
Some people aren’t sure which type of provider to select.
Psychiatrists:: provide medication and sometimes therapy
Psychologists:: provide therapy and sometimes testing
Therapists (Licensed Clinical Social Workers, Licensed Clinical Professional Counsellors and Licensed Marriage & Family Therapists) provide therapy
When in doubt, start with a therapist because they are generally less expensive and they can asses and refer out if medication or testing is needed
www.findHelp.co.za can help you find a therapist who meets your needs in terms of area of expertise, cost, and location.
Community Mental Health Centers (CMHCs) are available in most urban areas and provide quality and affordable outpatient counseling services, often on a sliding fee based on income. Check your community directory for a CMHC near you.
Many local hospitals offer counseling services in outpatient mental health centers.
Many schools and universities offer free or low-cost services.
6) Provide information about the cost
Recognize that expense is often a concern and provide the following information:
Many therapists offer a free consultation to determine fit. They might also help you determine if individual, couples, or family therapy would be most effective.
They may have benefits through their employer which may include 1-5 free sessions for assessment, brief treatment, and referral.
Sliding fee services are available at CMHCs or in practices that have clinical interns or therapists-in-training.
Due to the Mental Health Parity Law, insurance coverage for outpatient mental health coverage is the same as it is for major medical services.
You may be able to save money by seeing an in-network therapist but out-of-network coverage may also be pretty good. Many practices will check your benefits for you and explain your out-of-pocket costs ahead of time.
Flex spending or Health Savings Accounts are a great way to use pre-tax money to pay for your health expenses. This may be especially helpful if you have a high deductible.
7) Provide support and access support
Offer to go with them to the first session. If you have significant concerns about the person you are trying to refer and they are resistant, consider enlisting the help of other friends or family.
For serious concerns, consider facilitating an intervention or hiring an interventionist.
In cases of emergency, dial 911 or bring the person of concern to the local emergency room for an evaluation.
Assure them you will continue to be a source of support–therapy is not a replacement for your friendship.
Let go of outcome. If the person does not follow through with therapy, know you have done your part. If their behaviours are harmful to you or your relationship with them, you may also need to reevaluate your boundaries with them or even if the relationship is one you wish to continue. You might consider seeking support through 12-step programs such as CODA or Al-Anon.
“If you light a path for someone else, it will also brighten your path.” ~Buddha
When life becomes too burdensome, when home and work responsibilities become too much, and when you feel as though you have the weight of the world on your shoulders; what do you do? Maybe you ask your spouse or family members to help you with the laundry or the cooking, or you ask your boss or coworkers for a hand when the pile in your inbox begins to overflow and spill over the sides. You ask for help because you realize that no one can do everything on their own. You ask for help because you accept that you need it and you are willing to take it.
I wish it were as easy as that for me.
Asking someone for help when I need it is one of the hardest things I have to deal with in my adult life. I can think of a thousand other things I would rather endure than to pick up the phone and ask someone I know for a helping hand. In my head, no problem is too big or too small for me to handle on my own and if I’ve made it this far in my life without anyone to lean on, then why start asking people for help with any problem I have now?
The easy explanation for why I have such a difficult time asking for help is that I let my pride get in the way of my common sense. If I’m having a financial, parenting, or relationship problem, the last thing that I want is for other people to know about it. I don’t want an outsider knowing anything about my household or any of the problems I may be having in it. If there is a problem in my house, then I will fix the problem and no one else needs to be involved in any way.
Pride is the easy explanation. The more difficult, harder to face explanation is that I can’t ask people for help because I don’t feel like I can count on anyone in my life to help me when I truly need it. I expect people to abandon me or ignore me when things get hard and the last thing I expect out of anyone is to step up and be there for me in my time of need. I spent most of my adult life deathly afraid to ask anyone for anything because I was afraid that they would walk out on me and I was afraid to lose someone I cared about because I needed their help.
How can I expect people to help me in my adult life when I spent my childhood experiencing one person after another letting me down and leaving me in my abusive situation? How can I expect anyone to lend me a helping hand as an adult when I begged for help as a child and was ignored time and time again? I spent my childhood watching adults ignore my situation and refuse to step in, which made me learn quickly that if I needed help, I would have to figure it out myself.
If adults wouldn’t help me back then, how in the world can I expect them to help me now?
It’s physically and mentally exhausting trying to do everything by yourself and trying to be everything to everyone without any help whatsoever. It’s heartbreaking to go through life believing that no one cares about you enough to lend you a helping hand if you need it. And it’s silly to actually believe that you can go through your entire life without ever getting help from anyone.
There have been a few times in my adult life where I truly needed someone’s help. A few times where a problem has arisen that was just too big for me to handle on my own and it was absolutely necessary to have someone else step in and lend me a helping hand. Asking for help was one of the hardest things I had to do, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t have made it without it. I had to take that risk, learn to trust, and hope for the best when I asked for help when I needed it. I had to realize that once in a while, it’s OK to appear vulnerable and show people that you are as human as they are. No one is perfect and everyone needs help once in a while.
It’s one thing to be prideful and not want to involve people in your problems; it’s another to go through life scared to trust anyone to help you. It’s a fear in your head that you are carrying over from a past experience or a past relationship; a fear that is crippling you in forming meaningful relationships as an adult. Everyone has problems that they need help with and everyone needs a helping hand once in a while. Just because you ask for help doesn’t mean you are weak and helpless, it means that you are human.
And trust me; there are more people out there willing to help you than you think. Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it and don’t be afraid to show people your human side. Life and people aren’t as cruel as we were made to believe from our past.
New research has found that a major factor predicting how much an alcoholic will drink is immediate mood.
The new study also found that suffering from long-term mental health problems did not affect alcohol consumption, with one important exception: Men with a history of depression had a different drinking pattern than men without a history of depression. Surprisingly, the researchers found that those men were drinking less often than men who were not depressed.
“This work once again shows that alcoholism is not a one-size-fits-all condition,” said lead researcher Victor Karpyak of the Mayo Clinic. “So the answer to the question of why alcoholics drink is probably that there is no single answer. This will probably have implications for how we diagnose and treat alcoholism.”
The study, presented at the 2017 European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP) Congress, determined the alcohol consumption of 287 males and 156 females with alcohol dependence over the previous 90 days, using the accepted Time Line Follow Back method and standardized diagnostic assessment for life time presence of psychiatric disorders (PRISM).
The researchers were then able to associate this with whether the drinking coincided with a positive or negative emotional state (feeling “up” or “down”), and whether the individual had a history of anxiety, depression, or substance abuse.
The results showed that alcohol dependent men tended to drink more alcohol per day than alcohol dependent women.
As expected, alcohol consumption in both men and women was associated with feeling either up or down on a particular day, with no significant association with anxiety or substance use disorders.
However, men with a history of major depressive disorder had fewer drinking days and fewer heavy drinking days than men who never a major depressive disorder, according to the study’s findings.
“Research indicates that many people drink to enhance pleasant feelings, while other people drink to suppress negative moods, such as depression or anxiety,” Karpyak said.
“However, previous studies did not differentiate between state-dependent mood changes and the presence of clinically diagnosed anxiety or depressive disorders. The lack of such differentiation was likely among the reasons for controversial findings about the usefulness of antidepressants in treatment of alcoholics with comorbid depression.”
While the study will need to be replicated and confirmed, Karpyak said the reasons alcoholics drink depend on their background, as well as the immediate circumstances.
“There is no single reason,” he said. “And this means that there is probably no single treatment, so we will have to refine our diagnostic methods and tailor treatment to the individual.”
It also means that treatment approaches may differ depending on targeting different aspects of alcoholism, such as craving or consumption. Treatment also needs to take into account whether the alcoholic patient is a man or a woman and whether the patient has a history of depression or anxiety, he noted.
Source: The European College of Neuropsychopharmacology (ECNP)
Have you ever stopped to think about how profound music has been for you in your life? Just the beginning of a song can change someone’s mood, drop us into a state of reflection on life, reduce stress or even prepare us for a better athletic performance.
For many people there may be a calming effect to Billy Joel’s “Piano Man.” Or Rachel Platten’s “Fight Song” can create a surge of energy bringing up a feeling of courage and confidence. Or Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle” can drop you into a reflective mood on the impermanence of life and the longing for connection. Apparently, science shows that Beethoven’s 9th symphony can have positive impacts on our health and well-being.
In this study, Oxford University scientists took 24 healthy volunteers and had them listen to a variety of different forms of music. They found that listening to music with a 10-second repetitive cycle like Beethoven’s third movement No. 9 can lower blood pressure and prevent heart disease.
There’s no question about it that music has dramatic effects on our thoughts, emotions and sensations. Matisyahu’s “One Day” can inspire a sense of global hope and instantly bring a smile to your face.
Does this resonate with you?
When it comes to your brain’s ability to believe what I’m saying, talk only goes so far, but experience takes it to the next level. If you’d like to investigate this for yourself, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is over an hour and you can find it here. But I believe you’d have to listen to the entire hour to replicate the study.
In the six month online mentorship program A Course in Mindful Living, a element we use to better understand ourselves is music. We post music and watch how it impacts our thoughts, emotions and sensations from moment to moment. Take some time to consider what relaxing tunes are to you, create some space, put them on and notice what comes up for you. If you need any help, here’s a Relax and Retune Playlist that was compiled by the last group that went through the course.
After listening, tell us how music impacts you! Share with us other music that inspires any of these feelings for you – calm, wakefulness, self-acceptance, self-compassion, joy, happiness, energy, compassion, generosity, and balance.
Let’s learn from one another, allowing for the creation of a Playlist for life.
Betty sits alone in the kitchen late at night, tearfully reviewing the current state of her life and marriage. Things looked so promising when she married Arthur after meeting at school! A modest home in the suburbs, two beautiful children, a small circle of friends, meaningful work as a school administrator, church picnics and potlucks—what more could she want?
And yet, unbeknownst to even her closest friends, Betty has suffered for nine years as a result of Arthur’s longstanding depression. At first, she attempted to utilize her naturally cheery disposition to “jolly” Arthur out of his dark moods, but came to realize that Arthur’s gloom could not be so easily dismissed. With the help of their family physician, she was able to persuade Arthur to seek treatment. After a number of false starts, he is now taking his medication “fairly” regularly and seeing a therapist “almost” every other week in a nearby town.
Over the years, Betty has had to make excuses for Arthur’s absence from community functions. Often, she herself has been reluctant to leave him at home alone with the children, since he seemed incapable of providing the kind of supervision she believed was necessary given his low energy level and seeming preoccupation with matters that might have best been put behind him.
As she dries her eyes and begins to prepare tomorrow’s school lunches for her children, she has difficulty recalling the last time she and Arthur shared the kind of “quiet exhilaration” she knew with him when they first met.
As this example illustrates, the harmful effects of depression are not limited to the person diagnosed with that disorder. Clearly, depression in one marital partner can affect that person’s spouse. In fact, depression in a marriage often disrupts communication and social patterns and can even contribute to depressed mood in the “non-depressed” spouse.
WHAT CAN I DO?
The first and most important thing you can do is to find ways to remind yourself that your spouse or partner is ill—not hostile, not stupid, not out to get you, not stubborn, not any of a dozen unfriendly things you might feel like calling him or her when you are at your wit’s end. Diagnosed depression is much like diabetes or heart disease from the perspective that it is a chronic illness that requires special attention and considerable patience.
Patience of this magnitude is a tall order. It will help if you have a good friend, a supportive family member, a pastor, a therapist, or some other caring person in your life to listen to you and help to shore you up during the hard times. Recovery from depression often takes longer than the ill person or the people surrounding him or her think they can stand. You need someone to be in your corner!
TAKING CARE OF YOUR PARTNER
Perhaps the single most important action you can take is to assist your spouse in getting proper diagnosis and treatment for his or her depression from a health care professional.
This is not the time to try to make him or her take responsibility. Not going for treatment is generally not a reflection of irresponsibility. It’s part of the illness. A sense of hopelessness is common to all depressive illnesses and may be the very thing that keeps your spouse from getting needed help! You can gradually turn responsibility back over to him or her when he or she has accepted the diagnosis and is actively working on getting better. In the meantime,
If you have to be the one to schedule the appointment with your spouse’s doctor or therapist, do it!
If you want to ensure that your spouse gets to the appointment, arrange the necessary transportation or provide it yourself.
If medication is prescribed, remind your spouse that it will take several weeks for the effects of medication to be experienced. Remain patient, supportive, and reassuring about the eventual success of treatment.
Offer to assist in monitoring the pill-taking and refill process to ensure that the medication schedule is followed closely to ensure the maximum benefit.
Once the depressed person is under a professional’s care, you can add other kinds of supports:
Encourage, but do not “push,” activities, hobbies, sports, and games that gave your spouse pleasure in the past. Inactivity is common during depressive episodes and can prolong the depressive cycle.
Encourage him or her to be physically active. You can start with something as simple as taking walks together. As your spouse feels a bit better, you can encourage him or her to get to a gym, to get on a bike, to exercise to a video—anything that gets him or her moving.
Make an effort to find things that will make him or her laugh. Rent a comedy video, share a joke, do some gentle teasing, draw on your own sense of the absurd. Laughter is the enemy of depression.
Don’t ignore or make light of suicidal talk. There is a risk for suicide at all phases of depressive illness. Be sure to alert your spouse’s doctor or therapist to suicidal talk— it is likely to be a request for help!
TAKING CARE OF YOURSELF
If your spouse is unwilling or unable to follow through on social engagements, remember that it is not your job to make excuses for your spouse to family or friends. Letting those you are closest to know that your spouse has been seriously depressed will not only put the issue squarely on the table, but will open up the potential for you to receive the support anyone in your circumstances would need.
Whatever you do, try not to take the depression on as something you can personally “fix.” Although your support, encouragement, and caring are clearly needed, you can’t “love” this particular problem away. Treatment is the answer and the services of a professional are required.
Take care of yourself. You won’t be of much help to yourself or others if you allow your spouse’s depression to envelop you as well. Eat well. Get enough sleep. Stay in contact with your friends. Continue your work and social commitments to the greatest extent possible.
As stated above, don’t hesitate to get some professional help for yourself if you need it. It’s okay to need a private place to deal with your feelings of anger, disappointment, and upset.
Spouses of depressed people often benefit from couples’ work or family therapy involving the depressed partner. A mental health professional can assist the couple or family to recognize and change destructive patterns of relating that often accompany depression in the family. For example, a couple might renegotiate their approach to shared activities and agree to the benefit of time apart. This may remedy disruptions to the social life of the non-depressed spouse and ease marital discord.
Marriage and commitment are for better or worse. Depression is definitely one of the “worse.” It can be trying to maintain one’s own optimism and joy in life when someone you love is under a constant cloud. But with good treatment, encouragement, and caring, most depressed people do recover. With good support, most spouses break through the silence and make it as well.
Have you ever stopped to think about how the mental health stigma doesn’t make sense? So many of us walk around feeling ashamed of our struggles, trying to hide them from the rest of the world.
Yet functioning with these immense internal difficulties actually evinces our strength!
As actress Carrie Fisher wrote in Wishful Drinking:
“Being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”
Plus, try this statistic on for size: according to the CDC, nearly 50% of U.S. adults will struggle with at least one mental illness in their lifetime. In this post, we’ll focus on the dual diagnosis of addiction and bipolar disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar is a mood disorder characterized by emotional swings from high to low. People with bipolar deal with depressive “down” phases and manic “up” phases, and they struggle to find a healthy middle ground.
In a depressive state, a person might be immobilized, unable to take care of their usual responsibilities. But in a manic state, that same person might work around the clock.
One quick definition for bipolar is “experiencing extremes”.
This disorder does have a genetic component, but an individual’s environment matters a great deal as well. Growing up in a physically, mentally, or emotionally traumatic environment is a strong risk factor.
Why an Accurate Diagnosis Can Be Difficult
Here are a few key reasons why bipolar disorder can be difficult to diagnose accurately:
First, if a person is under the influence, it’s extremely challenging to provide an accurate diagnosis. Having people detox prior to diagnosis is ideal.
Next, the bipolar label has increased in popularity in recent years. This is great for awareness, but it can also lead to misdiagnosis. For example, sometimes people who are dealing with clinical depression are misdiagnosed with bipolar because of the dramatic difference between their low-functioning depressive state and their usual functioning state. Similarly, rigid, black-and-white thinking can be confused with bipolar symptoms, and so can the aftereffects of trauma.
Finally, when people have a great deal of conflict in their lives, they may be labeled as bipolar. But when they gain the tools they need to resolve those conflicts, often the level of internal tension changes significantly.
In short, understanding bipolar disorder and addiction is critical for accurate diagnosis and treatment.
True bipolar disorder involves an imbalance in brain chemistry, and it’s certainly a serious condition.
Yet in our experience in running a residential addiction treatment center, we see people misdiagnosed as bipolar when in reality they have mental and emotional issues causing a lot of upset in their lives.
That’s not brain chemistry; that’s just upset. We find that when such people heal those issues, the upset in their lives decreases dramatically.
The Connection Between Addiction and Bipolar Disorder
Bipolar disorder is part of a family of mood disorders, including depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD).
While mood disorders can be caused or exacerbated by drug use, more often people with mood disorders use addictive substances to self-medicate. Many people with bipolar turn to substances during their depressive states.
There is a particularly strong connection between bipolar and addiction. Statistics from DualDiagnosis.org suggest that 56% of people with bipolar disorder have experienced drug addiction.
Healing from Bipolar and Addiction
September is National Recovery Month, and it’s also Self Awareness Month. This is fitting, as you can’t really have one without the other.
Self awareness is an essential component of recovery, especially when you’re dealing with a dual diagnosis.
That said, medication certainly has its place as well. If you find that you continue to struggle with emotional extremes after you’ve detoxed from substances, then medication may give you the support you need to maintain emotional stability.
However, don’t shortchange yourself by skipping over the mental and emotional issues that contribute to mood disorders. Finding and addressing the root causes of physical disorders can minimize (or eliminate!) the need for medications to treat symptoms, and the same is true for emotional disorders.
What Counseling Strategies Work Well with Bipolar?
Specific strategies that work well with bipolar include:
On the mental level, Rational Emotive Therapy (RET) allows people to work with the judgments, the limiting beliefs and the projections in a person’s life.
On the emotional level, Gestalt and Developmental Psychology are particularly helpful for people that went through a trauma and are reliving that trauma over and over.
On the spiritual level, learning about compassionate self-forgiveness empowers people to reconnect with their Authentic Selves.
A trained therapist can help you to work with these counseling strategies, but no one else can force you to do the kind of mental and emotional work necessary to recover.
You yourself must be motivated to question your limiting beliefs and feel the feelings of anger, sadness, and fear that you’ve held at bay for years.
It sounds daunting, and in some ways it is. But we’re willing to bet that you’ll be surprised by your own strength.
Four practitioners open up about why they seek professional help: to maintain boundaries with clients, process their own life events and decide when to retire
Britain’s Prince Harry has earned praise in recent days for speaking up about his personal issues with mental health, the need to not stay silent about emotions, and the benefits of seeking therapy.
Describing how he arrived at a breaking point in an interview with the Telegraph, he explained it was listening to other people’s problems and realizing he was unable to be as helpful as he wanted to be that pushed him to seek help.
“You park your own issues because of what you’re confronted with, and all you want to do is help and listen, but then you walk away and go, hang on a second, how the hell am I supposed to process this?”
He then added that for every three hours of listening to people, psychologists take half an hour to process it themselves with someone else. He’s right: it is one of the most important traditions within the mental health world. Therapists also need therapy.
We asked four psychotherapists with extensive experience in the field to open up about how they, too, use therapists.
David Lopez, practitioner for 15 years, Connecticut
David Lopez, a former president of the American Academy of Psychoanalysis and Dynamic Psychiatry, says there are a few different reasons why therapists will seek therapy.
The first is during the training process, when therapists in training will have a supervisor and often a therapist of their own.
“Typically, people who want to become therapists have an interest in connecting with people. When they are doing therapy that need needs to be redirected, to be tamed so that it does not get in the way of not being objective,” Lopez elucidates.
What needs to be addressed in training is something called “countertransference”, Lopez explains. While a client transferring emotions they would have for someone in their outside lives on to their therapist (called “transference”) is generally considered a good thing, a therapist transferring emotions on to their client is to be avoided.
If a therapist in training was orphaned young, they may emotionally react to stories their clients bring into sessions about parents and loss, for instance. The challenge for the therapist is then not necessarily to get rid of the feelings related to loss and parenting, but to become aware of them and become intimately acquainted with these “blind spots”.
A common blind spot might simply be witnessing a patient struggle with some kind of grief and watch them cry: a therapist may want to go and hug them, and be their friend.
“You may wish to connect with a patient for your own need, instead of applying the tools that you have been taught. But they’re not paying you to be their friends, even if a hug in that moment may feel good to give.”
Elena Lister, private practitioner for 30 years, New York
“Shockingly enough, therapists are also people,” Elena Lister says, not without a considerable amount of irony.
Lister, a psychiatrist, analyst and professor who teaches at Cornell and Columbia universities, says that there is nothing particularly mysterious leading therapists to seek treatment of their own, beyond the initial training requirements during the early years. The answer is it’s life, and life’s trying and often painful events.
Lister herself sought therapy when she lost her six-year-old child to leukemia. At the time, the help she found did not adequately meet her needs, she says. Identifying this lacuna in her own field convinced her to specialize in grief and loss, meaning she could seek to be there for others in a way she had not been able to professionally find herself.
Treating patients (including patients who are therapists) who are undergoing such extreme pain means developing an ability to leave what has happened during a therapy session in the room once it is over.
“You have to be able to keep it in boundaries. Some people have gone through such tremendous suffering. You have to be fully present in the room. But if I am going to do this, it’s my mandate to not carry it to the next room. I have a duty not to.”
To keep herself upbeat and in the right mental space for all her patients, as well as of for herself, Lister says she has to do “all sorts of things. I talk to friends, to myself, to my husband. I exercise, I meditate.”
Leslie Prusnofsky, private practitioner for 35 years, New York
Leslie Prusnofsky, a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and faculty member at Columbia University, says that in some ways treating therapists is no different than treating non-therapists.
“You’re dealing with a lot of people’s pain. Whether it is therapists or lay patients, pain is human, and human suffering is not unique to one group.”
But Prusnofsky says that treating therapists does sometimes come with its own particular obstacles.
“It can result in more walls that have to be pulled down,” he explains. This will be the case even if the therapist-patients are very willing to engage in treatment.
Part of the therapy process is trying to break through to things that are naturally being protected, he explains. There is “an unconscious resistance” that can be found in everyone, Prusnofsky says, but therapists who know the jargon may be even better than others at hiding the real root of their problems.
“Using the jargon is one of the cover-ups to stay away from the depths of what they [the therapist-patient] actually need to explore.
“If someone comes in saying they have a lot of ‘repressed anger’, you may find with time, the deeper you go, that the anger turns into sadness. What is revealed is a sense of loss or of deprivation that is harder for the person to deal with.”
David Forrest, practitioner for 50 years, New York
For David Forrest, a clinical professor of psychiatry at Columbia University, and a trained psychotherapist and psychoanalyst who also holds a private practice in Midtown Manhattan, one of the most interesting – and tough – questions that therapists go to therapy for is when it’s time to call it quits.
Forrest, whose work includes research and teaching in the field of neurology, says that asking the question of when a psychotherapist should retire is a particularly fascinating one.
“To ask how does a psychotherapist know when it it time to hang up their spurs, asks us to define the mental capacities necessary to be a psychotherapist in the first place,” Forrest poses.
A surgeon may no longer physically be able to withstand the arduous hours, or may suffer from an injury that prevents them from operating, but so long as a psychotherapist’s brain is going, when do they know to stop? Doesn’t an older therapist mean a more experienced therapist, an attribute one would seek?
Memory loss or small mental failings can affect the mind as one gets older and negatively affect remembering a patient’s complex history.
But other things may start to go with age, too, Forrest says, elements that might be just as crucial to quality therapy-giving.
Deciphering what is funny and not, for example, sometimes morphs with age.
If someone contracts frontotemporal dementia, their sense of humor tends to degrade from the more elaborate sensitivities, Forrest says. A therapist with this kind of affliction may develop a new kind of sense of humor – that is less suitable in a therapy room.
“It [the sense of humor] would no longer be deadpan and dry. It would sink to slapstick and sadistic, and the brain would enjoy low-quality humor.”
“The pun is a low sense of humor,” the psychiatrist explains, helpfully.
As for Forrest himself, a veteran of the profession: have decades and decades of practice and inquiry into the human brain started to wear him out? Such a question is one more adapted to younger professionals, he responds.
“For someone like me, there is no question of burnout.”
Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) has been shown to strengthen specific brain connections in people with psychosis. Now, researchers at King’s College London have found that these stronger connections are associated with a long-term reduction in symptoms and recovery even eight years later.
CBT involves helping people change how they think about and respond to their thoughts and experiences. For those with psychotic symptoms — common in schizophrenia and a number of other psychiatric disorders — the therapy involves learning to think differently about unusual thought patterns, such as distressing beliefs that others are out to get them. CBT also helps the patient develop new strategies to reduce internal distress and improve well-being.
The new study follows on the heels of the team’s previous work showing how, after receiving CBT, people with psychosis displayed strengthened connections between key regions of the brain involved in processing social threat accurately. The new results show for the first time that these changes continue to have an impact years later on people’s long-term recovery.
In the original study, participants underwent fMRI imaging both before and after six months of CBT in order to observe the brain’s response to images of faces showing different expressions.
Since the participants were already taking medication when they joined the study, the researchers compared their images to those of a medication-only group. The group receiving medication only did not show any increases in connectivity, suggesting that the effects on brain connections were a result of the CBT.
For the new study, the researchers tracked the medical records of 15 of the 22 CBT participants for eight years. The participants were also sent a questionnaire at the end of this period to assess their level of recovery and wellbeing.
The findings show that increases in connectivity between several brain regions — most importantly the amygdala (the brain’s threat center) and the frontal lobes (involved in thinking and reasoning) — are associated with long-term recovery from psychosis. This is the first time that CBT-related changes in the brain have been shown to be associated with long-term recovery in people with psychosis.
“This research challenges the notion that the existence of physical brain differences in mental health disorders somehow makes psychological factors or treatments less important,” said lead author Dr. Liam Mason, a clinical psychologist at the Maudsley Hospital where the research took place.
“Unfortunately, previous research has shown that this ‘brain bias’ can make clinicians more likely to recommend medication but not psychological therapies. This is especially important in psychosis, where only one in ten people who could benefit from psychological therapies are offered them.”
The research team hopes to confirm the results in a larger sample and to identify the changes in the brain that differentiate people who experience improvements with CBT from those who do not. Ultimately, the new findings could lead to more effective and personalized treatments for psychosis by allowing researchers to determine which psychological therapies are effective.
The findings are published in the journal Translational Psychiatry.
Source: King’s College London
Woman in therapy session photo by shutterstock.
You might wonder, at some point today, what’s going on in another person’s mind. You may compliment someone’s great mind, or say they are out of their mind. You may even try to expand or free your own mind.
But what is a mind? Defining the concept is a surprisingly slippery task. The mind is the seat of consciousness, the essence of your being. Without a mind, you cannot be considered meaningfully alive. So what exactly, and where precisely, is it?
Traditionally, scientists have tried to define the mind as the product of brain activity: The brain is the physical substance, and the mind is the conscious product of those firing neurons, according to the classic argument. But growing evidence shows that the mind goes far beyond the physical workings of your brain.
No doubt, the brain plays an incredibly important role. But our mind cannot be confined to what’s inside our skull, or even our body, according to a definition first put forward by Dan Siegel, a professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and the author of a recently published book, Mind: A Journey to the Heart of Being Human.
He first came up with the definition more than two decades ago, at a meeting of 40 scientists across disciplines, including neuroscientists, physicists, sociologists, and anthropologists. The aim was to come to an understanding of the mind that would appeal to common ground and satisfy those wrestling with the question across these fields.
After much discussion, they decided that a key component of the mind is: “the emergent self-organizing process, both embodied and relational, that regulates energy and information flow within and among us.” It’s not catchy. But it is interesting, and with meaningful implications.
The most immediately shocking element of this definition is that our mind extends beyond our physical selves. In other words, our mind is not simply our perception of experiences, but those experiences themselves. Siegel argues that it’s impossible to completely disentangle our subjective view of the world from our interactions.
“I realized if someone asked me to define the shoreline but insisted, is it the water or the sand, I would have to say the shore is both sand and sea,” says Siegel. “You can’t limit our understanding of the coastline to insist it’s one or the other. I started thinking, maybe the mind is like the coastline—some inner and inter process. Mental life for an anthropologist or sociologist is profoundly social. Your thoughts, feelings, memories, attention, what you experience in this subjective world is part of mind.”
The definition has since been supported by research across the sciences, but much of the original idea came from mathematics. Siegel realized the mind meets the mathematical definition of a complex system in that it’s open (can influence things outside itself), chaos capable (which simply means it’s roughly randomly distributed), and non-linear (which means a small input leads to large and difficult to predict result).
In math, complex systems are self-organizing, and Siegel believes this idea is the foundation to mental health. Again borrowing from the mathematics, optimal self-organization is: flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. This means that without optimal self-organization, you arrive at either chaos or rigidity—a notion that, Siegel says, fits the range of symptoms of mental health disorders.
Finally, self-organization demands linking together differentiated ideas or, essentially, integration. And Siegel says integration—whether that’s within the brain or within society—is the foundation of a healthy mind.
Siegel says he wrote his book now because he sees so much misery in society, and he believes this is partly shaped by how we perceive our own minds. He talks of doing research in Namibia, where people he spoke to attributed their happiness to a sense of belonging.
When Siegel was asked in return whether he belonged in America, his answer was less upbeat: “I thought how isolated we all are and how disconnected we feel,” he says. “In our modern society we have this belief that mind is brain activity and this means the self, which comes from the mind, is separate and we don’t really belong. But we’re all part of each others’ lives. The mind is not just brain activity. When we realize it’s this relational process, there’s this huge shift in this sense of belonging.”
In other words, even perceiving our mind as simply a product of our brain, rather than relations, can make us feel more isolated. And to appreciate the benefits of interrelations, you simply have to open your mind.
Visually creative people tend to have poorer quality of sleep overall, while verbally creative people tend to sleep longer and later, according to new research at the University of Haifa in Israel.
The study, which compared the sleeping patterns of social science and art students, strengthens the hypothesis that visual creativity and verbal creativity involve different psychobiological mechanisms.
“Visually creative people reported disturbed sleep leading to difficulties in daytime functioning,” said study co-author Neta Ram-Vlasov, a doctoral student at the Graduate School of Creative Art Therapies at the University of Haifa.
“In the case of verbally creative people, we found that they sleep more hours and go to sleep and get up later. In other words, the two types of creativity were associated with different sleep patterns.”
The researchers sought to understand how the two types of creativity influence objective aspects of sleep such as duration and timing (measures such as the time of falling asleep and waking up), and subjective aspects like sleep quality.
Creativity is often characterised by four traits: fluency — the ability to produce a wide range of ideas; flexibility — the ability to switch easily between different thought patterns in order to produce this wide range of ideas; originality — the unique quality of the idea relative to the ideas in the environment; and elaboration — the ability to develop each idea separately.
The study was conducted by Professor Tamar Shochat of the Department of Nursing and doctoral student Ram-Vlasov, together with Amit Green from the Sleep Institute at Assuta Medical Center and Professor Orna Tzischinsky from the Department of Psychology at Yezreel Valley College.
The study involved 30 undergraduate students from seven academic institutions, half of whom were majoring only in art and half of whom were majoring only in social sciences. The participants took visual and verbal creativity tests. They also underwent overnight electrophysiological sleep recordings, wore a wrist activity monitor (a device that measures sleep objectively), and completed a sleep monitoring diary and a questionnaire on sleep habits in order to measure the pattern and quality of sleep.
The researchers found that among all the participants, the higher the level of visual creativity, the lower the quality of their sleep. This was manifested in such aspects as sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction. The researchers also found that the higher the participants’ level of verbal creativity, the more hours they slept and the later they went to sleep and woke up.
A comparison between the sleep patterns of art students and non-art students found that art students tend to sleep more, but this in no way guarantees quality sleep. For example, art students evaluated their sleep as of lower quality and reported more sleep disturbances and daytime dysfunction than the non-art students.
Further studies may help determine whether creativity influences sleep or vice versa (or perhaps neither is the case).
“It is possible that a ‘surplus’ of visual creativity makes the individual more alert, and this could lead to sleep disturbances,” the researchers suggested. “On the other hand, it is possible that it is protracted sleep among verbally creativity individuals that facilitates processes that support the creative process while they are awake.
“In any case, these findings are further evidence of the fact that creativity is not a uniform concept. Visual creativity is activated by — and activates — different cerebral mechanisms than verbal creativity.”
Source: University of Haifa
Moving from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery is a challenging journey that requires physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual recovery capital to ensure that we have the resources to support us in our recovery.
In order to fill the void that is left by abstaining from harmful substances and behaviour, it is important that we start to develop tools and techniques that aid our recovery.
By giving us the objectivity of “mindsight” to be able to observe our feelings, thoughts and behaviour in a potentially harmful situation, we are better equipped to develop new thought patterns, so that we are able to overcome early-stage cravings and urges.
By understanding the importance of spiritual principles and determining what our personal values are, we can start to feed our souls. Instead of pursuing destructive behaviour patterns that are prevalent in substance abuse, we should try and develop healthy pursuits, explore new interests and identify which elements of our lives need to cultivated. People in early recovery often experience difficulties because they are not prepared for the feelings of loneliness and emptiness they experience because of they have lost their “best friend”. According to psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, people in recovery go through the stages of grief, like those experienced when losing a close friend or family member. People will most likely experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance during the process and may be unaware that we are actually grieving. Again, by understanding and acknowledging our situation, we are able to more effectively deal with obstacles we may confront in the early stages of our recovery journey.
Personal learning and self-development will ensure that we are more empowered, moving towards a life of purpose and fulfilment in the later stages of recovery. Goal setting and action planning are skills that can be consciously developed to aid forward movement in recovery.
By joining a Recovery Wellness Program clients are encouraged to design their own recovery plan and identify and capitalise on their personal strengths, while be aware of areas of weakness and possible obstacles that might jeopardise their early recovery. By engaging in adult education in an environment of positive psychology, solutions-driven coaching and peer support, one is given a safe to explore recovery in an honest, empowering program.
It is a widely accepted statistic that only 1 in 10 addiction patients who receive treatment, will achieve long-term recovery of 5 years or more. Without looking at how statistics are formulated we know that whatever the actual rate is, it is incredibly low.
The question to be asked is how do we increase the chances of a successful recovery?
The answer to that is quite simply after-care (or extended care). We wouldn’t release a patient from Intensive Care without follow-up rehabilitation, support and medical assistance and addicts need and deserve the same kind of post-treatment care.
The phases of recovery, as laid out below, demand that in order for patients to have a reasonable chance at a successful recovery, continued treatment needs to be applied that deals specifically with these phases. The Extended Care Model differs in approach and content from Inpatient Treatment.
The extended care model also and most importantly proposes that the most difficult period of recovery is going to occur when most patients have left Primary Care treatment and the patient needs to be managed during this time. Much of what happens during the first six weeks of treatment / recovery is about containment and dealing with denial. Learning the coping skills required to achieve long-term recovery only become possible after about 3 – 5 months of sobriety, as by this time the brain has only begun to heal sufficiently enough for the patient to be able to process and learn anything new.
The addict is also faced with life away from the secure and structured environment of a treatment centre, which brings its own challenges. Facing these challenges with the assistance of an Extended Care model, will greatly assist in not only achieving long-term recovery but true happiness in the years to follow.
PHASES OF RECOVERY
1. Withdrawal Stage (First 7 – 14 days)
Difficult withdrawal symptoms are related to the amount, frequency and type of substance use.
Early Abstinence (First 14 – 45 days) – “Pink Cloud”
Most people feel quite good during this period and often feel “cured.” As a result, they may want to end treatment or stop attending a support groups. The energy, enthusiasm and optimism felt during this period must be directed towards building a strong recovery foundation.
Protracted Abstinence (First 45 days – 5 months) – “The Wall”
“The Wall” is a period characterised by difficulties with thoughts and feelings caused by the continuing healing process in the brain. The most common symptoms are depression, irritability, difficulty concentrating, low energy and a general lack of enthusiasm. Relapse risk goes up during this period due to strong craving cycles. Focus must remain on remaining abstinent one day at a time.
Readjustment (First 5 – 7 months)
The substantial brain recovery after 5 months allows for developing a life with fulfilling activities that support continued recovery. Although a difficult part of recovery is over, hard work is needed to improve the quality of life. Because cravings occur less often and feel less intense, relapse risk can increase if high-risk situations are not avoided.
Finally, the recovering addict has no concept of a life without alcohol or drugs and this thought is truly terrifying, with the support, care, knowledge and understanding that after-care teaches, the addict is nurtured until they can experience for themselves the true joy and serenity that recovery has to offer.
Imagine you were in a raft on a lake headed for an enormous waterfall. While many of us would panic and immediately start praying to G-d to help us, (suddenly making promises to give more charity or vowing to start becoming more observant should He intervene to save us!) not many people I know, would rely on prayer alone. Most, would also be frantically using their ores to try and steer away from the fall.
Change requires action! It is no use to complain about things in our lives without putting in the work to try and shift them. Addiction is a black hole of helplessness. It is dark, scary and lonely. It renders you powerless and broken spirited. It is so hard to imagine that it is possible to change your life. Perhaps the intention to stop is strong but where to even begin is an enigma. The point is, to stop using drugs, you have to stop using drugs. Things will only begin to change when you decide to do something different: consider attending your first NA meeting, reaching out for help, calling that counselor whose number you have had for months. You don’t have to change everything at once, but you cannot do what you have always done and expect different results.
The great news is that help is available for anyone who wants it, and recovery from addiction is absolutely possible! It is uncomfortable to ask for help if you are the kind of person who isn’t used to relying on others. But you cannot arrest an addiction on your own – and you don’t have to. There are so many people ready to support and help you through the process – so let them!
Sound inviting? Didn’t think so. So why is it that thousands and thousands of people voluntarily put poisonous chemicals into their bodies, up their noses, down their gullets and into their veins, knowing that there is risk of addiction?
Think back to when you were in grade 1 (for some this may require digging deep into your grey matter) and your teacher was asking the class “What do you want to be when you grow up?”. I hardly imagine any one of you put up your hand and said: “Well Miss, I really hope I land up in the gutters of Hillbrow, not a cent to my name, not a friend in the world, with a dirty needle sticking out my arm, nursing one chronic heroin addiction”.
No one chooses to be an addict. No one takes their first drink, first puff or first snort thinking they will loose a battle for control because in the beginning stages of using drugs and alcohol, there is a degree of control. But as the usage becomes more and more frequent, the less and less control there is, until the using becomes compulsive in nature.
A major reason this happens is because drugs alter the chemistry and structure of the brain! Let’s look at an analogy that’s useful when talking about structural brain change and chemicals.
Imagine walking the same line on a carpet, every day, all day for a year. At first the carpet – all brand new – doesn’t have any indication of a path. But the more you walk on the same line, the more and more the carpet will begin to wear until eventually it is completely worn in, with a clear pathway of where you have been treading. After a year the pathway you have walked, is clearly visible and the carpet is certainly worse for wear. It cannot ever go back to way it was when you bought it. It cannot be repaired. If you want a carpet with no path, you have to buy a new one.
Chemicals do the same thing in the brain as they activate the pleasure pathway (i.e. it feels good, that’s why people say you feel high). At first, your brain – prior to the ingestion of substances – it a beautiful mass of mess. Consisting of billions and billions of neurons. But the more and more you use, the more and more the pleasure pathway becomes activated until it is completely worn in – more like a trench than a pathway. And as was the case with the carpet, so is the case with the brain. It cannot ever go back to the way it was before. It cannot be repaired. And that ladies and gentlemen is why no addict can ever return to a state of controlled use. Unlike the carpet, you cannot buy a new brain! What’s done is done and cannot be undone (I doubt Shakespeare had this in mind when writing Macbeth).
How do I know if my loved one has an addiction?
For some friends and families the addiction is “out in the open” and everyone is aware that it is happening, but for others of you there may be the start of a suspicion and an inkling that something is not right with the person you love. For these of you, this is never an easy straightforward question to answer.
It may start with thinking Something’s up! I’m not sure what’s happening but something in my gut tells me my loved one is not telling me the truth.
It may start with stories that seem too far fetched to be true or it may become too unlikely that bad things keep happening to them and everyone else is to blame.
Its likely that the person you know and love has changed so much that they are not the person you know and care for. While there may be a number of reasons that could account for a change in someone’s behaviour, it could be reason enough to think IS IT AN ADDICTION?
What can be an addiction? What should I look out for?
Remember: whilst drugs and alcohol may be the most common things that come to mind when speaking of addiction, addiction is like an octopus, it is able to change forms and take on many different manners.
While the signs and symptoms for specific addictions may vary, here are some of the more common ones across the board.
Living with addiction is like being on a rollercoaster
It can be very frightening and frustrating living with addiction. We understand that you are probably filled with anxiety and fear and have many questions to ask. It may confuse you, and at times it may feel like you are on an emotional rollercoaster. One day you may feel completely drained and empty and the next hopeful that you can live with, and recover from your loved one’s addiction. We welcome you here and hope you find something that can help you, wherever you are today, in this moment!
We know that you may have hoped and prayed that your loved one would wake up one day and decide that enough is enough and willingly ask for help. You may even have had your loved one in treatment only to face the reality of relapse once they leave and it seems like you are back to square one. You may have hoped that they would hit their “rock bottom” and have reached a point where they couldn’t continue for one more day. We know that you may have believed that if you could love them more, be harsher, shown them more compassion, set more rules, shown more empathy and acted with unconditional kindness that they would stop. And we also know that you may have learned and lived through enough to know that this so often simply doesn’t happen.
Me? My recovery? I don’t understand it’s not about me!
As addiction is a lengthy process, so too is recovery. We hope you have found this site for YOU, for YOUR recovery sometimes irrespective of whether your loved one is in recovery or not . Living with addiction is consuming. It takes over your life, your thoughts, and your behaviour and somewhere in all the chaos and confusion YOU get lost. You may have discovered that despite all your efforts to help your loved one they still haven’t changed. What we hope you grasp now is that while you may not be able to change your loved one, you can discover that YOU CAN DO SOMETHING FOR YOUR OWN HEALING. And when you start to do things differently, you being to heal and your loved ones slowly begin to change.
We truly understand what you are going through, we are so glad you found this site but sad that you had to. We hope you find what you are looking for.
Please check out the halfway houses, support groups and treatment centers on: www.findHelp.co.za
The phenomenon of relapse proves that addicts and alcoholics can be clean and sober with no physical craving and still choose to pick up a drug or a drink despite knowledge of the consequences.
How can seemingly rational and often intelligent people lose sight of how dangerous drugs and alcohol are to them? The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous refers to a “peculiar mental twist”, a thinking error, which tells us that addiction affects the mind of the sufferer as well as his body.
12 Step programs go further than this though – the founding concept is that addiction is a three-fold illness that affects the mind, body and spirit. As soon as the word ‘spirit’ is mentioned, one begins to understand the limits of medicine and psychology in the treatment of addiction.
Once the drugs and alcohol are gone, most of us are left with the ongoing problem of the way we think and react to life on life’s terms. These coping mechanisms are the exact character traits that gave addiction so much power in our lives.
12 Step treatment centres like The Cedars recognize the value of introducing a spiritual program as early as possible to our patients, knowing that to treat only the physical addiction is treat a symptom and not the underlying cause of the illness.
Spiritual matters are often intimidating and misunderstood. 12 Step fellowships are not religious in nature though members are obviously free to adhere to or explore individual religious beliefs.
Spirituality in terms of the 12 steps though, is practical: our understanding of a spiritual experience is that it rearranges us internally and changes our outlook. On a daily basis, we recommit to a way of life which is an active attempt to grow as people, take responsibility and strive towards ethical ideals. Not because we want to be saints, but because we want to feel connected, purposeful and good about ourselves.
Membership of 12 Step fellowships worldwide is in the millions, with 23 million confirmed members in the United States alone. The reason for this would be that it is one of the only proven methods not only for achieving recovery, but maintaining it. It outlines an approach to life that dramatically alters the way we respond to reality and gives us possibly best chance available of becoming happy, free, productive members of the human race.
Rather drink nothing if you have to drive, is the advice for responsible drinking this festive season.
Mrs Sorika de Swardt, Elim Clinic Addiction Consultant said that having a good time and enjoying a few drinks has become synonymous in our society.
Alcohol is supposed to be enjoyable and relax you, but don’t try and quench a thirst with Alcohol because this will lead to gulping way more drinks much faster than what the body can deal with.
Some ways to limit your alcohol intake during long hours of socialization are as follows:
· Drink a glass of water in between alcoholic drinks.
· To avoid the constant pressure for a full glass, dilute alcohol with water or ice.
· Don’t mix or top up your drinks as you cannot keep track of quantities.
· Stick to familiar drinks of which you know what the effect on you will be.
· De Swardt said the best way to keep track of what you are drinking is to pour your own drinks and to finish a drink before having another one.
· Ensure that you know the recommended safe limits for your gender, age and weight.
Contrary to popular belief, a proper meal does not sober you up. This meal would only protect your stomach lining but does not dilute the alcohol. De Swardt said each body reacts differently to alcohol and drugs, as it depends on you gender, age, period of time you have been drinking and the use of medication with alcohol. The legal drinking limit in South Africa allows 0.05 grams of alcohol per 100ml in your blood. People reach this sooner than they realise. For an average male this would be after one and a half drinks and after one drink for an average woman if a drink equals 340ml beer, 125ml wine or one metric tot of spirits.
The average body of 68kg or more breaks down alcohol at a rate of one drink per 75 minutes. Not even black coffee or a cold shower would speed up the process.
Because people don’t necessarily feel intoxicated they are not aware of the effects the substance has on the functioning of the brain and central nervous system, as well as co-ordination reaction time, balance and vision. They also have problems with depth perception and the ability to judge distance.
”Imagine someone in this state behind the wheel of a car” e Swardt says. You definitely don’t have to be drunk to exceed the legal limit for your functioning to be impaired,” De Swardt said. Drink responsibly tis Festive season, or your last drink for the night, might really be the last drink ever.
How do I know if I have an addiction?
It’s usually hard for people to recognize they have a problem, which is why friends or family often step in. People with good intentions may have tried to pass on information to you about your behaviour or you may have some preconceived ideas about what behaviour actually constitutes an addiction.
This information about addiction may sometimes be inaccurate and as long as you can stop for a while you may become convinced that you don’t have a problem.
Below are some issues to contemplate that may help you come to a decision about whether your drug use/behaviour may be considered problematic.
First things first – who is an addict?
The first thing to come to terms with is that addiction is NOT defined only on how much you use/engage in a behaviour or how often you do. But rather WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU DO. An alcoholic is not always someone who has a drink first thing in the morning nor is it always someone who can’t make it through the day without it. A drug addict isn’t always lying in the gutters of Hillbrow with a needle in his arm and a sex addict is not someone who seeks out sex all the time.
The binge drinker, the drug user who uses only on weekends, the gambler who make s it a rule never to miss a day of work, the addict in Hillbrow, the first-thing in the morning drinker, the compulsive overeater who hides binge episodes and the compulsive sex addict may all experience similar effects of addiction, despite the fact that their using patterns differ. So while the frequency (how often) and quantity (how much) of their addictions may vary, they share a common compulsive (when I start I can’t stop) intensity in the relationship with their drug/behaviour.
So what do all addictions have in common?
What is generally shared by people who are addicted is a loss of control over their drug/behaviour resulting in a feelings of chaos, guilt, shame and general unmanageability. They also tend to continue using or engaging in the behaviour regardless of the consequences it has caused in their life.
While initial drug use or initial engagement with a behaviour may have been voluntary, the repeated use of the substance or behaviour causes chemical changes in the brain which eventually result in drug use/the behaviour becoming compulsive in nature (i.e. they cannot stop).
While the criteria for diagnosing different addictions may vary, what they all seem to share in common include:
Tolerance as defined by any of the following:
A need for markedly increased amounts of the substance to achieve intoxication or desired effect
“I need to use more, drink more, eat more/less, gamble more in order to feel the way I used to.”
Markedly diminished effect with continued use of the same amount of the substance.
“I don’t feel the same way I used to in the beginning.”
Withdrawal, as manifested by either of the following:
The characteristic withdrawal symptom of the substance “When I stop I feel anxious; sweaty; nauseous, shaky; paranoid; guilty, sick and so forth.”
The same or a closely related substance is taken to relieve or avoid withdrawal symptoms “I use more so I don’t feel anxious; sweaty; nauseous, shaky; paranoid; guilty, sick and so forth.”
The substance is often taken in larger amounts or over a longer period than was intended:
“I only meant to use a little bit, I didn’t mean for it to go on for 2 days.”
“I thought I would stop after one drink.”
“I only drew R500 for the night. I promised myself I wouldn’t spend a cent more. So how did I go through R5 000 in one night?”
There is a persistent desire or unsuccessful efforts to cut down or control substance use:
“I am never going to do this again (until next week).”
“If I can just stop for a few days, that must mean I don’t have a problem.”
“It’s the vodka that’s the problem. I am switching to wine.”
“I will leave my credit card at home tonight. That will stop me from going overboard.”
A great deal of time is spent on activities necessary to obtain the substance and or engage in the behaviour, or recover from its effects:
“I will use my credit card to pay for dinner but I will take the cash from everyone else to pay for my stuff.”
“I know I am going to have a big night so I will cancel all my plans for tomorrow and make sure I have a believable story for why I shall not answer my phone.”
Important social, occupational or recreational activities are given up or reduced because of substance use:
“I will have to leave the wedding early because there is a big poker tournament tonight.”
“I feel so sick after last night I’m sure the family will understand if I don’t make it to lunch (again).”
“I missed work again because of a bender. I better get a doctor’s note for my boss – he is starting to get fed up with me.”
The substance use is continued despite knowledge of having a persistent or recurrent physical, psychological, social or legal problem that is likely to have been caused or exacerbated by the substance use:
” feel so guilty and ashamed about what I did last night. I can’t believe I did that!”
“I just can’t seem to hold down a job, what’s wrong with people?”
“Everyone is giving me hassles, telling me I have changed. They are all mad!”
“I had a nose bleed/black out last week from using. That’s never happened before it kind of freaked me out a bit. I better try to cut back a bit.”
I haven’t done that… yet
Another thing to be bear in mind is that people often compare the things they have done as a result of their addiction in an attempt to justify why their addiction isn’t “bad”. While it is undeniable that some people have done things that you may not have in order to get drugs, alcohol, sex, money and so forth, the reality is that it’s probably because your addiction hasn’t gotten there YET and it doesn’t have to!. Addiction is a progressive disease, which means that over time IT IS GOING TO GET WORSE. We didn’t say in a day or a month or a year. The truth is the progression can be quick or it can be slow. However, of one thing we are certain: if you have an addiction eventually you will do things that you never imagined you would.
I think I may have a problem, what do I do now?
If any of the above rings true and you are compelled to do something about it, well done!
We know it can be a harsh eye-opener and it may feel like a tough reality check but it is necessary to understand your addiction for what it is, so that you can take the necessary steps to get the help you need. In order to encourage you to do this, it may be a good idea to reach out to someone you love and trust and allow them to support you through this. If you are unsure about the type of help you need, here’s an outline of scenarios and options that may help you find an approach that works for you
1. I Want to go to a treatment Center
2. I want to go to a individual Therapist
3. I want to go to a support group in my area.
Please look at www.findHelp.co.za for any of the above.
You as the family of an addict exhales after your child, husband, wife or partner is admitted into a treatment programme as it has been a lengthy and painful process to get them to this point. You might sigh and have a sense of relief, but then the questions start to pop up in your mind. At this stage the family is exhausted and needs a break from the demanding addict as all the relationships are strained. It is afterwards and closer to the addict leaving treatment that you might ask yourself “What now? “What should or shouldn’t I do or say?”. The actual question is how do I support the addict in recovery? It is important to define the term “support” vs “codependency”. These terms are confused with each other in the context of substance abuse treatment.
“Support” in this context is about the action as well as wanting the person to reach their objectives and succeeding. You have to understand that co-dependency is trying to do recovery for the recovering addict and working harder than them at it. The time that the addict is in recovery is a great opportunity for the healing process to start for the family. You have to do introspection about the role you played and how addiction has impacted on your relationship with yourself and between the members of the family. Even to take a hard look at your own negative behaviours and habits that might need to be changed.
Addiction is seen as a “family disease” and not only the problem of one person, in this case the addict, but everyone in that family. I have heard family members say “Why must I go for group sessions, I’m not the one with the problem?”. These family members don’t realize that it is their problem and that through positive family involvement, the addict feels more motivated and hopeful to succeed at their treatment and eventually recovery. It is the same concept such as supporting your favourite sport’s team and letting them know that you are on their side and believe in them. This team spirit is needed for the addict to buy into recovery whilst in treatment. They need to know that you are routing for them to win and that even if you can’t play the “game” for them, you can support them and encourage them from the side lines.
Some research has indicated that there are five things families can do to support recovery of a family member. This will mean that you would have to decide to get involved in the treatment process and open yourself up to learning and listening to new knowledge about addiction being a brain disease; addiction being a lifelong disease like diabetes; the addict’s 12 STEPS programme and even change your own myths, perceptions and negative habits or behaviours.
These are the suggested guidelines for families:
Educate yourself on the recovery process for individuals and families. Read up on addiction and even download “Pleasure Unwoven” from YouTube to understand what addiction really is about. This documentary is a good start for you as a family to understand your loved one better as an addict and that addiction is more complex than what we could have imagined.
If your recovering family member is living with you, provide a sober environment to support that recovery. Investigate your living space and make sure all drug paraphernalia and alcohol beverages have been removed from your house before the recovering addict returns home. You need to become more sensitive towards a totally abstinent lifestyle that your loved one needs to follow. This means that you have to check menus; content of medications and even change family events that involves alcohol. Discuss these scenarios with the recovering addict and determine what will work for them.
Seek professional and peer support (from a group like Al-Anon) for your own physical and emotional health. It is important to seek support groups in your area because you will need your own space to talk about the negative experiences and gain support from other families that have been there themselves. Support your family member’s involvement in treatment aftercare meetings and recovery support groups.
Assist the recovering family member with assistance in locating sober housing, employment, child care, transportation or other recovery support needs. The recovering addict will have to re-learn to live their life and need more practical support during the stage of leaving treatment.
Assertively re-intervene in the face of any relapse episode. You need to compile a relapse and aftercare contract with all the parties including the therapist before the recovering addict is discharged. This contract spells out what is expected of all parties in terms of curfews; dangerous people like friends; dangerous places; control of money, cellphones, vehicles; accountability; attending of AA/NA meetings; attending aftercare sessions, etc. Furthermore, the possibility of relapse needs to be discussed and crucial decisions need to be made regarding the consequences of a relapse. You as the family also need to be able to identify the relapse signs beforehand to make the recovering addict of them.
This is not an easy task to get involved with this process to support your loved one, but the rewards are in seeing your child, your husband, your wife or your partner change for the better. Please remember that recovery doesn’t mean that all the problems disappear overnight. There still will be challenges and disappointments that you will have to face as a family. Roles and responsibilities have changed now and this can cause conflict as change bring a sense of fear for the unknown. Make it a good habit to talk every day about recovery and practice good communication skills with each other. Honesty is one of the most important cornerstone of recovery but honesty can.
For 44 years, Phoenix House has offered services in the prevention and treatment of addiction. Our excellent track record speaks for itself as we are recognised by the medical aids as a preferred service provider. Our referral networks are extensive, and include medical practitioners, social workers, psychiatrists, psychologists, employee assistance practitioners, human resource managers, school principals, social media and the community. Click here to view their profile
CBT Can Help Older People with Insomnia
Sleep difficulties are common — 30 percent to 50 percent of adults report having trouble sleeping.
For older adults, insomnia can often be chronic and is linked to other serious health conditions. Elders who have difficulty sleeping are also at higher risk for depression, falls, stroke, and trouble with memory and thinking. They also may experience a poorer quality of life.
For these individuals, sedatives or hypnotic-type sleeping pills are a common choice as a sleep aid, however, the medications bring a risk of falls, fractures, and even death.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy for insomnia (CBT-I) is a type of talk therapy that is considered highly effective for treating older adults with insomnia. During CBT-I sessions, therapists work with patients to help them change their thinking, behavior, and emotional responses related to sleep issues, which can improve their insomnia.
Although treatment guidelines recommend CBT-I as a primary therapy for older adults with insomnia, many people do not receive it because only a limited number of therapists have CBT-I training. Primary care providers also may believe that it is challenging to motivate older adults to see a therapist for insomnia.
To address these problems, a team of researchers developed a new CBT-I treatment program. The program uses trained “sleep coaches” who are not therapists. They learn how to give CBT-I using a manual and have weekly, supervised telephone calls with a CBT-I psychologist.
The program requires brief training for the sleep coaches, who are social workers or other health educators.
In their study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, the researchers assigned 159 people to one of three treatment groups. The participants were mostly white male veterans who ranged in age from 60- to 90-years-old.
The first two groups of people received CBT-I from sleep coaches (who had a master’s degree in social work, public health, or communications) who had attended the special CBT-I training. One group of people received one-on-one CBT-I sessions with the sleep coach.
The second group also received CBT-I , but in a group format. People in the third group (the control group) received a general sleep education program, which also consisted of five one-hour sessions over six weeks. These people did not receive CBT-I from sleep coaches.
During the five one-hour sessions over a six-week period, in both the one-on-one and group sessions, the coaches counseled participants about improving sleep habits and how to avoid practices that can make it harder to sleep well.
Participants were taught techniques to enhance good sleeping. Recommendations such as using the bed only for sleeping, not for watching TV or reading, limiting the amount of time in bed so sleep becomes more consolidated, and other techniques were provided.
In both groups, the sleep coaches also had one weekly telephone call with a CBTI-trained psychologist to review how the participants were doing with the program.
Researchers collected information about the participants’ sleep habits at the beginning of the study and one week after treatments ended. They also followed up with participants six months and one year later.
Following their treatment, people with insomnia who received CBT-I from a sleep coach (either one-on-one or in a group) had lessened their sleep problems significantly, compared to people in the control group.
-Participants took about 23 minutes less to fall asleep;
-Participants’ awake time was about 18 minutes less once they fell asleep;
-Participants’ total awake time was about 68 minutes less throughout the night;
-Participants also reported that the quality of their sleep had improved.
-Six and 12 months after treatment, the participants in both CBT-I treatment groups maintained most of their sleep improvements.
The researchers said that improvements in sleep were about the same whether people worked with the sleep coach in one-on-one or group sessions.
The primary limitations of the research accompany study composition as investigators report the study was mostly limited to male veterans. As such, the results might not be the same for women or for non-veterans.
Overall, the researchers concluded that this CBT-I treatment program, delivered by sleep coaches, improved sleep quality for older adults.
Source: American Geriatrics Society
The history of psychoanalysis in South Africa is a story of tenaciousness. It began after Wulf Sachs emigrated there in 1922 with his family. Born in Lithuania in1893, he had trained at the Psycho-Neurological Institute in St. Petersburg (under Pavlova and Bechterev), at the University of Cologne, and at London University, where he took a degree in medicine. He began as a General Practitioner in Johannesburg but his interest in psychology was intensified by the experience of working with black schizophrenic patients at the Pretoria Mental Hospital from 1928.
In 1929-30 Sachs underwent a six month analysis in Berlin (possibly with Brill) and he came into contact with Freud, whose diaries indicate that Freud, Anna Freud and Ernest Jones were all well disposed towards him, and ‘intrigued’ by the idea of a South African Study Group under his leadership. (Dubow, 1993; see also Molnar, 1992, pp. 173, 215-216, 294). Sadie (Mervis) Gillespie added that at this time Sachs spent some time in New York getting supervision from Helene Deutsch and Grete Bibring.
After returning to South Africa, Sachs gave a series of lectures on psychoanalysis which were organized by Professor Hoernle of the Wits University philosophy department. These lectures formed the basis of his introductory book on psychoanalysis ‘Psycho-Analysis: Its Meaning and Practical Applications’ to which Freud himself contributed a commendatory foreword (see Dubow, 1993).
In 1935, Freud proudly announced the establishment of a South African Psychoanalytic Society (in a postscript to his 1924 ‘Autobiographical Study’). Wulf Sachs was appointed as a Training Analyst by the British Psychoanalytical Society, and in Johannesburg he gathered a group of interested young people around him and took on cases, including the analysand who became the hero of his book Black Hamlet. The original group was composed of Anne Hayman, Max Joffee, Eric Levine, Esmond Gaynor Lewis, Sadie Mervis, Louis Miller, Joan Phillips, Ismond Rosen, Bill Saffrey, and Saul Udwin. Clarissa Bernstein served as honorary secretary.
The advent of Apartheid and sudden death of Sachs in 1949 aged 56 put a premature end to the Society’s fledgling training programme, when most of his group emigrated to England. Thereafter, South Africans wishing to undertake accredited psychoanalytic training of any kind had to do so abroad. Few returned. Wally Joffe did come back, and set up a practice in Johannesburg after completing his training in London, and soon became the focus of a small discussion group, hoping that this would develop into an official Psychoanalytic Study Group. But feeling professionally isolated he returned to London after three years and sadly, that group disintegrated.
The South African Institute for the Study of Psychoanalysis was the next development. The remarkable happened. A wealthy South African by the name of Sydney Press approached Professor Lynn Gillis offering to establish a fund for analysts to train abroad. A non-profit foundation called the South Africa Institute for the Study of Psychoanalysis was formed and registered as such in 1962. It was supported by several prominent South African academics and members of the Medical Council and was approved by the British Society. William Gillespie, the then President was brought out to help with advice and arrangements and a committee was formed to interview applicants. Amongst those supported were Anton Obholzer (who felt compelled to return the loan), E Smit, Fakhry Davids, Ronnie Doctor, Mark Solms. [Gillis, personal communication].
Since such training typically extended over several years, practical considerations and the unfavourable political situation at home meant that few indeed returned when qualified. But quite a few visited to give workshops and lectures to the flourishing body of home grown psycho-analytical psychotherapists both in Johannesburg (see Hamburger, 1992) and Cape Town. From 1979 onwards contributers included Isca Salzberger Wittenberg; Henry Rey; Michael Feldman; Iain Dresser; Martin and Sheila Miller; Judith Jackson; Steven Dreyer; Edna O’Shaughnessy; Eric Brenman; Anne Hayman; Sadie Gillespie; George Pollock and myself.
In the wake of the momentous political developments of the early 1990s a group of expatriates in London formed the South African Psychoanalysis Trust (SAPT) with the singular aim of bringing South African psychoanalysis into line with international standards through the establishment of an accredited training institute. As Mark Solms wrote, ‘We fully realised from the outset that psychoanalysis as a mode of treatment (perhaps especially in a developing country) cannot flourish in the absence of the wider practice of psycho-analytic psychotherapy. However, since the latter already existed in South Africa, and since the reverse is also true (i.e., psychoanalytic psychotherapy cannot flourish in the absence of psychoanalysis), we decided to focus our efforts solely on the formation of an IPA-accredited institute. The further alignment of psychoanalytic psychotherapy training programmes in South Africa with international norms and standards would – we thought – naturally flow from this, as would many other potential benefits related to the broader application of psychoanalytic knowledge’ (2010).
The SAPT did significant groundwork by organising two international conferences in South Africa. Mark Solms recalls that at the first of these, held in 1997, David Sachs (Philadelphia-based grandson of Wulf Sachs and then Chair of the New Groups Committee of the IPA) made an important announcement informing local delegates that the IPA had recently established procedures for psychotherapists working in countries (such as in the former Soviet bloc) in which the normal development of psychoanalysis had not been possible, but whose standards of training were nevertheless roughly equivalent to those laid down by the IPA, to become ‘Direct Members’ of the IPA. This initiated a dialogue between Dr Sachs and several local psychoanalytic psychotherapists who met the IPA’s minimum criteria – in terms of personal training analysis, supervised control analyses and theoretical instruction. Following the second conference, and shortly after Karen Kaplan-Solms and Mark returned to South Africa, the SAPT, having fulfilled its mandate, was dissolved. The baton was now passed to the two of them to take the training effort forward.
Mark Solms again: ‘The immediate task was to attain the magical number of four IPA members living and working in South Africa. This makes it possible for a local group to apply to the IPA for official ‘Study Group’ status, which is the first step toward the establishment of an accredited training institute’ (Solms, 2010).
Following meetings with representatives of local psychoanalytic organisations in both Cape Town and Johannesburg a series of didactic seminars began in 2003 focusing on basic psychoanalytic concepts, led jointly by Katherine Aubertin (a Paris-trained member of the IPA who had returned home in 1986) and Mark. This was followed by a second series of theoretical seminars in which the basic concepts were applied to a study of published clinical case reports. Later the seminar were transformed into several clinical seminar groups in both Johannesburg and Cape Town to accommodate the demand for membership and the inevitable boundary problems that arise in psychoanalytic organisations, where therapists and patients are sometimes also colleagues.
In 2006 all the Johannesburg and Cape Town groups were consolidated to form a single national organization, called the South African Psychoanalysis Initiative (SAPI) currently consisting of about 160 members which also offers clinical seminars for newly qualified psychologists and mental health practitioners working in community settings. It offers clinical seminars for newly qualified psychologists and mental health practitioners working in community settings since each student in South Africa is required to complete one year of community service to register as a psychologist. In addition, intensified collaboration between psychoanalysts and neuroscientists has occurred as a result of Karen Kaplan Solms, psychoanalyst and a speech and language pathologist and neuropsychologist, and Mark Solms relocating to South Africa. As Head of the Psychology Department at the University of Cape Town, Mark has created a Masters Programme in Neuro-psychology and the 14th Annual Congress of the International Neuro-psychoanalysis Society was held in Cape Town in August 2013, with the ‘integration of brain and mind’ hailed as a new frontier. SAPI also runs a research group in Cape Town that focuses on the implications for clinical work of recent neuroscientific revisions of instinct theory and the comparison with Freudian drive theory. The University of Cape Town offers a PhD programme in psychoanalysis and two of the students form the core of the Cape Town and Johannesburg SAPI Research Groups.
The 14th Annual Congress of the International Neuro-psychoanalysis Society was held in Cape Town in August 2013
Meanwhile the South African Psychoanalytic Association (SAPA) achieved IPA Study Group status at the IPA’s 46th Congress in Chicago in July 2009. This has been expensive, involving bi-annual visits by three members of the IPA to oversee its progression from Study Group (with a minimum of four local IPA members), to Provisional Society (once a minimum of 10 members has been reached), to Component Society (when fully independent status is achieved) – at which point the Sponsoring Committee will be dissolved.
So, formal psychoanalytic training is now being offered in South Africa. To date there are seven training analysts/supervisors (Barnaby B. Barratt, Gyuri Fodor, Karen Kaplan Solms, Sue Levy, Mary-Anne Smith, Mark Solms and Elda Storck. Alan Levy, who joined the Study Group in 2011, left for London at the end of 2015). All qualified overseas – four in London, and one each in Vienna, Zurich and the USA. They also share administrative and teaching tasks across the two cities, Johannesburg and Cape Town with three recently qualified home-grown psychoanalysts, and two other IPA Direct Members form part of the SAPA Study Group with 22 candidates. New intakes occur every three years and there is ongoing interest in the admissions procedures.
In 2010 South African Psychoanalytic Confederation (SAPC) composed of around 40-odd member groups representing more than 500 individuals, a consolidation of the years of steady work in a complex political climate. Dozens of groups joined and worked at creating the constitution and ethical code – from small rural reading groups to large institutes of psychoanalytic learning. It was also a vote of confidence in the future of psychoanalysis in this country and a reflection of the wish to normalize the local situation in an international context.
Finally, SAPI has an annual weekend congress in February, previously held on the Solms-Delta wine farm in Franschhoek, and now in Johannesburg at Ububele (the brainchild of Tony and Hillary Hamburger, who have created a centre for community outreach services, education, training projects and psychotherapy on the threshold of Alexandra, a local township). This two-day colloquium was originally convened by Sharon Raeburn with 12 people and headed over many years by Jonathan Sklar (both from London). It has grown exponentially to over 120 participants in recent meetings, and usually attended by some international colleagues, including Alexandra Billinghurst, Vice President of the IPA in 2016. Over the previous 10 years these conferences have focused on complex and exciting topics such as The Embodied Mind, led by Marilia Aisenstein in 2014. The 2015 keynote address by Irma Brenman Pick was on Creativity and Authenticity, and previous conferences debated issues of race, trauma, reconciliation, and forgiveness and most recently, ‘splits and divides in societies’. The atmosphere that pervades the organization is one of people courageously engaged in a radical pioneering project. Attending these meetings as I have done from the start is a heady mixture of new discovery and extraordinarily honest yet troubled self-examination in the context of a slowly recovering traumatised society.
As Mark Solms remarked in 2013 ‘seeing psychoanalysis taking root in South Africa is not for the faint-hearted, but taking root it is!’
joan-professor-joan-raphael-leff-1Joan Raphael-Leff, PhD, psychoanalyst (Fellow, British Psychoanalytical Society) and social psychologist, leads the Anna Freud Centre academic faculty for psychoanalytic research. Previously, she was head of University College London’s MSc in Psychoanalytic Developmental Psychology, and professor of psychoanalysis at the Centre for Psychoanalytic Studies, University of Essex and professor extraordinary at Stellenbosch University. For 35 years she has specialized in emotional issues of reproduction and early parenting, with more than 150 single-author peer-reviewed publications, and twelve books. Founder and first international chair of COWAP (IPA’s Committee on Women and Psychoanalysis) in 1998, she provides training for practitioners working with teenage parents, and is consultant to perinatal and women’s projects in many high and low income countries.
Dubow, S (1993) Wulf Sachs’s Black Hamlet: A Case of ‘Psychic Vivisection’? African Affairs, 92:519-556
Sachs, W. (1934) Psycho-Analysis: Its Meaning and Practical Applications, London: Cassell
Gillespie, S. (1992) Historical notes on the first South African psychoanalytic society, Psycho-analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa, 1:1-6
Hamburger, T. (1992) The Johannesburg psycho-analytic psychotherapy study group: a short history, Psycho-analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa 1:62-71
Molnar, M. (Ed) (1992) The Diary of Sigmund Freud 1929-39: A record of the final decade, London: Hogarth Press, 1992.
Raphael-Leff, J. (2015) Trauma, reconciliation, embodiment: An account of the 9th and 10th SAPI conferences, Psycho-analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa, 24:118-125
Solms, M. (2010). The Establishment of an Accredited Psychoanalytic Training Institute in South Africa. Psycho-Analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa, 18: 13–19.
Storck, E. (2010). The Launch of the South African Psychoanalytic Confederation: A Witness Report. Psycho-Analytic Psychotherapy in South Africa, 18:1–12.
Storck-van Reenen, E., & Smith, M-A., (2015) Psychoanalysis in Post-Apartheid South Africa Journal für Psychoanalyse, 56: 152–164
In addition to existing sources, I drew on several personal interviews I conducted with three nonagenarians: British psychoanalysts Anne Hayman and Sadie Mervis Gillespie, and the previous Professor Psychiatry at the University of Cape Town, Lynn Gillis. I want to thank Oliver Rathbone of Karnac books for donating some foundational volumes for the two psychoanalytic libraries at Ububele and in Cape Town, respectively.
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This entry was posted in Psychoanalysis and tagged Black Hamlet, Joan Raphael-Leff, Mark Solms, Psychoanalysis in South Africa, South African Psychoanalysis Initiative (SAPI), South African Psychoanalysis Trust (SAPT), South African Psychoanalytic Confederation (SAPC), Wulf Sachs. Bookmark the permalink.
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There are certain skills that, once you learn them, you can reasonably expect to remember forever. Counting, reciting the alphabet, signing your own name — all things that stick with you, unless illness or injury takes them away.
Which makes it all the more jarring when one of those basic skills suddenly disappears. In Scientific American yesterday, Yale University psychiatry resident Daniel Barron described the case of “Mike Brennan” (a pseudonym), a 63-year-old man who went to work one morning in 2010, sat down at his desk with the morning newspaper, and discovered he no longer had the ability to read. He hadn’t suffered any trauma, wasn’t battling any neurological disease — it was like his reading ability had been lifted cleanly out of his head, leaving him otherwise healthy and intact.
The problem: Brennan, a cardiology technician, was a former smoker who had struggled with high blood pressure, both of which he knew to be risk factors for stroke. Fearing that might be what was happening, he went to the ER for testing, which revealed no other symptoms — his vision and hearing were normal, he still knew the names of objects and colors, and he had no trouble thinking clearly. The only issue was reading: He could recognize letters, but he couldn’t string them together; he could write, but he couldn’t make sense of what he’d put on the page.
The diagnosis: Brennan was diagnosed with “pure alexia,” defined as “a selective impairment of reading in the absence of other language deficits [that] occurs as a consequence of brain injury in previously literate individuals.” In his case, as he had suspected, the injury turned out to be a stroke – a tiny one, in a part of the brain called the left inferior occipitotemporal cortex, which helps process visual information.
Mystery solved. Except, Barron wrote, two things were particularly unusual about Brennan’s diagnosis: One, it was the first time that such a small stroke had caused the disorder, which usually results from much more significant injuries. And two, it pointed to the existence of a part of the brain that scientists had been hotly debating for years.
The “visual word form area” — a brain structure specifically devoted to processing letters — was first proposed in the 1990s by researchers who noticed that reading caused an uptick in activity in the left inferior occipitotemporal cortex, where Brennan’s stroke occurred. The theory immediately led to controversy, Barron wrote — “the kind that, at a conference, provokes shouts and screams from otherwise calm and collected scientists”:
For one thing, the very search for a “visual word form area” was misguided because it personified the brain’s real work, which is to process and decode visual information. Brain regions act as an assembly line of neural groups that each contribute some cognitive rivet or weld to a larger percept. A visual word form area confused an assembly line for a one-man-band.
Finally there was the problem of evolution. Because reading was a relatively new cultural invention, humans couldn’t have evolved to read text in the same way that mammals evolved to recognize faces—there simply hadn’t been enough time. This made it hard to believe in a brain structure expressly devoted to reading.
Over the next several years, though, a series of studies incrementally pushed scientists closer to accepting the possibility. One experiment — conducted on a group of illiterate Colombian guerilla fighters trying to reintegrate into society — found that as adults learned to read, gray matter builds up in specific parts of the brain. Another, comparing literate and illiterate adults, zeroed in on changes in the left inferior occipitotemporal cortex: “When one learns to read,” Barron explained, the area “is recycled from a general visual recognition center to a specialized word recognition center, at the expense of other tasks.”
And then came Brennan’s case — “the final piece of the puzzle,” as Barron put it, proving the existence of the visual word form area by showing what happened when it was damaged. It’s also a powerful example of the brain’s flexibility: “The way in which the area is repurposed from general visual recognition to word specialist,” he wrote, “is a reminder of how powerfully the brain can retool and adapt—essential processes both in learning and healing.” There’s plenty scientists still don’t know about this part of the brain, but in the meantime, as they work to figure it out, Brennan — with the help of a speech-language therapist and repeated grade-school style vocabulary drills — has relearned how to read.
Are we fooling ourselves?
I had a nice conversation on a plane the other day with a woman who told me that she learned about the importance of positive thinking from reading self-help books.
When I asked if she found this advice useful, she said, "not really." We both laughed, but I think this is true for a lot of people. And yet, we keep hearing about the power of positive thinking. Why?
Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that negative beliefs about the self, the world, and the future can lead to anger, anxiety, and depression. And to feel better, it seems reasonable to turn to "optimistic" or "positive" thinking.
But this strategy can backfire if our new ideas aren't believable, realistic, or confirmed by our experiences.
When positive thinking goes wrong
Have you ever tried to convince yourself that you'd ace the job interview and get hired immediately?
That you'd stand up in front of an audience and deliver a perfect presentation?
That you'd start up a conversation with a stranger who would see your greatness and be thrilled to chat with you?
That you'd be able to stick to your diet because this time you're truly motivated?
Sometimes beliefs like these are supported by the data—pleasant reactions from other people, consistently healthy behavior, and other successful outcomes.
But sometimes we experience disappointing outcomes that don't match our predictions. If we try to guide ourselves through life with positive thoughts, what happens when things don't work out so well?
When beliefs and experiences don't match, we become confused, frustrated, and disappointed. This is why positive thinking is so limited. It often seems forced or inauthentic and it only works when we have the experiences we desire.
What's the alternative?
A better bet is to practice replacing negative beliefs with ideas that are more accurate and useful.
For example, when you catch yourself thinking in unreasonable ways, begin to assess accuracy. Some questions to ask yourself:
What's the evidence to support this belief?
Is there any evidence to reject it?
Is there a more accurate way to think about this situation?
Next, consider the usefulness of the belief and whether it would benefit you to change it. Some questions to ask yourself:
What's the likely effect of thinking this way?
How does it affect my emotions? My behavior?
What would happen if I changed my belief?
Using exercises like these to move toward more accurate and useful beliefs can have a huge impact on the intensity of unpleasant emotions.
Leading anti-depressant drugs like Prozac boost serotonin, but it also appears to be involved in signalling anxiety within the brain
It is known as one of the “happy hormones” and its discovery ultimately led to the development of what were hailed as depression ‘wonder drugs’ like Prozac.
But, despite being prescribed as a treatment for anxiety, these ‘SSRI’ drugs designed to boost levels of serotonin in the brain had a strange and mysterious side-effect. In some cases, they initially made people feel more anxious or even suicidal.
Now a new study, published in the journal Nature, has found that, contrary to the popular view serotonin only promotes good feelings, it also has a darker side.
Researchers in the US delivered a mild shock to the paws of mice and found this activated neurons that produce serotonin in an area of the brain known to be involved in mood and depression.
Artificially increasing these neurons’ activity also appeared to make the mice anxious.
Using sophisticate equipment to monitor the mice’s brains, the scientists, from North Carolina University’s medical school, then mapped what they described as an “essential” serotonin-driven circuit “governing fear and anxiety”.
Professor Thomas Kash, one of the researchers, said: “The hope is that we'll be able to identify a drug that inhibits this circuit and that people could take for just the first few weeks of SSRI use to get over that hump.
“More generally, this finding gives us a deeper understanding of the brain networks that drive anxiety and fear behaviour in mammals.”
According to the NHS website, SSRIs are "usually the first choice medication for depression" because they "generally have fewer side effects".
"These can be troublesome at first, but they'll generally improve with time," it says.
It says the "common side effects" of the drugs can include: "Feeling agitated, shaky or anxious; feeling or being sick; dizziness; blurred vision; low sex drive; difficulty achieving orgasm during sex or masturbation; in men, difficulty obtaining or maintaining an erection."
The US researchers said the next step was to find out whether the same serotonin brain circuitry exists in humans.
“It’s logical that it would since we know SSRIs can induce anxiety in people, and the pathways in these brain regions tend to be very similar in mice and humans,” Professor Kash said.
They suggested that existing drugs might be capable of blocking the anxiety-inducing effects of serotonin.
“We're hoping to identify a receptor [in the brain] that is already targeted by established drugs,” Professor Kash said. “One of them might be useful for people as they start taking SSRIs.”
The most important parenting you’ll ever do happens before your child turns one — and may affect her for the rest of her life. One mother’s journey through the science of attachment.
The stage is set: a room with two chairs and some toys on the floor. A mother and her 1-year-old baby enter and begin the Strange Situation, a 20-minute, eight-episode laboratory experiment to measure “attachment” between infants and their caregivers.
Through a one-way mirror, researchers observe the pair, cataloging every action and reaction. It doesn’t take long to determine the baby’s baseline temperament: physical, running to every corner of the room; inquisitive, intently exploring and mouthing every block; or reserved, wistfully holding a wind-up toy. The mother is told to sit down and read a magazine so the baby can do whatever she is naturally drawn to do. Then a stranger comes in, and the baby’s reaction is observed — is she afraid of the stranger, nonchalant, or drawn to her? This indicates the style of relating to people in general, and to the mother by comparison.
The mother is instructed to leave the room, leaving her purse on the chair, a sign that she will return. Here we see how the baby responds to the experience of being left — does she howl and run to the door? Or does she stay put, on the floor, in a mountain of toys? The stranger tries to soothe the baby if she is upset. Otherwise, she leaves her to keep exploring.
After a few minutes, cut short if the baby is truly under duress (but that happens rarely), the mother returns for Reunion No. 1. The theory of attachment holds that a behavioral system has evolved to keep infants close to their caregivers and safe from harm. The presumption is that all babies will be under stress when left alone (and in fact, heart rate and cortisol levels indicate that even babies who don’t appear distressed still are). So when the mother returns to the room, researchers are watching to see whether the relationship works as it should. Does the reunion do its job of bringing the baby from a state of relative anxiety into a state of relative ease? In other words, is the child soothed by the presence of the mother?
If the baby was upset during separation but sits still as a stone when her mother returns, it’s likely a sign of an insecure attachment. If the baby was relaxed when left alone and is nonplussed by reunion, that’s less significant. If the baby hightails it to her mother, then screeches mid-approach, indicating a change of heart, that’s a worrisome sign too.
But the most important moment is Reunion No. 2, after the mother leaves again and returns again. If a baby who was upset during separation still does nothing to acknowledge her mother’s return, it’s a sign that the baby, at only a year old, has already come to expect her advances to be rebuffed. If the baby reaches out for love but isn’t able to settle down enough to receive it (or it’s not offered), that may reflect a relationship filled with mixed messages. And if the baby is wild with sadness then jumps like a monkey into the mother’s arms and immediately stops crying, the baby is categorized as secure, coming from a relationship in which she expects her needs to be met. The same goes for a mellow baby whose cues are more subtle, who simply looks sad during separation, then moves closer to Mother upon reunion. In both cases, the relationship works. (And just to be clear, a “working” relationship has nothing to do with the baby-wearing and co-sleeping and round-the-clock care popularized by Dr. William Sears’s attachment-parenting movement; plenty of secure attachments are formed without following any particular parenting philosophy.)
Separate, connect. Separate, connect. It’s the primal dance of finding ourselves in another, and another in ourselves. Researchers believe this pattern of attachment, assessed as early as one year, is more important than temperament, IQ, social class, and parenting style to a person’s development. A boom in attachment research now links adult attachment insecurity with a host of problems, from sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety to a decreased concern with moral injustice and less likelihood of being seen as a “natural leader.” But the biggest subfield of attachment research is concerned, not surprisingly, with adult attachment in romantic relationships (yes, there’s a quiz). Can we express our needs? Will they be met? If our needs are met, can we be soothed? Adults with high attachment security are more likely to be satisfied in marriage, experience less conflict, and be more resistant to divorce.
The trouble is that only around 60 percent of people are considered “secure.” Which, of course, means that a good lot of us have some issues with attachment, which gets passed from generation to generation. Because if you had an insecure attachment with your parents, it is likely that you will have a more difficult time creating secure attachments for your own children.
The poet Philip Larkin was not the first or the last to notice that parents, “they fuck you up.”
When my daughter Azalea was born, I was flooded with feelings of love. But it wasn’t long before I returned to a more familiar sense of myself, and that love was mixed with ambivalence, internal conflict, impatience, and sometimes anger. Yes, I adored my baby, the way she nose-breathed on me as she nursed, her milky smell, her beautiful face, her charming smiles, her bright energy. Her. I loved her. But I was exhausted and overwhelmed, and what might be expressed as irritability in some parents felt more like rage to me. I knew better than to express anger at a baby, but my control dials felt out of reach. I never hit or shook my daughter, but I did yell at her, in real and frightening fury. One time, when she was 6 months old, she was supposed to be taking a nap, but instead she was pulling herself up in her crib, over and over again, nonstop crying. I was over it, done, nothing left. I sat on the floor in her darkened room, and made my ugliest, angriest, face at her, seething, yelling at her to just…go…to…SLEEP.
If this had been a one-off, I could have rationalized that every parent loses it at some point. But this kind of heat was all too available to me. I would occasionally confess my behavior to my husband, a psychotherapist, but he rarely saw it up close. So as much as he, my own therapist, and my friends tried to support us both, I was largely alone in my shame. And my daughter was alone with a warm and loving and sometimes scary mom.
I had read Dr. Sears and his attachment-parenting ideas before Azalea was born, but I was deeply suspicious that a checklist of behaviors could teach anyone how to raise a human being. I would read things like “Respond to your baby’s cues,” and think, Right. As if. Her cues were often inscrutable and always exhausting. Sears’s cavalier oversimplification annoyed me to no end and added to the weight of expectations and disappointment.
As Azalea grew, some things got easier. Language helped. Her ever-increasing cuteness and sweetness helped. Our connection developed, and I loved doing things together — reading books, going to Target, cooking, cuddling, walking, hanging out with friends. Things were good. Except when they weren’t. Like the time in the grocery store as I was checking out with Thanksgiving groceries while struggling to manage Azalea’s unwieldy 10-month-old body in front of a line of blankly staring, silently huffing adults. I remember the jaw-setting, skin-tingling, adrenaline-pumping feeling of anger overtake me. While I don’t remember exactly what I said to my squirming baby, I will never forget the disgusted look on the checkout lady’s face, confirming that whatever outburst I settled on was definitely not okay.
In my dark moments, I felt like something inside me was missing, that thing that functions deep down that keeps us from hurting the people we love. But I also tried to remind myself that the cult of perfect parenthood is a myth, that there is no way to avoid making a mess of our kids one way or another. That gave me some peace. Then, when Azalea was 4, I interviewed Jon Kabat-Zinn, the mindfulness and meditation expert who has written many books, including Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of the Mindful Parent. I think I was hoping he might encourage me to set down my burden of guilt and shame, maybe even offer a God-like let it go. But that wasn’t what happened.
Kabat-Zinn: The meaning of being a parent is that you take responsibility for your child’s life until they can take responsibility for their own life. That’s it!
Me: That’s a lot.
Kabat-Zinn: True, and it doesn’t mean you can’t get help. Turns out how you are as a parent makes a huge difference in the neural development of your child for the first four or five years.
Me: That is so frightening.
Kabat-Zinn: All that’s required, though, is connection. That’s all.
Me: But I want to be separate from my child; I don’t want to be connected all the time.
Kabat-Zinn: I see. Well, everything has consequences. How old is your child?
Me: Four and a half.
Kabat-Zinn: Well, I gotta say, I have very strong feelings about that kind of thing. She didn’t ask to be born.
I knew then that I needed to figure out why I am the kind of mother I am, and what effect it was having on my daughter.
What began as a quiet inkling that studying attachment might help me understand my vast and varied shortcomings as a mother unfolded into a bona-fide obsession with the entire field of attachment research, inspiring me to write a book and to sign up for training in the Strange Situation. So last August I traveled to Minneapolis where, for the past 30 years, professor Alan Sroufe, co-creator of what has become known as the Minnesota Study, a seminal, 30-year longitudinal study of attachment, has trained researchers, grad students, clinicians, and intrigued writers to become reliable coders of the Strange Situation. I knew that only through training could I learn to discern the bedrock of an infant’s most important relationship. I wanted to become that trained eye.
From our seats in a big classroom, students from around the world — Italy, Peru, New Zealand, Mexico, Israel, Japan, and Zambia — watched several videotaped Strange Situations a day, spanning the history and breadth of the field itself, from early, grainy footage with American moms wearing Gloria Vanderbilts and wedge sandals to HD-quality contemporary Swedish pairs. The action is so simple — alone, together, alone, together — it’s almost lyrical. Though the Strange Situation has been done with fathers and other primary caregivers (and monkeys!), the structure is always the same and always points to one thing: the crazy, difficult, beautiful, mysterious nature of trying to love someone.
At the beginning, I was lost. I couldn’t track the action, let alone what mattered, and I got distracted by the wrong details, or hung up on my own reactions. Is it the whiny babies who are insecure and the robust, easygoing ones who are secure? Not necessarily. Attachment is not about temperament. If a big crier is soothed by his mother’s return, he is securely attached. If an anxious kid knows how to scramble for safety and feel felt, it’s another good sign. This is why the Strange Situation works so well — it highlights the relationship while controlling for almost everything else.
Eventually, I learned how to read the cues, and I began to notice the quickest glance and connect it with the rest of the baby’s behavior. I began to notice the difference between a full-on wrap-around-the-legs greeting and a limp request for contact, and the significance of each. I started to wonder about the baby who reached up to be held and kicked at the same time. And I began to worry about all those “good” babies who just sat there, moving shapes around the floor, unaffected by their lifeline’s comings and goings.
While attachment behaviors look different across cultures, the attachment system itself is universal. All babies fall into one of the patterns: Secure (B), Insecure/Avoidant (A), and Insecure/Resistant (C). (There are also eight subgroups and a whole other strain within these categories called disorganization.) In the case of Avoidant babies, there is often little or no acknowledgment of the mother’s return. The chill in the air is unnerving. The marker of the avoidant baby, as opposed to the secure one who simply doesn’t need as much contact, is either a subtle averting of their gaze, or an overt change of direction en route to connection. You can see babies literally change their mind as they make a beeline for comfort. Resistant babies, meanwhile, are pissed — kicking, arching, hitting. They make a big show of wanting contact, but they are unable to settle even after the one they desire has returned.
B-4 is a subgroup of secure babies who express a lot, need a lot, can be a bit feisty, but who know where their bread is buttered. My favorite Strange Situation starred a little B-4 girl in a lavender dress who reminded me of Azalea. Sitting in the darkened classroom, I watched the baby toddle around in her little sneakers, bawling her head off when her mother, a thin, sad-seeming young woman with ’80s hair and Reeboks, left. But when the mother returned, the baby ran to her and was immediately picked up. The crying stopped. This was not one of those moms with tons of affect and big expressions of there, there. She just picked her up, and the baby molded right to her, put her head on her shoulder, and then (and this is the best thing ever) the mother and daughter patted each other’s shoulders simultaneously. Co-regulation, a mirror. Then the baby got back on the floor to play.
I thought back to when my daughter Azalea was that age, wearing dresses with giant bows, walking on stiff legs, flyaway curls in pig tails — an adorable, willful, comfort-seeking missile. Then there was me, self-concerned, kind of unavailable, moody, angry. I looked around at all the mothers and daughters and fathers and sons in the classroom, staring up at the big screen, as this sad-looking mother and her big-feeling daughter showed us all how it’s supposed to be done, each of us probably wondering the same thing: What about me? What about her? What about us?
Before attachment theory came into view in the 1950s, the field of developmental psychology was very much focused on the interior drives of each individual, not their relationships. Then a British psychoanalyst named John Bowlby came along and made the case that relationships mattered more than anyone had previously suspected. His theory, influenced by the study of animal behavior, was that primates require a primary caregiver for survival, not as a means to receive food (as the behaviorists believed), but in order to be and feel close to a protective adult. According to Bowlby, it was in service to this goal of real and felt security that certain so-called “attachment behaviors” had evolved to elicit a caregiver’s response — crying, following, smiling, sucking, clinging. In other words, babies had evolved to send signals to their caregivers when vulnerable (afraid, sick, hurt, etcetera) that required a response (picking up, cuddling, tending to, etcetera) that kept them safe from danger. At the heart of the attachment system is a primitive kind of call and response that keeps the species alive.
While Bowlby is known as the father of attachment, a prodigiously smart psychologist who worked briefly as his researcher, Mary Salter Ainsworth, is the one who brought his theory to life. In 1954, Ainsworth’s husband got a job in Uganda and she accompanied him, determined to set up a research project testing her and Bowlby’s budding theory with real people. After a year of observing Ganda mothers and babies, she noticed that the babies who cried the least had the most attentive mothers. And she saw how “maternal attunement” to babies’ cues seemed to determine these patterns.
While previous studies had noted of a mother’s “warmth,” or a child’s smiles or cries, what made Ainsworth’s observations original was that she noticed relational sensitivity, the actual relationship between two beings. The sensitive caregiver, she writes, “picks [the baby] up when he seems to wish it, and puts him down when he wants to explore … On the other hand, the [caregiver] who responds inappropriately tries to socialize with the infant when he is hungry, play with him when he is tired, or feed him when he is trying to initiate social interaction.” She also noticed that the babies who were most comfortable exploring were the ones whose mothers made it clear they weren’t going anywhere.
Ainsworth followed up her work in Uganda with her famous “Baltimore Study,” the first to methodically observe mothers and babies in relationship, in the home, and then with the laboratory procedure designed to replicate what she saw in the home, the Strange Situation.
Bowlby’s theory was that babies can’t handle their own fear, sadness, wet-diaper-ness, hunger, etcetera and need someone to handle it for them. This process begins with “co-regulation” with the caregiver and ends, ideally, with “the establishment of the self as the main executive agency of security-based strategies.” In other words, children who are effectively soothed by their caregivers eventually learn how to do it for themselves. And what of those for whom this doesn’t happen?
It was with no small amount of trepidation that I began to wonder what happened to Azalea’s tears when I wasn’t able to absorb them. Where does a baby’s unshared heartbreak go? I thought back to so many times when I turned away from her anguish, and how simple it would have been for me to turn toward her instead. I began to see her toddling along in the world, following the hot, human trail of seeking connection — checking back, exploring, moving away, returning. And I saw how difficult it was for me to tolerate that much needy attention.
Was that because I had an insecure attachment myself? Pictures of myself as infant — actual 1969 Polaroids, as well as mental images — began coming into my mind. I know my mother nursed me, which was unusual at the time (I also know she smoked while nursing, as in at the same time). I know she was thrilled that I turned out to be a girl after two boys, that she always knew she would name her daughter Bethany. I started to wonder how my mother and I would have done in the Strange Situation. When Azalea was born and I struggled with keeping her little body occupied, my mom recalled, Gosh, I used to just put you kids on the blanket with some toys.
As a writer who has been in and out of therapy pretty much my whole life, it’s not like I had never thought about my childhood, or worked with difficult feelings before. But learning about Bowlby’s and Ainsworth’s work made me wonder if at least some of my troubles — all manner of adolescent acting out, complicated personal relationships, low self-esteem — were an expression of an insecure attachment. I was a poster child, really, for insecurity. As Sroufe and his colleagues write, “Attachment history itself, while related to a range of teenage outcomes, was most strongly related to outcomes tapping intimacy and trust issues.”
And if I had an insecure attachment, was it affecting me even now, as an adult? One of the most profound modern advances in attachment theory came from a longitudinal study by Ainsworth’s former student Mary Main. Main was trying to unravel the relationship between a child’s attachment security and their caregiver’s internal working model of attachment. So, in what became known as the “Berkeley Study,” children were assessed in the Strange Situation as usual, but in addition their parents were asked a series of questions about their early attachment relationships, questions designed to “surprise the unconscious” and reveal the person’s true state of mind. The first big news was just how closely correlated a child’s attachment classification was to their parents’ adult attachment representation. The correlation was so striking that Main decided to check back in with the children at age 19, to ask them the same series of questions about their early-childhood relationships. What she discovered was that most had the same attachment classification as when they were in the Strange Situation at a year old. Later, other researchers found that what came to be known as the Adult Attachment Interview actually predicted how someone’s baby might do in the Strange Situation. Attachment, it seems, is remarkably consistent throughout a life (though can also be changed by positive and negative forces) and even from one generation to the next.
While generally a research tool, the AAI is sometimes used in clinical settings, with therapists administering the interview to patients. It’s a highly specialized procedure, expensive and time-consuming, but so full of potential insight I couldn’t get it out of my head. I knew that taking the AAI wouldn’t change history — mine or Azalea’s — but I might be able to get some answers.
I had met Dr. Howard Steele, the expert in attachment who agreed to administer my AAI, two summers before, when, after I told him about the research I was doing, he invited me to observe a Strange Situation in his lab. Still, taking the train to the New School’s Center for Attachment Research, I was incredibly nervous.
The AAI contains 20 open-ended, slightly startling questions about one’s relationships in early childhood, along with prompts to reflect about it all, designed to elicit and reveal the speaker’s internal working model of attachment. The questions “require a rapid succession of speech acts, giving speakers little time to prepare a response.” They begin with general inquiries about the nature of one’s relationship with parents, then drill down a bit, asking for five adjectives that describe that relationship, with supporting memories and details. Then come questions about how your parents responded to you in times of early separation, times of illness or loss, feelings of rejection, “setbacks” — all with requests like “You mentioned that you felt your mother was tender when you were ill. Can you think of a time when this was so?”
Next, the AAI is transcribed verbatim, then carefully coded for adult attachment security. This is done through a two-pronged approach — assessing both the “probable experience,” as in what the primary relationships were probably like, and the “state of mind,” which investigates things like idealization, preoccupied anger, and disorganized responses as well as vague speech and insistence on lack of memory.
Secure adults tend to value attachment relationships and are able to describe experiences coherently, whether negative (e.g., parental rejection or overinvolvement) or positive, says Main. Dismissing adults tend either to devalue the importance of attachment relationships or to idealize their parents without being able to illustrate their positive evaluations with concrete events demonstrating secure interaction. Preoccupied adults are still very much involved and preoccupied with their past attachment experiences and are therefore not able to describe them coherently. Dismissing and preoccupied adults are both considered insecure.
The AAI has been found to be reliable independent of intelligence, or verbal fluency, or interviewer. The most articulate, detail-oriented trial lawyer, ordinarily linguistically unflappable, may report that her mother was kind, loving, warm, and fun but have an inability to recall any details to support that. In fact, she might repeat herself, or give irrelevant details. This would indicate a possibly insecure/dismissive state of mind, indicating the lawyer may well raise an avoidant baby. It’s not a good relationship per se but the subject’s state of mind in relation to their relationships that determines their children’s attachment security, which provides a foundation for those children’s socio-emotional health and happiness, which develops into their adult state of mind, which affects their own children’s security. And so on.
Suddenly, there I was sitting in a little room with a professional listener, trying to come up with five adjectives to describe my mother and scrambling to find relevant memories to support my choices. I remembered my mother taking me into the bathroom at the end of the hall to talk about some drama that had happened at school. I described the sofa bed she used to make when I was sick, and the story of my dad blowing me off when I got a giant splinter in the backyard. I tried to explain my feelings of disconnection even in the presence of a mother who really did seem to try, and how that disconnection turned into anger and more distance. When Steele asked me about why I thought my parents raised me the way they did, it was easy to look at their parents and understand why my dad was shut down and my mom a little hard to access. And I didn’t feel the least bit angry, not even for the thing that had plagued me my entire life — a pervasive feeling of shame for having been neglected, not cared for, not protected from danger.
I feared that if my results came back “preoccupied” (I knew I wasn’t dismissive), I would feel humiliated, as if my entire interest in attachment was merely a manifestation of my neuroses. But when I returned to the office later that afternoon to receive my score, what I felt was relief. My score, Steele said, was secure/autonomous. I asked him if he would be so bold as to predict, were I pregnant today, what kind of baby I would have. A B4, he said — secure, with an edge. Like the girl in the lavender dress. I was the mom with the mullet and Azalea was the girl with the big, fat, soothable tears.
I didn’t need a test to tell me that Azalea, who is now 10, does seem happy, well-regulated, and comfortable in the world. The other day, as I drove her and her 5-year-old friend Leroi to violin, I watched them talk about their respective field trips in the rearview mirror. I was so proud of the way Azalea cut short her story of climbing the fire tower so that Leroi could tell his kindergarten tale. I could feel her softening her voice when she talked to him and watched her face turn gentle as she offered to help him with the seat belt.
Beyond all the research linking secure attachments to everything good, attachment is connected to something so profound it’s hard to describe. The literature calls it “mentalization”; UCLA psychiatrist Dan Siegel refers to it as “mindsight.” Basically, it’s the experience of knowing you have a mind and that everyone else has one, too. Then it’s one small step to see that others have feelings, too.
Was Azalea’s behavior with Leroi a result of her capacity to mentalize and therefore take care of her friends? I hope so. Did she learn that from me? Maybe. If so, does this mean our work is done? Hardly. But it’s comforting to see that, despite all my very real, very unsettling shortcomings, something so important is functioning well. After all, it’s the attachment-inspired capacity to feel that makes us care for and attune to others. And apparently the process is much more forgiving than I imagined.
My AAI subgroup was F3B, a category for a small percentage of the population who have, Steele told me, “suffered adversity” but are still able to have some coherence of mind in relation to attachment. In my confidential feedback, Steele wrote: “Overall, there is a sense that this speaker knows her own mind and the mind of others she cares about. Probable past experiences are mixed … She learned to turn to herself and to her inner world, which became richly developed (as appears to be the case for her daughter too in the next generation) … an adaptive strategy!”
This was a revolutionary way for me to think about my childhood. Yes, I wish some things had been different, but what if my self-reliance and sense of reflection — two things I value greatly — developed not in spite of my upbringing but because of it? What if I was taught from a young age how to see myself, from parents who — research suggests — had a knack for the same thing.
I had spent a lifetime worrying that there was something wrong with me. Then with my kid. Then with my family. But, as Sroufe pointed out in Minneapolis while we watched some ultimately secure but hardly perfect mother-baby duos in the Strange Situation, something was working.
Attachment is a simple, elegant articulation of the fact that, yes, we really do need each other, and, yes, what we do in relation to each other matters. And yet we don’t have to get it right all the time, or even most of the time. As Steele and his wife Miriam write in an essay in the book What Is Parenthood?, “Even sensitive caregivers get it right only about 50 percent of the time. There are times when parents feel tired or distracted. The telephone rings or there is breakfast to prepare. In other words, attuned interactions rupture quite frequently. But the hallmark of a sensitive caregiver is that the ruptures are managed and repaired.”
Maybe all this room for error means we’re wired for forgiveness.
Or maybe, as Steele gently suggested at the end of our interview, even though I experienced my early life as very painful, maybe, in fact, it wasn’t that bad. Technically speaking.
Caregivers need to protect space between reassurance and diagnosis
When parents bring their young child to see me in my behavioral pediatrics practice, they seem to be at war with themselves. They simultaneously seek reassurance that there is “nothing wrong” and validation of their often deep and longstanding struggles.
Our current health care and education systems are constructed in a way that puts the question “what” front and center. The focus, both for parent and clinician, is on making a diagnosis.
This drive to name the problem leaves us with an inaccurate and potentially harmful choice between “normal” and “disorder.” In contrast, when we can protect a kind of virtual space between these two extremes, we can learn how a child’s behavior, from his perspective, might make sense.
Behavior is a form of communication. Understanding that communication leads us to know what to do to help a child and family. When we are able to listen for the “why” without pressure to name the problem, the solution often presents itself. Consider the following example.
Four-year-old Michael came to my office at the recommendation of his pediatrician and preschool teacher for an “ADHD evaluation.” Usually I meet first with both parents, but his mother Angela came alone. I opened up the visit with an invitation to tell me her story.
Michael had been a challenging child from birth, intense and difficult to soothe. Angela had struggled with postpartum depression. When Michael turned two and began in a developmentally appropriate way to say no, Angela found herself full of rage. She told me how such typical behaviors as resisting a bath would precipitate an extreme reaction from her, sometimes even harshly grabbing Michael by the shoulders and shaking him. She felt terrible shame about her behavior. Her voice began to tremble. She wept in the safety of my office as she let herself experience the grief around her troubled relationship with her son.
When I saw Michael and his mother together the next week, Angela joyfully reported at the start of the visit that, while mealtime had been a primary battleground, Michael had eaten an entire spaghetti dinner by himself. The whole tone in the household had shifted dramatically, as Angela, feeling some relief from her debilitating feelings of guilt and shame by sharing them with me, began to enjoy her son for the first time in years.
In turn, once Michael connected with his mother in more positive ways, he reconnected with his own natural appetite. As we worked together in the coming months his behaviors Angela and the teachers had been attributing to ADHD began to subside. The relationship between mother and son took a different direction.
Here we have a situation that was not “normal.” Clearly both mother and child were struggling. Yet Michael’s behavior represented not a disorder, but rather an effort to communicate his distress. He was attempting to find a way to connect with his mother.
As I describe in my new book The Silenced Child, even the notion of an “ADHD evaluation” conveys a level of certainty that is not consistent with contemporary developmental science. While the constellation of behaviors we call “ADHD” has some known genetic components, there is not a gene for ADHD.
The rapidly growing field of epigenetics show us that when we can change the environment to decrease the level of stress, as occurred in this vignette by “simply” listening, we have the opportunity to change not only behavior, but gene expression and so structure and function of the brain.
Michael’s history of “difficult” behavior in infancy suggests that his challenges might have a genetic component. But when we can support and listen to parent and child together in the early years when the brain making hundreds of connections per second, we have the opportunity to set development on a healthy path.
An abundance of contemporary research in neuroscience, psychoanalysis, and developmental psychology tells us that being curious about the meaning of behavior, rather than simply naming and eliminating it, offers the path to growth and healing.
Multiple forces in our culture, as I also describe in my new book, can get in the way of listening for meaning. For young children and families, both reassurance and diagnosis of a psychiatric disorder represent variations on not listening. In contrast, when we protect time for listening with curiosity, free from pressure to either reassure or diagnose, we allow parents to connect with their natural expertise and help get development back on track.
Claudia M Gold M.D. Claudia M Gold M.D.
Child in Mind