Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Christmas Spirit...

What is the Christmas Spirit? Does the United States still have it? It seems that the word Christ or God in general have been deleted from even Christ's birthday due to the fear that it is discriminatory to those that don't believe in Christ as the Savior of the world. Santa Claus, who is the Father of Christmas is nothing more than a symbolic representation of Christ, bringing gifts and joy to the world. Separation has already happened with the school system, such as banning the Pledge of Allegiance. I remember growing up and holding my hand over my heart proudly reciting the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag of the US. Now, kids don't know it. Next, I wouldn't be surprised to see Christmas songs/hymns such as "Joy To The World," "Silent Night," and other common songs to be considered disciminatory. Here's the funny thing about the U.S. It is supposed to cater to the majority. The majority is Christian who believe in God and a Savior of the world which brings hope, joy, and peace. The minority have other beliefs that are also hopeful, but may not believe in Christ. The Christmas spirit is just that...hope, joy, and peace. It's the same thing that clients seek when they're in my office...hope, happiness, and peace with themselves and the world. It seems only logical that the Christmas season's purpose could bring that if implemented correctly. Remember, that the point of Christmas is "peace on earth, good will toward men" which comes through hopeful beliefs, whatever they may be. Obviously, I have displayed my values as a Christian believer and that it is a celebration of Christ, the Savior's birth. Therefore, for me it is a time of joy and celebration. Whether you believe it or not does not matter to me, but should matter only to you (the reader). Worship how you wish and in what manner that you don't, be you atheist, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, Christian, Pagan, etc. And let all others worship as they may. That will bring peace on earth and good mental health.

Merry Christmas to all...

Monday, August 27, 2007

Reductionism and Foundation

Reductionism and Foundation

I had an interesting session recently that brought up some thoughts. I was talking with a particular
client who had been in a violent relationship. The name will obviously be omitted, however, the
gender will be included for the sake of the situation and the ease of writing. She had been with a
boyfriend for nearly a year when he attacked her. The situation resulted in her contacting the
police and his incarceration (though not for the crime, but rather for probation violation). She
ended out dismissing the charges, but he was still sentenced to a year in jail. She admitted that she
was the kind of person that goes back to their abuser due to insecurities. As we began talking she
opened up and admitted that much of the foundation upon which she built her self-worth had to
do with her looks and social skills (which were not lacking especially in high school years she
said). However, due to an unforeseen health malady she was robbed of those physical
endowments for several years. During said time she experienced a deep depression and a loss of
confidence and who she was. After that time of trial her health returned and she was able to lose
the weight she gained and was feeling "more confident" again. It was soon after, however, that
she met her boyfriend (now incarcerated) and began dating him, though she promised herself to
never date that type of a guy. She still plans on staying with him, though she knows that he will
not help her attain the future she desires. So, I asked her "what happened? What happened for
you to compromise your own standards and values?" She didn't know. Now, that is where we'll
begin this discussion on foundation--a personal foundation of values, character, traits, standards,
beliefs, etc. She didn't have one other than her physical traits. I asked her if it was a firm
foundation and she agreed that it was not. I asked her what it could be built upon--something
unshakeable and firm. She didn't know. I then suggested to her that she think about her purpose
for living as it is a place to start. She said she wasn't sure, but that it must be to learn and to
experience. I asked her why that would be important. She didn't know. After our conversation I
began thinking ab out reducing purpose and meaning to life down to its simplest form, which is
explained as reductionism. This paper is not going to necessarily focus on reductionism as a
principle, but I will describe it for explanation sake. The online Merriam-Webster's dictionary
describes reductionism as follows: 1 : explanation of complex life-science processes and
phenomena in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry; also : a theory or doctrine that complete
reductionism is possible. 2 : a procedure or theory that reduces complex data and phenomena to
simple terms. Simply put, it’s the idea that all things can be broken down into a simpler form. Not
only does it work with the scientific model, but with psychological problems as well–so I
discovered. I began with this client with one of her current problems and we broke it down to a
main problem that could be resolved. With her self-worth being based on looks and beauty we
used reductionism principles to get down to the core problem. It was simple as one only has to
ask “why” for everything until they can’t any longer. For example, if they have anxiety about a
certain subject, they can break it down as follows:
Q: What are you so anxious about?
A: I’m anxious about failing.
Q: What is it about failing that makes you anxious?
A: If I fail, then that would be bad?
Q: Why would it be bad?
A: It would mean that I didn’t know what I was doing?
Q: What’s wrong with that?
A: If I don’t know what I’m doing, then I fail.
Q: How do you know you fail?
A: I fail when I don’t do something completely right or I make a mistake.
Q: Again, how do you know you fail?
A: I just do.
Q: What does failure truly mean? Let’s look it up in the dictionary.
You then look it up in the dictionary and discuss the meanings of failure. Then ask,
Q: Do you fit the criteria of failure?
A: Well, no, not really.
Q: Then, who originally made the description of failure that you held to for so long, that caused
so much unnecessary anxiety?

Then, discuss the source of the description and why it is so important to them. Why they place so
much value on a description that is not complete. At times the client will even base it on a belief,
standard, or value that is shaky, incomplete, and not firm. I then talk to them about their values,
standards, beliefs, and the foundation upon which they place everything they feel is true (including
their definition of failure). We break it down to a foundation, usually, that is based on principles
that are untrue. As a definition, principles must be true which means that they are complete and
are not missing any important aspects. Principles are beliefs and standards that hold unshakeable
value to the individual. Meaning, it does not matter what kind of emotional upheaval or time of
prosperity the client endures, the foundation with true principles remains constant and
unchanging. Too often do many of my clients not have a foundation, therefore, they wander
without direction, purpose, or goals and thus become victims to their misery, helplessness, and
pity. Using reductionism one can arrive at their very foundation principles to address and modify
them as needed.
Many of my clients have a foundation based on religiosity or spirituality. They seem to recover
more quickly. In fact, some research indicates that individuals with strong active religious beliefs
and activities are more resilient to life’s difficulties and stressors. Though, as a counselor I cannot
recommend or pass those values on to one who is atheistic, similar principles can be found if one
digs deep enough through reductionism. Helping a client find their foundation and core values
helps them have something to fall back on during times of emotional upheaval or anxiety.

Monday, August 13, 2007

A Few Points Regarding Trauma and Free Will

It is important to observe how such a characteristic can be developed even when trauma has been present. Several clients come into our offices talking about their individual traumas and how they have made things difficult for them. They also talk about how it has affected their relationship with the perpetrator(s), other close people, the community, and God. Many of them have guilt and blame themselves and/or hold severe grudges and harbor anger and hate towards the perpetrators. At times they question why life has been more difficult for them than for others and how they were dealt such a poor hand. The following is going to be more of an explanation based on psychology and spirituality in hopes to answer some of the above questions.
Traumatized clients’ relationships change and function on a level that deviates from the norm. Much of that is due to the trust that has been broken time and time again. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, their level of safety, love, and esteem have not been established or maintained. Therefore, their ability to self-actualize (Maslow’s hierarchy) is not possible. The only level that is actually, at times, maintained is their physiological needs (i.e. food, water, shelter, etc.), though that is questionable with neglected children/childhood as well. On the level of safety, an individual must feel comfortable and secure in their environment with minimal attack on their physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual self. If attacked, their capacity for moving to the higher hierarchical needs is diminished. They may struggle with giving and receiving love or having esteem for themselves and others. Thus, can be a large factor with esteem. When a client has been traumatized time and time again they begin to lose trust with initially the perpetrator, and then it can spread to others who are close to them, the community, and to God (depending on their beliefs). Recently, a client (whose name we’ll call Matthew) disclosed horrific traumas from his childhood. Much of it involved abuse and neglect from his family and a large part involved a neighbor who befriended then molested him time and time again. He did not trust his family for help so endured the continued abuse. He described other economic difficulties, physical health problems, and general loneliness. He asked why it is that he was given a difficult life. He felt that it must have been something he did to deserve the pain and suffering without much respite. To try to escape the pain he had attempted suicide many times, though without success. When asking why he had to suffer I explained something to him, that I hope will help others. First and foremost, everyone has the right to act (free will). Anyone can do what they want. Whether they are conscious of the results depends on each individual. Some people, however, have made the choices to act against others in a way that is harmful, degrading, and usually self-serving. Such acts can be considered abusive, because it is in an attempt to remove or negate another’s free will and control them or change their acts. Such self-serving acts do not serve the victim (the receiver of the self-serving acts) in any positive ways. It can change the victim’s life perspective (specifically on relationships) and attacks their general need for safety (Maslow’s hierarchy). Therefore, the abuser (the one who acts self-servingly) is responsible for their acts and how it affected the victim. Responsibility lies solely with them and none other, especially the victim. Therefore, the victim is not the guilty party. The guilty party in the technical sense is only the abuser. Guilty signifies “1 : justly chargeable with or responsible for a usually grave breach of conduct or a crime. 2 obsolete : justly liable to or deserving of a penalty” according to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. Therefore, it is not possible for the victim to be guilty for the self-serving act when they were the individual being acted upon rather than acting. Matthew blamed himself as that was the only logical reason he could come up with. Why else would it happen if there wasn’t something so terribly wrong with him or his character–something innate that called to abusers “Here I am! Hurt me! That’s what I’m here for!” The truth of the matter is that each person can act in whichever way that they please, selflessly or selfishly.
That brings us to the next point that Matthew brought up, which is also a point other clients have made regarding God. If God was a merciful and a just God, how is it that he could let such terrible things happen to undeserving people and let the abusers go unpunished? At that point one can revert back to free will. If free will is truly something that exists, an ability given to all to act; and God is God–all powerful and all knowing with the ability to do what He wants, would he not allow the individual to exercise their free will “according to the dictates of their own conscience?” Any other way would be tyrannical, dictatorial and contraindicative of what free will is.
The power of free will is that many can exercise it in a way achieve Maslow’s highest achievement which is self-actualization. In spite of the difficulties one has faced, or the traumas caused, one can utilize and strengthen their ability to act to achieve safety and overcome the trauma–thus developing resiliency.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I received a few responses on my teenager problem/question. All of them were from separate people, and none of them knew about the others. The irony is that the responses were nearly the same. One indicated that it is a maturity thing--their brain has not yet developed to the point where egocentric thought is no longer present. Another said that it is an agency issue--they have to choose it. They have to want the change to occur. That makes perfect sense. Therefore, the only logical choice to helping teenagers means to be doing activities or interventions at their level--to kill boredom. Activities that are thought and emotion provoking. Experiential and recreation therapies do such that. Our clinic needs to add that to the therapeutic repertoire. It is a style that is not yet used. I'll work on it.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Treatment For The Homeless

Dr. Rob Bagley from the Trauma Awareness and Treatment Center (where I work) was interviewed by KSL Channel 5 last night and the story of the treatment we do with the homeless was aired on the 10 o'clock news. Here is a link for the story...


Thursday, March 29, 2007

More on teenage boredom...

I haven't received any responses from my many readers. Here is a great link on teenage boredom.


Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A question for anybody who cares...

What drives a teenager to seek only activities that bring immediate gratification rather than activities that require delayed gratification??? This is bothering me a lot with some kids. Let's see how many people read this thing.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Piaget and Erickson were on to something...

I had a "well-duh!" moment today while working. I received permission from this individual to use their ideas in my blog. We were discussing childhood development and the stages that were developed by such professionals as Piaget and Erickson. I personally am more apt to pay attention to Erickson's explanation of human development. If you are interested in reviewing it, Wikipedia has a helpful overview at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson's_stages_of_psychosocial_development
Check it out and it might help understand my psychobabble. The first stage occurs during the first year of a child's life and is "trust vs. mistrust." For anyone who has read my earlier blogs on safety, trust vs. mistrust is highly correlated with a sense of personal safety. A child must have the ability to feel safe in their environment which is created and maintained by their caretaker. If the caretaker provides for the basic emotional, mental, physical, and developmental needs the child will develop trust and move on to the next stages of development. While softly touching upon this stage, this individual indicated that she realized that a child usually knows where to go for comfort. If the child gets hurt he/she can run to their caregiver in pain and have the pain resolved and feel safe and peaceful once again. They learn how to develop the capacity to release the emotional or even physical burdens through trust and care by their parent/caregiver. If a child's caregiver does not give that reassurance, nurturing or love, the child's development will be stunted. For example, if the child runs to their parent/caregiver in tears complaining of an "owie" and the caregiver says something to the effect of, "stop bawling, or I'll give you a real reason to cry..." they are taught to suppress the pain and are put on a heightened state of alarm or fear when it comes to experiencing personal pain due to the negative reinforcement by their caretaker. Not only is this abuse, but it is also neglect. Abuse, to me is a type of negative reinforcer that is forced upon an individual against their will causing damage. Neglect is similar, however, it involves withholding a reinforcer that is necessary for the developmental survival of the individual. It is something that didn't happen that should have. Now, some cognitive behavioral theorists may say, "well, every individual has the ability to choose how to feel by thinking differently and addressing their cognitive distortions, changing their irrational belief system, or modifying their cognitive schema...then, the negative feelings will change." I agree with them, but it seems that there is a piece missing. If a client does not have the capacity to "reprocess" the abuse or neglect (the actual pain it caused) how can thinking about it differently cause it to go away? If in a situation where trust is required the client who has been trained in cognitive therapy can certainly think their way through the situation...but, what about the correlation that the current situation has with past abuse or neglect situations? What about the pain that is still present and surfaces during a trigger moment that doesn't seem to dissipate even when trying to rationalize through it? I am not supposing that cognitive behavioral therapies are not effective. There is sufficient research evidence that supports its efficacy. However, they are not effective alone in these types of situations (which are the situations in which I work every day). Other interventions are necessary that are non-traditional and focus on pain resolution, developmental restructuring, augmented by cognitive approaches. Not one approach, but all that are necessary to meet each client's specific needs.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Thoughts on Social Development...

Here's something to stew over in your mind. I was reading again in "A Psychology of Human Strengths" edited by Aspinwall and Staudinger. On page 39-41 roughly it begins talking about the importance of relationships to human beings and how evidence suggests that attachment with children begin in the last half of their first year of life. Also, that the relationships that adults seek romantically or with others function in ways that are common to that which they had with their caregivers. My question is this...what happens if a child is not given the opportunity to create that attachment and relationship? What will it do to their development and ability to create a bond. Part of my question was quickly answered. I will quote their quote of Siegel (1999) who "argued that infant's early social relationships 'have a direct effect on the development of the domains of mental functioning that serve as our conceptual anchor points: memory, narrative, emotion, representations, and states of mind' (p. 63 of Siegel); (p. 40 of Aspinwall and Staudinger). The editors go on to state that research shows that even slight deprivations in social relationships and contacts "results in abnormal neuroanatomical structures and impaired endocrinological sensitivity associated with stress" (p. 40). They also indicated one study that supported the same findings.
Now, the question is posed. If human beings must have social contact in order to create the positive neurological and endocrinological structures, what happens to a person who did not have those opportunities or was denied them in one way or another? The studies say that their actual brain structure and chemistry does not make the neurological connections that are necessary. Would such a person be able to meet others' needs if their needs were never met? What if they had children? Would they try to meet their own neglected needs through their children, thus continuing the cycle? My guess is...NO! Simply, because I have seen it go either way through personal and professional experience. Much of the differences had to do, I believe, with the individual's exercise of will and desire, as well as their willingness to look at possible deficits that they may have. What do you think?

Monday, February 26, 2007

On the weekend getaway....

Returning to past trauma definitions...I wonder if trauma could be considered sleeping in in a three man tent with a friend next to me that is comfortably snoring the night away while my extremities continue to lose any sensation due to the ever increasing freezing sensation and the steady drop in temperature. If it is trauma, then I'm a survivor.
I went camping over the weekend with my neighbor in the Oquirrh mountains in Ophir Canyon. Ophir is a quaint town, remnant of a past mining boom in the late 1800's. It's a beautiful canyon with a population of...well, I'm not sure it's been established.
We got there late on Friday night. While I pitched the tent on the snow my neighbor built a warm fire. We enjoyed tinfoil dinners as we huddled over the dying embers. Upon retiring to our tent, he was snoring within 15 minutes. I made the grave mistake in bringing a cot, thinking I might be comfortable. To my dismay, it was my undoing. The cold air circulated underneath me all night. I slept maybe an hour. Upon reaching the hour of 5:20 a.m. I finally woke up my slumbering friend and told him of my predicament. His first comment, to my utter surprise was, "Dude, we're not spooning." We then got into his Tahoe and stayed there for the next two hours warming up with the car heater and seat heaters (a must for a car I think). After getting another hour of sleep or so we made breakfast, broke camp, and took off for a hiking adventure. We hiked a little under two miles, yet climbed 600-700 feet in elevation. The sights were breathtaking, and so was the exercise. All in all, it was a good weekend getaway. For pictures and more comments of the excursion, click on this link. It will take you to Jason Hall's blog. http://halls.lug-nut.com/gallery/jayce/Camping/Oquirrh-2-07/

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Secondary Trauma

As many have noticed from the news, there was a severe tragedy occurred yesterday at Trolley Square in Salt Lake City, UT. An armed gunman opened fire killing five people and injuring more. I heard on the radio that four or five that were injured were in stable condition, although they were watching them heavily in the ICU. Our hearts go out to them and their families and friends. Our hearts also go out to those that witnessed the atrocity, or were involved in any way. It is possible that they will suffer from secondary trauma. Primary trauma occurs when an individual is the actual victim or experiences personally the trauma. Secondary trauma occurs to a witness. Let's review what trauma means. Webster's online dictionary states: 1 a : an injury (as a wound) to living tissue caused by an extrinsic agent b : a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury c : an emotional upset.
Obviously the first definition is primary. The second and third can be either primary or secondary. the unfortunate aspect of secondary trauma is that it can have the same or similar psychological effects as the primary victims. Flashbacks, paranoia symptoms, fear, nightmares, high anxiety, avoidance behaviors, etc. It can happen with any trauma, but doesn't necessarily mean that it will.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Back In Action

After having taken a break from writing for a time I'm back in the saddle and ready to ride. Still working hard with many clients and even more paperwork. I have several clients who are beginning to improve and some that continue to struggle. The situations that bother me the most are those that are avoidant or resistant. They come in all ages and from all kinds of circumstances. The common characteristics is their resistance to change, or avoidance of addressing the core problems. These clients are simply not ready to be in counseling for themselves. Many times they are being forced by the courts, an upset parent/caregiver, or a loved-one to be in counseling. It goes against their free-will to be here, thus canceling the single greatest power for change--CHOICE. Some parents bring their children in who are acting out behaviorally and say "FIX THEM!" Usually, the problem is not one that can be fixed on an individual basis, but rather a family basis. It is usually the parents with the problem and the children are the symptom. At times it is the parents that are resistant to change, thus the children don't get any better. Or, due to behavioral modeling the children begin to follow in mom and dad's footsteps--forging a path of deviant behaviors. Deviant, meaning that it deviates from the norm and is self-destructive. I'm perplexed at how to address this population, because there are so many. I know that it is not possible to force my will on to them and make them change and see the light, so to speak. How can the avoidant and resistant clients change? With time, hopefully.