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Thursday, March 25, 2010

Adolescent Depression Among 18 Year Olds: Child or Adult?

Adolescent Depression Among 18 Year Olds: Child or Adult?


Adolescent Depression Among 18 Year Olds:  Child or Adult?
Over the years, I've seen a number of parents who come to psychotherapy to deal with their own fear, frustration, and anxiety related to an 18 year old daughter or son who refuses to get help for depression. With regard to mental health decisions, in New York State, we consider an 18 year old to be an adult who can make his or her own decisions about getting mental health treatment. A concerned parent, who is worried about the welfare of his or her child, cannot force an 18 year old to get help if the teen doesn't want it. This raises a lot of complicated issues:

  • Even though the law considers an 18 year old to be an adult with regard to participating in mental health treatment, does an 18 year old always have the psychological maturity and judgment needed to make this decision?
  • Given all the hormonal and psychological changes that go on during adolescence, does an 18 year old always know what's in his or her best interests regarding psychological health?
  • How does teenage rebellion against parents and authority figures factor into this issue?
  • How does the depression itself affect an 18 year old's ability to make sound decisions for him or herself in this situation?
What is Adolescent Depression?


What is Adolescent Depression?
Adolescent depression is a psychological disorder that occurs during teenage years with symptoms of persistent sadness, loss of interest in his or her usual activities, loss of self worth, and discouragement. In many cases, teens will start to isolate themselves from family and friends. In some cases, teens might turn to alcohol or drugs to self medicate their depression. In more severe cases, teens might make impulsive attempts or gestures to commit suicide. There might be other symptoms from other psychological disorders such as anxiety, anorexia, bulimia, compulsive overeating, self mutilating, hair pulling, and other similar symptoms. See below (What Are the Symptoms of Adolescent Depression?)

What Causes of Adolescent Depression?


What Causes Adolescent Depression?
Depression during adolescence is not unusual. Some of the causes of depression in teens might be:
  • hormonal changes that occur during adolescence
  • stress associated with the normal process of maturing and developmental change
  • a reaction to a disturbing event: the death of a friend or loved one, the breakup of a relationship, problems at school, and other similar issues

Teens who are Most Vulnerable to Depression:


Teens Who Are Most Vulnerable to Depression
  • have low self esteem
  • are highly critical of themselves
  • have little sense of control over stressful events that occur to them
  • have been sexually, physically or emotionally abused or emotionally neglected
  • often come from a family with a history of depression
  • often have poor social skills
  • often feel that they don't "fit in" with their peer group
  • have an unstable home life
  • often have parents who are divorced
  • experience the loss of a parent

What are the Symptoms of Adolescent Depression?

What Are the Symptoms of Adolescent Depression?
  • acting out behavior (misbehaving in school, acting defiant with parents)
  • changes in appetite (either increase or decrease)
  • criminal behavior (shoplifting, alcohol or drug abuse, selling drugs, etc)
  • persistent sadness
  • irritable mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • difficulty making decisions
  • problems with memory
  • sleep problems (either problems with insomnia, excessive sleeping or day time sleepiness)
  • excessively irresponsible behavior
  • excessive guilt
  • problems in school, including failing grades, fighting with teachers or other students, cutting classes, etc.
  • thoughts about suicide, making plans to commit suicide or actual suicide attempts
  • substance abuse or other forms of addictive behavior (gambling, acting out sexually)
  • excessive worry or preoccupation about death
  • significant weight change (either gaining or losing)
Is it Depression or Something Else?
Depression is difficult to diagnose in teens due to hormonal and other developmental changes that go on during this phase of life. Some of the above symptoms are just a normal part of being a teen and do not necessarily mean that your teen is depressed. A psychotherapist or psychiatrist, who specializes in working with teens, should be consulted to make a differential diagnosis. Also, it's a good idea to consult with your medical doctor to rule out any medical causes. A doctor who is knowledgeable about substance abuse can also rule out alcohol or drug abuse.

Depression Before and After Age 18:
Prior to the age of 18, as a parent, you can make the decision as to whether or not your child gets help. It's always better to include teens in on the decision making process, if you can, rather than trying to force them to get help. Also, when teens become involved in criminal activity, the court can mandate that they attend treatment and will often monitor their compliance in treatment.

But when teens turn 18, getting them into treatment for depression can be a thorny issue, if they are either afraid to get into treatment, they feel stigmatized, or they refuse to participate in treatment as part of their rebellion towards you.

What to Do If Your 18 Year Old Refuses to Get Help:
Recognize that, ultimately, as scary as this might be, in most cases, the decision is up to your 18 year old. But there are some steps that you can take to help your 18 year old to get help:

Normalize What Your Child is Feeling
As previously mentioned, it's not unusual for teens to be depressed. Your 18 year old might feel that he or she is the only one who is going through depression. This can be especially painful because teens often have a strong need to "fit in" with their peer group. If they think that what they're going through is "weird" or "crazy," it would be helpful for them to know that they're not alone.

Provide Your Child with Psychoeducational Material about Depression
Organizations like NAMI (http://www.NAMI.org) have websites that provide psychoeducational information about depression. So, even if your 18 year old won't listen to you, he or she might be more receptive to information that is online.

Elicit the Help of Someone Close to Your 18 Year Old
During the adolescent phase of growing up, teens are striving to have some degree of autonomy and control. This often translates into alternating behavior of over dependence and rebellion towards parents and authority figures. An 18 year old's decision not to participate in mental health treatment for depression can be adversely affected by his or her need to feel autonomous and independent from parents. So, even though you might be the one who is most familiar with what's going on with your teen, you might not be the one that he or she will listen to about this. In many cases, it's helpful to find someone who has some influence with your teenager--that might be an older sibling, an aunt or uncle, your child's medical doctor, or a coach. They might be more persuasive than you.

Try Not to Get into a Power Struggle with Your 18 Year Old
If your 18 year old refuses to get help for depression, your inclination might be to feel angry and frustrated. You might see all the signs and symptoms of depression and know that you have better judgment with regard to your teen getting help. However, aside from emergency situations, if you try to force, rather than persuade, your teen to get help, your teen might dig in his or her heels about this, making it less likely that he or she will get help.

What About Suicidal Thoughts, Intention, Plan or Attempt?
If your teen is talking about suicide, you need to consult with a psychiatrist who specializes in working with teens immediately. Teens can be impulsive and events that might seem insignificant to you can often be emotionally overwhelming for a teen. When teens are impulsive, often, there is no forethought about suicide--they make the attempt.

If your teen has actually made an attempt, of course, you need to call 911 immediately. If your 18 year old is taken to the emergency room for a psychiatric evaluation following a suicidal attempt or gesture, the psychiatrists can hold him or her for up to 72 hours or more if they feel that your child will be a risk to him or herself or others.

Hopefully, as a parent of a teen, you will never be faced with adolescent depression in your child. But if you are, aside from getting your teen help, the family might need family counseling and you might need your own psychotherapy to cope with this ordeal.

I am a NYC licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist who works with individual adults as well as couples.

To find out more about more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.


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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Psychotherapy: Understanding and Expressing Your Emotions in a Healthy Way

Many people begin psychotherapy because they either become aware that they're disconnected from their emotions, they can't identify or express their emotions or they are overwhelmed by feelings that they don't understand. They might know that they're "not feeling right," but they don't know what's wrong. They might be able to see the consequences of their problem in their personal or work relationships or in their difficulty with achieving their goals. They might also have problems just getting through the day. But, other than knowing that "something is wrong," they don't know where to begin. Then, on top of that, they judge themselves harshly for not knowing what to do.


An Inability to Identify, Understand and Express Certain Emotions Can Be Frustrating
It's not unusual to be aware that you're having a certain, vague emotional discomfort but not know what's happening to you. At times, this experience can feel scary because you might feel out of control. Most people like to have a sense of control in their lives, especially over their own emotions. For some people, when they feel out of control, they might feel like they're "going crazy." Or, conversely, some people feel emotionally "flat." They don't feel the highs and lows that others feel and they wonder if "something is wrong" with them.

Often, it's more about never having learned to identify feelings in the first place. This usually occurs in families where, for a variety of reasons, children are discouraged from feeling their emotions. In subtle and not so subtle ways, children in these families learn that emotions are dangerous things to be avoided, especially any type of strong emotion. These children learn to disconnect from their emotions and, if strong feelings do come to the surface despite their best efforts to tamp them down, they find other ways, usually self destructive ways, to dissociate from their emotions.

An Inability to Identify, Understand and Express Your Emotions Can Ruin Your Relationship
The following vignette, which is a composite of many psychotherapy cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality, illustrates how a child in a family where emotions are discouraged grows up into an adult who is unable to identify his emotions.

Tom:
When Tom began psychotherapy, he was in crisis. His girlfriend of two years, Betty, was threatening to leave their relationship because she felt that Tom was not emotionally available to her and her emotional needs weren't being met in their relationship.

On some vague level, Tom understood that Betty wasn't happy, but he was also confused about the problem. He didn't understand what the problem was, why it was happening, or how to change it. He had never participated in psychotherapy before because he thought it was for people who are "crazy." But, at the point when he started therapy, he was at a loss as to what to do. He didn't want to lose Betty and she offered to give him time to figure things out in therapy before she left the relationship.

At the start of therapy, Tom was only able to identify his fear of losing Betty, which he also did not understand. Other than that, in general, he couldn't say if he felt angry, sad, frustrated, or happy. He talked about feeling like, before his relationship with Betty, he was "just going through the motions" for most of his life. He said that he was unaware of any highs and lows most of the time. Aside from how Betty experienced Tom, now that he was faced with the possible loss of his relationship, Tom wasn't satisfied with his inability to identify, feel or express his emotions. He wanted to change, but he didn't know how.

When we explored Tom's experiences as a child, it made sense that Tom was so out of touch with his feelings. As an only child, Tom grew up with parents who provided him with everything that he needed materially, but they were emotionally distant from Tom as well as in their own relationship with each other. They never abused him physically or emotionally. He was not physically neglected in any way.

Tom's parents taught him to be an ethical, hard working person, but they didn't value relationships. They had no friends of their own, and they couldn't understand why Tom would want to spend time playing with other children or why he would even want them, as his parents, to spend time playing with him. It didn't make sense to them. They couldn't understand why he would want them to come to see him in a school play or why he would even want to participate in the play at all. They viewed most things in terms of its utilitarian value: Was it "right"? Was it "useful"? If not, why do it? So, Tom spent most of his time alone.

Tom's parents also discouraged him from having any strong emotions, whether it was happy, sad or angry. Rather than treating Tom as a child who needed emotional nurturing, they treated him like a little adult.

Tom never saw his parents being affectionate with each other. They were often preoccupied and distracted with their own individual projects and concerns in separate parts of the house. Even at dinner, his father often read the newspaper to himself and his mother read a book. Tom usually ate his dinner staring at his plate in silence.

When he got a little older,Tom became convinced that he was "a mistake," and they never intended to have children at all. Whenever his parents heard about a couple who wanted a child or someone who was happy about having just given birth, they were mystified. Without any awareness of how it might affect Tom, they often openly expressed their bewilderment about why couples would want children at all. They talked about how "expensive" it was to raise a child and how it limited people's lives because it was so "time consuming."

As a result, as a child, Tom was careful not to be "a nuisance" to his parents. He was diligent about his studies and got good grades because he knew it was expected of him. Throughout his life, he often had only one friend at any given time. Most of the time, it was someone who was outgoing and saw something about Tom that was appealing and endearing. Usually, this person made most of the effort to keep the friendship going.

Tom felt that he went through the motions in college. He neither enjoyed it nor disliked it. He didn't think in those terms. Going to college was something that was expected of him, and he knew he needed to do it to get a decent job. He dated very little in college. He was accustomed to spending most of his time on his own, so he didn't miss companionship and he didn't feel especially sexual.

After college, Tom understood that his parents expected him to move out on his own. His parents felt they had done their duty as parents to raise him to the age of 21, and now he needed to take care of himself. He obtained a good paying full time job as a technical writer, and he also worked part time in a book store to be able to afford his own apartment in Manhattan.

His parents never came to see his apartment nor did they express any curiosity about it. After he moved out, Tom only saw his parents occasionally. They always seemed surprised when he called them and he said he wanted to come over to see them. When they did get together, it was often at times when Tom could help them with some household project. So, after he moved out, this became the focus of Tom's relationship with his parents. Once again, the focus was utilitarian and not based on mutual love or affection.

When Tom met Betty, he sensed immediately that there was something very different about her. Aside from being very bright and sharing similar values, she was an affectionate, enthusiastic young woman. At first, he wasn't sure if he liked how emotionally effusive she was with him. It felt somewhat strange and unfamiliar. Although he didn't understand it, he tolerated it. But he also felt she was "a good person" and he wanted to get to know her better. Initially, she told him that she was drawn to him because he seemed so "emotionally independent." Early on, she teased him sometimes about being somewhat aloof, but she also cared about him a great deal. For his part, Tom felt himself drawn to and curious about Betty. It was the first time that he felt sexually drawn to someone. They also both cared about the environment and worked on local ecological projects together.

The problems began in the second year of their relationship. At that point, Betty wanted to take the relationship to the next level. She felt committed to their relationship, but she said she was never sure how Tom was feeling about it. She knew that she loved him and that he cared about her, but she wasn't sure if he loved her or not. They were both in their mid-20s, and she wanted to get married and have children. She told Tom that she wanted to make a life with him, but she wasn't sure how he felt. When Betty told him this, Tom was somewhat bewildered by it. He felt fine about how their relationship just the way it was. He didn't see the need to change it to get married, and he certainly didn't see the need for children.

As time went on, Betty began to express her dissatisfaction with what she described as Tom's emotional distance. What she once saw as Tom's "emotional independence" she now perceived as his being cold and too distant. She told him that she loved him, but he was not meeting her emotional needs. When Tom heard this, he realized that he had never really thought about his own emotional needs before. It wasn't until Tom was faced with the possibility of losing Betty that he even considered his emotional needs.

As Betty became increasingly aware of the extent of Tom's problems, Betty suggested that Tom seek out a psychotherapist to get help. Tom contacted his doctor, and his doctor referred Tom to me.

When Tom started therapy, Betty agreed to be patient and to give Tom a chance to change in therapy. Tom came to our psychotherapy sessions diligently once a week. Slowly, over time, Tom began to identify his feelings.

At first, Tom was most aware of the fear that he felt about losing Betty. Gradually, he began to be able to identify other feelings, including a deep sadness, which had been buried since childhood, about his parents' emotional aloofness with him. He struggled to mourn what he didn't get from them as a child and how lonely he had been.

At first, experiencing his emotions was frightening for him. We worked on Tom developing coping strategies, including daily meditation, for when he felt overwhelmed. But struggling with these emotions also heightened his appreciation for Betty's love and affection.

Over time, Betty told Tom that she noticed a difference in him that she liked. She felt that Tom was more emotionally available to her. For his part, Tom expressed feeling like he was waking up from a long, dull sleep. He was a naturally curious person, and he approached these changes with a mixture of curiosity, real excitement for the first time that he could remember, and also some fear and sadness. But, as he became more accustomed to feeling his emotions, Tom also felt that his every day world was opening up to him. He approached his relationship, his work and life in general as if he was given a new pair of eyes where he could see and sense things he never felt before.

As he developed a greater capacity to identify, feel and express his emotions, Tom's relationship with Betty became much closer. He realized what he had been missing for most of his life, and he felt a deep sense of gratitude that he had finally found it and could appreciate it. Within a couple of years of starting therapy, Tom and Betty were planning their wedding and talking about having children. For the first time in his life, Tom felt he understood that he had something to offer a wife and family on an emotional level, and he could also take in emotionally what they had to offer him.

There are so many reasons why people have difficulty identifying, feeling and expressing their emotions. In Tom's case, it was due to being raised in a household where his parents were very aloof and discouraged the expression of emotions or even the recognition of emotional needs. For other people, it might be the opposite--maybe they grew up in a family that was explosive where they learned that emotions were dangerous.

Getting Help in Therapy
The good news is that it's never too late to learn how to identify, feel and express your emotions in a healthy way. Psychotherapy offers the possibility to understand and express your emotions so that you can lead a fuller and more satisfying life. Depending upon your particular challenges with emotions, it often takes a willingness to make a commitment to therapy and work through earlier issues. But the rewards for doing this work are often life changing.


Psychotherapy Can Help You to Express Your Emotions in an Healthy Way

If you're having problems identifying, feeling and expressing your emotions, you could benefit from attending psychotherapy with a licensed psychotherapist.

Psychotherapy Can Help You to Learn to Communicate Better in Your Relationship

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.







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Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Starting Psychotherapy: Developing a Sense of Psychological Mindedness

What is Psychological Mindedness?
Often, for people who are starting psychotherapy for the first time, there is a misconception that the client comes to see the psychotherapist, explains the problem, and the therapist gives the client "the answer" about what to do. This is what's meant by the client who seeks the "quick fix."

Starting Psychotherapy: Developing a Sense of Psychological Mindedness

Aside from certain specific problems. like coming for clinical hypnosis for smoking cessation, generally, there are no "quick fixes" in psychotherapy. There are certain types of psychotherapy that tend to be faster and more effective than regular talk therapy, like EMDR and clinical hypnosis, for certain problems.

But, generally, psychotherapists don't tell their clients what to do. Unlike counseling, where counselors often give advice, in most cases, psychotherapy involves a self exploration of your internal emotional world. And in order to engage in this self exploration of your internal emotional world, you need to begin with a sense of curiosity that allows you to develop psychological mindedness.

When you develop a sense of psychological mindedness, you're more open and curious about your emotional world. Rather than passively waiting for the therapist to tell you what to do, you become actively involved in your own internal process. I emphasize the word "process" because this is not a one-time event. It's a process that usually unfolds over time.

Developing psychological mindedness involves more than just coming to vent about your problems or "report" on what happened in the last week. When you develop a sense of psychological mindedness, you develop an awareness of your thoughts, feelings and behavior.

If you're working with a psychotherapist who emphasizes the mind-body connection, as I do, you also become more aware of where you feel your feelings in your body. Learning to recognize where you feel your feelings in your body can be very powerful. It helps you to develop emotional insight and not just intellectual insight.

The difference between emotional insight and intellectual insight is that when you have emotional insight, you feel it in your "gut." You have a deeper sense of knowing than you would when you only have intellectual insight and it's just ideas in your head.

When you're psychologically minded, your emotional world as well as your external world around you, opens up for you in a new way. You begin to become more aware and make psychological connections in your life that you wouldn't have made if you remained passively waiting for a therapist (or anyone else) to tell you what to do. Generally, you begin to see more readily what you're doing that's not working for you. You also often see what triggers your behavior, whether it's unresolved issues from the past or something that is going on in the here-and-now.

Being psychologically minded and making psychological connections about your internal world and how you interact with others allows you to start making changes, if you're ready and willing to make those changes.

You might wonder why I would say "if you're ready and willing." After all, if you're coming to see a psychotherapist, doesn't that imply that you're having problems and you want to change? Well, not necessarily.

Often, people begin psychotherapy because the discomfort of having certain emotional problems has become overwhelming. They know that they're emotionally overwhelmed and they don't want to feel that way. They want the emotional pain to stop or the problems to end. But actually going through the psychological process of developing curiosity and awareness so they can make changes in their life is not always what they bargained for.

Once again, the desire for the "quick fix" can be strong, and it might be hard to understand why coming to psychotherapy is different than going for a one-time visit to your medical doctor where your doctor diagnoses the problem, tells you what it is, and gives you a pill or an injection to solve it.

Psychological problems are more complex than most regular medical problems. There are often multiple layers of meaning to your thoughts, feelings and behaviors. So, when your therapist listens to the problems that you bring into your session, he or she is not just listening for a list of symptoms and connecting it to a particular illness that can be readily resolved with a prescription.

Developing Psychological Mindedness as a First Step in Psychotherapy:
So, becoming curious and open to your thoughts and feelings as well as your behavior, and learning to make psychological connections between them is the beginning of developing psychological mindedness. It's a much richer and more rewarding process than if someone just tells you what to do (even if there were someone who actually knew what was best for you). It's the beginning of your psychological process in psychotherapy.

Developing a Sense of Psychological Mindedness in Therapy

Why do I say developing psychological mindedness is just the beginning? The answer is that, in order to make changes, in most cases, you need to take action. Most of the time, it's not enough to just be psychologically minded, understand the problems and stop there. Depending upon the problem, you often need to actually do something to make a change.

Getting Stuck After Developing Psychological Understanding and Before Taking Action:
Many clients in psychotherapy get stuck at the point where they need to take action. Developing a psychological understanding of the problem, while being essential, is not the be-all and end-all of the process. Getting stuck before taking action is common obstacle, but it doesn't need to be a permanent state. It can be a stage in the process that needs to be overcome and clients often do overcome these obstacles if they're willing to stick with the process.

Once again, psychological mindedness can help clients to understand why they get stuck before they take action to change their problems. It can be that they're really not ready yet to make the changes they need to make. It can also be a fear of what it might be like to change and have things be different. There can be so many other factors involved.

A skilled psychotherapist can often help clients to translate emotional insight and psychological understanding into action, but the therapist can't do it for them. When a client gets stuck, patience on the part of the client and the therapist is usually helpful. There might be other underlying issues, possibly trauma, that might not be immediately apparent at first to the client or even to the therapist.

If you're seeing a thearpist who is trained in different forms of psychotherapy, it might be necessary to switch from one form of psychotherapy, like regular talk therapy, to EMDR or clinical hypnosis to overcome the particular obstacles or trauma that have arisen which prevent the client from making the change. But that's a different blog post (see my earlier posts that describe EMDR and clinical hypnosis and how they're different from regular talk therapy).

Learning to be a Psychotherapy Client:
Most clients who begin psychotherapy learn how to be psychotherapy clients as they go along with the help of their therapist. Learning to be a psychotherapy client is a learning process in itself because participating in psychotherapy is different from most anything else that you've ever done before. You might have seen movies or TV programs of people in psychotherapy and, even if it's an accurate portrayal of psychotherapy (and it's often not), when it's your personal psychotherapy, you experience it on a very different level.

When you begin psychotherapy, developing a sense of psychological mindedness can be a challenge. But it's often an experience that allows you to know yourself in a deeper and more fulfilling way. Developing a psychological understanding of yourself involves more than just brief treatment. It involves dedication and patience that develops over time.

As I mentioned earlier, there are certain problems (like smoking cessation) that can be overcome in 3-5 sessions. But for most complex problems, even problems are amenable to EMDR and clinical hypnosis, developing psychological understanding is a process that takes time.

I am a licensed psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist in NYC.

To find out more about EMDR, see my earlier posts or visit the EMDR professional website: http://www.emdria.org/.

To find out more about clinical hypnosis, visit the clinical hypnosis professional website: http://www.asch.net/.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006 or email me: josephineolivia@aol.com








Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Finding and Developing Contentment

What is Contentment?
In traditional psychotherapy, the emphasis tends to be on what's wrong rather than what's right with clients. Contemporary forms of psychotherapy, especially psychotherapy with a focus on a more holistic mind-body connection, are more concerned with a strengths-based perspective: acknowledging that there are problems, but also looking at the client's resilience and other positive aspects of a client's personality and situation. In light of this, there is also a perspective on finding and developing a sense of contentment in one's life.


Finding and Developing Contentment
Contentment as a State of Mind
When we talk about contentment, what do we mean? In our Western culture, the words "content" or "contentment" often has negative connotations and have become associated with complacency and consolation: "He was content to just settle for less rather than fighting to get more," "She said she thought it must be her 'karma' to be in a relationship with someone who doesn't treat her well," and so on. But contentment is not about being satisfied. Contentment is more about a state of mind in the here and now. You can be content and still have goals, but when you're content, you develop goals that are more in keeping with having balance in your life, and you're trying to achieve these goals in a non-grasping and non-greedy way.

It's often easier to be more aware of the things that make us unhappy and compare ourselves to people who have more of what we think we want in our lives rather than to seek internal contentment. When our perspective is one that focuses on what we don't have, we're more likely to be in a constant state of discontent most of the time. It leaves us in a state of agitation.

We're more likely to look for the next "quick fix" to try to achieve what we think might make us happy. But the "quick fix," whether it's continually craving buying something new, overeating or drinking excessively or using drugs, leads us into a vicious cycle of wanting more. Having more of whatever it is we think we want might give us a temporary emotional lift, but it doesn't make us feel content. It gives us a fleeting moment of elation, but it doesn't last. And when it's over, we're craving the next "quick fix." In that way, the "quick fix" is similar to the "geographic cure," which I wrote about in my last blog post.

So, contentment is more about a state of mind that isn't dependent upon what we have or what we do. It's more about our internal state of mind rather than about the externals like how much money we make, our job titles, our status or how attractive or young we are. It's about finding comfort and peace in who we are right now. It's about having gratitude for the simple pleasures in life. When we're content, we're not comparing ourselves, either favorably or unfavorably, to others.

Contentment Doesn't Mean Consolation
Contentment is a peaceful and serene state of mind. It doesn't mean that we don't try to improve ourselves or that we give up trying to lead a more conscious and authentic life. It's not an excuse for giving up when we feel disappointed with life. It's more of an awareness of what's really important in our lives and the choices that we make.

For most people, when they stop and think about what's really important, it's not about how much money they have or their possessions. In fact, research has shown that, even for people who win the multi-million dollar lottery, after the initial elation of winning all of that money, they go back to whatever their overall level of contentment or discontentment was before they won the money. This shows that, beyond having enough to meet our needs (rather than our wants), money really doesn't bring contentment. And, having more often leads to our craving more.

How to Develop Contentment
In a world where the focus tends to be on the "next new thing" or having the best of everything, leaving us constantly feeling disatisfied, grasping and craving more, how we do develop contentment?

To start, we can turn our attention inward.

Meditation:
A daily practice of meditation, where we're focused on our internal world for a brief period of time each day, helps to center our minds. Rather than dwelling on the past or focusing on the future, in a meditative state, stay present with where you are in the here and now. Centering and grounding yourself, your emotions become more balanced. You become more aware of your core self. The core self is that centered, compassionate, intuitive part of yourself.

Meditation
Contentment and a Gratitude Journal
Developing a sense of gratitude is also helpful to developing a state of contentment. Rather than dwelling on and craving what you don't have, take a few minutes each day to feel grateful for who you are right now and what you do have.

I find that keeping a gratitude journal, where you write down at least three things that you feel grateful for each day, helps to develop a sense of gratitude. When you keep a gratitude journal, after a while, you begin to internalize a sense of gratitude and contentment.

Contentment & Gratitude Journal
For most people, when they keep a daily gratitude journal, they feel less agitated, less compulsive about grasping and craving what they don't have, and less disatisfied with life in general. They're more able to enjoy the simple pleasures of life with a sense of contentment and gratitude for life: Rather than feeling unhappy that it's raining outside, they're able to enjoy listening to the rhythm of the rain falling outside their windows, knowing that they're safe and warm inside. Rather than feeling badly for what they don't have and continually craving more money or more of whatever it is they think they want more of, they're able to appreciate what they do have.

So, even if your habitual way of being is to dwell on what's wrong or what you don't have, you can develop contentment. It takes practice to change your perspective. Even after you develop more of a sense of gratitude and contentment, it's easy to slip back into old negative habits. For most people, it's not a matter of having "arrived" at a sense of contentment because the countervailing forces around us, whether it's our own negative thoughts or out of control consumerism around us, can be very strong, easily pulling us back to a state of craving and discontent.

That's why a daily meditation practice helps to bring us back to that place of centeredness and groundedness, especially when we feel ourselves slipping back into old negative thought patterns.

As we develop our meditation practice, we learn to develop a sense of contentment about that too. Rather than approaching our meditation practice with the same sense of perfectionism that we might apply to the rest of our lives, we learn to be balanced about it. So that if we miss a day or two of meditation, we don't berate ourselves or compare ourselves to others who might be more consistent than we are in our practice. We don't engage in all-or-nothing thinking where we give up meditating because we didn't do it for a few days or more.

Instead, we recognize that we're human. We have compassion for ourselves and return to our meditation practice.

We recognize that finding and developing contentment is a lifelong process.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and EMDR therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.



photo credit: melolou via photopin cc

photo credit: jouste via photopin cc

photo credit: juliejordanscott via photopin cc

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Problem with the "Geographic Cure"

The "Geographic Cure"
We are a country of people on the move. In the US, thousands of people relocate to all areas of the country every year. Many people travel to attend college, to start new jobs, to live in a warmer climate, or to seek new opportunities. These are all common reasons for moving.

But among the many thousands of people who move every year, there are many who move to seek the "geographic cure," and who are disappointed when the changes they hoped for don't occur.

What is the "Geographic Cure"?


The Problem with the "Geographic Cure"
The "geographic cure" is a term used when people move to another area, hoping that their problems will disappear because they're in a new location. They hope that, by being in a new area, they'll escape their emotional problems. Rather than making internal changes in themselves to change their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors, they think that a change in location is "the answer."

What's the Problem with the "Geographic Cure"?


The Problem with the "Geographic Cure"
The most obvious problem is that you can't rely on your external surroundings to overcome your emotional problems. Your emotional problems require a search within yourself and the willingness to make the necessary emotional and behavioral changes to overcome your problems. Sure, it's possible that you might be more content for a while if you move. A new location can be fun and exciting for a while, and there are plenty of distractions when you're setting up a new household. But after a while, especially if your emotional problems are deep rooted, life will settle into a routine, there won't be as many distractions, and you'll be aware, once again, of the same emotional problems that you were suffering with before.

As the saying goes, "Everywhere you go, there you are."

The following vignette, which is a composite of various clinical cases with all identifying information changed, illustrates why the "geographic cure" doesn't work:

Paula:

Paula grew up in a small town. Her father was a raging alcoholic and everyone knew him as the "town drunk." Her mother was extremely passive and did whatever she could not to make waves with the father so he wouldn't get upset. All Paula could think about, as she was growing up, was that she wanted to move away. Her elementary school teachers recognized that she was depressed and advised Paula's mother to take her to see a mental health professional. But Paula's mother didn't believe in psychotherapy. She was also afraid that her alcoholic husband would be furious because he would think that Paula would be talking about him in her therapy. As a result, Paula never got help as a child.

When she was old enough to go to college, Paula applied to a college on the West Coast, wanting to get as far away from her family as possible. Initially, she was happy to get away from her family and she did well in college. But after the initial excitement of living in a new city wore off, she began to be aware of her depression again. She was very intelligent, so she did well in college. But she struggled to just get through the day. She made a couple of close friends in college and they advised her to go to the campus mental health center because they recognized that she was depressed. Paula went to a few counseling sessions, but she dropped out as soon as the counselor began exploring issues regarding her parents. She decided that she would deal with it on her own, and when she graduated, she would move to the East Coast to find a job.

Ten years after Paula graduated from college, she had moved from state to state several times. After college, she moved to NYC and landed a terrific job. At first, she thought she had beat her depression because she was feeling good about her job and visiting all the places in NY that she had always wanted to see. But once life settled down, she couldn't distract herself with the newness of the city any more, and she felt the familiar leaden feeling of depression weighing her down again. From NY, she moved to Chicago, then to Atlanta, Florida, Washington state, New Mexico, Arizona, and then back to NYC.

Each time, she experienced the same thing: She felt better for a while and then she began to feel the depression again when she could no longer distract herself. While she was living in NYC for the second time, a friend spoke to her about the "geographic cure." Paula had never heard this expression before. But as she listened to her friend speak, her friend's words resonated with her. She began to realize that all of this moving around, ultimately, didn't change anything for her. After a while, she was aware of her depression again and realized that it never really went away--she was just less aware of it because of all of the distractions of moving.

When Paula began psychotherapy with me, she was at a low point. She had a good job, but all the moving, which was expensive, put a big hole in her savings. At that point, even if she wanted to move again, she couldn't afford it. Gradually, over time, Paula began to deal with her depression in therapy. After a while, she began to recognize that she was having some good days, as if something had been lifted from her emotionally. There were days when she didn't have that leaden, depressed feeling that had been weighing her down. And as she continued in therapy, she began having more good days. Her only regret was that she wished she had started therapy years ago.

When you're trying to avoid dealing with your feelings, it's very easy to convince yourself that some external change will be "the answer" to your problems. Of course, if you're in an abusive environment, as Paula was when she was growing up, it's a good idea not to remain in that situation if you can get away. But, just like Paula, many times the emotional damage has already been done. And while it's important to remove yourself from an abusive environment, it's usually only the start. The emotional fall out has already been internalized and, often, you can't overcome it on your own. You need professional help.

What Can You do if the "Geographic Cure" isn't Working for You?
Emotional problems need to be dealt with from the inside out. Changing the external environment often doesn't change your emotional problems. The "geographic cure" is a form of denial.

If you've been relying on the "geographic cure" to overcome emotional problems and you recognize a recurring pattern similar to what I've described in the composite vignette, you could benefit from seeing a licensed psychotherapist to deal with your problems. When you seek a therapist, make sure that he or she is a licensed mental health professional in your state.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, and EMDR therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.









The BreakUp: When the Need for Closure Turns into Harassment

Breaking up is almost never easy, especially for the person who wants to reconcile the relationship. For many people, there are times when the breakup of their relationship comes as a shock. For those people, who thought their relationship was going well, when they hear their spouses or partners tell them that it's over, the words land on them like a ton of bricks. It seems incomprehensible and unreal--as if they're stuck in a nightmare.

Years later, in hindsight, some people say that there were signs all along that the relationship was not gong well, but they were in denial and didn't see it. Many others, even with the benefit of hindsight, say there were no signs that their partners were unhappy. Either way, the end of a relationship can be traumatic, even when it's mutual. But when it's not a mutual decision, the person who wants to continue in the relationship often feels abandoned and wants very much to understand what happened and have a sense of closure about the breakup. However, the need for closure, especially when the partner who is leaving is not open to further discussion, sometimes leads to desperate attempts (by the partner being left) for a discussion, an explanation, maybe there's even some attempts at bargaining that they'll change whatever the other partner didn't like.

But how do you do you know when you've crossed the line from a need for closure into a form of harassment?

The following is a list of signs that you (or your partner) have crossed the line and are engaging in harassment. There are countless other forms of behavior that would be considered harassment, so this list gives you an idea, but it's not exhaustive:
  • Making endless calls and leaving numerous voicemail messages to your former partner, after s/he told you not to call any more
  • Showing up at your ex's house uninvited (and unwanted) after the breakup to discuss, plead, or argue
  • Calling your ex at his/her job numerous times after you've been asked to stop
  • Showing up at your ex's workplace uninvited (and unwanted) after the breakup
  • Waiting around at places that you know your ex typically frequents in an effort to see your ex or talk when you know your ex doesn't want you there
  • Sending numerous email messages either begging, threatening or arguing about the breakup
  • Threatening to reveal information about your ex to your ex's family, employer, friends or others that you know would be embarrassing, jeopardizing your ex's job or other relationships
  • Divulging confidential information that you know will be harmful to your ex or talking badly about your ex to people who could use the information against your ex
  • Running up credit cards that are in your former partner's name as a form of retaliation for the breakup
  • Damaging your ex's property (this can involve his/her car, home or other possessions)
  • Stalking or following your ex, your ex's family, friends or new partner
  • Calling your ex's relatives, friends, employer or new partner as a form of retaliation
  • Making false police reports against your ex (e.g., making a false report of domestic violence)
  • Making false reports of child abuse regarding your ex to the local bureau of child welfare
Needless to say, any form of violence towards your ex, your ex's family, friends or new partner is considered an assault and it's a crime.

You should be aware that many of the items on the above list are legally actionable, your ex can file a police report against you and, possibly obtain an order of protection. In some cases, you might be arrested, especially if you persist.

Although breaking up is almost never easy, the vast majority of people eventually grieve the loss, accept the breakup and don't engage in harassing behavior. After a period of time and, sometimes, with the help of psychotherapy, most people heal from the heart break and move on with their lives.

But for some people, the breakup can trigger strong emotions, often, of unresolved feelings of abandonment from their family of origin. When this occurs, the anger and sadness can be intense and overwhelming to bear. But this is never an excuse to harass your ex or people close to your ex.
If you find that you're stuck in an obsessive cycle of angry thoughts or compulsive or harassing behaviors related to your breakup, you should seek the help of a licensed mental health professional before it's too late. Most experienced psychotherapists have dealt with these issues before, and you don't need to feel embarrassed to seek help.

I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist

To set up a consultation, call me at (212) 726-1006.