Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Confrontation & Health

"In the short run, confronting upsetting experiences may be psychologically painful and physiologically arousing.

In the long run, however, the act of psychologically confronting emotionally upsetting events is associated with improved physical and psychological health."

Pennebaker, 1986, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1997, 1999, 2000


"Self-disclosure allows for one's feelings and thoughts to become more concrete, which ultimately results in greater self-knowledge.  Disease results when the move toward self-understanding is blocked."
(Pennebaker & Beall, 1986)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Enough Already! Let's Tell the Stories

With all of the anecdotal and empirical evidence showing that in the trauma and recovery process...
  • active coping helps someone achieve a sense of personal control over the stressful aspects of the environment and one's emotions and appears to be associated with better adjustment compared to avoidance or disengagement from the stressful situation related to poorer adjustment overall (Baum, 2004)
  • confrontation and disclosure of stressful or traumatic events - in an (1) increasingly coherent, organized and detailed narrative, (2) acknowledging the good and the bad memories, (3) describing the event details and our subsequent feelings, (4) using positive emotion words and a moderate number of negative emotion words - leads to better physical/mental health outcomes and attachment security than the inhibition of any of this stuff (Theorists Pennebaker & Bowlby)
  • exposure therapy is the gold standard for anxiety and PTSD treatment with 30+ years of randomized control trials (the gold standard in intervention research) showing evidence of effectiveness (Chorpita, personal communication)
  • narrative exposure therapy (a re-telling of important lifetime events - both the good and the bad), even when conducted by trained lay counselors (sometimes refugees living in the refugee camps as well) in war-torn countries, has been shown to reduce PTSD symptoms in both adults and children (Robjant & Fazel, 2010)
  • our Latin American ancestors identified a sacred "comedor de pecados, penas y preocupaciones" to hold all our painful stories for mind-body-spirit healing purposes (Dr. Javier Garcia de Alba, U. de Guadalajara, personal communication)
  • Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, Harvard trauma researcher and author of The Body Keeps the Score, said that sooner or later the kid will have to tell the story (NCTSN.org podcast)
  • and that in the years following the death of my own mother, I felt compelled to tell the story over and over again with the only people who could stand it - other grieving daughters - and my dear family and friends.
I contend that discouraging active coping, disclosure and exposure is unscientific and potentially culturally insensitive as well as physically and emotionally harmful.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Universal Protective Factors for Resilience

Werner reviewed large-scale longitudinal studies on resilience in the US and abroad and found that children who coped successfully with adversity tended to:
  • Become less easily distressed than those who developed problems 
  • Have an active, sociable, “engaging” temperament that attracted adults and peers alike 
  • Possess good communication and problem-solving skills, including the ability to recruit substitute caregivers 
  • Have a talent or special skill that was valued by their peers 
  • Have faith that their actions could make a positive difference in their lives 
  • Draw on external resources in the family and community 
  • Had affectional ties that encouraged trust, autonomy, and initiative provided by alternative caregivers who were members of the extended family 
  • Had informal support systems in the community that reinforced and rewarded the competencies of youth and provided them with positive role models. 
Emmy E. Werner
Chapter 7:  What can we learn about resilience from large-scale longitudinal studies? 

Transcending Childhood Pain at a Cost

"Other high-risk children had grown into competent, confident, and caring adults, but felt a persistent need to detach themselves from parents and siblings whose domestic and emotional problems threatened to engulf them. 
This was especially true for the adult offspring of alcoholic parents, some of whom had been physically and emotionally abused when they were young. 
The balancing act between forming new attachments to loved ones of their choice and the loosening of old family ties that evoked painful memories exacted a toll in their lives. 
The price they paid varied from stress-related health problems to a certain aloofness in their interpersonal relationships."

Emmy E. Werner
Chapter 7:  What can we learn about resilience from large-scale longitudinal studies?

Resilience = Opportunities & Choices

"...Opportunities and choices at crucial junctures play an important role in the life course of resilient individuals who find mentors, enter the military, find a new or deeper faith, marry healthy partners, leave deviant peer groups, or in other ways take action that has positive consequences for their life course."

Masten, 2001

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Counterfactual

"I wish that
I knew what I know now
when I was younger..."
I tend not to regret what I did - even if it seemed like a mistake later.

I tend to regret what I didn't do - the woulda-shoulda-coulda is a killer.

The gold standard in clinical research is the randomized control trial (RCT).  One group gets the treatment and the other group does not.  You can only know what would have happened without the treatment if you have a control group that didn't get it - you need a counter-factual condition.

The counter-factual condition also reminds me of what happens when you take a break from an unsatisfying job / career path or an unhappy relationship.  When you live without the job or the person, you realize what you were missing (which could be good or bad).  Having the job or being with the person can then be compared to not having the job (or having a different job) or being without the person (or being with a different person) - the counter-factual. Sometimes it takes the courage to test your hypothesis - that is, if you have a gut feeling about what you really want then you gotta experiment (take a risk and change your conditions) to see if it's true. 

If you do something and it turns out to be a mistake - even a very embarrasing one - at least you know fer sure.  If you don't do something then you will never know what might have been.  The "if only" wondering follows you to the grave.

But my biggest regrets are those moments when I forgot what I knew when I was born - I am lovable and loved just as I am. 

So now I try to act on that knowledge and belief as much as I can.  I got nothing to prove - I am lovable and loved just as I am. 

Some people get it and some people don't.  That's not my business.  My personal business is just to remember and act accordingly - I am lovable and loved just as I am. 

Rest & Support

When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up - one on one side, one on the other - so that his hands remained steady till sunset. Exodus 17:12

Why stand when you can sit (or lay down and take a nap)?

Why not say 'yes' to support from friends (or reach out to request prayer, an understanding ear and some fun)?

Friday, April 19, 2013

From the mouths of babes (with very old souls)

Mom:  Do you think it’s a good idea for families to talk about traumatic memories, no matter how painful?

11-year old Daughter:  Get it out of the way so you don’t live with this pit of sorrow in your heart.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Putting the Memories to Rest

"If talking about the past reduces ruminations and worries, how does it work?  One idea is that translating experiences into words forces some kind of structure to the experiences themselves.  Through language individuals are able to organize, structure, and ultimately assimilate both their emotional experiences and the events that may have provoked the emotions...Stiles proposes that talking about an event accomplishes two important goals.  First, talking both reflects and reduces anxiety.  Second, repeated disclosure over time gradually promotes the assimilation of the upsetting event."

Emotion, Disclosure and Health
Pennebaker, Editor

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Using our Words for Good Health

"Emotional upheavals can disrupt virtually all aspects of our lives.  Illness rates, levels of rumination, and social conflict typically increase following traumatic experiences.  A central psychological question concerns how people overcome these events.  On the basis of research over the past decade, psychologists now have a strong sense that talking or even writing about emotions or personal upheavals can boost autonomic nervous system activity, immune function, and physical health.  Although the link between disclosure and health have now been firmly established, why such links exists is still unknown...How do people respond to emotional upheavals in their lives and why?  Why does translating an event into language affect physical and psychological health?  How can our understanding of disclosure and health be applied in clinically useful and cost-effective ways?"

Emotion, Disclosure, and Health
James W. Pennebaker, Editor

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Magic of Causality

"Scientific research is the search for causes - that is, the reasons why particular forms of behavior occur...Discovering causal relationships cannot be directly observed.  Rather, it must be inferred from the observation of other factors.  Because of this, the philosopher John Kemeny has labeled causality 'the mysterious force.' We cannot see it, feel it, or hear it, be we often assume it is there - and many scientists search for causality with hopefulness and tenacity."
Applied Social Research:  A tool for the human services
Duane Monette, Thomas Sullivan, Cornell DeJong

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Truth, Love & Justice

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love have always won.  There have been tyrants and murderers, and for a time, they can seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall.  Think of it -- always."

--Mahatma Ghandi

Thursday, April 4, 2013


It's Spring!

Things are blossoming and blooming.

Whatever you have planted before is now coming up.

All your hard work will begin to pay off.  


Do not be deceived. God will not be made a fool. For a person will reap what he sows.
Galatians 6:7 (NET Bible, 2006)

You will enjoy the fruit of your labor. How joyful and prosperous you will be!
Psalm 128:2 (New Living Translation, 2007)


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Cool Quotes for Your Special Day

Australian nurse, Bronnie Ware, cared for people in the last 12 weeks of their lives and she recorded the most often-discussed regrets. At the top of the list:
  • "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me." 
  • Next on the list: "I wish I hadn't worked so hard" and 
  • "I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings." 

"I live the life I love and I love the life I live."
-- Muddy Waters

In everyone's life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It then bursts into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. 
-- Albert Schweitzer, philosopher, physician, musician, Nobel laureate (1875-1965)

"By engaging in a delusive quest for happiness, we bring only suffering upon ourselves. In our frantic search for something to quench our thirst, we overlook the water all around us and drive ourselves into exile from our own lives."
-- Sharon Salzberg

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


I met with an African-American Babalawo (spiritual healer).  He gave me a reading.

He said it is important to tell others about this practice because myths and scary stories abound.  Sometimes traditional healing practices get a bad rap because people misuse the power and sometimes the stigma has more to do with race and class.  That is, immigrant people of color who rely on ancestor healing practices for well-being  incur ridicule by the mainstream (even though it works and may be cheaper than Western medicine).

The Babalawo told me that the reading would tell me what I need to hear (not necessarily what I want to hear).

He gave me sound advice about how to treat others. He said I was strong but that it was important to be diplomatic as well.  Point well taken.  I've been working on this for years :)  He said too many people say hurtful things in the name of "just being real."  He gave me a small rock dipped in honey to touch to my tongue with the prayer to sweeten my words in protection of self and others.

He confirmed that my research agenda to interview healers from around the world is my path.  Traditional, cultural and spiritual practices that have been followed over thousands of years need no rigorous scientific testing to be privileged by the people who use them to heal or are healed by them.  However, the National Institutes of Health funds scientific testing of these practices and herbs through research grants from the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.  These are the research questions that I wanna be asking!

Feeling lost is human. Transformation and healing is possible.  I'm so grateful for the men and women who respond to the call (initiation) to practice.  Life is full of beauty and struggle.  During the struggle, it helps to know that our ancestors figured out ways to help.  They got our back! 

Truth Opened

Freud presented a paper in April, 1896 to the Society for Psychiatry and Neurology in Vienna on the sexual abuse of his female patients by t...