On Loneliness

lonelinessI don’t want to be a downer after reading about all of the exciting and innovative presentations but I cannot help the pull to highlight a session I attended on loneliness. I think that part of my draw, as well as my conflict, is that loneliness is such a universal experience.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis started the panel discussion by sharing a couple of case examples that highlighted the struggle with loneliness when there is a conflict between seeking others out and avoiding them. Dr. Curtis described characteristics of this type of loneliness as being related to perfectionism — that an individual desires being in relation with another yet simultaneously devalues others by having high standards for the relationship.

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

Dr. Rebecca Curtis

In helping to further expand the concept of loneliness, Dr. Ben Mijuskovic added:

The fear of loneliness is the ultimate universal drive in human beings, in all we feel, think, say and do … loneliness is the prime motivator in all our passions, thoughts and actions. The opposite of loneliness is intimacy, a desire for empathic unity with another self-conscious being, whether divine, human or sentient.

Dr. Mijuskovic went on to criticize behaviorism’s view that loneliness is passively caused by external conditions — environmental, cultural, situational and even chemical imbalances in the brain, in which he argues that the DSM is compatible with this approach since all of these external conditions are transient and avoidable.

On loneliness and the DSM, Dr. Mijuskkovic added:

The DSM analytically dissects, classifies, reduces and vivisects the emotions into separate “diagnoses” and thus fails to “see” the whole interplay of the emotions and its concomitant developing dynamic. Therefore, the DSM fails to include the “diagnosis” of loneliness because it has misunderstood the dynamic presence and force of loneliness by tearing it into lifeless pieces; it has separated the original constitutive members and transformed them into dead parts.

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

Dr. Ben Mijuskovic

So much of this talk and presentation resonated to the core with my understanding of loneliness in my clinical work. After reflecting on the talk for a bit, I cannot help but see many of the parallels with a larger process of our work as psychologists, and also why the room for this talk was quite full. Each year, thousands of us gather at an annual convention with like-minded individuals in a way to avoid our experience of loneliness in our work, and increase our intimacy and connections with those who we truly believe have the capacity to understand what it is that each of us does. While loneliness can stem from the urge for perfection, I would also argue that loneliness, especially for psychologists doing the work, can also arise from personal insight and self-awareness. Perhaps it is because we are reflective clinicians and have a harder time connecting with those we encounter in everyday life outside of the office, in particular, those who struggle with self-awareness and do not value interpersonal connection.

While this talk focused on understanding loneliness in clinical work with patients/clients, I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the loneliness and isolation of our work as clinicians. If you are willing, please share your experiences in the comments.

Sessions to See: Making the Most of the Last Day

at APA 2014

at APA 2014

Convention is winding down and many people are preparing for the last day of sessions before heading home. After a busy three days of activities, most people are ready to skip out on sessions to sleep in or go to the airport to beat the afternoon madness.

However, the convention still offers lots of exciting and interesting sessions. Plus, it’s a great time to visit the bookstore to make your purchases. As the convention comes to a close, below are some sessions that may be interesting to see if you’re still wondering, “What session should I go to?”

8AM

Therapist Self-Care – A Lifespan Perspective: Evidence-based Expressive Writing as a Tool

CC Room 145A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will cover empirical studies of expressive writing, an experiential portion involving expressive writing, and discussion.

How Do Psychologists with Privilege Respond to the Stigmatized Others?

CC 209A (50 minutes)

The session will focus on individual, cultural and contextual barriers and assets, as well as training implications for working with culturally stigmatized others.

9AM

Integrating Individual, Family and Systems- Focused Interventions: A Video Illustration

CC 101 (50 minutes)

The session will illustrate the interdependent nature of individual-, family- and systems-based interventions in a program focusing on family-based treatment of adolescent substance abuse and delinquency.

Taking a Stand? Sport Psychology, Media and GLBT Athletes in Sochi

CC 158 (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will focus on the experiences of GLBT athletes competing in the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi.

Autism Spectrum Disorder and the Criminal Justice System

CC 209A (50 minutes)

The session will present on overview of ASD by a psychologist and a parent of a child with autism who is also a former judge.

10AM

Children’s Resilience in the Context of Military Deployment and Their Aftermath

CC 204C (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will discuss how scientific knowledge about resilience can provide the evidence base for programs to support and enhance the resilience of military-connected families.

11AM

Influence of Culture and Context on Family: School Partnerships

CC 209A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will explore various influences of culture and context on the development and implementation of family-school partnerships.

12PM

Global Violence Toward Women: Interventions and Strategies for Change

CC 152A (1 hour, 50 minutes)

The session will explore global violence toward women through an examination of sexual assault and rape in Africa, domestic violence and international sex trafficking, emphasizing treatment methods and interventions.

1PM

Interprofessional Training: Preparing Psychology Students for the Changing Health Care Market

CC 154B (50 minutes)

The session will showcase an interprofessional training program for psychology graduate students and interns to address changes in health care.

Self-Care and the APA Convention

As psychologists, we know that self-care is important to well-being. Life can be a challenge at times for everyone and having a balanced approach helps to prevent burnout and physical health problems.

Sometimes life gets busy and makes it extremely difficult to engage in self-care. One of those busy moments is the APA convention. As I write this blog at the end of a busy convention day, I realize that self-care takes about as much effort as it takes to do other important task.

photo 1Throughout this convention, I have been working to balance my schedule and engage in self-care. For example, exercise and fitness have been an integral part of my life since being a graduate student. Being at convention with a full day of activities sometimes makes me feel like I should avoid practicing my typical self-care activities Yet, I have been motivated thought the past three days to have a little balance.

My self-care activities have included:

  1.  Went to the gym to exercise
  2.  Walked to the convention center from my hotel, which is several blocks away, instead of taking a cab
  3.  Took the stairs instead of the escalator (if possible)
  4.  Used relaxation techniques
  5.  Watched a little reality TV
  6. Attended division social hours

    photo 4

    Food truck festival

According to the APA Practice Organization (APAPO), balancing a healthy mind and body enhances our personal and professional lives. Engaging in my self-care activities definitely gave me the energy to make it through the day. Below are some additional tips for the APAPO:

  • Maintain awareness of stressors
  • Use self-assessment and plan coping strategies
  • Get enough sleep
  • Maintain a healthy diet
  • Nurture meaningful relationships
  • Allow for leisure time

 

receiving Judy E. Hall, PhD Early Career Psychologist Award from the National Register of Health Service Psychologist (L-R, Dorothy Holmes, Ph.D. (Board member), Erlanger Turner, PhD., and Sammons

Receiving Judy E. Hall, PhD Early Career Psychologist Award from the National Register of Health Service Psychologist (L-R, Dorothy Holmes, PhD (board member), Erlanger Turner, PhD, and Morgan Sammons, PhD (executive director)

Going to Mars

DSC_0028What amazes me the most about this convention is the diversity of how psychology is applied across disciplines, fields and careers. The panel discussion and presentation titled “How Psychologists Can Help Create Healthy Workplaces” examined the role of psychologists in shaping organizations to promote overall employee health.

Dr. Eduardo Salas of the University of Central Florida shared his experience as a psychologist in working with NASA astronauts to help design and organize a team for a landing mission to Mars. “From the research, there are five characteristics that this team must demonstrate in order to achieve mission success,” Salas said. He described healthy team resilience as incorporating the following:

  • adaptability and the ability to tolerate stress through self regulating
  • the ability to manage conflict within the team through mutual trust
  • mutual support and backup behavior
  • a strong “team coach” who promotes others, develops the team and creates incentives for success
  • organizational conditions that align with the team and the mission, which includes the policies, procedures and senior leadership to promote change

Nasa-MarsAs I reflected on Dr. Salas’ work, I started to think about his role with NASA and team training and considered all of the factors that the general public may discount in the process of selecting and training a team for a mission to Mars. Dr. Salas emphasized the concept of stress inoculation training — cognitive training to help individuals cope with stressors – to help train astronauts how to respond effectively and efficiently in extremely stressful conditions, in particular those conditions that would be unique to a mission to Mars.

“Communication to and from the International Space Station is about one second,” said Salas. “Communication to and from Mars would be 20 minutes in each direction, which can result in a multitude of issues.” He continued to describe many of the likely and possible stressors that these astronauts would encounter, including not being able to see Earth from Mars and living with seven individuals in an enclosed space for a prolonged period. I continued to think of simply how much the field of psychology can be applied to so many different situations. I’m recognizing more and more, despite of how obvious it is, that wherever there are people involved, psychology will always play a role.

Healthy Food Choices and Safety: Can You Have It All?

That was the question that stuck with me most after leaving the paper session “Influences on Healthy Eating Decisions.”

163118519According to the research led by Anthony G. Salerno, PhD, feeling safe may encourage people to eat larger amounts of unhealthy foods, outside of their awareness. “Feelings of safety increase people’s perception that they are protected from danger, which consequently decreases their sensitivity to harmful behaviors,” he said. Unhealthy eating is one of them, and can lead to harmful consequences. When people feel safe, they are less sensitive to these harmful consequences and are more likely to consume unhealthy foods, which can lead to weight gain and obesity.

This implies that our environment can play a crucial role in our determination of adhering to a healthy eating pattern. However, does that mean that you should move to an unsafe neighborhood to shed the pounds more easily? I’d say not so fast.

I caught up with Dr. Salerno this week, and here is what he had to say:

“While it obviously would not be a good idea for people to start seeking out harmful environments, I do think people may benefit from being mindful of the fact that just because they are in a safe environment, it does not mean that this protects them from their own unsafe behaviors. In general, it is of great importance to a person’s psychological well-being that they feel safe. However, people should also be mindful of the fact that feeling safe can sometimes increase our willingness to engage in behaviors with potentially harmful consequences (in this case the consumption of unhealthy food). So by simply being aware of the influence of safety on our behavior, we are more likely to undermine the undesirable consequences it has on us.”

122401671Stress is also linked to overeating, weight gain and obesity. The evidence that feeling safe may be a contributing factor when it comes to food choices and weight makes me wonder, where is the balance between the two when it comes to eating healthy? Constant stress can lead to suboptimal food choices, but so can the feeling of safety, according to Salerno. So does a golden mean between how we feel on a regular basis regarding our safety, and how much (as well as how healthy) we eat even exist?

While this may be more of a philosophical question, I think that it might be the intensity of the feelings that prompts the consumption of unhealthy foods. In other words, feeling very secure and at ease, as well as feeling very stressed, could be leading to overeating and weight gain. It is also important to recognize other behaviors and feelings that accompany feeling safe or stressed, which can also be contributors to unhealthy eating.

After all, eating is much more than merely satisfying hunger. We eat in response to a variety of emotions, both positive and negative. It is thus essential to recognize our feelings that trigger eating and overeating. Once eating triggers are identified, further steps can be taken to break the emotional eating habit and adopt a healthier eating pattern, which in turn can help reduce overweight and obesity.

Have more thoughts on this topic? Reply below. Dr. Salerno is also happy to answer questions via email. You can reach him at Anthony.salerno@uc.edu

Nicole Avena, PhD studies appetite and addiction at the NY Obesity Research Center, at Columbia University. You can learn more about her work at DrNicoleAvena.com. She can also be found on Twitter and Facebook, or on her Psychology Today blog.

How Can Psychologists Help Men and Boys?

463536557Five people were wounded overnight in shootings on Chicago’s West and South sides, according to a report in this morning’s Chicago Tribune. It’s a headline that appears almost daily in my city, and the victims, all men age 16 to 32, are among the most disadvantaged in the city – and frankly, in the country. Perhaps more importantly, this violence, and the stress and trauma that it leads to, is taking a serious toll on the health of men and boys in poor, urban communities throughout our nation, according to presenters at a symposium today.

At the session, members of APA’s working group on health disparities in boys and men discussed reasons why this population and other underserved groups of men have some of the worst health outcomes in the country.

Working group chair Wizdom Hammond, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill pointed to several psychosocial factors that contribute to these health disparities, including a need among men to endorse and demonstrate traditional traits of masculinity, including toughness, self-reliance, confidence and aggression.

“It’s likely that the strains and conflicts associated with trying to live up to this masculine ideal is at least partly responsible for producing the kinds of health disadvantages we’re seeing,” Hammond said.

The researchers explained that, compared to women, males are more likely to take health behavioral risks, delay preventive health screenings and care-seeking for health problems, minimize their physical and mental health symptoms and signs of distress and have higher rates of substance abuse. These behaviors are even more widespread among men of low socioeconomic status, those who are ethnic and racial minorities, those who are gay or bisexual, and those who have been incarcerated.

Particularly when it comes to mental health, men and boys are socialized very early not to talk about their emotions around traumatic experiences, said presenter Waldo Johnson, PhD, of the University of Chicago.

“Therefore, they tend to suffer in silence,” he said.

The group is now finalizing an evidence-based report and a series of best practices and recommendations on the topic, for dissemination to psychologists and other health providers. One thing is clear, Johnson said:

“Any prevention or treatment program for this population must account for the unique circumstances of men and boys.”

APA President: Break Down the Silos and Focus on the Public Good

In 2012, when Nadine J. Kaslow, PhD, was elected APA’s 2014 president, the APA Monitor on Psychology ran an article announcing the news and providing readers with information on Kaslow’s education, experience and presidential priorities. Her mother, Florence Kaslow, PhD, shared the article with her brother, who called Nadine and told her there was a mistake in the article.

“He said, ‘It says you’re a scientist, but you don’t wear a white coat or work in a lab,” Kaslow recalled during her presidential address Saturday at the APA Convention. “He shared with me how the world views STEM science.”

To improve the public’s understanding of the scientific basis of psychology and promote the applications of psychological science to daily living, Kaslow called on fellow psychologists to band together to advocate for psychology’s recognition as a STEM discipline, and to take part in collaborative work with other STEM disciplines. She pointed to the field’s increasing leadership role in the integrated-care movement as one way to partner with other scientists around a common goal.

“It’s critically important that we take down the silos throughout our profession as well as with other disciplines, to ensure that our activities are focused on the public good,” said Kaslow, professor of psychiatry and behavioral medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.

Despite some of the field’s ongoing challenges, the future of psychology is bright and full of opportunities, she told attendees: “The work that we do is intrinsic to understanding and improving the human condition around the world.”