Antidepressant Cow

James Cameron asks us to fight climate change by eating less meat and dairy

To find out how antidepressant cow works, you will need to read the article linked below. While antidepressant cows will not necessarily work for everyone, the good news is that there are other things– multiple things– that will do the job.

I have not been diligently working on new content, but this article by Johann Hari is worth checking out. To me it seems ridiculous that we need to come back to some of this stuff– the field of psychiatry/clinical psychology started with talk therapy and social/environmental interventions, after all. But at least people are coming back to what we have known all along. Be well, stay safe. Most importantly, remember that there are things that are within your own power to do that can help you, that staying in touch with other people is important, that we need to get outside & get time with nature. remember, what we need to do is physical distancing, not social distancing. It’s harder to stay in touch with people right now, but more important than ever.

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DSCN1614 (2)Many years ago when I was a college student, I went to visit a friend who lived in exurban Connecticut. My friend was the third of that name and was so called “Buddy,” the other names having been used on the first and second holders of the name. His father was an attorney handling business law, and quite successful. However, Buddy’s dad had what some people would call a character defect– impatience. This was especially a problem for him while driving, so his solution was to have a big Cadillac limo and a hired driver whose task it would be to drive like a demon, to satisfy Buddy’s dad’s impatience without the dad having to be the one getting the speeding ticket. That was Buddy’s summer job. I went on a trip with them in the front seat and indeed, Buddy drove like a demon. On another trip in the family car going to pick up his girlfriend from work, Buddy drove in a calm and relaxed manner.

One day during the visit, it was Buddy’s job to drive with his father and some of the father’s friends into New York City to go to the races and then to dinner and for some drinks. I rode along in the front seat. After dinner, Buddy and I went to see the movie Siddhartha, based on Herman Hesse’s novel, while Buddy’s dad & friends had a couple of cocktails. We were to pick them up after the movie. It was a beautiful film, shot on location in Northern India, all about the life of Siddhartha and how he ultimately found peace (Read the book or watch the movie. The book is always better than the movie, of course).

We came out feeling peaceful and relaxed ourselves, and picked up Buddy’s dad & friends to go back to Connecticut. We got onto FDR Drive North and were immediately stuck in stop-and-go (mostly stopped) traffic. Per his job duties, Buddy changed lanes repeatedly, trying to get ahead, but after about twenty minutes we could both see that we were surrounded by the same six or eight cars that had always been there. Buddy did what many people would do in his place. He changed strategies, sitting in one lane to see if it perhaps would ultimately go faster than the other lanes. If not, he hadn’t been getting anywhere anyway, so why not just wait it out?

During the twenty minutes of repeatedly lane changes, Buddy’s dad had been sitting in the back of the limo, talking with his friends. After a few minutes of no lane changes, he ran down the glass partition between the back & front of the limo.

“What are you doing?” he inquired, somewhat peevishly.

Nettled, but also still remembering the movie and Siddhartha’s success at finding peace Buddy replied, “I’m waiting.”

This was the trigger for a verbal tirade from Buddy’s dad, with the punchline, “That’s not doing anything!” Up went the glass partition for the remainder of the ride.

Thus was it shown that waiting is doing something, and that Buddy could do it while his father could not.

Lately we all have been doing a lot of waiting. Patience is a skill that can be practiced and improved. Some days we may do it better than others. That’s life. But you can do it. Remember to also practice self-compassion. Keep well.

Photo by the author: San Mateo County coast, south of Half Moon Bay looking north.

Posted in behavioral health, choices, Crisis survival, Distress tolerance, Emotions, Feelings, Frustration, handling the unexpected | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Managing Health Anxiety

DSCN2063 (2)I am staying home like everyone else, surfing media like everyone else, most of it either humorous (my choice) or useless (most news as usual). But I ran across an item from someone who was writing as a self-proclaimed “recovering from health anxiety” person and it looked pretty good, so I am putting up the link here.

The one thing I want to put in a word about is the cognitive distortion of catastrophizing. You can find a lot of definitions online, but my personal version is that we catastrophize when we go beyond making mountains out of mole hills and turn them into erupting volcanoes.

One way of dealing with this is by the use of counter-examples. So when we look at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center we see that over 100,00 people have recovered from the illness. We see that the world wide death rate is around four percent– much less in some countries and some groups. So even if I get sick, my chances are 96% over all of coming out the other side in one piece. That doesn’t mean we don’t do all the obvious things– keep six feet apart, wash hands a lot, stay home– you’ve heard it all before.  The additional good news is that when I do these things they’re also for other people, not just for myself.

From one point of view, this is one crisis that’s easy to confront: we can respond by adhering to the self-isolation and social distancing– 6 feet! guidelines, i.e., I can help out by doing exactly nothing! Just stay home and read a book in the bathtub, if you’ve got a tub. Harder done than said, as the article on managing health anxiety points out, but you’ve got a window of opportunity. Or you can take the time to begin or work on your mindfulness practice or re-organize your sock drawer, or garden if you have a garden, or… you get the idea.  Now is the time to do some guilt-free binge watching of old TV shows and movies. Personally I’m a fan of Miyazaki, but if you don’t have his stuff on disk I don’t think it’s available to stream.

This whole thing reminds me of a study that I read many years ago where researchers in Norway looked at sensory deprivation and the reports of hallucinations and other extreme phenomena in some of the literature. They did a very interesting, somewhat low-budget version of sensory isolation using two different groups– one was city-dwelling Norwegians much like the rest of the Western world. The other was a group of rural Norwegians who were used to going through long, isolated winters in the far north. They gave everyone sandblasted goggles to wear that created a blank gray-screen visual field, played low volume white noise, and had people move around as little as possible in small living quarters that were designed for the experiment. So it was not the absolute sensory deprivation of “tanking” but a little closer to real-world boredom, if you will.

The urban dwellers reported that after a number of hours of this they began to experience visual and auditory phenomena akin to hallucinations, such as seeing/hearing patterns that were not there– no real hearing voice or seeing giant pink bunnies or anything, but still some disordered perceptions. The rural isolates reported that they spent the time in isolation “Thinking about things they had done or planned to do.” No big deal.

I guess that for those of us living in the media-saturated age, doing nothing is a bit of a challenge. So you can spend a little time working on yourself. Or not. You’ve got time right now.

When you’re re-reading that old romance novel or spy thriller in the tub, light a candle– in a safe holder– and put on some soft music. It’s OK. We’re going to get through this.


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Do Therapists Give advice?

I started off as a peer counselor in an outpatient substance abuse treatment program– I had stopped using mind altering substances in an addictive way for over a year and gave lots of advice to people who were trying to quit. One of the reasons I “turned pro” was that my way didn’t work for everyone & I could see the limitations of advice giving as a way of helping others.

So I went back to school to become trained in psychotherapy & psychotherapeutic techniques. One of the things that the coursework emphasized was that I shouldn’t give advice– that’s not therapy. Being as I was already working as a paid counselor, this created a period of adjustment– people who were used to getting advice suddenly found that I wouldn’t give advice, and that made some of them angry. They thought I was holding out on them, even felt abandoned. Whoops!

Of course I learned over the years that there are a lot of things they tell you to do in therapist school that people fail to do, and things they tell you not to do that people do all the time. One glaring example: if you’re counseling couples, all the training in couple counseling directs that the family therapist not tell the couple whether or not they should break up or divorce. This always seemed like a no–brainer to me, but I’ve heard many stories of licensed people who violated that principle.  I’ve not specialized in couple counseling, which Consumer Reports once determined to be the form of counseling with the lowest customer satisfaction rating.  I have seen couples who stayed together when it was a mystery to me why, but I’ve never had trouble refraining from telling them what to do.

The most salient exception to this is in cases of severe domestic violence, but even then it’s a very dicey thing. At one time in San Francisco the police studied murders of women trying to leave abusive relationships and found that it was a major risk factor in their deaths.  Even in those cases it’s about being able to safely leave the relationship. But I digress.

Trying to rebalance my own practice when I transitioned from advice-giving peer counselor to non-advice-giving professional therapist, I found that there are times when people ask for advice and holding out on saying  something will damage the relationship. I also leavened the practice with a decent amount of common sense. What we all know from everyday life is hey– you give people advice, then they do what they want. There’s a difference in how people take it coming from a helping professional, however.

So let’s be realistic for a minute. One of the most widely practiced forms of talk therapy these days is CBT– Cognitive/Behavioral Therapy. If you look at David Burns’s book The Feeling Good Handbook it’s full of advice– identify ways your thinking is making you unhappy, change your thinking, change things you do, and so on. I’ve frequently suggested it to people and they’ve gotten good results from doing the worksheets and other exercises. That’s a form of advice, in my perspective, and it’s helpful. What it isn’t, however, is the kind of advice that tells you whether or not to quit your job, change your diet, get married, divorced, etc., etc.

So the clear answer to the question “Should a therapist give advice?” is a classic therapist-style answer: yes and no. To come back to my own in-session response to questions seeking advice, I mostly have come up with a specific approach: I will tell the client that I will offer advice, but first I want them to explore the various choices under consideration, do all the pro’s and cons, including the classic DBT pro’s and cons on paper (there are many links to this, not just the one I’m including) a lot of the time, before giving any input from my point of view. One of the traps of advice giving from the therapist’s point of view is that sometimes clients simply want someone other than themselves to blame when it all goes bad.  (And this is considering that I’ve never had a politician for a client!) The other thing that I do is point out the common sense perspective I mentioned above– hey, you’re going to do what you do regardless of what anyone, including a professional helper, says.  I frequently will go a step further– you already know what you want to do. This is especially the case if I’ve just gone through pro’s and cons with the person in session.

Let’s look at another side of this–we frequently ask for advice when what we really want is support. Should I get out of this bad relationship? How do I make this change in my life? That’s where, as the therapist, I have an unvarying approach to people’s requests for advice: I will be here for you and we can debrief how that turns out. After all, isn’t that one of the bedrock aspects of therapy?

I’m reminded, however, of a line from somewhere in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. One of the hobbits has asked an elf for advice. The elves, having lived for many lifetimes compared to everyone else, are supposed to be very wise, and the elf says something like, “Advice is a dangerous gift, even from the wise to the wise, and all courses may run ill.” Sometimes none of the choices open to us include anything we want to do. But that’s another topic.


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Posted in behavioral health, change, choices, cognitive therapy, dealing with change, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, mental health, Therapy processes | Tagged , | 2 Comments

A Ten Best List for Any Year

I have continued to be pulled into many things other than posting to this blog, but my New Year’s resolution is to get back to posting. In the mean time, I ran across something from the Center for Greater Good that I really wanted to share with everyone.

It’s labeled “The Top Ten Insights from ‘The Science of a Meaningful Life; in 2019” and it includes a lot of things that are intuitively very acceptable, including one that I loved– people who are more forgiving of themselves and others sleep better. Enjoy the whole list!

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Continue to Eat Right

Sorry to have been away for so long. I just had to come back with yet another study that showed eating a certain kind of diet can help depression.

Hint: it isn’t the “day after Halloween” diet plan. One of the academics quoted in the article basically says what a lot of people’s grandmothers used to say: fresh air, exercise, and eat your vegetables.  It’s not the be-all and end-all of staying mentally and physically healthy, but it helps.

I want to continue to work on and think about things to put in this space that aren’t just restatements of things you’ve already heard, but I’m reminded of a line that  Alexander Pope had about “what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed.” We are all part of the human condition, so the universality of our joys and fears, hopes and suffering, make it unlikely that startlingly unfamiliar things will be said about what we have all been going through for the last six thousand years.


Eat your vegetables, sure, but like grandma often said, “then I’ll bring you a nice piece of pie.”

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I’m Alive: Keep It Simple, Care for Self

woman posing on pier

Photo by Allison Shannon on

Sorry for the long absence. When I find a good way to write about it while still maintaining appropriate professional boundaries (a good topic right there) I will. In the mean time, my basic approach is in the title, and I’m including a link which outlines the basics. Fortunately, keeping it simple is, in fact, simple. If you go to the link, be sure to watch the video that’s embedded there. In about two minutes it’s laid out.

Part of my approach to wellness has been that we may not be able to do away with bad things in our lives– a history of trauma, chronic disease (The two can be related) or the natural losses that we all suffer as we go through life, but we do have control over whether or not we get enough sleep, better food, or exercise, or touch base with other people.  When we take actions– mostly very small, immediate actions– no one can take this away. If I go for a walk, I know I did it. If I eat a piece of fruit instead of a piece of candy, I know I did it. And so on.  Take care of yourself.

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