Is there an “Addictive Personality”…?

Among counseling students and faculty, there is a fun exercise that consists of naming the diagnostic categories for the characters from “Winnie-the-Pooh.”

Tigger has ADHD, Eeyore has dysthymic disorder, and Piglet has generalized anxiety disorder. But Winnie-the-Pooh himself seems to have all the hallmarks of an addictive personality. He just needs a “little something” (or, in the original books, “A little smackerel of something,” which is even more of a drug-like reference) in order to make him feel; better. And his nightmares are of creatures who steal his honey, that is, cut off his supply of his drug of choice. Continue Reading Is there an “Addictive Personality”…?

Sin and Injury: When Sorry Is Not Enough

With the recent spate of revelations about sexual abuse, sexual harassment, and sexual assault being reported in the media, many people of conscience wonder exactly what the aggressors owe the people who were the targets of their hurtful behavior. There are a lot of components to the hurt that people may have suffered, but the most devastating effects are the destruction of their sense of self-confidence and safety, the shame, the guilt (always undeserved), and the damage to their reputation and social support systems. Simply keeping a secret like a sexual assault is destructive, but when added to shame, guilt, fear, and traumatic disruption of a life, it can be crippling.

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Ethics, Truth, and Our Political World of 2016

It’s hard to say anything calming or therapeutic since the election in November. Many people are feeling vindicated and many others are feeling betrayed, fearful, and even traumatized. But a major factor in the anxiety many of us are feeling is the sense that we cannot believe what we hear any longer. We’re subjected to outright lies and conspiracy theories (for example, everything said by websites like that of Alex Jones) and to seriously biased and self-serving interpretations of real events that are used to spin a weaponized narrative (for example, things said by Mitch McConnell on the right and Noam Chomsky on the left).

But a more insidious form of distortion comes when our news sources treat all these things as simply points of controversy, without commenting on their credibility. This finally boiled over when the New York Times finally began putting the word “falsely” in its headlines about some of Donald Trump’s statements.

This essay by a therapist on John Grohol’s PsychCentral blog makes some excellent points about truth from a human relations point of view.

It’s disheartening for me to be teaching future counselors about the ethical principles on which all helping professions are based, and seeing those principles trashed and trampled in the public and political arenas.

Those principles include fidelity (taking your responsibilities to others seriously), integrity (always trying to be honest and true), and nonmalificence (thinking in advance about how your actions might harm people). Shouldn’t people who want the public’s trust as political leaders be as concerned about these principles as doctors and therapists are? After all, a therapist or physician can only harm one person at a time, while reckless political leaders can cause the deaths of thousands or millions of innocent people.

But ethics has lost all meaning in the political sphere, except perhaps as a weapon to harm your opponent when you can catch them in a violation of a rule. This is not ethics; it’s the exercise of authority. And those of us who are familiar with Kohlberg’s stages of moral development will realize that ethics by investigation and punishment, while it may be necessary, only calls for the immature form of moral reasoning that depends on fear of consequences, and never reaches the mature concern for the welfare of others that should mark adult moral reasoning.

The essay also makes me think of my Adlerian orientation, because being truthful with each other is a cornerstone of Alfred Adler’s “ironclad logic of social living.” And one that we ignore at our peril as a civilization (and indeed, as a species).

In addition to the purposes of lying spelled out in the essay, Rudolf Dreikurs said that children lie in order to gain power over others. If I can mislead others, I have an advantage over them. And that seems to me to be the central goal of political falsehoods… It lets power-hungry people manipulate the rest of us to gain power and control. That, in itself, is an antisocial goal. We need to get a handle on this, and make a commitment as a society to share a consensual reality even when we disagree on the best course of action. But even our disagreements (for example, whether to lower or raise taxes, and on whom, and in what ways) should be judged and resolved by looking at evidence, data, and historical results, not by hammering away at our favored ideological points (such as the “feeling” that taxes, or the parties who favor action on them, are good or bad per se).

Encouragement, Pain, and Survival

In May, I presented at the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology’s annual conference in Minnesota, along with colleagues from Adler University’s Chicago Campus. Our panel discussion was on encouragement, and we spoke about the different ways we have experienced encouragement in our lives and tried to pass it along to others.

In my discussion, I used the metaphor of a “big switch” that I consciously imagined as a way to “switch off” self-doubt. I credited my teachers and mentors (including the late Dr. Bina Rosenberg, who was my personal therapist as well as a beloved colleague and a noted Adlerian who worked with Rudolf Dreikurs) with providing the encouragement that I had needed to overcome self-doubt.

An audience member remarked at the end of our panel discussion that the “big self-doubt switch” was an appealing metaphor that she planned to keep in mind as she goes about her work as a therapist. I joked that I pictured it as one of those big, steampunk-looking knife switches like you would see in Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory, and pantomimed throwing that kind of switch.

Also in the audience was Debbie Joffe Ellis, a notable psychotherapist whose late husband was Dr. Albert Ellis, the originator of Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy. I hoped that she had taken something from our discussion, as well, and felt a bit special to have her as an attendee for our little presentation.

Today I saw that Debbie had posted a blog entry on the Psychology Today blog, with the title, “Reducing the Pain: Focusing on What Is Good, Including and Despite Tragic Events.” In it, she described three events that had shaken her significantly – witnessing the aftermath of a plane crashing into the Hudson River on May 27, receiving an abusive e-mail message from someone over a business matter, and spending the holiday weekend alone while thinking of those who have passed away. In each case, she emphasized the choice that she had – whether to feel crushed and beaten down, or to remind herself of what she does have and appreciate those things. On the holiday weekend, that included the friends she has to whom she could reach out.

That last part resonated with me, because I had used the trip to Minneapolis to visit a dear friend and his wife, whom I had not seen in many years. Although we had many valid reasons for not seeing each other, I realized that a big one I had never acknowledged was that same self-doubt. Maybe he would think I wasn’t as good a friend as I’d thought. Maybe our lives had been split for too long. Maybe … Well, may be it was just more of that self-doubt. Rudolf Dreikurs always spoke of “the courage to be imperfect.” So maybe I needed the courage to say I still wanted to reconnect and feel close to my friend (and his wife, whom I’d never met). Even though I’d done a much less than perfect job of keeping up the friendship.

So overall, I hope that my thoughts at the conference, and Debbie Ellis’s thoughts afterward, share a common thread. We need to make the choice to accept the events in life in positive ways. We need to be conscious of our strengths and positives, and we need to choose to focus on those -rather than on the frightening, discouraging, or disappointing things that happen.It’s advice I’ve always tried to give others, but as Debbie and the other audience members helped me see, we all need to make the choice to do the same thing ourselves in our daily lives.

Adlerians Gather in Minnesota This Week!

This week will be the annual conference of the North American Society of Adlerian Psychology, held this year in Bloomington, Minnesota. This is the largest show of support on the continent for Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology tradition.

I will be joining a number of my colleagues from Adler University’s Chicago Campus, and our students, as we participate in the conference and network with each other and with other Adlerian institutions (such as the Adler Graduate School of Minnesota).

Continue Reading Adlerians Gather in Minnesota This Week!

Obamacare and Mental Health: Good News and Bad News

An article was published by US News and World Report yesterday, and it has mixed news about the Affordable Care Act and mental health treatment: the number of people with mental health conditions who are uninsured decreased in 2015, but the number of people who received mental health services using insurance plans obtained on the exchanges also decreased, when it should have increased. That’s very concerning, since it’s been shown consistently over time that “talk therapy” is the most cost-effective way to help people with disorders like depression and anxiety to improve their well-being and functioning.

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Predicting and Preventing Workplace Violence: An EAP’s Worst Nightmare

The recent tragedy involving the murders of a news reporter and camera operator on the air in Roanoke, Virginia is a reminder that workplace grievances and grudges can erupt into violence very easily, and that terminating a person’s employment can be the trigger that causes a marginally disturbed person to become violent. Taking away a person’s job not only threatens his or her sense of survival (because a job is the means we have to provide ourselves with food, clothing, and shelter), but also threatens a person’s self-image and self-worth, when being fired is equivalent to a rejection. One of the most difficult aspects of such a situation is that the breaking point may not occur when the employer and co-workers might expect it and can prepare. Often, as in this case, it simmers for months or even years before a violent incident occurs.Continue Reading Predicting and Preventing Workplace Violence: An EAP’s Worst Nightmare

Holiday Lapses

For people who’ve made positive changes in their lives, holidays can be slippery spots. Individuals who have quit drinking, smoking, or using drugs, people recovering from compulsive gambling or overeating, and people who have been substituting healthier behaviors for unhealthy ones, may be at increased risk of lapses or relapses when holidays approach. Celebrations, added stresses, nostalgia, and disruptions in routine can all increase the likelihood of slips and returning to previous harmful or addictive behaviors.

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Mindfulness Basics

Mindfulness has become a hot topic in mental health and addictions treatment in recent years. Mindfulness techniques, including mindfulness meditation, have become standard items in the cognitive-behavioral therapy toolkit. This makes sense if you understand that many symptoms (including anxiety, depression, and cravings or urges to drink or use substances) represent experiences or expectations of psychological pain and distress that we instinctively try to avoid.Continue Reading Mindfulness Basics