Recently, an article was published by MIC highlighting the work of Cornelius Gross of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Italy. Dr. Gross has found a drug that targets the center for memory and learning in the brain and blocks the synaptic connections so that negative or traumatic thoughts can be "forgotten," or more accurately, never really stored to begin with. In his research, blocking the synapses caused learning of new information to quickly deteriorate such that it was forgotten.
Now, of course we are all thinking, this is wonderful!
The implications for soldiers who go off to war and are subsequently traumatised and for people who experience debilitating phobias are huge.
But, are we missing something big here when researchers shroud their arguments for pushing such a drug among good intentions like protecting our Veterans? Are the implications for how wonderful this could be missing key issues such as the fact that the body forms its own memories and we might be causing even more challenges for people who are impaired by not recalling all the aspects of what happened to them?
I think it is fair to say that there is more that needs to be investigated here before we continue to tip-toe toward Brave New World, without really understanding the implications for our minds, something we still know very little about.
So it is that time.
The New Year.
When resolutions are made and set up to be broken.
One "resolution" of mine, is to get people to change the way they relate to the idea of the "resolution," by revisiting its etymological roots.
Our modern day social definition of a resolution tends to be "a goal that one sets for oneself upon the turn of the New Year that one seeks to stick to and not break." However, the Latin roots of the word resolution indicated a simplifying or loosening. Even our actual modern dictionary definitions purport that a resolution is a determination of sorts; a resolve toward a sense of purpose. With this in mind, how is it that we have arrived at resolutions that complicate our lives, are black and white, either or, but not continuous? There is an entire separate rant that could answer this question about the media, advertisements, etc., but that is for another time.
If we truly examine and replant our feet into the ground of this word, we cannot be failures for "not meeting" our resolutions, as they are a resolve to live life with a certain value in mind. Whether that be improving your relationship with a sibling, striving to be healthier, or increasing your knowledge, resolutions are minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. Resolutions are how we choose to go about living in accordance with our values, whatever those are, and as long as we are on the path they should simplify and not complicate our lives.
So, I tend to be a person who does not make resolutions, but rather keep in perspective my values for life. I was always a bit of a strange child and realised in middle school that I believed resolutions were smoke and mirrors. At the time I could not properly articulate what the meant, but now I know strongly that how we tend to think of them as a society sets us up for failure, distorting the degree to which we can feel that we are really living the lives we want.
Nevertheless, one of my favorite "resolutions" relates to reading. As someone currently in graduate school, there is very little time to read for pleasure. Yet, I realised in a conversation with another peer when she told me she designates time before bed to read just for her, that I could do the same. My value behind reading is that I have always wanted to be able to communicate with others about literary topics, which then of course would lead to other topics, increasing my connections with others. Even if it is a half hour each night before bed, or I miss some nights, I am still on that path.
With that said, I encourage you to change your relationship to your resolutions. As the "BEST READS FOR 2015" lists are coming out, try out reading for size! I've made a couple of recommendations below that fall into more therapeutic topics.
*Disclaimer: I have not read these as of yet. Books with asterisks indicate a trigger warning for particularly sensitive psychological material*
Hyperlinks in orange
God Help the Child, by Toni Morrison**
Is Shame Necessary?: New Uses for an Old Tool, by Jennifer Jacquet
The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy
Disgruntled, by Asali Solomon*
Binary Star, by Sarah Gerard**
Lately in the Western world it has become normative for sadness to be equated with pathology. When people realize that they have been feeling sad or melancholy for a while they become concerned that it means they are depressed or something is wrong. However emotions are not "bad," and they do not have to define who we are. Just because we have certain thoughts or feelings does not mean we are those thoughts and feelings. It is true though that the actions we choose to take or, which end up taking over us are the result of the information we filter from our emotional states. Becoming aware of the functions of emotions and the information they are meant to provide can contribute to healing in a unique kind of way that is often found in having compassion for oneself.
Check out this latest TED-ED Animation by Courtney Stephens discussing the role of sadness in our lives.
Continuing the trend of research on play therapy, once again Play Therapy Daily posed an interesting question about Play Therapy and how the child's work affects the parent's mental health. As referenced in the article there is a lot we can hypothesize, and research supports these theories in terms of examining positive improvements in child treatment aligning with better mental health outcomes. Additionally, child resiliency increases alluding to the cyclical nature of this phenomenon, but how much do we address the negatives?
Kristi Pikiewicz challenges readers in this most recent play therapy blog entry to ask the question, have their been instances when a "child's therapy is stressful for the parent?"
There are several different approaches one could take for this question, answering yes, no, or of course my favorite, it depends. If you continue to see development and growth on a continuum as it actually exists, both progress and step-backs (a natural part of the process) may likely be mirrored in the parent. This tension might be easily observed in the beginning of play therapy when a clinician must inform a parent that things that go on in the session will not be relayed verbatim and only general concerns will be addressed as the come up, with appropriate updates. Therefore, the clinician is placed in the position of developing a particular bond and alliance with the child and that in itself may impact a parent's mental health (whether positively or negatively).
However, a parent is a key part of this process and will and should be included, whether it be in joint play sessions or other methods of inclusion which may depend on the style of the therapist. Nevertheless, one should be aware that the ebbs and flow of the treatment with a child may be mirrored in the parent or a mutual influencing will occur (as the parent is the one who is with the child more often than the clinician is and there is much that goes on that may never enter the playroom or if it does there may not be words for it!) and both negative and positive effects on the mental health of the parent may be seen. Therefore, it is important to monitor all these things and help make these connections in the work.
Recently Play Therapy Daily has launched a series of articles discussing some of the important nuances of Play Therapy that clinicians who use this intervention probably consider, but may not have ongoing discourse about.
One of the challenges of Play Therapy can be making it accessible to children as they get older, and Mark Loewen, LPC, a registered Play Therapist in Richmond, VA highlights this issue as it pertains to preteens in his recent contribution to the blog: 4 Ways to Make Play Therapy Appropriate for Preteens. Mr. Loewen discusses an important issue clinicians face, which is balancing emerging needs for autonomy and identity formation in the face of techniques that to the preteen, may seem beyond their age. As such, it is important to consider as he mentions, how to keep the aspects of play that capture a child's basic "language," continuing to serve as an outlet for emotional and creative expression in a way that remains invaluable throughout the lifetime. We already know, that children who are starved for play, experience various forms of emotional and relational difficulties that last well into adulthood. Therefore, being creative about fostering this and creating safe environments that respect the ongoing development without stifling it, is a precarious balance indeed. One that requires fine tuning and attention.
This fine tuning is often found in the present moment, but the clinician and the client need to "show up" for that. Kristi Pikiewicz addresses this in The Challenge of Present Processing in Play Therapy, lending consideration to staying present with emotions that are actually brought into the room by the child. It is important for us to teach and facilitate expression, but oftentimes remaining present to the play and emerging themes can really help us 'stick with' the present process. "Poking the trauma," as she mentions, is not necessarily the approach all therapists take and in fact can remove the safety from the therapeutic space and re-traumatize a child. Therefore, being present is so important, as our child clients will bring into the room what they will as their expression develops through play and the sense of safety grows. Unfortunately, the system is not always set up to allow us to do that rich work in the amount of time it takes and so we continue to debate how to make the best of shortened sessions and complex traumas.
Recently, Dr. Jonathan Shedler posted an article on Psychology Today addressing How to choose a therapist. There are many considerations when choosing a therapist and though his article is not certainly the first of its kind, as a long-time clinician, Dr. Shedler's considerations are certainly important to ponder for both clinicians and clients.
Although he says to "beware" of those psychologists who are "too identified" with a particular kind of intervention, clients may be looking for a particular brand. But what Dr. Shedler is aiming to highlight with his emphasis on "too," is that as clinicians we have a responsibility not to impose our "brand" on our clients. We have an ethical and clinical responsibility to intervene in a way that meets their needs and/or be able to recognise when we cannot and make the appropriate referrals.
While it may be true that you will find therapists who have done work in a lot of areas, it is important to recognise that some areas are connected and may overlap, while some may be so far from each other that you may have to honor some skepticism you have about the depth of expertise purported by the the clinician.
Additionally, emphasis on diagnoses can be both positive and negative. Most clinicians try to work with specific populations. Old or young, trauma or depression, posttraumatic stress or bipolar disorder are ways in which we can "funnel" our expertise. It is hard enough for clients to choose a therapist and these buzzwords can help guide client choices. However, it can also be an anchor that holds all parties involved, below the water.
Either way, there are many things to consider and these are just a few of the ones that needed some extra attention. Feel free to read Dr. Shelder's article and leave comments below.