Friday, October 5, 2012

Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!

Few TV shows typify the 1970s better than The Brady Bunch, the now classic series from producer Sherwood Schwartz, which embedded irremovably into our childhood memories phrases like, "Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!" and "Mom always said not to play ball in the house."

I must admit that as a boy I all but idolized oldest sibling Greg, wanting to be as groovy and cool as he was -- which, in retrospect, was just plain silly since Greg was (Oh, how should I put this gently?) a dork!

The Brady Bunch, of course, like Schwartz's other classic show, Gilligan's Island, was never really meant to come anywhere remotely close to reality. After all, in real life seven people can't actually survive on a desert island with little more than a radio and some coconuts, can they? Similarly, as in the case of The Brady Bunch, the dynamics of real step families seldom work as smoothly as they did on the show.

A recent article in the New York Times, entitled When Branches Tangle in a Stepfamily Tree, suggests that dealing with step relatives can be a huge stressor for many people, raising troubling questions like, "Do you invite your ex-stepsister to your wedding? How long should you continue texting your ex-stepson if he doesn't text back?" And "What, if anything, do you call your ex-step-grandmother?"

The article cites research indicating that 42 percent of us have step relatives -- the result of divorces and remarriages -- and discusses the ways in which that can be problematic. In my practice, I find clients are often surprised to learn that not only do 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, but that 70 percent of second marriages also result in divorce, often due to issues related to bringing children into a second marriage. While these are most certainly issues that couples can and do work through, they cause stress and discord, nonetheless. The bottom line: step family issues can get complicated and often be difficult to deal with.

Do you have step relatives? And what are some of the issues and challenges you've faced? Or maybe this isn't an issue for you -- you and yours simply function as one big, happy family -- square dancing in the living room, vacationing in the Grand Canyon, and enjoying cookouts in your AstroTurf backyard!

Say more about that...

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Just Shut Your Big Yapper!

"He doesn't listen to me!" Sound familiar? How about, "She just doesn't understand what I'm saying." Have you ever heard that before?

Many couples come to therapy wanting to learn to communicate better. And as one who's studied interpersonal communications for the past 35 years (Man, I feel so old!), I still wonder why it's so hard for us to grasp the essential first step in communicating effectively: Listen!

The old adage is that we're equipped with two ears and one mouth, and we're to use those proportionally. In other words, we should listen twice as much as we speak! (And while that sounds really good, I'm thinking that if we were actually to do that, there would be an awful lot of silence in the world. But then maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing.)

Anyway, I don't think it's way off base to suggest that, in general, we do a really bad job of listening to each other -- with our friends, in the workplace, in the political arena (Don't even get me started on this one!), and, most especially, in our relationships with our partners.

Why is that, you ask? (Okay, so maybe you didn't really ask, but I've got some thoughts to share anyway!) The reason is that our relationship with our partner is, in most cases, the most important relationship in our lives. And that means when that relationship is not going well, and the stability we derive from that relationship starts to wobble, we feel threatened, and we respond to our partner in ways that are, well, let's just say less than helpful.

So where do we start if we want to communicate well with that special person in our lives? We listen. We suspend our own need to be heard and to get our own point across, and we listen. Not exactly rocket science, huh? We just listen.

Remember Chris Farley of Saturday Night Live fame? His characters would often admonish their listeners with the words, "I wish you would just shut your big yapper!" Maybe that's really good advice. Thoughts? Say more about that...

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Hope Springs

I recently went to see the film Hope Springs, starring Meryl Streep, Tommy Lee Jones and Steve Carell. I found it charming, funny and entertaining -- although Oscar material it's not! And while it was well received by most of the folks in the theater, Ruth and I were, without question, the youngest people there!

I guess the movie appeals to an older audience, which makes sense since it's about a couple in their sixties (Kay and Arnold Soames) whose marriage has become boring, routine and intimacy-free, causing Kay to enroll them in a week of intense marital counseling with renowned therapist Dr. Bernie Feld, played by Steve Carell.

Although Carell's character is a tad stereotypical (Ruth kept asking me, "Is that how you sound when you're working with clients?"), the way in which he works with the Arnolds renews hope in the possibility of restoring intimacy and closeness to a relationship, even after years of mundane living. It may involve a few false starts (so to speak!), but success is definitely possible. In other words, as the movie's title connotes, there is always hope.

As a therapist, about a third of my practice involves working with couples whose relationships have fallen into stagnancies of emotionless routine, and who find themselves facing the choice of either doing some really hard work, or simply (that's an understatement!) calling it quits. For many, understandably but unfortunately, giving up often seems to be the easier road. 

In fact, most of the issues couples face cannot be solved by a week of intensive therapy. I wish that were the case, but it's not. Sorry about that. For those who choose to put in the needed effort, however, the results can be well worth it.

Is Hope Springs worth seeing? Absolutely! And well worth the $8 ticket price. On the other hand, was the popcorn and soda worth the $10 they cost? No. Absolutely not! 

What are your thoughts? Did you see the movie? Say more about that...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

There's a Darkness on the Edge of Town

I became a Bruce Springsteen fan back in 1975 while going to college in southeastern Pennsylvania, not all that far from the Boss's Asbury Park stomping ground, and almost 10 years before Bruce and the E Street Band rose to mega-celebrity with the 1984 hit, Born in the USA. In the years since, Springsteen has sold over 100 million albums, and continues to play sold out concert venues around the world.

While his music has matured over the years, from the get-go Springsteen's lyrics have expressed wonderfully a perpetual sense of hope amidst despair, as seen though the eyes of one whose background and soul know first-hand the depth of life's struggles -- a theme prominent not only on his early albums like Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town, but one that is present still on his most recent release, Wrecking Ball.

As both a counselor and musician, I was fascinated by a recent article in The New Yorker, in which Springsteen shares with writer David Remnick his life-long struggle with depression and the fact that he has been in therapy for the past 30 years. (I can't quite imagine having Bruce as a client -- but I am willing to give it a try!)

I think it's always a good thing when celebrities go public and disclose the fact that they, too, have issues they can't handle on their own, choosing instead (and wisely!) to seek professional treatment. In so doing they encourage many, who previously struggled in private, to seek much needed professional care.

I find it encouraging that someone with the fame and following of Bruce Springsteen can admit to struggling with depression, and be willing to acknowledge the need for help. We've related to the message of his lyrics for the past 35 years, maybe the fact that he has seen fit to get help with his mental health issues can resonate with us, as well. What do you think? Say more about that...

Friday, July 27, 2012

Dim All the Lights, Sweet Darlin'

     Okay, I admit it! I’ve fallen asleep while watching TV in bed and allowed the glow from the screen to light up the room all night long. There, I’ve said it! And you know what else? I’ve also gone to sleep with the screen of my laptop computer softly aglow. (I don’t want to miss an important middle-of-the-night Facebook post, you know!) But is this behavior really all that big of a deal? Well, yes – yes, it is.
     A recent study (see article at PsychCentral) suggests there is now evidence that not only does the light from these devices keep us from sleeping well, but it can also cause depression. In fact, there has been concern for many years that our ever-increasing exposure to artificial light is, indeed, affecting our moods.
     The study revealed that hamsters exposed to light at night (Yes, that’s right, they did the study using hamsters!) showed symptoms associated with depression. And while I’m not quite sure how one tells if a hamster is suffering from depression or not (unless, of course, they’re smoking more than they usually do), it does seem to make sense that if a person’s sleep is disrupted, he or she might notice an increase in depressive symptoms. Regardless, a restful night’s sleep is always good for what ails you, and, therefore, anything done to ensure a good night’s rest is sure to be helpful to an overall sense of well-being. And, it reasons, that would include dimming the lights.
     As a mental health professional, and one who talks repeatedly with clients about the importance of good self-care – including getting a good night’s sleep – I know this stuff. In fact, I routinely advise clients when preparing for sleep to dim all the lights (and to turn off the television, cell phone, Nook, and iPod), close their eyes, and drift quietly off into La La Land. The idea is to eliminate all light sources from the environment, so the body can relax and they can get a good night’s sleep.
     Truth be told, though, I’m feeling just a little bit guilty, because, as I mentioned above, I ‘m not always very good at practicing what I preach. (Did I mention that I’m also a minister? Oh well.) 
     Do you sleep with the TV on? Laptop? iPod? Does your cellphone chime in with “alerts” throughout the night? How’s that workin’ for ya? What do you think? Say more about that…

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Think Through the Chip!

     While I'm certainly an advocate of good self care (and in particular, eating a good diet!), I'm not quite sure I'm convinced of the validity of the findings in a recent Cornell study, cited in Science Daily, suggesting a a rather creative way to limit one's intake of potato chips. See article.
     In the study college students were monitored and given tubes of Pringles potato chips to snack on while watching TV. Some of the chips were dyed red and intermittently distributed throughout the stack, which, according to the study, caused the students to pause and ponder if they'd had enough, before eating more.
     According to Cornell Food and Brand Lab director Brian Wansink, "An increasing amount of research suggests that some people use visual indication -- such as a clean plate or bottom of a bowl -- to tell them when to stop eating. By inserting visual markers in a snack food package, we may be helping them to monitor how much they are eating and interrupt their semiautomated eating habits," he said.
     But hey, come on, the research aside, will this kind of approach really work? I don't think so! Anyone who's ever sat down with a tube of Pringles knows how difficult it is to just eat one. (Remember the Lay's slogan "I bet you can't eat just one?") After a quick pause, let's face it, I'm on to the next half dozen chips!
     Okay, I'm kidding... I guess. In all seriousness, any intervention that can cause a person to stop and reflect, albeit briefly, about some action he or she is about to take, and to consider the consequences of that action, that's probably a pretty good thing. 
     It's all about responding to situations we encounter (putting some space in between stimulus and response), rather than reacting (a more immediate action) -- and, as I said, that's a good thing.
     What do you think? Say more about that...