Sep 15

We All Need Counseling

I had been told by a friend of mine for many years that I should go see her therapist because he was amazing at what he does and therapy is a great resource for many different issues that arise throughout our lifetime. I conceded that she may be right but pride can be a large barrier when you allow it to be and I wasn’t convinced that a stranger would be better at navigating issues that were unique to me.  I suppose that was the first fault in my thinking because my issues were not unique.  My situations were very much unique by definition but the issues that stemmed from the situations were actually quite common. Once I was able to step outside of my situations and look at the larger picture I could understand the need for, and the value of therapy.  I decided to take the advice of the trusted friend and see her therapist.  That was two years ago and since that first day in therapy I became a strong proponent for counseling psychology.

The APA (American Psychological Association) defines counseling psychology with a broad stroke that is very inclusive and for this reason the effects of counseling psychology have the potential to be socially profound. Counseling is designed to help individuals, families, and groups navigate issues that surround emotional and mental health and also provide the clients(s) with a heightened sense of self through reducing stress and managing crisis. (APA, 2013). These issues are so encompassing that nearly every person in our society could benefit from taking the time to meet with someone who has the education and the training to work with them and help them understand how to resolve or make use of challenges.

Once I began therapy I was able to acknowledge the effects of my past and my struggles and how these effects kept me from bringing my talents to the table.  Before therapy I remained hidden in the hurt and shame and instead of allowing people to know I was broken, thus helping remove the stigma, I wore a mask and remained in this state of simply existing without making good use of the footprint that I was inevitably leaving behind me. Once I was in therapy I was able to see the value in my story and how it allows me to connect to people in an empathetic way because the fear of rejection has been removed through my own personal acceptance. These changes within me extended far beyond me; I am raising children in an emotionally stable home where we address our feelings when they arise and I regularly encourage those around me to celebrate the small victories in life in order to bring a greater joy to their lives. I would have never been in the position to positively affect those around me had I never taken the time to work through my concerns and struggles.

This is why counseling can have such a profound impact on society, if we can motivate people to work through their own hurt and struggles it will have a snowball effect throughout society. Education, poverty, climate change, racism, and many other social concerns can all be targeted through counseling. By bringing awareness to ourselves and our own strengths and weaknesses we can’t help but to make better choices.  When you know better you do better and that’s what therapy is, knowing yourself better.



Counseling Psychology. (n.d.). Retrieved September 28, 2015, from http://www.apa.org/ed/graduate/specialize/counseling.aspx 

Sep 15

Bullying Intervention, A Comprehensive Approach

As I sat down on my lazy boy, a news story flashed across my television set. A child has hung themselves after being tormented by a cyberbully. This form of abuse is dangerous and has to stop. Cyberbullying and bullying pose one of the biggest threats to adolescence in our modern times. Middle school students have reported rates of about 25% for cyber-bullying (Willard, 2006). Interventions must be implemented to reduce these numbers. Students, teachers and parents are all vital stakeholders that must be included in any program. Some of the most effective programs have reduced bullying by 50% in schools (Limber, 2004). A safer school provides for a better learning environment and an enjoyable experience.

As with most interventions it is easier and most effective to try to stop the problem before it begins. The fact is cyberbullying is occurring at younger and younger ages. It does not discriminate on any basis. Cyberbullying is an equal opportunist and there is no significant gender differences in its practice (Balakrishnan, 2015). For these reasons, an intervention should target girls and boys at the ages 12-13 or younger. These are the ages that most children enter middle school. Also, this is the age when crowds start to develop. Young adolescents may feel vulnerable leaving the safety of the familiar elementary school environment and transitioning to middle school.

The goals of this type of intervention is to minimize or eliminate cyber bullying in and out of school. Also, to prevent the new bad behavior from developing. In addition, it should improve student to student relationships. This is important because the more you get to know someone, the less likely you are to victimize them. Many schools accomplish this by using an all levels approach such as the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP). This includes a school-wide level, class room level and an individual level (Limber, 2004). This assures that the school has the means to properly assess the severity of bullying in their school. The students are getting constant information on bullying in the classroom. Also, teachers can meet with students to investigate individual cases. When all three levels are working together it will produce a better school climate.

To maximize the benefits of a bullying intervention, the local community should be involved. In my hometown of Piscataway, New Jersey a partnership between the high school and the local television station produced an anti-bullying video. This activity increased student engagement and participation from the community at large. A benefit was that the message that bullying is not acceptable spread faster and more efficiently. Everyone in the town was watching the commercial just to see their children on television. This allowed the message to have a wide audience. Also, adolescent peers are very influential on each other (Biddle, Bank & Marlin, 1980).

In closing, implementing a comprehensive cyberbullying/bullying intervention would accomplish the goal of reducing or eliminating cyber-bullying in schools. Students, parents and faculty must be involved. The program should include a school-wide level, class room level and an individual level. In addition, the local community should be an active participant. This would make our schools safer and provide for a better learning environment.



Willard, NE (2006). Cyberbullying and cyber-threats. Eugene, OR: Center for Safety    and   Responsible Internet Use.


Balakrishrian, V (2015). Cyberbullying among young in Malaysia: The role of gender, age and internet frequency. Computers in Human Behavior. V(46)


Limber, S. (2004) Implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program in American Schools: Lessons Learned from the Field. Bullying in American schools: A social-  ecological perspective on prevention and intervention. , (pp. 351-363). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, xxi, 385 pp.


Biddle, B, Bank, B and Marlin, M. (1980). Parental and Peer Influence on Adolescents.   Social  Forces. Vol. 58, No. 4 (Jun., 1980), pp. 1057-1079

Sep 15

Right kind of “Wrong”, but not really…

Ever since I can remember I’ve been in therapy.  It began after my parents got divorced and has been an ongoing process since.  Throughout the majority of my childhood I can remember regular trips to a counselor; now, it’s just when I need a mental break.  Fortunately, because of this, I can say that I have learned fairly decent communication skills and have only been clinically diagnosed with mild OCD.  Like everyone, I have bad days and rough patches and times where I feel hopeless and defeated, but I can’t say that I know what it feels like to be depressed.  Some might tell me, “well then don’t try to tell us you know what it feels like if you haven’t experienced it.”  But I have.  I have watched two of the closest people I love suffer from it; my husband and my father.   And while they both have suffered from depression and were clinically diagnosed as such, it was found out later on that both actually have different mental disorders, but depression happens to be a side effect of both.

My father’s story is very dark and very long, but I will spare the gory details and try to make it as condensed as possible.  My father’s side of the family comes from a long line of abuse.  My father’s mother was sexually abused by her father and he was physically abused by her.  This abuse continued throughout most of his childhood and adolescence. (If you’ve read the book, “A Child Called It”, you’ll pretty much know what he went through).   He was also sexually abused by someone else in his early childhood.  Once he reached adulthood, he joined the military, got married, and had two daughters.  That marriage didn’t last due to excessive arguing and him being physically violent a few times.  He then got remarried, to a woman who already had a daughter, and then they had a daughter of their own.  Seven years pass, and wife number two says she wants him to start getting help otherwise the marriage is over; she can no longer take the mood swings, arguing, violent outbursts, and sometimes suicidal tendencies.  But at the time he was still in the service, and being mentally unstable was highly frowned upon, so he didn’t get help but the behaviors started improving slightly.  Then he’d break from stress and he’d be the same again.  It wasn’t until three years later he got help and got an original diagnosis of depression.  The pills seemed to help, but only a little, there were still many symptoms but the counselor insisted it was depression and to keep taking the pills and talking it out.  But after a year of not much difference, they tried a new therapist.  This one diagnosed him with rapid cycling bipolar disorder and got him on medication for that.  It helped a lot more than the depression meds, but still there were some symptoms that were unresolved and now there were new problems.  Now he was experiencing anxiety, so they gave him pills for that, but these made him not be able to sleep, so then he needed pills for that.  It got to the point that if he didn’t take his meds at exactly the right time or go to bed at the perfect time or eat the right amount of food at the right time that it would cause one of these pills not to work which would trigger a landslide response of all not working and him being out of control again.  So after another three years of a failed regimen, wife number two threw in the towel on their marriage.  So he decided to try a new councilor, and this time they seemed to get it right; they diagnosed him with complex PTSD, or disorder of extreme stress.  This is defined as being, “found among individuals who have been exposed to prolonged traumatic circumstances, especially during childhood, such as childhood sexual abuse,” according to PsychCentral. Since then they have taken him off of meds and given him coping mechanisms to help deal with the PTSD and it has worked tremendously for him.

As for my husband, his story is a lot simpler and not as grim. He has been active his entire life and had a very easy childhood.  After high school, he joined the Navy and became a nuclear engineer.  Once he was done with school, he got assigned to a submarine and almost immediately they got orders to deploy for 6 months.  His job was to sit in front of a floor to ceiling, wall to wall panel of gauges and make sure they stayed in the normal range for 8-12 hours at a time.  On a sub of only 100 to 125 people, there are only about 6 who can do that job.  Well, after returning from their deployment, someone had found out that he had become depressed underway, to an extreme.  Once they found out, they diagnosed him as clinically depressed and medically discharged him from the Navy.  Whole world changed in about a month.  It’s been four years and since then he went to UTI and became an auto mechanic and is going to school currently for another degree, but a few months back he decided he wanted to see a civilian therapist because he thought his depression was starting to become an issue again.  After talking with her, he discovered that he actually has ADHD.  He has been on meds for ADHD since and has been fine with no bouts of depression.

What does either of these mental disorders have to do with depression one might ask?  As stated by PsychCentral, people with complex PTSD exhibit extreme emotional difficulties, such as depression; and in ADHD, depression can be a secondary problem that is triggered by the frustration of coping with symptoms of it (Larry Silver, 1998 – 2015).  Both my father and husband were experiencing depression due to the fact that they were overwhelmed by the lack of control they seemed to have over their mental abilities, emotions, and themselves overall.  Because neither of them thought they could change what was going on with them, they became helpless, which caused the depression.  This is known as Seligman’s learned helplessness model of depression.  Another theory that was developed after Seligman’s model of depression was Abramson, Metalsky, and Alloy’s hopelessness theory of depression.  It states that two factors must be present at the same time, a vulnerable person and a negative environmental circumstance.  A vulnerable person in this context is someone who is interprets events negatively/pessimistically which can also be called the pessimistic explanatory style.  Both my father and husband interpret events in this way, which also increases their chances of depression due to the fact that they would be defined as vulnerable people and would view a negative environmental event in a pessimistic way.  Their pessimistic explanatory style coupled with their viewed helplessness didn’t help the depressive side effects of their mental disorders.  With the proper diagnoses, regimens, and information about their disorder, both were able to overcome the depressive side effects and both are now better at handling situations that could cause them to become depressive again.


Works Cited

Larry Silver, M. (1998 – 2015). Diagnosing Related Conditions in ADHD Children and Adults. Retrieved 09 27, 2015, from Attitude: Strategies and Support for ADHD and LD: http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/774-3.html

PTSD, N. (2013). Types of PTSD. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 27, 2015, from http://psychcentral.com/lib/types-of-ptsd/

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology. SAGE Publications, Inc.

Sep 15

The Infinite Water Supply…Or So We Like To Think

Every day I wake up and I follow the same routine. I exit my bedroom and head down the hall to the bathroom. Once there, I lift the lid and proceed to empty my bladder. I complete the task and I flush the toilet without hesitation. The contents of the bowl disappear and swirls of water refill it. I then turn to the sink and proceed to wash my hands and face. This is immediately followed by a thorough brushing of my teeth. Most days I am half asleep and the thought of how much water this whole process has just consumed does not even cross my mind. As long as water flows when the lever is pushed or the handle is turned, most of us probably do not stop to question anything at all. But we should. Why? Because clean water is a natural resource and the world’s population continues to grow every day. Therefore, the number of people on earth consuming this limited resource continues to increase thus resulting in a water supply that is decreasing at an alarming rate.

Have you ever looked over at the bottle of water you have sitting next to you on your desk and thought, “what a simple product.” How much effort could it possibly take to produce such a product? After all, it is just water. But the truth is that a single bottle of water requires a lot of time and energy to produce. There is the process of removing the water from its source, the transport of the water to a facility for bottling and then the delivery of the final product to the store (Pennsylvania State University). As consumers, we travel to the grocery store and purchase a case of bottled water. In doing so, we never stop to consider the possible consequences of our action.

Recent data received from NASA satellites, indicate that many of the world’s largest underground reserves of water called aquifers are declining at worrisome rates (Frankel). Even more concerning is the belief that these reservoirs refill at extremely slow rates (Frankel). Clearly the infinite water supply that everyone wants to believe exists is just a fallacy. The question is, how do we stop the world from running out of water? How do we change people’s consumption behaviors before it is too late? Several studies were conducted in the 90’s which identified successful methods for positively changing consumption behaviors. A study by Siero, Bakker, Dekker, and van den Burg (1996) identified that energy consumption behaviors could be altered through the use of comparative feedback. A different study by Dickerson, Thibodeau, Aronson, and Miller (1992) indicated that water consumption behaviors could be altered through the use of cognitive dissonance. Keeping these as well as other studies in mind, an intervention program could be established.

To encourage water consumption throughout the world both comparative feedback and cognitive dissonance could be utilized. A competition between countries could be established to see who is able to conserve the most water. Data would need to be provided to all citizens of the competing nations on a periodic basis in order to be effective. Advocates could then be selected to speak to others about the water supply issue and provide them with the various ways they can do their part to conserve water. These water conservation efforts might include installing energy efficient toilets, taking shorter showers, or turning the water off when brushing your teeth.

While these methods could play a key role in changing water consumption behaviors, it is also important that governments and large corporations do a better job of communicating the current water supply issue to the world. Increasing overall awareness of the problem and increasing the number of individuals that are held accountable for their actions will likely result in more conservative behaviors.


Dickerson, C.A., Thibodeau, R., Aronson, E., & Miller, D. (1992). Using cognitive dissonance to encourage water conservation. Journal of Applied Social Psychology, 22. 841-854.

Frankel, T. (n.d.). New NASA data show how the world is running out of water. Retrieved September 27, 2015.

Pennsylvania State University (n.d.). green.psu.edu. Retrieved online at: Sustainability.psu.edu

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

Siero, F.W., Bakker, A.B., Dekker, G.B., & van den Burg, M.T.C. (1996). Changing organizational energy consumption behaviour through comparative feedback. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 16. 235-246.

Sep 15

Talk Among Yourselves…

Talk therapy had never been something that interested me. I certainly assigned the stigma of “only crazy people go to therapy” to the concept. But when the wheels came off the proverbial bus, I knew I had to do something to save myself and to save my marriage. Therapy saved me in many ways. It also introduced me to the version of myself I had been missing for a very long time.

Getting good grades came very easily to me all the way through high school. I was active in school activities and teachers appreciated my enthusiasm for school and my willingness to participate and engage in active discussion. I made it seem effortless. Unfortunately, I was successfully painting myself into a corner without realizing it. Assignments were completed, grades were given and everyone (including myself) thought that I would be a great college student. Unfortunately, the effortlessness of high school didn’t prepare me for the Socratic method preferred by most college instructors in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. College became a place of great anxiety for me. I was constantly trying to figure out how to please everyone and to figure out where I fit in. I struggled with a pervasive fear that the curtain would be pulled back and Dorothy (my college) would find out that the Great and Powerful Oz (me) was just a sham. In hindsight, I can clearly see the markings of a form of social anxiety disorder.


(Fleming, 1939)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders has described social anxiety disorder as a fear of embarrassment and/or fear of looking poorly in front of others (Social Anxiety Institute, 2015).  Here’s where I was a blend – getting up in front of people to speak in terms of a presentation, or getting up in front of the college marching band of 300 people didn’t faze me. But when I got into a smaller classroom where I felt unprepared or where I was concerned I would look stupid, I became a nervous wreck. I couldn’t speak up for myself. I couldn’t ask for help. I was paralyzed into inaction.  As a result, things got out of hand and I was asked by the college to please not return (translation: I failed out of school).

Fast-forward 15 years and I was a woman without a direction. I was married but I was in a constant state of insecurity. I was overweight, but didn’t do anything about it, and then complained when I felt like I was being ostracized for it. Leary and Kowalski (1995) developed a self-presentation theory with regard to social anxiety. The researchers concluded that individuals want to control public perceptions, because that will determine how others treat the individuals (Schneider, Gruman, & Coutts, 2012).  Bingo! Not only was I afraid that people would judge or criticize me, but I felt out of control if I could not somehow manage the environment or the perceptions. It created a great amount of self-doubt. On the outside, many people didn’t know I was struggling with this. I was able to socialize and in fact, I over-compensated and wouldn’t say no to any type of outing or event. Burying my fears and anxieties turned out to be the worst treatment. My husband became tired of my constant second-guessing of his feelings for me and it became clear that if I didn’t get help, I would be alone.

My therapist is a kind man and a listener that doesn’t seem to forget anything. He never told me his diagnosis of me. He would just encourage me to come back week after week. He would listen thoughtfully. Oftentimes, he wouldn’t say much at all during our appointments. When he did? Oh boy! He would ask me a pointed question or just say, “It must feel awful worrying about everyone else all the time”.  And each time he said it, I would drop back in my chair and breathe. Managing everyone else was not my job. I had to learn to listen to myself, figure out what I wanted and who I wanted to be. It was in that chair, staring at his diplomas from Bryn Mawr and The University of Pennsylvania that I realized that I wanted to finish my degree. It was in that chair that I realized that I could be happy with myself and not concern myself with the opinions of others to the point of inaction. It was in that chair that I found a love for myself and an inner peace – the kind of which I had never known. You don’t have to be crazy to begin therapy. In fact, I kind of think you’re crazy NOT to try it.


Fleming, V. (Director). (1939). The Wizard of Oz [Motion Picture].

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Social Anxiety Institute. (2015). DSM-5 Definition of Social Anxiety Disorder. Retrieved from Social Anxiety Institute: https://socialanxietyinstitute.org/dsm-definition-social-anxiety-disorder

Sep 15

Agricultural Usage of Water

Agricultural Usage of Water


Agriculture can be a burden on the environment. Over usage of water can lead to issues affecting surrounding flora and fauna, lack of fresh water for other human consumption, and even the deformation of the land itself. Awareness of best practices for water usage can lessen and eliminate all of these issues.

Resource Dilemma with Agricultural Usage of Water

People generally consider anything with agriculture to be “green”, aware of the environment and good for it. However this is just not true. Nearly anything done poorly can have negative side effects. Luckily the first step to a solution for any case of this is to be proactive in discovering new ways to improve and optimize your tasks. Knowing there is a problem is half the battle.

Water consumption via agriculture is a huge resource dilemma, the farmers must determine if they should take only a fair share of the water or as much as needed to help their situation ( Schneider 2013 ). Many farmers overwater their plants in a variety of different ways. Some do a flood type of system where they pump in water at one end of the field and wait till it runs down to the lower side before stopping. This does water everything well but there is much waste in over saturating the plants at the top of the field as well as evaporation stealing the water (Groundwater deletion, n.d.). Overwatering also occurs when farmers ignore weather forecasts and water their fields twice. Farmers will also waste water by growing plants that are not used to their climate and may require more water than what they should.

Overwatering of fields has many negative effects. This act can lead to depletion of nearby rivers and streams thus impacting surrounding flora and fauna. Also effected by this lack of water can be other humans. So often during summer people are asked to conserve water and if irrigation for farming wasn’t so high these restrictions would not be in place. Even more shocking is that removing water from the ground can cause subsidence, where the ground level physically drops (Groundwater depletion, n.d.).

Overuse of water by farmers can be overcome in many different ways, but here are just a few. Drip irrigation counters flood irrigation. The water is dripped directly to the roots of each plant without over saturating any plants or losing water to evaporation. Observing weather forecasts and only watering plants when there is no rainfall in the future is a sure way to conserve. Planting crops that are native to the farmers area and require what the natural rainfall provides will also save water (CUESE, n.d.).

Overuse of water for agricultural purposes is bad. Its a financial burden the farmers do not need, when less water would suffice. It harms the eco-system and neighbors with man made droughts and un-needed and sometimes dangerous sinking of land. And most importantly it can be fixed with a little bit of research and a little bit of effort.


10 Ways Farmers Are Saving Water | CUESA. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://www.cuesa.org/article/10-ways-farmers-are-saving-water

Groundwater depletion. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2015, from http://water.usgs.gov/edu/gwdepletion.html

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., and Coutts, L. M. (Eds.) (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and             Addressing Social and Practical Problems (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. ISBN 978-            1412976381

Sep 15

Why have we forsaken our children; the psychological and social ramifications of childhood poverty in the United States

Socioeconomic status adversely and profoundly affects many American citizens.  It has been shown that children that come from impoverished backgrounds are more likely to have lesser education, lesser quality of health care, lesser social support, and the list goes on and on; and these factors can be linked to a poor mental health outcome later in life (Evans & Cassells, 2013). Those that live in low income areas are more likely to be exposed to violence, lower quality of housing and schools, and live in families that are less stable and lack social support (Evans, 2004). Socioeconomic status has been directly correlated to quality of life; it affects individual efficacy as well as physical and psychological health and development (APA, 2015).

According to the National Center for Children in Poverty, more than 16 million children (22% of all children) in the United States have families where their incomes fall below the federal poverty level, which is $23,550 yearly for a family of four.  This abject poverty can interfere with learning and can add to problems socially, emotionally, and behaviorally (NCCP, 2015). The United States is near the bottom of the list of affluent countries when it comes to gauging childhood poverty (Ingraham, 2014). It is preposterous that such a large conglomeration of our society is living in an environment that is conducive to poor future mental health outcomes, and the big question is why?

In Kenneth Keniston’s “Do Americans Really like Children?” he alludes to the idea that the United States is trailing other countries in maintaining the needs for our children.  The reason for this lack of progression, according to Keniston, is the dynamism of our economic structure. He explores three problems in which he thinks halts the progression of the U.S. at the expense our children; they are the depopulation of the family, the intellectualization of the child, and the perpetuation of exclusion (1975).  He states that in order to progress beyond these problems that we need to stop blaming the individual and start blaming the economic system that strongly affects our social presence (1975).

James Garbarino seems to agree with Keniston in that we are discounting our children based on the economic context in the United States (1985).  Garbarino believes that we have become “monetarized” in that we feel that we must put a dollar amount on everything; because of this parents feel they need more money to purchase food, health care costs, recreation, and child care (1985). This shows in that in most families both parents work in order to meet their budgets, which then leaves little time for rearing their children (Garbarino, 1985). This cost of raising children is connected to what he calls the “opportunity cost”, which refers to the costs involved in being a member of the workforce, and how much of that income is lost when one chooses to become a parent (Garbarino, 1985). This higher cost of raising children, and the idea of children being a luxury is causing what Garbarino calls “hurrying”.  In more well-off families this equates to the children being hurried into becoming part of the elite, while children in families that have economic hardship are hurried so that the parents can find a way to make money to make ends meet. He questions what the quality life of children will be if the economic system affects our social presence at a higher level (Garbarino, 1985).

It is interesting how much of what is said in Keniston’s and Garbarino’s writing from thirty to forty years ago is still applicable in today’s society.  We still see a considerable socioeconomic disparity between those at the top of the economic ladder and those at the bottom (Boushey & Hersh, 2012). The only difference is that those in the middle class are beginning to fall even further behind their more well-off counterparts (Boushey & Hersh, 2012).  Since 2007, those in the middle class have seen a shift in the rise in family income (Boushey & Hersh, 2012).  In between 1979 and 2007, the average family income advanced at a rate of 35%, while those with incomes at the 99th percentile saw a shift of 278% (Boushey & Hersh).  The only reason that those in the middle class have managed to stay above water economically is by working longer hours, expanding their work load (mainly at the expense of mothers and wives), and by going further in debt in order to try to keep up with inflation (Boushey & hersh, 2012).  This begs the question that if the middle class is falling further behind by having to work longer hours, having both parents work more than before, and taking on more debt to keep up with inflation, where does this leave children living at or below the poverty level?  Children in poverty are more likely to feel the adverse effects to their physical, socioemotional and cognitive well-being (Evans, 2004). Even with that being said, there is evidence that there has been an increase in the numbers of discord in American children against all socioeconomic levels, and the answer can be relayed back to our economic system as a whole (Evans, 2004). It is hard to believe that such a developed nation as the United States has such an astronomical amount of children that are suffering, and it makes one wonder if we really do appreciate our children.



National Center for Children in Poverty, (2015). Child poverty. Retrieved from: http://www.nccp.org/topics/childpoverty.html

Keniston, K. (1975). Do Americans really like children? Childhood Education; 52. 1.

Garbarino, J. (1985). Can American families afford the luxury of childhood? Child Welfare, 65 (2).

Boushey H. & Hersh, A. (2012). Middle class series: the American middle class, income inequality, and the strength of our economy. Retrieved from: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/report/2012/05/17/11/11628/the-american-middle-class-income-inequality-and the-strength-of-our-economy/

Evans, G.W. (2004). The environment of childhood poverty. American Psychologist, 59 (2), 77-92.

Evans, G.W., & Cassells, R.C. (2013). Childhood poverty, cumulative risk exposure, and mental health in emerging adults. Clinical Psychological Science. doi: 10.1177/2167702613501496

American Psychological Association. (2015). Children, youth, families and socioeconomic status. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/pi/ses/resources/publicatioms/factsheet-cyf.aspy

Ingraham, C. (2014). Child poverty in the U.S. is among the worst in the developed world. The Washington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonkblog/wp/2014/10/29/child-poverty-in-the-u-s-is-among-the-worst-in-the-developed-world/

Sep 15

What a shame

I’ve had a front-row view of depression the last few years as I’ve watched several people’s lives change and decline as they struggled with the condition.  One person in particular, who I will call Bob here, suffers from major clinical depression.  He is out of work and his life consists of sleeping and playing video games.  To make matters worse, he has the opportunity to file a wrongful termination suit that was estimated to result in a six-figure settlement, yet hasn’t been able to summons the motivation to call the lawyer who was located and prescreened for him.  Bob is a wonderful person with a generous soul who has a genius level IQ and is college educated, and accordingly, he has broken the heart of all those who love him and feel helpless to change his demise.  Freud famously described depression as “aggression turned inward” and I believe that to be true (as cited in Sapolsky, 2004, p. 299).  Bob is caught in a matrix of paralysis that prevents him from trying to improve his situation, and that non-action is a self-sabotaging behavior that perpetually causes self-loathing, which then translates into further inertia.

The hopelessness theory of depression helps explain Bob’s depression when his psychological vulnerability and challenging environmental circumstances collided.  He’s struggled with depression for decades but it wasn’t until he was first injured and then laid off recently that he descended to this level of incapacitation.  He was neurologically at risk after a car accident in adolescence which put him in a coma and resulted in some brain damage, but even before that he was inclined towards a depressogenic explanatory style.  My mom swears he was born that way.  So when he lost his job, I think he looked at things like he was being unjustly punished, yet subconsciously felt like he deserved it.  He took the one incidence of wrongful termination and overgeneralized it to his entire world.  He used  global and stable attributions to explain that one negative event: “I lost my job which was beneath me to begin with and now I’m even more of a loser with no money and no career who plays video games all day long” (global), and “Things will never change; my life is doomed” (stable).  With such all-encompassing negative perceptions, it’s no wonder he doesn’t feel any motivation to try different coping mechanisms.  Instead, he fell prey to learned helplessness when his best efforts to succeed in life failed, which lead him to give up hope (Siero, Bakker, Dekker, & van den Burg, 1996).

In the discussion of how stress and depression are related, Sapolsky (2004)  explains that for depressed people everything about life feels overwhelming, this activates the stress response and elevates glucocorticoids like cortisol, which in turn tells the brain to produce more cortisol since it is clearly needed, and these increased glucocorticoid levels create more depression symptoms, and so on.  It’s a vicious mind-body hormonal feedback loop that is self-perpetuating.  Sapolsky (2004) also talks about how intense guilt plays a large role in depression.  He says that most people suffering from depression are aware of how their state has affected their lives and how it has pained their family, and that they feel incredibly guilty about it.  They feel guilty for being depressed, and this is depressing so it prevents attempts at healthy coping mechanisms, but then this triggers more guilt and down they descend into another merciless feedback loop (Sapolsky, 2004).  This absolutely mimics Bob’s habitual pattern of being withdrawn from family and friends, and then beating himself up over it which consists of alternating long bouts of angry silence and crying fits lamenting over how he doesn’t want to be that way but can’t help it and hates himself for it.

The deeper layer of guilt is shame, and Dr. Brené Brown shot out of the cannon a few years ago researching this deeply embedded, yet rarely discussed, human phenomenon.  She’s a research professor and writer out of the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, and gained international attention with her 2010 TED talk entitled “The Power of Vulnerability”: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en.  It’s only twenty minutes and I highly recommend watching it during a study break or even just listening to it while folding laundry.  I discovered her work earlier this year when I saw Oprah interview her on Super Soul Sunday and have since read a couple of her books.  She defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love and belonging” and links it to mental illnesses like anxiety, depression, and addiction (Brown, 2010, p. 39).  She’s been studying shame and vulnerability through qualitative research for the last fifteen years and has conducted over 10,000 interviews.  She acknowledges the new-agey association with the concept of “owning your story” and yet she insists that this is a crucial foundation of mental and emotional wellbeing in combating the universal feelings of shame that we all experience.  Regardless of where people fall on the anxiety/depression/addictive behavior spectrum, her explanation of shame is something that everyone can relate to:

Shame keeps worthiness away by convincing us that owning our stories will lead to people thinking less of us. Shame is all about fear. We’re afraid that people won’t like us if they know the truth about who we are, where we come from, what we believe, how much we’re struggling, or, believe it or not, how wonderful we are when soaring (sometimes it’s just as hard to own our strengths as our struggles). (Brown, 2010, p. 39)

Again, this resonates deeply when I think of Bob.  I think he feels like if we knew exactly how deep and gnawing his emotional pain was that we’d lose respect for him, lock him up in the loony bin, or both. But that’s the insidious irony of shame: it blooms in the dark and withers in the light.  The more that depressed people can learn to expose their vulnerabilities by talking about their feeling and fears without judgment, the more they make space for new healthier thought patterns to emerge.  While I wish I could make Bob read Dr. Brown’s research and get him to see an excellent therapist to help him work through his shame, he’s too depressed to take any productive action; therein lies the ongoing problem which is a debilitating construct for many people suffering with depression.  It keeps you on a sad, dim island, spinning in circles while standing in place.  Depression is marked by the incredible ambivalence of wanting things to be better and perceiving that notion to be impossible.  In addition to standard treatment like the hopefulness approach, educating patients about shame and vulnerability as part of cognitive-behavioral therapy seems like an important piece for long-term healing.  Learning how to feel comfortable understanding and expressing the authentic self (in the company of safe, trusting people) bridges the isolation and shame that feeds upon itself and keeps people locked away inside their silent prisons (Brown, 2010).  Dr. Brown acknowledges that there are no easy answers or quick fixes, and instead explains the daily grind and commitment to yourself by quoting E.E. Cummings: “To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself—means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight—and never stop fighting” (as cited in Brown, 2010, p. 51).  I hope her research on shame and vulnerability will continue to gain traction and attention from mental health professionals and laymen alike, as it can enlighten and empower us all.


Brown, C. B. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minn: Hazelden.

Sapolsky, R. (2004). Why zebras don’t get ulcers: The acclaimed guide to stress, stress-related diseases, and coping. New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press.

Schneider, F. W., Gruman, J. A., & Coutts, L. M. (2012). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

TED. (2010, June). Brené Brown: The power of vulnerability. Retrieved from http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability?language=en

Sep 15

Depression Hurts

I see those signs that say “Depression Hurts” almost everywhere. Every time I see one, I think: “How much does it hurt? Who does it hurt? Why does it hurt?” I think back to my very first relationship. I thought this person and I would be together forever. I was in 9th grade and in love. But my heart was broken when we broke up only 2.5 months later. I thought I would never find love, I thought that I would be alone for the rest of my life. I went to school numb on the inside, on weekends I didn’t want to get out of bed. I stopped eating and the things that I used to love to do I simply didn’t want to do anymore. I knew I was depressed. My friends would tell me to “snap out of it”, to just come and hang out with them, but the thought of being around others was simply overwhelming. But over time, it got better. I started to engage with others at school, hang out with my friends, get up on weekends again and eat food. With time I got over it. From that experience, I learned that I hurt my friends, because they didn’t know what to do with me, I hurt myself, because I knew I should get out of bed and hang out with others, I knew in my head that I am a good enough person to be with someone else, but my heart lead me to believe otherwise(or maybe it was the other way around), but I couldn’t and that hurt and depressed me more. That is a feeling that I would feel again and again as I got older, but always a little differently and always a little less.

So, now I imagine that every time I ask those questions when I see those signs, because there are people who have to feel what I felt their entire life. Imagine feeling like you are never able to accomplish your goals and dreams, imagine that people don’t want you to be around them, that you have nothing worthwhile to contribute. It’s not as easy as snapping out of it, it’s not as easy as choosing to not be depressed. It takes time. We’ve all been there, so why do we always tell others to “just don’t be depressed?”

By being nice to each other and by showing our classmates, coworkers, etc. that they matter, because they are people too, we can help prevent others from feeling like they are less. A simple smile, a friendly “Hi” can really make a difference.


Sep 15

Changing Perspectives

I often wondered what made some people feel helpless and others empowered in their choices and decision-making.  While I knew that thoughts could play a part in both, I did not realize how debilitating some could be when experienced in a negative light.  In this week’s reading for applied social psychology, Schneider, Gruman, and Coutts (2012) discussed Seligman and colleagues model of learned helplessness called the “attributional reformulation of the learned helplessness theory of depression.” As probably assumed by the name, people that are prone to depression typically believe that their situation is unchangeable and expect a negative outcome as a result (Schneider et al., 2012, p. 94).  Thinking about this cycle, it is no wonder why individuals continually experience the same results and always see the “down side.”  It’s pretty hard to break away from something that seems to occur naturally, particularly if happens more often than the good things.  But I am curious, can this change?  Has this practice been used in other settings successfully?

I received one answer in a study sought to change self-defeating behaviors in at-risk readers.  Coley and Hoffman (1990) selected six “at risk” sixth grade students who were receiving remedial reading for their case study.  To qualify, the students had to be involved in the program for a minimum of 2 years.  It was assumed that such students would lack expressed confidence in their abilities as they have experienced setbacks in their academic journeys.  The conditions the students were introduced to consisted of three parts: 1) question response cues, double entry/response journals, and 3) self-evaluation.  Based on their findings, the students were able to express more confidence in their abilities and viewed themselves more positively (Coley et al., 1990).

Being a student myself, I can imagine the way the sixth graders felt in that situation.  If I experienced difficulty and had a hard time changing this outcome, it would be pretty hard for me to see the “light at the end of the tunnel.”  Sometimes it takes an intervention, such as the one described, to help individuals to see that their situation can change.  Just like their perspectives and confidence improved, the same result can occur in other situations.

Langer and Rodin (1976) and Kane et al. (2007) found that elderly patients who maintained control of their day-to-day lives, with activities and the like, experienced health benefits that differed from similar patients in a nursing home and/or a more restrictive setting.  Kane et al. (2007) noted that patients in the experimental condition had lower incidents of bed rest than those in the other two conditions.  And Langer et al. (1976) reported that patients in the experimental group reported increases in happiness, which was significantly more than the comparison group.  Obviously, both studies worked against learned helplessness and enabled patients to be active rather than passively involved.  Although the studies differed in implementation, both the overall objectives and outcomes resulted in positive changes.

With the examples shared, the response to my questions would be that learned helplessness can change and this has been successfully demonstrated in several instances.  While it may not be easy to exercise hope in situations that seem impossible, with a little help in realigning this thought process, this this too can change.



Coley, J. D., & Hoffman, D. M. (1990). Overcoming learned helplessness in at-risk readers. Journal of Reading, 33(7), 497-502.

Kane, R. A., Lum, T. Y., Cutler, L. J., Degenholtz, H. B. & Yu, T.-C. (2007). Resident Outcomes in Small-House Nursing Homes: A Longitudinal Evaluation of the Initial Green House Program. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 55, 832–839. doi: 10.1111/j.1532-5415.2007.01169.x

Langer, E. J., & Rodin, J. (1976). The effects of choice and enhanced personal responsibility for the aged: A field experiment in an institutional setting. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 34(2), 191-198. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.34.2.191

Schneider, F., Gruman, J., & Coutts, L. (Eds.). (2012). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems (2nd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage.

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