Sep 19

Hidden Ingredients in “Healthy” Foods

It is very important to eat healthy. This doesn’t mean that we can’t have some ice cream or a cookie here or there when we are craving it, but it is very beneficial to try to eat healthier most of the time. This not only helps our body physically, but it can help us mentally as well. Eating better can improve your mood and memory, as well as reducing stress which is a big part of being healthy.

While many of us try to make an effort to eat healthy, the companies who make our products are making this even harder for us. We may think that we are eating the right things, but hidden ingredients can be very dangerous. I would suggest reading food labels before buying something. I know this seems like a lot of work, but it’s worth it.

One ingredient that always comes to mind is aspartame, an artificial sweetener. This can be found in a lot of “healthier” drinks that have no sugar. It’s very appealing to consumers because it replaces sugar and has low calories. When someone sees a drink with very little to no calories and no sugar, they levitate towards it because it must be healthy, right? Wrong. For starters, some studies have found that artificial sweeteners, including aspartame, have actually led to weight gain, which is ironic because people think they are doing the opposite. These sweeteners also put you at risk for diabetes, heart disease and stroke. It has also been reported that these sweeteners could increase your appetite, leading to you consuming more calories than you typically would. Some believe that aspartame may also put you at risk for seizures, cancer, lupus, ADHD, and even more.

Soy products, like soy protein isolate, are other ingredients that you should keep an eye on when trying to eat healthy. This product is used as a plant based protein which is common in vegan and vegetarian foods, but in other foods as well. Many believe that soy can put you at risk of developing breast cancer.  The reasoning behind this is that soy contains isoflavones, which work like the estrogen in our bodies. Many forms of breast cancer feed off of estrogen which helps them to grow, so many people worry that the isoflavones in soy may do the same thing. A couple people who are very close to me have had breast cancer or have the gene for breast cancer and their doctors advised them to strongly stay away from soy and other products with estrogen in them. Soy can also affect thyroid function by blocking the absorption of iodine. Studies have also shown that the isoflavones block the production of thyroid hormones (Groves, 2018). Soy is also very commonly genetically modified. In fact, over 90% of the soy in the United States is genetically modified. And many people believe that it is not safe for us to consume genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

There are many other dangerous ingredients that are hidden in “healthy” food as well. I would strongly suggest doing some research and looking out for specific ingredients when shopping. I know this seems like a lot of work, but it’s really not bad. Once you know what to look out for, it only takes a few seconds to can through the ingredient label to check what is in your food.



Groves, M. (2018, November 22). Is Soy Good or Bad for Your Health? Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/soy-good-or-bad#downsides.

Lillis, C. (n.d.). Aspartame side effects: The truth about the risks. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/322266.php.

Sep 19

How Nutrition Impacts our Mental Health and Productivity

Most of us have heard the saying that an apple a day keeps the doctor away, but how true does that ring for mental health and not just physical health? It is common knowledge that proper nutrition is a vital aspect of physical health and wellbeing, but there isn’t much public knowledge on how proper nutrition or lack thereof can influence mental health and performance. Since health psychologists focus much of their research on how behavioral changes are affected by psychological factors, we know there is a connection between mental health and behaviors. According to Gruman, Schneider, and Coutts (2017), health psychologists use psychology to promote healthy behaviors and prevent illnesses. We have seen over the years a gradual change towards health promotion and healthy behaviors like minimizing fast food and having a more active lifestyle to achieve optimal physical health. Can the same healthy recommendations affect mental health and performance in the same way? Would it be possible to treat mental illness with healthy behavioral changes like proper nutrition?

Some research suggests that certain nutrients like omega-3 fatty acids can have a positive impact on mental disorders like depression. According to one meta-analysis that analyzed the results of 26 studies, omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids showed improvement on depressive symptoms, while DHA did not exhibit any change (Liao et al., 2019). By increasing omega-3 fatty acids in one’s diet, it can limit the onset of depressive episode and possibly prevent mental health disorders like postpartum depression. A blog by Harvard Medical School showed that omega-3 fatty acids can be used alone or in conjunction with prescription antidepressants with promising change for improvement for depression and other mood disorders (Mischoulon, 2018). In addition to treatment for mood disorders, nutritional changes can affect disorders like schizophrenia. Although the causes of schizophrenia are still unknown, it causes patients to experience disorganized behavior and an altered reality involving hallucinations and delusions. In order to combat this, some research suggests that a diet with a high dose of vitamin B6, B8, and B12 can help schizophrenia symptoms. In one meta-analysis study, researchers found that B vitamins showed a significant reduction in schizophrenic symptoms in patients when administered early on(Science Daily, 2017). If we can see improvement in mental disorders with dietary changes, can people without mental disabilities improve their mental health with the same changes?

Brain food is a common term used to describe foods that can improve brain functioning and mental performance. Can a banana or a stalk of broccoli help you solve crossword puzzles or perform better on tests? If true, this could become a useful tool in various environments like schools and work settings to increase productivity. Eating breakfast regularly has been promoted as an essential part of a diet because of its effects on overall health, but especially for children who attend school. In one study, it was found that 10th grade students who skipped breakfast frequently exhibited poor academic performance, fatigue, and increased distress (Lien, 2007). If more parents and schools encouraged daily breakfast, it could have amazing improvements on academic performance and overall mental wellbeing in children as well as adults. We know that there are types of foods that are known for improving mental performance such as fruits and vegetables, but there are specific foods that can improve certain aspects of brain functioning. For example, dark chocolate and blueberries contain antioxidants and also help improve memory loss. The vitamin K present in broccoli has shown to improve memory, but can also fight brain damage. Eating healthy is not only good for physical health, but also can improve mental functioning and wellbeing.

We have seen over the years the changes made to dietary recommendations to ensure that the public achieves optimal health. Dietary recommendations like the Food Pyramid or the Healthy Eating Plate have given guidelines that sought to educate the public on the types of food groups and servings of each that were to be consumed for a healthy diet. Although a healthy physique is an important aspect of life to fight off issues like obesity and diabetes, we also need to focus our attention on what a healthy diet could do for our mental health and wellbeing. I think more work should be done in the field of health psychology to investigate diets that could help treat or even cure mental disorders that often lead to a lack of nutrients in the body and brain. In order to promote health, we need to expand on ideas that help treat and prevent mental disorders and diseases. We could help children who battle eating disorders in school or veterans who suffer from PTSD just by analyzing and changing their diets to serve their mental needs. I think the problem with recommendations like the Food Pyramid and other food guidelines are that they are too one size fits all because everyone has different needs mentally, physically, and emotionally. Diets need to take on a more biopsychosocial perspective and become individualized for each person. I hope in the future we can move away from less pharmaceutical drugs to treat mental illnesses and focus more on nutritional healing.


Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles, CA: SAGE.

Liao, Y., Xie, B., Zhang, H., He, Q., Guo, L., Subramaniapillai, M., … Mclntyer, R. S. (2019). Efficacy of omega-3 PUFAs in depression: A meta-analysis. Translational Psychiatry9(1). doi: 10.1038/s41398-019-0515-5

Lien, L. (2007). Is breakfast consumption related to mental distress and academic performance in adolescents? Public Health Nutrition10(4), 422–428. doi: 10.1017/s1368980007258550

Mischoulon, D. (2018, August 2). Omega-3 fatty acids for mood disorders. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/omega-3-fatty-acids-for-mood-disorders-2018080314414.

Science Daily. (2017, February 16). B vitamins reduce schizophrenia symptoms, study finds. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/02/170216103913.htm.




Sep 19

You, Me, We, and Stress

Stress always sounds like a frequently used bad word. If you ask a fellow student, a parent, a family member, or a coworker how they feel, “stressed” is usually one of the common words they might use in description along with sleepy, exhausted, and burnt out.

To get technical, stress results from things that happen in our environment, according to the transactional model of stress. Unfortunately, this model implies almost anything can cause stress, “people, events, and situations” (Gruman, 2017). Those categories mentioned are called stressors and there are many things that fall into those three categories.

In these situations, our brains appraise the situation. Appraisals can happen consciously or subconsciously. When this happens think of fight or flight. Either we can think this situation is threatening to us or it’s something we can conquer or get over. We also have secondary appraisals that evaluate and assess our resources to determine how we handle the stressor.

Appraisals can be different for everybody even if it’s the same situation. For example, if I saw a snake (it could be at PetSmart), I would immediately appraise the situation to be threatening. My secondary appraisal would be my resources, my legs to move away from the aisle or my car keys to escape just in case the snake escaped its cage. My husband on the other hand, would appraise the situation as something he could overcome or may not be stressed by the situation at all. If we were looking at the same snake however, his stress maybe because of my reaction to the snake, not the snake itself. What can stress one person out may not phase another.

Appraisals can also change over time. Another personal example, at one point I used to be terrified of dogs. I had been bitten as a child. If I saw a dog, my subconscious appraisal was that the situation was threatening, and I would cry, scream, and beg to leave whatever place the dog(s) were. About 7 years later my cousin, whom I was very close with, got a dog. His gentle nature and my constant appearance in his home changed my appraisal. I no longer saw the situation as threatening. Later on, I grew to be a dog lover with my own two spoiled puppies.

This is an example of coping. Coping is “thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that people engage in when trying to reduce stress” (Gruman, 2017). In essence this means what do you do to reduce the stress that the event, person, or situation caused.

In my last example, I unknowingly was involved in problem-focused coping which is exactly how it sounds. I faced my problem head on to reduce the power it had to stress me out. Did I consciously think “Hey, you really have got to get over your fear of dogs. It’s ridiculous.” No, I did not, I was 10. But I did think, “I want to be around my older cousin more so if that means dealing with her dog then fine.” Pepper was a gentle lovable dog, he made it easy to start to look forward to his cuddles when I saw him. Pepper himself didn’t make my fear of dogs obsolete, but his nature did help me cope. Eventually he was a point of stress relief and now so are my dogs.

There is another type of coping called emotion-focused coping. It deals with how people try to regulate their own emotions in order to reduce the effects of stress. It’s commonly thought of in terms of things we can not change, however, it’s important to note that this does not mean that we avoid the stress. Avoiding stress can lead down a destructive pathway which could possibly bring on more stress.

I experienced emotion-focused coping when I found out that Pepper died. I do not like to be sad, but I let the emotion come forth and I also thought about all the things Pepper opened me up to. Because of Pepper I have two dogs that I love so much. I learned how to take care of an animal because of him. I also learned how to train a dog and instill obedience. My dogs have a better life because of my own interaction with Pepper.

If you notice my end results in both dog examples was that they lead to a healthy outcome. Using the coping methods appropriately lead to a healthy management of stress. Other coping mechanisms for stress management are relaxation training, expressive writing, and using cognitive behavioral therapy to identify stressors, discuss appraisals, and practice coping strategies (Taylor, 2018). Stress may not cause illness; however, it can greatly exacerbate it. Other factors affect stress like socioeconomic status, negative events. Stress can also impact sleep and the time frame to recover from the physiological effects on stress on the body.

To reduce the likelihood of developing chronic stress or incur any of the negative effects of stress it’s important to also have a support system. Social support according to Taylor is information from others that one is loved and cared for, esteemed and valued, and part of a network of communication and mutual obligations. This means that people are better able to cope and have healthier outcomes with social support.

There are difference types of support such as tangible assistance, which is like a monetary gift or someone physically helping you move. Informational support is getting advice or information on situations we’ve never faced before such as getting marital advice as a newlywed. Emotional support is what we receive from people that love and care about us and our well being. Though this doesn’t list all types of support, these are just a few things to possibly reduce our haste to stress out.

Stress is something that can’t be avoided. Our bodies were made to respond to it for our survival, but it can be managed so that it won’t take over our lives and our health. Let’s make use of all of those strategies to keep up healthy and thriving.



Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. M. (2017). Applied Social Psychology: Understanding and Addressing Social and Practical Problems (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: SAGE.

Taylor, S. E. (2018). Health Psychology. New York: McGraw Hill Education.


Sep 19

Healthy Lifestyle

Fitness is a very important part of our health and remaining active is a key aspect of leading a healthy life. Exercises has many different options and can be very different depending on the individual. It is important to find something of interest so it is easier to commit long term and make it part of our daily routine. It could be something as simple as walking every day or even more intense group workouts such as CrossFit. Each option provides different results and includes different exercises. Individuals can select group exercises, solo exercises, cardio based workouts, weight training and many other different options. Due to so many options out there, it can be hard to separate everything and select the best workout plan depending on the goal for that individual. They key is that any type of exercise has been shown to have a positive impact on the health of that person so it is very important to add this any daily routine.

Exercise has been shown to have a very positive impact on health. Research has shown that frequent exercise can lower the risk of many diseases, help control weight, improve mood/state of mind, promote better sleep, boost energy and improve your social life (Mayo, 2019). There are so many benefits associated with exercises but unfortunately not enough people take advantage of this. I personally go to a gym where they provide a group exercise program. This helps keep me accountable and it has helped me join a community that shares a common interest. It is important to find something that you enjoy so you keep attending and eventually make it part of your daily routine. Research showed that people over 70 who exercised regularly for year had lungs, heart and muscles that were equivalent in shape to those of people in their 40s (Cohut, 2018). This is an important study because it shows is that the benefits of exercise are not only in the present but it can have a long lasting impact even as we get older and help us in our future.

It is important to educate people about the benefits of leading an active life and the harm of not being active at all. According to the health belief model the actions that we take towards our health are actually influenced by a number of general factors (Gruman, Schneider, & Coutts, 2017). In order to actually cause a person to change their behavior these factors have to be taken into consideration. People won’t just change their behavior for no reason, they actually need to believe that the need to change and they must alter their behavioral intentions (Gruman et al., 2017). This is something that people need to introduce to children when they are young because ultimately children follow what they learn or see. If they see mom and dad just eating burgers and not being active they will follow that trend and pay for it later. There is no hiding all of the benefits associated with an active lifestyle. It is up to us to take care of ourselves because ultimately It is our body and it is up to us to take care of it.


Cohut, Maria. (November, 2018). Regular exercise can keep the body decades younger. Retrieved from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323850.php

Gruman, J. A., Schneider, F. W., & Coutts, L. (2017). Applied social psychology: understanding and addressing social and practical problems. Los Angeles ; London ; New Dehli ; Singapore ; Washington DC ; Melbourne: SAGE.

Mayo Clinic. (May, 2019). 7 great reasons why exercise matters. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/exercise/art-20048389.





Sep 19

VR Gaming and PTSD

Video games are one of the most prevalent forms of entertainment in the market today. It is estimated that 65% of adult Americans actively played video games in 2018 (ESA, 2019). While video games have been examined for their psychological effects since the 1990s, these studies were mostly centered around their potential negatives, rather than attempting to look at whether or not there are potential positive uses for video games. With the rapid expansion in technological capability, video games are more powerful and immersive than ever before, with virtual reality gaming starting to become a readily affordable, and affordable technology.

Accordingly, researchers have began studying the effect of virtual reality video games in relation to various mental health issues. While there have been a number of areas in which video games have been shown to improve the symptoms of various mental illnesses, some of the most promising data as it relates to VR gaming specifically is in relation to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (“PTSD”).

One of the most effective methods of treating PTSD is through the use of exposure therapy. This is where a patient is exposed to imagery that they relate with the traumatic event that is creating stress. Over time, the patient will become desensitized to these images, and will learn to be able to have things that were once trauma inducing elicit no response what so ever. The beauty of virtual reality technology is that it has the ability to create an exposure experience that is all-encompassing, and far more realistic. This can be used to expose the patient to a much more realistic version of their fears, which can theoretically result in a far greater degree of desensitization than traditional treatment has been able to accomplish (Tull, 2019).

As the symptoms of PTSD can be quite debilitating for countless individuals, the vast majority of whom are veterans, any piece of technology that is able to reduce the symptoms of PTSD is something with incredible value. Additionally, VR technology is still quite primitive, with new improvements being made on a daily basis, so the ability of this technology to make effective change in the lives of the individuals who suffer from PTSD will only increase over time. Finally, the fact that VR technology is something that is relatively affordable, easy to obtain, and doesn’t require insurance further illustrates that this technology is something that needs to be examined for its potential benefits as much as possible.



Entertainment Software Association. (2019, August 19). 2019 Essential Facts About the Computer and Video Game Industry. Retrieved from http://www.theesa.com/esa-research/2019-essential-facts-about-the-computer-and-video-game-industry/.
Tull, M. (2019, June 19). How Virtual Reality Exposure Therapy (VRET) Treats PTSD. Retrieved from https://www.verywellmind.com/virtual-reality-exposure-therapy-vret-2797340.

Sep 19

The Army Mental Health Stigma: How the Lack of Privacy Contributes to the Mental Health Stigma within the United States Army

By: Jessica McKeon

Being a Soldier within the United States Army is generally considered a high stress job. Terms that are synonymous with the job are “danger, long separations, grinding fatigue, and stress.” (Department of the Army, 2012). During the grueling months of basic training, each individual is imprinted with the Warrior Ethos. Six years, one marriage, and two kids later I can still recite the words to myself on command; “I will always place the mission first. I will neve accept defeat. I will never quit. I will never leave a fallen comrade.” (Department of the Army, 2012). These ethics are the central foundation of each Soldier’s purpose within the organization, regardless of their individual job. However, when looking through each of these classifications, one thing becomes apparently clear, Army doctrine is focused on the institution as a whole, not on the overall welfare of each individual.

While the Army has committed a significant amount of resources to mitigating the stigma associated with seeking mental health, it has not addressed one of the core issues preventing Soldier’s from pursuing proactive mental health; Career concerns. The Psychological Health Center of Excellence identifies career concerns as one of the primary factors stopping Soldier’s from reaching out, stating that if they pursue treatment at an early enough stage it is “least likely to yield negative career repercussions” (Kaplan, 2019). Additionally, many Soldiers hold security clearances, which can be suspended or revoked based on the providers as well as the Commander’s discretion. Indeed, according to Department of Defense Instruction 6490.08, Command Notification Requirements to Dispel Stigma in Providing Health Care to Service Members, Commanders are entitled to know about a Soldier’s “appointments made and missed, MEB/PEB data, conditions that render a soldier to be not deployable or medically ready, performance limiting medications/conditions, Command Directed Evaluation results, LOD (mental soundness) determinations, and profiles.” (U.S. Army Reserve, 2019). While this sounds reasonable for ensuring mission readiness, these disclosures are subjective to the health professional providing them, the Commanders perception of what is written, and the knowledge of diagnosis and limitations rarely stay within the Chain of Command.  Overall regulations on Soldier privacy rights, especially in regards to mental health, are vague and contribute to the overall stigma and unwillingness to seek help.

This is not to say that the Army hasn’t improved its approach to privacy within the mental health sector. Programs such as Military OneSource, suicide hotlines, and counselors within the Army’s Family Advocacy Programs provide Soldier’s with immediate access to trained counselors in case of an emergency (Military OneSource, 2019). However, these programs cannot replace the benefits of regular clinical therapy. By raising awareness of the validity of certain stigma within the Army, and the military as a whole, perhaps we can take one step closer to finding a viable solution that values both the long-term welfare of the Soldier as well as their immediate ability to contribute to the mission and organization as a whole.



Department of the Army. (2012, November 7). APD 1- The Army. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://www.army.mil/e2/c/downloads/303969.pdf.

Kaplan, D. A. (2019, July 8). Reducing Military Mental Health Stigma to Improve Treatment Engagement: Guidance for Clinicians. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://www.pdhealth.mil/news/blog/reducing-military-mental-health-stigma-improve-treatment-engagement-guidance-clinicians.

Military OneSource. (2019). Mental Health- Resources. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://www.militaryonesource.mil/health-wellness/mental-health/mental-health-resources.

U.S. Army Reserve. (2019). Behavioral Health – Commanders. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://www.usar.army.mil/BehavioralHealthCommanders/.

Sep 19

Medication, a cure or a blanket?

In the U.S, 7.5 percent of children between ages 6 and 17 were taking medication for “emotional or behavioral difficulties” in 2011-2012. (Howie, Pastor 2014). However, a fraction for those children are solely on medication and not therapy. Is the end goal to get better? Is it not to “get better”?

Is medication, a cure or just a blanket? Medication is used for stabilizing and limiting symptoms. However, when the medication stops, the symptoms return. There are many different types of therapy, that fit individual’s wants and needs.

Therapy sessions don’t just “blanket’ your symptoms, it teaches you to face them while thinking and working through them. This is what I believe is the cure for mental illness. In severe, and dangerous diagnoses, where medication is unquestionably needed. I believe the lowest dose should be given, along with talk therapy. However, there are far too many over-medicated people who are just creating a dependency instead of a cure.

For example, Bandura’s (1986) observational learning study proved therapy can be used to cure phobias. Bandura cured the fear of snakes in a matter of hours, through exposure. Facing these different types of  mental illnesses, while addressing them and working through them is the only cure.

Since 2012, the number of children on medication to treat mental illnesses has six-folded. (Olfson 2012) Is this due to mental illnesses becoming more of a occurrence or a dependency growing?


Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Howie LD, Pastor PN, Lukacs SL. Use of medication prescribed for emotional or behavioral difficulties among children aged 6-17 years in the United States, 2011-2012. NCHS Data Brief. 2014 Apr;(148):1-8.

Olfson M, et al. National trends in the office-based treatment of children, adolescents, and adults with antipsychotics.2012 Dec;69(12):1247-56.

Sep 19

Clinical Counseling: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Mental health problems can be treated in an array of different ways, not just with extensive medications. One of the best non-pharmaceutical methods to help a patient through mental health trauma is with the application of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, or CBT.

This therapeutic method is based on the concept that how we think, act, and feel are all interactive and have a dialectic relationship to one another. To put it more succinctly, thoughts determine feelings and behaviour, in a cause/effect relationship.

Foundations of CBT:

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) began as a rational amalgamation of theories of causal and maintaining forces in psychopathology, targets for intervention and human behavior. There are a diverse number of strategies that comprise CBT, reflecting a complex and integrative history.

CBT incorporates the concepts of extinction and habituation as well as integrating modeling and cognitive restructuring strategies. In general, the purpose of CBT is to foster the development of personal coping strategies and to master the emotional and cognitive processes. CBT also employs multiple avenues of intervention.

Why CBT is Useful:

CBT developed over the course of several decades, spurred by multiple sources. It encapsulates social cognitive processing, the psychology of self-control, and emotion regulation with behavioral interventions, appearing as the multifaceted, adaptable, extensively practiced, empirically supported CBT that it is today.

It is fair to say that CBT is the evolution and modern psychological practice of the ancient expression “know thyself”.

The Assumptions of CBT:

Abnormality stems from incorrect cognitions about our world and ourselves. The faulty thinking may come from a lack of planning or inaccurate processing of information.

Incorrect cognitions cause distortions in the way humans see things, resulting in erroneous decisions being made. If mental representations are inaccurate or if the way to reason is inadequate, then the emotional and behavioural response will also be distorted.

How CBT Works:

A therapist will teach a client to identify distorted cognitions. This is achieved through a process of evaluation. Once the patient can understand the difference between individual thoughts and reality, they can understand and control the role cognition has on feelings and begin to be able to monitor their own thoughts.

Effective CBT results requires time, patience, self reflection and mindful action. As a result, it is not uncommon for the client undergoing CBT to be required to do homework – such as keeping a diary. More advanced homework requires the therapist to challenge the client with tasks that contradict the client’s own irrational beliefs.

The result is that the client identifies and then disproves their own unhelpful beliefs. The beliefs then begin to change. A common example: someone with social anxiety may be set a homework assignment to meet a friend at a coffee shop for a cup of java.

Failures of CBT:

The Effects of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as an Anti-Depressive Treatment is Falling. CBT works on the premise that mental disorders and psychological distress are maintained by cognitive processes. Therefore, maladaptive thoughts maintain emotional distress and thus dysfunctional behavior. To cure dysfunctional behaviour, evaluate and change maladaptive thoughts.

Despite it’s effectiveness, CBT has fallen out of favor as a method to treat depression. Since the original manual for delivering CBT to clients was originally developed in the 1970s and has become the gold standard for most practicing psychotherapists it seems contradictory that there does not seem to be a reason for the declining effect in treating depression except that CBT has not quantitatively led to systematic improvements. One theory suggests that because CBT is a relatively comprehensive treatment, new practitioners conflate that to mean easy to learn and practice. In reality, it is those practitioners who deviate from the evidenced based therapeutic interventions that have failings results in treating depression with CBT. In short, the main reason why CBT is ineffective in treating depression is because the therapists using it are not skilled enough to properly implement the therapy according to the manual’s recommendations.

CBT is not an “out of the box” therapy solution. The manual describes different techniques and methods required to deploy the cure effectively. In fact, one of the most important indicators of the success of CBT as a treatment is the familiarity and expertise of the therapist with the process and its nuances. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy will never fall out of practice completely. It has withstood the test of time and provided real results to patients suffering from an array of mental illness.

Perhaps the manual requires revision and updates in order to be more current with modern society but ultimately, it is more likely that practitioners need to become better versed and equipped to utilize CBT effectively with their clients.

Sep 19

The Effect of Learned Helplessness

Lena is a great cook, a great team leader, a great friend, and is always in a great deal of pain. Lena has two herniated disks and severe sciatica. Although Lena has many great things happening in her life, like being promoted to kitchen manager for a very prestigious restaurant, she carries a sense of depression with her. Bad things seem to follow Lena, as well, from friends passing away to accidents in the kitchen. I always see her in the kitchen throwing her hands up in surrender when things go wrong. It seems that Lena has learned helplessness. Learned helplessness was first attributed to clinical studies where dogs would stop trying to avoid an electric shock when they learned that no matter what they did, they would still receive a shock so they gave up efforts to avoid the stressor (Gacek, et al. 2017). In human application, it is said that learned helplessness is when a person basically gives up trying to improve their situation or control their environment (Nuvvula, 2016). They know that bad things are happening to them but there’s nothing they can do to improve their situation or stop the bad things from happening to them (Nuvvula, 2016). Symptoms of learned helplessness are low self-esteem, low motivation, low expectations of success, low persistence, not asking for help, attributing lack of success with lack of ability, and attributing success to things out of their control, such as luck (Leonard, n.d). 

So, while learned helplessness seems to make life more difficult for Lena, how is this affecting her health?

In a paper by Christopher Peterson, he noted that learned helplessness can affect the person’s heart health, mental health, educational success or failure, aggression, difficulties in the lower class, altruism, and much more (1982). Looking at Lena, she has had many opportunities to treat her pain through free physical therapy from her customers and even just soaking in my hot tub anytime she wants. She constantly turns down any offer of help and a dark cloud of depression follows. Because she will not take advantage of any offer for relief, she misses work quite a bit and is constantly in fear of losing her position in the kitchen. If she loses her position in the kitchen, she is liable to lose income which will make her learned helplessness foster even more as yet another bad thing happened to her. The Peterson article continues that uncontrollable events precede the helplessness behavior and these events outside of the person’s control triggers this response of helplessness for any number of future events (1982). Something occurred in Lena’s life that she was not able to gain control over. This was such a powerful experience that it showed her that no matter what she did, she could not control the negative things that happen to her. 

Many people who have this learned helplessness have a sense of guilt or self-blame, as they feel responsible for the events that they feel they have no control over (Peterson, 1982). When these events are internal sources, such as feeling “My life is always full of trouble” versus external sources, “healthcare in the United States is not very good for those without insurance,” the person feels a loss of self-esteem (Peterson, 1982). For Lena, she internalizes her struggles, rather than identifies that her struggles are not necessarily her fault so she has a sense of guilt for the pain she cannot escape. 

Lena is not alone in feeling this way as learned helplessness is positively correlated to PTSD, depression, and health problems (Leonard, n.d.) . She has identified that she cannot control her pain and having a lack of control in her life can lead to even more tragic things such as premature death, tumor growth, drug use, alcoholism, depression, and even degradation of neurotransmitters and depletion of the immune system (Peterson, 1982). As seen in the Langer and Rodin article, when the elderly at a nursing home were given more responsibility for their own lives in the home, they flourished (Langer & Rodin, 1976). This learned helplessness prevents Lena from taking responsibility for what is happening in her life. 

How can people like Lena seek help? The most effective treatment is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), where Lena’s thought processes and behaviors are challenged to create positive change (Leonard, n.d.). In CBT, the person will receive encouragement and support, explore what caused their helplessness and find ways to decrease those feelings, improve their self-esteem, and learn how to work through negative emotions (Leonard, n.d.). Exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, and mindfulness are generally suggested for people with similar symptoms, however their application has not been studied for humans suffering from learned helplessness (Leonard, n.d.).

It is difficult to see Lena suffering and I hope she can discover some tools to help ease her mental and physical pain. 


Gacek, M., Smoleń, T., & Pilecka, W. (2017). Consequences of Learned Helplessness and Recognition of the State of Cognitive Exhaustion in Persons with Mild Intellectual Disability. Advances in cognitive psychology, 13(1), 42–51. doi:10.5709/acp-0205-6

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), 191-191-198. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.34.2.191

Leonard, J. (n.d.). Learned helplessness: Examples, symptoms, and treatment. Retrieved September 29, 2019, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325355.php.

Nuvvula S. (2016). Learned helplessness. Contemporary clinical dentistry, 7(4), 426–427. doi:10.4103/0976-237X.194124

Peterson, C. (1982). Learned helplessness and health psychology. Health Psychology, 1(2), 153-168.

Sep 19

Stress and Coping Strategies For Parents Of Children With Autism Spectrum Disorder

All parents experience stress as they attempt to meet the challenges of caring for their children.  Being a parent can bring much joy and excitement yet this also comes with great responsibility and many challenges. The demands of parenting include meeting children’s needs for survival like feeding, sheltering, and protection, but also include psychological demands for attention, affection, and help in controlling or regulating emotions.  These demands can produce parenting stress which can be defined as “a set of processes that lead to aversive psychological and physiological reactions arising from attempts to adapt to the demands of parenthood” (Deater-Deckard, 2004, p.6). Adapting to the demands that come with parenting is a long-term, day-to-day obligation that is required in caring for and raising a typically developing (TD) child.   However, how do the demands and resulting stresses change when faced with the responsibility of raising and caring for non-typically developing child, specifically a child who has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD)?  And, how important is developing strategies to cope with the stress associated with the adaptations needed to care for a child with ASD?

Parenting stress is an expected and normal experience when it comes to caring for a child.  However, much higher stress levels have been found in parents of children with ASD than that of parents caring for and raising a child without developmental disabilities (Steijn et al. 2014).  ASD is considered by the American Psychiatric Association as a complex neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by persistent alterations in communication and social interaction and by the presence of stereotyped patterns of behavior, activities, and interests (2013). The demands and responsibilities placed upon parents coping with this complex disorder results in varying degrees of stress encompassing areas of their children’s functioning that are difficult to manage. The Autism Parenting Stress Index (APSI) is a tool that was designed to evaluate the parental stress as observed by the parent of a child with ASD.  The APSI reflects the physical, social, and communication barriers imposed by the disability. The items on this test fall into three categories: the core social disability, difficult-to-manage behavior, and physical issues. The test is designed to indicate how much stress parents are experiencing and what factors are causing this stress (Silva & Schalock, 2012).  Aside from simply evaluating the level of stress experienced by parents, the APSI also helps to identify areas where parents need support in developing strategies to cope with the higher levels of parenting stress that comes with caring for a child with ASD.

One study using the APSI (Silva & Schalock, 2012) found that parental stress related to caring for a child with ASD was four times that of parents with TD children.  It was noted that they also experience more stress not only compared with parents of typically developing children, but also compared with parents of children with other developmental disabilities.  Factors contributing to higher stress levels came as a result of parents’ fear for their children’s future, as ASD often reduces a child’s chance at independence, disapproval by others of the child’s behavior, difficulty in communicating with their child, lack of sufficient professional help as well as dealing with general behavioral problems associated with ASD (Pisula & Kossakowska, 2010). These stress-inducing factors are in addition to the typical stresses that come with caring for a child.  Not only do parents of children with ASD have higher levels of stress, they also report lower levels of adaptive coping and resources than parents of children with typical development (Lee et al. 2009).

Coping strategies refer to a group of behavioral or cognitive efforts aimed at reducing stress levels, and they are considered a tool parents can use to adapt to the stressors associated with raising a child with ASD.  Stressed parents who develop successful coping strategies not only provide a benefit to themselves, but also to the child with ASD.  One study examined the bidirectional effects between parenting stress and child functioning in families of children with ASD (Rodriguez et al. 2019). It was found that parents who were stressed by their child’s ASD symptoms caused an increase in the severity of these symptoms.   In turn, the increase in severity of symptoms causes even more stress for the parent.  This points to the fact that effective coping strategies are essential in order to minimize the potentially detrimental effects of parenting stress. One study (Lyons & Leon, 2009) evaluated the different types of coping strategies that parents of children with ASD could utilize in order to minimize not only their own stress level but that of the child.   These strategies were categorized as task-oriented coping (i.e., strategies that attempt to solve a problem, reconceptualize a problem, or minimize the effects of a problem), emotion-oriented coping (i.e., emotional responses, self- preoccupation, and fantasizing reactions), and avoidance-oriented coping, including social diversion (i.e., strategies that involve avoiding a stressful situation by seeking out others), and distraction (i.e., engaging in a substitute task). The study found that, depending of the severity of their child’s ASD symptoms, two strategies proved effective at dealing with parenting stress.  Parents who rated their child’s ASD symptoms as more severe were successful in lowering their stress level by applying distraction coping strategies which involved engaging in pleasurable activities or tasks.  Parents who rated their child’s ASD symptoms as less severe found their stress levels lowered by applying the social diversion strategy which involved connecting with others (i.e. family, friends, social groups) in an effort to avoid stressful situations by placing themselves in a non-stressful environment. Both of these strategies allowed the parents to re-enter the family feeling less stress.

The number of children diagnosed with ASD and related disorders has increased dramatically over the past 3 decades.  It is estimated that 1 in 150 children have an autism spectrum disorder, including autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder and Asperger syndrome (Zablonsky, 2015).  The challenges imposed on parents caring for these children are much greater than those faced by parents raising a typically developing child.  With these challenges come and increase in parenting stress which has been found to affect the family as a whole. It is important that parents faced with the unique challenges of caring for and raising a child with ASD seek out interventions to help them develop effective coping strategies to ensure that that their own wellbeing, as well as the developmental wellbeing of their children, are not compromised.



Deater-Deckard, K. D., & ebrary, I. (2004;2006;). Parenting stress. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Lee, G. K., Lopata, C., Volker, M. A., Thomeer, M. L., Nida, R. E., Toomey, J. A., et al. (2009). Health-related quality of life of parents of children with high- functioning autism spectrum disorders. Focus Autism Dev. Dis. 24, 227–239.doi: 10.1177/1088357609347371

Lyons, A. M., Leon, S. C., Roecker Phelps, C.,E., & Dunleavy, A. M. (2010). The impact of child symptom severity on stress among parents of children with ASD: The moderating role of coping styles. Journal of Child and Family Studies, 19(4), 516-524. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.1007/s10826-009-9323-5

Pisula, E., & Kossakowska, Z. (2010). Sense of coherence and coping with stress among mothers and fathers of children with autism. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 40(12), 1485-1494. doi:10.1007/s10803-010-1001-3

Rodriguez, G., Hartley, S. L., & Bolt, D. (2019). Transactional relations between parenting stress and child autism symptoms and behavior problems. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 49(5), 1887-1898. doi:10.1007/s10803-018-3845-x

Silva, L. M. T., & Schalock, M. (2012). Autism parenting stress index: Initial psychometric evidence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 42(4), 566-574. doi:10.1007/s10803-011-1274-1

Steijn, D. J. v., Oerlemans, A. M., Aken, M. A. G. v., Buitelaar, J. K., & Rommelse, N. N. J. (2014). The reciprocal relationship of ASD, ADHD, depressive symptoms and stress in parents of children with ASD and/or ADHD. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 44(5), 1064-1076. doi:10.1007/s10803-013-1958-9

Zablotsky, B. (2015). Estimated prevalence of autism and other developmental disabilities following questionnaire changes in the 2014 National Health Interview Survey. Hyattsville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics.


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