No laughing matter?

My latest in Counseling Today

A client comes in for his first counseling session. He has a carrot sticking up his nose and a banana in his left ear.

“Help!” the client cries. “Can you tell me what’s wrong with me?”

“Simple,” the counselor says calmly. “YoLaugh_smallu’re not eating properly.”

Laughter is an essential part of the human experience, so it’s no coincidence that a profession that tries to make sense of the complexity and absurdity of human nature occasionally finds itself the butt of a joke or the punch line of a comic strip. In its ongoing quest to be “taken seriously,” however, the counseling profession seemingly sometimes forgets that humor can be a key component of wellness and even the therapeutic relationship.

The profession’s squeamishness with jokes arguably can be traced back to the image problem that psychotherapy has in the media, with TV show counselors often portrayed as zany bohemian personalities in offices full of waterfalls and wind chimes. If Tracey Ullman as Ally McBeal’s karaoke-singing shrink and Lisa Kudrow on her Web Therapy comedy series have served as our ambassadors to the world, then no wonder we’re so nervous.

Read the rest here.


Trauma in Ukraine

From April issue of Monitor on Psychology

Since the regioelenans of Donetsk and Luhansk declared independence from Ukraine last March, thousands of people have been killed in the ensuing conflict and close to a million have been displaced or have fled to neighboring countries.

Psychologists in Ukraine find themselves practicing and teaching in the midst of armed conflict accompanied by mass traumatization of civilians, where some mental health facilities have been completely destroyed, and no one has money to pay for their services.

To help mental health professionals rebuild the psychological health and stability of their communities, Elena Cherepanov, PhD, an expert in global mental health and community trauma, has conducted psychological first aid training via Skype for mental health professionals and students in Ukraine.

Read the rest here.

I’m sorry, but women on TV apologize too much

My latest from Salon

A few days ago on the subway, I triptvped over the foot of a dude casually draped across his seat. And those two horrible words sailed out of my mouth faster than my palms hit the floor. I’m sorry. Rather than directing my anger at the manspreading offender, I claimed the fault and hated myself for it.

 The apology is the punctuation to the female sentence. Though we’re experts at chastising each other for the behavior, we can’t seem to stop. Even science says we do it too much. Every day I watch as women apologize to me for doing their jobs. For sweeping under my table at the coffee shop, or not returning a phone call during an important meeting. It’s an epidemic where we’re all patient zero.

Read the rest here.

The Rise of Distance Therapy

From the March/April issue of Psychotherapy Networker

e-therapyFor many, psychotherapy is still a rarefied, face-to-face encounter outside the normal rhythms of the world, a time in which cell phones are turned off, and we’re uninterrupted by an ever-replenishing email inbox. But we no longer live in a world in which we can so clearly partition ourselves off from the electronic information grid. Many occupations no longer require a clearly defined workplace or a physical presence. Many employees never see their boss in person. Increasingly, surgeons are slicing patients open from hundreds or even thousands of miles away. Why should psychotherapy be any different?

Read the rest here.

Trying to Be Happy Might Be Making Us Depressed

sadYou don’t have look farther than your Facebook wall or a news site these days to get a face full of “5 Easy Ways To Be Happy.” As a society, we have no shortage of advice on how to improve your mood or tackle symptoms of depression. With lures like “simple” or “fast” dressing our headlines, readers have every reason to believe that with the knowledge and the motivation, there is no limit to their happiness. Right?

If everything about mental health were as easy as we claim in titles, therapists like myself wouldn’t be the neurotic (yet obviously endearing) creatures that we are. As difficult as it is to admit, focusing on happiness has about as much to do with being happy as staring at a broken leg helps to heal it.

I love it when a good psychology text spins our way of thinking about mental illness into a different orbit. Jonathan Rottenberg’s The Depths changed how I think about my own self-improvement schemes and how I talk about happiness with my own clients. While self-help gurus may have the best intentions, Rottenberg warns that our extreme focus on good mood as the goal actually does us a disservice. “Setting a goal to become happier is like putting yourself on a treadmill that goes faster the harder you run,” he writes.

Read the rest at The Huffington Post here.

Gambling: The Worst Kind of Addiction

gambling-addict_in_chains_cleaned-300x134When it comes to addiction, it’s fairly simply to grasp how drugs or alcohol hold a person’s mind and body captive. But for behaviors like gambling, science is just starting to explain an often misunderstood addiction. Just how does the average person get sucked into blowing their savings or embezzling from their workplace for one more shot at Texas Hold-em? And why can’t they stop?

Read the rest at After Party Chat

Purdue Being Sued for Oxycontin Abuse

gavel-300x134Purdue Pharma, maker of the drug Oxycontin, is a tough opponent in court. The multibillion dollar pharmaceutical company has won over 400 personal injury lawsuits and crushed more than 10 class action lawsuits brought against the infamous painkiller. But Purdue had never gone to trial for Oxycontin abuse until now. The drug maker has been accused of “laying waste” to Eastern Kentucky, including the small Appalachian coal town of Pikeville. The price: $1 billion plus punitive damages.

Known as “hillbilly heroin” for its popularity in rural areas of the US, Oxycontin is a potent opioid that promises 12 hours of pain relief. Because of its time-release mechanism, a pill contains more active ingredient than other drugs. When the drug was first released in the mid 1990s, it didn’t take long before drug abusers learned that crushing and snorting or injecting the opioid negates the time-release effects and delivers a fast and powerful high. By 2001, Oxycontin sales soared at over $1 billion.

Read the rest at AfterPartyChat.

Why Binge-Watching TV Is So Addictive

Check out my latest at


Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images News/Getty Images

You do it, I do it: We all occasionally binge on Netflix. In fact, Netflix accounts for 35 percent of Internet bandwidth during peak hours. (That certainly doesn’t surprise me, given that Netflix causes 35 percent of my evening emotions.) Binge-watching is usually defined as viewing 2-3 episodes in a single sitting, but if you’re anything like me, you’re one of the people who’s gotten the “Are you still alive?” alert after hours of an epic TV marathon.

We tend to gravitate toward binge-watching when we experience more stress in our lives. And who wouldn’t want to escape after a grueling week of finals or a bad breakup? Guilty as charged: Right now, I’m plowing through Friday Night Lights in an attempt to avoid working on my dissertation.

But if you’re wondering why we crave fictional drama to replace the drama in our own lives, our brain chemistry has the answers. When you get home at the end of a crazy day or hang up the phone after an argument with your parents, whether you realize it or not, you still crave just the tiniest bit of stress. And what’s the perfect solution? Streaming television.

Read the rest here.

The Education of the Motherless Daughter

My latest blog for Huffington Post

My mother departed frr-MOTHERLESS-large570om the earth the same way that she had lived on it — ever accommodating to my schedule. I had just finished my last exam of the semester, but the day marked my graduation from childhood at the age of 19. My plans, my relationships and my character forever rerouted as I entered the tribe of the motherless daughters.

“For a long time, it was all you needed to know about me,” wrote author Anna Quindlen, who lost her mother at the same age. “A kind of vest pocket description of my emotional complexion: ‘Meet you in the lobby in 10 minutes — I have long brown hair, am on the short side, have on a red coat and my mother died when I was 19.'”

For a motherless daughter, grief is forever the unwelcome guest we ignore or usher into our lives. We hate what it snatched from us, but we clutch what it gifted us with equal ferocity. And we’re constantly knee-deep in that guilty question, “How can the worst thing that ever happened to me also be the best thing about me?” The loss of my mother was a sieve, straining so many the coarser pieces of myself from the finer ones.

Read the rest here.

How Does That Make You Tweet?

For Slate‘s Future Tense Blog

Paparazzi aren’t the only ones documenting former child star Amanda Bynes’ mental health problems. Gawkers have also kept tabs on her via her Twitter account.


picture from Slate

Bynes’ most recent hospitalization occurred when she tweeted accusations that her father sexually abused her, then blamed the false statement on the “microchip” in her brain. Then a few weeks ago, after she was caught sleeping on a couch in a California shopping mall, the star again took to Twitter to share that she had been diagnosed “bipolar and manic depressive,” which a psychiatrist will tell you are the same thing.

While it’s reassuring to see Bynes report that she’s seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist, it’s unnerving to see 3.6 million Twitter followers take a front-row seat to someone’s descent into mental illness. But I’m not condemning them, because I’ve been following her, too. Engrossed by Bynes’ psychiatric odyssey, I was surprised by how quickly I joined the diagnostic guessing game for a person I had never even met. And I’m a therapist! Read the rest here.