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Friday
Aug242012

THE MOVIES, CHURCH and STREETS: Is Nowhere Safe

 

Fear once more grips Americans, in the wake of a tragic shooting in NYC outside the famed Empire State Building where a laid-off employee gunned down his 41-year old former employer.

Seven innocent bystanders were caught in the crossfire between police and the gunman, including one woman getting her morning coffee.  The horror of the shootout makes people wonder:  When you can be shot on a busy street in New York City, in a movie theatre in Colorado (at the Batman screening) or in a religious house (in Wisconsin at the Sikh temple), is anywhere safe?

 

The list of random shootings is sadly long.  Such events remind us painfully of the unexpected nature of life, not being in control, and natural feelings of powerlessness.

 

One way to cope is to increase your street smarts and be alert. As one taxi driver told me, “I never park in construction sites, in case something falls on me”; a mother told me, “I teach my kids to never talk to strangers”; a young woman says, “I cross the street when I see shady characters.” 

 

Interviewed on CNBC-TV’s “Closing Bell” with Maria Bartiromo today, the focus was about what blame to put on unemployment. A lot.  The blow of losing a job, and the frustration over not finding another and not having money – drives people to extreme desperation and anger.  The blow is to one’s ego (hard for men and a increasing number of women) and to survival.  Looking for an outlet, such frustration can reach a boiling point, where people strike out.  The object can be close to home, leading to the “kick the dog” phenomenon and increases in domestic violence, or any other perceived cause of one’s sorry state.  People can reach many back years, recalling a traumatic experience, and identify some perceived responsible party who becomes the target of their misery.   

Paul Viollis, CEO of Risk Control Strategies, also a guest on the show, agreed with me, citing that research in workplace violence shows a direct relationship between lay-offs from downsizing, unemployment and concomitant identity crises, with violence.  He said such incidences are avoidable by carefully crafting proper termination procedures.  

An intelligent interviewer (I watch her on many TV shows and see her in person when she hosts her show from the Clinton Global Initiative every year), Maria asked why this gunman took action a year after being fired.   My answer: frustration festers.  An explosion of anger isn’t always expressed immediately, but can build over time when other failures add up to make the pot boil over.

 

My advice to companies:  bolster human resources departments, and also outplacement services, that have been drastically decimated through budget cuts. Institute better pre-screening programs, and also ongoing employee screenings for stress levels – which are not just to protect the employers but also to determine when employees get fired up and need help with anger management for their own good (please, look to professionals, not Charlie Sheen playing one on the new Anger Management TV show).  Stress tests—that everyone is familiar with when their get cardiology check-ups—can be a preventive measure. 

 

 Some shooters do show early signs, that are overlooked.  Shooters can be psychotic (the Batman shooter who has been “diagnosed” as schizophrenic; psychopathic, or just plain out-pf-control angry. In today’s NYC case, the employer and employee already ahs cross-claims of harassment – a tinderbox that needed to be monitored.  IN the    

 

Advice for city governments:   invest resources in social services, so people who are unemployed can get psychological counseling.  The NYC Employer-shooter targeted his ex-employer, and shot him to death, a full year after being fired.  Long-term mental health counseling for the unemployed are essential and part of prevention of such incidences.

 

The heroes of today’s tragedy:  The construction worker who alerted police when he noticed the gunman, following the NYC public safety campaign that has persisted in the message: “If you see it, report it.”

 


 

Thursday
Aug092012

Healing after the Sikh tragedy

Tonight was a powerful vigil to show support for the Sikh community.  Hundreds gathered at Union Square Park in New York City.  Many worre T-shirts bearing the message "We are American.  We are Sikh, We are One." Community leaders, Interfaith ministers, including my friend Reverend T.K. Nakagaki, and city council representatives delivered messages of peace and brotherly love.  Along the shelf of the arch in the square, in the darkened evening, lighted candles illuminated the faces of the people and a policeman who were cruelly massacred, as people lingered saying prayers and huddling together.  Talking amidst the people about healing, bringing the below advice at the requets of a Sikh friend, I was reminded of the saving grace of people coming together showing solidarity in the face of such tragedies.    

 

Managing your distress in the aftermath of a shooting

You may be struggling to understand how a shooting could occur and why such a terrible thing would happen.  There may never be satisfactory answers to these questions.

We do know, though, that it is typical for people to experience a variety of emotions following such a traumatic event. These feelings can include shock, sorrow, numbness, fear, anger, disillusionment, grief and others. You may find that you have trouble sleeping, concentrating, eating or remembering even simple tasks. This is common and should pass after a while. Over time, the caring support of family and friends can help to lessen the emotional impact and ultimately make the changes brought about by the tragedy more manageable. You may feel that the world is a more dangerous place today than you did yesterday. It will take some time to recover your sense of equilibrium.

Meanwhile, you may wonder how to go on living your daily life. You can strengthen your resilience—the ability to adapt well in the face of adversity—in the days and weeks ahead.

Talk about it — Ask for support from people who care about you and who will listen to your concerns. Receiving support and care can be comforting and reassuring. It often helps to speak with others who have shared your experience so you do not feel so different or alone.

Strive for balance — When a tragedy occurs, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and have a negative or pessimistic outlook. Balance that viewpoint by reminding yourself of people and events which are meaningful and comforting, even encouraging. Striving for balance empowers you and allows for a healthier perspective on yourself and the world around you.

Turn it off and take a break — You may want to keep informed, but try to limit the amount of news you take in whether it’s from the internet, television, newspapers or magazines. While getting the news informs you, being overexposed to it can actually increase your stress. The images can be very powerful in reawakening your feeling of distress. Also, schedule some breaks to distract yourself from thinking about the incident and focus instead on something you enjoy. Try to do something that will lift your spirits.

Honor your feelings — Remember that it is common to have a range of emotions after a traumatic incident. You may experience intense stress similar to the effects of a physical injury. For example, you may feel exhausted, sore, or off balance.

Take care of yourself — Engage in healthy behaviors to enhance your ability to cope with excessive stress. Eat well-balanced meals, get plenty of rest, and build physical activity into your day. Avoid alcohol and drugs because they can suppress your feelings rather than help you to manage and lessen your distress. In addition, alcohol and drugs may intensify your emotional or physical pain. Establish or reestablish routines such as eating meals at regular times and following an exercise program. If you are having trouble sleeping, try some relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.

Help others or do something productive — Locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs. Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.

If you have recently lost friends or family in this or other tragedies — Remember that grief is a long process. Give yourself time to experience your feelings and to recover. For some, this might involve staying at home; for others it may mean getting back to your daily routine. Dealing with the shock and trauma of such an event will take time. It is typical to expect many ups and downs, including "survivor guilt"— feeling bad that you escaped the tragedy while others did not.

For many people, using the tips and strategies mentioned above may be sufficient to get through the current crisis. At times, however an individual can get stuck or have difficulty managing intense reactions. A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living.

Recovering from such a tragic event may seem difficult to imagine. Persevere and trust in your ability to get through the challenging days ahead. Taking the steps in this guide can help you cope at this very difficult time.

This tip sheet is from the American Psychological Association. 

Friday
May252012

PIX11, Mom's The Word: Young Divorcees


Forty percent of brides who say their vows between their 20th and 25th birthdays can expect to renege on the "till death" promise (compared to 27% of those who wait until they're older.)

As a parent, what should you do if your child is getting married to the wrong person or getting hitched before you think they're ready? Psychologist Dr. Judy Kuriansky and Cosmo's Senior Editor, Carolyn Kylstra will be here to weigh in."
--PIX11.com
Tuesday
Apr102012

Well-being matters just as much as Wealth!

I was pleased to be among the invited guests at the United Nations Conference on Well-being and Happiness convened by the Royal Governmnet of Bhutan on A New Economic Development Paradigm

Experts and representatives from all sectors of society gathered at the United Nations for a landmark day-long conference April 2 and two subsequent days of working groups, April 3-4,  on “Happiness and Well-being; Defining a New Economic Paradigm,” hosted by the Royal Government of Bhutan.  The landmark gathering addressed next steps towards realizing the vision of a new development paradigm that replaces the present narrow system based on GDP (Gross Domestic Product) with a “Gross National Happiness” (GNH) model.

 

The current measurement is considered dysfunctional, based on the pursuit of material wealth and the unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet, while the Bhutan-originated GNH model is holistic, integrating economic, environmental and social measures and objectives. 

 

“A great beginning has been made but it is the end that we must strive for,” Bhutan’s Prime Minister, Jigmi Yoezer Thinley, said at the conclusion of the three-day discussions. “I hope that by 2015 the international community will have adopted a sustainability-based economic paradigm committed to promoting true human well-being and happiness, and ensuring at the same time, the survival of all species with which we share this planet.”

 

Gross National Happiness is defined by the Bhutan government as a holistic philosophy or development paradigm based on the belief that the ultimate goal of every human individual is happiness, so governments must ensure this human right and take responsibility to create those conditions that will enable citizens to pursue this value and goal.

 

The conference identified four dimensions for the proposed new economic development paradigm: well-being and happiness; ecological sustainability; fair distribution; and efficient use of increasingly scarce resources. “The new economy will be an economy based on a genuine vision of life’s ultimate meaning and purpose ― an economy that does not cut us off from nature and community but fosters true human potential, fulfillment, and satisfaction,” said Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley.

 

The historical meeting brought together a select but representative group of government officials, United Nations staff, diplomats, Nobel Laureates, scholars in diverse fields, leading economists and psychologists, representatives of non-governmental organizations, think tanks and advocacy centers, and spiritual and civil society leaders. Panelists and attendees were from both developed and developing nations.

 

The extent of global support for Gross National Happiness was evident in the participation at Monday’s conference of high level representatives from countries around the world, including Finland, India, Japan, Israel, Costa Rica, and the United Kingdom. 

 

Noting India’s cultural ties with Bhutan, Mrs. Jayanthi Natarajan, India’s Honorable Minister of State for Environment and Forests, endorsed the need for a new economic paradigm, quoting Mahatma Ghandi, father of the Indian nation, as saying, “Nature provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.” She pledged India’s cooperation in the effort. 

 

Remarks by eco-feminist Dr. Vandana Shiva, Founder of Navdanya, Recipient of the Right Livelihood Award, which supports farmers, highlighted the concordant need to attend to the world food problem, and received considerable approbation by the audience.

 

Mr. Joe Nakano, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan, expressed appreciation for ongoing support to Japan in the wake of last year’s Great East Japan Earthquake. He emphasized the importance of bonds that matter most to people (“kizuna” in Japanese), and the “Paradox of Happiness,” in which, in many developed countries, happiness is not proportional to economic wealth. A Council on National Strategy and Policy is now following up with visions and concrete measures for government policy-making based on a study published by a Japanese government commission last December, which proposed 130 well-being indicators focusing on bonds between families, communities and nature.  Japan also hosted an Asian-Pacific Conference on Measuring Well-being and Fostering the Progress of Societies in cooperation with the Asian Development Bank and other entities. 

 

Parliamentary speaker Mr. Eero Heinaluoma of Finland pointed out that Finland was one of the first countries to agree on a national set of sustainable development indicators and tools for such measurement in the late 1990s, and committed his country to mainstreaming new measures in its policy-making.   

 

Other addresses were delivered by the Honorable Tim Fischer, Former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, a country which has implemented carbon taxes to reduce carbon emissions; Mr. Gilad Erdan, Minister of Environmental Protection for the Government of Israel, who spoke of their leadership in alternative energy and clean technology, especially in regard to water shortages; from the Kingdom of Morocco, High Commissioner for Planning Mr. Ahmed Lahlimi Alami, whose country has taken major steps to reduce poverty; the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs from Thailand, Mr. Jullapong Nonsrichai,who referred to the Thai concept of “sufficient economy”; and Lord Gus O’Donnell, Special Envoy of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, who related its new well-being policy and measures. The British Government has instructed its office for National Statistics to begin measuring well-being in the United Kingdom.  The commitment of Great Britain to the Bhutan initiative was confirmed by the Prince of Wales who said in a video message that such a new paradigm is “an essential task that cannot be ignored.”

“Happiness is a sentiment that nests within each person,” said the President of Costa Rica, Laura Chinchilla Miranda, in her keynote address. “There are many paths to reach it.  But human history, as well as current realities, teaches us that the paths to Well-being are deeply connected to the respect for dignity and the creation of opportunities to freely pursue our full and harmonious realization as part of the natural and social milieu.” Costa Rica, recognized for its exemplary sustainable development record, was the top-rated nation on the Happy Planet Index, combining its green ecology with reports of high levels of life satisfaction by its citizens.

The meetings were endorsed by the Member States of the United Nations General Assembly, reflected in Resolution 65/309 passed July 2011, when 68 countries co-sponsored the  Bhutan-initiated resolution titled “Happiness: Toward a Holistic Approach to Development.”  

 

Support from the United Nations was also evident in the participation of the United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, President of the General Assembly Mr. Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, and President of the Economic and Social Council, Mr. Miloš Koterec, all of whom gave opening comments. The Administrator for the United Nations Development Programme, Helen Clark, served as moderator.

 

“Gross National Product has long been the yardstick by which economies and politicians have been measured,” said UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his inaugural address to the conference, “yet it fails to take into account the social and environmental costs of so-called progress.”

 

Four panels made presentations on ecological sustainability, efficient use of resources, fair distribution, and well-being and happiness, including presentations by the President of the Centre for Bhutan Studies Karma Ura and the Secretary of Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Commission, Karma Tshiteem.

 

Well-being is postulated as an important social indicator of development, which adds value to purely economic indicators; this is viewed as especially important for policy makers in this development model in which public happiness and well-being are their goals.

 

Eminent expert speakers represented the two aspects of the initiative – economic and psychological.  Nobel Laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, endorsing the value and importance of the concept of well-being, said “Whatever the indicators we use, whether it’s Well-being or others, we have to be very conscious that …people are experiencing different things, and our commitment to equitable development means that we have to focus on the experiences not of the average but on what’s happening to all of our citizens, including those at the bottom and middle.” According to Professor Emeritus of Economics at the University of British Columbia, John F. Helliwell, the world is moving toward both a green economy as well as policies that pay more attention to the quality of people’s lives.

 

Noted psychologist Martin Seligman founder of Positive Psychology (based on tenets of empathy, resilience, positive thinking, traits, relationships and institutions), emphasized the importance of Gross National Happiness in the mental health of peoples around the world.  Alarmingly high rates of depression worldwide underscore the relevance of such an index.  

 

Happiness is a state and a trait and a skill and can be learned, noted Earth Institute Director Jeffrey Sachs.

 

In an appeal for a more green economy as well as concern for common good, David Cadman said, “We are living in a rock star mentality, as if there were no tomorrow.”

 

Prayers were given throughout the meetings by spiritual leaders from Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Buddhist faiths. 

 

While happiness has been critiqued as a naïve concept that cannot be measured, presentations at a pre-conference meeting at Columbia University refuted that idea.  Economists and experts from many fields presented “the “World Happiness Report,” released to coincide with the conference.  The report lends considerable credibility to a happiness index by presenting methodological approaches and measurement tools to assess development. The result was extensive country rankings along nine “domains” or well-being indices, including community vitality, cultural and ecological diversity and resilience, good governance, health, education, living standards, time use, and psychosocial well-being (e.g. “life satisfaction” and “positive affect”). The report is co-edited by Professor Emeritus of Economics John F. Helliwell, Director of the Well-being Programme at the London School of Economics Lord Richard Layard and The Earth Institute Director Jeffrey D. Sachs.

 

Countering critiques about limits of measurement of well-being and happiness, Chief Statistician from the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development, Ms. Martine Durand, described their “Better Life Initiative in Measuring Well-being and Progress.” 

Although Bhutan is a small country, larger developed nations and their leaders are already committed to the new ways of measuring development and progress, including the British Prime Minister David Cameron, and France’s President Nikolas Sarkozy. Both leaders consulted Nobel Prize-winning economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen about new ways of measuring social progress. Sarkozy has said that the focus on GDP as the main measure of prosperity helped trigger the financial crisis; he ordered France's statistics agency to integrate the findings of the study into future economic analysis.

The Gross National Happiness model has already been applied in cities, communities, corporations and schools in Brazil, a country that sent a considerable number of attendees to the conference. Susan Andrews, founder of the Brazil-based Fortune Vision Institute, showed a film about a large-scale effort in a Brazilian city whose students polled citizens about their happiness. 

In two subsequent days, volunteers participated in break-out groups and came together to share plans and progress to help advance the Happiness agenda in four areas: strategic planning, expert and scholars, civil society involvement, and communications. 

 

The planned outcomes were to submit a report on the conference to the Secretary General of the United Nations; to distribute a set of recommendations for national economic policies based on happiness and well-being to heads of governments around the world; to draft a new development paradigm; and to design a communications strategy to enhance the global understanding of well-being and happiness.

 

“Happiness is a way of being that comes with genuine altruistic love – serenity - that can be cultivated as a skill day after day, month after month,” said Buddhist scholar Matthieu Ricard. “Now one thing that is clear is that the pursuit of happiness is intimately linked with altruism. There’s no such thing as a successful selfish happiness… Happiness and altruism are not a luxury, they are a necessity.”

 

The movement has already spawned civil society organizations committed to the cause, including Gross National Happiness World Project, Gross National Happiness USA, a government-sponsored Happiness Project in Japan, the London-based Action for Happiness and the Observatoire International du Bonheur in France (Happiness Observatory), which offers legal tools and research on happiness, as well as entrepreneurship enterprises like GNHappiness, which provides consultation for business transformation.

 

Youth involvement was an important goal identified by the planning working group, consistent with the emphasis on youth by many United Nations initiatives. At the concluding ceremony, student Latoya Mistral Ferns presented her model of an interactive television show, currently being piloted at the University of Warwick in the United Kingdom, in which youth interview the public on the topic of happiness. 

 

Since governments can make laws, but citizens must abide by them, reactions were important to gauge. Comments and questions from participants, interspersed between panelist presentations, revealed widespread enthusiasm and commitment to the GNH campaign. 

 

In the year 2015, the Millennium Development Goals, as outlined by the United Nations, will formally come to an end (these include the eradication of poverty, improving maternal and child health, promoting gender equality, and combating HIV/AIDS malaria and other communicable diseases); the governments of the world will consider new Sustainable Development Goals for the years to follow.  Looking towards this time, Prime Minister Jigmi Thinley said, “I hope that by the year 2015, the international community would have integrated a sustainability-based economic paradigm committed to promoting true human well-being and happiness, and insuring at the same time the survival of all beings on this planet.”

 

Commentary is presented on the website of the Centre for Bhutan Studies. Opinions and outcomes of the conference are being collated to present at the new economic paradigm at the upcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (“Rio+20”) to take place in Brazil this June. 

(this information approved by the Royal Government of Bhutan)

Tuesday
Apr102012

Psychologists Celebrate the 5th Annual Psychology Day at the United Nations

 Contributions from Psychology to the UN Agenda on Meeting the Human Rights of Vulnerable People are Offered

 

Psychologists who represent NGOs (non-governmental organizations) at the United Nations will hold the 5th Annual Psychology Day at the United Nations on April 19, 2012.

 

The theme of this year's conference is “Human Rights for Vulnerable People: Psychological Contributions and the United Nations Perspective.” The topic was chosen because achieving human rights is an ongoing major mission of the United Nations and its extended community.  The meeting will be held at the UN Church Center located at 777 UN Plaza on First Avenue and 44th Street, across the street from UN headquarters in New York City, from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.

 

Psychology Day at the United Nations is an annual event sponsored by psychology organizations that have Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status with the UN Department of Public Information (DPI) and the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). The event offers UN staff, ambassadors and diplomats, NGO representatives, members of the public and private sectors, students, invited experts, guests, media and other stakeholders, the opportunity to learn what psychologists contribute to the United Nations, to exchange ideas and to establish partnerships on global issues. 

 

“Psychology plays a major role in achieving the global goals of the United Nations as well as of civil society,” says Martin Butler, Ph.D., Co-Chair of the 2012 Psychology Day at the UN and NGO Representative to the United Nations for the International Association of Applied Psychology. “We are very pleased that this year’s Psychology Day at the UN brings many academicians and advocates together with UN staff to exchange psychological principles and United Nations perspectives on the crucial topic of human rights for vulnerable peoples.”

 

Three panels will be held.  The panel on “Psychosocial Well-Being of Refugees” features Ms. Grainne O’Hara, Senior Policy Advisor for the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR); as well as Adeyinka Akinsulure-Smith, Ph.D., originally from Sierra Leone and currently Assistant Professor of Psychology at City University of New York; and Katherine Porterfield, Ph.D., former Chair of the American Psychological Association Taskforce for Effects of War on Refugee Children and Families Residing in the U.S.. Both Akinsulure-Smith and Porterfield are staff psychologists at the Bellevue/NYU Program for Survivors of Torture  

 

The panel on “Poverty Eradication in the Lives of Women and Children” features Telma Viale who is the Director of the International Labour Organization in New York and who is also a trained psychologist. She is joined by Stuart C. Carr, Psychology Professor in the Industrial and Organisational Psychology Programme at Massey University in New Zealand who was recently appointed as an EU Erasmus Mundus Scholar in Humanitarian Work Psychology. Also speaking on that panel is Winifred Doherty, a social worker trained at University College Cork Ireland, who is a UN NGO representative for the Congregation of Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd and who also serves as Chair of the UN NGO Committee on Social Development.

 

Panelists discussing “Mental Heath and Sustainable Development” include Vijay Ganju who is CEO of the World Federation of Mental Health, an NGO accredited at ECOSOC at the UN; Priscilla Dass-Brailsford, Associate Professor at Georgetown University Medical School; and Richard Dougherty, President of Basic Need US, a non-profit organization focusing on poverty and human rights with programs in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, Lao PDR, Vietnam, and Nepal.

“Besides the present focus on the topic of human rights for vulnerable peoples, psychology provides research and best practices on a wide variety of important issues.  These include ageing, trafficking, domestic violence, poverty, mental and physical health, gender equality and education,” points out Co-Chair of Psychology Day at the UN, Janet Sigal, Main Representative to the United Nations for the American Psychological Association. 

 

In the past, Psychology Day at the UN has addressed the topic of “Psychology and Diplomacy” including ‘Negotiating Humanitarian access” and the “Human Aspects of Diplomacy” as well as the topic of “The Role of Psychology in Achieving Universal Access to Education,” specifically focused on projects encouraging STEM education for girls.  Psychologists representing NGOs accredited at the UN come from varying specialties, including clinical, educational, social, developmental, counseling, community and industrial/organizational.  They participate in various committees and working groups (for example, on the family, migration, technology, human rights, women’s rights, children’s rights, climate change and disaster recovery); advocate at UN commissions (for example, the Commission on Social Development and the Commission on the Status of Women); and design, implement and evaluate original field projects related to the MDGs (for example, on poverty eradication in Haiti and on women’s empowerment in Lesotho, Africa).

 . 

Admission to the conference is free. A reception following the sessions will be held at the nearby Alcala Restaurant, 342 East 46 Street.

 

Psychological organizations co-sponsoring the event include the American Psychological Association APA), the International Division of the American Psychological Association (APA Division 52), APT Metrics, the Association for Trauma Outreach and Prevention (ATOP), the Institute for Multicultural Counseling and Education Services (IMCES), the International Association of Applied Psychology (IAAP), the International Council of Psychologists (ICP), the International Union of Psychological Science (IUPsyS), the Society for Industrial Organizational Psychology (SIOP), and the Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI).

 

For information, visit: www.unpsychologyday.org

or contact the Planning Committee Co-Chairs: Dr. Janet Sigal (janet2822@aol.com) or Dr. Martin Butler (butlerpsych@cs.com). 

Thursday
Nov102011

Lessons from the Penn State sex abuse scandal

 

In the wake of the sex abuse scandal at Penn State, revelations about the serial sex abuse allegedly perpetrated by assistant coach Sandusky, the firing of revered coach Joe Paterno and the rioting of Penn State students in his support:

1.  Some media are hesitant to talk about the details of the grand jury findings against  ex-Penn State coach Sandusky, fearing they are too lurid.  Dr. Judy says we must not be ostriches putting our heads in the sand about child sex abuse. Glossing over what the disgraced coach did to the boys is like denying the horrors of pedophilia and child sex abuse.We must not skirt the issue and just say Sandusky is reported to have had “sex,” but instead we must say enough specifics to educate people about what child sex abuse is; for example, that he touched the young boys inappropriately and made one young boy put his hands up against a wall while he forced him to have anal sex from behind. That lets people know we are not afraid to face the facts and that we are brave enough to help people learn from this horrible case.  

2.  Use this case as a “teachable moment”: for all parents to talk to their young children about sex abuse.  Tell them that it is not okay for anyone to touch them in their private parts, and that if they are touched in a way that makes them “feel funny,” they should tell you right away, and that you will do something to protect them.

3.  Children need to be taught this lesson from the time they are little, even as young as five years old. Repeated child sex molestation even occurs to children as young as three.

4.  This sex abuse scandal at Penn State is a wake-up call for all college campuses - and high schools- to have classes about sexuality, about sex abuse and even about sexual harassment -- since the statistics about “hallway harassment” are shockingly high. All parent-teachers associations and groups should insist on such classes in their schools.  

5.  People are up in arms about Penn State students rioting in favor of now-fired head coach Joe Paterno, caught on video and posted on Youtube.  This rioting shows shocking disrespect for the kids who suffered the abuse. These students should be rounded up and showed the video interviews with the young boys who were molested. They should be asked, “How would you like it if you were forced up against a wall and the coach penetrated you sexually?”  That will shock them out of their football frenzy and into a different state of mind.

6.  Tremendous support should be offered the young men and their families who were “victims” of this abuse.  By the way, should be called “survivors,” not victims. They have demonstrated great courage in coming forward.  They need to be reassured that it is normal for them to have been confused – as one young man described – about what was happening when they were touched sexually by the coach, and for them to not be sure about how to react.  Such confusion and fears (e.g. of shame, not being believed) are very common.  They were understandably hesitant to report the experience, because they were getting benefits from the coach, and didn’t realize how they were being manipulated, seduced and bribed to keep quiet.  

7.  Some of these young boys who were abused are now finding strength in speaking out against child sex abuse, promoting an organization that helps survivors and provides education.  In this way, they can turn their horror into healing by helping others.  Others who have not yet come forward may be too afraid to publicly admit they too were abused but they can find strength in the others speaking out.

8.  It is not uncommon for serial pedophiles ot have been abused when they were young, completing the cycle of abuse.  But even if Sandusky had been abused as a young boy himself; this is in no way any excuse for his criminal behavior.  

9.  It is true that sports can stimulate sexuality, psychologically and also physically in that chemicals flow in the brain during the extreme activity, including adrenalin and endorphins.  Similar reactions occur in activities where crowds and action n predominates, like rock concerts.  Research proves this connection.  From a constructive point of view, I developed “theme park therapy” for Universal Studios based on the principle that couples can fall in love when engaged in an exciting activity in a high-energy environment like a scary theme part ride, or in a large, reactive crowd at a concert or sporting event.   But everyone must learn how to manage those feelings in appropriate situations, and to separate the “rush” from acting out sexually.  Kids should be given lessons about how to manage these experiences, since the psychological and physical reactions can be confusing.

 10.  Parents might understandably be leery of allowing their kids to join team sports because of the abuse uncovered in this case.  With adequate education, now that this scandal has been so public, kids can safely engage in the sport.  All schools personnel, coaches and parents will now be on the alert.

Saturday
Nov052011

Lennon’s former lover and other shutterbugs show off iconic photographs with a psychological message

Trust is key in making a relationship work. I know that, as a psychologist. Trust is crucial for lovers, and between photographer and subject.

 

Accordingly, “Trust” is a subtitle of a section of favorite photographs held by their image-maker, featured in the new book “Behind Photographs – Archiving Photographic Legends. The exquisitely published coffee table book produced by photographer Tim Mantoani includes a range from collector’s item portraits of icons like Mother Teresa, Bruce Springsteen and Nelson Mandela to jaw dropping images of war refugees, an Iraqi boy injured by an explosive, an AIDS-ridden child.and a row of Russian missing forearms deformed by pollutants. There’s also Cuba’s Fidel Castro smiling and hugging  grinning Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev when they met at the United Nations General Assembly on September 20, 1960 – an encounter of particular interest to me, as an NGO representative at the UN who has sat in on GA sessions when heads of state make presentations each September. 

 

Imagine. That’s another favorite psychological term.  Imagining allows you to fulfill your dreams, consistent with the inspirational saying, “If you can see (imagine) it, and believe it, you can be it.”

 

Imagine is also the title of one of John Lennon’s most popular albums. Imagine if you were up close to that icon of our times.

 

May Pang was.  The photographer and Feng Shui jewelry producer is an icon of sorts herself as the one-time assistant to Lennon and Yoko Ono who became his lover during the 1973-1975 interim phase of that relationship, referred to by Lennon as the “Lost Weekend.”

 

Pang’s contribution in Mantoani’s book was taken in the summer of 1975 on the Long Island Sound, capturing Lennon in a charming pose with his young son Julian.

 

“I helped bring the two of them together that summer,” Pang told me.

Pang answered a burning question, “Was John Lennon a good lover?” with an enthusiastic, “Yes.” When I asked her to elaborate, she replied that he knew how to please a woman first and even taught her a few things.  These are all excellent signs, I told her. 

 

Another stunning photo is the Fab Four in 1964 caught midair jumping onto a bed when told by their manager Brian Epstein that they were number 1 in American and going to New York.

 

Besides the Lennon shots, you can “Imagine” why I marveled at a youthful Elvis Presley caught on celluloid June 30th 1956 backstage at the Mosque Theatre in Richmond Virginia clearly tongue-kissing an unknown date. It reminded me of how Gene Simmons once thrust his (albeit longer) tongue down my throat backstage at a concert in the days when I was hosting my Z100 “LovePhones” call-in radio show. 

 

Imagine doing something innocently at one point in time that decades later becomes outrageously valuable. Lori Grinker did that as a student in 1980 when doing a project on young boxers, taking a picture of then 14-year old Mike Tyson, being told he would become the next great heavyweight champion – and then he did! She followed the later-ear-biting champ for 10 years, and is quoted in the book saying, “He was a troubled but sweet kid who veered off the good path he was led to with all that comes with being a celebrity in that world.”

 

Similarly, Amy Arbus in 1983 stopped a then-unknown young woman on the street (whom she recognized as a girl in her gym who sat around naked in the locker room) to ask for a picture who said she still had her pajamas on, was grateful since she would be famous one day.  The girl turned out to be Madonna.

 

At the book reception and exhibition recently in New York City, Mantoani described the psychological value of a still photo that you can look at again and again.  “It tends to burn into your psyche. It becomes ingrained in your mind.” 

 

Seeing the groundbreaking image-makers with their favorite subjects not only puts a face to their work, but reveals another interesting psychological principle in Mantoani’s description of how over time photographers develop their own way to seeing and their individual style.  Indeed for all of us, “We all have our own personalities…our own voice and our own style.” 

 

Convincing the photo takers to pose with their images was surprisingly not always easy.  “Some were shy,” Mantoani told me.  But he was persistent, driven to show young generations what these artists have done and to be inspired to create their art.

 

His words reminded me of a young Japanese girl in the class I taught at Tokyo’s Aoyama Gakuin University.  After my lecture about following your dreams, she came up to me and told me of her dream to become a photographer, but her parents’ disapproval, wanting her to do something to insure a more secure future. She cried as I encouraged her to go for her dream.

 

Another valuable psychological message in the book comes from a photo of children jumping high in the air off a rock onto the sand at a beachfront on the Marshall Islands in 1997.  The notation by photographer Mark Edward Harris says wisely that “kids don’t need money to entertain themselves…a lesson we should all keep in mind.”  

Friday
Oct282011

We all have our own Ministry: Wisdoms from a luncheon at the UN

“We all have our own ministry.”

That was the wisdom of the Honorable Felix Ortiz, New York State Assemblyman, learned from his father.  I love that message.  We all serve others in our own way, with our own skills.  It reminds me of Martin Luther King’s famous saying that if you are a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.

Ortiz, chair of the Mental Health Committee and Puerto-Rican/Hispanic Task Force in the state assembly, was the keynote speaker at the luncheon I attended October 27th at the United Nations delegates dining room, sponsored by the American Association for Psychosocial Rehabilitation (AAPR).  One reason I went is because I have worked with AAPR colleagues, since they are an NGO affiliated at the UN, like my NGO, the International Association of Applied Psychology, for which I am the main UN rep.

“We have to think out of the box,” said the congressman, using another phrase I\that I consider wise. I love that phrase.  I always recommend that people, and couples, be creative in their lives. 

The assemblyman, a member of the Black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic Legislative Caucus, also noted that to improve mental health systems, we have to achieve cultural competency, including to overcome linguistic problems.  Fortunately, the government has mandated that every agency that provides services needs to have staff who speak different languages. We also have to identify problems early, to get them into the system (like in cases of autism), taking a more long-term view.

On other matters, he noted the need to re-distribute financial waste, utilize webcasts, and be ready for women in the armed forces returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Another reason I went to the luncheon was to meet in person the President of the World Psychiatric Association, Dr. Pedro Ruiz, who was being honored with the Irving Blumberg Human Rights Award (pictured with me in the photo). 

  

I've had a long-time association with WPA, on the board of the Disaster Section and meeting with colleagues in Buenos Aires and Sao Paolo. I gave him a copy of our book, Intervention in Destabilizing Situations: Crises and Traumas (published in Rio de Janeiro by Associação Brasileira de Psiquiatria, 2009) and edited by my friends Brazilian psychiatrists Jose Thome and Iveley Taralli and Argentinian psychiatrist Moty Benyakar.  The book is an interesting multi-cultural tome with articles mostly in Portugese and Spanish. My article in English is “Communication and media in mass trauma: How mental health professionals can help.” Another article in English is “Spirituality, Religion and Resilience Promotion in Resilience Trauma” by Australian psychiatrist Russell D’Souza.

Dr. Ruiz was presented his award by his good friend, psychiatrist Dr. Humberto L. Martinez, who has spent 32 years serving in the South Bronx.  I found it fascinating that he remembered my being on TV news from decades ago, from recognizing my eyes!

“The eyes are windows to the soul,” he said wisely. We traced that keen attention to his being in the armed forces, after being drafted from his native Puerto Rico. As an army brat, I could relate.

Yet another valuable wisdom from that afternoon was the phrase:  “A sandwich and conversation.”

That’s a good way for friends to offer their friendship and consolation.  It’s the approach of “Project Help” described by founder Sam Tsemberis, when volunteers cruised the streets of New York in a van looking for homeless people and offering them help (food, shelter, personal connection). It reminds me of the approach we used as mental health volunteers after 9/11 when we walked around the pit of Ground Zero offering the rescue workers water, apples, gloves and an opportunity to talk if they wanted.  It is also my approach in disasters that I applied in Haiti right after the earthquake there, where I trained students to be “comforters” offering the injured people lying on hospital grounds water and comforting words. 

So think about, what is my own ministry?  How can I think out opf the box?  To whom can I offer a sandwich and ocnversation?

Friday
Oct282011

Ruth and Bernie Madoff’s “suicide attempt” and lessons for life

Ruth Madoff, wife of disgraced financier Bernie Madoff, who seduced and duped colleagues into a Ponzi scheme that wiped out their savings, has admitted that she and her scheming husband impulsively planned to kill themselves.  Their act highlights death wishes thousands of people sadly have. Here are some issues from a psychological point of view:

1) If the Madoffs really wanted to die they could have succeeded. People who are smart enough to con colleagues out of so much money, as in Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, are smart enough to know how many sleeping pills to take to insure not waking up. They would also know what pills they were taking (i.e. Ruth said she didn’t know if they took Ambien or not). Their act of taking pills and then being surprised when they woke up in the morning shows that they likely really wanted – as many people do – to go to sleep and have all their problems disappear in the morning.

2) No doubt the Madoffs are both depressed.  Suicide, after all, runs in the family. Their son Marc committed suicide in his Manhattan loft on the second anniversary of his father’s arrest. But the son did it in a more violent way- hanging himself. And he was evidently very intent on being successful, because his first attempt with a cord did not apparently work—the broken cord was found nearby.  He strung himself up again with another cord, that worked. That shows determination. 

3) Lack of success with a sleeping pill overdose to kill oneself seems to run in the family. This is not uncommon. Apparently son Marc had made an earlier attempt (before his hanging) with pills – the way his parents supposedly tried – had not “worked.”

3) The Madoff’s suicidal ideation and attempt highlights the act as (what we hear so often) a “cry for help,” but it is also despair that there is “no way out” of the person’s current desolate situation and mental state. The Madoffs were caught in the$18 billion financial deception and there was no way out.  Also narcissistic and powerful people in the high life, like the Madoffs, who fall from grace and their position, suffer tremendous humiliation, which can add to suicidal ideation.

4) Double (husband-wife) suicide pacts – and acts -- have happened in other cases.  Just a few days ago a husband and wife in New York, reportedly under financial problems, committed suicide together.

 5) Ruth Madoff’s admission of the suicide attempt is certainly also a public relations ploy to sell more books she agreed to her son that she would help promote.  It can also be a way to elicit a bit of public sympathy, since they were so besieged by hate mail, and could be “the most hated couple in America” (next to Casey Anthony being dubbed the “most hated woman in America”).

6) One predictor of suicide is a previous attempt.  It was said that Bernie Madoff was under suicide watch after being exposed, and that he thought of it (but stopped because of thinking of helping recover the money and also of his family).  Now that their attempt is so public, it will likely prevent another attempt.

7) Mrs. Madoff was quoted as saying that when she woke up after the night that ended up of  sleeping off the pills, “I’m not sure how I felt about him waking up.”  One interpretation of that is tremendous anger, that she would have wished her husband had died—maybe because of her anger at him, that her charmed life was ruined, or  saving him the pain of facing it (although she is the one who thought she didn’t know how she would face it).

8) With the Michael Jackson trial underway and the defense claiming suicide, and Ruth Madoff now talking about suicide attempts, the publican learn valuable lessons about suicide.  When you feel the thoughts of ending it all, immediately seek help.  Go to the nearest emergency room and see a psychiatrist.  Choose life and convince yourself that your family needs you, no matter what, and that you are strong enough to face the consequences. 

see abc.com news story by Susan James about Ruth Madoff's confession for excellent info about drugs that kill and don't kill.  

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/madoffs-suicide-pact-leaves-suicide-expert-dubious/story?id=14828858

Sunday
Sep182011

Shrinking Casey Anthony

The latest news about Casey Anthony’s psychological state is that the young woman accused, but acquitted, of the death of her little daughter Caley, is about to see a female psychiatrist. Reportedly, she had previously been getting help from a “grief counselor.”  Here are my reactions:

 

1.  Seeing a “psychiatrist” implies that hopefully Casey will be getting a proper diagnosis – since speculation has been rampant about her condition.  She has been labeled as narcissistic, psychopathic and a pathological liar.  Her mother, Cindy Anthony, has publicly said, “I think there’s something seriously wrong with my daughter,” including a deficit in her “thought processes.”  Cindy has even hypothesized that her daughter has “post partum schizophrenia” “a brain tumor” or “Grand Mal seizures” -- which have been questioned by experts and criticized as a way to excuse her behavior. 

 

2.  Consulting a psychiatrist implies that Casey will now be assessed for appropriate medication treatment, since “counselors” are usually not medical doctors and psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe medication for psychiatric disorders.  Only a few states (e.g. Louisiana) have given prescription rights to licensed psychologists.

 

3.  Likely, antidepressants will be considered, since Casey has multiple reasons in her life to be depressed.  Her long and very public trial is very stressful.  Further, she has suffered many losses, including the death of her daughter; “loss” of her parents (especially her father saying on TV’s Dr Phil show that she is to blame for her daughter’s death and that she is not welcome in their home); loss of a future “normal’ life; damage to her reputation (being called ‘the most hated woman in America”); and worse, threats to her life. 

 

4.  It has been reported that Casey will see a female psychiatrist.  The gender of the therapist can be important for some clients, given what is called “transference” whereby the client unconsciously projects feelings, and repeats behaviors, with the therapist that come from past significant relationships. Often relationships from childhood with a parent are re-enacted. This dynamic affects the patient’s degree of openness, trust, honesty, comfort, subject matter, and behaviors in the sessions, as well as what is triggered in the sessions and enacted in life. While it is true that the degree of rapport between the therapist and patient matters most in the outcome of therapy, the matching of genders matters.  For Casey, seeing a female can be positive, in that a male can trigger negative transference to the “father” figure, George, who is right now being critical and blaming, which would undoubtedly lead to Casey being furious at, and feeling betrayed by, him and any male authority figure. Conversely, her mother has defended her, and been the more stoic of her parents (George has been suicidal and also therefore not a role model of a strong male figure).  Her mother also seems to have similar personality characteristics to Casey, which could predict a more positive identification and transference with a female therapist. 

5. Therapists also have what’s called “counter-transference” with patients -- projecting past experiences onto the patient relationship. Of course, therapists are trained to recognize and control any entangled emotions and reactions, not letting them interfere with the therapeutic alliance or objectivity. A female therapist would have to be conscious of personal feelings about mothering (especially if she is a mother herself) and about any woman who might have been involved in their child’s death. A female therapist might be more understanding of a woman’s conflicts over mothering, or sympathetic about post-partum conditions, but it is also possible she would struggle with negative reactions like condemnation or hostility towards a woman’s lying, partying, irresponsibility towards mothering, or even being suspected of malicious actions towards a child.  

6.  Casey’s problems are more serious psychologically than can be adequately handled by just getting medication, or seeing any therapist in private sessions, even a few times a week. Psychiatrists these days usually see patients for short periods of time, mainly to check on their meds, and do not typically have the 45- minute “talk” sessions that psychologists and other mental health counselors typically do. 

 

7. In my opinion, Casey should be in residential treatment, in a protected environment where she has a myriad of treatment sessions, and other therapeutic activities, every day.

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