Brain Blogger » Stigmatization Health and Science Blog Covering Brain Topics Fri, 28 Nov 2014 14:49:26 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Antifeminism – An Online Trend Wed, 15 Oct 2014 11:00:05 +0000 Feminism isn’t necessary anymore. At least that’s the claim made by many proponents of a growing antifeminism movement. No longer is this movement the prerogative, as it has been historically, of backwards-looking males who have no wish to see the status quo reconstructed. In fact a recent trend rocking the Internet has seen many women voicing antifeminist views.

There’s a plethora of websites discussing the topic and a large debate on Tumblr and Twitter, using the hashtag of the now famous social media campaign Women Against Feminism. Their Facebook group has more than 16,000 likes. On YouTube, numerous female users explain in their own videos why they are against feminism.

Women post selfies holding messages: ‘I don’t need feminism because…’ Their arguments range from the most complex to naive and apparently trivial. Some read: ‘I don’t need feminism because I love my boyfriend and we both respect each other'; ‘I don’t need feminism because I want to promise my man to love him, honour him and obey him'; ‘I don’t need feminism because I have the same equal rights as men’.

While some of the antifeminist arguments are against specific aspects of feminist theory, some others are simply opposed to the dominant and perceived ideas of a modern movement which sustains the need for a critical movement acting on behalf of women. According to some experts, the antifeminist movement has been historically largely based on religious and moral views, and frequently supported in argument by Biblical references.

Proponents have often put an enthusiastic emphasis on the need for the submission of women to men as well as a critique of the aggressive attitude held by some feminists. According to Occhipinti, the movement is centred on the idea of women returning to the domestic sphere to maintain the house and raising children as fundamental for the betterment of society.

For decades, there have been movements labelled as antifeminist such as masculinism which criticises the effects of the feminization of society and supports the interests of fathers and male partners. Other antifeminist views are based on an argument which misconstrues feminism as supporting women as superior to men and therefore as promoting inequality. 

In addition, a debate promoting the need to give a voice to men who suffer oppression is also ongoing online and many also label this as antifeminist. Many see the current antifeminist movement taking place online (and centered around this campaign from Women Against Feminism) as the direct result of misconceptions of what feminism actually is.

The origins of the movement seem to trace back to a social media project run by Professor Rachel Seidman of Duke University, called Who needs feminism? This project aimed to bring about awareness of feminist issues and incite dialogue, through asking students to share their reasons for needing feminism over social media. It certainly did release some strange inhabitants of Pandora’s Box, as thousands of women started to respond to this project with antifeminist views of their own!

Journalists, researchers and feminists have since weighed in, raising concerns about the amount of ignorance and incoherence displayed in many of these critiques of feminism seen online. Many have also made reference to the privileged backgrounds of the women sending such messages, perhaps free from the worst forms of sexist abuse which threaten those women living less comfortable and secure lives.

These relatively privileged women doubtless still face a degree of inequality, which we must assume they ignore, embrace or simply accept. Yet the majority of the world’s victims of domestic violence, poverty, illiteracy, abuse and modern slavery are women. They also have lower salaries and perform the bulk of the unpaid domestic work which goes on in the world.

The debate is still ongoing but one thing is for sure: feminism is not dead and this is not demonstrated only by the ongoing inequality between men and women but also by strength of its counter-movement.


Blais, M., & Dupuis-Déri, F. (2012). Masculinism and the Antifeminist Countermovement Social Movement Studies, 11 (1), 21-39 DOI: 10.1080/14742837.2012.640532

Occhipinti , Laurie (1996). Two Steps Back? Anti-feminism in Eastern Europe. Anthropology Today, 12(6), 13-18.

Image via Dasha Petrenko / Shutterstock.

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Personal Experience in Labeling Borderline Personality Disorder Tue, 23 Jul 2013 11:00:38 +0000 The diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder is inherently associated with stigma. Many clinicians refuse to work with clients who have this condition, and the term “borderline” may manifest negative emotions in people, clients and clinicians associated with the mental health field. There’s little argument that working with individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder is extremely difficult.

Some clinicians may react to such clients with eye-rolling dismay, but too many people treat Borderline Personality Disorder as the cause rather than the result of problems underlying this diagnosis. The term itself represents a superficial description of deep-seated problems emerging as relational difficulties that precede the diagnosis of Borderline Personality Disorder.

The condition of Borderline Personality Disorder can be described as a “thick concept”. This phrase conveys a label or a stereotype that symbolizes an amalgamation of characteristics, etiology and causes a term such as “Borderline Personality Disorder” can connote. It is important to recognize the diagnosis signified as Borderline Personality Disorder to be a thick concept, not as a label that conveys the associated prejudices.

I have worked with these types of clients, and I have been regularly appalled at the lack of respect that some clients with BPD have displayed toward me. One individual was particularly angry. His name was Tom, and he was a client of mine while I was working as a counselor in a group home in my late twenties. Tom had a superior IQ and used words that were not in my vocabulary. He was also extremely vulnerable.

I had read in the staff log one evening that he had reported to another staff member that he was planning to hoard his medication in order to make a suicide attempt. Also reported was the fact that he had said: “The staff person doling out the medication does not pay attention (to whether he swallowed his dose of medication) anyway”.

The next time I was distributing medication, I asked Tom to take his medication in my presence. He turned toward me, and he stated harshly: “Are you ethical or what? You just told everyone (the other clients) that I am suicidal!” I told him I was sorry. When I went home that day, I spoke to my husband about the incident. He said: “He told everyone he was suicidal — not you.”

Tom, nevertheless, wrote a letter to the director of the group home, complaining about my behavior in particular. My superiors did not reprimand me but supported me. Still, I remained daunted by the anger exhibited toward me by Tom.

He was an excellent artist, and, when he left that group home, he went to college in the Seattle area on a scholarship. I only saw him once after he left the group home. I was walking down a Seattle street with my sister, and I saw Tom walking toward me. I greeted him, without saying his name for reasons of confidentiality, although I did introduce to him my sister. I treated him in a friendly and polite manner.

He was stunned. He looked at me as though he could not understand, and I knew he did not understand why I would treat him well after the way that he had treated me as his counselor at the group home. My kindness toward him on a street in Seattle was one of my most successful moments during my career as a clinician. My behavior penetrated Tom’s perspective. In spite of his negativity, he realized that I had no ill will toward him. It proved to be an authentic, but deliberate therapeutic moment on a street corner in Seattle.

Terms relating to Borderline Personality Disorder include the following: dependent, histrionic, sociopathic, superficial, defiant, sullen, masochistic and ingratiating. We all know that these descriptive terms are negative, perhaps insulting. Even the words I’ve used here: angry, vulnerable and harsh, may be construed as negative. Diagnoses can amount to name-calling. The persons who are labeled with these terms clearly may feel negatively toward themselves and the people who label them, and this results in negative behavior in people like my ex-client, Tom.

The fundamental attribution error pertains to the presentation of negative behavior in those individuals who are labeled as “borderline”. Often we view other people’s behavior as emanating from their personalities, and we view our own behavior as resulting from situational factors. This has bearing on how individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder may view their own behavior and that of their clinicians.

It is easy to see that the terms mentioned here are accurately descriptive of BPD. However, the authority of clinicians who wield them may influence the creation of these negative qualities in their clients.

I have observed the reality that most diagnoses reinforce themselves in a cyclic way. This may be understood in terms of the process of labeling. The cyclic processes of labeling are complicated. They are not always understood, but they can be understood. It can be angering and frustrating to have insulting terms applied to oneself, and labeling can be enacted with impunity with regard to BPD clients who may feel powerless in terms of her negative treatment, even by well-meaning clinicians.

Essentially, the negative behavior of individuals with BPD is perhaps a reaction that is clearly exacerbated by the somewhat complicated processes of labeling. For this reason, it’s vital for clinicians to scrutinize the environment of their clients in an effort to determine exogenous reasons for the behavior of their clients with BPD, or any other client demonstrating a condition indicating psychopathology.

Image via Rob Byron / Shutterstock.

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The Company you Keep – Social and Associative Stigmas Wed, 11 Apr 2012 12:00:36 +0000 You can’t choose your family, say the metaphorical “they,” but you can choose your friends. Choose wisely, but bear in mind that regardless of whether or not the decision is yours, you are going to be judged on it.

The credit for some of the most seminal work on social stigma goes to Erving Goffman who worked on defining what is meant by social stigma and delineating its variants. According to Goffman, social stigmas may be physical “abominations” such as deformities or handicaps, “tribal stigmas” such as race or religion, and character flaws, such as a criminal record or drug abuse. Goffman believed that such stigmas applied not just to the person with the perceived defect, but also extended to those individuals who onlookers associated with the stigmatized person. This sort of secondary stigma came to be called associative stigma.

Associative stigmas are more insidious than they initially appear. They are not only formed through the identification of “meaningful relationships” between two people, such as familial relationships or friendship, but they may also be the outcome of unintended or incidental associations. The latter are called “simple associations” and may be the result of such coincidental circumstances as simply being in the same room as a stigmatized individual.

There may be one of two processes at work when a stigma is formed. Spontaneous or reflexive processes are responsible for the rapid, often emotionally motivated reactions to any of the perceived stigmas mentioned above. That they are based on instinctive reactions makes them all the more difficult to control and moderate. In contrast, deliberative reactions to stigma, as the name suggests, involve more voluntarism on the part of the individual and are consequently more difficult to bring on. Deliberative processes require the individual to actively think about the situation prior to arriving at a judgment. In the case of deliberation, the perception of control plays a great part. Individuals are less likely to react negatively to an individual they perceive to have no control over his or her situation (such as one who is visually impaired) than one they believe is under a controllable stigma (such as a drug user).

Reflexive and deliberative reactions are two separate processes, but they may operate on the same situation. Reflexive reactions are likely to be behind one’s immediate reaction to a stigma. Deliberative processes come into play after a bit of a delay. They are more effortful and time-consuming, consciously applying certain rules to the situation in addition to taking into account the initial reaction to it. Changes in one’s reaction to the same stigma after a period can thus be traced to this mental process.

How do these primary judgments carry over to individuals who do not appear to possess the stigmatized trait themselves? There are some theories that attempt to explain stigma by association. The idea of evaluative conditioning puts it down to a simple case of evaluative conditioning where a neutral target becomes the recipient of an onlooker’s negativity simply because they are in the physical presence of a negatively judged target. Another more conscious theory puts it down to the simple application of the adage “birds of a feather flock together.” This is especially true when a relationship appears to be voluntary as in the case of friends and partners. An individual in the company of a stigmatized person is judged on his or her decision to be in the company of that person. Heider reasons that this tendency may be due to a need to eliminate cognitive dissonance. The assumption two people in the company of one another share similar characteristics is easier on the mind than having to reconcile the ideas that they might be markedly different yet opt for each other’s company.

Social and associative stigmas often appear irrational. We do our best to believe we are unbiased and non-judgmental, and many societies work to eliminate (or at least decrease) the prevalence of such stigmas within their populations. Nonetheless, the generation of stigma seems to be wired into the human brain and there are few who are immune. After all, even the most pious among us might be prone to stigmatizing those who stigmatize others.


Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: Notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Heider, E. (1958). The psychology of interpersonal relations. New York, NY: Wiley.

Mehta, S., & Farina, A. (1988). Associative Stigma: Perceptions of the Difficulties of College-Aged Children of Stigmatized Fathers Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 7 (2-3), 192-202 DOI: 10.1521/jscp.1988.7.2-3.192

Pryor JB, Reeder GD, & Monroe AE (2012). The infection of bad company: stigma by association. Journal of personality and social psychology, 102 (2), 224-41 PMID: 22082057

Pryor, J., Reeder, G., Yeadon, C., & Hesson-Mclnnis, M. (2004). A Dual-Process Model of Reactions to Perceived Stigma. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87 (4), 436-452 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.87.4.436

Walther, E. (2002). Guilty by mere association: Evaluative conditioning and the spreading attitude effect. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 82 (6), 919-934 DOI: 10.1037/0022-3514.82.6.919

Image via corepics / Shutterstock.

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Stigma Influences Seeking Mental Health Care Wed, 20 Jul 2011 12:00:17 +0000 Stigmatization of mental health disorders leads to a decreased quality of life, missed opportunities, and lost independence for the affected individual. A new study reports that stigmatization also determines if and when people will seek mental health care for themselves.

A large population-based survey in Finland evaluated the stigmatizing attitudes about mental illness and the use of mental health services. The study used a questionnaire to explore participant’s beliefs about mental illness. They were asked to respond “yes” or “no” to a variety of statements, including “Depression is a sign of failure,” “Mental health problems are a sign of weakness and sensitivity,” and “Depression is not a real disorder.” Other questions reflected participant’s desire for social distance from others affected by mental illness, as well as attitudes toward antidepressant medication. Respondents also reported their own experiences with depression. In total, nearly 5200 people aged 15 to 80 years old completed the survey.

Stigma is a complex concept that can be divided into three main categories: perceived public stigma (the general belief that people with mental illness are stigmatized by society), personal stigma (an individual belief about mental illness), and self-stigma (an individual’s view of his own mental illness). These attitudes and beliefs are closely related to people’s knowledge and education about mental health and treatments and services for mental illnesses.

Overall, people with depression reported more social tolerance of mental illness and held more positive beliefs about antidepressant medications compared to people without depression. People with more severe depression were more likely to seek healthcare compared to those with mild to moderate cases of depression. The study showed that stigmatizing attitudes do not prevent care-seeking behavior among people with depression, but the depression must be severe enough to overcome the social and self-stigmatization.

Throughout industrialized nations, only one-third of people with major depression seek help, and many who do seek help discontinue treatment prematurely. Factors such as age, gender, education, income, insurance, and availability of services influence the decision to seek treatment, but these qualities do not fully explain care-seeking attitudes. The costs and benefits of treatment impact this decision, and stigma is a substantial cost to many people.

Stigma is not isolated to depression, but has been studied across many populations and many diagnoses: young and old, military and civilian, urban and rural, and even among healthcare professionals themselves. Like mental illness, stigma does not discriminate. Multidimensional efforts may be needed to overcome mental illness stigma, including changes in legislation, alterations in media depictions of mental illness, inclusion of family-based treatment programs, and improved public education.

The good news to come out of the current study is that stigma does not prevent people from seeking help for their own mental illness. The disheartening news, though, is that the illness must be severe before most will seek treatment.  No one would wait until his cancer or cardiovascular disease was “severe” before seeking care or initiating treatment. When will mental illness be viewed the same way?


Aromaa E, Tolvanen A, Tuulari J, & Wahlbeck K (2011). Personal stigma and use of mental health services among people with depression in a general population in Finland. BMC psychiatry, 11 PMID: 21453504

Hinshaw SP, & Stier A (2008). Stigma as related to mental disorders. Annual review of clinical psychology, 4, 367-93 PMID: 17716044

Horsfall J, Cleary M, & Hunt GE (2010). Stigma in mental health: clients and professionals. Issues in mental health nursing, 31 (7), 450-5 PMID: 20521914

Jones AR, Cook TM, & Wang J (2011). Rural-urban differences in stigma against depression and agreement with health professionals about treatment. Journal of affective disorders PMID: 21665289

Kim PY, Thomas JL, Wilk JE, Castro CA, & Hoge CW (2010). Stigma, barriers to care, and use of mental health services among active duty and National Guard soldiers after combat. Psychiatric services (Washington, D.C.), 61 (6), 582-8 PMID: 20513681

Yap MB, & Jorm AF (2011). The influence of stigma on first aid actions taken by young people for mental health problems in a close friend or family member: Findings from an Australian national survey of youth. Journal of affective disorders PMID: 21658776

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Domestic Violence – Understanding is Getting More Nuanced Sun, 05 Jun 2011 12:00:30 +0000 A few years ago I brain blogged about domestic violence (DV), focusing on how ideology, politics, and stereotypes were interfering with an effective social response. It got a big response, almost entirely supportive. At that time, the tide was turning because of lawsuits and a preponderance of research that were beginning to overwhelm the dominance of old-school DV responses.

For example, it was becoming clear that roughly half of DV comes from women, there is a wide range of perpetrators, the majority of DV is mutual fighting, and current “treatment” (the Duluth model) is not effective, unless more modern intervention is sneaked into the mix. (Or maybe patriarchal conspirators are sneaking into lesbian households, starting a fight, and then sneaking back out before the police arrive.) Various dynamics were beginning to humanize violent people, including a huge spike in arrests of women for domestic violence. It was easier to demonize perps when the archetype was all hetero male.

Let’s look at the latest insights that have been building beyond the key points that men’s advocates have been pressing. This post is about antisocial personality and genetics in intimate partner violence.

Antisocial personalities (sociopaths) are the people that best match the stereotype of the DV perpetrator: violent and controlling. They have become the perp poster child because they elicit the most sympathy (and funding) for women, they create the strongest need for abused women to seek shelter, and they constitute the most dangerous and invasive profile. However, there are some inconvenient differences between the antisocial men and the patriarchal stereotype. They are not an expression of the patriarchy that feminists have blamed DV on, even though they may blurt out some patriarchal ideas as they grasp for some way to justify their behavior. Sociopaths have a limitless capacity to rationalize and blame; and they don’t suffer from the burden of being consistent or rational.

Other than the convenience of taking Marxist theory and substituting patriarchy for capitalism, there isn’t a lot of support for the idea of pervasive patriarchy in western societies. These antisocial types are not only violent with their partners; they tend to have a history of violence and criminal behavior outside of their domicile. Alcohol and other drugs often contribute to the violence, crime, and other chaos. But then, boozy households are more likely to have violence, including mutual violence, regardless of whether there’s a sociopath in the house.

Much has been made of research connecting childhood exposure to violence with later violent behavior in adulthood. The connection is there, but not as strong as people think. Old school feminist ideologues are highly motivated to ignore genetics and stress learning, childhood abuse, and patriarchy (while stressing that childhood abuse is no excuse), but genetics researchers point to a very strong genetic basis for antisocial personality. A meta-analysis published last year concluded that 56% of variance in antisocial personality was accounted for by genetic influences. We also know that childhood events trigger genetic change in individuals (epigenetic change) that can dramatically alter the course of their mental health over the lifespan.

So when we say that violence in childhood causes violent adults, we should also point out that violence in childhood (from biological parents) is an indication that the child may have violent genetics. At this point, it appears that the genetics takes the lion’s share of the credit. However, genetics as triggered by childhood stressors (epigenetics) may turn out to be the more powerful blend, because we are realizing that we have to think in terms of vulnerability profiles, rather than think species wide in assessing the effects of stress.

Perhaps we will be able to get a genetic test one day that will tell us what stresses are most important for each of us to avoid. We also know that it’s getting more complicated, in that genetic vulnerabilities appear to come in combinations. In other words, there are numerous illnesses (including psychiatric problems) that appear in heightened quantities in vulnerable families. Only certain problems are the result of passing on a single genetic vulnerability. Science is tasked with nailing down the difference (or spectrum) between these two types of problems: The specific disorder that is passed down (such as sickle cell anemia), versus the vulnerability to a variety of problems.

According to Ferguson, geneticists’ desire not to be contaminated by controversial and hard-to-substantiate theories of evolutionary psychology has slowed the integration of genetic and evolutionary theory regarding human behavior. At the same time, evolutionary psychologists have not used genetics to its potential because of a desire to focus on natural selection rather than more proximal effects on behavior, as well as to focus on more general (species-wide) traits at the expense of looking at genetic differences. And then, there is a general allergy to anything that might be conflated with racism or eugenics. Be as objective as you want, but touch certain topics and suddenly your a woman-hating KKK Nazi. After all, people tend to think in stereotypes, and stereotypes are easily triggered.


Ferguson, C. (2010). Genetic Contributions to Antisocial Personality and Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review From an Evolutionary Perspective The Journal of Social Psychology, 150 (2), 160-180 DOI: 10.1080/00224540903366503

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Is Trauma Victim Becoming the New N-Word? Sat, 09 Apr 2011 15:58:58 +0000 A prevalant stereotype of trauma victims is the person transformed into a serial killer or other threat to society. The Oakland Tribune has gone over the top in reinforcing this stereotype with some truly awful journalism. They dramatically misinterpreted a highly-regarded researcher, Bessel van der Kolk, MD, in their article Scientists Seek to Treat Chronically Traumatized Brains.

The article makes rash statements that could help make “trauma victim” into the new N-word, and attributes them to the good doctor. It’s too bad, because Dr. van der Kolk has maintained important roles in trauma research as well as awareness of EMDR, the trauma treatment. I helped bring him to Denver for a conference (a long time ago).

Perhaps the most bizarre fear-mongering tactic in the article was posting a list of local murder victims in the middle of the article, strongly implying that they were all killed by people who were, like a new version of the zombie flick, transformed into murders by trauma.

You’ve seen that the press has been conditioned to point out that mentally ill people are not normally killers. They point this out when a mentally ill person kills. Why couldn’t the paper afford trauma victims the same courtesy?

The article makes it sound as though Dr. van der Kolk is talking about trauma victims. Actually, he is referring to children with serious symptoms that are difficult to save from lives of crime and violence. The newspaper author quotes him as saying, “I think the 50 kids we have are no longer the future rapists and killers of America,” (as a result of treatment).

Excuse me!… are NO LONGER? They WERE? It’s destiny? Although my main beef is with the Oakland Tribune, I have to take issue with Dr. van der Kolk in his phrasing either the pathological behavior or the cure as faits accomplis. I really hope that Dr. van der Kolk is correct about his ability to save these children (and, by extention, their victims), but it will be a long time before there is enough verification of his treatment approach to produce a scientific consensus.

We know that trauma is not destiny, and we know that not all people who experience potentially traumatizing events actually evince trauma symptoms. We need to distinguish between trauma as injury and “traumatic event” as something that, in some percentage of people, causes trauma. These events have been referred to as traumatogenic, to get across the idea that the events do not induce trauma in everyone, much less destin them to rape and kill.

Now tell me, what percentage of elevation of rape and murder is actually caused by PTSD? And if you think you have a percentage, how controversial and defensible would it really be in a scientific debate?

And add to this the matter of acculturation. The kids he is referring to are in areas where there is a strong gang influence; where there are powerful economic and cultural incentives to join a gang. How much of the elevation in crime in that population is the result of acculturation and under-privilege, and how much is trauma? Are the middle and upper class kids that are insulated from such influences also destined to become rapists and murderers when traumatized?

Of course not. Neither group is destined. But the question brings up the matter of race. The areas (Compton and Richmond, California) have high minority populations. You already know how the media and society in the USA and elsewhere paint with a broad brush. This kind of superficial talk reinforces racial and victim stereotypes.

Don’t hire an African-American, they were probably traumatized and will rape and kill.

Don’t hire that person that posted to their Facebook page that they experienced a trauma, they will rape and kill.

Here’s more from the article:

Trauma also muddies the connections between the left and right sides of the brain, affecting speech and cognitive abilities. ‘These things change the brain to become chronically fearful, or to not fear at all, or think the best thing to do before someone hurts you is to hurt them,’ van der Kolk said. ‘It’s bad news.’

‘Trauma is the residue of what those experiences leave in your body,’ van der Kolk said. ‘People’s brains change because of trauma.’ The effects of this are well-known: anti-social behavior, emotional numbness, aggression, violence and physical and mental dissociation — the hallmarks, in other words, of the emotional states of many traumatized youth in cities like Oakland and Richmond.

(At least the author bothered to throw in the word “many.” But to the average reader, what does “many” mean?)

And how dare the author say that it is “well-known” that trauma equates to “anti-social behavior” and so forth. It doesn’t. And it’s well-known that it doesn’t. It may, but in what percentage? Not a high percentage.

And there are bits about smaller brains, lower IQs, and not knowing where you are in physical space.

“Scientists and therapists now believe the long-term effects of childhood trauma are more far-reaching and worrisome than previously thought.” We weren’t worried enough a few years ago? It’s worse than we thought? Really? I haven’t seen any shortage of such concern among clinicians.

I think the new brain science will yield important clinical tools in coming years, but at this point, much of it is telling us what we already know. (As in, “You know that phenomenon we’ve been observing and commenting on and treating for so many years? Now we can point to a place in the brain where there’s less oxygen consumption!”) By over-hyping the science and making poorly-considered statements, we could easily do more harm than good.

I wrote Dr. van der Kolk about my concerns. He said he didn’t have time to post a response, but said I could quote him. Here is the bulk of his response:

I am talking (about) the 500,000 children and adolescents in residential treatment and juvenile detention settings in the US, who are there because of their violence and extreme impulsive behavior. Furthermore I am talking about the urgent need to help these kids to achieve a state of mindful self-possession and executive functioning so that they can grow up to become relatively healthy contributing members of society. Right now most of these kids are medicated to such a degree that it severely impairs their capacity to learn and to develop into well-functioning adults.  This issue goes well-beyond ‘trauma processing’ — it requires our finding out how we can help their brains develop in a way that they can play, understand other people’s intentions, anticipate the future, and experience the joy of work and love.

These children now are at extreme risk to grow up to have both miserable lives and to also inflict enormous damage on those around them. I am warning people that, unless effective  treatments are developed and implemented, these children will not only pay with very unhappy lives, but society will pay with staggering costs of incarceration, medial illnesses and other socially expensive consequences.

Feel free to argue about the political correctness of these statements, but I would prefer it if the energy went into the development and implementation of effective treatments.

I think he is underestimating the power of the media to exact harm through stereotyping. I think the social class and racial implications of some of his comments deserve more consideration. But the way the Oakland Tribune ran with the idea that trauma equals destiny was really over the top, and not his responsibility.

But this is just an extreme example of a trend of depicting traumatized individuals as becoming killers because of PTSD without providing the message that such conversion is rare and generally involves other aspects of mental illness and social dynamics. I hope that trauma victims can receive the same consideration that persons with other mental illnesses do when it comes to media representations of violent behavior, fictional or actual.

For an example of the complexity of PTSD and how numerous other factors determine the outcomes, have a look at a very touching and sad documentary on the fates of Iraq veterans by Frontline, called A Company of Soldiers. Here is a related program and ample additional materials called The Soldier’s Heart.

We know trauma is a matter of degree, and that Iraq veterans have experienced higher rates of PTSD becuase of matters such as multiple deployments and being coerced to commit (or to witness) war crimes. I point this out to remind readers that there is no poster child for PTSD; there are many manifestations and combinations.


Johnson, S. (2011). Scientists seek to treat chronically traumatized brains. Oakland Tribune, 3/30/2011..

Resources for Persons with PTSD

There are numerous resources that could be found at PTSD Forum.

Resources for Professionals

The PsychIN Directory has numerous professional PTSD resources. There is also an anxiety disorders section.

A Company of Soldiers, Frontline.

The Soldier’s Heart, Frontline.

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Clinical Psychologists’ Perceptions of Persons with Mental Illness Thu, 20 May 2010 12:00:17 +0000 Many people have fabulous relationships with their psychologists. They feel supported, understood, well-liked. But there are also those who feel a little uneasy. Research by Lynn Servais and Stephen Saunders of Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin may have unearthed one of the reasons why.

Some psychologists have a hard time connecting with people with mental illness, especially when they have diagnoses of borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia.

Most psychologists start off by evaluating people — that’s what a diagnosis is. Diagnoses, by their very nature, look at what’s not working. Most would agree that’s a good thing — if you don’t know where the problem is, it’s hard to fix it.

On the other hand, psychologists are people. Like you and me, they have personal likes and dislikes; perhaps they are even not so different from the employer who, research has shown, often decides who to hire within the first few minutes of meeting a prospective employee.

What Servais and Saunders looked at specifically was the concept of “disidentification” which

involves the process of characterizing persons with mental illness as easily recognizable and different from “normal” individuals while characterizing oneself as normal and not susceptible to mental illness (Cumming & Cumming, 1957; Mahatane & Johnston, 1989).

This is similar to the concept of othering you may have heard of and which often comes up when people talk about ethnocentrism (e.g. “I don’t know that I want to live in Surrey; there are so many East Indians there. They are just… different.”)

Disidentification can help boost a person’s self esteem; from my research in chronic pain, I have also formed the hypothesis that it goes even further — there may be a very primitive sense that by distancing oneself from someone who is “afflicted”, one could avoid “catching” an illness. (Of course this goes on at an unconscious level; very few psychologists would consciously hold such an irrational thought.)

The researchers analyzed surveys returned by 306 psychologists. It’s interesting to note that 95% of them were Caucasian; 83% saw mostly mildly or moderately “disturbed” clients.

Psychologists tended to see themselves as quite dissimilar to persons with borderline features and persons with schizophrenia. Borderlines tended to be experienced as quite dangerous and as least desirable of the five classes of people psychologists were asked to rate (themselves, a member of the public, a person with moderate depression, a person with borderline features, and a person with schizophrenia.

What is the effect of such disidentification? The researchers speculate (and find some basis for it in already existing research) that such perceptions detract from the therapist-patient relationship; could dissuade people in need of psychological services from seeking help; make it difficult for the therapist to feel and express empathy and genuine concern; could decrease the therapist’s belief in their clients’ recovery; and may model inappropriate behaviour.

Where does all of this come from? The need to keep up one’s self esteem and a fear of “infection” were already mentioned. Other sources are professional training, especially when it overemphasizes the psychologist as an expert. Personally, I also think that a focus on diagnosis which, as I mentioned earlier on, focuses on what’s wrong, is unhelpful. Additionally, I wonder whether the fact that 95% of those surveyed were Caucasian had something to do with it; conceivably, non-Caucasians may be more sensitive to the detrimental effects of disidentification.

Lastly, and most importantly, how can psychologists be helped to see clients with mental illness as more like themselves, less “other”?

  • Psychologists could take a more holistic view of their patients and focus not only on their problems but also on their strengths. Solution focused approaches such as advocated by Scott Miller de-emphasize diagnosis and concentrate on concrete, future-oriented solutions, with great success.
  • Universities and other training bodies need to a) specifically address stigmatization and stereotyping; and b) help psychologists form the belief that individuals who have a mental illness can indeed recover.
  • Persons with mental illness could be used as trainers for psychologists.


Servais, L., & Saunders, S. (2007). Clinical psychologists’ perceptions of persons with mental illness. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 38 (2), 214-219 DOI: 10.1037/0735-7028.38.2.214

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The Silent Epidemic of Health Illiteracy Mon, 06 Oct 2008 16:08:13 +0000 Nobody questions the fact that healthcare is a confusing profession. Doctors and nurses seem to speak in foreign tongues; medicines have names and ingredients that are not even pronounceable; more and more news comes out every day about diseases and conditions that seem to contradict each other. If doctors must devote 12 years of higher education just to get a basic understanding of how the body works, how does a patient hope to know what’s wrong with them?

In the federal government report, Healthy People 2010, which was written in 2000 and speculated on the upcoming problems facing the population, one of the objectives identified as a barrier to effective healthcare was the problem of health literacy. Health literacy goes well beyond the specific problem of an inability to read. The report defines health literacy as “the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information and services needed to make appropriate health decisions.” Making appropriate health decisions is a huge task made up of thousands of tiny ones. Scheduling and keeping appointments, knowing medications and dosages, understanding complications, consenting to procedures, and reading health information are all critical components.

Healthy People 2010 reports that as much as 30% of the United States population is either health illiterate or only has a “basic” literacy, meaning that they can only comprehend the most remedial tasks. Most people who are health illiterate either have a job or are retired workers, meaning they are otherwise functional within society. The problem is especially worrisome within the elderly population, where two thirds of adults over age 60 have inadequate or marginal literacy skills, and 81% of patients age 60 and older at a public hospital could not read or understand basic materials such as prescription labels. Other groups with high levels of health illiteracy include immigrant populations, minorities, and patients with lower incomes. About half of Medicare/Medicaid patients read below the 5th-grade level.

According to the AMA, having poor health literacy is “a stronger predictor of a person’s health than age, income, employment status, education level, and race.” Patients with inadequate literacy tend to suffer from more complications from medications due to errors in dose and timing. Medical complications are also more common because patients are less likely to follow-up with conditions that require it, and in general are less compliant with physician instructions. Without clear and accurate language to describe their symptoms, patients with less health literacy are also more difficult to evaluate and diagnose, leading to longer times until appropriate treatment is initiated. The cumulative effect is that poor health literacy costs the United States over 100 billion dollars every year in extra healthcare and lost productivity.

Ultimately the issue of health literacy needs to be addressed on a national level with a well-funded initiative for patient education and awareness. However, anything professionals can do to facilitate better communication is of the utmost importance for the well-being of our patients. Everybody in the healthcare profession needs to recognize the possibility that patients may not be understanding what is expected of them. Simple changes like providing a plainly written care plan for the patient to take home after every visit can help to avoid potential errors. After an encounter, rather than asking patients if they have any questions, consider instead to ask if there is anything you can explain more clearly. We may not be able to change our patients’ behavior overnight, but we can start by changing our own.

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Woman Comparable to Men in Domestic Violence: Stereotypes and their Consequences Sun, 08 Jun 2008 14:07:39 +0000 Anti-Stigmatization CategoryIt’s very common to hear about violence against women and about male batterers rather than about violence against men and about female batterers. Like it or not, experts that do not cherry pick their data find a fairly even split when the general public is polled in various ways.

Domestic Violence expert John Hamel, LCSW recently addressed this, with abundant research citations, for a book chapter. I will provide, with his permission, his annotations. But why? First, derogatory stereotypes are bad in principle. Second, the stereotypes cause people to downplay or ignore domestic violence and related behaviors by women. Third, funding for shelters and other services for men who are victims of domestic violence is affected. Fourth, men may end up as victims of the justice system when it turns against them because of the stereotypes.

PoliceConsider these two examples:

A volunteer who presents about male victims was presenting to a police department. She had 200 law enforcement personnel present. At the end, she got a police officer to volunteer a call to a shelter, posing as a male victim. He called a hotline for a battered womens program and asked about services for men, explaining that he was experiencing violence at the hands of a female. The hotline worker said, “You should be in jail.” The officer restated that he needed help because his wife was violent. The hotline worker hung up on him.

In a recent article in the San Diego Metro Weekly domestic violence was mentioned in the context of the California Supreme Court ruling in favor of gay marriage, regarding gay divorce. It says,

And, if any violence has preceded the divorce discussions and say… the local gendarmerie is called in, our boys are subject to domestic violence laws, which are stickier by far than if they were single and decided to box each other on the ears.

This not only assumes there is no violence in lesbian relationships, and there certainly is, I’ve seen it, but it also diminishes the seriousness of it by referring to it as boxing the ears.

Hamel’s Review of Research

Now here is a taste of Hamel’s review of the data. Thank you, John!

Straus et al. (1980); Straus & Gelles (1990). Both National Family Violence Surveys, with a combined sample of more than 8,000 respondents, reported comparable gender rates for not only physical assaults, but verbal abuse as well.

Rouse, Breen and Howell (1988). This survey of 130 dating and 130 married students found that women are more likely than men to engage in isolation behaviors, such as “monitors time,” “discourages same-sex friends” and “discourages opposite sex friends.”

Stets (1991). The male and female respondents in this study of dating students reported equivalent rates of controlling behaviors (e.g., “I keep my partner in line,” “I am successful in imposing my will onto my partner”), as well as psychological abuse (e.g., “Said mean things,” “Degraded him/her”).

Kasian & Painter (1992). The authors surveyed a large sample (1,625) university students. Male respondents reported higher rates of received abuse, as measured by a modified version of the Psychological Maltreatment of Women Inventory, for control, jealousy/isolation, verbal abuse and withdrawal of affection. There were no gender differences in rates of received emotional abuse (“diminishment of self-esteem”).

Feder and Henning (2005). In this study of 317 couples dually arrested for IPV (interpersonal violence), most of them African-American, criminal justice data revealed no differences between the partners in injuries inflicted or weapons use. Interview data revealed no differences in physical assault; women were more likely to use a weapon, but to suffer slightly higher rates of injuries (19.6% vs. 15.0%). There were no gender differences in overall psychological abuse or coercive control tactics.

Stacey, Hazelwood & Shupe (1994). Higher rates of victimization than perpetration were reported by the male subjects in this Texas study of men in batterer treatment on four of the thirteen items from the CSR Abuse Index: “deny rights to privacy,” “deny access to family,” “withdraw emotions to punish,” and “withhold sex to punish.” Although the men reported lower rates of victimization than females on the other items, the differences were usually not large (e.g., “deny freedom of activities” was cited by 71% of men and 72% of women; “deny access to friends” was cited by 57% of men and 63% of women, and “censor phone calls” was reported by 53% of men and 60% of women.) One would have expected much larger differences from this population, considering that the men had been arrested and deemed “batterers,” while their female partners were deemed the “victims.”

Tjaden & Thoennes (2000). The National Violence Against Women Survey (NVAWS), drawing on a sample of 16,000 men and women, reported that 0.2% of men are stalked each year by a current or former intimate, and 0.5% of women, a ratio of 2.5 women for each man victimized. In addition, .038% of the men reported to having been raped the previous year. Five times as many women (0.2%) said that this had happened to them.

Spitzberg & Rhea (1999). The authors examined a variety of stalking subtypes, collectively known as obsessive relational intrusion (ORI). Results from their sample of college students in Texas revealed a 54% rate of male-perpetrated ORI’s, versus 46% for females.

Langhinrichsen-Rohling, Palarea, Cohen & Rohling (2000). In this college survey, respondents were asked to report on their own ORI behavior, as well as incidents of victimization. There were no overall gender differences in stalking rates. However, men made more unwanted visits to homes and apartments, whereas women left the greater share of unwanted phone messages. Women were also four times as likely to report having been physically threatened.

Meloy & Boyd (2003). The authors reported on 82 female cases from mental health clinics and some who came to the attention of law enforcement. The women were similar to male stalkers in having a history of failed intimate relationships and having cluster “B” DSM IV personality disorders (not antisocial). They were also similar in that 50% — 75% threatened and 50% — 55% assaulted their victim. But they were different in that they more often carried out threats and caused property damage.

Busby & Compton (1997). A large survey of 3,034 engaged couples reported that 6.1% men and 13.0% women had been sexually pressured by their partner.

O’Sullivan et al. (1998). In this survey of 433 dating university students, 18.5% of the men and 42.5% of women reported to having been sexually coerced by their partner.

Muehlenhard & Cook (1988). This college study revealed that men more often than women engaged in unwanted sexual intercourse, at rates of 63% versus 46%. Being taken advantage of when intoxicated was reported by 30.8% of the men, and 21.0% of the women. Among the men, 13.4% had been verbally coerced, and 11.5% of the women said that this had happened to them. The rates were 5.7% for men subjected to nonviolent coercion (e.g., blocking the door, holding the person down), compared with 5.4% for the women. Coercion involving physical assaults was experienced by 1.4% of the men and 2.7% of the women.

Waldner-Haugrud & Magruder (1995). The authors asked a dating population about a range of coercive sexual behaviors. In the previous year, the men had an average of 2.26 incidents perpetrated upon them, and the women 2.86. Persistent touching was reported by 51% of males and 70% of females. Men were twice as likely to report blackmail (8.5% versus 4.2%); women reported a higher incidence of manipulative guilt (30.1% versus 22.5%). The women were twice as likely as men to be restrained or detained, and more threatened with physical force (6.9% to 6.0%); but three times more men had weapons used against th em (4.5% versus 1.4%).

Coker, Davis, Arias, Desai, Sanderson, Brandt & Smith (2002). A re-examination of data of 16,000 respondents from the National Violence Against Women Survey found lifetime male victimization rates of 10.5% for experienced verbal abuse and jealousy/possessiveness, and 6.8% for power/control, compared to rates of 5.2% and 6.9% for women.

Riggs, O’Leary & Breslin (1990). Found a strong correlation between having a dominant and aggressive personality and IPV for both men and women.

Cano, Avery-Leaf, Cascardi & O’Leary (1998). Found a significant correlation in high school dating study for boys and girls between the use of jealousy and dominance tactics and physical assaults.

Hines & Saudino (2003). Using the Revised Conflict Tactics Scale, this survey of 481 university students found comparable levels of physical aggression between the genders. Women were found to have engaged in higher levels of psychological aggression, and the two types of abuse tended to co-exist.

Graham-Kevan & Archer (2005). Drawing upon a community sample of university students and faculty in Lancashire, England, the authors found rates of 13% for female intimate terrorists and 9% for male intimate terrorists, based upon the same criteria as used by Michael Johnson (a combination of physical violence, control, and psychological abuse).

Laroche (2005), and Graham-Kevan (2007). Laroche analyzed a massive Canadian study, the 1999 GSS, involving 25,876 respondents. Respondents were asked about their victimization by a current or previous spouse in the past 5 years. In addition to questions on physical assaults, the survey also asked respondents about victimization from the following psychologically abusive and controlling behaviors by their partner, similar to those in the Duluth Power and Control Wheel: “Limits your contact with family or friends,” “puts you down or calls you names to make you feel bad,” “is jealous and doesn’t want you to talk to other men/women,” “harms or threatens to harm someone close to you,” demands to know who you are with and where you are at all times,” “damages or destroys your possessions or property,” and “prevents you from knowing about or having access to the family income, even if you ask.” For the five year period prior to the study, approximately 3% of the surveyed women, and 2% of the men, were counted as victims of severe intimate terrorism (IT) – defined as having experienced severe and frequent physical violence and high levels of psychological abuse and control, and who would fit Ehrensaft et al.’s “clinical abuse cases” from injuries sustained, fear expressed, and use of police and other services. Graham-Kevan analyzed the results of the same survey, except that she focused on abuse reported for the past year only, and found very comparable rates of intimate terrorism between the genders. This is a remarkable finding, considering the study’s methodology (akin to the NVAWS in t hat its questionnaire framed IPV in terms of personal safety rather than conflict, thus suppressing male victimization rates) and “the inadequate assessment of controlling behaviors suffered by men” (Laroche, 2005, p. 11).

Felson & Outlaw (2007). An analysis of data originally obtained through the NVAWS with a sample of over 15,000 currently married or formerly married adults found that: (1) women are just as controlling and jealous towards their male partners as other way around; (2) the relationship between use of control/jealousy and physical violence exists equally for both male and female respondents; (3) “Intimate terrorists” can be either male or female. (Controlling/ jealous behaviors defined as: “Prevents you from knowing about or having access to family income even when you ask”; “Prevents you from working outside the home”; “Insists on knowing who you are with at all times”; Insists on changing residences even when you don’t want or need to”; “Tries to limit your contact with family and friends.”) Regarding the extent to which men and women engage in “intimate terrorism,” the authors write: “Both husbands and wives who are controlling are more likely to produce injury and engage in repeated violence. Similar effects are observed for jealousy, although not all are statistically significant. The seriousness of the violence is apparently associated with motive, although the relationship does not depend on gender” (p. 404). It should be pointed out that the National Violence Against Women Survey was designed, conducted and analyzed by feminist researchers, who sought to prove that violence against female intimate partners is much more serious than violence against male intimate partners.

Straus (2006). 7.6% of the male respondents and 10.6% of the female respondents interviewed in the International Dating Violence Survey (sample of 13,601 university students in 32 countries) reported having perpetrated severe assaults, and both partners were found to be violent in 68.6% of the cases. Based on 9 items related to dominance on the PRP (e.g., “my partner needs to remember that I am in charge”), the survey found overall dominance scores to be equal across gender, although higher dominance scores were found for women in 24 of 32 countries. It was also found that dominance by either partner increases the probability of severe violence, and that dominance by females increases risk of severe female-only or mutual IPV more than does male dominance.

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In Deed, Indeed – Compassion and Empathy Thu, 10 Apr 2008 16:42:55 +0000 Anti_Stigmatization.jpgI find the subject of compassion compelling. I believe this aspect of human-kind is a pivotal component in successful negotiation of the human experience where family and community is concerned. Pivotal, because in the absence of compassion there is stagnant disconnect. I suppose if one were to live solitary in the woods and could sustain the needs that promote healthy survival without interactions with fellow man, compassion and empathy would be unnecessary provisions in the condition of living. A rare few would decide to do that. Even if it were plausible to do so, we don’t willingly choose to. We desire the interaction of others. It promotes a sense of inclusion and well-being. There can be no perception of that belonging without some amount of compassion and empathy echoing within the dynamic of human interaction. To that end, it’s fundamental.

PicI’ve spent a great deal of time thinking about this subject. Increasingly so in the past several years because I have particular need in my personal life to understand this trait so that I might better manage my own feelings of disappointment related to this subject where my son’s constant battle with chronic major depressive disorder is concerned. I aspire for a kind of closure that would facilitate my utilizing that gained energy toward increased focus in supporting my son’s health, as well as to the assistance of other’s goals of enhanced wellness where addiction and mental health related issues are concerned. As a direct result of my experiences related to my unavoidable involvement and through investments in this edification, I accept that some people, for varying reasons, have a lesser capacity to act in service in even the simplest forms of support and encouragement in relation to the compassion they experience. I would go one step further and communicate that this kind of diminished capacity is especially prevalent with regard to the subject of compassion as it concerns addiction and depressive mental illnesses.

There are slightly varying definitions for the word compassion; differentiating from empathy, sympathy, and pity can be a bit tedious as they are often used in description of one another. However, it is defined in the GoodWiki pages from the Greater Good Science Center, University of California, Berkeley, as:

… a feeling of sorrow, or concern for another person’s suffering or need accompanied by a subsequent desire to alleviate the suffering.

Note that it doesn’t read:

… a feeling of sorrow or concern for another person’s suffering or need that results in a desire, followed by an action, to alleviate suffering.

There is documented research explaining why the latter, enhanced definition would be inaccurate. I think the explanation of this holds inherent truths, specifically as it relates to societal stigmas.

It appears, based on researched evidence, that benevolence is directly impacted by the way individuals process their own response to feeling compassion. The resulting self-regulation of that emotion determines whether the individual will act in an altruistic, benevolent manner in connection to another’s recognized need, or that a person may instead process their initial feeling of emotional response in a manner that produces subsequent personal distress. A personal distress response will not necessarily result in an action-oriented behavior aimed at easing the pain of someone else. The research supports that sympathy motivates people to act benevolently, while personal distress can cause an “egoistic” response. There are even polar opposite physiological responses to the individualized processing of sympathy and personal distress. Studies show that sympathy can produce a decrease in heart rate, while personal distress, on the other hand, can initiate, you guessed it, an increase in heart rate.

Okay, so there it is. The terms “personal distress” and “egoistic” explain a great deal, at least to my understanding. Basically, what I gleaned from my reading is that some people act as a result of their feelings of compassion in a way that they believe will serve the need of someone else. Others act in a way that would serve to assist in the avoidance of further investment outside of their initial emotional response. The study supported that this is due to a self-perceived anticipation of encountering “stress,” thus “personal distress,” associated with that investment.

When the tears are not enoughI have a personal need to better understand the emotion of empathy. This subject of compassionate response as it relates to addiction and depressive illness helps serve my goal in assembling a reasonable, thoughtfully-woven perspective as to why I witness a rampant lack of action-oriented compassion in relation to those suffering the isolation they often experience in coping with the effects of the disease. Frankly, the perspective I have been forming over the years is affected, too, by my inexpressible disdain for the many uninformed commentaries and downright hateful, critical judgments that occur frequently in our society with regard to the clinical and social realities of addiction and depressive mental illness. There exists a huge amount of conscious and unconscious perpetuation of stigmatic energy associated with the disease. We ALL witness the demoralizing result, and collectively we are all allowing it to continue. The presence of this stigma assists to impede advancements in treatments and cures. I’m unaware of another disease whose proliferation as well as successful treatment is dependent upon pro-socially motivated emotional response, or is as innately rooted in how we act or don’t act in terms of compassion.

One result of this stigma is that it causes a diminished capacity in recognizing the disease as one of physiological origin. It’s a complex issue, as we tend to be wired to judge the symptomatology of the disease as character-related. Subsequently, we often distance ourselves when we perceive that another’s challenges are a result of willful “bad behavior,” rather than understanding that the behavior is one resulting from the presence of a physiological, or psychological impairment. In contrast, when we witness someone struggling with what we perceive as a physical ailment, we are much more likely to respond with an encouraging, compassion-related action. As well, this compassion-related action is also more likely to occur in response to the perceived emotional suffering of another when we see it as result of physical injury and disease. Because we are not as apt to recognize the behavioral impairment and subsequent choices relating to that behavior as stemming from physiological components occurring from disruptions in normal brain functions, we don’t respond properly in terms of need, treatment and cure. Even when the behavioral symptomatology is recognized as having physiological origin, apathy still occurs. The possibility of self-perceived personal distress is a contributing factor in this apathetic response. The bottom line is that we fall unwitting victim and perpetrator, of sorts, in the amplification of a rebounding, vicious cycle of disease, which impacts the patient, the family, and ultimately the community. It is a disease of phenomenal scale as it relates to family dynamic and its reverberations in societal context.

This leads me to what I perceive is a logical conclusion. In order to restrain and thus improve the far-reaching, devastating effects of addiction and depressive mental illness, there is requirement, first and foremost, in reversing the stigma associated. It needs to happen now. The cure is dependent on this focus. Every single person is impacted by the presence of the symptomatology of this disease. Do that math. It should not require calculative tools to ascertain that we are witnessing an ever-increasing need for counter actions that will reduce the unparalleled, prolific resonance associated with addiction and depressive mental illness stigma.

I have invested in supporting my child in his battle with the life-threatening symptomatology associated with chronic Major Depressive Disorder. We had to get a grip, or we were going to lose him. Admittedly, we have not done everything right. It’s impossible. It’s exceedingly difficult to always know exactly what to do in regard to the symptomatology. But disconnect?… NOT AN OPTION. So, we persevere, everyday, inspired through responsible, dedicated love. It’s hard to hang there, at times. The symptomatology sucks up all manner of resources. I’ve referred to the investment in my son’s illness as like being, at times, “tied to a tornado,” with respect to the illness’s unpredictability. Its power to devastate everything in its path is increased if it is not responsibly, compassionately treated. I wouldn’t dream of presuming to understand anyone else’s parameters of engagement. Every case is unique. I’m just trying to be clear that I would rather be tied to a tornado than freed of that connection through his departure from this earth as a result of his illness.

A great deal of the challenge I personally experience in connection with the disease is a direct result of the associated stigma. I have developed an inexpressible disdain for the many uninformed comments and downright hateful, counterproductive, critical judgments that I am exposed to in our society in regard to it. You witness them, too. But, I have acquired an improved understanding as to why some of us don’t take our feelings of compassion to the next step of responsible action — action of encouragement and service to another person in need. I get it, alright. But still, I experience disappointments related to the fact that I, and many others, shouldn’t have a need to work so hard to understand this counter-productive response to the disease in the first place. That energy would better serve to support those struggling to cope with the disease.

GapSomething else I am forced to recognize? All that logical assertion serves little good. All the cognitive conclusions in the world will never be adequate in facilitating a filling-in of the shameful gap created by rampant, societal disregard. No… That gap isn’t going to fill itself, making itself a pretty, little blossoming cherry tree-lined, cobblestone path to the land of, “Nobody Has Drug Addiction Tendencies or Mental Health Issues, USA.” Nice place, I suppose, if you can get there. Since I’ve been trained to expect the unexpected due to my experiences with my son’s illness and have also learned to be responsible for creating my own sense of hope from what is, at times, seemingly, hopeless, I’ll keep a suitcase packed, just in case. I’d be thankful to relocate. But in absence of that reality, I believe the bridging of disease, to treatment and cure, specifically related to this human condition, begins with an action-related, compassion-born foundation. We are all in this quest together, because together, we have created much of the need.

We are not solitary creatures. We exist in a family, community, society, and global scope.We need each other. We all intensely desire a sense of acceptance and inclusion on some level. Existence in this spirit promotes wellness, so it makes perfect sense that addiction and mental health related stigmas would serve in opposition of health.

We need to do better in honoring the state of humanity as it relates to addiction and depressive illness. It’s not enough just to feel compassion or empathy. Dedicated, heart-driven, solicitous, actions serve prevention, serve treatment, and serve cure.


Batson, C.D., Fultz, J., Schoenrade, P.A. (1987). Distress and Empathy: Two Qualitatively Distinct Vicarious Emotions with Different Motivational Consequences. Journal of Personality, 55(1), 19-39. DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-6494.1987.tb00426.x

Eisenberg, N. (2002). Empathy-related emotional responses, altruism, and their socialization. In R. J. Davidson & A. Harrington (Eds.), Visions of compassion: Western scientists and Tibetan Buddhists examine human nature (pp. 131-164). London: Oxford University Press.

Zhou, Q., Valiente, C., Eisenberg, N. (2003). Empathy and its measurement. In S. J. Lopez and C. R. Snyder (Eds.), Positive psychological assessment: A handbook of models and measures (pp. 269-284). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

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Why Some Men, Like Women, Cannot Read Maps Too Sat, 01 Mar 2008 13:14:46 +0000 Anti_Stigmatization2.jpgI never quite got around to write the sequel to Barbara and Allan Pease’s evocative work (1), although I had figured out a nice name for it, “Why men don’t use makeup, and women can’t Sumo wrestle.” Not to make fun of the genetic determinists who study gender differences, but to drive home the whole nature-nurture point on this issue: men and women have evolved to be different. But not in its restricted Darwinian sense, but in the current expanded evolutionary contexts as well — social, psychological and politico-economic.

However, as I have closely followed the sexual dimorphism debate over the years, I am of the opinion that although there is irrefutable scientific evidence that there are important differences in the way male and human brains function, they are not significant enough to justify any role stereotyping in humans on a purely biological basis. Women can become Sumo wrestlers if they wanted to and they do these days; in fact Japan held its first-ever official women’s Sumo wrestling championship in 1997 breaking away with the age-old tradition of keeping women away from the arena, even as spectators. Women in the 20th century have been fairly successful as “father role models,” despite significant opposition to the idea from orthodox quarters.

Recent behavioral research has focussed on the gay male brain, and one such recent study (2) from the Queen Mary Hospital, University of London has reported that when it comes to spatial navigational abilities, gay men’s performance tend to equal that of women, which under laboratory conditions, is worse compared to straight men. In the computer-simulation study carried out on 140 volunteers, gay men, straight women and lesbians shared the same weaknesses when it came to tasks that required spatial navigational abilities. I can accept that as a possible explanation why there are so few women who aspire to be fighter pilots, while arguing of course that current combat aviation technology is still not quite as gender-neutral as one can hope for. But in the above case, the reaction of the British press all across the UK to this research finding was simply hilarious.

For example The Telegraph, a national daily ran its story “Women and gay men are worst drivers,” without justifying their assertion. Worse, an accompanying picture was captioned, “Be afraid: gay men or women could be behind the wheel of any car.” Despite the fact that in Britain women are universally acknowledged as safer drivers, and pay less insurance than men (indeed in my household, both our cars are insured in my wife’s name, quite legally of course). Here is a classic demonstration of the pitfalls of illogical stereotyping through misinterpretation of research findings — life skills in modern human society are too complex to be evaluated on the basis of laboratory tests of simple behavioral tests alone. Dr. Rahman, the senior author agrees that “the headlines splashed across the British press about driving were completely taken out of context.”

Behavioral psychology is valuable in numerous aspects, but we must be cautious about jumping to conclusions. And I have always acknowledged that at least in my family, my wife is the better driver.


1. Why Men Don’t Listen And Women Can’t Read Maps: How We’re Different and What To Do About It: How We’re Different and What to Do About It. Barbara and Allan Pease. Orion. March 2001.

2. Rahman, Q., Koerting, J. (2007). Sexual orientation-related differences in allocentric spatial memory tasks. Hippocampus, 18(1), 55-63. DOI: 10.1002/hipo.20375

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Brain Damage, Part VI: Advanced Recovery, Brain Process Remediation Thu, 28 Feb 2008 22:08:11 +0000 Anti_Stigmatization.jpgOnce again, I’m dedicating this to folks in more or less advanced recovery from brain injury. Remember, brain damage isn’t just from an impact, there are many illnesses that can cause cognitive impairment. Many people are able to recover very well. Much of this is good for people who just want to maintain their brain as they age.

The topic of this entry is remediation of brain processes. The art and science of healing your brain is in its infancy, but there is some very good info out there. What we’re talking about is expediting your recovery.

1. Conditions for recovery. Just in case you forgot, you have to give your brain the conditions that it needs in order to heal as efficiently as possible. That means rest, nutrition, not taking too much on in your drive to get back to normal, and having as much peace and support in your life as possible. My first regular work in my recovery was falling back on an art I dearly love, massage therapy. What a working environment for someone recovering their brain. Dim light, people who you make happy, physical exercise, aromatherapy, doing one thing at a time, hour to hour and a half-long conversations with doctors, lawyers, design professionals and biotech scientists of San Diego that helped me perfect my conversational skills. Does it get any better? Oh, and using mostly motor memory skills that I already knew. Generally, motor memory sticks best of all, so people in manual professions may have an easier time getting back to making a living.

2. Practicing and building basic brain processes with brain games. I wish I were deep into this, but I can only tell you that research is starting, repeat, starting to support the use of things like brain games to support recovery. Plenty of elderly people are playing games on the Internet right now in order to maintain their brain function. That’s gotta be even better than watching Jeopardy on TV. I have been using (not luminosity, it’s lumosity) and have been getting results after about five weeks of use. I’m not getting paid for saying this. Wish I were. I’m getting more ideas and engaging in more forethought, for example. And this is more of a jump in ability than I’m used to seeing in my recovery. The games are designed by neurologists specifically for this kind of purpose. They offer a two week free trial. It tracks your progress with charts, too. As I go about my affairs, I notice that my brain is reaching for the same resources that the games have been training it on, in order to improve my scope of competence in real life.

3. Nutrition and exercise. Whatever your specific needs may be, there are some general guidelines that may be helpful. This is such a big subject, but here are some basics. It seems that creating more brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is an important consideration. Exercise and Omega3 fatty acids have been identified as supportive of this. Diets already thought of as healthy appear to be good for your brain. Gee, you’d almost think your brain is part of your body. Wait! It is! Less high glycemic index (sugary or starchy) foods, less animal products, more green and orange vegetables, lower calorie intake, and variety are good principles for most folks. Keep learning about supplements and nutrition. My ADD and supplements page has some related information.

4. Systems. When it comes to organizing your information and calendar, what works for everybody else probably won’t work for you. People in recovery may have to go as far as having an emergency page in their notebook that tells them what to do if they get too confused while they are going somewhere. It might have tips like reminding them to call their key people with the cell phone. Creating systems is a task fraught with potential pitfalls. It’s best to have help putting something together that you can commit to, and making sure you post a note to remind you that it exists and that you shouldn’t create a new one that splits your information into yet another location.

5. Appropriate retreat. I said you should not assume that you belong at a lower level of functioning. You might just be missing splinter skills. But then there is the matter of how MUCH to do. Pulling back from quantity is definitely a good idea. Building up your skill and handling of specific situations is much more important than building volume, at least in the beginning and intermediate levels. Be aware of the signs of stress that tell you to back off. For me, it was sound becoming painful. Yes, hearing sound was painful. I love sound, so this was a strange symptom.

6. Effective sleep and stress reduction. Make sure that psychological trauma, sleep apnea, and other factors are not interfering with your sleep. Stress management training, hypnotic recordings, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) are example modalities that can prove helpful. This is another huge subject.

7. Busy work. If you aren’t able to take on full responsibility or employment, and you have some time on your hands, come up with tasks related to your profession to do, whether it’s physical or mental. If you’re a white collar professional, keep reading as much as possible about your field. Trouble reading? Get someone to install a text reader, or to discuss the material with you.

8. Social interaction. Without overdoing it, get into conversations about anything and everything. Expand your world. Building up that neural net of yours includes getting up to speed with social cues and interplay, as well as working with ideas on the fly.

Great Related Reading

I Wanted My Brain Back, By Sherri Dalphonse, – This is a wonderful article about a woman’s recovery from brain injury. It’s more than just a human interest story, it’s helpful.

More Info

Eat Smart: Foods may affect the brain as well as the body. Science News, 3/4/2006.

Buff and Brainy: exercising the body can benefit the mind. Science News, 2/25/2006.

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Brain Damage, Part V: Advanced Recovery, Reclaiming Splinter Skills Mon, 25 Feb 2008 16:09:58 +0000 Anti_Stigmatization.jpgSince you’re pretty much on your own once they tell you you’re recovered, I’m dedicating this topic to everyone who is supposedly recovered, but who do not have functional lives yet. If this isn’t you, please keep reading, because it’s bound to be someone you know sooner or later.

Failing at things that you used to do? Odds are, there are the missing links in your chains of successful behaviors, such as networking, pulling yourself together in the morning, responding to a creditor, or managing your papers, maybe even in managing your emotions or dealing with a verbal conflict.

Running Into Walls

In my recovery, a recurring surprise was that I would go into a situation that I had not navigated since the injury, and I would not handle it successfully. It was always a complete shock, because I had no sens of being unable to do it. That’s because, like everyone else, I was relying on many splinter skills that function pretty much unconsciously in order to do these things.

At first, I simply retreated, assuming that I was too disabled to function at that level in general. In time, I realized that was not the case. I had a variety of good skills, but they were perforated by missing splinter skills. Of course the emotional instability, fear, shame, and fatigue disguised this at first. As I began to get those things handled, it became pretty obvious that I needed to literally “reinstall” the missing skills.

Take networking, for example. I recall that I met someone who might connect me with a good opportunity down the road. I should follow up. But where’s the number? Well, it’s on their card. Where’s the card? Last I recall, they were handing it to me. In order to fix this problem, I had to go through a rather painful mental process of recreating what, in the past, had been a more or less unconscious behavior: having a place where such things go and a time to input the information. It sounds so SIMPLE. And it was, once I reinstalled the behavior.

So here’s a bit of irony. When you pick up enough of these dropped skills to get your confidence back, some goofball will tell you, “See, you just needed to get your confidence back.” Try not to hurt them too badly.

And moving? It was as though I were a twelve-year-old thrown into an adult responsibility. It went pretty badly. But, prior to that move, I had always known exactly what size truck was needed, how much help was needed, and I always arrived at my destination on schedule! That episode was the first thing that really clued me in on this lost splinter skill issue.

As I expanded the scope of my writing, I found myself rediscovering how to spell words like “phrenetic,” no, “frenetic,” ah, there we go. This was not damage to my ability to spell, it was damage to my memory of how to spell. Once I re-learned the word, I did not forget. That is a very important difference! If you have the ability, but fail, consider the possibility that you must reinstall some missing skills.

This is a lot like amnesia, only it involves forgetting things that you had long ago forgotten you knew! ( No wonder it’s so mysterious. It’s no coincidence that approaches to mental illnesses that involve manual-based training in really basic skills are hitting the spot for a lot of people. Whether they know it or not, some of these clients are not learning new skills, but are reinstalling old ones that had been dropped, just like my moving and contact management skill problems.

Anyone who has dropped to a lower level of functioning should make a major priority out of pinpointing exactly what skills are missing. For example, test yourself before plunging into something you haven’t done since the injury, no matter how confident you feel. This can help prevent you from running into walls, so to speak. And don’t just retreat to an overall lower level of expectation when you fail. It may just be a matter of reinstalling missing skills. Yes, there are injuries that can prevent you from re-learning these skills, but even these may be healing so that you will be able to re-learn the skills down the road. Adjusting to limitations does not mean abandoning hope.

There should be a formalized process for assessing what skills may have been dropped and for training on those skills. If this already exists, please let me know. (Surprise me!)

Yes, I understand that there are other deficits that can undermine your functioning, particularly short-term memory. If your errors are primarily because of not being able to retain or process information, it may be a matter of taking more time. But there are things that help many people expedite their recovery, even though they are having a lot of trouble with brain processes as opposed to skills. Been there, done that. I’ll be writing about that, too.

Amazing Statistic

Per the Brain Injury Association of America: Currently, there are at least 5.3 million Americans living with a disability because of a brain injury and the estimated lifetime costs of brain injury (including direct medical costs and indirect costs such as lost productivity) totaled $60 billion in 2000. Every 23 seconds a traumatic brain injury occurs, and in the next year, an average of 1.4 million Americans will sustain a traumatic brain injury.

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Brain Damage, Part IV: Unfolding Your Map Fri, 22 Feb 2008 12:56:54 +0000 Anti_Stigmatization2.jpgA woman called me recently about her uncle (for confidentiality, some of the details have been scrambled), who is tending a local business that is in a property held by the family. The uncle’s assistant manages to keep the processes of the business going, but things are falling into disrepair and, she suspects, if the business got audited, that the IRS would take a dim view of the bookkeeping. Family members are getting angry about his behavior, because he refuses to deal with the problem, or even acknowledge that there is a problem. This situation has been going on for over a year.

This made me think of early scientists trying to understand the paths of the planets in the days before they knew the sun was in the center of the solar system. They observed how the planets tracked back and forth in the night skies, and came up with orbits that the planets might be following around the earth. However, there were irregularities to account for, so they came up with orbits within orbits and they still couldn’t work things out. Once they tried it with the sun in the center, it all made sense.

It’s like this with cognitive problems. Until you put the problem in the center of your analysis, you get to theorize in orbits of anger, of morality, of sabotage, of misbehavior, of unresolved psychological issues, and you go round and round. You don’t know where and when to set limits, what kind of help to get, and when you finally pull in the attorneys, it’s all up for grabs.

To see if cognitive problems might be troubling uncle, I asked a small number of questions. How long has he been like this? Is he hoarding? Is the intellectual content of his speech becoming impoverished and more about reminiscing or ruminating than inquisitive and future-focused? (Well, you word this differently in the course of the conversation, if they aren’t bookish.) Before long, I heard a big sigh of relief, as the niece felt the pieces snick into place. I shared the little solar system metaphor with her, and she said that this would really change the family dynamic, and would help them figure out what to do. I mentioned the kinds of professionals that could help them better understand what kind of neurological issues might be in play with uncle, made a referral for a real assessment, and that was it. I wasn’t practicing therapy, I was just raising questions and making suggestions as to the kind of professionals and processes might best serve them.

Since the family had its own issues that predated the uncle’s challenging behavior, getting things straightened out would require an amalgam of mediation and family therapy, if that isn’t redundant.

This series isn’t just about stigma, and it isn’t just about professional assessment and treatment. It’s about recognizing that brain damage is a very common problem, whether it is from an impact to the head, a small stroke, or any of 297 other known causes of cognitive impairment. We may encounter it in the role of employer, employee, child, parent, friend, or lover. Everyone needs to understand how to respond, and how to prevent the unnecessary dangers and chaos that may come from con artists, sociopathic corporations, wrong-headed clinicians, or misunderstandings within our own families. And, knock on wood, should you ever need follow a path of recovery from brain damage, you should have a map.


Causes of Cognitive Impairment, from – This is where they counted the causes of cognitive impairment. You can, too, and more.


U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) – I went through endless links on their poorly designed website to get to their advice for patients. It is very short, and includes three pieces of advice for managing your affairs after a brain injury. To save you the “brain damage,” here they are:

  • If it’s harder than usual to remember things, write them down.
  • If you’re easily distracted, try to do one thing at a time. For example, don’t try to watch TV while fixing dinner.
  • Consult with family members or close friends when making important decisions.
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Brain Damage, Part III: In the Clinical Dark Ages Tue, 19 Feb 2008 15:59:45 +0000 Anti_Stigmatization.jpgIn this entry of my brain damage series, I’ll provide a clinical example to convey how the cultural dynamics of stigma can play out in clinicians’ behavior.

Once upon a time, I acted as an advocate for a woman I’ll call Cindy, who was suffering from depression and cognitive difficulties stemming from the depression. The problem had cropped up after a number of traumatic experiences that apparently caused a weak link to snap, bringing out this vulnerability to depression. She assigned a new psychiatrist in the county mental health system. This psychiatrist cut off the stimulant medication that Cindy was taking for ADD.

Consider the timing. Cindy had just begun, as a first generation student, to attend junior college. She was in the middle of her first semester. It was a really big deal for her. What was the rationale on the part of the psychiatrist for stopping her ADD meds? “I don’t believe in stimulant medication.”

My role in this mess was provide some support to Cindy by attending an appeal meeting. The head psychiatrist was present, and was acting kind of agitated. His first order of business was to make sure I wasn’t an attorney. When Cindy fumbled and asked for something that wasn’t exactly kosher, the head psychiatrist let her have it with a booming voice (I mean a really booming voice), making her sound like some kind of criminal for daring to ask for this. The woman changed color, but stayed calm and clarified her intent, since he was putting words in her mouth (the straw man attack, as it’s called).

So not only are cognitive deficits to be ignored, but they are a great opportunity for brutal bigotry. At least for some people, even some who have attained a very high level of education, authority, and licensure. Another name I’m not putting in print, despite the temptation.

They understood that I was about to file a malpractice complaint with the medical board, and they restored her medication (maybe they would have anyway, but why wait and see?) But they never considered cognitive issues, but this turned out to be a key to her recovery. Mitigating for these issues in the mean time could have prevented a lot of distress, financial loss, and chaos in her life.

This is a good point to remind you that for many folks, stimulant medication may provide much-needed support for key cognitive functions necessary to hold things together for people who are struggling with some types of cognitive impairment. Also, a lot of brain injury recovery is about regaining abilities and habits that most of us take for granted. It’s a bit like amnesia, except that it is for mostly unconscious habits that are necessary for success. In Cindy’s recovery, I believe this was a crucial aspect.

By the way, please, don’t go away thinking I live to trash the mental health field. I hope that this will help everyone, in the field or not, to look for ways that they can transcend this dynamic and live a more meaningful life. I also hope that clinicians will realize that they have a responsibility to assess, refer, and treat these issues. By describing it from various angles, I hope that I am making the problem much easier to perceive, so that we can respond. I referred to this part as “In the Clinical Dark Ages” because there is so much progress that must be made just to be at a real starting point when it comes to addressing cognitive functioning in the mental health community.

In an upcoming part, I will talk about what can be done to help patch up cognitive problems or slow down progressive versions. In part four, I will give an example of how a family needed to clue into cognitive problems in a family member that would otherwise have led to additional serious problems.

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