Practical Psychology

My second book, 31 Ways/31 Days: Practical Psychology for the Frazzled Faithful, has just been published and is available via Amazon and other retailers, in both softcover and eBook. In it, I present information from the field of psychology as clear, simple action items for normal, busy people who want to make positive changes.

I love to turn psychological research into something a non-therapist can use, right now, to make relationships and life better.

Sometimes, research sounds ridiculous by the time it hits your news feed. Gleaning the nuggets that can change your life – today – is challenging. Consider, for example, that a cluttered environment contributes to parental stress to the point where it interferes with consistent parenting styles. Of course work, chores and piles of stuff to do covering every flat surface are stressful…but who knew that the clutter added enough stress to interfere with parenting? It’s easier to reduce stress by cutting a little clutter than figuring out what other source of stress to eliminate (hmmm…change jobs? quit working? send the kids to boarding school in Antarctica?) Implementing a manageable, meaningful change makes psychology, with its seemingly arcane tidbits of scientific research, useful to you. It’s not magic or a complete overhaul, but it’s a step in the right direction.

Another useful application of psychological research: even looking at pictures of nature helps reduce stress for everyone, and can improve cognitive skills in people with dementia. Whether it’s you at work, or your beloved elderly family member at home, some photos of nature to fill the eyes from time to time can help. It’s not going to make a miserable job a happy job, or reverse dementia, but it can ease the burden a bit.

If psychology doesn’t make life better and improve our understanding and relationships, it’s not very practical…and if it’s not practical, what good is it?

 

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2017

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

The Big Screen

Therapists spend a lot of time in various trainings, and sometimes the speakers enthusiastically exhort us to try techniques for ourselves. This was one such day. “I can’t do this mindfulness thing,” my colleague said in an aside to me, “I can’t keep my mind empty.”

Unlike assertiveness, this was one area where I have something possibly useful to offer.

The point of mindfulness in mental health is not to be empty-minded. It’s to select, moment by moment, what will (versus what will not) be the center of our attention.

Imagine a giant movie screen. That’s your conscious awareness, overflowing with all sorts of activity. The thoughts that inspire strong negative emotions are, necessarily, quite compelling. We were designed that way. Otherwise, a lion would have devoured our ancestors, who failed to notice the threat as they contemplated a butterfly. This would have led to us, their progeny, not being here to discuss mindfulness or anything else.

Just so, we are prone to direct our attention to whatever thoughts pop up with negative emotions attached: fear, anxiety, anger, sorrow. They feel more urgent than happy thoughts, the way a lion feels more urgent than a butterfly.

Mindfulness practices simply coach us (over and over and over again) in the gentle practice of noticing the negatively charged thought, acknowledging it, and redirecting our attention to our preferred focus.

If you were watching a huge movie screen, for example, you might be tempted to watch the Antarctic explorer dangling in grave danger over a precipice…or, if that were too intense, you could redirect your gaze to the penguins frolicking in another corner of the screen. It’s your choice. It might have to be made over and over and over, but with practice people are able to do it relatively smoothly, having distracting or upsetting thoughts pop up at undesired times and merely refocusing on the matter at hand. If you are like most people, you are adept at doing this at least sometimes. You have merely to strengthen this skill, and learn to generalize it.

Of course, there is so much more to mindfulness than this: it is a science as well as an art, and grounded in psychology and other health sciences in more than two decades of research that includes brain imaging and not just subjective and scientifically flimsy self-reports. For a lot of people, though, it sounds impossible, implausible and suspiciously more like religion than science.

The best place to seek more information would be to look up the sizable work and research of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, and from there the many practical applications and helpful resources.

 

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2017

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.

Wrestling with OCD

If you have suffered with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), or know someone who has, you are probably familiar with those distressing, intrusive thoughts that create so much anxiety. Traditional psychoanalysis used to focus on the content of those thoughts and seek to uncover the deep, buried wounds and wishes that led to these strange, seemingly alien notions. Thus the woman who was obsessed with the fear that her child would get hurt walking to school might be analyzed and advised that she seems to have a deep resentment against the child and all the responsibilities of motherhood and the worry is really an expression of an unconscious wish to be rid of the child. Talk about a guilt trip…!

Modern research and practice in treating OCD tends more towards the notion that everyone’s brain generates random and sometimes pretty crazy-sounding thoughts. Thus, the treatment is much less about wrestling with the particular content of the OCD thoughts and more about learning to compassionately notice that thought happening among all the other thoughts firing off like popcorn in the typical brain, use strategies to calm down the anxious physical reaction to the thought and refocus, gently and purposefully, on what one would rather think about at that moment in time. It stops becoming “Don’t think about X,” (try that: right now, I forbid you to think about pizza. Ha – how long did it take to imagine a pizza?). Instead, it becomes, “Yup, there’s that thought about X…and now I will take a deep breath and refocus on what I was doing/what’s going on right here and now.”

This is what mindfulness, stress management and cognitive-behavioral therapy can do, together, to help with OCD. The brain changes in response to choosing these behaviors, and the degree of physical distress decreases throughout the whole body.

If you are suffering with OCD, this kind of very well-researched approach may be what you need. Please contact a professional in your area if you think this might be helpful for you.

Dr. Lori Puterbaugh, LMHC, LMFT, NCC

© 2016

Posts are for information and entertainment purposes only and should not be construed to be therapeutic advice. If you are in need of mental health assistance, please contact a licensed professional in your area.