Personal Growth Throughout the Life Cycle
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Meditations and Reflections
|Posted on March 5, 2014 at 1:05 PM||comments ()|
Are You Insured?
Although I don't use commercial insurance in my practice, many of my clients have health insurance coverage that reimburses them, in full or in part, for their treatment sessions with me. Here's something you really need to know:
Affordable Care Act Open Enrollment Deadline Approaching
The open enrollment deadline for quality, affordable health care coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace is March 31, 2014. If you would like more information on how to enroll in a Qualified Health Plan, Medicaid, or the Children's Health Insurance Program, please visit HealthCare.gov or the recent Data Bank News article entitled "A Reminder about the Affordable Care Act.”
|Posted on May 30, 2013 at 2:24 PM||comments ()|
People have been asking me about veganism
and how it came to be. As I wrote last time, it began in England. This recent Huffington Post article tells more about then and now.
One of the biggest challenges new vegans face is consuming enough protein. The Vegetarian Resource Group covers your options very clearly. Please take a look. If you need to wean off fish or meat to make the transition to a vegan or vegetarian diet, then do that.
Why it matters
We need to know and be true to our values, because when we aren't, we suffer emotionally. We feel guilty if we acknowledge our departure from our known beliefs of how we ought to conduct our lives, and that is very uncomfortable indeed. If we are shielded from acknowledging our departure from our values by any or several of the defense mechanisms, we may suffer in other ways, with memory problems, confusion, or other disruptions in normal, healthy functioning. If your values tell you that you want to eliminate cruelty from your life, changing how you eat is a way to begin to do that. But it is a very personal decision that only you can make.
|Posted on May 19, 2013 at 8:24 PM||comments ()|
When people find out I am a vegan,
I get asked many questions from all corners--family, friends, colleagues, clients-- about why I live a vegan lifestyle. For some reason, the idea of eating only foods derived from plants: (fruits, vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts and seeds) seems to many to be strange, suspiciously unsatisfying, and impossible. Some worry vegans don't get enough protein and other essential nutrients. Ah, I eat well and I am brimming with health and vigor. I am not wasting away, anemic or underweight. Far from it!
Initially, I began eating a vegan diet for my health.
I'll let the good folks at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) give you a visual to answer a few of the questions I get asked a lot. Visit www.peta.org to print out your own easy to read copy of this chart.
What is a vegan?
The Vegan Society, a British organization founded by Donald Watson in the 1940's and who coined the word vegan, defines a vegan this way:
"Isn't It Hard to Be A Vegan?"
As a psychologist and vegan coach, people often tell me how great it is that I became vegan but say that they know they just wouldn't be able to do it. But no, becoming vegan really isn't difficult.
Consider the resources available now: plant-based reference books; vegan blogs; vegan coaches, nutritionists and dietitians; restaurants friendly to or even catering to vegans; farm stands, markets and stores; plus scads of great cookbooks with amazing recipes so you can begin to prepare vegan dishes right away. Chances are you already have things in your kitchen to whip up something tasty. Here are photos of some I've made myself:
Tofu Scramble topped with Homemade Cashew Queso and Salsa
Strawberry Banana Smoothie with Soy Protein Powder and Home-Grown Parsley
Cinnamon Sweet Rolls frosted with Maple Glaze (really easy, too!)
All above photos © Shielagh Shusta-Hochberg
If you are ready to consider a vegan lifestyle,
here are just a few ways to get started.
Remember, Knowledge is Power!
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine 21-day Vegan Kickstart site offers valuable health information and suggestions for transitioning to vegan eating. PCRM works hard to further the cause.
The book The Engine 2 Diet by firefighter Rip Esselstyn, with the vegan rationale clearly stated, and lots of yummy vegan recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks and desserts. Rip has a great website and a new book out called My Beef with Beef, which as I write this has reached Number 1 on the New York Times bestsellers list.
Ready to tackle the nutritional ins and outs and have ammunition to use when inundated with questions or deluged with reasons why you shouldn't go vegan? Vegan For Life by Virginia Messina and Jack Norris, both respected, registered dietitians who are also experienced vegans, will answer all those questions, and some you never thought to ask. The link takes you to Virginia's lovely and informative website, "The Vegan RD".
Prospective and newbie vegans should check out the blog Post Punk Kitchen by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, an incredible vegan chef and baker. Just reading through the recipes with their succulent photos will tempt you to tie on an apron and grab a wooden spoon. Her cookbooks are wonderful, too.
If you would like a guide, I provide vegan coaching.
Call me at (212) 777-0775 if you'd like an appointment.
for your health
for the animals
for the planet
|Posted on May 2, 2013 at 2:57 PM||comments ()|
We have no sense of self at birth.
We simply are. We perceive sound, light, touch and the inner experiences of pain, hunger, cold and wetness, but not much else. We cannot tell, for example, where we end and the rest of the world begins. A foot waving in the air can be intriguing, something to grab at, tether and taste. A face looming close may represent relief from discomfort, or not.
As we grow, we begin to understand that we are separate beings from the owners of the looming faces. We cry and they come, hopefully, bearing food or dry clothing, or a loving touch, although we do not yet know what that is. We do, however, like it.
Somewhere around the age of two, we begin to exert some control over our world, hence the typical “No!” of the two-year-old. “I’m me, not you,” we say. And the wise parent offers choices so we can assert that new control. The red shirt or the blue, the chocolate ice cream or the orange ice, the teddy bear or the blocks.
When our parents or primary caregivers are able, healthy enough mentally, emotionally and physically to be adequately present and responsive to our needs, the process unfolds quite predictably, and we grow in all ways appropriate to our stages of development. They praise our accomplishments, be they skills such as toilet training or shoelace tying, or milestones of maturity, such as speaking intelligibly, sharing our toys with other children, or waiting our turn in a group. They celebrate our moments of happiness with us, and embrace us in our misery over skinned knees, hurt feelings, or major disappointments.
We learn then that, regardless of our confidence or timidity of temperament, the world is a safe enough place. If hardships come, the holding environment of our parents helps us through. We grow in competence and move through the stages of our childhood, learning the tasks of those years and moving forward.
Then adolescence hits us in all domains of our lives:
socially, physically, emotionally, and even mentally. The surge of hormones that change our bodies throws us into chaos at every level. The parents now have new challenges with us, because we revert to that rebellion of those “terrible twos” and declare, “I’m me, not you!” with a vengeance. We push the parents away just when we need their guidance most, and it is a difficult time for all concerned.
Just as before,
when our parents are capable, healthy enough mentally, emotionally and physically to be adequately present and responsive to our needs, the process unfolds quite predictably, and we grow in all ways appropriate to our stages of development. They praise our accomplishments, be they skills such as mastering math or soccer, or milestones of maturity, such as asking friends to a social event, making friends of a romantic nature, or getting and holding down a paying job, be it babysitting or mowing lawns. They celebrate our moments of happiness with us, and embrace us in our misery over acne, hurt feelings, or major disappointments. In short, the process is much the same, and we emerge with a sense of identity, and a whole sense of self. It is such an achievement when the adolescent can say with conviction, “I am...” and “I believe...”, even if the words change later on. The parent may not share these new convictions of identity, but hopefully can recall their own process and have faith the outcome will be adequate for adult functioning.
If the parents or primary caregivers are broken
by life’s injustices, mentally or emotionally impaired, or addicted or in some other way rendering them unequal to the tasks of responsible parenting, they may be incapable, not healthy enough mentally, emotionally nor physically to be adequately present and responsive to our needs. Then the process unfolds quite unpredictably, and we are thwarted in many of our attempts to grow in all ways appropriate to our stages of development. They may fail to understand or even belittle our accomplishments, shame us as we try to master crucial tasks of development, ignore our milestones of maturity, or resist our attempts at independence so necessary for adult functioning. They may be unable to rejoice with us in our moments of happiness, and embrace us in our misery, salve our hurt feelings, or guide us through disappointments.
This fragile self
that begins to emerge in infancy and assert itself boldly at two may be beaten back, frightened into regression, or dragged into more adult roles way too soon, leaving us with demands placed upon us that far exceed our abilities, forcing us to act as if we can do things until it seems we can. But we are still children.
And then the recapitulation of two comes again at adolescence and we may act out, or we may be too afraid to rebel at all. The many possibilities vary as much as the individuals involved. Some make it through in spite of challenging childhoods and/or adolescence and others emerge as broken as their parents.
at times is a holding environment for learning about ourselves as much as it is making sense of what we have experienced in our families. We work together on the puzzle that is our history, our milestones of development, and our strengths as well as our confusions past and present. We find that the prejudices of our parents distress us and we swear we will never shame our own child or speak unkindly of people of another class, ethnicity or race, but then some of the early programming erupts and the very things we thought we would never say or do are said and done. Often it is this paradox that drives us to seek outside help to address it. In therapy we can at last explore how that early programming occurred and how to move forward from it.
Sometimes therapy is the place where we try
out the words and actions that fit the stage where social or emotional growing was thwarted. We say the hurtful word or voice the toxic sentiment and the therapist responds, imperfectly perhaps, but responds as a capable enough adult and helps us figure out what it means. Some may even stage tantrums or act out in session in an attempt to work through their issues, and the wise therapist tries to confront and redirect that energy so that our words frame the frustration previously so difficult, or even so unsafe, to express.
The self needs nurturing, and if we have never had any, or never had enough, we may not realize that the nurturing we need in adulthood must first come from ourselves to ourselves, acting "as if" until we mean it, taking healthy self-caring actions awkwardly until doing so is familiar.
Our therapists celebrate our moments of happiness with us
and sit with us us in our misery over illness, hurt feelings, loss and major disappointments. In short, the process of therapy is similar to the good enough parenting, and we emerge with a more complete and authentic sense of identity, and a more whole sense of self. It is such an achievement when a patient can tell the therapist with conviction, “I am...” and “I believe...”, even if the words change later on.
Just as no parent is perfect, and each brings the scars and botched lessons of his or her own past along into the mix, neither is any therapist perfect, bringing him- or herself along into the therapeutic alliance. As we practice the human interaction in session, trying out new skills of enlightened self-interest and assertiveness, as well as revisiting the painful lessons of childhood and adolescence, the better equipped we become to live wisely in the world. The healthier we become, the better able all of us will be to accept the human entirety and good will offered and forgive the imperfections in others and ourselves so very evident along the way.
|Posted on April 28, 2013 at 11:47 AM||comments ()|
|Posted on April 25, 2013 at 5:16 PM||comments ()|
How vast & powerful
the oceans are. They touch the corners of the earth yet swirl around our feet as we approach the water's edge. We see their power as the tide carves the shoreline during storms or surges inland with tsunamis. Beneath the surface dwell our fellow creatures so dependent upon the waters and the nourishment they bring.
are much like those powerful waters, under which much life dwells. When we have run from our guilt and shame, or worse, the guilt and shame pushed on us by others through abuse, the very thought of dipping a toe into those waters can be so daunting that we never do. And yet, how much more capable we are in adulthood than we were as children, even though we may not fully realize it. Even if we feel handicapped by the injustices that may have been heaped upon us by powerful others, it is never too late to learn that those waters can be refreshing and healing, too.
is rather like taking swimming lessons, maybe at first with floaties, then learning to kick and float and even dive into those waters and emerge again and again safely. When I was a young mother I took my child for swimming lessons at the Y. The brochure promised that even infants could learn to swim. I stood by the edge of the big pool, watching the experienced instructor dip my precious one into the water again and again until it finally felt safe. Yes, there were tears at first as he swallowed water and coughed it up, but eventually the environment of the pool became a safe place. This child of barely 6 months became a confident swimmer and eventually member of a competitive team in high school. Every body of water we encountered throughout his childhood and youth was a place to swim, from the millpond in a rural New England village to the lapping shores of Atlantic bays and the churning surf of the Pacific. The time of year hardly mattered, so inviting were those waters. And so it is today.
Once we learn the waters are safe,
with expert help and with learned skills, we always respect them but cease to fear them. Talking about your worries, your goals, your insecurities, your ambitions, gets easier with time and you begin to find your powerful strokes and leave the instructor far behind as you swim on your own.
|Posted on March 16, 2013 at 12:59 PM||comments ()|
Chronic Pain, whether it stems from serious illness, surgical procedures, old injuries, myofascial pain disorders or other conditions such as peripheral neuropathy, herpetic neuralgia, various forms of arthritis, or reflex sympathetic dystrophy, can be debilitating to varying degrees.
The scenario differs for every individual but treatment may involve medications, physical therapy and in some cases surgeries. Chronic pain, unlike acute pain which is sudden and intense, is with the sufferer for the long haul, in one way or another.
So how is it possible that chronic pain that hasn't been sufficiently alleviated via conventional methods sometimes improves with meditation?
Let's look at the process.
The cycle of pain, tension, and more pain leading to emotional distress is often what incapacitates a chronic pain sufferer even more than the intensity of the pain experience itself.
Meditation Can Help?
In many cases it can, by disrupting the cycle through deep relaxation, by distracting the mind so that it releases the mental tension associated with the pain cycle and the fear, anger or depression that follows. Okay, that's fine, but how often would we need to meditate to sustain that relief, and wouldn't that make doing anything else pretty much impossible? Good question! Let's learn more.
Not only does meditation promote deep relaxation, but it also promotes slower breathing that calms the entire being. Slower breathing usually means deeper breathing, so that better oxygenation takes place. People who report relief from pain through meditation usually engage in its practice regularly, once or twice daily, for 20 or 30 minutes each time. Because this can sound daunting, I suggest 5 minutes as a starting point if 20 feels impossible at first.
There is nothing mysterious about the practice of meditation, even if we tend to think of the Buddha and other Eastern mystics when we hear the word. It is true that meditation is an ancient practice, and it is generally viewed as both a spiritual one and a physical one. Usually we sit, on the floor when we can, but it is easily done in a chair, on a cushion or even with a low bench.
Proof That It Works
A number of research studies have been conducted to examine the effects of meditation on chronic pain.
Here are some for you to consult and share with your pain management team if you find them useful:
Anecdotes Can be Instructive, If not Empirical
When reviewing the clinical literature, most social scientists agree that peer-reviewed studies and reports are the best indication of the significance of the results they publish. I am no different in my career as a clinical psychologist. The articles listed above appear in respected peer-reviewed journals. In selecting them I chose not to include research here involving any "brand" of meditation, such as Transcendental Meditation (TM), even though I practiced TM before learning any other form. Why not? Because sometimes the research had been paid for by TM as an organization or only utilized TM and no other type of meditation. Some of that research has been criticized and wouldn't likely carry much weight with the professionals who are working with you.
However, sometimes we hear something from an individual that really makes an impression. If this impression leads us to try something we might not do otherwise, and if we benefit from trying it, then that anecdote carries as much weight, to us, as a peer-reviewed study. So here is a recent anecdote of my own.I recently saw my rheumatologist in a follow-up after last year's treatment for a femoral fracture and ensuing full recovery. I told him how much better I was feeling now, and we also discussed a chronic pain issue I've struggled with for years which he also treats. I said I meditate twice daily and believe it has helped me greatly. He immediately saluted this and said that relaxation practices such as meditation have been proved to benefit chronic pain conditions. Then we discussed my blood pressure. It had gone from 120/80 to 98/60. He was impressed! I should add that he has prescribed swimming for my pain issues in the past and I am following his recommendation to do that several times a week. Make of this what you will!
|Posted on March 14, 2013 at 2:48 PM||comments ()|
Where does your path lead?
Do you follow in the footsteps of those who have passed this way before you? Do you take another route?
How do we know whether the tried and true will be right for us in terms of a particular challenge, or whether we must blaze a new trail?
These are challenging questions I cannot answer for anyone but myself. What I can suggest, however, as both a psychologist and a fellow traveler on the road of life in 2013, is that we consider our options, read the landscape carefully, and sometimes take the opportunity to try something new and unfamiliar, and at other times know to play it safe.
Perhaps that slice of smooth snow leading through the trees will bring us to a new vista, a pristine lake covered with ice and bounded by trees. That beauty may stop us in our tracks as we gaze at the frozen expanse. Some might venture across that ice on foot, snowshoes or skis, but unless we know that terrain, we might plunge through and into frigid water and perhaps perish. In our zeal to get out there, we might overlook the "Caution, Thin Ice!" sign along the shore. To ignore the wisdom others have shared would be a mistake, and not knowing the landscape sufficiently would be much too dangerous to contemplate.
Then again, that ice might be two feet thick and able to support not only many human beings but tools or equipment. Below is an ice-harvesting demonstration which was conducted in February only after the ice had reached seven inches in thickness. It had been scheduled for January and postponed because the ice was too thin.
is that when unsure, we ought not rush headlong into potential danger but carefully assess the circumstances. Recently I saw a video of a fawn and his mother out on the ice. The fawn was up on all fours, but his mother had slipped down onto the ice and couldn't find purchase to get back up on her feet. The more she struggled the more she slid around. Both she and the fawn looked scared. Evidently someone had alerted the animal rescue service and soon help came in the form of a helicopter. The rescuer was unwilling to descend by rope onto the ice for fear it would not hold his weight. Most ingeniously, the pilot maneuvered the copter so the wind from its rotors pushed the two animals towards the shore where several waiting humans helped them off the ice and onto solid ground. There are so many such stories. A dolphin became tangled in fishing line and presented herself to a diver, even rolling over in place so he could free her from the strangling line. Such loving kindness.
watch the warnings,
trust the experts,
respect the elements,
and be kind to all beings.
© Photos by Shielagh Shusta-Hochberg, 2013.
|Posted on March 13, 2013 at 3:08 PM||comments ()|
in childhood to hide our weaknesses lest we be teased or otherwise hurt. Now as we trek through adulthood, through the challenges of education and career, partnering or being alone, parenthood or its absence, growing older in health or illness and experiencing loss, our vulnerability, and perhaps our defenses to stifle its awareness, pops into our consciousness with some regularity. What we make of it and do with it varies widely.
Recently a working mother of two shared a video with me of a TED talk given by Brene Brown, "The Power of Vulnerability." This busy woman balancing the demands of a high-powered career with marriage and mothering two young sons urged me to watch the video. I did, and I offer it with enthusiasm to you here: The Power of Vulnerability.
Brene Brown gives a rousing 20-minute talk on how she came to learn the value of vulnerability as a researcher (who tells stories) and how she sought therapy to process what she had learned about it.
I urge you to view this talk and see if it sparks discovery within you about yourself.
The photo above was taken by me in gulfcoast Florida on a breezy winter day.
|Posted on February 17, 2013 at 12:04 PM||comments ()|
Frequently in the course of treatment I will suggest that my patients begin to meditate. The process helps quiet the obsessive mind, if even briefly at first, and can connect the meditator to a stream of positive energy.
When we first begin to meditate, we sit quietly and focus on our breath, and perhaps a mantra. The mantra can be short, such as a word or several syllables such as Om or Peace, or a longer phrase such as the Compassion Mantra, Om Mane Padme Hum.
As we sit focusing on the breath and/or mantra (which I will call the focal point), the mind wanders. Thoughts bubble up and move our attention away from the focal point. Contrary to popular belief, we do not chastise the self for allowing the mind to wander. We simply return to the focal point, welcoming the self back to the process. This will occur many times at first, and will occur for most of us to some degree no matter how practiced we become at meditating. It is through this focusing, wandering and refocus that we begin to heal and expand.
If we willfully drag the attention back to the focal point through shame or guilt at "failing" this simple process somehow, we are mistaken. This is not a useful strategy. When we react punitively to the mind drifting into disturbing thoughts, memories or concerns, we activate the defense mechanisms (e.g. denial, repression, minimization, justification, rationalization, dissociation, etc.) we deny ourselves access to truth and greater acceptance of the self. The thought intrudes for a reason. After we notice it, we gently redirect the mind to the focal point and resume. As I have written in earlier posts, creativity often results from meditation, and it may emerge in just the way I've described here, to be explored and amplified further after meditation is concluded.
This thought intrusion may occur often, but it is through tolerating the process rather than running from it and bringing the mind back to the focal point that we learn how to help ourselves rather than be slave to the fears, distractions and negativity many are prone to entertain. I treat many people suffering from various anxiety disorders, and meditation is a wonderful antidote to debilitating anxiety and obsession. I sometimes teach meditation during a therapeutic or coaching session and some psychotherapy patients will book a session just for this purpose.
The blending of meditation with psychotherapy is not a new concept, but it is receiving more attention now than in the past. The March 2013 issue of the Shambhala Sun features an article on this very topic, "When Ego Meets Non-Ego," by Andrea Miller. An excerpt is currently available here.
Intrigued? Good! Past posts of this blog offer resources for you in terms of websites and apps to enhance your efforts, or you can call me or another contemplative psychotherapist for an appointment to explore this further. I hope you too will find meditation a valuable addition to your daily life as I have.