Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)

therapist-cbt

Mental problems are varied and individualistic in most and therefore the approaches to addressing these dysfunctions are also diverse and may be tweaked to suit each individual patient.  One such therapy that has proven to it merit through the decades is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT.

CBT and its History

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is also known by its shortened name, cognitive therapy, and by its initials, CBT.  Cognitive theory is a type of therapy that focuses on a person’s thinking patterns as the source of his dysfunctional emotions and behaviours.  The aim of CBT is to change how people think for the better so that this positivity may improve how they feel or how they choose to behave.

The Greek philosopher, Epictetus, taught that:  “It’s not things that upset us, it’s our view of things.”  Psychoanalyst and psychiatrist, Aaron Beck drew from this philosophy to develop cognitive therapy in the U.S. in the 1960’s.

Albert Ellis is another proponent of CBT who developed a slightly different approach known as Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy (REBT).  This therapy looks into a person’s basic irrational assumptions about themselves which often lead them to compromise their chances for happiness and success.  Thoughts like “I can’t be that sexy; I’m not smart enough to make the grade; my parents don’t like me ” reflect a typical negativity that persists even when faced with contrary evidence.

A Case in Point

Some of us do not realize that our thought patterns and behaviour stem from negative assumptions.  Take this case:   Tom thinks of himself as inferior to his colleagues; as such, any small incidents at the workplace may upset him.  If he happens to greet a co-worker who fails to reply in turn, Tom starts to think that:

  1. He has not been deemed worthy of the person’s time for a reply.
  2. He is not liked by this person.

Out of these assumptions, he goes on to infer more negative conclusions:

  1.   My colleagues think I’m not good enough.
  2.   I really am not good enough.
  3.   It’s only a matter of time before I lose my job.

Tom then goes into a low mood without considering that there may be other factors why his greeting was not returned.  His colleague may not have heard him or must have been preoccupied with something that he missed Tom’s greeting.  More incidents like these and Tom begins to solidify his negative thoughts.  These bad thoughts then influence Tom’s behaviour and he:

  1. becomes withdrawn                                                                    cognitive-behavioural-therapy
  2. becomes timid or less assertive
  3. highly sensitive to constructive criticism

All these behaviours work against Tom’s ability to further his career.  Indeed, he may lose his job if his behaviour is not corrected.  This is where cognitive behavioural therapy can help.  CBT sessions with a mental health professional may help Tom realize that his negative thoughts are compromising his workplace situation.

How CBT is Carried Out

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy involves a “talking it out” type of treatment that is concerned with making the patient realize that his inherent tendencies toward negative thoughts have a strong influence on his behaviours and emotional state.

A cognitive-behavioural therapist employs four phases in the treatment:

  • Assessment stage

At the beginning, you and your therapist get to know each other.  This is how your therapist can draft a treatment plan which can include an estimate of how long treatment is likely to take.

  • Cognitive stage

In this stage, your therapist will help you identify what’s causing your negative behaviours.  Expect to delve into past events that helped shape negative thought patterns.  Your therapist       means to help you to understand how your perceptions have brought about your maladjusted behaviours.  Although this stage may prove difficult especially for people who grapple with introspection, patients must fully cooperate at this stage if they are to gain vital insights and make crucial discoveries about their psyche.

  • Behaviour stage

Once the roots of the problem have been fleshed out,  you and your therapist find new patterns of thinking and behaving.  These new skills must be applicable to real life situations.

  • Learning stage

The patient starts to learn and practice new behaviour.  This may include dealing with situations that could contribute to a relapse.  Here, the goal is to establish permanent positive changes so that the psychological problem may be eliminated for good.

It is the goal of CBT to help people come to terms with the fact that while they always cannot control their environment,  they alone can control how they perceive things and react to them. Therapy is a gradual process, one that helps a person take small steps toward thought and behavioural change.

Where CBT is Most Effective

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has been used to treat patients afflicted with a wide range of problems.  These include anxiety, addiction, phobia, and depression.  In much serious mental health dysfunctions, CBT may only be a component of a main therapy plan.

Cognitive therapy is best suited to people who are comfortable with self-analysis and introspection.  CBT will prove effective especially with those who are truly committed to finding the root cause of the problem and making the necessary behavioural changes.

Why We Should Fight Loneliness

lonely-man-in-desert

“No man is an island.”  This line from the John Donne’s prose “Meditation XVII, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions” may have grown trite and archaic over the centuries; nevertheless, it still holds the universal truth that man is a social animal…man needs social relations to thrive and be happy.

Loneliness is the result of being detached from or deprived of meaningful social relations.  It is a universal emotion; yet, its effects and symptoms are as individualistic as the people who harbour it.

Loneliness does not stem from just being alone.  Some people can live alone and still have the security of belongingness.  Some can be surrounded by people everyday yet feel no particular connections with anyone.  Loneliness is a growing modern social problem with psychological repercussions.

What Loneliness Means

Loneliness is a perceived social isolation.  The physical state of being alone does not define loneliness.  A person’s perception of being utterly alone and on his own is what marks him as being truly lonely.  Sporadic sadness does not make loneliness either.  Loneliness is a permeating emotion.

If a person cannot connect meaningfully with others, despite the numbers surrounding him at work, populating his Facebook friends list, or teeming within his family, then he faces loneliness.

For Whom the Lonely Bells Toll 

In the U.K., the groups most at risk for being in a state of loneliness are on one hand, the student group between 18-24 years old and on the other, senior citizens.  Research reveals that the student group has a higher percentage of lonely people than the senior group.  Lots of life changes such as going away to college, starting a job, and starting a family may be very unsettling, despite the positive views these changes are supposed to have.  Seniors can get lonesome with life transitions too such as retirement, being away from their kids, illness, and death of a loved one.

It is actually disconcerting to believe that about 5 million people in the U.K. feel they have no close ties or real friends.  This looks like Britain has an epidemic of lonely people.  According to John Bingham’s article on the Telegraph, most workers have less contact with friends and family than they do their bosses and colleagues.  Yet 4 in 10 reveal that they have not made real, close ties with these colleagues at work.  Marriage does not also guarantee an effective barrier to loneliness.  In fact, 1 in 5 says that they do not feel loved.

The Dangers of Loneliness

Loneliness debilitates and damages physical health.  Studies have shown that chronic feelings of loneliness especially in older adults can compromise the immune system and cause cellular inflammation.  The combination of these two effects may prove to be potentially lethal as these leaves the body open to a lot of degenerative problems and all sorts of diseases.

Loneliness can also hasten cognitive decline in seniors.  Research has established a link between loneliness, depression,  and Alzheimer’s disease.

Loneliness

What to Do

You can help yourself overcome and keep loneliness at bay by:

1. Learning something new

Join a class or get into a new hobby.  Embarking on a new activity opens up new venues and new people to meet.  You may make new friends as your new lessons provide you all with the same common ground over which to bond.

2. Taking the initiative to connect

If you want to make friends, don’t wait for others to go first.  It may be daunting to make first contact but here is where being shy won’t help.  Remember, you are trying to be physically and mentally healthy so get your social connections.  Not all may respond as you like, but there has got to be some people out there who would be glad to meet you.

3.  Talking to someone you trust

Talk to someone you trust about your loneliness.  Talking it out helps you alleviate negative moods.  Lacking a good friend or trusted family member, talk to someone who would be partial to your frame of mind.  He can be your counsellor, priest, pastor, teacher, or anyone whom you think can minister to you.  It is important that you connect socially.

4. Focus on someone who needs you

Being lonely often makes one concentrate only on one’s self.  Since you understand loneliness now,  why not shift your focus to others and offer them your support.  Doing something good for someone can do wonders to your self esteem and moods.  Volunteer at a local charity where you will be afforded a lot of social rapport with people who need an emotional boost more than you do.  You may find that you have helped yourself out of the loneliness rut by helping others.

Hearing Voices

hearing voices

Utter the admission that you are hearing voices and expect to be instantly be consigned to the social loony bin.  Indeed, hearing voices can signal schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder (BPD), or psychosis.  But the stigma is bucking.

Some voice hearers today refuse to acknowledge the traditional diagnosis of mental illness.  With the help of support groups, they have shifted their paradigms to believe they are mentally sound but just gifted with the added ability to have unusual but meaningful experiences.  The problem, they say, does not lie with the voices but with the way one relates to them.

Hearing voices is not as rare a phenomenon as most people think.  The on-line journal, The Conversation, reveals that between 5-13% of adults will hear voices or have some sort auditory hallucination at some point in their lives.

Auditory hallucination or paracusia is defined as hearing sounds without external auditory stimuli.  This should be differentiated from endaural phenomena in which perceived sounds are not caused by external stimuli either but are caused by problems in the ear or some part of the auditory system.

voices in my headHow Voices are Heard

People with auditory hallucination often experience hearing voices in the following ways:

  • Voice speaks the person’s thoughts
  • Voices are heard talking to each other, oftentimes in argument
  • Voice narration of one’s actions
  • Voice engaging the person in conversation

The voices can seem to be inside a person’s head, or to be coming from someone in the room (even if no other person is present) or both.

Research at Durham and Stanford Universities found that their subjects hear all sorts of voice characteristics and personalities.  Most perceive negative, aggressive, and threatening voices which often engender fear, anxiety, and depression in the hearer.  There are however others who report that they also hear positive, supportive voices.

Rachel Waddingham is one such case.  She hears 13 voices.  One belongs to an irked adolescent and another to an impudent 3-year-old.  The scariest for her is the voice she dubbed the Scream, a female voice that sounds full of suffering and pain.  Her other voices make nasty remarks, often repeating what she heard when she was a child.

Coping with the Voices

In most instances, hearing voices is traumatizing and debilitating.  For one, the voices may be heard throughout the day, disrupting daily tasks.  Voices are usually reported to be menacing and very negative.  These generally threaten or degrade the hearer, constantly pounding on their self-esteem, and heightening fears and insecurities.  The hearer feels he cannot control these voices nor talk about them because of the stigma surrounding this phenomenon.  As such, the person withdraws into himself and becomes increasingly isolated from others.

Traditional psychiatry responded to voice hearing with medications.  While drugs had reduced incidences of auditory hallucinations in some cases, it had also brought unwanted side effects such as obesity, diabetes, and akathisia.  Mental health professionals would also not allow voice hearers to talk about their voices because this would be acknowledging their delusions.  The old aim was to distract voice hearers from their auditory hallucinations.

Research today has shown though that some voice hearers are able to cope with their affliction without any psychiatric intervention.  These are people who have learned to see their condition as an added talent or ability, not a disorder.  Mental health professionals and researchers are starting to look at the phenomenon in the same way.

Voice hearers who have found a way to co-exist with their voices believe that one cannot allow these voices any control.  If an individual permits himself to be frightened and debilitated of what the voices say, he will not be able to cope.  If one believes himself stronger than these are, then he will find himself able to live well with them.

In light of the research, psychiatrists and psychologists in the UK and the Netherlands have developed new strategies.  Voice hearers are now encouraged to focus on their experiences with their voices and get to know these better.  Patients are advised to listen but not necessarily obey and to engage with the voices at their own time and place.  The new framework is for the individual to accept the voices as a controllable part of himself for his own growth and resolution.

Getting Help

Managing one’s life around these hallucinations is a challenge.  One way to gain some recovery ground is to join support groups.  Some of these are run by Hearing Voices Network (HVN), a global network started in Netherlands in 1987.  These support groups give voice hearers a sense of belongingness, company, and most importantly, specialness rather than a perception of one’s self as a mental patient.  HVN makes it possible for people to swap stories and coping strategies.

It is important for the voice hearer to begin to acknowledge that the voices belong to him.  It may a difficult step but a crucial one.  It is also greatly beneficial if the hearer can discover what triggers these voices to appear in order to better plan a coping strategy.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD)

Adolescents typically experience a lot of mood changes from overactive hormones and from the pressure of learning how to deal with the world on a larger scale. Kayla, however, experienced her low mood dips more than most and suspected that her emotional experiences were much more intense and persistent than those of her peers. Hers felt over-the-top and she could not help drowning in an overwhelming tide of separation anxiety, fear of abandonment, and depression. As a consequence, she became solitary, falling behind academically and socially. In 2007, she tried to end her life to stop the persistent avalanche of negative emotions but was rescued in time by a friend. It was only by the time she turned 30 that she got her answer to her uncontrollable emotions and subsequent bad behaviour: Borderline Personality Disorder.

What BPD Is

Borderline Personality Disorder is often a marginalized or misunderstood mental illness. In fact, not many people know such a mental condition exists. BPD requires closer scrutiny as it is a dangerous mental issue with its victims turning to self harm and later, suicide, as a behavioural response to persistent heightened negative emotions. A person with BPD often feels that he cannot possibly control or manage his emotional burdens.my mind is killing me

Borderline Personality Disorder is marked by unstable moods and behaviour. Because of the high degree of emotional instability, persons with BPD have trouble maintaining stable relationships. For decades, people with BPD were dismissively labelled as drama queens, clingers, manipulators, and attention-seekers. As there exist such personality types who are not mentally afflicted, the addition of persistent reckless, impulsive behaviours; hallucinations and delusions; and social unpredictability to these traits punctuates the diagnosis for BPD.

As Lottie, a BPD sufferer says, “It’s one of the biggest misconceptions, but we are not attention seekers. We struggle more than we ever let on. The last thing we want is to sit in A&E or in a police cell under section 136. We don’t do this for fun. We fight a battle in our heads every single day, even with a smile on our faces.”

It was only in 1980 that the BPD was recognized as a diagnosable illness in the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, Third Edition” (DSM-III).

The term “borderline” refers to the fact that BPD exhibits borderline symptoms of other mental disorders. One may find tinges of neurosis, bipolar, schizophrenia, and other versions of mental illness. Thus, it can co-exist with depression, anxiety, self-harm, substance abuse, eating disorders, suicidal behaviours, and other atypical behaviours. BPD is a serious condition because an estimated 60-70% of sufferers attempt suicide sometime in their lives. A few succeed.

Statistics show that women are unfortunately more susceptible to BPD than men. Female patients are more likely to exhibit anxiety disorders, major depression, or eating disorders. Male sufferers typically indulge in substance abuse and antisocial behaviour.

Symptoms of BPD

According to the 4th edition of the DSM, a diagnosis for Borderline Personality Disorder may be made if the patient exhibits a chronic pattern of at least five of these behaviours or symptoms:

• Extreme anxiety, fury, depression, panic, and other negative reactions to abandonment, whether the abandonment is real or simply perceived.

• Intense, bipolar-like mood swings that last from a few hours to a few days. A person with BPD may feel light and glowy in the morning and feel utterly dejected by afternoon.

• Unstable and unpredictable relationship patterns with family and friends marked by intense closeness and love (idealization) for some time and suddenly deviating to severe dislike (devaluation) for another, and back again. In this case, BPD patients cannot form much less maintain strong, stable personal and work relationships.

• Problematic anger management issues

• Weak sense of identity which changes depending on whom the BPD patient is with. The patient often changes plans, goals, values, and opinions and is therefore very prone to manipulative intentions of other people.

• Impulsive behaviours which may cause the sufferer harm. Behaviours may range from quitting jobs, going on spending sprees to indulging in unsafe sex and dangerous thrill-seeking activities without much regard for safety.

• Recurring thoughts and actions concerning suicide

• Self harming behaviours such as cutting, burning, banging head on wall, etc.

• Constant feelings of emptiness, loneliness, and boredom.

• Paranoia

• Psychotic experiences; hallucinations, delusions, or hearing things other people do not

• Severe dissociative signs such as feeling numb, observing one’s self like a third person, and losing touch with reality.

What Causes BPD?

BPD is still not very well understood; but scientists agree that both heredity and environment play a role in its inception. Studies have shown that people can inherit temperament particularly impulsiveness and aggression. Traumatic events in childhood such as parental neglect and emotional abuse can instigate BPD development.

BPD

 

Possible Treatments

BPD is not easy to diagnose simply because it usually is accompanied by symptoms from other mental conditions. Eighty five percent of the time, BPD meets the diagnostic criteria for other mental disorders. As such, one may be misdiagnosed with bipolar syndrome when a broader Borderline Personality Disorder is the true case.

Psychotherapy is a common approach to treating BPD. It is important for a mental health professional to achieve a relationship of trust with his patient as the very nature of BPD makes it very difficult for patients to maintain a bond with their therapist. Psychotherapy can help patients reframe the way they perceive themselves; control intense feelings and destructive behaviours, and improve relationships in the patient’s milieu. This may be conducted as a one-to-one session or in a group setting.

The family of the BPD patient may also stand to benefit from therapy. Oftentimes, the stress of living with a BPD patient takes its toll and may provoke actions, knowingly or unknowingly, detrimental to the BPD sufferer.

It is interesting to note that Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has helped people with BPD reduce their aggressive and depressive symptoms. In a study done on 30 women, Omega-3 supplements helped stabilize mood in BPD patients and with fewer side effects.

Although difficult to treat, Borderline Personality Disorder does have a silver lining and people with this affliction may improve their mental health over time. It is important to recognize that people with BPD be given appropriate emotional support so that they may have the patience to weather the time it takes for healing to take place.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: A Two-Part Issue

OCD

 

Obsessions and compulsions … two preoccupations that often go hand-in-hand to form an abnormal anxiety issue called Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD).  OCD is characterized by repetitive, ritualized behaviours brought about by unwanted and severely intrusive thoughts.  OCD behaviour is usually irrational and disruptive of the sufferer’s day -to-day living.

As the name suggests, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder is a conglomeration of two behaviours that are distinct yet highly synergistic.  The first part deals with obsession; the second, compulsion.  Obsession compels the mind to run certain thoughts chronically while compulsion impels the repetition of behaviour specifically intended to eradicate these obsessive thoughts.  People who suffer from suffer OCD generally have to deal with both their obsessive and compulsive tendencies; however, there are some that experience only one trait.

Obsession

Obsessions are mental images, thoughts, or urges that invade a person’s mind over and over despite the person’s desire to stop these chronic intrusions.  The obsessed individual may know these thoughts are irrational and insensible yet feel powerless to stop the constant onslaught.

Momentary high interest in something is not to be mistaken for chronic obsession.  Chronic obsession is characterized by thoughts which invade the mind all the time to the point that the obsessed negates daily tasks and even relationships in order to mull over or act on his obsession.

To illustrate the difference:  Sixteen-year-old Claire is in love at the moment with the band, One Direction.  She constantly “googles” them for personal tidbits and concert events, fills her rooms with One Direction posters, and dreams of kissing Harry Styles.  Because of her behaviour, one would label Claire as obsessed with the band.  Actually, Claire is simply infatuated with them.  She has a healthy interest normal to her age group because she can still study, go out with friends, indulge in other activities, and forget about One Direction when doing important tasks.  If Claire were truly obsessed with One Direction, her thoughts would revolve around the band, day in and day out, to the detriment of her studies, peer relationships, and other personal aspects of her life.  She will not be able to get them out of her mind even if she wanted to and would probably go through great lengths to see the band by stalking band members, stealing money to afford concert and travel tickets, and the like.

Compulsion

CompulsionsCompulsion is a behaviour usually borne out of the need to counteract obsession.  Because the need to banish the same constant thoughts is great, a person also does the same constant actions to remedy the worrisome thought.  As obsession is chronic, so becomes compulsion as it is the temporary fix of these intrusive thoughts.  Every time an obsessive thought hits, a person with OCD is driven to perform the counteracting action.  As such, compulsion disrupts daily life as the compulsive person finds the need to perform his repetitive tasks to neutralize his obsessions and make them go away.

Daily routines like prayer, personal hygienic practices, cleaning, and organizing are, although repetitive, not compulsions on their own.  If these are not done to erase obsessive thoughts nor are disruptive to daily life, then these actions are simply normal.  What makes washing hands, cleaning the kitchen, or checking on locked doors abnormal and compulsive is when these are repeated many times enough to render the behaviours, time-consuming and highly unfavourable to one’s normal functioning in his personal, work, or social life.  If a person usually gets to work an hour late because he had to check on his stove for the hundredth time before leaving, then that person can be said to have an abnormal compulsion.

General Categories of OCD

Obsessive-compulsive individuals generally fall under these OCD categories:

  1. Checkers — repeatedly check on things (door locked, pepper spray in bag, etc.) to assuage the constant thoughts of danger or harm coming their way.
  1. Sinners — are usually obsessed with following religious doctrine, traditions, and rules to the letter and doing everything perfectly right because they fear punishment, divine retribution, or bad karma. While following religious practices is generally a good thing, it becomes obsessive when the person throws out all common sense to do so or acquires great stress because of it.
  1. Washers — have the compulsion to repeatedly shower or wash their hands raw because of the obsessive fear of being contaminated by germs and getting sick.
  1. Hoarders — compulsively collect and store stuff. Hoarders cannot bring themselves to throw things away because they have thoughts that something bad will happen if they do so.
  1. Counters and organizers — are people who have a strong need for symmetry and order.  They need to constantly count and arrange things.  Some individuals may be superstitious about numbers, colours, and the order of things.

A normal person can have personality traits that fall into any of these categories.  Just because someone constantly wipes his gadgets clean of fingerprints after use does not make him obsessive or compulsive.  He is simply being clean and neat.  A person with a genuine obsessive-compulsive disorder is severely distressed by his thoughts and behaviour.  His behaviour takes up a lot of his time and interferes with his daily life and relationships.

 

Therapy for OCD

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy has often proven to be effective with obsessive-compulsive disorder.  It focuses on teaching you healthy techniques and ways of dealing with obsessive thoughts without resorting to compulsive behaviour.  Although antidepressants may be prescribed in conjunction with the therapy, the medication is only a small part of the healing process.  Prescribed drugs often cannot relieve the symptoms of OCD without the partnership of cognitive behavioural therapy.

Neuroscience and Learning

A new discipline in the world of education is on the rise:  educational neuroscience.  This new field sees the complementary relationship of neurological research and education.  As a specific study of the human brain and the nervous system, neuroscience is now being tapped as having practical applications in understanding and improving people’s learning process and behaviour.

Definition of Educational Neuroscience

Also known as neural science, neuroscience is concerned with the function, structure, and development of the nervous system of which the brain is chief component.  As such, one part of the science deals with the physiology of the brain under a neurodevelopmental, neurological, or psychiatric disorder.

Education, on the other hand, is “the process of receiving or giving systematic instruction, especially at a school or university.”  Education of course may also take place in the workplace.

Given the above definitions, the fields of neuroscience and education don’t seem to have much in common to merit a blending of disciplines.  Yet, new careers have spawned out of this unlikely marriage and are slowly carving out their important niches today.

educational neuroscience

 

What exactly is educational neuroscience?  Wikipedia’s definition of educational neuroscience is:

“Educational neuroscience (or Neuroeducation, a component of Mind Brain and Education) is an emerging scientific field that brings together researchers in cognitive neuroscience, developmental cognitive neuroscience, educational psychology, educational technology, education theory and other related disciplines to explore the interactions between biological processes and education. Researchers in educational neuroscience investigate the neural mechanisms of reading, numerical cognition, attention and their attendant difficulties including dyslexia, dyscalculia and ADHD as they relate to education. Researchers in this area may link basic findings in cognitive neuroscience with educational technology to help in curriculum implementation for mathematics education and reading education.  The aim of educational neuroscience is to generate basic and applied research that will provide a new transdisciplinary account of learning and teaching, which is capable of informing education.  ”

 

Old Hat, New Tricks

Although educational neuroscience as a formal discipline is novel, the concept of understanding how the brain works in order to apply the knowledge to enhancing or likewise comprehending the human learning process however is not.   brain image

What is new is the technology available now that can actually peer into the brain to show how learning takes place.

For one, Stanford University uses state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques and devices to actually see how grade school children’s brains form new synapses when making the jump from learning letters and numbers to more difficult tasks of reading and interpreting basic mathematical concepts.  According to researcher, Bruce McClandiss, the aim of Stanford’s research is to “…understand how educational experiences are driving changes in the brain, and to personalize that experience for different learners.”

How Neuroscience can be Applied to Education

Applying the Neurosciences to Educational Research:  Can Cognitive Neuroscience Bridge the Gap?,” a white paper by Michael Atherton of the University of Minnesota proposes establishes that neuroscience will impact education in three ways:

  1. The understanding of how the brain works will allow for the formulation of comprehensive theories of learning, cognition, and instruction.  Understanding how we think and learn will also lead to the creation, modification, and concretisation of present educational theories and methods.
  2. Neuroscience may contribute paradigm shifts in many cognitive and educational theories by confirming or disproving evidence supporting both traditional and revolutionary perspectives.
  1.  Neuroscience may prove to be a valuable tool to childhood education.  As a   child’s brain develops rapidly, windows of opportunity to optimally develop skills present a narrow few years.  Intervention on learning issues is then of utmost urgency.  Neuroscience may cut the guesswork and save time by providing the science to help formulate the correct educational methods needed to make the most out of that critical learning time.

Although many scientists and educators alike are gravitating toward educational neuroscience, not all, however, agree that neuroscience can actually lend much real world applications to the field of education.  Many debate that neuroscience and education just do not have much commonality.  This posit may well prove false in the face of rapid innovations in technology.  Imaging technology may have already begun to bridge that gap.  In the face of this development, the influence of neuroscience on education may very well chart a rise in the next several years.

Sex and Relationships

How Vital is Sex in a Relationship?

sex and relationships

 

At the beginning of a relationship, when all is romance and mushy hearts, sex (or its lower derivatives such as kissing, fondling, petting) is a love language couples often indulge in as an integral expression of their intimacy.  As the relationship progresses over the years and familiarity starts breeding mundanity, the frequency of this intimate expression may dwindle down from occasional, rarely, to absolutely nil.

In sad situations where couples have gradually foregone sex as an inessential component in their relationships, trouble may be brewing in paradise.  Many studies have shown that “sexless marriages” (those in which sex occurs only 10 times or less in a year) involve couples that have very low satisfaction levels with their lifetime partnerships.  Couples with good sex lives, however, also manifest high levels of relationship satisfaction.

Many people, women especially, have the tendency to think that sex is unimportant.  This is a fallacy that could prove dangerous to intimacy in a relationship.  Sex can become a gargantuan issue if a couple’s sex life becomes frustratingly unfulfilled.  In a marriage or a serious relationship, sex functions as a pressure valve which allows a couple to take time out from the daily grind by experiencing the kind of pleasure, closeness, and sharing only intimate partners can give to each other.  Sex in this context just does not mean sexual intercourse alone; it also includes touching, hugging, kissing, caressing, and even holding hands.  Touching provides the physical comfort and affection your partner needs and thus must be perceived as a healthy component of sexual life.

Relationship therapists know that people deprived of sex in a marriage feel rejected, frustrated, unfocused, depressed, and generally have low self esteem.  When one partner craves the physical or emotional satisfaction of sex and the other just has no interest in getting amorous between the sheets, sex becomes unsatisfying and intimacy starts dropping until it becomes non-existent.  Partners start to become less engaged with one another and more emotionally disconnected.  Heart-to-heart talks and little dinner dates start dwindling.  Dangerous questions such as “What did I see in him/her?” begin peeking out.  Soon, couples find that they have drifted so far apart from each other when infidelity and divorce rear their ugly heads.

Rekindling the Flame

sex and love

If a relationship is to survive the long haul, partners have to find a way to be physically intimate and loving through the many changes life throws in their way.  Sex can keep a marriage strong; the lack of it can break it.

It is important to recognize that sex waxes and wanes in a long term relationship like marriage.  Partners must be aware that relationships need to be worked on daily and this includes the sexual aspect of their bond.  For one to rekindle the flame, these approaches may help:

  • Know the signs of a low sex relationship:

    • Has sex become a chore?
    • Do you not feel close or intimate with your partner after sex?
    • Is your spouse/partner uninterested in sex?  Are you?
    • Is there a lack of spontaneity?
    • Does your mate turn to pornography?

These signs may be red flags that your sexual life needs a change and a boost before your relationship gets negatively affected.

  • Communicate.  Talk to your spouse about the no sex or low sex situation of your relationship.  What you say and how you say it will be very important to get your partner to be receptive to the situation.  Communication is one essential way to re-establish intimacy.  Keep the lines open.

When in one of these intimate talks, find out what pleasures him and reveal what pleasures you as well.  Decide how you both can improve and revive your sex life.

  • Both you and your partner must accept that salvaging your sexual relationship will be difficult.  Both of you just must make a commitment to strengthening your bonds.
  • Be open to trying new things.  Both of you must however be comfortable with the suggestions in order for this to approach to work.  Coercion or the feeling that one has to do something despite his misgivings may simply backfire on your intimacy.
  • Recognize that there are no hard and fast rules to sex.  What may be considered low sex relationship in standard norms may not be so to you as a couple.  If both of you are happy with a once in three months rate, then your sexual life is actually fulfilled.  It is only when one partner craves more than the other that problems about sex start to exist.
  • Both of you must make the time to get intimate.  If you must, schedule.  Remember, prioritizing time with your partner pays off in loads of closeness and affection.
  • Don’t expect sex to be perfect all the time.  Learn to laugh over your foibles.  Humour adds another dimension to intimacy.
  • Bring back those date nights.
  • If the sexual side of the relationship seems to be in an especially difficult slump, consider asking the help of a qualified therapist.

Mindfulness for Mental Health and Balance

mindfulness

When we think of one’s well-being we often think of a person’s physical health, his creature comforts in life, and his relationships with family and friends.  A person who has all these must surely be content.  Yet we increasingly find that despite health, family, and material extras, people still yearn for something else. That seemingly elusive else is:  happiness from peace of mind.

Peace of mind must come from mental well-being.  Mental well-being means feeling positive about life and one’s self.  To be very mentally healthy, we must seek ways to improve our thought patterns so we can live life the way we want to.

One such way is through the process of mindfulness.  The practice of mindfulness meditation is rapidly gaining attention as a proven tool that works to improve one’s state of mind.

What is Mindfulness?

Being mindful is being highly aware…aware of yourself and your environment at the basic level. Mindfulness is purposely paying attention to details existing at the present moment and just experiencing these details as they are, through sight, sound, taste, smell, feel, without judgement colouring the experience.

The concept of mindfulness entails living and experiencing things in the present, without thoughts of the past or future.  It is the “now” that mindfulness is concerned with so that one’s attention must be brought to heel to focus on the existing moment.

More than 50% of the time, our mind wanders on other things while we do tasks on auto-pilot.  We brush our teeth but we are not aware of how the bristles slide across our teeth to clean them; how the water feels inside our mouths as we swish it around; our breathing when brushing our teeth; etc.  Instead, we focus on our afternoon presentation, what the boss will say, or how to sell the policies to Mr. Smith.  A million and one things flit across our minds but we do not focus on what we are currently doing which is brushing teeth.

Mindfulness requires us to notice what we normally do not because most of the time, we get caught up with thoughts on what we need to do (the future) or how we had done something (the past).  We never live in the moment.  This is why in our ever frenetic lives, we hardly get to stop to smell the roses.  We forget to just “be.”

Why Should We Be Mindful?

Mindfulness trains our attention and helps us take control over what we want to focus on.  Focus control helps us attend to the circumstances at the moment rather than passively allowing our minds to be stressed on the “what-ifs” of the future or the bad experiences of the past.  By being mindful, we become more aware of our thought patterns and how it drives our emotions and behaviour.

When we become acutely aware of the present, we tend to perceive things we often miss because these may have become mundane enough to be taken for granted.  When we practice mindfulness, we may be pleasantly surprised to find that common everyday things, such as an ordinary bird perched on a bench, can give so much pleasure.

According to Mark Williams, Clinical Psychology Professor at the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, “When we become more aware of the present moment, we begin to experience afresh many things in the world around us that we have been taking for granted.”

He goes further on to say, “Mindfulness also allows us to become more aware of the stream of thoughts and feelings that we experience and to see how we can become entangled in that stream in ways that are not helpful.”

“Most of us have issues that we find hard to let go and mindfulness can help us deal with them more productively.  We can ask: ‘Is trying to solve this by brooding about it helpful, or am I just getting caught up in my thoughts?’

 

Mental-Meditation

Mindfulness as Therapy

Mindful meditation is ancient Buddhist wisdom.  One does not have to be a Buddhist to practice mindfulness nor does one need to be in any religion.  Mindfulness transcends culture, race, religion, creed, gender, and even age.  Children can practice mindfulness.  In fact, mindfulness is a child’s innate behaviour which most of us sadly outgrow.

The combination of this ancient practice with 21st century psychiatric science makes for

new kinds of therapy such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) and Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).  Mindfulness meditation is now is being recognized as a powerful tool in the fields of psychology and psychiatry.  It is already recommended by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE).

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy combines the mindfulness techniques of breathing exercises, meditation, and stretching with elements from cognitive based therapy to become an effective treatment for people experiencing recurring depression and for those still feeling after-trauma effects.  Research has shown that MBCT has reduced the risk of depression relapses by as much as 43%.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is particularly focused on relieving chronic stress often detrimental to physical and mental health.  It incorporates yoga, meditation, and mind-body exercises.  The therapy has had profound positive effects on reducing anxiety levels by 58% percent and stress by 40%.

People who have undergone mindfulness therapy report they experience:

  • a large improvement in their abilities to relax
  • lasting improvements in physical and psychological symptoms
  • improved self-esteem
  • more energy
  • more enthusiasm for living
  • better coping abilities while in short-term or long-term stressful circumstances

 

Anyone can practice mindfulness anytime and anywhere.  Reminding one’s self to notice thoughts, physical sensations, feelings, and being aware of one’s environment at the moment is the first step to mindfulness.

“Just observe your own thoughts.  Stand back and watch them floating past, like leaves on a stream.  There is no need to try to change the thoughts, or argue with them, or judge them: just observe.  This takes practice.  It’s about putting the mind in a different mode, in which we see each thought as simply another mental event and not an objective reality that has control over us.”  — Mark Williams, Oxford Mindfulness Centre

Social Stigma

In order for society to function as a cohesive unit, adherence to established behaviour, mores, traditions, and values are, in many circumstances, a necessity. In more permissive cultures, a certain degree of individualism is permitted; but, in less permissive societies, deviations from the approved norms can spell stigmatization for persons branded as “different.”

 

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The Stigma of Being Different

People with definitive negative characteristics such as psychological issues, disturbing physical features, or strange ideas often do not think or behave the way the majority do. They naturally feel different and so apart from society. And rightly so. That same society from which these people crave empathy and belongingness ostracise abnormalities because these aberrant characteristics engender fear, annoyance, anger, or contempt. Hence, the ostracised carry with them the burden of a social stigma.

Stigma originates from a Greek word that meant an undesirable marking or brand incised or burned on the skin of slaves, prostitutes, and others of questionable character as a visible identification of their “polluted” or unclean natures.

A social stigma refers to “an attribute or characteristic of a person that is deeply discrediting. This attribute is devalued in a particular context and calls into question the full humanity of this person. Because of this negatively valued attribute, persons are devalued, spoiled, or flawed in the eyes of others… (Dr. Arjan Bos, OpenUniversiteitNederland).”

Because a stigma adds a significant negative value on an individual, this person may experience repeated shunning, rejection, scorn, insults, discrimination, and in extreme cases, even fatal harm. A stigma often lowers one’s quality of life by hacking away at self esteem and causing enormous psychological distress. People suffering under a social stigma are usually socially impaired. Victims of stigma often feel that they are not a whole person; some feel they never were one.

Children, ten years old or even younger, are often aware if they are stigmatised as they see that other people do not treat them the same way they do others. Often these kids have a sense of status loss and discrimination. Some may be stigmatised by their own family. Depending on the stigma, labelled children may grow into stigmatised adults who have to deal with consistent personal devaluation from social institutions such as school, justice system, corporations, and health care, to name a few.

For instance, obese people often earn the contempt of people in the normal weight and BMI range. Viewed as gluttons, very fat individuals are often the butt of jokes in the family, school, and in the workplace. In some countries, they may experience discrimination by services (ex. airlines, buffet restaurants) which regard obese people’s size and weight as equivalent to two persons and charge the unfortunate person, double as a result. Low-income Asians may also experience prejudice in a predominantly “white” culture which could regard them as inferior in aspects regarding physical appearance, intelligence, and educational level.

 

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Goffman’s Forms of Social Stigma

Famous sociologist, Erving Goffman, identified three forms of social stigma:

1. Physical Deformities — includes natal defects such as dwarfism; injuries such as burns and amputated limbs; obesity; physical abnormalities resulting from illness such as anorexia, leprosy, and polio; ugliness of face

2. Character Defects — includes mental illness; alcoholism; drug and other addictions; violence; severe introversion; suicidal tendencies; dishonesty; sexual deviancy

3. Group Undesirability — refers to any socially undesirable group which could be as small as a family unit to as large as a nation or continent. Gender, ethnicity, race, social class, educational level, religion, political affiliation, and career choice are some groups often subject to stigmatisation. As an example, the 911 tragedy in New York has unfortunately led many people to associate Middle Eastern ethnicity to terrorism, no matter the fallaciousness of such logic.

Coping Mechanisms of Stigmatised Individuals

Negative evaluations and their devastating effects on self-esteem often encourage stigmatised persons to protect themselves by:

• Hiding their flaws
• Withdrawing or limiting one’s social interaction
• Spearheading or joining a movement in a battle for normalising the stigma
Ex. MIND is an organization for England and Wales which aims to educate the nation’s public on mental illness. Its other objective is to empower people who suffer mental distress to make improvements in their lives.

Because some people choose to fight social stigma rather than just live with it, several societies, where the stigmatised voices are strong, often find themselves embracing the very aberrance they have formerly abhorred. Over time, these stigmas often become normalised enough to be integrated as the new norm .

Normalised Stigmas

The oxymoronic concept of a normalised stigma does exist. Some former social stigmas have slowly encroached the domain of what was considered normal and have somehow turned their negative values into acceptable norms. One such example is homosexuality. Shunned by the religious as sinful and by society as deviant, homosexuality in several Western nations now enjoys the same rights as heterosexuality with marriage and family laws increasingly growing in its favour.

Another example is the growing perception of smart yet socially awkward persons termed nerds as sexually desirable. Where some fifteen years ago attractive women would consider it social suicide to be seen dating a fumbling geek, today presents several visually odd pairings of bespectacled techies and lovely arm candies up and about town.

For a stigma to be erased, it has to be accepted by a large group of people. Acceptance is what it takes to make the abnormal, normal.