Tag Archives: Dr. Rita Eichenstein

Therapy’s Transformational Moments

In times of difficult emotions, it’s important to know that psychotherapy can offer transformational change and emotional growth.

I wanted to share this moving article from this week.

By Barry Duncan – Reprinted from Psychotherapy Networker online

A recent consult I did illustrates the intrinsic rewards of healing involvement and intimate connection. It also taught me that anything is possible—that even the bleakest sessions can have a positive outcome if you stay with the process.
— Read on www.psychotherapynetworker.org/blog/details/698/therapys-transformational-moments

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13 Ways To Beat Stress In 15 Minutes Or Less

This was published in Huffington Post (9/19/14).  As parents of atypical children need to monitor and manage their stress, these tips are good reminders.  Read on for stress busting recommendations.


By Yelena Shuster

Ever felt like you just can’t unwind after a demanding week? That’s because stress triggers your body’s fight or flight response: your adrenaline starts pumping, your heart beats faster, and your blood pressure rises, explains Ash Nadkarni, M.D., an associate psychiatrist at Brigham & Women’s Hospital. “Long-term overexposure to stress hormones can cause increased risk of health problems such as anxiety, depression, heart disease, weight gain, and memory and concentration problems,” Dr. Nadkarni adds.

That’s not exactly a relaxing thought. So what should you do when calming classics like downward-facing dog and chamomile tea don’t work? Check out these alternative ways to de-stress recommended by experts and recent studies.

Wake up early.
waking up

It may feel counterintuitive to deprive yourself of sleep, but giving yourself an extra 15 to 20 minutes before you head out the door will leave you feeling more refreshed — and less frazzled. “Take time in the morning to center yourself,” says San Francisco-based psychologist Leslie Carr, Psy.D. “A lot of people shoot out into their days like a rocket ship and it never gets better from there.”

Consider that caffeine takes 20 minutes to be metabolized for you to feel its effect. During that time, think about your goals for the day or read something inspirational. You might find that your normally crazy day goes a little smoother.

Create a soothing space.
Research suggests that warm colors like red excite you and cooler, muted colors like blue, green, or grey relax you, says Molly Roberts, M.D., president of the American Holistic Medical Association — but surrounding yourself in any color you find soothing can help bring on calm. “The theory behind the use of color therapy is that colors enter the eyes, which then send messages along the nerve pathways to the area of the brain that regulates emotion,” Roberts says. “There are a lot of ways to surround yourself with colors that can ease stress throughout the day.” Her suggestions: at home, paint an accent wall; and at the office, drape a soothing-colored scarf over the back of your chair and change your computer screensaver.

Clean out your junk drawers.
When you’re feeling emotionally drained, chances are whipping out your Swiffer is the last thing you want to do. But the truth is, tidying up your home can also tidy up your mind. “Having a mindset of de-cluttering helps to manage stress,” says Lauren Napolitano, Psy.D., a psychologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital in Pennsylvania. “Purging unused items gives a sense of order to your physical environment, which helps you feel calmer about your stressors.” She suggests starting with a small project, like your kitchen junk drawer. “Tangible or visible organization leads to emotional organization,” Napolitano says. If you’re ready to take it up a notch, schedule monthly donation pickups with Goodwill to keep yourself in the de-cluttering habit.

Visualize your stressful thoughts.
mindfulness

Your coworker just threw you under the bus. Your husband forgot to walk the dog. When it’s that kind of day, try thought diffusion, “a sort of visual mindfulness meditation, a way to sweep out whatever is buzzing around unhelpfully in your head,” says Erin Olivo, Ph.D., an assistant professor of medical psychology at Columbia University and author of Wise Mind Living: Master Your Emotions, Transform Your Life.

Here’s how it works: Imagine your thoughts are like clouds in the sky, and let them drift by above you. “When you begin to observe your thoughts as mental objects that simply come and go, they become less unpleasant, less threatening and less emotionally powerful,” Olivo says.

Watch cat videos.
There’s a reason Buzzfeed links are popping up all over your newsfeed. There’s nothing that will relieve some tension like watching a baby masterfully dancing to Beyonce or a cat riding a Roomba in a shark costume.

“After a stressful day, looking at these funny things actually activates the part of the brain that delivers tranquility and a calm physiological response,” says Rose Hanna, a relationship counselor and professor of psychology and women’s studies at California State University Long Beach. “This decreases anxiety and helps tremendously with reducing stress.”

Sing your heart out.
The next time you’re feeling strung out, start belting it out. As sound reverberates through the body, your mind relaxes, whether singing in a chorus or meditatively chanting om, says Rita Eichenstein, Ph.D., a neuropsychologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Towers in Los Angeles.

Singing has even been found to reduce levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) in the body, and one case study revealed that singing prior to surgery reduced blood pressure (more research is needed). Not ready to unleash your inner Rihanna? Start by singing in the shower. “Singing tunes you love brings up positive memories and takes your mind off the stressors,” Eichenstein says.

Start a scrapbook.
organize

We’ll admit it: stickers and colored construction paper seem so kindergarten. But getting in touch with your crafty side has mental health benefits. Think of it as your adult playtime. “Scrapbooking helps you focus, which diverts you away from stressful and difficult emotions, and also helps you feel connected to the people you’re scrapbooking about,” says Nina Savelle-Rocklin, Psy.D., a Los Angeles-based psychotherapist. And no, Pinterest boards don’t count. “There’s something about the tactile element of scrapbooking — cutting, pasting, positioning — that is probably more relaxing that posting online,” Savelle-Rocklin adds.

Pick up a physical hobby.
If scrapbooking isn’t your thing, try to find another activity to occupy your time. “What stress does to someone’s mind is flood it with thoughts,” explains Nadkami. “All of these thoughts knock about your head and they make you feel overwhelmed.” Sound familiar? The best way to stop the stress spiral is by refocusing your mind on one thought: Gardening focuses you on the physical feeling of the soil that you can hold in your hands. Knitting concentrates your thoughts on the predictability of loops of yarn. “The important thing is that you channel your energy into one thing and this, in turn, relaxes your mind by eliminating all of the distracting stresses,” says Nadkarni.

Clench your muscles (then release).
This technique was developed in the 1930’s and has been recommended ever since. “The idea behind progressive muscle relaxation is to first create muscle tension, then relaxation, to provide physical relief. A relaxed body often leads to a relaxed mind,” says Savelle-Rocklin.

Start by getting into a comfortable position, like lying down in loose clothing. Tense and relax each muscle group for five seconds at a time, starting with your forehead, then moving down to your eyes, lips, hands, forearms, shoulders, back, stomach, hips, thighs, feet and, finally, your toes. If any muscle remains tense after the sequence, tighten and relax it three or four times. Massage, shmassage.

Take deep breaths.
guy relaxed

No matter if you’re checking out in the supermarket or waiting to pick up your kids from school, take one minute to breathe deeply through your nose into your abdomen, says Roswell, Georgia-based physical therapist Samuel A. Mielcarski. He advises resting your hands over your lower ribcage or abdomen to help cue deeper breathing. “Breathing fully and deeply into the abdomen brings about a sense of calm because more oxygen is getting delivered to the body’s cells, which helps the body to relax,” explains Olivo. “This type of breathing also helps to increase what is known as the ‘relaxation response,’ which is connected to the parasympathetic nervous system involved with calming the body.”

Write mental thank you notes.
Change the course of your stressful thoughts with a form of cognitive behavioral therapy, suggests marriage and family therapist Alisa Ruby Bash, who practices in Beverly Hills, California. “Before stress gets worse, it’s so important to learn to harness your thoughts,” she says. “For example, when you notice the tension in your body, picture a big red stop sign. Immediately switch your thinking to start mentally focusing on all the things you are grateful for. Look around you to include anything you find beautiful or pleasant in your present moment.” Store a gratitude list on your smartphone so you can reference it any time things get hectic.

Feel your pressure points.
You’re stuck in traffic and feeling like you’re going to explode. Time to try pressure point therapy, a form of acupuncture you can practice on your own. “Pressure to certain points on the body can help to release muscular tension and promote blood circulation,” says Mielcarski. It’s easiest to start with the Third Eye Point, the space between your eyebrows where the bridge of your nose meets your forehead. Place your middle and index finger on it and hold the position for one to two minutes using gentle to firm pressure.

Smell the roses.
roses

Research is mixed on scent therapy, but anyone who’s sniffed a bouquet of roses or breathed in the smell of the ocean knows that certain scents can be soothing. Brooklyn-based therapist and social worker La Shawn M. Paul recommends adding a few drops of your favorite scent to coconut oil after a relaxing bath so that the scent can linger longer. “It is believed that once inhaled, the scents alter the mood by stimulating various parts of the brain associated with emotion,” Paul says. Or try a scent that reminds you of nature, suggests Napolitano. “Smells like salt water or fresh rain are especially calming because they help you to think of life outside of your current stressor.”

Parents, Here Are Your 6 Teachable Moments!

Parents, Here Are Your 6 Teachable Moments!

19221587_sA teachable moment is supposed to be a moment when your child’s attention has landed on something you want him to learn—and he is actually ready to learn it. More often, parents use “teachable moment” as code for “catastrophe.”  As in, “William dropped all his stuffed animals in the toilet and then flushed it. Ah, that was a teachable moment.”

In everyday life, the challenge for parents is to recognize teachable moments and follow through. It’s not really a matter of waiting until your child is ready to grasp the lesson. It’s a matter of repeating the lesson so often that, sooner or later, it sinks in and becomes second nature.

Here are the skills I believe parents of atypical kids should try to teach their children, along with the right moments to do the teaching.

1. Eye contact: You and your child run into someone you know or are introduced to someone new. Your child stares shyly downward and says nothing or mumbles, “my airplane got lost.”

Your teachable moment: BEFORE your child is approached, remind your child what is expected.  SAY: ‘Neighbor Joanie is walking over to us, remember to look her in the face and say hello’.   If your child is not doing so, don’t be shy, say it aloud: “Look her in the face and say ‘Hello’ ! Good for you!” Every child is capable looking someone in the eye when they are introduced, even if it takes years of training. Don’t hesitate to keep reminding.

2. Manners:  Every child is capable of saying please, excuse me and thank you—again, even if it takes years of training.

Your teachable moment: Every single time your child asks for or accepts any item, task, or favor. Also: You must model this behavior by saying please and thank you yourself, every single time. Your child can learn to do this, and it will make so much difference later on in his or her life.

3. Simple conversation skills: Your child should be able to hold up his or her end of a basic conversation, including asking questions: How are you? What do you like to do in school? Who are your friends? What are your hobbies?

Your teachable moment: Driving in the car is a great time for parents to rehearse these conversations with children so they are at ease with the questions and ready to roll. They can help you make up the questions and, of course, they get to answer the questions too. Model having back and forth conversations with imaginary people or friends, don’t hesitate from adding some humor to it, kids love to laugh at absurdities, like what to say to Mr. Elephant at the zoo or Mr. Ralph who, of course, owns Ralphs grocery store.

4. Planning and organizational skills:  How to clean out a backpack. How to neatly put papers in a folder without them getting crinkled. How to lay out clothes the night before (also builds good planning skills). How to prepare lunch with their parent the night before.

Your teachable moment: After homework is done but before TV privilege time. Now is the time to run through all the necessary prep work for the next day.  The trick is forcing yourself to take the time to teach these skills in a patient and relaxed way at the end of a long day. It’s always so much easier just to do it yourself, right? Don’t! Your little Johnny needs to pack up his own backpack and put it right by the front door all my himself. He can do it!

5. Nutrition: Children must eat foods that are not white. I lost count as to how many parents have told me that their child will only eat exactly 3 foods, over the years. How did that happen? Eating a healthy diet is the most important brain-building activity.

Your teachable moment: Start young. Give them nutritious food before they have an opinion. The world of natural food is delicious! Whole Foods offers cooking classes for kids or you can buy simple cook books with pictures and experiment.  Do not succumb to every plea for orange-dyed snacks, and oversalted, oversugared pseudo-food that only benefits food industries but certainly not your child.  DO NOT. EVER. PLEASE.

6. Entertainment: Do not introduce your child to iPads or iPhones until at least age 5.  You have control until then.  Use your parental control and your wisdom. Please.  One parent I know equated the iPad to vodka for an alcoholic. It can be that addictive. Why would you want to do that to your child? From age 0-5 is the time for a child’s sensorium to develop, including sensory relationship with the world. That does not include using a finger to swipe for immediate gratification, but does include crawling, touching, tasting, sensing and interacting with real people in real time.

Your teachable moment: Any moment when you are stressed and it would be so much easier just to hand over the device. No, make that BEFORE you are stressed.  PLAN AHEAD.  Are you going to be in the car for a long stretch? Doctor waiting room? Long meeting? Long car pool line? Remember drawing on a scratch pad with crayons? Picture books? CDs? If you can’t listen to Radio Disney for one more second, try movie soundtracks or children’s classics like “Peter and the Wolf.”  Plan to have conversation topics or plan songs from your childhood to teach your child while waiting. Teach them finger games or other ways to entertain themselves for those few minutes.

There are many more teachable moments that are available to parents if they can be mindful and alert to their children’s behaviors.  What are some teachable moments that have worked for you?

Parents: Don’t Let Your Disappointment Defeat You

Screen Shot 2013-09-22 at 6.06.00 PMIt’s a taboo feeling you don’t dare discuss: you’re disappointed by your child.

If you are like most parents of atypical kids, you may believe you’re supposed to take your child’s atypical development in stride and be grateful for your uniquely wonderful son or daughter—regardless of the behavioral, learning, or medical challenges you have to deal with every day.

You may think you’re not allowed to feel angry, resentful, or sad.

You may try to suppress your disappointment and condemn yourself because you believe it means you’re selfish and unkind. And you may never, ever talk about your “shameful” feelings with your friends or even your partner.

But denying your feelings can be bad for your mental health and could be dangerous for your child.

A recent study found that children with disabilities are at almost double the average risk for child abuse. How is this horrible statistic possible? One reason could be that parents who do not face their own feelings about their special needs kids are more likely to take out their resentment and disappointment on the children themselves. This doesn’t always mean physical abuse. There are other more subtle ways your buried disappointment may be harming your child.

How Disappointed Parents Take It Out on Their Kids

In my practice as a neuropsychologist, I’ve witnessed lots of parents with myriads of unpleasant feelings that they aren’t ready to deal with yet. Parents may love their children and work hard to get them the best care but often, their unacknowledged feelings get in the way. Here are a few common parental emotional responses to three types of special-needs kids.

Dyslexic child and ‘fix-it’ parent. This is the parent who is accustomed to solving difficult problems at work. He comes home every evening increasingly fed up by his child, who is experiencing repeated failures at school and whose self-esteem is falling. Dad decides to fix it by reading with his child every night, thereby “teaching him how to read.” Before bed. Every night. Dyslexia requires very specific teaching methods provided by trained professionals, but Dad either doesn’t know this or refuses to believe it. He feels angry and unnerved by the apparent failure of his child—he is not used to failure and doesn’t like it. He ends up in my office wondering if his child is lazy and manipulative.

High-functioning autistic child and the socially conscious parent. The set up for disappointment is the child’s lack of social skills. While many high-functioning autistic children are smart in school, they inevitably push other kids too hard, blurt out embarrassing statements in the most inappropriate places (“Mom, my butt itches!” “Look at that fat ugly person!”), or pick their nose during school choir performance. The parent feels humiliated and angry. Parents may be unintentionally gruff with their child, lecture them, or lash out.

Developmentally delayed or low IQ child and high achieving  parent. In a family of high achievers, the arrival of a child who is cognitively delayed almost always causes some disappointment, frustration, and embarrassment. A parent may think, How does he not understand that he is acting like a two year old? Why does he persist in throwing a tantrum…or playing with nursery-age toys…or not understanding what we’re talking about at the dinner table? Parents can descend into sarcasm, anger, or physical punishment, especially when they think their child is doing these behaviors to ‘test’ or ‘tease’ their parent.

You might think these parents must be heartless, but they are not. They are typical parents engaged in raising what they had hoped would be typical children. And the feelings emerge. What to do?

5 Ways to Tackle Your Disappointment, Starting Now

You can’t pretend your way out of disappointment—your child knows you too well. Even a seriously impaired child will inevitably ask the heartbreaking question, “Mommy, why are you so mad at me?” But there are actions you can take today to come to terms with your feelings and learn how to manage them.

1. Be honest with yourself—and then talk about it.

Examine yourself, and be totally honest. Do I harbor anger, resentment, disappointment, or embarrassment about my child? Many parents do—dig deeper if you can’t find it. Remember the cancelled ski trip? The tantrum at the neighbor’s birthday party? Find a confidante and talk about your feelings. (Make sure it is someone you really trust, because this could become fodder for gossip.) Better yet, schedule a few sessions with a therapist. The therapist can guide you toward self-discovery and suggest healthy outlets for your feelings, along with ways to rejuvenate. There are many low fee or no fee therapy centers so it needn’t place another financial burden on you.  But it can help a lot.

2. Find out more about your child’s strengths and limitations.

Many parents are better able to calm their emotional responses after they read a full diagnostic assessment that includes their child’s strengths as well as limitations. Learning more about your child’s condition may help you adjust your expectations, recognize signs of progress, and manage your emotions.  If you are not satisfied with your current evaluation, seek a second opinion. Hopefully, you will be helped by a professional that can offer you more than cookie cutter recommendations and can provide true insight.

3. Every night, think of one thing that makes you proud of your child.

Think about it before going to bed. Remember, you will need to think about that one thing the next day (maybe a lot). I’m sure your child has many things to be proud of. Start thinking about one thing at a time, and the list will grow.

4. Find a support group in your area.

Whether your child’s condition is rare or commonplace, there are support groups for almost everything. Many parents find that learning to commiserate, laugh, cry and share stories is the most healing therapy.

5. Know when to get help.

If you feel that your emotions or your spouse/partner/shared caretaker’s emotions get out of control, or you worry when reading this that you have crossed the red line into abusive behavior with your child, GET HELP NOW. Do not continue to avoid the need to take care of your feelings in order to help your child. Talk with a therapist or start with www.childhelp.org for more information.

Positively Atypical! is dedicated to helping parents stay positive and loving toward their children, themselves and those around them. Please forward this to any parents who might benefit.

Umbrella Parents, Part 2: How Much Is Too Much?

Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.
Sometimes you have to retract the umbrella to find out what your kids are capable of.

Last post, I defined “umbrella parents” as parents who have to do what it takes to get their child’s needs served, even if it means looking like a ‘smother mother’ to other parents. I have always advocated parents being fully in the ring with their kids—and urge them to do whatever it takes to get their child’s needs met at school, camp, sports teams and elsewhere.

In that post, I also talked about executive function development and how it is often delayed in atypical children. This makes it essential for good parents to pave the way for their kids. Teachers, coaches, counselors and well-meaning parents of other children can be unintentionally cruel unless they are instructed otherwise. Your child clearly needs strong parental support as he or she is growing up.

But when does protecting your child become a habit rather than a necessity?

Or, as the exhausted mother of a teen put it, “Just exactly until when do we have to keep doing all of this?”

What Are Habituated Parents?

Umbrella parenting takes a lot of energy, planning and anticipating daily twists and turns of life. But eventually, it’s time to let go…. slowly. Sometimes this doesn’t happen fully until young adulthood, but it’s never too early to try to release the reins and see what happens, if only for a moment. Otherwise, parents risk becoming habituated to their children’s dependency and forget that the goal of umbrella parenting is to ultimately let go.

Here is an example of what I mean by a habituated parent:

Herbert is 11 years old. He’s so anxious about coming to me for testing that he is lying on the floor of the waiting room at his mother’s feet. She apologizes for him but does not make him sit up. He is, you see, anxious.

Herbert sullenly shuffles into my office and slumps into the chair. Mom checks that he has his backpack and enough snacks, and then tells him she loves him twice before leaving.

Who is the anxious one here?

Herbert slumps passively through his days while Mom takes care of all his needs. He is not developing the skills he needs to navigate the world independently or advocate for himself. Mom is too afraid for him to teach him what he needs to know. She has forgotten to retract the umbrella once in a while to help him learn to fend for himself.

Retracting the Umbrella

Instead of worrying yourself ragged like Herbert’s mom, try stepping back now and then, just a little.

You may start to notice that your child is capable of much more than you thought he could do. This change may come in stages, or progress at a more rapid pace. Take your cue from how things go in school. I find that many parents have no idea how independent or resourceful their child can be at school (or how polite and interactive), because he regresses as soon as he gets home.

Your child may be aware that she has a problem but is unable to act on the coping strategies she is learning right away. Once she matures that extra little bit, things suddenly click.

You may be surprised at how much your child can manage on his own, when you start to retract that umbrella bit by bit.  If you have been a vigilant umbrella parent for a while and are wondering if it’s time to step back,  take that baby step to see how it goes. Remember: even a small step can be a major accomplishment for your child. Give it a try and  be sure to share with us and with  other “positively atypical” parents and friends about your experience.

Next Post: Key teachable moments for every child.