• Sunday, May 25, 2008

    Burning Incense May Moderate Depression

    As a retailer, one of my favorite items to sell was incense . . . yet another excuse to burn my beloved mulberry scented incense. Since my "back in the day" hippie days, incense and candles have been a part of my life. There is something soothing about the atmosphere it creates for me. Little did I know that my very inexpensive indulgence is also therapeutic.

    Here is an article that links burning incense to aiding in moderating depression . . . very interesting theory!

    By: Rick Nauert, Ph.D.
    Senior News Editor

    Reviewed by: John M. Grohol, Psy.D.
    on May 21, 2008

    Wednesday, May 21 (Psych Central)

    Burning incense is a practice that has been a part of religious ceremonies for many millennia.

    In a new study an international team of scientists have discovered how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain that alleviate anxiety or depression.

    The finding suggests that an entirely new class of depression and anxiety drugs might be right under our noses.

    “In spite of information stemming from ancient texts, constituents of Bosweilla had not been investigated for psychoactivity,” said Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study’s co-authors.

    The study appears online in The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) Journal (http://www.fasebj.org).

    “We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behavior. Apparently, most present day worshipers assume that incense burning has only a symbolic meaning.”

    To determine incense’s psychoactive effects, the researchers administered incensole acetate to mice. They found that the compound significantly affected areas in brain areas known to be involved in emotions as well as in nerve circuits that are affected by current anxiety and depression drugs.

    Specifically, incensole acetate activated a protein called TRPV3, which is present in mammalian brains and also known to play a role in the perception of warmth of the skin. When mice bred without this protein were exposed to incensole acetate, the compound had no effect on their brains.

    “Perhaps Marx wasn’t too wrong when he called religion the opium of the people: morphine comes from poppies, cannabinoids from marijuana, and LSD from mushrooms; each of these has been used in one or another religious ceremony.” said Gerald Weissmann, M.D., Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.

    “Studies of how those psychoactive drugs work have helped us understand modern neurobiology. The discovery of how incensole acetate, purified from frankincense, works on specific targets in the brain should also help us understand diseases of the nervous system. This study also provides a biological explanation for millennia-old spiritual practices that have persisted across time, distance, culture, language, and religion—burning incense really does make you feel warm and tingly all over!”

    According to the National Institutes of Health, major depressive disorder is the leading cause of disability in the United States for people ages 15–44, affecting approximately 14.8 million American adults. A less severe form of depression, dysthymic disorder, affects approximately 3.3 million American adults. Anxiety disorders affect 40 million American adults, and frequently co-occur with depressive disorders.

    Source: Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

    Wednesday, May 7, 2008

    Blogging for Therapy

    The following is a reprint of an article I found interesting on CNN's website. It confirms what I learned from a therapist years ago . . . the best therapy ever is writing about what is bothering you . . . public blogging is a step beyond. I'm wondering if psychotherapists have experienced a drop in number of patients. It works for me!

    Here is the article:

    (LifeWire) -- When a 24-year-old woman who called herself "90DayJane" launched a blog in February announcing she would write about her life and feelings for three months and then commit suicide, 150,000 readers flocked to the site. Some came to offer help, some to delight in the drama. Others speculated it was all a hoax.

    Few, however, questioned why she would share her deepest thoughts and feelings with strangers online. In the age of cyber-voyeurism, the better question might be: Why wouldn't she?

    Overeating, alcoholism, depression -- name the problem and you'll find someone's personal blog on the subject. Roughly 12 million Americans have blogs, according to polls by the Pew Internet and American Life Project in 2006, and many seem to use them as a form of group therapy.

    A 2005 survey by Digital Marketing Services for AOL.com a found nearly half of the 600 people polled derived therapeutic benefits from personal blogging. 'Instant support system'

    For Stacey Kim, a 36-year-old book editor who lives in the Boston suburb of Arlington, Massachusetts, emotional blogging has become a reflex. On April 11, 2007, Kim curled up next to her husband and held him as he succumbed to a long battle with pancreatic cancer. The next morning, she went online to post about the experience.

    "It cemented the reality that he was gone," Kim says. "I got hundreds of comments back that were all so loving and supportive. It gave me a really tangible sense of community."

    She blogs about life as the widowed mother of 22-month-old twins at snickollet.blogspot.com.

    "Right after he died, people kept asking if I was in therapy," says Kim, "and I'd say, 'No, but I have a blog.'"

    Writing long has been considered a therapeutic outlet for people facing problems. A 2003 British Psychological Society study of 36 people suggested that writing about emotions could even speed the healing of physical wounds: Researchers found that small wounds healed more quickly in those who wrote about traumatic personal events than in those who wrote about mundane activities.

    But it's the public nature of blogs that creates the sense of support.

    Reading someone else's blog can be surprisingly beneficial, says MightyGirl.net blogger Margaret Mason, 32. She reads about other women's experiences with everything from in-laws to apartment-hunting at blogs like SuburbanBliss.net and SuperHeroDesigns.com.

    "Blogging can create an instant support system, especially at a time when you might not have the energy or resources to seek out people who've shared your experiences," says Mason, author of "No One Cares What You Had For Lunch," a book on keeping a blog interesting.

    A way to be heard

    John Suler, a psychology professor at Rider University in New Jersey, has studied the overlap of psychology and cyberspace. Blog audiences are usually small, he says, but "going public with one's thoughts and experiences can be a self-affirming process."

    He and other experts say blogging shouldn't replace face-to-face counseling -- although it can complement sessions when a patient shares their writing with the therapist.

    "Some psychologists take special interest in any activities that their clients may undertake online," Suler says, "because such activities often reveal a lot about how they express their identity and relate to other people."

    Kim did start psychotherapy, but kept blogging. "My therapist will give me little assignments and I'll blog about them," she says. "If I come home (after a session) and write about it, it solidifies it."

    One Chicago licensed social worker and therapist in her 50s encourages patients to release bottled emotions through blogging. Leah, who asked that her last name not be used because of the nature of her profession, started EveryoneNeedsTherapy.blogspot.com to share professional insights.

    Soon, however, she was talking about her own feelings -- and her husband told her it seemed to lift her mood.

    "It's a form of group therapy," says Leah. "Not only can you express your feelings, but you can get comments, and that creates a dialogue."

    Blogging about personal matters seems to be more of a feminine pursuit. In the 2004 study "Effects of Age and Gender on Blogging," researchers examined more than 37,000 blogs on blogger.com. Their conclusion: Male bloggers tend to write about politics, technology and money; women are more likely to blog about their private lives and use an intimate style of writing.

    This doesn't surprise Patricia Wallace, author of "The Psychology of the Internet."

    "Women tend to self-disclose more online in general," says the senior director at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth. "Women far outnumber men in certain blogging worlds in which feelings are shared, such as cancer blogs."

    Permanent marks

    The only problem, some bloggers find, is that many posts become passé -- yet they're on the Web forever.

    "The Internet takes momentary thoughts and freezes them in amber as if they're permanent," says Scheherazade Mason, a career counselor and sailing coach at Bowdoin College in Maine. She stopped posting her deepest thoughts, but calls the experience positive.

    "Through my first blog, I learned to be braver," Mason says. "I learned that my weakness was also likable. In real life, you try to show only strength and to hide your weaknesses, but I exposed everything."

    90DayJane also said she learned important things. After seven days, she announced the blog was an art project and she wasn't planning to kill herself.

    "I wanted this blog to be about personal discovery and truth," she wrote in her final post. "But the correspondences I have received have taught me more about those qualities than I could ever express. 90DayJane ... has changed my perspective as a human being."

    Saturday, May 3, 2008

    Obsessive-Compulsive? This one is for you :)

    I'm not ashamed to admit that I am an obsessive-compulsive personality. The problem with my perfectionism is that as it relates to my home, it bogs me down which turns into overwhelm . . . ending up with nothing getting done. It is a chore in itself to motivate myself. I'm gonna study this article from Psychology Today and hope it is the thing that finally gets me past the initial problem . . .

    Field Guide to the Obsessive-Compulsive:
    Famously Fussy

    I-dotters and T-crossers, rejoice: The need to get every detail right can bring great success (as long as you don't get too bogged down).

    By: Joshua Kendall

    Jeff Lewis, a real-estate investor who buys and sells residential property in swanky Los Angeles neighborhoods, is preoccupied with order, symmetry, perfection, cleanliness, rules, and lists. If his refrigerator isn't stocked with bottles of Evian water, all with labels facing outwards, "there is hell to pay." But rather than tormenting the 37-year-old Lewis—star of the Bravo reality show Flipping Out—these obsessions have turned him into a multimillionaire. In Lewis's line of work, attention to detail is essential. Before putting a home back on the market, he must supervise months of painstaking renovations, typically at a cost of several hundred thousand dollars. "OK, I have a mental affliction," he says. "But it's an asset. My perfectionism sets my product apart."

    Lewis has all the hallmarks of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD), the most common personality disorder, affecting nearly 17 million Americans. Because all personality disorders lie on a spectrum from faint to acute, many millions more have a touch of OCPD: not enough of the symptoms to meet the diagnostic criteria, but enough to be considered especially persnickety.

    Like Lewis, these people are often high achievers because of their so-called pathology—not in spite of it. "For accountants, lawyers, and engineers, it's a good fit," says psychologist Steven Phillipson, clinical director of Manhattan's Center for Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy. As Glen Gabbard, psychoanalyst and professor of psychiatry at Baylor University, puts it, "The perfectionism, the thoroughness, the politeness, and the conscientiousness of the person with OCPD are adaptive. No one can get through medical school without OCPD traits!"

    In fact for some professions, only those with OCPD need apply: Obsessions and compulsions drove the English language's three most famous lexicographers—Samuel Johnson, Noah Webster, and Peter Roget. Roget, a British doctor who completed his legendary Thesaurus at the age of 73, began compiling copious word lists when he was just 8. Much later, he organized his whole life into a list, dubbing his autobiography List of Principal Events.

    The Picture of Pickiness

    Lewis has been this way as long as he can remember. In elementary school, he refused to step on the lines on the sidewalk. "If my parents didn't give me separate plates for my chicken, mashed potatoes, and spinach, I would get visibly anxious and wouldn't eat anything," he says. Signs of OCPD often appear in childhood; the cause of the disorder is not known but is thought to develop out of a mix of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors.

    Each morning, he issues a to-do list to each of his half-dozen employees. "I don't want anyone to forget anything," he says. Much of the dramatic tension in Flipping Out stems from struggles with his various personal assistants, who keep the business running. Firings (and rehirings) are routine.

    Though OCPD has helped Lewis sell nearly 50 homes over the last 10 years, it has exacted a toll on his personal life.

    "I realize that I can be hard to be around," he says. "Everyone doesn't think the way I do." Having recently ended a five-year relationship with a partner, Lewis, who is gay, is now motivated to change and has vowed to become less demanding. "In the future, I won't nag my partner to put the shampoo and the conditioner on the proper shelves in the shower. I'll do it myself."

    It's estimated that less than 1 percent of those who fit the criteria for OCPD seek mental health treatment to cope with the less appealing parts of their personality. "People with this disorder often deny that they have a problem," says Frederic Busch, a psychoanalyst and professor at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.
    From Debilitated to Dynamite

    OCPD is frequently confused with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), a less common but more disabling condition, with a stronger biological component. "With OCD, people become bombarded by very bothersome and intrusive thoughts. Rather than providing them with pleasure or satisfaction, the obsessions impair their functioning," says Jeffrey Schwartz, a psychiatrist at UCLA and author of Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior.

    In contrast to those with OCPD, people with OCD tend to be acutely aware that something is wrong. For years, Jeff Bell, now the afternoon news anchor on KCBS Radio in San Francisco, was plagued by a host of irrational fears. When driving his car or boat, he would constantly worry that he had inadvertently hurt someone. The countless hours he wasted ruminating about these alleged accidents nearly cost him his job.

    The author of a recent memoir, Rewind, Repeat, Replay, Bell eventually found a therapist who provided exposure and response prevention (ERP)—a specialized form of cognitive-behavioral therapy that helps people gradually face their overwhelming anxiety. At the beginning of treatment, patients learn that though they are not crazy, their catastrophic worries aren't rooted in reality. Over time, they develop the courage to sit with their worst fears. Bell recalls feeling the urge to spend hours scrubbing his hands in the bathroom before a scheduled speech. He was convinced that if he went on stage, he would inflict a mysterious disease on his audience. "I was scared, but I chose not to give in to my concern about 'reverse contamination,'" Bell says. Research by scientists such as Schwartz shows that such changes in thinking and behavior can actually correct the person's faulty biochemistry. Even patients with severe OCD can often make significant progress after about 15 sessions of therapy.

    Bell has been a lifelong perfectionist, but when his OCD flared up he couldn't perform his duties as a field reporter. "I would get so bogged down in minor details that a 60-second spot would take forever. Often it never got on the air," he says. While his endless ruminations are no longer a problem, his thoroughness remains. "My compulsion to do everything right has solidified my reputation as someone who delivers scrupulously fact-checked stories." —Joshua Kendall

    How to Obsess Less

    Those on the OCPD spectrum can learn to relax a little with these techniques from Steven Phillipson, founder of OCDOnline.com.

    • Listen to Yourself. Your dedication to detail probably reflects an underlying philosophy, such as, "I need everything to be perfect so no one notices I'm an imposter," or, "The whole business will collapse if I don't have complete control." Start keeping a log to record your thoughts as you engage in the tasks that bog you down.
    • Say Something New. Now that you're attuned to your faulty beliefs, answer them with counterarguments such as,"All humans are imperfect," or, "Nothing terrible will happen if I delegate some work."
    • Be Pragmatic. Focus on greater goals, not the nitty-gritty. Students who scrutinize every sentence of their papers should commit to finishing the whole assignment in a few hours; people who relentlessly hone in on their partner's weak spots should step back and remember the value of preserving a good relationship.

    Psychology Today Magazine, Mar/Apr 2008
    Last Reviewed 23 Apr 2008
    Article ID: 4548

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