Dr. Aletta Featured on the New York Times Well Blog!


Every Tuesday I anticipate my morning New York Times with the same enthusiasm my dog shows for his bacon treats. Tuesdays are special because of the Science and Health sections. I can count on getting good reliable information on a wide range of topics that are important to me from diet and exercise to mind and behavior. Some of my favorite health writers are on these pages: Jane E. Brody, John Tierny, Perri Klass and there are often tidbits from the Well Blog.

If Well had a mission statement it would read something like this:

Healthy living doesn’t happen at the doctor’s office. The road to
better health is paved with the small decisions we make every day. It’s
about the choices we make when we buy groceries, drive our cars and
hang out with our kids. Join columnist Tara Parker-Pope as she sifts
through medical research and expert opinions for practical advice to
help readers take control of their health and live well every day.

I would add it is written in clear language, often in an entertaining manner.

I subscribe to the New York Times Health online newsletter that includes the Well Blog. This week my socks were knocked off when I saw my article Running Into Your Therapist in Public featured on Well! Not only that, so far there are 91 comments! Lots of stories from people about how they reacted when they ran into their therapist while shopping, seeing a movie or at a restaurant and some from therapists about how they felt seeing patients outside the office. I'm glad the weekend is coming up when I'll have some time to read them all.

I feel like a proud mama. One of my babies made it to the New York Times website. How cool is that?

7 Ways to Start Being Nicer To Yourself

Lately there seems to be a rash of “I get so angry at myself” –itis. Clients complain that whatever they do it isn’t ever good enough. They beat themselves up with what amounts to verbal self-abuse. Boy, do I know how that feels:

“Why did I get an 89 on that report? It should have been 100. I’m an idiot!”

“What was I thinking when I called in sick? I should have gone into work anyway. Now my boss will think I’m a bum. I am a bum!”

“Why did I eat that pie? Why did I eat two pieces of pie? I’m fat and out of control!”

A lot of us are guilty of being mean to ourselves. It has got to stop! Here’s how:

1) Tune in, like you would a radio dial, to the voices in your head. How are they sounding? Supportive or nasty? Sometimes we aren’t even aware of how cruel we can be to ourselves until we detach just enough to listen as an observer. Write some of it down. Let that help you realize the extent of the verbal self-abuse you’ve been sustaining. During an episode of depression I did this and was surprised to learn how unkind I was to myself.

2) Whose voice is it? It isn’t yours. Your genuine voice is thoughtful, even when you legitimately need a kick in the butt. Trust me on this. Often that harsh voice you hear is a parent or other adult who had an impression on us when we were kids. Back then our brains were sponges that soaked up and internalized everything, including repeated criticisms.

Isolate and defuse that negative voice. Identify where it came from and realize its origin was outside of yourself. Take another moment to filter through the ‘noise’ of the mean voice. Underneath all that muck is your genuine voice or your ‘gut’. That voice is reasonable and supportive. Listen to it.

3) Talk back! Don’t just take the mean stuff. Challenge the put downs. Dialog boxes are helpful to exercise this new skill. On a piece of paper draw two columns, on the left write whatever the nasty voice is saying (try to keep it to a sound bite). On the right come up with a more reasonable response. An example of this might be: “You are such a loser!” vs. “I could do better and I will next time. That doesn’t make me a loser.” Go back and forth, from left to right, writing the dialog, until you feel a sense of mastery over the negative voice.


10 Tips For Effective Single Parenting For Dads

Today I'm happy to introduce guest blogger Ben Klempner, LMSW, founder and editor of Effective Family
.  On his blog, Ben provides up-to-date, reliable
information and resources to help strengthen and improve relationships and
overall well-being. Inspired by my article For Divorced Dads: Seven Useful Links, Ben generously contributed this guest post…

Too often the first question that comes to mind when someone meets a divorced dad is whether or not he's meeting his alimony payments. Divorced or separated fathers who are dedicated to their children are in tremendous pain (whether they show it or not) wanting nothing more than to provide for the physical, emotional, and mental needs of their children. 

The following ten tips provide single dads with some guidance and ideas to maximize the effectiveness and influence of their parenting:

  • Never to bad mouth your children's mother in their presence.
  • Ask your children how their day was and listen attentively to the answer.
  • Help your children with their homework.
  • Know the names of all your children's teachers and the subjects they teach.
  • Know the names of your children's friends and a little something about them (the more you know the better).
  • Have meaningful and instructive experiences with your children that provide a sense of continuity and a sense of routine from visit to visit (like karate or yoga lessons).
  • Know how your children are doing in their school studies and extracurricular activities.
  • Compliment your children on their successes.
  • Keep open lines of communication with your children's other primary caregivers if at all possible.
  • Savor each moment spent with your children.

Do you have more tips? Leave them in the comments below!

Visit Ben Klempner's blog EffectiveFamilyCommunication.com and follow him on Twitter.

Photo courtesy of Wisdoc via Flickr

When a Therapist Has a Rough Day, Week, Month

Generally I count myself extremely fortunate. I get to do work where I feel competent. As a mom, wife, friend, therapist – sometimes I do well, sometimes I make mistakes but most times I feel just plain competent. And it feels so good.

When my mood takes a dip in the depression pool, the signs are usually something like this:

> I lose my sense of humor.
> It takes way too much energy to concentrate.
> I lose confidence in my competence.

The first two I can often fix with a good night’s sleep and getting back on the treadmill. After a few days my energy is back and I can start to laugh at myself again. The last one takes more work.

About a year ago I took a workshop, Advancing Your CBT Skills, lead by Dr. John Ludgate. It was one of the best workshops I ever attended and it wasn’t just because Dr. Ludgate had a charming British Isles accent, of course not.  He shared his training, education and experience as a therapist and supervisor in a smart, compassionate manner. I’m a sucker for smart and compassionate.


Enjoy Your Valentine’s Day by Lowering Expectations

3278394587_8be2d57b2dLast night I walked into Wegman's to grab a bag of Smartfood and a Coke Zero to celebrate the beginning of the weekend and Bam! I was assaulted by a sea of red. There were forests of flowers, towers of chocolate and barrage balloons of red and pink hearts. A gauntlet of Madison Avenue love. Yeesh!

"Ouch," I thought. "This has got to hurt for anyone who doesn't have a sweetie-pie. I can hardly stand it and I'm married!"

We often decry the commercialization of the holidays. On Valentine's Day, not only are the commercials ridiculous, you can hardly climb over the mountain of expectations.

And what's with this lovey-dovey nuclear arms race? If my sweety gets flowers in a box, should I dump him because the flowers are a little wilted? If I get flowers and not a diamond pendant, does that mean he doesn't care enough?

And why does it feel like the burden of romantic proof is all on the guys? How do the girls figure into the equation?

Why does everything have to be so over the top? Since when was Valentine's Day is a competition?

A better set up for disappointment is hard to find. Do not fall for it! Enjoy your Valentine's Day by lowering your expectations. Here's how:

> Do not expect him to read your mind. If you are dying to be taken to your favorite restaurant for dinner TELL HIM! Better yet, take that bull by the horns and invite him yourself. Have fun discussing and making plans. 

> If he/she wants to surprise you get ready to be happy no matter what he springs on you. If he takes you for bowling and a pizza, get into the groove. Quickly let go of dreams of being swept off to Paris. Who knows, it might turn out to be the most memorable date ever.

> Be sensitive to budgets, his, yours, ours. These days it's hard to justify a big splashy night on the town. On the other hand spending a little on making new memories is a good investment in the relationship.

> Sit down and write a letter.  Don't just let Hallmark do the talking for you. Remind yourself (and him/her) why you are in this relationship to begin with. Let him know all the little and big things you appreciate about him. As Mastercard would say, that stuff is priceless.

If you're single for Valentine's Day, don't buy into the idea that somehow you are pathetic. That is a pile of bull doo-doo!

> Get your friends together and make plans to have some fun. Collect a ton of favorite DVDs, bags of popcorn and stay in, or get dressed up, step into your killer shoes and step out.

> Have an 'I Love Me' day.  Buy yourself some chocolate and flowers. Take yourself to a day spa for some well deserved pampering. Celebrate the fact that you are a free spirit who doesn't have to answer to anyone.

> Indulge in some happy cocooning. It's cold outside, who wants to go out? Put a log on the fire, cuddle up under your favorite blankie and dive into a nice thick escape book.

And for everyone:

> Indulge in your passion. A wise man told me recently that it is never good to make one person the recipient of all of your passion. Relationships, and the individuals in them, thrive when they enjoy passionate pursuits, interests and activities beyond the other person.

Depend on yourself first. Pursuing our passions feeds our self-esteem, makes us strong and self-reliant. And whether you are single or in a relationship nothing is sexier than a healthy glowing self-esteem.

So enjoy your Valentine's Day for what it is, a nice day, not so different from all the others, set aside to enjoy and appreciate your loved one and your own sweet self.

Photo courtesy of Daniel Greene via Flickr

5 Mini-Antidotes to What Keeps You Up at Night

A few weeks ago my old friend insomnia paid me a visit. Just as I would start to doze off it nudged me just in case I forgot I was supposed to be worrying.

“What if I can’t sleep tonight?”

“What if I get seriously depressed?”

“What if my clients fire me and I never get a new referral ever again?”

“What if I gain 30 pounds?”

“What time is it?”

“What if John’s car dies?”

“What important thing am I forgetting?”

“What if I don’t make enough to pay the bills?”

“What if the basement floods?”

On and on it went. Ever notice how the ‘what ifs’ are never happy ‘what ifs’ at 3 in the morning? It’s never, “What if I win the lottery?” Never ever.

After several nights of this I realized I had to do something or I would die. Not having any Valium handy, I tried to practice a few micro-interventions. Micro interventions are small strategic changes that I could put into practice right away; little changes that I hoped would make a big difference. As an experiment I drew from what I knew of neuro-psychology, cognitive behavioral techniques, mindfulness and spiritual practice. What did I have to lose?

So I tried to:

1) Meditate on breathing deeply calming my nervous system.

2) Staying in the now. The weight of the covers, the softness of the sheets.

3) Countered negative thoughts by listing the things I am grateful for.

4) Accepting that I can’t do anything about the ‘what ifs’ at 3 in the morning.

5) Prayed to the Universe to take the burden of worry from me just for the night.

Which of these worked? I don’t know, but I do know that at some point I must have fallen asleep because I woke up just before the alarm clock went off. I wasn’t dead, I had enough energy to get out of bed and the ‘What Ifs’ fled from my brain like vampires in the light of day.

Photo courtesy of cibuolette via Flickr

Who Do You Think You Are? The Impostor Syndrome


My friend Rob Dee, writer, fly fisherman and depression survivor, wrote this comment on a post a while back, To Build Self-Esteem: Take a Compliment. He said:

I like reading your stuff because it always makes me think.

As an example, I write mostly for myself and if I can help people
along the way, then yay me. I really don't consider myself a writer at
all, let alone a good one. Of course one thing I strive for is for
people to enjoy reading my stuff, whether it be about fishing, suicide
or working out. Writing for myself helps me get it out. Why does it
make me uncomfortable when people tell me how much they love reading my
stuff and how much they consider me a good writer? Why do I feel like a
fraud? It used to be the same way when I played in a band that used to
travel overseas too. Signing CD's,and hanging out with and taking
pictures with fans is what I strived to do, but when it happened, it
made me feel odd. Why is that?

Take care and thanks for writing the things you do,


Rob, thank you for this comment and for the idea for this post.

Feeling of like a fraud can hit the best of us. Therapists are not immune, at least not this therapist. On and off throughout my life I have wrestled with that feeling Rob describes, the "If only they knew I'm not that person they think I am," feeling.

You won't find Impostor or Fraud Syndrome in the DSM-IV. It is not a diagnosable mental illness. It is, however, a collection of feelings or symptoms that together may serve to hold you back from fulfilling our potential.

Take this Impostor Syndrome Quiz*

  • Do
    you secretly worry that others will find out that you're
    not as bright and capable as they think
    you are?   

  • Do
    you sometimes shy away from challenges because of nagging

  • Do
    you tend to chalk your accomplishments up to being a
    "fluke,"  “no big deal” or the
    fact that people just "like" you?

  • Do
    you hate making a mistake, being less than fully prepared or
    not doing things perfectly?

  • Do
    you tend to feel crushed by even constructive criticism,
    seeing it as
    evidence of your "ineptness?" 

  • When
    you do succeed, do you think, "Phew, I fooled 'em
    this time but I may not be so lucky next time."

  • Do
    you believe that other
    people (students, colleagues, competitors) are smarter
    and more capable than you are?

  • Do
    you live in fear of being found out, discovered,

If you answer yes to any of these questions, you are not alone. In fact, many very intelligent, successful, accomplished people feel exactly the same.

Personally, the Impostor Phenomenon has gotten in the way of my development, especially regarding my career as a writer. It slowed me down because as soon as I pushed myself beyond my comfort zone, a little voice inside my head said, "Who do you think you are, you're not the Almighty you know," and I'd pull back.

Where did it that voice come from? Before I answer, I want you to know, I'm not about blaming the parents. I believe we need to take responsibility for ourselves in order to change. For some of us, though, there is no denying that our possibly well-meaning parents did a number on us. Without realizing it, my Dad expected perfection from his kids. He built me up with praise with one hand and kept me in my place with the other. That left my self-esteem feeling confused and diminished. 


Happy Healthy Super Bowl Sunday!

Let me say straight
off, I am not a football fan. It's not that I'm anti-football, just not a
follower. That is not easy to say in a town where following the local
NFL team is like a religion.

There is one day, though, when I,
and many like me, transform into enthusiastic fanatics while watching
unimaginably huge men butt heads. Super Bowl Sunday! It's like becoming
Irish on St. Patrick's Day. You join 'em or you lose out on a lot of

To make this high holy day as enjoyable as possible I'm planning to:

Drink a lot of water, the H2O type, clear and additive free. I like the taste of beer (my hostess promises some nice, local micro-brews) but I don't want to mistake drinking for enjoyment with drinking to hydrate. 

Bring food that I know I can eat guilt-free. I just called my friend and she said she had plenty of desserts, thank God. I will bring the veggie tray and hummus. 

Get in a decent workout before the party. Using the method Frank Bruni used to stay slim while being a food critic for the New York Times, I will sweat for thirty minutes or so, expending a few calories, so I can have myself a bit of brownie.

Spend more time talking than eating. If I can tear myself away from the hors d'oeuvres long enough to realize there are interesting people in the room to learn about and exchange funny stories with, I can distract myself pretty well.

Thoroughly enjoy the ooey-gooey stuff, too. Let's be real. A Super Bowl party is not the place to be all strict about every bite. I just want to be mindful about the goodies and not ruin the gusto by downing fist-fulls of chips without thinking.

There's always the game and those silly commercials. Lately the Super Bowl games have provided top-notch entertainment and a wonderful way to take a little break from the stress of the every day. So let's go out there and have some fun!

Related articles:

Have a Safe and Healthy Super Bowl Celebration

Myths About Super Bowl Sunday

Healthy Super Bowl Recipes & Menus

For Divorced Dads: 7 Useful Links


Divorced or separated dads worry a lot
about being able to be the best fathers to their kids they
can under the stress of co- and single parenting. I realize we all worry plenty, divorced or not, but today I want to focus
on resources for the dads who are trying to do it on their own.

Because of the change in living arrangements, not being a residential parent and having to see their kids on a schedule divorced dads might think their importance to their children has suddenly diminished. This is absolutely not so. 

Research supports the fact that fathers have a vital role in
the development of their childrens' self-image
and self-esteem. Being present, involved, engaged and invested in the kids in a genuine way comes through and makes a huge difference even if you only see them every other weekend or less.

I hope you find these resources helpful. If you have other links or books to add to the list, please let me know in the comments!

Dads and Daughters Blog

The Dad Man Website

Dad Alone: How to Rebuild Your Life and Remain an Involved Father After Divorce


Divorced Fathers: Birthdays and Holidays

Resources for Divorced Fathers

Divorced Dad's Survival Book: How to Stay Connected With Your Kids

But You Don’t Look Sick! Two Points of View


An article I read on Heart Sisters, a favorite blog by heart attack survivor Carolyn Thomas, "You Look Great! And Other Things You Should Never Say to a Heart Patient" really touched a nerve.

It reminded me of when I was in graduate school and I was in the
middle of a bad nephrotic syndrome relapse. I was in psychotherapy at the
time. I remember complaining to my therapist that my professors
expected me to keep up with my work like everyone else. In her blunt, pragmatic
manner, she said, “Well, of course they do. You don’t look sick.”

Whoa. That hurt. How could she say that?

"But I AM sick," I protested.

"Yes, you are. You are missing my point."

Her point was: I wore makeup to cover up my paleness and the dark circles under my eyes. I didn’t tell
anyone about my illness for fear of making them uncomfortable. Digging deeper, she helped me understand that the thought of 'using' my illness to put me in the position of asking for 'special treatment' was abhorrent to me (something to do with low self-esteem, feelings of worthlessness, blah blah blah) so I went in the opposite direction. She
pointed out that I was basically not being honest with my professors, or my friends for that matter. After all, they couldn't read my mind.

© Copyright Explore Whats Next - Designed by Pexeto