Oscar Night: A Psychologist Goes to the Movies

With Black Swan (not ‘The Black Swan’, my kids yell at me, just ‘Black Swan’!) and The King’s Speech up for the Best Movie of the Year Oscar, and because I am tired of watching the Academy Awards and not having a clue what’s going on, I went to the movies.

Both movies are character studies. Both center on a flawed protagonist. One is fatally flawed, the other wounded but able to fight back. Interestingly, in Black Swan, Natalie Portman as Nina, is painfully on her own. The story is fiction and  meant to horrify.  In the King’s Speech, King George VI, Bertie, played by Colin Firth, had a therapist. The film-makers took care to be accurate and the point of the film is to be uplifting. I found both films to be very good, even though they were very different.


Oscar Night: A Psychologist Goes to the Movies

With Black Swan (not ‘The Black Swan’, my kids yell at me, just ‘Black Swan’!) and The King’s Speech up for the Best Movie of the Year Oscar, and because I am tired of watching the Academy Awards and not having a clue what’s going on, I went to the movies.

Both movies are character studies. Both center on a flawed protagonist. One is fatally flawed, the other wounded but able to fight back. Interestingly, in Black Swan, Natalie Portman as Nina, is painfully on her own. The story is fiction and  meant to horrify.  In the King’s Speech, the film-makers take care to be accurate and the point of the film is to be uplifting. I found both films to be very good, even though they were very different.

You can read more here.

Black Swan: Psychiatrists Diagnose Ballerina’s Decent

“As a movie fan, it held my attention,” said Dr. Steve Lamberti, professor of psychiatry at University of Rochester Medical Center. “It was poetic in a way, showing this transformation gone wrong.”

But speaking as a psychiatrist, Lamberti said the film did not accurately depict schizophrenia, as has been widely speculated, but “does present a reasonable portrait of psychosis.”

“People tend to be scared of things they don’t understand,” he said. “If you have never treated or observed a person with psychosis, it’s upsetting.”

In the other, King George VI, Bertie, played by Colin Firth, had a therapist.

Talk of the Nation on NPR: The King’s Speech passes stutterers the mike.

In Film Stuttering Symptoms Reflect Current Research

“In the Oscar-nominated movie “The King’s Speech,” King George VI begins stuttering at 4 and struggles with it throughout his life. But he rarely talks like the stereotypical stutterer, Porky Pig, rapidly repeating letter sounds; usually the king has trouble getting sounds out from the get-go, blocked by sputtering pauses.

His stutter is aggravated by stressful situations, like confronting his brother or addressing the public. He speaks better when playing with his daughters, singing words or inserting profanity, or when music blaring in his ears keeps him from hearing himself.

These are complicated symptoms, but experts say these details, devised by a screenwriter who stuttered, mirror many aspects of actual stuttering.”

Photo Agence France-Presse

Even Good News Can Cause Anxiety

photo courtesy jeku arce

You’ve probably heard that stress can come from anticipating good things happening as well as bad. We tend to think of stress as all bad. The thing is our bodies, programmed a gazillion years ago, don’t know from a saber-toothed lion attacking us or a new baby joining the family. In the face of stress, the autonomic nervous system does its fight or flight thing whether the news is good or bad.

Last night, after putting up the new website, my heart was going a mile a minute. I had trouble falling asleep. Adrenalin had me all revved up with no where to go, nothing to fight. Resisting the urge to go back to my laptop and tweek the site just once more was as hard as not going to the freezer when I know mint chocolate ice cream lies in wait.


Welcome to the New Explore What’s Next Website!

Setting up a new website is a lot of hurry up and wait. Patience is something I can do because I am a very good therapist, and many people need a patient guide to help them through. When it comes to my life, however, I’ve been told I can be annoyingly impatient. I tend to get whiney which is really hard for me to admit. The child in me wants it, when I want it, (which today is a new website) now!

Yeah, yeah, I know, it’s a control thing. As I type this Steve is importing the old blog over into this pretty new WordPress site. There are always glitches. Whenever Steve says, “Oops!” I jump a foot.  He’s the tech genius, I’m not. I have to trust him that it will all turn out OK. Of course, I should have known that ‘everything turning out OK’ also meant it would take twice as long as I thought it would to begin with.


Have you ever done a remodeling project on your home? Same thing. All the responsibility and close to zero knowledge or skill. And whatever you are told about the time it takes, add it again times two. You hope your contractor will be kind and not rip you off. I am so fortunate to be in good hands. Steve is patient enough for both of us.

It reminds me of the trust my patients learn to have in me. That trust is precious. It is the foundation for most relationships. As a therapist, as in my other roles in life, I do not take it for granted or expect it without earning the trust first.

So back to the new website… What do you think? Like it? Yes? If you hate it please be nice but tell me what you would prefer. I really do want to know. If you like it please tell me why. I live for details! Comment, people! Let’s talk!

5 Steps to a New Web Site

Now we get to the major point of this trip: a new web site for Explore What’s Next! How did we get here and what’s next?

1) Recognize the need for a new website. I love the design Steve originally came up with four years ago but it became obsolete when Dylan, our new therapist, joined EWN. With the expectation of further growth the need for a new design that would grow with us became acute.

2) Merge the blog with the website design. People compliment the EWN website all the time saying the information on it allowed them to get a good feel for what Explore What’s Next is and for who I am. These days, however, a one stop destination is an advantage for both the reader and the administrator of a business site. Besides, I like the feeling of continuity.


The Anxiety of Growing a Successful Business

Yesterday I met Steve, my business coach, for the first time. Even though we’ve been working together for almost four years now, we’ve never met. It took some getting used to actually being in the same room. He’s over six feet, I’m… not. Looking at him look at me as we talk instead of yacking blindly on the phone was funny-weird and funny-haha. We kept cracking up the first twenty minutes.

Thank God he is very relaxed with himself, casual, and laughs easily. Over the years as we have both grown our businesses, Steve has become a good friend, almost a member of the family. In no time at all we had our heads to the grind stone plotting world domination.

Let me explain this business thing. A professional practice is a service business. We are in the business of providing a service. To survive as a business to continue serving is part of our responsibility. It seems easier to see the business side to things when it comes to lawyers’ firms or medical practices. Behavioral health practices are a bit different, partly because of the professionals involved and the kind of service we provide.


What Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

Once again I find myself in need of taking my own advice.

When I'm coaching people who feel stuck in their careers I ask them to do a pretty classic exercise. Visualize what you are doing a year or two from now. Fill the vision with details. That's important. Some create a vision board with photos and words that describe their vision. What are you wearing? What does the work environment look like, feel like, smell like? Who else is there? What are they like? What are you doing? What tasks are the things you love and what are things you don't like so much? How does the rest of your life, family, need for base income to pay the bills, hobbies, fit in?

We play around with this vision until it feels good. Then we deconstruct from there to create the path to success.

Somewhere along the achievement highway I passed my own vision. I didn't even realize it until Steve pointed it out to me.

It's kind like those dumb commercials, "Now that you've won the Superbowl, what are you going to do now!?"

It's not enough to say 'I want to write a book' or 'I want EWN to continue to be successful.' I need to fill in the details. Decisions need to be made, priorities set. That's a big part of why I'm here in California, going through my own personal business retreat: To figure out what I want to be when I grow up.

What a great place to be six weeks away from my 57th birthday. 

Mindfulness vs Technology

On a long flight from New York to LA my plane was outfitted with individual monitors. With the swipe of a credit card you could have your choice of television programs, movies, games like poker, Bejeweled, solitaire, chess, maps to track the plane’s progress, weather reports, music, talk radio programming…

My first reaction to seeing the screens, which were not guaranteed when I made my reservation, was “Oh boy! This flight is going to be fun!” Once settled in my seat I looked up to a blank monitor. Mine was the only screen on the entire plane not working!


My reaction was a little intense for a minute. My body went into full fight-flight mode. Could I sue the airline? Demand an upgrade to first class? The degree of frustration was a wee bit alarming. Where was this coming from?


Don’t make yourself nuts! For today forget about self-improvement!

“Today, let go of all that self-improvement stuff and say to yourself: ‘I don't have to be a better person today.’ You don't … you're already close enough. Now with lightness and merriment go do your creative stuff.”  -Jill Badonsky

Anxiety and depression messes up how we see ourselves. No matter what is going on, when we are depressed, we are not good enough. It doesn't matter if you are a CEO or the dish washer in a diner, depression brings us all down to the same level – the basement.

If we could remember that wherever we are, whatever we are doing we are good, there would be so much less anxiety, so much less depression in the world. The things that make us anxious appear to be real but they usually are not. They are shadows of little things that are made huge by our minds.

I have to remember this all the time myself.

As a therapist it is not hard to explain to someone who is anxious that the thing that is making them anxious is a trick of the mind, something made up by our mind to keep us in a confined comfort zone. I can see it clearly. Helping the other person to see what I see is my part of my job.

Doing it for myself is trickier.

Conditions are things like "When I find the right guy I will be happy" or "When I start working again," or "When I stop being anxious about driving on the highway." These are all conditions that keep us tied down just like a chained dog.

What life has taught me, a lesson I learn over and over, is that I am always Good. I always have value. The bill still needs to be paid, and I may still want to lose ten pounds, but no matter what, I am a good person now.

It is wonderful when we are validated externally, when someone we respect says, "You did such a great job!"  But it is most important when we know it truly, deeply for ourselves.

Photo courtesy of jcornelius

A Day in the Life of a Psychologist

It is about time to go to bed but I couldn't see sleeping soundly without posting something first. It's been four days since my last post, long enough to make me think of turning in my blogger's badge due to blog neglect. If I post, I think, what will I write about? All options seem either lame, done before or too complicated to write easily. Which is why I decided to just write about my day. Rather than list all the reasons I have no time to write, I will write about what my time is like just for this one day.


I woke up a few minutes before the alarm goes off. That is generally a good sign I got a good night's sleep. Also it means there is no excuse to not do some form of exercise. Today it's yoga. After 20 minutes of vinyasas, there's time for breakfast, grooming, get dressed, make my lunch and get out the door. Thank God my kids are teens. All they need from me is a kiss and a "Have a great day!"


I open the office, turn on lights, get the heat going, make sure the coffee/tea machine is ready and prepare for the first of seven patients I will see today, including a Skype session from out of state.

Among the guests at my office today was a dog. Occasionally a client asks if they can bring their dog to a session and I say yes. Labradors, Goldens, miniature terriers, yorkies, shepards, mixed mystery breeds, I can't remember all the different types of dogs that have come to my office to check me out. Dogs, like most pets, are very therapeutic. I know a psychiatrist who had an office cat which was pretty cool. Her patients loved that cat.


I have a break from 11:00 to 1:00 but it really isn't a break. Over the last year I took a couples therapy seminar. To earn continuing education credits I have to fill out a 200 question exam and answer 80% of the questions correctly. This will be a breeze! Haha! Not so easy. It's taken four days but finally today I finished it. Time for lunch!

Over lunch I'm cruising around the Internet when my connection goes down. What?! Yes, and the phone land line too. You have got to be kidding. There is no time to call before my next patient. Just the thought of being put on hold and forced to listen to bad easy listening jazz gives me a headache. Instead, I take a Tylenol, make myself a cup of French Roast decaf and settle in for the afternoon sessions.


The door closes on my last patient for the day. There is still a lot to do, the unglamorous, administrative side to running a private practice business. Sadly, there is no room to procrastinate. Rats.

This weekend I am leaving for California to meet up with my web site designer, social networking coach and blog editor, founder of Smack Smog, Stephen O'Bryan. It will be a week of workmen's holiday. Steve and I are revamping, consolidating and upgrading the Explore What's Next website and blog. I'll write more about this soon.

For now it's enough to say that because of the trip I couldn't put off doing stuff like writing process notes for everyone I saw today, trying to make sense of the explanation of benefit reports from insurance companies, recording financials on a spread sheet, reading and responding to emails and vmails, faxing docs to my off-site admin, and calling the damn telecommunications company (Verizon. There, I said it) to ask what the heck happened to my service?


Home. My dog greets me at the door with that strange mixture of uplifting happiness (I'm so glad to see you!) and guilt provoking sadness (how could you leave me all day? Do I smell another dog?). I change into something that can get splattered with olive oil and it won't matter. Today I am on dinner duty. Broccoli Pasta is on the menu. Thank God for meal planning. Food is good!


Chauffeur son to music lesson. Chauffeur same son to high school for basketball game after music lesson. Return home. Chauffeur spouse with sports related injury to pharmacy.


Home for good at last. After counting the daily calories on my Lose It app I decide I can afford to have a snack. (Half an apple, a few raisins and almonds.) Watch a little American Idol with my daughter, a little "news" with my husband. Clean up and begin writing this post.


And here we are. Finally putting the day to rest, the go to sleep ritual, and sweet dreams.

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