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At The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management, our psychologists have years of experience. Unlike many other providers, our clinicians truly specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of anxiety and related problems. Our mission is to apply only the most effective short-term psychological treatments supported by extensive scientific research. We are located in Rancho Bernardo, Carlsbad, and Mission Valley.

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Read our award-winning blogs for useful information and tips about anxiety, stress, and related disorders.

 

Filtering by Tag: evidence based therapy

Busting OCD Myths and Misconceptions: OCD In Its Many Forms

Jill Stoddard

By Annabelle Parr

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The term OCD has been appropriated to describe neat freaks, those who get a kick out of organizing, and the Mr. Cleans of the world. People casually joke “I’m so OCD!” in reference to their color coded planners or their squeaky clean cars or their Instagram worthy closets. Not only is this use of the term inaccurate, the tongue and cheek expression minimizes the severity and suffering associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). 

For those who actually meet diagnostic criteria for OCD, the characteristic obsessions and compulsions are far from cute or funny. According to the DSM-5, obsessions are intrusive, unwanted thoughts, urges, or images that create immense anxiety and distress; compulsions are the actions the individual takes to attempt to neutralize, suppress, or ignore the obsessions, and involve behaviors or mental acts which are rigidly applied in response to obsessions. OCD compulsions take up at least an hour of the individual’s day, and create serious impairment in important areas of life, including school, work, and relationships.

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Additionally, although most people tend to think of OCD as characterized by fears of germs or the need for things to be orderly, these are only two of many manifestations of the disorder. There are a number of categories into which obsessions and compulsions commonly fall, including checking, contamination, symmetry and ordering, and intrusive thoughts. These categories often overlap with one another and at the core all subtypes involve extreme difficulty tolerating uncertainty. 

Checking

Though the checking behavior is a compulsion, the compulsion is driven by a fear-based obsession regarding potential harm or damage that could occur if the compulsion is not engaged. Some examples in this category include checking locks, appliances, lights, and taps, checking for signs of illness or pregnancy, checking one’s valuables, or checking for signs of sexual arousal, as well as seeking reassurance. The checking behaviors – like the compulsions in all of the subsequent categories – are engaged multiple times, and often prevent one from maintaining commitments such as arriving to work on time, keeping social engagements, etc.

Contamination

In this category, the obsessive fear is related to harm as a result of being dirty or coming into contact with germs, and the compulsion typically involves excessive cleaning or avoiding situations which may result in contamination. Some common examples of feared stimuli include public or private toilets, restaurants, shaking hands, chemicals, sex, outside air, and crowds. 

Symmetry and Ordering

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The obsessive aspect of this category can either be related to the compulsion, where a lack of order causes great discomfort, or can be connected to other unrelated fears or intrusive thoughts such that the compulsion to create order is believed to prevent the feared harm (e.g. contracting a serious illness) from occurring. Items – such as clothes, books, pictures, and food – must be arranged symmetrically and just right.

Intrusive Thoughts

This particular subtype is sometimes referred to as “Pure O” (for obsession), as it is characterized primarily by obsessions and avoidance, but does not typically have overtly obvious compulsions present. Intrusive thoughts are a particular type of distressing obsession, characterized by involuntary, unwanted, highly distressing and often disturbing thoughts. 

Intrusive thoughts can be related to one’s relationship, where for example, one feels the compulsion to constantly seek reassurance of one’s partner’s feelings or faithfulness.  

They can be related to sex, involving intense fear of being sexually attracted to children, sexually attracted to family members, or regarding one’s sexual orientation.

Another particularly distressing form involves intrusive thoughts regarding violence, where one fears he will carry out violent acts toward himself, loved ones, or others.  

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Sexual and violent intrusive thoughts are experienced as especially disturbing, and individuals struggling with these thoughts are often hesitant to disclose them as they may believe that these thoughts are a sign that they are capable of such actions; they may also fear that these thoughts mean that they are a bad person or that they will be viewed as such. Despite the disturbing nature of these thoughts, individuals with OCD are the least likely to act on such thoughts, as they experienced as revolting; rather than indicating a propensity to carry out these actions, much of the individual’s time is devoted to suppressing the thoughts and avoiding and preventing the feared outcomes.

Intrusive thoughts can also come in the form of magical thinking, where the individual believes that thinking about something terrible – such as a natural disaster or death – makes it more likely to occur.

Finally, religious intrusive thoughts (scrupulosity) can take the form of intense fear that one is sinning, one must pray over and over, fear of blasphemous thoughts, etc. 

OCD Treatment

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The good news is that effective treatment is available for OCD. The gold-standard of treatment is currently Exposure and Response Prevention, a form of Cognitive Behavior Therapy in which the client is – in the context of a warm and supportive therapeutic environment – exposed to the distressing obsessions and prevented from engaging in the subsequent compulsion. Like all forms of exposure therapy, this approach allows for new learning to occur such that the association between obsession and compulsion is slowly broken down. The client typically learns over the course of treatment that catastrophe does not strike despite failure to engage former compulsions. Medication may also be recommended in conjunction with therapy in some cases.

OCD Is No Joke

OCD can severely limit one’s ability to engage effectively and meaningfully in life. The associated distress and anxiety can be overwhelming and painful, thus OCD is not something to joke about or trivialize. However, with effective treatment, individuals can learn how to manage distress in new ways such that they are not prevented from engaging in a rich and vital life.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) for anxiety, panic, phobias, stress, PTSD, OCD, or insomnia, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

 

Finding the Right Therapist for You

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Therapy can be incredibly helpful and healing in the midst of struggle, but it’s not “one size fits all” and sometimes it can be challenging to find the right fit. If you have tried therapy before and been frustrated by a lack of progress, it’s possible you haven’t found the right therapist for you. Having some knowledge about therapy and the different options available can help when you are seeking out help.

What do therapists do?

A therapist’s role is to provide you with empathy, help you learn healthy coping methods and give you tools to manage your emotions constructively. They are there to help you connect with your personal values and get in touch with your own internal strength, while offering you compassionate support and understanding along the way. They are like “training wheels” to help you learn to engage in life in a new way.

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What don’t therapists do?

They are not there to pass judgement, minimize your feelings, or offer you advice. No advice means that they are not there to make decisions for you, such as whether or not to stay in a relationship or a job; they can, however, assign you homework to help you make progress and teach you coping mechanisms.

If you ever feel judged or like your therapist is minimizing your feelings, discuss this with them. This will allow you to discern whether you misunderstood their message or whether maybe they are not the best fit for you. It is important to talk with your therapist about the therapeutic process itself, especially if something feels off.

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Note: therapy can be helpful and it can be hard.

Therapy is challenging. It requires active work on the part of the client and it requires facing uncomfortable and painful emotions, and likely making difficult changes. As James Hollis (1998) notes, “no one enters the therapist’s office whose adaptive strategies are still working.” So sometimes, clients may feel worse before they feel better because change is inherently uncomfortable. This kind of “feeling worse” is a vital part of the growth process, not a further descent into the same struggle that brought you into the office.

If it feels like you have tried various therapies or therapists, and have not progressed despite your commitment to finding help and engaging in the therapeutic process, you may not have found the right therapist yet. Here are some things to look for when seeking therapy.

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  1. Connection with the therapist. Therapy requires that you let another person in on your innermost thoughts and feelings. This is not an easy thing to do, so it is important that you feel comfortable with the person you choose. Research shows that the therapeutic relationship itself is the most important aspect of therapy – accounting for about 30% of the variance in treatment outcome, which is more than any other factor including the technique the therapist uses. So make sure that the therapist you choose to see is someone you trust and whom you are willing to talk to. If it doesn’t feel like the right fit, it probably won’t be.
     
  2. The therapist’s areas of expertise. While the relationship is the most important piece of therapy, specialization and technique are still very important pieces of the puzzle. When looking for a therapist, make sure to search for someone who has experience working with individuals dealing with your particular concerns. Otherwise, you may end up wasting time and money working with someone who might not conduct a proper assessment, or who does not have experience working with your particular issue. Ask them about their experience working with others who have concerns similar to yours, including the techniques they use and the degree of progress and healing that they typically see in their clients.
     
  3. Evidence based treatments. There are lots of different treatment options out there; a good place to start is searching for a therapist with true training in modalities that are supported by solid research (such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy). Ask questions about their training and choice treatment modalities, what a typical session will look like, how your individual needs will be addressed, whether you will receive homework, what will be required of you in the process, how your progress will be evaluated, and what steps will your therapist take if they find that your progress has prematurely plateaued.

If you are struggling and considering reaching out for help, this knowledge can help you navigate choosing a therapist and can help you recognize sooner rather than later if it’s not the right fit. If you have tried therapy before and have been frustrated by a lack of progress, you are not alone. Remember, effective help is available when you know what to look for.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com

References: 

Hollis, J. (1998). The eden project: In search of the magical other. Toronto, ON: Inner City Books.

Hey Siri, I’m Feeling Anxious: Apps for Anxiety

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

There seems to be an app for everything these days. Smartphones have become like little pocket genies – your wish is its command. Whether you want a date, a ride, or help with a physical or mental health concern, your smartphone claims to have you covered. 

Recently, there has been a surge in apps claiming to help calm anxiety. Some offer mood tracking, others offer guided breathing and meditation, still others allow you to track your thoughts, claiming to utilize CBT methods to help you reframe unhelpful ideas. While technology can be a powerful tool, it’s important to think critically about how we use it and the effect it can have before we rely on it too heavily.

What does the data say about anxiety apps?

Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of the ADAA recently published a study conducted to assess commercially available anxiety apps. Researchers analyzed 52 anxiety/worry relief apps that purportedly use psychological techniques. They discovered that 67.3% of the apps were developed without any input from a healthcare professional, and only 3.8% of them had been rigorously tested.

So the people developing anxiety apps may not actually know much about anxiety, and they almost certainly don’t know if their app will really help you.

Authors of the study concluded that while apps have the potential to broaden access to mental health resources, there is currently a major lack of data regarding the efficacy and effectiveness of the available options. As such, the application space has yet to reach its full potential in helping people with anxiety.

What if an anxiety app is helping me?

Of course, the issue here is a lack of data. You may have found an anxiety app that does help you to manage your worry throughout the day. Guided meditations, breathing exercises, and journaling our thoughts and feelings can certainly be useful.

Should I ask Siri or a professional?

However, an app does not replace professional treatment. If you are dealing with anxiety that is impairing your ability to function in your day to day life, it’s important to seek professional guidance.

Human connection is important for our mental health.

Furthermore, while apps may one day prove to be a useful anxiety management tool, they will never replace the human connection that takes place in the context of therapy. In fact, it is actually the therapeutic relationship itself that is the most important aspect of therapy – it accounts for around 30% of the variance in treatment outcome, which is significantly more than any other factor, including the specific techniques used by the therapist (like CBT or mindfulness). This means that who your therapist is, how you relate to them, and the relationship you share is the most helpful part of therapy. An app will never be able to offer this relationship.

Technology may help us manage anxiety, but it may also be a source of anxiety.

Finally, when considering anxiety apps, it is important to note that according to the APA, smartphone use has been linked to higher stress levels, particularly in those who check their phones constantly.

Given the rapid development of technology and its ever broadening influence in our lives, it is important that we stay curious and aware of the potential it has to both help and hinder us, particularly when it comes to something as important as our mental health.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.

References:

American Psychological Association (2017). Stress in America: Coping with Change. Stress in America™ Survey.

Sucala, M., Cuijpers, P., Muench, F., Cardos, R., Soflau, R., Dobrean, A., Achimas-Cadariu, P., & David, D. (2017). Anxiety: There is an app for that. A systematic review of anxiety apps. Depression and Anxiety: The official journal of ADAA, 34(6). 518-525. 

 

A ‘Yes’ Community

Jill Stoddard

a guest blog repost by Dr. Nic Hooper

Two days ago, Thursday June 1st 2017, an article in The New Scientist magazine was published that I co-wrote. It is a great achievement because it will be one of the largest impact writings about Relational Frame Theory (RFT) i.e. it is possible that more people will lay their eyes on this article than for any other RFT article that currently exists.

At a personal level it feels like a big deal; it feels like an ‘I made it’ moment. And, of course, ‘I made it’ moments matter only because of the history of moments where me making it wasn’t, by any means, a sure thing. I think of my A-Levels where I studied like hell for Psychology and scraped a B. I think of the first two years of my degree where my average mark was 57 (see picture below) and I think of starting my self-funded PhD where some members of staff in the Psychology Department weren’t happy about me being accepted onto the program because I wasn’t ‘PhD material’. How the hell did I, an average boy from a working class family, make it to a point in my life where I publish in a magazine that has a readership of over 100,000 people?

The answer is quite simple. When I was 20, I started reading a book about a new approach to human suffering named Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). This is when everything changed for me. Prior to this point, unhelpful thoughts and feelings heavily influenced my decisions. Sure, they kept me in a comfort zone where I was safe but in that comfort zone I could make no progress towards the things that were important to me.

Have you seen the film ‘Yes Man’ with Jim Carrey? The film documents how a man’s life changed when he started saying ‘yes’ to everything. It’s a cool idea and following what I learned about ACT it is pretty close to the way I began interacting with the world. Of course, I differ from ‘Yes Man’ in that if someone asks me to steal a pig from a farm and paint it green then I wont say ‘yes’ (most of the time). However, if someone asks me to do something that is in line with my values, and provided this something wont infringe too much on my ability to self-care, then I say ‘yes’.

Over the years I have especially said ‘yes’ when the offer made me feel uncomfortable or when my mind fed me thoughts like: ‘You’re going to get found out – you’re not smart enough to do this’. My values guided my decision-making. Yes to a PhD, Yes to presenting my work at international conferences, Yes to travelling to the US to meet people like Steve Hayes and Kelly Wilson, Yes to lecturing in Cyprus, Yes to writing a book, Yes to going to the ACT Dublin Conference, Yesto meeting up in Bristol with some people I met at that conference, Yes to setting up an ACT centre with those people, and Yes to trying to write this New Scientist article with those people. Sure, it wasn’t plain sailing and it brought me plenty of failure and discomfort along the way but there is no doubt that I am where I am because of how readily I said ‘yes’. And I was able to say ‘yes’ because ACT taught me that saying ‘yes’ to things that are important to you, even when they bring discomfort, is a way of living that brings liberty and fulfillment (see any recent work by Aisling Curtin and Trish Leonard to learn more about ACT inspired comfort zones).

I guess you might be wondering why I am telling you these things. Well, for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to advocate for ‘yes’ living because of the positive effect it has had on me. However, secondly, and more importantly, I wanted to make a prediction for the future. Here I am, one average person, who became introduced to ACT, started moving outside of his comfort zone when his mind told him that he wasn’t worthy or capable, and started to achieve remarkable things (relative to what I thought was possible). But I am not the only person in the ACT community with that story. You see the thing about ACT is that it isn’t an approach you ‘do’ to other people; it is an approach that starts with oneself. So here is my prediction: ACT will get bigger and will stay the course. I don’t think this will happen because ACT will win therapy wars with 1000’s of studies (those wars don’t have winners). I think it will happen because over time more and more ‘average’ people will start to achieve remarkable things by saying ‘yes’ when their mind tells them that they aren’t good enough. If this does happen then although none of us will be remembered as individuals, as a ‘yes’ community we might just change the world.

Originally posted on NicHooper.com

Mental Health Awareness Month

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Since 1949, May has been designated as Mental Health Awareness Month. Given that 20% of U.S. adults will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime, having conversations about mental health and the resources available for those who are struggling is incredibly important.

Risky Business

This year’s mental health theme focuses on “Risky Business.” Mental Health America is working to start a conversation around risky behaviors that may increase the chance of developing mental illness or that may accompany an existing mental health issue. The specific behaviors they are focusing on are: marijuana use, risky sex, prescription drug misuse, internet addiction, compulsive buying, and exercise extremes.

Our State of Mind Impacts Our Emotions and Our Behavior

It’s important to understand that mental illness consists not only of difficult emotions, but also includes behavior changes or an impairment of functioning in day to day life. Such behavior changes can manifest as either avoidance of certain situations and/or engaging in new behaviors to attempt to numb or escape the pain that accompanies the mental health problem. Neither avoidance nor risky/numbing behaviors will resolve the mental health concern; they provide short term relief, but actually serve to maintain and worsen the situation in the long run.

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Evidence Based Therapy

If you are concerned that you are struggling with a mental health problem or if you are overwhelmed with feelings of stress, anxiety, or depression and aren’t sure how to cope, seeking professional help can be a good place to start. A therapist can offer support and help you to work through those things that you are struggling with. He or she can also help you address any behaviors that may be impairing your ability to function in life, work, or your relationships.

Evidence based therapies including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy have been scientifically demonstrated to effectively treat anxiety, depression, and many other emotional and physical difficulties.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) involves helping clients learn to identify and modify unhealthy, unhelpful, or inaccurate thoughts and unhealthy or unhelpful behaviors that serve to maintain emotional difficulties. Gradual, repeated exposures to feared situations also help clients learn to face that which they may have avoided previously. CBT challenges clients to face difficulty in the context of a warm, safe, therapeutic environment.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) also involves reducing experiential avoidance behaviors, but differs from CBT in that it focuses on accepting difficult thoughts and feelings in order to live a meaningful, values-based life. ACT challenges clients to embrace difficulty in the context of a warm, safe, therapeutic environment.

The Human Condition

Whether or not you find yourself in the 1 of 5 adults struggling with mental health, all of us will face pain, difficulty, and struggle at some point or another. Asking for help in the midst of struggle is a sign of strength, not weakness. One of the beautiful things about suffering is that it can lead to connection when we let those we trust in on our pain. While it can be tempting to turn to those risky behaviors listed above, we only exacerbate our problems by doing so. In turning to a trusted loved one or a professional, we can begin to find meaning and healing in the midst of pain and suffering.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), or biofeedback for anxiety, depression, stress, or PTSD, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at csamsandiego@gmail.com.