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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: pain

#CureStigma

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

This year for Mental Health Awareness Month, NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) is focusing on curing mental health stigma. The campaign manifesto on the NAMI website reads:

There’s a virus spreading across America. It harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence. It prevents them from seeking help. And in some cases, it takes lives. What virus are we talking about? It’s stigma. Stigma against people with mental health conditions. But there’s good news. Stigma is 100% curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote (NAMI, 2018).

Stigma is a nasty virus, but this manifesto fails to capture the fact that stigma doesn’t just hurt the 1 in 5 who are struggling with diagnosable mental health conditions. It hurts every single one of us.

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Mental health exists on a continuum. When we create a false dichotomy that suggests that some people are mentally ill while everyone else is healthy and well, we fail to recognize the range of experience that falls somewhere in the middle. And we fail to recognize that where you stand on the continuum can fluctuate and change throughout life.

The continuum enters the realm of DSM diagnosis when a person displays a clinically significant level of functional impairment. In other words, to qualify for a diagnosis, the person must be unable to function in an important area of life as a result of the presenting symptoms. But there are plenty of people who are functioning seemingly well in relationships, work, school, etc., who appear just fine from the outside, yet inside they are hurting and need some help. These folks aren’t feeling “well,” but they don’t necessarily meet the criteria for a mental health diagnosis.

The thing is, while 1 in 5 Americans are affected by a mental health condition, 5 in 5 Americans know what it is to feel pain. The frequency, intensity, and duration can vary, but pain itself is a function of being human. When culture stigmatizes the 1 in 5 and simultaneously dichotomizes illness and wellness, the resulting message is that it is shameful to struggle and to feel pain. In essence, stigma says that it is shameful to admit our own humanity.

With stigma, we all become isolated in our suffering. But with compassion (which means to suffer with), we can find connection in the midst of and even as a result of pain through our experience of common humanity. We all know loss, grief, heartbreak, anger, anxiety, sadness, regret, inadequacy, and disappointment. We all have our own version of the “I’m not good enough” story. What if, instead of burying these feelings deep in our shame vaults, instead we shared them? Stigma wouldn’t be able to survive.

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Just because pain is a part of being human, that doesn’t mean a professional can’t help us navigate the more difficult aspects of existence. Despite what stigma says, seeking therapy in the midst of struggle is a sign of strength and wisdom. Therapy can benefit anyone, no matter where the person falls on the continuum of mental health. In fact, even therapists benefit from therapy. A few of the CSAM clinicians decided to share a little bit of their own experiences as clients in therapy.

Dr. Jill Stoddard, CSAM Director, said:

I like to think of my mental health a lot like I think of my physical health--they both need ongoing attention and care to stay at their best.  When I get a small cough or cold, I might just manage it on my own with my neti pot and some Vics Vapo-Rub. But if I have strep throat or a broken bone, I'm going to seek out professional help and continue to follow up with my physician until I'm well.  Even when things are stable and there are no overt signs of trouble, I still see my dentist, optometrist, and dermatologist for regular check-ups.  So goes my mental health.  Life can get really painful.  If I'm dealing with smaller hassles, I might go to yoga or seek support from my friends or family.  But when my mom died, I went to therapy to help process my grief.  When my husband and I were feeling the distance that often comes with raising a young family while also working, we sought out couples’ therapy.  Now, our marriage is stronger than ever, AND we still see our therapist for sporadic "check ups."

Dr. Michelle Lopez, CSAM Assistant Director, wrote:

I think about mental health care as a lot like car care. If my car is having problems, it may need to be in the shop for a while. Other times, it might just need a quick tune up. It might also take me some time to find the right mechanic, and I might have to try a few out before I find the right one. But it’s important to pay attention to signs that the car needs service, because neglecting it is likely to lead to more problems. I’ve participated in therapy at various points in my life, and have sought help to work through life experiences and challenges such as coping with the physical and emotional pain of a physical injury, processing the loss of my dad, living with infertility, and creating a healthy work-life balance. Currently, my car is functioning quite well, but I make sure to take notice when that “check engine” light comes on. 

Dr. Janina Scarlet, CSAM psychologist and founder of Superhero Therapy, shared:

When my dear friend lost her battle with cancer, I was devastated. I couldn't sleep, I couldn't concentrate on my school work, and I found myself too overwhelmed to function. I decided to see a grief counselor. I had never been in counseling before and didn't know what to expect. My therapist was warm, compassionate, and understanding. She helped me process my grief and find meaning in this loss. I am extremely grateful for this experience as it allowed me to find myself again. 

Hopefully, in acknowledging the full range of human experience and removing the false dichotomy that currently separates us into We-Who-Are-Healthy and They-Who-Have-Pathology, we will begin to fill the space that is currently occupied by stigma with acceptance and compassion, both for ourselves and others.

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, depression, stress, PTSD, insomnia, or chronic illness, or if you would like more information about our therapy services, please contact us at (858) 354-4077 or at info@csamsandiego.com

References:

NAMI, 2018. Mental health month. Retrieved from: https://www.nami.org/mentalhealthmonth

THE POWER OF BREATHING

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Whether or not you struggle with an anxiety disorder, we have all found ourselves overwhelmed by stress or anxiety at some point.  We each have slightly different stressors that trigger our body’s natural stress response, but we all know what the response feels like: sweaty palms, racing heart, tense muscles.  This bodily reaction can feel overwhelming, as if it controls us.  It is easy to feel powerless to our biological response to stress, but we have more control than we think.

THE STRESS RESPONSE

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Source URL: http://www.gestaltreality.com/2012/07/11/metabolic-diet-supplements-an-exploration/

Before we deem our biological reaction to stress bad, let’s talk about what happens and what purpose it serves.  When we get stressed out or anxious, our body begins preparing us to face threat.  Stress activates our sympathetic nervous system, triggering the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  This causes the sweaty palms, racing heart, panicky breathing and muscle tension (McGonigal, 2013).  We often look at the stress response as inherently bad, because it is not healthy to be in the fight-flight-or-freeze mode chronically (McGonigal, 2013).  However, it’s important to remember that when your heart starts racing or your palms get sweaty, your body is just trying to help prepare you.  Nevertheless, these sensations can feel overwhelming, and perpetuate our experience of anxiety.  So how can we calm ourselves down once this cycle is in motion?

DEEP BELLY BREATHING

Using our breath, we actually have the power to activate our parasympathetic nervous system.  The parasympathetic nervous system allows our body to “rest and digest” as opposed to the sympathetic nervous system’s fight or flight response (Hunt, 2016).  While “take a deep breath” is common advice, how we actually take that breath is important.  This is how to use the breath to calm down:

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

  1. Find a comfortable, relaxed seated position with your feet planted on the ground; alternatively, you can try breathing laying down.  Now begin to bring your focus to your breath.
  2. With each breath, your belly should rise as you inhale and fall as you exhale
  3. Your shoulders and chest should remain still.  If you notice your shoulders rise, or your chest move, drop the breath down to the belly.  Breathing into your chest is reminiscent of hyperventilating, which will only further activate your sympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016).
  4. Now focus on breathing into your belly for four counts.  Hold your breath for a second or two.  Now exhale for five counts and relax (Hunt, 2016).  Repeat this process, focusing on your inhalations and exhalations, and making your belly rise and fall.
  5. You may notice that your heart rate speeds up at first.  Don’t panic or give up.  Your body is not used to calming itself down, and is simply adjusting.  After a few cycles of inhaling and exhaling, you should notice your heart rate begin to relax. 
  6. If you begin to get distracted or thoughts pop into your mind, simply notice they are there and then come back to focus on the breath
Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

Source URL: http://goodrelaxation.com/2015/05/deep-breathing-for-headaches/

See if you can practice doing four or five deep belly breaths a day.  Then see if you can work your way up to thirty seconds at a time.  Then maybe a minute.  Eventually, you will be able to sit in this space with your breath for a long period of time.

Being able to tap into your breath to find a calm, centered space, no matter where you are, is an invaluable resource.  This diaphragmatic breathing essentially turns off your sympathetic nervous system and turns on your parasympathetic nervous system (Hunt, 2016). 

This is not to say that you will never feel stressed again, or that you will never experience the fight-flight-or-freeze response.  But using deep belly breathing can help you to calm your body down and lessen the biological reaction to a stressful situation.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), 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:

Hunt, M. G. (2016). Reclaim your life from IBS: A scientifically proven plan for relief without restrictive diets. Toronto, ON: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

McGonigal, K. (2013, June). Kelly McGonigal: How to make stress your friend [Video File].  Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/kelly_mcgonigal_how_to_make_stress_your_friend?language=e

How To Listen When Someone You Love Is Struggling

Jill Stoddard

by Annabelle Parr

Life presents us each with challenges.  While it is often uncomfortable and painful to grapple with adversity, to experience this struggle and to feel pain is to be human.  At some point, we will all find ourselves in this place, as will those we love.  So how can we help each other?  How can we listen when someone we love is struggling, whether it is with a mental health condition or with a painful experience in his/her life?

 LET GO OF THE IMPULSE TO TRY TO FIX

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

Source URL: https://scott-williams.ca/2013/03/

It is painful to watch someone we care for struggle or hurt.  And it’s natural to want to take away her pain or try to fix the problem at hand.  However, despite our best intentions, trying to “fix” does not actually help.  It tends to make the person struggling feel as though she cannot share her pain, sadness, or anger.  Trying to “fix” sends this message: “I can’t handle seeing you in pain, so I have to make everything better.”  It also implies that it is not okay to feel sad or angry or anxious, and that these feelings should be avoided at all costs.

AVOID ADVICE

Just like our impulse to fix the pain, we also often believe that the best way to help is to offer advice.  But advice is usually not helpful for several reasons.

  1. If we offer good advice, our loved one will think that anytime he is struggling, he needs our instruction. 
  2. If we offer bad advice or our advice doesn’t work as we hoped, our loved one can place the blame on us instead of owning responsibility.
  3. Advice takes away the gift of helping our loved one to realize that she knows herself best, and ultimately she is capable of navigating difficult situations herself.  (Though, of course, she will always have our love and support).

LIMIT SHARING YOUR OWN SIMILAR EXPERIENCES

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

Source URL:  http://www.lifehack.org/articles/communication/the-biggest-communication-problem-not-listen-understand.html

If you have had a similar experience or believe that you have felt the same way, you can share this with your loved one.  But don’t make it all about you.  Keep your story brief, and make sure the purpose of the story is to let him know that he is not alone.  Also, be sure to include that you understand that your experience, while maybe parallel in some ways, is yours, and you are not claiming to have experienced the exact same situation or feelings.  This allows him to feel comfort in not being alone, but also gives him space to communicate how his experience may be different.

If we shouldn’t try to fix the pain or offer advice, and we should limit how much we share of our own experience, what can we do to help?

REFLECT OR PARAPHRASE BACK TO YOUR LOVED ONE WHAT YOU HEAR HIM/HER EXPRESSING

This shows that we are listening, and gives us the opportunity to clarify that which we don’t understand fully.  While it may sound too simple to just reflect what our loved one is saying, it actually makes the person feel heard and understood.  It also offers her the opportunity to hear what she is expressing, and to clarify how she feels or what she wants.

USE NONVERBAL SIGNALS TO SHOW YOU ARE ENGAGED

Nodding and using eye contact and engaged body language shows that we are interested and open to what our loved one is sharing.  It gives him the space to express himself, and makes him feel heard.

SHOW EMPATHY

Empathy is: “I see that you are struggling and hurting right now, and I am so sorry.  I can’t fix it for you or take it away, but I will sit here with you and listen to your story.  As much as this hurts, it is okay to feel this way.”

Check out Brene Brown’s brilliant short on empathy.

Sometimes, all our loved ones need when they are in pain is to be heard; to be given a space with someone they trust to express how they are feeling.  Sometimes, however, they may need some extra support or professional help.

CSAM IS HERE TO HELP

If you or someone you love might benefit from acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), 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:
Brown, B.  (2013, Dec 10).  Brené Brown on empathy. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1Evwgu369Jw

 

Part 2: Thriving through the Embrace of Life: Learning to Open through the Pain

Jill Stoddard

Part 2

Thriving through the Embrace of Life:

Learning to Open through the Pain

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

In the first segment of our blog on learning how to thrive, we explored the role that suffering may have in preventing or blocking our ability to live a valued, full life. Part two continues our discussion of thriving versus suffering, and introduces an alternative approach to responding to emotional or physical pain or discomfort.

 

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“Human beings, we have dark sides; we have dark issues in our lives. To progress anywhere in life, you have to face your demons.” – John Noble 

It can be said, in a sense, that in running away from our pain, we are metaphorically running away from our demons. These demons appear large, menacing, and powerful. They wave their limbs in frightening gestures, and offer deafening roars or shrieks when we move close to them. Our instinct is to flee – to run and escape these frightening beings – for fear that irreparable harm will come our way.  However, our constant attempts to hide away from painful events leads to the cycle of suffering that prevents a thriving, full life. Thriving is not happiness without pain. To thrive is to experience the full range of what it means to be human, and to consciously move forward on a path that is in alignment with who you want to be, and with what is important to you. Life is made up of the “good” and the “bad,” or the “pleasurable” and the “painful,” but focusing on removing the bad or the painful is likely to also prevent you from experiencing the beautiful , the awe-inspiring, and the heart-warming types of life experiences.

 

Sometimes it just takes a little willingness to open up to all that life has to offer, even when there is pain involved. This may take a certain degree of faith or bravery, because actively taking steps forward into valued territories often entails some degree of risk. There is risk in opening up to vulnerable but deep love, there is risk in pursuing an education or career path that inspires you but has no guarantees, and there is risk in boldly moving forward when there will likely be a certain level of pain (and growth) in doing so. Openness to the fullness of life on some level requires an acceptance of all that comes with it – the ups and the downs. In fact, an embracing of the twists and turns of life may very well be what leads to the transformation and growth that fosters thriving and well-being. Remember, pain in and of itself is not the problem. Suffering-caused by efforts to avoid pain- leads to the seemingly inescapable vortex of pain, and is a beast that feeds itself through escalating distress and avoidance. It requires extensive time and energy to maintain, and yet convinces us of its necessity. However, paradoxically, the way out of suffering is in “embracing the demons.” The alternative to suffering is thriving, an embracing of life.

 

Metaphorically, this cycle is like feeding a hungry tiger. Dr. Russell Harris, an ACT practitioner, explains how this works: “You discover a baby tiger in your house, and it’s cute and cuddly, so you play with it. Then it gets hungry, and restless, and irritable, so you feed it – and it settles down. But over time, the more you feed that tiger, the bigger it grows - and the more food it needs, and the more aggressive it gets when it’s hungry. Now it’s not cute anymore; it’s scary.  And you spend more and more time feeding it, because you’re terrified that if you don’t, it’ll eat you! But the more you feed it, the bigger it gets” (Harris, 2007).

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is an empirically supported treatment that teaches clients to reduce suffering and truly thrive.  ACT is an experiential therapy and so relies on the use of metaphors and experiential exercises to facilitate learning in an experienced way. Metaphors can help us to really connect with concepts and ideas so that we can begin to apply these concepts; so that we can begin to more openly experience difficult life events, instead of automatically avoiding them. So that we can thrive.  Another commonly used metaphor in ACT that illustrates this point is the Chinese Finger Trap Metaphor. The more that you struggle with, and try to escape the finger trap by trying to pull your fingers out of the trap, the tighter the trap becomes. The struggle to control the situation and escape makes it worse. Instead, the way out of the trap is to yield, and bring both fingers closer together within the finger trap. And then it loosens, and you are set free.  Similarly, in the ACT Quicksand Metaphor, the cycle of suffering is represented by the experience of being in quicksand. If you struggle and try to fight your way out of quicksand, you sink more quickly. The way out of quicksand is to make as much contact with the sand as possible, lying on your back, and in doing so, you rise to the surface.

It is through the willingness to make full contact with life, the embracing of the many possible experiences that make us human, that we thrive. There is richness and fullness of life to be found when we creatively choose to embody meaningful living. We can start this process by letting go of trying to control the pain, and committing to act in ways that allow us to thrive.

 

Clinicians who wish to incorporate metaphors and experiential exercises into their therapy practice can check out Dr. Jill Stoddard’s The Big Book of ACT Metaphors here.

 

 

If you'd like to speak with Dr. Stoddard or another professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management for help learning about how to “embrace your demons,” please click here.

Follow us! Subscribe to the CSAM RSS feed, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@CSAMSanDiego).

 

 

References

Harris, R. (2006). Embracing your demons: an overview of acceptance and commitment therapy. Psychotherapy in Australia, 12(4), 70.

Harris, R. (2007). Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) ADVANCED Workshop Handout. Retrieved from: http://www.actmindfully.com.au/upimages/2007_-_advanced_act_workshop_handout.pdf

Hayes, S. C., & Smith, S. (2005). Get out of your mind and into your life: The new acceptance and commitment therapy. New Harbinger Publications.

 

 

Tags: anxietyanxiety therapyacceptance and commitment therapyACTstress and anxiety in san diegoCenter for Stress and Anxiety Managementmental healthemotion regulation,anxiety disordersfulfillmentsufferingthrivingpainpersonal values

The Case for a Value-Driven Life

Jill Stoddard

By Lauren Helm, M.A.

 

 

“Values are what you want your life to be about, deep in your heart. What you want to stand for. What you want to do with your time on this planet. What ultimately matters to you in the big picture. What you would like to be remembered for by the people you love.” – Dr. Russ Harris

 

What guides you in deciding how to act from moment-to-moment, and day-to-day?  When you come to a fork in the road, how do you decide which direction to go?

Many of us may be unaware of the processes that underlie our daily actions and the forces that shape how and why we make the decisions that we do. Often we may just go through the motions, paying little attention to what we are doing and what is happening around us. We go through the routines:  get up in the morning, have breakfast, brush teeth,  go to work, come home, make dinner, go to sleep…and repeat. Sometimes we may reflect on the day and wonder where our time went, feeling almost as though we were not really there. Have you ever driven somewhere, only to realize once you’ve arrived that you barely remember driving at all? It can be as though we were merely on automatic-pilot, with little attention devoted to “steering” ourselves throughout our lives.

And yet, there are times when life really DEMANDS our attention; when it quite literally forces us to focus on the issue at hand. Life is full of flux and change; there are sorrows and pain, joys and celebration. What then? How do you decide how to respond?

When we have little conscious awareness of who we are and who we want to be, we can act quite haphazardly. Automatic-pilot does not necessarily turn off.  If something stressful or threatening happens, we may react reflexively. Perhaps a loved-one makes a comment that rubs us the wrong way, and we lash out. Maybe we have been assigned an important project, and the deadline looms in the near-future, but we automatically procrastinate and avoid thinking or doing anything about it until the last minute because it is anxiety-provoking.

In a sense, automatic or reflexive behaviors can be thought of as “mindless.” There is little conscious or intentional thought behind them. They are like habitual ways of responding to life. However, not only does a “mindless” approach not create the fullness of life that many people desire, it also can get us into trouble when challenging situations arise. For example, most of the time we automatically avoid uncomfortable or painful situations. It makes sense that human beings would avoid pain. Avoidance of pain or threat has allowed us to survive as a species –  avoidance of tigers and bears kept us alive. However, in our modern age, we rarely, if ever, encounter predators that threaten our survival. Threat and discomfort tends to show up for us in our jobs, relationships, traffic, social activities, etc. What if “mindless” avoidance of discomfort costs you a sense of meaning in life? What if it interferes with or prevents you from engaging in activities or life experiences that are deeply rewarding to you, albeit challenging or difficult at times?

If this has been your experience, it may be time to pause and clarify your values. Your values help define who you want to be in each moment. What you value is what gives your life meaning. When we are disconnected from our values, we can go through life somewhat aimlessly and “mindlessly.” But when we take the time to learn about what is really important to us, we can give ourselves a great gift. By knowing your values, you can begin to craft your day-to-day experience in a much more conscious, intentional way. In a way, it can be a creative process. You get to decide during each metaphorical fork in the road, who you want to be and what you want your life to be about.

 

“What if what was at stake is a kind of self-liberation -- the liberation to be about what you most deeply would choose to be about--- not to avoid guilt, or get applause, or otherwise objectify yourself but just to be in the world how you choose to be in the world.” - Dr. Steven Hayes, co-developer of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

 

 

 

Dr. Jill Stoddard likes to ask, “What is this in the service of?” This is an exceptionally helpful question to ask yourself during the mundane activities of life, and during the momentous ones. Is what you are doing serving to avoid discomfort? Or is what you are choosing to do serving you in living a valued-life? The practical nature of identifying your values is that you can begin to create action-plans and goals that line up with your values, instead of goals that purely focus on fending off the pain that inevitably is a part of life. The fact is, pain IS a part of life, and so is joy. Life is a myriad of experiences. We can live meaningful lives when things go smoothly, and even when life feels like a bumpy ride. It is up to us, however, to decide if we want to consciously respond to life and take back the steering wheel. We can begin with our values. Who do you want to be today?

 

 

 

If you'd like to speak with a professional at the Center for Stress and Anxiety Management about clarifying your values and living a more meaningful life, please click here.

 

Check out these free resources on values and related topics: 

http://media.psychologytools.org/Worksheets/English/Values.pdf

http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/upimages/the_complete_happiness_trap_worksheets.pdf.pdf

http://www.thehappinesstrap.com/free_resources

 

 

Follow us! Subscribe to the CSAM RSS feed, and follow us on Facebook or Twitter (@CSAMSanDiego)

 

 

References

Harris, R. (2007). The happiness trap: Stop struggling, start living. Exisle Publishing.

Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K. D., & Wilson, K. G. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change. Guilford Press.

Tags: acceptance and commitment therapyACTCenter for Stress and Anxiety Managementvaluessteven hayesCSAMmeaningfulfillmentmindfulpainlifeRuss Harrispersonal valuesmindlessavoidanceautomatic pilot

Get Your Geek On: Comic Con Can Help Anxiety, Depression & Stress

Jill Stoddard

By: Janina Scarlet, PhD

It is that time of the year again, the San Diego Comic Con. For some, it is a joyous time of year, Geek Christmas if you will, whereas for others, it is the time of strange people dressed in capes and tights, and severe traffic delays, accompanied by zombie walks. Whatever your take on the Comic Con is, I wanted to dedicate this post to this event and to discuss how comic books, fantasy, and other works can be used to help cope with a difficult loss, social anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, and many other universal struggles.

I say “universal” here because these difficulties exist in one way or another throughout the world. Depression, anxiety, and many other emotional and psychological concerns can be especially alienating when we have no one to talk to and, as it often happens, think that no one will understand. It is for this reason that comic books, as well as fantasy and science fiction books, can be especially helpful for recovery. Allow me to elaborate. Have you ever had an experience where you read a book or watched a movie or a TV show only to find a character going through the same thing that you are currently going through or have recently experienced? Suddenly, there’s a spark, a moment of connection, as if this character can truly understand, as if he/she is “just like me.” And suddenly, it’s easy to understand how this character feels as well, because you have felt the exact same way! This realization can be quite cathartic as you might not feel as alone in the world, if even for a moment, and this experience can potentially open the door to insight and recovery.

Comic books have been used in therapy for children and adults alike. For example, Dr. Patrick O’Connor, a clinical psychologist, described his experience in using comic books with a teenage gang member, who was able to identify with a specific character, which allowed him to be able to express his point of view and greatly helped in his therapeutic process. In addition, UCLA psychologist and researcher, Dr. Andrea Letamendi, has been successful in using comic books to assist veterans and other trauma survivors in the treatment of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I have used some examples from comic books and related media when working with active duty marines with PTSD. For example, I used examples from a recent movie, Iron Man 3, to demonstrate that even superheroes can develop PTSD, as well as examples of Kryptonite’s devastating effects on Superman when working with patients with depression or pain disorders to illustrate that even superheroes have limitations.   

Comic books are not the only medium that can be used to help us feel connected and to help us identify our feelings. Books, movies, and others can also be extremely effective. For instance, Harry Potter books have been used in therapy to assist children with loss of a loved one. I sometimes use The Lord of The Rings or The Hobbit books to illustrate that one does not have to feel brave to be brave.

A book that truly spoke to me when I was growing up was The Three Musketeers, as it demonstrated camaraderie and the meaning of true friendship: “all for one and one for all.” What about you? Which books, comics, movies, TV shows, paintings, or other forms of media have moved you?

 

If you would like to see Dr. Scarlet for therapy, contact The Center for Stress and Anxiety Management at 858-354-4077 or csamsandiego@gmail.com