Tuesday, December 10, 2013

REPOST: Better Diagnosis of Anxiety Could Improve Care for Veterans

This article from PsychCentral.com discusses the new method on how anxiety can be diagnosed in veterans.

Image Source: psychcentral.com

A new study discovers that many veterans receive a diagnosis of generalized anxiety rather than a more accurate, specific diagnosis of their condition.

Accordingly, veterans who suffer from anxiety may not get appropriate treatment for their particular condition.

Lead researcher Terri L. Barrera, Ph.D., and her colleagues at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston looked at data from Veterans Health Administration outpatient records for patients with anxiety.

As reported in the journal General Hospital Psychiatry, the researchers discovered 38 percent of the sample was diagnosed with anxiety non-specified (NOS).

The research team expected to find that a diagnosis of anxiety NOS disorder was only used temporarily until a more specific diagnosis was decided on. That was not the case.
“Unfortunately, our results suggested that only 12 percent of the patients with an initial anxiety NOS diagnosis received a specific anxiety diagnosis within the year,” said Barrera.

Anxiety might be related to post-traumatic stress or be a symptom of generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, obsessive-compulsivedisorder, social anxiety disorder or a specific phobia.
While treatments for various anxiety disorders are similar, usually including medication and behavioral therapy, the approach might differ.

Veterans with a specific anxiety diagnosis were more likely to receive mental health services.
From 60 to 67 percent of those with the most frequently diagnosed specific anxiety disorders received treatment, while only 32 percent of patients with a non-specific diagnosis received mental health services during the year following diagnosis.

“While anxiety is a problem for all who suffer from it, getting the correct treatment is especially important for veterans. Within any given year, 18 percent of the general population may be diagnosed with anxiety. For veterans, it’s 33 percent.

“Veterans are twice as likely to experience clinical levels of anxiety than the general public,” said Barrera.

“Anxiety disorders can be devastating, and are associated with increased disability and risk for suicide.”

Unfortunately, anxiety disorders may go unrecognized and untreated, particularly in primary care settings.

Primary care providers only detect 50 percent of patients with mental health problems, note the researchers. Even fewer are adequately treated or referred for specific mental health services.
“It’s important to do regular screening in any high-risk population,” said Shirley Glynn, Ph.D., a research psychologist and co-director of UCLA’s Welcome Back Veterans Family Resilience Center.
“We want to be more diligent and do screening early so we can offer intervention if needed, so the condition won’t become more chronic.”

Anxiety NOS is frequently used as a temporary diagnosis with the expectation that the health care provider will eventually make a more specific diagnosis at a later date.
One problem with not making a specific diagnosis is that primary care doctors may not know who to refer patients to, notes Glynn.

“Right now there are several models to improve treatment,” said Glynn.

“One involves having a mental health professional located in a primary care clinic, such as a psychiatric nurse, a psychologist or a psychiatrist who is available in a timely manner to provide a consultation.

“Another possibility is to utilize short screening questionnaires with patients before they see a physician and then these can be reviewed with the doctor.”

More topics on mental health can be read in this Dr. Gary Zomalt blog site.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Expressive art heals depression

Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways. - Sigmund Freud
Of this famous line, Freud draws out the importance of self-expression not only as an art but also as a form of life that lives within the system of a person. Further, it emphasizes that suppressed emotions can lead a person to great danger if left hidden for a long time.

Image Source: scientificamerican.com

The role of expressive art is no longer new in the field of psychiatric care. Through the years, the method of using art as a form of therapy has blossomed among psychiatric institutions, which today offers various types of expressive therapies, such as writing, dance, and psychodrama.

In several recent studies, the use of expressive arts therapy has proven to help people cope with their depression as it offers a safe haven for patients to explore their feelings, manage their behaviors, and resolve personal issues.

Image Source: about.com

One notable study proving the power of expressive art is a Brazilian experiment conducted on patients with major depressive disorder. In the study, the patients were divided into two groups: (1) the experimental group received individual and structured psychodramatic group sessions, while (2) the control group did not receive any form expressive arts therapy. Using the Social Adjustment Scale-Self-Report and the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression, the experiment revealed that those who had received expressive art therapy sessions showed more improvement than those who did not partake in the activity.

Image Source: foxnews.com

Over the course of his professional life, Dr. Gary Zomalt has helped clients regain a healthy life away from depression. Access more information on psychiatric health by following this Twitter page.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

REPOST: Empathy Helps Children to Understand Sarcasm

Children have not only an understanding of right and wrong, but also the knowledge of what's sincere and sarcastic. Learn how empathy guide children in determining the sarcastic language from this ScienceDaily.com article.


The greater the empathy skills of children, the easier it is for them to recognize sarcasm, according to a new study in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology.

For children, sarcastic language can be difficult to understand. They generally begin to recognize sarcasm between ages 6 and 8, especially familiar sarcastic praise such as "Thanks a lot!" and "Nice going!" But some children take much longer to begin to understand sarcasm, with detection improving even through adolescence.
In a new study, Penny Pexman, Juanita Whalen, and Andrew Nicholson investigated whether differences in the ability of children to empathize with others might help to explain why.
The researchers looked at empathy specifically because they thought that in order to understand sarcasm children must be able to adopt the perspective of the speaker -- to understand the speaker's attitude and emotions.
The study involved 31 children between 8 and 9 years old in a task that required them to recognize sarcasm. After children watched a series of puppet shows that included either sarcastic or non-sarcastic praise, they were asked to pick up a "mean" toy shark if they believed that the puppets had spoken sarcastically, or a "nice" duck otherwise. Each child was tested 12 times, with different puppets and scenarios. The empathy skills of the children were measured separately.
Children detected the puppets' sarcasm about half of the time, and children with relatively strong empathy skills did so more accurately. Children with stronger empathy skills were nearly twice as accurate as children with less advanced empathy skills. Initially, the researchers analyzed a group of 6-7 year olds, but this age group revealed almost zero accuracy for sarcasm.
The researchers also quantified children's eye gaze and reaction time during the sarcasm recognition task, to quantify subtle clues about their understanding. They measured whether the children looked towards the duck or the shark, as well as the time it took them to choose either. This gave more subtle clues about the children's understanding.
"Sarcastic language, especially in unfamiliar forms, is a real challenge for most children," explains Prof. Pexman. "Even when children did not recognize a remark as sarcastic, there was evidence in their reactions that the children with stronger empathy skills were sensitive to the speaker's intent."
"This study helps us understand why some children deal better with this challenge than others and provides new insights about development of this complex aspect of emotion recognition," adds Pexman. "It also puts us in a better position to help children who are struggling with this challenge."
Dr. Gary Zomalt helps people realize the value of good mental health through his expertise in psychotherapy. For more about him, visit this Facebook page

Thursday, September 12, 2013

REPOST: Botox May Lead To Feelings Of Depression, Study Says

A new study reveals that cosmetic injections to decrease crow's feet may actually leave people feeling depressed. Read more in this Huffington Post article.

Image Source: huffingtonpost.com

Botox injections may be designed to reduce wrinkles but they also may leave you feeling blue.

Cosmetic injections of botox for crows' feet around the eyes may cause feelings of depression, according to a British researcher. Why? Because these injections impact the strength of the eye muscles, which are essential in the face's overall formation of a smile.

The small study, led by Dr. Michael Lewis of the School of Psychology, Cardiff, Wales, involved 25 people who had received Botox for wrinkles and examined how their facial expressions produce, as well as reflect, emotions because they reinforce them.

Lewis said it all boils down to this: people smile when they are happy and smiling can make a person happy.

"Treatment with drugs like Botox prevents the patient from being able to make a particular expression," he said. "The new finding being reported [this week] concerns the impact of treatments for crows’ feet. The muscles around the eyes are used when forming a real smile and so it was predicted that treatment of the muscles that cause these will reduce the strength of a smile."

With the help of a questionnaire, Lewis found that those people who had a harder time smiling reported greater feelings of depression.

Previous research has found that when people smile -- even if it's a fake smile -- they actually feel less stress and happier in general.

Owner of 3R Counseling & Consulting, Gary Zomalt helps people overcome addiction, depression, and others. Follow this Twitter page for more updates. 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Beating depression: Refuting a study that says exercise is useless in treating depression

Image Source: drjeffreegars.com

Depression is one of the most common mental disorders that, if left untreated, can have a major negative impact on a person’s life. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to beat the condition, and many experts agree that regular exercise is one of them.

However, Medical News Today mentioned that a study published in BMJ , which sparked an uproar of criticisms, suggested that exercise is not beneficial in treating depression. The study presented, however, was a bit misleading since it was only about finding out whether adding a “specific physical activity intervention” to the usual care that depressed patients get would significantly reduce their symptoms.

The researchers from Universities of Bristol, Exeter, and the Peninsula College of Medicine and Dentistry called their intervention TREAD (TREAtment of Depression with physical activity). It is a theory-based intervention that provides a trained facilitator who gives customized support to patients to perform physical activity.

Image Source: bipolar-101.blogspot.com

The study implied that the participants in the TREAD intervention showed no better results than those receiving the usual care. Participants of the former also indicated no reduced antidepressant use compared to those of the latter. The researchers emphasized that their study did not conclude that exercise, in general, is not useful for depression, but the details of their study could be used by healthcare professionals in choosing which exercise programs are more effective than the others.

"Numerous studies have reported the positive effects of physical activity for people suffering with depression but our intervention was not an effective strategy for reducing symptoms," explained Melanie Chalder, lead author of the research.

Meanwhile, mental health experts still support the idea that exercise is an effective tool in helping patients alleviate depression, especially if they are at risk of developing other serious illnesses.

Image Source: fitnizz.com

In the course of his profession, Dr. Gary Zomalt has helped clients attain optimal mental health. Know more information on related topics by visiting this Facebook page.

Friday, July 12, 2013

REPOST: Recession led teens to focus more on social problems, environment, psychologists report

This Eureka Alert.org article discusses how the recession affected teens' perception about the environment and other social problems.

During the Great Recession, high school students in the U.S. became more concerned about others and the environment, psychologists at UCLA and San Diego State University report in a new study.

The research, published July 11 in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science, focused on survey data collected on high school seniors during three time periods: the global recession (2008-10), just before the recession (2004-06) and the earliest period for which data were available (1976-78).

The study authors found that high school students' concern for others declined significantly between 1976-78 and 2004-06, then rebounded by the period of the Great Recession. Compared with high school students who graduated in the years just before the recession, students who graduated during the recession were more concerned for others, more interested in social issues and more interested in saving energy and helping the environment.

For example, 63 percent of recession-era 12th graders said they made an effort to turn down the heat at home to save energy, compared with 55 percent in the pre-recession period; 30 percent of recession-era students said they thought often about social problems, compared with 26 percent of pre-recession students; and 36 percent said they would be willing to use a bicycle or mass transit to get to work, up from 28 percent just before the recession.

"This is the silver lining of the Great Recession," said Patricia Greenfield, distinguished professor of psychology at UCLA and senior author of the study. "These findings are consistent with my theory that fewer economic resources lead to more concern for others and the community. It is a change very much needed by our society."

The research was based on an analysis of data from Monitoring the Future, a survey of a representative sample of U.S. high school seniors conducted between 1976 and 2010 in which students were asked about a variety of issues. The current study focused on their answers to questions related to concern for others and the environment, as well as those related to the importance of money and materialism. The study authors also analyzed whether the high school seniors believed they were more intelligent than average.

They found that recession-era high school students were more likely to think they were smarter than their peers, and they were more satisfied with themselves — the recession did not reverse the overall long-term trend toward young people having a more inflated sense of self, the researchers said.

Other analyses by the team found that high school students' positive self-views had decreased during previous recessions but not during the recent recession.

"In the past, recessions led to less positive self-views. The recent recession is the only one that produced an increase," said co-author Jean M. Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University and author of "Generation Me: Why Today's Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before."

That finding suggests other factors in the culture may be at work, such as technology and a "focus on fame," said UCLA's Greenfield, director of the Children's Digital Media Center @ Los Angeles.

Compared with pre-recession high school students, recession-era students were less likely to believe it important to own expensive products and luxury items. However, recession-era students continued the long-term trend of believing earning a lot of money is important.

The lead author of the study was Heejung Park, a UCLA a doctoral candidate in psychology, whose research reveals how social change affects human development.

The research was funded by Russell Sage Foundation as part of a major initiative to assess the effects of the Great Recession on the economic, political and social life of the country.

This Gary Zomalt Twitter page shares updates about psychotherapy and other mental health topics.

Friday, May 31, 2013

REPOST: "For Kids With ADHD, Sleep Disturbances May Interfere With Emotional Memories"

As it is, ADHD causes many inconveniences to those who get afflicted with it.  On top of that, recent studies suggest another undesired sequela affecting one's emotional sphere. Learn more by reading this TIME article:

Image credit: TIME.com

Kids and adolescents with ADHD often struggle to keep their emotions in check. ADHD has also been linked to sleep disorders, which is one of the reasons a team of German researchers sought to determine how sleep influences the consolidation and processing of emotional memories.

Brain imaging studies have shown that ADHD alters the structure and functions of areas of the brain important to processing emotions, like the prefrontal cortex, the amygdala and the hippocampus. Scientists have speculated that a disrupted connection between these areas of the brain could contribute to a patient’s day-to-day emotions.

Among healthy children and adults, sleep facilitates the processing of emotional stimuli, so the researchers wanted to see if there were processing differences between healthy study subjects and participants with ADHD. For their study, researchers led by Alexander Prehn-Kristensen of University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein analyzed the emotional memory processing of 16 children with ADHD, 16 healthy children and 20 healthy adults.

In the study, the participants were shown photos that were either emotionally negative, like a snake or growling bear, or emotionally neutral, like an umbrella or lamp. Previous research has shown that emotionally charged images usually have a greater brain response, and are more likely to be remembered.

“During daytime, people suffering from ADHD often have problems focusing on the relevant information and ignoring irrelevant information. Here, we wanted to look whether the described daytime problem in contrasting between relevant and irrelevant information is also observable during sleep,” says study author Alexander Prehn-Kristensen, study researcher from Christian-Albrecht-university in Kiel, Germany in an email response.

All the participants were shown the photos in the evening and had their sleep monitored by the researchers using electroencephalogram (EEG) measurements to track brain activity. The next day, the participants were tested on their recollection of the emotion-inducing images.

The healthy kids without ADHD were better able to recall the images compared to the kids with ADHD and even the healthy adults. These kids had higher activity in the frontal region of their brain and could remember the emotional images better than the neutral ones. Emotional experiences are typically easier to remember than neutral memories.

Prehn-Kristensen says more research is necessary before any therapeutic or clinical conclusions should be drawn. Since the children’s memories were observed in an artificial context, they cannot presume these results carry over to day-to-day memory experiences. However, they do shed light on how brain activity issues during sleep could be responsible for emotional processing for kids with ADHD.

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

More updates on psychiatry-related conditions may be found on this Dr. Gary Zomalt Facebook page.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

'Be kind to yourself' and other advice for people who wish to be happy

Image Source: womanwithdrive.com.au

It seems that many people need to be reminded time and again of the importance of self-compassion. This is especially true for highly driven individuals who want to attain more out of their lives.

In the pursuit of happiness and success, many people tend to forget about their own needs. The accomplishment of goals takes precedence over everything else that they neglect their health and well-being for even the smallest of gains. Often, many people may sacrifice the time they can spend in the presence of their friends and loved ones for their careers – and they end up regretting doing so.

Indeed, life is in movement. It is in the pursuit of a lofty goal or a series of smaller objectives. It is in growth. However, all of this must not be done at the cost of losing oneself. Greatness and happiness can be achieved without people being too hard on themselves.

Image Source: stressstop.com

Practicing self-compassion is only the beginning. When individuals learn to think about themselves positively – considering their needs, strengths and weaknesses, and what they want – they can begin to work on things that truly matter to them.

They can seek a job that makes them happy, and they won’t have to worry about finding motivation to do their best at work. With constant drive and motivation, individuals can maximize their productivity during work hours. This, in turn, allows them to have time for other pursuits such as their hobbies or investing in meaningful relationships with friends and family.

Image Source: allparentstalk.com

Dr. Gary Zomalt is a psychotherapist and the owner of 3R Counseling & Consulting. Find more resources on happiness and success through this Facebook page.

Friday, April 5, 2013

REPOST: Are we over-diagnosing mental illness?

A recent article on CNN.com  reports that normal responses to life's challenges are often labeled as disorders or as mental illness. 

Image Source: cnn.com

CNN) -- To ease the heartache of her first child's stillbirth, Kelli Montgomery chose rigorous exercise, yoga and meditation over the antidepressants and sleeping pills that her physicians immediately suggested.

"'You need to be on this medication or that medication.' It was shocking to me that that was the first line of defense," said Montgomery, 42, director of the MISS Foundation for Grieving Families in Austin, Texas. "From the time I was in the hospital to when I was seeing my general practitioner, that's what they were insisting on."

Her choice stemmed partly from a longtime aversion to taking prescription drugs. It was also the result of listening to a growing group of psychiatrists, psychologists and clinical social workers from around the world who argue that depression and other normal responses to life's toughest challenges are too often labeled as disorders -- and as such, demand medicine with sometimes dangerous side effects.

Protesters such as Montgomery contend diagnoses of serious psychological and psychiatric disorders have also needlessly skyrocketed alongside the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders' expanding list of what constitutes mental illness. The manual is considered the bible of psychiatry because it's the criteria mental health professionals use to diagnose patients. One example of the issue is the frequency of bipolar disorder in children. It has jumped 40-fold in the last two decades, said Dr. Bernard Carroll, a former Duke University psychiatry department chairman.

Using downward dogs to treat depression

"You've got all these young kids running around with this diagnosis, yet many of them have never, ever had a manic episode, which is the hallmark of bipolar disorder," said Carroll, now the scientific director of the Pacific Behavioral Research Foundation. "Many of these kids," he continued, "have never had anything other than irritability. Yet they're exposed to anti-convulsants, anti-psychotic drugs, which have serious long-term side effects in the form of obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and some movement disorders ... that can leave a person extremely disfigured physically."

The International DSM-5 Response Committee -- named after the upcoming fifth incarnation of that diagnostic manual -- plans to launch a campaign next month aimed at blocking the manual's May 20 release. Short of that, critics plan to press ahead with their case that the DSM-5 should be viewed with some skepticism and not wholly embraced by practitioners or patients. "We believe that there is now overwhelming evidence that DSM-5 is scientifically unsound (and) statistically unreliable," said clinical psychologist Peter Kinderman, director of the University of Liverpool's Institute of Psychology, Health and Society. He is helping organize the international campaign with petition drives in the United States, the United Kingdom and France.

The American Psychiatric Association, whose manual has been used by health insurers, pharmaceutical companies, doctors and other clinicians since it first published in 1952, has dismissed DSM-5 opponents as overly alarmed.

"All the good epidemiological studies unfortunately show that one in five people have a psychological disorder. ... They're prevalent, they're just all over the place, and that's very disturbing to some people," said Dr. Carl Bell, a Chicago psychiatrist and University of Illinois School of Medicine director of public health and community psychiatry.

One of 15 members of a DSM-5 committee zeroing in on personality disorders, Bell spoke on behalf of the psychiatric association. "If you dig down into (the DSM-5), it's an extraordinarily complex document."

Being transgender no longer a mental 'disorder' in diagnostic manual However, critics contend, the manual's shortcomings include its lack of scientifically conclusive field testing of some of its recommendations; its failure to consider the prior effectiveness or ineffectiveness of anti-psychotic drugs to determine a patient's present diagnosis; and its lumping of, for example, what had been a spectrum of depressions -- from the mildly melancholic to the severely debilitating -- into one group.

"This is the reason that people nowadays are jumping up and saying, 'The antidepressant drugs don't work,'" Carroll said. "If you take this broad category, it's difficult to even show why they don't work."

"There's a great deal of a concern, so we are hardly voices in the wilderness," said Dr. Allen Frances, author of the book "Saving Normal: An Insider's Revolt Against Out of Control Psychiatric Diagnosis, DSM-5, Big Pharma and the Medicalization of Ordinary Life." He is largely credited with spearheading anti-DMS-5 efforts.

"A petition regarding DSM-5, signed by 50-plus associations, was presented to the (psychiatric association), asking for an independent scientific review. The association brushed it aside," said Frances, a Duke professor emeritus and former psychiatric department chairman. The psychiatric association says the DSM-5 was independently reviewed for 18 months but that those findings will not be made public. Also, the reviewers' identities will not be disclosed until the manual is released.

"The development of DSM-5 began with an unprecedented process of research evaluation that included a series of white papers and 13 scientific conferences supported by the National Institutes of Health," wrote Dr. David Kupfer, chairman of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who oversees the entire DSM-5 task force, in an e-mail.

"This preparation brought together more than 400 international scientists and produced a series of monographs and peer-reviewed journal articles. DSM-5 is the product of the most extensive discussion and debate -- as part of the most transparent process -- of any DSM." Mental illness in children: Know the signs

Frances contends that the process, though conducted with volunteers, has been somewhat secretive and did not sufficiently consider objections to what the manual will contain. Frances led the task force that produced the DSM IV in 2000. "What motivates me is the experience of having inadvertently contributed to fads and psycho-diagnosis that have resulted in over-diagnosis and over-treatment," Frances said. "Some of this happened during DSM IV, even though we were more conservative with that document than they've been with DSM-5, with its many changes that are unsupported and, in some cases, quite reckless."

For example, Frances said DSM-5 would mislabel one in four people with chronic pain and irritable bowel syndrome with the DSM-5's newly created "somatic symptom disorder," which is diagnosed when a person has spent at least six months steadily thinking of and being anxious about their medical illness.

According to Frances and other like-minded critics, a confluence of related factors resulted in an "over-medicalizing" and over-diagnosis of mental illness. Chief among them, they contend, is that an increasing number of primary care and other nonpsychiatric doctors are dispensing anti-psychotic drugs, despite their lack of training in that area of medicine. Aggressive sales and marketing by pharmaceutical companies may also be driving the surge.

Those factors, Montgomery said, were likely part of what was at play after her baby's stillbirth. "I had no mental illness. I had never been medicated. I had not even suggested that I was depressed," she said. "And I kept asking if anyone merely knew a therapist that I could go talk to about what was clearly a traumatic experience."

While Montgomery didn't require prescription medications, even DSM-5 protesters acknowledge that there are people whose disorders demand such intensive intervention, perhaps throughout their lifetime.

Still, critics say the upcoming manual veers in the wrong direction. "The DSM-5, in many ways, reflects the politics of psychiatry these days," said Dr. Joel Paris, author of "Prescriptions for the Mind: A Critical View of Contemporary Psychiatry," a psychiatry professor at McGill University and researcher at Mortimer B. Davis-Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Quebec.

"Everybody has a kind of investment in certain diagnoses. Those who are studying a particular disorder often are saying, 'Well, this is much more common than you think they are. Oh, the prevalence is very high.' But we risk losing legitimacy because of over-diagnosis. ... The fact is that most people get by with bad patches in their lives. They recover."

Gary Zomalt has years of experience in psychotherapy. Follow this Facebook page for more updates.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

REPOST: The next frontier is inside your brain

What is an “activity map”? Will this new research proposal lead to a deeper understanding on the human brain works ? This New York Times article has the details.

The Obama administration is planning a multiyear research effort to produce an “activity map” that would show in unprecedented detail the workings of the human brain, the most complex organ in the body. It is a breathtaking goal at a time when Washington, hobbled by partisan gridlock and deficit worries, seems unable to launch any major new programs.

Image Source: nytimes.com
This effort — if sufficiently financed — could develop new tools and techniques that would lead to a much deeper understanding of how the brain works. The ultimate aim, probably not reachable for decades, is to answer such fundamental questions as how the brain generates thoughts, dreams, memories, perception and consciousness — and to find ways to intervene and influence such brain activities. It may also be possible to determine how the brain changes over time in response to learning.

We are a long way from that kind of understanding today. Scientists using electrodes and existing imaging technologies have been able to study how individual neurons and small networks of neurons respond to stimuli. But the human brain has some 100 billion neurons, each interacting with perhaps 10,000 other neurons through complex circuitry that no existing technology has the speed or resolution to track. All told, there could be 1,000 trillion connections between neurons in the brain.

Scientists have been able to infer the main functions of certain regions of the human brain by studying patients with head injuries, brain tumors and neurological diseases or by measuring oxygen levels and glucose consumption in the brains of healthy people, according to Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health. But as Dr. Collins explains, this is like listening to the string section alone instead of the entire orchestra.

The sweeping scope of the new initiative, which has not yet been officially unveiled, was revealed by John Markoff in The Times on Monday. Fortunately, there is a strong base of knowledge to build on. Researchers have already made significant discoveries about brain functioning. They have identified how neurons behave at the point where anesthetized patients lose awareness, bringing us a step closer to understanding the nature of consciousness. They have linked certain areas of the brain to musical creativity and other areas to the formation of emotions and habits.

Scientists have even determined what animals are dreaming by first having them walk through certain locations in a fixed order and recording which neurons are activated. Then when the animal is sleeping, they can see if the same neurons are firing in the same order, an indication that the animal is probably dreaming about the walking it had just done. This rather simple experiment involves putting electrodes in the brain to record perhaps 100 neurons at a time. To really understand what is happening when an individual dreams, scientists will need to record what happens to many thousands or possibly millions of neurons as the dream is unfolding.

Recent advances in nanotechnology, microelectronics, optics, data compression and storage, cloud computing, information theory and synthetic biology could help make possible investigations that were unimaginable before. For instance, scientists might extend the value of traditional brain scans by implanting nanosensors, wireless fiber-optic probes or genetically engineered living cells to penetrate brain tissue and report which neurons are firing and when in response to various stimuli.

There should be clinical benefits as well. The knowledge developed could enable biomedical scientists to find more accurate ways to diagnose and treat depression, schizophrenia, dementia, autism, stroke, Parkinson’s and other illnesses or injuries of the brain.

President Obama hinted at broad ambitions for scientific advancement in his State of the Union address, saying, “Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the space race.” He mentioned mapping the human brain, but it’s more likely that scientists will start with smaller brains and central nervous systems — like those of worms, fruit flies, zebra fish and small mammals — before they move on to primates. No firm budget exists yet, but some leading researchers say this initiative may require more than $300 million a year, or some $3 billion over the first decade, in federal support. Whether that is new money or drawn from existing well-financed programs, it is an investment worth making.

Of the big scientific programs in the past half-century, few if any were as daunting as the brain project. The race with Russia to land men on the Moon in the 1960s was comparatively straightforward because it was largely achieved with technologies that already existed. The Human Genome Project, completed a decade ago, had a clearly defined goal — to identify the complete sequence of genes on every chromosome in the body — and there was little doubt it was achievable; the only question was how fast and at what cost.

By contrast, the brain project will have to create new tools to explore an organ that is the seat of human cognition and behavior. A task of that magnitude can truly capture the imagination.

As a renowned psychotherapist, Gary Zomalt has transformed countless lives and communities in California. This Facebook page shares updates about psychotherapy and other mental health topics..

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The value of stress in daily life

For many stressed-out people, the idea of living stress-free at some time in the near future continues to hold a strong appeal. A vacation from all of one’s worries and responsibilities remains as an important motivator and recharger to many. In fact, experts on mental health and productivity assert that workers should take short vacations more often in order to feel refreshed and consequently more productive at work.

Image Source: robertjrgraham.com

The idea that needs to be corrected, however, is that being completely stress-free is ideal for a person.

The feeling of stress comes from the amygdala, a part of the brain which sends alarms to the body when some form of danger is present. This alarm is actually always on – it is present in times of life-threatening danger, and it is ringing in times when one just wants to avoid trouble. It also follows that people actually experience varying levels of stress at all times.

Image Source: newscenter.berkeley.edu

There is a healthy level of stress, but it can also be in excess. The times when people experience a lot of stress are the times when they don’t pay attention to what the alarm is pointing to. It may be signaling to the fact that they’re neglecting their needs or that they’re not giving enough attention to something important.

Stress serves as a good motivator to get a person moving. Stress management, therefore, should not be directed at getting rid of stress but should instead be aimed at heeding the calls of the body to focus on and attend to what is important.

Image Source: helpingmenblog.blogspot.com

Dr. Gary Zomalt is the owner of 3R Counseling & Consulting. Visit this Facebook page for more resources on maintaining good mental health.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Cognitive restructuring: Self-talk for a better “You”

Image Source: PositiveInsights.com
The way people perceive life events greatly affects whether they find them stressful or not. Thus, cognitive distortions, or patterns of faulty thinking, can impact attitudes and behaviors.

Self-talk, the internal dialogue in the head that interprets, explains, and judges the situations one gets into, can make things seem better or worse. Some tend to see things in a positive light, others may view things more negatively. The pessimist would often employ overgeneralization, magnification, or all-or-nothing thinking. These cognitive distortions and self-talk begin at childhood, but it does not mean that people cannot break free from them as they grow into adulthood.  

Image Source: AsiaSociety.org
 Constructive restructuring

Also called constructive reframing, this is a process of recognizing and changing cognitive distortions so that people can alter their thoughts and thereby their feelings. This is not simply about “thinking positive,” but about evaluating the evidence of one’s thoughts and challenging their truthfulness.

The first step is self-monitoring. People need to become more aware of the messages they give themselves . This can be difficult as negative messages tend to run automatically and routinely in the head. Stopping to identify and examine negative thoughts should be done. Writing them can also give clarity to this irrational thinking.

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The second step is disputing these thoughts with more rational ones. For instance, overgeneralized thinking such as: “Person A was mean to me so nobody likes me” can be disputed by more accurate thought such as “Person A was mean to me but there are many people who like me.”

Learning to dispute faulty thoughts can be difficult especially for those who have been breeding and owning negativities, but constructive restructuring can help reframe those to become building blocks of better thinking.

Psychotherapist Gary Zomalt can offer enlightenment on cognitive restructuring through this blog.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

20 Tips to Tame Your Stress

A little stress is said to be good in keeping people motivated and focused. However, being under a lot of stress has a lot of negative effects. This article by Lynn Ponton, M.D. shares some tips to keep stress levels at bay.

Stress hits us all in life, and while a little stress is good — it keeps us focused and motivated — too much of it and it can grind our lives to a complete halt. When you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed-out, you may become paralyzed and unable to do much of anything.

Just as bad are unhealthy coping methods to deal with stress. Turning to food, alcohol or drugs often just turns one set of problems into another that can balloon out of control. It’s better to avoid those unhealthy coping mechanisms from the start, and find good ways to keep your stress under control.

There are many ways to tame your stress and keep it at bay. Here are 20 tips to tame your stress today, and keep the stress monsters at bay.

1. Perform diaphragmatic or “deep breathing” exercises.

2. Lie face down on the floor and begin breathing deeply and slowly, with your hands resting under your face. Do this for five minutes.

3. Sit in a reclining chair. Put a hand on your abdomen and a hand on your chest. As you breathe, make sure the hand on your abdomen is moving up and down rather than one on your chest. If the hand on your abdomen is moving you are breathing deeply and slowly.

4. Try progressive muscle relaxation or “deep muscle” relaxation. Progressively tense and relax each muscle group in your body. Learn the difference between muscle tension and relaxation.

5. Meditate. Use visualization or guided imagery to help you learn to be one with your thoughts. Sit quietly with your eyes closed, imagining the sights, sounds and smells of your favorite place, such as a beach or mountain retreat.

6. Exercise regularly or take up yoga.

7. Consult a psychologist about the use of biofeedback.

8. Make time for music, art or other hobbies that help relax and distract you.

9. Learn to identify and monitor stressors. Come up with an organized plan for handling stressful situations. Be careful not to overgeneralize negative reactions to things.

10. Make a list of the important things you need to handle each day. Try to follow the list so you feel organized and on top of things. Put together a coping plan step by step so you have a sense of mastery.

11. Keep an eye on things that might suggest you’re not coping well. For example, are you smoking or drinking more, or sleeping less?

12. Keep a list of the large and little hassles in your day versus the major stressful events in your life. This helps you focus on the fact that you’re keeping track of and managing those as well as you can.

13. Set aside a time every day to work on relaxation.

14. Avoid using caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, junk food, binge eatingand other drugs as your primary means for coping with stress. While they can be helpful once in awhile, using them as your only or usual method will result in longer-term problems, such as weight problems or alcoholism.

15. Learn to just say, “No” occasionally. It won’t hurt other people’s feelings as much as you think and is simply a method to be more assertive in your own life, to better help you meet your own needs.

16. Get the right amount of sleep. For most people, this is seven to nine hours a night.

17. Cultivate a sense of humor; laugh.

18. Research has shown that having a close, confiding relationship protects you from many stresses.

19. Don’t run from your problems! This only makes them worse.

20. Talk to your family and friends. See if they can help.

If these tips don’t help, or you’ve tried a lot of them with little luck in better taming the stress in your life, it may be time to consider taking it up a notch. A mental health professional — such as a psychologist — can help teach you more effective methods for handling stress in a healthy way in your life. Such psychotherapy is short-term and time-limited, with a focus on helping you better deal with stress.

Remember — we do have control over the stress and choices we make in our lives. It sometimes takes a little practice and effort to put some of these techniques into play in your life. But once you do so, you may be pleasantly surprised at the positive benefits you’ll receive.

Source: http://psychcentral.com/lib/2006/20-tips-to-tame-your-stress/

All's not Prozac: Treating mild depression with simple lifestyle changes

“A lot of people don't realize that depression is an illness. I don't wish it on anyone, but if they would know how it feels, I swear they would think twice before they just shrug it.” - Jonathan Davis

For many people, “dealing with depression” has almost become synonymous with “popping prescribed pills.” Like any physical ailment, depression has been considered to be pharmacologically remediable, reduced to something that can be managed by a formulation of chemicals that function by working its way into the synapses.

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But as with any other drug, antidepressants may have side effects that are potentially debilitating in the long run. And because case management entails primary care providers to be holistic, psychiatrists like Dr. Gary Zomalt and Dr. Amita Talati also recommend non-pharmacologic interventions that focus more on lifestyle modification in trying to crush mild depression:

Increasing physical activity. This is probably the single most important lifestyle change that one can implement to combat mild depression.

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Modifying diet. It is recommended to include in one’s diet food that are rich in serotonin and omega-3 fatty acids. Conversely, one must avoid sugar, alcohol, fat, and caffeine, as these may just potentially worsen prevailing conditions.

Connecting personally with other people. According to a 2010 Leeds University study, people who spend more time communicating virtually are more likely to experience more anxiety and depression than those who didn’t. Relying heavily on virtual communication increases feelings of isolation, ultimately resulting to depression.

Letting the sun touch the skin. Sun exposure can initiate the synthesis of Vitamin D which is proven to alleviate depression. As a matter of fact, Vitamin D deficiency usually results to suboptimal mood and brain function, thus contributing to the occurrence of depression.

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In the conduct of his profession, Dr. Gary Zomalt has helped clients attain optimal mental health. Access more information on psychiatric health by visiting this Facebook page.