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August 2011



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Archive for August 4th, 2011


Everyone gets anxious from time to time: there’s public speaking, job interviews, the dentist and all the rest.


For about one in six of us this will cross over into what psychologists term a disorder at some point in our lives. This is when people are almost continuously anxious and find it difficult to concentrate, have trouble sleeping and become irritable and restless. Women are roughly twice as likely as men to suffer from an anxiety disorder.


For the rest of us anxiety will come and go as part of the normal human condition. Whether it’s a constant or occasional affliction, dealing with anxiety effectively is important.


People are often prescribed drugs for anxiety but these are less effective in the long-term and have side-effects so relaxation training is often preferred.


Relaxation training comes in a variety of flavours, but the five methods which have much in common and the most evidence to support them are (Manzoni et al., 2005):


1. Progressive relaxation


The most commonly studied type of relaxation therapy may be familiar to you. It involves mentally going around the muscle groups in your body, first tensing then relaxing each one. It’s as simple as that. And with practice it becomes easier to spot when you are becoming anxious and muscles are becoming tense as, oddly, people often don’t notice the first physical signs of anxiety.


This is based on the idea that the mind follows body. When you relax your body, the mind also clears.


2. Applied relaxation


Applied relaxation builds on progressive relaxation. First you learn to relax you muscle groups one after the other. The next stage is to cut out the tensing phase and move straight to relaxing each muscle. Next you learn to associate a certain cue, say thinking ‘serenity now!’ (hello Seinfeld fans!) with a relaxed state. You then learn to relax really quickly. Finally you practise your relaxation technique in real-world anxiety-provoking situations.


Once again, mostly this is about mind following the body.


3. Autogenic training


Goes back to the 1930s and is another technique for progressively relaxing the muscles. To help you do this it has a mantra which you repeat to yourself as you go around major muscle groups: “my right arm is very heavy” and so on. A second stage involves inducing a feeling of warmth in the muscles. Once they feel ‘heavy’ from the first stage, you follow another mantra about warmth: “my right arm is very warm” and so on.


Further stages involve calming the heart and the abdomen and cooling the brow in much the same way.


Once again, you’ll notice that this is all about the mind following a calm body. As before practitioners recommend daily practice so that you can relax more and more quickly. With practice the simple intention to start the training will be enough to cause the body to become relaxed and warm.


4. Meditation


Here’s our old friend meditation which has so many different benefits. If you’ve been reading PsyBlog for a while you’ll have seen this come up in numerous contexts. There is certainly evidence that it can work for people who experience anxiety as well. I describe the basics of mindfulness meditation in this article about attention and meditation.


Read More …


We trawl the world’s journals so you don’t have to:


Resilience in schools (Psychology in the Schools).

Digit Ratio (2D:4D) and Individual Differences Research (Personality and Individual Differences).

Emotion and Morality (Emotion Review).

Neural Representations in Visual Word Recognition (Brain and Language).

Gender and relationships (British Journal of Developmental Psychology).

Educational Neuroscience (NeuroImage).

Probabilistic models of cognitive development (Cognition).

Remembering the 2005 London bombings: Media, memory, commemoration (Memory Studies).
[This post was compiled by Christian Jarrett for the BPS Research Digest.]





Article Date: 03 Aug 2011 – 0:00 PDT


The discovery of a mechanism in the brain explains for the first time why people make particularly strong, long-lasting memories of stressful events in their lives and could help sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.


The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Bristol’s Henry Wellcome Laboratories for Integrative Neuroscience & Endocrinology (HW-LINE) in the School of Clinical Sciences, and funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), is published online this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).


The research found that stress hormones directly stimulate biochemical processes in neurons that play a role in learning and memory. The way these hormones stimulate these signalling and epigenetic processes in neurons is completely new and has never been shown before.


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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 4, 2011


A new Finnish study finds that combining music therapy with a standard treatment for depression — medication, plus psychotherapy and counseling — improves patient outcomes.


Researchers believe the addition of music therapy allows people to better express their emotions and reflect on their inner feelings.


The study is published in the British Journal of Psychiatry.


Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä recruited 79 people between the ages of 18 and 50 years old who had been diagnosed with depression. Thirty-three of the participants were offered 20 music therapy sessions, in addition to their usual treatment for depression.


In Finland, standard treatment antidepressants drug therapy, five to six individual psychotherapy sessions and psychiatric counselling.


The other 46 participants received standard treatment, and acted as the control group.


The one-on-one music therapy sessions each lasted 60 minutes and took place twice a week. Trained music therapists helped each participant to improvise music using percussion instruments and drums.


On average, each participant attended 18 music therapy sessions. Twenty-nine individuals (88 percent) attended at least 15 sessions. The participants in both groups were followed up at three and six months and assessed for symptoms of depression and anxiety.


In the final analysis, researchers discovered that after three months of participation, individuals who received music therapy demonstrated significantly fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety, and scored better on general functioning.


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By Psych Central News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 1, 2011


New evidence suggests an intriguing link between chronic physical problems later in life with an early childhood mental disorder diagnosis, or other childhood psychological problems.


Researchers led by Kate M. Scott from the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand, examined data from 10 countries that participated in the World Health Organization World Mental Health Surveys program. These cross-sectional community surveys were conducted in person by trained lay interviewers.


Early childhood mental disorders — primarily depression and anxiety — were assessed by the definitions and criteria of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV). Other childhood adversities included abuse, neglect, loss of a parent through death or other means, divorce, parental substance use, parental criminal behavior, family violence and family economic adversity.


Each of the early-onset mental disorders included was associated with adult onset of three chronic pain conditions: osteoarthritis, chronic back or neck spinal pain, and frequent or severe headache.


Physical abuse as a child was associated with six chronic diseases: heart disease, asthma, diabetes, osteoarthritis, chronic spinal pain and headache.


After adjusting for childhood adversities, early-onset mental disorders were still associated with adult-onset chronic physical conditions.


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By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
Reviewed by John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on August 1, 2011


Experts are proposing a new, lower cost method to treat depression — teaching people to practice positive activities.


The naturopathic technique is an extension of decades of social psychology research.


Researchers at the University of California, Riverside and Duke University Medical Center proposed the new treatment approach, termed Positive Activity Interventions (PAI), in a paper published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine.


PAIs are intentional activities such as performing acts of kindness, practicing optimism, and counting one’s blessings. The philosophy is based on extended research on how happy and unhappy people are different.


Researchers believe this new approach has the potential to benefit depressed individuals who don’t respond to pharmacotherapy or are not able or willing to obtain treatment.


The technique is less expensive to administer, is relatively less time-consuming and has yielded rapid improvement of mood symptoms, holds little to no stigma, and carries no side effects.


The discovery of a low-cost method to treat depression is timely as more than 16 million U.S. adults – about 8 percent of the population – suffer from either major or chronic depression.


Read in Full:



By Ronald Pies, M.D.


Dear Mrs. ——-


You have asked me about the cause of your mood disorder, and whether it is due to a “chemical imbalance”. The only honest answer I can give you is, “I don’t know”—but I’ll try to explain what psychiatrists do and don’t know about the causes of so-called mental illness, and why the term “chemical imbalance” is simplistic and a bit misleading.


By the way, I don’t like the term “mental disorder”, because it makes it seem as if there’s a huge distinction between the mind and the body—and most psychiatrists don’t see it that way. I wrote about this recently, and used the term “brain-mind” to describe the unity of mind and body.1 So, for lack of a better term, I’ll just refer to “psychiatric illnesses.”


Now, this notion of the “chemical imbalance” has been much in the news lately, and a lot of misinformation has been written about it—including by some doctors who ought to know better 2. In the article I referenced, I argued that “…the “chemical imbalance” notion was always a kind of urban legend—never a theory seriously propounded by well-informed psychiatrists.”1 Some readers felt I was trying to “re-write history”, and I can understand their reaction—but I stand by my statement.


Of course, there certainly are psychiatrists, and other physicians, who have used the term “chemical imbalance” when explaining psychiatric illness to a patient, or when prescribing a medication for depression or anxiety. Why? Many patients who suffer from severe depression or anxiety or psychosis tend to blame themselves for the problem. They have often been told by family members that they are “weak-willed” or “just making excuses” when they get sick, and that they would be fine if they just picked themselves up by those proverbial bootstraps. They are often made to feel guilty for using a medication to help with their mood swings or depressive bouts.


Read in Full:


Faydra and Toby at a party July 3rd of this year.


— Tackling potty training, getting through a meal without two thirds of the food splattering to the floor, keeping shoes on for more than five minutes – these are typical challenges for moms of toddlers. In our household we face the usual toddler trials, (Well, not potty training. Not going there yet!) mixed into a routine that involves speech therapy, occupational therapy and play therapy.


Our youngest son, Toby, participates in these therapies because he has Fragile X Syndrome, the leading cause of inherited mental impairment. Fragile X Syndrome is a genetic disorder with a range of symptoms including speech delays, social anxieties, sensory processing issues, and possible physical characteristics. I, Toby’s mother, am the carrier of the disorder. I do not share Toby’s symptoms because, as a carrier, I do not have the full gene mutation. Even so, many carriers report issues with anxiety and depression and face the possibility of Fragile X-associated Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (FXPOI), a problem with ovarian function which can lead to infertility and early menopause.


Because of other family members with Fragile X, I decided to have genetic testing and genetic counseling before having children. When my husband and I learned that I was indeed a carrier and that I had a 50% chance of having a child with the full-mutation of Fragile X, we chose foreign adoption and then foster-adoption for our two oldest sons, but then… Surprise! Along came Toby.


Read in Full:




It was ten years ago that my now 14-year-old son Charlie was diagnosed with autism. While we received information from the child development center in Minneapolis that diagnosed him and from the St. Paul Public School District about treatments and therapies, we also — as does every parent I’ve met — struck out on our own to find ways to help our little guy. My husband Jim brought home stacks of books from what used to be The Hungry Mind bookstore on Grand Avenue in St. Paul and the libraries of two local colleges and we started reading everything we could find on the internet. We quickly found lots of information — almost too much — about alternative, experimental therapies (special diets, nutritional supplements, dolphins, prism lenses).


While we often found plenty of anecdotal reports, often from parents, about the wonders of some therapy or other, evidence-based scientific research to back up claims about multivitamins, anti-fungal therapy and the like was always — is still — in short supply. But no one , not even physicians, seemed willing to just say “those claims are over-rated” or “that just doesn’t work.” The recent medical investigation of one doctor who’s offered a highly controversial treatment involving autistic children gives parents a clearer idea of what treatments to avoid.


Many alternative treatments for autism involve giving a child various supplements and even drugs for experimental therapies. A highly controversial treatment called for giving children lupron, which is a drug prescribed to men with prostate cancer, women with fibroids and sex offenders. It can also be prescribed for children who have a rare condition, precocious puberty, but in these cases it has been called “chemical castration.” It is not a treatment for autism, though it has been used by a Maryland doctor, Mark Geier, both in that state and in clinics called ASD Centers that he operates in at least eight states.


Geier’s medical license was suspended by Maryland Board of Physicians in April; a month later, the state of Washington also suspended his medical license. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Illinois will also be conducting a hearing on August 22 on whether or not Geier should be allowed to practice medicine in that state. Geier currently operates a clinic in Springfield, Illinois; he also has one just over the river in St. Peters, Missouri. It’s not clear if he is being investigated in Missouri according to a spokesman for the Missouri healing arts board.


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Published July 27, 2011

Associated Press


Too many people were on board a sailboat that capsized and killed two passengers during an outing in San Diego Bay for people with special needs, police said Wednesday.


The San Diego Harbor Police found that overloading, the vessel’s condition and the absence of lifejackets contributed to the March 27 mishap.


Investigators said the sail was held together with duct tape and staples, and the vessel had wear and tear to be expected of a boat made in 1988.


When it capsized, there were 10 people aboard the 26-foot boat, which is designed to sleep six people, said Harbor Police Chief John Bolduc. Investigators also found the weight on board was unevenly distributed.


San Diego County prosecutors reviewed the findings and do not plan criminal charges.


“We just don’t’ feel like we have enough evidence to support a charge of criminal negligence,” Bolduc said. “We can’t re-create exactly what happened that evening, but we think there are some contributing factors, but certainly none that rise to the level of criminal charges.”


Police had strong words for Heart of Sailing Foundation founder George Saidah, who was piloting the boat and frequently took passengers on trips for the Bloomington, Ind.-based charity.


“We are not labeling him an experienced captain, he’s labeled himself as that,” Bolduc said at a news conference. “We don’t know what his specific experience was, but certainly every vessel operator needs to know the limitations of their vessel and they ultimately have to oversee the safety of their passengers.”


Saidah did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment.


John Shean, an attorney and Heart of Sailing’s board president, said he had not seen the police report and could not comment on its findings.


“They spent four months looking into this,” Shean said. “I’m sure they’ve done a thorough job.”


In March, Shean said a gust of wind caused the boat to tip. He said Wednesday that he still believed that was a factor. However, Bolduc said investigators found no evidence that weather contributed to the mishap.


Chao Chen, 73, and his son, Jun Chen, 48, of San Diego, died from drowning. They were the grandfather and uncle of an 11-year-old autistic boy on the boat. Bolduc said neither adult was wearing a life jacket, though there were “plenty” available on board.


All eight others aboard, including an adult with special needs, were dumped into 55-degree water.


Life jackets are required for children under 16 and recommended for adults.



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