All posts by Todd Pierce

Is Genetic Counseling for Mental Illness Playing God?

Because of serious mental illness being recognized as a real medical condition and a chemical imbalance in the brain and also because of its tendency to be hereditary, scientists have been conducting research to find a genetic marker or groups of genes that will determine a person’s subjectivity or likeliness to suffer from psychiatric illnesses.

Although it is highly controversial, scientists hope to be able to offer genetic counseling to the offspring of those suffering from mental illness in order to be able to treat and diagnose the illness earlier.

Because of the lack of knowledge of its determining factor, up until the present moment, psychiatrists are only able to diagnose based upon the reported symptoms of each individual, which has the propensity to be faulty if the patient does not report a symptom or recognize a symptom as a symptom.

Currently genetic disposition can be established for some illnesses. These illnesses include Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, and Huntington’s disease.

There are some setbacks currently with finding a genetic link to mental illnesses. One of the issues is that most mental illnesses are not determined by one gene only. There gene factors also vary depending upon their families and ethnicities.

The patient’s environments also have a strong influence on mental illness as well. So one gene alone can’t determine a person’s susceptibility to a mental illness, the person’s environment also plays just as much of a role.

And lastly there is the controversy that surrounds genetic testing for mental health illnesses. Those who oppose the testing are concerned about the confidentiality of the results of the genetic tests. The main concern is that insurance companies having access to the results and limiting or outright denying coverage to those with “pre-existing” illnesses.

It may also be possible for larger companies to have access to the information and discriminate on prospective employees because they are labeled or branded with the diagnosed illness.

They would also like to see the testing regulated by the federal government to make sure that it is valid and handled properly. Some would even like to see that genetic counseling be made mandatory. This could deter some people from becoming pregnant with a child that they are not able to provide the proper care for.

On the flipside, if the genetic counseling is made mandatory to determine whether the mother should give birth, the government in efforts to “normalize” society may try to abort all affected fetuses. Therefore choosing who deserves to live and who deserves to die.

If used solely for the purposes of diagnoses and treatment, then genetic counseling to determine mental illness would be very beneficial to society. However, if we use it to start playing God, then I find it highly unethical and inappropriate.

Retrieved from:

And They Say I’m Crazy.

I have been in therapy on and off for 25 years. My poor self-image, lack of confidence with girls, and insecurity led me to finally call a therapist at age 20. I didn’t know where to begin so I figured browsing through the Yellow Pages would be my best bet.

Big mistake.

I picked the closest therapist and made an appointment. She told me she worked out of her house. When I arrived, I was greeted by a heavy set middle-aged woman. She introduced herself and led me down to her basement office. She knew I was nervous and told me to sit on the floor and relax.

She brought out some huge fluffy pillows and encouraged me to get comfortable. Sitting on the floor and lying on oversized pillows seemed unusual to me, but what do I know. I told her my story and she made some helpful suggestions. She pointed out that my parents had mistreated me and I was clearly a victim.

Later, I found out that the patient is always told they’re the victim. It’s only your fault if somebody else is paying. (You learn that the first day of therapy school.)

Then the fun started. She asked me to pick up the fluffy pillow and hit her with it. She would then hit me back she explained. We then whacked each other for a good 5 minutes. I was just starting to enjoy it when she ordered me to stop. She then suggested that we hug for the last 5 minutes of the session. She said she was trying to show me that there was time for anger and time for kindness and I needed to learn the difference.

I awkwardly grabbed her and hugged away. I remember thinking how ironic this was. Here I am paying big money hugging this 60 year-old therapist and the real reason I’m here was that I couldn’t get a 20 year old girl to hug me. When she let go she asked me to make another appointment. I politely told her that she was not quite right for me. But when I bent down to tie my shoe as I was about to leave, she took the opportunity to smack me in the ass with that pillow. And they say I’m crazy…

My search for the right fit continued. This time I got a personal referral from my cousin. He raved about this psychiatrist. He said he was compassionate and smart as a whip. I gave his office a call. Feeling safe, I set up our first meeting.

My psychiatrist was a tall, distinguished man about 55. His office was very professional. Leather chairs, a mahogany desk, and hundreds of impressive psychology books in plain sight. This was the real thing I thought. My words poured out effortlessly. He encouraged me to bare my soul.

He seemed genuinely interested and concerned about my problems. But then the incessant twitching started. This man had every tick in the book. He shrugged his shoulders, he wiggled his nose, he scratched his ear, and his right foot never stopped tapping.

As you might imagine, this was a bit distracting. Here I am looking for answers to my problems and this guy is looking at the wax he just pulled out of his ears. He made a Turrets sufferer look like they were in a coma. Then it hit me. Maybe this was a test. Maybe he was conducting some kind of experiment. Maybe he wanted to see how I would cope with an uncomfortable situation. That has to be it I thought. No one could take this guy seriously if he really had that many nervous and annoying habits.

So, I decided to play along. Instead of getting turned off by his actions, I would show him my adaptability and patience by mimicking him. The next few minutes were reminiscent of a good Three Stooges episode.

He wiggled his ears and so did I. He smelled his fingers and so did I. He kept sticking out his tongue and so did I. As the session ended I thanked him and was determined to see him again. He informed me that this was our first and last meeting. Further more he chastised me for mocking his afflictions. I tried to explain but to no avail. I could not convince this insecure doctor that I was not mimicking him in a cruel way. As I left he charged me $200. Trying to stay in the spirit of our session I charged him $200 right back. You should have seen him twitch then. And they say I’m crazy…

After years of trial and error, I finally found the right psychiatrist in Dr. Harvey. He was my age and we had a lot in common. We shared the same culture and grew up in the same city. He helped me work through a lot of confusing feelings. I realized that by understanding my past behavior I could react differently when the situation came up again. This was a real breakthrough.

I looked forward to our sessions with one exception. I was always afraid of seeing someone I knew in his office. Then it happened. As I walked out into the lobby, there he was — Teddy Cohen. Teddy was a high school buddy of mine. I hadn’t seen him in 20 years. After the initial panic past I tried to be rational. After all Teddy was here to.. A sense of relief came over me. “It’s been 20 years how you doing?” Teddy said. “How do you think I’m doing Teddy? I’m coming out of a psychiatrist office,” I said with confidence.

“Steve, I’m Dr. Harvey’s CPA,” Teddy exclaimed. “I’m here to do his taxes.”

I learned a valuable lesson that day.

From then on, every time I visited Dr. Harvey’s office I protected myself by going dressed as a mailman. That way if somebody recognized me I could tell them the letter I was delivering was certifiable, not me. And they say I’m crazy…

How Play Therapy Can Boost a Child’s Self Esteem

Do you feel your child can use a boost of self-esteem? If you answered, “yes” then play therapy could be just the thing to help your child increase their level of self-esteem. To help understand what type of impact a low level of self esteem can have on a child’s overall life and how play therapy can help boost a child’s level of self esteem, I have interviewed therapist Matthew Morrissey.

Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I am a licensed psychotherapist in full-time private practice in San Francisco, California. I work with children, teenagers, and adults who are dealing with such issues as depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, and relationship difficulties. I grew up as a pretty nerdy kid but then discovered skateboarding when I was 13. I was hooked and became obsessed with the sport for the next six years, becoming a sponsored amateur. Then in college I discovered a real love for philosophy and psychology. I ended up making the latter a profession and the former an abiding passion. I feel like I lead a pretty blessed life at the moment.”

What type of impact can a low level of self-esteem have on a child’s overall life?
“The impact can be extensive and should not be underestimated. Children with low self-esteem find it harder to develop close friendships. They tend to be shy and more isolated. Therefore they are at higher risk for being bullied. They are also more at risk for becoming depressed, and when this starts to occur the child may begin to develop sleep problems, have difficulty concentrating (and thus fall behind in school or act out in the classroom), and even develop physical ailments that are ways of communicating the distress. Furthermore, as the child is actively forming ideas about who she or he is as a person and what to expect from the environment, the child is at risk of developing skewed notions and expectations, and these can follow a child into adulthood.”

How can play therapy help boost a child’s self esteem?
“First, let me say a little about how play therapy works. In beginning a treatment relationship with a child, the therapist says something like this to him or her: “In my office, as you can see, there are lots of toys and things for playing. In playing here with me, I will start to understand who you are and what is most important to you.” The therapist then “gets out of the way” so to speak and lets the child run the show for the entire 50 minutes. The child may choose to play alone, in which case the therapist will make tactful, ongoing comments about the child’s play'”attempting as much as possible to enter the child’s world. Or the child may invite the therapist to assume a role in the play, in which case the therapist tries earnestly to become who the child needs at that moment.”

“A play therapy session is like administering a concentrated dose of relationship vitamins. The “vitamins” are the 100 percent uninterrupted attention of an adult, the lack of intrusion of the adult’s needs on the child’s play, and the delicate focus brought by the therapist onto the child’s feelings and conflicts as expressed in the play. Over time, the child absorbs these “vitamins.” The child is seen and heard by an adult in a way he or she probably did not imagine was even possible. This naturally raises self-esteem because the child gets consistent validation for many aspects of her or his self.”

What would a typical play therapy session be like for a child?
“Children are constantly looking for attention and recognition from adults. Yet it is all too easy for us adults to become consumed by the demands of our adult world. Therefore a play therapy session for children is like a special oasis in the week where very little demands are placed on them and where a kind of relaxation and exploration of self become possible. It is an artificial situation to be sure, but children drink it up like a glass of ice-cold lemonade on a hot summer day. They look forward to their visit with the therapist and they become upset when something interferes with the visit. Therapy is a time to get some extra-special recognition. Parents often report that their children’s mood improves markedly right after a play therapy session.”

What last advice would you like to leave for a parent who is considering play therapy to help boost their child’s self esteem?
“I would tell the parent(s) to find a therapist who she or he thinks will really connect with the child. I also would encourage the parent(s) to work closely with the therapist to identify ways the parent(s) can cement the gains made in the treatment.”

Thank you Matthew for doing the interview on how play therapy can boost a child’s self esteem. For more information on Matthew Morrissey or his work you can check out his on

Recommended Readings:
Art Therapy for Children
The Benefits of Clinical Hypnotherapy
Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy

How to Save Money on Therapy with a Psychologist or Psychiatrist

“The whole world’s in therapy!” my wife said the other evening as we were getting ready for bed. To be fair, she’d been reading a magazine about the number of celebrities who see a psychologist or psychiatrist on a regular basis, but she had a point. It sometimes seems as though therapy is the “trendy” way to handle one’s problems these days, but it can also be a healthy method of coping with trauma. If you’ve decided to seek therapy with a psychologist or psychiatrist, however, you might be looking for ways to save money on that exorbitant bill.

It’s supply and demand. Since a growing number of people are seeking therapy with psychologists and psychiatrists, these professionals know that they can charge more money and still keep their patients. The upshot is that this means a serious problem for those whose insurance coverage doesn’t pay for the entire cost of therapy, and it might seem almost impossible to save money.

1- Decrease Intervals

Although it is standard, you might not need therapy with your psychologist or psychiatrist once a week, or even once every two weeks. In fact, you might need therapy only on an as-needed basis, such as when feelings of depression begin to escalate, or during certain seasons of the year. You can save money on therapy by decreasing the intervals at which you attend sessions. For example, you might want to move down to once-a-month visits.

Of course, you don’t want to save money on therapy at the expense of your mental health. Some patients need weekly or twice-a-week visits in order to keep their mental stability in check, so you should discuss decreasing the intervals with your psychologist or psychiatrist. Weigh the benefits against the risks, then make your decision.

2- Negotiate the Price

In most cases, a psychologist or psychiatrist is operating as a one-man show, or in a private practice with two or three other professionals. In this case, he or she is free to set whatever rates seem appropriate, which means those per-session fees are totally negotiable. For example, if your therapist decides to raise the rates, you can save money on your therapy by negotiating a lower price. You could say, “I can’t pay this new amount, but how about we split the difference?”

To keep your business, a psychologist or psychiatrist may be willing to lower fees even without an across-the-board increase. If you have specific circumstances that require you to cut down on expenses, but you really need therapy on a regular basis, ask about a break on your bill. It doesn’t hurt to inquire, and you can always go with someone else.

3- Take Off-Hours

There are always times during the day that a psychologist or psychiatrist simply can’t get patients in their offices. Mid-mornings, for example, are notoriously difficult to fill because patients are at work or taking classes or otherwise occupied. If you are willing to take one of these off-hours slots, you might be able to save money on therapy.

Using Laughter to Deal with Stress and Situations that Make You Angry

Ok guys, come on now. You’ve been there. So mad you were ready to rip off the head of the closest thing that so much as rolled their eye your way. But reality is all that angst isn’t good for the digestive system and tends to produce wrinkles from all that furrowing of the brow. I knew that would get your attention ladies.

Now often we get to the breaking point because of a build up of stress. Ever heard the saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back” ? There is a reason that saying is popular. How many times have you said as a parent “If I tell you ONE MORE TIME?”. Yup, there is your build up. The problem is most of us are so busy trying to get through the daily grind of living our lives that we feel we don’t have the time to stop and deal with every little problem that comes our way. That advice your high school counselor gave you about stopping to work out every problem is great advice, don’t get me wrong. This article is not going to promote avoidance of your issues. But, the reality is there is a right place and time to deal with your issues and in the middle of traffic, your kid’s play, or the boardroom evaluation meeting just isn’t the right time. So if we can’t take the time to stop and deal with our anger at the co-worker who took our bottle of Evian for the 100th time, what do we do? Well, for future reference I would suggest bringing a cooler which will help you avoid the problem, but that is beside the point. This article will give you some tips on balancing that anger with a healthy dose of the chuckles each day.

Do you know how you are supposed to “eat an apple a day to keep the doctor away”. Ok, well I don’t know if that works since I eat plenty of apples and see the doctor all too frequently, but I do know that a day full of laughter makes you slow to sizzle when you hit the small bumps in life. I am going to give you some preventative and intervention techniques all using humor as the medicine. What I mean is that there are things you can do to expose yourself to smiley moments and even bales of laughter throughout the day, and a few tricks to cool your jets quick when tempers flare.

First, we’ll discuss the preventative art of laughter. Too many of us lead depressing lives. I don’t say this to depress you more, but seriously, think about your life for a minute. Most of our day is spent under pressure. We are thinking about bills, responsibilities, obligations, appointments, work load, duties, debts, and problems we have to solve. No wonder we are all depressed. Ugh! Top a day of this stuff off with the violence and drama of the evening news and no wonder you are snapping like a rotted band of elastic when your kid tells you the mash potatoes taste funny. So, first things first, replace this stuff with something a little happier. Now, I am not saying you have to stop facing the reality of life or that you should never watch the evening news. I am not advocating escape, just balance. But, let’s be real. If you made a list of the times you thought about something that made you happy and a list of the things you thought about that upset you each day, the scale would be tipped onto the negative side so far the scale wouldn’t even stand upright anymore. Now, we all know those disgusting little Suzy Sunshine’s, who never seem to have a care in the world and walk around with a perpetual smile. You know, the one who says in her chipper little voice “And how are You today”, before you even have your second cup of morning coffee. But, those people are not the norm, you are, so buck up and chuckle it up. I promise, even Ms. Suzy Sunshine will seem less abrasive.

So know you want to know. “Ok, Ms. Smarty Pants, exactly how am I supposed to spend my day laughing when my life is filled with stress, drama, tragedy, and problems?” Now, granted if your dog really did just die this morning, this really isn’t going to work, but if all your troubles are the normal junk life dumps on you, you can combat it with things that make you laugh. Now, for everyone the actual intervention is different. Your going to have a to do a little work here and think about what makes you laugh. Maybe you enjoy reading the comics, or an old fashion knock-knock joke makes you smile. I can’t give you all the answers of what you think is funny, but I will give you some ideas to get you started. Then you just have to implement them into your daily life.

Here are some ‘make me smile’ gems:

1.Paste cute pictures drawn by the children in your life (this includes nieces, nephews, amp; neighbors) around the space you work in. Pick the really silly and colorful ones that bring a smile to your face and a memory of a more carefree time.

2.Join a joke a day email list or if your work allows it, even post a joke a day or share it with your co-workers.

3.Decide on some internal visual place that makes you laugh, like antics at the local swimming pool or your little brother squirting milk out of his nose. Bring this image into your mind a few times a day and have a private chuckle.

4.Ditch the news a few times a week and take the time to sit and watch a stand-up or raunchy comedy (if you’re only with grown-ups) or a nice family friendly silly-thon if you are with the kids. The key is to spend time watching something that amuses you; this does not include episodes of serious dramas, crime shows, or talk shows about marriages dissolving. I realize these shows might be your favorite, but often too much of this kind of television will only depress you more.

5.Better yet, shut the t.v. off and do something outrageous. I mean something really out there. Have a water balloon fight, play catch the pumpkin in the back yard (watch out when it breaks), jump on the trampoline with the kids, finger-paint, or put your bathing suit on and play in the sprinklers. The more child-like the more amusement you will have. I know, I know, you are entirely too grown up for these activities. But, let me ask you, consider the ratio of happy children to depressed children and compare it with the ratio of happy adults to depressed adults. Being old is depressing, lighten up and have some fun.

6.If you’re an internet geek you know where to look for the silly clips, those that will really get you rolling. If not search for ‘funny’ and ‘clip’ and you will be taken to a host of make you laugh stunts and bloopers.

7.Speaking of bloopers, if you are having a really rough day, do some of your own. Have an unconventional dinner, like waffles and ice cream. Then top this off by playing Operation or something equally silly. You don’t need kids, just get out the old gameboard and have fun.

These are only a few examples of the things you can consciously choose to do each day to counterbalance all the rough stuff life throws your way. Once you get on the right track, you’ll be coming up with plenty more on your own. So, are you getting the hint here? The key is, whatever event you choose to bring some chuckles into your day, from watching America’s Funniest Home Video’s to making a play-doh meal, the key is stop taking life so seriously. Yes, we all have bills, we are all going to die, and our problems will all be there when we are done, but healthy doses of laughter help us deal with these problems better. Reality is, you don’t have forever on this Earth, and why waste the time you have by worrying every minute. Take a risk. Have some fun. If you make a conscious effort to do this each day, before you know it will come naturally and you’ll have a whole new perspective on life. The road rage will diminish, you’ll actually be able to smile at your spouse again, and when your boss gives you grief you can literally ‘grin and bear it’.

Now on to laughter intervention. I am going to give you some scenarios and ways to use laughter to diffuse them when your in the most precarious of anger inducing positions.

Scenario: Your boss is telling you for the 1,001 time today that you need to include a cover sheet with your fax. Now if your boss is a woman picture her bald. If your boss is a man then picture him in the fairy dress your friend’s daughter wore to that recital. The key is to find something completely alien to what they normally look like and garb them in it while they are talking. It is entirely impossible to be anger while doing this, try it some time and you’ll see. Now, just be careful not to smirk too much. Your boss might decide you aren’t taking their drama seriously and decide to fire you. Ouch!! You’ll need a much stronger intervention for that. They key is to use some subtle humor only you know to keep you from focusing on how much the person is upsetting you.

Scenario: You worked all day, your beat, your feet hurt and your head aches, you just ran over the kids bike and you walk in the front door with your only desire to sink into some kind of black oblivion and your spouse says. “Dear, what do you want for dinner?” Now, this is one of those straws and the dominoes fall. This innocent question is met with snide or sarcastic remark, which elicits a hurt and defensive answer and the fight ensues. SO, this is what you do. When your spouse asks you this question, look them dead in the face and say. I was thinking I’d like worms and dirtballs for dinner actually. Your spouse is going to think you quite lost your mind, but the laughter that erupts from you both will diffuse your tension and help your spouse see just how close to the edge you are. After you stop laughing, either offer a suggestion for dinner, or gently hug your spouse and tell them if you make one more decision today your brain will melt and you would really appreciate if they would just surprise you.

Scenario: You have worked very hard all day cleaning the house, your youngest child (or your dog for that matter) spills grape juice (or pees, that’s always terrible) right in the middle of the carpet, and you have guests arriving in 15 minutes. Now, don’t explode. This situation is easily fixable by some quick carpet cleaner, deodorizer, and a rug. BUT, before you can even get to that you have to stop. Just stop. Look at this from the viewpoint of Real Problems. Yes, you have one more mess to clean up, but this very fixable. However, if you feel like you really are going blow your top, first let yourself let off some steam. Try this – Stand in the middle of the room, stand on one leg, and recite this “A flea and a fly in a flue, Said the fly ‘Oh what should we do’, Said the flea ‘Let us fly’, Said the fly ‘Let us flee’, So they flew through a flaw in the flue” Can you even picture yourself doing this? Trust me the gales of laughter that erupt from your kids (or the strange looks from your dog) are infinitely more satisfying than counting to ten. Now, go get that rag and rug. Take a breathe, and while your at it. Sick that tickle monster on that kid (or the dog-though be sure your dog doesn’t bite tickle monsters).

Scenario: Your sitting in traffic, you are late for a meeting, and you are getting more and more desperate by the minute. Your road rage is reaching dangerous levels. So, let’s see what is the worst that can happen. No, I am not talking about that therapeutic catastrophizing, but the REALLY outrageous stuff. The more unlikely the better. “So your in traffic, and your going to miss your meeting. Obviously that means you have lost this deal and your job. Now you can’t take that trip to the Bermuda Triangle like you wanted so you can lose the spouse and kids, you certainly can’t hire that Swiss masseuse to whip your hot chocolate to a perfect texture. So, you certainly have to lead a life of crime now. That’s it you’re going to be the Panty Bandit. You’ll wear panties on your head, sneak in unsuspecting people’s homes while they are sleeping, and raid every pair of underwear they have. Then you can sell them on the black panty market. Eventually, you’ll get caught of course and you’ll end up doing community service for the rest of your life by digging out all those feminine products that people actually flush down the septic system instead of using the little trash cans. You’ll only take so much of this and eventually blow up the world using your teenage chemistry set.” Ok, is this going to fix your problem with that meeting? No. You’ll have to call your boss, explain and reschedule. And in the case of worst case scenario, put your resume back out. But, the moral of the story is that there are many things that will happen in life that you have NO CONTROL over. Obsessing about it won’t change that fact. So, all you can do is work through it. In reality, we all tend to catastrophize in small amounts and things are seldom as bad as we think. Not that many people lose their jobs due to being stuck in traffic. And if the catastrophizing doesn’t stop you from worrying it will atleast keep you busy while your in traffic and stop you from doing something stupid to the car behind you that keeps honking its horn for absolutely no reason.

I think you get the picture. In the end, just give yourself a daily reality check. Lots of people deal with bad stuff, everyone has bad days, and if can induce a health dose of laughter into your day everyday your going to deal with these moments much better. Now a word of caution, if you have gotten yourself into a true funk, or your problems seem so overwhelming that nothing could ever be funny again, you are becoming physical with your children when angry, or you are thinking about hurting yourself or someone else you need to seek some professional help to deal with your problems. Often people have a chemical imbalance that no amount of laughter can help and you really should seek some outside intervention before it’s too late. But, if like me you just get up to your ear in dealing with the drama everyday, take that apple and carve a pumpkin face into it. The sillier the better.

Don’t forget a chuckle a day, keeps the straitjacket away.

Art Therapy with Adolescent Clients

Art therapy is a versatile modality that can be utilized with a wide range of human populations in a variety of settings (Malchiodi, 3). As a therapy, it is particularly suited to adolescents because it requires the active participation of the client to physically create art objects and discuss them (5). Art therapy is useful with clients who have “ordinary” problems, as well as the mentally ill, the sick or disabled, and those affected by trauma (46). It can take the form of individual therapy, family therapy (Riley, 66), or group therapy with peers (193).

Art therapy is a relatively new field. Although many factors paved the way, from Jung’s ideas about archetypes to an interest in the artwork of the insane (Malchiodi, 24-26), the specific concept of art therapy emerged in the mid-20th century. In the 1940s, psychoanalyst Margaret Naumburg began having her patients draw their dreams as well as talk about them. She believed these images were symbolic forms of communication, and as such, her approach was oriented toward the meaning of the final art product (35).

In the decade following Naumburg’s initial ideas, Edith Kramer became known for her ideas on the power of artmaking to initiate psychological healing. She emphasized the creative process in the act of expressing one’s inner experience (36).
The field of art therapy is still growing today and is practiced by therapists with a wide range of therapeutic orientations. Art therapy, which focuses on the visual arts, is now considered a subset of the genre called creative arts therapies (or expressive arts therapies), which also includes music therapy, drama therapy, poetry therapy, and movement therapy (Malchiodi, 38).

Although art therapy can be useful to a variety of client populations, it is especially well suited for adolescents. Teenagers are in a very creative but ambivalent period of their lives; art therapy can harness this creative energy and show them that “when creativity is introduced into problem solving, the art can provide fresh viewpoints and excitement” (Riley, 38). Art therapy usually succeeds with adolescent clients where other therapies may fail because, although teenagers have a strong desire to express their feelings and opinions, they are wary of talking to adults. However, they are willing to indirectly express themselves through art images because “the art form is safe and under their control” (21). Furthermore, art therapy doesn’t seem like “real” therapy to adolescents; it is creative play with the help of an adult who is not controlling (65).

Adolescents are in a time of volatile transition, both physically and emotionally. They are slowly moving into abstract and logical thinking, learning social skills, developing sexual feelings and individual identity, and trying to figure out social roles and their place in the world (31). Two processes of growth occur during the teen years: puberty (physical changes) and adolescence (psychological changes) (29). Riley states that the distinction is important: “No two teenagers are on precisely the same path of maturation. I no longer evaluate the teen chronologically, I consider him or her developmentally” (19). Because adolescents are in such a time of flux, art therapists working with teenagers must have a strong sense of humor, be comfortable with sexual issues (usually presented crudely, such as teenaged boys building clay penis sculptures), and not have lost touch with the pain and confusion of their own adolescence (79, 225).

Riley emphasizes that there is no one correct or unfailingly effective way to treat adolescent clients (27) and suggests that the therapist approach each new individual as if he or she were a member of a new and unfamiliar culture (35). Social context is an important complicating factor in treating teenagers because they are subject to so many different social influences: “regional, urban and suburban, poverty and wealth, culture and ethnicity” (28). Riley proposes that art therapists treating adolescents take a social constructionist view; that is, “the adolescent is viewed in the context of his/her environment and included in the co-construction of the treatment goals” (18). Rather than applying particular therapeutic techniques, the therapist working with adolescents should remain open to learning from each client and genuinely engage him or her (40-41).

At the beginning of a therapy session, the client will enter to find that the therapist has already laid out art materials on an appropriate surface. Riley recommends these materials: broad tipped felt pens, oil pastels, collage pictures (already cut out) as well as glue stick and scissors, and a roll of white butcher paper from which varying sizes of paper can be cut. Adolescent clients also respond well to plasticine (oiled clay that doesn’t dry out) (58). It is particularly important for materials to be presented casually and not appear “precious” (57-8). Also, the therapist must provide culturally “flexible” media. For example, if the client is offered collage materials, they must include magazine pictures that can be representative of his/her experience, rather than all being cut from fashion magazines; also, materials such as plasticine and markers are available in a variety of skin tones (35). Riley suggests that the therapist offer the same limited range of media at each session because adolescents prefer the stability of sameness (57). She notes that her clients tend to prefer drawing with black or red markers or working with collage materials (53).

Generally, the art session will begin with the therapist offering a directive-guidelines for a specific kind of image. However, the client is free to reinterpret the directive and do whatever conveys his or her desired meaning (39). Riley states that it is best, when working with a new client in a not-yet-established therapeutic relationship, directives should be “once removed”-that is, phrased so that the therapist is inquiring about teenagers in general rather than this client in particular. For example, the therapist might say, “Draw a picture that shows what most people your age worry about the most.” This approach allows the client to express an expert opinion and to safely reveal information about himself or herself (44).

Riley finds certain directives particularly useful with this age group. She employs “polarity drawings,” in which the client is asked to divide a sheet of paper in half and then respond to a question such as, “How do your parents punish you? How do you punish your parents?” (48). Often she suggests projects involving the embellishing of a box, such as decorating the outside of the box to represent the client’s outer self and the inside to represent the hidden inner self. In this way, the box becomes a safe container for overwhelming feelings about identity (160, 167). The therapist might instruct the client to draw or collage a message to someone with whom they are in conflict (52). Clients that demonstrate significant talent or interest in making art can be encouraged to keep a visual journal outside of therapy time (61). In family therapy, artmaking can be metaphorical and encourage communication among family members. For example, family members might be instructed to construct clay figures of themselves, which can then interact with each other (a metaphorical interaction). Or the family could be instructed to cooperate in making a mural on one large piece of paper, with the therapist pointing out how family dynamics affected the process of making the picture (202).

Riley believes that having a series of directives pre-planned for a particular client is comfortable and easy for the therapist but doesn’t serve the client-the client must feel in control of what happens in therapy and not feel subjected to an adult agenda (45). In general, she avoid one-session directives and instead offers long-term projects that give a sense of continuity and relationship-building. One example is an illustrated Life Story Line (164). Adolescents like the challenge of complex long-term projects, and an ambitious approach keeps the art process from being boring or seeming like busywork (167).

Riley states her interest in both the product produced by the client and the process of creating it (18). She prefers to avoid the concept of “assessment” through viewing artwork, except as “an ongoing comparison of the artwork that the client offers from session to session” (21). She notes that if an image reveals dysfunction in the issue at hand, the image can be “corrected” by the client in several ways-by using a different color to add to the original drawing, or by altering the image (ex, cutting it up and reassembling it) (48). In this way, the product can again become part of the process.

A particular challenge of working with this age group is an absolute need to maintain confidentiality, even more so than normal. The therapist should never show client artwork to anyone-including the client’s peers or family members, or even the therapist’s colleagues-without explicit permission from the client. Riley states bluntly, “Adolescents are unforgiving if betrayed” (51). One such incident means the end of the therapeutic relationship. It is also important to respect the client’s rights in other aspects of the therapy. For example, if it became necessary to report a member of the client’s family to social services because of reported abuse, it should not be done without the client’s knowledge; the client needs to be in the room when the reporting happens and be able to present his or her side of the story to the caseworker (230). The therapist must be cautious and aware of client’s suspicions of adults. According to Riley, “a false move of interpretation or an imposition of the therapist’s agenda on the relationship” will jeopardize the therapeutic relationship (40). Riley emphasizes that the art therapist should never make judgments or assumptions about the content or meaning of the client’s artwork; the therapist must always request input from the client and take social contexts into account (34).

It is not surprising that active therapy with adolescents will frequently involve power struggles initiated by the client. Riley suggests that if the client resists revealing the meaning behind their creations, the therapist should respect this resistance. In fact, she states, “Resistance should be reinterpreted as appropriate withholding of private revelations” (44). In other words, the therapeutic relationship is defined by the client’s willingness to be vulnerable; if the client is not ready, it is his or her right to abstain from sharing too much . In the case of clients who do not come to therapy willingly, it can be expected that they will refuse to cooperate with the goals of therapy. One approach to this dilemma is to temporarily abandon the idea of therapy altogether and suggest that the client just make art for the pleasure of it. Usually even the most reluctant client is willing to draw graffiti-type images or play with colors abstractly, especially if he or she believes that the therapist will not be able to decipher the meaning of the images (47). Occasionally there will be times when a client simply refuses to make art at all. Riley believes that a therapist needs to be comfortable with the concept that some clients sometimes will not want to produce artwork: “If the therapist needs to control the production of art it is anti-therapeutic” (223).

An art therapist working with adolescents will frequently have to treat depressed clients. Riley suggests that the therapist should begin by acknowledging that no one can truly know or understand another’s pain, and then indicate a willingness to accompany the client on their journey despite not having the answers (139). If a therapist can engage a depressed client in artmaking, the process of creation itself can be very healing. It shows the client that they can choose not to be passive and that “they have power that can be activated” (145). Artmaking also has been associated with the psychosomatic release of stress, which in itself begins the healing process (184). Riley states that sometimes an art-related gift from the therapist to the client (for example, a small set of felt pens to use at home) can work as a transitional object to keep them engaged in the process (118).

References Malchiodi, C. (1998). The art therapy sourcebook. Los Angeles: Lowell House. Riley, S. (1999). Contemporary art therapy with adolescents. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Hypnotherapy: A Solution for Sexual Issues

Although society has grown more comfortable with the topic of sex in general, it is still a rather private issue that most prefer to keep between themselves and their sexual partners. Most people are hesitant to talk about their sexual issues in large groups of people or to a therapist, yet when a sexual issue arises, they feel that they have no one to whom they can turn. In fact, most individuals prefer to keep their sexual issues away from even their partners.

Hypnotherapy is an age-old remedy for individuals with all types of problems. It can be used to help people with emotional, psychological and even sexual issues which may never have been solved using an alternative method of treatment. Hypnotherapy has been successfully used to help thousands of people overcome their problems and live happy lives.

That said, most people are reluctant to pursue hypnotherapy as a treatment option for sexual issues, such as impotence and low libido. They fear what might come out of a hypnotherapy session, and what terrible secrets might be learned when he or she is caught unaware. Hypnotherapy requires a high level of trust between the patient and the therapist, which may not be possible for many people.

The purpose of hypnotherapy is to uncover or unravel the problem that lies below the surface of sexual issues. Unless there is a physical cause for the sexual issue, it is most likely psychological, and sometimes buried so deep that the patient cannot discuss it or even identify it while simply having a conversation with a therapist. Since sexual issues such as frigidity, impotence and sexual anxiety are four times more likely to be psychological in nature, the patient must first admit what the problem actually is.

The hypnotherapist will guide the patient through a series of questions related to his or her sexual practices. The goal will be to discover how long the problem has existed, why it started, and what the patient’s comfort level is. From there, the hypnotherapist will be able to recommend a treatment schedule to help the patient to overcome his or her sexual issues.

It is true that identifying the cause is half the battle; once the patient understands his or her problem, steps can be taken to overcome whatever adversity might be standing in the way. Hypnotherapy can help a patient to answer questions regarding sexual issues honestly without his or her inhibitions getting in the way. Talking openly about sex and about emotional issues is imperative to reaching some sort of absolution in the matter.

If you are considering new options for sexual issues, you might consider hypnotherapy. Talk with a therapist about his or her experience in the matter, and ask whether or not it might work for you. If you are serious about overcoming sexual issues, and you have exhausted all other methods of treatment, then hypnotherapy might be your ticket to a healthier, more satisfying sex life.

Having Surgery? Talk it Over with a Counselor

No one likes having surgery even when the consequences are anticipated to be positive. That’s because most people worry about different tests that have to be done as well as the discomfort of some of the preparation, the potential risks of surgery, and the possible pain afterwards. Preparation for an operation is primarily physical with little time or emphasis given to the psychological component, which can be very important to many anxious people.

Some doctors and hospitals provide counseling for those who are to undergo surgery. This is usually for those who have complicated operations that may be life-threatening or have negative effects. Few medical facilities give counseling to those who have minor or relatively common surgeries, such as knee replacements and hysterectomies. It is likely, however, that more people would benefit from counseling prior to surgery than many physicians consider. Patients may not disclose their fears of surgery, preferring to show the proper “face”, when in fact they may be very anxious. Since anxiety is an emotion that can affect behavior, it is important for everyone to have an opportunity to talk through feelings prior to an operation.

In the days before an operation the patient needs someone safe to talk to about the procedure in some detail. Usually the doctor will have time to sort out the physical issues but may not have the time or inclination to deal with the psychological ones. A brief therapy session with a counselor can be of real help during these times. In many states, a prescription or referral from a physician to a counselor may allow the therapy to be covered by insurance. Even so the usual $100 to $150 cost for an hour is well worth the money to get good advice as preparation for surgery to deal with the fear and anxiety.

Even if counseling is privately done without insurance coverage, it is still good preparation for surgery of almost any kind. It allows the patient to talk through fears and all of the “what ifs,” to identify problem feelings and issues, and to learn what emotional preparation can be undertaken through any exercise the therapist might recommend. Often it is useful to involve a significant family member or close friend, following therapeutic preliminaries, and with the patient’s consent. That’s because some of the emotional support may be reinforced by folks the patient trusts.

Operations are more than physical events; they are psychological ones as well. With the body – mind connection long established, it is likely important for a potential surgical patient to have counseling prior to an invasive event.

How Intuitive Counseling Can Help with Health Problems

Do you frequently feel physically or emotionally unhealthy? If you answered, “yes” then intuitive counseling could be beneficial for you. To help understand what intuitive counseling is and how intuitive counseling can help you with your healthy problems, I have interviewed intuitive therapist Kim Illig.

Tell me a little bit about yourself
“I am an Intuitive Counselor, distinguished with certification from both Caroline Myss and Norman Shealy. With over 35 years experience in the healing arts working with individuals, groups and organizations, I bring my extensive knowledge and skills to my practice. I invite all to ‘integrate the intuitive everyday.'”

What is intuitive counseling?
“As an intuitive counselor, it is my job to provide clients with tools and an environment to explore how their symbolic or archetypal internal landscapes translate into something they can understand and use to make their lives more efficient and full of meaning. Today we are still dealing with the collective belief that what we can access through our five physical senses has more credibility than what we feel or sense as truth. On the whole, we place our feelings and intuitive wisdom in the category of ‘˜it might be true’. I am trained to observe the world from a “bigger picture” so I assume that the primary experience of living has a symbolic foundation rather that a literal one. The Intuitive System works with tools like dreams, body metaphors and archetypal analysis. I assume that anything that has physically manifested has its origin in the unseen or the energetic body. What we are beginning to understand is that what happens in our physical world originates in the part of our system we cannot access with our five senses. A favorite quote of mine is attributed to Michelangelo, “The body is the book of the soul.” He might have been talking about the body/soul relationship as synonymous to the adage that of we ‘reap what we sow.'”

How can intuitive counseling help people with health problems and what type of health problems is it most helpful in eliminating?
“I have to be frank here and say that intuitive counseling does not eliminate any health problems. The perspective of the intuitive counselor knows that the client is the one who is going to do the healing they are going to do and one of the options, admittedly the preferred option, is elimination of their uncomfortable symptoms and/or diagnoses. Given that, intuitive counseling can be invaluable to people with any and all health problems by providing them with a guide (the counselor) to the map of their discomfort or disease. The intuitive counselor provides a special perspective that invites the client’s life experience, that experience of their family and ancestors and the client’s beliefs, be them limiting or life enhancing, to translate health problems into information for the client to enter into the transformative process that healing truly is.”

How is intuitive counseling better than traditional types of medical health practices?
“It isn’t!!! All health practices, or modalities, have their benefits. I tell you, if I was in an automobile accident and I had a femoral bleed, I wouldn’t go to my acupuncturist or intuitive counselor! I would hope that I had a standard allopathic ER as close as possible! Western Medicine is also one of the best modalities for empirical diagnosis, in my opinion. And drugs have highly beneficial uses. Same goes for ‘˜standard’ modalities of counseling. There is a lot of amazing information out there; a lot of it helpful.
I would steer this question along the path of how can someone know what healing modality is best for them. My generic truthful answer is that I hope that people can learn to be available to understand that they are the wisest ones about themselves rather than the practitioners that they go to. They need to pick practitioners, of whatever health practice, that reflect that attitude back to them. Or, at the very least, have someone on their healing team that advocates for that in a way that holds the client’s agenda as primary rather than the practitioner’s. Steer clear of any practitioners that say their way is the only way. Or make sure that they have, once again, someone on their team that intends that the information they receive is given in the name of accuracy rather than in the name of being right. This is the kind of practitioner I practice being. I, and I hope all intuitive counselors, intend, practice, and are vigilant about accuracy. One of my focuses is to educate people to be able to discern their own accurate intuitive voice. I don’t think that all counselors need to be educators, though, and it is wonderful that we have different modalities and different characteristics in the practitioners available to us in this day and age.”

What last advice would you like to leave for someone who is considering intuitive counseling?
“Walking the path of consciousness is a treacherous one. It is hard to get past beliefs that are limiting because it threatens the way we have chosen, and our ancestors have chosen, to manage life. It is imperative that if you choose to walk the path of transformative healing that you don’t do it alone. Find people in your life that you trust to advocate your growth in a compassionate conscious way. Operative word there is ‘˜your’. Beware of people who want you to be like them. Intuitive Counseling is still a growing healing modality so there are going to be different definitions of it. Rule of thumb: It isn’t so much what form of counseling you choose as much as if it fits for you. Are you able to feel un-judged when you are discussing your issues with the practitioner? Are you able to relax and firmly and gently work through your challenges with the guide sitting there with you?”

Thank you Kim for doing the interview on how intuitive counseling can help with health problems. For more information on Kim Illig or her work you can check out her website on

Recommended Readings:
Cognitive Behaviorial Therapy
Art Therapy for Children

The Mystique of Connie Donaldson’s Healing Therapy

Connie Donaldson is no ordinary psychologist. In addition to individual counseling, This remarkable woman often invites distressed persons to a Constellation gathering. I have attended several such sessions to watch troubled persons begin to heal. Why? I’m fascinated for this reason: After a single session, I have witnessed an anxious or distraught individual leave the meeting room with new direction to their life, and a deep conviction that they have already started to change.

So what does this amazing woman do when she facilitates a Constellation? In the meetings I’ve attended, there are usually anywhere from seven to ten people in attendance. Some are there to observe; others participate if called upon. The Constellation begins when Connie asks for silence. Moments tick by. Then she asks one of the persons present who seeks help to come forward and sit beside her. A candle burns. The silence continues.

For the next five to ten minutes, Connie asks what it is that this person seeks. In the Constellations I’ve attended, troubled persons have requested help with a variety of issues. Some seek help with soured relationships with a parent, a spouse, or with family or relatives. Some seek help in moving on with their lives after a divorce or even the death of a loved one. Others seek stress relief because of a debilitating physical, mental, or social circumstance. But one thing is clear: the seekers who come forth know that within the next thirty to forty minutes, this therapist will help them tap into some form of immediate relief.

After this short interview, therapist Connie directs the participant to select key people who will stand in place of someone important to their problem issue. As selections take place, Connie repeats to each chosen person the critical role they will play in the seeker’s life. Selections always include a self-representative, and maybe a parent, a sibling, a grandparent, a stepfamily member-any important player in the seeker’s life.

The seeker stands. In silence, s/he physically moves representatives to positions in the room that feel comfortable IF s/he was standing in their midst. There is no haste here. At times, a representative will be placed facing a wall or corner, while another might stand almost touching the person the seeker has chosen for self-representation. When the seeker feels these persons correctly represent her/his feelings at that moment in time, Connie begins her healing procedure.

She reminds each representative to center her/himself into the roll assigned. Silence continues. The room fills with it. Each chosen person allows their inner spirit to fall into service to help the troubled seeker. Connie asks each spokesperson how they feel in their service role. Replies: “distant,” “unloved,” “I don’t know,” “I have no feeling right now,” “I want to help,” “revengeful,” “supporting,” “tense,” or a host of responses too numerous to list here. Connie tells each representative, “If and when you feel like moving in the room, do so, but only if you feel the urge.”

In the silence, a visible dynamic overcomes everyone present, even onlookers. I cannot explain it. It happens. It is real. It spreads throughout. Because while Connie probes the hurting person’s feelings; at the same time, she inquires about the feelings each representative is presently sensing toward the seeker who sits watching this drama.

And for an inexplicable reason, the spokespersons become the people they represent. They listen. They answer. They feel. They offer support. A face does not lie. Some weep. At times they turn slightly, or take small steps away or closer. When Connie asks the participant if these selectees truly reflect the troublesome situation they’re in; remarkably, the answer is, “Yes!”

Now the seeker stands to represent her/himself. With coaching words from Connie, this person interacts with representatives-some who stand-in for family members of another generation-a mother, a father, a brother, a grandmother or grandfather of long ago-a forgotten someone who by familial connection has influenced this pained person’s present life.

I have been a representative many times. I have allowed myself to say words which I’m not sure where they came from or exactly why I said them. But when servicing a hurting person, my role just came to me. There is no explanation for this. Psychiatrist Albrecht Mahr in his book, The Knowing Field (1999), talks about this unusual power of individuals to say things and feel things that accurately reflect how the hurting person and their representatives feel. Yet, in many ways, few words are really spoken. It is a more silent healing that invades all present.

Towards the end of the Constellation experience, it appears that an overwhelming feeling of release along with genuine support settles upon the healing person. That individual seems relieved to leave their weighty problem behind in this room; with these people; and in many cases, with total strangers. S/he can move on in peace with a sense of healing which has just begun in this sacred space.

Connie Donaldson has a special gift for this type of work. If there are others like her, they are few. Her therapy is not the “stuff” that just any counselor or therapist might use. She has helped any number of persons take their first steps toward wholesomeness. I will continue to attend such Constellation experiences as long as this gifted woman shares with me the opportunity to help others.

Connie Donaldson, MA, resides in a suburb outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.