What If You Knew Depression As A Doctor And A Patient?

One of my favorite psychologists is Dr. Deborah Serani.  She is quite the mover and shaker in the field of psychology.  She’s a professor, a clinician, an author – and she has also struggled with depression since childhood.  Dr. Serani recently gave a TedX Talk at Adelphi University.  Check it out:

Dr. Serani’s talk is incredibly moving. She gives a touching description of what it’s like to be depressed as a child. And also a very detailed account of her suicide attempt as a very young woman. Dr. Serani offers expertise on how to best manage mental illness, including “consistency, consistency, consistency” when it comes to psychotherapy and medication. I also appreciated the way she describes how self-care plays a part in managing her mental illness, including vigorously guarding her sleep, and being selective in who and what she lets into her life.

Dr. Serani concludes her powerful talk by offering words of encouragement to those suffering (and treating) mental illness:
“There is hope, there is healing.”

The Picture of Happiness – Photo Therapy

It’s The Picture of Happiness Month!

Today’s guest is Dr. Deborah Serani.  She says:

I love using photos to help give a lift to my mood. In fact, I call the experience “Antidepressant Photo Therapy.” I have hundreds collected that make me happy, but here’s the one I keep as a screensaver.  This beautiful black kitty makes me smile because he totally kicks ordinary curbside dwelling up a notch with his top hat.

Cat + Top Hat + Good Photographer = Happiness for Dr. Deb Serani

Cat + Top Hat + Good Photographer = Happiness for Dr. Deb Serani


Dr. Deborah Serani is an award winning author and psychologist. She spends her time writing about depression and trauma and has made finding positivity in life her motto.

Dr. Deborah Serani is an award winning author and psychologist. She spends her time writing about depression and trauma and has made finding positivity in life her motto.

7 Things Depressed Kids (and Their Parents) Need to Know

Dr. Deboarh Serani

Dr. Deborah Serani

Today I am welcoming Dr. Deborah Serani as a guest blogger! I recently reviewed Dr. Serani’s newest book, Depression and Your Child, which provides valuable information to parents, caregivers, teachers – really anyone who knows and loves kids – about depression in kids; including how to spot it and how to help. I am thrilled to have her guest post for me today, Welcome Dr. Serani!

Read on for 7 Things Depressed Kids (and Their Parents) Need to Know:
1. Understand the texture of feelings:  Many children in this era of super technology aren’t skilled at reading facial cues, understanding eye contact and  complex emotions. Studies show that children with depression struggle further, however, having difficulty differentiating the differences between different kinds of emotions. Sad is different than lonely. Lonely is different disappointed. Often, depressed children need help understanding the textures of emotions. When they become confident identifying their feelings, they can set into motion the best plan of action to improve their mood.

2. How to spot negative thinking: I like to teach children about the quality of their thoughts by using a thumbs up and thumbs down technique. Is what you’re thinking a good thought….one that would get a thumbs up from other people? “I studied for my test. But if I get a bad grade, it’s okay because I know I tried my best.” Or is it a hurtful or negative? One that really is untrue and realistic.  “It doesn’t matter if I studied. I’m stupid and I’ll fail the test anyway.”  Teaching children to catch the negative talk helps them approach every issue in life from a place of positivity.

3. How to use positive self-care: Learning to live with depression requires a child to be clever and ever-ready to use soothing ways to address sad moods. I find reminding children to use their 5 senses – sight, touch, hearing, taste and smell – really helps. Things like cozying up to a stuffed animal, hugging loved ones, snacking on healthy, flavorful foods, taking in the fresh air, listening to upbeat music and making time to see colors, nature and sunshine. All of these raise dopamine and serotonin levels improving mood, and teach children how to self-soothe.
4. Why exercise is important: The fatigue that comes with depression leaves kids tired and irritable. Physical complaints like aches and pains also knock them out for the count. When we take the time to teach children about the importance of physical exercise, it will become part of a lifelong skill-set. Be it playing tag with friends or catch with the dog, swimming or riding a bike, kick-boxing or yoga, or a simple walk, the shift in neurochemistry boosts mood.

5.  When too much of something isn’t good. It’s vital for kids to learn how too much of anything can upset the apple cart. For example, the fatigue of depression can leave children tired, with many prone to sleeping all day. Instead, children should learn that a nap is better than a full-on sleepfest. Some depressed children eat in excess, while others lose their appetite altogether. Both of these extremes are unhealthy. Too much crying, too much avoidance or too much irritability raises the stress hormone cortisol, which heightens anxiety and alertness. When we teach children to monitor their experiences with healthy limits, we give them the ability to balance and self-manage their well-being. Daily stickers for young ones and journaling for the older set can teach children how to better monitor symptoms and moods.

6.  Know the difference between a bad day and a sad mood: When depressed kids learn how to measure the moment, they learn that a sad mood doesn’t have to ruin a day. However, if they can’t shake off the sad mood – and the rest of the day feels like an epic fail, it’s great for kids to know that a bad day doesn’t equal a bad life. Tomorrow is a new day. One to be measured for its own value.

7.  How to let others know you need help. When children are depressed, they often don’t know how to reach out for support. Their fatigue and irritability dulls problem solving skills. Others might not feel they deserve help or would rather isolate themselves from family or friends. Depressed children need to know that everyone needs help now and then – and that no one can …or should… handle everything alone. I like to teach children to communicate their needs verbally and non-verbally. With words, through crying, by touch – it’s okay to show you others that you’re having a tough time.

Book Review: Depression and Your Child

Depression and Your Child

Dr. Deborah Serani is one of my favorite psychologists. Not only does she maintain a fun, hip social media presence, she also writes an informative and popular blog.  Oh, and that’s in addition to working as a clinical psychologist and professor. Earlier this year I reviewed her book, Living with Depression – which I absolutely loved.  Here’s a bit of that review:

There have been other psychologists who have written about their own struggles with mental illness, but I found Dr. Serani’s candid admissions and forthcoming attitude about her mental health history to be not only refreshing but intriguing. I found myself wishing she had written more about herself and her family (full disclosure: While Dr. Serani and I have never met in “real” life, we have had several conversations via social media in the last few years).  And while it’s been done before, integrating personal and professional knowledge about depression made the whole book a quick and informative read.

Check out the whole review here.

Because of my feelings about her first book, I was thrilled to learn that she was working on a new book.  I was even more thrilled when a brand new copy of Depression and Your Child arrived in my mailbox!

As with her first book, Dr. Serani includes personal experiences in this book, recounting her own childhood memories of struggling with depression.  It was equally fascinating and heartbreaking to read about her lack of energy and interest in the world as a result of her low mood.  More importantly, it helped me understand how depression feels as a small kid in a big world – and how it varies from depression in adults.

But this isn’t just an autobiography – at its heart it is a handbook for parents (and really anyone who loves, works with or is around kids).   Teachers, health care providers, grandparents and babysitters will all find this book useful as it explains, in readable language, why depression occurs, and how it can feel once it has set in (hint: it isn’t just about sadness and crying).  The book also outlines (in a non-judgmental way) options for treatment, including psychotherapy, medication, and lifestyle changes (food, exercise, etc).  And Dr. Serani goes even further to describe not just the treatments available but also how and why they work.

None of us want to consider that there are children among us who struggle with feelings of hopelessness, sadness or a desire to end their lives.  Unfortunately some do.  And Dr. Serani’s book will serve as a manual for those helping kids through these most difficult times.

To learn more about Depression and Your Child, or to order a copy, click here


Why Your Best Friend Can’t Be Your Psychologist

I think I might be inadvertently starting the Dr. Deb fan club.  After reviewing her superb book and interviewing her for a post earlier in the week, I came across this article.  She wrote What to Expect in Psychotherapy for Psychology Today’s blog.  It is seriously THE BEST article I have seen about psychotherapy in a long time – maybe ever.

In her article she writes about the differences between a psychotherapist and a friend (hint: it’s not just the money).  She also highlights the often-forgotten point that participating in therapy can often make you feel worse, not better – at least in the short term.  She also writes about the HARD WORK it takes to be a successful psychotherapy patient, meaning one who is able to achieve the change they seek in their lives.

Sometimes folks seek therapy thinking that their therapist will give them answers, tell them what to do, and be the best friend they may or may not already have.  Dr. Deb reminds us that this isn’t true. Psychologists are well-trained health care providers – “Olympic medal listeners” she calls us.  Therapy can be a long, arduous process.  In fact, we may not always want to go to our psychotherapy appointments (much like we don’t always want to go to the gym, or visit the dentist), but in the end – if we are committed to the process – our health improves as a result.

5 Questions with Dr. Deborah Serani

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed the book Living with Depression by Dr. Deborah Serani. I thought the book was spot-on in terms of offering a comprehensive look at depression, its causes, its treatments, and what it might be like to live with the disorder in the long term.  The author, Dr. Deborah Serani (who is not only the book’s author, but also a clinical psychologist in private practice, a professor, and a popular blogger – whew!) agreed to answer a few questions for me.  Welcome, Dr. Serani!

Dr. Deborah Serani - psychologist extraordinaire

Dr. Deborah Serani – psychologist extraordinaire

Dr. S:  You include a lot of personal information in this book. Can you talk a little about your decision-making process in terms of including so much detail about yourself? What have been the positive and negative effects of such disclosure?

Dr. D: Society gives permission to high profile people to talk about mental illness, but the waters are still rough for ordinary people to talk about depression. It’s important to be wise and thoughtful about disclosure – and I thought long and hard about sharing my experiences with depression for a few years before actually doing it.  Essentially, it was easier for me to be outspoken about living with depression because I’m my own boss. I have my own practice. I don’t have to worry about some social fallout or losing my job. But there are many people that need to keep certain issues private because stigma still makes living with mental illness a difficult subject to talk about. When making the decision to talk about my life, I knew I had to really lay it all out. I didn’t want to gloss over the despair and the scariness of my depression – or that it was a super easy journey for me to get well. For me, the disclosure has brought very positive experiences. I like seeing how my story inspires others not to be ashamed of their illness, to get help and to have hope. I like teaching misinformed person about the real facts about depression. And nothing makes me feel more proud than when I exceed someone’s expectations of what a person with mental illness should be like.
Dr. S: How does your struggle with depression make you a better psychologist?

Dr. D: You don’t have to live through something to be a good therapist, but living with depression has taught me about how hard it is to endure pain, despair and helplessness. I also know how a good treatment plan and hard work with a therapist can lead to recovery and remission of depression. From knowing both sides of the coin, my experiences have led me to be a more compassionate person, and a more compassionate psychologist.

Dr. S: You have a popular blog, in addition to this award-winning book. Who is your main audience? How do you hope to impact people by your writings?

Dr. D: I started my blog back in early 2004 when blogging first launched, and slowly found it a great way to teach and reach others regarding psychology. I have always written my blog for a general audience, wanting to make sure it wasn’t too clinical or jargon-filled.  Blogging has become less in the forefront for me these days, what with faster social media tools out there like Twitter, Linked In and Facebook.  But as with all my social media, I hope that others take the articles, research and observations I note and use them personally to better their life.

Dr. S: In my blog I write a lot about creative stress management. Whether it’s baking cakes, watching Gossip Girl, or playing backgammon – I believe that there are many avenues to healthy (and effective!) stress management. What do you do to keep stress at bay?

Dr. D: I love how you join creativity with managing stress on your blog. The way that you present these strategies in your posts makes taking care of yourself fun and easy. I am a very creative person too, and I use many fun ways to help soften the hard edges of life. I’m a huge foodie, always trying out new recipes, and cooking and baking to de-stress. I like to play board games with family and friends, the sillier the better. Apples to Apples, Balderdash and Trivial Pursuit always bring the laughs.  I also do a lot of painting, drawing and writing and find those expressive arts a tremendous stress-buster. I love surfing through Pinterest and Indulgy to find motivational sayings, and find the visual aspect of those activities really soothes my soul.

Dr. S: Do you have any new projects in the works? Can we look forward to future books?

Dr. D: I am finishing my second book “How to Parent a Depressed Child,” which will be published in late 2013 by Rowman & Littlefield.  My hope is that it will be a go-to resource for parents who need guidance in raising a child with a mood disorder. Early diagnosis and intervention can make the depressive experience less intense for a child – and well, I’m all over that!

Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Dr. Serani! To order Living with Depression click here.  To read Dr. Serani’s blog, Dr. Deb, go here.

Book Review: Living with Depression by Deborah Serani

Screen shot 2013-01-10 at 12.29.23 PM

It’s not often that I am surprised.  But Dr. Deborah Serani’s book, Living with Depression, did just that – surprised me.  I was expecting a sort of boring book about depression – how it starts, why it ends – but was thrilled to discover (and within the first chapter no less!) something very different about Dr. Serani’s book!  Not only does she write about the topic as a expert in psychology (she’s a psychologist in private practice, as well as a professor), but also from the perspective of someone who has dealt with depression on a very personal level.

There have been other psychologists who have written about their own struggles with mental illness, but I found Dr. Serani’s candid admissions and forthcoming attitude about her mental health history to be not only refreshing but intriguing. I found myself wishing she had written more about herself and her family (full disclosure: While Dr. Serani and I have never met in “real” life, we have had several conversations via social media in the last few years).  And while it’s been done before, integrating personal and professional knowledge about depression made the whole book a quick and informative read.

In addition to recounting her own story, Dr. Serani also does a great job outlining all aspects of depression from the mundane (insurance coverage for treatment) to the academic (how psychiatric medications and psychotherapy actually work), to the most basic (what depression is, exactly).  I was most impressed with her discussion of what psychotherapy is and isn’t, and what one should and should not expect from it.  For example, psychotherapy patients should expect to work hard, be challenged, and make a real commitment to the process.  They should not expect to be given advice, get a “quick fix,” or find meaningful change in their lives without a bit of internal struggle.

I also love that Dr. Serani mentioned some (not very glamorous) but important aspects of treating depression, including getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, engaging in meaningful relationships, exercising, and maintaining a relatively tidy, organized home.  It’s not often that we see these things mentioned as part of an overall plan for the treatment of depression, so I was thrilled to see them get some air time in her book.

Living with Depression is a book that I will be glad to have on my shelf.  I highly recommend it for practitioners and lay people alike.  It is a quick, relatively easy read and individual chapters can serve as references in isolation. Check it out here.