Fifty Shades: As Bad As We Think?

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I recently posted about my experience seeing Fifty Shades of Grey in the theaters.  In short: Not so great for men or women.  But is the book a different story?

In case you missed all the hype a couple years ago, the Fifty Shades of Grey saga started as a series of books by E.L. James.  Its super-racy content was the stuff of which guilty pleasures are made.  Some people loved its star characters – Ana and Christian – and others slammed the book for shoddy writing.  Still others wondered if writing quality really matters if people are actually spending their time reading!

I recently came across this fun graphic which measures Fifty Shades’ grammar with other, popular love stories.  Check it out:

Grammarly: Fifty Shades of Grammar

I have to admit that I am squirming in my seat as I write this, wondering how many grammatical errors I’m making.  Eeek.

Mistake-ridden or not, both writing and reading can be wonderful stress management strategies and avenues to mental health.  Happy reading!

Thanks to Grammarly Grammar Check for this cool infographic

A Guy’s Perspective on Fifty Shades of Grey

OK, yes, I saw the movie. And read the book. All of them.  And yes, the 50 Shades of Grey series is:

  • a guilty pleasure
  • potentially harmful to women’s self esteem, sense of power, and psycho-sexual health
  • not fine literature or cinema
  • not a great representation of the BDSM lifestyle

But that’s not what I am going to write about today.  Instead, I am going to summarize the conversation I had after seeing the film.  I was so glad I went with a man because he gave me a completely different perspective on the story line.

The first part of the conversation centered around the fact that the Fifty Shades story has been told (and will continue to be told) a zillion times.  Pure, sweet, young girl meets wordly, wealthy, and super-hot guy.  He woos her, they fall in love, have a couple problems, then live happily ever after in a big house with a bunch of kids.  Interestingly , my male companion had no idea that pretty much all romance novels have this same story line (think: Twilight, Nora Roberts, etc).  “I guess this is a fantasy for most women” I said.  “What is the male version of this fantasy?” I asked.  After some thoughtful consideration he guessed, “big boobs?” Hmmm.

After that insightful comment about the male psyche, he offered a few of his own observations about the Fifty Shades movie:

  • How, at 27 years old, has Christian Grey had enough time to create a multi-billion dollar company?
  • How does he have time for all these sexual shenanigans and stay at the helm of his empire?
  • How would he have time to work all day, have dinner with a friend until at least 9pm, fly from Seattle to Georgia, make reservations to take a glider tour, rent a car just like his ride at home, and arrive fresh as a daisy to romance Ana early the next day?
  • Why is Ana still using a flip phone?

All kidding aside, these observations really made me think about women’s expectations of the men in our lives.  Just as it isn’t so healthy to expect all women to have big boobs, no wrinkles, and long blond hair – it also isn’t so great to expect men to be wealthy, endlessly romantic, and apparently have no need for sleep.  Perhaps we need to be a little more fair when considering stereotypes of sexiness.  And just as women can be damaged by unhealthy, unattainable expectations – so can men.

Book Review: Mindful Parenting

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I spend a lot of time worrying about the super-fast, frenzied, hectic pace of our world.  I especially worry about the affect this pace has on our kids.  Questions like:

  • Are my kids too busy?
  • Do they know how to relax, be bored and unwind?
  • What will the long-term effects of our plugged in, crazy world be on them down the road?

When I discovered the book, Mindful Parenting, I was glad to see that someone else was a little worried too.  Dr. Kristen Race‘s book is a wonderful resource for parents who are concerned about stress in their kids.  She does a nice job explaining stress from  biological perspective, and also offers many do-able, down-to-earth strategies for helping kids (and parents too!) de-stress in an otherwise stressed out world.  I especially enjoyed her tips for kids who are “addicted” to screens, and those who are over-scheduled.

Mindfulness is a pretty hot topic these days.  Dr. Race‘s definition of mindfulness is:

Paying attention to the present moment without judgment

Mindfulness is the opposite of worry and multi-tasking.  It’s the opposite of zoned-out TV watching and snack eating.  What it is, can be hard to grasp – but Dr. Race and many others believe it is worth striving for because of its benefits for health.  Luckily, she offers LOTS of ideas about how to become a more mindful family (and hopefully raise more mindful children).  I like this sort of hands-on, easy-to-try parenting book.  Nothing too complicated, but filled with strategies that are simple enough to use today.

I recommend Mindful Parenting for families who feel like their lives are moving too quickly, or too filled with technology and outside activities.  Check it out here.

Book Review: Pastrix The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner and Saint

I was introduced to this book by a segment on Colorado Public Radio in which author Nadia Bolz-Weber was interviewed.  To say I was intrigued is an understatement.  It was one of those radio interviews where I continued to sit in my car long after I had pulled into my garage.  Naturally, I rushed out to read her book for myself.

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It literally changed my life.

I’m not overstating things either.

A quick summary: Nadia Bolz-Weber is a Lutheran pastor in Denver, CO.  In the book she describes the evolution of her life and faith into what it is now (still growing and imperfect).  She leads a new and sort of renegade church in Denver which opens its doors to everyone – the homeless, the mentally ill, folks of all genders and ideas – they even open their doors to suburban-living, cardigan-wearing soccer moms (eek! that’s me!).  It is this last group who she describes as the hardest of all to accept (oh boy).

The book is funny and super honest.  She isn’t what you’d expect from a Lutheran pastor – or a pastor of any kind actually – and that’s what makes her remarkable.  She’s open about the life she lived before becoming a pastor (hint: lots of drugs and sex) and she’s open about the things with which she struggles now (being nice, keeping sarcasm at bay, understanding her relationship with God) – and does all of this while using plenty of foul language.  It’s pretty f**ing fascinating.  Oops! She must be rubbing off on this soccer mom.

Ms. Bolz-Weber makes lots of interesting points in the book, and grapples with many theological issues, but my favorite is this

We are constantly trying to divide the world into us vs. them.  When we do that, it can make life easier for us to understand, but it does nothing but drive the world further apart (and us further from God, if you believe in that sort of thing). 

(my quotes, not hers)

I would recommend this book to the following people:

  • Christians
  • Non-Christians
  • Women
  • Men
  • People who struggle with their identity in any way, shape or form
  • People searching for meaning
  • People searching for connection
  • Folks who find “liturgical dancing” creepy (…you’ll have to read the book to figure out what that means)

In short – READ THIS BOOK.

5 Questions with Debbie Stier

I recently posted a review of the The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier.  Read the review here, and learn even more about the book here.  Ms. Stier was gracious enough to answer a few questions, here goes:

Dr. S.: Devoting 1 year of your life to studying for, and taking the SAT (7 times!), is a pretty unusual way to spend your time.  Did you get some strange comments or questions while you were doing it?
D.S.: Strangely, not that many!  Honestly, I expected much more. There was one proctor who whispered, “Are you going back to college?,” and a few kids I knew who actively ignored me during a test, but beyond that — nada.  More than “strange comments or questions,” I received a lot of support, which I welcomed! There were a handful of tutors who regularly chimed in with advice on my blog posts, and a lot of students who wrote to me, saying I was motivating them, which kept me going — but not a lot of strange comments or questions (unless you consider these to be strange!).
Dr. S.: I was amazed that you had time to work, take care of your home and kids, all while madly studying for the SAT – how did you manage your time?

debbie stier
D.S.: I’m not going to lie: it was a killer. I got way too little sleep, had little/no social life, and I’m still carting around boxes of “life” that never got done. I aspire to life a “balanced life” some day, though don’t know if that’s in the cards for me for a while. I imagine most mothers face the same challenges.
My trick to “getting things done” is to do the most important thing, first thing in the morning, and the “most important thing” changes daily.  For example, there were times when “studying for the SAT” was my #1 to-do, and other times “writing book” was #1, or “write blog post,” or “exercise,” or “pay bills,” etc.
Usually, my “#1 to-do” takes way longer than I anticipate and sometimes I don’t get anything else done that day (e.g. “writing the book” days).  But, at least I know — the one thing that needed to get done, got done!
Also, I’m obsessed with “systems” for time management. For most of the year of the project and the two years of writing the book, I kept a time-journal where I wrote down exactly what I did, every single half hour – after I did it. I had my “to do” list, and, a “got done” log.
You’re going to think I’m really insane when I tell you this part, but it’s true.
When I’m really, really pressed to do something, I time myself with an egg timer. For example, I’ll give myself twenty-five minutes to pay the bills (or study algebra or write an essay or a blog post, etc.) and then I’ll set an egg timer and power through until whatever it is, is done. I read about this system on a website called “The Pomodoro Technique” and it really works. (Dr. S.: NO! I don’ think you’re crazy – sounds very clever, actually!)
Dr. S.: Once your SAT year was finished, was there any sort of a let-down? Did you miss it?
D.S.: Well, yes and no. I certainly didn’t feel “done” with the project and I hope to get back to it again some day, but I had so much going on in my life that I never had time to experience any “let-down” feelings.  It was more like, “onto the next” — and that, was that.
Dr. S.:  In my blog I talk a lot about creative ways to manage stress.  We all know yoga and meditation are great, but are there unique ways you manage the stress in your life?

debbie stier
D.S.: Interesting … I use yoga and meditation! I can’t think of anything “creative” beyond that.
Oh, one thing comes to mind (if this qualifies): I watch 1-2 episodes of a funny t.v. show with my kids before bedtime. It’s a ritual I started midway through the project during a crisis, which I wrote about. Television turned things around for us, as crazy as that sounds.  We’ve rarely miss a night since that day, midway through the year and sometimes we don’t get to watch until  until 11 p.m. or midnight — but the electronics always go off and we laugh together before bed. I’m pretty sure laughing before going to sleep is good for managing stress. (Dr. S.: Love it!)
Dr. S.: What are you working on now? Can we expect a new book in the future?
D. S.: Another book! I have another story about my younger child (not having to do with standardized tests though). I think there are universal themes and truths and I hope it will provide people with information and entertainment. It’s been on the back burner since the publication of The Perfect Score Project, but I plan to get back to it soon. (Dr. S.: Can’t wait to read it!)

Thanks for your thoughtful answers, Ms. Stier!

To learn more about the Perfect Score Project, check out the blog and website.

Book Review: The Perfect Score Project

Screen shot 2014-03-07 at 10.14.13 AMI was recently asked to review The Perfect Score Project by Debbie Stier.  It’s the true story about a mom who takes the SAT 7 times in one year as a way to help prep her son to take the test himself.  I thought the book would be a light-hearted, funny take on the craziness that surrounds standardized testing and college applications.  There were moments of that, but more than anything it is a chronicle of Ms. Stier’s study strategies, test-taking experiences and scores.

When I was reading the book, all sorts of memories surfaced.  Memories that I didn’t think I even had anymore.  Who knew that knowledge of my SAT score was still lodged somewhere in the recesses of my mind?  Even more amazing were the memories of the SAT prep course I took in the “big city” over 2 decades ago.  It was a pretty amazing journey down memory lane.

Once I got past my own (not so great) memories, I began to look forward, to the SAT prep that awaits my family in the coming years with my own 3 kids.  When that time comes I will surely be reaching for The Perfect Score Project to help guide me through the maze of tutors, study guides and courses.

To learn more about the book or to order a copy check out the site here.

5 Questions with Ilyana Romanovsky

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Last week I posted a review of Ilyana Romanovsky’s book Choosing Therapy.  Today Ms. Romanovsky is here answering 5 questions. Welcome!

Dr. S: You obviously spent a lot of time researching this book as it provides the most thorough description of seeking and participating in therapy that I have ever read. Was there a certain instance or situation that led to you writing this book?

I.R.: The book actually began with patients scheduling appointments, coming in and telling their stories.  Many had no idea about the process of therapy or what to expect from a therapist.  Many also had negative experiences with therapy, having devoted a lot of time and money to no tangible results.  Naturally, some stories were probably among the most emotionally grueling experiences I had heard, with people investing a fortune into psychotherapy and coming out of the experience having gained very little, feeling demoralized and believing that they were beyond help.  It was humbling and horrifying to realize that the stories some patients recounted left them questioning the efficacy behind psychotherapy.  Some even walked away sure of their own personal failures at being unable to achieve results they wanted.

So why did I set out to write Choosing Therapy? In part, because after one particular intake, my patient suggested that someone should write a book to educate the consumer about the process of psychotherapy, so that everyone is in a position to make an informed decision about therapy and the type of treatment that they are seeking.  But the other reason I wanted to write the book is because I know what it is like, as a consumer, to want to dip my toe into something new without understanding the process, and feeling the need for a book, a class or advice that could guide me through the maze of a new venture.

Dr. S: What got you interested in the mental health profession in the first place?

I.R.: The road to a mental health career was a lengthy one for me.  Originally, I had started out as a biologist at the University of Chicago, aspiring to become an M.D.  As I spent months and years in hospitals and labs conducting clinical research and interacting with patients, I realized that what I wanted to do most was help people figure out how they could manage better the parts of their lives that were not working well, and move them towards a more satisfying place.  On a more selfish note, I also enjoy working for myself, and knew early on that I wanted autonomy and ability to see clinical treatment through from beginning to end in an outpatient, private practice setting.

Dr. S: There is a lot of information in your book, if there is one thing – the most important tip – you would like your readers to take away from it, what would that be?

I.R.: One thing? No way. I would recommend the reader approach the process of psychotherapy the same way one would approach looking for a job.  It is a personal journey that requires research, interviews and a well thought out treatment plan with your therapist as to how you will accomplish your objectives.  Let me put it this way, plopping on the couch and hoping that the first therapist you meet will facilitate the process of treatment in such a manner that you can relate to, is almost unrealistic.  Psychotherapy in my mind is the most inner-personal journey one can take with another, and requires a meticulous, well-informed approach.
Dr. S: I often write about stress and creative ways to manage it. We all know about yoga, taking walks, etc…but what are some of the more creative ways you manage your stress?

I.R.: Amazingly, through writing.  There are only a few things that I enjoy more than writing.  At times, I need it the same way I need food for energy.  It can even be a preventative for managing my own sadness or stressors with life.  Interestingly enough, I began writing Choosing Therapy after a difficult life transition, and can say without a doubt that writing helped me stay energized, be creative and play around with ideas in my head that I then got to share with others.  Ideas are not always flowing and that can be frustrating, which is why I also enjoy hiking, mountain biking and running.  Some form of physical exercise is important to me as a tension release when by world of ideas is on pause.

Dr. S: What are you working on now? Any new books in the works?

I.R.: I am tossing a few things over in my head and will probably write again fairly soon.   When I juggle the next project in my  mind, I have to push forward and rewind a number of times before I have a good story or an idea.  I figure out what I need to know research wise, and gear up for the next adventure.  I will start writing when I have a great book cover design or a catchy first line.  In the meantime, I am busy working through the licensure process and delineating my interests to obtain a research PhD in the field.

To learn more about Choosing Therapy, check it out here.


Book Review: Choosing Therapy

Choosing Therapy

I recently read the book Choosing Therapy by Ilyana Romanovsky.  I can honestly say it is the most thorough book on psychotherapy that I have ever read.  And while I haven’t read every book about going into therapy, choosing a therapy (and therapist), and getting the most out of therapy – I think it is a safe bet to say that Choosing Therapy is one of the most thorough books ever written on the subject.  In fact, the book is so darn thorough, that I felt like I was back in graduate school reading about various theoretical orientations, transference, countertransference, and the many modalities of treatment.

Ms. Romanovsky is a new therapist herself, and has also participated in some of her own therapy so she is able to talk about the process of therapy from both sides of the couch.  This can be a useful point of view for folks who feel inclined to do a lot of research and reading before making a commitment to a therapist of their own.

Honestly, this book was a little too much for me, but I can appreciate the work that went into writing it.  And for those who feel most comfortable really understanding procedures, treatments and processes before participating themselves, this book will be a wonderful resource.

Learn more about Choosing Therapy here.

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


Book Review: Please Don’t Label My Child

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I picked up this book, Please Don’t Label My Child, a couple of weeks ago at my local library. It was an impulse buy of sorts. I’m prone to those – particularly at the library.  And boy am I glad I am, because this book was fantastic.  It’s really much better than the title implies (it is not a rant against psychiatric diagnoses, labels, and drugs), but a thoughtful, common-sense, easy-to-read essay on kids and what affects them:

  • Poor eating habits/malnutrition
  • Lack of sleep
  • Lack of exercise
  • Stressors in the home
  • Stressors at school/with friends
  • Lack of exposure to sunlight

The author, Dr. Scott Shannon, posits that it is often these factors that negatively affect kids’ ability to concentrate, manage stress, and cope with worry – and NOT an organic psychiatric condition like ADHD, depression, or bipolar disorder.

While I don’t doubt the existence of psychiatric and emotional disorders in kids, I do think we sometimes overlook more basic explanations for maladaptive behavior.  After all, do any of us really function all that great when we are sleep deprived, grieved over the loss of a marriage, struggling with financial insecurity, or lack (for whatever reason) wholesome, nutritious foods?  Of course we don’t. And neither do children, whose systems are even more fragile than ours.

In our super crazy, complex world I appreciate straightforward answers and solutions.  Dr. Shannon’s book gives us just that. While there are many children and families who need more intensive interventions (therapy, medication) perhaps there are many, too, whose struggles can be aided by the relatively simple solutions offered in this book.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly for health practitioners, as well as parents who are concerned about some aspect of their child’s behavior.  It is a great first step in making some relatively small changes that can make a big difference.