A Psychologist’s Take on Leaning In

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I’m going to do it: I’m going to join the throng and add my two cents about the much-talked-about the book Lean In.  First a little back story:

Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of Facebook.  She is extraordinarily successful on many fronts: financially, professionally, socially, and it seems from her book that she also has a happy, loving family (she is married and has two youngish kids).  Ms. Sandberg decided to write this book after giving a series of talks  about why women haven’t achieved more in the highest levels of business and government.  Take a look at her TED talk.

It seems like she was hoping this book would allow her a platform to flush out her ideas about “women, work, and the will to lead” more thoroughly.  Some are calling this book a new “feminist manifesto,” a modern day Vindication of the Rights of Women (I love that book!) or the Feminine Mystique (I like that one, too).

Here’s the thing: a beautifully written call to arms to American women this book is not.  It’s not a highly-intellectualized, academic work about the role of women either.  In fact, it is a super-readable, totally understandable book that outlines, chapter by chapter, the things that women (and men) do to keep true equality in the workplace from being realized.  More specifically, why women aren’t “sitting at the table” in more board rooms and places of real power.

There were a few things I loved about this book:

  • I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  For the few days I was reading this book I found myself thinking about it while I was reading it, in the morning when I woke up, and while I was eating my sandwich at lunch.  It wasn’t that I was eager to get back to reading it, it’s just that it really made me think.  Unfortunately I was never really able to articulate what it was making me think about, or what I really thought about her message.  It is a rare thing for me to be tongue-tied, but this book left me just that.  What does that mean exactly? I’m not sure, but I do know that if people are talking/thinking about your work you must be doing something right.
  • Her passion.  Ms. Sandberg clearly has a passion for women and leadership.  Her energy and dedication to her own professional achievement, and now the achievement of other women is impressive.  While I’m not convinced that her book will spark another wave of feminism, I think hers is an important voice in our culture right now.  I am hopeful that young women will read her book and consider her ideas.
  • Her sound bites.  Ms. Sandberg offers up a few motivational passages that reportedly hang on the office walls of Facebook.  My favorite: Done is better than perfect.  So many of us get hung up on perfection (which of course is elusive) that we don’t get much done.  Ms. Sandberg is clearly someone who gets LOTS done, and it’s nice to know that she doesn’t expect perfection.
  • Her honesty.  While reading the first two-thirds of the book, I kept wondering when she was going to talk about dealing with other women.  Meaning: the moms in the school drop-off line who think she is a b*$#ch and a terrible mom.  I can hear the parking lot posse now: “She’s never home!” “She’s so full of herself” and “Why did she even bother to have kids if she’s not going to be the one to raise them?”  Finally, on page 167 she writes about this issue:

Stay-at-home mothers can make me feel guilty and, at times, intimidate me.  There are moments when I feel like they are judging me, and I imagine there are moments when they feel like I am judging them.  But when I push past my own feelings of guilt and insecurity, I feel grateful.  These parents – mostly mothers – constitute a large amount of the talent that helps sustain our schools, nonprofits, and communities.

There was something I didn’t love about this book, too:

  • It made me tired.  This just about sums up my feeling about the book as a whole.  The entire time I was reading it I felt tired and like a huge slacker.  Ms. Sandberg has clearly accomplished a lot professionally, and has done so through hard work and long hours.  She wants to see other women do this too.  She wants us “sitting at the table” and participating more equally at the highest levels of business and government.  I whole-heartedly agree.  The only problem was that I was so worn out just by reading her book, I was left with zero energy to change the world into a better place.  I am pretty sure that Ms. Sandberg wouldn’t accept tiredness as an excuse for not “leaning in” to my career, or not helping other women do so; unfortunately it’s all I’ve got.

When I asked a colleague whether she had read “Lean In,” she replied no, that she needed to do more “leaning out” in her life.  I didn’t ask her what she meant because I think I already know.  So many of us women (and men, to be fair) are so busy working, caring for children and parents, volunteering, exercising, paying bills, and squeezing in a few hours sleep that changing the gender dynamics around us just falls off the to-do list.

As I was really starting to feel lousy about how little I do in comparison to Ms. Sandberg in the fight for gender equality, I received this email from her “team” in response to an interview request I sent:

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Looks like Ms. Sandberg does a little leaning out, too.



To read more about Lean In, Ms. Sandberg’s non-profit dedicated to supporting women click here.







5 Questions with Andrew Solomon

Several weeks ago I posted a review of the book Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon.  I cannot say enough good things about his work – it is simply superb.  To read my review of his book about children and parents, click here.

Today I feel privileged to have Mr. Solomon here to answer some questions!  Welcome, Mr. Solomon!

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics, and the arts; winner of the National Book Award; and an activist in LGBT rights, mental health, and the arts.

Andrew Solomon is a writer and lecturer on psychology, politics, and the arts; winner of the National Book Award; and an activist in LGBT rights, mental health, and the arts.

Dr. S.: I read your book through the lens of a psychologist who works with families in situations similar to the families in your book. I have also recommended your book to families with children who have fallen “far from the tree.”  I can see that there are many people to whom this book would be of interest. Did you have a particular audience in mind when you were writing? Who did you envision reading this book?

A.S.: I knew, of course, that the first audience for the book would be families dealing with the differences about which I wrote, and I’ve had many letters now from families of people with autism, schizophrenia, Down syndrome, dwarfism, criminality, and transgenderism.  But my theory is that the book is for a wider audience than that.  Much as we test flame-retardant pajamas in an inferno to make sure our child’s sleeve won’t catch fire when he reaches across the stove, so we can understand the profound ways that all parenting is about accommodating difference by looking at these more extreme cases.  So my audience really is anyone who has been a parent or a child.

Dr. S.: I found all of the chapters to be riveting and gut-wrenching for one reason or another. Was there one topic that was most emotional for you to write about?

A. S.: Each is gut-wrenching in its own way.  But some of the chapters ultimately describe great redemptions: how people find meaning in Deaf culture, how the lives of dwarfs may be particularly rich, how people who are transgender have an apotheosis when they transition.  There’s less to be said in favor of having a child conceived in rape, and the chapter on those children was a very tough one, although many of the mothers I interviewed had ended up very much attached to the children they had.  The chapter on crime was painful because crime also confers few advantages.  And I found schizophrenia terrifying, because it sets in so late, leaving everyone with an unending sense of loss.

Dr. S.:  At the end of your book, you wrote about the birth of your son and how your book research affected how you reacted to a medical scare immediately following delivery. Now that he is 3, in what other ways has your research affected your parenting and your reactions to his development?

A.S.: I have perfectionist tendencies, but the book made it clear to me that no one is perfect and that aspiring to a narrow vision of how your child should be is a recipe for disaster.  I think I’m a more open, more generous parent as a result of all I saw.  I have many hopes for my children, but I think I’ll be able to love them whether they share those hopes or not.  The book very much helped me to see my children as separate beings, with their own wishes and ambitions and character.

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

A.S.: While I was working on Far From the Tree, I was also doing a PhD in psychology at Cambridge.  My research involved doing longitudinal interviews with a group of 24 women, talking to each of them before the birth of a first child, immediately after that birth, and every six months going forward.  The process has been rich, and I hope now to do a book for a broader audience on the way women emerge into motherhood, how that identity is shaped over a period of years.

Dr. S.:  I often write about stress management. We all know that yoga and meditation are great – but I am more interested in unique, creative methods of managing stress. For example, some people like to make chocolate, others like to work on cars. What are your go-to methods of managing the stress in your busy life?

A.S.: Sleep, good nutrition, and exercise: those are the three.  Sleep is just about my favorite thing to do; eating well can be a pleasure, though I miss gratifying my taste for sugar; exercise is anathema.  But I know that’s the triumvirate that gets me through.  I take meds, too–they have helped me to be more balanced and less frantic.  And I’ve learned to tolerate the feeling of being stressed out, always knowing that it’s temporary, and that whatever I am stressed about today, I’ll be stressed out about something else tomorrow!

Thanks for your time, Mr. Solomon.  I can’t wait to see your next book on motherhood!

To learn more about Andrew Solomon, check out his site.  To order his book, Far From the Tree, click here.

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5 Questions with Lori Gottlieb

I am thrilled to have the author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough here today to answer some questions! I recently reviewed Lori Gottlieb’s book, and am thrilled she agreed to share more about the creation of the book with us.  Welcome, Ms. Gottlieb!

Dr. S.: “Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough” is a catchy title, but I didn’t think the title was truly reflective of the book’s message. What were some alternate titles? Something else you wish it were called?Screen shot 2013-03-26 at 3.19.07 PM

L.G.: Unfortunately, I didn’t get to choose the title, and I so wish that it accurately reflected the hopeful message of the book, which is about how to find lasting, passionate love.  The book has absolutely nothing to do with lowering one’s standards or “settling.”  In fact, the book is about having very high standards — extremely high standards — but having high standards about the things that matter for long-term, happy marriages, and letting go of the trivial things that don’t.  In Marry Him, I talk to experts who study relationships and marriage from different perspectives — psychologists, behavioral economists, sociologists, neurobiologists, matchmakers, historians, couples counselors, dating coaches, you name it — then I write about their findings and try them out myself, like a dating guinea pig.  What matters for lasting love?  What doesn’t?  Why do we often pick partners who seem fantastic when we first meet them only to discover that they aren’t right for us — and how might we have seen this more clearly from the beginning?  How can we be more conscious about choosing great partners, especially when we’re young enough to have the most available options?  How do our cultural messages about expectations for love sometimes lead us to make decisions that won’t necessarily make us happy?  What does “true love” really mean?  What keeps people in love?

Dr. S.: Your book doesn’t have a traditional happy ending.  Was it tough (in either your mind, or the mind of your publisher) to end the book without a big wedding?

L.G.: I think it has a very happy ending, and a real happy ending.  I talk about this in Marry Him, but the “traditional” happy endings we often see in movies involve that final wedding scene, and then we just assume that this couple that has been bickering for the past 90 minutes will go on to be compatible and happy for the rest of their lives.  Look at Hollywood marriages — they don’t tend to end up that way.

As I say in the book, I’ve never dreamed about my wedding. I would dream about being happily married:  Who’s the guy?  What is our daily life like?  What is it like to grow old with this person, to share life’s great adventures with this person, to create a memorable history together, to raise children together, to run a household together, to bring out the best in each other while accepting the worst in each other, to witness each other’s great pleasures in life and be there for each other’s difficult failures or disappointments, to make each other laugh and continue to surprise each other even as time goes on, to know somebody that well over decades and be known that well in turn?  Marriage is a very rich, complex, challenging experience; it’s not about the big wedding day and who do you want to go to Tahiti with for the week.

Anyone can have a wedding.  Marry Him is about finding the right person to go through life with.  One expert in the book says, “There’s no perfect partner; there’s the perfect partner for you.”  So the happy endings in the book are all the stories of the women who used the tools in Marry Him to find to find their perfect partner.  And for me, the happy ending was that while I learned these lessons much later than I would have liked to — my point in the book is that young women will save themselves a lot of heartache and have a much easier time finding love if they learn these lessons early on — I did, finally, learn them.  At the end of the book, I acknowledged that it would be far more challenging to date in my forties than it had been to date in my twenties and thirties (a reality that women need to be aware of), but I also felt that I had a much better chance of meeting the right person now that I’d gained this insight.  I suppose if I were to write a post-script to the book, I’d let readers know that, eventually, I did meet somebody great.  And if I’d dated the way I had before researching and writing Marry Him, I might have missed out on the opportunity to be with this person whom I’m so lucky to have in my life on a daily basis.  But in the book, I follow several women on their dating journeys, and for the ones who take the advice and really examine their old patterns, their endings are very happy, too.

Dr. S.: If you were to give relationship/marriage/commitment advice to a young woman just entering the dating pool, what would be your #1 piece of advice?

I wish it were that easy, that I could give the magic answer and poof — that’s how you find love!  I think that all of the advice in Marry Him needs to be taken together to really help people get clear and to realize that they have far more control over how their dating lives are going than they think.  That said, if I had to pick one general idea, it would be that many people treat dating like ordering a  meal at a restaurant. They want to order up a person a la carte: I’ll take a little of this, more of that, less of the other, and please leave the annoying habit or less-than-ideal physical feature on the side.  But a person comes as he or she comes.  There are “no substitutions” at this restaurant.  It’s not your partner’s job to be everything you want at all times.  That’s impossible.  One expert in the book said to me, “Lori, instead of making a list of all the things you want in a guy, I want you make a list of everything a guy would have to put up with, in order to spend his life with you.”  Our girlfriends are always telling us how fabulous we are, and while we all have many appealing qualities, we’re also as flawed as the next person.  That exercise — writing down what a guy would have to compromise on if he wanted to spend his life with me — really made me see things differently!

Dr. S.: What are you working on these days? Any new books we can look forward to?

I’m working on a piece for The Atlantic about sex in marriage!  I also have a private practice and do relationship consulting at www.lorigottliebtherapy.com.
Dr. S.:  One of the things I often write about in my blog is stress management. We all know that yoga and meditation are great, but I am more interested in unique and creative methods of stress management.  What do you do to relieve stress?

This might sound corny, but I do in life what I suggest people do in Marry Him.  I focus on the important things that I’m grateful for and I let the small things go.  I don’t mean that I’m a Pollyanna.  It’s more that when life’s challenges present themselves — and they always will — I remember that I have all kinds of choices. I can choose to be stressed over minor things or I can choose to put my energy elsewhere.   It’s completely up to me how I react to a particular situation, big or small.  It’s really about having perspective — am I running from the bears and about to be devoured, or is this just disappointing (and the disappointment will pass) or a nuisance that I’ll have to deal with temporarily?  It doesn’t take the stress away completely, but it does make things feel far less overwhelming than they would be if I didn’t slow myself down, access my more objective self, and see the situation for what it is.  I find that having that kind of perspective makes daily life so much more relaxing.

To learn more about Lori Gottlieb, check out her website. To order Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough, or read some of her other work, click here. Thanks again!

Book Review: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough

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How funny to be reviewing Lori Gottlieb’s book: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough the day after posting this article on avoiding affairs.  I’m sure there is some deep-seated psychological meaning behind that.  Instead of focusing on my psyche, however, I will turn my attention to Ms. Gottlieb’s book.  Here goes:

I want to start by saying that I consider Ms. Gottlieb a colleague after working with her on this article in the New York Times about therapists and marketing.  In addition to being a fine author and journalist, she is also a therapist herself.  She recently told me that she particularly enjoys working with couples.  Check out her site here.

As for the book, apparently it made a splash when it was released a couple of years ago.  And it isn’t hard to tell why: the title is quite an attention grabber.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure the title is consistent with the book, as it isn’t actually about “settling” – as in marrying someone you don’t like, find irritating, or aren’t attracted to.  Instead, it’s a fun-to-read description on Ms. Gottlieb’s own journey in the dating world.

In the book, Ms. Gottlieb is candid about what it’s like to date in all ages and stages of life (with kids and without, never married and divorced, as a 20-something, and as a 40-something).  As someone who married young, it was a real eye-opener for me to read about the realities of the dating pool past college.  I particularly enjoyed the commentary made by some of the older women she interviewed.  Reading their perspectives on what women experience, put up with, and expect now – versus when they were dating – is one of the highlights of the book.

I did find myself feeling frustrated by the entitled attitude of some of the younger women included in the book.  These are women who expect perfection, devotion, loyalty, and passion from the men they are interested in – yet seem to have no appreciation for what they should, do, or can bring to the relationship.  Fairness, equality and compromise don’t seem to be concepts these women understand.  No wonder their relationships don’t ever seem to work out.

For added perspective, I had my mom read the book.  Here are some of her comments:

In regards to having an attitude of entitlement in romantic partners:

I devoured the book even though I didn’t personally relate to it at all.  I am always shocked at how entitled some people think they are – it must be a difficult way to live life because it seems it would be challenging to maintain friendships, jobs, and relationships when all you can focus on is “what’s in it for me”.

In regards to making a list of desirable qualities in a mate (something Ms. Gottlieb does in the beginning of the book):

I can’t imagine making a list of “wants” in a husband and actually sticking to it.  It’s a good idea to list life goals, vacations you want to go on, clothes you need, etc. – putting those constraints on a human being is beyond my comprehension.  Besides, when you meet a person as a potential husband – that person will likely be quite different after several years of marriage.  The book was fascinating reading.

After finishing the book, I was left with a desire to make a list of my own.  Not of the qualities I would want in a mate, but the qualities that might make me a good mate myself.  I wonder which would be longer?

Thanks, Lori Gottlieb, for introducing me to your book! Click here to buy Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough.


Book Review: Far From the Tree

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I think there might be something “funny” in the pages of Far From the Tree by Andrew Solomon, because I couldn’t every time I tried to stop reading it, I kept getting pulled back in.  Let me explain…

I first learned of Mr. Solomon’s book while listening to an interview on NPR.  He explained that he had spent several years interviewing families about their children who had a fallen “far from the tree,” meaning they were very different from their parents.  This may have been because of a mental illness (schizophrenia), a physical disability (deafness), or the circumstances surrounding their conception (in rape).  I thought the topic sounded interesting as I frequently work with parents whose children are markedly different.  “Hmmm,” I thought, “I’m sure I can learn a thing or two.” Boy, was that an understatement.

Fast forward a few weeks, and the book arrives for my review, and it is ONE THOUSAND PAGES!  So, even though I make a point to read all my reviews cover to cover, I thought Far From the Tree would be the exception. I thought I’d read the introductory chapter, a few in the middle (the chapters are organized by topic; for example one chapter is on prodigies, another on transgender), and call it good.  It didn’t work out that way. Every time I tried to put the book down, it called to me from my night stand.  Wouldn’t you know, I read the whole thing. No, not read, devoured.  Because here’s the thing: this book is fantastic.

Not only is Far From the Tree superbly written – it was literally a thrill to read the finely crafted words – but the content was outstanding as well.  Mr. Solomon challenges us to think differently about how we love, but also (and in my opinion, even more importantly) how we define and understand disability.  What makes someone normal or abnormal, and who gets to decide these criteria? Psychologists? Law makers? Physicians? Pop culture and media?  These are important conversations, especially as we as an American culture are trying to expand our view of what is acceptable and/or normal, while (hopefully) simultaneously extending legal, healthcare, and other benefits to people who used to be considered well outside of the norm.

Many of the chapters were gut-wrenching, but even through teary-eyes I couldn’t stop reading.  Mr. Solomon’s many interviewees were so candid and thoughtful in the way they described their families and children.  Mr. Solomon obviously went to great lengths to create strong relationships with these families and individuals; he is a gifted man.

I heartily recommend this book.  Pick through it chapter by chapter, or read it in bits and pieces over time.  The messages, the struggles, and the questions posed are important for all of us to consider – whether our children have fallen far from us or not.

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Check out this review on Mr. Solomon's site!

Check out this review on Mr. Solomon’s site!

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.

Making Time with Friends a Priority

Friends are good medicine.  And when I say “friend” I mean a real, live, true friend.  Not a Facebook friend, or a virtual friend, or someone who calls us a friend but is really trying to sell us something.

I have been reminded of the importance of friends and mental health several times recently.  Once while reading Dr. Deborah Serani’s book Living with Depression, in which she recommends both “staying connected to social support” and “avoiding toxic people” as part of an overall plan for managing depression.  I was also reminded of the good medicine friends can be while spending time with a dear, longtime friend the other day.

Your friends might not look like these guys, but they can be good for your mental health anyway!

Your friends might not look like these guys, but they can be good for your mental health anyway!

The problem is, many of us don’t make time to spend with the friends we have, and don’t invest in new relationships.  It’s easy to get distracted with the other priorities in life: family commitments, work, exercise, household chores, etc.  As we enter into the new year, I wonder how our lives might be improved by placing a priority on our friendships?  Perhaps making a goal to spend purely social, fun time with a friend once a month, or once a quarter even would be a good start.

And what about those of us who don’t have friends, or don’t have the types of friendships we would like? Perhaps this is the year to make relationship-building a priority.  Take a risk and talk to new people, engage in a new activity, or re-kindle an old relationship that has faded away.

Working toward good mental health can mean lots of things – focusing on friendships can be a free and fun way to do it.

Book Review: Living with Depression by Deborah Serani

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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.

5 Questions with Dr. David Palmiter

A couple of months ago I posted a review of Dr. David Palmiter‘s book, Working Parents Thriving Families.  It’s a great book, and I’m thrilled to have Dr. Palmiter here today to answer a couple of questions! Welcome, Dr. Palmiter!

Dr. S: In your book, Working Parent Thriving Families, you talk quite a bit about your own family. What did your wife and kids think about that? Did they give you any advice when you were writing the book?
Dr. P: I think the only concern they had was whether I’d say something completely idiotic, which they seem to believe is a vulnerability of mine! Seriously, they were okay with what I wrote.Screen shot 2013-01-07 at 2.32.42 PM

Dr. S: Your book includes 10 steps to a happier, healthier family.  If you had to pick THE MOST IMPORTANT one, what would it be?
Dr. P: Chapter One: Special Time. I say this because it is the intervention that most promotes a sense of worthiness in a kid and a sense closeness between a parent and a child; in my travels it is the latter which is especially important to we parent-lunatics.
Dr. S: Are there any steps or strategies you wished you had included but didn’t?
Dr. P: I would probably have said more about bullying, diversity training/dialogue and violence prevention; I seem to be dealing with these issues more and more in my professional life and in what I see in our culture at large.
Dr. S: What are you working on these days? Any new books in the works?
Dr. P: I’m working on a book proposal for teaching graduate students how to do cognitive-behavioral therapy. The working title is “OMG, What Do I Do If My Client                            : A Practical How-To Guide for Doing Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with Children and Adolescents.”
Dr. S: One of the things I often write about is stress management.  We all know yoga and meditation are great, but I am more interested in unique, creative ways for managing worry.  What do you do to manage the stress in your life?
Dr. P: Scream at TV broadcasts of the Washington Redskins and Baltimore Orioles (the coaches can perhaps hear one, and benefit from one’s counsel, if one is loud enough ;-), play low stakes poker with my boys, use humor whenever and wherever possible and practice magic tricks to show my students and child clients; at the end of the day I’m a huge exhibitionist, so I’m learning to just go with that. lol

Thanks for taking time to answer my questions, Dr. Palmiter! Check out his book here.

Stay tuned for upcoming book reviews! I’ve got a huge stack just waiting to be read, written, and posted! In the meantime, if you have suggestions for me to read and review, please send ideas along!

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Book Review: Working Parents Thriving Families

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A few things before I start this review:

1. I typically don’t care for parenting books.  They tend to be preachy, too complicated, and make me feel like a lousy parent after reading them.  Read more about my thoughts on parenting books here.

2.  Dr. David Palmiter, the author of Working Parents, Thriving Families, is a colleague of mine so I’m not totally un-biased when it comes to this review.  With that said, one of the reasons he is a colleague is that I consider him an excellent psychologist and teacher.

3.  I have read this book a couple of times.  The first time was so I could write a quick review to go into the book.  The second time was for this blog – so I consider myself a real expert on this book! To read my review (along with a bunch of others), click here.

OK, with that stuff out of the way, here we go:

While I’m not sure if the “Working” in the title refers to parents who work outside the home, or a recognition of the fact that parenting is “work,” the title sets the tone for this down-to-earth, super accessible book that deals with a lot of real-life issues. Dr. Palmiter doesn’t focus on step-by-step techniques or discipline strategies that need a PhD to administer.  He simply talks about the basics of parenting and what needs to happen in order to raise a happy family – while acknowledging that none of us is perfect and we all get overwhelmed and frustrated with ourselves, our partners, and our kids from time to time.

A few of the things I like best about Dr. Palmiter’s book:

  • “Special Time.”  Dr. Palmiter suggests we spend an hour each week with each of our children doing nothing but watching them engage in something they enjoy, and then commenting, praising, and encouraging them in that activity.  He suggests how awesome it might feel if we (as adults) heard things like: “You prepared that dinner beautifully” or “Wow, you really managed the kids like a pro today” on a regular basis – and the same goes for our kids.  I love tips like this because they are free, aren’t hard to master, don’t have side effects, and can make a huge impact on families in a relatively short period of time.  I know, I know, I’m not sure I can really do that for what would equal 3 hours per week either (and he comments on that complaint), but it is something to work toward for sure.
  • His humor and lighthearted tone.  Parenting is a funny endeavor – but you would never know it by looking at most of the books, blogs, and websites out there.  Dr. Palmiter did a great job making me laugh. A couple examples are when he offers some comebacks to common kid complaints:

Kid: But all of my friends are allowed to do it!

Parent: Do you think their parents would consider adopting you?

Kid: But, you let (name of sibling) do that!

Parent: I love her more than you.

  • I didn’t feel like crap at the end.  As I mentioned above, lots of parenting books make me feel like a bad parent.  Either because I never have the energy or motivation to do all the things they tell me I should, or because my kids never look like their examples.  The thing about this book is that my family DOES look like Dr. Palmiter’s examples, and he even shares his own quirky family and parenting blunders with us!  He also seems to get that modern family life is crazy, hectic (his website is even hecticparents.com), and frankly ugly at times.

To learn more about Dr. David Palmiter check out his website.  To buy the book, check it out here.