Technology and Mental Health

I am excited to share the footage of the television program I was a part of earlier this week: Studio 12 What’s New in High Tech.  I had a great time hearing from Denver Post writer Andy Vuong and Google Glass expert Rob Rusher about all the cool new gadgets available.  (Who knew you you could program your sprinkler from your phone?)  I provided some insights into how technology affects our mental health, including our social and emotional well-being.

Host Tamara Banks was smart, warm and delightful – I felt right at home in the studio!

Click on the photo below to watch the segment (caution: it’s a hour long)!

Thanks for having me Colorado Public Television – I hope I get to come back soon!

National Day of Un-Plugging

Have you heard that the National Day of Un-Plugging starts tonight at sundown and lasts through tomorrow evening? Reboot who, according to their site, has a number of active programs that provide DIY tools for individuals and communities to explore Jewish identity, started the event several years ago – and I LOVE IT!

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While I am a big fan of social media (hello, I’m contributing to it right now) I also yearn for the days when our lives were less complicated, less harried and not Facebook-infused.  I have chronicled screen-free periods in my life before, so I’m not going to do that today.  But what I will do is leave you with a list of things you can do while you are abstaining from technology over the next day or so:

  • bake a cake
  • take a walk
  • read a book
  • draw a picture
  • play a board game
  • do a puzzle
  • talk to a neighbor
  • re-organize your kitchen
  • plan your summer garden
  • read a magazine
  • make a cup of tea
  • re-arrange your living room
  • talk to your kids
  • hold hands with your partner
  • do nothing at all

Most of all – enjoy engaging with those around you!

 

Video Game Detox

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There has been a lot in the news about video game and internet addiction.  From the controversy surrounding internet/technology addiction NOT being included in the latest edition of the DSM (for the record, I think it should have been), to the first inpatient treatment program for internet addiction opening in Pennsylvania, to this most recent video showing a boot-camp-style detox program for “internet addicts” in China.

The video is worth watching, it literally brought tears to my eyes watching these young men suffer.

But the real question is, is it necessary? Do we really need detox programs for internet addiction?

China seems to think so…and that makes me wonder if the US isn’t far behind.

What do you think?

The Psychology of a Text Message

As I wrote about a couple of days ago, I am weathering the storms and flooding along with my fellow Northern Coloradoans. It’s been a pretty amazing time – as anyone who has been through a natural disaster can attest. Fears, worries and anxieties butted right up against feelings of strength, hope and awe at the heroes and helpers among us.

Now that the danger has passed (at least for my community), I have been able to sit back and reflect on the last few days.  Here’s what I have come up with:

Text messages matter. 

What I mean is that in times of crisis or grief (or any big event, for that matter), reaching out to people can mean a whole lot.  And the reaching out can be as small as a little text like “I’m thinking of you” or “R U OK?”  It takes just moments, yet it can be so powerful.  Sure, a short voicemail, email or Facebook message will also do.  Just something that lets folks know they are not alone and that someone has them in mind.

I’m a little bit ashamed that I haven’t been better at reaching out to friends and family when I know crises have struck their communities.  I’ve never wanted to be a “burden” or “get in the way.”

Now I know better.

No one is bothered by receiving a quick note of comfort or support.  And it is something we can all make time to do.

Want to help flood victims? Check out these opportunities.

 

Summer Vacation: Plugged or Un-plugged?

Have you taken your summer vacation yet? If not, you may find yourself pondering this very question: Should I stay plugged in, or go all-in and un-plug the world? I was having this debate conversation just last night.  Are vacations better if they are completely un-plugged? Is it even possible?  Will my vacation be more beneficial if I don’t check my email, voicemail, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and beyond?

What about when I return: Will the re-entry to my “real” life be more difficult if I have a week or two worth of messages waiting for me?

Here’s my take:

Vacations come in all shapes and sizes.  There’s the quick weekend getaway, the family reunion trip, the sightseeing/cultural trip, the boy scout camping trip, the Disney World trip and the long, lazy summer trip.  It might be no big deal to stay plugged in (meaning checking voicemail, email, etc) on short trips like weekend getaways.  In fact, staying plugged in to the “real world” might be the only thing that gets you through kid-focused trips (like to Disney) and can provide excellent excuses for escape on family reunion trips.

Camping trips and long, lazy summer trips are different in my book.  These vacations should most certainly be experienced un-plugged.  These types of trips are meant to be savored and should be a complete change of pace from your normal life. We can’t be expected to truly un-wind, re-group, and relax if we are constantly updating Facebook or responding to customer inquiries.  Sand castles and s’mores are meant to be relished – and who can do that while responding to email?

How do you decide whether or not to un-plug?

Facebook: Good or Bad for Self Esteem?

I was recently interviewed for this story in the Philadelphia Inquirer about whether and how Facebook use affects self esteem.  The cool thing about the article was that it was written by a high school student.  And while I think of myself as young, and try so hard to be cool and relevant; I just can’t keep up with a teenager in terms of technology and social media and their effects on our psyches.

I’ve written about stress, self esteem and Facebook before, but was interested to read this author’s take on how Facebook use can affect self esteem in teens specifically.  She brought up some points I never would have thought of.  The number of “likes” one receives on posts or pictures, and the number of “friends” one racks up for instance.  As someone who is long past the teen years, I notice other things affecting my self esteem.  Things like friends’ vacation destinations, career accomplishments, and children’s behavior.

Of course Facebook is not all bad.  Connecting with long lost friends and family members is great, and so are the birthday wishes that come through on our timelines.  How does Facebook affect you? What about the teens in your life – does it affect them differently?  Check out the full article below:

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Debate over Facebook's effect on self esteem 04/07/2013

The Philadelphia Inquirer: Debate over Facebook’s effect on self esteem 04/07/2013

 

ImproveYour Mental Health: Cut Back on Facebook

Yesterday I wrote an article about Facebook Addiction*.  Namely, I provided some questions to ask yourself to determine if your Facebook use is having a negative impact on your mental health.  Take a look.

Today I am thinking about how to make changes in our Facebook use.  Keeping in mind that Facebook is not necessarily an evil force in all of our lives, but that for many of us it can cause some pretty negative and unnecessary emotions.

Some tips for changing your Facebook use so that it adds to your mental health (rather than taking away from it).

  • Set a time to check your Facebook account.  For example, check it on your lunch hour only.  The rest of the day is Facebook-free time.
  • Set an amount of time to check/post to Facebook.  For example, set aside 3o minutes/day to read and post – the timer on your phone or computer can come in handy with this one.  When the time is up, leave it alone until the next day.
  • Hide people whose posts upset you.  Why do I still read the “friend’s” posts that make me mad? We all have friends who post things we would rather not read.  Take the control Facebook gives you and hide their posts from your feed.
  • Don’t accept every friend request.  This may be a generational thing, but I don’t think we need to be “friends” with everyone.  As in the above tip, use the control you have and be selective of the people you let in to your Facebook world.
  • Consider a Facebook holiday.  I have a friend who is giving up Facebook for Lent.  If you really want to know how Facebook is affecting you, run an experiment and notice your mood now, and then after giving it up for a few days or a week.  See a big change for the better? Perhaps it’s time to give it up for good.

*Please note that Facebook Addiction is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-IV (or V as far as I know).  While it is not a “real” diagnosis, overuse of Facebook can certainly be detrimental to mental health.

Are You Addicted to Facebook?

I recently had a conversation with a colleague about Facebook.  She was wondering why so many of us continue to use Facebook when it makes so many of Screen shot 2013-02-21 at 10.39.48 AMus “crazy.”  And by crazy I mean: frustrated, sad, unworthy, annoyed, angry, jealous, and/or pissed off.  You know what I’m talking about: Facebook use can result in all types of emotions, many of them not so great.  For example, spending just a few minutes looking at my Facebook account this morning resulted in the following emotions:

  • excitement over a friend’s news that she is pregnant with baby #3
  • bewilderment/irritation over a couple distant friends and family member’s persistence in posting potentially offensive religious and political posts
  • jealousy over a friend’s pronouncement that she can still fit into her senior prom dress
  • revulsion/anger at the NY Times article about junk food science making the rounds in social media

So why do we continue to subject ourselves to this? Do we really need this extra stress in our lives? How do we know if we are “addicted*” to Facebook?

Some important questions to ask ourselves:

  • Is my time on Facebook keeping me from fulfilling my other duties in life (taking care of self and/or children, doing my job, etc)
  • Does my time or activity on Facebook cause problems at work?
  • Does my time or activity on Facebook cause problems in my interpersonal relationships?
  • Do I neglect “real” people or responsibilities in order to spend more time on Facebook?
  • Does what I read on Facebook have a significant impact on my mood everyday or most days?
  • Do I ever lie about my Facebook use, or hide it from others?

If you answered “yes” to more than 2 or 3 of these questions, it sounds like your Facebook use has a pretty huge impact on your daily life.  This might not be the best thing for your mental health.  Perhaps it’s time to change the way you use social media, and Facebook in particular.  Stay tuned for tips on how to cut back on Facebook.

*Please note that Facebook Addiction is not an official diagnosis in the DSM-IV (or V as far as I know).  While it is not a “real” diagnosis, over use of Facebook can certainly be detrimental to mental health.

Psychotherapy Is Not Dead

Last weekend What Brand Is Your Therapist was published by the New York Times Lori Gottlieb, the author, interviewed me and a couple of other psychologists for the piece.

In her article Ms. Gottlieb writes about her journey as a new therapist setting up a practice in the congested California market.  As she struggles to find clients, she looks to other, more established clinicians for advice.  Some say find a specialty area, others tell her to focus on consultation and/or coaching work rather than traditional psychotherapy, still others (me) tell her to increase her social media presence.

With this advice in mind, Ms. Gottlieb wonders if Americans have moved past the need for psychotherapy, citing statistics indicating that fewer people have sought talk therapy in recent years.  She also wonders if our super-fast, I-want-results-now culture makes the slower paced psychotherapy process outdated.

After stewing about it for a few days, I have gathered my thoughts, and offer this response proving that psychotherapy is not dead, in fact, it is alive and well.  With this caveat: it is essential that we change (at least a little bit) with the times.  Here goes:

Having been married to an architect for nearly 15 years, I have come to know a bit about that profession.  While it may not seem that a psychologist and an architect would have much in common professionally, I have come to realize that we do – and more than it would seem.  In addition to the arduously long training process involved in both fields, many of the current dynamics and changing business models are similar.  Take a look:

Fads Come and Go.  Colonial, craftsman, beaux arts, mid-centurn modern – these are just a few of the hundreds of styles of architecture around us.  While I might like classical design, others might prefer more contemporary; the one thing we can be sure of is that styles, tastes, and fads will change.  This is a good thing in architecture – it makes our communities more interesting.  What is critical, however, is that the structure underneath is sound.  Any architect would agree that a comprehensive understanding of history, as well as a mastery of structural and construction principles is necessary before good design can emerge.

The same is true for us in the field of psychology.  There is nothing wrong with new ideas, and unique and innovative treatments – so long as there is first a fluency in psychological science.  New treatment strategies, rooted in sound science and disciplined training, can (and should!) be constantly flowing into our daily practice.  Would we accept stagnant, non-innovative care from any other field?

Gray and Green – The New Black?  Some architects have continued to design and draw only by hand, have resisted integrating technology into their firms, and have refrained from embracing environmentally sustainable design and materials clamored for by clients.  Guess what has happened to those architects in this tough economy and competitive world? They are no longer practicing – or at least not at the level to which they would like.  Successful firms have had to innovative, be responsive to the marketplace, and have had to find a way to stay productive and flexible in a time when their clients demand more, have shorter time frames, and more restricted budgets.

Psychologists are no different.  To stay relevant and helpful (that is our mission after all) we must also innovate and find new ways to give people what they want (psychological help) and need (psychological health).  A colleague of mine, June Ching, PhD, recently wrote: “I see a…theme with the ‘old ways’ juxtaposed to the newly emerged technological advances. If the mission is still the same, perhaps joining forces with the ‘grey’ and ‘green’ is a viable option.”

Merging The Old School (“gray”) with the New School (“green”) is the only way to continue to provide the type of help and care we all desire.

Everyone Deserves Mental Health.  Most of us can’t afford to live in a house designed by an architect.  Instead, most of us live in houses that were mass-produced by a CAD-wielding draftsman employed by a large construction company.  Yea, it’s kind of a bummer from a design perspective, but guess what?  The roof still keeps out the rain and the walls still keep us warm at night.  And the price is right.

Again, the similarities with psychotherapy are striking.  Therapy is kind of a weird thing.  Sitting in a room with a stranger spilling your guts week after week, while learning little to nothing about said stranger.  Bizarre.  Not to say we strangers don’t have a lot to offer – we do! But psychotherapy isn’t for everyone.  It’s a significant commitment in terms of time and money, and frankly not everyone is helped by talking about their problems.  Some folks prefer the self-help methods of reading books or watching Oprah to aid their mental health.  Others might find comfort at church or in a peer support group.  Still others may prefer to use pharmacological treatment.  Guess what?  That’s OK!

Psychotherapy has never been a treatment utilized by the masses, and my guess is that it never will be.  The great thing is that it gives us lots of opportunities to reach out to folks who will never sit on our couches.  Podcasts, books, blogs, talks, articles in the New York Times – these are all means by which we can get the word out about the importance of psychology and good mental health.  Realizing that the 50 minute psychotherapy hour isn’t our only means of providing solid, responsible, and useful mental health care should make us feel excited and energized to meet folks in need – wherever and whoever they are.   Because in the end, everyone deserves mental health, not just those who meet us on our own, narrow terms.

It is my opinion that psychotherapy is enjoying a particularly robust period in its history.  The stigma against treatment is down, the access to care is up (thanks to changes in the insurance industry, as well as technology) and psychology, mental health, and emotional wellness are a part of the language of everyday life.  Psychotherapy is far from dead – it is very much alive and growing.  It is up to us to determine how and when to best maximize this growth, for our clients and ourselves.