Sunday, August 29, 2010

Some Thoughts About Love...

It is a mystery why we fall in love. It is a mystery how it happens. It is a mystery when it comes. It is a mystery why some love grows and it is a mystery why some love fails.

You can analyze this mystery and look for reasons and causes, but you will never do anymore than take the life out of the experience. Just as life itself is more than the sum of the bones and muscles and electrical impulses in the body, love is more than the sum of the interests and attractions and commonalities that two people share. And just as life itself is a gift that comes and goes in its own time, so too, the coming of love must be taken as an unfathomable gift that cannot be questioned in its ways.

Remember that you don't choose love. Love chooses you. All you can really do is accept it for all its mystery when it comes into your life. Feel the way it fills you to overflowing, then reach out and give it away. Give it back to the person who brought it alive in you. Give it to the world around you in any way you can.
This is where many lovers go wrong. Having been so long without love, they understand love only as a need. They see their hearts as empty places that will be filled by love, and they begin to look at love as something that flows to them rather than from them.

Remember this and keep it to your heart. Love has its time, its own season, its own reason for coming and going. You cannot bribe it or coerce it, or reason with it. You can only embrace it when it arrives and give it away when it comes to you. Love always has been and always will be a mystery.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

When corruption is the norm

When corruption is the norm then the world is truly in trouble. I am not saying that throughout all of our society that this is so, but in certain areas we are getting close. The latest is the expanding case of government officials offering politicians jobs illegally and after being caught responding, "Well, everyone does it."

The response is not the problem. In fact it is no different than when the child tells his/her parent that, "Everyone is doing it, what's the problem." Of course we all know the typical parent response..."so if Johnny jumps off the Empire State Building, then you should to?!" I view the "everyone does it" excuse at the same level of the rapist who says, "If she didn't want to be raped, then she shouldn't dress that way." In other words the person is trying to take the focus off himself and put it on everyone else. But let's face it, it is an absurd excuse and should be labeled as such.

The problem today is that corruption is becoming so much the norm in politics that people are actually supporting the "everybody does it" excuse. And it is spreading to other areas.

Not very long ago if someone used that type of excuse for illegal or unethical behavior they would be called to task for it. But today, people are actually buying the excuse...which in my mind is quite scary.

Honesty and truth should be our norm. And when people do not abide by it, then we should call them on it. But more and more we don't. And we see more and more of the excuse that "everyone does it." Soon we may see a time when honesty and truth are no longer the standard that we live up to, but the exception.

In fact I believe that when corruption becomes the norm then honesty will be viewed as a threat to the corrupt. And then the honest must be vilified. And where will we be then?

Sunday, May 2, 2010

I Love These Lyrics!!!

These are perhaps my favorite song lyrics of all time, simply because they are such an accurate statement about our society:

"Where I come from we believe all sorts of things that aren't true. We call it - 'history.'
A man's called a traitor - or liberator
A rich man's a thief - or philanthropist
Is one a crusader - or ruthless invader?
It's all in which label
Is able to persist
There are precious few at ease
With moral ambiguities
So we act as though they don't exist"

Now think about words in light of our political leaders!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Classical Conditioning

Here is a YouTube video about Pavlov's Classical Conditioning.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Rise of Narcissism

Narcissism --an inordinate fascination with oneself; excessive self-love; vanity. Freud would have described it as erotic gratification derived from admiration of one's own physical or mental attributes, being a normal condition at the infantile level of personality development.

Recently it was reported that the level of clinical narcissism among college age students had doubled over the past 15 years to 34 percent! That is an incredibly high percentage but it has been confirmed across the country.

So, what does that mean and how could that happen? Well, in my mind it fits in beautifully with some of my earlier posts about the sense of entitlement that young adults display on a regular basis.

But I think I have an idea about one of the main reasons behind this incredible increase in narcissism...and the answer lies right here, on the web.

About 20 years ago when I was doing full time consulting I interviewed a woman who had just completed her masters degree. She was looking for a position in corporate training. At that time people starting out in that field were making an annual salary of around $30,000. During the interview I asked her what level of pay she was expecting in her first job and without pause she said, "At least $50,000!"  I had to do my best to keep from laughing out loud. As we talked further it was clear that she had obtained a false sense of worth while completing her graduate degree. Her professors told her how incredibly bright and marketable she was. But I knew she would learn the reality of the situation soon enough. At the time I was surprised at how out of touch she was with reality. But that is nothing compared to people today.

But today people are being mislead into a false sense of self-worth on a regular basis. And the internet is to blame to a large degree.

Think of it this way...the average college student believes that it is perfectly normal to report hourly to the world what he/she is doing. And they actually believe that the rest of the world truly cares! And it is not just college age people either...I have friends on my Facebook page who report such things as: heading to the store, driving my car, done with work for the week, home alone, just teed off the 8th hole, leaving the golf course now, etc. And they think that all their "friends" on Facebook really want to know all of that.

But think of all the other ways that we are given a false sense of self-worth on the internet...

--Five years ago a web page was a big deal. Today everyone has one.

--Before YouTube it was difficult to post a video on the internet, now it is so easy anyone can do it. So we can show everyone our lives in video. It seems like YouTube has been here forever, but it is only about five years old!

--In addition to Facebook there are blogs and Twitter. And I am sure it will not stop.

It wasn't long ago that instant messaging seemed amazing. Now we can share our lives minute by minute with the rest of the world...and that MUST prove that I am important...right?

Well, doesn't it?  Hello?

 The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of EntitlementDo you hear me out there???!!!

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Fisherman's Lesson

One beautiful summer Saturday a man decided that he wanted to enjoy the sunshine and relax doing one of his favorite weekend activities, fishing. So, he got his little boat and his fishing gear prepared. On the way to his favorite little fishing lake he stopped at the convenience store that also sold bait. While he was there buying his night crawlers, he bought a lunch to take along and even got a little flask of whiskey to help relax him while fishing.

When he arrived at the boat launch it was the perfect day...75 degrees and sunny, with a mild breeze. His little seven horsepower motor puttered him out onto the lake and over to one of the areas where he preferred to fish. It was close to a swampy shoreline so there were no houses nearby. In addition to being one of his "lucky spots" for fishing, this part of the lake often had lots of birds and a few reptiles so that if the fishing wasn't good there was always something to watch.

He shut down the engine and threw out the anchor. This was his favorite lake because it was too small for skiing or tubing and there were no beaches on the lake, so it tended to be quiet. Not many people in the area even knew about this little lake. Today he felt extra lucky because he was the only one on the lake and that was just fine with him.

There was always something about being on the water with the sounds of nature that was naturally relaxing for him. But it turned out that it was not a great day for fishing. He got a few nibbles but they were few and far apart. Still it was nice to be out in the beautiful was good.

As the time passed he started to spend more of his time watching everything around him. First he watched the clouds and remembered being a kid and trying to find shapes of objects in the random cloud formations. It made him feel like a kid again to do the same thing now. But soon the clouds cleared and he thought to himself, "Even the clouds are not cooperating with me today!" But that was alright, this was a day to relax. He had even decided that if he did catch any fish he would most likely just throw them back...he was in a generous mood. So since the clouds had disappeared, he turned his attention to the ripples on the water caused by the breeze. There was something about moving water that was entrancing. He could watch it for hours. But after about ten minutes the wind died and the ripples died along with it.

So, he began to look along the shoreline to see if there were any animals to watch today. There were no birds. He could hear a few frogs croaking in the water, but that was about all. Then all of a sudden he saw a little splash over by some reeds in the water followed by a little movement toward his boat. There was something long and thin moving toward him. As it got closer he could see that it was a small water snake and it was holding something in its mouth...something that was wiggling a little! As it got even closer he could see a small frog being held in the snake's mouth...still alive…his four legs sticking straight out and wiggling! His immediate thought was to feel sorry for the little helpless frog...he thought to himself, "that poor frog, caught by that evil snake."

The snake kept moving closer to the boat. As it moved along side the boat he couldn't take it any longer. He quickly reached over the side of his boat and grabbed the snake right behind its head. He squeezed the snake slightly and as he did it released its grip on the frog enough for the man to take the frog out of the snake’s mouth. The frog was still alive and appeared to be unharmed. He held the little frog down near the water and it jumped out of his hand and swam away. As it swam out of sight the fisherman had a nice warm feeling of having done a good deed...he had saved the little frog's life. He was proud of what he had done.

After a few minutes he realized he still was holding the snake. He looked down at it and it looked up at him. For some reason, at that moment he realized that not only had he saved the frog, but he had most likely taken the snake's meal away from him. What right did he have to interfere with nature like that? He tried to think what he could do to make it up to the snake. He didn't have any frogs in the boat that was certain. As he looked over at his tackle box he saw his lunch and next to it was the flask of whiskey.

He made a decision...whiskey had always be good for him, so why not the snake? He reached over with one hand, opened the flask, picked it up and put a few drops of the whiskey in the snake’s mouth...and it didn't even flinch. He then put the snake over the side of the boat and gently set it in the water and let it swim away...and it headed right back toward the swampy area where it first had been.

At that point the fisherman thought to himself that this was possibly the perfect win-win situation...he had saved the frog's life AND the snake came out ok too! He sat back feeling proud of himself. He looked up and some clouds were back and he marveled at their beauty. This was indeed a great day! He closed his eyes and relaxed.

After a while he thought he heard a very soft sort of bumping sound on the side of the boat. He had no idea what that could be, so he leaned to look over the side of the boat. To his surprise there was the snake looking up at the fisherman with TWO frogs in his mouth!

The fisherman learned a valuable lesson that day: whatever behavior you reward you will get back two fold!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Being Alone

Why are most people so afraid to spend time alone?

Each year when I teach new graduate students who are training to become counselors I ask them a question that goes something like this…

What is the longest period of time that you have spent alone? But before they are allowed to answer I give some restrictions. This alone time cannot be while you are sleeping. It cannot be while you are driving. You cannot be reading anything. It cannot be while you going somewhere or accomplishing a task (walking, running, exercising, etc.) It cannot be while you are eating or while you are around others (as in a restaurant or cafe.) Obviously no radio or music or television is allowed. In other words, this is time alone, in silence, where you are there to experience yourself and your own thoughts.

What I have found is that the typical person will tell me that the longest time that meets these criteria is about one hour. Occasionally a few people will have been alone in silence for two hours. This is throughout their entire lifetime!

It is amazing to me how many people in our society are afraid to be alone, even for a short time. They feel the need to be constantly inundated with sounds and sights. The internet is just another one of those distractions, constantly bombarding us with information, while at the same time distracting us from thinking about important things in life.

I think silent, alone time is important for all of us. It gives us time to think, relax and examine our purpose in life. The first time I learned the power of solitary silence was back when I was on a 25-day Colorado Outward Bound experience when I was 24 years old. During our time in the wilderness we were each required to spend a 72 hour period during which we had no human contact. It was not a survival exercise; it was a time to get in touch with ourselves. To this day, that was one of the most powerful and positive experiences in my life. I finally had taken the time in my life to look at me.

I guess I think of silence a little differently than most people. I once read a psychologist describe that silence should be treated like fine wine…observed and consumed slowly…taken in and experienced…not feared but embraced. And I think that silent time with others can be valuable too…a time where we can experience each other without words getting in the way.

So, the next time you are alone with a chance for silence, don’t turn on the television or your computer or your IPod. And, don’t immediately try to find someone to be with. Try experiencing the silence and discover the person you are. You may be positively surprised by the incredible depth of your own personality!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

How We Change

By Dr. Larry Pfaff

Counselors and therapists often observe widely different results when two individuals with the same skill deficiency, problem behavior or emotional difficulty receive the same intervention. Why? What prompts one person to change while another does not, even though they receive the same treatment or try the same activities? The answer may be found in some very interesting psychological research.

A New Model for Change

Traditionally, we have relied on a model that implicitly defined change as the movement from unproductive or inappropriate behavior to productive or appropriate behavior. Change is seen as a dramatic shift from one stable state (inappropriate behavior, unproductive, unskilled) to another stable but more appropriate state.

What is wrong with this conceptualization of change? First, it leads us to expect people to change quickly. So people attend one-day seminars to change their lives and are disappointed with the results. Or, people are promised that reading one self-help book will change their lives forever. Or, if we just knew the “Secret” then life would be perfect. Unfortunately, life-long behavior cannot be changed quickly.

Our traditional conceptualization leads us to expect change to be a dichotomous event. We think people should shift instantaneously from poor skills to good skills. We expect people to instantaneously shift from being shy and reserved to outgoing and gregarious. This is supported in the media and society in general, where change looks easy (usually taking place in one half-hour episode). So, we expect change to be almost instantaneous, whether the change has to do with weight loss, smoking, exercise, relationships, or work behavior.

Research has been done that shows a more accurate view of how people actually change. It can also help us in our counseling efforts. The central concept of this model is the notion of stages of readiness to change. Four categories of readiness have been defined: precontemplation, contemplation, action, and maintenance. The stages of change were first identified in a 1982 study comparing the processes of change used by smokers quitting on their own and smokers participating in two commercial treatment programs. Subsequent research has established that the amount of progress people make in changing behavior depends on their stage of change readiness.

Precontemplation. Individuals in the precontemplation stage have no intention of changing their behavior in the near future, usually defined as within the next six months. Many precontemplators deny they need to change, or they do not feel their situation is serious enough to change. They are resistant to acknowledging that a problem even exists. It isn't that they can't see the solution, they can't see the problem. For them the cost of changing behavior clearly outweighs the benefits. Precontemplators may feel that they are being pressured to change. Coerced change is rarely successful. When the pressure is off, they revert to old behavior patterns. The precontemplator is the client who during counseling says, "I don't understand why I'm here. I don't need any of this." This stage is most evident in the addicted individual, where the addict does not see addiction as a problem, but rather a solution.

Contemplation. Individuals in the contemplation stage acknowledge that they need to change, and they are seriously considering change. Movement to this stage is critical for change to occur. An individual must acknowledge that he/she has a problem and know what the problem is for productive change to take place. Contemplators weigh the pros and cons of the problem and examine possible solutions. An individual who is at this stage has somehow gained a new awareness of his/her current behavior. They are not ready for change yet, but they are willing to think about the alternatives and examine current behavior patterns.

Action. This stage is a period of active effort to change behavior. Action involves overt changes and requires considerable commitment of time and energy. Seminars and training programs can only help people at this stage. Unfortunately, action does not always equate to permanent change.

Maintenance. This is the stage in which people work to consolidate gains and prevent relapse. Traditionally, this is viewed as a static stage. However, maintenance can be a continuation, not the absence, of change. For an individual, maintenance often occurs after counseling is terminated where the environment, family and friends support the changes the individual is making. When this stage is missing there is often relapse.

Making Change Efforts More Effective

The model described above gives insight into the effectiveness, or ineffectiveness, of individual change efforts. It can help us understand why one client has changed his/her behavior after therapy (or any intervention) while another has not. The changing client most likely comes to therapy at the contemplation (or sometimes action) stage. The non-changing client is often at the precontemplation stage and probably did not understand why he/she was even in therapy. This often occurs when someone is set to therapy or forced to obtain counseling. Note: seminars, training programs and self-help books are most effective for people who are already at the action stage. They can occasionally help move an individual from contemplation to action, but the vast majority will only help those who are ready to take action.

Individuals must be moved from precontemplation to contemplation before or at the beginning of therapy. To move ahead in the cycle of change, precontemplators must acknowledge the need for personal change. What causes people to begin to think seriously about change? Research shows that the individuals need "consciousness raising" in order to progress. Consciousness raising is defined as a systematic method of confronting the person with observations about his/her behavior. In other words, the person must be helped to see his/her behavior from the perspective of others. Only then can we increase the likelihood of training success.

Discussing the difficulty of modifying problem behavior, Mark Twain commented: "Habit is habit, and not to be thrown out the window but coaxed downstairs a step at a time." Thus, human behavior does not occur with one bold effort. Change requires movement through discrete stages. Proper awareness and monitoring of the entire development effort is critical to counseling effectiveness. Otherwise, we are delivering counseling that is likely to fail.

Saturday, February 13, 2010


Once again antidepressants are in the news.

There was a January Newsweek story ( about how little affect antidepressants really have on depression. I really encourage people to read the Newsweek article.

There continues to be more research showing that placebos (sugar pills) are as effective as antidepressants. So, with all of this data why are antidepressants becoming more and more popular? And with no true data to support the effectiveness of antidepressants, why are pharmaceutical companies continuing to create more antidepressants?

Well, let's look at it this way...

If you were running a pharmaceutical company and could choose one of the following areas to pursue, which would you? Here is a very simple analysis:

Area 1 - Serious psychological illnesses like schizophrenia.

Characteristics: easy to diagnose when someone suffers from it - easy to tell when someone improves from treatment.
Market size: very small percentage of the population, but the patient must take the medication the remainder of his/her life. Good long term sales but low volume.

Area 2 - Bacterial infections.

Characteristics: easy to diagnose the condition - also easy to tell when someone improves.
Market size: Potentially large, anyone can get an infection. One big downside, you only take the medication until the infection is healed. All sales are short term. Sales are great when there is a major outbreak of infections though.

Area 3 - Depression

Characteristics: not easy to diagnose clearly - a very wide range of levels of depression. Although there are outward symptoms a great deal of the diagnosis is based on patient self report...much like pain.
Market size: The entire population, virtually everyone displays some of the symptoms of depression at some time (as the Zoloft commercial says we all feel a little down at times.) Plus, the patient, once on antidepressants must take them the rest of his/her life. Excellent potential volume and long term sales.

So, strictly from a profit standpoint, which drug makes the most sense to pursue? Ones that have clear symptoms and limited markets or a drug for a condition that is hard to determine with a huge market...with a lifetime of use?

Hmmmm. So, you make the choice...

Of course, one would hope that someone at a pharmaceutical company might be more concerned about ethics and health, than just profits...but then maybe I am just a dreamer.

How does the saying go, "Just follow the money..."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Being a Professor

I was sitting in my office at the university, trying to prepare for my new semester of classes. In reality, I was looking out the window and watching the snowflakes drift to the ground. It is amazing the patterns they make as they fall. It is especially fulfilling since my office is on the third floor and the wind currents are much more interesting. Its a good thing that I have a window by my allows me to be more easily distracted. I rationalize this by telling people that the window allows me to ponder the great truths of life.

In actuality I was wondering why it is that every year I revise my courses rather than take the easy way out and just teach the same thing. I am sure that must say something about me, but I am not sure what. Perhaps I should go ask a psychologist...heavens no, I can't do that. You know what I always tell my therapy students? Going to see a therapist is at one extreme like receiving a warm hug and at the other extreme like hiking up a steep mountain trail with someone poking you in the back with a stick every few steps! And usually it is more like the stick in the back...but for some reason we know we need to get up the mountain, so in some strange way we are thankful for the poke in the keeps us motivated. And that stick in the back sort of like that itch we can't stop scratching.

As I pondered this question of the ages my email made the little "ping" sound that I had received a message. A little window popped up and I did not recognize the sender. It used to be that the phone would ring and I would have to answer it. But now hardly anyone calls anymore and that is probably good. Email allows me to see who is trying to reach me and then I can decide if I want to respond now, later or not at all. The problem with the phone is that, at best, you may know who is calling, but you don't know what they are calling about. It could be something interesting, or it could be your which case you always let the call go to voice mail. Email gives us many more options and ways to avoid responding to people...avoiding and procrastinating...isn't technology great!

Since I did not recognize the person who sent me the message I was curious enough to open it gave me another excuse to not do my work preparing my courses. The note said something about how they were referred to me by a friend of a friend who has a relative who works with me. I hate it when people do that and they don't even say who these people are. I am sure that one day a stock broker from New York call bank will send me an email with that same excuse for writing.

Of course this person just wanted to know if she could talk to me on the phone since she was told that I was "the only one who could help her." She also said that her situation was urgent and somehow involving a legal matter of some sort. The legal thing got my attention since I have been involved with a number of cases involving law and counseling over the years. I waited a few more minutes and decided that that calling her would at the very least allow me to procrastinate even further and there really were no down I called.

When I called I got voice mail...of course. Even diversions from work have voice mail now! I left a message saying that I was responding to her message.

Within minutes I received a call back. And boy did she have a story to tell...definitely worth my time and efforts...and a little ego boost too. It was a very involved tale and I may be able to help...boy the life of a college professor is a never ending adventure...

Being a professor also allows me at times to help people who cannot afford to pay for help...and that is a very fulfilling part of my life. This one was an issue that always gets my attention