Saturday, March 03, 2007

Unruly Children? Just Pass the Bottle

If you have ever questioned the need to continue breast feeding a child to three or four years of age or older, then you will be "thrilled" to know that one primary school in the UK has decided that behaviorally challenged kids now need to be bottle fed up to the age of 11 (Hat Tip: Mecurior):

Pupils up to the age of 11 are being bottle-fed and mothered in school as part of a radical new move to address poor discipline.

A state primary school has become the first in the country to take part in the approach, which was developed in the US to give problem children the love and attention they may have missed out on at a younger age.

Instead of being given a sharp telling off or a few minutes on the naughty chair, they have one on one sessions with a trained school therapist.

The children - aged between six and 11 - are bottle-fed like young babies, nursed and encouraged to play games promoting patience and teamwork.

Parents who feel they no longer have control over their child can sign up to the Theraplay programme, which lasts up to three years and emphasises the importance of a strong and loving bond with a mother figure.

Apparently, the therapists who tout this "treatment" are convinced that children who are poorly behaved need to improve their self worth, but self worth or self-esteem is not tied to how well adjusted children turn out later in life and in fact, often high self-esteem is correlated to narcissism and later violence. I just hope the UK isn't raising the next generation of bottle drinking thugs. But I guess as long as a group of therapists can feel good about themselves and their ability to provide first rate nanny services at the schools, that's all that matters.

Listening to Anger

Have you ever suffered from severe anxiety, road rage and hyper behavior all rolled into one and wondered, "what the heck is wrong with me?" If so, then you have to read Brian Frazer's new book Hyper-chondriac: One Man's Quest to Hurry Up and Calm Down that just came out this week. I saw the cover of the book, complete with a big colored pill (I assume it is supposed to be Zoloft) between two fingers, and was intrigued enough to read the inside cover: "Chronicling his relentless search for inner peace, Frazer takes readers on a hilarious guided tour of his dysfunctional childhood, marked by an extaordinary ability to contract a new disease almost every month, a disturbing obsession with bodybuilding anda veritable sample platter of disorders of every conceivable type..... As an adult, Frazer proves even more high maintenance. His forays into analysis, Kabbalah, yoga, anger management, psychopharmacology, and puppy rearing are all attempts to achieve some sort of lasting happiness and inner peace. He discovers that almost everything works. For about five minutes."

After reading this mess, I thought to myself, "Another narcissistic tale of an over-achieving yuppie type who is going to bore us with the details of his path to fullfillment." But the book is much more complex than that and rather than narcissism, Frazer's anxiety and rage disorder seemed fueled by early psychological experiences that lead him to strive for perfection and hyper behavior to gain the love of his mother who is very sick. Frazer's mother is struck with Multiple Sclerosis when he is very young and he feels helpless to help her. However, he finds that a surefire way to please her is to adopt hyper behavior--her chief complaint in life seemed to be that nothing ever gets done fast enough. "Her theory was that there was no use in putting things off because you'd eventually have to do them anyway." At 11, Frazer became very task-oriented and pushed himself to do everything immediately, with an urgency that leads to rage, stomach problems, depression and a lifetime of striving to find a way to calm down.

My favorite parts of the book are where he describes his feelings of rage when he is flipped off by a guy in a Honda Accord and tailgates him and then chases him across a soccer field, and another section where he goes to an anger management class and learns a bunch of hooey about how to deal with anger. By the end of the book, he seems to understand more about where his anger is coming from and says that the myth in his family had been that anger can control things. As a psychologist, I think that anger has a limited place in interpersonal interactions with family members--it is better to use other methods to deal with the people that we love. But this does not mean that angry feelings are "wrong," for they are only wrong if used in unproductive or destructive ways. Some anger is good, such as anger against injustice, totalitarianism or communism, and can give rise to problem solving in constructive ways that make people more free and not less.

Anger is often a signal, to tell us that something is wrong, that we have been unfairly treated. But it can be a helpless rage that makes us feel that we are cannot change our circumstances. Effective problem solving and figuring out the source of the anger is paramount, as is giving yourself back the sense that you can control the circumstances that lead to the anger in the first place. Each person's personal journey with anger is different and needs to be explored in the context of their own life, but anger is universal in the way it can lead to change, sometimes in a positive direction. If you have interests in anger, hypochondria, or stress, you should read this book.


Friday, March 02, 2007

Who are the 47 million Americans without healthcare? Stuart Browning examines the myth that these are "poor" citizens without access to Medicaid.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Podcast: Training the Afghan Army

We talked with Col. David Enyeart, Deputy Commander of Task Force Phoenix, the command dedicated to training the Afghan National Army and the Afghan National Police.

Col. Enyeart talks about addressing corruption, the much-anticipated Taliban spring offensive (which he calls "make or break for the Taliban") addressing corruption and illiteracy, and the success in recruiting efforts. His conclusion: "This is a winnable war over here."

Also on the call are Mark Finkelstein of Newsbusters, Andrew Lubin of On Point, Scott Kesterson of the Huffington Post, and John Noonan of Op-For.

You can listen directly by clicking here -- no downloads needed -- or you can download the entire file by clicking right here. You can get a lo-fi version suitable for dialup, satellite phone, or whatever by going here and selecting lo-fi, and you can always subscribe for free via iTunes. Visit our show archives at for old episodes or to check for updates.

Music is by Mobius Dick. This podcast was brought to you by Volvo USA.

The PC Police--Coming to a School near You

So it's okay to ask a Mormon student if she has 10 moms but if she shoots back with "That's so gay," then she gets in trouble? Give me a break. I hope the family of this young lady wins their lawsuit against the school and strikes a blow against the PC "educators" who think they can bully students into speaking in lingo only they approve of. But even if they lose, no one should stand for this type of scrutiny of our school children.
Maggie's Farm has an interesting post on spanking.

What Does it Mean to be a Forensic Psychologist?

Mrs. Du Toit is confused over the term "forensic psychologist." She and her commenters take a stab at understanding what it is that we do and why in the world we preface the word psychologist with "forensic." Some of the comments are totally off the mark, others humorous and one is in the ball park of understanding what we do in the field but is too limiting:

She counsels people who have legal problems? She investigates legal problems from a psychological point of view?

I was under the impression that a forensic psychologist would be a criminal psychologist who uses his professional skills to help solve crimes (profiling serial killers - that sort of thing), as opposed to a criminal psychologist who studies criminals to try and understand what motivates people to commit crimes, say.

Oh, yeah. It may be the 21st century equivalent of the “domestic engineer” or “sanitary engineer.” Perhaps someone keenly aware of his own shortcomings in his particular metier or milieu appends a polysyllabic adjective to assuage his feelings of inadequacy. Or big words make me sound more important.

I don’t know whether it’s correct or not, but the concept I have for a “forensic psychologist” as opposed to a regular psychologist is that where a non-forensic psychologist has access to a subject, asks them questions and so on, and then draws conclusions about the subject’s mind based on the answers and responses to stimuli that they obtain themselves and can adjust and refine, a forensic psycologist has to attempt to draw conclusions without having access to interactive testing for the subject - they have to work backwards from only observed actions and attempt to establish motives.

Another commenter, a psychiatrist, attempts to explain what we do but gives only information about insanity evaluations, as if this is all that we do.

Let me clarify what forensic psychologists are and what we do. We are not typically "profilers" like you see in Silence of the Lambs -- that is generally the province of those in law enforcement, although I have done a few such cases. They are a rarity in my field. The word "forensic" is derived from the Latin "forum," the place where trials were conducted in Roman times. The current use of "forensic" denotes a relationship between one professional field such as medicine, pathology, chemistry, anthropology and psychology, with the adversarial legal system (Handbook of Psychology, Volume 11, 2003). We provide professional psychological expertise to the judicial system. We deal with civil and criminal cases--a civil case being something like a child custody evalution or psychological injury to a person in a ligation case. On the criminal side, we might be asked to determine if someone is competent to stand trial, provide a violent risk assessment for someone who has committed a crime, or determine legal sanity.

Most of us have a PHD in clinical or counseling psychology with post-doctoral work in forensic psychology. A doctorate takes an average of seven to eight years of graduate work and includes a one year post-doc in many states, including Tennessee. In order to be an experienced forensic psychologist, one needs to study law, not necessarily in law school, although some forensic psychologists have a PHD in clinical psychology and a JD in law. There are some forensic psychology PHD programs such as the one at John Jay Criminal College in New York. The American Academy of Forensic Psychology where I receive much of my training provides excellent programs in everything from the role of the Forensic Psychologist in Death Penalty Litigation to a crash course in Law School.

There are many differences between regular clinical psychologists and forensic psychologists that people do not seem to understand. In a clinical setting, one evaluates or does psychotherapy with the client to benefit the patient in terms of personal growth and support. Forensic psychologists use their results of an assessment (and yes, we actually work with the client, whether that be in a prison setting, in court, or in our office--the patients are generally alive, not dead) to help or educate the court without regard to the potential of the person being examined. We are not a therapist to them, we do not counsel them, nor are we even supposed to have an empathetic orientation towards the client; we are supposed to remain detached, neutral and objective. If you are intestested in following up on the difference between clinical and forensic psychologists, read this article by Greenberg and Shuman (1997).

Just to conclude this long-winded post, being a forensic psychologist is hard work. It is not to be undertaken lightly, for the training is arduous, the pay sucks, and the work, rather than being glamorous, is often tedious and involves working with the seedy side of human nature. I would say many of my colleagues agree.

If you still think you are interested at this point, here are a couple of books I recommend to give you more insight into the field: Minds on Trial: Great Cases in Law and Psychology and Handbook of Psychology, Forensic Psychology. Or here is a good (and free) website about the field.


Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Mexican Men Who Don't Want Sex Better Watch Out

A reader (thanks) sent me this news item on a new law being passed in Mexico, of all places, that would jail those men who avoid sex with their wives:

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican men who display extreme jealousy or avoid sex with their wives could be tried in court and punished under a new law, the special prosecutor for crimes against women told a local newspaper on Friday.

Men who phone their wives every half hour to check up on them, constantly suspect them of infidelity or try to control the way they dress are committing the crime of jealousy, special prosecutor Alicia Elena Perez Duarte told Excelsior newspaper.

Those who stop talking to their wives, avoid sex or try to convince suspicious spouses they are "crazy" even if they are caught red-handed having an affair, are guilty of indifference, she said.

Men found guilty of jealousy or indifference could face up to five years in prison, the newspaper said. Mexico's individual states will determine the punishments, it said.

The progressive new law was passed this month to protect women from domestic violence.

When I first read this, I thought it was a parody as it seemed so absurd--but sadly, I am not sure it is--is anyone familiar with these laws? And what does avoiding sex, indifference and not talking to your wife have to do with domestic violence? It sounds like the opposite to me.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Do Men and Women Express Depression Differently?

Men's Health has an article in its latest issue, entitled "Exercising Your Demons," about men and depression (thanks to the reader who sent the article to me). The caption reads: "Some people might call you highly competitive. Some might call you superfit. But a growing number of doctors would label you something else: Depressed." A 33-year-old male, Raymond Britt, who runs competitively is used as an example of a depressed man who takes up grueling sports to ward off anger, hurt and unhappiness.

The article speculates that men suffer from depression as readily as women but the symptoms in men show up as pushing themselves too hard at sports, working too hard, drinking and anger:

The numbers seem to show that men and women suffer from various mental illnesses at about the same rate, with some notable variations and exceptions. One of the differences, long accepted as gospel by the psychiatric professions, is that twice as many women as men suffer from depression. Kessler says his numbers show that a woman is twice as likely as a man to have a single episode of major clinical depression in her life. After the first episode, however, men and women don't differ in the number of episodes they'll have during a lifetime, or in whether they'll have another episode. Only the first step differs, he says. Then the statistics flatten out to equal.

But if repeat episodes of depression are equal for men and women, doesn't it stand to reason that they may be having first bouts at the same rate? Maybe the discrepancy lies not in the number of men and women who are depressed, but rather, in how depression is expressed.

According to an increasing number of experts, the diagnostic tallies don't take into account the real experience of a lot of men like Britt. They also ignore the fact that women are much more likely to report depression and seek help. Men are more likely to try to fight through their depression, using strategies ranging from hard work to extreme exercise to drinking to violence. Nearly four times more men than women kill themselves.

In my clinical experience with men and boys, it certainly seems that those around them are often clueless about their depression. I had one teen who was irritable and angry at school and often overreacted with other kids in class. When I met with the school staff to discuss some test results showing a significantly high level of depression, they were shocked. One female teacher said, "I never knew he was depressed -- when I am sad, I go home, cry and eat chocolate chip cookies, I don't get angry."

"Well, maybe not," I said, "but then, you are not an adolescent boy who is being bullied at school." Once the staff understood the dynamics of this young man's depression, they started to change the way they dealt with him and worked on reducing the depression, with the result that his anger subsided some. Yet the depression would have gone untreated if the staff had continued to think depression was only expressed by crying, eating too many cookies, and withdrawal.

In an article entitled Are Men Getting Shorted on Health? the author likens depression in men to heart disease in women: "Some experts think that depression contributes to these reckless and self-destructive behaviors, but that just as heart disease was initially defined by men's experiences and therefore ignored or missed in women, depression may have been framed by women's experiences and therefore may be missed and go untreated in men."

It is often said that anger is depression turned outward and this is often true (of course anger can be other things, such as a response to a sense of injustice or unfairness). Dealing with men's depression means that one cannot be afraid of anger or the underlying emotions that go with it. But the key is to know the difference between typical masculine behavior and true depression and to not pathologize the former, while being sure to properly treat the latter.


Sunday, February 25, 2007

Hoplophobia, Homophobia and Political Correctness

Have you noticed how differently those who criticize non-PC issues such as gun rights are treated by the media as opposed to those who dare to make a PC blunder such as saying something politically incorrect about a minority? Under "Today's Picks" on MSN, I saw an article entitled, "Gun Remark Makes Outdoorsman an Outcast." The story links through to a Washington Post article of the same name with a caption: "Criticism of hunters who use assault rifles puts writer’s career in jeopardy." The article describes the plight of "poor misunderstood" writer, Jim Zumbo:

Zumbo's fame, however, has turned to black-bordered infamy within America's gun culture -- and his multimedia success has come undone. It all happened in the past week, after he publicly criticized the use of military-style assault rifles by hunters, especially those gunning for prairie dogs.

"Excuse me, maybe I'm a traditionalist, but I see no place for these weapons among our hunting fraternity," Zumbo wrote in his blog on the Outdoor Life Web site. The Feb. 16 posting has since been taken down. "As hunters, we don't need to be lumped into the group of people who terrorize the world with them. . . . I'll go so far as to call them 'terrorist' rifles."

The article appears to be sympathetic to Zumbo's cause and the Post trots out an "outdoorsman" who basically calls NRA members attack dogs:

Some outdoors writers drew a different lesson from Zumbo's horrible week.

"This shows the zealousness of gun owners to the point of actual foolishness," said Pat Wray, a freelance outdoors writer in Corvallis, Ore., and author of "A Chukar Hunter's Companion."

Wray said that what happened to Zumbo is a case study in how the NRA has trained members to attack their perceived enemies without mercy.

"For so many years, Zumbo has been a voice for these people -- for hunting and for guns -- and they just turned on him in an instant," Wray said. "He apologized all over himself, and it didn't do any good."

Say Uncle has more about the above article and its pitfalls here.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the above article is not my main point here; it is to compare the media treatment of Jim Zumbo's politically correct position of likening hunters with assault rifles to terrorists to that of someone like Isaiah Washington who made the horrible mistake of daring to criticize a politically correct minority. Rather than treat Washington as the sympathetic character they portray Zumbo as, the media seems to revel in Washington being a pariah who is sent to a treatment facility to "cure" the possibility that he will ever make a homophobic slur again! Take a foul mouthed shot at a minority and one is sent to rehab. Trash a gun owner and liken him or her to a terrorist and you are a sympathetic character who is being attacked by the fringe members of the NRA. I certainly do not condone what Washington said when he called a castmate a sexist slur, yet is it really okay for the The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation to request an apology (probably yes), try to get him fired and ABC to send Washington to "rehab," all with no one in the MSM saying this might be wrong or at least giving an opposing view as they did with the gun slur? Why is one type of speech seen by the media as okay and worth defending and the other politically incorrect type seen as not worthy of anything but disdain and punishment?

I wonder when guys like Zumbo will be asked to go to rehab to treat their Hoplophobia? Probably when Hell freezes over--as it should be, for freedom of speech is always worth defending no matter whether we are offended by it or not.

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