Archive for April, 2011

April 30, 2011

Loving kindness meditation

by Dave P.

Meditation can be a great stress reliever and create a feeling of well-being that may be otherwise lacking in your life. I’ve heard some people who practice meditation regularly describe the state of mind they experience during meditation sessions as being “better than sex.” Both sex and meditation stimulate the release of endorphins in the brain, which generates a feeling of well-being. Drugs such as heroin and morphine do the same thing, which is why they’re so addictive. While drug addiction is extremely unhealthy and can destroy your life, an addiction to meditation is very healthy.

There are several types of meditation. A good one to start with is loving-kindness meditation. Here are a couple of good videos on loving kindness or ‘metta’ meditation.

April 26, 2011

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month

by Dave P.

Increasing public awareness of the need to ensure the safety and welfare of children led to the passage of the first Federal child protection legislation, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), in 1974. While CAPTA has been amended many times over the years, most recently with the CAPTA Reauthorization Act of 2010, the purpose of the original legislation remains intact. Today, the Children’s Bureau, within the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the Federal agency charged with supporting States, Tribes, and communities in providing programs and services to protect children and strengthen families.

In the early 1980s, Congress made a further commitment to identifying and implementing solutions to end child abuse. Recognizing the alarming rate at which children continued to be abused and neglected and the need for innovative programs to prevent child abuse and assist parents and families affected by maltreatment, the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives resolved that the week of June 6-12, 1982, should be designated as the first National Child Abuse Prevention Week. Members of Congress requested the President issue a proclamation calling upon Government agencies and the public to observe the week with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities promoting the prevention of child abuse and neglect.

The following year, in 1983, April was proclaimed the first National Child Abuse Prevention Month. As a result, child abuse and neglect awareness activities are promoted across the country during April of each year. The Office on Child Abuse and Neglect (OCAN) within the Children’s Bureau coordinates Child Abuse Prevention Month activities at the Federal level, providing information and releasing updated national statistics about child abuse and neglect. Many governors also issue proclamations to encourage initiatives and events in their States.

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April 25, 2011

How child abuse and neglect damage the brain

by Dave P.

For 7 -year-old Zachary Risotti, feeling safe and cared about is a new experience.

At 2, Zachary was taken to the emergency room because of a suspicious cigarette burn under his left eye. Six months later, he was back in the hospital with a burn on his right forearm. Suspecting abuse, the state Department of Social Services removed him from his home, but he bounced around three foster homes before he was finally adopted in July 2000.

By then, Zachary already bore psychological scars of child abuse. At 3, he had the communication skills typical of a toddler half his age. He avoided eye contact, fidgeted constantly and expressed his frustration by sitting in a corner and crying.

But intensive mental health and support services as well as a loving family have given Zachary a second lease on life. ”Today he’s happy, very sociable and doing well in school,” said his adoptive mother, Kathryn Risotti of Marlborough.

Until recently, mental health clinicians could only speculate on the ways that abuse and neglect damage a child’s developing brain. But a series of ground-breaking studies in neuroscience conducted over the last decade are allowing researchers to pinpoint the actual changes in children’s brains caused by traumatic experience.

These new neurobiological findings show that trauma – physical abuse, sexual abuse and neglect – dramatically affects both the structure and chemistry of the developing brain, thus causing the behavioral and learning problems that plague about three-quarters of the children mired in the child welfare system. But the good news is that these brain changes aren’t necessarily permanent. In fact, timely interventions – as in the case of Zachary – can help rewire the brain and put psychological development back on track. As Department of Social Services Commissioner Harry Spence put it: ”Neuroscience has helped to clarify our mission. We must do more than just protect children after the brain damage has been done. We must also provide loving environments because they are fundamental to healing on a physiological level.”

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April 22, 2011

Meditation May Help the Brain ‘Turn Down the Volume’ on Distractions

by Dave P.

ScienceDaily (Apr. 21, 2011) — The positive effects of mindfulness meditation on pain and working memory may result from an improved ability to regulate a crucial brain wave called the alpha rhythm. This rhythm is thought to “turn down the volume” on distracting information, which suggests that a key value of meditation may be helping the brain deal with an often-overstimulating world.

Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology report that modulation of the alpha rhythm in response to attention-directing cues was faster and significantly more enhanced among study participants who completed an eight-week mindfulness meditation program than in a control group. The report will appear in the journal Brain Research Bulletin and has been released online.

“Mindfulness meditation has been reported to enhance numerous mental abilities, including rapid memory recall,” says Catherine Kerr, PhD, of the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at MGH and the Osher Research Center at Harvard Medical School, co-lead author of the report. “Our discovery that mindfulness meditators more quickly adjusted the brain wave that screens out distraction could explain their superior ability to rapidly remember and incorporate new facts.”

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April 21, 2011

Alfred Freedman, a Leader in Psychiatry, Dies at 94

by Dave P.


Dr. Alfred M. Freedman, a psychiatrist and social reformer who led the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 when, overturning a century-old policy, it declared that homosexuality was not a mental illness, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 94.

The cause was complications of surgery to treat a fractured hip, his son Dan said.

In 1972, with pressure mounting from gay rights groups and from an increasing number of psychiatrists to destigmatize homosexuality, Dr. Freedman was elected president of the association, which he later described as a conservative “old boys’ club.” Its 20,000 members were deeply divided about its policy on homosexuality, which its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders II classified as a “sexual deviation” in the same class as fetishism, voyeurism, pedophilia and exhibitionism.

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April 20, 2011

Being Rejected Hurts…Literally

by Dave P.

On the surface, spilling a hot cup of coffee on yourself and finding out that your spouse is leaving you seem like pretty distinct events. Whereas the first case involves intense physical pain, the second one does not. But, consider how we often describe these types of events. We use the same words to illustrate both situations. For instance, “she got burned by her boyfriend” or “love hurts.” Now, new research suggests that it’s not only the words that link physical pain and social rejection, but that areas of the brain devoted to registering physical pain are also involved when we feel socially rejected.

Neuroscientists have been interested in how feelings of rejection relate to physical pain for some time. The consensus has been that brain regions related to the affective component of physical pain (the aversive feeling of it) also underlie social rejection while brain regions involved in our sensory experience of pain (the physical feeling of being hurt) do not. However, in a paper published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers found that being rejected – when that rejection is intense enough – recruits brain regions involved in both the affective and physical sense of pain. In short, this work gives new meaning to the idea that “love hurts.”

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April 20, 2011

Brain Development & Addiction – Talk by Gabor Mate

by Dave P.

A recurring theme in [the books by Gabor Mate] is the impact of a person’s childhood on their mental and physical health through neurological and psychological mechanisms; which he connects with the need for social change. In the book In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, he proposes new approaches to treating addiction (e.g. safe injection sites) based on an understanding of the biological and socio-economic roots of addiction. He describes the significant role of “early adversity” i.e. stress, mistreatment and particularly childhood abuse; in increasing susceptibility to addiction. This happens through the impairment of neurobiological development, impairing the brain circuitry involved in addiction, motivation and incentive. He argues the “war on drugs” actually punishes people for having been abused and entrenches addiction more deeply as studies show that stress is the biggest driver of addictive relapse and behavior. He says a system that marginalizes, ostracizes and institutionalizes people in facilities with no care and easy access to drugs, only worsens the problem. He also argues the environmental causes of addiction point to the need to improve child welfare policies (e.g. U.S. welfare laws that force many single women to find low-paying jobs far away from home and their children) and the need for better support for families overall, as most children in North America are now away from their parents from an early age due to economic conditions. As well as the need to change policies that disadvantage certain minority groups, causing them more stress and therefore increased risks for addictions.

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April 17, 2011

Mindfulness meditation practice changes the brain

by Dave P.

Mindfulness meditation alters regions of the brain associated with memory, awareness of self, and compassion, according to a brain imaging study by researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. Other studies have found differences in the brains of experienced meditators compared with non-meditators, but this is the first investigation to document brain changes occurring over time in people learning how to meditate mindfully. Results were published in Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging (Jan. 30, 2011).

Mindfulness meditation is the practice of paying attention to what you’re experiencing from moment to moment without drifting into thoughts about the past or concerns about the future and without analyzing (or making judgments about) what is going on around you. It’s not a new idea. Religious texts have extolled mindfulness for centuries, and it’s central to Buddhism and other contemplative traditions.

Since the early 1980s, mindfulness meditation has increasingly found a place in mainstream health care and medicine because of evidence that it’s good for emotional and physical health — for example, helping to reduce anxiety, stress, depression, chronic pain, psoriasis, headache, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Some studies suggest that it can improve immune function. And research has found an association between mindfulness meditation–induced improvements in psychological well-being and increased activity of telomerase, an enzyme important to the long-term health of cells. With advances in neuroimaging, scientists have begun to explore the brain mechanisms that may underlie these benefits.

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April 17, 2011

Autogenics relaxation techniques

by Dave P.

Autogenic training is a relaxation technique developed by the German psychiatrist Johannes Heinrich Schultz and first published in 1932. The technique involves the daily practice of sessions that last around 15 minutes, usually in the morning, at lunch time, and in the evening. During each session, the practitioner will repeat a set of visualisations that induce a state of relaxation. Each session can be practiced in a position chosen amongst a set of recommended postures (for example, lying down, sitting meditation, sitting like a rag doll). The technique can be used to alleviate many stress-induced psychosomatic disorders.

Schultz emphasized parallels to techniques in yoga and meditation. It is a method for influencing one’s autonomic nervous system. Abbe Faria and Emile Coue are the forerunners of Schultz. There are many parallels to progressive relaxation. In 1963 Luthe discovered the significance of “autogenic discharges”, paroxistic phenomena of motor, sensorial, visual and emotional nature related to the traumatic history of the patient, and developed the method of “Autogenic Abreaction”. His disciple Luis de Rivera, a McGill trained psychiatrist, introduced psychodynamic concepts into Luthe’s approach, developing “Autogenic Analysis” as a new method for uncovering the unconscious.

Example of an autogenic training session
Sit in the meditative posture and scan the body
“my right arm is heavy”
“my arms and legs are heavy and warm” (repeat 3 or more times)
“my heartbeat is calm and regular” (repeat 3 times)
“my solar plexus is warm” (repeat 3 times)
“my forehead is cool”
“my neck and shoulders are heavy” (repeat 3 times)
“I am at peace” (repeat 3 times)
Finish part one by cancelling[vague]
Start part two by repeating from step 2 to cancelling
Start part three by repeating from step 2 to cancelling

Many practitioners will choose not to cancel between the three iterations, in order to maintain deeper relaxation.

Quite often, one will ease themselves into the “trance” by counting to ten, and exit by counting backwards from ten. This is another practice taken from progressive relaxation.

Read full Wikipedia entry

Autogenic Training: A Practical Guide in Six Easy Steps by Karl Hans Welz (pdf)

April 17, 2011

Using Hypnosis to Gain More Control Over Your Illness

by Dave P.

KIRSTEN RITCHIE, 44, is no stranger to surgery — nearly 20 years ago, doctors removed four tumors from her brain. She remembers the operation and its aftermath as “horrific.”

So the news that she needed brain surgery again was hardly welcome. Determined to make her second operation a better — or at least less traumatic — experience, Ms. Ritchie, an insurance marketing representative in Cleveland, turned to an unusual treatment.

At the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Integrative Medicine, she had four hypnosis sessions in the month before her procedure, during which she addressed her fear of the coming surgery. She also practiced self-hypnosis every day.

Eventually, she said, “I got to a place where I felt a sense of trust instead of fear.”

In February, doctors removed a plum-sized tumor from her brain. But there the similarity to her previous experience ended. Ms. Ritchie woke up from the procedure, she said, feeling “alert and awesome.” She ate a full dinner that night and went home in two days.

“My neurosurgeon was stunned at how little medication I required before and after surgery, and how quickly I bounced back,” she said.

Ms. Ritchie attributes her speedy recovery and calm state to her hypnosis sessions. Used for more than two centuries to treat a host of medical problems, particularly pain management and anxiety, hypnosis is now available to patients at some of the most respected medical institutions in the country, including Stanford Hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, Mount Sinai Medical Center and Beth Israel Medical Center in New York.

[…]

During a session, the practitioner guides the subject into a relaxed state and then makes specific suggestions to help change a behavior, a perception or a physiological condition. Someone who is trying to quit smoking, for instance, might be told under hypnosis that cigarettes are poisons and that it’s important to care for and respect his body.

Some patients find that hypnosis is a helpful adjunct to traditional psychotherapy.

[…]

Specific conditions — like smoking, a fear of dogs or flying or temporary insomnia — may require just one session. In 2008, the personal health columnist Jane E. Brody recalled in this newspaper that her husband was able to stop smoking after just one session of hypnosis.

“For very circumscribed disorders, hypnosis works very quickly or not at all,” said Dr. Frischholz.

If your problem is more complex, like post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, it may require multiple sessions. “I might spend the first two sessions taking a history and learning about someone’s background,” said Carol Ginandes, an assistant clinical professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School who uses hypnosis in her private practice. “Then I would work with the patient in a very individualized way.”

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