Category: Expanding Mind: All About Mental Health and Personal Growth

What My Grief Has Taught Me About Psychotherapy

by Margie Nichols, Ph.D. In 2004 I lost my daughter Jesse four days before her tenth birthday.   For reasons of sheer survival, I went back into counseling right after Jesse died, after a hiatus of a number of years, with New York -based therapist Bruce Wood.  Among his many skills, Bruce has a great deal of experience with post-traumatic stress, which I guarantee you ensues upon the loss of a child. My own process of stumbling back to semi-normalcy (one forever has a piece of themselves missing after a loss like this) has helped my practice and informed my beliefs about psychological theory in ways I’m just beginning to understand. More than anything it has confirmed, or re-confirmed, the value of psychotherapy. I can’t imagine getting through this without Bruce.  I have renewed appreciation for how important it is to have someone in your life who listens to you talk about yourself and your experience without wanting reciprocal attention; who is not affected by your decisions or behavior and therefore has no stake in your direction other than to help you attain your own goals; who does not judge you, but will also tell you the truth about yourself, in… Read more »

When It’s Positive to be Negative: The Power of Negative Thinking

by Margie Nichols Lately I’ve been excited by this book I’m reading, The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.  And then last week I had an experience that highlights one particular aspect of ‘the power of negative thinking.’ First, let’s spend a brief moment on what’s negative about positive thinking.  I acknowledge that for many endeavors, having a positive and confident attitude increases the odds of your success. But as a total life strategy – it’s got some major flaws.  For starters,  unless you’re unusually lucky, as you go through life you will encounter numerous situations where good is NOT rewarded, evil goes unpunished, and bad shit happens to you that you can’t control,  and it happens for no particular reason, let alone a good one. And positive thinking can get you in trouble here.  For the entire ‘positive thinking’ philosophy rests on two flawed assumptions:  That most of our life is under our control, if only we approach it correctly;  and that things that we can’t control are at least governed by laws  that are fair and just.  In short, the principles of “visualize and you will attain it” and “what goes around comes around.”    So if… Read more »

What Therapists Can Learn From Placebos

   by Margie Nichols What does the placebo effect have to do with psychotherapy – other than to cast doubt on its validity? The placebo effect is the tendency of people to get better if they think they’ve been given medicine or treatment to ‘cure’ them, even when all they’ve gotten is a sugar pill.  The public equates the term ‘placebo’ with ‘It doesn’t really work, it’s all in your head.’  In pharmaceutical studies, it is a ‘noise’ factor as well as a bar of sorts:  if your drug doesn’t out-perform a placebo, it’s no good. But there are a slew of scientists who are studying the placebo effect, and its sinister counterpart, the nocebo effect (you’ll get worse if you think you’ve been given something harmful) to learn how to improve health care. So I started thinking about what the placebo effect findings suggest for the field of psychotherapy, and I was surprised at how relevant placebo research may be. Let’s start by being clear on what placebo effects can and can’t do.  They don’t shrink tumors or cure viruses; the placebo effect isn’t evidence for the ability to ‘think yourself well.’ So there is no ‘placebo effect’ for… Read more »

Reflections on the Trajectory of Grief : for the Newtown Parents from a Fellow Traveler

  by Margie Nichols I’m not sure that ‘The Holidays’ – the part of year from Thanksgiving through New Year – can ever be truly fun again for someone who has lost a child.  I lost my daughter Jesse in June 2004, four days before her tenth birthday.  That first holiday season was one of the darkest times I remember.  Things have improved a lot but it’s never something I look forward to. The Newtown murders have brought back memories of that first year, but also reflections on how things have changed for me.  I think a lot about the parents of the twenty children that died, and my heart aches for what I imagine they are going through.  I say ‘imagine,’ because if I’ve learned one thing from talking to other parents who’ve lost kids it’s that everyone has a different process.  Nevertheless, there are some common reactions that many, if not most, people in this situation experience. The first is shock.  I’ve heard and read a little of what the parents themselves are saying, and they sound like they are still in that dazed, dis-believing state where you know your child is gone, you are even crying for… Read more »

The Newtown Massacre and An Angry Mom

  by Margie Nichols When Courtney Zehnder, our Social Media Coordinator and my son’s S.O., asked if I wanted to blog about the massacre that occurred this morning, my first reaction was ‘I have nothing new to say.’  What can you say about a senseless tragedy that hasn’t already been said more eloquently by others? But then I listened to the news on the way home – and had a sudden, vivid picture of children aged 5  to 10.  And a crystal clear picture of my own daughter Jesse, who died another senseless death four days before her tenth birthday, in 2004.  At first it seems the circumstances of Jesse’s death couldn’t be less similar to the deaths of those little angels in Sandy Hook school. She died of Stevens Johnson Syndrome, a horrible drug reaction. But the reaction happened because Pfizer hid negative information about the medications, including about how they interact, from doctors and pharmacists in order to protect profits.  And, as I’ll discuss later, these kids died because of corporate greed as well – the greed of gun manufacturers. But first – I have some things to say to the parents of the children who were murdered,… Read more »

My Therapist’s Brand? Open and Accessible

by Margie Nichols The November 25 edition of the New York Times Sunday Magazine has a headline that reads ‘What Brand is Your Therapist?’   The story, ‘The Branding Cure: My so-called career as a therapist,’ is written by Lori Gottlieb, herself a newly practicing psychologist.  She describes – and mostly deplores – the trend towards people finding therapists online and the way that some therapists are encouraged to market themselves on the web.  There are ‘branding consultants’ who specialize in helping psychotherapists, at least in California, and they recommend among other things, the use of warm and inviting websites, Facebook business pages, and Twitter accounts where prospective clients can get to know the counselor a bit more personally. As a therapist who has all three my interest in Gottlieb’s story was piqued.  On what basis did her skepticism rest?  As a relatively young therapist, it’s a safe bet she’s not a tech Luddite, like some of my contemporaries. I soon learned the article is an example of much that is wrong with ‘traditional’ therapy.  It turns out that Gottlieb was trained psychodynamically, with the same tired old dogma about how the therapist has to be a  ‘tabula rosa’ so that… Read more »

Why Your Kids Don’t Understand That Sandy Is Over, And How You Can Help Them

by Margie Nichols and Colleen Powers (Colleen Powers, L.C.S.W., is an IPG therapist specializing in work with children and families.  She contributed to this article but couldn’t write it because she and her own family were flooded out of their home by Hurricane Sandy) It’s been more than two weeks since Sandy hit, and unless you are very unlucky your power is back, your kids are in school again, and life is beginning to return to normal.     So why are your kids not alright- why haven’t they got the message? Maybe they are.  If so, good for you!  One less thing to worry about. But maybe you are noticing behavior that is out of the ordinary for them.  They may be clingy, wetting their bed again,  absent minded or acting out at school, or downright aggressive and rebellious.  It may not have occurred to you that they are suffering from the emotional trauma of Hurricane Sandy.  Many adults are still reacting to ‘Sandy Stress’  and children can still be reacting as well. If your child is actively voicing worries or fears about hurricanes or actually talking about Sandy, the connection is obvious. But if not, you may not see… Read more »

Giving Thanks- Steaks and Gratitude

by Margie Nichols In honor of Thanksgiving, I’m posting this blog I wrote in 2010, along with an update at the end.  It’s pretty personal, and when I read it again I realized the theme is as true now as it was then.  I hope you enjoy it.   One night last week I offered my daughters steak for dinner and my 15 year old, Ale, turned up her nose. “Steak AGAIN?” she complained. At first my jaw dropped in surprise and a little righteous indignation –I sure didn’t take steak for granted when I was growing up! Then I remembered. My daughter Jesse wasn’t supposed to die, we had survived two months of brain surgery, rollercoaster ups and downs, and now she was safely in rehab where the only question was how long before she would talk and walk again. The tumor had manifested very late, and very ambiguously, until suddenly in March 2004 she seized again and again and was admitted to the hospital. She never returned home again. After the shock and numbness began to fade, I realized how unprepared I was to lose the daughter who was my closest companion in life. I had been a single… Read more »

Overcoming Stress from Hurricane Sandy: How to Survive a Superstorm- After It’s Gone!

by Margie Nichols I. Why You Aren’t Crazy If You Feel Stressed – AFTER It’s Over     Okay, your power is back on, you pumped out the basement, your kids may even be back in school.   You survived Hurricane Sandy, the Superstorm, the ‘Frankenstorm.’   So you should be feeling fine, right?   Even brimming over with gratitude because no one you knew lost their life?  Or at the very least – back to normal, instead of cranky, exhausted, sad, anxious or numb? Wrong.   The aftermath of an event like Sandy can last for weeks, even months.  For starters, there are real-life consequences that take much longer to resolve:  lost belongings, housing, cars.  And the loss of income.   Most of us lost money in some way in this storm, and a lot of us were stretched pretty thin already.   I’m seeing a lot of people with faces creased by worry about how they’re going to get by financially in the near future. But even if you lost next to nothing and aren’t worried about money – you may be feeling a post-Sandy slump.   That’s because an event like this disrupts our ‘map of the world,’ literally and figuratively.   Figuratively, because it forces us… Read more »

What I Learned From Hurricane Sandy

by Margie Nichols Nope, I’m not blogging about gratitude.  Though the situation certainly includes many possibilities for that.  Just a couple of things I noticed, given so much time on my hands:   1) We Are Animals.  Our Bodies Prevail.  In our section of Jersey city, where we were asked to wait out the storm inside rather than evacuate, everyone I knew hunkered down – and down, and down, and down.  It felt like hibernating, the decrease in energy level.  For me, it didn’t happen at first, not until 2) We are Nesters and Nurturers.  I didn’t start to hibernate until after a frantic burst of activity.  Well, FIRST first – I experienced dazed shock, disbelief, and a desire to pretend this would have the same lack of impact as Irene did in 2011.  Then, I forced myself to face reality and ‘sprang into action.’  Battening down the hatches.  Cooking.  Freezing.  Making ice. Planning. Organizing.  THEN hibernation, when it was done.  My teenage daughters, on the other hand – they went into vegetative mode instantly.  Tho it’s hard to tell the difference between that and their normal indoor behavior. 4) We Really Depend on Electronics.  But we’re ok without them. … Read more »