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


Early in March Elizabeth Bernstein reported in the Wall Street Journal on a study that followed 300 long-term heterosexual couples for five years.   All couples received relationship skills training- a.k.a., behaviorally based, here-and-now couples counseling-  but some received it ‘solo’ – in other words, only one partner, usually the woman, got counseling.  Both groups experienced improvement in their relationship.  Those couples where only one partner attended sessions did just as well as those where both were present, but what was most telling is that the happiest couples were the ones where women got the training without their male mates.   The lead researcher noted that women learned relationship skills more easily and were better at teaching their partners. I’ve been thinking about this article for the past few days because it opens up a whole new modality of therapy: solo couples counseling.  Anyone who does relationship counseling knows that heterosexual males are not big consumers of therapy in general and in particular go to marriage counseling kicking and screaming only at the behest of their girlfriends or wives.  To make matters worse, the majority of therapists are women.  And, not to lean on stereotypes TOO much, but – many guys just… Read more »

What Shields LGBTQ Youth From Suicide? – Northwestern University

(The following is a press release from Northwestern University we thought important enough to post) Love from family and friends offer most protection, while bullying causes highest risk What protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) youths from considering suicide and, conversely, what makes them most vulnerable to it? The question is of paramount concern because these youths are at least twice as likely to attempt suicide than heterosexual youths, prompting the national “It Gets Better Project” with encouraging video messages from such public figures as Lady Gaga and President Barack Obama. Now the first longitudinal study to look at suicide ideation and self-harm in this population shows support from friends and family offers the most protection in preventing youths from thinking about suicide. Adolescents who know they can talk to their parents about problems and know they have friends who care about them are less likely to consider ending their lives, according to new Northwestern Medicine research. Adolescents most likely to consider killing themselves and engage in self-harm behaviors are those who feel victimized for being gay. About 94 percent of LGBT youths have had at least one experience in which people said cruel things to them, spit on… Read more »


Most people are aware of the link between exercise and health – they know that exercise helps prevent heart disease and benefits the body in many ways. But a new article in the ‘Monitor,’ a journal of the American Psychological Association, reviewing research on exercise and mood, concludes that exercise is as good a treatment for depression as antidepressants and better than drugs for preventing relapse. In addition, people with anxiety disorders and those prone to panic attacks get ‘triggered’ less easily if they exercise regularly. And you can’t beat exercise for speed: the uplift in depressed mood or relief from anxiety begins usually five minutes after exercising. Another interesting thing about exercise is how little it takes to improve mood. One study found substantial improvement in depression with the equivalent of only an hour and a half of moderate walking per week or a one-hour low impact aerobics class per week. And in that study, which compared this ‘low dose’ exercise to no exercise and ‘high dose’ exercise– six hours of moderate walking a week- some women actually did better on the low dose. The biggest mistake people make with exercise is they don’t use it when they really… Read more »

Surviving the Holidays

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. For many people, ‘The Holidays’ –roughly the period starting with Thanksgiving, going through the first days of the New Year – are everything our idealized vision of them contains: warmth, love, security, happiness, the joy of being around family, friends, loved ones. But for many people – sometimes I think the majority of us – ‘The Holidays’ is a bittersweet time delivering as much pain as joy. Some of us are in difficult straits in our lives. We may be alone, stressed, in economic, health, or relationship crisis. This time of year may feel like nothing more than another stress. For some, these months conjure up memories of difficult childhoods, while others are overwhelmed with grief for those they have lost. If you count yourself as one of the above, here’s a brief survival guide to make your holidays as bright as possible: 1) Make as few commitments as possible; balance your responsibilities to others with your responsibility to yourself. Take it slow, if you can. Leave room to opt out of some of the seasonal merry-go-round. You don’t need to go to every event you’ve been invited to. 2) On the other hand – if… Read more »

In Memory of Jesse Nichols Jacobson, 6.6.1994-6.2.2004

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D.  I watched the amazing movie “Rabbit Hole” for the second time last night and was once again struck by how catastrophic grief changes (or doesn’t) over time. And yesterday I read, for the first time in years, the opening pages of blog I kept on called ‘My Child’s Death.’ I started that blog just 18 days after my beloved daughter, Jesse, died, and the raw pain jumped out at me yesterday, causing me to reflect on the morphing of my own grief. Like many people, I remember meaningful quotes – lines from literature, poetry, song lyrics- words that capture my mood or a particular frame of mind. My car is covered in bumper stickers, and you can trace my bereavement journey with the little notes and papers stuck to my refrigerator. In my first few blog pages I found “And the worst part is knowing I’ll survive”( Emmylou Harris) and “Life goes on long after the thrill of living is gone”(John Mellencamp). Posted on my refrigerator from those early days (moved from the front to a side corner, but still there): the mournful “Love knows not its own depths until the hour of separation” (Kahlil… Read more »


By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. These days everything in the mental health world is about ‘mindfulness meditation.’ This is a wonderful leap forward, to be applauded, an amazing practice that has tremendous healing power. But in this new world of meditation consciousness, there seems to be a hierarchy of techniques. “Mindfulness meditation”, usually of the sit in the lotus position and follow your breath variety, is the presumed King of meditation. And I use the word “King” deliberately, because it seems to me not only that male teachers/practitioners promote it more than women, but also because there is a lean, spare, no-nonsense feel to this kind of meditation, also called “Vipassana Meditation.” There’s nothing mushy or emotional about it. Interestingly, female practicioners/teachers like Pema Chodron, Tara Brach, and Sharon Salzburg seem to be guiding people to other kinds of practice. Often these are practices that actively cultivate compassion, self-love, forgiveness, and the transformation of painful experiences into transformative. Not nearly as lean or spare as straight-up ‘mindfulness meditation,’ these techniques – Loving Kindness, Tonglen, Radical Acceptance – have different and equally important benefits. There are many reasons for us to promote alternatives to following-the-breath meditations. First, this technique is fairly difficult… Read more »

In Memory of Jesse Part II: The Dead Kid List

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. Displayed at eye level on my freezer door is a magnet my son gave me that says “Gardening, yoga, bubble baths, medication…..and I still want to smack somebody!” In my last post I described a little of how therapy, meditation, etc etc helped me survive the death of my daughter Jesse. Therapy, with Bruce Wood, a therapist’s therapist if there ever was one, actually reaffirmed my own belief in the importance of what I do for a living. This was an unintended positive consequence, not only of therapy, but also of Jesse’s death. As Ram Dass would say, you would never wish it to happen this way, but… it is. Grist for the mill. Anyway, I realized after posting that I had left a couple of things out of the list of healing activities. One is dark humor. Like the magnet. Or jokes about playing the ‘dead kid card’ to get – or get out of- things. I learned the value of laughing in the face of death in the ‘80’s, during the years I ran a group for guys with AIDS. No cryin’ in that group, for the most part – just a lot of… Read more »

Tiger Moms, Attachment Parenting, and ‘It Doesn’t Matter’ Child-Rearing

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. I’m not a fan of attachment parenting. I won’t get into snarky but humorous commentary on the subject, let’s just say I’d rather stick hot pokers in my eyes. But I’m not enamored of Tiger Moms, either, not just because of the meanness factor but also because I couldn’t care less if my offspring go to Yale or make a ton of money. And I’d feel horrible imposing such extraordinary demands on a child. I’m an ‘it doesn’t matter’ Mom. On many, many child-rearing issues that people argue passionately about, I believe: it doesn’t matter. Not the little stuff, anyway. Like how you give birth or whether you do the attachment thing or feed the kid on a schedule and let her cry herself to sleep. Like whether you do day care at six weeks or stay home till the kid’s in college. Even, ultimately, whether you breast feed or not (I’m ducking rotten tomatoes from the La Leche League as I write this). Think that’s heresy? I’m not the only heretic. The first time this point of view rocked the world of psychology was when Judith Harris published “The Nurture Assumption.” Harris had spent many… Read more »


By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. The winter holidays are hailed as a time for family, gift giving, and happiness, yet for many they are the most miserable time of the year. Lots of reasons for this: these days evoke memories of horrible childhood holidays that still seem to overwhelm the present; they evoke memories of wonderful childhood holidays that will never be equaled; they always fall short of the cultural expectations of the perfect, loving, connected family. And then there are more mundane reasons: many people are sensitive to the loss of light that reaches its peak right before Christmas; many exercise less in the busy holiday season, and both light and exercise are clearly connected to depressed mood. Add to that the increased carbohydrate and alcohol intake and there can be multiple physical factors adding to the blue outlook. This year the economy makes the season even potentially gloomier. Sales of clothing outweigh those of big ticket items for the holidays, and it is seen as an ‘economic indicator’ that more ‘Dear Santa’ letters ask for clothing and even food instead of toys. How can you beat the ‘Holiday Blues?’ Start with ‘radical acceptance’: our imperfect human lives will never… Read more »

Pfizer Killed My Kid: Now That The Check Has Cleared I Can Tell The Truth

By Margie Nichols, Ph.D. I believe in pharmaceuticals. I take them. We all do. Medicine- medications, drugs – are a necessary part of life. But, just as I like my car manufacturer to monitor problems with my car after it is off the lot and swiftly recall dangerous cars, I like my pharmaceutical companies to be honest about the drugs I’m taking – or the ones given to my children. On March 31, 2004 my nine year old daughter Jesse was admitted to a hospital with a large, slow-growing tumor. On April 2 the tumor was removed ; her prognosis was excellent. But because the tumor was large, Jesse needed extensive residential rehabilitation in a center, and because she had one post-operative seizure she was put on phenytoin (Dilantin.) While in rehab she caught a hospital bug called C.difilis and given the potent antibiotic Flagyl. Within twenty-four hours she developed a raging case of Stevens Johnson Syndrome/Toxic Epidermal Necrolysis, a syndrome induced solely by pharmaceuticals. She was taken off the Dilantin and Flagyl and transferred to a burn center —SJS/TEN is essentially like having a chemical burn, inside and out. The disease ravaged her and she died on June 2, 2004,… Read more »