Sep 28

Comedy As Therapy: Five Notable Examples

Comedy as therapy is a widely supported approach. See the selected examples below.

I. Stand Up for Mental Health

Counselor and humorist David Granirer created a program called Stand Up For Mental Health in which people with mental health issues can learn how to do stand-up comedy as therapy. In the video below called “Cracking Up,” participants introduce us to it.

You’ll need over six minutes to watch this—but it’s worth it.

If this whets your comedy appreciation appetite, clips of individual routines that have emerged from this program are available on their website.

Below Granirer himself riffs to an audience on the topic of mental health stigma:

II. Comedy Warriors

Another program, Comedy Warriors, was designed to aid soldiers who are injured physically and mentally.

Five veterans who were hurt in combat—four men and one woman—are featured in a documentary about their experiences of learning stand-up comedy from some well-known comedians, including Bob Saget and Brad Garrett.

As stated on their website, “As any comedian will tell you, the most poignant comedy comes from pain. And no one knows this better than a service member with a life-changing injury.”

Comedy Warriors: Healing Through Humor was released in 2013. Here’s a video intro:

III. Taylor Glenn: Reverse Psycomedy

The show of comedic performer Taylor Glenn titled “Reverse Psycomedy”—about her former life as a therapist—has been performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.

Glenn spoke with Mark Smith about her therapist humor (click here for the article):

…’I learned to yawn through my nose, for example, which is the kind of thing they never taught you at university,’ she says. ‘They don’t tell you if you have to yawn don’t let your patients see that because they’ll be devastated so you learn to yawn and look really interested.’

Being honest about therapy in this way has been hard for Glenn because she was a conscientious psychotherapist; she took it very seriously. ‘I would never break my ethical code or anything like that but I have to be honest about what it was like on the other side of that chair. And I think it’s refreshing for an audience to see that therapists are just normal people who swear and have weird thoughts and have a sense of humour.’

Below Glenn offers bits of help and advice—“Fringe Therapy”— to fellow comedians:

IV. Dr. Lisa Levy: Faux Therapy Sessions

Dr. Lisa Levy is “a Bebe Neuwirth type with Ashleigh Banfield glasses—combined common sense, dry humor, and a winning feeling that anyone can be an analyst if they want to, as long as they never actually studied being one,” Michael Musto once said.

In one article/interview, Levy noted that she traces her interest in therapy back to high school when her father experienced severe depression and was hospitalized. Later, when she was in college, she went to therapy herself to deal with her own depression.

Below is one of her live faux sessions with comedian Eugene Mirman:

V. Tig Notaro: As Funny As Cancer

Maybe at some point you’ve heard or said something along the lines of, “That’s (you’re) as funny as cancer.” Obvious meaning: “Cancer funny? Not so much.”

But, maybe you can be funny about cancer? And maybe it’s therapeutic? Not only for others but also to the comic who actually has cancer.

The dryness of Notaro’s style and delivery is a comedic tone that works well. Here’s a brief snippet of her routine:

Sep 21

Food Addiction: Includes Chocolate, Sugar, Carbs

Is there such a thing as food addiction?

Dr. Nora Volkow, psychiatrist, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, believes there is. She’s made it clear that it’s still a controversial notion, however.

Additionally, Adi Jaffe, Ph.D., an addiction researcher, notes the following (Psychology Today):

When you think about it, the notion isn’t far-fetched: Drug addicts continue to take drugs, in increasing amounts, even though they’d often like to stop (at some point) and in the face of negative consequences and the common loss of other important life functions (like family, work, etc.). Obese individuals are quite the same, eating more and more food regardless of their desire to adopt a healthier diet and in-spite of ridicule, low self-esteem, and decreased functioning that often accompanies extreme weight gain.

Well-known nutritional specialist Dr. Joel Fuhrman also believes that food shares with drugs the ability to get us hooked. Whether it’s “chocoholism” or sugar addiction or carb addiction or the umbrella term encompassing all of the above, food addiction, Fuhrman explains in “‘Just One Bite” of Junk Food Fuels Food Addiction and Obesity” how our brains can succumb:

The science on food addiction has now established that highly palatable foods (low-nutrient, high-calorie, intensely sweet, salty, and/or fatty foods – those that make up the majority of the Standard American Diet) produces the exact biochemical effects in the brain that are characteristic of substance abuse.

Junk food is ubiquitously available, legal, cheap, and socially accepted; therefore, it becomes the drug of choice for many of us.

These concepts go way back. Dr. Andrew Weil co-authored From Chocolate to Morphine: Everything You Need to Know About Mind-Altering Drugs (1983; updated in 2004) with Winifred Rosen. The title says it all. Another book that addresses chocolate’s strong appeal is Dr. Neal D. Barnard‘s Breaking the Food Seduction: The Hidden Reasons Behind Food Cravings—And 7 Steps to End Them Naturally (2004). The Amazon.com Review capsulizes Barnard’s take: “…(C)hocolate triggers the release of natural opiates in the brain. It’s a drug ‘strong enough to keep us coming back for more’.”

Relatedly, the 2014 documentary Fed Updirected by Stephanie Soechtig, found the culprit of obesity-related illness to be sugar. Adds Michael O’SullivanWashington Post: “…(T)he real problem isn’t sugar, but sugar education. If consumers only knew that the stuff is not just addictive, but poisonous — one of the film’s experts calls it a ‘chronic, dose-dependent’ liver toxin — they might make better choices at the checkout counter.”

Do you have issues with food addiction? Psychologist and nutritional expert Sherry PagotoPh.D., outlines six possible signs to look for when considering whether or not you are addicted to food and then eight steps toward overcoming the addiction. Click on her Psychology Today article to assess your own eating tendencies.

Sep 14

Confidentiality: Keeping Secrets (Or Not) In or Out of Therapy

Most people, whether ever in therapy or not, are aware of the code of confidentiality. As therapist Daryl states to a client in my novel Minding Therapy, “Keeping secrets about you not keeping secrets is one of the therapist’s main obligations…”

From GoodTherapy.org:

Confidentiality includes not just the contents of therapy, but often the fact that a client is in therapy. For example, it is common that therapists will not acknowledge their clients if they run into them outside of therapy in an effort to protect client confidentiality. Other ways confidentiality is protected include:

    • Not leaving revealing information on voicemail or text.
    • Not acknowledging to outside parties that a client has an appointment.
    • Not discussing the contents of therapy with a third party without the explicit permission of the client.

For licensed mental health professionals, confidentiality is protected by state laws and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA)

One of the main reasons it’s so important not to breach confidentiality is because therapy may be the first, maybe the only, place one’s confidences are disclosed. And people need to feel their secrets are in good hands.

This is not to say that everyone divulges all their private thoughts to their shrinks. For good or for bad, often there are things kept out of sessions. What to divulge is an individual choice based on any number of factors.

Even therapists in therapy might hold back. Andrea Rosenhaft for one. She’s a clinical social worker who calls her own years of omission “living heavy” and states on her Psychology Today blog:

I regret all the deceit, the secrets, and the manipulation. The blatant lies, the lies of omission have come back to hurt me in the form of the hands of the clock making endless rounds. I alienated psychiatrists, therapists and nurses with my calculating actions designed to mislead.

If I had been forthright, as difficult as that would have been, if I had simply told the truth, my treatment would have progressed much faster and perhaps I would not still need to be in therapy.

The jaunty song “Secrets” by singer/songwriter Mary Lambert (of “Same Love” and “She Keeps Me Warm”), on the other hand, is about things she would appear not to be keeping under wraps. These include personal tidbits involving such matters as the status of her mental health, her family issues, and her personality weaknesses.

She’s saying, in fact, that she doesn’t care if the whole world knows her secrets. (Which makes them no longer secrets, of course!)

 

The first verse and chorus of “Secrets” by Mary Lambert are as follows. See the rest at Genius.com or watch the lyric video above.

I’ve got bi-polar disorder
My shit’s not in order
I’m overweight
I’m always late
I’ve got too many things to say
I rock mom jeans, cat earrings
Extrapolate my feelings
My family is dysfunctional
But we have a good time killing each other

[Pre-Chorus]
They tell us from the time we’re young
To hide the things that we don’t like about ourselves
Inside ourselves
I know I’m not the only one who spent so long attempting to be someone else
Well I’m over it

[Chorus]
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)
I don’t care if the world knows what my secrets are (secrets are)So-o-o-o-o what
So what
So what
So what

Sep 07

Neuroscience For Us All: Three Books

Neuroscience is the backbone of the following three recommended books (some humor included!).

I. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live–and How You Can Change Them (2012) by Richard Davidson (with contribution by science writer Sharon Begley)

Neuroscientist Davidson addresses the concept of us each having an “emotional fingerprint” based on where we fall on six different continuums:

  • Resilience–recovery from adversity
  • Outlook–duration of positive emotion
  • Social Intuition–sensitivity to social cues
  • Self-awareness–awareness of internal signals
  • Sensitivity to Context–ability to modulate emotions according to context
  • Attention–how focused or scattered

Selected quote: “Just as each per­son has a unique fin­ger­print and a unique face, each of us has a unique emo­tional pro­file, one that is so much a part of who we are that those who know us well can often pre­dict how we will respond to an emo­tional chal­lenge.”

Jack Kornfield, Ph.D. calls it “(t)he best book I know on how to use the exciting discoveries of neuroscience to change your life. A fabulous read – a scientific adventure story like Sherlock Holmes meeting Watson and Crick with the Dalai Lama as their advisor.”

II.  Idiot Brain: What Your Head Is Really Up To (2016) by Dean Burnett

If an “irreverent guide to the brain” is what you’re seeking, says Kirkus Reviews, this neuroscience book by Burnett may be it.

Burnett professes the following about the brain: “It’s undeniably impressive, but it’s far from perfect, and these imperfections influence everything humans say, do and experience.”

Some of the interesting conclusions by Burnett (with sources in parentheses):

Less intelligent people are often more confident. (Kirkus)

The Myers-Briggs personality test may not be that useful. (Kirkus)

Motion sickness is caused by the brain reading the mismatch between seeing a landscape move and the body feeling still. (Publishers Weekly)

Anger can reduce stress. (Leyla Sanai, Independent)

The brain often chooses being liked over doing what we believe to be correct. (Independent)

We tend to embellish our memories if we’re telling someone about it. (Terry Gross interview, NPR)

Anything longer than a minute is long-term memory. (NPR)

An interesting point made to Terry Gross (NPR) about the post Burnett considers the most controversial ever on his blog: Not transgender issues or immigration or same-sex marriage, all of which he’s written about, but “whether or not you should put milk in your tea before the water or after.”

Publishers Weekly: “…[Burnett] packs an incredible amount of information into an accessible package with this breezy, charming collection of pop neuroscience musings on ‘how the human brain does its own thing despite everything the modern world can throw at it.’”

III. The Brain’s Way of Healing: Remarkable Discoveries and Recoveries from the Frontiers of Neuroplasticity (2015) by Norman Doidge

Psychiatrist and neuroscience expert Doidge is on the cutting edge of the study of neuroplasticity. Asked by Leigh SalesABC.netto define the term, Doidge broke it down: “Well, neuro is for neurons, the nerve cells in the brain, and plasticity means adaptable, changeable and modifiable. And neuroplasticity is that property of the brain that allows it to change its structure and function in response to activity and mental experience.”

Although Doidge explains in The Brain’s Way of Healing that there are “critical periods of plasticity in early life” he also says “(w)e’re plastic until we die.”

In The Guardian Doidge listed five ways to improve brainpower. Click on the link for details:

  1. Walk two miles a day…
  2. Learn a new dance (or language or musical instrument)…
  3. Do serious brain exercises…
  4. Pay close attention to your voice…
  5. Get the rest your body requests…
Aug 29

Journals: Writing for Therapeutic Purposes

Journals and journal writing have been proven to be therapeutic. But how should you go about it? Do it your own way? Or follow the advice of such experts as social psychologist James Pennebaker? His “rules” (per Susan David, The Cut) include the following:

  • Set a timer for 20 minutes and write freely.
  • “Write just for yourself, and not for some eventual reader.”
  • After a few days or whenever, discard it. Or decide to do something bigger with it.

“It doesn’t matter. The point is that those thoughts are now out of you and on the page. You have begun the process of ‘stepping out’ from your experience to gain perspective on it.”

One long-term keeper of journals, Jamie Friedlander, found that entering therapy automatically decreased her reliance on the form, however. “Speaking to someone about my problems, it seemed, had all but replaced my urge to write about them” (The Cut).

Writing still helps me cope with the little stuff that becomes overwhelming. And jotting down the things I’m grateful for always brings me joy. But I know that for the big stuff — being laid off, feeling frustrated with a close family member, obsessing about my weight — I need to speak, not write.

Therapist Ryan Howes (Psychology Today), on the other hand, emphasizes the benefits of journaling while in therapy:

First, you’ve just taken some time to look at yourself, which continues the flow of therapy and makes you more aware. Second, you’ve begun to organize what can seem like a bunch of disjointed material. Writing forces you to funnel disparate thoughts into one linear stream. Finally, you’re keeping a record of your progress. People who journal for a few months are amazed when they look back to see where they were. Sometimes they’re amazed at how far they’ve come. Other times they’re surprised to find they’re barking up the same tree.

A common resistance among clients is the fear of others finding their words. What I usually say in response is that you don’t actually have to get over this fear. Write stuff anyway, then destroy it; you still get the same effects. Ephrat Livni, QZ.com, agrees:

That final act, tossing the journal, is painful but liberating. Letting go is a Zen exercise. It’s practice in detachment, forcing me to face facts, the simultaneous truths that everything matters and yet, ultimately, nothing does. Shit happens. We keep going. Tomorrow there will be more news.

Another resource is Susan Borkin‘s The Healing Power of Writing: A Therapist’s Guide to Using Journaling With Clients (2014). Although targeted to therapists, anyone can benefit.

One of the author’s suggestions is a guide for keeping track of various internal changes. It’s called ATTEND, an acronym standing for Awareness, Thoughts, Emotions, Intuition, Dreams, and Distractions.

While some are afraid to write in a diary or journal,  Sarah Manguso is one who’s been afraid not to, she explains in Ongoingness: The End of a Diary (2015).

I wrote about myself so I wouldn’t become paralyzed by rumination—so I could stop thinking about what had happened and be done with it. // More than that, I wrote so I could say I was truly paying attention. Experience in itself wasn’t enough. The diary was my defense against waking up at the end of my life and realizing I’d missed it. // Imagining life without the diary, even one week without it, spurred a panic that I might as well be dead.

What Manguso reports, by the way, is that the original anxiety is now gone.