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Thursday, April 18, 2013

Are Heroes Born or Made? A Story of Courage

I was delighted to be quoted in this ABC News article on acts of heroism following the Boston marathon bombing. When people answer evil deeds with compassion and courage, our faith in human nature is restored. We gain mastery of our fear and recommit to the values of compassion and mutual responsibility that are the basis of a civilized society. The article references my Psychology Today blog post on The Six Attributes of Courage.

The article poses the age old question that is especially relevant in light of the events in Boston. Without a second thought, brave men and women rushed in to help the victims of the bombing - taking the risk that another bomb could detonate and hurt them. What makes a hero?  Is it a matter of "brave genes' or "doing what the situation calls for," or perhaps a bit of both?  The article argues that the essence of heroism is a commitment to 'something larger than oneself"  This could be a set of values and principles we hold dear, a national identity, or acts of love and compassion that transcend self-interest. 

Here's a link to the full article:

And to the blog post  that got their attention:

Here is a quote from the ABC News article:  

Dr. Melanie Greenberg, a psychologist who specializes in stress and overcoming trauma, said cultural and personal ethics play a role in courage.
"One of the key things about heroism is that it's not the absence of fear, but feeling fear and choosing to act anyway," she said. "Something is more important than fear and survival. It's certain values you have that drive your life and make it meaningful."
She was hesitant to describe cowardice: "Sometimes, you freeze like a deer in the headlights. That's the primitive lizard in us, when the social compassion switches off."
Greenberg, who blogged about the qualities of courage for Psychology Today, cited "empathy, kindness and compassion" as the motivators for heroism.
Training for emergencies gives responders courage, according to Greenberg.
Others draw it from "a sense community and compassion," she said. "The culture of being together, that you are brothers and doing it for your buddy -- that inspires heroism. The support group means more than the individual life."
Standing up for what is right, "following your heart, doing what the situation calls for," is another motivator for heroism.
"It brings out the best in people to stand up to terrorism and not let the bad guys win," said Greenberg. "You are part of something larger than yourself."

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Thursday, April 4, 2013

What Psychotherapy or Counseling Can Do For You

When you first enter psychotherapy, you may not know what to expect. Perhaps you think that if you tell the therapist about your day to day stresses and worries, the therapist will tell you what to do Most people don't realize that psychologists aren't like doctors and don't "cure" you of unhappiness. It is not possible to take all the suffering out of life. Psychologists are like doctors in that they can provide a diagnosis for your mental health problems and "prescribe" interventions to address them. But they do not "cure" you in the way that a pill or surgery takes away your symptoms. You are the one who actually has to carry out the behavior changes. So, you aren't just a passive "patient" in psychotherapy, but an active participant.

While therapy cannot remove all of your distress, it can help you to make positive changes in your life that lead to greater life satisfaction and self-esteem:

Psychotherapy can help you in the following ways:

(1)  To view your problems in more hopeful or realistic ways,

(2)  To understand the roots of distress in childhood learning, biology, relationships, etc.

(3) To experience and express difficult emotions, so as to increase self-awareness

(4)  To speak up for yourself and set healthier boundaries with others

(5) To face and try to solve problems, rather than avoiding them

(6) To make deliberate choices about how to act, rather than reacting passively 

(7) To focus energy on what you can control and come to terms with what you cannot

(8) To live in the present and be less controlled by expectations or fears from the past

(9) To manage fear and anxiety so they don't immobilize you

(10) To invest your time and energy in people and activities that add to your life satisfaction

(11) To cope more effectively with depression and anxiety

(12) To replace criticism and judgment of yourself with compassion

(13) To realistically assess your personal responsibility for events

(14) To tolerate risk and uncertainty that are inherent in life

(15) To learn healthier habits and improve motivation and self-control in a non-punitive way

(16) To be vulnerable and build closeness and trust with others

(17) To understand your internal & external triggers for negative reactions or behaviors

(18) To cope better with or learn to decrease difficult emotions or physical pain

(19) To replace shame and guilt with self-forgiveness and accountability

(20) To learn how to be on your own side - encouraging and guiding yourself

Despite these potential benefits, therapists are not allowed to guarantee results because each person and situation is different. For therapy to succeed, you should make a commitment to attend sessions regularly (typically once a week), do homework exercises (if prescribed by the therapist), be willing to tolerate distress and uncertainty, remember painful memories, and  look deeply inside yourself. You should be willing to speak up if the therapist does not seem to understand your problem, seems inattentive or judgmental, or suggests an approach that doesn't seem to be working for you. If speaking up doesn't work, you may want to find somebody who is a better fit for you. Approaching therapy with honesty, commitment, and courage can maximize your chances of success.

The end result of therapy is that you don't need the therapist anymore because you have the skills, knowledge, and confidence to deal with what life's challenges. Although you may still be distressed at times, you are less likely to feel, overwhelmed and helpless, or  want to run away from your problems. You should better understand and accept both your strengths and weaknesses, respect and collaborate with others, and continue learning and growing so as to live a fuller and more meaningful life.

Indeed, good psychotherapy can be the best investment you will ever make!

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