Category Archives: Uncategorized

Psychologists Shouldn’t Ignore the Soul

A good friend sent me this article from The Wall Street Journal. Enjoy!

Mr. Rosmarin, an Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School writes:

In my first six months as a psychology intern at McLean Hospital, I was approached by 10 patients asking essentially the same question: Can I speak to you about God? They wanted to discuss their problems not in psychological terms but in spiritual ones.

It was hardly surprising that patients wanted to talk about God. Psychological science has consistently shown that spirituality can shape someone thinks. “Religion and spirituality have the ability to promote or damage mental health.”

For many patients their spiritual lives provide hope, meaning, purpose and a connection to the divine. All of this can serve as a resource to cope with emotional distress. But spiritual life can also be a struggle. Some feel unjustly punished by God. Having spiritual concerns can cause emotional pain.  Ignoring spirituality feels like a form of malpractice.

I’m not sure that the field of psychotherapy as a whole is ready to evolve toward a more spiritual conversation. But for now I am grateful to have not only permission to talk to God, but a professional duty to do so.”

Mr. Rosmarin is the director of the Spirituality and Mental Health Program sat McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA.


Stories We Live By-Part 2


I wonder what messages you might have attached to my prose poem, Bronx Child, shared with you last month. You might have felt sorry for this little girl who ate her lunch alone everyday, or you might have experienced her as an independent, self-reliant child who could take care of herself. Maybe you had a different reaction. Children aren’t rational in their story telling. They are just trying to make sense of their experiences. Whatever meaning children attach to these stories, these meanings stay rooted in our minds and have a direct influence on our behaviors as adults.

It’s so important to review your life story to see how the words you speak to yourself are enriching your life or limiting it. Anyone can change his or her life story. The first step is realizing you have one. The next step is to challenge your beliefs about it. The final step is authoring your life.

Our stories express what we believe we are and who we believe we can be. They define us.  Stories can be positive. Narratives like “I’m great with kids,” or “Kids are my calling,” can inspire us, they encourage us to show up confidently and authentically in our relationships with others. Often though our stories have less positive effects. Stories like “People always let me down,” become self-fulfilling prophecies. They convince us we’ll never get what we want. They are absolute.

It’s important to see your story. Look at the life you’ve created and the patterns that have played out. What are the most meaningful moments? Write them down.

If you find a pattern where you are habitually putting yourself down that may signal a story of unworthiness and this limits and disempowers you. Write down those negative patterns as well.

Examine what you’ve written down and challenge your thoughts to see which of them reflects who you are now and who you’d like to be.

Begin writing your new autobiography incrementally. Rome wasn’t built in a day! Small steady actions are more effective than big dramatic affirmations. Create a reasonable story that you can grow into.

Caution: Stress will make us more vulnerable to negative thinking, likely to fall back into old patterns. The moment you hear an old story rumbling around in your head, STOP LISTENING!  Do something different, helpful and healthy. Remember my favorite saying: “In times of stress we all regress!”

Von-Burg_Life-Story copy1441629557172

Stories We Live By

By Marla ChalnickVon-Burg_Life-Story copy

My best friend gives me a subscription to Real Simple magazine every year. I mostly browse through and read the recipes before tossing it in the recycling! This month I noticed an article on Telling Your Life Story. This is a favorite topic of mine. I am always on the lookout for the benefits of the stories we tell ourselves and others and the importance of the words we choose.

The author of this article, Jenifer Lindley believes that we naturally think of our lives as stories. Changing the way, you tell your story can help you weather the plot twists that come your way.

Dr. Jonathan Adler believes stories are how we make sense of our lives.

As we describe our narrative, we can hold on to the important parts, filter out the trivial, and find a meaningful pattern in it all. Like an editor, our brains pull out significant conflicts, important characters and turning points to shape our sense of who we are. You are both the main character of your story and the narrator of your life. You may not have control over all your circumstances, but you can choose how to tell the story.

You may be a person who describes the most deflating interpretation of your circumstances. Researchers at Northwestern University interviewed hundreds of people to learn their life stories. They found that individuals who weave ‘contamination stories’, score lower on levels of well-being than those who tell “redemption stories” that emphasize the silver lining.

The field of ‘narrative psychology’ is growing and researchers and therapists are finding practical, do-it-now ways you can tweak your own inner stories. Such edits can help you become more resilient, have better relationships and make better decisions. I’ll share specific, useful ideas about how you can fine-tune your story in my next blog.  Please stay tuned!



Anxiety Answers by Marla Chalnick

anxiety couple

Written by Mum on the Run. (Condensed and Edited)

To the man whose wife or partner has anxiety,

You might have guessed, or she may have told you, but either way there are things you should know about ANXIETY,

Anxiety isn’t one size fits all; it isn’t consistent and sometimes it’s hard to recognize. You might think she just snapped at you, but it was anxiety that did it. You might think she’s angry, but it’s anxiety that has a choke hold.  You might think she’s not enjoying herself when you go out and it’s your fault, but that’s not it at all. It’s anxiety.

There isn’t a day that goes by where she doesn’t think. She thinks about everything and usually it’s the worst case scenario. She worries that something will go wrong. She worries if she leaves the house something terrible will happen. She worries about her kids, her parents and about you. That’s why she texts you 100 times a day. She has to check on you or she feels like her head will explode.

Sometimes she wonders why you’re with her. If you knew about her anxiety would you still be there? Would you regret it? Would you rather be with someone else?

She wants you to know that she’s recognizes this is tough on you; the pressure on you is immense. Don’t think for a second she doesn’t love and appreciate you. She knows you want to fix her, but you can’t. She’s not broken.

But, you can help. You can see when things get overwhelming. Take her hand and tell her you’re with her. You can do things with her, or take over and tell her to sit down and breathe. Sometimes she won’t know what she needs, but as long as you are patient, she will feel your love.

Anxiety is heartbreaking. She wishes she could be free. Free of the voice that follows her around listing her insecurities.

She appreciates you, she loves you. She’s vulnerable and scared. Knowing you are by her side, she is fiercely loyal. Forever and ever, you just need to take her hand and tell her: “I am with you.”


A wife, a woman, a mum who has anxiety

The Benefits of Baking by Marla Chalnick

dear-stress-lets-break-upPeople who bake use any excuse to heat up their ovens. They bake a cake to crown someone’s birthday, labor over cookies to celebrate a holiday, and whip up brownies because everyone loves chocolate. But it turns out that baking is about more than creating something sweet to eat. Baking, especially when it’s done for others, can be accompanied with a host of psychological benefits.

Baking is a productive form of self-expression and communication.

“Baking has the benefit of allowing people creative expression,” associate professor of psychological and brain sciences at Boston University, Donna Pincus, told HuffPost. “There’s a lot of literature for connection between creative expression and overall wellbeing. Whether it’s painting or it’s making music [or baking], there is a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.”

Stress is related to a host of mental and physical problems, and finding ways to cope with that stress is important for leading a healthy life.

Here is a stress relief that people get from having some kind of an outlet and a way to express themselves.”

Stress is related to a host of mental and physical problems, and finding ways to cope with that stress is important for leading a healthy life.

When baking for other people, baking can also be a helpful way to communicate one’s feelings. Susan Whitbourne, professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Massachusetts, points to the cultural norm of bringing food to someone when a loved one has passed. Sometimes there are no words, and only food can communicate what you’re trying to say. She told HuffPost, “It can be helpful for people who have difficulty expressing their feelings in words to show thanks, appreciation or sympathy with baked goods.”

Julie Ohana, a licensed medical social worker and culinary art therapist, told HuffPost, “In many cultures, in many countries, food really is an expression of love, and it’s actually beautiful because it’s something we really all relate to. I think it could border on an unhealthy issue when it replaces communication in the traditional sense, but if it’s done along with communication, it is absolutely a positive and really wonderful thing.”
















Rewrite Your Life

1441629557172Throughout our lives we carry stories; stories that dictate what we think about ourselves how we view others and how we see life in general. There is something intrinsic in our drive to explain, order, and extract meaning from the chaos of our lives, says Susan Gregory Thomas in this month’s Psychology Today. The stories we tell ourselves do not get fact checked but they do feel authentic to our personal experiences. Accurate or not, we believe them and they color our lives. Our ability to make sense of and create meaning from our memories defines how we feel about ourselves and shapes the identity we create throughout our lives.

I want to share a prose poem I recently wrote about my childhood. I wonder what story you would tell yourself about this little girl?

Bronx Child

I have the only bedroom in apartment 3B, 1815 Monroe Avenue.   On school days I walk three blocks home for lunch.  The first block is the longest, with brown stone row houses.  I pass my dentist’s, and apartment houses, each one different: colored brick, white, yellow, and red.   My apartment house has an elevator I take to the third floor. Most of my friends are afraid to ride by themselves! I am seven.

My lunch is usually soup in a Thermos, Campbell’s Chicken Noodle, and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I have no watch but I know that after Love of Life and Search for Tomorrow I turn off the TV, lock the apartment door with the key I wear on a string around my neck. On my way back to school, I head for Julie’s Candy Store.  I get a Nestlé’s Crunch for  six cents. I eat it one square at a time, so it lasts. I’m in no hurry to get back to Mrs. Gold’s class. She’s so mean.

On hot summer nights Julie’s is the place to go for cones—sugar or plain, with or without sprinkles. My favorite is a sugar cone with coffee ice cream and sprinkles. It costs twelve cents, two cents extra for the chocolate sprinkles.  Next door is Fedderman’s Pharmacy.  Fedderman’s has a soda fountain, too. Red and black twisted licorice sticks stand in glass jars, wax lips make you look like you’re wearing smeared lipstick. Sugar Dots are pasted on white paper: Sky bars, Clark bars, Bonomo Turkish Toffee .  My mother says I grow cavities like weeds!

Events don’t inherently contain meaning. It’s the meaning we give our past that matters. This is how our stories get created, and themes begin to emerge.

Next monthy we’ll talk about the meaning you attach to the stories you tell yourself, and you can decide if you need to rewrite your life story.







Reserves of Resilience

resilience 1

I was diagnosed with MS in 1982, the Dark Ages. I remember my husband and I sitting across the desk from my neurologist. He told us it was probable that I had Multiple Sclerosis.

We went home, tried to absorb and add this uninvited guest to our family. I went back to work. I realized I might not be able to keep up with the demands of my work. I needed more control over my time. I needed more flexibility.
Going back to school to get a Ph.D. was on my bucket list. It was never on my radar that MS would stop me from doing anything! Maybe a Pollyanna or maybe I believed my determination would get me through. Fortunately, whatever fueled me worked and I finished my degree.

By now I was a few years into MS Land and I had begun to understand how MS played in my body. I developed some rules for myself. The first was a three-day rule. If a new symptom showed up, I would watch it for three days. If it didn’t go away, I would call the doctor. Of course that usually led to rounds of steroids which worked but made me crazy! My second rule was: If you play, you will pay. That meant if I pushed too hard because there was something I really wanted to do, I would have to set aside time to rest. Sometimes it was just worth it! My final rule: Sneakers are a fashion statement!

I went into private practice as a psychotherapist. My clients were people living with MS and other chronic illnesses. There were mornings I wished I could stay in bed. I went to work anyway. Once I was with a client I felt so much better. My clients were my medicine!

I treat my MS with respect and as a puzzle I have to solve. I have every piece of durable equipment I might need. I use a cane when I go to unfamiliar places. I use a walker when I’m falling too frequently. I use a wheel chair when I travel to New York. I was developing resilience every time I solved a problem created by my MS I was becoming more resilient.

The word resilient comes from the Latin meaning to rebound or spring back. I often think of MS like a rubber band. When symptoms flare up, I am stretched out of shape and sometimes I think I might snap. Then the symptoms dissipate and the rubber band springs back, but never exactly to its original shape. There’s a new normal.

I wondered if people were hard-wired to bounce back or if one could learn to be more resilient. Both, according to researchers, whose work suggests that we are born with a self-righting ability which can be helped or hindered. For me, I found the most important thing to keep in mind is to be realistic and positive. When I lose that attitude because of all the other stressors that come with being human, I try not to stay there for long.

I discovered some ways to help build up resilience that work for me:

Be thankful, especially for the little things.

Try something that you thought you couldn’t do anymore. After years of dancing in my head, I decided to try dancing lessons and in spite of terrible balance, dancing came back into my life.

Leverage your strengths, whatever they are. I am a social being so I work at not isolating myself. I feel the best when I am with other people. I try to turneverything into a social event, even exercising.   I also like to write poetry; it keeps my mind working. Think about what you’re good at and use it.

Set good boundaries. Only you know what’s best for you.  Learn to say no without feeling guilty. The people who are important to you will understand.

Savor the good in your life, even if you have to look for it.I live by this refrain:

I walk,

I fall down,

I get up.

Meanwhile I keep dancing.






Helicopter Parents Stir Things Up


Just to remind you-in my last blog I talked about helicopter parents. Helicopter parents earned this nickname because they seem to ‘hover’ over their children in an effort to control their lives and protect them from harm, disappointment, or mistakes. Not only are these parents concerned for their children’s safety, but they attach their own self-worth and identity to the accomplishments and successes of their children.

I was naturally curious about what these children were like when they grew into teens, a natural time to begin separating from your parents and begin taking more responsibility for yourself.  Researcher and psychologist, Neil Montgomery conducted a study on 300 college students at Keene State College in New Hampshire and similar studies were conducted at Wollongong University in Australia. According to these studies the negative effects of ‘helicoptering’ tend to make children experience low self-esteem, difficulty handling crisis and emergencies, significant levels of anxiety, a deep sense of entitlement, and a lack of life skills. In other words, these kids have trouble problem solving and thinking on their feet.

The question then is how can we help these children learn the skills they are lacking? It’s never too late or too early to start teaching these 5 skills:

            Allow Children to Make Their Own Decisions:  They will come to realize that their life is a result of the choices they make rather than the ones you make.

           Allow Children to Feel What Responsibility Is:  Even if a task is not done ’perfectly’ resist fixing it or doing it for them. This trust in your child fuels your child’s sense of ‘I can’ and build’s self esteem.

            Allow Children to Make Mistakes:  And be okay with those mistakes! Mistakes are a natural step in self discovery and independence.

            Prepare Children to Handle Risks: Preparation is much more effective than overprotection because it teaches children to function in the real world.

            Empower Your Children to Discover Who They Are: Let your children experience the power of responsibility, teach them to make choices, allow them to solve problems, leading them to experience the powerful feeling of ‘I can.” This will pave the way for your children to discover their own identity!

STRESS: A Weapon of Mass Destruction

dear-stress-lets-break-upI am a stress junkie, addicted to natural substances my body produces. Adrenaline and Cortisol are my substances of choice.  Living in a flight or fight modes takes its toll. I learned this way of being at my mother’s knee. She is unpredictable, erratic and volatile, and I became a stress junkie!

Most often when I begin a conversation with a client, the first thing my client says is: “I’m so stressed out!” or “I’m so over loaded!” It is almost a universal way of living for most of my clients. Believe me, stress takes its toll! Ever wonder what our body is doing to create the sensations we label stress?

Adrenaline is commonly known as the fight or flight hormone. It is produced by the adrenal glands in response to a message from the brain that a stressful situation has presented itself. It is responsible for immediate reactions and provides a surge of energy and focuses your attention to help you get out of a potentially dangerous situation.

Cortisol, also produced by the adrenal glands, is known as the stress hormone. It takes a bit more time to feel the effects of cortisol, minutes not seconds, in the face of stress. When you stew on a problem, your body is constantly producing elevated levels of cortisol and chronic elevated levels of cortisol can lead to serious issues. Too much cortisol can suppress the immune system, increase blood pressure, decrease libido and disturb sleep patterns resulting in chronic fatigue. These are just a few examples.  Unfortunately, our bodies require our cortisol levels to return to normal following a stressful event to replenish, but in our current high stress culture, the stress response is activated so often that the body doesn’t have time to complete that cycle.

All this is happening inside your body without your awareness while the sensation you identify is STRESS. If you continue to beat up your adrenal glands you maybe headed for a condition known as Adrenal Fatigue. I will be writing more about that in my next blog as well as de-stressing strategies.

Focus on beauty not on fear, dance with stress.

Debahish Mridha