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The key to losing weight, or saving for the future, is avoiding temptation all together, according to a new study from the Universities of Cambridge and Dusseldorf. The study on self-control suggests avoidance is a better strategy than depending on will power alone.

The study, published in Neuron, compared the effectiveness of willpower versus voluntarily restricting access to temptations, called ‘precommitment’. For example, precommitments can include avoiding purchasing unhealthy food and putting money in savings accounts with hefty withdrawal fees. The team also examined the underlying mechanisms in the brain that play a role in precommitment in order to understand why this strategy is so effective.

“Our research suggests that the most effective way to beat temptations is to avoid facing them in the first place,” said Molly Crockett, who undertook the research while at the University of Cambridge and is currently a Sir Henry Wellcome Postdoctoral Fellow at UCL.

The study participants were healthy male volunteers. The researchers gave the men a series of choices where the men had to decide between a tempting “small reward” available immediately, or a “large reward” available after a delay. The small rewards were mildly enjoyable erotic images. The large rewards were extremely enjoyable erotic pictures. Such pictures are immediately rewarding at the time of viewing, allowing the researchers to probe the mechanisms of self-control as they unfolded in real-time. The pictures were chosen instead of rewards like money, which could only provide a reward after the subjects had left the laboratory.

The small reward was continuously available during some of the choices, making it necessary for the subjects to exert willpower to resist choosing it until the large reward became available. For other choices, however, the participants were given the opportunity to precommit. Before the tempting option became available, the subject had the ability to prevent themselves from ever encountering the temptation.

Participants’ choices and brain activity were measured as they made these decisions. The researchers found precommitment was a more effective self-control strategy than willpower. The participants were more likely to get the large reward when they had the opportunity to precommit. The team found those with the weakest willpower, the most impulsive of the subjects, benefited the most from precommitment.

The study allows the team to identify the regions of the brain that play a role in willpower and precommitment, finding that precommitment specifically activates the frontopolar cortex, a region involved in thinking about the future. When the frontopolar cortex is engaged during precommitment, the team found it increases communication with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain that plays an important role in willpower. Identifying the brain networks responsible in willpower and precommitment opens new avenues for understanding failures of self-control.

“The brain data is exciting because it hints at a mechanism for how precommitment works: thinking about the future may engage frontopolar regions, which by virtue of their connections with the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex are able to guide behavior toward precommitment,” said Tobias Kalenscher, from the University of Dusseldorf.

Jul 24

Psychopathic criminals have empathy switch


By Melissa Hogenboom
Psychopaths do not lack empathy, rather they can switch it on at will, according to new research.

Placed in a brain scanner, psychopathic criminals watched videos of one person hurting another and were asked to empathise with the individual in pain.

Only when asked to imagine how the pain receiver felt did the area of the brain related to pain light up.

Scientists, reporting in Brain, say their research explains how psychopaths can be both callous and charming.

The team proposes that with the right training, it could be possible to help psychopaths activate their “empathy switch”, which could bring them a step closer to rehabilitation.
Continue reading the main story
The study
a participant being slapped on the hand to localize brain regions sensitive to pain

Placed in an fMRI scanner, 18 criminals with psychopathy and 26 control subjects were asked to watch a series of clips without a particular instruction
The clips showed one hand touching the other in a loving, a painful, a socially rejecting or a neutral way
They were then asked to watch the same clips again but this time try and feel what the subjects in the clips felt
In the third part of the study they were slapped with a ruler to localise the pain region of the brain

Mirror neurons

The ability to empathise with others – to put yourself in someone else’s shoes – is crucial to social development in order to respond appropriately in everyday situations.

Criminals with psychopathy characteristically show a reduced ability to empathise with others, including their victims. Evidence suggests they are also more likely to reoffend upon release than criminals without the psychiatric condition.

Psychopathy is a personality disorder characterised by superficial charm, pathological lying and a diminished capacity for remorse.

Now scientists have found that only when asked to empathise did the criminals’ empathy reaction, also known as the mirror system, fire up the same way as it did for the controls. Without instruction, they show reduced activity in the regions of the brain associated with pain.

This mirror system refers to the mirror neurons in our brain which are known to activate when we watch someone do a task and when we do it ourselves. They are thought to play a vital role in the ability to empathise with others.
‘Bleak prospect’

Christian Keysers from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands, and senior author of the study, said it could change the way psychopathic criminals were viewed.

“The predominant notion had been that they are callous individuals, unable to feel emotions themselves and therefore unable to feel emotions in others.

“Our work shows it’s not that simple. They don’t lack empathy but they have a switch to turn it on and off. By default, it seems to be off.”

The fact that they have the capacity to switch empathy on, at least under certain conditions, could have a positive side to it, Prof Keysers said.

“The notion psychopaths have no empathy at all was a bleak prospect. It would make it very hard for them to have normal moral development.

“Now that we’ve shown they have empathy – even if only in certain conditions – we can give therapists something to work with,” Prof Keysers told BBC News.
Brain activation in individuals with psychopathy was greater when asked to imagine pain (foreground) Brain activation in criminals with psychopathy was greater when asked to empathise (foreground)

But he explained that it was not yet known how this wilful capacity for empathy could be transformed into the spontaneous empathy most of us have.
Million-dollar question

Essi Viding from University College London, who was not involved with the study, said it was an extremely interesting finding, but that it remained unclear whether the psychopathic criminals’ experience of empathy felt the same as that of the controls.

“It’s dangerous to look at brain activation and say that it means they’re empathising. They are able to generate a typical neural response, but that doesn’t mean they have the same empathetic experience,” Prof Viding told BBC News.

“We know they can generate the same response but they do that in an active and effortful way. Under free-viewing conditions they don’t seem to. Just because they can emphasise, doesn’t mean they will.

“Psychopathic criminals are clearly different. The million-dollar question is whether we can devise therapeutic interventions that would shift them do this more automatically.”

Randall Salekin, from the University of Alabama, US, who works with youth offenders said: “These findings fit with much of the treatment I am doing using a mental model program, whereby youth are informed about how the brain works and then asked to make specific plans for improving their lives.

“This study is impressive because it actually shows the brain mechanisms or neural networks involved in activating the inmates’ empathy.”

Jul 23

Are You Codependent or Compassionate?


By Therese J. Borchard
If a woman doesn’t want to have sex with her husband but does it anyway to please him, is she codependent or compassionate?

That was the subject of debate a few days ago among some friends and I. Half said she was codependent and half said compassionate.

The line between codependency and compassion can be fuzzy because the intentions of both appear the same. However, while compassion promotes effective communication and mutual respect, codependency destroys the foundation of healthy relationships.

If you are confused, as am I much of the time, as to which activities belong in which category, here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine if you are acting with compassion or codependency.

1. What are your intentions?

The word “compassion” is derived from Latin roots meaning “co-suffering.” Compassion goes beyond the emotion of empathy (ability to feel another’s pain) to actively want to alleviate another’s suffering. The intentions are motivated by love and selflessness. The underlying motive of codependency, on the other hand, is that of self-protection. The codependent person needs to be needed and is pursuing acceptance and safety. She often takes on the role of a martyr or a victim, and makes it about herself. In that way, codependent activity — although seemingly charitable — is closer to selfish than selfless.

2. How do you feel, emotionally and physically?

Because codependency is a form of addiction – relationship addiction – it generates the hangover feeling that most addictions leave you with and deteriorates emotional and physical health. Compassion, on the other hand, promotes general health and well-being. In fact, recent studies show that compassion makes us feel good in a variety of ways. It activates pleasure brain circuits, secretes the “bonding” hormone oxytocin, slows down our heart rate, makes us more resilient to stress, and boosts our immune system.

3. Do you value the other person more than yourself?

Both compassion and codependency may involve attending to others’ needs. At times this requires personal sacrifice. However, a compassionate person continues to care for himself in the process; he or she never abandons himself in order to take care of another. A codependent person, on the other hand, discards his or her own needs, replacing them with the needs of the other person. Then he becomes bitter, resentful, and frustrated when there is nothing left for him at the end of the day.

4. Do you feel like you have a choice?

Codependent persons don’t have a choice — or at least they feel as though they don’t — in taking care of another person. There is an exaggerated sense of responsibility, a fear of abandonment by the other person if they don’t pull through. They are not performing free acts of charity as a compassionate person does. They are imprisoned by a sense that something terrible will happen if they don’t attend to another’s needs and do whatever they need to do to enable behavior, even if they acknowledge that it is destructive.

5. Is the relationship healthy?

Compassion strengthens the fibers of a relationship. Acts of selflessness contribute to mutual appreciation, effective communication, trust, and other key ingredients of successful relationships. Codependency, on the other hand, deteriorates the foundation of relationships, causing dependency, jealousy, bitterness, destructive behavior, poor communication, and a host of other problems. Codependency is usually found in relationships that were dysfunctional from the start, where one or both people are involved in destructive and addictive behavior.

6. Do you feel guilty?

Unlike compassion, codependency is associated with an overwhelming feeling of guilt. Guilt is often the motivating factor for decisions and behaviors within the relationship, even though they don’t make any logical sense.

Of course the distinction between compassion and codependency isn’t always so clear-cut. I think there are many moments in my day that I am acting with both: my intention to help morphs into my meeting a need of my own, or a charitable act becomes less about “co-suffering” than about enabling dysfunctional behaviors. As always, awareness of your actions is key to moving toward compassion.

By Traci Pedersen Associate News Editor
New research shows that teens and young adults are frequently using social networking sites and mobile technology to express suicidal thoughts and intentions as well as to reach out for help.

The findings suggest that suicide prevention and intervention efforts aimed at young adults should use social networking and other types of technology, said researchers.

For the study, researchers conducted an analysis of public profiles on MySpace. They downloaded profile pages of a 41,000-member sample of 13- to 24-year-olds from March 3-4, 2008, and again in December 2008, this time with comments included.

Of 2 million downloaded comments, the researchers narrowed it down to 1,083 that contained suggestions of suicidality, and eventually arrived at 64 posts that were clear discussions of suicide.

“Obviously this is a place where adolescents are expressing their feelings,” said Cash. “It leads me to believe that we need to think about using social media as an intervention and as a way to connect with people.”

Cash’s interest in this subject began in part by media reports about teens using social media to express suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

“We wanted to know: Is that accurate, or are these isolated incidents? We found that in a short period of time, there were dozens of examples of teens with suicidal thoughts using MySpace to talk to their friends,” she said.

“There’s a lot of drama and angst in teenagers so in a lot of cases, they might say something ‘will kill them’ but not really mean it. Teasing out that hyperbole was an intense process,” Cash said. Song lyrics also made up a surprising number of references to suicide, she added.

The three most common suicidal phrases were “kill myself” (51.6 percent), “want to die” (15.6 percent) and “suicide” (14.1 percent).

Researchers also determined that 42 percent of the comments referred to problems with family or other relationships — including 15.6 percent that were about break-ups — and 6.3 percent that pointed to mental health problems or substance abuse.

Very few of the posts identified how the teens would carry out a suicide attempt, but 3 percent mentioned guns, 1.6 percent referred to a knife and 1.6 percent combined being hit by a car and a knife.

Final results of Cash’s survey showed that respondents first chose talking to a friend or family member when they were depressed, followed by sending texts, talking on the phone, using instant messaging and posting to a social networking site.

Less common responses included talking to a health-care provider, posting to a blog, calling a suicide prevention hotline and posting to an online suicide support group.

“It appears that our methods of reaching out to adolescents and young adults is not actually meeting them where they are. If, as adults, we’re saying, ‘this is what we think you need’ and they tell us they’re not going to use it, should we keep pumping resources into suicide hotlines?” Cash said.

“We need to find new ways to connect with them and help them with whatever they’re struggling with, or, in other words, meet them where they are in ways that make sense to them.”

The researchers are going to conduct a study similar to the MySpace analysis by looking at young adults’ Twitter messages for suicidal content. They would like to analyze Facebook, but too few of the profiles are public, said lead author Scottye Cash, Ph.D., associate professor of social work at Ohio State University.

The MySpace research is published in a recent issue of the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. They presented the survey findings at a meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Source: Ohio State University

Jul 20

90 secs of Rock can get you Rolling


Struggling to cope with modern life? Then try sleeping on the wrong side of the bed and listening to 90 seconds of rock music every day at 11.30am.
If you find work repetitive, have a go at writing with different coloured pens or in a different style.
And if you make your New Year resolutions now, when the days are longer and warmer, it will keep you motivated towards achieving your goals.
The suggestions come from psychologist Dr Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic, a professor in human behaviour, who was asked to find ways that we can be more productive.
More…Some like it hot: Study shows direct link between outgoing personalities and a love of spicy foods
Why talking about yourself with friends can be as pleasurable as SEX

It followed research by insurer Direct Line which suggested that we try to pack so many activities into our day that a quarter of us end up too tired to enjoy things that should be fun.
To help improve the work-life balance Dr Chamorro-Premuzic, of the University of Central London, advises doodling a to-do list at the start of every day rather than simply writing it out.

Sound advice: Listening to rock music such as some AC-DC mid-morning is a perfect pick-me-up
‘It can be demotivating to list all of the things you need to accomplish in the day. Doodling each task will put a more creative spin on a typically mundane task,’ he said.
Listening to rock music mid-morning is a perfect pick-me-up, he said, adding: ‘At 11.30am, most office workers will experience a slump as it’s been a while since breakfast and lunch still feels a way off, so it’s an ideal time to use music to keep you going.’
Writing with different coloured pens or in a different style can be creatively stimulating, while sleeping on the other side of the bed gets you out of your routine and can give you a fresh perspective on a problem, he said.
His other tips include jogging to meetings because it will raise endorphin levels, eating a piece of fruit at 3pm to combat the afternoon ‘slump’, and reading a favourite childhood book to boost creativity.

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Jul 13

How to Spot a Narcissist


By Samuel López De Victoria, Ph.D.
At the core of extreme narcissism is egotistical preoccupation with self, personal preferences, aspirations, needs, success, and how he/she is perceived by others. Some amount of basic narcissism is healthy, of course, but this type of narcissism is better termed as responsibly taking care of oneself. It is what I would call “normal” or “healthy” narcissism.

Extreme narcissists tend to be persons who move towards eventually cutting others off and becoming emotionally isolated. There are all types of levels on that road to isolation. Narcissists come in all shapes, sizes, and degrees. I would like to address how a person becomes an extreme narcissist.

Narcissism, in lay terms, basically means that a person is totally absorbed in self. The extreme narcissist is the center of his own universe. To an extreme narcissist, people are things to be used. It usually starts with a significant emotional wound or a series of them culminating in a major trauma of separation/attachment. No matter how socially skilled an extreme narcissist is, he has a major attachment dysfunction. The extreme narcissist is frozen in childhood. He became emotionally stuck at the time of his major trauma of separation/attachment.

In my work with extreme narcissist patients I have found that their emotional age and maturity corresponds to the age they experienced their major trauma. This trauma was devastating to the point it almost killed that person emotionally. The pain never was totally gone and the bleeding was continuous. In order to survive, this child had to construct a protective barrier that insulates him/her from the external world of people. He generalized that all people are harmful and cannot be trusted.

The protective insulation barrier he constructed is called a false persona. He created a false identity. This identity is not the true person inside. The many types of false personas or identities that an extreme narcissist creates can vary.

Some narcissists may have the ability to change into a variety of identities according to the situation. The wounded child inside may choose to present a front as a “bad ass” and tough individual. He may look, by appearance, intimidating and scary to the average person. He could also play the “nice guy/person” whom everyone likes. A corporate type version can be one that is diplomatic, proper, and appearing to care but in reality does not. Another very likeable extreme narcissist can be the one that chooses the comedian role. He is the life of the party and has everyone in stitches, making them laugh constantly. Everyone wants to include this person because they are a lot of fun.

Try to get close or ask personal questions as to how he is internally doing and feeling and you will find is that he will quickly distract you. They will sidestep the question with another joke, making you suddenly forget what you were asking. Narcissists can be very skilled at dodging and ducking personal questions. If you press them, they will then slot you as “unsafe” and will begin to avoid you and exclude you from their life.

There is also the success oriented narcissist. She will be your friend and keep you close to her as long as you are useful. Once you do not have anything more to offer and she has taken all they wanted from you, you are history. You are no longer desired, wanted, or sought.

I remember a significant half dozen of these in my life. One narcissist in particular avoids me like the plague because he knows that I do not ultimately plan my life around whether people like me or not. Hence my behavior cannot be controlled by him. He is threatened by my self-assuredness. I’m not safe to him. It does not matter that I have helped him in critical moments of his life. When he realized that he could not control me to make him look good when I was with him, he dropped me like a heavy weight. I received no more phone calls and was taken off his radar screen.

Another extreme narcissist stopped calling me when I got my Ph.D. I believe that, in his insecurity, he could no longer look “better” than me and be the focal person. As a result, he felt threatened that I had a more powerful image than he did. I think it is silly because I do not care about whether people have degrees to validate their intrinsic value as a human being.

In my ministerial past, I have had several colleagues that I considered to be like blood brothers. We had sworn honesty and loyalty to each other. Once I opened up my weaknesses to them and then asked them to reciprocate, they looked for excuses to label me and reject me. The more I pressed them about their lack of being forthcoming and failing at their own promise of commitment to the friendship, the more vehement they became at avoiding disclosure of their warts to me. Of course, I already knew many of their flaws and already had no problem accepting them. Now it was their turn and they shut down and put up the thick wall.

This is what genuine narcissists do. This is sad but it happens all the time with individuals that are scared to go down the road to becoming whole and healthy. It is like going under the knife of a surgeon. When there is a legitimate organic threat as with a malignant tumor, it can be hard to submit to the truth and then the treatment. This, however, is a door to a better life.

Is there hope for an extreme narcissist living in an emotional and relational fort of isolation. Is a narcissist able to have a healthy life? Definitely! I’ve seen many extreme narcissists become extremely healthy in their emotional and relational life. The first step is to find competent and safe help that knows how to heal emotional traumas. Just because a counselor may have all kinds of credentials it does not mean they are competent in dealing effectively with trauma issues. Because extreme narcissists tend to have an early history of emotional wounds they are full of distrust. If they can get past this hurdle then they can begin to find help to heal.

Second, extreme narcissists have to be willing to enter the realm of their feelings again. They have been the masters of covering and hiding, even to themselves. They now have to start uncovering painful wounds. They have taught themselves to stuff and disconnect their own feelings for years. Because of this, they tend to live inside their heads, in the realm of so called reason. They are likely to live in the world of rational principles, laws, rules, which are all linear. This domain is a realm they feel they can control. It is devoid of feelings. The realm of the heart or feelings is very intimidating and unsafe to them because it is non-linear and there is very little control of the outcomes. If extreme narcissists can overcome these two hurdles then there is much hope for them. They are on their road to healing.

Jul 10

What Sexual Addiction is NOT…


By Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S
As an addiction and sexual disorders specialist, I often write about sexual addiction. As most readers are “psychologically minded” in venues like this one, I typically assume that you already understand what that term means and does not mean. Nevertheless, it seems like a good idea to at least occasionally state what sexual addiction – aka, sexual compulsion, hypersexuality, hypersexual disorder, etc. – means to those of us who treat it. To that end I have provided below a brief overview of what sexual addiction is and is not.

Sexual Addiction: The Disorder

The criteria for sexual addiction are similar to the criteria for any other addiction. Addicts of all types (substance and behavioral) experience:

Ongoing obsession/preoccupation with their drug/behavior of choice
Loss of control over use
Directly related negative life consequences

Diagnosing a chemical addiction is usually fairly straightforward – an individual is hooked on drugs, alcohol, or some other substance and can’t seem to quit, even though he or she is experiencing, as a result, relationship issues, trouble at work or in school, declining physical and emotional health, financial turmoil, loss of interest in previously enjoyable activities, legal issues, and/or other negative life consequences.

Diagnosing process addictions (behavioral addictions) can be more difficult, especially when the activity in question is a natural and even necessary part of life, as is the case with things like food and sex. Sometimes it helps to look at why an individual is engaging in compulsive sex (or eating, gambling, shopping, etc.) If the person is compulsively abusing sex (or any other potentially pleasurable behavior) as a way of self-soothing and/or dissociating from intolerable emotions and/or underlying psychological conditions such as early trauma, attachment deficits, social deficits, depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem, that is usually an indicator of potential addiction. Short of that, the behavior may be compulsive and causing problems but not equate to addiction.

Unfortunately, the powers behind the DSM-5 chose to not include sexual addiction as an official diagnosis, making it much harder for many therapists to identify and treat this very real issue. For now, clinicians who rely on the DSM can utilize the “impulse control disorders not elsewhere classified” diagnosis when dealing with sexual compulsivity.


Unfortunately, some people use the term “sex addiction” to define virtually any type of sexual behavior that doesn’t meet their values (religious, relationship, cultural).

He’s had two affairs in the past few years so he must be a sex addict.
In our church you can be excommunicated for looking at porn. I hear that he looked at porn at least half a dozen times, so he must be a sex addict. Why else would he take risks like that?

Other individuals toss around “sexual addiction” as a catch-all excuse for virtually any type of sexual misconduct. In other words, some people who get caught red-handed engaging in inappropriate, problematic, possibly even illegal sexual behavior will blame their actions on an addiction, hoping to avoid or minimize the judgment and/or punishment they experience. Occasionally these individuals really are sex addicts, but just as often they are not. Either way, a diagnosis of sexual addiction is never intended to justify bad behavior or to let people “off the hook” for what they’ve done.

Unfortunately, it’s not just layperson-generated “diagnoses” that are a problem. Plenty of well-meaning but under-informed therapists are willing to label all sorts of things as sexual addiction. Frankly, the mental health profession provides minimal training in terms of what constitutes healthy (and unhealthy) human sexual behavior. Because of this, some therapists mistakenly believe that any form of sex/gender driven dysphoria equates to sexual addiction. This is simply not the case. The fact that an individual feels bad about his or her sexualized thoughts, feelings, desires, or actions does not mean that he or she is a sex addict. That individual might be a sex addict, but only if the above-stated criteria (obsession, loss of control, and negative consequences) are met.

Rule Outs…

Sexual Orientation ≠ Sex Addiction

Neither homosexual nor bisexual arousal patterns are factors in the diagnosis of sexual addiction, even if those arousal patterns are ego-dystonic. Being gay, lesbian, or bisexual does not make you a sex addict any more than being straight makes you a sex addict. Sometimes self-loathing homosexuals or bisexuals will seek out sex addiction treatment, hoping it will change their unwanted sexual orientation. Occasionally they do this at the behest of a misguided clinician. However, changing one’s arousal template is not possible. If you’re attracted to men, that’s the way it is; if you’re attracted to women, same story; and if you like both genders, you’d better get used to it, because that’s not going change no matter how much analysis you have or how many 12-step meetings you attend. In other words, sexual addiction is not in any way defined by who it is that turns you on.

Concurrent Drug Use ≠ Sex Addiction

Sometime drug addicts, especially those who abuse cocaine, methamphetamine, GHB, and other stimulant/party drugs, can become hypersexual while high – especially if they add Viagra or other erection enhancing drugs to the mix. This does not, however, make these people sex addicts. If the sexual compulsivity only occurs with drug use, a diagnosis of sexual addiction is not appropriate. However, sexual activity must be identified as a trigger for drug relapse in individuals for whom drug use and sexual activity are co-occurring behaviors.

Fetishes and/or Paraphilias ≠ Sex Addiction

Fetishes and paraphilias are recurrent, intense, sexually arousing fantasies, urges, or behaviors involving nonhuman objects, specific body parts, the suffering of oneself or one’s sexual partner, or non-consenting sex (in appearance or actuality). Fetishes and paraphilias may cause a person to keep sexual secrets, to feel shame or distress, and even to feel out of control, but they are not indicators of sexual addiction. In fact, they are only considered pathologic when: 1) they become obligatory for sexual functioning; 2) they involve inappropriate partners (meaning minors or unwilling participants); or 3) they cause significant distress and/or impairment of social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. And even when a fetish or paraphilia does qualify as pathologic, it is not considered sexual addiction, per se.

Mania, OCD, Adult ADD ≠ Sex Addiction

In order for the diagnosis of sexual addiction to be made, professionals must first rule out any number of major mental health disorders that sometimes include hypersexuality or impulsive sexual behavior as a primary symptom. Some of these include the active stages of bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and adult attention deficit disorder. The problem here is one of differential diagnosis. Not everyone who is impulsively or compulsively sexual has a problem driven by sex addiction, as hypersexual and impulsive sexual behaviors are legitimate symptoms of many other disorders.

Sexual Offending ≠ Sex Addiction

An unknown percentage of sexual offenders do sexually act out in a compulsive/addictive manner, but not all sex offenders are sex addicts. Usually sexually addicted sex offenders start out by engaging in non-offending behaviors (porn, casual/anonymous sex, serial affairs, etc.), but over time their sexual acting out escalates into offending. That said, sexual offending is not, per se, indicative of sexual addiction (or vice versa). The criteria for sexual addiction need to be very strictly applied when dealing with sexual offenders, as these individuals are the group most likely to self-identify as sex addicts in an attempt to avoid judgment and punishment for their problematic sexual behaviors. (As mentioned above, the diagnosis of sexual addiction is NEVER an excuse for bad behavior. Sex addicts are ALWAYS responsible for the hurt and pain they have caused.)

Why We Need to Get it Right…

Sadly, some mental health professionals choose to inappropriately incorporate the label of “sex addict” into treatment. This sometimes occurs through ignorance; other times this choice is the result of agendas more focused on moral, cultural, or religious values than clinical ones. These clinicians do a great deal of harm by abusing the term “sex addict.” Their actions have created a great deal of confusion and even acrimony within the treatment community, which makes diagnosing and treating people who truly are sexually addicted all the more difficult. It also has a tendency to send media members on the proverbial “wild goose chase” every time a celebrity, sports hero, or community leader has an affair, gets caught with a prostitute, or acts out in some other sexually inappropriate way. An official DSM Sexual Addiction (or Hypersexual Disorder) diagnosis would certainly help to clarify matters, but that is not coming anytime soon. Thus, it is up to those of use working in the field to help other clinicians learn how to clearly identify (and, equally importantly, not misidentify) people who are struggling with compulsive, addictive, and impulsive sexual disorders, diagnose them properly, and direct them toward useful, accurately planned models of treatment.

Clinicians (and clients) who are interested in learning more basic information about sexual addiction may want to grab a copy of my recently published book, Sex Addiction 101, available in both eBook and paperback formats.

Robert Weiss LCSW, CSAT-S is Senior Vice President of Clinical Development with Elements Behavioral Health. A licensed UCLA MSW graduate and personal trainee of Dr. Patrick Carnes, he founded The Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles in 1995. He has also provided clinical multi-addiction training and behavioral health program development for the US military and numerous treatment centers throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia.

By Elizabeth Ahmann, ScD, RN, ACC
“Our doctor just told me that my son has ‘executive functioning’ disorder,” a mother recently commented. “What is it? What can I do?”

Executive function disorder is an unofficial diagnosis characterized by challenges in following directions, difficulties with planning, organization, and goal-setting, and poor follow-through. Executive functioning challenges are common among people with ADHD, and some experts, including Thomas E. Brown, author of Attention Deficit Disorder: The Unfocused Mind in Children and Adults now think that ADHD is, in fact, primarily a disorder of executive functions.

Helping a child with executive functioning challenges works best when expectations are clear and tasks are taught gradually in a step-by-step fashion. The Smart but Scattered books by Dawson and Guare are an excellent guide to this process.

But building executive functioning skills in your child with ADD is not all hard work. Hey, it’s summer! Let’s explore how building executive functioning skills can also be lots of fun!

LEGOs and blocks

On the Learning Works for Kids blog, Legos are discussed in detail as a tool for building “the vital thinking skills that can allow them to focus better at school and during other non-play activities. In addition, Legos (like many other types of blocks and construction toys) can be a useful tool for practicing thinking skills such as focus, flexibility and planning. Lego play facilitates a need to adapt to the blocks you have, at some point plan out what you want to make, and have a willingness to persist on the task to completion.” Blocks can be used in a similar way.

Occupational therapist Kelly Balmer suggests that a parent “build a figurine and have your child build an exact replica in size and color. This works on multiple skills, including initiation, breaking down tasks, sequencing, organization, and attention. If you are unable to build an example, or if you have an older child who enjoys playing independently, there are often … images online that can be printed.”
Board games

“Board games, puzzles, quizzes and other parlour diversions have a number of common features [with neuropsychological tests] including being rule bound and subject to the play of chance, and requir[ing] various degrees of strategy, planning, and flexibility for their execution,” says neuropsychologist AJ Larner.

Balmer suggests that several games used in the therapeutic setting can also be used at home: Rush Hour, Mastermind, and Connect 4 Stackers, for example. Traditional games such as Monopoly, Clue, chess, puzzles, and Chinese checkers also promote executive skill development. For a wonderful variety of newer games review the list of American Mensa Mind Games winners.

Additionally, Balmer recommends exercising executive functions by involving kids in planning, shopping and cooking a favorite recipe: “Have your child choose a recipe, … write a grocery list containing everything needed to prepare that dish, create a list of the necessary cooking supplies and, for older children, have them look up the price of each item at the store and create an estimated budget. If possible, … take them with you to the grocery store. Older kids, [can] act as the “head chef” and be responsible for completing most of the cooking. For younger kids, if there are safety concerns, assign specific tasks as their job in the cooking process.”

An anonymous parent on the online DC Urban Moms and Dads forum urges parents to use summer outings as an opportunity to involve kids in stepwise planning of activities: “Want to go to the farm, let’s plan when a good time to go is, and what we need, and what we want to bake with afterward. Go to Kings Dominion next weekend? What rides should we go on?”
Video games

The Learning Works for Kids blog suggests using video games such as Mario Kart Wii, Super Smash Bros. Brawl, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii to exercise working memory skills, one of the key executive functions. Building working memory with these games is enhanced by “repetition… duration… challeng[ing] yourself… and compet[ition].”
Online games

Video games aren’t the only way screen time can build executive functioning skills. Neurocognitive researchers have developed a number of computer games thought to help develop certain specific brain functions such as memory and attention. Here are some online sources of “brain games” to consider:

Fit Brains



Need more ideas? Learning Works for Kids suggests the following resources for more play activities provide an opportunity to improve thinking skills: Wired magazine’s Geekdad and Geekmom and Melissa Taylor’s Imagination Soup.

Looking for more support in how to help your child develop executive functioning skills? Consider working with an ADHD Coach.


Balmer, K. (2012, November 28). Executive functioning activities at home. [blog post]. Retrieved from

“Dr. K.” (2012, August 13). Improving thinking skills with Legos. [blog post]. Retrieved from

Larner, A.J. (2009). The neuropsychology of board games, puzzles and quizzes. ACNR, 9(5), 42. PDF available at ‎

Jul 5

Sad Music Helps Us Deal with Negative Emotions


By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
A new study by Japanese researchers concludes that listening to sad music may actually induce positive emotions.

Researchers say the findings help to explain why people enjoy listening to sad music.

Ai Kawakami and colleagues from Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, asked 44 volunteers, including both musicians and non-specialists, to listen to two pieces of sad music and one piece of happy music.

Each participant was required to use a set of keywords to rate both their perception of the music and their own emotional state.

The sad pieces of music included Glinka’s “La Séparation” in F minor and Blumenfeld’s Etude “Sur Mer” in G minor. The happy music piece was Granados’s Allegro de Concierto in G major.

To control for the “happy” effect of major key, they also played the minor-key pieces in major key, and vice versa.

As reported in the open-access journal Frontiers in Psychology , sad music evoked contradictory emotions among the participants. Study members said that while sad music equates to tragic, less romantic, and less blithe emotions, participants said they did not feel this while listening.

“In general, sad music induces sadness in listeners, and sadness is regarded as an unpleasant emotion. If sad music actually evokes only unpleasant emotion, we would not listen to it,” the researchers wrote in the study.

“Music that is perceived as sad actually induces romantic emotion as well as sad emotion. And people, regardless of their musical training, experience this ambivalent emotion to listen to the sad music,” added the researchers.

Also, unlike sadness in daily life, sadness experienced through art actually feels pleasant, possibly because the latter does not pose an actual threat to our safety. This could help people to deal with their negative emotions in daily life, concluded the authors.

“Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion,” they added.

Jul 3

ADHD and Anger


By Zoë Kessler, BA, B.Ed.
I’m fascinated by the connection of ADHD and anger. In a previous post called Undiagnosed ADHD Can Make You Angry! I explored some of the sources of ADHD anger before, and also looked at how anger can get in our way when we’re not diagnosed and successfully treating our ADHD.

This week, I had a fascinating encounter with anger.

I felt I was on the receiving end of a nasty bit of injustice. I felt like someone’s punching bag, like there was nothing I could do or say right. You know those days.

Then it happened: like a prisoner suddenly sprung free, my creativity was unleashed and ran free, barefoot through the streets. I captured the rush of ideas as they poured out on adrenaline rapids at a frenzied pace.

I was able to observe myself, to objectively recognize what was happening; to connect my feelings of rage with the sudden onslaught of creativity.

The following day, my annoyance slightly smoldered, but mostly I felt a tremendous sadness and hurt. In spite of the magnitude of my feelings, I experienced a triumph of sorts: I slayed the ADHD Anger Beast, at least for that day (there’s no telling if it was mortally wounded, or if it would live to jump up Monty Python-esque-like, to proclaim, “It was only a flesh wound,” and take me out for another round. Time will tell.)

It did feel like another signpost indicating that my ADHD treatment is working. I’ve learned some new skills.

When I found myself again in the company of those from whom I’d felt slighted, I recognized the pattern from the past. I realized that now that I’d calmed down but still had a simmering resentment, I could easily stir the pot. I instantly said to myself: Zoë, do not stir things up just to get back into the creative zone.

I’d recognized some time ago that many arguments, fights, and bitter misunderstandings I’d had with loved ones in the past – before ADHD diagnosis and treatment – had provided the juice my brain needed to be stimulated (in lieu of legitimate ADHD treatment).

Having learned this, I’d vowed never to let it happen again. Not that I’d realized what I’d been doing as a child or pre-diagnosed adult. I didn’t even know what ADHD was, let alone that I had it.

I was able to stop the process through that awareness (and ADHD stimulant medication) before it started.

I was now able to recognize the equation that ADHD plus anger and arguments equals heightened stimulation and creativity. More rewarding than being able to recognize this, I was able to stop the process through that awareness (and ADHD stimulant medication) before it started. This might not have been as exhilarating as a rush of creativity, but it was definitely more satisfying and more congruent with who I feel I am inside.

After all, I’ve always recognized myself as peace-loving at my core. Being unable to control my anger had felt confusing, contradictory, and frightening. It was as though I had this werewolf-like monster crouching inside me (crouching werewolf, hidden ADHD?) ready to transform into the ADHD Anger Beast at any moment against my will.

It felt wonderful to get through the day without (consciously or unconsciously) picking a fight; without caving to the craving for an adrenaline rush. I was able to control my ADHD Anger Beast, stopping it from sabotaging my desire to manifest the peace within. All stayed peaceful without as well, and it was a much more pleasant day than the previous one.

This week, my ADHD journey with anger felt like a mythological battle between good and evil: and quite frankly, all I want to do right now is sleep. Sleep for a very, very long time. I’m glad tomorrow is Saturday.

Jul 2

My (Anxious) Life After College Graduation: The Lies


By Summer Beretsky


As soon as I graduated from college, I realized that most of the people I know have been lying to me for my entire life.

After I accepted my diploma and managed to avoid tripping and catapulting myself into the audience at the ceremony, I quickly understood that most of the things I did in order to prepare me for being an adult were entirely superfluous.

Our teachers all told us the same thing in high school. Get good grades, be involved in a ton of extracurriculars, and you’ll get into a great college. You’ll never get anywhere without a college degree, and said degree will entitle you to a job where you’ll make a nice living and be able to support a family.

After spending two months in the adult world, however, I can easily say that my college degree is like the last piece of toilet paper on the roll: It’s not completely useless, but frankly, it does not get the job done.

I did everything right, but I’m not swimming in a pool filled with hundred dollar bills. I may be quaintly planning out my future wedding on Pinterest, but there’s no way the job I have now will enable me to pay for it.


Something everyone fails to mention about post-graduate life is that while you may have pulled your fair share of all-nighters studying for finals and gotten really good grades, everyone else is doing the same thing.

After graduation, I realized that I’m not that special, I’m not particularly qualified to do anything, and the scrap of paper that represents over a hundred thousand dollars worth of education means approximately nothing because in today’s job market, there is no level playing field.

It’s this utter hopelessness that is perhaps the greatest source of anxiety for me in my new life as a “real” adult. I’ve been fairly lucky in life in that I never really suffered from anxiety until I started college, and I didn’t really begin to be dramatically affected by it until about two months ago after graduation.

Now, as I begin this new chapter of my life, there is something new that inspires anxiety, worry, and an overwhelming sense of dread each and every day. Gone are the carefree days of my youth where I’d skip class to watch Pretty Little Liars or lay in the sunshine on the quad.

New, adult days full of mowing lawns and grocery shopping and bill-paying stretch as far as the eye can see.

After spending approximately two months in the “real” world, I feel that I’m now in a position to warn future graduates about the perils and anxiety they’ll face shortly after receiving their diplomas.

Stay tuned for those warnings.

By Rick Nauert PhD Senior News Editor
New research suggests adolescent alcohol use has roots in early childhood as children develop personality characteristics and life experiences which can lead to early alcohol problems.

Researchers evaluated measures of temperament among children six months through to five years of age and found that childhood temperament prior to age five predicts adolescent alcohol use and problems at age 15.5 years.

The early experiences were influential even after controlling for socio-demographic factors and parental alcohol problems.

“Most scientists who study alcohol use start studying people in adolescence, since that is when alcohol use is usually first initiated/experimented with,” explained Danielle Dick, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry, psychology and human and molecular genetics at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“But people don’t enter adolescence as blank slates; they have a history of life experiences that they bring with them, dating back to early childhood. This is one of the most comprehensive attempts to understand very early childhood predictors of adolescent alcohol use in a large epidemiological cohort.”

“A question largely unanswered by the existing literature concerns the origins of personality differences in adolescents or adults who do and do not have drinking problems,” added Dr. Matt McGue, a professor in the department of psychology at the University of Minnesota.

“In my opinion, the major contribution of the current study is that it shows that these personality differences emerge very early in life.”

Dick and her colleagues used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a large epidemiological sample of pregnant women with delivery dates between April 1991 and December 1992.

The children (6,504 boys, 6,143 girls) were followed longitudinally. Temperamental characteristics were assessed at six time points from six to 69 months of age. Alcohol use and problems were assessed at age 15.5 years.

“Some of the most interesting findings to emerge from this study are that, one, we can identify childhood temperamental styles that emerge prior to age five that predict alcohol use and problems in mid-adolescence,” said Dick.

“Two, the early childhood temperamental styles that predict alcohol use are very different and largely uncorrelated – that both kids who show consistent emotional and behavioral problems early on are at elevated risk and kids who are consistently sociable at a very early age are also at risk. This indicates very different pathways to alcohol involvement/patterns, that emerge early on, which has important implications for prevention efforts.”

“Temperament is considered to represent the biological foundations of later personality and is manifested in terms of basic reactivity and regulatory process,” said McGue.

“This study differs from other studies in two significant ways. First, other studies have typically focused on personality, which is normally assessed by self-report. This study indicates that those personality factors are the result, in part, of early temperamental expressions. Second, ALSPAC is a large and very well-characterized longitudinal study.

“This allows the investigators to rigorously evaluate their hypothesis as well as provide them with the statistical power they need to explore important ancillary questions, such as whether the nature of personality risk differs in males and females, a gender effect they did not find in this study.”

Interestingly, the association between sociability and alcohol use/problems was more significant than the association found between emotional and conduct difficulties and later alcohol problems, said Dick.

“This underscores the fact that drinking during adolescence is largely a social phenomenon. However, this doesn’t mean it’s less problematic; we know from other studies that most adolescent drinking is high risk – for example, binge drinking – and can lead to numerous negative consequences.”

Both Dick and McGue noted the importance of searching for what may lead to adolescent drinking when trying to understand the development of patterns of alcohol use, such as predictors that emerge very early in life.

“That said,” noted McGue, “while I think the most important finding concerns tracing personality differences back to preschool differences in temperament, we cannot, from these findings, predict with much accuracy which preschoolers will have problems with alcohol as adolescents and which will not.”

“All things considered,” said Dick, “it’s not just ‘problem kids’ who get involved in alcohol use. It’s also the highly sociable kids as well. Parents should be aware of this.”

Source: Virginia Commonwealth University

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