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Kathy Marshack News

Understanding Autism - Why Do They Have Trouble Making Eye Contact?

Monday, April 18, 2016


Understand Why people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can look you in the eye sometimes (albeit briefly) and at other times they can’t make eye contactWhy is it that people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) can look you in the eye sometimes (albeit briefly) and at other times they can’t? Until now, ASD researchers have had difficulty identifying the triggers that cause people on the autism spectrum to avoid eye contact.

Psychology Today reports on a new study that is unlocking the puzzle. Researchers at the University of Vermont (UVM) devised an experiment using eye-tracking technology and Skype. The scientists observed and tracked the eye movements of children between the ages six and twelve. Nineteen of the participants were typically developing children and the other eighteen were children with autism.

As they conversed about “things people do” topics, all of the children made eye contact. However, when the conversation switched to talking about “things people feel,” the children with ASD began looking at the mouth rather than the eyes. The researchers also found that the more severe the autism is the more frequently the child avoided eye contact.

The researchers associate the shifting gaze and autism severity with lower levels of executive function (EF). They hypothesize that talking about emotions short circuits their EF, so the children shift their gaze so they won’t overload their cerebral limit. Whereas, the NT person looks for emotional and social cues from facial expressions, especially from the eyes, the ASD child finds it too overwhelming. As a result, children with ASD haven’t developed social skills.

To summarize what lead author Tiffany Hutchins, Ph.D. said:

"When a child with ASD talks with me about emotions, it’s very draining. It's like driving in a snowstorm. They don't just watch passively. They have to monitor my engagement, think about what I'm doing, my tone, and my affect to get my full meaning. They are totally focused, every move is tense and effortful, and their executive function drains away. In fact, we found that decreased working memory correlated with decreased eye fixations, so as working memory decreases, we see fewer fixations on the eyes."

She concluded that pressuring children with autism to make eye contact can potentially backfire. It may be best to recognize their need to gaze away in order to reserve his or her executive function resources. Instead, she recommends changing how you phrase things using “what people do” versus “how they feel” and you’ll have a profound impact on where the eyes go for information. And don’t forget to give positive reinforcement for their good behavior.

Does your family need personalized help with learning how to cope with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning form of Autism Spectrum Disorder? If so, and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Brain Concussion Issue Is Causing Ivy League to Rethink their Football Practices

Monday, March 14, 2016


Brain Concussion Issue Is Causing Ivy League to Rethink their Football PracticesWere you pleased to read in a recent New York Times article that the eight Ivy League (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Pennsylvania, Princeton and Yale) football coaches unanimously approved eliminating the full-contact hitting during practices for the regular season? I certainly was, since I’ve been calling attention to the problem of brain concussions for years. They had already limited the amount of full contact during spring and preseason practices.

The brain concussion issue is developing remarkable traction when college football coaches start reducing full body contact at practice. Their goal is to cut down on practice injuries and concussions so the players are healthy to play their best during the games. To keep their players in shape, they have hit pads, tackling dummies and a “mobile virtual player”. It hasn’t hurt their chances for winning either.

Coach Buddy Teevens of Dartmouth says that his players have become better tacklers, since they’re focusing on tackling without head collisions. He says it’s made them a better team, as winning the championship attests.

The Ivy League is also reconsidering the rules for men’s and women’s hockey, lacrosse, soccer, rugby, and wrestling to see if they can reduce concussions in those sports too. Other coaches across the country are following suit to varying degrees.

Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI), whether from sports injuries, accidents, or military conflict, are changing the personalities of our loved ones. They have difficulty feeling, processing, and conveying their emotions, which as you can imagine, leads to relationship breakdowns.

One area especially affected is the ability to empathize. Professor Robert Wood, a head injury specialist, and Claire Williams at University of Swansea in Wales UK are studying TBI as it related to empathy deficits. They found that TBI patients have impaired ability to recognize emotions in pictures and video. Their further studies showed that persons with TBI experience alexithymia – having difficulty recognizing and/or describing their own emotions. They found that 60% of their TBI subjects suffered from this in comparison to 11% of the control population of their study.

Not only should the physical injury of TBI be treated, the emotional damage must be addressed as well. It helps to use medicines, whole foods, vitamins and supplements to help heal the brain. And various types of psychotherapy are beneficial for handling the emotional and relationship issues. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA and need help, please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

Genetic Research Is Revealing What Causes Schizophrenia

Monday, February 15, 2016


genetic causes of schizophreniaIt’s exciting to report that we are significantly closer to understanding what causes schizophrenia. More than two million Americans are diagnosed with schizophrenia, which is characterized by delusional thinking, hallucinations, and speech and behavioral disorganization. The New York Times recently reported on a landmark study that pieces together the steps by which overactive genes can increase a person’s risk of developing schizophrenia.

The researchers found that the risk of schizophrenia is tied to a natural process called synaptic pruning. As a person matures from adolescence and early adulthood, the prefrontal cortex of the brain (the section where thinking and planning skills are centered) prunes or removes weak or redundant connections between neurons. According to this study, people who are at risk for developing schizophrenia carry overactive C4-A genes that tag too many of the connections for pruning, resulting in fewer neural connections and thinner prefrontal layers, which is associated with schizophrenia.

Since the schizophrenic's loss of frontal lobe activity is where executive functions develop, this study explains why schizophrenic adolescents have difficulty defining and adopting adult thinking. Researchers hope that completing this at-risk genetic profile will lead to clarifying a better prognosis for these people.

The more that is learned of mental disorders, the closer we are to knowing how to treat them effectively. For now, medication can blunt some of the symptoms of schizophrenia. Also psychotherapy is an effective treatment for mental disorders.

As a psychologist with over 30 years of experience in counseling families, I also see the importance of providing therapy for family members who have the ongoing stress of caring for someone with a serious mental disorder. If this describes you and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, please contact my office and schedule an appointment to get the support and understanding that you need and deserve.

Discover Neuro Emotional Technique to Make Emotional and Even Physical Healing Possible

Wednesday, February 03, 2016


Discover Neuro Emotional Technique to Make Emotional and Even Physical Healing PossibleIt’s said that we all carry scars – scars from past emotional and physical wounds that shape who we are today. How you remember a past, painful occurrence will determine your present ability to experience emotional health.

If you’ve properly processed the negative past and extinguished it, it won’t present itself as a problem for you now. Oftentimes, however, if the original conditioning event is not processed correctly, you’ll experience a physiological response each time you experience that event.

For example, physiologist Pavlov conditioned dogs to associate the sound of a bell with the sight and smell of meat. So each time the dogs heard the bell, they would salivate. They were conditioned to respond in that specific way because of their memory of what the bell represented.

When clients are asked to re-experience a past emotion, such as anger or fear, they’re being asked to go back and relive a memory. By reliving that memory, they produce a feeling. And that feeling can be used by a NET Practioner to help a client overcome a phobia, resolve life-altering stresses, and heal mental disorders.

Scientific research is connecting the dots between painful events, stress, and the physiological changes to the brain. As the Dec 2015 study “Could Stress Contribute to Pain-Related Fear in Chronic Pain” stated:

“A difference between acute and chronic stress is supported by data outside of the pain field: Early adversity as well as chronic stress has been linked to structural alterations in the brain causing a hyperactive amygdala and impaired prefrontal inhibition. These alterations could underlie the extinction impairments observed in several mental disorders, which is interesting in the context of chronic pain given the high comorbidity between chronic pain and affective disorders. Finally, effects of acute stress on pain-related memory retrieval may be fundamentally different in normals and patients with chronic pain. While stress-induced effects in normals are adaptive, they may be altered and in fact maladaptive and in patients with chronic pain. For example in patients with PTSD, cortisol enhanced rather than impaired memory retrieval.”

Paradoxically, we can use the power of past, negative events to help us heal our present. The job of a NET practitioner is to gently help a client go to that place of unresolved negativity so he or she can complete a process that allows them to move forward from that painful place.

If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment. As a NET practitioner, I will help you remove the block, so your body can repair itself naturally.

Read more on my website: Releasing Unresolved Stress.

New Autism Research: Repetition May Not Be the Best Method of Teaching New Concepts

Monday, November 09, 2015


repitition may not be the best method for teaching children with autism“Repetition is the mother of retention” or so the saying goes. Yet recent studies are showing that this adage doesn’t apply to those on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Why? Because people with ASD have difficulty transferring information from one context to another.

In fact, a study conducted by the Weizmann Institute shows that this repetitive training may make it harder for those with ASD to apply learned knowledge to new situations. After running a series of test on high-functioning ASD adults and a control group, the researchers discovered that the ASD adults could learn the first bit of information, but they couldn’t apply it to the next situation presented to them. All subsequent attempts at teaching them the second piece of information failed. They were unable to learn it.

It’s like they showed ‘hyperspecificity’ of learning – their learning became fixed and inflexible – since learning the first location adversely influenced their ability to learn the second instance,” said Hila Harris, the study’s lead author from the Weizmann Institute.

They then ran a test on a new group of ASD adults and control individuals without the repetitive teaching. “Our conclusion is that breaks in repetition allow the visual system some time to rest and allow autistic individuals to learn efficiently and to then generalize. Repeated stimulation leads to sensory adaptation which interferes with learning and makes learning specific to the adapted conditions. Without adaptation, learning is more efficient and can be generalized,” said New York University’s David Heeger.

The research team believes this has important implications for educating those with autism. They concluded that “incorporates variability from the beginning and promotes learning a broad concept rather than a specific example” works best with the ASD community. They gave the illustration of teaching what a dog is. When they used only one picture of one breed, those with ASD were unable to identify that other breeds were dogs because they were taught initially with a very narrow and specific focus. When they used many pictures of various types of dogs to teach what a dog, then the ASD students were able to understand what a dog is.

Are you having difficulty interacting your ASD family member? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment and we’ll explore all options that are available to help you.

If you’d like to learn more about the science behind Asperger’s Syndrome (a high-functioning form of ASD) and learn why they do what they do, you’ll find answers in my book, Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD), click on the image below to download a free chapter.

Leaving or Divorcing Your Narcissistic Spouse? Be Prepared

Thursday, September 10, 2015


divorcing or leaving a narcissistCan you imagine going through a high conflict divorce where your spouse successfully convinces friends, neighbors and government officials that you’re dangerous and crazy to the point where you’re arrested multiple times? Not only that, you lose your professional standing in the community and your children are alienated from you? While this may sound like a bad movie, this is actually happening to countless people across the United States.

How can one human being treat another so horribly? In many cases it’s because of a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. This is a very real brain disorder not just a personality flaw. Narcissists view everyone else as inferior and feel they are entitled to the best. People who have healthy confidence and self-esteem don't value themselves more than they value others.

Leaving a narcissist is dangerous and no one has the right to tell you to leave such an individual. The Well Book Club of the New York Times recently opened up a discussion based on the book “Will I Ever Be Free of You: How to Navigate a High-Conflict Divorce From a Narcissist and Heal Your Family” by Karyl McBride. It has the following advice (although we refer to the narcissist as a he it can apply to women as well):

  • Plan ahead and thoroughly consider the risks to yourself and your children.
  • Have your resources lined up (copies of essential documents, money, an established support system in family/community who won't believe him when he says terrible things).
  • Be prepared to get a restraining order. Even if he hasn’t hit you yet, risk increases when he realizes you’re moving away from his control.
  • Document the abuse – keep a journal in a safe place, take pictures of the bruises, confide in a trusted friend or health care worker.
  • Find out about pet safety.
  • Find a therapist trained in domestic violence.
  • Check bulletin boards in places like health care centers, grocery stores, libraries, or the internet for a complete safety plan before you act.

If you choose to remain in a relationship with someone you suspect is a narcissist, get counseling for yourself immediately. A trained mental health professional can help you navigate this difficult relationship so you don’t sink into a dangerous cycle of codependency.

Those with Narcissistic Personality Disorder can be helped by psychotherapy if they’re willing. In the short-term psychotherapy would address issues as substance abuse, depression, and relationship issues. In the long-term, it would help them to gradually reshape their personality so they create a healthier self-image.

If you need a diagnosis or counseling related to narcissism in yourself or a loved one and you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington, please contact my office to make an appointment.

Brain Scans Now Deliver Better Diagnosis for PTSD or TBI

Monday, August 10, 2015


Up until now the diagnosis of brain disorders could be confused because Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury share common symptoms such as insomnia, irritability, and anxiety. Happily, I’ve just received a notification from Dr. Daniel Amen that their studies now confirm that brain scans detect the differences between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Traumatic Brain Injury. That is exciting news!

This means that the 7 million+ PTSD sufferers and 2 million brain injury sufferers every year in the U.S. will receive better diagnosis and treatment.

How do researchers distinguish between the two brain disorders?

They use SPECT Imaging (single photon emission computed tomography) to measure blood flow and activity in 128 different brain regions. As Dr. Amen describes it, “SPECT can tell TBI and PTSD apart because these disorders affect the brain in different ways. TBI involves damage to the brain from direct blows or blast injuries, leading to reduced brain activity and blood flow. PTSD involves hyperactive reactions to different stimuli leading to brain scan patterns where blood flow is abnormally higher compared to TBI or normal health.”

Can brain damage from PTSD and TBI be reversed? Improvements can be made. The use of therapy, medicines, whole foods, vitamins and supplements can heal the brain. This is the type of holistic health regimen that I often use with clients. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment to get your life back.

Learn more about holistic healing on my website – Mind and Body: Holistic Health and Psychotherapy Options.

Change Your Mind – Change Your Brain - Change Your Life

Friday, July 24, 2015


neuroscience is unlocking the key to changing the brain to making real and lasting changes in lifestyle habits and choicesResearch continues to unravel the mystery of how the brain works as they examine how physical changes occur in the brain as people undergo psychological therapy. By using brain scans and functional magnetic resonance imaging (f.M.R.I.), they map areas of the brain that fire under specific conditions. What they’re learning will fascinate you.

An extensive New York Times article outlines some of these findings, which take us steps closer to understanding how the physical brain changes as people change the way they think about themselves and life around them. It also reveals how brain trauma changes personality. Below is a brief summary of some of these findings.

As Andrew J. Gerber, a psychoanalyst and an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry at Columbia University, and Bradley Peterson, a psychoanalyst, child psychiatrist and the director of the L.A. Institute for the Developing Mind at Children’s Hospital, worked together to combine psychoanalysis with neuroscience, Gerber saw a pattern in the patients who improved the most.

He noted that they didn’t improve in a linear way, that is, from worse to better as he had expected. Instead, about half way their treatment, they went through a period of swinging back and forth between extreme behaviors. Then they began to improve. To describe this process, he uses a chemistry term “annealing – the act of heating something so that all its molecules excitedly dance around and then slowly cooling it until it assumes a new and more stable state.”

Susan Andersen, a cognitive and social psychologist who studies transference at New York University began collaborating with Gerber and Peterson. They’ve found that when we’re confronted with a situation or a person that reminds of us something or someone we’ve known before, we activate regions in our brain that transfers attributes from these past experiences to our new experiences. These include the left and right insula, the motor cortex and the right caudate.

Mark Solms, a psychoanalyst, neuropsychologist and Freud scholar, has coined the phrase ‘‘neuropsychoanalysis’’, as he brings neuroscience and psychoanalysis together. Through his studies, he discerned that patients with damage to the right half of their brains often become self-absorbed and narcissistic. He discovered that the brain’s right hemisphere is where we understand or distort the boundaries between ourselves and the world around us.

Otto Kernberg, best known for tailoring psychoanalytic treatment for borderline personality disorder patients, found increased amygdala activity, as well as reduced activation in the ventro medial prefrontal cortex, a region that plays a crucial role in inhibiting behavior.

Not only is this information fascinating, it helps those of us in mental health develop better treatments for our clients. It reinforces the hope that the brain can be retrained so everyone can live a healthy and happy life. If you are ready to create healthier life choices and habits and live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can tailor a program that helps you change your life for the better.

Trauma Sufferers – Yoga and Therapy Can Help You Heal

Monday, July 06, 2015


yoga and therapy can help heal traumatic stressWhen a person experiences a traumatic event, such as a terrorist attack, a car wreck or sexual abuse, the body from head to toe shifts into the fight or flight mode. Hormones and chemicals race through your body as everything shifts into high gear and hyper-vigilance. Your entire body becomes involved to save your life.

Interestingly, brain scans are now showing what trauma does to the body so that we can tailor treatments that help the person holistically. A key finding is that the speech center shuts down during the traumatic event, which helps explain why many people can’t describe what happened.

Also the part of the brain responsible for experiencing the present moment—the medial prefrontal cortex—shuts down during stress. People who’ve experienced trauma therefore have difficulty processing that information.

Many are finding that a combination of yoga and therapy is helping trauma sufferers to heal.

According to Dr. Bessel van der Kolk, a clinical psychiatrist, founder of the Trauma Center in Brookline, Massachusetts and a leader in the field of posttraumatic stress:

“Fundamentally, the effect of trauma is in relationship to one’s body. One’s body gives the signal that it’s not safe, and your body keeps fighting an existing enemy… The clinical research and treatment program showed that doing yoga was a more effective treatment for traumatized people...than any medication that had ever been studied. Opening up that relationship with your body, opening up your body to breathe, and to feel your body is very important.

It’s great to be able to put your feelings into words, and feeling that somebody understands your suffering is enormously comforting. But it doesn’t make your body know that you are safe. The real method is resetting your physiology.”

However Dr Bessel van der Kolk recommends yoga in conjunction with working with a person who has special trauma therapy training. “None of my patients have been able to tolerate a yoga program if they weren’t in therapy at the same time. Too much painful stuff comes up.” If you’re ready to try this treatment and you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment.

For more information on my website: Therapy FAQ and Depression and Stress.

Your Child Struggling with Uncontrolled Temper or Aggressive Behavior?

Monday, May 18, 2015


child struggling with uncontrolled temper or aggressive behaviorRecently I watched a video by Dr. Daniel Amen M.D. where he discusses how, after researching 100,000 brain scans, he’s discovered that actual brain damage is contributing to emotional problems such as anger issues and even brutal killings. Judges and defense attorneys often consult with Dr. Amen in order to understanding criminal behavior. While he does not in any way condone what these criminals have done, he’s made some fascinating discoveries by studying their brains.

For example, after looking at Kip Kinkle’s brain in 1998, (you may remember he shot 25 at his school, killing two plus his parents in Springfield, OR) he found that sometime in the past this person had suffered either deprivation of oxygen or some type of infection that made his the worst 15-year-old brain scan that Dr. Amen had ever seen.

What can we learn about rehabilitating people who have aggressive behavior and are violent? By taking their entire history and imaging the brain, we can discover the biological, psychological, and social reasons why they’re acting the way they do.

When we see homelessness, drug and alcohol abuse, depression, anxiety disorders, PTSD, ADHD and suicide, we should seriously look at the health of the brain for answers. The good news is we can prevent these brain injuries from escalating into hurtful behavior, either towards themselves or towards others. They can be rehabilitated if it’s caught early enough!

Is your son or daughter troubled with anxiety, depression, anger, or destructive behavior? Please do not ignore these symptoms or dismiss them as typical teen moods. Seek help immediately to determine if there’s a physical or psychological cause. That way the problem can be resolved now, so he or she can live a happy and productive life. Brain health can be restored. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment to find out how.

Watch Dr. Amen's video for the very emotional success story of how he helped a young man go from a troubled youth to an American hero.



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