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Kathy Marshack News

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.

Pets Are Good for Your Physical and Mental Health

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

owning a pet is good for your physical and mental healthAhhh…who can resist those puppy eyes? We’ve known for sometime that pets are good therapy for those who suffer from anxiety, depression and PTSD. Now a recent New York Times article adds further proof that there is a beneficial hormonal change occurring when you and your dog makes eye contact.

Research shows that gazing into those big puppy eyes elevates the level of oxytocin in your brain. Oxytocin is the hormone that bonds a parent with a child and is related to stress and anxiety relief, thereby lowering blood pressure and cortisol levels.

In a Smithsonian article about how dogs help veterans with PTSD, Meg Daley Olmert who works for a program called Warrior Canine Connection, says, “Oxytocin improves trust, the ability to interpret facial expressions, the overcoming of paranoia and other pro-social effects—the opposite of PTSD symptoms.”

Psychologists at Miami University and Saint Louis University conducted a 2011 study on the potential benefits of pet ownership physically and mentally. Some of the benefits of pet ownership were increased feelings of belonging, self-esteem and meaningful existence while staving off feelings of rejection. Pet owners were more physically fit and less lonely or fearful.

Psychiatrist, Ian Cook, MD, who is also director of the Depression Research and Clinic Program at UCLA, adds another benefit, "Pets offer an unconditional love that can be very helpful to people with depression. Other studies show that children raised with pets have fewer allergies.

Have you tried owning a pet and still are struggling with anxiety, depression or PTSD? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can discuss more options for helping you obtain your optimal physical and mental health.

Neuroscience – Unlocking the Mystery of the Theory of Mind and Empathy

Friday, March 27, 2015

Through brain-mapping, neuroscience is unlocking the mystery of the theory of mind and empathyEmpathy has long been an enigma to me. I have written two books that explore empathy disorders among those with Asperger Syndrome. Problems with empathy explain why folks with ASD struggle in their relationships with loved ones. And it explains why those loved ones are often furious with their ASD partners and family members. Yes, it’s true that we humans are a product of nature and nurture. However, with the advent of neuroscience that can peer into the workings of a live brain, we’re finding powerful evidence that a huge chunk of empathy is hard wired.

A recent New York Times article reports about this in the context of trying to peacefully integrate the Roma (many call them Gypsy) into Hungarian society by busing the children to different schools. It’s reminiscent of the race struggle that occurred in the United States. What’s interesting is that now, with greater understanding of how empathy works, they’re applying new techniques to resolving these issues.

Emile Bruneau, cognitive neuroscientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who has spent years studying conflicts in Israel and the West Bank, along the U.S./Mexican border and within the political parties of Democrats and Republicans, is on the scene trying to find out, through brain-mapping, when and how empathy breaks down.

Neuroscientists have already mapped out the “theory-of-mind network” of the brain. Theory of Mind (ToM is a theory because the mind in not directly observable) is the ability to attribute beliefs, intentions, desires, imaginations, emotions, etc., to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, intentions, and perspectives that are different from one's own. Within that ToM network, they’re pinpointing specific tasks such as how the brain makes moral judgments.

How will things turn out for those in Hungary? Time will tell. Many of the conflict-resolution programs have not worked well because they haven’t tapped into the power of empathy. While many are empathetic toward their own family and group, they are able to mute their empathy toward their “enemy”. We’re hopeful that intervening on a psychological level will make societal intervention more effective.

Empathy is an important component to peaceful family, business and community relationships. Each act of true empathy brings us closer to happiness. Do you find yourself struggling with controlling your emotions, so that you can truly see how others are feeling? If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment so we can discuss techniques and tools that can help you improve in your art of empathy.

I Applaud Chris Borland for Making Brain Health Number One

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Kudos to Chris Borland for retiring from football to protect his brain health

This week’s news was full of San Francisco 49er's linebacker, Chris Borland, retiring at the age of 24 from NFL football because of his concern about CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy).

It couldn’t have been easy turning his back on the money and fame that was before him. I imagine he had pressure to continue from his teammates, coach and sponsors. The peer pressure to continue must have been enormous.

For years, I have been warning of the damage done by Traumatic Brain Injuries caused by the blows to the head while playing football. The seriousness cannot be understated, for it does damage to one’s physical and mental health, changing forever family relationships and future prospects. I’m definitely not alone in my concerns, renowned brain specialists, such as Dr. Daniel Amen have been drawing attention to the risks our young athletes are running. Click here to hear what Dr. Daniel Amen says about this.

We all wish Chris a long, happy and healthy life. We applaud his courage in standing up and saying the risk was not worth it. The more the spotlight is shown on this danger, the better the chances are for a real change. Thank you, Chris.

Does Chronic Anxiety Have You in its Grip?

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

chronic anxiety for no apparent reasonDo you suffer from feelings of chronic anxiety, but you can’t figure out why? Perhaps you’ve even tried psychotherapy, but it doesn’t work. There doesn’t seem to be any psychological reason for it.

A recent New York Times article sheds light on a possible reason for chronic anxiety. It reports that only a minority of us have what they call “the feel good gene”. The genetic variation in the brain they’re talking about is having less of the enzyme called FAAH (fatty acid amide hydrolase), which in turn results in an increased level of anandamide.

What is anandamide?

According to medical dictionaries, it’s “a derivative of arachidonic acid that occurs naturally in the brain and in some foods (as chocolate) and that binds to the same brain receptors as the cannabinoids (as THC)”. No wonder it’s called “the bliss molecule or our natural marijuana”.

It has two main benefits: it makes some feel less anxious and more able to forget fearful experiences.

A group of researchers from the Department of Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College studied the affect of the FAAH variant gene. They found that it enhances the connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, which results in lower anxiety. They also found another benefit – it enhances fear extinction. If this can be tapped into, people who have suffered from traumatic life experiences could recover more quickly. They released their study results in a recent edition of Nature Communications.

We all have anandamide, however it’s estimated that 20 percent of U.S. adults have more. Not surprisingly, some who don’t possess this genetic variation self-medicate with other substances, such as marijuana, to relieve their anxiety.

Does this mean you have no choice? That you’re genetically predisposed to use marijuana? Not at all. Everyone has a choice. You can choose to rely on marijuana, which dulls your cognitive abilities or you can learn other methods to manage your anxiety, such as meditation or retraining your brain. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA please contact my office and schedule an appointment to learn what all of your options are for living without chronic anxiety.

Read more on my website: Anxiety Disorders, PTSD, and Phobias.

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