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Kathy Marshack News

Understanding the Science of Asperger Behavior

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Out of Mind Out of sight Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome ASDWhy do those with Asperger’s Syndrome act the way that they do? Why can’t they connect with the feelings of others? Science is unlocking the key to understanding these questions about Asperger behavior.

Our brains have an amazing intricate and complicated connection of circuits. If one part doesn’t work correctly, the system it’s connected with malfunctions. Take for example, just a few of the connections that needs to be made for the empathy circuits to work.

One area of your brain, the medial prefrontal cortex compares your perspective to another person’s. Another area, the dorsal medial prefrontal cortex, helps you understand your own thoughts and feelings. Yet, it’s the ventral medial prefrontal cortex that registers how strongly you feel about something. Still another area, the inferior frontal gyrus helps you recognize emotions. Stick with me here, we’re not even half way through the list of connections that must be made to complete the empathy circuits.

Next, we have the area of the brain that is activated by the pain you feel or that you observe in others. That’s the caudal anterior cingulate cortex. But the tricky part is that it doesn’t tell us how to respond to that pain.

Add to the empathy circuits the anterior insula, which is involved in bodily self-awareness, and the right temporoparietal junction that governs judgment of someone’s intentions and beliefs.

And we can’t forget the amygdala because, when prompted by the fear response, we look at someone’s eyes to discern that person’s emotions and intentions. Are you seeing why people with Asperger’s Syndrome struggle. Don’t they generally avoid eye contact? Think of all the information that is lost by not looking someone in the eyes. 

And the list goes on, including the parts of the brain that make the connections and attach meanings to our emotional responses. If a part of your brain isn’t telling you why and how to react, you’ll lack empathy.

If you’ve been putting off getting a copy of Out of Mind – Out of Sight: Parenting with a Partner with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) because you thought it was just for parents with young children, don’t wait another moment. The above information is just a sampling of the science behind Asperger that is explored in the book. If you want to understand your Aspie better, this is a must read.

In a Bad Mood? It Could Be Coming from Reading Social Media

Wednesday, April 23, 2014


social media influences our moodThe brain/body connection is truly amazing. Your brain has the power to influence your body in either a negative or positive way. Studies have proven that maintaining an optimistic mood improves health. And our mood is greatly influenced by the people we let into our lives. Does this also apply to the short little tweets or posts we daily read on Social Media?

According to a fascinating new study, the answer is “YES”. An article written by Mike Bundrant, a retired psychotherapist and regular contributor to PsychCentral, discusses how the study was conducted and the discoveries it made.

Researches from the University of California, Yale and Facebook examined Facebook posts created between January 2009 and March 2012. They especially focused on how the weather influenced the posts. They found that the mood reflected in the post generated similar postings. For example, negative comments generated negative posts. However, they found that the positive comments generated more positive posting. Either way, the study shows that the mood has the capability of going viral around the globe.

That’s a lot of power! People have, at times, exploited this power to generate political and social unrest. Since Facebook has 1.23 billion users as of January 2014 and Twitter has 243 million active users, it’s very likely that you are using one of these or a similar Social Media site to stay connected with your friends, family and community. So how can you protect yourself from being infected by the negative posts? Here are some suggestions:

  • Consciously monitor your own mood, before logging onto your Social Media.
  • Be proactive and share your happy mood.
  • Before you get agitated over a comment, make sure you have all the facts. Check the source and verify “facts”.
  • Feeling down? Re-read your post, and make it more positive before you hit the send button. You’ll be helping yourself and others.
  • If someone consistently posts things that alter your mood in a negative way, don’t hesitate to unfollow them.
  • Start your day with positive thoughts, rather than reading Social Media first thing every morning.
  • Increase your face-to-face contact with people who help you stay positive.
  • Log off and go do something you really enjoy – walking, playing with your pet, gardening, and so forth.

This study’s findings are hardly surprising since we’ve known that journaling and reading positive affirmations can empower the subconscious to believe the stated affirmation. It only makes sense that what you read in Social Media will affect your mind and body, too.

Do you have any experiences with this that you’d like to share? Join me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/Kathy.Marshack.Ph.D ). Yes, I’m on Facebook. It’s one way of reaching and helping more people through support and education. But let’s keep it helpful and positive!

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy Heals the Psychological AND Biological Damage from PTSD

Friday, March 28, 2014


Cognitive behavioral therapy heals the psychological and biological damage from post traumatic stress disorderPost-traumatic stress disorder may result from a person experiencing a life threatening experience or witnessing one. Examples of things that can trigger it include being involved in a traffic accident, suffering abuse as a child, experiencing combat, surviving a natural disaster, being a victim of crime or even being a first responder in an emergency situation. It manifests itself with symptoms such as depression and anxiety. And it creates actual physical changes to the body, specifically the brain.


One way the body is altered by PTSD is that the gene that regulates our stress response, identified as FKBP5, is altered. Its function is reduced, causing the stress hormones (cortisol response) to become activated for a longer period of time. This makes a person more susceptible to stress related mental disorders.

Another way the body is altered by PTSD is that different areas of the brain are changed. The Hippocampus, the part of the brain that stores long-term memory, becomes smaller. The Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex, the part of the brain that’s involved in fear conditioning, also becomes smaller. Dr. Daniel Amen, a brain-imaging expert who I deeply respect, writes in greater detail on this topic.

Can a person’s mental and biological health be improved even at the genetic level? Most definitely yes. A recent study published in Biological Psychiatry found that Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) not only helps to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also heals the damage done at the genetic level.

After being treated by CBT, the people in the study experience increased Hippocampus volume and the gene FKBP5 functioned better (called higher gene expression). There wasn’t any significant change to the Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex.

The results of this study are thrilling. Its proof that the brain can be healed physically and psychologically. While medication and surgery have their places, it’s eye opening to see that psychotherapy is a very effective alternative for healing the mind and body. This holistic approach is key to how NET Practitioners help their patients manage PTSD. They teach their patients how to conquer the feeling of helplessness by taking control of their thoughts and emotions. They also teach techniques for relaxation. If you’re ready to get relief from the crippling effects of PTSD and achieve your optimum wellness, please contact my Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA office to set up an appointment.

Do you have general questions about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, or N.E.T.? Join me on Facebook and we can discuss it.

Stressed? Take a Break and Let Your Brain Do Its Job

Monday, March 24, 2014


when stressed, take a break and let your brain workYou’ve got a deadline and you’re starting to sweat. The project you’re working on just isn’t coming together as you’d hoped. It’s like your brain has shut down, but now is when you need it the most. What can you do?

Rather than sitting there and becoming more anxious and stressed, we’re commonly advised to get up and do something not associated with the problem, such as taking a short walk, do some cleaning, or listen to your favorite music. Does this advice really work? And if so, why?

If you’ve tried it, you know that it does work. And here’s why:

Your prefrontal cortex (your forehead area) works to concentrate on the task in front of you but it’s also supposed to retrieve stored information from your memory. Then it combines these two elements so you can solve the problem. The problem that’s described above arises because you keep your prefrontal cortex too focused on the task. It can’t do the search and retrieval from your memory. When you get up and get involved in a different activity, it gives your brain a break. Now your prefrontal cortex has the freedom to search through your memory unhindered. It can then put together pieces of stored information in completely new ways.

For your brain to come up with creative solutions for your problems, you need to allow your brain to go through these four phases.

Put the knowledge into your brain’s memory banks. Your brain can’t retrieve what’s not in your memory. By reading extensively, conversing with experts, and attending workshops, you can gather a great deal of useful information. This exploration gives a variety of perspectives that you can apply to the problem.

Give your brain a break. Engage in activities totally unrelated to the subject. If you can, take the sage advice: "Why don't you sleep on it?” Getting away from a problem and letting the subconscious mind work on it often allows creativity to spring forth.

Let the brain combine the present task with the retrieved knowledge. This phase of the creative process is the most exciting because it’s at this time that you discover the idea or solution that you’re seeking. Don’t simply dismiss your ideas because they seem too far-fetched. Instead, jot them down. You can refine them later. And, who knows, they may be the beginning of a great solution.

Have the courage and self-discipline to train your brain to evaluate and Implement. Identify the ideas that are workable and that you have skills to implement. If you encounter temporary obstacles, don’t give up. Failure will lead to better ideas.

If you find that you’re prone to jumping from one project to the next, take a look at my website – Personal Growth/Gifted Adults - for why this might be happening and how you can develop your abilities more fully.

Need help unleashing your creativity? Consider setting up an appointment with a psychologist. You don’t have to be suffering to get help, especially if you want to optimize your mental health. If you live in the Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, Washington area, please contact my office for an in depth consultation.

One Woman’s Inspiring Journey to Wellness

Thursday, March 20, 2014


hope of mental and physical wellness through holistic health approachIf you heard of a woman who struggled with debilitating anxiety, panic attacks and depression, who sought treatment through many medications, ongoing psychotherapy, electro-convulsive therapy, hospitalizations, and yet attempted suicide multiple times, would you hold out much hope that she would get better?

It may sound hopeless, yet her inspiring journey proves that we can change. Gayathri Ramprasad is a mother and homemaker. Her story on CNN proves that where we are right now can be changed to where we want to be. While recovering in the hospital from her last suicide attempt, she made up her mind to take charge of her life and create a life of wellness. She was tired of being chronically mentally ill and wanted to be well.

Despite the fears of many, she weaned herself off all medications under the supervision of her psychiatrist and turned to a holistic health approach as a way to achieve wellness.

First, she explored transcendental meditation. In the beginning, she couldn’t sit still or be calm. In time, however, she acquired those skills. She learned how to become aware of her thoughts and emotions. Instead of letting them control her, she began to control them and to live more purposefully.

Secondly, she joined a health club and started aerobics, free weights, and yoga classes three times a week. She found that exercise energized her and elevated her mood. It also helped her create a social network outside of her family.

Lastly, she learned how cognitive behavioral therapy could transform her life. Her therapist proved to her that thoughts, feelings, moods and behavior are interconnected. To change her world she needed to identify negative, faulty thoughts and replace them with positive, life-affirming thoughts.

While this approach may not work for everyone, I believe you have all the resources within you to make changes that are as dramatic as these. My role as a therapist is to assist you in discovering these inner resources and drawing them out so you can fully utilize them. If you want to achieve your optimum health and wellness, please contact my Portland, Oregon/Vancouver, WA office to schedule an appointment. Do you have non-confidential questions about how cognitive behavioral therapy works? Join me on Facebook and let’s discuss it.

Learn more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Do You Need Creativity to Survive?

Friday, February 28, 2014


creativity means thinking outside the boxCreativity has long been associated with the arts. The general population may feel that they aren’t creative. While some do have a greater aptitude for creativity than others, it is not a rare gift reserved for only a few. Creativity comes when you learn to look at the world in a different way. You see relationships between things that others can’t see.

Interestingly, a recent article in The New York Times by Laura Pappano reports that more institutes of higher learning are teaching creativity as a marketable skill for industries such as business, education, digital media, humanities, engineering, science, nursing, justice and safety.

She quotes Gerard J. Puccio, chairman of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at Buffalo State College, “The reality is that to survive in a fast-changing world you need to be creative.” He heads the nation’s oldest creative studies program that has been offered since 1967.

Dr. Puccio developed a four-step system that he and partners market as FourSight and sell to schools, businesses and individuals. His steps are clarifying (ask the right question), ideating (brainstorming without listening to the inner naysayer), developing (trying out your solution until you find one that works) and implementing (convincing others your idea has value).

She also talks about Dr. Burnett’s Introduction to Creative Studies survey course, where students can enhance their own creativity by rephrasing problems as questions, learning not to instinctively shoot down a new idea but look for three positives first, and categorizing whether a problem needs action, planning or invention.

No doubt you can see commonalities between these approaches. Creativity requires open, positively thinking outside the box. Being willing to accept change. Feeling safe and confident in the way you perceive yourself. Having a willingness to fail and try again. Sounds like a recipe for success if you’re in therapy!

In fact, I tell my clients – especially entrepreneurs – that if you have a good idea, sometimes you just need to run with it. It may or may not work, but allowing your creative juices to flow will only enhance your entrepreneurial abilities. With practice and time you can improve your creativity skills and, who knows, a failed creative thought or idea may not work for a particular situation at present, but it may for another one down the line.

What do you think? How important is creativity in your career? Join me on Facebook – I’d like to hear your thoughts on this and other subjects.

What 40 Years of Science Reveals About Happiness

Thursday, January 09, 2014


the three main factors that result in happinessAfter over thirty five years counseling clients and helping them discover what happiness means to them personally, I was interested to read a recent article in the New York Times on this subject. The president of the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C., reported on what scientists have discovered about happiness after studying it for 40 years.

Scientists have determined that three major things impact happiness – our genes, events, and our values. Here's what the research shows:

Genetics: Researchers at the University of Minnesota have studied identical twins separated at birth and found that genetics is responsible for about 48.5% percent of our happiness.

Events: Measured to account for 40 percent of our happiness, the effect of events on our happiness is usually short-lived. Today we may be ecstatic about landing our dream job, but within a month or so that euphoria wears off.

Values: While the smallest percentage of our happiness is attributed to our values, this is something totally within our control. We get to choose what value we place on the basics – faith, family, community and meaningful work.

The article also went on to reveal that meaningful life and work isn’t successfully measured by the amount of money you have or what you buy. Mr. Brooks explains more, “Rewarding work is unbelievably important, and this is emphatically not about money. That’s what research suggests as well. Economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.”

In order to be happy, you must know yourself first. This means becoming knowledgeable about the connections between your personal life, your family life and your work life. Understanding your personal family dynamics and how they interact with your career or business creates a more successful life balance.

This is especially true for family business owners, your personal life influences your business decisions, and vice versa. Therefore, it is well worth your while to become more knowledgeable about your personality style, your family values, your blind spots and how they shape your daily actions. Self-Assessment is a good place to start in reevaluating your attitude toward work and money. If you’re an entrepreneur you will find many self-assessment exercises, including Your Financial Plan in my book - Entrepreneurial Couples - Making it Work at Work and at Home.

If you need help discovering a more meaningful, and happy, work-life balance please contact my Portland Oregon/ Vancouver, Washington office and set up an appointment.

Will Insurance Companies Finally Make Mental Health More Accessible?

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


health insurance to cover mental and physical health equallyFor years those with mental health issues have struggled with getting adequate insurance coverage or have been denied insurance coverage when their mental illness is diagnosed. As a psychologist I’ve had a front row seat – watching people struggle to use their mental health benefits, if they were fortunate to even have mental health benefits. I’ve written articles exposing the sometimes life-threatening situations that have been created by a broken system.

So I was happy to see the recent CNN article, Feds Boosting Mental Health Access, Treatment. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced new rules that, “Finally put mental health and behavioral health on equal footing.” Of course this has been in the works for years. President George W. Bush began the move to greater equality with The Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, which has made mental health care more accessible, but it hasn’t been enforced up to now.

Insurance companies have often limited the coverage for mental illness, which makes it tough on those seeking help. If you had coverage often times you were limited to five or ten visits with a counselor. If the problem cannot be resolved in five or ten sessions, you had to pay out of pocket if you could afford to do so.

The new rules require insurers to cover co-payments, deductibles, doctor visits, outpatient services and residential treatment equally for physical and mental illnesses. This is very good news for those with chronic mental health issues.

There are so many changes going on in healthcare right now that it can be difficult to keep up. Here’s a word of advice, stop looking for someone to take care of your every health or emotional need. There will never be a perfect healthcare system. Instead utilize your good old common sense and decide for yourself, with the help of professional advisors such as your trusted doctors, just what is the best psychological or medical treatment for you, your loved ones and your employees.

If you interested in scheduling an appointment with my office please take a look at Therapy FAQ page for answers to questions regarding insurance. Read more about the benefits of psychotherapy on my website – Psychotherapy Treatment Options.

Shining the Spotlight on Women Suffering from Concussions

Monday, December 09, 2013


female athletes suffer from concussions tooWhen the news reports on sports concussions, often it discusses male football players. Seldom, if ever, are female athletes mentioned. Yet they suffer concussions as well. Katherine Snedaker, MSW of PinkConcussions.com and Dr. Jimmy Sanderson and Dr. Melinda Weathers, two researchers from Clemson University, are gathering applicants for a national study of female athletes 18 years and older to research the past and present affects of concussions. These can be sports or non-sports concussions. Also being researched is why these incidents are being underreported. This is important research and I encourage you to check it out to see if this research is appropriate for you or someone you know.

Brain trauma can cause dementia, headaches, light sensitivity, memory loss and encephalopathy. It can also be responsible for changed behavior, such as irritability, anger, depression, suicidal thoughts and actions, learning problems, poor decision-making skills and subsequent substance abuse. But you don’t have to accept that this is what you have to endure for the rest of your life.

Much of the damage caused to the brain can be rehabilitated. If you or someone you love is experiencing mental side effects after a concussion, speak to your doctor immediately. A holistic approach to the health of the mind and body can put you back in control of your life. You can learn how to use your own natural healing power to regain health. Couple this will good nutrition, regular exercise and changing negative lifestyle behaviors and you’ve begun your journey to optimal health and wellness.

The mind and body are in a state of constant communication. What the mind thinks and experiences is sent from the brain to the rest of the body and vice versa. If you want to improve your mind-body communication, consult a NET practitioner who can remove the blocks so your body can repair itself. If you live near Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA, contact my office and set up an appointment so your healing can begin.

Learn more about Mind and Body Health on my website – Holistic Health.


SPECT Imaging of the Brain Reveals Hidden Reasons for Behavior

Friday, November 29, 2013


SPECT brain imagingSPECT imaging is a nuclear medicine study that looks at the blood flow and activity of the brain. It tells three things about the brain, the good activity, too little activity or too much activity. It’s an invaluable tool that helps psychiatrists help their patients. On a recent TEDx talk, Dr Daniel Amen spoke passionately about what he’s learned from the 83,000 brains that have been scanned, which has created the largest brain scan database on human behavior to date.

He spoke of the irony that every other doctor examines the part of the body that is their specialty, for example cardiologists examine the physical heart and so forth. Yet psychiatrists have for years been guessing based on symptoms, without ever looking at the brain. He likened it to throwing darts in the dark, which has had unintentionally hurtful consequences to patients.

SPECT Imaging is a treatment that is tailored to an individual brain, not to clusters of symptoms. And the exciting news is that they’ve discovered that troubled brains can be rehabilitated. The single most valuable lesson that they’ve learned is that you can change people’s brains. And when you do, you change people’s lives for generations to come. He gave an example of brain rehabilitation that is helping the severely injured brains of NFL players… an amazing 80% of them are showing improvement in blood flow, memory and mood.

In my own personal search for answers as to why my daughters have suffered from mental health problems, I turned to SPECT imaging. It was discovered that my older daughter suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder. From her brain scan, I realized that she has a very "noisy" brain and can never get a break from the anxiety it causes her. The brain scans of my younger daughter show Post Concussion Syndrome, or diffuse brain damage due to soccer, snow boarding injuries and auto accidents which have caused her various health problems.

However, there is hope as Dr. Amens Tedx video shows. The use of medicines, whole foods, vitamins and supplements can heal the brain. This is the type of holistic health regimen that I often use with clients. Learn more about holistic healing on my website – Mind and Body: Holistic Health.



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