Self Care: An Important Part of Health

cbt and self care

 

When clients come to my office for order Dilantin Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), we work to solve their  problems using methods exactly as the name implies.

  • We use a  http://kseniapphotography.ca/blog/ Cognitive approach by recognizing, challenging, & changing irrational thoughts.
  • We use a  Behavioral approach by assessing current behaviors and determining if changes could improve mental health.

 

On the Behavioral side, one of the powerful changes a person can make is to focus more on Self Care.  Some small changes in routines can have a significant positive impact on anxiety, depression, and anger management.

Self Care Suggestions

 

For some suggestions on adding more Self Care to your life, Annie Wright Psychotherapy via Upworthy.com offers some ideas. 

101 ways to take care of yourself when the world feels overwhelming

 

If you suffer from sleep anxiety or depression, choosing to add few of these things to your to-do list could result in big changes.  Some of my favorites from this list are:

  • breaking up my day into small tasks
  • writing lists things I love
  • taking a break from all tech

 

Enjoy!

CBT for Anger Management

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of artur84 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

CBT for Anger is one of the most effective ways to treat uncontrolled anger problems.  Anger can be managed using a method from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) called Cognitive Reframing.

 

 

In the following article published on PsychCentral.com, Dr. Hartwell-Walker outlines 7 common assumptions that can be reframed to reduce anger.

7 Mistaken Assumptions Angry People Make By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

I guess I have an anger problem. I lose my temper pretty quick. But it’s not like my wife doesn’t do things to make me mad.”

Richard has reluctantly come to treatment because his wife took out a restraining order after their last fight. He admits he lost control. He acknowledges that maybe he said things he shouldn’t have. But he also thinks she shouldn’t have done or said what she did. “I can’t help getting mad when she jerks my chain. I can’t let her get away with that!” he says.

What Richard doesn’t yet understand is this: Temper isn’t something you lose. It’s something you decide to throw away.

Raging, shouting, name-calling, throwing things and threatening harm is all a big bluff. It’s the human equivalent of animal behavior. From the puffer fish that puffs itself up to twice its size to look more intimidating to the lion on the veldt who shakes his mane and roars, creatures who feel threatened posture and threaten in order to protect themselves and their turf. The display often is enough to get the predator or interloper to back off. If not, the fight — or flight — is on.

People who rage are the same. Feeling a threat, they posture. They throw away all mature controls and rant and rage like an out-of-control 2-year-old. It’s impressive. It’s scary. It gets folks around them to walk around on eggshells. Others often let them “win” just to get away.

But are they happy? Usually not. When I talk to the Richards of the world, they usually just want things to go right. They want respect. They want their kids and their partners to give them the authority they think they deserve. Sadly, their tactics backfire. Not knowing what might set him off, kids, partners, coworkers and friends distance and leave him more and more alone.

Helping someone like Richard with “anger management” requires more than helping him learn how to express his angry feelings appropriately. Giving him practical skills alone assumes more control than he can probably hold on to. To be able to integrate those skills into his self-image, he needs to reconsider some of his basic assumptions about life and his place in it.

 

7 Mistaken Assumptions Angry People Often Make

They can’t help it. Angry people have lots of excuses. Women will blame their PMS. Both sexes will blame their stress, their exhaustion, or their worries. Never mind that other people who have PMS or who are stressed, tired, or worried don’t pop off at the world. Angry people don’t yet understand that they are actually giving themselves permission to rant. In that sense, they are very much in control.
The only way to express anger is to explode. People who rage believe that anger is like the buildup of steam in an overheated steam engine. They think they need to blow off the steam in order to be OK. In fact, raging tends only to produce more of the same.
Frustration is intolerable. Angry people can’t sit with frustration, anxiety or fear. To them, such feelings are a signal that they are being challenged. When life doesn’t go their way, when someone doesn’t see things as they do, when their best-laid plans get interrupted or they make a mistake, they simply can’t tolerate it. To them, it’s better to blow than to be left with those feelings. They don’t get it that frustration is a normal part of everyone’s life and that it is often the source of creativity and inspiration.
It’s more important to win than to be right. Chronically angry people often have the idea that their status is at stake when there is conflict. When questioned, they take it overly personally. If they are losing an argument, they experience a loss of self-esteem. At that moment, they need to assert their authority, even if they are wrong. When it is certain that they are wrong, they will find a way to prove that the other person is more wrong. For mature people, self-esteem is grounded in being able to put ego aside in order to find the best solution.
“Respect” means that people do things their way. When another driver tailgates, when a partner refuses to go along with a plan, when a kid doesn’t jump when told to do something, they feel disrespected. To them, disrespect is intolerable. Making a lot of noise and threatening is their way of reasserting their right to “respect” by others. Sadly, when the basis of “respect” is fear, it takes a toll on love and caring.
The way to make things right is to fight. Some angry people have learned at the feet of a master. Having grown up with parents who fight, it is their “normal.” They haven’t a clue how to negotiate differences or manage conflict except by escalating. Then they become very much like the parent they loathed and feared when they were kids.
Other people should understand that they didn’t mean what they did or said when they were angry. Angry people feel that anger entitles them to let loose. It’s up to other people not to take seriously hurtful things they say or do. After all, they say, they were just angry. They don’t get it that other people are legitimately hurt, embarrassed, humiliated, or afraid.
Helping my patient Richard means helping him identify which of these assumptions are driving his temper tantrums. Some or all may apply. He may even have a few that are more uniquely his own. Teaching him rules for anger management, although important, isn’t enough to have long-term impact. Changing his assumptions will enable him to use such skills with conviction and confidence.

Source:

7 Mistaken Assumptions Angry People Make By Marie Hartwell-Walker, Ed.D.

Bravo, Kate Middleton!

HRH Duchess of Cambridge

Kate Middleton

In this video, HRH The Duchess of Cambridge pledges her support for children’s mental health by endorsing The Place to Be, a charitable organization for children in the UK.  The Pace to Be is “the leading UK provider of school-based mental health support, unlocking children’s potential in the classroom – and beyond.”

The Place to be has declared February 16-22 the first Children’s Mental Health Week in the UK.  Thanks to all who are bringing this important message to the public.

#ChildrensMHW

Lovely Mornings by Leo Babauta

no anxiety morning

Photo Credit: Simon Van Cleeff

Leo Babauta over at Fast Company describes how he changed his hectic, stressful mornings into Lovely Mornings.  To make this significant change, he challenged himself to reframe the way he thinks about morning tasks.  He then created a list of behavior changes that, when practiced on a consistent, regular basis, created his new Lovely Mornings.  Here is Babauta’s new morning routine and his reasons for the changes.

WAKE A LITTLE EARLIER.
If your mornings are rushed, the simple solution is to get up a bit earlier. This means going to bed a bit earlier too. Do it gradually, just 10 minutes earlier a week, and you’ll barely notice the change.

KEEP THINGS SIMPLE.
One of my early mistakes was trying to fit too much into the mornings–I wanted to meditate and work out and read and write and journal, and it turns out I couldn’t do all those things. It felt too rigid, too packed. What’s helped me is having a couple things I do early on but not having a lot on my morning agenda, so that I can have space and flexibility. That makes the time much more peaceful and enjoyable. So the meditation and reading and writing are the only things that I do almost every morning, but I let myself be flexible with those too.

HAVE SOMETHING TO LOOK FORWARD TO.
Don’t pack your mornings full of things you need to do … but do have something you can’t wait to get up and do. For me, that’s reading and writing. For others, morning yoga or painting or reading the paper with coffee might be better. Don’t just have things you think you should do but don’t really want to do.

PRACTICE MINDFULNESS.
I like to start with meditation (though I do miss some days), because it sets the tone for my morning–one of mindfulness. I then drink my coffee and write and do everything else with a more mindful attitude, noticing when I start to rush and feel stressed, noticing small things that I might miss if I were distracted.

DON’T DIVE INTO EMAIL OR LITTLE THINGS.
Consider this early morning time your sacred space–don’t fill it with junk. Junk includes TV, news, email, social media, apps, etc. Instead, put meaningful things in this sacred space, things that you won’t have time for later. You can always dive into email after an hour (or more) of lovely morning peace.

ENJOY THE SPACES, AND PACE YOURSELF.
This time isn’t just something you fill with things to do … it’s open space. That means the space itself is something to be treasured, not just what you put in it. For example, if you do yoga and read, the morning isn’t just valuable because of the yoga and reading … the space around those two things is also wonderful. The time you’re putting your yoga mat away, getting a cup of coffee, walking to where your book is, sitting and staring at the morning light … these little spaces are just as amazing as anything else. Pace yourself so that you’re not rushing from one thing to the next, but enjoying the spaces.

If you want to change your morning mood from angry and anxious, you may want to try some of his techniques.  The results will come gradually as you tailor these ideas to work best for you.

Who gets Depression? What does it look like? How will I know?

what is depression

What is depression?

I love this video created by the Canadian Family Law Firm of Neinstien & Associates.  They published this video to show their support for the annual Let’s Talk Day.  This event helps bring the topic of mental health and depression to the forefront in an attempt to break the stigma of suffering from a mental disorder.

Quotes from the participants in the video include:

I am a mother, a father, a student.  I am loving, smart, generous.  I am alone, in a room full of people.  I want to feel anything, I can’t stand to feel anything, I want the pain to go away.  Depression is not a mood, depression is not a bad day, depression is a disease.  It feels like I am underwater, I need help.  Please don’t judge me, don’t give up on me.

Take a few minutes to watch and see what you think.  Please spread the word.

Holly Scott, MBA, MS, LPC sees clients at Uptown Dallas Counseling. Holly is trained in the specialty of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and holds the position of Diplomate in the Academy of Cognitive Therapy. Holly works with clients to help them overcome challenges in their daily lives that may be preventing them from achieving happiness. She helps clients with stress management, depression, parenting, marriage counseling, and other mental health concerns. If you are looking for a counselor or therapist, explore this website to see if Holly may be able to help you. 

To make an appointment for therapy or counseling with Holly at her Uptown Dallas Counseling, you have the option of using the Online Patient Portal to register and schedule. 

Controlling Emotions: Is it possible?

This discussion about controlling emotions compares two different women’s reactions to the same event.

 

First Woman’s Reaction:  Take a Picture

controlling emotions

From Hannah Price’s collection, City of Brotherly Love

When photographer Hannah Price moved from Colorado to Philadelphia, she began to experience something new to her – catcalls from men on the street. After several catcalling episodes, she decided to take action.  She would either snap a photo of the man immediately; or she would talk with him about the incident, and then ask if she could make his portrait. Ms Price created a project called “City of Brotherly Love” from these photographs.

Ms Price states her project is not meant to be an aggressive rebuttal to the individuals in the photos. It is, she states, “just a way of trying to understand it. It was way for me to just deal with it on another level besides avoiding it. Sometimes it’s easier to … just respond….. you just start talking to people, you find out more about them than your initial [impression].”

To see the complete 17-photo collection, see the NPR blog post of Code Switch by Kat Chow.

Second Woman’s Reaction:  Send a Message

controlling emotions

Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s original posters on Tompkins Ave. in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Brooklyn artist Tatiana Fazlalizadeh’s response to her experiences in Brooklyn is very different from Ms. Price’s response with the photography project. She created posters with direct negative messages to the catcallers and posted them around her neighborhood.  Ms Fazlalizadeh states she can’t walk down her street without getting catcalled or harassed. “It happens almost daily to me where I get frustrated or annoyed or upset by something that someone has said to me or done to me outside on the street.”

Ms Fazlalizadeh used her posters to try and rally the neighborhood around her efforts to stop the cat-calling.  She hopes that by calling attention to the negative effects of this behavior, the men will change.

controlling emotionscontrolling emotions

Why the Difference?

Why does one woman feel okay to take photos and even have a conversation about the experience, and another woman feel anger and frustration?  Our individual responses to catcalls are a result of our thoughts about the experience. If we think: “wow, someone thinks I’m cute.”, “I still have it”, or “this is going to be a good day”, our response may be:  happiness, a big smile, a skip in our step, better posture.

If we think:  “that reminds me of my abusive former boyfriend”, “will he try to come after me?”, “they must think I am promiscuous”, our response may be:  fear, increased heart rate, hunched posture, a frown, anger.

I am not expressing approval of the long-standing phenomenon of men yelling things to women in public places.  My writing about this behavior is focused on the difference in the two responses, not a right or a wrong response.  I believe this is a perfect example of the Cognitive Model theory in action.  The theory is:
Our THOUGHTS about a SITUATION create our REACTIONS, which are EMOTIONAL and PHYSICAL.   In Cognitive Therapy, we focus on our THOUGHTS.  A few of the questions we may ask in therapy about our THOUGHTS are:
What are they? Are they true? How much do we believe them? How do we change them?  
 
Through training and practice, you can learn to control or change your thoughts that create negative reactions.  This type of training has been shown through extensive scientific testing to be an affective way to treat depression, anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and other mental health challenges.  My opinion on catcalling is that, for so many women, the experience generates extremely negative feelings; therefore, I do not like the behavior.  For further information and discussions on ending street harassment see Hollaback!.
Sources:
Stephen Nessen : Reporter, WNYC, Not Taking it Anymore: One Woman Talks Back to Street Harassers, Friday, April 19, 2013
Newshttp://www.wnyc.org/story/282239-not-taking-it-anymore-one-woman-talks-back-street-harassers/

Kat Chow, A Photographer Turns Her Lens On Men Who Catcall, October 17, 2013.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2013/10/17/235413025/a-photographer-turns-her-lens-on-men-who-cat-call?utm_content=socialflow&utm_campaign=nprfacebook&utm_source=npr&utm_medium=facebook

 

Suicide Awareness Program.

Active Minds, an organization dedicated to spreading suicide awareness on college campuses, kicked off its tour of Send Silence Packing on September 10, 2013.  The tour is an exhibit of 1100 backpacks that represent the 1100 college students who die by suicide every year.  More details of the tour can be found here.

Are you in crisis? Please call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline 
at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

suicide awareness

Active Minds traveling suicide awareness program of 1,100 backpacks representing the 1,100 college student lives lost to suicide each year is taking a heading to California. The tour is kicked off on September 10, World Suicide Prevention Day, at Riverside City College in Riverside, CA.

 
Suicide is one of the most frightening possible outcomes of mental illness. If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-TALK (8255) immediately. This is the number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a 24-hour service available to anyone in need of help. Never ignore or underestimate remarks about suicide. Take them seriously, and make certain that the person in crisis is cared for. And if you think your friend is in immediate danger, do not leave him or her alone—stay there and call 911 or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Additional Information from Active Minds:
An extensive list of web resources can be found here:  http://www.activeminds.org/issues-a-resources/mental-health-resources

How an Addict make Choices

addicts

John Tienery reports today in the New York Times on the research of a professor of psychology at Columbia University.  Dr. Carl Hart’s experiments demonstrate an addict is able to make rational choices when given the opportunity to choose between a dose of the drug or cash rewards.  As the amount of the cash reward increases, and the amount of the drug offered decreases, the addict chooses the cash reward.

His findings represent a significant shift from the thinking that addicts will continue to choose more and more of their drug of choice no matter the consequences or other opportunities.  Dr. Hart suggests addicts can stop using drugs when offered more appealing alternatives.  He writes about the effect of drug addiction on his life and his scientific research findings in his book, High Price.

Mr. Tienery’s full article is Here

 

Emotional Intelligence

Jennifer Kahn writes in The New York Times about new programs for teaching emotional intelligence to children.  The goals of the programs are to:

  • Help children learn awareness of their own emotions as well as those of others
  • Teach children methods of self-soothing when emotions are triggered
  • Help children recognize the connection between emotions and behaviors.

Scientists believe children who learn these skills have a much lower chance of turning to substance abuse, violent behaviors, bullying, and other unhealthy coping strategies.

emotional intelligence

Photo by: Holly Anders, New York Times

 

Jennifer Kahn teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism.

Here is her article in its entirety:

One day last spring, James Wade sat cross-legged on the carpet and called his kindergarten class to order. Lanky and soft-spoken, Wade has a gentle charisma well suited to his role as a teacher of small children: steady, rather than exuberant. When a child performs a requested task, like closing the door after recess, he will often acknowledge the moment by murmuring, “Thank you, sweet pea,” in a mild Texas drawl.

 As the children formed a circle, Wade asked the 5-year-olds to think about “anything happening at home, or at school, that’s a problem, that you want to share.” He repeated his invitation twice, in a lulling voice, until a small, round-faced boy in a white shirt and blue cardigan raised his hand. Blinking back tears, he whispered, “My mom does not like me.” The problem, he said, was that he played too much on his mother’s iPhone. “She screams me out every day,” he added, sounding wretched.

Wade let that sink in, then turned to the class and asked, “Have any of your mommies or daddies ever yelled at you?” When half the children raised their hands, Wade nodded encouragingly. “Then maybe we can help.” Turning to a tiny girl in a pink T-shirt, he asked what she felt like when she was yelled at.

“Sad,” the girl said, looking down.

“And what did you do? What words did you use?”

“I said, ‘Mommy, I don’t like to hear you scream at me.’ ”

Wade nodded slowly, then looked around the room. “What do you think? Does that sound like a good thing to say?” When the kids nodded vigorously, Wade clapped his hands once. “O.K., let’s practice. Play like I’m your mommy.” Scooting into the center of the circle, he gave the boy, Reedhom, a small toy bear to stand in for the iPhone, then began to berate him in a ridiculous booming voice. “Lalalala!” Wade hollered, looming overhead in a goofy parody of parental frustration. “Why are you doing that, Reedhom? Reedhom, why?” In the circle, the other kids rocked back and forth in delight. One or two impulsively begin to crawl in Reedhom’s direction, as if joining a game.

Still slightly teary, Reedhom began to giggle. Abruptly, Wade held up a finger. “Now, we talked about this. What can Reedhom do?” Recollecting himself, Reedhom sat up straight. “Mommy, I don’t like it when you scream at me,” he announced firmly.

“Good,” Wade said. “And maybe your mommy will say: ‘I’m sorry, Reedhom. I had to go somewhere in a hurry, and I got a little mad. I’m sorry.’ ”

Reedhom solemnly accepted the apology — then beamed as he shook Wade’s hand.

emotional intelligence
Holly Andres for The New York Times

Wade’s approach — used schoolwide at Garfield Elementary, in Oakland, Calif. — is part of a strategy known as social-emotional learning, which is based on the idea that emotional skills are crucial to academic performance.

“Something we now know, from doing dozens of studies, is that emotions can either enhance or hinder your ability to learn,” Marc Brackett, a senior research scientist in psychology at Yale University, told a crowd of educators at a conference last June. “They affect our attention and our memory. If you’re very anxious about something, or agitated, how well can you focus on what’s being taught?”

Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.

For children, Brackett notes, school is an emotional caldron: a constant stream of academic and social challenges that can generate feelings ranging from loneliness to euphoria. Educators and parents have long assumed that a child’s ability to cope with such stresses is either innate — a matter of temperament — or else acquired “along the way,” in the rough and tumble of ordinary interaction. But in practice, Brackett says, many children never develop those crucial skills. “It’s like saying that a child doesn’t need to study English because she talks with her parents at home,” Brackett told me last spring. “Emotional skills are the same. A teacher might say, ‘Calm down!’ — but how exactly do you calm down when you’re feeling anxious? Where do you learn the skills to manage those feelings?”

A growing number of educators and psychologists now believe that the answer to that question is in school. George Lucas’s Edutopia foundation has lobbied for the teaching of social and emotional skills for the past decade; the State of Illinois passed a bill in 2003 making “social and emotional learning” a part of school curriculums. Thousands of schools now use one of the several dozen programs, including Brackett’s own, that have been approved as “evidence-based” by the Collaborative for Academic, Social and Emotional Learning, a Chicago-based nonprofit. All told, there are now tens of thousands of emotional-literacy programs running in cities nationwide.

The theory that kids need to learn to manage their emotions in order to reach their potential grew out of the research of a pair of psychology professors — John Mayer, at the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey, at Yale. In the 1980s, Mayer and Salovey became curious about the ways in which emotions communicate information, and why some people seem more able to take advantage of those messages than others. While outlining the set of skills that defined this “emotional intelligence,” Salovey realized that it might be even more influential than he had originally suspected, affecting everything from problem solving to job satisfaction: “It was like, this is predictive!”

emotional intelligence
Holly Andres for The New York Times

In the years since, a number of studies have supported this view. So-called noncognitive skills — attributes like self-restraint, persistence and self-awareness — might actually be better predictors of a person’s life trajectory than standard academic measures. A 2011 study using data collected on 17,000 British infants followed over 50 years found that a child’s level of mental well-being correlated strongly with future success. Similar studies have found that kids who develop these skills are not only more likely to do well at work but also to have longer marriages and to suffer less from depression and anxiety. Some evidence even shows that they will be physically healthier.

This was startling news. “Everybody said, Oh, it’s how kids achieve academically that will predict their adult employment, and health, and everything else,” recalls Mark Greenberg, a Penn State University psychologist. “And then it turned out that for both employment and health outcomes, academic achievement actually predicted less than these other factors.”

Should social-emotional learning prove successful, in other words, it could generate a string of benefits that far exceeds a mere bump in test scores. This prospect has led to some giddiness among researchers. Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and the director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, has lauded emotional literacy as “the missing piece” in American education.

But finding ways to measure emotional awareness — never mind its effects — is tricky. It’s also still unclear whether S.E.L. programs create the kind of deep and lasting change they aspire to. The history of education reform is rife with failures: promising programs that succeed in studies, only to falter in the real world. The phenomenon is so common that researchers even have a name for it: the Hawthorne effect — the fact that simply focusing attention on something, like a school, is enough to cause a temporary uptick in performance.

The problem of evaluating S.E.L. is compounded both by the variety of “prosocial” programs on offer and by the ways in which they end up being used in the classroom. Some of them — including one of the most popular, Second Step — are heavily scripted: teachers receive grade-appropriate “kits” with detailed lesson plans, exercises and accompanying videos. Others, like Facing History and Ourselves — in which children debate personal ethics after reading the fictionalized letters of a Nazi colonel and a member of the French Resistance — are more free-form: closer to a college philosophy seminar than to a junior-high civics class. ” ‘Mindful eating’ is social-emotional learning, according to some people,” Brackett told me. “It’s a mess. Everybody wants to jump on the bandwagon.”

David Caruso, a psychologist who does consulting and training in emotional intelligence, has called the current boom in social-emotional programs “promising,” but he worries that the field might be getting ahead of itself. “There are people who want to write this into the Common Core right now,” Caruso told me. “But before we institutionalize this, we’d better be sure that it makes a difference in the long run.”

Leataata Floyd Elementary, a school in a low-income part of Sacramento, has few problems with gangs or guns but a long history of dysfunction. Until recently, the staff attrition rate was more than 20 percent a year, and student test scores were regularly among the lowest in the state. Before the current principal, Billy Aydlett, was hired in 2010, there were six separate principals in five years.

Not long after he arrived, Aydlett created a detailed plan to boost the school’s academic performance. He recruited a roster of highly regarded teachers and developed an aggressive new curriculum full of rich and invigorating lessons. Once the school year started, however, it became clear that the new strategy was a bust. “Literally within the first month of school, we realized that we hadn’t planned for the right thing,” Aydlett recalled when I visited the school last spring. “What we discovered was that these kids weren’t going to be able to make progress on the academics until they’d gotten help with their social and emotional issues.”

emotional intelligence
Holly Andres for The New York Times

With the district’s support, Aydlett attended social-emotional learning training. The program was an unlikely choice for Aydlett — a socially awkward man who confesses to being “awful” at ordinary human encounters. But since beginning the emotional-literacy work, Aydlett said, he had become more aware of interpersonal dynamics, and even made going on a vacation with his wife a priority — something he never bothered to do before. (“I didn’t see the point in that kind of connectedness,” he admitted. “But I’ve learned that it’s important.”) On the morning I visited, he stood greeting children at the gate with high-fives, then led me to the classroom of Jennifer Garcia, who teaches second grade.

As Aydlett and I watched, Garcia walked her class through an exercise in nonverbal cues, asking the children to imagine times when they felt sad or angry or frustrated, and then to freeze in those expressions and postures. As the kids slumped forward in exaggerated positions of woe, Garcia complimented them on small details: a bowed head or hangdog expression. Afterward, Garcia turned to the class. “This is the thinking part of your brain,” she said, holding up her thumb. She pointed to her fingers. “And this is the feeling part of your brain.” Folding her thumb into the center of her palm, she closed her fingers around it. “When we have strong emotions, the thinking part of our brain can’t always control them,” Garcia explained, waggling her fist. “What do we do in those moments?” As the kids called out answers — counting to five, “self-talk,” “dragon breaths” (a kind of deep-breathing exercise) — Garcia nodded.

Such strategies may seem simplistic, but researchers say they can have a profound effect. When I spoke with Mark Greenberg, who developed a social-emotional curriculum known as Paths (Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies), he noted that repeatedly practicing these skills means they gradually become automatic. “The ability to stop and calm down is foundational in those moments.”

The value of such skills was evident later that day, when I sat in on a fourth-grade class meeting, in which students worked through interpersonal conflicts as a group. Sitting in a circle on the carpet, Anthony, a small boy in a red shirt, began by recounting how he cried during a class exercise and was laughed at by some of the other students. Asked whether he thought the kids were giggling to be mean, or just giggling because they were uncomfortable, Anthony paused. “I think that some people didn’t know what to do, and so they giggled,” he admitted finally — though he was also adamant that a few of the kids were actually laughing at him. “I was really sad about that,” he added.

Though Anthony was still upset, his acknowledgment that not all the kids were snickering — that some may just have been laughing nervously — felt like a surprisingly nuanced insight for a 9-year-old. In the adult world, this kind of reappraisal is known as “reframing.” It’s a valuable skill, coloring how we interpret events and handle their emotional content. Does a casual remark from an acquaintance get cataloged as a criticism and obsessed over? Or is it reconsidered and dismissed as unintentional?

Depending on our personalities, and how we’re raised, the ability to reframe may or may not come easily. Richard Davidson, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, notes that while one child may stay rattled by an event for days or weeks, another child may rebound within hours. (Neurotic people tend to recover more slowly.) In theory, at least, social-emotional training can establish neurological pathways that make a child less vulnerable to anxiety and quicker to recover from unhappy experiences. One study found that preschoolers who had even a single year of a social-emotional learning program continued to perform better two years after they left the program; they weren’t as physically aggressive, and they internalized less anxiety and stress than children who hadn’t participated in the program.

It may also make children smarter. Davidson notes that because social-emotional training develops the prefrontal cortex, it can also enhance academically important skills like impulse control, abstract reasoning, long-term planning and working memory. Though it’s not clear how significant this effect is, a 2011 meta-analysis found that K-12 students who received social-emotional instruction scored an average of 11 percentile points higher on standardized achievement tests. A similar study found a nearly 20 percent decrease in violent or delinquent behavior.

When I spoke with teachers at Leataata Floyd, they reported seeing similar results. One teacher remembered the pre-S.E.L. school as being out of control, with kids throwing food and angrily upending their desks in class. Now, she says, “they may still blow up, but they take responsibility. That’s a new thing: they always used to blame somebody else. For them to take responsibility — it’s huge.”

emotional intelligence
Holly Andres for The New York Times

Starting in the late 19th century, the philosopher John Dewey argued against the development of purely vocational elementary schools, insisting that the true purpose of schooling was not simply to teach children a trade but to train them in deeper habits of mind, including “plasticity” (the ability to take in new information and be changed by it) and interdependence (the ability to work with others).

Social-emotional learning takes Dewey’s theory further, suggesting that all emotions — not just the right ones — are adaptive if properly managed. Studies have shown that people in a slightly sad mood are better at analyzing or editing a written document (they focus better on details), while people who are slightly angry are better able to discriminate between weak and strong arguments. The purpose of a social-emotional learning program, then, isn’t to elide emotion but to channel it: to surf the rapids rather than to be swamped by them. This can be hard to do. When we feel angry, we usually act angry — even when that makes the situation worse. The nature of emotion is that it tends to run away with us. “When a feeling is unpleasant, how are you going to handle it?” asks Stephanie Jones, a Harvard psychologist who has studied a number of social-emotional learning programs. “Do you default to an angry response, a defensive response? Or do you go into a mode that’s more information-seeking?”

Social-emotional learning programs often rely on strategies from conventional therapy, like the ability to get distance on a feeling, or to unpack the deeper emotions that may be hidden within it. But fostering these skills in a child is a complex undertaking. For a child to master empathy, Jones notes, she first needs to understand her own emotions: to develop a sense of what sadness, anger or disappointment feels like — its intensity and duration, its causes. That awareness is what lays the groundwork for the next step: the ability to intuit how another person might be feeling about a situation based on how you would feel in a similar circumstance.

When it comes to making social-emotional learning effective, Jones says, determining which skills can constructively be taught at what ages is “a critically important question.” So far, however, few studies have been done on which skills are actually acquired through S.E.L., and even fewer have included the kind of rigorous, controlled trials needed to prove that acquiring a specific skill produces a specific outcome over the long term. “If skills aren’t nurtured in an ongoing way,” Jones says, “it may be that those skills are lost.”

Even a handful of poorly designed programs, Caruso notes, could cause educators who are just warming up to the idea of a social-emotional curriculum to dismiss the entire field. Critics already charge that social-emotional programs are a kind of “therapy light” and a waste of valuable classroom time. In 2010, a report from the U.S. Department of Education that evaluated seven different S.E.L. programs found no increase in academic achievement and no decline in behavioral problems. S.E.L. supporters criticized the study’s methodology and pointed out that the researchers couldn’t be sure that the comparison schools weren’t using S.E.L. techniques even if they weren’t using a formal program. Still, to show that S.E.L. is effective, Caruso says, programs will have to be tested the same way a new pharmaceutical is: through a randomized trial that could distinguish short-term placebo effects from lasting improvements. Without such evidence, social-emotional learning could go the way of the self-esteem movement, an ill-fated program from the 1980s in which schoolchildren repeated mantras like “I am special” and “I am beautiful.” At the time, it, too, was considered the height of progressive education. The program was largely abandoned after it ended up being connected to rising rates of narcissism.

“It’s a big messy field, with a lot of promises, but very little data,” Caruso says of S.E.L. “Right now I think people are just throwing stuff at the wall to see what sticks.”

One of social-emotional learning’s “stickiest” programs is Second Step, the plug-and-play curriculum that provides teachers with grade-appropriate emotional-skills lessons. Originally developed as a violence-prevention program in 1986, Second Step is currently used by approximately 25,000 schools in the U.S. and Canada, according to Joan Cole Duffell, executive director of Committee for Children, the nonprofit behind the program.

At Ella Flagg Young School in Chicago, I sat in on a sixth-grade Second Step class taught by Latasha Little-Brown, the dedicated “social-emotional learning coordinator” who has worked at the school for nine years. That day, Little-Brown began by playing a Second Step video featuring good friends, Lydia and Maria. In the story, Maria’s aunt gives her a cool new necklace, which has beads made of paper. Lydia loves it, so Maria lets her borrow it. But as Lydia is walking back from the party, it suddenly starts to rain and the necklace is ruined. Lydia doesn’t know what to do.

In the teachers’ edition of the exercise, the goal is for students to write out the steps of an apology, including reparation. (Step 1: “Maria, I was wrong for taking the necklace and not caring for it properly.” Step 2: Offer to pay for the necklace.) Little-Brown nudged the students in this direction, until one boy — a chubby kid who had kept his jacket and backpack on during the entire class — finally raised his hand in frustration. Lydia hadn’t been negligent, he pointed out: she’d just been walking home and got soaked by a thunderstorm. How was the loss of the necklace her fault?

Lawyering ensued. One girl insisted that Lydia could have put the necklace in her pocket, or balled it up in her hand — leading another student to argue that just clutching the necklace in a downpour wouldn’t have protected it. Meanwhile, Backpack Boy was still trying to parse the details of friendly obligation. If someone dumped a bucket of water on you as you walked by, he wanted to know, would that be your fault? What if someone robbed you or threatened you with a gun?

Little-Brown allowed the debate to go on for several minutes, then moved crisply to the official point of the lesson: that once a thing is in your possession, you are responsible for it. The class ended with each group writing the steps of restitution on a piece of poster board. It was a disappointing moment. Though Little-Brown was engaged and thoughtful, the class still felt more like a rote exercise in social obligation than a nuanced exploration of a complicated issue. It was hard to believe that the resolution was satisfying to someone like Backpack Boy — one of the few students who seemed eager to wrestle with the knotty issues on which justice can turn.

Later, I mentioned this incident to Marc Brackett. Like many researchers, Brackett worries about the spread of programs like Second Step, in part because they can be overly formulaic. He is also concerned that they can serve as social-emotional placebos, allowing administrators to seem as if they’re working to fix a troubled school without actually doing anything. “When the superintendent wants to show the state that they bought their anti-bully program, or whatever, they buy these kits,” he said. “But then the box just sits on the shelf.”(To be fair, Brackett’s program is one of Second Step’s competitors. Duffell says that Second Step is “dedicated to good-quality implementation” and now has an online system to monitor how teachers use the program.)

Brackett’s program, Ruler, created with David Caruso and others, is more intensive. A school interested in trying Ruler must sign a three-year commitment that involves regular training, including Brackett’s four-day “Anchors of Emotional Intelligence” workshop, which costs $1,800 per person. Though Brackett emphasized to me that Ruler is used by a variety of schools, in a range of income brackets, the program costs significantly more than Second Step, especially when teacher and staff training is factored in. (Only about 500 schools use Ruler.)

In the Ruler cosmology, social-emotional lessons aren’t restricted to one class a week, or even to one class a day. Rather, such moments of observation are expected to pervade every class, from English and math to music and P.E. “Emotional skills aren’t something that develop overnight,” Brackett emphasized. “For most people, it will take a lot of practice.”

Starting in kindergarten, students begin each day by locating themselves on the “mood meter,” a set of four colored squares — blue for moods like malaise, yellow for excitement — that represent the four quadrants of emotional experience. (The other squares are red, for anger, and green, for calm.) The goal is to develop children’s capacity for self-reflection and critical thinking. “We never say, ‘The best thing to do is to take three deep breaths,’ ” Brackett told me. “For some people, taking deep breaths works. But for me, when I take deep breaths, I just think about how I can wring your neck.”

Growing up, Brackett told me, he was bullied “horrifically” — the kind of experience he believes Ruler could help prevent. Not long after being hired at Yale, he said, he went back to his old school, hoping to persuade it to implement the program. “I said, ‘I’ll give you a gift that would normally cost $100,000’ ” — what the Ruler program can amount to, with all the training. “They said, ‘Oh, that’s O.K. — we already have a speaker on emotional intelligence.’ ”

Even now, Brackett says, many educators don’t grasp the importance of emotional awareness. For Ruler to work, he maintains, the tools need to be embraced not just by students but also by teachers and administrators. “They have to be able to walk around that school and say: ‘Hey, where are you on the mood meter? I’m in the yellow right now. I’m feeling excited, how about you?’ or ‘Man, I had a really tough morning. I had to take a meta-moment because that parent was so crazy, I really had to manage my emotions.’ ”

Brackett’s approach may strike some as overkill, but a growing number of social-emotional learning programs now offer separate training for teachers. “It’s like that old airplane maxim,” Mark Greenberg told me. “Put your own mask on before you put your child’s on. You have to help yourself first.” Greenberg notes that a great teacher can change how students learn and behave, creating a climate that is engaged, caring and respectful. In theory, S.E.L. training could help more teachers develop those skills. “The one constant in education research has been the power of these great teachers,” Greenberg said. “What has been less clear is how you bottle that.”

Located high in the hills a few miles north of Berkeley, Prospect Sierra, a private elementary school, is also a Ruler school. It’s a cheerful place filled with the subtle accessories of wealth: airy classrooms outfitted with iMacs and a sprawling sports field with an unobstructed view of the San Francisco Bay.

Walking the halls one day last spring, I spied posters for empathy (“I say what I am feeling, and listen empathetically to what the other person is saying”), with examples of various mood meters, including one made by first graders that struck me as both impressive and alarming. Alongside “energetic,” “peaceful,” and “curious,” the meter listed “frantic,” “lonely,” “depressed,” “excluded” and “joyless.”

In the afternoon, I joined a P.E. class to watch a capture-the-flag-style game, in which teams tried to retrieve colored banners without being tagged. The teacher, a lean, blond woman named Jacqueline Byrne Bressan, began by having students sit in a circle to discuss problems that came up in the last game and how they could be prevented this time around. One boy, whose silky brown hair gave him the look of a miniature British soccer star, raised his hand to note that “some people” hadn’t been willing to “roshambo” — do “rock, paper, scissors” — the school’s accepted practice for settling disputes over whether a player had been tagged or not. When Bressan asked what he did about that, the boy sat up. “I told them they weren’t playing fair,” he said solemnly. “And then I let it go.”

Not long after this discussion, I watched as a beefy blond kid in a red shirt and white Nikes was patently tagged by a small brown-haired girl, but kept running. “You’re tagged!” the girl yelled. Another boy echoed her: “You’re tagged!” The boy yelled back, “No, I’m not!” Glancing at Bressan, he slowed briefly to a walk — then moved furtively around the edge of the field and sneaked back into the game.

Watching this, Bressan smiled dryly. The beefy boy, she observed, is “one of the kids who really struggles” with basic social-emotional concepts like fairness and accountability. But she also said she felt that he was gradually improving. “It used to be, he wouldn’t roshambo at all,” she said. “Or he’d lie and say that he did. Now it may take a minute, but he usually does it.”

While it was hard to tell if roshambo was teaching deeper lessons of fairness and problem-solving, Bressan told me that it radically cut the number of arguments she had to resolve, and also made it easy to identify the kids who needed more help socially. She also said that it gave the other students the moral authority to hold another player accountable.

There seemed to be something to this. While the game had its share of elementary-school drama (at one point, a girl started to cry after a boy bragged that he was faster than her “by a million miles”), it was noticeable how quickly most kids moved on. A tiny blond girl who was in tears over being pushed — her new white jeans now had a grass stain on the knee — handled the matter by walking once around the field, then talking about it in the postgame debriefing. “We talked about not tagging too hard during the game, but it was still happening,” she said, sounding surprisingly sanguine.

When I mentioned this to Bressan, she nodded. “I think it makes a difference sometimes for them just to be able to say it,” she said. “Just to have it discussed.”

Talking later, Bressan told me that in her last job, at an inner-city school in New York, students behaved differently; when one kid was punched in the stomach during recess, she recalled, he didn’t even go to the teacher. By comparison, it was hard to know how the kids at Prospect Sierra might fare in the “real world.” But she added, “The real question is: What kind of world do we want?”

That question is one that Marc Brackett thinks about often. He envisions a generation of kids who have grown up immersed in an environment of total emotional awareness — who receive new insights at the developmentally appropriate times, and in deliberately constructive ways.

“If you have that kind of instruction, from kindergarten,” he said, “I think that in 20 years the world will be a very different place.”

Jennifer Kahn teaches at the University of California, Berkeley, Graduate School of Journalism. She last wrote for the magazine about prepsychopathic children.

Our emotions do not obstruct our logic, they create it

Have you ever been trying to make a decision and thought to yourself, “I wish I could just leave my emotions out of this, and decide on a logical basis!”  It is a widely accepted theory that humans’ feelings and emotions cloud and hinder their decision-making abilities. Scientists have been able to prove this theory wrong.

white man in black tshirt

Our emotions do not obstruct our logic, they create it.

In 1982, Antonio Damasio, a neurologist, discovered a patient named Elliot who was incapable of making decisions.  Elliot’s frontal lobe had been damaged when doctor’s removed a tumor from this area of his brain.  Tests showed his IQ and cognitive skills were not changed after the surgery.   If Elliot still had his intellect and cognitive skills, why could he not make even a small, daily decision such as what shirt to choose among two options?


Further post-surgical tests found Elliot was incapable of  possessing and expressing emotion.  His brain was no longer able to access the opinions and ideas created over his lifetime that guided his actions in the past. By studying Elliot’s and several other patient’s brains, scientists have determined that the combination of emotion and judgment creates the foundation for a decision.  Without our emotions, we have no means to decide what is logical and what is not. Humans are not irrational, we are emotional. Our emotions do not obstruct our logic, they create it.  Savannah Krantz (Greenhill, 2014) writes a more detailed accounting of Damasio’s research and findings below:

Decision Making
by Savannah Krantz, Greenhill (2014)

In 1982, Antonio Damasio, a neurologist, discovered a patient named Elliot who was incapable of making decisions. This peculiarity was acquired during the removal of a brain tumor near Elliot’s frontal lobe. The frontal lobe is the part of the brain tasked with decision making. After Elliot’s surgery, his daily routine became impossible. Simple and quick errands turned into long and difficult ordeals. However, his intelligence level and cognitive skills had not been damaged by the surgery. If his IQ was well over high enough for him to be able to make decisions, why couldn’t he? Imagine not being able to make simple decisions such as what clothes to wear, what food to order, and when to schedule an appointment. What exactly in his brain had caused this massive obstruction in his life?
Elliot was emotionless. Damasio ran a series of tests, and none of which triggered Elliot to feel any form of emotion. How could he have the ability to make a decision with no feelings to base the decision off of? Elliot’s tests did prove a common fallacy, humans are irrational, wrong. It is a widely accepted theory that humans’ feelings and emotions cloud and hinder their decision making abilities. However, Elliot, who was incapable of  possessing and expressing emotion, was unable to make decisions. The combination of emotion and judgment creates the foundation for a decision.
Many ancient philosophers believed that homo sapiens were given the frontal cortex as a gift. They believed that the frontal cortex was able to separate reason, intelligence, and morality, from the limbic region of the brain, which is responsible for emotion and impulse. The ancient philosophers thought that this magical frontal cortex gave humans an extreme amount of logic, which enabled us to ignore our feelings when making decisions. This concept is false. The ancient philosophers were unaware that the regions of the brain were not segregated from each other with distinct tasks. The frontal cortex is also associated with emotion, as is the orbitofrontal cortex.
As Antonio Damasio began to study other patients with Elliot’s symptoms, he continued to find that their cognitive abilities were untouched, yet their ability to make decisions was nonexistent.  He found a similarity within all of his patients: the orbitofrontal cortex was either damaged or missing. The orbitofrontal cortex, also known as the OFC, is a part of the frontal lobe that connects instinctive emotion to decision making. Without the orbitofrontal cortex, the brain is incapable of accessing emotion while making a simple choice, resulting in extreme indecisiveness. With a damaged OFC, the brain is no longer able to access the infinite amount of opinions that guide a human’s course of action.
Elliot, an average grown man, not only lost his ability to decide, but also lost his job and family in the process. Elements of his life that he once cared so much about no longer triggered any emotional response, whether it be positive or negative. Without our emotions, we have no means to decide what is logical and what is not. Humans are not irrational, we are emotional. Our emotions do not obstruct our logic, they create it.

Source: How We Decide, 2009, Jonah Lehrer