Insomnia. Almost everybody has it at one time or another. Some poor souls live (or barely live) with it. It’s hard to know exactly how widespread it is—prevalence rates are all over the map. But some researchers are drawing the conclusion that midnight or early-morning insomnia is possibly more “natural” than the pattern of eight hours straight sleep that we’ve come to expect, but often fail to achieve. Perhaps, the implication is, we ought to accept the reality of those hours awake and cultivate a better attitude toward the inevitable—we should accept and make friends with those wakeful hours in the middle of the night. Read More
In the late 1980s and 1990s, after the growing recognition that child abuse was far more prevalent than had been believed, an increasingly vocal adult survivors’ movement began to form, determined to bring to light the previously ignored subject of child abuse. During this period, research psychologist Elizabeth Loftus emerged as the most prominent public critic of the notion that memories of childhood abuse could be recovered years later. In this interview, she reflects on her role in the memory wars of the 1990s and whether our increasing understanding of the brain has illuminated the difference between real and false memories. Read More
In the West, we reverberate between sexual obsession and sexual shame. No wonder we feel split within ourselves and from each other. Modern sex therapy helps thousands with simple, effective behavioral techniques, usually focused narrowly on achieving erection, intercourse or orgasm. Yet few of us have much of a clue about the more profound joys of sexuality. Presaged by the popularity in the 1960s of the Kama Sutra, a 3rd-century Indian sex manual, Tantra has become a postmodern hybrid. The goal in Tantra is to move arousal to the brain in an explosion of enlightenment and bliss. In Tantra, sex is not a dirty detour from the path to God, it is the path. Read More
The hallmark of cognitive therapy is understanding clients’ reactions—emotional and behavioral—in terms of how they interpret situations. The repeated themes in people’s thinking and behavior finally make sense once we understand the basic way they view themselves, their world, and other people. But cognitive therapy goes beyond helping people understand their thoughts and behaviors in sessions. People actually get better by making small changes in their thinking and behavior every day. As therapy progresses, homework assignments and relapse prevention become essential parts of the approach. Read More
America seems to be a goal-oriented society that prefers explicit meanings, candor, and “plain speech” to ambiguity and allusion. But ironically, some of America’s best features, when carried too punctiliously into the bedroom, can result in very boring sex. I often suggest an alternative with my clients: “There’s so much direct talk already in the everyday conversations couples have with each other,” I tell them. “If you want to create more passion in your relationship, why don’t you play a little more with the natural ambiguity of gesture and words, and the rich nuances inherent in communication.” Read More
Given the “record levels of anxiety” we seem to be seeing around the world, surely we must today be living in the most anxious age ever. How can this be? Economic disruption and recent global recession notwithstanding, we live in an age of unprecedented material affluence. Life expectancies in the developed world are long and growing. But perhaps the price of progress and improvements in material prosperity has been an increase in the average allotment of anxiety. Read More
Adolescent and young-adult men learn that erections are easy, automatic, and most important, autonomous. The Viagra media blitz both feeds and amplifies this male performance standard. Indeed, for men, the largest factor causing inhibited sexual desire is fear of erectile failure. But by a certain age, men need to learn what most women already know: good, satisfying, pleasurable sex, particularly in midlife and beyond, is more a matter of intimate teamwork than of physical hydraulics.
While therapists are generally trained to focus on preparing case notes that are clinical and objective, confining ourselves to this format severely restricts the creative potential of the process. While many clinicians encourage their patients to keep a journal, draft real or imaginary letters to family members, and compose poetry, few clinicians use creative writing in their own work. But at its core, creative writing brings into awareness a conversation between what’s alive and what’s dying in ourselves, what’s limiting and free, what’s observable and shadowy.
Our culture speaks of “falling” in love. Other societies have compared infatuation to divine revelation, and to psychosis. We often say, in jest, that this experience of hurricane-force passion is “like a drug.” But that oft-quipped analogy may turn out to be no joke. Some scientists now believe that the frenzied euphoria of romantic love may well be a bona fide, altered state of consciousness, primarily brought on by the action of phenylethylamine (PEA), a naturally occurring, amphetamine-like neurotransmitter. And if our desire problems are at least partly innate, then maybe we don’t need to feel quite so ashamed and despairing about the muddle we’re in.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is arguably the most successful therapy ever developed. In only about 40 years, it’s gone from the almost accidental innovations of two disenchanted psychoanalysts to the most widely practiced and promulgated approach in the world. Independently coinvented by Aaron Beck and Albert Ellis, CBT is brief, usually 16 sessions or fewer, thus much cheaper than that once-famous other brand, psychodynamic therapy. But where did this streamlined, efficient, practical therapy come from? And what made it so revolutionary? Read More