All Shook Up: “Therapy Better than Meds for Overcoming Anxiety.” Says Major Study

About a week-and-a-half ago, I taped a series on Women of Grace with Johnnette Benkovic on anxiety and my book, God Help Me, This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy!  Finding Balance through God’s shutterstock_174459824 Grace.  At the time, I asserted that while most people only receive medication by way of treatment for anxiety disorders, medication is simply less effective than therapy.  On the show, I said that anyone who has an anxiety disorder and is not receiving therapy is not receiving the best standard of care and may be unnecessarily prolonging their suffering.  A new study in the prestigious journal, The Lancet Psychiatry completely endorses the position I took on the program.  According to the new study…

While antidepressants are the most commonly used treatment for social anxiety disorder, new research suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is more effective and, unlike medication, can have lasting effects long after treatment has stopped.

Social anxiety disorder is a psychiatric condition characterized by intense fear and avoidance of social situations and affects up to 13 percent of Americans and Europeans. Most people never receive treatment for the disorder. For those who do, medication is the more accessible treatment because there is a shortage of trained psychotherapists.

The findings of the study, a network meta-analysis that collected and analyzed data from 101 clinical trials comparing multiple types of medication and talk therapy, are published online Sept. 26 in The Lancet Psychiatry.

“Social anxiety is more than just shyness,” says study leader Evan Mayo-Wilson, DPhil, a research scientist in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “People with this disorder can experience severe impairment, from shunning friendships to turning down promotions at work that would require increased social interaction. The good news from our study is that social anxiety is treatable. Now that we know what works best, we need to improve access to psychotherapy for those who are suffering.”

[The researchers] analyzed data from 13,164 participants in 101 clinical trials. The participants all had severe and longstanding social anxiety. Approximately 9,000 received medication or a placebo pill, and more than 4,000 received a psychological intervention. Few of the trials looked at combining medication with talk therapy, and there was no evidence that combined therapy was better than talk therapy alone.   READ MORE

If you or a loved one is struggling with problems related to anxiety, I encourage you to learn more about the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s Catholic tele-counseling practice.  We can help you apply both the timeless wisdom of our Catholic faith and insights from counseling psychology to overcome the anxiety you’re facing.  Learn more at our website or by calling 740-266-6461 to make an appointment to speak with a counselor.


Yes, There IS a Catholic Way to Parent. Here’s Why.

Is there a Catholic way to parent?shutterstock_163230620

It really depends upon what you mean by the question.  If you mean, “Is there an approved list of preferred parenting methods the Church requires that we use for child rearing?”  Well then, of course the answer is “certainly not!”

But if you mean, “Does our Catholic faith ask parents to have a mindset about parenting that reflects the Church’s unique vision of family life and make choices that are mindful of that vision?”  Then the answer is, “unquestionably, yes!”

Vision, Method, and Mindset

Catholicism is an incarnational faith.  Catholics can’t just say prayers that invoke the name Jesus and be done with it.  We have to live differently.    So, while Catholic businesspersons aren’t “required by the Church” to use a certain brand of accounting software, they are challenged to have a mindset about work, management, and money, that reflects the Church’s views on economics and, in turn,  informs their workplace behavior and choices.  Likewise, the Church doesn’t tell soldiers what uniforms to wear or weapons to carry, but the Church does insist that soldiers have a mindset informed by Just War principles that will govern their behavior and choices on the battlefield.

In the same way, the Church never says to parents, “Parent this way.”  But it also doesn’t say, “Just do what works best for you!”   Instead, the Church does say, “As Catholics, we have a unique vision of family life,  so Catholic parents, please keep that vision in mind when making decisions about parenting so that vision may be fulfilled and you can be the witness the Church calls you to be.”   So, what is that vision?

The Vision

Archbishop Chaput once observed that Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote about two-thirds of everything the Church has ever said about marriage and family life.   His Theology of the Body could arguably be said to make up the mission statement for Catholic family life.  If Catholic parents are looking for a place to turn to see what makes the Catholic vision of family life different from, say, the various Protestant denomination’s views of family life or a more secular view of family life, then it would be hard to find a better place to start than the Theology of the Body (TOB).  And while TOB doesn’t tell parents what parenting methods to use, per se, it does articulate certain principles about family life and love that Catholics are encouraged to give serious consideration to when choosing their parenting methods.  In fact, the parenting methods we choose are actually a kind-of catechism.  The way we interact with our children–even more than what we say to them–teaches them how to think about relationship, life, faith, priorities, and morality. 

TOB & PARENTING:  2 Principles for Practice

TOB is a huge body of work, and this article couldn’t possibly begin to articulate its unique vision of family life in any comprehensive way, but here are two points taken from TOB to begin to give you an idea of how TOB can help parents make choices about parenting that are truly informed by a Catholic vision of relationship.

1. Love is Embodied.

TOB teaches that God gave us our bodies so that we could express love for one another.  It isn’t enough to have warm feelings for someone.  To be truly meaningful, love must be expressed with our body and experienced by another body through words, and acts of service, presence,  and affection.  The more bodily an expression of love is, the more senses it uses to communicate itself, the more intimate that expression of love is.

Catholic vision of family life is one of embodied self-giving.  God gives moms and dads bodies so they can hug and hold and carry and cuddle their children so that their children can feel God’s immense love in real and tangible ways.  As TOB says, “the body, and it alone is capable of making visible that which is invisible; the spiritual and the divine.”   Our children first encounter the reality of God’s love through our loving touch.  The more physical we are with our kids, the more they develop the capacity to feel love and be loving.  Interestingly, this theological point is backed up by neuroscience.  Physical affection stimulates nerve growth and myelination (the growth of coating around nerve cells that make them fire more quickly and efficiently) especially in the parts of the brain responsible for empathy, picking up on facial and social cues, moral reasoning, compassion and other pro-social traits.   TOB teaches that biology is theology because God’s fingerprints are all over creation.  If we want to know how God wants us to relate to each other, look at the ways of relating that make our bodies function at their best.

Considering this teaching of embodied self-giving as the ultimate sign of love, Catholic parents have a clear mandate to ask themselves which parenting methods do a better job of communicating this vision embodied love: breast or bottle? Co-sleeping or crib? crying it out or comforting to sleep?  And so on.  The Catholic vision of love is embodied self-giving.  Parents who want to convey an authentically Catholic vision of family life do well to choose those methods they prayerfully believe are the most bodily-based expressions of their love they are capable of giving.

2.  Love is Intimate

TOB also teaches that we were created not just for love, but for intimacy. The entire point of the Gospel is loving, intimate, eternal union with God and the Communion of Saints. Think of intimacy as a unit of measure for love.  Just like ounces, or cups, or gallons tell us how much water there is, intimacy tells us whether the love that is present is a puddle or an ocean.   TOB tells us that families are to be “Schools of Love” that help us experience, as much as possible, the ocean of love God has for us.  By extension, Catholic families are encouraged to choose those styles of relating, organizing their priorities, and disciplining their children that foster the deepest level of intimacy possible.

In Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul the Great wrote,

By word and example, in the daily round of relations and choices, and through concrete actions and signs, parents lead their children to authentic freedom, actualized in the sincere gift of self, and they cultivate in them respect for others, a sense of justice, cordial  openness, dialogue, generous service, solidarity and all the other values which help people to live life as a gift.

Here, Pope St. John Paul II articulates a mission statement for the Catholic family.  To approach parenting with an authentically Catholic mindset, we have to make all of our choices with this call to respect, justice, cordial openness, dialogue, service and radical togetherness in mind.

Does the Church tell parents exactly how many activities to let their kids participate in, or what discipline methods to choose, or how much time parents and kid need together?  Of course not.  But you parent with the mind of the Church when you ask yourself how many activities your kids can be involved in while still preserving the prime importance of family intimacy. Likewise, you can determine which discipline methods are more “Catholic” in the sense that they are more relationally-based and more likely to foster the open dialog and cordiality discussed in Evangelium Vitae.

Why, “Do what works for you”  Is NOT Enough

Theology of the Body doesn’t give parents a step-by-step methodological blueprint for parenting that says, “do these methods instead of those.”  What it does do is say, “Here is the mindset God wants you to have about family life.  Choose accordingly.”

As Catholic parents, it just isn’t enough to say, “What works?”  Or even, “What works best for you?”   Catholic businesspeople can’t do that.  Catholic soldiers can’t do that.  Catholic families can’t do that either.  Rather, from a TOB perspective, Catholics are challenged to ask, “Of all the different ways I could raise my kids and organize my family life, which choices enable me to do the best job I can of bearing witness to the embodied self-giving and call to intimacy that rests at the heart of the Catholic vision of love?”

For more information on how the Theology of the Body can transform your family life, check out Parenting with Grace:  The Catholic Parents’ Guide to Raising (almost) Perfect Kids and Beyond the Birds and the Bees:  Raising Sexually Whole and Holy Kids.

Dr. Greg Popcak is the author of almost 20 books. He directs the Pastoral Solutions Institute which provides Catholic tele-counseling to clients around the world.

Do Your Kids Get Along? Sibling Bullying Serious Threat to Kids’ Mental Health

Our Church teaches us that families are called to be “Schools of Love and Virtue”  where children learn all the virtues that help them live life as a gift.  For a significant number of children the story may shutterstock_214953085be very different.

Children who are bullied by siblings several times a week in early adolescence are twice as likely to become clinically depressed as young adults, according to a new study published in the journal Pediatrics. The bullied kids are also twice as likely to report self-harm compared to kids who were not bullied by siblings.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Universities of Oxford, Warwick and Bristol, and University College London, is the first to investigate the connection between sibling bullying and clinical depression and self-harm in young adults.

“Forms of bullying where victims are shoved around the playground or targeted at work have been well documented, however, this study uncovers a largely hidden form of bullying. Victims of sibling bullying are offered little escape as sibling relationships endure throughout development,” said lead author Dr. Lucy Bowes, from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at the University of Oxford.

At the age of 12, nearly 7,000 children completed questionnaires about whether they had experienced any form of sibling bullying and if so, how often it occurred. The same children were followed up at the age of 18 years.  Of the 3,452 children who provided data on both sibling bullying and mental health, 1,810 said they had not been bullied by a brother or sister. Of these, 6.4 percent had depression scores in the clinically significant range, 9.3 percent experienced anxiety and 7.6 percent had self-harmed in the previous year. Of the 786 children who said they had been bullied by a sibling several times a week, clinical depression was reported by 12.3 percent, 14 percent had self-harmed in the previous year and 16 percent of them reported anxiety.  READ MORE

If you need help getting your children to get along, check out the chapter titled, “Sibling Revelry (not Rivalry)” in Parenting with Grace, or contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how our tele-counseling practice can help you have the family life our faith tells us is possible!


Only 1 in 4 Kids with ADHD Is Getting the Right Treatment–Is Yours?

Evidence shows that children with ADHD do better and can take lower doses of stimulant medications when they receive behavioral therapy along with ADHD drugs.shutterstock_68372572

“Treatment of ADHD in children generates lots of controversy, primarily because of potential for overuse and abuse of stimulant medications,” said Dr. Walid F. Gellad, the study’s lead author and an adjunct scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “We wanted to find out among those who receive ADHD medications, how many are also receive billed psychotherapy services? The answer is few, but it actually depends on where you live.”

Using a large commercial claims database, researchers examined records of more than 300,000 children aged 17 and younger from 1,516 counties across the United States who had received a prescription for medication for ADHD. Sparsely populated counties were not included in the study. The researchers looked at how many children receive some amount of talk therapy along with medication, and also examined the supply of licensed psychologists in the counties studied.

Less than a quarter of those prescribed ADHD drugs received any talk therapy in the same year they received medication, 13 percent had at least four therapy visits and 7 percent had eight or more therapy visits. And in 200 U.S. counties, fewer than one in 10 children getting ADHD medication received any talk therapy.

“In areas of the country where rates of use are so low, it indicates that many kids with private insurance who could benefit from therapy are not receiving it.”  READ MORE

If your child has ADHD contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute to learn more about how our tele-counseling practice can help you establish a behavioral system that will enable your child to develop to his or her full potential.

Is YOUR Spouse Holding You Back?

As much as we might try to leave personal lives at home, the personality traits of a spouse have a way of following us into the workplace, exerting a powerful influence on promotions, salaries, job shutterstock_218879872satisfaction and other measures of professional success, new research suggests.

When it comes to pay raises, promotions and other measures of career success,  the husband or wife at home may be exerting a bigger influence on workplace performance than we think, suggests new research from Washington University in St. Louis. “Our study shows that it is not only your own personality that influences the experiences that lead to greater occupational success, but that your spouse’s personality matters too,” said Joshua Jackson, PhD, assistant professor of psychology in Arts & Sciences and lead author of the study.  Although we marry “for better for worse, for richer for poorer,” this study is among the first to demonstrate that the personality traits of the spouse we choose may play a role in determining whether our chosen career makes us richer or poorer.

“The experiences responsible for this association are not likely isolated events where the spouse convinces you to ask for a raise or promotion,” Jackson said. “Instead, a spouse’s personality influences many daily factors that sum up and accumulate across time to afford one the many actions necessary to receive a promotion or a raise.”

Forthcoming in the journal Psychological Science, the findings are based on a five-year study of nearly 5,000 married people ranging in age from 19 to 89, with both spouses working in about 75 percent of the sample.   Jackson and co-author Brittany Solomon, a graduate student in psychology at Washington University, analyzed data on study participants who took a series of psychological tests to assess their scores on five broad measures of personality — openness, extraversion, agreeableness, neuroticism and conscientiousness.

In an effort to gauge whether these spousal personality traits might be seeping into the workplace, they tracked the on-the-job performance of working spouses using annual surveys designed to measure occupational success — self-reported opinions on job satisfaction, salary increases and the likelihood of being promoted.  Workers who scored highest on measures of occupational success tended to have a spouse with a personality that scored high for conscientiousness, and this was true whether or not both spouses worked and regardless of whether the working spouse was male or female, the study found.  READ MORE

“Mommy, Daddy, Stop Fighting!” Parental Conflict Hurts Kids’ Ability to Identify/Control Emotions

Exposure to verbal and physical aggression between parents may hurt a child’s ability to identify and control emotions, according to a longitudinal study. Exposure to conflict…in the home can shapeshutterstock_214211350 children’s neurobiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses.

“Our study points to ways in which aggression between parents may powerfully shape children’s emotional adjustment,” says C. Cybele Raver, professor of applied psychology at NYU Steinhardt and the study’s lead author. “Arguing and fighting is psychologically stressful for the adults caught in conflict; this study demonstrates the costs of that conflict for children in the household as well.

Research has demonstrated that exposure to conflict and violence in the home can shape children’s neurobiological, cognitive, and behavioral responses.  For instance, children who hear or witness their parents fighting may have trouble regulating their emotions in less risky situations, such as a classroom.

The study showed that children raised in homes where there was a lot of open conflict between mom and dad had a hard time both  identifying and controlling  their feelings.

“This study shines a bright light on the importance of supporting parents as they navigate the ups and downs of partnership or marriage,” says Raver. “Parents need help regulating their own feelings of anger, frustration, and worry when balancing the demands of work, family, and romantic partnership… READ MORE

If you’d like to learn ways to end the conflict and restore peace in your marriage and family, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute (740-266-6461) to learn more about how our professional, Catholic-integrated tele-counseling service can help you heal the heart of your home.

Believe It Or Not, Study Actually Says, “Happy Wife, Happy Life!”

Proverbs 18:22 says, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD.”  A new study from Rutgers and the University of Michigan proves how true that is!

When it comes to a happy marriage, a new Rutgers study finds that the more content the wife is with the long-term union, the happier the husband is with his life no matter how he feels about theirshutterstock_217008835 nuptials.

“I think it comes down to the fact that when a wife is satisfied with the marriage she tends to do a lot more for her husband, which has a positive effect on his life,” said Deborah Carr, a professor in the Department of Sociology, School of Arts and Science. “Men tend to be less vocal about their relationships and their level of marital unhappiness might not be translated to their wives.”  Carr and Vicki Freedman, a research professor at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, co-authored a research study published in the October issue of the Journal of Marriage and Family.  READ MORE

To discover more great marriage tips, check out For Better…FOREVER! A Catholic Guide to Lifelong Marriage , Just Married:  The Catholic Guide to Surviving and Thriving in the First Five Years of Marriage and  The Exceptional Seven Percent:  Nine Secrets or the World’s Happiest Couples!  



Moms’ Response to Baby’s Cries May Indicate Unresolved Childhood Wounds/Need for Counseling

A new study suggests that the way a mom feels about responding to her child’s cries may indicate the presence of unresolved–and perhaps unrecognized–childhood wounds.shutterstock_215227429

The research found that moms who either come from healthy families-of-origin OR have successfully resolved their childhood issues tend to respond more sensitively and compassionately to their baby’s cries, seeing those cries as a call for help.  By contrast, moms who had not adequately come to terms with their own negative childhood experiences tended to focus on how their baby’s cries affected them. Moms in this latter group tended to experience a crying baby as manipulative or a nuisance.   Instead of being prompted to provide a nurturing response, these moms tended to worry about how they were going to get their own needs met if they responded to their child as much as their child seemed to need them.

“Responding sensitively to infant crying is a difficult yet important task,” notes Esther M. Leerkes, professor of human development and family studies at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, who led the study. “Some mothers may need help controlling their own distress and interpreting babies’ crying as an attempt to communicate need or discomfort.”   READ MORE

The study presents a powerful argument that moms who struggle to respond compassionately, promptly, and sensitively to their baby’s cries should not write their resistance off to a difference in parenting style, but rather see it for what it is, a sign that there may be work to do on healing from childhood wounds. Rather than experiencing these findings as a judgment, moms who struggle to be nurturing in response to infant crying should be encouraged that there are effective ways to resolve the inner-tension that robs them of the joy of motherhood.

While every parent has off days, if you habitually tend to feel that you are in competition with your child to get your needs met, or experience your child’s cries as manipulative or a nuisance, contact the Pastoral Solutions Institute’s tele-counseling practice (740-266-6461) to learn more about how you can begin to heal your childhood hurts and free your heart to love your child the way God intends him or her to be loved.  You can get your needs met while being present to your child.  Let us show you how.

New Tender Tidings Emagazine for Catholic Parents is Now Available!

Kim Cameron-Smith, founder of and More2Life Radio Contributor just let me know that The Fall 2014 issue of Tender Tidings, CAPC’s FREE parenting magazine, is nowshutterstock_163230620 available!

In this issue:

~Hospitality: Making a House a Home
~Marriage: Does your spouse feel like a priority in your life?
~Balance: Simplifying our homes and our calendars
~Dr. Greg answers some stumpers from real parents. Is it wrong to practice yoga in order to relax? What should we do if an older child wants to sleep in the family bed? What should we do if our child cries when we drop her off at school?
~Family prayer: Marcia helps us make a prayer plan for our family no matter our experience.    PLUS MORE!