Volunteers in Psychotherapy: New Model in Treating Clients

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Are mental illnesses born of biology or are they based upon our traumatic life experiences? Since the question is still being debated by psychiatrists and mental health professionals, then why would anybody want to use their insurance to go to therapy, risk being labeled and having the therapist report it to the third party insurer? And what if, you don’t have insurance and you can’t afford the $150 an hour cost of weekly therapy?

Dr. Richard Shulman, a licensed clinical psychologist and director of the innovative non-profit Volunteers in Psychotherapy, has the answer.

Volunteers in Psychotherapy, a Connecticut-based non-profit around for 20 years this summer nonprofit that has been serving people for 20 years now, was established by Dr. Richard Shulman as an innovative solution to help people access therapy services. All people have to do in exchange for free therapy is volunteer at a local non-profit or government agency in exchange for free therapy. They even get extra credit for donating blood or hair to organizations such as the American Red Cross and Locks of Love. So far, over 650 individuals and families have been served. These people gave more than 30,000 hours of volunteer work and earned 7,500 therapy sessions.

“If you really listen to the hints people make in therapy, wittingly and unwittingly, people are often hinting at things that are troubling and confusing. All they really need to talk about that is privacy. Increasingly, the field was acting as though there were research to show that these were biological disorders. If you think of it that way, you’re not looking for what people may be hinting at,” said Shulman. “Managed care also undermines privacy where people can broach subjects confusing and frightening to them.”

The volunteer work is part of the therapy. People choose their volunteer work based on their interests. If they are shy, they might help an environmental organization, clean trails. “People who may be isolated rub elbows with coworkers at a nonprofit.”

Grants from community foundations and agencies support VIP’s work. They have had 123 grants from 39 charitable foundations that give generously as well as over 200 individual donors. This is used to help pay therapists $55 per client per session among their other expenses like running their small office.

The model is “a person giving of themselves and symbolically paying by doing good in the community,” said Shulman.

Shulman does not believe that mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances. “People who are upset, confused, overwhelmed are presumed “ill”—not emotionally distressed but medically sick,” he wrote in an op-ed to the Connecticut Mirror in 2014.

For 20 years, Shulman served on an Institutional Review Board at Hartford Hospital’s Institute of Living where he served as a clinical psychologist. Institutional Review Boards are in place to ensure patients are told the truth about their medical or psychiatric conditions. Giving patients the ability of accurate informed consent allows them to know and weigh the risks and benefits of their options. Researchers, whether or not they are funded by drug companies and government agencies, are required to submit their research to the review board. “These scientists repeatedly admit that the conditions we mislabel “psychiatric illnesses” are simply not documented to be diseases of the body—despite decades of attempts to verify biomarkers, specific lesions or physical/chemical malfunctions that might cause these “conditions”,” Shulman wrote in the same Connecticut Mirror op-ed.

“The key is to know a person as a human being, what has happened in their life, what makes them tick,” he said.

People seeking therapy from VIP complete four hours of volunteer work at the non-profit of their choice. They ask the non-profit for a letter stating their hours, signed and made out to them…or they make a copy of their schedule or time-log. They present this letter documentation as proof to VIP for therapy services.  This way no one at the non-profit knows what the letter is used for—the stigma of therapy is avoided.

Shulman said that [in 2016] one sign of success in recent years was that their clients began reporting that they had gotten jobs either from their volunteer work or in other states. Many moved on from therapy leaving room for new clients.

“We treat people as equals. We don’t want to give something away for free. It’s an exchange,” Shulman said.

Recently after media attention, over 100 psychotherapists from other communities around the United States have contacted VIP about starting programs like it in their communities. On their web site, they have information about their export initiative which helps groups that apply to set up a similar program outside of Connecticut. So far, programs have been started in Gainsville, Florida, Bellingham, Washington, and Waterville Maine among others. “The funding is there to help people set up more non-profits like VIP,” said Shulman. VIP will consult with others looking to spread their work to other areas.

VIP is expanding and is seeking new psychologists to work with them. They are also looking for newer computer equipment and letter-sized paper to run their small office in West Hartford Center. If you would like to donate your time or make a donation, please get in touch with them.

To contact VIP about seeking therapy, setting up a non-profit like it in your area, or making a donation, call (860) 233-5115 or visit www.ctvip.org.

Bipolar and Impulsivity: A Dangerous Symptom No one likes to Talk about

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In college, I once sent an inappropriate and scary chain letter email to my ex-roommate, a girl who had gotten Residence Life to give her a restraining order against me. I also used to blurt out hurtful things to other students, spend too much money on things I didn’t need, and drink too much.

Later in life, in my thirties, I sent an accusatory email to a local meteorologist whom I thought my husband was having an affair with. This was completely based on my own paranoia. Now, in my forties, impulsivity has been a cardinal symptom of my bipolar disorder type 1.

It’s more than medication.

I have found psychotherapy to help me increase my self-awareness whether I am in an episode or stable. It focuses on what triggers the impulsive behavior and when I’m about to launch into one.

Studies say there’s a link between explosive anger and impulse control. I have found when I am most rageful I tend to do impulsive things, especially when someone cuts me off behind the wheel.

BPhope.com suggests three things to do to check impulsiveness: Find a lifeguard; Find your weak points; and install braking systems. A lifeguard is someone like a therapist who will work with you to identify your triggers and establish a plan of action in staying stable. Your weak points are those that you find hard to resist. Braking systems are the techniques you use to check the impulsive idea or behavior from wreaking havoc in your life.

A technique one might use to put the brakes on impulsivity a therapist once told me would be to ask oneself Is this need to be said?, Do I really want this or the consequences that this behavior will carry? Make a pros and cons list of the action. Sometimes seeing the pros and cons it will deter you from the action.

My Depression & My Mania, poems I wrote

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My Depression is a tsunami triggered by my mania sweeping away positive people, opportunities, hope, my self-worth, self-love, every shred of self-esteem. It is a cliche and an original, a tornado funnel cloud showering voices, hallucinations, self-doubt; anxiety is like a shaking earthquake.

My Depression thrives on hospitals, pills, electroshock. Suicide attempts feed its overwhelming desires. It feeds on nothing, triggered by moments of joy, stealing all feelings, robbing me of experiences of love, tears tell my story.
My Mania. Sex with strange men in phone booths, six-foot high grandiose dreams erupting into a skyscraper of desires; Ideas float in the air and come rapid-fire until there are too many to do in a day, a week, a year. Words spill from my tongue, words brilliant words, and ones I’m ashamed of now, ones that came so fast leaving me breathless and senseless. Scribbling becomes my true handwriting down every idea shooting from my brain. My Mania leaves me stymied; my behavior leaves my life in ruins. It’s seeing George Bush Sr.’s A Thousand Points of Light all connected; everything’s connected. Spending a lot of money on things I don’t need in thrift shops, Target, at the mall, or online. All things I need to accomplish lofty goals that I will forget about as I rise to the next one.

 

Happy Holidays! to you all however you choose to celebrate or not celebrate. May 2019 bring what you need it to bring you. I will be taking a short break this week and be back in January of 2019.

A Message for Families in Crisis

There was a murder in my hometown this past Monday. You can read about it here. A 12-year-old boy murdered his twin sister and stabbed his mother in a domestic incident. I cannot tell you if this boy has a mental health diagnosis. But I can tell you that there were most likely signs leading up to the incident that trouble was brewing in the mind of this boy. Families should know that in Connecticut by dialing 211 they can reach resources to prevent a crisis. Should a crisis like this happen, 211 can help them find counseling and other resources they need.

If the boy has a mental health diagnosis, he needs help over jail or juvenile detention. Acts like these don’t come on suddenly; they escalate over time, often the symptoms or warning signs don’t appear all at once or are hard to see as they are masked by typical tweenager behavior. Here are a list of links for families in crisis you might want to become familar with before it’s too late. These links will give you information and resources for handling a crisis before it escalates into tragedy.

https://eclkc.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/mental-health/article/assessing-family-crisis

healthfinder.gov         Search for crisis intervention

empowering parents.com     Free Parenting Resources

familycrisiscenters.org

 

Is it Bipolar Or Is it Me? A Guest Blog from Carrie Cantwell

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photos courtesy of Carrie Cantwell

Be yourself. That’s a pretty universal piece of advice. Whether you’re applying for a job or going on a first date, it’s something we’ve all heard at one time or another. When everyone can see the real you, the relationships you build are authentic. But because I have bipolar disorder, I have a hard time even knowing who “the real me” is. Am I the bubbly, energetic go-getter who’s the life of the party? Am I the sensitive, introspective person who sometimes cries too often? Or are those behaviors expressions of my bipolar disorder?

Bipolar is a mood disorder. People struggling with this illness may just seem like they’re in a good or bad mood. They may look like naturally sociable, sad or angry people to everyone around them. However, in people with bipolar, what appears to be their disposition is often a brain chemical imbalance lurking underneath. Because the symptoms can masquerade as personality traits, it’s often difficult for people with the illness, and their loved ones, to discern whether someone has bipolar disorder or if they’re just naturally “that way.”

I’ve always been outgoing. My first word wasn’t “Mama” or “Dada”—it was “hi.” As soon as I could talk, I said “hi” to everyone I met. I was full of hyperactive energy and had a hard time sitting still. My elementary school teachers often sent me to the principal’s office because I talked too much in class. In high school, I filled my schedule with extra-curricular activities and social events, with barely enough time to do homework. College was no different. Not only did I have a full load of classes and a job, I also threw myself into activist groups and went to parties every night of the week. I was constantly making new friends, and I slept with too many people to count. Always on-the-go, I’d jump from one activity to the next with no downtime to reflect or relax.

All this may sound like I’m just a naturally gregarious person. But it also describes someone who’s hypomanic. In my twenties, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Was this bipolar or was this me? For those of us with this illness, second-guessing your true nature comes with the territory. I don’t always recognize the person staring back at me when I look in the mirror. When I took the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator at twenty-three, I came out on the extreme end of ENFJ, with an emphasis on the big “E” for extrovert. Does the big “E” mean I’m really an extrovert, or is that hypomania? Hypomania can be subtle. It can look like I’m just someone with a lot of friends who loves to participate in social activities. But that’s also what an extrovert is. Sometimes it’s difficult to detangle my true self from all these labels.

I love the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The message I took away from the movie is this: if you’re given the chance to remove painful memories, it’s better to keep them, because they determine your identity. Someone once asked me if I could get rid of my bipolar disorder, would I? My answer was no. No matter how I’ve gotten to where I am now—whether it’s a result of my bipolar or my personality—it’s my past that’s made me who I’m proud to be today. Does that mean I ignore my illness and don’t take care of myself? Of course not. I recognize that I have a lifelong mood disorder that needs ongoing care, just like diabetes or high blood pressure. I take my medication; visit the doctor regularly; get enough sleep, food and exercise; and try to keep things in perspective. I surround myself with a strong support network of friends and family who can tell me if they see me start to go off the rails. I try not to focus on labels or worry about which aspects of my behavior are my personality or the illness. Whatever the parts are that make up the whole of who I am, I like myself, and that’s what really matters.

Carrie Cantwell blogs about bipolar at darknessandlight.org. She is currently writing and editing a memoir titled Daddy Issues: A Memoir.

If you have a story and want to guest blog for me, please contact me through my contact page on this blog.

Profile in Brave: Carrie Cantwell, writer, designer for the movies, and bipolar 2

 

Photos courtesy of Carrie Cantwell

The four year anniversary of Carrie Cantwell’s dad’s suicide hit her hard. That day, she fell into a deep depression, went on disability from work and stayed with her mother. Her mom—a psychotherapist—took her to a psychiatrist because of her genetic predisposition to bipolar disorder, because her dad had bipolar disorder too. At age 28, Cantwell was diagnosed with bipolar II. Cantwell had always been hypomanic, but she never considered it a problem because she felt great. In college, she was quite hypersexual, sleeping with strange men and women she barely knew, all without thinking about the consequences. She also shoplifted once just for the high of it.

Now, 44, Cantwell, of Atlanta, has a handle on her triggers and symptoms. She writes about bipolar disorder in her blog darknessandlight.org. She finds blogs written by others with bipolar inspiring such as the ones on BPhope.com. She has gone to Depression Bipolar Support Alliance DBSA meetings, and has written for their newsletter.

“When I’m manic, I sleep four hours a night and spend a lot of money, even though most of the time I am frugal.” Cantwell said she could spend 6 hours at a thrift store and walk out of the store with $100 worth of stuff when she is manic. Online shopping has been a problem for her too.

During her depressive episodes, anxiety is paralyzing. “If I see a glass of water on the table, I am afraid of spilling it and if it spills it will be the end of the world.” She also cries more and feels lethargic. “Moving feels like walking in molasses,” she said.
In 2012, a suicide attempt culminating from a mixed episode almost ended her life. A mixed episode is mania combined with the hopelessness of depression. They can be particularly dangerous because the charge and racing thoughts of the mania can give one the energy to try suicidal behavior.

“My diagnosis helped me understand my dad. My mother told me when I was eight that my dad had manic depression. I understood that as he would spend lots of money and blow up at me for no reason. One day he was nice and the next day he was scaring me. It wasn’t until my first depressive episode in 2002 that I was diagnosed, because I was triggered by his death.”

Growing up an only child, she realized that this is a mental illness which affects personality and behavior. Her diagnosis and suicide attempt—in the end—helped her understand both her and her dad.

Cantwell is currently editing her memoir Daddy Issues: A Memoir about growing up with a bipolar father and receiving the diagnosis herself, which she’ll shop to agents in January. “This book is me coming out of the bipolar closet,” she said.

Her mother and her boyfriend are her biggest supporters in life. She’s known her boyfriend for 22 years and told him on the first date about her bipolar diagnosis, but he already knew and was cool.
“Sometimes he says calm down, turbo, in a gentle way, when I’m getting worked up,” said Cantwell.
Her best friend of roughly 30 years, who has anxiety issues, is supportive as well.

Cantwell loves knitting and crocheting mice for the kitties at the Humane Society, she’s vegan and loves vegan cooking, she does yoga, plays trivia at bars, and loves watching movies. Her favorite movie is Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

“My dad showed me that movie when I was a kid, and that movie inspired me to get into the film business,” she said.

For work, Cantwell uses her graphic design skills to create fake worlds for movie sets. She holds a BFA in Graphic Design, a BA in English, and a Master’s Certification in Project Management.

Cantwell works remotely, which she says is a healthy balance of not always being on a movie set. She makes worlds look real by designing fake products and signs.
She’s only told a select few colleagues about her bipolar diagnosis, but she doesn’t plan to hide it after her memoir is published. Her blog is also in her real name.

After all she knows that she is reliable. “I am reliable and I never quit a job.”
She is always hustling for work in this business, and she likes it. It keeps her on her toes.

“Working in my career for 13 years, I’m established enough now to pick each job I take,” she said.

Her bipolar gets triggered by the traffic in Atlanta. To avoid road rage she tries to avoid driving at high traffic times like rush hour. Daylight savings time can also be a trigger so she has to make sure sleep is priority. She has an eye mask and a white noise machine, and a portable white noise machine for when she travels.

You can read her blog Darkness and Light and find out more about Carrie Cantwell by going to http://darknessandlight.org.

Changing Ways the novel Shows More of the Recovery from Mental Illness and Less of the Illness, Written by a Teen with Lived Experience

 

Since eighth grade, 18-year-old, Julia Tannenbaum, of West Hartford, CT, has been writing. But a few years into high school, she found herself in a real dark place…struggling with mental illness.

“I had no way to articulate my thoughts and emotions,” she said. “My feelings felt repressed inside.”

In and out of school, in various treatment facilities both inpatient and outpatient, she often spent three to four hours a day writing poetry, journals, fiction to express herself.

However, once in long-term recovery, at age 17, she was visiting a friend in California where she used to live when she had an idea.

“I wanted to write a book in fiction about my experiences with mental illness,” she said.

The plot of the book, Changing Ways, is a 16-year-old girl spirals into mental illness travels the road to recovery with help from friends and family and people she meets along the way. One third of the book is Grace’s recovery.

She had read a lot of fiction and nonfiction about other’s experiences with mental illness and found it very triggering, stuck in the illness, and not relevant to her own struggles. So she decided to write the book as a work of autobiographical fiction to help decrease the stigma about getting help for mental illness and show recovery rather than focus all the time on illness.

“The misrepresentation of mental illness and the triggers of literature about these topics inspired me to write my book,” said Tannenbaum.

Changing Ways the novel, was born. She started writing in the middle of the story and wrote the beginning last.

“The beginning is the hardest part because you have to hook people,” she said.

Her battle with mental illness which included depression, anxiety and an eating disorder started in seventh grade when she felt insecure and had social anxiety. She got into self-harm. She was eventually taken out of school and placed in an Intensive Outpatient Treatment program. When discharged, it was a slow upward battle. High School brought more hospitalizations.

“My illness became my identity,” she said. “I eventually became sick of living half life. Writing was the only thing keeping me going.”

At 15-years-old, she committed to recovery, and today has three years of recovery from her mental illness.

“This book thing is incredible. In my bad moments, I take a minute to remind myself where I am now,” she said.

Several members of the local media have done stories on her novel and she has reached out to many local libraries to do book talks. Changing Ways has sold so far 250 copies since September 2 when the book came out. She gave her first book talk at Book Club Bookstore in South Windsor. She has one coming up on November 3 at the West Hartford Library main branch at 3p.m. Her teachers are both surprised and impressed she wrote a book and so are her peers.

Tannenbaum lives with her two moms an younger teenage brother.

“My moms are the reason I am alive today. They’re supportive and my biggest fans,” she said. “I’m grateful for everything they’ve done for me.”

Despite being self-published and self-taught, Tannenbaum has found success with her first book. The first chapter reads conversationally and true to life. Tannenbaum proves she is a gifted author and plans to study writing in college. Her top choices are Emerson and Weslyan.

“I want this story to be told, to reach a lot of people,” she said.

“The book ends with room for more,” she said. That’s why she’s working on a sequel following Grace, the main character, as her recovery progresses.

Tannenbaum practices self-care by allowing herself certain times of the day to take a break and just relax. She has four cats, whom she calls her therapy pets. She likes puzzles and games and Netflix, and she does yoga. She loves listening to music too, 90s style and early 00s is her brand.

An Amazon link to Changing Ways is here. You can buy it in paperback or for Kindle. You can contact Julia on social: Twitter @julia_tann, Instagram @julia.tannenbaum, Facebook writerjuliatannenbaum. She even developed her own web site at www.wackywriter.com.

An Open Letter to Beatrice Francis Spade

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For those of you who may not know Beatrice Spade is the 13-year-old daughter of Kate Spade, fashion designer who recently passed away from complications from depression, anxiety and maybe bipolar. Kate Spade died by suicide.

Dear Beatrice,

Your mom created a brand, a brand known to all and utilized by many. She had success but that success came with a cost. She was afraid to admit her own imperfections because on the surface being imperfect might jeopardize her brand. Deep inside she struggled. And her demons overtook her. I’m afraid I’ll never be able to answer the question of Why people choose suicide. They choose the path to suicide because they are in tremendous pain and darkness from mental illnesses they did not choose to have. They choose suicide because it is easier than to live tormented by mental illness. Getting help is not an option in a society that discriminates against the mentally ill. They want to preserve their flawless image and never admit that something is defeating them inside, something like mental illness.

You are in a lot of pain now. Pain you can never come to understand at your age, yet it is a pain that has been thrust upon you, and in the public eye. When you are ready, make meaning out of your mother’s death. Become an advocate for those with mental illness. Learn all you can about mental health for your own sake and that of those you love. There is a powerful community of voices you can join in the mental health advocacy movement.

Again, suicide is not a weakness in character. It merely is an end to tremendous pain and feelings like getting help will get you labeled a failure by society. I once felt like this. I had bipolar disorder but I was this aspiring journalist working my way up through the ranks to a daily newspaper. The rat race almost killed me. Many people have said that if I stayed longer at my first newspaper job I might have been editor one day. But my illness’ symptoms flared up forcing me to quit that paper to hide another manic break. I never felt I could confide in my editor’s; I never felt I could trust them with what was going on with me. I ran to alcohol and that made things worse. I won’t go into detail about what happened next. I will say that with sobriety and with the right medications I eventually found my way to hope.

There is hope. New treatments and breakthroughs in science are happening everyday. More celebrities like Mariah Carey are coming out about their struggles with mental illness. There are organizations like the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI), the Depression Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), Active Minds, This is My Brave and others that are working to end the discrimination around people with mental illness and change the conversation surrounding it.

Today, I read the suicide rate is on the rise in almost every state according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). There is something wrong with society that prevents people from getting help because of a fear of being seen as a failure, a weak. The people who get treatment are strong and successful. It takes a long time to find the right treatments or it can take a short time. Every person is different.

If you or anyone you know feels suicidal, help is out there. Call the Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-8255 or visit them on the web at suicidepreventionlifeline.org.

You are not alone. Someone else has already been there before you. Help is out there.

Review of This is My Brave Boston

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Photo pictures: Founder and executive director of This is My Brave Jennifer Marshall on right with her coworker Lauren

 

 

Last night, I attended a magical show. Magic, because people combatted societal stigma to open up about struggles many of us consider taboo. Brave people. Human.

I attended the This is My Brave show in Boston on the campus of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hills, MA. I met Jennifer Marshall, the executive director of the organization. This endeavor began first with Jenn’s bravery in writing her blog bipolarmomlife located now at http://jennifermarshall.me. This is My Brave is a non-profit organization which provides a community and platform for people living with mental illness to speak out and end the stigma associated with these disorders. Through storytelling, community programs and social media, they hope to change the conversation on mental illness. Since 2014, they have performed 42 shows in the United States and even one in Austrailia. Each show has a regional cast and crew as they are performed in different areas of the country.

The show opened with two young women singing with a guitar a rendition of Sara Bareilles and Jack Antonoff’s Brave. Through personal essays performed like TED talks, poetry, music and dance, each cast member portrayed a different aspect of their struggle with mental illness. Kasey Elliot Maher talked about using mental illness as a superpower by letting go of the notion that the illness controls her. Nneka Hall spoke poignantly about her still born daughter and coming to terms with it. Melissa Brown compared her mental illness ,OCD, to painting a masterpiece. Sandi Hammond spoke about getting diagnosed bipolar in later life. Jason Wright told us how writing poetry was important in his recovery from schizoaffective disorder. Hana Kahn concluded with a song about her wellness. Other cast members included: Christie Pearl, Zach Orlov, Suzanne Garverich, Robin Owens, Sarah Benesi, Aubrey and Evan Grubb, Jamie Davenport and Marty Levin.

Through the use of the personal story, each cast member shared a different aspect of mental illness or living with stigma.

I urge you to follow This is My Brave on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube and on their web site www.thisismybrave.org. You can find a video of the Boston 2018 show on YouTube as well as many other shows in other areas. On the web site is a shop for buying Brave Gear t-shirts and other great items to support This is My Brave’s mission. Please consider becoming a Brave Champion with a $10 a month donation to help a worthy cause. Other donations are appreciated too and will help more shows get produced.

 

#livebrave #storytellingsaveslives #thisismybrave