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Rally, the Excellence blog, gives voice to issues, ideas and news in mental health recovery

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September 29, 2014 by Sandra Steingard, MD

The Problems of Non-Consensual Reality

Sandra_Steingard_MDIn a couple of weeks, I may see some of you at the MIA Film Festival. I am honored to be on a panel called “Re-Thinking Psychiatry” with two esteemed colleagues. In advance of the festival, I decided to write about what has been most central in my own “re-thinking”: my basic understanding of psychosis – when a person does not share consensual reality. It has been a fundamental re-think: how do we define it? how do we understand it? when do we intervene? how do we intervene?

When you are a doctor who believes that psychosis is the external manifestation of an altered brain state that best responds to a drug, you do everything you can to persuade a person who is psychotic to take the drug. People who experience psychosis are – at least in my experience of meeting and talking to them – often distressed. I have learned that the next thing I write will seem obvious to some and provoke anger in others: It can feel negligent, even cruel, to deprive people of a drug – even one fraught with many negative effects – if this drug will reduce the suffering.

Over the past few years, I have been in an odd situation. I still understand this perspective. However, I also have a deepening appreciation of alternative views. After taking a drug, a person does not always feel “better.” This is not exactly a new insight for me. Many years ago, I knew a woman who lived with a voice. She loved him – she was convinced this was the voice of a “him” – and she never caused trouble for others. She was content with her life. One day, however, he turned on her and in that moment she sought help. She was not so much looking for someone to take the voice away but for something or someone to sooth her broken heart. The initial help she was given came in the form of a pill. The voice went away, but with it went her zest for life.

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September 26, 2014 by Kathy Brous

“General Theory of Love” on Mammals

BrousBlog6c General Theory“A General Theory of Love”  by Thomas Lewis MD,  Fari Amini, MD, and Richard Lannon, MD, is all about why it’s so important that we are mammals.  They say it’s vital that we value our mammalian attachment system and stay close to other mammals.   Here are  quotes and some great audio clips from “General Theory,” to follow up on Dr. Stephen Porges’ writings on our mammalian attachment system last week.

“A body animated only by the reptilian brain stem is no more human than a severed toe.  Reptiles don’t have an emotional life,” says General Theory.  “The advent of the mammalian limbic lobe, uniquely, allows mammals to care for their own, have emotions, and risk and lose life for another.”

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September 19, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Mammalian Attachment System Heals Trauma

Stephen Porges magesDr. Stephen Porges writes in his groundbreaking “Polyvagal Theory” that mammals like us aren’t made for trauma.  We’re made primarily to attach to other mammals, which makes us feel safe, secure and good.  When that fails, we’re also made to go into a secondary fall-back option of fight/flight; we get aggressive or at least defensive. And it feels bad; we know something’s wrong.

But we’re not made to be in fight/flight for a long time, so when we’re caught in fight/flight and can’t get out, mammals are forced back into a third, even more primitive system: reptilian freeze, aka immobilization or dissociation.

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September 12, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Is Our Medical System Traumatizing Us?

StethoscopeHey, it happens to us all. I’m healthy as a horse, but a body part was bugging me, so at my annual check up I asked to see a specialist.  I love my family doc, er, I mean “primary care,” and I love this specialist.  They’re the best there is.  And they’re victims of the system as much as we.  I’m grateful they’re here just when I need them, with all their years of training and miraculous skills. I don’t want to cause them trouble, so let’s call it “body part X.”

It took months to get authorization for the specialist, thanks to insurance lunacy. Meanwhile X got worse, but still I expected just a routine new prescription.

The new doc walked in, took one look, and said, “You’ve got [deleted] here, and also there. You can go on like that for a while, and  I could just write you another prescription for Y [as it's been handled before].  But you’ll be back in a year because it will get worse.  It’s not for me to tell you what to do, but we can replace [body part X] with an implant…

“Outpatient surgery takes 20 minutes, insurance pays for it all because it’s legally classified as  ‘medically necessary’ since otherwise you’re going to lose your Z [essential function]. Then you can forget about the problem, you’ll be done.”  (And no, it wasn’t prostate cancer.)

“Outpatient surgery”?  So professional.  Me?  I’ve just been told, “you’re getting a knife in a real scary place.”

The specialist (I do like him) told me later that at that first meeting, he then proceeded to outline my options for the different available types of inplants, and following surgery, what functional abilities each implant type would give me. I was with him less than 20 minutes. Next he sent me on to his medical assistant to be checked by one more machine, who sent me to their lady “surgery coordinator.”  By which time I was hit by a barrage of panic from my belly.

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September 5, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Pediatricians Screen for Child Trauma

To prevent childhood trauma, pediatricians screen children and their parents…and sometimes, just parents…for childhood trauma”
 guest blog by Jane Ellen Stevens, Editor, and

Tabitha Lawson & kids

Tabitha Lawson of Portland, OR with her two children, who greatly benefited from the new program; more below.

When parents bring their four-month-olds to a well-baby checkup at the Children’s Clinic in Portland, OR, Drs. Teri Petersen, R.J. Gillespie and their 15 other partners ask the parents about their adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).

When parents bring a child who’s bouncing off the walls and having nightmares to the Bayview Child Health Center in San Francisco, Dr. Nadine Burke Harris doesn’t ask: “What’s wrong with this child?” Instead, she asks, “What happened to this child?” and calculates the child’s ACE score.

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August 22, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Fire Up the Right Brain

Dan Siegel Website Pic

When we last left Stewart the 92-year-old lawyer in Dan Siegel’s office June 25,  “the presenting problem was:  his wife got sick, and he became more socially withdrawn… losing himself in his books,” Siegel said. “Rather than confronting what the illness of his wife of 65 years brought up in him, this unbelievable sense of vulnerability which he wasn’t prepared to sit with, he withdrew into his law books.”1

Stewart could handle and remember lots of facts, like his or others’ birth dates, a left brain function.  But he had little or no emotional response, nor could he recall much about his fleshed-out lived experiences, like what he did on his son’s first birthday, a right brain function.  Pure dissociation.  “I think you’re living with half a brain,” Siegel told him.

So Dan set out to grow Stewart’s right brain.

“Our right human hemisphere is all about this present moment,” says brain scientist Jill Bolte Taylor. “Information, in the form of energy, streams in through all of our sensory systems, then it explodes into an enormous collage of what this present moment looks like, what this present moment smells like and tastes like, what it feels like and sounds like.”2

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August 15, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dan Siegel, Goldie Hawn: The Joyful Brain

I’ve got more great short videos by Dr. Dan Siegel, MD for you this week, at the links below.  I’ll be blogging every other Friday so I can bear down on my book.

Dan Siegel – “Being” Versus “Doing” With Your Child – This video really helps show how poor Stewart the lawyer got so messed up as a child, because of lack of emotional connection in his birth home.  [Last week's blog introducing Stewart is at]

Stewart was taught as a kid to think about facts, but he couldn’t feel a thing. It’s all in the development of our right brain vs our left brain.

Dan Siegel & Friend Explore the Brain: Mindfulness and Neural Integration at TEDx. Dr. Siegel shows more on how mindfulness and meditation can help rewire our brains. Then a school kid walks on camera, and you’ll love what happens next.

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August 8, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dissociation Nation: Half a Brain

Dan Siegel Podium w. Brain

Dan Siegel’s webinar “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains,” which I found by accident in March 2011, insisted that we can re-wire our brains. Siegel actually used neuroplasticity and “mindsight” to re-wire the brain of a ninety-two year old lawyer code-named “Stewart.”1

Stewart was an extreme case, but it’s how most of us live these days.  We live in “head talk” in our frontal cortex, pretty much in dissociation from the emotions in our mammalian limbic brain. Stewart existed entirely in his thinking brain, but said he didn’t know what feelings were.  He had almost no use of his emotional brain.  “He’s a good example of a need for bilateral integration,” as Siegel put it.

Emotions?  We think the objective is to get rid of ‘em, just “grow up” and be rational like Spock on Star Trek.  “Too many Americans are spurred to achieve (business, academia, etc.) rather than to attach (to other human mammals), warn three top psychiatrists in the key book “A General Theory of Love.”  We’ve been taught that our performance is our identity, so we over-perform, thinking non-stop. That leaves almost no hours for “face time” to simply “be” with and be present with live human beings.

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August 1, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dan Siegel Videos to Rewire Us

I’ve got some great short videos by Dr. Dan Siegel, MD for you this week, at the links below.

I’ve also had a lot of demand for my book — but it’s not done. I’ve been too wrapped up in my fascination with brain science and lots of great networking resulting from that. Now, I need to chain myself to my book files, so I’ll be blogging only every other Friday.

As reported the last few weeks, Dan Siegel details how often we feel lousy because actually our brains are wired wrong from childhood. And now Siegel has shown we can actually heal that and rewire our brains. A fun and heartwarming video by Dan which elaborates this theme “How you can change your brain” is here:

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July 25, 2014 by Kathy Brous

Dan Siegel: Re-Wire Your Brain

91 Overpass-2 006

Like I say, Dr. Dan Siegel introduced me to brain science, and I write about brain scientists like him ‘cos they saved my life.  It was all an accident… or a God-send.

In August 2010,  I heard psychologist Dr. Henry Cloud on CD saying, “we can now do scans of the brain of older kids who were… not held, comforted or soothed, and there are parts of the brain which are dark. There’s nothing growing in there — because nothing was planted; neurologically there’s literally no brain activity.”

That was me, and it hit me in the gut: “Oh, s#$%!  Parts of my brain are dark!”  I thought it was fried for life.  I was commuting and almost drove off this I-91 overpass near Anaheim, CA at 70 mph (view from my car, above).  It was no trip to Disneyland.

Later I learned what I had was  “developmental trauma.”

But in March 2011, Dr. Dan Siegel taught me that we can re-wire our brains. It was literally an answer to prayer.  I clicked the wrong link in a friend’s email and ended up by mistake watching a webinar by some guy named Siegel titled  “How Mindfulness Can Change the Wiring of Our Brains.”1

He announces with characteristic excitement (I do love him): “We’re in a moment now of making one of the most revolutionary findings from neuroscience: neuroplasticity.

“Neuroplasticity is the way we can study how the connections in the brain… continually change throughout the life span… we’re now learning  that the brain doesn’t stop growing after childhood or adolescence; it continues to grow throughout the entire life span.”

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