Therapy That Works...

Profile of the Ohio School Shooter - By Chris Gearing

Monday, February 27, 2012

Watch Dr Sylvia Gearing on CBS 11 discuss the tragic Ohio high school shooting - click here.

With the tragic news of a school shooting at an Ohio high school this week, many Americans are shocked that shootings continue to occur in a post-Columbine world.

Since the tragic Columbine shootings in April 1999, psychologists have assembled a list of common denominators between school shooters.

Teenage Males: They are usually Caucasian males between the ages of 11 and 18 with the average age being 16 who are engaging in their first act of lethal violence. Boys between the ages of 13 and 19 commit about 1/3 of violent crimes.

Rural Settings: School shootings usually occur in the rural or suburban areas outside larger cities. The kids are from a blue collar or middle class backgrounds.

Seasonality: Time of year has a lot to with this kind of crime with most of them occurring between December and May (usually in the Spring).

Tough Home Life: Family background is usually highly dysfunctional and attachment to the parents has been compromised in some ways. The family often looks fairly normal to the community and people are often surprised that the child becomes a murder. Discipline is overly harsh and applied inconsistently.

Cold Blooded: Premeditation is a central part of the crime. Smuggling a gun or guns into a school takes forethought and cunning. There is a plan that has been carefully constructed somewhere along the way. Acquisition of firearm—almost always from the home-- is necessary as is the requisite clothing to hide the firearms as the enter the school.

What would push a teenager to engage in this type of lethal crime against his peers?

Vengeance is the primary motive for almost all of the school shootings and again, this teenager has a history of being bullied and being socially isolated. The second motivation is to achieve notoriety.

The shooters are often perceived as nerdy and physically unattractive and are the common targets of ridicule from other children. Anger and resentment build up over time.. Suddenly there is a precipitating event that forces them to lose control and to lash out in a murderous rage.

If the target is a school official, then a teacher or a principal has had to take disciplinary action against the child.

If the targets includes peers, those who are deemed responsible for the torment are targeted almost exclusively. Many of the kids who have been shot in the past are the more popular or successful kids who are perceived as having wronged the shooter at some point in time.

What are these kids like emotionally and psychologically?

Socially Withdrawn: Most of the time, school shooters are emotionally immature, isolated and socially withdrawn. The emotional centers of the brain are not fully connected to the logical analytical parts of our brain that tells us that “no injustice is worth taking someone else’s life.”

Violence Unites Them: If they do have friends, the friendships generally revolve around their dark view of the world—militaristic, violent, “dog eat dog” kinds of views that justify their social isolation and bond them to one another. They enjoy bragging about their interest in violence and killing and are fascinated by the weapons of violence—guns, bombs, knives, and online or media depictions of violence or death.

Hypersensitive to Criticism: Cognitively these kids are very rigid and simplistic in how they view others. They don’t examine their judgments of others and are quick to assume that others are criticizing them. They are distrustful and view themselves as victims of others. Hypersensitivity is common and they anticipate rejection. They do not usually trust adults.

When does the child cross the line to violence?

Prior to the crime, the child begins to:

  • Feel justified to kill
  • Perceive few or no alternatives
  • Believe that the consequences will be worth it

Here are some warning signs if you are concerned about your child:

Learning to predict violence is the first step to preventing violence. Remember that most of the time, these crimes are well rehearsed. The school shooter fantasizes about revenge against those who are perceived to have harmed him. They often have protracted mental and behavioral rehearsals of their acts of violence in which they carefully select the victims, the time, location, means of killing and how it will play out.

Remember that their violence is calculated--it is not a crime of impulse or passion. It is a crime of intentional revenge.

Here are some warning signs of school shooters:

  • Lack of Conscience
  • Angry Outbursts
  • Depressed, Sullen Behavior
  • Tendency To Follow "Leaders" No Matter What
  • History of Oppositional Behaviors
  • Actual Threats—Written or Spoken
  • Past Acts of Violence
  • Access to Weapons
  • Past Suicide Attempts
  • Family History of Violence or Bullying
  • Cruelty to Animals

Sources:

The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker

The Classroom Avenger by James P. McGee Ph.D. and Caren DeBernardo, Psy.D.

Drug Bust At Texas Christian University - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How big a problem are drugs on college campuses?

Drug addiction in general is increasing exponentially. Over a ten-year period, the number of Americans abusing prescription drugs increased seven times faster than the increase in the U.S. population.

Getting High on Campus: Forty nine percent (just under 4 million) of full time college students binge drink and/or abuse prescription and illegal drugs on campus.

Dependency: Just fewer than 2 million students meet the medical criteria for substance abuse and dependence—2.5 times the 8% of the general population.

Invisible Epidemic: We have been in denial about the severity of this problem. Alcoholism has received the most media attention in the past but those rates have not risen. However, prescription drug abuse has become the most underreported drug abuse problem in the nation. Unfortunately, it is now an epidemic.

Why is prescription drug abuse growing at such alarming rates?

Access to Drugs: We have more effective drugs that are more vigorously marketed to the public ($60 billion annually spent on marketing by pharmaceutical companies). Approximately three billion prescriptions are written annually, and we are all encouraged to take pills to make things better.

Non-Medical Use of Prescription Drugs: We have grown more casual in self-medicating. We also borrow prescriptions from friends and families. One study found that fifty-six percent of pain relief abusers acquired the medicine from a friend or relative for free (National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 2007). An estimated 48 million people have used prescription drugs for non-medical reasons in their lifetimes (National Institute of Drug Abuse) – that’s almost 20% of the U.S. population!

What are the signs that a college student may be abusing drugs?

Remember that addictions are progressive—what you see today started months ago. Here are a few signs to look for:

  • A change in your child's friends
  • Long unexplained periods away from home
  • Lying and Stealing
  • Deteriorating family relationships
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Obvious intoxication such as slurred speech
  • Decreased school performance
  • Relaxed and/or a euphoric state

What are the effects on a college student’s future?

We know that young adults are extremely vulnerable to experiences—good and bad—during this pivotal time. The brain in early adulthood is still expanding and refining itself and is not fully mature until age 26. When you introduce drugs or alcohol into a developing brain, lifelong addictions can get a foothold. The dependence on the drug replaces the cultivation of sturdier, more resilient ways of approaching problems in life. Emotional intensity that compels them to escape into a “high” is the solution.

What would you recommend for parents who are concerned about their college age child?

Discuss the Problem: Challenges such as alcohol and drug abuse must be part of the family conversation. Kids who learn about substance abuse from their parents have much lower usage rates than those whose parents never offer to talk about it.

Parents are the Keys to Prevention: Live the lesson you are teaching your child. Do not drink and drive, smoke marijuana or misuse your own prescription drugs and then wonder why your child is confused. Practice what you preach without exception.

High Expectations: Today’s parents are often afraid of expecting the best from their kids. They worry about overtaxing their child with expectations and demands. But on the basics of responsible living--like don’t use drugs-- you have a responsibility to be clear, absolute and emphatic. Step up and make your son or daughter understand the rules.

Source:

The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University

Why Your First Name Is More Important Than You Think - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Watch Dr Sylvia Gearing on YouTube describe why your first name may be more important than you think - click here.

A recent study in the Journal of Social Psychological and Personality Science found that your first name could have unintended effects on the rest of your life! The effects could be felt in many different arenas from your love life all the way to your job search!

Here’s why your first name may be more important than you think:

Typecasting: Remember that your name is the first impression that you make on someone. It sets the stage for how people will view and treat you because like it or not -- people have preconceived ideas about names, both good and bad.

Generational Names: Because names are so generation based, many people have preconceived notions about you based on what generation your name came from. For example, Barbara gives a very different impression than Emerson.

Target of Bullying: Kids can be cruel and children with odd names often have an extra burden in the classroom and on the playground. Your name can also affect how you feel about yourself. If you always have to explain your name, it can be socially challenging.

Job Prospects: Highly unique names can make it even harder in the job market. Research finds that there is a prejudice in responding to job candidates based on their first names, usually from some personal experience with someone who shares the name.

Source:

Parent Magazine

“Generation Me” by Jean Twenge

“Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner

Suicide and Teens - By Chris Gearing

Monday, January 16, 2012

With the shocking news this weekend that a Texas teenage committed suicide by jumping off the 18th floor of the Dallas Hyatt hotel, many Americans are worried about their own teens and the risk of suicide.

So, why would a teenager choose to end his life?

Feeling Hopeless: Suicide becomes an option for a young person when all hope is lost. In fact, hopelessness is the attitude most highly correlated with those who attempt to end their lives. Suicide has become the third leading cause of death for kids between the ages of 10 and 24.

Motivations for Suicide are Complex: The motivations for either attempting or completing suicide are complex but the main motivations include a desire to escape depression and loss, debilitating anxiety or a situation they regard as being unsolvable such as being bullied or abused. The older the child is, the more likely it is that the suicide is connected to their own interpersonal conflicts.

Are our children more depressed or are we just better at detecting depression?

Both statements are true since this generation's children are more depressed but we also have more safeguards in place to detect the depression. That being said, depressed kids are vastly underserved in our society with very few being seen by a psychologist. We know that depression has increased tenfold over the last century and strikes a full decade earlier than it did fifty years ago. Severe depression reoccurs most of the time—about 50% of the time. In fact, The Center for Disease Control now reports that anti-depressants are the most prescribed drugs in America. We are much more likely to battle depression and other mental illness for our entire lives.

What about those teens who are depressed and make attempts to hurt themselves but are never brought to the attention of medical professionals?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 150, 000 kids between the ages of 10 and 24 receive medical attention at the emergency room because of self-inflicted injuries. But that is when the denial kicks in. Very few of them actually follow up with psychological treatment or counseling. They tend to downplay what happened. They feel that they just need to get their child home and figure this out. No matter what recommendations are made by doctors or other healthcare professionals, families tend to blow it off. Kids can be very depressed and hide it well.

However, the numbers do change after the second attempt. Families do seek treatment after a second suicide attempt as they begin to realize that this is more of a chronic issue and is not a fleeting crisis.

Are there gender differences in completed suicides?

Eighty four percent of completed suicides are committed by boys, even though girls are much more likely to attempt. Suicide remains a health threat for men throughout adulthood with four times as many males dying by suicide as females. The reason for this large gap is that boys and men use much more violent and lethal means of committing suicide with guns, cars, or in this case - jumping off of a building. Girls and women choose much quieter means of suicide such as poison or overdosing.

This country has a double standard of masculinity. We want our boys to be strong and courageous and virile and yet have access to their emotions. Too many boys are confused about how to express their feelings. Anger is the only emotion some boys feel that they can express. When depression strikes, they are more reluctant to admit that they are vulnerable and that they are struggling. Depression is a progressive illness and can lead to suicide if it becomes too severe and too intense, but it can also be treated and success rates rise exponentially depending on how early in the depression the child begins treatment.

Here are some warning signs if you are worried about your teen:

  • History of previous suicide attempts
  • Family history of suicide
  • History of Depression or other mental illness
  • Alcohol or drug use
  • Stressful life event or loss like a relationship breakup
  • Easy access to lethal means
  • Exposure to the suicidal behavior of others
  • Increased withdrawal from others
  • More angry outbursts
  • Increased Need for Sleep, Low Appetite
  • Dramatic Mood Swings

Teens On Fad Diets Can End Up Gaining Weight! - By Chris Gearing

Friday, January 13, 2012

Dr Sylvia Gearing on CBS 11 describing why fad dieting may actually make American children GAIN weight - click here.

Why do our adolescent girls struggle so much with their weight?

Images of Perfection: Previous generations of girls have always struggled with body image but these issues are at an all time high. Our girls are inundated by images everywhere of physical perfection especially with our celebrity culture. The demands for excellence on girls have gotten worse over the past two decades leading to weight concerns in girls as young as six years old. But channeling energy into appearance and away from normal developmental tasks can disrupt, if not sabotage a young girl’s self esteem and ability to tolerate stress.

Helicopter Parents: The current generation of parents is full of parents who are well meaning but who are micro- managing their children's emotions and lives. Being "ordinary" or just “okay” has lost its allure for too many of today's parents who insist on their child not experiencing the ordinary problems of living. Frustration, rejection and even failure seem to be harder on the parents sometimes than it is on the kids. They project their own anxiety onto kids who just need to figure it out sometimes on their own. Over focusing by the parent makes the girl more anxious and the weight is one more report card she has to face.

Mothers with Eating Issues: Many mothers have struggled for years with their own weight so those issues are easily taught and inherited.

Epidemic Rates of Anxiety and Depression: Girls get depressed at twice the rates of boys when they enter puberty so eating problems flourish when mood disorders hit. Depression hits a full decade sooner than it did a generation ago and it re-occurs 50% of the time.

Why would girls get into this kind of fad dieting so early in life?

Trying To Compete with Other Girls: Many girls are influenced not only by the images in the movies and on TV of women, but also their peers. Many parents are paying for plastic surgery and liposuction for their children these days, and many young women can’t keep up. They instead turn to fad or extreme diets to drop the weight.

Get Slim Quick! Many young women find fad and extreme diets alluring. They just have to suffer for a short amount of time to be beautiful – they can tough it out for that kind of reward. But many girls don’t realize what kind of serious physical effects these diets can have on them and how on-again-off-again dieting is actually very unhealthy.

Why don’t fad diets work well?

Short Term Weight Loss: Many fad diets may actually work, but what girls fail to realize is that once they are off the diet – they will usually gain back the weight with a vengeance.

Lifestyle Change: Without a change of lifestyle and most importantly, without a fundamental change in attitude, any diet that works will only work while you are on it. The only way to truly lose weight and never find it again is to adopt a completely different, healthy lifestyle that combines food, rest, and exercise.

What can parents do to help their children?

Positive Example: Model what you want them to see and be. Mothers especially are incredibly influential for their daughters so be careful what behaviors you are modeling. What you say and how you handle yourself emotionally and with food will set the gold standard for your daughter.

Educate Your Daughters: Most kids don’t truly understand nutrition and positive eating habits. Make sure that they have all the information and understand how what they eat truly affects their bodies and their lives. Introduce healthy foods that are lower in calories but filling, and encourage him to drink a ton of water! Teach your children what is good to eat and how to stay away from foods that will pack on the weight.

Positive Eating Messages: Encourage positive attitudes toward your child's new self-image. Do not shame or embarrass him, but focus on the new body you can build together.

New Self-Soothing Techniques: For many kids, food is an escape from anxiety and stress. Emotionally coach your child to deal with his negative emotions by talking them out. Remind him that setbacks are temporary and that he can cope with whatever he is facing. Overeating no longer has to be a coping mechanism when you are more emotionally resilient.

Distract From Hunger: Begin to spend time with your child to develop new coping skills that will distract him from his hunger. For example, before dinner, go out for a brisk 20- to 30-minute walk. It is a great appetite suppressant and will increase his endorphins.

Source:

The work of Dr Martin Seligman

"Generation Me" by Jean Twenge

Could Baby Names Negatively Affect Your Child? - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Watch Dr Sylvia on CBS 11 discuss whether a baby's name could negatively impact them - click here.

Is Reality TV Bad For Your Daughter? - By Chris Gearing

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Watch Dr Sylvia Gearing on CBS 11 discuss how reality TV affects your daughter's development - click here.

Domestic Violence In Relationships - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Why are relationship violence rates so high?

These numbers speak to a deepening problem in American couples. Too many modern couples replace words and negotiation with intimidation and bullying. Relationship violence can easily get out of control. We are more exhausted, less affluent and less conscientious about doing the right thing even when no one is watching. We live in a society now that rewards the intimidation of others. Bullis believe that if they don’t get their way, that they can threaten or intimidate others to control the outcome. Such behaviors in general society have transferred to our marriages. These violent habits now thrive in intimate relationships where there is no witness and very sadly, no accountability.

How does this kind of relationship violence get started?

Malignant Trend: We already knew that about 70% to 80% of distressed couples could resort to occasional pushing and shoving when there is chronic tension. But this survey speaks to a more malignant trend in relationships. Relationship violence usually starts suddenly with a slap or a shove. There is shock at the beginning as the intensity and the frequency progressively increase.

Violence Becomes the Norm: The woman is intensely harmed—hit hard, kicked, violently attacked, choked, beaten, shot or slammed against a hard surface by her partner. Her denial kicks in and she pretends that this is either her fault or a normal part of life.

Witnesses to Violence in Family of Origin: Many women of the current generations have witnessed domestic violence in their parents’ relationships. When they grow up with violence, they are twice as likely to accept or normalize violence in their own relationships.

Overwhelming Trauma: The emotional damage is exponentially worse when you are traumatized at the hands of your partner. The person who is supposed to protect and honor you is now torturing you with bullying and intimidation. Twenty nine million women say that they have suffered this type of severe and frightening physical violence from their boyfriend, spouse or intimate partner.

Why do men move to violence against their wives?

There are two broad categories of men who become violent in relationships:

Men Who Control at All Costs:

  • Controlling and contemptuous personalities.
  • Regards the wife as a possession, not a person.
  • Anger issues
  • An inability to take responsibility for his behavior.

Emotional Dependence on the Wife/Girlfriend:

  • When she elects to reject him or disagree, he is devastated.
  • He becomes psychologically disorganized and seeks to isolate her and reestablish control.
  • If he cannot resume control and/or connection, his obsession will lead him to a total self-destruction that can include dangerous behaviors.

What are the warning signs of potential violence?

Physical Violence: Once he crosses the line, you have changed the relationship forever.

Symbolic Violence: This behavior includes the destruction of objects dear to the partner. The intention is to intimidate the other person. Wedding pictures, personal items like perfume or lingerie or even violence against a beloved pet are all efforts to symbolically intimate.

Fast Paced Relationships: When the pace is accelerated at the beginning, this is a control strategy.

Persistence: Anyone who will not hear “no” as an answer is trying to control you. Too often, when men say “no” that is the end of the conversation. When the woman says “no” in a potentially violent relationship, this marks the beginning of the negotiation.

What can women do to protect themselves?

Unavailability at All Costs: If you fear your partner, you must surrender your daily life to separating from him. Remember that you cannot reason with him, convince him or soothe him since he is intent upon reclaiming you as a possession. He only wants to regain control.

Worst Safety Threat is Your Own Denial: Women underestimate threat and do not recognize the warning signs such as a history of possessiveness, intimidation and sexual jealousy. These are the psychological "signposts" warning you of potential danger. Pay attention.

Intuition is Best Defense: Respect your own intuition and don't talk yourself down. Stop debating and prosecuting your own observations. Thirty one thousand women die each year in America and the majority die at the hands of an intimate partner.

Speed is Your Best Protection: If you are threatened, respond quickly. Do not hesitate and remain frozen. Experts estimate that you have approximately five seconds to make a difference in your own self defense. A failure to act may cost you your life.

Why Are Some Kids Killers? - By Chris Gearing

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Watch Dr. Sylvia Gearing discuss why some children kill on CBS 11 - click here.

What would drive an adolescent to kill someone?

Emotions are Contagious: In the heat of the moment a group of kids can turn into a vicious mob with little provocation. The negative influence of the group can override the good common sense of even a good child. In some cases, such as in this crime, the actions turn deadly very quickly.

Developing Brain: The adolescent brain is still developing and as a result, it is highly vulnerable to the influences of the crowd. The emotional centers of the brain are not fully connected to the logical analytical parts of our brain that tells us to “turn back” or “get out of there.” Instead, the emotional centers begin to fire, the bullying behavior begins, and the anger and taunting become contagious. The crowd of kids literally feeds off of the fear of the victim and things spiral out of control.

How common is this kind of crime?

We do know that teens tend to kill other teens. Here are the numbers:

Boys between the ages of twelve to nineteen commit one third of violent crimes.

Homicides are the second leading cause of death of this same age group.

Young males are FOUR TIMES more likely to be murdered than are females.

Eighty five percent of murdered teens are male and most were involved in some sort of physical fight that led to murder.

Are adolescent males more prone to this type of violence?

Anger is an Approved Emotion: Absolutely they are since anger is a socially approved emotion for young boys. You can’t be sad but you can be angry. Anger is also energizing. Anger feels empowering and it protects them momentarily from the shame and self-loathing so many of them experience. Group violence has become a ritualized outlet for boys to express their frustration.

Group Bullying Behavior is Rampant: This event that resulted in the death of a child is currently in the news, but bullying happens everyday to millions of children. Bullying behavior is almost always a group activity and it is rampant among males.

Violence is Normalized: In a group of adolescents, boys are normalizing and even glorifying the physical violence they exert against one another. They think that by pitting themselves against an adversary, they demonstrate their machismo, defend their honor, and show how tough they really are. It is a futile attempt to connect with each other and to give them an illusion of being tough, invincible and undefeatable.

What happens over time when a child engages in this kind of group bullying behavior?

Blood Sport: They become increasingly more violent because they become desensitized to violence and it becomes a sport. They have to “up the ante” to get the same thrill. Getting away with it this time means that you may get away with it next time. The violence tends to escalate to bond the group, provide a larger thrill, and display the power and domination of the bully.

Viral Violence: Violence is symptomatic of the basic problem American boys and men are experiencing. From early childhood, they are socialized to express themselves primarily through their actions and achievements instead of careful introspection and verbal expression.

Lack of Emotional Intelligence: Over time, many boys fail to develop the age appropriate emotional intelligence necessary to manage themselves effectively. They can’t communicate, they can’t recover from failure, and they sink into a scrambled, childlike view of the world on a dime. They become disconnected from what they feel and use a limited number of emotions to navigate their relationships and to make their decisions. This doesn’t just impact their friends in high school, but also future employment, family relationships, and basic beliefs about the world.

What are the warning signs if parents are concerned about their child?

Homicides are highly predictable if we pay attention to what we are observing. Learning to predict violence is the first step to preventing violence.

Here are the warning signs in teens:

  • Lack of Conscience
  • Angry Outbursts
  • Tendency to follow others no matter what
  • History of Oppositional Behaviors
  • Actual Threats—written or spoken
  • Past Acts of violence
  • Access to Weapons
  • Past Suicide Attempts
  • Family History of Violence or Bullying
  • Cruelty to animals

What pushes a teen over the edge into homicide?

A person arrives at a tipping point and decides to act violently when four conditions are met:

  • They feel justified
  • They perceive few or no alternatives
  • They believe that the consequences will be minimal
  • They believe that they have the ability to get away with it

What should parents know if they are worried about their children?

The worst mistake parents make is to ignore what they are seeing right in front of them. Intuition is the warning system built into our brains to allow us to predict violence and to avoid it.

Here are normal signals from your intuition:

  • Nagging Feelings and Persistent Thoughts
  • Black Humor—Jokes such as “He’s just going to shoot us all!”
  • Hunches and Gut Feelings
  • Hesitation and Suspicion
  • Uncontrollable Fear

Many adults prefer to view violence as a normal “rite of passage” through childhood. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please educate yourself about child violence and train yourself to recognize it when you see it.

What Is Complex Trauma Syndrome? - By Chris Gearing

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

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