Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pearls of Wisdom

I was talking with a client tonight about his relationship with his wife. In the past we had come up with the idea for him to begin each evening when he came home from work with a five-minute period of quiet time with his wife, as a means of changing their pattern from the old walk-in-and-start-bickering to something more peaceful. Both he and his wife were most agreeable to this and after implementing it for a few days they decided it was really quite helpful.
Tonight he confessed that they really hadn’t kept this up, despite finding it a really beneficial practice.  He said now that things between them are better, it seemed like the practice wasn’t needed.  And this elicited from me the following Pearl of Wisdom:
It is much less expensive to maintain a car than it is to repair it.
That is to say, it’s hard work implementing new practices to fix a broken relationship.  Very hard work.  It is significantly less work – although not by any means no work – to maintain one.  Spending five minutes a day in quiet togetherness is much easier to pull off when there is no tension between the two parties than when both are upset and irritated with each other. Hence, I recommended that they push themselves to keep up with this practice even though, and in fact because, things have been so good between them.
Remember, it is much less expensive to maintain a relationship than it is to repair it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Jewish Standard article

The Jewish Standard did a nice piece last week on domestic violence and the work of Project S.A.R.A.H.  (Yours truly is mentioned therein, but it would be a good article even without that.)


Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Think of the Good Things

Look, we all have our imperfections. Our spouses do too. And since it is unlikely that either of you will ever achieve perfection, how can you deal with mistakes and missteps that you can bet will not be going away any time soon?

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Digital Decisions

More on the topic of teenagers and technology - here's a nifty video created by thatsnotcool.com, which is a great resource for getting teens to think about their digital behavior.

Sunday, March 2, 2014


I just discovered Kajeet.com and, despite not having any idea what the name is about, I am already a big giant fan. It is a cell phone company designed for parents to use with their children.  THIS IS VERY MUCH NEEDED!  On one hand we've all come to expect that we will be able to reach people we need to talk to most of the time, that there will be a phone on hand in case of emergency, etc. - and who needs to be reachable more than our kids? Knowing where they are and who they're with has always been something parents have needed, and now that cell phones are so accessible to everyone, it seems like using them with our kids can bring us a lot of peace of mind.

At the same time, there are obviously downsides and even dangers to kids having cell phones.  Using them at inappropriate times (such as in school) is a concern; so is running up a huge bill on talking or texting if you don't have an unlimited plan.  Moreover, there is the significant risk of children walking around with internet-ready devices in the palms of their hands, able to access the worst kinds of material without anyone having a clue.

Enter Kajeet.  Their system allows you to determine which services (talk, text, web) your child will have on his phone; which sites are accessible to him on the internet; even who pays for the various services (for older children who are ready to learn about budgeting).  You can decide when the phone can and cannot be used, who is allowed to call the phone, and much more. You can even use the GPS tracking feature to find out where your child is, or to get alerts when he arrives at school, home etc.

I gotta say, I think this is brilliant, and much needed for the safety of our children. (Note: I'm not being paid by Kajeet!)  Philip Rosenthal, a noted expert on the internet and cybercrime, puts it nicely: Parents who consider giving their teenager unrestricted and unsupervised Internet access may as well buy them a gun. They’re likely to do less damage.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Mental Illness in the Jewish Community

This article came out recently in the New Jersey Jewish Standard, and I think it is absolutely right on the money.  It's called, unabashedly, "I Have Bipolar Disorder." Take a look.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

One More Day

Another easier-said-than-done tip to help avoid those conflicts that never really needed to happen. To make it easier to do, too - start practicing now.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Monday, January 13, 2014

Moving On

I thought this song, written by a young man based on his own experience, was a meaningful contribution to the discussion on child sexual abuse.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

A Beautiful Mind

And now, for the lighter side of psychotherapy... here's a thought I recently had: there seems to be an awful lot of mental illness in "Beauty and the Beast" (over and above, of course, the whole Maison des Lunes number):
  • Belle: Stockholm syndrome
  • Beast: Intermittent explosive disorder, possibly Asperger's disorder
  • Belle's father: dementia
  • Cogsworth: obsessive compulsive personality disorder
  • Lumiere: possible sexual addiction
  • Gaston: narcissistic personality disorder
  • LeFou: dependent personality disorder
Did I miss any?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Whose Turn Is It?

"I took the garbage out yesterday - you do it today."
"I already changed three diapers today, it's your turn!"
"I walked the dog this morning in the freezing cold, you'd better do it tonight."

Do these sound familiar? It's not uncommon in relationships for people to try to equalize the workload by taking turns with the chores - and by keeping tabs on whose turn it is.  Here's my take on this approach:

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

My New Books!

This post is part parenting discussion and part personal plug.

You may recall an older post of mine which linked to an article I wrote for the OU discussing how to influence one's children towards better behaviors.  In it, I cite the obvious principle that lecturing children (especially young children) is a brilliantly ineffective way to do so.  Children do not respond to lectures. They respond to visual cues, rhymes and rhythms, modeling, and stories.  Thus, when we were facing an issue with my older daughter of her being rather bossy with her friends and her younger sister, rather than try to explain to her why this was problematic, I wrote a little book about it (with the help of Bat-Sheva Kivelevitz, my intrepid illustrator).  I can't tell you that the book was a magical success, but I can tell you that we don't really have this problem anymore. So it seems to have at least been part of the solution.

Likewise, early on my younger daughter was having trouble sharing. So I wrote a book for her at her level to help her understand how and why to share. Again, I don't know how much it contributed, but I can tell you that now she is very proactive about sharing.

It was actually a rather long process to finally make these available to the public once I decided to do so, but now here they are!  Bossy Baila and I Share are available on Amazon.com and CreateSpace.com.  And they make great gifts for all your pre-school friends!  Bossy Baila is great for around the ages of 4-6, and I Share is more for younger children, perhaps 2-4.

Note that although I expect these books will be helpful for children of any background, they are written primarily for the Orthodox community (e.g. the names, illustrations, etc.). Actually, they are written primarily for my daughters. I didn't really intend to formally publish them when I wrote them. But here they are! So now pass it on.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Shabbos with the Bileks

We are going to be scholars in residence of sorts at House of Israel in Ste. Agathe Des Monts, Quebec (about an hour outside of Montreal) this Shabbos.  (I say scholars, plural, because really it's my wife they want to hear. She will be speaking about her life's journey from being born in South Korea to becoming a rebbetzin.) If you're in the area, it's a great place to spend Shabbos!

Monday, November 25, 2013

Feel the Burn: Relationship Counseling Exercise

As you may have noticed by now, many of the tips I've posted here require a bit of effort on your part.  Rarely can you grow as a person without putting some emotional elbow grease into it. In this video, I'll explain how to channel the feelings of emotional strain and striving into something productive.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Pornography Addiction Revisited

A friend of mine and I were discussing my post on pornography addiction in the Orthodox community and weighing in on the prevalence of the problem in different communities - religious, non-religious, Jewish, Christian, etc.  He said something that I thought was most thought-provoking, and I am sharing it here for the good of the masses.  Would love to hear others' responses to this:
The non-religious are addicted to porn because it is easier to satisfy your desires without a connection to people. The religious are addicted to porn because it is impossible to satisfy your desires by connecting to people.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The Royal "We"

Using "we" when you mean "you" is one great way to leave your partner feeling vaguely resentful and keep negative feelings brewing under the service. In this video I'll explain this a little more:

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Hidden Lessons of the Hebrew Letters

If you're in the environs of Passaic this Sunday, stop by the Ahavas Israel shul (181 Van Houten Ave.) at 10 AM to catch the opening shiur in a series I'll be giving on the meaning of the Hebrew letters.  It promises to be most interesting!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Mental Illness - Rules of the Game

I just read a brief review of The Book of Woe, a critique of the DSM-V (the latest edition of the Big Book of Mental Illnesses that mental health professionals use to categorize disorders and people). It contains the following apt description:
The basic message is this: everyone in the mental health profession knows full well that the DSM is a work of fiction—that the hundreds of “disorders” described therein are just labels for fuzzy, overlapping clusters of symptoms and that we have never found a definitive biological marker for even one of those disorders. Mental health professionals pretend that the disorders are real, but they're not, period.
I have long maintained openly that the categories laid out in the DSM are made up and not very useful for actually helping the people who suffer from the disorders therein.  The only part I disagree with above is that "mental health professionals pretend that the disorders are real" - because I am a mental health professional, and clearly, I don't. Nonetheless I am forced to play along with the labeling system because unless you have an "approved" disorder, your insurance probably won't pay for your therapy.  Stressed out because of your boss, your significant other, your children? Major depressive disorder (probably unspecified type).  Worried about your financial situation?  Marital trouble? Generalized anxiety disorder.  Does everyone who gets these diagnoses meet all the criteria? Unlikely - but if you want coverage, you have to play by the insurance companies' rules, which thus far still include the DSM's fiats. (I must confess to being ignorant of the rationale for the insurance companies' approach, but I imagine it has to do with practicality over precision - see below.)

I think it is important to note, however, that the DSM and its labels are not entirely useless.  Firstly, diagnoses help somewhat with being able to identify clusters of symptoms as representative of a certain disorder which thus requires a certain treatment.  You don't do cognitive-behavioral work with psychotic disorders; if someone appears to have borderline personality disorder, dialectical behavior therapy is the only treatment that has demonstrated any effectiveness. 

Likewise, categories are helpful for research purposes.  If we want to know what has been effective for people who are struggling with exaggerated worry, we need some definitions in order to study what sort of treatment yields the best results.  The problem is that the categories often become gospel. Many or even possibly most people with anxiety problems might respond to treatment X, but certainly not all of them will.  People, after all, are people - no two alike.

As an on-the-ground practitioner, I use the labels to satisfy the insurance companies; but I am in agreement with the author of this book that by and large, the whole approach is something of a farce.