Sunday, December 27, 2009

What is a good marriage?

Early this month, Elizabeth Weil chronicled her attempt to improve her marriage in the New York Times article, A More Perfect Union. Ms. Weil says the idea of trying to improve her marriage came to her one evening:

I started wondering why I wasn't applying myself to the project of being a spouse. My marriage was good, utterly central to my existence, yet in no other important aspect of my life was I so laissez-faire. Like most of my peers, I applied myself to school, friendship, work,health and ad nauseaum, raising my children. But in this critical area, marriage, we had all turned away. I wanted to understand why. I wanted not to accept this.

Ms. Weil and her husband begin to examine their marriage through self-help books (Harville Hendrix, best selling author of "Getting the Love You Want"), psychoanalysis, and marriage education class. The details of these experiences are intimate and thought-provoking. As I read this article, I began to examine my own expectations about marriage.

I realized that a lot of my knowledge about marriage evolved from Disney movies, General Hospital and Ken & Barbie. Clearly, not the most reliable sources. While my parents have been married for 39 years, I never fully grasped the details involved when one commits to another person for life. I did not learn about marriage in school--although I did take a home-economics class in junior high school and can make a mean chocolate chip cookie. But cookies will only get me so far. Having been married for ten years, I have found that the following C's are important for a good marriage: compromise, communication, and commitment. If any of these are out of sync, things can get dicey.

Compromise--as I've discovered, I can't always get what I want. And even if I did that probably would make for a boring existence. Compromising is a challenge and I get the opportunity to work on it every day. From small things like dinner to larger issues like vacations, we each compromise to make our union work.

Communication--easily the most complex issue in a relationship. I've learned that actually my husband cannot read my mind much to my dismay. Given this, I've had to work on actually saying what I mean and expressing my thoughts and feelings. Sounds easy, but can be absolutely be challenging.

Commitment--to the marriage. Being committed to and trusting the relationship is crucial to a successful union. This does not mean that I should forsake all others (and individual aspirations), but that if I nurture the relationship through trust it will flourish and grow into a beautiful union.

All of these things take practice and patience. I enjoyed Ms. Weil's article because she discusses the good, the bad and the ugly aspects of marriage. It helped me to examine my own thoughts and knowledge about marriage as well as identify what I see are the key components of a successful relationship. I felt inspired at the end when she says, "I felt more committed than ever. I also felt our project could begin in earnest: we could demand of ourselves, and each other, the courage and patience to grow."

What are your thoughts about a good marriage/relationship?
How do you negotiate the balance of marriage, self, work, etc?

Useful Links:

Ms. Weil's article: A More Perfect Union

Try to See it My Way: Being Fair in Love & Marriage, book by B. Janet Hibbs

Posted by Lisa Colby, LSW

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Further Research in Consumer Mental Health Decisions

Earlier this year, Bokenkamp Consulting conducted a research study on how consumers make mental health decisions in an online world. The point of the research was to determine, once a patient has committed to seek therapy, how does she go about finding a therapist?

The initial focus group was 12 professional women from the Delaware Valley. Aged 29-60, who all reported either comfortable or very comfortable using a computer. Based on the focus group results, we generated a survey instrument that we used to evaluate online solutions for finding therapists. We subsequently used that survey on 80 similar women.

Finally, based on the survey results, we conducted a factor analysis to determine what motivations and thought processes the consumers were using when viewing websites of therapists.

We were quite surprised by the results.

Our findings showed that two different issues are primary in users minds: data sufficiency and source trustworthiness. In other words: does this site have enough information about a therapist and do I trust where this information is coming from? These women wanted a lot of information about each therapist they might see, and they wanted to know that the site they were looking at was reputable and vetted the information.

Looking at a variety of sources including Google searches, insurance websites, health systems and private directories, we found repeatedly that what users wanted was a trusted source of lots of data.

Not surprisingly, there were very few solutions that met exactly what they were looking for. The established, recognized and trustworthy sources tended to have very little data, while the places that had lots of data tended to appear of questionable or dubious value to the users.

Additional research may be required, but we found that there was ample opportunity to build solutions that matched consumer need.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Greatest Christmas Party That Never Was – Dissecting Disappointment

Well thanks to the record-setting blizzard that struck the Northeast this Saturday, I had to cancel a holiday party that five friends and I have spent the last six months planning. With time and expenses, we’re out thousands of dollars. But most upsetting of all, we don’t get to enjoy the fruits of our labor – our friends having an amazing time, the unveiling of an incredibly intricate and creative multi-media production, and the satisfaction of pulling off something that was little more than a ridiculous, far-fetched idea in June. As I write this, I should be at the party right now – enjoying a drink and being in the midst of over a hundred people having a hell of a time. All in all, everything really sucks right now. And the worst part is I have no idea how to handle this type of extreme disappointment. I really thought I had a decent understanding of my own psyche because of my vast consumption of philosophical and psychological readings (I say this as a self-deprecating reflection on my hubris). However, as of right now, I can’t seem to apply a single damn thing I’ve read. I feel like a spoiled child who wants to run home and cry to mommy so she can rub my head and tell me everything will get better…

After 12 hours of wallowing in self-pity, the only thing I can realize is that I’m experiencing unfulfilled expectations. Our expectations can make or break us. I’ve always appreciated this idea but it's inherent truth never fully hit me until tonight. Because my expectations were so drastically unfulfilled, I’m utterly miserable. I’ve entered a temporary state of depression that has nearly brought me to tears a few times today. My pathetic condition makes me think about a talk by Psychologist Barry Schwartz on TED I recently watched. Barry asserts that the secret to happiness is low expectations. He argues that our expectations in modern, western society are too high and constantly not being met (and thus we’re very unhappy). We expect so much and rarely get to experience a “pleasant surprise.” Kind of makes sense, huh? When I originally listened to this talk I appreciated his insight but more or less scoffed at his conclusion. Tonight though, his thesis cuts right to the bone.

Overall, I’m not sure if I completely agree with the idea of lowering your expectations just to avoid disappointed; to me, it’s like settling or not striving to be your best. But I am curious about your thoughts on the conclusion of Barry’s talk. Do you truly think we should lower our expectations to be happier? Or should we keep shooting for the stars and learn how to better manage disappointment? I really crave your insight into this matter right now so please let me know your thoughts – think of it as rubbing my head and telling me everything will get better.

Tom Murtaugh

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Balancing the Left and Right

I operate from my left brain and use lists, excel documents, and label makers to organize my life and house. While this certainly helps to make my life simpler, it also can inhibit my spontaneity and my ability to "just be." I never fully understood the duality that left/right brain plays in my existence until I read Jill Bolte Taylor's book, My Stroke of Insight.

In the book, Dr. Taylor, a Harvard-trained brain scientist, chronicles her experience of having a stroke in her left hemisphere. She describes the experience as: "Oh my gosh, I'm having a stroke!" followed by a more surprising thought: "Wow, this is so cool!" Because Dr. Taylor's left hemisphere experienced the trauma, her right side took over allowing her to "shift into the consciousness of the present moment."

I appreciated Dr. Taylor's book and found it provided a detailed description of what happens during a stroke and the process of rehabilitation. I also enjoyed the later chapters in which she discusses how we can all find our inner peace.

Reading this book inspired me to try to access and leverage my right-hemisphere in my every day activities. I've tried to forgo the label maker and hand-write the contents of a folder using a pen or pencil. This may sound trivial, but it is actually a challenge for me. Additionally, Dr. Taylor discusses anger and says that the actual, physiological response for anger is only 90 seconds. Anger beyond that is a choice. I try to remember her words when I become angry and let the anger go and move on.

Incorporating this awareness and balance can be challenging.
Are there methods or techniques that you use to balance the left/right sides?

Useful links:

Are you left or right brained? Take a quick, fun test here You will get a detailed report explaining the results and it is free!

More about Dr. Jill Taylor here.

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

posted by Lisa Colby, LSW

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Does evidence based therapy matter?

To apply science to psychotherapy generally evokes reactions such as therapy is more an art than a science. The reality for many practitioners is that scientific evidence seems too far removed from the daily realities of helping patients cope and most use an eclectic set of techniques. In addition, other significant hurdles to the scientific approach of psychotherapy exist, such as the variance that exists among patients, therapists and the way treatments occur during a session. Further more, there are many issues surrounding standards for measuring and collecting accurate and uniform data.

With that being said, many treatments that are used in therapy today do have empirical support from researchers. These treatments and their application to various diagnoses have been researched over many years. Keep in mind that the training curriculum of current and future therapists is usually highly influenced by the available research and trends for that treatment.

Both patient and therapist should care about evidence based therapy for the simple fact that we have access to treatment modalities today because of contributions by many practitioners, researchers and patients in the past. Both patient and practitioner have immediate influence over the outcome of their own therapy sessions. Evidence based therapy is the means to communicate and contribute to the effectiveness of therapy for others now and in the future.

Raymond Bokenkamp

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Useful Links

Evidence Based Psychotherapy Review

APA Emperically Supported Treatments : Publications

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why should a therapist care what they look like online?

Like it or not, the Internet is here to stay. In many ways, the access to information and technology has profoundly altered our work style, our cultural attitudes, and even our understanding of ourselves. While some will want to talk about the fact that teens and preteens today see information and the access to information as a given, the more important issue is that the vast majority of Americans have access to the Internet, and that people in their 30's and 40's have grown up with computers as part of their lives.

As a professional, you need to be aware of the impact that the Internet has or can have on your business. You may personally not use Facebook or Twitter. You may not have a personal webpage or a blog. But your patients do. Or more importantly, your potential patients do.

We all know that the number one source of new patients is referrals from existing or former patients. But did you know what happens when that referral is initially offered? Bokenkamp Consulting recently conducted a focus group of 12 professional women from the Delaware Valley. Aged 29-60, who all reported either comfortable or very comfortable using a computer. We then talked to them about how they would find a therapist.

Every single one of them included an Internet search as part of their process. Other steps included talking to friends or family, looking at their health insurance providers listings, speaking to their primary care physician, and even consulting an employee assistance program. But all of them said once they got a name, they would look up the therapist online for more information.

So, based on these results, patients aren't looking up "Philadelphia Therapist" or "Depression Centers", they are looking up YOUR NAME that they got from a friend, an MD, or some other source.

When they do a google search using your name, what do they find? Can they even find you?

Why should a therapist care what they look like online? Because that's where tomorrow's patients are looking. The patients care. You should too.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Diary of A Mad Man? Carl Jung's "Red Book" Finally Published

Everyone’s crazy. I’m crazy, you’re crazy, the most influential person in your life is crazy. However, seldom do we ever get an honest glimpse of someone else’s craziness…until now.

I’ve been a big fan of Carl Jung for most of my adult life. I believe his psychological theories most accurately describe the inner workings of the human psyche. Luckily for me and all the other Jung fans out there, Dr. Jung’s personal journal, which documents a severe mid-life crisis, has just been published. The Red Book, as it’s called, is recorded accounts of Jung’s waking visions and encounters with the darkest figures of his unconscious. His experiences border on occult fantasy and utter psychosis however it’s hard to deny that we have all dealt with similar issues - there are just few of us who have the nerve and audacity to document it. Luckily Jung did and despite some resistant from his heirs to publish this work, we now have insight into one of the most fascinating minds of the 20th century.

Beware though, this book isn’t light reading or even comprehensible reading. It is an honest account of the darkest inner workings of a person, which makes it difficult to find any type of logical story line. I personally know one of the founders of the organization that published The Red Book and he said to me in regards to the book, “Let me know if you understand it.” As of now, I don’t and I probably never will. However, there are passages that have been utterly inspiring and moving. This book isn’t a story it’s a series of accounts, if you approach it with this idea in mind you won’t be disappointed.

Here is a great New York Times article about the arduous process of getting this work published. And also a wonderful review from The Economist. Lastly, here is a link to buy The Red Book at Amazon.

Why would you be interested in reading about someone else’s psychosis? Is there comfort in viewing the craziness of another person?

Tom Murtaugh

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

To Tell or Not to Tell: Mental Illness in the Workplace

Elyn Saks, Associate Dean and Orrin B.Evans Professor of Law, Psychology, and Psychiatry and the Behavioral Sciences at the University of Southern California, recently wrote an article about mental illness in academe for The Chronicle of Higher Education. In the article, Dr. Saks details her own personal journey with schizophrenia and her decision to disclose the illness to colleagues. She discusses the pros/cons of disclosing mental illness while working in the often competitive academic environment. Dr. Saks also provides suggestions for how to effectively manage mental illness that transcend the world of academia---learn about the illness, understand how it impacts you, engage a good treatment team, and structure your professional life so that it works.

Dr. Saks' article raises an important question applicable to all workplaces--should one disclose mental illness to colleagues? The stigma of mental illness is alive and well in our society. Try as we might to be an open, accepting society, we are quick to judge when told that a friend or loved suffers from schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or depression. It's difficult to understand when one has mental illness--it's not physically visible like a broken leg or the flu.

Given the stigma, I ask...what are the pros/cons to disclosing mental illness in the workplace? Have you disclosed? How do you manage mental illness in the workplace?


Lisa Colby, LSW

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving: a good time to listen

Listening is the heart of communication. Listening is an essential part of communicating and empathy is often needed. You may or may not agree with everything that is communicated to you but you can still be empathetic and listen to what someone is sharing with you. The good news is that successful and authentic communication often lead to the wonderful feeling of bliss.

I wish you and your family a great thanksgiving day and a great venue to share food, thought and love.

Raymond Bokenkamp

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

Discussion Question
How do you react when you are conversing with someone who is primarily interested in expressing themselves?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Finding a therapist: Do you see the glass half full or half empty?

Parade Magazine, Dr. Ranit Mishori explains why a positive attitude can be good for your health. In her article she suggests that most people know whether they are have a positive or negative outlook on life. In addition, she cites research that shows that people with a positive outlook suffer less from conditions such as heart disease then people who think more negatively. A popular field called "Positive Psychology" focuses on the benefits of positive thinking to individual and community health. Local University of Pennsylvania professor Dr. Martin Seligman is considered the father of the modern positive psychology movement. Dr. Seligman is also the Director of the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania.

I like that positive psychology focuses on the strengths and virtues of individuals and that by pursuing these virtues, an individual is generally happier, open and connected to others. I would say that this powerful medicine is generally referred to as bliss. States of expansion and bliss are a natural part of life through which we can release the old and let in the new. Yes, we all need bliss in our lives!

When we get stuck in repetitive negative cycles (such as anxiety or depression), positive psychology can be a useful tool to help us move past these cycles. Seeking the support from friends and family also can help when moving through challenging times as well as the exciting times, too!

Just like birds expand and contract we all have positive and negative experiences in our lives. The cycle of life often goes through ups and downs and it is valuable to be open to all experiences. This is when you allow personal growth to happen and just as suggested in the Parade Magazine article, this process can take time and that it is important to recognize our thought patterns. Dr. Mishori adds that, “Resilience training usually requires work with an experienced therapist.”

Finding the right therapist can be challenging, but locating a directory that allows the patient to safely and confidentially review a therapist’s background and treatment approach will help speed along the process. Some directories (such as allow you to search for all therapists by modality (such as Positive Psychology).

Raymond Bokenkamp

HealthPanda offers a therapist directory to help you find all types of Philadelphia therapists and psychologists. Find a therapist that fits all your needs in our fast growing directory today.

PS To see your strengths and virtues a test is available on the Positive Psychology website listed below.

Discussion Question:

Do you have unwanted negative patterns in your life? If yes, can you think of anything that you are prepared to do about it today?

Useful links:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Power of Peer Relationships

We play many roles in our lives such as parent, child, teacher, student, boss, employee, friend, spouse and the list goes on. The relationships that we develop in these roles can be more meaningful when we treat people as peers rather than subordinate or boss. By treating someone as your peer you share vulnerability, create a connection and develop a more authentic and meaningful relationship.

Dr. Stephen Treat suggests that parents that treat their children as peers have far more meaningful relationships with their children. Based on his experience it is the biggest factor that determines how long the marital relationship of the child lasts later in life. One of the key aspects in relationships is that power is given and not demanded. Of course this still means that as a parent you are responsible for establishing boundaries and enforcing them (consider the Art of Dialog as a useful technique). You may be surprised to see how authentic relationships that are not based on “power trips” will lead to an improvement of the quality of your life as well as the ones around you. Is this worth trying today?

Useful Links:

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The art of dialog : A communication tool for improving your relationships

Last night I attended a presentation by Dr. Stephen Treat that was organized by the Mount Airy learning tree. Based on his extensive therapy experience, Dr. Stephen Treat presented and discussed a model for improving relationships with loved ones through better communication.

We are all co-creators (or active participants/players) when it comes to family dynamics and interpersonal relationships and we all have choices. We can choose to get upset, angry, shut-down or be passive aggressive when our buttons are pushed. In fact that is usually our instinctual reaction. Dr. Stephen Treat offered a better strategy which is to actively participate in a dialog by returning a question about the content presented and the way it is presented (context). For example when someone says: "This is ridiculous", you have the choice to become angry, shut down, OR you could ask: "What's ridiculous about it?". The latter choice will start a dialog that usually leads to a deeper understanding of what's really going on. I compare it to a dance, rather than blocking or repressing negative energy you find a flow through which the dialog is opened and continued.

Discussion Question:
Are there situations in your relationships where opening a dialog is useful?

Did you know?:
Did you know that the Council for Relationships conducted 50,000 therapy hours last year of which 8,000 where billed at $10 or less (based on individual circumstances).
Did you know that the Mount Airy Learning tree has already raised $40,000 for the purchase of the MALT office building?

Useful Links:

Stephen Treat Quotes:
"The relationship you have with the opposite sex parent is a big determinate on the relationship you will have with your spouse."
"The relationship you have with the same sex parent is a big determinate on the relationship you will have with yourself."

Monday, November 9, 2009

Choreographed Dance Movement to promote health and balance.

I just came back from Kripalu in the Berkshires, MA, where I completed the JourneyDance(TM) teacher training. It was a demanding experience with many gratifying moments. Mostly, seeing a group of 38 woman and 4 men coming together as one and dance like we danced together for years after just 40 hours of intensive training in 5 days.

There is plenty of literature available concerning dance and its therapeutic properties mostly concerning anxiety, depression, dementia, group dynamics, personal development, authentic communication, trans-cultural (and let me add cross-gender) relationships, and transformational leadership (i.e. Dance Movement Therapy by Helen Payne, Dance As a Healing Art : Returning to Health Through Movement & Imagery by Anna Halprin and Dance and other Expressive Art Therapies, and Therapy in Motion by Maureen Costonis). Perhaps still little is known about this “up and coming” modality called JourneyDance (TM).

Toni Bergens, M. Ed developed JourneyDance(TM) as an opportunity for personal growth and healing. Her authenticity, experience and energy draws many students and teachers into a choreographed journey of dance and music. Starting with embodiment, the student experiences movements on the floor, grounding herself into the body (and out of the mind). I valued the experience of crawling like a baby again. It made me feel in the moment without concern of future or past activities. Once embodied, the student goes through the awakening and immersion stages that (among other benefits) lubricate the spine, knees and other joints. The student is then lead into an expansion stage. Toni is a gifted leader that reads the energy of the group. She brings the students together on movement when needed, but leaves a lot of time for self-exploration. Toni refers to this powerful leadership tool as the “accordion technique.”

All stages are guided by complementing movements, music and sounds. In the expansion stage, students are encouraged to let go of the old and let in the new. This stage releases stuck energy and leaves a student feeling big and clear. The next stage, “Shamanic Empowerment” brings the student back to African rhythms and rituals. This stage stimulates release and students can go into a mild trance like state that brings them back to primordial memories. This particular stage is associated with a primordial masculine energy.

After the student has reached an expanded stage and a higher awareness, the JourneyDance teacher holds the space and safely guides the group back to a centered stage. This is done through heart and prayer dance and returning to the earth for deep relaxation. You can learn lots more about JourneyDance by visiting You will find a listing of classes for your area. I had a great time and want to thank Toni, the staff and my fellow students for this incredible experience.

JourneyDance has had an impact in my own life to help me promote health and balance. These experiences have significantly improved the quality in my own life and made me launch a free online directory for therapists: Health Panda. The Directory makes it easy for clients to research therapist referrals and find a good match. Visit the directory by clicking here. The website is called I am always curious about your feedback. You can reach me by dropping me an email at

Raymond Bokenkamp

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Health Panda: Comprehesive Online Therapist Directory Live

I am pleased to announce that the Health Panda Therapist Directory went
live on Monday, October 26, 2009. We are currently doing a pilot with therapists and the feedback so far has been great.

We are still looking for therapists to join the pilotIf you know anybody in your network who is a Behavior Health Therapist or any body else who might be interested. Please forward the link to them.

If you have any questions or recommendations, I am interested!


Founder, Health Panda