Thursday, February 25, 2010

Website Usability Review: Council for Relationships

As part of an ongoing series, every few weeks I will be reviewing various psychology and psychiatry websites with an eye towards user centered design and usability. Hopefully you'll be able to get some ideas on what to do and what to avoid when it comes to your own website.

This week: Council for Relationships

I have to say: I really like this site, when looking through the lens of usability. Here are some of the things they get really right.

Clear, consistent navigation: always in the same place on every page. Common links, including a contact method. Demographic based navigation: "for clients" "for professionals" gives visitors clues to where they should be clicking.

Updated content in common places: the Tip of the Week, In the Spotlight, and Upcoming Classes are all content that is easily updated and encourages repeat visitors to the homepage, but gives links to more information

Calls to action clearly marked: They want most visitors to do one (or more) of 3 things: sign up for newsletter, donate money, or make an appointment. Each one is clearly marked (the donate repeats), and easy to find. They stand out and draw the eye.

From a purely usability view, I'd only suggest two changes and they are pretty minor.

The first is the logo for "OPERATION Home & Healing". I understand the purpose of the words "OPERATION" are to enforce and remind of military and service. I also understand that the contrast in font from "OPERATION" and "Home & Healing" is meant to be there. However, the execution of the text makes the Home & Healing hard to read at first glance. The bisecting lines of the OPERATION text make visual disruption and effort on the part of the user to read. By moving the "Home & Healing" down just a little, less than 1/2 the height of the text, so that the full "Home & Healing" is below the "OPERATION" would make the whole logo much more legible.

The second is the menu link "Media Experts & Speakers". This title is not indicative of the content that is listed there. I expected the content to be a library or directory of experts with bios. Instead, it is a calendar of events. Even as I tried to write this paragraph, I kept reading it as "Media EVENTS". Users who are looking for events to attend wouldn't necessarily think to click on this menu. Instead, "Upcoming Events" or just "Public Events" would be much more clear and get the users to the content they want.

As I said, pretty minor items. From a purely "usable" focus, this is a very good site.

However, from a "user experience" or a "design" focus, this site is not very good. It looks much more like a print/newsletter item rather than a website. The initial reaction is not positive, as it feels crowded, "text-heavy", and jumbled. There are 5 different color blues* on the page, not necessarily complimentary. The stark contrast between the blue & the gold makes the gold the first place your eye looks, and makes the top navigation tend to disappear.

I don't claim to have any expertise in pure design. I always say: I design experiences and interactions, I don't do fonts, colors, or logos. I don't have any clear suggestions on how to improve, other than "it needs some work."

Ultimately, any website carries on a conversation with its user. It sends a message to the user. What message is the Council for Relationships sending to their visitors?

But heck, these are just my opinions. What do you think?

* Dark blue in top navigation, medium/dark blue in the logo banner, medium/light blue in the newsletter signup, light blue in the Upcoming Classes and Spotlight, and the electric blue of the links. The blue of the borders appears to match either the logo blue or the link blue, but it could be a 6th blue.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Is the world really coming to an end in 2012 ?

Frequently I see messages on Facebook or other that suggest the world coming to an end in 2012. If this is referred to as the Aquarian age that spiritual seekers predict will start in november 2011, then there seems to be quite some misunderstanding. The notion is that we will shift into a new era of a higher consciousness. This era is identified by an increase in sensing, being and mindfulness. As opposed to the current Piscean age which is goal focus, hierarchical, competitive, machine oriented that we will emerge from. Of course the latter will still be ingrained, but a shift will take place that simply will tip the balance to experiencing the journey rather than getting there.

So, good news, the world is not coming to an end. The prediction is that we are moving into a new realm of consciousness, where truthful actions matter and not the masks that you represent. The immense popularity of the movie Avatar is an indicator that many people relate to the notion of a rich fantasy world and that humans are have primordial powers beyond our current understanding (see post on Kundalini & Carl Jung). Perhaps this is a sign for what is to come. I hope that cleared up some of the misunderstanding.


Thursday, February 18, 2010

Rated Xfinity: What's the Psychology behind Comcast's New Brand?

Verizon has FiOS, AT&T has U-verse, Cablevision has Optimum…now Comcast has Xfinity? Make sense? Hmmm…not really…

Xfinity is the new name for Comcast's internet, phone and TV services (the former Comcast Triple Play). According to Comcast: "Xfinity communicates Comcast's constant product upgrades and innovation." But most importantly, Comcast says the name is NOT a futile effort to escape its image as a horrible service provider (even though its customer-satisfaction rating is among the lowest in the industry).

So why did Comcast change the name of its services and why the heck did it chose such a weird, sci-fi, quasi-pornographic moniker like Xfinity? I personally believe Comcast made the change because it's feeling the pinch from Verizon’s FiOS brand. FiOS has great brand awareness, and Verizon's done a great job marketing the product as a fun, complete and improved solution to cable. So for Comcast to fight the stigma of being "the cable company" they had to do some re-branding. Oh and I have no doubt Comcast would love to shed some of their poor reputation – just like when Philip Morris became Altria and Blackwater became Xe.

So why Xfinity? To most at first listen, this new brand name sounds like an adult film production company (here is a hilarious Time/CNN blog about this confusion). While I don’t believe Comcast was shooting for a porn reference, I do believe they might have hired a few too many pharmaceutical brand consultants. So many branded pharmaceuticals include either an X or Z in the name. So many in fact, the FDA had to put a moratorium on using these letters in branded drug names to stop confusion (z 's and x's sound alike...don't want to get your Zantac confused with your Xanax). According to a great Stanford Medical Magazine article, Z's and X's imply speed. So next time you're taking Zyrtec, XYZal, Zoloft, Zocor, Clarinex, Xopenex, or Zithromax see if you feel the drug kicking-in extra fast….just like your cable and internet thanks to Comcast's "constant product upgrades and innovation." OHHH…I get it now!

Overall, here is my humble opinion on Comcast's new brand. Other than sounding like something you’d find on the front of a dirty movie box, the name Xfinity describes a techie's dream…something that’s going to bring you more bytes and gigahertz. FiOS on the other hand sounds playful - something fun and entertaining; something that’s going to make your life more enjoyable not just increase your connectivity statistics. Seeing that there aren't nearly as many techies out there as people that would like their $150/month Xfinity bill to bring more fun to their lives…I think Comcast might have missed the boat with this name change. But with a roughly infinite (or should I say Xfinite...sorry for the cheese, I just couldn't help it) marketing budget, I’m sure we’ll choke down Xfinity in whatever way Comcast wants us to…and with a stranglehold on most markets (for the time being), Xfinity is all we got.

What do you think about the Xfinity brand? At first listen, what emotions and images were triggered by this name in your mind? How is this new identity going to affect Comcast's reputation and more importantly, bottom line (is it waste of advertising money or valuable defensive measures against the emerging FiOS brand in major markets like Philadelphia)?


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Monday, February 15, 2010

Behavioral Health Care in a Primary Care Setting?!

This seems like a genius idea. How great would it be to receive comprehensive care during a visit to your primary care doctor? Not only would your body receive a wellness exam, but your head, too! What if you could develop a relationship with an on-site behavioral health therapist who you could talk to you about your fears about medical procedures or who could help you create lifestyle changes such as improving diet or exercise?

Three years ago, the Health Federation of Philadelphia started such an initiative to promote the integration of behavioral health into primary care settings. The Federation works with community health centers that serve uninsured and under-insured in Philadelphia. Details about this initiative are featured in this month's edition of the online Philadelphia Social Innovations Journal. The article highlights the development of this model of care, its implementation in the Philadelphia community health centers, the process of creating a reimbursement mechanism, and indicators of success. By all measures this initiative has been successful. Conservative estimates suggest that this model saved 3.7 million dollars in 2008. (The article details the formula used to establish this estimate.) In addition, the patients reported they were helped by the services and they would recommend the service to a friend or family member.

Given these results, I wonder, why are we (i.e., society) not investing in clinics that integrate behavioral and physical health? What are your thoughts about integrating behavioral health into a primary care setting?

posted by Lisa

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, February 11, 2010

Motivation when Down in the Dumps

So, a few days ago, I woke up in a bad mood. Nothing I could tell was particularly wrong, I was just grumpy and unhappy. The day just wasn't good. The feeling persisted through the day and into the evening. I know you aren't supposed to go to bed angry, but I wasn't particularly angry. Just pissy. The next day, the same thing. Just grumpy, pissy, frustrated, and quick to anger. I didn't know what the deal was.

I started throwing a pity party for myself, and really felt down in the dumps. I wasn't sure how to break out of it. Then I found two quotes that just changed the whole situation:

"Action is the Antidote to Despair." - Joan Baez

"We cannot do everything at once, but we can do SOMEthing at once." - Calvin Coolidge

I don't know why they affected me so, but it was a complete reversal. In the course of maybe 90 minutes, I felt totally different. Engaged, excited, and eager for the next thing.

Did you ever have a similar experience? What reversed it for you?

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, February 10, 2010

Flower Power: The Philadelphia Flower Show Kicks The Winter Blues – It’s a Fact!

The annual Philadelphia Flower Show is a staple of spring time in the city. I know so many people who look forward to this event every year, including myself. I’ve always wondered about the almost addictive attraction of this wonderful show. I knew there had to be something more to it than just a lovely evening at the convention center…

A little Googling later, I found a study conducted by Rutgers psychologist Jeannette Haviland-Jones. Her paper entitled “An Environmental Approach to Positive Emotion: Flowers” was published in Evolutionary Psychology in 2005. Haviland-Jones concluded that “Flowers have immediate and long-term effects on emotional reactions, mood, social behaviors and even memory for both males and females...cultivated flowers are rewarding because they have evolved to rapidly induce positive emotion in humans.” Her paper puts some scientific reasoning behind the almost unexplainable mood booster of being surrounded by flowers.

I wanted to verify my finding so I decided to call the sponsor of the Philadelphia Flower Show, the Philadelphia Horticulture Society, to do some additional investigating. I spoke with their PR manager, Alan Jaffe, about the study and it seems as though the horticultural society has never heard of Haviland-Jones’ paper. However, they already reached the same conclusion without any scientific research. Jaffe told me people come to the Philadelphia Flower Show to “escape the winter humdrum and embrace spring…the flowers bring a surge of energy and optimism.” I really couldn’t have said it better myself.

Why do you visit the Flower Show? Why do you think flowers make us feel better?

The 2010 Philadelphia International Flower Show takes place from February 28th through March 7th at the Pennsylvania Convention Center. See you there!

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.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Jung & Kundalini Conclusions

Jung was ahead of his time by recognizing the psychological value of the chakra symbols in Kundalini and had the courage (heart chakra) to broadcast it to the world.

I strongly resonate with Jungs emphasis that we are primordial beings with extra-ordinary powers, as a society we have an opportunity to learn to embrace that even more than we are already doing today.

Avatar (2009) has the best all time box office ratings of any movie ever made (over $2 billion dollars world wide). It would be an understatement to say that western beings on this planet only mildly resonate with archetypes, primordial beings and a rich inner fantasy world.

Kundalini means awareness. Kundalini yoga is a set of techniques that help awaken you awareness and take you to your original self.

Moving through the chakras is not a race to the top, even though it may appear like that. In karate, a person's level starts with the white belt, through progression white turns into yellow and eventually into the black belt. However the fabric of the black belt, over time, will lose its black stain and turn back into white. You can look at this as going from the muladhara (root) to the ajna (crown) but energy then floats back to the root. It is simply to flow of life that is circular in motion. Just like water that evaporates into the clouds and eventually comes back to the sea. Just like the aftermath of a carefully build up climax that returns back to earth, etc.

It doesn't really matter what your starting point is, you are always part of the flow. And we all get stuck (individual/society), the key is to find ways to move energy through the places that are stuck. When you experience flow, you can feel it and this is called the naad (flow of universal energy or perhaps for us Westerners zeit-geist). Tantric yoga is really about the fabric. When society moves with the naad (flow of universal energy) then the fabric is balanced and strong. When strong, the fabric of society is better equipped to face challenges and external forces.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jung & Kundalini - Lecture 4 : November 2nd, 1932

The psyche is so complex and interwoven that the chakra system offers useful symbols to see sub systems as a whole. Jung makes a quick parallel that modern philosophy has formulated Gestalt therapy as a way of looking at sub systems as a whole. In the East, especially India, psyche means the intuition of the self. The ego and consciousness are parts of the self.

Jung brings back the aspects stuhla (actual), stuhla (concept) and para (metaphysical) and states again that western society lives in the anahatha chakra from a stuhla aspect. From a stuhla aspect, the East, as a society lives in the muladhara chakra, animals and humans that live in harmony with nature and earth.

However, from a stuhla perspective the west as a society lives in the muldhara chakra since it is mainly ego conscious and it’s primary pursuit is material things. Even though western individuals may live vissudha or even the ajna chakra.

The west can only move to a higher chakra from a stuhla perspective when (a) it has lived the muladhara to the fullest and (b) it recognizes that in fact it is actually in the muldadhara chakra (self-realization). The east, as a culture traditionally starts by seeing the world from a cosmic point of view (ajna).

Kundalini is a useful tool for the west because it introduces concepts and language to describe experiences with the unconsciousness.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Carl Jung on Kundalini : Lecture 3, October 26, 1932

Purusa or “the essence of man” symbolizes that we are all primordial beings with infinite powers. Purusa becomes first visible in the anahatha chakra. Jung finds that as a society, the west has reached anahatha. Our civilization has overcome the manipura (solarplexus) which was prevalent during the old Greeks in the Homeric time.

The first five chakras symbolize transformation from earth to ether. The first chakra is symbolized by the elephant, the second by the levitian or makara (water elephant). This is where the conscious world ends. In the third chakra or manipura, the elephant transforms into a new form, the ram. No longer a insurmountable power, rather a sacrificial animal. Learning that you have overcome the worst danger when you are aware of you fundamental desires and passions.

In the heart chakra, the ram (elephant) transforms into a gazelle. Continuation the transformation of the original force and like the ram, living on the surface of the earth. It is not offensive, rather shy and illusive. It can vanish in no time. This transformation is us. When the psyche manifests in reality it appears usually against us. When we need to do things that are really important, we often feel something demoniacal, something that steers us away from this action. For example, just saying the wrong thing at important crossroads, words are turned in our mouth.

The transition to the psychological chakras (anahatha and up) chakra is difficult because the consciousness of self ends and higher consciousness begins. It’s unlearning what was important in the conscious world, since it is a hindrance now. It is the realization of the world as your story. People will now reflect like mirrors as a fabric of your subjective experience.

In visuddha, the elephant appears again, however not supported by the earth but by volatile human thoughts, united by the concept of energy.

Jung argues that as a society we have made to the anahatha so we can see the visuddha but have not yet arrived as a society. Speaking of the next chakra therefore becomes more abstract. The symbol for Ajna is linga. The ego disappears completely and the experience is a full blazing white light. In shahasrara there is no experience. It is dormant, one, and … nirvana.

As long as you live you are naturally in muladhara, you go about this world, be conscious and let the gods sleep. However you journey through the chakras and although it appears as if you are moving up and down, you do not return. It is an illusion because you have left something of yourself in unconsciousness. Nobody touches the unconsciousness without leaving something of themselves there. Forgetting oppressing it will no longer make you whole.

There is no return after reaching a higher chakra. Part of you can split off, but the farther you have reached, the more expensive is the return.

Reaching a higher chakra includes all the lower chakras. Reaching the ajna center, the state of complete consciousness (not self-consciousness) is a realization that everything is you. Every tree stone, breath there is nothing that is not your true self.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Carl Jung on Kundalini - Lecture 2, 19 October 1932

Building on the first lecture, Jung explains the psychology of the first 4 chakras: the muladhara, swatistana, manipura and anahatha. The muladhara, is the symbol of consciousness of the early personal existence (roots). One of the symbols is the elephant which signifies the carrying power.

In the muladhara, the gods are asleep. This includes Kundalini, the sleeping beauty, the possibility of a world yet to come. A mere seed of the future, that man can awake and manifest to potential by awakening Kundalini.

The muladhara is the three dimentional world of personal consciousness. Through Kundalini, the impersonal (higher chakras) can be developed through dreams and experiences. However it is essential to have a solid foundation in the rational, three dimensional world. The germ of life (entelechia) can grow out of a solid foundation, for the spark to come out of it through Kundalini needs to be grounded. Man can leave a trace in this world by: believing in this world, making roots, doing the best that one can, and believing in the most absurd things.

People with a problematic nature have a deeper understanding of these worlds because they can see the other sides and can judge by comparison to their own experiences. It is important not to identify with (personalize) with the dreams and Kundalini for they are impersonal and out of the human realm. Personal attachment leads to inflation. Becoming so inflated that you burst is schizophrenia.

In lecture one, Jung spoke of moving from the muladhara (earth) to the swatistana (water), a symbol of conquering the personal world and being reborn into the impersonal world. The manipura (third chakra or solar plexus) represents the sun that rises up out of the water. It is associated with the fullness of jewels, fire, the world of emotions, desire and illusions. The sun can rise into the air, which brings it to the anahatha (fourth or heart chakra).

The anahatha symbolizes the divine self that rises from the emotions, a germ like appearance of the self. It is the ability to reason/judge through the development of the true self (personality), rather than solely reacting to instincts and emotions. This is not to be confused with the ego, a disconnected version of the true self that sits deep down in the muladhara.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Carl Jung & Kundalini : Lecture 1 on 12 October 1932

Jung starts by pointing out significance of tantric yoga, which seeks an equal interchange between male and female energies. In the west, tantric yoga is often misunderstood to be about sex. Jung refers to tantric yoga as mandala (circle) psychology. An example he gives is how patients often seek to unite with their inner child and it’s uninfluenced development.

The Sanskrit term “klesa” is translated to dividing/separation/discrimination. Jung points out that in it’s purity, we have a seed or germ of personality that ideally seeks to grow in it’s own form because of the urge of realization (entelechia). However this has paradoxical relationships to the “participation mystique” in which we seek to interact with others. Eastern culture distinguishes different aspects to the word “klesa” which are: sthula (physical, literal), suksma (conceptual, platonic, personality, wisdom), and para (metaphysical).  The western urge for individualism/dividing can also be because of fear or hatred. Greek mythology has an in-between view and recognizes phobos and eros (hate and love) for dividing versus integration.

Jung proceeds by introducing “samskara”, a word that the West does not have language for to describe. Perhaps the closest concept is the unconscious mind, a creative fantasy with a rich world of archetypal images.

In the West we that moving to the sub-conscious (*) is going downward, which is opposite from going upward as seen in the East. The muladhara or root chakra is best described by earth. It’s the entanglement of our personal life that we have responsibilities to and can’t get away from. The second chakra, svatistana is best described by water. It’s the rebirth and baptism of new life associated with the moon or female energy. Jung points out that really it’s about the challenges of moving from the root chakra to the next chakra svatistana. Being re-born, moving from earth to water. Jung points out that there is no sense in taking these eastern concepts too literal or logical because you likely will go nuts.

In Kundalini, sleeping beauty or creative energy rests at the base of the spine. The serpent has to aroused to move the Kundalini energy up from the base of the spine to the next chakra, the svatistana. The serpant is only aroused by a purified spirit with a spark that is superior to the will. Kundalini makes you go on great adventures, but once in motion you have to face the music and you can’t go back.

It’s a divine urge, the second chakra is associated with the moon, it receives the souls of the death and rebirths them passing them by passing them on to the sun. Moving up from the second to the manipura and anahatha chakras.

(*) One way of thinking about moving to the sub-consciousness is described in Jim Morrisson in his song “breaking on through to the other side”.