Monday, March 29, 2010

Psychotherapy Networker Symposium 2010 – Jerome Kagan Leaves a Lasting Impression

Fellow Healthy Panda, Raymond, and I attended this year’s Pyschotherapy Networker Symposium. Even though we were only able to make the Saturday session, we had a great time, met many incredibly wonderful people and learned a heck of a lot. We splurged for the luncheon lecture by Psychiatrist Jerome Kagan and it was worth every penny.

The very unassuming Kagan took the stage and warned that he would read his 45 minute talk in order to limit his penchant for tangents. While I initially feared a snooze alert, I was soon deeply taken in by Kagan’s lecture - barely realizing his 45 minute allowance ended up being 75…

For the last 30 years Kagan’s studies have focused on understanding how both nature and nurture play a part in mental illness. He illuminated this idea with an excellent example… Kagan studied a group of suburban children for almost 18 years - from 4 months old to 18 years of age. He discovered with his initial assessment at 4 months which children were “high reactive” (easily susceptible to over-stimulation) and “low reactive” (more difficult to over-stimulate). What Kagan ultimately found was that high-reactive children have a physiological difference - a thickening of part of the brain in the right frontal lobe (don’t quote me on this fact). These high-reactive suburban children were also much more likely to have Social Anxiety Disorder. While this correlation alone is a great conclusion, Kagan goes a step further. He refutes that this physiological difference causes Social Anxiety Disorder; many other factors need to come into play - how each child grew up, their birth order, etc. The way our suburban society works allows this disorder to be a common occurrence among children with this physiological difference. He stated that if a high-reactive child grew up in different surroundings, illness would present differently - perhaps as phobias if the child grew up in a jungle with dangerous animals. Overall, Kagan’s point was that before making a diagnosis and deciding upon treatment, many factors need to be considered - not just genetics, but also surrounding & upbringing - in order to obtain a complete understanding of an illness.

Overall, Kagan’s lecture was so logical that it was eye-opening. As progress is made, the simplistic idea of looking at the “whole picture” becomes obfuscated by scientific advancement and progressive treatment options. Thanks, Dr. Kagan for sharing your incredible insight!

What are your thoughts on Kagan’s findings and theses? If you were at the Symposium, what was your favorite part?


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Website Usability Review: Belmont Behavioral Health

As 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: Belmont Behavioral Health (

This site is one component of the Einstein Health System. It seems to be a comprehensive in/out patient center providing all sorts of treatment. It is a danger in this type of offering that you need to be all things to all people. However, from a usability point of view, this is one of the best sites I've ever seen.

On the front page, there are four colored boxes, each with a clear title. What makes it so special is that the titles aren't "Symptoms" or "Diagnosis". They are "I am feeling..." with links that say "Sad", "Anxious", "Stressed", "Angry" and "view More Choices." This is fantastic, because it speaks specifically to visitors in a heightened emotional state. Rather than having 20 choices on the front page, there are just 4, with a link to seeing more.

I assume that the 4 links in each box on the front page are either the most frequently needed, or the 4 main specialties that the center wants to be known for. However, by having a "View More Choices" displayed so prominently, if I don't feel sad, anxious, stressed, or angry, I know instantly that I can see they have what I'm feeling. They avoid medical jargon and stick to language patients would actually use.

They also have the call to action, the thing they want you to do, displayed prominently on every page. The telephone number appears on the left, in big, bold letters, and at the end of each description of symptom or diagnosis.

In addition, the frequent use of customer stories, personal reflections, and specific examples are brilliant. It helps visitors identify and understand the point the center is trying to make.

This isn't the prettiest website in the world. In fact, it looks like someone made it years ago and it hasn't been updated since. However, the quality of the experience offsets any lack of polish on the design.

But heck, that's just my reaction. What do you think?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Character Strengths: What are Your Top Three?

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the science of happiness and positive psychology. I attended a lecture by Christopher Maxwell entitled, Building on Your Strengths: Lessons from Positive Psychology. Prior to attending the lecture, I completed a survey that identified my character strengths. Take the Via Institute on Character survey of character strengths test here. The test is long, but well worth the time. It is the world's most scientifically validated tool for measuring character strengths.

At the end, you receive a summary of your 24 character strengths in top-down order. Although there were few surprises in my summary, it was a fun test to take and I recommend this assessment to learn more about your strengths (if only so you can respond to that dreaded interview question about strengths/weaknesses) .

The Positive Psychology research suggests that focusing on our strengths, helps us not only endure/survive, but to flourish. That seems like common sense. But is it realistic to be positive all the time?

Well, of course not. In fact, according to Barbara Fredrickson, negative emotions help to promote survival. Fredrickson has conducted extensive research on this subject and suggests that you need a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions to reach a state of flourishing mental health. You can take a positivity ratio test to find your ratio for the day. Today, my ratio is 3:7. Clearly, I'm not flourishing at this moment and can benefit from building on my strengths.

How do you emphasize and build upon your character strengths? Did your top character strengths surprise you?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mental Health Parity Act: A New Day For Behavioral Health Services

On February 6, 2010 the feds inked preliminary final regulations for the revised Mental Health Parity & Addiction Equity Act. By as early as July 1, 2010 companies with 50 or more employees must offer mental health and substance abuse benefits that are comparable to their health and surgical benefits - meaning that behavioral health services can be no more restrictive than medical services.

While the finalization of this act will be no more than a quick blip in the news, psychologists and therapists need to realize the huge benefits this act will have on their practices. No longer do your patients have to deal with ridiculous benefits limits for behavioral health services. Going to the psychologist should now, in theory, be as easy as going to the doctor for any other illness. Also, most limits restricting services will be lifted – meaning your patients are no longer limited to X amount of sessions per year.

On a personal note, I think it’s about time mental health was taken as seriously as physical least in the eyes of insurance coverage. I hope people can now feel more financially comfortable getting the help that they need.

For psychologists, now is a great time to embrace this drastic benefits change and start promoting these new, more lenient reimbursement and coverage regulations to current and future clients. A great way to do this would be to build a website for your practice or update your existing website and discuss the benefits of these changes. Also, I’d highly suggest listing your practice in an online therapy directory – this is becoming a more and more popular way for patients to find therapists. A great free therapy directory is HealthPanda - sign up today and get ready for a nice influx of new patients when this act goes into effect in July!

What are your thoughts on the Mental Health Parity Act? As a therapist, how do you think this act will affect your practice? As a current or possible future behavioral health patient, how do you think this act will affect the services you use?


Sunday, March 14, 2010

Soul Motion with Vinn Marti - Experience Your Whole Being

... become aware of the space behind you (the past), in front of you (what is to come), above you (the people that stand on your shoulders), beneath you (the people on who's shoulders you stand), and besides you (the people you travel with).

Soul Motion

Last week I attended one of the soul motion workshops with Vinn Marti. It was an experience of a lifetime. Vinn embodies his practice, which radiates through his dedicated following.

In just a few days Vinn lead us through an exploration of how to be committed, stay present, explore the omniverse, and be part of a community.

Commitment: by showing up on time and doing the work.

Staying present: by being in the moment. Not seeking (e.g., joy) rather be open to what's available. Exploring the energy: make it move you or let you be still. Be alert, be patient, and be a container for others and the entire space.

Exploring the omniverse: become aware of the space behind you (the past), in front of you (what is to come), above you (the people that stand on your shoulders), beneath you (the people on whom's shoulders you stand), and besides you (the people you travel with).

Becoming part of a community: learning to listen, to serve, to be aware of everyone, and to understand that you don't want anything from anybody (including praise). It is through the tale of your story that communication with the community occurs and the juices flow. Allowing to serve yourself by servings others.

I deeply want to thank everyone and the community that we created.

Humbly, --Raymond.


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Photo RaymondRaymond Bokenkamp, MBA, MS is the founder of Bokenkamp Consulting. He holds a Masters degree in .....Read More

Friday, March 12, 2010

Website Usability Review: The Renfrew Center

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

This week: The Renfrew Center (

This site is for a residential eating disorder treatment center. As such, it is targeted to women*. With such a clearly defined demographic, steps were taken in the design to appeal to this audience: all the photos are of women, they use "she" and "her" as all pronouns, and the color palette is pink & purple.

While they are doing noble work, there several usability issues with this site.

The immediate reaction on looking at this site is its words. There are a LOT of words on the home page, and they continue on subsequent pages. While the page outlining clinical informaiton on anorexia is fine to be very wordy, a home page shouldn't be. In "Don't Make Me Think", Steve Krug suggests that in writing for the web, you should write what you want, then cut out 50% of the words. Then cut out 50% of what's left. It isn't an easy process, but it is a powerful one. This home page could benefit from it.

Jared Spool, a noted usability guru, has a technique he calls a "5 second test". If you show someone a successful web page for 5 seconds, and take it away, they should be able to tell you where to click on next to find the information they want (or that you want to direct them to). The home page of the Renfrew Center would never pass a 5 second test. There is no clear path, no clear primary thing they want to provide.

I'd guess that if I am coming to this site, my first thing is to find out availability at the center or to make an appointment. On a number of sub-pages, the direction to action is to call the center. However, on the homepage, the phone number appears is part of logo and buried in the middle of the 6th paragraph. This page could benefit from a clear, large font, set off area that said something like "Appointments? Questions? Call 1-800-RENFREW" or somesuch.

There are two sets of navigation, one for content (Locations, Careers, &tc) and one for role (For Schools, For Family, For You). While this is good, the use of "For" threw me off a little. "For Schools" means "Information for Schools and Educators who have Students with Eating Disorders". I recognize that my title is a bit long, but at first glance, I wondered if "For Schools" meant "For Educators" or "Find Schools". If I was to put myself in the role of a teacher concerned about my students, I'm not sure that this would be the automatic place I would jump. A better suggestion: "Patients" "Educators/Teachers". Leave off the "For" and be specific about who the target of interest is.

On the location page, the locations are presented as a list and in a very strange order. Philadelphia and Radnor, PA are close to one another, but Coconut Creek, FL is listed in between. The list isn't alphabetical, it isn't geographic. My only guess is it is listed in the order that they were opened. Whatever the order, it isn't listed in any order that is meaningful to users. Much better: a map that shows the locations so a user can place herself and judge which center is right for her. Also of interest: I had no idea that they had so many centers. The title of the homepage says: "Renfrew Center Philadelphia Florida" Leaving out the 7 other states. I'd certainly want to promote that fact on the home page.

So, that's the feedback:
- very wordy
- no clear calls to action (particularly on the homepage)
- choppy navigation
- poor location information and promotion

But heck, that's just my 2 cents. What do you think?

* although they point out that eating disorders are increasingly prevalent in men.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Quieting Your Mind with Journey Dance

On a given day, the average person spends much of their attention in their mind with way too little attention directed to the body and to the soul. Our mind and egos are so powerful that they often make us see reality as a substantially distorted reflection.

This is a sign of our times and many of us seek to change this imbalance by practicing mindfulness, meditation and yoga. Other sports such as running, walking, or team sports can be powerful as well. The only catch is that if you get overly competitive over a prolonged period of time then your ego takes charge again.

Why should you care about Journey Dance? Your ego is so powerful that it will convince you and try to convince others of distorted realities. However when you dance, the ego has to surrender to the body and your soul. This may be uncomfortable for many, but it is an extremely powerful way of expressing and processing what is really going on in your life. And it's not about how "good" of a dancer you are. The only currency is that you bring your authentic self. It is quite natural actually, although it may feel a bit rusty at first.

Where can you attend a Journey Dance event? I attended a Journey Dance event at the Elkins Estate in Philadelphia last Friday. The Journey Dance founder, the talented Toni Bergins, took 75 people through an empowering journey. She made me feel extremely comfortable in sharing inner and outer spaces through dance and music. I loved that we peaked on "Break on Through" by the Doors. I actually felt like I was at a rock concert. The event was a great success and all 75 attendees were certified rock stars by the end of the night.

Toni travels nationally and internationally to host Journey Dance events, teacher trainings and dance related workshops. She will be back in Philadelphia on May 14th and 15th at Dhyana Yoga studio. Mark your calendar so that you can experience this great event and become rock stars, too.

What do you think about using movement/dance to reach a content state?
What do you to quiet the mind?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Shackleton’s Ultimate Leadership Tool Discovered – Whiskey!

Ernest Shackleton is universally known for his incredible leadership skills. However, he will now be known for another great feat…providing the world with a taste of perfectly preserved early 19th century whiskey! According to this fascinating blog article, whiskey left behind by Ernest Shackleton and his crew during their SS Nimrod expedition in Antarctica has just recently been discovered. This blast from the past might get removed from its icy grave and returned to civilization - and I’m sure it will make one heck of an expensive old fashion (the whiskey community will surely have my head for even suggesting not drinking this rare spirit neat).

Now I only jest when I say Shackleton used Whiskey as his ultimate leadership tool. While, a nice glass of scotch whiskey is a wonderful reward for a job well done…Shackleton was not one for mere carrots and sticks. According to this excellent paper from the Wharton School of Business (1st Google result for “shackleton leadership”) about the infamous Endurance expedition, Shackleton’s leadership can be nicely, but not completely, summed up with these six ideals:
  • Put your people first
  • Be flexible in tactics
  • Choose your people carefully — for character, not just competence
  • Sustain optimism in the face of adversity;
  • Lead by example
  • Strive for equal treatment

While I highly suggest you take ten minutes and read the Wharton article, I’d like to leave you with my favorite story from it. This story exemplifies how Shackleton never accepted preferential treatment and always put his men first (some of today’s leaders should take note): “When the men took to the ice and drew for sleeping bags, Shackleton somehow ensured that he and the other senior officers drew wool bags, while the more junior men got the warmer fur bags.” I’m sure Shackleton was also low man on the totem pole when it was whiskey rationing time…

What do you think Shackleton’s greatest leaderships skills were? What lessons from Shackleton have helped you be a better leader? And most importantly, how much would you pay for a taste of the manliest whiskey on the face of the planet?!


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.

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Science of Happiness

I recently attended a workshop conducted by Christopher Maxwell entitled, Building on Your Strengths: Lessons from Positive Psychology. I’ll be honest; I entered this workshop with skepticism. How can positive psychology be a field? Is it really scientifically based? It seems so, well, soft.
Well, as I learned in this workshop, Positive Psychology continually fights a stigma of being the “happy field” and its founder, Martin Seligman, points out that the practice is evidence-based, meaning that interventions have been scientifically tested to see what works. (Raymond wrote about evidence based therapy here). 

And positive psychology is more than just the study of happiness. The Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania defines positive psychology as the scientific study of the strengths and virtues that enable individuals and communities to thrive. As I listened to this definition, I realized that I may have misjudged positive psychology. But I thought to myself, what about negative emotions and stress—how does this fit into positive psychology?

Dr. Maxwell must have read my mind because he then talked about how negative emotions promote survival and help us focus. The most interesting part of the workshop was the discussion and research on character strengths, which I’ll talk about in a later post. Positive psychology builds on character strengths to promote well-being.

After attending this workshop, I am intrigued by the positive psychology field. I left thinking that positive psychology is more than just the art of being happy. There is a science to happiness and understanding the impact of positive emotions, traits and institutions can lead to more balance in individuals and communities.

What are your thoughts on positive psychology? What do you do to keep your life positive?

Resources:Seligman and his colleagues reported on the empirical progress of positive psychology interventions in this article from 2005.
Authentic Happiness: learn more about Dr. Seligman's work