Trauma Steals Your Sleep

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

sleep

Child sleeping.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Trauma alters your sleep.

Trauma, especially the kind that produces Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) alters the brain in a host of ways. One major result of trauma is a change in sleep patterns. Those changes in sleep result in a host of other mental and behavioral changes. Children who are abused or neglected or witness a traumatic event have problems sleeping. Rates of sleep disorders in abused children and adults with PTSD range from 50% to 90%. The majority of all people who experience trauma have a sleep disruption that causes other mental health problems.

While the trauma and the resulting change in sleep often go unreported, other changes in behavior get noticed. These issues frequently follow child victims of trauma into adulthood. Adult victims of trauma have the same types of outcomes and they or others may think they are just acting childish. There are reasons the brain changes and things that can be done about those changes.

Not everyone who witnesses a traumatic event develops PTSD- we know that. There is a whole area of study on the topic of resilience and why some people can bounce back and others become “traumatized.” Even people with very high resilience can develop PTSD if they experience enough trauma often enough. Children who are abused, molested or neglected are at high risk, so are women who are abused and anyone witnessing the horrors of modern warfare often enough is likely to develop PTSD.

One result of exposure to trauma is an increase in attention to things that look like the cause of the trauma. We call this hypervigilance and many times it is a good thing.

Say you walk into the street and are hit by a car. In the future, you will be much more careful. If it happens to you as a child you may grow up to be afraid to cross streets. You may even become fearful when your children need to walk to school and feel the need to go with them to keep them safe.

A woman who is beaten and raped by some men wearing a particular color of clothing, something gang related or a sports team’s logo, will be very careful when she sees that style of clothing again. This may keep her safe if she avoids dangerous situations. But sometimes the increased vigilance becomes a problem.

When someone becomes afraid to leave the house or to go where there are crowds because that feared person can’t be seen? What if they become afraid of all people? What if a dangerous person changes their clothing and they do not get recognized because that woman is looking out for only one clothing style? The vigilance is now turned up too high and focused on too little.

A child who is punished for a poor score on a test may try harder the next time. But if the punishment is excessive – if it turns to abuse – that child may do anything to avoid taking a test – for the rest of their life!

How does this excess vigilance, which started out to protect the person begin to rob them of sleep and undermine their mental health?

The human body and brain move through a series of sleep stages during the night. Some stages are deep and some are shallow. Most people reach a shallow stage and then fall back asleep. Not someone with PTSD.

Children with PTSD as a result of abuse have difficulty falling asleep. Their sleep is shallower all through the night because of the hypervigilance. They wake up many times during the night. When they wake up they become fearful. Is something dangerous about to happen? Was there a sound that woke them up?

Children with disrupted sleep as a result of a past trauma are more likely to wet the bed. They are also more likely to get up and check the house to see if they are safe. They may sleepwalk. They may have sudden awakenings as a result of the smallest of noise and it may be hard to get to sleep again after the awakenings. They often have nightmares and sometimes night terrors when they awaken suddenly screaming in fear.

Now a lack of sleep at night makes the person with PTSD very tired the next day. They often get diagnosed with ADHD or Bipolar disorder. I question sometimes, with the clients I see, if a large amount of trauma they experienced in childhood did not cause the brain to grow and connections to form that resulted in the Bipolar condition. Since there is a genetic component to many mental illnesses, and children who have the genetic risk factor may also have parents who have a mental illness. This is not an argument for taking more children away from parents. What I am suggesting is that we need more early intervention. Kids who grow up with PTSD may have trouble being appropriate parents and the problem gets passed on before it is recognized.

During the REM sleep stage, memories are moved from short-term memory to long-term memory. Poor sleep can result in things that were learned one day being forgotten when the person gets up the next morning. Lack of sleep can also result in conditions that look like psychosis.  Staying awake too long by choice or from PTSD results in the brain making things up. Before long you can have problems telling if something is real or if you are dreaming it up. You may walk around all day more than half asleep.

People who are traumatized, with or without PTSD and who have a sleep disruption, as a result, are much more likely to abuse alcohol or drugs. In many drug treatment programs clients who report trauma in the past exceed 50%, sometimes the rate approaches 100%.

When the thoughts of the past keep you awake at night it appears to make sense to take something to help you sleep. Many people turn to Alcohol which does not make things better, it makes them worse.

As a person drinks more the body develops a tolerance to the alcohol. It takes more and more alcohol to knock the drinker out. Being unconscious is not the same thing as sleeping. This is one reason a person who drinks and passes out is so tired the next morning.

So there you have it. Trauma especially in large doses, the PTSD kind, results in poor sleep. The poor sleep results in lots of symptoms that look like other problems. The treatment of choice here is to work with someone who specializes in treating the Trauma or PTSD and at the same time make getting lots of good sleep a priority.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

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Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Is Behavioral health related to Behavior or Health?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Mental Health or Mental Illness

Mental Health or Mental Illness?
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

What is Behavioral Health?

The term “Behavioral health” is getting associated with anything from a place that treats mental illness to healthy lifestyles. Additional areas of concern have been added to the things the local mental health agency concerns itself with and some of the old concerns are getting eliminated. The further we stretch the term behavioral health, the more it includes, the less meaning it has.

Some consumers, who were used to going to mental health, resent the name change to Behavioral Health. They point out that they are not their behavior and that being depressed anxious etc is not a behavior. At the same time, consumers are complaining about the new “behavioral healthcare” name, a major national group, the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare is pushing forward with programs aimed at reducing the stigma of mental illness and informing the community about mental illness and related issues. So why the need for a name change?

You would think that Behavioral Health and Healthy Behaviors would somehow be related. There are lots of programs, blogs, and books on living and behaving in a healthy manner. Adult-onset Diabetes is highly correlated with being overweight and with having a sedentary lifestyle. So exercising is a part of healthy behaviors but not part most Behavioral Health Departments program. We keep changing the names for a reason.

We have a tendency to avoid words that have unpleasant connotations. First, we see someone with a disability or problem. Next, we try to define what exactly is their difficulty. Defining requires a word or term. Before long the word goes from defining this person’s challenge to being a label people attach to the person, not the condition. So the term that began as a definition of an issue someone was experiencing became a negative derisive term that we can no longer say.

Consider a historical example. We discovered that given two people, both age twenty, one might be able to do advanced Calculus and another might still be struggling with basic addition. To explain this we invented the concept of I. Q. or intelligence quotation. IQ was understood as the number that resulted from dividing their mental age by their chronological age.  Let’s avoid the math and the changes in the test that measure this idea for now.

So people with a high score were called geniuses, or gifted. For people with a low score, we needed terms that described just how much lower their score was than the average.  So at first, some people used terms to describe a particular range of low scores with terms like moron or imbecile. Before long these terms moved from describing a score on a piece of paper to describing people. Calling people by those labels was offensive to them and to others and we don’t use the labels anymore.  We invented new labels.

So the new terms became Mild, Moderate, Severe and Profound Mental Retardation. This set of terms is still in use in the most recent DSM diagnostic manual but already I notice people are uncomfortable describing anyone with these terms and we are using newer labels to avoid describing people by their IQ score.

For a long time, the same social service department that worked with the mentally ill also worked with people with lower than average IQ scores. We had places called “X county department of mental illness and mental retardation.” Someplace changed that name to the department “FOR the mentally retarded and mentally ill,” because the first name sounded like all the employees had a mental illness or low IQ scores. Many people with a mental illness like depression or anxiety avoided going to a place for the mentally retarded because they were “not like that.” So recently we have split off the services for those with low IQ scores. They now go to special places which in my area are called “regional centers.” I expect before long all places called regional or centers will have to change their names when people find out that regional centers serve those with low IQ’s and their families. This separation creates another problem. People with low IQ scores can and do get Anxious or Depressed and they need both kinds of help.

So we have started using another term “Developmentally delayed,” which is also fuzzy because this can be applied to a lot of things besides low IQ. Eventually, we will have to stop using this term when people catch on that some “Developmentally Delayed” people have physical or learning problems and some have low IQ scores. I have written before about the trend to diagnose all people with a low IQ as having ADHD and then give them a stimulant med. We keep hoping there will be a pill that will make all people geniuses.

But our story does not end there.

Over the last few years, mental health and substance abuse programs have begun to integrate. So the mental illness label, while it did fit some substance abusers, did not fit all. And other times we find high but not universal levels of substance abuse among clients who have mental illnesses. So we started looking for a name that might be inclusive of everyone the agency was trying to serve.

The prevalent form of therapy these days is not the traditional Freudian model but the newer Behavioral and cognitive behavioral types. My understanding of thoughts is that they are also events. Electricity moves through nerve cells and chemicals (neurotransmitters) move between cells. So every thought also involves an event and is a behavior we could see and measure. Yanking your hand out of a fire is a behavior but it is not likely to be something you think over and decide to do. So I can easily see how someone who starts out drinking can reach a point where they are dependent on alcohol. Someone who thinks about negative events in their life may become depressed. In both cases, there are behaviors going on but in neither case do I think the person is choosing to be sick.

Among children “behavioral health” diagnosis mostly include bad behavior like being very oppositional or not meeting parents and teachers requirements. So some people have started to think that people who go to “Behavioral Health” for help are just poorly behaved and need to knock it off. I can assure you they would if they could. Having a mental illness or an addiction is not fun.

People can also get knocked down by life events like losing a loved one. The ability to get back up is called resiliency. People who have trouble getting back up may need help in the form of counseling. It is hard to see how those problems are “behavioral health” problems except in terms of an event of thoughts moving around in the head. Very often clients who can’t get back up are referred to Behavioral health. They are certain they are not crazy and know they are not doing this deliberately so they tell us they don’t need to see a counselor.

I agree with them, they are not crazy and being depressed or anxious or having another life problem does not mean you are behaving badly. But you still just might benefit from counseling. Things will get even more complicated in the future when Behavioral Health becomes more fully integrated with physical health. Negative thoughts can actually really make you sick and physical illnesses can change your mood.

Until we find a better name for the way in which we try to help people by teaching and talking – Behavioral Health just may have to do.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Willpower Shortage

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Willpower

Willpower.

Willpower Shortage.

Of late it has become standard practice to decry the shortage of willpower here in America, maybe the shortage of willpower on planet earth. How did this worldwide shortage develop?

The shortage does not seem to be of recent origin. Writers from the Plymouth Colony, writing shortly after the founding in the 1620’s expressed their concern that people could not display significant willpower to avoid breaking the laws. I am told that there are passages in the Bible about a lack of willpower though I am not sure if it is found in the book of Leviticus or not. Presumably, this worldwide shortage of willpower has been going on for thousands of years.

If we can find oil deep under the sea and rocks on the moon why is it that there has been no significant discovery of additional willpower in all these millenniums? Perhaps we have been looking for the wrong thing in the wrong places. Behaviorists, like Martin and Pear, believe they have discovered the source of the willpower shortage. They say there are in fact two very different creatures that we are calling willpower and that we keep looking for the wrong one in the wrong place. Could that be?

Determination.

Willpower One might more properly be called determination.  This is the willpower required to do something that we know would be good for us but that is unpleasant or painful while we are doing it. Exercise is a good example. We all know we should do more exercise. It has all those positive benefits, like losing weight and being healthier. But it is hard to think about doing something that involves effort and possible unpleasant pain when there is that nice warm comfy couch sitting there and there are 36 new movies on the cable that beg to be watched.

It takes a special brand of willpower to give up a current pleasure or reward, sitting on the couch and watching movies, to secure far-off benefits like weight loss and improved health. To continue to engage in this effort for a deferred gain we need lots of positive encouragements and reinforcements. This is why people who exercise in groups where they encourage each other are more likely to succeed than those who try to do an exercise program alone.

The problem with shortages of this first kind of willpower is that the current negative of the action does not seem to have much connection to a far-off positive result like weight loss. It is hard to make yourself do something today for a gain a long time from now. This kind of willpower deficiency also accounts for the lack of retirement savings of many citizens.

One way to offset this is to turn the negative into a positive. Instead of exercising, pick a hobby that involves activity. Square dancing comes to mind. You get some positive people interactions coupled with the advantage of exercise and it could be fun.

Self-denial

Will Power Two, maybe we should call this self-denial, is the kind of willpower needed to get ourselves to give up something that we know is not good for us but is so much fun. In this type of willpower, the problem is to skip those extra goodies that put on the pounds. We know that obesity is bad. And we know that eating a few extra calories will over time pack the pounds on. But it is hard to connect in our minds the extra pounds and the health impairment a year from now with the one extra cookie. Usually, the one extra cookie wins out.

In trying to cut down on things like extra cookies or cigarettes the challenge is to give up a current pleasure for a far off good. Addictions fall in this class of shortage of willpower. One behavioral approach is to create a script that you say to your self. Behaviorists call this self-instruction. You might say to yourself that you do not need that drug or that cookie and that you are looking good. Substance abusers find that the more time they spend with people who encourage them to stay sober the more likely they are to succeed.

At this point, we are almost a month into the year. How many of you have given up on your New Years resolution? Did you read my series on stages of change? Think about where you are in this change process and how you might start moving forward.

If you are short on willpower, what positive things could you use to reward yourself for doing those hard to do things? What could you do to make giving up those current pleasures to secure a long-term goal feel less like a sacrifice?

Anyone out there have an experience to share that involves making a change and increasing your willpower?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Why ignoring them doesn’t work- or does it?

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Bad behavior.
Photo courtesy of pixabay

8 rules for extinguishing bad behavior – Part 4 in our changing others series.

Parenting coaches tell parents to ignore bad behavior. They call this process “extinguishing.” They warn that paying too much attention to the child who is misbehaving only rewards them and increases the targeted behavior. Professional’s tell parents to use extinguishing a lot. Many parents say it doesn’t work. Why?

Parents hate it when their child throws a tantrum. They try lots of things to make the kid stop. Fresh from the therapist, they decide to take the professionals advice. The kid starts to scream. They ignore him. Eventually, he has to stop right? Four hours later the parents give up on the extinguishing method as their child is still screaming.

Rule 1: Bad behaviors are likely to get worse before they get better.

Most parents give up before the bad behavior ends. Kids can be a whole lot more stubborn than most parents. Isn’t it the reasonable person in a relationship that ends up giving in to the unreasonable one?

Rule 2: Kids will pick a place for their bad behaviors were you don’t want to make a scene.

If you chose to try to extinguish a bad behavior, in the early stages avoid places where you won’t be able to stick to your guns. Taking the kid with you to the store is sure to result in a tantrum in the early stages. It is easier to extinguish bad behavior at home than at the in-laws.

Rule 3: While extinguishing a bad behavior, make sure to reward any behavior change.

Just make sure not to fall into the bribe trap by offering positive rewards for stopping the bad behavior. We all have urges to do something positive to distract the misbehaving person, but if the distraction comes to close to the bad behavior it looks like the bad behavior got the reward. Wait till the child stops the tantrum for twenty seconds or so and then reward them for stopping.

Rule 4: Be sure you are not extinguishing a desired behavior.

A child crying can be annoying at times but they should cry when in pain. Make sure you check that there is no legitimate reason for the “bad” behavior before you decide to try ignoring it and play your “extinguishing” game.

Rule 5: If you want to stop something you need to always stop it.

Of and on actions are called intermittent reinforcement. But out food once for a wild animal and it will come back for a while until it is convinced that there will be no food. But if you feed it off and on it will keep coming back almost forever. People are like that also. If you want to extinguish a bad behavior, don’t give in, not even once. If you are not consistent the person you are trying to change won’t know which answer to expect and they will keep trying forever.

Rule 6: This is not a one-person job.

If one person in the home tries to extinguish a behavior but the rest of the family gives in it will not work. Make sure all the people who might reinforce the bad behavior are on board with the effort to extinguish the bad behavior.

Rule 7: There will be ups and downs.

Bad behavior that has been extinguished may return after a time. Why shouldn’t a child, or adult for that matter, try something again that had worked in the past. The person who has lost the advantage of their previously useful bad behavior is also likely to get frustrated. Sometimes they even get aggressive or violent. A tantruming child who is ignored long enough, may up the ante and come over and hit you. Consider how you will respond if the aggression increases.

Rule 8: Good behavior extinguishes also.

Good behavior that is not reinforced will start to fade quickly. While trying to get someone to cut down on or stop bad behaviors, you need to keep praising good actions or the good things stop also.

Our series on changing other people’s behavior focused here mostly on children is about to change direction. We talked about getting more good behavior and we have talked about how to reduce or stop an undesirable or bad behavior. But what do you do when the behavior you want from someone is a whole new action? How do you get them to start doing something they have never done before?

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Three David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

SasquatchWandering through a hole in time, they encounter Sasquatch. Can they survive? The guests had come to Meditation Mountain to find themselves. Trapped in the Menhirs during a sudden desert storm, two guests move through a porthole in time and encounter long extinct monsters. They want to get back to their own time, but the Sasquatch intends to kill them.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

Books are now available on Amazon, Kobo, iBooks, Barnes & Noble, and many other online stores.

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Improving Relationships – Changing Others Part Two – Encouragement

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Couple

Relationship.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Using Encouragement to create change.

One way to improve relationships is to encourage others to do the things we want them to do. This is true whether the relationship we are talking about is a romantic one or the parent-child type. Last time we started to talk about the use of rewards to increase positive behavior. Professional behavior modifiers call this approach the use of positive reinforcement. When we say rewards, lots of people think of tangible things. But positive reinforcements include lots of things that are not physical, like praise and encouragement.  There are some guidelines for using positive reinforcements. Correctly used they are powerful but incorrectly applied they will disappoint.

Marriage counselors stay busy with couples whose main ways of trying to change their partner is to argue, fight and complain. Researchers like the Gottman’s tell us that for a relationship to be satisfying the positive interactions need to outweigh the negative by a wide margin. But not all positives are created equal.

For positive reinforcement to work, you have to pick the right reward. Chapman wrote a book applying this principle to couples called “The Five Love Languages.” The premise is that different positive rewards say love to different people. So if your partner feels loved when you praise them and you try to make them feel good with gifts, you two are speaking different “love languages” and as a result, your positive reinforcement is not going to work. For the full list of languages and applying them, you might want to read the book.

One important rule for using positive reinforcement is to pick the right reward. Say your child really likes playing video games. He hates doing his homework. So you tell him if he does all his homework this week you will get him a gift on your way home from work Friday. One your way home you stop at the toy store and find him a gift, a new book called “Doing Math the Fun Way.” Is this likely to make him happy? Will he be likely to do his work the next time? You picked the wrong reward and it looks more like punishment, more homework, to the child.

Men are particularly prone to falling into this trap when “positively reinforcing their partners.”  If you decide to make her happy by buying her a box of candy, that might work. But if you bring her one two days in a row, presumably before she has eaten very much of the first box, will that be positively reinforcing? The second box will get a lot less result than the first. Now, what if she is on a diet and just lost some weight, should you bring candy? This is more likely to end in an argument than to increase positive interactions.  Pick the right reward.

Now there are times when a given reward works better than others. A drink of water works better when you are thirsty than when you just finished drinking something. Bars put out salted snacks for just that reason. So if someone has been without the reward for a long time it is more rewarding. After going without their phone for a while a kid is willing to do a lot more to get one than if you just took it away yesterday and they are still mad. The principle here is, don’t overuse a reward and use them at the times they will have the most impact.

You take your child out for a treat, a special time together. That should be really positively rewarding. You go to the mall and walk around. Malls are frequently very positively reinforcing for adolescents. Your child lags behind. As you offer to buy them a particularly popular piece of clothing, they burst into tears.  Trip over. You head home. Once home you set the child down on the couch, time for a talk.

You explain to the child that you can’t understand why they got so upset. You were trying to positively reward them for all that hard work and their good grades. You child goes storming out of the room, doors slamming. You look over at your partner. What went wrong? “The new report card came in the mail today.” your partner says. “Four F’s this time.”  How did you go so wrong?

Positive rewards have to occur very soon after the action you want to increase. The shorter the time between the action and the reward, the more reinforcing it will be. You should have done the trip immediately after the last report card when there were some good grades to reward. By waiting so long you let other actions good and bad happen in between. Now the reward looks like a punishment. The sooner the reward is given the larger the result.

How long do you have to keep the positive reinforcement up? People are afraid that once they start it they may need to keep it up forever. There are two ways to get past this. Create a set of instructions that the person whose behavior is being changed can repeat to themselves. Kids learn to repeat these instructions as they do the task and then they can positively reinforce themselves with the knowledge that they did the task well. Look for natural reinforcers in the environment. Humans are social animals, we like others to like us. Once a positive behavior is created the positive reinforcement can be changed from a tangible reward to things like verbal praise. Eventually, smiles may be enough to reinforce the new likable behavior.

Positive reinforcement works not only for changing others but also for changing yourself. If you have embarked on a program of self-change remember to give yourself frequent, positive reinforcement for the progress you are making. Sometimes positive reinforcement backfires and creates a huge negative response. Why?

More to come on behavior modification and changing yourself or others.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

Two David Joel Miller Books are available now!

Bumps on the Road of Life. Whether you struggle with anxiety, depression, low motivation, or addiction, you can recover. Bumps on the Road of Life is the story of how people get off track and how to get your life out of the ditch.

Casino Robbery is a novel about a man with PTSD who must cope with his symptoms to solve a mystery and create a new life.

For these and my upcoming books; please visit my Amazon Author Page – David Joel Miller

Want the latest blog posts as they publish? Subscribe to this blog.

Want the latest on news from recoveryland, the field of counseling, my writing projects, speaking and teaching? Please sign up for my newsletter at – Newsletter. I promise not to share your email or to send you spam, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see my Facebook author’s page, davidjoelmillerwriter. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com.

Changing Others – Part One

By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.

Change

Change.
Photo courtesy of Pixabay.com

Sometimes we really do need to change others.

Now I know I talked to you before about how hard changing others was and how we first need to look at ourselves. We have also looked at the way in which really lasting change happens. But sometimes we do need to try to change others behavior especially when it is not us they are harming but themselves and their acceptance in society. If your child is hitting other students you could wait to see if he outgrows it, but by then he may be expelled from school and you may be stuck with an unruly brat in your home all day. So sometimes teaching others to change is for their own good. There is a process for this way of changing others and it is called behavior modification.

Now I know I talked to you before about how hard changing others was and how we first need to look at ourselves. We have also looked at the way in which really lasting change happens. But sometimes we do need to try to change others behavior especially when it is not us they are harming but themselves and their acceptance in society. If your child is hitting other students you could wait to see if he outgrows it, but by then he may be expelled from school and you may be stuck with an unruly brat in your home all day. So sometimes teaching others to change is for their own good. There is a process for this way of changing others and it is called behavior modification.

Now I know I talked to you before about how hard changing others was and how we first need to look at ourselves. We have also looked at the way in which really lasting change happens. But sometimes we do need to try to change others behavior especially when it is not us they are harming but themselves and their acceptance in society. If your child is hitting other students you could wait to see if he outgrows it, but by then he may be expelled from school and you may be stuck with an unruly brat in your home all day. So sometimes teaching others to change is for their own good. There is a process for this way of changing others and it is called behavior modification.

Behavior modification began as largely experimental methods. It was used to change animals and later was applied to developmentally delayed clients. It has been gradually expanded to include all kinds of groups from kindergarten kids to college graduate students. And the great thing about behavior modification is that it works. But it does not involve what most people think it might include. Behavioral modification is not a shorthand name for brainwashing or manipulation. It is about helping people to change who don’t know then need to change.

Lots of behavior change methods have been criticized as manipulation. I cringe when I hear that expression. Don’t all kids manipulate? It is one way of getting your needs met when a direct method does not work. We need to teach others how we would like them to behave and then encouraging that behavior. For the “spare the rod” crowd I reiterate that physical punishment is the least effective method of teaching most of the time. It produces angry people who hit back or beaten people who stop trying. Real discipline is about training, not punishment.

Some people think the opposite of punishment is bribery. That won’t work either. If you bribe someone, particularly a kid, to do what they should do, next time the amount of the bribe will need to be increased. Eventually, the whole bribery method collapses when you can’t or won’t pay the exorbitant amounts demanded. Not sure about this, check with Washington.

The first step in changing someone else’s behavior is to get crystal clear about what behavior you want to change and why. Let’s take an example.

Mom brings in a child which we will call Clarence for want of another name. Mom is tired of getting calls from the school that Clarence won’t behave. She wants me to fix him. Sorry mom, I am fresh out of parts for that year and model. You want him changed, you as his parent need to do that. I will be glad to teach you how but you will have to do the work.  So mom what is Clarence doing? When you say he does not behave – what exactly does he do or not do?

At this point, mom pulls out her list. He won’t do his homework, does not stay in his seat, makes “mouth noises” did not clean his room and got in a fight. The fight might be anger management, but the mouth noises, that is a whole nother thing. So I ask the mother what is the one thing, the one most important thing she wants to change about her son. With behavior modification, we need to start on one thing to change and then progress to each item on her list one at a time.

Mom picks “won’t do his homework” I feel myself starting to relax. This is a case of increasing a behavior. We have more and better tools to increase desirable behaviors than we have tools to reduce undesirable behaviors. Also, this is something specific so we should be able to tell when we are making progress.

Sometimes I get things like I want him to be friendlier. What exactly do you mean by being friendlier? Bringing home a girl?  Giving away your stuff? Or would you settle for smiling more? A specific behavior like smiling more is easier to work on than the vague friendly thing.

The fastest way to increase a behavior is to reward someone for doing the thing we want them to do. Someone in the back of the class just yelled foul. You said no bribes. No, I am not saying bribe the kid. I said reward. What is the difference? A bribe comes before someone does the act. A reward comes after and the two things are connected. So my boss pays me if I show up for work a whole two weeks. He does not give me a bribe first and then hope I will show up. And the amount was clearly understood. It does not go up each time he wants me to show up.

Let me give you a hint here. For many kids, praise for something done well is even more reinforcing than things. Kids who have a close relationship with their families want to please their parents. Just make sure you let them know you are pleased. If my boss were to stop paying me I might get the idea he does not want me working there and I would probably stop showing up. I might also get really mad.

So next time we will need to talk about what things might be rewards and how to use these to increase positive behavior without falling down the bribe trap. Rewards are also powerful motivators in adult relationships. If you do not make each other happy more often than you make each other mad your relationship is headed for trouble. So very soon I plan to write a post about rewarding your partner to keep the relationship alive. Till next time

More on the topic of changing others can be found at:

Changing others part two 

Rewards gone wild

Staying connected with David Joel Miller

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My plans for the end of the world

Planet Earth

Earth.

As we transition from the year 2011 to the year 2012 many of you are recalling the news that this year is slated for the end of the world. Now those of you familiar with the old prophecies should be relieved to know that they did not predict an end to the earth! What was predicted was an end to some entrenched social and political systems. For my way of thinking that will come none too soon. The last few years we have had way too much bad news and it is time for us to start planning to do some things differently.

Back in the sixties, we wanted to change the world. That didn’t go so well and what we found was the only thing we could really change was ourselves. So for 2012, I will work on being the change I hope for, changing myself. On difficult days I will be content to just change my socks. I am not expecting much in the way of political change, we shall see, we shall see – about that. What happens in my house, my office and my town are, after all, more important most of the time than anything done in a capital somewhere.

As you saw by my last post I am not big on resolutions. In the past that just set me up for disappointment. So here are some of the things I plan to do during the next year while waiting and hoping for some improvement in the human condition. Mostly I plan to start small.

Through the year I will make an effort to try to be of service to as many people as I can. Mostly I will do that by doing the work I have been doing for a while now and hoping that sometimes I will be rewarded for my efforts with that green energy we call money and other times maybe the reward will be the good feeling that comes from helping others. Occasionally we are blessed to get both. Anyone interested in joining me in this effort? If we all do our best then should the world come to an end we can feel good about our efforts. If the end of the world fails to materialize, as it always does, then well – there is always next year and in the meantime, we can feel good about ourselves.

Over the next year, my plan is to write posts for this blog at least twice a week. Some weeks there will be more. Last year there were about 40 posts, part of my learning curve. Next year we will aim for a hundred or more. Since it is not polite to fill anyone’s inbox with blog posts I will endeavor to restrain myself and post no more than once a day. That sound fair? The key word here is “try”, as I find that restraining my urge to share is almost as difficult as getting the ideas to write about.

My posts are mostly things that counselors and therapists might talk about, current trends and topics. I do plan to write the posts in ways that will be of interest to consumers or clients so there is a minimum of references and citations. Just enough sources will be included to show whose ideas I am exploring here. If I leave out a source you are interested in please let me know and I will dig it up for you when possible.

In case any of those infectious journalists stumble in here, this blog is not meant to be journalism, not sure any of it is really news. It is meant to be opinionated, mine especially but reader’s opinions are valued also. Think of this page more like letters to the editor and the opinion page than page one. I hope you will all enjoy the next year of this blog and feel free to participate.

Most of the topics cover mental health, substance abuse, parenting and the journey toward having a happy life. Sometimes I feel the need to get political, sometimes there will be things I just find humorous. Most of the time, humorous and political turn out to be the same thing.

The topics currently on the agenda for blog posts, which I will try to mix up to be of interest to as many people as possible are:

1. Change and how we do it

2. Recovery and resiliency

3. Bipolar disorder and some of the newer research in that area

4. Behavior modification and ways to help kids grow up happy

5. The process of writing this blog and the other writing I am doing

Anything else you think needs to be added to this list? Thanks for reading this blog and here is wishing you a happy life and a joyful year.

David Miller. LMFT, LPCC