A father of a 17-year old girl said, “We’ve had a lot of trouble with our daughter for about 3 years now. So far counseling hasn’t changed her so we agreed to put her on anti-depressants. She’s been on them about a month now and she’s still giving us a hard time. How long does it take for these drugs to kick in so our daughter will be back to normal?”

A newspaper article last November commented about a local store that was cutting back on decorating the store for Christmas and, unlike previous years, was no longer having employees wear Santa hats and other Christmas accessories. Employees were also cautioned to greet customers with neutral expressions like, “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas,” so as not to offend anyone. The reporter interviewed several customers about these new policies and one gentleman said, “It’s ridiculous. I’m disgusted with all this PC stuff. Donald Trump says we can now say ‘Merry Christmas’ if we want and that’s what I’m going to do; if I offend someone well too bad.”

A first-year student came up to her prof after class and said she was having trouble on his tests because he didn’t post lecture notes on the course website. He showed her his lecture notes for that day: ‘Punishment. Go over the VCB rat study. Discuss real-life examples — basic principles. Should we spank our kids? Abusive moms study. Discuss.’

Obviously, these ‘notes’ were of no help to her. The prof explained to her that he uses prompts to himself to present material. He also reminded her that the VCB study generated so much interest and discussion that it was the only thing he covered that day. Finally, he pointed out that she also does poorly on those sections of tests that cover textbook material!

OK, so what do we have here: A father of a 17-year old girl; a man fed up with PC rules at Christmas time; a student who wants lecture notes posted on the course website. What do these three people have in common? The answer is pretty straightforward: They are all looking for something or someone to depend on to take care of them. That something is different in each case – drugs, an OK from the US President, and professor lecture notes – but they’re all sought after because the person believes “they will take care of me and make things right.” They want a surrogate parent to help them cope.

Bummer! If there is anything that is the enemy of effective coping it is dependency. Developing a sense of personal empowerment is virtually impossible if you are psychologically dependent on others to fulfill your needs and wants.

In the examples above, notice how the father of the teenager does not resolve to examine their family dynamics, to assess his own actions, to reach out and communicate with his daughter about how he and other family members can help her navigate the difficult waters of the teen years. Instead, he places his trust and hopes in medication, desperately waiting for some miracle to occur.

Notice how the PC-hating gentleman apparently has endured years of polite and sensitive Christmas greetings to others while seething with anger and frustration toward those requiring him to do so………until his rescuer comes along with the message, “Depend on me, I will care for you and show you how to proceed.” Now this gentleman will never learn how to communicate and interact with either those hated others or with his own inadequacies. When challenged he is lost and can only plead, “Show me what to do now.”

Notice how the student must always seek her agent of dependency so she can justify her failures by noting the absence of the crutch on which she must depend. Poor test scores? Of course! There are no class notes on the course website.  Like the others, she is crying out for help because she has developed no sense of autonomy, no confidence, and no ability to fortify her character to cope independently with her challenges.

            On the other side of the ledger, consider a gentleman who entered AA to try and deal with his alcohol problem. He met and fell in love with one of the AA members, a woman who was far advanced in dealing with her alcohol problem. With her help and inspiration he developed the courage to fight his demons. She eventually accepted his proposal of marriage but made one thing crystal clear to him: “In the end, you have to carry your fight, and it’s a fight that will last the rest of your life. I cannot and will not do it for you.” He stayed dry and they stayed married until he died 26 years later. How cool!

Always remember, it is your thoughts and actions that bring you effective coping.

When evaluating your coping skills, remember that you can learn to accept the realities of life both intellectually and emotionally; you can learn how to meet and cope with those realities in satisfying and productive ways. You cannot do so, however, by depending on others to do the work for you.


I’m beginning to hear news commentators suggest that the proliferation of attacks around the world, and the saturation coverage of those events in the media, may be dulling us to the dangers of terrorism. Psychological research shows us the effect is real. Continually seeing and hearing horrific events sends our brains into protective mode: “Oh, well, there’s another one. Terrible! Is it time for NCIS? I hope they don’t pre-empt our favorite show!”

Psychologists call it habituation, becoming used to something presented again and again. The villagers learn to ignore the smart-aleck kid who keeps yelling, “Wolf! Wolf!” Habituation can be very adaptive. Let’s face it, how useful would it be for us never to learn that many of the things we experience can best be ignored? On the flip side, habituation can lower our defenses, as in the boy crying “Wolf.”

I remember a story from an eminent psychologist at a convention in the early 1970s. Paraphrasing:

“I was watching the evening news. As usual the lead story was Vietnam. The report covered napalm attacks by American jets on suspected Viet Cong areas. The film was vivid, showing the flames that spread across the jungle as the projectiles hit. My 4-year old son came walking through the room but he paused when he saw the jets. He loved anything having to do with planes, especially jets. But he heard this new word and asked me, ‘Dad, what’s napalm?’ I casually began explaining the flames and how they destroyed all the trees and plants so the enemy couldn’t hide. I said if any people happened to be in the way, the napalm would eat away their skin, giving them tremendous pain and leaving them scarred for life or burnt to a crisp. I must have been pretty vivid because I heard a whimper and looked at him. Tears were streaming down his cheeks. I had terrified him with my casual description of napalm. I had seen film of napalm attacks for so long I didn’t realize I had habituated to the horror of this weapon. Another napalm attack? Ho-hum.”

There’s no doubt that saturation coverage of real events ( mass shootings, suicide bombers, local murders, street riots, a mean-spirited political rally or town-hall meeting) over a long period of time can dull us to those events as we become used to seeing them. And it’s hard to avoid the coverage. The ubiquitous presence of cell-phone cameras, police body cams, and security cameras make “catching” real-life violence and mayhem highly likely. Your children could easily catch a murder, a horrific accident, a break-in, or a street riot simply by entering  your TV room while CNN is on.

Here is where we have a problem, though. The kids are not habituated like you are and they’re likely to be upset by what they see. What, you wonder, is the emotional effect on your children of seeing this reality? Will your sons and daughters buy into the belief that the world is a violent place, and that meeting violence with violence, fighting fire with fire, is the only way to navigate through life?

The effect of repeated news reports on habituating us to violence and terrorizing our kids is bad enough. On June 14th I saw an even more pernicious problem. In the aftermath of the heinous attack on Republican Congressional members on a baseball field, I heard a survivor say in an interview: “We must tone down our political rhetoric. We do not hate our colleagues in the other party but it must sound to the public like we do. We’re out of control with how we’re presenting ourselves with such vitriol directed at others.”

Sounds good but look between the lines of this comment. It says we’re getting so nasty that we don’t even realize the negative fallout. All of us, from political leaders to citizens having lunch at the corner diner or a few beers at the corner bar, we’re getting used to nasty talk. Habituation is creating a new norm in social discourse: “Go to hell!” Need proof? When was the last time you heard a White House Communications Director engage in an on-the-record expletive-laden barroom diatribe with a reporter against a White House Chief of Staff?  At least we can be reassured that the frequency of crude profanity in one’s social discourse is negatively correlated with one’s intelligence. Scaramucci may be a smart guy because he made a billion dollars, but he’s not too intelligent. Remind your kids of that distinction. Also remind them that anyone who is polysyllabically-challenged and can’t construct a grammatically-meaningful sentence will rely on the monosyllable world of Twitter.

How many of us recognize the new and evil norm that profane insults are OK in our public discourse? How naïve and self-absorbed are we? Can we not look in the mirror and say, “Enough is enough! I may have differences of opinion with adversaries, but I must be guided by certain absolutes in my interactions with them, absolutes like the inherent value of a human life, the importance of courtesy, respect, and understanding, and the importance of carrying myself with class and dignity.”

On June 14th, some politicians and news commentators said they were taking that hard introspective look in the mirror. Let’s hope they get concerned over what they see.

My biggest disappointment, however, is that in the aftermath of June 14th I heard no one deal with the elephant in the room: Courtesy, respect, dignity, virtue, and civility begin at the top. Courtesy is not pushing a world leader out of the way to get a better position at the front, and respect is not insulting others with barroom talk in tweets. No dignified leader sets an example by pouring gasoline on the flames of hatred that already exist in ample supply in America. A virtuous American leader realizes that because actions have consequences, “I must not perpetuate crude and disrespectful behavior in myself and make it easier for others to justify such behavior in themselves.”

I have heard members of the Legislative branch of government, and also media commentators, publicly express that awareness. Tragically, I have yet to hear a similar sentiment from the Executive branch, whose ignorant classless bullying continues unabated.

Is there a coping lesson in all this? Yes, indeed! When psychological habituation in us fosters negative actions in others, we must accept some responsibility. We must look inward and objectively examine our values, social conscience, and life purposes. We must ask ourselves, “How do I define myself? Are my actions consistent with my self-definition, with who I believe I am?”

If you define yourself by your negative emotions – your anger, anxieties, fear, and sanctimony — you are on a self-destructive coping road. Effective coping requires you to apply your values and standards to your roles as spouse, parent, friend, co-worker, son/daughter, etc. You must determine if your actions in these roles are consistent with your conscience and purpose. If not, you must work to correct the inconsistencies. That, my friends, is effective coping.





In a recent newspaper column, Florida attorney Cindy Bishop highlighted “Younger Next Year for Women,” a 2005 book by Chris Crowley and Henry Lodge. The authors discuss seven rules that help folks grow psychologically and cope more effectively with life. Their list captures many of the themes we try to develop in this blog.

The first three rules deal with aerobic exercise and strength training with weights. Just remember that when you decide to follow aerobic and strength routines, you must apply these routines within the limitations of your body. One size never fits all and you must guard against injury. Begin with small steps and gradually work your way up to more challenging routines.

Rule four is financial and says you must spend less than you make. As my mother  said on many occasions: “Son, it’s not how much you earn; it’s how much you spend!” Furthermore, whenever spending habits enter the coping picture, you are wise to “pay yourself first.”

Rule five stresses diet, both quality and quantity. You should also remember that when monitoring “what goes in,” you must also monitor “what goes out.” I know lots of folks who exercise, exercise, exercise, but then eat, eat, eat.

Rule six focuses on caring for others. From birth, when infants thrive on skin-to-skin contact with primary caregivers, to the teen years and beyond, interacting with and caring for others can involve you in the adventure of life and help put your own problems in perspective.

Rule seven says you must commit to your world by reaching out to your community and developing productive connections with others. Becoming a part of a group, from sporting and civic groups to volunteer activities, will put you in touch with supportive others who will help you thrive.

These rules fit well with the coping principles we try to illustrate in our blog posts. It helps to remember, however, that when you see lists like these, one size does not fit all. You must adapt coping advice to the conditions imposed by your body, mind, and unique environmental circumstances. Also, before applying general advice to your life, you must decide what is under your control and what is not. Whenever applying any coping program to yourself, always focus on your thoughts and actions, and do not try to control those of others.


The entries in this blog are about psychology. I have to confess, however, that many current political events make me want to apply psychological coping principles to them. I mean let’s face it, the Tweeter-in-Chief is a psychological gold mine! Still, I try to resist because I don’t want to drift into partisan political discussions.

A recent conversation with a friend who works in the mental health field, however, is causing me to rethink my position about politics and psychological coping. My friend mentioned that conversations with her colleagues — counselors, psychologists, social workers, psychiatrists, etc., — reveal a disturbing trend. The professionals are finding a mushrooming of anxiety-based problems that are driving more folks to therapy and to psychiatric medication. International pressures, health insurance, suspicious shenanigans of a partisan election fraud committee, the emotional stability of our leadership…….these and other issues are weighing heavily on a growing number of people.

Worse yet, as the anxiety infects more and more on a daily basis, professionals find their clients are beginning to disengage, give up, and withdraw. Any undergraduate student of psychology, and readers of our blog entries, will recognize that this sequence of fear, learned helplessness, and withdrawal inevitably leads to serious psychological consequences, notably depression.

Should this psychological descent into despair and depression continue to expand at a national level, we will have a serious problem. Not only will our fellow citizens be troubled with personal crises, but they will also become more vulnerable to messages from powerful others who tell them, “I have the answer.” They will succumb to the most convincing propaganda, and our government of checks and balances bound by Constitutional laws could be damaged.

We’re not really talking partisan politics here, folks. That has been a reality since the days of Adams and Jefferson and the other Founders. No, we’re talking about facing up to, coping with, pressures being put in place to sow psychological distress in the populace and make people more malleable.

You might wonder, “If this psychological undermining is so manifest, why aren’t the TV ‘talking heads’ and others talking about it?” Good question! All I can say is, as events continue to unfold I will more readily offer possible psychological explanations for what is going on, in the hopes of giving readers specific coping possibilities to combat tendencies to feel helplessness and to refuse to withdraw from it all. Many of our previous blog entries, of course, provide such coping suggestions.

There is absolutely no reason, psychologically speaking, that any of us cannot find appropriate coping actions to determine the aspects of any situation that we can control, and develop actions to effect change. That may be our new challenge at a national level. I bet many of you have some suggestions to make along these lines.


I recently received an email from a former student who reads our blog now and then. I  modified some details in the email to protect the individual’s identity, and have permission to share the story on the blog.

“Hey DrB. Give me some advice on coping with my crazy supervisor. She’s in her late 60s and all of us in her department are hoping every day that she’ll retire. She thinks she is god’s gift — I have never seen such an ego. She’s paranoid as hell, always sending out emails to someone and accusing them of trying to undercut her. Recently she told me, ‘Make sure you come to me; I don’t want to see you talking to (her supervisor) and bad mouthing me.’ She’s overweight and is beginning to harass everyone about losing weight. Yesterday she sent out an email telling us all about the weight program she has joined and suggested we all join her. She’s a germ phobe. The other day I handed her a report she wanted from me and she put it down on her desk and proceeded to lather up her hands with sanitizer. This woman is a walking case study, DrB. Any thoughts? We’re all scared to death and worried she can fire us and even ruin our careers. I remember enough from my psyc major to know that she’s not likely to change, right? Actually, she’ll probably get worse, right?”

She sounds a lot like J. Edgar Hoover, Director of the FBI for decades, who struck fear into US Presidents! OCD about germs and weight, paranoia, narcissism. I would be walking on egg shells, too! I agree with you that she’s not likely to change and that her issues are likely to get worse as you said. I would assume she is watching all her workers quite closely, maybe even monitoring emails. So be vigilant and cautious. Like Hoover she may have a special file (enemies list) on each worker to use either to get you fired or to blackmail you into giving her unqualified support.

I don’t think I would disagree with anything you said. Her power, anger, internal insecurities, paranoia, narcissism, OCD tendencies and lord knows what else are toxic combinations. Those tendencies will likely expand and intensify. She will possibly go to any lengths to get her way and use you. So go the sycophant road and “kiss butt.” When she mentions the weight say how much your (spouse) has lost and that your whole family is more aware of their health. Be careful whom you talk to at work; assume that your emails are not private; keep a detailed log of all your work meetings, both with her and others. Watch your back, keep your head down, and keep detailed records.

It would be nice to do a job search, too, and get your resume’ out there. Of course, if vicious supervisor learns of it, you’re dead meat!


This posting is provided by Michael Mariano a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Licensed Clinical Alcohol and Drug Counselor. He has worked at First Hospital Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, Beth Israel Medical Center Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program in New York City, and is currently at Bergen Regional Medical Center in Northeast New Jersey.


The strong stigma our society attaches to drug and alcohol addiction often deters victims from seeking treatment. You must remember that addiction is a disease, not a moral failing. Both sufferers and family and friends must resist seeing addiction as moral weakness. Doing so will make recovery nearly impossible. Advocating for more funding and services for those suffering from addiction is paramount. The prison system jail primarily those suffering from substance abuse issues and receive little treatment with poor

reintegration programs that are understaffed. Majority of addicts don’t need jail time, they need treatment to give them the skills and support to live a healthier more productive life.

The addiction stigma often extends to even among those who treat them. Working in the addiction field can be extremely difficult and frustrating. If those aren’t empathetic when working in the field of addiction they don’t usually last long working in the field. I have learned that genuine compassion is what allows someone to be more open and receptive to treatment.  I have heard others say, “Oh, they are an addict or alcoholic. I don’t deal with those types.” Such comments overlook the reality that the addict has untapped potential that are stifled by their substance abuse.

These are not morally corrupt victims; they are sufferers who have taken an inappropriate coping path, and who need help getting on a path to recovery. Before that is possible, however, they need compassion to help them deal with their feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, helplessness, and despair. Helping such victims is not easy. Unfortunately, without support and empathy, sufferers are more likely to relapse, which will bring more suffering for them, family and friends, and the larger community. I encourage you to continue educating yourself and others on how addicts deserve your empathy and understanding of their struggles.

If you think you have a problem with drugs or alcohol, or if you just want to have a more fulfilling life, I encourage you to seek treatment as soon as possible. Addiction provides instant gratification for long-term suffering, and recovery is a long uphill battle. There are a variety of treatments that are free or covered by most insurance plans.

Regardless of your level of motivation to quit using drugs and alcohol, I encourage everyone to attend an open self-help meeting. This action will allow you to be exposed to many other people you may be able to identify with. You will see how social support and compassion is valuable in an atmosphere of understanding, not one of criticism over moral shortcomings.

Addiction Counseling Resources

SAMHSA’s National Hotline 1-800-662-HELP (4357)


Recently I attended a high school graduation ceremony. The class president and also valedictorian was making his speech. I noticed that he began speaking critically about the school administration and how it abused its authority with an authoritarian style that tended to ignore student opinion. He complained that unnecessary restrictions were placed on the students, restrictions that tended to stifle students’ right to be heard and their educational development. Suddenly, his microphone went dead. A school official approached and told him to stop the speech, and the student proceeded to walk off stage. Most of the students appeared to cheer their president, as did many in the audience.

The event burst on social media and also went national with coverage on outlets like CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The student was also interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. I found all this attention interesting, a relatively small occurrence  gaining such national attention. It all raised a lot of questions in my mind, though.

Some say the school essentially censored the student. Hmm. Maybe. But perhaps there was some justification. The student admitted he had to submit a speech for prior approval, but he did not include the brief critical section, knowing the administration would not approve it. During the speech he chose to go off-script, clearly violating the stated arrangement. This is interesting!

Our system includes many Constitutional freedoms bestowed on an individual, such as freedom of speech, and we value them dearly. But then again, “There is a time and a place for everything.” Why did he choose to make his point at a ceremony honoring the graduates and their families?

I also can’t help but wonder if the entire class agreed with him. In fact, I doubt many even knew of his plan other than a few classmates really close to him. Seems as though he kept everything “close to the vest,” knowing that he might get shut down. Could this be a bit of self-indulgence on his part? Of course, if he wanted maximum exposure for his point, he sure succeeded.

How about the school officials? One could argue they had every right to shut him down because he intentionally “blindsided” them by going off-script. He chose to do what he wanted to do instead of honoring the previously-arranged agreement (standard procedure at the school).

Many will give this young man a pat on the back for this, highlighting his gusto and fervor. They might also note that the school officials missed a great “teaching moment.” What are we teaching here? What is the real message? Do we tell our youth that rules and authority matter? Or, should freedom of speech be held to the highest importance, and in some circumstances rules and authority don’t matter? If we have a point to make, should we not make it despite circumstances and prior arrangements? It is something to think about here.

All these questions make me wonder about the messages we are sending our youth, and the future implications of these from an aggregate viewpoint. Maybe this is small potatoes in the scope of larger issues going on around us today, but maybe not. Is there an accumulation of messages all around us that is potentially shaping the future society we live in? Is the aggregate message healthy or not? Things to consider.  I look forward to any feedback.

FYI, following link includes a video of Kimmel’s interview, plus the text of the speech that was almost delivered.