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Friday, May 26, 2017

The Healing Forces of Nature

ecotherapyMatsumura (2016) stated, “ecotherapy changes cognition, emotion, and physiology that are positively valued and/or enhance effectiveness and adaptive capacity (p.3).” By incorporating nature into therapy using rocks, shells, or plants or collaboratively agreeing with the client to have their therapy session on a walk in the forest there could be a substantial increase in the level of therapeutic transformation in the client. While I was at colloquium I took a workshop on the use of nature for therapy. The first exercise we were asked to do was to notice the emotional climate and shift that happens in each of us as we move from an enclosed space to walking outdoors. Then the Eco therapist asked each of us to pair up with one other person and find anything in the natural environment surrounding us such as the rocks, flowers, creek, or even just one small patch of grass. Once this is done I was to lead my partner with her eyes shut to a big rock I had chosen near the creek for my partner to sit, take in, and be aware of their emotional atmosphere in the here and now. This was to take place for 7 minutes, then we would switch and do the same thing. After both people have played the part of the therapist and client they take 7 minutes to discuss what happened for them in the time they sat with the chosen natural object. This exercise gives the client time to pause and be mindful of her natural surroundings and allow the answer to come. In the business of everyday life, it is easy to become overwhelmed. If we stop and listen through interactions in the natural world conclusions can unfold right before our eyes.

Another therapeutic exercise may simply be taking the client on a walk and asking them to become aware of everything in their environment and let it speak to them. For instance, the therapist asks the client to scan from left to right and point out what they notice then define why they noticed it. For instance, the roots of the trees are connected to one another which seems to make them stand up stronger. The therapist can use this as a means to explore how this relates to the client personally. Thus, the very essence of ecotherapy is utilized for highlighting the positive impact that nature creates within the human psyche while bridging the gap within the whole person (Matsumura, 2016).

Matsumura, J.L. (2016) Ecotherapy as a Tool for Mental Wellness. Vermont Connection 37103-110

Friday, May 12, 2017

Behavioral Modification for Treatment of Addiction

behavioral modification addiction treatmentBehavioral modification is a type of psychotherapy that focuses on the reduction or elimination of unhealthy, destructive habits and behaviors, to be replaced by healthy and appropriate behaviors. Behavioral modification first made its appearance in psychotherapy in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, with the introduction of Ivan Pavlov’s work with dogs. In the course of his famous experiment, “Pavlov’s Dogs,” he discovered that the dogs could be conditioned to respond to a stimulus that wouldn’t normally elicit such a response. He paired a neutral or “unconditioned stimulus” (ringing a bell), to a “conditioned stimulus” (food), and found that after pairing these for a while, the conditioned stimulus (food) could be removed from the equation and the dogs would salivate after merely experiencing the unconditioned stimulus (ringing a bell). This became known as classic conditioning, and is found to not only apply to dogs, but humans as well. Just as Pavlov’s dogs were conditioned to respond to a stimulus, humans can be conditioned and shaped by our environments and the rewards within them. Behaviors that produce a reward become reinforced, while behaviors that do not produce a reward are often discontinued.

In behavioral modification, it is emphasized that just as people learn maladaptive, undesirable behaviors; they can unlearn these behaviors as well. This method of treatment has proven highly effective in the treatment of substance use, as well as with personality disorders, as these disorders are often characterized by maladaptive inner experiences and behaviors.

The following are techniques that can help accomplish the reduction or elimination of undesirable behaviors: aversive conditioning, modeling, extinction, and token economies. All of these techniques basically involve behavior being reinforced or eradicated.

Aversive Conditioning pairs the undesirable behavior (e.g. not following treatment guidelines) with an unpleasant stimulus (writing guidelines multiple times), with the goal being for the unpleasant stimulus to decrease or eliminate the undesirable behavior.


  • Modeling involves the watching and imitating of others, and explains why our environments so greatly contribute to behavior. In this technique, a client who would like to improve communication skills could do so by observing the communicative skills of therapist or more advanced peers. 

  • Extinction is a technique that involves completely removing any reinforcements from unwanted behavior. For example, when a person is acting out in attention-seeking behaviors, those behaviors are completely ignored. Once the behavior no longer elicits a reward or reinforcement, it eventually ceases or becomes extinct. 

  • Token economies involve positive reinforcement and rewarding positive behaviors with “tokens.” These tokens can be used to purchase a special treat or privilege, and promote learning that when behavior is appropriate, it is met with a reward and when behavior is not appropriate, there is no reward. 

  • Behavioral modification is a short-term therapy that aims to improve the quality of an individual’s life by the teaching adoption of new skills and confidence, and at the same time, the reduction of problematic behaviors. The techniques are very straightforward and easy to understand. As aforementioned, this type of therapy can prove highly beneficial to those with substance use and mental health disorders. 


Benefits of Behavioral Modification

One of the greatest benefits of behavior therapy is that it helps people to improve upon their quality of life. When a person gains confidence and begins to utilize newly acquired skills, they may implement that confidence to make other changes in their lives. For example, a person who has suffered debilitating social anxiety may develop confidence through the ability to communicate effectively and learn that they no longer need to drink or use drugs to have the confidence to engage with others. People who have experienced anxiety resulting from debilitating phobias can learn to overcome these fears without the use of “liquid courage.” The results can be truly life-changing. 

Behavioral modification can help people learn to reduce and manage unhealthy impulses, compulsive behaviors, and emotional outbursts. It can help improve upon current coping skills and adopt new ones. In addition, it can also teach people how to function better in social settings.

Compared to other types of psychotherapies, behavior modification is a relatively short-term, and therefore cost-effective treatment. Treatment goals can often be reached in as little as several weeks, rather than several months or a few years. The techniques and strategies used in behavior therapy are also fairly straightforward and easy for most clients to understand and learn, making it applicable to people from all backgrounds, with all education levels.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Addiction and Trauma

addiction and traumaDrug and alcohol addiction is a multi-faceted disease. Many factors can impact an individual’s susceptibility to addiction, including physiology, genetics and environment. Due to this there is a direct link between preverbal or childhood trauma and addiction. In a study done on an abstract group of women with substance use disorders, sixty percent of them had a history of childhood sexual abuse, fifty five percent of them had a history of childhood physical abuse and forty five percent of them had a history of emotional neglect or abuse. These statistics show a strong correlation between childhood abuse and the development of addiction as a mitigating behavior. When trauma occurs in childhood it adversely impacts the brains normal development. The human brain adapts and responds to its environment. In relation to addiction, an individual is born with the genetic predisposition for this disease and the environmental stimulation the individual is exposed to can activate this gene and alter the neural pathways causing synapses to develop. These neural abnormalities occurring in brain structure of individuals who experience childhood trauma are thought to negatively impact emotional development, social capacity, and proper cognitive ability.

The developmental difficulties causes by trauma can be exhibited in many ways. Often children who have experienced trauma exhibit symptoms of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or severe anxiety, when in reality they are experiencing a normal physiological response to trauma. Due to this they are often misdiagnosed and incorrectly medicated. Later in life many of these individuals end up self-medicating. This mitigating behavior is extremely dangerous for individuals predisposed to alcoholism. This is especially true because when individuals are using drugs and drinking heavily they often expose themselves to traumatizing environments on a daily basis. When the body is abused physically, sexually or emotionally, neurochemicals are released in the brain activating the amygdala and throwing the mind and body into the “Fight, Flight, or Freeze response. Individuals who are repeatedly exposed to trauma have a lower threshold for these neurochemicals and can be thrown into this response by far more mild experiences. This perpetuates drug and alcohol abuse as a way to cope with constant agitation and fear.

When individuals enter recovery, they are faced with the challenge of feeling all the built up emotional and physical stress on their body by the trauma they have endured. Trauma and Post-traumatic Stress Disorder cause a range of problems from sleep deprivation, to night terrors, and somatic issues. In order to treat this, individuals need a multi-faceted treatment strategy - including 12 step based programs, clinical trauma work, and development of spiritual coping tools. Long-term treatment is the most effective in this area because it allows the individual time to emotionally and somatically regulate, before diving into clinical trauma work. In doing this work individuals gain an understanding of their disease, learn and practice tools in order to self-regulate, learn and implement the principals of 12 step recovery, and begin to heal spiritually, physically and emotionally. Working through trauma therapeutically allows individuals to form internal and external emotional boundaries, learn to form safe and healthy interpersonal relationships and feel safe in their body instead of being a state of disassociation. All of these aspects allow for long-term, sustainable recovery.