Stephanie Livingston–Psychologist

Archive for September, 2014


by on Sep.11, 2014, under Articles


Whenever you weigh yourself on a scale, you are using a biofeedback  instrument, the scale.  The biological piece that it is measuring is pounds and the feedback modality is the scale that provides that information . Something as simple as putting your hand over your heart and taking your heart rate can also be viewed as a form of biofeedback.  Your hand is the instrument and the feedback signal is the number of beats per minute.  What is the advantage of  having biological feedback information.   Well, the major advantage is that once you have the information, you can manipulate it.  Once you know how much you weigh, you can increase or decrease you weight and monitor your progress.  Likewise, once you become aware of your heart rate, you can make the beats go up or down or even skip beats if you so choose.  Some yogis are actually able to stop their hearts through intensive meditation practice.  Nowadays, biofeedback instruments are very sophisticated and oftentimes computerized.  There are instruments that measure muscle tension, blood flow, brain wave activity, blood pressure, respiration, heart rate, and heart rate variability (i.e., the activity between heartbeats).  It was thought that many of these bodily functions were automatic and that we had no control over them.  However, now we know that  once it is brought into our awareness we can in fact learn to control all of these systems in our bodies.

For instance, if you have a migraine headache, biofeedback can help you learn constrict and dilate your blood vessels at will, and thereby alleviating a vascular headache. This form of biofeedback is called temperature or thermal training.  This involves attaching a thermistor, which measures temperature; to your hands.  By learning to increase your hand temperature, you can essentially alleviate a migraine headache.  The same is true of electromyography to reduce muscle tension, EEG or neuro-feedback to stabilize brain wave patterns in seizure disorders, and respiration  rate.  Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is another form of feedback that helps an individual to control heart function.  It has been found that negative emotions such as anger, frustration, anxiety and stress can have a negative impact  on HRV.  The good news is that you can learn to control the impact of these negative emotions on your body.

Through the use of diaphragmatic breathing and imagery, a person can learn to  alter physiological functioning via biofeedback instruments.  Imagery often involves visualizing a relaxing picture in your mind, like lying on a beach or sitting by a lake.  Some studies show that images of feeling loved or appreciated are more effective when trying to learn heart rate variability.  In either case, our bodies tend to respond in a positive way to these images.  Our minds do not always distinguish between reality and fantasy.  If we visualize a stressful meeting with the boss, our bodies may respond with a stress response, (i.e., increased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension) at just the thought of the meeting.  Likewise, if you were to picture a relaxing scene, your body would respond with a relaxation response (decreased heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension).    Biofeedback merely speeds up the learning process to control these different aspects of your body.  Through reward and punishment you can learn to change  bodily functioning at will.  An auditory and/or visual signal will let you know how you are doing and thereby shaping your behavior.  Sometimes games are part of the learning process to make things more interesting.  In each game, you get rewarded for changing your behavior in the desired direction and punished for the undesired direction.  Practicing just a few times per day can have a significant positive impact.  And this is all done without medication.

The practice of biofeedback is regulated by the  Biofeedback Certification International Alliance.  If you  are interested in biofeedback please call the BCIA office to locate a professional near you.

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Should a man ever hit a woman?

by on Sep.10, 2014, under Articles

Should a man ever hit a woman?
I was listening to the radio on my way home from work and heard a controversial conversation on a relationship program. The topic of discussion was about violence between men and women and whether or not a man should ever hit a woman. This discussion came on the heels of the suspension of ESPN columnist Stephen Smith for allegedly making politically incorrect statements about the incident involving Ray Rice being caught on video physically abusing his then fiancé and now wife. Although Smith never condoned Rice’s actions, the fact that he brought up the issue of “provocation” in preventing violence, created a firestorm of criticism. It is a sad day when we can’t look at situations objectively. Just the act of questioning what precipitates a violent event, to some suggests condoning the misdeed. People are capable of just about anything under the right conditions. We know that there are often precipitating factors that can trigger violent actions including, environmental conditions such as crowding and heat; acting in self-defense; and mutual consent. It’s not surprising that crime rates increase in summer and overcrowded hot tenement housing is the breeding ground for aggression. And it is not all that uncommon for both men and women to engage in violent acts with each other. And there are times that people act against their values to inflict unnecessary violence when an authority tells them to do so.
Studies on violent behavior have demonstrated each of these conditions. When people read a list of aggressive words that tend to act in an aggressive manner. Children who watch violent video games tend to act more aggressively. And workers may displace their anger toward a demeaning boss by coming home and kicking the dog. Each of these situations can lead to violence.
The Milgram studies demonstrated how obedience is influenced by authority by shifting blame. In this study, subjects pretending to be prison guards were instructed to give increasing amounts of shock to pretend prisoners, for giving incorrect answers to questions. Prison guards administered large amounts of shock when told to do so, despite hearing the cries of the person receiving shock. This study was conducted by Stanley Milgram to investigate the atrocities of Nazism.
The point here is that asking the question of provocation before a violent act is important. It does not suggest that the violent act is right or deserved nor blaming the victim, but merely asking the question as to the circumstances preceding the act. After all the goal is violence prevention. If, as a society, we hold fast to the idea that a man should never hit a woman under any circumstances, we are being remiss in doing all we can to stop relationship violence. Even the gentlest man has his limits. Although most domestic violence disputes are those where men have been the perpetrator, women can also be abusive. Spitting, pushing, scratching, kicking, and punching are just a few of the methods women have used to inflict violence on their mates. Some men don’t retaliate as we saw in the video of Jay Z and Beyonce’s sister in the elevator. She was clearly the attacker without a physical response from him. We don’t know what instigated her attack, but he appeared to be merely defending himself. Did he have the right to hit her back, or should he refrain no matter what?
I have treated many couples who are in domestic violence situations where both men and women are the instigators. In one case, Ann grew up in a violent home, where her parents argued and physically fought each other regularly. She learned to equate violence with love. Her husband, Henry grew up in a quiet, orderly Southern, home, where his father was the king of the castle and his mother was submissive. Henry coped with conflict by shutting down and isolating himself, because he did not know how to deal with Ann’s rage. Ann’s reaction to Henry’s distancing, was to chase after him with name calling ad even hitting. They came to therapy after Henry warned Ann twice that if she ever hit him again, he would divorce her because he did not want to retaliate, go to jail, and possibly lose he job and reputation. After a few sessions of effective communication exercises and anger management, they both agreed to call a time out if things got heated. Henry was able to keep his end of the bargain, but Ann was not. Their last argument resulted in Ann chasing after Henry when he took a time out to de-escalate the situation, and hitting him in the back with her fist. He moved out the next day and filed for divorce.
Ann continued treatment during and after the divorce and came to realize the error of her ways. She had not learned to deal with her frustrations in a healthy way and paid a high price. She loved Henry and harbored many regrets about how things turned out. She knew that if she ever wanted to marry again and have a healthier relationship she needed to get her anger under control. One year after the divorce, she reconnected with an old friend, who she eventually dated. Charles was her prince charming, but she was concerned that her anger issues would re-emerge because he was even more conservative than Henry. He was Muslim and held very strict views about what men and women should and should not do. She re-entered therapy to make sure she didn’t mess things up again. After two years of dating Charles proposed and Ann accepted. Although they have had their moments of Ann asserting herself too strongly, so far she has not crossed the line of putting her hands on him—but on occasion feels tempted.
The issue of provocation is a real one, when it comes to violence. Ann appeared to be a gentle, quiet person, until her buttons were pushed. Old childhood wounds can be the catalyst for behavior unbecoming of “nice girls.” Just like Milgram’s studies, if the conditions are right we do things we might not ordinarily do. A responsible person will try to make themselves aware of those triggers that can incite drama and try to avoid them. If things get too heated, walk away. People don’t usually “ask for it.” That statement is merely a justification for poor decision making. The victim of abuse does not make the abuser hurt them. The spouse doesn’t drive the alcoholic to drink. And the cheater isn’t forced to have an affair because of an inattentive spouse. Yes, name calling, nagging, or frigidity might be the triggers for each of these actions, but you still have a choice.
If you find that you are repeatedly in violent relationships, it’s time to look in the mirror. Do you confuse violence with love? Do you incite violent behavior? If you answered yes to any of these questions it’s time to get help. Stop the violence!

*If your anger level is a 7 or above on a scale of 1-10 (1=low anger, 10=high anger) walk away because you are probably not communicating anyway.
*Try listening to your partner rather than thinking only about what you want to say and talking over him/her.
*Bite your tongue when it comes saying hurtful things. Once it is out of your mouth you can’t take it back.
*Show compassion. Try to put yourself in the other person’s place.
*Learn to forgive.
*If your anger is far beyond what the situation calls for, you are probably angry with someone from your past and bringing it into the present.
*When angry take a few deep breaths and imagine yourself in a quiet relaxing place. Keep your blood pressure under control. Exuding calm can be contagious.

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