Hello, Koko



Hello, Koko
If your primary social media feeds are failing to provide psychological comfort, here comes a social networking tool to your emotional rescue. When you’re lost in a blaze of confusion, overwhelmed by negative emotions, stuck in a peril of anxiety and disconnected from the people who usually help you cope—there’s a safe place where you can turn for empathy, compassion, and perspective. Koko will not replace your therapist, but it can connect you to a world of good intentions and genuine care. Here you’ll find a place that allows you to emotionally and mentally purge while providing a reception of real people who will attempt to play with a kind heart and ethical rules. 

For the last month, I’ve been checking in a couple of times a week with the Koko app on my phone. The app allows me to practice my reframing skills. On Koko, they call it “Rethinking.” In counseling, I use reframing as a psychological tool to spin maladaptive thinking into a healthy cognitive process, i.e. “The glass is half full.” Koko provides a place that renders compassion for the disenchanted, depressed or confused. People who might be stuck in a quandary can come here for a crowdsourced perspective on their problems through Rethinking or what the therapeutic world calls a reframe. 

Naturally, as a therapist, I feel adept at the Rethinking process. In fact, I’m beginning to see myself as a talented Rethinker for Koko posters because I’ve been receiving thank you notes when my replies to their posts are effective. I receive further rewards in the Koko world with the “Upvote” from the crowd of onlookers and Rethinkers who read my rethought/reframed responses. Should my reply as a Rethinker get Upvoted enough, it becomes prominently featured as the top reply to the original post. Koko alerts me every time someone gives me an Upvote or a thank you note. So when I get an alert on my phone from Koko, I’m pretty sure that I’ve done something good, and that gives my ego a little boost. 

Koko acts like a type of group therapy for the on-line masses.  The process of group therapy operates where people share their personal struggles in a safe place and respond to others empathetically without giving advice. As well, they provide feedback to one another with their own personal perspective through rethinking or reframing. When people feel supported and safe enough to process difficult complex feelings, experiences or ideas, group therapy works to heal. Connecting with others who offer kind regards without critical judgment, we can integrate and process our emotions or thoughts that make us feel bad.

At the same time, this act allows our brains to grow and expand from alternative healthy perspectives that we did not originally see from our own point of view. As well as the benefits one receives from processing difficulties, those lending kindness through rethinking/reframing efforts receive the satisfaction of connecting with their fellow human beings in a positive way. In simple terms, we feel good when we help someone else, and the kindness of gratitude can give our ego a lift. Like I said, those Upvotes feel good and make me feel more confident in how I respond to the world. 

To fully experience Koko, I eventually set forth my own post to the crowd by providing a real question of anguish from a personal struggle that was tugging on my soul. I was curious as to the kind of answers the world of Koko could provide me. Would it be possible for me to receive restructured words that could introduce something meaningful? One difficult aspect of life is that we lack objectivity over ourselves. A primary reason we need each other—is perspective. Social networking can create a checks and balance system for living healthy. In the world outside of social networking, the system works naturally through family and friends who provide us with support and confidence; but sometimes the weight of the burden we carry feels awkward or too heavy to bother those whom we care for the most. 

So, I am glad I posted my own inquiry to the Koko world. The replies to my post came through with such eloquence, deep thought, objective concern, and care. One particular reply filled me with gratitude. The responder’s words truly spoke to me and provided inspirations through the beauty of its poetry. The reframe was perfect. I felt that I gained new light into my dilemma. Words can be so fickle in their arrangement. With a simple twist and shift, they can fall into place to open new meaning. Someone in the Koko world gave me perspective. I’m sure some are curious to see my post and its answers, but I will not share them here. Instead, I recommend for you to see for yourself and explore how the world can process together on Koko. 

Looking for Success in the Brightest Stars

The Wunderkind Club
Early stars are rare; those who don't flame out are more unusual still. What separates the grown-up wunderkind from the one-hit wonder?

By Lisa Birnbach, published January 6, 2015

Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has made a cultural rallying cry in the last decade—the belief that hard work (and inevitable failure) is the key to success, rather than immutable traits such as intelligence. Dweck has found that people with a growth orientation are more likely to persevere, take risks, and have a healthy self-image, and that mind-sets are established early but are amenable to change with the right beliefs and adult encouragement. For a high achiever, a focus on skills that can be cultivated rather than on innate gifts and abilities may affect whether he or she craters under pressure.

Ultimately, those who succeed right from the start invoke a universal truth about success: Whatever one's age or prior experience, if you don't love the work that you're engaged in, you won't be able to enjoy your accomplishments in a real way.

Looking for Success in the Brightest Stars
by Thomas J. Auflick

What you will find in The Wunderkind Club article by Lisa Birnback is a search for the meaning of success through the lives of a few popular icons. When reading about the likes of Ron Howard, Brooke Shields, and Christopher Paolini, I see greatness and sustained success in a rare section of our society. I have to remind myself of the relevance of success to the likes of these special individuals and what success means in my own life. I must always remember that—to compare is to destroy. I am not in their world, but of their world.

My own fantasies of success and inadvertent idolatry of our popular culture tickles my curiosity about these individuals and how they have risen to such extravagant heights. As much as I want to intellectually digress from the rapture of our pop-culture icons, I have to acknowledge that I am a product of this culture and desire just a taste of this level of success.  

Our humanity connects us to the spectacular when distilling the message of success outside of the popular ranks. Could we be as great as those who have achieved such notoriety? There has to be a link that we share and traits that distinguish us even in the likes of greatness. Most notably, the Wunderkind article sites the work of Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck and her rationalization of success in terms of a formula—a combination of hard work and an acceptance of inevitable failure. This means that successful people carry exceptional work ethics and an understanding that failure is a part of a process of reaching ones’ goals.

Successful people tend to take more risks, have a healthy self-image, and perseverance. This reminds me of what Seattle Seahawks’ coach, Pete Carroll, reveals when he talks about the type of player the organization desires on their roster. He states that they look for players with “grit.” His players are determined, competitive and persevere. I think we can all gather encouragement knowing that one of the most successful NFL teams in the last few years was not created from players who were number one draft picks, but came from second and third round draft picks as well as undrafted players. I hear the word grit being used in education when defining successful students. Again, these individuals are not the most gifted students intellectually, but the ones who work hard to achieve their educational goals. Perhaps what we learn about success across all levels of culture is not a place, a level or static state, but a process. Success is a state of being in an infinite process of growth. 

The Wunderkind article tells us that to truly find meaning in what we do; we must find love in what we do. As a career counselor, I often shy away from telling my clients that in order to be content, successful and satisfied in their careers, they must find a career they love. For those who have a life that envelopes love with what they do for work, a special gift and lucky privilege are bestowed. Many of us in this lifetime will never have the honor of matching love with career. A great majority of us work to live and love, but in that reality lies your success. This is the seed of grit: your determination, will, desire and perseverance to live a life that incorporates love of something.

Author, journalist, and long distance swimmer Diana Nyad comes to mind as one who embodies this idea of success. In her goal to swim from Cuba to Florida she attempted five different times, and on her fifth try in 35 years at the age of 64, she completed this amazing long distance swim. The accomplishment of completing her goal is amazing, but I am just as impressed with her process that defines her success. If we can all apply just a little of this determination to what we do in any aspect of our lives, I am certain that the results will be amazing. 

Everyone can be a part of the Wunderkind Club. We can all find success if we begin to put into perspective our own process relative to ourselves—not beyond the world we already know. We all have the ability to work, grow and expand within our capacity. When we evolve in this way, we change our world. This process will be won by grit. Success drives forward a process of improvement: to be the best within your capacity.

When you find yourself in a process of success, chances are someone will take notice of the change. In this regard, we all derive from the same star dust that manufactured our universe. Whether we, as stars, shine as bright as those in the Wunderkind Club, we can all use the same tools to make them twinkle and shine. Even if the whole world doesn’t recognize your star shining in the infinite universe, someone will, maybe just you, and there lies your success as an honorary member of the Wunderkind Club.

Personality vs. Unemployment

Personality vs. Unemployment (pt. 1 of 3)
by Thomas Auflick, LMHCA

Current research cited on the American Psychological Association’s (APA) website discusses how “unemployment can change peoples’ core personalities, making some less conscientious, agreeable and open, which may make it difficult for them to find new jobs” (2015). To be fair, unemployment is difficult for most people and whether this state is forced or chosen, personalities modify to accommodate the role one plays in society at any given moment. Perhaps this is more astute in those socioeconomic classes whose personalities are defined and linked to career and work.

If unemployment is a choice of will, how does one define existence in relation to their comrades who identify in life by what they do for work? In either case, unemployment, whether by choice or loss, will redefine the individual for that period and change their personality to accommodate that role. 

Career defines our identity. The social order of humanity at a cocktail party brings forth our place in the world from the question—“So, what do you do?” This question becomes a basis of how we got to the party. The unemployed may find themselves ostracized at a party and treated as if they have the plague—because often our thoughts tend to consider ‘what do they have to offer anyway—besides wanting help, a ride or to borrow money.’ For the unemployed, the stress of not knowing who they are exactly at a given moment leads to a place of impermanence. An existence without a present sense of ground; a life temporarily caught in the past and the future at the same time.

This is to say that unemployed people are subjugated to what they were in their former job or who they will be in their next position. Even if you identify as a professional in some capacity, you are further defined by the organization you represent. If you formerly worked as a mechanical engineer for a large aerospace manufacturer, you cannot continue to define yourself in any certain terms other than an unemployed engineer.

Unless you are currently engaged in your career, having the security of place, time and income, you exist as a mere reflection of what you were or where you might be in the future. In this place, one’s agreeableness or openness is compromised by the fear of the unknown. Enwrapped in uncertainty, people find it difficult to be open or agreeable. “What do you do for a living? No, REALLY, what do you do?” When you don’t have a job, your identity at the party is the unemployed person or someone in-between.  

For my clients caught in the world of unemployment, I often hear how the perception of the outside world casts them into roles of failures, lazy individuals, or not good enough. They feel society perceives them as individuals who deserve to be without work because they did not try hard enough in their last jobs to remain secure, did not have what it takes to stay or did not put enough effort into securing a new job.

I hear the unemployed decry the difficulties of maintaining a state of agreeableness and openness during unemployment. In the face of constant rejection and imperfect possibilities, people in the unemployment line are in a quagmire of negativity. Looking for an ideal job is often an impossibility and leads people to a place of compromise. Job listings provide detailed descriptions for the ideal candidate that does not truly exist. For the unemployed, the ideal further translates to a place of non-existence of the self. 

Even in the face of optimism, when people find suitable published job opportunities for which they may apply, the odds of securing a job are long. To aid those lost in the world of unemployment, the employment marketing experts often advise the unemployed to look for jobs in the “Hidden Job Market.” Advertised jobs by the labor market represent a fraction of the actual employment opportunities available to job seekers.

The “Hidden Job Market” exists in the world of those who have not yet released job opportunities to the advertised labor market. To find these jobs individuals need to make connections through networking in order to make their presence known and to make those opportunities visible. Here, the personality becomes less conscientious because no matter how much a job seeker needs to access the “Hidden Job Market,” their tendency is to rely more heavily on the published job market. From a psychological standpoint, the natural tendency is for the individual to gravitate toward what is visible rather than what is “Hidden.”

Even the active job seekers who do follow the latest directions from employment experts to find those hidden jobs, I hear the same level of frustration from rejection that predominates the process of an employment search. For those accepted into the candidate pool for a potential job, the process still boils down to subjectivity. It’s like finding a romantic partner for a long-term monogamous relationship; it usually depends on factors totally unrelated to the logical objective criteria that you bring to the table of opportunity.

We all know the list of unfair and biased factors related to discrimination and oppression. If one does make it to the final interview and is not chosen—how does that person evaluate themselves afterward? Rejection most often leads to criticism within the individual. In this realm agreeableness, openness or conscientiousness, well usually become victims of loss to the process of rejection.

My work in the last 20 years with the unemployed and underemployed has shown me the limiting factors of agreeableness and openness on personality for those without the means of self-sufficiency. Those who suffer forced dislocation from employment often endure loss, trauma, and oppression. For the majority of people, unexpected or unplanned career transition initiates greater levels of stress and anxiety that makes individuals adopt new personality traits that reflect their condition. Unemployment presents unnatural life circumstances that play against a person’s natural tendency or equilibrium of self.

From an evolutionary standpoint, we have evolved to a point where our work is not a direct link to our survival. Our survival has been transitioned from a hunter-gatherer society, to an agrarian, to an industrial, and now, a time of knowledge and information. We have lost a conscious link to the reality of supporting our basic needs as we fold into an abstract world of invisible currency and information.

Our existence is based upon the greater role of our species as a collective. Because the nature of our work does not connect directly to the sustenance of our basic needs, the nature of our work takes on a new meaning that incorporates into the being of our personality in relation to the greater collective. A history of evolution drives us to work for our survival and brings us into a place of meaning with a need to find a role that contributes and provides. To lose a job—is to lose one’s basic understanding of place and core identity. 

We find ourselves disconnected in times of unemployment—disconnected from our identity, livelihood, people, and traits that normally keep us connected to our world. Each individual’s journey through the process of unemployment and back to the world of work provides a unique story. I have guided and educated people on strategies of re-employment through teaching them marketing strategies to turn them into valuable commodities desirable to the labor market.

Often people take the strategies I give them and find their way back into the world of work in a fashion that brings them through an uncomfortable yet tolerable process. Many more find the path back to employment an arduous journey. For these individuals who have a greater struggle to find work, disconnection creates a separation from the world that often leads to symptoms of depression and anxiety. To battle symptoms of depression and anxiety that stem from unemployment and disconnection, I see a great response to treatment for individuals in group therapy. On a weekly basis, I am honored to lead two separate therapeutic support groups that provide an environment where people find connection and a place to process adjustment disorders that perpetuate negative changes in personality.

The therapeutic group process promotes an environment of agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness. When we become disenfranchised by conditions of life that disconnect us from each other, there should be a place where we can find non-judgmental community and support. We deserve to live in a compassionate world that empowers us through empathy, care, and honesty. This is how we find a way to cope with unexpected changes to our lives that define our personalities. In group therapy, we struggle together.

So when my group therapy clients are asked at a party what they do, they can respond: “I am a member of a community fighting to find its place.” As a member of this community and humanity, I hope for greater support and understanding from the employed. If your career identity is secure in this moment, know that your security can fall prey to unemployment at any time, but your place and the name does not have to be lost when you have the accepting company of others.


This is a commentary on the APA article "Basic Personality Changes Linked to Unemployment, Study Finds." You can read the full artcle at http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2015/02/personality-unemployment.aspx

How accurate is "Kevin"?

How accurate is "Kevin"?
by Patti F. Boyle, LMHC

Seattle’s own hip-hop artists, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, with guest singer Leon Bridges, give us “Kevin”, a song inspired by the untimely  death of  Macklemore’s  friend who died of an oxycontin overdose at the age of twenty-one.  Macklemore has also been candid about his own struggle with addiction, and his own “dabbling” with oxycontin.

Lyrically, Macklemore’s “Kevin” describes his friend’s descent into the self-hating, ravages of addiction, yet clearly “Kevin” is a statement against the attitude and actions of the medical profession, pharmaceutical companies, and “the country that spend trillions fighting the war they supplying themselves”.  Macklemore blatantly blames the over-prescribing of drugs as well as the self-imposed blindness of a system that advocates the use of prescription drugs that are not only highly addictive, but also responsible for the death of many who trust in their doctors’ care. 

“Doctor, please, give me a dose of the American dream
Put down the pen and look in my eyes
We’re in the waiting room and something ain’t right
All this is on you, we’re overprescribed”

Macklemore may be speaking out as one, but his assertion that doctor prescribed medications are “killing me”, or us, is devastatingly accurate.  

Forty-six Americans die each day from prescription opioid overdoses -- two deaths an hour, and in 2013, opioid overdose was the leading cause of injury death in the US, outnumbering those due to motor vehicle crashes, and far exceeding the number of deaths from any other drug, licit or illicit (ASAM, 2015; U.S. Dept. of Health).  Yet, writing scripts for these drugs is legal, and is often a first line treatment for pain. 

“And now my little brother is in the sky
From a pill that a doctor prescribed
That a drug deal a million dollar industry supplied…”

The problem of prescription drug abuse is complex, and there are multiple drivers of the problem. There is the problem of doctors and clinics prescribing the drugs without any agency, government or otherwise, offering oversight to curb inappropriate prescribing. There is the problem of  insurance benefits that allow for consistent payment of opioid medications  because these are inexpensive, and not covering non‐opioid and non‐pharmacological therapies.  Additionally, people believe in and trust their doctors as well as assume that prescription drugs are not harmful, and both factors are associated with increased use.  

“Got anxiety, better go and give him a Xanax
Focus, give him Adderall, sleep, give him Ambien
Till he’s walkin’ ‘round the city lookin’ like a mannequin
Ups and downs, shootin’ up prescriptions that you’re handing him
So America is it really worth it, I’m asking you?”

There is also the immense power of pharmaceutical companies. According to Forbes (2015), healthcare technology has always been one of the most lucrative industries in the U.S., and within the broader healthcare technology category, “the superstars of profitability go to major and generic pharmaceutical companies”.  

Although we are all familiar with advertisements boasting the benefits of pharmaceutical drugs, these companies also promote their wares directly to doctors, and offer incentives for doctors to prescribe.  The drug manufacturers spent $4.5 billion marketing prescription drugs directly to consumers in 2014, yet spending on consumer ads is just a fraction of what the industry spends marketing directly to health care providers. When pharmaceutical companies dropped to spending $3.5 billion on direct-to- consumers in 2012, they spent $24 billion promoting their wares directly to doctors (The Washington Post, March 23, 2015). This should come as no surprise given the social acceptability for using medications for all kinds of purposes, which has created the availability of medications, in general, and opioid analgesics in particular.

“Doctor, your methods, any of your methods
Can’t cure my disease without killing me
You’re killing me, you’re killing me…”

As a mental health therapist, I have seen too many peoples’ lives destroyed by addiction- smart, capable people like you and I- students, professionals, athletes, artists, mothers and fathers- and I am also aware of the millions of people who believe their mental and emotional difficulties will be “fixed” by the meds their practitioners prescribe– the antidepressants, the anti-anxiety medicines-  yet they continue to suffer silently and shamefully because these medicines cannot “fix” their relationships, their jobs, their families, or their fears.  

For these reasons, and through Macklemore’s inspiration, I ask you to have compassion for those who have fallen into addiction; the condition is complex and much greater than the addicted individuals we harshly judge.  And remember the U.S. has accepted and embraced the use of medication for many problems in life, and these problems can be approached and remedied through other methods that do not involve a pill.  And last but not lease, I ask you to have patience.  Our pain and our problems are often years in the making, and repairing them will require great effort, time, insight and practice.

Listen to "Kevin" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis at http://www.npr.org/sections/allsongs/2015/11/23/455010365/hear-kevin-the-new-macklemore-ryan-lewis-song-featuring-leon-bridges?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=storiesfromnpr