Kerry Thomas, M.Ed., LPC


Compassionate partnership for a better life.

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Examining the Human Experience

Posted on April 4, 2019 at 10:20 AM Comments comments (0)


There have been times in my life where I have felt so much pain that I was certain I would not survive it. When the pain and fear was so all encompassing and big that it wraps itself around you and buries its tentacles down your throat, sucks the air from your lungs, the hope from your heart, the very will to live from your soul, you can find yourself wondering if it is all worth it. It feels like the pain is feeding off your very energy like a parasitic worm with an endless appetite.


I have also experienced so much joy that I have felt at times that I didn’t have enough space within me to hold it all in, and I could feel it spilling out into the atmosphere. I was sure I had finally found the magic wand that so many people feel all therapists possess.


Life is so dynamic. People are so complex.


Both of those people are me, and you, too.


When someone is depressed, anxious or particularly when someone commits suicide, what I notice is that we all want to label it “mental illness” and talk about this behavior through the lens of a disease model. While I sit quietly in the dark listening to this conversation, the whole time I am thinking, if that is mental illness than I most certainly have been mentally ill in my lifetime because I have definitely wrestled with those feelings and considered giving up. And honestly, I have not yet met a person who hasn’t admitted to feeling the same way at least once in their lives when they feel they won’t be judged for it.


And herein lies the problem, no one speaks about it except in the privacy of the therapy room, or with hushed voices to their most intimate friends under threat of abandonment should anyone judge them as mentally unstable...


What helped me was knowing that these feelings of despair that I felt engulfed by made sense. What helped me was knowing that having those feelings didn’t necessarily mean that I was “mentally ill”. What helped me was knowing that those feelings weren’t going to last forever and if I could just hold on and use the tools that I knew would bring me back out of that dark place, one day I would be back to myself. I understood these feelings were transient. But it seems that the overriding discourse of these types of feelings leans too much towards labeling the people who have them as fundamentally sick.


I have spent over a decade sitting in quiet rooms with people who start out as complete strangers to me, who, if I am lucky enough, eventually open up and share their thoughts, feelings, joys and struggles with me.


My work as a therapist has given me an opportunity to reflect on the human experience more than most people would probably even want to. I happen to love it, but then again…… I am kind of different.


For the last four years I have wanted to do whatever I can to help be a part of the solution to what I see as a huge problem with the typical approach to helping people with what we call “mental illness”. For the last four years I have been waging an internal struggle with just doing it. My own internal critic has kept me silent all this time. The battle between wanting to help and doubting my ability to change the current paradigm has been epic.


However, when our nation is looking at the highest rates of suicide in the last 30 years, when the amount of money spent in the US on antidepressants is more than the gross national product of some other nations, when this approach has been shown to cause more harm than good, maybe it is time to reflect on the whole business of being human and what is going on that is making it so hard for people. Maybe it is time to evaluate the typical approach we have to helping them.


I think we need to take a look at how we are all living, what we value, what the culture teaches us about who we are, the real effects of the current environment, and how our human brains inherently just function. I think we need to take a look at the whole business of “mental health” and how we are dealing with people’s response to the human experience, because it seems to me that if what we were doing was working, people wouldn’t be suffering so much.


I don’t claim to be an “authority” in anything. Who I am is someone who has had life throw several of what I call “life grenades” in my lap. I have worked in some role as a counselor for almost 20 years now, professionally for fifteen. I am a deep thinker and a ponderer of human experience, serentity and what creates that in our lives. I consider relationships with thoughtfulness, I consider people through the lens of understanding. I have bared witness to countless lives in the most intimate ways, through the sharing of the experiences of those willing to take a deep look at their lives and who used me as a sounding board and support in that process.


We are all human here, no one is immune. We have all suffered greatly at times, we have all found ourselves wondering what this is all for. Let’s take the masks off, let’s cast away the labels, let’s stop judging the pain, and stop being afraid of the challenges inherent in this process of being human, let’s find our common ground in experience and understanding. Let this be a resource for your own journey, let this be a place to come and unload your own inner demons.


Just know that when you get here, my approach may be a little different. We will learn some new skills, we may take a look at things that you might not even think effect how you are experiencing this life. But then again, isn’t it time to try something new?

 

The Fallacy of the Chemical Imbalance

Posted on October 22, 2018 at 2:40 PM Comments comments (0)


“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.” -Brandon Sanderson


Odds are if you have any issues with anxiety or depression, you are no doubt under the impression that you are suffering from a chemical imbalance; specifically, an imbalance of typically one or more of 3 neurotransmitters in your brain. Maybe your general physician told you this, perhaps it was a psychiatrist or maybe you got this from some advertisement on TV. In fact, there was a survey that came out awhile back that said something like 80% of Americans “know” that depression is a chemical imbalance.


For example, Nancy Andreasen, former Editor-in-Chief of the American Journal of Psychiatry shared in her book The Broken Brain that each “different (mental) illness has a different specific cause . . . There are many hints that mental illness is due to chemical imbalances in the brain and that treatment involves correcting these chemical imbalances.”


Now what if I told you that in the 50 years since the introduction of the first anti-depressants, that there has not been one study that has demonstrated this to be a verifiable, scientific fact?


It's okay, you don’t have to believe me, but maybe you will believe Dr. Joseph Glenmullen, a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School. “While there has been no shortage of alleged biochemical explanations for the psychiatric conditions…not one has been proven. Quite the contrary. In every instance where such an imbalance was thought to have been found, it was later proven false.”


Or another psychiatrist, Dr. David Kaiser who said, ““modern psychiatry has yet to convincingly prove the genetic/biologic cause of any single mental illness. Patients have been diagnosed with “chemical imbalances” despite the fact that no test exists to support such a claim, and there is no real conception of what a correct chemical balance would look like”


Or psychiatrist Dr. Kenneth Kendler who shared, ““We have hunted for big, simple neurochemical explanations for psychiatric disorders and have not found them.”


For those of you who may not know, the “chemical imbalance” theory posits that depression and other mental “disorders” are caused by a not having enough of certain neurotransmitters. For example depression is most often attributed to lower levels of serotonin as most antidepressants are SSRI, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. Their effect is to prevent the break down or reuptake of this neurotransmitter in your brain, thus keeping more of it between those synapsis.


However, dozens of studies have been conducted to observe what happens when Serotonin levels are intentionally reduced. Again, IF the Chemical Imbalance Theory of Depression is correct, then decreasing Serotonin levels in healthy adults should cause Depression. But in a meta-analysis of at least 90 Depression Studies, researchers at the University of Amsterdam (H.G. Ruhe, N.S. Mason, and Aart H. Schene, 2007) found no evidence that lowering serotonin levels induces depression.


What if I told you that this has always been just a theory that then became a marketing message of the most profitable industry in the world, and this theory supports the basis for psychiatric drugs that now total in sales of upwards of 9.6 billion dollars for antidepressants, 4.8 billion for ADHD medications, and in 2013 America’s most often prescribed drug, for which 7.5 billion dollars was spent, was a powerful atypical antipsychotic drug called Abilify, whose mechanism of action, the drug’s own manufacturer can’t explain.


What if I told you that this theory that has never been proven has set you and millions of others just like you up to believe that you do not have the ability to control how you feel and thus have turned you into lifetime consumers of medications that have ultimately been demonstrated to do more harm than good?


Where did this story come from?


Perhaps the most frequently cited evidence in support of the chemical imbalance hypothesis is the effectiveness of antidepressants, many of which increase the amounts of serotonin and other neurotransmitters at synapses. Zoloft, Prozac and similar selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) result in such an increase and can often relieve depression, at least when it is severe. As a result, many believe that a deficiency in serotonin causes the disorder. But are they effective?


Not according to a meta-analysis which looked at the effectiveness of antidepressants by Dr. Irving Kirsch. In fact, he found that the antidepressants are not any more effective than active placebo. These findings have been corroborated by other studies, one  in 2017 which looked at data from over 27,000 patients which demonstrated no remarkable improvement whatsoever. None. 


The field of psychiatry has never established the cause of any “mental disorder”. Leading psychiatric agencies such as the World Psychiatric Association and the United States National Institute of mental health have acknowledged that they do not know the causes or cures for any mental disorder nor do they know what the psychiatric medications are doing to the patient’s brains. There are only conflicting opinions and theories which lack any scientific basis. As Dr. Rex Cowdry, psychiatrist and director of the National Institute of Mental Health in 1995 said, “We do not know the causes of any mental illness. We don’t have the methods of ‘curing’ these illnesses yet.”


When I first came out of grad school and began to work with patients, my initial concern arose when I noticed that my patients with the most intractable cases of depression and anxiety, some lasting several decades, had been on multiple medications.


It just didn’t make sense to me that if these “medications” were so effective, why weren’t these clients feeling any better?


Why am I concerned?


I will let Dr. Peter Breggin, a psychiatrist with over 60 years of experience in the field of mental health explain: “There is strong evidence from brain scans, neuropsychological testing, and clinical evaluations that every class of psychiatric drug causes irreversible damage to the brain, especially with exposures lasting months and years. Many studies of SSRIs show severe brain abnormalities, such as shrinkage (atrophy) with brain cell death in humans and the growth of new abnormal brain cells in animal and laboratory studies. They frequently produce an apathy syndrome — a generalized loss of motivation or interest in many or all aspects of life. The SSRIs frequently cause irreversible dysfunction and loss of interest in sexuality, relationship and love. Withdrawal from all antidepressants can cause a wide variety of distressing and dangerous emotional reactions from depression to mania and from suicide to violence.”


I think it is about time that we all re-evaluated our approach to how we are feeling and helping people overcome overwhelming feelings. The truth is in the 15 years I have been working in mental health, I have not met one person who I would say had a “mental illness”. Who I have met are thousands of people who have been deeply hurt, who grew up in chaotic homes, who have been abandoned or abused, who feel alone, who have never been taught to believe in themselves, who have not been taught of how to manage this dynamic process we call “life” and all the feelings that come along with this roller coaster ride.


The good news is that we don’t need these potentially harmful medications. What I have seen in the last decade and a half of professional practice is that when we use the myriad of tools at our disposal that support both the brain and the mind, large leaps forward can be made with no detrimental side effects whatsoever. You had the power inside you all along, you just didn’t know it.




Other links on the topic of antidepressants worth your time and consideration:


https://www.madinamerica.com/2017/02/new-data-showslack-efficacy-antidepressants/


http://www.healyprozac.com/


https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/04/antidepressant-use-leads-worse-long-term-outcomes-study-finds/


https://www.madinamerica.com/2018/06/study-online-antidepressant-forums-reveals-reports-significant-long-lasting-withdrawal/


https://nordic.cochrane.org/news/phd-dissertation-looks-beyond-published-literature-investigate-harms-depression-medication


Hypnotherapy

Posted on May 8, 2017 at 8:25 PM Comments comments (2)

About Hypnosis

Hypnosis creates an altered state of consciousness by deeply relaxing the mind and body, thus allowing us to talk directly to the most powerful part of your mind, your subconscious. Hypnosis feels like daydreaming—completely safe and natural. Your attention is so focused you are barely aware of your surroundings. My clients know that they are awake, aware and completely in control, even when they are in a highly suggestible state. You have the ability to come out of hypnosis whenever you desire.


About Hypnotherapy

Hypnotherapy is the therapeutic use of the hypnotic trance state. During hypnosis the subconscious mind is easily accessible. In this natural, but altered state, we can access our own inner knowledge, or intuition, to help us solve our problems. We can also bypass the logical, analyzing part of our mind enabling us to interject new positive ideas and/or helpful imagery to help us achieve our goals. This is known as suggestion therapy.

The subconscious mind is the larger more powerful part of our mind and contains our imagination, all of our memories, our emotions, our autonomic nervous system and our beliefs. It is important to make sure that our subconscious mind is serving us and not running our lives with outdated emotionalized scripts and beliefs and undesirable behaviors. Hypnotherapy can help us accomplish this by giving us conscious access to these subconsciously held beliefs and behaviors so they can be amended to serve us better. Sometimes we try to change using willpower alone, but the willpower is contained in the logical, analyzing, conscious mind and does not have the ability to affect the subconscious mind. We need to have the subconscious mind “on board” to help us create real change in our lives and hypnotherapy is the best avenue to influence the subconscious in a positive direction.


What is Clinical Hypnotherapy?

Clinical hypnotherapy utilizes the subconscious mind to reduce pain, accelerate healing, diminish fear and anxiety, and relieve suffering. Clinical hypnotherapy is especially effective for: anxiety, depression, creating behavioral changes, effecting healing within the body, ending OCD-type behavior. Really just about anything you can think of.


How does Hypnotherapy Help with Emotional Issues?

Our subconscious minds are full of positive and negative beliefs. Our subconscious minds also contain all of our memories, whether we can bring them up consciously or not. Through hypnosis we can recall the past and find the source of beliefs that are no longer serving us; then amend those beliefs. We can also release the emotional charge from past negative events. By then saturating our minds with positive suggestions we can accomplish amazing things; we can relieve anxiety, depression, or insomnia. We can use special techniques to reverse our emotionalized response to traumas and phobias. We can access our Creative Intelligence for answers to our problems. Hypnotherapy offers wonderful possibilities for enhancing our emotional well being.


The Science of Happiness

Posted on January 3, 2017 at 1:00 PM Comments comments (2)

How Sugar Can Destroy Your Mood

Posted on February 27, 2015 at 12:45 AM Comments comments (0)

I cannot seem to let go of this relationship between diet and mood, and for very good reason. The evidence suggesting the strength of this relationship between what we put into our bodies on a regular basis and how we feel grows daily.

 

For now, let’s take a look at sugar.

 

When we are talking about sugar, we are not just referring to the white, granulated product. Once we eat some pasta, bread, rice or potatoes, our body immediately turns them into sugar as well. Immediately. In fact, white flour makes this incredible transformation while it is still in our mouths.

 

In addition, most everything that comes out of a box, a bag, a can or a jar contains high amounts of sugar in the form of high fructose corn syrup. This is particularly evil stuff because approximately 95% of the corn grown in this country is GMO corn. GMO corn is actually a registered pesticide which wreaks havoc on your body in ways that you would not believe and which also affect your mood. But that discussion is for another blog, for now we will just focus on the sugar aspect of this.

 

Sugar is in all processed food and our diets are much higher in sugar then they were 100 years ago. The typical can of Pepsi has around 17 tsps of sugar….one can! However, “sports” drinks are not much better. A 20 ounce bottle of Gatorade holds 9 teaspoons of the white stuff.

 

Back in the mid-1800’s the typical American would consume as much sugar in 5 days as we now get in ONE can of soda. Today the average American consumes 3 POUNDS of sugar in one week. Wow.

 

Sugar impacts mood in numerous ways. I will mention three here, but I am sure this is just the tip of that iceburg, and I’m sure we will continue to uncover more as time marches on.

 

First of all sugar is a challenge for our bodies to metabolize, and the process robs our body of an essential nutrient essential for good mood . In order for our bodies to metabolize sugar, it utilizes a lot of B vitamins. Our body does not make B

 

vitamins and sugar has no B vitamins in it. So when we are all consuming sugar to the tune of 1,095 pounds per year, we are really stressing our system of these very important nutrients.

 

Why are B vitamins so important? Because without B vitamins, we cannot make the neurotransmitters, like serotonin, that are so important to helping sustain a positive mood.

 

In fact, symptoms of B vitamin deficiency are: depression and vague fears, emotional instability, decreased ability to cope with problems, confusion, forgetfulness, irritability and quarrelsomeness. Nice, eh?

 

Now I wish we could just stop there, especially given how much of this stuff is in our food. But the impact of sugar on mood goes on.

 

When we eat sugar, our brains respond the same way that they do when one uses cocaine. What I mean by that is that our brain responds by dumping a ton of dopamine for our neurons to bathe in. In the short term, this makes us feel very happy. A brain soaked in dopamine is a brain flying high.

 

In fact, animal studies show that a diet rich in sweets is perceived by the brain as more rewarding and even more highly addictive then intravenous cocaine and heroin. How crazy is that?

 

However our brain instinctively knows how much dopamine it is supposed to be taking up and it will do it’s best to regulate this. Now the brain cannot control how much sugar you eat and thus how much dopamine dump you get, so the only way that it knows how to manage this overload of dopamine is to begin shutting down some of the dopamine receptors that are working in your brain.

 

This is where the problems start because now you are working with fewer dopamine receptors so that when you are not bathing your brain in sugar/dopamine, your brain becomes dopamine deprived. Less receptors mean less dopamine uptake. This can lead to depression and is also the active process driving addiction. With fewer dopamine receptors you will need to sustain that

 

sugar intake in order to keep that dopamine level high so that your mood does not sink.

 

This brings us to the last point I would like to make about sugar as it affects mood. We are now beginning to understand that a common precursor to depression is inflammation. In fact, science is showing us that inflammation is a common precursor to many illnesses.

 

High amounts of sugar in the diet increase advanced glycation end-products, or AGEs. As the body tries to break these AGEs apart, immune cells secrete inflammatory messengers called cytokines. These guys, depending on where they are or on your genetic predisposition, also cause arthritis, heart disease, poor memory or wrinkled skin. Yikes.

 

Researchers discovered in the early 1980s that inflammatory cytokines produce a wide variety of psychiatric and neurological symptoms which perfectly mirror the defining characteristics of depression. Further, depression is often present in acute, inflammatory illnesses and remission of clinical depression is often associated with a normalization of inflammatory markers. The link between depression and inflammation is strong. The evidence that sugar causes inflammation in the body is strong.

 

Just by this precursory look at sugar, we can begin to see how easily our diet can affect our mood. This is only just the beginning.

A Word on Insurance.

Posted on February 25, 2015 at 9:05 PM Comments comments (0)


When it comes to using our mental health benefits there are a few things that it might be important for us all to understand.

 

First of all, when we want our insurance companies to pay for a service, there must be a formal diagnosis in order for them to justify doing this. In other words, when you make an appointment to speak with a therapist about whatever is going on in your life that you need help with, be it a relationship or a death in the family, AND you want your insurance benefits to cover the visit, the therapist must first diagnose you will a mental health disorder.

 

The problem with this is that now you have a diagnosed mental health disorder on your permanent health record. This can be problematic for you in the future if you ever need to apply to another insurance company for a new policy, or in some cases, even when you go to apply for a  job.

 

I do not agree with this protocol at all. Most of the people walking around on the planet will go through periods in their lives when they don’t feel their best and need support. Just the way our brains are wired pretty much assures that there are going to be times when we find ourselves struggling with our own mood related issues or that of someone we love. And given the dynamic nature of life and the inherent challenges in navigating through the twists and turns along this journey, well, you get what I am saying. To feel not well at many points in your life is just human, not pathological.

 

The connection between the brain and the body is HUGE. When we spend time living in a place of fear or pain or just sheer “brain inspired negativity”, our internal systems respond. They respond by releasing chemicals and hormones that can be enormously detrimental to our overall health because they are toxic to our system. So the need for people to address whatever is keeping them from feeling their best is extremely important to their overall health. So I can certainly see how it would actually be smart for insurance companies to provide this service for their insureds.

 

But to suggest that when someone is struggling with an issue or a set of circumstances that is leaving them feeling puny and not their best, means that they are mentally ill is a bit of an overstatement to me. And then to have this struggle potentially translate to even more challenges down the road is adding insult to injury.

 

My policy is to take the least detrimental approach when it comes to a diagnosis. I don’t believe in labeling people as a rule in the first place. A lot can happen to a person when they hear a professional has labeled them as bi-polar. If they weren’t bi-polar in the first place, you can believe that telling them that they are will leave a mark on their psyche.

 

People are dynamic and how we feel at any given moment in no way defines who we are as people, but a diagnosis can earn us a label that can follow us around for years.


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