Words Make a Difference

When I started my psychologist journey, and when I started as a psychologist, skeptical people told me it’s of no use – it’s only talking. You cannot do anything by words, they told me. If you will do some serious business, you have to become a doctor and use some physical remedies – like pills, they told me. My uncle used to say that “it’s all chemical”.

Some people get inspired by such talk. Like me.

I tried to tell them that words can kill, words can heal, words can move mountains, words can change the structure of thing. But they would not listen.

As the years have passed, it has become more evident that I was right, and that they where wrong. Psychotherapy make changes in our brains. The way we think affects our body as well our emotions. The way we feel affects our thoughts as well as our body. The way our body works affects our thoughts as well our feelings.

There is no either this or that, it is both this and that.

Some decades ago taking pictures of the brain was painful and dangerous for the patients, and costly for the hospitals. Today we can study changes in the brain when they happen by using fMRI (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) and other new techniques. Techniques which do no harm and induce no other pain than a claustrophobic experience for a few.

Eric Kandel – Nobel Prize winner in 1998 – has shown that learning produces physical changes in the brain, and in the gene expression. (By the way, I highly recommend his self-biographical book “In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind”).

Psychotherapy is about learning. It is learning new ways to solve problems, and learning to discover new opportunities.

Several studies have been performed comparing the effects of psychotherapy and anti-depressive pills on depressive disorders. Both forms of therapy produce nearly the same changes in the brain, re-establishing “dead” connections among nerve cells, and even making new connections! (Some years ago the dominating thought was that the production of new brain cells in an “old” brain is impossible!).

There seems to be one important difference however: the changes made through psychotherapy is more lasting than the changes made by pills.

Best regards,

Aslak E Himle

Mindfulness

Living your life in a mindful way is the opposite of living your life on an auto-pilot. If you are present in your life, moment by moment, then you can be mindful. If you are not accepting the moment, or if you in your thoughts are somewhere else instead of being here, then you are not mindful. You are more or less mindless. Missing the moments, and missing yourself.

Research shows people who are able to live their lives in a mindful way, at least some of the time, will have a better health, and they will be more satisfied with their lives. They are also abler to live with all the different calamities of our human lives.

The mindful way of living is said to be the way Buddhists live their lives. Jon Kabat-Zinn has learned from this Eastern culture and has become one pioneer of Mindful living in our Western World.

You can read more about Mindfulness at his homepage: http://www.umassmed.edu/Content.aspx?id=43102

Best regards,

Aslak E Himle

The one question about alcohol use.

Most people in the Western World use alcohol in some way or another. During the last years we received conflicting messages from the scientific community as to whether drinking alcohol is beneficial or detrimental to our health. E.g., some studies show that small amounts of alcohol can be good for the heart (red wine) and can hinder dementia and Alzheimer (red wine and beer). Beer have ingredients that may protect the brain against the harmful effects of aluminum.

But at some level alcohol becomes hazardous to our health. So is there any single question we can ask ourselves to find out if our alcohol use is becoming unhealthy?

Yes, it might be one. In march 2009 Peter C. Smith, MD, MSc, from Boston University School of Medicine in Boston, Massachusetts, and colleagues published an article in the Journal of General Internal Medicine on this subject.

The key question is: Have you consumed at least 5 alcoholic drinks (men) or 3 alcoholic drinks (women) in 1 day during the last 1 year?

Studies have shown this to be a reasonably good screening question for unhealthy alcohol use, and it is recommended by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA).

So the more often you answer “yes” to this question, the more hazardous is your drinking behavior to your health.