The Jean Baker Miller Training Institute is proud to welcome you to the JBMTI Blog! Our hope is to create a place where the JBMTI community can visit often to check out the latest news on Relational-Cultural Theory practitioners, events, applications, and inspirations.

Please feel free to send us any ideas for posts to jbmti@wellesley.edu.

'Is a Solitary Life a Shorter Life? Results of Big New Review'

man-in-frony-of-cityMany choose to live alone; no one chooses to be lonely.

In just 11 pages, Julianne Holt-Lunstad and her colleagues reported a meta-analysis (statistical summary) of a vast amount of data on the question of whether loneliness or social isolation or living alone are risk factors for living a shorter life. The review incorporated data from 70 studies and more than 3.4 million people who were followed for an average of 7 years.

An article about it in the New York Times began like this:

"Do you like being alone? New research from Brigham Young University shows just how bad loneliness and social isolation, even for people who prefer their own company, can be for health."

Actually, it does not show that at all. The researchers never compared people who did and did not like living alone to see whether that factor mattered.

Here's what they actually did do. They looked for studies measuring loneliness, social isolation, and living alone and mortality. People who reported various degrees of loneliness and social isolation, and people who did and did not live alone were identified, and then researchers kept track of who was still living an average of 7 years later.

Loneliness, social isolation, and living alone are three different things, so it is good that the authors studied all three. Loneliness is subjective. It is typically measured with loneliness scales that include items such as "I feel completely alone", "I am unhappy doing so many things alone", and "I feel as if nobody really understands me." Loneliness is not the same as the amount of social contact you have with other people. It is about whether you get the amount and quality of interpersonal bonding that you desire. For example, married people and people who spend lots of time with other people can feel lonely, and single people and those who spend very little time with others can be mostly free of feelings of loneliness. (For the actual link between marital status and loneliness, check out, "Escape from loneliness: Is marriage the answer?").

The authors define "social isolation" as "pervasive lack of social contact or communication, participation in social activities, or having a confidant." It is measured objectively—for example, by asking lots of people about their contact and communications with others and classifying the people with the least as socially isolated. The definition of living alone is objective, too.

Results showed that the people who lived longer were those who were less socially isolated and less lonely and those who did not live alone. The finding that people who lived alone did not live as long as people who lived with others is probably what led the New York Times to wrongly proclaim that even if you like being alone, it is bad for your health. Averaging across the millions of participants, those who lived alone did not live as long as those who lived with others. But within the millions of people are some very important differences, and the implications of most of those differences were never assessed. (-excerpt from Psychology Today 3/19/15 post by Bella DePaulo Ph.D.)

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'Why Personal Relationships Are Important'

greensunwheelHealthy relationships are a vital component of health and wellbeing. There is compelling evidence that strong relationships contribute to a long, healthy, and happy life. Conversely, the health risks from being alone or isolated in one's life are comparable to the risks associated with cigarette smoking, blood pressure, and obesity.

Research shows that healthy relationships can help you:

*Live longer. A review of 148 studies found that people with strong social relationships are 50% less likely to die prematurely. Similarly, Dan Buettner’s Blue Zones research calculates that committing to a life partner can add 3 years to life expectancy (Researchers Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler have found that men’s life expectancy benefits from marriage more than women’s do.)

*Deal with stress. The support offered by a caring friend can provide a buffer against the effects of stress. In a study of over 100 people, researchers found that people who completed a stressful task experienced a faster recovery when they were reminded of people with whom they had strong relationships. (Those who were reminded of stressful relationships, on the other hand, experienced even more stress and higher blood pressure.)

*Be healthier. According to research by psychologist Sheldon Cohen, college students who reported having strong relationships were half as likely to catch a common cold when exposed to the virus. In addition, 2012 international Gallup poll found that people who feel they have friends and family to count on are generally more satisfied with their personal health than people who feel isolated. And hanging out with healthy people increases your own likelihood of health—in their book Connected, Christakis and Fowler show that non-obese people are more likely to have non-obese friends because healthy habits spread through our social networks.

*Feel richer. A survey by the National Bureau of Economic Research of 5,000 people found that doubling your group of friends has the same effect on your wellbeing as a 50% increase in income!

On the other hand, low social support is linked to a number of health consequences, such as:

*Depression. Loneliness has long been commonly associated with depression, and now research is backing this correlation up: a 2012 study of breast cancer patients found that those with fewer satisfying social connections experienced higher levels of depression, pain, and fatigue.

*Decreased immune function. The authors of the same study also found a correlation between loneliness and immune system dysregulation, meaning that a lack of social connections can increase your chances of becoming sick.

*Higher blood pressure. University of Chicago researchers who studied a group of 229 adults over five years found that loneliness could predict higher blood pressure even years later, indicating that the effects of isolation have long-lasting consequences.

According to psychiatrists Jacqueline Olds and Richard Schwartz, social alienation is an inevitable result of contemporary society's preoccupation with materialism and frantic "busy-ness." Their decades of research supports the idea that a lack of relationships can cause multiple problems with physical, emotional, and spiritual health. The research is clear and devastating: isolation is fatal. (-excerpt from University of Minnesota website)

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March 4th Book Release Party for "Four Ways to Click"

You are cordially invited to celebrate the book launch of Dr. Amy Banks's Four Ways to Click on March 4th at the Wellesley Centers for Women. We hope to see you there!



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"E" Is for Energy by Dr. Amy Banks

EnergyBlogThe Dopamine Reward System—Friend or Foe?

Dopamine is trending as the most popular neurotransmitter. And why not? There are days I think it rules the world or at least the day–to-day activities of my friends and family. The craving you have when you smell the coffee brewing in the morning—thank dopamine. That elation you feel throughout your body when you fall hopelessly and deeply in love? Again, dopamine. The thrill of a shopping spree at the mall, the desire for the second and third glass of wine at dinner. You guessed it, dopamine. Dopamine seems to be everywhere giving people a little rush of pleasure and energy when we need it most. So what’s the harm? It’s a natural, biologically based chemical that provides energy and motivation.

The harm is best understood by remembering the infamous rats in Skinner boxes back in the 1950s. Scientists put electrodes into the limbic system (feeling centers) of the rats’ brain and sent a little shock to the area when the rat entered a particular corner. The theory was that if the shock was unpleasant enough it would cause the rat to stay away from the corner. Enough shocks and the rat’s brain would wire the corner with the aversive stimuli. However, a strange and unexpected thing happened when the electrode was placed in the nucleus accumbens (a dopamine pathway that is part of the limbic system)—the rats did just the opposite. Instead of avoiding the corner, they went back to get the shock over and over and over again. Up to 700 times an hour! In fact, this was so compelling to the rats that they opted for the stimulation over food. The rats could not describe “craving “ to us, but certainly, the repetitive nature of their dopamine seeking made it clear that this was something they “needed” to do. The increase in motivation and energy that dopamine provides can be a good thing, but when your brain gets wired to compulsive behaviors that stimulate the dopamine reward pathway (addictions) then your life can be as out of control as the poor rat in Skinner’s Box.

So dopamine itself is not the problem, nor is the dopamine reward system. Dopamine is simply the carrot on a stick designed to give a reward to life-sustaining activities like eating healthy food, having sex, drinking water, and being held in nurturing relationships so that you would keep doing these healthy things over and over again. The problem is how we stimulate the dopamine pathway. In an ideal world—one that understands the centrality of healthy relationship to health and wellness—the dopamine reward system stays connected to human connection as the primary source of stimulation. Unfortunately, we do not live in this ideal world. We live in a culture that actively undermines this precious dopamine-relationship connection. We raise children to stand on their own two feet while the separate self is an American icon of maturity. It is making us sick.

This disconnection is a set-up for addiction as we search for other sources of dopamine. The “other sources” look shockingly similar to the list of common cultural complaints—overeating and obesity, drug and alcohol abuse, consumerism, chronic hooking up. Not only do these addictive, destructive behaviors get paired to the dopamine reward system but they create a feedback loop of isolation that pushes people towards more addictions.

Without healthy relationships we each become like the rats in Skinners box—seeking dopamine from all the wrong places. Let’s rewire our brains for the healthy relationships and connections that reward us with positive energy and motivation.

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"R" Is for Resonance by Dr. Amy Banks

resonanceblogThe Four R’s – Reading, ’Riting, ’Rithmetic, and Resonance

Do you have someone in your life that “gets” you? I do. My friend Angel and I see each other every six weeks or so but each time we get together I am struck by the resonance we share, the ability to jump back into a conversation as if no time has passed. How does that happen? When I heard about the discovery of mirror neurons I thought I had found the answer.

First discovered by accident in 1998 by scientists studying arm movements in monkeys, mirror neurons were originally described as individual, specialized brain cells with the sole purpose to help us “get” or read other people. They were thought to be unique among brain cells because of their ability to multitask—registering actions, feelings and sensations all in a single specialized cell. I loved this! My heart already believed that relationships were central to health and wellness and these mirror neurons could be the proof my brain needed to believe that humans are “hardwired to connect.” But, even as I was sharing the news with others, I felt a little worried. How could Angel and I click so easily when I struggled with many other relationships in my life?

Also, when I looked at my friends and family, I noticed I was not alone. Everyone I know has some variability in his or her capacity to read others and to be read. So, if we’re hardwired to connect, what explains the variability? Is people-reading something we learn how to do or are we blessed with the hardware to automatically understand what others close to us are doing or feeling? Turns out, it’s both.

As babies, we are born with reflexes to connect with others. Watch an infant for a few minutes and you can see the vast amount of energy devoted to connection. The wiggling and writhing invested in finding the nipple of a full breast, the waving of a tiny, unsteady hand in search of a finger to wrap around or the neck to grab hold of. These reflexes are a pretty good start for connection, but, are not nuanced enough to allow an infant to “read the room.” A baby may become fussy when held by a distracted, tense mother but could not “know” the mother arrived home from work exhausted and irritable after being up all night working on an important presentation.

Researchers are now describing a mirror neuron system rather than unique mirror neurons. This is a more complex, efficient, and coordinated wiring of existing of neural pathways that communicate the actions feelings, and sensations of those around us. It is the way these pathways become interconnected through experience that really counts in clicking with others and making sense of relationships. Imitation plays a key role. Each of us literally “knows” other people by mimicking them internally. This mimicking is concrete. If I watch you walk toward the door with your hand out, I “spontaneously and automatically “know you are going to open the door and leave. I do not need to ask. BlogPullQuote1.22.15Deep in my brain, the area in the prefrontal cortex that plans and executes the physical movement of walking out the door is being stimulated. Though I am not moving, the same nerve cells are firing. When you touch the door and pull your hand away quickly and shake it a little I “know” that the door was quite hot from the pounding sunshine on the glass. My somatosensory cortex that creates sensations fires and my hand feels a low-grade sense of heat and smoothness from the window window. That is added to the immediate mix of how I am reading your experience. And finally, you walk through the door and a large smile crosses your face as you fall into the arms of a loved one. In my brain and body the nerve signal has now traveled through the insula into my “feeling centers” in my body and I feel a similar joy and lightness. I “know” you are with someone you love. All of this has happened in the blink of an eye and without you sharing any of your experience with me. My brain and body uses itself as a template to have a shared experience with you and the closer our life experiences internally have been, the more resonant we feel.

But imitating is not the whole story. Grown-ups must name feelings and experiences accurately when you are little so that when you name them in others later they match. You fall down and skin your knee and your parent says, “Ouch, that hurts.” The pain in your knee and the tears running down your face are paired with being hurt. A friend knocks over your block tower and the energy surging through your body and the tension in your eyebrows and face gets paired with a teacher saying, “You feel angry because Tom knocked over your blocks.” It seems like an easy process except that many people don’t know what feelings feel like in their body. Even as adults, well-meaning parents can mislabel a child’s experience and potentially confuse the development of the mirror neuron system.

Here’s an example. Ten years ago my pre-school aged twins and I were in a terrifying accident. I had driven the one-mile route to school mindlessly for a couple of years. On this day, as we approached a four-way intersection, another van turned left and hit us almost head on. Both vans were totaled and immediately chaos ensued. The front airbags in our car deployed filling up most of the front seat and giving off a pungent, rubber smell; the engine hissed and sent water and steam spraying into the air. Within minutes the local rescue teams arrived en masse—fire, police, and ambulance sped to the accident with blaring sirens and lights. In the midst of the overstimulation, I crawled into the back seat and looked directly into the trusting, scared faces of my children and said, “Everything is fine”—a delusional thought if ever I had one. My son looked right back at me and said, “Everything is not fine, this is a bad accident. “ A reality check for sure, I immediately backtracked and agreed that it was a bad accident and that it was scary.

We develop these pathways for accurate reading in the context of being accurately read by others! When I tell my children everything is fine at the same time their bodies are registering that things are dangerous, their developing people-reading pathways are getting a mixed message. Done often enough, as is often the case with childhood trauma or domestic violence, and the person’s mirror neuron system wires in an inaccurate and confusing way. They drift into isolation as their capacity for resonance is diminished.

A cultural belief that human development should be towards increased levels of separation and individuation can create a mirror neuron system that is not accurate. If I am busy “hiding my feelings” from you for fear of being seen as weak or needy, or if I believe that being impacted by another person’s feelings or experiences diminishes my strength, then chances are my mirror neuron system is not getting the stimulation needed to develop the essential human capacity of resonating and reading others and being read. And the impact of this is far reaching. Human beings are built to be healthiest in mind and body when in strong connections with others. Connection and cooperation are part of the everyday lives of most people and a strong mirror neuron system is essential in each and every one of life’s negotiations. It is high time that we add the fourth “R” to the basic skills taught in education—reading, ‘riting, ’rithmetic, and resonance!

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"A" Is for Accepted by Dr. Amy Banks

AisforAcceptI was many things at ten years old, but one thing I wasn't was accepted. My family moved to a new town that summer—it was 1972—and on the first day of school when the school bell rang I stood in the middle of the girls’ line anxiously waiting to meet my new classmates. As I was studying my shoes I heard the laughter and the whispering, “What is that new boy doing in the girls line!” They were talking about me, well-dressed in boys clothing. I was humiliated, filled with shame, desperate to go back to my old school where people knew and accepted me. It was a long year of pain, accentuated by my teacher who routinely tried to force me to join the Girl Scouts.

This memory popped back into my mind when I first discovered social pain overlap theory (SPOT) by Eisenberger and Lieberman at UCLA. These researchers study the brain in social situations. They devised a clever experiment during which people were asked to join a virtual cyberball game on a computer screen. As the game progresses, the research subject is attached to a functional brain imaging machine. Now, being left out of a cyberball toss experiment where you do not even know or see the other players is nothing compared to my year of ridicule and ostracism in fifth grade, nor does it compare to the many forms of being socially rejected from bullying, to racism and homophobia, but still, this rather mild social exclusion told these researchers something very important: Being left out hurts most people. They feel uncomfortable, unsettled, irritated… distressed. The next step was to see what area of the brain was activated with this distress.

This is where the story gets really interesting. The area that lit up when a subject was excluded is a strip of brain called the dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus (dACC). The dACC already had been mapped as the area of the brain that is activated when a person is distressed by physical pain. To humans, being socially excluded is so important that it uses the same neurological pathways used to register when you are in danger from a physical injury or illness. Remember the old saying, “sticks and stones will break your bones and names will never hurt you”? Not true. It should have been “sticks and stones will break you bones and names will hurt you too!”

The human nervous system has evolved to be held within the safety of safe relationships. When we drift away from our group or are pushed out, when we are ridiculed, bullied, or shunned it creates real pain. This happens to individuals within groups and to groups of people within the larger society. SPOT theory confirms that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones—but it also tells us that we all live in glass houses, we are all vulnerable to the pain of being left out. It is simply how we are wired.

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"C" Is for Calm -- Four Ways to Click

Cisforcalm“C” is for Calm—Four Ways to Click

Twenty-five years ago, when I was studying the human nervous system in medical school, I learned that the body has an automatic system running in the back ground 24/7—the autonomic nervous system—like the system that runs in the back ground of your computer updating time and date without needing to be asked. I was taught that the autonomic nervous system had two branches with opposite functions. The sympathetic nervous system (SNS) keeps you awake, alert, and engaged in life when it is running at a steady level, while the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) helps you relax and rejuvenate yourself after a period of activity.

In popular science the SNS and the PNS are associated with their most dramatic functions—the fight, flight, or freeze responses that are activated when a person is threatened. If a bear charges you on a hike or your boss yells at you at work, bam, your SNS fires causing energy and blood flow to be diverted to your large muscles, heart, and lungs. You automatically assess the situation and either gear up for a fight or run like hell away from the threat. On the other hand, if you come across a mother bear with her cubs and she is standing over you ready to pounce and there is nowhere to run or your spouse comes home drunk and mean again and has a history of attacking you, your parasympathetic nervous system might activate causing you to freeze and even fall on the spot as your heart and respiratory rate decrease dramatically and your body’s pain killers flood your system buffering the pain. Neither of these reactions are under your conscious control. You are automatically protected.

What happens, though, when what you are facing is a kind, welcoming face or your favorite pet? Do you need to then rely on conscious functioning, do you need to think about it before you act and engage? According to Stephen Porges, the answer is “non.” He has discovered a third branch of the autonomic nervous system—one he calls the smart vagus nerve—that innervates the muscles in the face, throat, vocal chords, even the tiny muscles in your inner ear. The smart vagus balances the SNS and PNS and gives us automatic responses to safety. Imagine meeting your best friend—chances are your mouth breaks into a smile, your eyebrows raise, and you tune in and listen a little more attentively. You share stories and maybe even eat a meal together. All of these activities stimulate the smart vagus nerve which travels to the heart and lungs and tells the SNS and PNS they are not needed. You feel calmer.

The capacity to feel calm in a healthy relationship is as natural and automatic as the ability to feel terrified in Friday the 13th. It is how we are wired. A culture that teaches “self-regulation” and finding comfort by standing on your own two feet over stimulates your SNS making it harder to recognize a healthy connection. In Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships you can evaluate your neural pathways for connection and strategize ways to rebalance your autonomic nervous system to help you feel responsive and less reactive in your healthiest relationships.

Amy Banks, M.D., has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. She was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (JBMTI) at the Wellesley Centers for Women at Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of the forthcoming book, Four Ways to Click: Rewire your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships (Penguin Random House).

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'Can Connection Cure Addiction?'

ChasingScreamThe best way to win the drug war might not be police or prisons, argues Johann Hari. Instead, we should strive to reduce feelings of isolation.

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned—and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted: There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That’s what addiction means.

This theory was first established, in part, through rat experiments—ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advertisement by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.

The ad explains: “Only one drug is so addictive, nine out of ten laboratory rats will use it. And use it. And use it. Until dead. It’s called cocaine. And it can do the same thing to you.”

But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently?

So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn’t know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn’t like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was—at the same time as the Rat Park experiment—a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was “as common as chewing gum” among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers—according to the same study—simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn’t want the drug any more.

Professor Alexander argues this discovery is a profound challenge both to the right-wing view that addiction is a moral failing caused by too much hedonistic partying, and the liberal view that addiction is a disease taking place in a chemically hijacked brain. In fact, he argues, addiction is an adaptation. It’s not you. It’s your cage. (-excerpt from Joann Hari's 1/27/15 Greater Good post)

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'Debunking the Myths about Boys and Emotions'

boy in front of chalkboardResearch has found that boys can connect emotionally with others at a very deep level—we just have to make it safe for them to do so.

At a recent workshop I gave, a man raised his hand to tell me that his discussion partner had to “talk him down off the cliff” because he wasn’t able to feel compassion during a compassion-inducing exercise I had just led everyone through. He wondered if, as a man, his capacity for compassion was limited.

This experience spoke to me of the tragedy in our society that labels men as unable to feel or connect to the same degree that women can. And that maturity in men means emotional stoicism, autonomy, and self-sufficiency—a lonely existence, for sure, particularly as research time and again shows we all need human connection to thrive.

Yet scientists are discovering that what society says about men’s (and boys’) social and emotional abilities is simply not true, and that cultivating their natural capacity for emotional attunement and relationships is critical to their overall well-being. But we can’t wait till they’re men to do so—we need to start when they’re young. ( -excerpt from GreaterGood.com 12/1/14 post by Vicki Zakrewski)

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'9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness'

teenagers-talking-serious-bigst1.jpgJulie Fast’s friend went to the hospital for a terrible colitis attack. "It was so serious they sent her straight to the ER." After reviewing her medical records and seeing that her friend was taking an antidepressant, the intake nurse said, "Maybe this is all in your head."

When it comes to mental illness, people say the darnedest things. As illustrated above, even medical staff can make incredibly insensitive and downright despicable remarks.

Others think teasing is okay.

Fast, a coach who works with partners and families of people with bipolar disorder, has heard stories of people getting teased at work. One client’s son works at the vegetable department of a grocery store. He has obsessive-compulsive disorder and poor social skills. When his symptoms flare up, his coworkers will ask questions like, "Why do the labels have to be so perfect? Why do they have to be in line like that?" They’ve also teased him about being in a psychiatric facility.

But most people — hopefully — know that being an outright jerk to someone about their mental illness isn’t just inappropriate and ignorant. It’s cruel.

Yet there are moments when even neutral words may be misconstrued, because the person is in a vulnerable place, according to F. Diane Barth, LCSW, a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. “The truth is that it can be complicated to find the right comment to make to someone who is struggling with emotional difficulties.”

This is why it’s so important to educate yourself about helpful things to say. In fact, Fast, author of several bestselling books on bipolar disorder, including Loving Someone with Bipolar Disorder, believes that we have to be taught what to say. "It’s not innate at all to help someone who has a mental illness."

So what makes an insensitive remark? According to clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D, "The problems happen when people make statements that imply that mental illness is a sign of emotional weakness, it’s something that can be quickly overcome with some trite homespun advice or they minimize it as a minor issue you can just get over." (-excerpt from Margarita Tartakoysky, M.S.'s recent PsychCentral post).

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Brain's Response To Threat Silenced When We Are Reminded Of Being Loved and Cared For

braininconnectionBeing shown pictures of others being loved and cared for reduces the brain's response to threat, new research from the University of Exeter has found.

The study discovered that when individuals are briefly presented pictures of others receiving emotional support and affection, the brain's threat monitor, the amygdala, subsequently does not respond to images showing threatening facial expressions or words. This occurred even if the person was not paying attention to the content of the first pictures.

Forty-two healthy individuals participated in the study, in which researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study the brain response.

The study, published this week in the journal Social, Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, suggests that being reminded of being loved and cared for dampens the threat response and may allow more effective functioning during, and activation of soothing resources after, stressful situations. This was particularly true for more anxious individuals.

Previously, research has shown that brain responses to pain are reduced by similar reminders of being loved and cared for, but this is the first time the same has been shown for brain responses to threat.

Dr Anke Karl of Psychology at the University of Exeter, senior researcher of the study, said: "A number of mental health conditions such as posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are characterized by hypervigilance to threatening information, which is associated with excessive negative emotional responses, amygdala activation and a restricted ability to regulate these emotions and self-sooth. These new research findings may help to explain why, for example, successful recovery from psychological trauma is highly associated with levels of perceived social support individuals receive. We are now building on these findings to refine existing treatments for PTSD to boost feelings of being safe and supported in order to improve coping with traumatic memories."

Following these results, researchers at the University of Exeter are also running research studies measuring body (heart rate, sweat response) and brain (electrical brain waves measured by EEG) responses to understand related mechanisms in different populations such as highly self-critical individuals, individuals with depression and survivors of psychological trauma such as severe car accidents, assaults and natural disasters. (Story originally posted on www.sciencedaily.com, 11/7/14)

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Four Ways to Click: Rewire Your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships


Forthcoming from Penguin Random House (February 2015)

Advance orders via Amazon

Research shows that people cannot reach their full potential unless they are in healthy connection with others. Dr. Amy Banks teaches us how to rewire our brains for healthier relationships and happier, more fulfilling lives.

We all experience moments when we feel isolated and alone. A 2006 Purdue University study found that twenty-five percent of Americans cannot name a single person they feel close to. Yet every single one of us is hardwired for close relationships. The key to more satisfying relationships—be it with a significant other, family member, or colleague—is to strengthen the neural pathways in our brains that encourage closeness and connection.

There are four distinct neural pathways that correspond to the four most important ingredients for healthy and satisfying relationships: calmness, acceptance, emotional resonance, and energy. This groundbreaking book gives readers the tools they need to strengthen the parts of their brain that encourage connection and to heal the neural damage that disconnection can cause.

AMY BANKS, M.D. has devoted her career to understanding the neurobiology of relationships. In addition to being the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women, she was an instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. She is the first person to bring relational-cultural theory together with neuroscience and is the foremost expert in the combined field. She has a private practice in Lexington, Massachusetts, which specializes in relational psychopharmacology and therapy for people who suffer from chronic disconnection.

Leigh Ann Hirschman is a bestselling nonfiction writer who specializes in psychology, parenting, and health.

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White Men Don't Catcall. They Harass In Other Ways.

In the three days since Hollaback’s exposé on New York City’s street harassment epidemic went viral, the video—in which we see men ceaselessly approach a young woman with a hidden microphone and camera as she strolls around the city for 10 hours—has generated a lively conversation. Some men, in their first reaction, questioned the video’s loose definition of the term “harassment”—many arguing that a semi-cordial “good morning” isn’t comparable to stalking a woman for five minutes, as we watch one man do in the video. Then, Wednesday, as the video reached more eyes, some people—including Slate’s Hanna Rosin—noted another potential flaw: Hollaback edited out nearly all the white male catcallers. “The video also unintentionally makes another point,” Rosin writes, “that harassers are mostly black and Latino, and hanging out on the streets in midday in clothes that suggest they are not on their lunch break.”

In a statement explaining the absence of white guys in the video, Rob Bliss of Rob Bliss Creative, the firm that partnered with Hollaback on the video, said, “We got a fair amount of white guys, but for whatever reason, a lot of what they said was in passing or off camera.” I’d bet this is because, as Bliss gets at in his quote, white men, on average, don’t catcall in the same way that men of color do—and oftentimes, as I’ve learned, they don’t do it at all.

That, of course, is not to say that white men don’t have their own predatory nature—one that is expressed in ways unique to their privilege. As we know from countless court cases, it’s not that white men don’t hassle women (or rich white men, as Joyce Carol Oates implied this week in a tone-deaf tweet), it’s that they do it in a different way. (-excerpt from Dee Lockett on Slate.com's XX Factor, 10/31/14)

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Gender Equality Report: Not One Country Has Fully Closed the Gap Yet

GlobalTop10It will take 81 years for the worldwide gender gap to close if progress continues at the current rate, according to the latest report by the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Women currently have 60% of the standing of men worldwide - just four percentage points up on 2006 when WEF started the report measuring female economic participation, education, health and political involvement.

A gender gap is not necessarily a measurement of women’s quality of life in general, for example issues like abortion are likely to be excluded, it is about measuring the gap in various sectors of society between men and women.

Not one country has closed its overall gender gap since 2006 but all five of the Nordic countries have closed more than 80% of it and they now sit at the top of the rankings. Iceland (1), Finland (2), Norway (3) and Sweden (4) are now followed by Denmark which rose three places to fifth this year.

Nicaragua went up by four places to sixth, while Rwanda came into the rankings for the first time at seventh. Ten countries from Latin America made the top 50, although there were significant declines for both Brazil and Mexico, and sub-Saharan Africa registered three in the top 20.

In terms of the metrics the global gender gap is at its least severe in health and survival (96%) followed by educational attainment (94%). The gap for political empowerment is the worst of any of the metrics at 21% - meaning that women are represented in about two out of 10 political positions - although, at the same time, the WEF says this is the area in which the world has shown the most improvement since 2006. (-excerpt, guardian.com DataBlog post by George Arnett, 10/28/14)

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Supportive Human Relationships: Often Overlooked in Our Search for Quick Fixes

SmallerAmyhead shot for JBMTIOctober 10th is Mental Health Awareness Day.

We live in a time of easy access and quick fixes. People expect to be able to stream a video in less than 60 seconds, to have the entire written history of the world at their fingertips, even to have a complete dinner delivered in under 30 minutes. Given the mind-numbing pace of life, perhaps I shouldn’t be surprised by my clients’ impatience and disappointment when I offer an antidepressant to treat disabling anxiety or severe depression that takes three to six weeks to kick in. Just 100 years ago they would be resigned to a life of tormenting melancholia. Sure, there are new treatments on the horizon that promise quicker response times. Maybe ketamine will be the Netflix of mental health treatment. Most people overlook the one thing that unequivocally helps our emotional and physical health--supportive human relationships.

The fact that healthy human relationships are central to all human growth and development is not self- evident in a culture that values and promotes separating from and competing with others as the pinnacle of maturity. But research now shows the human nervous system is literally wired to function best when in healthy relationships. If you do not believe it, try a very simple experiment to see and feel the impact of healthy relationships on your mind and body. Close your eyes and think about a positive interaction you have had with a friend or partner. As you play it out in your mind, watch how your body changes. Most people describe an openness in their chest, a smile forming on their face, a lift in their mood. This simple visualization, something I call a positive relational moment, allows you to tap into the healing physiology of connection and changes your neural chemistry just as clearly as Ativan or Prozac--but with fewer side effects! In honor of National Mental Health Day, reach out to others, engage in healthy interactions, and build new positive relational moments. It is perhaps the ultimate win-win in this culture of competition.

Amy Banks, M.D., is the Director of Advanced Training at the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute at the Wellesley Centers for Women, Wellesley College. She is the author with Leigh Ann Hirschman of Four Ways to Click: Rewiring your Brain for Stronger, More Rewarding Relationships, forthcoming from Penguin Random House (Feb. 2015).

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Acts of Compassion Speak Louder than Words to Your Children

160988-165416Developing the capacity for compassion and sharing is a huge challenge for young children. Because they are still in an egocentric stage of development, they lack the awareness of and empathy toward others necessary to see how not sharing impacts those around them. Yet, sharing, as an expression of compassion, is a message that your children must get. For our family, we try to strike a balance in which we establish the expectation of sharing (i.e., encouraging and sometimes forcing sharing), yet also give our daughters permission to not share everything. We allow them to designate some of their possessions as “special” that they don’t have to share with others. Of course, we encourage them to share everything, but the "special" category gives them the feeling that they have some things that are truly theirs. Also, at times when they don’t want to share, we make a point to tell them that the best kind of generosity occurs when they don’t want to share.

Eve and Darren believe that compassion arises from the realization that there are people in the world different from them. So, from their two children's earliest years, they exposed their kids to as much racial, religious, age, and socioeconomic diversity as possible. They live in a large and diverse city in a neighborhood of mixed ethnicity and explore every nook and cranny of the urban landscape, even poor areas in which they are a bit uncomfortable. Eve and Darren expose their children to every kind of international cuisine they can find (though, admittedly, every taste isn't always welcomed). They read books to their children that show them about other peoples, cultures, and religions. Once their children were old enough, the family took trips to India, China, Russia, and Africa.

Carly and Jake see compassion as starting close to home and expanding outward. They emphasize to their son and daughter that caring for each other is the foundation of their family and for compassion, kindness and generosity toward others. They establish clear expectations of how they wanted their family to treat each other and focused on activities that require cooperation. For example, they played games, worked on puzzles, and did household projects that can't be accomplished alone. (-excerpt, Jim Taylor, Ph.D., 9/30/14, Power of Prime blog post, Psychology Today)

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"Real Tips About Sexual Assault Everyone Can Use"

assault-questionnaire-protest-rallyThe new academic year has started, and once again students are attending seminars on staying safe on campus. These orientation workshops typically focus on tips for how young women can protect themselves — such as be aware and stay alert, don’t get drunk, and stick together in groups.

I’m sure all of this is good advice, but it misses what I have come to see as the crux of the matter: Teaching girls and women that they can avoid sexual assault if they just try hard enough places responsibility for rape on the shoulders of targets rather than on the shoulders of perpetrators and of political and cultural power-brokers.

As a parent and an educator, I feel obligated to tell my children and students the real truth: Rape is a weapon used to amass, exert and enforce power. It has nothing to do with the behavior or attitude or psychology or sociability or preparedness or intelligence or skirt length or alcohol use of particular girls and women. (-excerpt, by Susan Sered 9/12/14 Our Bodies, Ourselves blog; photo credit: Kiran Jonnalagadda)

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The Decisive Marriage

26WELL-tmagArticleDo you have a decisive marriage?

New research shows that how thoughtfully couples make decisions can have a lasting effect on the quality of their romantic relationships. Couples who are decisive before marriage — intentionally defining their relationships, living together and planning a wedding — appear to have better marriages than couples who simply let inertia carry them through major transitions.

“Making decisions and talking things through with partners is important,” said Galena K. Rhoades, a relationship researcher at the University of Denver and co-author of the report. “When you make an intentional decision, you are more likely to follow through on that.”

While the finding may seem obvious, the reality is that many couples avoid real decision-making. Many couples living together, for instance, did not sit down and talk about cohabitation. Often one partner had begun spending more time at the other’s home, or a lease expired, forcing the couple to formalize a living arrangement. (-excerpt, Tara Parker-Poe's 8/25/14 NY Times Well blog; photo credit: Stuart Bradford)

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"When Guilt Stops Gratitude"


Why do we sometimes respond with resentment, not gratitude, when people are good us? Research has the answer—and points to a solution.

Does guilt get in the way of gratitude?

It does for me. After years living on my own out of town, I recently moved back home to live with my mom and stepdad to save up for a house. The trouble? Mom is always doing something nice for me, whether I ask for it or not. She throws my laundry in the wash while I’m at school and buys my favorite groceries.

I appreciate everything she does for me, and I know I should feel grateful, but sometimes I feel guilty instead resentful, even for all her care. In some embarrassing way, the feeling that I will never be able to repay her prevents me from feeling and expressing my gratitude. When she cooks me a delicious dinner, I’m grateful for the act, but not the dishes she’s left me with. Or I’ll just feel plain guilty that she hits the kitchen on my behalf after she’s had a long day hard at work.

Researchers have become increasingly interested in studying gratitude over the past decade, and the resounding message from their work is clear: Gratitude is good for our mental and physical health, and it may be an essential ingredient in happiness.

But in practice, simply feeling or expressing gratitude can be a challenge. Sometimes other feelings—like the guilt and indebtedness I feel—get in the way.

Moving back home has made me wonder: When people are good to us, why do we sometimes respond with guilt and resentment, not gratitude? And how can we overcome those negative feelings and just let ourselves be grateful? (- Excerpt from Stacey Kennelly's 1/14/14 Greater Good blog post).

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"Neuroscientists Confirm That Our Loved Ones Become Ourselves"

neuroscientistsA new study has confirmed that humankind's capacity for love and friendship sets us apart from all other species. Researchers at University of Virginia have found that humans are hardwired to empathize with those close to them at a neural level.

Interestingly, the ability to put yourselves in another person’s shoes depends drastically on whether the person is a stranger or someone you know. The study titled "Familiarity Promotes the Blurring of Self and Other in the Neural Representation of Threat" appears in the August issue of the journal Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience.

According to researchers, the human brain puts strangers in one bin and the people we know in another compartment. People in your social network literally become entwined with your sense of self at a neural level. "With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves," said James Coan, a psychology professor in University of Virginia's College of Arts & Sciences who used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain (fMRI) scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves.

Humans have evolved to have our self-identity become woven into a neural tapestry with our loved ones. James Coan said, "Our self comes to include the people we feel close to. This likely is because humans need to have friends and allies who they can side with and see as being the same as themselves. And as people spend more time together, they become more similar.”

To test this hypothesis, Coan and his colleagues conducted a study with 22 young adult participants who underwent fMRI scans of their brains during experiments to monitor brain activity while under threat of receiving mild electrical shocks to themselves versus a shock to a friend or a stranger.

The researchers found that regions of the brain responsible for threat response – the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus became active under threat of shock to the self and to the threat to a friend. However, when the threat of shock was to a stranger, these brain areas showed minimal activity. When the threat of shock was to a friend, the brain activity of the participant was basically identical to the activity displayed under threat to the self. (-excerpt, Psychology Today article by Christopher Bergland)

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"Evidence mounting that poverty causes lasting physical and mental health problems for children"

20131120bwGoodHealth01Sheila Good faced the decision most mothers dread. Should she spend more time raising her son or earning a paycheck? Should she be a better mom or a better provider?

For her 6-year-old son, Benjamin, a little redhead dedicated to baseball, either choice would induce stress. It's one of those puzzles of poverty with health impacts on children. Three recent studies add to mounting evidence that poverty can exact a lasting toll on a child's mental and physical well-being, with stress representing a key pathway.

Those studies focus on poverty's impact on a child's brain volume, the adverse impact of childhood poverty on adult health, and the mental and behavior problems associated with substandard housing.

Realizing the high stakes for her son, Ms. Good, 29, of Pulaski, Beaver County, went part time for Benjamin's sake last summer despite living in poverty. Soon after that decision, a car accident on Aug. 2 left her in seizures from a concussion. Her car was totaled. She lost her part-time job. She and Benjamin now struggle to live on $940 a month, with $425 going for rent and $12,000 in arrears for accident-related medical expenses. Ever since Benjamin's birth, Ms. Good said, they've lived under or near the federal poverty threshold. Savings, food stamps and child support payments fund the family's monthly budget.

Without a family car, Benjamin no longer can go to the park, the batting cages or the skating rink.

"We're not doing as many things as we did before," said Ms. Good. "I don't like to let my anxiety trickle down to him, but he gets it [himself]. His quality of life has changed. I have to tell him no."

She links her son's anxieties directly to household income. He's now in therapy.

"My son never had difficulty with anxiety or a sleeping disorder until our recent struggles to make ends meet," said Ms. Good, who has post-traumatic stress disorder from an impoverished childhood, bipolar disorder and anemia from a genetic bone-marrow disorder. "One small event can lead to a chain of events for a single-income household. One month we were living comfortably and then the next we had no car, no job and no health insurance -- and I was in poor health." (-excerpt, David Templeton's 11/24/13 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette story; photo credit: Bill Wade)

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"African women are blazing a feminist trail why don't we hear their voices?"

africanwomenRwanda's parliament is now almost two-thirds female, while Malawi, Liberia and Senegal have women at the helm. Western feminists, take note.

What would have once sounded like a far-fetched feminist fantasy – namely women forming the majority of a parliament – is a reality in one country in the world, Rwanda.

Early reports from the parliamentary elections last Monday indicate that women now hold nearly 64% of the seats. Prior to the genocidal conflict in 1994, the figure was just 18%. In fact, women have made significant gains all around Africa: indeed, the most successful social movement in Africa in recent decades has been the women's movement, particularly in policy and legislation.

Malawi and Liberia have female heads of state, and earlier this month Senegal elected its first female prime minister, Aminata Touré. Also, the African Union chair is female for the first time in its history. Africa's strong legacy of female leaders is a hugely positive statement about the continent's direction.

So why does the western feminist movement hardly look at African feminism for clues? Why does it only pay such little attention to the realisation of a once utopian fantasy of female majority leadership in Rwanda where, since 2008, women have held over half the parliamentary seats? Feminists everywhere have spent decades campaigning for equality in political leadership, yet its achievement in Rwanda has been met with a loud silence.

NGOs and international bodies have addressed the changes – not a bad thing per se – but as a result, without feminist debate, gender equality in Rwanda is mostly discussed in terms of the 1994 genocide, which killed an estimated one-tenth of the population (800,000 people), most of them men. Or gender parity is attributed to the country's quota system, which is indeed meaningful, though only responsible for allocating 24 of the 45 seats women hold. Even worse, the debate has, in Eurocentric fashion, all too often implied that women's progress in Rwanda is a result of the adoption of western values and that westerners are "helping" local women achieve them. (-excerpt from Minna Salami's 9/23/13's www.theguardian.com article; photo credit: Seyllou/AFP/Getty Images)

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"Would You Rather Be Perfect or Happy?"

heartHave I led you to believe that my life is perfect? That my kids are always impeccably dressed and sweetly behaved? That my marriage is flawless and my home is gorgeously Zen and organized at all times? That I have bulletproof body confidence and walk around in negligee every evening for my husband?

Let me disappoint you (or relieve you).

The truth is, my life is far from perfect, and I apologize if I've led you to believe that it is. My kids are phenomenal little humans, but they look like ragamuffins most of the time and are prone to public meltdowns when tired. There are days when I'm so furious with my husband that I fantasize about putting all three of my kids in the car and leaving him for sunny Southern California. I truly love my body, but that certainly doesn't mean it's society's ideal. I am curvy, have some soft spots, and could definitely stand to lose a few pounds, but I am healthy and strong. I am not willing to diet or deprive myself and I really like to savor delicious meals and drink wine! It's all about our choices and where we put our time and energy.

Do you choose a perfectly clean and organized home or a place of play and comfort for your family? Sometimes we choose different priorities on different days. There are moments when my house looks gorgeous and beautifully organized for guests, but if you looked in the closets and drawers you'd see where I'd just stuffed a week worth of papers and junk.

My life is real. (- excerpt from 11/11/2013 Huffington Post column blogger by Erin Cox)

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What Does Prejudice Reveal About What It Means to be Human?

BeinghumanWhat happens when we define some people as more human than others? A Q&A with Susan Fiske about the new science of racism.

The questions raised by racism and xenophobia go straight to the heart of what it means to be human, for they involve dehumanization. Prejudice means we implicitly embrace a definition of humanity that includes some—usually those who most resemble us—and excludes others.

That’s why Susan T. Fiske was invited to speak at Being Human 2013, a showcase (co-sponsored by the Greater Good Science Center) of scientific insights into the nature and direction of our species.

As the Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology and Public Affairs at Princeton University, Fiske has become one of the leading investigators of stereotyping, prejudice, and discrimination, and she is the author or co-author of many books, including Envy Up, Scorn Down: How Status Divides Us and The Human Brand: How We Relate to People, Products, and Companies, just released this month.

Fiske has especially explored how snap judgments shape our social interactions. She has found that people we see as warm and competent elicit the most positive emotion and behavior from us. Unfortunately, however, her studies show that those perceptions are heavily influenced by factors like race, age, gender, disability, and more and that this millisecond social-sifting translates into widespread stereotyping and discrimination. (- excerpt from 10/21/13 Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life article, by Jeremy Adam Smith)

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2014 Webinars Announced

Amy Banksweb

“The C.A.R.E. Program” Relational Neuroscience in Action, with Amy Banks, M.D.

All webinars will be presented on Fridays from 11am-12:30pm EST

January 31st: The C.A.R.E. Program “C” is for Calm - Strategies to Increase Vagal Tone and Rebalance Your Autonomic Nervous System

A new understanding of science reveals that there is more to our autonomic nervous system then fight, flight or freeze. This webinar will review recent studies will review studies supporting the existence of a third pathway (in addition to the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems) of the autonomic nervous system responsible for modulating the stress response when in healthy connection. The webinar will also describe ways to build your capacity to connect by rebalancing the automatic nervous system and increasing your vagal tone.

 March 14th: "A” is for Acceptedness - Rewiring Neural Pathways towards Social Inclusion

Social Pain Overlap Theory (Eisenberger and Leiberman) tells us that the distress of physical pain and the distress of social rejection activate the same area of the brain. This transforms our cultural ideas about pain and calls into question cultural norms that lead towards increasing levels of separation. This webinar will review the neurological basis of SPOT Theory and offer exercises that will help build brains with acceptance as the norm.

May 16th - C.A.R.E. for Kids: Raising Competent and Caring Children

Relational neuroscience has revealed a wide neural network used to build healthy human connection. In fact, our brains and bodies are healthiest and happiest when we are immersed in supportive community and cultures. Western cultures that focus on separation and individuation as developmental milestones undermine these pathways needed for healthy connection putting all people at risks. This webinar will review relational science and offer practical strategies for parenting children in a way that supports there natural desire to build and maintain healthy connections.

Registration Information:

  • One and a half (1.5) CEUs will be awarded for each webinar (APA approved; NASW, LMFT and LMHC approval pending).
  • $50 per program; pre-registration is required.
  • Group rates of $30/person will be available for 6 or more people. (Please contact the JBMTI office at jbmti@wellesley.edu or 781-283-3800 to register groups. At this time only individual registration is available online.)
  • Student scholarships are available - please send scholarship request to jbmti@wellesley.edu.
  • Registration closes at 9am the day of the webinar.
  • Online registration will open in late fall 2013.

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"When Empathy Hurts, Compassion Can Heal"

Brief-Empathy-small.jpgA new neuroscientific study shows that compassion training can help us cope with other people's distress.

Empathy can be painful.

Is there a better way of approaching distress in other people? A recent study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own compassion skills, which the researchers define as “feeling concern for another’s suffering and desiring to enhance that individual’s welfare.”

"Empathy is really important for understanding others’ emotions very deeply, but there is a downside of empathy when it comes to the suffering of others, says Olga Klimecki, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany and the lead author of the study. “When we share the suffering of others too much, our negative emotions increase. It carries the danger of an emotional burnout.”

The research team sent study participants to a one-day loving-kindness meditation class, which utilized techniques and philosophies from Eastern contemplative traditions. Participants, none of whom had prior meditation experience, practiced extending feelings of warmth and care toward themselves, a close person, a neutral person, a person in difficulty, and complete strangers, as a way of developing their compassion skills.

Both before and after the training, participants were shown videos of people in distress (e.g., crying after their home was flooded). Following exposure to each video, the researchers measured the subjects’ emotional responses through a survey. Their brain activity was also recorded using an fMRI machine, a device that tracks real-time blood-flow in the brain, thereby enabling the scientists to see what brain areas were active in response to viewing the videos. (- Excerpt from August 22, 2013 article by Adam Hoffman on Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life, Photo Credit: Catherin Choi)

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6th Jean Baker Miller Memorial Lecture this Friday, 10/18

layli.jpg"Womanism, Relationality, and Culture"

Speaker: Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., Katherine Stone Kaufmann '67 Executive Director, Wellesley Centers for Women and Professor of Africana Studies, Wellesley College
Date: October 18, 2013, 7-8:30pm
Location: Wellesley College Science Center, Rm 277

Lecture is free and open to the public. Booksigining after lecture (books will be available for sale).

Dr. Maparyan will discuss relationality as it appears and functions in African culture worldviews, particularly among women. What happens when we incorporate the natural element and the spirit world into our notions of human relationality? What then are the implications for "better relationships" and "social change?" How do womanism and Relational-Cultural Theory converge and diverge on these questions?

Dr. Maparyan is the author of two groundbreaking books about womanism, The Womanist Reader (2006) and The Womanist Idea (2012). She has served as a Fulbright Specialist at the University of Liberia and has led the Women's Initiative at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights. Her ongoing scholarly work focuses on the intersections of Africanity, spirituality, and social change.

Please RSVP to jbmti@wellesley.edu or 781-283-3800.



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The Feminisation of the IT Department

Richard_Atherton.jpgThere’s not, at first, an obvious connection between feminist literature and information technology.

But reading the writer Jean Baker Miller from the Stone Center, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, offers some important lessons based on her insights into the nature of human relationships.

Miller broadly worked in the context of connections between female therapists and their clients. You may be wondering why a therapy writer could possibly have any relevance to the world of computing? But there are some valid parallels between her world and that of IT.

The interpersonal dynamics Miller described are paralleled in many workplace scenarios typical for an IT department - leader and team member, client and vendor, IT and "the business".

The question that seemed most relevant was that old chestnut, “How can IT improve its relationship with the business?

A poor relationship with business colleagues can lead to a variety of ills for IT leaders - finding it difficult to retain the budget for projects; producing less relevant solutions; and, in the worst case, the business bypassing IT to deal directly with external providers.

Some IT leaders tackle this issue by looking at structure and processes, perhaps the use of business relationship managers, or aligning certain teams to specific business areas.

Much of this helps, but alone this is not enough to really make a difference. On reflection, in part through reading Miller, it becomes apparent that these were largely logical solutions to a fundamentally emotional issue - the quality of relationships between individuals working in IT and those in the business. (-Excerpt www.computerweekly.com column by Richard Atherton)

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Heroes Without Guns

antoinette_tuff-620x412.jpgIn a testosterone-heavy cultural landscape, how can women envision themselves as heroes—and in doing so, transform the ways all of us respond to threats and violence?

When 20-year-old Michael Brandon Hill stormed into Georgia’s McNair Discovery Learning Academy on August 20, he toted an AK-47 and broadcasted his intent to kill as many people as possible.

He was met by school clerk Antoinette Tuff. Through a quick exchange with Hill, Tuff intuited that he was a troubled young man who needed encouragement. Tuff had been through her own share of difficult times, so she understood why Hill might resort to a desperate act. She felt terrified and wanted to flee, but instead she stood her ground—by extending compassion to the would-be shooter.

“We all go through something in life,” she told him. “I tried to commit suicide last year after my husband left me. But look at me now. I’m still working and everything is okay. It’s gonna be all right, sweetheart. I just want you to know that I love you, okay?”

Touched by Tuff’s generosity, Hill gave up his gun. (-Excerpt, 9/26/13 article "Heroes Without Guns," by Elizabeth Svoboda on Greater Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life. Photo credit: ABC World News)

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Loneliness is Bad for Your Health

SuzanneTuckerphotocreditlonely-boyNEW ORLEANS — Feeling lonely? New research suggests you might want to reach out. Not only is loneliness an unpleasant condition, it can harm the body's immune system.

The new study, presented Saturday (Jan. 19) here at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, reveals that people who are lonely experience more reactivation of latent viruses in their systems than the well-connected. Lonely people also are more likely than others to produce inflammatory compounds in response to stress, a factor implicated in heart disease and other chronic disorders.

"Both, in different ways, indicate that the immune system is a little out of whack," said study researcher Lisa Jaremka, a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research at Ohio State University College of Medicine. (Photo credit: Suzanne Tucker, Shutterstock)

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Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

ThinkstockwomanandchildWe can cultivate empathy throughout our lives, says Roman Krznaric—and use it as a radical force for social transformation.

If you think you’re hearing the word "empathy" everywhere, you’re right. It’s now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, "Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes." Empathy is about discovering those tastes. (-Excerpt 11/27/12 Roman Krznaric's www.greatergoodberkeley.edu post)

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The Compassionate Instinct

CompassionHand-Payne.gifHumans are selfish. It’s so easy to say. The same goes for so many assertions that follow. Greed is good. Altruism is an illusion. Cooperation is for suckers. Competition is natural, war inevitable. The bad in human nature is stronger than the good.

These kinds of claims reflect age-old assumptions about emotion. For millennia, we have regarded the emotions as the fount of irrationality, baseness, and sin. The idea of the seven deadly sins takes our destructive passions for granted. Plato compared the human soul to a chariot: the intellect is the driver and the emotions are the horses. Life is a continual struggle to keep the emotions under control. (-Excerpt from Dacher Keltner's article on www.greatergood.berkeley.edu, Photo credit: Jonathan Payne)

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Love 2.0

Child-sleeping-SteveNearly 60 years ago, a decade before the counterculture erupted throughout the United States and beyond, Aldous Huxley described his first experience with psychedelic drugs in The Doors of Perception (1954). The book’s title cast back to the metaphorical language of the English Romantic poet and printmaker William Blake, who wrote in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (1790):

If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things through narrow chinks of his cavern.

Huxley likened the human brain to a reducing valve. It functions to limit your awareness to only those perceptions, ideas, and memories that might be useful for your survival at any given moment, eliminating all else. Although narrowed awareness prevents you from becoming overwhelmed by a flood of images and impressions, it can become an overlearned habit, a self-limiting cavern that you become convinced is reality. But Huxley believed there were ways out:

Certain persons … seem to be born with a kind of bypass that circumvents the reducing valve. In others temporary bypasses may be acquired either spontaneously, or as the result of deliberate ‘spiritual exercises’, or through hypnosis, or by means of drugs.

Huxley’s hypothesis that the doors of perception can temporarily swing open wider than usual — even seemingly spontaneously — is now confirmed by brain imaging experiments. Importantly, however, you don’t need drugs, hypnosis, or lofty spiritual experiences to open those doors. Sometimes all it takes is a little love. But to understand this you will need to set aside your preconceptions of what love is.

It’s difficult to speak of love in scientific terms, I’ve found, because listeners have so many pre-existing and strong beliefs about it. Many of these beliefs reflect our shared cultural heritage, like all those proliferating songs and movies that equate love with infatuation or sexual desire, or with stories that end happily ever after, or even the realistic marriage ceremonies that celebrate love as an exclusive bond and commitment. Other beliefs about love are deeply personal. They reflect your own unique life history, with its interpersonal triumphs and scars, lessons about intimacy learnt and not yet learnt. Left unaddressed, these preconceptions can derail any serious intellectual discussion of love. They might even keep you from soaking up the full implications of the new findings on love. (-Excerpt from "The Science of Love," by Barbara Erikson, March 15, 2013, www.aeonmagazine.com. Photo credit: Steve McCurry/Magnum)

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Dr. Amy Banks in the news

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) - Building and maintaining relationships is something we all do, but did you know that healthy relationships can help improve brain function?

Dr. Amy Banks M.D. is well known in the field of psychology and neuro–biology and is in Duluth to spread the word on how we are hard wired to connect.

Research at the Wellesley Centers for Women, where Banks works, has found that rather than pushing our children to be more independent, we should actually be promoting interactions with others.

She also says, a simple smile can go a long ways in making us less stressed and even help our bodies and brains stay healthy.

"What happens with a smile this sound, it literally feeds back into your autonomic nervous system and helps you be less stressed so that's one of the ways a healthy connection and safe connection actually de–stresses you," explained Banks.

That session is intended for people with professions that directly work with children such as educators, youth counselors and daycare workers.

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"Mindfulness Helps Us Understand Our True Personalities, Study Says"

BlogMindfulnessIt's easy to have blind spots when examining our own selves and personalities. After all, it's incredibly difficult to judge ourselves in an objective manner. But a new study suggests the best way to really get to know ourselves -- without help from rose-colored glasses -- is through mindfulness.

The study, published in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, shows just how mindfulness can help us really know ourselves, without the negative or positive bias.

This is important because "blind spots" in knowing ourselves can spell trouble. "For example, one who overestimates the positivity of his or her personality or status is often disliked by others, whereas having insight into how others perceive the self and acknowledging one's flaws seems to attenuate the negativity of others' impressions," researchers wrote in the study.

Mindfulness helps us to see our authentic selves in two ways: nonjudgmental observation, and attention. Nonjudgmental observation enables people to really get to know themselves without feeling any negative feelings, study researcher Erika Carlson, of Washington University in St. Louis, noted.

Recently, a study conducted by University of Utah researchers showed that mindfulness is linked with greater emotional stability and self control, not to mention better sleep.

"People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day," the researcher of that study, Holly Rau, said in a statement. "In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress."

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"How to Love Like a Child"

AreYouMyMotherWhen I'm with a child, I feel about a million times lighter. What does this kid know that I don't? What is so a part of children that they can leaves us feeling like dopey adults, left out of their secret?

Certainly, life gets more complex as we grow and many childlike attitudes and activities have to be relinquished -- but not all of them. While I'm no expert on relationships, I am an astute observer. I keenly watch marriages and long-term friendships and notice trends. Here's some of what I've learned:


As modern lifestyles creep further and further away from the "it takes a village" model, I believe -- whether they realize it or not -- that many adults feel the need to protect themselves emotionally the way our ancestors protected themselves physically. The way I see it, this has made us much more cerebral and out-of-touch with the way we feel.

Many people tend to suppress the natural flow of feelings and thoughts as they come, often even feeling shame for having had the feelings in the first place. I think the root causes of many big, bad, grown-up fights and confusion can often be found in simple, child-like statements: "I'm sad." "I'm scared." "I missed you."

Radical Honesty

I didn't always hear these messages so clearly, but that changed a few years ago. Shortly after, I began communicating them to the people in my life. The result has been phenomenal.

To illustrate what it feels like to be "radically honest," let me invite you to participate in an activity. Recall a time when someone made you feel embarrassed, angry or scared. Now, just within your mind, observe any thoughts or feelings which might arise; lastly, consider what it would feel like to speak these truths to the person the thoughts or feelings are about.

If you did this activity, did you feel anything? Relief, terror, calm? I believe the ability to be this honest within yourself and then kindly convey the messages to the relevant parties is the definition of radical honesty, and incredibly helpful to relationships. But it might not be easy... (-Excerpt from Allison Berkowitz's www.huffpost.com 1/30/13 blog)

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Women, Sex, and Health Care -- Hope for the 21st Century

100727-cecile-richards.jpgDate: March 12, 2013 - 7:00 - 8:00 p.m.

Presenter: Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund

Location: Diana Chapman Walsh Alumnae Hall Auditorium
Wellesley College, 106 Central Street, Wellesley, MA 02481

Cecile Richards, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, will speak about how advances in, and access to, reproductive health care have expanded opportunity for generations of women. She will address the domestic policy and political climate, as well as the global context for this work.  

This event is free and open to the public. 
Preregister online: www.wcwonline.org/march12event or wcw@wellesley.edu
Presented by the Center for Work & Service and the Wellesley Centers for Women.
Special thanks to our event supporters: Planned Parenthood League of Massachusetts, Wellesley College Women’s & Gender Studies Department, and the following Wellesley College student organizations -- The Hippocratic Society; Instead Feminist Housing Cooperative; Feminists for Reproductive Justice; Wellesley Sexual Health Educators; and Wellesley Women for Public Health.
Parking is available in the Davis Parking lot across from Alumnae Hall, near the Central Street entrance of the campus.   
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"Women Change Worlds" - Wellesley Centers for Women's New Blog


The Women Change Worlds blog of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW) encourages WCW scholars and colleagues to respond to current news and events; disseminate research findings, expertise, and commentary; and both pose and answer questions about issues that put women’s perspectives and concerns at the center of the discussion.

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"Keeping Guns Away from Children"


I doubt that our forebears who ratified the Second Amendment in 1791 ever imagined how carelessly and callously firearms would be used centuries later. Witness the senseless slaughter of 20 innocent children and 6 adults last month in Newtown, Conn. As a mother of two and grandmother of four, I can’t imagine a more painful loss.

If you are as concerned as I am about the safety of your children and grandchildren, consider that it may be time for a grass-roots movement, comparable to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, to help break the stranglehold the National Rifle Association seems to have on our elected officials. Do you really want, as the association proposed, an armed guard in every school?

The Connecticut massacre occurred just two months after the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a new policy statement on firearm-related injuries to children. Murder and accidental shootings were not the academy’s only concerns. “Suicides among the young are typically impulsive,” the statement noted, “and easy access to lethal weapons largely determines outcome.”

In an article published online last month in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Judith S. Palfrey, a pediatrician at Boston Children’s Hospital, and her husband, Dr. Sean Palfrey, also a pediatrician in Boston,highlighted the shocking statistics. (- Excerpt from 1/7/13 NY Times article by Jane E. Brody)

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Helping Children Deal with Traumatic Events

open circle logo 25th celebratingA message from Open Circle, the elementary school social emotional learning (SEL) program at the Wellesley Centers for Women:

"In light of the recent shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, we are writing to share some resources that school communities might find helpful at this time. This tragedy touches all of us, both near and far, regardless of whether we are educators, parents or students. Open Circle would like to offer its assistance during this difficult time by helping schools support students who, understandably, may have questions or concerns in response to this tragic event.

"Children may need reassurance that their classroom and school are safe places for them. It is important to recognize the needs of individual children who might have a harder time coping with this event than others. Often children who are prone to anxious feelings or those with their own trauma history can be triggered by another traumatic event, even if it did not directly happen to them. In addition to the positive, supportive classroom climate and the social and emotional learning tools that Open Circle provides, some students may need additional time with a school psychologist or guidance counselor to help them manage their fears.

"It is also critical that adults get the support they need to help students with their questions and feelings about this tragic event. Modeling how to stay calm and knowing when to ask for help yourself will help reassure students of their safety and remind them that the adults in school will be there to take care of them.

"During difficult times, safety, consistency and predictability are critical to helping children maintain a sense of stability and psychological comfort. Open Circle provides a classroom routine and climate that is safe, consistent and predictable. Continuing to do Open Circle, as usual, is very important. Revisiting and applying the following skills and concepts may be one way to help students and adults as they deal with this traumatic event.

Calming Down
Being able to apply calming-down techniques is helpful for both children and adults. It is normal and understandable for adults to feel anxious when upsetting things happen, and yet children take their emotional cues from adults. When adults model ways to calm down, they are reinforcing a critical self-regulation skill. The physiological benefits of calming down are also useful as we try to take care of ourselves during stressful times.

Knowing how to calm down contributes to a child's courage and resiliency. Children are empowered to take charge of their own bodies and emotional reactions. They can use this strategy in and out of the classroom, whenever they feel worried or upset.

Understanding Feelings
In Open Circle, children learn that people have all kinds of feelings - some feelings may be comfortable or uncomfortable, but all feelings are OK. We are encouraging children to share their feelings and expand the range of feeling words that children can identify. Our emotions give us information about our internal state, and they can pass with time. Children can learn to identify many feelings to best communicate their emotional state, and they can also learn that even uncomfortable feelings don't last forever. We do not need to bring up the tragic event directly to encourage use of feeling words. For example, we can ask, "When you wake in the middle of the night and hear loud thunder, how might you feel? Are there other examples of times when you felt that way?"

Feeling words allow us to let people know in words rather than in actions how we feel and therefore keeps them from misinterpreting, let's them know what's wrong, and helps them to pay attention to our experience. Sharing children's books such as The Way I Feel, by Janan Cain, or Lots of Feelings, by Shelley Rotner, might be one way to help young children expand their feelings vocabulary beyond "sad" and "mad," so that they can communicate with more accuracy. Some children will have difficulty expressing feelings and say that they are feeling "nothing." This is at times a self-protective strategy when feelings are experienced as too overwhelming. (At other times, children are simply unaware of their feelings at given moments). We cannot push children to talk about feelings if they do not want to, but rather we can teach the necessary skills and create a safe and caring environment so that when they are ready, they can participate.

Speaking Up
Even if children can identify feelings and find feeling words, they are not always comfortable with speaking up and therefore they may not share the feelings they are experiencing. The Open Circle lessons on speaking up focus on the importance of speaking up on behalf of oneself and others.

Dealing with Double D Behavior and Telling a Responsible Adult
In Open Circle children are learning to identify at least one adult with whom they can speak if they feel anxious or scared. This lesson also reminds children that when they tell a responsible adult about dangerous or destructive behavior they are keeping themselves and others safe.

Listening Skills
In times of crisis and stress, children need the support of adults who will really listen to them. In the Open Circle lesson on listening skills, children learn to identify what listening well looks and sounds like and which people are capable of listening to them when they need to be heard.

Problem Solving
Some classes might want to find ways to help victims of a tragedy. The process of giving to others is often empowering, as well as helpful. The problem-solving process can guide students as they choose an appropriate way of helping. If your class uses a problem box, keep this box available and remind students that it is anonymous. If you are not comfortable dealing with what a child writes for the problem box, consult with school counselors, administrators and parents.

Additional Resources
We recommend the following additional resources from the National Association of School Psychologists and the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:

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"The Power of Female Friendship"

6723277761_984f052703.jpgIn 1997 I arrived in Geneva to work for a year at the headquarters of a relief organization. Feeling overwhelmed by my job and lonely in a city of overworked expats passing through for two to three year stints at the United Nations or other organizations with the rather nebulous goal of “changing the world,” I made friends with a group of women. I was 22, and all three women — one American, one German, and one Argentinian – were 30 years older than I and had worked for the same organization in various administrative capacities for the length of time I’d been alive. After one lengthy, boozy dinner of fondue and buckets of white wine, they quickly took me into their friendship fold and jokingly referred to themselves as “the Wrinklies.” We met once a week for dinner, and saw one another every day at the espresso machine in the hallway, in the fabulously lush cantina, on the expertly-tended grounds of our superluxe office building outside the city limits. We had inside jokes and secret looks. We gave each other little gifts: a cookie, a note, a bar of chocolate, a little token of affection spotted at a shop and slipped underneath an office door.

All three women (and myself as well) were unmarried, living alone, and working to assist people in real need in countries around the world. Despite the fact that I immediately felt accepted, supported, challenged and nurtured by each of them, when I first joined their weekly dinner group, I felt sorry for them. They weren’t married, they weren’t mothers – and at this time, and up until very recently, I clung to the belief that this constituted some failure on their part. They found me equally mystifying. Was I really worried about the size of my ass or trying to finagle a recent date with a man they thought (from my description) was boring and slightly odious? (He was.) Was it a good use of my time, they wondered, to hang out in bars getting smashed and looking to score and by doing this (they were rightfully doubtful) find “the love of my life” when I said I wanted to be a writer? Sure, sure, I said, but I dismissed their concerns, and mourned what I interpreted as their missed opportunities to have a real life, which I assumed would only start for me when I was married and a mother. I loved them, but in my mind I was remembering that old phrase I’d heard for most of my life, in hushed and shameful tones: old maid. I was also keen to make my life look “normal” and “acceptable” in some way because I have a disability; if I didn’t get the body part right, I reasoned (irrationally, although it seemed quite rational at the time), I could get the “what your life looks like” part right. While I was obsessing about how I looked and who would love me, these women were helping to save the world – not in a way that would win them accolades, certainly – but the work they were doing was important and life-giving. And there I sat, foolishly pitying them. (-Excerpt from "Transformation and Transcendence: The Power of Female Friendship," by Emily Rapp, 1/22/12, on www.therumpus.net)

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Early autism therapy changes brain activity

imgres.jpgIntensive early behavioral therapy, considered by many autism experts to be the best in developing language and thinking skills, might also help normalize brain activity in children with autism when they look at faces, and improve their social skills, according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California Davis’ MIND Institute looked at 48 children diagnosed with autism between 18 and 30 months old. Half of the children were randomly selected to receive a form of intensive early behavioral therapy called the Early Start Denver Model for 20 hours a week for two years, while the other half received other forms of intervention. After two years, the researchers used electroencephalograms to measure the brain activity of children with autism, as well as of children without autism, while they watched faces and toys.

The majority of the autistic children treated with the Early Start Denver Model showed greater brain activation when looking at faces rather than objects, a response common to children without autism. The opposite was found among the kids with autism who received other interventions.

The autistic children with increased brain activity at the sight of faces also had better social and behavioral skills. The study is the first to find underlying changes in brain function along with behavioral changes after early therapy. (- Excerpt from Boston.com article by Lara Salahi)

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Moroccan Rapper in Gaza

2012-11-26-ShadiaPic.jpg"It's messed up, I had to lose an eye to see things clearly," Alia said, shaking her head. My charismatic and confident classmate then carefully tucked her hair under her veil. "Bushwick Bill?" I asked. She smiled and showed off her perfect row of teeth. "Yes!" She seemed pleased, yet slightly embarrassed that I had noticed that she was quoting an old-school rapper. I was intrigued by Alia's story and by the words she used to describe how fortunate she was compared to her "sisters" in the poorer parts of the city. "Do you listen to hip hop?" I asked. "Do I listen to hip hop?" she laughed, "not only do I listen, but for your information, I am the most talented yet least famous undercover MC in all of Cairo. Matter of fact, not even my parents know of my musical accomplishments!" I leaned back and listened.

The year was 1993, I was a high school exchange student in Cairo. It was the first time I had heard of the growing underground hip hop/rap movement in the Middle East -- a movement in which young Arab women played a prominent role.


South Bronx in the late 1970s -- also known as the birth place of hip hop -- was plagued by unemployment and racial discrimination. At the same time, the civil rights movement helped establish a sense of identity for minority and marginalized communities. It also helped shape the hip-hop mindset and movement, empowering the young and disenfranchised and giving them a creative outlet to share their stories of growing up in the inner city, about feeling ignored or being taken advantage of.  (-Excerpt from The Rhythm of Empowerment: Female Rappers From Morrocco to Gaza, www.huffingtonpost.com, 11/26/12. Photo credit: Ridwan Adhami.)

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Woman Behind Disney's "Brave"

146538141.jpg.CROP.article250-medium.jpg Actors and writers in Hollywood generally dodge direct questions about the role that race or gender have played in their careers, so it's decidedly refreshing to hear Brenda Chapman, the creative force behind Brave, address the issue head-on. “We need a woman. And you’re the right price,” she says she was told by the Disney higher-up who hired her in 1987.

Despite that jarring sound bite, Chapman writes about her experience as the first woman working in Disney Animation's story department as a largely a positive one. Rather than isolating her, Chapman's male colleagues treated her hiring as a more important crack in the glass ceiling than even she was inclined to do. And her impact on the team was more than just symbolic. "I think by just having my presence in the room, and because we had such a mutual respect for each other, the men were more aware of what might be condescending, or to put it bluntly, 'sexist' toward women in their work," she writes. "We all seemed to work together trying to move the Disney fairy tale into a more contemporary point of view for the heroines—and the audience."(-Excerpt from Slate.com's "Disney Hired Brenda Chapman Because She's a Woman. Good Decision," 10/24/12. Photo credit: David Livingston, Getty Images)

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Judith Jordan on Progressive Radio Network

JBMTI's Director Judith Jordan appeared on the 4/26/12 edition of "All Together Now" Charlene Spretnack on the Progressive Radio Network.

The Relational Shift in Psychology: a conversation with Judith V. Jordan, director of the Jean Baker Miller Training Institute (housed at Wellesley College), about the Relational-Cultural Model of the self and human development, which she co-developed beginning in 1978; the relational shift in the field of psychology from a Freudian model (the separative self) to a more realistic model of dynamic interrelatedness, with attention to the effects of social systems as well. - (Program description)


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Wellesley Centers for Women appoints new excecutive director

Wellesley College President H. Kim Bottomly today announced the appointment of Layli Maparyan, Ph.D., as the new Katherine Stone Kaufmann ’67 Executive Director of the Wellesley Centers for Women (WCW), one of the nation’s largest and most influential organizations conducting scholarly research and developing action programs centered on women’s and girls’ perspectives. Maparyan will assume her new responsibilities effective July 1, 2012.

“I am so pleased that Dr. Maparyan will join Wellesley in this important role,” said Bottomly. “Her work on women’s issues and her dynamic leadership abilities are ideal for building upon the Centers’ legacy of influential and groundbreaking programming. The invaluable work by scholars at the Centers—undertaken in the United States and abroad—reflects Wellesley’s century-long commitment to investing in women and women’s leadership.”

As executive director of the Wellesley Centers for Women, I see my role as working to identify cutting-edge frontiers of policy development, expanding sources of funding, and ensuring that WCW continues to attract and support leading scholars to maintain the rigorous standard of research for which the Centers is known,” said Maparyan. “I’m committed to women’s issues across a wide spectrum—and further, to the role of scholarship in informing meaningful change in the broader community.”

From 2003 to the present, Maparyan served at Georgia State University as associate professor in the Women’s Studies Institute (WSI) and associated faculty of the Department of African American Studies. At Georgia State, she has been graduate director of the WSI as well as a University senator. Previously, Maparyan had served as an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology and the Institute for African-American Studies at the University of Georgia, where she was founding co-director of the Womanist Studies Consortium. Her civic engagement includes coordinating the National Center for Civil and Human Rights’ Women’s Initiative in Atlanta. Maparyan will hold a faculty appointment in Wellesley College’s Department of Africana Studies. (-Excerpt from WCW 4/23/12 press release)

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JBMTI's Kate Price quoted in Washington Times Op-ed

Richmond - Many people question why some sex trafficking victims stay with their traffickers. As a survivor, I know this simple question requires a rather complex explanation.

I am a survivor of sex trafficking and of child abuse by a family member. My story demonstrates that an untreated case of child sexual abuse can lead to the sex trafficking of that child victim. 

My history of sexual abuse began when I was under the age of ten. To make this trauma worse, my parents instructed me to lie about it when confronted by a social worker at home. My parents seemed to believe that they needed to protect our family from the social stigma associated with child sexual abuse. But by squelching the truth, they in turn sentenced me to an adolescence of misunderstanding and distrust. My resilience and sense of self-worth further diminished.

Without proper counseling, I harbored a secret of past abuse, a secret which slowly ate away at my self-confidence. The day I met my trafficker, I was shuffling behind my friends in the mall.  I was feeling angry and depressed.  I hated my parents and teachers.  At the same time, I was losing my friends in the naturally changing social circles between middle and high school.

My self-esteem had spiraled downward throughout intermediate and middle school. I endured several exploitations by older high school boys and men who prowled the neighborhood and local skating rink for unsupervised girls.

By the time the trafficker spotted me in that New Jersey shopping mall, I had already been broken down.

Smith goes on to quote Price:

Kate Price, M.A. lectured in a Wellesley Centers for Women seminar titled, Longing to Belong: Relational Risks and Resilience in U.S. Prostituted Children. Price stated a link between the prior history of sexual abuse and the prostitution of minor victims.  She stated it really is that history of betrayal that really is a risk, and oftentimes…the entryway, into how children even end up in prostitution.

Price reports that at least 60 percent of sexually exploited children, which includes prostituted children, have a prior history of sexual abuse. Studies also show that roughly one in four girls—and one in six boys—will be victims of childhood sexual abuse. (Excerpt, Washington Times, 4/8/12. Photo credit: Holly Smith)

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"Love key to brain development in children"

Editor's note:Dr. Charles Raison, CNNhealth's mental health expert, is an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Ever noticed how scientific opinions swing from one extreme to the other?

Take the importance of mothers in the development of children. In the early days of psychiatry almost every mental illness, from depression to schizophrenia to autism was blamed on bad mothering. Then in the 1960’s and 70’s the discovery of medications that helped these illnesses allowed psychiatry to reframe them as biological conditions, no different from cancer or heart disease. Parents were fully absolved for the mental illnesses of their children, except to the degree that they passed along bad genes that caused chemical imbalances in the brain.

Myths inevitably survive long after they’ve been scientifically disproven. Such is the case with the fantasy that mental illnesses can be written off solely to genes and chemicals. Over the last decade a string of scientific discoveries has shown that the biology driving mental illness has at least as much to do with the environment as with chemicals or genetic inheritance. And it increasingly appears that the single most powerful environmental factor is the love - or its lack - that children receive from their parents. So in a very real way we parents are back on the hook for the lifelong emotional well-being of our kids. (Excerpt from CNN.com's "The Chart," 3/12/12. Photo credit: ThinkStock)

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Disrupting the Script: Raising to Legal Consciousness Sexual Assaults on Black Women

Conference at Brandeis University, Monday, March 19th, 12-6:30pm

In Speaking Truth to Power, Anita Hill highlighted the particular hurdles Black rape survivors face in U.S. criminal justice system. Together, Anita Hill and Bernadette Brooten seek to enhance public discussion of this problem in order to promote both social and legal change. The conference will draw upon theater, religion, law, history, and public policy to help participants become agents for change.

We will begin with award-winning actor Vanessa Adams-Harris’s “Who Will Sing for Lena?” a dramatic representation of a woman’s response to a rape. Panelists will then offer insights from their respective disciplines.

The Brandeis Feminist Sexual Ethics Project commissioned two meta-analyses of legal and social-scientific research confirming that Black rape survivors face greater hurdles than do those of European origin. ??The research found that societal myths about race and sexuality combine to play a significant role in responses to sexual assault—from the victim’s reaction to an assault, to a prosecutor or judge’s confidence in the validity of her story, to the credibility members of the jury give to her testimony and their willingness to accept the act described as a sexual violation.

Because these responses are societal and cultural, we recognize that any effort to address them must go beyond the legal system itself, to the larger society. Please join us in this interdisciplinary conversation.

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Sex Slavery and Human Trafficking Conference, Germany, April 19-21, 2012

To have and to be able to maintain healthy and supportive relationships throughout life is central to growth and well-being for persons and society (J. B. Miller, 1986). However, when persons or societies assert patterns of interaction based on inequality and devaluing differences, marginalizing and oppressing those they consider "less than", persons and societies are harmed.

Such is the case with human trafficking. Human trafficking is a violation of human rights (Art. 4 United Nations Human Rights) and an extreme form of social injustice. It is perpetuated by dominant-subordinate attitudes that condone violence, resulting in significant suffering for individuals, and harm to societies.

The conference will mutually explore the challenges facing the international community to address human trafficking. The goals of the conference include: increased insight into the needs of trafficked victims and their communities, comprehension of the complexities of international cooperation, support for a collaborative path forward to care for those affected, and renewed resolve to help put a stop to violence and exploitation.

Conference Style

  • 3-day International Conference
  • Theory and Practice Oriented - involving experts in academics/ research and service providers
  • Open to the public with educational credits available for ongoing training for students and professionals
  • Main speakers and workshops

Conference Target Groups

  • Researchers and (Higher) Education Instructors
  • Professional Service Providers: Criminal, victim-service providers, NGOs, international organizations , church organizations, social service agencies, women‘s and men‘s organizations, health services, etc
  • Students
  • General public with interest in this issue

Sponsors and Supporters

  • European Information Centre of Lower Saxony (Europäisches Informations-Zentrum Niedersachsen)
  • European Commission
  • Hans Böckler foundation
  • HAWK Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen, Office for Gender Equality
  • HAWK Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen, IIW
  • HAWK Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen, Faculty of Social Work und Health, Hildesheim
  • HAWK Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen, Faculty of Management, Social Work, Construction, Holzminden
  • HAWK Hildesheim/Holzminden/Göttingen, International Office
  • Centre for interdisciplinary women’s and gender studies (ZIF)

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