Doing Psychological First Aid

Do you know Red Cross? Most likely. It’s known globally to come by first administering physical First Aid to the wounded and traumatized on the spot.

Psychological First Aid resembles Red Cross Physical First Aid. Both is for emergency and prevention. Both teach on-the-spot procedures to avoid much suffering, even death.

When a person got bitten by a snake, for instance, instant Aid must be provided. It’s impossible to contact a doctor right away.

To prevent unnecessary emotional trauma leading to suicide, loved ones or friends need to know how to do basic psychological First Aid on the spot.

Then, you bring the person to a doctor or hospital for proper treatment.

The need for widespread training in on-the-scene Psychological (or emotional) First Aid is plainly evident all around us.

We see children being sexually, physically, or verbally abused by toxic parents.

We see marriages and families breaking up.

We see old people lonely, unwanted, sick, homeless.

We see the unemployed suffering severe anxiety and insecurity.

We see people in shock in disaster or war-torn areas.

We see the mentally ill in and out of institutions.

We see students or teenagers becoming disillusioned, self critical, contemplating suicide.

We see people or media “fooling our minds” every day, by misguiding, deceiving, tormenting, scaring, pampering, teasing.

The need is simply overwhelming.

Yet something can be done. During every emotional crisis or traumatic event. On the spot.

Know and learn about it … before things get too late.

A Secret to Living Well

“Gemeinschaftsgefuh.”

That’s German. Like me, you may have a hard time saying or pronouncing it. The word means “community feeling.”

According to noted psychoanalyst Dr. Alfred Adler, that feeling is one of the marks of a well-lived life. It signifies the value of social interest in giving meaning and purpose to one’s life.

Such may be in the form of varied kinds. Such as: grandparenting, volunteering, philanthropy, ministering, health coaching, devoting one’s resources to some social or political cause.

Psychological studies showed that people who are engaged in some form of helping others are far more healthy and satisfied with their lives.

Yesterday, in the mall, a man greeted and tapped me on the back. He was a former patient, who’s with his smiling wife. For a year, they underwent personal and marital therapy with me.

It’s 5 years ago. Today, they’re living a healed, more balanced and happy life as a couple. Gone were their dark days of experiencing infidelity, bankruptcy, and abuses in their marriage.

The man said, “Doc, let’s have a selfie photo together!” I obliged, of course.

“We owe a lot to you. Count me and my wife in as one of those who went through a successful therapy and life change with you!”, he joyfully remarked.

“Gemeinschaftsgefuh.”

That’s the feeling I felt about what happened to this couple. And each and every time I’m able to have an opportunity to make a difference in other people’s lives. Simply priceless!

Most days, I begin with writing tasks, followed by seeing patients in my sessions.

I would then hold court in one of the many coffee shops or hotels around – sharing stories, jokes, Scriptures, deep talks about topics such as life’s meaning.

In all of those, my social interest is ever-present. A desire to contribute in whatever way I can to help others – psychologically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually and even physically as well.

Life is beyond self. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and have lived well.”

Finding Your Right Work

Work is life. It consumes so much time from our limited supply of days. In just a few short decades, the time and energy we spent working adds up to be life itself.

Livelihood is a natural expression of our working life. A source of income. Using our talents and capacities. Doing what we do best.

“I’m looking for something more than money out of my work; I expect deep fulfillment and a little fun too,” said an executive of a major American corporation.

Right livelihood – whether via a job, profession, business, or any talent – is as important as mental health and wholeness. Just as the right foods are for our physical bodies.

Buddha described “right livelihood” as work “consciously chosen, done with full awareness and care, and leading to enlightenment.”

Surely, I’d not recommend orange robes and vows of poverty for us like Buddha. But I can see the practical psychology of his point.

You (and all of us) need to choose the right livelihood. Your right work. For the only one life you have.

But most people today are “aliens.” They’re alienated from both their natural talents and potentials. Their proper place and function. Their purpose for life.

Most people merely work for the money. Eight-to-five penance for daily bread! As a result, many get bored, frustrated, constrained or dulled in their days. Some get serious mentally illness.

I met a young woman who drifted into a boring, but high-paying accounting job. After much inner struggle, she left her secure niche to study psychology.

She’s getting straight A’s in her studies. But having a hard time paying bills. A life state she didn’t experience before.

Yet she was sure that she had found the right road for her life. Her right career. Her right livelihood. That allowed her to excel and gave her the power to be resourceful.

Nothing stopped her from becoming a psychologist. So after years of hardship, she completed her graduate studies. She used her former contacts to start practice.

Now a successful, highly paid psychotherapist, she said, “My choice and hardships were so challenging. But I feel at home in this work. For the first time in my life, I’m experiencing joy and fulfillment.”

You Are Who You Create Your Self to Be

Self.

Psychology refers to the human self in varied ways. Personality. Identity. Psyche or soul. Deep core.

Since we all age, does the passing of time affect who or what you are? Will you be the same self/person 5 years from now? 10 years? 20 years?

Depends.

Several days ago, I was in a “graduation.” A patient, Anthony, finished our long-term therapy program. And all his family members gathered together for a joyous celebration.

One of Anthony’s close cousins remarked publicly, “He changed. He is not the same person I know. Something happened to him.”

Anthony’s body still has some similarity and continuity with what it was before. But he developed a new, different set of beliefs, attitudes, and behavioral manifestations.

He was seen not to be the same self/person he used to be. For Anthony, therapy facilitated a life change.

When I took my old car before to the mechanic for repairs, he made some replacements. Some parts of my car were changed that made it look new and run better.

Whether via therapy, some other kind of healing experiences, or a negative traumatic event (e.g. stress, depression, abuse), you may not be the same person you used to be.

Either for good or bad. For better or worst.

It’s a matter of what parts of the self are chosen to change. It’s nature, degree, and dynamics. Depending on how much the parts, connections, and interactions produce the different changes.

You alone can make that choice. The self/person you want to be.

As Stephen Richards writes, “You are essentially who you create your self to be, and all that occurs in your life is a result of your own making.”

In the Midst of Life, We Are in Death

Life is temporary. It has expiry. Each breath, each heartbeat, brings us closer to inevitable end. The naked truth is, we’re all dying from the moment we were born.

Philosopher Betrand Russell, when he was in his 90s, lamented the ways in which most people waste their lives, as if they’ll live forever.

In my work as a psychotherapist, death is a constant enemy. Whether young or old, I deal with death issues every session.

Like life, my sessions are timed to the limit. There is expiration hour. So often, I listen to people utterly “dying” – depressing, denying, making excuses, wasting precious time, hiding.

As I watch the minutes tick by, I wonder about life-and-death issues. Will they do or get or not what they want most in life?

Whatever the age, becoming aware of impending death as soon as possible is very helpful. It avoids wasting time on things that don’t really matter.

Of course, this is especially true among older people. With the limited time left on earth. The proximity of death. How randomly any of them could vanish into earth!

We can ask ourselves directly a few questions to help us process this reality more deeply.

• Although I may struggle, what will make my days worth living to the fullest?

• How could the quality of my life be improved?

• What do I consider the most important to achieve given the limited time I have left?

• What may be my greatest regrets if I die before I get the chance to complete what’s truly important to me?

A little carving along the road says, “In the midst of life, we are in death.”

That puts things in perspective about what really matters in this life … while we still have the time and can ask ourselves questions.

Once a Cheater, Always a Cheater

“Once a cheater, always a cheater.”

It’s a common cliche. An old adage.

Is it really true?

One couple came to see me for marital therapy. It’s a case of the husband serially cheating on his wife.

The husband admitted having affairs several times in the few years of their marriage. He claimed he had the affairs just for sex and that he loved his wife and had a great sex life with her.

For a time during therapy, the relationship somewhat improved. The husband observed abstinence from his affairs. They learned better skills communicating and loving.

Then, the husband was caught contacting and seeing his affair partner again. Evidently the wife noticed no prior signs of the repeated cheating for he remained privately loving to her.

The wife felt something was wrong which she called an “invisible barrier” between them. But she couldn’t put her finger on it.

According to findings presented at an American Psychological Association annual convention, they found that people who cheat on their partners once are approximately 3 1/2 times more likely to cheat again.

I find it interesting that this finding did not apply only on those doing the cheating. They saw that those who were cheated on in one relationship were also more likely to be cheated on again.

Judging from the number of cases I’ve seen, cheaters do tend to cheat again. But I’d say not everyone. Some do change completely.

Once a cheater, always a cheater?

That gets to be true I must agree … unless the root psychological wounds or unmet needs of the cheater are sufficiently dealt with.

Here are some possible underlying themes within cheaters I suspect exists:

• a never-ending quest of the cheater to make up for what he or she did not get as a child

• the more shame and guilt the cheater experiences, the more it tends to be projected onto the partner

• the cheating may be used to punish himself/herself or humiliate the partner

• a “bad me” core belief that leads to addictions for temporary relief

Bad habits are known to be hard to break. That includes the habit of cheating.

In reality, cheaters need clinical intervention to prevent repeated disasters.

Why People Overworry

A few nights ago, I was watching one of Dr. Chuck Swindoll’s public speeches on YouTube.

I liked the the question and theme of his talk: “What is the #1 struggle of people today?”

In my brain, I had several guesses before Dr. Swindoll announced it. Money? Sex? Power? Marriage? Family?

None of those.

Dr. Swindoll pointed to this: WORRY – our #1 struggle.

Agree. Whatever the life issue or breakdown, too much worrying is so common. A frequent resultant pattern in most people’s reactions.

The overworry then produces large doses of anxiety. Paralyzes productivity and problem solving. Causes unnecessary pain in relationships.

Psychologist Dr. Chad LeJeune explains how it works:

When you’re hiking along a cliff, for instance, she says your brain may tell you “I might fall” and you picture yourself falling. She says it’s a helpful thought because you realize you need to be careful in your walks.

However, “when your anxiety is high,” Dr. LeJeune continues, “you’ll experience that image not as ‘I might fall’ but as ‘I will fall’ ”

This shows that, with heightened anxiety, you’re less able to discriminate between the thought of “might happen” and reality.

I’m reminded of a patient, Edward, whom I once invited to the MRT city train station. It’s part of his anxiety panic “exposure therapy.”

Edward retreated. Ran away from the exercise. He had experience being mugged and held up in the MRT many years ago. In his mind, he said it will happen again.

Psychologically, it’s called “cognitive fusion.” A thought becomes fused with what it refers to. The fused thought is experienced as reality … outright an inevitability.