Successful New Year’s Resolutions

by Jessica Jeffers

new-years-day-1892263_960_720Another holiday season has come and gone. The decorations are starting to come down, the gifts have been dispensed, and we are turning our attention towards a new year. For many people, that means it’s time to make New Year’s resolutions. Whether we want to lose weight, stop smoking, or start getting organized, January 1 is a popular time to start making changes in our lives and our behavior.

But now we’ve hit the mid-January slump. Unfortunately many people who make New Year’s resolutions give up on their goals before the month is even over. That doesn’t mean we’re doomed to fail, though. It just means we need to approach our resolutions with a game plan meant to encourage success. A 2002 article in the Journal of Clinical Psychology reported that resolvers with a concrete plan were much more likely to have succeeded in sticking to their resolutions at the six-month mark (Norcross et al, 2002).

Abigail Levrini and Frances Prevatt outline one such plan in their book Succeeding with Adult ADHD (2012). Though meant specifically to help adults with ADHD, the basic principles can be generalized to many people looking to make their own behavioral changes.

 

  1.  Set long-term goals

Goals should be measurable, time sensitive, and process-based. What does that mean? You have to be specific when identifying what it is you want to achieve. Your goal should be something that you can empirically demonstrate you have accomplished. But that’s not all. To stay on track, it’s important to give yourself a timeline to define the actions that you will take to reach the goal. It’s not enough to just say that you want to lose weight. Tell yourself “I want to lose 15 pounds by June 1 by going to the gym three times a week and replacing sweet snacks with veggies.”

 

  1.   Create weekly objectives

New-Year_Resolutions_listYou’re not going to reach your goals overnight. Making changes in your life takes time and patience. Get there by identifying steps along the way, so that you practice new behaviors until they become habits. If you want to train for a half marathon, create a schedule in which you start out running just a mile or two and gradually add a little more distance week by week.

 

  1.   Add rewards and consequences to increase motivation

It feels good to cross objectives off your list. But feeling good isn’t always enough to keep some people working steadily towards their resolutions. The concept of rewards and consequences is a basic psychological principle that can help. As you make progress, remember to treat yourself! If your weekly objective was to spend an hour at the gym, kick off those running shoes and catch up on your favorite TV show when you’re done. But remember to hold yourself accountable if you slip-up. These consequences don’t need to be big—if you decide to skip your workout on Wednesday, the consequence can be as simple as also skipping that grande latte on Thursday morning.

 

  1.   Use metacognition to discover what works

Metacognition is defined as the “awareness of one’s own cognitive processes, often involving a conscious attempt to control them” (VandenBos, 2015). In this context, it means thinking about the way you approach your goals, acknowledging what works, and identifying how you can change what doesn’t work. Levrini and Prevatt suggest tracking your progress by keeping a journal. As you notice patterns emerging, you can adjust your weekly objectives, rewards, or consequences accordingly.

 

Committing to long-term change can be difficult, but applying these psychological principles and making a plan can go a long way towards helping you succeed with your New Year’s resolutions.

 

References

Levrini, A., & Prevatt, F. F. (2012). Succeeding With Adult ADHD: Daily Strategies to Help You Achieve Your Goals and Manage Your Life. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Norcross, J.C., Mrykalo, M.S., & Blagys, M.D. (2002). Auld Lang Syne: Success Predictors, Change Processes, and Self-Reported Outcomes of New Year’s Resolvers and Nonresolvers. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 58(4), 397-405.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA Dictionary of Psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

October Releases From APA Books!

language-autismInnovative Investigations of Language in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Edited by Letitia R. Naigles

In recent decades, a growing number of children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), a condition characterized by, among other features, social interaction deficits and language impairment. Yet the precise nature of the disorder’s impact on language development is not well understood, in part because of the language variability among children across the autism spectrum. The contributors to this volume—experts in fields ranging from communication disorders to developmental and clinical psychology to linguistics—use innovative techniques to address two broad questions: Is the variability of language development and use in children with ASD a function of the language, such that some linguistic domains are more vulnerable to ASD than others? Or is the variability a function of the individual, such that some characteristics predispose those with ASD to have varying levels of difficulty with language development and use?

 

supervision-emotion-focusedSupervision Essentials for Emotion-Focused Therapy

by Leslie S. Greenberg and Liliana Ramona Tomescu

The authors introduce a model of supervision that is founded on the fundamental principles of emotion-focused therapy (EFT): a safe supervisory alliance and relationship, an agreed-upon focus for each supervision session, and the identification of appropriate task markers (moments of uncertainty that present opportunities for supervisory intervention). Together, EFT supervisors and supervisees carefully deconstruct recorded therapy sessions, with moment-by-moment processing of the supervisee’s responses and emotional understanding.  Through close observation, supervisors enable trainees to develop seeing, listening, and empathic skills, as they become more attuned to both verbal and non-verbal cues that indicate clients’ emotional responses.

 

 

supervision-integrativeSupervision Essentials for Integrative Psychotherapy

by John C. Norcross and Leah M. Popple

This book presents integrative supervision applicable to integrative and single-system psychotherapy alike. Distinctive features include its synthesis of supervisory methods aligned with multiple theoretical traditions, a research-informed fit of supervision to the individuality of the supervisee, its insistence on frequent feedback from both clients and trainees, and a modeling of the philosophical pluralism and pragmatic flexibility of integration itself. In reviewing videotaped therapy sessions, integrative supervisors offer key insights into common problems, demonstrate how to adjust treatment to clients’ transdiagnostic needs, and guide trainees to clinical competence.

 

  

trauma-meaning-spiritualityTrauma, Meaning, and Spirituality

Translating Research into Clinical Practice

by Crystal L. Park, Joseph M. Currier, J. Irene Harris, and Jeanne M. Slattery

Trauma represents a spiritual or religious violation for many people. Survivors attempt to make sense out of painful events, incorporating that meaning into their current worldview in either a harmful or a more helpful way. This volume helps mental health practitioners—many of whom are less religious than their clients—understand the important relationship between trauma and spirituality, and how to best help survivors create meaning out of their experiences.  Drawing on relevant theories and research, the authors present a new conceptual framework, the Reciprocal Meaning-Making Model, demonstrating how it can guide both assessment and treatment. Through the use of case material, the authors examine a range of spiritual views, traumas, and posttraumatic reactions that are reflective of the population as a whole rather than targeting only specific religions or cultural perspectives.   Given the lack of scientific literature on the topic, this book fills an important gap, and will appeal to clinicians and researchers alike.

Living With Fear: Terror Management Theory

by Trish Mathis

Recently, I was riding to work on a commuter train when I noticed a briefcase on a seat nearby, unattended. I set my book on my lap and glanced around, but the item didn’t seem to belong to anybody. Although it looked innocuous lying there, I knew better. The many safety warnings about unattended baggage I’d heard broadcast over the station platforms and in airport concourses since 9/11 all buzzed in my ears simultaneously. It must be a bomb.

briefcaseIt suddenly felt very hot and I struggled out of my coat, frantically looking for the conductor. I bit my lip and resisted the urge to get up and run into the next train car. My right leg jiggled up and down seemingly of its own accord and I shifted to the edge of my seat, wondering what to do as the breath caught in my throat. I closed my eyes and hoped that everything would be fine, that we would all make it safely through the morning grind.

Just then, a man stepped into my car from the next one, walked down the aisle, and sat in the seat with the briefcase. He clicked it open, removed a folder, and calmly began reading the pages inside. As my surge of adrenaline drained away, I felt very foolish. Of course there was no bomb. That person probably just had to use the train’s restroom, and who takes a briefcase in there?

Where did my fear come from? According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, terror management theory (TMT) proposes that “control of death anxiety is the primary function of society and the main motivation in human behavior. Accordingly, awareness of the inevitability of death motivates people to maintain faith in the absolute validity of the beliefs and values that give their lives meaning….” This model explains why we react the way we do to the threat of death and describes how this reaction influences our thoughts, emotions, and actions. Introduced in 1984 by social psychologists Jeff Greenberg, Sheldon Solomon, and Tom Pyszczynski, TMT has become a prominent part of their research. They have published widely on the subject, notably including the APA title In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror. (Also check out The Psychology of Hate and Understanding Terrorism: Psychosocial Roots, Consequences, and Interventions.)

psych-of-terrorAlthough death anxiety can be activated by even the most mundane daily events and moments, TMT is also useful for understanding the fears generated by our current sociopolitical climate. We constantly hear media reports about ISIS, see threatening videos splashed across the Internet, and watch news footage of innocent civilians killed by bombs in Spain or shot by gunmen in Paris. Remember the anthrax attacks perpetrated through the U.S. mail in Washington, DC, several years ago? Do you still experience the occasional twinge of apprehension when opening an unexpected letter or package? We can’t help but worry that we might be the next victim.

And so perhaps we decide not to attend a crowded sporting event one day. We cancel a long-anticipated trip the next. We glare suspiciously at strangers on the streets. Yet simultaneously, we proudly hang American flags from our front porches and we donate to charities. Indeed, as Greenberg et al. noted in the introduction of their most recent book The Worm at the Core: On the Role of Death in Life, “the fear of death is one of the primary driving forces of human action.” At the end of the day, we use our traditions, beliefs, and values to give our lives meaning and thus obscure the anxiety created by our awareness of the possibility of death.

Of course, some of us are more successful at this than others. Fortunately, the theory’s originators offer some strategies for how to deal more productively with the anxiety potential threats produce. These include maintaining close connections with others, gathering information to understand an event, and enhancing self-esteem. Perhaps you’ve tried these ideas in some form or another, and perhaps like me, you have a specific approach you find most helpful.

So the next time I see unattended baggage during my commute, maybe I’ll panic again as the prospect of my own mortality slams into focus. But then I’ll remind myself that my response is a natural, inevitable part of being human. When the immediate danger passes, I can return to the sanctuary offered by routine: the book I’m reading on the train, the susurration of passenger conversation around me, and the normalcy of going to work to do something I consider worthwhile.

 

References

Moghaddam, F. M., & Marsella, A. J. (2004). Understanding terrorism: Psychosocial roots, consequences, and intervention. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Pyszczynski, T., Solomon, S., & Greenberg, J. (2003). In the wake of 9/11: The psychology of terror. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Solomon, S., Greenberg, J., & Pyszczynski, T. (2015). The worm at the core: On the role of death in life. New York, NY: Random House.

Sternberg, R. J. (2005). The psychology of hate. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

VandenBos, G. R. (Ed.). (2015). APA dictionary of psychology (2nd ed.). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Open Pages: Mindfulness in Dialectical Behavior Therapy

APA Books Open Pages is an ongoing series in which we share interesting tidbits from upcoming & recent books. Find the full list by browsing the Open Pages tag.

What does this mindfulness practice look like? Contemplative mindfulness practices can be found across Eastern and Western religious and spiritual traditions, and there is no single, specific, or “right way” to practice mindfulness as a dialectical behavior therapist. However, because DBT incorporates many concepts from Zen Buddhism, it is common for dialectical behavior therapists to have experience with mindfulness practices from this tradition. Dialectical behavior therapists practice what they teach, and as a result, the same skills we ask our clients to practice are the skills we practice ourselves. For mindfulness, this means that therapists using DBT practice observing and describing their experiences without judgment or evaluation, intentionally choose to one-mindfully do things with full attention each moment at a time, and aim to be effective with their actions by being sensitive to the context of each moment. In addition, dialectical behavior therapists work toward having moments of their life in which they can let go of the need to observe and describe experiences and instead fully participate without conscious awareness of each moment by fluidly responding effectively, as if they are in “the zone” that athletes find themselves in when at peak performance. Learning these DBT skills is hard for clients, and it can be equally hard for us as therapists.

From Chapter 12, “When the Therapist Gets in the Way,” in Managing Therapy-Interfering Behavior: Strategies From Dialectical Behavior Therapy by Alexander L. Chapman and M. Zachary Rosenthal. Copyright © 2016 by the American Psychological Association. All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the United States Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means, including, but not limited to, the process of scanning and digitization, or stored in a database or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher.

Casey Taft: On Non-Violence

This is the latest in a series of interviews with APA Books authors and editors. For this interview, Andrew Gifford, Development Editor at APA Books, interviewed Casey T. Taft of the National Center for PTSD, VA Boston Healthcare System, and Boston University School of Medicine.

Note: The opinions expressed in this interview are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the official views or policies of the American Psychological Association.

Casey Taft

Casey T. Taft, Ph.D. is a staff psychologist at the National Center for PTSD in the VA Boston Healthcare System, and Professor of Psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. Dr. Taft was the 2006 Young Professional Award winner from the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, and the 2009 Linda Saltzman Memorial Intimate Partner Violence Researcher Award winner. He has served or is currently serving as Principal Investigator on funded grants focusing on understanding and preventing intimate partner violence through the National Institute of Mental Health, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Centers for Disease Control, the Department of Defense, and the Blue Shield of California Foundation. Dr. Taft has published over 100 empirical papers and book chapters, chaired an American Psychological Association task force on trauma in the military, and consulted with the United Nations on preventing violence and abuse globally.

In addition to the book discussed in this interview, Dr. Taft is also the guest host of Intimate Partner Violence, a Psychotherapy Training Video available on DVD.

In your work with veterans suffering from PTSD, you managed to create something unique, as far as I know:  a model for treating interpersonal violence (IPV) that addresses both perpetrators and victims. How did you come up with this idea?  Could you tell us about the development of this model?  

Our model is trauma-informed in that we account for and discuss the role of trauma throughout the entire assessment and therapy process. What we’ve found is that when we give space for the perpetrator to discuss prior traumatic events, not only does this help set the stage for developing a positive therapeutic alliance and enhance motivation, but it can be healing in and of itself. While our program is not a trauma treatment per se, we do have some evidence that those who receive the program are themselves healing from trauma while they’re also much less likely to inflict trauma upon others. The goal of our program is to stop the cycle of trauma, and we do that be increasing an understanding of trauma and its impacts, and really focusing on how our prior experiences influence how we interpret various situations and our relationship partners.

You’ve noted that many models of IPV treatment do not take trauma into consideration at all. What inspired you to change that, with your model?

 Trauma-informed intervention is increasingly the standard of care for all kinds of problems that might lead someone to treatment, and it stands to reason that we should be doing the same with those who use violence in their relationships. In fact, trauma-informed intervention may be even more important with this population since more than half of those who engage in partner abuse have been abused themselves growing up or observed their parents abusing each other. While almost everyone in the partner violence field acknowledges high rates of trauma in this population, and there seems to be a growing belief that we should be educated about trauma, this hasn’t necessarily translated into specific evidence-based trauma-informed approaches. Especially when we consider that interventions to prevent and end intimate partner violence have not been particularly effective, and other research showing that trauma and PTSD are associated with violence through their influence on how we interpret our social worlds, this seemed like an obvious direction to go.

In your new book Trauma-Informed Treatment and Prevention of Intimate Partner Violence, you and co-authors Christopher M. Murphy and Suzannah K. Creech discuss the importance of a positive therapeutic process. Could you elaborate on what you mean by that phrase? What are some ways that practitioners can adopt a positive approach?

By positive therapeutic process, we’re referring to facilitating positive therapist-client relationships, motivation for ending the abuse, and engagement in the treatment process in general. Historically in partner violence intervention, there has been a tendency to downplay the importance of these factors, with intervention strategies that may be

considered overly confrontational and shaming. This is unfortunate because when we’re working with a trauma-exposed population, they may have difficulty trusting and joining with providers. Therefore, taking a more alliance-enhancing and motivational approach may go a long way towards enhancing our ability to reach violent individuals and help them end their violence. In fact, my dissertation research from long ago showed that when we are able to build a positive working alliance and facilitate group cohesion, those who are in partner violence intervention are less violent and abusive to their partners after program completion.

The programs you’ve developed to end domestic violence in military service members have seen terrific successes and have been adopted by many hospitals and clinics. How do you feel, seeing your work take root in so many places?

It feels amazing, to be honest. So many people have worked really hard to get us to this point. We spent over eight years running randomized controlled trials where we developed our violence prevention programs and evaluated them. Ours are the first programs shown to be effective for this population through controlled trials so we truly believe we are onto something important with this work. To be able to then help with implementing these programs across the VA healthcare system and within the military is exactly what we were hoping for when we began this endeavor. Our vision for the next phase of our clinical research program is to do the same thing with a civilian population. We have every reason to believe that a trauma-informed violence prevention intervention would similarly work for a civilian population.

As a vegan, you’ve written about how you want to promote non-violence towards animals, and echo a similar message of positivity when it comes to our treatment of all living creatures. Do you see violence as a systemic problem in our society?  Are there things we can do in our own lives to help prevent violence, whether on an interpersonal level or more broadly?

We know that when children are violent to animals, it’s a warning sign for problems with interpersonal violence down the road. Similarly, when we sanction unnecessary violence towards other sentient beings in any form, it promotes the view that violence is acceptable. I do see violence as a systemic problem in our society. Violence in many forms towards both human and nonhuman animals is all around us, and I believe that a pro-intersectional framework is required to understand that various forms of violence and injustice are all inter-connected, and all violence stems from the idea that some lives matter less than others, or that some are lesser. It’s quite amazing that all three of the authors for this book are vegan and share this pro-intersectional worldview.