Some of the world’s best ideas happen by accident – as did the creation of animal-assisted therapy (AAT). In the 1950s, psychologist Boris Levinson discovered that his dog, Jingles, was able to engage a child with autism in a way that humans had not been able to. Since that time, the theory and practice of using animals in therapeutic ways has grown and a substantial body of research has documented the health benefits unique to the human-animal bond.

The Delta Society is an organization dedicated to improving people’s lives through positive interactions with animals. The society trains dogs, the most frequently used therapy animals, but also trains cats, birds, reptiles, and more. According to their research, when people hold or stroke an animal, their blood pressure lowers, their ability to be more extroverted and verbal increases, and the individual reports a decreased sense of loneliness and an increase in self-esteem. Another organization, the Equine Assisted Growth & Learning Association (EAGALA), focuses specifically on how horses and humans work together to improve mental health.

The benefits of animal-assisted therapy have been documented through studies with many different groups, from children with pervasive developmental disorders to senior citizens in assisted living situations. Studies have even gone so far as to say that statistics show that individuals exposed to AAT in psychiatric rehabilitation settings exhibit better outcomes than those in a control group that did not have the benefit of AAT, with the AAT group scoring higher on interaction, sociability, and responsiveness to surroundings. EAGALA has found that equine-assisted therapy has been helpful with at-risk youth, military, veteran, and trauma populations.

Do you use animals in your practice? How have they helped your clients?

 
Are you attending the National Academy of Neuropsychology’s 31st Annual Conference? PAR will be exhibiting during this year’s conference, so please stop by the booth to say hello. Several PAR authors will be presenting during the conference, as well.

PAR author Randy K. Otto, PhD, ABPP will be presenting a CE course on Wednesday, November 16 at 1 p.m. entitled “Ethics in Forensic Psychological Practice.” Dr. Otto is coauthor of the Inventory of Legal Knowledge™ (ILK™).

On Friday, November 18 at 1 p.m., PAR authors Sarah Raskin, PhD and Carol Buckheit, along with PAR project director Christina Sherrod, PhD, will be giving a CE workshop called “The Memory for Intentions Test™: Administration, Psychometric Properties, and Clinical Evidence.” Stop by and learn more about this measure.

Bring any product questions to the PAR booth, where you can learn more about our products, speak to our Clinical Assessment Consultants about your testing needs, and place your orders. Remember, all orders made during NAN 2011 get a 15% discount plus free shipping and handling.

See you in Marco Island!

Those who practice meditation tout the benefits of this practice, but is there any truth to the idea that meditation can influence one’s psychological health?

In a study conducted by the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness, 16 healthy individuals were given MRIs two weeks before beginning a mindfulness-based stress reduction course. During this course, individuals took part in weekly classes, listened to guided meditation audio recordings, and logged the amount of time they meditation on their own each day, with the average being about 27 minutes. The same participants were given a second MRI two weeks after completing the course.

The brain scans showed some interesting findings. The hippocampus, important in learning and memory, showed an increase in brain cell mass. Other areas that showed an increase in brain cell mass were structures linked to self-awareness, introspection, and compassion. Some areas – such as the amygdala, which controls anxiety and stress –  showed a decrease in mass, an interesting finding since most participants rated themselves as less stressed after taking part in the program.

The study shows that the psychological benefits people are reporting are very real shifts in the biological structure of the brain. While the underlying mechanisms that cause the brain to change in response to meditation need further research, it is an important step to know that individuals practicing meditation can play an active role in their well-being.

To read more about this study, you can read more in the January 2011 issue of Psychiatric Research: Neuroimaging.

Do you use meditation with your clients? What kinds of outcomes have you witnessed?
Guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics released in October suggest that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder can be diagnosed and treated in children as young as age 4, two years younger than the previous minimum age set by AAP a decade ago.

Mark Wolraich, the lead author of the ADHD clinical practice guidelines and a professor of pediatrics at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, told the Wall Street Journal recently that ADHD in a preschool-aged child is very different from the typically active behavior seen in most young children (www.online.wsj.com, October 17). A child with ADHD often doesn’t play well with other children, is prone to accidents, and is overactive much of the time. “It's not the environmental things like parties triggering it,” Dr. Wolraich says.

According to the new guidelines, behavior management should be the first approach for treating preschool-aged children. But when behavioral interventions aren’t enough, the guidelines suggest that doctors consider prescribing methylphenidate (commonly known by the brand name Ritalin) for preschool-aged children with moderate to severe symptoms.

Other key recommendations include assessing children for other conditions that might coexist with ADHD, such as oppositional defiant and conduct disorders, anxiety, and depression.

“Treating children at a young age is important,” asserts Dr. Wolraich, “because when we can identify them earlier and provide appropriate treatment, we can increase their chances of succeeding in school.”

For more information, or to request a complete copy of the guidelines, visit www.aap.org.

What do you think about the new ADHD guidelines? Will they affect your practice? Join the conversation—leave a comment now!
PAR author Dr. Lisa Firestone will be presenting two CE workshops through the Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology.

“Suicide: What Professionals Need to Know” will be held on December 2, 2011. This workshop provides an in-depth understanding of the dynamics of suicide and of the legal, ethical, and case management issues that arise when dealing with suicidal individuals.

For more information or to register for this session, click here.

“A Developmental Understanding for Assessing and Treating Violent Individuals” will be held on December 3, 2011. This workshop provides an in-depth understanding of developmental issues contributing to violence, the triggers of violence, assessment, case management, and treatment of violent or potentially violent adults and adolescents.

For more information or to register for this session, click here.

Dr. Firestone is the author of the Firestone Assessment of Self-Destructive Thoughts and Firestone Assessment of Suicide Intent (FAST-FASI), the Firestone Assessment of Violent Thoughts™ (FAVT™) , and the Firestone Assessment of Violent Thoughts-Adolescent (FAVT-A).
If you’re looking for a good laugh (and sometimes, at the expense of the profession), Showtime’s new comedy, Web Therapy , may be just what you are looking for to blow off some steam after a tough day. Starring Lisa Kudrow as Fiona Wallice, a therapist who invented “web therapy,” the main character, who is sorely lacking in professional skills, makes her living by seeing clients via webcam.

While this is a fictional account of one therapist providing services online (as Fiona’s unique brand of therapy would never pass any kind of ethics codes), the area of telepsychology is a growing one. Although supporters of telepsychology tout a provider’s ability to serve clients all over the world, those who question the practice bring up issues related to licensure issues, privacy concerns, and the general effectiveness of outcomes.

Because the body of research on this practice is still evolving and best practices have not yet emerged, this year’s APA president, Melba J. T. Vasquez, PhD, has made a point to work on creating and adopting guidelines for telepsychology services.

Do you provide services via the web, e-mail, or telephone? How do you feel about the telepsychology movement? What do you think should be included in the guidelines?
In 2009, Congress passed a law that mandates the introduction of new, graphic warning labels on cigarette packs. By 2012, tobacco companies must incorporate into their packaging one of nine FDA-approved graphics—images that show the potential consequences of smoking, like diseased lungs and rotting teeth—along with a national quit-smoking hotline number. The FDA believes the warnings will prevent children from taking up the habit and help adults quit (Department of Health and Human Services).

Findings generally show that graphic warning labels are effective at increasing awareness of the health risks posed by smoking. In April, the authors of a study published in Health Education Research interviewed subjects both before and after the implementation of Taiwan’s new graphic cigarette warning label and smoke-free law. They found that “the prevalence of thinking about the health hazards of smoking among smokers increased from 50.6% pre-law to 79.6% post-law, [and] the prevalence rates of smokers who reported thinking of quitting rose from 30.2% pre-law to 51.7% post-law.”

A 2009 study looked at Australia’s graphic labels, which have been in use since 2006 and have relatively strict specifications (they must compose 30% of the front and 90% of the back of each pack). The warnings “increased reactions that are prospectively predictive of cessation activity. Warning size increases warning effectiveness and graphic warnings may be superior to text-based warnings.” Despite some wear-out of the message over time, “stronger warnings tend to sustain their effects for longer.” Another Australia-focused study looked at the media coverage surrounding the introduction of the new labels and found that, of 67 news stories, “85% were positive or neutral about the new warnings and 15% were negative” and that “smokers’ initial reactions [to the labels] were in line with tobacco control objectives.”

What do you think? Are these methods effective motivators in the long run? If so, will that translate into an increase in actual quitters? Are there drawbacks to this type of labeling? Let’s hear what you have to say.
One in 10 American adults experienced depression in 2010, making it one of the most common complaints of those seeking therapy services. In her October 11 webinar, "An Innovative Approach to Treating Depression," PAR author Dr. Lisa Firestone will present a method for helping treat depression that encourages clients to identify and combat their self-destructive thoughts.

According to Dr. Firestone, when someone is depressed, the hopelessness they feel clouds the lens through which they see the world; this lens is most harsh when it is turned on themselves. To begin challenging the roots of depression, therapists must help clients identify their self-destructive thoughts (“Critical Inner Voices”) and learn to take action in their own self-interest. In this webinar, Dr. Firestone will introduce a cognitive/affective/behavioral modality for bringing these thoughts to the surface, separating from them, and taking action against them. Clinicians will learn how to help clients challenge their Voices, show more self-compassion, and strengthen their sense of self.

To register for this webinar, click here. The webinar will be held October 11, from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. EST, is worth 1.5 CE units, and costs $25.
When an important task requires your attention, do you get right to it or do you put it off? When you’re faced with a paper to write, a report to review, or a memo that needs a detailed response, does the laundry—or the latest YouTube video—suddenly emerge as a more interesting alternative? Procrastination is an occasional challenge for many of us. But chronic procrastination can be a real problem for students, significantly affecting their academic success.

In a study published recently in the Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology*, authors Laura Rabin, Joshua Fogel, and Katherine Nutter-Upham look at procrastination and its connection to the self-regulatory processes that make up executive function.

Dr. Rabin and her colleagues examined nine clinical subscales of the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning–Adult Version (BRIEF-A) in a sample of more than 200 college students. These subscales include measures of impulsivity, self-monitoring, planning and organizing, ability to “shift” behavior or mindset when necessary, initiative, task monitoring, emotional control, working memory, and organization of materials. The authors found that all nine of the clinical subscales measured by the BRIEF-A showed a significant correlation with higher academic procrastination.

What can be done to help students whose procrastination is hindering their success? In his Psychology Today blog “Don’t Delay: Understanding Procrastination” (http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/dont-delay), Timothy A. Pychyl describes implications of the Rabin, Fogel, and Nutter-Upham study, summarizing some key strategies for students who struggle with procrastination. They include:

  • setting proximal sub-goals along with reasonable expectations about the amount of effort required to complete a given task;

  • using contracts for periodic work completion;

  • requiring weekly or repeated quizzes until topic mastery has been achieved;

  • using short assignments that build on one another with regular deadlines and feedback;

  • focusing on the problem of “giving in to feeling good” by developing an awareness of the problem and its subversive effects on achievement;

  • developing volitional skills, such as managing intrusive negative emotions and controlling impulses;

  • establishing fixed daily routines;

  • blocking access to short-term temptations and distractions such as social media; and

  • using peer monitoring and self-appraisal methods to improve academic conscientiousness.


Pychyl’s blog includes a podcast interview with Laura Rabin in which she describes how a neuropsychological perspective can inform our understanding of the role of executive function in procrastination. To listen to Dr. Rabin’s interview now, click on http://iprocrastinate.libsyn.com/a-neuropsychological-perspective-on-procrastination.

To learn more about how the BRIEF measures executive function, visit the PAR Web site (www.parinc.com) and navigate to the BRIEF product page.

*Rabin, L. A., Fogel, J., & Nutter-Upham, K. E. (2011). Academic procrastination in college students: The role of self-reported executive function. Journal of Clinical and Experimental Neuropsychology, 33, 344-357.
PAR is proud to support United Way! Last week, PAR employees took part in our annual fundraising campaign. For the 19th consecutive year, 100% of PAR staff participated in our annual United Way drive. We exceeded our fundraising goal, resulting in $105,993 being donated to help United Way continue its mission of helping others in our community.


For more information on how you can help United Way in your community, visit www.liveunited.org.