Self Compassion – One of Nature’s Gifts

Bleeding heart flower - Dicentra spectabilis

Self-compassion can be a powerful tool for the relief of suffering. Evolution has designed us both to give and to receive compassion, the urge to relieve suffering. As long as there is not too much interference with our development, we grow up naturally wanting to be compassionate and kind.

Can you remember a time when you were suffering in some way and someone was kind, warm, caring, and non-judging as they tried their best to help you? If you cannot remember such a time, please try to simply imagine being treated with such kindness. As you imagine or remember, take your time. Now notice how you feel inside. Maybe, like most of us, you will notice some type of pleasant sensations. I hope this is true for you.

Now remember a time when you were kind and helped someone else. Visualize the kindness, warmth, caring and non-judging flowing from you as you try to help. Now notice how you feel inside. Maybe, like most of us, you will notice some type of pleasant sensations. I hope this is true for you.

For many people, this activity can help them to connect with what nature has designed within us. Compassion can be cultivated, not only to give to others, but also to give to ourselves. We all are born with a nervous system that feels pain from many kinds of events, both real and present events, and also those we may remember or imagine. Fortunately, in nature’s wisdom, a capacity to find peace and comfort has also been built into our nervous system. Without this capacity, we could not have survived as a species.

Compassion and self-compassion are pathways to connect with that comforting capacity we all have within us. Many psychotherapists, due to their intimate contact with suffering, have become interested in how to nurture self-compassion in those seeking their help.

If you want to learn more, the resources below may be helpful. May this information bring something good into your life.

Self-Compassion by Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher Germer, Ph.D.

Mindful Compassion by Paul Gilbert, Ph.D. and Choden

The author of this article, Dr. Fred McKinney, is a psychotherapist at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley.  To make an appointment with Dr. McKinney or another Psych Choices therapist, click on our Make an Appointment Page, or call our Intake coordinator at 610-626-8085, extension 213.

Free Online Class in Nutrition

fruits and vegetablesWe all know that what we eat affects our health, but how can we decide on the best way to eat when there are so many conflicting theories and ideas about food?  If you sign up for this free online course, you will be able to increase your knowledge and understanding of how to eat for better health.

The course description states:

“In our modern society we are accustomed to eat anytime, anywhere, and often too much. We stuff our bodies with food, often unaware of the fact that food profoundly influences our emotional and physical well-being in the short term and in the long term. Scientific studies indicate that what we eat has a profound impact on our current and future health. Many people want to eat a healthier diet but are torn between the numerous conflicting and very confusing messages thrown at us by healthcare professionals, self-professed nutrition consultants, journalists, and even academic scientists. Every day you hear about a new fad diet with an “unprecedented” success rate that promises a long and healthy life or simply causes your fat to melt away. Most people lack a basic understanding of nutritional science to judge whether these messages carry any credibility. Under the mantra “you are what you eat” this course will teach you the basics of human nutrition and provide you with a solid background to understand and appreciate the importance of nutrition for human health.”

Anyone, anywhere, can take this course for free.  It comes highly recommended by Psych Choices therapist Connie Opfell, LCSW.  You can easily sign up at this link: Introduction to Nutrition Free Online Course.

For the new year, resolve to meditate

Space treeMeditation, or mindfulness practice, is well known to calm the mind, decrease the symptoms of stress, reduce anxiety, lift the spirits, and help with concentration and focus.  Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) practice can even help alleviate pain and other medical symptoms.   Many people meditate to increase self-understanding, achieve greater peacefulness and psychological healing.

But meditation typically requires time – many authorities recommend 10 to 45 minutes a day, although even 5 minutes can be helpful.  Keeping to a healthful meditation schedule requires discipline that many of us find difficult.

More and more people are finding that their smartphones, tablets or computers have the answer.  At, you can find a helpful series of meditation lessons, online or through an app you can download, which you can listen to for 10 minutes a day.  The narrator’s pleasant British voice takes you gently through the simple steps of becoming aware of your breathing and your body, and gradually learning to modify your habits of thinking and reacting.  He suggests that you begin by listening to these 10 minute lessons first thing every morning. You can try some of this program free; costs after that are inexpensive and “well worth it,” according to Psych Choices therapist Connie Opfell.  Headspace has a special New Year offer of 3 free months if you use the promo code CALMMIND.

A Google search reveals several online trainings in MBSR, such as the  Mindful Living Program. There are also many excellent books on meditation.  We highly recommend Full Catastrophe Living, by Jon Kabat-Zinn, who originally developed MBSR from its beginnings in Buddhist meditation practices.  Kabat-Zinn has other books as well as audio CDs, which are also excellent.

If you are someone who benefits more from in-person group lessons, you may want to check out Penn Medicine’s Program for Mindfulness, or a similar program in your own geographic area.  You also may enjoy trying classes, lectures, or group meditation sessions at a free or low-cost meditation center such as the Philadelphia Meditation Center in Havertown, PA. Man doing yoga

Many psychotherapists teach meditation practices as a way to help their clients manage stress and symptoms of anxiety and depression.  At Psych Choices, Dr. Fred McKinney, Ms. Connie Opfell and Mr. David Tomlinson are all highly trained in meditation practices, and often use these techniques with their clients.  To make an appointment with one of these therapists, you  may use our Make An Appointment page.

You owe it to yourself… resolve to meditate in 2015!

Want to be smarter, happier, and thinner? Sleep more! Here’s how

Carefree sleep little baby with a soft toy on the bedSleep is absolutely crucial to good physical and mental health, yet most of us don’t get enough of it.

Why is sleep so important?   Chemicals released during sleep are crucial for repairing daily wear on the entire body including the brain.  During sleep, your brain toxins are cleared out by a recently discovered system called the glymphatic system.

What happens when you get too little sleep? You may or may not feel sleepy during the day, but you may have trouble remembering things and even suffer permanent memory loss.  It will be harder to think clearly, and sleep-deprived people are more likely to have car accidents or make life-threatening errors which may affect public safety.  With less sleep, you’re more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, and depression. Furthermore, sleep affects hormones that control your appetite, which may be the reason that the less you sleep, the more you are likely to weigh.

How much sleep do you need? According to the Centers for Disease Control, most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep a night for good health. Unfortunately, studies find that nearly 30% of adults get 6 or fewer hours of sleep daily, while less than a third of high school students get even 8 hours on a school night (teenagers should be getting 9 to 10 hours a night according to the CDC!)

How can you get more sleep? First, power off your phone!  According to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans regularly use a computer or electronic device of some kind in the hour before bed. Light from TV screens, computers and phones tend to lower levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and helps us fall asleep and stay asleep.

So power down at least 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime.  Try to get at least a half-hour of quiet time without electronics before you go to bed.  Instead of TV or Facebook, read a book (paper, not Kindle!) or if you are fortunate enough to have an available partner, spend the last half hour of your day involved in intimate conversation or activity.  (That being said, avoid conversations if they are likely to be upsetting).

Avoid stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, especially in the hours before bedtime. Alcohol also interrupts sleep – although it may seem a nighttime drink is a sleep aid, in fact most of us tend to wake up a few hours later as the alcohol wears off.

Be sure you get some natural light every day, and be sure you get some exercise. A walk once a day, even if you only have a few minutes, can help you sleep better that night.

If you find you sleep enough hours, but still don’t feel rested, the cause could be sleep apnea, which is caused by insufficient oxygen due to problems in your breathing while you sleep.  The result is lighter, less restful sleep – and a greater risk of heart attack.  Ask your doctor about a sleep study to determine if you have this common but very serious problem.

If you need further sleep support, including suggestions for sleep medications or natural supplements, talk with your doctor or psychiatrist. To consult a psychiatric practitioner at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley, see our Make An Appointment page. Or, consult a specialist in Sleep Medicine; try the American Academy of Sleep Medicine for listings.

Coping with Post-Holiday Depression

Two Christmas trees on the pavementIf you had a tough time with the holidays because of loneliness, depression, or family dysfunction, then you may be glad they are done – yet you still may be facing the disappointment of recognizing once again that your family isn’t quite like Tiny Tim’s.  Or, perhaps you had a wonderful holiday full of sparkle and sharing, but now it’s over, and you feel a sense of letdown and loss.

For some, the post-holiday blues can last more than a day or two and can be accompanied by serious symptoms of depression such as difficulty sleeping or getting out of bed; loss of appetite or compulsive eating; feelings of hopelessness; endlessly ruminating about your failures and losses; and even suicidal thinking.

Here are some suggestions that may help.  Please don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t do all of them – in fact, if you do even one, that’s terrific, and may help you enormously.  If you can’t bring yourself to try any of the others, at least consider reaching out for help (that’s #9).

1.  Think of this as a time for a new perspective.  Use some of your alone time to set your priorities in order and perhaps consider a change – signing up for a new activity, letting go of toxic friendships, even a change of job or a move to a new locality.

2.  When possible spend time with others. Though you may be separated again by miles from those you love, keep reaching out to them.  Plan another visit to take place before next Christmas.  Look up an old friend or family member who lives nearby, even if you haven’t seen them in a while.

3.  Make plans for activities you can look forward to.  Get tickets to a play, schedule a weekend visit to a friend, plan a summer (or spring) vacation.  When you spend time planning and looking forward, you’ll be spending that much less time dwelling on the past.

4.  Try to focus on good health habits.  Without beating yourself up for unwise holiday eating, buy some fresh fruits and vegetables, prepare some healthier meals, and try to start or return to an exercise plan – even if it starts as just a 5 minute walk each day, some exercise is better than none at all.  Healthy foods and exercise will boost your mood much like antidepressants do – by helping the brain make new connections.

5.  Exercise your brain!  Use the Internet or a real live class to learn a new language, study a subject that has always interested you, find someone to teach you to play bridge.  Activities that require you to be around other people count as extra credit!

6.  Sign up to do some volunteer work. You can find volunteer opportunities at  Helping others is a great way to get out of your own head and feel better about yourself – even perhaps make some new friends.

7. Freshen up your resume and start looking around for a job that will make your future brighter.

8.  De-clutter your house. Gather up all the stuff that’s been collecting dust around your house and give it to an organization like GoodWill Industries.  Or have a yard sale!

9.  Reach out for help. If you live near Drexel Hill or Haverford, PA, you can make an appointment to see a therapist at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley through our Make An Appointment Page or call us at 610-626-8085, ext. 213 for Intake. If you don’t live near us, try finding a therapist on or

Is ADHD really a “disorder”?

boy in detentionMore than one in ten children are now diagnosed with ADHD at some time between the ages of 4 and 17.  Is it possible that we are diagnosing a normal variation – a condition that isn’t really a disease?

That is a possibility recently discussed by psychiatrist Richard A. Friedman on the opinion page of the New York Times (“A Natural Fix for A.D.H.D.”)  He explains that recent research shows that people with ADHD are “hard-wired for novelty-seeking.”  These individuals, he believes, may not have a disorder so much as a set of traits that don’t match well with the demands of school and work.

In people who appear to have difficulty with focus and attention, and tend to act impulsively, the problem may be not so much in their brains, but in a world that just isn’t very interesting to them.

If someone you love has ADHD, you may be aware that some activities can grab their attention and the person can focus for hours!  Even some subjects in school may be easier than others to pay attention to.  The reason is that when we feel pleasure in an activity – whether it be a video game, music, or high-risk activities like extreme sports, for example – the brain releases the chemical dopamine.  It turns out that children and adults with ADHD are actually less sensitive to dopamine (they have fewer dopamine receptors) than most people.  That  may be why so many activities, like a typical reading or math class, seem boring to them.  Apparently the stimulant drugs like Adderall and Ritalin often used to treat ADHD help by blocking the re-absorption of dopamine, and thus  increasing the levels of dopamine in the brain.

People who seem to “grow out of ” ADHD may in fact have changed their environments more than their brains.  Leaving school and finding a job that involves a lot of novelty, such as travel and meeting new people, may be the key for many people.

The author of the New York Times article thinks that ADHD has been diagnosed more frequently since young people are spending so much of their free time in the highly stimulating world of video gaming and social media.  Dr.  Charles  Gallagher, a psychologist at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley, treats a lot of kids and adults with ADHD.  He comments that “In some ways it’s odd to say that our electronic entertainment culture is affecting our attention and concentration, when we might be just as correct to say that our attention and concentration is changing our culture, actually driving our electronic entertainment culture.”

On the other hand, Dr. Gallagher does believe that ADHD can be seen as a disorder, one which should be taken seriously.  He sees it destroying some people’s lives, people who find themselves “going off track or never getting on track in the first place.  I think the impact on relationships is often overlooked because other aspects of people’s lives are so disrupted.  Somehow the heartache of trying to live with someone with ADHD is often low on the list of clients’ priorities to address in treatment.  Untreated,  students with ADHD are often frustrated, difficult to deal with, and fail in school.”

Individual and/or family therapy can help people to manage their ADHD and improve their relationships with others.  It can be helpful, as the author of the New York Times article states, to find work or school situations that are a good fit for the curious, adventure-seeking mind.  But therapy, and often medication, can also make a big difference.

Dr. Noah Freedman, medical director of Psych Choices, explains that ADHD medications can help the person stay focused, or shift focus appropriately, and stay better organized in their lives.  Dr. Freedman explains, “Rather than working on the reward center of the brain, these medications use dopamine to suppress irrelevant stimuli, so that the organizing part of the brain can function better.”

To make an appointment with Dr. Charles Gallagher or another therapist at Psych Choices, call 610-626-8085 or use our Make An Appointment page.  After consultation with the therapist, if you decide that medication might be useful, you can make an appointment to see one of our psychiatrists.

Reaching out for help: Why it’s hard, why you should do it anyway

A middle aged smart male executive interviewingHave you been considering talking to a professional to get some help for your problems?  Perhaps you’ve tried it on your own, maybe even asked for help from a friend, but your suffering is still persistent.  If so, you are among the 40% of those affected by mental health issues who are doing the smart thing and seeking help, instead of trying to continue to manage difficulties on their own.  In other words, by asking for help, you are one of the stronger ones.

Asking for help is pretty hard.  There are many reasons why you may be hesitant to ask for help.

1. “Nobody goes through my pain.”

Well, according to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill, one in four Americans experience mental health issues on the level of an official diagnosis in any given year (not a lifetime).  At a party with 11 friends?  At least 2 of your friends are not just having a hard time,  they are having such a hard time that it fits the criteria for a diagnosable mental illness.  One in four, at the least, then, are going through a painful time also.

2.  “Therapy can’t help anyone.  It is a waste of time.”

Every once in a blue moon I hear someone say this.  I simply acknowledge their opinion and move on ahead with helping.  Why?  Because 70-90% of people who seek mental health treatment report improvement or quality of life, according to NAMI.

3.  “Therapy costs too much.”

Yes, insurance reimbursement for therapy has reduced over the years, and copays have increased.  However, the length of therapy has decreased since its earliest days (when therapy was thought to require years and years of almost daily therapy).  For anxiety and depression issues, it is not unlikely to expect a stay in therapy on a weekly basis of about 6 months at the most.   When I am working with clients, I usually review the progress they are making before the 6 month point.  If clients need to go past 6 months, it is usually because they have seen the benefits of therapy and are working on different issues at that point.  I think I can safely say that most therapists operate that way.

In addition, frequency of sessions can be negotiated.  Due to the rise in copays, it is often that I schedule someone for every other week, although it is generally the standard that people are seen every week.  Beyond 2 weeks, too many things happen in between sessions, and it becomes difficult to sort through all of them in a 45 minute session.

However, once the “crisis management” period of counseling is done and the client is starting to stabilize, it is not unusual to move from once a week to once every other week.

After someone has been stable for a while, if they want, I do titrate them to 1x/month or longer, especially if they are on medication management at our practice, Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley.

Finally, many therapists, including myself and others at my practice, provide a sliding fee scale for those without insurance or whose co-pays are too high.

4.  “What will my family and friends think?”

Frankly, they will probably be relieved.  No doubt, dealing with mental health issues certainly doesn’t come without stigma.  However, if your family members or friends are suggesting that you see someone, respect their concern and try it out.  It may help you feel better, and help your family and friends feel better.  Additionally, if you come from one of those families where it is seen as a weakness, then you can get help dealing with family members who don’t understand.

Pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.  Pain can be reduced or dealt with in counseling.  Try it and see.

Nate Prentice, LCSW, CAS-PC is a psychotherapist and pastoral counselor at Psych Choices of the Delaware Valley.  To make an appointment with Nate, call our Intake Line at 610-626-8085 ext. 213, or use the “Make an Appointment” page on our website: