Entries in Therapy (19)


Relationship Ranch: Horses Help Couples Heal Broken Hearts

Horses are being used in an unconventional form of couples counseling at a Colorado ranch. (ABC News)(LOUISVILLE, Colo.) -- It's fascinating to watch a man trying to win back the love of his life by talking to a horse.

Horse therapy has been used for decades to help treat people with physical disabilities or learning disorders, but now they are also being used in an unconventional form of couples counseling.

Nancy Hamilton and Lottie Grimes are marriage therapists who run Relationship Ranch in Louisville, Colo. They are convinced that horses can help feuding couples make peace.

"You wouldn't think they would have any role in marriage therapy," Hamilton said. "But because horses are so exquisitely sensitive, they can help us determine what a couple is actually, really feeling."

For three weekends, "Nightline" followed one couple's last-ditch effort to save their crumbling relationship and attended their equine therapy sessions.

Justin and Lyz, both 30 and never married, have been together for nine years and have two sons. But lately, they said, the bickering and fighting at home got so bad that Justin reluctantly agreed to move out.

"We have piled problem on top of problem on top of problem for years," Lyz said. "Who knows what's at the bottom of that?"

Although he was skeptical about the healing powers of horses, he said he was willing to try just about anything to make his family whole again.

On their first day of therapy, the couple was introduced to the ranch's herd of horses. Justin was magnetically drawn to the newest and most aggressive horse, Danny, who came to the ranch after surviving a grizzly bear attack. Danny wasn't fitting in with the other horses, which hit home for Justin, who felt exiled from his own herd. Hamilton said horses can sense and read people's emotions.

"They're almost like a Rorschach projective test with a mane and a tail, where people can project onto them their feelings, their thoughts and their fears," she said.

Hamilton said she believes those fears can stem from what she called unresolved childhood wounds, which plague adult relationships. That was the case with Justin. When he was 9-years-old, his sister was brutally murdered by an ex-boyfriend and young Justin saw the murder scene.

"He chased her down and cut her throat," he said. "We went back several days later and they hadn't cleaned anything up."

After working with Justin and Lyz, Hamilton said Lyz saw Justin as controlling, but those tendencies are rooted in his childhood trauma.

"Trauma survivors are very concerned with being able to control their present environment because they were not able to control their environment when they were traumatized," she said.

Hamilton had Justin go through a blind trust exercise with Danny to force Justin to surrender control to his partner. The goal was to expose Justin's old wounds. Hamilton instructed him to talk to Danny about what had happened when his sister was killed. Danny, the trauma-surviving horse, set the stage for a major breakthrough.

"It seemed so stupid at first, and then it was actually helpful," Justin said. "Therapeutic."

Watching Justin talk to the horse, Lyz said she never saw him so vulnerable. After the session, the two apologized for hurting each other.

Two weeks later, Justin went through a final exercise to fully cope with his past. In a pen, surrounded by the herd, Justin became 9-years-old-again. He was instructed to confront his absent father through a role-playing exercise, while Lyz acted as a stand-in for his dad.

"You abandoned all of us," he said aloud. "I had to be the man of the family and I think that you're a coward."

During a crucial and emotional moment, Danny, the horse, seemed to sense that his new friend needed him, and he put his head into Justin's hands. Then, in a rare sign of trust, some of the other horses lay down behind Justin, while others joined him by his side.

"That was the big 'ah-ha' moment for Lyz," Hamilton said. "She said, 'Justin, I realize that I am abandoning you over and over again just like your dad did.'"

At that point, Hamilton told the couple to re-commit to each other exclusively. Suddenly, the horses started kicking and running. Hamilton said she believes they were reacting to Lyz's fear of commitment and Justin's fear of abandonment.

For now, the future of Justin and Lyz's relationship is still uncertain. Lyz said she needed more time to decide whether to continue the relationship. They haven't solved all of their problems, but at least for now, they have found some guidance for the long road ahead.

"If you truly want help you're going to do whatever it takes to get that, even if it's talking to a horse," Justin said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Student Who Got 'Gay Cure' Sues California Over New Law

Comstock/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- A college student who claims he once had same-sex attractions but became heterosexual after conversion therapy has filed a lawsuit against California, which has enacted a law that bans so-called "gay cures" for minors.

The lawsuit, also joined as plaintiffs by two therapists who have used the treatments with patients, alleges that the law banning the therapy intrudes on First Amendment protections of free speech, privacy and freedom of religion.

The student, Aaron Blitzer, who is studying to be a therapist in that field, said the law would prevent him from pursuing his career, according to court papers filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California.

The lawsuit names as defendants California Gov. Jerry Brown, as well as 21 other state officials, including members of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Medical Board.

The other plaintiffs are Donald Welsch, a licensed family therapist and ordained minister who operates a Christian counseling center in San Diego; and Dr. Anthony Duk, a psychiatrist and practicing Roman Catholic.

Both say the law would restrict their counseling practices, according to the lawsuit.

"It's an egregious violation of the rights of young people feeling same-sex attraction, and of parents and counselors who feel it would be beneficial for the individual needs of a young person," said Brad Dacus, president and attorney for the conservative Pacific Justice Institute, which asked a federal judge to prevent the law from taking effect.

"The legislature had an errant assumption that every individual struggling with same-sex attraction is caused by their DNA," he said. "It ignores thousands, including the plaintiff, who have gone through therapy and are now in a happy and healthy heterosexual relationship."

Dacus declined ABC News' request for direct access to the plaintiffs.

Just this week, California lawmakers voted to outlaw therapy aimed at changing the sexual orientation of minors who say they are gay, making California the first state to adopt such legislation. The law is set to go into effect Jan. 1, 2013.

The bill's sponsor, California state Sen. Ted Lieu, said the therapy -- called "conversion therapy," "sexual orientation therapy," "reparative therapy" or "sexual orientation change efforts" -- amounts to "psychological child abuse."

"I read the lawsuit and, as a matter of fiction, it is a good read," Lieu said in a prepared statement after the suit was filed. "But from any reasonable legal standard, the lawsuit is frivolous. Under the plaintiffs' argument, the First Amendment would shield therapists and psychiatrists from medical malpractice and psychological abuse claims simply because they use speech in practicing their medicine. That is a novel and frivolous view of the First Amendment."

Lieu is not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

Several members of the California Board of Behavioral Sciences and the California Mental Board were named in the lawsuit.

"Our board voted to support that piece of legislation after working with the author's office to further define sexual orientation change efforts," said Kim Madsen, executive officer for the sciences board, which licenses and oversees therapists.

She had no comment on the lawsuit, but said the board would investigate any complaints of conversion therapy after Jan. 1.

The law's critics say that it infringes on the rights of families and therapists, particularly young people who have same-sex attractions as a result of being victims of sexual abuse.

Dacus said the law makes them "victims twice, as a result denying them counseling and healing."

He said that counseling in "direct violation" of religious or personal beliefs "only precipitates greater confusion and depression and the likelihood of suicide."

"This legislation is a classic example of psychiatric ignorance combined with political neglect," he said, complaining of "compromises" that members of the California Psychiatric Association made with state legislators to enact the law.

"They clearly say that one size fits all and ignore the complexity of same-sex attraction and varying degrees of such attraction, depending on age and background," said Dacus. "It's out of place for the legislature to put such restrictions on it."

Members of the California Psychiatric Association have "mixed feelings" about the law, according to Randal Hagar, director of government relations for the organization.

"There is no psychiatrist who would engage and practice it and, if they did, they would be subject to ethical sanctions," he said.

The American Psychiatric Association has outlawed conversion therapies for more than a decade, insisting they are harmful.

On the other hand, said Hagar, the CPA is concerned about any bill that "basically prescribes any kind of treatment" or one that might lead "downstream" to someone legislating against another practice "they don't like."

"The difference here is that there is a very strong public policy argument that says why this practice ought to be limited," he said. "There is no evidence it does what it purports to be. It is, in essence, fraud ... and there is other evidence that it does harm. It concerns us greatly."

The CPA negotiated for months with legislators to hone language on the bill so that therapists could address "legitimate" talks on sexual orientation and gender identity issues, according to Hagar.

"We were wary of a form of the bill where they can't possibly engage in a discussion," said Hagar, who noted that the association supported the final version of the bill.

They also leaned on another precedent: Electroconvulsive shock therapy is highly regulated with judicial oversight.

"You can't give it to minors -- period," he said.

"I think the bill is clear and clean and did have a definition of supportive exploratory therapy that leads [minors with same-sex attractions] to be accepting and see themselves as a person of strength rather than a flawed person," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Couples Therapy Cuts PTSD Symptoms, Improves Relationships

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(TORONTO) -- According to statistics, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, are twice as likely to separate from a spouse or divorce.  But a new study suggests couples therapy can cut PTSD symptoms and keep families together.

"The best way to think of it is as a PTSD treatment that happens to be delivered to couples," said study author Candice Monson, professor of psychology at Ryerson University in Toronto.  "We tried to take what we know about trauma recovery -- that social support and interpersonal relationships are some of the most important factors for overcoming traumatic events -- and incorporate that into PTSD treatment."

The study of 40 couples plagued by PTSD found that those who participated in 15 therapy sessions reported relief from PTSD symptoms and improvements in relationship satisfaction -- even three months after the sessions stopped.  The findings, published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, suggest spousal support can boost the response to PTSD treatment.

"We would never say to a cancer patient, 'You're going through this treatment alone,'" said Monson, describing the double standard for psychological illness.  "We would encourage loved ones to be there for the treatment, and understand its course and how they can help."

Dr. Carol Bernstein, associate professor of psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York and past president of the American Psychiatric Association, called couples therapy for PTSD "a superb idea."

"The symptoms of psychiatric illness have a tremendous impact on those who love the person suffering.  And to the extent that partners can be engaged in the treatment and educated about the condition and how they can help, the better the outcome for everyone," she said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study Boasts Benefits of Yoga for Stroke Survivors

Goodshot/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) - Enthusiasts have long extolled yoga's benefits, particularly when it comes to mental health and exercise.  Now a new study, published in the journal Stroke, claims the popular discipline might also improve your quality of life.
Stroke is among the most common diagnoses among patients treated by rehabilitation therapists. These patients often suffer serious post-stroke impairments, including motor problems and difficulty with balance.  Up to 83 percent of stroke victims will struggle with balance and 73 percent will actually fall down. In fact, the fear of falling has a direct correlation on a patient's quality of life.
But researchers at Indiana University suggest that introducing yoga as part of rehab significantly improves balance and lessens a patient's fear of falling.  As a result, their study showed yoga intervention significantly improved quality of life and could prove a cost-effective benefit for stroke survivors.
The study was small, with only 47 patients participating, but the positive results warrant further research.
Interestingly, during post-study interviews, subjects said that because of improved balance, they were more likely to attempt new activities in different and more challenging environments. Though they were aware of potential fall risk, they'd grown more confident they could maintain their balance.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Unlocking Emotional Issues May Be Key to Extreme Weight Loss

ABC/CRAIG SJODIN(NEW YORK) -- Chris Powell, the man who orchestrates each jaw-dropping weight transformation on ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, says his secret as a hard-charging trainer has less to do with exercising people's bodies than exorcising their demons.

"There is a tie to some kind of emotional trauma, in the past, of people I've worked with, and that trauma is typically unaddressed," he said.

Powell has helped 11 super-obese people lose more than a ton of weight on the show: 2,198 pounds, to be exact. But in addition to helping people shrink to half their size, Powell also has gotten them to open up about a whole range of psychological issues, including sexual abuse and alcoholism.

Although he admits he is "absolutely not" professionally qualified to advise on these issues, Powell said he approaches it like a friend would.

"I know what's out of my scope of practice with some of these deep-rooted psychological issues," he said. "That's why we have therapists on board with us."

"I think we all have a desire to feel significant in the world," he said. "It's not about me doing nice things for other people. I get something out of this, and its fulfillment. This is the best addiction in the world."

Watch the full story on ABC’s Nightline Friday at 11:35 ET/PT.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Reflecting on Arthritis Pain: New Therapy Offers Promise

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(SAN DIEGO) -- Many of the 50 million Americans with arthritis suffer from debilitating joint pain, often for years.  Now, a therapy originally developed to ease the pain caused by lost limbs offers them some hope of relief.

The technique, known as mirror box therapy, is used to treat phantom limb pain experienced by amputees -- a phenomenon in which the missing limb feels as if it is locked in an agonizingly uncomfortable position.  Relying on the idea that there is a strong visual component to pain, phantom limb patients are asked to look at the reflection of a healthy limb in a mirror that has been placed where the missing limb should be.

Seeing the healthy limb go through normal movements seems to correct the confused signals between the brain and nerves, thereby reducing pain.  In some subjects, it has proven surprisingly effective for clearing up phantom limb pain entirely.

In an as-yet unpublished study, researchers at the University of California at San Diego applied the mirror technique to patients with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis.  The scientists overlaid the image of a healthy hand over the sufferer's painfully disabled hand and asked them to follow a series of slow, deliberate movements.

"Many of the patients reported a reduction in pain and stiffness during this illusion," said lead researcher Laura Case.  Case, who works in the lab of Vilayanur S. Ramachandran, one of the originators of the therapy, said the team must complete additional work on mirror training for arthritis before they can say it will have long-term benefits.

Their research builds on work performed last year by psychologists at the University of Nottingham.  Using a similar technique known as "illusory manipulation" in which a computer, a video screen and illustrations distort the size of a limb much as a fun-house mirror would, they tested on a group of 20 seniors with painful arthritis to see whether it would have any effect. 

After one session, 85 percent of participants said their pain was cut in half and six reported their pain had completely vanished -- though there was no follow up to see how long the pain reduction lasted.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Depression Therapy: Phone Sessions Sometimes as Good as In Person

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) -- Telephone therapy may be just as good as in-person therapy for treating depression symptoms, at least for the short term, according to a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In the study, 325 participants with depression received 18 weekly sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy, a form of psychotherapy commonly used to treat depression, either in person or by phone.

The study found that more patients were likely to stick with telephone sessions compared to in-person therapy.

Both forms of therapy significantly reduced depression symptoms in the patients after the 18 sessions. However, a follow-up of the patients after six months found those who received face-to-face therapy were less depressed than those who received therapy over the phone.

Depression has been on the rise in the U.S., now affecting an estimated 1 in 10 adults, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An integral part of cognitive behavioral therapy is assessing the actions of the patient during the session. Therapy done over the phone is often less effective because patient and therapist cannot pick up each other's visual cues, according to David Mohr, director of the Center of Behavioral Technology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who was the author of the study.

"You can't smile at people, can't make eye contact, you can't watch behavioral changes in your patient," said Jenna Duffecy, a research assistant in preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, who served as a therapist in the trial.

But administering telephone therapy, she said, taught her to look for different cues like changes in tone and hesitancy in the voice.

"I was surprised at how well I connected with the patients," said Duffecy. "It's certainly not an inferior treatment but does require the therapist to change their style."

A majority of patients with depression find barriers that keep them from coming to in-person therapy sessions, said Mohr.

"Depression is a disease where the cardinal symptom is loss of motivation, so that accentuates the barrier," said Mohr.

Transportation, time constraints, or even lack of access to care may keep many patients away from in-person therapy, said Duffecy.

But Mohr said for some, talking about problems over the telephone may be more comfortable than in person.

"For a growing number of patients this is becoming acceptable and even desirable," said Mohr, adding that therapists should also see telephone-based therapy as a legitimate form of treatment.

Eighty-five percent of psychologists offer some form of care by phone, according to the American Psychological Association.

Although the study found that the in-person therapy group seemed to have fared better after three months, the findings may not necessarily mean that in-person therapy is better, Mohr said. According to Mohr, the telephone therapy group may have had more severe depression to begin with, and "had difficulty organizing and motivating themselves."

"The phone helped them with [the symptoms], but once treatment is done, it may lead to more stress and more difficulties," said Mohr. "[The findings] highlight the importance of following up with people after treatment."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New Approach Could Relieve Ringing Ears

Marili Forastieri/Photodisc/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- For the first time, research suggests an approach that may yield a solution to tinnitus, a condition best known for buzzing or ringing in the ears.  A new study released Thursday in the journal Lancet offers evidence of an effective treatment for the nearly 16 million Americans who have sought medical attention for tinnitus.

"In extreme forms, patients are unable to function, go to work or other social events, and are deprived of enjoyment in life," said the study's primary investigator, Rilana Cima, a clinical psychiatrist at Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

In the study, 247 tinnitus patients received standard therapy, while 245 patients instead received treatment with specialized care involving an integrated multi-disciplinary team of audiologists, psychologists, speech therapists, movement therapists, physical therapists and social workers.  What the researchers found was that those patients treated by the multi-disciplinary team had improvements not only in tinnitus symptoms, but also in quality of life.

"The results of this trial are especially convincing and relevant for clinical practice," writes Dr. Berthold Langguth, associate professor of medicine at the University of Regensburg in Germany, in an editorial accompanying the new study.

"Specialized care was significantly better than usual care for the whole sample," continues Langguth.  "The researchers did not identify a new treatment -- rather, they identified the most useful treatments."

The new integrated, multi-disciplinary approach outlined in this study includes a combination of standard tests and medical evaluations in addition to a special type of therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy.

So why is cognitive behavior therapy so helpful?

"It's not the sound but the negative reaction to the sound that prevents suffers from habituating to it," Cima said.  "Once they hear it, it's very hard to divert their attention away... People get a fear reaction because they think something is wrong -- it becomes the attention-grabbing thing that prevents them from doing their normal activities."

Cognitive behavioral therapy is a way to redirect tinnitus sufferer's attention away from the fearful thoughts that often remind them of the ringing in their ears.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'7 Days of Sex': Can It Save a Marriage?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Can the cure for the common marriage simply be to have more sex? Some couples whose marriages have grown stale, whether it's from the kids, money woes or a laundry list of other reasons, are trying a new and radical approach to saving their relationship: Have sex every day for a week and see if it rekindles the flame -- a form of extreme couples' therapy, if you will.

Once upon a time, Anna and Anthony Sinopoli said they were madly in love. Now, when they have heated arguments, Anna will threaten her husband with the "d word," as in divorce. They have been in and out of couples therapy.

For Chantal and Derek James, it's been a decade since they first laid eyes on each other -- and it was love at first sight. Now, Chantal James takes care of their three little ones at home, while Derek, an IT specialist, goes to work.

Both couples say they used to be hot and heavy, but now they go long stretches of time without sex.

Some psychologists estimate that 15 to 20 percent of couples describe their union as "sexless" these days, which several therapists believe contributes to America's high divorce rate, which hovers around 50 percent.

Family therapist Terry Real, who has counseled couples for 30 years, said he isn't sure if sex could save a marriage but it can "certainly help out a lot."

"One of the things that research tells us is that particularly happy couples report that they have more than usual amounts of sex," Real said. "Sex is good for relationships."

If this all sounds like a good plot for a reality show, well, it is. Lifetime's new reality TV series, "7 Days of Sex," follows 18 couples, all who agreed to put cameras in their bedrooms. The Sinopolis and the Jameses are two couples featured on the show and gained new insight into their relationship, such as wooing a wife is not as easy as wooing a new girlfriend.

"It's too late for flowers and it's way too late for chocolate, so, come on, sweetheart, what can I do for you?" Anthony Sinopoli asked his wife in one episode on the show. "You could start by giving me a 10-minute break," Anna Sinopoli replied.

Chantal James complained of being exhausted from taking care of the kids full time. "I don't think sometimes he understands how serious that is for me," she said of her husband. So Derek James volunteered to become Mr. Mom for a day to give his wife a break. "It is a challenge, because everybody had different needs at the same time," he said.

So the big question is: What do women really want? Respect, it seems. Real said Derek James taking over handling the kids for the day by himself was important because he could then understand what his wife's world was all about.

As for the Sinopolis, Real said they are having a hard time re-kindling their marriage because Anthony Sinopoli feels like his wife, who loves going to the spa, is overspending on luxuries.

"There's no shortage of women out there who get mad at their husbands and go shopping," Real said. "It's a kind of resentment shopping. And it does the job. It sort of gets them."

On the show, Anthony Sinopoli did try to win back his wife's affection with a little vacation -- a camping trip -- but it nearly backfired. He surprised her with a luxurious tent, but there's no spa. At first, his wife was disappointed, but she grew to appreciate the gesture.

Something else the couples on "7 Days of Sex" learned about each other: While the men wanted foreplay, the women fantasize about "chore-play" -- husbands picking up after themselves and the children.

"Don't treat me like a maid," Chantal James said.

But she did give her husband the spice he was looking for too, and hired a lap dancing coach.

It seemed as if these couples were really trying, and love might have been there all along. It was just about finding it again.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Can Teens Game Away Their Depression?

University of Auckand/Metia Interactive(AUCKLAND, New Zealand) -- Teenagers seem to be doing everything in front of a computer screen these days -- watching movies, homework, socializing. So the idea that a computer game could treat depression in these teens may not sound so far-fetched.

Now, new research suggests that a specially designed computer game may be able to do just that -- treating teenagers’ depression, perhaps even as effectively as a human therapist.

In a new study, researchers at the University of Auckland in New Zealand examined the use of an interactive fantasy game termed SPARX, in which users go through a series of challenges to restore balance in a fantasy world dominated by “gloomy negative automatic thoughts.”

The game takes players through seven levels, termed “provinces,” which guide them through core skills including finding hope, overcoming problems, and challenging unhelpful thoughts.

The game approach was compared to conventional care, which for most people included face-to-face sessions with trained counselors or psychologists. When adolescents and teens aged 12 to 19 with mild to moderate depression played SPARX over a four- to seven-week period, they experienced a reduction in their scores for common depression that was similar to the reduction seen in teens who had undergone counseling sessions instead.

The researchers also found that 43 percent of the adolescents and teens who played SPARX were no longer depressed by the end of the study period, compared to just 26 percent of their counterparts who received treatment as usual.

The results were published in the British Medical Journal on Thursday.

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, 11 percent of 13- to 18-year-olds develop depression at some point in their adolescence. And for those with mild to moderate depression, the recommended approach to manage this depression is through psychological therapy. One approach that has been shown to be particularly effective is known as cognitive behavioral therapy, which teaches people how to deal with stress and unhealthy thoughts and behaviors.

However, many places don’t have the resources to provide this therapy. One study published in 2002 found that nearly 80 percent of children and adolescents in the U.S. who need mental health services don’t receive them.

Dr. Harold Koenig, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., who was not involved in the study, said he was impressed with results.

“In areas that don’t have resources -- which is most of the world right now, including the U.S. -- this program would be very useful,” he said. Koenig did, however, offer the caveat that longer-term follow-up is needed to see if the results hold up.

Adjusting to the idea of gaming as therapy may take a while for some. Case in point -- while 80 percent of adolescents in the SPARX group would recommend the game to their friends, many more who received conventional therapy, 96 percent, said they would recommend it to others.

Still, mental health experts agreed that when mental health resources are not readily available, this computerized approach may have potential as a widely available tool for adolescents dealing with depression.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio