Reunite Families Separated at the Border

We are completely opposed to children being separated from their parents after crossing the border into the United States. The purpose of this post is to 1) link to research and information on the long-lasting, damaging effects of parent-child separation and 2) suggest actions that you can take to fight this abhorrent policy and insist that families are reunited.

Statements from Experts About the Harm of Separating Children from their Parents:

Circle of Willis Podcast: Children at the Border We strongly recommend listening to this episode. The host spoke to 5 developmental scientists about the likely impact of this policy.

Washington Post Article by Clinical Psychologist and Neuroscientist, Jim Coan

Letter to President Trump from the American Psychological Association

Statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics

Statement from the Association for Research in Personality

Statement from the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy

Statement of APA President Regarding the Executive Order Rescinding Immigrant Family Separation Policy

American Association of Suicidology’s Statement on the Detrimental Effects of the Administration’s Family Separation Policy

Statement from the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies on Taking Children Away from their Parents

Ways to Take Action:

Call your representatives in Congress and tell them that you want them to pass legislation that stops this policy immediately.

Donate to RAICES (the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services) to reunite families.

Vote in the midterm elections for candidates that oppose these types of policies.

Attend a Families Belong Together protest.

Get informed and spread the word to others.

Donate to candidates who are against family separation & in close November races:

– Small
– Eastman
– Slotkin
– Fletcher
– Heitkamp
– O’Rourke

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What Can We Learn from Batman about Being a Therapist?

Hi everyone, Brandon here. Come on in, have a seat. I know what you’re thinking… “Hey Jedi Counsel, this is not one of the classic psychological evaluations about one of my favorite, beloved fictional characters that I’ve come to expect every month or so! What gives?” Well, let me tell you what gives, friend. This is my fifth year of graduate school and last semester at North Dakota State University. This summer I will begin the final year of my Ph.D., which will consist of a full time, yearlong clinical position at a non-profit community mental health clinic. I’m entering a time of pretty significant personal change. I started at NDSU during my undergraduate. The university and my status as a student have been a central part of my identity for a very long time. I’ve been reflecting a lot about the transition out of this role and into my new role as a full-time clinician. Because this, I started thinking a lot about my favorite fictional character and the lessons I can take from him to help guide me in my clinical work. To that end, I asked my ever-accommodating co-host/blogger if we could mix it up this month. Please get comfortable as I take you through a journey of the lessons I’ve learned from Batman that I believe could apply to being a good therapist.

Lesson 1: Do what is right, even if it is not always easy.

“It has nothing to do with easy. It’s about doing what’s right because it’s right. That’s the only reason you need.” – Batman

When Bruce Wayne was very young, he witnessed the murder of his parents. This was a life-altering event for Bruce that would dramatically change the trajectory of his life. In response to this, he made it his mission to do whatever he could to prevent other people from having the same experience that he had. Now, depending on the nature of the event, available social support, and the overall psychological make-up of an individual, people can respond to trauma in many ways. This is just the way Bruce Wayne responded (though it isn’t clear that he ever emotionally recovered from the loss of his parents, see here for more info). It’s clear this wasn’t easy for him, though. He could have had a perfectly relaxing life, relying on his fortunes to live comfortably and happily for all his days. He has a mansion and cars and even a butler. He had it made in the shade. Instead he chose to do what he felt was right and become Batman. Years of study and training (sound familiar?), self-sacrifice, and a rough road were the rewards Batman got. Nevertheless, he continued to move forward to help make the world a little bit better for the people in his city.

To me, this applies directly to clinical work. We simply have to do what is right. Specifically, we are expected to act in accordance to the ethical standards prescribed to us (click here to see the wiki that I helped to write that outlines the APA Ethics Code!). At times, these situations aren’t always easy. Mandated reporting is an example. You might have a strong therapeutic relationship with a client. You could feel like you’re really making progress. But if you learn about an incident or behavior that you’re required to report, it has to happen (note: the client would be informed of this during the informed consent for treatment). Other examples include avoiding, or if necessary, navigating dual-relationships, maintaining confidentiality, respecting client autonomy, identifying and practicing within your competency areas, maintaining thorough documentation, and sticking to evidenced-based treatments and assessments. These are just a few of the many examples where clinicians might face challenging situations. It’s important that we rely on our ethical codes to do what is right in the same way that Batman relies on his own personal moral code to do what is right in his war on crime.

Lesson 2: Stand up for those who might not be able to stand up for themselves.

“I’ll be standing where I belong. Between you and the people of Gotham.” – Bruce Wayne, Batman Begins (2005)

The center of Batman’s mission is doing all he can to prevent anyone from experiencing what he experienced as a child. This theme is consistent throughout the many stories of Batman across the various mediums. For example, in the recent Batman comic series authored by Tom King, Batman takes control of an airplane that is going to crash into Gotham City. He intends to divert the plan and crash with it. Another example is in Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2009), in the end Batman takes the blame for everything Harvey Dent did so that the people still have someone to look up to. In the 2015 video game, Arkham Knight, Batman sacrifices himself to save the city from Scarecrow’s chemical attack. It seems like almost every Batman story has an element of him taking to hit, pain, or blame so that someone else can be spared.

To me this translates to engaging in advocacy work. As a field, Clinical Psychology has not always done a good job advocating for those who may need it. Looking back at the history of how the LGBTQ+ communities were treated within our field is a good example of this (see our Jedi Counsel episode for a primer on this and a list of further resources). I believe that people should advocate for whatever social justice rights that lead to the betterment of others that they are comfortable with. Due to our clinical training, our expertise is in mental health. So one potential area of professional advocacy falls clearly in that realm. One example is challenging the claims that failures in our mental health systems are the cause of violence (see here for a brief fact-sheet outlining the research between mental health and violence). Another example might be disseminating mental health resources so individuals know where to get help (we just gave a talk related to this recently on campus!) Or it might be just doing what you can in your day to day life to reduce mental health stigma which can sometimes take the voice from others and keep them from getting help they might need. Batman makes it a point to stick up for people who might be going through tough times and may not have a voice or way of defending themselves. Through our expertise and clinical work, we have the opportunity to do the same.

Lesson 3: You don’t have to be a superhero to make a difference.

“A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.” – Bruce Wayne, The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

In The Dark Knight Rises, Batman tells Jim Gordon how he was a hero to him when he was younger and coping with the loss of his parents. We see this role reversed many times throughout several Batman stories. When many people think of Batman, they think of the rough and tough dude in a suit who punches the baddies and saves the day. However, for folks who have had the good fortune to dig deeper into the character through the various comic book series or animated depictions, we see a much softer side of Batman from time to time. A perfect example of this can see seen in the Justice League cartoon. Amanda Waller wants to destroy a young girl who has developed terrible powers. Instead of doing so, Batman goes and sits with the young girl on a swing set and holds her hand while she dies as a result of her powers. In Batman, we have a character who has no super-powers at all but still manages to go toe-to-toe with aliens, Amazons, and gods. Despite that, he never forgets what it means to be a hero for him.

For clinical work, it’s important for each of us to remember the impact that we can have. It is a fairly safe assumption to assume that most people go into mental health because they want to help others. However, between a lot of schooling, navigating licensure, tough hours, large caseloads, challenging clients, difficulties in insurance reimbursement, and the many, many other things involved in clinical work, it can sometimes be easy to lose sight of what your initial goal was. It can be helpful from time to time to reframe things and remind oneself what an honor it is that you have the opportunity to step into these peoples’ lives and help them get to a better place. Just by meeting with you, clients can learn new skills, get regular social interaction, learn more about what they are experiencing through psychoeducation, and receive validation through normalization that others are likely struggling with the same disorder or challenges that they are. Any one of those benefits alone can really mean something to someone who is struggling. For young Bruce Wayne, having Jim Gordon hang a coat on his shoulders was everything in the world for him. For your clients, you can serve the same role by simply being collaborative in providing an explanation for what they are experiencing, which alone can help them feel better and more hopeful (see here for a study on how careful diagnostic feedback leads to increases in positive emotions and hope).

Lesson 4: Be humble and know when to ask for help.

“The first truth of Batman… It had to be one I didn’t like to admit. The gunshots left me alone. For years I was alone in the echoing dark of that well. But something else defined the exact moment Batman was born. The First Truth of Batman… The saving grace. I was never alone. I had help.” – Bruce Wayne, The Return of Bruce Wayne

Another major theme of Batman is that despite his independent nature and desire to work alone, he always knows when he needs to ask for help. Whether it is having a side-kick, relying on Alfred, or calling in the Justice League, Batman knows when he needs back-up. Part of this is that he acknowledges his skills. For example; he can’t fly. In the Justice League animated series, there is a scene where he calls in for some air support (see here). Or in the newest Justice League (2017) film, Batman recognizes that something beyond him is coming to Earth. As such, he recruits Wonder Woman and others to join him in preventing an invasion.

For Batman, it all boils down to knowing his skills and knowing when he needs help. In clinical work, it is largely the same. We know that therapist competence is largely predictive of therapy outcomes (see here for a study related specifically to Cognitive Behavior Therapy for depression). As such, it is important to recognize when a client has a problem or requires a treatment that falls outside of your competence area. Additionally, it is important to seek support when you need it. This can be in the form of supervision when you are still developing or perhaps learning a new treatment. Another way of seeking support is through consultation. Consulting with a peer or other professional can help to illuminate problems or ideas you might have missed. Consultation can also help with treatment adherence. In fact, for Dialectical Behavior Therapy, consultation is required to ensure that all therapists are adhering to the treatment manual (see here for more details). The last way of seeking support is related to work-life balance. Take the time to recognize if you are feeling therapist burnout. It can happen. Managing work/life balance and seeking consultation and peer support or advice can help. In the end. Batman recognizes his expertise and when he needs help. In clinical work, we need to be doing the same thing.

Lesson 5: Trust the data.

“Maybe it is time we stopped trying to outsmart the truth, and let it have its day.” – Alfred Pennyworth, The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

The final lesson that we can learn from Batman is to trust the data. At his core, Batman is a detective. Many in the DC universe call him The World’s Greatest Detective. He has degrees in criminal science, forensics, computer science, chemistry, engineering, biology, physics, and advanced chemistry and technology. When he is solving a mystery, he knows to trust in the latest available science and data. Additionally, he follows the clues and data he collects along the way to figure out who is behind whatever heinous crime he is working on at that time. He tries to keep his own personal judgment or emotion out of the equation and trusts in what he can observe, quantify, and measure.

The same ideals should hold true in clinical work. When comparing clinical judgment to statistical judgment, we know that the stats are at least as good, and often times better, than our own clinical judgment (see here for a great reading on this). Looking further, there are many researchers working hard to determine what the most empirically-supported interventions and assessments are. There is a range in the level of evidence available for different treatments. We owe it to our clients to select the treatment with the greatest statistical likelihood of working for each given disorder. If no single treatment stands out statistically, or if an empirically-supported intervention is not working, then we can adopt a hypothesis testing approach to treatment. By selecting a treatment that we have reason to believe will work and testing whether it is through an appropriate outcome measure, we can continue to move forward in a data-driven manner. Just like Batman trusts the data and science before his own judgment or conclusions, we as clinicians ought to as well.

In Closing

            Are you still here? Amazing. Because that post got much longer than I ever expected. At the end of the day, Batman is a character with over 75 years of content in comics, movies, video games, television shows, and novels. He’s a character who can fit the needs we have as readers or viewers. Today, we just wanted to think about some of the ways in which Batman might help guide us in clinical work. There are a lot of amazing fictional and non-fictional individuals who can guide us in any profession or life in general. Who are some that you look up to?

Things We Liked in 2017

Here’s an (incomplete) list of things we liked in 2017! Some of the things listed came out before this year but are included because of how much we enjoyed them in 2017.

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Interacting with You!

We are so grateful for our listeners and the people that we connected with via social media. We loved talking about mental health and our shared nerdy interests with you!  Thank you for a wonderful year! We’ll work hard to create lots of high quality content for you in 2018! Special thanks go out to our Patreon patrons, to anyone who rated and reviewed us on iTunes, and to anyone who shared our stuff with a friend!

Podcasts

We are part of the Geek Therapy Podcast Network, which celebrates mental health and geek culture! You can check out the other podcasts on our network here.

My Brother My Brother and Me (which we got to see recorded live!) and SModcast made us laugh a lot.

Naming It made us think about the intersection of social justice and psychology.

Trends Like These helped us examine current events and news in greater depth.

Stay Tuned with Preet gave us insightful, diverse interviews with people interested in justice.

The Black Goat Pod helped us to think critically about the science of psychology.

The Adventure Zone brought us into an amazing Dungeons and Dragons campaign.

S-Town told a compelling story of a man who struggled with mental health issues.

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Movies

This was a great year for movies! Some of our favorites include: Wonder Woman, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Logan, Justice League, Thor: RagnarokGet Out, Spiderman: Homecoming, & The Big Sick.

Comics

2017 also brought us many fantastic comics! Some of the ones we particularly enjoyed were: DC Rebirth Wonder Woman, Batman/The Flash: The Button, Justice League vs. Suicide Squad, a Yoga Hosers One Shot, DC Rebirth Batman, DC Rebirth Green Arrow, & DC Rebirth Batgirl and the Birds of Prey.

Games

Some of our favorite games this year were Stardew Valley and Dungeons & Dragons.

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Music

Katie loved new music from Dessa, and Brandon got really into Hamilton! We both enjoyed this song from My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend:

TV Shows

We loved some newer shows like Stranger Things, Wynonna Earp, and Rick & Morty, while rewatching older classics like Frasier and The Office.

Comedy

Katie really liked this stand-up comedy special: Hasan Minhaj: Homecoming King.

Mental Health Folks on Social Media

The Suicide Prevention Social Media (SPSM) Chat crew is awesome, and you should check out the great stuff they do!

We wish you all a very happy & healthy 2018!

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The Psychology of Rick Sanchez

“Wubba lubba dub dub!” – Rick Sanchez

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

Name:  Rick Sanchez (Dimension C-137)
Current Age: 60
Ethnicity/Race: Human
Education: Unknown (on the intake forms, Rick wrote “School is a waste of time and is NOT for smart people.”)
Employment: Scientist and Inventor
Date of Initial Interview: August 6, 2017
Date of Report: September 5, 2017
Therapists: Brandon T. Saxton, M.S., Katie Gordon, Ph.D.

Presenting Problem
Rick Sanchez was referred to us by Dr. Wong, a family therapist. Dr. Wong saw Rick and his family for a session following incidents involving his grandchildren, Summer and Morty, at school. Dr. Wong referred Rick for a diagnostic assessment to provide diagnostic clarity and assist in treatment planning for Rick. She believes that Rick has some challenges to overcome in individual therapy before any effective progress can be made in their family therapy sessions.

Dr. Wong suggested that Rick has many interpersonal problems and negative views of authority, emotion, and those who he deems as less intelligent than himself. Additionally, Dr. Wong reported concern with Rick’s alcohol use.

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Family History
Rick is the father of Beth Smith, and grandfather to her two children, Summer and Morty Smith. Rick’s son-in-law is named Jerry Smith, and he is currently separated from Beth. Rick seemed hesitant to speak much about his wife, Mrs. Sanchez. It was not clear to the interviewer whether she was currently alive or deceased, though either way, Rick reported having left her when he returned to live with his daughter and grandchildren, after having been away for twenty years.

Rick reported that, “of course he likes his daughter and grandchildren” (though he stated he has proven, mathematically, that they are both pieces of sh*t). Rick seems to have a hard time balancing his love for his daughter and grandchildren and his need for independence and avoidance of emotion and connection. Although to their faces he appears distant and acts hurtful, on more than one occasion he has shown his deep affection for them (e.g., complimenting Beth’s cooking in the pilot episode, hiding the truth about the Purgenol in the candy bar Morty ate in Look Who’s Purging Now, or beating up the Devil who hurt Summer in Something Ricked This Way Comes).

One area that Rick was clear about was not liking his son-in-law, Jerry Smith. Rick stated that he does not believe that Jerry deserves to be with his daughter. Additionally, and frighteningly, Rick stated that he manipulated Beth into kicking Jerry out of their house because Jerry crossed him by suggesting the family turn Rick in to the Federation (end of Season 2, beginning of Season 3).

Educational/Employment History
Rick declined to report whether or not he had any formal education. In a previous conversation with his son-in-law, Jerry, Rick stated “I’ll tell you how I feel about school, Jerry: it’s a waste of time. Bunch of people runnin’ around bumpin’ into each other, got a guy up front says, ‘2 + 2,’ and the people in the back say, ‘4.’ Then the bell rings and they give you a carton of milk and a piece of paper that says you can go take a dump or somethin’. I mean, it’s not a place for smart people, Jerry. I know that’s not a popular opinion, but that’s my two cents on the issue.”

Rick did report, however, that he uses his natural intelligence in a variety of business ventures. One example includes his creating weapons for his associate, Krombopulos Michael, an intergalactic assassin. Another example is when the Devil opened a store in town selling cursed antiques. Rick opened another store, next door, that removed the curses and allowed the items to be kept with no risk to their owner. Rick seemed particularly proud of this endeavor – not because he saved people from the curses, but because he outsmarted the Devil himself.

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Psychiatric/Medical History
Rick denied any major medical procedures. He reported that he believes he is smart enough to handle any potential medical operations that he might need and would never let a “doctor” near his body (note: the quotes around doctor are included to represent the air quotes that Rick used when saying the word).

Rick also denied any previous psychiatric treatment, other than his session with Dr. Wong, stating that he does not respect therapy or therapists.

Diagnostic Impressions
All assessment material was collected by viewing the hit television series, Rick and Morty. Rick’s view and style of engagement with himself, the people around him, and the world around him suggests that he may be experiencing a personality disorder. The two most likely personality disorders that Rick is exhibiting are Antisocial Personality Disorder or Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Rick also appears to be experiencing impairment related to his alcohol use.

Beginning with Antisocial Personality Disorder, the individual must exhibit a pattern of disregarding the rights of others since the age of 15. However, it is not clear whether this is the case with Rick, given the information available. To meet the diagnostic criteria, three or more of seven potential criteria must be met. First, “Failure to conform to social norms with respect to lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.” Rick does this fairly consistently throughout the show. As mentioned earlier, he builds and sells weapons to the assassin, Krombopulos Michael. The second criteria that Rick meets is “Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.” In The Rickshank Redemption, Rick admits to lying and manipulating Beth to have Jerry removed from the home so he could be the undisputed patriarch and a hero. “Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults” is met with Rick assaulting several individuals throughout the series. Rick meets “Reckless disregard for safety or self or others” by putting himself and Morty in harm’s way on almost every adventure that they go on. And lastly, “Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another.” In the pilot episode, Rick tells Morty to shoot the soldiers chasing them, as they are just robots. When Morty realizes they are definitely not robots, Rick says: “It’s a figure of speech, Morty. They’re bureaucrats. I don’t respect them. Just keep shooting, Morty. You have no idea what prison is like here!” As such, with the information we have, and some speculation about Young Rick, Rick does appear to meet the diagnostic criteria for Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Rick also potentially meets the diagnostic criteria for a Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A Narcissistic Personality Disorder consists of “a pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood…” When assessing for this disorder, the constellation of symptoms seems to not fit perfectly. For example, when assessing the first criteria, “Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., exaggerates achievements and talents, expects to be recognized as superior without commensurate achievements,” we can start to see already this does not fit Rick. It is well established that, although Rick thinks highly of himself, he is actually the smartest individual in the universe. Rick does not appear to be “preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty, or ideal love.” Although he believes he is uniquely intelligent, this does not appear to translate to feelings that Rick is “special and unique and can only be understood, or should associate with, other special people.” He has friends from all walks of life and, although he insults and hurts them, he does love his family. Rick does, however, “require excessive admiration” (see Noob Noob from The Vindicators 3 episode.) He is clearly “interpersonally exploitative.” He does “lack empathy.” He is seen as “believing others are envious of him.” And he is depicted as “showing arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes,” So, technically, Rick does meet for the five required criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

However, when consulting the Differential Diagnosis section of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, we can try to differentiate some of the overlap between Antisocial Personality Disorder and Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The DSM-5 points out: “However, narcissistic personality disorder does not necessarily include characteristics of impulsivity, aggression, and deceit. In addition, individuals with antisocial personality disorder may not be as needy of the admiration and envy of others…” Individuals with Narcissistic Personality Disorder present with self-esteem that is “almost invariably very fragile” often taking the form of a “need for constant attention and admiration.” Although Rick does meet for the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, his overall constellation of symptoms is much better captured by the Antisocial Personality Disorder, at least based on what has been depicted in the show so far. Sometimes when certain disorders have overlapping diagnostic criteria and presentations, we have to dig a bit deeper into how the disorders are conceptualized to really understand the underlying problem.

 Additionally, Rick seems to experience impairment due to his alcohol use. As such, he was assessed for an Alcohol Use Disorder. To meet the diagnostic criteria, two of the ten potential types of impairment or distress must be present within a 12-month period. The first diagnostic criteria that Rick meets is “Alcohol is often taken in larger amounts of over a longer period than was intended.” An example of this is depicted in Vindicators 3: The Return of Worldender. Throughout the trials that The Vindicators face, Rick is seen as becoming more and more intoxicated. At one point, he is too intoxicated to devise a trial for the Vindicators to face, and simply asks them to shoot basketball hoops “or something.” The next diagnostic criteria that Rick meets is “Continued alcohol use despite having persistent or recurrent social or interpersonal problems caused or exacerbated by the effects of alcohol. There have been multiple times that Rick has threatened Morty, either directly or indirectly through his actions (e.g., Rick threatens Morty with a knife while he is intoxicated in M. Night Shamy-Aliens). Despite this, and other examples, Rick continues to drink even though it creates conflict with his family. The next diagnostic criteria that Rick meets is “Recurrent alcohol use in situations in which it is likely to be physically hazardous.” An example of this is in the pilot episode when Rick drunkenly takes Morty into this home-made spaceship to set off a neutrino bomb in order to get a fresh start. It should be noted that other diagnostic criteria may be met even if not reported. Additionally, some diagnostic criteria require recurrent instances of behavior. However, because we only see a snapshot of time in Rick’s life throughout the show, certain inferences are made about the recurrence of behavior and certain diagnostic criteria may be missed. One piece of collateral information that is relevant to Rick’s alcohol use comes from the episode Ricksy Business. Bird Person tells Morty that Rick is in great pain and uses alcohol to numb himself, explaining that Rick’s catchphrase “wubba lubba dub dub” actually means “I am in great pain. Please help me.”

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 Treatment Recommendations
In sum, Rick’s constellation of symptoms seems to be best captured by an Antisocial Personality Disorder and a comorbid Alcohol Use Disorder. It is worth noting that although Rick appears to meet for an Antisocial Personality Disorder, he does not appear to fall within the subset of those individuals who exhibits psychopathy. Specifically, despite his treatment of his family, Rick does appear to have genuine concern and affection for them and, for them alone, feel concern about how his behaviors might impact them. This is important to consider in treatment planning as there is some evidence to suggest that individuals experiencing psychopathy might actually become worse due to therapy.

Currently, we do not have any treatments for Antisocial Personality Disorder that have received strong empirical support. However, if we could have identified these behaviors in Rick as an adolescent, family-focused, multicomponent treatment would have been an option to target and hopefully change these types of behaviors. We do, however, have research suggesting that multiple types of treatment (including Motivational Enhancement Therapy, designed to strengthen desire and ability to decrease substance use) are effective for treating Alcohol Use Disorder.

Status at Termination
Rick never came to therapy again.

THE GORDON/SAXTON TEST

Was the portrayal of mental illness accurate?
Although the situations in which Rick is depicted are sometimes preposterous, the specific symptoms that he is depicted as experiencing do appear to be accurate. Rick is a very complex, multidimensional character and we are looking forward to seeing how he evolves and what we learn about him as the show goes on.

Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?
Rick and Morty does portray Rick with a sense of compassion. Although the show is masked with crude humor and adventure, the underlying story is about a man who is in a lot of pain and does not know how to cope with it all. In a lot of ways, the show is a metaphor for Rick himself. Under the goofs and antics, there is a really sad story waiting to be told.

Overall rating:
On a scale from “wubba lubba dub dub” to “Hit the sack, Jack!” we rate Rick and Morty as “BURGERTIME!” That is, to say, we really, really like this show. It does not set out with the intention of depicting mental health, and it is REALLY crude, but the show just works. It is a lot of fun and hits you with blasts of seriousness and emotion that all come together in a really great overall show. We definitely recommend it.

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Analyzing Anya’s Bunny Phobia

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

Name: Aud AKA Anyanka AKA Patron Saint of The Women Scorned AKA Anya Emerson AKA Anya Christina Emanuella Jenkins
Year of Birth: 806
Year of Interview: 2002
Therapists: Katie Gordon, Brandon Saxton

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Presenting Problem
Anya’s employer, Rupert Giles, referred her for a psychological evaluation because her fear of bunnies was affecting her ability to work effectively as a cashier at The Magic Box. While the store primarily provided witchcraft-related supplies such as crystals and ingredients needed for spells (e.g., raven’s feathers, rat’s eyes), some customers would enter looking for magic trick supplies. Occasionally, aspiring magicians would request rabbits for pulling-out-of-hat purposes, and Anya would scream at the customer, “Get the HELL out of the store and never come back!” Those customers would then spread the word about what had happened, and there would be a notable decrease in sales. Giles had tolerated Anya’s, shall we say, “brusque” interpersonal style, but this particular problem led him to fire Anya. She said she loved money and business (as evidenced by her attempt to sell her children for money while playing the board game, Life, and her performance of The Dance of Capitalist Superiority as she closed the cash register) and begged Giles to let her stay at the store. He allowed her to continue with the contingency that she must seek treatment to reduce her rabbit fears.

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History
Anya was born as Aud in Sweden in the 9th century and actually bred and raised rabbits during that time period. After a boyfriend cheated on her, she used magic to punish him (e.g., turning him into a troll). Anya’s spiteful acts drew attention from a demon who specialized in vengeance. He granted her immortality and gave her a powerful amulet that allowed her to fulfill wishes of scorned women. For centuries, as Anyanka, she executed these wishes all over the world.

In 1998, a Sunnydale High School student named Cordelia was brokenhearted that her boyfriend, Xander, had cheated on her with his best friend, Willow. Disguised as a student named Anya Emerson, Anyanka befriended Cordelia and persuaded her to wish for revenge on Xander. Cordelia linked her romance problems to Buffy’s arrival and wished that Buffy had never moved to Sunnydale. Once Giles discovered this, he destroyed Anyanka’s amulet, which took away her powers and immortality.

After some significant time had passed, she started dating Xander and ultimately proved herself helpful to his friends (who called themselves The Scooby Gang) as they fought the vampires, demons, and other Big Bads in Sunnydale. Anya had proven that she was reformed into a trustworthy person….so much so, that Giles hired her at The Magic Box.

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Diagnostic & Assessment Information
All assessment information was obtained through watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and by consulting this amazingly detailed Buffyverse wiki. Due to the nature of Giles’ expressed concerns, Anya was evaluated for Specific Phobia, Animal Type. According to the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders, an individual has a specific phobia when they exhibit a “marked fear or anxiety about a specific object or situation” that lasts a minimum of six months and “the fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.”

We asked Anya to give us some examples that would help us better understand her relationship with bunnies, and she named the following events:

  1. On Halloween, Xander asked her to dress as something scary and she showed up in an adorable & funny bunny costume. While this shows a certain ability to not avoid all bunny-related stimuli, it also indicates the presence of a marked fear.

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2. She was doing a spell that accidentally made a bunny appear, and she had an exaggerated response, jumping back in fear.

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3. She sees a cute, little stuffed rabbit and, startled, she says, “Who would put this here? Is this some kind of sick joke?”

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4. When Sunnydale was overtaken by a musical spell, the Scoobies went around guessing who was responsible for it, and Anya proclaimed that bunnies were responsible through the following lyrics, “Bunnies aren’t just cute like everyone supposes. They got them hoppy legs and twitchy little noses, and what’s with all the carrots!? What do they need such good eyesight for anyway!? Bunnies, bunnies, it must be bunnies!!”

5. Xander suggested that it might be nice if they were up against a cult who was bunny-worshipping some time instead of the usual evil-worshippers. Anya replied, “Thank you very much for those nightmares.”

Treatment Recommendations
In summary, Anya appeared to meet diagnostic criteria for Specific Phobia, Animal Type, and it caused significant impairment in her place of employment. Currently, there is strong scientific research supporting exposure therapy as the frontline treatment for phobias. There are a variety of approaches to exposure therapy, with the commonality that each involves the individual habituating to the feared stimuli through facing, rather than avoiding, it. Please click here for more details on exposure and/or watch this excellent, informative video by Dr. Ali Mattu:

THE GORDON/SAXTON TEST

1. Was the portrayal of mental illness accurate?

Mostly, Anya’s phobia is used as a type of comic relief in the series. While phobias and their associated distress and impairment are not funny, the humor often comes through highlighting the irrational part of phobia-related fears. At times, Anya displays typically phobic behaviors (e.g., nightmares, exaggerated fear responses, avoidance). However, her anger toward the phobic object is not quite as typical. Overall, Anya is an awesome character, and her portrayal shows that someone who has bravely faced many awful things is not immune to a specific phobia of a benign stimuli.

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2. Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?

Compassion for Anya is generally demonstrated throughout the show (e.g., people tend to forgive her abrasive interpersonal ways and accept her feelings about bunnies), but as mentioned above, her fear of bunnies is mostly treated as another quirky, funny aspect of Anya. She was literally a demon for over 1000 years, and yet, bunnies frighten her. In real life, phobias can cause substantial distress and problems for people who are afflicted by them. Fortunately, as mentioned above, they tend to be highly responsive to exposure therapy.

Overall rating
On a scale of Energizer to Bugs, we rate this depiction as Thumper!

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The Psychology of Peter Parker (AKA The Spider-Man)

“I’m gonna lie close to the ground and continue being a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Keep helping the little guy.”          ―Peter Parker

PSYCHOLOGICAL REPORT

Name: Peter Benjamin Parker
Date of Birth:  March 10
Education: Some high school, still enrolled
Employment: Stark Internship (former)
Date of Initial Interview: 7/7/2017
Date of Report: 7/24/2017
Therapists: Brandon Saxton, M.S., Katie Gordon, Ph.D.

Presenting Problems
Peter Parker was referred for services by his aunt, May Parker. May reported having concerns because he was struggling at school, missing class, quitting extra-curricular activities, sneaking out at night, and losing his belongings. He was also fired from his internship and was being bullied at school. May claimed that she was worried that the combination of typical stress involved in being an adolescent, the loss of her husband and Peter’s other guardian, Ben Parker, and the loss of his Tony Stark internship were taking a toll on Peter.

Individuals Present
Peter felt that he did not need to come in for discuss his challenges today. May reported that she felt Peter was probably nervous, and suggested he bring along his best friend Ned Leeds who might be able to support Peter and help shed some light on what has been going on at school. May was in the session for the beginning of the interview. The remainder of the interview was conducted with Peter and Ned.

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History of Presenting Problem
Peter denied any history of struggling in school or missing class. He reported that he has traditionally done well in school and his extra-curricular activities, but that recently he has had less time to keep up. Peter had been involved as an intern for Tony Stark (local entrepreneur, owner of Stark Industries, and Iron Man). Peter said that he had done his best, but it was not good enough, and he was consequently fired. Peter reports that this has impacted his mood and behavior, but prior to the internship, these behaviors were not present. Regarding the bully, Peter and Ned both reported that their fellow student, Flash Thompson, has always bullied them. Peter denied that it bothered him much.

Family History
Peter’s parents passed away when he was younger; his Aunt May and Uncle Ben were his guardians growing up. Peter then lost his Uncle Ben. Peter said he felt very close to his Aunt and that she is a wonderful role model for him. Peter describes his aunt as doing the best she can for him and he regrets causing her any additional stress with what he has been going through.

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Educational/Employment History
Peter is still enrolled in high school at the Midtown School of Science and Technology and does not know what he wants to do after high scho… OH WAIT! Peter’s friend Ned just reported that Mr. Parker is the SPIDER-MAN and his plan is to someday join THE AVENGERS (videos of the Spider-Man are present on YouTube). Note: We just reminded Mr. Parker about the rules of the office (no hitting, he attempted to hit Mr. Leeds after reporting that he is the Spider-Man) and the rules of confidentiality. After doing so, Mr. Parker confirmed that he is, in fact, the vigilante known as the Spider-Man. In fact, the Stark Internship was him being Spider-Man!

Psychiatric/Medical History
Peter denied any past emotional struggles aside from the expected grief he experienced following the death of his parents as well as his Uncle Ben. Beyond that, Peter stated that the only significant medical event in his life was a spider bite. The symptoms of the bite, which remain, include an almost spider-like physiology. This includes Peter being able to walk on walls, move very quickly, and be physically stronger and more durable than other people. He also possesses enhanced senses including keener eye sight and faster reflexes. And, irrelevant of the spider bite symptoms, Peter is also a gifted person. He is intelligent, quick-thinking, trilingual, and thoughtful.

Diagnostic Impressions
Although Peter is experiencing some social and school impairment, the cause is not related to any mental health concerns. However, we recommend that Peter is monitored to ensure that these kinds of symptoms to not develop in response to the experiences he will have as a superhero.

Treatment Recommendations
We strongly encouraged Peter against a life of vigilantism (even though we think superheroes are awesome, we can’t advocate an adolescent fighting crime illegally!) However, he insisted that he would continue. We used the remainder of the session brainstorming ideas ghat Peter could try to reduce the risk of being hurt or hurting others, falling behind on home, social, and school obligations while still maintaining his role as Spider-Man. We also insisted that Peter return for occasional check-up sessions to monitor the impact of crime-fighting stress.

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Status at Termination
At the end of the session, Peter seemed to understand the importance of balancing his life as Peter Parker and his life as Spider-Man. He also agreed to return to we could monitor he mental health and process any difficult experiences he faces as the Spider-Man. Ned seems like a good source of social support. In addition, Peter feels confident that he would have the support of Tony Stark if he truly needed it. This case will be updated as needed (i.e., check back after Infinity War!)

 THE GORDON/SAXTON TEST

Was the portrayal of mental illness accurate?
There was very little, if any, mental illness portrayed in Spider-Man: Homecoming. One character, at one point, uses the term “psychopath” to describe The Vulture. The character is not a therapist and is not using the term in the psychological sense.

Was the character struggling with mental health issues depicted with compassion?As stated above, as the movie does not portray any specific mental illness, but we feel that Peter is generally depicted with compassion. He is a resilient and good-hearted adolescent trying his best to make the world more positive.

Overall rating:
As the film does not portray any mental illness, we are instead going to simply rate it in terms of enjoyment. On a scale of Andrew Garfield (our least favorite) to Tom Holland (our most favorite), we rate this depiction of Spider-Man as Tom Holland! That is, we loved it! The film truly is a lot of fun. It is light-hearted, does not get bogged down in the details of an origin, and overall is just a solid action-comedy. We can’t recommend it enough!!

 

We joined The Geek Therapy Podcast Network!

We have exciting news! We joined The Geek Therapy Podcast Network, which hosts 4 other shows: Geek Therapy (about the potential benefits of comics, games, TV shows, and movies), PsychTech (exploring the human side of technology), Headshots (about psychology and gaming), and Rolling for Change (about the educational and therapeutic side of gaming). We highly recommend all of these shows. They’re high quality, thoughtful, and super-fun to listen to! gtc

 

Jedi Counsel Podcast 18 – Superheroes and Coping Styles

In this episode we decided to talk about coping styles! Coping styles are the negative or positive ways in which we handle stress and negative emotions. After that we speak about the ways in which we find inspiration and motivation in superheroes, using them as a coping skill. How do superheroes help to inspire or motivate you?