What Do You Do When Nobody Loves You?

November 3, 2010

“Nobody loves me, but my mother, and she could be jivin’ too.”
B.B. King
A Reflection on Love

B.B. King’s lament, “nobody loves me but my mother,” is sad enough, but then he postulates that she could also be lying, leaving him loved by no one. When you hear the artist sing out those words, the blues never sounded so blue. Who are we if we are not even certain of a mother’s love? I enjoy listening to B.B. King, but I will have to admit to cringing every time I hear this particular line. As a therapist, I work with too many people for whom the words are not simply lyrics, but rather a way of being in the world. For those who grew up in environments when loving parents were in any way absent, or untrustworthy, what does the voice inside of their head’s say? I imagine it sounds like, “if I wasn’t loved by my parents, no one will ever love me, and if I couldn’t trust my parents, I will never be able to trust anybody.”
How tragic! Think about it, going through your day-to-day life never allowing yourself to be fully connected to another person. Never allowing yourself to go beyond having a superficial relationship, always assuming that it can never be completely real…never fully trustworthy…never something you can really count on.

It’s quite a dilemma, isn’t it?

When others disappoint us, even from an early age, the truth is that we still have opportunities to find connection in the world, even if it’s from places we never expected to find it. For example, consider inmates in high security prisons. When inmates from these facilities are released, recidivism rates are typically quite high. If, however, inmates are paired with dogs for 12 to 18 months prior to their release, the rate of re-incarceration is nearly zero. What then did the connection with a canine provide the human? The answer is the same as what we had hoped we had gotten from parents…unconditional love.

Finding love requires us to be open to the possibility of love. We need to imagine ourselves as loveable. This can be tough work but it is clearly possible. One only needs to look at the example of the former inmates and what they learned about the unconditional nature of relationship to appreciate the potential of new experiences. Too many of us lament the loss of parents, siblings, spouses, and other family members without ever attempting to find those loving, affirming and sustaining relationships elsewhere. I have seen those connections occur in therapy groups, in adoptive homes, in faith communities, between close friends, and yes, with animals. Isn’t it time for all of us to consider who we have in our lives who would willingly, perhaps gleefully, enter our lives as loving mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, friends and soul mates. It is never too late for that!

“Walter is a credible, personable therapist with an interactive style that works. He cares deeply about his patients and is committed to their growth and well being. I am grateful that I can count on Walter to care for the children and adults in our community.”

Theresa Cerulli, M.D.

Walter Sherburne, Psychotherapist

Keep it Simple

September 26, 2010

Keep it Simple

“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  – Albert Einstein

When you’re trying to create a system to organize your projects and obligations, keep it simple but be sure it does what you need it to do.


“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.”  – Albert Einstein

Don’t get so caught up in learning a new computer program or creating such a wonderful system that you forget you started out to complete your projects and obligations.


“Life is pretty simple: You do some stuff. Most fails. Some works. You do more of what works.”Leonardo da Vinci

Try things! Try a simple approach and learn from what works and what doesn’t.


“Dealing with complexity is an inefficient and unnecessary waste of time, attention and mental energy. There is never any justification for things being complex when they could be simple.”Edward de Bono

For some reason, we don’t seem to feel that simple approaches will work. Yet it is the simple approaches that are most likely to get done and therefore to be remembered.


“It is far more difficult to be simple than to be complicated.”  – John Ruskin

Designing a simple system may require experienced help. The first time through you are likely to see vexing problems instead of straightforward solutions.


“Success is nothing more than a few simple disciplines, practiced every day.” – Jim Rohn

Remembering to practice is the key. Be sure you include a simple system to remind you to do it.


“Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.”  – Albert Einstein

Jay Livingston

Back to School

September 12, 2010

The lazy days of summer are ending and it’s back to school. For some individuals it is a time of opportunity, growth, learning, and excitement. For others it is a time of dread. Your child may be thinking, how am I going to survive another school year? You may be thinking, how am I going to pay for another school year? My experience in working with children and adults with ADHD is that transitions in general are difficult and the “back to school” weeks are particularly rough waters to negotiate for everyone. Deep breaths – you can do this.

I initially sat down intending to focus this blog on ADHD and back to school days, but my thoughts evolved into reflecting on managing stress through any transition. First we need to recognize the transition and label it as such. “This too shall pass”. We need to remind ourselves that transitions don’t last forever, nor do our mood states that occur during them. By definition a transition time is temporary and giving it more weight than it deserves can be a slippery slope. That does not imply you shouldn’t take such life periods seriously – indeed you should! It is the temporary nature of a transition that I wish to emphasize. Whether good days or bad, they pass without our permission. Unless of course you have discovered the fountain of youth.

I would also like to raise awareness that a period of transition is usually not occuring to one person at a time. Transitions occur in systems, affecting classrooms, families, companies, and even countries when they invade our lives. Which means an individual is impacted not only by the content of the transition itself, but by the others reactions around them to that transition. For example, say your 3rd grader is going back to school and is worried. It’s their transition, yet your life changes as much as theirs. So too may your mood. Or maybe your child is angry about school. Maybe instead you are relieved they are out of the house as you envision a more peaceful day for yourself. The varying reactions we have to the same event are as endless as the events themselves.

Try to find common ground during such transitions. What is it we are all seeking? When you boil down all the excess baggage, we basically have the same needs at our core, children and adults alike: the need to feel safe (physically and emotionally), to be understood, to feel loved, to be heard, to have a sense of purpose and happiness. We all want to be accepted for who we are, our good points and our not so good ones. Knowing someones faults and loving them despite those faults is one of the greatest gifts we can offer.

So during this back to school transition time, take a moment to remember it will pass, and despite our varying reactions to stress, what we all want at our core is the same. Perhaps we can wish each other a safe back to school season filled with acceptance and understanding. Or at least a good nights sleep.

Theresa Cerulli, M.D.

A Tough Time Being Wrong

August 7, 2010

 When I was in my twenties, I knew that I was right. Other’s observations were really just opinions and didn’t take my full situation into account. Well, I wasn’t always right, but I was rarely absolutely wrong.

One day when I was 19, a group of people explained that I was just dead wrong in my perception of why I did a certain thing. I explained that they didn’t know me well enough to know the whole story. They said, “Give it up!” There were eight of them so I just let them talk and then tried to let it go.

30 minutes later I was walking down the street when I got hit so hard by the truth that I had to stop and sit on the curb until my legs could hold me up again – they were right, I was wrong. I was never able to be as confidently right again. That conversion experience opened up a rich life-long self exploration path.

Kathryn Schulz, in her new book, Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margins of Error, takes the whole issue of being wrong and gives it the attention it deserves. Hers is the most balanced look at rightness and wrongness that any of us non-philosophers could want. She is entertaining, easy to follow and asks provoking questions, the kind that start to creep into the rest of your life in interesting ways.

One of her key points is that we need errors to help us learn. If we can’t be open to alternatives, if we don’t dare explore possible dead ends, we limit our growth. Coaching, therapy and any other kind of exploration of the truths of our lives puts us at risk to discover that we’ve been wrong.

But if we feel we can’t afford to be wrong, we’ll block the reality that is right in front of our eyes. I say to myself that the only way to be wrong is to not learn. An interesting idea, but it may be wrong. I’ll keep my eyes open and see what there is to learn.

Jay Livingston


July 27, 2010

I recently saw an interesting statistic reporting more than 50% of parents use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) to treat their children’s ADHD. Many parents of ADHD children and adults with ADHD opt to combine conventional treatments, such as stimulant medication, with CAM while others prefer to use nonpharmacological therapies alone. Although most nonpharmacological interventions have limited data to support their benefit, 80% of patients who use natural products consider these to be their primary treatment modality. Yet few disclose this information to their treating physician. If you are using any alternative therapies I would urge you to discuss these with your doctor. The goal is to promote optimal integrative treatment and avoid any potential pitfalls.

Given the frequent use of CAM, I thought it would be helpful to review the common nonpharmacological treatment options for ADHD. Currently the most popular nonconventional ADHD therapies are as follows: dietary changes, herbal supplements, trace elements/vitamins, neurofeedback, essential fatty acids (EFA’s), and yoga/massage for ADHD.

In my experience complimentary and alternative treatments can be safely and effectively integrated with conventional approaches to treating ADHD. Despite the limited data, nonpharmacological treatments have indeed shown some benefits. For example in one research study using dietary changes to treat ADHD, 75% of children showed improvement in their symptoms when food colorings and additives were removed from their diet. Another study showed children and adolescents with low blood levels of ferritin (the storage form of iron in the body) experienced higher rates of ADHD-type symptoms, which improved with taking 80 mg per day of iron. More specifically the kids hyperactive and impulsive symptoms improved with the iron supplementation, but their inattentive symptoms did not.

In a separate small study, ADHD children practicing yoga demonstrated improvements in their symptoms over time compared to the group of ADHD children who did conventional exercise. In support of the argument for combined treatment, children who continued to take simulant medication simultaneously while practicing yoga showed the greatest benefit.

In summary, an integrative care approach – combining conventional with nonconventional therapies – may offer the best potential outcomes for those with ADHD. I encourage patients to talk with their doctors about all treatment options. It is important to inform your treatment providers of any and all interventions you are utilizing (or wish to utilize) so that safe and appropriate care can be implemented and the greatest benefit received.

A Reflection on Acceptance

June 18, 2010

“To succeed, it is necessary to accept the world as it is – and rise above it.”
Michael Korda
I recently sat with a young man who was telling me why he was feeling so down, discouraged, and guilty. “It’s all that acceptance stuff” he said. “All that acceptance stuff” sounds pretty important, doesn’t it? In fact, the notion of acceptance is a fundamentally crucial step in the development of all people. By this, I am not promoting the notion that we all just need to simply accept everything in our lives, but rather stop beating ourselves up for the human limitations that we all have, while being aware of and celebrating our unique gifts.
Acceptance comes in many forms. The young man sitting across from me was talking about his sense of how accepting his parents were of him, which in turn had shaped his self-image, and his ability to be self-accepting. If you met this young person, you would likely see what I see. He is intelligent, quick, artistic, verbal, handsome, gentle, caring and loving. So why on earth would he need to struggle with the notion of self-acceptance? As we work to better understand this question, we are increasingly clear on one fact: He did not create that sense of being “less” or like a “failure.” Others did that for him, especially his father.
It is never my intent to vilify a parent for a child’s pain. It serves no purpose to do so, but it is important for this young man to know where these feelings came from. His sense of not being good enough come, in large measure, from the messages he received, and continues to receive, from his father.
As Father’s Day is upon us, I am reminded of a reflection I sent out one year ago. In part, I included the following:
Men tend to be “bottom line” thinkers. They don’t want to talk around something; rather, they want to get to the point. This kind of short-circuited dialogue can create obvious tensions in any relationship because too many important things are left unsaid.
If inadequate communication between adult partners can be problematic, between fathers and their children, it can be toxic. Children, whether they admit to it or not, anxiously watch for signs of approval from their fathers. In my practice, many young people report an easy going and open relationship with their mothers while they frequently describe the exchanges with their fathers as limited or absent. This leaves many children wondering what their fathers are thinking and sometimes assuming the worst.
So, why don’t fathers come by this connection thing more easily? Many men were raised to think that expressing how they felt was a sign of weakness. Men often tell me that they can express emotion but that the range of emotion is frequently limited to anger & frustration. While men can identify feelings of hurt, love, insecurity or frailty, it almost always comes out as anger, or it doesn’t come out at all.

The young man in my office wants, and needs, what we all want and need…validation. Validation is most importantly provided by those paternal and maternal figures in our lives. Without that sense of unconditional love and acceptance, we leave our sons and daughters to, at the very best, wonder if they are “adequate” in our eyes, and at the very worst, struggling with “all that acceptance stuff.”

No one should have to struggle with the notion of acceptance as children and yet too many children do exactly that. And those children grow into adults who carry that overwhelming fear of not being “enough” to relationships with their bosses, partners, and their children.

So, it is time to stop right where we are and challenge ourselves to be more self-accepting, whether we received that message from our parents or not. And if we are parents, we can begin to undo damaging messages of the past and help our children gain the kind of self-acceptance that all of us need in order to survive, and thrive, in the world around us.

With the passing of another Father’s Day, I would encourage fathers (mother’s too) everywhere to consider how they might want to communicate differently with their children. Considering the well-being of a child who knows they are abundantly loved and cherished, it certainly seems worth the effort. And it’s really not that difficult to do…just sit down each of your children tonight for two minutes, hold them and tell them that they fill your heart with pride and love. (THEN REPEAT DAILY) I guarantee that the children who hear that message go on to discover unqualified adult happiness.


Walter Sherburne, Psychotherapist

Calming Strategies for Children

June 7, 2010

“He’s a terror when things don’t go his way … We’re always worried that he’s going to make a scene and embarrass us … We find ourselves walking on eggshells, trying to avoid one of his meltdowns.”

I hear a lot of that kind of thing from parents of children I work with in my practice. They tell me they often feel stressed, overwhelmed and exhausted from their child’s frequent struggles and outbursts. Parents jump at the opportunity to learn some effective strategies for coping with this common challenge.

As children move through their day, they are bound to bump into situations that are potentially upsetting. Some children are born with calmer temperments and better self quieting skills, while others need to actively learn and be taught how to cope with everyday disappointments and frustrations in a positive way. This is one of the most important things a parent can help a child do. No child enjoys being out of control … it’s simply the only tactic he knows. The good news is you can help your child learn strategies to cope with his emotions constructively and have an easier time getting along in the family, with peers and in school. The bonus — you get to have stress relief, too!

Creating a “My Hard Times Board” (suggested by Peg Dawson EdD and Richard Guare PhD in their book “Smart but Scattered”) with your child utilizes an excellent tool for teaching him new calming and coping strategies. Remember these few tips before you begin:

  • Child and parent collaborate throughout this entire process. 
  • Choose a time to design this plan when your child is calm and receptive. Nothing constructive can be developed during an outburst!
  • Make sure there’s plenty of opportunity for practice each day. After all, Tiger Woods could never make those spectacular putts without lots of it. Even he misses on occasion and so will your child. Mistakes will happen – you can bank on that. But, your child will be reassured when you let him know that there’s always another chance to try again later.   

STEP I: Together with your child, identify and record a couple of the most common triggers to your child’s outbursts (i.e. parents say “no,” plans don’t work out as anticipated, your child is told to stop doing something fun to do something less enjoyable, your child thinks things aren’t fair).

STEP II: Together, list and record your child’s “can’t do” behaviors that he often uses when he is frustrated (i.e. yell, hit, throw things).

STEP III: Together make a list of your child’s “can do” behaviors to replace the undesirable ones that occur when he is beginning to feel upset. This list is most effective when your child’s personal interests are represented so that his choices are engaging and interesting to him. (Examples of “can do” strategies follow after Step IV).

STEP IV: Now that the board or chart has been designed and your child is invested in the process, it’s important to keep it going by implementing the following concepts.

  • A good way to get started is to have your child choose one of these strategies (that follow) and practice the technique with your child for a few minutes each morning and after school. During each practice have your child pretend he is getting upset, describe the body sensations he feels when he is angry and rehearse his calming strategy. Expect to practice these strategies many times before seeing your child using them successfully. Research tells us that it takes 21 days to make a new habit.
  • You and your child might want to develop a special signal, a visual or verbal cue, that is a reminder to use one of his calming strategies. Remember, when your child chooses one of the positive behaviors on his “can do” list, it’s time to offer up enthusiastic praise and even tangible incentives such as stickers, rewards or special activities. Everyone loves a prize for a job well-done! 

Here’s a sampling of “can do” strategies for calming and redirecting behavior. Personalize this list by creating names that resonate with your child.  

  • Happy Birthday:  Teaching children to take deep breaths when they begin to get upset may seem simplistic, but it’s a lifelong skill for managing stress that has emotional, behavioral and physical benefits. Explain to your child that we all have warning signs that tell us we are getting angry. Help your child recognize the signs his body is sending out that lets him know that he’s getting angry (i.e. face gets red; fists clench; heart pounds; breathe faster). When he feels the warning signs, have him take three deep breaths. Next have your child hold up his hand, palm toward his face with fingers spread. Coach your child to blow on each finger as if he is blowing out five birthday candles, one at a time and very slowly. When you see your child getting frustrated, you might say, “Now might be a great time to blow out the candles.” In the beginning you might want to do the breathing along with your child. Set the pace, modeling for your child and letting your calm presence soothe him. 
  • Cozy & Cool:  With your child’s help, create a “safe spot” where he can go to regroup. This special, positive place in the house is where he can go to calm down, sort things out or just chill out when he needs to be alone. It could be a teepee, a beanbag chair, a hammock, or any space your child sees as comfortable and inviting. In the “safe spot” include soft items like blankets, stuffed animals and a basket of quiet time activities that he can play with while relaxing (books, puzzles). Encourage your child to go to his “safe spot” when he feels himself becoming upset. Teach him that sometimes in an angry situation it is best to walk away, go to his “safe spot” and cool down.
  • My Never Never Land:  Use relaxation visualization to design an imaginary place that makes your child feel calm. Help your child create a mind picture of a special place that makes him feel peaceful with all of the colors, sounds, textures, and smells that go with the memory. For example, a child may have a happy memory of a time at the beach. When he feels upset, he can take a “trip to the beach.” He can close his eyes, smell the ocean air, feel the sand between his toes, and feel the sun shining on him. Given the opportunity to run with this, your child may add props to further enhance the experience. One child I know took his towel and sunglasses to his “beach retreat” whenever he needed a “beach break.”  How clever is that!
  • Picasso’s Playground.  Build a spot that includes an array of art materials that can be used independently as a calming and quieting activity. For some children, working with clay, drawing, or doing crafts is soothing and distracts them from the dilemma at hand. As time goes on, try adding new items to keep up the novelty and high interest of the center. Parents, keep a ready supply of items to have on hand so that you can change and rotate art supplies as needed. Keep your eye out for those treasures that might hold your child’s interest.
  • Shake, Rattle & Roll:  Your child can take a walk, shoot baskets, jump rope, swing on a swing, kick a soccer ball, bounce a ball, or dance to his favorite music. Some children get calming benefits from physical release. 
  • Beatles & Beethoven:  Create a listening center with a CD player and earphones where your child can go to listen to music, books on tape or sing a song into a microphone. Dust off that old karaoke machine!
  • Splish Splash … Takin’ a Bath?  For some children, water is soothing and comforting and gives distance from the problem at hand. Try bubbles in the sink, sprinklers in the yard or an old fashioned bubble bath.

There is no single strategy that is good for every child and every family but with lots of practice, role playing, and simulations, children learn new calming techniques that can help them think before they act. Over time, the goal is for your child to develop both the skill and confidence to handle difficult situations on his own without getting upset and losing control. Remember the best way to teach kids how to manage upsetting feelings constructively is to model calmness through your example. Together, and with a lot of patience, much love and lightheartedness, you and your child will find a calmer and more joyful path.

  Doreen Fay EdD

How Not to Train the Brain

May 24, 2010

A study called “Brain Test Britain” is receiving a lot of attention because of its findings that discount the effectiveness of cognitive training. Close inspection of this study reveals many gaps in its methodology and what they consider “brain training.”
They had no screening for suitable candidates with a specific problem, no focus on a specific cognitive function, no proven exercises based in neuroscience (only a series of games), and a haphazard, low-effort training protocol. Finally, there was no coaching provided to the users – of course leading to very poor compliance.
If the British study had managed to create any useful improvement in the test subjects with this kind of “fun and games brain training,” it would have been remarkable. This study is actually a good example of how not to train the brain. It takes specific, intensive, and sustained training to change cognitive performance.

News on Neuroplasticity

May 23, 2010

The Brain That Can

After reading the book  The Brain that Changes Itself, by Norman Doidge (2007)  I have been convinced that my longstanding views on the capacity of the brain to change are frankly, wrong. 

I have worked in brain injury rehabilitation for a good portion of my career in neuropsychology which included stroke, brain injury and aneurysm patients.  Patient would typically spend 1 – 2 months in inpatient rehabilitation receiving cognitive remediation and physical therapies daily, then transfer to outpatient therapies for treatment several days a week for several more months.  We would typically see a plateau in functioning for stroke patients after 4 – 5 months, and between 1 – 2 years in brain injury patients, depending on the severity of the injury. 

New research has clearly indicated that localization theories were misguided.  Areas of the brain, previously felt to be ‘designated’ to perform sensory functions (vision, hearing, motor functioning, touch) or language areas, are remarkable plastic and eager to take on new functions if the information is provided to them under certain guidelines.  He describes patients years after stroke, who can begin to restore motor, sensory or cognitive functioning, under the right conditions.

 What are these conditions?  “Neurons that fire together, wire together”.  In other words, information presented repetitively, and frequently, over a lengthy duration, will create new circuitry.  So a stroke patient, using his paralysed hand in various tasks, for an hour a day, 5 days a week, for several months, in most cases improves the functioning of that hand.  The length and repetitiveness of the task, eventually causes new neuronal sprouting (which in the case of learning Braille only begins to occur after 4 months) causing permanent changes in the brain.  With the limited therapy provided in rehabilitation settings, no wonder no one saw continued progress and improvement; the duration and frequency were not enough to create the new circuitry. 

 How does this apply to ADHD?  Therapies, such as CogMed, meet such criteria due to the frequency, duration and a third factor which is also critical, the engagement or motivation factor.   One has to be attentive and actively engaged in the task for these circuits to occur, and the engaging, self-competitive nature of a therapy, such as CogMed, can provide the motivation, to improve working memory systems and enrich and enhance the circuitry. 

 I have always been on the pessimistic side, when it comes to thinking people can change personality traits, or noxious habits.  After reading his clearly presented summation of research, however, I am much less pessimistic.  If one is truly motivated to change an identified trait, therapies can most certainly help if,  there is daily work addressing the positive trait to be acquired, (e.g., through journaling, prayer, meditation, a diary, counseling meeting), and patience.  Eventually, the unwanted traits (circuits) weaken, and the positive traits (circuits) strengthen, leading to good riddance.  His successful work with obsessive-compulsive clients are a testament to this.

Unplug to Plug In

April 10, 2010

Entrepreneurs and business people I work with often ask me for help “being a better dad,” or “being a better partner/spouse.” These high-energy, on-the-go people want to find ways to have more connection with their children and spouses.

I asked one owner of a mid-sized business, “Do you have any chance to talk with your son in the evenings?”

My client responded, “Some, but by the time I get free he’s getting ready for bed.”
Another dad told me his daughter “wasn’t that interested in talking.” And a third sighed and reported that he was treated like a stranger by his kids.

When I followed up with specific questions I discovered that each of these men brought major work home with them every night and on weekends. I’m not talking about the traditional briefcase full of papers, I mean responses to be made to emails and phone calls – Blackberry jam – you know the sticky stuff that gets all over your family time. Though they didn’t intend it, their kids were relegated to (and likely felt like) second class citizens.

My suggestion is pretty simple, unplug!

I’ve encouraged these successful men (and women) to experiment with 5-10 minutes of being unplugged from their Blackberries— shut it down or put it far enough away that you will not here it. Yes, ignore it. It doesn’t work to just set it for vibrate – you’ll probably keep checking to at least see who called.

You need time to look into your children’s eyes and say (with words or your attention), “Nobody’s more important than you! How’s your life going?” Or in the case of young children, “How’s Elmo doing?”

I get laughed at when I suggest 5 minutes. My high standard clients think 20 minutes is a more realistic time, until they get home and try it. After 5 minutes they start feeling the “gotta check it” withdrawal symptoms. You know the signs—hands in the pocket, Blackberry being played with or quick glances just to see who it’s from.

If you’re really going to “be there” with and for your children, then you need to create a strong motto for your home life, something you can use as a touchstone when the going gets tough. Something like, “My kids deserve this uninterrupted time with me alone.” “My email isn’t more important than my kids, wife or husband.”

Most of my clients quickly adjust and keep themselves free, well, for at least 6.5 minutes.

Good luck.

Szifra (Shifra) Birke



Good luck.

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