Scientific finding: Spiritual Meditation, specifically, can help you tolerate pain during a migraine episode.

I have recently been on a personal spiritual journey. I am trying to practice daily Zen Buddhism, do morning meditations, practice individual yoga, and have generally been doing what I would call a “Thinking Cleanse.” After a few weeks, I noticed that I had significantly changed my life for the better in profound ways. I feel great, my husband and I have been enjoying each other’s company so much more, my friends and family have been more interested in socializing, I feel better in my clothes, and I have been handling the typical emotions of anger, disappointment, and sadness of life that we all go through with a newfound gracefulness and calm. So I conferred with the research to better demystify the validity of these insights.

And behold! I found a jaw-dropping research article on these very phenomena: (

In a nutshell, researchers found that not only does spiritual meditation compare with pharmaceutical intervention and biofeedback intervention for managing migraines, but it matters what kind of meditation you practice exactly.

What they did: In their study, they had four intervention groups and one control group. There was a relaxation techniques group, which is self-explanatory. There were three types of meditation groups which were all trained the same way on how to meditate, except for the types of mantras they were taught to use. There was an Internal Secular Meditation group that was instructed to think about phrases such as: “I am content” or “I am good”. They had an External Secular Meditation group which focused on such phrases as “Sand is soft” or “Cloth is smooth.” And, lastly, they had a Spiritual Meditation group that focused on phrases such as “God is Peace,” “The Universe is good,” or “God is Love.”

Findings: Not only did “migrainers” who practiced Spiritual Meditation report a significantly greater reduction in the number of headaches they experienced over time, they reported a significantly greater ability to tolerate the pain. It is important to note that the practice of spiritual meditation in the study did not alter people’s sensitivity to pain (based on ratings of pain severity), but it did alter how well they tolerated those pain levels (Wachholtz & Pargament, 2008). In other words, this emphasizes our perception of pain and how we relate with our pain in our minds.

Furthermore, regular practice of spiritual meditation in this study created significant decreases in negative mood among its practitioners and showed a larger decrease in negative affect than those in any of the nonspiritual technique groups. It is not unusual for practitioners of meditation to report a general reduction in negative mood and trait anxiety (Wachholtz and Pargament 2005). However, the unique finding of this study is that the spiritual component enhanced this effect compared to migrainers using nonspiritual meditation techniques.

“As a whole the findings speak to a fundamental improvement in emotional health and improved feelings of control following the use of spiritual meditation that was not replicated with non-spiritual techniques (Wachholtz & Pargament, 2008).”

So what do you think? >>>Was the important factor that the participants of this study opened themselves up to the Universe or God and that is what helped them manage their pain or was it the Universe/God helping them through the pain, after all? I guess we will never know. Either way, I plan to meditate tomorrow morning, and the next, and the next…

My proposed “Developmental-Stress Model of Happy Marriage”

Love is friendship on fire.

I know many people in my life have been curious about what came out of my dissertation on how to maintain a happy long-term marriage. I have decided that the best way to present it is through my blog. I am planning on discussing my proposed model with both the general public and practitioners in the mental health field. Therefore, I am using a vignette I got from the International Positive Psychology Association website and am going to apply how I would use my model and interventions in therapy to help a struggling couple. Please feel free to ask me questions if something is not clear or if you are curious about anything related to my study or findings.

Dissertation: The lived experience of long-term happily married heterosexual individuals (access:


2. Ahmed and Fatima are a middle-aged couple who immigrated to America from the Middle East more than two decades ago. Highly educated and professional, both have worked hard to realize their “American Dream.” They work in the same health care facility, helping people with chronic and complex medical issues, and are known for their kindness and empathy. Both, however, have lately been arguing about their teenage daughter. Ahmed, originally from a conservative family, objects to her clothing preferences. He also disapproves of her socializing freely with her male peers. He hopes to see her become an accomplished physician. His wife, however, disagrees with him and approves, by and large, of autonomy for her daughter. The issue has driven a wedge in their otherwise relatively peaceful marriage. The daughter, who used to be very close with her father, has become estranged from him and finds him narrow-minded and overly observant to cultural norms and gender roles, which are less relevant to her American upbringing.

Intervention: Based on my research, I created and proposed a “Developmental-Stress Model of Happy Marriage.” This model posits that happy and healthy married individuals have successfully gone through a developmental process as a couple that allows them to advance to the next stage of their marriage with more positive skills and a stronger bond. Often couples could benefit from identifying at what stage they are in their marriage using the model and to learn how to handle conflict and increase their bond at their particular juncture. This is how my intervention works: When couples present for couples therapy they often conceptualize their issues as a specific point of conflict or upsetting event, but they are unaware that there are many other reasons why their marriage could be in distress. I have attached my proposed marriage model (linked below), which I hand to all my couples during our second session. I teach them about the stages of marriage, the stressors that come with childrearing, and help them reconnect through their mutual values, strengths, goals, plans, and learning to have a positive outlook on their conflict as a learning experience. For this vignette couple, in particular, I would identify that they are in the stage where there are stressors that are normal and that they have some clashing values currently. Issue: Autonomy of women vs. conservatism/traditionalism or female modesty/grace. I would help them see that they both love their daughter and they just have different views on how to express their value system in this issue. I would highlight their strengths as a couple and I would highlight the values that they do share: pursuing the “American Dream”, being kind, having empathy, being hard workers, being in the helping professional field. I would teach them about common marital pitfalls and then show them the value of increasing their bond and learning to problem solve together. In my model (see link below), you can see that those are the main goals of therapy for the middle marriage couple: “Increase the Bond” and “Coping Skills/Decrease Stress.” Underneath those headers are ways to accomplish that. We work on all of these things during sessions and for homework until the couple is doing it on their own and they rediscover why they fell in love with their partner and are working as a team again. I would also throw in some interventions on psycho-education about acculturation differences with their daughter, given that she has mainly grown up surrounded by American values. I would remind them that it sounds like they both want the best for their daughter. They both love her very much and value being the best parent they can be, though they may have different interpretations of what that looks like.

Prolonged Exposure Therapy for Veterans with PTSD

braine imageIt is quite frustrating that many people working in the field as mental health workers are still unsure or unaware of the research-based protocols and treatments out there that have been found to be successful in helping severe PTSD. Here is an article that can explain the importance of treating PTSD and trauma with exposure treatments. Prolonged Exposure therapy has been shown to be extremely effective in working with veterans and still many practitioners do not use it or know about it. Please spread the word if you know someone who is getting therapy now for their PTSD and is a veteran. Clients should be empowered to feel free to ask their therapist if they are doing evidence-based work with them and ask if they are doing PET or not.

Prolonged exposure therapy for combat-related Post-traumatic stress disorder: An examination of treatment effectiveness for veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq

Resource for Understanding ADHD

ADHD can be a difficult diagnosis to understand for many people and some have even questioned its validity saying it does not exist. ADHD is very real. It is true that it is often overly diagnosed and that people who do not have it often seek out the use of stimulants in high school or college. However, it is clear based on fMRIs and other cognitive neuroscience tests that it can be seen affecting the brain in many ways. ADHD is a neurological childhood-onset disorder that is caused by certain neurons not firing enough, not being active enough, and neurotransmitters not being transported from neuron to neuron. Concentration, self-control, planning, concept of time, and social skills are often areas of weakness or vulnerabilities for folks with ADHD. Please follow the links below for more information and resources:

On knowing what is important…

Personal-Values-QuoteWhat do you want your tombstone to read? This question is often used in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) to help people figure out what is truly important to them. So how do You want to be known and remembered? For me, its about being hard-working, caring, invigorating, resilient, creative, and competent. I aspire to make at the very least one person’s life more comfortable per year. I appreciate the chance I have to make a person breathe a little easier every day when I go to work. This makes me wake up with a smile pressed on my face. If a person is experiencing depression, especially an existential struggle to find meaning, it could be very helpful to try and understand what your values are and then trying to live in line with those values.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” –

Mahatma Gandhi