the living center



The following articles are taken from Dr. Schoenewolf’s blog, Mind Sight, which appears online at


Resist therapy, harm your children

by Gerald Schoenewolf

A new study indicates that mothers who are diagnosed with mental health problems a year after they give birth, tend to have children with behavioral problems.


Half the mothers in the study, reported on, had a condition a year after delivery in at least one of three categories: mental health, substance abuse, or domestic violence.  At the same time 22 percent of the children had at least one type of behavioral problem such as aggression, anxiety-depression, or inattention/hyperactivity.  The more problems a mother reported, the more likely her child would develop behavioral problems by the age of three.


After 30 years of practice in psychotherapy, I am not at all surprised at the results of this study.  I have made this connection myself again and again when adult patients tell me about a mother who suffered from depression, was hospitalized due to a schizophrenic breakdown, had problems with alcohol or other drugs, was involved in an abusive relationship, or had some other severe mental disorder at the time they were born.


I have also made this connection when I work with young couples that are having and raising children.  I have encountered a number of cases in which the father is in therapy with me but the wife is resistant to therapy.   Mother are particularly important during the first few years of a child’s life.


In one such case many years ago a wife suffered from postpartum depression.  She was unable to nurture her new baby after she came home from the hospital, so the father had to take over this role after work.  Fortunately, the father had been in therapy for a few years and he was able to be loving and nurturing when he was home.  But his job called for him to travel a lot and there were many weeks when he wasn’t home and the baby was neglected.


After a year, the mother had recovered to the extent that she was able to carry on with her life to a limited extent.  She was able to feed and care for the baby, but her depression caused her to be negative and critical toward the boy—as she was about life in general.  Often she lost her temper and yelled at him.


Again and again, the father, at my urging, would bring up therapy.  Whenever he did, the mother would be appalled.


“I don’t need therapy!  You think everybody needs therapy.”


“Well, I’ve gotten a lot out of it and I think you could too.”


“I’m fine.  I was a little depressed after I came home from the hospital.  I just felt empty because everything was over.  But I’m fine now.”


“But, you know, sometimes you get into fights with Joey over little things and you start yelling at him, and, well, I think therapy…”


“I know what I’m doing!  Therapy is not for everyone!”


He never made any headway in these discussions.  A few years later the child began to have learning problems in school as well as problems getting along with other children. 


Should parents do therapy for the sake of their children?  What do you think?



Suicide rate of soldiers is on the rise


By Gerald Schoenewolf


The U.S. military is losing a battle to stem an epidemic of suicides in its ranks, according to an article in PsychPORT. 


The Department of Defense reported last week that there were 160 active-duty suicides in 2009, compared with 140 in 2008.  This report only covered soldiers who were actively serving, and did not include the large numbers of soldiers who return from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and commit suicide in the months and years afterward, when they often suffer from post traumatic stress disorder and have problems readjusting to civilian life.


“There’s no question that 2009 was a painful year for the army when it comes to suicides,” said Col. Christopher Philbrick, the Deputy Director of the Army Suicide Prevention Taskforce, despite “wide-ranging measures last year to combat the problem.”


Col. Elspeth Richie, the Director of Behavioral Health for the Office of the Army Surgeon General, is alarmed by the easy availability of handguns on army bases and the ongoing stigma attached to suicide, mental illness, and the treatment of mental illness, despite the army’s attempt to change.  Elspeth says, “In many ways we talk out of both sides of our mouths.”


There have been a number of conferences, taskforces, training programs and studies devoted to the problem of suicide, yet the problem gets worse.  Soldiers who receive counseling are still committing suicide.  “Many soldiers think that seeking treatment could ruin their army careers,” Elspeth notes.


Suicide among solders is not new.  During the Viet Nam War, almost as many soldiers committed suicide during and after the war as were killed in combat—about 60,000.  The alarming rate of suicides associated with this war has been attributed to the unpopularity of the war.

Suicide statistics have been largely hidden, as the army views suicides as shameful.  It is a problem the army wishes would just go away.  And the counseling they have devised to work with soldiers who have suicidal tendencies is geared to making them stop being a problem for the army as soon as possible.  Nothing will make a suicidal person commit suicide faster than someone giving him the message he is being a nuisance.


The army’s attitude, however, is no different than the attitude of society in general.  Suicide has historically been stigmatized.  And mental illness has historically been stigmatized as well.  Like the army, society is not particularly interested in understanding why people are suicidal.  Society simply wants to put suicidal people on some kind of medication or some kind of quick fix program and get them out of their irksome funk as quickly as possible.


What I’ve learned about suicides during my 30 years of practice is that all of them suffer from some kind of mental anguish, and the most effective way of helping them is to provide them with an empathic listener who will give them the space the talk through and unravel the conflicts inside of them.


Listening is not something the army does well.


Insecure bonding leads to obesity: new studies

 By Gerald Schoenewolf, Ph.D.

Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. The prevalence of obesity among children aged 6 to 11 years increased from 6.5% in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. The prevalence of obesity among adolescents aged 12 to 19 years increased from 5.0% to 18.1%, according to the National Institutes of Health.  Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects.

Obese children are more likely to have risk factors for heart disease.  They have a greater risk for bone and joint problems, sleep disorders, and social and psychological problems.  They are more likely to be obese as adults and risk other diseases such as diabetes, stroke, several types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

Now amid questions about the causes of this jump in obesity, a number of studies, reported in Science Daily, have surfaced that show a link between childhood obesity and insecure bonding with parents,

One study showed that toddlers who do not have a secure attachment, usually with their mothers, have a 30% chance of becoming obese by age 4-1/2.  Another study linked childhood obesity with parental neglect, citing cases in which both parents work and do not provide adequate attention to their kids.  Still another study indicated a link between mothers involved in domestic abuse and obesity in their children.

Mary Ainsworth did pioneering work on the importance of attachment for babies.  She described securely attached children as those who rely on their parents as a "safe haven," which allows them to explore their environments freely, adapt easily to new people and be comforted in stressful situations. Toddlers who are insecurely attached tend to have experienced negative or unpredictable parenting, and may respond to stress with extreme anger, fear or anxiety, or avoid or refuse interactions with others.

When babies and toddlers form insecure attachments in their early childhood, they are more susceptible to a range of adult psychological and physiological disorders.  Poor bonding as children leads to poor bonding with peers and later with intimate others.  Eating is used as a way of dealing with stressful situations, and chronic over-eating leads to the array of diseases mentioned previously.

The problem is staggering and if we are to address it effectively we will have to do something nearly impossible: change our values.  Adults must put the primary emphasis on childrearing rather than on their careers.  Their children’s well-being must take priority over their jobs.  They must be sure their children are getting quality attention.   The key word is “quality.” 

A parent who stays home and resents it will not foster quality intimacy and will not be helping a child to form a good bond.  Parents who stay home but encourage children to drink milk or eat sugary foods rather than giving kids emotional comfort will be unwittingly encouraging obesity. 

A good parent is not just there but also emotionally there.