Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Quality of Life, Not Life or Death

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Quality of Life, Not Life or Death

Article excerpt

We read in newspapers, hear on the radio, and see on television, over and over again, that there are ways we can make our lives better. From exercising to dieting to improving sleep habits and lowering stress levels, we are told that following certain routines will enable us to live longer, be stronger, fight disease better, and, of course, reduce stress.

But which form of exercise, diet, or stress reduction is best? Do we walk for 20 minutes vigorously, or is a less vigorous 40-minute walk just as effective? Which of the multitude of diets is best?

When it comes to stress reduction, the number of ideas and suggestions out there boggles the mind. Anyone who enters a popular bookstore will see myriad books and programs that claim to offer the perfect answer on this subject.

In my experience in helping patients address quality of life issues that do not relate to illnesses or disorders connected to DSM configurations, I have been able to work successfully with three different groups of people, all looking for some improvement in specific areas of their lives.

In this column, I would like to discuss my work with a medical student who needed to improve his study habits and test taking, several serious athletes who sought better performance, and a number of attorneys who wanted to be more effective in the courtroom.

My learning, philosophizing, and action (LPA) technique, particularly the action part, proved very useful when the medical student asked me to help him improve his memory of material needed to perform well on tests. He was very bright but had had the experience of blocking information needed for test taking while in college.

This student's thinking on this matter was very clear. He knew that the stress of the exam kept him from thinking clearly and remembering all that was necessary. He was not a psychiatry patient, but he fit neatly into the action phase of the LPA technique. No learning or philosophizing was necessary. I taught him a relaxation technique.

First, I taught him a simple method of entering a relaxed state using the hypnotic induction profile, described in "Trance and Treatment: Clinical Uses of Hypnosis" by Dr. Herbert Spiegel and Dr. David Spiegel. This technique, in itself, reduced some of the stress and anxiety that in the past had clouded the student's memory of test material. This training takes about 10 minutes.

With this done, I had him imagine a large movie screen, on which he could project information that was being asked on the exam. He did not have to project each and every question, but when he felt blocked he could take a deep breath, exhale slowly, and envision a large movie screen. On that screen, he could project material he had studied in a text, review book, or notes.

This was done in a matter of seconds, and the results were very clear. He was able to see the material on the screen that was in his memory bank in a clear, non-stressful way and, therefore, was able to recall the knowledge he had. The new technique made him feel better and more confident. I have used the same technique with several other students, and the results have been equally gratifying.

I have found, however, that using the same technique to help people remember past events or experiences has not been as rewarding. For example, on two occasions in my career, I was consulted to use memory techniques to help people remember where they had misplaced items. In both cases, the items misplaced were pieces of jewelry. …

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