Tuesday, December 9, 2008


This is the time for sincere wishes, heartfelt thanks and reminiscences…

There is one particular group of people in my life that I feel very grateful to: my patients, past and present, the hundreds of people through the years that invited me to share their journey of self-discovery. Some of those journeys were short, some long. They all taught me something invaluable, something about myself, something about life, something about human nature.

I remember one of my first patients. I was an intern at Elizabeth General Hospital, wet behind my proverbial therapeutic ears, scared, anxious and eager to do a good job. He was a gruff, big guy who for months said very little and he looked at me even less. At the end of my year as an intern when I was saying good bye to him he said that he wanted to give me a gift. He put a knife on my desk and informed me that he had carried it to every of our sessions for the whole year. Life had taught him to trust no one but, he said, I had taught him that there was one person he could trust. Thanks Antonio for sending me off to my new career with a boost of confidence.

I remember my first job as a staff psychologist at the hospital, still nervous, still a baby in the proverbial deep and challenging woods of psychology. I remember the woman who sat in my little office and said; “I know I need help, but she is telling me to tell you to f…off.” Who is telling you that I said baffled, “the voice in my head, she calls herself Ella”. And there and then she chose for me my specialty in DID (a.k.a Multiple Personality Disorder) and Trauma related disorders.

This was the most horrifying, challenging and rewarding learning expedition ever. It opened the door to the ineffable horrors human nature is capable of and at the same time the resilience and wonders of the human mind and its ability to heal. Along with these tortured souls I questioned life and its purpose. Along with them I lost faith in humanity and my nerve as a therapist and together with them and through their struggle to put the shattered pieces of their lives back together I redeemed both hope and faith.

I remember the old lady, a concentration camp survivor, the horrors of her past carved in the deep lines of her face as indelibly as the haunting numbers on her arm. She had just lost her son to cancer. She saw the tears in my eyes looking at the horrifying numbers on her arm and said : “oh Liebchen, I had kids, and grandkids, I still laugh and cry. I am here talking to you. He did not win, I did” Thanks Aida for the lesson in courage.

And then there were all the people that I could not reach, I was not able to help. They too had a lot to teach me about my shortcomings, about the dark places in my mind that I was unwilling to explore in order to help them. They disillusioned me and taught me humility.

For all the lessons taught,
for all the tears shed,
for all the laughs that lifted my spirit,
for all the journeys taken.
For the privilege and the trust that you have given me….


All acquaintances should certainly not be forgot
And they will always come to mind….

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Vaccine or Assassin?

It is the flu season, in case you have missed the sniffles and the pains and the fevers and all the unsolicited "gifts" from the foreign invaders to our bodies. So, the skeptic and cynic that I am, I did my own research into the benefits of flu vaccines and I came across some disquieting findings. My source is Donald Miller, MD who is a cardiac surgeon and professor of Surgery at the University of Washington in Seattle. He is also a member of Doctors for Disaster Preparedness. So, this is what the good Dr. tells us:

Vaccine makers grow the viruses in fertilized chicken eggs with 500,00 eggs per day for up to eight months. Formaldehyde is used to inactivate the viruses. It is a known cancer-causing agent. Aluminum is added to promote an antibody response. It is a neurotoxin that may play a role in Alzheimer’s disease. Other additives and adjuvants in the flu vaccine include Triton X-100 (a detergent), Polysorbate 80, carbolic acid, ethylene glycol (antifreeze), gelatin and various antibiotics - Neomycin, streptomycin, and gentamicin- that can cause allergic reactions in some people.

If this did not gross you out here is some more yummy ingredients put in the mix: 100 million vaccines made for the 2008-09 flu season ( about 2/3 of all the vaccines made) contain full-dose Thimerosal, an organomercurey compound, which is 49% mercury by weight. Each shot contains 250 times more mercury than the Environmental Protection Agency’s safety limit. Mercury is a neurotoxin that has been implicated in Alzheimer’s and Autisms.

In addition to the “milder” side effects of the vaccine ( joint inflammation and arthritis, anaphylactic shock) it can also cause Guillain-Barre syndrome, and no you definitely do not want to risk this.

So,you say to yourself: Ok, I take all these poisons but at least I will not get the flu, not so. In September 2, 2008 New York Times published an article titled
“Doubts Grow Over Flu Vaccine in Elderly”. A study done by the Group Health Center for Health Studies in Seattle found that the vaccine does not protect the older people against developing pneumonia. The evidence in young children are not much more favorable either. A systematic study involving 260,000 children age 6 to 23 months found no evidence that the flu vaccine is more effective than placebo).

I don’t know about you, but I would think long and hard before I take another flu vaccine. Maybe next year I’ll take an extra vitamin C, wash my hands more diligently and hope for the best…

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Smoking gun...

Smoking gun…..

I recently came across some very interesting, albeit disturbing research findings and in my self-proclaimed role as the Gadfly of the soul, decided to share them with you.

We have 700,000 new smokers every year and almost all of the newly afflicted are youths. So much for negative advertising! What accounts for this discrepancy between all these cautions about the dangers of smoking and this new statistic? Researchers suggest that early attitudes about smoking and early experimentation may give smoking enough of a foothold to become a lifelong addiction. A study involving 30,000 teenagers in New Zealand found than many teens reported at least minor symptoms of addiction after just a handful of cigarettes.

In addition the researchers suggest that smoking may change brain chemistry making people resistant to antismoking messages.

Here is a view into the chemistry lab of your brain. Dopamine, one of the neurotransmitters, is a “wonderful” substance. It is the “I feel good, man” chemical, but in excess it interferes with the learning process and prevents us from learning from our mistakes. Too much of the good thing, you see. Well, what fMRI studies saw (taking pictures of your brain as it does its work) is that smokers have elevated levels of dopamine in their brains. In tasks involving learning new skills administered, smokers did not learn from their mistakes as well as non-smokers.

A little more brain physiology? The Thalamus is the part of the brain that acts as the traffic controller, it filters out information that otherwise would be too overwhelming at any given moment. The problem is that with smokers this controller is overly diligent. Nicotine blocks out even more than the usual and expected amount of information especially the unpleasant type. You have heard smokers claiming that smoking calms them down, it does, but at high price it appears. So, going back to negative advertising, what do you think the smoker confronted with a picture of rotting lungs would do? You got it! He would light up and block out the unpleasant information.

Is there any salvation, you ask, or did you just want to gives us bad news? Well, yes I think there is good news. The more we know about how exactly nicotine gains an early foothold in the brain the more able we will be to develop medicines and behavioral therapies to snuff out the habit.

For the time being we do know that early impressions are strong and long lasting. So, feel free to start your kids’ anti smoking education as early as first grade. The earlier they understand and believe that smoking is gross and not “cool” at all the better insulated they will be against later peer pressure. And above all, do what you preach.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Wall street explained

Wall Street explained

An older and much wiser cousin of mine recently explained the financial mess
this country and the world in general is presently facing. So, here is
how the old story goes:

Once upon a time in a little village somewhere maybe in Greece maybe
in some other part of the world lived a smart and maybe unscrupulous man.
This man, let’s call him Tom, announced to his fellow farmers and citizens
that he would buy monkeys for $10 a piece. The men in the village
(women were a little skeptical, they have after all been cleaning up
men’s monkey business ever since Adam) verged out in the forest
trapped as many monkeys as they found and brought them to Tom who
gladly bought them for the agreed upon price. However, as more and
more monkeys were caught the population of monkeys available began to
diminish and thefarmers stopped hunting them.

Tom now announced that he would be paying $20 per monkey and again the
men went out and more diligently now harvested some more of the poor
creatures. But now the available stock diminished even further.

Tom told his fellow citizens that he fully understood the shortage of
monkeys and he was now prepared to buy them for $25. Again the men went
out and caught the few remaining ones.

So, Tom now tells the men that he is painfully aware of the shortage and
he is prepared to pay $50 but he will be out of town for a few days and his
trusted partner will be handling all transactions.

The Partner calls a town meeting and tells the villagers: look, Tom has
filled the whole stable with monkeys. I will sell you the monkeys for $35
each and when Tom comes back you sell them back to him for $50. The men
did not think about it much, they collected their savings and their last
pennies(again against the women’s protestations, you see they know how to
sniffing out rotten fish) and bought the monkeys for $35 a piece.

Yes, you guessed it, they never saw Tom or his partner again.

Welcome to Wall Street.

Move aside Bernanke, here comes my cousin George the story teller.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Sectrets

The “secret” for success

There has been a lot of talk about the “Secret” these days. Personally I have found nothing new or conspicuous about the“ Secret”. And having said as much, I feel compelled to impart some more truisms about secrets of success.

Patients often ask me what made me successful. So, here are my secrets, and feel free to disseminate, no copy right.

1. Whatever you decide to do be passionate about it. I am talking about heart- pumping, adrenalin-running, mouth-drooling at the sight of your heart’s desire kind of passion. At the age of 15 I discovered “psychology” in my 10th grade. And there and then I vowed to be a psychologist. The decision took me to a journey from Greece (my birth place) to S. Africa, my first adoptive and beloved county to America my second adoptive and equally loved country.

2. When you find your love and passion, work hard. I shed tones of proverbial mental and emotional bullets studying psychology and philosophy and a bunch of other subjects in a language that was not my first, in a university that is considered to be the Harvard of S. Africa.Hard work makes you good at what you do and when you are damn good at what you do people will come to you and they will be happy to pay for your expertise.

3. On your journey to Ithaca there will be many Sirens attempting to set you off course. Your need to Focus. Like Odysseus you will need to close your ears to their alluring songs and move on. As I was going through graduate school people in my profession were talking about psychologists becoming an extinct species, private practice not surviving the managed care monster. I kept moving and I am still here.

4. Conquer your shyness and doubts. The first time I delivered a paper on existentialism to my philosophy class I thought I would have a heart attack. My fellow students joked about my very becoming green face color. Things got a lot better after this.

5. Do not allow anyone to give you crap (incidentally crap stands for Criticism, Rejection, Assholes, and Pressure). I had a lot of those from the get go. My mother to begin with, well indented albeit, had expected me to be a good little Greek girl, marry a Greek guy and have kids. There were others along the way who interjected their wisdom about what women can and can not do, or about NYC being a tough place to make it and a lot of other crap. I Persevered. I won.

6. Find people that are supportive, encouraging, your best fan and if need be the kick in your butt when you want to give up and let them be the wind beneath your wings. Yes, I had one of them too.

7. Do not be afraid to discover new things, new ideas, new ways of doing things. Life is about change and adjusting to it and thriving.

These are my “secrets” and now yours.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Recipe for Success

A Recipe for Success


1. A 15 year old kid (or adult) with HDHD (or any other “limitation”)
2. An inspiring, genuine and creative Coach
3. A loving, involved, persevering mother ( or friend or spouse, or therapist)
4. A lot of hard work and sacrifices
5. A dream to reach the stars

Result: The best Olympian in the modern history of Olympics.

Michael Phelps taught us that we can overcome limitations, that we do not need to be space scientists to reach for the stars, that success is 95% perspiration and 5% inspiration and he did it all in his quiet, humble, innocent way.

If he can reach for and grab the gold ( 14 in his case) what excuses do the rest of us really have? The recipe is really there. All we have to do is follow it.

Thanks for the lesson Michael!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Love in the stock exchange

I was reading an article in Sunday’s New York Times that impressed me for its cut to the chase, stripped to the bones approach to love. I am not particularly enamored with economists, especially considering the recent, multiple and apparently unending financial fiascos( and mind you my brother is one of them, not the fiascos, the economists)but I have to give this particular author the credit he deserves. For those of you who missed it I thought I'd summarize, augment, opine, etc.

So, here is then how our friend the economist brokers love:

1. Love is an investment: the more you invest the larger your return. You invest caring and interest and giving you will receive dividends of the same kind and amount. Assuming of course that the other person subscribes to the same philosophy. This last caveat is important and not negotiable.

2. Love is a "bond" and like all bonds the high quality ones yield more return than the junk. The implication is clear: High quality people will yield high quality relationships. If you believe you are in a junk relationship it behooves you to start running as fast as possible. And if you think that you will find a piece of coal and turn it into a diamond, forget it! This job is reserved for highly qualified tradesmen, called psychologist.

3. Research pays: since in matters of love diversification is impossible, learning not to judge a book by its cover is very important. Do your homework. What glitters is not always gold.

4. Returns are greater when there is monopoly. If you have to compete for someone, just forget the whole thing. There are other opportunities waiting.

5. Long term investment pays off. Impatience will not be rewarded. One night stands are doomed to eventual years of emotional bankruptcy.

5. Be realistic. Nothing comes from nothing and for most of us going from sitting in the couch watching "the biggest looser" to having Prince Charming head over heals in love with us, just does not happen.

6. Finally, when you find the winner, stick with him/her.

And my all times favorite: have many cats and dogs. They are the unending reservoir of love and acceptance.

Does this all sound too unromantic? Oh well, welcome to the 21st century.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

In Treatment

No really what do you think of it?

So, my curiosity got the best of me, my patients goading me on helped too: “come on Doc. you’ve got to watch it”. I am talking about the HBO series In Treatment.

So, I watched one and then I watched a second one… and then I was hooked!
I found myself talking to the TV. Things like: “in God’s name Paul, what on earth are you talking about” or “Good boy Paul, you’ve got it!” or the best yet “ Have you gone out of your mind? Are you seriously going to do that?” All these while a little voice in some forgotten recess of my mind kept repeating: “hypocrite, haven’t you done this same thing or thought that?”

I got mixed reviews from my patients. Some gave me the stamp of approval: “Paul is saying some of the things you say, I feel I understand therapy a lot better now”. Thank you Paul!

Others told me that they were disturbed by it. They do not want to think of me as “human” having real life problems, struggling with emotional turmoil.

One tried to convince me that having a romantic relationship with me is not unethical or illegal because Paul was about to have one with Laura.

What I found appealing is that Paul is a real person who is trying to do his best while life is happening all around him. No matter how much he hurts, when he opens the door for his next patient he tries to connect, he tries to do his best. He cares about his patients because he has gotten that much right: you can not do this job unless you really care.
You do not need to be perfect, you do not need pedestals to sit on, you just need to try and you need to care. Oh yes, and you do need the skills and the education.

What do you think?