Dr. Alex McDermott's Blog

Visit Dr. Alex McDermott's blog for new insight and information regarding mental health.

How do you raise a healthy, happy iGen child?

There has been a recent surge in research on technology use among iGen youth (also called Generation Z, the children born just after Millennials and between 1995 and 2010). Some concerning statistics are beginning to emerge, including higher-than-anticipated rates of depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and suicide attempts. This is the very first generation to grow up with ever-present smartphones and smart technology. There are benefits to this, of course, and some schools have made impressive strides in implementing state-of-the-art technology in the classroom to capitalize on these. However, many parents are unaware of the ways constant smartphone use, including social media, may be harming their children. In many cases, cell phones have replaced face-to-face interaction and kids experience significant isolation and loneliness as a result. Parents need to be aware of these potential downfalls and take steps to ensure kids are engaging in the kinds of activities that contribute to positive psychological well-being.

Need some tips?

1. Delay smartphone use if possible among children and adolescents. For safety, you can give kids a flip phone (yes, these still exist!) for communication. You know your kid best--wait until your child has demonstrated the level of trust and responsibility required to own a smartphone. Remember: a smartphone is so much more than just a phone. It is complete access to an online world; young children do not yet have the ability to comprehend the impact of this.

2. Develop a cell phone/smart phone contract with your child that outlines expectations and rules for its use. Examples of these can be found online and they should include limits around the amount of time spent on the phone, where the phone is stored in the house outside of these hours, how data is to be used responsibly, and who has access to the phone. Many professionals recommend parents monitor their children's phone in some capacity and this can be outlined in the contract too. (Adolescents do need some privacy, but the importance of protecting all children from cyberbullying, online predators, etc. outweighs this. Say something like, "I trust you to be responsible and will not check your phone all the time, but it is also my job to help keep you safe.")

3. MODEL HEALTHY SMARTPHONE AND TECHNOLOGY USE AT HOME! Your kids are watching and picking up on the example you set with your own smartphone use. Make efforts to be present and offline when at home and expect your kids to do the same. Put your phone away when you get home and engage in face-to-face activities with your family.

4. Ensure that cell phone/social media use is not used as a replacement for real interactions. Kids thrive when they are interacting face-to-face with one another. Encourage and facilitate this as often as possible.

Here are additional articles with information about smartphone use and its impact on our youth:



Learn more about my practice at www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com

College and the Transition to Adulthood

Fall has arrived, which means tens of thousands of new freshman students are arriving on college campuses everywhere. This transition period can be both thrilling and challenging for teens and parents alike, many of whom experience mixed emotions about such a significant life change. This time period can be critical in allowing young adults to mature, develop independence, and begin making choices that will guide much of the rest of their lives. Parents: your job is not over! Your children may need you in different ways at this point, but they still need you. You are now tasked with a delicate balancing act: offer guidance and support when needed but allow your kids to try new things and make mistakes. This article may offer some helpful tips on supporting your teens as they take on life at college:


Learn more about my practice at www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com

Discovering Dyslexia

Research has consistently demonstrated the importance of early intervention in the treatment of Dyslexia. Dyslexia is the most common learning disorder, but many teachers and schools struggle to identify it early enough that kids can receive the reading help they so badly need. This can be because teachers lack specific education in identifying Dyslexia, language defining Dyslexia can vary from state to state, etc. Getting students the right help can also be complicated by some schools' approach to intervention that requires a child fail before qualifying for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Because teachers, schools, or parents may have trouble identifying reading problems early on, some children can miss the window of time in which intervention can make the most significant impact.

What can you do if you suspect your child might have Dyslexia?

- Ask questions. It is important to be informed about what Dyslexia is and what it is not, so that you can make decisions based on the specific needs of your child. If you need education, ask for it and seek it out. Many schools have learning specialists or other support staff who are versed in the symptoms of learning disorders. There are a variety of additional resources, including books and websites that provide this education. Additionally, consult with a school psychologist or one in the community who specializes in this kind of testing; a professional can help you understand symptoms and possible warning signs.
- Advocate for your child. Ensuring that your child has access to accommodations or needed intervention requires that you work closely with his/her school and other professionals. If school resources are limited, you may need to find supports in the community.
- Seek options. Does your child need testing? A specific intervention program or tutoring? There are resources that can be found through schools and some that can be found privately; seek these resources to establish a treatment approach that is specific to your child's pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Learn more about my practice at www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com or reach me at 720-485-4194 for questions about Dyslexia and testing.

The Myth About the Stages of Grief

Welcome Dr. Adam Altschuh, Denver Therapy & Assessment's guest blogger this month! Dr. Altschuh is a Denver-area psychologist specializing in health psychology and grief and loss issues. Visit his website at http://www.healthpsychologydenver.com/grief for more information on these topics or to contact him.

The Stages of Grief Myth

Pop psychology can be harmful.  The way most of us understand the “five stages of grief” (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, & acceptance) is a great example. A few cautions:

  • Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who developed it, was not studying the experience of grieving loved ones but rather the experience of dying people themselves. Therefore, its relevance to grieving family members and caregivers is, at best, limited.
  • She repeatedly stated that people might not go through all the stages and that they are not linear (i.e. one stage does not neatly follow the next).
  • The stages may be most useful as a list of common grief experiences. Recent research replaced bargaining with yearning (intense longing to reconnect with the dead person) and found yearning to be the most dominant negative grief experience many people have.  This list, though, is anything but complete.  Grieving people experience a wide range of physical, cognitive, and emotional consequences.

    At the end of her own life, Kubler-Ross summarized the myths born out of her model.  She wrote: “The stages have evolved since their introduction, and they have been very misunderstood over the past three decades. They were never meant to help tuck messy emotions into neat packages. They are responses to loss that many people have, but there is not a typical response to loss, as there is no typical loss. Our grief is as individual as our lives.”

Sleep NOW, work later. Really.

Work first, sleep later. No rest for the weary, right? We’ve learned sleep is a necessary evil, a nuisance that gets in the way of our success and productivity. In my work with clients, I harp regularly about the importance of sleep—it is a necessary foundation for mental health and overall wellbeing. But because we tend to think of sleep as a waste of time, a missed opportunity, or an indulgence, we find ways to justify going to bed later and waking up earlier. In fact, getting by on little sleep can become a badge of honor, a way we show people we are strong and capable of doing more with less. Sleep (quantity and quality) impacts health, concentration, attention, memory, mental health, and more. Because of this, I often tell clients that without proper sleep, making significant behavioral change is difficult and progress in therapy can sometimes stall. To get more sleep, we must begin with changing our perceptions of sleep as being unimportant or optional.

Watch this fascinating Ted Talk for more information about how critical sleep is and for tips on getting more of it: http://www.ted.com/talks/russell_foster_why_do_we_sleep#t-1155579

Learn more about my practice at www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com

Try 'NO' on for size this holiday season.

It’s easy to become quickly overcommitted, especially around the holidays. While there are many things we want to do (office holiday parties! Friendsgiving!), we often feel obligated to say “yes” to everything. After all, we want people to like us, right? Unfortunately, when we never say “no,” we can end up overextended, resentful, and ultimately worn out. There is nothing wrong with declining invitations or setting boundaries as a way of protecting your time and energy. This goes for boundary setting during the rest of the year too. Here’s a quick tip on saying “no” and sticking to it:


Learn more about my practice at www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com

I have an inner wall-builder. Surprise! So do you.

This election has been an extremely contentious one--and very emotionally charged for people on both sides. It is easy to become entrenched in our own position, putting energy into confirming our beliefs while lumping everyone on the other side into boiled down, simplistic categories. There are lots of reasons we do this and it makes us feel safe from the "other" and secure in our own identities. But there are dangers to this approach and walling others off (either literally or metaphorically) actually makes us more afraid. Shutting others out and labeling entire groups of people isolates us and does not facilitate change. It also suggests that we end up targeting people, instead of larger social problems. We must work for inclusion, engaging those who are different than us, and a willingness to let our own guards down. It is dangerous when we become unable to see ourselves in each other.

For more on this topic: http://ideas.ted.com/why-its-so-tempting-to-build-walls-and-shut-people-out-and-what-to-do-instead/

Learn more about my practice at www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com

Suicide Prevention: Let's Talk About It

September is suicide prevention month. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people and is most often the result of serious mental health conditions. In order to work towards preventing suicide, we must understand exactly what it is and what it isn't. There are a lot of misconceptions about suicide (Example 1: If you ask someone if they are suicidal, it will cause him/her to become suicidal. This is FALSE!). As a result, it can feel difficult to know how to reach out to someone who is struggling. Help end the stigma around suicide and mental illness: understand the risk factors and warning signs. Suicide can affect anyone, regardless of age, race, and gender. Teachers, parents, physicians, friends, siblings, partners--you may be the first to notice things that would suggest someone is considering suicide. One conversation can change a life.

There are lots of places to find tools for coping with suicidal thoughts, talking to someone about suicide, and for gathering accurate information about risk and warning signs. Here are a few:





Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com for more information about my practice.

What to say when you don't know what to say.

It can be really difficult to know how to support someone who is going through a tough time. Maybe a friend is struggling with a difficult health diagnosis or a family member has experienced a huge loss. Sometimes, in our desperation to be present and helpful, we can say some really unhelpful things. Because we are all human and have our own very human responses to upsetting events, we can make everything about ourselves in our efforts to be selfless. Here's a great, useful strategy for figuring out what not to say...when you don't know what to say: http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/07/opinion/la-oe-0407-silk-ring-theory-20130407

Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com for more information about my practice.

Cookie cutters are for cookies, not for therapists.

Research consistently shows that the factor most predictive of positive change in therapy is your relationship (and fit) with your therapist. Which would suggest not every therapist will be a perfect fit for every person, and shouldn't be. How do you go about finding the best therapist? Psychologists are trained in a variety of treatment modalities, but should ideally be able to adapt and change based on the needs of the person sitting in front of them. Just as you wouldn't expect a physician to prescribe one medication for everything that ailed you ("Here's an antibiotic for a sinus infection, joint pain, AND a broken leg!"), you shouldn't expect a cookie cutter approach from your therapist. Read this article, written by a former professor of mine, for more about what this could mean for your therapist search: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/feeling-our-way/201606/one-size-does-not-fit-all-depression-anxiety-or-cancer

Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com for more information about my practice.

Make of the most of your summer break!

Who is itching for a summer break? Kids are out of school, it's sunny and warm, and you've been waiting for some time away from work. If you, like most of us, can't wait for some time away, you may also be prone to feeling more stressed and less relaxed than you had hoped while on your vacation.

It's an easy trap to fall into--sometimes the anxiety about taking time off ensures that you spend your day on the beach worrying about what it is you are missing by not being at your desk. You deserve a break that feels relaxing and rejuvenating, and you deserve to be fully present and in the moment on vacation. See this article for a few practical tips on making the most of your time off: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/201406/the-psychology-summer-vacations

Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com for more information about my practice.


Spring clean your mind!

Most people have had the experience of tidying up a space, only to watch it devolve into clutter once more. We may convince ourselves that we can tidy “a little at a time,” but find that this means we are tidying forever. According to Marie Kondo in her book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up,’ decluttering not only transforms your home space, but alters your mindset and eventually, your life.

Ms. Kondo asserts that when we are in a tidy space, it frees us up to explore our own anxiety (perhaps efforts to avoid that anxiety is fueling our cluttering). When clutter is no longer the focus, we are forced to examine and confront the things that are really important to us: Am I happy in my relationship? Why haven’t I pursued that job I’ve always dreamed of having? In this way, cleaning the physical space allows us to also clear our psychological space.

Get ready to clear your home AND your mind! Here are some spring cleaning tips:

-        Begin by discarding objects and items that no longer serve you. Visualize (very specifically) the kind of space you would like to live in. Begin to think in terms of what you want to keep, not want you want to get rid of. Ms. Kondo recommends keeping things that “speak to your heart.”

-        Pursue simple storage. Storage is often used as a way of hoarding things that do not speak to your heart.

-        Focus on building a space that is sacred and calming—a comfortable environment, a place you feel like relaxing.

Tidying your space allows you to let go—of objects that no longer serve you, or of past psychological baggage. It can build your confidence in your own decision making abilities, help you manage your anxiety, and generally reduce high levels of stress.

For more information about the transformational nature of decluttering, read Ms. Kondo’s book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up.’

Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com for more information about my practice.

Is social media appeasing our anxiety or making us more anxious?

How do YOU use social media? There are major upsides to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other sites--namely, that we can stay connected to friends and family. But have you noticed yourself feeling anxious about missing out on updates...or feeling even more worried when you compare your life to what your friends selectively post on the internet? I like to describe this phenomenon as "comparing your 'behind the scenes' to everyone's 'highlight reel'." Unfortunately, sometimes the benefits of social media are outweighed by the anxiety caused by our constant checking of it. And living on social media and being anxious both have one thing in common: they keep us from being present and real in our own lives. The irony of my own posting of these thoughts on social media is not lost on me! See these highlights of a study on anxiety and social media use: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/rewired-the-psychology-technology/201407/our-social-media-obsession

Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com for additional information about my practice.

Do you fall victim to "false hope syndrome" each New Year's day?

You've seen it happen each year: You can't find a parking spot at the gym anymore, your colleague gives up smoking a couple packs a day, or your partner suddenly joins Weight Watchers. Or perhaps you've been the one resolving to frequent the gym more or to give up an unhealthy habit. You've probably also noticed that these resolutions rarely last more than a couple weeks. Why is that?

Among other reasons, we tend to set too-high expectations for ourselves and then become disappointed when we don't meet them. If I've never loved running and am not a runner, it's not helpful or practical for me to commit to a goal of running a marathon next month. When I remember that I hate running, I will only feel disappointed that I was unable to follow through. I am much more likely to be successful if I commit to something realistic, like attending one Zumba or weightlifting class per week. We sometimes sabotage our own efforts by setting our sights too high.

You, too, can create goals and resolutions that are attainable. See this article for additional tips on how to do it.


Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com for additional information about my practice.

How do YOU manage holiday stress?

The holidays can be tricky. Many people find it challenging to balance event planning, interactions with relatives, and a variety of other things we tell ourselves are important for a successful holiday (read: gift giving, overeating, etc.). The holiday season is only a handful of weeks at the end of the year, but those weeks can sometimes derail our best efforts to stay healthy, both physically and mentally. This year, see if you can give yourself the gift of staying present and taking care of yourself. Here's a few tips on how to do just that:


Visit www.DenverTherapyAssessment.com to learn more about my practice.

It's okay to feel sad.

Advice on how to feel "happier" is everywhere. There have been hundreds of books written that suggest ways you can (and supposedly should) avoid feeling sad, angry, embarrassed, or anything else aversive. Even the way we label these emotions communicates they are something to be suppressed or avoided--we call them "negative" or "bad" emotions. But in what ways might that be a significant disservice? By avoiding or suppressing these emotions, we do not give them the chance to tell us something important, sometimes about ourselves or our environment. All emotions have a job to do. They help us achieve our goals and direct us toward what is important. It's okay to feel sad. Let it tell you something. Working with a psychologist in therapy may be a helpful way to learn how to accept and listen to these challenging emotions!



Dream small.

If you have made a New Year's Resolution for 2015, the key to keeping it may be to dream small. You are more likely to keep resolutions that are realistic and achievable, so try taking baby steps this year!


The social psychology implications behind the spread of panic.

In light of the widespread, panicked reactions related to recent medical crises around the world, let's take a look at the psychology behind this phenomenon.

We often misperceive risk based on a variety of factors, including our exposure to or familiarity with the threat, how recently the threat has occurred, and our tendency to respond emotionally to events. When we misperceive risk, it becomes easy to search for evidence that confirms our deepest fears and ignore the evidence that suggests otherwise.