November 19, 2015
A really interesting paper just came out today that looked at, and challenged, the widely held belief that the more frequently you have sex the happier you are… and they discovered that this was simply not true. What the researchers did find was that most healthy couples had sex about once per week and that those couples who had sex less frequently than this were not as satisfied with their relationship. But what was interesting was that those couples who had sex more frequently were no more happy than the once-a-weekers.
The researchers made several guesses about why there was a curvilinear rather than direct/linear “dose-response” or relationship between frequency of sex and satisfaction. Interestingly one of these hypotheses was that many couples and individuals have unrealistic beliefs about how often they should be having sex and when they realize that their frequency is in-line with the average healthy couple, they feel greater satisfaction. This reminds me of a concept I discuss with my patients (individuals and couples) all the time… I call it the myth of “Hollywood Sex.” People often feel that sexual relations must be completely spontaneous, with strong libidinal urges magnetically drawing two people together and eventually culminating in hours of passionate sex with simultaneous orgasms. The fact of the matter is that this just doesn’t happen much in the real world (outside of the movies). Once people accept this fact they tend to be less judgmental and down on themselves and their partners about what sex is really like for them… and they tend to enjoy it much more when they don’t feel they’re being compared to the fantasy lives of movie writers.
November 18, 2015
I teach a great professional development and clinical consultation class at Loyola University Maryland. Yesterday morning my doctoral students and I had a great discussion about what makes psychotherapy work (among some other very stimulating discussions). This morning I received an email with a link to an article entitled, Revival of psychotherapy? How “talk” therapy changes our brains and genes. This short piece reviews some of the recent literature about the effectiveness of psychotherapy, including referencing statements from the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association. But the article gets even better when it approaches some newer thinking including the possibility that psychotherapy may actually make structural changes in our brains. Scientists have long known that repeated exposures to stimuli (aka, learning) can create new and more efficient neural pathways in the brain. We are now more confidently hypothesizing that the same thing occurs when patients “vent” in therapy… but instead of just venting, what may be happening is that the patient is packaging her thoughts into a narrative that the psychologist can understand, and that in the process of this processing she is starting to think her thoughts differently, to appreciate new facets of her history and to consider alternate perspectives about all this. In other words, she is being exposed to new “stimuli.” And in doing this multiple times (patients often tell the same or similar stories many times over the course of psychotherapy – – and this is a good thing), she may actually be forming new “connections” in her brain and this might be part of why talk therapy does, in fact, work for so many people.