Mediation: An Alternative to Litigation and Pathway to Healing Chris Turner, TMCA Credentialed Distinguished Mediator

Several years ago, as a young mother, I was a patient undergoing a superficial procedure during which a scalpel severed many layers of tissue, tendons and muscles in my shoulder. I compassionately understand that mistakes, both professional and personal, are a part of life. However, In order to avoid involvement in a possible lawsuit, doctors waited for the statute of limitations to end before surgically exploring my injury and attempting to repair the damage. The inability to correct that mistake is what, to this day, still causes an emotional response in me that I am not proud to harbor.

This experience led me to a career for which I am very grateful. It began with this simple question: “What if the doctor was able to disclose mistakes and repair damage, both emotional and functional, prior to the point at which it became a lifelong hurt?” It is a question that I attempt to answer, as a mediator, with each person I meet that is in conflict.
Conflict is a constant in life. It is often what encourages us to make changes in our lives, thereby providing us with an opportunity for growth. How we deal with conflict directly correlates to the value we will have when the conflict is past. Most of us avoid conflict because the risks and cost are too expensive: emotionally, financially and/or personally. The investment in relationships at home, school, church and work can easily inhibit open communication and honest interaction in an effort to prevent further damage. As a result, small issues escalate and the gaps in a relationship grow larger. A mediator can provide the necessary tools to structure interactions that move people toward resolution of conflict.

leader 2Very simply, mediation is the process through which a neutral third party assists others in resolving disputes.
It is the role of a mediator to facilitate communication and to help parties resolve issues, forming a plan of action which guides their future interactions. Mediation is not counseling, nor is it the practice of law. Mediation involves two or more parties voicing their opinions and generating options for resolving issues with the goal of creating a written document that reflects their agreement. In some cases, the agreement may be binding and irrevocable. Mediation can be utilized in many different situations: from divorce to disputes among students, and from damages from an oil spill to neighbors arguing about the placement of a fence.
Although most often used as part of a legal process, mediation is available whether or not legal action is pending. In addition to being significantly less expensive than litigation, mediation is helpful in resolving issues before they escalate to the point of legal intervention or a total breakdown of communication. Mediating early in a dispute can serve as a formal time out, setting ground rules, both personal (such as when and how parties will communicate) and functional (such as how bills will be paid).

The agreement may also document the understanding between parties, such as what assets and benefits of the partnership will not be affected and if intervention during the period of the agreement, such as counseling, refinance, etc. will occur. By instituting a plan, parties are able to have a time out from emotions and stress that a dispute is creating while maintaining relationships and assets which have been mutually supported. Many times, the initial agreement may be the basis of a more permanent resolution, such as a divorce or dissolved partnership. In some cases, it provides needed respite, which enables parties to reconcile and move forward. Mediation can be used informally or as the basis of a legal settlement. The process is confidential, collaborative and cost effective.
Conflict resolution through mediation can be an effective agent for change. It is not about who is to blame, it is about being honest about what exists today so that a plan for tomorrow can be made. From that plan hope and healing are often found.

Chris TurnerAbout the Author: Chris Turner, TMCA Credentialed Distinguished Mediator, is working with the Center For Couples and Families in the South Houston area.

Pornography Addiction: An Epidemic By Dr Matt Brown and Dr. Mike Olson

Pornography is a big business. Americans spent 97 billion dollars on pornography over the past five years. The monetary cost of this epidemic is only a part of the real cost of this problem in our country. Over the past decade, increasing attention has been given to the damaging effects of pornography on the brain and, by extension, the lives of individuals and families. The accessibility of pornographic material and the multitude of technologic means by which it comes into our lives has brought this issue increasingly into the spotlight. In fact, you may be reading this because pornography has impacted you, personally, or someone you love.

There has been controversy in the psychiatric literature about whether those who struggle with pornography are “addicted.” Whether or not it is formally designated in the professional literature as an addictive disorder, it certainly has been shown to affect the brain and the lives of its users in ways consistent with other addictive disorders. As with any addiction, an understanding of the process is key. Let’s start with how the brain responds to pornography. Our brains are designed to catalog our experiences with the end goal of preserving life and eliminating threats to our safety. Essentially, our brains are effective at remembering what feels good and what doesn’t. While this process is complex, a basic understanding of a few key brain chemicals is critical.

stress 1The brain responds to pornography by releasing a powerful chemical called dopamine. Dopamine is released whenever we have pleasurable experiences. The release of dopamine and another powerful chemical called epinephrine (adrenaline) floods the brain in connection with pornography. With repeated exposure, a neural pathway in the brain is created that links arousal and associated neuro-chemicals dopamine and adrenaline with pornography use. As pornography exposure and dopamine release increases, dopamine receptors are eliminated. This “flooding” of the brain creates habituation or tolerance, resulting in the need for even greater stimulus (more explicit and “hard-core” pornography, novelty and intensity) to achieve the same effect.

Dr. Donald L. Hilton, Jr. MD, a neurosurgeon at the University of Texas, has written extensively about the effects of pornography on the brain. His research and other reviews conclude that the effects of pornography on the brain are comparable to potent drugs, such as cocaine. He also explains that when the body orgasms, the brain produces a particular neurotransmitter called “oxytocin” which creates bonding. Oxytocin is also secreted in the brains of babies and moms during breastfeeding. So we are literally bonding to pornography (a digital image) when we reach climax. In an article published in the Harvard Crimson, Dr. Hilton states that “pornography emasculates men—they depend on porn to get sexually excited and can no longer get off by having sex with their women alone. What happens when you are addicted to porn is that you crave it. Real sex even becomes a poor substitute for porn, and you lose interest.” ¹

A final neurophysiologic effect of pornography is the damage created to the impulse control center of the brain, the pre-frontal cortex. With constant flooding of the brain with dopamine and epinephrine, there is a reduction in size and control of this area. Essentially, the ability to self-regulate and exercise impulse control is reduced until, ultimately, the addiction drives appetites, desires, and behaviors. As individuals fall into the grip of this addiction, they often experience other effects, such as isolation, depression, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, and relationship distress, among others – all of which spiral the individual away from resources that can lift and help them toward recovery and healing.

As awareness of this issue increases, so do resources aimed at educating and assisting those affected by pornography addiction. A relatively new campaign called “Fight The New Drug” (www.fightthenewdrug.org) is an excellent resource for those seeking more information regarding the impact of pornography. There are also many religious/spiritually-based programs available², many of which are based on the twelve-step program utilized by Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

¹ http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2011/4/7/porn-men-addiction-pornography/

² https://addictionrecovery.lds.org/family-and-friends/help?lang=eng

mattAbout the Author: Dr. Matt Brown is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He holds a doctorate degree from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and a therapist at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families.

Compassion by Dr. Victor S. Sierpina, MD

?????????????????Compassion, a universal cure to what ails us as individuals, societies, and nations, is the response to the suffering of others that creates a desire to help. This attribute, essential to the optimal practice of medicine and healing, gives the healer an understanding and appreciation of the effects of suffering and sickness on the attitudes and behaviors of others. More than mere tolerance, it creates a feeling similar to love, in the universal sense of that word.

While browsing my library recently, I noticed a paperback by the Dalai Lama called Beyond Religion, Ethics for a Whole World. A skilled, heartfilled local meditation teacher, Terry Conrad, uses it when he teaches at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and it found its way to our library through my wife’s work there.

The Dalai Lama, a Buddhist by tradition, pointed out that the compassion lived and espoused by the founders of all major spiritual traditions is often lost amongst their followers. In the name of religion and the defense of various ideologies and creeds, people across time have often violently departed from the teachings of their revered scriptures and teachers. They visit upon others what they would not want done to themselves. Compassion has often been abandoned, leaving the world a worse place.

The philosophically practical Dalai Lama points out that we all share a common humanity. We are not necessarily born into a religion or belief system, but are all driven by a desire to be happy and to avoid suffering. Acknowledging that all other humans share that same basic drive is the basis of compassion. This means seeing others as more like us than different from us, seeing their suffering as our own. Compassion is a necessity to the survival of humanity. Without it, we turn on each other like wild and undisciplined animals.

How do we develop compassion? It is an intrinsic human trait universally encouraged by all major spiritual traditions. Meditating on compassion for others and ourselves helps us bring it into our daily lives and consciousness.

I wrote awhile ago about the “Loving kindness Meditation” which I have found helpful in bridging the compassion gap between me and those I see as different from me. While there are many versions, here is one to consider. I keep it taped onto my dashboard and my phone.

May you be happy.
May you be well.
May you be safe.
May you be peaceful and at ease.
May you be filled with loving kindness to yourself and all others.

balanceConsider this kind of compassion building meditation/prayer exercise daily with a focus first on compassion for yourself. As you continue, channel it mentally toward someone you greatly respect and honor such as a spiritual teacher; then to a dearly beloved person such as a spouse or family member; then to a person whom you know but feel neutral toward; and finally direct your loving kindness meditation toward someone who you consider hostile or even hateful.

Do your part in building a more compassionate you and a more compassionate world.

The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists, who are dedicated to justice, peace, and brotherhood. The trailblazers in human, academic, scientific, and religious freedom have always been nonconformists. In any cause that concerns the progress of mankind, put your faith in the nonconformist! -Martin Luther King, Jr.

*Previously published in Galveston county daily news.

Sierpina_Victor_5x7About the Author: Dr. Victor Sierpina is currently the director of the Medical Student Education Program at UTMB, Galveston. He is a WD and Laura Nell Nicholson Family Professor of Integrative Medicine, and also a Professor in Family Medicine. He is a University of Texas Distinguished Teaching Professor. His clinical interests have long included holistic practices, wellness, lifestyle medicine, mind-body therapies, acupuncture, integrative oncology, nutrition, and non-pharmacological approaches to pain.

“It’s Only One Drink…Right?” By Alyssa Baker

Stressed Businesswoman“It’s only one drink.” How many times have we heard that statement from others or told it to ourselves? For some, it actually does mean one drink; however, for about 16 million adults and almost 700,000 adolescents in the U.S., one drink turns into an alcohol use disorder (SAMHSA, 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Alcoholism can develop through many different avenues, such as, genetics, upbringing, social stressors, and mental health. Some cultures and families are at a higher risk of developing alcoholism based on their genetic makeup.

So, what’s the difference? Why can I stop at one drink, but my friend cannot? Do I have an alcohol problem? How do I help my Mom realize that she has a problem? There are so many questions surrounding alcoholism, and the important thing is to ask them. Let’s be brave and keep the conversation going.

I’m “normal,” right?
The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines normal use as:
Women: No more than 3 drinks per day, and no more than 7 drinks per week
Men: No more than 4 drinks per day, and no more than 14 drinks per week

Okay, so maybe I’m not normal…
Alcohol abuse takes place when drinking is creating problems for someone, but there is no dependence on the alcohol, and there are no withdrawal effects once the use subsides. Alcoholism, on the other hand, means that the person is having negative effects from alcohol, is dependent on it, and when they are not able to drink, they experience uncomfortable withdrawal effects.

Am I at risk of developing an alcohol use disorder? Here are a few indicators, thoughts, and behaviors that could lead to problem drinking.
1. I have a family member who struggles with alcoholism.
2. I struggle emotionally, and sometimes alcohol “evens me out,” or “makes being around other people a little easier.”
3. I have a difficult time stopping drinking once I’ve gotten started.
4. Sometimes I just feel the need to drink.
5. My loved ones keep bringing up my drinking. Sometimes I feel so ashamed and guilty about it.
Most importantly, if alcohol is making your life more complicated and difficult, then it has become a problem.

Now what?
So, after reading a few signs and symptoms, you may have realized that you or someone you know may be experiencing this struggle. Congratulations on taking the first step of making yourself aware of the issue. There are treatment facilities, support groups, meetings, and counsellors who are trained and ready to help. Take control!

??????What I’ve learned through my loved ones’ addictions:
1. Know that we cannot force our loved ones to address their alcohol problem.
2. There is more to the alcoholic/addict than the substance. Depression, Anxiety, PTSD, or Bipolar Disorder could be going untreated.
3. Know that the more you push your loved one to change, the further they will push you away. Come alongside of them and meet them where they are.
4. “Sobriety” is a temporary state, while “Recovery” is a lifelong process and battle.
5. Love them, even when it’s difficult. Tell them.

View More: http://nicholelivingstonphotography.pass.us/centerforcouplesandfamiliesheadshotsAbout the Author: Alyssa Baker is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. Along with practicing at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families, she works as a Behavioral Specialist as a part of an Integrative Medicine fellowship with UTMB Family Medicine in Galveston. Alyssa has experience working with individuals, couples, families, and groups with a variety of stressors; including, mood disorders, chronic medical conditions, substance abuse, and relational struggles.