In the book, Learning to Dance in the Rain, the Power of Gratitude, Mac Anderson and BJ Gallagher say that a wise person once observed, “Circumstances don’t determine character – they reveal it.”  Anderson and Gallagher indicate that who we are as people is revealed most clearly during times of struggle, hardship, pain, and suffering.  They believe it is easy to be a good person when things are going great.  However, when things are hard, that’s when you find out what you’re made of.

They think that nowhere is this more true than with regard to gratitude.  Then they ask the following questions:

Are you grateful when the storm clouds gather, and it rains on your parade?

Can you find gratitude in your heart when you don’t get what you want?

Do you feel grateful when illness strikes?

Do you feel grateful when loved ones don’t show up for you?

Are you grateful when jobs and careers disappoint?

Are you grateful when nothing seems to be going your way?

They believe that gratitude is not a fair weather virtue.  True gratitude means appreciating your life no matter what the storms may bring.  Is simply being alive gift enough for you to feel grateful?

They think that most people have a hard time being thankful when things aren’t going well.  They say that when caught up in the present moment, most of us simply can’t see that things are alright.  They talk about accepting going through a rough time, and recognizing that this is normal.  Then they suggest asking yourself the following questions:

Could things be worse?

Are there bad things that could have happened, but didn’t?

Are there other people who are suffering from worse calamities than yours?  Are you glad that the mess you’re in isn’t worse?

If you answer yes, then there is something to be grateful for.  It may be only a small step, but it is a start toward gratitude.  They also say that making a list of terrible things that didn’t happen can be helpful.  This is because no matter how bad things are, they could always be worse.  You can start finding gratitude for what might have happened, but didn’t.  You may not have gratitude for everything, but you can be thankful for something.

Focus On Emotional Abuse









In this blog, I focus on emotional abuse.  Many people have questions about emotional abuse.  Emotional abuse is one form of domestic violence.  According to the CDC, the statistics for domestic violence indicate the one in four women in the United States will experience abuse in their lifetime.  Females most commonly experience domestic violence between ages 18-24 (38.6%).  Women often find that emotional abuse is difficult to name or talk about.  They often wonder if it is serious because you cannot see it, like physical signs such as bruises or broken bones.

Emotionally abused women state that one of the biggest problems is that others seldom understand or take it seriously.  The following questions will help you identify if you are being emotionally abused, and provide some ideas on what you can do about it.  It is good to take inventory of your relationship by considering the following questions:

What is your relationship like?

Do you think that something is wrong with your relationship, but you don’t know how to describe it?

Do you feel that your partner controls your life?

Do you believe that your partner does not value your thoughts or feelings?

Will your partner do anything to win an argument, such as put you down or threaten you?

Does your partner get angry and jealous if you talk to someone else?  Are you accused of having affairs?

Do you feel that you cannot do anything right in your partner’s eyes?

Do you get mixed messages, such as the reason you are abused is because he loves you?

Are you told that no one else would want you, or that you are lucky your partner takes care of you?

Do you have to account for every moment of your time?

When you try to talk to your partner about problems, are you called names such as “bitch” or “nag”?

Are you prevented from going to work or school?

If you wish to spend money, does your partner make you account for every penny, or say you don’t deserve anything?

Does he use the children against your in arguments?

Does your partner blame you for everything that goes wrong?

How are you affected?

Are you unable or afraid to make decisions for yourself?

Do you do anything you can to please your partner or not upset him?

Do you make excuses for your partner’s behavior?

Are you forgetful, confused or unable to concentrate?

Have you noticed changes in your eating, sleeping, alcohol or drug use?

Have you lost interest or energy to do the things you used to?

Do you feel sick, anxious, tired or depressed a lot of the time?

Have you lost contact with you friends, family or neighbors?

Have you lost self-confidence and feel afraid that you could not make it alone?

What can you do about it?

Realize that emotional abuse is a serious problem and you can get help.

Recognize that emotional abuse is as bad or worse than physical abuse.

Take your own safety and the safety of your children seriously.

Know that emotional abuse can lead to physical violence or death.

Know that you are not to blame for your partner’s abusive behavior.

Find people to talk to that can support you.  Consider going for counseling.

Do not give up if community professionals are not helpful.  Keep looking for someone that will listen to you and take emotional abuse seriously.

Recognize that you have the right to make your own decisions, in your own time, and that dealing with any form of abuse may take time.

Trust yourself and your own experiences.  Believe in your own strengths.  Remember that you are your own best source of knowledge and strength, and that you already have the tools you need to survive.

Where can you turn?

Women’s help lines.  Find the number in your area.

Shelters do accept women who are emotionally abused and have not been physically abused.  The help line can refer you to the nearest one.

If you have been threatened with harm or death, or are being stalked by your partner or ex-partner, you can call the police (dial 911).

If you are considering leaving, especially if you have children, see an attorney.

Abused women are at the greatest risk of being harmed or killed when they leave.  Ensure that you have a safety plan in place.

Note:  These questions about emotional abuse are adapted from Dr. Chen’s Dialogue Article about How Abuse Happens.

Serenity Prayer Continued


The most well known version of the Serenity Prayer is attributed to 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr.

However, Niebuhr indicates that the prayer has been around in a various forms for centuries.  The prayer is not part of any religion, it is a non-sectarian prayer.

Serenity Prayer Continued

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.

The Huffpost article (updated 12-06-2017) describes 5 Timeless Truths From The Serenity Prayer That Offer Wisdom In the Modern Age.

The following are five areas that the article helps us to consider:

1. Acceptance is not a passive activity

When we focus on things that we cannot change, we devote emotional, physical and mental energy that could be better directed to important areas of our life.  Accepting that there are some things we cannot change does not make us slothful or lazy.  According to the article, it constitutes a leap of faith.  The article also indicates that the prayer  goes on to say, “that He (or the universe or time) will make all things right if I surrender to His Will.”  Thus we learn to let go and have faith in the outcome.

2. Focus on changing ourselves

It is difficult to identify and change deeply ingrained habits.  The Huffport article indicates that habits gain power through repetition and that it takes real focus to take a look at ourselves and ask, “is this how I really want to live?”  This interpretation of the prayer  leads us to the conclusion that self-investigation is an act of “courage.”

3. Hardship can be a good teacher

The prayer goes on to state, we must accept “hardships as the pathway to peace.”  We all encounter obstacles and hardships.  When we view these challenges as opportunities for growth, we can change and possibly even transform our circumstances.

4. Surrendering requires courage

The Serenity Prayer frames the idea of surrender as an act of faith.  The prayer helps us see the wisdom in trusting powers beyond ourselves.

5.  We can obtain happiness now and in the future

The prayer’s ending has a profound comment about happiness.  It says that if you follow the prayer, we may be “reasonably happy in this life.”

The Huffpost article states that our culture measures happiness and success mostly in terms of money and power.  The word “reasonably” gives us a modest definition of a successful life.

Instead of wondering about why we aren’t happier, the prayer helps us focus on the present  and enjoy one moment at a time.

Finally, the prayer encourages us to celebrate our own potential, limits, and capacity for rising above our current situation.

The Meaning of the Serenity Prayer

The Meaning of the Serenity Prayer

The book, Proactive 12 Steps, cites Reinhold Niebuhr’s version of the Serenity Prayer.

His version seems to be the most well known.


God, grant me the serenity to accept the things
I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can, and the
wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right if I
surrender to His Will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life,

and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.


There appear to be three important parts to understanding the meaning of the Serenity Prayer.  The first is the serenity to accept the things that cannot be changed.  The definition of serenity is a state of being calm, peaceful, and untroubled.  If one will seek to honestly assess a situation, not be complacent, and learn to accept things it can lead to a sense of peace.  The second part asks for the courage to change the things that can be changed.  The definition of courage is strength in the face of difficulty, pain or grief.  If we seek to intelligently assess and change a situation we can avoid acting impulsively or foolishly.  The third part is to seek wisdom to know the difference – about what can and cannot be changed.

Wisdom is the soundness of an action or decision with regard to the application or experience, knowledge, and good judgement.

The difficulty is knowing when to apply these important characteristics, when to be accepting or courageous.

The problem is that denial, rationalization, and self-deception make it challenging for us to tell when and how to apply these characteristics.

Ultimately, if we seek a Higher Power to guide us to assess situations we will make better decisions.

Limiting Child’s Screen Time

In the article, “Less Screen Time Means a Better Mind and Body for Kids,” Katherine Lee talks about the benefits of limiting your child’s screen time.  She reports that less screen time gives kids more time to do other activities like going outside, socializing, reading, or exercising.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) indicates that spending too much time on screens has been linked to the following: (1) not getting enough sleep, (2)  poor grades, (3) and obesity.      The AAP encourages parents to limit screen time to 1 hour a day for kids ages 2 to 5.  They recommend avoiding screen time for babies and children under 18 months.  Lee reports that the benefits to cutting back on screen time are more sleep, better grades, lower body fat index (measure of weight and height) and less aggression in children.

Lee suggests some strategies you can use to help your child cut back on screen time.

  1. Set Time Limits and Stick to Them – she says to establish clear rules and times for screen time.  For example, watch television for 1 hour after school and text with friends for 30 minutes.  When the time is up, then stop these activities.  Don’t bargain or give in to begging.  Set limits and then be as firm and consistent as possible.
  2. Do not allow children to have television or other tech devices such as iPads or smartphones in their room.  Having devices in bedrooms is linked to lower test scores, sleeping problems, and obesity in children.
  3. Know what your child is watching and then actively discuss what they are viewing.  Be selective and help your children pick age appropriate material to view.  Lee also suggests limiting the amount of violent content your child is exposed to.  Teach your child to think critically about what they are seeing.
  4. You may end up having arguments with your children about screen time and what they are watching.  They will probably not like having limits when it comes to screen time.  Just remember that there are many benefits to limiting and monitoring your child’s screen time.

In addition, you can consider getting professional help from a trained therapist.

Applying this information can help improve your parenting skills!



Addiction Pothole Story

Addiction Pothole Story


The addiction pothole story is often used in groups to help people understand how difficult it is to change behavior.

People have told this story for a long time and in various ways, but the basic story is recited below:

A man walks down the road.  All of the sudden, he finds himself at the bottom of a big pothole.

Katie Malinski, LCSW calls, “the pothole story a metaphor for change.”  She says that, “potholes are really bad habits that we find ourselves sucked into without meaning to go there.”

He is unable to get out of the pothole himself, it takes a lot of work and help from others, but he finally is able to get out of the hole.

The man continues to walk down the road and falls into the pothole again.

It is difficult, but he eventually is able to get out of the pothole.

He continues this pattern for awhile until he starts to recognize that there is a pothole in the road.  Unfortunately, he continues to walk down the road,

see the pothole, and still falls in.  He does this for many days.  Eventually, he starts to anticipate that the pothole is coming.

He walks down the road and tries to avoid the pothole, but somehow continues to fall into it.

Eventually, the man walks down the road and then walks around the pothole.   Finally the man learns to take another road.

The story helps us identify the steps for change.  The first step is to develop an awareness of what is happening.  Next, we work to make new decisions and choices.

Then we develop new behaviors that lead to successful change.  Finally, the new way of doing things becomes a habit that we don’t even have to think about.

These new behaviors and coping skills make the road before us seem smoother.

The original author of this story appears to be anonymous.



Five Secrets of Effective Communication


Five Secrets of Effective Communication

In his book, “Therapist’s Toolkit”, David D. Burns, MD., talks about five secrets of effective communication.  He believes that if you use these tools you will have better interactions with those around you.  Here are the five tips that Dr. Burns suggests.


Listening Skills

1.  The Disarming Technique:  Find some element of truth in what another person is saying, even if it seems totally unfair, unreasonable, or unrealistic to you.

2.  Empathy:  Try to put yourself in the other person’s position and “see the world through their eyes”.

Dr. Burns indicates that there are two types of empathy:

a.  Feeling empathy:  Acknowledge how the other person might be feeling.  For example, (partner is speaking), “So then the clerk told me to go to the end of the line and that was about all I could take.”  (other partner) “It sounds like that must have made you really angry.”

b.  Thought empathy:  Paraphrase or summarize the other person’s words so that they feel heard.  For example, (partner is speaking), “I have ten things that need to be done by noon today, so I would love to have some help!”  (other partner) “You have a lot of things to do today, and you could use my help.  Is that right?”

3.  Inquiry:  Ask inquisitive questions in a gentle way to learn more about what the other person is thinking and feeling.


Self-Expression Skills

4.  “I Feel” Statements:  Use statements such as “I feel upset,” rather than “you” statements.  “I feel” statements simply describe your experience.  Statements like “you are wrong” or “you’re making me furious!” add a connotation of blame.

5.  Stroking:  Find something genuinely positive to say to the other person, even in the heat of battle.  Doing this transmits an attitude of respect.  You can disagree, but still appreciate and value the other person.

If used in a thoughtful way, Dr. Burns five secrets of effective communication could definitely enhance people’s ability to interact  more positively with each other.

Thinking Errors

Thinking Errors

In the book by David Burns, M.D., Feeling Good:  The New Mood Therapyhe talks about cognitive distortions.  Cognitive distortions are defined as inaccurate or distorted thinking errors.  Most individuals struggle with thinking errors.  It is difficult to always perceive the world in a clear and accurate way.  When we identify and recognize this problem, we are able to challenge our inaccurate thoughts in a constructive way and make observations that are more accurate.

The following is a list of 10 thinking errors identified by Dr. Burns:

All or nothing thinking:  You look at things in absolute, back and white categories.

Over generalization:  You view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.

Mental filter:  You dwell on the negatives.

Discounting the positives:  You insist that your accomplishments or positive qualities don’t count.

Jumping to conclusions:

A.  Mind-reading:  you assume that people are reacting negatively to you when there’s no definite evidence;

B.  Fortune-telling:  you arbitrarily predict that things will turn out badly.

Magnification or minimization:  You blow things way out of proportion or you shrink their importance.

Emotional reasoning:  You reason from how you feel:  “I feel like an idiot, so I really must be one.”

“Should statements”:  You criticize yourself ( or other people) with “shoulds,” “oughts,” “musts” and “have tos.”

Labeling:  Instead of saying “I made a mistake,” you tell yourself, “I’m a jerk,” or “a fool,” or “a loser.”

Personalization and blame:  You blame yourself for something you weren’t entirely responsible for, or you blame other people and deny your role in the problem.

Dr. Burns identifies 10 of the most common cognitive distortions or thinking errors; however, there are many other distortions that people struggle with.  Please look through the website to identify other thinking errors.

Hope you find this information useful and informative.


Dr. Steven Chen

Basic Alcohol Screening

As a psychologist working in the field of addiction, I am often asked about basic alcohol assessment tools.  People want a simple way to identify possible alcohol and substance abuse problems.  There are many screening tools available.  The CAGE is one of these tools. says it is a questionnaire that professionals use to check for possible signs of alcohol dependency.  The questionnaire has four unobtrusive questions asking someone about their alcohol use.



CAGE is an acronym that make the four questions easy to remember.

Cut:               Have your ever felt you should cut down on your drinking?

Annoyed:     Have people annoyed you by criticizing your drinking?

Guilty:          Have  you ever felt guilty about your drinking?

Eye-opener:  Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning (eye-opener) to steady your nerves or get rid of a hangover?

The person gives a yes or no answer to each question.  Each yes answer increases the possibility that the person may have alcohol dependency.  As a rule, 2 or 3 “yes” answers indicate possible alcohol problems.  Physicians sometimes attach more significance to question four, because it is a sign that someone might have withdrawal symptoms.

There is a variation of the CAGE questionnaire called the CAGE-AID.  This questionnaire adds AID for – adapted to include drugs.  It uses the same questions as the CAGE.  However, it adds drug use along with drinking.

The CAGE asks direct questions.  It helps the person consider their alcohol use without judgement.  It is not a foolproof test.  It is a simple screening tool that can be used quickly to identify potential problems.  It was designed to be used by physicians as a way get helpful alcohol consumption information.  The questions are worth considering for anyone who thinks they might be developing or have a drinking problem.   I hope you find this information helpful when considering alcohol consumption for yourself or people you care about.


Steven J. Chen, Ph.D.



Helpful Marital Tips

Helpful Marital Tips













Every marriage has ups and downs.  In the Focus on the Family article, 10 Secrets to a Successful Marriage, Mitch Temple gives helpful marital tips.  Couples who consider these tips can learn to navigate challenges in a successful manner.  Here is a summary of the 10 principles or tips.

  1.  Focus on bringing happiness into the marriage.  People want to be happy, but happiness isn’t the most important thing.  Successful couples learn to intentionally do things to bring happiness into the marriage when life has challenges.
  2. There is value in simply showing up for each other.  When things are tough and people don’t know what to do, they need to simply be there for each other.  Over time, people will have the opportunity to work together, reduce stress, and work things out.
  3. If you do things the same way, you will get the same result.  Wise people learn that you have to do things differently to get a different outcome.  Small changes in attitude, actions, or approach can make big differences.
  4. Your attitude matters.  Changing behavior is important, but so is changing your attitude.  A negative attitude often creates bad feelings and actions.
  5. Change your mind, change your marriage.  What people believe about their spouse affects how they treat each other.
  6. Successful couples don’t believe the myth that grass is greener somewhere else.  They have learned to put energy into making themselves and their relationship better.  They have learned to “water their own grass.”
  7. You can change your marriage by changing yourself.  Experienced couples have learned that it is very difficult to change your partner.  The only person we can really change is ourselves.
  8. Love is a verb, not just a feeling.  Feelings go up and down, but real love is based on commitment.
  9. Marriage is often about fighting the battle in your own mind.  Successful couples have learned to resist holding grudges and bringing up the past.  They remember that they married an imperfect person and that they are imperfect as well.
  10. A crisis does not mean the marriage is over.  Crises can be very stressful and upsetting.  However, couples can make it through and be stronger in the long run.