The Change Curve can help people navigate through difficult times.



The Change Curve can help people navigate through difficult times.  People are currently struggling with many challenges and changes.  We are all wondering about the coronavirus and how it will impact us individually and collectively.  At this point, we do not know exactly what the future holds.  However, there is a high probability that we will all have to adjustment to a “new normal” due to the pandemic.

As a result of all the challenges, I thought it would be helpful to review the Change Curve.  The Change Curve is a model that professionals use to understand the stages of personal and organizational change. The model helps us identify the ways people react to change, make transitions, eventually accept, and adapt to change.  The model also helps us recognizes spots where additional support may be needed.

The Change Curve figure 1.JPG
Figure 1:  The Change Curve – this version of the Change Curve was developed by Edinburgh Napier University.

Stage 1:

When change occurs, people may initially experience shock or denial.  They react to a change in the current situation or status quo.

Stage 2:

In stage 2, people tend to react negatively.  They are often fearful and angry about having to make changes.  They often correctly identify real threats to their situation or position.  Overall, this is an unpleasant stage where people will stay stuck if they resist change.

Stage 3:

In stage 3, people start to accept the idea of change and begin exploring new options.  They become more optimistic about the future and new possibilities.

Stage 4:

People move past acceptance and start embracing the change.  They are generally more positive, develop new ways of doing things, and able to see the benefits of their efforts.

People can get stuck at any of the stages.  They may need help breaking through denial or confronting fears about change.  Fear of the future is always a challenge.  They often need help developing new ideas on how to move forward.

Understanding the Change Curve can help us get through this difficult process.  We all experience things that require us to adjust and adapt.  Common responses are to resist, dig in and try to avoid change.  However, if we make changes, we can benefit from the positive aspects of doing things in new and different ways.

Please see the Edinburgh Napier University website for additional information –

Meditation is important for our overall physical and emotional health.

When I work with a client, I encourage them to start meditating.  Meditation is important for our overall physical and emotional health.

In the article, “Harnessing Neuroplasticity:  9 Key Brain Regions Upgraded Through Meditation,” the EOC Institute talks about enhancing regions of the brain through meditation.  The article says that the parietal lobe is one area of the brain that can be enhanced through mediation.  The parietal lobe is located at the top of our head above our ears.  It is responsible for sensory perception and integration.  We take care of the parietal lobe physically by getting enough sleep, eating nutritious food and exercising.  We take care of the parietal lobe emotionally when we make connections with others.  The parietal lobe regulates our emotional well-being by making neuronal connections.   Research has found that there are many health benefits to feeling connected to others such as improved immunity, decreased depression and improved self-esteem.

When the brain becomes overheated with obsessive thoughts about the past or worry about the future, the parietal lobe can act like a radiator to cool things down.  The parietal lobe can help us focus on the present in order to regulate our thoughts and emotions.  Meditation and mindfulness help the parietal lobe develop much needed regulation skills. lists 5 reasons why everyone should meditate –

  1. Understand Pain:  Mental pain and anxiety are background noise that can underlie the things we do.  Meditation helps us break through the noise and see what is causing the pain.
  2. Lower Stress: There is evidence that excess stress causes illnesses and makes other illnesses worse.  Mindfulness decreases stress.
  3. Connect Better: Ever find yourself zoning out during a conversation?  Mindfulness helps you give others your full attention.
  4. Improve Focus: It can be frustrating when our mind wanders off from what we are doing.  Meditation helps develop our ability to focus.
  5. Reduce Brain Chatter: The background noise of our brain chatter never seems to stop.  Meditation helps us to quiet this chatter.

It takes time and effort to develop meditation skills.  Here are a few exercises that can help.

Meditation Exercises

Diaphragmatic Breathing – is also called the natural relaxation response.  Deep breathing that is done by contracting the diaphragm.  It helps you relax, lowers heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormone cortisol.

Body Scan – these exercises allow you to tune out distractions and focus on various areas of the body.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation – you focus on a group of muscles (e.g. neck, shoulders and arms).  You tense the various muscle groups as you breathe in and relax them as you breathe out.

Yoga – breath control with body positions or postures used for health and relaxation

Mediation is an important and productive way to care for our physical and mental health.  Try to find a few minutes every day to practice some type of meditation exercise.  Meditation will help you focus on the present.  It will enable you to be more aware of what is happening in your body and in the environment.  It will enable you to calm both your mind and body.  Overall, it can reduce our stress and help us feel less isolated.



*If you would like more information about how meditation helps our brain functioning, please see the article, “Harnessing Neuroplasticity:  9 Key Brain Regions Upgraded Through Meditation.


Build Lasting Relationships









Since people are currently quarantined and spending more time with each other, I thought it would be appropriate to consider how couples build lasting relationships.

Here is a summary of theories and concepts taught by Dr. John Gottman from The Gottman Institute( ) Dr. Gottman indicates that marital friendship is the foundation of what he calls the Sound Relationship House. Friendship is the thing that keeps the relationship going. He says that couples who have been together for a long time don’t stay married because of luck or the absence of conflict. They stay married because they know and like each other.

Dr. Gottman believes the primary task of new couples is to get to know each other.  He thinks there will always be more that you don’t know about your partner than you do.  He indicates that you need to make it a priority to get to know your partner over the lifetime of your relationship.

Dr. Gottman stresses the importance of getting to know your partner’s world through a process he calls Building Love Maps.  He describes building love maps in the following way:  When you choose to spend your life with someone, you hand them a map to your inner world. Your inner world is complex including the memories of your past, the details of your present, your hopes for the future. It includes your deepest fears and your grandest dreams. But the map you hand your partner is a pencil sketch.

Couples need to constantly be adding details to the love map.  The map needs things like color, texture, scale, landmarks, direction, and legend.  A love map that is well developed can bring perspective to the challenges that a marriage will encounter.  Dr. Gottman stresses the importance of starting this early in a marriage.  He says, “if you don’t start off with a deep knowledge of each other, it’s easy for your marriage to lose its way when your lives shift so suddenly and dramatically.”

Here is a Love Map Questions Game Adapted from John Gottman, The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work.  Dr. Gottman suggests playing this game frequently with a spirit of gentle fun.  He developed this game to help people strengthen their relationships.  Here are 10 questions from the game.  Please see his book for additional questions.

Name my two closest friends.

What was I wearing when we first met?

Name one of my hobbies.

What stresses am I facing right now?

Describe in detail what I did today or yesterday?

What is my fondest unrealized dream?

What is one of my greatest fears or disaster scenarios?

What is my favorite way to spend an evening?

What is one of my favorite ways to be soothed?

What is my favorite getaway place?

Note:  The Gottman Institute has created another tool to help with Love Map development.   They have a deck of cards called 52 Questions Before Marriage or Moving In which can also be helpful.

Hopefully this information can help us be more mindful about the importance of really getting to know our partner in order to help build lasting relationships.

Achieving Goals













Achieving Goals

Most people have some type of goal they would like to achieve. They may want to improve their health, make more money, have better relationships or develop a skill. They start working on a goal and make some progress. However, they find it difficult to maintain the improvement. Others want to make changes, but they just get frustrated and quit. As a therapist, I am interested in helping people make changes and maintain them.

The American Psychological Association has developed a willpower-fact-sheet that can help people achieve goals.   Here are a few strategies that they suggest.

Researchers indicate that it is most effective to focus on a single clear goal rather than taking on a list of goals at the same time. After completing one goal, then we can focus on the next goal.   An example of this approach can be seen in doing household chores. Things like doing dishes, vacuuming, and laundry. If you try to do all these tasks at the same time, you might have difficulty completing them and feel very overwhelmed. People do better with one thing at a time, like doing the dishes and then moving on to the laundry, etc. They get the satisfaction of completing a task and then can move on to the next level or goal.

Avoiding distractions is another tactic for achieving goals. It can be helpful to keep tempting items out of sight. For example, it is important to have a study space that is conducive to work with minimal distractions. You might improve concentration by removing cellphone, iPad, internet or television access.

Having a plan in place helps people resist temptation.   For example, if you are on a diet and are invited to a birthday party. Chances are pretty good that sweets will be served at the gathering. You may want to say you are trying to eat healthier and avoid sugar. Another option would be to ask for a small piece of cake with no ice cream or say you aren’t hungry after eating dinner. Having a plan in place ahead of time allows people to make better decisions in the moment.

Record your behavior. Research indicates that recording behavior makes people more aware and helps to change that behavior. Make a reasonable plan with small steps toward meeting your goal. For example, if you want to lose 20 pounds, then weighing yourself once a week and recording the results can be helpful.

Reward yourself. When you reach a goal, reward yourself for a job well done. The reward should not interfere with the change you are trying to make, like having a beer because you haven’t taken a drink in a month. Reward yourself with another healthy alternative.

Sleep deprivation can negatively impact performance.  When people don’t get enough sleep, their willpower is more likely to fail. Just one night of good sleep can increase self-control.

Research shows that having a support system can help people reach their goals. Surround yourself with people who will help you succeed.

If you are trying to achieve goals, a mental health professional can help.  A therapist can help a client identify their strengths and challenges.  They can help the person develop a reasonable plan.  They can also provide clients with much needed encouragement and support to help them with achieving goals.

American Psychological Association Harnessing Willpower To Meet Your Goals –

Fresh Start

Fresh Start

Hello Dr. Chen,

It has been awhile since I have spoken to you. I wanted to let you know what has been happening and that I am making a fresh start.  My husband filed for divorce last spring. I have been staying home and caring for my family and animals.

Before I completed treatment, you met with both of us. After meeting him, you said he struggled with sexual addiction. I have had time to think about this comment and believe that you are right. I have been trying to figure out how you knew. His addictive behavior went on right in front of me for years. It has truly taken me a very long time to put all the pieces together.

When I figured out that I hated having sex with him, is when everything started to make sense. It wasn’t that I disliked sex, but I didn’t like the uncomfortable lack of communication and connection with him. He was so preoccupied with himself that he couldn’t be available for me.

I want to let you know that you really have helped me cope with my life and this crazy situation. I have been trying to move on and am preparing for one more big change. I am moving to a new community for a fresh start.

Thank you for being there when I needed you!


Attitude of Gratitude


Attitude of Gratitude

In my office I have a sign that says “An Attitude of Gratitude, brings blessings.”  In our busy lives it’s easy to get caught up in work, family, social media, and attending events.  All these activities can lead to feeling stressed and overwhelmed.  During the month of November, we celebrate Thanksgiving and gratitude.  I hope each of us can take a step back and focus on the positive, pleasant parts of life.

Several years ago, I had a client who visited her father on Thanksgiving. They had a wonderful day together having a home-cooked meal, sharing stories, and enjoying being together.  That night her father had a heart attack and passed away.  My client had mixed feelings about feelings of gratitude and giving thanks. On the one hand, she and her father had a wonderful day together. On the other hand, she was grief stricken and angry about the loss of her father. The holiday ended up being very bitter-sweet.

Over time, she came to terms with the irony of this event. She worked to “let go” of her anger and accept what happened.  Eventually she was able to focus her attention on feelings of appreciation.  She concluded that bitterness made her grief worse and focusing on positive thoughts and memories made her feel better.

An article titled 14 Health Benefits of Practicing Gratitude According to Science, by Kori Miller, describes many benefits to focusing on gratitude. One of the most important benefits is the release of dopamine in the brain. The dopamine creates a connection between the behavior and feeling good. The more a person focuses on gratitude, the more dopamine is released.

The article provides a list of ways each person can benefit:

Health Benefits

  • Increased happiness and positive mood
  • More life satisfaction
  • Less materialistic
  • Less burnout
  • Improved physical health
  • More energy
  • Lower levels of inflammation
  • More resiliency
  • Encourages the development of positive qualities such as patience, humility, and wisdom

Developing An Attitude Of Gratitude

In the article, Gratitude and Wellbeing; The Benefits of Appreciation, by Sansone & Sansone write about psychological strategies that may enhance feelings of gratitude. They suggest that the following interventions are easy and reasonably effective.

  • Journaling about things for which you are grateful
  • Thinking about someone for whom you are grateful
  • Writing a letter to someone for whom you are grateful
  • Meditating on gratitude
  • Count Your Blessings – at the end of the week, write down three things for which you were grateful
  • Practicing saying “thank you” in a sincere way
  • Writing thank you notes
  • If religious, praying about your gratitude

Most of us have struggles in life; however, we have a choice regarding where to focus our attention.  We can concentrate on positive or negative thoughts and experiences.  There are definite health benefits to focusing on gratitude.  The strategies and skills to develop gratitude are relatively simple and effective.

Wishing you and your family all the best this holiday season,

Steven J. Chen, Ph.D.

Pornography Awareness For Parents


In the last few years, I have seen more and more requests from teens seeking help for problematic pornography use. Here is an example of the type of email I often receive.

One teen wrote,

“I don’t want help… I need help! Porn is a habit I need to break.

Trying to sleep, but can’t? I look at porn! Gotta go to the bathroom?

Great, while I’m sitting, I look at porn. No matter what is happening, I always turn to porn.

I need and want to quit, but don’t know where to start!”


Upon reaching out to this person, I discovered he is a 16-year-old male who has been viewing pornography since age 12. His parents are unaware of his problematic pornography use.

He needs help; however, is very frightened to discuss his pornography problem with his parents.

I hope the following information will raise your awareness about the potential danger pornography use can have on children and adolescents.

As most people know, pornography has become more accessible due to the internet.  The article “20 Mind-Blowing Stats About The Porn Industry And Its Underage Consumers“, indicates that internet pornography is estimated to be a $97 billion international industry (NBC News) and growing daily.

The article “Internet Pornography by The Numbers; A Significant Threat to Society”, discusses how internet pornography use hurts teens. It reports the following effects on teens:

It increases the odds of teenage pregnancy. Adolescents who are frequently exposed to sexual

content have a higher likelihood of teenage pregnancy.

Pornography hinders sexual development. During the adolescent development phase teens are

learning how to handle their sexuality, sexual beliefs and moral values. Teens who are viewing

pornography get a disoriented or distorted view of sexuality.

It raises the risk of depression. The article suggests a significant relationship exists between

teens with frequent pornography use and feelings of loneliness and depression.

Pornography creates distorted expectations which hinder healthy sexual development.

Adolescents who engage in frequent pornography use have lower sexual self-esteem.


Parents need to understand that their children have probably been exposed to pornography on the internet, by society or by acquaintances. The article, “Advice for Parents of Teen Porn Addicts“, indicates that Former Attorney General Jon Ashcroft has estimated that nine in ten teens have been exposed to pornography.

In the article, “For Parents: Your Child Just Told You They Struggle with Porn, Now What”, reports that half of kids are exposed to pornography by accident.  It says parents need to be prepared to discuss pornography in a reasonable manner. Shaming and judging the adolescent is not going to help the situation and will probably close an important line of communication. Children and teens are probably uncomfortable discussing the topics of sex and pornography with their parents. If they already have a problem, they are probably scared to admit it. Parents need to listen and be supportive. Parents need to educate their children about the harmful effects of pornography.

Parents also need to educate their children about sexuality. Some adolescents may start using pornography to become educated about sex, but viewing pornography is not a healthy way to learn about sex.

Parents need to be loving, while at the same time help the child understand the dangers pornography poses. Along with showing support, it is important to act by blocking internet connected devices from accessing pornography whenever possible.

Even though it may be uncomfortable, parents need to get involved. They need to start talking to their kids about sex and dangers of pornography use if they wish to convey healthy values.  Depending upon the severity of the problem, the adolescent might also benefit from therapy.

For more information, please visit


Over the years, I have worked with many clients who suffer from anxiety.  Most of us experience anxiety at some point, but the feelings eventually leave.  However, some people have devastating anxiety that does not go away.  For them anxiety can be overwhelming and interfere with functioning.  The American Psychological Association (APA) article Understanding Anxiety Disorders and Effective Treatment discusses the following anxiety disorders.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

According to Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) approximately 6.8 million people struggle with this disorder.  Women are two times more likely to have this diagnosis.  GAD may be under reported in men.

The APA article says that people with GAD have persistent and excessive fears.  They often think that something bad is going to happen.  Their fears are real and keep them from completing daily tasks.  People with GAD are overly concerned about health, finance, relationship, interpersonal and work problems.  They have physical symptoms of feeling tired, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, dizziness, poor concentration, muscle tension, diarrhea, decreased or increased appetite, irritability, or decreased sex drive.

Panic Disorder

The ADAA indicates that around 6 million people have panic disorder.  Women are twice as likely to have panic disorder.  According to the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual -5 (DSM-5) Panic attacks are characterized by four or more of the following symptoms:

Palpitations, pounding heart, accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling or shaking, sensations of shortness of breath, a feeling of choking, chest pain or discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, feeling dizzy, feeling of unreality, feeling detached, fear of losing control, fear of dying, numbness or tingling, chills, or hot flushes

The presence of fewer than four of the above symptoms may be considered a limited-symptom panic attack.


ADAA reports that 19 million people have phobias.  Phobias are intense fears. They generally focus on four areas of animals, situations, natural environment, or medical treatment.

Social Anxiety Disorder (SAD)

SAD impacts approximately 15 million people.  SAD has features of anxiety, fear, and avoidance that interfere with daily routines such as work, school or activities.   Symptoms of SAD include fear of being judged, worrying about embarrassing yourself, fear of talking with strangers, physical symptoms of blushing, sweating, trembling, shaky voice, avoiding doing things, avoiding being the center of attention, having intense fear about activities or events, analyzing your performance and identifying flaws after social situations, or expecting the worst consequences or outcomes.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

ADAA indicates that about 2.2 million people struggle with OCD.  It is equally common in men and women.  According to the APA article, people with obsessive-compulsive disorder feel the need to check things repeatedly, or they have certain thoughts or perform routines or rituals over and over.  The thoughts and rituals cause distress and get in the way of daily life.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

According to ADAA approximately 7.7 million people have PTSD.  Someone who has experienced a severe traumatic event may develop PTSD.  When a person is reminded of a traumatic event, their thoughts, feelings and behavior patterns can be affected.  PTSD symptoms include the following:  shortness of breath, fast heartbeat, trembling, or dizziness.


Many people experience anxiety; however, some people have anxiety that is overwhelming and causes problems with functioning.  Anxiety disorders can be treated successfully.  As a psychologist, I use cognitive therapy techniques to help people develop coping skills to manage their anxiety.


American Psychological Association (APA)  – Understanding Anxiety Disorders and Effective Treatment

Diagnostic And Statistical Manual-5

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA)

Acronym HALT Teaches Self-Care Skills

Acronym HALT Teaches Self-Care Skills

Several of my clients are currently struggling with self-care issues.  Alcoholics Anonymous and other twelve step groups use the acronym HALT to teach self-care skills.  The definition of “halt” is to bring or come to an abrupt stop.  In recovery, the acronym HALT is used to remind people to slow down and take inventory of their personal status.  They stop or HALT and ask themselves if they are feeling Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. These four emotional states are relevant when a person is emotionally or physically out of balance, because he or she is more likely to engage in unhealthy or counterproductive behaviors.

HALT seems like a simple concept; however, it is often difficult to access our internal states when we are under stress. It takes some thought and time to put this concept into practice.

HUNGRY – represents a physical or emotional state.  I have a client who often goes too long without eating and becomes hypoglycemic.  She gets irritable and loses her temper with others.  As a result, she has negative relationships with family and friends.  A person needs to monitor his or her eating patterns and regularly eat nutritional food.  One also needs to consider “emotional hunger”.  This could include emotional needs like attention, caring, and affection.  Often people with addictive tendencies turn to unhealthy behavior when trying to satisfy unmet needs.  Through the twelve steps, one can identify destructive habits.

ANGRY – is a common emotional state.  The acronym HALT helps one stop and consider where anger is coming from.  Another one of my clients has anger issues.  He finds expressing emotions difficult.  He allows stressors to build up and then becomes aggressive.  When a person develops insight into the source of their anger, they can understand it and eventually decide how to express it appropriately.  A person can learn to express feelings openly by talking to others.  Or a person may need to find other ways to cope with anger like releasing energy through exercise.

LONELY – people can feel lonely when they are by themselves or with others.  Feeling lonely can result from different situations.  I have several clients who are lonely and as a result isolate themselves.  HALT can help a person change their focus on loneliness and encourage him or her to connect with another person.  This concept helps one consider the potential origin of their loneliness.  A person can develop a support system for when he or she feels depressed, anxious or stressed.  One can also benefit from engaging in social activities like meetings, cultural events, or connecting with friends rather than isolating.  The point is to engage with people who can be supportive.

TIRED – being too tired can lead to inaccurate thinking or poor performance.  I have a client who often stays up late and has difficulty getting up for work on time.  When he arrives at work, he struggles to stay awake and complete job tasks.  His job performance is often compromised.  On a physical level, going without sufficient sleep can create an unhealthy state of being.  On an emotional level, one may have difficulty managing one’s feelings.  On an intellectual level, one may struggle to think clearly or solve problems effectively.

The acronym HALT points out that a person needs to engage in self-care every day.  For people in recovery, it is important to pay close attention to one’s overall states of hunger, anger, loneliness or feeling tired in order to help prevent relapse.  Every person can benefit from taking inventory of one’s emotional states in order to cope more effectively with life’s stressors.

Eating Disorders

Eating Disorders

Recently, I had a client who came to see me due to depression and anxiety.  While doing the intake, I realized that this person also had an eating disorder.  Eating disorders often coexist with other mental health issues.  It is important for people to understand that eating disorders need to be taken seriously and can be life threatening.  This client had some of the classic symptoms of anorexia.  She saw herself as very overweight even though in reality she was underweight.  Her self-esteem was very low.  She was abusing laxatives and starving herself.  She also exercised very hard for 2 or 3 hours daily.

Researchers don’t know how many people have eating disorders.  These disorders often occur in teenagers or young adults.  However, children or older adults can also struggle with eating challenges.  Eating disorders affect people from all genders and ethnic backgrounds.  People who struggle with an eating disorder may consume small amounts of food or consume large amounts of food.

There are several types of eating disorders.  The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) article on Eating Disorders, describes the following eating disorders:

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia restrict their calorie consumption and diet.  They starve themselves and are often malnourished.  They over exercise and use laxatives.  They have a distorted body image and fear of gaining weight.

NIMH indicates that people with anorexia exhibits the following symptoms:

  • They are extremely thin
  • They want to be thin at all cost
  • They are unwilling to maintain a normal weight
  • They have a distorted body image
  • They have medical issues such as dental decay, dry skin and heart problems
  • Their self-esteem is tied to body weight and shape
  • Women and girls who have this disorder stop menstruating and restrict eating

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia often eat large amounts of food and then purge.  During these episodes, they lack self control and can’t stop eating.  After overeating they vomit, use laxatives, fast and over exercise.  People with bulimia generally maintain a normal weight or are overweight.   People with bulimia fear gaining weight and are unhappy about their body.  They engage in bulimic behaviors secretly because they have feelings of shame around their behavior.  The binge purge cycle ranges from a couple of times a week to several times a day.

NIMH says that people with bulimia may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Inflamed and sore throat
  • Swollen salivary glands
  • Worn tooth enamel and decaying teeth due to exposure to stomach acid
  • Acid reflux disorder
  • Intestinal distress and irritation from laxative abuse
  • Severe dehydration
  • Electrolyte imbalance which can lead to heart attack

Binge-Eating Disorder

People with binge-eating disorder have loss of control over eating.  They consume large quantities of food.  They don’t purge after eating.  They are generally overweight or obese.  They are at risk for developing health issues such as heart problems or high blood pressure.  They have guilt and shame about their lack of control surrounding eating.

Binge-Eating symptoms:

  • Eating large amounts of food – often very quickly
  • Inability to stop eating
  • Unhappy about their weight


NIMH indicates that clients with eating disorders usually need improved nutrition, appropriate exercise routines, and need to discontinue purging.  Treatment plans generally need to be individually designed.  In chronic cases, medical care, nutritional counseling and hospitalization may be necessary.  In general, clients with eating disorders can benefit from regular talk therapy sessions and possibly medication.

National Institute of Mental Health Pamphlet on Eating Disorder