Tuesday, March 29, 2011

To the brain, getting burned, getting dumped feels the same

(Health.com) -- Science has finally confirmed what anyone who's ever been in love already knows: Heartbreak really does hurt.

In a new study using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), researchers have found that the same brain networks that are activated when you're burned by hot coffee also light up when you think about a lover who has spurned you.

In other words, the brain doesn't appear to firmly distinguish between physical pain and intense emotional pain. Heartache and painful breakups are "more than just metaphors," says Ethan Kross, Ph.D., the lead researcher and an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor.

Health.com: How to keep chronic pain from straining your friendships

The study, which was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, illuminates the role that feelings of rejection and other emotional trauma can play in the development of chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia, Kross says. And, he adds, it raises interesting questions about whether treating physical pain can help to relieve emotional pain, and vice versa.

"What's exciting about these findings," he says, "is that they outline the direct way in which emotional experiences can be linked to the body."

Kross and his colleagues recruited 21 women and 19 men who had no history of chronic pain or mental illness but who had all been dumped by a romantic partner within the previous six months. The volunteers underwent fMRI scans -- which measure brain activity by tracking changes in blood flow -- during two painful tasks.

Health.com: 6 mistakes pain patients make

In the first, a heat source strapped to each subject's left arm created physical pain akin to "holding a hot cup of coffee without the sleeve," Kross says. In the second, the volunteers were asked to look at photos of their lost loves and were prompted to remember specific experiences they shared with that person.

Other fMRI research has examined how social rejection manifests in the brain, but this study was the first to show that rejection can elicit a response in two brain areas associated with physical pain: the secondary somatosensory cortex and the dorsal posterior insula. Those brain regions may have lit up in this study but not others because the rejection his volunteers experienced was unusually intense, Kross says.

Although Kross stresses that the study is "very much a first step" in understanding the connection between physical and emotional pain, the findings may help chronic pain patients grasp that emotions can affect their physical condition, says psychologist Judith Scheman, Ph.D., director of the chronic pain rehabilitation program at the Cleveland Clinic.

Health.com: Is chronic pain ruining your relationship?

Past traumas can make people more sensitive to pain and thus more susceptible to disorders like fibromyalgia, which causes both chronic pain and fatigue, Scheman says. She and her staff encourage pain patients to "explore their emotional trauma and baggage," but many are reluctant to do so.

"As a clinician, I like studies like this because patients often don't understand why they have to do painful emotional work," Scheman continues. "Showing them something like this helps them understand that there is science behind what I am asking them to do."


Monday, March 7, 2011

Birthday-suit therapist Sarah White conducts naked therapy sessions for troubled New Yorkers

Birthday-suit therapist Sarah White conducts naked therapy sessions for troubled New Yorkers

BY Rich Schapiro

Wednesday, March 2nd 2011, 4:00 AM
Sarah White, a 24-year-old psychology buff, conducts therapy sessions during which she progressively removes her clothing. Above, she counsels a News reporter about work-life balance.

Sarah White, a 24-year-old psychology buff, conducts therapy sessions during which she progressively removes her clothing. Above, she counsels a News reporter about work-life balance.

There's one sure way to get a man to bare his soul - get naked.

Sarah White, a 24-year-old psychology buff, conducts online therapy sessions in her birthday suit. The naked therapist's unique approach to helping people solve their issues has, she says, aroused interest from dozens of suffering New Yorkers.

"For men especially, who are less likely than women to go to therapy, it is more interesting, more enticing, more exciting," said White. "It's a more inspiring approach to therapy."

White begins her sessions with her clothes on. But as the hour-long appointments heat up, she gradually sheds all of her duds until there's nothing left to take off.

"Freud used free association," she said. "I use nakedness."

The initial sessions, which cost $150, are conducted via a one-way Web cam and text chat. Once she develops a rapport with a client, she'll move on to two-way video appointments via Skype and even in-person consultations.

White said her roughly 30 clients are an eclectic mix of college students with sexual issues, middle-aged men with relationship problems and even a couple of women who just enjoy chatting with a nude peer.

Clients schedule appointments through her website, sarahwhitelive.com.

A freelance computer programmer, White said she got the idea to perform therapy sessions in the nude after being uninspired by the theories she learned as an undergraduate psychology student. She conceded that naked therapy is not approved by any mental health association. And she is not a licensed therapist.

White demonstrated her less-is-more style yesterday, slowly peeling off layers of clothing as she counseled a Daily News reporter on seeking a better work/life balance.

"It sounds like you're not sure if this is really a problem," White said shortly before removing her teal bra.

While White's boyfriend supports her new business, her parents are still in the dark.

"I should probably tell them before they read it in the paper," said White, of the upper West Side.

Not surprisingly, professional psychologists are not sold.

"She's using the word therapy here, but I don't consider this therapy," said Diana Kirschner, a New York-based clinical psychologist. "I consider this interactive soft-core Internet porn."

Kuamell Johnson, 31, said he'd love to experience a therapy session with White, but he's not sure he'd be able to stay on topic.

"She starts to strip, now she's butt naked," pondered Johnson, a messenger from Brooklyn. "It's going to throw my concentration off."rschapiro@nydailynews.com