Are the perpetrators of school shootings ‘lost causes?’

As a human being, I experience the deep, gnawing pain, shattered heart, and emotional trauma related with school shootings. Indeed, I will likely associate the names Columbine, Virginia Tech, and, as of yesterday, Sandy Hook, with their tragic massacres for the rest of my life. I find these incidents cruel and inhumane; staggering and confusing; painful and unforgivable.

And, yet, I am going into a profession that focuses on the complexity of human behavior, a field that strives to foster psychological well-being for those suffering from distress, whatever that may be. And, for this reason, politics aside, I believe we are facing an extreme crisis. People can debate tirelessly about gun control or proactive security measures. They can talk about prison sentences and the inadequacy of the legal system. They will point fingers at violent media, at the saturation and glorification of death and brutality on television and in video games. I am going to argue from a different approach, and take a stab at blaming my own home base: the mental health sector.

In the aftermath of school shootings, people respond with unquenchable curiosity and seemingly desperate need for unanswerable questions. What provoked him? Could this have been prevented? And most importantly, how could someone do that?

There are the typical predictors: being male, history of violence, sharing premeditated plans with others, emotional detachment, arrogance. It is likely that most of these perpetrators suffered from personality disorders among other mental illnesses. Hindsight biasthe phenomenon behind wondering “how could I have not known?” in cases of tragedies is common. For instance, when reading the infamous personality profiles of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the two gunmen behind the Columbine shooting, it almost seems unfathomable that people did not take their ideations seriously.

These perpetrators need just as much help as anyone else. In fact, I will argue that they need help the most. Yet, due to the nature of their backgrounds and personality, most will not receive the adequate help they need. For good reason, we empathize with victims. Their traumatic stories move us; we seek to normalize their feelings and convince them that they are not bad people. And for the same reason, we struggle with empathizing with perpetrators. Rapists and murderers:  They deserve to die. They deserve to burn in hell. They deserve to rot in jail.

And, yet, what if we could intervene BEFORE these acts of violence? What if we could provide these individuals with the same sense of unwavering support and unconditional regard that we can give victims BEFORE these tragedies occur.

What if the perpetrators are just victims of their own abnormal distortions?

I recognize that there is not a simple black-and-white remedy, and I believe that anyone who claims to know how to “solve this problem” undermines the vast complexity of human behavior. This has nothing to do with tightening legal consequences or approving new restrictions. This has to do with simply talking to disturbed individuals and ending the societal stigma and denial associated with psychiatric illness.

How can we look for ways to reduce the rage and social isolation experienced by so many of these perpetrators? How can we raise awareness to their unrealistic perceptions of the world, of the people around them, of the human life value, while, at the same time, setting aside our own socially-constructed morals to provide support, nurture and validation for theirs? Is there a way to effectively treat these dynamic personalities, to provide successful treatment for their thought processes? How can we erase the idea that these people cannot be saved, cannot be helped, cannot be worthy of psychological treatment? Are they simply lost causes?

In addition to homicidal desires, most gunmen in school shootings have prior attempts of suicide. The underlying motives for suicide usually consist of an assorted of disillusioned, negative variables, including depression, isolation, extreme rejection. What if we focused on those symptoms first?  Right now, when people express ideation for harming themselves or others, we follow the mandated ‘5150’ procedure for involuntary commitment. Is that enough? Removing them from the public protects and benefits society, but I’m wondering, what protects and benefits them?

In light of yesterday’s tragedy, I send my deepest wishes and remorse to the victims and their families. But, I also feel frustrated and angry that we failed to protect so many innocent lives because we have failed to adequately protect and help the perpetrators. As an aspiring therapist with a passion for the psychological dynamics of behavior, I do not believe anyone is a lost cause; I only believe that we have not found a workable solution.

Clearing the Misconceptions of Therapy

Myths about Therapy

Right now, I consider myself extremely fortunate, because I am in graduate school, studying to become a licensed therapist, a field I am indescribably passionate about. Part of our school requirements includes the process of attending our own personal psychotherapy sessions to witness what the other side of the couch feels like. In my experiences of learning how to be a professional, while subsequently being a client, I have realized that our society promotes many stubborn myths regarding the therapeutic process entails. I hope this article clears some of these unfortunate misconceptions.

“Therapists are the experts.”

Actually, therapists are humans. They are not walking, compassionate fountains of knowledge who understand the textbook symptoms of every disorder or situation to inflict mankind. Yes, they are rigorously trained and educated. Yes, they are prepared to work through a variety of situations. And, yes, of course, they must hold a strong base of understanding and interpreting the complexity of human behavior. No, they do not know all the answers, nor do they pretend to. Therapists are required to take on clients of whom they are competent to treat; this is an ethical requirement. Likewise, they do not exist to provide expert knowledge to a client. That is what Google, textbooks, and self-help books are for. Therapists aim to guide the client’s feelings, thoughts, and perceptions in a safe and non-judgmental environment. Therapists aim to make the client accountable for being the expert of his or her own life.

“A good therapist will solve my problems.”  

Therapy introduces and raises awareness to a client’s conscious and subconscious problems, but, at the end of the day, the client holds the responsibility for making the necessary changes. Therapists do not hand-hold. They are not the puppet masters controlling a client’s actions. Therapy encourages clients to come to terms with accepting, working through, improving, and hopefully overcoming life adversities. Although solving problems is an ideal reason to pursue therapy, this does not always happen. Clients who seek therapy with the pretense of one problem often discover that this identified concern is really just a manifestation of deeply-rooted, complex issues. Likewise, not all clients benefit from therapy. Those who are unmotivated, in denial, or strongly resistant to receiving professional help may find that therapy does not fix any of their problems. This is a major cause for professional burn-out. Again, the therapist does not do the fixing or take an action initiative. That is the client’s job.

 “Therapists are trained to provide the best advice for me.”

Therapists are not trained to give advice. They are trained to help explore the layered, interactive process that involves helping a client make the best decisions regarding his or her well-being. Humans come from an endless variety of backgrounds, cultures, and opinions, thereby making them intrinsically unique. In other words, the right decision is not a black-and-white solution. Therapists who give advice risk jeopardizing the client’s quest for independence. He or she can lead the client in the “wrong” direction for him or her.

“I’m not crazy; only crazy people go to therapy.”

Just like only smart people go to college, moral people attend church, and people who love each other get married. Actually, the bulk of therapeutic treatment focuses on depression, anxiety, and adjustment disorders. Symptoms of these disorders often result from the difficulties and pain from coping with everyday life stressors. An overwhelming majority of clients seek therapy to improve situations in their lives. They are not on some fanatical quest to achieve sanity. Besides, the term “crazy” is highly offensive, and a good therapist would never perceive a client in such a way.

 “If I go to therapy, all I will do is lie on a couch and talk about my mother.”

Freud fathered this stereotype; almost every subsequent therapist exploration has debunked it. Sure, there is usually (but not always), a couch, but no therapist would make a client lie down on it if he or she did not want to. In fact, establishing rapport and trust is an essential feature of the therapist-client relationship, and most interpretation is based on nonverbal, rather than verbal, behavior. Lying on a coach can make this task very difficult. Moreover, while some therapists explore familial relationships, this plunge into the past is becoming more outdated. Newer, short-term therapies tend to focus on immediately identifying problems in the “here-and-now” present and providing viable solutions.

 “I’ll have to go to therapy forever.”

The length of treatment largely depends on individual. Some can achieve substantial progress in a few sessions; others may spend years working through problems. However, a therapist will never force a client to stay in treatment. In fact, ethical guidelines require therapists to appropriately assess their clients’ progress and reduce or terminate sessions once the client achieves measurable levels of success. Yes, some clients do attend therapy for years and years, but that is because they find the treatment helpful and beneficial to their lives. Therapists do not promote long-term dependency. This dissuades from the major goals of encouraging self-confidence and independence.

 “People who seek family or couples counseling have failed in their relationships.”

The maintenance of interpersonal relationships can be extremely stressful and difficult. While dysfunction in itself is not necessarily a problem, ignoring it is. Unaddressed issues do not just disappear; people tend to just adopt destructive coping mechanisms to handle them. Oftentimes, the unit fails to recognize the foundation of their toxic communicative or behavior patterns, thus resulting in resentment, anger, or a sense of hopelessness. By that point, the family or couple may believe the situation is simply irreparable. However, therapy can help identify core conflicts, restructure perceptions, and increase the resiliency of interpersonal relationships. Families or couples who seek therapy have not failed. Rather, they have made the brave and proactive choice to succeed.

 “I don’t need therapy. I need medication.”

Medication serves a clear purpose in the biophysical realm, as it can reduce severe symptoms and improve chemical and neurotransmitter imbalance. Indeed, for some disorders, a medical prescription may be essential. However, clients who are only interested in taking medication deprive themselves of working through the core issues that can improve cognitive awareness, happiness, and well-being. Medicine treats the biological scope; therapy treats the cognitive and behavioral scope. Furthermore, clinical research supports the notion that clients taking medication have a greater likelihood of achieving progress and stability if they attend conjunctive therapy.

 “Unless he or she has experienced my problem first-hand, there is no way a therapist will be able to understand what I’m going through.”

This thought process is common for people undergoing tremendous pain. Grief often demands support, familiarity, and strength in numbers. This is, in fact, the main premise for Twelve-Step programs, and indeed, this mantra has likely contributed to their high rates of success. People dislike contrived sympathy or the sugarcoated, “everything will be all right.” Therapists will not pretend to understand every client’s pain or trauma; they will not pretend to know exactly how it feels. Trauma inflicts every individual differently. What therapists will do, however, is provide true and genuine empathy, sit with the client, let him or her explain the problem, and discuss any vulnerabilities or fears. Clients often threatened to expose deep internal wounds, fearing misinterpret or judgment. It is the therapist’s job to provide comfort and offer the best treatment for that client. For this reason, they are trained to offer unconditional regard.

Mental Disorder Diagnoses: do they help or hurt us?

The decision to diagnose a client remains one of the most controversial issues in the mental health sector.

What is a diagnosis? It is essentially a title summing up a careful, methodical  arrangement of symptoms. It can be analogous with a recipe, in that a diagnosis has precise ingredients.  The universal code for diagnosing can be found in the DSM-IV-TR (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual: 4th edition revised). The fifth edition will be released sometime in 2013. This book provides a comprehensive overview of all the diagnosis (from anxiety-related disorders to schizophrenia to sleep disturbances to depression) and it is very specific in determining which diagnosis or diagnoses a client may have. It is a universal language understood among all mental health clinicians, from therapists to social workers to psychiatrists to psychologists.

 So, why do we diagnose? 

Several reasons. A diagnosis gives a name to an issue or several issues. It offers verifiable proof that the client is not “the only one experiencing this,” and gives a sense of strength in numbers. Diagnoses can aid in providing the appropriate course of treatment (mode of therapy, expected results, medication possibilities, etc.). For this reason, diagnoses can be beneficial for both the client and the practitioner. The client begins to understand his or her the problematic or distorted behavior, which, in turn, paints a clearer picture for the therapist in deciding the best, appropriate action. Diagnoses can also make room for more support and networks. Nowadays, there is an abundance of resources and treatment methods available for nearly every type of disorder. Clients may join online forums, participate in group therapy or community outreach programs to build that camaraderie and realize they are “not alone.” 

Moreover, diagnoses can help clients receive the materials and tools they need for treatment. Diagnoses are often necessary to receive insurance reimbursement, sliding-scale treatment and medication, and affordable and available assistance.  

There are, however, drawbacks in diagnosing. Some clients may find “living with a label” deliberating and painful. Some individuals will “become” that diagnosis, acting in such a way that fits a self-fulfilling prophecy. He or she may believe they are exempt from faulty behavior or simply feel hopeless and untreatable. Reactions such as deflated self-esteem, isolation, and the sense that “everyone else is normal” are common and can be traumatic for both the client and his or her loved ones. 

Likewise, while mental health professionals take all the steps and procedures necessary for absolute accuracy, mistakes do happen. Clients may lie, forget, or omit information when being evaluated. Symptoms can be overlooked, exaggerated, or minimized. Consider the evaluations medical doctors must provide when diagnosing a patient. Let’s say that an individual comes in complaining of “nausea, fatigue, irritability, and headaches.” He or she may be experiencing a head cold or fever. Possibly pregnancy. Possibly an autoimmune disease, such as diabetes, fibromyalgia, or multiple sclerosis. Possibly a gestational issue or brain tumor or indication of spreading cancer. Or a combination of several problems. In other words, the possibilities can be endless, and the same overlap can occur when diagnosing mental illness.

If that same individual comes to a therapist complaining of “nausea, fatigue, irritability, and headaches,” further probing and analysis will occur. He or she may be experiencing general anxiety or dysthymia. Possibly a dissociative disorder or sleep disturbance. Possibly an eating or adjustment disorder. There are several different options (all which seem very close and similar), and just like with a physical illness, misdiagnosing poses a variety of serious problems, from legal issues (giving the wrong kind of medication) to ethical issues (serious, psychological distress).

 Diagnosing also tends to ignore individual differences, because diagnoses generalize several symptoms and lump them into a concise category. While this provides a black-and-white solution, we all know that human behavior can be surprising, evolving, and differing, depending on the social context, time frame, culture, and individual history. Theories on this often vary. Some believe that people all fall into certain categories of behavior, whereas others believe that we are all absolutely different and, thus, unable to be categorized.   

Clients and therapists respond differently to diagnoses, as does the general public. We are so quick to stereotype or label behavior (“she’s so bipolar,” “she looks anorexic”, “he’s a psychopath,” “he’s an alcoholic”), that we often fail to realize how harmful these quick, automatic statements can be for people who are suffering from these disorders. Furthermore, once we do find out people may have a diagnosis, the stereotyping can be even worse (“oh, she has OCD; no wonder she’s so anal about cleaning” or “of course he has ADHD; he can’t sit down for two minutes!”

These perceptions can be deeply-rooted and we often fail to believe the person can improve, change, or even rid themselves of certain mental disorders. We may “expect” them to act in certain ways that are in accordance with their diagnoses, and when they do, they are reinforcing our beliefs, and when they do not, they make us question the validity of their diagnosis (“she can’t have bipolar disorder; I’ve only seen her depressed” or “he can’t have narcissism; he’s just really confident and self-assured.”

In conclusion, as a society, because diagnoses are a mainstream part of therapy and medical treatment, we must be careful with how we interpret, label, and react to them.

A mental disorder does not make a person less of a person.

It also does not mean they are that disorder.

Suffering from something is not synonymous with being something.    

Stop using God as an excuse

I don’t believe in religion. I will openly admit I question the existence of God. I have concluded that I am too ignorant to  finitely decide whether God exists or does not exist. As a human, my knowledge of the universe and its mechanisms are limited. I realize that even proven facts are still a matter of opinion.

2+2=4, because mathematical formulas tell us that is the correct answer. 

Sky is blue and grass is green, because color and noun definitions have defined those images for us.

God exists, because…? Because a holy book of worship told us so? Because we heard it in church? Because the name and image has been passed on for generations? 

Interesting that we find it acceptable to debate and question most all forces BESIDES religion. In most settings, it is still considered uncouth, vulgar, and even unacceptable to challenge the dogma and institution. Skepticism is dangerous; if you ask questions, you must not “truly believe.” And, if you do not “truly believe,” you are poorly representing your religion; you are sinning or acting disgracefully or face potential punishment. 

Here’s my philosophy on God: The notion of God is a little like the notion of happiness or the notion of love. Intangible, complex, and different for every individual. To some, God is an almighty force watching over the Earth and taking care of everyone living on it. To others, God is more of a presence. God can be in each of us. God may be dictating what we do; he may be giving us freewill. Some hear him; others seem him; some talk to him, praying and kneeling and begging for his mercy. Others will never believe in God’s existence. 

Who’s right?


Every definition of God is right, because every definition of love is right. If I believe love is a combination of A, B, and C and someone else believes love is a combination of X, Y, and Z, who’s right? How can we know for sure? Isn’t it all just a matter of careful, subjective opinions? How can we know what’s wrong when proof is still a matter of bias? How can the God you pray to in your church be any better than the God someone across the world prays to, in a separate language? In the middle of the field? 

People have tremendous pride in their religion, which is absolutely beautiful and worthy of all respect and tolerance. There is nothing wrong with having utmost faith for what you believe in. What is wrong is when people believe their religion is “the right religion.” Why? Is your perception of love the only “right perception of love?” Is your car the “only right car to drive?” Is your definition of happiness the only “right definition of happiness?”


This is not your fault. Unfortunately, most religions are designed to be righteous and influential. Challenge is dangerous; skepticism is often discouraged. Why is your religion the right one? Because, your society tells you it’s the right one. Your church or your family or your religious leaders tell you it’s the right one. Your book of worship tells you it’s the right one.

Let’s say, hypothetically, you were born in a jungle, without the access of human interaction or the knowledge of reading, writing, and speaking. Would you still “find” that religion? Would you find it without any awareness that your religion existed? Without any churches or holy texts? Without any ability to read or write or interpret its meaning?  Would you still pray to the same preconceived image of God that you have now?

And, for goodness sakes, can we end the dispute between believers and atheists/agnostics? Why the tension? It comes down to this: why should YOU CARE if your fellow citizen doesn’t believe in your same God? It can really go two ways from here. Either there is a GOD and that GOD will rightfully decide what to do with that individual. Your opinion will not affect the decision, nor will it make you a “better” person. Or, there is no God and you wasted your time.

No matter what the conclusion, why does it affect you?

If you love and believe in God, please enjoy his love to your fullest desire. Enjoy and relish in God’s spirit. But, don’t use God as an excuse to promote hatred. If God exists, would God want that? Would the force who supposedly embodies true, unconditional and unwavering love WANT the people to be fighting over him, to be using his name in such vain, to be using his force as an excuse to cause war, strife, and hatred? Do you believe that is what your God intended? 

Oh, and if God doesn’t exist, again, you’re just wasting your time channeling all the anger.

I realize this post will offend some. I understand the complexity and controversy that arises whenever religion is discussed. But, why does there have to be such discrepancy? Why can’t religion just be a matter of accepting differences, the same way we accept different favorite foods or colors or brands of cars? Yet, people are afraid to challenge religion, afraid of the tension it may invoke.

We need to stop that. 

My religious choices do not affect yours. Yours do not affect mine. Those who believe in God are no more worthy or “better” than those who do not. And, if they are, then their God will act appropriately. Again, if there is a God, doesn’t that God make the final judgment call? 

Fallacies of the American Dream and How We May be Harming our Children

The American Dream, while obviously subjective in its definition, epitomizes the idea of capitalism by reinforcing that In America, you can do whatever you want to do and be whoever you want to be.

And, sure, we know that this can and does happen. Everyone has heard the rag-to-riches stories, the infamous recounts from people who came to this country with no more than five dollars in their pocket and an imagination brimming with dreams. Naturally, these are the people who founded a small business, be it a restaurant or car dealership, and worked their way into billion-dollar lifestyles. These are the professional athletes from poverty-stricken families; the supermodels who immigrated for a better life; the Silicon Valley techs who never completed college.

Hard work and determination, that’s all it takes. That’s what has been drilled into our heads. As long as we have those two traits, we can achieve success. It may be slow and it may be mounted with obstacles, but it can be done.

Sounds good.

In theory.

But, for every pipe dream and every story with a happy ending, how many people fail?

A lot, it seems. This past financial recession and the widespread popularity of the occupant movements reveals just that, and in the past half-century, the once booming middle class has shrunk, making the class differences between the upper and lower class more evident than ever before.

 In a sense, the rich are staying rich and getting richer.

What about everyone else?

Capitalism benefits the wealthy because it relies on maximum potential of resources, which of course, the rich have. How so? A few reasons:

1. Income is associated with academic success, college enrollment, and college graduation, thus leading to more education and higher-powered careers.

2. Income is associated with greater health, both mentally and physically.

3. Income is associated with more resources (it’s not what you know, it’s who you know), and this is manifested through networking, powerful relatives and acquaintances, more opportunities

All of these three variables are high predictors of success.

Overall, more money = more leeway room for failure.

If a wealthy entrepreneur wants to open his own restaurant, he has more money to invest in marketing and start-up costs. If he needs loans, he will be more likely to receive approval due to his high income. Furthermore, if the business does fail, he is more able to recuperate after losses. Not to mention, this individual is more likely to have higher levels of education, more connections within the network (wealth brings power), and more professional support. Compare this to a man living just above the poverty line. He may be a genius chef and businessman, but if this man is married or raising a family, is he willing to sacrifice their finances? If he is already in a stable-paying position, is he willing to jeopardize that cushion of safety for an unpredictable, unreliable paycheck?

Those struggling with finances cannot necessarily afford to invest in such pipe dreams. If a poverty-stricken child enjoys singing and has obvious musical talent, her road to success will pose tremendous challenges compared to the daughter of a millionaire. The wealthier child may enjoy voice lessons, private conservatory schools, access to professional choirs, and parents who are willing to drive and spend money to audition and promote their child.

Hard work and determination? Sure, both children may work equally hard and be equally determined to achieve success.

Can raw, innate talent make up for the rest?

The American Dream is not unachievable, as we still have many new businesses and inventions emerging from individuals of modest backgrounds. Nevertheless, pessimism remains the general climate for most young adults in today’s society. With college rates soaring and employment meager, people are living at home longer, plagued with more credit card debt, and likely to settle for underemployed or underpaid positions. Likewise, their parents are likely to be racked with their own debt, potential possibilities for home foreclosure, the likelihood for reduction of social security and pensions, and their own fears of career layoffs. At the same time, we are literally bombarded with “get-rich-in-a-day” schemes, lottery results, reality television, the exploitation of lavish lifestyles, making us believe that anyone can join that elite life.

Moreover, we hate deluding the innocent children. After all, while we realize that the world needs the accountants, dentists, factory workers, middle managers, and construction workers, we don’t want them to settle for less than the glamorous. We want our kids to be the unstoppable athletes, breathtaking actresses, elegant models, unmatchable inventors, and the admirable superheroes.

Is this fair?

We want our children to defy the statistics, but yet, math is math, and disappointment is disappointment.

Is it fair to pretend that we are all on an equal playing board when eventually we everyone grows up and realizes we aren’t?

Is it fair to preach that hard work and determination always pays off?

Is it fair to be disappointed if our child doesn’t succeed in profoundly changing the whole world?

On one hand, it can be cruel and potentially damaging to a child’s development to explain how “the real world” works. We want to cultivate a nurturing and supportive environment. We want them to be motivated and driven to success, and having a solid dream can provide them with reason to work hard. Also, while it is numerically impossible for every child to be a star, there are always exceptions, always dirt-poor children who grow up to change the world and always believers who promise that if you want something bad enough, you can have it.

Yet, at the same time, ignorance cannot be bliss forever, and we may actually be doing a disservice to children by telling them that they can all be singers, ballerinas, and presidents. It can be hard for a parent to promise his children that they can grow up and be “whatever they want to be,” when the odds of that are so unlikely. Children of lower-class and now middle-class statuses are already at a disadvantage; they are more likely to attend less-prestigious schools and more likely to need to push education to the wayside in order to work.

How can one achieve those far-fetched dreams when food needs to be put on the table and rent needs to be paid?

The American Dream? What will it look like in the next century? Will the next generations of children grow up with that idyllic sparkle in their eyes believing confidently that they can be princesses and superheroes?

Who cares about politics, anyway?

Not many of us.

Americans enjoy all the hard-earned freedom that comes from living in a political democracy. We are allowed to vote, protest, repeal, advocate, boycott, petition, and change laws. We choose who represents our cities, states, and countries.

Most of us don’t care. Most don’t vote. Most don’t know the recent propositions on a ballot. Most cannot name their city mayor or senator. who the name of their current mayor or senator. 

We expect this. In a society that splashes its front-page news with celebrity gossip, our citizens know more about the Jersey-Karashian-Housewives saga than the politicians running their country. Should we be surprised? Today, politics are rarely discussed in schools, and even in high school history and civics classes, the curriculum tends to focus more on the structure of elections and the history of past presidents than recent events. Moreover, the American society seems to place a strong taboo on politics, as if talking about  controversy should be forbidden. 

So, who does care?

Rich, white men: No surprise there. The wealthy upper class keep up on recent polls and elections, because they know what happens in Washington directly affects what happens in their investment accounts. After all, who provides funding for such campaigns? Who is holding most of the nation’s income and using it to invest in the banks and stock market? These guys, of course. Politicians vary greatly on their take on how to govern the economy and taxes; naturally, people with money want what’s best for protecting and enhancing their income. 

Extremists: AKA, the Rush Limbaughs and Michael Moores of the world. To a lesser degree, people who swing to the far left or far right of the political spectrum tend to pay more attention than those in the neutral zone. Why? Because, they wouldn’t be extremists if they weren’t passionate about politics in the first place! Likewise, they tend to be more inflexible and rigid in their beliefs. Unlike people who gravitate more towards the middle, these people believe that if the opponent wins, it would be absolutely detrimental (ex: extreme conservatives blaming President Obama for everything that has gone wrong since 2008; extreme liberals blaming President Bush for everything that went wrong since 2000). 

Religious individuals: According to data from the last presidential election, those who attend church at least once a week were more likely to vote than those who attended less than once a week or not at all. Why is this? Despite any recounts or insistence of separating church and state, politics and religion remain intricately and stubbornly intertwined. Social, religious issues such as stances on abortion, gay marriage, and women’s rights are heavily tied into political platforms. This could explain why there has never been a president following a non-Christian faith. People like that sense of familiarity; as a society, we tend to perceive “strong, wholesome leaders” as those with some kind of religious background. 

Who doesn’t care enough?

Minorities: Despite being the fastest-growing group in America, minority ethnic groups simply do not vote as much as their Caucasian counterparts. While data on this is inclusive, it can be theorized that people still perceive politics as a game between the “rich, old, white men.” Other unaccounted factors should be considered: extraneous variables such as language barriers, lack of knowledge about politics, unfamiliarity with the process of registering to vote, physical and mental handicaps can all adversely influence an individual’s interest in politics.

Youth: Regardless of all the Rock the Vote campaigns and the soar of young individuals seeking higher levels of education, the 18-29 crowd simply lags behind every other age group when it comes to poll numbers. In 2008, approximately 46% of individuals voted in the presidential election. In 2000, that number was about 36%.Why? Age certainly can certainly play a role.  Young people learn how the “real world” works through a transition marked by independence, change, and growth. Politics may seem foreign and inapplicable to their daily lives. Compared to older age groups, they are probably not as affected by economic issues, such as positions on social security, tax breaks, or financial investments. Because they do not have as many assets or dependents (children, houses, stock), they may not feel as inclined to worry about how the current state of politics affects them.  In this demographic, we see young adults entering various universities, bouncing from apartment to apartment, transitioning state and city lines for new jobs. This can make it difficult to register to vote, and oftentimes, individuals who are new to the area may not know where the local polls will be held. Furthermore, if someone just relocated to a new city or state, he or she may not feel a need to vote, on the grounds that they lack adequate information about the current geographic issues.

Moral of the story: If you choose not to educate yourself about contemporary issues and you choose not to vote, you simply should not complain about the outcome. 

Five reasons why people will never compromise on the abortion debate

1. Life: the quality that distinguishes a vital and functional being from a dead body.

That is the definition extracted directly from Webster’s Dictionary, but it provides no justification in defining how life begins. After all, how do we define living from dead? By breathing? By maturation and development? Moreover, to essentially END life, we must understand what STARTS life, and yet, this is entirely subjective.

At one extreme, some insist that life begins the moment a creature is independent from needing the mother’s nutrients and body to survive. These advocates do not believe that abortion is murder, because they do not believe the fetus is alive. Others may believe life begins sometime during the pregnancy, and it is indicated by specific markers, such as transitioning into a new trimester or developing a heartbeat. These people, while still pro-choice, agree on abortion depending on a case-by-case basis. Pro-life individuals believe that life begins at contraception, once the sperm and egg produce a zygote. Since the fetus begins developing and maturing, terminating this process constitutes terminating life. They would not condone abortion at any point.

Since we cannot scientifically define “life,” this is an argument that has been socially constructed by religion, politics, and moral issues.

2. Religion and politics

So long as organized religion is prevalent force in American culture, the abortion debate will remain prominent. Christianity, the most central and dominant religion, denounces abortion, and many of its followers abide to the word of their church and biblical text. Catholicism, Islam, and Judaism all oppose abortion as well. For religious folk, pro-choice may be a detrimental and hypocritical belief.

With regards to the political spectrum, America is relatively dichotomous. Democrats typically favor pro-choice platforms and politicians; Republicans favor pro-life. Disagreeing with your political party may also seem hypocritical, on the grounds that people tend to line their beliefs with their affiliated party.

3. Solving the “unwanted child” epidemic

Unfortunately, child abandonment embodies a sad reality, hence the abundance of orphanages, shelters, and the existence of foster care and adoption agencies. While the global population continues to grow, we still face worldwide food and economic crises. Pro-choice individuals often believe that abortion reduces this amount of unwanted children; outlawing it would only worsen an already-terrible problem. Pro-life individuals, however, may recognize the outpour of resources, such as the surplus of families seeking adoption, and therefore conclude that even if the mother cannot provide a loving home, another individual or family will be eager to do so. This has become a major standstill, as most people understand our societal surplus of unwanted or abandoned children, but it is difficult to determine how much of a role abortion or the lack of abortion plays a role.

4. Consequences of unplanned pregnancies

In a culture where teenagers having babies and one-night stands are rampant, unplanned pregnancy has become mainstream and almost expected. While we face a serious plague of unwanted children, there are far more who are living in neglectful homes with less-than-ideal living environments. Sometimes, these children face abuse, poverty, or simply a lack of nourishment from their families. The pro-choice argument believes that when unfit mothers must keep and raise their children, they risk placing them in danger, whether it be financially, physically, or emotionally. These children may face a life of resentment or challenge, thus creating a host of problems. Pro-choice individuals often stress that one mistake should not define a woman’s life. They also recognize that contraception methods can fail, even when a woman or couple is taking all the necessary safety precautions. Meanwhile, the pro-life argument often emphasizes the importance of realizing the risks associated with sex. If a woman  is willing to become intimate, she must own up to the responsibility of any potential outcomes. Abortion is not a viable means of contraception, and if the pregnancy is unplanned, it lies at the fault of the mother. Therefore, pregnancy cannot be considered a mistake, because, no matter how unlikely, it is always a possibility. Instead of focusing on the mother in regards to an unplanned pregnancy, pro-life individuals focus on protecting a future child’s life.

This argument remains at a standstill, especially in exceptional cases, such as rape and perceived threat to the mother’s health. Is it fair for a mother to be responsible for giving birth to a child if was raped against her will? Should she still be liable to raise a child she never planned to have? However, on the other hand, is it fair to terminate a pregnancy on any grounds? How then, do we decide which future life should be allowed to live?

5. Perceived control over the female body

This, too, is difficult, because there is no set of outlines defining what right we have over ourselves. Suicide is technically illegal, but does that infringe on the rights of our body? The same debate has been seen with euthanasia and an individual’s right to demand “pulling the plug.” With abortion, however, this becomes murky. Pro-choice individuals believe that because the fetus is an extension that is entirely dependent on the mother, she holds the power in choosing to seek abortion.  Stripping away these rights is often considered inhumane and unjust, on the philosophy that forbidding abortion puts her body in the hands of the government and state laws. Pro-life individuals do not believe women should have the right to end their own pregnancies, just as they do not have rights to commit other acts of violence or murder. A mother cannot legally kill or harm her child once he or she is born, and she should not be able to do so while in vitro.

In other words, what do we consider illegal or immoral? Pro-choice individuals may perceive abortion as a medical decision to remove a part of the mother; pro-life individuals may perceive it as a violent crime terminating growing life.


There is no scientific answer defining THE ORIGIN OF LIFE.

There is no proven way that has solved the problem of unwanted children.

There is no set of rules governing which rights we have over our own bodies.

We know that people are strongly influenced by religion and politics, two major hotbeds for the abortion controversy. 

This is why abortion remains the most popular, overdone controversy of our century.

The face of addiction: Differentiating between abuse and dependence.




Most people know the textbook example of addiction as the vicious, consuming black hole that can ultimately destroy one’s family, career, mental and physical health, and severely compromise the quality of life. Indeed, many of us have struggled with addiction or have encountered someone who has. Because of all the attention this disorder generates, it is easy to make sound judgment, to assume that a heavy drinker is an alcoholic or a cocaine user is a drug addict. Yet, as we will see, the criteria for diagnosing true substance dependence (addiction) is complex.
First of all, not everyone who indulges in their vices, whether it be smoking, drinking, drugs, gambling, shopping, etc. is considered dependent. People who repeatedly continue their self-destructing behavior, despite recognizing how the habit is negatively affecting their quality of life, are engaging in substance abuse. They may face serious ramifications, such as legal trouble, financial struggles, problems at home, etc. However, unlike those with substance dependence, they do not exhibit substance tolerance or withdrawal symptoms.
Substance abuse however can transcend into substance dependence. The theories about this spiral into addiction are both controversial and plentiful: neurological disruptions regarding levels of serotonin and dopamine, genetics, environmental cues, etc. Still, it should be noted that abuse does not always lead to dependence. Many people go through an “experimental stage,” especially during their teenage and young adulthood years, and they do not suffer from addiction later on.
For people with substance dependence, however, the user acquires tolerance to the substance, therefore requiring a dosage increase to achieve the same intoxication or altered state. Likewise, the individual is deemed unsuccessful in reducing or quitting from the substance, despite his or her willpower or desire to do so. Withdrawal symptoms, such as hangovers, headaches, tremors, nausea, and shakes, occur during periods of abstinence. When the individual engages in the substance, he or she often often intakes more than intended and a “loss of control” feeling is common. Individuals may go to extreme measures (theft, lying, spending inordinate amounts of money or time) to find the substance when experiencing strong cravings for it.
It is critical to understand that the two mental illnesses are not interchangeable. In other words, a person cannot have both diagnoses at the same time. For users to be considered substance dependent, they must have already surpassed the stage of substance abuse. Furthermore, the necessary course of treatment action is different. Treatment plans for substance abuse often promote learning the appropriate strategies and techniques to reduce environmental and social triggers for cutting back intake. Some, but certainly not all, individuals choose a path of sobriety at this point. While people may seek professional help at this point, others are able to quit or cut back and improve their quality of life on their own. However, for people who are substance dependent, the treatment tends to be more aggressive. Recovery programs, such as the popular Twelve Steps and rehabilitation centers, usually advocate full sobriety. Most individuals must seek professional help in order to achieve this.
It should also be noted that the amount and frequency of abuse does not necessarily determine dependence. In fact, the face of addiction is difficult to detect, simply because some people engage in their substances secretly or do not fit the “addict” stereotype. Others may go through stages of heavy use followed by stages of abstinence or steady use. For instance, a college student who goes out to the bars and staggers home drunk every night for one week cannot automatically be deemed an alcoholic. For one, dependence patterns must have been evident for at least twelve months. This rules out most situational factors and variables that can lead to substance abuse. Also, we must consider the context. Is this drinking binge an isolated event? Did an emotional event, whether happy or sad, just happen?  Let’s examine an elderly woman who drinks a glass of wine a night to calm her nerves. A few months, noticing she is feeling more stressed, she starts drinking two glasses. Sometimes, on particularly bad nights, she finishes the bottle. Is she substance dependent? If she finds that she cannot curtail her habit, despite a longing to quit and the withdrawals provoke a sense of anxiety and relentlessness, she may be developing a problem.
To conclude, we are quick to throw around the terms like addiction and addict, but automatic labeling can be harsh, false, and detrimental to a person who is not actually suffering from dependence. While there is a plethora of research discussing the proposed models of addiction, it is important to continue studying why most people engage in substance abuse at some point and why only some of them transcend into substance dependence. This knowledge can help prevent and raise awareness about the addiction epidemic.
All information can be retrieved from the DSM-IV-TR or; substance abuse and substance dependence.




Lance Armstrong, doping, and how the average person responds.




As of now, the verdict behind the allegations of Lance Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs during his pro-cycling career, is still unclear, but the assumptions are rampant. If charged guilty,  Armstrong will be not only banned from competing in this sport, but the U.S Anti-Doping Agency will strip him of his record-breaking, seven Tour De France titles.

The full article about this controversy can be found here:

Armstrong is not refuting these charges, and, in fact, in response to all the doping allegations, he stated, “There comes a point in every man’s life when he has to say, enough is enough. For me, that time is now.

In the name of cycling, Armstrong’s name is synonymous with success and fame, just as Tiger Woods was with golfing (before his cheating scandal), Kobe Bryant is with basketball, and Serena Williams is with tennis. These names carry a certain degree of fame, because people recognize them, even if they do not follow that particular sport. 

In line with the makeup of most court cases, Armstrong’s high-profile situation can conceivably go in four directions: 

1. Armstrong is considered guilty, although he is actually innocent.

In statistics, we call this Type 1 Error. In law enforcement, this refers to the belief of “guilty until proven innocent.” In sports and media cases, however, this is usually uncommon, because we take extreme measures to avoid accusing an individual (especially celebrities) of a crime he or she did not admit.  As of now, Armstrong represents a strong, moral character in both professional athletics and cancer advocacy. A guilty charge will likely result in a dramatic loss of supporters, sponsors, and overall disapproval. HOWEVER, if, in fact, he is found innocent and this is discovered much later on, the public will respond with overwhelming rage towards the “injustice” of the legal team and court power behind the case.

2. Armstrong is considered innocent, and he is actually innocent.

This an ideal situation within the political spectrum. However, just like any other court outcome, it has its share of flaws. For instance, it is far easier to prove innocence over guilt, since guilt demands a certain criteria of evidence. In Armstrong’s case, guilt is hard to prove, since this case refers to past allegations, and Armstrong cannot actually be tested for using performance enhancing drugs. The U.S Anti-Doping Agency will have to dig much deeper to find substantial evidence to convict him of committing the alleged crimes, including looking back at former test results and hearing the eyewitness testimonies of several close teammates. Upon the completion of this battery of tasks, if Armstrong is convicted innocent, some will respond with relief and restoration in an iconic American figure. Others will once again be disappointed in the way law enforcement favors celebrities.

3. Armstrong is considered guilty, and he is actually guilty.

This, too, is considered an ideal situation, because it removes the ambiguity and replaces it with the black-and-white. Above all, a guilty sentence with substantial evidence provides reassurance, in the sense that justice is served. We seek this in high-profile criminal cases, such as murder or rape, when we feel certain that the alleged perpetrator was indeed guilty. If this happens to Armstrong, his prestigious reputation will suffer, and consequently, he will lose many privileges and support he generates as a professional cyclist. However, not everyone will be disappointed. Some supporters will stand by his side and point out that, “most everyone else was doping, too.” In all levels of athletics, cheating is a rampant trend; few, however, actually get caught and in trouble for their crimes. Cycling is not immune to the doping scandal, and Armstrong is hardly a unique case in regards to the Tour De France. A guilty sentence may simply reinforce and bring attention to this epidemic in professional sports, which can help strengthen future laws and disciplinary action. 

4. Armstrong is considered innocent, although he is actually guilty.

This is a realistic representative of the “err on the side of caution” case, and in the legal sense, because we do not convict someone “until proven guilty.” People tend to perceive this as either the best thing we have in judicial court, or the worst, due to its subjective nature. Celebrities have the luxury to afford the best attorneys and public relations teams. The criminal justice system appears to favor individuals with status and affluence, which can explain why famous people often receive lesser sentences or jail time for their crimes than would average citizens. With regards to Armstrong, if this situation occurred, he would essentially “beat the system.” The public response tends to divide when this happens. Avid supporters will likely respond in a smug, “I told you so” manner, whereas those who oppose Armstrong or believe in the doping accusations may refuse to take an innocent charge at face-value and argue that “he’s guilty, but just got lucky, because he’s famous.” This type of behavior was famously displayed with the drawn-out O.J Simpson trial.

In conclusion, Lance Armstrong’s reputation has already shifted from world-class professional cyclist and famous cancer advocate to “the cyclist who may have been doping.” In the next few weeks, that title will change again to “the cheater who doped” or “the cyclist who was accused of dope,” depending on the court outcome. Nevertheless, his sentence will stir even more controversy, because an innocent verdict does not mean everyone will necessarily believe it, just as not everyone will believe he is guilty if given a guilty verdict. And, finally, there will always people who argue that we spend far too much attention on high-profile celebrities, and that this is an irrelevant issue anyway.




Seven Myths About Mental Illness Most People Still Believe

Mental disorders often face the extreme brute of many false claims and phony beliefs, causing social alienation, stress, and frustration from those individuals who are suffering from one. Therefore, it is very important to understand both the causes, definitions, and symptoms of mental disorders before making judgment calls. Below are some very popular myths debunked.

Myth: Depression is a state of mind one can snap out of if he or she finds the willpower.
Reality: Depression, like all other mental illnesses, is a complex disorder with several theories leading to its causation, none of which coincide with choice or willpower. These theories include neurotransmitter (serotonin and norepinephrine) and brain structure abnormalities, environmental cues, extreme trauma, and co-morbidity with other mental disorders. In other words, depression is not a matter of one choosing to wallow in misery. Just as it is difficult to force a happy smile during a sad time, suggesting to fake happiness when suffering from depression is often impossible and insulting.

Myth: People with pedophilia have sex with children.
Reality: People who are sexually attracted to children and have sex with children are pedophiles. However, there is a much larger percentage of individuals who have pedophilic fantasies, yet never disclose or execute them. These thoughts tend to create enormous distress, and society’s standard of deeming pedophiles as an exclusive, sick-minded population, only heighten the suffering. Most people fail to understand that these individuals know their thoughts are sickening and wrong, yet they cannot stop them. Paraphilias refer to sexual fantasies or urges related to non-human objects or non-consenting persons; other ones include exhibitionism, voyeurism, sexual masochism, and sexual sadism. These are all mental disorders, not just a set of fantasies individuals choose to enjoy. In fact, paraphilias are often very tormenting and detrimental to an individual’s self-esteem and intimate relationships, and treatment is far more complicated than simply changing one’s thoughts.

Myth: People with schizophrenia pose a dangerous threat to society.
Reality: The majority of people suffering from schizophrenia are in no danger of hurting anyone else. Schizophrenia is categorized by disturbances in one’s thought processes and typically include distortion with reality from imagination; these can be manifested as hallucinations, delusions, heightened paranoia, and abnormal sensations and perceptions. Under appropriate medication and treatment, these individuals are no more likely to harm someone else than someone who is not suffering from schizophrenia. In fact, people with schizophrenia are more likely to be victims of crime, because a large population are homeless and can be easy targets for abuse. Moreover, ignorance leads many people into believing they are dangerous or strange, increasing motivation for violence. 

Myth: To be anorexic, one must be severely underweight.
Reality: Diagnosing eating disorders has transitioned into focusing on the state of mind, rather than the state of body. This is why they can difficult to detect; an anorexic state of mind refers to the preoccupation and fears of eating, restriction of food intake, constant thoughts about body image, and a strong need to seek control in one’s diet. For this reason, most anorexic individuals do suffer from malnourishment, thus rapidly decreasing their body weights beyond what is healthy. However, if they exhibit these mental symptoms, both men and women can be diagnosed with anorexia, despite the number on the scale.

Myth: Social phobia disorder is just another name for shyness.
Reality: Shyness refers to experiencing discomfort around others, especially around strangers. People suffering from shyness often feel self-conscious when interacting, and they may believe others are constantly watching or judging them.This can lead to fear, embarrassment, and anxiety in social situations. Social phobia disorder is more serious than shyness, in that the severe preoccupation with social situation interferes with ordinary activities, such as work, school, and relationships. Whereas people with shyness may feel uncomfortable in certain situations involving other people, they do not typically avoid them. To be diagnosed with social phobia disorder, one must have a deliberating adversity to certain social situations that affects everyday functioning. Indeed, social phobia disorder can induce panic attacks and increased motivation to avoid all social situations.

Myth: Premature ejaculation indicates a man is bad at sex.
Reality: After ruling out medical issues, premature ejaculation usually indicates performance anxiety. In most cases, men suffering from premature ejaculation tend to obsess about their problem when getting intimate with someone. This obsession manifests into anxiety, and once sex has been initiated, it is all the man can focus on. In most of the animal kingdom, premature ejaculation is normal, and in an evolutionary aspect, it makes sense, as our ancestors relied on quick intercourse to procreate and secure survival. Most psychologists and sex therapists agree that one must learn how to voluntarily delay orgasm in order to avoid premature ejaculation. Some men simply do not know how to control their sexual response, and this does not mean they are inexperienced or selfish. In fact, this issue is common and treatment is highly effective.

Myth: People with bipolar disorder swing back and forth from being really happy and really sad.
Reality: This is a very broad interpretation, and bipolar disorder is much more complex in how it affects one’s mood and mental state of being. This generic extreme idea of dramatic swinging back and forth is uncommon, as most individuals with bipolar disorder experience depression far more than mania. The idea of “extreme happiness” can be deceiving, as mania is not simply a state of euphoria: more commonly, individuals suffer from very intense, spontaneous, elevated moods that can be both frightening and unpredictable. Likewise, there are different types of bipolar disorder, and emotions often range all over the spectrum, not just at the extreme highs and lows.