Monthly Archives: March 2016

Service Dogs for PTSD (And a New Release)

by Kassandra Lamb

PTSD was my specialty when I was a practicing therapist, and yet I realized recently that I’ve never blogged about it to any great extent. Well, now I have a really good reason for doing so.

Lately I’ve become fascinated by the use of service dogs to help people suffering from this disorder. So much so that I’ve started a new mystery series about a woman who trains these service dogs for combat veterans, and her experiences with a variety of clients. (More on the first release in this series in a bit.)

service dog with his veteran handler

A service dog with his veteran handler (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is the diagnosis given when a person suffers symptoms as a result of exposure to a severe trauma. In the general population, the life-time prevalence rate is 8%, which is pretty high. Only phobias, depression and drug abuse are more common.

The list of symptoms is extensive, so I’m just going to hit on the most common ones, and how service dogs can help manage them.

But first let’s define trauma. This is a word that tends to be overused in our society for anything that makes us feel bad. The best definition I’ve ever heard for trauma comes from Lenore Terr, MD in her book, Unchained Memories (I’m paraphrasing her a little here):

A traumatic event is so emotionally overwhelming that the person experiencing it cannot process it cognitively nor emotionally at the time that it happens.

Such events are often sudden and unexpected. They might be a bad car accident, a natural disaster, a criminal assault, being in combat, etc.

PTSD was first identified in combat veterans. It was once called shell shock or battle fatigue. And this group still has one of the highest rates of PTSD, ranging from 12% (Gulf War vets) to 30% (Vietnam-era vets). The rate of PTSD currently in veterans of the Iraqi and Afghanistan conflicts is 13.8%.

The most common and debilitating of the symptoms are anxiety attacks (triggered by reminders of the trauma), nightmares and flashbacks. Service dogs are trained to pick up on the early stages of these symptoms and interrupt them.

If you have a dog, you know how sensitive they can be to their owner’s moods. When you’re depressed or anxious, they tend to sense it and often try to offer comfort. In service dogs, this natural tendency is enhanced through training and then the dog is taught to do something about it.

I’m still learning about all this myself for my new mystery series, but I know that for nightmares, this may mean waking their handlers by barking or nudging him/her with their noses. The service dogs also provide grounding and a calming effect. Again, if you have a dog (or a cat), you know how soothing it can be to stroke their coat and their silky ears.

hand petting dog

Both human and dog benefit from pets and ear scratches. 🙂 (public domain, Wikimedia Commons)

(Research has been done on this aspect of therapy/service dogs in general. Petting and interacting with them lowers heart rate and blood pressure and improves mood.)

With anxiety attacks, the dog often can alert their human that the attack is starting before the person has become consciously aware of the building anxiety. Then s/he can implement strategies (taught by his/her counselor) to nip the attack in the bud.

Service dogs also make it easier for veterans suffering from PTSD to go out in public. Two other PTSD symptoms are hypervigilance and an exaggerated startle response. Scary things have taken this person by surprise before, so now their nervous system is constantly on the alert, which is not good for their mental nor physical health.

There are two things the service dogs are trained to do to help with this hypervigilance. One is called the cover command. Whenever their human stops moving, the dog turns around and faces the way they came. The dog literally has the person’s back. S/he signals the handler if someone is approaching from behind, usually with a perking of their ears or a tail wag.

The dogs are also trained to step between their handler and anyone approaching them. These may sound like small things to most of us, but for those who suffer from PTSD, they can allow the person to relax a good bit more when out and about in the world.

service dog with his handler

public domain, Wikimedia Commons

This and also the strong sense of connection with the dog are particularly helpful for overcoming one of the most subtle and potentially destructive of the symptoms, a sense of isolation from others. People who have experienced extreme events sometimes are left feeling like they are different from others in some irrevocable way; they may even feel like they are “damaged goods.”

Being more comfortable in public and experiencing the unconditional love of a canine companion can go a long way toward overcoming this feeling of otherness, and help the veteran become more integrated into his/her community.

Combat veterans should only feel set apart in a proud way, that they have served their country well and are respected for their sacrifices. Service dogs can help them hold their heads high and get on with their lives.

(Stay tuned for more about this wonderful boon for veterans as I learn more myself.)

And today is the cover reveal for my new series. Another masterpiece by Melinda VanLone. Ta-da!! (Psst! The book is available for pre-order for just $1.99; it goes up after the release.)

ToKillALabrador FINALTo Kill A Labrador, A Marcia Banks and Buddy Mystery

Marcia (pronounced Mar-see-a, not Marsha) likes to think of herself as a normal person, even though she has a rather abnormal vocation. She trains service dogs for combat veterans with PTSD. Then the ex-Marine owner of her first trainee is accused of murdering his wife, and Marcia gets sucked into an even more abnormal avocation–amateur sleuth.

Called in to dog-sit the Labrador service dog, Buddy, she’s outraged that his veteran owner is being presumed guilty until proven innocent. With Buddy’s help, she tries to uncover the real killer.

Even after the hunky local sheriff politely tells her to butt out, Marcia keeps poking around. Until the killer finally pokes back.

AMAZON US  AMAZON UK   AMAZON CA   AMAZON AUS   APPLE   KOBO

AND, I’m having a Facebook party next week to celebrate the new series. Click here to check it out and sign up. There’ll be lots of prizes and fun!!

FB party banner

Are you a combat veteran or do you know one personally? What obstacles have you/they encountered in the reentry-into-civilian-life process?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Ask A Shrink: “ADHD is a Fictitious Disorder” and other Myths Perpetuated by the Web

by Kassandra Lamb

A couple of months ago, I ran my first Ask A Shrink post, and invited our readers to ask questions about psychology. Some questions I answered privately and one that I thought would be of common interest, I answered here on the blog.

But there was one question I have been putting off answering. One of my fellow authors asked how to best research mental disorders and other psychological phenomena.

computer

Computer research on Wikipedia may be fine for most things; not so good for psychology.  (photo by Jeff777BC CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve put this one off because there is no easy answer to it. The first thing I would say is to be very skeptical about sources of information, especially if you are, like me, using the writer’s favorite research tool, the Internet.

We find out all kinds of cool stuff much easier than in the past. Before the World Wide Web, we writers had to find an expert in the field and either talk to them on the phone or perhaps go visit them. Now, we just Google it.

But the risk here is that there is a lot of garbage on the Web. And sometimes that garbage is so oft repeated that it begins to take on the ring of gospel.

Also, even “experts” in a certain field can hold biases. Then you factor in what sells books and magazines and builds reputations, and you’ve potentially got even more bias.

In recent years, there have been multiple posts on the Internet claiming that Dr. Leon Eisenberg, the child psychiatrist who first identified ADHD as a developmental disorder in children, “made a deathbed confession” saying that “ADHD is a prime example of a fictitious disease.”

Here’s what really happened. Seven months before the man died (hardly a deathbed confession), he was interviewed by a German journal. In that interview he made a statement that could be mistranslated and misconstrued, if taken out of context, to mean what he is being quoted as saying.

Here’s what Snopes.com says about it:

However, when one allows for the vagaries of translation from German to English and reads the statement in context, it’s clear that Dr. Eisenberg wasn’t asserting that ADHD isn’t a real disorder, but rather that he thought the influence of genetic predispositions for ADHD (rather than social/environmental risk factors) were vastly overestimated.

Having now pointed out that what multiple posters on the Web said that Dr. Eisenberg said wasn’t really what he said, I’m sure I will get some comments and maybe even some nasty emails telling me I’m wrong. That he really did say that.

Why will I get such comments and messages? Because people tend to believe what they hear first if it seems the least bit plausible (and especially if it concurs with what they already believe). Then they filter later information through that belief, discounting what doesn’t confirm it and believing what does confirm it.

There are even psychobabble terms for these tendencies: belief perseverance and confirmation bias.

So bottom line, while the Internet might be a viable place to research how to get out of a straitjacket or how to build a secret room in your house (both topics I have researched for books), it is often not a reliable source for accurate information about psychological topics.

What are reliable sources? Usually information on the websites of professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Counseling Association, and the National Association of Social Workers can be trusted.

However, even there, an individual article may be biased.

Probably the most reliable source of information on psychological disorders is the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, 5th edition (DSM-V).

DSM-V

DSM-V (photo by Yoshikia2001 CC-BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia Commons)

This is published by the American Psychiatric Association, and years of scrutiny of the scientific research goes into each new edition. Committees of experts on each category of disorders meet for several years to review the most current research to determine what disorders should remain, what new ones should be included, what the diagnostic criteria should be for each disorder, etc.

The problem is that this book is written for mental health professionals, so sometimes you may need an interpreter to make sense of what it is saying. It also does not usually address causes of disorders nor treatment approaches.

Another problem is that not all psychological issues have been formulated (yet) as diagnosable disorders per se. For example, before 2013 when this fifth edition of the DSM was published, there was no diagnosis for childhood abuse or spousal battering (neither for the abuser nor the victim). In DSM-V these are still not diagnoses, but they are in there as “Other Conditions that may be a focus of Clinical Attention” (otherwise known as V codes).

So how can you be sure you have the psychology right when you’re writing a story that touches on psychological phenomena (which many stories do)?

Well, you can ask a shrink, like me. But unfortunately, we all have our human foibles as well, so we can also be biased. 😀

And now you can see why I put off answering this question!

I’d love to hear your take on this. Why do you think people are so gullible? What have you believed on the Web only to find out later it was a hoax?

If you have an Ask A Shrink question for me, include it in the comments.

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

A Reader’s Look Behind the Curtain Re: eBook Pricing and KU

by Kassandra Lamb

There’s been a lot of buzz lately amongst my fellow writers about free books and the broader issue of creatives (people who create things for other’s pleasure and entertainment) being expected to work for free for the sake of “exposure.”

I wanted to chime in, but didn’t want to just repeat what has already been said (to see what has already been said, check out editor/writer Marcy Kennedy’s post on the subject and romance writer, Ruth Ann Nordin’s post as well).

image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

image from Wikimedia Commons, public domain

So I decided to strive to explain to readers why ebooks end up priced as they are.

Free books are meant to be SAMPLES for the reader to get a taste of the author’s writing. One should not expect to make a steady diet off of them. When a grocery store is giving away samples of a new type of cracker, you wouldn’t stand there and expect the store employee to keep handing you crackers until you’re full. So isn’t it equally rude to expect an author to continue to fork over freebies of the books they worked long and hard to produce?

99 cents is a sale price for books. Authors, just like any other business people, sometimes run sales to attract new customers and reward their loyal ones. Getting a book–that an author spent hours a day for several months producing–for just $0.99 should be cause for celebration. It’s comparable to finding a $50 silk blouse on sale for $5.

Kindle Unlimited is a bargain for the avid reader; but it can cause authors to lose money. What readers often don’t know is that being in KU requires exclusivity with Amazon. We are not allowed to sell, nor even give away our books anywhere else if we sign them up for Kindle Unlimited. I sell almost as many books on Apple’s iBooks as I do on Amazon. Why would I give up that income so KU subscribers can get my books for free?

So by all means, join Kindle Unlimited if you’re an avid reader, but also expect to pay for books by some of your favorite authors, who for a variety of reasons are not willing to be exclusively on Amazon. One of those reasons may be that they’re good enough and well-established enough that they no longer need to be in Kindle Unlimited to get exposure to new readers. (I’m not saying that authors in KU aren’t good writers, mind you! I know several excellent authors who prefer to have all their eggs in the Amazon basket for the benefits received from KDP Select.)

IllTimedEntanglements rev 2015

It took four tries with this book to come up with a cover I really liked.

The overhead of ebooks is low compared to printed books, but it’s still significant. Readers are quick to criticize (as they should!) an ebook that is poorly edited or that has formatting glitches. And they won’t buy one that doesn’t have an eye-catching, well-designed cover. All those things cost money: editing runs around $1,000-2,000 for a full-length novel, formatting around $100-250, and a good cover from $250-500. So it takes, on average, $2,000 to produce a good-quality ebook. Depending on the market and the retailer, the indie author will average $2.00 per book in royalties off of a book priced at $2.99 to $3.99 (the most common price points for indie authors). Which means they will have to sell 1,000 books before they have recouped their out-of-pocket expenses.

Authors have to spend money on promotions in order to give away those freebies and sell those $0.99 books, that will hopefully lead to sales of their regularly-priced books. This is true of traditionally-published authors as well as indies, unless the author is already well-established as a bestseller. So more out-of-pocket expenses for the author.

Indie presses and indie authors are a good bargain for readers. Because we don’t have the overhead of a big organization like major publishers do, we can keep our prices down, especially on ebooks. The average price of an indie-produced novel is $3.99.

“But I’ve read a lot of indie books that were drivel,” you might say. So have I. I’ve also read some traditionally published books in recent years that made me cringe. Traditional publishers are no longer providing the gate-keeping function they once did. They are all about what will sell, not what is good writing.

And traditionally-published ebooks are notoriously overpriced. Often they’re as much or more than the paperbacks. Readers may think this means those ebooks are a better quality read.

No, that’s not the reason at all. Publishers do this in the misguided belief that this will keep the ebooks from cutting into their paperback and hard cover sales. My guess is that it just loses them a lot of ebook sales. It certainly does in my case. I’m not paying $12.99 plus for an ebook; not when I know as an indie press owner and author that those ebooks cost very little in overhead to produce.

You can buy three misterio press ebooks for that amount, with change left over.

People devalue something they got cheap or for free. Sadly the abundance of free and cheap books has led people to unwittingly (it’s human nature, after all) devalue authors’ efforts. The number of hours that go into producing a high-quality read are so high that nobody I know has ever successfully counted them. We’re talking a minimum of three months for a full-time author to produce a polished novella or novel. Most take six months to a year.

And yet authors periodically get emails and comments in reviews saying our books are overpriced. Often these comments are coming from readers who have otherwise given a positive review. They LIKED the book, but don’t understand why they should pay more than $0.99 for it. (And some even complain about $0.99 books.)

Ironically, this devaluing of cheap books has led other readers to believe that anything priced under $4 or $5 is not well-written. When I first heard about this trend, I did an experiment. I raised the price of my full-length novels from $2.99 to $3.99. Sure enough, my sales improved, and not just the money, which was obviously higher, but the actual number of books sold.

Writers need to eat, too! (photo of Polish Christmas Eve dinner by Przykuta CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Common)

Writers need to eat, too!  (photo of Polish Christmas Eve dinner by Przykuta CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Common)

Writers need to make money on writing or they won’t be able to keep writing. Everybody needs to pay their bills and buy groceries, so if writers aren’t able to do this with money from their books, they have to get another job. And that job will drastically cut into their writing time. It might even mean they stop writing completely. So if you want your favorite writers to keep writing, buy their books.

Dear readers, please understand that books are our products, ones that we have neglected our families and lost sleep and sweated blood to produce. We’re happy to give you a free taste now and then, but if you like it, please do buy the meal! So we can pay our mortgages and put food on our own tables.

Thank you for listening, and I’d love to hear from you. What’s your take on all this?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

Slobs: Are They Born or Made? And Can They Change?

by Kassandra Lamb

For Christmas this year, my brother gave my husband a day’s worth of help organizing his study. Now you might think that a strange gift, but it was on the hubster’s wish list.

As I’ve mentioned before, hubs is a random thinker. While being a random has its strengths, step-by-step planning and organization are not among them. Whether one is a random or sequential thinker seems to be innate, although I don’t think any definitive research has been done on this yet. (For more on randoms vs. sequentials see my post on the subject.)

Since where we land on the random-sequential continuum seems to be inherited, that means we probably have one or more parents who are like us. In my husband’s case, both of his parents were fairly random, if the level of neatness, or lack thereof, in their homes is an indicator (which it usually is).

The first time I visited my mother-in-law’s home, I thought, “Okay, this explains a lot.” Her house was clean from a hygienic standpoint, but it was far from neat.

So in my husband’s case, he got a double whammy of nature and nurture. Kind of stacked the deck against him.

Tom's study before the big clean-up

Hubs’ study before the Big Clean-up

So then the question becomes: can one unlearn early lessons, especially if nature is also working against you?

I lean much more toward sequential, as did both my parents. But as kids we had bedrooms on the second floor, and my mother rarely climbed the stairs to inspect our rooms. So because I could get away with it, I tended to be a slob.

This carried over into young adulthood. I wasn’t a total slob, but I was hardly neat either. I had a chair in the bedroom on which I flung my clothes at night. Eventually most of the clothing I owned would be on that chair (or it would fall over from the weight 😛 ).

So then I would be forced to sort through the stuff to either hang up what was still wearable or put things in the hamper. This would take at least a half hour to forty-five minutes to do. Of course, I put it off for as long as possible, which meant the chore was even bigger by the time I did it.

One day, it dawned on me that life would be easier if each evening, I either hung up my clothes or put them in the hamper right then. So I started doing that. Eventually I became neater in general, because I saw the value in cleaning up at the time rather than having a bigger chore to do later.

It wasn’t all that hard to break the habit of being a slob, because I’m a sequential thinker.

For randoms, learning to be neat is very, very hard. I can’t begin to tell you how many times my husband has vowed to “clean up my room.” He’d start out with good intentions, but after several days of effort and quite a few bags of trash and recyclables being removed, his study would look pretty much the same. Because what was left was still randomly scattered all over the place, including on the floor.

Thus the request for help on his wish list. My brother not only helped him get everything off the floor and in boxes, stacked neatly on book shelves, but he gave him some advice on how to keep it that way. Now the study looks like this:

The AFTER shot

His study now!

He really likes having a neat and orderly place to work, and he has vowed to keep it that way. It’s been a little over a month since the big re-organization and so far, so good. But neither he nor I are taking it for granted that this will last.

Why are we so pessimistic? Because old, ingrained behaviors are hard to change and there’s that whole nature thing working against him.

So what can couples do if they find themselves on opposite ends of the neatness-messiness spectrum? The slobby person may or may not be able to change their behaviors, but there are some things that can help keep the relationship stable.

First, we need to learn to not take it personally. My husband doesn’t leave his shoes in the middle of the floor to defy me or because he expects me to pick up after him. Indeed, I’m not even in his thoughts when he takes those shoes off and leaves them there.

Indeed, the SHOES aren’t even in his thoughts once they’re off his feet. That’s the problem! When he’s done with an object, it lands wherever he last used it.

On his side of things, he doesn’t take it personally when I remind him to pick up stuff or clean up his bathroom. He admits that he’s a slob and knows it’s not the ideal way to be.

Years ago, we hit on a great solution. We established slob zones. In each room in the house, there is one section that is his to slob up to his heart’s content–one corner of the dining room, his dresser in the bedroom, beside his chair in the family room, etc.

He still forgets sometimes and leaves things elsewhere, but the deal is that I only have to pitch the object into the nearest slob zone. I don’t have to think about what it is or where it belongs, and I certainly don’t have to take it to where it belongs and put it away.

So he leaves his shoes in the middle of the family room floor; I toss them on top of the pile next to his chair. He leaves his mail on the kitchen counter; I toss it in the pile of papers on his end of the breakfast bar.

Once we established the slob zones, we didn’t argue all that much anymore about his slobby ways. And through the years, he’s gotten better at keeping the slobbiness contained to those zones.

How about you? Is your significant other neater or messier than you are? How do you deal with it?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )

1st Sign of Spring–Not the Robins!

by Kassandra Lamb

There is one HUGE reason why I live in Florida – the winters are mild and very short. Just the other day I experienced the first sign of spring.

For me, it’s not the azaleas starting to bloom–although they do so in Florida at the first hint of warmer days. Nor is it the increase in the song birds in my backyard.

azaleas

The azaleas outside my study window

I know that spring has arrived when I wake up in a good mood, for the first time in weeks!

I liken it to having a mild case of the flu, one where you can stay functional with just a little bit of effort. So you don’t quite realize just how sick you were until you start to feel better.

That’s me in the spring. I don’t realize just how depressed I’ve been all winter until the depression lifts in the spring, and suddenly that crabby mood that I’ve been blaming on other things for the last couple of months is gone. I’m alive again, have energy to do things, and feel pleasure in my accomplishments.

I, like many other people, suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder, whose acronym, ironically, is S.A.D. I’ve posted about this disorder before, about its cause (less sunlight amping up the production of a hormone called melatonin) and its treatment (light boxes).

But I wanted to comment on it again, as a reminder to folks like myself who have milder cases, especially those up north who are still knee-deep (some of them literally) in winter.

Our depression isn’t always obvious. It takes the form of irritability and a general feeling of malaise. We sleep more, have less energy and eat more. But we won’t necessarily realize what is going on. It’s too subtle, starting gradually in the fall as the daylight hours shorten.

The risk is that we will blame the down feelings on other things. As human beings, we have a natural tendency to look for explanations for our emotions. This can lead us astray in life when the emotions are more motivated by biological changes than life circumstances.

penguins arguing

Crabby penguins arguing (photo by Brocken-Inaglory CC-BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons)

We may pick fights with our friends or family members or decide we can’t stand our house and want to move.

You know how they say one shouldn’t make big decisions right after a major loss… well, the same applies to S.A.D. sufferers in the winter!

It helps some though, to know what is going on. If you keep reminding yourself that this is not about your life, it’s about the time of year, then you can get through ’til spring a bit easier, and with a lot less wear and tear on your relationships.

And if you’re one of those weird people who likes cold weather, please understand that our dislike of it is not just a preference. It’s a craving for the return of joy and energy!

How about you? Do you hate winter, or like it? Do you think you might have a touch of S.A.D. or do you know someone who does?

Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She is the author of the Kate Huntington psychological suspense series, set in her native Maryland, and a new series, the Marcia Banks and Buddy cozy mysteries, set in Central Florida.

We blog here at misterio press once (sometimes twice) a week, usually on Tuesdays. Sometimes we talk about serious topics, and sometimes we just have some fun.

Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun! (We do not lend, sell nor otherwise bend, spindle or mutilate followers’ e-mail addresses. 🙂 )