People Change: New Research Shows Personalities Change!
There is good news to start the new year with today in psychological research. An analysis of 207 research studies that included 20,000 patients has found that people who are characterized by neurotic behavior change as a result of psychological and medical care they receive. In an article published in Psychological Bulletin, researchers from the University of Illinois, have found that people can change.[i]
Now this seems almost like a self-evident truth, but according to lead researcher Brent Roberts many “subscribe to the idea that once someone reaches adulthood their personality is set for life.”[ii] This is particularly true of individuals who are described as neurotic, who struggle with depressed moods, and feelings of guilt, envy, anger, and anxiety.
The research found that individuals who were cared for with cognitive behavioral therapy, counseling or medical treatment over 24 weeks changed! Those who struggled with anxiety benefited the most. Emotional improved by half and persisted long after the care was over.
Should we be surprised by this? Not at all, in fact it is really great when science tells us something that we have known for millennia. The Apostle Paul told us in his letter to the Corinthians that if “any man be in Christ, he is a new creature, the old things have passed away, new things have come.”
It is not a bit surprising that people with anxiety would benefit the most from counseling. Jesus told us repeatedly to trust Him and to not worry. 3"Do not worry then, saying, 'What will we eat?' or 'What will we drink?' or 'What will we wear for clothing?...for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow…” (Mat 6:31-34 NAU) Jesus came as the solution to the things that make us worry.
From the time that the gospel was announced, it has always brought hope that men and women did not need to spend the rest of the lives as slaves to fear, worry and sadness. It is good to know that secular researchers have “discovered” this truth. As Jesus said, "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."  (Mat 11:28-30 NAU)
People who struggle with fear, worry, sad moods and other emotional problems do no need to spend their lives believing that there is no hope for change. Current research tells us they can change. This has always been an essential part of the gospel message.
[i] Brent W. Roberts, Jing Luo, Daniel A. Briley, Philip I. Chow, Rong Su, Patrick L. Hill. A Systematic Review of Personality Trait Change Through Intervention.Psychological Bulletin, 2017; DOI: 10.1037/bul0000088
[ii] University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Counseling, antidepressants change personality (for the better), team reports." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 January 2017. <>.
What’s New in Bipolar Disorder?
  1. Introduction:  Surge in Diagnosis since 1980.
  1. Epidemic?
B.        Changing criteria?
C.        Root of the problem is in diagnosis and treatment of depression.
D.        Similar subjective criteria method used to diagnose BPD as is in depression.
  1. Definitions.
  1. Bipolar disorder categories:
  1. BPD 1, the old manic depression;
  2. BPD 2;
  3. Cyclothymia;
  4. Depression with family history of BPD;
  5. Mania alone;
  6. BPD, other specified bipolar and related diseases.
  1. Criteria for BPD 1 (old manic depression):
    1. Period of more than one week of improved mood;
  1. Irritable, inflated sense of self-esteem with decreased need for sleep;
  1. Easily distracted with a pressing need to get things done;
  1. Spending money they do not have.  Disastrous sexual or moral choices are made;
  1. Mania is followed by depression.  Diagnosis of depression is required.
  1. Significant changes:
    1. A week long episode of mania is no longer required for hospitalization;
  1. Criteria for BPD2 are less restricted:
    1. Presence of one or more major depressive episodes;
    2. Presence or history of at least one hypomanic episode;
    3. No prior manic episode or mixed episode;
    4. Symptoms are not better accounted for by another disorder;
    5. The symptoms cause significant clinical distress or impairment in social, occupational or other areas of function.
  1. The key difference is between mania and hypomania, which makes applying the diagnosis much less difficult.
    1. A distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting at least four days, that is clearly different from the usual non-depressed mood.
    2. During the period of mood disturbance, three or four of the following symptoms have persisted (four, if only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree:
      1. Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity;
      2. Decreased need for sleep (feels rested after three or four hours)
      3. More talkative than usual or feels pressure to keep talking;
      4. Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing;
      5. Distractibility;
      6. Increase in goal-directed activity (social, work, school, sexually) or psychomotor agitation;
      7. Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (buying sprees, sexual indiscretions.

  1. Represents change in function level, observed by others.
  2. Not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning and does not have psychotic features.
  1. This is the important dividing line!
    1. Hypomanic-like episodes that are clearly caused by somatic antidepressant treatment (medication, ECT, light therapy) should not count toward a diagnosis of BPD2 disorder.
    2. The problem is that most people labeled with depression are on antidepressant medication when labeled with BPD2.
  • “Instead of treating a new disease, we may simply be treating the side effects of a drug used to treat an old one.”
  1. What’s New in Research?
  1. Understanding bipolar disorders is important.  It shortens life!
  1. BPD is over-diagnosed.
  1. Most making the diagnosis fail to use the criteria;
  2. Not confirmed later;
  3. More likely to diagnose something treated with medication;
  4. Mood swings common to many DSM5 diagnoses.
  1. Pathology.
    1. Stem cell research;
    2. Schizophrenia and BPD have common pathology;
    3. MRI scanning with changes in the cerebellum, understanding lithium;
    4. Risk takers and MRI changes.
  1. Treatment.
    1. Lithium and non-responders;
    2. Counseling helps!  CBT and BPD;
    3. Anti-psychotic drugs change brains.
  2. Genetics.
    1. Connection between BPD and schizophrenia;
    2. Creativity, BPD, and genes;
    3. New genes.
  1. Marijuana, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder:
    1. Which comes first?  BPD or pot?
    2. How does marijuana affect BPD course?
  1. Symptoms:  fuzzy thinking and BPD.
  1. Other.
  1. What can we do to help?
  1. Understand the difference between BPD1 and BPD2.
    1. Mania and hypomania;
    2. BPD1 is a disease;
    3. BPD2 is more likely a side effect.
  1. Understanding the importance of medication.
    1. BPD1 may require medication indefinitely;
    2. BPD2 may not benefit much from medications currently used;
    3. Side effects are very real.
  1. BPD1:
    1. Counseling from a chronic medical disease viewpoint;
    2. Need a John 11 view of suffering;
    3. Motive must change.  2 Corinthians 5:9;
    4. Growth and change;
    5. Anger;
    6. Worry;
    7. Gratitude;
    8. Christian service;
    9. Christian responsibility in health care.
  1. BPD2:  in the absence of classic mania:
    1. Look for a historical source;
    2. Consider over-diagnosed depression with medication side effects.  Remember 90/10.
    3. Look for behavior, thinking, and emotional responses to adverse events of life, and examine them through the lens of scripture;
    4. Look for the difference between normal and disordered sadness;
    5. Help the counselee see that difference;
    6. See point III, A-H.
    7. Help the counselee see the opportunity in the trial.
Complete bibliography available at

Bibliography for “What’s New in Bipolar Disorder.”
III. A. University of Oxford. "Many mental illnesses reduce life expectancy more than heavy smoking." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 23 May 2014. <>.

B.1-3 Lifespan. "If Bipolar Disorder Is Over-diagnosed, What Are The Actual Diagnoses?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 July 2009. <>.

B4. Rashmi Patel et al. Mood instability is a common feature of mental health disorders and is associated with poor clinical outcomes.BMJ Open, May 2015 DOI: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-007504
King's College London. "Mood instability common to mental health disorders, associated with poor outcomes." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 May 2015. <>.

C.1 H M Chen, C J DeLong, M Bame, I Rajapakse, T J Herron, M G McInnis, K S O’Shea. Transcripts involved in calcium signaling and telencephalic neuronal fate are altered in induced pluripotent stem cells from bipolar disorder patientsTranslational Psychiatry, 2014; 4 (3): e375 DOI: 10.1038/tp.2014.12
University of Michigan Health System. "First stem cell study of bipolar disorder yields promising results." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 March 2014. <>.

C.2 Glenn T. Konopaske, Nicholas Lange, Joseph T. Coyle, Francine M. Benes. Prefrontal Cortical Dendritic Spine Pathology in Schizophrenia and Bipolar DisorderJAMA Psychiatry, 2014; DOI:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.1582
The JAMA Network Journals. "Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder associated with dendritic spine loss in brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 2 October 2014. <>.

​C.3 Children vs adults
Ezra Wegbreit, Grace K. Cushman, Megan E. Puzia, Alexandra B. Weissman, Kerri L. Kim, Angela R. Laird, Daniel P. Dickstein.Developmental Meta-analyses of the Functional Neural Correlates of Bipolar DisorderJAMA Psychiatry, 2014; DOI:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.660
 Lifespan. "Difference found in way bipolar disorder affects brains of children versus adults." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 June 2014.
C.3 MRI scans and Lithium.
C P Johnson, R L Follmer, I Oguz, L A Warren, G E Christensen, J G Fiedorowicz, V A Magnotta, J A Wemmie. Brain abnormalities in bipolar disorder detected by quantitative T1%u03C1 mapping.Molecular Psychiatry, 2015; DOI: 10.1038/mp.2014.157
University of Iowa Health Care. "Bipolar disorder: New MRI imaging provides new picture, new insight." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 January 2015. <>.
C.4 Wael El-Deredy et al. Decision-making and trait impulsivity in bipolar disorder are associated with reduced prefrontal regulation of striatal reward valuationBrain, July 2014 DOI: 10.1093/brain/awu152
Manchester University. "Why people with bipolar disorder are bigger risk-takers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 9 July 2014. <>.
D.1David Gurwitz et al. Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 Differentially Affects Lithium Sensitivity of Lymphoblastoid Cell Lines from Lithium Responder and Non-responder Bipolar Disorder PatientsJournal of Molecular Neuroscience, April 2015 DOI: 10.1007/s12031-015-0523-8
American Friends of Tel Aviv University. "Personalizing bipolar disorder treatment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 April 2015. <>.
D.2Steven H. Jones, Gina Smith, Lee Mulligan, Fiona Lobban, Heather Law, Graham Dunn, Mary Welford, James Kelly, John Mulligan And Anthony P. Morrison. Recovery-focused cognitive-behavioural therapy for recent-onset bipolar disorder: randomised controlled pilot trial.British Journal of Psychiatry, September 2014 DOI:10.1192/bjp.bp.113.141259
Lancaster University. "Talking therapy for people with a recent bipolar disorder diagnosis." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 September 2014. <>.
D.3Haiming Chen, Nulang Wang, Xin Zhao, Christopher A Ross, K Sue O’Shea, Melvin G McInnis. Gene expression alterations in bipolar disorder postmortem brainsBipolar Disorders, 2013; 15 (2): 177 DOI:10.1111/bdi.12039
niversity of Michigan Health System. "Do drugs for bipolar disorder 'normalize' brain gene function?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 April 2013. <>.
E.1Robert A Power, Stacy Steinberg,, Polygenic risk scores for schizophrenia and bipolar disorder predict creativityNature Neuroscience, 2015; DOI:10.1038/nn.4040
  King's College London. "Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder may share genetic roots with creativity."   ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 June 2015.  <
      E.2 Mark Weise et al. Biological insights from 108 schizophrenia-associated genetic lociNature, 2014; 511 (7510): 421 DOI:10.1038/nature13595
Niamh L. O’Brien,, The functional GRM3 Kozak sequence variant rs148754219 affects the risk of schizophrenia and alcohol dependence as well as bipolar disorderPsychiatric Genetics, 2014; 1 DOI: 10.1097/YPG.0000000000000050
University College London. "Gene variant linked to schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, alcoholism." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 22 July 2014.
E.3Thomas W. Mühleisen,,  Genome-wide association study reveals two new risk loci for bipolar disorder.Nature Communications, 2014; 5 DOI: 10.1038/ncomms4339
Universität Bonn. "New gene for bipolar disorder discovered." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 11 March 2014. <>.
F1. Elizabeth Tyler, Steven Jones, Nancy Black, Lesley-Anne Carter, Christine Barrowclough. The Relationship between Bipolar Disorder and Cannabis Use in Daily Life: An Experience Sampling Study.PLOS ONE, 2015; 10 (3): e0118916 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0118916
Lancaster University. "How cannabis use affects people with Bipolar Disorder." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 13 March 2015. <>.
F.2 Melanie Gibbs, Catherine Winsper, Steven Marwaha, Eleanor Gilbert, Matthew Broome, Swaran P. Singh. Cannabis use and mania symptoms: A systematic review and meta-analysisJournal of Affective Disorders, 2015; 171: 39 DOI: 10.1016/j.jad.2014.09.016
University of Warwick. "Significant link between cannabis use and onset of mania symptoms." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 February 2015. <>.
G. K.Ryan,, Shared dimensions of performance and activation dysfunction in cognitive control in females with mood disordersBrain, 2015; 138 (5): 1424 DOI:10.1093/brain/awv070
University of Michigan Health System. "'Fuzzy thinking' in depression, bipolar disorder: New research finds effect is real." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 4 May 2015. <>.
H. Biblical Counseling Coalition website, Sept.7, 2015. Medication Biblical Counseling, & Depression: What’s New in Serotonin. Charles Hodges MD
ADHD: New Research 

In the last decade the diagnosis of ADHD grew among children by 53%. Twenty percent of high school aged boys carry the diagnosis as do eleven percent of children and teens. Much of what our society does about the problem centers around the prescription of amphetamine derivative medication. The goal of the medication is to focus their attention and reduce their hyperactivity. And, it appears that the goal may be wrong.

New research published in the Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, conducted at the University of Central Florida indicates that current thinking about hyperactive children may be wrong. Instead of making it difficult or impossible for them to learn, movement maybe an important key to their learning.[i] “The foot-tapping, leg swinging, and chair-scooting…are actually vital to how they remember information and work out complex tasks.”[ii] It appears that if they aren’t moving, they may not be learning!

“The typical interventions target reducing hyperactivity. It’s exactly the opposite of what we should be doing.”[iii] Instead the researchers said that educators should be facilitating the child’s movement. The study included 52 boys ages 8 to 12. Out of that group 29 boys had the label of ADHD, and 23 did not.

The boys were video recorded and their movements were recorded by observers as they performed a math problem. What they found was very important to the children and learning. The boys who were labeled with ADHD were not hyperactive continuously. Instead they developed the excessive movement when they were performing the math problem. When they were using the part of our brains that allows us to make memories, they were moving. Instead of being a problem, the movement was needed in order to do the task.

Boys without ADHD, did not increase their movement when they were asked to do the math problem. And, if they did increase their movement their performance of the problem worsened. The study showed that in order to help children who meet the behavior criteria for ADHD, we need to rearrange the learning environment. These students may perform better if they do their work sitting on exercise balls or exercise bicycles instead of traditional chairs and desks.

This is great research! Someone has finally stood up and said what I have been saying about ADHD for a decade. These children certainly are different. They learn differently. Instead of trying to force them into a one size fits all form of education by medicating them, we should be changing the classroom. We need to educate children in the best way they can learn.

Reminds me of something the writer of Proverbs said. “Raise up a child in the way that he should go…” That may not always be the way every child goes or the way that the majority of those in medicine and education think best. 

[i] Dustin E. Sarver, Mark D. Rapport, Michael J. Kofler, Joseph S. Raiker, Lauren M. Friedman. Hyperactivity in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): Impairing Deficit or Compensatory Behavior?Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 2015; DOI: 10.1007/s10802-015-0011-1

[ii] University of Central Florida. "Kids with ADHD must squirm to learn, study says." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 April 2015. <>.

[iii] Ibid.

Headlines like this always catch our attention. I suppose the writer thought we might all read it and decide that spanking Johnny for telling whoppers was useless. I am certain that the writer for ScienceDaily[i] meant well, but the headline misses the point of the study. One of the hazards of journalism is writing about research that you might not understand.

The research published in December in the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology was titled “The effects of punishment and appeals for honesty on children’s truth-telling behavior.”[ii] And, it does not exactly say that the threat of punishment has no effect on whether or not children will lie.

What it did say was that for children who choose to disobey, two thirds will choose to lie about it. And, that this number is increased when the child expects to be punished. It also said that when children are reminded that it is important to tell the truth, and that others will be pleased if they do, that they are less likely to lie.

The study included 372 boys and girls ages 4 to 8 years who agreed to be a part of an experiment in which they were supposed to guess the identity of a toy that they could not see, but could hear a sound that it made. In the middle of the experiment the adult would leave and tell the child not to peek at the toy. When the adult returned the child would be asked if they peeked. Of those 372 children, 251 peeked (68%) and 121 did not. (32%) Of those who peeked, 167 (67%) lied about it and 84 (33%) did not.

The important thing the study did not address was why the 121 obeyed. It is reasonable to assume that children who are disobedient will also lie about it. This raises three important questions. Why does punishment not deter them? Why did the other children choose to obey? Why did a third of the children who peeked choose not to lie about it?

The answer to the first question is found in the fact laws and punishment do not keep people from breaking them. Watch the news tonight and you will see this lived out. Paul in his letter to the Romans spoke of the sin of envy and coveting. The law said, “you shall not covet…but sin taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind…” (Romans 7:7-8) Paul describes what every parent knows. Tell the child “no” and you can often expect that they will do exactly what you told them not to do.   

The solution is not punishment. Paul says later, “Who will set me free…” from this? “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord…” The solution is first the grace of salvation to be found in Christ.

Then as the second question asked, why do some children chose to obey? The answer can be found in scripture. Paul would tell parents and fathers in particular to “…bring children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4) After grace, training and instruction are vital for a child to grow morally. I suspect that the children who obeyed had parents who had taught them that it was important.

The third question, why did some children even when they had disobeyed chose not to lie about it? One thing the study saw was that children who were told that it would please the adult if they told the truth were less likely to lie. Respect for adult authority is an important part of a child’s behavior. But, it is small when compared to love.

The love that a child has for a loving parent and eventually the love that child has for God will eventually decide their behavior in a way that punishment of any kind cannot match. As Paul said to the Corinthians, “the love of Christ controls us…!” (2Corinthians 5:14) If pleasing adults can change the behavior of children, think what loving God will do. Children begin the march to adulthood and learn not to lie when they make faith in Christ their own. In that process when by grace they make the truth of scripture their own, then glorifying God, not avoiding punishment becomes their reason not to lie.

 [i] McGill University. "Punishing kids for lying just doesn't work." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 8 December 2014. <>.

[ii]Victoria Talwar, Cindy Arruda, Sarah Yachison. The effects of punishment and appeals for honesty on children’s truth-telling behavior. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 2015; 130: 209 DOI: 10.1016/j.jecp.2014.09.011


In a little more than 24 hours we will be celebrating the arrival of 2015. Some of us are likely to celebrate too much with alcohol so today’s research comes at a good time.[i] Research conducted at the University of Maryland by Dr. Majid Afshar and published in the journal Alcohol indicates that binge drinking is bad for us in an unexpected way.[ii] Most of us are familiar with the common bad outcomes of drunkenness such as hangovers and arrest for drunk driving.

Those involved in healthcare often see the worst outcomes. Trauma injuries from falls, car wrecks and other accidents result in hospital stays and at times death. Alcohol poisoning due to drinking too much in a short time (binge drinking) is common enough that my home state passed a law to help. The law encourages the friends of anyone who has drunk so much that they could die to call for help without fear of being arrested for underage drinking.

The unexpected outcome in the research was that an episode of binge drinking suppresses the immune system. After drinking 4 to 5 ounces of vodka the subjects in the study reached the legal definition of intoxication and impairment with a blood alcohol level of 0.8. After the drinking started blood tests were drawn to measure the level of immune system activity at twenty minutes, two hours and four hours.

The results showed that after an initial increase in immune activity at twenty minutes, the immune systems response fell below normal. This is important when you consider that people injured while drinking often find themselves needing an intact immune system to fight infection. I suppose it’s just another good reason to stay sober.

While the Bible does not forbid drinking alcohol, it does tell us not to get drunk! “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,” (Ephesians 5:18 NAS) Plainly Paul tells us that binge drinking has no place in the life of the Christian. And, medical science tells us just another reason why.


[i]Loyola University Health System. "Binge drinking disrupts immune system in young adults, study finds." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 December 2014. <>.

[ii] Majid Afshar, Stephanie Richards, Dean Mann, Alan Cross, Gordon B. Smith, Giora Netzer, Elizabeth Kovacs, Jeffrey Hasday. Acute Immunomodulatory Effects of Binge Alcohol Ingestion. Alcohol, 2014; DOI: 10.1016/j.alcohol.2014.10.002


Every once in a while I feel obligated as a physician to sound the warning about the dangers of marijuana when used as medicine and for recreational purposes. Please understand that I am all for real research about whatever possible real medical uses there could be for the active ingredients in pot. What I oppose is the testimonial folk medicine that is being used in this country to push through the legalization of “medical” marijuana and eventually recreational pot as well.

This week some real research was reported about one of the “qualifying conditions” for using medical marijuana that many states have approved and the results are not good. It has been assumed that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD could be helped by the “calming” effect of smoking marijuana. The research showed that instead of helping the symptoms of PTSD, the drug may make them worse and increase violent behavior.[i]

The study included 2276 patients in a Veterans Administration program for treating PTSD. Patients who never used responded with a noticeably lower symptom rate than those who continued the use or started it while in the program. Patients who stopped after they left the program benefitted from quitting marijuana with a lower symptom rate as well.

The most concerning aspect of the research was that those who started smoking pot after they left the program had the most problems with violent behavior. While all of the study groups saw improvement in violence scores, those who started using marijuana after they completed the treatment program improved the least. "This was a surprise because generally, marijuana is not thought to be associated with violence. There's been a little bit of literature investigating this, but this was interesting," said Dr Samuel T. Wilkinson from the Yale University School of Medicine.

It would appear that Marijuana does not help PTSD. Beyond that marijuana is an addictive drug that can result in patients having psychotic episodes. In addition, the most common way that it is used is by smoking. The idea that smoking pot can be safe is just as ridiculous as the idea that smoking tobacco is safe and harmless.

While there may be some limited use for the active ingredients in marijuana, PTSD does not appear to be one of them. Until real research defines what use marijuana may have, the risks outweigh the benefits for most all patients.

[i] Medical Marijuana May Worsen PTSD Symptoms, Increase Violence
Deborah Brauser December 15, 2014 I will post the link to the article on Twitter and Facebook.
All quotes and information in this blog come from this article.

 It is always fun when someone gets a grant to do research that confirms something we might have known from reading our Bibles. And, so it is from an interview in Science Daily and an article in PLoS ONE. The question is whether or not there is some useful aspect to depression.

A study published this past month by researchers at McMaster University examined the idea that depression isn’t just a disease.[i] Instead, they believed it could be a useful tool for those in the middle of real life struggles. One of the researchers, Paul Andrews, said the following about this question. “Depression has long been seen as nothing but a problem. We are asking whether it may actually be a natural adaptation that the brain uses to tackle certain problems. We are seeing more evidence that depression can be a necessary and beneficial adaptation to dealing with major, complex issues that defy easy understanding.”[ii]

The researchers developed a test to measure an important aspect of the thinking of those with depression; analytic rumination. The authors did not want to diminish the importance of serious depression. However, they believed that understanding how people think while they are depressed could give an insight into how to help. Analytic rumination is a kind of thinking in which the individual focuses strongly on the problem they face. It is difficult to distract them and as a result they may neglect important things such as eating, friendships, work, and sleep. The researchers believed that this concentration of thinking may be a natural and somewhat involuntary response.

The idea that depression may be a normal response to the stresses and strains of life is nothing new. A growing number of those in professions that care for those labeled with depression believe that most of those labeled with depression today are struggling with normal sadness due to loss.[iii] They also believe that this normal sadness is a useful tool in dealing with problems. It often draws help from friends. Normal sadness gives us the opportunity to reassess our goals and change when struggling on might simply lead to failure. 

This isn’t a new idea. The apostle Paul spoke about the issue of sorrow 2000 years ago. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” (2Corinthians 7:10)  Sadness is not an accident or a disease. It is a God given emotion that God intends to use to drive us to Himself.

Now, someone might notice that I have substituted the word sorrow for depression and they would be right. I have done that because that is what psychiatry and medicine in the United States have done for years. And while they did that, they labeled sadness, even normal grieving as a disease. Paul would say they were wrong. Sadness over loss, normal sadness is an emotional gift that God gives us to draw us in His direction.[iv]

So the researchers and Paul agree. They see depression with its sadness as a normal adaptive tool that helps us deal with problems. Paul said that when we sorrow according to the will of God, it can lead to change and salvation. The researchers are getting closer.



[i] Skye P. Barbic, Zachary Durisko, Paul W. Andrews. Measuring the Bright Side of Being Blue: A New Tool for Assessing Analytical Rumination in Depression. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (11): e112077 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0112077

[ii] McMaster University. "A new test measures analytical thinking linked to depression, fueling the idea that depression may be a form of adaptation." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 November 2014. <>.

[iii] The Loss of Sadness, Horwitz and Wakefield. P43.

[iv] Good Mood Bad Mood, Charles Hodges P55.



It is always great when someone in research science spends time and money to prove something that we knew all along. In a study done at the University of Exeter researchers have found that the brain response to a perceived threat is stopped when we are reminded that we are loved and cared for! Who knew? [i]

Forty-two healthy healthy patients were studied using MRI brain scans to look at an area in the brain called the amygdala. The amygdala changes on the MRI scans when an individual is shown pictures of threatening situations. The changes that occur with the threat did not occur when the patient was shown pictures of other people receiving emotional support and affection before being shown the threatening pictures.[ii]

Similar responses have been seen in research that looked at brain scan changes in individuals who have pain. The brain response was reduced in patients who were shown reminders of being loved and cared for. This response in pain and for those who fell threatened is particularly seen in anxious individuals.

We could have told them this 2000 years ago! Yes, Paul said it in multiple places and ways and so did John the Apostle. John said, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love. We love, because He first loved us.” (1Jo 4:18-19 NAU) There is the answer 2000 years before an MRI brain scan could show us a picture. The one who know that he is loved by the sovereign God of the universe does not need to fear!

Paul would tell us further that nothing could separate us from God’s love!  “Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?... For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 8:35-39 NAU)

There we have it. Nothing can separate believers from the love of an omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, sovereign God! Believers who come to understand this have nothing to fear from life. And, we have the brain scans to prove it! Teaching those who struggle with fear and worry about the grace of God and His sovereign power in their lives is the most effective way I know of to help anyone stop worrying.

This concept and research show us a great opportunity in Biblical counseling. We can help those who struggle with PTSD and anxiety disorders. We can help by teaching them what the scriptures say about the God who loves them and who wants to cast out their fears. As Paul would say, “If God is for us, who is against us?” (Rom 8:31 NAU)


1.     [i] L. Norman, N. Lawrence, A. Iles, A. Benattayallah, A. Karl. Attachment-security priming attenuates amygdala activation to social and linguistic threat. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2014; DOI: 10.1093/scan/nsu127


[ii] University of Exeter. "Brain's response to threat silenced when we are reminded of being loved and cared for." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 November 2014. <>.

I have written often about the perils of the recreational use of marijuana and I cannot resist writing again. The cause for my writing is that the New York Times that has stumbled into the reality that smoking pot does little if any good for those who smoke it. And it has the potential for great harm.[i]

In an October 29th article by Abigail Moore titled, “This Is Your Brain on Drugs,” the problems with pot are outlined. The first and most disturbing is that smoking marijuana changes the brain. The nucleus accumbens thickens and among those in the study, the more they smoked the more it thickened. The changes seen are thought to be the source of problems with learning and mental health.

At the center of the problem is an increased concentration of the active drug THC in available marijuana. Since 1995 the concentration of THC in pot has gone from 3.75 percent to 13 percent in 2013. The higher concentration of THC is likely to be responsible for an increased incidence of psychosis and paranoia. Emergency room admissions for marijuana related problems have doubled since 2004.

The adverse affects are particularly a problem in young adults. The changes that occur to the nucleus accumbens have direct bearing on motivation and decision making. There are similar changes in the amygdala that affect the way we process emotions, memories and our response to fear.  “THC can disrupt focus, working memory and motivation.”

Long term effects are a real concern. In one study teens that started smoking at the age of 18 and were then tested at the age of 38 lost 8 points on their I.Q. testing.  In another study the changes in the brain in those who had smoked for 3 years were still present 2 years after they stopped. And, their working memories we impaired. As Dr Hans Breiter said, “Working memory is the key for learning…If I were to design a substance that is bad for college students, it would be marijuana.”

There we have it. The New York Times is not a Bible thumping Biblical Counseling Journal. It is as liberal in its view of behavior and morality as any publication today. The article presents factual information that says that smoking marijuana harms people and their brains to say nothing about the risks of lung disease and cancer.

In spite of that I know that when I publish this blog there will be people who will come out of the woods to defend their favorite pastime. I know that someone will tell me that their great aunt Ethel was cured from some sort disease and because of it everyone should be allowed to smoke ‘em if they have ‘em!

While real, controlled scientific research is to be encouraged into whatever real benefit might exist from marijuana (the CBD portion), the current folk medicine approach is no better than the snake oil salesmen of the last century. Marijuana is a dangerous drug. The New York Times says so.

Christians of all people should have greater respect for their bodies. As Paul said, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.” (1Co 6:19-20)  Now there is a really good reason to not smoke pot!                                                              

[i] All the factual information in the blog came from the New York Times article on the web under Education Life,

This is Your Brain on Drugs, Abigail Sullivan Moore, October 29, 2014.