Category Archives: Assertiveness

From the Global Financial Crisis Down To You

This movie is so good I watched it twice.

It just has a funny title – I Am <FishHead( – yes, really.

It’s partly good because it has Philip Zimbardo in it. I remember before the age of the internet, watching Phillip on his PBS Discovering Psychology series, and was delighted to discover useful psychology training available for free!

But more than that this movie is good because it hits on the core issues of the financial crisis we live in, and yet still comes down to daily realities and practical steps we can take.

All starting with the core concept of the “corporate psychopath”.

Coming from the Chinese proverb that says “a fish rots from the head”, let me invite you to watch – I am <FishHead(


Legal Self Help

I like my self help advice along the lines of the KISS principle – Keep It Short & Sweet.

Here is some legal self help advice that is about as KISS as it can get.

If you are ever questioned by police or authorized officials then this may save your bacon.

I know these videos are for US audiences who have the Fifth Amendment (the US Constitutional right to silence) and the Miranda Warning (letting you know that if you DO say something it can be used against you.)

But if you any in a country where someone reads you your rights, then I think that this is must-have legal self helpĀ  advice.

Here are two experts giving you the details behind this KISS approach to legal matters…

Don’t Talk to Cops, Part 1 – The Lawyer

Don’t Talk to Cops, Part 2 – The Policeman

Thanks to Gary North for identifying this for me.

-Dr Martin Russell

Introducing Gavin de Becker

One of the biggest aspects of self-help is most certainly safety and it’s opposite, danger.

A huge chunk of psychiatry is taken up with the manifestations of this issue – anxiety, phobias, worry, self-confidence issues, paranoias, anger, violence.

A patient of mine gave me the trememdous gift of introducing me to a man who specializes in helping people living in anxiety and fear.

For those of you like me who hadn’t heard of Gavin de Becker before, he is an American specialist in security issues, especially for governments, corporations, and celebrities, and yet his core message is very much for individuals in our everyday life.

When he was 10 Gavin de Becker watched his mother shoot his stepfather while his 2-year-old sister slept in her bedroom. When he was 16, his mother, a heroin addict, killed herself. Violence and things to fear has been an integral part of his life, and his work.

I was first given his book Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (And Parents Sane)” which was more meaningful for the fact that I have 3 young children of my own…

A generation ago, in Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care, Benjamin Spock told parents that they already possessed most of the important knowledge about their children’s health. Similarly, when it comes to predicting violence and protecting children, I submit that you already know most of what you need to know.

You have the wisdom of the species, and the expert voice that matters most is yours. Yet, society has trained us to believe that we don’t know the answers, that professionals know what’s best and that good parents listen to them. As a result, we have come to believe that we will find certainty outside ourselves. We won’t, of course, but we can find the illusion of certainty, particularly if that’s what we’re willing to settle for.

-Dr Martin Russell

Doctors And Empathy

Have you heard the joke?

When is the time to get empathy from a doctor?

Before they’ve gone to medical school.

Boom. Boom.

Well actually it’s not a joke at all. It’s a researched fact, and not a very funny fact either.

Evidence has been building that shows a steady decline in empathy in doctors as they go through their medical training. The latest one came out just last month…

It is quite staggering.

Empathy is the ability to feel and respond to what someone else is experiencing.

Doctors are most empathic when they have first been chosen for medical school.

From this point on their ability to be empathic declines. Even once they become registrars it continues to fall away.

I’m not yet aware of research that shows when this trend stops, or begins to reverse. Perhaps at some point it does.

Not surprisingly females on average have more empathy than males, but it makes little difference in medical school.

The proportional drop during training is the same.

Except for alcoholism, some prescription drug addictions, and completed suicide (presumably they have better knowledge about how to succeed if they attempt it) doctors are generally healthier than the average population.

So for self help, empathy may not be very necessary.

But if you want empathy from a doctor you might have to hunt a bit more than you would expect. No joke.

-Dr Martin Russell

The Strange Behavior Of Anorexia – Part 2

I ended Part 1 of this series by asking when someone might WANT to have anorexia.

When might you actually want to be repulsed by the thought of eating food?

Put another way, could anorexia ever be “useful”?

Well it is a standard question that I have asked of every so-called problem that I have been told about or come across over the years.

In what way might the presenting problem or symptom or complaint actually be “useful” to the person?

How might depression be useful, or phobias, grief, alcoholism, self-sabotage, low self-esteem, narcissism, or whatever?

This is where you get the idea of “secondary gain”.

Secondary gain is when there is a second or hidden motive for an action. For example being sick can also be a way of avoiding dealing with an issue, as in a child not wanting to go to school or a worker not wanting to face their boss.

This is often implied as a bad way to deal with things.

We’re meant to be upfront, have no secrets, face our fears, not keep hidden agendas.

However the reality is that humans are complex, and being indirect in going after an outcome is an important choice to have.

Some things are quite well dealt with in a secondary way.

Could there be some useful but secondary gain in having anorexia perhaps as a way of attracting sympathy, gaining attention, getting control of emotions of fear or anger, etc etc?

I suppose yes.

Every problem can have secondary gains.

Personally however I don’t think these questions generally lead to useful therapy. When I have explored secondary gains they have often opened up really fascinating stories with many twists and turns, but in the end the problem is no better for having done so.

Secondary gain inevitably happens, but it almost always remains secondary.

Let’s go back to the question with a different emphasis.

WHEN or WHERE might a particular problem be useful?

In the case of anorexia I have only one suggestion for a context.

If I was drifting on a small life raft in the middle of the ocean for days or weeks, and all I had to eat was food that I knew to be contaminated and fatally poisonous, then in this extremely limited situation I could imagine being much happier to have anorexia.

Instead of wishing I had food or being tempted to eat the poisonous stuff around me, I would be happy that I finally had no one pressuring me to eat. Bliss!

But most people with anorexia are not stranded at sea with poisonous food, so in Part 3 I will move on to what else might be going on.

-Dr Martin Russell

Don’t Be A Hero

I really appreciate all the comments I get on this blog. I read them all, and they are often worth your time reading as well.

However some of them are worth putting up as an entire post. Thanks to teqjack for pointing me to a post on the website of ‘World’s most popular blogging anesthesiologist’
that had this Financial Times article by John Kay that I quote from:

The hero is the person who tackles a problem, rather than the person whose actions prevent the problem arising. The statesmen we need are those who avert wars and prevent depressions, but such individuals gain little credit. These wars and depressions might have been dam’ bad. We don’t know; we dodged clear of them.

The paradox is illustrated by Jim Collins in Good to Great : more successful leaders attracted fewer column inches. Al Dunlap of Scott Paper declared his admiration for Rambo: “Here’s a guy who has zero chance of success and always wins.” But Mr Dunlap’s company was acquired by Kimberly-Clark, whose chief executive for 20 years, Darwin Smith, avoided the storm by taking the company out of the competitive coated paper businesses and into high-value-added consumer products.

Mr Dunlap was a celebrity but Mr Smith is little known. We prefer to read about Lee Iacocca and Lou Gerstner, who held the helm in the storm, or Jack Welch, who managed the ship through turbulence largely of his own creation.

How much are you the creator of your own problems too?

Do you define your success in terms of solving problems, or avoiding them in the first place?

Check out the whole FT article here:

-Dr Martin Russell

The Other Forgiveness

In my therapy work I have pretty much given up using the word forgiveness.

Not because it is a bad idea – heck no. Forgiveness is a key self help skill for being an effective human being.

It’s just that the people who most need to use forgiveness in their lives, have also been the ones who have the most terrible and dangerously twisted misconceptions about what the term means.

It does NOT mean to continue to accept harm or damage to yourself.

It does NOT have anything to do with losing face, “weakening”, or giving in to someone.

I don’t suggest you have anything to do with that sort of corruption of “forgiveness”.

I am speaking to you direct.

If your first reaction to the idea of forgiveness is that is unsuitable or dangerous in your particular situation, then let me give you my firm opinion based on all my years of counseling…

  • You are EXACTLY the person who needs to understand what real forgiveness is, and you are wasting your life and knee-capping your chances of helping yourself, if you don’t get started on doing it correctly ASAP.

Here’s all the instruction manual you need to get started and done…

-Dr Martin Russell

Influencing Doctors

Survey after survey of doctors says that they don’t think that gifts influence their behavior.

Study after study says they are totally wrong.

The big pharmaceutical companies spend millions upon billions on advertising and promoting to doctors and one of the biggest ways they do so is by using gifts of all types.

Sometimes it’s pens, sometimes it’s meals and nights out, sometimes it’s travel and accommodation, there are various rules and guidelines in place but historically it can be almost anything.

The evidence is overwhelming that this sort of practice is highly effective at altering doctor’s behavior.

The most obvious evidence is that so much money is spent on it. Drug companies do have ways of monitoring the effect of their marketing to doctors. They have been able to study the results for themselves inside their own companies, and they clearly just want to do more of it.

Some of the research is done outside drug companies and therefore is available for us to analyze, and this research too comes up showing that doctors become more willing to prescribe drugs rather than non-drug treatments, pay less attention to the scientific evidence, and bias to favor a particular company’s drug.

That would be much less of a problem if it wasn’t for the perception that is widely held by doctor’s themselves that they are somehow “immune” to this influence, and that they are “too clever” to be swayed.

This self-delusion is wrong, and dangerous.

It’s easy for me. I’m in the luxurious position of not prescribing much at all these days, so I can accept as many gifts as I like for a new medication and my prescriptions still are zero.

I don’t get as many invitations or gifts these days.

Back when I did prescribe a lot more and did get more gifts I looked into this.

In my time I’ve come across a few doctors who do in fact acknowledge the influence of gifts in their own practice, and one in particular got taken to task by my local newspaper.

One of the most senior surgeons at my city’s biggest hospital wrote a book on how to prepare for surgery.

A tiny piece in the book suggested that patients should give a gift, like an expensive bottle of brandy, to their surgeon before they had an operation.

Among all his recommendations, this “bribe” got the attention.

The outcry was huge.

“Doctor’s are already rich enough, and now they are asking you to give them bribes too!”

“You can buy off your doctor with booze!”

Well, the newspaper didn’t quite go that far, but that was the impression they were giving. I bet it sold a few newspapers and demonstrated a lot about what influences them. But that’s not my field so I won’t go into that.

I was working as a volunteer with a local radio station at the time and I took the chance to interview this surgeon.

He was bemused as to what all the fuss was about. He openly acknowledged that surgeons get influenced by gifts, and he put it something like this…

“When you yourself need surgery and you are being wheeled into the operating theater, do you want your surgeon to think of you as the Xth case of Y operation for that day?

Or do you want to be thought of as ‘the patient who gave me ……’?

Surgeons are human too and it DOES influence how they handle you and your surgery.”

Unfortunately I’ve never seen this particular technique studied, so this is one piece of self help that I simply recommend from my own experience with doctors and other human beings.

-Dr Martin Russell