Book Review: Staying Sober without God

Munn wrote this book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA don’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. This inspired him to develop the Practical 12 Steps.

Reviewed by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

  • Staying Sober without God by Jeffrey Munn, LMFT
  • Published in 2019, 165 pages

I stumbled upon Staying Sober without God while searching for secular 12-step literature for a client who identifies as atheist. Jeffrey Munn, the book’s author, is in recovery and also happens to be a licensed mental health practitioner. Munn wrote the book because, as a nonbeliever, he felt the 12 steps of AA don’t fully translate into a workable program for atheists or agnostics. (For example, the traditional version of Step 3 directs the addict to turn his/her will and life over to the care of God as they understand him. If you don’t believe in God, how can you put your life into the care of him? Munn notes that there’s no feasible replacement for a benevolent, all-knowing deity.)

The whole “God thing” frequently turns nonbelievers off from AA/NA. They’re told (by well-meaning believers) to find their own, unique higher power, such as nature or the fellowship itself. (The subtle undertone is that the nonbeliever will eventually come around to accept God as the true higher power.) Munn writes, “There is no one thing that is an adequate replacement for the concept of God.” He adds that you can’t just replace the word “God” with “love” or “wisdom.” It doesn’t make sense. So he developed the Practical 12 Steps and wrote a guide for working them.

The Practical 12 Steps are as follows:

  1. Admitted we were caught in a self-destructive cycle and currently lacked the tools to stop it
  2. Trusted that a healthy lifestyle was attainable through social support and consistent self-improvement
  3. Committed to a lifestyle of recovery, focusing only on what we could control
  4. Made a comprehensive list of our resentments, fears, and harmful actions
  5. Shared our lists with a trustworthy person
  6. Made a list of our unhealthy character traits
  7. Began cultivating healthy character traits through consistent positive behavior
  8. Determined that the best way to make amends to those we had harmed
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would cause harm
  10. Practiced daily self-reflection and continued making amends whenever necessary
  11. We started meditating
  12. Sought to retain our newfound recovery lifestyle by teaching it to those willing to learn and by surrounding ourselves with healthy people

The Practical 12 Steps in no way undermine the traditional steps or the spirit of Alcoholics Anonymous. Instead, they’re supplemental; they provide a clearer picture of the steps for the nonbeliever.


Before delving into the steps in Staying Sober without God, Munn discusses the nature of addiction, recovery, and the role of mental illness (which is mostly left untouched in traditional literature). He addresses the importance of seeking treatment (therapy, medication, etc.) for mental disorders while stressing that a 12-step program (secular or otherwise) is not a substitute for professional help. In following chapters, Munn breaks each step down and provides guidelines for working it.

The last few chapters of the book provide information on relapse and what the steps don’t address. Munn notes that sustainable recovery requires more than just working the steps, attending AA meetings, and taking a sponsor’s advice. For a balanced, substance-free lifestyle, one must also take care of their physical health, practice effective communication, and engage in meaningful leisure activities. Munn briefly discusses these components in the book’s final chapter, “What the Steps Miss.”

Staying Sober without God is well-written and easy to read. The author presents information that’s original and in line with current models of addiction treatment, such as behavioral therapy (an evidence-based approach for substance use disorder). Working the Practical 12 Steps parallels behavioral treatments; the steps serve to modify or discontinue unhealthy behaviors (while replacing them with healthy habits). Furthermore, a 12-step network provides support and meaningful human connection (also crucial for recovery).

In my opinion, the traditional 12 Steps reek of the moral model, which viewed addiction as a moral failure or sin. Rooted in religion, this outdated (and false) model asserted that the addict was of weak character and lacked willpower. The moral model has since been replaced with the disease concept, which characterizes addiction as a brain disorder with biological, genetic, and environmental influences. The Practical 12 Steps are a better fit for what we know about addiction today; Munn focuses on unhealthy behaviors instead of “character defects.” For example, in Step 7, the addict implements healthy habits while addressing unhealthy characteristics. No one has to pray to a supernatural being to ask for shortcomings to be removed.

The Practical 12 Steps exude empowerment; in contrast, the traditional steps convey helplessness. (The resulting implication? The only way to recover is to have faith that God will heal you.) The practical version of the steps instills hope and inspires the addict to change. Furthermore, the practical steps are more concrete and less vague when compared to the traditional steps. (This makes them easier to work!)


In sum, Munn’s concept of the steps helped me to better understand the 12-step model of recovery; the traditional steps are difficult to conceptualize for a nonbeliever, but Munn found a way to extract the meaning of each step (without altering overall purpose or spirit). I consider the practical steps as a modern adaptation of the traditional version.

I recommend reading Staying Sober without God if you have a substance use disorder (regardless of your religious beliefs) or if you’re a professional/peer specialist who works with individuals with substance use disorders. Munn’s ideas will give you a fresh perspective on 12-step recovery.


For working the practical steps, download the companion workbook here:

Note: The workbook is meant to be used in conjunction with Munn’s book. I initially created it for the previously mentioned client as a format for working the practical steps. The workbook is for personal/clinical use only.

List of Hobbies

Discover your next greatest hobby with this diverse list of assorted leisure activities, which range from beekeeping to Kombucha brewing to knife throwing to ghost hunting.

Compiled by Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

I developed this list (with the help of Wikipedia, and Google, of course) as part of a project I was working on and thought it would be worth sharing.

Hobby Categories

Animals & Nature | Arts & Crafts | Collections | Cooking & Baking | Entertainment | Home Improvement & DIY | Literature, Music, & Dance | Outdoor & Adventure | Self-Improvement & Social | Sports | Travel | Miscellaneous

Read and be inspired!

Animals & Nature

  • Attend pet shows (or horse shows)
  • Beekeeping
  • Berry or apple picking
  • Bird watching
  • Butterfly garden (Visit one or create your own!)
  • Butterfly watching
  • Be a plant parent; nurture and care for indoor plants
  • Composting
  • Dog training
  • Dog walking
  • Fossil hunting
  • Grow and tend to a fruit tree
  • Grow an indoor herb garden
  • Grow plants from seedlings (and plant outside when in-season)
  • Hang humming bird feeders and then sit back and enjoy the company!
  • Horseback riding
  • Become an expert at identifying various plants
  • Mushroom hunting
  • Nature walks
  • Adopt a pet
  • Pet fostering
  • Pet sitting
  • Plant a flower bed
  • Go on a swamp tour
  • Tend to a vegetable garden
  • Topiary
  • Visit a farm
  • Visit an aquarium
  • Go to zoos and/or nature centers
  • Watch wildlife on Animal Planet
  • Go whale watching

Arts & Crafts

  • Drawing
  • Candle making
  • Collages – Use whatever materials you desire!
  • Coloring
  • Crocheting
  • Design your own greeting cards or stationary
  • Flower arranging
  • Glassblowing
  • Jewelry making
  • Knitting
  • Lettering/calligraphy
  • Mixed media art
  • Mosaic making
  • Origami
  • Painting (watercolor, oils, acrylics, etc.)
  • Paper crafts (including paper mache)
  • Photography
  • Pressed flower craft
  • Pottery
  • Quilting
  • Scrapbooking
  • Sculpting
  • Sewing
  • Sketching
  • Soap making
  • Weaving
  • Wood carving

Collections

  • Action figures
  • Antiques
  • Autographs
  • Barbies
  • Books (classics, signed copies, etc.)
  • Christmas tree ornaments
  • Comics
  • Fun socks
  • Hot sauce from around the world
  • Movie or music memorabilia
  • Obsolete tech (i.e. outdated cell phones, tape players, etc.)
  • Original artwork
  • Plates
  • Purses, shoes, and other accessories
  • Recipes
  • Records
  • Retro video games
  • Rocks and/or crystals
  • Shells
  • Souvenirs
  • Sports memorabilia
  • Stickers
  • Ticket stubs
  • Toys
  • Vases
  • Vintage items

Cooking & Baking

  • Braising
  • Bread making
  • Cake decorating
  • Canning
  • Cheese making
  • Coffee roasting
  • Cookie decorating
  • Grilling and BBQ
  • Hosting dinner parties
  • Kombucha brewing
  • Learn ethnic and regional recipes
  • Learn recipes from cooking shows
  • Make “fun foods” for kids
  • Make homemade ice cream
  • Make jam or jelly
  • Make your own beef (or vegan!) jerky
  • Participate in competitive food festivals (or just go and enjoy the food!)
  • Pasta making
  • Pastry and confection making
  • Pickling
  • Pie making
  • Raw diet meals
  • Recreate menu items from your favorite restaurants
  • Reduced fat cooking
  • Sautéing
  • Slow cooker meals
  • Smoothie making
  • Soup, sauce, and stock making
  • Sushi making
  • Take a cooking class
  • Tea brewing
  • Try new recipes on a regular basis
  • Use an air fryer
  • Use a dehydrator
  • Use Pinterest for inspiration
  • Vegan cooking
  • Watch Food Network for inspiration

Entertainment

  • Attend movies, operas, plays, and musicals
  • Bingo
  • Board games and/or party games
  • Card games
  • Chess
  • Strategy games
  • Dine out at new restaurants
  • Escape rooms
  • Gaming
  • Go to museums
  • Go to poetry slams or open mic nights
  • Jigsaw puzzles
  • Karaoke
  • Murder mystery shows
  • Read entertainment/celebrity magazines
  • See your favorite bands/artists perform live
  • Standup comedy
  • Theme parks
  • Watch your favorite Netflix series, but make sure you become overly invested (borderline obsessed) with the story line and characters in order for this to qualify as a legit hobby

Home Improvement & DIY

  • Add a backsplash to your kitchen
  • Bathroom remodel
  • Build a shed
  • Build furniture
  • Design a meditation room, home office, “man cave,” or “she shed”
  • DIY headboard
  • Fireplace makeover
  • Hanging shelves
  • Home organization
  • Install smart home technology
  • Kitchen remodel
  • Paint an accent wall or update your entire home
  • Paint old cabinets
  • Redecorate a room
  • Stencil or wallpaper
  • Update a closet
  • Update furniture
  • Update lighting
  • Use chalk paint or metallic spray paint

Literature, Music, & Dance

  • Acting
  • Attend art galleries
  • Attend literary fests
  • Ballroom dancing
  • Belly dancing
  • Blogging/guest blogging
  • Break dancing
  • Editing
  • Go to book signings
  • Go to the library
  • Join a book club (either in-person or online, i.e. Goodreads)
  • Listen to music
  • Play/learn an instrument
  • Puppeteering
  • Rapping
  • Reading
  • Sell your art on etsy.com
  • Singing
  • Song-writing
  • Submit articles/opinion pieces/essays to magazines and newspapers
  • Swing dancing
  • Take a dance class (swing, hip hop, ballroom, etc.)
  • Take a drama or improv class
  • Take voice lessons
  • Wikipedia editing
  • Write a book
  • Write poetry
  • Write short stories

Outdoor & Adventure

  • Backpacking
  • Boating
  • Bungee jumping
  • Camping
  • Canoeing
  • Caving
  • Fishing
  • Geocaching
  • Go-Karting
  • Hiking
  • Hot air ballooning
  • Kayaking
  • Laser tag
  • Mountain biking
  • Mountain climbing
  • Paintball
  • Parasailing
  • Rocking climbing
  • Sailing
  • Scuba diving
  • Skiing
  • Skydiving
  • Snowboarding
  • Snorkeling
  • Waterskiing
  • White water rafting
  • Wilderness survival

Self-Improvement & Social

  • Advocate
  • Attend support groups/meetings
  • Attend workshops
  • Bullet journaling
  • Daily positive affirmations and/or self-reflection
  • Join a club
  • Join a gym
  • Join a Meetup group
  • Join a political campaign
  • Journaling
  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Make a vision board and update it regularly
  • Meditation
  • Read research
  • Read self-improvement books
  • Social media
  • Stretching
  • Take a class (i.e. self-defense, a foreign language, etc.)
  • Use a habit tracker app
  • Volunteer
  • Watch documentaries
  • Watch inspirational Ted Talks
  • Wear a fitness tracker
  • Yoga

Sports

  • Archery
  • Badminton 
  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Biking
  • Body building
  • Bowling
  • Boxing
  • Cricket
  • Darts
  • Disc golf/frisbee
  • Fencing
  • Football/flag football
  • Golf
  • Gymnastics
  • Hockey
  • Ice skating
  • Jogging/running
  • Knife throwing
  • Lacrosse
  • Martial arts
  • Poker
  • Racquetball
  • Racing
  • Riding a unicycle
  • Roller derby
  • Rugby
  • Skateboarding
  • Soccer
  • Surfing/body boarding
  • Swimming
  • Table football
  • Table tennis
  • Tennis
  • Thai Chi
  • Volleyball
  • Weight training
  • Wrestling

Travel

  • Alaskan cruise
  • All-inclusive resorts
  • Beach vacations
  • Caribbean cruise
  • Cross country train trip
  • Explore your home town and other nearby place as though you’re a tourist
  • Guided group tours
  • Mediterranean cruise
  • Road trip
  • See the Northern Lights
  • Travel to all the continents in the world
  • Travel to all the states in America
  • Trip to Las Vegas
  • Visit the Grand Canyon
  • Visit the New Seven Wonders of the World
  • Visit the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World
  • Go on city walking tours

Miscellaneous Hobbies

  • Astrology/astronomy
  • Billiards
  • Couponing
  • Creating DIY home products
  • Fantasy sports
  • Genealogy
  • Ghost hunting
  • Hair styling/braiding
  • Hula hooping
  • Juggling
  • Keeping up with the latest fashions
  • Kite flying
  • Learning magic tricks
  • Makeup application
  • Metal detecting
  • Model building
  • People watching
  • Storage unit auctions
  • Sunbathing
  • Yard sale shopping/thrifting

Note: The Wikipedia webpage, “List of Hobbies” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_hobbies), was utilized as a reference for this list.

Kratom: A Safe Alternative to Heroin?

Kratom is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia. It’s becoming increasingly popular in the United States. It’s used for pain relief, mood enhancement, and to manage opioid withdrawal symptoms or reduce/stop opioid use. This post explores the use of kratom as a potential treatment for opioid use disorder.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Kratom (mitragyna speciosa) is a tropical tree native to Southeast Asia and, like coffee, is part of the Rubiaceae plant family. Ingesting kratom leaves produces a high. Taken in small amounts, kratom leads to stimulant-like effects (i.e. increased energy and focus – stronger than caffeine, less intense than cocaine). When taken in larger doses, the high is similar to that of an opioid (euphoria, drowsiness, “pinned” pupils, dry mouth, sweating, nausea, constipation, etc.) Kratom is unique in that it produces both stimulant and opioid-like effects.

Note: “Opioid” is the term used for any drug that binds to the opioid receptors in the brain. An “opiate,” on the other hand, is a naturally occurring chemical found in the poppy plant, such as morphine or codeine. All opiates are opioids.

In the United States, kratom users cite pain relief as a primary motive for use. Kratom, an opioid agonist, works by binding to opioid receptors in the brain. It can be effective for both acute and chronic pain. Others report using kratom for energy, increased focus, lower levels of anxiety, to reduce/stop the use of opioids, to reduce symptoms of PTSD or depression, and to elevate mood.

Kratom is legal in Virginia; it’s sold at vape or “head” shops as a loose powder or in capsules. (Alternatively, kratom can be purchased online.) Packaging is typically labeled “botanical sample only; not for human consumption.” The extremely bitter powder can be sprinkled over food or brewed into a tea. It’s easily swallowed in capsule form.

What does kratom mean for the opioid epidemic in America? Will kratom one day play a key role in the treatment of opioid use disorders? Or will it fall into the “harm reduction” category? Is it a natural pain medication, a safe alternative to highly addictive opioid pain killers?

Or, will we find that kratom, like heroin, is habit-forming and deadly? Currently, the research is mixed.

An Alternative to Opioid Drugs

The results of a 2019 survey published in Drug and Alcohol Dependence revealed that 90% of respondents found kratom effective for relieving pain, reducing opioid use, and easing withdrawal symptoms.  

In 2011, researchers discovered that kratom alleviated morphine withdrawal symptoms. A more recent study indicated that kratom may reduce morphine use.

Earlier this year, researchers found that kratom use was associated with significant decreases in the occurrence and severity of opioid adverse effects; kratom lessened the discomfort of opioid withdrawal. Multiple studies have substantiated these findings, suggesting that kratom is a useful medication for opioid addiction and withdrawal.

Interestingly, in 2007, it was found that kratom reduced alcohol withdrawal behaviors. More recently, researchers discovered that kratom decreased alcohol use; this suggests that kratom may help those with alcohol use disorders (AUD) in addition to opioid addiction.

Harm-Reduction

Compared to heroin, kratom is less addictive and has milder withdrawal symptoms. Furthermore, the risk of deadly overdose is reduced with kratom use. A 2018 literature review indicated that kratom may have harm-reduction potential for individuals who want to stop using opioids.

Dangerous and Addictive?

According to the CDC, there were 152 kratom-involved deaths between July 2016 and December 2018 (“kratom-involved,” meaning kratom was a factor). In seven of those deaths, kratom was the only substance found in toxicology tests (although it should be noted that the presence of other substances was not fully ruled out). It’s possible to overdose on kratom, and when combined with other drugs or medications, kratom can be fatal.

In rare cases, kratom has been linked to liver toxicity, kidney damage, and seizures. In the case of a 32-year-old woman who was using kratom for opioid withdrawal, kratom was likely the cause of acute lung injury. Kratom use may also cause cardiac or respiratory arrest.

Kratom’s harmful effects are not limited to the body; a 2010 study linked chronic kratom use to alterations in working memory. In 2016, researchers found that kratom use was associated with cognitive impairment. An additional 2016 study supported previous findings that kratom may affect learning. In 2019, researchers found that high doses of kratom were linked to memory deficits. In contrast, a 2018 study indicated that high kratom consumption was not related to long-term cognitive impairment. That same year, researchers found that long-term kratom use did not appear to cause altered brain structures. More research is needed in this area.

Regarding whether or not kratom is addictive, multiple studies have found that regular kratom use leads to dependence, withdrawal symptoms, and cravings. Kratom cessation may also cause psychological withdrawal symptoms, such as anxiety and depression.

Bottom Line

Will kratom step up as the hero of today’s opioid epidemic? Doubtful. And for kratom to be a viable treatment option, more conclusive research is needed. Additionally, researchers must study the safety of long-term kratom use.

While it’s unlikely, kratom use could lead to adverse health effects or cognitive impairment; it could also fatally interact with other substances or medications. Furthermore, long-term use may lead to addiction. In sum, the majority of the literature suggests that kratom is, by no means, safe.

That being said, when compared to shooting heroin, kratom is safe (a safer alternative, at least). And if someone chooses to use kratom to reduce/stop their opioid use, I won’t lecture about the “dangers” of kratom. Until we have more answers, I will hold to the view that kratom is a harm-reduction measure… and it has the potential to save lives.


References

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Yusoff, N. H. M., Suhaimi, F. W., Vadivelu, R. K., Hassan, Z., Rümler, A., Rotter, A., Amato, D., Dringenberg, H. C., Mansor, S. M., Navaratnam, V., & Müller, C. P. ( 2016). Abuse potential and adverse cognitive effects of mitragynine (kratom). Addiction Biology21:98– 110. doi: 10.1111/adb.12185

From Survival to Endurance to Fulfillment: How I Found Meaning in Life

“I gave up on having a future. And I was strangely okay with it.”

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Without delving too deep into my past, I will tell you that my late teens and early to mid 20’s were not the best of times. They were dark. Lonely. Depressing. I was living a life of chaos and hopelessness. At one point, I didn’t think I was going to survive; I gave up on having a future. And I was strangely okay with it.

My turning point was a spiritual awakening of sorts. A near-death experience led to a realization that I didn’t want to die; and it was either die or change my life. I picked change.

What helped me to live again (and ultimately find fulfillment)? You might guess family or a relationship or God. But at the time, I wasn’t close with my family, I didn’t have any significant relationships/friendships, and God wasn’t a part of my life. It was the following that helped me become the person I am today:

A Therapist

Having not a single shred of self-esteem, I went to see a counselor. She created a safe space and then uplifted me, making me feel worthwhile. She normalized what I was going through; I felt less alone. She affirmed me for positive choices I made. She initiated the mending of my fragile self. I gradually gained confidence, not only in myself, but in the idea that I could live a better life.

My Dog

She loved me unconditionally… and she depended on me fully. If I died, she would think I purposely left her. I couldn’t bear the idea; I wouldn’t do that to her. She played a huge role in my recovery. I sometimes think she saved me.

My Potential

I’ve always known I have potential. I’m smart and creative. I’m motivated and driven. But that potential died somewhere along the way in young adulthood. In moments of clarity, I mourned my lost potential. I wanted to be better and to do better with my life. I was meant, maybe not for great things, but for better things than living out of my car, broke and friendless. When I decided to live, my potential reawakened; it became a driving force – a bright, glowing beacon that revitalized and inspired me.

“You have to forgive yourself.”

Self-Forgiveness

I couldn’t bear to tell my therapist about some of the things I’d done. I was ashamed; late at night, lying in bed, I would think about past events. I’d feel sick to my stomach – then, an unpleasant head rush heart racing not able to get enough air… (That’s the feeling of shame seeping from your mind into your being.) My therapist didn’t push me to share; instead, she said, “You have to forgive yourself.” It became my mantra, quietly uttered in the dark. I would repeat, “I forgive myself, I forgive myself, I forgive myself…” until I internalized it. (That being said, it didn’t happen overnight… it took weeks, months, years. But all was set in motion with that one simple statement.)

Education

I went back to school and was able to fully immerse myself in my studies. As a naturally curious person, learning is a sort of fuel for me. The more I learn, the thirstier I become. My classes provided me with not only knowledge, but with a spark that generated purpose.

Passion

While in school, I discovered a new passion; I fell in love with research. (#nerd) I thrived in my research/statistics class; my undergraduate study was even published in a national journal. It felt good to be passionate about something again; it stirred up (from the dust) long-forgotten loves, like reading and writing – passions I thought I’d left behind in childhood.

A Meaningful Career

After finishing college and starting graduate school, I became a counselor… and found meaning in helping others. My first job in the field was tough, heart-breaking at times, and deeply fulfilling. It solidified what my education had started to shape – I no longer needed to survive or endure life; I found my purpose for living.

Professional Development for Mental Health Practitioners

20 professional development ideas for counselors, social workers, and other mental health clinicians

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

Professional development encompasses all activities that provide or strengthen professional knowledge/skills. Ongoing professional development is a requirement for mental health practitioners in order to maintain competency and for keeping up-to-date on the latest research and evidence-based practices in an ever-changing field.

Listed below are several ideas for counselor professional development.

1 Find a mentor (and meet with them at least once a month).

2 Sign up for relevant e-mail lists. A few I find the most helpful/informative: Brain & Behavior Foundation, National Institute of Mental Health, and SAMHSA.

3 Become a member of a professional organization (i.e. American Counseling Association).

4 Keep up-to-date on the latest research. If you are a member of a professional organization, take advantage of your member benefits; you likely have access to a professional journal. You can also browse sites like ScienceDaily or use an app like Researcher.

5 Facilitate professional trainings or manage a booth at a conference.

6 Read counseling and psychology books (such as On Being a Therapist by Kottler or Mindsight by Siegel).

7 Practice awareness. Know your values, limitations, and personal biases.

8 Become familiar with local resources in your community.

9 Volunteer.

10 Join a professional counseling forum and participate in discussions. The ACA has several. You could also go the reddit route (i.e. r/psychotherapy).

11 Review your professional code of ethics on a regular basis. (Link to the ACA Code.)

12 Attend webinars, trainings, and conferences. Stay informed by subscribing to email lists, participating in professional forums, and searching Eventbrite for local events; search “mental health.” PESI is another source, but the seminars can be costly.

13 Network/consult.

14 Subscribe to psychology magazines like Psychology Today or Psychotherapy Networker.

15 Further your education by taking classes or earning a certificate.

16 Pick a different counseling skill to strengthen each week. (You can even use flashcards to pick a new skill or simply review!)

17 Write an article or book (or book review!)

18 Take free online courses.

19 Listen to podcasts (like Therapy Chat or Counselor Toolbox).

20 Practice self-care on a regular basis to prevent burnout. Why is self-care included in a post on professional development? Because self-care is crucial for counselor wellness; a counselor experiencing burnout puts his/her clients at risk.

Feed Your Mood: The Link between Diet and Mental Health

What foods are associated with increased psychiatric symptoms? What should you eat if you want to boost your mood? Learn what researchers have found when it comes to diet and mental well-being.

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

You may have heard of the “food-mood connection.” Research indicates that our food choices greatly impact not only physical health, but mental well-being. Some foods seem to boost mood and reduce psychiatric symptoms while others are linked to depression and anxiety.

Mood Thugs

Sugar negatively impacts mood and slows memory and learning. High-sugar diets are associated with smaller brain volume. Furthermore, sugar will make you less alert and more tired. A recent study found that the idea of a “sugar rush” is myth.

Sugar is not the only villain; fat can be just as harmful. One study found that a high-fat diet may lead to symptoms of depression and anxiety. Furthermore, trans fat may lead to poor memory function.

If you have bipolar disorder, avoid processed meats such as jerky, hot dogs, etc. Researchers found that nitrates in processed meats are associated with mania.

Mood Champions

A diet high in fiber and vegetables (with limited fast food and added sugars) has been linked to improved mood and a reduction in depressive symptoms. Interestingly, women seem to benefit more than men, and the effect is even greater when exercise is added. A vegan or plant-based diet is associated with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and stress.

Fruits and vegetables are good for mood, but raw fruits and veggies are better. A raw diet is associated with higher levels of mental wellbeing and lower levels of psychiatric symptoms. According to a recent study, the top raw food associated with mental wellness are apples, bananas, berries, carrots, citrus fruits, cucumbers,  grapefruit, kiwi, lettuce, and dark, leafy greens.

So how many servings of fruit/veggies should you eat per day for optimal mental health? At least 8, according to one study that found happiness benefits were evident for each portion for up to 8 servings per day.

What nutrients should you include in your diet for improved mental health? Research indicates the following are important for mental wellbeing:  Omega-3 fatty acids (fish, flaxseed, walnuts), phospholipids (egg yolk, soybeans), niacin (liver, avocado, brown rice), folate (legumes, beets, broccoli), vitamin B6 (chickpeas, tuna), and vitamin B12 (sardines, fortified nutritional yeast).

In sum, skip the fast food and soda; head to the salad bar instead to feed your mood and your belly!


References

Bonnie Beezhold, Cynthia Radnitz, Amy Rinne & Julie DiMatteo (2015) Vegans report less stress and anxiety than omnivores, Nutritional Neuroscience, 18:7, 289-296, DOI: 10.1179/1476830514Y.0000000164

Boston University. (2017, April 20). Is soda bad for your brain? (And is diet soda worse?): Both sugary, diet drinks correlated with accelerated brain aging. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/04/170420162254.htm

Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2018, July 18). Beef jerky and other processed meats associated with manic episodes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/180718082225.htm

Knüppel, A., Shipley, M. J., Llewellyn, C. H., & Brunner, E. J. (2017). Sugar intake from sweet food and beverages, common mental disorder and depression: prospective findings from the Whitehall II study. Scientific reports7(1), 6287. doi:10.1038/s41598-017-05649-7

Lim SY, Kim EJ, Kim A, Lee HJ, Choi HJ, Yang SJ.   Nutritional Factors Affecting Mental Health.   Clin Nutr Res. 2016 Jul;5(3):143-152. https://doi.org/10.7762/cnr.2016.5.3.143

University of California, Los Angeles. (2012, May 15). This is your brain on sugar: Study shows high-fructose diet sabotages learning, memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2012/05/120515150938.htm

University of California, San Diego Health Sciences. (2015, June 17). Dietary trans fat linked to worse memory. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/06/150617144237.htm

University of Manchester. (2019, February 5). Healthy diet can ease symptoms of depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190205090511.htm

University of Otago. (2018, April 16). Raw fruit and vegetables provide better mental health outcomes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/04/180416101403.htm

University of Warwick. (2016, July 10). Fruit and veggies give you the feel-good factor. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/07/160710094239.htm

University of Warwick. (2019, April 4). No such thing as ‘sugar rush’! Sugar worsens mood rather than improving it. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190404104345.htm

Wiley. (2015, October 19). High-fat diet may cause changes in brain that lead to anxiety, depression. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/10/151019123204.htm

Sites with Helpful Resource Lists

A list with links to other sites’ resource pages

By Cassie Jewell, LPC, LSATP

I have a knack for finding resources. To compile the lists for this blog, I spend countless hours searching the Internet.

My main resource list has grown tremendously since I started blogging. In my quest to compile the most comprehensive resource list ever, I came across a few lists that rival my own.

This post will link you to a variety of resource pages (in case you can’t find what you’re looking for on this site!) If a link isn’t working, try going to the site’s homepage or sitemap to look for the resource section.


Community Resources (ADAA)

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America

DISCOVER AND RECOVER: Resources for Mental and Overall Wellness

A blog with tons of resources

Expert Resources from JED and Others

Resources for teens and young adults

Find Resources (CADCA)

An extensive searchable resource list from CADCA (for substance use disorder-related resources)

Free Mental Health Resources

A list compiled by blogger Blake Flannery (last updated 2015)

Links (Sidran Institute)

From the Sidran Institute… tons of sites I’d never heard of!

Links to Other Empowering Websites

From the National Empowerment Center

Mental Health and Psychology Resources Online

A list of online resources from PsycCentral

Mental Health Resources for Therapists and Clients

From the blog: Info Counselling – Evidence based therapy techniques. Compiled/last updated 2017.

Mental Health Resources List

A fairly comprehensive list similar to mine. Updated 2018.

Resources

Resources for child sexual abuse

Resources (Veto Violence)

A searchable resource database from Veto Violence (a CDC organization)

Self-Injury and Recovery Research and Resources

Resources for those who self-injure, their loved ones, students, and health professionals

Sites We Like

From S.A.F.E. Alternatives – Resources related to self-harm

Veteran Resources

A resource list from Lifeline for Vets (National Veterans Foundation)