Love is Louder

Ohhhh Valentine’s Day – a day of love and appreciation of you and your partner. You have your chocolates, your flowers, maybe a sexy evening planned out. It’s a means to celebrate a relationship in its entirety. A day to acknowledge the hardships you have endured together, the difficult sacrifices you have made, as well as the faith and unconditional love you both share for each other.

And it is important to remember that Valentine’s Day isn’t exclusively for couples. It is an important day for everyone. Valentine’s Day, like many holidays and anniversaries, may not be experienced the same from person to person. As a psychologist, I’ve seen several clients that have struggled coping with the loss of a loved one. I’ve been through it myself. Multiple times. Either through breakups or unfortunate passings, holidays like Valentine’s Day can be a difficult reminder of a valued relationship that is no longer there.

Yes, Valentine’s Day is about the love you share with another, but it can also be a reminder of “the one that got away,” or an opportunity for you to reflect about feelings you haven’t fully processed yet. Wounds can reopen. You can have those really sad and angry thoughts and feelings like there’s some unfinished business that is leaving you unsatisfied – that you are still holding onto the hope of getting back together even if it’s not possible, or failing to find a way to move on. Or maybe it still hurts that your partner wronged you and you haven’t gotten the justice or closure you deserve. Relationship loss can be so challenging to move on from because it makes up so much of your identity. It can be a tough day, and it can be an opportunity for you to rewrite what Valentine’s Day means to you.

This might mean that you have to allow yourself to feel those feelings. A hard lesson in life is understanding that pain from loss is an unfortunate symptom of being a person. Sometimes adversity, at least initially, makes people meaner, not stronger. You’re tapped out for a little. Grief comes in phases not stages, and it will take as much time as it needs to process fully (if that’s even possible). Acceptance is hard. And you can find a way (or ways) to make today a little bit more enjoyable for yourself.

Today is not the day for you to dwell negatively on past relationships. It is not a day for you to mourn the possibilities of what could have been. It is not a day for you to punish yourself for the mistakes you believe you made that might have influenced the way your relationship ended. Today is about today. It’s a day for you to celebrate how you have decided to move forward, how you have endured those moments of stuckness, how you have opened your heart again and began to expand your world. If those negative thoughts and feelings come up – give them an arena, but give them a time limit. After you feel those feelings, give them a tip of the hat, acknowledge their presence, and remind yourself to work on doing something that will make today feel a little more satisfying than yesterday. Do something that is solely a celebration of you and your capacity to spread love. A great place to start is by showing yourself the love you deserve. You just have to go out there and “make a try”.

Valentine’s Day could be an opportunity for you to reconnect with others and expand your world of possibilities. Even if you feel alone, remind yourself that you are not a party of one. You are a member of multiple communities. You have other places in your world that you are loved or can be loved. That could be with your family and friends, with people at places you’ve worked at, or with people at places of worship. You have other places. Access them. Spend your time there and enhance those relationships. Go through that morning scroll and tag an extra few friends in some memes and see what happens. Send a text or a snap to an old colleague or friend and see what they’re up to. Reconnect with your faith or find someone to talk shop with.

Valentine’s Day is about celebrating a culmination of small victories, more or less. Remind yourself of how scrappy you are. Make the day about fulfilling an intention to do something great. Great can mean browsing Spotify to find a new song that lifts you up, hitting up the gym or going for a run, or challenging yourself to try something new. Gently push yourself out of your comfort zone and appreciate how courageous you are.

If you wanna swipe right, go ahead. See what’s out there on the dating scene. If not, it’s okay too. The perfect Valentine’s Day might be to squad up on Xbox with some friends and play Fortnite all night. Or it could be going out with friends at the bar. Maybe you’ve been holding back with the person you’ve been dating and now is the time to allow yourself to truly be intimate again. Or maybe it’s none of these ideas. It’s up to you to determine how you’re going to make today about you. But a good start is to have the intention to give yourself the love YOU deserve. Be creative in how you’re going to implement that.

Remember, you are special. There is no one out there like you. The remnants of the past can still hurt AND you can still be present and hopeful at the same time. Allow yourself to be you and be at ease about it. Today is about you. It’s about the love you share with others, and most importantly, the love you have and appreciate for yourself. And if you are in a relationship, try doing it anyway!

Happy Valentine’s Day.

With love,


Dismissed by Law School. Now What?


Let’s be 100% honest here.  Law school is tough.  Not only is it physically grueling, it is also mentally and psychologically exhausting.  It’s one of those communities that can be extremely hostile and difficult to navigate.  Some students find themselves placing greater emphasis on academic achievement instead of general well-being.  Adjustments can be exceptionally challenging.  Dismissal has happened to some high-profile individuals that have proven track-records of success (just google it if you doubt me).  Adapting to a different expectation of work quality can stifle your progress.  It is hard to balance acculturating to a new place, studying/doing the done thing, and allocating time to seek out your precious support system(s).  Many things can happen during those 3+ years you spend in law school that may keep you from being eligible to complete your degree.  Just remember you are in good company and THIS ISN’T THE END OF THE WORLD.  Whatever your “super objective” in life is, it is probably still the same.  The plan, or through-lines involved in its acquisition have just changed.  So if you find yourself recently being dismissed from Law School, let’s look at 5 things that you can do to bring yourself back on track to finding success in the ways you define it.

1. Breathe

Dismissal is a real thing.  There are two things that you probably did when you were waiting for your hearing, a) considering a potential Plan B, or b) attempting to suppress the real threat of being dismissed from law school.  Regardless of your preparation, the news will bring about an emotional response: this might be disappointment, anger, sadness and grief. In some cases a person might feel relief.  Either way, there is going to be a moment where the world and your role in it might be confusing.  Sit down, take a moment and breathe.  Be aware of your feelings and have them inform your decision on what to do next.

2. Familiarize your self with your support system

I cannot stress this enough – it takes a village. Everyone needs support.  It can come from a wide range of different places.  Put yourself in places/around people where you know you feel safe. Be prepared to take a self-assessment.  Identify a person that you know is helpful when you’re experiencing different forms of distress.  If you are angry and need to blow off some steam, go hit the gym; if you are sad and need someone to tell you they love you and will always be there for you, call that special person(s); if you are feeling panicked, go do an activity that is you know can distract you momentarily until you can feel ready to head to a “what now” stance.  IF YOU ARE FEELING SUICIDAL, CALL 9-1-1 OR EMERGENCY SERVICES. Yes, getting dismissed from law school is the end of A WORLD but not THE WORLD.  You can recover.  You can bounce back. It might be difficult to determine how long or in what way, but that is something you can figure out while you start to move forward.

3. Needs Assessment

Start with your fundamental needs first. Are you going to stay at your current residence or do you need to find new housing ASAP?  Did you resign your lease but need to get out of it?  Talk with your landlord/property manager about your options. Might want to consider subletting.  What about your student health plan? It might be in your best interest to know when it will effectively end. Do you need additional supports for food and health care after it?  Check out your state government’s assistance plans. They can be stop gaps.  You are in need of relief/support.  Don’t be too proud to accept the things you pay for with your taxes.

How are you going to manage your finances? You will need to make that call to financial aid for loan repayments.  Just rip off the band-aid and make the call now.  The longer you wait, the more difficult it might be to pull yourself out of that burdensome financial hole. Will you need to get a job or are you going to have to move back home? For some, home is NOT the place you want to go, but is the only real option. If you go home, people will eventually ask you about what happened.  It might be a good idea to think about your response to their questions.  Remember, for the most part, people have good intentions.  Don’t be offended, just be open.  The quicker you can find a way not to feel offended/defensive about your response to this, the better.

Are you going to look into continuing higher ed, or is it right into the job force for you?  Maybe some of your credits transfer into a Masters’ public administration degree.  Maybe you are looking to re-apply to law school at a later date. Maybe it’s time to start getting that resume in top shape.  If work is your option, there are plenty of ways to find work.  You have to be actively looking.  You got to network to get work.  Either way, these ARE NOT your only two options.  Remember, you can take some time off just…

4. Use your time effectively/efficiently

If you were doing the former, you probably are moving towards a “what now?” mindset.  You may need some time to sort some things out or just sit with the feelings of going through dismissal.  However, you cannot afford to let yourself slip into a “stuck” position.  Remember you had a routine before law school too.  Maybe that involves daily trips to the gym, making sure you go to your place of worship, having that weekly date night with your significant other.  If you have a routine, don’t break out of it.  If you can’t find the motivation to get out of bed or just feel generally upset/blue most of the time, it might be in your interest to find a therapist.  Big environmental changes can bring about stressors. Even if you are the “mentally strongest” person in the world, you are succeptable to depressive episodes. If you feel that you may be having a depressive episode – has a great list of available therapists in your area that can treat you. Depression happens more frequently than you think.  Also, since law school might led you to the bottle more frequently than past, it might be a good time to evaluate your health options.  Do you consider yourself having a drinking Here is a link to find out if you should seek additional supports – . Just make sure you are staying active, performing activities that bring about a sense of satisfaction, and continue to improve your health and wellness that you might have been neglecting during exams.

5. Believe in yourself!

I know it sounds hokey, but if you will yourself to stay positive, it can improve your chances moving on more effectively.  I always share the mantra: positive thoughts, positive results. If you were capable of landing in law school, that means you are an intelligent, capable, and more likely than not charming person.  Those person character traits are extremely valuable and transferable to any community (work-related or not).  Negativity is a currency that is hard to cash in.  Not a lot of people want to accept it. Don’t allow yourself to fall into a victim role- you can survive this.  As previously mentioned, your super-objective can still be reached. Through-lines change all the time.  They also get bungled up all the time as well.  You are a whole bunch of “right now’s” strung together.  Don’t let this one event you might call a “fail” define you.  It shouldn’t.  You have a long behavioral history that makes you up that is fertile ground with previous achievements.  Spend time examining what is truly significant and purposeful for you – share your insights and curiosities with others, plan your next steps carefully, practice deliberately, and change your game plan accordingly. Everything in that formula can change, but it always requires hope as a key ingredient.

Good luck with your next steps, I’ll be rooting you on from afar!



Sleep & Stimulants: a Love/Hate Thing

A college counselor’s take on nonmedical use of stimulants & the sleep issues it creates

By: Bryan Harnsberger, Psy.D

Let’s be clear about this – stimulants are effective in treating ADHD symptoms.  They are not a “Limitless” pill, or whatever Jeremy Renner takes in the Bourne Legacy.  You may believe that you are doing some form of intellectual/cognitive “juicing,” but what you are really doing is exhausting yourself.  The idea that a person can gain some form of competitive advantage or improve short term cognitive performance is attractive to students.  Anything that can provide a quick fix or short cut is worth investigating.   Especially if those students live by the mantra of “work smart, not hard.”  Smart being quick and effective, hard being… hard.

Stimulants, particularly amphetamines, are very effective in providing short term improvements to alertness and some executive functioning tasks (planning, organizing and “focusing”).  The expectancy effects are also very noticeable by the user.  People don’t actually know if it helps, but they know that it works in the ways that it does. It’s like that “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode where Larry David using Viagra even though he didn’t have Erectile Dysfunction. He secretly used the little purple pill, believing it would improve his sexual performance.  In classic Curb style, he was predictably ostracized for “juicing.”  Like ED meds for older folks, ADHD medication is appears to be an omnipresent option for those in the 18-24 age range.  Survey says that stimulants are available on college campuses.  They are around if you’re looking.  There was a study found 61.8% of college students surveyed were offered prescription stimulants for non-medical at any time in college (31% apparently reported to have said yes to the offer).2

What often gets lost in translation is how it can significantly impair your sleep.  First, let’s look at the individuals that are using stimulants non-medically.  Research indicated that these students are characteristically have lower GPAs2, have been known to skip a class or two (or a few)2, engage in excessive drinking and/or drug use2, and have some attention difficulties3.  What these findings imply is that the students using stimulants non-medically might be causing some of their attention issues by choosing not to do the healthy thing.  Alcohol and amphetamine use can both cause increases of body temperatures, which can disrupt your normal sleep cycle.  Amphetamines, if misused, can keep you up.  As a consequence, daytime sleepiness can occur.  In a 2011 study, 492 college students were surveyed about their sleep quality and non-medical stimulant use.1 The results showed that students that had a current or history of non-medical stimulant use reported worse subjective sleep quality, sleep disturbance, and global sleep scores (on the Pittsburgh Sleep Quality Scale) than nonusers.1  Guess what the most commonly reported reason for non-medical stimulant use?  “Improve work performance and concentration.”1

So how do we convince college students to stop sabotaging their sleep quality and general well-being by using stimulants to improve their alertness?  Obviously, the goal is to have students recognize they can improve their study skills, sleep habits, and engage in healthier behaviors without the use of stimulants while at college.  However, knowledge is not always liberating.  Knowing that sleep deprivation and nonmedical stimulant use can be bad may not be enough to change a student’s behavior.  We need to develop new values and ways to support students to demonstrate that academia is a not a place where success is viewed in higher regard than general well-being.  Which may be difficult, considering that college is and will be forever linked with a grading system.


  1. Clegg-Kraynok, M., McBean, A. & Montgomery-Downs, H. (2011). Sleep quality and characteristics of college students who use prescription psychostimulants nonmedically. Sleep Medicine 12(6), p. 598-602.
  2. Garnier-Dykstra, L., Calderia, K., Vincent, K., O’Grady, K., & Arria, A. (2012). Nonmedical use of prescription stimulants during college: four-year trends in exposure opportunity, use, motives, and sources. Journal of American College Health, 60(3), 226-234.
  3. Arria, A., Garnier-Dykstra, L., Calderia, K., Vincent, K., O’Grady, K., Wish, E. (2011). Persistent nonmedical use of prescription stimulants among college students: possible association with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder symptoms. Journal of Attention Disorders, 15(5), p. 347-356.


The Significance Issue

“All it takes is one bad day to reduce the sanest man alive to lunacy. That’s how far the world is from where I am. Just one bad day. You had a bad day once. Am I right? I know I am. I can tell. You had a bad day and everything changed.” – The Joker (yes, that guy from Batman).

Quarter life-crisis, mid-life crisis, existential crisis – all issues of significance.  The idea that a person goes about living in a world one way, perfectly fine, until it isn’t.  You have one REALLY bad day where the world, everything it encompasses, and the way you relate to it changes.  As a young psychologist working at a college counseling center, I see this unfortunate occurrence all the time.  A person’s world is turned upside down, and now they are stuck in the uncomfortable position that they can’t see themselves getting out of.  It can bring about a variety of psychological consequences that accompany these crises.

Now as a clinician, I think of several different interventions and clinician methodologies to use that may help improve the person’s current situation.  Core Conflictual Relationship Theme, Motivational Interviewing, Acceptance & Commitment Therapy – all acceptable and empirically valid interventions to use in my setting. They aim to improve a person’s readiness for change, provide clarity of a person’s values and what they are actually capable of controlling/changing, and examine a person’s reoccurring (incompetent) relationship patterns that bring about conflict.  All interventions deal with the same thing, a Significance Issue.

What’s the significance issue that I’m talking about? I’m talking about MEANING.  Google it. Seriously.  The first definition (well second) that pops up is “adjective: intended to communicate something that isn’t directly expressed.”

Significance, as told by Descriptive Psychologists, is the “meaningful” and/or “ulterior” aspects of behavior (Ossorio, p. 47).  In essence, the behavior that is “what a person is up to/really doing” and one or more implementation behaviors (implementation meaning a kind of performance/what observation reports would generally describe). Have I lost you?

Think about it this way: you see a person (a) playing call of duty and (b) is using the controller to move an avatar on the TV screen to strategically around map so that he won’t get picked off by an 8-year old controlling another opposing avatar.  The significance is that you know what the person is does (b) by doing (a).

People can lose understanding of (a) because (b) sometimes doesn’t work.  Things go awry – trauma, addiction, stress associated with events like loss or big-time complicated living situations.  There are endless variations to world changes that pose adaptation challenges.  If a person is called upon to do something they cannot do, they’ll do something they can do. Sometimes what they end up doing doesn’t match up with what they intended to do.   If this continues to happen, people are going to call them out.  You try your best to do the things you ought to be doing, but to others (and possibly to yourself), it appears ineffectual. Multiple failed attempts can result in degradation.  You’re not holding your own anymore, and people call you out on it.  In Descriptive Psychology, this type of behavior is Pathological Behavior (more or less).

You’ll find several blogs, clinical interventions, scholarly articles and self-help books all working to preventing issues of identity confusion and social disorganization.  By identity confusion, I am loosely using the Eriksonian conceptualization of a lack of direction/definition of self, and restricted behavior potential.  If you lose that direction/definition, or it goes awry in all the different ways it can, it will become harder to interact in a world that now feels foreign to you. This is what I mean by social disorganization – a person (hopefully) identifies that they can no longer act competently in the social communities you are part of.  You might have people start calling your behavior into question.  Social isolation and degradation can occur.

So how does one regain that understanding of significance?  How can one learn to successfully implement significance back into their behavioral repertoire?  You get into Descriptive Psychology and learn about the Person Concept.  I won’t get into all the details here but this is what you should know.

The idea here is that “a person is an individual whose history is, paradigmatically, a history of deliberate action, in a dramaturgical pattern.”  I’m going to catch a lot of flak from the community for stating it in such a lazy way, but a good way to describe a person in the most simple terms is to explain it as such: a person is just a whole bunch of right now’s all strung together.   If you have a whole history of action where you are doing the done thing to a satisfying end, why would you call it into question?  You don’t (typically).  But what happens if it does?  You look at the significant themes.

Now I’m going to respectfully copy and paste Wynn Schwartz’s description of through-lines because he is a better writer than I am.  Schwartz describes that through-lines serve as a manageable unit for identifying significant themes in a life history; a stable feature of personality. It refers to a history of varied performances that have a common and recurring significance (see how it all connected?).  There can always be a multiplicity of through-lines present, so there might not be a one-size-fits-all approach that can solve these significance issues.  But I’ll give it my best shot.

The goal to this blog is to try to describe some common and recurring issues of significance and ways to correct them or proactively work to prevent them.  I’m sure some issues will involve relationship problems, issues of identity, adapting to new environments.  Other topics can include addiction, trauma, mood and anxiety disorders.  Just keep in mind that all these issues are the same – complex living situations that can disrupt how a person understands self- and other.  I will weave in different clinical interventions and attempt to describe it using the language and concepts of Descriptive Psychology.  Please comment and chime in.  I would love to start an open dialogue to see where things go from here.

here’s a link to what Descriptive Psychology is and a crash course of what it is, its worth exploring –

Call for Papers – SDP 2016


38TH Annual Meeting of
The Society for Descriptive Psychology

Golden, Colorado

October 27-30, 2016

Steps Toward a Conceptually Adequate Human Science

Each year, the Society for Descriptive Psychology meets for the presentation of papers concerning any aspect of human-oriented inquiry. The Society invites papers and presentations that address some subset of the following:

  • The pragmatic and conceptual foundations of the behavioral sciences, social sciences and humanities.
  • Development, refinement, and mapping of the tools and concepts of Descriptive Psychology, Social Constructionism, and kindred disciplines.
  • The implicit structure of the concept of Persons.
  • The relevance of Community and Culture to the understanding of science.
  • Development of a more adequate and person-centered model of scientific behavior.
  • Advancement of the behavioral logic of social justice and progress.
  • Clarification and advancement of assessment, evaluation, and psychotherapeutic practice.
  • The functioning of organizations and other cohesive groups of persons.
  • Issues concerning choice principles and decision making in behavioral economics.
  • The conceptual relationship between Persons and biological sciences, particularly neuroscience.


Descriptive Psychology (DP) is an intellectual discipline devoted to connecting and making explicit the implicit structure of the humanities, social sciences, and behavioral sciences.  The Society welcomes submissions from diverse areas of scholarship and practice.

Peter Ossorio, a founder of DP, offered four slogans as an orientation:

  1. The world makes sense, and so do people. They make sense now.
  2. It’s one world. Everything fits together.  Everything is related to everything else.
  3. Things are what they are and not something else instead.
  4. Don’t count on the world being simpler than it has to be.
    (Ossorio, The Behavior of Persons, 2006/2013)

Limited funds are available to help contribute the expenses of students and early career academics and professionals who received their degrees within the last three years.

Some students have used their conference presentations to develop, refine, or clarify their dissertation works either through Q&A or through consultation with other members.

To Submit: 

By May 1, 2016, please submit a proposal for review (500-700 words in length, Microsoft Word format). Send the file as an attachment in an email with a body containing the title and the author’s name, contact information, institutional affiliation and status (graduate student, faculty member, independent researcher, etc.) You will be notified whether or not your paper has been accepted for presentation.  We currently anticipate that each accepted paper will be presented as part of a 60 minute conference session, including Q&A.

Inquiries and submissions should be sent to:


Bryan Harnsberger, PsyD

Suffolk University, Counseling Health & Wellness Center