Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD
239 North Broadway
Sleepy Hollow, NY


War Is Hell

by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 09/11/14

The 13th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001 is almost over.  I am sitting here with a glass of wine toasting one of my best friends who was killed in Tower 1.  I am reflecting on how 13 years could pass in the blink of an eye, and thinking about the trauma of that day: my cousin worked for the US Customs Dept.  Her office was in the World Trade Center and she ran for her life; she was safe, but we didn't know that until about lunch time when she was able to get in touch with someone.  My other cousin was pregnant and her husband was a NYC Police Officer.  He was called in to help, and when she watched the towers fall from her office window she had no idea if he was in the buildings and if her son would have a father (he was safe, and they have since moved out of state where he works as a cop in their county).  I worked in a school in Rockland at the time and we were put on lock-down, told not to leave our rooms and wait for instructions.  Driving home that afternoon I spent about 45-60 min on the Tappan Zee Bridge feeling like a sitting duck, thinking if they really wanted to screw with us they would have planted explosives under all the bridges to kill thousands more of us.  It was during that ride home that I found out my friend was missing, last heard from when he was on the stairs trying to escape the tower.  His body was found Christmas week only feet from the exit.  He and a coworker were last seen helping a woman (he was always a Boy Scout) and they never got out.  Had he been a little selfish he probably would have been down the street and out of harm's way when the towers started falling.

I have a couple of patients in my practice at the moment who are 9/11 survivors.  One happened to have an appointment tonight and we talked about the day, how vivid the memories still were, and how she had nightmares for years after the event.  Much like in times of war--and those attacks clearly were acts of war--many people have struggled with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder since the attacks.  My cousin, for one, went back to work for the government until her retirement ten years later, but never had a good night's sleep during those ten years.  I was unable to go downtown for several years, not wanting to see the empty hole where the towers were, even though the area was familiar to me, between visiting my cousin at work when I was younger and then going to graduate school at Pace, barely a stone's throw from Ground Zero.  When I finally went to see an exhibit that required me to get off the train in that area, I realized how disoriented I was without the towers.  For most of my life the towers had stood there and been something of a North Star, a focal point that could orient me if I was downtown and needed to walk in one direction or another.  I had to ask a street peddler if I was walking in the right direction; if the towers were still there it would have been second nature. 

Signs and symptoms of PTSD include anxiety and panic, nightmares, reliving the traumatic event, fears, and depression.  It doesn't take a terrorist attack to lead to these types of symptoms.  A run of the mill car accident can cause symptoms of PTSD if it is traumatic enough and the person thinks he may die.  I experienced my own anxiety behind the wheel after an accident about five years ago that included four points of impact and my certainty that I was going to die with the next impact as I careened out of control (miraculously neither I nor my passenger were hurt).   Abuse, being the victim of a crime, or a natural disaster can also cause trauma. 

There are many therapists out there who can help with symptoms of PTSD.  If you have been through a trauma and feel that you are not getting past it, seek help.  You can feel better. 

A toast to all those lost on 9/11/01....may they all rest in peace. 

Boggles the Mind

by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 09/09/14

Yesterday it was all over the news that Ray Rice was fired from the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL after more information, including a video, surfaced of him punching his now-wife, something which he had been accused of in March.  The video shows how hard he punched Janay Palmer Rice, literally knocking her unconscious.  

Here is what boggles the mind....she still married him after this happened.   This wasn't a shove or a slap, something that could have happened in the heat of the moment but do little or no damage, still not OK, but more forgivable, and could just as easily have happened by either party, but it was a punch that knocked her to the floor and unconscious.  I watched the video.  She was unconscious.  Mr. Rice tried to drag her from the elevator, shoes falling off, dress riding up, like a rag doll, laying her down in the doorway of the elevator until another person showed up.  The couple was obviously arguing.  I'm not sure, but I did see some comment on some social media about her having cheated on him, maybe he had just found out.  Whatever happened, he may or may not have had reason to be angry, but he hauled off and hit her so hard that she dropped like an amateur in the ring with a prize fighter.

And she married him anyway. 

This also boggles the mind: She made a statement, via Instagram, basically saying that the press, etc, should leave them alone, "This is our life" she says, It's "a horrible nightmare" they want to forget.    She went on, "To take something away from the man I love that he has worked his ass off for all his life just to gain ratings is horrific."  (As if the Ravens fired him to boost ratings!)  She finished her announcement with, "Just know we will continue to grow & show the world what real love is!"

Huh?  Real love involves being punched unconscious?  News to me. 

I've seen many signs of outright abuse in my work over the years, often hard to miss: bruising, scratches, fearfulness, etc.  But it's not all about punches in the face.  Punches come later.  First it's often control: reading your mail, going through your phone, using the GPS on your phone or car to see where you've been, separating you from your friends, telling you that your friends and family don't know what's best for you, turning you against them.  Encouraging you to do things such as quit your job, break off relationships with people who don't like the abuser, loan or give him money, sign leases or loans without him co-signing, etc.  Often we see insults and put-downs in abuse situations.  The abuser will constantly remind you how bad you are at something, how "stupid" or "incompetent," often said in front of the children, so they don't respect the abused either.  This can sometimes alternate with comments about "my beautiful wife" which keeps the abused confused and compliant.  I remember being on a biking tour many years ago, and there was a couple on the trip who I thought for sure was in such a relationship.  If she couldn't bike up a hill he made fun of her relentlessly in front of other people.  Her posture was round-shouldered and quiet.  She rarely spoke up for herself.  Her husband was a boorish man who I tried to avoid for the entire week as much as I could.  He never missed an opportunity to laugh at her expense or point out to others what a loser she was. 

After the insults, the hitting may come, although not always.  If an abuser thinks he has you under enough control, he doesn't need to hit you, you'll stay in line.  If the physical abuse starts, it often gets worse over time.  About 18 months ago my town had its first murder in years.  In the middle of the night a man strangled his wife.  I highly doubt this was his first act of abuse.  I also highly doubt that this was the first time Ray Rice put his hands on his wife.   Perhaps it was also not the first time she had put her hands on him (she can be seen slapping or shoving him before the punch came).  My guess is that their relationship has been one of mutual disrespect for some time. 

But apparently that is "what real love is" in their house.  And if they have children, they will grow up to think that this is normal too.  Extremely sad. 

If you or someone you  know may be in an abusive relationship, GET HELP!!  Listen to your friends and family who are concerned, they are probably right.  If your situation is physically dangerous, go to a shelter if need be.  If there are children involved, get them to safety.  True love does not involve being beaten, insulted, or stalked.  Ray Rice committed a crime, and losing his $40 million is the least of what he deserves. 

Even when we don't even realize we're doing it.....

by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 09/05/14

Most of us would not want to admit to prejudice of any kind--racism, sexism, ageism, etc., and most of us have the best of intentions and would not be lying when saying "I don't consider myself to be prejudiced against others."  Yet time and time again studies and anecdotal evidence indicates that prejudice is something that is present even when we don't realize it. 

Take, for example, a story that has been going around the Internet the past week or so....

Jose Zamora had been looking in vain for a new job, sending out up to 100 resumes a day, with no response.  He changed the name on his resume from Jose to Joe, and the responses started pouring in.  Same resume, different name.  See article and video here 

In the past there have been formal studies where resumes were sent with either men's names or women's, traditionally sounding black or white names, and researchers sorted through the responses to determine that men were offered interviews more, and whites more than blacks, even if the resumes were identical. 

We all have preconceived ideas about groups, whether male/female/black/white/tall/short, etc.  Some stereotypes about groups are based in truth, and some are not.  Some stereotypes are positive and some are not.  We cannot help having ideas about people--it helps us to be able to categorize people, things, places, objects, concepts, etc.  But we have to be aware when those ideas get in the way of really getting to know an individual, or in Jose's case, passing over a candidate who may be perfect for the job because of some idea we have of Latinos. 

Once we start to really talk about cases like this, we may really start to understand each other; not become blind to our differences, since our differences are part of what weaves the tapestry of our lives, but to see people as they are, rather than in the image we want them to be.  Jose may or may not turn out to be a good employee, but what a shame to not even be given the chance until he removed one letter from his name and made it more European and less Latino. 

Being put on a pedestal

by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 08/28/14

This past week, on the Emmy Awards, Sofia Vergara participated in a dopey skit where she rotated on a pedestal in an evening gown while the CEO of the Television Academy talked about something boring, the joke being that Ms. Vergara is pretty to look at and that television owes the viewer something pretty to look at.  At the end of the skit, she feigned frustration, saying that this was why she stopped doing car shows....the rotating pedestals made her dizzy. 

It was not particularly funny, it was kind of silly and awkward, but both she and the Emmy Awards have been called to task for the skit being sexist. 

I honestly don't get it.

Ms. Vergara is a gorgeous woman who milks her sexuality and hourglass figure on television and makes a fortune doing so.  She's also funny.  She's clearly shrewd, and she laughs all the way to the bank as the object of young men's lust.  I doubt that at this point in her career she could be forced into a situation that she perceived to be demeaning and sexist.  Forbes estimates that in 2013 she made approximately 30 million dollars--the highest earning television actor, male or female.  But some were up in arms that she was exploited by the skit and that it only served to continue the objectification of women. 

I think we've lost sight of the difference between being objectified or exploited or manipulated and capitalizing on one's good looks and embracing one's sexuality.  A pimp forcing a broke, lonely woman into prostitution, a boyfriend making his submissive girlfriend strip in his nightclub, even a husband who reads his wife's emails or tracks her on her phone's GPS is exploiting and manipulating, even abusive.  A woman making 30 million dollars who makes fun of the ditzy glamor girl persona that has made her famous is not being exploited, she's being facetious.  We may not agree with how she is making her living and wish she focused more of her attention on her brains and not her beauty, but I am doubtful that anyone is forcing her to wear skimpy clothes and get paid to look gorgeous. 

We underestimate women and the power we have when we react this way.  There are many Lambda Chi Alpha members who can recall me selling raffles at their frat parties.  The intention was to earn some money to pay for the keg and snacks.  I figured out that the more I flirted, the more money that the tipsy 19 year old boys threw my way.  Being that we were all math geeks, I informed the frat brothers that there was a clear scientific formula: The shorter the skirt, the more money we get for the keg.  I never felt exploited, in fact, I felt I was exploiting the young men's hormones for the benefit of my friends at the frat.  Some harmless flirting raised more money to cover the cost of the party, and I walked away truly believing that women were the smarter sex, as we would never open our wallets and toss $20 bills around for a little flirting and glimpse of skin (and yes, I often got twenties, I was cute, and a very good flirt).   No one MADE me do it, so I felt in control.  Herein lies the difference. 

Lucille Ball began her career as a model and dancer.  While Lucy Ricardo mugged and acted silly rather than playing up her sexuality, you could not avoid the fact that Lucy was gorgeous and her long, fantastic legs and flawless complexion had initially opened doors for her, not her comedic timing.  Madonna has embraced her sexuality while becoming a gazillionaire on her passable singing talent and genius at coming up with hit songs and making headlines.   Marilyn Monroe read literature, studied classic acting, and married a playwright.  There are women posing in nudie magazines who are paying for college with the money.  There is currently a student at Duke paying for her education as a porn actress.  If she can get into Duke and REMAIN in Duke, she is clearly not a stupid girl.  It's somewhat sad that she has to make porn films to pay for school, but it's her choice, one she may regret later, but it's still her choice to make.  Is capitalizing on one's looks and sexual attractiveness any worse than capitalizing on one's ability to throw a ball or sing a song? 

Can women be objectified and exploited?  Absolutely.  Anyone who is not in a position of power can be.  Is it likely that the highest paid actor on television was forced into a skit that she felt was degrading?  Probably not.  She defended her decision by saying that she felt it demonstrated that a woman can be hot but also be funny and smart and laugh at herself, and that those who didn't like it should "lighten up."  On some level, I agree.  If she were an ingenue being chased around the casting couch and forced to do what some male TV executive thought was sexy I'd feel differently.  Ms. Vergara was clearly in on the joke, even if it wasn't very funny.  She's lived the American dream--immigrant girl makes good capitalizing on her good looks and comic timing.  The joke may not have been a knee-slapper, but all us girls who have learned the power of sex are laughing along with her at what people will pay money for.  The real travesty is not that she was put on a pedestal like a trophy (she does play a trophy wife on TV, correct?  Get it?), but that we pay people 30 million dollars to be pretty rather than to find the cure for cancer.  All she's doing is benefiting from our society's desire to spend money to see gorgeous women.  I'd do the same thing if I were her. 

Change is Good

by Barbara Kapetanakes, PsyD. on 08/25/14

I have had my practice for over 15 years now; more than 10 of those years I've been in full-time practice as opposed to working as a school psychologist by day and seeing patients in my office at night.  It's easy to get into a routine in any career, and for some professions and jobs, a routine is fine.  But when navigating human behavior, emotions, and relationships as well as societal changes, medical laws and guidelines, educational regulations and the like, a routine can become the death of a career. 

I'd like to think I've taken on new challenges enough in my practice to both provide people with what they need and also to keep myself interested, engaged, and invested in the work I do.  From studying neuropsychology and psychopharmacology to keeping up with the world at large, I try to stay on top of things without getting caught up in fads and trends that will be gone in no time.  My newest challenge is divorce mediation--something I've done somewhat informally for my entire career.  How many times have I asked someone in my office, "Are you really going to bring your spouse to court over a set of drapes? (or dining room set, used car, lawn mower, or other item not worth an hour of an attorney's time)?"  How many parenting plans and visitations schedules have I helped develop?  How many divorce lawyers have I collaborated with, me holding their client's hand and dealing with the storm of emotions while they work on the nuts and bolts of the divorce process?  The answer is MANY.

I'm excited as I take on this challenge in a more formal way, writing up agreements, going over financials, and being part of the entire mediation process rather than just an auxiliary.  We must never stagnate, so onwards and upwards.