Brain, Impulsivity and Evidence: What To Do Next

Is It You, Me, or Adult ADHD? Library Connections,
June 28, 2009
The Impulsive Brain – Core Psych Radio
July 1, 2009
Norfolk, VA
Norfolk, VA

Been There With Impulsivity?
Are there times when you are held hostage with subtle, uncompromising, relentless impulsivity, and you simply don’t know what to do next – in spite of considerable experience? Do you think you’ve had enough?

Well, you have come to the right place, as we all live in the best of new-brain times. The new biology provides multiple keys that will release us from our collective imprisonment. This recent sea change in brain and body science dramatically corrects previous, incomplete intervention protocols. It’s time to rethink old patterns.

Yes, many more options are available, and new ‘functional’ science discoveries provide improved options for different intervention strategies. With new biologically based systems, we can sprinkle on that ‘ounce of prevention,’ because we now know so much more about the ‘working biology’ of those who suffer with impulsivity.

Keen awareness of precipitating factors will encourage better questions, higher levels of predictability, more targeted interventions, and better resolution of behavioral regressions, – if impulsivity does get out of hand. Anyone can benefit from this new biological brain information at any level, – from parents, to physicians, to teachers, to all those in charge of groups on any level.

But isn’t this brain stuff way over our head? And just how does the new body based information, such as breakfast and sleep, fit into the puzzle? Let’s first set the stage.

Then and Now
At the outset, let’s take a quick look at the past ‘big picture’ to simplify the current complex situation.

When we were kids, about 40 years ago, the only way we could look at behavior and impulsivity was from the outside.  Back then we suffered daily from an advanced case of ‘defensive label psychobabble,’ because we could only see the tips of impulsivity icebergs. Today, regrettably, psychobabble often persists as our only intervention strategy.

Psychiatry then, as it often is now, was caught up with labels and superficial diagnoses based on appearances. We had no tools to measure brain and body functions, so we had to guess a lot. Back then we focused on imagination and dreams, today we have remarkable modern tools to focus on biological reality.  Back then impulsivity was considered ‘passive-aggressive’ – and now impulsivity is often simply described as ‘oppositional and defiant.’ And, to use those labels, ask yourself this question: just what does one do with ‘passive aggressive character disorder?’ What exactly is the utilitarian value of a marker like that?

The problem with labels: they imply a permanent reality, a fixed monolithic entity, – and do little to address child, adolescent, and adult function over time. They are as superficial as the shirt on your back, and completely fail to address the person inside.

And by the way, did someone say we should use ‘structure’ for impulsivity? Is ‘structure’ the only tool in our kit? And just how do we apply structure? Often these old solutions are actually more complex than the new ones.

Beyond Structure
Since I was a medical intern in Grand Rapids, Michigan, I’ve been dwelling on the psychological and scientific limitations, and the real destructive potential, of labels – and I’m excited to report to you that we have come a long way since then. We now know more about brain and body physiology than ever in the history of humankind… but, surprisingly, many have not yet decided to use it!

You're Invited
I have been writing about troubles regarding label limitations, regarding imprecision with medications, and regarding superficial diagnosis since my first book [Deep Recovery] in 1992, and for almost three years on CorePsych Blog. Now I’m taking this deeper perspective out on the road, with my first stop in our hometown, at the ODU Webb Center in Norfolk on October 16, this fall.

My message is simple: I know that the average person can ‘get’ this brain and body material, simply because I talk to the ‘average person’ all day, everyday in my Virginia Beach office. If the average person can get it, and can consistently improve with these insights, we might as well tell everyone who will listen to the operational details. The details are about fixing function, not labels.

No, I won’t be teaching you about the physics of gamma cameras; I will not try to make you an expert on SPECT imaging, but I will show you the basics on several different levels of actual evidence – and how to apply that solid evidence to improve your handling of impulsivity. Topics will include ADHD, Bipolar, Brain Injury, Addictions, medications, sleep, nutrition, and new measurement tools – from some brain imaging, to body and brain neurotransmitter measurements. These facts come with street value. No more tilting at windmills.

What To Do
Each portion of the one day presentation will build on the next, with the objective of covering every aspect of the most commonly seen impulsivity problems. Let’s turn the negative experience of impulsivity into an affirmative growth experience. Please link up with your colleagues and friends, – and let’s spend the day together to explicitly change the landscape of intervention possibilities for impulsivity.

This meeting is set for Friday, Oct 16, the details are at Parker Events here, – look forward to seeing you there!

And don't forget: ODU has arranged to award 6 CEU credit hours to teachers and all mental health professionals, and 6 CME for physicians.

Old Dominion University
Programs for Continued Learning Department and the Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior.  For more information, please visit: or call 757-683-4686.

Accreditation Statement
The Institute for the Advancement of Human Behavior (IAHB) has been approved as a provider of continuing education and continuing medical education by the following organizations:  Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, Counselors and MFTs, Nurses, Physicians, Psychologists and Social Workers. [6Hr CEU, and 6Hr CME]

For more information, please call Lisa M. Temple at 757-683-4686.

For more info about Dr Parker click on this link – and please email this invite to your team. And if you wish to download this article in pdf, click here


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  1. Nick Tompanis says:

    Dr. Parker,

    I hope your readers find this of some help – enough to pursue reading and asking more about it. There is an old expressing that says, “You are what you eat.” But when it comes to depression and mental health, “You feel what you eat” appears to be equally true. According to the latest scientific research, what we eat, or fail to eat, significantly influences our emotional health.

    It is known that countries where fish consumption is high such as Japan, Taiwan, and Finland, rates of depression tend to be low. However, in areas where fish consumption is low, such as the U.S., Europe and New Zealand, depression rates are much higher – as much as ten times higher. Also women that rarely eat fish have more than twice the risk of developing depression than those that eat fish often. What’s in fish that appears to reduce the risk of depression so dramatically?

    The SAD (Standard American Diet) is woefully in short supply of the key healthy fat needed to promote good overall and mental health. Two components of omega-3 fatty acids – EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) are the building blocks for hormones that control immune function, blood clotting, cell growth, inflammation, as well as components for all of our cell membranes.

    The role that good fats play in our health simply can not be overstated. When it comes not only to depression, but many of today’s chronic diseases so commonly found in our society – from arthritis to postpartum depression to Alzheimer’s – omega-3 fats hold a special role of importance toward preventing chronic disease and reducing the incidence of depression. Unfortunately, man’s manipulation of the type of fats we consume on a daily basis has had disastrous results on the state of our health. “Before 1890, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 essential fatty acids in the American diet was 1:1. Today, it’s as high as 25:1. This radically increased intake of omega-6 essential fatty acids is thought to be behind the rise of depression in the U.S.” – Nutrition and Depression: Implications for Improving Mental Health among Childbearing Aged Women,” Biological Psychiatry, 2005.

    While omega-3 and omega-6 fats each are essential for good health, each needs to be obtained from our diet because the body is unable to make them on its own. But because so many processed foods use omega-6 fats, and because these fats are nearly always used in fast-food restaurants and most restaurants for that matter, the critical ratios that create good health from these two essential fats – from 1:1 to 1:4 for omega-3 to omega-6 fats – are now so far out of balance that our health is greatly jeopardized by an overproduction of inflammation contributing to chronic disease and poor mental health.
    According to Dr. Andrew Weil, founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (AzCIM) at the University of Arizona Health Sciences Center: “This dietary imbalance may explain the rise of such diseases as asthma, coronary heart disease, many forms of cancer, autoimmunity and neurodegenerative diseases, all of which are believed to stem from inflammation in the body. The imbalance between omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids may also contribute to obesity, depression, dyslexia, hyperactivity and even a tendency toward violence. Bringing the fats into proper proportion may actually relieve those conditions, according to Joseph Hibbeln, M.D., a psychiatrist at the National Institutes of Health, and perhaps the world’s leading authority on the relationship between fat consumption and mental health. At the 2006 Nutrition and Health Conference sponsored by the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine and Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons, Dr. Hibbeln cited a study showing that violence in a British prison dropped by 37 percent after omega-3 oils and vitamins were added to the prisoners’ diets.
    If you follow my anti-inflammatory diet, you should get a healthy ratio of these fatty acids. In general, however, you can cut down on omega-6 levels by reducing consumption of processed and fast foods and polyunsaturated vegetable oils (corn, sunflower, safflower, soy, and cottonseed, for example). At home, use extra virgin olive oil for cooking and in salad dressings. Eat more oily fish or take fish oil supplements, walnuts, flax seeds, and omega-3 fortified eggs. Your body and mind will thank you.”
    According to Dr. William Sears, Associate Clinical Professor of Pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine, “Omega-3 fatty acid deficiency, specifically the Omega-3 fatty acid DHA is the most undervalued nutritional deficiency in America, especially among our children. Make no mistake about it – including Omega-3 Fatty Acids from Fish or Fish Oil Supplements in your child’s diet can greatly improve your child’s focus, mood, learning capabilities and behavioral attitude.”
    Again, the role healthy and unhealthy fats play within our diet for overall and mental health simply can not be overstated. Change your fats, as well as some other dietary concerns, and you can literally change your life.
    Nick Tompanis, Nutrition Consultant

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