Behavioral Health

Behavioral Health Services in Berkeley, CA

Leonard Schwartzburd, Ph.D.

Behavioral Health in Berkeley, CAIf you have asked yourself what we at The Berkeley Institute of Behavioral Health and Psychological Services mean by “behavioral health” you have asked yourself a good question.  I’ll try to answer it here so that it’s understandable.  I say “try” because it’s complex and I’d like to make it understandable to educated and intelligent people, as is appropriate for this kind of a web page. I believe and feel that our work is a partnership between us and the people we serve.  In a partnership it’s important to have the same understandings about some important things.

Four of the clinical services listed on the home page are links to this page.  They are:

  • Cardiac Counseling
  • Stress and Pain Reduction
  • Clinical Biofeedback
  • Alcohol Abuse Counseling

The prominent inclusion of the term “behavioral” in my practice has in the past caused what we may call some psychodynamic therapists to raise an eyebrow.  But there are still some doctrinaire practitioners coming out of all theoretical traditions.

Behavioral Health and Cardiac Counseling in Berkeley

Coming out of graduate school I rigidly believed that the behaviorists were, to put it mildly, distasteful.  In my mid forties, under a lot of stress involving life and death treatment issues during a single week I ran out of steam for the first time I can remember.  I didn’t have a heart attack (90% confidence at the time probably higher now) but I was “brought to Jesus.”  Actually I’m very Jewish but I can’t think of a more apt metaphor.  About six months later Human Development published a short piece I had written on spirituality.[1] In the same issue there was an article written by Jim Gill, SJ, M.D. about the Type-A Behavior modification program created by Meyer Friedman, M.D. at Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco.  I had heard of Type-A, but me, “naw.” I naturally read the article and my meeting with my mortality six months before helped me to see myself in the pages of the Gill article.  I took myself in hand and over to San Francisco where I signed on the dotted line to take a behavior modification program requiring a year.  I was determined to be there as a “participant” and not as a doctor and I did pretty well.  At the end of the year Dr. Friedman asked me to take a two week training program that drew an international group of varied health practitioners and then to lead groups for the Institute.  During this time I was learning a substantial amount about the physiology and anatomy that causes heart disease and it’s relation to behavior and the experienced emotions.  The behavioral techniques that had been manualized were valuable in helping participants to better regulate their Type-A behavior and thereby helped save lives.[2]

However, there was part of the program consisting of group sessions that can’t be manualized.  The bonding in the groups and the sharing of situations, emotions, perceptions and reactions was in fact much like group therapy based on psychodynamic principles.  Many of the outcomes of the program, in addition to cardiac improvement, were very much like those classical group therapy aims for.  These goals involve improved relationships to self and others.

Thus my own experience showed me that my early dismissal of some behavioral tools had been limiting my ability to be more effective in my psychotherapy practice.  I now feel confident in my belief that an integration of all the things we have learned about helping people with the things they want help with is the best way.

Stress Reduction at the Berkeley Institute

Our practice in stress reduction is part of just about all we do.   Some of stress reduction comes from the specific modalities we use, including offering behavior modification and biofeedback.  Some stress reduction comes from the general benefits of psychotherapy.

Help with Pain at the Berkeley Institute

People with serious physical pain problems have a lot of strain from the pain alone and it is made worse by the difficulties caused in one’s relationships with self and others.  Biofeedback is an evidence based effective approach to helping with pain and we work closely with pain control medical doctors.  But beyond that, perspective and the ability to lessen the degree to which problematic emotions and, strange as it may seem, the meaning of the pain affect our experience of physical pain can be of significant help. My own experience in working with people suffering physical pain comes from many years of working with people injured in the course of their employment. A lot of my physically injured patients did blue collar work.

Alcohol Counseling at the Berkeley Institute

image from alcohol counseling the berkeley instituteI learned about alcoholism when I was the psychologist in the inpatient programs offered by Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley and Seaton Medical Center in Daley City.  I certainly didn’t learn about it in graduate school, except for a moralistic attitude I soon rejected.  The alcoholics we treated taught me most of what I know about working with this population.  It was during this time that a very dramatic event occurred that created a historic change in our unhelpful judgmental attitudes and helped to remove one of the most difficult obstacles in the way of alcoholics entering recovery.  It was shame.  Betty Ford, bless her heart, stood up publicly about her own alcoholism and remarkable person that she was, she destigmatized it.

When one uses alcohol in a way that causes them and their loved ones distress, there is clearly a health issue.  The first steps in gaining sobriety are clearly behavioral, though when finally achieved sobriety involves an attitude towards life in general and towards the person’s self.  While one is in the throes of drinking the help we can provide is limited to helping loved ones to cope with the suffering caused.  There are approaches called “interventions” that can sometimes bring about the drinker going into an inpatient treatment facility.  We can help to arrange an intervention.

Common wisdom is that someone should be on the path to full sobriety for a year before undergoing their own serious psychotherapy.  The most effective approach to sobriety is AA.  Help is available to the family members affected by the alcohol abuse of others through the Alanon program.  Our services should be considered as in concert with AA and/or Alanon.  Though it’s not common, on occasion we can help with people who are resistant to AA but clearly the combination (integration again) of modalities is the most effective approach.  This is a very complex issue and it requires exploring the best approach to use at a particular time.  Sometimes it involves only the other people in the drinker’s life.  It involves learning to live in ways that can help them with doing things only for themselves and not requiring the drinker to do anything.  This sometimes also helps the drinker with the time for the situation to evolve in a better way increasing the chances of success.

We at The Berkeley Institute of Behavioral Health and Psychological Services bring to bear an integration of what we have learned are effective psychotherapy and behavioral health approaches to help those who come to make use of our services in the most effective way we can.

[1] “Spirituality and Self-Relationship,” Human Development, Volume Six, Number Four, winter 1985.

[2] “The Treatment of Time Pathologies”, Chapter in Heart and Mind:  Practice of Cardiac Psychology, Allen, R., Ed.  American Psychological Association, 1996. Leonard Schwartzburd, Ph.D. and Diane Ulmer, R. N., M.S.

Areas We Provide Cardiac & Alcohol Abuse Counseling, Stress & Pain Reduction, and Clinical Biofeedback Services To:

The Berkeley Institute provides services to Berkeley, Oakland, Albany, El Cerrito, Piedmont, Emeryville, Orinda, Alameda, San Leandro, Hayward, Walnut Creek, Richmond, El Sobrante, San Pablo, LaFayette, San Rafael, San Francisco, Tiburon, Sausalito and surrounding areas. There are people from additional communities we serve in Northern California within our office in person.  We also provide services to people via electronic media.   Skype seems to be best but phone and IM’ing can also be effective.  It is  best to have had contact in person at the beginning of services and where possible a mixture of in person and face to face treatment via modern communication technology.  We can work effectively with many individuals anywhere that people are served by the internet.  Such services are supported by a growing number of studies and increasingly favorable laws across the USA.


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