Friday Factoid Catch-Up: Is Stress Contagious?

Research is demonstrating that stress can be contagious across various populations. In a study completed by Waters, West, and Mendes (2014) results indicate that babies quickly pick up their mother’s stress and show corresponding physiological (cardiac) changes. West et al. (2014) findings demonstrate that emotions may be communicated through a variety of channels, such as odor, vocal tension, facial expression, or touch.  This leads to questions of whether these findings are applicable to adults or among strangers? Can stress still be contagious beyond the intimate bond of mother and child?


Findings from Engert, Plessow, Miller, Kirschbaum, and Singer (2014) show that observing others in a stressful situation can make your body release the stress hormone cortisol.   The results show that being around a loved one or a stranger that is stressed results in quantifiable stress reactions.  This study involved having subjects paired with loved ones and strangers of the opposite sex, and then divided participants into two groups.  One group underwent challenging math questions and an interview to emulate a stressful situation, whereas the other group of 211 participants observed the test.  Only 5% of the participants that were involved in the stressful situation remained calm, while the other 95% showed signs of stress. Interestingly, 26% of observers had increased cortisol indicating empathetic stress.  When directly observed, empathetic stressed increased significantly when the observer watched a loved-one experience stress.  Additionally, empathetic stress increased when observers watched a stranger in a stressful situation via video transmission.


Overall, stress is a major health threat in today’s society; even still, the likelihood of coming into contact with stressed individuals is also prominent (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, 2014).  Thus understanding the impact of stress and empathetic stress is important for developing prevention and/or intervention strategies.   As Engert et al. (2014) suggest, we should be cautious of watching or observing stressful shows or other stimuli, as this may transmit stress to the viewers (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, 2014).  Also, the results of the study show that emotional closeness is a facilitator but not necessary to the experience of empathetic stress.  Respective of these studies, the authors conclude “stress has enormous contagion potential” (Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, 2014).


Engert, V., Plessow, F., Miller, R., Kirschbaum, C., & Singer, T. (2014). Cortisol Increase in empathic stress is modulated by social closeness and observation modality. Psychoneuroendocrinology, 45, 192-201. DOI: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2014.04.005


Waters, S. F., West, T. V., & Mendes, W. B. (2014).  Stress contagion: Physiological covariation between mothers and infants. Psychological Science, 25(4), 934-942. doi:  10.1177/0956797613518352


Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. (2014).  Your stress is my stress. Retrieved from


Dannie S. Harris, M.A., M.A., M.A.Ed., Ed.S.
WKPIC Practicum Trainee



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Managing My Illness?

How do I manage my illnesses?  I go to my psychiatrist for tune-ups when I need it, and otherwise keep regular appointments with her.  I go to my therapist as needed, and at one time was going weekly after my last hospitalization.  The truth is…I don’t do all that I’m supposed to do all of the time.  Why not?  Because LIFE.  I’m honest about it. I know what I’m SUPPOSED to be doing.  I know what I did to get healthy. I know what I have to do to stay healthy….just sometimes, I don’t do those things, for various reasons. It shows up in my mental health.


As patients come in and out of the hospital, it may be frustrating to see the cycle.  It may seem so simple to the average person.  Just take your medicine.  Go to your doctors.  Why is it so hard?  Because LIFE.  I understand this.  I am married to a very supportive person.  He takes over the household responsibilities when I’m not doing well.  If I have an exhausting day, he’s there to cook dinner for my two children, while he gives me time to rest.  Not everyone has that.


I don’t always eat healthy meals, like I’m supposed to. The other day, I ate an Arby’s sausage biscuit for breakfast, a double cheeseburger from McDonald’s for lunch, and Taco Bell for supper.  I’m still alive somehow.  I don’t always get enough sleep, like I’m supposed to.  I get too busy to make appointments with my therapist when I need to go.  I try to be Super Mom to my kids, a Band Mom to 48 high school band kids, and work full time.  Who has time to go to doctors, even if the therapist will see me on Saturday, which he will? That’s not an excuse, or shouldn’t be for me.  It is incredibly easy to forget that I am not quite like everybody else, as much as I like to feel like I am.  I can’t short-cut my health, or I might end up hospitalized again.  Bipolar I is a serious mental illness, and I have it.


Medicine gets stolen (truly).  Cars get flat tires and appointments are missed.  Life gets overwhelming, especially when the mentally ill person has no one supporting them.  It takes work to be a productive person who lives a self-directed life if one has a serious mental illness.  Sometimes, despite good intentions and efforts, forces beyond the person’s control may keep the person from doing what he or she needs to do to become healthy.  If you know someone with a mental illness, giving them a little support might make a world of difference.


Rebecca Coursey, KPS
Peer Support Specialist

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Article Summary: The relationship between leadership, teamworking, structure, burnout and attitude to patients on acute psychiatric wards (Nijman, Simpson, & Jones, 2011)

Bowers, Nijman, Simpson, and Jones (2011) examined the relationship between leadership, teamworking, structure, burnout and attitude towards patients on acute psychiatric wards. They looked at how these factors and the dynamics between these factors influence rates of conflict (which they specified included self-directed violence, irritability and aggression, inappropriate behavior, and nonadherence with treatment) and containment (which they specified included sedating medications, special levels of observation, manual restraints, and seclusion). They concluded by creating a model illustrating these factors and their influence on each other.


Bowers, Nijman, Simpson, and Jones (2011) highlighted that difficult behaviors of patients on an acute psychiatric unit create challenges for the staff who work on those units. Staff on these units strive to keep the patients, visitors, themselves, and other employees safe while conducting assessments and providing treatment to the patients. The article acknowledged that there are different conflict and containment rates between hospitals. The researchers conducted a number of studies in the UK and have previously found that many staff factors seemed to influence the conflict and containment rates. They listed examples including the staff’s psychological understanding of the patient’s behaviors, the staff’s moral commitments, how well the staff work together as a team, and the staff’s ability to provide structure on the unit (e.g. effective rules and routines). The findings suggested that the structure of the units was most closely related to the rates of conflicts and containments.


The researchers examined 136 acute psychiatric wards in the UK over a six month period during 2004-2005. They distributed five questionnaires including the attitude to personality disorder questionnaire (APDQ), ward atmosphere scale (WAS), team climate inventory (TCI), multifactor leadership questionnaire (MLQ), and Maslach burnout inventory (MBI). The study involved 6,661 completed questionnaires and the analysis was conducted by ward. Three analyses were completed. The first was a principal component analysis (PCA) where they looked for covariance to see if the number of factors could be reduced. The second involved the factors from the PCA being put into a structural equations modelling (SEM) specification search  to find a model that best incorporated all of the factors. The third analysis was a cluster analysis, which was conducted to place the wards into categorical groups. Finally, the researchers examined the relationship between each of the wards and their relationship to conflict and containment rates.


During the first analysis, they concluded that the number of factors could not be reduced and they continued to include all factors. The second analysis produced a model involving all of the factors. They represented the model in a diagram form. A summary of the model is as follows: leadership impacts teamwork, teamwork impacts structure, structure impacts burnout rates, and burnout influences attitudes towards difficult patients. They concluded that the teamwork among the staff members and the organization of the unit can be used to impact and prevent staff burnout and exhaustion. One of the discussion points noted that if reducing staff burnout is a goal, interventions may be beneficial if they focus on improving the structure on the unit. The researchers even suggested that increasing the structure on the unit may be more helpful for reducing burnout rates than improving the effectiveness of the team leader.


Bowers, L., Nijman, H., Simpson, A., & Jones, J. (2011). The relationship between leadership, teamworking, structure, burnout and attitude to patients on acute psychiatric wards. Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology, 46 143-148. doi:10.1007/s00127-010-0180-8


Brittany Best, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern

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Friday Factoids: Relationship between Tobacco Use and Psychosis

Though an association between tobacco smoking and psychotic illness is well known, reasons for the association are more ambiguous.  Recent research has associated smoking tobacco with an increased risk for developing psychosis (Gurillo, Jauhar, Murray, & MacCabe, 2015).  The authors reviewed studies that reported rates of smoking in people with psychotic disorders compared with controls.  They hypothesized that tobacco use is associated with increased risk of psychotic illness, that smoking is associated with an earlier age of onset of psychotic illness, and an earlier age of smoking is associated with increased risk of psychosis.  Overall, though the association between tobacco use has been established, little attention has addressed if tobacco may actually increase the risk of psychosis.


Gurillo, Jauhar, Murray, and MacCabe’s (2015) analyzed 61 studies composed of 15,000 tobacco users and 273,000 controls.  The results indicate that people who suffer from psychosis are three times more likely to smoke.  Also, 57% of individuals with first episode psychosis were smokers.  The risk of psychotic disorder increased modestly by daily smoking.  In short, daily tobacco use was associated with increased risk of psychosis and with an earlier age of onset of psychosis.


Again, it is difficult to determine the direction of causality; rather an association between tobacco use and psychosis was supported.  Also, the authors noted the possibility of publication bias might be present.  Even still, the authors caution that smoking should be considered a possible risk factor for developing psychosis, and should not be construed as merely a consequence of the illness.  Furthermore, consistent with the dopamine hypothesis, they suggest that nicotine exposure may increase the release of dopamine and cause psychosis to develop.  Limitations include, a small number of longitudinal prospective studies and determining the exact consumption of other substances in some of the included studies.  Of course the authors suggest more research is needed.  Overall, they note that tobacco use may be a modifiable risk factor for psychosis, and every effort should be made to modify smoking habits in this population.


Gurillo, P., Jauhar, S., Murray, R. M., & MacCabe, J. H. (2015). Does tobacco cause psychosis? Systematic review and meta-analysis. Lancet Psychiatry, 2(8), 718-725.



Dannie S. Harris, M.A., M.A., M.A.Ed., Ed.S.
WKPIC Practicum Trainee


Posted in Blog, Continuing Education, Current Interns, Friday Factoids, General Information, Mental Health and Wellness, Resources for Interns | Tagged | Leave a comment

Friday Factoids: Sleep and Brain Functioning

A Monday catch-up factoid!


We all recognize the importance of sleep, but there is emerging evidence that describes a causal relationship between sleep and emotional brain function (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).  The literature indicates that sleep abnormalities are involved in nearly all mood and anxiety disorders.  For example, as in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is diminished and disrupted. Goldstein and Walker (2014) propose that after a traumatic experience, REM sleep helps to decouple emotion from memory, and if this is not achieved, the process will be repeated in subsequent nights.  What is experienced is a hallmark symptom of PTSD, nightmares.


Further, Major Depression is associated with exaggerated REM sleep, which includes faster entrance into REM sleep, increased intensity of REM, and longer duration of REM sleep (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).  With this underlying disruption of REM sleep, individuals with Major Depression are noted to experience next-day blunting due to excess amounts of REM sleep, which alters PFC-amygdala sensitivity and specificity to emotional stimuli (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).


Overall, without sleep, the regulation and expression of emotions is compromised (Goldstein & Walker, 2014).  Goldstein and Walker (2014) argue that REM sleep provides a restoration of “appropriate next-day emotional reactivity and salience discrimination” (p. 702).  Consequently, emotional responsiveness, sleep, and consistent REM sleep promote the processing of emotional memories.  REM sleep provides not only a therapeutic depotentiation of emotion from affective experiences, but also provides a re-calibration that restores emotional sensitivity and specificity.  Thus, rather than being a symptom of a psychiatric disorders, the relationship between sleep and psychiatric disorders is now considered to be more causal and bidirectional (Krystal, 2012).  In short, given this intimate and causal relationship highlights the importance of assessing for sleep disturbance, as well as informing intervention.


Goldstein, A. N., & Walker, M. P. (2014). The role of sleep in emotional brain function. Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, 10, 679-708.


Krystal, A. D. (2012). Psychiatric disorders and sleep. Neurologic Clinics, 30(4), 1389-1413.


Dannie S. Harris, M.A., M.A., M.A.Ed., Ed.S.
Psychology Practicum Student

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Annual APPIC Comment on “Internship Businesses”

From Jason Williams, Psy.D., Chair, APPIC Board of Directors, and  Greg Keilin, Ph.D., APPIC Match Coordinator:


“Each year, the APPIC Board receives feedback about the increasing number of enterprising individuals who have established businesses that focus on assisting applicants in obtaining an internship.  Furthermore, the APPIC Board has heard comments and complaints about the claims that some of these individuals are making, the ways in which certain individuals are advertising their businesses and recruiting students, and the rates being charged to students (e.g., $100 or more per hour) for these services.


While there may in fact be some legitimate and helpful services that are being offered, the Board remains very concerned about the potential for exploitation — i.e., that some of these businesses may be taking advantage of the imbalance between applicants and positions by exploiting students’ fears and worries about not getting matched.


We encourage students to be cautious and informed consumers when it comes to decisions about using any of these services.  Please know that there are a number of no-cost and low-cost ways of obtaining advice and information about the internship application process, such as the workbook published by APAGS (as well as books written by other authors), the free information available on the APPIC and NMS web sites, discussion lists sponsored by APPIC, APAGS, and others, and the support and advice provided by the faculty of many doctoral programs.”


WKPIC wishes for all of our potential applicants to know that using a service like this is absolutely not necessary to apply to our site. What we most want to see/know about is YOU. Perfection is not required. Please, just be yourself, and show us the best that you can do. We look forward to getting to know you!


Susan R. Vaught, Ph.D.
Director, Western Kentucky Psychology Internship Consortium





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Peer Support and Holistic Recovery

Peer Support not only involves asking open, honest questions and listening, but it also involves modeling recovery.  The certification gained through training does not guarantee that the Peer Support Specialist will be able to effectively model recovery to an individual.  There are a few things that go into modeling recovery that a Peer Specialist may not think about, but are important.


An holistic approach to recovery by definition means that it involves the entire life of a person.  Community, family, body, spirit, and mind are interconnected in recovery, and in order to recover from a mental illness and/or substance abuse disorder, all must be considered important.  This is difficult to model and is a delicate balance to maintain.  The Peer Specialist must do so to prove recovery is possible.


How can a Peer Specialist maintain this challenge?  He or she can participate in community-based support groups or volunteer.  He or she can do yoga or meditation to balance the stress of the mind and body. A hobby is also a great way to deal with stress. If spiritual, attending church, or maybe just regularly praying, is an idea.  Eating a healthy diet and exercising is also a great way to model recovery.


All of the things listed above can be described to someone with whom the Peer Specialist is working.  Recovery isn’t just about leaving behind a drug or alcohol addiction; it encompasses the entire being and moves past the label of “mentally ill.”  We must take care of our mind, body, and spirit to move on to brighter days.  A Peer Specialist must try to model this to others


Rebecca Coursey, KPS
Peer Support Specialist

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WKPIC Interns: Where Are They Now?

WKPIC has been proud to host and teach excellent young psychologists for almost 20 years. As we begin our new adventure as an APA-Accredited internship, we have had the pleasure of reconnecting with and checking in with previous classes, and applauding their success in the working world.


So, where are our former interns?




Dr. David Wright
Medical officer in U.S. Army at Killeen, TX


Dr. Danielle McNeill
Post-Doctoral Psychologist at Western State Hospital, Hopkinsville, KYReaching for Success


Dr. Cindy Geil
Post-Doctoral Psychologist at Pennyroyal Center, Hopkinsville KY



Dr. Sirrena Piercy
Clinical Psychologist at Wabash Valley Alliance Inc in Frankfort, Indiana


Dr. Margarita Lorence
Post-Doctoral Psychologist at Fulton State Hospital, Missouri



Dr. Sam Miller
Owner/operator Miller Wellness, Bowling Green, KY.



Dr. Zach Meny
Regional Clinic Coordinator, Pennyroyal Center, Hopkinsville, KY
And of course, Training Director for WKPIC!


Dr. Laura Boggs
Clinical Psychologist at Health Associates & at Dockside Services, Indianapolis, IN.



If you’re a former intern of WKPIC and would like to let us know where you are and what you’re doing, send us a message! We’d love to celebrate on your behalf.


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Friday Factoids: Optimal Rest for Children after Concussion


Standard care for children who have suffered from a concussion consists of rest. An environment where stimulation is minimized (no school, no physical activities, no strenuous cognitive activity, minimal social interactions, etc.) has been the standard recommendation for many years.


MP900385807A recent study conducted by Danny Thomas and his colleagues yielded surprising findings regarding optimal length of rest for children and adolescents following a concussion. The study consisted of 88 participants between the ages of 11-22 who had been diagnosed with a concussion and discharged from the ER. One group was instructed to rest at home for one to two days, and the other for four to five days. Surprisingly, follow-up neurocognitive and balance assessments showed no differences between groups after 10 days, and the group that rested longer complained of more physical symptoms (e.g., headache, nausea) after one to two days, and more emotional symptoms (e.g., irritability, sadness) over the duration of the study.


The researchers hypothesized that resting at home for a longer period of time lead the participants to experience their symptoms as more severe and potentially life altering. With more research, there may be a shift toward recommendations for shorter rest in children who have suffered from a mild concussion.




Graham Martin, MA
WKPIC Doctoral Intern

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Ethics and Peer Support

A Kentucky Peer Support Specialist is not a clinical professional. The specialist goes through certification to perform the job, but that certification alone does not replace the years of studying and experience of therapists and psychologists. Although we are not clinical professionals by our certification alone, we still must follow ethical guidelines.



There are ethical violations that could cause conflict between the Peer Support Specialist, the patient, and the clinician.  One of these is medication suggestions.  The Peer Support Specialist, having a mental illness, has probably been on a lot of different kinds of medication.  In my case, the medication is working properly, but I must never disclose the type of medication I am on to the patient.  It can cause conflict between the patient and his or her psychiatrist.  Medication works differently for individuals.  Just because mine works, that does not mean it will stabilize someone else.



Another possible ethical violation is criticizing other clinical professionals around the patient.  This undermines the patient’s treatment.  It affects the patient’s ability to trust their doctor, which is important.   The Peer Specialist wants to avoid any negative talk about staff in general, unless it pertains to violations of a patient’s rights or safety. It is the Peer Specialist’s role to listen actively, so negative talk from the Specialist should not become a problem.



Accepting gifts, making promises one doesn’t keep, doing everything for them, and encouraging anger toward a family member or another person are other ways to cause possible harm in a Peer Support relationship.  Peer Support is a relationship between the Specialist and the patient based on mutual respect, and that respect includes the respect of other patients or those not present to defend themselves.  Although we aren’t “clinicians” so to speak, it is important to understand boundaries and conduct ourselves as professionals at all times.



I hope by this time, people have begun to get to know me a little as they’ve seen me with the patients.  It is a joy working with your patients, knowing that together we are truly making a difference in many lives.



Rebecca Coursey, KPS
Peer Support Specialist


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