About Dr Ackard

Diann M. Ackard, PhD is passionate about helping us be the best that we can be. She is a licensed psychologist in private practice, and is active in clinical, community and research services. She regularly publishes articles in peer-reviewed journals and frequently contributes at meetings and conferences.

Evolution or Revolution?

There’s an impatience in our lives.  We’re technologically connected at the hip, (blue)tooth and thumbs.  We can update our information on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram to let those in our circle know instantly what or how we are doing.  So where’s the pixie dust and magic want to make mental health issues improve instantaneously?  In the words of the Beatles, you say you want a revolution?

Changes in mental health typically do not occur overnight.  I suppose there are some exceptions, but true change is more likely to be evolutionary than revolutionary.  That means that we can benefit from being patient and deliberate in our pursuit of mental health change.  Perhaps an applicable analogy is that we are our best guinea pigs for our own research – – we try something new (like getting more sleep at night, taking a mindful walk on a daily basis, or opening up to a trusted person) and observe over time if that helps.  If it does, then keep doing it.  If it doesn’t, then we try something else new that might be helpful.  The evolution of the improved and happier you will emerge in time, yet it may emerge along a timeline that is longer than that which you wanted.  Be patient, as only when we continue to work on building our foundation and working daily on these practices that enhance our mental health do we reap the long-term benefits.

Health Now or Disease Later?

I saw a quote recently and thought it was very appropriate for some of what we confront in the health field.  The saying goes, “If you do not make time for health you will eventually have to make time for disease.”  I believe this quote is appropriate for both mental and physical health – – that how we spend our time living our lives now directly influences how we will live our lives later.  I regularly speak about the benefits of routine mental health practices – – adequate sleep, taking time out for calm/relaxation (yoga, meditation, prayer, deep breathing), setting boundaries around our most important commitments while ridding our lives of unnecessary distractions, etc. – – and how those practices can impact optimal mental health functioning.  Physical health practices, such as regular low-impact exercise, appropriate nutrition and hydration, good posture and abstinence from smoking and excessive alcohol use, can also directly influence our bodies and quality of life.

I believe that the amount of time we spend focusing on good physical and mental health now is a more efficient use of our time compared to dealing with diseases later.  Furthermore, placing our efforts on good health practices today is enjoyable!!!  {Seriously, have you ever seen or heard anyone enjoy going to dialysis, having radiation or chemotherapy, or suffering through heart disease?}

Ask yourself this, “What am I doing regularly now to help maintain good health?  What can I do better to improve my health even more?”  Go for health now and enjoy the rewards!

Taking Action.

I’ve been struct by the paralyzing force – – the incapacitating nature – – of indecision.  Acts such as looking for the best job, the perfect partner, or the optimal career path in college can lead to emotional debilitation and immobilization.  Sometimes, people are mired down by numerous imperfect options, and subsequently choose nothing.  “Paralysis by analysis.”  No taking action; only finding stagnation.

Choosing an imperfect path may be uncomfortable, yet it is an important step toward learning what you like, what you don’t, and how to move forward.  Making a decision and learning from it also teaches us of our amazing capacities to be more than we may have anticipated we could be.

“Be bold and courageous.  When you look back on your life, you will regret the things you didn’t do more than the ones you did.”  – – H. axon Brown, Jr.

The path to recovery.

What does the path to recovery look like?  I like to conceptualize it as a process, not a destination.  During the course of treatment, it is anticipated that there may be times when progress is stalled, or even reversed as set-backs are faced and hurdles are numerous.  Ideally, we’d like to think of treatment as a steady progression toward the goal.  Yet that is not realistic.  Going a few steps backwards may be difficult and frustrating, yet it also can provide valuable learning and growth opportunities as long as you are still facing forward.  By facing forward, I mean that you are focused on getting better, improving your life, and achieving a better place for yourself.  It’s when you turn your back on trying to get to that better place that significant problems can arise.

There’s a quote by Vincent van Gogh that seems to speak to this lesson:

Our greatest glory consists not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.

Persistence Pays

Kids seem to learn something new all the time (although sometimes they learn things we don’t want them to know, but that’s not the point!)  Part of this learning comes from their willingness to try over and over again.

I’m reminded of this when I go downhill skiing.  Mountains that look daunting to me are tackled with ease by the ‘mogul mice’ on the same run.  The kids don’t seem to be thinking about all of the painful things that could happen if they fall or ram into the towering aspens and pines – – the kids look pretty fearless.  They are living in the moment, breathing the crisp air, enjoying the great outdoors and having fun.  Before the sun passes behind the mountain peaks, they may go down the same run 50 times in order to master their balance, speed and direction.  They are tenacious.

As we age, some of us can become impatient, wanting new skills and lessons to come more quickly and easily than they do.  Yet impatience can lead to significant frustration.  Perhaps, in our curiosity of the world, we can remind ourselves that our persistence in trying new things may pay off in the future if we give it ample time.

A river cuts through rock, not because of its power, but because of its persistence.  (Jim Watkins)

Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month is now

Teen Dating Violence Prevention Month is a national effort to raise awareness about abuse in teen and 20-something relationships and promote programs that prevent it during the month of February.  According to the CDC, teen dating violence is defined as the physical, sexual, psychological, or emotional violence within a dating relationship, including stalking. It can occur in person or electronically and might occur between a current or former dating partner.

Dating violence is widespread with serious long-term and short-term effects, including many that we have identified in our research, including depression, anxiety, body image concerns, eating disturbances, and increased risk for suicidal ideation and attempts. According to a 2013 survey, approximately 10% of high school students reported physical victimization and 10% reported sexual victimization from a dating partner in the 12 months before they were surveyed.

To learn more about what you can do to prevent dating violence or to help someone you suspect may be involved in an unhealthy relationship, please visit loveisrespect.org

Making a Difference, One Starfish at a Time

A client recently remarked to me about how long and overwhelming life’s list of tasks can be.  She was starting to come to the conclusion that it wasn’t worthwhile – – that for every one thing she might work on, several more crept up and perhaps it wasn’t worth trying anymore.  Her despair and fatigue were palpable.  I asked her if she knew the story of the Star Thrower, which she did not.  I share it here as inspiration for us to continue on, even when life seems daunting, because we can make a difference.

The Star Thrower (adapted, by Loren Eiseley)

One day a wise man was walking along the shore; as he looked down the beach, he saw a human figure moving like a dancer.  He smiled to himself, to think of someone who would dance to the day, so he began to walk faster to catch up.  As he got closer, he saw that it was a young man and the young man wasn’t dancing, but instead, he was reaching down to the shore, picking up something and very gently throwing it into the ocean.

As he got closer he called out, “Good morning!  What are you doing?”  The young man paused, looked up and replied, “Throwing Starfish into the ocean.”

“I guess I should have asked; why are you throwing Starfish into the ocean?”

“The sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them in they’ll die.”

“But young man, don’t you realize that there are miles and miles of beach and Starfish all along it?  You can’t possibly make a difference!”

The young man listened politely, then bent down, picked up another Starfish and threw it into the sea, past the breaking waves.  “It made a difference for that one.”

Taking Care vs. Caretaking

It’s not uncommon for me to hear people struggle with balancing their own needs and those of others.  Some err on the side of being highly self-focused, while others veer more toward being a caretaker.  But an extreme caretaking role can be a problem if you lose sight of the importance of taking care of yourself.

If you’ve ever flown in an airplane and listened to the safety instructions prior to take-off, you’ve probably heard something like this: “In the even of a loss of cabin air pressure, oxygen masks will drop down.  Please secure your own oxygen mask before assisting those around you.”  Essentially, this is stressing to us that we are less able, perhaps fully unable, to help others when we are gasping ourselves for air (e.g., feeling overwhelmed, overcommitted, stressed, physically or mentally compromised).  So, it’s important to take care of yourself — not only for your own good, but so that you can be available to help others as well.

Parents Make a Difference

In my discussions with parents, I often hear the distress in their voices, wondering if they are making a difference in the life of their son or daughter.  They ask questions such as how to help their child avoid substance use, handle teasing/bullying, feel confident and build solid self-esteem.  While the solutions to these topics may take time to implement, one thing remains true: parents can and do make a difference.  As we found in a 2006 study, adolescents who perceive that their parents (mother and/or father) care about them, feel as though they can talk to them, and value their opinions (even if they don’t heed the advice!) are adolescents who have stronger mental health.  These are the adolescents who are less likely to experience depression and low self-esteem.  They are also less likely to use substances, engage in unhealthy weight control behaviors, and attempt suicide.

Parents can make significant strides toward helping their kids feel valued by taking time on a regular basis to listen with full attention, making eye contact during conversations, and refraining from quick judgment or providing solutions to the problem.  Focus instead on holding a discussion in which pros and cons of many solutions to a problem are discussed, and seek to help the young person make an appropriate decision on his or her own.

Reference:  Ackard DM, Neumark-Sztainer D, Story M & Perry C. (2006). Parent-child connectedness and behavioral and emotional health among adolescents. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 30 (1), 59-66.  Abstract can be found here.



Perhaps you have heard the saying, “If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.”  Being vigilant and determined are significant factors in achieving growth and change in mental health.  If we don’t try new approaches to our life, different ways of relating, and changes to old habits, we can stay stuck and remain stagnant.  Although it may be a challenge to muster the courage to try something new, keep the following quote in mind . . . Triumph is just “umph” added to try.  Put some umph in your efforts today!