Follow @nxtlvlgoddess on Instagram to learn about an amazing new community

Thank you for including me as a featured member, founders of Next Level Goddess- a new Instagram community of individuals who inspire, educate, and empower one another.  I look forward to learning more from the group and it’s members, and seeing it flourish and grow!

We're proud to celebrate NLGs who have personally inspired us to be our most splendid selves 👊🏻 Writer, mental health professional, educator and a woman of fierce independence, Dr. Christina Villareal dances to the beat of her own drum. She commits her time to opening the eyes of others to live to their fullest potential. Straying from conventional therapist-client methods, she vulnerably shares and speaks from her own experiences when appropriate. By creating an atmosphere of complete non-judgement, she's helped me see that no one can take control of my narrative without my consent. A goddess through and through, she embodies the belief of sharing the wealth that is the human experience. Her words can be found on DrChristinaVillarreal.com. x Rosa #NLGcommunity #nxtlvlgoddess

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Dr. Christina Villarreal’s Focus on Women’s Sexual Health, Empowerment & Wellness

15 years ago, I completed my doctoral dissertation examining cultural and gender influences of sexual risk behavior among Latino women. For the past 10 years in my clinical practice, I’ve enjoyed helping women embrace their sexuality, overcome obstacles to safe sex practices, and empower themselves for a lifetime of sexual wellness. I’ve served as a Relationship Expert on social media websites like GuysAskGirls.com, and written a range of articles on sex, dating and relationships, with media publications and interviews in popular media sites such as techcrunch.  This week I orchestrated what turned out to be an amazing workshop for nearly 40 women on Navigating Sex, Relationships, and Dating in San Francisco. I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to do this important work. Thank you to all those that participated, there will be more to come!  In the coming weeks I will be recruiting a diverse group of men in various stages of their dating life and relationship experience- from single to married.  These men will form an expert panel for an open Q & A session for an audience of Bay Area women who’d like to better understand why guys do what they do!  I will facilitate an honest and respectful dialogue that will surely be insightful, informative and instrumental in improving dating and relationship experiences for all.

Here are a few candid snapshots from the event on May 27th, 2015, we had a great time!

Hosting my first workshop on Women's Sexual Health and Wellness
Hosting my first workshop on Women’s Sexual Health and Wellness
With Rebecca Alvarez of Bodyfeminina- she is a Sexual Wellness Expert and Women's Sexual Health researcher
With Rebecca Alvarez of Bodyfeminina- she is a Sexual Wellness Expert and Women’s Sexual Health researcher
With Dr. Lina Hannigan, a Clinical Health Psychologist practicing in the Bay Area, SF.
With Dr. Lina Hannigan, a Clinical Health Psychologist practicing in the Bay Area, SF.

The Kim Kardashian effect: America’s obsession with beauty

American media has had a long love affair with capturing and promoting images of feminine beauty. While trends in beauty have shifted along with fashion through the decades, one thing remains constant: American women want to keep up. I’ll refer to this pursuit of beauty as ‘The Kim Kardashian Effect’ as a way to describe America’s obsession with beauty. Reality television star Kim Kardashian’s prolific business empire is built predominately around her image. She has successfully leveraged her physical beauty and lifestyle as a means to achieve super stardom and wealth, all possible because millions of people continue to give her their positive (or negative) attention. Tina Fey wittily captures American women’s struggle with increasingly unachievable standards of beauty in her recent autobiography, Bossypants:

“I think the first real change in women’s body image came when JLo turned it butt-style. That was the first time that having a large-scale situation in the back was part of mainstream American beauty. Girls wanted butts now. Men were free to admit that they had always enjoyed them. And then, what felt like moments later, boom—Beyoncé brought the leg meat. A back porch and thick muscular legs were now widely admired. All Beyonce and JLo have done is add to the laundry list of attributes women must have to qualify as beautiful. Now every girl is expected to have Caucasian blue eyes, full Spanish lips, a classic button nose, hairless Asian skin with a California tan, a Jamaican dance hall ass, long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year-old boy, the arms of Michelle Obama, and doll tits. The person closest to actually achieving this look is Kim Kardashian, who, as we know, was made by Russian scientists to sabotage our athletes”.

Are American women and men preoccupied with beauty?

Camille Anna Paglia American author, teacher, social critic, and self-described dissident feminist has noted “We should not have to apologize for reveling in beauty. Beauty is an eternal human value”. Scientific evolutionary research supports the idea that physical symmetry, science’s definition of beauty, is preferred by human and animals because it is equated with a strong immune system. Thus, beauty is indicative of more robust genes, improving the likelihood that an individual’s offspring will survive. This evolutionary theory is supported by research showing that standards of attractiveness are often similar across a wide range of human cultures. So while humans are intrinsically invested in seeking beauty in others and appearing beautiful, how do we strike a healthy balance in how much attention we give to our physical appearance?

At what point does our pursuit of beauty become pathological?

It’s not hard to name the litany of celebrities who’ve made both subtle and dramatic changes to their physical appearance to improve, enhance, preserve, and in some cases overhaul their looks. Celebrities have access and means to hire world-renowned physicians, trainers, dieticians and stylists who, for better or worse, create results that leave lasting impressions on us. Is there a healthy balance of appearance-driven behaviors? From basic hygienic habits, to hair extensions and facial injections, to lengthy daily exercise routines designed to give us celebrity-worthy physiques, how much is too much?

Generally speaking, mental health experts define a given pattern/set of behaviors as ‘pathological’ when those behaviors:

  • deviate markedly from the expectations of the individual’s cultural surroundings
  • are inflexible and pervasive across a broad range of settings/situations
  • lead to clinically significant distress in a person’s life, i.e. financial, social, occupational or other important areas of functioning

At what point does someone meet the criteria for the psychological disorder, ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder‘?

Mental health experts define Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) as a

  • preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance
  • If a slight physical anomaly is present, the person’s concern is markedly excessive
  • This preoccupation causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning, and is not better accounted for by another mental disorder (such as dissatisfaction with body size in Anorexia Nervosa).

What types of treatment work best for people displaying symptoms of BDD?

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)- The goal of this treatment is to reduce an individual’s negative thoughts (and associated feelings and behaviors) about their appearance. Patients with BDD hold deeply negative thoughts about their appearance. CBT (using exposure and response prevention) can also effectively treat compulsive rituals that people develop out of anxiety about their appearance. These rituals can include checking themselves in the mirror, seeking reassurance from others, camouflaging the area of concern with cosmetics, clothing or tanning, and planning for surgeries to correct areas of concern. The goal is to “teach clients to challenge the validity and importance of their distorted thoughts about their bodies,” said Tom Corboy, M.F.T., director of theOCD Center of Los Angeles. Patients learn to “restructure their negative thought patterns to be more realistic,” said Sari Fine Shepphird, Ph.D, a Los Angeles clinical psychologist who specializes in BDD and eating disorders.
  • Medication- Research studies demonstrate SSRIs can be effective in helping people manage BDD. These antidepressants—which include Prozac, Paxil, Celexa, Lexapro, Zoloft, Anafranil and Luvox—are also commonly prescribed for depression, OCD and social anxiety disorder, all of which share similarities with BDD.

is another great resource for additional information on managing this disorUnderstanding Body Dysmorphic Disorder: An Essential Guide, Katharine Phillips, M.D., a leading expert on BDD and director of The Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Body Image Program at Butler Hospital in Providence, R.I. This is a great resource for additional information on managing this disorder.

This article was produced by Dr. Christina Villarreal, a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Oakland, CA. For professional inquiries, please visit her website at www.drchristinavillarreal.com

“Fifty shades of Grey”: awakening women’s sexual identities

The wildly popular New York Times bestselling series Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James has garnered fans from all walks of life, becoming the fastest selling book of 2012.  The series centers around a young, impressionable woman who falls for a troubled, domineering older man, and aims to find out whether he is capable of love.  This archeotypical tale laden with S&M and bondage stirs Newsweek to explore the notion that modern working women want to be dominated in the bedroom, even in an era where women are overtaking men as America’s breadwinners.

A UK Guardian review proposes that Fifty Shades of Grey thrusts erotica into mainstream media, transforming the way erotic fiction is consumed by the public.  According to the publisher’s data, “gleaned from Facebook, Google searches, and fan sites”, more than half the women reading the book are in their 20s and 30s, in spite of the prevailing stereotype that the largest consumer of this series are middle-aged suburban women, sexually frustrated Twilight fans, or conservatives foraying into adult fiction in search of more palatable sexual fantasy reading material.

Dr. Mehmet Oz  dedicated a recent show to exploring this book series with an audience of women and men who have read them.  EL James “has gotten people talking about sex in a way that no one else could get them to talk about it,” Dr. Oz said from the red carpet of a gala honoring Time magazine’s 100 most influential people in the worldDr. Oz included James with the likes of President Barack Obama and Rihanna stating “this book is about people having an honest conversation about what sex should be like, what makes it feel better, what are the timing issues, how do we make it an important issue in our life rather than an afterthought.”

As a clinical psychologist in private practice, a large segment of my psychotherapy patients are young women in their twenties and early thirties.  Like the protagonist in Fifty Shades of Grey, many are struggling to awaken and understand their sexuality  during a developmental time when the goal is often to find and secure a loving life partner.

In my professional opinion, one of the biggest challenges these women face is learning how to cultivate the necessary self-confidence to enjoy sex.  This is a generation that grew up watching Sex in the City, had a wealth of sexual content at their fingertips via the world wide web, and whose favorite musical artists and actors relied upon sexual exposure at younger ages and more heavily then ever before in American history.  Perhaps due to wide-spread sexual overexposure that continues to objectify women, this generation of women continues to struggle with identifying and indulging their sexual desires as did earlier, more sexually conservative generations.

During psychotherapy sessions I conduct with many women, I hear feelings of inadequacy based on pressure to be aesthetically perfect for their partners, or a focus on fulfilling partners’ desires without identifying or communicating their own- all of which which robs them of their ability to truly develop their own unique sexual identity, and discover one of life’s greatest pleasures.  As a clinical psychologist, I use a problem-solving cognitive-behavioral approach to help individuals become more comfortable with the process of awakening and fostering their sexual identity.

What are some treatment recommendations for developing one’s sexual identity?

  • explore (with a mental health professional, peers or through journaling) how cultural, familial, gender and religious norms, values, experiences and biases may have shaped your views of sexual behavior in both positive and negative ways
  • explore the expectations you place upon yourself and others when engaging in sexual behavior- do these these expectations allow for healthy self care? Reciprocity?  Are they realistic?
  • Identify images, fantasies and forms of touch that awaken your desire- what kind of judgment do you place upon them?  How might you gradually increase your comfort level with them in order to fulfill your needs?
  • Are there materials that can support your exploration of the above?  Explore adult novelty websites such as Adam & Eve, or local bay area stores such as Feelmore 510 or Good Vibrations.  Bookstores such as Amazon/Kindle and Barnes & Nobles/Nook are also well equipped with reading material which can be procured discretely.

This article was written by Dr. Christina Villarreal, Clinical Psychologist in private practice in Oakland, California.  For professional inquires contact her at christina.villarreal@gmail.com