Ch-ch-ch-changes

As David Bowie sang, “turn and face the strange.”

Are you currently going through changes in your life? Or facing the reality that things are starting to change for you?

I think when we begin to “turn and face the strange” in our own lives, it can seem a little daunting. Or maybe a LOT daunting. Change is hard. Like, really hard sometimes. Change requires us to be flexible and to give up control and to be adaptive. All of those things sound good in theory, but most of us are creatures of habit. We often like routine and consistency and structure, though some of us might be loathe to admit that fun fact.

At the end of the day, change is one of the MOST consistent things we will face during our lifetimes, and so for that, it’s best to start to befriend it. Or, at the very least, get a little more familiar with it. What do you usually do when change is coming your way?

Run from it? Hide away in a dark corner somewhere and cope through denial?

Do you self-destruct to avoid having to go through the changes that you’re facing?

Do you bravely look it in the face and agree to all of its uncertainty, your fear, and the unknown?

Uh, yeah, me too - I definitely do the third one.

Hah. Just kidding.

Like I said before, change is hard. It’s tough to know it’s coming, to know that you’re being asked to bend and grow and stretch and cope. To know you need to be more flexible to adapt to what the future will hold, which is generally unpredictable. I think most of the time, the unknown is what really freaks us out. We don’t know what to expect, so we make up scenarios and stories - and our imaginations are quite extreme at times. Then, rather than recognizing that our imaginations might be playing tricks on us, we take those imagined scenarios and start to look at them through the same lens that we view our reality - like it’s already happened, or it’s fact. And that, my friends, can lead us into some dark and scary places.

Fear is a total liar, even though he tries to manipulate you into believing he’s truthful and honest and trustworthy.

But he’s not.

So, changes are hard because there’s the unknown, the fear of what’s to come (or not come), the anticipation of waiting and not knowing, and just the mere fact that things won’t continue on like they have been.

How can we cope with this in a more grace-filled or productive way?

I say, lean on others during changes in your life. Make sure you’re processing through all of these big changes (and all of their accompanying emotions and thoughts and reactions) with your therapist, and your friends, and your confidantes. Make sure you are leaning on others, rather than trying to handle it all yourself. We were never meant to shoulder the burdens of life alone, and no one should take on that kind of weight on their shoulders. Talk, reach out, write to a pen pal - whatever you need to do to connect with others in a real, authentic way.

Process it yourself, too. There is power in the skill of journaling, being able to be self-reflective through writing and expression. This allows us to connect with our deepest selves, and can sometimes allow thoughts and emotions that were buried underneath a bunch of other garbage to emerge. Write about what you’re going through, and the changes that are taking place in your life right now. Write about how you feel about it. You might start to find that it makes you feel a little better, or it at least gives you a little more clarity into your experience.

And remember, maybe more importantly, that you don’t need to have all the answers. You can be afraid. You can feel challenged. You can be scared of the unknown and worried about what will happen and freaked out. You can feel totally out of control. It’s just NOT normal to go into change feeling totally calm and in control - so remind yourself of that. Nothing is wrong with you for being scared, and for feeling fear, and for not knowing what will happen next. Just know too that you’ll get to the “other side” eventually, and the journey is worth more in the end than the destination. How we choose to cope with that journey is what is inevitably the most important part.

Surrendering

I have been thinking about this topic a lot recently, especially as I near my due date for my third baby. I have been striving toward maintaining an attitude and perspective of “letting go” and surrendering to the events that may unfold as I bring my son into this world. I also think that this idea of surrender is one that we talk about frequently in the therapy room, though usually under the auspice of “acceptance.”

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines surrender in a number of ways:

transitive verb

1a : to yield to the power, control, or possession of another upon compulsion or demand (i.e., surrendered the fort)

b : to give up completely or agree to forgo especially in favor of another

2a : to give (oneself) up into the power of another especially as a prisoner

b : to give (oneself) over to something (such as an influence)

intransitive verb

: to give oneself up into the power of another : yield

When you look at these definitions, it can feel daunting and scary to surrender to anything. Surrendering may potentially feel like losing yourself or giving up - both things that get a bad rap in our society. Because power is something we often try so desperately to hang onto, it can seem like a complete opposition to give it up.

When we think about and talk about surrendering to our emotions, too, it might seem like I’m advocating for listening to and responding to your emotions - i.e., allowing them to control you. But this is actually not what the surrendering process looks like. At all. In fact, the act of accepting and surrendering to our emotions is a ‘letting go’ of controlling them. It’s a letting go of whatever those emotions might spark in you - whatever urges you might feel or whatever thoughts they may bring to the surface. It’s letting go of the judgment of the emotion - allowing yourself to be in your experience fully without expectations or harsh criticisms of yourself (or the experience itself). It’s deciding that acting from the place of your emotions is really not all that effective, and so instead, I’ll sit here awhile instead and allow that emotion to exist without driving the bus.

What’s the benefit to this, you might ask yourself? Why would I choose to surrender to my emotions or experiences? Well, precisely because there is a lot in this world, in your lifetime, that is out of your control. If we look at what IS within our control, the list is quite short:

In Your Control

-Some thoughts

-Behaviors (actions, words)

Out of Your Control

-Emotions

-Automatic thoughts

-Bodily sensations

-What other people do, say, think, react

-How situations unfold or are created

While we can certainly do things to influence others and the world around us, we are not responsible for how and why other people do what they do. Thank goodness! I wouldn’t want to take on that kind of responsibility!

Surrendering to the situations that are out of our control and allowing ourselves to move freely, unencumbered through them, without judgment and with openness, we actually open ourselves us to potentially creating more change and positive impact than we might if we were resistant to what’s happening.

If you’ve never heard the Serenity Prayer, its message is powerful:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like we need to control it ALL, but it is so much more freeing to acknowledge what is out of our control. Surrendering to this for you might look like surrendering to your higher power, God, or the universe. Surrendering to your hope or faith, or maybe even your belief in the power of good in the world. Whatever it is for you, I hope you can find peace within it. I know that is my goal as well.

Why do we give others more credit?

I suppose this title could bring about quite a few thoughts…

We give others A LOT of credit. We look at others in comparison to ourselves, and often feel that we don’t measure up, that we are lacking in some way, or that we have more growing to do. Sometimes, this social comparison can add a little bit of pressure that helps us to succeed. Other times, this comparison and self-annihilation leads to feelings of low self-worth, self-doubt, and sadness or anxiety.

We also give others credit for successes we see by applying their successes to internal factors. There is a social phenomenon that occurs that accounts for this: when we apply others’ successes to their internal abilities and skills, whereas we look at our own successes as being attributable to outside forces or external factors. This fundamental attribution error often causes us to look at Bob over there, leaving a nice big tip for your server, and say to ourselves, “Wow, Bob is a really generous guy.” Whereas, you might leave a big tip and think to yourself, “Well, I’m generous sometimes but honestly wanted to impress our friends with my generosity.”

We also give others a lot of credit when it comes to our thoughts and feelings. I’m sure you’ve been in a conversation before (or, let’s face it, an argument…) where you have said something along the lines of, “You made me feel _____!” Fill in the blank with the emotion of your choosing. (Hint: It’s generally one that we don’t like or don’t want to take credit for having.) Why do we give others so much credit when it comes to how we feel? It seems like such a loss of power when we think of it this way. Almost as though we could be swayed in any emotional direction, given whatever the situation is that arises.

The truth is, we do get “triggered” (a.k.a., we have a response that is emotional, cognitive, and oftentimes behavioral) by our environment and the others we are surrounded by. But, does that mean that we should give others power over our choices and how we handle our emotions? Should we give credit to them in the first place for how we experience and manage our feelings? I think this is dependent on a number of factors, one being how we choose to experience our feelings in the moment. When we look at our emotions as scary and out-of-control things - things that feel we are unable to manage or cope with - of course it makes more sense that we would want to attribute them to someone or something else. It’s hard to take ownership of things that feel all-powerful, scary, and monstrous!

However, we DO have a choice in this matter, in terms of the perspective we take toward our emotional experiences. Are our emotions really these big, scary, awful things that we are just experiencing at the whim of everyone and everything around us? (Goodness me, this sounds like an absolute horror film - being completely powerless over all of your emotions and experiencing feelings and actions that are actually controlled by others…) Or, is it possible that - while our emotions are not always necessarily within our control 100% - we are still able to experience them as chances for learning, ways of being a student of self, and as welcome visitors?

Sometimes when I use these terms, like “emotions as welcome visitors” with my clients, they look at me like I have a third eye right in the middle of my face. Sometimes this is because they express a disbelief that emotions could ever be welcome in their eyes. A “welcome visitor” makes it sounds like something you’d want to have come and visit you, and many of my clients are actively trying to AVOID experiencing or recognizing their emotions. That makes sense. I absolutely get that it is a foreign concept. But, just bear with me.

If we were to try and see these emotions as welcome visitors, we’d be able to greet them at the door (“Oh hello, anxiety. Didn’t know you were showing up today. How are you?”), let them come in (“Well, you’re here anyway, so why don’t you come in and sit on the couch.”), and then after you’ve had a little time to visit and sit together, send them on your way (“I don’t usually enjoy your visits all that much. You usually make me feel kind of bad about myself and you rile me up. I acknowledged you were here and now it’s time you were on your way.”). By the way, no one said you had to actually enjoy these welcome visitors during their brief stays. If you practiced this enough, I’m sure that with some time, these visitors might only stay for 10 minutes, 5 minutes, a couple of minutes tops - down the road.

However, we lose the ability to let our emotions be our own and take ownership of our experiences when we give others credit for how we feel. By being a victim to our circumstances and to others around us, we’re constantly in that sea of emotions that makes us feel like we’re drowning. It’s like wave after wave of emotionality coming in our direction, and we are without a surfboard or life preserver, or even a tiny little inner tube. When we can prepare and recognize that we are responsible for our feelings (aka, what we DO with them when they arise), it becomes a lot easier to remember your inner tube or surfboard. And then, you’re not caught so off-guard next time that big wave comes. I would imagine that once you ride that wave in, and all is said and done, you’ll feel more proud of yourself than you did before you caught that sweet surge.

How do you handle stress?

We all handle stressors in our life differently. Sometimes, we internalize and take it all on silently. Meanwhile, our emotions are crushing us inside and our thoughts may be swirling to negative places, spiraling into the dark crevices of our mind. This may be invisible to anyone in the outside world, but it may start to lead to feelings of resentment or hurt, when others do not recognize this very real pain that we are experiencing on the inside. Or, we may externalize. Maybe when you’re stressed, all of that energy comes out of you and lands onto the other people in your lives - your spouse, your friends, your kids. Maybe you yell or scream, get panicky or controlling, or try to boss around others. Maybe you turn to more destructive behaviors, like self-injury, drugs or alcohol, food, or sex as a way of coping with the stress that you’re feeling. Sometimes, it may be difficult altogether to even recognize when stress has such a death-grip on us, until we start to parse it out and really look at what is happening in our lives.

It’s also easy to blame our behaviors on “stress.” Everybody nowadays is STRESSED. Everyone is busy, overwhelmed, going a million miles an hour. It’s more rare in fact to find folks who are content. Peaceful. Experiencing a sense of calm in their lives. Sure, their Instagram might be all white and glowing and the perfect resemblance of serenity and grace, but that may be a facade, hiding the all-too-real anxieties and stressors that many (let’s face it - MOST) of us face.

Why has stress become our new normal? I could gripe about how our culture has shifted into one of convenience and instant gratification, and wax nostalgic about how things were different before smartphones (and I’m only in my early 30’s!). I could go there, but they would be mere speculation and not really based on anything other than my observations and biases. Or, I could point out a simple fact: cortisol in any high or consistent levels is actually damaging and toxic to our brain. So, this is not a healthy state to be in. The why IS important, AND it is also important for to us to figure out a different way of being in the world.

How could you start to introduce more peace into your own life? Do you desire to have less stress? What stressors are you currently facing? Would your life look different if things were slowed down? If you slowed down? And what does the stress ADD to your life? Does it help you to avoid or not approach things that may be difficult to face? Because let’s face it, it must do something for us - it doesn’t feel good and yet we often stay here, in this place of high stress, so what is the catch?

We’d love to hear your thoughts on any of the above! And as always, if you want to discuss these issues, or any other issues, further - please don’t hesitate to reach out.

Ending emotional eating, part 3

Okay, so a few weeks ago, we talked about what emotional eating is and how to begin identifying the differences between emotional vs. physical hunger.

Today, we are going to start thinking about fueling our bodies and really setting the stage for the different things that might make us more vulnerable to emotional eating. Later on, as we continue this series, we’ll also talk more about ways of coping with emotions in a healthy way that starts to diffuse the need for finding comfort through food.

Now that you can identify a bit easier what physical hunger feels like in your body, from Part 2 of this blog series, you likely have a better sense of when you feel hungry throughout the day and maybe even what foods you start to turn to when you’re feeling hungry. One vulnerability to emotional eating can be when we let ourselves get SO hungry that we are making impulsive and rash choices around food. This can also cause us to overeat and become uncomfortable, which only continues that cycle of again allowing ourselves to become too hungry. Have you ever heard that phrase, “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse!” Not a good place to be when we are trying to make mindful, intentional decisions around food.

One way of decreasing that vulnerability is by staying within that range I proposed, between a 3-7 on the hunger-fullness scale. How do you stay within that scale? Well, for starters, that might look like eating every few hours, so that your blood sugar levels are never dropping off or spiking in drastic ways throughout the day. It can also look like balance, which may mean eating appropriate, recommended portions of your foods (remember, ALL foods fit into this philosophy!) rather than too little or too much. It will look like eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as a few snacks throughout the day, and getting a balance of different foods from the various food group families. It means not depriving yourself, or “saving up calories” or even counting calories or macros at all. Intuitive eating comes from listening to your body, not calculations or numbers or even the time on the clock.

That may be a difficult thing for many people to accept, knowing how the diet culture influences so many things in our society today. Calories are posted on pretty much every menu you see, and we’re so aware of what is “bad” or “unhealthy” in foods around us. This next step really involves a conscious effort and choice at removing these judgments and removing the influence of some of these other food qualifiers.

When you go to Starbucks or to a restaurant for lunch or dinner, can you honestly say that you order what you WANT on the menu, and that the calorie postings next to the food options you choose don’t influence what you pick? It can take a while to get to that place, and it takes a lot of hard work to retrain your mind to see ALL foods as important and necessary.

When it comes to intuitive eating, we are teaching our bodies and our minds that food isn’t what holds power. Food by itself is not special - WE make it that way. Food is food. We ourselves place important and emphasis on it, and THAT is what creates these ideas of food being good or bad. I sometimes say to my clients that I wouldn’t recommend someone only lives on cake, the same way I wouldn’t recommend that someone only lives on carrots. Everything in our lives must include moderation, flexibility, and a healthy dose of forgiveness. Anytime shame starts to enter the picture, especially when it comes to food, we find ourselves in a dangerous place where polarization can start to take place. It’s in that place of judgment and shame where emotional decisions and black-and-white thinking around food (and our bodies!) can really evolve. Over time, learning to identify those tendencies with a good eating disorder therapist and dietitian, AND learning how to re-train your brain to have a positive and healthy relationship with your body and with food, you can start to see that shift from judgment and shame to acceptance and compassion.

How have you been doing this holiday season? I’d love to hear what your challenges and successes have been. Please leave us a note below in the comments, and don’t hesitate to reach out to make an appointment, if you’d like to discuss any of these topics further.

Ending emotional eating, part 2

So, we defined what emotional eating is in a prior blog post. I think this can genuinely be a confusing topic sometimes because food IS attached to emotion. We all have experiences with food that give us positive (and maybe even negative) feelings. When food is so intricately tied into our holidays, birthdays, and other celebrations, it DOES take on an emotional quality. There is nothing wrong with this, and the first myth I want to dispel is that eating should be done in a robotic or controlled, rigid way. It’s not just fuel; it is so much more. And, the beauty of having a healthy relationship with food is being able to experience these positive emotions without letting them control how we act around food.

Now, how do we dive in to tackling this and addressing issues related to emotional eating?

Well, we need to build awareness. Awareness of what, you might ask yourself.

Good question!

We need to find out WHAT is going on when the urge to eat hits. Do you know how to gauge your hunger and fullness cues? This is an amazing gift that we are given as babies and children. Then, along the way, this gauge can start to get a little distorted. Rather than reading what is happening within the body, we start to look to the clock, to others, and to society to tell us when we’re hungry, what we’re hungry for, when we’re full, and so on and so forth.

If you have little kids or have ever been around them, you’ll see that their eating patterns can sometimes look erratic. Yes, it IS true that if you only let a child eat popsicles and mac ‘n cheese, they will start to develop some not-so-healthy habits. AND, it’s also true that if you let them eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full, their eating may differ from one day to the next. Heck, one hour to the next! They can listen to their bodies in a very intuitive way because they are still so present in their bodies. This is a natural-born gift that we all come into the world with. We’ve seen with breastfed babies specifically that there is a symbiotic relationship that happens between child and mom; the child eats to fullness, and then mom’s body adjusts to make the appropriate amount of milk that baby says he needs. We have this very special gift that often falls away as we age, due to all of the other pressures and emotions that start to infiltrate our relationship with food and the act of eating.

To get back to this, it’s important to begin to identify what physical vs. emotional hunger feels like. Physical hunger has physical cues. When you notice that your tummy is growling, you’re feeling faint or weak, or maybe you start to get a headache - these are all physical signs that your body is in need of food. Emotional signs of hunger may come in the form of cravings, thoughts about food, and emotions around food. When we are physically hungry, there isn’t much pickiness that occurs. If you need fuel, you will take that fuel in the form that you can get at whatever moment in time it is. This is why it’s also important that we don’t allow ourselves, in trying to become an intuitive and mindful eater, to really get too hungry where we end up making ineffective choices around food. A good range to stay between on a 1-10 hunger to fullness scale would be staying between a 3-7. A three on the scale might look like a little bit of stomach talk, some thoughts about food and eating, and a physical sensation of hunger. It shouldn’t feel like a starving, gnawing hunger, which might look more like a 1 or 2 on that scale. A seven would be equivalent to being satiated, satisfied, full but not uncomfortable. When we begin to feel bloated, uncomfortable, sleepy, and perhaps in pain, we might find that we are between an 8-10 on that hunger-fullness scale.

Every person is different, so beginning to identify what hunger and fullness feels like in your OWN body is a great start to ending emotional eating. This first step won’t guarantee that you’ll stop engaging in emotional eating behaviors right away…that takes time and practice. However, beginning to differentiate between what physical and emotional hunger feels like is definitely the first step. One question to ask yourself, if you suspect that you are feeling emotionally hungry, is:

What else am I craving in my life right now?

Are you looking for connection from others? Intimacy? Closeness? Space or self-care? Are you currently in need of some quiet, alone time? Some time to slow down and relax? Time to be active?

When we can start to identify our needs - our needs in relationships, interactions with others, and emotional, spiritual, and psychological needs - we can start to find that maybe we’ve been using food as a way to meet those unrelated and very real needs. We can fall victim to emotional eating when we start to confuse these needs with our physical need to eat, and because food is never a substitute for relationships, connection, belonging, self-care, and beyond - we may find ourselves trapped in that vicious cycle of endlessly using food as a way to fill that hole. Once we start to become aware of this, we can start to meet those other emotional needs in the way that will truly satisfy them.

Stay tuned as we continue to identify ways of tackling our emotional eating through this month of November!

Ending emotional eating, part 1

I’ve been thinking about starting a small series of blog posts on emotional eating, especially as we are coming into this holiday season. Food is plentiful during this time, and often we categorize these holiday foods as “bad” - candy and sweets after Halloween, turkey and all the fix-in’s for Thanksgiving, and the cookies, cakes, and breads that adorn the month of December.

Do you think it could be possible that you could have a relationship with food that allows you to eat ALL of these things, in moderation, and without guilt, shame, or judgment? Do you think it’s also possible to stop looking at foods as “good” or “bad” and start to just see them as fuel?

Whoa.

I feel like for some of us, that may feel like such a foreign concept that you might be laughing at your screen. Out loud. Wondering what kind of crazy pills I’m on.

Some of you may also be saying to yourself that you don’t want to eat foods in the “bad” category. You may be equating these particular foods or holiday events with fear, anxiety, or dread - feeling like having to eat them is a punishment or hurdle. Perhaps you can’t even see the value in having an “everything in moderation” approach to your relationship with food.

Emotional eating, in its definition, is when we allow our emotions to control or decide our behaviors around food. That could mean restricting our intake of food, due to fears or avoidance. It could also be binging or overeating food, due to other emotions that we might be working to soothe through the comfort that food can often bring us. Either way, when we attach emotions to food as our primary means of relating to it, we end up moving away from allowing our intuition to drive the bus. Instead, we end up in a distant relationship with our intuition - not really knowing what we’re thinking, feeling, or craving - and finding that we are hard-pressed to make mindful decisions about what we choose to eat.

Mindfulness is really the act of intentionally being present, without judgment. When we pair that with behaviors around food, it’s about choosing foods, thinking about foods, and eating foods in an intentional, present-focused, and nonjudgmental way. Can you think of the last time you thoroughly enjoyed food in this way??

There is a lot that goes into mindfulness when it comes to emotional eating. Emotional eating, in its full range, also encompasses a lot of other topics that I will have to probably make later blog posts or a series on - topics like body image, self-compassion, and weight bias. But for now, I hope that by introducing this idea of emotional eating we can start to explore it through this month in ways that will be helpful to you - to help you start to change your own perceptions about and behaviors around food, to ultimately lead toward a more nonjudgmental and intuitive approach to your eating patterns.

What is a psychological evaluation or assessment?

Has your son or daughter’s teacher recommended that they be assessed for ADHD? Have you ever thought you were depressed or anxious, but just weren’t sure? Maybe you’ve been in therapy or counseling for some time, and feel like you’ve hit a wall. It sounds like a psychological evaluation might be helpful.

A psychological evaluation, or what we refer to in the field as psychological testing, is a battery of tests that helps the clinician to better understand what and how the client understands and deals with emotions, others, thoughts and the world. Sometimes testing will answer specific questions, like “do I have ADHD?” or “why do I always expect the worst to happen?” Psychological testing can be equated to blood testing or blood work. Doctors will often recommend you get blood work done when there is a concern about nutrient deficiencies and disease. It can provide valuable insights to what is affecting your body, from the inside, and that may be less apparent from the outside. In psychology, our form of blood work is psychological testing.

As a psychologist, I have found psychological testing helpful as it provides a thorough understanding about how one thinks, feels, perceives and works with information. This data can be invaluable in therapy. Sometimes psychological testing is required for school accommodations because of issues related to ADHD, anxiety or ODD. Other times therapists or psychiatrists might need a more definite diagnosis that is supported by objective findings. For example, a psychiatrist or PCP may be uncomfortable prescribing a stimulant medication before having a definite ADHD diagnosis, or to determine a possible treatment regimen for a bipolar disorder. In each of these cases, psychological testing can help to get the treating clinician more information, which can help their confidence in prescribing a certain treatment.

If you are interested in or have been told to seek psychological testing, give us a call or send us an email, and we will determine if we be of help!

What is therapy and do I need it?

I still think therapy gets a bad rap sometimes. I DO think we are moving, collectively as a culture and society, toward more acceptance of mental health issues (most of the time). I can sometimes see how the stigma that has surrounded even the terms “mental health” or “therapy” is starting to lift, and how we are beginning to speak more in mainstream culture about accepting help from licensed professionals.

However, I still think we have a long way to go.

I often tell first-time patients - the ones who have never sat in a therapist’s office and who are completely green to these process - that there is “no man behind the curtain” a la The Wizard of Oz. There are no “tricks” up my sleeves, and I am not here to dupe you. But, for some reason, we sometimes have some suspicions about what therapy is all about, and I’m here to hopefully clear some of those up.

First, we’ll start with a list of what therapy isn’t:

  • It isn’t magic. There IS research-proven evidence that just coming to a therapist’s office and sitting in the room for that hour is generally anxiety-relieving and helpful. Most people leave their therapy sessions feeling a bit better, so there is truth there. However, there’s no magic wand (as much as I wish there was). You won’t be “cured” by coming to one, two, or even six sessions. Your symptoms and issues will not magically disappear.

  • It isn’t a time that therapists sit and judge you for whatever brings you in. We are human beings, too. We recognize that judgments are natural and a part of what we are taught to do from the time we are young. However, we receive years of training on how to cultivate a variety of ways of approaching individuals and conceptualize what brings you in holistically. In short, we won’t ever laugh at you, judge you, think less of you, or ridicule you for what you share. (And if that EVER happens in a therapy room, please get a new therapist - ASAP!)

  • Therapy isn’t a band-aid approach. Yes, sometimes we talk about reducing symptoms and improving the present. This is mostly when we are talking about life-threatening and life-interfering behaviors that are putting you and your life at risk. In those instances, we absolutely need to problem-solve and figure out how to relieve the distress that you are experiencing. But, overall, therapy is about long-term change. We work on changing things like behaviors, thoughts, perceptions, and ideologies that might not be serving you anymore. We are tackling some BIG things in therapy. It’s not easy because of this.

  • It isn’t the same thing as talking to your friend. We want you to think of us like you might think of a close friend - someone who is a confidante, trustworthy and personable. However, we are trained and licensed professionals. We have gone through years of supervision and learning to precisely approach you in a way that your friend will likely not be equipped to do. Friends are really important - don’t get me wrong. You NEED friends and social supports. We will help you get there if you’re currently longing for those connections. Just please know that this investment in your health is more than just talking about the issues you’re facing. We don’t just dole out advice and listen (though sometimes this can be helpful and is warranted); we will also work through your stuck points with you and challenge you to move in directions that might be uncomfortable or difficult.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself…”Well, what IS therapy then?” I’m glad you asked:

  • Therapy is learning how to change. It’s learning how to be flexible, how to be self-aware, and how to be accepting.

  • It’s really, REALLY hard work sometimes, and you won’t always leave our offices feeling better. Sometimes, you might actually feel worse. We don’t want you to feel bad, but we also want you to FEEL. That means feeling all of your emotions without checking out.

  • With that, therapy is about learning to feel in a healthy way. We are often taught that our emotions are not okay, that they are too big, or inappropriate. We are here to squash that and help you learn how to feel your emotions without feeling like they are running your life.

  • Therapy is talking. It might also include more creative outlets. I know, personally (and my clients can attest to this), that I use metaphors a lot to illustrate concepts that might be relevant to what you are tackling. So, it is a lot of words, but can also include things like writing, drawing, role-play, examples, and movement. In addition, therapy is about using what you are learning IN your sessions and taking them OUTSIDE of the therapy room. So, you might also be doing “homework” and practicing what you are learning in your real life. This is where you can start to see the changes taking place.

  • Please also know that we want you to put us out of business. The goal is to not need therapy forever. We celebrate each achievement and success you have through this process, and while we enjoy working with you and learning about you, we also have lots of hope for you that you can do this - eventually - on your own, too.

There are probably a ton of things I’m leaving out. Therapy has a real special quality to it that also cannot be summed up in words. If you’re a spiritual or religious person, you might describe it as a soul connection that occurs between two people. I think the best way of truly understanding it and comprehending it is by experiencing it.

I may be biased, but I think everyone would benefit from a little therapy. If you’re interested in learning more or setting up an appointment, don’t hesitate!

Mindfulness, a primer

There is a lot of buzz today about mindfulness. You may hear about it in the media, and if you’re connected with a therapist or PCP, you may even have heard about it from them. A quick google search for the keyword “mindfulness” returned 213,000,000 results, far more than the 108,000,000 for CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and many more than the 23,900,000 for the term DBT (dialectical behavior therapy), from which the therapeutic use of mindfulness has grown. Mindfulness, in essence, is the state of being in the present. Not the future. Not the past. The here and now. When you are mindful, you are focusing you attention to the present. A fun way to approach mindfulness is adopting a curious perspective, examining the present as though it is something entirely new and unique. More on this later.

We are finding that you can receive a lot of benefit from practicing mindfulness. Research has linked mindfulness to an increased ability to manage stress, better work-life balance, and benefits to mental and physical health. Recent research has also shown a connection between mindfulness practices in the workplace and improvements in attention and focus, with some benefits proposed for more short and longer-term use or practice. Further, a large analysis of current research literature indicates that mindfulness-based therapy (MBT) can be effective when used to treat anxiety and depression, and really do support the use of MBT in therapy. It is important to note, that in comparison to other treatment methods, MBT still has a way to go. More research is needed to further validate it; this is happening, and the potential outcomes are promising.

I use mindfulness as a part of my practice, and many have reported finding it helpful to deal with their symptoms coming from anxiety and depression. However, it is not an easy practice, and many have also reported that it can be difficult to engage in. It is also not a panacea, and just like most things, won’t “cure” your problems immediately. When used in the course of therapy, mindfulness practices can become a powerful tool in your toolbox. Working together with a therapist, you might find ways that MBT can be helpful. Dr. Ashley will be creating some videos on mindfulness, which you might also find helpful in deciding whether you would benefit from scheduling an appointment with us.

Why should I come in?

Seriously, I think people wonder this all the time. I often hear phrases like, “I should be able to handle this on my own,” or “Why is it helpful to talk to someone else about my problems? I need to just get over them.” It's completely understood that coming in for therapy can actually increase anxiety and possibly other symptoms initially.  And for a small amount of people, talking about their issues may not help them to gain insight or change their behavior in a way that is effective. I would say that in my anecdotal experience (which pretty much falls in line with what the research suggests), most people benefit from therapy in the long-term, even though it may be uncomfortable in the short-term.

I am a visual person and I love metaphors, so I will use an analogy with you. Say you are going hiking in the mountains. You've got a huge pack on your back with all your belongings, you are setting out for a 100+ mile hike, and you're on your own. Maybe when you first start out and you're on your first 20 miles, things are going well. You feel strong, you notice all the beauty that is our outdoors, and you're feeling happy and content. Then, something happens – maybe there's a huge rainstorm and your boots are soggy, you get blisters, maybe you even have a fall and hurt yourself. Maybe a bear steals all your food, and you're left without any until the next time you get into town. Maybe you just start feeling lonely and sad because you haven't seen anyone else on the trail yet. Whatever it is, this “something” is tough to handle on your own.

You might even feel lost or scared, wondering which direction to take or second-guessing yourself.  Most people, at this time in the hike, are relieved when they run into a fellow hiker or when someone acts kindly, just because. Ideally, what will happen is maybe you'll meet up with someone who helps bandage you up, shares their food, and hikes with you to the next apex. Once you both summit together, you can stand around, share the beautiful view, and then maybe you go on your separate ways after that point – when you're strong enough to be back on your own.

So, I'm sure you guessed it, but the hike is life, and those missteps along the way are all the struggles that we ultimately go through, because – well – we're human. They are an inevitable part of life. I know that so much stigma exists around coming into a therapist's office and bearing your vulnerabilities, and I understand why. We are afraid that we will be judged, laughed at, or maybe we're even scared that what is going on for us isn't "enough" to warrant therapy.  But I'll tell you what - most of us, the good ones at least, are here to help you mend, heal, and we really want more than anything for you to not need us. We don't judge you, we certainly don't think you're weak, and we don't talk about your struggles outside of our office doors.  Whatever is bringing you into our office is valid and deserves attention and compassion.

 I'm curious to know what people's experiences have been with therapy – has it been helpful? Do you fear coming in and talking about what is going on for you? I often let folks I'm meeting for the first time know that sometimes shopping around and finding a good fit is necessary. We don't all click with the first person we meet. So, shop around if you need to, and know that there is a therapist out there who is excited to hear your story and help you reach your next mountaintop.


A good ole' sit & think

I started thinking about this topic while I was rocking my youngest son back to sleep this morning (5:50AM). While rocking back and forth in the glider hoping that my son would go back to sleep long enough that I could have a dream, I started to envision all of the things I needed to do today. Church, cleaning, paperwork, taking care of the kids, taxes, mortgage, the nature of string theory and how it could relate to the human mind... In my early 20's this kind of processing would have required two, maybe three, cups of dark-roast coffee. Alas, this was not to be in my morning. Instead, my son looked up at me, eyes wide, as if saying, "I'm ready to go, why aren't you?" The silence we enjoyed together was ended by his near-toddler egging and grunting. "Time to go," it meant.


As much as I would have preferred for my son to have willingly fallen back asleep, there is a silver lining to our quiet time together. I believe it is pretty well accepted that we live in a noisy world. Cars, airplanes, music, construction...all noises most of us experience on a daily basis. This is a modern phenomenon, though. Imagine 100's of years ago when we did not have the same level of noise. What would you experience at night? Silence. Today, when we experience that it can be somewhat uncomfortable and unsettling. Where did the noises go? Why aren't there cars driving down my street, or the noise of my neighbors yelling in excitement? Did something happen? 


Some research has linked the experience of noise, or noise pollution, in the office and community, to increased stress, sleep loss, and psychological symptoms, but not with psychiatric disorders. Interestingly, it also leads to increased levels of chatecholemine secretion - this is a hormone that is helps us respond to stress (think fight or flight). Scientists and clinicians have been aware of this for awhile now. The research on this subject is amazing - noise pollution, coming in the form of airplane and jet noise, has an impact on children's neurodevelopment, and can lead lower reading scores and slower development of cognitive and language skills!


Now, I am not saying that you should cancel your plans to visit New York City next summer. Rather, as a psychologist in clinical practice, I would encourage thoughtful exploration of the amount of time you, and your family, spend in quiet thought and exploration. Do you have the television on as soon as you and the kids get home up until dinner, and even during? Try to see what it is like without it on. For a long time I had gotten used to having the news on 24/7 - it helps me focus and provided useful distractions during my years in school. I know it can be hard to make such a shift. The television can become a part of the family, always there when you need it. If this is the case, try a week without it, and instead turn on the radio. "Alexa, play my 'keep my mind off the fact I am not watching the latest episode of Game of Thrones' radio." 


Although it may seem small, the importance of adapting to this change is significant. Thanks to advances in technology, any show that I want to watch is available to me. Type it in online, or enter the channel number into my remote, and voila, my desire is satiated. This is also known as instantaneous gratification - the opposite of our childhood archnemesis, delayed gratification (actually a hero). For children especially, the development of the ability to delay gratification can lead to positive outcomes in school and in life. The same can be said for us as adults. Our ability to delay gratification is synonymous with impulse control. Having media and electronic stimuli available nearly everywhere really may not promote the development of impulse control. The practice of sitting with our thoughts, without acting, without avoiding, without judging, even, is tough. Yet, doing so can be good for our health


As I finish writing and researching this post, the sun is now up. My youngest son has now eaten his way through his breakfast. I have not gotten back to sleep. I am grateful for that. I was given this gift of extra time with my son that I otherwise would not have. I look forward to see what other aspects of my day this will change. 


Give it a try, today, tonight or tomorrow. Spend some time in thought. In silence or quiet. One of the shows my oldest son loves is Sarah and Duck. In it, Sarah, the main character, and duck, her pet, spend time in thought. They call it, "sit and think." I would encourage you do the same. Give yourself the time and space to have a sit and think of your own. See what happens.


For some more information and helpful tips on mindfulness, consider scheduling an appointment with us.