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Harry Potter and the 5 Magical Life Lessons for Muggles

I have loved the messages in the Harry Potter series since I first picked up Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and I share this love with many of my family members.  I hope you enjoy the following article written by a very talented writer, Joanna B. Brewer.

Cathy Wilson, LPC ACS

(spoiler alert!)

The Harry Potter series is rife with life lessons, even ones that apply to muggles. These moral lessons are peppered throughout, whether Harry learns it the hard way or hears it straight from Dumbledore, who always has something profound to say, lest we forget, “Nitwit! Blubber! Oddment! Tweak!” I’ve always felt that what I learned from the Harry Potter series has lastingly affected my own moral thinking, and I know that’s probably true for thousands of people. We come to the Harry Potter books for lush world building and we stay for the moral guidance woven throughout (and also still the world building). Here is just a house elf’s handful of lessons to take away from the books.

 

 

1.) The most important relationships in your life are your Patronus. This probably goes without saying, but the friendship Harry cultivates with Ron and Hermione in his first year at Hogwarts proves by the end of the series to be the unbreakable kind, the kind that we can all either relate to or aspire to with our own relationships. It’s the kind of friendship that makes me have embarrassing dreams whenever I’m rereading the series that the trio is actually a quartet and I’m the fourth friend. On multiple occasions in the books, Harry thinks of Ron and Hermione when he must conjure a Patronus charm to ward off dementors. Apply all the symbolism you like; his friends are literally the joy that drives out darkness.

These treasured relationships can also serve as a testament to the value of chosen family. Even though Harry is Petunia Dursley’s own flesh and blood, she seemingly devotes her life to making Harry miserable, and brings her husband and son in on it, too. But Harry quickly finds family in Ron and Hermione, with the Weasleys at the Burrow, and even with Hagrid in his little hut with his rock cakes.

Your friends matter. Your chosen family matters.

2.) However someone treats you, you have value, and power, too. After eleven years of mistreatment by the Dursleys, Harry probably could have turned out super different. With his resilience, and a little sass, he somehow managed not to let the Dursleys’ straight-up physical and emotional abuse tear him down. Even before he knew that he was a wizard, he knew that he deserved better, that he has inherent value as a person, as well as a kind of power that has nothing to do with magic—the power over whether the Dursleys could make him feel as inferior as they wanted him to be.

We can’t always control the people we’re around, especially as we’re growing up. It may even take years into adulthood to realize what control we do have. But eventually, we might learn our own power in how we let toxic people impact us. Whether it’s someone we know too well, or someone who feels empowered by their anonymity to put people down by trolling on the internet or doling out abuses from the driver’s seat of their car in traffic, they need our consent to succeed. We may not have the magic wands to whip up whimsical consequences, but we have the power to choose how angry, sad, scared, or generally negative people affect our own well-being.

3.) Use critical thinking, don’t jump to conclusions. It isn’t until the final chapters of the last book in the series that Harry discovers he was wrong about Professor Snape all along. From the beginning, Harry assumed (maybe correctly) that Snape didn’t like him. From this, though, he concluded that Snape must therefore be in cahoots with Voldemort.

It’s true that Snape is an enormously unfair meanie-head who tortures Harry, his friends, and Gryffindor at large at any given opportunity, seemingly in the name of Slytherin and all that Salazar Slytherin stood for. But as we learn, it’s more of a nuanced meanie-headedness. Snape has his reasons, and—it needs to be said—he deserves some wizarding world equivalent to an Oscar for seven years of pretending to be bad. Snape’s bitterness comes from a place of deeply nurtured grief and pain, and though we can likely all agree he didn’t have to be so mean, Harry’s journey through Snape’s memories is a reminder that you can never truly know what someone has been through until they tell you, and it is unfair to make assumptions about them based on their attitude.

To take this lesson a step further, when presented with information—any information, be it about someone else, something that’s happened, or something you think about yourself—ask yourself, “Do I really know this is true?” Getting into this habit can help change patterns of thinking about ourselves, and indeed others, that don’t serve us. When we allow ourselves to think critically, we can improve our relationships with ourselves, our situations, and other people.

4.) Leverage Strengths. Throughout the series, but most notably in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or Philosopher’s Stone, depending on where you’re at), the trio delegate tasks and trials based on their strengths. Ron’s chess skills make him the proper person of the three friends to lead the moves on the giant chess board; Harry’s quidditch skills give him the best advantage to catch the flying key; Hermione, being a generally logical and witty person, determines from Snape’s riddle which potion will safely allow Harry through the fiery threshold to the final chamber, where Voldemort awaits. In trusting each other to take on the tasks that suit their differing strengths, the friends are able to move forward safely and efficiently while conserving their respective energy.

Everyone has different strengths. We spend varying amounts of free time honing them. Whether at work or home, when a project is big and/or things feel overwhelming, ask for help from people whose strengths are compatible with certain demands. Even if you are a self-sufficient badass who prefers independence, sometimes asking for help saves you time and energy, and often you will find that people want to help when their strengths are needed. When Harry tried to sneak off to find all the horcruxes by himself, Ron and Hermione wouldn’t let him, because they knew that he would need their unique strengths, and maybe a little honest-to-goodness friendship along the way. And they were right.

5.) Never underestimate the power of love. A recurring theme emerges in the Harry Potter series: love is more powerful than magic. Again and again, we see how love influences decisions, saves lives, and complicates characters by altering their moral compass. For starters, Lily Potter’s love for her infant son is cited as the reason why Voldemort is unsuccessful in his first attempt to kill him. While this certainly may be love’s most impressive (if not fantastical) feat in the series, the concept lets readers know early on what this story is ultimately about. We later learn that Snape’s love for Lily is the driving force behind both his betrayal of Voldemort and his detestation for Harry that makes his performance so believable.

The most immovable beacon of love throughout this series, in my opinion, is Mrs. Weasley. She loves her family to pieces, and she loves Harry practically right away for no reason at all other than that he is just there, having no idea how to get to the Hogwarts Express. She doesn’t even know who he is. Mrs. Weasley’s love is a constant that later possesses her to take on Bellatrix Lestrange with a motherlode of badassery that still gives me actual chills.

And finally, while by this time I had personally written off Narcissa Malfoy as “evil,” it is her love for her son that motivates her to deceive Voldemort. She pretends that Harry is dead when he isn’t, allowing for the moment when he finally rises to do what must be done. If you forget anything from the Harry Potter books, let it never be this: it’s for the love of Draco Malfoy that Harry Potter ultimately lives to defeat Voldemort. Because love has no sides. Love is not good. Love is not evil. It’s just love—and its influence over the characters in this story is more powerful than any other force. Magic, politics, and even Hagrid’s cooking are no match for love. No matter how difficult those rock cakes were to chew, how many times did Harry still eat them out of love for Hagrid? Too many, probably.

What do you think? What other life lessons can a muggle take away from Harry Potter’s story?

by Joanna B. Brewer

 

The Value of Peer Consultation

 

A few months ago, I wrote the article at the link below for a colleague’s blog.  It is mainly about the value to therapists and what it does for us, but if you are a client of a therapist, there is value in this for you as well.  The therapists that consult with their peers are purposefully staying current and relevant in the mental health field, they are following the ethics of this profession, and they are improving themselves and other mental health professionals.  

Enjoy:

https://tamarasuttle.com/the-real-value-of-peer-consultation-in-private-practice/

Navigating Mental Health in Colorado

Navigating Mental Health in Colorado

 

A few weeks ago, I was able to speak with members of my local neighborhoods in southwest Littleton about navigating mental health services in Colorado.

I created a handout for them, which you can find at this link:

https://www.lifepathscounseling.com/NavigateCOMentalHealth.pdf

 

If you are having trouble finding services you need, please get in touch with us.  We are happy to assist you!  You can get in touch at the email or telephone number above, or by using our contact page.

Write Your Life Story

Write Your Life Story

I want to talk here about why you or another person might want to write your life story, or at least start writing some stories from your life.  But first.  When I started thinking about writing this article, two movie scenes came to my mind immediately.  One is from Shall We Dance, with Susan Sarandon and Richard Gere as the lead actors.  The clip of this scene is here with this post, to the right.  She’s talking about why people get married, but what she says is also important about why a person would even want to “tell their story,” and that is to have a witness to their life.  She says, “Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.” (at approximately 43 seconds)

The second scene is from the movie Bridges of Madison County, with Meryl Streep and Clint Eastwood as the lead actors.  In this, Meryl Streep has written journals that her children find after she has died.  A quote from her journal is this:

“… as one gets older, one’s fears subside. What becomes more and more important is to be known — known for all that you were during this brief stay. How sad it seems to me to leave this earth without those you love the most ever really knowing who you were. It’s easy for a mother to love her children no matter what — it’s something that just happens. I don’t know if it’s as simple for children. You’re all so busy being angry at us for raising you wrong. But I thought it was important to give you that chance. To give you the opportunity to love me for all that I was…”

These ideas of having a person witness your life and of being really known by another person, I think are the main things that prompt a person to want to write or share their life story in some way.   I also see other aspects of the healing that takes place when a person goes through this process.

Some therapists, like me, use ideas from narrative therapy in our work with clients.

The main idea that I use from this is that we all have a “story” we are saying to ourselves about our life.  This can include stories about events that happen to us and around us, people in our lives, and about ourselves.  That story is our narrative and it is all about what things mean, what we think, our opinions, our sensitivities, what is important to us, and so much more.  

That story is always changing, too.  As we mature, experience personal growth, and learn new things, we also understand new and different things about our experiences, the people in our life, and ourselves.  The way you talk to yourself about something that happened to you when you were ten years old is very different now than it was at ten.  

So telling our story is important in the way it helps us feel known by people we care about in our lives, and it is also important in changing the story we say to our own self.  

These two reasons are why I feel so strongly that telling our story, and the way we tell this story, can have tremendous healing for a person.  For some, if you don’t do this in some way, you lose the opportunity to incorporate the more mature and insightful things learned along the way in life.  And when you allow the story to change and evolve with those more mature and insightful perspectives, it can bring healing.

What are some ways you might do this?

  • You could choose to write your life story in a very traditional way – get some journal books and start writing.  If you are like me and things need to be orderly and linear (go ahead and laugh, I am), then start organizing your journal(s) by what makes the most sense to you: segment out by decade, or by major life events, or by areas of life (family of origin, friendships, work/career, life partner and family, hobbies/interests, etc.).
  • You can do this in a very informal way, by talking to people you care about and sharing what is important to you without recording it in any way.  This is obviously by far the simplest and kind of a “default” approach.
  • You could make audio recordings of yourself telling stories from your life, or have a family member help you.
  • You could hire an interviewer/autobiographer to facilitate discussions with you and make audio recordings of these discussions.  This may be a very beneficial approach for two reasons: 1) you may have trouble thinking of more to add about a particular story and the interviewer can prompt you with questions; 2) the interviewer can give you topics or prompts periodically to get you thinking ahead of the interview and as a result, there is more material than there might have been otherwise; 3) when you are telling a story to someone you don’t know, often you will include more about that story than if you are telling it to a family member – we tend to leave out some details when we know the person already knows the story and it feels silly to repeat those details, while you won’t leave them out if you know the person hasn’t heard it before.
  • You can record video of yourself telling stories from your life.
  • You can get many books about writing your life story, take classes on this, or find information on the Internet to find more ideas.
  • You can use other technological tools to help you – there are many resources on the Internet such as journaling apps.  For me personally, I have found the service offered at StoryWorth (https://www.storyworth.com/) to be very easy to use and their approach keeps me engaged in the process.  Each week you receive a writing prompt, and you go to their website to write about it.  This happens for a year and then you have the option to have StoryWorth create a hardback book of your stories.  You can add photos, too.  I also love that I can share stories along the way with family and friends using email.

One thought I have about the healing that can happen when you write your life story is that often, parts of that story change.  Events, people, and your view of yourself can begin to shift to different meanings or fit together in a different way.  In this process, people find themselves able to forgive when they couldn’t before, or they realize there was a good reason to end a friendship because that person wasn’t healthy for them to be around, or they remember all the ways that they actually did do good work at a job they had even though their boss gave them bad performance reviews.   

Not only can you feel like you are really known by the people you care about, reviewing the parts of your life in this way can bring peace of mind and a deeper appreciation and understanding of yourself.

Parental Alienation – What Can You Do?

Parental Alienation – What Can You Do?

If you are reading this, or attending our workshop on parental alienation, you are experiencing one of the most painful and difficult situations a parent can be in.  We hope to give you strength, hope and strategies to help you deal with this situation, as well as helping your children the best you can to deal with it, and even potentially help your kids begin to see what is happening to them and their relationship with you.  The strategies recommended in this workshop are designed for when you have contact with your children.  If you do not have contact at this time, you won’t be able to use these ideas until a later time when you hopefully DO have contact with your kids.

What is Parental Alienation?

Let’s first be clear on what we mean by parental alienation (PA). There is a lot of misinformation in books and on the Internet about what this is.  In addition, there are some experts in this field with opposing views about PA, which can leave anyone confused about what it is and what it isn’t.   For the purposes of this workshop, when we talk about PA we are talking about one parent’s systematic efforts to turn your children against you.  This is often for the purpose of punishing you by destroying your relationship with your children.  It may also be for other purposes, such as financial gain.  It is called PA when there is no valid reasonfor the children to be kept from you.  Valid reasons might be neglect or emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. However, when a parent does not exhibit harmful behavior towards a child and yet the other parent attempts to persuade the children that they do not want a relationship with the “targeted parent,” we call it parental alienation.

 

Although there are a lot of theories that offer definitions and criteria, those specifics are not useful in this workshop and we don’t ascribe to any theory or another.   Instead, our purpose is to provide you with some things you can do.   There is very little you can control when you are the alienated parent, but our workshop focuses on the things you can control.

Areas you cannot control:

·      The other parent’s behavior and statements
·      Your children’s reactions to the other parent’s persuasiveness
·      Other people’s reactions to the other parent’s behavior/statements
·      Decisions of the courts, attorneys, and other professionals in your children’s life

 

When it comes right down to it, the only thing you CAN control…is YOU. This might seem like a very small thing.  It can make a very big difference though, long term.  Even though this seems like a small thing, you simply can’t control anything else.  There is no point in putting energy towards the things you can’t control.  Yes, you still need to do your best to protect yourself and your children – but the more matter-of-fact you are about the things you can’t control, the less emotional energy you give towards those things. And that is important. Save that emotional energy for the things we are going to talk about next.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

When we have worked with alienated parents, we have suggested that you remember the 4 C’sÓ in every interaction you have with your children.  We go into more detail on each of these below:

·      Stay calm no matter what and during all the time you have with your children
·      All that you say and do is designed to foster connectionwith your children
·      Create an environment to develop critical thinking skills in your children
·      Be as consistentin all of these things as humanly possible

 

Calm

You want it to always feel relaxed and just plain good during the time you and your child are together.  This sounds very simple, right?  But if you’ve been the targeted parent for any length of time, the PA you see happening makes your blood boil.  Do all you can to not let your children sense these strong emotions.

That means that not only do you express your anger, frustration, despair, disappointment, anger, fear, sadness, anger, etc. somewhere else and some other time than when you are with your children – it also means that you need to actually try to compartmentalize these feelings until another time. Children sense our moods, they are very good at emotionally attuning with their parents and do this with little conscious effort.   It might help you shield them from your emotions if you remind yourself that this is not your child’s fault, and the best thing you can do about the situation right this second is to be calm, kind and loving with your child.

Having said all that, we realize this is not always possible to do. You will slip up and that’s okay.   You will also get better at this with practice and as you begin to see that your efforts can make a difference.

Connection

Although this can feel similar to remaining calm, it is just as important to also seek connection with your child whenever you are together.   Here are a few ideas about what we mean:

  • At times when your child has said something hurtful towards you, or rejected you, never ever stop trying to connect.
  • When you want to explain what you see happening so they will “get it,” attempt to simply love him or her instead and express your love for him or her in a positive way.
  • Tell your children, often, that youlove them no matter what. (At times it is also important to tell them that you know they love you, too)
  • When you have an opportunity to simply bewith your child, do it. Tell them it feels good to just spend time with them, no matter what you are doing.
  • Talk about how much you appreciate memories you have together, traditions you have together, qualities in your child that you enjoy. Recalling loving and positive times with your child shows them you value those moments and it also reminds them of how they felt at that time, which only serves to counteract the negative emotions your ex is trying to foster in them.

These efforts can pay off.  Any action you take towards connecting with your child is going to feel good. You want to avoid negative reactions of course, and always remember that if you do, it supports what they hear from the other parent.  Keep your focus on these four areas to help yourself avoid the negative reactions.

Critical Thinking Skills

Your child is under a powerful influence of persuasion and manipulation. It is important to remember how powerful the influence is, and remember that whatever age your children are, they do not yet have the critical thinking skills of an adult so they are not equipped to resist persuasion and manipulation very well.  Naturally, the younger they are, the less able they are to resist.

Perhaps even more important than this is the fact that you and the child’s other parent are supposed to be the people your child can trust the most. But they are now in a situation that basically requires them to choose which one of you they cannot trust.   Think about that. The environment your child is now in requires them to accept that one of the two people that are the closest to them can’t be trusted.  This creates a terrible sense of insecurity.   It is betrayal.  This in turn complicates their ability to develop critical thinking skills.

You can’t simply tell your child that the other parent is lying, and you can’t rush cognitive development either.  But you can definitely create an environment for your children to build critical thinking skills as well as they possible can at their age.

For our purposes here, when we are talking about critical thinking skills, we are talking about your child’s ability to use logic and reasoning to discern what is or is not true about people.  You might also think of this as your child’s ability to figure out what commercials and ads are trying to accomplish, why salespersons might say things they do, or your child’s ability to determine if someone is using persuasion/manipulation to achieve a hidden motive.

The primary idea behind this is that you want to help your child build these skills so that he or she figures out on their ownwhat the other parent is doing.  Combined with the other three C’s, you will be doing your best to overcome the other parents’ efforts to alienate you from your children.

Here is what you do:  You watch for those “teachable” moments with your child.  You are watching for moments to teach them these critical thinking skills.  There is no way to predict when these moments come, so you have to be on alert for them.  And for the most part, you can’t create these situations.  Here are some places and examples of where you can find opportunities to teach these skills:

  • News – notice when the writer/speaker has a bias about what they are reporting on – this gives you an opportunity to say something like, “there are usually two sides to a story, I wonder what people who think (the opposite viewpoint) would say about this topic,” and get a conversation going about.
  • Commercials/Ads/Salespeople – any sales situation whether it be at your doorstep or an ad in a magazine is a chance to talk about the motivation behind the ad or pitch.You can even take advantage of the standee of a celebrity your child likes, that is prominently placed in the store to get their attention, and why sellers use something like this.
  • TV/movie scenarios – situations where we as the audience realize when a character is trying to manipulate others in some way is an opportunity to ask your child how the person being “tricked” could figure out what is happening.
  • Friendships – your child’s own friendships or school acquaintances are often a great source of situations that you can use to foster critical thinking – friends that use another person to get in with more popular people, friends that only are nice when they gain something, and friends that are super nice to the teacher so they can stay the teacher’s favorite are some examples.
  • Believing what someone tells you – if it is too good to be true, it isn’t true; truth isn’t always black or white and this is a very important concept to watch for – people sometimes have different opinions/beliefs, sometimes people remember situations differently because of what they were paying most attention to, and sometimes people believe things without having seen or heard actual evidence of it (you want to teach your child to seek out evidence they actually see or hear, and to be skeptical when they haven’t witnessed something directly).
  • Clickbait on social media – point out the words that get a person to click on an article and help your child notice how words that are heavy with emotion make you want to click on something more.

Obviously, you use scenarios that are age appropriate and have conversations that are age appropriate.  You probably won’t be watching the news with very young children but high school aged kids have current events assignments and are also developing their opinions about world events, as an example.

It is even better if you can make this a game or fun.

Another big plus is when they can easily relate to the topic or the people involved.

In some of these situations, you may be able to use the scientific method. Kids start learning about this in elementary school and the idea of having a question, forming a hypothesis, observing evidence and drawing a conclusion applies to many things in life.  At times, you can simply say some form of the question, “What’s the evidence?” to get your child thinking, being discerning, and being skeptical.

Keep a couple of things in mind to guide you:

  • Ask more questions than anything else – let your child do the talking and thinking, and figure things out on their own, if possible keep your comments to prompts only. Sometimes it is hard to wait while they figure out something but it is so much more valuable for them to come to a conclusion themselves.  Be aware though that if it seems they aren’t going to figure it out, go ahead and tell them.  Remember, you want all your moments with your child to feel good, so don’t push it to where your child becomes frustrated with you.
  • Always give your child verbal AND non-verbal messages that you trust their ability to figure things out.
  • Don’t overdo it!!
  • Never use their other parent in examples!!
  • Your kids are likely to be much smarter and savvy about things than you give them credit for – they notice more than you think they do.

These skills are essential to being successful in life as an adult. Any development in this area is good for your child regardless of the situation you are in with PA happening. This is a great concept to remember if your child were to get so good at it that they figure out what you are doing!

Consistency

You want to be as consistent with each of the three areas above as humanly possible.  Sometimes you will slip up.  Every targeted parent has done it.  Well…every parent has done it.   Strive for consistency as much as possible.

Along with consistently staying calm, striving for connection, and teaching critical thinking skills, simply being consistent as a parent builds trust and that in turn fosters attachment.  The more consistent you are in how you behave, the rules you set, the way you respond to positive and negative experiences, how well you keep promises to your kids – the results are that your children get a clear message that you are “there” for them, they matter to you, you care about the relationship you have with them, and you make them a priority.

These 4 C’s are “long game” parenting.   You are creating a strong foundation moment-by-moment, and striving for a lasting secure attachment with your child.  For more about attachment, you might find this article on parent-child attachment interesting:

https://www.parentmap.com/article/the-four-ss-of-parenting-dan-siegels-whole-brain-child

Don’t Forget Your Child’s Perspective

It is very normal of you if you are sometimes angry with your child for treating you this way.

However.

Always remember that this is not your child’s fault.  They are under a powerful influence!  We can’t emphasize this enough – a parent has a tremendous amount of influence, even on teenagers who are starting to venture out in the world with all the influences they will find there.

Along with your child being under a powerful influence, young children are not developmentally ready to fully understand what is happening. Please try very hard not to take your child’s behavior towards you personally.  If you have read The Four Agreements, by Don Miguel Ruiz, you know that one of the agreements he talks about in this book is “Don’t take anything personally.”  This general statement absolutely is a good rule to follow in life, but especially important when dealing with your own child who is participating in alienating you.

When you are faced with a difficult situation with your ex influencing your child, and your child is asking you a direct question – when you answer, either make it about your child or ask the child what he or she thinks. For example:

If you child tells you that she isn’t going to come with you on your parenting time today, don’t say, “I have a right to my time with you, and the courts say you have to.”  Instead, say, “I know you aren’t feeling like it today, but it is important for every child to have time with both of their parents to help them be the best people they can be.  So that’s why your mom/dad and I set things up the way we did.”

If you child asks you if you took money from your ex, don’t react with anger and say something like, “Did he/she tell you that?  I can’t believe it!  I’m going to take care of this right now.”  This will create fear in your child, and they will stop talking to you and asking you these questions!  You wantyour child to keep asking you these questions and talking to you about their concerns.  Instead, say, “Huh, that must be confusing to you to hear something like that.  What do you think?  Does it sound like something I would do?”   Your child might still say hurtful things in response to your questions. Stay calm.  Remember, the other parent is a powerful influence for them and this is not your child’s fault.  Simply say something like, “I’m sad that you think that way of me, but I want you to know I didn’t do that and I won’t lie to you about anything.”   Whenever possible, speak only about your child, or about yourself, and not about the other parent.

Reacting in these ways allows you to stand up for yourself, without falling into the same badmouthing behavior that your ex is doing.   The idea that truth isn’t always black or white will also be a useful one when you are responding to direct questions from your child, or learning they have heard something from your ex that is a lie, exaggeration, etc.  Explaining that you and your ex see a situation differently is a way to stand up for yourself, not badmouth the child’s other parent, and also demonstrate this concept.

If you are succeeding with this, your child will keep asking questions and testing out their concerns with you.  Eventually you are likely to get questions about why your ex is behaving this way.  You are going to get mad at this moment.  Stay calm.  Remember your child loves their other parent, and the more compassion you can respond with, the better.  It is okay to say you don’t know, suggest your child ask that parent, or to say that sometimes people see things very differently from one another.

There is likely to come a day when your child feels an astounding amount of guilt and shame for the way he or she has treated you.  You always, always, always want to give them an “out” and a way back to you, and you always want them to know that you understand/understood the influence they were under.

For You

Please don’t overlook the importance of finding ways to take care of you throughout the time when your ex is attempting to alienate you and your children.  Self-care is so under-rated.  Seriously! Please do two types of self care for yourself to allow you to keep coping as effectively as you can: One, build up your “in the moment” coping skills such as: Deep breathing, count to ten, listen to music, or grounding yourself (see below); and two, have a toolbox of several “long term” coping skills you are doing on a regular basis such as:  Working out, engaging in a hobby, or spending regular time with people who are supportive of you.

There are several apps available that are outstanding for self-care/relaxation, some of our favorites are: Insight Timer, Virtual Toolbox, Relaxation Melodies, and Pzizz.

You can find more information on self-care by visiting the following link:

https://www.lifepathscounseling.com/self-help-resources/

At the top of this page, you’ll find a link to our self-care handout we have created.   The handout includes a section on boundaries, which is a significant part of taking care of yourself, too.  Also on that page above, you’ll find various resources we have found helpful, and note that there are a few at the bottom of the page on boundaries.

Grounding yourself:  This is an exercise we teach people for calming yourself.  It is simply a quiet moment you can do with your eyes open or closed, it can be as long or as quick as you like, and can bring you into a somewhat mindful state fairly easily.  You simply notice and observe what you are sensing, in the moment, right where you are.  Ask yourself:  What do I hear? What do I see?  What do I feel on my skin? (i.e. what are you touching, how warm/cold is it, is there a breeze, etc.)  What do I smell?  And possibly, what do I taste?  The process of going from one to another along with being very present is an effective method of calming yourself.

Resources

Co-Parenting with a Toxic Ex: What to do When Your Ex-Spouse Tries to Turn the Kids Against You, Amy L. Baker and Paul Fine

Parental Alienation Meetup Group – Denver, CO – monthly presentations on various topics all related to PA, run by Phillip Hendrix. Link: https://www.meetup.com/Colorado-Parental-Alienation-Support-Group/

http://www.familyaccessfightingforchildrensrights.org– site run by Elaine Cobb, if you aren’t already on her mailing list, get on it.  She has a lot of good information on the site and has monthly conference calls with experts in the field.  They also periodically have conferences you can attend. They also have a television series on NOW Network that is called Families Divided.  You can access the series on YouTube as well – please subscribe to support them! – it is Families Divided TV on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/c/FamiliesDividedTV.

Parental Alienation Anonymous – https://parentalalienationanonymous.com

The 4 C’s  or The 4 C’s Against Parental Alienation are copyrighted ideas developed by Catherine Wilson, LPC and Barbara Sheehan-Zeidler, LPC.

 

Help for Family and Friends of A Person Dealing With Addiction

One of the most frequent things we hear from people who have someone in their family or a friend who is struggling with addiction is, “How do I help this person?”  Or… “How do I get them to stop?”  We’ll start with some things to understand first, and then talk about what you can do to help yourself and the person you care about.

What is Addiction?

This is a tough thing to talk about because there are so many perspectives about addiction.  It can really get confusing.  Our view is that if a person continues with the activity even though it causes problems in any area of life, it could be considered addiction, and we help people with that.

Areas of life might be:

·      Physical Health

·      Intimate Relationship

·      Family Relationships or Functioning

·      Financial Health

·      Career/Job/School

·      Friend Relationships

·      Social Activities/Fun/Play

 

 

Addictions might be:

·      Alcohol

·      Cigarettes

·     Opioids/Painkillers

·      Heroin/Narcotics

·      Cocaine

·      Marijuana

·      Gambling

·      Some sexual behaviors

·      Eating

·      Video gaming

·      Internet

·     Meth/Methamphetamine

 

WHAT CAN YOU DO?

There are at least these three important things to do when you are in this type of situation:

Coping and Self Care Activities

Taking good care of yourself is one of the three most important things you can do when you have someone close to you dealing with addiction.   It is very stressful so it is important to pace yourself (know your limits), and also make sure that you are doing things you enjoy as often as you can and as often as it’s reasonable.  Keep things in a balanced place in life as much as you are able – you need time to build your energy up because living with addiction is a big drain on your energy level.  

At the link below, we have several self-help resources.  Near the top of that page is a link to a self-care handout that we use with clients and this has many different activities people do for self-care.  Please take a look and hopefully at least a few of these ideas or resources will appeal to you.

https://www.lifepathscounseling.com/self-help-resources/

Boundaries and Control

Being close to someone with a destructive addiction often brings painful situations and experiences into your life, as well as the person dealing with the addiction.   It causes a lot of angst when bad things happen because of things outside of your control.   Having strong boundaries is as important as taking good care of yourself.  Keep it clear for yourself on what are appropriate boundaries with consequences, and when your “limits” become controlling behavior. 

A good idea to guide you is to remember that when you are controlling you are trying to alter someone else’s behavior and it becomes about them.  When you have boundaries, they are intended to protect you and help you get your needs met and so, boundaries are about you.

Here are some examples of boundary setting versus controlling behavior:

Boundaries                                                         Control

“No, that isn’t okay with me”                              “You have to stop that”

It is assertive                                                      It is manipulative

Defines how I will be treated                              Coercion, attempting to force a change

Based in caring for yourself and the other         Based in fear and insecurity

You always know the other has a choice           You are trying to make them change

Asking for what I need                                       Can become a debate about who is right/wrong

Codependency and enabling are terms often used to refer to the behavior of someone in your situation.  Some of the resources and context around these terms is helpful – and sometimes it can feel shaming as if you are being blamed for “allowing” the addictive behavior to continue in your loved one.  If you can use resources about codependency and enabling to strengthen your own boundaries and sense of empowerment, that is great! Take care not to let it influence you to feel responsible for the addict’s behavior.  That person’s behavior and choices are not because of something you have done or didn’t do.

Offer Help – If It Is Wanted

The third thing you can do to help someone who is struggling with addiction is to express your concern for that person and offer information you have found if they are willing to receive it.   It’s important that boundaries are respected in both directions.  You can’t make a person deal with an addiction, that person must choose. 

In the medical and mental health fields, we continue to learn more about addiction and in particular, about the effect addiction has on a person’s brain.   Addiction can override a person’s rational thought and many of us have seen this happen right in front of our eyes.  It is important to remember that sometimes an addiction becomes bigger than willpower, love, or the desire to change. 

Options in Treatment and Recovery

Self-help and doing it on your own – Using resources such as self-help books or other media, or plain old will power is one way that people get into recovery and many can be successful at it.  Some self-help books are listed below in the resources section.

Support groups – The most well-known addiction support group is “AA” or a “12 step program” such as Alcoholics Anonymous.   The 12 steps in these programs guide support groups when they meet and provide a framework to work towards recovery. Most of the time there is a religious component.

There are other support groups or “formats” for support such as:

              * SMART Recovery                            * Celebrate Recovery

              * Moderation Management                 * Secular Organizations for Sobriety (SOS)

              * Women for Sobriety                         * LifeRing Secular Recovery

Note that at least 12 step programs and SMART Recovery both have resources for family and friends of someone who is dealing with addiction.   In the various 12 step programs, there are support group meetings that you will find as “Al-Anon,” (alcohol) “Nar-Anon,” (narcotics) etc. based on the type of addiction.  SMART Recovery has resources on their website (https://www.smartrecovery.org) under “Start Here” and then click “Family and Friends.”

Outpatient counseling – This is the type of support we provide here at LifePaths and is typically weekly appointments with a counselor trained in addictions and supporting someone through recovery.   It may be more or less frequent appointments based on where a person is in the recovery process, or other life circumstances.

Intensive outpatient program (IOP) – Several locations around the Denver metro area offer IOPs, which are often a couple of weeks and several hours each of the weekdays during those weeks.  People can participate in individual counseling, group counseling, support groups and other activities to support recovery after the program ended.

Inpatient/rehabilitation/recovery facilities – These are longer term treatment centers of various lengths of time and usually people who attend these programs are there during the day and nights for the length of the program, sometimes with outings approved by staff to spend time with family away from the facility for a few hours at a time when a person is near the end of their program. 

We encourage you to thoroughly understand any type of treatment support you are considering; get a referral from someone you trust; and speak with professionals about treatment approach, requirements, insurance coverage, credibility, and other concerns.  For instance, a program called Narconon has some Colorado locations and appears to be similar to other addiction treatment facilities, however it is actually a Church of Scientology organization and their treatment approach follows principles of their church.  You want to be certain that the approach will be a good fit.

Resources

https://www.smartrecovery.org

The Mind-Body Workbook for Addiction, by Stanley H. Block, PhD., Carolyn Bryant Block, and Guy DuPlessis, MA

Phoenix Multisport – This is a local gym that is free for people in recovery.  A variety of classes and equipment AND a supportive community as well.  They are in the downtown Denver area.  http://thephoenix.org

https://www.al-anon.org

 http://www.hazeldenbettyford.org/locations/childrens-program-aurora – Children’s Program at Betty Ford Center (children ages 7-12)

There are a few more resources on addiction at the following link, as well as resources on many other topics as well.

https://www.lifepathscounseling.com/self-help-resources/

If you prefer, here is a copy of this information in a pdf document:  Helping a Loved One With Addiction

Racial Trauma and Counseling

Racial Trauma and Counseling

Over the past year, I have been having an increasing number of conversations with other counselors about racial trauma.  Thankfully there are many therapists who are starting to pay close attention to the depth of racial trauma as well as pay attention to what we need to do as therapists to help people who have had to deal with this, and NOT create further trauma in counseling by our own ignorance.

 

A colleague has started an important resource, which is a therapist directory designed with a strong emphasis on inclusiveness.  Jeff Guenther screens therapists with an eye towards putting only therapists on this directory who are open and accepting of all people.  I am grateful to be a part of his directory and include the great counselors we have here at LifePaths as well.  

I’ve also contributed to the content on his site, with an article that describes part of my own journey as a white woman, and realizations about how deep racial issues go.  I wrote “Becky? Who, ME?” a while back, and Jeff published it earlier this week.

Cathy Wilson, LPC ACS, Director of LifePaths Counseling Center

How Do I Stop My Road Rage?

How Do I Stop My Road Rage?

Some Unusual Ideas To Help When You Are Angry Driving

If you search for ideas about how to “stop my road rage” you will find several articles about this with ideas such as do some deep breathing, set the cruise control, or to always act as if someone is with you.  I found many great ideas when I searched to see what is already out there.

The ideas I talk about below though, are a little unusual.  And, keep in mind that they are intended for those of us that fall into a middle-of-the-road category when it comes to getting angry behind the wheel – we get irritated, we probably swear, we might even throw out some hand signals but we aren’t about to hurt someone.  If you get THAT angry, please talk to a counselor and find ways to help yourself feel less angry.  Life is precious, always be safe.

These ideas have come from many discussions with clients and friends and family.  This is a serious topic, but sometimes it helps to take a less serious approach to a problem.  And hey, each of these ideas has worked for at least one person, and if you can use it or adapt an idea to work for you, that is a great thing!

Humor and Imagination

Humor is a fantastic coping skill.  For lots of people, including me, it can lighten up a situation and help you manage anxiety, depression, stress, and yes, even anger.  Using your imagination can be a great coping skill, too, and both can be used in multiple ways while driving to reduce feeling so angry.  And these are simple and allow you to keep your attention on your driving

Here are a few ideas:

Drawing from my love of Harry Potter, my favorite idea is to get yourself a wand.  I am not encouraging anyone to use this as a weapon in any way but instead to make yourself laugh and lighten a tense moment by imagining yourself casting a spell or hex.  If another driver does something that upsets you, imagine you have the ability to cast a banishing spell to get that person far away from you.  Or you might choose to say “Riddikulus!!” and imagine the person transformed into something hilarious, and well, ridiculous.  If you are also a Harry Potter fan, I’m sure you can imagine many other ways to use this idea!  A note of caution from the person who has used this many times, keep your wand below the windows – you don’t want your actions to be misinterpreted as actually having a weapon.  

Remember Cruella DeVille?   For some reason, that image of her driving has stuck with me all these years since I first saw 101 Dalmatians.  And when I get angry behind the wheel, sometimes I would remember that image, and of course, laugh.  At some point I started using it on purpose to settle myself down.  She was so extreme in that scene, teeth gritted, hair flying and wild eyes!  Once you are laughing it can really help you remember that there is no reason for you to be so extremely upset in that moment, either.

Change Your Thinking

Emotion comes from how we perceive a situation.  The anger people feel when driving is a result of what your thoughts and beliefs are about what is happening.  Whether you call it perception, opinion, belief, or even judgment, if it is strong it is going to result in strong emotion, too.

I have found that if I change what I am thinking about a driving moment, I can immediately change how I am feeling.  

For instance, we hear a lot about texting, talking on the phone while driving and other forms of distracted driving.  It is very easy to automatically assume that this is what is happening with another driver when we notice a problem.  It’s important to remember that this isn’t always the case.  

Anger is a very distinct physical feeling to me, and I use this as my cue or reminder to rethink what is happening.  When I feel it, I think “I don’t REALLY know what is happening for that person right now.” And then I list off possibilities – they may be a student driver (which reminds me that I was learning once and to give them a lot of space); they may be terribly upset about something (you never know what another person is going through, right?).  In a moment like this, if you can imagine more possibilities about what is going on for that person than your first assumption, you can probably reduce your level of anger, too.

There is a certain amount of anonymity in driving, and this often means that we behave in ways that we never would if we were face to face with that person.  Changing your thinking, or using humor and imagination can help you to moderate how you are feeling, so you can act more like your true self…and not like Cruella DeVille. 

 

 

 

Other People’s Stuff

Other People’s Stuff

Over the years, I have used an idea I refer to as “OPS” with my clients, which refers to what I call “Other People’s Stuff.” Admittedly, sometimes it is “Other People’s Shit” when it gets really damaging!

The idea behind OPS is that often when people say or do things that hurt us, or they make it clear they think something negative about us, it is actually OPS – meaning that it has way more to do with them than it does the person they are directing it at. And a fair amount of the time, it is about manipulating you.

 

Unfortunately, too many of us take on OPS and make it our own. We believe it.  We react to it. We take it on as the truth even if it isn’t true OR healthy for our own well-being.

But. You don’t have to take on OPS because it might not be the truth, or anything you really have to do something about.

Here are a few examples of what I mean, with some common reactions when we are taking on more than our own stuff.

OPS: Your friend becomes angry with you because you didn’t invite her to come with you and another friend to a movie. This is really about her insecurity and jealousy towards the other friend.

Unhealthy Reaction: You feel guilty, apologize and promise not to do it again even though you know those two friends don’t get along very well and it will only lead to more trouble for you and them.

OPS: Your mother asks you, “Are you sure you want to eat that?” in an obvious judgment that you are too overweight to be eating a second brownie. This is really about her poor body image and being too heavily influenced by mass media and advertising, and she might even believe that how you live your life can somehow reflect negatively on her.

Unhealthy Reaction: You feel shamed, it lowers your self-esteem, and you are certain you will somehow never be good enough. And you don’t even get to eat the brownie because you put it back.

OPS: One of your employees continually refuses to complete all the appropriate details in his reports, despite your repeated direction that he needs to make sure it is done correctly. It is really about his inability to deal with authority.

Unhealthy Reaction: You keep wondering what you are doing wrong that he keeps on missing important information in the work he does, and feel like you are a terrible boss and have trouble communicating.

To avoid letting OPS impact your self-esteem, or influence your choices in life, here are some things to do:

  • See OPS for what it is – When you can recognize it in the moment, you are better able to separate yourself from that person’s OPS and evaluate the situation more objectively.
  • Run it through your own filter – Challenge whatever it was someone just put out there. Do you know what they are thinking? Is it actually true for you if you consider all the factors? Just the question, “Is this true?” can help you to separate someone else’s issues from your own.
  • Decide what you think – There’s no need to carry the burden of what someone else thinks or does if you know it doesn’t reflect truthfully about you.   Decide one way or the other if what they think, said, or did has any merit.
  • Respond in a purposeful way – If it isn’t true, throw it away. Let it become completely separate from you, and give it a lot of emotional distance. If you decide that what they put out there is true and it’s something you need to work on, then figure out what you need to do to make changes and get started.
  • Have good boundaries – You can set limits on how people treat you, and you definitely can set limits on yourself and how much you let things get to you.

It is natural to try to figure out and solve problems between people, and it is also a healthy thing to consider things you may need to change in yourself to take care of the important relationships in your life.   Each of us has enough stuff to deal with, try not to take on other people’s stuff too.

Holistic Health

Holistic Health

Holistic Health – For Optimal Well-Being Pay Attention to Mind, Body and Spirit

I suppose at first it may be strange to see a blog post about holistic health on a counselor website.  Mental health is a big part of taking a holistic approach to a person’s overall health, though, and I am a strong advocate of this with my clients.  No matter what issues bring a person to my office, I almost always find myself spouting off about self-care – which usually starts with “get enough sleep each night, eat healthy, and exercise” even though those are all related to physical health, not mental health!

 

Mental and physical health are so interrelated though, this is why I’ve asked Jessica Lee Reader of Vitalized Body here in Littleton, Colorado to write a guest post for our blog.  Jessica works with people individually and in groups to provide education and guidance in nutrition, weight loss and other health related services.  We both hope you enjoy her thoughts on holistic health and why this is such an important approach to taking care of ourselves for a long, enjoyable life.

Cathy Wilson, Director of LifePaths Counseling

 

Our primary health goal should be to achieve optimal well-being both mentally and physically. Ideally, every system should be functioning at it’s very best possible. However, in our modern society we have exposure to many factors that can hinder our health. We may find ourselves getting tangled in a web of multiple symptoms and conditions that affects our daily lives. We are living in a fast paced world and want quick answers to fix a long-term problem. A quick fix however, may provide the end result of a Band-Aid effect, where it does not address the underlying issue. When seeking solutions to support our body and gain balance, we often tend to underestimate the importance of a holistic approach. Holistic health is a form of healing that considers the person as a whole and emphasizes the connection of mind, body, spirit, and emotions.

A holistic approach acknowledges that if a person has one imbalance in their life it can negatively impact their entire overall health. Treatment involves supporting the root cause of the condition and not just alleviating the symptoms. This balanced approach to health considers how the individual interacts with his or her environment, rather than a conventional approach that focuses on specific parts of the body. Lifestyle choices are used to take charge of one’s own health and gain proper balance in life. Principles of holistic health include the belief that all people have innate healing powers, and the individual as a person and not just a disease.

A holistic practitioner may use a variety of alternative therapies to support an individual. They look at all the potential factors that may be causing the symptoms such as health problems, diet, sleep, stress, and personal issues. The therapeutic plan may involve education on lifestyle changes and self-care to promote wellness. This may include nutrition, exercise, psychotherapy, relationship and spiritual counseling, and more. Healing may take a team approach that addresses all aspects of life and uses a variety of healthcare practices. A balanced approach may include complementary therapies such as acupuncture, chiropractic care, homeopathy, massage therapy, naturopathy, and others.

If you are tired of the “quick-fix” then it is time to take charge and begin a balanced, holistic approach to accomplish optimal health and feel your best. Let’s work together towards your goal of enhanced mental and physical well-being.

Written By:
Certified Master Nutrition Therapist, Jessica Lee Reader
Vitalized Body

 

G.I.R.L.S. – New Girls Groups Starting in June 2016!

G.I.R.L.S. – New Girls Groups Starting in June 2016!

New Girl’s Group Starting in June 2016

LifePaths counselor Erin Calvert, LPCC is starting girls groups in June of 2016.  [This is an old post – but we still occasionally offer these groups – please get in touch with us to find out when!]

Erin will be using the G.I.R.L.S. (Girls in Real Life Situations) curriculum which she has conducted multiple times for Denver Schools.

The groups are open to girls ages 6-18 and Erin will place the girls in groups of similar ages and interests.

On our main website you will find an introduction to the group from the workbook itself, as well as a pre-test that allows the girls to express interest in different topics to be covered.

Give us a call at 303-801-7878, or email us at info@lifepathscounseling.com for more information. We hope to hear from you!

Normal: What’s That?  Am I Normal?

Normal: What’s That? Am I Normal?

Am I Normal?  What Is Normal?

I hear this question a lot. Most of the time, it is either because the person is worried about a reaction to a traumatic event of some kind – or when he or she is “losing it” trying to deal with a difficult person in their life.  What is normal?  I like to say that how we respond in difficult situations is often “a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.”

I don’t remember where I first heard this phrase (I can’t claim it as my own), but I do remember it being extremely helpful to me and it has also become helpful to many others as well.

What do we mean by “a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances?”

An example might be this: If a couple was in a car accident with their child, and their child was hurt – both of them would likely work together to deal with the immediate circumstances such as getting help, talking with the other driver and emergency responders, riding to the hospital with the child, and so on. In my example, let’s say mom was the one driving. Months later, she begins to feel anxiety (or even panic) every time she needs to drive her family anywhere. This might progress to the point where she is not able to drive at all because the sense of dread or fear is so overwhelming.

At some point, this mom may start questioning her own sanity. Logically, she knows that the danger of driving a car is no more than it was at any other time in her life, but she still isn’t able to overcome the fear. This is one way that PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) shows up in a person’s life and can prompt the question, “Am I normal?” No, it doesn’t feel normal but it is a normal reaction to abnormal circumstances.

Another example might be a woman who has a co-worker who is very good at manipulation and who also wants very much to get a promotion that both of them are being considered for. The co-worker begins to quietly sabotage her in various ways such as purposely giving the woman incorrect information causing her to make costly mistakes in her work, or covertly causing interpersonal problems for her with other co-workers. The woman may then start to feel so anxious and apprehensive at work that she begins making mistakes without the “help” of her co-worker…and then questions her own judgment, ability, and emotional state as a result. Again, these are abnormal circumstances and her reaction is way too common!

The good news is that with a compassionate look at these situations, each person can find ways to change their situations and stop wondering if they are “normal.”

Does some situation from your own life come to mind as you read this? We would love to hear your thoughts or comments.

Photo courtesy of Nenetus and freedigitalphotos.net

Resilience For Well-Being and More

Resilience For Well-Being and More

Resilience and Well Being

Some things about the idea of “resilience” are obvious. When you have it, you can manage stress better. You have more of a sense of well-being.

I believe resilience also protects your physical health, and that the relationships in your life are overall more healthy and rewarding than they would be otherwise.

So, if you don’t feel like you have resilience, how do you create resilience for yourself?

Here are a few ideas to consider.

Check your thinking style.

Are you a positive or negative thinker? Negative thinking will erode your resilience. Fast.

You can use one of our free downloads to see if one or more of those ways of negative thinking fit you. First, check out these forms of negative thinking that we call “cognitive distortions.” Then you can use another one of our handouts on changing negative thinking to help yourself notice and then shift the way you think about things to be more helpful, rather than harmful.

There can always be a silver lining, even in dark and difficult circumstances.

Use curiosity.

Curiosity leads us to learn new things, to explore options, and to appreciate another’s point of view. Our choices open up when we look at the world through curious eyes and it creates a very different way of seeing. Creative solutions to problems may come to mind, and you may find more of a sense of hope and courage as you approach difficult situations.

Change what you can, let go of the rest.

One of my most important lessons in life has been about control. There is a lot in life that we can’t do anything about. Bad things happen and life doesn’t always go the way we want. If you can separate the things you can control, and the things you can’t – then you are able to 1) worry less over things you can’t do anything about, and 2) keep your energy for changing things you can control.

Try this question, “What can I control, and what is out of my control?” when you are faced with a difficult situation. It may seem like a simple question, but there is a lot of personal power in considering this. Just asking the question shifts your focus to more helpful ways of thinking and acting.

Accept that you will be uncomfortable sometimes.

Being able to tolerate the less desirable emotions we “get to” feel as human beings is an important skill. Yes, we try to minimize feelings such as anger or sadness but they happen to us all sometimes. If you can tolerate those emotions and accept that you’re going to have to feel them once in a while, it is going to help you have more resilience.

There are a few helpful things to remember to help yourself tolerate uncomfortable emotions. 1) You aren’t going to feel that way forever. 2) Emotions are feedback about what is going on in life and are important survival skills. Sadness helps us to gain empathy from others we care about, and connect with them, for instance. Fear tells us there is something to watch out for and avoid. Use your emotions, don’t let them control you.

Surround yourself with people who build you up, not bring you down.

To some extent, the people in our lives are mirrors. We reflect things back and forth between us about who we are and how the world is. If you have many negative people in your life, or unhealthy people, this is going to tend to bring you down emotionally, rather than build you up. The things we expose ourselves to in life are a big factor in how we see the world and that definitely includes the people we spend time with!

Take a look at the most important relationships in your life – family, close friends, work friends, neighbors. Who are you spending most of your time with? Do you feel comfortable, or is it more likely that you feel anxious, angry, or depressed after time with certain people? Limiting time with the people that bring you down, or increasing the time you spend with people who build you up can help.

Do you have other ideas about how to build resilience in yourself?

Photo courtesy of Iosphere and freedigitalphotos.net

Sacrifice and Service

Sacrifice and Service

Sacrifice and Service of US Military Men and Women

With today being Memorial Day, I am not only thinking of the sacrifices of so many men and women who have served in our military, I am also thinking of one particular person’s willingness to serve her country – my daughter. The point of this holiday is to remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice and died serving in the military. My daughter will be coming home soon, and there are too many who will never get to do that. I have a tremendous amount of respect, sorrow, and gratitude for this. I also have seen many smaller sacrifices our military service men and women make. I know I couldn’t possibly capture all of what this means here in a blog post, but read on for a tiny glimpse into what life is like for our military and their families, from the perspective of one sailor’s mom.

I think we are all aware of these things on some level, but now that I’ve been closer to the experience, I have a whole new appreciation for the details of what each of these means:

They leave their home and loved ones.

Almost four years ago, I attended her Navy basic training graduation. We didn’t have a clear idea of what was in store for the next four years – for her or for us back home. We were not thinking about sacrifices – we were excited and hopeful.

There are no words to describe how fantastic it was to see that door opening, knowing that in seconds I was going to see her march in, and be able to give her a big hug very soon. For her, she had not only been away from home, friends, family and all that was familiar – she had been immersed in a whole new life full of hard work, no privacy, some sailor puking at any given time, pain, and lack of sleep.

Over the next four years she would go on two deployments and have countless additional days at sea for training and testing exercises. In port, days are long and the work is tedious. At sea, days are long, busy, and aircraft are launching off and landing back on the carrier at all hours. All through this – she missed a lot of special events like graduations, weddings, birthdays, and holidays. And constantly missed everyone back home. Yes, there are bright moments too like receiving a care package, or getting a day of liberty in a foreign port. But none of this takes away from being homesick and being away from people you love.

Difficult living conditions.

I had the great fortune to do what’s called a Tiger Cruise, which is when family members can live on the ship with their sailors for the last leg of a deployment, usually for a week or two. Mine was from Hawaii to San Diego a few years ago. It is a fantastic experience and also is an in-your-face look at how they live on deployments. I absolutely know there are worse conditions for soldiers and marines. But sailors don’t have it easy at all.

How in the world do the big guys fit in the racks to sleep? There wasn’t enough room for me to turn over easily and I nearly fell out of mine in the middle of the night the first night. The rack I slept in was about three and a half feet above the floor, and it was comedy in action watching me get in or out. The pallet can barely be called that at about four inches thick. I have no idea how those sailors do it on seven to eight month deployments.

It is amazing to see how well space is utilized on a Navy ship, but this also means that there is very little room for a sailor’s personal space–either for your stuff or your body. Tight quarters mean that tempers can flare pretty easily, especially near the end of a deployment. I have gained a whole new respect for how being in the military means you must be able to organize your self and your stuff and be able to function with the absolute minimum. The limited space also means there is simply very little room for comfort.

In port, the barracks are not much better!

On top of having to live like this, every sailor I’ve talked to simply took these things in stride. Yes, they complain sometimes and yes, they can get irritated with the conditions. But they also accept them and deal with it, and often they laugh about it. When asked about the living conditions, the response I heard most often was something like, “Hey, it is what it is.”

Not-so-great food.

This probably falls under “difficult living conditions” but I felt it deserved its own separate place in this list. I can’t imagine the level of effort that goes into keeping enough food on a carrier to feed 5,000 sailors, or what goes into getting it prepared three times a day. I never thought about this before I saw it in action. And as you might expect, the quality suffers a bit. When I was on the ship for a week, neither I nor any of the visiting family members I spent time with expected great food, and it wasn’t. We knew this was a working Navy ship, not Carnival Cruise Lines. But apparently they brought better food on board for the Tiger Cruise, and you would have thought we were having the best food in all our lives to hear the sailors talk about how great it was.

They are in harm’s way.

Every single person in the military knows that he or she may be called on to make that ultimate sacrifice. They know it every day, and willingly put themselves in harm’s way. I have to say that it has astonished me when I’ve asked any soldier, sailor, marine or airman about this. Without exception, every single one I have asked has brushed it off as if they are embarrassed to acknowledge how important this is. It isn’t living in denial, and it doesn’t seem like fear either. It is humility. And acceptance that this is what they committed to. This is part of why we call them heroes.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.

I hope that my own gratitude for our military members’ sacrifices comes across here. If you are feeling this, too, you might be wondering what you can do to show it.

Here are a few ideas:

  • Send a care package – many military support organizations have occasional “packing parties,” especially as it gets close to the holiday season. If you are interested in learning more about this, give me a call and I’m happy to talk about it! Getting a package means a lot, especially on long deployments.
  • Say thank you – to any military service person you meet. They appreciate hearing it.
  • Contribute to an organization that serves the military community such as Give An Hour, or Wounded Warrior Project.

I’d love to hear from you if you have any comments, noticed I missed something important, or have a question.

Thank you to each and every one of you who have served, or are serving now.

Sailors manning the rails, USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74), entering Pearl Harbor. February, 2012.

Forgiveness or Punishment:  It’s Your Choice

Forgiveness or Punishment: It’s Your Choice

Forgiveness or Punishment: It’s Your Choice

Some people may hear the phrase, “Forgive and Forget” and feel unburdened by its lightness, and even follow the advice without a second to waste. Others might shudder at the idea, which is understandable. There is enormous pressure in that tiny phrase! To first insinuate that forgiving is so easy, and then to suggest that a person does so and subsequently forgets what hurt them: How rude! Forgiveness can be tough, so don’t let phrases or other people belittle your situation. We live in a world with so much beyond our control, but we do have total control over our own decisions, attitude and actions. Put simply, your forgiveness is yours, and only you can decide when or if you give it.

Choosing to forgive benefits you much more than the person who has hurt you. By choosing to forgive, you are allowing yourself a pathway towards a sense of peace. Holding onto hurt can feel like you’re living in a constant state of unsettlement, thereby affecting other relationships in your life and sometimes your health. When you forgive, in a way, you set yourself free. But you may have things, chains if you will, holding you back from forgiving.

Your chains might be:

Wanting revenge, or the other person to “pay” for what they have done. I’m sure we have all pictured ourselves as nighttime vigilantes making justice at some point or another. But the reality is that masking yourself and taking care of business isn’t totally legal, or logical, and lingering on the need for justice only keeps the problem contemporary, instead of letting it fade into the past like DaVinci’s first attempt at the Mona Lisa, the “Mona Uvula.” …It just doesn’t sit right.

Unhelpful beliefs about what forgiveness means, such as:

  • Forgiveness makes the offense okay
  • Forgiving means you are weak
  • Forgiving means you’re a pushover
  • Forgiveness must be earned with an apology or some kind of action
  • Forgiveness is not possible for this particular offense

On the contrary, forgiveness does not justify the offense, takes incredible strength to give, and is always possible to give, even if the person who hurt you is no longer around to receive it.

An illusion of control felt by holding back forgiveness. You may not even be aware of it, but holding back forgiveness can give you a sense of power, like having the last word in an argument. It may feel like you are punishing the other person this way, but whether or not they feel your “punishment”, you yourself are suffering from the anger and resentment. Remember that the true control is over yourself and the choice of forgiveness; the illusion of control comes into play when you feel empowered over the other person by your very real control of your forgiveness.

Whatever your chains may be, here are some bolt cutters! (or tools to help you forgive):

  • Consider what beliefs you have that could be holding you back. Challenge them. If loosening up on one or more of your beliefs could help you let go of hurt, why not try it?
  • Talk about it. Sometimes a little blah blah with someone you trust is all it takes to get something settled in your head.
  • Take care of yourself. Take some you-time. Decompress. Do or discover what helps you feel comfortable and at peace, whether it’s bubble bathing, a one-on-one session with a chocolate bar or three, nature walks, etc… Just focus on floatin’ that boat of yours.
  • Think about the things that are within your control and the things that are not. Think about how much more control you could gain over yourself and your feelings; by forgiving, you are NOT allowing the offense to continue to hurt you. If you really think about it, forgiving is putting your foot down on pain. Put the foot! (You can chant it to yourself, secretly, awesomely.) (Put the foot, put the foot, put it!)
  • Forgiveness, because it can be so difficult, is something to be proud of. Rewrite the story you tell yourself about what happened to include your own courageous act of forgiving. If you can taste the triumph, perhaps it’s time to eat it. (Forgive in real life.)

Sometimes the hardest person to forgive is yourself. People are often harder on themselves than others, and the shame or guilt you feel might be preventing you from allowing forgiveness to bring healing. Just remember number four on the “tools” list: you don’t have control over the past (as time machines are not yet a thing), but you do have control over yourself and future choices. Choose to put your foot down on pain and let the healing begin. …Put the foot!

by Joanna Brewer

About the Author: Ms. Brewer works for LifePaths Counseling and is also a freelance writer and musician. If you liked her article, go ahead and subscribe to our blog to get notified each time a new article is posted. She will be writing more for us soon!

Well-being: Living Your Values

Well-being: Living Your Values

Living Your Values

The idea of “living your values” is one that I often talk about with clients and can be helpful in building self-esteem, improving well-being, working through tough situations in life, and gaining understanding in relationship problems.

What are your most important values? Do you use these to improve well-being?

Here are a few thoughts on “living your values.” Take what you like to improve your life in some way.

To start with, what do I mean by ‘values?’ These are personality traits, or the ways of being that are most important to you. They may be honesty, responsibility, creativity, or giving a certain amount to charity, or the things that are most important to you in life, such as your family or the work you do.

If you want to, you might explore Dr. Martin Seligman’s list of common values and find those that are most important to you by going to the Authentic Happiness website and find their 240-question VIA (Values in Action) Survey of Character Strengths. It doesn’t take long and after you finish you get a list of the 24 character strengths (values) in the order of importance to you.

Then, what do I mean by “living your values?” Is it:

LIVE your values? …or…

Live YOUR values? …or…

Live your VALUES?

It is all three?

When you LIVE your values, you make them extremely important in your day-to-day life. You demonstrate them, you act on them. If your family is important to you, then you do the things that demonstrate that to yourself and to them. If the work you do is important to you then you strive to do your best at it. If optimism is important to you, you show it in the way you look at life and the things you say.

When you live YOUR values, you don’t let others decide what your values are. YOU decide for yourself.

And when you live your VALUES you know them well and you let them strengthen your sense of self-worth. These characteristics are part of what makes you the unique person that you are and you honor that.

How does this translate to improving your life? Here are a few ways:

If your self-esteem is low or you want to strengthen your sense of well-being, make a list of what your values are. Why are these important to you? Consider how act on these values, and how you may not be acting on them. If there are areas you are not acting on them in a way that feels right for you, change that. Taking action in this way strengthens both self-esteem and well-being.

Is there a problem in an important relationship you have? If you can identify a difference in values between you and the other person, does this change how you see it? Sometimes when you can see it this way, it makes it easier to understand each other’s viewpoint. Does it present a possible solution or at least a compromise?

Are you having trouble making a tough decision in life right now? Perhaps it is a conflict between different values you hold. For instance, if a woman in an abusive relationship is faced with the decision to leave or stay, she might have multiple values in conflict. Personal safety and well-being may be values on one side of the equation, while honoring her commitment to the relationship (marriage vows) may be on the other. This creates a conflict, and makes it hard to decide what she must do.

How can you improve your sense of well-being by living your values?

by Catherine Wilson, LPC

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at freedigitalphotos.net

What we can learn from Taylor Swift about self esteem and living life for all it’s worth.

What we can learn from Taylor Swift about self esteem and living life for all it’s worth.

Taylor Swift is definitely known for writing songs with a message. Her latest, “Shake It Off,” immediately struck me – it has a powerful message that goes right along with a lot of things I talk about with clients who are dealing with self esteem and self worth issues.

Did you hear the same messages I did?

When your self esteem is low, it is hard to be yourself. You might worry about what other people think, partly because you don’t think much of yourself to begin with. So why would anyone else?

Working on self esteem (and self worth) usually involves changing beliefs you have about yourself and about life itself. Through this you begin to appreciate and accept both positive and negative qualities you have.

To start with, here is a link to the video for Shake It Off in case you haven’t already seen it:

 

 

I love her spirit! And I think these lyrics carry some important messages:

Don’t worry so much about what other people think or say, be yourself. If you think about the people in your life that are important to you, are there one or two that you can really be yourself with? Doesn’t this feel great? What if you could do that all the time or at least most of the time anywhere you are? Taylor says, “haters gonna hate…” and this says to me that people will think what they will and that is THEIR problem, and you don’t have to make it yours.

There are lots of things about ourselves people don’t know. Sure, you don’t share everything about yourself with others. Why should you? You get to decide what people are allowed to know when it comes to who you are. So, if others don’t understand and then criticize you, does their opinion matter? No way. Because you know the whole truth about yourself, and you are the only one that really matters.

Things happen in life, keep on going. Sometimes life doesn’t exactly go the way you want. You make mistakes sometimes. And even when you don’t, sometimes events or situations in life aren’t very happy. Just shake it off! You don’t have to let this stop you from being who you are or appreciating who you are.

Try different things and you don’t have to be perfect! In her video, she’s trying several different types of dancing. Sometimes she’s doing it well, sometimes not so much! Through it all though her unique spirit and personality shine through. Does it matter whether she does it perfectly? No! She is having a great time, no matter what she does. She is making the most out of life. If you can find ways to do this for yourself it brings joy, and contentment, and well-being. And, people are drawn to you when you can really be yourself and enjoy life – this let’s your unique gifts shine through.

Enjoy life – we only get one shot at this. Why waste time getting down on ourselves when we could be enjoying life? If you are getting down about what others are saying, you are missing out on enjoying life when you do that, too.

I saw her in concert last year during her Red Tour. I loved it that she spent a few minutes in between songs to talk to her fans about being yourself, shaking off the things people say, and shaking off your mistakes. One unspoken message in those moments (and through her writing and interviews) is “I have to figure out how to deal with this stuff just like you do.”

If she can shake it off, you can too.

What do you think?

by Catherine Wilson LPC

LifePaths Counseling Center Survey

LifePaths Counseling Center Survey

Customer Survey – How Are We Doing?

LifePaths is sending out an online survey to past and current clients to get a feel for how well we are serving the people who come to us for help. Counseling is very private and personal though – so we had to be careful about a few important things first!

We wanted to be certain that asking for information from clients allowed for:

– privacy
– anonymity
– absolutely NO feeling of obligation to do the survey
– and, it needed to be as quick and easy as possible

Privacy

We took all the measures we could to protect the privacy of people responding. Everyone receives the same link for their counselor, and no IP addresses are tracked. Specific comments and individual results are only seen by the counselor and LifePaths’ Director and no one else.

Anonymity

I think a lot of counselors will ask clients (when it feels necessary): “How am I doing? Are we working on the things you want to work on? Are we making progress? Do we need to shift our focus at all?” For everyone involved in the therapy, the feedback you get from these questions helps to keep you focused on the goals. It may get therapy back on track, too.

Some counselors will also use a written form for feedback periodically. There are a few forms out there that have been used in research to study the effectiveness of counseling and counselors may use those, and some counselors may create their own form as well.

But what if you, as the client, aren’t quite comfortable telling your counselor directly that something isn’t going well? The counselors at LifePaths strive to check in periodically on how well counseling is going, but we wanted to add this anonymous way of giving us feedback, too.

I feel compelled to add this: if you are in therapy and something is not going quite right, please let your therapist know. The best way to address problems is directly. I believe that most therapists/counselors would be happy to get this kind of feedback – I know for sure that I appreciate this so much!! I would so much rather hear how things could change for the better, for you, rather than have you keep quiet about it for any reason at all. Oh, this could be a whole blog post all by itself!

No Obligation

This was also an important thing for us to consider. The relationship with your counselor is a very personal one; we wondered if our clients would feel some level of obligation to do the survey because of that. And we didn’t want that to be the case at all. So we’ve emphasized that this is completely voluntary. Multiple times. Really and no kidding – you are not obligated at ALL.

Quick and Easy

We definitely did NOT want to be a pain for anyone, so we made the questions as short and concise as possible and kept it to the most important information we were hoping to learn. There is a lot of space to elaborate if a person chooses, but this isn’t required at all. You probably could complete it all in five minutes if you wanted, or take much longer if you want to put in a lot of detail.

We appreciate and welcome any feedback – we want to do the best job we can for our clients. If you are or were a client and want to fill out a survey, and you haven’t heard from us yet, please get in touch with your counselor or with Cathy at info@lifepathscounseling.com to get a link.

Any thoughts on how you would feel about being asked to fill out a survey like this for a counselor? Or thoughts on what it would be most important to learn about how counseling is going?

Image credit courtesy of tiramisustudio and freedigitalphotos.net

Self Esteem

Self Esteem

The subject of self esteem comes up fairly often in counseling sessions, but lately it has come up a lot more than usual.

It is one of the best topics to discuss… there are so many things that influence self esteem, and so many components to consider. And simply having a discussion about self esteem brings it to our awareness, which often leaves a person with a sense of improvement (or at least a little more positive view) than before.

It can be a daunting task to “improve low self esteem” and many people struggle with where to start. I thought it may be helpful to talk here about the most common topics that come up and how those relate to feeling more positive about one’s sense of self.

Be Yourself – This is one of those ideas that is extremely easy to say, and not always so easy to do. How many reasons do you think people can come up with to avoid revealing their true thoughts, feelings, emotions, opinions, personality, etc. etc.?? Yes, there are a LOT. But if you can be at peace with who you are and be able to share that uniqueness with others, it can be one of the most rewarding aspects of our experience here in this life. This idea always brings Brené Brown to mind, and her most recent book titled Daring Greatly. In her light-hearted yet direct style, she encourages each of us to take that risk to show our true selves and see how much more rich and beautiful the relationship in our lives can be.

In a recent YouTube exploration of this topic, I came across the music video for Sara Bareilles’ song, Brave. The lyrics in this song emphasize this exact same thing, and what a beautiful way to demonstrate it.

You might enjoy this Sara Bareilles too:

 

Live Your Values – Each of us has this unique set of values, of varying importance, that is a part of the person as an individual. One of the things that makes my work as a counselor so meaningful and important to me is the honor I feel when people allow me into their world, to share in their own unique individuality.

The values I’m talking about can vary a lot but the most common ones I talk with people about are honesty, self control, optimism, kindness, courage, integrity, and open-mindedness.

We run into problems though as human beings when we make choices that do NOT coincide with our values. None of us are perfect, right? But we try. And when we feel like we are falling short, our self esteem can take a hit, we feel shame or guilt, we fall into depression or anxiety, and more.

When I say “live your values,” what I’m getting at is if you are not happy with choices you’ve made, simply start now to make choices that you are happy with. One moment and one choice at a time, start to move closer to living your values, whatever those are. Each choice may feel small but each one brings you closer to showing with your actions who you really are.

Understand the Influences in Your Life – The most important areas of influence on self esteem come from family, friends, and society. When we are children, our family has the most influence. A child who is given unconditional love learns to love himself or herself unconditionally as well. As we mature, our friends begin to have more influence and peer pressure, bullying, social media, school performance, how we dress, and so much more begin to become a significant part of how we define the thing we all “me.”

And then there is society. I equate this to some extent with our media, and I could go on and on about the effect our media has on a person’s sense of self, body image, how we should act as a man or as a woman, and so much more. But that is probably a blog post all by itself! My point in this is that if we can understand the multiple influences on self esteem and how this relates to how I define “me,” we can overcome negative influences and strengthen the positive ones. We can decide what is true and what is not true for…”me.”

Acceptance – each of us has aspects of our self that we like and some we don’t like. If you can get to a place where you accept ALL of who you are, there is peace and well-being and a sense of self-worth.

I hope these ideas have given you some things to think about. I’d love to hear thoughts on how this relates to you, or thoughts you have that expand on self esteem.

Year End Time for Self-Discipline, Self-Control

Year End Time for Self-Discipline, Self-Control

Self-control and will power seem to come up more often at the end of the year during the holidays and especially New Year’s.

Between overindulging at holiday dinners, overspending, or making yet another New Year’s resolution this year because we didn’t stay with it last year, it seems that a lot of people struggle with maintaining self-control. There are ways you can make it easier on yourself and increase your chances of success.

I’ve listed a few ideas below that have worked for me and for people I know. Pick what you think will work, not every idea here is right for everybody. And not every idea here will fit what you are trying to accomplish. Some are more appropriate for meeting goals and some are more appropriate for managing through cravings.

People want to build up their self-control for many goals: overeating/weight loss, to stop spending so much, to stop smoking, to change a bad habit, get an exercise plan going, and the list goes on.

First – the basics. Build your resilience by taking good care of your body. When you are functioning well physically you are better able to handle stress and challenges to your will power.

  • Take care to get enough good quality sleep
  • Get enough physical exercise
  • Eat a balanced diet – protein and whole grains help your brain to work at its best, and this will help you when you are trying to resist impulses.

I do realize that the irony of saying what I just did is that getting enough exercise and/or eating a balanced diet may be exactly the thing you are trying to build your self-control to accomplish.

Read on for more ideas!

Put it in writing and track progress with a calendar or journal. For some people, a goal is strengthened when we put it in writing. Whatever you use to track your progress, keep it with you so that you have it at the very moment you need to add to it, or check your progress because your will power is feeling weak. Make it as detailed as necessary. Make it fun or rewarding if you need to – if a happy face or gold star sticker on each day you succeed helps you, then use stickers!

Share it with someone who will help you hold yourself accountable. This can be a very powerful (and annoying) way to succeed at maintaining your self-control. Somehow, when someone else knows what you are trying to accomplish and asks you about it regularly, you feel more motivated to keep yourself in check. The pain of having to say “I gave in today” seems so much worse than the pain of maintaining your will power.

Break goals up into manageable segments. Sometimes when you can simply focus on “what is the next thing I need to do” it helps you not feel so overwhelmed. For instance, if you are trying to lose 20 pounds and that seems like a lot, break it up into one pound a week. Focusing on this smaller, yet progressive goal may help.

Write down the reasons the goal is important to you and what it means to you. If it works for you to keep track of your progress in a journal or on a calendar, this may be a good place to remind yourself of the reasons why you want to accomplish this goal. If you are trying to quit smoking, you could list all the different health reasons you should stop. When you remind yourself of WHY, it helps you remain committed.

Wait it out. A craving usually won’t last so if you can wait at least ten minutes the power should be diminished.

Forgive yourself when you mess up! If you are like most people, you aren’t going to resist every single time. Move forward, and make a plan for how you are going to avoid the same trigger, situation, or problem with keeping your self control intact.

Use distraction. A craving will eventually diminish, if you can distract yourself with something else – work on a project, go for a walk, meditate, something that would be considered “self care” – it can help you until the craving passes.

Gradually increase the time you exercise self-control. If you can’t just stop altogether, work on increasing the amount of time you stay with your goal, or avoid the craving. Practice over time makes it easier.

Reward yourself. Take time to congratulate yourself because this can be hard work!

Challenge negative thinking. If you find yourself saying “I am never going to be able to do this,” challenge it and find evidence to show yourself that you can, and you will.

Now I’m interested to hear what works for you. Any ideas to add?

Catherine Wilson, LPC 

Image credit courtesy of marin / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Group counseling can be a great benefit for many reasons.

If you’ve never been in a group for counseling, you may be wondering what it would be like and if it would be helpful to you. Here’s some great reasons to try group counseling.

Support from others with the same goals. Groups are usually centered on a specific issue such as self-improvement, grief, depression or anxiety. When you work on an issue that is challenging you with a group, you are not only working with a skilled counselor but also with others who want to improve their lives in the same way. You are all working towards the same goals and offer support to each other. Group members often feel that the compassion and empathy they feel from others in their group carries a lot of weight because it comes from people who really know what dealing with that issue really means.

There are multiple perspectives to learn from. The others in the group are often at different stages in their work – this brings in the perspectives of people who have been where you are, allowing you to learn from what worked for them or didn’t. You may also be further along than others, allowing you to share what has worked for you and reminding you of how far you have come in your own work.

You help others, too. Group members will often feel a sense of satisfaction from being able to help others as well as feeling helped.

Lower cost than individual counseling. Group counseling usually is a lower fee than individual counseling, making it easier to afford this type of counseling, and allowing you to possibly participate longer than you would have otherwise.

You might have some concerns about being in a group for counseling.

One common concern is that it will be difficult to talk and share information with a bunch of strangers. I have noticed that it doesn’t take long before you realize that each person in a group is searching for ways of coping with the same type of things you are and it doesn’t take long before the group is talking about sharing with ease. The process of giving and receiving acceptance from others overshadows this concern within a short time.

A second common concern is the time commitment. Groups are often set up on a specific day and time and you are expected to participate in a minimum number of sessions if you join. You can always search for groups of a relatively short duration (we run groups that are six week commitments) for the topic you are interested in. You also may simply go ahead and join – group members often find that the structure and expectation of a group is helpful, and that the commitment to self growth actually fuels a sense of accomplishment and self esteem.

A topic of interest may already be on your mind, or you may be searching for a general self improvement group. Searching for a group through http://www.meetup.com, or with a Google search may be one of your first steps. If you are in the Denver area, sometimes groups will be posted on the events page at The Denver Post. And if you do have a specific topic in mind, you may find websites that deal with that topic, that list groups in geographic areas for you to choose from.

If you’ve been able to find groups at a specific site, feel free to leave a comment and let others know how to find it. I’d also be interested to hear of specific groups or any thoughts you have about groups in general.

Trauma In Female Veterans

Trauma In Female Veterans

PsychCentral posts a number of great articles but this one, see link below, about female veterans abuse caught my eye.

http://blogs.psychcentral.com/your-life/2013/09/the-newest-face-of-trauma-female-veterans/

Blog post photo credit from source link above.

The article cites some startling statistics on sexual assault against women in the military. What really got me though is that the young woman portrayed in the article saw horrific things while deployed in Afghanistan, was in a vehicle that was struck by an IED, but the trauma that was most difficult for her was the sexual assault by her commanding officer that she couldn’t talk about. She felt she couldn’t talk about this because of an enduring atmosphere in the military that blames the victim and discourages reporting.

This is sad of course, and I know officially the military is trying to change this. A social problem as big as this often feels hopeless and it leaves you wishing you could do something while you also believe that nothing you do will make a difference.

I’m really going to ask the question though anyway. What could you do? I’m interested in your thoughts on this but I’m also going to add a few ideas as well.

If you are a counselor like me, you could sign up to provide pro bono therapy at http://www.giveanhour.org. Check them out, they are a great organization. As a counselor, this may give you an opportunity to make a difference, one person at a time. It may be someone who was the victim of a sexual assault. It may even be a perpetrator, consumed by guilt or shame.

Any of us could make a difference – one person at a time.

One “thank you” to a veteran or person active in the military.

One moment when you can vocalize support in some way for victims of sexual assault in the military to speak out.

One offer of support to someone you know who is or has been in the military, whatever that support may be…a listening ear, an acknowledgment of a job well done, or ??

by Catherine Wilson MA LPC NCC

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

What’s Missing in Your Weight Loss Strategy?

Counseling for Weight Loss Strategies

We have all heard this over and over – from friends, family, on television, in ads, and more.

People struggle to lose weight and maintain a healthy weight. They have the science of it down – and it’s as simple as can be for most people – eat less, exercise more.

And yet, the extra pounds stay or they come back much too soon.

What is often missing is important changes in our mental state, whether that is our thoughts, our beliefs, or our emotional patterns.

You have some choices on how to approach this. Many people approach it from a self-help perspective and read books or get advice from others. Sometimes a person uses a particular diet or treatment. One thing you may not have thought of though, is to add counseling to these other methods to help achieve your weight management goals.

I’m not talking about nutritional counseling, which is greatly beneficial and a valuable part of any weight management plan. Many diet, weight loss and wellness centers have a nutritional counselor available and learning from this person helps you to understand the science of weight loss and weight management. It is information you need to succeed. In this article I’m actually talking about getting to the heart of what is holding you back. Working with a counselor can help you uncover what is blocking you from reaching your goals and learn ways to overcome it. This also gives you information you need to help yourself succeed at managing your weight for the rest of your life.

You may be wondering what kind of things you would talk about with a counselor when you are trying to lose weight.

Let’s talk about weight loss strategies in terms of thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.

Thoughts: – Discovering our common negative thoughts or distorted thought patterns can help change perspective in a healthy way. For instance, if you have a tendency towards using “all or nothing” thinking, you might chastise yourself after a small break from your weight loss strategy by saying to yourself, “I am NEVER going to lose the weight I want!” A more realistic and healthy way of talking to yourself is to say, “Okay, it was just one slip and it doesn’t mean I have completely derailed my strategy, I will do a little better tomorrow.”

Beliefs: It is a very unfortunate part of human nature that we tend to more easily believe negative thoughts, and the negative opinions of others, than we do the positive ones. It is as if negative thoughts are on a superhighway right to our core beliefs. Positive thoughts take a lot more effort to instill as beliefs about the self. The power our beliefs have is amazing.

Emotions: This one packs a lot of punch. Emotions sabotage our best efforts at weight loss in many ways. The term “emotional eating” is often used, and it describes the way we often eat because we are bored, angry, frustrated, lonely, sad, or any of the other uncomfortable feelings. It is very easy to get into a pattern of not being aware of whether you’re even hungry, and yet eating something – anything! – to soothe the discomfort you are feeling emotionally.

A counselor can help you discover where emotions, thoughts or beliefs may be blocking your weight loss goals. Working with a counselor can also help you stay motivated, provide someone to be accountable to, and he or she can also provide a compassionate and non-judgmental place for you to explore options that will work best for you.

Working with a counselor might also include talking about the following ideas:

Coping skills and self-care – Learning coping skills and self care are particularly important to combat emotional eating. We have a self-care handout on our website at http://www.littletonweightlosscounseling.com which may help you find ideas for self care that appeal to you.

Self-control – Learning self-control may be an area that could use some work, too. First take some time for introspection…which areas of your life are working well, and which are not? Can you identify differences that may be important – for instance if you can identify what helps you maintain self control in getting work done in your career, can you apply some of that to your weight loss efforts? You can ask others what works for them in areas that you struggle with. You can also try to gradually increase your ability to maintain self-control in difficult areas for you, a little at a time.

Other types of therapy/counseling – You may be a candidate for alternative types of counseling. Not every type of therapy works for every person, and there are many options. For instance, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) has traditionally been used for trauma recovery such as with military veterans but in recent years the use of this type of therapy has been expanded to many other uses. Our counselors sometimes use a type of EMDR called Performance Enhancement to take a person to a higher achievement level in reaching their goals, whatever those goals may be. Another option may be engaging in a group for weight loss counseling, or a general self-improvement group.

Self-esteem – One area that is closely tied to thoughts, beliefs and emotions is self-esteem, and this alone has a powerful effect on a person, often in many areas of life. If you decide to work on self-esteem in counseling, you may find that this alone changes your outlook on weight loss and weight management, while also improving your sense of self-worth and self-confidence.

Any of these ideas may become a part of counseling for you. Your situation is unique.

Catherine Wilson, LPC

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Building Self Confidence

Building Self-Confidence Skills

I recently ran across a YouTube video the other day about building self-confidence.

I love TED talks – they are usually about 15-20 minutes and are delivered by speakers who are considered an authority on the topic they are discussing. Dr. Ivan Joseph makes a couple of great points in this talk.

One of these is that repetition is necessary to build self-confidence.

No one just decides one day to have it, you have to practice and take steps to create it. It is a skill!

The second is that self-talk is extremely important.

You need to make a conscious effort to eliminate negative self-talk and create more positive self-talk for yourself.

I hope you enjoy it too!

 

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Character Strengths Evaluation & Information

If someone asked you to list some of your character strengths as a person, would you be able to come up with a few? Any?

This is a question that tends to be difficult to answer for a lot of people. Often it is much easier to identify negative qualities rather than the positive.

This might simply mean that you are a modest person and it is uncomfortable to put a lot of focus on your strengths. Perhaps you feel that it isn’t attractive for a person to boast, and that this comes too close to feeling like you are boasting. And maybe it reveals low self-esteem. No matter what the reason, it can be helpful–and interesting–to explore your own strengths and think about how they may have come about.

This can help build self-esteem, or if nothing else it might help you in your next job interview!

One way to identify and appreciate your own good qualities and character strengths is to take the questionnaire I am about to describe.

It can be found at http://www.authentichappiness.com.

Once you are at the site and you have set up a login for yourself, scroll down until you find “VIA Survey of Character Strengths.” VIA stands for values in action, because our strengths reflect the values that we hold most important. There are 240 questions but don’t let that number worry you, it usually doesn’t take long to complete. When you are done, you will receive a list of 24 character strengths in the order of importance for YOU.

Your results can be used to reflect on what each of the strengths means to you, and how it may have developed and become as important as it is. You may gain insight from the ranking, or even be surprised that a particular one ranks higher than another.

Taking the time to answer those questions and reflect on your strengths can help you know yourself just a little bit better, and perhaps even find ways to utilize those strengths more in your life.

Holistic Health

Is Emotional Eating the Reason You Can’t Lose Weight?

Emotional Eating and Dietings

Many of us have tried multiple diets, plans, and suggestions trying to lose weight. They often work and we do lose some unwanted pounds, but before you know it the weight comes right back. Emotional eating might be the culprit behind this for you, as it is for a lot of people that experience the same thing. If you can figure out your own triggers and take steps to avoid emotional eating, you can get right to the root of the problem and help yourself keep those pounds off for good.

First of all, what do I mean by “emotional eating?”

This means that instead of eating because you are hungry and your body needs nutritious food, you eat to soothe uncomfortable emotions such as boredom, anger, sadness, depression, or loneliness. These are only a few examples, but are the most common emotions that I have heard my clients and acquaintances say cause them to reach for chips, ice cream, a candy bar, or whatever is handy in the refrigerator or pantry.

Emotional eating can become a problem in managing your weight in a subtle way. There are two common reasons for this. One, a person doesn’t typically just start eating to soothe painful emotions on a given day. What happens is that you learn over time that you can feel better (temporarily!) if you eat when something is bothering you. Each time you were feeling stressed and a nice meal or your favorite snack made you feel happy for a while, this reinforced it. The second most common reason is that many of us have been socialized to look at food as something that is soothing, either through television and movies, or by growing up in a family in which food was part of the atmosphere when problems were solved. If you ever went to Grandma’s house for comfort after the family dog died and she made chocolate chip cookies to help you feel better, you know exactly what I mean.

After years of this these influences, picture yourself after a day at work in which your boss informed you that you have new responsibilities you will have to learn how to do without taking away any of the existing responsibilities you have, and you had a disagreement with a co-worker that didn’t end well. You arrive at home feeling tired, angry, worried you won’t have time to manage all your work, and wondering if the disagreement you had will change your relationship with your co-worker in a negative way. You grab a bag of pretzels to munch on while you think about what to have for dinner, and then notice there is only a little cheese left in its package so you finish that off, and a few chocolates from the bowl on the table taste good … and you can imagine that by now you already you feel better, and you haven’t even decided what to have for dinner.

Times of stress make us vulnerable. And each person’s pattern is different. You may eat more than you know you should at a meal, snack in between meals, discover that you’ve eaten an entire bag of chips while you were reading that novel, or something else.

If any of this sounds familiar, then the tips to avoid emotional eating I’ve listed below can help.

1) The first step is to identify the type of events and emotions that trigger emotional eating for you. When you can identify the most common situations that lead to emotional eating, you are more aware so you can consciously decide not to let that situation lead to overeating and you can prepare and plan alternatives to emotional eating such as planning a week’s worth of menus or taking healthy snacks to work with you. A food diary may help you identify the events and emotions if you use the diary to record a brief summary of daily events, emotions, and be sure to write down everything you eat. After a few weeks, you are likely to see some patterns.

2) Are there underlying problems? Long standing emotional issues, past traumatic experiences, depression, losses, or other issues can sabotage the best intentions in managing your weight. Counseling can help by assisting you in coping with problems in a healthy way.

3) Take care of yourself. Of course, it is important to take care of the basics of eating healthy, getting some exercise, and getting enough sleep each night. But what I mean by taking care of yourself is more about self-care, or making sure you have some time to relax and do activities you enjoy. Every day. This is particularly important during times of stress, even though this is when you are least likely to have time for yourself.

If you are interested in reading more about emotional eating, a good reference is Geneen Roth’s Breaking Free From Emotional Eating.

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Portia Nelson, Autobiography

Portia Nelson, Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

This is one of my favorite poems.

You can find it many places online, but I chose the following link:

http://www.lessons4living.com/sidewalk_of_life.htm

It very simply captures how we progress and make changes to improve our lives and our selves, and how we gradually change attitudes and behaviors that are NOT working for us.

Enjoy!

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

Brene Brown Ted Talk Video

Recently I ran across a great YouTube video of Brene Brown.

She gave a Ted talk on her work in researching the idea of shame, our need for connection, love and so much more, particularly in women.

You might enjoy her talk, too, at this link:

 

Why You Might Consider Group Counseling

New Quiz – Healthy vs. Unhealthy Relationships

Take the quiz and learn about healthy and unhealthy relationships.

I’ve just added a quiz to my website, you can find it at the bottom of the web page referenced below:

(we need to redo this quiz – working on it!)