five steps for Handling Back To School Stress

Back to school time can be a very exciting time - new teacher, new class, new folders and notebooks, maybe even a new backpack and clothes! But for some kids and young adults, all the same things that can be exciting are actually quite stress inducing. With the new and different comes the unknown, and with the unknown can often come anxiety. 

Beyond the new and unknown, stress can also lurk in the old and same. For some kids, returning to school means returning to the same teasing or bullying. For kids that are more introverted it means returning to group work and class presentations. For kids with ADHD it means retuning to being asked to sit still most of the day and pay attention. 

No matter the source of stress, for many kids it is surely there. 1 in 5 kids meets the diagnostic criteria for a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. And beyond falling in the range of diagnosis, are the kids who might not quite meet the diagnostic criteria but are still struggling and could use some support. So how do we help? 

Step one for parents is to make sure you are taking care of you! This might seem counterintuitive but as they saying goes, "you can't pour from an empty cup." To put it plainly, you're not going to be very helpful to a kid who is struggling if you are also struggling because you're putting yourself last on the list of things that need taking care of. Stressed parents = stressed kids. You might think they don't notice, but trust me, they do. Not only do they notice but they're feeding off that stress and reacting to it and in some cases they're internalizing it and making it their own problem. I have had kids tell me that they were too afraid to tell their parents about what was going on with them because they thought their parent was either going to be mad and yell or it would be just another thing they had to worry about. So really, take care of you first. 

Step two is to listen and listen well. This doesn't mean scroll through your phone and occasionally look up and nod, this means set aside some time to really talk about their day, their friends, the good and the not so good. But my kid won't tell me about their day! Congratulations, you likely have a very normal child. This is where you have to learn to listen by watching. Maybe they say their day was "good" or "fine" and that's all they'll give you. That's ok, but what else are they doing? Are they crying when they sit down to do math? Are they throwing their books in frustration? Are they getting stomach aches way too often? Are they getting mean and defensive when you try to help with something? These are signs that something could be going on. I also encourage parents to start asking different types of questions. Did you have a good day? That's a closed questions. The answers are basically yes or no. If you want a better answer try: how was your day? But they just say "fine" you cry out! Try asking what made their day fine and not great, or what one good thing was and one not so good thing. More creative questions lead to more in depth answers (well, sometimes). 

Step three is to get all the information. This might mean bringing it up to your child- "Hey, I noticed every time we do math there is crying or yelling, what's going on?" Maybe they'll open up and share that this is a tough subject for them and they're feeling behind compared to their classmates or they're feeling "stupid" because they just can't get it, no matter how hard they try! They're less likely to open up if they're being yelled at for getting upset or told to hurry up or pull it together. But maybe something is going on that they can't identify. Maybe you ask them what is up with the stomach aches every Wednesday and they say they don't know. They might not want to share but they also really might not know! Maybe Wednesday is gym day and they hate gym or maybe it's a quiz day, or maybe something else is going on. Here is where talking with the teachers or other school staff can help clue you in to what might be going on if your child can't tell you. 

Step four is to get some help! Maybe it's a math tutor if they're struggling or behind and just need some extra time and attention with the subject.  Or maybe it's getting them some accommodations at school. Could they maybe get a little longer for the quiz if feeling rushed is part of the problem? Do they maybe need to get a break with the school social worker to reset at lunch? Sometimes schools can be flexible and get kids what they need to feel more comfortable and learn better. Some schools however, may be very inflexible due to budget or other staff cuts. If your child already has a diagnosis they may likely qualify for a 504 plan that helps get in writing the accommodations the school is obligated to provide. If the 504 plan isn't enough and your child's needs aren't being met, an IEP or Individualized Education Plan is also an option.

Step five is to relax! This might sound silly but this is probably the most important step. Practicing unwinding and helping our kids learn how to unwind is an invaluable skill. The grades our children get and their academic success will never be as important as their mental health is. I have watched many kids try so hard to hold it all together throughout the school day only to get home and need to explode. School lasts only a little while, but self-esteem issues, anxiety and stress related illness can last a lifetime. Helping ourselves, and our kids, remember that the most important thing they can do is their best and placing more importance on character development, relationships and health helps kids tackle the tough stuff. It also helps open up lines of communication, and with parenting - communication is key! 

 

Struggling with some tough back to school stuff? Reach out! I would be happy to provide a consultation with some ideas to get you started or set up an appointment for some more in depth work! 

 

Five Thing I've Learned About Essential Oils

 

I feel like essential oils have completely blown up in the last couple of years. Something I had never previously heard of was all of a sudden all over the place! If you have spent any time on the internet, especially Pinterest or Groupon (hey to all the other Pintrest/Groupon addicts out there!), or have ventured into your local Walgreens, then you probably know what I am talking about. Something once reserved for the holistic section of Whole Foods can now be found just about anywhere. I’ve even run into essential oils and diffusers at Ross and T.J. Maxx! Maybe they were always there and I just didn’t notice, but we are now hearing all about the variety of benefits these essential oils can provide. 

I’ll be honest, when I first heard about the benefits of essential oils I was highly skeptical. I mean HIGHLY.  It just seemed so “foo foo.” It wasn’t until my therapist introduced me to using essential oils on the body that I became convinced of their validity. I’m not a scientist, and I don’t have any completely undisputed evidence to back up any of my claims, but I’m 100% convinced that incorporating essential oils into my life increased my quality of living. I’m not here to convince you to start going wild buying all kinds of oils and accessories, but I will share a little about my experience and what I have learned so far. 

1. Essential Oils are Different From What You’re Probably Thinking About

    At first I was super skeptical about essential oils because I was thinking of them as just a fragrance, something like perfume, that was meant to smell nice and therefore have some type of positive effect on you - hence the “foo fooness.” After all, you see “aromatherapy” products everywhere, like in candles or body lotions at various stores and I just assumed this is what was meant by essential oils.

    However, pure, therapeutic grade, essential oils are actually extremely potent. They are made from cold pressing or distilling different parts of plants to extract an unadulterated oil directly from the plant. Just as teas can have different effects on the body from steeping the various plants in water (think: the calming nature of camomile or the stomach settling properties of peppermint), the oils themselves have an effect on the body whether they’re being inhaled, digested or applied topically. Long story short, this isn't the same as smelling your lavender candle from the mall. 

2. Not All Oils Are Created Equal

    As with just about everything these days, you get what you pay for (usually). Because it takes a lot of a plant to create enough of an oil to bottle and sell- like 180 pounds of roses to make rose otto oil - this stuff isn’t cheap. I am sure you can imagine that it’s probably pretty temping to put in some fillers if all you have in mind is the bottom line. This is why it is important to do your due diligence around essential oils. I’m not saying the most expensive is going to be the best, but if you get a bottle for $3.00 from some random discount store and other more reputable, places are selling it for $35.00, it should probably give you some pause. Lower quality of oil means you're going to get a lower quality experience with the oil and it may not have at all the effect it should. Additionally, if it contains any chemical fillers you might not even know what all you are exposing your body to. There are lots of comparisons you can read online so I encourage doing some research if you’re looking to experiment. 

 

3. Safety is No Joke with Essential Oils

    Like I said, essential oils can be very potent! You have to be really careful about using too much, potential drug interactions with any medication you are taking, sensitivity to sunlight in areas where you apply the oil, using specific oils while pregnant or breast feeding, and potential allergic reactions. You should always consult with a doctor or veterinarian before using essential oils with a child or a pet, despite whatever that Pintrest article claims.

    Please know I don't want to encourage fear of essential oils, but just like with anything you put in or on your body, care must be taken. I actually feel like the warnings you need to heed with essential oils are encouraging because it backs up the evidence that this isn’t just some hippy dippy magic- essential oils have a very real impact on the body and mind!

 

4. Depending On What Your Goal is There are Several Different Ways to Incorporate Essential Oils Into Your Life

    There are lots of different ways you can use essential oils. Diffusers are something that have become very popular, and there are several different kinds. Again this is a place you want to do some research. The oils you're using probably aren't super cheap, so you want to make sure you're choosing an effective way to disperse your oils. Different oils have different effects. There are all kinds of guides online to help you choose which oil or mixture of oils can help you achieve your goals. Looking for a mid-day lift? Diffusing some lemon, peppermint and frankincense can be a good combination! Headache? Try peppermint, eucalyptus and lavender! There are a million different blends and it can be so fun, and helpful, to try them out! 

    You can now find all kinds of diffuser accessories as well! Wearing your chosen scent in a necklace or on a bracelet, or even using a plug-in in your car can help you keep the effects of the oils going all day long. 

    I am a big fan of applying essential oils topically. Again, you have to be careful with essential oils, so you want to find a trusted guide in this area, but essential oils should always be mixed with some type of carrier oil before being applied topically. Depending on where you buy your oil it might already be mixed and ready to go out of the bottle. If it isn’t, using some type of coconut, almond, or olive oil should do the trick! As with anything you put on your body it gets absorbed through the skin and makes its way to the blood stream, so again, this can be a great thing if you're looking for some type of relief or a not so good thing if you aren't being careful. Applying topically can help provide not only physical relief from aches and pains but also help you achieve mental balance and improve mood. I recently purchased a “stick” that looks like a giant lip balm for headaches that contained menthol, peppermint, lavender and eucalyptus and I had great results in taming my migraine! 

    Essential oils can be great around the house as well. Certain oils, especially of the citrus variety, can be used in home cleaning products. Lemon spray for the counter instead of that chemical mixture? Yes please! Different blends such as lavender, lemon and rosemary can help give a fresh scent to the air, and you can spritz some lavender oil that has been diluted with a tiny bit of vodka (to help the oil evaporate and not set into fabric) and distilled water on your pillow before bed to help lull yourself to sleep. Essential oils can also be mixed into soaps or homemade candles! Again, there are loads of “recipes” for this stuff online. 

    Essential oils can also be taken internally but this is where I’m going to really encourage seeking out the very specific advice of a medical professional who is familiar with essential oils. There are several companies that are selling ingestible versions of oils that I would deem pretty trustworthy but we are all so individual and we all can react very differently to what we put in our bodies. This is not something I would recommend just experimenting with on your own. 

 

5. Combine Essential Oils and Mindfulness for Best Results

    This isn’t really a tip you’re going to find on Pintrest, but this has really been my experience. Smell can be such a profound “trigger” either in a positive or negative way because scent can be so closely linked with memory. For example, I love visiting my storage unit because the inside of that place smells like my grandma and grandpa’s house used to and it brings me such warm memories. I’m sure other people can no longer even stand the smell of certain alcohols because of that one real bad night in college. I mean I can’t relate to that at all but surely someone out there can :) Anyway…

    Essential oils are going to have an effect on you no matter what, but I find when I am mindful and present when I am using my oils, when I can assign them meaning that is personal to me, I can really harness the power. For example, there is an oil I have used in my own therapy from Young Living called White Angelica. Because of the meditation it was used in combination with I have a very specific reaction of feeling protected and strong in my boundaries when I apply it. This reminds me of the different feelings(read: mostly embarrassment) I have when I smell the ever popular Cucumber Melon scent that I excessively applied in my junior high years. I smell that cucumber melon and all sorts of awkward memories come flooding right on in! The point being, you can use oils and they’ll be effective, but if you use them intentionally and combine them with mindfulness and meditation they can become infinitely more useful to you. 

 

Have questions? Want to know where you can learn more?

Contact me- I am happy to help get you started! 

    

Tips for Dealing with Anxiety

Anxiety has been on my mind this week due to an incredibly stressful experience I had at the dentist. I have had anxiety about going to the dentist ever since I can remember. I think my first experience that I can really remember is being little, maybe 7, and getting a cavity filled and not being completely numb (but being too afraid to say anything because I've never really been one to rock the boat). So I was having this awful pain, and the sound of the drill was so awful, and the smell of my tooth being drilled was so awful, and I just remember looking up at the ceiling tiles and feeling like everything was just spinning wildly around-  and it was so awful. Did I mention it was awful? SO awful. As I'm writing this all I can think is, do they even fill cavities when you're that little? I mean probably if it's not a baby tooth right? Whatever, don't judge me, I've been told I have "bad teeth" due to genetics so it's not my fault! I mean I could probably brush more but, yah know. We're all just here doing our best. 

Anyway, back to point. So I believe, because of this horrifying experience, everything about the dentist has always just freaked me out. Which has led me to avoid the dentist for chunks of large amounts of time at once. Which I know, I know, is just making it all the worse. Anywaysss, all of this to say I get anxious when I even think about going to the dentist. I get even more anxious when I walk into the office, and more anxious as they call me back and even more anxious when they tilt the chair back and snap on those awful latex gloves, to the point where my whole body is tense and I'm sweating from everywhere and practically clenching my jaw completely shut by the time they even pick up of the little mirror tool to take a look at what awful thing is going on inside my mouth this time. 

So last week, I'm in the chair, sweating profusely, but trying to be cooperative as they prepare to numb my entire mouth for a "deep cleaning". I'm using quotes because I feel like that's really a misleading term-  judging by the amount of bleeding that was occurring I'm not sure how much cleaning could have even gotten done. Anyway, they're using that little gel stuff to help numb the areas that there going to stab with that ungodly sized needle and I feel the panic start to set in. But I'm like "dude, you're a therapist you've got this, just take some deep breaths, distract yourself with some nice thoughts, repeat a nice little mantra to yourself, you're going to be fine". So I'm doing it, using my little tricks, and all of a sudden something feels SO AWFUL in my mouth. SO much was happening so fast and there was so much pain and all of a sudden I was not feeling so in control, and then my whole body tensed into a rock, tears started streaming down my cheeks, I felt like I couldn't breathe and I was trying so hard to keep my composure, but I was totally freaking out. They sat me up and gave me a break and my hands were shaking uncontrollably. No matter what I was doing or thinking to myself nothing was working, I was clearly having an extreme physical response, something I've never experienced to that degree before- what I believe was a panic attack. 

When I got home I did some research on this experience and it turns out most dentists use some type of numbing agent with epinephrine aka adrenaline in it to help the local anesthetic stay local and keep you numb longer. Which sounds super great, unless they're shooting your whole, already very anxious, mouth up with this adrenaline laced stuff and accidentally tap into one of your veins. I have no idea if that's really what happened, but based on the feeling (and some amateur googling) that's what I'm going with. ANYWAY. Afterward I was SO upset because I was like why didn't anyone tell me that the reaction I was having was something that can, and probably has happened, to lots of people?! I kept apologizing profusely to the dentist and his assistant and they were nice about it, but kind of made it seems like I just got super overwhelmed all on my own which made me feel so stupid!

Anxiety can be defined as the body's reaction to stressful, dangerous, or uncertain situations. Although we often hear about anxiety being a negative, something we don't want to experience,  anxiety can often be a completely normal and  healthy response  to whatever we have going on in our lives.  Small amounts of stress or anxiety can help us prepare for situations like job interviews or tests, or help us stay awake and alert when we need to be (i.e. walking down a dark alley at night). While it can be an uncomfortable experience to have, we can often be better off for having the experience. 

Sometimes, however, anxiety is more unhelpful than not-  like when anxiety helped me prepare well for presentations while I was in school, but also caused me to have a trembling voice during the actual presentations, which made it sound like I was crying, which made me turn red and get hot, which made me worry about what people were thinking of me, which just made me want to actually cry, which just increased the trembling- thus causing the anxiety to actually make everything much, much worse at that point. 

Anxiety is also one of those experiences that is super draining on the body. Thanks to adrenaline rushes, muscle tension, and mental taxation, among other things, anxiety can be an incredibly physical experience, often causing us to "crash" afterward. Anxiety can be extremely frustrating and sometimes even debilitating. While about 20% of Americans will be diagnosed with anxiety in their lifetime, we are all likely to at least experience anxiety at some point in our lives. That's a lot of stressed out and anxious people walking around! So what is a guy a gal to do?! 

Some Tips for Dealing with Anxiety

Take a Deep Breathe
Yes, really. I know it seems like it couldn't possibly help- it's too simple! But deep breaths actually help pull the body out of the "fight or flight" mode and help remind our body and our brain that we are not in mortal danger, no matter how bad the current situation may seem. Deep breaths help fully oxygenate our blood, slow our heart rate and decrease our blood pressure- all good things. Try putting your hand on your belly, taking a deep breath in so you feel your belly expand and breathe fully out and feel your belly fall. Moving from breathing with your chest to your belly helps calm your nervous system, so give it a try! 

Avoid Caffeine and Alcohol
Womp. Womp. Although there can be nothing sweeter than a cup of coffee in the morning and nothing more refreshing than a cold brew on a warm summer evening, if you're battling with anxiety you're going to want to refrain from these guys. Although caffeine may feel like it can energize us to get through an anxious slump and alcohol can feel like it calms us down, alcohol and caffeine actually make the likelihood of a panic attack more likely and can increase anxiety. Try come camomile or other herbal tea instead! 

Pump Some Iron
Or take a walk, or go for a jog! Getting a sweat session in, even for just 5 minutes, can help produce anti-anxiety effects. For some people a daily 20 or 30 minute exercise routine can complete replace the need for medication, increase their ability to fall and stay asleep, help quell depressive symptoms and boost mood! Having an exercise routine you can enjoy makes it more likely you'll stick to it so try multiple things! You might consider Zumba, kickboxing, yoga, or martial arts!

Take One Thing at a Time
Whether it is worrying about a relationship, what you're going to cook for dinner with only left over chick and jelly in the fridge, how you're going to pay the bills or what to wear to that important event next month, thing thing about worry is that it usually has us living in the future rather than the present. I don't have to have dinner figured out at 9:00am, I don't need to know my outfit for that even next month if I am in this month and if the bill isn't due till the 31st, I don't need to worry about it on the 3rd. Yes, we should look forward every so often so we can be prepared, and yes, a little bit of worry might make sure we don't miss that bill due date, but when it gets to the point of anxiety, where the feelings of unease are getting in the way, the worrying is no longer helpful. In these times it can be good to prioritize our needs and just worry about the first thing first. No need to fret about what house you will buy when you haven't even gotten approved for a mortgage yet! 

Play Out the Worst Case Scenario
Lots of time our anxieties are not very realistic. Other times, our anxieties make a lot of sense. A good question to start out with is "how likely is xyz to happen"? There's a big difference between fearing a huge python coming through your front door (snakes are a very real fear of mine) versus not being able to pay your monthly utility bill on time. The next good question is what would be the absolute worst outcome if that happened? If a python comes through my door I can probably run out the back door and escape, if my utility bill is going to be late I can probably call and arrange a payment plan of some type, etc. etc. A lot of times the worst outcome of our anxieties are something we could totally cope with and sometimes it can be reassuring to remember that even if we do have to have a chicken and jelly sandwich for dinner, we're not going to die :)

Find a Distraction
Sometimes something is going to happen and we just have to deal with it.  I know when I have a dentist appointment coming up that I'm going to go and they're probably going to have to do something uncomfortable and the worst case scenario of a panic attack could potentially happen. For this reason I schedule my appointments in the mornings so I just get up and go and don't have to sit and stew about it all day. This also might mean I watch a funny movie to tv marathon the night before so I don't sit and think about what doom awaits me tomorrow at the dental office and I also might reward myself with a Jamba Juice afterward! Finding things to distract from the worrisome can be helpful when we just need to grit our teeth and get through it. 

Get a Mantra
For me it's "it's ok, I'm ok." In times of anxiety or stress I repeat these words to myself, take a deep breath and enjoy the rhythm of the words, either outlaid of in my head. Having something to focus on that is also a positive message can be very calming to the body and mind. Try out a few different phrases to see if there might be something that resonates with you! 

Make Sure You've Been Watered and Fed
Just like it is important to watch what we're drinking it can also be equally important to watch what we're eating and how much water we are consuming. Blood sugar and dehydration can play a big part in our mental and physical health and it is important that we maintain one of the sake of the other. Making sure you are eating your recommended calories per day and getting in all your food groups can be important for staying full and fueled throughout your day. Eating lots or very carb heavy foods can sometimes put our body on a blood sugar roller coaster which causes us to feel rushes or drops in energy. Consulting your physician or a dietician might be a good idea if you notice food is playing a role in your mood. 

Involve Your Senses
Whether it is your yummy dinner cooking in the oven, a lavender bubble bath, wrapping ourselves in a heavy blanket, watching a calming waterfall or fireplace. listening to some calming tunes or eating a comfort food our sense can provide a temporary escape from our worries and stress. The more you can focus on what is going on around you - the sights, smells, sounds, touches and tastes, the more you are living in the hear and now and the less you are living in your worries. Try out some new recipes or take a hike and notice, REALLY notice all the sensory input around you. 

Talk to a Friend or Professional
Talking through a situation helps your brain process things in a different way than just thinking about it inside your own mind. Talking with someone else can also help generate new ideas or solutions for your problems, or may help you just air out some of your pent up feelings and energy. A professional may also be able to recommend other tips or strategies for working through your anxiety that are more specific to your specific circumstances. If you aren't comfortable talking about what is going on for you it might be helpful to at least do a little journaling around your feelings. Writing things out helps get the words on to paper which might make you look at the situation or your feelings in a different or more helpful light. 


 

Therapy FAQs

How Do I Know If Therapy Can Help?
I genuinely and whole-heartedly believe that everyone has something to gain from therapy, but I also realize people may have had negative experiences with therapy in the past, or heard stories from someone about a nightmare experience. By the time someone comes looking for help, things are already bad- I get people may be fearing making things worse. I often hear people saying that they assumed bringing troubling things up, or "drudging" things up from the past would just make things worse. The short answer is that good therapy, with the right practitioner will always help - therapy works, research tells us that. The important question is, "is this therapist the right one for me"? My suggestion is to try it! You'll know very quickly whether your therapist is a good fit for you and if you feel like they might be the right partner for you on your journey to wellness.

Am I Going to Have To Take Medication To Feel Better?
Although I believe in a wholistic treatment of the person that does not rely on medications,  I also believe that sometimes, for specific situations, people have better results when taking medication in combination with therapy. I don't believe that just taking medication is enough for the average person. Depending on what you're trying to manage, medication may be highly encouraged. While it can be confusing to know who can and can not prescribe medications for mental health conditions the general rule is that only someone with an M.D. is allowed to prescribe medication. I always strongly encourage clients to seek the professional services of a psychiatrist because their specialty is in mental health. Although general practicioners can prescribe medication, and often do so with success, you might consider that you wouldn't necessarily want your GP performing surgery on your brain, that's why neurosurgeons exist!  A good therapist should always give you their honest opinion regarding whether they think medication might be helpful, but should also  support whatever decision you make in regards to what path you will take (as long as your safety and health will remain intact). 

How Long Is This Going To Take?
I wish there was a good answer to this question. The truth is there isn't a one size fits all answer. The best answer I can give is, it depends. Typically I find my clients didn't start feeling badly (or start having tantrums and meltdowns) overnight, and they won't feel better overnight either. This is a process. That being said, you're a busy person - I get it! You and your therapist can work together to set achievable goals in a time frame that sounds reasonable to you, with the understanding that there are no guarantees in life, or therapy. Even when I give this answer I still typically get, "right yeah, but like probably how long"? Again, it depends! What is your goal? Do you want to stabilize a crisis situation? You might be looking at a few or 6 - 8 weekly sessions. Are you looking to resolve some feelings or patterns that are the result of trauma or abuse? That's probably going to take some months. I think the most important thing to focus on is how you're feeling, what your symptoms are, and whether that's improving. Setting goals at the beginning give you an idea of what your end point looks like, and when you can keep that in sight, you'll be able to start to gauge how close or far you are from that point on your own as well. 

When Will I Start To Feel Better?
Hopefully right away! My goal, and I think the goal of all therapists,  is to provide relief to clients immediately just by lending an ear, letting you get some of this stuff off your chest, making sure you feel heard and giving you hope as to how we can fix this. Sometimes people report feeling worse before they feel better, and while that's unfortunate, that makes sense. For some people we're touching on old wounds. For some people this is the first time they've ever spoken about some of these issues, and now talking about it makes it real, and that's hard. The good news is that this stage will likely be brief and relief is just around the corner. The better news is that the majority of people report feeling some type of relief by the end of the first session!

Am I Going to Have to Lay Down on a Couch?
While there is typically a couch in the room, and I'm sure you're welcome to lay on it if you feel the need, no, you will not have to lay on it. Therapy is not everything you see in the comic strips and movies. Often times movies do more to promote stigma around mental illness rather than display it accurately. Most therapist's offices strive to create a warm, inviting, living room type atmosphere. Although every office will look different, the goal is generally to make you comfortable, whatever that means for you. 

You Look Pretty Young, How Can I Trust You'll Understand?
Thanks to my primarily oily skin I find that I have aged quite well- almost too well sometimes. I understand that it's not always intuitive to have someone who is younger, or may appear younger than us, take care of us. Totally a fair point. My response to this inquiry is usually 2 parts. 1) If you're worried about whether I know what I am doing, I assure you I do 2) If you think someone has had to live in your shoes to understand anything at all, I want to challenge you on that. At the end of the day we are all human beings with human emotions. Although we may all carry wounds from different battles, we can all relate on some level of hurt, disappointment, sadness, loss, grief, fear, etc.  

Going beyond my own experience with people's perceptions of my age, I think we all tend to judge one another on appearance. If you have concerns about your therapist based on what you think they may know, have experienced, etc. the best thing to do is just put it out there and ask! Chances are you aren't the first person to bring it up and you won't be the last. A good therapist will welcome your inquiries and answer as honestly as they can, and you'll feel better getting that nagging thought off your mind, or find out that maybe you really do feel like you need someone you can connect to on a different level.

Sometimes the difference between us and our helper gives us room for growth. People with experiences opposite of us might sometimes be best suited to help us see past our our experiences and the generalizations we make because of them.  I'm not saying you should or should look for someone just like you or super different. What I am saying is, if you feel like it's a good fit for the most part, but there is an observation or assumption you're making about your therapist, or concern you have about whether they "get it" that's bothering you a little bit (or a lot!) - bring it up! It could be helpful! 

Have questions I didn't answer here? Send me an email and let me know!

What Is Therapy and How Can It Help Me?

So often I find that when I tell people what I do, that I'm a therapist, their reaction is to ask me what kind. Usually they're waiting for me to say whether I'm an occupational therapist or massage therapist or physical therapist, etc. So when I say I work in mental health they often seem surprised, and also a bit confused. They give me this look like "OHH OK, yeah I don't really get what that means, but good for you!" 

Whenever this happens I am reminded that although I might feel like information about mental health and the benefits of therapy are out there, and are growing in terms of how much we know and talk about it, it's never reaching everyone that it could. There is still so much stigma around getting mental health treatment. There seems to be this idea that it is only for people who are "a mess" or for people who are "crazy." And let's be honest, we probably have all been guilty of thinking or talking about therapy this way. We might see someone having a hard time and say "oh wow, she needs a therapist." And honestly, that's probably true. If someone is having a hard time I believe they genuinely could benefit from having a therapist. But its the WAY we say it. Like there's something negative about needing a little help now and then. Which, by the way, is just nonsensical to me. Who do you know that acts all ashamed about going someone to get their car fixed? Or doesn't want to admit to getting their oil changed? Or is embarrassed they might need a surgeon to remove a gall bladder?! HELLO, of COURSE we don't know how to do everything! We aren't meant to be able to do everything. 

Truth be told, I have even been guilty of this thought process before. In graduate school the advice we got over and over and over again was to get a therapist. As social workers we have some of the most high stress, low pay jobs available, and we see some stuff you couldn't  or wouldn't want to believe. It makes sense we would need an outlet for all this pain and suffering and struggle we see on a daily basis. It makes sense that some of this suffering we see, touches on some of our own sore spots from our own experiences. It brings to light the things we thought we were "over" but haven't really resolved within us. Even learning and knowing all that, I still didn't think I needed therapy. It wasn't until I was in a high stress job with foster care youth living in a residential facility that I figured out I was wrong. These were some of the coolest, funniest, most creative and resilient individuals I have ever had the honor of meeting in my life. These were also some of the most difficult situations I have ever encountered in my life. It touched on some of my own issues that I hadn't ever really addressed, and I was feeling that I was in over my head. I couldn't stop thinking about work, about my young people, about the way the system was failing so many of them, the amount of paperwork I had, how far I was behind on everything. After a day of work, doing anything else just felt too draining. I had so much worrying to do, there wasn't any time for me. 

I left that job after just a year- I was moving from the city to the suburbs and wouldn't be able to survive the commute everyday, but if I'm being honest, I was also struggling to be in this role where I was feeling like my own stuff was coming up- a lot. The thing about getting "triggered" is that once it comes up, it doesn't just go back down to where it came from all on its own. So the things that were coming up for me were just coming up and staying there, and whirling around in my mind, and in my heart. It became overwhelming. Especially in my new role managing my own program, by myself, at my brand new job. Did I mention I moved, changed jobs, got married and met my birth mother all in a matter of months? It was a stressful time to say the least. 

It was there at my new job, once the dust from moving and the wedding had settled, that I had the courage to reach out to a co-worker and let her know I wasn't feeling so hot. She let me know about a woman she had been seeing, and I decided that if it worked for her, it would work for me. After a few sessions I was already feeling a little better. It felt SO good to just get some of that stuff out. Things I had never talked about seriously and deeply with anyone, like about getting bullied in grade school or being an adopted person trying to reconnect with my birth mother, I was sitting here telling this stranger (albeit a very warm, compassionate, understanding and non-judgemental stranger) and suddenly it was like these problems weren't just my own anymore. It was like someone else heard me, and listened, and cared and agreed to carry that stuff with me for a while until I was ready to put it down. I also learned a lot of my own mind-body connection and how I could leverage that to soothe myself in times of distress or inform myself as to what was going on when I was feeling like things were starting to get overwhelming again. 

When I look back at it now I wonder why I didn't go to a therapist earlier. I think because I was trained to BE a therapist I didn't think I had anything to gain from seeing my own. So often I think we believe we should have everything it takes to just be "fine" or "deal with it." I already had all the tools and education I thought to myself, I already know what to do. The thing about it is though, we don't always have ALL the tools we need. One of the greatest benefits of therapy is the objective third party that sits across from us. The person who isn't in our stuff, so she or he can accurately see our stuff, and let us know what he or she might see that we don't. My therapist helped me pick out patterns that I didn't see and helped me to see dynamics in my relationships that were causing me to feel negatively. Just recognizing the problem that I could never quite put words to myself helped give me the motivation to change. It also motivated me to start taking better care of myself. I signed up for Weight Watchers shortly after going to therapy and have lost 55 pounds. I think losing a lot of my emotional and mental baggage made it easier to drop those pounds I have been carrying with me all. my. life. 

It's also having someone who has spent many years of their life dedicated to learning the things that we haven't. There are so many different approaches and theories, even for us therapists, we never know it ALL. There are always things we can learn, skills we can refine. For example, do you know what role the amygdala plays in our brain and in our life? Therapists do! And they want to teach you so you understand too! You're busy being a parent/friend/accountant/student/person looking for meaning in your life. You don't have the time or the motivation to figure out how this stuff works, but don't worry- we do! 

Therapy creates a safe space for us to put it all out there. Feel guilty about wanting to say something bad about a coworker, a family member or a friend? Don't have to in therapy! I don't know those people, and even if I did, I'm bound by the law to keep that to myself (unless you disclose a plan to harm them, in which case I'm bound by the law to warn them and the police. BUT rest assured I know the difference between blowing off some steam and an actual plan, so really, feel free to say your true feelings...).

As a therapist I have zero judgement for you. Partly because I'm a human being and know what it is like to have human emotions, but it is also because judgement doesn't work in therapy. The therapy room allows us to step outside of the "right and wrong" and "black and white" that is so forced upon us in the outside world, and allows us to embrace the grey area. It allows us to figure out the "whys" and the "hows" of how we got to where we are and allows us to make a plan for how leave that place and go somewhere else if we want to. There are so many stereotypes and so much stigma around mental health and therapy and I don't think the dictionary definition really gives up any more insight to what it really it. I think it can best be summed up by saying therapy is an experience, and a relationship that helps us learn what our needs our, helps us learn how to get them met, and gives us hope for a different tomorrow. I mean that's how I see it anyway- give it a try and let me know what you think! 

 

If you've got a few minutes I think Guy Winch does a real nice job in this TED Talk summing up the benefits of learning to take care of our emotional and mental health.