Breaking The Stigma

Am I sad enough for counseling? Are my problems big enough? Have I suffered enough?

These are all very normal questions when considering counseling, but why are we asking them? Well, the answer has to do with the stigma around counseling and receiving help in general.

The general stigma is that whoever is involved with counseling is weak, soft, and probably has some severe issues. Why does this resonate with so many? The reality is that society has a way of encouraging the outdated thought process of “Suck it up,” or “Rub some dirt in it,” when people struggle with pressures from work, socially, within the family, and personally. The powerlessness can be crippling, and we fall into a learned helplessness. Why try? People learn to tolerate and internalize issues because they can’t do anything about them and things don’t change. The reality is that this mindset is weak, soft, and has some issues at its core.

Imagine, for a moment, that you are trapped in the bottom of a hole, and you can see daylight at the top. Ask yourself what takes more courage and strength, stand up, dust yourself off, and find a way out or accept that you are stuck and that’s reality.

The same is true for counseling. Pursuing counseling takes courage and strength, and it is the clearest version of self-love that you can do because it is a commitment and dedication to your well-being mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. People go to the gym to become physically fit, so why is it different to do things to become emotionally and mentally fit?

Recently, I had the pleasure to work with a man who started counseling because he was encouraged by his wife. He was super apprehensive about the process because his problems “weren’t big enough” and he was taught that men don’t talk. However, he quickly warmed up and we got to work. After a session or two, he described to me a difficult childhood, difficulty feeling heard in his relationship, and questioning his worth professionally and personally. We processed the origin of these themes, and he finally got it.

Suppressing his needs meant his needs didn’t get met.

It was a revelation, and suddenly, his reality was shattered. It wasn’t that people didn’t care about him. He didn’t allow people to care. He became so accustomed to being stoic and strong for everyone else that he never learned to show up for himself that way. When we reflect on how far he has come, he refers to it as a different version of himself.

A dad, husband, sibling, friend, and coworker really did well for himself and was perceived as successful by others, but something was missing. He felt the missing piece, but he was afraid to look at it and be honest with himself. It took courage and strength to look behind that door.

Today, he could not imagine life without that work he did.

That’s what counseling is about. The individual journey differs, but the premise is based on taking the steps for self-improvement and choosing to do something different when something feels off. Whether it is depression, anxiety, a loss, life transitions, or something that just doesn’t feel right, counseling is more about updating and making a choice for something better.

Look out for loved ones, and have tough conversations. Counseling is not weak, and your worst problem is your worst problem. Take the step towards something better for yourself or your loved ones.

Your Mental and Physical Health

In our day-to-day lives, we often forget how interconnected our physical and mental wellness are to each other. If we go into the doctor’s office for gastrointestinal issues, we may not even realize that anxiety might also play a role. Or, for another example, if we go to a therapist for depression issues, we may not realize that an insomnia condition is also occurring.

So, looking at the above examples, it is important to be mindful of both mental health and physical health at the same time. According to NAMI (The National Alliance on Mental Illness), people who experience mental health problems often face additional physical issues like cardiovascular or metabolic disease. On the other hand, having a physical problem can create mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Not addressing one can intensify the other and make it harder to progress or get better.

Many therapists and physicians screen for coexisting disorders or symptoms and will refer or recommend further assessment if indicated. However, it is also important for the patient to advocate for themselves and speak up about other problems they may be experiencing.

A great way to prevent or minimize risk factors related to physical and mental health is increasing physical activity, practicing adequate eating and sleep hygiene, social support, and inclusion, and reaching out to address mental and physical symptoms as they occur.

Accomplish Your New Year’s Resolution by Setting a SMART Goal: Five Steps to Set Yourself Up for Success

It’s that time of year where we all think about New Year’s resolutions … how we want to be healthier, more in shape, well rested, or some better version of ourselves. Research shows that 9% of people who make resolutions follow through with them. Those odds are not in our favor. Here are some things to consider when making a New Year’s resolution to help us be successful.

We’re going to focus on the SMART method when thinking about creating a resolution.

S is for specific – we want to create a specific goal. Instead of wanting to be healthier, maybe we resolve to get eight hours of sleep per night or meditate each morning.

M is for measurable – if we want to journal, set it up to include a clear measure of completion, such as I want to journal for ten minutes, four times per week.

A is for achievable – we want to set ourselves up for success, so losing 80 pounds may create a feeling of defeat before we begin. Losing 1 pound per week creates the ability for us to be successful and feel small, ongoing successes each week.

R is for relevant – we want the goal to be something we are invested in and that matters to us. Setting a resolution is something that needs to matter to a degree that we are willing to work for it.

T is for time-based – we want a time frame to achieve our goal in. This can be an overall goal that is broken down into smaller time frames. If we are saving money and want $1,000 by June 1, we have created a time-based frame, and may even want to break down how much that is each month or week to track progress.

Regardless of what resolution we choose to focus on, we need to give ourselves space to be imperfect. Getting off track is normal and it doesn’t mean we need to abandon our goals. It means we need to be kind with ourselves, and continue to do our best, even when it means less than perfect.

Mental Health and Medication

In my day-to-day practice as a therapist, I find that there exists a wide range of opinions about medication in mental health care.  Medication in mental health treatment holds about as much stigma as mental health therapy, and as a clinician in the field, I find myself compelled to open up a dialog about this topic.

Now to be clear, I am most certainly not a medical professional, and am not able to prescribe such medication, however I appreciate the opportunity to have conversations with clients about the role that medication can play in their treatment how it may bring them greater peace and explore any worry they may have about considering taking this step.

I find that client opinions about these types of medications run the gamut from thinking, “medication will solve all my problems,” to the belief that, “medication is a crutch or a sign of weakness,” while many find themselves somewhere in the middle and find themselves curious, or uncertain about how medication works to improve one’s mental health.

For some, medication feels like a way to avoid finding solutions to problems that are at the heart of their suffering, while for others, medication is one of many tools in their arsenal that brings them a sense of balance and contentment.  These medications provide support for many by, “correcting, or helping to correct, underlying biological abnormalities that produce particular psychiatric symptoms.”

My hope is that by answering questions and creating safe spaces for these conversations, that you may have greater clarity and confidence about approaching your medical provider if you are curious about it mental health medications by be helpful on your wellness journal.  More than that, I hope that shame or fear is never the obstacle that keeps your from creating a life worth living!


Source:
Moncrieff, J., & Cohen, D. (2009, May 29). How do psychiatric drugs work? BMJ (Clinical research ed.). Retrieved March 29, 2023, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3230235/

Sleep

Although we live in a world of constant multi-tasking, busy schedules, and being overworked, why is it that so many of us find it hard to fall asleep at night? Most of the time, once we lay our heads down, our minds become busy and we find ourselves thinking about everything we’ve pushed off throughout the day. Sleep disturbance can have an adverse effect on emotion regulation, cognitive functioning, and our emotional and physical well-being. Quality and quantity of sleep are important and can even affect our lifespan.

I find myself feeling more vulnerable to negative emotions and less likely to complete my tasks and goals when I’m running low on sleep. In a perfect world, getting a good night’s rest every night would be achievable, and we’d all wake up every morning feeling refreshed. With busy schedules, a lot of distractions, and technology, this is often difficult for most. Here are some ideas you can try to help improve your quality of sleep:

  • Start by creating a night-time routine that fits your needs and helps you feel relaxed before getting into bed.
  • Go to sleep at a consistent time each evening even on the weekends. Engage in the same ritual each night and get up at the same time in the morning each day. Aim for giving yourself anywhere from 30-60 minutes to fall asleep.
  • Avoid certain things before bed. Substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and certain types of foods should be avoided 3-4 hours before bed. Exercising should be avoided several hours before bed as well.
  • Find moments throughout your day to schedule in time to overthink or worry. Write things down and tear them up and move on with your day.
  • Use your bed for sleep only.
  • Create a calming, soothing environment, by choosing sounds, scents, lighting, and temperature that is comfortable for you.
  • Get out of bed and distract with a quiet activity such as reading a book or grabbing a drink of hot tea or eating a light snack. You can try to put on a guided relaxation or meditation, anything that has low volume and little change in voice tone and background noise.
  • Look into vitamins and natural sleep aids to help with falling and staying asleep.
  • And last but not least, DO NOT worry about falling back asleep, as this is surely to keep you awake for even longer.

Happy Sleeping!

The Four Horsemen of Relationships

Do you want to know whether your relationship is heading in the wrong direction? Turn to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse as created by John and Julie Gottman. The Gottman’s are the leading experts on couples’ therapy.  The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse was originally a New Testament metaphor used to describe the end of time. The Gottman Method uses the metaphor to describe four missteps couples make in communication that are predictors of divorce. In couples’ counseling, partners learn how to identify when each is using one of these ineffective communication patterns and to find alternative ways to communicate during conflict.

As we study each of the horsemen, let’s pretend my husband forgot to empty the dishwasher. I will provide an example of the four missteps and an alternative response that is more effective.


Criticism:
Rather than a critique or complaint, you respond by attacking your partner’s character.

Example: “You’re being selfish when you don’t do your share of the work at home. You prioritize what’s important to you over our family.”

Alternative: Use a gentle start-up and stay away from generalized comments about the character of your partner.

“You were responsible for emptying the dishwasher and did not do it. I know you’ve had a stressful day and I want to support you during difficult times. Is there a better way to communicate about chores that need to be done?”


Contempt:
This horseman takes criticism one step further and is intended to hurt your partner by acting morally superior over them.

Example: “You are so stupid. You can’t even remember to empty the dishwasher. I balance work, the kids’ schedules, and my expectations at home. You basically do nothing all day.”

Alternative: Describe your own feelings and needs rather than your partner’s.

“I’m feeling unappreciated in our relationship when you don’t do the chores you agreed to. Can we brainstorm a way to fix this?”


Defensiveness:
This is typically done in response to criticism. In this example, my husband is responding.

Example: “Well, you didn’t sweep and you promised you would do that yesterday!”

Alternative: Take responsibility for your part.

“I forgot to empty the dishwasher. I’m sorry. I can do it tonight.”


Stonewalling:
This is usually a response to contempt. The person who feels attacked will stop responding entirely.

Example: “Forget it. I can’t do anything right. I’m leaving.”

Alternative: Self-soothe, ask for a break, and reassure your partner that you will come back to the conversation soon.

“I’m feeling really overwhelmed by this conversation. I’m going to go for a run to collect my thoughts and then I can talk about this.”


If you recognize yourself in any of the four horsemen, don’t panic! All people have tough moments and make these communication mistakes – even therapists! We also have the option to change communication in our relationships. For more information on the four horsemen, you can visit The Gottman Institute website:

https://www.gottman.com/blog/the-four-horsemen-recognizing-criticism-contempt-defensiveness-and-stonewalling/

 

If you or someone you know needs couples’ counseling, Reverence Counseling would love to support you!

Feelings of Grief

Grief is pain, sadness, relief, even joy.

There’s no ‘wrong’ way to feel while grieving.

Grief is confusing.

We understand that it is painful and sad. We know it can be dark.

What’s harder to understand are the feelings we don’t think “should” be part of the grieving process. At various times, grief can involve any emotion; sadness can be colored by relief or excitement, calm or even joy. Those are natural. Those are necessary. There’s no wrong way to feel during grief.


What causes grief?

Grief is when you mourn a loss. It can be caused by the death of a loved one, but that’s not the only thing that triggers grief. You can lose someone to distance when they move away. You can lose someone when a relationship ends.

It also doesn’t have to be a person. People feel grief when they age or move from one stage of life to another. A child and parent can both experience grief when the child leaves home. The so-called “mid-life crisis” is in many ways a grieving for opportunities lost or a perceived lack of time left in life. Losing a job, failing a class, not meeting expectations you’ve made for yourself and more are all things that can trigger grief.


Stages of grief

Many of us have heard of the “5 Stages of Grief”: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

In popular culture, the stages of grief are often seen as a progression; you complete one stage and move to the next. The reality is that these stages are not necessarily linear. You can move from one to another and back again. Even “acceptance” is not final.

So don’t be surprised when you get angry or in denial in your grief later in the process, when you felt you’d already gotten past that. It’s OK.

Talking to a therapist or a trusted person can certainly help if you feel stuck or if your grief is having a negative effect on other people or areas of your life. But the stage of the grieving process you’re in is not necessarily a reflection of whether you’re grieving in a healthy way.


The shame of joy

Many people are ashamed when they feel a positive emotion during grief.

Not only is it OK to feel those positive emotions, it’s a necessary part of the process.

There are positive and negative aspects to every situation and relationship in our lives. The change that sparked your grief set you on a new path, and that path has opportunities for new connections, relationships and experiences.

When a mentor or parent dies, you lose their wisdom, guidance and security. You also grow into new independence and often confidence as you navigate the world without them. You appreciate the valuable things they taught you, and you can celebrate your growth.

When a child leaves the home, you lose many of the pressures of parenthood and gain new freedom.

This is not a call to “look on the bright side” of the situation. You can’t force it. But when these positive feelings come (and they will), try to embrace them along with the negative feelings in your grief.

It is not disrespectful of what you lost to embrace what you’ve gained. We are complex creatures with complex emotions, and that is what makes us beautiful.

Emotional Intimacy in Relationships

We are biologically wired to connect with others. Human beings are a social species, and we have a need to belong and bond with others. To foster and maintain these relationships, emotional intimacy is essential. There is not one exact definition, but basically it boils down to being able to connect deeply with others by expressing feelings, being vulnerable, and making space for another individual’s feelings and vulnerability.

When we feel safe enough to share our deepest thoughts and emotions (negative and positive), along with our hopes and dreams, we cultivate an environment of trust and sense of security. We feel close and connected, and emotionally supported. It is when we can be emotionally intimate that we can fully be ourselves.

It takes effort and dedication to implement emotional intimacy in our relationships, and sometimes it can be easier said than done. Low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, personal and family history, for example, can make it difficult to be emotionally intimate with another person. However, research supports the idea that being connected to others is a way to help heal those exact problems. Social connection allows us to regulate our emotions, heighten our self-esteem, and decrease anxiety and depression.

If emotional intimacy is hard for you or someone you care about there are ways to learn and practice. Therapy is a great place to start, whether that be individual or couples/family counseling. The therapeutic relationship allows connection, communication and support which creates an environment to heal and gain the confidence to create meaningful relationships with others.

St. Michael’s Family Night

Mindfulness

Mindfulness skills are about being in control of your mind rather than letting your mind be in control of you. The two core mindfulness skills include the What and How skills.

What

Observe

  • Notice what is happening. Notice thoughts, feelings, and sensations and anything else that is happening. Simply be aware. It’s what you feel, see, taste, touch, and hear without labeling it, reacting to it, or judging it.
    Proverbs 4:30–My son, attend to my words: incline thine ear unto my sayings.

Describe

  • Simply put words to what you have just observed by just sticking to the facts of what has been experienced and without adding interpretations or assumptions.
    Matthew 13:13–Therefore I speak to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing hear not, neither do they understand.

Participate

  • Participate fully in the current experience, while letting go of self-consciousness, judgements, or fear. This skill is about throwing ourselves fully into any activity while letting go of fear or self-consciousness.

How

One-Mindfully

  • Do one thing at a time with full awareness and attention. We are a culture of “multitaskers,” however research teaches us that our brains cannot multitask, but instead our brains rapidly alternate between tasks, which makes us less effective and less efficient. Behaving one-mindfully opens us up to fully experiencing the beauty and joy in life’s smallest moments.
    James 5:13–Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms.

Non-Judgmentally

  • Eliminate judgements. This can be a challenge, as we tend to naturally evaluate or label things as, “good,” or, “bad.” You can’t go through life without making judgments; your goal is to catch and replace them with descriptions, so you have more control over your emotions. When you find yourself judging, don’t judge your judging.
    James 4:12–There is one lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy: who art thou that judgest another?

Effectively

  • Do what works. This skill is about ‘doing what works vs. sitting on your hands and wishing things were different. Remember to act effectively we have to first know our goal, and once we have a clear goal you can choose the most effective way to reach that goal.
    1 Corinthians 3:10–According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon.

Activity: Mindfulness of Song (“Here I am Lord,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zBg-yDhM2KY&list=PLhLTwjVZDp7EwGq3TLarNSATS4V902xUn&index=3)

Challenge: Practice mindfulness skills, the next time you participate in communion.

 


Emotional Regulation

We as people often have intense emotions that are difficult to manage, such as anger, shame, depression, or anxiety. Difficulties controlling these emotions often lead to problematic behaviors that affect you and those around you.

STOP

Strong emotions make us vulnerable to impulsive behaviors which often result in ineffective solutions. The STOP skill helps to create space between our emotions and actions and allows us more time to contemplate an effective response.

 

Stop Do not just react. Freeze! Do not move a muscle! Your emotions may try to make you act without thinking. Stay in control!
Take a Step Back Take a step back from the situation. Let go. Take a deep breath. Do not let your feelings make you act impulsively. 
Observe Notice what is going on inside and outside you. What is the situation? What are your thoughts and feelings? What are others saying or doing?
Proceed Mindfully Act with awareness. In deciding what to do, consider your thoughts and feelings, the situation, and other people’s thoughts and feelings. Think about your goals. Ask Wise Mind: Which actions will make it better or worse? 

 

Discussion:

Matthew 26:36-39–Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto the disciples, Sit ye here, while I go and pray yonder. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and very heavy. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: tarry ye here, and watch with me. And he went a little further, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt.

  • In what must have been one of Jesus’ more overwhelming moments (knowing his capture and death was approaching), how did he similarly use the STOP skill?
  • What are moments of our own, when we might want to use this skill, or do we perhaps wish we had used this skill?  How would things have ended differently if you did you this skill?

 


Interpersonal Effectiveness

When your goal is to clearly express what you want or need, remember, DEAR MAN:

Describe 

Express

Assert 

Reinforce

 (Stay) Mindful 

Appear Confident 

Negotiate

 

Describe Describe the situation. Stick to the facts.

 

“You have gotten home late the last three times you have spent time with your friends.”

Express Express your feelings using “I” statements (“I feel . . . ,” “I would like . . .”). Stay away from “you should . . .”

 

“When you get home late, I feel worried about you.”

Assert Ask for what you want or say “no” clearly. Remember, the other person cannot read your mind. 

 

“I would like it if you came home on-time or let me know if you are running behind.”

Reinforce Reward (reinforce) the person ahead of time by explaining the positive effects of getting what you want. 

 

“It would be easier to trust you with more freedom, if you stuck to the curfew agreement.”

Mindful Keep your focus on what you want, avoiding distractions. Come back to your assertion over and over, like a “broken record.” Ignore attacks.

 

“I understand that your friends may have different rules in their home, and I would still like you to do your best to get home on-time and call if you will be late.”

Appear Confident Make (and maintain) eye contact. Use a confident tone of voice—do not whisper, mumble, or give up and say “Whatever.”

 

Do not mumble under your breath or roll your eyes.

Negotiate Be willing to GIVE TO GET. Ask for the other person’s input. Offer alternative solutions to the problem. Know when to “agree to disagree” and walk away.

 

“If you can do this for the next month, I will feel more comfortable letting you stay out later for prom.”


Source: Linehan, M. (2015). Dbt skills training handouts and worksheets. The Guilford Press.

Radical Acceptance – Where’s the fun in that?!

If you ask those who know me well, “accepting,” is not likely a word that will make it into the conversation.  Just ask my parents, who while I was growing up (and probably still to this day), might describe me as stubborn.  So why am I the person speaking on the topic of Radical Acceptance?  Well let me tell you a little secret…Radical Acceptance, by no means, insinuates that I like what I must accept.  It is not passive, and it is not approval.

I, like many, have spent portions of my life feeling angry, resentful, and stuck in my unwilling to move past perceived injustices—because, “dang it, it’s just not fair, and I will remain fussy until God, karma, or the Universe makes it right!”  For me, not merely acceptance, but Radical Acceptance, has been my liberator.

Whatever the painful or frustrating reality may be—chronic pain, difficult relationships with family, abuse, or addiction—until we accept what is, we cannot create change in our lives.  Wanting my life, relationships, or circumstances to be what they are not, has created more suffering than change.  The term ‘radical’, in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) means “all the way, complete, and total.  Not until I stopped dragging my feet and fully accepted my life as it is, was I able to find freedom, peace, and even joy, in a life in which I want things I do not have and I feel things I do not want to feel.

My hope for you all is that you can find the same!