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Light in the Darkness: From Hiding to Healing

Light in the Darkness: From Hiding to Healing

Growing up in the church, one of the scariest passages of the Bible always was, “everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken,” (Matthew 12:36). Shoooooot. Pack it up now! This verse gets me every time.

Another verse that has brought me pause over the years, “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open,” (Luke 8:17).

If you’re doing something you shouldn’t be doing, this verse can be very unsettling. If something was done against you, this verse might bring a little hope- justice is coming, sooner or later.

I heard a friend of mine preach once on the above passage from Luke. He encouraged us to bring our own “stuff” to the light, because it’s less painful than someone else unexpectedly shining a light on your poor decisions. But either way, by virtue of being caught or by means of confession, the light comes to expose the darkness in our lives.

When things get exposed, it’s a deeply painful time…for a lot of people. For the doer of deeds (who often feel powerless, vulnerable and angry), for victims/anyone directly involved, for people who know them, for those similarly wounded, for on-lookers about town. Even though flipping the lights on in the darkness is much needed and right, exposure of wrong brings a heavy weight.

But, in the kingdom of God, the exposure of wrong brings opportunity for redemption. It means healing is now possible, where only sickness reigned before.

“Everything exposed by the light becomes visible — and everything that is illuminated becomes a light,” (Ephesians 5:13).

Everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 

Think of it this way: (Fill in the blank) happened. And rather than it be a constant marker of shame and contempt in my life, it is now its own light in the darkness. It now illuminates the path to healing, redemption and restoration. 

The same friend of mine who preached the sermon on how everything hidden will be exposed later had his own hidden deeds brought into the light. He’s still my friend. And I’m thankful to be standing in the light with him again. Since his darkness was brought into the light, and he agreed to stay in the light, he opened himself to healing and restoration. 

What was once darkness has become illuminated and now lights the way for other people in darkness to find hope.

If you have been wronged, there is hope for you. If you have been caught in the act of doing wrong, there is hope for you, too. 

No one needs to stay where they are– in the darkness. A better outcome awaits, even though the light can be scary and hard to adjust to at first.

God is there. And you’ll find more friendly faces than you’d expect, each holding their own light.

Click here for more info about how therapy can help you find the light, in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

From Gold Digger to Streets of Gold

From Gold Digger to Streets of Gold: Why Kanye’s redemption story should give you hope.

The world is talking about the fate of Kanye West’s soul. (As if the world has any say-so.) His recently released album is number one on iTunes: Jesus is King. Yes indeed.

Until recently, Kanye’s life has been a picture of hedonism; following his own pleasure at break-neck speed. He’s excelled at fame, at music, at creating a fashion brand, at attracting a beautiful wife. He has been out-spoken about his views of sexuality (even hosting a porn award show), how he felt larger than God. All of that was really working for him. Until it wasn’t. 

Reportedly, Mr. West turned to gospel music after he felt like God spoke to him that his mental illness would be healed through gospel music, and his conversion came as a result of investing his time and talents into Jesus-exalting gospel music. Kanye has spoken out about his bipolar diagnosis and what it’s like to live with the disease in an interview that can be seen here. He’s also been very candid about his addiction to pornography, and early exposure at age 5.

Why should this give us all hope?

Basically every aspect of it.

  • Currently, he couldn’t be any more outspoken that the lifestyle he pursued before he gave his life to Christ was instead running and ruining his life, but now he is choosing another Person to be in charge. No matter what you have done or how far you’ve gone, forgiveness in available. Kanye reminds us that it’s never too late to change your life.
  • Kanye is not the first surprising conversion that people doubted. The Apostle Paul was also met with a lot of distrust initially after he encountered Jesus on his way to persecute Christians (see Acts 9 and beyond). God has been in the business of jaw-dropping life change for quite some time. Kanye reminds us that God will scandalously hand out grace where you least expect it.
  • Kanye’s bipolar diagnosis is all-too relatable for a lot of us. If not bipolar, most of us are someone or personally know someone who struggles with a mental disorder. Yet, Kanye is not letting his diagnosis be the defining factor in his life. Christ is bigger. This doesn’t mean his struggle is any less real. (Though I am not here to argue the merits or likelihood of his healing, if that is what he believes has happened). But he is choosing, and we can choose, to not let our days be anxiety-centric, depression-centric, bipolar-centric, etc. Kanye reminds us that there are better measures of our days than just how big of a factor our mental health has been in our waking hours.
  • Pornography addiction is real and destructive, and Kanye has moved from championing its use to pursuing freedom and championing a healthier view of sexuality. It is not an easy habit or addiction to break, however, a new way of life is available for those who desire to be free. (For what it’s worth, I’m really loving the deep, narrative-based work of Andrew Bauman on this particular topic.) Kanye reminds us that long-held sin patterns don’t have to define our lives.

The bottom line in this moment of culture is this: no one is too far gone for life changing redemption. God’s grace can find you…no matter what. 

If you struggle with a mental health diagnosis or an addiction, counseling can be a great step in pursuing a better life for yourself. If you want to know more about God’s grace, find a local church to go to on Sunday.

Today is a great day to write a new redemption story. 

FAQ: What kind of therapy do you do?

Frequently Asked Questions: What kind of therapy do you do?

I get asked this question all of the time, both socially and professionally. The short answer is: it depends. It depends on who the client is and what he/she/they want to work on in counseling.

These days my counseling practice is comprised of about 1/2 individual clients and 1/2 couples.

For individual sessions, I mainly pull from 2 therapeutic frameworks. And which I use depends on client choice and what I feel is therapeutically most beneficial.

  1. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
    If you’ve ever heard of a therapy type, it’s probably this one. CBT is great for issues like anxiety, depression, anger, stress management, etc. What you say to yourself (self-talk) effects your mood, which effects what you do or don’t do in a given moment or day. Easy example: if you wake up thinking about how much you have to do today, you feel overwhelmed, and you may drag on throughout the day. Thoughts —> Feelings —> Behavior. If you’d like to feel better or change a behavior, then changing the way you think about a situation is a good point to break up the negative chain reaction.
    So CBT is a process of learning to catch your negative self-talk, evaluate it and categorize it, and come up with alternatives that are more healthy and balanced, resulting in a mood shift and behavior change.
    CBT is one of the most widely researched and statistically validated therapy methods.
    CBT is good for you if:
    you are your own worst critic
    you have difficulty managing your stress level
    you have a lot of anxiety or worry
    you are in a season of depression or feeling down
  2. EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing)
    If you’ve ever seen therapy on TV, this is NOT what you’ve seen. If you expect counseling to be a conversation where you give updates about your life and your therapist says sometimes moderately insightful things (ha) that pertain to what you’re reporting…EMDR is not going to match the picture of the therapy process that you have in your head!
    I say it all the time: EMDR IS WEIRD! But…as they say, the proof is in the pudding and I love watching the process unfold with clients.
    EMDR accesses the adaptive information processing system in your brain. Ideally, all of your life events (positive or negative) should end up properly filed in long-term memory where you should have to intend to recall them. When negative events happen, your brain can sometimes have difficulty properly filing them, resulting in them causing maladaptive responses over time. Essentially, EMDR takes a negative experience, reduces your mental, emotional and physiological disturbance about the event, and helps you associate a more adaptive truth with the event.
    Easy example: you were in a bad car crash on your way home from high school and now every time you pass a school zone you get panicky. This would be an indication that your brain hasn’t properly filed away the experience.
    EMDR is great for client’s who feel like they have one or more areas of life where “the past is too present.” You may be acting out of old relational hurts, or unresolved traumas.

For couples sessions, I draw from a few therapy frameworks, which really depends greatly on what issue the couple wishes to work on. Most couples need help empathizing with the other, and help focusing more on heart than behavior. People often think they need communication help (and sometimes they do) but it’s more often about deeper issues than that. I draw from a few attachment-based therapy models, namely emotionally focused therapy and imago therapy.

If any of this sounds like something you’d like to hear more about, ask away! I can be contacted here.

In person sessions are available at my Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge offices.

The Beauty of Together

The Beauty of Together: The importance of face-to-face therapy in an era when technology is king.

Recently I saw a commercial which featured famed Olympic athlete Michael Phelps talking about his transformative experience in counseling. It’s truly a remarkable plug for therapy coming from such a prominent figure. He states something to the effect of: his success wasn’t enough. He was unhappy. He needed to get out of his own head and learn to truly connect with those around him. Beautiful. Awesome. I love this message so much!

The commercial was actually for an app-based therapy service where you can pay a flat fee per week and instantly have access to a licensed therapist at your finger tips through messages or video. (And for the record, Mr. Phelps didn’t say whether he used this method of therapy vs. a traditional therapy model.)

You’re never going to hear me discourage anyone from getting the help they need, by whatever form they have access to. I’m sure for some, an app-based therapy service is a wonderful means for therapeutic support. But I think we need to be careful when considering options that further encourage our connection to the outside world to be primarily through our smart phones.

The research is clear that our connection with our smart phones and particularly our connections with each other through social media lead to increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. It’s this simple: unfettered access to unlimited people on our electronic devices is not the answer to our deepest needs for connection and closeness. What we all need to feel truly known and connected is to put down our phones and connect with those around us.

Therapy is no different. There is no substitute for a face-to-face connection in therapy.

Here are seven truths worth considering when it comes to face-to-face therapy:

  1. The relationship itself is healing.
    Despite what therapy model a therapist uses (and I have written about my preferred models here) a degree of healing, freedom, and forward progress comes through your connection with your therapist. This is why I always say in intake sessions, “sometimes finding the right therapist for you can feel a bit like test-driving cars. If, after this session, for whatever reason you feel like you’re ready for therapy but you’re not sure if I’m the right fit for you, then I’ll work with you to find someone who would better meet your needs.” The quality of the connection between you and your therapist goes a long way to foster health and healing in the therapy process.
  2. When you’re really upset, you are probably going to want someone in the room.
    One thing that’s unusual about being a therapist is that people cry with me…a lot. Having someone stay present with you in your pain can be really validating. Someone else is seeing first hand the hurt you’ve experienced. It’s remarkable what healing a silent presence can bring to deep sorrow. And I’m not talking about the silence of your phone between text alerts.
  3. Many issues aren’t safe to handle over the phone. For therapists, the safety of the people we work with is priority. The reality is that safety issues regarding mental health and physical health may need to be addressed with some clients. There are certain safety precautions that simply can not be provided when you’re not in the same room as someone.
  4. A therapist models healthy interaction with others. A common reason people present for counseling is anxiety, specifically social anxiety. While doing the work of therapy, a good therapist will be demonstrating first hand what healthy and proper connection with others looks like: listening skills, attunement cues, body language, proper question asking, and more. To experience a reduction in anxiety while in the presence of another live human goes a long way in overcoming social anxiety. The same can be said for depression. The therapy room functions as a safe place to try new things socially which can result in a boost of confidence as well as a reduction of symptoms.
  5. There is value in actually getting dressed and having some place to be.
    While having a therapy session in your pj’s may sound inviting to some, for those struggling with depression for instance, there is intrinsic value in having something to do that will get you outside of our isolation, even if just for an hour.
  6. A lot goes on in the therapy room that can be missed on the screen.
    Body language, quick glances to others, etc. as well as physical signs of health or lifestyle. If you’re a hundred pounds over weight, this is an important thing for your therapist to know and see. Does a client appear bored in session? Is the client subtly laughing at something they said to the therapist? Turning red? Breathing quickly like they’re starting to get nervous? I need to observe that and respond accordingly. You can’t always trust people to report that accurately or even to know that type of physiological or non-verbal sign needs to be reported to a therapist.
  7. Your story deserves to be experienced, not just read or heard through a medium.
    Our wounds occur in relationships. Our healing comes through relationships as well. And our deep hurts and negative experiences deserve more than a technology-based therapy process. They deserve face to face, eyeball to eyeball, soul to soul care and connection.

As stated above, my intention is never to discourage anyone from getting the help that they have access to. If you live in a remote location or have some sort of extenuating circumstance, a media-based therapy relationship may best fit your needs. But for the rest of us, there is no substitute for face-to-face connection. We don’t need more media based relationships through our phones. We are all desiring and deserving to be known in person!

If you’re ready for a face-to-face therapeutic relationship, contact me today! Offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

What You Should Know About Teens and Counseling

What You Should Know About Teens and Counseling

During the school year, my caseload includes a steady stream of teenage girls. (On average, I see around 20 clients a week: 1/3 individual adults, 1/3 couples and 1/3 teenage girls.) I didn’t used to like working with this population but in recent years, they’ve become some of my favorite clients!

Adolescent girls are a mystery to most everyone (including themselves) and I’m not saying I’m the teen girl whisperer, but for a variety of reasons, we often seem to be a great therapeutic match.

If you have an adolescent living under your roof, you really should consider getting her established with a therapist. You may be one of the few households that never experiences a “crisis of teen girl proportions,” but if/when it does, it’s great to already have a relationship with a therapist so you don’t have to start at ground zero in the therapy process. Perhaps even more importantly, a lot of situations that don’t necessarily meet the criteria for “crisis” arise weekly in the teenage world, and it’s beneficial to have another adult to be able to connect with your teen in the midst of these tumultuous years.

This is 2018. Counseling stigmas are a thing of the past. Gone are the days when only “troubled teens” needed therapy. “Great kids” benefit from therapy, too! Even well-adjusted, high-preforming, friendly teens could benefit from therapeutic support. (You’d be surprised at the level of stress being a “great kid” can bring on an adolescent!) The bottom line is: you’re never going to regret providing your teenager with another healthy adult point of connection.

Topics that I regularly address in counseling with my teenage clients:

  • Social Anxiety
  • School Stress/Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Communication Skills (communicating with peers and/or parents)
  • Managing a Bipolar diagnosis
  • Coping with ADHD and learning disabilities
  • Gender Identity Issues
  • Bullying
  • Sexuality topics…many and varied!
  • Suicidal thoughts and cutting
  • Strained family relationships
  • Sexual trauma
  • Stress associated with divorce and blended family issues

Here are a few other reasons you may have not considered as to why it’s good to get your teen in therapy…particularly with yours truly!

  1. I don’t know your family. I don’t have any loyalties to anyone. I offer a fresh pair of eyes to question long-term patterns of communication, secrets, expectations, etc. And your teen can speak to me freely about her family without fear of offending me or hurting my feelings, or concern that her disdain for MawMaw’s cookies will ever make its way around the family rumor mill. (Also…bring me MawMaw’s cookies! I’ll eat them!)
  2. I’m relatable. The window may be closing, but currently I still seem to pass for what the kids refer to as “cool.” Even yesterday, I had a new high-school aged client guess that I am 27 years old. (Which is to say, I now have a new favorite client.) It’s a great gift to your adolescent to provide a healthy adult voice (that still seems relevant) to help them navigate tough choices, discuss school stress and friendship drama, and begin to figure out who they want to be in the future.
  3. I don’t have an agenda. What should your student major in at college? I don’t care. Should your budding adult attend senior skip day? I don’t care. Should your 7th grader go to the dance with Person A or Person B? I DON’T CARE! 🙂
    What I DO care very much about is that your teenager is developing the skills necessary to connect with the part of herself that is her own compass, and make decisions that feel solid and good to her, all the way through her being. It’s not that I’m disinterested in what’s going on. I am simultaneously highly interested in my clients’ lives while maintaining a lack of worry or responsibility for their decisions. This is what (most) parents are generally unable to do, but it’s a stance that is really helpful for teenagers.
    Since I don’t have an agenda, you’d really be surprised with what all I’ll hear from your teenager. Giving your teen a relationship with another healthy adult will never be a bad thing. They may not open up to you at this point, but it’s definitely preferable if they can open up to someone. And, what is more, a person who is bound by confidentiality and a code of ethics and principles which will guide responses in a healthy and careful way.
  4. I’ve heard it all before. You can’t shock me. Many have tried. Few have succeeded. I won’t give examples here, because there are two distinct types of people reading this post: people who don’t need examples and people who don’t need their minds blown. 🙂 But suffice it to say, I’ve been counseling for over a decade and it’s easy to lose the forest for the trees when it comes to shocking disclosures, but there’s always a bigger picture that needs to be addressed carefully. I often help families navigate what just seems and feels like a big deal and what is actually a big deal needing extra attention.

I have offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I’d love to set up a time after school to discuss how counseling could benefit a teenager that you love! Contact me here to schedule an appointment!

FOOTNOTES/REFERRALS:
If you are reading this and you have a teenage boy under your roof, you may be thinking to yourself, “Wow…Allison sounds perfect for my teenage son! Does she see teenage boys or only girls?”
To you I say: Maybe. I see adult males all the time. But there’s something about teenage male sexuality that I find to be best addressed with a male professional counselor. My FAVORITE referral for male teenagers (and lots of others…he’s a great therapist): Joel Gilbert. Joel is an excellent therapist, very easily relatable and very wise.

For the record, I do see adult males for individual work. What a difference a frontal lobe makes!

If you’re reading this and you wonder if I see kids younger than 13, the answer is, “no way!” For kids, I gladly refer to an awesome therapist named Christine Varnado. She does amazing work and kids are obsessed with her!

Step-parent Like a Pro: Equality without comparison

Step-Parent Like A Pro: Equality Without Comparison

So far in our step-parenting blog series we have looked at the very important role that step-parents play with their step-children, and specific ways you could add to your step-parenting skillset.

This week we are going to look at how to establish equality among step-siblings without the pitfall of comparison.

Some blended households have kids from both parents living under the same roof. (And God bless you in all your endeavors.) When that is the case, the main pain points often surround discipline and expectations being unequal between step-siblings. But, as is often the case, what works in a traditional nuclear family can still provide a good framework for blended families.

The traditional advice of parenting siblings is to set discipline and expectations for each kid individually, based on their own personality and strengths. This is true for blended families as well.

What doesn’t need to be case by case is the set of rules for how you treat each other.

There doesn’t need to be inequality in attitude expectations, language that can be used, signs of respect, etc. These should be seen as household rules and everyone at the house should follow them.

Handing down consequences.

  • Unless you’ve been around for a *very* long time (5 years or more maybe?) or you entered the scene when the child is very young (before Kindergarten, I’d say), then I feel strongly that discipline and consequences should either be handed down jointly or by the birth parent, when possible. It’s not always possible because perhaps you provide a lot more face-to-face parental contact than the birth parent (like they work off-shore, for example) but when possible, let the birth parent take the hit and handle the conflict.
  • You can join in and support the birth parent when appropriate (silent presence is okay, too), but you’re the support person here, not the one dropping the hammer. The step relationship by its very nature can sometimes be strained, so there is no sense in complicating it further, unless specifically requested by your spouse or you’ve been around a long enough time or came around when they child was very young to not be considered fully in the “step” role.
  • When it’s not possible for the birth parent to handle discipline, a pro-tip is to use “we” based, joining language to remind/gently correct: “Let’s get our chores done before mom gets home so she won’t have to ask us about them!” Whenever possible, join your step-child, side by side, shoulder to shoulder. Not out of equality necessarily, but out of humility, comradery and openness.
  • Back the birth parent’s play. Even if you disagree. Even if you would have handled it differently with your kids. Don’t disagree in front of the kids about discipline. Kids will suss out this type of division so quickly and launch a full-scale ninja attack to play you guys against each other!
  • Support. Listen. Empower. This is the fun stuff. Be a cheer leader and not a task master.

Structuring Your Household

  • Steps or not, if the adults are at the top of the food chain at home, and the adults are seen loving each other and modeling a healthy relationship, the whole house runs better.
  • God’s design still works, whether biological parents or step. If the mom & dad figures of the house feel solid, the household feels solid. So don’t feel bad about prioritizing each other. And still yet, use creative solutions that keep anyone from feeling like attention and quality time are zero-sum games.
  • All kids want to feel close, to feel securely attached, like the have a solid place to belong. You can do your part to act as the salve to that wound and it just may be the most impactful role of your life.

No blog can be exhaustive of all the challenges faced by step-parents. If you have any specific questions or concerns regarding your household, feel free to reach out to me. We can set up a time to come up with a game plan together! I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker, Louisiana.

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Ask most any step-parent and they’ll tell you, “parenting my step-kids is harder than parenting my own kids.” What’s the reason for that? Well, in my opinion there are several variations of that answer but it all seems to come back to one thing: Fear.

Fear about judgement or criticism from the other birth parent. Fear about damaging the relationship with your step-child or with your significant other. Basically, fear about doing something wrong or rocking the boat in some way. (This idea of fear comes up a LOT with coparenting as well, which we will eventually get to in this series.)

Combining our awareness of how being a step-parent challenges us emotionally with the idea that households operate the best when they look as much like gracious families as possible, we will be able to unpack some concepts of how to handle step-parenting in a way that promotes a culture of grace and love in the house.

Last time, we examined the role of step-parent and why it’s such an awesome and unique role. This week, we’ll look at how to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent. How do you not just survive the job but knock it out of the park? We’ll look at hot to skillfully proceed in your role as step-parent and I’ll share some easy tips you can start today.

Considerations of Age

If you are a step-parent to older kids (I’ll call this 9th grade and above), your lane is to basically be the auxiliary adult. You just need to back up your spouse, and basically add peace, joy and stability to the household. You need to be WD-40! The fun uncle. If you have a different perspective on rules, routines, structure, you should absolutely express that…in private with your significant other. Your biggest opportunity for blessing is to encourage, support, champion, and provide positive stability. This is not the opportunity to strut your stuff and completely re-invent the rules.

If you’re a step-parent to younger kids, you will be a more integral part of developing the child’s story arc. Step-parents of younger kids intrinsically feel this weight. It shouldn’t be surprising if the child takes their (pre-verbal) angst out on the step-parent, as the symbol of all that is new and different in the family unit. A wise step-parent will understand that this is not personal, and use this as an opportunity to connect rather than recoil.

Considerations in Training

As a birth parent, it may be difficult to not get territorial, possessive or defensive about your kids and your parenting decisions. Feelings can easily get hurt in this context. Counseling support can absolutely be helpful if you’re in this predicament. The solution to this is often structural, and a trained eye can reshape and rebalance the household dynamic like only a non-emotionally invested outsider can.

As a step-parent, it may be confusing as to what your defined role is in terms of promoting a healthy family life and encouraging the kids to be his/her best “self” possible. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Be the type of partner who would never make your significant other feel like they have to make a lose/lose choice of partner vs. kids.
    • Cut down on the fear of there not being “enough” to go around.
    • There is plenty of room for both/and solutions in step-parenting. There is enough time in the day. There is enough love to go around. Open wide your heart and engage in your creative problem solving skills. Setting up the family for success in this way is a MAJOR win, and you can excel in this area by going out of your way to be the furthest thing from petty, needy and territorial. Be generous. Be patient. Just be cool! If you’re open handed, it’ll come back to you ten-fold.
  • Stay in your lane.
    • Clarity in the bounds of your role reduces fear of overstepping.
    • Don’t over-estimate your skill set in bringing peace and civility to a situation. Whatever the current dynamic of the family is when you arrive on scene, there are a lot of factors and causes for it. You’re not the chaos whisperer. You’re not Mary Poppins. You are not bringing healing to decades-long conflicts with your banana nut muffins!
    • Know your role. Observe. Keep your thoughts to yourself unless you’re asked. You’re here to make things easier in real, tangible ways.
  • You didn’t start the fire, but you can pick up a fire extinguisher.
    • You didn’t create these kids. You can’t re-create these kids. Put simply: Your step-kids are not your kinfolk. They have different aptitudes and attributes than your kinfolk have. You don’t need to walk around with the pressure that you have something to prove to the world through them.
    • Get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their potential and what really motivates them.
    • Work within the framework that has already been established before you arrived on scene.
    • Surely, you can teach helpful lessons and model positive character attributes. But you’re not going to remake your step-kids in your own image just because they’re at your house 50% of the time. Accept this and have reasonable expectations that everyone can agree to.
    • They are who they are. They will be who they will be. You can expect things from them like a respectful attitude, chores, honesty, etc. But you can’t expect straight A’s in math just because you were on math team.

Well…there you go! Step-parenting is the easiest job on the planet, eh? 😉 I sincerely hope you have found a tool or two to add to your toolbox of step-parenting skills! It’s a tricky role but you’ve got what it takes. I believe in you!

If you’d like to set up a time and work together to come up with a more specific plan for your household, just let me know! I have offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge.

Next we’ll look at achieving equality among step-siblings without the pitfall of comparison.

Step-Parent Like a Pro

Step-parent Like a Pro!

We all know this story. It’s a tale as old as time!

Boy meets girl. They fall in love. All is right in the world. Then thy abruptly and awkwardly figure out how to parent the children they bring with them from previous relationships.

Ok, ok…it may not be the stuff of Disney movies, but this is real life, people!

Most people enter into the realm of step-parent with confidence and excitement. The assumption is that your love for your significant other will bleed over to their kids without much intention or effort. People think, “I already have kids, so I know how to do this! I’ll just do the same I’m already doing.” Or, “I love kids so this will be no sweat…fun even!” Yet in reality, nothing will test the limits of your maturity, patience and resolve quite like learning to be a step-parent.

Conventional wisdom encourages us to prepare to have a healthy marriage and not just focus your efforts on having an awesome wedding. In the same vein, wise step-parents will focus on how to enter into this role like a pro and not just assume that the honeymoon phase will encompass the whole family.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be posting a handful of blogs on the topic of step-parenting and eventually on coparenting. Step-parenting is definitely not a “one size fits all” topic. What you’ll find in these posts are items to consider and make your own in the context of your family.

The two biggest factors that change your particular approach to step-parenting seem to be: 1) How old were your bonus children when you entered the scene? 2) Is there another biological parent in the mix? We will unpack how each factor requires a specific approach, and discuss a variety of considerations that will help you step-parent like a pro!

Tiny Pay, Huge Value

Although there are always special characteristics, needs and nuances to consider, I believe families are meant to look and operate like families, whether members be related by blood, marriage or adoption. While over the next few posts we will unpack concepts specific to step-families, these practical out-workings will simply be variations on this central concept.

I am a big fan of step-parents! It’s such a tough and often thankless job! I see so clearly a deep power and potency in the role of step-parent: to offer corrective relational experiences, to offer a fresh narrative to address past wounds or mis-beliefs about self or one’s place in the world, and to offer a less defensive, more objective, adult voice in the life of a child/teen.

It’s very, very difficult to get a child (or adult, for that matter) whose parents are divorced to articulate how that rift has affected them emotionally. This is in part because they are often taught to minimize the impact by well-intentioned family members, it’s normalized by society, or they don’t want to make their parents feel guilty. Another big reason why kids/adults don’t typically articulate the loss of the parental unit as “mom + dad together = family” (by means of break-up, never actually “together” or divorce) is because it may have happened when the child was pre-verbal. So in a sense, the grief is stuck in the brain in a place where it’s hard for language to get to. And it can be expressed in anxiety, anger, depression, or other attachment-based manifestations.

Now, I realize that a lot of people may not like to talk or think about that. But it is necessary to acknowledge this point because it highlights the importance of step-parenting skillfully and coparenting graciously.

These are fairly complex ideas to address concisely, since there are a number of presentations and points to consider.  So if you have specific questions or concerns, I’d love to sit down with you and come up with a game plan, whether from a parenting stand-point or a family therapy model.

Check back next week as we dive further in to the topic. You can even sign-up on the top right margin of this blog page to get the next blog emailed to you so you can make sure to not miss what’s next!

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit.

Whether it’s while we are scheduling our initial visit or during our intake session, I frequently get asked this question: How will I know if you’re the right counselor for me?

That is a FANTASTIC Question. The simple fact that you’re even asking that question is a good sign that you’re ready to do great therapeutic work!

RAPPORT

In an ideal world, you would strike gold on your first therapy appointment and have awesome rapport from “hello.” In reality, it may end up being more like test driving cars before deciding which make/model you actually want to end up with for the therapeutic journey.

Beginning therapy can be nerve-racking enough already. The last thing you need is to commit to counseling with someone who makes you feel like the therapeutic equivalent of buying a compact car when what you really need is enough leg room to stretch out.

So how can you tell that you’re on the right path with picking a therapist?

There are two questions you’ll want to keep in mind during your first session:

  1. Does your therapist give you the impression that she knows what she is talking about?
  2. Can you see yourself being comfortable sharing the ins and outs of your life with them?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” it may be an indicator that you haven’t quite found the right fit, therapeutically speaking. And that’s totally ok. There is someone for everyone. It’s not really even personal. Stay loyal to your goals and instincts and keep looking.

I truly want you to be with someone who feels “right” to you, and if something in your gut is telling you that it’s not me, I’d be more than happy to give you some great referrals who may better fit your needs and goals!

If the answer to both of the above questions is “yes,” it’s a good sign that you’re on the right path in finding a good therapeutic fit. You probably won’t be leaving the first session feeling like you’re 100% sure about your therapist. But you should have a good sense that you could see it working out well.

Other Considerations:

  • You shouldn’t leave your first session feeling judged, preached to, or confused.
  • You should have a good idea of how the therapy process works and an estimation of how long the process usually takes for goals similar to yours.
  • You should feel like your questions were answered and that you’ve found your way into the office of a person who isn’t shocked by what you’re saying.
  • You want to feel like you’re sitting with someone who has been down this road before.
  • Within a few sessions, you should understand what therapeutic framework your therapist uses and how your goals may be met through that framework.
  • Before too long, you’ll start to get a feel for the therapist’s personality and communication style.

For me, I like to be very collaborative in the therapeutic process. I want to hear how you respond to things. You’re a full partner in this process.

I like to be goal-directed in therapy. We will have a clear understanding of what you’d like to address in your past or change about your current life before we really begin the work of therapy. I’m going to want to know where exactly you want to go before we put the car in drive.

I tend to be very plain speaking and cut to the chase. And I shoot for discussing really difficult topics in really accessible ways.

With most people, I’m not exceedingly maternal. And no one has ever accused me of coddling.

Not every therapist is like me, and not every client wants my style. Stylistic preferences may be dealbreakers for some clients. And that’s 100% okay. Stay true to your gut and preferences!

Therapy Models:

Other people may care less about personality/style, but instead are looking for a specific therapeutic framework. Within a few sessions, you ought to be able to understand what therapeutic framework your therapist primarily uses and how it will fit with your goals.

For individual work, I typically use EMDR and CBT. For couples work, I tend to use more of an EFT approach (though I am less model driven with couple work than individual work). To me, the lack of a strong therapeutic framework can lead to an endless string of putting out fires in your personal life, instead of addressing root causes. I find these therapeutic models to be the best fit both for my strengths as a therapist and for the types of clients that I see in my practice.

The bottom line is: the therapy process should work for YOU. You owe it to yourself to find the right person for you, your personality and your needs. Trust your gut and your instincts. You know what “yes” feels like to you, and a good therapist will always support that, even if it means you end up in someone else’s office.

Check out this article for additional FAQ’s about my practice and therapy in general. If you have any specific questions for me regarding therapy or my practice, please contact me here! I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker, Louisiana.

Accidental Disrespect

Portrait of a couple

Accidental Disrespect

Are You Accidentally Disrespecting the Man In Your Life?

I’ll tell it to you like this: It’s hard to be married to a marriage therapist. Yet, my husband does it very well.

This is an example of our lives that happened THIS WEEK. Unvarnished. Unedited. This is real life with me.

Wednesday night, we went to a crawfish boil with our small group at church. It was awesome.

On our way home, my husband, Chad, realized he left his Apple Watch with our friend, who kindly took it off of his wrist while he had nasty crawfish hands. We considered turning around but we were already about half an hour away from the party and our son was quickly losing his pleasant personality, ready for bed. I got to thinking, texted our friend, and made a plan for me to drive to her work during my lunch break.

Later on, I was about to hop in the shower and I asked Chad off-handedly to get me a towel from the linen closet. He replied with an unexpected and frustrated, “You know you ask me to do stuff for you ALL THE TIME?” <Scowl>

I was instantly very irritated. I didn’t want to get into right before bed, and one of us got me a towel. I really don’t remember whom.

Flash forward to the following morning. He snoozed through his 5:30am alarm for the *second* morning in a row. I was so irritated! I didn’t need to get up until 7:00am. And once I’m up, I’m UP. Second morning in a row. I laid there, fuming, for a few minutes. Angrily huffing…probably in a “kinda cute” way. I was intentionally flopping around like a fish out of water, being annoying. Eventually I got up and went to the bathroom. While in there, I remembered how irritated I was about the towel issue the night before.

I decided 5:36am was the best time to address this issue. So genius! (I am a marriage therapist, after all.) A few moments later, I flopped back into bed and announced, “Hey. I’m mad about last night when you said that I ask you to do stuff for me all the time. You don’t ask me to do stuff for you all the time because I do things for you without being asked. Like driving out of my way on my lunch break to get your Apple Watch that you forgot last night. Nobody had to ask me to do it. I just decided to do it to be nice and helpful. And you couldn’t walk 10 steps to get me a towel.” Suddenly, he decided he wasn’t sleepy anymore, and got out of bed to get ready for work. Why, though?? I was being so pleasant. Weird. (At least One of us was exercising some sound mind and self-control.)

Later that morning, he sent me the following text, verbatim:

When I said, “you always ask me to do things,” I just meant when I’m in the middle of a task, and then you asked for something, I have to stop what I’m doing to do that.
I don’t mean to minimize what you do for me.

To which, I skillfully responded:

I can actually see how that can feel disrespectful of what you’re doing and I’m sorry. I didn’t think about that.

So…as you can see, I’m very easy to live with and practice what I preach 100% of the time!

The truth is that I hadn’t even realized that he was doing anything when I asked him to get me a towel. I was just focused on my own need and hadn’t really paid attention to anything going on for him.

This whole scenario served as a CLEAR reminder that as women, we often unknowingly disrespect the men in our lives. And when disrespected, instead of articulating their feelings in the moment, they often respond in anger, irritation or frustration. Most men will NEVER state that the felt disrespected, especially for these “smaller” infractions. To articulate that feeling is like a double hit to the ego: they feel like they’d be jerks to demand respect and they feel winey to bring it up.

While this couldn’t be further form reality as far as I’m concerned, it’s the roadblock that most men run into.

The problem then becomes that these “minor” infractions of disrespect go unaddressed, and instead of just magically dissolve, they actually accumulate over time and cause tension and walls. Sadly, when combined with the fact that most men feel like a failure a home, this encourages the men in our lives to shut down, not communicate and build resentments.

It wouldn’t be a fun exercise, but it would be enlightening, if the next time your man responds in irritation with something, ask him if he feels disrespected. Did you low-grade correct him? Second guess his opinion or judgement? Interrupt a task or project? Ignore his feelings?

Your question will surprise him, but his answer will surprise you even more. Simply listen, don’t justify, minimize or argue, and start to come up with a game plan to keep these types of unintended disrespects at bay. He may or may not thank you for it verbally, but you’ll all be better off for using your words to honor and respect your man rather than inadvertently chip away at what you’re working hard to build!

If this is a struggle for you in your relationship, let’s talk about it! I can be found here. and in my counseling offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Beautiful photo by: Thanasis Zovoilis