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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

Be Kind to Your Hurt Places

Be Kind to Your Hurt Places

I don’t know about you, but I have several situations, both in my personal life and my professional life, that are simply in the midst of hard times. They are situations that are not “good” yet. Healing hasn’t fully occurred (or even begun in some situations). The pain is still ongoing. Confusion is still abundant. People are still in the thick of it.

Part of my own work is to learn to be kind to my hurt places. It’s so tempting to want to rush to the resolution; to find the silver lining; to white knuckle ourselves into being on the other side of the pain.

The problem with that is, it’s not very honoring to our wounds when we suppress the negative emotions just to feel better. And what is more, I think we kid ourselves if we think our suppression of these emotions won’t crop up in some other unhealthy or maladaptive way in our life. Suppression always has a hidden cost.

Sometimes though, things are so bad that it’s not even possible to minimize the hurt.

For times like these, we need to sit in our hurt and honor the brokenness that is there. It takes a lot of courage and it can be very scary to feel that. But it’s the only way to true wholeness. While we don’t need to let emotions be our master, we have to listen to them for guidance. I’m not even sure that there are “negative” emotions as much as they are all just created equally, and we need to feel all of them in order to be whole. There are some emotions that are easier to feel that others, but all emotions were created by God, so they are all important for us to acknowledge and experience. We need to be ok with our humanity and part of that is learning how to accept being in process; not rushing past the “negative” to find the resolution.

I can’t get these two bible verses out of my mind. Part A (in bold below) of the verse is just as true and scriptural as Part B. While the whole verse represents the entirety of the truth that the author is trying to convey, it’s helpful to just pause before rushing to the end.

Psalm 34:19

A righteous man may have many troubles (but the Lord delivers him from them all).

Psalm 71:20

Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter (you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up).

If you don’t take a pause to feel the weight of Part A, Part B just feels cheap, powerless and almost like a taunt to our pain. Part A can bring up more questions than answers and that makes it uncomfortable. But there is goodness in feeling what we perceive to be negative emotions. And taking the time to truly feel them is the pathway to healing.

A song called New Wine by Hillsong Worship feels like it’s ministering to my deep places today. I’m not even sure exactly how it dovetails, but it goes together in my soul with what I’m feeling. Maybe it’ll feel that way for you, too.

Make me a vessel.

Make me an offering.

Make me whatever you want me to be.

I came here with nothing, but all you have given me.

Jesus, bring new wine out of me.

If you are wrestling with your hurt places today, know I am there with you! And if you’d ever like to set up a time to come process what you’re going through, I can be contacted here.

A Dude’s Guide to Valentines Day Success

A Dude’s Guide to Valentines Day Success

Valentines Day: How to Nail It.

Dear Men,

I have previously written about Valentines Day to your wives and girlfriends in an attempt to make things easier on you. I encouraged your wives to not be so specific about their expectations for VDay (and other holidays) and I have written to them to point out how they could indeed make this romantic holiday special for you, as well. After all, romance should not be one-sided. I wrote both of these to help you out, cut you some slack, and generally endear your significant others to you. You’re welcome. 🙂

Now, I want to turn my attention directly to you and offer you some specific help with this single purpose:
HOW YOU CAN ABSOLUTELY NAIL VALENTINES DAY THIS YEAR!

You’re probably thinking…Allison…it’s not even February 13th yet…why are we even talking about this? (A few of you are actually a step behind thinking…wait…when is Valentines Day this year?! It’s April 1st. Same as last year.)

Let’s be real; in all likelihood, your wife or long-time girlfriend sent you this post.

I know the drill. I will be brief. I will be direct. If you do what I say, I’ll set you up for *ahem* “success.”

Sure. You could skirt by another year with Circle K chocolate and a single rose while ordering Papa Johns from the comfort of your couch, fingers crossed that you’ve done enough for things to end in your favor. But WHAT IF you stepped your game up just a bit, and enjoyed the benefit of being the guy who gets bragged about on February 15.

Steps to NAILING Valentines Day:

  1. Start today. Listen, you don’t actually have to do anything today. You just need to casually mention, “I’ve been thinking about what we could do to celebrate Valentines Day together this year…” …and then don’t say anything else. Trust me. Less is more. All you have to do is plant the seed of expectation. Just the simple fact that it’s already crossed your mind will be enough to blow her mind. You are already winning! Congratulations.
  2. Make a reservation. To do ANYTHING. It doesn’t have to be dinner. It could be that you buy a movie ticket in advance. Schedule her an appointment to get her nails done. Sure…a reservation for dinner works, too. It doesn’t matter what it is really. Just schedule ANYTHING in advance. In this simple move you are silently conquering the “you just through this together on your way home from work” argument. It’s really the forethought and intentionality that matters. (And all the women said, “AMEN!”)
  3. Buy or do something that SHE enjoyed when you first met. This could be as simple as making a playlist of old songs she used to love, taking her to an old hangout, watching an old movie you saw together. It doesn’t have to be expensive for fancy. (But it’s fine if it is.) Just have it ready for the big day. It’s really just the thoughtfulness that gets you the points. My husband would say, “nostalgia is a real panty dropper.” So…you’re welcome for that. He’s a poet.
  4. Remove distractions. Whenever you plan to celebrate Valentines Day (the weekend before or after is totally a fine option, in my opinion, just as long as she knows in advance), do yourself a favor and remove distractions so your wife won’t get in her head. Take the kids to Grandma’s house. Hire a cleaning lady to make the house look nice. Think of whatever it that she seems to consider of urgent importance, and make sure that’s taken care of, so at the end of your celebration, she will be able to remain present with you, instead of hopping into all the busyness of household duties.

Ok…as simple as most of this is, it’s all that it will really take for her to think you’re 10 feet tall this Valentines Day. You can get fancy “above and beyond” all you want. But these elements will set you up for success: expectation, thoughtfulness, nostalgia. Have fun…make it your own. Rather than let Valentines Day give you a sense of dread or that you’ve failed…change it up just a bit and enjoy the fruit of your labor!

YOU’RE WELCOME. 🙂

Oh, and while I have you, men, let me tell you this: I have a very special, very specific “talk” that I give wives when it comes to libido and the importance of sex. I’m like Liam Neeson. I have a special set of skills, therapeutically speaking. If this is a pep talk, training, or treatment plan that you’d like your wife to have, send her my way! Here are some of my thoughts on the topic but I’d be glad to discuss a specific plan in my counseling office in Walker or Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Navigating Friendship

Navigating Friendship

“I’ve never had a best friend.”

This is a sentence that I hear quite often, from both men and women clients, strangers and people I know. It’s as if there’s a universal law that each person is supposed to have a “best friend” or even group of best friends. Who came up with that? And sometimes we think our spouse has to function as our best friend…but that’s a whole other blogpost!

It definitely seems like people think: if you don’t have a best friend, there’s something wrong with you, you’re missing out, and you’re doomed to loneliness and never quite fitting in.

I just think that’s a flat out lie.

Here are some truths to hold onto to combat that lie:

  • A LOT (and I mean a LOT) of people feel this way. If everybody got together who didn’t feel like they fit into a friend group, you’d have a really awesome friend group!
  • It’s a lot of pressure for yourself and your friends, to expect that you’ll have one “person.” Pro-tip: friendships usually don’t flourish under a lot of internal pressure. Open-handed is always the best approach to friendships.
  • It is a disservice to your friends when you thinking of them as not being your “ride or die” people. This is a comparison trap. It sounds like this, “Sure…I am friends with Caitlyn, but she’s better friends with Bianca than she is with me.” You’re not going to be everyone’s BFF but it doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy friendship with a person just because they have other/closer friends. It’s not a race. It’s not a game. It’s not a popularity contest. Adult friendship is just about people supporting one another and having a blast while doing it.
  • Friendships change according to seasons of life, and that’s ok. Your friendships will look different from high school to college. From college to early career. If you have young kids. If you’re taking care of sick parents. If you’ve moved. Friendships will evolve and look different for different logistical reasons, but in those times of change, focus on the meaningfulness of connection and not the amount of time spent together.
  • People probably feel closer to you than you realize. For whatever reason, I find that people discount potential friends and just see them as peripheral acquaintances. Who in your life are you overlooking? Who could you engage with more? Invest in more? Open up to more?
  • Revive the long forgotten. Have you ever lost touch with someone? Someone you don’t work with anymore? Someone you used to go to church with? Someone you used to be close to in school? People generally really enjoy reviving a friendship that has just grown a little cold on accident or by circumstance. Don’t be too cool to reach out to someone who you used to really enjoy! You’re probably Facebook friends with them already, so just reengage (through some means of non-social media based contact).

You probably have more friends than you give yourself credit for.

I am a proponent of The Smorgasbord Approach. This viewpoint instantly opens up some freedom and grace. Ruth’s Chris is great. But you’re going to get the same basic meal there every time you go. We’ve got to move away from the mentality that every meal needs to be Ruth’s Chris, and if it’s not, there’s something wrong with it. Quality of food notwithstanding (sorry, Golden Corral), enjoying variety in options and portion sizes and cuisines is a great thing! Don’t expect to get everything you want or “need” socially from one person. Enjoy different things from different people and all your bases will get covered! And you’ll have a blast doing it! If you insist on comparing the steak from Golden Corral to Ruth’s Chris and you’ll be routinely disappointed. It’s all about shifting what you’re looking for.

How to be a better friend:

There’s a scripture verse in Romans that states “Be devoted to one another in love and outdo one another in showing honor,” and another in Philippians 2 that says “consider other’s needs more important than your own.”  It sounds like friendship mattered to the early church so it should be important to us. Let’s figure out some ways to up our friendship game!

What can you bring to the table? Friendship isn’t all about trading things, but I do think it’s true that you’ve got to be a good friend to have good friends. There’s also this whole idea of equity in friendship that I find interesting. You don’t want to be the person who always needs favors or is always handing out favors. Keeping the “score” even keeps the relationship flowing smoothly. (I’m currently listening to The Science of Likability on Audible where they talk about this concept and I’m learning a lot!)

Be a good and patient listener. Get off of your phone. Don’t interrupt. Seek to really understand. Don’t bring everything back to you or be a one-upper when you hear stories.

Positivity goes a long way. Everyone likes encouragement. Say the words face to face, don’t just like their posts on social media!

Actively assume the best. This is a real skill that can be learned which will pay big dividends in your friendships. When you actively spin a situation in a way that minimizes the occasional forgetfulness, unintentional disrespect, awkwardness, etc. of a person, you are adding a type of friendship WD-30. So brush up on your skills of being gracious and generous with peoples motives and intentions.

Be interested. If you ask specific, brief follow-up questions about something a person mentioned previously, you’re already setting yourself up as a great person to have around. Being interested keeps things interesting. So remember conversations and follow-up.

Initiate. If you want to be busy with friends, initiate time together and activities.

Alright…there you have it! Get to it!

And as always, I actually love helping others navigate their way to more meaningful connections with God, self and others. If connection with others is something you really want to see change in your life, feel free to contact me to set up a counseling session!

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

Do You Want To Build A Snowman?
What Snow Days Teach Us: The Importance of Play

A snow day is a rare occurrence in south Louisiana. I have been a resident of this fine state since January 2005 and this is the second time I’ve seen snow; the first time I’ve seen such an accumulation like what we had a few weeks ago. And, believe it or not…we may even see some more next week!

If you’re anything like me, your social media feeds were filled with beautiful and amazing pictures of friends and their loved ones loving their lives, making the most of this momentous occasion. It was the best day on Facebook in a loooooong time! 🙂

All of this got my wheels turning about some things. What is it that snow days have to teach us? What is it about the snow that calls out our desire to make the most of those moments? Here’s what I learned…

  1. Play clarifies what is important. Snow days completely throw a halt on our regular activities. We have no choice but to stay home and connect with those we are hulled up with. Suddenly, everything that seemed urgent goes to the back-burner and you’re left with realizing that all you need to focus on in the fun right in front of you. This is a rare gift!
  2. Play is powerful. It requires us to be present and cast off our “cool.” True and deep connection thrives in the midst of play. The only cool/famous social worker out there, Dr. Brene Brown, has researched the effects of play in relationships. Here’s a great article she wrote that explains this idea further. Dr. Brown states, “doing things just because they’re fun and not because they’ll help achieve a goal — is vital to human development.” Play is one of the keys to creativity and whole-hearted living (Daring Greatly). If you haven’t read her work, you should!
  3. Your presence is required. That snowman isn’t going to build itself! While you can live vicariously through social media if you must (like…if you have the flu or a broken leg, heaven forbid), there really is no substitute to layering up and stock piling snowballs for the big fight. And you can’t pack a good snowball with a cell phone or remote in your hand, obviously!
  4. Time is of the essence. The snow is melting! These moments come so infrequently. Give it all you’ve got! There is literally no telling when another moment like this will come. Go out and wrangle your own joy. No substitutes allowed!
  5. Experiences build bonds…not stuff! In the midst of this holiday season, the truth is that your kids will almost certainly forget by Valentines day what you got them for Christmas. But they will remember your undivided attention, laughter and joy in play…you can bank that.
  6. Shared misery is bonding! Nearly getting frostbite on the tips of your toes and fingers and experiencing the shriek inducing sensation of 1,000 tiny needles poked into you is a ridiculous memory you won’t soon forget. Freezing your tail off while playing in the snow is a hilarious moment that is bonding…in the same way that a miserable night’s sleep in the tent in your back yard is bonding. Every insanely awful moment as a family will end up making it’s way to the highlight reel shared over holiday meals for years to come.

The most important lesson of the snow day is this:

You don’t have to wait for snow! Find another outlet of shared joy. (Or misery! Either way works, actually. 😉 ) Pick something you could more easily replicate and that isn’t entirely weather restricted, of course. The most important part is that you take the lessons you learned from the snow day and apply them to other family activities. You won’t ever regret it!

For non-weather driven play activities, check out the Red Stick Mom’s Blog! They keep a calendar of family-friendly activities going on in the area. You can always make your own fun, of course, but if you need help with ideas, this is a great place to start!

Counseling appointments in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge are always available and you can take your first step in scheduling here.