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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!

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

At the Intersection of Faith and Pain

Wrestling with our Christian faith in the midst of chronic pain.

Most of my clients wouldn’t know this but I struggle with chronic pain several days of the month. I won’t get into the cause on this post but it’s been going on for about two years now. I wouldn’t classify it as “continuous” pain but it is regular and fairly predictable.

Perhaps you know this struggle as well.

I do everything I can to keep it from putting a damper on my personal life as well as my professional life but I am not always victorious. At its worst, I have to miss things: cancel sessions, get someone to watch our son if my husband is at work, miss church or social events, etc. Don’t worry… if you see me, I’m feeling fine enough. When it’s at its worst, I’m in bed.

We have tried several things to help reduce the pain level, most of which have not helped much. If this is beginning to sound depressing, it definitely is sometimes! But it is really important to me that I fight a good fight and not let my pain be the dominant characteristic in my life. My husband Chad and I have both had to do our own work of trying to reconcile my chronic pain with our faith in a healing God. And, just as importantly, our goal is not to just survive with pain, but to wrangle up some joy on the daily!

Maybe you know the struggle of chronic pain as well. But maybe you are more familiar with emotional pain of chronic anxiety, depression or loneliness? Maybe you (like Chad) have to watch someone you love struggle and there’s not much you can do about it? For someone with a Christian faith, this struggle can be made all the more complicated when you factor in knowledge of God’s ability to heal. Those waters can tend to get very murky, very quickly. And I think that’s ok. It’s just about what we do with that tension.

Whatever “brand” of struggle yours may be, here are some places I’ve landed in trying to grapple with my pain and my faith.

  1. Chronic pain is a fact about me (currently). It does not get to define my life. I have chronic pain. I also am married. I am a female. I am caucasian. I think I’m pretty funny. I like to cook. I don’t like cleaning my floors. Each of those facts mean something about me and set some perimeters in my life but they don’t give a full snap-shot of who I am. Losing sight of this central truth makes me chronic-pain “centric.” And there are so many better things to be at the center of my life than chronic-pain.
  2. My pain level is not the measure of my day. Have you ever thought, “I felt good today so it was a good day”? We have to fight against this because it’s a very easy trap to fall into. But the truth is that there are so many other choices to be the gauge of how each day is measured: obedience, provision, laughter, faithfulness, puppy snuggles, a very funny tv show that distracts you for a while. We have to be diligent to not be so reductionistic to say, “my pain was really low so it was a good day.” If we let it be as simple as “low pain = good day; high pain = bad day” then our eyes are fixed on ourselves alone. As Christians, we know there’s a better choice for us to fix our eyes on.
  3. How God answers your prayers for healing does not say anything about you. Or at least it doesn’t say what you think it says. I firmly believe that chronic pain is more of a result of the Fall than it is a result human choices. Sure…maybe your hard labor caused some degenerative disc issues. But still..that is rooted in the fall because hard work is not sinful, but deterioration of our bodies is the result of the Fall. Your issue may actually be the result of your choices (lifestyle issues, positive or negative…doesn’t matter really), but the toll it has taken on your body is largely a result of the Fall. What I mean by that is that when sin entered the world through Adam, destruction of our bodies came, too (and this has physical, emotional, mental implications). Before then, there was no deterioration. This is a MUCH bigger issue than your sin or your choices and this issue manifests itself in a myriad of different ways. I throw disease and illness in this same category (and flooding and hurricanes, if anybody is wondering). The world is broken by sin, so bad things happen. And they don’t really mean anything about us. So the same is true for our rescue from the physical manifestations of the Fall. If it didn’t mean anything about us that we received this illness, then it doesn’t mean anything about us if the healing comes. It would be awesome if healing comes. But it isn’t personal if it doesn’t. And it’s not personal if it does. It wouldn’t be about your good deeds or track record if you get healed; how much potential you have or how much God likes you.
    It just means something about God. It’s God’s choice how he wants your healing story to go. And he alone gets to make that call of when your healing is manifested. It’s not personal. It’s just the Fall.

I don’t know the rules about who gets ailments or who gets healed. Honestly, it looks pretty haphazard to me. There is no magic formula that I’ve ever been able to pick out. But I’ll tell you this: at our house, we ask for healing anyway.

What’s true is that our struggles aren’t meant to define us or take the central seat in our life. And God’s (apparent) response to our struggles isn’t a good indicator of his awareness of our pain.

I love this poem by Walt Whitman which ends with this thoughtful line:

That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

I, for one, don’t want my “verse” to be, “Pain overtook my life.” But rather, “I found joy and meaning and purpose in the midst of the lot that I was given.”

If you or someone you love struggles with a chronic issue, you can contact me here to set up a time to come in and talk about it.

Counseling offices in Walker, Louisiana and Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

Photo credit goes to Brigitte Tohm.

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Rain, Rain Go Away!

What to do if the past year feels too present.

A year has passed since the Baton Rouge area was devastated by flooding. In many ways, it seems like a lifetime ago and in others it seems like last week. Now, with many in the area having connections to loved ones in Houston and watching that area go through what we are all familiar with, emotions are running high for some of us. And today…even though Pat Shingleton says we will only have 3-6 inches of rain between now and Saturday, some of us are still a little on edge. I know I am!

It’s all a little too familiar. A little too close to home. Area men are loading up their boats and heading over. We are gathering supplies. We are doling out mold remediation advice. This is not something we want to be pros at. And yet we are.

If you’re feeling anxious or depressed (or both) today, you are not alone. If your coping strategies have given out on you (again), you are not the only one. Recently the Advocate posted this article about the ongoing mental health crisis in Louisiana as a result of the flood. So many are still actively needing support. Whatever was hard in your life before the flood got even harder after. Whatever happened this year that would have been hard anyway felt about 100x harder just because of the ongoing stress of the flood. I get it. I’ve lived it, too.

I evacuated from a block on St. Charles in New Orleans for Katrina and relocated to Baton Rouge (sorry for being part of the traffic problem in 2005!). Our home in Denham had 4.5 feet of water in it last year. My parents home in Walker flooded. And my brother’s house flooded last night in Houston. I know we’re not handing out prizes…but I get it, y’all.

The rules for staying stable remain in effect.

  • Deal with your own stuff first, then move on to “other” care.
    • This goes for physical issues as well as emotional.
    • If you’re not in a solid enough place, helping with others can be risky. Airplane rules apply here: put on your own oxygen mask before trying to help others put on theirs, or else no one will have what they need to keep going.
    • Engage in self-care. This doesn’t just mean getting a pedicure, although I’m sure no one will complain about that! Find some quiet space for yourself. Turn your phone off. Unplug. Do what fills your soul.
    • Mind your self-medicating choices (drinking, shopping, over-eating, binge watching TV, etc. etc.). These could get really dysfunctional, really quickly.
  • Be patient with those around you.
    • Tensions are still high (especially when it’s raining…rain is a trigger).
    • People are doing their best. We need the most connection and support when we are behave the worst.
    • Lead with empathy. Make molehills out of mountains instead of vice versa.
  • Stay connected with those who care about you.
    • People who are involved in the same mess you are and those on the outside. Sometimes it’s just good to talk about the Real Housewives of Dallas.
    • This includes God. Even when you’re mad and questioning why this keeps happening…he can take it.
    • Don’t isolate, even if you want to. If you already have, start back in with the person who you think will be happiest to see you and fix you supper.
  • Get outside support if necessary.
    • If you’re thinking, “wow…that was a tough year…I wonder if I should talk about it with someone?” Or, “I just feel like I should be doing better by now.” Or, “I do better for a while but every time it rains hard I get anxious.” Or something else along those lines…YES. Come in.
    • If you feel forgotten, worn out, over extended, pushed aside, in over your head…come in. We can’t make the flood go away, but we an redistribute some of the weight. There are no trophies for agonizingly slowly pulling yourself up by your water-logged boot straps.
    • The best thing I personally did this year to help me process our family’s flood experience was that I received some therapy called EMDR or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. It’s really perfect for PTSD type issues, which this flood totally was for so many of us. I went from getting that sense of dread washing over me every time I thought about what we had endured to the automatic thought of “wow…I’ve really overcome some tough stuff!” and feeling proud of myself when I think about our flood story.
    • Here’s a link if you’re interested in learning more about EMDR. I completed my basic training in EMDR and my clients have been loving the process. It is very effective on a myriad of issues and I’ll write more about it on a later (dryer) date. But if you research it a bit and feel like it could be helpful to you, give me a call. I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker and I’d be glad to talk with you!

I am praying for our community today and for what’s happening in Houston. Being a human is hard! We are fragile creatures and we need each other so much. May God be merciful.

Flying Solo to Couples Counseling: Can it help?

Question of the Day: Does the old hip-hop classic by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock get it right when it comes to working on a relationship? (I’ll just wait right here while you enjoy that link. You’re welcome.)

Does it indeed take two to make things go right? Is it necessary for both people in a relationship to attend counseling in order for things to improve? Or is it possible to see positive change in the relationship with only one person seeking help? Can a relationship or marriage ever improve if only one person is “working on it” aka, attending counseling?

Let’s unpack this topic a bit to see if Rob Base gets it right or wrong when it comes to improving relationships.

Systems Theory

A basic premise of family or systemic therapy is this concept of systems theory. Imagine a crib mobile. It has multiple tiers with multiple objects hanging off each tier. Each piece of the mobile responds to movement together and they all balance each other. If you touch one piece, every piece responds with movement as if it had also been touched.

Close relationships react in the same way to movement or change. If one person in the relationship introduces some change (either positive or negative) all members of the relationship or family feel the effects and respond accordingly, even if unknowingly. Change brings about shifts in the relationship, even if we aren’t able to put our finger on what is different. Therefore, it stands to reason that any one person striving to bring about positive change in a relationship will cause positive effects in the relational system.

To what extent a single member of a relationship can bring about positive change to the system largely depends on the type of change is desired. We can’t solve every relational issue with just one of you attending counseling. We won’t learn “better ways to control your spouse” and effectively manipulate your way to a happier marriage. We can, however, focus on your role in the situations you’re not liking. We can assess what you’re bringing to the table that’s not working, and make adjustments to how you’re communicating your preferences, expectations, thoughts and emotions.

It takes 2 to make a thing go WRONG.

Both people in a relationship contribute to the negative relational patterns, argument pitfalls, or negative communication cycles that tend to decrease relational satisfaction.

You can’t argue with a lamp post, so to speak. So if one of you changes the way you argue, the argument cycle has changed tremendously. Responding differently to the same situation will bring about a different result.

The more objectivity you bring to the relationship, the more objectivity your relationship has. The same is true with self-control or any positive attribute you’re seeking in your marriage/partnership. Your relationship will never be worse off with one of you engaging in these traits. Bringing more of these traits to the table are gifts that you give to yourself, to your partner and to the relationship. These are gifts that don’t backfire, only bless.

When it comes to relationship counseling, work is work. If you work on your relationship, even if it’s alone, your marriage will reap the benefits.

It takes two to make a communication habitually derail. It takes one to make an improvement in connection.

Rob Bass did get it right on this point, though:

It takes 2 to make it out of sight.

Plenty of the finer points of a relationship can’t necessarily be addressed without both partners working toward vulnerability and transparency. So, maybe Rob Bass and DJ EZ Rock got it halfway right…maybe it DOES take two to make it “out of sight.” But when it comes to the communication style that is making your relationship unduly negative, one person committing to positive change is better than no one being committed to positive change.

The bottom line:

An individual working on a relationship in counseling is not going to solve all of the issues of the relationship. It all depends on your goals and circumstances. If you’re in a relationship in which both parties are committed to working things out, just having a difficult season, individual counseling for relational improvement can do quite a lot of good.

Low Sex Drive and How to Fix It

A Sexy Series: Part Three
When You Don’t Desire Sex.

So far we took a quick look at the types of sexual issues people want to work through in counseling as well as tips to set your relationship up for a win/win sexually.

Today I want to look at what some might call low libido, lack of sexual desire or low sex drive. When you’re not wanting to have sex, here are some of the usual suspects…

Reasons why we SAY we say “no” to sex.

  1. We are tired.
  2. We are stressed.
  3. We have a headache.
  4. We ate too much Chinese food. 🙂

It’s absolutely ok to say “no” from time to time for whatever reason you so choose. The problem comes when you turn down perfectly good sex almost as a default, without considering your motivation for doing so or the impact of the choice on your relationship.

Reasons why we REALLY say “no” to sex.

  1. Emotional hang-ups.
    • Depression.
      • One of the DSM-V diagnostic criteria for depression is loss of interest or pleasure. Maybe your disinterest in sex has more to do with your mental health than anything else? Depression is a road that doesn’t have to be walked alone, and dealing with this issue may truly open you up to a wealth of possibilities that will positively effect both you and your partner.
    • Unprocessed negative experiences in your past might still be present.
      • This may be a sexual trauma or just feelings of guilt for one reason or another. Either way, it is something that can be addressed in counseling and there’s just no reason why your past needs to cast a dark shadow on what could be a dynamic and healthy physical relationship with your spouse.
  2. Relational hang-ups.
    • Power struggle. “That’s all he wants me for.” “He isn’t doing what I need so why should I do what he needs?” If you’re in at standoff in terms of desiring to meet each other’s needs, one things for sure: everybody loses. Change the tone of your relationship and focus on meeting the other’s needs. Something magical happens. Everyone’s needs are met with enthusiasm…without anyone having to demand.
    • Not really “feeling it” towards your spouse. Maybe your love has gone a little cold and you don’t thrill at your spouse’s touch like you used to. This solution can typically be found in one of two places: your prayer life or your self-talk. Both of those generally require some specific coaching and I’d love to talk with you more about this in person.
  3. Physical hang-ups.
    • Technique issues.
      • If you didn’t know by now…sex is not like you see on TV. Sorry. Whether it’s a communication issue or a mechanics/technique issue, there are a lot of really great resources available to help you get past what is holding you back.
    • You’re not happy with your body.
      • Body image issues can definitely do a number on libido. Ultimately, it all boils down to two choices: come up with a plan to get happy about what you’re working with or come up with a plan to do something about it. I can definitely help you out with one of these and have some great resources to help you figure out the other. For starters, these friends of mine.
    • Hormonal issues.
      • Pregnancy, postpartum, pre-menopausal, post-menopausal…all these reasons and more can cause a big shift in libido. Talk to your doctor. There may be an easier solution than you think.
    • Medication side-effect.
      • Everyone is different and it’s hard to trace back which medication might be effecting your sex drive. Your doctor will be very helpful towards this end. For most issues, there are so many options of medications available, it may be as simple as just taking a different birth control pill. For real, ask your doctor. Could be a super easy fix.
    • Pain/Discomfort during sex.
      • There are a few physical conditions (both male and female) which can result in painful intercourse. Each situation is so vastly different, I’m not able to expound upon this point here. But, many can find relief through a team approach between a physician and a therapist.
  4. Spiritual hang ups.
    • Trouble associating sexuality as a pure gift from heaven.
      • For the purposes of this blog, I won’t unpack this much. But suffice it to say: God is pro-sex and if that weirds you out, let’s talk.
  5. Kid sleep habits.
    • Whether you have to fall asleep with your kids to get them to stay in bed, or they start off or end up sleeping in your bed, this can really mess with your sex life. The resolution of this issue isn’t a quick fix, but we can figure out the steps it would take to alleviate this problem. Whether it’s an attachment issue or just a bad habit, we can find solutions that result in happier and healthier bedtime dynamics.
    • Also, and this is not a joke but is a little funny to me…you’d be surprised at how many clients I’ve had that cite “dogs in the bed” as a mood killer! Seriously, Rufus doesn’t need to know everything that goes on in the house. 😉
  6. Boundary Issues.
    • Pornography/masturbation.
      • You and your partner both deserve to be clear on what the boundaries are in your sex life. “Solutions” you’ve come up with over the years may be causing more problems than you’re aware of. I have some pretty clear and easy boundaries that I suggest for most couples, and they leave room for a lot of awesomeness to be had, while elevating the union to its proper, amazingly sacred place.
    • Not being totally closed off to other suitors.
      • What you may see as an innocent flirtation or even being open to the approach of other people is a vote for “the grass is greener” mentality. If you didn’t know already, the grass is greener where you water it. When you water it, the more you’ll love the luscious lawn you have.

The big picture: sex was designed to be awesome. If it’s anything less for you and your partner, don’t take it lying down. Let’s talk.

The Ongoing Gifts of the Flood of 2016

The flood gave and the flood took away.

Are you currently rebuilding your house? So many of us in the greater Baton Rouge area (my family included) are still waist deep in the process of rebuilding our flooded homes. We’re now six months post-flood…which in some ways seems like a lifetime ago but some aspects will always seem like they happened yesterday.

The Flood Gave.

At Spring Life Counseling, LLC I am still seeing a big influx of clients for whom the flood was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The flood waters either exacerbated pre-existing issues beyond people’s ability to cope, or it exposed issues that were hiding in the dark. People aren’t necessarily coming in to talk about the trauma of wading through the waters as much as how the flood has taxed them beyond their abilities to keep their marriages, their families or their own selves afloat.

Substance abuse, sexual addictions, anxiety, depression, debt, angry teens, codependency, memories of past traumas, intense marital arguments over the color of the paint (that are really about how one of you never really feels heard or respected)…you name it…the flood has exposed it. That is one of the gifts of the flood. For issues coming to the surface so that they can be addressed, I suppose we ought to be thankful, but while you’re in the midst of the muck, it’s really hard to see the silver lining.

The Flood Took Away.

Along with bringing some things to light, it also took away some things from us. It took away convenience. Security. Coping strategies. Jobs. Normalcy. A sense of home. The list goes on.

When things come to the light, it’s an immediate step towards health. It doesn’t feel good, but you’re better off for it. The next steps are crucial. Seeking the help of a professional counselor can be crucial in getting you from exposure of an issue or wound to walking through the healing process.

When things are taken away from us, we need to grieve them and seek to find a new sense of normalcy. It’s 6 months after but for many the process of dealing with the unexpected and unwanted gifts of the flood is still in the beginning stages.

The best thing you can do after a tragedy is to connect with others. Connection is the antidote for a lot of the wounds of trauma. There is no reason you have to walk through this season alone.

If you think you may need some help talking through some of the issues mentioned in this post, please contact me. I have offices in Livingston Parish and Baton Rouge.

For those who are interested, here is a post I wrote about how I’m praying for those of us affected by the flood.

The Great Flood of 2016: How We Get Through This

meadowlark

In the last few weeks, so much of what makes our lives “normal” in the greater Baton Rouge area has been smashed to a million tiny pieces. Everything…and I mean everything…has changed. Everything is hard. Nothing is right. It has stretched us beyond what most of us thought we could endure. This entire region has experienced a trauma the likes of which few have ever lived through.

Yet here we are. Here you sit using your phone, tablet or computer, reading this blog. Many of us have survived a reality that made our worst nightmares seem like a walk in the park. Yet here we are.

I began my therapy career in 2006 with a counseling practice called Counseling Services of New Orleans, Inc. My first clients to ever counsel were in the throes of “post-Katrina syndrome.” I, myself, had evacuated the rent house I shared with fellow graduate students off of Carondelet in the beautiful Garden District in NOLA. It was over a month before I was able to return home to see what few possessions I still had to my name. The next few years I spent burning up I-10, driving back and forth from Baton Rouge to New Orleans, finishing my masters program and seeing clients. Walking with people through the same trauma I experienced.

And here I am again.

Flooded. Broken. Mending. Seeking to offer empathy and to be a support for a painful situation that I feel oddly equipped to handle.

Since experience is the best teacher, here are some things I’ve learned from losing everything (twice) and through helping others walk through this process.

Time markers and clarity. For those of us who were around for Katrina, we have this simple way of categorizing our lives: before and after Katrina. There are very few events in life that drop such a big time marker down in the middle of your life like that. People may use that type of language after the death of an extremely close loved one, like a child or spouse, or if they came to faith late in life.  Now, we all will have this new time marker: pre and post flood.  The thing about these time markers is that they bring a lot of clarity. Not only does it order our lives chronologically, it also tends to clarify our priorities. Let this flood help you see your life through a simpler, clearer lens than ever before. Take it for the clean slate that it is meant to be.

Same problems, different day. If you were having difficulties in your marriage prior to the flood, you may have experienced a brief cooling of the tensions but that’s probably worn off by now and you’re arguing at levels that are bigger and worse than before. Whatever limits you’d run into with your parenting abilities before the flood, those are heightened now. Substance abuse problem that you were trying to “handle” before? The cat’s out of the bag now. Were you easily angered before? Angry at God before all this went down? Money management issues? Watch out, friend! Everything that was an issue before…let’s just say that the flood waters were flammable and the stress of this situation will light your issues on fire. You might have been “getting by” with some of these issues for a while, but by this point you’ve exceeded your capacity to handle it on your own. Come get some help. Let the flood be used to bring health and freedom into your life. Contact me because I’d love to walk with you through what is holding you back from the life you’ve always wanted.

New trauma brings up old trauma. When you experience a new trauma (for instance, having to be rescued by the Cajun Navy and taken to a make-shift shelter), you are often able to access other trauma memories that you typically attempt to not think about much. If your memories all live in the same building, trauma all lives on the same hallway. Once you’re in the hallway, you can typically access the other rooms as well, even if it’s difficult to do so on a regular day. So after Katrina, I’d meet with people who had experienced the hurricane and then remembered old sexual abuse from childhood. If you’re experiencing something like this, it’s totally normal and how your brain is designed to work, but you shouldn’t have to walk through that alone. I’d love to help.

Self-care. If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times, “This is a marathon, not a sprint.” In a sprint, you just put your head down and do the thing. A marathon requires more strategy and refueling along the way. If you haven’t experienced this reality already, you will soon: you can’t just rebuild 24/7. There are set-backs, waiting periods, back orders, yes. But even if those frustrations weren’t in play, the process of rebuilding your home is so emotionally taxing that you must focus on self-care intermittently, or you will lose it. Lose your pleasant personality. Lose your cool. Lose your grip on what’s most important. Everything. We have to force ourselves to take time off from rebuilding every so often or else you won’t have what it takes to finish strong…in whatever way you’d define that. Even if your home didn’t flood, you need to take breaks in helping others, too. We all need to take care of ourselves so that we can take care of our kids, our spouses, our parents, our neighbors. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we can’t take care of anyone else for very long. A few months ago I wrote blogs on grieving well here and here. We are all grieving right now. Make sure you’re doing your best to process it well instead of numb the pain or suppress it. Also, if you just need a reminder of why and how to fight for joy, check out this old post as well.

Connection. Listen up because this is very important. The research indicates that the best way to battle the despair of a tragedy and to combat traumatic stress (post-traumatic stress disorder or PTSD) is to refuse to go through the aftermath alone. Share your stories of how you got out of your house. Share the logistics and the emotions. Share your frustrations. Share your fears. Share the stuff that makes you wonder if you’re “crazy” to think. Share what’s keeping you up at night. Find someone you trust and force yourself to share. It is a safeguard to you emotionally and it is a safeguard to them as well. People need to know that they aren’t alone. People need to know that they are needed. If your home didn’t flood, don’t be afraid to ask questions and follow up when you’re able. Become awesome at listening with empathy. By sharing our stories, we connect in a real and tangible way, and do ourselves and each other a world of good for our bodies, minds and souls.

If you’re having a difficult time feeling like you’re managing your life following the flood, I’d really love to meet with you. I’ve been “here” before and I want to help see you through to the other side of this crisis. My Walker and Denham Springs offices have both flooded, but I have a new office on Old Hammond and I still have my mid-city office off Government Street. I’m offering a discount to those who have been directly impacted by the flooding, and I am still in-network with Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurance. In terms of reaching out for help, the sooner you do, the better. Don’t wait to get the support you need. Lots of people are having reactions that would be considered “abnormal” in our pre-flood world. But we’re all just responding the best we can to a totally abnormal situation. It’s ok not to be ok, but you don’t have to be there alone.
PHOTO CREDIT: Kimberly Meadowlark, Meadowlark Artistry: Faces of the Floodwater Collection.

Why God Loves a Rowdy Girl

After ten years of practicing individual and marriage therapy, I have developed an affinity for a few types of clients. This is probably one of those things you’re not supposed to admit…kind of like how you’re not supposed to have a a favorite child. But the truth is, while I enjoy all of my clients I have some favorite types of clients. For instance, I love working with couples who truly love each other but just don’t know how to show it very well, or even at all (attachment issues). I love working with people dealing with anxiety and depression because there’s so much room for improvement. I love being a part of someone’s quest for freedom and life change! But my favorite type of client is what I will call the “rowdy girl.”

She loves God but thinks she’s too ______________ to be a “good Christian.” Too opinionated. Too loud. Too strong-willed. Too messed up. Too easily angered. Made too many mistakes. Too. Much. Everything.

Or so she thinks.

This woman typically presents in my office as someone who’s life “just isn’t working anymore.” Her love for her husband and/or kids may have grown cold. She may have just lost a significant relationship due to her mouthy ways. She’s typically pretty anxious and frustrated, and feels like she doesn’t “fit” in her own life. Lots of comparison between herself and all the women who seem to have it more together than she does.

I LOVE a woman like this. And God does, too. I believe he has a special place in his heart for rowdy women. And here’s why:

Typically, it’s a heart of justice that comes out of a rowdy woman. When something doesn’t feel right, she will say so! If someone needs defending, she is first in line! God made her to be boisterous and to lead out in what is right. Sure, there’s room for growth in terms of maturity, knowing which battles to pick and getting some tact, but God didn’t make a mistake by putting a lot of passion inside of a woman like this. What can sometimes be destructive and like “a bull in a china shop” can be directed to be a mighty force of love and protection and goodness for those around her.

There are a million ways to be a godly woman. Being meek and quiet is not the ONLY way. You are not the odd (wo)man out. You’re not bad at being a Christian. You just haven’t found your rhythm yet. The answer might lie in being MORE of you instead of trying to suppress your God-given personality and conforming to what you think you’re supposed to be. The body of Christ needs more women like you. You are non-judgmental. You are quick to offer grace. Quick to love. Quick to protect. Quick to speak truth. God made you a fighter. Let’s find the right things for you to fight FOR.

Come meet with me – we need to work some things out so that what God meant for good in you isn’t overshadowed by your flesh. But let there be no mistake: there’s a way to be You and bring so much glory to God.

Most of all, the reason I know God has a special place in his heart for rowdy women is that I am a (somedays formerly, somedays currently) rowdy woman! And I believe that God has a special place in his heart for me.

Let’s flesh this topic (or any other) out together at one of my offices in Denham Springs, Walker or Baton Rouge.

A Christian Response to The Tragedies of Summer 2016

After a summer of senseless shootings, gorillas and gators killing kids in safe spaces, and discovering all around depressing and horrific news every time I open my Facebook app, I feel like I can’t post another blog until I tackle this question: how should we respond when awful stuff happens to someone else?

In the Christian community, we occassionally get things really right in the face of tragedy. We shine especially well in the face of natural disasters. But when things get a little more politically or emotionally charged, we have a tendency to get…a little weird, at best or damaging, at worst. Whether the tragedy or loss is large scale (like the Pulse Night Club shootings in Orlando) or small scale (like your neighbor’s mom being diagnoses with a disease), we can often respond in a way that does more harm than good, despite our intentions.

Well meaning people use platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” or even “I’ll pray for you,” as a defense mechanism, so they don’t have to wrestle with the wretchedness of a given circumstance. The goal here is to lessen the blow, and I understand the desire to want to do that, but I submit that feeling the weight of the tragedy is exactly what we all need to do. There is purpose to the weight, and healing comes through letting the weight rest on us and not discarding or minimizing it in any way, or through any shallow platitude.

If there is a reason to be had as to why awful things happen, it is this: the world in its current state is not as God originally intended. The reason that bad things happen is that the world is broken, and has been broken since Adam exercised his free will and out of his fear and mistrust, acted outside of God’s plan for the world.
Sin and death entered the world and brought with them things like hurricanes, cancer, hate crimes and apathy.
This is not what was intended, and as a Christian, I believe this is not what WILL be. But it’s where we’re at today.

Christians that respond to these tragedies with platitudes of “God has a plan” or “I’ll pray for you” miss the point entirely. Statements like that come across as aloof, disconnected, irrelevant and uncaring…the opposite of God’s response to pain and suffering. God has never been anything but with us and present in times of tragedy. He rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn, and what is more, knows when to engage in each option perfectly as each person and circumstance merits.

When Christ returns…whenever that may be, He will make things right once again and for good. He will restore beauty from ashes and undo the consequences of the wrong that we have done and what has been done to us. He will bring justice and healing and true and lasting peace. Both externally (nature) and internally (even emotions and strife, I believe). That is the ultimate hope of Christianity.

But let’s be real…who knows when that will be?

The hope of Christianity NOW is for all people, but especially Christians, to lead the charge of this redemptive work of “making the fullness of God be reflected on earth as it is in heaven.” Hate crimes are not God’s fullness. People feeling afraid to live their lives is not God’s fullness. Tornadoes are not God’s fullness. The part of us that rises up and says, “This is not how things should be, I want to help,” is a reflection of the image of God inside of ALL of us.

Treating everyone with the respect and compassion that is due each human being is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When we do this, we are engaged in the work of making things on earth as they are in heaven. Not judging moms for accidents is a foreshadowing. Fighting for everyone to feel safe is a foreshadowing. Making sure every child has a loving home is a foreshadowing. I could go on and on and on. Here’s an outside of the box example of Christians being compassionate and protective. Most of us have opportunity to do something much simpler than this, but just wanted to give it as an example of something kind!

The bottom line for me is this: most of the things that are a foreshadowing of Jesus returning and everything being made right involve action and using your voice, and not prayer alone. The point of truly joining in the loss as best we can and feeling all that is shaken within us when tragedy strikes is that once we can identify with the loss, the “wrongness” of it points us back to the need for Jesus, and Jesus points us on to joining him in restoration work.

Those who are directly involved in these tragedies may be thankful for your prayers, but would also appreciate your voice and action to fight injustice. This could look a thousand different ways, but it’s each person’s responsibility to figure out what that looks like for them and then to do it. Christian’s have done so much to damage our own reputation by how we deal with wrong doing in the world. Let’s refuse to meet tragedy and injustice with empty statements that reveal our own discomfort and diminish the weight of the grief of loss. Rather, let’s be brave and use our words and deeds to work towards the restorative process in making all things new, as it once was and it will be again one day.

If these tragedies, or any element of loss, grief, injustice or the like is something you’d like to process in therapy, please contact me. We are all in this together.