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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!

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.

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.

Be the Best He’ll Ever Have

Be The Best He’ll Ever Have

Have you ever had one of those thoughts that just blew your mind but then you realize it’s just a really basic idea? Maybe it’s just me? And people wrongly assume I’m smarter than I am? (Bless my heart.)

The other day while putting up some of my husband’s laundry (brb, I actually just remembered that I needed to put the wash in the dryer), I had this thought: I’m going to be Chad’s ONLY WIFE. Short of him finally killing me for doing one of my very few annoying traits like occasionally snoring in a cute kind of way, or asking him to switch cars with me because I’ve been driving around on E for 3 days, he’s probably never going to have another wife. He will never have another opportunity to be more loved than my love for him.

This felt shocking to me. I’m his best bet at unconditional, empowering, doting love. Not only would I never WANT another woman to love him better than I do (unless, of course, in the event of my untimely death), he’s never going to even get the chance at experiencing anything better than me!

Like I said…it was one of those simple ideas that really blew my mind.

I felt really called to action at that moment.

My husband, Chad, and I had several years of close friendship before the curtain was lifted and we realized we loved each other. And that’s always such a great place to return to when the “home fires” get a little cold, as they occasionally do in any long-term relationship. Because I have this underpinning of true friendship love for him, I typically can’t help but just want good for him. This really helps motivate my marital love. I am his best shot at experiencing life-giving, fulfilling, out-of-this-world love. And I really want him to know and live that kind of love! So this means that sometimes I gotta step my game up!

What about you? Do you ever need to re-evaluate your wife skills and step your game up?

Here are a couple questions to ponder:

  1. When’s the last time you did something nice for him…just because?
  2. Do you show enthusiasm for his victories and efforts…big and small?
  3. Is there anything you used to do to show him you loved him that you haven’t done in a while?
  4. Have you gotten into any bad communication habits like bombarding him with to-do’s when he walks in the door or spouting off complaints, criticisms, or general negativity?
  5. Is there anything you’ve done lately (intentionally or unintentionally) that he may have taken as disrespect?
  6. How’s your ratio between encouragement and complaint?
  7. Do you like the culture you help co-create in your home?
  8. When’s the last time you prayed for God to let you thrill for your husband’s touch?

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m the only one around here who needs to step her game up! But if not…

If you ever want to talk about stepping up your “wife-game” or anything else, feel free to contact me here for an appointment time. Also, to those of you reading this who are thinking: Allison…not only have the “home fires run cold…it’s like a freezer in here!” Let’s talk. There may yet be hope. There almost always is!

Counseling sessions available in Walker and two locations in Baton Rouge.

(Photo credit for this cute picture of Mr. Schoonmaker: The September Company.)

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.

Four Ways to Detox After the Holidays

Photo by Ashleigh Amoroso Photography

Well we made it! Whew. That was a close one! But in fact, we are on the other side of holiday season (except Mardi Gras, of course) and we are also on the other side of the-year-we-do-not-speak-of. Let’s pause and give ourselves a pat on the back!! Yay Us!

The end of the year often feels like a mad dash between holiday parties and buying presents and road trips to Grandma’s house and making sure it’s the hap-hap-happiest season of all. Lot’s of people set aside January to focus on healthy physical changes, which I am ALL ABOUT! And on another day I will write a blog about the connection between physical health and mental health! But today I want to look at things we can do to detox from the “stuff” that effected our emotional well-being through the holiday season.

Detox from hurry. If 2017 is truly going to be any different than 2016, now is the time to create some intentional space and consider what you’d like to see change over the course of the next year. Let’s let January be a time where we say “no” to some stuff so that we can day dream a bit, make a few goal lists, and really consider how we’d like to see growth unfold in ourselves over the next 365. My husband and I have an ongoing discussion to this end and two things that have surfaced strongly for us both is that we intentionally disconnect from our phones when we are together and that we spend a full day on the weekend not working but focusing on quality time and special activities as a family. When I look back on the movie of my life, I don’t want to see myself running around town all the time in my car to unnecessary stuff or staring at the rectangle in my hand like it is giving me life.

Detox from the myth that “more is more.” If you’re like most people, you spent extra money on purchases throughout the holiday season and you received some new possessions. I hope that you spent and received things mindfully and it wasn’t done out of compulsion or obligation. But whatever the case, the focus almost always is on “more.” Unless we’re talking about coffee or dark chocolate, I’m actually a believer that LESS is more. To that end, I recently watched a documentary on Netflix called Minimalism that was another step on the journey for me towards simplifying my life. I actually wrote a blog about this topic this time last year, but little did I know how good August would be at clearing out my material possessions. (Thanks for that hard-fought lesson, Amite River.) After a season of “more” I just think it’s a great palate cleanser to pair down, clean out, and make more space for what really matters in life.

Detox from unhealthy people. Did your family treat you like your 16 year old self this Christmas? Did you find yourself acting like a person you barely recognized when you got around your siblings or in-laws? Did Aunt Linda shame you for not being married yet or the extra weight or your unruly kids? Was it all you could do to not tell Aunt Linda where she can shove it?! Whether it’s people wanting to put their expectations on your life, or political discussion that made you forget to chew your spiral cut ham, we have all had the experience where being around certain people just brought out the worst in us. To some people, the best thing about the holidays is that it only comes once a year!

Use January to remember who you really are. How you’ve changed. What you’ve overcome. Why you’ve left some people behind and embraced others. Don’t let being around old “triggers” cause you to slip into old patterns of behavior or thinking. If you need some extra help in this area, I can’t recommend this book enough. And of course, lots of people reach out for counseling at this time of year to discuss family issues that have come to light or brought back into sight. If you want to make an appointment to get help with this type of thing or something else, contact me here.

Detox from unhealthy food. Now I said at the beginning of this post that I’d save this topic for another day. But because I just can’t help myself, here is a plan that I really believe in. While I’m a mental health professional and not at all a dietician, this is what my husband and I like to do a few times a year (with vary degrees of “success”…sometimes it send up being a “Whole 14,” in all honesty). What I believe is that the simple acts of eating mindfully, having to think ahead, get creative and, yes, deny yourself things that aren’t helpful for your health, are exponentially good for your health in surprising ways. Discipline begets discipline. And when you add more discipline to your life, the ripple effects are many and varied.

So there you have it. What is January good for if not a fresh start? Take a minute. Press pause. Don’t let this month pass by without considering and planning towards how you want your life to look this time next year.

 

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.

What I Wish I Would’ve Known: Thoughts On Singleness from A Marriage Therapist


My husband and I didn’t get married until I was 28 years old. To some single folks, that probably sounds young. To others, 28 may sound old! What’s true is that I had a solid 10 years of living out from under my parents’ roof and “adulting” under my belt before marriage.

As someone who spends much of her time with couples in crisis, you might assume that I’d be a little gun-shy about love and marriage. But…you’d be wrong. I love love! I wish that everybody (who wants to) would find an awesome person with whom to share his or her life. I don’t think marriage is the biggest deal in life, but if it’s something that you desire, I desire it for you, too. Lots of clients have come to me over the years for help with issues pertaining to singleness and truthfully it’s one of my favorite topics to discuss. Some feel unsure about what to do with their time while they’re waiting and others are confused as to how to transition from singleness to marriage. Being a Christian and single has its own complicating factors, so “theology of dating” often an aspect of counseling as well.

Listen, I am the first to say that I don’t have all the answers, and everyone’s story is vastly different. But as for me, the following is a list of some of the things I wish I would have understood about love and marriage when I was single.

  1. Live your life. As mentioned above, I didn’t get married until I was a few months shy of 29. One thing I felt like I handled pretty well when I was single is that I didn’t live as if my life was waiting to happen when I met the right person. I picked a profession and pursued it. I served on mission trips. I found out things I was good at and things I was less-than-awesome at. I laughed and learned and talked out the finer points of life and theology with dear friends like Christian women tend to do. I bought a house. I wish I would have traveled more. One thing I did not do: wait for a spouse to kick start my adult life. Bonus: having a full and fun life is an attractive trait.
  2. Own your desire to be in a relationship. If you have a desire for something that is upheld as good and beautiful all throughout scripture…own it. God is into marriage. Don’t feel ashamed about wanting to be married! Own it. Make yourself available to it. Let other people know that you’re interested in being in a relationship. Something currently happening in Christian culture that I don’t understand is how some people think the right move is to try to convince yourself (and others) that you don’t want to get married…that you’re “totally satisfied with God alone” and only when all your satisfaction is in Him will God bring you someone to marry. (Aside: Some people are totally satisfied without a romantic relationship, And they’re called to celibacy and special service! If this is you, more power to you. There’s literally nothing wrong with that,but this blog post is not geared towards you,) I could unpack this a ton more, but the short version is that Adam hooked up with Eve before the Fall, and that need for a partner wasn’t looked down on by God. It was His idea! Lots of people think or say they’re open to a relationship, but they truly come from a place of “no” and a posture that comes across like defensiveness when it comes to dating out of fear of devastation, fear of how other’s perceive them, or elevated expectations. Love is risk and you can’t get around that. But there’s a far cry between desiring something and being perceived as “desperate.”
  3. Consider your logistics. I’ve often heard it said that if you are following God, you will basically trip over your soon-to-be spouse. While I don’t disagree with that sentiment entirely (and it totally happens for some people), I don’t think it’s ungodly to make changes in your life to position yourself better to “increase your odds.” Certainly, there are a lot of factors in finding someone with whom to spend your life. One component that I think is overlooked often because it’s not inherently spiritual is this concept of “odds.” You’ve gotta put yourself in a position to where you’re meeting new people so that you can increase your odds of finding your partner. If you don’t put gas in your car, it won’t start. If you don’t send out resumes and go to job interviews, you’re probably not going to get a new job. Why would we expect finding a spouse to work completely differently? To this end, I support making changes in your life to increase the odds of meeting someone who seems like a God-given right fit for you. Change your routine, change where you hang out, change your gym…do what you can do to widen the list of prospects. (Yes this may include online dating. Why are people so hung up about that? Talk to me about your reasons not to.)
  4. It’s not you…it’s them. Some mildly humorous person somewhere coined the phrase, “Are you single for a season or single for a reason?” But I fully believe that sometimes the reason you’re single is because you haven’t met the right person at the right time. It may have been the right person, but not the right time. Or maybe it was the right time but the wrong person. Either way, hearing a “no” from God or circumstance can be really clarifying, so appreciate the shut door, don’t over-analyze it, and move on. Don’t get too much in your own head about it. Keep being awesome. It’ll come.
  5. Well…actually, it might be you…a little bit. “I just haven’t found the right person yet.” You’re right. It might be everyone else as to the reason you’re still single. But let’s be honest: it might be you.
    One time, after listening to yet another story of me giving some poor guy a hard time (communicating like a dude to dudes…not my best tactic), my dad suggested, “you know Allison…you might think about being a little bit nicer to some of these guys.” I quickly shot down his suggestion, insisting that “the guy who is right for me will be man enough to take it.” Ok. Maybe. But also…why should he have to? And would he actually want to? Cousins with this idea is the line of “I don’t need to take care of myself physically/wear make up/wash my clothes. The person I’m supposed to be with will love me for me!” I’m all about unconditional love and support. But I also fully support putting your best foot forward in every way so as to let your inward awesomeness be reflected on the outside.
    Now hear me on this: the last thing I want for you is to be paranoid about this point. Continue pray and ask God for a sanctifying work in your life as it pertains to your relationships with the opposite sex. Listen for feedback about how you interact with females/males from people who love you and know you well. If you think you consistently fall into the same traps, it would be worth it to pursue some short term counseling to gain some perspective leading to transformation.
  6. “There’s nothing going on until it comes out of his mouth.” We’ve all been in the “grey zone” of confusion where you’re unsure if you’re just hanging out or dating. Especially when opposite sex friendships are so prevalent (and can be totally great and healthy in some instances…when neither is attracted towards the other), things can get confusing. The best thing to do here is to address the topic directly. If neither of you have brought it up, be the first to ask a brief, clarifying question. If the interest isn’t reciprocated, and you think you can maintain the friendship, go for it. If you can’t maintain the friendship without holding out hope for more, it’s time to implement some boundaries. If you’re interested in getting married, there’s no need to put a lot of time and emotional energy into a relationship where it has been clearly stated that there’s no interest. A clear “no” is a gift, if given enough time.
  7. Don’t be too narrow in what you’re looking for. “I’m just super picky.” The type of man I was looking for when I was single is not the type of man I ended up marrying. And, for this grace, I am eternally thankful. I didn’t know what I truly needed, I just knew what sounded good to me, and what cool Christians I respected talked about wanting or having. But neither of those viewpoints accurately reflected what was God’s best for me. And I’m very glad I allowed myself the space and time necessary to “test the waters” with my now husband, and determine that what he brought to the table was what I truly needed to balance me out and walk the path of sanctification. You don’t marry an idea…you marry a person. So leave room for the possibility that you may not know exactly what’s best for you. It could be the best thing you were ever wrong about!

I started off this post by stating “if you desire to be married, then I desire it for you, too.” This is honestly one of my favorite topics to address in counseling because it is one of those issues where so much improvement is available when it’s brought to the light of day. The topic of singleness/marriage is often wrought with thoughts and feelings about yourself, with God or with the opposite sex that, when examined with a therapist or other trusted person, finally have the chance to get healthy and balanced, and can lead you to a place of abundance and freedom.

God wants to use everything in our lives to reveal us more and more clearly as being made in His image. I don’t have it all figured out but I’d love to join you as you press into how this issue works for you. 

If you’re in Baton Rouge, Denham Springs, or Walker, Louisiana and want to discuss this topic or another, I’m easy to reach!