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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!

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.

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.

Finding Joy When You’re Bent Towards Dread

I’m normally a pretty joyful person without much effort. Sometimes, however, during different seasons of my life, I find myself leaning towards the negative side. Like a moth to a flame, I find my brain scanning for things to be dreading. The ever-evolving list of “what if’s”. Potential financial or health crises. Temporary increase in stress at work or home. During seasons of increased stress, worry or dread, these are the things my brain likes to scan for potential risks and obsess over. Right now I’m stuck on our taxes and my husband’s car. My concern may not make sense to anyone else, but when I’m in one of these moods, my brain will wear a topic out. I know I’m not the only one who experiences times like this.

I’m intentionally not using the language of “anxiety” here because what I talking about isn’t at that level of intensity or duration. This is more like the little cousin of anxiety. (I’ve struggled with anxiety in the past and most of my clients have heard that story at one point or another, but that’s not what I’m talking about today.) For the sake of this conversation, I’ll say a “period of dread” is to anxiety as “feeling down” is to depression. Everyone experiences this sometimes and it’s normal for it to come and go a few times a year, typically based on circumstances, hormones or maybe even the weather.

So if it’s a normal part of being human to have a few days where you’re seeing the glass half empty or waiting for the other shoe to drop, you have two choices: just roll with it and wait it out or figure out a way to push back on it.

I tend not to fall into the “wait it out” camp because I think doing so can turn into anxiety and/or prolong the season. So that leaves me with figuring out a way to push back on it. It requires some extra effort but I really find it to be worth it. Primarily I think it’s worth it because “worry” isn’t an attribute of Jesus, so it’s not a true attribute of who I am in Christ. And I believe it’s always worth it to clear my mind of things that aren’t naturally part of who I am in Christ.

The two things I find to be most helpful in the process of pushing back dread and finding joy are: 1) taking things to their natural conclusion and 2) and asking one clarifying question.

  1. Take things to their natural conclusion. What if that awful thing totally happened as bad as you’re imagining? Then what? How awful would it actually be? Would you survive it? Would the most important people in your life still love you? Would it change anything about your relationship with God?
  2. Clarifying Question: 5,000 years into eternity, will this matter? Will you even remember it? What about 50 years from now? What would yourself in 50 years say about this concern of yours?
    Bonus question: what does the thing you’re dreading/fixated on mean about you? Generally speaking, things really only get to us if we interpret the circumstance as meaning something about us. If you can figure out how you’re letting this worry/concern mean something about you, you will be able to address it much more quickly and effectively. (Read this for more info on Making Meaning.)

For all of us out there who occasionally struggle with a sense of dread or worry, good news: you’re a totally normal human being. You’re not meant to be a superhuman, so you’re not missing the mark by experiencing these things. This point isn’t the dread/stress/worry itself, but that the circumstance provides an opportunity for growth if you make the effort to push back on it.

If you read this and think it sounds familiar but it’s a lot more complicated or severe for you, you may be more towards the moderate or severe end of anxiety. If that’s you, you may be interested in taking an online screening regarding anxiety. Additionally, I can be reached here for scheduling a therapy appointment. I utilize cognitive behavioral therapy which is has been repeatedly shown to have the best results in treating anxiety and depression (or even dread, stress, worry and feeling low).

Don’t let anything stand in the way of the life of fullness and freedom that you desire. Joy awaits.