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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!

Step-parent Like a Pro: Equality without comparison

Step-Parent Like A Pro: Equality Without Comparison

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

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

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

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

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

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

Handing down consequences.

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

Structuring Your Household

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

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

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

Step-Parent Like a Pro: Grow your skillset

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

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

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

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

Considerations of Age

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

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

Considerations in Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

Step-Parent Like a Pro

Step-parent Like a Pro!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiny Pay, Huge Value

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Dude’s Guide to Valentines Day Success

A Dude’s Guide to Valentines Day Success

Valentines Day: How to Nail It.

Dear Men,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steps to NAILING Valentines Day:

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

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

YOU’RE WELCOME. 🙂

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

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Navigating Friendship

Navigating Friendship

“I’ve never had a best friend.”

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

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

I just think that’s a flat out lie.

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

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

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

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

How to be a better friend:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alright…there you have it! Get to it!

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

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

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

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

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

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

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

The most important lesson of the snow day is this:

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

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

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

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.)

Transitioning from Work to Home: How to set your night up for success.

Transitioning from Work to Home: How to set your night up for success.

The Question

How do you transition from work to home each day? Do you have a particular routine you use to help you go from employer/employee to spouse mode?

The Problem

Like we discussed last post, the transition moment is either seamless or it’s very rocky. If it’s rocky, it might be because you’re having trouble “shaking off” work as you enter into your home environment. The transition from work to home is rough for a lot of people. Maybe your job is very stressful, very labor intensive or very people driven. If you live alone, you may not think much about the transition from work to home, but I’d suggest that it’s chiefly important for you to not blur the line between the two, and consider your home life entirely separate from your work life. If you have a spouse and/or family, walking in to a house full of people who need things from you can feel pretty overwhelming after a tough day at work! It’s so important that everyone in the house is getting their needs met. It’s possible. It just takes some honest reflection and a strategy.

The Plan

If you struggle with decompressing after a stressful work day, here are a few ideas:

  1. Pick a transition point. On your commute home, give yourself time to process the work day mentally, but at a certain landmark of your choosing, switch trains of thought and start thinking about home. Anything. Stuff on the agenda for the night. Things you like about your spouse and kids. Whatever. Just transition at a planned point so that you can be prepared when you walk in the door.
  2. Write down important things from work. Something you need to do tomorrow? Particularly frustrating conversation with your boss? Write it down. And leave it in your vehicle. You’ll get it out of your system just enough to be able to turn your attention to other things.
  3. Ask for/Give space. Sometimes I distract our toddler so my husband can sneak in without being noticed and take a quick power nap in our bed. (When he comes out later: Surprise! Daddy’s home already!) This way, he’s a little more refreshed and ready to engage. Some people like to take a shower to help them transition from work mode to home mode. Others like to watch the news in relative peace and quiet. Whatever you need, figure it out and make it known.
    • This is particularly important if you’re especially introverted or extroverted. You have needs for either connection or an intentional alone time. These are both legit needs and you shouldn’t minimize them. This need has to be met in order for you to be able to give what your family needs. But, you shouldn’t take all night for this need to be met. Do what you’ve gotta do to decompress the necessary amount, but then be available and presentphysically and emotionally.

In conclusion, consider what you need to really be “off the clock.”

If you live alone…don’t blur the line between “work” and “home” just because you can and no one will complain about it. You’ll burn out eventually and plus, it’s just no fun. You owe it to yourself to maintain/create an identity separate from your work, and this transition point of your day goes a long way to support that part of who you are.

If you’re married, don’t let the transition home moment each day pass you by without considering how you’re approaching it and how you can redeem it for better connection and relational satisfaction! It’s an easy moment to enter into and make a big impact on your relationship. You can do this!

As always, I’d love to set up a time to discuss this issue or anything else for which you’d like to receive counseling support. To learn more about the counseling process, check out this article.

Offices in Livingston Parish and EBR.