Skip to content

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!

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit

Is it You or is it Me? Finding Your Best Therapeutic Fit.

Whether it’s while we are scheduling our initial visit or during our intake session, I frequently get asked this question: How will I know if you’re the right counselor for me?

That is a FANTASTIC Question. The simple fact that you’re even asking that question is a good sign that you’re ready to do great therapeutic work!

RAPPORT

In an ideal world, you would strike gold on your first therapy appointment and have awesome rapport from “hello.” In reality, it may end up being more like test driving cars before deciding which make/model you actually want to end up with for the therapeutic journey.

Beginning therapy can be nerve-racking enough already. The last thing you need is to commit to counseling with someone who makes you feel like the therapeutic equivalent of buying a compact car when what you really need is enough leg room to stretch out.

So how can you tell that you’re on the right path with picking a therapist?

There are two questions you’ll want to keep in mind during your first session:

  1. Does your therapist give you the impression that she knows what she is talking about?
  2. Can you see yourself being comfortable sharing the ins and outs of your life with them?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” it may be an indicator that you haven’t quite found the right fit, therapeutically speaking. And that’s totally ok. There is someone for everyone. It’s not really even personal. Stay loyal to your goals and instincts and keep looking.

I truly want you to be with someone who feels “right” to you, and if something in your gut is telling you that it’s not me, I’d be more than happy to give you some great referrals who may better fit your needs and goals!

If the answer to both of the above questions is “yes,” it’s a good sign that you’re on the right path in finding a good therapeutic fit. You probably won’t be leaving the first session feeling like you’re 100% sure about your therapist. But you should have a good sense that you could see it working out well.

Other Considerations:

  • You shouldn’t leave your first session feeling judged, preached to, or confused.
  • You should have a good idea of how the therapy process works and an estimation of how long the process usually takes for goals similar to yours.
  • You should feel like your questions were answered and that you’ve found your way into the office of a person who isn’t shocked by what you’re saying.
  • You want to feel like you’re sitting with someone who has been down this road before.
  • Within a few sessions, you should understand what therapeutic framework your therapist uses and how your goals may be met through that framework.
  • Before too long, you’ll start to get a feel for the therapist’s personality and communication style.

For me, I like to be very collaborative in the therapeutic process. I want to hear how you respond to things. You’re a full partner in this process.

I like to be goal-directed in therapy. We will have a clear understanding of what you’d like to address in your past or change about your current life before we really begin the work of therapy. I’m going to want to know where exactly you want to go before we put the car in drive.

I tend to be very plain speaking and cut to the chase. And I shoot for discussing really difficult topics in really accessible ways.

With most people, I’m not exceedingly maternal. And no one has ever accused me of coddling.

Not every therapist is like me, and not every client wants my style. Stylistic preferences may be dealbreakers for some clients. And that’s 100% okay. Stay true to your gut and preferences!

Therapy Models:

Other people may care less about personality/style, but instead are looking for a specific therapeutic framework. Within a few sessions, you ought to be able to understand what therapeutic framework your therapist primarily uses and how it will fit with your goals.

For individual work, I typically use EMDR and CBT. For couples work, I tend to use more of an EFT approach (though I am less model driven with couple work than individual work). To me, the lack of a strong therapeutic framework can lead to an endless string of putting out fires in your personal life, instead of addressing root causes. I find these therapeutic models to be the best fit both for my strengths as a therapist and for the types of clients that I see in my practice.

The bottom line is: the therapy process should work for YOU. You owe it to yourself to find the right person for you, your personality and your needs. Trust your gut and your instincts. You know what “yes” feels like to you, and a good therapist will always support that, even if it means you end up in someone else’s office.

Check out this article for additional FAQ’s about my practice and therapy in general. If you have any specific questions for me regarding therapy or my practice, please contact me here! I have offices in Baton Rouge and Walker, Louisiana.

Rain, Rain Go Away!

Rain, Rain Go Away!

What to do if the past year feels too present.

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

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

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

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

The rules for staying stable remain in effect.

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

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

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.

Reunited And It Feels So Good

Reunited And It Feels So Good: 5 Tips for Making Coming Home the Best Moment of the Day

The Question

How do you and your mate greet each other after returning from work?

Is it like a scene from a Nicholas Sparks movie? Or more like a series of grunts and side glances? Somewhere in between? What if this moment of your day had the power to set a tone of positive connection for the rest of your evening…if only you knew how to tap into its potential.

The Problem

The transition/reunion moment following the work day is one of those linchpin moments where things will either go one of two ways: 1) you’ll feel very connected, safe, and welcomed, or 2) you’ll be frustrated and feel isolated, with your guard up.

This transition/reunion moment sets the tone for the rest of the evening. And it’s easily missed by couples because it seems fairly inconsequential. How you handle this opportunity every day reveals quite a lot, and for whatever reason, it seems to be a missed opportunity for a lot of couples.

One reason why the transition time is rough is due to job stress that you have trouble “shaking off” just because you’re in your home environment. We will discuss this part next post! (Be on the lookout for Part 2 and feel free to sign up to receive posts sent straight to your inbox.)

The other reason why the transition moment might be rocky for you is because things are tense at home. Maybe you feel like a rockstar at work but you tend to feel like a failure or constant disappointment at home. If you are generally having trouble connecting well with our spouse, this moment is where the negative cycle starts each night. Additionally, communication styles that are effective (and even help you excel) at your job do NOT typically work at home. If you talk to your spouse like you’re his/her manager…just go ahead and call me now. 😉

Whatever the reason this transition/reunion isn’t working to your advantage, there are a couple of things that you can do to redeem this moment.

Every day, you have this opportunity to build up intimacy or build up defenses. Why not do all you can to not let that moment pass idly by you?!

You may be thinking, “Allison…I have no idea what you’re talking about. We love “coming home time!” Then congrats…you’re doing it right. For everyone else, when you walk in the door, if you’re met with grunts, demands, criticisms, or even not acknowledged at all…we’ve got some work to do!

The good news is that this little moment of the day is the perfect, routine opportunity to really insert some positive connection in your relationship. Most people are blind to the importance of this time, so it’s not a “high stakes” risk for improvement. It’s a great place to start!

The Plan

Just like fake smiles are shown to eventually make you feel a little happier, even a somewhat forced, intentional greeting leads to more warmth and connection between the two of you.

Here are some great (and even silly) options for making coming home a special event that helps your defenses go down and increases your relational satisfaction.

This is definitely an area where I have to practice what I preach. At our house, we have the challenge (as do a lot of you, particularly shift workers) where every week day goes a little differently. Sometimes I’m home when my husband gets home and we are both staying put for the night. Sometimes we have about 5 minutes together before I leave to go see clients. Others, he’ll come home after work and do all the household stuff alone, and I don’t see him until almost 9pm. So some days, he is greeting me, and others I am greeting him. So most of these we swap.

  1. Physical contact. Stop what you’re doing when he/she walks in. Stand up. Put down the spatula. Smile. And give a big hug and/or a kiss. This is either second nature to people when their spouse/partner returns home or it’s a TOTAL stretch and seems so forced and foreign. Stretch yourself here! A good hug really brings down the defenses. It sends the message: you’re home….you made it…it’s safe here. Pro-tip: Use BOTH ARMS. 20 seconds is actually ideal, based on lots of research. (Sounds long…just go with it; you might end up loving it!) Count in your head if you need to! And if you can possibly manage, give a nice kiss, too. It does NOT MATTER if you feel like it’s forced. It’s like faking a smile. It always leads to a better mood. Tricking your brain by doing something positive with your body.
    • There is actually a lot of interesting research on hugging. Check out this article on the physiological and emotional benefits. You’ll be surprised!
  2. Cheering. Now, I admit that this is kind of silly. But at our house, we chant: Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! with fists pumping in the air. Most often we try to do this in the driveway, for maximum impact on our returning conquering hero. 🙂 The point here is not necessarily cheering, but feel free to make it a special event anyway you can think of!
  3. Play time.
    • Hiding. Sometimes we play hide and go seek, and start right before Daddy walks in the door. If he doesn’t see us when he walks in the door…that’s his cue. It’s play time. Play = joy and connection. Just go for it!
    • Dance party. Actually…Brené Brown has a whole theory on how healthy families with low shame regularly engage in dancing together. Don’t roll your eyes at me! Save it for Brené.
  4. Consider your partner’s love language.
    • Some days…if the stars align…I’ll have dinner ready. It’s just a way of taking good care of my family that I occasionally pull off successfully. When I get home late from work, sometimes I’ll have planned dinner for my husband to finish off after he gets home, or sometimes he has made his own thing, or it’s leftover city, baby. But if he’s home for a while and I come home late, I can always guarantee that he’s thought of what I can eat when I get home. It’s the best and makes me feel taken care of and supported!
    • What makes your spouse feel loved and supported? You should try to do that when he/she gets home.
  5. Ask questions. Not too many. Not too fast. But here are some choices:
    • Rate it: How was your day on a 1-10?
    • High/low: what was the best/worst part of your day? Then here’s the pro-tip: EMPATHIZE when you respond. “Wow! That sounds awesome!” “Oh man…I hate that you have to deal with that.”
    • Do you need anything from me tonight?
    • What’s something we can do together as a family this weekend/next time we’re both off?
    • If kids- Did anything happen with the kids today I need to know about?
    • Whatever else comes to mind….the sky’s the limit! But not too many…not too fast.

If you want to discus this topic or any other related to individual, marital, or family counseling, just contact me here! Appointments available in Baton Rouge, LA and Walker, LA.

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.

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.

Questions to Ask When Choosing A Therapist

By the time people are sitting across from me, they’ve already chosen to open up their lives to a therapist and try something new in order to achieve their goals and make the changes they desire. The decision of whether or not to go to therapy is a hard one. Some people struggle with their decision for months or even years. I wrote on this topic last week, so feel free to hop on over to that post if you haven’t read it yet.

Once you decide that A) therapy is right for you and B) “now” is the time to pursue counseling, picking a therapist who will be a good fit for you is crucial to your therapeutic process. There is empirical data to back this up, but the common sense speaks just as well: if you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, you’re not going to get much out of it. Your money, your time, not to mention you STORY…who you are, how you came to be who you are, and who you’d like to become…are arguably the most important things about you. So, who you share these things with deserves some forethought.

Sharing what is most sacred about you with a total stranger will always feel a little awkward at first. The more you get to know your therapist, the more you’ll feel comfortable with him/her…just like any new relationship. But right away (during the first visit) you should start to get a sense of 2 important things: 1) my therapist is actually listening to me and makes me feel understood and 2) I get the sense that she/he knows what he’s talking about and can handle my story.

While the therapy process is not always very comfortable, you should absolutely feel comfortable with your therapist. One client with a smile on her face put it to me this way, “I hate coming but I love seeing you!” What you talk about in therapy can often be pretty difficult, but having a good connection with your therapist goes a long way.

Other than finding a good personality fit, here are some questions you should ask/research when choosing a therapist:

  • What are some things I want to see change in my life (or “work through”) in therapy?  Would this require a therapist who is more specialized in a specific field of study?
  • Do I want to use my insurance to help cover the costs of therapy? (If so, start with your insurance first and look at their list of in-network providers. Also, inquire if your mental health/behavioral health deductible is separate from your medical deductible, and assess if it meets your needs to still utilize your insurance.)
  • What kind of training/degree should my therapist have?
    • Licensed professional counselors (which is what I am), marriage and family therapist (which is what my degree is in), licensed clinical social workers…these 3 licenses will will generally offer the same type of treatment for outpatient psychotherapy and have all received masters degrees (or more), passed their board exams, and had to complete several thousand hours of therapy after graduating before they are fully licensed.
    • Mental health nurse practitioners (which is a master’s level nurse, specializing in mental health), psychiatrists (which is a full MD who specializes in mental health) typically do more mental health medication management than direct therapy.
    • Psychologists have Ph.D.’s or Psy. D’s in psychology, have the ability to practice psychotherapy and in some states they have the ability to write prescriptions as well.
  • How much experience should my therapist have? Are you ok with a student intern or do you feel like your goals are better suited for someone with more experience? If you’re limited on budget, a masters-level student intern may be a great choice, as they have a lot of supervision (so you benefit from a “two heads are better than one” therapy experience) and they tend to offer lower fees.
  • Is the faith of your therapist important to you? It’s ok to ask about this type of thing when you make your initial contact!

You totally owe it to yourself to find the right therapist for you. Your time, money, and story are valuable to you and to me! I’d love to answer any questions you may have regarding this process, and if you need help finding a referral other than me in the greater Baton Rouge area, I’m always happy to help.

Spring Life Counseling, LLC has offices in Baton Rouge off of Government, right of I-12 in Walker and in Denham Springs near Florida and River Road.