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Tony Dayton

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FROM THE BLOG

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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.

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