Show Some Compassion! For Yourself!
Written By Jessica Winder, MA
A common trend we see in clients across diagnoses is a lack of space given for their own emotions. There is little room for mistakes and a lot of room for the voice inside our heads that critique everything we do.
This is why I often assign clients with this homework assignment: treat yourself like your own best friend. At first, that might mean engaging in self-care like taking a bubble bath, reading that book you’ve been meaning to start, or ordering the chocolate shake you’ve been craving. Over time, we realize that treating ourselves like our own best friend means something different…that we talk to ourselves like we would a friend going through a similar struggle. We treat that friend with kindness, we allow them the space to feel how they feel, we can empathize with them.
That is showing your friend some compassion. It’s time you did the same for yourself!
Self-compassion involves the acceptance of oneself and includes sensitivity to suffering, understanding, and forgiveness of the self. It has three components (Neff, 2003): self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness. Self-kindness refers to being caring to oneself. Common humanity refers to the idea that all human beings (self included) have flaws and face struggles. Finally, mindfulness refers to our awareness of our experiences; we neither avoid nor exaggerate our painful feelings. When we don’t show ourselves compassion, we risk feeling isolated and judged.
Showing ourselves compassion is associated with a lot of positive benefits including improved emotional and physical well-being, interpersonal relationships, and therapy outcomes. When we grow in self-compassion, we might observe decreases in depression, anxiety, and self-criticism among other benefits.
How does one practice self-compassion? Luckily, there are a lot of options! If you enjoy writing, you can start a self-compassion journal. There are also exercises available in using supportive touch or listening exercises. Don’t have a lot of time? That’s not a problem at all. Using a self-compassion break regularly grants you five minutes of calm during your busy day and may also helping you reach your therapeutic goals.
And remember, if you are not sure where to start, just ask yourself how you would treat your own best friend?
For resources on self-compassion, check out https://self-compassion.org/category/exercises/#guided-meditations for meditations and exercises.
Written By Dr. Kat Harris, PhD, LCP
I often tell my clients about Anxiety Planet. Anxiety Planet can be a lonely and scary place. And unfortunately, gravity keeps its inhabitants stuck.
There are many reasons why it can be difficult to escape the gravitational pull of Anxiety Planet. The first is avoidance. The name of the game in getting off of Anxiety Planet is to make safety associations instead of danger associations. However, avoidance makes it essentially impossible or very difficult to make safety associations, therefore danger associations dominate. For example, if someone has an intense fear of all dogs, we would want them to learn that not all dogs are dangerous. But what if this person refuses to go anywhere near a dog? What if they avoid looking at dogs, hearing dogs, or being anywhere a dog might be? How is it possible for this person to learn that dogs are safe? It would be very difficult. We could try telling the person that dogs are safe. We could share our happy stories involving dogs and try to convince them that their beliefs are erroneous. This might even sway them a smidge. However it is unlikely, no matter how much we try, that this person will be convinced that dogs are safe merely via trying to talk them out of it. They need experience. They need to prove to their body and mind that nothing bad happens around dogs. Avoidance keeps the planet spinning; it ensures that the gravitational pull is strong, and that getting off the planet will be difficult. Think of it like feeding a gravity monster. So in treatment, one of my goals is to help my clients stop avoiding to make it easier to escape Anxiety Planet.
There are many forms of avoidance too. Complete avoidance is one example (primary avoidance). However, many people with anxiety engage in all sorts of variations of avoidance (safety behaviors [mental and physical], experiential avoidance, compulsions, worry, etc. - actually most of these things are essentially one in the same and just ended up with various names due the way we conceptualize similar problems...but I digress). Going back to our fear of dogs example: let’s say that the person will only approach dogs with the help of a safety person like a friend (safety behavior). So one day, with the help of a safety person, they have a non-dangerous encounter with a dog. What are they going to attribute this safety experience to? Probably the safety person…they might think something like “thank goodness my friend was here...otherwise something bad might have happened” In other words, they erroneously conclude that safety is attributable to the safety person, not just to the fact that dogs are generally safe. This can happen with all sorts of safety behaviors such as repeatedly checking that something has been turned off, driving only on back roads, "planning" for the worst, seeking reassurance from others, lucky numbers, etc. Another problem with the use of safety behaviors is that the behavior might distract away from paying attention to safety information (e.g., avoiding eye contact in a social situation might mean the person doesn’t realize that the social situation went well and the other person was smiling) or might even create a self-fulfilling prophecy (e.g., avoiding eye contact may actually make the other person nervous and more likely to provide negative feedback). Lastly, safety behaviors are highly reinforcing and people tend to start believing that the only way they can cope or manage their anxiety is to use their safety behavior. This belief may be true in the short term...but in the long term the safety behaviors wreak havoc. As aforementioned, they feed the gravity monster by maintaining anxiety and inhibiting the kind of learning that is actually needed. And when a person starts realizing their anxiety is just getting worse, they often cling to and try using MORE of their safety behaviors or doing them HARDER. But digging more and harder won’t get someone out of a hole...and feeding the gravity monster will only make it harder to get off of Anxiety Planet.
Information Processing Biases
Another reason why it can be difficult to escape Anxiety Planet is because of biases in the way we attend to, interpret, and remember information (Information Processing Biases). Much of the way we process information just ends up confirming our prior belief systems. Thus, people who are very afraid of dogs, let's say, may be more likely to attend to, interpret, and remember information consistent with beliefs that dogs are dangerous. For example, if presented with 20 dogs, someone with a dog phobia might be more likely to pay attention to the one dog who appears potentially aggressive. Or may even misinterpret neutral behavior (e.g., a dog barking) as evidence of aggression. Or that person may be more likely to attend to or remember Facebook articles or news stories about aggressive dogs than articles or stories about friendly happy dogs. Likewise, people with Panic Disorder tend to become hypervigilant to their bodies and physical sensations (they might even body scan), people with OCD tend to become hypervigilant to their thoughts, and people with social anxiety tend to become hypervigilant to possible indicators that others are judging them negatively and therefore feel like the center of [negative] attention, etc.
These information processing biases make it difficult to get off of Anxiety Planet because the gravitational pull is to stay put! Or in this case, the “pull” is maintained by a tendency to verify danger associations or beliefs about the dangerousness of dogs or whatever the person fears.
Lastly, dysfunctional beliefs contribute to the strength of the gravitational pull. There are many different kinds of maladaptive beliefs which could be the topic of an entire blog itself. Examples include “The Big 3”: overestimations of likelihood of bad things happening, overestimations of the cost of those bad things happening, and underestimations of self-efficacy (the belief that a person can handle what happens to them). Others include (and might even be Big-ger depending on the problem) intolerance of uncertainty (e.g., “I can’t handle not knowing”), intolerance of distress (e.g., “I can’t stand feeling anxious), beliefs about the importance of responsibility, beliefs about the meaning of thoughts, emotions, etc.
These dysfunctional beliefs work in a feedback loop along with various forms of avoidance, information processing biases, and emotions to keep a person stuck in a never ending cycle.
So How Do You Get Off of Anxiety Planet?
So you’ve come this far and humored several metaphors. How do you get off of Anxiety Planet? The short answer is Exposure and Response Prevention (or other exposure based approaches). To get off of the planet, you will need to resist engaging in behaviors and beliefs that keep you stuck and give yourself opportunities to learn something new instead. And here’s the thing, you will need to work harder in the beginning, because the closer you are to the surface of the planet, the stronger the gravitational pull. BUT, the good news is that the farther you get away from the surface, the less and less strong the pull and the easier it gets to escape. So in the beginning, you will have to be purposeful and consistent in the way in which you utilize an approach versus avoidance mindset and stance. But once you gain momentum, it will get easier, and soon you’ll look down and Anxiety Planet will be behind you.
One last piece of good news: once you’ve successfully escaped Anxiety Planet, you can be swooped up by the gravitational pull of Healthy Planet! And Healthy Planet has its own gravitational pull to keep you there!
You are capable of making this journey! Gravity can be a difficult force to overcome, but we’ve made it to the moon and beyond, and you can too.
Written By Erin Mitchell, MSW, LCSW
What is infertility and why do I need to be aware? Infertility is technically the inability to become pregnant after 1 year of unprotected, timed intercourse due to either female or male reproductive issues. However, let’s be a little more inclusive with this definition. It can also apply to those individuals who are able to achieve pregnancy consistently, but are unable to sustain that pregnancy to term. According to a survey by the CDC, 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting pregnant or sustaining that pregnancy. This has become a far more widespread issue than most are aware. While some couples are able to treat their infertility through medication alone given through their general OB/GYN, many need to seek treatment through a Reproductive Endocrinologist (RE) at a specialized clinic.
So, why is awareness so important? We live in a culture where we are raised from childhood with the understanding that we will grow up to have children of our own. Little girls are given baby dolls and told to care for them. Consider all the ways that we reinforce this in our society, even the expectation that “a family” refers to parents and their children. With the importance that is placed on having children, it is no surprise that an experience like infertility can have significant physical and psychological impacts.
While the impacts of infertility are varied for each person and couple, there are a few that are more common. Physically speaking, it is just exhausting. There are so many early morning specialist appointments, monitoring appointments, days off of work, injections, blood draws, medications, invasive tests, and overall hormonal upheaval. From a financial standpoint each of the above named items costs money and insurance can cover some costs, but it can range from thousands of dollars to hundreds of thousands out of pocket. Emotionally, people are struggling with not being able to do something that they feel their bodies “should” be able to achieve. All of the education and knowledge that the average person gathers centers around preventing pregnancy, there is no general knowledge for encouraging successful conception that is not based on old wives’ tales. There is also the unique experience that comes from the rollercoaster ride of hope and despair that can come from a failed pregnancy attempt. For many, this has been coming on a monthly basis and is now requiring far more effort and expense making it hit that much harder. As people have become more open about their experiences with infertility, they are creating the opportunity for others in their life to be supportive; but there is still quite a stigma associated with requiring infertility treatment that leads so many people to travel this road virtually alone.
Hopefully that helps to give you a little insight into why people experiencing infertility can really benefit from support. Now the big question is, what can you do to help someone who is experiencing infertility? Below you will find a list of common phrases or experiences that people going through infertility hear from loved ones in their lives, along with better alternatives. The best way that you can be supportive is to assume that you don’t know what they’re going through and to ask them for the best way you can be supportive.
It is perfectly acceptable to feel as though infertility is a complicated process that is hard to wrap your mind around, because it is. Even people who are going through the experience themselves feel very overwhelmed and unsure, so it only makes sense that you may feel that same way. The best way to summarize how you can be supportive to someone you know or care about is to ask them what is helpful. Take this as an opportunity to learn what they need at that time, but understand that their needs may change as well. If they’re not sure you can offer to: listen, help in some way they have determined, or provide a distraction for them. We can get through the most difficult experiences in our lives with the loving support of people who care and you can help to be that person.
Less Listening, More Talking
Written By Adam Ginsburg, MA, LPC
Okay, shut it down! Show’s legitimately over before it even began, as we haven’t even started rolling the trailer footage on things and yet you read the topic of this blog post and we’ve already spiraled beyond our means. Extraverts everywhere are shouting from the top of their already warmed up vocal cords, “SEE!! I WAS RIGHT ALL ALONG!!” Well...sorta.
It’s likely that at some point in our lives, the sage wisdom has been spoken over us, irony of all ironies I suppose, that if we really want to better understand something or someone, it would be of great assistance to us if we talked less and listened more. Yet, here we are with the suggestion of doing the opposite: listening less, talking more. All of this on a day that hasn’t been officially proclaimed as opposite day too? Well yeah, and there’s no such thing as opposite day to begin with, so sorry for super raining on this parade even further.
Here’s what I’m getting at. A lot of the troubles we experience when it comes to our mental health and mental vitality emerge when we find ourselves in a place where we’re listening to ourselves rather than talking to ourselves. I get it, both sound increasingly weird in concept and perhaps even illuminate further the inescapable nature that as people, we’re awfully complicated individuals since we’re apparently both listening to and talking to ourselves with some semblance of frequency.
There’s truth in this, however. According to a research study conducted in 2020 (blast you, 2020 and your COVID-19 ways!) by psychologists at Queens University, an average person experiences around 6,200 thoughts per day. Wait...whut? Yeppers. 6,200 thoughts each day. So there’s a lot of thinking going on, and for most of us, a good majority of these thoughts aren’t being actively expressed so they exist internally only, unless of course you’ve made a habit of narrating your daily activities as you do them, “So I’m going to take out the garbage and wait a minute...did Samantha just get a fresh cut and purchase a new Buick?”
So with 6,200 thoughts a day, the bulk of which remain internal, that feels like an awful lot of listening to ourselves, perhaps to an exhausting degree, right? This is to say nothing of the nature of our thoughts as well. Catch me on a bad day and woof friends, it’s a miracle I have any social contacts based on the negativity and harshness some of my thoughts express. I feel like I’m not alone in this sentiment but you know what? Totally okay if I am as we as counselors anticipate vulnerability from clients, so the least I could do is go first with presenting my own. With such negativity often occurring, it’s commonplace to get in a pattern of listening to ourselves in a one-sided monologue that serves to increase distress rather than decrease it.
The balancing mechanism to this is instead of listening to ourselves, there comes those necessary moments where we’d be wise to start talking to ourselves. Talking to ourselves as in, expressing to ourselves the expectations, hopes, ambitions and aspirations we have for the course and content of our lives. After all, worry emerges from listening to the restlessness of our thoughts whereas peace comes from speaking to our thoughts. Mind you, this isn’t interpreting peace as the absence of conflict as much as the ease of simply being. That’s really something to unfurl for another time and place.
Simple question to ponder over: are you listening to yourself more than you’re talking to yourself? As Dr. Phil once shouted...okay, multiple times shouted repeatedly...“How’s that working for you?” Perhaps it’s overdue to lessen some of the volume and distress that occurs with listening to yourself and more actively engage in talking to yourself to profess more of what you’re actively seeking in your life.
Now What?: Tips to Support Making Positive Changes with Substance Use
Written by Lee Ann Heathcoat, MSEd, LCPC
Millions of individuals are affected yearly with a substance use disorder. Many individuals seeking help with substance use don't know where to start to make changes and think if they simply no longer use the substances, they'll be ok. Making healthy changes with substance use is a complex issue requiring individuals to explore many facets of their lives. Below are few suggestions to help support healthy changes for substance use.
1. Examining Triggers: In learning about triggers (people, places, things, emotions) individuals can gain greater insight as to how triggers can decrease falling back into unhealthy patterns. Being able to learn healthy coping skills (communication skills, managing life stressors, boundaries, etc.) and specific strategies related to individual triggers can increase the chances of successful long-term changes.
2. Social Supports: Making change is challenging and having individuals you can trust to help you while on your journey is important. A great place to meet new social supports is attending community support group meetings (AA, NA, HA, Smart Recovery, etc.). Community support meetings are ways to connect with other like-minded individuals working on making healthy changes. Becoming involved in community organizations (church, community services clubs, etc.) is another avenue to explore when building a new social support system. Seeking out a counselor or mentor is another way to build social supports while making healthy changes. Being able to lean on a strong social support network can assist in supporting ongoing changes for the long term.
3. Sober Leisure Activities: Having a way to manage leisure activities can be a new concept when sober; however, it's an important part of leading a balanced life. Being newly sober can be an opportunity to reengage in leisure activities that were once enjoyable. It's also a time to explore new undertakings that previously weren't options.
Making change is a process and the suggestions above are just a few examples used to begin the journey of making healthy changes related to substance use. If you're interested in additional supports, please contact us at OakHeart Center to schedule an appointment; 630-570-0050
Tips on Being an LGBTQ+ Ally Through Speech
Written by Megan Allegretti, MA, LPC
Happy Pride Month Y’all!
Everyone needs supporters and promoters! I’m a white cisgender female in a heteronormative relationship, and I identify as an LGBTQ+ ally which meands I support and promote equality and rights for LGBTQ+ people along with actively challenging homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. In this article I’ll use the acronym LGBTQ+- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning (or Queer), + for everyone else who does not fit into those specific boxes. It is a very diverse group of individuals, and every community under the LGBTQ+ umbrella has unique needs, challenges and goals that they face. This community is so genuinely accepting that it’s an honor to be an ally to them.
Being an ally means having a strong concern for the well-being of the LGBTQ+ community. If you are like me, in the traditionally privileged group seen as the default by society, being an ally is using our power to help advocate for equal rights and fair treatment of those who do not have the same opportunities as we do, while standing up to people or movements that would marginalize or denigrate our allies. Here are some ways we can show our support through the way we use our words.
Show or Ask Preferred Pronouns
This one is super easy, and can be very effective. When meeting someone new, introduce yourself along with your pronouns. “Hello I am Megan, I prefer she/her.” This opens the door for others to follow, and requires minimal effort, less effort than telling someone you’re from Kansas City. Try not to assume you know what pronouns someone uses by how they look and start with gender neutral pronouns they/them . The best way to be an ally is to ask everyone you meet, “what pronouns do you prefer?” Then use the ones they identify with!
Use More Gender Neutral Terms
When addressing people, writing emails, or sending group texts, try using more gender neutral greetings. Instead of “Hello ladies and gentleman,” try something like “Hello folks” or “welcome everyone” because you want to be welcoming to everyone. When referring to a romantic partner try something like “my partner,” or “significant other.”, instead of introducing them as “my boyfriend/girlfriend” or “wife/husband,” Even making career professions gender neutral, like “fire fighter, mail carrier, actor, waiter, etc.…” can be an ally strategy. The different words accomplish the same goal, but can be much more inclusive to those that do not fit into traditional gender norms. Making this shift requires some effort on our part as the ally to challenge the societal norms we are used to, but this is a small adjustment to help someone feel more welcome and seen.
If you Make a Mistake, Apologize, and Correct Yourself
If you use the wrong pronouns, or a dead name, it happens. I have been there, and I feel awkward and guilty afterwards! This is a friendly reminder that it is not about you, as the ally. People make mistakes, so be conscious you’re not dragging out how bad you feel so that your LGBTQ+ friend has to be the one to apologize. When you notice you have made an error in labeling, simply apologize, use the correct label accordingly, and learn from your mistake.
There can be many reasons why people do not speak up when they hear something offensive related to the LGBTQ+ community. It can be awkward and we do not know what to say, or we do not want to make the situation worse. But as we have seen- words have power and can be hurtful. As an ally we can speak up and educate others to let them know that their words are not acceptable and actually detract from the user. Using it as an opportunity to educate others and bring awareness to how their words have meaning and promote self reflection to become more of an ally themselves.
Continue to be an Ally all Year
June is a colorful and joyous month celebrating the history and vibrancy of the LGBTQ+ community and individuals. Their needs do not disappear the other 11 months out of the year, nor do the reasons to celebrate and recognize them. We can use our words and actions to continue to support them in ways like coming out as an ally, continuing to advocate for equal rights and supporting inclusive policies at schools, work or other places to help protect LGBTQ+ folks from discrimination. Ask yourself questions, do research, and be honest about what you don't know, or are still working on.
I hope the biggest takeaways from this blog is you can be an ally in many ways, to many people, and that our words make a difference. Let us use our words and actions to support the LGBTQ+ community this month, and every month!
Dynamic Duo: IBS and Anxiety
Written by Megan Allegretti, MA, LPC
I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss a relationship that impacts many; the duo of IBS and Anxiety. Let's first take a look at what each of these conditions are.
What is IBS? Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) is the most common functional gastrointestinal disorder found in humans. According to the International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders, IBS impacts 10-15% of the population worldwide. Fun Fact: IBS is the #2 reason people miss work, second to only the common cold. The symptoms of IBS do not have to be present all the time, they can come and go as they please. Symptoms typically include abdominal pain or cramping, bloating, constipation, diarrhea or a combination.
IBS is unique in that it’s very common for people to experience gastrointestinal (GI) distress, but we actually know very little about what causes it. IBS is diagnosed not by its own test, but by ruling out other conditions in people experiencing symptoms, and lumping these under the “IBS” label. We often call IBS a brain-gut disorder; meaning it can be caused or exacerbated by both the digestive and nervous systems. There are currently no pharmacological treatments with consistent results for this diagnosis, only dietary recommendations and maintenance of symptoms.
What is Anxiety? Here we’re looking at anxiety as an emotional reaction, and not necessarily the diagnosable anxiety disorder. We all have some level of anxiety, or fear as an emotional reaction that evolved as part of our survival. Anxiety is a fear response, but the stimuli might be unknown or an internal threat.
What happens when our body experiences fear or anxiety? Our body is responding to perceived threats with an action urge to avoid the situation. This is how our ancestors survived dangerous situations, by avoiding them. However, our modern society has adapted a lot quicker than our bodies which still respond to perceived threats the same way as actual threats- with the urge to avoid.
How Do the Two Tango? A high percentage of people with IBS also experience anxiety. When our body detects anxiety/fear/stress, the autonomic nervous system is activated to prepare us to fight for our lives or flee from the situation- Fight or Flight response. In this state, the amygdala (a part of our brain) sounds the alarm to our nervous system to dump a bunch of neurotransmitters (like serotonin and dopamine) into the digestive tract to quit worrying about digesting and prepare for the imminent threat. When fighting off a bear, we do not need to be digesting our breakfast. However, when our body is responding to perceived threats like stress or anxiety, things that we cannot avoid, this dump of neurotransmitters wreaks havoc on the digestive system.
It is a Game of What Came First, the IBS symptoms or Anxiety Symptoms? Why is IBS called a brain-gut disorder? Because the autonomic nervous system (brain) and the digestive tract’s nervous system (gut) are in constant communication. FunFact: The gut is the only peripheral organ with its own nervous system. I learn best by examples, so let's look at some to highlight this bidirectional communication. Say you have stomach cramping due to IBS symptoms, and then you worry, “Will I make it to the bathroom in time?”. This increases anxiety which increases digestive distress, and the cycle continues. Or perhaps you have some anxiety with work, then you experience stomach tension, and now you are questioning if it is IBS symptoms; for example,did I eat something wrong?”, which increases anxiety.
How can psychotherapy help? As the above examples show, IBS and anxiety have overlapping causes and symptoms and it is hard to tease apart which one came first. What we do have is supporting research showing psychotherapy can help reduce IBS symptoms. Current research supports several different evidence-based treatments with the starting points being education and management of anxiety symptoms. These techniques teach us how cognitions impact our bodies physiological reactions, and if we can manage our anxiety responses then we potentially lower IBS symptoms. The body and the mind are interconnected to the point where we cannot consider one without the other.
If you are experiencing symptoms of IBS which may be linked to anxiety, and want to learn how to manage anxiety symptoms through evidence based treatments, give OakHeart a call at 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.and let us know how we can help!
Your Therapy Questions Answered or Explained, by a Therapist
Written by: Katie Sheehan, MSW, LCSW
I’m often met with a certain fascination when meeting someone new and disclosing my role as a therapist. I notice that some people are quick to use that opportunity to ask me their burning questions about the therapeutic process, as if I’ve lifted the veil and given them a glimpse into a secret, mysterious, off limits realm!
Below are questions/topics that should absolutely be explored, as well as some questions that we’re likely to not answer for good reason.
Questions/Topics that your therapist should absolutely feel ok discussing:
Bringing up something embarrassing or hard to talk about
This is such a challenging thing to do! Often the conversations we would be most tempted to avoid talking about with our therapist might be the issues causing us the most distress. First things first - remind yourself “My therapist is a non-judgemental listener and is here for this very purpose.” Second, think of what you need from them to feel comfortable sharing this, and be okay asking for that!
That might sound something like “I have something I want to talk about that’s difficult for me to bring up, can you...”
“...Be patient with me while I get through this.”
Some other comforting options include sending the topic through encrypted email to be discussed during session, writing it down for your therapist, or even asking them to bring up that topic to start with for the following week.
What if I don’t feel like therapy is working?
This is very important information for your therapist to have but also quite an intimidating topic! There are many reasons that this could occur, and it’s not necessarily a reflection of you or your therapist. The fit of the therapist may feel off, the intervention may not be right for you, your goals may have changed over time, etc.
Different therapists have different preferences for how often they check in on things like this. Some may ask at the end of every session something that sounds like “How was today’s sessions for you?” Some may check in every so often asking “How do you feel like therapy is going?” These are great times to voice any concerns. Some therapists, however, may not ask questions like this at all. Then I would encourage using an I-feel statement to get the ball rolling.
With the knowledge you provide, your therapist can adjust accordingly. This could lead to some really positive changes or you may find yourself asking...
“Dumping” my therapist
So you’ve had the talk of exploring fit, interventions, goals, and you’re still not getting what you want out of therapy. You’ve made the decision, now you just have to rip the band-aid off. Of course some people prefer to cease services through a call or an email, but I highly recommend having a planned “termination” session. The termination session can have a lot of great content, including reflecting on things that went well or didn’t go well, progress that you made towards your goals, what barriers you ran into and even what you’re looking for in your next therapeutic relationship. It also can provide a sense of closure, which is helpful in the ending of any relationship.
Questions your therapist may not directly answer:
Questions about your therapist’s personal life
A good therapist upholds strong boundaries to make therapy successful. This means that any personal disclosures that happen must be heavily weighed. Your therapist may feel comfortable talking about “low risk” topics such as their pets, or their recent vacation. This can help you feel trust and comfort working together. However, a bigger disclosure runs the risk of affecting your quality of treatment. Therefore, don’t be surprised when your therapist avoids a personal question.
Questions that blur the line of client-therapist relationship
This could be any question that may create confusion about what our role is to you. It could be as small as “Do you want to come to my soccer game?” Or as big as “Do you think we’d be friends if I wasn’t your client?”
In conclusion, if you find yourself wondering if a question is okay to ask or not, here are a few questions you can ask yourself prior to asking your therapist.
-Why is it important to me to know this?
-What would their answer change for me in treatment?
And finally, remember every therapist is different and their responses are likely to vary. Every question we answer or choose not to answer is with your best interest in mind.
The Impact of COVID-19: The Challenges and Growth
Written By: Dr. Hillary Gorin, PhD
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives, including our mental health. Many individuals, especially healthcare workers, first responders, and patients hospitalized with COVID-19, have been traumatized throughout this pandemic. With increased uncertainty and the omnipresent threat of COVID-19, many individuals have felt overall more anxious about their life, health, future, and world. We have seen a national rise in substance use, depression, relationship difficulties, and school challenges (Horigian et al., 2020). We are grieving the loss of over half a million Americans. We are processing the loss of our social freedoms and the immense impact of isolation.
It seems nearly every individual around the nation and world has been impacted by this pandemic in some way. Many of us have faced new challenges and struggled with difficult questions, such as how we will see our loved ones safely and how we will cope with the political divide this pandemic has highlighted. Many of us have considered how this pandemic will impact our jobs, our ability to feed our families, and even, our ability to get essential products, such as toilet paper. We have been forced to ask ourselves what we value and how we will view our commitment to keeping others safe, even at the expense of our own happiness. As a result, our values, worldviews, and thinking patterns have shifted, our relationships have been strained, and our happiness has been secondary. At many points throughout this pandemic, many of us have likely felt as if life will never be the same.
While it may be true that aspects of our lives and world will be permanently changed because of this pandemic, I believe that we, individually, can come out of this stronger. I believe that we will find ways to grow from the challenges and tragedy we have faced. This pandemic has not only highlighted our weaknesses as humans, but also our strengths. It has helped me to recognize and value my willingness to make sacrifices in my life for the safety of others. This pandemic has taught all of us that life and health should not be taken for granted. It has shown us the power of science. It has shown us the power of collective action and just how interconnected we are in the world.
Despite the lessons we have learned, the impact of this pandemic will likely extend beyond a vaccinated nation or herd immunity. We will need to remember that we are not invincible and that our body and minds need to be cared for. We will need to continue working together with a shared goal of health and growth. We will need to work to heal and manage the problems this pandemic has created or exacerbated in our lives. The next opportunity for growth is to self-reflect and to recognize when to seek help from others and when to encourage others to do the same. If we all yearn to become our healthiest selves now, the impact of this pandemic can lessen.
Mental health professionals at Oakheart and around the nation are working hard to consider ways to help our patients with managing the following challenges and the impact that COVID-19 has had on them:
Trauma: We are here to help you process and recover from your traumatic experiences so that the past does not continue impacting the present.
Anxiety: We are here to help you learn strategies for managing and overcoming your anxiety and to help you safely return to aspects of your life.
Grief/ bereavement: We are here to help you process the loss and devastation you have experienced. We are here to assist you in honoring those you have lost while moving forward in your life.
Substance Use: If you have turned to substance use to manage stress or isolation, we are here to help you reduce or eliminate use and to find alternative coping strategies.
Childhood/ Adolescent Difficulties: From increased behavioral problems and suicidal thinking in adolescents, to the impact of limited peer interaction and school difficulties, our providers can help your child or teen get back on track and reconnect to their world safely.
Depression: We can help you find creative ways to return to activities you used to enjoy via a technique called behavior activation. In addition, we can help you challenge your negative thoughts and find hope for the future again.
Bipolar Disorder: Maintaining schedule, routine, and medication regimen greatly reduce manic and depressive episodes. We are here to assist you in optimizing your routines, despite the challenges and changes this pandemic has created in your schedule and life.
ADHD: Sitting still during video calls can certainly exacerbate attention deficits. We are here to help you develop attention and organization strategies so that you can create schedules and structures that keep you on task.
Eating Disorders: With limited time spent outside of the home, disordered eating can become harder to challenge. We are here to help you modify your thoughts and behavior related to unhealthy eating patterns.
Domestic Violence: Being with an abusive partner during this pandemic has created a significant increase in safety challenges and corresponding hopelessness. We can assist with navigating these challenges, despite limitations you are facing.
Anger Management: With life stressors all around, frustration, irritability, and anger have increased throughout daily experiences. We can assist with emotion regulation strategies to monitor and manage your anger outbursts.
At OakHeart, we are proud to provide evidence-based treatment with adaptations necessary for the COVID-19 pandemic. Ask for help. We are here with you throughout these unprecedented times. To schedule an appointment, please call 630-570-0050.
Horigian, V. E., Schmidt, R. D., & Feaster, D. J. (2021). Loneliness, mental health, and substance use among US young adults during covid-19. Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 53(1), 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1080/02791072.2020.1836435
Let Your Values Be Your GPS
Written by Pamela Heilman, PsyD, LCP
A value represents something that matters to us, something we view as important, or a principle that guides our behavior. When we experience problems in life, whether we are depressed, anxious, or having relationship difficulties, many of us respond based on how we are feeling in the moment. If we are anxious or fearful, we may want to run away or avoid the situation. When we are depressed, the urge is often to withdraw or isolate. If we are angry, the urge is to attack or behave aggressively. Our emotions are messages from our brains that are communicating something to us about a situation. While it is important that we honor them, if we react based solely on how we are feeling, we can often make things worse. Knowledge of our personal values can serve as a much-needed guide when navigating life’s challenges.
Identifying what is important to us is an essential part of creating change and building healthy habits. If we don’t know what our priorities are, there isn’t much incentive to take action. Therapy often consists of dialogue and/or an activity such as a values clarification exercise to help clients identify what is most important to them. Once this information is obtained, it can serve as a very useful foundation in the therapy process. Awareness of values can help us with conflict resolution, boundary-setting, decision-making, self-confidence, and sense of meaning and purpose.
Emotions can motivate use to take certain actions and connect with others. Problems can arise when we get in the habit of reacting out of emotion without stopping to consider the potential impact of our actions. These types of situations often result in regret and compound our problems. When we can stop and honor our emotions while also considering our values, we tend to respond more reasonably and are likely to feel more connected. Responding from a values-based perspective can be especially difficult when we are highly activated. Warning signs include heightened physical sensations such as racing heart, feeling flushed, sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath. This impacts our ability to focus or think clearly. When this occurs, it is best to take a break and engage in some form of relaxation or exercise to help calm the body physically before deciding how to respond to the situation.
If we know what is most important to us in life, this should be a good indicator of the types of limits we need to set for ourselves and others. For instance, if we identify family as a top value, we may set a boundary at our work place to leave no later than 5pm each evening. If free-time is important, it is helpful for us to set limits regarding our availability for work or social events.
Having clearly identified values helps us to make more informed decisions. If we are considering a career change or whether to get involved in a relationship, we are likely to be more successful if our choices align with what is most important to us. It is also helpful to ask questions about other’s values in order to get a sense of whether we will be well-suited for a particular career or relationship. Knowledge of our values can assist us in making everyday decisions as well, such as the food we put into our bodies and how we spend our time. In order to maintain a values-based perspective it can be helpful to keep in mind which decision will bring us closer to the future self we wish to be.
When we respond to situations based on what will feel good in the here and now, this can erode our sense of self-confidence. Essentially, this type of response can reinforce the idea that we are incapable of handling discomfort or doing the hard work necessary to achieve our goals. Conversely, if we are able to align our daily choices with our values, we are likely to improve our confidence in our ability to manage life’s challenges and achieve our goals.
Sense of meaning and purpose
As human beings, we long for a sense of meaning and purpose. We want to know how our existence in the world makes a difference. The more that we can take actions that align with our value system, the greater chance we have of feeling a sense of purpose. When we take values-inspired action in our relationships, daily decision-making, and the manner in which we cope with life’s difficulties, we create the opportunity to live a more enriching and meaningful life.
Here are some helpful questions to consider:
The reality is that life’s journey is a bumpy road, full of ups and downs, twists and turns. As challenging as it can be, there are also beautiful trees, flowers, birds, and interesting landscapes along that road. Living a values-inspired life allows us to keep moving in the right direction down that bumpy road while also noticing all of the beauty along the way.
If you are interested in learning how to incorporate values based work into your treatment goals, call 630-570-0050 or email us at Contact.OH@OakHeartCenter.com.