Author Archives: FireSpike

Trolls & Toxicity: Surviving Online Harassment

Harassment Counseling : Whether at School, University or Home

Online harassment, sometimes called cyberbullying or cyber abuse, has become more prevalent as internet use has increased. According to 2017 statistics, 41% of American adults have experienced online harassment.

These figures increase when looking at cyberbullying in youth. In a 2014 review, between 20% and 40% of adolescents said they experienced some type of online harassment. However, since not everyone who experiences harassment reports it, the actual prevalence of harassment may be somewhat higher.

Online harassment can have serious mental health consequences at any age. Just because the abuse happens online does not make it any less real.Portland state university counseling cyber bullying.

Among adults who’ve experienced harassment, 18% report serious harassment such as stalking, threats, or sustained harassment campaigns. Women are more likely than men to experience sexual harassment and receive sexually explicit images. More than half of women between ages 18 and 29 report receiving unwanted sexual images online. Research also suggests gender and ethnic minorities experience online harassment at increased rates.

Online harassment can take many forms. Common types include:

Trolling: Making some type of negative or hurtful comments meant to upset, humiliate, or discredit someone.
Message bombing: Sending an extreme number of texts, chats, instant messages, or emails with the intent of blocking access to the account. This is often done with the help of bots.
Doxxing: Sharing someone’s personal information online, such as a phone number or home address. Sometimes this is done to facilitate identity theft. Other times, information is shared so that people can harass the individual in physical spaces as well as online.
Revenge porn: Sharing sexually explicit photographs or videos of an individual without their consent. Around 41 states have laws against revenge porn.
Swatting: Making a false report to the police about illegal activity occurring at someone’s home. At best, this can be extremely inconvenient. At worst, it can put the person swatted, and their family or roommates, in danger.

Today’s society is grounded in technology. It’s often difficult, if not impossible, to avoid using internet, email, or social media apps each day for work, school, or personal reasons. But people who have dealt with online harassment may feel anxiety and stress when they have to do these ordinary activities. This distress can lower one’s performance at school or work. Serious or persistent harassment can contribute to depression, suicidal thoughts, and even suicide attempts.
“When our sense of emotional safety in the world is compromised, so too is our psychological health,” Allison Abrams, LCSW-R says. Some groups may be particularly vulnerable to harassment. “Those with certain risk factors, such as a history of trauma, previous depressive episodes, or a family history of depression, etc., are especially vulnerable. In some of these cases, online harassment can be a trigger for a clinical depressive episode. Being humiliated publicly can engender or certainly worsen feelings of worthlessness, isolation, and low self-esteem—all contributing factors in clinical depression.”

One 2017 study looked at the effects of cyberstalking among the 100 individuals. The study participants reported feelings of fear, anxiety, depression, and helplessness. Many of them changed jobs or altered their daily lives significantly as a result of cyberstalking.

Other research suggests 40% of people who experience online harassment develop lower self-esteem. Around 30% of people worry their lives may be in danger.

Multiple studies have shown the risk for mental health symptoms increase in youth who have experienced cyberbullying or online harassment. These may include depression, isolation, anxiety, and dissociation, among others. Adolescents who experience online harassment are three times as likely to have suicidal thoughts.

Negative effects may worsen if harassment continues, but victims of online abuse often find it hard to get help.

Not everyone reports cyberbullying or harassment. Those who do often aren’t believed, which can compound the distress they experience. Even when people who report harassment are believed, free speech is protected by law, so a legal gray area surrounds certain types of harassment. This can limit the actions legal authorities can take.

Attempting to report online harassment can be frustrating when bullying and threats aren’t taken seriously. These are real concerns, and they should be treated as such, especially if they’re having a negative impact on your health.

Many states do have laws about cyberbullying and online harassment, so it’s still a good idea to report harassment. While it may be discouraging if authorities don’t respond and the harassment continues, violent threats in particular should always be reported.

If you’re experiencing online harassment, consider taking these steps:

Reach out to the site or platform administrator. Larger sites such as Facebook and Twitter often have built-in mechanisms for reporting harassment. For smaller sites, you may need to reach out directly to the website’s administrator. These options can help get the person blocked and prevent them from contacting you again. Save the messages or emails you send and any replies you get from the administrator.
Avoid contacting the person who’s bothering you. Don’t interact with or engage with them in any way. If you know the person, you could ask a parent, friend, or someone you trust to reach out to the person and ask them to stop messaging you. This could help in some situations, but in others it may be best to let law enforcement handle the situation.
Report the person to law enforcement. The officer you speak to may be able to give you more guidance on how to proceed. Continue reporting any further incidents.
If you believe the person harassing you is breaking the law, you may wish to involve a lawyer.
Seek social and professional support. This can help decrease the negative impact of online harassment.

Research indicates many people who experience online harassment get little support from law enforcement professionals or community organizations, such as their schools or universities. Lacking support can greatly increase the chances that online harassment will have long-term mental health consequences.

You may feel inclined to avoid the internet after experiencing harassment. Doing so could help reduce distress and may help you cope with the experience. But avoiding social media could also make it more difficult to talk to friends and family, which can lead to isolation. If you choose to stop using the internet for a time, let your friends and family know what’s going on and work out a plan to stay in touch so you don’t become isolated.

It’s often difficult to share distressing experiences such as harassment or online abuse. But friends and family can offer support and advice, so talking to them may help more than keeping the situation to yourself.

Practicing good self-care can also help you cope. Making time to take care of yourself is always a good idea, but self-care becomes even more important when you’re in distress. If you feel anxious, overwhelmed, or angry, try:

Taking a walk
Journaling about what you’re feeling
Joining an online harassment support group
Getting a massage
Practicing relaxation techniques
Another part of self-care is taking care of your emotional health. You may find it easier to deal with online harassment when working with a therapist. They can offer compassion, support, and understanding in a safe space. It’s also possible they’ll have suggestions on how to deal with harassment. At the very least, they’ll be able to listen and help you develop strategies to cope with your distress.

If you have suffered online harassment, contact me to make a counseling appointment at my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Mental Health Awareness : How Can Therapists Participate?

Life With Mental Health, Counseling Help & Fighting Stigma in Portland

Webster defines mental health as “The condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental illness and by adequate adjustment, especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and the ability to meet demands of daily life.” Additionally, according to The World Health Organization, mental health includes “Subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential.”

In these definitions, the message is largely about stress, which directly impacts how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. Stress can refer to big traumas or even small traumas that disrupt our daily activity and ability to function. It creates a lens, or filter, for how we deal and cope with various situations.

Mental Health Help PortlandOften, our coping mechanisms become skewed, and we find ourselves even more overwhelmed, with a warped sense of self as a result. People can slip into a mindset of being inadequate, bad, or invisible. How often do we allow these mindsets to linger and settle in our psyche? What is the normal response to talking about and managing our stress? “Just deal with it;” “I don’t have time to think about that stuff;“ or “I have to keep moving”: Society, media, and even our families may tell us how we should be and what we should be doing. But we may rarely be instructed in the intricate steps for achieving these goals.

We are told to achieve, to obtain; but if we do not care for ourselves, how do we maintain motivation or momentum to do so?

During Mental Health Awareness Month, it is our duty as professionals to get the word out about how self-care, which leads to self-actualization (the top tier in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to be healthy and happy) is a priority, and it is necessary!

We can do this by highlighting various concerns that arise when mental health is not addressed. We can use social media as a vehicle and platform to promote ways in which people can implement positive coping skills and learn how to identify when they may need to implement them.

Social media can also be used to advertise when and where support groups may occur or agencies that may be able to support a person who might need help addressing their mental health.

Taking care of ourselves allows us to understand our roles within our families, communities, and more importantly, within the community of the Self. How do we get the word out that it is okay to acknowledge, accept, and make agreements with Self and others to work on improving our state of existence? Mental Health Awareness Month is one way! It is about just that: making it acceptable to breathe. Making it acceptable to stop and address all those stressors that impact our self-worth and allow us to doubt our abilities.

Where do people go to “breathe” or catch a break from reality? Churches and other religious or community centers are a few places! Professionals could speak at local community centers through holding a seminar once a week or handing out pamphlets. They might even place a flyer on community bulletin boards to bring attention and awareness to mental health.

Barber shops and hair salons can serve the community in the same way. Many people come to these spaces to gain insight and gain acceptance. They may often engage in banter that promotes thought and facilitates change. People in these places could be more likely to pick up a pamphlet that’s left around.

If we do not address our mental health, it can decline into mental illness. Most people do not understand or know the difference between mental health and mental illness. Part of what we can do as professionals is educate the public on these differences and how one can be related to the other. During this month, we can highlight the difference!

We can speak to people about how to address both mental health and mental illness. As people may often try to avoid these topics, in such a forum as Mental Health Awareness Month, they can gain information without “outing” themselves.

As identified previously, if people do not address their mental health or stress, the symptoms can become harder to control, hide, or contain. They may slip out in ways that can be embarrassing, harmful to self and others, and detrimental to employment, relationships, and even physical health. These are the pitfalls of allowing stress to grow without being managed or supported.

No matter what stage of change (pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, maintenance, relapse) you may be in, having better understanding can help! The more we put the word out there and dispel the stigma associated with mental health, the better we can aid people in propelling themselves into possibly and the next phase of change.

Mental health is still, in some communities, seen as an excuse or as not real. Other times, it is misunderstood or not even acknowledged. Our job, not just in the month of May, but every day, is to increase the general understanding of how mental health is a real thing that people struggle to cope with and gain control of.

If mental health is a concern for you, set up a counseling appointment at my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Stressful School Year? Use Summer to Help Your Student Manage Anxiety

Summer Therapy Can Help Students Manage Anxiety

Portland summers can be a time to treat a student's anxiety.If your child or adolescent struggled with anxiety during the school year, now is an opportune time to address it. Take advantage of the summer break to give them the skills they need to manage stress, feel confident, regulate their emotional responses, maintain strong friendships, and—most importantly—feel better about themselves.

Not sure if your student has anxiety? Here are some common signs:

  • Excessive worry about a variety of issues, such as grades, appearance, peers, family matters, performance in sports/activities, homework, and tests
  • Physical symptoms such as upset stomach, vomiting, and headaches
  • Trouble falling or staying asleep
  • Changes in eating behavior
  • Inability to relax even when they recognize their fears are out of proportion or unreasonable
  • Treating themselves harshly and/or expecting perfection
  • Fear and avoidance of social situations
  • Disconnecting from friend groups
  • Mood swings and/or increase in irritability
  • Obsessive thoughts and/or compulsive behaviors

Trying to resolve these issues during the school year, when symptoms may be at their peak, can be challenging. Homework and tests are a constant, then add on any extracurricular commitments. There may be few opportunities for your student to decompress and learn from the last anxiety-producing experience before they happen upon the next one. Summer provides a (hopefully) more relaxed schedule to reflect on what creates anxious feelings and to practice and adopt effective ways of coping.

Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one form of treatment that has been found to be effective for anxiety (Otte, 2011). With the guidance of a trained counselor, CBT brings to the forefront the thoughts a person is having, the emotions that accompany those thoughts, and the behavior that results. Modification of just one of these variables can help improve the other two. Students can learn more effective ways to cope by examining faulty or irrational thoughts. For example, a young person with test anxiety may have a negative internal message that reminds them that they have no hope or confidence they can pass their tests. This negativity can spill over into areas such as homework, extracurricular activities, and friendships, leading to a prevailing sense of powerlessness, hopelessness, and failure. The resulting behavior can include the symptoms listed above.

Taking time to challenge a student’s way of thinking and replace negative narratives with more reasonable and accurate self-statements can help them feel more capable and empowered. Confidence helps build a sense of control and possibility, and in turn leads to adopting healthy behaviors in the face of all the ups and downs that come along.

It’s important to educate your student about anxiety so they understand everyone experiences it in varying degrees, thanks to the fight-or-flight response. The human brain is hardwired to assess for dangers and react to threats in the environment, an evolutionary survival mechanism (Schab, 2008). Helping your student understand that the fight-or-flight response is there for a good reason assures them that (1) they aren’t flawed and (2) opens the door to learning ways to turn the dial down so they aren’t constantly on high alert. Chronic anxiety builds up stress hormones that can, over time, cause emotional and physical problems.

According to the American Psychological Association’s “Stress in America” survey conducted in 2013, “Teens report that their stress level during the school year far exceeds what they believe to be healthy (5.8 versus 3.9 on a 10-point scale) and tops adults’ average reported stress levels (5.1).” This summer, take the time to help your student better understand the anxiety that comes with all that stress, and partner with a therapist to develop strategies for building the confidence they need to manage it in the next school year. Make an appointment at my Portland area office or contact me for more info on anxiety therapy.


American Psychological Association survey shows teen stress rivals that of adults. (2014, February 11). Retrieved from
Otte, C. (2011). Cognitive behavioral therapy in anxiety disorders: Current state of the evidence. Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, 13(4), 413–421.
Schab, L. (2008). The anxiety workbook for teens. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Factors That Affect University Student Mental Health

Are You A Portland State University Student in Need of Counseling?

Mental health factors affecting Portland State University students.The study did not identify a specific causal link between certain graduate school experiences and mental health concerns. Yet it did identify some common challenges students face. Fifty-six percent of students with anxiety said they did not have a good work-life balance. Among students with depression, 55% said the same.

Half of students with anxiety or depression reported a lack of guidance. They said their advisor or principal investigator did not offer “real” mentorship. The study adds that many universities don’t offer career development programs.

The study’s authors caution that their research may overestimate the prevalence of mental health concerns among graduate students. People experiencing mental health concerns might have been more inclined to respond to the survey.

Even so, other research supports the notion that graduate and professional school students face high rates of mental health concerns. A 2016 study found high rates of depression among medical school students. In that survey, 27% of respondents reported clinically significant depression symptoms. Eleven percent reported suicidal thoughts. If you are a University student and are looking for counseling in the Portland area, contact me to make an appointment.


Depression, anxiety high in graduate students, survey shows. (2018, March 6). UT Health Newsroom. Retrieved from

Graduate students need more mental health support, new study highlights. (2018, March 6). Science. Retrieved from

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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10 Good Reasons to Seek Relationship Coaching

You Don’t Need a Crisis for Relationship Coaching

One of the main reasons people seek therapy is for help with intimate and close relationships. And while couples counseling tends to be viewed as something for only relationships in crisis, there are many reasons people in relationships might pursue it. Some are small, some larger, but all are important and deserve to be explored and worked on.

Here are 10 good reasons to look into relationship counseling:


Communication is the foundation of all relationships. Communication comes in many forms, both in person and over the phone, text, or social media. Therapy teaches couples how to communicate with each other in a positive manner that works. The type of communication a person grows up around tends to strongly affect how they communicate in their adult relationships. Counseling can help couples make a conscious choice of communication style and not just fall back on what they know from their history.


10 reasons for relationship coaching Portland.

There are many issues couples face before they tie the knot. Premarital counseling is a place to discuss many things. One example is finances. Will bank accounts be shared? What about making decisions about what to purchase? Another consideration is household duties. Are children part of the picture? What role(s) will in-laws play in your life? Couples counseling can be a safe place to start the conversations that need to be addressed.


Sex can be something that heals and brings a couple together, or it can be a battleground fraught with anxiety, embarrassment, anger, and hurt. Counselors encounter sexual issues frequently and can help.


Infidelity within a relationship can be the most hurtful and damaging thing a couple ever goes through, but it does not mean the relationship has to be over. Couples counseling provides a healing space to begin the journey toward resolution. It can help find practical and meaningful ways to navigate the treacherous waters of unfaithfulness.


Couples have relationships with people outside of their relationship together. Friends, extended family, children, coworkers, and supervisors/bosses/professors are just a few. These relationships can be either healthy or unhealthy. Some things that can be discussed are boundaries with members of the opposite sex or same sex, communication with exes, and together and alone time.


Nontraditional intimate relationships, such as polyamory, open relationships, and swinging, can have problems and struggles—some of which are specific to their lifestyle and identity, some that all couples deal with. It can be intimidating to seek relationship therapy for fear of not being valued or understood because of the type of intimate relationship one is in. Many relationship counselors are comfortable and have the background and understanding to work with people in nontraditional relationships and can provide an open and safe place to work on the struggles a couple is having.


When one or both partners have children from another relationship, blending has its own specific struggles and difficulties. Parenting differences, the role of the other parent, and the new identity of the family all need to be explored.


When a relationship has ended, whether by mutual agreement or otherwise, managing life can be difficult. Often, individuals need to express anger, sadness, and grief. There may be practical issues to sort out as well, such as housing and children. Agreeing how and when to communicate is another example of a matter to be discussed in couples counseling.


Facebook. Twitter. Texting. Sexting. Instagram. YouTube. Snapchat. These are just a few ways technology can infiltrate and affect relationships. Communicating via social media has its own pros and cons. Couples often have conflict regarding who to “friend,” what to “like,” and who to text, block, or chat. Communicating that is not done face-to-face or even on the phone is hard. No matter how many emojis are used, words can be misconstrued and misread. Tone of voice and body language are important to understanding what is being conveyed. Relationship counseling can help couples work through problems technology has caused, and create boundaries with each other to help restore trust when social media have hurt the relationship.


After trust is broken, relationships can be harmed or even destroyed. Part of having a solid and healthy relationship is to be able to trust one another. Learning to trust again is a slow and hard process, and it can be painful and frustrating when it doesn’t happen quickly. Counseling can educate and assist couples with understanding the process of regaining trust, and provide tools and direction to help.

All relationships are difficult in some form or another. There will be disagreement, conflict, and hurt even in the best of times. Relationship counseling can help individuals and couples grow and heal. Like all types of therapy, the lessons learned and behaviors changed will continue to serve each person for much longer than the therapy itself.

It takes work to have a solid and positive relationship. Couples counseling is worth considering for any couple and can promote mutually beneficial change for years to come. Make an appointment at my Portland area office for more info on relationship coaching.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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University Graduate Students Counseling Help

Are You a Graduate Student? Feeling Stressed? Counseling Can Help!

With greater access to treatment, more people find they can take on the monumental venture of earning a degree. Yet once they are in school, their risk of mental health problems increases. Graduate students in particular may struggle to manage school, finances, and self-care. The combined stress can be devastating to mental well-being.

Counseling can help graduate Portland State University students.The American Psychological Association says the need for mental health care on campuses is increasing. A 2015-2016 report from the Center for Collegiate Mental Health surveyed college counseling centers across America. The report showed an increase in student hospitalization, medication use, and suicide. More than 55% of the centers saw increases in salary budgets to meet demands for care. But some clinics still face challenges in meeting students’ needs. They may have limited hours of service or high costs of care.

Meanwhile, almost a third of PhD candidates may be at risk for mental health concerns. Around 34% of graduate students may already experience moderate to severe depression.

Researchers continue to study the specific differences between undergraduate and graduate students’ health. Further surveys may determine how to improve psychological care for each population. The goal is to promote mental well-being in colleges and universities.


Some populations are more at risk of developing mental health concerns. As the population of graduate students grows more diverse, so do mental health needs. Minority and international students may need help with multicultural issues. LGBTQ+ students can also face discrimination.

These populations can benefit from seeking mental health treatment on campus. Yet not all students may feel represented at their school’s counseling center. Around 71% of counseling center staff members are white. The number of openly LGBTQ+ counselors is limited. Counseling centers could better serve minority students by hiring more diverse staff.

Another risk factor is academic performance. Students who feel they are behind in their classes are more likely to report stress and anxiety. The Graduate Assembly of University of California, Berkeley rates academic performance as one of the top three predictors of depression in graduate students.

Yet catching up may be easier said than done. Many graduate students have responsibilities outside school such as childcare or employment. In a 2014 survey, graduate students cited job outlook, financial stress, loneliness, and alienation from mentors as contributing factors to depression and negative well-being.

Graduate students can help improve mental health outcomes by learning what signs to watch for. Any of the following symptoms may indicate a larger mental health concern:

  • Irritability
  • Sleeplessness
  • Panic attacks
  • A dependence on drugs or alcohol
  • Inability to complete daily tasks
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Suicidal thoughts


Psychological care addresses diagnoses that affect students as well as the general population. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy can help individuals cope with anger or anxiety. Acceptance and commitment therapy can help busy students focus on their priorities.

Counseling centers can also introduce students to alternative treatments to complement traditional therapies. Some therapists might assign internet-based worksheets to help reprogram harmful thoughts. Others may direct students to mindfulness practices like yoga.

Treatment can be especially helpful for students whose diagnoses impact learning. When a survey asked students if campus counseling services helped with their academic performance, over 70% answered positively. These results suggest counseling can help both mental health concerns and academic issues.


Self-care practices like sleep and exercise can promote more positive mental health outcomes. Students who limit their schedules and have a social life have less risk for burnout. Experts encourage students to find a therapist before their symptoms become overwhelming.

There are several ways graduate schools can reduce students’ risks of mental health concerns. Schools can accommodate students’ schedules, aid their career preparations, and improve campus mental health care. Schools can also help by educating students about time management and self-care. Close mentorship is also linked to improved mental health and academic outcomes. Academic advisors are particularly helpful for international students.

Graduate students are a population with unique mental health needs. If schools improve their campus mental health care, they can not only lower the rate of mental health concerns, but also promote academic success. Mental health care on campus can improve all aspects of graduate student life.


Jed Foundation is an advocacy group for teen and young adult mental health. Students can find information about their legal rights related to mental health.

The National Grad Crisis Line provides suicide prevention services specifically for graduate students. Individuals can reach the hotline by calling 1-877-GRAD-HLP (1-877-472-3457). People studying abroad can access the hotline through a Skype number. is a service of the Jed Foundation. It offers self-assessment tools to evaluate mental wellness and suitability for counseling. There are also resources for those who need immediate help.

American Psychological Association has an online section of articles especially for graduate students. Helpful pages include self-care tips and advice for seeking mentorship.

If you’re a graduate student or student of Portland State University, I can help with local counseling. Make an appointment today for more information.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.


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Coaching Steps To Discuss Relationship Problems

How to Talk About Relationship Problems with Your Partner

Something touched off hard feelings between you and your partner. Maybe it was a simple mistake. Your loved one forgot to pick up the milk on the way home. Or maybe you wanted some sympathy after a bad day at work, only to hear your partner criticize you. Ouch.

Now you’re upset. You may wonder if your partner really understands or cares about you.

How do you fix a relationship problem? Many people dread conflict so much they say nothing. They hope the bad feelings will just go away.

Relationship Coaching Portland steps to discuss problems with your partner.HOW TO BRING UP A RELATIONSHIP PROBLEM

You need to know how to talk about a relationship problem. The important thing is to learn how to allow the emotions involved.

Because avoiding emotional pain in your relationship works against you.

Hard feelings between you don’t go away on their own. You need to see them and soothe them as a couple, so they resolve. That’s one major function of a healthy relationship.

I worked with a couple I’ll call Bob and Amy. Amy wanted to keep just those things around the house they needed and used now. Bob preferred having stuff like extra boxes, umbrellas, and materials for projects. Bob tended not to tidy up unless pressed. And when Amy has pressed Bob, they had terrible fights.

Now Amy doesn’t feel free to speak up about the “clutter” issue, though it still bothers her. Meanwhile, Bob throws away more than he wants to, and resents it. And he worries Amy will never be satisfied, no matter how little he keeps or how neat he tries to be.

Do you see the trouble? On the surface, the disconnect is about stuff in the house. But as a therapist trained in emotionally focused therapy (EFT), my job is to help Bob and Amy see the unspoken thoughts and emotions at work. What’s under the anger and resentment? What do those thoughts mean to their sense of attachment as a couple?


In therapy, Amy admitted feeling Bob’s stuff was more important than her peace of mind. She felt dismissed and hurt. She needed Bob to hear that his desire for “stuff” seemed to come first, and it made her feel unwanted. After Amy expressed her hurt in a vulnerable way, you could feel their tension soften.

Then Bob said he worried that even if he threw everything away, she’d still find fault with him. He felt rejected. Bob needed Amy to hear that her demand for “order” left him no room to be himself.

Before they can solve their lifestyle problem, the bigger problem needs tending: the underlying panic that neither of them saw or cared about each other. They took time to tend the hurts and put stress relief first.

After Bob and Amy connected emotionally, they could affirm their support for each other. They quickly found the energy to be co-creative. They agreed on “clean” zones for Amy and built a “man-shed” for Bob. But more important, they learned how to take each other’s distress to heart, find the source, and assure each other they matter.

Sometimes, tensions arose again. But now they could talk over what was happening without getting locked into battle or withdrawal.


Unsolved relationship issues trigger deeper worries about how safe and secure partners feel together. It’s hard to feel close when you’re worried. That’s why distress with a loved one needs to be resolved.

Doubts about a connection can make a person feel threatened or in danger. That’s because we naturally seek safety in relationships. Deep down, relationship hurts trigger bigger questions: Do I matter to you? Are we okay?

If we’re not sure how to say “I care” to each other, it’s easier to get angry and strike out against what seems wrong.

When we speak out of anger, we’re headed for trouble. There’s actually nothing wrong with saying something is bothering you. But the key to fixing your relationship is to talk about what you need—not your partner’s faults.

What else can couples do besides struggle in silence?


Let’s look at some of the damaging ways some people bring up relationship issues. Compare these to some healthier ways to fix a problem instead:

Don’t glare: Don’t glower, grumble, or go silent to get a reaction. It doesn’t help your loved one understand. More likely, angry looks will make your partner defensive.

Do be clear: Do tell your loved one that you are upset. Say what you are upset about without blame. “I didn’t like the way you spoke to me when you came home.”

Not this: “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you remember one little thing?”

Try this: “I was counting on your help. You forgot about it, and I feel like I don’t matter.”

Don’t assume: Don’t expect your partner knows how you feel or can figure out what you want to happen.

Do explain: Tell your partner what hurts you. Be clear about what you want and need.

Not this: “You’ll never understand. You should know me a lot better by now.”

Try this: “I need you to see how upset I am about work. Can I just vent? I would really like some support.”

Don’t get personal: Avoid put-downs or name-calling. Words such as “selfish,” “clueless,” or nasty names usually make problems worse.

Do speak from experience: Focus on what happened for you. Clean anger deals with behavior rather than character.

Not this: “You said you’d get the milk. Can’t you get your act together for once?”

Try this: “I get really stressed when there’s no milk for the kids. I know you didn’t mean to forget. How can we stay on top of this better?”


Repair is one of the most powerful things you can do to build a stronger relationship.

You don’t need to be perfect for each other to be happy together. You can do a lot to restore goodwill by repairing hurts.

What separates many successful couples from less happy ones is the ability to make repairs. It allows you to keep getting better at responding to each other’s needs over time.

Repair is any gesture—a phrase, apology, hug, a friendly glance—that eases the negativity between you.

A lot depends on whether, beneath it all, you see each other as friends. Even if the repair attempt is awkward or clumsy, faith in your friendship will tips the scales toward healing after conflict.

Your kindness—and your partner’s ability to accept it—makes you both part of the solution instead of the problem for each other.


It’s hard to admit we need each other. No one wants to invite ridicule or rejection by showing a tender need for love and acceptance. Yet it’s more terrible to feel cut off and alone.

“Do I matter to you?” That’s the question we need to hear “yes” to, especially when one of you is hurt.

Gently explaining your hurt is the first step to deepening your understanding together. Being able to hear when your partner is hurt is just as important to make things better.

This is much easier said than done. It’s tempting to avoid painful feelings rather than talk through relationship issues. That’s why a good therapist can be a powerful help to find a repair process that works for you.

Talking to your partner when you’re upset is a great chance to connect. You can learn to get your message through in a way that works with your need to connect, not against it. For more information on relationship coaching, contact my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Exploring Healthy Relationships in Couples Therapy

Healthy Self, Healthy Love: Characteristics of a Strong Relationship

Much has been written about unhealthy love and toxic relationships, but what about healthy love? When we think about healthy love in a relationship, what does that look like?

Exploring healthy relationships with Portland couples therapy.Maya Angelou said “The best love is the one that makes you a better person without changing you into someone other than yourself.” Along those lines, the definition of healthy love, as I have come to understand it in my years of practice, lies in a sense of responsibility to the self.

In other words, healthy love means we are responsible for our own happiness. I am not responsible for my partner’s happiness. I am responsible for ensuring that I am a whole person, that I have a healthy sense of self-identity, and that I can meet my own needs and self-esteem from within. For healthy love to exist between partners, they must first understand and accept that happiness in a relationship depends on whether the people in the relationship have developed (independently) into a whole, secure person.

The following are what I believe to be the seven characteristics of a strong, healthy relationship:

  1. A solid sense of self-identity

People in a relationship that is healthy can think independently and are willing and able to articulate their wants and needs to partners. They are able to speak and act from an honest place within themselves. Partners can love themselves unconditionally, accepting the parts of themselves that are easy to love as well as the parts that are not as easy to love. Healthy partners love their own lives while still being open to growth, progress, and evolution with a partner.

  1. The ability to compromise

Partners who are open to the idea of seeking mutually gratifying solutions to conflicts are more likely to have a strong, healthy relationship. Healthy partners can acknowledge the validity of their partner’s wants and needs and, even when they do not agree, still respect areas of difference. A cornerstone of compromise is finding solutions that are agreeable to both partners, and healthy relationships are marked by an ability to consider situations from a partner’s side of things.

  1. Appropriate trust

This characteristic is one that can be determined at the beginning of a relationship. When both partners are available to begin a relationship, not still attached or otherwise holding on to a previous relationship, trust can be fostered. When trust has the opportunity to grow, partners feel more safe and may be better able to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with each other. They believe in their partner’s ability to listen and help, and there may be a mutual sense of faith that neither will be blindsided by surprises they don’t expect. Trust cultivates a stable relationship with predictability, reliability, and accountability.

  1. Communication

Let’s be frank here. Even in a strong and healthy relationship, you are not going to agree on everything—and you don’t have to! Being able to express your own feelings or opinions, knowing it’s all right to disagree, and saying what you mean and meaning what you say are all aspects of effective communication. When we are able to communicate effectively with our partners, show compassion and concern for each other, and talk about problems and listen well, we effectively create a road map for a partner to be able to understand and meet our needs. Without this map, we might endlessly wander trying to find out partners, coming close to meeting their needs but never quite succeeding.

  1. Loving detachment

Seeing a partner as a capable person is a critical component of healthy relationships. Couples can often confuse the concepts of whether their partner is good at something and whether they are simply capable of doing something. Believing these are the same thing can lead to conflict in a relationship. In reality, most people are capable of doing most things. However, sometimes partners may not be “good” at the things we want them to be good at. Loving detachment means we believe our partners have the ability to take care of themselves and their lives on their own. Allowing and encouraging our partners to have separate interests and maintain meaningful relationships with other people, and respecting their ability to do so, is an important part of loving detachment.

  1. An understanding of the reality of love

Love is created, and it requires effort on our parts. The idea of “love at first sight” is romantic, and we may want to believe in it, but in reality, that’s just not the case. Love is not something that is acquired one day by chance. It must be developed with trust, shaped with effort, and fostered with understanding and patience over time. This may not seem idealistic, but it is simply the truth of long-lasting love.

  1. An awareness of our attraction to familiarity

Have you ever heard the saying “We marry our parents”? We may not realize it, but many people partner (and eventually marry) someone who reminds them, in some way, of one or both of their parents. This is not necessarily a conscious decision. It’s simply that we tend to be attracted to and connect with people who are comfortable and familiar. So, whether our experiences with our parents are positive or negative or a little of both, we often are drawn to similarities in the partners we choose. If we are aware of this, and in tune with how our relationship with our parents has affected us, we are often better able to understand the type of person we might be attracted to. We might be fulfilling a desire to live out what we have learned as children or to fix what was broken in our childhood through our current relationships. Though we might logically know dysfunctional relationships with our parents cannot be fixed by our current relationships, we may still struggle with this emotionally. Identifying and working on ourselves to resolve any issues remaining from childhood will not guarantee a healthy relationship, but doing so may put us on the road to a better one.

Having a healthy relationship with our partners comes down to one thing—having a healthy relationship with ourselves. When discussing healthy love with the people I work with, I make it clear that I believe a healthy relationship with the self is necessary to have a healthy relationship with others. This healthy relationship with the self includes developing and maintaining a solid self-identity, recognizing our needs and being able to meet them on our own, and allowing our partners to live their own lives while sharing their lives with us. If you would like to explore any of these areas, on your own or with a partner, make a couples therapy appointment at my Portland, Oregon office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Strengthening Couples Emotional Connection

What Couples Who Stay Together Do Every Day

Emotional connection is the bond that keeps people together. It is the glue in relationships. Many couples don’t realize that if they are not regularly connecting on an emotional level, the link that keeps them together weakens.

Things couples do every day tips for therapy in Buckman.In a previous article, I wrote about what happens to our brains when we feel emotionally disconnected from a partner or spouse. We can feel like our sense of security is threatened, causing us to become fearful. The amygdala, the almond-shaped region in the midbrain, acts as an alarm system, and a sense of panic can set in.

When we don’t get relief by reconnecting to loved ones, this can put us in a hyperaroused emotional state. This, in turn, can cause our stress levels to heighten due to elevated cortisol. Physical and mental health and well-being may suffer if cortisol stays elevated over a long period.

In Dr. John Gottman’s research, he identified an important dynamic that healthy and emotionally intelligent couples exercise: turning toward one another. Turning toward is a subtle or brief positive exchange that helps to deepen a couple’s emotional connection.

When partners turn toward one another, they are practicing what Gottman refers to as “bids.” Bids are attempts to connect using affection, support, humor, or attention. These interactions can be verbal or nonverbal. A person may be aware or unaware of the use of a bid, which may look like any of the following:

  • A gentle touch
  • A hug or kiss
  • A smile
  • A kind remark
  • Listening
  • A playful gesture
  • A word of encouragement
  • Sharing a news event
  • Saying “I love you”

Bids can result in deeper intimacy, greater romance, passion, and a more satisfying sex life. Gottman explains that one secret to lasting love among couples is turning toward each other in little ways every day. He found in his research that couples who regularly practice emotionally connecting stay together longer than those who do not.

Couples who don’t practice daily bids can more easily lose their way. When we are not emotionally connecting on a regular basis, our loved ones can feel uncared for or unvalued. The trap of taking a spouse or partner for granted can sneak up, especially if the couple has been together for a long time.

Given our busy and hectic lives, it is understandable how we can lose track of letting a loved one know how much we appreciate them. The risk of emotional disconnection is greater when we feel burdened, overwhelmed, or stressed.


Here are two things you can do today to emotionally connect with your partner or spouse:

  1. Be intentional about turning toward your partner.

Being intentional and practicing emotional connection every day can make a big difference. You don’t need to wait and plan an expensive vacation to emotionally connect. You can start right now, right where you are.

Here are a couple of suggestions to get you going. If you are near your partner or spouse, try reaching out and holding their hand. If you are not with your partner or spouse, text a sweet message or call and let them know you are thinking about them.

When you practice emotionally connecting every day, it is like putting money in your emotional bank account. You are investing in your relationship. The more you put in, the greater your love will grow. Having a substantial savings account can help in challenging times.

  1. Make a list of things you can do to lean in toward your partner.

If this sounds simple, it is.

List the things you can do to turn toward your partner. It can be a mental list or a written list. This might take a little time and effort, especially if you have gotten out of practice. Putting the list in a place you can regularly see it will help you to remember to reach out and connect.

Try this exercise for a month and see how it can begin to reshape your emotional connection and create a deeper bond. Consistency is key; the more often, the better.


If you feel you and your partner or spouse have strayed too far in your emotional connection, you could benefit from the help of a marriage and family therapist. Just because you are experiencing emotional disconnection from your partner doesn’t mean you can’t find your way back; it just may require a little help. Reach out. There is hope. Contact me to set up your couples therapy appointment at my Buckman area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Increase Relationship Intimacy with Letter Writing

Relationship Coaching Activity to Increase Intimacy

It’s far too common for newly married or new-parent couples to find themselves searching for more—more time together, more romance, more connection, more intimacy. Maybe, after the wedding is over and the thank-you notes are written, you’re thinking, “What are we supposed to do now?” Or maybe, when the baby is crying and the laundry is piling up, you’re thinking, “When will we feel like ourselves again?”

Relationship coaching technique for couples letter writing.

Research by Dr. Barry McCarthy, sex and relationship expert and author of Rekindling Desire, indicates that couples are more likely to become sexually inactive in the first two years of marriage than at any other period in their married life (McCarthy and McCarthy, 2014). His recommendation is for couples to re energize their relationship intimacy by enhancing desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction.

One place to start on the journey toward deeper intimacy is letter writing. Writing letters to each other is a good way to communicate your thoughts and feelings amid the demands of work and family. Remember the spark of excitement and desire when you received an old-fashioned, handwritten love letter? That’s the spirit of this activity. These are loving letters, full of your hopes, dreams, warmth, and tenderness. These letters inspire a deepening of intimacy because they help you communicate without distraction and with a genuine voice. The goal is for your words to bring you closer and help you feel more connected.

So here’s how it works: You and your partner commit to exchanging letters, ideally handwritten (but emailed will do), a few times a week. You can each answer one prompt below at a time, and you don’t have to follow the same order. It’s best to direct your answers to your partner, just as you would when writing a letter to anyone else.

What are ways you feel loved and accepted by your partner, even with an acknowledgement of failings and imperfections? Are there different ways you show your partner you love and accept them?

Describe a fantasy, romantic or sexual, you’d like to experience with your partner. Where are you? What does it feel like? What happens first, then next, then after that? How does it end?

What is a metaphor for your relationship so far? Explain the metaphor. How would you change that metaphor to illustrate the kind marriage you want to have in the future?

How do you think you and your partner should deal with bad luck or disappointment? How will you show your partner you are on their team no matter what?

Fill in the blanks and then explain: “If I were living my life the best version of myself as a partner that I could be, I would continue to ___, I would do ___ differently, and I hope you would feel more ___.”

What do you appreciate most about your partner? What personality traits, strengths, and talents do you admire and value?

What are your hopes, goals, and dreams for your marriage and family together?

At the end of a few weeks, compile your letters and go over them together. What do you notice about where your answers overlap or where they are unique? Reread them often and allow the words to calm you when you’re angry, soothe you when you’re sad, and fill you with hope when you’re worried. Your letters have the power to become the vision statement for your shared future together.

If these prompts, your answers, or your partner’s answers have stirred up deeper feelings of dissatisfaction, disconnection, or disappointment, you may want to seek individual counseling, couples therapy, or sex therapy. Make an relationship coaching appointment at my Portland office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.


McCarthy, B., & McCarthy, E. (2014). Rekindling desire, 2nd Ed. New York, NY: Routledge.

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