Author Archives: FireSpike

How to Protect Transgender Kids from Bullying at School

Counseling Can Help Trans State University Students

Ways to help your trans student from bullying with counseling.Transgender kids face alarming rates of bullying and abuse. GLSEN’s 2017 National School Climate Survey found 83.7% of trans and 69.9% of gender nonconforming (GNC) students experience bullying at school.

Bullying can erode self-esteem, increase isolation, and make it more difficult for a child to assert their gender identity. Some bullied children become depressed and suicidal. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that any involvement with bullying—whether as a victim, bully, or both—raises a child’s risk of suicidal behavior.

Parents, educators, and other adults have significant power to reduce bullying and support trans kids at school.

TRANSPHOBIA STATISTICS
Transphobia is animus toward transgender people. It can cause bullying, physical aggression, and other forms of abuse.

Research consistently finds that gender-related discrimination is a problem in schools. GLSEN’s annual National School Climate Survey looked at over 23,000 children in grades 6-12. The study found 42.1% of trans and GNC kids are prevented from using their preferred pronouns. Nearly half of these kids (46.5%) are forced to use the wrong bathrooms.

Other research has found high rates of transphobic bullying.

Research published in 2017 found trans kids are two to three times more likely than their peers to be bullied.
A 2016 survey of adult transgender individuals found 60% have avoided public restrooms because they feared confrontation and bullying.
A 2012 survey found 61% of students have heard peers make negative remarks about gender expression. The same survey found 27% of students face physical abuse because of their gender expression.

CREATING A SAFE ENVIRONMENT FOR TRANS KIDS
Many parents and educators worry that there’s nothing they can do to stop transphobic bullying. Yet research consistently finds that creating an inclusive, gender-affirming environment can greatly reduce bullying. Even when kids are bullied in these environments, they may feel more comfortable reaching out to an adult than they would in less inclusive environments.

According to GLSEN, students at inclusive schools with curricula that feature LGBTQ-affirming content are less likely to experience bullying, hear transphobic remarks, or feel unsafe at school. They are also less likely to be forced to use the wrong bathrooms or the wrong pronouns. Inclusive curricula can also raise self-esteem, reduce the risk of depression, and even improve grades.

Some strategies that promote a safe environment for trans kids include:

Creating a trans-inclusive curricula. Schools can participate in LGBT History Month, feature notable transgender historic figures, and discuss transgender history and civil rights with students.
Asking students about their preferred pronouns or names and then using them. Educating teachers, school counselors, and others who work with students about transgender issues. Establishing safe spaces, such as counselor’s offices, where students can safely discuss gender issues and bullying.
Refusing to tolerate any bullying or transphobia, even from teachers or other adults. Parents who want to support a transgender child should urge their child’s school to promote an inclusive environment that actively works to prevent transgender discrimination. At home, parents can help by allowing children to assert their own gender identity in a safe, judgment free zone.

It is important to let the child determine what gender means to them. Parents should avoid reinforcing gender stereotypes or rigid gender ideologies. For example, a trans girl does not need to turn her entire wardrobe pink in order to “prove” she is a girl. No toy or clothing should be off limits to anyone solely because of gender.

Parents can also support their trans or GNC children by introducing them to the wider LGBT community. They may read books with their child that feature people of many gender identities and presentations. They may identify trans or GNC role models for kids to learn about. They may also help their children meet other trans kids through support groups, trans camps, and other communities.

Lastly, parents may wish to educate themselves about transgender history and issues. Children pick up on what parents believe, not just what they say. Parents who are uncomfortable with their child’s gender presentation may inadvertently stigmatize their child. Education can help parents reevaluate their own ideas about gender and become better advocates for their children.

UNDERSTANDING YOUR CHILD’S RIGHTS
Federal, state, and local laws determine a student’s legal rights. Trans students in some states have more protections than students in other states. Individual schools may extend additional rights to trans students.

Many courts have ruled that transgender individuals are protected under Title IX. This federal law forbids schools from discriminating against students based on their sex or gender expression. Under Title IX, transgender and GNC students have the right to:

  • Be protected from bullying, harassment, and violence.
  • Use restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender identity.
  • Be called the correct name and pronouns.
  • Dress and present themselves according to their gender identity (so long as they follow the general school dress code).
  • Access the same educational opportunities and school events as other students.
  • Maintain their medical privacy, including the right not to disclose being transgender.
  • However, not all states share this interpretation of Title IX. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only 17 states have laws explicitly protecting transgender students from harassment and discrimination. These include Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. The District of Columbia also has anti discrimination laws.

Even between these states, the extent of civil protections can vary. For example, only California, Connecticut, and Washington currently allow transgender students to join school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. School districts within a state may also vary in their policies.

The rights of transgender students at school are continually evolving. Parents who worry their child is facing discrimination should consider consulting a lawyer who specializes in educational law or who has experience with transgender issues.

HOW THERAPY CAN HELP TRANSGENDER KIDS
Therapy can offer immense support to transgender kids and their families. Family counseling can help a family identify strategies for supporting a child’s gender identity and fighting back against bullying. When family members do not fully understand or accept a child’s trans identity, family therapy can educate them and encourage acceptance.

Individual counseling can help transgender kids who struggle with depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety due to bullying. The right therapist can also affirm a child’s gender identity and point them toward trans role models and literature. In therapy, a child can learn that being trans is not a mental health problem or a weakness, but an important component of a person’s identity that should be respected and celebrated. If you or someone you know is interested in learning more about trans counseling, make an appointment at my Portland area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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How to Make Relationship Conflict a Springboard for Growth With Couples Therapy

Tips for Dealing with Conflict

When a partner needs space and we need intimacy; when we’re spontaneous and they like to plan; when we’ve done well with our abundance mind-set and they account for every penny, conflicts can erupt. We tend to pair with people whose way of being in the world is different from our own, sometimes dramatically. Reframing conflict as a helpful indicator of personal and relational growth opportunities can reduce anxiety and propel a relationship forward. Approached from this standpoint, conflicts are starting points for deeper awareness.

Talking to your partner about ground rules for your disagreements when both of you are calm can help you co-create parameters that will serve you later. It’s much harder to be constructive and positive when emotions are running high. This is a part of developing what Terry Real calls “relational esteem,” which he defines as “the capacity to hold the relationship in warm regard in the face of its imperfections and limitations, to cherish the relationship as the union between two flawed human beings.” Because couples tend to repeat old, defensive, or reactive patterns in the midst of conflict, taking conscious steps to undo these patterns sets the stage for a new way of relating.

It makes more sense to prepare for inevitable conflicts and discuss how to go about disagreeing constructively than to pretend conflicts can be avoided. How will you speak when you’re angry or sad? What tone of voice will you use? Is sarcasm off-limits? Will you avoid bringing up unrelated incidents from the past to hammer home a point? What constitutes criticism? Can you agree to use “I-statements” and feeling language, or to go into another room and take a 5-minute break if you’re too upset to listen? What sign will you both agree to respect if one of you begins to feel emotionally overwhelmed? How will you express your needs and boundaries in the heat of the moment? How will you take care of yourself when the other person can’t help or reassure you?

Relationship conflict tips for couples therapy in Portland.When we feel scared or threatened, our minds often work in polarities—right or wrong, good or bad, fixable or hopeless. In the heat of conflict with a partner, it’s hard to live in the gray area of not knowing and to tolerate that ambiguity for as long as it takes the conflict to evolve into a larger, more inclusive relational picture. And yet it’s precisely in that gray area of our vulnerability, when our convictions and certainties take a back seat to our partner’s truth, that we can relinquish judgment for a little while and open our hearts. A broader perspective becomes possible—if we let it. The more we understand, the easier it is to collaborate.

Using conflict as a springboard for growth takes practice. Here’s a cheat sheet of tools and techniques you can use to develop and improve this skill:

Pay attention to your body. Whatever your thoughts, beliefs, or convictions, you are an embodied being. Pay attention to the movement of energy in and around your bones, joints, muscles, skin, internal organs, and extremities. Notice the prickling, crawling, tight, hot, cool, or tingling experience you are having at any given moment. Body awareness can help you tune in to how conflict with your partner is impacting you physically. It can give you important information about what you may need to do to self-soothe and regulate your feelings and reactions.

Recognize your need for connection. It can be hard to admit needing someone. Needing another person can feel scary, shameful, or even dangerous. Sometimes, we organize our lives so others are the needers and we are the needed, unconsciously trying to protect ourselves from hurt, disappointment, and rejection by creating a one-side-vulnerability dynamic. Recognizing you need your partner (even if, ultimately, you can live without them) can help connect you to your humanity and soften rigid defenses.

Explicitly ask your partner if they’re available to talk about something, and respect their “no” if they’re not. So often, we assume if we’re in a relationship with someone, they owe it to us to be available to connect on our terms. When there’s a conflict, our sense of urgency can increase. This issue is so important that it can’t wait. It has to be resolved now. This assumption can doom a conversation from the start. If you can humbly recognize your partner doesn’t owe you their availability and instead request it, even if you need to request it multiple times, you are helping to create a safer shared psychic space within which to talk about something difficult.

Avoid trying to resolve a conflict when you’re feeling triggered. When you’re upset, you are more likely to have success changing yourself and your own perspective than you are to change your partner’s behaviors and beliefs. Practice using self-soothing techniques such as counting, breathing, giving yourself some space and distance from your partner and the charged topic, listening to a guided audio meditation, taking a shower or bath, going for a walk, attending an exercise or yoga class, or connecting with a friend.

Use a thought-challenging technique to identify and question your triggering belief on the spot. One part of the inquiry process developed and outlined in Byron Katie’s The Work involves “turning around” your beliefs to examine them from other angles. It can be an effective way of releasing thoughts and beliefs that fuel destructive anger. For example, if you’re about to criticize or yell at your partner because “she never listens to me,” try turning this belief around to another possibility: “I never listen to her.” Consider how that statement may be true. Or turn it around to “I never listen to me” and consider how you don’t listen to yourself when you get angry and out of control rather than self-soothing. Notice how your feelings change as your beliefs change, and how the energy of your conflict shifts when you stop blaming your partner.

If you are having conflict in your relationship and are interested in couples therapy – contact me to make an appointment at my Buckman office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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10 Good Reasons to Seek Relationship Coaching

Is Your Relationship In Crisis & Looking for Coaching in Portland?

One of the main reasons people seek therapy is for help with intimate and close relationships. And while couples coaching 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 coaching:

1. COMMUNICATION ISSUES
10 reasons to seek relationship coaching in Portland.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. coaching can help couples make a conscious choice of communication style and not just fall back on what they know from their history.

2. PREMARITAL COACHING
There are many issues couples face before they tie the knot. Premarital coaching 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 coaching can be a safe place to start the conversations that need to be addressed.

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

4. INFIDELITY AND UNFAITHFULNESS
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 coaching 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.

5. ASSISTANCE MANAGING OTHER RELATIONSHIPS
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.

6. NONTRADITIONAL RELATIONSHIPS
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 coaches 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.

7. BLENDED FAMILIES
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.

8. THE END OF A RELATIONSHIP
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 coaching.

9. DIGITAL-AGE ISSUES
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 coaching 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.

10. TRUST ISSUES
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. Coaching 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 coaching 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 coaching is worth considering for any couple and can promote mutually beneficial change for years to come. Contact me for more information and to schedule your consultation.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Counseling When Your Loved One Comes Out as LGBTQ+

How Counseling Can Help In Understanding LGBT Identity

The movement toward accepting and celebrating sexual and gender diversity has been a long, slow journey, but it has picked up speed in the past decade or two as more research and social activism has changed perceptions and beliefs about LGTBQ+ people. Punctuated by prejudicial ideas that sexually and gender-diverse people were mentally ill, morally corrupt, sinful, or a health and safety risk to the community, many dangerous and harmful beliefs were common in cultures around the world.

Counseling Portland Oregon area for those coming to terms with a loved one coming out LGBT.As a therapist, I still see some of these beliefs arise when I work with people who are coming to terms with the coming-out process of a loved one who identifies as LGTBQ+. It can be a stressful and emotional time for everyone. It is critical for the safety and well-being of all involved that loved ones be as supportive and affirming of those coming out as possible.

COMING TO TERMS WITH YOUR LOVED ONE’S IDENTITY
For many people, fear of the unknown is the biggest hurdle to overcome. If you have not socialized with sexually and gender-diverse people, or you have ingrained prejudicial beliefs as noted above, you may be confused about what an LGBTQ+ identity means. Stereotypes, inaccurate assumptions, and misinformation may increase your fear and worry.

If someone you love comes out, here are some ideas for better understanding what their identity means:

Do some research about what different terms might mean. For example, you may think you know what “gay,” “bisexual,” “transgender,” “queer,” “pansexual,” or “bigender” means, but do you understand what those terms mean to people who identify as LGBTQ+? For common terms, you can look at the Human Rights Campaign’s glossary.
Make a list of questions you want to ask your loved one to understand who they are more clearly. Before you ask these questions, consider how they may be received. Are these questions coming from a place of judgment or from a place of curiosity? Do these questions have a goal of trying to change the person’s mind? You might start with simply asking your loved one how you can support them, what they need from you, and how they want you to treat them in regards to their sexuality and gender.
Check out resources for family and friends of LGBTQ+ people that are affirming and supportive. The organization PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) is a great option for finding resources and support from others who have LGTBQ+ loved ones.
It is important to learn and reflect about your feelings, attitudes, and ideas about gender and sexuality so you can be supportive and loving to the person coming out. Sometimes people inadvertently hurt loved ones by using inaccurate language, accepting prejudice from others or making prejudicial jokes, or suggesting their identity is sinful, disordered, or temporary.

IDENTIFYING AND QUESTIONING YOUR FEELINGS
As noted above, many people carry faulty beliefs about sexuality and gender that have been instilled through culture, media, religion, or experience. These beliefs can stir up a great number of difficult feelings when someone you love comes out. Although each of us is entitled to our emotional experience, it is important to question where these feelings come from, and to process and understand them in order to be as supportive as possible. Being supportive to loved ones throughout their coming-out process increases the likelihood they will experience better physical and mental health, as well as increased self-esteem (Travers, et al., 2012).

For some people, the feelings they experience when someone comes out to them are confusing and complicated, and it might be helpful to seek support from a therapist who is knowledgeable and affirming about sexuality and gender.

CHALLENGE MYTHS ABOUT SEXUALITY AND GENDER
Some common myths about gender and sexuality that have been challenged by an ever-growing body of research are:

Myth: Normal people are heterosexual and cisgender.

Reality: There is a large spectrum of sexual and gender identities that are healthy and normal. In fact, some research suggests many people fall on a continuum of sexual orientation (American Psychological Association, 2008).

Myth: People who are LGBTQ+ have a mental health disorder.

Reality: This myth seems to stem from the past classification of homosexuality and gender identity disorder in mental health diagnostic manuals. However, in part because of overwhelming research findings, homosexuality and gender identity disorder are no longer considered mental health disorders. The challenging mental health outcomes that can be experienced by LGBTQ+ people are connected to how they are treated by friends, family, and society, not to their identity or orientation. The more support and encouragement someone has, the less likely they will be to deal with depression, anxiety, or suicidal thoughts. One study found that the rate of suicide for transgender youth is reduced 93% when their family supports them (Travers, et al., 2012).

Myth: If my child is gay, bisexual, or transgender, it is because of something I did.

Reality: People are born with a genetic predisposition toward who they will be attracted to, and toward a personality and traits that impact who they are as people, including their sexuality and gender. Gender identity and sexuality is a multifaceted part of someone’s overall identity, and is likely impacted by biological, social, genetic, and psychological factors (American Psychological Association, 2008). Nothing you say or do as a parent will change whether your child is gay, cisgender, or transgender. What it will change is whether they feel supported and happy, how they feel about themselves, and how resilient they are to stigma.

Myth: It would be better for an LGBTQ+ person to keep their identity private; no one else needs to know.

Reality: The coming-out process is not only important for LGTBQ+ people to experience greater happiness, self-esteem, and improved mental and physical health, but to fight pervasive prejudice and stigma about sexuality and gender (Herek, 2017). For their sake, encourage openness and support your loved one to be public with their identity if and when they are ready to do so.

If you or someone you know is wanting to understand LGBT identity, or is having difficulty with a loved one coming out; contact my Portland, Oregon area office for more information.

References:

American Psychological Association. (2008). Answers to your questions: For a better understanding of sexual orientation and homosexuality. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from www.apa.org/topics/lgbt/orientation.pdf
Glossary of Terms. (n.d.). Human Rights Campaign. Retrieved from https://www.hrc.org/resources/glossary-of-terms
Herek, G. M. (2017, April 23). Counting hate crimes: A Brief History of the Hate Crimes Statistics Act. Retrieved from https://herek.net/blog/category/sexual-prejudice/
Travers, R., Bauer, G., Pyne, J., Bradley, K., Gale, L., & Papadimitriou, M. (2012). Impacts of strong parental support for trans youth: A report prepared for Children’s Aid Society of Toronto and Delisle Youth Services. Trans PULSE.
© Copyright 2018 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laura Turnbull, MC, CPsych, therapist in York, Ontario

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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Mental Health Issues Rising Among University Students

Counseling Can Help Portland State University Students

Portland state university counseling can help rising mental health issues for students.More than 75% of mental health conditions appear before age 24, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). For many people, symptoms first develop in college. Now, research suggests the frequency of mental health difficulties among college students is rising. According to Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Collegiate Mental Health, the number of students seeking mental health assistance increased by 50% between 2015 and 2016.

Depression and substance use issues are common among college students. Twelve percent of freshmen say they are depressed. For some students, the stress of college life—being away from home for the first time, struggling to make friends, and juggling work and school—can trigger mental health difficulties.

Students typically have access to college counseling centers. These centers can help with diagnosis and treatment, and they can offer students the coping skills they need to manage their mental health. When they leave college, many students face a post-college mental health gap. Access to affordable, quality care is limited. After college, graduates may face high co-pays or insurance restrictions on which therapists they can see.

If you or someone you love is having mental health problems at University, contact me at my Portland area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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How to Create a Couples Communication Playbook Together

Learn to Communicate With Your Partner In or Out of Couples Therapy

Mindfulness is needed for communication in couples therapy When working with couples, the first thing I assess is their communication, as this is usually a defining reason why they have walked into my office. Without clear boundaries and guidelines around communication, it is virtually impossible to dig into any issue. The WAY a person says something always trumps WHAT they are saying. In other words, STYLE always trumps CONTENT. Learning to communicate—and to communicate with care—may seem like a trite concept, but it is the cornerstone of a healthy relationship.

We learn to communicate from our caregivers. Since we were each raised differently, our communication playbooks are all different, too. When two people enter into a relationship, there are usually different playbooks in action fighting to emerge as THE playbook.

If, for example, you grew up in a family that was loud and boisterous, you likely learned to do one of two things: become loud and boisterous or avoid loud and boisterous. The way you adapted to that communication style became a part of your communication playbook.

My goal is to help you and your partner come up with a common, collaborative playbook that feels good for both of you. Here are just a few suggestions and recommendations:

  1. There MUST be care in your words. This is a deal-breaker. Figuring out how to speak with care when angry, sad, shamed, or guilty requires vulnerability and accountability. It takes mindfulness and practice.
  2. Overt no-nos: yelling, name-calling, bullying, threatening, and attacking.
  3. Covert no-nos: nagging, pouting, stonewalling, lying, being a martyr, and zingers.
  4. No sarcasm. Sarcasm is a passive-aggressive (indirect) way of saying what you feel without being clear and direct. The Greek translation for the word sarcasm is “tearing of the flesh.” It is hurtful. Being funny and using sarcasm are two different things. If something is funny, you both laugh. If it is sarcastic, chances are only one of you is amused.
  5. Don’t start talking about an issue until you have “contracted” with the other person. Too many times, you may begin delving into an issue before the other person is ready, able, and available. It may be as simple as, “I would like to talk about ‘X’; are you available?” Contracting sets the tone, creates intention from both parties, and lets you know you’re both present and attentive. If, for example, you want to talk in bed at night, be certain the other person is agreeable and not falling asleep. Setting a time limit is another aspect of contracting. If it’s not a good time to talk, in addition to saying so it’s a good idea to provide some alternative time options.
  6. If a conversation gets heated, take a time-out. If you take a time-out, it is your responsibility to say when you will come back to finish the conversation. Leaving a conversation without a restart  time may be interpreted as abandonment and lack of care. If someone needs a time-out, respect it, stop the conversation, and don’t push or punish. Knowing there is a restart time may allow you to look at what has happened to get the two of you into a time-out situation. Both parties should ask, “What is my part in the dysfunction in this conversation?” and be willing to own it when you resume. It’s much easier to point a finger at the other person, but does nothing to get closer to solutions.
  7. Listen. You will know you are listening if you can tell the other person what they just said. If you are evaluating their content and waiting for your turn, you aren’t listening. Think of listening as the most caring thing you can do for your partner. Put your needs on hold. Try to gain an understanding of their perspective. Communication is not about convincing. Listening is an act of love.
  8. Remember, you are on the same team. When teammates have conflict, the energy of the conversation is much different than when adversaries go at it. Again, it goes back to care with your words. Sometimes I will ask, “Would you talk to your next-door neighbor the way you are talking to your partner right now?” This is actually a parenting tip from Foster Cline’s book Parenting with Love and Logic, but I use it frequently with couples. It’s called the “good neighbor policy” and is an effective and easy way to help reset communication during a conflict.

These are just a few suggestions for helping couples create a common communication playbook. Having rules and guidelines both partners have had a hand in shaping allows for more accountability and collaboration, which can increase satisfaction levels when working through issues.

Start your couples therapy journey by making an appointment at my Grant Park area office.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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What Makes Therapy Good: The 4 Pillars of Counseling

How to Begin Healing in Counseling

pillars of good counseling take the past into account.What is good therapy? I recently wrote about tips for identifying the best counselor for you. I’d like to shift the focus a bit and talk about the role of relationships and what I call the four pillars of counseling: trust, respect, positive regard, and open-mindedness.

While these concepts may seem straightforward, fostering them within a healing therapeutic relationship can be challenging depending on the quality of previous relationships you’ve
experienced, whether you’ve been able to form trusting relationships in other areas of your life, how open you are ready or able to be, and how truthful you can be with yourself. I believe these  things form the foundation of the relationship needed to help you meet your goals.

I’ve been a counselor for a long time, and I’ve had counseling with many different therapists. Some of it was very good and helpful and some wasn’t. None of it was bad or meant the therapist wasn’t qualified. I believe the connection between the counselor and the person seeking support is the most important part of a therapeutic relationship. Creating a strong relationship with a counselor is affected by personality, age, gender, race, life experiences, and other factors. There must be a good fit in order for therapy to be effective.

While the relationship between the counselor and the counselee is important, the relationship you have with yourself is equally important. From the moment we are born, our relationships begin to form everything about us—from our beliefs to our behaviors, traditions, and rituals. The strength of our earliest relationships directly impacts the strength of our relationships in the here and now, which directly impact the relationship with the counselor you choose to work with.

When relationships in early life aren’t nurturing and supportive—which can happen for many reasons, including abuse, neglect, or the inability of parents to emotionally bond with a child—the impact can be long-lasting and prevent people from developing healthy connections. It can take a long time to experience trust in a relationship if you have experienced broken relationships or abandonment, especially in childhood.

Whatever the challenge in a relationship, the first step of therapy must be to identify and name that pain. That takes courage, regardless of how scary it may feel.

Good therapy addresses the pain that brought you into therapy and helps you develop solutions to the issues you are experiencing. It focuses on the goals you have set and the challenges and limiting beliefs that may prevent you from reaching those goals. Recognizing these beliefs can occur when there is trust and respect between you and the counselor. If you sense the counselor is open to your challenges, you may be more open to addressing them using tools the counselor provides.

When early life relationships are inadequate, a person’s ability to trust can be severely impacted. Without trust between a counselor and a person in counseling, therapy can be ineffective. It is the counselor’s responsibility to work with you to develop trust though open-mindedness, communication, consistency, and compassion. Your responsibility is to try to meet the counselor in this process as best you can.

Because you are so deeply impacted by your relationships, both past and present, you must examine them as a part of the therapy you seek even if you believe they are unrelated. We are interconnected to everyone we have ever interacted with in a good or not-good manner. Like it or not, our relationships help determine who we are and how we are in the world. This truth must be acknowledged and honored in order to begin the journey of healing in counseling.

Courtesy of Good Therapy.

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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.

TYPES OF ONLINE HARASSMENT
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.

THE SERIOUS MENTAL HEALTH EFFECTS OF ONLINE HARASSMENT
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.

REPORTING ONLINE HARASSMENT
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.

COPING WITH 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.

THE IMPORTANCE OF ADDRESSING MENTAL HEALTH
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?

HOW PROFESSIONALS CAN HELP
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.

FIGHTING MENTAL HEALTH STIGMA
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.

References:

American Psychological Association survey shows teen stress rivals that of adults. (2014, February 11). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/02/teen-stress.aspx
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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