Combating Depression: 10 Tips

depressionistockDepression affects about 17. 5 million Americans and out of those, an estimated 9.2 million will have what is considered major or clinical depression.

What’s the difference between depression and major depression?

Major depression is categorized as:

  1. a depressed mood, most of the day, nearly everyday for at least two weeks. In children, adolescence and some adults, depression may present as irritation or anger.
  2. Marked diminished interest in or pleasure in all, or nearly all activities most of the day, nearly everyday.
  3. Significant weight loss (when not dieting), decrease in appetite, or significant weight gain or appetite nearly everyday.
  4. Insomnia or hypersomnia nearly everyday.
  5. Psychomotor agitation or retardation (i.e. moving extremely slow or faster than normal) nearly everyday.
  6. Fatigue or loss of energy nearly everyday.
  7. Feelings or worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly everyday.
  8. Decreased ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness nearly everyday.
  9. Recurrent thoughts  of death, suicidal thoughts with or without a plan or a suicide attempt.

A person doesn’t have to have all of these symptoms to be diagnosed as having major depression, but they have to have the majority of these symptoms for at least two weeks and they can’t be accounted for something else, such as bereavement (i.e., losing someone close to them recently).

Depression has been given a bad name and so many people who feel depressed don’t like to admit to it and may not seek help or even the comfort of a friend when they are feeling depressed. The thing about depression in general is that it is not always a bad thing.As a matter of fact, very often, depression is your minds way of telling you that something in your life is not going the way you want it to go.

Instead of ignoring that feeling or trying to make it go away immediately, it may be a good time to sit with it and evaluate your life and see what is it that is not going the way you want it to go, and if you can change it, then change it, if you can’t, then try to change the way you think about it.

More often then not, this is what depression is and it is possible for a person who is in tune with themselves, to take this self-evaluation, correct the problem(s) and eliminate their symptoms. Other times, a depressed person may need the help of a professional to help them analyze what’s going wrong in their lives and help them learn how to deal with it. And yet, still there are times when medication is needed due to chemical imbalances or if a person gets to the point where they are so depressed that they don’t have the capacity to be introspective.

While most of us have or will experience depression at least once in our lifetimes, major depression can be a very dark and dangerous place. The Center for Disease Control has intentional suicide as the number ten cause of death in the United States last year, killing an estimated 38, 364 people.

10 Tips To Fighting Depression

**First off… if you or someone you know is suicidal, don’t be afraid to call 911 or 1-800-suicide for immediate help**

  • Opposite Actions is a technique from Dialectical Behavior Therapy that basically says, do the opposite of what the depression is telling you to do. If you feel like staying in bed all day, get up and do something. If you feel like blowing off your friends, don’t, call them and force yourself to be out with them.  One of the things about depression is that it is a self-feeding disease. It zaps a persons motivation, makes them want to isolate themselves and stop doing things like going to the gym, all of which end up making the person feel more depressed.
  • Set an alarm that will help you wake up, that will remind you to eat, or to do whatever it is you need to do.
  • Take care of yourself by getting out of your bed, making it, and taking a shower. Letting yourself go is one of the hallmarks of being depressed and will make it easier for you to start avoiding other people.
  • Go outside for at least ten minutes a day. It doesn’t matter where you go, or if you don’t go anywhere. Going outside, getting some fresh air, some sun even, can do natural miracles when battling depression.
  • Exercise. You won’t feel like it, but it will be good for you and will get your blood flowing and your endorphin and dopamine (natural feel good hormones) going.
  • Make a list of activities to do, hopefully some will involve other people.
  • Keep a schedule, that way you can stay on track during the days you don’t feel like doing anything.
  • Make a daily necessity schedule if needed that reminds you when to eat, take  a bath, brush your teeth, etc. Yes, in the middle of severe depression, it’s easy to neglect all these things.
  • Visit people like healthy family and friends. Once again, you will feel like isolating yourself, but having good family and friends around will help pull you out of the fog.
  • Last, but not least, if all self-help fails, do not be afraid to see your doctor or a psychotherapist.  80% of people with major depression who received treatment had significant improvements.

Depression will affect us or someone we know to some degree, and it’s always good to have some idea of what you’re dealing with and how to begin fighting it.

Does Your Teen Lack Empathy?

li-teen-boy-620-cpisI’ve been working with a fifteen year old male for the past few months who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit/Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD) and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

He was referred to me because his mother was frustrated with his behavior. He was argumentative, physically aggressive, disobeyed rules and punching holes in his bedroom walls.

After a few sessions his physical aggression and property damage pretty much stopped, but he still had major problems following home and school rules and basically disobeyed his mother repeatedly, although not as violently as before.

His mother, was pleased about the decrease in aggression, but she was still frustrated with the fact that she had to repeatedly ask him to do his chores and often he would blatantly refuse to do anything until he was ready, which was usually never or until his mother was red in the face and hoarse from yelling at him.

It was during an exercise I was doing with him about the impact of his behavior on others, that I realized that part of his problem, besides his diagnoses of ADHD and ODD, is that he lacks empathy. He doesn’t really understand how his behavior impacts other people, especially his family. I had him list certain incidents where he got in trouble, and he wrote things like, “I didn’t do my chores”, “I stayed out past my curfew” and “I didn’t wake up on time for school”. When I then asked him to tell me how his behavior impacted his mother, his sister and/or his father, he replied “I don’t think it did” despite the fact that all those things had everyone in his family upset with him.

It became clear to me that in order to help change his disruptive behavior, I had to also teach him how to be empathetic.

Many people in the scientific community believe that teens lack the ability to be empathetic because the part of the brain that allows us to have empathy for others, the medial prefrontal cortex, is not fully activity in the teenage brain. Adults are much better at analyzing how their decisions will affect themselves as well as other people, which explains why some teens (and adults with empathy problems) make some very stupid decisions with little thought to how their decision will impact other people.

Research also shows that teenagers tend to have a harder time with, and take longer to recognize emotions expressed on other peoples faces.

Developmentally, adolescence are at a stage where things are largely about them, they are very self-centered and so empathy isn’t their strong suit. Yet, I know there are many empathetic teens, I see and work with them everyday. It is true that many teens have a hard time empathizing and the internet probably isn’t helping, as we can go to YouTube or a number of other sites and see people getting beat up, falling, or in a number of other uncomfortable, embarrassing situations, and view it as entertainment, instead of empathizing with the person. It’s possible that being exposed to those videos and images overtime, deadens our ability to be empathetic by desensitizing our neural circuits and this may spill out from the virtual world to real life.

The good news is, empathy can and should be taught. The younger, the better, but it’s never too late

Some Ways You Can Teach Empathy To Your Child

  • Develop a good relationship with your child that nurtures their emotions. Research shows that children who have parents that help them cope with their negative emotions in loving, solution-oriented ways, are more likely to show concern for other children.
  • Treat your child as an individual with a mind of his or her own. Talk with them about emotional and mental states and teach them how their thoughts influence their feelings and behaviors.
  • Model healthy emotional behavior and empathy towards others. This is a very effective way to teach your child empathy and take the time to check in with their feelings and show empathy during everyday life, such as while watching television together.
  • Give them the language to express themselves appropriately by teaching them how to use “I Statements”, such as “I felt angry when the other driver cut me off”.  You can also teach them reflective listening skills which will help them label their feelings. You can model this by asking questions like  “You seem down today, did something happen at practice?” This will help your child recognize their feelings as well as help them learn how to express them.
  • Help them discover what they have in common with other children. People tend to be more empathetic toward people they feel are similar to them, which is one reason whenever I start a new support group, the first activity I do is a game called, “I Have Something In Common With…”. The game basically elicits empathy for others in the group through showing that no matter how different they may seem from each other, they all have somethings in common with each other.

Teaching your child how to be empathetic, is like turning their mirrors into windows, where they can look out beyond themselves and put themselves in other  peoples positions  It’s also good to give your children opportunities to show empathy and to give through volunteering, helping a neighbor, etc. Children who are empathetic tend to develop into better adjusted adults with less interpersonal problems than children who aren’t empathetic, and tend to have multiple issues relating to other people, including bullying, antisocial traits and cruelty to animals.

Am I An Effective Counselor? A Case Example On Counselor Effectiveness And Struggles When Working With A Client

college-student1Often as a counselor, it’s not always easy to know when I am truly being effective in helping clients live better lives. This can be difficult because clients often lie, not only about their feelings, but also about their behavior, about following through with treatment recommendations and even about getting better.

Clients often put up lots of psychological defenses and resistance that make it difficult to know how effective treatment is being. Many of them learn how to better mask their symptoms, while all the while their depression, anxiety, compulsions, etc. are still raging inside of them, causing marked distress.

Of course there are many ways a counselor can try to verify the effectiveness of treatment such as assessment tools and reaching goals set forth in treatment plans, but most clients know how to fake those as well.

One of the most powerful ways to verify if treatment is being effective is through my own observations of the client during sessions. Clients who are depressed or anxious for example, tend to display those affects during therapy and as they progress, those symptoms tend to decrease and the clients whole persona will seem to improve.

Of course there are the times when a client will tell me how much they have changed, how much I have helped them or how much better they feel from counseling. And times when teachers or parents will tell me about the improvements they have seen in a student I’ve been working with, but sadly, in the school based program I do most of my counseling at, that type of feedback isn’t as common as I would like it to be. Still, when it happens, it feels great.

Case Example

For a little over a year now I’ve been working with a client we’ll call Suriyan. Suriyan came to me after she lost one of her parents suddenly. She was obviously grieving so I started working with her through her grief and put her in my grief counseling group. It was obvious almost immediately that Suriyan was grieving harder than anyone else in the group which consisted of other students her age, all whom had lost a parent within the last year.

Through individual counseling I realized that one of the reasons Suriyan was grieving so hard was because she had a pre-existing issue dealing with depression and self-injury, and on top of that, unlike the rest of the grief counseling group, her grieving is what we call complicated grief. Her parent had not only died suddenly, but she blamed her parent for dying and blamed herself for allowing her parent to die, although her parent died of a disease neither one of them had any control over. They had lots of unfinished business she was internalizing.

She felt that her parent was her best friend and had chosen to abandon her.

Suriyan initially was very resistant to counseling. She rarely participated in group and in individual sessions she would cycle between talking about her feelings, to being extremely angry, to totally shutting down. On top of that, she was cutting herself to deal with the pain and anger, and had become suicidal. She wanted to be with her parent. Her thought was, if my parent didn’t want to be here with me, why should I be here.

I was extremely worried about Suriyan, especially as the weeks went by and her depression wasn’t lifting. I was throwing everything at her, counseling wise, to try to get her to understand that she needed to let go of the anger and guilt she felt for and towards her parent. I felt like I was failing her and wanted to refer her to another counselor, but she didn’t want to see anyone else. As little as I seemed to be helping her, we had built a pretty good therapeutic relationship.

I started reading academic journals on grief, referring to other counselors for clinical advice and reading books as fast as I could to try to find new techniques, but ultimately patience on my part and time appeared to be the most effective technique.

In time her depression seemed to lift and she was able to talk about her parent’s death without placing blame on herself or her parent. She started participating in group, following my recommendations and keeping a journal to write in, which also seemed to help. By the end of last school year she had stopped cutting herself, was happier and was definitely in a better place.

Then summer came.

I tried to make sure over the summer she had access to counseling and even to me if needed, but when school started back this year she was almost even more depressed and upset about her parent’s death than when I first met her.

Now she was even more resistant to therapy, often missing appointments, yelling at me in session and walking out of sessions when I tried to get her to talk about things she was trying to avoid, like her suicidal thoughts, self-injury and how she was dealing with her parent’s death.

She would always come back, always wondering if I was mad at her or upset, which I never was. I knew her outbursts and “resistance” were also ways she was testing my claim of unconditional positive regard for her. She was suicidal again however. She had once been a highly motivated student, a senior with a dream to go to one of the top university’s in Florida, but now she claimed to not care about that or even graduating high school. She saw no point in anything.

She was also cutting herself again and one day in my office, after recently cutting herself in school and saying she wanted to kill herself, I had to have her involuntarily hospitalized. She was furious with me, but I knew at the time I had no choice and it broke my heart seeing her taken away, but I was positive I had did what was best for her.

She yelled that she would never come see me again or forgive me, but a week later she was released from the hospital and we settled back into a regular counseling routine. She was angry with me, but was actually thankful and told me that had I not had her hospitalized that day, she was positive she would have went home and killed herself.

Over the next few months we had our moments of resistance, but I wanted to continue to push her and to keep her goals in mind because I knew that once she got through this fog, she could be lost without guidance. I kept reminding her of her dreams and encouraging her to focus on the bigger picture. She is a brilliant young lady with huge aspirations that tended to get lost in the darkness of her depression.

There were some sessions when she didn’t want to talk so we worked on her college application or essay. Other times we just talked about random things, but through random conversation, we would end up talking about whatever was bothering her. In time she stopped cutting herself and her depression started lifting again. She started to focus on school although she had giving up somewhat on her dream of going to her first choice of college. I think she was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to take getting rejected, but I kept encouraging her to have faith while also preparing her just in case she got rejected. Still, the Universe seemed to be smiling upon her. She was winning award after award and was even “Senior of the week” recently.

She still had her bad days like over the Christmas break, which was only her second Christmas without her parent, and she will have other bad days, but she is moving forward and smiling a lot more. On top of that, she told me this past Friday that she had just gotten an acceptance letter from her first choice university. Not only did she get accepted, her first semester and perhaps even more, are already paid for including room and board. She was so excited and I was one of the first people outside of her family that she called to tell.

I was so happy because I know how much she wanted this and what this would do for her self-esteem and the doors it will open for her future. She would not only be the first person in her family to go to college, but she is going to probably the top university in the state of Florida.

She was so thankful for, “All you have done for me. For not giving up on me and for to encouraging me to follow my dreams.” I was nearly in tears because I was so happy for her, but I was quick to remind her that everything she has done to get to this point is all her and not me. She did all of this and I was just there to help guide her, but she did all the hard work. It was important to me that she took credit for her achievement so that she would know she could achieve anything she set out to, by herself if she had to.

When I got through talking with Suriyan, I was able to sit back and see how far we had come together and say that counseling had been effective. Sure it’s not done, she still has some tough days ahead, but I’ll work with her through those days until she goes off to college and even then, I will make sure she is in contact with a good counselor and make sure she is aware of the great support groups they have on campus.

I don’t do this type of work for me, I do it to help people live their best lives so this is not about me being a good counselor. There are times when I am unsure of if I am a good or effective counselor, but there are days and clients like this, when I can look back and reflect and say, yes, I am a good counselor.

Lance Armstrong May Be A Narcissist, But We Made Him A Hero

Lance-Armstrong-denies-pic-jpgLike a lot of people, I brought into the Lance Armstrong hype way before the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency implemented him. To me, even back then, wearing the Livestrong bracelets was not so much about supporting Lance Armstrong, but for fighting cancer and challenges everywhere.

A lot of people I talk to who supported Armstrong and believed him when he said he was being singled-out, are angry and many are destroying their Livestrong bracelets.

If you look at those bracelets as supporting Lance Armstrong, then I understand that, but everything is about perception and I think those bracelets and the good his foundation has done can’t be torn apart by his wrong doings.

What does bother me is that he apparently lied so many times, adamantly about his use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). I read in some reports that he threatened to ruin peoples lives, including his masseuse if she didn’t help keep his secrets.

When I watch the many video tapes of Armstrong vehemently denying his use of PEDs, even as the evidence against him mounted up, I started seeing a different side of him.

He no longer was the pristine character I and many others had mad him out to be, but that is our fault. We made him out to be better than he really was.

Once I really started to see Lance Armstrong and not his accomplishments and charisma, I started to see a very egotistical person with clear signs of a narcissistic personality.

I saw a man who was drunk with power. Here was a man who had done more for cancer research and awareness than anyone I can think of and yet cheated in the Tour de France and continued to lie about it for years despite the evidence.

He used his charisma to raise millions of dollars for cancer research, while at the same time cheating and dominating at the sport that made him famous.

Many people in history with narcissistic personalities were charismatic and often started off as good before turning bad, such as Adolf Hitler, Fidel Castro and Jim Jones. There are many present day examples as well, just look around and you’ll start to notice them.

People with narcissistic personalities have big egos that create a need for importance and are often driven to success.

That doesn’t make them all bad people. All of us can be a bit narcissistic at times, but people with narcissistic personalities tend to take it to  the point where they can’t recognize when they are wrong or need help because they think they have no flaws and they don’t take personal responsibility.

Lance’s narcissistic personality made it hard for him to take responsibility for his actions and also made him think that he was smarter than everyone else. Even in the face of undeniable evidence, he still tried to hold on to his heroic facade.

The problem is, as people we usually like to characterize people as all  “good” or all  “bad”, but humans are complex beings with the ability to be both good and bad. When we put someone on a pedestal, only admiring their good side, we are quickly disappointed and hurt when they show us their not so good side, which all of us have to some extent.

A couple of years ago, a pastor here in Orlando who had a past history of drug abuse and sexual defiance, became very charismatic, successful and popular in the community, growing his congregation into tens of thousands, at multiple services at multiple churches and nationally televised.

He was outspoken and passionate about uplifting communities, staying away from drugs and challenging men to be men. People flocked to him and his church and clung to him as if he were the perfect example of a good man and a Christian.

Imagine everyone’s shock when he was found dead in a New York city hotel of “natural causes” with a white powdery substance in his position.

Many people believe the pastor died of a drug over dose, but his congregation and family refused to believe it and til this day his family is fighting to keep  his official cause of death sealed. They had made this man out to be a hero, to be perfect, just as many had did with Lance Armstrong, and they didn’t want to tarnish his reputation.

As humans we like to root for people, to champion people and  make heroes out of athletes, celebrities, and sometimes people in our communities like religious leaders, and it’s easy to get disillusioned and forget that they are all just people just like us.

I’m not angry with Lance, after all, he is just human, just a man who made some bad decisions along with some great ones including helping raise awareness and research for cancer. I just hope that he will come completely clean and allow us to get to know all of him without the hero facade.

This will require him taking personal responsibility for his past mistakes however, something that is difficult for people with a narcissistic personality to do. The world and I will be watching.

**edit: I wrote this post before I saw his interview with Oprah and walked away from that interview more convinced that Lance Armstrong is a narcissist. In the interview he often spoke in the third person, as if it wasn’t really him being interviewed. He often seemed rather cold, detached and guarded despite this being a “tell all” interview. He touched his face a lot, which is a form of body language known as “The Mouth Guard” which is a sign that someone is unsure if what they are saying is really the truth, or consciously or unconsciously they know that what they are saying is a lie. Maybe Lance wasn’t totally lying, but he was not being completely, totally honest. Still, I think the good his Livestrong foundation has done is much bigger than one person.

Are You In Tune With Your Teenager?

teens_parents_istock_000003860067sma-fullWhile working with teens I’ve noticed that there are certain differences between those who are doing well academically, socially and mentally and those who aren’t.

For the most part, teens that are doing well have parents/guardians that show interest in them and their ideas and actually listen to them.

Teens who are doing well report that they feel connected to their parents/guardians, not only because they show an interest in their teens, but because their parents/guardians take time to  find out what is going on in their lives.

Of course this makes sense, because teens who feel connected to their parents/guardians have more at risk when it comes to making decisions or taking risks.

When these teens are faced with risky decisions such as using a substance, skipping school or having sex, they are more likely to think about how their decision will affect their parents/guardians and their relationship with them.

These teens don’t want to disappoint their parents or lose their trust and are more likely to be open to their parents advice, compared to teens who don’t feel connected to their parents/guardians.

Teens who don’t feel as connected to their parents/guardians or don’t believe that their parents/guardians are genuinely interested in them, are more likely to take more risks without thinking about the consequences those risks may have on their relationship with their parent/guardian.

They are less likely to be interested in school, to be open and honest with their parents/guardians, to be well-adjusted or to avoid the many traps that await them as teenagers.

When parents are responsive, connected and supportive with their teens, it makes it easier to tackle some of the tougher issues such as discipline and setting rules/boundaries.

Even if you are a really strict parent, your rules won’t receive much lasting respect from your teenager, unless they also believe that you care about them.

I meet parents everyday who are strict on their teens, but their teens have major academic and discipline problems outside of the home. When I sit down with these families, it’s usually clear to me from the start, that they are not connected.

A large part of my job then becomes trying to bridge that gap and create a connection between the parents/guardian and their teenager.

It’s not enough to simple parent a teenager, and you don’t have to be their friend, but you have to engage them, connect with them and make them feel supportive.

You can take advantage of everyday opportunities to connect with your teen, such as while watching television, driving to/from school, dinner time or even setting specific times for a “date” with your teen.

Find out what’s going on in your teen’s life. Make sure to ask questions about their activities and interests. It may seem strange or even uncomfortable at first, but with time it will become easier and feel more natural.

Connecting with your teen may be harder than you expect, depending on the nature of your relationship. Some teens can be tough to get through to and are resentful or argumentative.

The teen years are largely about trying to find independence, so it’s only natural that your teen will challenge things you have taught or are trying to teach them as they try to form their own identity.

Your teen may think that you are being nosy and initially become resistant if you haven’t had a good relationship before this, but be genuine and eventually they will respond in-kind.

Don’t give up however. Chances are they are listening, even when you think they aren’t, and they will remember the lessons you are trying to get through to them. Keeping your messages brief will help with some of that resistance, as teens generally don’t like to be lectured to.

Learn to understand your teen through observing them and learn to respect your teen by listening to what they have to say.

Some other things you can do to foster a close relationship with your child according to

  • Spend time together regularly, doing things your teen enjoys
  • Talk openly and honestly
  • use positive communication skills, especially when there is conflict. For example, think before you speak and acknowledge your teen’s point-of-view so he or she knows you are listening.
  • Acknowledge the positive qualities and behaviors of your teenager.

A quick self-check includes:

  • Do you praise your teen for accomplishments, even the small ones?
  • Do you spend time each day talking with your teenager?
  • Do you regularly have meals with your teen and other family members?
  • Are you familiar with your teen’s favorite interest and hobbies?
  • Do you know your teen’s friends?

As I stated in a previous post, the teen years is not the time to stop parenting your teen, but your role as a parent changes just as your child changes from a kid to a young adult. They still need your guidance and for you to effectively guide them, you have to be connected with them.

How Early Is Too Early To Implant Self-Consciousness Into A Child?

istock_000014209545xsmallThis morning as I watched Good Morning America I saw an interview with “Teen Mom” star, Farrah Abraham, talking about how she waxes her three year old daughter’s (Sophia) uni-brow.

On her blog,, Farrah, who is 20 years wrote:

“Recently I could not ignore it, like I know I’ve seen madonna’s duaghter have a stand out uni brow, I remember when I was little I had a unibrow, but I couldn’t remember if there was an age limit, a rule!”

“So here I am faced with a standout historical moment in motherhood when I can confirm to myself that my little, adorable,most cuddle-able cutie, baby girl has a Unibrow 😦 , I felt bad for her, and I started asking friends…. is this hair just going to fall out… is it just hormones at this age?, well the hair didn’t go away and others started saying it was here to stay.”

In an interview, Farrah said that she was also worried about her three year old daughter being teased about her uni-brow, so she talked to her daughter about waxing it, and even waxed her own eyebrows to show her daughter how it’s done.

“So I tryed to wax her, the second a dab hit the Uni, she touch it with the towel she had in her hand, UHHH so now, wax was in the towel, and I yanked it back ASAP, but fuzz was not stuck to the wax stuck to her Uni, OMG moment, So now sophia was freaking out, so I had to act like it was a cool science project to get the wax off,” Abraham said.

Once Sophia fell asleep, Farrah says she used tweezers to remove the rest.

“The next morning I showed her and told her how well she did and she didn’t even know, She was more intrigued now to be ok with upkeeping her non-unibrow. I could tell she was proud,”.

Farrah says she felt like a good mom afterwards, but some of her fans were shocked and appalled at her post.

As I heard about this story, I wish I could say I felt shocked, but I didn’t. It felt more like deja vu. Like I had heard this story, or something similar to it before.

And then of course I thought about the New Jersey mom who took her five year old daughter to a tanning booth, and the Georgia mom who allowed her ten year old son to get a tattoo.

In almost all of these and similar cases, the mothers seemed to be either clearly unstable, ignorant, uneducated or superficial.

Farrah Abraham, not to pick on her, but she doesn’t come across to me as the most educated and profound person.

At 20 years old, she is in many ways still a child herself. According to Good Morning America, she recently had a breast augmentation, a chin implant and rhinoplasty, which not only implies to me that she is superficial, but that she is also very self-conscious and may be passing this on to her daughter.

I seriously doubt that any three, four or five year old will tease her daughter over a uni-brow, but it’s much more likely that Farrah is self-conscious about it herself and is more worried about what her friends, other people or the media will say about her daughter’s uni-brow than Sophia’s peers.

What does waxing your daughters eyebrows when she is 3 years old say to her anyway? How does that affect her self-esteem and self-consciousness now and in the future?

Teaching your toddler that you should change the way you look to avoid being teased doesn’t sound like a great recipe for a healthy self-esteem and stable personality in the future.

Teaching them to love and accept themselves for who they are does. She can always do whatever makes her feel comfortable once she is old enough to understand what she is doing and why.

Many people may see nothing wrong with this story, or getting their 3 year old’s eyebrows waxed, a five year old tanned or a 10 year old tattooed.

Some comments I have read online say that it’s no big deal and that helping Sophia wax her eyebrows at 3 years old will help her get used to it and help her avoid getting teased in later years.

I don’t think this is the right approach. We all know that kids can be cruel and will tease each other about any and everything.

If they start teasing about her teeth, her hair, the way she walks, the way she talks, should she alter those things as well?

The reality of the situation is to each his own, but every decision has a consequence, positive or negative and even when you think you are doing what is in the best interest of your child, you may be implanting something in them you didn’t expect.

Your Teenager Needs and Wants Your Guidance

Group of Teens_397

If you are a parent of a teenager, you probably have worried at one point in time about the many issues that face them including drugs, alcohol and tobacco use, dangerous driving, sexual activity, school, peer and social issues.

You’ve probably also worried about losing the influence you have over your teen as they start trying to branch out and find their own identity in the world.

We all know that teenagers face many challenges and changes in the world, and many teenagers like to act as if they can face and deal with these challenges alone.

As a matter of fact, many teens may actually believe that they don’t need any help, but as adults that care about the teens in our lives, we know that’s not always the case.

Teens need guidance. Teens actually want (although they may never admit to it) your help and guidance (just as they actually want rules and limitations).

As a parent, you may think that once your child becomes a teenager, you can sort of step back and let them grow up on their own, stepping in only when they get into trouble, but that is the wrong approach.

Your job as a parent isn’t over, it’s just changing.

Many parents who think like what I just described above, end up with spoiled kids who take no real responsibility for their lives and their actions.

They often believe that they are entitled to many things others have to work hard for and end up becoming young adults and adults with a host of intra and interpersonal problems.

There is some good news however.

If you watch the news or work with a certain population of teens as I do, it’s easy to think that teens today are worse than teens have ever been in history, but that’s actually not true.

Compared to their parents generation, teens today are less likely to become pregnant, smoke, use drugs and alcohol, drop out of school, or commit a violent crime.

They are more likely to volunteer and explore their spiritual side than ever. They are also more tolerant and are more likely to have friends of different races, socio-economic status, religion and ethnic groups.  They are also more likely to say tey have positive relationships with their parents.

All the hard work society has put into improving teens is paying off, but not without the help and involvement of parents.

Research shows that teens want and expect their parents to play key roles in their lives. They want advice and guidance and they remember your wise words, even when they act as if they are not listening.

The troubled teens I work with usually come from households where they are lacking parenting or have a parent or parents that don’t know how to be parents. Some are just “bad” parents while others are too busy with their own lives to actively parent their teens.

Despite all the good news about teens, the fact is, the dangers are still there. Any parent can attest to that. If they weren’t, there would be no need for my services  and I and all the counselors I know who work with teens, are largely overwhelmed with the number of teens that need counseling.

The problems facing teens are often similar and yet different for each one, and some may surprise you.

Like the fact that rural teens tend to have more drug and alcohol problems than urban teens, and that 30% of high school teens reported driving with someone who has been drinking at least once in the last month.

The teens years are much like when your child first learned to walk. Remember how they would look for something to hold onto such as a table or your leg to help steady themselves?

Sometimes they even freaked out when they couldn’t find something to hold on to, but you were usually their to help guide and protect them and make sure that they didn’t hurt themselves.

Although you stayed close enough to help them not hurt themselves if they started to fall, you also gave them enough room to learn and practice their new abilities and watched with joy as they grew in confidence from crawling, to walking, and eventually running.

Adolescence is very similar.

Your teen needs you to be there as they try to find themselves in the world, or they will find something else to hold onto just as they did as toddlers learning how to walk.

If you are not there for them to hold on to, they will potentially find drugs, alcohol, sex, bad influential friends, crime, you name it.

If you are lucky they will find good friends, healthy and safe adults, teachers, counselors, etc., but you want to be the person who guides your child.

You want to be the person that helps your child navigate through the barriers, which means you have to be close enough to give advice and to answer their questions honestly, but far enough away to allow them to start making and learning from their own decisions.

The adolescence are an exciting and scary part of life. Your teens are changing and growing and although they may start to look like adults, their decision making, risk/reward system are far from fully developed, so they still need you to be their for them, or they will look for and find something/someone else, good or bad.

My Day Working At A Women’s Residential (Addictions) Facility: Observations And Thoughts


Yesterday I was blessed to be able to go and work with a group of women in a women’s residential facility. All of these women varied in age from barely twenty to the elderly, yet they all battle some form of substance abuse.

None of them looked like “typical addicts” and they were all extraordinary women.

Many of them were mothers or wives and of course daughters who had lost nearly everything due to their alcohol, cocaine, crack-cocaine, prescription pills, meth or heroin addiction.

One older lady had battled addiction for most of her life and at one point became homeless before finally making up her mind to try to get sober and clean. She has seven months sobriety.

Another woman who looked like she couldn’t have been a day over twenty, but had a five year old child, had been clean for four years before an old dealer of hers found her on Facebook and seduced her into using again.

And another older female had been pretty much a functioning alcoholic for the past five years and then one night out of the blue had an alcohol related gran mal seizure that landed her in the hospital for five days and she was court-ordered to rehab from there.

A lot of the women had tragic stories, including a very young girl who I don’t think was even twenty and was in rehab for the first time after being court ordered into treatment.

She was adopted, her birth mother was a drug addicted, her birth father was in prison and when her adopted father died two years ago she started using any drug she could get her hands on to numb the pain she felt.

Working with these women yesterday in group and individual settings I took a lot away from not only what it meant to become and remain substance free, but also what it meant to accomplish any major goal.

Having a good support system of course is important.

The women who had a supportive family, a supportive group of people such as Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous, supportive healthy friendships, supportive professionals or a supportive sponsor all seemed to be doing better than those who did not.

Having a belief in and a relationship with a Higher Power also seemed to help.

Not that there weren’t many women there who weren’t religious, but it was obvious that those who had some type of relationship with God, the universe, or whatever, seemed to be doing better in recovery compared to does who didn’t.

Also, those who were honest with themselves and in touch with reality seemed to be doing better than those who seemed to be a bit oblivious to reality.

The one thing that bothered me most about a lot of the women in the facility were that a lot of them were lying to themselves as we all do from time to time, especially when trying to stop a bad habit.

Many of the women still had “addict behaviors” not only in the fact that they were lying to themselves, but they were also lying and being sneaky to others.

For instance, this was a smoke-free facility where these women are prohibited from smoking, yet a number of the women sneak out and smoke.

That may seem relatively harmless in comparison to their bigger addictions, but that type of sneaky, dishonest behavior sets the stage for future relapse.

Relapse is not something that usually just happens, but develops overtime in the way a person thinks, feels, and acts.

A sober, clean person may start feeling agitated, lying, sneaking off to do things they know they shouldn’t, etc., days, weeks or months before actually relapsing.

They start lying to themselves, saying things like, “I can just have one drink” or “I can just take one hit and walk away, I know how to control it now”.

Before you know it, they are back in the thick of their addiction, driving under the influence to get more alcohol or selling whatever they can get their hands on to get more drugs.

Most of these women displayed some of those signs of a future relapse, from sneaking off to smoke, to being angry and irritable, to the woman who had the seizure asking me:

“How much do you think I’ll have to drink for that to happen to me again, because it scared the hell out of me. I don’t want to drink any more, but I just want to know if I have one drink, or two drinks, how many would it take before that happened again?”

Although she’s telling me she doesn’t want to drink again, she is lying to herself. It is obvious that in her conscious or unconscious mind, she is trying to figure out if she can get away with drinking “just a little”, but she is an alcoholic, and knows that there is no drinking “just a little” for her.

The women sneaking off to smoke, will be the same women sneaking off to drink or get high once they are out of rehab. That is “addict behavior” at it’s best.

Just like in trying to quite anything from smoking to losing weight, people generally relapse and it takes a few tries before they get it right. Relapse at some point is usually expected which is why there is often a focus on relapse prevention.

One of the biggest things to know about relapse is that if you mess up, if you have a drink, or a hit, or a donut, it doesn’t mean you just give up and give in. You can still back away at that point and start over before the addiction truly regains a hold of you.

All the women in this facility are at different points in their recovery and no doubt, for many of them, this will not be their last time in treatment, but hopefully one day they will get it right.