Being A Psychotherapist: Things School and Books Can’t Really Prepare You For Part One: Mental Fatique

iStock_000024633998Medium-744x418To be a psychotherapist takes years of school and a lot of reading and writing about various aspects of human behavior. Many students fresh out of school with not much patient contact or real therapeutic hours under their belt, think that they fully know what it is like to be a therapist. They don’t. While school and books definitely prepare you for sounding like a trained therapist, nothing but real experience and hundreds of hours of patient contact, can prepare you for even the basics of what it’s like to be a therapist.

Many people who see me doing my job say, “I want to do that” and I never discourage them. I just tell them that if they are doing it from their hearts then they should pursue it. If they are doing it because they think it pays well, then they should seek another career. If they are doing it because it looks easy, then they should definitely seek another career. Even students who have spent years in undergrad and then graduate school are disillusioned and thus disappointed when they actually start seeing clients of their own. A few, those meant to truly be in the field, will love it, even when it’s frustrating. Others will hate it, but stay because they’ve fooled themselves to believe they are supposed to be therapist, and most end up becoming very bad therapists… or program directors. A large portion will leave the field altogether and seek employment that is more fulfilling and they should.

So what are the things that school and books can’t prepare you for when it comes to being a psychotherapist? Well I will cover one topic every now and then instead of trying to cram a top 10 list, but we’ll start with mental fatigue.

Being a psychotherapist is exhausting. Sure it’s not the same as lifting bricks all day, but it’s a different kind of exhaustion. People will say, all you do is sit and listen all day, how can that be exhausting. Well actively listening, being thoughtful, sustaining alertness, using your memory and paying attention to someone for 50 minute stretches throughout the day is very draining. Not to mention the stories you hear and have to process. Stories that are sometimes so sad that you have to hold yourself back from tears, or stories that trigger counter-transference issues because they remind you of some part of your own life.

There is also other things that make it taxing such as doing notes, scheduling, dealing with insurance companies and billing. There’s also that part about managing risks, having to figure out how much of a risk someone is to themselves or others. My main job right now is assessing suicidality in inmates who have exhibited a risk for suicide. It can become very stressful.

On top of that, sometimes your friends and even strangers who meet you and find out you’re a psychotherapist will treat you differently.

Strangers will either be fascinated and want to tell you about their problems, or a “friends”, or they will not talk much out of fear that you are always analyzing people. We do know how to turn it off, well at least turn it down. Your friends will most likely have you as their default free therapist, yet will not offer you much advice/help since “you’re a therapist, you should be able to figure out your own problems.” Oh, I’ve heard that too many times.

It can be exhausting because being a therapist, once you’ve done it long enough, becomes who you are. You don’t leave it behind at 5pm, even when you think you do. It’s always there with you and if you aren’t careful and don’t take care of yourself, it will drain you.

The link below is to a very well written article that details some of the hardest and most exhausting parts about being a therapist.

The One Thing Every Psychotherapist’s Partner Doesn’t Get.

Family Shares UPenn Student’s Suicide Note

Suicide affects thousands of families each year. Last year, many people were shocked to hear about Madison Holleran’s suicide. She was a beautiful, intelligent college freshman, but like many college students, she was having difficulty adjusting. Her suicide took her family by surprise and if you read her suicide note, it appeared to have taken her somewhat by surprise as well.

I’ve read a number of books on suicide and have unfortunately read a number of suicide notes during my career as a psychotherapist.

Reading suicide notes, especially from people who have completed suicides, can help us understand what that person was going through at that time and may be able to help us prevent other suicides.

Many times families and friends have no real ideal of the internal struggles and emotional pain that suicidal people are dealing with.

Madisons’ family recently released her suicide note to the public. If you’d like to read it, it gives a brief but heart wrenching account inside of Madisons’ mental and emotional state.

Family Shares UPenn Student’s Suicide Note – FOX 29 News Philadelphia | WTXF-TV.

Emotional Vampires: How To Spot Them And How To Deal With Them

ed6568492c7ad5b402e59e8e9a09fe20-d55q1a1I am personally very sensitive to other peoples energy. Meaning, if I am in a room where everyone is sad, I can feel that sadness and even myself start to become sad. The same is true if the energy and emotion are happy or angry. I often get taken out of my element when I get around someone whose energy is different than mine. Meaning, I can come home happy and immediately become down if my partner is down because she had a bad day. It’s something that is my personal challenge to work on, but many of us are like that.

We realize that while some people are very positive and they often help improve our mood and energy, others are just the opposite, they are very negative and suck us dry of any happiness, positivity, peace and joy. A popular term for these type of individuals today is emotional vampires.  Some emotional vampires we know right away because they immediately drain us of emotional and physical energy as soon as they come around. Others are much more discreet and make remarks that leave us feeling bad and doubtful about ourselves such as  “You’re just not as smart as your brother” or “You’re always taking things personal”.

There are different types of emotional vampires and here I’ll list them and give you some tips on how to deal with each type you may encounter.

The Narcissistic Vampire

This vampire is all about themselves and everything is always about them. They are conceited, grandiose, entitled, want all the attention and admiration and believe that they are ultra-important. They lack empathy and have a very short fuse when it comes to giving love to others. Even when they do show favor to others, they will quickly withdraw it if things aren’t done their way, then they become very hurtful and punishing.

One way to combat this type of vampire is by keeping things in perspective by realizing that these type of people are very limited emotionally. If you expect more from them, you will just be disappointed over and over again. Falling in love with them is just setting you up for heart ache because they do not know how to be selfless or love unconditionally. If you depend on them for your self-worth you will only be crushed.

If you must deal with this type of person, the best way to handle them is by showing them how something will be in their best benefit. They are very selfish people and are happiest when they believe they are benefiting the most out of a situation.  This type of person is in my opinion the second most draining.

The Victim Vampire

This type of vampire is always crying “poor me”. They hate to take responsibility for their own actions. They believe that everything and everyone is against them which they believe is why they are unhappy. They fail to see, or want to see, their role in causing their own unhappiness. They will blame everything and everyone but themselves. These type of  vampires are most draining when you try to help them, but never can.

For this type of vampire you have to set limits and boundaries for self-care. Tell them you can only listen for a few minutes because you are busy, otherwise they will drain you quickly.

The Controlling Vampire

This vampire is always trying to control others by telling them now only what they should do, but also how they should feel. The way they do this is sometimes obvious, other times it’s less obvious because they try to control you by invalidating your emotions if they don’t believe you should feel that way. These are the type of people who always know what’s best for you and don’t have a problem telling you. In the end you end up not feeling good about yourself, feeling demeaned and belittled.

With this vampire you have to be assertive and confident. Pick your battles wisely with them and don’t try to control or “fix” them, that will only set them off. Be assertive on the things that matter and let some of the smaller things go.

The Splitter or Borderline Personality Vampire

Dealing with someone who has borderline personality disorder in itself is a taunting task. These type of vampires are always in black and white relationships, there is no gray areas. You are either good or bad therefore the relationship you will have with them will always be love and hate relationship. One day they worship you, but do something wrong and the next day you are totally worthless. They are very emotionally damaged people and often feel numb unless they are angry, and that’s when they feel alive. These type of vampire will keep you on a continuous emotional roller-coaster which is not only emotionally draining, but they can make you feel like you’re going to lose  your mind trying to deal with them and walking on eggshells to avoid conflict.

With these type of vampire you have to not allow them to suck you in and get as angry and upset as they are. You have to protect your emotions, stay calm, don’t over-react when they come looking for a fight. Believe it or not, these vampires respond best to structure and knowing where the limits are. If they start to get angry and out of control, tell them that you are going to walk away until they calm down. They won’t like it, but in the end this type of response is best for you and them. They will come to know their limits. They are also good at pitting people against each other and dividing friendships and families which is why it’s also important to not take sides when one tries to pit you against others, especially family and friends. These people in my opinion are the most draining because of their unpredictable, yet predictable nature.

We all know some emotional vampires and to be emotionally free, we have to learn how to deal with them.

For more information on emotional vampires check out “Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself From Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life.” by Dr. Judith Orloff and “Emotional Vampires: Dealing With People Who Drain You Dry.” by Dr. Albert Bernstein

What We Can Learn From The Dying

dying-wife-istockI’ve read a lot of books and information about death, grief and suicide. Those books have been both some of the most depressing and uplifting books I have ever read. Some of the most interesting books have been on people who were terminally ill like a book written by Bronnie Ware called The Five Regrets of the Dying.

We can learn a lot from the regrets of the  dying as regrets can give us insight if we look at them as things we can change so that hopefully we won’t have the same regrets. Here we’ll talk about the top five regrets of the dying as mentioned in The Five Regret.

  1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me: Many of us live lives that are inauthentic to who we really are and what we really want. It’s hard not to when we have been bombarded since birth by our parents and later by society about who we should be and what we should want, even when it contradicts our true desires. Even more disturbing is that many of us have been so brainwashed that we don’t even know when we are living inauthentic and think that the thoughts and goals that have been inserted inside of our minds by culture, society and family, are really our own when in fact they may be keeping us from living authentically. Something we can work on is recognizing this and attempting to live a life that is more inline with our true desires and goals.
  2. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard: We are taught that we are supposed to work hard and as a matter of fact, many people enjoy working hard, but many use working hard to escape dealing with other issues or work hard because it is what is expected of them. However, most people who are dying wished they would have spent more time doing things that nourished them, such as hobbies or spending time with friends and family, instead of working and collecting material items that now serve them little to no purpose. Sometimes we must work hard in order to pay the bills and “free time” doesn’t seem like an option, but we still have to find the time to do things that will serve us better spiritually.
  3. I wish I had the courage to express my feelings: How many times do we hold our tongues and not say the things we really want to say to family, friends, etc? We end up becoming passive and not assertive in order to save face or avoid a potential argument. Furthermore, a lot of people have trouble expressing love and affection and miss out on opportunities to let others know how they truly feel about them. In order for us to live a life with less regrets, we have to live a more authentic life where we are not only in touch with our true feelings,  but are able to express them.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends: It’s easy with the pressures of life and how fast paced  things can be, to lose touch with our friends, but having healthy, nurturing relationships adds to the overall happiness and quality of life. Maybe today you can find a way to start re-connecting with good and healthy people that will help bring joy to your life.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier: In the book Five Regrets of the Dying, most people didn’t realize until they were dying that happiness is a choice. Sure things happen to us, many that are out of our control, but we still choose how to deal with that situation and how we will let it affect us. We can start becoming more aware and make more  conscious decisions about how to deal and respond to those situations instead of allowing them to bring us down, make us angry or throw us for a loop.

The good thing about other peoples mistakes and regrets is that we can learn from them and hopefully not end up having the same regrets. We can all start today by looking over this list and incorporating our own so that we can live a happier, more authentic life.

Signs Your Teen May Need To See A Counselor

Bored-teenage-girl-on-couch-jpgVery often I have parents ask me if I think their teen needs counseling. They will tell me about different behaviors they have observed and pretty much ask me if it is “normal”.

The advice I normally give is, if you think your teen needs counseling, they probably do. I have seen more instances of teens not receiving mental health help or receiving it once the issue has gotten out of hand, then I have of parents bringing their teens in for counseling when they are perfectly “normal”.

Don’t get me wrong, I have seen parents who have brought their teens in for counseling only for me to soon realize that it was the parent that actually needed help, and not their teen.

In any case, it never hurts to schedule a session for your teen if you think they may need help. A trained mental health professional will be able to tell you in a couple of sessions or so if your teen needs further help or if the issue extends further into the family system.

Some signs that your teenager may need counseling

  • Mood swings– Yes we all know that teenagers have mood swings. It is definitely part of that developmental age, but as a parent, you should have a general baseline of your teens mood swings. If their mood swings seem extreme or are way outside of your teens normal mood swings (too depressed, too elated, too labile, etc.) trust your gut, it may be worth looking into with a trained professional.
  • Self-medicating– Some teens will try to hide or control their issues, especially when they don’t understand why they think or feel a certain way. Many will turn to drugs, alcohol, sex, self-mutilation, or eating disorders just to name a few, in an effort to make themselves feel better. If you notice your teen involved in any of these things it’s almost a guarantee that they are trying to mask something else, that could be anything from low self-esteem to sexual abuse and it’s worth investigating.
  • Changes in friends– many times when a teen is suffering from a mental illness it will impact their ability to maintain healthy friendships. They may push friends away or become too clingy. You may see some of your teens friends start wanting to avoid them or your teens choices of friends may drastically change.
  • Changes in school performance– is another sign that your teen may be suffering from some form of mental illness. It’s generally hard to concentrate and focus when one is in a poor mental state and this can affect a teens grades and/or conduct.
  • Physical symptoms– if your teen suddenly starts to care less about their appearance, stops taking showers, gains or loses a lot of weight or starts complaining of psychosomatic symptoms like backaches, headaches or stomach aches, these are all possible signs that your teen is dealing with something they can’t handle alone.
  • Behavior changes– behavior like mood can change a lot during the teenage years, but for the most part, if you teens starts presenting as a totally different person to you then it may indicate either a mental illness or substance abuse issue.

Being a teenager is hard and most teens will try their best to hide their problems from their parents, which is why it is imperative that parents are attune with their teenagers. Today it’s even easier for teens to hide how they really feel through social media so parents have to be vigilant to monitor their social media pages as well in order to gain insight into what is really going on with their teen.

With the appropriate help, all mental and emotional issues can be treated and managed so if you  have to ask the question, “Is this normal”, chances are you should contact a qualified mental health professional for a further evaluation.

 

Reasons You Should Keep An Online Journal

Young Woman Typing on a Laptop at HomeI’ve wrote before about the importance of  journaling and keeping a diary in my post setting up a coping toolbox. Many famous people throughout history have kept journals such as Anne Frank, Kurt Cobain and poet Sylvia Plath.  I’ve kept journals off and on since high school and it’s great to go back and look through some of the old ones to see how things have changed.

The other day I went back through an old journal and realized that in some situations where at the time I thought I was right, I was actually wrong, selfish and insensitive. That doesn’t mean I went and beat myself up over the past, it just gave me a better understanding of the situation and the person I was then compared to the person I am now and the person I want to become.

Journaling is a great way to express yourself, to relieve stress, to work out emotional and relationship problems from the past and present, to better understand yourself, capture life events and become more mentally and emotionally healthy. Check out 100 Benefits of Journaling.

One of main problems of keeping a traditional journal or diary is privacy. I know I’ve been reluctant to truly express myself in paper-bond journals out of fear of someone else reading it. I’ve also had the misfortune of  breaking the trust and privacy of someone I love by reading their personal journal, so I understand the fear of invasion of privacy that keeps many people from journaling altogether.

Thankful there are now many different ways to keep a journal and I encourage everyone to at least try an online journal. Sure you can keep a journal as an encrypted text file on your computer, but it is not as easily available as an online journal that is available from any computer that has internet access.

Many people try to keep journals using Google Docs or similar programs, but most good online journals have close to military grade encryption where no one, including the site owners can/will read your private thoughts. They also have easy ways you can add pictures, print your pages if you so choose to, email them to yourself, even email a page to someone else, annonymously if you want.

When it comes to online journals, there are many to choose from and feel free to do your own research, but here I’ve put my top three recommendations:

  1. Penzu– it’s what I am currently using. They offer a free and easy way to keep an online journal and promise military-grade encryption and 256-bit SSL encryption. You can upgrade to the Pro version of Penzu for $20 a year which for the most part just allows more customization, but it’s not necessary to upgrade or pay. The free version still offers many features and gives you a great place to record your private thoughts. Penzu is one of if not the most popular online journal and I highly recommend it.
  2. 750 Words– encourages you to write 750 words a day, which is about 3 pages. It is private and a simple way to just get your thoughts out. Their tag line is “Private, unfiltered, spontaneous, daily”. I like 750 words a lot and they send you simple emails everyday to remind you to write, I just couldn’t get into the habit of using it as much as I use Penzu.
  3. My Therapy Journal– this online journal is unique in the fact that it is therapy oriented and can be used by those with and without issues they may be in therapy for. For those who are actively in therapy, this is an absolutely great tool and one I actually encourage over Penzu. The one thing I do not like about My Therapy Journal is that you have to pay for a one month ($5.99 per month renewed and billed monthy), three month ($4.99 per month renewed and billed every 3 months) or annual ($2.99 per month renewed and billed annually) membership. I’m not too keen on an online journal that forces you to pay, but like I said, if you are actively in therapy then this is definitely worth it and you get 14 days to try it for free.

There are many different options out there, but these are my top three. If you have any others you would like to add please post them in the comments section.

Regular writing has many, many benefits from improved mental health to creativity. Finding a place you can trust with your thoughts is important and I hope this helps with that discovery.

Six Things Therapists Don’t Want You to Know

Woman-with-finger-over-li-007As therapists, we want you to open up to us. To trust us enough to tell us things you may have never told anyone else. We want you to explore your deepest, darkest places and deal with things you may not even be aware that you were dealing with or avoiding. However, as therapist, there are some things that we keep from you and here is what I consider to be the top five.

1. “Sometimes You Bore Me.”

As therapists, we get paid to listen to other peoples problems and that may seem like an easy task, but it’s not. Sitting and listening to someone talk for 50 minutes can be mentally and emotionally draining, especially when the person talking is going on and on about something that is irrelevant to why they are actually in therapy. Sometimes it is hard to shut out our own internal chatter and (I feel guilty to admit this) it’s easy to start daydreaming or letting your mind wander instead of being attentive and present.

When I find this happening, it’s usually a clear sign to me that I need to redirect the client, or that whatever I am doing isn’t working and I need to try a different approach. Some clients however simply aren’t that interesting.

I remember running into a fellow therapist at the coffee machine saying she needed some extra caffeine because her next client was “a snoozer”. Fortunately, this is a rarity and not the norm, but if your therapist looks bored, it’s a good chance he or she is and it could be a clue to both of you that you aren’t really working on the real problem at hand, but dancing around it.

2. “You’re All Better, But I Want You To Keep Coming Back Because I Need Your Money.”

Therapist in private practice depend on their clients to make a living so, sometimes, even when therapy should come to an end, after the problems have been resolved, a therapist will keep rescheduling you to come back, even if you run out of things to talk about. They don’t want to let you go or to discharge you because that is taking money out of their pocket, so they will continue rescheduling you to come back as long as you or your insurance company continues to pay them.

Speaking of which, most insurance companies will only pay for a certain number of sessions so a therapist may want you to keep coming back until you’ve used up all your sessions and then, rather you are better or not, they may stop seeing you. That is unless of course you have the money to pay out of pocket, which can be costly. Most therapist charge anywhere from $75 to $200 an hour.

If you feel like your work is done with the therapist, but they continue rescheduling you to come back, it’s okay to bring this up to the therapist, to stop going to see the therapist or to get another one if you feel like your therapist is using you. A good therapist doesn’t want their client in therapy longer than necessary, even if discharging that client is going to take some money out of their pocket.

3. “Your Secrets Are Safe With Me… Sort Of.”

As therapist, we want you to feel safe talking to us and tell you that everything is confidential and we like to think that it is, but there are somethings that may not be confidential such as when someone talks about killing themselves, someone else, abuse, neglect, etc. Also, courts can demand to see our records in the event of a court case such as an employment dispute or divorce proceedings. As therapists, we generally fight to keep our records private and only release what we absolute must, but while we promise confidentiality, there are exceptions.

Also, therapist often consult with other therapists, but usually we keep names and irrelevant details out of the discussion. It’s not uncommon for therapists to discuss patients with friends and family even, but in those cases names and details are always kept out because violating confidentiality is against the law and a therapist can be sued if it’s proven that he or she violated their clients confidentiality.

4.  ” I May Need More Help Than You Do.”

Therapists are human. Sometimes therapists have problems consciously and unconsciously that they may not be able to deal with on their own, yet they still show up to the office everyday to help others. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it can be. If your therapist is not in the right frame of mind and doesn’t know how to let his or her own problems go once face to face with a client, a litany of problems can occur.

Therapists aren’t supposed to give advice, but often we do and if your therapist is going through their own life situations, they may give you some very bad advice, not be present or make some very unhealthy decisions.

I’ve heard stories of therapists crying and confiding in their patients as if their patients were there own personal therapists, leaving the patient confused. I’ve also heard of therapist who were so cold and bitter while going through a divorce that they couldn’t be objective and empathetic when listening to their patients talk about their own relationships.

I’ve also known enough therapists who went into counseling and psychology (probably unconsciously) to help themselves and ended up being therapists who were just as neurotic, unstable and mentally unhealthy as many of the patients they were supposed to be helping.

This is where issues come into play like the therapist who slept with his or her patient, or had some other unhealthy, inappropriate dual relationship with a patient like having a patient temporarily live with them or being overly and unprofessionally involved with a client.

It is often advised that therapists have their own supervisors or therapists to talk to so that they can keep their personal and professional lives separate. Fortunately, most of the people I knew would make bad therapist ended up going into other fields.

5. “You Will Get A Diagnosis Rather You Deserve One Or Not”

Unfortunately, in this day and age of managed healthcare, everyone that has insurance has to get a diagnosis in order for the therapist to get paid. Sometimes this is easy because the patient obviously fits a certain diagnosis like depression or anxiety, but sometimes it’s not so obvious.

For example, when a patient is just dealing with typical life stressors that don’t meet criteria for a mental health diagnosis, the therapist will have to make a diagnosis fit if he or she wants to get paid.

Sometimes therapist will go for a “soft” diagnosis, like adjustment disorders, but some insurance companies won’t even pay for a “soft” diagnosis, so an adjustment disorder with depressed mood may be unnecessarily upgraded to major depressive disorder, single episode.  Your therapist may never tell you that you have been diagnosed, but you have been and at some point, if you care, you should ask what your diagnosis is.

A major part of my job is to diagnosis clients and everyone that enters my door leaves with a diagnosis if they didn’t have one already. I am always surprised at the number of patients who are referred to me with a current diagnosis, but when I ask them if they’ve been diagnosed with anything they either say “no” or “I don’t know”. These people are walking around with a diagnosis and don’t even know it.

6. “This May Hurt”

Most therapists won’t tell you up front that therapy can be emotionally and mentally painful. Most of the time we go to therapy because we are dealing with or avoiding some type of mental pain and we as therapist want to help you find it, confront it and deal with it. It can be pain that you know, like a recent divorce, or pain that you didn’t even realize was there, like how much you miss your dad that abandoned you when you were 3 and you haven’t thought of in over 10 years.

You may also come to some conclusions while you are in therapy, conclusions that may be difficult like ending a relationship, telling your mother how you really feel about the way she raised you or learning to say no to people you’ve always said yes to. A good therapist will be there with you and walk you through that pain, but most won’t tell you upfront how much this may hurt, otherwise, you might not go through with it.

Most therapists are good people who are in this field for the right reasons, not for the money (which isn’t great in the first place, but can be made), the power (some therapist like having a “God Complex”) or any other selfish reasons. Still, like in every profession there are good therapist and bad therapist and knowing how to identify a bad therapist can not only save you time and money, it may keep you from coming out of therapy worst off than you started.

Childrens Therapist: Yep That’s Me!

Preschool girl listening to teacher in classroomI like to share with my readers whenever anything changes or happens that I think is appropriate for you to know and recently I got a new job title, childrens therapist.

It’s funny how the universe works. Sometimes the more you try to avoid doing or dealing with something, the more you end up on a collision course to face it head on. That’s how I feel right now. I’ve been working in the field of counseling and psychology since 2006 and started off working with adults. In 2010 I started working with teenagers in an inner-city high school and absolutely loved it.

Around the same time I was offered an opportunity to work with younger kids, but cringed at the idea of doing therapy with kids who had trouble verbalizing and processing. Things such as play therapy were very foreign to me and when I started doing some in-home counseling I started seeing a few kids that were between the ages of 10 and 12. I quickly referred them out feeling both uncomfortable and unprepared to work with kids that young.

Well recently I changed jobs. I was looking to work more with clients and wanted to work with adults, but ended up landing a job as a childrens therapist within the last two weeks. I already have 10 clients, ranging from the ages of 4 to 14.  A four year old! Supposedly he has ADHD, and that may be the case, but I’ve met his parents and I am sure that their parenting skills aren’t the best so maybe with some parent training they’ll learn hoow to deal with him better and help shape him so that he doesn’t get stuck with the diagnosis of ADHD if it isn’t really appropriate.

I’m also being used in the capacity of a licensed evaluator to evaluate and diagnose kids who aren’t on my case load and have been giving the responsibilty of working with all the kids that are referred to the program through the department of juvenile justice.

It’s a bit overwhelming, challenging and exciting because there is so much I have to learn so that I can help these kids and their parents, especially the younger ones that traditional talk therapy doesn’t work with.

Earlier this week I was sitting with a 10 year old girl and we were doing pretty good. We were doing traditional talk therapy and she seemed to be doing fine with it and I remember thinking, “this isn’t so bad”, but about halfway through it she asked “can we color”. I was thrown off for a second, but then laughed to myself as I remembered she was a kid and told her “yes we can color”. And so we colored, and talked and it was pretty cool!

I have my first child who just turned 6 months over the weekend and here I am being thrown into the role of a childrens therapist. It’s like the universe had this whole thing set up and sometimes that’s just the way I think life works. At the same time, it’s forcing me to get out of my comfort zone, something I am always telling clients to do and I have so much I have to learn that I feel like a student again.

I have read this great book I have talked about before called The Boy Who Was Raised As a Dog: And Other Stories From a Child Psychiatrists’ Note Book by Bruce Perry. It is a book that talks about the horrific effects of childhood trauma, some intentional, and some unintentional in the form of neglect and ignorance.

As I revisit that book, it helps me put into focus the importance of the work I can do with these children. Yes, many of them have genetic predispositions to things like ADHD and mood disorders, but a lot of them are being raised by people and in environments that are causing them to respond a certain way.

It is my job if I can, to help correct this through therapy and parent education so that these kids have the best opportunity possible to turn into healthy children and eventually successful adults.

In the book, there is one story about a boy who was being raised mostly by a mother who had some type of mental disorder so while she took care of the child, he basically stayed alone in his crib without any interaction for 6 to 8 hours a day. He learned not to cry because no one was coming to help him. He grew up with unable to have feelings for other people and as an older teen, eventually murder two girls, raped their dead bodies and then stomped on them. Even in prison he showed no remorse and blamed the girls for not allowing him to do whatever he wanted to do. He didn’t even have any regrets other than getting caught.

Some of the kids I’ve seen, the parents have already written them off as bad apples and just want them put on medication so that they don’t have to deal with them. I can see that if these kids aren’t shown love, support, guidance and limitations, they will grow up to be criminals or in the very less, incapable of having healthy relationships with anyone.

Also, they have already gave me some great blog ideas. I’ve already unfortunately diagnosed some of them with ADHD, mood disorder, anxiety disorder, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder and pervasive developmental disorder.

These may just be another stop on my journey to become the best overall therapist I can be, but I am going to cherish and learn from every moment and experience and do the absolute best I can to make a difference in each childs life.   I’ll keep you guys posted along the way.

How Your Teen Gets In Their Own Way And How To Help Them Stop Sabatoging Themselves

istock_stockphoto4u-1-teen-girl-hugging-knees-looking-sad-cWorking with teenagers for as long as I have, I realize that many of them come with various challenges, from emotional and educational challenges to family issues that seem to drag them down. However, in a majority of the cases I’ve worked with, the teens themselves are usually the ones who are getting in their own way of success and happiness.

They often don’t see it that way and will blame their family, their friends, their environment, any and everything, but themselves and it will take many sessions before I am able to help them realize that they themselves are indeed the cause of their problems through self-destructive and self-defeating behaviors and thus are also the answer to their problems.

Most people who have been around adolescence know that many times they get in their own way and do things that are self-defeating or self-destructive. Self-defeating behaviors are behaviors that get in the way of constructive action while self-destructive behavior generally causes some type of harm to the person.

In early adolescence for example, teens often start focusing more on friends, fighting with their parents and other adults as they try to discover their own identity and may end up struggling in school in response to paying more attention to friends than to their grades.

During this time of conflict, (ages 9-13), it is common for certain self-injurious behaviors to start occurring, such as cutting as a way to deal with much of the psychological conflict and pain, especially with teenager girls while teenage boys may do things such as punching walls, getting into fights or destroying property even if it’s their own.

During mid adolescence, ages 13-15, friends are generally ultra important and so is being accepted by your peers. This is the age that teens are going to high school for the first time and can be overwhelmed by the pressure to fit in.

When a teenagers faces feelings of inadequacy about their self-image they may shy away from their peers and develop anxiety issues and/or depression or even self-destructive behaviors such as eating disorders and suicidal thoughts.

During late adolescence, ages 15-18, teenagers may engage in self-defeating behaviors that include more risk taking such as drugs, alcohol, and sex simply for the excitement of it and not considering the dangers that can happen.

This is the age that I worked with the most to either help them stop drinking or using drugs, or to help them with issues surrounding sex including pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and even rape.

As someone who has worked with teens for a long time, it can be very frustrating to see a young lady with endless potential, waste it because she wants to be liked by her friends or a boy or she doesn’t like herself. The same rings true for many of the young men I worked with who were more concerned about having a  “tough guy” image, than actually doing something positive with their lives.

Parents indeed find this self-defeating and self-destructive behavior frustrating, but what can they do? Often times teenagers are too defensive to actually take and listen to advice from their parents so parents often would bring their children to me and then wonder what it was about me, or what did I say that got through to their teenager that they couldn’t and I would always tell them that they had to practice objective parenting.

They had to work on not telling their teenager what to do and think or what not to do or think, to not judge, but instead simply draw conclusion between their choices and the consequences of their choices in an empathetic and objective way, and then let their teen decide to either continue the behavior or to try something different.

This is often hard for parents to do because they would like to control their teenagers choices, but they can’t. They have to allow their teenager to make their own choices, however, parents can continuously attempt to put healthier and more constructive choices in front of their teenager for them to accept or not to accept.

The more healthy options you place in front of a teen, the more likely they are to accept at least some of them. As a therapist that is what I did. I would know that I wanted a teen to stop doing a particular self-destructive or self-defeating behavior, I would share my observations about what they are doing and what they are getting (or not getting) from their actions and then attempt to continuously give them multiple alternatives in hopes that they would try at least one.

For example, one teenage girl was obsessed with trying to get pregnant simply because she wanted a baby. I tried to help her see how having a baby would hinder many of her plans and goals for the future, but she didn’t really see that. I then gave her many other things she could be doing instead of trying to get pregnant and she finally decided to try one which is playing softball. She tried out for the team, made the team and two years later graduated from high school with a scholarship to play softball and never got pregnant.

While her mother thought I had worked some type of miracle (she was sure her daughter wouldn’t finish high school without getting pregnant) all I did was give her an opportunity to try something new and that ended up being self-affirming and she basically did the rest.

As a therapist, it is easy for me to be non-judgmental, to allow teenagers to continue making mistakes and learning from them while still giving them healthy alternatives until they finally realize that what they are doing isn’t working and are ready to try something different.

For parents, it’s hard for them to have that same amount of patience because the attachment they have with their teen makes it much more painful for them to witness their teenager continuously sabotage themselves by making poor choices. It’s very difficult for them to be as objective as I try to be.

Because this is very difficult for most parents to do, seeking help from a therapist is often the best solution, especially if the behavior is self-destructive such as cutting, suicidal thoughts, eating disorders, etc.

A book I recommend for teenagers who are constantly self-sabotaging themselves is How to Get Out of Your Own Way by Tyrese Gibson.

Sensitive People: Absorbing Other People Emotions

Teenage girl looking thoughtful about troublesI’m highly sensitive to other people emotions and energy. I have been for probably all of my life, but it is something I have just become aware of in the past few years. I can be having a good day, feeling happy and all it can take is an interaction without someone close to me, to bring me down.

When I discovered this sensitivity, it was quite alarming. It seemed like my mood and even the way I felt about myself were dependent on how the people around me were feeling and even how they felt towards me at that moment. You can imagine the amount of stress, anxiety and uncertainty it would cause me and often times I didn’t understand why. Looking back I think I thought that they’re mood and feelings had something to do with me. It took a lot of introspection before I realized a few things:

  1. Rarely if ever did the other persons mood, feelings or behavior have absolutely anything to do with me and,
  2. I can not control other people’s feelings.

A large part of it boiled down to control. I wanted everyone around me to be happy, to like me, to treat me the way I would treat them, and when they didn’t, I automatically assumed it was my fault and whatever joy or happiness I had would go away and turn into either self-blame, dysthymia or anger, especially when the people were close to me such as a girlfriend or close friend.

It took a long time for me to start working on not allowing other people emotions to affect mine, and honestly it is something I still struggle with on nearly a daily basis. Some days are better than others and when I do find myself losing my inner peace to someone else’s energy, I get discouraged because I know it’s not about me and that I can’t control their emotions nor should I allow them to have power over mine.

I learned however that if I beat myself up too bad for allowing someone to move me from my inner peace, I end up doing more emotional harm than good because I become negative towards myself for being “weak” or even “stupid” (negative self-talk never helps and is almost always a recipe for increased anxiety and depression).

I’m starting to realize that one way to stop giving so much power to other people over my emotions is by not expecting things from them that they can not give me, such as unconditional love, unconditional positive regard or fulfilling any of my various needs that can only be filled by me and God. By not expecting those needs to be met by others I have taken back much of my power, but still at times, it’s a struggle just like when trying to undo any bad habit physically or mentally.

Some Negatives to Being Hypersensitive

As I stated above, being hypersensitive to other people emotions makes it very easy to be affected by others emotions, usually not for the better. This can be very draining and overwhelming and can easily lead to anxiety and depression. This can cause us to withdraw so that we can process and deal with our emotions, which other people may not understand and take it negatively that we need time and space alone, especially since we live in a culture that devalues sensitivity. Lastly, hypersensitive people may have unrealistic expectations of perfectionism towards themselves (i.e., everyone is supposed to like me).

Some Positives About Being Hypersensitive

Just like most things that are negative, there are of course positive things about being hypersensitive emotionally. I think evolutionarily it helps us to pick up slight shifts in someones temperament or even the energy around us. I’ve been in rooms where everyone around me was talking, yet no one noticed the sudden shift in tension, or how someone else became emotional, angry or nervous during a certain topic. I would sometimes leave those situations knowing more about a person I didn’t even talk to just by watching the subtle changes in their expressions.

I think being hypersensitive to other people emotions help me to be more in touch with my own emotions. I’m always amazed at how many people aren’t in touch with their emotions and as a counselor, often it’s my job to help them to get in touch with their true emotions so that they can start living a real, authentic life. We hide from our emotions, mask our emotions (even from ourselves) and often don’t know why we feel or act in certain ways because we are not used to being in touch with that part of us. Hypersensitive people are almost always, sometimes neurotically checking in with their thoughts and emotions.

I think being hypersensitive also leads to being more creative, to being able to express ones emotions more through music, art, dance, poetry and writing for example. It also makes us more empathetic to others which in the field of mental health is a must.

Some Tips for Hypersensitive People

  1. You have to recognize and acknowledge that you are absorbing other people emotions. I’ve been doing it for years and until I actually realized it, I wasn’t doing anything different to try to stop it.
  2. When you start feeling a certain way after an encounter with someone, ask yourself if what you are feeling is really your emotion or theirs. You’ll be surprised to find out that most of the time it’s not yours and if it’s theirs then immediately release it. This alone will make you feel better most of the time.
  3. Remember that you are not responsible for nor can you control other people emotions so don’t worry over it because in doing so, you’ll just be absorbing it into your own emotional state.
  4. Identify what/who is making you feel a certain way and try to distance yourself if you can. If you can’t, go back through steps 1 to 3. Sometimes it’s a particular friend or group of coworkers that are the main source. Putting some distance between you and them can help alleviate the problem.
  5. When you start to feel overwhelmed by other people emotions, even if you can’t get away, try mindfulness or deep breathing techniques to help bring you back to your own inner peace.
  6. Speaking of inner peace, always try to work on building up your own inner peace by being good to yourself, exercising, eating right, maintaining good emotional, physical and mental health and surrounding yourself with people who bring you good and positive energy. BE GOOD TO  YOURSELF!

Being hypersensitive to other people emotions is both a gift and a curse, but look at it like a power that you have to master so that you are in control of your emotions and able to use all of the positive qualities that come along with being sensitive to other people emotions.