Finding Purpose: The Difference 5 Years Can Make

When I worked at an inner city high school, my main goals were to prevent teenagers from getting into trouble, dropping out of school, producing children and hopefully to give them tools they can use to become successful adults.

It wasn’t always easy. At times it was frustrating and even disappointing, but I showed up each day motivated and inspired.

Many of the teenagers were like I was when I was their age; lost, unmotivated and trying to figure out where I fit in. I had no one to talk to or guide me. I wanted to be that person for them.

There were times we cried together, we laughed together, even got angry with each other.

We cried over the sudden death of parents, the shooting deaths of cousins and friends, even a couple of suicides. We laughed because sometimes we had to laugh to keep from crying. We got angry with each other because I challenged them and in return they challenged me.

There were disappointments as well. Students I worked so hard with and who made so many improvements fell victim to peer pressure and ended up in trouble. Some dropped out of school, some got kicked out school.

One school year, five of the girls in my program got pregnant and I blamed myself for not protecting them better. Four of the five ended up dropping out of high school. It took my mentor at the time to remind me that I am not responsible for other people’s actions although I felt completely responsible at the time.

Mostly there were successes.

Students that were on the verge of dropping out or getting kicked out of school actually graduated. Students who had gotten a reputation as bad kids learned to control themselves and were no longer getting disciplined left and right. Other students that were labeled emotionally disturbed learned to control their emotions and behaviors. Some of the toughest, most defiant teenagers ended up being positive leaders of their class.

It was the best and most rewarding job I ever had because despite the stress and frustration that came with trying to motivate teenagers deemed unable to be motivated, there were so many emotional rewards.

I saw students who never thought about going to college asking me for help with college applications.  Young men who once preferred to steal from others asking for help with job applications. Teenagers who so many thought had no future, were actively thinking about, planning and taking positive actions towards their future.

Fast forward some short years and I now work at a corrections facility. I have the same stress as I did working in the high school, only without the emotional rewards. Instead I deal with adults and juveniles who are where I was trying to prevent the kids I worked with from going.

In the jail the population I deal with is mostly those who have or claim to have a mental illness. Unfortunately most of them are manipulators and sociopaths. They don’t really want to change and most of them won’t. They want to use the system and society to get whatever it is that they want and will lie, cheat, steal and even kill to get it.

Of course there are those with severe mental illnesses. Some of them I feel should be in a treatment center and not in jail. There are homeless people that I feel like never should have been arrested in the first place. Those people I understand. Those people I will work hard for every minute of every day.

Sadly, 90% of the people I deal with are sociopaths. They will pretend to be mentally ill if it will prevent them from being housed in a certain area of the jail, make the judge or their family feel sorry for them or possibly reduce their sentences. They are not mentally ill.

It’s frustrating because I feel like part of my job is to help people realize they can change for the better. Most of these people don’t want to change. They want to get out of jail so they can go back to robbing, stealing, smoking meth and being the type of person you wouldn’t want to have to deal with.

I’m talking about child abusers, child molesters and murderers who either sit across from me crying, wanting me to feel sorry for them as if they were the ones victimized, or they couldn’t care less because they’ve already been institutionalized and going to prison for 10 or 20 years doesn’t mean anything to them.

Last week I sat across from a man who is accused of murdering his ex-girlfriend and mother of his child with an axe and all he could do was cry about his stomach hurting and the poor medical attention he feels like he’s receiving. I was disgusted, but of course I couldn’t say or show that so I just listened to him complain.

My main job is to prevent inmates from committing suicide and to offer mental health treatment to the mentally ill. My job is not to necessarily treat or expect anyone to get better. We don’t do counseling here at the jail because most people are only here for about 45 days before getting released or sent to prison and most people here don’t want counseling.

While to some degree that should be less stressful, it’s actually more frustrating because I like to consider myself an agent of change and would like to see people evolve into better versions of themselves.

Working in a psychiatric setting, I saw patients get better and get released. Working in the high school, I saw teenagers grow and change into capable young adults. Working in the jail, dealing with adults who have been in and out of the system most of their lives and juveniles who have already succumbed to the thought that they will be criminals for the rest of their lives, I don’t get to see much if any change.

Sure, I would like to think I have saved some lives here. I would like to think that I have reached some people and they will go back out into the community and be responsible. I don’t really know how much of that is true. I would prefer to be able to say that I’ve cut down on the number of people being re-incarcerated, or increased the number of people who got out and got jobs, got off of drugs or did something to be a positive citizen.

Sometimes I still think about the students I worked with over the years and hope none of them ever have to experience being incarcerated, but I know some of them have because  I ran into one of my students here, 2 years later, an adult, incarcerated for stealing a car and running from the police.

I was disappointed. Not even at him, but at myself because I had worked with him so hard to prevent this. I had to once again remind myself that I am not responsible for other people. I just really hope I planted a big enough seed in the others that I will never have to come across any of them again behind bars.

So if I look happier and healthier in the other picture, it’s because I was. I felt like I was making a difference and actually saw the fruits of my labor. Sure the pay was horrible, but at the end of the day I usually left with a genuine smile on my face.

You do have to create meaning and purpose in your life and that goes with your job as well. You can’t just do a job for the money because if you lose the job, you lose the money and what would it all have been for? So I do look forward to coming to work to make sure that no one kills themselves because of lack of mental health treatment; to make sure that those who need mental health services are receiving them and that I’m educating anyone I can on mental health so that they will understand when a mentally ill inmate is actively hallucinating or in a psychotic state, that it is not just an act.

I always say that only 10% of the people I deal with in jail are truly mentally ill and the other 90% are faking in order to gain sympathy or favor. It’s that 10% that give my work purpose.

10 Tips For Dealing With Depression

10 Tips For Dealing With Depression

There is a lot of stigma when it comes to mental health issues, even common ones like depression. Often times when people feel depressed they feel ashamed, as if they don’t have the right to feel depressed. Many will attempt to hide the way they feel and just say they are doing “ok”. Many more will try to drown their depression with alcohol, drugs and even other people.

It’s okay to be depressed. When you’re depressed that means something in your life is not going the way you want it to go and you need to sit down and evaluate your life so that you can move in a different direction. That may mean making small changes, big changes or accepting something for what it is if you can’t change it at all.

These are some of my favorite tips on dealing with depression:

  1. You’re not alone. Many people go through depression at some point in their lives. Some people suffer from clinical and chronic depression while others seem to bounce out of it pretty quickly. If you’re feeling down, just know that you’re not the only person who feels that way and it’s actually pretty common.
  2. It’s okay to seek professional help. Sometimes family and friends just don’t understand why you’re not happy. They’ll say that your life isn’t “that bad” and that there are many people out there who have it worse. Most of them are trying to be helpful even when they leave you feeling like crap. People like me are trained and paid to listen and can help you maneuver your way through the pain.
  3. Medications can help if needed, but they are not the only answer.  When people start feeling depressed, many of them will immediately want medication to make the bad feelings go away. Most people going through depression do not need antidepressants, but even if you do, they may only help so much. Antidepressants are good for getting people out of deep depression so that they can intellectually and physically function enough to actually process what’s going on in their lives and attempt to make changes to feel better.
  4. Remember to take care of yourself. Even if that means writing notes to remind yourself to do simple things such as taking a bath or eating nutritious meals. Doing the self-care things you don’t feel like doing will make you feel better in the end.
  5. If you really don’t know what might be making you depressed consider getting some blood work done. Anything from vitamin D deficiency, low iron and hormonal issues to blood sugar problems can cause you to feel depressed and lethargic. Curing your depression can be as simple as correcting an imbalance in your body.
  6. Learn and practice daily mindfulness and meditation. Start with something as simple as focusing on your breathing. Imagine breathing in slowly through your nose to smell a birthday cake and exhaling slowly through your mouth to blow out the candle. Focus on your breathing, try to keep your mind from wandering to all the bullshit and just be in the present moment.
  7. Stay away from emotional vampires. You need all your energy when you’re going through the depression. You don’t have any to spare so stay away from anyone who will drain what little you have left. Instead, try to surround yourself with people who can help you refuel your energy.
  8. Don’t envy others. Everyone is, has or will go through their stuff. You’re just going through yours. Even if someone looks happy, well put together or whatever, they still have things they are dealing with that you might not know about. The grass is not always, or even usually greener on the other side.
  9. If you can find the energy, go for a walk. Exercise, fresh air and sunlight are great for depression. Even small steps help.
  10. Learn to let go. A lot of times depression is about the past. Past guilt. Past disappointments. Past hurts. Learn to let go and you will reclaim so much of the strength and energy you are given up. As the saying goes, let go or be dragged.

There are so many great tips out there on dealing with depression. Hopefully this will get you started, but definitely find tips that work for you and know that you can come out of depression a stronger person.

One Day At A Time: Dealing With A Highly Suicidal Person:

So this is a delicate post to write about so I will try to do it without giving too much detail. This week I came face to face with a highly suicidal person in possession of a firearm.

As the Director of Mental Health at a county jail I deal with suicidal inmates everyday, but they of course are never in the position of anything as lethal as a firearm.

This individual was very distraught, hopeless, felt worthless, overwhelmed and had a history of  mental illness. It was an intense situation because of the firearm and the fact that this person repeatedly said that they wanted to die and had nothing to live for.

What made it more intense is that there were officers near by waiting to see if I could diffuse the situation. The number of officers quickly grew from two to at one point as many as six before I was able to get them to give us some space, yet at least two officers remained nearby at all times.

The funny part is that I was never scared. I think I was shocked when I saw the firearm and at times afraid that I was going to witness someone kill themselves. I was more afraid that this person was going to get shot by the officers either accidentally (by the way they were handling the firearm) or on purpose (suicide by cop).

It definitely was a stressful situation that played out over the course of over an hour in the Florida heat. It was a situation that tried my patience, skills and instincts as a therapist.

I was appreciative that the officers on the scene were also patient and allowed me to pretty much take control of the situation. I knew that I was the only one there who could get that close to the person without feeling threatened myself or causing them to feel threatened.

During this “standoff” of sorts, we talked about everything from this persons depressing home life, dysfunctional childhood, isolation from family and friends, and frustrations at work.

We talked, but mostly what I did was listen and attempt to encourage this person to live just one more day. I said, “If you are convinced you want to kill yourself then no one can really stop you, but don’t kill yourself today.”

One day at a time.

After sometime I convinced this person to contact someone in her family over the telephone, something they had been unwilling to do because they were convinced that they were going to kill themselves that day.

Eventually this person agreed to relinquish position of the firearm and was willingly taken into custody where they were transferred to a mental health hospital for evaluation. The situation ended peacefully. That was all I could ask for.

I received several “thank yous” from the officers involved who were also happy that the situation ended peacefully. They didn’t have to shoot anyone. They weren’t shot at. They didn’t have to notify a family member of this persons death.They told me multiple times that they were worried about my safety, but I never was. I never felt threatened or in danger.

I don’t feel like a hero and I don’t feel like I was brave.

What I saw was someone in emotional pain who needed someone with a level head to guide them and that’s what I did. It almost came natural. It’s something I do at work nearly everyday. The only thing that was different was the firearm and the fact that his person was out in the community and not in jail.

I don’t know what happened to this person after they were taken away. I may never know. What I do know is that at least for that day, they chose to live.

One day at a time.

 

Childhood Bullying Can Have Lasting Psychological Affects

bullying-girls-630x420

It’s back to school time again and while parents are gearing up and are excited about the new school year, I thought it would be a good idea to remind everyone about childhood bullying.

Often bullying is seen as a normal part of growing up, almost as a harmless rite of passage, but we have all seen what bullying can do to some children.Think about the stories that have been in the news such as the boy who committed suicide. In 12 of 15 school shootings in the 1990s, the shooters had a history of being bullied.

These of course are extreme examples, but countless studies continue to show that childhood bullying can cause long-term psychological damage in some individuals.

In a study published in JAMA Psychiatry, a network publication of the American Medical Association, victims of bullying had an increased risk for anxiety disorders and suicide later in life.

The study showed that for some individuals, even when they grow up and are no longer being bullied, the psychological damage is still there and can affect the rest of their lives. That’s why it’s so important to address and stop childhood bullying early in order to prevent future problems.

Kids Who Are Bullied Often Have:

  • changes in sleep and eating patterns
  • loss of interest in activities they once enjoyed
  • health complaints
  • decreased academic performance
  • higher risk of dropping out of school
  • a higher rate of family hardship
  • were 2.7 times more likely to suffer from generalized anxiety disorder
  • 3.1 times more likely to suffer from panic disorder
  • 4.6 times more likely to suffer from agoraphobia
  • had increased risk for depression

Bullying doesn’t just affect the victims either.

Kids Who Bullied Were:

  • 4.1 times more like to end up diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder (which can lead to increased risk of incarceration and delinquent behavior)
  • Abuse alcohol and other drugs in adolescence and as adults
  • Get into fights
  • vandalize property
  • drop out of school
  • Engage in early sexual activity
  • Have criminal convictions as adults
  • Abuse romantic partners, spouses, or children as adults

What About Sibling Aggression?

While parents are usually alarmed to find out that their child is being bullied at school, they often dismiss the bullying that is going on right under their roof. Stopping bullying at home is just as important as stopping bullying at school.

While sibling aggression is often seen as harmless or even good in order to “toughen up” a child, a study done by the American Academy of Pediatric suggests that kids bullied by their siblings end up showing some of the same psychological damage as children bullied by their peers.

It is important that bullying to recognized and stopped early at school, at home and even online in social media when possible.

So as parents are getting excited about the school year, lets not forget to be on the lookout for or ignore childhood bullying. We have lost too many children  to the affects of bullying and are creating too many adults who are psychological damaged from what may have been seen as harmless behavior.

 

Why I Became A Certified E-Therapist

Young Man Using Laptop At Home
embracingyourinnerpower.org

When I first started this blog, I had no idea the number of people I would be reaching from not only across the country, but across the world! It wasn’t long before I started getting comments and emails asking for help with a multitude of issues.

As I started to answer questions and provide guidance and referrals, I realized that many people wanted more than a onetime interaction.

Many of them had situational problems and wanted help to solve that problem over the course of a few email exchanges. Others had more in-depth concerns and wanted ongoing contact with me to help move them to a better place.

It literally became overwhelming trying to keep up with all of the inquires, but at the same time, it was some of the most rewarding work I had done.

For instance, I found myself helping a man and his wife in England who didn’t live near any licensed psychotherapists. I found myself helping people who were too ashamed to go to face-to-face counseling or who just wanted the convenience of talking to a professional therapist from their living room.

Just the yesterday I helped a mother and grandmother get their daughter/grand daughter involuntarily hospitalized due to frequent suicide attempts when they were frustrated and thought they had ran out of options. It felt good to be able to do the research, make the contacts and guide them to a resolution even though it was all through telephone contact and they didn’t live anywhere near me.

I realized through helping so many people that I needed to do something that gave these readers turned clients more. That’s why I started Embracing Your Inner Power, LLC (www.embracingyourinnerpower.org) and became a Certified E-Therapist.

E-therapy (electronic therapy/online therapy) is a growing form of delivering therapy that is just as effective as traditional in-office therapy in most cases, while being more convenient.

I had heard about e-therapy several years ago and over the years it has become more and more accepted and I can easily see why.

The family I helped just yesterday lived in a rural area, didn’t know where to turn or even really what they were asking for. I was able to not only help them identify what they needed, but I was also able to help walk them through the steps as they were driving to a graduation.

I’ve found and research suggests that online counseling can be even MORE effective than face-to-face counseling because clients are more relaxed and feel less intimidated than they would in traditional settings.

Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer face-to-face counseling when possible, but I have also embraced technology and the way people are interacting more and more today through social media, chat, email and text messages. People are also becoming more comfortable with technology assisted care.

I’ve helped people with anxiety disorders, social phobias, people who were too busy to drive to a counseling session or just not motivated enough to go to face-to-face therapy, but were willing to turn on their computer and communicate with me. Because of this, the missed appointment rates for online counseling is less than that of traditional counseling.

My main goal as a therapist and my main goal with Embracing Your Inner Power, LLC is to reduce a person’s distress, depression, anxiety or concerns by helping them build on the strengths they already possess.

I’ve found that I am just as effective doing that through online therapy as I am face-to-face. I’ve also found that the people I have helped probably wouldn’t have reached out for help otherwise if it meant physically going somewhere or even inviting a therapist into their home.

Simply put, online counseling works, especially when you’re paired with a therapist who, like myself, works with a limited amount of clients and therefore is able to deliver very professional and personal counseling and not canned or rushed responses and sessions.

Some of the benefits of online counseling include:

  • Convenience– you can receive counseling from your living room, while on vacation… virtually anytime that is convenient for you.
  • Affordable– Online therapy is a lot less expensive than face-to-face therapy which averages over $100 per hour easily. Even when paying out of pocket, online therapy is usually cheaper than the deductible would be for traditional counseling.
  • Licensed– As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and Certified E-Therapist, I deliver the same professional and high quality service online as I do face-to-face.
  • Secure– All information is kept secure and confidential.
  • Sigma Free– You can remain as anonymous as you want through message based, email and telephonic counseling.
  • Multi-modal– You can choose from video counseling, chat, email or telephone counseling depending on your needs.
  • Effective– as I stated earlier, online counseling in general is just as effective as face-to-face counseling in most situations.

As a Certified E-Therapist, I am constantly working on making Embracing Your Inner Power, LLC, the best it can be and it is a work in progress. I am dedicated as always to helping individuals discover their true potential and am appreciative that this blog and my readers have allowed me to grow and share so much with them.

I’ve been able to help individuals and families from 6 continents and it’s been an amazing learning experience.

 

Psychological Truama: A Brief Overview

Psychological Truama: A Brief Overview

Psychological trauma is sometimes hard to understand. Because of this, many people who have suffered from it do not realize how it affects their lives. More sadly, many parents who have children that have undergone psychological trauma, do not realize the importance of getting them help because they do not realize the damage that has been caused.

They believe that children are resilient and will get over or forget something traumatic that happened to them when they were one, two, three or four yeas old. Depending on the child, the traumatic event and what protective factors were or weren’t available to the child after the event, that child may suffer psychological damage for life.

Psychological trauma is the unique individual experience of an event in which the individual’s ability to integrate his/her emotional experience is overwhelmed or the individual experiences a threat to their life, body or sanity.

A traumatic event creates an overwhelming feeling within a person where they are not able to cope and are left to feel as if they will be killed, seriously injured or psychologically damaged. The person may feel overwhelmed emotionally, cognitively and/or physically. This type of situation is common with abuse, entrapment, helplessness, betrayal, pain, loss and/or confusion.

Trauma is a very broad definition and includes responses to powerful one time events such as natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina and crime, deaths, and even surgeries.  It can also include responses to repetitive events such as combat, urban violence, concentration camps and abusive relationships.

The key component in trauma is feeling helpless and endangered. No two people will experience the same traumatic event the same. As a matter of fact, what may be traumatic for one person may not be at all traumatic to the next.

For instance, earlier this week I did crisis counseling with four female inmate workers who were out clearing road debris when a man came out of the woods with a machete and chased them back to the van. The man was apprehended, but the four women were brought to me to be evaluated.

Out of the four women, three appeared to be handling the situation relatively well, even able to laugh and joke about the incident while also describing it as terrifying.

One woman however, was obviously more shaken up. She sat nearly stone faced with tears in her eyes, not saying a word during the counseling session. I quickly learned that she was the last woman to make it safely to the van and was the one whose life was most in danger. She also has a history of mental health problems which may make her predisposed to developing signs of trauma which include:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Anxiety
  • Fear
  • Nightmares
  • Flashbacks
  • Avoidant behavior

Out of the four women, she is the one I most worry about and the one I will observe closes during the days to come to see how she processes this trauma and to help walk her through it if needed.

That is the interesting part of trauma and why trauma is defined by the experience of the survivor.  We can’t say one event will cause trauma and another will not or that one person will be traumatized by this experience while another will not. Trauma is too broad for such simple explanations.

 

“Big T” versus  “Little T”

It’s hard to go through life without being traumatized in some way. Most of us have experienced some type of event that has affected us either consciously or subconsciously. It could be the divorce of our parents, being bullied in school, seeing a pet die when we were young.

Many of us don’t even know we walk around caring these traumas with us or how they affect our lives.

For instance, a man whose favorite pet died when he was five may never like pets for the rest of his life and grow angry and anxious when his kids ask if they can have a pet.

These types of traumas are called “Little Ts” or “Little Traumas”. They do not have the severe impact that  “Big Ts” or “Big Traumas” usually have such as flashbacks, avoidant behavior, severe anxiety and nightmares that lead to a diagnosis of PTSD. Still, “Little Ts” can unconsciously disrupt our lives.

Most men I’ve worked with in anger management don’t even realize why they are so angry, why they hit their wives or bully their children. It’s only after some intense introspection that most of them can identify traumatic events in their childhood such as being bullied by their own father, watching their father beat their mother or watching their mother go through abusive relationship with one man after another, that they realize the reason they carry around so much anger.It’s once we deal with the root causes of their anger that they began to truly heal.

I myself as a child watched as my father often abused my mother. I never had any nightmares, flashbacks or anything that would make it a “Big T”. I never felt that my own life was in danger, but I did feel like my mothers’ life was.

Still, one of the affects it had on me was that for many years I thought that’s what love was. That if you loved someone you fought, made up and then fought again. It wasn’t until I was in college that I learned I was wrong. For many years, that “Little T” of watching my parents fight had me living in a world where fighting verbally and physically meant love.

A woman I counseled with was claustrophobic and afraid of the dark. She had no ideal why until one session we processed the fact that her older siblings used to play a game where they would lock her in a closet when she was very young. They thought it was funny, but she was tormented. She never viewed that as a traumatic event until years later, sitting across from me crying.

Trauma doesn’t have to be a negative word. Often times the way we respond to trauma, the way it changes us, the way we adapt to a traumatic event, is natural given the coping skills, circumstances and knowledge we have at the time.

The topic of trauma is too broad to cover in one post. I’ve actually been on a radio talk show discussing trauma twice within the last two months and will likely be on a third time because it is such a huge topic.

My bottom line for this post is to help others realize that you don’t have to go off to war or survive some horrific event to suffer from the affects of trauma. Even “Little Ts” can rob us of our full quality of life and “Big Ts” can devastate us.

Once we recognize this, we can change it through self help, the help of loved ones and even professional help if needed and reclaim the joy and full life we deserve.

 

 

 

You Are A Gift

iStock_000018620938_Medium-500x333Earlier today I was speaking with a fifteen year old girl in our juvenile detention center. She is experiencing depression and is 6 weeks postpartum so I was concerned about her. As we talked, I started to understand some of the sources of her depression.

During our session, she revealed that her mother also gave birth to her when she was fifteen and that her biological father has been in prison since she was three years old. Her mother is currently married to a verbally and physically abuse man that she feels her mother places before her in order of importance, attention and affection.

As this young lady and I talked, she described how she grew up feeling like a burden to her young, single mother and how after her mother had other children and multiple boyfriends, she was always made to feel like she was “in the way”.

It became very apparent that this young woman, consciously or unconsciously, had a baby at fifteen years old, partly so that she could have someone in her life that didn’t make her feel like a burden, but gave her the unconditional love she has been yearning for. However, due to her own psychological damage, she now sees her 6 week old baby as a burden and if she doesn’t learn to change the way she views herself, she will pass on that damage to her child.

What I discussed with her this morning and will try to instill in her is this:

We are the greatest gifts we can ever give ourselves. We are also gifts to other people and the Universe. Our children, if we have any, are also gifts.

Too many people grew up being made to feel, even as children, that they were a burden. Maybe they were born to parents who themselves were brought up in painful situations where they did not truly know how to love and appreciate others.

Maybe their parents conceived them as a resolution  to fixing a broken relationship or “save” a troubled marriage. Maybe their parent expects them to be their caretaker, or they were simple born during a difficult time of their parents lives and they were never able to be truly enjoyed, loved, appreciated and viewed as precious gifts as children.

Many of us have grown up never feeling truly accepted and carrying these feelings on unconscious and conscious levels that we were and are a burden.

This is how people can fall into a deep depression or become suicidal, thinking that the World would be better off without them.

This type of thinking is what keeps people from truly connecting with other people on any level or truly enjoying life.

Because of this they end up beating themselves up all the time with negative self-talk, not appreciating themselves, walking around apologizing for themselves, feeling like other people know better and are better than them.

For those of us who have received this terrible message growing up, it’s time to change it.

You are not a mistake. You are not here by accident. You are here because we are supposed to be here.

Our lives have purpose and intention.

We don’t have to apologize for being here or for being ourselves. We don’t have to beat ourselves up over our past mistakes or experiences that have helped create who we are now. We don’t have to be ashamed, apologetic or doubt the beauty that is our unique selves.

We are not a burden and if our parents are the ones who tried to put that on us, it’s time to recognize that it is their issue and not ours. We don’t have to carry that with us. We can let it go.

We are precious gifts and today we will start treating ourselves as gifts to others, the Universe and especially ourselves.

Embracing Your Inner Power

istock dollar inner childSometimes you just have one of those days where it seems like the sun isn’t shining on you. In that darkness it’s easy to beat yourself up over the past and become anxious and negative about the future.

I’ve been there. It used to happen to me a lot actually and sometimes it still does. In the past, I dealt with those days the only ways I knew how which were becoming cling, needy, depressed and anxious. All maladaptive coping mechanisms I had picked up sometime during my life.

In return, I found myself trying to control other people and situations. Wanting people to do what I wanted them to do, think what I wanted them to think and feel the way I wanted them to feel. This rarely worked out in my favor. Usually the people I was trying to control either pulled away or responded negatively which in the end only made me feel worse.

Even when I did get what I thought I wanted, I usually still felt empty and overtime I realize the reason I still felt empty was because the real issue was within me and I couldn’t fix that with people or things.

I realized overtime and from doing therapy clients who suffering from anxiety, depression, and anger issues, that people and things do not stop our pain or move us to a better place. Only we can do that for ourselves.

We are the only ones who have the inner-power to end our suffering and angst. Sure sometimes we need the help of our support systems and/or our spiritual beliefs, but all change truly begins within us. That is when we truly heal and move beyond that pain and darkness.

Once we dig into and heal ourselves, peace, love and trust will return to use easier and quicker than we thought. Trust me. I’ve been there time and time again and it never fails. Our past neurotic attempt to bring back balance and peace to our universe happens much more naturally when it comes from within.

We have to deal with our feelings and accept them as ours. We have to stop our need to control. Peace, love and happiness will return. Remember, a bad day is just a bad day and we don’t have to make it last any longer than absolutely necessary.

I’m not saying it’s easy to stop the pain and anxiety when it comes rushing in. Sometimes even for myself today it takes a moment for me to recognize it, stop from going to my default maladaptive coping mechanisms, and reach inside my own inner-power, but I am better at it today than I was yesterday and will be better at it tomorrow than I am today. That’s all I ask of myself and all I ask of you.

We are much more powerful than we believe we are! We can control not only our thoughts and feeling, but our destinies! We have to learn to harness and embrace our inner power.

It doesn’t matter if you have anger issues, depression, low-self-esteem, whatever it is. The faster you realize you have all the control and no need to try to control other people or situations, the faster you will have the strength to overcome any obstacle that’s in your way, even if that obstacle is yourself.

 

10 Black Psychologists Who Greatly Impacted The Field: Francis Cecil Sumner

downloadFrancis Cecil Sumner (1895-1954) is better known for being the first African American to ever earn a Ph. D in psychology. What is not so widely known is that he was also the first African American to have earned a doctorate from any American University.

Francis Cecil Sumner was a pioneer for future Black psychologists. He started the psychology program at Howard University and went on to teach other prominent future Black psychologists such as Kenneth Clark. He was also a pivotal leader in education reform and completed vast amounts of research that counteracted racism and bias in psychological studies of African Americans.

Unfortunately, Francis Cecil Sumner died before seeing the end of segregation, something he fought hard for.

Like many Black psychologists, Francis Cecil also did a lot of research in the areas of discrimination and social injustice, but I believe his greatest contribution to the field was becoming the first African American psychologist and paving the way for myself and those before and after me.

His other contributions include:

  • 1916 As a graduate student at Lincoln University he taught psychology of religion, mysticism, rationalism, experimental psychology, social psychology and intermediate and advanced German.
  • 1920-1921 Took his first teaching position at Wilber force University in Ohio.
  • 1921 (summer) Taught at Southern University in Louisiana.
  • 1921 (fall) Accepted an appointment as instructor of psychology and philosophy in the college department at West Virginia Collegiate Institute (now Virginia State College).
  • 1928 Resigned from West Virginia after becoming restless and assumed the acting chairmanship of the department of psychology at Howard University where he remained until his death in 1954.
  • 1931 Had the opportunity to attend the First International Congress for Religious Psychology held at the University of Vienna. There he presented a paper entitled, “Mental Hygiene and Religion” and met many leaders among European psychologists of religion.
  • Served as an official abstractor for both the Journal of Social Psychology and the Psychological Bulletin, where he translated more than three thousand articles from German, French, and Spanish.

We All Need To Practice Emotional First Aid

istock0000179371As a mental health professional, I have found myself spending a lot of time trying to convince people that they need to take care of themselves mentally and emotionally. Meaning, I run into people who are working two jobs, taking care of their family and everyone else around them, but are letting themselves go mentally and are getting sicker and sicker over time.

Or, I meet someone who is obviously not dealing with various issues in their lives, probably hoping that ignoring them will make them go away, but all the while they are growing emotionally unhealthy.

It reminds me of when a parent would bring a child in to see me for therapy and it would become apparent pretty quickly that it’s the parent that needs therapy, not the the child. Many times the parent would like at me as if I was crazy. They couldn’t see that their own neurotic behavior, substance abuse or even past childhood issues are creating the “problem” they are prescribing to their child.

It’s easy to tell when someone is physically not doing well, but it’s not always easy to tell when someone isn’t mentally doing well, especially when it comes to everyday things like anxiety, depression and self-esteem. Things we all deal with from time to time.

I have a sister who at one point was working a very demanding job, raising a challenging teenager on her own,  volunteering her sparse free time to multiple organizations and if that wasn’t enough, she was trying to help every friend that called and needed something from her.

On the outside she looked ambitious, energetic, like a true type A-personality. On the inside she was feeling overwhelmed, flustered and fragile.

One night, while having dinner with our family which should have been relaxing, seemingly out of the blue she had what some would call a nervous breakdown. She started crying, hyperventilating and felt as though she was going to lose control of her mind. I could look at her and tell she was having a classic panic attack, but she was too far gone to hear me and was convinced she needed medical attention.

Soon afterwards she was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder and was told to cut back on the million and one things she did in her day to day life to take care of other people and to start taking care of her own mental health, something many of us don’t do enough of.

Sometimes I even catch myself too caught up in work, life and everything else and before I realize it I am dealing with some type of anxiety, insecurity or dysthmia. I have to slow down, stop myself and figure out a) where is it coming from and b) how do I take care of it. Often times for me the solution is simple awareness and acknowledgement that something is bothering me. Other times it takes journaling, reading something inspirational or processing my feelings with someone I trust. I’m usually that person for everyone, but sometimes I need someone to be that person for me.

It doesn’t always have to be something major and it doesn’t always take a therapist, but sometimes it does. Sometimes it’s simple mindfulness, meditation, or getting out and having some fun, but many of us have no real idea of what it means to administer emotional first aid to ourselves which is why I included this Ted Talk by Guy Winch: Why We All Need To Practice Emotional First Aid