Stress: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly by Dr. Mike Olson, LMFT

stress 1The Good. We often think of stress as a bad thing, something that we must eradicate from our lives. Yet, without it, we would not be able to survive a single day. There is, deep within our brains, an amazing little factory called the hypothalamus that produces/secretes thousands of very powerful and potent chemicals called neuropeptides and neuro-hormones. The hypothalamus works with the pituitary and adrenal glands to secrete these hormones which include cortisol and epinephrine or adrenalin. The levels of these neuro-hormones rise and fall naturally daily (diurnal rhythms) and help us to wake up in the morning, focus and deal with the challenges of each day and finally allow us to drop off into sleep at night.

The Bad. The problem that most of us have is not the presence of stress or the stress hormones that flow through our blood stream each day. It is however, the excess of these hormones as they build up in the body without release. Take a car engine for example. The engine revs and shifts as the gas pedal is pressed. The RPMs continue to climb as the demands rise on the engine. If the pedal remains pressed down without release, the RPMs will reach a critical level and eventually the engine will overheat and breakdown. The brain and body work in a similar way. When the stressors of life place demands on us our brain produces the chemicals necessary to deal with that stress. The branch of the central nervous system (CNS) called the autonomic nervous system controls the “gas pedal” and the “braking system” of the body, called the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system. The beauty of these systems is that they are self-regulatory and will, if left alone, rebalance.

Power Struggle Between a Man and a WomanThe Ugly. The problem is that with repeated stressors (worries, financial stress, work and family problems, etc.) these systems fail to rebalance and keep the “gas pedal” pressed. Chronic elevation of stress hormones has been shown to lead to a host of health problems including auto-immune disorders, skin problems, musculo-skeletal pain, arterial/heart disease, inflammation, and the list goes on. The relationship between stress and performance is not linear; meaning that increase in stress will lead to increase in performance or functioning only to a point and then it deteriorates, leading us to function less and less effectively.

balanceWhat to do? Dr. Herbert Benson, a cardio-vascular surgeon and researcher from Harvard and founder of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind-Body Medicine has spent the last 30+ years studying what he calls the “relaxation response.” His work has shown that with a few simple steps, entirely within our control, we can activate this relaxation response, or brake system in the body.

The first step is diaphragmatic breathing (slow inhaling breath through the nose, slow exhaling breath through the mouth with pursed lips to slow flow of air down). Deep and slow breathing increases and decreases pressure on the vagal nerves and flow of blood from the heart to the brain. The rhythm of the heart is affected (more variability or change in the rhythm) which is connected to the brake system of the body as well.

The second step is to focus on a word, a number or a short phrase that is repeated in the mind as you take deep breaths. As thoughts come into your mind (random, distracting, intrusive, worrying thoughts), you passively disregard or let these thought flow through your mind and then return to your repetition (word, phrase, number). Dr. Benson has shown that within 3-5 minutes of following these steps, there are measurable reductions in cortisol, epinephrine, increased oxygen in the blood, increased delta/theta waves in the brain (slow, undulating, relaxed brain frequencies), among others. Finding the place/time to practice this basic skill on a daily basis can have measurable positive effects on health by significantly reducing stress in the body.

If any of our therapists or health coaches can be of assistance in your quest for wellness and stress reduction, let us know and we will be happy to help. Our staff has experience and training working with stress reduction and management using this technique among others (biofeedback, psychotherapy or talk therapy, autogenic techniques, EEG neurofeedback, etc.).

MikeAbout the Author: Dr. Michel Olson is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He is the clinical director of both WholeFit and the Centers for Couples and Families in TX. He earned a doctorate degree from Kansas State University and completed a post-doctoral fellowship in Behavioral Medicine at UTMB, Galveston

Forgiveness: Spiritual & Medical Implications by Christina Puchalski

This is an interesting article taken from The Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine.

“Forgiveness: Spiritual and Medical Implications”  by Christina Puchalski, MD.

(http://info.med.yale.edu/intmed/hummed/yjhm/spirit/forgiveness/cpuchalski.htm)

 

MP900385327“On a societal level, we face social injustice, urban crime, terrorist acts and war. These realities of society can also lead to resentment, territorialism and hatred. While many of these aspects of our society are wrong and perhaps even warrant a justifiable anger and hatred until we can forgive even the most horrendous of these acts, how can we as a society, or as a civilization, live together in peace? Thus, forgiveness is the basic building block of a tolerant society.
There have been many studies looking at the role of forgiveness in health. Unforgiving persons have increased anxiety symptoms, increased paranoia, increased narcissism, increased frequency of psycho-somatic complications, increased incidence of heart disease and less resistance to physical illness. Others have found that people who are unable to forgive themselves or others also have an increased incidence of depression and callousness toward others. The act of forgiveness can result in less anxiety and depression, better health outcomes, increased coping with stress, and increased closeness to God and others.
MP900440326There have been numerous studies looking at forgiveness interventions. The interventions involved counseling and exercises which were used to help people move from anger and resentment towards forgiveness. In one study, incest survivors who experienced the forgiveness intervention had at the end of the intervention increased abilities to forgive others, increased hopefulness and decreased levels of anxiety and depression. In another study, college students were randomized to a group that received a forgiveness education program and another group who studied human relations. The group that received the forgiveness education program showed higher levels of hope and an increased willingness to forgive others. This greater self-forgiveness was associated with increased self-esteem, lower levels of anxiety, lower levels of depression and a more positive view of their patient.
In many of these studies, it was shown that people who are able to forgive are more likely to have better interpersonal functioning and therefore social support. In terms of social support, there is a large body of literature that demonstrated the value of social support. Social support has been shown to reduce cardiovascular risks, promote faster recovery and increased survival rates from several types of cancer. Therefore, forgiveness, since it improved interpersonal functioning, might mediate these better health outcomes through the ability of people to have increased social support.
MP900289480Thus, act of forgiving from a research end seems to indicate that forgiveness can improve personal, interpersonal, and societal well-being.”

Understanding Self Harm By Jamie Porter

Young Woman Biting Her Finger NailI’m often asked WHY cutters cut. For those that do not cut, they have difficulties seeing how something that appears to be so painful can cause a relief? It’s beyond their mind’s capacity to understand why someone would do this to themselves. The hardest part about trying to answer what appears to be a simple question is that there is not a simple answer. I’d like to take a moment to share with you what I have experienced as a clinician, what I have read from books, collected from research, and have heard from the mouths of my clients. Secondly, I’d like to share some basic tools or coping skills to gather and use as a lay person, a parent, a friend or a therapist. My greatest goal is that you build an ability to be open-minded to help those that are hurting.
Cutting is a form of communication. At the basics of cutting, self-harmers live in a world where they are either afraid to speak their true emotions, will be criticized if they do, or lack the ability to articulate their emotions. Our job as clinicians is to help bridge the gap. We must help our clients find a healthier coping skill, build verbal communication, and help mend emotional turmoil.

1.  First, we must assess the cutters. Most cutters cut to avoid suicide. This is a very important concept we must teach the parents’ of cutters. However, there is a small number that actually have suicidal ideation while cutting, and an even smaller number (4%) that have actually died from self-harm. If this is the case, it is important that we refer our clients to the nearest hospital and make sure that their families are aware that they must be under greater supervision than one-hour a week therapy sessions.

 

2.  We start to help our clients to build a vocabulary list of emotions felt before, during and after conflict-cutting.

 

3.  We help them go over coping skills that can be traded for cutting. We need to help our clients heal the internal and external pain. We must be compassionate for each client will have a different reason for cutting. ‘I want to feel alive’, ‘ I want to stop the bad feelings’, I want to feel numb’, ‘It makes me feel numb’, ‘It’s my way to avoid people, punishment, consequences’, ‘It’s my way of control’, ‘I’m bored’, ‘It’s my way to punish myself’, and/or ‘I want to be paid attention to’. If we can understand their pain, we can help our clients communicate that to those around them.
For parents, some basic tools include opening lines of communication, listening to your child, not judging, not giving ultimatums/threats/punishment, help aid their cuts and provide medical assistance if needed, and help them find professional help to process their pain/emotions. Most importantly, for a parent to remind their child that they deserve to be happy and that you are trying to be there for them, not against them, could be most beneficial.
Sick Young Woman Lying in BedFor the therapist/clinician, starting off with an impulse-control log, can help your client start to document how often, where, when, with what tool, and emotions attached to the behavior. You can also help start to identify some healthy coping skills including writing, drawing, music, physical activity, art, meditation, etc. One of the greatest tasks as a clinician is to help the client vocalize their emotions to their parent and to get a response that will not only verbally and emotionally be a safe response, but physically. Most of our clients lack a relationship of verbal comfort or even physical comfort (hugs). It can be a long process for clients that are fearful to open up. We must instill safeness again and remind our clients that their current level of coping is not healthy for themselves or their families.
Cutting is a topic that some clinicians stay far away from and that parents are highly fearful of. I want to remind both clinicians and parents that suicide is not the ultimate goal for cutters. I want to demystify the behavior and build a sense of clarity and compassion for those who are fighting the battle and those that watch the fighting battle. For ‘self injury is a sign of distress not madness’. – Corey Anderson

 

Resources:
Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Mental Health of America: www.mentalhealthamerica.net
Cornell Research Program on Self-Injurious Behavior in Adolescents and Young Adults: www.crpsib.com/researces.asp
S.A.F.E. Alternatives (Self-Abuse Finally Ends):  www.selfinjury.com
Self-Harm: Recovery, Advice and Support: www.thesite.org/healthandwellbeing/mentalhealth/selfharm
Self-Injurious Behavior Webcast:  www.albany.edu/sph/coned/t2b2injurious.hmt
KidsHealth: www.kidshealth.org
Christianity Today: www.christianitytoday.com/cl.2004/005/29.18.html
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry: www.aacap.org
Book:
Strong, Marilee (1998). A Bright Red Scream. New York, New York: Viking Press.
Conterio, K. and W. Lader, Ph.D. (1998). Bodily Harm. The breakthrough Healing Program for Self-Injurers. New York, New
York: Hyperion.
Magazine:
The Prevention Researcher. Parental Guidelines for Preventing and Constructively Managing Inevitable Self-Injuring Slips, 19, February 2010

 

Jamie Cropped2About the Author:  Jamie Porter has a Master’s degree in Marriage & Family Therapy from UHCL. She has worked in non-profit settings working with women, adolescents, children, families, couples, and equine assisted psychotherapy. She is currently the Sugar Land Center for Couples & Families office manager, and  an AAMFT approved supervisor.

Fight Fair by Kenneth Jeppesen, MS, LMFTA

business man with laptop over head - madSurveys have shown that for the most part, couples divorce because they don’t feel loved. One of the biggest things that makes us feel like our spouse doesn’t love us is fighting. Since we can’t expect to remove all conflict from marriage, what are we supposed to do? The answer is to change the way we fight. Today I’ll share one thing that can start to change the way you fight.

When we get in a fight with our spouse, our emotions are running high, and we feel attacked. Researcher John Gottman has found that we experience the fight-or-flight response which he calls being “flooded.” Our heart rate gets up around 100 beats per minute, our digestion stops, the blood rushes out of our limbs to prevent from us bleeding to death if injured, and most importantly, our brain mostly shuts off except for one part. The part of our brain that is highly active during fights is the part that looks for threats. And when we are in a fight, we perceive our spouse to be a threat. Even if there is never any physical violence, there is a very real threat to our self-esteem and our happiness if we are in conflict with the person we are supposed to love and cherish. When we are flooded and our brains are on high alert for threat, almost anything we say will cause more harm than good.

For this reason, Dr. Gottman recommends a time-out. It takes at least twenty minutes for our bodies to calm back down. While we take this time-out, we can’t be thinking about the argument, or we will continue to be in this state of physiological arousal. In order to calm down, we have to think soothing and calming thoughts. Dr. Gottman has found through his research that men have a harder time with this. Men are more likely to mull the argument over in their heads, thinking thoughts like, “I shouldn’t have to put up with this.” Women are much better at thinking thoughts like, “Everything is going to be fine, we’re still in love.”

MP900387517It is a lot harder to think calming thoughts when we are charged up with emotional energy. It can be very helpful to do something physically demanding during the twenty minute time-out that will drain that energy. Sprinting, for example, is quite effective. Afterwards it’s much easier to take control of the thoughts we’re thinking about our spouse and relationship. Meditation is a powerful tool that can help with this if we will develop it as a skill.

When you feel yourself getting flooded with emotion and adrenaline, that’s when it’s time for a break. But walking away from your spouse during an argument can make things much worse. When you call a time out, make sure that you agree on a time when you will come back together to continue the discussion. In part two, I’ll share how to make the fights less distressing in the first place.

Kenneth-Jeppesen-Headshot-e14380277335081About the Author: Kenneth Jeppesen is a Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. He earned a bachelor’s degree in Child and Family Studies from Weber State University, and a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina. He is currently at the Provo Center for Couples and Families

Resolutions That Lead to Happiness by Dr. Matt Brown

business teamAs we welcome in the New Year, we often reflect on ways in which we would like to improve. Many of us formalize these reflections with New Year’s resolutions or other goals aimed at focusing and tracking our change efforts. Many of these goals often deal with personal fitness, finances, and employment. While these are worthy endeavors, we may be better served by focusing on areas that have been shown to increase happiness and well-being.

While we all have a personal set point that accounts for around 50% of our happiness, there is a lot within our power to change how we feel. In fact, research has shown that 40% of our happiness is accounted for by intentional activities—the things we do to make ourselves happy. So, what activities should we engage in if we are trying to improve our lives? Research has identified the following three areas of intentional activities:

1. Time With Family and Friends

Social relationships have been shown to be the single biggest predictor of our happiness. Particularly, close relationships with family and friends play a major role in our well-being. To put things in perspective, a leading researcher in the field of happiness, Robert Putnam, has found that getting married produces the same boost in happiness as quadrupling your salary. Similarly, the increase in happiness is the same when you triple your salary or make a good friend. Given these findings, it seems obvious that if we are trying to make our lives better, relationships should be a part of any efforts we make in that direction. Spending quality time with those closest to us might be our top priority for the New Year.

2. Flow—Losing Yourself in the Moment

?????????????????????The term “flow” has been used to describe the process of being fully and actively engaged in an activity we enjoy. You’ve probably had moments where you are doing something you are good at and everything feels right for that moment. People often experience flow around physical activities, creating something, or engaging your mind in a difficult task. These are often typical, mundane tasks, yet they allow us to fully engage and enjoy the process. There is a strong correlation between this process and our happiness. Some of the most common New Year’s resolutions revolve around personal fitness, but often focus on weight loss. It might be more helpful to see these goals, and others, and times for you to engage in flow and truly enjoy the process.

3. Finding Purpose

balancePerhaps due to the fact that we are social beings, we need to know that we are needed and that what we do matters. Our happiness increases when we engage in activities that serve the greater good. In fact, several studies have shown that giving money away produces more happiness than earning it. Similarly, acts of kindness, however small and seemingly insignificant, also lead to happier lives. They also have the added benefit of potentially increasing our social connectedness, which is the biggest predictor of happiness. The beginning of the year is an excellent time to look beyond ourselves and plug in to activities and organizations that serve those in need.

As we all consider the changes we would like to make this coming year, we would be wise to work toward balancing the demands of life with those things that matter most. This can be difficult, and we often feel defeated when we are confronted with certain aspects of our daily lives that seemingly will not change. However, small, consistent efforts are often more impactful than the large, once a year changes. Make intentional time for those you care about on a daily basis. Communicate your appreciation to them more often. Find small ways to enjoy day-to-day tasks, and make time to develop new skills that will allow you to simply enjoy being engaged. Reach out to others and find ways to be needed. As we all focus our goals and efforts in these three areas, may we all find increased happiness and well-being this New Year.

mattAbout the Author: Dr. Matt Brown is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He holds a doctorate degree from Texas Tech University and a master’s degree from Brigham Young University. He is currently Assistant Professor and Program Director in the Marriage and Family Therapy program at the University of Houston-Clear Lake and the Clinic Manager at the South Shore Center for Couples and Families.

Families and Cellphones by Camille Olson

RF2_1751Families and Cellphones: Technology has brought some amazing things into our family lives. We are connected in ways that we never imagined when we were kids. Paradoxically, we are often more disconnected as families than ever before, as our time and attention is increasingly absorbed by electronic media. There is a concept in physical/organic systems called “disentropy,” which is the idea that living systems tend to fall into a state of disorder or disorganization without constant action or forces to keep them together. Think of a family being in a boat together trying to row upstream on a river with a strong current. Without constant effort to maintain position or move forward, the strong current will quickly move the boat downstream. Even more insidious are the quiet and slowly moving currents beneath the surface that are almost undetectable but are carefully leading us away from our goals as families.

As a mom, I’ve watched the tides shift in my family as our kids have grown and been increasingly exposed to the pressures and expectations of being fully “plugged in.” While certainly helpful in many respects, the strong effects and pull on our kids (and others) to spend more and more time in front of a screen has been alarming. At the risk of sounding old fashioned (I never thought I would say that about myself), there is a need for a “call to arms” to confront some of the risks inherent in the currents of electronic media that are moving our kids into dangerous waters. With 91% of adults and 60% of teens reporting owning cell phones (Pew Internet & American Life Project Survey), it isn’t likely that we will avoid these challenges in our families, in some form. Medical and social/behavioral sciences are finally catching up to our kids and reporting some concerning effects.
In a recent Baylor University study published in the Journal of Behavioral Addictions, James Roberts (study co-author) reported that “cell phone and instant messaging addictions are similar to compulsive buying or substance addiction and are driven by materialism and impulsiveness.” He further explained that “technologic addictions (a subset of behavioral addictions) are no different from substance addictions in that users get some kind of reward from cell phone use, resulting in pleasure. Cell phones are a part of our consumer culture, as both a tool and status symbol. They’re also eroding our personal relationships. A majority of young people claim that losing their cell phone would be disastrous to their social lives.” (http://www.news-medical.net) This is just one example among studies that have reported “side-effects” of constant use including: 1) generating negative feelings during face-to-face conversations when the device is visible/present, 2) increasing stress levels, (constant ringing, vibrating, alerts, reminders, etc.) insomnia and depression, 3) increasing risk of chronic pain (pain and inflammation in joints including fingers/hands, neck, shoulders, and back), 4) increasing risk of digital eye strain, among others.

RF2_1742Perhaps one of the most harmful effects is the way that cell phones, texting, and social media interrupt the flow of our time together as families and the opportunity to have face-to-face, meaningful time and contact with each other. Hence, the “tail wagging the dog:” something that is a minor or secondary part of something controlling the whole.

Putting things back in place:
The most important principle of change is to start where you are! One of the first challenges is to be willing to unplug, as the parent, and make time for the family. If you are willing to do that, everyone else may be more willing to follow your example. Another guiding principle of change is to understand the “why” of change. If your family understands the risks, the consequences, and the benefits of making time for each other and “parking” electronics during set times, they will be more willing to follow along. Particularly if you are using the black-out time to actually enjoy quality time together. One suggestion is to “dock at dinner” so that, as your family comes together at the end of a day, everyone shuts off, unplugs, etc. and is present with each other. The phones stay

Camille Olson is the marketing director at the Center for Couples and Families. She is also the editor of the Bay Area Health & Wellness Magazine in South Houston, TX.

Enjoy the Taste of Eating Right by Erica Hansen, MS, RD

VegetablesWhy do you eat what you eat? Are you eating right? If you are like most Americans, according to research, taste trumps all other deciding factors. Surprised? Probably not.

We live in a time and place where food is abundant and you have a lot of food choices to make, as many as 200 per day according to researcher Dr. Brian Wansink. Can you think of a place where you can’t find food? It’s in movie theaters, malls, airports, your workplace, gas stations, and even available at sporting events. Each year about 50,000 new food products are introduced to your grocery store shelves. With so many foods to choose from many Americans have the luxury of choosing to eat the very best tasting things.

Unfortunately, some of the foods that are packed with essential nutrients have been given a bad rap in the tasty foods lineup. According to national surveys, less than 25% of Americans eat the amount of vegetables we should (about 2-3 cups per day). When I meet with patients the number one reason they cite for avoiding vegetables is, you guessed it, taste.

Vegetables are running up against some tasty competition. The foods you find on supermarket shelves are literally made to win; loaded with added fat and sugar they are created to taste great. Why? Because you buy things that taste good and we are hard-wired to enjoy the taste of fat and sugar, both high in life-sustaining energy. From a marketing and business perspective it makes sense for a food manufacturing company to add taste–unfortunately, even at the cost of compromising nutritional quality.

Vegetables are naturally low in fat and simple sugars, but you shouldn’t give up on great tasting vegetables just yet. When aiming to fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables each meal, consider these three suggestions to add flavor and flair:

1. Vary your veggies
Don’t get stuck eating the same vegetables night after night. While corn, peas, carrots, and potatoes are great, they aren’t the only veggies out there.

Consider writing out a list of all the vegetables you like eating by going through all of the colors of the rainbow. What are all of the red vegetables you like? Orange? Green? Sometimes having a tangible list of possible choices will help you realize how many you actually do like and give you ideas to add to your grocery list.

During your next trip to the grocery store, pick-up a new vegetable or one you haven’t tried for a while. I don’t recommend filling your cart with new options, it can be too overwhelming. Start small and add to your list of vegetable ideas.

tradition 32. Mix up your methods
Though a healthy choice, steaming or boiling your vegetables can at times lead to a bland product. Try roasting, broiling, grilling, or stir-frying in a little oil. Many vegetables (zucchini, cauliflower, broccoli, and red potatoes) are fabulous when tossed in olive oil, salt, pepper, and freshly grated parmesan cheese and then roasted or broiled on high heat. Ratatouille is prepared in a similar way.

Salads are often a go-to vegetable, and for great reason, but don’t get stuck in a salad rut. Try taco salads, an Asian salad with mandarin oranges and toasted sesame dressing, throw in fruits and nuts for something sweet, or try a hearty chef salad.

Cooking vegetables in broth instead of water or oil, seasoning them with fresh herbs and spices, soaking them in rice vinegars (delicious on cucumbers!), and dipping or topping them in salsa, hummus, or nut butters are also great, tasty, nutritious choices.

3. Be sneaky
It is easy to get stuck thinking in terms of vegetables as side dishes only, but vegetables can be incorporated into what you’re already eating:

• Add sautéed or fresh vegetables to your pizza
• Cucumbers, peppers, and sprouts add great crunch to sandwiches and wraps
• Carrots and onions in your rice make for a nice pilaf
• Include beans in your soups, stews, salads, and casseroles
• Zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, or artichokes are tasty in pasta
• Spinach or kale in a fruity shake is nearly undetectable
• Creamy butternut squash in homemade mac n’ cheese makes for sweet, nutty, and extra creamy comfort food

I don’t know about you, but my mouth is watering as I wrap up these lists; no small accomplishment for veggies with less than tasty reputation.

Remember, all forms count–fresh, frozen, dried, juiced, and canned vegetables. Start small, but start today to make vegetables a regular part of your plate!

How Fear Gets in the Way of Your Relationship by Erin Rackham

MP900387501Every couple I see in my practice comes in needing help with one thing in their relationship—connection. They may not know how to put it into words, or may have other concerns on top of this, but after a few sessions, it always seems to come down to this core need to feel connected to their partner. It may seem like a bold statement to say that every single couple needs help with this, but I believe it to be true because so many of our problems could be solved without outside help if we were truly connected to each other.

Now, it might be important here to define what I mean by connection—true connection—because I’m not just talking about the “Hi, how was your day?” after-work-greeting in the kitchen. The connection I’m talking about involves being emotionally attuned to one another so intimately that we can sense when something is off and we can create the space in our relationship to share and talk about it with each other. But again, this sharing and talking is not the typical problem-solving that most couples do. This sharing involves being willing to explore our deep, dark, scary emotions of fear and inadequacy and allow our partner to comfort us through each of these feelings instead of pretending they aren’t there.

MP900309139This is difficult work to do in therapy because for most people, they’ve never experienced a relationship that was safe enough for their insecurities and pain to be divulged in, let alone for it to then be listened to, respected, and taken care of. Most of us have dealt with this lack of emotional safety our whole lives by either anxiously pursuing for reassurance that we matter to our partner, or by withdrawing to avoid the feeling that we aren’t good enough for our partner. In therapy, we ask you to break your patterns and take a risk with your emotions, knowing that they will be held precious by your therapist at first, and eventually by your partner as well.

The neat thing about all of this is that when we are in love, we have a natural tendency to protect ourselves with defense mechanisms because the person we love has more power than anyone in the world to hurt us, but we have another even more powerful desire to love and cherish that person, we just let fear get in the way of our execution sometimes. Therapy is a safe place to start trying to put aside the defense mechanisms and the fear and start practicing emotional vulnerability with one another, which can lead to that true connection we all so desperately need to feel.

Erin-Rackham-HeadshotAbout the Author: Erin Rackham is a licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist. She earned an M.S. from BYU and is currently completing her PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy. She is currently a therapist at the Provo Center for Couples and Families.

The Crumbs of Truth by Bonne Norman

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One time or another all of us have been the proverbial child caught with our hand in the cookie jar. Averting our eyes from the evidence, with the tell tell crumbs on our fingers, we denied our culpability in a bold effort to avoid the scolding, the shame, the consequence of our action.

In confronting this universal behavior, my purpose is not to focus on teaching the negative results of lying, but rather to focus on the positive outcomes for owning and acknowledging our mistakes and choices.

Back to the cookie jar. A parent entering the scene of the “crime” often has a solid understanding of the missing treats, based on the position of the stool, the child and the container of goodies.

Stressed BusinesswomanThe mode of the questioning parent is key to turning the event into an effective growth experience. Expressing disappointment that the child did not respect and follow a family rule and/or did not immediately confess their wrong doing must be secondary to supporting the child in the frightening process of learning to own his mistakes.

The parent might began with a neutral inquiry such as “Jane, Johnny,can you tell me why the stool is out of place?” The child has two choices; to acknowledge eating the cookie or to invent a false story to support his or her innocence. As the child begins to weave his or her “not me” story, the parent gently interrupts, looks deeply into the child’s eyes with patience and uses the following declaration.

“Jane, Johnny, when mom (dad, an adult) asks you what happened, almost every time I already know the answer. What is really important here is for you to put into your own words what you have done.” If the child does not respond to this prompt the adult may followup with, “ I understand that it can be scary to take responsibility for your actions. I can hold your hand to give you my support.’

Most children are able to take ownership of their choices in response to this approach, allowing them greater opportunity to learn from their mistake. They also learn that while being honest does not erase all consequences, it almost always results in a lessor punishment, as well as peace of conscience and a feeling of building trust.

While these patterns of response are powerful for children, they apply equally to adult action. Fortunate is the adult who enters relationships having developed the strength of character to honestly own their mistakes, yielding trust, peace and forgiveness with those they cherish.

Bonne-cropped-297x229About the Author:Bonne Norman is a licensed masters social worker who recently completed 18 years of service with LCISD assisting children and families in an elementary school setting. During this period she developed a strong multicultural perspective while working with a wide variety of families dealing with behavior disorders, crisis and loss, relational stress and major changes in the family system.

How to be a Fearless Public Speaker, by Jonathan Decker, LMFT

leaderHow do we become a fearless public speaker? “According to studies, most people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. This means, at a funeral, the average person would rather be in the casket than giving the eulogy.” – Jerry Seinfeld
About a decade ago I performed with a comedy group in college. Some nights I was “on,” but other nights I’d get nervous about the crowd. Fear of embarrassment led me to forget my lines or stumble in my improv attempts. Joel, one of my fellow performers, was an audience favorite who never seemed to choke on stage. When I asked him for the secret to his fearlessness, his answer surprised me: “I just try to remember that there are people in the audience who are going through hard times. I have the privilege of helping them to laugh and feel happy, so each performance is my gift to them.”

Close-up of four business executives standing in a line and applaudingI had committed the cardinal mistake of public speaking and performance: I had made it about me. I got wrapped up in wanting people to be impressed by me. I worried about embarrassing myself if I forgot my lines or that my ad-libs would fall flat with the crowd. Joel taught me to take myself out of the equation. Instead of worrying over what people would think about me, I started to focus on what I could do for the people in the audience.
It changed my entire approach and has helped me to find my courage as a comedian, a presenter, a group therapist, and even at church. Great presenters, preachers, speakers, and performers don’t get that way by mechanical adherence to “tips” on vocal intonation, talking with their hands, or maintaining eye contact with the crowd. They’re great because they care about, and connect with, their audience; those other things are just tools.
To be great in front of a crowd, shift the focus away from what they think about you and to what you can give them. You can better their lives! Whether it’s a message, information, a product, or humor, have confidence in the material and the service you are providing. Then talk to your audience intimately and personally. I don’t mean that you should share personal secrets. I mean that you should take down the wall which distances a speaker from their audience.

To do this, think of any teacher, comedian, or speaker that you’ve really enjoyed. Odds are that you felt that they were speaking to (or with) you, not at you. We speak at a crowd when we want to distance ourselves for protection. We speak to (or with) a crowd when we care more about them (and what we are offering them) than ourselves.
This isn’t to say that nervousness isn’t part of the equation, nor do I wish to imply that this is the one and only key to overcoming public speaking jitters. Some cases of social anxiety, for example, are intense and require more than what I’ve outlined here. But forgetting myself as much as possible in order to lighten the burden of others has been a tremendous help to me whenever I get in front of a crowd. I hope that it will be for you as well.

jonathan - CopyAbout the Author: Jonathan Decker is a licensed marriage and family therapist at the St. George Center for Couples and Families and is the Clinical Manager of the Online Center for Couples and Families. He can be contacted at jdeckertherapy@gmail.com or by phone at (435) 215-6113.