Hello all, my name is Hunter McCullough. I am an undergrad Psychology student at Georgia Southern University. Ever since I was in middle school, I knew that I wanted to work with kids after college. Majoring in Psychology has led me to be able to do just that. A few weeks ago, I started helping out around the office of Brave Tomorrow, just to start learning the ropes of running a private practice in the world of counselling. I knew little about play therapy, but after my few weeks of observing, I have come to understand just how important it is to counseling. I have come to learn that children always want to tell you what is going on in their life, but sometimes they just might not know how to tell you in words. Such situations could include:
These are just a few of the situations that play therapy could help with. Some of the beneficial things that come from play therapy are:
Play Therapy is for children the ages of three to about sixteen years old. However, something that a lot of people don’t know about play therapy is that it can also help young people in late teenage years, all the way to older aged adults. I hope to continue to learn in my time at Brave Tomorrow, and I am so thankful for this opportunity.
Special thanks to Hunter, our guest blogger. We are thankful for all you bring to our office!
In our town, we are about 3 weeks into the school year. This is the time that my office begins to get referrals to work with children who are so anxious about attending school that it begins to impact the entire family system. Every morning becomes a battle of wills, tears, rages, and chaos. Parents who used to maintain employment end up quitting their jobs or transitioning to work from home or at night because they are unable to reliably get to work on a day-to-day basis.
This scenario also causes frustration in the school setting. Administrators, counselors, and social workers are faced with addressing absences, tardies, placement and promotion issues, and teachers work diligently to find ways to help the child catch up missed work and missed instruction.
Often, this aversion to school is labeled as a disciplinary issue, both in the home and the school. Many parents attempt to put disciplinary measures in place to punish the behaviors that interfere with attending school. In the educational system, this is often labeled and addressed as truancy.
Fear of attending school is actually a specific, diagnosable, and treatable form of anxiety. Research suggests that anywhere from 8% to 28% of children could be diagnosed with Didaskeleinophobia, or fear of going to school.
How do I know if my child has an anxiety problem or a behavior problem?
A trained mental health provider(Psychologist, Psychiatrist, Licensed Counselor, Licensed Clinical Social Worker) will be able to give you more insight about whether your child's behaviors are related to anxiety concerns or some other issue. These are just some general guidelines to help point you in the right direction.
If my child (or a student at my school) is dealing with school phobia, what should we do?
The world around us is overflowing with feelings. All kinds of feelings. Anger, outrage, happiness, fear, confusion, hate, love. Why are we so impacted by the emotional energies around us? How do we protect ourselves from internalizing emotions that are not productive for us?
Why am I affected by other people's emotions?
Being able to feel others' feelings is a powerful thing. It allows us to have empathy, to imagine what it feels like to be in their situation. It also allows us to help others feel "better" by radiating our own calm, peace, and happiness. This mirroring of emotions is actually based in our brains, in something called "mirror neurons". Mirror neurons are little biological machines that activate when we observe an action. When mirror neurons "see" (through our senses) a smile, we automatically smile - without realizing it, subconsciously, even if it is a small response, we smile. In the same way, when we see someone who is angry, we automatically mirror that response. When we mirror the action or feeling, the chemicals that give us happy, sad, or mad feelings release. You can see this happen clearly in babies - infants will change their faces to match the face of the adult who is cooing, talking, or laughing with them.
All of this happens automatically, without our knowledge or consent.
So, how do I manage this invasion of emotion?
Most of us are not able to completely disconnect from the world. On a day-to-day basis, we encounter roommates, family, colleagues at work, peers at school, customer service providers, and many other people, all carrying their feelings around. We also experience emotional energy through social media, news, books we read, and other forms of input beyond our face-to-face human interaction.
First, calm down
Imagine a thermometer for your feelings. Scale it from 1 (at the bottom) to 10 (at the top). All feelings are okay - not only okay, but valuable. However, when any feelings become extremely intense (maybe a 5 or higher), they begin to take over. We move from functioning with the thinking part of our brain to reacting with the instinctual, emotional part of our brain. Physically, the body's blood flow, oxygen, and electrical energy rearranges itself to focus on the emotional brain, and we no longer have the physical resources to think logically. So, more simply put, big feelings can make us stupid. To turn our thinking brain back on, we have to calm the emotional part of our brain. Once it calms, the body's resources can flow back to the thinking brain and we can regain our control.
1. BREATHE! -- The most important way to calm your emotional brain is to breathe. Breathe in and out, either through your nose, or through pursed lips (like drinking out of a straw). Count to 5 as you breathe in, 5 as you exhale. The longer your exhale, the more calming this exercise will be. This helps get oxygen and blood flow back to your limbs and your thinking brain, relaxes your muscles, slows your heartbeat, and regulates your breath.
2. Inhale a calming scent -- There is a physical structure called the "Olfactory Bulb" that runs from the top of our nasal cavity directly to the limbic brain (our emotional, instinctual brain). In other words, our nose is a direct line to our feeling brain. When we inhale calming scents, the calming scent is communicated directly to our feeling brain. As it calms, the energy moves back into the thinking areas of our brain. Some calming scents are lavender, geranium, mandarin, bergamot, and palmarosa. Most essential oil manufacturers have a calming blend in their line of products. Oils can be inhaled from the bottle, rubbed on your hands and inhaled, mixed with water and sprayed around a room from a spray bottle, or distributed through a diffuser.
Once you have activated your thinking brain, you can engage in something called mindfulness. This just means you are aware of your thoughts and feelings, your body, your surroundings, your needs and wants in the present moment. Imagine that you are separate from yourself and you are hovering above, watching your thoughts and feelings pass through your mind and body. From this position, you can choose which ones to focus on, which ones are productive and helpful, and which ones to let go of. As you let go, imagine them floating away like ash from a fire.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Boundaries can be tricky. Sometimes our boundaries are too rigid, shutting out helpful and positive relationships, and causing us to be always on guard, always behind a "mask", never showing our true, authentic selves. Sometimes our boundaries are too loose, letting everything in that comes our way. This can leave us feeling over exposed, vulnerable, and often violated. The most healthy boundaries are somewhere in between, allowing in the relationships and conversations that help us to grow into our best self, and blocking out the harmful relationships and behaviors. Imagine that you are in a bubble. You can clearly see what is around you, but you are protected. As you look at the world around you, be attentive to the influences outside of your bubble. Make conscious choices about what to allow inside your bubble and what to block out.
What are some things that you love? Things that make you feel great, deep down in your heart and soul? Find those things and do them on a regular basis. Be around people that bring peace, happiness, love, joy, and calm into your life, and limit your time and exposure to negativity. You are important; you are valuable. Take time to make yourself a priority.
“The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do to ourselves, is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.”
Being part of a group can bring lots of emotions - some people respond with excitement, optimism at the idea of a support network, comfort in the idea of shared experiences and stories; for others, the idea of a group can be terrifying - having to open up to strangers, having to trust others with your vulnerabilities.
So why take the chance?
Why should I choose a group setting to work on my issues? None of the statements listed below are guaranteed, but they are general guidelines taken from group process research and evidence.
Moving Further Faster
The special interactions that happen within a group setting often allow clients to progress toward goals and move through obstacles more quickly and efficiently than in individual counseling settings. This is not true for every challenge, but there are many issues where group work is considered more effective than individual counseling. The experiences and circumstances of each client in the group, combined with a skilled group leader (or sometimes two leaders), creates an environment that can allow clients to make progress toward goals and objectives in a more effective and efficient way than individual counseling.
A group is made up of humans - different people with different life paths and experiences. While some groups may be focused on a particular topic or area for growth, each person's experiences and circumstances around that topic can be very different. A group provides a variety of insights and perspectives, personalities, communication styles, and experiences; this combination of differences gives a setting where clients can challenge and support each other in varying ways as the group pulls together to help every client reach his/her goals.
Have you ever felt like no one could possibly understand what you are dealing with? LIke you are the only one in the world who has your challenges? Groups are often built around people who share similar challenges, treatment goals, and obstacles. This provides a group of people who can relate, who do understand what you are dealing with. This also places you in a group of people who have been dealing with these challenges in their own ways throughout their lives, and can offer different insights, tools, and techniques that may be helpful.
So, we all like to pretend that we are willing to do whatever is needed to take care of ourselves; but, the reality is that sometimes the cost of individual counseling/therapy can be a challenge. Being part of a group is often more financially feasible than individual counseling. (If you have insurance, this will depend on your specific plan.) Also, because groups can often be more effective than individual counseling, you may make more progress toward your goals and objectives in a shorter period of time, which will cost less money overall.
Other things you should know about groups
Groups are not the most effective treatment for every mental health issue. It is also important that the dynamics of the individuals involved in the group fit together in a way that can be productive. It is possible that you will be interested in a group, and the counselor/therapist will meet with you and suggest an alternate form of treatment than groups. This doesn't mean that you are too broken for groups (or any other degrading message you may tell yourself); it means that the specific group you are interested in is not the best path to reach your treatment goals.
Oh, the life of the perfectionist - the daily struggle with all of the emotions and messages that accompany this trait, and the impacts on performance can be an extreme weight to carry.
Confession time: I (April) am a perfectionist. Even now as I work on this post, I am aware of so many different messages: Do you really know enough about this to write something that lots of people will read? Shouldn't you have some research to put in here? Is this really what you want to write about? Maybe you should just stop for a while - think about it, make sure this is what you want to write. What if (Heaven forbid!) you write something that isn't exactly right?! What if no one cares what you write? Maybe you should just not write a post today. If something goes wrong, that means you are a fraud and a fake and no one will ever believe anything you have to say again. Also, everyone around you will be so ashamed because you messed up. You could lose EVERYTHING!
Seriously - welcome to the internal world of the perfectionist.
Perfectionism on it's own is not a mental health diagnosis. However, it can be associated with many different mental health issues - eating disorders, many different types of anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, different personality disorders, for example. It can interfere with self-worth, self-esteem, relationships, parenting, and work performance.
How to recognize a perfectionist:
Extremely high (even impossible or unreasonable) expectations of themselves or others -- The perfectionist often feels that she should perform in an outstanding way in all tasks - even when that is an unreasonable expectation (like when she has no training or experience at all in that area). These high expectations and standards are often automatic - the perfectionist may not even realize that these thoughts and messages are running through her mind, but the expectations are there.
Extreme all-or-nothing, black-and white guidelines for determining success or failure -- The perfectionist will either be the best at what he does, or a totally worthless failure. These standards are also applied to others. There is no gray in the world of the perfectionist - everything that is not total, overwhelming, outstanding success is shameful, worthless failure. There is very little grace for "trying" or "doing my best" in the world of the perfectionist.
Overreaction -- The perfectionist sees the world as a place where everything that is not perfect is useless. Therefore, everything must be perfect ... always. If not, there will be severe consequences because anything that is not perfect is failure. Because of this thinking, she sees every small task or choice as something that is a much bigger deal than it actually is. Because every task or choice carries these tremendous potential consequences, every choice is critical, and mistakes can destroy everything and everyone around her. So, often, her reactions are way out of proportion with the actual situation.
Procrastinating and being unproductive -- Because there is so much pressure and weight on every decision and task in the world of the perfectionist, he often puts off tasks until the last minute, or sometimes doesn't complete them at all. The need to complete things perfectly can be crippling, and gets in the way of approaching tasks or decisions in a logical, organized manner.
Hypersensitivity, guilt, and shame -- Without even realizing it, the thought patterns of the perfectionist are constantly looking for imperfection. If you look through buzzfeed posts or google images, you will find all kinds of images that drive perfectionists crazy; that's because the striving for perfection never turns off. If things are good, they can always be better; if they are excellent, there is still room for improvement. Nothing is ever good enough. With the thought that nothing is ever good enough comes guilt and shame because the perfectionist was - yet again - not able to do things perfectly.
If you are a perfectionist:
1. Admit you are a perfectionist, and that it is okay (not some deep, dark flaw that completely devalues you are a person and everything you have ever done or will do!).
2. Begin to be aware of the thoughts that come across your mind and how you are affected by them. In counseling, we call this mindfulness. An important element of mindfulness is acceptance - these thoughts aren't inherently good or bad, they just are.
3. As you become aware of your thoughts, begin to look at them more closely. Is this thought rational? If you asked someone else their opinion of the situation what would they say? Does this thought carry guilt and shame attached to it, or any other unproductive emotions?
4. If you perfectionistic thoughts and tendencies are getting in the way of your day-to-day life, consider getting help from a counselor as you work through these thoughts and feelings. Counselors are skilled at creating safe spaces for you to do this work, helping you see blind spots you may be missing, offering understanding and insight, and helping you find tools and techniques that will be helpful for you on your journey.
If you love (or live with, or work with) a perfectionist:
1. GRACE and SPACE -- Once you understand that this is the way the perfectionist thinks and operates, and that you are not going to change it anytime soon, you learn to give them some grace in her thought processes, and space to work through things on her own time.
2. Communicate empathy and acceptance for him as a person, regardless of his performance -- The entire self-worth of the perfectionist is wrapped up in performance, or in others' perception of his performance. Begin showing genuine appreciation for the perfectionist as a person, not based on work or accomplishments. Pull out personality characteristics that are special to you, or that you admire when you speak with them. Also, understand what it must be like to live in the mind of the perfectionist, and don't demand immediate change. Instead, just be with him on his journey.
3. AFTER YOU HAVE DONE THE FIRST 2 SUGGESTIONS, you may have enough credibility with the perfectionist to begin walking her journey with her - helping challenge her thoughts and tendencies, providing a safe space for her to express her feelings and practice reacting in different ways than those that come most naturally to her.
The mind of the perfectionist is a very challenging place to live. However, it is very possible to challenge and change those thought patterns, moving toward wellness and wholeness, and a more healthy you.
Never stop growing.
Most of us know the scene in the movie The Wizard of Oz where Dorothy clicks her ruby slippers together three times and says with all of her heart, "There's no place like home. There's no place like home." Then she is magically transported back to the Kansas farmhouse she has so desperately missed.
Upon her arrival back home safe and sound, she immediately begins to share her adventures with the people who love her the most; they respond with smiles and head nods, humoring her.
But no one could really understand, because no one else had been there.
Try as she might, Dorothy would never be able to explain the color, beauty, strange creatures, friendship, mind-numbing fear, and the journey to her own power she experienced in Oz.
TRANSITIONS ARE HARD...
Even the transitions we have worked toward and longed for come with struggle. Even moving from a terrifying place in life to a safe place can bring with it a sense of loss, mourning, missing the way life was before. There can be many reasons for this struggle. They can be layered on top of each other, creating a quilt of thoughts and emotions that keeps us "stuck" in a state of missing Oz, even though we fought with every ounce of our being to be in Kansas.
1. We feel guilty about missing Oz.
Guilt, shame, "should"s and "ought"s are powerful weapons we use against ourselves. We keep ourselves stuck in a state of depression, fear, or unhealthy living NOT necessarily because we miss Oz, but because we feel guilty for missing Oz. Maybe the guilt comes from the pain other people endured during our trip to Oz. Maybe from responsibilities we neglected. Regardless of the reason, the guilt and shame constantly whispers messages in our ears about what terrible people we are to miss Oz.
2. We aren't honest about what our trip to Oz was really like.
This can go two ways. Sometimes we romanticize our experience - we remember the colors brighter than they actually were, the friendships closer than they actually were; play down the bone-crushing fear that often threatened our very lives; play up the "good."
We completely shut down our memories of Oz. We force ourselves not to see anything good in our experience. We remember everything as a terrible experience, because acknowledging that there was some good is too scary.
3. We pretend it was all a dream
This takes a lot of determination. If we are uncomfortable enough, we can completely lock our experiences and feelings in a box that we hide so far away we allow ourselves to forget it was ever real. Maybe we laugh it off around others. Maybe we "just don't think about it." But somewhere, deep down, in that hidden place where we don't allow anyone else to see, we know that Oz was real.
4. We didn't start out in Kansas, so we don't trust the safety and security Kansas can bring.
Dorothy started her journey in Kansas. She chose to leave, traveled to Oz, and used every ounce of her self-will to get back to Kansas. However ... some of us don't start in Kansas. We aren't quite ready to trust that Kansas is a "better place". We haven't ever experienced the slow, steady, safe and secure pace of Kansas. Part of us still wonders if the constant adrenaline rush of Oz is "normal" or "better than" the peace and tranquility of day-to-day life in Kansas.
SO, MAYBE I DO MISS OZ. WHAT NOW?
Acknowledge it. Embrace it! Oz is part of our journey; your unique story; your special gift to give the world. Does this mean that everything about Oz is great? That your visit to Oz didn't negatively impact your life or those around you? ABSOLUTELY NOT!
What it does mean is that you can acknowledge all of the parts of you - even the parts that come from your visit to Oz. Acknowledge the amazing experiences, and the terrible ones. Be honest about the ways Oz impacted you and people around you. Be honest about the ways Oz adds to your life, and takes away from it.
Maybe you write a thank-you note to someone you knew in Oz - just for yourself - and send it off in a balloon. Maybe you write or draw about your experiences in Oz, what you miss, what you long for, and burn it. Find some way to honor that time in your life and what it brings to you. Then let it go.
The key to moving forward is honesty with yourself, free from judgment, acknowledging both the good and the bad. Take what you can from the experience, add it into the constantly growing being you are, and move forward.
Everything in our world works with an ebb and flow - times of moving out and times of pulling in. We see it in our seasons, cycles of plant life, our breath, cycles of wake and rest. Ebb and flow are critical to the function of our lives, our world.
Ebb and flow also exists in other, more abstract areas of life -- our moods, career success, relationships, finances, self-esteem, self-awareness, etc. However, we have more difficulty acknowledging the ebb and flow in these areas. Our culture values flow - being constantly "on", constantly producing, pouring out, extroverting, progressing in our jobs and careers, becoming more and more financially stable. We have missed the value of the ebb - the times to pull back, rest, reflect, restore. Our culture sees the ebb as "less than" - shy, lazy, unfocused, apathetic.
IMPORTANCE OF THE EBB
The ebb is important through all of nature. It is a time to reset. During nightly rest, our bodies reset, run a systems check, and restore chemical balance in our organs and our brain. When rest is interrupted, the reset and restore is incomplete, and we begin the "flow" of our days from a place where we are physically not ready. This can manifest in nausea, cognitive impairments, dizziness, decreased alertness and productivity, and less ability to regulate moods. Ebb in conversation is also important - a time for us to listen, to draw in and reflect, which is necessary to maintain the conversation.
Ebbs are also necessary in other areas of life. A romantic relationship cannot always be fireworks - there must be some times of peace and rest and genuine relating and even disagreement. Our moods cannot be constantly euphoric - we must have times of more stable moods, and even times when life's circumstances bring us genuine depressed, angry, or anxious moods.
WAYS TO ACKNOWLEDGE AND EMBRACE THE EBB
1. Calm your body and mind. -- Flow is a constant pouring out of energy. Ebb requires quieting your mind and body. There are many ways to do this. Some of the most effective are deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing in calming essential oils, and finding ways to play and add fun and leisure to your life. Other paths to calm include yoga, meditation, and energy work (such as Reiki and Qigong).
2. Be aware and present - just observe. -- Instead of spinning wheels and spending energy in the messages about your ebb, just become aware of what is around you. An easy way to start is with your 5 senses - what do you see, hear, taste, smell, feel? Start with what's around you, and move your awareness in - what feelings do you feel? What messages are in your thought pattern? Where is tension in your body? Observe these things as if you were writing down facts for a news story. By focusing on the now, we can minimize judgment, and we can also increase our awareness of the benefits of our current ebb.
3. Let go of judgment -- We tend to value flow, but not ebb. Consciously acknowledge this fact, and be aware of it. The ebb is critical to the flow. One cannot exist without the other. Once you begin to value the ebb as much as the flow, you can spend your energy acknowledging the ebb, and learning what you can from it.
You walk into a room and instantly feel tension and anxiety. Instead of beating yourself up about the fact that you feel anxious, pay attention to your strong reaction. What is happening around you? What is the source of your stress? What is the anxiety telling you? Are you anxious about something that is a legitimate threat, or something that is rooted in your own "junk"?
You have been moving up the corporate ladder at work steadily since you began working there. However, you have not progressed as effectively in the past year. Your first instinct is to judge yourself about your lack of "Success" at work. Instead of judging, take time to acknowledge where you are. Is it possible that you have reached your limits at this place of employment? Do you need to consider transferring to somewhere else? What is the source of your frustration?
The Ebb is necessary to life. Embrace and value it, and find ways to appreciate the "pull in" as much as society values the "push out".
I am so excited to share this link! I was asked by the Career Services department at Georgia Southern to be part of a video project highlighting various careers, so that students working through a career search can be exposed to different professionals in different fields talking about their journey, experience, and day-to-day life. If you click on the link (on the video), you will go to the Candid Career page where you can see my interview split into 5 different sections.
Happy National Play Therapy Week!
For most people, this time of year is filled with excitement, fun, family, food and drink, celebration, and joy. However, for many of us, this time of year brings its own unique challenges - dealing with depression, financial struggles, grief, substance or food addiction, abuse, difficult family situations, the list goes on and on.
If you do a web search for "Mental Health and the holidays" you will find an abundance of lists of things to do to get through the holidays. So ... I'm not going to do that here.
My goal for this post is how to be aware and relate to loved ones around you who may be struggling. One of my favorite quotes is, "Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." (The source of the quote is unclear ... everyone from Plato to J.M. Barrie to John Watson). Anyway, whether the quote is exactly referenced or not, it holds great truth. Here are some tips for interacting in ways that are "kinder than necessary."
1. ALLOW OTHERS TO HAVE THEIR FEELINGS
When those around us are dealing with heavy emotions, it is uncomfortable to say the least. The easiest way for us to deal with this discomfort is to expect them to fix it - so we (in our most well-meaning voice) tell them, "You know Daddy wouldn't want you to be sad today" or "Just pull it together while the family is here" or "There's no need to be anxious - you know no one wants to hurt you."
Feelings are not good or bad, right or wrong - they just are. Telling someone to turn them off communicates that their feelings are bad, wrong, unacceptable - which also communicates that the person is bad, wrong, and unacceptable. Instead of trying to get your loved one to turn off the feelings that make you uncomfortable, try some of these instead:
"Having all of these people in the house must be hard for you."
"I really miss mom, too."
" It must be hard to go through the holidays sober when everyone around you is drinking."
"I can tell you are feeling really down today."
A Native American proverb says, "Never criticize a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins." Empathy asks us to go a step further - to imagine what it would be like in those moccasins, to hold hands with that person and the world from his or her perspective - see what they see, understand what they face, understand what they feel.
3. BE A SUPPORT
If you truly empathize (Step 2), Advocacy will be a natural next step. If you really understand what it is like to face your first holiday sober, you will be more sensitive to accommodating those feelings and experiences in planning your holiday gathering. If you truly understand the grief your loved one is carrying, you will be more sensitive to the way you reference the person they are grieving, and more accepting when grief feelings do arise. Just be there - be an accepting, non-judgmental shoulder they can lean on, a listening ear.
4. BE AN ADVOCATE
Those of us with mental health struggles are VERY AWARE that we don't work like everyone else - that our feelings are bigger, our reactions are bigger, that things are issues for us that other people never think twice about. Often we feel that we are "too much" and "not enough" all at the same time. Take your support (from Step 3) one step further. In my mind, being a support looks like being a safe base for your loved one around others; being an advocate looks like making the entire environment as safe as possible for your loved one. Be the one who also goes without the eggnog this year. Be the one who says that another's verbal negativity toward your loved one is not okay.
Notice I didn't title this "4 easy steps" or "simple tips" - they are not simple. In fact, for some of us they are extremely challenging. The only thing that would motivate you to do these is your love for the other person. You may not get a thank you; your loved one may not do any "better" at getting through the holidays. But, you might - they might. Mental health struggles are real, and if you have never experienced it, or taken the time to explore what it may be like, you can not understand. But, you can be a support, a friend, an advocate - ONE WHO LOVES.
My hope for you this holiday season is health, love, kindness, and peace. Accept and honor your own journey, struggles, sunshine and clouds, and accept and honor the journey of those around you.
One of the questions I hear most often:
"Does my child have something 'real' like a learning disorder? Or is he just anxious/depressed/ stressed?"
What if we could think about it a different way? If a child is struggling with academic performance, any reason for the struggle is real.