It’s a natural desire for us to want to present our best selves to others. In most of our interactions with others, there seems to be a performance aspect to what we do. We want to prove to be competent in our jobs, to leave a good first impression with those we come in contact with. We want our houses to be neat and tidy when guests come over. We want to post the best and most exciting photos of us on social media.
Although we look nice and clean when we present our “best selves”, sometimes we may feel messy on the inside. Everyone sees the life we live when we are on stage, but very rarely do they get to see the life behind the curtain. The sad thing is that everyone has their hidden messes, and I mean EVERYONE. Just as with the great Wizard of Oz, when you take away the filters and magic tricks, we are all just people trying to do our best.
I believe that a great deal of our depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem comes from trying to hide our life behind the curtain. We tend to say things to ourselves such as, “If people knew who I really am, they wouldn’t love me”, or “I’m not as good as people think I am”. “I act like I’m happy all the time, but on the inside I feel broken”.
At times I wish that I could have known the truth about people’s lives behind the curtain when I was growing up. I would have seen my shortcomings and weaknesses with a lot more acceptance and compassion. My first experience with sharing my life behind the curtain was in therapy. Therapy is a safe and sacred place to start unveiling your authentic self because your vulnerability and openness will be held with no judgment. As you start to open yourself, something crazy will happen, you will begin to find value in the mess that you think you’ve made, you may even begin to love that mess. There is a saying in the world of recovery: “turn your mess into a message”.
We all want to be loved, seen, and heard; but how can someone truly love you if they have only seen a part of you. The parts of you that others can’t see are the parts that need the most attention because they are the parts that need the most healing. As you engage in the healing process you will able to find that every part of you is worth loving. Your healed heart can become a gift that you can share with the world.
Marriage therapy is a complicated dynamic. One in which we have to manage what each individual partner may want from the experience as well as what will be truly beneficial to helping the relationship which when done correctly, really becomes the patient that the three of us (yourself, your spouse and the therapist) are trying to heal.
One of the misnomers about marriage therapy is that we are here to help a couple to stop fighting. However, much like a virus or a bacterial infection, the fights that a couple engage in are most often a response to a foreign idea or experience that needs to be understood and addressed, not just ignored.
Humans are passionate and dynamic. When you put two of them together in close quarters and invite them to work together, there are bound to be arguments. What makes a marriage successful is each partner’s ability to repair.
Marriage therapy is not about teaching you to ignore the problem, but it is about getting into the middle of it and learning not how to be right but how to get it right. At Connections Counseling Services, our therapists have specialized training to help you and your partner to learn how to repair hurts, listen, receive and understand one another. As you do, you will notice that although the fights may still happen, they will resolve more quickly and you will feel closer to your partner not farther apart. There is hope and healing ahead. We can help you to find it.
Premarital Couples Counseling — Is that really a thing???
Marriage is the biggest decision a person will make in life. We all enter marriage with high hopes that the relationship will be fulfilling, rewarding, and long lasting. Additionally, we hope the marriage will be of benefit to future children—protecting them from mental, physical, emotional, educational, and social problems. However, despite the best intentions, according to the American Psychological Association a whopping 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, severely impacting all parties involved, especially children. What if there was a way to help prevent becoming included in this grim statistic?
Premarital couples counseling is quickly becoming a popular new trend—and according to research it is proving to be effective. One particular study published in the Journal of Family Psychology found that premarital education decreased the odds of divorce by 31%!!! Additionally, couples in the study reported higher marital satisfaction, less destructive conflicts, and more commitment to their partner. Another study published in the Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, the most renown journal in the field of marital and family therapy, found that premarital couples counseling helped increased confidence in their ability to discuss important topics and helped clients better understand their partner. Who wouldn’t want those dynamics in their marriage? Premarital couples counseling is a great tool to prevent divorce and increase a stable foundation in the relationship.
Premarital couples counseling can be brief, comprising of approximately 10 sessions or less. First, the therapist will work with the clients to conduct a relationship assessment—identifying strengths and weaknesses in the relationship. Following the assessment the therapist will then work with the couple to set goals to help overcome challenges. Then the therapist will teach the clients skills that will help them establish a solid foundation in their relationship. These skills can include:
- Learning to communicate more effectively.
- Avoiding toxic resentments.
- Setting realistic expectations.
- Conflict resolution techniques.
Premarital couples counseling is one of the best investments a couple can make for their marriage. At Connections Counseling Services, our licensed therapists are skilled in helping couples prepare for challenges in their relationship, thereby decreasing the likelihood of divorce and increasing marital satisfaction. Enter your marriage prepared and confident by giving your relationship the gift of premarital couples counseling.
American Psychological Association
Larson, J. H., Vatter, R. S., Galbraith, R. C., Holman, T. B., & Stahmann, R. F. (2007). The RELATionship Evaluation (RELATE) With Therapist-Assisted Interpretation: Short-Term Effects on Premarital Relationships. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(3), 364–374.
The Mayo Clinic
Naylor, S. (2014). Everything you need to know about premarital counseling. The Huffington Post.
Stanley, S. M., Amato, P. R., Johnson, C. A., & Markman, H. J. (2006). Premarital education, marital quality, and marital stability: Findings from a large, random household survey. Journal of Family Psychology, 20(1), 117–126.
Mindfulness has become a popular term lately. It is also a very common intervention used in therapy for a variety of presenting problems. In 2010 an analysis of all previous studies of the effects mindfulness on anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders was conducted. The results? Mindfulness significantly decreased symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders. While that is great news, what clients really want is an intervention that will help them in the long run–that will help create lasting change and lead to healing. With that in mind, what else did this analysis find? At follow-up appointments clients still reported significant decreases in symptoms! Mindfulness can be a powerful intervention in the treatment of mood disorders. Here are some other great benefits studies have attributed to mindfulness:
- Improve well-being
- Strengthen relationships
- Increase focus and attention
- Boost immune systems
Wow! Three cheers for mindfulness!
So, what is mindfulness? Psychology Today defines mindfulness as:
“A state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
In therapy, your therapist will guide you in becoming aware of your thoughts and encourage you to stay in the present moment. When thoughts drift, the therapist will gently pull you back to the present to an observable state. For example, focusing on your thoughts as if they are clouds slowly moving by in the sky. Eventually mindfulness allows a client to observe their thoughts without reacting to them or judging themselves. This ability to be aware of what we are thinking without reacting puts us back in the driver seat in our own lives and allows us to make more educated decisions about what actions to take, what behaviors to change, and, perhaps most importantly, what to let go.
Mindfulness can be incorporated in couple or family therapy as well. I have oftentimes used it in my own practice to help family members take a deep breath, reach a state of calm, observe their thoughts, and mindfully practice what they want to say. This helps clients to then communicate with their loved ones more effectively.
All this goes to say that mindfulness has broad applications. A skilled therapist can utilize mindfulness in a variety of ways to assist clients in understanding their thoughts, emotions, and the physical sensations associated with those emotions. When mindfulness is regularly used and practiced, it has the potential to create lasting change, boost the healing process, and help a client lead a proactive life.
Hofman, S.G., Sawyer, A.T., Witt, A.A., & Oh, D.The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. 2010. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 78(2).
Kayla is a Licensed Therapist
working with individuals,
families, couples, as well as groups.
Choosing the best therapist for you can be difficult. This is the person you hope to share your deepest darkest secrets with!!! You might ask, “How can I know if I will be able to trust him or her!” “How do I know if this person is right for me?” “How can I know they can help me?” or “Can they really understand what I am going through?”
It’s important to ask yourself these questions and find someone that you feel understands your needs and that you can trust to help you. Many people seeking help can go through several therapists until they find the one they are comfortable with. A good therapist understands this and will respect your choice to find safety. As a practicing therapist, I have functioned in both the capacity of someone’s first therapist as well as someone’s last.
Research has shown that the best outcomes in therapy come from two very general dynamics (Cooper & Lesser, 2011, p.33; (Teyber & McClure, 2011):
- The client’s comfort and connection with the therapist and
- The therapists sense of hope in the client’s progress.
In practical terms, this means to attend one or two initial sessions and trust your instincts on whether there is a good connection. You may need to explore different therapists – but it is worth it.
Here are some other thoughts to consider:
- We Don’t Sell!
- Be aware that a good therapist will be inviting, but will not try to sell you on their treatment….you may feel motivated to continue with a therapist after the first session(s), but you won’t feel pressure.
- We are All Unique!
- Every therapist has a different personality and a different style of practice. For example some may be skilled at listening and letting you come up with solutions, some are more directive. Choose the person that you feel will suit your needs and personality. Ask your therapist what his/her process of change looks like in dealing with your issues. Understand your treatment plan.
- We Don’t Give You Fish….We Teach You to Fish!
- Both the therapist and the client need to be working together towards the issues that the client feel are important towards him and her. A therapist doesn’t force the client to change or make a habit of telling the client a specific course of action to resolve a dilemma. They should however, help you develop skills and perspectives that allow you to own and solve your own issues effectively. In this way you continue to grow long after therapy is over. Assignments and opening your heart and mind to new perspectives are important in this regard, not necessarily advice giving. Over time, you will learn to both trust yourself and work with others in getting answers.
- There is No “Right” Way!
- There are many different theories of practice out there (e.g. cognitive-behavioral therapy, emotional focused therapy, etc.) and many different types of therapists (LMFT, LCSW, CMHC or LPC, Psychologists, Psychiatrists). Ask your therapist what theories they practice and how they view change and progress with individuals and families. Ask them to give you a basic outline of these theories.
- Be Committed to the Process!
- Most therapists will do a 15-30 minute consultation for free to find out all of these questions and get to know them more; here at Connections, we offer a 30 minute consultation. Don’t be afraid to shop around. But when you do choose a therapist, spend more than a few sessions with them. Therapy can take time. If you find yourself not progressing or feeling uneasy in your session, or if you are concerned with how your therapist is handling certain issues, talk to them about it! A good therapist will be open and helpful with this information. They will be respectful of your issues and seek to come to an understanding of your needs if you feel they don’t already.
- We Don’t Need our Ego Brushed. Be Honest with Your Feelings!
- There have been many times clients have been concerned with how I say something or do a certain therapeutic process, but will be afraid to speak up. If I don’t catch it right away, the client will not receive the amazing benefits that come from working through relationship concerns with someone skilled in this process. When a client opens up about some of his/her concerns, these can be some of the most uplifting, growth inducing processes in a session. It is necessary to have a safe and open dialogue with your therapist. If you feel that you can’t, you need to be direct and honest with them.
- If you feel that you aren’t understood or heard when this happens, be honest and seek to find a therapist you feel that you can be honest with and that you feel will validate your concerns. Often times this isn’t about the therapist or you as the client nearly as much as it is about the therapeutic style, personality compatibility, and your current motivations for change and growth. Don’t be afraid to be honest with your feelings towards your therapist. A good therapist will be able to emotionally handle any feedback they are given. You are paying them to help you. They understand this. Don’t waste your money on unsaid and unspoken language.
- Not all Therapists Are Trained the Same!
- There are different types of therapists that are best suited for specific issues. Ask your counselor what they are trained in. Therapists have been trained on most client issues but their training and approach is particularly suited to some issues more than others. Ask your therapist about their experience in the areas that are of interest to you. As an MFT (marriage and family therapist), people will often assume that I only specialize in family and couple counseling but not individual counseling. This is a mistaken assumption. Most MFTs work mostly with individuals with a variety of issues. They are just trained to view many problems in the context of the relationship and family system. Psychiatrists and psychologists are often misunderstood as well. Psychiatrists attend medical school and most of their work consist of diagnosing and prescribing medication. Psychologists don’t prescribe medication but can diagnose and test. Most therapists have the training to diagnose, but might send you to a psychiatrist or psychologist for further testing or medication.
A Few Final Points…
Recognize your expectations with the therapy process and open up to your therapist about them. Clients will often expect their therapists to lead the counseling sessions. Meier and Davis discuss a few important factors to consider when starting counseling:
- The pain can get worse before it gets better, so consider with your therapist if the pain you are experiencing in therapy is legitimate pain of growth, or if it is making things worse.
- Therapists take confidentiality very seriously but you should talk to your counselor about the exceptions to confidentiality.
- People who go to counseling are those with the courage and capacity to seek and consider input in helping them function more happily and effectively in their every day lives. Getting help is not a weakness….
Kyle is a Marriage and Family
Therapist, specializing in individual,
relationship, and family work.
by Christopher Adams, AMFT
I make this post with some hesitancy. I want to be very honest without justifying the specific pains that come from instances of abuse or blatant mistreatment of a spouse or a loved one.
Bob Marley, is not one that I have ever gone to for advice on how to live a successful life up to this point. However, when I read this quote of his, I was moved by the simple truth that it taught.
“If she’s amazing, she won’t be easy. If she’s easy, she won’t be amazing. If she’s worth it, you won’t give up. If you give up, you’re not worthy. … Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” – Bob Marley
“…Everybody is going to hurt you…” I find it interesting that we make the choice to live with a stranger and somehow believe that we will be nothing but happy for our entire lives. I love the fairy tail and I want that to be true but when reality sets back in I understand that marriage, specifically, is one of the hardest endeavors that we choose to undertake.
John Gottman, a researcher who studies successful marriages, reports that couples who report being happy after 30 years of marriage are those couples that fight. The catch to that is that after they fight, they have learned how to repair the hurts that have been sustained.
IF you have “found the one that is worth suffering for,” don’t give up on your marriage. If they have been that person before, let’s see if they can be that person again before you walk away. Marriage is hard and can be painful at times but it is, in my opinion, worth saving.
In October of this year (2015) I was scrolling through the newsfeed on Facebook and I saw an article. The title excited me and I remember thinking “this must be a joke!” This particular article was a USA Today Article entitled “Playboy to Stop Publishing Nude Photos.” It took me a minute to register what I was reading. I am a mental health counselor that works with people who are struggling with unwanted compulsions towards pornography. From my perspective porn use is at an all time high and only getting worse. At first glance this article caused me to wonder if perhaps a cultural shift was happening and things were changing in that regard. Although, that seemed unlikely, I had a glimmer of hope. Perhaps Mr. Hefner had recognized the problems he was causing people and had decided to change his tone. As I read the article I soon began to realize that my hopes were too good to be true. The USA Today article reported that “The onslaught of Internet pornography has made the nude images in Playboy “passé,” Scott Flanders, the company’s chief executive, told the New York Times. “That battle has been fought and won,” Flanders told the newspaper. “You’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free.”
I now understood. This was not an indication of a change in attitude, a shift in culture, or a gain in the fight against pornography. This was the result of, as playboy put it, “that battle has been fought and won” What battle? The battle to have pornography become “passé” to become a normal everyday thing in our lives.
Whether we like it or not pornography is now very common and part of our lives and in regards to our kids, the question is no longer “ How do I protect them from seeing porn?” but “How do I limit their exposure and how do I protect them from the effects of that exposure?” A study released in 2008 surveyed 560 college students. In this study 93% of boys and 62% of girls were exposed to pornography before the age of 18. This number has likely increased in the past 8 years. The reality is that our kids will see pornography, so how do we keep them safe from it’s effects. I don’t know that there is any absolute answer to that question, but I came up with 5 things that I believe can greatly reduce the negative effects of pornography on children and adolescents.
Talk About Sex
That uncomfortable looming topic that every parent, from before the time they are parents, dread having to talk to their kids about. Sex is only an uncomfortable topic because we culturally have made it an uncomfortable topic. As Americans we have developed a culture in which sex is a shameful thing. This is an even more common problem in religious circles. Most parents will acknowledge that sex is healthy and beautiful when shared between a husband and wife, but that is not the message our kids are getting. THe message we send through our comfort level, and openness about the topic is that sex is secretive, dirty, wrong, scary, embarrassing, shameful, and something not to be discussed. If we are uncomfortable to talk with our kids about sex then our kids will teach themselves and nowadays the internet provides more than a little information on the topic, but does not generally present it in a way that most parents are comfortable with, and that is the first place kids go to answer questions.
As a counselor who works with men having struggles with their sexual impulses and pornography use, I have discovered that many individual’s first introduction to pornography was very innocent. Many individuals report that they were accidentally exposed and found it intriguing and looked further, others were simply curious about sex. What it is and how it is done? What can I expect with puberty? Are my sexual feelings and desires normal? Whether explicit or implicit the message was received that mom and dad are not comfortable talking about this so they pick their favorite search engine and start learning. Even a simple question like “What is sex?” Will quickly lead to extremely sexually explicit material.
The solution? We need to force ourselves as parents to talk to our kids about sex. We need to be able to talk about it confidently and maturely and get comfortable with words like penis, erection, vagina, clitoris, intercourse, condom, pornography, etc. We don’t necessarily need to discuss everything but we should be comfortable talking about everything from oral sex, to homosexuality. We as parents need to create an environment where a child feels comfortable asking any questions about sex because they know they will not be judged. This decreases experimentation, and decreases the use of porn use for sexual education. We as parents need to get rid of the idea that talking about sex will cause my kids to engage in it. The exact opposite is true. A teenager is going to be thinking about sex whether you bring it up or not, but let yourself be the teacher rather than friends or the porn industry.
Understand Current Media
It doesn’t matter if you were a teenager 5 years ago or 60 years ago, the media that you had as a teenager has changed drastically. For today’s teenagers media is a very integral part of their lives, they love it and they know it better than you. Therefore one of your child’s greatest defences against pornography is you being a few steps ahead of them in the technology department. You need to know the media they know and use the media they use. You need to be researching the media they use and know what all the apps on their phones are for. The truth is that unless you have a “dumb phone” it is almost impossible to limit all access to pornography on a phone. An app that looks innocent might not be. An app that is innocent might not stay that way. There is a way to access pornography through almost any app on your child’s phone and if they want it, they will figure out how to get it. Knowing devices and technology better than your child will help you to be able to keep them safe.
The fuel of addiction is shame. Nothing will create more problems when it comes to addictive or compulsive behavior than shame. Shame is often used as a method of education and or punishment. Often as parents we innocently confuse shame with guilt. Guilt is helpful and healing, but shame is destructive. So what’s the difference? Guilt is the idea that “I made a mistake and THAT WAS BAD.” Shame is “I made a mistake and therefore I AM BAD” Shame is the idea that I am a bad (Throw any negative adjective in there) person, and is an extremely damaging emotion and thought. As parents it is easy to unintentionally shame a child when we are only meaning to give guidance. When discussing sex, or addressing pornography use it is important to make sure the child understands their actions do not equal who they are. Letting them know that while porn is bad you do not see them as a “bad person.” This is harder than it sounds. A comment as innocent as “I am disappointed in you” can leave the child or teen with the message of “I am a disappointment.” Instant shame! A better way to say this is “I am disappointed in your choice.” Followed by sincere love, and a genuine desire to understand what they are feeling and needing from you.
This can be difficult. Notice I didn’t say “stop exposure.” the reality is that you cannot stop the exposure. Whether you like it or not their is a very good chance that your child will be exposed to pornography and that it will happen before the age of 13. However; as parents there is a lot we can do to limit that exposure. We obviously can’t control the internet access at friends houses, and on friends devices, and we can’t completely eliminate the ability to access it at home without complete and total lockdown, which you might feel you need to do. However; we can greatly limit access, in our own homes, which will decrease the chance that your child will develop a dependency or compulsion towards pornography. Things like accountability programs, limited access to apps, internet filters etc. are all ways to limit the access.
Lastly and I would say the best way to protect your children against pornography is to stay involved in their lives. Know their friends and their friend’s parents. Know where they are, get them involved in extracurricular activities and support them in those endeavors. Talk with them! I cannot emphasis the importance of this. Talk with them, with an open mind, validate their concerns and worries and frustrations even if, from your adult perspective, you don’t understand what the big deal is. The more they feel listened to, validated, unjudged, and un-shamed by you the more you will know about what they are doing and the more they will open up to you. Often times the use of pornography is a result of feeling a lack of intimate connection with people in our lives. All humans need intimate connection, they need to feel loved, valued, and seen. If we don’t have that we will search for that in any way we can and unfortunately pornography is an easy way to inauthentically get that. Although inauthentic, it feels better than loneliness.
To recap. Your kids will be exposed to pornography but the question is how much they will be exposed and how that exposure will affect them. Much of that is up to you as a lot of it comes down to you being confident enough to talk to your kids about hard things, confronting them on things they might not want to talk about, not shaming them but listening to them, and being involved in their lives.